Thursday, November 9, 2017

Daddy, Why Was I In China?

Saturday was just a normal night in the Pollard house. Baths were done, teeth were brushed and everyone was settling down for bed. Leslie and I rotate bedtime with the "littles" each night- one night I lay down with Adam and Leslie takes Elli. The next night, we switch.

And believe me: Elli knows the rotation. If Leslie and I are in a "parent fog" and can't remember whose turn it is, I'll ask Elli, "Is it daddy's turn tonight?" She'll look at me with this grin and say, "Ka-night [Tonight], Daddy's turn!"

Saturday night was Daddy's turn so I climbed the stairs and laid down on her pink sheets, propped my head up on her pillow and prepared to read some books, say our prayers and enjoy any number of things that might follow on any given night: snuggles, giggles and laughing at Elli as she hides under the covers and playfully yells "No!" at Luke as he sneaks into her room trying to steal a kiss.

We've got a good routine going and Sunday night was routine. We read a book called A Mother for Choco which tells the story of a small bird named Choco who can't find his mother and goes on a quest to find her. It's a story we've read dozens of time before.

I'm not sure if it's the book that prompted what happened next, but after we read the book, she wrapped herself up in her favorite pink blanket and snuggled up to my shoulder. We laid there for a couple of minutes. I thought she was drifting off to sleep. Then she asked me a question that took my breath away: "Daddy, why was I in China?"

I was speechless and caught completely off-guard: not only because my 5 year old daughter was asking such a profound question, but I also knew I didn't know how to answer it. It's a question I've asked hundreds of times over the past two years.

Why? Why did Elli's parents give her up for adoption? Why didn't they decide to keep her? Why don't we have any information on her birth parents to help us fill in the gaps? Why did Elli have to wait 4 years before she was adopted into our family?


That 3-letter interrogative has haunted me at times. As I laid in Elli's bed trying to gather my thoughts I wrestled once again with that question. However, this time it wasn't just my own internal struggle. I wasn't alone. My beautiful 5 year old girl was struggling to answer the question. "Why, Daddy?"

I prayed and asked God for wisdom to speak love, truth and healing to my daughter's heart. I felt the weight of the moment and the answer as I looked into her beautiful eyes and said, "Baby, you were in China because that's where you were born. And that's where you were when mommy and daddy came to get you. Now we are all a family."

She contemplated my answer for a few seconds and said, "Luke's a good one" (I don't know what that means for the rest of us). She paused for a moment and said, "I love you, Dad," snuggled up close and went to sleep. I don't know if my answer was a good one, but for that night, my answer sufficed.

But her question got me thinking. In fact, for the past couple of days her question has been relentlessly stirring in my heart. Why? The truth is: I don't know why. Elli may live her entire life without an adequate answer. It is likely she will have more questions as she gets older- "Why did my parents have to give me up for adoption? Why couldn't they keep me?" These are not questions I can answer.

God has reminded me once again it's not my job to know the answers to all the "whys" in my daughter's life, so for the past couple of days I've been praying, "God, she's going to grow up with a lot of 'whys.' I ask you to help me as she navigates the answers and I ask you to help me not be one of her bad "whys." As Elli grows up and wrestles with the many questions that will come to her heart, I hope she will never look at me and say, "Why him? Of all the dads I could have had, why him?"

Instead, I want her to grow up and say, "Although I may not know the answer to all the 'whys' of my life, I am thankful he's my dad." I want to be a good answer to her "why?"

I have to learn to live with the tension of not knowing the answer to all of the "whys" of my daughter's life. Today I leave the "whys" in the hands of God and ask Him to give me the love, grace, strength and wisdom to be a good answer to her Why?

Friday, September 15, 2017

When Love Takes You In

I'm going to have to fight back the tears as I write this one. This one could take a while.

