Sunday, September 27, 2015

These Are My Favorite Shoes. (it's not about the shoes)

I searched high and low for them.  Spent too many minutes hours scouring online for the best deal.  Finally clicked "add to cart" and waited anxiously for them to arrive.  These would be my favorites.  Cute, stylish but not too trendy, sturdy, comfortable, versatile.  They were going to save me SO much space in my suitcase, because you see, these shoes are PERFECT.  They are the only pair I would need in China.  Wear them with a dress, wear them with shorts, with jeans, with crops.  Yep, I would be SO GLAD I only needed one pair of shoes for the whole trip.

You know the type, right?  Open the box.  The smell so goooood!  MMMMMmmmm I love the smell of  new leather shoes.  The only possible rival smell is an old leather bound book.  Inhale.  Breathe.  Sigh of Satisfaction.  Even cuter than they looked online.  And they're a perfect fit!  Wear them around the house first to break them in.  Oh, they feel good!  Wear them out to the store the first time... hm, they do pinch a bit.  But don't worry, shoes, it's not you, it's me.  If I wear them enough, in little bits at a time, my feet will get used to them and they will be my FaVoRiTe shoes ever!

T- 3 days to lift off.  Ok, It's not me, it's you. I tried.  I broke you in.  I grew a new callous.  But you just don't have the arch support I need.  My knees ache.  My feet ache.  My back aches.  But at least you don't pinch any more.  Mom to the rescue, as always.  She suggests orthotics.  2 days till launch and I gutted your soles and added in that arch support I needed.  Now we're BFF's.

Except now I've changed the way they fit.  The callous I got gently breaking them in needs to be in a different spot now that the insole is thicker and the arch support greater.  But  now we're in China.  Me and my only pair of shoes.  Day 1, touch down and taxi to airport.  I got this.  Day 2, hiking the Great Wall.  I survived the morning, then found out our guide had plans to march us around a park where we could CLIMB some more and get a great view of the forbidden city from above.  Sigh.  Brave face.  Made it through.  Day 3 dawns and my first thought is "please, not the shoes!"  No other choice.  Toured the Forbidden City on our own (pinch, ache, climb, walk, pinch, ache...)  It was AMAZING, but I was seriously reconsidering this whole concept of packing light.  In the afternoon I gladly slipped them off in the taxi on the way to the train station and then had 2 hours of shoeless bliss on the bullet train.  Day 4.  I'm not gonna lie.  This one was tough.  I woke up with hope that it wouldn't be that bad.  And it wasn't.  At first.  This was our last day of sight-seeing before our focus shifted entirely to our purpose for our journey - our son.  We scheduled a day trip.  Hear that ?  DAY trip.  Train in the morning to Xi'an, visit the Terracotta Warrior Museum, train back to Zhengzhou in the evening.  I booked tickets in advance and they were delivered to our hotel.  We had been assured this was a great itinerary for a day trip.  Eric and I vowed, as best friends do, never to share all the details of our misadventures in Xi'an.  Suffice it to say for the purpose of this blog post that by the end of the "day" we had walked over 10 miles... TEN MILES... and never made it on that train back to Zhengzhou.  Well, we did hop on to A train to Zhengzhou, but by God's mercy we hopped right back off just as it was about to pull away.  Tip to future travelers... if you miss the last bullet train out in the evening, do not settle for the regular train thinking "how bad can it be?" unless you are ready to sit on the filthy floor of the box car (yep, they give out "standing room only" seats in the economy class cars with no A/C and smoking is allowed) for nearly seven hours through the night to arrive at your destination at 3am.  Just before midnight the day of our "day trip" we managed to get in to a swanky international hotel where we were greeted with utmost confusion ("what do you mean, 'no bags'?") and got a message to our guide who would be expecting us in our hotel lobby the next morning 300 miles away!  I washed my swollen, bleeding feet and fell into bed.  We woke up early on day 5 to get the first bullet train back to our son's home province and my very first thought was "NO!  NOT THE SHOES!!!!!"  I think I cried silent tears that morning walking to the subway, and again enjoyed a shoeless ride on the bullet train.  Please, no one tell me if it is a huge cultural fauxpax to go shoeless on a train in China.

Morning dawned day 6, one of my best days ever, and anticipation flooded my senses.  We ate breakfast, spent time in prayer, packed a tiny blue backpack with the name "Titus" embroidered on it.  We loaded up in a van with our guide and driver and drove to the office of Civil Affairs where our son would eventually come into our arms.  You know what? I don't even remember putting on the shoes.  Not that day, not the next day, or the day after that.  (but I wasn't barefoot)  I don't even remember thinking about the shoes again until the end of that week when we were at the zoo and I realized my feet didn't hurt at all after walking all around it while carrying an extra 25lbs in the Ergo. Finally my shoes and my feet found equilibrium.

Today, these are truly my favorite shoes.  Not only because of how wonderful they feel on my feet, but also because all we've been through together.  


But I said it's not about the shoes... It's about my boys.  We brought Titus home at 3 1/2 years old to our other children who were 7, 5, and 2.  In all reality, due to his special needs and expected institutional delays, we have done what is called "artificially twinning", or adopting a child who is the same age (chronologically or developmentally) as another child in the family.  This is typically seen as more challenging than adoption of a child younger than your youngest.  Not only did our 2 year old miss us and not fully understand why we had left for so long, but when we returned we brought home another little boy.  A needy little boy.  We had spent all year preparing our family.  We talked about and prayed for Titus daily.   We prepared our two year old as best we knew how.  Zane sweetly called him "ty-tee". 

