Today was quite a day for Abbie…a true roller coaster of emotions. The morning was a peak, both literally and figuratively! We climbed 1000 steps (yes, Abbie counted) of the Great Wall at Juyongguan, the same place Reed and I went in January of 2005. Today it was cloudy and drizzly (good for us Oregonians), but still much warmer than my last time on the Wall. It is difficult – some steps are shallow while others literally require some true climbing. Abbie was pleased we went past where Reed and I did all those years ago, and Julia was with us the whole way. It was great fun and the views were spectacular.
After about a 90-minute drive back into Beijing and a delicious lunch, we went to Alenah’s Home, a Children’s Hope foster home for disabled (“waiting”) children. It was established around the same time we got Abbie by a man from Kansas who lost all of his family – including his adopted Chinese daughter – in a flash flood. He has taken tragedy and turned it into hope and healing. You can learn more about Alenah’s Home here, if you wish. Here begins the down-turn of the emotional roller coaster…
After a tour of the bright and tidy facility, we sat down to play with 11 of the 20 children who reside there (9 were at school). We observed ranges of cerebral palsy and Down’s Syndrome, as well as physical deformities, such as club feet. All 11 were girls. Aside from the bulletin board with a photo and bio of each child, we were not allowed to take pictures. However, the images will remain in my mind’s eye forever. Though very well cared for by the four resident nannies, the signs of institutionalized children remain…self-soothing, repetitive behaviors; indiscriminate, brief contact with others; flat affect and limited range of expressions. And there sat Abbie, trying to interact and not quite knowing what to do. How do you get them to respond? Why don’t they play like we’re used to? An 8-year-old named Huihui really got to Abbie. Severe cerebral palsy limits Huihui to a wooden chair. She can’t respond verbally, and loud sounds scare her. Abbie sat by her, let Huihui pull her ponytail, and did her very best to love on her for their brief time together.
Once we departed and were back in the van, Julia shared that when she first started helping at Alenah’s Home, she cried so hard by all of the sad stories. Over time, she has come to see hope in each child, and she reminded us how their mothers did the most loving things they could by abandoning them where they could receive the medical treatment and therapy they need. This echoes what we’ve always told Abbie about her mom…for a reason we will never know, she loved Abbie most by giving her up. And through a miracle as big as the miracle of life itself, she was given to us.
Speaking of that precious moment, our roller coaster ascended again because we were reunited with Lina when we returned to our hotel! She was with us in 2005 when we were given Abbie, and she is a very, very special person. She was thrilled to see Abbie, hear her speak Chinese (thank you Yafei!), and reminisce about those incredible days over 12 years ago. The time with her was too short, but I believe Abbie will return to Beijing one day, see Lina and Julia, and perhaps even volunteer at Alenah’s house. The time with Lina was followed by a dumpling dinner with Julia, re-packing for our departure from Beijing tomorrow afternoon, and some deep journaling and talking with my daughter. This is a day I will cherish always.