Rachel spent the first 7 years of her life in what most consider to be, a "model" orphanage in China.  I've been in many orphanages around the world, and after visiting the Shanghai CWI, I'd probably have to agree.  And yet a "model" orphanage is still an orphanage, and no matter how you make it look on the outside... it is filled with orphans!  I struggle to even type the words "model" and orphanage in the same sentence!  A child alone, without a mommy and daddy to embrace, to tuck you in at night, to feed you around the dinner table, to provide for your needs, and to know you well enough to even know what delights you and brings a smile is not a "model" of any kind in my opinion!  I'll bet Rachel would agree!...

When we met Rachel 7 weeks ago, it was obvious that she knew so little of what "normal" life was like outside the four walls of that "model" orphanage.  She ran as if she'd never run before... and was obviously totally clueless in how to climb a ladder and slide by herself.  Getting onto and off of a bicycle, let alone peddle it was another completely new concept!  Today I learned through a group of families that has adopted children from Rachel's orphanage, that the children were actually taken outside for a "brisk walk" only twice a year... once in the spring and again in the fall.  Sadly, after meeting Rachel, I think this might really be true... 

In light of Rachel's life for 7 years, it would be safe to say that every single day includes a "first" for her of some kind or another!  Spending the day with Rachel is one of the most fascinating, humbling, and exciting things I've ever experienced!  In light of this, I can understand why I get the looks I get from her every time I pull the camera out AGAIN!....  In fairness to her, we're not talking about a daily occurrence, but an hourly one... at least! 

When you start documenting all these wonderful "firsts" at birth, they are spread out over a relatively long period of time.  But when you grow up inside the walls of an orphanage with nearly 600 other children... many of life's firsts go completely unnoticed and there certainly isn't a camera around to capture the moment!  Sadly, for Rachel, many of the "normal" firsts never happened at all!  So at 7 years old, she is enjoying many new experiences that we might not have even thought to capture with our other 5 kids...  Like her first warm bath, or her first trip up a ladder and down the slide, or peddling a bike, swimming in a pool, or dipping your toes into the ocean waves after walking across sand and seashells to get there!  Or being rocked to sleep at night, hugging your first baby doll, and being licked on the face by the family dog!  Or jumping on a trampoline, swinging in a hammock, or scooting on a scooter.  You name it... there's a good chance she's never experienced it before!  

Yesterday's first was especially special!... Rachel went to school for the very first time!  Yes, you read that right!  She saw her cardiologist last Friday and he cleared her to go!  So, less than three weeks after open heart surgery, Rachel started school!  

She was obviously nervous when we went to register her, meet her teacher and tour her new classroom, but that didn't last long and by the time we tucked her into bed the night before the big day, she had her rolling back pack ready to go and had requested her favorite noodles for her lunch box!  Precious girl~ You are so brave and so willing to look your fears directly in the face and overcome them!  We have so much to learn from you!

Being the incredible public-school mommy that I am...:-)  I actually drove Rachel to school on her first morning and personally walked with her to her new classroom.  She was confident and self assured... even walking ahead of me most of the way!  She happily walked into her class, and greeted the world's most wonderful, answer to many prayers, kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Brogdon!  I'm not the kind of Mom that cries when I finally say goodbye to my kindergarteners on their first day of school, but today...  I considered full-out wailing!!!  It's been a hard few months, which has included ZERO time alone for me, but I have treasured these days filled with beautiful moments so much!  I am sad to see them end... But the end of one journey means the beautiful beginning of another and I have no doubt that many more beautiful moments lie ahead as Rachel begins living the rest of her miraculous story!  I feel so privileged to celebrate this exciting "first" with Rachel today!  It is, of course, all documented digitally so that I can share these special moments with you... Here they are!...

Here's to the second day!  Rode the bus to school and back home again!...


  1. Tears!! So happy for sweet, sweet Rachel!

  2. Oh, I can't believe that sweet angel of yours - absolutely unbelievable the ride has been for her over the past few months. So much hope for our little angels we hope to get in a month!


    Rachel, you inspire all of us!!!
    Happy Kindergarten!! WOOHOO

    Blessings from MN,

  4. Hi Lori,

    First, Praise God for the healing He has given Rachel !! I have been following her story:)

    Secondly, let me add another Go Gators !!!! Love Shands Hospital and of course, my Gators too :)

    Lastly, I don't know if you are a member yet, but we have a large FCC group in N. Florida with most members in the Jax. area. We also have some from S. GA. and Putnam, Clay, and St. John's Counties. If you are interested in the group, feel free to P.M. me at
    We have over 150 families in our group :)

    God Bless you all and I loved the school pictures,
    Lee Ann

  5. I love those girls! Rach, Kate and Elle Belle make my heart smile so much!!


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