But I was not prepared for Zane's grief.  Once the initial joy over having us home wore off, Zane grieved bitterly.  He grieved my loss of attention.  He grieved that the space of my arms was occupied.  We tried to find as many ways as possible to spend one-on-one time with him, like we used to.  But he had lost a bit of me and my time to another little boy.  A boy who was himself grieving too, and expressing it in the only ways he knew how - kicking, hitting, scratching, biting, screaming.  Mostly directed at Zane.  When Zane woke up every morning or from every nap time the first thing he did was howl the deepest, most painful cry I have ever heard.  It was as if his inflamed, bleeding soul was saying "NO!  NOT THE SHOES!!!"   The days have slowly gotten better.  He is learning to accomodate.  I am learning to accomodate.  They're even becoming buddies.  But the first weeks home were dark, scary, lonely.  There was no option but to press on, and I knew deep in my heart that all of this was right.  A good friend spoke a beautiful and difficult truth to me, that this is also part of Zane's character development and growth just hurts.  But OH, I hated seeing my baby hurt.
Both sobbing.
We've been in this new chapter for two months now and the pinches and chafing are starting to go away.  We have put a LOT of work in to the bonding of our two little brothers.  We've given it as much intention, attention, and prayer as we are giving to our bonding as parents with Titus.  Now when one child hits another it is usually to instigate a laughter-filled chase.  Life is beginning to feel comfortable.  So much so that sometimes I can hardly believe it has ONLY been two months!  Some days I forget the newness of it all because it feels so right.  On the nights I don't fall asleep with the boys (who most nights both fall asleep half wrestling- half cuddling each other in my bed), I slip off my shoes and sigh in relief at the few minutes of quiet.  This becoming a family business is tough work, but it is so very rewarding.  Not for one minute have I doubted our decision to adopt.  Not for a second have I second guessed our decision to adopt Titus.


If you are part of our prayer team, would you please join us in praying for our boys?  They have both become so much more comfortable over the past few weeks and we are still praying with anticipation for the day they both wake up and realize it doesn't hurt anymore, and just maybe they can be each other's favorite.

If you are in an uncomfortable season, be it adoption, a new job, family dynamics, etc., let me encourage you to keep on.  Persevere.  Take the moments you can to slip off your shoes and breathe for a bit, but put them back on with courage.  My prayer for you is that you will know this truth, and hold on to hope:

"We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not disappoint because God's love has been poured out into our hearts..."  Romans 5:4-5




Saturday, August 29, 2015

3-2-1-Baby

Titus has been a Johnson for a month now!  In many ways life with him still feels so new, and in other ways it feels like he's always been here.  Without a doubt, it feels right.  We are so blessed to have him as our son!

So, what's it really like?  How are we doing?  What is HE like?  The best way I can put it is that having him home is like having a 3-2-1 year-old baby.


Like other three year-olds, Titus has a zest for life!  He has boundless energy that begs to go to the park at 6am (which I sometimes indulge) and the pool almost every afternoon.  He is a sponge for immitating behavior.  His memory is incredible - he remembered a week later that the bakery lady gave him a free cookie the first time and now he gestures for it each week!  Now three weeks later he says "mmmmmm" (yum) when we pull in to the parking lot!  He likes to be helpful and you'll often find him running the swiffer on the floor after dinner or helping place newly washed clothes in the dryer.  He is independent in some ways I didn't expect, such as washing his own hair in the tub and rinsing his dishes in the bathroom sink after a meal.  He enjoys displaying his ability to put his socks and shoes on by himself.




Like his two year-old brother, he is finding his voice and learning to express his opinions.  He didn't have many options in the orphanage and now enjoys the freedom to accept, reject, and make requests.  Giving heed to his reasonable wishes are a great way of buidling trust with him.  He is learning the expectations and boundaries in our home.  He has a heart to learn and do what is right.  When he finds an activity he likes he desires endless repetition, whether it is walking up and down the stairs, climbing in and out of the pool or humming a new sound sequence.  He's working on making new pathways in his brain and it is exciting to watch.   He loves anything musical and hums his way through his days.  He is not speaking much and his speech is not clear, but he is vocalizing more sounds than he did when we first received him.  He understands and obeys simple commands in English now, such as "come here", "sit down", "lay down", "give me a hug/kiss/high five".  Last night I asked him, "Do you want your (Chinese childrens') music?" and he answered, "My moo!"  


Feeding him and taking care of his basic needs is more like having a one year-old.  He is a little guy, wearing 18 month sized clothing and using the size 3 diapers Zane outgrew about a year ago (glad I hung on to them!).  He was still formula-fed before coming to us, with the excecption of soft fruits, rice, noodles, and soft steamed buns, so most of what we feed him is soft and cut into small bites.  His laugh is infectious and he loves simple games like peek-a-boo and simple toys like stacking cups and shape sorters.  So many things are new to him that he walks around with the kind of curiosity and wonder of a younger child.  It is enchanting to see him take in a new environment the first time we go somewhere new.