Today is "Gotcha Day." No, it's not some weird September celebration of April Fools Day or a day to pull a practical joke. On this day, just two years ago, I was pacing back and forth in a small hotel room in China. I was awaiting the arrival of my little girl. It was the kind of joyful anticipation every dad feels when standing in the hospital room awaiting the arrival of a child.

A wave of questions flooded my mind: "What will she look like? What kind of personality will she have? Is she going to be daddy's or mommy's girl?"

Before those questions were answered the questions deepened: "What if she doesn't like me? Am I really ready for this? What if this is harder than we anticipated? Am I making a mistake? Can I love her enough? Will she ever be able to love me as a dad? What if this doesn't work out? What if I'm not enough for her?"

And before those questions could be answered, she arrived. I saw a little girl across the courtyard. She was wearing a pink jacket, a red dress with cherries on it and pink and white shoes. She was the most beautiful baby girl I had ever seen.

Until I draw my last breath, I will never forget how she looked that day and I'll never forget how much I loved her. Never.

That's "Gotcha Day."

A few days ago I posted two pictures of Elli taken almost two years apart. The difference in the two pictures is remarkable.

A dear friend of our family commented on the pics, "When love takes you in...everything changes." It's true. In every way.

Everything has changed since Gotcha Day.

Elli is a completely different kid. She is stunning. I know I'm biased, but she is (and I'll fight anyone who would dare say otherwise). She has grown so much. She smiles more. She laughs more. She's more secure. She trusts more. She is loved more.

Every night at bedtime I ask her the same series of questions:
Me: Are you daddy's girl?
Elli: Yes.
Me: Are you mommy's girl?
Elli: Yes.
Me: Are you Luke's girl?
Elli: Yes.
Me: Are you Noah's girl?
Elli: Yes.
Me: Are you Adam's girl?
Elli (some days): No.
Elli (on other days when they haven't been fighting): Yes.

Hey, let's be honest: love is hard.

But love took her in and everything changed.

It's not just Elli who was taken in by love. I was taken in as well. Today I am a different man, husband and father than I was on Gotcha Day two years ago. I have learned so much about myself these past two years. Adoption has painfully revealed some of my deepest insecurities. I've learned that I can be a very selfish person. I've learned that I can be too hard on my kids.

But I have also learned so much about love. Love is hard work. Love is dying to self for the welfare of others. Love keeps on giving when there's nothing left to give. Love is unconditional. Love means putting someone else first knowing you may not get something in return. Love is a choice. Love is Jesus on the cross. There he gave his life for the good of others.

On Gotcha Day it wasn't just Elli that was taken in by love. Love took me in as well.

That's right. Adoption has changed me...for the better.

All of those questions I had on Gotcha Day 2 years ago? They've all been answered:

  • What will she look like? Stunning. Like her mommy.
  • What kind of personality will she have? I would describe her as a funny, crazy, sassy, caring Princess Power Ranger.
  • Is she going to be daddy's or mommy's girl? Don't tell mommy, but I won.
  • What if she doesn't like me? She does. 
  • Am I really ready for this? I wasn't.
  • What if this is harder than we anticipated? It is.
  • Am I making a mistake? No way.
  • Can I love her enough? Absolutely.
  • Will she ever be able to love me as a dad? No doubt about it.
  • What if this doesn't work out? It has. It will. 
  • What if I'm not enough for her? I'm not. I'm not enough for Elli, but Jesus is. He is more than enough. My job as her father is to point her to him. 

Today is Gotcha Day- a day when we celebrate Elli becoming a part of our family. But it's more than that. It's a day we celebrate love taking us all in.

We love you, Elliana Joy Jing Pollard. We didn't just take you in: you took us in. Love took us in...and everything changed.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Elli- Did You Lose Your Mommy?

It's hard for kids to understand an adult world. They don't understand why they can't have every piece of candy they ask for in the store, why you can't go swimming while it's storming outside or why you have to go to work and can't play all day every day.

