BeiHai – An Addendum

For posts like these, in which I’m telling the story of our days, I tend to look through my photos to remind myself of what we did and to help structure my writing. That means that if I don’t have any photos of an event, it might get less air time. I neglected to take photos of our lunch in Beihai, which means it was not discussed in great detail in my last blog post, about our entire day there. That situation should be remedied, and there are a few other notes I’d like to preserve here, as well.

At lunch, we had asked Glenn if there was anything for which the area or the restaurant at which we ate was known, and he said there was a soup in which they specialized – a pork and corn soup. We’re reasonably adventurous eaters in China, so we asked him to go ahead and order it. Interestingly enough, it comes out in a large clay pot, which is placed onto a gas burner in the middle of your table, which is then turned on.

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We opened the lid to look at it – the way Daniel described it when we were later discussing it was, “So you take the largest pork bone you think you’ve ever seen a dog chewing on and then multiply it by about four. You throw it into a pot of tepid water, along with some corn cobs.” I think that’s probably a pretty accurate description.

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So after the water boils for a while, you dish out some broth and corn cobs. At this point, you might be wondering how you’re supposed to eat corn cobs in soup – a reasonable question. It turns out the restaurant has you covered – they provide plastic gloves for you to slide onto your hands, and then you pick up your corn cobs out of your soup in order to eat them! That’s probably what you’d guessed, right? 🙂

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Also providing some moments of levity for us in the midst of a somewhat emotionally heavy day was the van in which we rode around the city. I don’t think we have any photos, but it had thick, sort of velour-ish curtains on every side and back window. What makes this more notable is that in China, drivers sometimes park their cars on sidewalks, which is what our driver did outside the restaurant. Getting up was fine, but I’m sure you can imagine that there might be some difficulty in backing a fully-window-curtained van off of the sidewalk and onto a reasonably busy road. Our driver’s strategy seemed to be to honk the horn and then start backing up and assume everyone would get out of his way! We made it out in one piece, at which time Danny and Sharon and I looked at each other and all started laughing.

One more note before I wrap this up 🙂 I’d mentioned in my blog post before we went to Beihai that this would be interesting in that it was a trip to a truly small city. It turns out I misunderstood what Glenn was saying – he’d been talking about its past population when he referenced the 60,000 number. Beihai’s current population is something like 1.5 million people – you know, just another small Chinese city!

Wednesday in Nanning – A Low-Key Day

Today was to be a low-key day, and for the most part, that’s what it was. Madeleine CaiQun and I were actually up pretty early – me because FangFang woke up and was crying for help getting her blankets and pillow rearranged, and then I was coughing and couldn’t get back to sleep, and Mei Mei because she had a bad dream. Once everyone was awake, we went downstairs to enjoy the hotel breakfast buffet. FangFang is always a little bit sad – though less so each time – when she wakes up, so she was not thrilled at waking up in and of itself. And she LOVES being in her stroller and often requests it upon waking – I think, honestly, because she’s not comfortable with intimacy with me yet and prefers sitting in the stroller to allowing me to hold her – so she was not thrilled that I wouldn’t let her stay in the stroller as we left the room to go to breakfast. As an adoptive mama who knows that one pathway to children’s hearts – particularly children who have spent any time in institutional care – is through their stomachs, I offered her a chocolate donut 🙂

We met Glenn around 10 and headed over to a park near our hotel. This park actually had a playground – not typical for the parks in China that I’ve seen – and Mei Mei was thankful!

ChenFang insisted that she wanted to go on a swing, too, but she was pretty obviously surprised by what it felt like and was ready to be done and get back into her stroller after a minute or so!

Mostly we walked around and enjoyed the scenery and talked with Glenn.

Madeleine CaiQun has not really enjoyed the walking involved in this trip, and she is often requesting to be worn in the Tula. Glenn tells us that in China, six-year-olds would never be carried like that, because they can walk. However, she is experiencing some jealousy and a bit of regression, and while we’re not going to cater to her every whim, I’m okay with her wanting to be worn some of the time.

