During our time in China, Traci and I tried to portray in words (and pictures) our amazing journey. In addition to Traci’s pictures, I videoed much of our trip. This little video is only 3 minutes and 10 seconds (out of the hours I captured), but I hope it helps complete the story for the many of you who read our blog entries each day.
(By the way, Grace is doing amazingly well! She is happy! We are happy! It’s only been 11 weeks since we brought her home, but already, she is truly one of the Shepherd kids! What an amazing journey!!! Thank you so much for your continued prayers.)
A month ago we were on a plane headed for Jinan, China, where we were blessed with this sweet girl! We have been home only two weeks, and each day gets better than the one before. The adjustment is going well and we truly believe Grace is happy. She has even learned to tattle on her brothers and sister. No English necessary – she can make a motion and tell us that one sibling stuck out his/her tongue to another sibling! 🙂 (Names are being withheld for the interest of all involved. haha!)
Grace’s life is full of new experiences and she is handling it all like the brave and sweet little girl that she is! We haven’t taken her out in the “public” yet but we think she will be ready soon! Our social worker comes for a visit Tuesday and we can’t wait to report how well Grace is doing.
We have all enjoyed the beautiful Spring weather this week. Grace especially LOVES our tree house!
We’re not sure that Grace has ever had the chance to play in wide open spaces. She SHRIEKS if her shoe comes off and her foot touches the grass. 🙂
You will notice Gideon is still in his pajamas! 🙂
Iris and Grace (Yiyi) surprised me by getting dressed in their beautiful Chinese dresses. What’s a Mama to do? Get out her camera, of course!
Grace has been asking for a violin since she got home. She may not speak much English, but she is smart and can communicate with us through motions. On Wednesdays we drive 2.5 hours to Nashville for a day of music lessons. Grace can’t leave Mama during this initial bonding period, so she came with us. It was her first public outing since we had been home and I (Traci) was a little nervous. However, Grace was a TROOPER! She never complained and we had a great day in Nashville.
And GUESS what we picked up on the way home for her? An itty bitty VIOLIN!!! Grace even asked to go back to Nashville the next day. (She motioned for everyone to get their instruments and drive in the car!)
In our house, a first violin calls for a Strasburg dress and a portait session! hahah! 🙂 Thankfully, Grace was happy to oblige! It really looks like she knows what’s she’s doing. Maybe she’s playing an advanced etude? NOPE! Just a bunch of SQUEAKING! We hope to turn that scratching into real music soon. She asks to practice SEVERAL times a day. 🙂
Please ignore the bad lighting in the above photo! Gideon was holding the reflector and…well…he’s seven years old. Not quite ready to be a photographer’s assistant yet!
Grace also had her first biking experience this week. Grace has a bike that hooks up to daddy’s, so she can pedal and ride along without crashing!
We are so enjoying bonding together as a family of SIX! I have to give a BIG shout-out to the kind people of our church! The families of First Baptist (Paris, TN) have faithfully brought meals to us since we’ve been home. This has allowed us to focus on Grace and spend time together. How wonderful to not have to worry about making/buying a meal each night. We couldn’t have done it without you! Thank you for your gifts, food, prayers, and support! You are truly a blessing to us.
When we began our adoption journey in early 2013, we expected some struggles. Nothing, however, could have prepared for us for the news we received from our health insurance provider.
I first inquired about adding an adopted child as a dependent to our policy on February 22, 2013–over a year ago. I anticipated a fairly straightforward process, similar to when we added Jordan, Iris, and Gideon to our policy.
I was wrong. While federal law requires health insurance providers to add adopted children to GROUP health insurance policies just as they would biological children, no such laws exist for individual health care plans. Any child we adopted would have to go through the full underwriting process. We were assured by multiple levels of leadership with our insurance provider that the following were our only possible scenarios:
The child we adopted would be DENIED coverage altogether on our present policy.
The child we adopted would be granted coverage but any pre-existing condition would be excluded. In other words, a child a with a cleft-lip would have insurance but not for anything related to her cleft-lip. A child with a heart condition would be given health care but not for anything related to his heart.
We could change our policy to a policy under the Affordable Health Care Act (“ObamaCare”) or buy a separate individual policy for our adopted child. Unfortunately, both options would have increased our costs and decreased the quality of our coverage SIGNIFICANTLY, likely doubling our present rates.
Please understand the gravity of this news. We were going to adopt through the China “special needs” program. 99% of the children adopted through the program have health problems. Now we were guaranteed by our insurance provider that whatever special need our child had would not be covered by our insurance.
