2 Boys, 2 Journeys, 1 Amazing God

William and Jack in Show Hope's Zhengzhou Special Care Center - June 2014

William and Jack in Show Hope’s Zhengzhou Special Care Center – June 2013

William and Jack - August 1, 2015

William and Jack – August 1, 2015

Yesterday was a day that I will never forget. When we brought William home from China, over and over again, he told us how much he missed his “brother” Jack. William and Jack lived together in Show Hope’s Zhengzhou Special Care Center before they were adopted. In China, they were inseparable. You can read their story here http://showhope.org/quincy-and-hayward/.

Jack came home to his forever family this past December. William of course came home in January 2014. Because of some medical challenges Jack really hasn’t been able to travel too far from home. However, yesterday we had the privilege of reuniting our boys in Huntsville, Alabama via Johnson City, TN and Brandon, Mississippi. My eyes filled with tears as William jumped out of the car, and ran over to greet his “brother” Jack. Jack is a couple of years younger than William and so Jack’s memories of their time spent together are a little foggier. And so when we first arrived, I heard William say to Jack, “Do you remember when we lived as brothers in China? We’re bros!” From that moment on, the two held hands the majority of the day. Inseparable.

You know, between our two families, we know a little bit about the first few years of our boys’ lives. Through it all, our amazing God was writing an unbelievable story, a story that yesterday brought each of us to Huntsville, Alabama, of all places.

Yesterday it was as if something that had been lost was found and something that was separated had been reunited.

You know, each of us are on a journey. Our journeys are filled with ups, downs, and scary moments of uncertainty that make no sense. Rest assured the eyes of a loving Father are upon you. His plans for you are good. His attention to detail is beyond comprehension. Sometimes I get so anxious about both the present and the future. I’m grateful that he takes us to Huntsville via Zhengzhou, China, Brandon, Mississippi, and Johnson City, TN to remind us that He’s got everything under control.

2 boys, 2 journeys, reunited by One amazing God!

Looking Back, Dreaming Ahead

A year ago today, we began our 30-hour adventure home. We were apprehensive yet confident, weary yet expectant.

I remember so vividly waiting to board our plane. My mind was racing with the reminder that after studying William’s files in 2012, leading pediatric cardiologists had told us that his heart wouldn’t be strong enough to endure the flight to the US. And just a year later, many of those same physicians looked at his file and determined that his condition had miraculously improved. And although he still needed surgery, there was no imminent danger in bringing him home. Yet still, as we waited to board, all the “what if’s” flooded my mind. What if something went wrong? What if the flight somehow complicated his medical condition? What if? What if? What if? Yet the Holy Spirit continued to remind me that He who began this work in us, would be faithful to complete it. He faithfully completes everything He starts!

And so at 1 am, we boarded a short flight from Hong Kong to Seoul, South Korea, where we would board the long flight to Atlanta. Although I was tired, I had determined that I would stay awake and allow Samantha to rest. I set an alarm to remind us of medication times and sat back and prayed, as I watched William’s chest rise and fall with each new breath. The flight was largely uneventful until we were about 30 minutes away from Seoul. William was asleep when Samantha abruptly woke up and told me she wasn’t feeling well. As she reached for the airsickness bag, immediately she collapsed and fell into the seat in front of her. I asked her if she was ok, and she was completely unresponsive. Trust me when I say it was an intense moment, but looking back on it now, it was pretty comical. I stood up and shouted, “Is there a doctor on the plane?” As I looked around all I saw were Asian people who were mostly sleeping.   And it was obvious that the ones who were awake spoke little to no English.

Yeah, it’s funny now but in the moment, I was terrified! What in the world was going on? Inside I’m thinking, “Girl, you better wake up! I didn’t sign up to do this alone!” Still standing in the aisle looking for someone to help me, I noticed a stewardess coming my way. She looked at Sam and screamed. I know, right? Some help she was. I’m making this sound like forever, but it really couldn’t have been more than about 60 seconds….but it felt like an eternity to me. Eventually, Sam woke up and by that time we were surrounded by every flight attendant on the plane. They put an oxygen mask around Samantha and in broken English one flight attendant kept telling me to calm down. Honestly, I was calm. I guess he was trained to say that. The funny thing was, William slept through the whole ordeal.

