A wrap up reflection (to the trip)

by Kristi Van Dyk


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Oh boy are we tired. :) Some serious realities are settling in (good realities and not so great realities). Tuesday morning at the consulate was a great day - intense and busy - nerve wracking at times, but overall it went well. The consulate has many rules and procedures that I'm sure are for our safety, but I resented leaving my cell phone at the hotel (on such an auspicious occasion) only to have them take my no longer synced Apple Watch at the security counter :). We also couldn't get our boy's snacks inside (which has proven to be the best way to keep him stable and happy). So, we weren't set up for success. Considering all of that, things went relatively smoothly. After two or so hours of standing when told, speaking when told, answering questions when asked, giving fingerprints, etc we were told we would receive our Visa in 48 hours time. We left them with our son's passport and many important documents and trusted that we would see it all again. We were instructed (many times over) NOT to open the visa. We were told stories of families who did open it, or who tampered with the seal and were sent back to China, at US the border, at their own expense, to get the Visa resealed at the Consulate. What a nightmare! 

After the consulate we returned to eat and recover at our hotel. The afternoons and evenings are all about the same - nap, swim (if its not raining) and then find some dinner before baths and bed. The routine is amazing - but will best be experienced in our home! At the same time, we are so thankful for the suite set up - putting the boys to bed and then having a couple of hours of sanity to ourselves in the evening has proven to be the difference between keeping a grip on our sanity and losing our cool completely. We have thoroughly loved our experience at the Garden and its a blessing to have been able to stay here for this really important and emotionally laden week. 

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Wednesday was by far our toughest day yet. Both boys woke up crabby and frustrated and over this closeness we have. At various points we had meltdowns - epic ones. Joshua's meltdowns included bathroom accidents that had me sitting on a random street corner soaked in urine trying to figure out how to make do with the shorts and shirts we had while still not having the both of us feel completely disgusting! Needless to say our visits to the Six Banyan Temple was not much of a learning experience for us.  In the evenings, Joshua still needs Momma to fall asleep - and is not yet feeling Daddy's comfort BUT last night, we pushed him a little bit and he allowed Daddy to fall asleep next to him. Benjamin has been struggling with his patience - the constant priority of his brother - and the lack of "new things" to do has been weighing on him. He has been a tremendous help to us and we are so thankful that we brought him along. BUT he is as ready to leave for home as we are - and he can't wait to see his sisters again. 

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I am also feeling like I could lose it at any moment. We've had great moments with Joshua that make me feel like we are making so much progress. We also have other moments where I wonder how on earth will I survive the next 6 months ... Joshua likes to babble, constantly. This is great (and not unlike my 4 year old at home) because it means (as a shy guy) that he is comfortable with us. However, I don't understand Mandarin - and sometimes Ben doesn't understand him either. So, we are still left guessing what he is saying. My days are a constantly slew of "MAMA .... MAMA ... (shouted at full volume) followed by "babble babble babble" over and over and over. And it's all completely indecipherable. Additionally, Joshua LOVES testing our limits. He runs EVERYWHERE and he tries something at least 3-4 times (even after we say boo-yaow and let him know it's inappropriate). Each time he tests us to see if the answer is the same, he does so with this giant grin on his face. I have to continuously remind myself that he's learning new rules - not being deliberately defiant. This will be a big part of our new journey together ... learning new rules. I have to patiently teach him our rules and I also have to learn the rules that have made up his reality for the last 4 years. This will be a journey of grace and forgiveness. 

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Each of these hard lessons has been (thanks be to God) punctuated by moments of brilliance. For brevity's sake I'll bullet them for you :). Truthfully, I wanted this blog post to focus on the real, the hard - it's not all beauty and its not all hugs and love. We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the above pieces of our journey too ...  (even know we are dealing with discipline issues that seemingly re-write the playbook on our parenting and its draining to not know when to push and when to give). BUT, we have to remind ourselves that good things are happening too: 

1. Joshua said I love you to me (in Mandarin) last night. He repeats it also in English
2. Joshua begs for hugs and kisses almost constantly from me
3. Joshua works on repeating English phrases and has incredible clarity in doing so
4. Joshua LOVES to play - be tickled, to wrestle, and is even frequent with the belly laughs. He loves to have fun!
5. Joshua still eats everything in sight (and doesn't have bathroom issues yet (other than the ones described above)!!!! HOORAY
6. Joshua kisses his sisters via FaceTime. He loves talking to them and seeing them. Hopefully this will make the transition back to a big family of 6 easier. 

Areas of focus for all of us: 

1. Prayers as we learn how to teach that hitting/kicking/biting isn't okay
2. Wisdom to know proper consequences when consequences must be applied
3. Grace to ourselves and to our children when we all fall short of even minimal standards of decency to each other
4. Traveling mercies

I'm awake again, at 5:15 a.m., it must be a travel day :). 
We fly out of Guangzhou at 1:00 a.m EST
We are booked on a flight out of Beijing at 5:40 a.m. EST
Our final connection leaves Detroit at 10:10 p.m. on Friday
It will be a long day, but hopefully, at the end of this day we'll be back in a hotel with closest loved ones and left with many stories and memories to tell - and lots to learn as a family of 6.  

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Monday and Tuesday the 20th/21st

by Kristi Van Dyk


It's morning here - and I missed an entire 24 hours of blogging. I'm so sorry folks ;). Really, I slept in with my sweet little man and then we were busy busy busy. I'll make the recaps shorter and try to include more pictures for your viewing enjoyment :) In beautiful fashion, my husband took the meaty post - and did a great job. I mean it, he stole the thoughts from heart and did the work of putting them on the page. 

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On Sunday we spent the day at Shamian Island and visiting the markets. Before the trip - and in the days leading up to it - I was re-reading the book of Joshua. I was impressed that, while the Jordan River was dried up, and held back but the Almighty power of God, God asked the people to step BACK in to the river and select stones - stones to serve as markers - standing stones. I was impressed by this ritual and wanted to select some precious standing stones for our kids - so that we can continuously remind them of God's faithfulness in the hard things. So that we can constantly tell them that God brought us to this, and He will not abandon us through each hard transition. So, Steve graciously handed over the wallet, and we broke the budget we've been doing so great at keeping. The kids have beautiful standing stones now. In addition to that, we ended up visiting a place to purchase cheomsangs. (The traditional dress wear that our kids love so much. Not everyone NEEDED new ones but everyone got new ones because well, according to my loving husband, "it's cheaper than a flight back to China.")  

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We arrived back at the hotel well after lunch - and into normal nap time, but Steve and I rested with Joshua for a while anyway. Then we tried the hot tub and ended the evening at a great little noodle place. The boys were up late - and we're really going to have to get better about that, but it's been fun to be a little bit flexible with the schedule - and see what happens. At any rate, Monday was a day to sleep in and relax a little. Nothing too pressing on the agenda. So, we enjoyed the leisurely late night. 

On Monday we left the hotel around 10:00 to meet with the other members of our group. There are 8 families representing 10 children here with Madison right now. We are at various points in the process (separated by about a day). So, there were 5 families at the consulate yesterday and the appointments took until well past 2:00!!! We are hoping they run a little more quickly today, but are packing (snacks, if they let us have them) anticipating a wait. The consulate appointment is the last big appointment before we leave! It's a huge hurdle. I said to Steve, as I sat on the couch last night playing ridiculous iPhone games, with this leave I have from work, and the adoption paperwork done, I feel like I might be able to read my first book in over two years! Granted, when I get home there will be plenty to do, but, as far as evening work, after the kids are in bed - I'm starting to realize just how much I had been doing! It's glorious to have a breather from it all. 

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At any rate, Monday was the zoo and it was phenomenal. There was a safari bus to take us around and many many interactive exhibits. There was glass to walk on top of (to see snakes beneath your feet), there were monkeys in the ropes and vines overhead, there were games to be played and plenty of ceramic painted pandas with which to take a bazillion photos :). We enjoyed our time with one of the other families. And we were very thankful that we had chosen to smuggle in nutella sandwiches for lunch. The lunch choices were not noodles and meat and rice but different items like mixed meat hot dogs on a stick and fish balls. I wasn't feeling THAT adventurous in the sticky heat - and sort of likened the location to eating from a carnival food truck. It didn't seem the place to take a chance on food. 

We came home around 4 and Josh decided he wanted to run an errand with Daddy while Ben stayed home and watched a movie. I got the glamorous chore of working on putting a dent in the in room laundry situation ... this mostly involved using the hard dryer to attempt to dry out some clean undies for everyone. Josh has experienced some night time potty regression (hence the errand with Daddy for Pull ups) and we were fresh out of too-big Lightning McQueen underpants. ** Side note on the PullUps = effective way to bulk up his booty so the shorts stop falling down.
***Personally, I was a bigger fan of Steve's home made balloon belt (hopefully he will show you a picture. Joshua LOVES it ... picture three balloons deflated and tied together, clipped in the front with a small plastic chip-like clip. This is what we put around J's waist to keep his britches from falling off when he runs! 

