Strollers, Stresses, and Victories

The past two days have presented new challenges – doctors visits. I don’t know why, but doing anything new with Mia Grace always reveals a low level of anxiety and stress in me. Part of me wonders if each new outing will cause her anxiety or stress, part of me is trying to remember all of the questions I need to remember to ask each doctor concerning her health, part of me is trying to remember and figure exactly what I need to bring with me for an 18 month old – it’s amazing how quickly one forgets! – and then, of course, I’m balancing and juggling the other three.

I can’t tell you how strange it is to walk into a doctor’s office and fill out new patient forms for MG but have to leave so many questions and sections blank: was your child premature? Don’t know. Did the mother smoke or use drugs during pregnancy? Don’t know that one either. What is her family medical history? Cancer? Strokes? High Blood Pressure? No clue. When did she take her first steps? Not sure. Birth weight? There isn’t a record of it. Hospital delivered in? Don’t know that one either. Probably a hut in a village somewhere in southeast China.

Just like the stares of others can jar me (which, by the way, people have been giving us lots of smiles the past two days – it’s been great!), the realization of how much I don’t know about this child who is my daughter can jar me too. There is so much in her life I have missed up to this point, and many of those blanks I will never know how to fill in.

But.

And there’s that great word. Mia Grace makes every step going forward so much easier and more joyful than I ever anticipated. She cried, legitimately cried, when our dentist, Dr. Harrison, looked in her mouth, and she was terrified when our pediatrician, Dr. Pielop, looked in her ears and down her throat. Praise God! I’ve never been more excited about normal 18 month old tears! And she turned to me to be comforted and was ABLE to be comforted after some rocking and pats on the back.

And the dentist’s and doctor’s reports were so positive. They were gentle and kind and encouraging with both Mia Grace and with me. Leaving their offices was like exhaling a huge pent up sigh of relief.

I left Dr. Pielop’s office today, relieved to have the first doctor’s visit behind us, and thought, “Well, that wasn’t so bad. Glad I don’t need to stress over things like that,” only to have two grown men running after me, flagging me down in the parking garage.

I had left the stroller sitting out behind my car, reversed, backed over the stroller, and started driving away…without a clue I had done any of those things. I was just relieved I had at least remembered to put Mia Grace in the car. Geez. Lizzie piped up from the back seat, “Are you embarrassed, mom?”
Yes, Lizzie, I am a little embarrassed. Thanks for pointing that out.

But Mia Grace proves time and again that I don’t need to stress – I just need to trust, day in and day out, new experience after new experience, first after first, that the Lord’s got this. He’s got her – always has – and He’s got me. The progress she has made in bonding and attachment with our family has truly been amazing. The only thing I can give credit to is prayer. She is joyful, sweet, loving, a cuddler, and already cries for momma. What a difference each day makes. It is literally as if the ground of her heart has been saturated with the prayers of so many of you for so long now that she simply is able to respond to us. She seems to be grasping the concept of “family” quickly, which is remarkable considering she spent almost every day of her life in an orphanage with no family and every night in a room with ten other beds of parentless children.

And if all that wasn’t enough, she has started sleeping through the night! We are on our second full night of sleep now, which is a great thing considering Jason described sleeping with her as like sleeping with a baby raccoon. Wherever you happen to be, she moves there, finds your exposed skin…and scratches. And moves. And kicks. So we were both relieved to have the baby raccoon sleep in the pack and play by our bed all through the night!

Please continue to pray for us and pray for her. For wisdom in our parenting decisions concerning her and our other three girls. For trust and not stress. And specifically, for Jason’s neck. He woke up with muscle spasms in his neck last night and has been in a great deal of pain.

Last thing, speaking of Jason, Mia Grace has been having a bit of a tough time with Dad ever since coming home to Houston. She sometimes starts to cry when he holds her and seems just a little unsure of this male presence she probably is not used to. Last night, Jason was holding her and started to tickle her and her laugh was so cute, I had to share it with you. Definitely making progress with Daddy:

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We so appreciate each of you and the grace and love you have given our family through this season.

