Thursday, December 31, 2009

Our Christmas in China/God's Redemption

As we are waiting at the Hong Kong airport to begin our long trek home, I am overwhelmed at all that has happened in the last few months. Just over two months ago, we did not even know about a little girl in a Chinese orphanage named Lian Jia Jing. I woke up the morning of October 21 with a picture of her precious little scowling face sitting in my email inbox. Without even knowing the seriousness of her medical condition, I knew she was our daughter.

Fast forward to the day we got her ... the significance of Lia Kate's Gotcha Day is that it marked two months to the day we first saw her face! This is insanely fast in terms of Chinese adoptions. We are so thankful that God flung open the doors for our paperwork to go through so fast.

While we never imagined this adoption would cause us to miss Christmas with Britton, us jumping at the chance to bring our daughter home meant fewer days that Lia Kate had to spend in an orphanage. It meant that we were blessed with the gift of our daughter this Christmas (what better gift??). And it means we got to experience the beauty of adoption and God's redemptive plan for Lia Kate at a time when we celebrate God's story of redemption for us in the birth of Jesus Christ. I can't think of a better way to have spent this Christmas.

As we are waiting at the airport for our flight home, I am suddenly sad knowing we are taking her away from the home of her birth, from where they speak her native language, from where her only blood relatives live, from the only place and things and people that are familiar to her. It is a surprisingly heavy burden. But on the other hand, this precious child is now our daughter and has a family and a home, thanks only to the grace of God.

We are so thankful for all your prayers for us, and for all of your encouraging comments and your unwavering support along this journey. Especially thankful to our mothers who took such good care of Britton, and for all of our dear friends and family who offered their support and made this adoption possible. We can't wait to introduce you to our Lia Kate!

We'll be home soon!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

On Our Way Home

We arrive in Birmingham on Friday morning!! A day earlier than we thought. Pray for us over the next 36 hours ... we need it!

Our Last Day in Guangzhou

Today was our last full day in Guangzhou. We mostly shopped for a few last minute things. I am trying to collect some "homeland" gifts for  Lia Kate that we can give to her over the years. We also received Lia Kate's passport and visa, which was our last official business. We are free to go home now.

We had our last dinner out with our good friends, Laurie, Brandon and YaYa, as well as with some new friends we have made in recent days. The picture is of the moms and daughters after dinner.

Today is also my and Danny's 5th wedding anniversary! Our anniversary gift is that we get to come home a day early! More on that soon...

Red Couch Pictures

Here at the White Swan, it is a longstanding tradition that Chinese children who are being adopted take pictures in traditional Chinese dress on "the red couch." It is like a rite of passage. When we first arrived at the White Swan to check-in, I excitedly asked our guide where "the red couch" was. I didn't realize there are tons of red couches in this hotel and there isn't a particular one that every adopted child from the last 20 years has sat on. Oh well. While that part was a little anticlimactic, we still took part of the tradition, and dressed Lia Kate up in one of her new Chinese outfits, sat her on the couch and snapped away. Most were of her screaming as she wanted to be held, but since that is part of her "red couch" moment, I had to include.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Our Chinese Princess

Here is a cute photo from today!

Pearl River Cruise

Our hotel is located on the banks of the Pearl River, and every night we have watched the wild, light and laser show that goes on over the river from our hotel window. Our guide took us on a dinner cruise on the Pearl tonight so we could experience the laser show firsthand. It was a cold and rainy night but we still had a good time. Lia Kate ate noodles and jabbered, jabbered away. It was the most we have heard her talk yet. There is a picture of some of us who went ... everyone in the picture works for our (awesome) agency, Lifeline Children's Services. Lily, on the left, is the amazing woman who matched Lia Kate with us! She lives here in China. Janelle is next to her and she is here with her husband adopting their little boy. She works for our agency State-side. The other person pictured is our guide Rebecca. It was a fun night! We came home and got Lia Kate successfully asleep in her crib -- the first time that has happened in several nights. Hoping it lasts until morning!

