Monday, March 28, 2016

The China Sessions: 2 "CJ" -

** This story out of all the stories I could tell is the hardest. It's long. It aches. It shatters hearts.
But read and know how wonderful the boy in it is, and how deeply loved he is. **

Journal Entry from Day 1 at the Orphanage - Monday, March 14, 2016 {2 Weeks Ago}

We visited the orphanage this morning at 9am, quietly chatting on the extremely bumpy bus ride there.
From somewhere out in traffic, we heard the oddest and most unexpected song playing
"It's a Small World". Talk about surreal for this Florida girl! 

The new orphanage building is like the size of a University building. It's SO nice. 
Pink and White Flowering Magnolias were opening up their buds,
 and a soft breeze rattled the nearby bamboo, and we eagerly soaked it all in.

We had made it to China. We were so so ready for today!

We were seated in a conference room and served hot tea,
and the sweet director came in and sat down and had a chat with Martha and Gary (our translator).
We all sat quietly in the ginormous leather chairs, smiling sweetly and nodding in thanks,
and not understanding a single word of what was being said.
We all stood and shook her hand, and thanked her "Xiè xiè".
She was so kind and professional and gracious.
I liked her on the spot, because you could see kindness in her eyes. 

Then we divided up into groups and started down the hallways, passing rooms of babies with bottles,
 and then....there was suddenly a room that was mine (I have no idea how I knew it was mine, I just did), 
with 3 little 1 year olds peeking out the doorway. 

I looked back at Mary Lee and Haley and Emily and saw we were already in tears. We were HERE. 

I walked into that room and it was like *BAM*. It all hit me at once. 

The bumpy & long bus rides, the uncomfortable & super long flights, the smog & backaches. 

For this Gospel moment. Right here. This is IT. 

I immediately understood why people always wanted to return. Tears were streaming down my face. 

I wiped my cheeks and noticed a baby boy lying on his back on the mat, wearing a blue jumper. 
I sat down next to a baby close to him, and started playing, but I kept looking over at him studying me.
His eyes were always on me. He had locked eyes on me and never looked away. 

Soon I couldn't stand the pull, and moved right next to him.
His eyes stayed locked on mine, so I pulled my "beep the nose" nanny trick that has never failed me yet,
along with a few "Nǐ hǎo"s and rubbing his chest. A few moments later, he smiled at me for the first time and the tears fell. 
A couple more "beeps" later, and he was laughing. Oh, my heart. 

It was love, undeniable, unprompted, immovable LOVE. It wasn't MY love. It was Jesus' love. 
It is unexplainable and real, life changing, heart and soul-moving "Beloved" love. 
Oh divine joy that knows that Jesus is HERE! 

I picked him up, and held him against my heart, but he kept leaning back to "make sure of me". 
I whispered through tears "You have great worth in the Father's eyes".
I prayed he would be strong, fearless and know his worth.
I prayed someone would want this little boy who struggles to hold his head up and his legs aren't too strong,
but his smile makes the sun rise in the room. This boy who just turned One, who just had a birthday. 

"Tā jiào?" I asked the nurses and pointed at him - "Nan hai? Tā jiào?" Literally: "The Boy. He called?"

They answered. I tried it about 20x's and was pretty positive I got it wrong every single time. 
We were giving the children English names to be able to remember who was who,
so we tried "Steven" but it didn't work. "CJ", I said aloud. It was the closest thing to sounding like his name. 


I prayed so fervently to SEE the Father's heart for adoption when I visited China. 
When I walked through that door, suddenly everything changed.

It was more than I ever could have prayed for.
It's the oddest feeling to know a Mother's love when you are a single woman.
I've fiercely loved my whole life and never known anything like that moment when I held him for the first time.
I understood the Father's love. I understood a parent's fierce love. I understood INSTANT LOVE. 

Tears streaming down. Heart to heart. In my arms. My Boy. 

Mary Lee saw it, and it took this photo for me. 

"Now that I have held you in my arms, I will never be the same." My CJ. 
Gospel Moment. Instant Love. Holy Ground.

I left for our lunch break praying that my little boy would have a family soon. That he would be adopted.
I cried & prayed his name was on the list of the 4 out of 12 that were available for adoption.

I could end this post here........but it wouldn't be the whole story. 
You could search for him at AWAA, but you wouldn't find him. 
You could tell me to adopt him, and I'd tell you that if I were 30 and married,
 I'd move heaven and earth and become an ambassador to make that happen if it could....


CJ isn't on the Adoptive List. Not just "Not Yet". Not Ever. He will never be on the Adoptive List. 

