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."