Well, as soon as we landed, we were met by a wheelchair and Samantha was wheeled through the airport at breakneck speed….literally. I was running behind carrying three or four pieces of carry-on luggage and William who still was fast asleep. Samantha kept saying, “James, where are we going? Where are we going? I am fine!” Before we knew it, we were taken through customs and into Korea to an airport hospital. Now, I guess you could call that place a hospital. Seemingly, I had more medical knowledge than the so-called doctor. Maybe I’m being harsh but I did have to suggest that we take Sam’s blood pressure. Anyway, after she did a Google search her words were “She either has vasovagal syncope or some terrible brain disorder that needs to be treated immediately.” We were like “Great….thanks for that….especially since we are about to fly for the next 24 hours.”

Keep in mind, our faithful Father allowed William to continue to sleep through all of this. What a blessing that was, as these events would have made him so afraid. Really, there are so many more details that I could share including the fact that the so-called doctor told me that I had to pay her for her Google medical diagnosis. She said we had to pay to receive a medical certificate to fly. I was a little angered and said, “Ma’am I’m not Korean. To which she said yes sir, that is very obvious.” When she told me her Google medical diagnosis was only $20, I gave in and paid her the money.

Once we were back in the terminal, I was able to get in touch with my family, who got us in touch with our family physician who is also our good friend. He told me that knowing Sam’s medical history, likely she did have vasovagal syncope, which can cause you to black out when you experience pain. He said, “James, you don’t need to worry. Get on that plane and come home. Sam is going to be fine.”

At that point, once I was able to relax a bit I realized that somewhere along the way, William had peed all over me as I was holding him in my arms while he was asleep throughout this entire ordeal. I also realized that I had an unusually toxic case of BO that seemed to have come about as a result of the marathon wheelchair race through the Seoul airport.   Yep, reeking of pee and BO, we flew for the next 24 hours!

Oh yeah, did I mention that William did just fine? Not only was he fine medically, he simply couldn’t get enough of the airplane. God was so faithful through every step of the journey.

I share all that to say, this first year as a family has had its scary moments. To be honest, January through May-ish were incredibly challenging. It seemed like we were going to a different doctor every day, all the while we were trying to teach him English, and all of us were learning to become a family. Then of course in May, William had surgery to have his left kidney removed.

Yes, there have been some moments where it felt like we had no clue what was going on and how things were going to turn out, but time and time again we were reminded that our God faithfully completes everything He starts. Immediately after surgery in May, we were able to decrease William’s blood pressure medication from 7 doses a day to half of 1 dose, once a day. Oh and get this, as of yesterday we are now in the process of weaning him off of his medication entirely. Isn’t that crazy, 364 days after we came home, we are now in the process of coming off of our last medication! On top of that, William’s doctors believe that there will be no lasting damage done to his heart! To God be the Glory! What man said was impossible, what man said would never happen has happened! To God be the Glory! Nothing is impossible with God.

Without question, 2014 is a year we will never forget! Thank you for the many ways you have helped us throughout this year. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for cooking us dinner. Thank you for giving so generously! Thank you for loving us and being the hands and feet of Christ to us!

We are amazed by all that God has done. Not only does William speak fluently, but he is thriving in kindergarten and learning to read. The more time we spend with him and really get to know William, the more grateful we are. He has such a sweet, kind, and generous heart. We love being his parents. Truly, he is such a joy and a gift from the Lord!

Today, William said, “You know guys, God always has a plan for our lives.” That’s right little man! He does! And I for one can’t wait to see what the Lord has in store for William’s life. Knowing and seeing all that the Lord has already done, there must be great things ahead!

We love you! Thanks for loving us so well!

You may have seen some of these images before, but here are a few of our favorites of 2014!  This year was filled with so many firsts!

flight to triGetting on the last plane of the trip ~ Atlanta to Tri-Cities!

meeting grammie

Finally, we’re home!  Meeting Nai Nai for the first time!


First snow of the year!


What’s up Ralphie??


Photo shoot with Uncle Mike.  He looks so little!


Hanging out at his favorite place ~ SWEET FROG!


William’s first time in the ocean ~ Spring Break Trip with The Well.



First fishing trip with Yaya!


When he’s not playing with the worms, the kid loves to fish!


Coloring Easter Eggs for the first time.  William asked, “What do eggs have to do with Easter, Dad?”  Good question!