Health insurance for our adopted child became a black cloud over our adoption journey. Even if we somehow raised the $30,000+ needed for our adoption, how could we afford to pay out-of-pocket all of the health costs related to our child’s health needs over the next 15-20 years?
Monday I called our insurance agency to begin the application for Grace’s insurance. We had not yet decided which of above (terrible) options we would choose, but the application process was identical for each.
Our insurance agent answered the phone and excitedly told me she had been awaiting our call. She was following our adoption journey on Facebook, and she had GREAT news! Our insurance company had just decided (within the past few weeks) to reverse their policy about adding adopted children as dependents! Adopted children are now added to family insurance policies the exact same way biological children are added.
I asked our sweet agent to repeat the news because I simply could not believe it. She later explained that the company CEO and other leaders recognized the hardships adoptive famlies already face. The company decided they did not want health insurance to be among their burdens. So they changed their policy.
I didn’t talk long because I was overwhelmed. I got off the phone, pulled up to a stop sign, and wept. I wept because I was overwhelmed by God’s mercy. I wept because we had received a far bigger miracle than we could have ever imagined. I called Traci and told her the news. She cried, too! Her first words through tears were, “Are you serious?”
Yesterday I went to our health insurance office, wrote down Grace’s name and birth date, showed them an adoption certificate, and signed the form. Voila! She now is on our insurance policy! Wow!
We have learned time after time in our journey about God’s love and mercy for those who step out in faith and do something far bigger than they feel capable. This entire journey has been filled with those testimonies. God is good.
We’re home! We are SO sorry it’s taken us a few days to update our blog. We’ll spare you all our excuses (EVEN THOUGH THEY’RE GOOD ONES!) and get on with the update!
First, you MUST hear the full airplane story:
We were in Beijing and preparing for our LONG flight back to the US (13+ hours). In fact, we were third in line for takeoff when we noticed a passenger talking to one of the flight attendants. After talking to the passenger, the attendant looked out the plane’s window. Soon thereafter, she was on the phone with the pilot. Within 30 seconds, the pilot was looking out the same window!
The passenger had noticed a puddle collecting under one of the plane’s wings. After some checking by the pilot and airport maintenance crews, the pool was determined to be jet fuel! The plane had a leak that was not discovered in the pre-flight checks. We ended up sitting on the runway for 3 hours while the plane was repaired. What was supposed to be a 13-hour flight became a 16-hour experience!
We don’t want to speculate what would have happened if the leak had not been discovered before we began our flight home. We just praise God the passenger in seat 45J!
We landed in Detroit three hours late, so we missed our connection flight to Nashville. Delta provided a hotel room for us for the evening, but we had take a cab to the hotel. On the taxi ride over, the cab driver was interested in hearing our adoption story. After we told him, he responded by saying, “My heart is full. I’ve never heard of someone adopting unless they were unable to have a baby. You adopted her to rescue her even though you aleady have children. My heart is full.”
At the end of the cab ride, he would not accept our money. He said we had done a good thing, and he wanted to do a good thing for us. We were VERY touched by his kindness.
After our travel adventure, we FINALLY made it home. But our first two days at home were really a struggle. Grace regressed and was acting much more like she did our first few days in China. She cried often, especially when she was tired. Our kids, though they never showed it, were probably wondering, “What have we gotten ourselves into?”
Then, once again, everything changed. Our last two days (Monday and Tuesday) have been REALLY good! Grace is interacting beautifully with Jordan, Iris, and Gideon. In fact, I’ve never been prouder of them. They have given of themselves COMPLETELY to express their love and welcome to their new little sister.
Grace also had a good first check-up at her Ophthalmologist at Vanderbilt today. The vision in her left eye is 100%, which is GREAT news since she has no vision on her right side due to the cancer she had as a baby. We have many more apointments in the coming days and weeks, but we are VERY encouraged by the good start.
We have another REALLY AMAZING story to share in the coming days. In fact, we consider it the biggest miracle of our entire adoption journey! Stay tuned!
We are so HAPPY to report that we will be heading for home tomorrow! We have 30 HOURS of flights and layovers so your prayers are appreciated for smooth travels. Our sweet little Grace has been a little under the weather today but has stayed in good spirits (mostly) overall! We cannot believe that our time in China is coming to a close!
