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. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Okay, Baba, I'm Ready to Dance

I've always had two left feet when it comes to dancing. I can put a third step in a two step pretty easily. Dancing has always been hard work for me. I have to concentrate on my feet, where I'm going, the beat, and whether or not I'm humiliating myself in the process.

On Saturday night I was sweating like crazy. For about 45 minutes I had been falling on the bed as Elli karate-kicked the air. She would kick, I would fall. That was the routine. Over and over and over...and over again. Those were our dance moves that night. Other nights, it was a pillow. Saturday night: the cutest karate kicks ever seen or heard and the goofiest falls you've ever seen as well. But I had to dance with her.

Her laugh. Oh, man. To hear her laugh just gets me all choked up. It is the purest, most sincere laugh I've ever heard. When I hear it I wonder if she has ever laughed like that before. When I would fall on the bed she would laugh with such joy: I just had to keep doing it. Leslie watched all of this unfold and she said, "You're having to work hard for these laughs, daddy." She was right, and I had the sweat to prove it.

After all that playing, we went to bed. Sunday morning started just like every other morning since been in China. We woke up, got dressed and went to breakfast. Now, let me explain something to you:  Elli is not a morning person (like her Mama). Leslie needs a cup of coffee before you can talk to her and Elli needs an exorcism...I mean, she needs breakfast before you can talk to her. Especially Baba.

I'll be married to Leslie for 15 years this Wednesday and I still haven't learned. I still aggravate her before she's had her coffee and I get the death stare. At breakfast Sunday morning I tried to blow a kiss to Elli, kissed her head, tried to offer her some juice and even offered her a donut (what kid doesn't like a donut?)- but she wasn't having any part of it. Cue the death stare. I guess I haven't learned.

After breakfast we loaded up the van and headed for Shamian Island to attend Elli's first church service. The ride there was just like every other ride: she rode with Leslie and didn't have a lot to do with Baba. When we arrived, we got out of the van and started walking the 1/4 mile to the church. The street was narrow and there was a lot of traffic. Leslie was carrying Elli and I was following behind with the boys.

Then, it happened. Right there on the streets of Shamian princess asked me to dance. As Leslie was carrying her (the safest place in Elliana's mind), Elli put both hands in the air reaching toward me, and said, "Baba." I couldn't believe it. I immediately began to trip over my feet. "Did I hear her correctly? Was she asking for me? Do I go get her from Leslie- something that has resulted in a meltdown every time in the past week? Did she really say, 'Baba?'" My heart was pounding as I reached for her. When I tried that before she would fold her arms and scowl as if to say, "How dare you even think I would come to you?" I think I expected the same response as I I reached for her. However, this time, she lunged at me.

I had her. Maybe she had me. Or better yet: we finally had each other. On any other Sunday, it would have just been a walk to a church building. This day, as I held her close and she held onto me, we waltzed to church. And we danced all day long:
-she stayed with me while Leslie went to Starbucks (without freaking out)
-she let me hold her while she ate a lollipop

-we took a long walk together through the gardens of Shamian Island looking at flowers, watching people fish, laughing at strange Chinese people randomly singing karaoke under the gazebo by the Pearl River and blowing kisses to one another
-I pushed her along the cobblestone roads making funny noises and she threw her head back and laughed
-we snuggled in the car on the way back to the hotel (she was asleep and didn't know any better- but Baba's got to get some snuggles when he can)

-When we got back to the hotel, we wrestled and played ball with Adam. At one point she looked at me and said, "Baba" followed by some of the cutest Chinese words I've ever heard, asking me to put her on my back and shoulders (which, of course, I did)
-she even let me give her a bath (incredible trust-moment for us)
Today, the dancing continued. I had to leave the hotel room to pick up our laundry this morning and Leslie told me she was asking about me (heart melt). She shared some of her beloved French fries with me at dinner (heart melt and heart attack due to cholesterol at the same time). And tonight, before she went to bed, after we had wrestled, shot Nerf guns, talked, blown kisses and felt safe with one another all day long: she said, "Baba."

I knelt down in front of her. She reached up with both hands and rubbed my rough, unshaven cheeks, spoke the sweetest Chinese words EVER as she rubbed my face, then bowed her head for me to kiss her forehead. Oh. My. Goodness.