Hoping you sleep well,
The Baker Six

Stares

Last night I took Caroline and Mia Grace to Orange Leaf for some frozen yogurt. I haven’t had any since returning from China, and on long, hot summer evenings, yogurt always sounds like a treat. (Obviously, from the past few posts, our family is not on a gluten-free, sugar-free diet. We are on more of what you would call a “Welcome-to-America-and eat-cake-and-ice-cream-and-french-fries-kind-of-diet.” Maybe we will decide to go back to healthy eating when MG starts sleeping through the night.) But I’m going to be really honest; while the yogurt was good, I was a bit taken aback by all the stares. I’m just still not used to them. They startle me. Jar me on the inside. Take me aback.

I’ve never been one to like to have attention drawn to myself (just ask my mom), but it’s pretty clear that staring is something I am going to have to get used to now that Mia Grace is a part of our family.

I was used to the stares in China; they actually didn’t bother me. And I really didn’t blame anyone for staring. The stares were an expected response to blonde heads, blue eyes, and white faces with one Chinese baby smack dab in the middle.

But I wasn’t prepared for the stares here in the States. I don’t know why – I should have been. I should have taken a clue from the guy sitting next to me in the waiting area for our plane from Houston to Chicago before we even had Mia Grace. It came up that we were headed to China to adopt a baby, and he said, “Can I ask you a question? Why are you adopting a baby from China when there are so many babies here in America that need to be adopted? Just curious.”

Wow. I don’t think that’s a question I would even ask a close friend, much less a total stranger.

I think I mumbled something about feeling “called” and “led” and used trite, overstated Christian jargon that probably made no sense to the man and walked away trying to collect my thoughts. Jason had a really eloquent response when I posed the question to him later, but eloquent responses usually elude me in the urgency of a moment.

But that should have been the heads up. Many people in America are thrilled that we have added a Chinese daughter to our family; but some Americans also don’t understand why we would spend so much money, take so much time, and travel half way across the world to adopt a child that is not only miles but cultures away from us. The reasons why should be saved for another blog. But his comments should have prepped me for the stares.

From the moment we walked off our sheltering runway from our plane from Hong Kong to America, we were assaulted by stares in wide open spaces. Me especially, since I’m usually the one carrying Mia Grace.

And just a word of caution to all of us who want to stare – and I am including myself in those who stare because I’ve done plenty of staring over the course of my 38 years – PEOPLE KNOW WHEN YOU ARE STARING AT THEM.

I’ve always thought I could sneak a side glance and the person I am watching would have no clue.

Wrong.

They always know. Why? Because I know. I can feel it in the back of my baby carrier or see it from the turn of people’s heads from my peripheral vision. And immediately, I start sweating and begin to ask questions, “Why are people staring? Is it because I have an Asian baby in my baby carrier and I have white skin? Or is it the faint scar above her lip and the flattened nostril on the left? Is it just plain old curiosity? Or genuine love or appreciation for the child on my hip who is close to my heart?”

And let me give us starers one more piece of advice – if we are going to stare, and let’s face it, we all are going to stare at some point or another – SMILE. Smile at the person. Smile at the child. Smile at the family. I don’t blame people for staring; I probably would stare too and try to figure out the story behind the baby carrier. But what really jars me is not the stares; it’s the stares without the smiles. It the lingering looks, the side glances that continue throughout our meal, or our walk, or our frozen yogurt outing. So just know (at least from my very limited experience with stares the past few days), if you see a family who has a child with different color skin, or a handicap, or a different look, or is just plain ODD, a smile goes a long, long way. It takes the edge off of the stare and says, “I’m not staring because I’m wondering why you didn’t adopt an American baby without a flattened nostril or cleft lip, I’m staring because whatever your story is, I like it, and I like you, so be at ease.”

It was a relief to take our frozen yogurt to the tables outside and sit in a stare-free zone and enjoy the faces of my two girls in front of me. I didn’t get one smile in Orange Leaf last night; just stares. And one smile would have made all the difference.

Trust me; I’m not feeling sorry for myself or crying tears over tonight. It’s just the reality of adopting a baby from a different race. I just have to get used to being an anomaly. And I will get used to it – over time.

