Friday, May 30, 2014

Alphabet Soup

The adoption world is FULL of letters. There are abbreviations and acronyms for everything. It takes a while but soon these funny letter combinations are part of your everyday language, thoughts and prayers. There are a few major letters that we look forward to and celebrate as we attain them and can put a date by them. We've recently added a few letters to our "done" list: "DTC" means "Dossier to Ch!na" and it was a huge deal. Months and months of paperwork, interviews, approvals and authentications culminated in this beautiful packet of papers that represents us to our daughter's country. The way our agency handles the documents I wasn't able to hold the finalized, stamped and approved, stack of papers in my hands but nevertheless it was finally completed and shipped across the sea. It felt like such a victory to know that some part of us was in the same country as her. The next set of letters would come when someone took our dossier and logged it in the official system. When our papers were sent it was taking about 8-10 days to be logged in. Our agency said allow up to 3 weeks. Of course I knew all the buzz and was anticipating a phone call on day 8. It never came. It actually didn't come for 17 days. There were a group of us who had sent in our dossiers right around the same time who had this longer wait. Another family sent theirs in the day before us and it was approved in a week. I am fully convinced that someone picked up a stack of dossiers, put them on their desk, promptly got the flu and was out of the office for another week. It all worked out and we did get the next letters we were after . . . It is fun to celebrate each stop on the journey to our little girl. We hope she looks at our side of the journey she will how much she is loved now, even before she is in our arms forever.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Home Study

The first big step in any adoption is a home study. There are different requirements for domestic and international home studies so if you are contemplating adoption and want to start a home study you need to make that big decision first. Our agency, Lifeline Children's Services, has an office in South Carolina so we are considered an "in-state" family. This basically means a Lifeline social worker can handle all of our pre and post adoption needs as far as the home study goes (pre adoption) and post placement visits required by our daughter's country.

We started our adoption process in November of 2013 (see the timeline on the right). It was a busy time of year and we kept running into holidays but our social worker worked really hard for us and was able to schedule our visits pretty quickly. The home study isn't just a house inspection. While the social worker did spend time in our home and we did take her on a tour most of our time with her was telling her our entire life story. She interviewed us together as a couple and individually. We talked about every possible thing under the sun related to our marriage, parenting and adoption. We did a marriage assessment and talked over the results with her. Between our visits and phone calls we did a lot of education. Because we are adopting from a country that is part of the Hague Convention we had more education to complete. I found most of it really interesting and helpful. It was encouraging to see how much education is provided to help parents make appropriate decisions as part of the adoption process.

After we finished our meetings we waited for all of our criminal clearances, child abuse registry clearances and reference letters to come back in while she worked on writing up a huge report all about us. When she finished writing it we were able to give feed back to her as well as her supervisor and she made changes based on that. When a final copy was completed she sent it from Columbia (where she lives) to Charleston to be signed by her supervisor. Once it was signed by her supervisor she sent it back to Columbia to the South Carolina DSS (South Carolina has an extra step in the process where our home study has to be approved by the State). Unfortunately, our home study took the longest trip ever from Charleston to Columbia when it got stuck in the "epic snowstorm of 2014". It finally made it . . . just in time for President's Day so it got to sit at the UPS center for another day or so before it was finally delivered to DSS to await approval.

The home study process feels long . . . it is long. There is a lot of document chasing, meeting, reading and watching online videos. I remember feeling like I had done SO much yet I couldn't check a single thing off the "master adoption to do list". Everything I was working toward was just to check of that first thing - home study.

I've tried to take photos along the way of this part of the process because it is the very beginning of the story of our little girl joining our family. I look forward to showing her all of these pictures one day when I tell her that we were pursuing her before we even knew her.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Miracle of Life

I think about the very first moment I saw my children's faces. That moment when you behold your child's face for the very first time . . . there is nothing like it. I remember thinking "Oh, so this is who you are!" and they felt instantly familiar. It was as though I had been longing for them forever. Their faces were just blurry and I couldn't quite make out who they are. In that moment their faces came into focus and it felt so right.

It was also a bit shocking.