Much to Ben's dismay we did Chinese food twice (budget purposes AND Daddy found a restaurant he wanted to try). Its as GREAT ... we didn't quite order enough (J left whimpering that the noodles were gone) BUT what we did order was great! We made up for it by filling to boys with nutritious caramel covered popcorn that we found at 7/11. A+ parenting right now on the meal fronts ... (insert rolling of eyes and shaking of head ... but seriously, I'm tired of eating out! HOMEMADE FOOD is a real craving!) :) ... 

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Today it's early ... nearly 7. We have to be down at breakfast in 30 minutes so that we can leave on time for the consulate appointment. Richard helped us pack up all of our paperwork and get it in order. We just have to add the passports. You can't enter the consulate without a passport and you can't enter WITH a cell phone. So, we'll be out of contact for most of the morning (evening back home) but on the flip side, Joshua will officially be a Van Dyk. I saw one of the families got a t-shirt for their boys that said that, "Officially a _____" I loved it :). We've got a different special sweatshirt for our boy's homecoming ... but for today, his regular clothes (with his special belt) will have to do :). 

Looking forward to making this official! 

LOVE YOU all,

K


Sunday, March 19th - "These people put a hole in my arm"

by Kristi Van Dyk


The first day's breakfast buffet was a busy one. This hotel is enormous but it is also heavily populated by other adoptive families. It's easy to pick us out - we've got transracial families, at least one child in some state of growing attachment (which means that we don't always know how to make the smiles come or the crying stop or food exactly right). BUT we are trying and we're all learning; we can spot another parent across the very crowded room. We exchange knowing glances, sugar free suckers, ibuprofen between adults, and halfhearted jokes about extra sleep. It was these big groups of adoptive families that caused us our first "minor hiccup" of the process.

Our guide had told us to meet at 9:40 in the lobby. She had also said we were traveling with a large group - and due to the size of the group that sometimes another man (who we hadn't yet met) was going to lead us. At 9:40 our guide wasn't in the lobby, but a giant group of adoptive families, and a man, were. We approached, hung on the fringes, he said hello ... and then they all left for their bus! Well, I guess that wasn't it. So, we waited and walked around, worried we had missed something. We were just about to phone our coordinator when our guide came scurrying in. She was collecting 3 families from 3 different hotels - and we were the last stop :). So, thankfully, we hustled ourselves into the mini bus and were shuttled away to the medical appointment. 

All kids submitted to a Visa photo and then were ushered upstairs to a very crowded health clinic. The adoptive families were roped off in their own section, and we each awaited our turns in the various rooms. I'm sure to the kids sitting there it felt like a series of torture chambers, at least for most of them we were all allowed to accompany our children. It was only in the final room where we weren't permitted behind closed doors. Joshua saw a doctor who did a thorough exam. He told us the hypospadia in the file was non-existent. We'd need to visit a doctor for a circumcision, but we don't have any other special needs in that department (as we had previously been told). AMEN! There was another small concern about spina bifida, but he was almost positive that was a false alarm. We need to have that confirmed with an MRI, but he was "reasonably sure" it wasn't a problem. That leaves us with "just the ears." Since we've noted that our boy is able to hear and follow commands, he answers questions, and he speaks (he has even started repeating some English for us), we simply have to assess the magnitude of the hearing loss and see what we can do to help that .... AND, as time goes on, what we can do correct the way his ears look (if he chooses to do that). We are not in any hurry for the cosmetic portion of the procedure, but we do know where to start that process when its time. And we have seen the dramatic results that can happen for kids who wish to "look like everyone else." Overall, our guy checked out really very well - and we are hopeful that his bloodwork will reveal the same. 

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Bloodwork. Yup. That was the room where we were not allowed to enter. We watched 3 people hand over their sweet children and then the door was closed. Each time the children came out just wailing and sobbing. (We really do understand that this is a necessary thing and fragile attachments could probably be damaged by attending to what happened in that room) BUT as J watched, he became more and more anxious. Maybe it was his age, or maybe its wisdom, but he began to sob before he even approached the room. He knew this was a place he didn't want to be. Nevertheless, he persisted, and Steve was there to comfort him when it was all over. (I also got my share of snuggles in after the fact). ***Incidentally, later on in the evening J and B were processing the day in the tub. Ben pointed to the band aid on J's arm and asked him what happened. J explained, "These people took me in a room and poked a hole in my arm. I need to keep this bandaid on because there is a hole in my arm now." A hole in his arm .... precious boy. 

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Lunch in the room was great. 
Nap was great (once he got there).
J saw Ben and Steve leave (to go get documents arranged with our travel coordinator) and he was furious with me that I wouldn't let him lace up and chase after them. He does NOT appreciate missing out on anything. So, he went to bed fuming ... he would sigh and pout and then suck his thumb, sigh and pout and suck is thumb. After about 2 minutes of this pathetic little tantrum, he fell sound asleep. He woke nearly 2 hours later happy as a lark and ready for more adventures. 

Enter - hot tubbing in the rain. He originally wanted nothing to do with the pool, but, when he saw the hot tub, he was ALL about it. 

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Upon changing from the raining hot tub party, we decided to figure out dinner ... As Steve so accurately describes in his post - Dear Vladimir - "only a true man with unquestionable navigation skills can set off for Chinese food and end up in an Irish Pub." Little dude LOVED his "fish and chips" and Ben (he wants you all to notice his Maranatha t-shirt in China) destroyed his not-so-mini mini burger and chips. In the end it was a beautiful accident - and, if budget allows we may just be back to the Paddy Field Irish Pub. 

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Bath time was an absolute blast last night. We ended up FaceTiming the girls while they were having breakfast so they could laugh at the ruckus their brothers were making in the tub. (We kept it PG ...) It felt so nice to have them all laughing and giggling about something so normal as bath taking. I can't wait to see how all of the sweeties blend together and meld - how Team Van Dyk expands and changes and reforms around the new personalities and new challenges. What a hard and beautiful journey this is.

Thanks for joining us. 
For praying.
For faithfully following

We've got some days of touring with our large group here in Guangzhou. Our next big appointment is Tuesday morning - at the US Consulate for our Visa application. Between now and then we will visit Shamian Island and the Zoo. We skipped the river boat cruise last night (it would have been pretty but its so wet!!!), but we look forward to the other opportunities to site see in the next couple of days. 

As it's Sunday morning now, we are thrilled that it means THIS WEEK (Lord willing) we will be heading back home!!!! In fact, by this time NEXT week we hope to be all home together. (Again, I'm sure there will be challenges, but at least our journey to the "new" normal can begin). 

One last thing (this post feels extra long for some reason), Benjamin slept on the couch last night due to his cough. Normally I'd oil him up and not worry too much, but we don't have our oils along and he's feeling pretty congested. Please pray that he kicks this cough quickly and that it doesn't spread to the rest of the family. We need our restful sleep days so much right now. 


Saturday, March 18th - a travel test

by Kristi Van Dyk


We were a little bit excited about our mid-trip travel test yesterday. A short flight (3.5 hours or so) seemed like a great way to see how our newest traveler fared on an airplane before we embark on the big long haul back home. So, aside from some stressful packing (getting us all repacked with two boys literally running around the room bopping balloons), we managed to get out on time. By the time we made it down to the lobby with our luggage, exchanged some more $$ for RNB, Maggie was waiting for us. She handed us Joshua's Chinese passport to look over. It's felt increasingly "real" each day, but something about moving forward, taking him out of province seemed like a huge step. 

It was a short drive to the airport and Maggie, our sweet guide for this very important phase of the adoption, walked us in to get us all settled. She helped us navigate through checking our luggage and getting our boarding passes. She walked us up to security and then said goodbye. 

It took Steve several passes through security (they told us to remove all electronics from our bags, but when you pack as many cords and plugs and adapters and power supplies as he does, it takes a few tries to get them all). BUT once we were through, we found the water bottle refill in the airport and sat down for a one hour wait to board. Joshua burned through most of the snacks our friends in Taiyuan gave us during our 1 hour wait. I started to panic because I knew I needed more food for the flight ... There wasn't a lot of food that looked airport friendly (at least for us as not proficient chopstick users), so we risked it and went aboard with just the few crackers and dried fruit and suckers we had left. 