Our breakfast had been large, so we just snacked in the room for lunch – instant oatmeal, granola bars, trail mix, and some of the odd flavored Pringles chips that you find only in China (cucumber flavor was alright; Mexican Tomato Chicken flavor was completely disgusting to everyone except FangFang). And then we went to Dairy Queen 🙂 It was a bit of a challenge ordering because of the different menus (and our not reading or speaking Mandarin), but we all managed to get something – I got a Mango Jelly blizzard!

FangFang is definitely stepping up her attempts to reject me and bond with Sharon. She cried for about 5 minutes straight at Dairy Queen because I wouldn’t let her sit next to Sharon and let Sharon feed her – until I finally got a bite of ice cream into her mouth, and she was willing to sacrifice her desire for Sharon in favor of her desire for more ice cream 🙂

I feel like I’m making it up as I go in terms of how to live out the specifics of encouraging FangFang to form her primary attachment with me while we’re in country with Danny and Sharon. When both parents travel and one is rejected in favor of the other, it can be really hard emotionally, but it’s pretty straightforward practically – there’s a pretty standard course of action to take in that scenario. However, when you’re traveling as one parent with two non-parents, it’s not quite so simple even from a practical standpoint. Everyone agrees that the parent should be the primary person to meet the child’s needs…but everyone also agrees that flexibility is key while in China, and sometimes “ideal in a perfect world” is not the same as “would actually work well in this situation right now.” For the moment, I’m meeting all of FangFang’s basic needs – I change her diapers, I get her dressed and undressed, and I feed her. I’m also trying to be proactive in engaging her playfully – I tickle her and play peekaboo with her and play with play-doh with her. Today I puckered up my lips to blow a kiss to her, and she leaned in for an actual kiss, which was encouraging, and we’ve been blowing kisses back and forth. I always have her sitting next to me at restaurants, and I push the stroller when we’re out and about. Sharon isn’t specifically seeking her out but does respond to her when she interacts playfully, and I think that’s alright. The biggest un-crossable line for me right now is that if I offer her something (i.e. ice cream), I’m not going to let her succeed in turning me down and requesting that same thing from Sharon instead. Treats come from Mom 🙂 It is tricky, though. It seems a little mean to pull her away from someone she’s seeking, but it is for her benefit – in just over a week, Sharon will head home to Washington, D.C., and FangFang will be left with just me, so the beginnings of her most primary relationship need to be with me.

After Dairy Queen I put FangFang down for her nap, and I did a few more sink-loads of laundry. We should have a washer in the apartment in which we’re staying in Guangzhou, but I need to have at least enough clean clothes for everyone to get us there! Madeleine CaiQun took a bath while I did laundry. This girl LOVES her bath time, so she’s been very much enjoying playing in the water for an hour or so each day while FangFang naps.

Once FangFang got up, we broke out the play-doh for a bit, and then we headed back to the mall down the street to do a bit of shopping and have dinner. Madeleine CaiQun had been insisting that she’d seen a shark in a tank at the mall. None of the rest of us had seen it at all, but she said it was there, and we promised to look. We walked all around the 5th floor – nothing. We said we’d go up to the 6th floor, and we started to make our lap, and we hadn’t gone too far before she said, “Guys! Stop!” and there it was! We weren’t sure what to expect from her description of a shark in a tank…but it turns out there really was a shark in a tank at the mall! Why? It’s completely unclear. But there was a shark in a tank 🙂

After we found the shark, we had dinner (back to Grandma’s Home – it was very good again!) and then did a little bit of shopping before heading back to our hotel. We made a quick stop in our room, and then Danny and FangFang and I went back to Walmart to pick up a few necessities (more water and more suckers!) and get some things to take for donations to the orphanage tomorrow.