As for all of our children, we hope and pray that his development will allow him to excel in life and make the most of every opportunity.  For now, though, in the newness of him coming to our family, I am so thrilled with the ways he is asking for and accepting the nurture of an infant.  The bonding opportunities it provides are priceless and he is showing increased trust daily.  His coos and hums are like a young baby and he has the cutest squeak that reminds me of my others' newborn days.  We all missed quite a lot when he was tiny - during the years we didn't know he existed and the year we worked hard to bring him home.  I'd give anything to get to snuggle "Tiny Titus" and have him never know years without a mother's love.  Much of his first year was spent in an isolette, without the touch and nurture we take for granted with our biological children.  Now that he is finally home we have a lot of lost time to make up for.  On average, I spend 2-3 hours daily rocking, bouncing, swaying, and soothing.  His head cradled against my chest, I sing the hymns and songs my other children have known from the womb. I pray healing over his body, spirit, and soul, and talk with God about my hopes and dreams for the kind of man this little heart will become.  He spends another hour or so each day sweet and snug in the Ergo carrier while I homeschool, cook meals, or clean.  This baby loves to be close to his Mama and often drags over the carrier or ball to let me know he needs it.

A phrase we've heard several times in our adoption training is "invest now, or pay later."  We are giving all we have into the investment of attachment and bonding.  Like most things that are truly worthwhile it is wearysome, but oh so good.  Over the three weeks we've been home, he has progressed from scant eye contact to sustaining eye contact while we cuddle.  In the last few days he has begun giving unprompted hugs and kisses!  He has gone from rejecting Daddy to running into Daddy's arms.

So, in these "newborn" days and with also spending several hours each day in homeschooling and being sure to give Zane the much-craved one-on-one time we used to share, I rarely have a moment alone and I can't always tell you the last time I managed to shower.   I'm in a foggy state of bliss and wouldn't have it any other way!  Our family is smitten with him and as Kaira would say, "He is just the cutest thing ever!"  Emmalia says, "I can't imagine if we didn't adopt him.  I don't even want to think about it."  The outpouring of love we have received from our community through meals, drop-by chocolate, phone calls, and encouraging messages have helped give us the energy it takes to keep up with our new 3-2-1 year-old baby and spend so much time focused on bonding and meeting our family's emotional needs in this transition.  We are so grateful!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Are You My Mother?


   This is a difficult post to write but I'm finding it necessary as we ease in to finding our new normal with Titus home from China.  One of the things that we covered extensively in our pre-adption training is a concept called "coccooning".  This is basically a period of time, maybe three months, maybe more or less, maybe a year, or maybe it gets revisited often, when a family with a newly adopted child steps back from a lot of activity or commitments outside of their home in order to envelop the new child in their family.  The idea is to keep their world small and their social contacts smaller.  For Titus, he was never outside of two rooms in his orphanage until the day we adopted him.  He is having a ton of new experiences all at once and it can get overwhelming.  Actually, Titus really does enjoy getting out and seeing new places (as evidenced by his constant antics to try to get out of the house) but he doesn't really know how to act appropriately in these settings yet, so we're keeping a close watch for signs that he is ready for new situations.  However, we can not give up certain core parts of our lives, like our church, AWANA, and homeschool community, although I have given up the bulk of my responsibilities in these so that I can focus on helping Titus adjust to them.

You will find that Titus is extremely social.  He is so cute, and he knows it!  This was a survival mechanism for him in his institutional life.  The ones who are cute, who endeaer the nannies, get better fed, better care, and more attention. The challenges is that Titus has had a countless number of nannies.  We can only make guesses from our observations, but when we visited his room there seemed to be three nannies assigned to his room at the time.  His current favorite nanny had just left when her shift ended and it was mid-day.  There was reference to the "night shift" nannies.  My guess is that there are 3 shift rotations in a day, so 9 nannies/day.  We were told that the nanny he was closest to quit a few months ago.  I imagine it is likely a high turnover job.  So, let's just take a wild guess that it is possible he has had 20+ nannies in his life.  Want to know what he has called every single one of them?  "Mama".

As a result of this background, Titus feels very comfortable around just about every woman.  To him they are ALL potential sources of affection, food, and care.  He will go up to other women and lift his arms to be picked up.  He will charm and entertain and beg for attention.  (And He's SO SO SO cute when he does it!)  He will blow kisses, offer to share bites of food, and try to grab your cell phone or rummage through your purse.  The clinical term for this is "indiscriminate affection" and if not kept in check can lead to significant attachment disorders, and can be dangerous for him.  We all want our kids to have a healthy fear of strangers, right?

The most important task we are facing is helping him to understand what "mama" REALLY means.  It is SO important for Titus' well being, our family's health, and his future relationships that Titus learns that God's intention and his new reality is that he has ONE mommy and ONE daddy who do not quit, do not rotate off, do not disappear without explanation; who love unconditionally, have consistent expectations, and do not need to be manipulated in order to meet his needs.  

Because of this, I have to ask you to (not) do some things that may feel counter-intuitive.
The most helpful guideline is to deflect attention and affection and guide him back to our family.
What does this look like?  Here are some examples:


  • Does he want to hold your hand?  Gently hold his wrist while guiding him back to mommy (or daddy).
  • Does he want a hug?  Say "Save your hugs and kisses for your mommy and daddy." and again, direct him back to us.
  • Does he KEEP insisting?  Settle for a high-five and direct him back to us.  
  • Does he want to be picked up?  Tell him "Go have your mommy/daddy to hold you."
  • Is he looking to you for attention?  Point and say, "There's your mommy/daddy."
  • Does he want to feed you or you to feed him?  say, "No thank you.  This is mine/That is yours.  Share with your famiy."

Please, do not under any circumstances:

  • Correct or discipline him if I'm available to do so
  • Give him food or drink
  • Give him gifts directly
    (Gift and food items may be handed to mom or dad and we can find the appropriate time to give them.)