We went to the U.S. Consulate today for our swearing-in/oath. We had to pledge that all of the information we provided them pertaining to our adoption was true. That was it. We are just waiting on Lia Kate's Visa now. We will get it tomorrow instead of Thursday as was planned. This means we could be headed home on a flight late, late tomorrow night  if we had known the Consulate was going to rush us through so they could close early for the New Year. Everyone here is bummed b/c we are all in the same boat. No way to rearrange flights this late. Oh well. We'll have two more days of sightseeing here. There is a picture above of me and Lia Kate with all of the other adopting families here just before we all loaded on the buses and descended en masse on the U.S. Consulate.

I am off to sleep ... just two more nights here at the White Swan!

Monday, December 28, 2009

All About Lia Kate and Life Here

There has been so much I want to write about Lia Kate but I rarely have time to sit down at the computer (with both hands!) and type it out. Danny just took her down to the White Swan play room, so I am taking advantage of this chance to write all about our girl and what life is like here.

We are staying at the White Swan Hotel on Shamian Island in Guangzhou. Guangzhou is home to about 6 million people, so this is no small town we're in. The White Swan has historically housed most of the families who adopt children from China. They have a nice little playroom here with lots of toys, and a huge breakfast buffet with lots of food for kiddos. The hotel is located near lots of shops that have things we want to buy for our little ones as well as laundry facilities, etc. But the best part about being here is meeting all of the families and their new children. Every morning at the breakfast buffet we meet new friends. It is like being a member of a club ... and I have to say the adoption community is pretty fabulous! Anyway, we are connecting with people from all over the U.S. and it is a neat thing to be able to share this experience with others walking the very same path.

I mentioned the breakfast buffet here. It has a traditional American breakfast (coffee, eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, toast, etc.), but also traditional Chinese breakfast (congee, dumplings, noodles, dim sum, hot tea, and many other things I don't quite recognize). Lia Kate is a great little eater! She will eat anything we give her, even a stalk of broccoli. Amazing. She learned this morning to suck yogurt out of a straw and downed two whole yogurts at breakfast this morning. She also loves to eat crackers when we're out and about. All of my shirts have cracker crumbs and residue on them from her eating while she's in the carrier. It's real attractive. Thankfully, we've been able to do lots of laundry here!

We have had Lia Kate for over a week here now and she has made quite the transformation. The first day we had her, she was in shock and barely made a peep. The first morning at breakfast, I set her in the highchair and she laid there limp, like a 5-month-old who can't even sit up. That second day we had her, she started crying a lot and had to be held with her head buried in my shoulder all the time. She would have nothing to do with Danny By day 4, she picked up a toy for the first time and started playing. By day 5, she actually let Danny play with her. By day 6, she started smiling! By day 7, she started showing us that she could walk and she started laughing out loud. She finally was content to sit on the bed and play with her toys and not cry to be held. She now plays this little game, where she stands up (she is still wobbly on her feet) and takes several steps toward me, laughing and falling into me. It is so completely adorable. I know she will continue to come out of her shell and we are so encouraged by the progress she has already made.

Other things ... Lia Kate loves Chinese women! She will always smile at them. She also loves to make funny faces. She constantly makes this cute face where she squints her eyes shut and opens her mouth wide. It is hilarious. She loves, loves playing with toys, especially her stacking cup, which she scatters, then stacks. It will keep her busy for awhile. She is beginning to babble around us and keeps saying the word "ta." She also loves to play and look at her hands. Handgames are common among orphans, indicating she was probably in her crib a lot and entertained herself by playing with her hands. She can also cross her fourth finger over her third finger w/o assistance from her other hand. Danny thinks she is double jointed. She is extremely flexible, but I'm not sure if it is true flexibility or just lower muscle tone since she has probably hasn't spent a lot of time playing on the floor. When she starts to get insecure or begins crying, her hands go straight to her head and she starts pulling at her hair or rubbing her eyes. It is definitely her coping mechanism. We have noticed that she does this less and less every day, so we are thankful for this outward sign that shows us she is gaining trust and security with us.