Ben had spent some time telling Joshua that we were riding on an airplane. He has been toting around the Dusty Crophopper plane since we met him, and we watching Planes the last couple of nights. Not sure if all of that information helped or enhanced a misconception but that little boy RAN down the gate. I was doing my best to keep up. He had my hand in vice grip, but he was gleeful at the chance to board this plane. He didn't love the seatbelt but he obediently settled in next to brother. By the time we were airborne he would look at me and flash an ear to ear grin. Then he'd settle back in to his movie and then quick check again for the ear to ear smile ... and then settle back in. His smiles (and mine) grew wider when we realized that China Southern served full meals (even on 3.5 hour flights!!!). We had a beverage service pass through and then a full lunch (much to Josh's sheer delight, seriously people, we are talking cloud 9 status here), and then more beverages. 

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By the time lunch was over, Joshua only had time to get to Princess Elsa's building of the ice castle in Frozen before we were told to store our iPads and get prepared for landing. I loaded the kids up with suckers and chewy dessert sticks, and water in the water bottles to help with the potential ear pressure ... BUT, nothing ... nothing but the cloud 9 smiles that is. We touched down (early!!!) and deplaned. We easily found our luggage and our guide. Joshua did have another nose bleed (he has them periodically and we don't quite know what causes them. He's not a big nose picker so perhaps its an allergy or something else). Our guide had to leave us immediately after our driver arrived to collect another group who was arriving. Apparently there were 3 additional families arriving today, some had already arrived and they anticipate about 8 families heading in to do their medical visits today. She anticipates that it will take quite a long time and be really long wait ... So, packing snacks and iPads we will do :) ... 

For dinner, it was our "western" rotation. Guangzhou is apparently the city to experience that of all the cities we visited :) Our hotel alone has enough restaurants to enjoy one per day and never repeat. BUT we ventured outside of the hotel so the boys could have McDonalds. Joshua managed 5 nuggets, half a large fry AND when the waitress came around with free samples of ice cream, he managed to stuff that down the hatch too :). By the time we hit the hay at night, he was beat. It took him a while longer to settle down (maybe due to a new bed and new room), BUT as it's 8:29 a.m. as I'm blogging this and he is STILL SLEEPING, I think he's adjusting pretty well. I hate to wake him up, but I know he'll love breakfast - and his medical appointment is in an hour and a half. So, we really do need to get to moving ... Prayers that we have no surprises today at the appointment and that he fares as well as he can in spite of the uncomfortable things that lie ahead. 

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Friday, March 17th

by Kristi Van Dyk


We are packing to leave Shanxi with our little men. It's been a great 5 days here but we are feeling ready to move on and get this process moving further.  

Yesterday we walked to Starbucks and enjoyed some warm drinks during the mid-morning. We didn't have any plans so it was nice to take it easy. After Starbucks we came back to play in the hotel play area for an hour or so before lunch.  

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At lunch we called an audible and thought we could skip Josh's nap. Is 4 after all, right? And he seemed to be doing well. About the time we hit Yingze Park (which was a gorgeous place for active boys to play) we realized just how wrong we were. Josh was totally overwhelmed by all of the other kids, by all of the play choices, by the options to do... and the height. He ended up trying one or two things (with lots of encouragement) only to come back to Mommy's arms afterwards and just watch. Again, a great learning experience about our boy. Naps are a must - and we need to take all new crowded places slowly! The beautiful part was Josh's sheer delight when the driver dropped us off at the hotel. As soon as Joshua knew we were "home" his spark returned and the silly mischievous boy came right back.  

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After checking all of the paperwork from our guide, we headed back out to try the Pagoda restaurant that we had been hoping to try. Our guide, we thought, had said it had picture menus and that they spoke English. We were excited for some dumplings and rice and maybe Kungpao chicken. When we arrived we learned that somehow we found a restaurant that has no printed English menus, no English speakers and no pictures. But, we were seated now, so we could hardly turn back. Ben helped us order, and we ended up having such a great dinner! (However many times we were laughed at). 

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We also thought we'd treat our boys to Haagen Daz ice cream after dinner! But we quickly learned that littlest man does not like cold things. Again, we probably should have discerned this, but our little guy who likes warm water couldn't handle cold ice cream in his mouth! Yet, he tasted it and loved the flavor so he went through this hilarious (and agonizing process) of eating it, squinting as the cold hit him and then smiling as he tasted it at the end. It was hilarious.  

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Bath and bed were next on the agenda. Josh (after such a busy day and no nap) was asleep within minutes of his head hitting the pillow. And Mom was not far behind. J has developed an affinity for Momma and a not super happy connection to Dad. So, while I love the connection, it's tough even to go to the bathroom alone. We could use prayers for his connection to his super loving daddy to grow. We knew to expect this so it wasn't a total surprise, but it has proven a little more complicated to navigate than we expected. So emotion laden.  

We leave at 1:30 pm local time to fly to Guangzhou. We are set to arrive by 4:15 pm so it is a quick flight. We appreciate your words of comfort and encouragement. We are both missing the girls an extra dose today. It's been so long ... My mom sent us photos from K's ballet observation. It was so good to see her! 

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Thursday, March 16th

by Kristi Van Dyk


Wednesday morning dawned and we woke around 7:00 am after a long and fantastic night of sleep! Ben woke ready to show us the musical and his skills, but all of my texts from back home said it wouldn't be live streamed. I had planned to just let them all sleep when I saw it pop up on Facebook as live after all. So, the room woke up and Daddy rigged up his computer so that it was now on the big tv. Ben was able to do the entire musical for a sleepy Joshua and I right along with his classmates. What a gift to this big brother. 

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After the musical was over we trouped upstairs for breakfas. Everyone ate to their heart's content ;) which was a fair amount of food for 4 people! 

After breakfast we met our guide and went on a tour of the Shanxi museum. We learned lots of deep history - further back than any museum has taken so far. Our favorite exhibit was by another famous calligraphy artist. The work was amazing!  

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During the tour, Ben was pushing J in the stroller and we heard some of our first giggles. It was two boys being a little too wild in a very delicate space but honestly we were thankful for the laughter. So very thankful. J continued laughing and giggling when tickled and throughout the day! Gah! What a gift!  (he still refused to let me take a picture of his smile though). This one gives you a good indicator of the mischief within though. It's there ... 

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After lunch and another great nap (I am NOT complaining about this sleep schedule... ahhh!) we adventured to dinner. We are trying to rotate between Western style dinners and local dinners so that each boy has a chance to have what he likes (don't tell Ben but I think J would eat anything)! Tonight was Western style night so Pizza Hut it was. It was not Pizza that we were used to and so it wasn't as big of a hit with the bigger boys but I found it quite satisfying ;)  

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You'll notice J changed his coat! He discovered where I keep all of his clothes, the ones I brought from home for him. When I gave him this as a choice he grinned from ear to ear and dropped his old coat. When we came back he dutifully placed the new coat right back in the suitcase with a sad expression. Ben told him it was his to keep and then he began to search through the entire suitcase with glee - looking at all that was his. This resulted in him finding the Spider-Man crocs we got from a friend. They are far too big but J didn't care. He was going to wear them with his too big Paw Patrol suit as well! 

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After a little swimming we came back and hunkered down. We got through more of Cars, which J is really enjoying watching ;) And then it was bedtime. Both boys are enjoying the fact that we snuggle them until they are asleep ;) we will deal with the consequences of that transition later, I'm sure, but for now it works and we will enjoy the closeness.   

Today is our last full day in Shanxi. We received word that J's Visa is ready and we can pick it up, so we will be getting that Visa today before we go play at the park. 

I'm looking forward to some good old fashioned outside time today for the boys. It's been cold (50's or so) but sunny and bright.  

A few things coming up could use prayer. We are going to fly out on Friday afternoon (Thursday 1:00 am at home) for Guangzhou, please pray with us that all of that goes smoothly. We will be sad to leave the Kempinski because it's been so nice and comfortable here but hopefully we make a smooth transition to Guangzhou (knowing that it's our last new city will help). Additionally, arrival in Guangzhou means medical appointments. J has been making good bonding progress. Help us to be able to fair well through this potentially hard appointment.  

Thanks friends for following us and for being so so faithful in prayer.  

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Wednesday, March 14th - It's official, and some beautiful smiles

by Kristi Van Dyk


I'm a little behind on my blogging here :) This whole having two children along thing means I actually appreciate my sleeping in time! (And I'm also a little more necessary to keep the tiny man asleep). Therefore, my usual 5:00 a.m. blogging hasn't been happening. BUT, I'm committed to recording this, so I'll try and catch up here. 