Today was spent organizing and packing while we waited for some paperwork to be brought to our hotel. Among the documents we received was her Hague Adoption Certificate. What a beautiful sight for this Mama to lay eyes on!
We ate lunch at Shamian Island and snapped a few pictures to document our last day in Guangzhou.
We tried to pretend that we were just taking a picture of…you know….the scenery, instead of the GIANT red bird on a food platter poster. haha
This morning we finished our final procedure before leaving China. We visited the US Consulate to get Grace’s visa/approval for her to enter the US. She was approved! We can go home soon!
After our consulate visit Traci and Grace were worn out. They decided to take a nap, but I (Dad) braved the city. I had decided to finish up some “souvenir” shopping for the kids, so I took a cab to a toys and gifts wholesale market.
I’ll do my best to describe it for you. You know how almost every toy in the US says, “Made in China”? Well, this place had every single toy! This was no Toys ‘R Us. In fact, you could probably fit twenty American toy stores in this building. It was a seven-story mall with nothing but toys! It was crazy!
Gideon had heard from Cavan Daniels about a toy he got from his parents when they were in China, so Gideon had to have one, too! Let’s just say that Daddy had a successful trip! I even found something for Jordan and Iris.
We had been looking forward to a dinner cruise we saw on our itinerary back when it was first mailed to us. When we saw the boat, we became somewhat less excited! Hehe
Above are some of our cute friends from the dinner cruise buffet.
The skyline was, however, quite lovely.
All in all, it was another great day in Guangzhou. Grace is very attached to mom, and she really enjoys playing with me, too! Our time together as a family (1/2 the Shepherd family) has be wonderful!
Going to sleep for nap and at bedtime are the only times she reverts a bit to her sadness. She doesn’t scream or throw fits, but she does cry herself to sleep sometimes. We can tell that even though she loves her new life with Traci and me, it is still hard for her to be away from what was home for her for the last 2 and 1/2 years.
We, of course, can’t blame her. Her feelings are VERY natural. She had one mother for a month who abandoned her; she lived in an orphanage for two years; she had a foster mom for 2 and 1/2 years; and now she has to adjust to the Shepjerd family. That’s just about too much to handle in a lifetime, much less four and 1/2 years.
What we wish we could tell her is that we are her FOREVER family. She will never again have to adjust. We pray that through our love for her–in the days, months, and years to come–she will come to know and trust us COMPLETELY. Most importantly, we pray that we can show her the “breadth and length and height and depth” of Christ’s love for her so she will trust Him completely.
After a great night’s sleep, Grace got up, put on her shoes and brushed her teeth. This was the first time we have been able to get her to brush her teeth, and it was so cute to watch her do so in her little methodical way! I was starting to get worried that our great dentist, Dr. Whitfield, was going to need to give us a sedative to get the job done. 😉
We had breakfast, and although we don’t have any pictures of it (gasp!) I promise it did happen! Our group boarded the bus for the zoo. But first, Grace had to return to the clinic for the doctor to check a few spots of concern. Per the CDC rules, he needed to make sure that the bumps were not a contagious disease. I am happy to report that they are probably mosquito bites JUST like my little girl told him they were! 🙂
It was hard to decide between the Hippo Goldfish Garden Birds Zone and the Bear Hill Primates Zone TOILET. For those of you who have been in Chinese public restroom, you pretty much know that this explains it ALL! hahaha
We visited the tigers first and I was saddened to see these magnificent beasts caged up like this. However, even more heartbreaking are the countless orphans in orphanages waiting for someone to give them a home!
It was a hard choice between Flying Mice in forest and Fierce4 Battle on sharks’ Lsalnd but the Shark ride won! If you think carnivals are terrifying in the US…… Oh, mercy!
And SUCH a little poser!!!! Isn’t this just too cute for words?
Grace took a nap and played quietly in the room after our morning at the zoo. She especially liked typing on Daddy’s iPad!
We were wanting to go back to the Italian restaurant, but on the way Grace saw McDonalds instead. We don’t eat at McDonald’s in America, but HOW could we refuse her sweet little begging face?
She actually wanted soup(!), but they were out of it. She ordered french fries and ice cream instead. Don’t judge me, she has eaten healthfully all day! 🙂
It takes serious talent to pick your nose AND eat a french fry!
We also she discovered she likes Coca-Cola after she “stole” our cups and enjoyed several big gulps!