When all of my biological children were born I just could not kiss them enough. Every time I would pass by their high chair, their crib, their blanket on the floor, or wherever they were- I would have to kiss them.

For the past week, I've done the same with Elli. I've kissed her so many times. Every time I passed her I would kiss her sweet forehead or her hair. Until Sunday, I think I was that annoying guy who kissed her all the time, Tonight, as I go to sleep, I feel like her dance partner...and I hope the music never ends.

Sleep well, Elli. You'll need your rest. Daddy's feet are tired, I'm working hard for this dance, but tomorrow, we'll dance again. You are loved.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

She's Perfectly Imperfect

I wasn't on any social media site when our first son, Luke, was born. As first time parents we must have been so annoying to every doctor, nurse, specialist,photographer, friend and family member who came into the room- "Isn't he beautiful? He's such a great kid. He lets you hold him, he opens his eyes and looks at you, he's so alert, he's so awesome. He's perfect." Had I been on social media at the time, you would have likely blocked me, unfriended me or even reported me. The reason: "annoyance," because it's likely that I would have posted about 4,964 pics within the first hour, give or take a few.

When my family and I started praying about our adoption we prayed for someone to be a perfect fit for us. Adding a fourth child into a family with 3 dynamic boys, each with distinct personalities and quirks, can be quite challenging and an overwhelming proposition.

Enter Elliana Joy Jing Pollard, or "Jing Jing" as she was known at the orphanage. Her nickname say as a lot: playful, cute, smart, alert, beautiful, well...she's perfect. Come on. Just look at her.
Since the first day we have noticed some of the things that make her perfect for our family:

1. She's a picky eater- but she loves McDonald's.

I thought by adopting a daughter from a foreign country it would be great to have child that doesn't eat chicken nuggets. But we made the mistake of giving her one. Now she's hooked. My life is over. But have you ever seen anyone so cute while enjoying chicken nuggets?

2. She smells her food before she eats it.

This one is SCARY. Luke takes a whiff of his food before he eats it. It's a strange quirk, but we can't seem to break him of it. Elli does the same thing. Freaky. She couldn't be more perfect for us.

3. She takes over the bed and turns over "violently."

When my kids crawl into our bed it feels like a space-eating mule has moved in. Elli has the same mule like tendencies- kicks, laying perpendicular to everyone else, and gobbling up space in the bed like PacMan after eating a power pellet. She fits in perfectly.

4. She is crazy...and hilarious.

She can more than hold her own with the boys in rough housing. She makes hilarious faces and she is LOUD! She has an infectious laugh and a great personality. And she is crazy. When she play-fights with us she does these hilarious Chinese Karate sounds, "Ya! Kai-ya! Hai!" She's too cute. She's, well, perfect.

5. She loves Mama- and she's just like her.

Leslie is my number one girl. I have always thought Prov. 31 was a perfect description of her- "Strength and dignity are her clothing. She opens her mouth with wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue" (Prov. 31:25-26). My wife has shown amazing strength, dignity, kindness and wisdom this week. And I don't use the word amazing lightly.

This week has been challenging for us on many levels, but Leslie has remained strong when the rest of us have struggled to keep it together. She has lovingly cared for all of us with incredible poise and grace. She is so beautiful...and perfect for our family.

When I think of a woman I want Elli to be like when she grows up, Leslie's the girl. Elli is in love with her Mama. She does everything Leslie does. She puts on lotion (she even danced with Baba for a few minutes and put a little lotion on my arm). She puts on makeup.

She cares for her brothers. On our first night in Guanzho the boys were wrestling on the bed. Noah fell off and hit his head on the floor. Elli watched intently as Leslie put some ice and a wet rag on Noah's forehead. Later that night Elli walked up to Noah, gently put her hand on his forehead and in the sweetest Chinese words you will ever hear asked Noah if he was okay. Heart melt.

Elli's medical report says she has spina bifida. Her hesitation to connect with Baba and her moments of crying reveal she has a wounded heart. She's got some attitude, she's bossy and she's sassy...but Elli is perfect.

So give me a little latitude, if you will. I'm pretty much crazy about our kids. We're not perfect by a long stretch, but we're perfect together.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Guest Writer Wes: Will you ... With me?