A boy and his grandpa – Easter Parade


Meeting his best bud Cora Boo Boo for the first time!




Digging in the dirt for caterpillars!


This smile was captured by putting the caterpillar he found in the previous image, on top of the camera lens.


YIKES!  Checking out the polar bears at the Cincinnati Zoo!


Surgery Day at Cincinnati Children’s ~ William wanted to make certain that Clifford was prepped and ready!


A fun day meeting the Gery/Rumley cousins!


Hilton Head Vacation with the McNeills


The kid loves to swim!


Birthday Party Fun!


Docs said he would never be able to get on a plane but because of the generosity of our good friend Dan Miller, not only did he get on a plane but he got to fly one as well!


A late summer day in Blowing Rock ~ I can’t say enough about how incredible of a mom Sam has become!


No caption needed!  What a gift from the Lord to be able to go to Providence Academy!


Our favorite time of the day, bedtime stories.


William’s first UT game.  We had to get there early and take it all in!  He’s still convinced that I could take out any of the football players.  I’ll take it while I can!


First time picking out a pumpkin!


We don’t normally go to the beach more than once a year, if that!  HA!  I guess 2014 was a special year!  Fall Break in Hilton Head.


Taking it all in!


Dress up like your favorite book character day at school!




First time jumping in the leaves!


Cutting down our first family Christmas tree.  William did it all by himself.  Just kidding!


Decorating Christmas cookies with Nana and Papa.  What a special day!


Meeting Santa for the first time.  William carried on a conversation with Santa for at least 10 minutes.  He asked Santa, “How many reindeer do you have?”  Santa answered by saying, “11.”  William said, “That’s funny.  I thought you had 9 including Rudolph.”  Quick on his feet Santa said, “Well, I have two on reserve.”  When he left our table Santa came over to me and said, “William is very talkative and knowledgeable.”  HAHA!


Dressed as a shepherd for chapel at school.danielwilliam

Making Christmas cookies ~ decorating some, eating most!IMG_7748

Gotcha Day Celebration and Child Dedication at our home.


Smiling as I showed some videos of our trip to China to bring him home.


Gotcha Day 2014!  Celebrating our first year as a family.


Christmas Eve ~ a very McNeill Nativity.

On the mend….

It’s amazing how things often come full circle. Standing by William’s bed last Thursday afternoon as he woke up in the recovery room, we did the only things we knew to do. We prayed, and we sang. We sang, “He’s got you and me, William, in His hands. He’s got you and me, William, in His Hands. He’s got you and me, William, in His hands. He’s got the whole world in His hands.” As we sang, my eye caught Sam’s and suddenly the last 5 months came full circle. Back in December when we went to pick him up in China, as we each struggled through the challenges of the adoption process, we often sang this song over and over again. At that time, William didn’t understand very much English. Mostly we sang to remind ourselves that God had each of us right where He wanted us, in the palm of His hand. Thursday as we sang, we were 5 months down the road having seen the hand of God in so many aspects of this process. Without question, we sang with greater confidence.

Let me back up….

Last Wednesday, we met and consulted with the surgeon, Dr. William DeFoor. William thought he was great because they shared the same name. We thought he was great because not only is he one of the best in his field, he also was able to put us at ease as he explained the robot-assisted procedure. That afternoon, we took William to the zoo and enjoyed the afternoon together. Later that evening, we had the opportunity to go on a tour of the hospital allowing William to see each room he would enter the following day. From the waiting room, to the operating room, in a “kid-friendly way,” we walked through the entire process. Honestly, it was a lot of fun and on Thursday it helped William realize he didn’t need to be afraid because he had done all of it before!

Later that night, mom and dad arrived to be with us for the remainder or our time in Cincinnati. We went to dinner at a fun place called Tom and Chee, which serves “specialty” grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.

The next morning we woke up early in order to arrive at the hospital at 9 for his surgery scheduled at 11:10AM. As we waited in the holding room child life specialists came to play with William, brought him toys and movies, and helped to distract him from his surroundings. At about 11:30 we were taken to the induction room where we were able to stay with William until he fell asleep. For months we had known this moment would come, but still, Sam and I found ourselves fighting back the tears as William fell asleep and we let go of his little hand.

