When I travel and film I rarely have time in the midst of the often crazy and exhausting schedule to reflect on my thoughts and experiences. Here on the fight home seems like the appropriate moment. Nothing like being five miles in the air to give a person a sufficient sense of detachment, enough to just reflect.
This trip was one of those all-of-a-sudden moments that seemed to come from nowhere. I had little thought or desire to travel to China this year. But when my friend Mike called and extended an invitation to travel with him, it seemed like an experience I had to have.
As a filmmaker, I produce primarily documentaries. Simple stories, mostly, about people that are engaged in the complex process of changing the world. Not for everybody. Sometimes for just one. Or sometimes just for the few that would never be missed if they suddenly vanished from the world. Those are the stories I like to capture most. And this trip was no exception.
The least and the forgotten of this world are often the greatest and most memorable.
Two weeks ago my plane landed in Shanghai. As I made my way to the baggage claim, I was amused to hear traditional western Christmas songs, familiar ones that were made even more fun by Chinese vocalists’ rendering of the lyrics. Jingle Bells had a one-horse open “sleeeee.” And my favorite Sound of Music tune, Edelweiss, was made much more merry as “Adelwass.”
I was in China to film a documentary we’re calling, The Finding Place (our current working title). This film will feature several stories about adoption as we follow families down the various avenues of the adoption journey. In addition, we were to spend five days at Living Hope International’s Training center filming their loving support of children that live at their facility.
One of the families we are featuring in The Finding Place is the Green family, a family we knew nothing about until four weeks ago. We stumbled on their story on the internet and were blown away to find out that they had adopted five special needs children from China and were in the process of adopting 2 more. Before we knew it, my wife Kathi and I were on a plane to Utah to begin the pre-trip filming for their next adoption. To say this family is extraordinary is an understatement, although it seems they see themselves as quite the opposite.
With three of their own children already, Jeremy and Christianne have somehow made space for five adopted children – and two more on the way. Again, all of them having special needs. Too many stories to tell right now. But the highlight of the trip was getting the best hugs I’ve ever gotten from their youngest, Sophie. Sophie has no arms.
One might wonder how these parents have enough love to go around. Their answer: “With every additional child, love isn’t just added, it’s multiplied.” I like that.
After three days of non-stop filming in a home brimming with love, Kathi and I headed home with barely enough time for me to get ready for the trek to China.
Once in Shanghai, China, we hit the ground running, first to spend time with the Greens as they took their oldest adopted daughter, Graci, to spend time with the foster family that took her in at age five. Graci was left at a bus station by her parents at age 5. But it’s not what you might think. Graci had a pulmonary respiratory problem that would have proven fatal unless she had an expensive surgery. This fact weighing heavily on her biological parents, they decided to leave her with a note explaining that they hoped she could be adopted by a family with the means to save her life.
We returned to this place, the Finding Place, as it is called in the adoption world. We filmed something that I think will prove to be an extraordinary moment in the final film.
Our time with Graci’s “China Mom and Dad,” as they are called, proved to be a love fest and a love feast. I remember sitting down for dinner and counting 32 different dishes on the oversized lazy-Susan. It was fascinating to see two sets of parents from two different parts of the world celebrating the opportunity they have to love a beautiful little girl and invest in her life. She lived with her China parents from age 4-9, forming a bond that Jeremy and Christianne not only appreciate, but celebrate.
The main purpose for the Green’s trip was to adopt and bring home a new daughter named Cali. This event is called the “Gotcha Day.” We traveled to a rather bland government office in Xi’an for a moment that was anything but bland. I’m certain God smiled as he observed. Maybe shed a tear. Adoption. One family opening their hearts and lives to a child desperately wanting what every child deserves – a family. I readied myself in the hall to film Cali as she entered the room. She’s 12 and due to spina bifida is in a wheel chair. There she was, this sweet little girl about to cross the threshold to a world where nothing will be the same, especially true now that she will bear the last name of Green and will instantly gain eight brothers and sisters. I thought, “if she only knew what’s in store...”
The simplicity of the meeting of this new daughter and her new family belied the significance of the moment. She seemed amused by the love and attention being showered on her and was seemingly aware that this was the moment in which she would say goodbye to her former world.
A couple days later we filmed the family swimming in the indoor pool at the hotel, then filmed a bit of their goodnight ritual. Jeremy and Christianne sang to Cali as she was tucked in, “Who’s my little angel,” and Cali, in the sweetest little voice, singing some of her first English words responded back, “I’m your little angel.”
In the next post I will write about our experience at the Living Hope International orphanage in Beijing.
To be continued.