Especially the first time I gave birth. I knew my daughter very well. I knew her movements, kicks and rolls. I knew the adorable quiver of her hiccups several times a day. I remember waddling into the hospital to go to work as a nurse and feeling as though we were a team. I shared my life and my body with her for 9 months and we had a relationship. I talked to her, prayed over her and even read to her. On her birth day, when after hours of labor, I finally saw her perfectly formed, marvelous little body emerging from my own . . . it was shocking. There. was. a. baby. in. there. What?? Even after feeling her kick and roll around and even seeing ultrasound images of her it was still startling and overwhelming to me. Simply a miracle. With the boys, I knew what to expect and that just added to the anticipation. Still, in that moment it is so amazing to fully appreciate the beauty of birth and the miracle of life.

It would seem that our journey to meet our newest daughter would be quite different but I actually see many similarities. This entire phase of the adoption is sort of like the throwing-up-every-fifteen-minutes-and-going-to-bed-at-8pm phase. Not too much fun but still the promise that it will be worth it . . . one day. The next phase is when we see our daughter's face in a photograph for the first time. It will start to feel more real as we have an image of who she is and learn a little bit about her story. Excitement will set in as we anticipate her arrival. The final phase is one last painful push of paperwork and travel as we make our way halfway around the world and walk into an office building and she is placed in our arms. That moment, I believe, will be very similar to the first time I held my 3 other children for the first time. There are likely to be tears from both of us and I fully expect to feel the same overwhelming sense of shock that this . . . is . . . our . . . child. There really is a child at the end of this process. This is who we have been falling in love with all of these months, waiting for, working for, saving for, sacrificing for. This is her.

Her face is a bit blurry right now in my mind, even in the photos we will eventually see of her we won't fully see her until she is in our arms. I expect to feel the same shock that I felt the first time I experienced such a miracle.

I can't think about the birth of my biological children and not think about the birth of my adopted child. I know her birth mother had a relationship with her before she was born. She felt those first little flickers of life kicking in her womb. She felt those flickers grow to kicks and rolls as time went on. Perhaps her birth mother felt the same shock I did when she gave birth and saw her child for the very first time. I may never know any more than that about our daughter's birth which is really difficult for me because I know it will be difficult for her one day. But as a mother I do know that life and birth is a miracle and I'm confident that every mother shares in the bond of that miracle. So I share that bond with her birth mother also. I also have the privilege of looking at the same little face she saw and experiencing that miracle again.







The Long Road

The road leading us to this child, this adoption, has been very long. My first realization that I wanted to adopt came when I was a child and saw a 20/20 report on the orphans in Romanian. The images of those children- shaved heads, starving, rocking themselves in their cribs - seared into my soul. My immediate response was that I wanted to help a child like that one day. My heart has always been soft toward children in need (hence my chosen profession of pediatric nursing). The images of those children were a small seed planted many years ago.

When I was in nursing school I had the opportunity to visit Haiti and work in clinics with a clinical mentor who also ran an orphanage. This was a pivotal experience in my life for many reasons. One of them being that I really fell in love with the kids and developed relationships with them. Thankfully, I was able to visit Haiti many times over a several year span and continue those relationships. They weren't just "orphans" to me. They were children who had unique personalities, senses of humor and talents. They just lacked a family (for a long list of reasons). At that point I could definitely imagine adopting a child. When Rhett and I were getting serious in our relationship I told him he had to come to Haiti with me if he wanted a future with me. Thankfully he came and also fell in love the the kids and we talked about adopting "one day".

Life moved along, we married and started our family. Claire was born and 21 months later Ford came along. By this time we were making plans to move overseas. While adoption was something we loved and supported it didn't seem possible for us at the time. Gus was born 6 months before we moved to Kenya. We said the whole pregnancy that this was probably our last biological child. Rhett would say it definitively while I would say it half heartedly - mourning the end of that baby making season of our life. I definitely wanted to add to our family and after having 3 children in less than 3 1/2 years the idea of adoption did sound like a great option! We had our first visit to Lifeline Children's Services around that time. We learned about their different programs, timeframes and wait times. We went to Kenya thinking that when we came back we would adopt.