Please don't be surprised, offended, or hurt if we:

  • Pull him away from a situation where he is getting too much attention, whether from adults or children.
  • Leave immediately and unexpectedly if the situation is counter-productive for his attachment.
  • decline invitations for parties and play dates for a while.
*** We may even need you to treat our other children this way if Titus is around, or it would be confusing to him.  Remember, at the heart of all this, is a child who has no understanding of what family means.  Both his caretakers and his roommates (other children) have been transient.  Siblings are a new concept too.


This is super hard for me.  Like any other new mom, I desperately want to see my friends dote on my new son.  This "coccooning" is a lonely time for most adoptive families.  We need to hear how much you adore him as much as we need you not to show it to him!   While the most natural way to show your support is to love on the child, we need you to love on US instead.  And grace.  There's oh so much grace.  He's hard to resist and we're not going to freak out if you absent mindedly give him a hug, just please be understanding if we pull him away.  And have grace for me.  Please don't let yourself feel like I don't like you because I'm intentionally keeping my child away from you.  If you're a good enough friend that you've read this far, I WANT you in my life!  I NEED you in my life!  We will let you know as we see signs of secure attachment and can gradually let up on some of these guidelines.  In the meantime, thank you for helping us teach Titus about what "Mama" really means.



The Better Conversation

Our first real outing with Titus was to the library.  In China I got used to stares.  I understood what was happening when we showed our Beijing tour guide Titus' picture and she spoke quick, hushed sentences in Mandarin to the driver next to her.  Parenting a child who looks different is different.  Not in the way we treat them, of course, but in the way it shapes our hearts.

So, we're at the library and the kids are looking at the giant doll house, searching for whatever the latest additions are to it.  A child and his mom walk by and I heard him say (rather loudly), "Mom, did you see that baby?  It's freaky looking."  Mom whispered something in his ear and tried to rush him along and he said even louder, "But it is kinda freaky."

Unfortunately that is where it ended.  I've learned in other circumstances that it is best to have a conversation.  Differences aren't so "freaky", weird or scary once we know a little bit about them, and more importantly, once we know about the person.  It made no difference to Titus that day.  Thankfully he doesn't understand much English yet.  But I would have loved to talk to the little boy and given him a gentle education about children and people with differences, and laughed with the mom in comraderie because MY kids have said some pretty insensitive things sometimes too!

A friend asked recently if I would share the best ways to talk about differences so she could prepare her kids.  One basic guideline is to think about the words we use.  Judgments like "scary", "weird", and "freaky" can be replaced with true observations like "Oh, his ear is small." or "His arm is different."  That opens conversation without making judgments or hurting feelings.

For those of you in our circles, I want to give you the opportunity to learn a bit, and more importantly to help your children learn, about Titus and his differences.  I've made it easy for you!  This way we can avoid embarrassing scenarios and awkward apologies and our kids can learn to say, "I like your baby.  Can you tell me about his differences", or even, "Can I play with him?" and we can all have a better conversation.

................................................................................

Hey Kids!  We're going to have a new friend at (church, AWANA, CC, in our neighborhood)!  This is Titus.  He's E, K, & Z's new brother from China.  

Titus is a little different than most kids you know, so I want to tell you about him before you meet him so that you feel comfortable, OK?

First, Titus just came home from China, so he doesn't really understand English well, and he doesn't speak it.  He also has a hard time saying much because of a hole in the back of his mouth that needs to be fixed.  So if you say "hello" to him, he won't say it back, but he smiles really well and gives great high fives!

When he gives you a high five, he'll do it with his left hand, because his right hand is different than most kids'.  If you look at it now in the picture you might not feel like you need to stare at it when you meet him.  
His arm was that way even before he was born.  It doesn't hurt him.  He can still hold things...
and build with blocks...
and do most things that other kids can do.  You don't need to treat him differently because of it.

Titus also has one ear that is smaller and different from his other ear.  The outside of his ear looks different, but inside it is the same as yours. and he can hear. 
 No one's face is exactly the same on both sides, but sometimes one side of Titus' face looks really different from the other, like when he smiles or cries.  It might sometimes seem like he is making a funny face, but he isn't trying to.  His muscles don't work the same on both sides.  But he is REALLY cute!


Titus is three and a half years old, but he acts more like a one year-old most of the time.  That is because before he  was adopted he never left his bedroom in the orphanage.  He never went to a library, a park, a zoo, or the other places you go to that help you learn to be a big kid.  He also never played with bigger kids.  Most of his friends were babies so he didn't see how many big kids act.  He also looks more like a one or two year old because he didn't always have the good food to help him grow strong.  You don't need to make a big deal about his age.  Just enjoy him the way he is!

Another thing you need to know about Titus is that he didn't have a mommy or a daddy for more than three years.  So sometimes he doesn't know how to behave the way your mom and dad have taught you.  Please be patient with him while he is learning right from wrong.

Titus does have a mommy and daddy now, and a whole family that love him!
And even though there are some different things about him, he is a lot like other kids too.  He loves to play and swim.  He likes balls, blocks, and slides, and he really loves to hum and dance!  


He is a really fun kid and I hope you can be good friends!
.................................

Speaking of good friends, if you've read through this, with or without your kids, you ARE one!  Thank you so much for being intentional in your love for our family.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fill in the gaps

You'll notice a huge gap in my blogging from the time we received our Letter of Approval and now.  Life and adoption were happening so quickly I lost my creative streak and went for economy.  Please feel free to join our facebook group at www.facebook.com/groups/MadeHeirs  to catch up with us!  We're in China now!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Last Trimester!