I stood in that room with him in my arms and heard the names read off the list of those on the list. He wasn't on it.
As I turned away in tears, I heard more of his heartbreaking story as the nanny told Gary "the truth"

CJ was kidnapped and the police found him and are trying to find his parents. 

I held CJ tighter as the sobs threatened to overwhelm me.
 Sweet Mary Lee looked at me and knew my heart was shattering and asked if I was okay. 
I nodded but wondered if I ever would be. 

He's the lost baby duckling. 

When I kissed him goodbye, I said "Wō aì ní, CJ" and cupped his face with my hands 
and he smiled fully into my eyes, unaware I was weeping over his story. 

I left with Mary Lee & Mary Jo, and as we entered the conference room,
 I told Mary Lee that I knew Friday would be hard but not the first day. 
I expected love to build, not be hit with it all at once. 

I didn't expect to find a lost duckling. 

I lingered as the group left. I was trying to control the tears and get it together. 
Mary Lee (who was my rock the whole week), pulled me into a tight hug and we left. 
I ached just leaving him. 

As we rode back to the hotel in the bus, I prayed "I don't care what's wrong with him - I WANT HIM." 
and then I realized that is love. Unexplainable love. This is my Father's love for me. 
He wants us, no matter what's wrong with us. He sees us as we are. 
He loves us, has loved us for forever, before we ever knew. 

Mary Jo looked at me with her Mama eyes, and asked if I was okay, I simply responded "Praying."
Our team was already like family, and we were all feeling the same thing. 
It was so comforting to be all in this together and have the unified goal of loving these people as much as we could. 
We saw past imperfections and pulled each other in and we hugged and cried and prayed together. 

And so Mary Jo pulled me in and I lost it in her arms. 

CJ, taken away, scared and alone. CJ, separated from his parents. 
CJ, who won't be adopted and probably not reunited.  

Gary explained more - CJ can't be adopted by a foreigner because he was kidnapped. 
He will grow up in the orphanage until 14 and then placed in a foster home. 

CJ, not mine. CJ never mine. CJ - Jesus'. 

It's a grievous shift and I was blindsided by a harsh reality I hadn't prepared for. 

Not orphaned - lost. Missing. 

The emotions are heavy and real. I grieve like a Mother over him. 
I want justice against the kidnappers. I want the evil of kidnapping not to exist in this world. 
I want him reunited with his parents. I want his smile to stay.

I want him to know he is strong and courageous (the C of his name: Courage). 
I want him to be safe. Found. Known.

"Courage, dear heart....." 

Jesus, I might have overdone it when I prayed "Break my heart for what breaks yours"
 because I'm shattered. 

And HERE is where the love of the all-knowing and Sovereign Father comes in. 
We can do nothing apart from Him. He SEES. He KNOWS.
My Father writes good and beautiful life stories. This is not the end of CJ's.
He cares for and keeps safe His children. 

He was in my arms for 5 days. He's been in the Father's arms for longer. 

Please pray that God would shine a special light on this orphanage and lead CJ's parents to it. 
Pray for reunification. Pray if not reunification, then the allowance of China to bring him a Chinese family. 

Pray for My CJ. My sweet sweet Nán häi. 

With love,
- Jean Marie -

Saturday, March 26, 2016

My Project 52 {Week 11, 12 & 13} -

{Week 11} Great Wall of China, Beijing, China. ~ Saturday, March 12, 2016

{Week 12} Spring coming to Shaanxi, China ~ Friday, March 18, 2016 

{Week 13} 25,000 feet above somewhere over the mountains of Fengning in Northern China. Sunday, March 20, 2016

The China Sessions: 1 "Cora" -

She hit me the very first day.

 It was a hard, unsmiling "NO" hit to my hand I held out to her in friendship. 
I didn't understand, but I smiled full back into her eyes,
 and slowly withdrew my hand, as someone else climbed into my lap. 

She never returned my smiles. Her eyes were closed off. 
She stood stiff, turned away at all the events. 

Day 2 I gained some better understanding - she was autistic
It explained everything and suddenly the "No" hit didn't seem so hard. She didn't know me. 

Thursday, the 4th Day, we decorated t-shirts with the older kids, and I'd seen her down the line, 
drawing so slowly with someone hovering over her.
 I didn't want to mess up any connection happening, so I didn't go over. 

