Day 7: Orphanage Visit

What a day!! I have thought about this day since the moment we applied to adopt again. Truth be told, Tucker's orphanage visit and finding spot experience have never left me. Those memories are imprinted on my heart forever. I knew that visiting Tyson's orphanage and findings sport would render the same reaction. We began our morning like all others - enjoying breakfast at our beautiful hotel. If you find yourself in Nanning, Guangxi Province in China, please stay at the Marriott Hotel. It is ranked 2nd out of 620 hotels in this city. Our adoption agency booked this hotel, and we are so thankful. Everyone here is extremely kind and helpful, from the receptionist to the hostess to the general manager to the chefs to the cleaning ladies. Breakfast is so delicious and was the perfect way to start what turned out to be a very long day.

Though this is probably no surprise given how big he is, Tyson's ability to eat, drink, swallow, etc. is incredible! He is a rock star. I am so amazed how he has completely adapted to his medical need and doesn't let that stop him. He is always communicating with us with his adorable sounds and pointing. I cannot wait to help him learn sign language, use picture communication tools, and start speaking after his palate surgery takes place.

After breakfast, we jumped into the large van with the other two families we are traveling with and our guide, David. Our family sits all the way in the back since there are four of us and only 3 people in each of the other two families. There are no car seats in China, and seat belts are optional if available So, the picture above and below are what I consider a Chinese car seat - his momma's and poppa's lap. :)

I sure wish they liked each other more!
Like I explained in a previous blog post, our hotel is in the city of Nanning, which is the capital of Guangxi. All of our formal adoption process on the China side takes place here. We have to stay in the city from Monday to Friday to allow enough time for officials to process Tyson's passport, which we should receive Friday. Before meeting us on Monday, Tyson lived in an orphanage in a city called Beihai, which is right on the Beibu Gulf in the South China Sea. This city is about 3 hours away from Nanning, so we had a long drive ahead of us. The trip cost us around $165 USD with a $15 USD tip to our driver per family. Because of your generosity, the grants we received, and the adoption tax credit, we were able to take advantage of this very valuable opportunity. Thank you!!

We stopped at a convenience store to grab some cold drinks. This store was in a very rural area of Guangxi, and people were very curious about us outside the store. We found two peach flavored Capri Sun drinks. They were SO delicious! Everything sweet tastes better here because they use real sugar versus high fructose corn syrup, I think. The drinks taste fresh versus syrupy (that is a real word!). Ryan grabbed Tyson a couple toys that cost like $3 USD, and we were on our way.

Noah kept himself busy playing the Nintendo 3DS that he got for his birthday.
Noah mentioned that he likes sitting on the floor of the van better than in a car seat. I told him that we could just move to China! I think he is considering it. :) If you look in the top right picture below, you can see the city of Hepu. We made our first stop here to visit an orphanage of one of the little ones in our group.

As we drove into the city, I found myself trying to take in as much as possible. The sounds, the colors, the people, the buildings. China is such a populated country, but there is so much open countryside! It is truly beautiful here, very tropical with lush vegetation. I asked our guide if it is much like Vietnam, and he said that yes, the two are so similar because how close they are to one another. Below are some of the sights in Hepu.

So may people drive scooters here


We found ourselves turning down this dirt road, and we slowly bounced our way down it, passing many older people and very young, half-dressed children.

Tyson had curled up and slept peacefully in Ryan's arms through it all, as his daddy absorbed every bounce our huge van took on that dirt road.

A few twists and turns later, we found ourselves pulling through the orphanage gate. This is actually a social welfare institute (SWI), which means both a nursing home and a children's home are found on the grounds.

Noah and I got out of the van, and you couldn't help but notice how eerily quiet things were. I felt so unsettled by the lack of noise. There was really nice exercise equipment and even a basketball court, but not one was using them. It was nice for Noah to get some exercise after the long drive there.

Noah asked why there were bars on the windows, and I explained that bars are typically meant to keep people out or keep people in...maybe both in this case. Our friends noticed that the cement wall surrounding the SWI had broken glass adhered to the top for the same reason.

As I watched my son slide down the slide, I had to wonder how many children had played on this slide before him. How many parentless children slid down this slide? Was there anyone to smile at them and catch them at the bottom? I talked with Noah about the reality of orphans in our world. There are 20 orphanages in this Guangxi Province alone, and there are 23 provinces in China. They vary in size, resources, etc. We learned that the orphanage in Hepu does not currently have any children living there, as all of the children are living with local foster families. This is so much better for the children, assuming they are placed with healthy and loving families. As we all know, this is not always the reality in the US. 