Adoption is an adult world concept that is difficult for kids to understand. Just ask my youngest son, Adam. On May 12, 2011, Leslie gave birth to our third son, Adam. For 4 years, 4 months and 3 days he was the baby of the family. His title was unchallenged. He was the undisputed baby of the Pollard house...then "she" came into our lives.

As much as everyone else loved Elli, Adam had some difficulty. She was now the baby and that hurt a little. While we were in China things were "okay," but once we got home Adam began to understand this was a permanent situation. He had to learn to share his toys. He had to learn there was someone younger in the family whose needs were pressing all of the time. He had to understand he wasn't the baby anymore..and he didn't like it.

A couple of days after returning from China Adam said to Leslie, "Mommy, we need to take Elli home to her mommy." Wow. How do you explain this to a four year old? So Leslie told Adam, "Buddy, Elli lost her mommy. So your mommy is her mommy now." Adam thought about it for a minute and said, "Yeah, but we still need to take her home to her mommy." Leslie explained that our home was now Elli's home and that Adam's mommy was Elli's mommy, too.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. I was driving the kids to the movies to give mommy a little break and I overheard this conversation in the backseat:

Adam: "Elli, did you lose your mommy?"

Elli: "Yeah." (then a sad look came over her face)

Adam: (in a comforting voice) "It's okay, Elli. Mommy went to China to get you and now she's happy. Mommy is your mommy."

A big smile came across Elli's face and she threw her hands into the air and screamed, "Yay!"

I fought back the tears as my heart melted. Before Elli entered our lives, Leslie and I prayed with the kids every night that God would bring the right child to us. We asked God to help us all love Elli. Although he didn't get it at first and struggled with the idea, Adam finally understood "my mommy is Elli's mommy"...and he was okay with it. In fact, he was happy about it. So was Elli.

Every parent who has ever lost a child in a store knows the fear that can grip your heart as you search frantically for your child. I've lost one of my kids in a store before. Until you find him, it's a hopeless feeling.

However, I have also been a lost child. I vividly remember a trip to Sears when I was a kid. My brother and I were playing Hide-and-Seek in all of the clothing racks. I found a good spot and stayed there for some time. After I realized my brother was taking longer-than-usual to find me I came out of the hiding spot to find him. However, he was not there...nor was my mom. Fear gripped me. Panic set in. "Where are they? Did they leave me? Are they coming back to get me?"

I was probably only missing for about 1 minute but it felt like one lifetime. Then I remember hearing my mom's voice, "Robby?! Robby?!" Although I could sense fear and anxiety in her cries, it felt so amazing to hear her voice and to know my mom was looking for me. I followed the sound of her voice and started calling to her, "Mom! Mom!" We finally found each other and she hugged me. I could sense the joy she felt in finding me. I could also sense the relief. But her joy paled in comparison to the joy I felt for being found.

Elli lost her mommy for almost 4 years of her life. I don't know how long that felt to her. My heart hurts to think about it, really. During the nearly two years it took for us to go through the adoption process we hit numerous hurdles with agencies, governments, and finances. It was physically, emotionally and spiritually draining.

But a mommy who is looking for her daughter cannot be stopped. Leslie stood strong when we hit dead ends, persevered through adversity, filled out more paperwork than you can imagine and traveled halfway around the world to find her little girl.

So yes, Elli lost her mommy, but her mommy has found her. And Elli has found her mommy. Really, they found each other.

Elliana Joy Jing Pollard. Elliana means "God has answered." God has answered our prayers and brought us joy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Piece by Piece

I love music. It's a sad time at the Pollard house. Leslie and I are "closet" American Idol fans. Now it's out. There, I feel better. If you are not aware, this is American Idol's final season so with each episode Idol is bringing back past winners for one final performance on the show. Some of them have been good: others have been ho-hum.

However, a couple of weeks ago one performance completely left me feeling like I had been punched in the gut and left a seasoned veteran performer like Keith Urban in tears. Kelly Clarkson, the first American Idol, performed a heart-wrenching song called Piece By Piece. If you'd like to watch the performance, here is a link (but I recommend you get tissues ready beforehand). I don't usually get emotional during American Idol, but there was something different about this song. It is a song of redemption, but every story of redemption begins with pain.