I put FangFang in the Ergo for that brief trip, and she was NOT pleased. I’d tried it earlier in the afternoon to an even more disgruntled reaction, but I wanted to try it again to see if it would be at all an option for us for our day trip tomorrow, since Glenn’s advice was to leave the beloved stroller at the hotel. She doesn’t seem physically uncomfortable in it, but the emotional intensity of our closeness is pretty overwhelming for her. Her first reaction was to cry and arch away, but when I offered a sucker, she stopped crying and just leaned away from me and was rarely willing to make eye contact or even look up at me. So…for the moment, it’s an option, though it’s not ideal. But when we got back to the hotel room, I took her out of the Ergo and let her scoot herself around for a little while, and she was back to her happy little self, jabbering away and wanting to be tickled and laughing her adorable little laugh 🙂

Both girls are asleep now, and I’m going to join them shortly. Please be praying for our trip to Beihai tomorrow. Please pray for Madeleine CaiQun’s heart as she continues to adjust to being a big sister again. Please pray for the logistics of train travel with a new-to-our-family 3-year-old with OI, and please pray for the emotions of returning to a place at which she lived for quite a while and perhaps seeing people she knew before her time at her foster home (and almost certainly seeing the people who brought her to us on Monday). Glenn has told us we should not expect to be allowed to enter the orphanage and the baby rooms themselves, as we do not have any official permission to do so, but I’d love it if you’d pray that something would change, and we’d be able to go in. It has happened before. I’d love to have as much information possible for FangFang as she gets older. We’ll also visit her finding spot and perhaps see some more of the city which her birth parents may call home. It sounds as if it’s a pretty small city – actually small, not just small by Chinese standards! Glenn estimated its population as around 60,000 people, so that should be really interesting in and of itself, as every city I’ve visited thus far in China has been home to millions of people. I also may not get to update tomorrow night – we will return to Nanning around dinner time, and then on Friday we will take the train to Guangzhou, so we’ll need to get most of our suitcases packed up again tomorrow night. If you don’t hear any official update from me tomorrow, please be praying for our travel day and for our settling into the apartments we’ve reserved in Guangzhou (and that they’d be alright). Thanks for following along and supporting us and praying for us in this journey, friends!

Adoption Day!

As I mentioned in my post about yesterday’s Family Day, we actually took custody of FangFang yesterday, but we would not finalize her adoption until today. Our agency called to check on us this morning, and after I talked with them about how things were going, the girls woke up. FangFang was not thrilled to realize she was still with us and didn’t want me to pick her up for a little while but got interested when I brought out a new dress and offered it to her. We all got dressed and then headed back to the Civil Affairs Office to finalize her adoption.

I understand the reasons behind this practice, but it still seems cruel to me. We put a child (who, in our case, is too young to understand what is really happening) through one of the most traumatic experiences they could possibly have, and then the next day we return to the exact same place to see the same people, but just to do some paperwork and a short ceremony. FangFang was clearly confused, and once she saw the orphanage representative and the nanny, she cried and reached for them.

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I had to complete an interview, prior to the adoption finalization, which I don’t think I had to do with CaiQun’s adoption – everything seemed to be more of a formality there, and while the same is probably true here, too, they asked more questions with more intensity. They asked how our first 24 hours together were, whether we’d been able to FaceTime with Matt and what he thought of her, whether we understood her special need and what our plans for medical care for her were, and questions of that nature. The question that always gets me is, “Is this child satisfactory to you?” What answer could I possibly give to that question? How could I look this child in the face and say no? How could I have any expectations for her at all?

And that, my friends, gets at what I think is at the heart of adoption in so many ways. There are millions of children in the world without parents – thousands of them adoptable right now. People write posts advocating for them and ask the question, “Is anyone interested in him?” or “Would anyone like to know more about her?” How can we, as a world, look at pictures of these children, knowing that each picture represents a child, a child made in the image of God, and say “no”? No, I am not interested in that boy. No, I don’t want to know anything more about her. Children are meant to grow up in families, not alone in institutions. Please, please, please consider what you can do now, today, and in the future, to move us toward a world in which every child spends their days loved and well fed and is tucked in at night by a loving mom or dad.

The ceremony at the Civil Affairs Office was brief but nice, and FangFang was presented with a gift from the representative of the orphanage, which is sweet. Then we went to the registration office, where I did another interview and paid some fees, and then we headed back to the hotel.