Lia Kate is extremely easy during the day when we're out and about. She is very content to be carried or to ride in her carrier and just take everything in. She rarely fusses when we're outside of the hotel room. Our hardest times come at night. She will not go down in her crib unless she is sound asleep. She can only fall asleep in our arms and then we have to try very carefully to transfer her to the crib. Most of the time, she will wake up and scream. So, usually we both end up falling asleep with her laying on top of me, and at some point she just kind of rolls off and continues to sleep beside me in bed. Once she is good and asleep, she will stay asleep through the night and not wake until after 8 a.m. It is hard being in a hotel room, because we don't want her screams to wake up the whole floor, so we are doing whatever we can to calm her quickly and get her to sleep. It is hard, but it is something we expected too. Usually one of the lingering affects of orphanage life is difficulty sleeping. We will definitely have to work on this once we get home, but know that someday once she has built more trust in us that this part of our life will be easier.

We only have two nights left here at the White Swan Hotel! We have already spent 9 nights here. Once we leave Guangzhou, we will stay one night at an airport hotel in Hong Kong, then we will be on a plane headed home. Can. not. wait!

Officially Ours

I somehow missed the fact that that last Tuesday was Adoption Day and that when we left the Civil Affairs Building after doing the necessary paperwork, Lia Kate was officially ours in China's eyes! Here is a picture of us taken with the red book, which I believe is our official adoption decree from the Chinese government. Since then, we have been working on the U.S. side of paperwork to get our girl home. We applied for Lia Kate's Chinese passport, which will get her to the U.S. (she won't be a citizen until she lands on U.S. soil), and we have also completed paperwork for our U.S. Consulate appointment which was this morning (Tuesday the 29th). We just got the call that all of our paperwork passed the Consulate's approval so we have the all clear to bring her home! Now, all we have left to do is go to the U.S. Consulate this afternoon to take our oath (not sure what we are swearing to, but will tell you about it later), then we wait for her U.S. Visa to be processed, which takes 48 hours. Our guide Rebecca will go back to the U.S. Consulate on Thursday, the 31st, to pick up her Visa, then we will be on our way back to Hong Kong on an afternoon train to catch a flight home. Our plane doesn't leave until Friday, so we will spend one night in Hong Kong. We are so close to being home. We can't wait!!!

Gardens Trip & Big Strides for Our Girl

Today we went to Yuntai Park, which is the botanical gardens here in Guangzhou. It was beautiful! Lia Kate had a great day out, but then again, she is always fabulous when we're out and about.

Today was a big day for her as she started laughing out loud and even taking a couple of steps. It started when we were playing with her toys on the bed this afternoon. I started tickling her and she started with smiles and then started laughing out loud. Before I knew it, she was standing up, then taking a few steps toward me, then would fall into me laughing. I would lift her over my head and she would laugh some more, then I would set her down in front of me and she would do it all over again. Her smile and laugh are completely adorable!

I have lots more to say but it is hard to do when I am holding a fussy girl who won't sleep without me! Hopefully I'll have time to blog during the day tomorrow while we are waiting word that our paperwork passes the U.S. Consulate. Until then ...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Visit to Lia Kate's Orphanage

Finally ... a few moments to tell you about Danny's trip down to Lia Kate's orphanage yesterday. We were not sure they would let him visit, but they agreed to it on Gotcha Day, so we took them up on it and hired a guide and driver to take him down. We would have loved to have both gone, but besides it being very confusing for Lia Kate to go back, we just did not think she would be up for a long day in the car (especially since she just made that long trek on Monday). Danny spent 12 hours in the car yesterday ... going to and from Lianjiang.

Lia Kate lived in the Lianjiang SWI (Social Welfare Institute) since she was 12 days old. To my surprise, Danny told me that Lianjiang is home to 1.6 million people. I had no idea it was that big. The SWI is on the small side. They have about 20 infants (ages 0 to 12 months) and about 20 toddlers (12 to 24 months) and I'm not sure how many older children. Despite being small, they have adopted out 300 children in the last 11 years. That is a lot for a small orphanage. I am so thankful they see the importance of these children finding forever homes. They told Danny they just sent 20 files of children to the central office in Beijing so that families could be found for them.