I got back in the van and looked into my husband's eyes. His embrace around Tyson hadn't changed but tears fell as he took in the reality before us. Buildings have been created to house children who have been abandoned all around the world, and for millions of others, no building exists. They walk the streets trying to survive. In the United States, most of us live such a self-focused existence, worrying about our jobs, our homes, our children, our wants. We tend to ignore that there is an entire world around us, and much of it is broken and hurting and lost. God did not bring us into this world to serve ourselves but to die to ourselves and serve others. As you read this post, I pray that you will ask yourself how you can bring light to this dark world. At the end of your life, will you bare the scars of your fight to help the least of these? The sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, and the imprisoned. Will you let God break your heart so that He can use you in the dark corners of the world? God has richly blessed so many of us with strong marriages, financial stability, education, familial support, friendship, and love, and we have the opportunity to use these gifts to help others. He hasn't blessed us so that we will keep these things to ourselves but instead to joyfully share them with others. I am convinced of this. The gift is in the giving not the keeping.

We made our way to Beihai, which took another 30-45 minutes. I stared out the window taking it all in. This was the city where my son was probably born. This is where his birth parents may live. This is where he spent the beginning of his life.

When I saw the gulf, I started taking pictures as fast as I could. Everywhere you could see, fishing boats floated out at sea and large ships sat in the docks.

As we crossed the bridge, my heart beat faster and faster knowing that we were so close to my son's first home.

I think the picture above is one of my very favorites. I can't wait to find the perfect place for it in our house to represent the city that gave us our sweet Tyson.

David took our group to a very famous area of Beihai called Old Street. It was remarkable! The buildings were so beautiful.

I love this picture of Old Street.
 David took us to a restaurant for lunch so that we could sample local cuisine. The building was very old and beautiful.

You could feel the history as you walked up each step. I loved all of the wood, stone, and brick in this building. There were many small private rooms in this restaurant where people could dine with the doors closed. I loved it! We were taken to a private room on the second floor. I didn't get pictures of our table and chairs because I was helping Ty get settled, but they were SO SO big and heavy. I have never felt chairs like that. I could barely move them to sit down. They were different shapes, too. I hope someone in our travel group got pictures of them!

Once again, David ordered the most delicious food! We had handmade dumplings, and they were phenomenal. They were Ryan's favorite! The bowl to the right had hand cut noodles (Jessica Walker - I was THRILLED to have these in China!! They were SO SO delicious. Remember getting them at the Asian Market after C4C, Stephanie, Kelley, and Dalia? If only I had some bubble tea with them...). David also ordered some tofu dishes, yellow rice congee, sweet and sour meatballs (delicious!), and various sauces to put on the noodles. I tried the tomato and egg sauce, as well as this meat and bean sauce. Both were equally delicious! Next time we come to Beihai - with all four sons - we will have to come back to this restaurant. I will crave it for a long time!

My lunch - I ate every single bite and then some.

Noah eating his plain noodles next to David. We love you, David!!

When we left the restaurant, we stopped by some of the little stands to buy some local items. I found a beautiful comb set for Tyson and his future wife and some handmade bracelets that will always remind me of my son's beautiful city. Noah also found a small Pokemon character that was handmade. I think we paid maybe $10 USD for everything.

As we walked down Old Street, David showed us the Beihai Christ Church. It was a beautiful sight! A sign in the doorway, which you cannot see in this picture said, "God is love." There was never a more true statement. I know too many people who do not yet have a relationship with God, and my heart hurts because He is love and He is good! I long for people to experience the fullness of His love. My relationship with the Lord has grown stronger and stronger throughout past 8 years. Even in the hard, even in the broken and loss, He has been so so good. I was so happy to hear that it is legal for the people of Beihai to attend Christian church - that being a Christian is acceptable. I am left wondering about Tyson's birth parents. Do they know God? Did they pray us to him?

We drove a very short distance, and before I knew it, we had reached the Social Welfare Institute of Beihai City. Again, the SWI indicates that both the elderly and orphans live within these walls.

We are so grateful to our agency and to David for all of their work to help us visit inside the SWI walls. I am a member of Ty's province's Facebook group, and very few people have been allowed inside. I have been praying for a long time that we could see inside Tyson's orphanage, and God answered our prayers! Soon after we arrived, I was taking pictures of the grounds when I saw a woman with red hair driving up on a scooter with a huge smile on her face and tears in her eyes. I recognized her immediately as Tyson's sweet nanny. I immediately began to cry! She parked her scooter and walked over to Ryan, who was holding Ty. She held her arms out, and he happily let her scoop him up. We introduced ourselves and began thanking her for loving Guo An Tao so much. We showed her the pictures that we have of them together. Soon after, David asked if we could all go inside the orphanage and continue our conversation.