Process Update

Last Monday we rushed home from our Classical Conversations community to meet the FedEx truck!

(Cropped out "crazy lady hugs FedEx guy.  Kept in the happy big sister!)

In this very ordinary envelope is a very extraordinary piece of paper!  It is China's official approval of our family to adopt our son!  They are now "seeking confirmation" that HE is the child we wish to adopt.  Yes, yes yes!  A thousand times YES!

We sent this beautiful piece of paper back, confirming that we will be his family, and we submitted his immigration paperwork.  Several months ago we received approval for our family to adopt a child from China.  Now, we are seeking approval for this specific child to be an immigrant to the US.  Because of China's process with their files, Titus already meets immigration requirements, so we are just waiting for this official approval to come back so that we can get his visa and complete the final steps to receive permission from China to travel.  For those of you who are more visual (or who wonder what in the world has taken/is taking so long), here is a simplified breakdown of the steps of international adoption...  We are now awaiting Step 10.  Many of the upcoming steps happen one right after another.  We expect step 10 to take about 2-3 weeks, and from that point everything else is measured in days and weeks!  We are getting so close!  At this point we're in the final stages of the adoption process and can fairly certainly say that we'll have Titus in our arms within the next three months!  It is looking like July is a reasonable estimate, and we have a couple of specific hopeful dates in mind, but can not confirm anything until our consulate appointment has been assigned. (step 16)



Funding Update
We also had a phenomenal time last weekend with our Both Hands project!  If you haven't yet seen it on Facebook, please take a moment to view our video and see a glimpse of what God accomplished through our day of work at Susan's house!




As a result of this amazing fundraiser, the hard work of our team, and the generosity of many, we are close to being fully funded for Titus' adoption!  Exact numbers are hard to pin down until we have travel dates and purchase airline tickets and book our hotels.  Summer is the peak of travel pricing an we can not book far in advance so it is somewhat unpredictable, but we estimate that we are only lacking about $3,000!  Any excess can be used for medical expenses once he is home.  We are so thankful for all who have given toward this rescue mission.  Legit thank you cards are coming, but in the meantime:  Thank you for being part of God's work in Titus' life.  This is not possible without you.  


Titus Update
We recently discovered that Titus had already been told he had a family coming for him, so we figured it was a good time to send a care package along with another traveling family.  He may have been asleep when they delivered the gifts, but now this little boy has seen the faces of his family and knows the smell of mama's perfume (on the blanket).



Please pray with us that God will prepare his heart to join our family.  Pray that the nannies will look at our pictures with him frequently (we hear that his orphanage is good about doing this) and that they will allow him to have the blanket in his bed (I printed our photo onto fabric and stitched it into his blanket).  Pray for our final preparations to bring him home and that the remainder of our process goes as smoothly as possible.  Thank you for sharing our journey! 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Both Hands... and all my heart!

Dear Friends,

I can not even begin to express to you how excited I am about the way I'm spending my Saturday this week!  God has given us an incredible opportunity to serve a local widow while raising funds to bring Titus home.  Each day of the past few weeks my heart has been bursting with joy about this opportunity.

Many of you have seen our posts on facebook about this project, or maybe even received a letter from us or one of our wonderful team members.  You're probably curious to hear more about this unique opportunity.

Both Hands is a foundation that assists widows, orphans, and adoptive families by helping families raise funds for their adoptions while serving a local widow.  Here's how it works:  We have put together a team of volunteers who are spending next Saturday, April 18, working on a local widow's home.  We will be doing repairs and maintenance that have been difficult to keep up with since her husband's passing almost four years ago.  All of the supplies for our project have been donated by local businesses.  Our team members have reached out to their friends and family, offering them the opportunity to support the project by sponsoring the volunteer.  100% of the donations received go to our adoption fund!  (not even a teeny tiny fraction of a percent is taken out, because the foundation has underwriters for all administrative costs!)

Let me tell you, our team is AMAZING!!!!  They have been so supportive of our journey to Titus and really catch the vision that this is a rescue mission.  God is in the process of turning an orphan into a son and they are super excited to be part of this work, and to invite their friends and family to join in it too!  They have the skills and enthusiasm to bless the socks off of the widow we're serving.  In the meantime, they've been blessing me with encouragement and even helping me ask for donations from businesses for our project supplies!  In a collective effort, our team has sent over 500 people invitations to be a part of this work through financial support.

And these fun-size team members have been real troopers!  For weeks now we've done our home schooling differently.  Instead of days around the kitchen table with our math and language arts workbooks and my undivided attention, let me tell you what they've been doing:

  • Adding and subtracting miles as we drove from business to business seeking donations
  • Memorized a pretty good script to convince businesses to donate to our cause
  • Skip counted by 20s with sheets of stamps
  • Watched a few hours of Kailan and Little Pim to boost their Mandarin while mommy makes phone calls
  • Sacrificed our usual schedule and downtime together to help me with amazing attitudes 
  • Shed tears of joy as we saw God providing things like flooring, toilets, light fixtures, paint, etc.

They've done all this with an amazing attitude, and they are so excited to work alongside us this Saturday!

Please pray with us that Saturday's project will be an incredible blessing to Susan, the widow we're serving.  She has been so gracious to invite us into her home to host the project.  It is really sweet to me that there are actually some projects that her husband began, before he became ill, that we will get to complete.  Please pray that we can get the remaining supplies that we need, and even some items above and beyond our "needs" to really wow Susan and her family.  Susan is the kind of person who is always giving to others.  We are so excited that the community is coming together to give to her!