Street in the city of Lianjiang.

Boy playing in the sand in the city of Lianjiang.
Scooter for 4? An entire family catching a ride on a scooter.

Danny arrived and they immediately went to lunch with the SWI Director and Assistant Director and the woman in charge of the nannies, Ms. Wong. Ms. Wong is the woman who accompanied Lia Kate to Guangzhou and who placed her in my arms. She is also the woman who named her. Danny said they went to a nice-looking restaurant but were escorted out the back through an alley, past all the live animals and fish tanks and into a private dining room. Oh, and Danny had to eat the entire meal with chopsticks ... chicken drumsticks and all. (He came home hungry.)

Danny with the Orphanage Director, Asst. Director and Ms. Wong in front of the orphanage gate.
The Baby Building ... Lia Kate's room was off the first balcony.
The SWI entrance from the road below.

The Orphanage Director, Asst. Director, Ms. Wong and one of Lia Kate's nannies by the baby room.

The Baby Building at the SWI.
After lunch, they went back to tour the orphanage. The orphanage complex is on the top of a hill overlooking the hospital. There are four buildings on the campus. The building to the left is a nursing home, the building to the right is apartments for workers, and the middle buildings are the orphanage. Lia Kate was on the 2nd floor of the Baby Building where other toddlers her age were. The 3rd floor was for infants and a back building housed older children. They would not allow Danny to take pictures or video the nursery, but they did let him visit. He said there were about 20 babies in her room. They pointed out her crib, which was empty except for a ball in it. He saw the other children who were in cribs next to hers. One was a little boy with a cleft lip.

Danny used his time with the SWI administration and nannies to ask a lot of questions about Lia Kate like ... did she cry a lot (b/c she does now!)? did she hate having her diaper changed? did she have a hard time getting to sleep? is she truly walking? All things we are wondering whether this is her personality or if she is just grieving. They told him no on all the above and that yes, she was walking without assistance. He didn't believe them so he pressed again, and they told him that she truly was the best child at the orphanage, always happy and content unless another child took her toy, she slept well, cried some, loved being held and that we were very lucky to adopt her. ;o) I know the latter is true, but I am also glad to know that there is a whole different person in her that is slowly coming out. (By the way, we saw more signs of this today!)

Danny left with the impression that the people were very kind and genuinely care for the children, but that it is an orphanage in a poor area without a lot of financial means. I have to agree with him given the fact that Lia Kate has been grieving so heavily. Children who grieve after being in situations like this are usually ones who have formed attachments with a caregiver along the way. If they have formed an attachment in the past, it makes it much easier to form attachments with their parents once adopted. I have also heard from other families who have adopted from this orphanage that their children have grieved heavily as well. I am taking all this as a good sign that even though the facilities they lived in were not nice at all, they have been well cared for in this orphanage.

Before he left, Danny was able to record Ms. Wong pronouncing her name, since we still struggle with the correct pronunciation of her Chinese name (tonal languages are not easy for Americans!). He also asked the Orphanage Director and Nannies to record goodbye messages for her to hear one day. Our guide Rebecca translated and I loved the message that the Orphanage Director left her with. He said, "Ga Gang (Jia Jing), may you go and grow with joy."

I couldn't agree more. We hope that despite these difficult and traumatic beginnings, her spirit would be protected, that she will know she has been loved by many, and that she will grow with joy.


We worked up an appetite with all our shopping at the Pearl Market, so our guide Rebecca took us to a restaurant for some authentic Chinese. The food was excellent and Lia Kate discovered a new food that she loves ... noodles. She was instantly slurping them up like a pro. I guess that is the Chinese in her. It was adorable.