While we were in Kenya I watched my baby grow into a toddler and passed the point where I was usually pregnant again. I started to really want another biological child. In the meantime, our cross cultural experience living in Kenya had challenged us and changed us. We wondered if international adoption was really the best thing for us. Rhett was content but I was yearning for more children. The adoption spark dimmed in my heart and I entered a long season where I really desired another biological child. There were times that I would consider adoption as a way of adding to our family again but I was honestly so focused on having another biological child that it seemed very distant and not really a viable option anyway. When we moved back to the USA we were starting from scratch. We were in no way prepared to financially to start an adoption. Having another biological child seemed like the only option to have a child at all. Obviously we never had that biological child or I wouldn't be writing this.

One day I woke up and realized the pursuit for another biological child was over and we needed to move on. We had another serious adoption conversation. I really desired a newborn because my heart was yearning for another baby. I am one of those people who love pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, newborns, babies . . . all of it - I LOVE EVERY SLEEPLESS MINUTE. We considered domestic newborn adoption and had some hang ups. I remember praying and telling God that if He didn't want us to have another baby then He would need to change my heart. I didn't really think He would. I mean, I l.o.v.e. babies. How could that change? Well, imagine my surprise when over the course of a couple months it did. I saw people with newborns and realized how great it was to not have any children napping, or sitting in a high chair, or even needing a stroller! I thought of lugging around an infant car seat again and instead of having nostalgic pangs for babyhood . . . I didn't feel anything. How strange? What was God doing?

That led us to a decision to adopt . . . a toddler or young child (younger than our youngest was our thought). We decided to look into domestic options. We prayed, sought wisdom and made decisions as we researched what those options were. In the end we were surprised to find ourselves contemplating international adoption again. It seemed as though we had come full circle.

We were both a little surprised when we realized we were adopting a child from Asia! Asia isn't familiar to us. We've spent a lot of time in Haiti, traveled around Europe, lived a short time in South America and two years in Africa. We've spent 24 hours in Bangkok once and that was as close as we felt to the whole continent! It is neat that God is stretching us in that way. Giving us a gift we never expected.

Everyone has a different story of how they came to adopt. Ours is a long, winding tale that spans years. So many times we thought we had a plan. We thought we had the best plan. Sometimes wrestling those plans out of our hands was a long painful process. When I finally stopped and sought God and asked Him to change my heart (not give me what I longed for) He gave me a wonderful surprise. A route I never really imagined to our daughter in Asia. If I'm honest, I kicked and screamed and had hissy fits leading me to that point. I thought I had a better plan, an easier plan, a cheaper plan. My heart is so full of thankfulness at His MERCY. I can't tell you how often I think "I'm so glad I didn't miss this" - and we don't even know who our child is yet! I'm so glad I didn't miss this entire process and being part of the AMAZING community of people who I have met as an adoptive parent. My heart is full of thankfulness that I didn't miss this opportunity to be a part of something so much bigger than me and my plans. I'm thankful that adoption is a part of our life, our family and our story.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Expecting

Ex-pect verb 1. to look forward to; regard as likely to happen; anticipate the occurrence or the coming of 2. to anticipate the arrival of one's child origin: Latin ex (s) pectere: to look out for, await

Yes, friends we are expecting again. In them most marvelous and wonderful way, that only God could orchestrate, we are expecting (looking forward to, watching, looking for and awaiting) our next child. There are a lot of unknowns with this precious little one. Instead of doctor appointments and ultrasounds we have had social worker visits and fingerprint appointments. Instead of my waistline growing I have a bulging binder of documents on my table. To see our family you wouldn't know that we are expecting but we are praying for and dreaming about our little girl who is on the other side of the world right now. We are pursuing her with love as we step out in faith to open our family and home to a little girl who has neither.

Being "paperwork pregnant" is definitely a strange experience. So many questions and not a lot of answers at this point. Just waiting and waiting. We are thankful that our daughter's country has a very solid adoption process. We know exactly what the steps are and approximate waiting times for each step. We celebrate each milestone we reach and move on to the next wait. We are a busy family with 3 young children so as difficult as the waiting can seem we aren't really suffering very much with as full as our life is in this season. However, there is a precious little girl waiting for us and her waiting is much more difficult. I don't yet know what her circumstances are. Perhaps she is in a loving foster home with an adoring foster mom and dad or perhaps she is in a great orphanage that provides love and meaningful interaction. I like to think and hope that she is in one of those situations but the honest truth is that she may not be. She may be in a more difficult orphanage situation. When I think about the way my first three children spent their early years and how that might compare to where our daughter is right now my heart breaks. It drives my sense of urgency as I work toward bringing her home and redeeming those years without her.