We are partnered with God on a mission that turns ashes to beauty, loss to gain.  Titus has lost his birth family; Susan has lost her husband.  This project aims to bring a little bit of restoration to each of them.  We are so thankful for each person who has become part of bringing Titus home through prayers, encouragement, and financial support.  We can not do it alone, but we have been blown away by God's people joining together for this effort.  Thank you!  If you haven't already, would you consider joining us?



More information and instructions for donation are listed on our Both Hands project site below:
www.BothHands.org/eric-and-megan-johnson


Easy, secure online donations can also be made by clicking the happy panda here in our blog.  This links directly to our Both Hands/Lifesong account.  To avoid PayPal fees, checks can be sent by following instructions on the link above or on the "donate" tab on our blog.  




Tuesday, April 7, 2015

New Pictures and an Update!!!!

We are so thrilled to share with you some photos that were taken by friends who traveled to pick up their son last week!  Dani said that Titus was hillarious.  As soon as she pulled out her camera he walked backwards until he hit a wall.  Poor shy little sweetie!







I'm praying that all these visits from traveling friends who go before us will help lessen his anxiety when he meets us!  Another friend leaves tomorrow and will be taking him a small care package for us: a blanket with his name and a photo of Eric and I printed onto fabric and stitched into it (plus many hours of cuddles, a spritz of mom's perfume, and a few tears), a photo album to introduce him to his FAMILY! and a bunch of matchbox cars (his brother's favorite toy) to share with the kids in his room.  

We also received this update from his orphanage through our agency:

1.      How are Titus’ sleep habits?  Does he snore or have difficulty breathing while sleeping? He goes to bed around 8pm and gets up at 6am. He doesn’t snore or have difficulty breathing while sleeping.
 2.     Does Titus talk?  If so, please provide a short list of some words he says.  Is he more talkative or quiet?  Is his speech about as clearly understood or less clearly understood than other children his age? He can say many single words, such as Mama, Nainai. He can also call other children’s names. He can imitate our talking. We can understand his talking when he wants to express himself.
3.     What foods does Titus like to eat?  Is there anything he does not like to eat?  Does he have any difficulty chewing and swallowing?  He likes to eat apple, bread, cracker. He has no problem to chew and swallow.
4.     What does Titus like to do during play time?  What are his favorite toys? He likes to play block, ball and slide.
5.     Do the nannies sing any children’s songs or lullabies with the children in Titus' room?  If so, please send us the names of the songs so that our Chinese friends can teach them to us. He can sing “two tigers”, “looking for friends”, “song for newspaper selling”.
6.     What do the nannies enjoy most about Titus? He is very sweet boy, he is always obey, he is a helper too. He likes to help us when he can.

I'm assuming that absolutely everyone is curious about the songs he can sing, and loves having songs stuck in your head that you don't know the lyrics to, so I've attached YouTube links for you :)  

We are excited to hear that Titus SINGS.  (Remember, his file says that he is profoundly deaf in both ears.  We are absolutely ready to embrace whatever his needs are, but we have received SO MANY indications that his hearing loss is not quite that severe.  Initially this was quite a shock to us and we haven't really been believing it.  We continue learning basic ASL but are happy to continue receiving indications that he has some hearing and we will assess his true degree of hearing loss  as soon as possible when he is home. )  With this new information that may point to a better degree of hearing and knowledge of Mandarin, we've stepped up our Mandarin learning, listening to Pimsleur audio in the the car and enjoying this book at home:


We continue waiting for our Letter Seeking Confirmation, which indicates that China has officially matched us with our son and asks us to confirm that we want to adopt him (um, yes!).  We return this letter with a great big YES YES YES and it becomes our Letter of Acceptance (LOA).   It is a huge milestone which allows us to begin applying for visas and preparing to travel!  Typically families complete the steps to travel about 3 months after LOA.  According to the most recent AVERAGE timelines, we *could* receive this letter by the end of April, although we are trying hard not to expect it, and are not counting the days.  We can not estimate at this time when our travel might be, but we are hoping it will be before September.  Please pray with us for this!



Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sweet, Sobbing, Sleepy Rest!

On Friday night, March 13, I was crying out to God.  I was exhausted.  I had made it two straight weeks without a day of rest and I had become sick.  My husband and I had been working extra hard toward our adoption funding, spending our Saturdays doing home improvement projects for friends an neighbors, and staying up too late to fulfill orders from my Etsy shop or planning an upcoming fundraiser.  I was too sick to fall asleep, so I sat up evaluating how to return to a state of health and balance for our family.  I turned to Scripture and God led me to the Psalms and to Psalm 127.

It is vain for you to rise up early,
to retire late,
to eat the bread of painful labors;
for he gives to his beloved even in his sleep.

Behold, children are a gift from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb is a reward.

Psalm 127:2-3

Ha!  Vain, yes!  I had been rising early and retiring late, enduring painful labor and become sick and stressed.  But, I was doing GOOD.  I was working hard to bring Titus home.  Isn't that what I'm supposed to be doing?!  "God, I have $20,000 left to raise in about 4 months and you're telling me that it is vain and I should just go to sleep?  I've seen Your amazing provision already, so I'm not complaining, it's just that $20,000 is a lot and it is making me sleepless."  Over the course of about an hour, God revealed some priorities to me to guide the remainder of our waiting phase, giving me peace that if I keep these priorities and don't get bogged down with the things we agreed to cut out, that He will provide and I can get more sleep and be more available and productive in the most important areas.   I began to feel hopeful.