Shopping Day

We spent the morning going to the pearl and jade markets. Had fun buying pearls for Lia Kate for a later birthday or wedding gift. We picked out the pearls we wanted and watched the girls string and knot them up. They are beautiful!

The temperature dropped like crazy today. It has been in the 70s here lately but today, dropped down to the 40s.

Tomorrow, we visit Yuntai Park and the next day, Tuesday, is our U.S. Consulate Appointment.


Lia Kate woke up in a great mood and even spent some happy moments playing with her stacking cups and getting tickled by her daddy! She is definitely coming out of her shell more and more. She smiled all throughout the day.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sorry ...

... we didn't post much yesterday! Danny spent the whole day traveling to Lianjiang and back, and I spent the whole day with 'lil bit, which meant she pretty much was in my arms the entire time and I couldn't post to the blog.

Danny got back late last night and we'll do a full post on his visit sometime today. Let's just say that I'm glad I didn't go as the place would probably grieve me for years to come. :o(

Lia Kate is still taking baby steps toward coming out of her fog. She is on the bed right now playing with her stacking cups with Danny ... and she's not crying! I never would have seen that coming a couple of days ago.

Today we visit the pearl and jade markets. I've been looking forward to this kind of shopping for awhile!

Full post on all this to come later today ...

Friday, December 25, 2009


We are tweeting little updates every now and then. If you scroll down a bit and look on the lefthand side of our blog, you will see the updates. Twitter is blocked in mainland China, but just realized the other day that we still have access to it on our phones. I am new to Tweeting but it is fun to send little updates.

Sent from my iPhone

Where Our Daughter Is From

Danny is on his way now to where Lia Kate came from in an effort to piece together her past and to take pictures and video of what her first 16 months were like. Lia Kate lived in an orphanage in Guangdong Province, way down South, since she was 12 days old. I wanted to give you an idea of the magnitude of China's orphan situation.

First, here is a map of China, divided into provinces.

Lia Kate's province is Guangdong, which is at the bottom in yellow.

Here is a map of Guangdong province ...

... all of the little "houses" are where orphanages are known to be. There are 57 known orphanages in Guangdong province alone. Now, go back and look at the map of China. I really can't fathom how many children are living in orphanages in China right now. Only a small proportion of these orphans will ever be adopted.

Thankful our agency put together this day trip for Danny. Her orphanage is far away enough (6 hours) that most would tell us it's too far to travel. Her orphanage, Lianjiang SWI has also granted Danny permission to visit. We are so grateful.

Hope to have pics up tomorrow!

Merry Christmas from Guangzhou!

Here are a few pictures we took around our hotel this evening! We went with friends to a great Italian restaurant for a wonderful Christmas dinner tonight. It is their new, sweet daughter, YaYa, that is in one of these pictures. Yes, believe it or not, they have amazing Italian food in Guangzhou, China!

Danny will be leaving first thing in the morning (your night) to visit Lianjiang -- Lia Kate's hometown and the orphanage. He will be on the road for a total of 12 hours tomorrow. Hoping to get pictures and video of the first, important parts of Lia Kate's life so that we can share with her one day. She is slowly coming out of her shell still -- woke up today playing with toys! We are thankful for the baby steps she is taking. More tomorrow ...

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the four of us! We cant wait to get home and have all four of us under one roof.

Fatherly Reflections on Christmas Day

"Every true believer, whatever may be the degree of his grace, is an adopted child of God. It is not the amount of his faith, nor the closeness of his resemblance to the family, that constitutes his relationship; it is the act of adoption by which his heavenly Father has made him his own. If he can only lisp his Father's name, or bears but a single feature of likeness to the Divine image, he is as much and as really a child of God as those in whose souls the lineaments are deeply and broadly drawn, and who, with an unfaltering faith, can cry, "Abba, Father!" Doubtless there were many of feeble faith, of limited experience and of defective knowledge—mere babes in Christ—in the church to which the apostle inscribed his letter; and yet, addressing them all, he says, "Behold, what manner of love that we should be called the sons of God."   Octavius Winslow

I'm not exactly sure the full definition of surreal, but if I were to begin to explain, it would definitely look like what we have gone through this past week.