On Wednesday morning we had to wake early - no on really felt like moving - we had talked to our girls too long - and so we were rushed at breakfast. We had been looking forward to watching Jinhua explore his breakfast at his leisure, but that didn't quite happen. Instead, we rushed out the door while he still had a slice of bread in one hand and a hard boiled egg in the other. We had an 8:30 a.m. appointment to sign our final adoption papers, pay the finals fees, AND make everything official. 

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While we were there the director of adoptions gave Ben a special gift from a famous calligraphy artist, her husband. It was such a treasured gift, and we are sure our interview was a slam dunk with the impression our son managed to create of us as parents. In truth, we rely solely on the wisdom of our Heavenly Father and we are so thankful for the way He has brought us through each phase of this process. BUT, I don't think telling a closed country official that "God told us to adopt Joshua" was exactly the interview she was looking for :). Nevertheless, we were done quickly and our guide took us grocery shopping so that we could make instant noodles, purchase fruit, and find a few more essentials. 

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Then, we all came back, had our separate (easy and cheap) lunches. And then we took a giant family nap. We learned the previous night that things worked best when we all slept together in a giant family bed. So we manage to push together our two doubles for sleeping time and then we push them back so the maid can make them each day :) BUT, we slept for 2 straight hours and then decided to visit the pool. We were not sure how J would react to the pool, so we kept him fully clothed. As Ben was changing into his suit, though, J started noticing that they were not matching. (This was the first indicator we SHOULD have seen that our new son is not a "wait and see" kind of kid). We persisted, though, and brought the extra suit we had down to the pool, just in case. As we approached the water, J took one look and immediately reached for his trousers. He was ready to strip then and there to get in! We laughed aloud and Steve quickly ushered him off to the bathroom to change. During swim time, he splashed around, just waist deep, enjoyed laughing at Ben, and pouring little bottle tops back and forth. 

From that moment on, we watched our new little boy fight to keep up. He raced to the elevators (despite the fact that running typically made his really baggy pants slide down his lack of rear end). He pushed the buttons; he ran through the lobby. He was the first to put on his shoes or his coat when he knew we were going out. He smiled quickly. He ate ferociously (and constantly) and he gradually opened up to us.

We went to dinner last evening with the other family in the hotel that is adopting right now. We enjoyed great conversation, a chance to hear their story and their life - and an opportunity to learn from their experiences. It was so nice to enjoy the company of other Americans. 

After a nice dinner, we phoned our girls (again) to hear how they were doing and help them chat with their brother. And then we tried a joint bath. For the sake of both boys, who are well passed the age where naked tub pictures are appropriate, I will not post photos. BUT suffice it to say there were giggles and smiles and moments of sheer delight. We closed the evening with a new American boys classic and let the boys begin watching Cars! :) Joshua seemed to enjoy it but by 8:30, the boys were out. 

We felt as though our day was a success - we got to know our new son better - we had moments where he verbalized his needs - and we had a chance to see that he really is a fun loving little boy at his core. And he is willing to start showing us more and more of who he is :). 

Thank you JESUS for the progress we keep seeing. It is truly you, at work. 


Tuesday, March 14 - Forever Family Day

by Kristi Van Dyk


THE DAY ... the biggest day of the entire trip was finally here. Our most meaningful pictures have already been released so there isn't too much too add to those, but I'll leave them embedded here anyway. 

Breakfast began as normally as possible (but with Benj BOUNCING off the walls). His little body simply could NOT contain the levels of energy that were coursing through him. He enjoyed the breakfast at the hotel, and we came back to the room to pack our "Joshua" bag. Upon heading downstairs to meet our guide, we saw another family with the same anxious expressions. They were going, too, to meet their son. They had already met him once, and so the situation was a bit different. On top of that, this was their second time adopting. BUT they were so friendly, and we were thankful for another couple to walk alongside us that morning. 

Upon arriving at Civil Affairs, we all went to the meeting room together to await the arrival of the children. I can't describe the feelings at that moment. It was every bit a mixture of nerves and hope and unpredictability that settled like a hum over the room. We chatted lightly with the other couple and then, their son arrived. And it was just us. The other family came, took their photos and left before our son even found the building. Their driver had run into traffic on the way. But finally, he did arrive. He walked into the room, as tiny as we had envisioned, and he cautiously approached us. His orphanage workers helped us to begin the conversation, and he took the sucker immediately and the plane right away. As Ben approached, and got out our family book, though, he started to look interested. Ben went through the album - page by page - with each family member ... he spoke in a stream of information and with such love. JinHua didn't move much, but he was listening. His eyes never left his brother except to glance at Steve or me. After 10 or so minutes of processing all of this information with his caregivers (and his caregivers falling more and more in love with BEN each minute), Jinhua came to me. I scooped him up and repeated what little Mandarin I did know to him. He relaxed a little in my arms, and I knew we'd made our first steps towards each other. 

Due to the amount of extra time we had before Jinhua's arrival, we were able to sign the release papers before he got there. This let us take photos with the caregivers, finish our conversations, promise to see each other tomorrow, and leave. Before we did leave, the Civil Affairs office said, "Please have your family come back. We will give your son a job here. We want him to work here." Ben was ready to agree that moment. 

We left the Civil Affairs and went to take a photo of our new family at a local photo shop. We also had to purchase additional passport photos for Steve and I (awesome). And then we made the short drive back home and the rest of the days adventures began. 

 

We navigated lunch, naptime, playtime, bathroom time with relative ease (everything seemed easier than the anticipation of that first meeting!). Jinhua has expressed no preferences yet. But we will not push that. He is obedient and quiet. He does whatever we ask and shows very little emotion. We hope, as we get to know him better, that we can push beyond that and build trust. BUT, we realize this takes time. We truly had no expectations, not of him, not of ourselves, and we were able (as we had requested) to hold all of this loosely as we just begin to learn about each other. We were able to recognize the incredible trauma that all of this is for him, and how much change and disruption we caused to his life. Again, we realize that this will eventually provide him with opportunities he never could have had before. BUT we recognize that every opportunity has a cost. We are all feeling the cost of this one this week. Steve puts the emotion and feeling of it all so beautifully in his post about the day (and shocker, church, and words from God through our pastor are always interwoven into the hare places in our lives)

As we were readying ourselves for bedtime, after dinner, (this boy will pack away anything we give him. He loves his noodles, and we have given him as much Chinese as we can find, but when we give him American snacks he eats those with great enjoyment too. His favorites so far are honey roasted peanuts and peanut butter sandwiches) Ben began to re-read the family album - the same one we had used to introduce ourselves at the Civil Affairs office. And as he did, Jinhua began to speak. Everyone was so excited (I was in the bathroom doing laundry, but I heard it all happen) that I thought he'd maybe stop, but he didn't. And he let Daddy catch it all on his phone ... 

 

The next few days will move at a much slower pace. We will let our attachment with Jinhua be the priority. We will let his needs and schedule rule the day. While balancing them with our Benjamin's needs to MOVE AND RUN and DO STUFF :). BUT we begin first, today, with the signing of all of the adoption paperwork. In China, the first 24 hours are the bonding period. A family could (I can't imagine doing this, but I'm sure there are reasons), claim that this doesn't work for them and return the child to the orphanage at the conclusion of these 24 hours. If they don't choose to do that, then today is the day it is made official.

Today is the day we will make it official.
Today we go back to Civil Affairs and sign the papers that say, we are in this for the long haul. We have, in fact, already signed them. We just need to seal them with our fingerprints in front of the officials. This happens at 8:30 a.m. So, we have an early morning and an early breakfast. 

Pray that we continue to have patience with each other. That our family connections deepen, that Steve and I know (by the power of Holy Spirit) what is best for both of our sons. That we know when to give and when to make requests. That we know when to pull close and when to give space. We are so thankful for your prayers and your support on this journey. We know that Joshua doesn't just have us, he has a community of many - and some day, we pray, he sees that that community is really just an imperfect reflection of the incomparable love of the Father in heaven. And his adoption story really beats them all! 


Monday, March 13 - Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses and our final train

by Kristi Van Dyk


Our breakfast was, again, amazing and we were ready for our adventure, with our new guide, Celene, by 9:30. Our hotel was able to exchange some more of our currency for us so we didn't need a separate stop and we were off. It was about an hour drive to the Terra Cotta Warrior museum. Our guide filled us with lots of information about the city center. After 30 minutes of her sharing, we were sure this will be the place our Kayleigh returns to. Xi'an is far less congested than Beijing. It was basically peaceful by comparison. But Xi'an is the home of 20 Universities. It was home to the original university in China and also holds the cultural artifacts and relics that speak to China's long and rich history. Additionally, Xi'an is known for its beautiful dance and music performances. All things that our firstborn would find highly valuable in her future city :). We purchased her a fantastic book of the Terra Cotta Warriors (the book seller kept trying to give us the English copies and we kept insisting on Chinese) with accompanying pictures and CD's. I think she'll love it. And I hope its the birth of a deeper dream in her heart.