But for now we wait. We look forward, we anticipate and we watch for her. We pray that God will supernaturally love and protect her until she is in our arms. We pray that He will send others to love her so that she is better able to receive our love one day. We welcome you to follow along on this journey with our family as we bring our daughter into the love of our family . . . forever.

P.S.

I've read a lot of adoption blogs over the years. It seems surreal that this blog now carries that title too. I am excited about recording our journey here for our family as well as an encouragement to those of you who might be considering adoption as a way to grow your family however some details aren't appropriate to share in this forum. I am very aware of the fact that our daughter will likely read this one day and I want to respect her privacy. I also want to protect the adoption process for others who will come behind us on this journey by being respectful of her birth country in East Asia and the process they have set forth for the adoption of children from her country. If details seem cryptic or sketchy as I write this may be the reason. I'm happy to correspond with you directly so please don't hesitate to post a comment.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Because he asked me to . . .

Hi. It's me. It's been awhile . . . The last time I was here, I was sitting at my dining room table at my house in Kenya taking one last, tearful, deep breath before loading all of our possessions and children into various vehicles and trekking 10,000 miles around the globe (again) headed for "home". The problem was although we felt like we were going home in a lot of ways we also felt like we were leaving home. Our children definitely felt like they were leaving the only home they really remembered. It was rough. But we dried tears and said good bye to our van, Winnie; our dog, Kuli; our house help, Esther; our yard worker, Jesse; our language teacher, Edward; the vegetable ladies at the market; Sarah at the Duka and all the other extraordinary people we are privileged to call friends in Kijabe that had become so familiar and, well, home, over the last 2 years of living life there. We watched one last magnificent sunset over the Great Rift Valley and thanked God for allowing us the opportunity to come, serve, live, see and experience life in that place. What a special hillside in Africa . . . Our last sunset in Kijabe We landed in Atlanta (after a short detour in London) and fell into the arms of our family. I'm pretty sure everyone at the airport heard the shouts of joy and excitement as we were all reunited again. Seeing our kids with their cousins was so special. They were running around in circles out of sheer joy despite 34 hours of travel. And just like that it was over. All the years of thinking, dreaming, praying, talking, saving, researching, reading scripture, searching for helpful blogs, reading books, training, meeting new friends along the same journey as us . . . it ended right there in the airport that night when we came "home". It's hard to describe all of the emotions involved in such big life decisions and changes. We knew that we were supposed to come back but it was still hard. There was a lot of grieving mixed into the happiness. Cousins at the airport Thankfully we planned a time of reentry debriefing at MTI in Colorado Springs. That sounds awfully complicated and serious but honestly it was just a little space. It was wonderful to be surrounded by people who understood us, our struggles and triumphs. We had time to think and process our experience and reenter life in the US well. They also did a phenomenal job helping our children adjust well. We still use some of the tools they taught them as we navigate life and transitions along the way. After living on the equator for 2 years we were thrilled when an unexpected late October storm blanketed us with a gentle covering of snow. Seeing our children giddy with excitement while sledding and taking long walks alone through the quiet, white woods was just what our souls needed as we prepared to step into a new life. It's difficult to summarize the last 2 1/2 years of our life. There have been some wonderful times and, honestly, a lot of struggles as we made a life in a new city where we basically knew a handful of people. But God has been gracious and faithful as we have grown closer to Him on this journey. Our marriage is stronger, our family is so close, our children have remarkable understanding, faith and compassion because we followed Him. I can't really describe what it is like to come back to everyday life after being gone for quite a while. When you first get here it is like everything is in HD. Everything seems sharp and clear and bright. Somethings are overwhelming but, no, I didn't end up in the fetal position on the cereal aisle. Everyone seems so busy, preoccupied and indifferent - almost arrogant. The smart phone invasion happened while we were away. Everyone is SO busy. I wouldn't really describe what I felt as culture shock (at least not the way I've experienced culture shock in the past). That vividness fades as things being to normalize again and feel familiar. We moved to a new city, Rhett started a new job, the kids started school and I tried to make a home. And so the past 2 years and 4 months have been filled with normal