A Day in Datong (Wednesday)

You know those times when you grumble and complain, dreading something so much...and then you do the thing you were anticipating the worst about and God completely blows your socks off? And afterwards you are left feeling just like those crabby Israelites in Biblical times, always dissatisfied and unable to trust God for manna for the day even though he continually exceeds your expectations?

That was me and the kids yesterday.

Our first night with Lexi, Tuesday evening, was tough. She slept beautifully, but we were emotionally exhausted from the day and so worried about the long haul we are facing with her, that neither of us slept well. She is so very tiny and sick. We are completely smitten, but we also feel the heaviness of what it will take to get her healthy. On the schedule for Wednesday was a trip to Datong, her birth city. To have a whole day planned there would have been one thing, because of course we would love to see and photograph her birth town and get to know what it was like. But we were told we would drive the four hours there, drop off our paperwork at the police station and immediately drive the four hours back to Taiyuan. So that meant 8 hours in a smokey-smelling van with five kids. Patrick had a better attitude about the whole thing, but the kids and I were not at all looking forward to it. Fortunately, His mercies are new every morning.

Even Lexi had to sign some paperwork. 

Before heading to Datong, we began Wednesday back at the Shanxi Office of Civil Affairs where we had met Lexi the day prior. While there, we signed the remaining paperwork making her officially ours. Earlier, Patrick had asked if we could see the orphanage in Datong, but it seemed like a long shot. Orphanage visits are hit or miss and China only has a few that they show to the public. Surprisingly though, they agreed to give us a tour! When we hopped in the van Wednesday morning to head to Datong, sour attitudes and all, we had no idea that the day would turn out to be one of our favorite yet.

It's official. Lexi is ours! (And Bailey is wearing her yellow for Kylie's birthday.)

We drove the four hours to Datong and the ride was actually quite nice. The drive allowed us to see miles of Chinese countryside...old villages, temples, and the majestic snow-dusted mountains that line much of the area around here. The kids even enjoyed it and the time passed quickly. When we arrived in Datong we found it to be surprisingly new and urban. It was a neat city and the only negative we could see was the pollution. It is a coal mining town and there is smokestack after smokestack spewing pollution into the air...everywhere. Lexi seems to have some lung issues and this could very well be why. We decided on a lunch stop first and we went to an Italian restaurant that had pizza just like home.  It was a much needed lift in spirits. While we are generally trying to eat and enjoy the Chinese food, there are only so many rice noodles and steamed cabbage one can stomach before some serious cravings set it. I'm paying for the pizza meal with a gluten hangover today, but it was totally worth it. There is a television show called Dual Survivor that you may have seen. On that show, they mention that if you don't have water you can survive 72-hours. So when the guys who are attempting survival find water they describe it as resetting their 72-hour clock. Patrick said that was what our pizza was to us yesterday. It was like water in the dessert and now we can make it through the steamed veggies and rice for another three days. Our 72-hour clocks have been reset. Of course poor Luke can't eat pizza, so he is still desperately craving a hamburger. He may start hallucinating soon.

After lunch we headed to the Datong Social Welfare Institute. This is the orphanage where Lexi lived. The hope was that at minimum maybe we could get a few pictures for her life book, but instead we received a guided tour from the orphanage director! The way it typically works at this particular orphanage is that there are foster moms who live in apartments on the campus. The very young kids go to school at the orphanage during the day and stay with the foster moms at night. Each mom has four to five children. The older kids stay with families across the city and attend regular school. Because Lexi's condition is so poor and she looks so malnourished, we were feeling some contempt for the orphanage going into our visit. However, we found the place to be clean, bright, organized and seemingly well run. Our suspicion is that she was simply one of the weaker kids and couldn't keep up. She eats slowly and so in a situation where you need someone to pay extra attention to be sure you are getting enough, a foster mom with five small kids would be unable to do that. It simply becomes survival of the fittest and a battle she was losing. Our visit to the orphanage was incredibly informative in regards to her specific story as well. We were able to take photos both of where she was found as well as with her foster mom. (We will hold those pictures privately for her and she may decide when she is older whether or not she wants to share them.)  When you are grasping to find the missing pieces to have for your child as a they grow, this kind of information is treasured. The orphanage also showed us her file dating back from the time she arrived and we learned that she was very likely a premie as well, which also explains so much (including the possible lung issues). As amazing as the orphanage visit was, it was also as painful. Our sweet girl was visibly upset at the sight of both her foster mom and school friends and one of the other kids started crying when he saw her. Caleb has suddenly burst into tears several times during this trip and one was yesterday, when he realized that as the kids find families and exit the orphanage, they have to leave all of their friends behind. This was very upsetting to him and it has been interesting to watch him, in his six-year old heart, work through some of the pain of his own story. We all left the orphanage feeling incredibly grateful and with some aching hearts. It affected our kids a great deal as they began to realize what life is truly like for an orphan. They were visibly moved and it is an impression and understanding that we hope will stick with them forever.

Datong Social Welfare Institute

Following the visit to the Datong SWI, we dropped of our completed paperwork at the police station and then began the long ride home. We were dreading the day and instead of it turning out terribly, it was actually an incredible blessing. It had a sacred feeling to it. There was not one single complaint from the kids and we had the sense that God had just done something really special for us. When we finally got back to the hotel room it was late and we were exhausted...but so thankful to have gained some wonderful pieces to Lexi's story. Pieces that we will ALL be able to share with her as she gets older and wants to know more.

Datong Police Department 

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