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."

Friday, October 30, 2015

You can tell a lot about a person by their shoes

One of the classic lines from the movie Forrest Gump is spoken as he reflects on the various pairs of shoes he has worn through the years: "Momma always says there's an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes. Where they're going. Where they've been."

While working my way through college I worked at Fleet Feet Sports (the best shoe store in Houston, by the way). Fleet Feet specialized in running shoes so people would often bring their old shoes into the store when they were looking for their newest pair of shoes. Forrest's Momma was right. You could tell a lot about the person by looking at their shoes: how much they ran, how "hard" they ran on their shoes, you could tell whether or not they pronated while running, whether they ran on trails or concrete and how much they sweated while running (I don't miss the smell of some of those shoes).

September 15 will always be our "gotcha" day with Elli. It's the day we got her for the first time. When we met her for the first time she was wearing the cutest little dress with mismatching shoes.

We were immediately fascinated with the story of her shoes. Those shoes meant the world to Elli. On the first day she would not allow us to take them off her feet. She played in them, she ate with them on, she wore them with her bathing suit at the hotel swimming pool and she slept with them. When we finally convinced her to take a bath on the second day she took them off for her bath, but the moment she was dried off, she wanted her shoes.

Her shoes told her story. They were dirty, scuffed up and obvious hand-me-downs. The scuffs told the story of the places she had played and the people who were her family for so long. The dirt was probably from the yard near her orphanage and she had probably received these shoes once an older kid in the orphanage had outgrown them. The shoes were a reminder of where she had been. At times she would just cover her eyes and cry. The tears would fall on those velcro shoes and my heart would melt. My heart would hurt for her but we could not comfort her like her shoes could.

Then something happened 2 days into our journey. After bath time that night Leslie showed her some new shoes. They are "pinkish-peach-salmon-colored" (look, I'm a guy! I don't know all these girly colors, okay!) with polka dots. Elli saw them and got so excited. She took off her old shoes and put on her new ones.

It was such a powerful moment. She was so proud of her new shoes. She came and showed them to me, "Baba, shoes." She smiled as she played that night and for the first time she slept in her new shoes.

These shoes tell the story of where she's going. Her entire world has changed. She is learning what it means to be a daughter, not an orphan. She lives in a house now, not an orphanage. She has a Mama and Baba, not just caretakers. She has brothers, not just other orphans. Her shoes bear the scuffs of trips to the zoo, playgrounds, the concrete of our cul-de-sac, a trip to Baskin Robbins and the dirt from our yard.

For those who have followed our journey you know that Elli initally kept "Baba" at arm's length. It was not easy for her to trust me. I'd say I'm probably at "pinky's length" now. There are still things only Mama can do for her.

However, a couple of days ago I heard someone walking on the tile floor of our hallway. The steps sounded heavy as someone was clunking their way into the living room. It was Elli. As she came around the corner into the living room she looked for me immediately and had this big smile on her face. She walked up to me and said, "Baba, shoes." I looked down. Instead of wearing her pink/peach/salmon colored polka dot shoes, she was wearing mine. 

She laughed. I laughed, too. But inside my heart was listening to the story being told by her shoes. She was giving a little more of her heart to me.

You can tell a lot about a person by her shoes. Where she's going. Where she's been. One day Elli is going to put on new shoes for her first day of school and before you know it she'll be putting on shoes for her graduation then shoes for her wedding day (that young man better back off!). Each new pair of shoes in her life will tell a part of her story. But her story is our story and our story is God's story. As she looks back at her life I hope she will look back with great joy and see God's story in bringing her into this family.Wherever Elli's going, we're going together.

I snapped this picture last week:

Her shoes are packed away. These shoes tell us where she's been. Where she's been is a part of her story. But she doesn't need these shoes anymore. Now, she has a family. In fact, she doesn't even need shoes. She's got 3 brothers who will buy ice cream for her with their own money. She's our girl and we're going places- shoes or not.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A New Story is Being Written

On June 13, 2012 the following article was posted in the Anhui Newspaper:
"An abandoned female baby, name unknown, was found in the Nanhuhuayan Economical Zone Area of Tianchang City on March 17, 2012. There was nothing left with her." This is a copy of that article:

That last statement still gets me. At the time she was abandoned, this nameless baby girl was just under 3 months old. No name. No history. No explanation. Just "nothing left with her."

Since March 17, 2012 she has been in the care of workers in a Chinese orphanage- one of over 600,000 orphans in China (some estimates are closer to 1 million). She was given a name: AiJing Fu.

About a year and a half later, thousands of miles away, a dad was taking his 3 boys upstairs to get ready for bed- just like they had done every night for years. As he was taking the boys to the bathroom to brush their teeth he passed by their guest bedroom. It had a queen size bed, a dresser and some night stands. On this particular night God spoke clearly to this young man's heart: "There are 150 million plus orphans in this world who would give anything to sleep in this bed and have this family." That night, as the dad laid down with his boys to read books, he told God, "You have already provided an extra bedroom, I know you can provide everything we need to adopt a girl into this family."

That dad was me. That girl was Elliana Joy.

That was the night I said "yes" to adoption. When I said "yes" I didn't know her name, I didn't know her story and I didn't even know who she was, but I knew then that whoever God would give me, I would love her unconditionally. Outside of saying "yes" to Leslie 15 years ago today, it was the best "yes" I've ever said- hands down. I can't imagine my life without this little girl. I've only known her for a little over a week, but I am crazy about her. I mean that word. Almost psychopathically crazy. When she laughs, I melt. When she gives me a kiss, I almost cry. When she yells "Baba" from the other room, I come running. I stare at her. I am enthralled with every word. I kiss her every time I pass her (this has to be annoying for her!). And every time I look at her I thank God that He chose me to be her dad.

I am glad I said "yes". Tomorrow morning we leave China. We are coming home. We are so ready. I can't wait for all of my family and friends to meet this girl who has stolen our hearts. I have tried to imagine what this week has been like for her. She went from being one of dozens of kids in an orphanage to being a princess. In one week she's:
-Been to to zoo for the first time
-Experienced an amusement park

-Gained three brothers who are in love with her

-Got the best mom in the world
-Met a dad who loves her with all of his heart

A new story is being written for AiJing Fu. And unlike the cold, emotionless, factual newspaper article that has defined her life to this point, Elliana's is a story of God's love, redemption and grace. We are humbled to be a part of that story. Tonight, my baby girl is sleeping without any shoes. Just 3 years ago a parent left her with nothing: tonight, her Mama and Baba would do anything to give her everything she needs.