I was helping one of my favorite little guys draw lines of grey and green all over his shirt, when she walked up.
I'd been shooing away the other kids who wanted to draw on this little dude's shirt, because he saw it as "ruining it".
I'd just told the translator to tell the other kids to stop (kids will be kids, haha) 

She walked up. For the life of me, I wasn't going to shoo her away. She picked up a marker. 
I held my breath and waited for the inevitable wail of dismay from the little boy. There was none. 
Just a glance up, and resumed his artistic lines. Well then. All was peace here. 

She didn't look at me, just held out markers for me to uncap and mashed them hard onto the shirt. 

Then she saw my heart necklace from The Vintage Pearl. (all the kids adored it, by the way)
She was enraptured with it. She fingered it, and flipped it around to hear the jingling as the pearl hit the silver.
She looked into my eyes, solemnly. She held the heart in her hand. 

I pointed at the large red heart on her shirt, drawn by a helper: "Heart", then at my necklace "Heart". 
"It's a Heart. I placed her hand over my heart beating, "Heart", and over hers "Heart". 

I asked J-boy who spoke Mandarin and was a team member what "Heart" was in Mandarin. "Xīn", he replied. 

I looked straight into her eyes: "Xīn - Heart. Hearts." 

Hearts became our connection. She would hand me markers and I would draw hearts,
and point to the heart on her shirt. "Xīn" I drew a moon and she painted yellow blog "stars" above it. 
We became a team. Her studying eyes seemed more open and smiling. She was still, not stiff. Quiet. 

When I stood up to get something, I felt a hug on the back of my legs. 
When I turned around, I was astonished that it was her. 
I said "Wō ài nï": "I love you", and hugged her back for the brief moment she allowed. 

It was such a dear, unexpected moment of joy because I never dreamed *I* would reach
the unsmiling, untouchable, unexpressionable one. But Jesus did. 

She led me by the hand into the hall, but halted as others rushed by her in a loud storm.
I hated to see her courage shrink into such sad quietude, so I felt for her hand,
and lightly took it in mine, so limp and unassuming.
We rode the elevator up to the 5th floor together, but she was "gone" again. 

She had marker splotches on her hands and had noticed me cleaning mine with my tissues and lavender spray.
She held the tissue packet and crinkled it against her ear, and sprayed that lavender spray until it floated in the air. ;)
Then she held her little hands out to me and looked up in question. 

I ever so gently began to rub stains away and wash the hands that hit me the first day. 
Tears filled my eyes as I thought of when Jesus washed his disciples feet, and when Mary washes His feet in worship. 

I was washing her hands - the hands that Jesus made in a little girl in a pink coat with hearts on it. 
The hands that belonged to a little girl with bangs and a perfect pink mouth and serious dark eyes.

A girl He did not make a mistake with. 

A girl who liked my heart necklace and with one uncertain touch - stole my heart.

She reached out and I was there. So this is love. This is love. 

One week ago, I said my goodbyes and left. It was the last day, and when I entered the classroom,
 she looked up at me with a shimmering radiance and smiled at me. It felt like the world shattering. 
My little autistic girl took my hand and placed a puzzle piece in it. A puzzle piece of blue sky. 

How I wish she knew what it was like to fly in that sky. 
I brushed her cheek, told her I had to go, said "Wō ài nï", 
and she smiled again: a breathtaking smile.

 Hearts. Smiles. Hand Holding. Hugs. Blue skies. 

She wasn't available for friendship the first day. Or the next. Or the next after that. 
But the 4th Day she reached out and touched my heart, and Day 5 she knew we were friends. 

She taught me Patience. Waiting. Trusting. Tenderness. Servanthood. Willingness. Courage. 

She taught me the beauty of an opened love. She, my autistic girl that had no English name. 
I've struggled with it all week, all day. Until tonight, when I googled a name that literally means: "heart". 

Cora. Heart. 

You'll always have my heart. "Wō ài nï. "

 - Jean Marie -

Friday, March 25, 2016

Home from China -

I'm Home. 

"Today (Sunday). Up/Traveling for 31 hours. Awake for 28. Flying for 17. 
4 airports. 3 flights. Two Sunday sunrises. Two Sunday breakfasts. Back in the USA. Home."

As of Sunday night, I was on the USA mainland, and glad to be back in a semi familiar,
 if not instantly confusing and surreal Homeland.
Apparently my culture shock swings the other way, not going away, but coming back, haha.
I stopped just short of panic when I went into a bathroom in Houston. 

Let's just say we live in the lap of luxury and I've been struggling to re-adjust. 

I've been journaling. A LOT. I've been aching for the kids and babies I fell in love with. 
I've been grieving that there are orphans at all and orphans without families in this world.
I've been processing and praying. I've been editing photos. I've been sharing a little with my family. 