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In both places, FangFang reached for Danny and wanted him to hold her, and she has also been attempting to engage with Sharon. I talk a big game about attachment and about parents being the only ones to meet key needs, and I am committed to that idea, but I also understand the weight of the situation. FangFang has just been torn away from everything that is at all familiar to her, and if it would offer her some modicum of comfort to be held by my brother for 5 minutes or play peekaboo with my sister-in-law, I’m going to allow that for now. They aren’t her parents, but they are going to be important in her life forever. And in the China adoption community, you’ll often hear phrases like, “China is not real life,” and “Getting through China is all about survival.” Obviously what you do during your time in China matters. You’re establishing the foundations of your life together; you’re beginning to build relationships. However, nothing about your experience of time in China is similar to what your normal life once home is like. Everything is different for everyone. I’m going to do what I can to encourage her to form her primary bond with me, and I have a lot of tools at my disposal to do that, but I’m also not going to stop her from interacting with Danny and Sharon.

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After we got back to the hotel, we ventured out to explore the area a bit. We’d heard that – in addition to the mall attached to our hotel – there was also a mall a few blocks down the street with some great restaurant options. We walked over there and ate at Grandma’s Home – we got a ton of awesome food, all for less than $25 total for the 5 of us! FangFang continues to be primarily interested in suckers, but she did deign to eat a few bits of our food, and we were pretty able to demolish it 🙂

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Then it was back to the hotel for naptime. We’re very flexible in China, but I also realize that toddlers do best with naptime, so we’re going to try to be reasonably consistent with that!

Once she woke up, we headed back to the mall down the street for dinner, this time eating at another great restaurant with a bird cage theme. FangFang was thrilled with herself and with our applause as she built towers of markers and then pulled them apart, and I also kept her distracted with coloring until the food came instead of pulling out suckers, and then she let me feed her a lot more real food instead of insisting upon suckers.

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Mei Mei wanted to ride in the stroller, too, and we gave it a try on the way there, but it made me nervous, knowing that one wrong move from Mei Mei could exert too much pressure on FangFang’s bones, and they could fracture. And while FangFang appeared happy about it at first, she began to look less so, and after dinner she made sure to point at the stroller and announce that it was for FangFang and hold out her hand to try to keep Mei Mei away!

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Mei Mei really is doing pretty well with FangFang, but she is experiencing a bit of jealousy and a desire for her own one-on-one time with Mom. It’s a tough balance to honor that and care for her while also bringing FangFang into the family, but that’s what so much of life is about. Danny and Sharon are trying to devote some good time to Mei Mei, as well, and I think that’s helpful.

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Tomorrow is just a day for rest as we wait for FangFang’s passport to be processed. We’re going to head to a park with Glenn in the morning and just relax and continue to try to bond and build relationships. I’m hoping, too, for a health boost – I’ve had some yucky chest congestion and coughing, and Madeleine CaiQun has been coughing a bit, too. Then Thursday we’re going to go to Beihai, the city in which ChenFang’s orphanage is located. I’m still not positive it’s the right choice to go. It was so hard for her to see the people from her orphanage this morning, and I’m not sure it’s kind to take her back into a confusing environment. However, I also know that it’s important to people who have been adopted to have information about their pasts. There are so many gaps in her story that I won’t be able to fill in for her, but I want to be able to give her as much information as is possible, and I can’t give her firsthand information about her city or her orphanage if I don’t go. We’re going to try it. And we’re hoping that by waiting until Thursday and giving her a bit more time to build a relationship with us, a visit will be less traumatic for her. You could definitely be praying for our day tomorrow to go well and for her heart to be comforted in the midst of our day trip on Thursday. Thanks so much for celebrating and praying with us, friends.

Family Day with FangFang!

We spent Monday morning getting more set up and ready for FangFang. I unpacked, and we made a Walmart run to get diapers, wipes, a stroller, some more water, and some Ramen for lunch. Our hotel is actually connected to a huge mall, which has a Walmart in it (as well as a Dairy Queen!!!), which is super helpful. The hotel brought up a pack ‘n’ play for FangFang, and Daniel put together the stroller, and I re-organized things to pack a backpack for FangFang of toys and snacks I thought might entertain her. This was my, “We’re heading out!” Instagram photo!

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We met our guide, Glenn, in the hotel lobby at 2:30, and we headed over to the Civil Affairs Office. He explained that FangFang would be playing in a playroom, and we’d go into a separate interview room to do paperwork and a brief meeting with an official, after which they would bring FangFang in to us. I met with the official and signed the necessary paperwork for our 24 Hour Harmonious Period (China offers parents a sort of “trial period” before they commit to finalizing the adoption), and then FangFang came in!