Walking out of that room was one of the hardest things I have done in my adult life. In faith I whispered to the Lord, “Nothing is impossible with you, God.” As we were escorted to the waiting room, Sam and I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. The nurse said all the right things about how William would be well taken care of and that he was in good hands; however, she really had no clue where the tears were coming from. She had no clue how the last few years had led us to this very moment. She had no clue that we really weren’t afraid, but more overcome with the reality of God’s ever-present hand upon William’s life. Ok, so maybe we were a little nervous. I was at least. Sam was stronger and more confident in that moment than I was. As we walked hand in hand I was reminded, “Two are better than one!”

When we returned to the waiting room, mom and dad were waiting there for us. The procedure was long, almost 3.5 hours total. However, the wait was made shorter as every hour or so we were given an update and told how things were going.

Sitting in the waiting room with other families reminded me of just how grateful we need to be. The medical needs in the waiting room were both vast and overwhelming. Some of the families were there for a short stay. Others had bags in hand as literally they were preparing to move into the hospital. One hospital worker looked at me and said, “Just be glad your need can be fixed. Lots of families are here day in and day out with no change.”

Finally, we were told that the surgery was over and that the doctor was ready to see us. We were taken to a small consultation room where we waited for Dr. DeFoor to meet with us. Samantha looked over at me and asked, “Do you feel better now?” I said, “I’ll feel better when he tells us that everything is ok.” She just smiled and gave me grace the way she so often does in moments of anxiety.

He told us that the surgery was free of complication and went as planned. He also told us that when the kidney was removed William’s systolic blood pressure dropped from 130 to 95! That was amazing news and what we were hoping to see happen! All along, our prayer has been that as a result of this surgery, William’s blood pressure would come down allowing him to come off some, if not all, of his blood pressure medication.

After the consultation, we were taken to be with William as he woke up. For him, it was as if we never left! As I said before, we sang to him, prayed over him, and comforted him. We even had a chance to share William’s story and our faith with our recovery room nurse. Again, as we sang “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” a doorway opened and the conversation went from there.

It was amazing how quickly William began feeling better. Almost immediately after arriving in our room, he began sipping on water and eating crackers. Within a couple hours, he had eaten a small dinner, worked a puzzle sent to him by the children’s ministry at GFC, and before long it was time to go to sleep.

That night, Sam and I both spent the night at the hospital. We “slept” on a plastic pull out couch that probably was adequately sized for Sam but certainly not the both of us. I was happy to let her sleep. I just sat there and talked to the Lord, watched our boy, and helped the nurses as they came in each hour.

On Friday morning, William was quite sore. However, before long he was up and ready to go to the playroom where he played air hockey, watched a magic show, played with cars, and on and on. Hospitals aren’t fun places, but if you have to be at a hospital, Cincinnati Children’s makes every effort to make it a fun place!

On Saturday William was feeling even better, and thankfully, we were discharged early afternoon to go home. As dad and I were walking to the elevator to pack the car, a code blue was called on our floor. Doctors and nurses ran by us, and as we got on the elevator we saw the crash cart. As the elevator doors closed, it hit me once again. Tears filled my eyes as I prayed for this child and as I realized that only because of God’s grace, it wasn’t our child who needed assistance.

Now a week later, things are going really well. Here is a massive praise! Before the procedure, William received 7 doses of different blood pressure medications each day. Since the surgery, he has been receiving ½ of 1 dose once a day!!! His blood pressure is significantly down although still just a touch high. It could take some time for his blood pressure to normalize. Right now, the docs are very happy that his levels are where they are with so little medication, and they don’t want to overmedicate him until they see how his body responds in the days to come.

Praise the Lord for He has done great things! This has turned into a really long post, but we wanted to give you as many details as possible.

We also want to say how grateful we are to those of you who have prayed for us, called, given to help with medical needs, sent cards, balloons, toys, brought food, and on and on and on. I continue to be amazed by the beautiful body of Christ ~ I just don’t see how folks get through life without Jesus and without His church!

Thanks for loving us the way you do!

James, for the three of us

Hanging out with the elepants

Hanging out with the elephants


William loved the manatees. He kept saying, “Baba, that is a huge fish!”


Sam is still laughing at me for calling the rhinos, rhinosauruses!


Prepping Clifford for surgery


On the mend….


Air hockey in the playroom!

leaving hospital

Finally leaving the hospital!