There comes a time for everyone when they are in a situation where they have to be courageous. Courage. To some it means brave. To others it means facing a difficulty without fear; but to me, courage means my sister. I don’t know anybody more courageous than my two year old sister, AnnaClaire. You might wonder how a two year old could possibly be courageous. However, if you knew my sister’s story, you would at once realize the pain and difficulty that she has gone through in her two years of life. She has faced each and every day with courage. She was not your typical infant. For one night, she felt the love of a mother, and that feeling didn’t return for another year.
At one day old, “Xun Hui” was found at the front gate of Chenzhou City Social Welfare Institute in Hunan, China. The circumstances around her abandonment are unknown. Her birthparents could’ve been too poor to take care of a newborn or maybe it was because of the “One Child Policy” in China. Although we will never know what led her birth parents to leave her on that October night, I believe that they loved her very much and wanted her to live the life that she deserved. However, she was still left there and I think her response was courage in itself. Being left in front of an orphanage as a newborn baby and not understanding what is going on is the essence of courage. Getting through that night, that night which completely impacted her life, had to have taken AnnaClaire a great amount of courage.
When AnnaClaire was just a few months old, she began rolling over. It wasn’t long before she was pulling up, crawling, and even walking. She got her first teeth and said her first words. With every landmark that she hit, there was no family to clap for her or kiss on her. For thirteen months, the only love she knew was the love of her nannies. Although she had very sweet nannies, AnnaClaire didn’t receive a mother’s special love. Until all of that changed. All these days that little “Hui Hui” courageously waited, my family waited, too. She waited for a family while we waited for our baby.
Soon it was December 11, 2006. I found myself sitting on a wooden chair in a large room in Hunan, China. It was just after four when I heard a screaming baby come off of an elevator. My mom and I looked at each other, while explaining, “Just watch… it’s going to be AnnaClaire.” At once, we realized our prediction was right. We recognized her nose and eyes from the little picture of her that we had treasured for months. Her nannies tried to calm her, to no avail. She was so scared. She had just come on a four hour car ride from her orphanage to Hunan’s capital city, Changsha. She was bundled in two thick layers of clothing. It was no wonder her cheeks were bright pink, as the tears streamed down her beautiful face. After waiting a little longer, she was placed into the arms of my mom. She had to be courageous to let go of the firm grip she had on her nanny’s jacket. To let go of all she knew. To go into the arms of a funny looking person that she had never seen. Courage is when AnnaClaire let go and went into our arms, the arms of people who didn’t look like her or speak her language. During that time, my family sat there, simply looking at the wonderful gift God had given us. The tears flowed for all of us, as we realized the day had finally come. AnnaClaire became baby number four.
An hour after AnnaClaire was placed in our arms we took a fifteen minute taxi ride back to the hotel. Cars whizzed around us, cutting in and out of the lanes. It was a shock that we were not involved in an accident. AnnaClaire almost fell asleep in Mom’s arms as we arrived at the hotel. In just an hour, she was beginning to trust her new family. It was then that we learned that sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. We got to the elevator and AnnaClaire screamed the whole way up to the ninth floor. There was no way to console her. Even after we got off the elevator, she still cried. I couldn’t blame her as she had just lost everything she ever knew. The crying went on for over an hour. Our sweet guide, Amy tried giving us advice and finally we ordered dinner. After dinner, the night went uphill. AnnaClaire smiled. We saw her incredible smile for the first time. She sat in our laps the whole evening, just smiling and laughing. It was a perfect moment. To top off this emotional day, she slept all the way through the night.
The rest of our trip was not easy. AnnaClaire quickly took to my dad, but wanted nothing to do with the rest of us. This did not make things easy, as she would literally scream if anyone other than my dad held her. However, each day we fell more in love as she began to trust the rest of us even more. I admit that one of the hardest things about not fully gaining her trust was that any Chinese person that she saw, she would want. Bonding definitely didn’t come so easy in China.
AnnaClaire faced every day with courage. Each day, she woke up with smile on her face, ready to start the day… ready to go new places and try new things. She ate solid foods, walked, and most of all, she loved. Each and every day, it was more evident. She opened up more and started accepting not just Daddy. She rode on her first airplane ride to Guangzhou, Guangdong, and slept on Mom’s lap the whole way there. As if she wasn’t courageous enough, she became even more so as she left the only province she ever knew. I felt a pang of guilt as we took her away from her home.
Upon arriving in Guangzhou, we finally met up with the rest of our travel group. It was so fun seeing everyone with their new babies. All the girls and boys were so cute and it was fun watching them all together. We finished up the paperwork and completed the trip with our consulate appointment, which is required before coming back to the United States. On the morning of December 20, we started a thirty-one hour journey to our home in _____, North Carolina.
If the guilt of taking AnnaClaire from Hunan wasn’t enough, even more guilt arose as we flew home. The further we got from China, the worse I felt. We were taking AnnaClaire from all she ever knew. China is not just about the smog and pollution. It is filled with beautiful landmarks and wonderful people. We were taking AnnaClaire away from it all. She was being forced to leave her homeland, to come to America where no one looked like her or spoke her language. However, the joy that filled my heart far outweighed the guilt. AnnaClaire rode that airplane so courageously. She was facing new things, going new places, and she just went with it. A week and a half after joining our family, AnnaClaire had already formed an unbreakable bond that would only improve as time went on. We landed in ______ just before midnight that evening. She proudly walked from the gate, in her traditional Chinese clothes. We were brought to tears when we saw family and friends holding huge signs that read, “Welcome Home, AnnaClaire!”AnnaClaire courageously smiled and looked at her crowd as if to say, “I’m home.”
As our trip concluded, we got back to schedule, now including AnnaClaire in our everyday activities. It was an adjustment, but we enjoyed every minute with our little girl. AnnaClaire courageously faced the new experiences of living in America with such joy. She really showed me what courage means. I cannot imagine being left in front of an orphanage at one day old. I cannot imagine living in an orphanage. Most of all, I cannot imagine forming a new trust with a family, after I had already lost my first one. But AnnaClaire showed courage. Through every situation she was in, she was courageous.
AnnaClaire has been home almost fifteen months now, and you would never know that she was once an orphan. If she weren’t courageous, she would never be where she is now. She loves life and always has a huge smile on her face. What a significant change my sister has gone through in just a year. I wish I had the courage that my sweet AnnaClaire has. Courage is when you face a difficulty with bravery. However, to me courage is AnnaClaire Chenhui, my little sister.