Then my cold turned into an awesome sinus/ear infection that allowed me to cuddle my kids a lot more through the weekend than usual!  I didn't do much productive, but I sure slept!  I felt like I was keeping my end of the deal pretty well.  

On Monday afternoon I came home and stopped by the mailbox to find THIS!


Sobbing-on-the-kitchen-floor, crazy disbelief, weak-kneed gratefulness.

While God and I were having our Psalm 127 conversation, this letter was ALREADY in the mail on its way to me. God knew.  I had no clue, but I was trying hard to trust in all the assurances He was giving me.  Once again, God is right.  He provides even while we sleep.  This child we are working hard to ransom, he isn't our child, but God's.  Getting to be the ones to love and raise him is a gift from the Lord.  Seeing these miracles of God's provision is a gift.  It is humbling to be on this journey, seeing God's hand in all the details.  

  We are still not fully funded, but this grant brings our earn/save/raise goal down into the teen-thousands.  That sure feels a lot better than $20,000!  Trust us, you'll know when we're fully funded by the large amounts of confetti,sobbing, and screaming.  

In the meantime, take a sneak peak at our upcoming fundraiser!  We've partnered with an adoption fundraising foundation called Both Hands.  Next month our family and a team of friends will be serving a widow by completing home repairs, improvements, and maintenance.  All the supplies will be donated and 100% of the proceeds will benefit our adoption.  (click logo below for project page link!)  If you're local and interested in joining our team, please contact me!


"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress..." James 1:27


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Countdown Begins!

We found out today that as of last Tuesday, March 3, our dossier was logged in to "the system" in China!  In adoption lingo, this is considered the status of LID.   Hooray!
LID is significant because it means that our hard copy of all our precious papers made the long journey across the ocean and on to someone's desk.  It is also the date used to calculate the average wait until we receive our "Letter of Acceptance" (LOA), China's final approval of our match with Titus, which gets the ball rolling for our travels!  

Typically, the time frame from LID to LOA used to be about 90 days.  However, since the computer upgrade in January, the wait has been cut to an average of 50-60 days, with some people getting a freakishly quick acceptance at 28 days!  From LOA to travel is usually about 8-10 weeks.  So, we're looking at about 4-6 months until travel.  There is always a lot of language like "usually" "sometimes" "average" "about" "approximately"  when we talk about timeframes with international adoption.  So, while we now have the date that we count down FROM, we don't know the date that we are counting down TO.  So actually, I guess we are counting up instead of counting down.  Either way, each day is a day closer to the day we'll meet Titus, which will be his LAST DAY as an orphan.

Never missing a chance to make myself laugh, I thought the phrase "put a lid on it" was very fitting for this time.  The English euphemism basically means to be quiet.  Quiet is a whole lot of what we'll get during this stage of the process.  So, until we receive that prized LOA, if you ask for an update we might be able to tell you if our documents are finished being translated, but other than that there aren't a lot of little steps at this point as far as anything official.  We won't hear anything new until we suddenly BAM!  POW!  SPLAT!  have the LOA.  



We will not, however, be "keeping calm".  This will be a very busy season for us as we work hard to earn and raise and complete more grant applications for the completion of our funding.  We will also be "nesting", getting our house ready for a new little one and making sure we have everything we'll need for his arrival at home (which, right now is a lot of deep cleaning and purging unnecessary items!)  More importantly, we'll be preparing our hearts and our children's hearts to bring him into our family.  This has been happening all along and we are being very intentional about including Titus in daily conversation, talking about expectations and difficulties we may encounter, role playing situations that the kids may experience with their new little brother.  We are also spending extra intentional time enjoying our children and family as it is now, for when change comes, it will be big and fast!  We are spending time watching excellent videos that were provided to us by Show Hope, which cover topics like attachment and bonding, sensory processing disorders, caring for and disciplining children who may be coming from a background of abuse or neglect, and other important things for adoptive families to be aware of.  Once the LOA arrives, it is a frenzy of signing and overnight shipping documents, applying for visas, tracking flight prices, choosing travel arrangements, guides, and itineraries, requesting appointments, etc.  

AND, with our LID comes the privilege of requesting an update on Titus!  We get to send a list of questions to his orphanage and they'll answer what they can, as well as give us his updated sizes.  And with updates come PICTURES!!!!!!  and hopefully videos!!!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Huge "Thank You", A Big Step, and 13 Golden Seals

Many of you celebrated with us last month when we received our i800a approval, our official notice from the US Department of Immigration that our family is approved to adopt a child from China!

Today we celebrate an even greater milestone!  The USCIS approval, along with all our birth certificates, our home study, employment letters, doctor's statements, recommendation letters, and other documents supporting who we are and our desire and ability to adopt have made the journey through our agency's county and state certifications and the Chinese Consulate in Houston for authentication!  Documents can be rejected during this process for a number of minute things, such as dates not matching, the notary not using their full name, a stapler hole out of place... thankfully we knew much of this going into it and were able to be watchful and let others know what to look for as they notarized documents for us.  Our doctor happily filled out our medical forms twice because they removed a staple the first time!


All of our documents are in order and have been SENT TO CHINA today!!!!!
<insert happy dance>

All of these papers back up the initial information we sent to China when we requested "Provisional Approval" to adopt Titus.  The next steps are for these papers to all be translated, then our match with Titus will be reviewed and China will send us an approval letter.  This process usually takes between 2-4 months.  Ours may be on the longer end, as China's businesses will shut down soon for the Lunar New Year.