The song tells the story of a mother whose dad walked out on her when she was 6 years old. Here's the first line: "And all I remember is your back walking toward the airport leaving us all in your past." Let that image sink in for a moment: a little girl watching as her dad walks out of her life forever. I've tried to put myself in that little girl's shoes so many times but I just can't. I wish I could...because my daughter has a pair of those shoes.

I love bedtime with the kids. Bedtime always includes reading books, saying prayers, laughing, passing gas- you know- normal kid stuff. But with all of my kids I like to watch them fall asleep. Each kid likes us to do different things to them to help them fall asleep: Luke likes us to lay down in his bed, Noah likes mommy to scratch his back and Adam likes me to put my arm over his chest.

Elli likes me to rub her back with a blanket. She hands me a particular corner of her blanket and says, "Daddy, like this," showing me how to hold the corner of the blanket. Then she rolls over on her stomach and pulls up her shirt so the blanket can touch her skin. For 10 minutes I lay there and rub her back with the corner of her blanket. As my arm begins to cramp I watch her eyes as she drifts off into sleep.

As she does I often wonder about what image (if any) she has of her biological father. She was so young at the time he abandoned her, so I don't know what she remembers. But I wonder how she would sing that line of the song, "And all I remember was your back..." I wish I could stand in her shoes.

But the song is a song of redemption. Another man came into her life that I hope will describe what I have become for my beautiful girl:
But piece by piece, he collected me up
Off the ground where you abandoned things.
And piece by piece he filled the holes
That you burned in me at six years old and you know
He never walks away
He never asks for money
He takes care of me 'cause he loves me
Piece by piece, he restored my faith
That a man can be kind and a father should be great.

I know there are holes burned in Elli's heart. You don't easily get over being abandoned. But with every stroke of her soft, black hair, every gentle kiss to her forehead, every tickle fight, every book I read to her at night, every time I comfort her when she cries and every soft touch of her blanket on her back, I am picking up the pieces and shoveling unconditional love into her heart.

And I hope, piece by piece, as I love her, we are rewriting the first line of her song. And every night I pray she will she will grow to learn that a man can be kind and a father should be great.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Daddy, It's Scary

I am always amused by the over-the-top sensationalism of local media. This weekend I sensed a weird joy in the local reporters as they prepped Houston for "Flood-Mageddon"...or "March Floodness"...or any other lame name they could come up with to describe the impending weather conditions for Houston. A wave of thunderstorms were predicted to sweep through the Houston area leaving us wishing we had been wise enough to build Noah's ark.

The storms did come through, but they were not nearly as bad as the weatherman had predicted. There were, however, 2 kids affected by the weather. At about 3:00 a.m. a loud crash of thunder rattled the windows in my bedroom and awakened two cute kids who were fast asleep in my bed: Adam and Elli (it's a long story, but Leslie had to put the kids down for sleep by herself last night and I came home to find them cutely snuggled up in my bed).

Adam has never been a fan of loud noises so immediately put his hands over his ears and just stared at the windows as lightning flashed and thunder crashed. I put my left arm over his chest to help him feel secure. Elli sat up and had fear written all over her face. She looked at me and said, "Daddy, it's scary" and reached out for me. I put my right arm behind her and pulled her close. This is no small moment. Trust and security are big things for an adopted child and this was another evidence of her growing trust in me.

She buried her head in my chest and closed her eyes and held onto me tightly. I reassured her, "Daddy's here. It's going to be okay. Daddy's here."

Then I had a moment. As I comforted two of my kids, my mind went to a place to which it has gone many times. Ever since Adam breathed his first breath almost 5 years ago I have been with him. There has never been a day of his life when "Daddy wasn't there." Elli's story is very different. When we finally got her in September of last year she had lived 1,358 days without "Daddy's here."