life. Work, school, sports, church and eventually even friends (although I really gave up on having friends ever again at one point). We have struggled in a lot of private areas and triumphed in others. We've grown closer as a family and closer to God. We have entered such a marvelous sweet spot with our children who are now 4, 6 and 8. Their little lives are flashing before our eyes. I still think of myself as a mom of really young children then I realize I HAVE AN 8 YEAR OLD. What in the world? As much as I grieve the passing of those precious years of babyness and toddlerness my heart has exploded with love and acceptance of these amazing little people I have the privilege of sharing my life with. Their minds are creative and insightful. They are so much FUN! They still think their Daddy and I are they best thing ever and want to spend all of their time with us. I try to dwell on how much fun we are having and how easy they are to be around right now so I don't get sad thinking about how they are not so little any more. So why am I blogging again? Well, as the title of this post says "he asked me to". Rhett has been asking me for a while if I would start writing again. I blamed it on our dinosaur of a computer and lack of time (both good excuses). But if I'm being honest I didn't even know what or how to write for a really long time. Even when I was in Kenya I had a hard time knowing how to write in a way that was honest, encouraging and good. When we got back life was a whirlwind in so many ways. I don't even think I could articulate how I was feeling and didn't feel like anything I had to say was worth reading most days. But, I appreciate and value what my husband says so I told him I'd think about it (hoping he wouldn't bring it up again). But he did. Again and again. He even got us a snazzy new computer and said "Does this mean you are going to write again?". Maybe he sees something in me that I don't see because I really don't think that I have much to say (I mean is any one still reading this?). And I have a few concerns . . . the blogosphere has changed a lot since I was here last. This started out as a way for our extended family to see our day to day life with babies because we lived at least several hours away and visits weren't frequent. It grew to a place for me to share and continue to keep record of our lives as we lived overseas. I'm very thankful for the journal I have of those times. But I feel like times have changed. Every time I turn around I'm reading blog post by someone (who usually has about 14 readers a month) who posts something and it goes viral on Facebook and next thing you know 76,000 people have read what you have to say. Not that I think more than 14 people really care what I have to say but I kind of thought of this as my little corner to share with friends and now it feels less like that. And there has been more than one occasion when I've made a social media blunder and regretted typed words. I love to blog and think and wonder and pose questions but sometimes others can hear those ponderings as judgmental, harsh or take them personally. So I'm trying to be mindful of this platform and realize that it's not my personal space to talk as much as it may seem but I also think Rhett is right. I need this space. My introvertedness shines as I write to process and think and share. Maybe a time comes to make this an actual private space but I've met some pretty awesome people through my blog and by reading others and I don't want to give that up if I don't have to. So, I'm back. Thanks to my husband who asked me to crank this old machine up again. I think I've got a little cleaning up to do around here! I've got a long list of things I can't wait to talk about and share. I'm thankful for a husband who loves me and loves to hear what I have to say here. I'm thankful that he knows me well enough to see that this is a good place for me to be. .

Friday, October 07, 2011

Starting to say good-bye . . .

Well the time has come. It is hard to believe that in one week we will be headed back to the U.S. . . . home. Which is strange because somewhere along the way this actually started feeling like home. So now we are headed back to our old home but grieving the loss of this home and all we have here. Moving is always complicated and emotionally challenging but I think moving cross-culturally amplifies things. What if I am one of those people who arrives in America, heads straight to Wal-Mart and ends up in the fetal position on the floor overwhelmed with all of the choices and excess? I doubt it because I am really looking forward to shopping but you never know what can happen so I'm trying to prepare myself.

I'm trying to prepare the kids the best I can. I told Ford the other day "When we live in America we won't wash our dishes in the sink. We will have a big box that we put them in and when we take them out they will be clean" and "We won't hang our clothes out on the line either. We will put them in another box to dry them". Mostly the kids are the saddest about leaving our dog which I knew would happen we we got the dog but she has been worth it. We are all in different states of limbo - sometimes really excited about what is waiting for us and at other times really sad about what we are leaving. Which can be confusing with all of us at different states at different times!