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It was not exactly love at first sight. She was willing to accept a few Honey Nut Cheerios from me, but once the nanny tried to hand to her to me, she was completely uninterested.

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She cried for the whole time at the Civil Affairs office. Glenn suggested that I get up and walk around with her, which I did, and that calmed her a bit, though she was still very unhappy to be with me. She called for her ayi (nanny) and asked to go home and cried big, unhappy tears.

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Even now, a day later, these photos are hard to look at – and trust me when I say that these are mild compared to others that we have. I’m trying to strike a balance between being respectful of her grief versus being real and honest, both for those who come after us in pursuing adoption and for myself and for our family – this blog serves as a journal of sorts for our lives. Adoption is beautiful, but it’s not all sunshine and roses.

We took our official adoption photo, and then we headed back to the hotel. I think she must have missed her nap – she was obviously exhausted and was so close to falling asleep in the car as I stroked her hair.

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Once we got back to the hotel, though, she was wide awake and clearly still unhappy. I had to do some paperwork, so Glenn came up to our room, and I pulled out all the stops trying to engage with her, even playing with a toddler app on my phone, but she remained pretty committed to her understandable dislike of my holding her.

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Then Glenn held her while I filled out and signed paperwork, and she calmed some, and eventually he laid her down on my bed, and she fell asleep.

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I was, of course, immediately overjoyed to have my fourth baby in my arms, but my heart hurt and still hurts for her and the pain she is so obviously experiencing. We believe it’s in her best interests for us to adopt her, or we wouldn’t do so, but that doesn’t mean it’s without significant pain and loss for her. Just think of any 3-year-old you know, taken away from the caregivers they know and love and handed to a stranger, and not only that, a stranger who looks different, speaks differently, smells different, and is basically different in every way from everyone you know and trust. I knew it could be easier, and I hoped it might be, but the afternoon went basically the way I expected it to go.

It’s actually a very good thing for her to grieve so heavily, as it means that she has experienced true love, true care, and true attachment with the nannies caring for her at her foster home these last 9 months. And that means she will likely more easily be able to learn to trust and attach to us. However, that in no way makes it easy.

Fortunately, once she woke up from her nap, she experienced a pretty huge transformation. Thanks to a sucker, I was able to get her first smile 🙂

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Then she began to get interested in some other toys and more interactions!

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She played happily for a couple hours, and then another wave of grief seemed to hit her, and she just wanted to lie in her bed alone. Danny and Sharon and Madeleine CaiQun went out to find some dinner for us, and while they were gone, it was pretty hit and miss whether I was able to keep her engaged and reasonably happy or not. When they came back with Pizza Hut pizza (one small Hawaiian pizza; one medium cheese pizza with cheese only, no sauce – not quite what we wanted but ordered only that successfully because of the kindness of a man who had spent some time studying in London and volunteered to help them), she was delighted to see them and happily got out of her bed and joined us for dinner. She kept saying “tang” when I offered her food, which I thought meant she found it unacceptable, but I realized later that, with a different tone, “tang” means “candy,” and she was asking for more suckers!

She scooted herself around quite well on the bed and enjoyed playing with everyone, and we even got to FaceTime with Matt and Miranda and Atticus for a few minutes. Be still my heart – I miss those kiddos so much. I love China, but I can’t wait to be home and have all four of my babies under one roof.

I was so glad FangFang seemed happy interacting and playing yesterday evening, and she was agreeable to changing into some pajamas, and she was even happy enough to pose with her signature victory sign in some photos!

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Overall, I think the day went better than I expected. I expected major grief. I expected tears and an active dislike of me and of the rest of us. I was pleasantly surprised that she seemed so much more willing to engage yesterday evening, and I’m so glad she is starting to open up to us, even a little bit.

Madeleine CaiQun is doing pretty well, too. She definitely wants some extra attention, and I’m thankful Daniel and Sharon are here to help answer her questions and get her set up with what she wants to read and play and help her in this transition, and I’m trying to make sure I give her some love and attention, as well.