Life can be filled with extraordinary moments. From the mundane to the exceptional, every moment is to be savored, enjoyed and relished. Henry David Thoreau once wrote, "It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see."

Haha.  Robby wrote the first part. I probably didn't have anyone fooled. I have to say good-bye, I m going back home tomorrow. The pollard crew will lose their manny for the next week.  I have been their Indian slave all this time. It's ok. It was all for the children.  I almost got to hold Ellie for one second, but she wanted to go back to mommy quick.  Leslie's arms are super buff now because she's been holding Ellie for a week straight.  

For some reason it seems that the men here don't do a lot of work. I find the women doing construction and carrying big loads.  The men smoke and lift their shirts up for some reason, strange. 

This guy was actually our driver for the week. 
We stopped to get snacks and I shot some family photos.  Do you notice anything?
Now I'll zoom in to the toddler to the right. 

They say all the toddlers do this for potty training. They actually have the front and back open.  I m not sure if this is a great idea. 

This was in our hotel restaraunt.    It brings back memories from India. These are Kasey and Wes sugar packets.  I m missing my premium white sugar. I'll see you soon baby. Thanks for the 1 like on my posts. You complete me. You had me at hello.  You also complete my sentences, papers, research, degrees, etc. 

Many thanks to these two people: 
Esther from IFS and Michael. They helped us get around, translate, and guided the Pollard family through the paper work. 

Before I close, I have a few more pics.  We went to an amusement park today, and they obviously don't have OSHA or any safety rules.  The ride owner was so intrigued by white people, he just stared at Luke and Noah the whole time. 

Do you notice anything?  I'll zoom in...

 Robby couldn't fit in the ride. So he sat on top of the ride.  The owner didn't even look that way. 

Peace out and good luck Pollards without your manny and ETC coach!  It's been an awesome journey.  Thank you for allowing me to come.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Will You Dance With Me?

It's 11:30 at night after another long day. As I prepare to go to sleep I feel like Adam Sandler in the movie 50 First Dates. If you haven't seen the movie, Adam plays the part of Harry who falls in love with Lucy, a beautiful girl with amneisa. Every day she wakes up and it's as though the previous day never happened. So every day Harry has to work so hard to make Lucy fall in love with him.

This has been my life for the past two days with my new daughter, Elliana. I feel like the dorky junior high student who is in love with the most beautiful girl in school who keeps asking her to the 8th grade dance multiple times every day, only to be rejected over and over again. It's heartbreaking. It hurts every time. But he know if he keeps asking her, one day she'll say "yes." My heart aches for that "yes." 

As Leslie and I were anticipating adoption we attended numerous conferences to help us prepare. At one conference the speaker spoke of the "attachment dance." Children from difficult places have trouble attaching emotionally and relationally because, quite frankly, no one in their lives helped them create that secure attachment. No one cuddled them. No one answered their cries for help. At one conference the speaker told about how quiet it was at bedtime in the orphanage because the kids learn at an early age that if you cry, no one is going to pick you up, so there's no need to try. It's heartbreaking to think about.

So as an adoptive parent, you have to learn to dance. You have to hear her cries and respond, you have to listen to her needs and show love and concern, you have to hold her, you have to be present. As you connect with your child, a beautiful dance ensues. So here's a list of all the things I did to ask her to dance today:
-I got her some yogurt for breakfast
-I offered her some of my juice
-I took her to to zoo
-I tried to hold her hand and walk with her
-I picked her up to show her the animals (by the way, she had never been to the zoo in her life)
-I bought her some jelly beans
-I playfully threw her in the air
-I tried to color in her coloring book with her
-I tried to play the iPad with her
-I kissed her cheek
-I blew kisses to her
-When she cried, I hugged her
-I even held her for an hour and a half as she slept (she didn't know it, of course, because she would have never allowed me to hold or snuggle her that long).

Each time I invited her to the dance she would look at me with sad eyes, with eyes that didn't trust me, she would turn away, she would cry or she would say (in Chinese), "Baba, don't touch that."