I know we will be OK once we get there and get a little settled. But this in between time is killer. I feel like someone is pulling a band aid off really slowly for about two weeks.

Rhett's colleagues in the AIDS Relief training program hosted a going away party for him and two others in the program a couple of weeks ago. It was amazing. I can't believe the effort they put forth for us. Here is the party in pictures . . .

We drove about 40 minutes away to a hotel in Limuru for the party.

Now this looks really safe . . .


The setting of the party . . .



Our good friend and Rhett's colleague, Millicent.



The kids enjoying a lunch (mostly chipatis their favorite Kenyan food)



There are no words for this picture. I'm just thankful there are a lot of people at there praying for our safety.



Rhett giving his speech. There were speeches all around. Even I gave a speech! Their culture is still quite formal which I really enjoy. There are speeches and ceremonies and greetings.



This was during the gift presentation



This is the AMAZING photo collage they gave Rhett as one of his many parting gifts. You will find this proudly hanging in his new office I'm sure!



This cake sure looks good . . . but it's not really. We learned early on that Kenyans do not like sweet desserts so things often looks so yummy then you dig in and realize there is about 1/2 teaspoon of sugar in the whole cake - not so yummy.



Trying to get a group photo . . .



So that was our wonderful send off from an amazing group of people who work really hard to care for people who are often ignored or despised in their culture. The stigma of HIV is changing every so slowly but there is still a long way to go.

Many more good byes in the days to come . . .

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Your generosity has done this . . .

Late last year, through a long variety of circumstances, we came to know of some refugees from a communist country in Africa. This group of men had been arrested during a church service - that was their crime. The next 7 or so years they were imprisoned in different military prisons. At one point they spent several years in shipping containers in the desert of this hot country. They were only let out to relieve themselves twice a day. They were tied up, tortured and beaten. Then the were moved to a solitary confinement prison work camp. They were only let out of their underground cells to do hard labor during harvest time. Remember their crime was attending a worship service.

Finally they were able to orchestrate an escape attempt during their labor time in the fields. They ran through thorns, encountered a leopard, were separated from each other and each met individuals who did what they could to help them escape to a neighboring country. It was there that they were helped by Voice of the Martyrs to come to Kenya. And from there they were brought to Kijabe for care after their years in captivity. Rhett was asked to see them and address their health issues and from there our very special friendship started.

They joined us in our home for a meal. What do you serve people who have been in prison for the last 7 years? I was a little nervous. I bombed on the meal. I went bland on the food thinking anything spicy might be too much for them and it turns out their native food is quite spicy and my potato soup wasn't much of a hit. Cupcakes for dessert? Too sweet. They also ate them with a fork which I thought was cute! Anyway, we sat around our dining room table honored and humbled to have these persecuted Christians in our presence. They were mere weeks from their escape ordeal. They were emaciated and had a look in their eyes like photos I've seen from concentration camp victims. Physically the needed time to heal from their past and emotionally as well.

One feeling I had as we talked with them was that they seemed to have forgotten how to smile. They looked around nervously and seemed awkward when it came to smiling. Then at one point it was time for my kids to go to bed and asked them to go say good night to our guests. Claire walked in and gave a corporate "Good Night" but Ford started around the table with a "Good Night" and a hug and and kiss for each person. It was as if time stood still and my little 3 year old blonde angel gave the first loving touch and affection to these men that they had received in years. And something amazing happened. Smiles and tears. I felt as though God was giving them a little love through Ford right there and telling them it was OK.

We are thankful for our friendship with these special guys. We have continued to keep in touch with them and Rhett has seen them on a couple occasions since our first meeting. All of you who have supported us financially have also been a part of this story. We were able to pay for all of their medical and dental bills as well as their substantial bill for counseling at a center in Nairobi who helps refugees deal with the horrors of their past. We found it an honor to help our brothers in Christ and we wanted to make sure you knew what part you played in helping them too.

That has been one of the most amazing and fulfilling part of being here. We are able to truly see and know the needs first hand and have the privilege of helping and showing compassion to those around us. Thank you for your support that makes this possible. Please continue to pray for our friends. They have a long road to travel. They can never return to their country. They struggle with the thoughts of what might have happened to their families in response to their escape. But they have joy in Christ and have faith that inspires.