What a great slogan – Want to get a Bronzier complexion? We decided to head to the grocery store for bottled water instead. So sad to miss out on the opportunity to tan in China….hahahah
Today is the one week anniversary of our Gotcha Day–our first day with Grace. Those who have been following our blog know the early struggles we had. But look at the pictures below. Can you believe this is the same girl that tried to escape from our hotel room and convince us to take her foster sister to America with us instead? Thank you for your prayers! They are being answered.
The day started out with a big breakfast at the hotel. Grace ate a banana, two yogurts, an apple, watermelon, and dragon fruit (our mystery fruit)! I think she may eat as much as our twelve year old!
I would also like to thank my dear friend Stacy Daniels for the sparkle EXPLOSION outfit! Stacy knows me and my “artist black” all too well, so she sent along a little bling for Grace!
After breakfast we hopped on the bus with the rest of the Lifeline families and headed for the pearl and jade market. It was FIVE stories of jewelry stores! We looked around a little but it was too overwhelming. Besides, I already have my treasure/souvenir from this trip and her name is GRACE! 🙂
After the market we headed to the Chen Family Temple and spent about an hour exploring the complex. We were able to purchase a wall hanging with Grace’s Chinese name painted on it (Shiyi Wei). We also picked up a few meaningful souvenirs to take home.
While Dad was bargaining for good souvenir prices, Mom and Grace went on a walk in the courtyard. Grace enjoyed choosing places to have her picture taken. She is my child, afterall! 🙂
I got quite a few strange looks on this one… No one else was posing with a stuffed animal!
She came up with this pose herself! I think I have a wedding photography assistant in training! 🙂 Or at least a sorority sister in training… haha
Grace is quite a spunky little one who enjoys a good playground. This priceless stone wall was obviously a GREAT place for her to get her climb on. 🙂
We got back to the hotel at about 1:45 with the hopes of a nap. Grace didn’t think that was a good idea, so Daddy worked on English with her. Grace even taught Dad a little Mandarin!
As we were headed out for supper, Grace said, “I love you!” This was the first time she has said it and it melted my heart!
The three of us went to eat at an Italian restaurant for supper. Grace ordered spaghetti but couldn’t stay awake. No worries, though, she had a great meal later!
Before I begin my blog: I received word tonight that my grandmother from my mother’s side (Ethel Jones) died yesterday. My Nanamama was absolutely wonderful! Some of my fondest memories of my childhood took place with her, and even in her 90’s she was so much fun to be with. While I miss her dearly, I know she has been freed from her pain and now has the chance to be with her precious husband, my Nanadaddy, and her son, Butch.
I so wish I could be at home to comfort my Mom and to attend the funeral. But we rejoice at her Homecoming!
I am happy to report that the progress and breakthroughs from yesterday have continued through today! Yea! I (Scott) have been feeling under the weather all day, so we’re going to make it short and sweet.
The hotel provides a free breakfast for its guests. The breakfasts in both Jinan and Guangzhou have been amazing! Along with traditional American fare, we were also able to choose from steamed dumplings, broccoli, tofu, noodles, rice, etc.
After breakfast we boarded a bus with eight other families who are also with our adoption agency. (Lifeline Children’s Services in Birmingham, AL)
Grace had to go in for the TB test by herself. She was very brave and only got a little teary-eyed. The clinic was CUH-RAZY with children screaming everywhere.
She has a few bumps that gave the doctor some concern. Grace told him they were mosquito bites but he has asked to see us again before she is given a clean bill of health. Please pray that we can pass this next health inspection. We are ready to go home!
After the insanity of the clinic visit, Grace and Mom headed back to the room. I went off to get bottled water, since the tap water in China is undrinkable.
Also, apparently the mosquitos are bad in this province.
The hotel put a crib in our room, probably because many families are adopting younger children. Grace thought the crib was hilarious and used it as a place to put about 5,345 stickers.
While Scott was out working on MORE paperwork, I stayed in the room with Grace. (Traci blogging now!) I had hoped that she would take a nap but no such luck!
She started climbing the wall in the room, so I tried to find something else for her to do. I was still dreaming of a nap for her, and I thought maybe she could fall asleep watching a little TV. (My first lazy parenting moment of the week)
Our options were…um…not good! Plus, since I don’t speak Mandarin, I was hesitant to have her watch just anything. Chinese TV seems pretty tame compared to the US, but I still needed to keep tabs on what she was watching.
Later on in the day our group walked to a Mexican restaurant (!) and enjoyed a great meal and even better fellowship. It was nice for Grace to see other Chinese children with American families. We are enjoying getting to know these families and hearing the stories of the precious children they are adopting.