But until then, just remember to smile when you choose to stare. It makes the bitter edge of being different…sweet.

One more thing, as we drove home from Orange Leaf, Mia Grace started to fuss in her car seat. I looked back and this is what I saw:

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Mia Grace had stopped her crying and fallen asleep while holding Caroline’s hand. Our differences are giving us the capacity for comfort. It’s a lesson our whole family is learning, one little hand at a time.

We are so thankful for each of you and the joy and comfort each one of you brings; in the days ahead, I am looking forward to seeing each of your encouraging smiles.

Much love,
The Baker Six

Mia Graceland

Yesterday, I left the girls and Jason for an hour and a half to make a mad dash to the grocery store; our cupboards were looking pretty bare.

While standing in line to check out, this picture pops up on my phone with this caption underneath:

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“Elvis’ daughter…Mia Graceland.”

I’m not sure what I laughed harder over – the ridiculous looking wig or the serious look on Mia Grace’s face.

That poor girl – I am sure half the time she looks at us and thinks, “Who are these ridiculous people, and why did I have to come home with them?!?”

In all seriousness, though, it has been a long few days for Mia Grace. The past two nights she has woken up with hard, panicked cries, either like she had a bad dream or is completely disoriented and cannot figure out where she is, or perhaps even as if she is grieving.

Thankfully, she is willing to be soothed and patted and rocked, but the cries continue off and on throughout the night, and she was awake a solid two hours from 1-3am last night.

During the day she has been teary and particularly clingy to me, behavior we never really saw while in China.

It is strange in many ways, watching my daughter grieve and mourn all that she knew as life up to this point and knowing how exactly to comfort her. I was expecting grief – the classes we took and books we read did a good job prepping us for that – but what I wasn’t expecting as how it would tug at my heart. So much of me wants to tell her, “Forget the orphanage. It wasn’t a great place anyway. You have a family now. Friends. A cat named Hot Dog (who totally freaks her out, by the way. She is not sure what to do about cats, hair dryers, or the sound of blenders). Why cry about a place where you slept behind bars in a room with ten other kids and ate rice congee every day?”

But she cries because it was all she knew. It was her familiar.

On one hand, my heart aches that the orphanage was her familiar and that she misses it. On the other hand, I long to communicate to her all that her adoption means and the benefits of “family, sisters, mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.” But I cannot communicate logic to an 18 month old’s cries, so the only option I have is to wait, and watch, and love, and hold, and pat, and kiss, and pray. Grief is a thing that cannot be rushed. And neither can the new becoming the familiar. We will have to wait to become her new familiar, her new place of trust, comfort, and love.

And while I wait, I am reminded of the One who waits for me. Of the One who patiently waits for His heart, His family, His ways, to become my new familiar. I have always thought of Him with a disapproving glance in His eyes as He waits for me to adjust my lenses to His holiness, but now I know differently. He waits with tears in His own eyes as He watches us grieve, struggle, and suffer over things that usually weren’t that great to begin with. He is so patient with us and “waits from on high to show us compassion” (Isaiah 30) again…and again…and again.

I need that same patience and grace (there’s that word again) as I wait for Mia Grace. Please pray that for me and for her. And please pray for sleep! We all feel about the equivalent of a slug trekking through jello as we slowly adjust to a 13 hour time difference, and I am sure Mia Grace feels it most of all.

On a happy note, we were able to celebrate my sister-in-law, Haley’s, birthday tonight over dinner and cake.

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Mia Grace thoroughly entertained us eating by eating french fries and having her first taste of…CAKE. And not just any cake, but Teresa Medeiros’ homemade butternut cake.

I started feeding MG tiny bites with a fork:

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About four bites in, she pushed the fork away and started pushing pieces of cake with both hands into her mouth as fast as she possibly could…smart girl!

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Anyone who likes Teresa’s cake that much is one smart cookie and is going to do just fine with her new familiar.

Off to bed…praying everyone sleeps well in your house tonight and in mine.

