Because they are fearfully and wonderfully and perfectly made in His image.  Because they are known by Him.  Because He calls them by name.  Because they are claimed as His sons and daughters, despite their circumstances.  Because they matter.  And because I don’t ever want to forget.

I’m home.  And I’ve been awake since 3am thanks to jet lag.  I gave up trying to fall back to sleep at 4:30am, and finally got out of bed.  With the children from the orphanage taking over my dreams, and their precious little faces dancing across my closed eyelids, I knew it was a lost cause.  While everyone else on this side of the world rests, I am wrestling with what I experienced and captured through my camera while I was gone.

Thinking of the children and the reality of their daily lives brings me to my knees.  While I can drink coffee without boiling water first, and write a blog post without a sometimes-working, buggy VPN, the children are most likely finishing up dinner halfway across the world.  While I will soon hug and kiss my beloved little ones good morning, and tell them how much I love them, the children will prepare for bedtime with no mama and baba to tuck them in and tell them how much they are adored and so very worthy.  While they sleep, my day will carry on in the peace and warm serenity of my home and church, surrounded by my treasured family and friends.  And some variation of my comfortable life will play out every day while the children in the orphanage remain inexplicably grateful and joyful and happy, despite all that they’re missing.

The incredible disparity of our worlds is almost too much to fathom.

I was invited into a community of His people that I didn’t know before.  A community that’s real, even though it’s easy to ignore because it seems so distant and far away.  A small community of His children who are hurting and longing for mamas and babas of their very own.  A community of His nannies who give their very best every day to help the children live and grow.  But even their very best simply isn’t enough because there are too many children and not enough of them.  Because nothing replaces the love and belonging of a family.

I think of precious Wayland and the way the Father literally put him in front of me, despite my ability to remain emotionally unattached behind my lens.  My job as photographer makes it easy to observe from a distance.  It’s a role that I’m comfortable playing because it allows me to stay focused and complete the task at hand.  It’s the role that I signed up for when I said yes to this trip – to document our time and bring home pictures of waiting children to help them find families.

Though I wanted to be open to what the Father had waiting for me during this trip, I did not expect to fall as hard as I did.  He wrecked me.  Not just for Wayland, but for all of the children.  For the nannies.  Although I was the designated photographer on the trip, the Father used the short time in mighty ways to show me why I was really on that trip.  Despite myself, I got to see a small glimpse of His love for all of His children.  To understand what’s truly important.  Not medical diagnoses or adoption files or questioning whether a nanny is feeding children the right way.

But people.  Loving people is what’s important.  No matter their status or special need.  Orphan, nanny, or otherwise.  That’s what He wanted me to see.  Because the Father wants all of us to be adopted as His sons and daughters.  And He’ll use anyone to accomplish His mission, if we just humbly offer ourselves to be available.

As Mike Foster wrote in his book, People of the Second Chance, “Bring what you have, no matter what it looks like.  His standards are embarrassingly low, and he will work with everything you’re willing to put into his hands.  You are imperfect, but you can be perfectly loved and perfectly used by him.” (pg. 30)  I’m resting in that truth this morning.  As I reflect on this past week and try my hardest to make good on my promise to Wayland, my prayer is that He perfectly loves and uses me and all of my team members, despite our imperfectness.


We ambitiously took 21 waiting children to the Safari Park.  It was one of the biggest highlights of the whole trip.  We paired the children with team members the night before, but that didn’t go quite as planned when we arrived.  Meet my little 7 year old peng you, Wayland.  He wasn’t who I was partnered with, but he didn’t care about our plans.  He chose me anyway.  And I am so thankful he did.  He’s sunshine, my friends.  Pure sunshine.

He was full of energy, joyfully and excitedly running all over the park despite his heart condition.  He called guo lai in anticipation at every new turn as he held my hand, not wanting to miss anything.  He delighted in everything and affectionately hugged me all day.  He told me all of the animal names in putong hua, and patiently repeated the syllables until I got them right.  And then he made sure I snapped a picture of every animal.  He thoughtfully shared his snacks and treats with friends, especially one in particular who was feeling a little sad.

He smiled and laughed and looked into my eyes with love.  He sought me out, if we got even a little separated.  He sweetly called me ayi without prompting, and pointed out all of the exciting sights to me.  He talked to me all morning, even though I only understand bits and pieces of Mandarin.  He knew what he wanted and used words to ask respectfully, but accepted no when I couldn’t say yes.  He asked me to pick him up so he could see the animals better.  He lovingly laid his head on my shoulder.  He stared at all of the sights in wonder.  He came to me to meet all his needs.  He was a wonderfully polite gentleman.  He was my most perfect Safari Park date.

In a few short hours, the Father let me glimpse into His immeasurable love for this child.  He let me see into his precious heart.  I fell completely in love with him, despite the “plan” of partnering with another child.  Beloved Wayland let me into his world.  He allowed me to see what a beautifully precious child he is.  He allowed me to love him with a mama’s love.  He gave me the incredible honor of claiming him and calling him mine for a short morning.  When this sweet boy finds his forever mama, she will be incredibly blessed to call him son.

As I tearfully and emotionally said goodbye to him, I promised I’d find his family.  I told him I wouldn’t give up until he was home.  And I won’t.  I will keep sharing about him until his family finds him.  Because he stole my heart.  Because he is so uniquely and wonderfully made.  Because he is the Father’s child, not simply a list of medical diagnoses in a file.  Because he should be doted on and lavished in love as I had the privilege to do.  Because he is so deserving and worthy.  So very precious.  So deeply beloved.

Please contact Sarah Hansen at Madison Adoption Associates ( for more information about this beautiful boy.  The one who visits me in my dreams.

The art class in the park was simply amazing.  I can’t truly describe what it was like to watch all of the children work with their own set of watercolor paints as they made stunning one-of-a-kind works of art.  They didn’t waste any time and took on their assignments so creatively.  The sight was just breathtaking.  Other people thought so too, as we drew quite the curious crowd!  Many, many passerbys gazed thoughtfully at all of the children’s masterpieces as if they were walking through a posh art gallery.  They made comments about how great their creations were.  They gave thumbs ups.  They smiled.

It was a remarkably special experience, one that I’m so thankful to have been a part of.  It’s a privilege to serve these children and see a glimpse into their precious hearts.  To spend time with them and to know them.  To receive their affection and call them by name.

  • January 11, 2017 - 2:45 pm

    Aliyah - Hey Nicole
    I loved these photos, thank you for sharing 🙂
    WOuld have loved to go with, maybe next time :))
    Your friend in South Africa, AliyahReplyCancel

    • January 15, 2017 - 7:22 pm

      Nicole Renée - It’s such an amazing and heartbreaking experience, all at once. So worth it and so stretching. Wouldn’t it be fun to meet in person one day?!ReplyCancel

  • January 11, 2017 - 9:03 pm

    Nancy - You already know how special not only these pics are to me, but your kind heart and serving as His hands to these children… and especially one brave gorgeous little boy. Thank you, sweet friend!ReplyCancel

    • January 15, 2017 - 7:24 pm

      Nicole Renée - Art in the park was such a wonderful experience … to see strangers doting on the kids and truly admiring them for their work … they saw them for THEM. It was magical.ReplyCancel

I am so in awe of these jie jies, as they call themselves.  The big sisters who dedicate their days to caring for and loving so many precious children.  My words seem inadequate, so I’ll share through pictures some tiny glimpses of these women who so selflessly give of themselves every day.