My mind has gone to this place many times. When Elli falls and scrapes her knee and I hold her and bandage the wound, I wonder who did this before me...or if anyone did. When Elli cries because she is upset and I hold her and tell her, "It's going to be okay," I wonder whose arms were holding her...if any. When Elli wanted to swing "high in the sky," who was there to push the swing for her? When Elli's smile lights up the room I often wonder, "Who stopped to enjoy this beautiful girl?" When she laughs, whose heart used to be filled with joy...or did anyone even notice?

Last night as the thunder rolled on and Elli held on tightly I wondered, "What did you do in the orphanage when a storm passed through? Who held you?" And a giant lump formed in my throat as I wondered, "What if the answer is 'no one'? What if no one came into the room to hold my little girl while she was scared?" The thought just tears me up.

So last night as I held her close, kissed her head and reassured her and Adam, I prayed and thanked God that He chose me to be their daddy. And I whispered to my sweet Elli, "I'm so thankful you are here with me."

I don't know who bandaged her wounds, comforted her when she cried, pushed the swing for her, basked in the warmth of her smile or held her during a scary storm for the first 1,358 days of her life. But I do know this: for the rest of my days, daddy will be here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


A baby's first words are important- especially to mom and dad. As soon as a baby starts making sounds parents develop a special skill of interpretation. Others may listen with interest in hearing cute baby sounds, but parents are listening for something more.

Parents have to learn to interpret their baby's "Ba-ba-ba" to see if he or she is asking for a bottle, bath, ball, balloon or a blanket. As good as parents become at interpretation, sometimes things are lost in translation. I'll be honest- I have changed many diapers because my kid said,"Poo poo," but all he wanted was a "poo poo" (purple) crayon.

Although it is amazing to hear your baby's first words, every mom and dad is listening for one word, or should I say, one name: theirs. You hear "da-da-da" and you come running only to find your kid playing with the dog. You hear "ma-ma-ma" and you break your neck, thinking the child wants "mama" only to find your baby pointing at the milk jug. Then it happens: they look right at you and say, "Dada"- and you know they mean it. I'm telling you, there's not a feeling like it in all the world.

I remember the first word Elli said to me: "Baba." We had just met and the teacher at the orphanage introduced me to her. The worker pointed to me and said, "Baba." Elli repeated it: "Baba." Her sweet little voice got me all choked up. Looking back at that moment now I know she didn't really understand what a "Baba" really was as she had never really known hers. But it didn't matter to me. It was great to hear my name.

Over the past 5 months we have both learned what "Baba" is: he loves Jesus (hopefully she sees and knows this), he takes care of his family, he loves Luke, Noah, Adam and Elli and he loves their Mama. Baba is the guy who jumps on the trampoline with the kids, fixes an incessant number of chicken nuggets and pizza in a given month and laughs at kids movies like he's a kid as well. Baba coaches his sons' basketball teams, plays four square, grills for Mama sometimes and reads books at night. Oh yeah, Baba also loves to snuggle his kids, kiss them and tell them "I love you." "Baba" is really "Daddy."

One of my favorite parts of being a dad is coming home after a day of work. The kids hear the door open and all come running, "Daddy! Daddy's home!" Hugs and kisses fly and immediate requests for attention flood the doorway. Now a little girl comes running, "Baba! Baba!" It is music to my ears.

I am a lot of things to a lot of people. To some, I am a friend. To others, I am a pastor. To some, I am a neighbor. But only 3 people in the world can call me daddy, and only one can call me Baba. The relationship between and dad and his kids is special.

But a couple of months ago something happened that stopped me dead in my tracks. We were at our house one evening. Luke and Noah were playing with Legos and Adam and Elli were playing with Play Do. From across the room Adam called to me, "Daddy, can you help me?" I made my way to their table and helped him get the blue Play Do to pass through one of the Play Do squeezing mechanisms (I have no idea what you call those things). With Adam satisfied with the help I offered I got up and turned to walk away, back to whatever it was I was doing.