It was absolutely pouring throughout the entire day. So, as we walked between buildings we huddled under our guide's umbrellas. Nevertheless, we enjoyed learning how these incredible artifacts were painstakingly restored and displayed. We learned how to tell the difference between the different types of warriors, we learned how the archaeologists knew exactly where each warrior should stand (and which direction he/she was to face). We saw many many unfinished warriors assembled and waiting for those last few pieces to be found. It was truly a fascinating museum. 

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Our guide told us that lunch in the museum was truly spectacular, and that Xi'an is known for its special noodles (made with wheat products as that is a major agricultural product). So, we had a fantastic lunch in the museum with many many different kinds of foods. I didn't try a single dish that I didn't like. Steve found a few he could eat. Our guide helped us encourage Ben to try two bites of new dishes. He liked the shrimp chips (ha!) and rejected the specialty noodles that we were able to watch them make in front of us. It's too bad because I thoroughly enjoyed the noodles. 

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After finishing up at the museum our guide dropped us off at the train station about 30 minutes before boarding. We were able to get through security quickly, find our gate - grab a quick visit to the squatty potties (we are all getting pretty proficient at these by now) and find some coffee. There was no Starbucks ... we were really looking forward to that after the raining trek. BUT ... maybe in Taiyuan. :). 

Our train ride was uneventful but a little more jostling and pushing happened this time. The stops were quick and were uncertain if the train ended at our stop or if there were more stops after us. So, we ready and waiting by the door to jostle everyone to get out (there was no way we were missing Joshua's stop). As it turned out there was no need and it was the last stop. We found our way through the check out/exit process and our new guide, for this critical phase in our process, was waiting for us.

Maggie has this incredibly soothing way about her. Within the first few minute she said, "I know this is a really big week for you all in the life of your family. So, please add me on WeChat and message me whenever you need me. I'm here to help you with anything that will make you more comfortable." She was as good as her word. We told her we probably didn't need food tonight, but she must have had a sense that we were lying. She brought us up to our room and told us she could order us a Papa John's pizza and it would be here in less than 30 minutes. That was music to the boys' ears. In addition she drew us a beautiful map with 11 points of critical interest that we may need to find during our next 6 days here. One of which was ... a Starbucks :). It was among the first things she pointed out. She told us where good Chinese restaurants were too and how to get there using underpasses. 

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According to the advice from all of our friends we upgraded our rooms in Taiyuan and Guangzhou (it wasn't that much more from a cost perspective) but we have access to an unlimited minibar (of water and soda), a gorgeous room on a very quiet floor. We have an enormous bathroom full of amenities and the technology is such that we can connect our computer to the HDMI output and pump Netflix through to the flat screen. I can't even imagine how much this could help when we need just 20-30 minutes of down time. The guide and planner took the liberty of setting up a pack and play in the room - and Ben is confident he could sleep on the couch if Joshua needed the double bed. We didn't intend to take this trip for luxury reasons, but having creature comforts as we embark on a huge journey has proven to be a lifeline of hope for us. In typical Dutch fashion, I used the extra space in the bathroom (and the laundry soap we found in Beijing) to begin immediately hand washing as much laundry as we can hang in our closet :). Several outfits should be ready to be reused by Tuesday. 

We all crashed late last night and were up early. I think our nerves are getting the best of us. It's 6:01 local time and everyone is up. Steve is presently negotiating just how we can take showers in a full glass shower with a floor to ceiling window that opens to the sleeping area. Hopefully he figures out a combination of light levels soon utilizing the automatic screen or this could be a really interesting family trip. 

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T minus 3 hours and 53 minutes until our son is due at the Civil Affairs office. 

Make that 3 hours and 10 minutes.

Not that we are counting down. 


Sunday, March 12th - The Forbidden City, our first goodbye and an important lesson

by Kristi Van Dyk


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Yesterday was a much bigger day than anyone in our family ancitipated. Bigger in the sense that it was long, long, long! The day began leisurely enough, with our trip down for Benjamin's favorite meal of the day. We had cappuccinos and Western breakfasts before packing up our room to check out by 9:30 a.m. We met Judy at the front of the hotel, and she came bearing gifts. She brought two of her son's books for Benjamin to keep and a little tin box of Chinese Chocolates. We thanked her profusely and treasured up the special gifts. The Forbidden City is just minutes away from our hotel, so we had hardly gotten in the car when the driver let us out. Judy had been telling us that the typically bad Beijing traffic was even more out of control and security even greater because of the special sessions happening in the government right now. Up until Saturday, no one was allowed into Tianenman Square for the safety and security of the government officials. They opened just as we arrived (she said we were VIP, more VIP than Donald Trump and so they heard we were here and opened. She had a fantastic sense of humor), and Judy whisked us through the special "foreign tourists" gate. We passed through security screening twice, but there were lots of smiles as they watched Judy talk to Ben. Judy said in the public square, and elsewhere, people comment about her being crazy and "silly" to talk to a foreign boy in Mandarin. And they all mutter that she is out of her mind. BUT then, Benjamin would respond and these same people would immediately act shocked and point to their traveling companions to remark at Benjamin's Mandarin. At least twice some of the security in the city told us, as his parents, that his Mandarin was really very good. 

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We enjoyed exploring this iconic Square and then took the underpass to the Forbidden City. Steve and I, having not studied this place in depth, were shocked at the absolute enormity of it all. All of it constructed in this location because the emperor believed it the most secure (Beijing is surrounded by mountains on three sides). The lengths the emperor took to protect himself and his family was incredible; there were gates and courts and more gates and more courtyards each with its own separate function (like a place to sip tea or hold a meeting). The painting had been expertly retouched, but (in genius fashion) they left some undone so that the original painting was exposed and people could see originals. There were stories of battles at various courtyards and damage caused by invading countries. There were stories of concubines turned into empresses and hosts of rules for wives and families and where they could exit and enter the city. Because this is a museum now, tourists take great delight in walking through the center of the gates (previously reserved only for the emperor himself and his wife, one time in her life, on their wedding day but never, ever, ever for a concubine or a common man). There were moats to prevent passage and large water basins around for fire protection. Judy said they even layered the concrete 15 layers deep to protect the emperor from someone who might attempt to invade by tunneling upward! It was fascinating, and HUGE. By around noon we were done with this tour and ready for lunch.

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Judy, knowing our propensity for American food recommended that we simply eat in the train station, where there would be plenty of choices. Thus, we arrived at the train station nearly 3 hours before our train was set to depart. We learned to read the message board so we could determine where we should wait and then were able to watch how people queued up 30 minutes prior to boarding. As we had extra luggage to store, we were ready to follow this example when it was our turn.

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The biggest piece of learning for the day was the sheer size of China. When we read that China is roughly the same size as the land mass of the United States, we were skeptical. We thought maybe it was close, but it really doesn't LOOK as big on the map :). So, we assumed (quite erroneously) that our bullet train rides would be short. In my head I expected an hour or two - getting us to Xi'an by dinner time. Well, no, the train from Beijing to Xi'an is 5.5 hours, covering approximately 1,100 km (or roughly the distance between Holland, MI and Chattanooga, TN) We weren't prepared to order food on the train (I couldn't even tell you what they offered) and by the time we arrived in Xi'an, it was 10:00 p.m. Our hotel was 45 minutes from the train station, so we were absolutely exhausted by the time we arrived. We survived last night on skittles, granola bars and water. My stomach is READY for breakfast this morning! Real food, please, of any variety. 

Having learned our lesson, we asked Celene, our guide here in Xi'an, about the length of train ride we are to take today - between Xi'an and Taiyuan. She said it's not quite 4 hours. So today, we are going to see the Terra Cotta Warriors, grab some lunch, and then navigate a new train station before commuting the distance roughly equivalent to driving between: Holland, MI and Bowling Green, KY. The difference of course is that we get to do it on a bullet train at the max speed of around 302 km/hr. 

I have thoroughly loved seeing the sites and visiting historic places. I would do it again in a heartbeat if we had a chance. BUT, I am thankful that the next location and hotel is a place we can sink into for several days. We need to do some laundry, we would like to get our bearings and feel "at home " with familiar surroundings for at least a few days. The next city we visit is not for a tourist event. There will be things to see and to learn, but the next morning, when I blog from our next location, it will be in anticipation of heading to Civil Affairs to meet our son.  