The Baker Six

Home Sweet Home

We are finally Home Sweet Home! I apologize for taking a few days to update the blog to let everyone know we were home safe and sound, but we MADE it! The girls (all four of them) did an amazing job on the flight. Everyone even got a little bit of sleep in…

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I discovered that MG likes to roll around when she sleeps, and several times I jerked awake just in time to push her back from the edge to keep her from plummeting off of the side. I was so worried she was going to roll off the seat or plunge head first between the seat and the arm rest that I ended up laying down on top of her legs with my head in a squenched up position. So maybe I should say everyone ELSE got some sleep; but let’s be honest, I was too excited to sleep anyway!

After making it through customs in Chicago (not a super fun experience), we boarded a plane to head to Houston, and all of our seats were spread out all over the plane because of having to book flights on such last minute notice. We looked like the Griswolds with all of our carry-on’s and backpacks, and Mia Grace strapped to the front of me in her carrier. We all somehow miraculously ended up together, and thankfully, we all fell asleep for most of that flight as well.

When we stepped off of that plane onto Houston soil and came down that escalator hearing cheers and seeing signs of “Welcome Home, Baker Six!” and “Mia Grace” held by people we love dearly was unlike any other experience I have ever had and one I hope to never forget.

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Here was this little person on my hip who had no idea who any of these people were, had never, for all practical purposes, stepped foot outside of her orphanage in China, and now was an American citizen, a member of a big, loving family and part of a support network of friends who will love her and go the extra mile for her until the day she dies. It was such a beautiful, powerful picture of the body of Christ to Jason, me, and our entire family. MG had done nothing to earn or deserve the love that was poured out on her that night; all she did was just appear. She was simply was a recipient of…Grace, that word that is in the middle of her name and smack dab in the middle of adoption. Adoption is simply a gift of grace, to a child, and to the family who gets to adopt him or her. I am constantly reminded of that fact every time I look at her and see my own inability to help or save myself and then remember the One who risked it all to come to get me out of the hopeless situation I was in to make me a part of His family and a citizen of His country.

Thank you, thank you to each one of you who came out to welcome Mia Grace and our family home that evening; we felt so deeply loved. And it was pure joy to finally see her with my own eyes in the arms of people I love so very much. And I cannot wait to introduce her to those of you (including many family members!) she has not met yet who will play such an important part in her life. Your prayers and encouragement throughout this journey have been monumental.

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We finally left the airport and strapped one very sleepy girl (who was a CHAMP, by the way, at being passed around to so many people) into a car seat for the first time (nope – no car seats in China; Robin, I can hear you groaning now :))…

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…and headed…home. Some wonderfully fun and creative neighbors decorated the outside of our house (thank you, McDaniels!),some very thoughtful nephews decorated the inside (thank you, Ty and Wes!), and Aunt Ana stocked the fridge and printed out pictures from our trip to have when we walked in the door – I was absolutely blown away by everyone’s thoughtfulness! Grandparents were there to greet us, and Mia Grace settled right in to Nana, Papa, Mia and Popsie’s arms like they were people she had always known and loved.

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It was truly so very good to be…Home.

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Last Day

Things to Do on Your Last Day in China:

1. Go to one last historic site – in our case, we chose the Chen Clan Academy, a beautiful house from an old Chinese family full of beautiful art work like embroidery with stitching so fine it looks like painting and ivory carving that is so delicate it looks like lace:

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2. Revisit the Pearl Market for those down to the wire souvenirs you’ve been looking for the whole trip:

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3. Go to TrustMart for any last minute needed airplane items, like extra wipes for Mia Grace. And if TrustMart sounds suspiciously like Walmart, it’s with good reason. I saw this sign above the live fish and turtle display case in the grocery section:

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Pretty sure the Walmart at Beltway 8 and I-10 didn’t have a section like this the last time I checked.

4. Pack your bags to come HOME!!! And reach into your deepest memory to remember how to pack a diaper bag for an 18 month old for a fifteen hour flight. If you hear the sound of someone crying, that would be me sitting here on my couch in Guangzhou thinking about that flight!