Here is where we are overflowing with joy to extend a HUGE THANK YOU!!!!
Thank you to our employers and references who we have had to ask on more than one occasion to write letters for us, and then to have them notarized!
Thank you to everyone who is praying for our process!
and Thank you to everyone who has given financially to make this possible!  The amount of funds donated through The Source in our year-end giving request totaled $4800!  Guess how much we needed to get these papers sent? $4238  With what is remaining and personal gifts given directly to us, we are well on our way to our next payment.  (Another complete funding update coming very soon!)  Without your contributions we would be greatly delayed in sending these documents.
We want to thank you very much for following God's call to give toward providing a home for the fatherless.  YOU have brought us to this huge milestone.  YOU are in the business of partnering with God to turn this orphan into a SON!

Here are some ways you can continue praying for us at this point in the process:
  • Pray that our documents arrive at their destination in China before mail services close for Lunar New Year.  We prefer that they not spend a week or more locked in a mail truck or sitting in a pile.  We'd love to know they're safe and sound before the holiday begins February 18!
  • Pray for our endurance.  This is a long and emotional process, and (we think) we're a little more than half-way there!  But of course, we have no "due date" and any number of complications and delays can arise.  This paper pregnancy requires additional high doses of chocolate.  
  • Pray for a quick translation and review process.  Truly, at this point a travel timeline is still unpredictable.  Please join us in praying that quick approvals would allow for July travel.  This would be the best case scenario for our family as Eric will have a bit more free time than usual to dedicate to attachment, bonding, and our family's adjustment.  
  • Pray for favorable reviews of our grant applications and for the complete funding of Titus' adoption through grants, gifts, savings, and opportunities for extra earnings.
  • Pray for God to be preparing Titus' heart for adoption and us for parenting him.


Monday, January 12, 2015

I'll prove myself 1,000 times for you...

My greatest joy in this adoption journey (and my best distraction from counting the days) is looking for parallels between adoption and the heart of God.  Adoption is core to what God does and who God is.  It is easy to see in the end goal of bringing our son home, but it sometimes takes a cultivated attitude to find it in the waiting and in the mundane.

Today we had our Immigration Services biometric fingerprinting appointment.  We had attempted to walk in on Friday before our appointment date, but found out at security that unlike other offices around the nation, ours does not allow walk-ins.  On Friday, we had only one child in tow.  Today, we had three.  With the flu.  We woke up three sick children (and a sick mommy) and left the house around 6am to enjoy rush hour traffic and an office that opened late because the techs were still in traffic.  Once they did arrive, though, our tech was sweet and delightful.  The process was smooth and easy.  We made it out alive and went straight home to nap.

Mural across from our Citizenship & Immigration Services center

I found myself thinking... didn't we JUST do fingerprints for our homestudy? (ok, so it was 6 months ago, but the prints haven't changed since I was in my mother's womb!)  Didn't our state approve us based on those fingerprints?  Why can't we consolidate the process and just do one set of fingerprints?  How many times do I have to prove that my record is clean and I am who I say I am?  I could actually give very reasonable answers to those questions, but the last one is the one where God gripped my heart and brought me back to meditate on Him.

How many times did God prove himself to bring me to Him?  How many times did he show that He is who He says He is, that His love and intentions are genuine, and that His Word is true?  Over and over from the beginning of time He declared himself, showed Himself to be true.  Over and over in my life He has won my heart and trust.

Picking up our second set of Police Clearance letters.  The girls are starting to think these "adoption field trips" are pretty cool.  Hey, at least they got police badge stickers out of it!  Twice!
So, no matter the steps to take and hoops to jump through, no matter the flu or other momentary inconveniences, no matter the seemingly endless wait for each next milestone, I'll prove myself 1,000 times and more for you, my son.  Because you are worth it.  I'll fill out every paperwork and keep every appointment.  I'll resubmit any document with expired notary, and re-request police clearances to show that I haven't become a criminal in the past six months.  I'll re-do documents that were rejected for having an extra hole from a stapler malfunction.  I will win the trust of two governments who need to see that we can provide a loving home for you.  And I'll do it all with joy because it brings us closer, and it lets me tell others about you and about our God who brought you to us.  There can be no greater joy than that!


Friends, here's how you can be praying for us now:

  • Praise God with us that many generous friends and family have come together to gift us about $4,000 through year-end giving!  We are blown away and filled with gratitude!   THANK YOU! ! It's a bit complicated to explain, but please pray that we will be able to transfer those funds properly when we need to use them (possibly as soon as next week!)
  • We are in the process of having all our documents authenticated through county, state, and the Chinese consulate.  Please pray that none of the documents are rejected, and IF any are, that we can correct them very quickly.
  • Please pray for quick approval from Immigration Services and fast authentication process for our documents.  Pray that we can have our documents sent to China by January 31!
  • We are in the process of applying for many grants.  Pray for God's provision of the finances.
  • We are also planning a major fundraiser event that we hope to unveil soon.  This undertaking is completely outside of my personality and strengths (but right in the center of my husband's) and it is stressing me out!  Pray for wisdom, peace, and courage.
  • Pray for Titus' health.  We have not received any specific reports of illness, but his file states  that he is quick to fall ill in seasons of sickness.  As our family here at home is having a sick week, I'm reminded that it is flu season in China too.  I've been worn out caring for 3 sick kids.  I can't imagine a dozen or more!  Health and strength for Titus, the kids in his room, and his nannies.
Thank you for your love and partnership with us on this journey!