Then I heard that voice. The sweet voice of that little girl who captured my heart from the first time she uttered a word to me. "Daddy?" My heart stopped. She said it with a question mark at the end. She said it as though she was testing me, "Is that okay? Can I call you Daddy? Are you Daddy to me as well?" I felt like the world was standing still and everything went silent. I turned around and she was holding a lump of red Play Do as a lump was forming in my throat. I could see it in her eyes. I had answered when she called me the name she had heard her brothers call me hundreds of times.

I knelt back down, "Yes, baby? What do you need?" Without hesitation she made a request, "Daddy, help." She held out the Play Do as I held back the tears. I kissed her on the forehead and helped her. And just like that, I was no longer "Baba." I was now "Daddy"- not only to Luke, Noah and Adam- but also to Elli.

"Baba" will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first word she said to me and it was my name for a few months. But I don't miss Baba.

When that garage door opens and my kids come running, I hear all four voices calling me from around the corner, "Daddy! Daddy's home." From around the corner this cute little girl appears with a smile from ear to ear: "Daddy!" I'm Elli's Daddy: and she means it when she says it. There's not a feeling like it in all the world.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Can I See Those Beautiful Eyes?

With all of my children I have one photo that is my favorite: Luke's is a picture I took of him on the beach at Matagorda Bay. There's just something in that picture that helps me remember how incredible it was to be a father to such an awesome boy. Noah's is a picture we took of him when we first brought him home from the hospital. Luke is holding him and kissing his hand. Their bond as brothers is deep. Adam's is a picture I took of him while riding Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyworld. The joy on his face captures his spirit perfectly.

This is Elli's:

I remember exactly where I was, what was going on, what the room smelled like and how I felt when I took this picture:This photo was taken in our hotel room in Hefei, China. Just a few hours earlier we met this kid for the first time. She was wearing a red and black plaid dress with cherries on the top. She had a cute red bow in her hair and some dirty pink shoes. She was the most beautiful little girl I had ever seen. 

I remember how I felt about her. I was captivated. It was instantaneous love. A deep, committed and compassionate love...that was one-sided. I loved her, but she didn't love me. If I had been pulling petals off a flower it would have sounded something like this, "I love her. She loves me not. I want to hold her. She loves me not. I want her to look at me. She loves me not. I want to see those beautiful eyes. She loves me not."

This picture captures the initial struggle of our adoptive relationship so vividly. She is coloring in a coloring book and she is preoccupied with her work. But her preoccupation is not just with coloring. She is preoccupied with ignoring me. She won't look up at the camera. She is preoccupied with trying to be strong and hold it together. She is preoccupied with trying not to be scared. She is preoccupied with not showing her eyes.

At one of the adoption conferences we attended before we met Elli we were told by adoption experts and parents alike, "Attachment is in the eyes." Many adoptive children will not show you their eyes due to things like shame, fear, distrust, lack of name it. And it's easy to understand why. For their entire lives they've been told "no" or "you're not wanted." They don't look you in the eyes until they begin to feel any sense of attachment to you. This picture reminds me that Elli felt that way.

A couple of weeks ago our friend captured this picture:
Study this picture for a moment. Can you see the difference? Look at her eyes. Do you see it? There's no shame, no fear. There are no walls up. She is confident. She is happy. Her face is at ease. She feels loved and she feels safe. Nothing makes me happier. Well...almost nothing.

So I have this thing I do with Elli where I say to her, "Elli, let me see your eyes." She will look at my eyes and I will say something like, "You're're daddy's girl...I love you." I've done this hundreds of times since that first day in China.

Recently I said to her, "Elli, let me see your eyes." She looked at me and those big, beautiful brown eyes met mine. I was captivated all over again and I was taken back and given pause. In that pause, before I could say anything, she said to me in the sweetest voice you could ever imagine, "I love you, Baba."

I hugged her tightly and the final two petals fell: "I love her. She loves me."