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5. Pick up your child’s visa from the consulate and pack it safely in your carry-on (it’s official – hooray! Thank you for praying!)

6. Go look again at your ultimate gift and thank the Lord one more time that you get to really bring her…Home.

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Tomorrow morning we have an early car ride from Guangzhou back to Hong Kong and fly out of HK around 11. We land in Chicago around 2pm on Friday, the same day, and then take a flight to Houston, landing at 8:15pm. We cannot wait to see family and friends and finally have MG meet the people who have prayed for her and loved her along the way.

We love each of you so and are so thankful our next post gets to be from the USA!

Much Love,
The Baker 6

Home Stretch

Thank you for your prayers for yesterday! Our appointment at the consulate went so well – it was smooth with no glitches! Mia Grace’s visa should be ready for pick up this afternoon, and the moment she steps on US soil and goes through Customs and Immigration, she becomes a U.S. Citizen! Whoo hoo! That moment will be a tremendous moment for us all.

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There was something profound about physically being in another country but stepping into a refuge, so to speak, where you were reminded of your citizenship with all of its rights and privileges in another country. There was also something profound about stepping into that consulate building with a Chinese baby with a Chinese passport in our hands and stepping out with a baby who has an American visa and in a matter of hours will become an American citizen, all because of the ctitzenship of her parents. It gave us a longing for home, and Jason has been singing the old Larry Gatlin song ever since: “Houston…Houston means that I’m one day closer to you…” Can I say Amen to that!!! We are ready, ready to be home.

Please pray for our last day of packing and tying up loose ends here. Our guide, Lily, is set to pick up Mia Grace’s visa this afternoon, so please continue to pray that process continues to go smoothly.

Also, please pray for Adam, Kelly, and their daughter today. They fly home today at 11:40 and their little one has had a tough few past couple of days. She has a really tough time on elevators and small spaces, so the plane could be particularly daunting. Please pray for grace and mercy at every turn and for every need and that their baby would SLEEP on that airplane the whole way home!!!

We love and appreciate you more than words can say! Thank you for coming next along with us on our journey – your encouragement and love has made all the difference in the world.

Gratefully,
The Baker 6

Consulate Appointment

I forgot to add that tomorrow morning is our appointment at the American Consulate here in Guangzhou where they process the paperwork to issue her a visa to enter the USA. Would you please pray for a smooth appointment in the morning? For no administrative glitches or shuts downs with the computer system? Please pray her visa is issued in a timely manner and we are able to pick it up on Thursday so we can depart and leave to come home on Friday morning. We have learned the hard way the importance and power of prayer through each step of the adoption process. We love and appreciate you; thank you for praying!

Shamian Island and a Smile

We woke up this morning to a steady rain that lasted the whole day. We had plans to go back to Shamian Island this morning since Jason and Lillian were feeling better and had missed going on Sunday. The Island is mainly an outdoor area to enjoy, so we borrowed umbrellas from the Hotel and made our way through the wet to show Jason and Lillian the things we enjoyed so much on Sunday. The famous White Swan Hotel is on the Island (the Hotel where most adoptive families stayed up until about three years ago when it closed for renovations), so the shops there are well supplied with clothes for little girls. Each of my girls picked out a traditional Chinese dress and a parasol. They were beyond excited to try out their new purchases!

Mia Grace was so tired she almost fell asleep on the lunch table…

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…so when we got back to our hotel, she took a long three hour nap while the girls played dress up…

 

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And when Mia Grace woke up, she joined the fun!

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Every day we see Mia Grace let a little bit more of her guard down, become a little more expressive of her wants and desires and join in the overall family chaos with an occasional flicker of a smile. This morning as Jason tickled her, she laughed her wonderful belly laugh, looked at him seriously, and then gave him a grin.

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We never saw it again the rest of the day, but we will TAKE IT!!! Every sign of joy is a great gift and a direct answer to prayer.

Thank you for your prayers today not just for our family but for the other families we have met here as well. I did not see Kelly and Adam again today but we have plans to see them tomorrow, and I am hoping for a good report on their daughter. I know your prayers are making a profound difference.

We love and appreciate each one of you so; only three more days until we come HOME!!!