Today I pray for his heart the most - for his "lasts." I wonder if he knows they are his lasts... His last night in that bed he's known. His last morning to play and visit and have fun with the friends and caregivers, his last time in the city that has been his home. I wonder if he's anxious. I wonder if he's at all excited. I am positive he must be scared. As nervous as I am, I have the security of my husband and my son, I have my familiar things from home.  I can conquer unfamiliar obstacles because I'm securely attached. I pray, again, for supernatural peace for him - for the Lord to grip Him with a peace that passes all understanding. Today, I just pray ... 

I also got these adorable photos from home that made my heart soar - the girls are doing well. Happy to do special things with special people. 

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Crafting, of course, a Miss Shari special. 

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❤️❤️

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Missing them so dearly but so thankful for a God who isn't bound by time zones or borders or distance and is loving them through the hands and feet of their caregivers! 


Saturday, March 11th - The Great Wall and navigating Beijing solo

by Kristi Van Dyk


A quick note before we begin, I'm treating these blogs as a journal of sorts, so feel no pressure to read each day and please don't think me obnoxious. Someday I hope our son desires to read about our journey and hear the stories of how he came into our family. I want to not miss a detail, or forget a moment where God showed himself, however small it seemed at the time. So, I hope you enjoy reading but also realize these days aren't all earth shattering and I know that ;) 

On a second note, I am sorry for the typos and grammar issues. I compose each post on a iPad. Someday I'll go back and edit. Ugh... 

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Yesterday morning began with a flat iron incident (pretty sure I already had my best hair day of the trip) and a massive breakfast. For Benny, food is going to be the hardest part. He staunchly refuses to eat Chinese food, so he gorges himself on western style food whenever he can. Our hotel has a breakfast buffet that includes waffles. He's proud to say he had 5 waffles, a fruit plate and a bowl of cereal. Normally I'd limit his carbs, but given his energy expenditure and limited intake, we will just rejoice that there is one meal he likes.

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Our guide and driver helped us change our money at the bank today so we could go to the Great Wall. What an amazing experience. We road a ski lift up to the point at which we hiked and then walked at least 15 of the available 17 watchtowers. A group of teen girls cursed at Ben's incredible Mandarin (our guide laughed and laughed at them) and we took tons of pictures. Ben signed his Chinese name on the wall and our guide circled it with a heart, hoping we come back someday and can find his name. It was about 61 degrees when we started the climb and close to 70 by the time we finished. It was a gorgeous day. 

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Judy, our guide, told us that we should head down the toboggan route and grab some lunch before we head home but we should leave before 3:00 as weekend traffic is impossible and it starts early in the day. We enjoyed our ride, but were frustrated that the person in front of us kept stopping! We never really got a great pace.  But, it was still really amazing.  

Judy and I found a restaurant (her recommendation) with great food. The boys found a Burger King ;) I do not regret my Kungpao Chicken,  but it was at least triple what I normally eat for lunch, so I could scarcely eat half. 

After driving home Steve and I needed a short nap and Ben got some screen time since he napped on the entire 90 minute drive home. Once refreshed we decided to embark on our first solo adventure. We wanted laundry soap and dinner.

We successfully navigated the busy malls to find soap and coca colas and more bottled water. We then found the restaurant our guide recommended and had an amazing noodle dinner (Steve too. Ben refused even to eat one bite...so he's going to be very hungry at breakfast today). We were a disaster with chopsticks and we made Benji go ask if they had forks. We couldnt tell if they were laughing at his cuteness with language or at us trying to eat but regardless, there were no forks. I fully plan to master chopsticks (as best I can) before we go. Steve ate far less of his dinner than I simply due to the difficult navigation of noodle to chopstick to mouth. But he did a great job trying ;) we were in bed again very early ...  by 8:30 for sure. 

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Tomorrow we meet our guide early and visit: the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City and Tienamen (pretty sure I butchered that spelling) Square and then say goodbye to Beijing. Our Beijing guide and driver will leave us at the bullet train which we will navigate solo and arrive in the hands of our Xi'an guide and driver when we step into the new province. 

Incidentally, as I sit here blogging I can hear my son sleep talking. Around 2:30 am he woke me vehemently shouting in Chinese. He's doing it again and I'm seriously trying not to laugh out loud. How amazing is that... seriously friends, this immersion language in action and in country is beyond our wildest imaginings and I think it will only get better as we meet our Joshua in about 52 more hours. 

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Just your average sunny Friday, racing your new Chinese friend down the steps of one of the most iconic sites in the world. 


Friday, March 10 - Early Adventures

by Kristi Van Dyk


We last left you all at the airport, awaiting our first flight to DTW, having been miraculously moved earlier so that we could stress less about our connections.

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Consequently, we had 2.5 hours or so with which to explore the Detroit airport. We found a Chick-Fil-a, mostly because we love them, not because anyone really enjoys chicken for breakfast. We let Ben walk (many times) across the moving sidewalks (which were endlessly fun for him), and then we walked through the psychedelic tunnels and found ourselves near a Starbucks.

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Everyone enjoyed their drinks with the sunshine streaming in through the windows before heading back to board the plane. 

Our friend, Julie, had been telling us how amazing it is to fly Delta. We experienced that with our flight changes, but the in flight service was phenemonal. Ben got wings, and loved the Sky Kids entertainment sections very much. He played most of the flight. We were also fortunate to have  a seat open and all of us had more than the typical space to spread out. Ben laid down sideways and managed a good four to five hour nap mid flight. I'd dare say his parents slept far less, but it's a gift to us that he had a chance to rest.

After deplaning we managed to practically sail through customs and baggage claim. Our guide was incredible; we hardly had a chance to scan the room for someone before she was running to us with our passport photos in her hands. She let us take a break, and while we were gone, she met Ben. By the time we got back from the bathrooms, she knew more about our family than one could ever wish in five minutes. She was very impressed with Ben, and his ability to communicate. I say that with some pride but also because I wish my fellow Mandarin moms could see what this ability did to everyone we met. I know hid buddies could do this too! Our guide said in Beijing there is a lot of tourism but not a lot of locals see foreigners, so a blonde haired, blue eyed boy is a novelty. Then, to hear him chattering away in what she called native-like Mandarin was too mind boggling. People stared everywhere we went. She herself had never seen someone so young be so proficient. She has a five and a half year old son and says Ben speaks close to the same way he does, if not a little more confidently. As parents we couldn't enjoy nearly as much as Ben did because he understood it all. But I was so proud to watch not just how he engaged the people but how confidently and quickly he adjusted to culture. To the close proximity of people, to the lack of line waiting (one really does just charges into the elevator at will) and even the crossing the streets in which pedestrians are very aggressive. Our friends has to pull him back often because he would just charge headlong into the street like the other bikers and pedestrians. Ben didn't have time to wait for his slow poke parents. He even made a correction to the directions because he knew we how to get back to the hotel better than we did. 

Once our guide has us checked in and settled in our hotel for two nights, we got a WeChat from some friends of Yingpu's (the kids teacher), who lives near Beijing. They took us (on Yingpu and ChenYan's treat) to a western style restaurant so Steve and Ben could eat hamburgers. We were terrible company because we were so tired, but Ben did great! It was so nice, before we embarked on journey to other provinces, to have some burgers. We would never have been able to find this place ourselves. It was a gift to have trusted faces help us navigate this busy city and to meet some other believers here in Beijing and learn about their lives. One of the friends spoke no English, so Mabel and Ben served as interpreters between us. Ben would often forget to tell us what was said because he was so involved in the conversation. By 8:00, we regrettably, had to return to our hotel. We were exhausted from the journey and needed sleep. By 8:30 our room was snoring away. 

 

Today's agenda, is the Great Wall of China. We are told that we are exploring the wall at the "most beautiful and most famous" point. We are all very excited for this part of the trip. 

Thanks for all of the prayers. We have been so blessed by them.  

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Wednesday, March 8 - in transit

by Kristi Van Dyk


My husband went ahead and threw down the gauntlet by calling out the blog update score as 1:0 (in his favor). I am always more of a morning blogger anyway. But, I simply can't let that stand so... our update for today.

As we really only just began the journey there isn't too much to report, but we did have a beautiful miracle yesterday that is worth sharing.  

We noted in our prayer warrior post that we were concerned about some close connections between our flights on the way out. Well, we ended up giving Delta a call yesterday morning to just see how much an earlier connecting flight would cost. After examining our itinerary the sweet agent told us we could happily change for $300/ticket. I thanked her for her time but said that we were on an adoption budget and we simply couldn't pay that. I said we'd just pray that we made our flights. 