I will treasure this picture always.
I have many, many pictures of inside the orphanage walls, but out of respect for their privacy, I want to limit what I share with the public. We were only allowed into the lobby area and the baby room where the little ones play, which was just to the right of the lobby. They had an air conditioning unit in this room, and the waves of ice cold air felt so good. There were no more than 15 babies and small children in this room with us, as well as 6 nannies - called ayis, which means aunts. The assistant director who we met on Family Day and was present for our adoption ceremony was also with us during our visit. Tyson made himself right at home, running all around the room, playing with the toys and his sweet ayi.

Tyson is so strong, y'all! Seriously, that kid walks up to things just like this picture above, squats down like a sumo wrestler, and moves objects to new locations. Me, Tyson, strong!!

I love this picture of Ty with his nanny, playing on the rocking horse and jumping deer. His smile says everything! This boy was loved. Tyson's ayi and I shared many words during our visit, and one thing she said was that she loved Ty like her biological son. We couldn't have asked for more! This is a huge answer to prayer.

While Tyson played with his ayi and ran around the room, I took the opportunity to love on the children. When I first approached a couple of them, they immediately began to cry. So sad!! I felt terrible. Once they warmed up to us, I saw smiles and laughter in many directions. One of the dads was playing with this sweet little one, and she was belly laughing. I looked over and saw my precious Noah, playing ball with this adorable boy above. He was SO social and smart!! I have several pictures of this boy that I will treasure. I believe our adoption agency even has his file if anyone would be interested in adopting him! He is absolutely, positively beautiful and sweet. Did I say social? He is so social! I can't stress that enough. 

I felt overwhelmed by the little time we had and the desire in my heart to love on these children. Each one I played with, I whispered to them that Jesus loved them. They are not forgotten. He sees them and loves them. He promised to not leave them as orphans (John 14:18). I cry now as I imagine meeting them again in heaven someday, with their new, fully restored bodies. To see the children living an institution with hydrocephalus, severe torticollis, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, and other disabilities was heart wrenching. These children need families, too. Every single one of them. 

One precious child will stay with me forever. I debated posting this picture to respect his privacy, but I feel like sharing is valuable. This child was so scared when I first approached him. He cried, and it broke my heart. Slowly, I was able to win him over, as I whispered Jesus' love to him and sang Jesus Loves me in his ear. He just watched me as I stared deep into his eyes. What an old soul this boy has. I found a wind-up car, and as he laid there, he watched it go by time and time again. Finally, with pure precision, he grabbed that car and pulled it to him. I began taking small toys, hopping them along the ground and making them kiss his sweet face. That is when he smiled, big beautiful smiles to me. The Spirit inside me leapt with each smile as if wanting to reach outside of me to touch him. I do not know his name, but I will never forget him for as long as I live. One day, I will meet this boy in heaven, and his legs will be strong. His body will be made new. Until that day, remember him and all the children he represents, who lie on a floor, waiting for someone to love them and bring them home.
I spoke to Tyson's nanny for a long time, and David helped translate for us. Ryan took video of our conversation, and I hope Tyson will cherish the words we shared. I asked her what she loved about Ty and what her hopes were for his future. She cried as she explained how much she loved him, and I cried as I shared how we promise to love him for the rest of his life. I told her about his brothers, our extended family, and our amazing friends, how they are all waiting to embrace him and love him for the rest of his life. I shared about the opportunities he would have living in the United States, and she was very, very happy for the little boy we both love so much. I was so emotional saying thank you and goodbye to this very special woman. Seeing Tyson say goodbye was very emotional, as well. He has to lose so much to gain even more, and it breaks my heart.

One of the ladies was holding Tyson right before we left, and without being prompted, Tyson put his arms out to me. What a gift...and answer to prayer...this moment was. We had prayed that Tyson would want to leave with us, and as soon as I held him in my arms, it felt like his old life had passed, and his new life had begun. We thanked the women for all that they are doing to help and love the children.

We also had the opportunity to visit Tyson's finding spot. This is part of Tyson's story that will remain private for him to learn when he is ready. It was heartbreaking to stand there, looking at the place where our son was found. I wondered all day where his birth parents were and how they felt the day they put him down and walked away forever.  Through their sacrifice, he was given life, and God will use their decision for Tyson's good. As a parent, I cannot imagine the heart ache they experienced. I pray that God will grant them peace to know he is safe and loved and spoken for. We will cherish him all the days of our life.

The drive home took over 3 hours, and Tyson stayed awake the entire time. There were moments of joy, moments of tears, and moments of screaming, but we made it to the hotel safe and sound. We were together. A family. Forever.

And you know what Noah said when we got back to the hotel? He said, "Mom, today was the best day of my life...to be with you, Daddy, and Tyson...and see his orphanage and his city. It was the best day." God has big plans for this boy, and I can't wait to watch his life unfold. I love you, Noah Ryan!

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