Much Love,
The Baker 6

The Heroes

Today we rode a cable car up a mountain about twenty minutes from our hotel called Bayun Mountain.

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We spent about two and a half hours walking on different trails around the mountain, seeing lots of signs for everything from a Natural Bird Sanctuary to an Exercise Center to Temples, but we never were able to find much of anything. Despite our inability to navigate using Chinese characters on signs, we enjoyed the cool mountain breezes and green trees up above the heavy city heat and pollution.

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But the real highlight of the day was dinner when we ate with an adopting couple also staying at our hotel. Their names are Kelly and Adam, and they are from the Midwest. They are with a different agency, but they were at the adoptive center at the same time as we were last Monday and we both got our little girls at the exact same time. Their daughter has cleft lip and palate, just like Mia Grace, only she has not had her surgery yet. And while Mia Grace came to us as silent as the grave, their little one began to cry from the get go and hasn’t really stopped. Kelly and I have had snatches of conversations in the lobby or at group paperwork appointments over her baby’s head as she rocks, bounces, soothes, kisses, and wipes away tears. To say I like her is an understatement. She has the patience of Job and is truly a kind soul. Their daughter was in a really tough orphanage situation and has developed a lot of self-soothing techniques, fearful responses, and grief. She is a beautiful little girl behind all of her tears, and Kelly and Adam know it is just going to take time to slowly bond, attach, and build trust and love. They both are strong Christians, and their rock solid faith in the sovereignty of God is such a day in and day out testimony to our family here in Guangzhou.

Every day, we meet more families like Kelly and Adam who are willing to risk big and love well.

There’s the family I met at breakfast yesterday who is here adopting their 10th and 11th child, a three year old boy with dwarfism and a five year old girl with hydrochiphilis. The mom is one of the most joyful people I have ever met.

There’s the family who was also with us on Gotcha Day who has two biological boys at home and is here adopting an 11 year old boy with CP.

There’s the family Jason met by the pool several days ago who is here adopting children number 7 and 8 – two boys ages 10 and 11. The mom is here with her 13 year old son from Ethiopia who was adopted just four years ago and came to the U.S. without speaking a lick of English. The dad is home with the other five kids and her 13 year old son is here helping her out with the other two. He is the epitome of politeness and kindness and carries on a conversation like he is an adult. The mom had to call security a couple of nights ago on her newly adopted boys as they were really acting out. I saw her today leaning over the edge of the pool giving each boy a kiss saying, “I love you.”

And then there’s the family I met at the pool yesterday (we spend a lot of time at the pool – it keeps the girls from scaling the walls of our apartment). They are here adopting a little girl a few months older than Mia Grace and are from Mississippi. They sound about as Mississippi as one can get, and I love hearing their accents. He loves to fish and hunt and farm and watch football, and she’s from a big family in Starkville…and they live in Northern India. They have given their lives to proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus in one of the most unreached places in the world in a place where they are literally the only foreigners.

And these families are just a few of the families represented here at this hotel. Every family has a story. Every family has had to count the cost to be here. And every family I see or meet displays a little bit more of the radical, beautiful, redemptive, sacrificial love of the love of Christ. I am in the minor leagues when it comes to sacrificial love – the Single A team (anyone who knows me well can tell you that – sacrificial love isn’t exactly my forte). But many of these families are in the Majors, and all I can say is that it is a privilege to watch and be humbled and challenged by their courage and self-forgetfulness for the sake of another.

Would you please take a moment and pray for Kelly and Adam and their daughter? Would you pray for healing and trust and deep attachment to form quickly? Would you pray for strength and continued trust for their family and for signs of progress to continue to be evident every day?

And would you pray for each of the families mentioned? Grace for the journey up ahead both for the parents and the children? And pray that their families would be a sweet fragrance and aroma to many of the love Christ displays for us? They truly are heroes and super stars in the Kingdom of God, quietly and selflessly serving and giving their lives away to those who can only repay them in the Age to Come. How beautiful are the feet of those who live to bring Good News…

Thankful for the Beauty of those feet,
The Baker 6