She heard us and was moved. She petitioned to her supervisor who came back and agreed to waive all fees! Yes, all fees! God gave us a miracle via Delta.  So, here we sit, at ORD, waiting for a 6:35 flight instead of the 9:05. But, this means our 12:05 departure will be far less stressful, and we won't risk missing the biggest leg of the trip. 

Praise the Lord for His intervention.  

Our separation from our girls was as hard as I had imagined. There were tears and some sobbing (and not just by me). But I know they will be well loved and well cared for in all of the places they stay.  

The alarms went off this morning at 2:15 am and we were reminded of one of the reasons we wanted Ben along. He sleeps through ANYTHING and wakes up instantly raring to go. When we finally had to rouse him, he went from stone cold out to dimpled smiles in about 30 seconds. He waited super patiently (for nearly 40 minutes) for the Delta ticket counter to open, and he was a champ as we sailed through security. He told the TSA agent about his brother in such a beautiful and precious way. I don't think the agent quite knew what to say, but he wished us safe journeys. 

So, here we sit, awaiting the first flight of the day ... And practicing our, "we can be patient and flexible" attitudes. 

We look forward to blogging again from our first stop in Beijing.   

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So ready to get this show on the road

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Happy to have a big, cozy bed all to himself at the O'Hare hotel    

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At 2:45 am are cookies breakfast or a midnight snack?  


To our prayer warriors

by Kristi Van Dyk


Last night our aunt asked for a detailed schedule of our trip so that she could pray specifically. We love that our people are not just praying us TO China but through China and beyond. We have no idea what hard things we will encounter, but we do know the power of the praying family of believers. So, to those of you who have faithfully prayed us here, we thank you in advance for the prayers you'll pray over us as we travel. 

I won't elaborate too much on precise locations - something about that makes my insides scream - a little unwise. BUT we can talk about general activities - some days we know will be super critical. 

Remember, China is 13 hours ahead of Michigan :) So, it never hurts to pray ahead (or pray over us as we sleep!!) 

This weekend and into Monday - pray over the hands that will care for our girls - pray for their teachers, their coaches, their grandparents (definitely those grandparents), pray that love and care and protection and peace will surround them all.
Please also pray for Jinhua. As far as we know he has little to no understanding about what is about to happen. He has no idea that life as he knows it will change (nor any idea just how much it will change). Pray for his heart. Pray for supernatural peace for him. Pray for the friends he leaves behind. Pray for his caregivers, the ones who have loved him and cherished him, and who are also experiencing a loss this week. (Adoption is so so hard). We ask that you pray for God's presence to hover over his entire orphanage and over the Civil Affairs Court as we (and several others) prepare to meet our children.

Tuesday, March 7th: Today we say goodbye to the girls and head to the airport city. This parting will be difficult for all of us. 

Wednesday, March 8th: Traveling mercies as we are in the air most of the day

Thursday, March 9th-11th: Traveling to major tourist stops (this was strongly advised as we recover from jet lag and rest up ... preparing for the high high emotions and events of the next few days). Benjamin is (providentially) studying The Forbidden City right now in school. He will see that in person, the Great Wall, The Temple of Heaven, and the Terra Cotta Warriors. He will get to ride on a bullet train (many times actually). As he experiences all of this excitement and connection to the learning he has done in school, pray for our big girl at home. Her learning heart craves these opportunities, and she will know, acutely, that she is missing out. 

Sunday, March 12th: We arrive in Jinhua's province. We check into the hotel that we will bring our son back to. We prepare to meet him the next day. 

Monday, March 13th: We meet our son, Yang Jin Hua. We've been told he's shy (a shy Van Dyk? This will truly be new!) and that he has really good friends at his orphanage. Today (and the days that follow) we are asking him to do some really hard things: to trust us, to have so much courage, to travel with total strangers, to explore places that are completely new and probably scary. The best I can ask for is God's abiding presence among us all. We so desperately want to do the right thing for him - to say the right things (through our 6 year old interpreter), but our words and our efforts will fail unless the Father is present in them. 

Tuesday, March 14th - 16th: We stay in our son's province, visit parks, shop for supplies, begin to bond and learn about each other. We ask God to bless this time. 
Additionally, back at home, the elementary school musical takes place on the 14th. Kayleigh and Benjamin were both SO EXCITED about this event. The timing of the trip means we miss watching Kayleigh, and Benjamin doesn't get to participate (after months of work). We promised Ben an opportunity to sing any songs he wants at full volume, as solos, in any park in China :). (Something about him shouting "If we don't go, how will people know" from Great Wall in China kind of makes my heart soar).  I'm sure he will give it his best effort.
BUT, it also mean our daughter will feel the keen sting of not having her parents at the musical. This grieves her. Pray that God gives HER his overwhelming presence, that he fills HER up ... that he lets her know that He sees her and cherishes her and loves her even if we can't. 

Friday, March 17th - We travel to Guangzhou with our boys. Traveling mercies on the inter country flights - and on Joshua's first airplane ride. 

Saturday, March 18th - Today is medical testing day. Our biggest prayers are for our new son. Physicals can be rough anyway, but having check ups with people you only just met in places you have never been ... I can only imagine the thoughts and challenges that this will bring for him. God's peace ... God's presence ... Pray that His love and His might prevail. 

Sunday, March 19th - Monday, March 20th - This is two days of sightseeing - zoos, parks, islands, shopping, bonding. Pray that it goes well, that we have fun, that we laugh, that we continue to learn more about each other.

Tuesday, March 21st -  Our appointment with the consulate. This is a big day. Please pray that all is in order, that it goes smoothly, that there are no delays. 

Wednesday, March 22-23 - More sightseeing - and VISA PICK UP (on the 23rd). Pray that, again, all is in order and we will be allowed to leave without delays. We trust that the God who provided for our every need up until this point has this process well in hand too. But, my anxious heart may not be resting in that. Help me boldly surrender control. 

Friday, March 24 - We begin the process of home going. Again, I can NOT predict or imagine how this journey will look. We have three flights to catch - two boys who will be tired and maybe irritable, emotional, and we ourselves will be exhausted. Prayers for feet for the path. The presence to simply put one foot in front of the next and keep on keeping on. Health for all of us is another wish - with so many places and so many people and so many things that could happen. We ask God for his provision in our health. 

Upon arrival we hope to see our parents and our girls at the terminal. We ask for presence over that first meeting. That God would be there - that He would bless it. That He would clearly hover over our first moments all together as a family of 6 and an extended family of 10.

There are so many tall orders and challenges on this prayer list. But we know we serve a big God. A God who saw this journey not 1 year ago, not 2 years ago, not even as we were gazing at Kayleigh for the first time, but He saw it as our parents were gazing on US for the first time (and before that too). That's the peace I cling to. 

Thank you, friends for your love and your prayers in this huge huge journey. 


And a child shall lead them

by Kristi Van Dyk


Last night I was reflecting on our marriage conference, setting my heart right for this next week of work and school, wondering if we would hear something this week when God led me through my previous blog posts. He took me by the hand nudged me through the written records of that divine hand in our lives. He led me straight to this treasure: "Something tells me I'll want to remember this."  

Check the date on that post. May 13, 2015. 2015!!!! Almost a year, to the day, when we received the donation call that launched our adoption from dream to reality. God heard the prayer of our little dreamer. He has been actively orchestrating this story even further back than I remembered. Back when no one followed our blog - back when all of this was a dream too big to utter in public. And my sweet sweet girl was willing. She heard his voice too. Her heart was big. She was compelled by a story. 

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May I learn from her.

May I listen to that still small voice, to His tugging at my heart, always.

May I not let the realities of the world hinder the power of our Heavenly Father to see His will come to pass.


The journey

by Kristi Van Dyk


There isn't much to update today. We are waiting, again. But waiting in a really good space. Our DS260 is in, our paperwork will be walked over today (in fact it may already be there) to CCCWA where we will receive (Lord willing) our TA and travel dates. We hope this week we can book our flights and plan our trip. 

As we wait, let me give you a little insight into me as a person ... it applies, I promise.

For those of you who are personally acquainted with the idiosyncrasies that make me me you know that I.love.a.plan. I have always loved a plan. Truly, from the first day of middle school into the days my children began school, my favorite days of the year were when we got a syllabus. I could meticulously plan when I'd draft, when I'd edit, what I needed to do in little tiny steps to accomplish the big goal of completing the semester without missing an assignment or feeling rushed. I'd plan the semester - the year, if could, and I'd feel intense satisfaction in knowing that my little planner (electronic or written, it didn't matter) would help me handle the mountain of work one day at a time. Truth be told, I'm still happiest when I work that way. I send my sweet, understanding mother a long email at the start of each month with the entire list of anticipated childcare needs for the next 30 days. I plan meals a month ahead for the family (seriously, name a day in March and I can tell you what's for dinner).

