What a journey this has been. From the decision to pursue another adoption, to the referral, to our travels to meet Gladys, the twists and turns have far surpassed anything we could have imagined... and then some. It is interesting, in hindsight, or at least so far, to see how each of our journeys to our daughters have been unique, and progressively challenging in a variety of ways. Of course, in addition to being unique, the challenges have been incrementally more challenging, or in other words, God has not given us more than we could handle. There have been a few moments where I have wondered and even doubted, but each and every time, ultimately, He has proven more than faithful.
This experience has not been an exception, not for one moment. I am remembering a little over a week ago, fresh off 15+ hours of flights, settling into our room at the Hefei Holiday Inn, the "luxurious" fragrance, the soft glow of city lights and smog, like only a China night can produce. In so many ways, like that first van ride from the Chongqing airport to our hotel, where each pedestrian and bicyclist made me grip my seat in fear, this ride felt similar, only I was somewhat relaxed. This time, we were anxiously calm. Heck, we had done this 3 times prior. I even thought to myself, "skip the small talk Michael (our guide), we know what to expect." But even then, we listened carefully, while sharing where each of our daughters were from, Gracie: Fuling City, Gemma: Zhongshan City, and Gia, Shijiazhuang. All three, so different, yet so very similar. We were veterans at this gig... confidently nervous.
I vividly remember how great the bed and pillow of that Holiday Inn felt, especially after 2 long flights, and wrangling 5 pieces of luggage multiple times, with airport staff who don't speak more than 2 or 3 words of English. Even with our experience, the trek, and the heat was enough to wear a person out. Oh, yeah, and I'm not 30 anymore, so there's that. Sleep took over almost the minute my head hit the pillow of my share of the "double" bed that we settled for, so we could have an adjacent joining room. Yes we had some "rest" the next day, but somehow, my mind and body hit the fast forward button for that day. That next night, it was time to go to sleep. Again, the travel had taken a toll, and I was ready. I was able to fall asleep quickly, but my biorhythm took over a few hours later, and I was awakened by the expectant beating of my heart. This one was different; I could feel it. I put my trust in God, and I also called upon our experiences, but I still couldn't escape the feeling of expectation. Thankfully, after a few prayers, a podcast in my earbuds helped me go back to sleep.
The beautiful process of our relationship began that morning. And it has progressed steadily each day, even amidst the hurt, grieving, and frustrations. Starting that day... the van ride... the waiting, and then the moment we got to meet Gladys, all a beautiful patchwork of memories and life experiences, so thick with reality. She immediately displayed her bravery and confidence by taking out a yogurt from her backpack and piercing the top with a straw, with authority. Shortly after some paperwork formalities had commenced, she began to unpack her backpack and share each item with us, beaming with pride. It was as though God was giving us a glimpse of her beautiful personality. Mom and dad really need that.
Then Gladdie came willingly with us, out of the civil affairs office, into the hallway, with a slight hesitation, and onto the elevator, after a little bit of Mandarin reassurance from our guide, Michael. Out of the building, through cars, pedestrians, and bicycles, we got into our van. It wasn't until a mile or so into the trip back to the hotel, that she showed us a glimpse of her fear and pain. It came in the form of subtle tears and sobs but we knew what it was. It was as though we hoped it didn't come, but knew that it would be a good sigh if it did. #Bittersweet.
When we got back to the hotel, the grief could not be suppressed. Gladys shared 5+ years of grief and sadness, in the form of pictures, memories, and mementos, over, and over and over. That day felt like 100 days for us, and probably 1000 days for Gladys. But it represented progress, even if it felt like regression. Because Gladys lived with a foster family for 5 years, this transition would be brutal. How does one even begin to explain or soothe this process? Nonetheless, we forged ahead. Brokenness, sadness, love, redemption... minute by minute.
From Hefei to Guangzhou, another transition, another change. But we made it together. Each minute and hour, we got to know one another a little bit better. Gladys has vacillated from bed to hallway, but each day we are making progress. We are so thankful for her grieving, as it gives us a glimpse into her soft and vulnerable heart. Through each tantrum and fit, we can see insecurity and neediness. We are more than prepared to supplement those with love. These are welcome events and opportunities.
We still get the tantrums. We still struggle with the language barrier, but the connections and progress far outweigh the hurdles. Where still, Gladys is not willing to consider wearing anything but her "Gotcha" outfit, we see progress in so many other ways. Oh, we are so grateful for Strawberry Shortcake too, for she has been such a comfort these difficult days! Seriously, this movie gets MVP of the entire trip! But seriously, Gladys is making so much progress. Just the countenance in her eyes is exponentially better than just a short week prior. Even phrases in Mandarin have more meaning because of the non-verbal and tone of the message. It is amazing. Just a short week later.
It has been a little over a week, Gladys Mae. But each hour of each day, we are getting to see and experience more and more of your heart. Heck, we think you were 5/8 of the way towards changing to a swim suit, so you could "youyong," but it was just not quite the time. We have a couple more significant legs of this initial journey, but it is going to be OK. Just you wait and see. We are ready to show you what forever family really means.
From backpacks, to pictures, to hallway bedrooms, to flights, to strollers, to medical exams, to language barriers, to trips on foot, to rainstorms, to living room basketball, to daytime Chinese TV, we've come so far, and yet have so far to go... together. We will go so very far together, one hour, one day at a time. #GoingToGladdie