Today has been an amazing day! Grace has given us many smiles and giggles and NO tears!!!!! She is beginning to say a few phrases. Tonight she said, “You are so smart” and “You are so beautiful!” I have been telling her that a lot and it is good to know she is listening. This afternoon she had fun pointing at the flowers in the hotel lobby and saying “flower”.
Today we left Jinan, a city that will forever be etched in our minds. In Jinan, Grace came to us and became a part of our family (even though it is not yet official with the Chinese government). We’ve had many challenges, which we anticipated, but we have also seen significant, indescribable breakthroughs. Today, particularly, has been a day of breakthroughs.
I (Scott) can happily report that today Grace has had no breakdowns, no tantrums, no crying, or shown any signs of sadness whatsoever. She hasn’t even seemed melancholy. Instead, she has been a bundle of joy! She has held Traci tight–snuggling, cuddling, and even kissing her on the lips!
As we have blogged before, Grace is extremely intelligent. Her command of the Chinese language is exceptional. Yesterday, she used the Chinese equivalent of the word “colleague” to describe our guide’s driver. Our guide remarked, “Wow! She uses words only people much older than her use!”
She has, however, been very reticent to speak English. She told our guide, “It takes much courage to speak English.” She is also pretty stubborn, in a good way. I think she sees that using our language is giving in a bit. Later she told our guide, “I will speak Chinese while in China. When we get to America, I will learn English.”
But each day she incorporates more and more English into her speech. She says, uh-oh, bye-bye, mama, and she loves to say the kids’ names: Jodan, Idis, and Gidjen. Today, she said my name for the first time: Dada. So sweet to hear! Yesterday, she called for Momma! She also reached out to hold my hand as we walked. (She has been holding Traci’s hand since the very first day.)
This morning we all woke up around 6:30. Before we had breakfast, Grace had a blast playing with her balloons. Her fun ranged from using the balloons as pillows to boxing with them. She was hilarious!
Traci and I are SO going to miss the breakfast buffet at Crowne Plaza in Jinan. It is EXCEPTIONAL–probably our favorite breakfast ever!
Each day, breakfast got more and more enjoyable and less challenging for Grace. This morning, she didn’t leave Traci’s lap the entire time. (I took care of bringing them food from the buffet. I think Traci enjoyed the service!)
After breakfast, the hotel staff allowed me to play their piano for Grace. She had only heard me play the piano for about 5 seconds at the orphanage. Unfortunately, she didn’t like it very much. She told the hotel hostess that it was too noisy! We’ll have to work on that!)
Almost every day, we all took a walk together in the Jinan city square. Grace and I enjoyed playing with a bubble wand. We went through three wands full of bubbles in five days.)
Grace also enjoyed watching a magician who was performing in the city square. I took the next picture during the magic show. It is perhaps my favorite of our entire trip thus far. Grace shows so much joy, contentment and trust. Look at how her left hand is squeezing Mom so tightly! Signs of progress indeed.
At around 1:00, I went to the passport office to pick up Grace’s brand new passport. They just finished it this morning, so we were cutting it a little too close for comfort.
After I picked up Grace’s passport, our cab driver took me back to the hotel to pick up Traci and Grace to head to the airport. We had been praying HARD that today would go well. After yesterday’s meltdowns, we were VERY worried that Grace would have a meltdown in the airport. Her screaming, “I don’t go want to with them. I want to go home” in Chinese as we are surrounded by a bunch of Chinese is not our idea of fun! As Jordan would say, “Awkward!” (That’s pretty much what our bullet train ride home was like, and we weren’t eager to repeat the experience.)
But from the time Grace woke up this morning she just seemed at peace. Her happiness has continued all day, and our entire airport experience went off without a hitch. Security, baggage check, boarding, take-off, the whole thing…Grace was PERFECT!!!
As we sat on the runway, I took a few pictures of Grace with the iPad as she studied the aircraft instructions. A couple of minutes later, she held up these warnings as she pointed at the computer and the camera. Next she pointed at my Ipad. She was telling me I needed to put the iPad away! (She is SO smart!)
After a long day, Grace ended up sleeping for most of the flight.
Today, without question, has been our best day in China–a day of breakthroughs and progress. While we know we will have future challenges, we feel like leaving Jinan is leaving behind much of Grace’s old life and drawing us ever closer–step by step–to her new life as a Shepherd. We’ve already had some baby steps this week, but today was a giant leap forward.