I am happiest when I have a plan. 

Conversely, when things change, when control can't be achieved, planned, and calculated, when life doesn't go as planned (which, less face it is pretty stinkin' often), I kind of lose my stuff. I mean, blood pressure rises, panic sets in, the urge to run in a corner and hide overwhelms me. 

Over the years I've learned how to cope,  to adjust, but it never really stops the physical reactions I get to the unexpected, the unpredictable. I share these insights because it demonstrates the true, all surpassing power of God in my life this past year. 

Here we sit... our agency telling Us travel is imminent. Telling us to plan for the first of March? The first of March??? I should be packing and I'm way behind on booking flights and getting childcare lined up! Who is taking Maddie to the gym??? Kayleigh to ballet? Will Ben's heart Ben broken when he misses his musical (yes, the answer to that is definitely yes)? 

breathe... breathe... breathe.  

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This morning, during my quiet time, I pulled out my journal. For the first time in my life I have faithfully journaled (not every day, but pretty close to every day) for an entire year. So I was able to pull out my learnings from early February of last year. The beginning of God's plan for me was already taking shape. Even in those moments, when I had no idea what was ahead, He was preparing my heart. 

"Teach me, God, to surrender control; give me a chance to do nothing but depend upon you for each next step. I crave a larger purpose, a calling, a clear target that gives us a mission beyond ourselves ... the deep knowledge that we're living into your calling and your mission for our lives." 

I consider it nothing short of a miracle, a real blessing that this morning I cried out, 

"God, help me to remain content. Remain content in knowing that it's okay to not know, that it's okay to live just for today. Just in this moment."

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As we sit on the brink (after two weeks of knowing we would hear nothing) of the ability to plan and prepare (at least a little bit) again, I ask God to continually remind me to trust. So many more unknowns and unpredictable situations lie ahead... I pray that, a year from now, I'll look back again and realize how much further down the path of trust and obedience He has taken me.  

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Thanks for journeying with us, alongside us, in prayers and in giving. We thank God for all of you, for your love, your support and your sincerity as we took our leap into the flood waters of the Jordan River.

We know this is just the beginning.

God has given us a taste of how sweet it is to trust in Him.

We are just getting started. 

Stay tuned, this week, we hope,  for a gotcha day schedule. 


How we've been humbled in 2016

by Kristi Van Dyk


I've sat in church for years. I've listened to missionaries describe their work and ask for contributions. I've listened to various pastors and preachers ask for contributions to building campaigns. I've attended school functions and been challenged to contribute more than I thought I could give to aid the work of the ministry. But until our second son entered our world, I never believed I'd be the one asking - asking for more help than I could ever imagine receiving. 

Believe me, sitting here, in the receiving spot, changed me! 

Since May of this year our family has prayed, waited, wondered, cried, rejoiced, doubted, and celebrated our journey up this financial mountain. We've tried to update you on the process but have kept some of the beautiful stories of provision to ourselves. As we close out this year, we wanted to share with you the stories of people - of people nudged by God - to care for the orphan. We are so humbled that they have chosen to respond through our family. It has grown us, challenged us and shaped us in ways we never anticipated. But, before we go there, journey alongside us to experience what it felt like to receive these incredible blessings. 

  • You'll remember our first loan, the loan we needed to begin, given by a friend. This loan gave us the faith we needed to plunge in beyond the "maybe" stage. The loan became a gift last month. And debt erased. The circumstances are unfathomable but God is in the givers and we.are.humbled. 
  • There were children, a young family, who wanted to gift together, so the created a homemade lemonade stand with delicious treats as well and their neighborhood supported our son, led by children. And we.are.humbled.
  • A friend, a friend I haven't seen in years, from high school, sent us a message that they too hoped to adopt some day. That finances had always been their fall back to say - it couldn't happen. But she drew hope from our story and wanted to be a part of our supporters. And we.are.humbled.
  • Tennis girls from my past - the ones I coached before children and after children - came back into our lives to contribute and donate. And we.are.humbled.
  • Several adoptive moms who have walked this journey - on their own and with help from others - have turned back and contributed to our process (in finances AND with advice that has been worth its weight in gold). I want to be like them someday. And we.are.humbled.
  • Colleagues from both our work environments have chosen to help us financially. People we see daily and share our lives with have chosen to walk alongside us in powerful ways as partners. And we.are.humbled. 
  • At another critical turning point in our story, when we felt as though we were at a wall, a church + school + we see them everywhere in our lives friend quietly approached me, slipped a check for an amount I never could have fathomed into my hand and disappeared. And we.are.humbled.
  • A Maranatha friend who we see only in the summers but have nevertheless grown close to by countless hours at the pool has shared, prayed, and gifted. And we.are.humbled.
  • Our parents and siblings have given - sacrificially - and let us know how deeply they are behind us. And we.are.humbled.
  • A brilliant artist gave of her time, her talents (and ultimately her treasure) to support our auction, to bring home Joshua and to make this possible. And we.are.humbled.
  • A friend of our parents, at church, a friend I don't even know, felt called and compelled and gifted. And we.are.humbled.
  • Friends who found us online ... total strangers. People we can never look up or meet or find an address to say thank you felt led by God to contribute to our fund. 
  • Our children have heard each of your names, been moved to tears by how many people care about their brother, and in turn, are filling a jar with every penny they find, each quarter they earn, and giving it all back to their brother's fund. 
  • Most recently, since our PureCharity site has opened, we have a new way to be humbled. anonymous. Anonymous on PureCharity means we really never get to know. We never get to see who gifted us from $40 to $5,000. But to those 7 anonymous people who felt God's call to the orphan and chose to support our journey, WE.ARE.HUMBLED. 

I repeat the phrase not make beautiful writing. But because with each gift we receive we are constantly reminded that God's provision is carrying us through. We are living in the faith community who hears His call and responds - and through them, we are able to do the hard things ahead. But beyond that, we are inspired. We've felt the beauty and hope of taking $5 in pennies from a child, and we've felt the utter shock of a large check donated to this call. And our response each time is, we need to do this for someone else. We need to find a way, during our saving, to still give to others. And we have. We need to find a way, when JinHua is home to continue supporting others in their call for adoption. And we will. 

We look forward to reading, hearing, seeing and learning about ways that God continues to move in the hearts of our community - and continues to make the care for the orphan close to all of our hearts. We make a plea that if you find yourself, standing at the base of a mountain this next year, please call us, include us, share with us your journey. We might not be able to sidle up and pass you a check, but we promise to hold you in prayer, pinch our pennies and work to show you the beauty of being humbled by a pile of loose change. 

We know that 2017 will hold massive changes for our family, new challenges in almost every aspect of our lives, but we pray that it also holds great change, inspiring challenges, and beautiful truths for each and everyone of you. 

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Our Christmas Miracle(s)

by Kristi Van Dyk


Friends its Christmas Eve Eve ... 

The end of last week and the beginning of this week was difficult for us. We saw so many families experience loss, grief, sadness and disappointment. We felt God move in a way we never expected. The season felt heavy. 

There are many things that still weigh on our hearts as we wait expectantly for Christmas Day. 

But this week we wanted to also acknowledge the amazing things that God has done amidst the difficult. 

First of all, our friends, The Geurink Family, sent off their beautiful dossier and were notified as of 12/19 that they are LID! The Geurinks have been good friends of ours since we entered the Mandarin Immersion program at ZCS, but we have further connected as we both pursue adoption of a little boy from China. We ask that you celebrate with us in the beautiful accomplishment that is an LID and join us in praying that they will be matched soon with the son God has prepared for them. We love you, Geurinks! 

The second piece of news is that it was our dearest hope, indeed all we wanted for Christmas, was to receive our LOA. This morning, on the 45th day after submission (yes, I was counting, our agency told me it could take 45-60 days. I knew which day today was), we received our "soft" LOA. We spent today preparing our 1-800 and our 864W. Basically, we are applying to classify this son as our own and to get his Visa situated for travel. This triggers the final phases towards travel preparation. But more than all of that (which is still HUGE) we see these signs as God's sovereign hand, moving on our behalf. His timing demonstrating Hope and Light ... illustrating to us how He still has, thousands of years later, a beautiful plan in mind ... And His plan is timed to perfection. 

Please join us in rejoicing with the Geurinks and thanking God for bringing us both one step closer to our precious sons. 

We can't wait to share with you an updated picture when our sweet six friends becomes a beautiful set of eight. 

 Geurinks + Van Dyks all excited this Christmas by God's provision in the adoption process for our families

Geurinks + Van Dyks all excited this Christmas by God's provision in the adoption process for our families

A very Merry Christmas from us to you. 

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