one week

one week from TODAY we will be flying over siberia - making our way to china (no joshin' here, they actually fly 'over' the globe because that's the shortest route!) even with all the suitcases laying around, it hardly seems real.

we are busy packing, running errands, writing instructions for the kiddos and all the other stuff that has to be done (and if i am honest, i want done) the holiday season has been a huge blessing in the fact that the time has flown by and i cannot believe we are staring at less than a week before we walk out the door for the final time as a family of 6.

which brings me to how i am feeling about this whole adventure. well, let's go back to the final sentence of the last paragraph and play ashleigh. as i type that, i think, "well, i think we will come back as a family of 7. but maybe that is foreshadowing that we are going to die in a fiery plane crash and there will only be left a family of 4. and then they will read this blog and think how incredible it is that i wrote that as part of my final blog entry..."

welcome to my insides.

it's not a secret to those who know me that i have a propensity for thinking about an untimely death. and sweet makiah has not done anything except confirm my (somewhat) irrational fears about an early exit from this world. it does happen. so yes, i am scared out of my mind that we are going down in a plane. i would feel a whole lot better if there had been a major air catastrophe in the last year or so. given that, the odds that there would be a second would be low. however, there hasn't been. so i am stuck with battling serious fear that my kids will grow up without parents.

you think i am kidding. i'm not.

so how am i feeling about this adventure? i think scared is a good word. nervous. anxious. out of my mind petrified.

and it's not just flying. there's a whole lot more to be nervous about. there are so many unknowns with this adoption, more so than even with lydia. and before you tell me that there are always unknowns with children, let me try and describe the difference.

sarahjoy is 2. we have NO IDEA what her first two years of life held. biological children...you know. even most adoptions you have an idea. sarahjoy...has she been held and loved and had proper stimulation or been stuck in a crib for two years? we know she is super tiny, has she gone hungry and is she malnourished? has she been in an abusive environment - physically, emotionally, sexually? has she had proper medical care or do we know only the tip of the iceberg? has she been cold for long lengths of time for lack of clothing and blankets? have they loved her and are sad to see her go, or have they punished her because she is being adopted and has had packages sent from the US? we know she has been in an orphanage, how will that affect her, being institutionalized for those critical first two years of life? there are SO MANY unknowns that you simply take for granted with your biological children.

and then there are the relatively minor unknowns...is she potty trained? what does she eat? does she still take a bottle? does she like a pacifier? what is her bedtime routine? does she take a nap? what makes her smile? do vacuums scare her? does she like to be held close? or maybe she likes to run around? what does she like to play with? and on and on and on and on....

here is how it goes. we take a bus to a government office (think DMVish). someone from the orphanage is there. they hand sarahjoy to us. just sarahjoy. no clothes, no toys, no blankets, no bottles, no nothing. we may have 10 minutes of time to ask questions (which have to be translated so make that about 5 minutes). and then she is ours. that's it. we turn around and begin the adventure of figuring out just who sarahjoy is (without the benefit of language comprehension.)

so how do i feel? i'm scared! i'm nervous! i don't know what in the world the next few weeks/months/years hold (including whether i am going down in a fiery plane crash.) undergirding that fear is the belief that God has led us on this journey. and i know that in the deepest places of my heart. but just because God leads you there doesn't mean it is full of rainbows and a pot of gold. some would say that's pessimistic, i say it's realistic.

am i excited? yes! i can't wait to hold sarahjoy, i can't wait to whisper in her ear 1000 times that i love her so that on the 1001st time she can know what it means. i can't wait to give her a bath and dress her in beautiful clean clothes. i can't wait to unpack the toys we brought and watch her play. i can't wait to give her the dolls and hear her talk to them in chinese. i can't wait to feed her and let her eat as much as her little belly can possibly hold. i can't wait to hold her close and love her, day after day after day until she never remembers what it's like to not be loved. i can't wait! but i am scared too. the unknown.

we will be updating this blog as we journey. my understanding is that 'blogger' is banned in china so we will not be able to actually see what we are uploading to the blog (or read comments on the blog). but we should be able to get text and pictures up there in some way, shape or form. and we hope to upload a video to youtube of when we first get to meet sarahjoy.

we will have access to email so please email us! we would LOVE to hear from you - i can promise being on the other side of the world with no 'outside' contact for 17 days is not for the faint of heart. you can email us at eric(at)vbgrace(dot)com or ashleighsanzone(at)verizon(dot)net.

i don't know that i will make it back on here until we are in the land of the dragons so i leave you with a few specific prayer requests:

1. pray for peace for me especially. i am truly filled with fear about flying together with eric.

