My family and I adopted our third daughter from China in 2006. We received her referral when she was 10 months old. With her referral, we received two pictures of her taken at 5-months old. Two pictures of her face, and they were already 5 months old. What did she look like now? What was she like? Like every good (obsessive!?) adoptive parent, I did my research. I spent hours combing through other adoptive families websites and blogs, I came up with lists and lists of questions that I planned to ask about our daughter when we got to China. I. Was. Prepared.
By the time we received all of our approvals, and travel arrangements had been made, our daughter was 13-months old. 3 months had passed since we had seen those two pictures of that adorable little 5-month old face. That little face was now 8 months older. What did she look like? Would we recognize her? What was she like? We had dreamed of that little face for months. But it was ok. I went to China fully and completely prepared, armed with lists of questions about her, hoping that the director or nannies had found it in their hearts to bring extra pictures of my sweet girl to fill in some of the holes of those first 13 months of her life.
Now imagine this: we walked into the civil affairs building with 12 other families in our travel group, all of us ready to meet our new babies! 13 families total, including moms and dads, new siblings, grandparents, travel guides, translators, and orphanage directors and nannies. Our daughter was the only baby from her particular orphanage. The other babies there came from different orphanages all throughout this province. Crying babies everywhere! Crying families everywhere. Chaos doesn’t even begin to describe that room we were in, waiting to meet our new daughter. We were one of the very last families called from our group to come meet our new baby girl.
Our youngest son, who had been the baby of the family up until that moment, stood off to the side, not sure what to think of becoming “middle child”. I was concerned for him. Our oldest daughter cried and sobbed tears of joy at finally meeting the baby sister she had longed and prayed and waited for. I was concerned for her. And then they handed me the sweetest little bundle of joy I had longed and waited for. She took one look at us and the tears started. Now I was concerned for not one, not two, but for all 3 of my children! I kissed her, I hugged my kids, and I looked at my husband in disbelief. Who had time to think about a list of questions? And then our guide yelled out to this chaotic room, “Okay families, we must go. Grab your belongings, let’s go.” Wait what? I had questions! I needed to know some things. There were 13 months of a life that were a mystery to me. And we walked out the door.
We spent that first night getting to know our new daughter, but I knew there were questions I still didn’t have answers for. It was okay, there was more paperwork the next day, and we would meet with some of her orphanage staff again. The next day we arrived at another civil affairs office, and once again I was armed with my list of questions. And once again, 13 families, 13 new crying babies, extended family members, and lots of orphanage officials. I didn’t even know which officials were from my daughters’ orphanage.
We were ushered into an office, asked a few questions, signed some more papers, and ushered out. Babies needed bottles, diapers needed to be changed. New siblings needed extra assurance and attention. And then we were done. That was it. Back to the hotel. No more chances to ask questions. No more hopes of extra pictures from the first 13 months of my daughters’ life. We were left with the holes.
Today my sweet girl is 9-years old. She has a lot of questions about her life in the orphanage, the nannies that cared for her, and the town that she came from. I don’t have a lot of answers for her. We do the best we can and we sometimes grieve that loss together. She is a happy, sweet, loving, and for the most part, pretty well adjusted little girl. But there will always be a few holes in her story. We will always wonder…
After that adoption trip I have had the opportunity to go back on many mission trips to serve in orphanages in China. On some trips, there were babies that the nannies would point out to me: “that baby has a family coming for her", "that little boy will be adopted soon”. And so I did what I desperately wished someone had done for me. I took pictures, I took notes, I studied those children. I prayed over those children. I sang to them. Look at those sweet little fingers. Snap a picture. Take off her socks and tickle those adorable teeny little toes. Snap a picture. And then somehow, by the grace of God, I was connected with the families of these little ones when we returned home. I had oodles of pictures to share! I had stories to share! Those parents knew the prayers I had prayed over their child, and the songs I had sung in their ears. I had become a part of their stories. And they had become a part of mine. And some holes were filled. What a gift.
Our Storyteller Missions teams have the opportunity to go to orphanages that partner in adoptions with America World Adoption. Sometimes we know certain children that have families coming for them. Sometimes we don’t. We love on every single child. If we know of one that has a family coming, we take some extra pictures. We spend a little extra time getting to know them. If we know a child's file is being held by America World, waiting for a family to choose them, we gather as much information as we can, so that we can help America World advocate for their adoption. We become a part of their story. They become a part of ours. We fill a few holes. What a gift.
Sometimes orphanages don’t allow our teams to take pictures. It is so hard! But we take pictures in our minds, we draw pictures of these children through the stories we tell. We pray for these children. We love these children. We sing into their ears and tell them over and over what a gift they are. How much the God of this universe loves them and cares for them. And we enter into God’s story, the orphans’ story, and they become a part of our story. We continue to fill holes. What a gift.
We cannot do this without people willing to step out in faith and say "Yes" to going on one of these trips. We go to help fill holes. We go to help tell their stories. We go to enter into the stories of these precious children. We go to bless, but believe me when I tell you, our team members are so blessed in return. They are truly given a gift…..a gift of blessing, a gift of entering in, a gift of becoming a story teller and having a story to tell.
Join us! We need you. Be A Storyteller! Tell their stories! If we don’t do it, who will?