Time Travel


She’s wearing a red one-piece bathing suit with white polka dots. I bought it off Amazon last fall, before we’d even met her — guessed on the size based on numbers we had on pieces of paper. It was a loose the first time she wore it, an 80 degree day in late December in southern China.



She has a yellow bucket and squats in that particularly Asian way, where her knees come up to her shoulders and her bottom grazes the ground.


It’s her first time at the beach (that we know of) and she’s collecting shells. One. Two. Three shells plunk, plunk, plunk into her plastic bucket. Then more. And more. And more. She’s indiscriminate. She wants them all.


“Sweetie, we can’t keep all the shells.”


She doesn’t say anything, just looks at me — as if maintaining eye contact will distract me from seeing her slow moving right hand, adding yet another broken shell into her collection.


// One Year Ago //


Our paperwork arrived to China in the beginning of the summer and until we had a referral, there were only a few things to do. Live life. Start to fundraise. And prepare ourselves for adoption, with it’s unknowns and unpredictability, as best as we could.


“And what’s next?” they asked. We were at the beach with our family.


“We wait,” we said. “It could be in a few months, it could be a year.” The uncertainty permeated the air like the smell of salt water in the wind.


I’d always take a deep breath after saying it, we wait, because isn’t that the best thing to do when you don’t know what will happen — or you don’t know when what you hope to happen, will happen? And when, ultimately, you’re hopeful but also so so scared? Because really, you don’t know what your life will look like when this child, with a backstory you have no control over, does become part of your family. 


I picked up shells as we walked and talked, like tangible prayers I could hold in my hand. 


We got home from the beach and the kids started school two days later.    


The end of the week, the Friday after Labor Day, we got the phone call with her referral.


// Two Years Ago //


“We’re thinking about adopting.”


Walking on the same beach, it’s one of the last days of our week together. I held shells in my hand.


We explained how adoption has been on our hearts, in our hearts, for a while. How we don’t really know what to do, how we don’t really know where it will lead us, but we are going to move forward. (“One step at a time.”) 


We walked to the part of the beach where tall wooden posts a foot in diameter, starting in the dunes and extending a hundred feet into the ocean, anchor a fence that separates where we stood from the from the exact same beach on the other side. The only difference is the houses here are only accessible on foot or by 4x4s with low air in their tires.


// Four Years Ago //


Our third baby was 10 months old. My toes dug into the sand and the water kissed my legs in irregular intervals. There were shells in the pockets of my beach chair. I read a book, tears welling and falling behind my sunglasses. The story unfolded of a young woman following, one step at a time, where God led her. Her heart open to the needs around her, she became a mother to orphans. I cried over the story. And I cried because I heard God between the spaces of the words.


I felt it, knew it: Adoption.


No longer a word, an idea, something good other people spoke of or were called to.


Adoption. For us. 


I kept it in my heart for months. Praying. Then brought it up with Chris.


A few months later, something we couldn’t have known then, a little girl in China was born.


// A Year, Maybe Two, Before That   //


We began attending a small church that taught applicable big truths. We were in a season of transition, and my heart began to change.  


I grew up with a lot of Bible — Bible verses, Bibles songs, Bible teaching, Bible study. But there was a lack of life transformation. Yes, I followed a predictable (and good, and safe) life pattern, but it felt, now, like there should be something more. But what? And how? I’m married. I have kids. A home. There’s not going to be any major life changes.


And this is what the Bible does: it’s truth saturates and permeates and propagates and transfigurates your life.


As my heart pulled towards purpose — a God-given purpose — all that Bible I had in my head, as scary as it was (because only God knew what would come of it) emulsified in my heart. I began to pray a version of Psalm 37:4 — Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.  


My prayer was more like: Give me your desire for my life.  

Teach me who you are, LORD. Help me to seek you and love you. Give me a desire.


Give me Your desire.



// This Year //


“Can I see your shells?” I ask. I’m sitting in a turquoise and royal blue striped beach chair, the same one I bring every year. There are shells in every pocket.


She picks up the yellow bucket, holds it at her belly with two hands, her elbows jutting out at her sides. She slowly makes her way to me. “So heavy,” she grunts.


She brings it to my side and I lean over and look. It’s half a bucket full of mostly bits of shells. I do not want a bucket full of broken shells, I think. She’s indiscriminate, though. She wants them all.


I start to tell her to only collect the whole, pretty ones — and then stop. My heart lurches into my throat.


Like a wave of emotion, one that carried our journey, and her journey, through the years and prayers and wove our stories — imperfect, broken, cracked — together, I’m knocked over.


A year ago, I didn’t know her. Today, she shows off her treasure to her momma. 


Sonya Spillmann


  1. Wow…tears! Sonya, you are so good with words. God be praised for all He is doing in your world. Hugs!

  2. Love this Sonya. Love that your her mama. Love that it took years and years to actually have her in your arms–it just makes the present so much more beautiful to see how long in coming it was, that it was always meant to happen. xo

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