2. pray for our reunion with sarahjoy that we would have wisdom on how to love her best. that we would communicate security and peace and comfort through our actions and tone of voice (words are a bit pointless here in the first few days)

3. pray for a special time for eric and me. there is great opportunity to face together the unknowns and there is also great opportunity to take our stress out on one another.

thank you for being a part of sarahjoy's life! we absolutely cannot wait to post pictures for you to see God's miracle in our arms.

for a preview...go here.


my christmas wish

i have decided that most people don't like dwelling in the reality of difficult circumstances. we want things to be better, in relatively short order. maybe it's a consequence of our instant society, maybe it's human nature. i am not sure. but we are uncomfortable with discomfort. we want the bad to pass quickly or not at all. we downplay the reality of heartache or just plain don't enter in to the heartache. oftentimes we pretend it's not there, we certainly don't ask questions about it, or even worse, excuse it away with trite phrases of sentiment or just plain stupid comments.

makiah is gone. she will never be home again. she will never snuggle up to mommy or run into daddy's arms again. yes, she is in heaven. and that works great for her. we are thankful for that. very thankful. but that does not change what is the reality here on earth. that doesn't change the silent house and empty hearts of cameron and rachel. their family has been broken. and it is horrible, awful, gut-wrenching anguish. it is. and it will be. and it will be some more.

as christians i wonder if we are worried to embrace the hard stuff. that maybe if we admit to ourselves that people are hurting and life is painful that we in some way are demeaning our God. that we are creating him to be less than he is. we want things to be better because we want God to have done something, to fix the problem, to shew away the pain. we are uncomfortable with a God who allows heartache and not only allows it, but let's us sit in it. we believe that if we are 'right' with God, we will stand tall, look at pain between it's two deviled eyeballs and give it a suckerpunch for a TKO. after all, weakness and misery, emptiness and pain are for the population that refuses God. fullness and joy are for his followers.

so i hear questions like, 'how are cameron and rachel? are they doing okay?' or 'gosh, her blog is awful. i can't stand to read it.' or 'man, it just seems like they are really struggling.'

and because i thankfully have a filter on my mouth a majority of the time (there are advantages to aging...) i do not respond how i would like to. however, i claim no filter on my typing, so let me just say for all to read,


what's that? God heals and restores?

yes, that's true. God does promise to walk us through to the other side. but have you ever seen someone who has been attacked by a shark? they don't exactly look the same when the healing is done. the scars are deep, sometimes obvious and sometimes hidden, but the wound is always there. there is a limp in their step and a change to their body. they may have an incredible story of survival on the other side, but they will never be whole again. there is residual pain. there are days when life is not much different than before, but there are many more days when life is completely different. accommodations must be made. the injury must be accounted for. as time passes, the scars become more and more a part of their body. less interfering as it were. but that's only with time. lots of it. lots and lots of it. there is much healing to be done before 'normal' is even a concept that can be entertained.

so yes, will cameron and rachel be okay? i do believe that someday they will have learned to walk with their scars. but right now, there are gaping wounds. bone-crushing, life-altering wounds. it's hard to watch, difficult to just stand by and observe the pain. but that's reality.

so here's what i want for christmas...i want people to think and enter into other's painful realities. and i am not just speaking to cameron and rachel's circumstances. maybe it is another of life's tragedies that you are watching unfold - infertility, miscarriage, wayward family, terminal illness, divorce, consequences of poor decisions. there are a multitude of circumstances that involve varying degrees of pain. i want people to stop being impatient and realize that life often involves months and years of heartache. i want people to stop saying stupid things to try and gloss over the traumas and tragedies. i want people to try and just sit their humble selves in the circumstances of another and feel. shove away the need to say something 'helpful', or do something to make it better. instead, just think. meditate on life in their shoes and be sad. God guarantees us difficulty, pain, trials, death. it's okay to acknowledge. tragedy doesn't mean God isn't there. it only means that we are in fact living on earth.