The first week here with Lia Kate has gone somewhat as expected, yet at the same time nothing like I could have imagined.  My heart has been stretched in so many ways.  I pause as I can not imagine why anyone would abandon a child, for whatever reason, fine or embarrassment or limitation it might incur.  As I watch our beautiful daughter in my wife's arms, I just don't see how she could have been rejected and abandoned.  We are processing this each and everyday.  It is heartbreaking to see her cling to Emily as if she will not let go again.  Even as a 16-month-old, she is grieving her most recent loss -- separation from her nanny and orphanage.  Out of fear, she will not let her heart be separated from yet another mother/care-giver ... this is why she clings so tight.  How a child this young grasps, porhaps, being unloved defies my logic.

Yet, each day, trust is slowly growing between Lia Kate and Emily (and at times, this hairy guy bugging her with tickles and pop-eyes and funny faces).  She now will actually begin to reach out for a toy, latch on to Emily's necklace or gaze into Emily's eyes that so want her to know how much we love, tomorrow and always.  We watch other families who have just met their sons and daughters as well--there are many at our hotel, which is odd to others here not knowing this hotel caters to adoptive families.   Most of the children have special needs, some more physically obvious than others which further illustrates God's love for us...orphans without a home, unwanted and yet graciously purchased by the blood of Christ for his glory and our joy.  I wish with all my heart that my pride and sinful false reality of beauty could be tempered by knowing Christ loved me as a wretched sinner.

Emily and I don't believe we have a stronger faith that moved us towards this adoption.  We definitely don't feel we argue less or get frustrated at fewer things than other couples, or think we're perfect parents for our children.  In fact as a pastor, most days I feel overwhelmed by the weight of my the selfishness I exhibit to my wife and Britton.  Despite our weaknesses,  we just felt called to rescue/redeem/re-name a child that no one else seemed to desire.  We respond to the gospel in a way that Christ has demonstrated His love to us without merit of our own.  To give Lia Katherine, formerly Lian Jia Jing, our name of Giffen tells her she has a mother and father who will never leave her...everything we have is hers.  Legally she has more rights as my heir than even Britton! I cannot disown her. If that is not the gospel, what is!?!

With all that said, I do not want to over-emotionalize this journey.  It is not so ethereal that we don't get frustrated that she doesn't sleep well or at each other when we are tired. It is boring much of the day...we have found time to just talk.  Even our times of prayer have been hurried as Lia Kate vocally lets us know she needs attention NOW!   It is definitely a memorable Christmas, but we long to be with our son as well.  Guangzhou is, well, Guangzhou...not in your top 10 on the bucket list.

I found the most time to read on the flight over.  Doug Webster gave me one of his own books a few days before we departed titled, A Christmas Journey with instructions to read the last chapter first.  It has ministered to both Emily and me.  Here is a portion from that last chapter:

"Into our crisis of sin and death, God sent his own Son 'in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering' (Romans 8:3).  Christmas celebrates God's love for us. 'This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love:  not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins' (1 John 4:9-10).  In love, God made the first move toward us and has continued the movement ever since.  The emotion we experience toward God is based on his grace-filled movement towards us.  For us to discover the meaning of Christmas emotionally, rather than sentimentally, means 'moving closer to God who in Jesus Christ left the preferred place of heaven to move toward us.'  He left his home to bring us home. 

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem's home was there found no room
For thy holy nativity...

Thank you all for reading our blog and for providing such encouragement...but the title of our blog, "Journey to Our Girl" only relates half the story. Our journey is not complete until we bring her home--it won't be perfect home, on this side of heaven, but I pray that she will see the love of Christ through us and with us echo one day the words, Abba Father, Come Quickly!


Thursday, December 24, 2009


Our sweet girl looked into my eyes a lot today as she rode around in the carrier all day!

And just a couple more...

The giraffe totally nibbled on my ear. This pic was taken just a millisecond before I realized what was happening!