My prayer is that I can be for FangFang what she needs me to be, especially during these next few days, and also care for Madeleine CaiQun well. I hope that I can pay attention to FangFang’s cues and offer her things that might begin to earn her trust and be a good mom for both of my girls here in China.

Travel Day – Hong Kong to Nanning (By Way of Guangzhou)

We set alarms for 6:30 yesterday morning, but we woke before that anyway. Our agency had booked us on the 9:24 train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou, and we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to get to the train station and figure out exactly where we were supposed to be. We checked out of our hotel around 7:45, and the concierge called a taxi for us to head to the train station. We’re rather a sight – Madeleine CaiQun and I have 2 suitcases and 2 backpacks between us, and Daniel and Sharon have 3 suitcases, a backpack, and a large purse, so the taxi drivers use cables to secure our luggage inside the trunks, which don’t close once our suitcases are inside.

The train station was just about a mile from our hotel, and we made it there in plenty of time to figure out where to go. Our agency had sent our train tickets to our hotel in Hong Kong, so we didn’t need to purchase anything, just to wait for our train. Daniel walked over to the other part of the train station and got us some drinks and pastries (the pineapple puff was awesome!) to have for a light breakfast, and then we waited for boarding to begin for our train.

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Once we went through security, we were able to use the bathroom once more (up through this point we’d seen squatty potties everywhere, but there had always been an option for western toilets, too!), and then we boarded our train. It was really pretty straightforward. The train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou is not a bullet train, but it’s a very nice way to travel. I love being able to look out the window as we ride and see more of the areas through which we’re traveling.

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Netflix’s announcement just prior to our departure for China that they would allow downloads of some shows, so they could be watched without Internet access, has been such a blessing for us – Madeleine CaiQun has greatly enjoyed being able to watch shows on an iPad while we’ve done our plane and train travel!

We made it to Guangzhou just as planned, and a guide met us at the station and helped us get to the van, where a driver drove us across Guangzhou to another train station, where we would catch a train to Nanning a couple hours later. To say that this train station is huge is an understatement.

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Guangzhou is pretty western for a city in China, but it’s still a major change coming from Hong Kong. We were able to find a restaurant in the train station at which we could order from picture menus, so we got some lunch, then had our first squatty potty experience, and then Daniel got us some snacks and water (or what he thought was water!) at a convenience store. It turns out he actually bought us some lime and mango flavored waters!

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We made it to our bullet train to Nanning and got settled in for the ride. It was awesome to see even just these little glimpses of China through the train window as we traveled. It’s such a beautiful country with an amazingly rich history.

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We arrived in Nanning just a few minutes later than scheduled and stopped in the bathrooms (squatty potties again – resulting in a necessary outfit change for MCQ) before setting out to look for our guide. This was probably the most stressful part of our trip so far. Nanning is a gigantic city (Wikipedia lists its population as 6.9 million), so its train station is rather large. We just knew that our guide was supposed to meet us at the train station but didn’t know where, and he didn’t know where to meet us, and he couldn’t enter the train station, since he didn’t have a ticket, and we wouldn’t have been able to re-enter after we chose an exit from which to leave. Finally I turned on the international calling plan I’d activated for my phone just in case of emergency and called him (twice), once with the assistance of a bilingual woman sent over by a police officer to help us (can you tell we’re conspicuous here?), and we finally connected, about an hour after we were supposed to meet up. We made it to our hotel then, though, and we got some dinner at one of the restaurants here.

Everyone else went to bed pretty soon after that, but we’re running out of some necessary clothes items (I packed pretty light, but I should have brought a few more pairs of pants for Madeleine CaiQun), so I stayed up and did some laundry in the sink and texted with Matt for a little while.

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I’m feeling somewhat lonely and overwhelmed here, being here without Matt and Miranda and Atticus and really experiencing how much there is for me to do here and knowing that we’re about to add our new little one into that mix. We’ll meet her in about 6 hours, and I pray that she is open to receiving love and care from me and from her big sister and that I’m able to do all that I need to do. I’m hoping to get some Walmart shopping and some unpacking and general preparations done before then. Please pray for our precious girl as she prepares to join our family, and please pray for my morning to set us up well for that transition!