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A Special China

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A note from Hevel: I asked Jill to share about her most recent experience in China. Not about dinnerware. Her account of the work they did in China is a great proof that a lot of good can be done in a short period of time even in a country that is so different from our own.

So, I’m back to guest blogging because Hevel is too lazy to blog for himself loves for me to talk endlessly about my love of China.

And I do love it. I love China and I have loved it (in theory) since I read The Good Earth when I was 9 years old and (in actuality) since I first visited in 1986 when I was 17 years old. I loved it all the more when I went in 1999 to adopt my oldest daughter and, if possible, even more in 2009 when we went to adopt our youngest son. I returned from my fourth visit less than a month ago and I have to say that it was the best one yet…not just because I saw more to love but because my daughter was able to go with me and she fell in love with the country of her birth…just like her momma did 27 years ago.

We went as part of a sort of mission trip. Friends of mine have been missionaries in China for decades and, as such, have forged a relationship with the orphanage director in their city, to the point that the director (and, by extension, the government) has allowed them to take over an entire floor of the Social Welfare Institute and run a school for the special needs kids and also form a special care nursery for infants who would, frankly, otherwise likely not make it in the regular orphanage due to understaffing. Our job was to staff the special care nursery so the regular workers could go home for Chinese New Year. Our group of 4 had the afternoon/evening shift for 8 consecutive days, 8+ hours a day.

We started with 7 babies but by the end of the week had 9. The special  needs ranged from being very mild (a beautiful 4 month old recovering from heart surgery) to very severe (a beautiful 6 month old with a fatal metabolic disease that causes unremitting seizures and severe reflux that kept him constantly crying and in pain). We had four “bag babies” with ostomy bags, others with birth defects, failure to thrive, etc. Within a few hours, though, what we actually had were just babies who were great to hold, and change, and play with, and cuddle as they ate their bottles or drifted to sleep or cried. They were just babies who needed what all babies need: food, clothes, shelter…love, affection, genuine concern for their best welfare. It was a true privilege to provide some of that, to learn how to meet their special needs, to forget they even had special needs, to fix their bottles, wash their clothes, clean their play areas, give their baths, rock them to sleep, make sure they had their medicines and vitamins and yes, even to change their diapers.

As I mentioned, I also found great joy in watching my almost 15 year old daughter fall in love. She certainly and easily fell in love with the babies. One 12 month old wasn’t happy unless my daughter were holding her. The little girl recognized a true nurturer in my always nurturing daughter and they were precious together. My daughter quietly worked just as hard as the adults, meeting needs as she saw them and playing with the toddlers, encouraging them to pull up and stand. She also fell in love with the people we met who were native Chinese. She loved to people watch, she loved their confusion as they addressed her as the interpreter for our group, she loved discussing the styles of the teenagers, she loved the hustle and bustle of the streets, the way people frankly and openly looked at our group, the disarmingly friendly way most people tried to help us. She fell in love with the missionaries we went to help, and they fell in love with her, asking her to come back in a few years and serve a year of internship with them, perhaps as a gap year between high school and college. She is already asking to learn Mandarin and thinking of becoming a physical therapist so she could provide real help to the kids at the orphanage. That is love, I think, and I couldn’t be happier.

I had the interesting privilege of being allowed to see all the children with Down syndrome (Ds) at the orphanage, as well as visit a post-operative child with Ds in the hospital and one in foster care about 3 hours away in a village. I was also asked to speak to a meeting of orphanage/foster care workers about being the parent of 3 girls with Ds. They were interested in hearing about my girls, what they do, what their potential is, how many opportunities they have out in the community. All of those experiences made my heart so full. Of all the labels that could justifiably be applied to me, “Mom to girls with Down syndrome” must be one of my favorites. It was a joy to share some of the wonder of my life with people who have never seen a family like ours that embraces special needs, seeks it out, actually prefers it.

We mostly eschewed the touristy activities, partly because we were so busy working and partly because we were able to do other, more fulfilling, activities. Traveling to the village to see the boy with Down syndrome, for instance, took some time, took us off the beaten path and back in time in certain ways, but was so fulfilling and wonderful. Eating an enormous and delicious Chinese New Year dinner with a family of 5 in their flat was an experience never to be repeated nor forgotten. Their generosity and hospitality puts me to shame! I’m not sure how many times we thanked them but it was truly not enough. We went to church twice–an international church that requires you to hold a foreign passport to attend because the Chinese are not legally free to do so. It was amazing to worship with Christians from all over the world.

The two weeks we were gone passed all too quickly. Our hearts are so full from the experience, and we miss our babies dearly. I fell in love with a tiny one year old who is thought to have Trisomy 18, a condition not usually compatible with life and which has a bleak prognosis. She was simply a little love who rarely cried, just looked at us with her deep, dark eyes and graced us with smiles and cuddles. I wanted to tuck her into my backpack and bring her home, set her up in my living room so she could enjoy the life of a big family with 8 siblings to pick  her up and draw those sweet smiles out of her for as long as she might have left on this earth. Of course, it doesn’t work that way but I am so comforted to know she has wonderful workers who returned from Chinese New Year celebrations in order to care for her. I’m simply grateful that, for a few days in February, I was able to play a part in her very special life.

As always, I went on the trip hoping to bless the people there in some small way, yet I was the one who was blessed a hundred times over.

4 Responses to “A Special China”

  1. Nora says:

    How beautiful!!!! Thank you for sharing your amazing visit. 🙂 it’s incredible your daughter was able to go with you as well. I’m looking forward to future guest blogs.

    • Just Jill says:

      Thank you, Nora! I’m just impressed that anyone took the time to read such a loooooong post! I intended to post about the trip in smaller bites on my own (sadly neglected) blog, but evidently I don’t “push” myself to get it done as much as certain friends do. Ahem. We shall see if I ever get asked back for more blogging about even more exciting events in my life, such as “going to Target for the fourth time this week” or “scheduling 5 orthodontist appointments.” I know we are all waiting with baited breath for those posts…

  2. Jon says:

    That is such a wonderful, kind, caring, and humbling entry.
    Thank you, Jill, for sharing your experiences with us.
    Hugs, Jon

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