I've been waking up at 6am, ready to go love on my babies, but I'm half a world away. 
It's been way harder to come back than I ever expected. For our whole team, in fact. 

It was amazing, wonderful, life-changing in China. Our team laughed and cried and became a family.
It was simultaneously one of the best things I've ever done with my life and also one of the hardest. 
We saw beautiful sites and drank in the beauty of China and loved on precious kids! 

We left our hearts back in China, and don't feel quite put together. 
Nor could we, because we left part of us there. We long for our little ones like no other longing. 

Thank you, a million times, for your prayers. You sustained us and we knew it. 
What a sweet and beautiful thing the body of Christ is toward each other.
 I want you ALL to visit China!! :) 

I have hundreds of stories, and will love sharing them here, or meet me for coffee sometime! 

I've been holding back. 
My Instagram has been full of adventures, day by day, and Facebook heard it too, but this is .... harder here.
You haven't been following along and need more catching up. 
But now it's been a week since I left the orphanage, and it's time to start sharing stories. 

I'm not going to sugarcoat it. 
These stories will probably break your heart. 
Advocating for Orphans is not a way to wrap people and things up in a pretty little box. It hurts. 
I am not going to lie to you - if you want to really talk about what I saw in China,
I will not be able to make it through a story without crying. 

We came away changed. Now that we have seen, we are moved. 

I hope you will be moved too. I hope you will listen with your whole heart. I hope you will see. 
I hope you will love with us the ones that mean so much to us and to Jesus. 

Thank you, so much. 

With love,
~ Jean Marie ~ 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tomorrow. China -

"I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you." - John 14:18 

"And for love of you, I'm a sky on fire, 
and because of You, I come alive,
It's Your sacred heart within me beating,
Your voice within me singing out - 
For love of You, oh, for love of You." 
- Audrey Assad -

Tomorrow. China. 

I'm flying 7, 889 miles to SEE God's heart for orphans, for adoption.
To SEE what the Gospel means to visit orphans in their "not yet", their lives before families.
I know what being in the "not yet" can feel like. I go with the blessing of Christ on my head.
It's an unbelievable knowing, and I feel the incredible weight of it. I reach out and He is with me.

Oh for grace to trust Him more. We follow where He leads. To BE love: tangible, deep love.
We cross oceans in His name. To love the ones He loves. To be Jesus to abandoned hearts.

I cannot wait. And it's tomorrow. 

Please keep our team of 15 in your prayers over our trip of 11 days! Thank you so much!

With so much love,
~ Jean Marie ~

Saturday, March 5, 2016

My Project 52 {Week 10} -

{Week 10} Ponce Inlet, Florida ~ February 28, 2016 

This is also my 900th post!!! :D 

I was reading through some old posts last night, looking for something. 
It made me realize how much history is on here. It's a weird feeling, sometimes. 
 Now it's more for pictures, but I still love it. :)

I'm leaving on Thursday for China!!
 So obviously I'll be missing Week 11 & 12 of My Project 52, but will post them with Week 13! 
The same day I'm also 2nd shooting a wedding with Shannon, on the 26th. Hahahaha. 

Lots of people have asked me if I'll be blogging while in China, no, I will not. :) 
For a few really good reasons: Blogger is blocked in China 
(pretty much all Western social media is), and I won't have the time. 
I'll just drop off social media for the most part, 
and hopefully be able to write it up and share when I return! 

Thank you for all your prayers. Thank you for your donations and love and questions!! 
I'm SO excited and humbled and eager to go. 
I'm praying so much for this trip and covet your prayers too! 

And when I get back, it's just 34 days until Ben & Kimberly's Wedding!! Amazing. 

Okay, that's all for now! 

With much love always,
~ Jean Marie ~ 

Friday, March 4, 2016

FIVE days -

FIVE DAYS. Five Days until I leave for China. 

The ocean was blue and rough and cold tonight. 

The Falcon 9 launch was perfect and full of colors as the sunset lit up the contrails.

I'm memorizing my path through the Newark airport 
from Terminal C to B because I'm over preparing.

Kimberly asked me today what I was looking forward to most in China and 
because I was super hungry at the moment, I teasingly said "Food", and we laughed. 

But immediately, as I always do, I thought of the children.
I thought of the first time I would touch and hold a child I've never known but prayed for.
As always, I was instantly in tears. It seems a holy moment. 
I keep praying that God would teach us all His adoptive, abundant love, 
deeper and more safe than the greatest ocean and world we can dream of. 

I want to SEE. I want to HEAR. I want to KNOW. 

Lead me, Jesus. 

~ Jean Marie ~