makiah, maybe your life will touch 1000's of others. i'm fairly sure it already has. but we will always miss YOUR life. no one, even 1000's, can replace you. we are thankful that you are with jesus. but we are horrifyingly empty without you here. we know that life must be lived. but we long to be with you. for time to hurry up. you will never know your sisters and that is a reality that is too painful to dwell on. but we promise they will know you. they will know your story. they will know your face. they will know your name and your heart. i wish they could know you. but that will have to wait. that whole wishing time would hurry up idea.

and you will never know your cousin, who will bear your name. but sarahjoy will know you. she will know your face and your heart, your story. and she will always bear 'makiah' as part of her identity. because if there was ever a little girl who was burdened for the hurting of this world, it was you. she will know that you helped bring her home. she will know your mommy and daddy. and she will know their hearts and their story. she will know your sisters. and when they play, they will know someone is missing. they will not be sad. for childish innocence is the picture of joy. we'll leave the sadness for the grown ups. but they will know.

christ entered into our pain. my hope this christmas is that we can enter into one another's. that we wouldn't be afraid to sit together with broken hearts, whatever the circumstances are that have done the breaking.

i don't know what our future is. i can tell you that i wake up every day and wonder if it's my last with someone i love. or maybe my last. i don't know what sarahjoy will bring to our family. it is nice to think that the answer is smiles and joy, but the realities of a special needs adoption are not always pretty and certainly not easy. so i am guarded. forgive me if i seem unenthusiastic. that is not the case, i am merely feeling the weight of life's difficulties a bit more as we enter into this new season of our family. and realizing that maybe, just maybe, we're not in for a picnic.

two weeks and counting.



our holidays are as busy as ever with one small change...we are preparing to welcome home our little girl in just a few weeks! our plane tickets are bought and we are scheduled to fly out of virginia beach early on january 6. 'january' sounds far away...3 weeks, not so much...

we received our final price quotes today and i am so unbelievably excited to tell you that our adoption will be 100% paid for. i was holding my breath a bit before the final numbers came in, but we are ready to fully embrace the miracle. thank you so much for the part you all have played. we are so, so thankful. when i first began to pray about sarahjoy coming home, God led me to the word 'faithful'. he has certainly shown himself to be just that. our hope and prayer is that you all have been able to witness God's faithfulness too as you have followed our journey.

we fly in just about 3 weeks. let's be honest, i am scared out of my mind. the thought of a 5th child, a toddler (we are most definitely out of the toddler stage in our house!), a child who doesn't know english, a child who has been institutionalized for 2 years, a question mark about her health - it all is definitely causing my stomach some serious knots. i have to keep reminding myself that God has promised to be faithful. it will probably not be easy, dare i say ROUGH for who knows how long, but He is faithful. easy for me to write to you. not so easy for me to fully embrace.

a few specific prayers as we spend the last few weeks as a family of 6:

***we have asked for updated measurements. the only ones we have are from july. please pray that we can get these (her orphanage is being very difficult). it would be good for one, so that we have more of an accurate idea about clothes. but more importantly, it would give me some direction about what we are facing with her health.

***good health for our family. i don't want to leave behind sick kids and i certainly don't want to be sick when traveling. and we need grammy and pops and grandma to be 100% healthy too!!!

***wisdom for packing. the reality is that they just hand sarahjoy to us. the only thing she comes with are the clothes on her back (and in lydia's case, not even a pair of underwear or shoes that fit). so we have to bring not only clothes and shoes, but toys, diapers, formula, snacks (we have no idea what she eats or if she is still on a bottle), and everything else it takes to have a toddler for 2 weeks. yes, we can go shopping in china. but it doesn't happen until a couple of days after we get her so we have to carry most of the stuff with us. and all 3 of us have to pack in 2 suitcases, no heavier than 44 pounds.

***and lastly, pray for sarahjoy. she is about to be unbelievably traumatized. handed to people who look different, smell different, talk different. just imagine taking a 2 year old from the US and dropping them in china. it is a terribly stressful transition for her. pray for her little heart and mind to somehow understand that we love her and are her mommy and daddy, that the orphanage would be preparing her in these final weeks. pray that we would be wise in identifying her grieving and comforting her. and pray for her health. i am expecting a fairly malnourished, underweight child, something we did not experience with lydia.

thank you so much for your prayers and walking together with us. we absolutely could not be doing this without you. i will touch base before we leave, but in the meantime have a beautiful Christmas with your families. and for those of you who are hurting this season - as my sweet cousins are in their loss of Makiah - may God's peace envelop you and his strength help you to get to the other side.