It's hard to be rejected so many times in one day. It takes an emotional toll. But it's not about me, it's about her. This girl IS the most beautiful girl in the world. I love her so much. I want her to feel secure. I want her to feel safe. I want her to know I will not leave her. I want her to know she can trust me. Not for me, but for her wounded heart. I prayed for this girl before I met her, but since I've met her I have prayed with tears every night.

I see the way she looks at me when I ask her to dance. Her eyes are a window to her wounded soul. Sometimes her eyes show hurt deep inside and her they tell me, "Baba, I don't want to be hurt." Other times her eyes say, "Baba, I can't trust you." Other times it's just confusion- "Baba, why are you trying to love me?"

So after a day of trying and getting nothing but "no's" I had resigned myself to try again tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow she'll say "yes" and we can dance. When we returned to our room after dinner a pillow fight among the kids started and Elli was right in the middle of it. She was the only one with a pillow and the boys took turns getting hit and dramatically falling onto the bed. She laughed and laughed. I stood and watched it all unfold.

Then that "nervous junior higher" voice spoke up in my head- "You've got to ask her again." I argued back, "Not today. I've had enough rejections today." I knelt down beside the bed. I was so nervous. With a voice that could crack at any moment I mustered up the strength to invite her to dance- "Elli, hit Baba with the pillow." The madness of the pillow fight stopped for a moment and she focused those beautiful eyes on me. It was about a 3 second pause but I could read it in her eyes. This time it wasn't a statement, it was a question: "Baba, can I trust you?"

And the first move of our dance began. In breathtaking unison she hit me with the pillow and I flopped around like a fish. She laughed a different kind of laugh. It wasn't like any other laugh I heard when she hit her brothers. It was a beautiful laugh where the safety she felt in that moment was expressed in a laugh of sheer joy. I got off the floor and we danced some more. She hit me, I would flop. Hit, flop. One, two, repeat. All in the rhythm of a growing love. I made sure not to miss a beat. If she swung the pillow, I acted like she was hitting me with "Mike Tyson in his prime"-like force. In all, the dance lasted about 3 minutes.

But they were the greatest 3 minutes of my day. I asked her to dance again: I tried to take her swimming. She looked so cute in her swimsuit. But this time her eyes said, 'No, Baba. Not this time." But she sat and watched with Mama with her legs crossed in the adorable way she always does.  

A friend texted me today and asked, "Does she have you around her finger yet?" I responded, "Yes, she has me completely: I just don't have her yet." I know the day will come when I will win her over. I know she will one day say to me, "Yes, Baba, we can dance." Today, I got a hesitant "yes" for 3 minutes.

I don't know what will happen when she wakes up tomorrow morning. I don't know if she'll remember those 3 minutes of dancing. But I do know this: even if she doesn't remember, I'm asking her to the dance yet again. And I won't stop until I hear those words, "Yes, Baba. I will go to the dance with you."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Guest writer - Wes, funny China

Since Robby is posting all the sentimental stuff. I figure I'll write all the nonsense.  

There are many interesting things here in China.  We were at a plaza looking for food and this is what we found.  

A place called Toilet.  I think thats what happens after you eat there?  I think Robby and Kasey are the same, they love eating spicy chicken sandwiches. But then they have stomach issues and light up the place with some stank (I think that's slang). I left the hotel room so Robby can take care of business. Sorry Kasey I don't mean to call you out.  

I finally found a fried rice place, but Ellie liked my rice better than her noodles. She was so cute, so I let her have it. I m trying to get on her good side. She calls me shu Shua (uncle). She still nodding her head no to me for hugs, Rude. 

Since Robby was a cheerleader in high school, yes cheerleader.  I thought he could do these moves of Kung foo panda.  He tried to impress Ellie, but he didn't come close. 
I think he ripped his pants. Ellie wasn't impressed. 

Ellie has been on and off with Robby, so Robby had the idea to take her to the candy store to win her over.  She found this...
And this...Robby is going to be like me and spoil the girls, and buy anything she wants.  He did say, " I would buy her a Mercedes Benz if she asked. ". 
We walked around the candy store and discovered some disgusting candy. 

Chicken feet candy. 
Chicken mouth candy. 
I m not sure what this is. I think chicken poop candy. 

Well this is the most I have written in my life.  I m exhausted. Kasey normally writes for me, but she is sleeping in the U.S. while I m typing here. I m not sure how to close out. Peace.