Sunday, May 8, 2016

What I Really Want for Mother's Day

I treasure Mother's Day.  My kids who understand it shower me with sweet sentiments and homemade gifts.  They fill my mother's day journal with beautiful drawings that I will treasure forever.  I've never had high expectations for the day.  I don't want flowers or chocolates or jewelry.  I know the perfect family photo just isn't going to happen - I didn't even try today!  I don't expect others to wait on me or fulfill my duties of cleaning and wiping noses and bottoms to give me a "day off" (does that exist for moms?)  But IF I were to want something for Mother's Day, here's my wish list:

What I really want for mother's day is to see ten, twenty, thirty years down the line and know that my kids will turn out okay.  I want to know that they'll weather storms and choose joy, that they'll follow Christ when it is unpopular, that they will make healthy and responsible choices.  I want to know they'll be spared the pain of poor choices.  I pray God will give me grace to model the kind of grown up I want them to become. Continue to mold me, Lord.

What I really want for mother's day is to find relief from exhaustion, as most of my poor parenting moments come out of it.  I want to know that my moments of frustration, yelling, anger, and weakness will be forgotten; that my kids general memories of me will gloss over my faults.  I pray for mercy to cover my sins.  Forgive me, Lord.

What I really want for mother's day is to go back in time and observe what my adopted children have experienced before I was their mom.  I saw a snapshot in our orphanage visit.  I've pieced together some other likely ideas based on behaviors I've seen.  I've poured over photographs looking for clues into their lives "before".  But I'll never understand.  What I really want is to know how to respond when I don't understand their actions; how to nurture when I don't know what they're feeling.  I pray for wisdom to guide their hearts, not just behaviors.  Heal them, Lord.

What I really want for mother's day is to know my children won't be bitter or resentful because the challenges they face... because of the challenges we've chosen for our family.  Ministy.  Adoption.  Special Needs.  I pray they will learn to do hard things with great faith and look to God in the mess of life.  Lead us, Lord.

What I really want for mother's day is renewed energy for the important things - tea parties, mud pies, toy trucks, puzzles, and cuddles.  They get pushed aside sometimes in the cooking, cleaning, doctor's appointments, and paperwork.  I pray for balance as I shape my childrens' childhoods.  Guide me, Lord.

What I really want for mother's day is to have Mei home safe and sound and to start our new life together.  I want to stop wondering about her and start getting to know her.  I want to stop worrying about the challenges and start overcoming them.  I want her to have plenty to eat and a comfortable bed and a mom and dad to love her.  I pray she doesn't lose hope while she waits.  Sustain her, Lord.

What I really want is for time to freeze and allow me to take in all that is beautiful right now in the little years.  Even as my oldest are almost nine I feel childhood slipping away.  I wish away the potty training and the scribbles on the walls, and I long for a little silence.  But I don't expect I'll ever hold my own newborn again, or cheer a little one's first steps.  Those joys are yesterday's.  The days are long but the years are short.  I pray for perspective to enjoy each day and each stage, for these years are fleeting.  Give me joy in the moment, Lord.

What I really want for mother's day is rest from the questioning - Did I do the right thing just then?  Was that consequence reasonable?  Am I using the right Math curriculum?  Was it OK to take the day off school for that other thing?  Should I have given in?  Which cry do I answer first?  Is this poop normal?  Should I call the doctor?  Sometimes the bigger questions are easier.  Should we change our lives through adoption? yes!  Should I go to the grocery store or stay home for naptime?!  agonizing over that one.  I pray for the intimacy with God that guides me without question.  Draw me near to you, Lord.

What I really want for mother's day is to know the two birth moms whose children I call my own.  I want them to know their children are loved and that injustice didn't win.  I want them to know the God who redeems, that we might spend eternity together.  I pray God will show himself to them.  Comfort them, Lord.

What I really want for mother's day is to live out Galatians 6:9.
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Good Work

Philippias 1:6  "...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

On the way to the hospital this morning for Titus' surgery I played through our Seeds Family Worship album.  These songs drawn directly from scripture have been a source of peace, comfort, and wisdom for our family throughout our adoption journeys and have become part of the soundtrack of our lives.  Today the song from Philippians 1:6 stayed with me as I've been anxious about the recovery period for this surgery (mainly the food issues we'll face on a liquid diet with a little one who is almost always preoccupied with food).  God spoke to me through this scripture/song, assuring me that this is part of the "good work" that God is doing in Titus' life.  It is painful and stressful, but there is no other way to close his palate and give him an opportunity for normal verbal communication without it.

When I was an exchange student in Venezuela I befriended a guy who lived between my house and my school.  I think his mom was the lady who sold icecream through her front window.  At least he was always there.  He was a social outcast of sorts.  He didn't speak well, and my other friends told me to be sure not to learn Spanish from him, and really suggested I shouldn't even hang out with him.  Looking back I realize that he had an unrepaired cleft palate, although I didn't know what it was at the time.  What I did know is that he had a kind soul.  On days I wasn't with other friends, he would walk me from the school back home, communicating with waves and smiles and labored Spanish (on both our parts).  Language is something we often take for granted, but without  reliable speech the doors to education, employment, relationships, and quality of life are so much more difficult to walk through, unless there is someone to open them for you.

Did you know that in Titus' home country, medical care must be paid upfront or services will not be provided?  Many families face the heart-wrenching choices of watching their children suffer and possibly die from correctable medical needs, or abandoning them so that they can receive life-saving services.  There is no medical insurance, payment plans, medicare, early intervention, etc.  There is very little support for families raising children with special needs, and even less for them as they become adults with visible physical or cognitive differences.  As I sit here by Titus' bedside and listen to his medicated breathing, I'm reminded that this gift has come at a high cost to his birth family.  That, too, will always be a painful part of his story. 

So much pain, so much loss, such a little guy to bear the weight of it.  While I don't believe God willed for all of these things to be a part of his life, God is all about taking broken things and making them beautiful again.  I am convinced that all this pain is part of a marvelous work God is doing in him; part of his redemption story.  And God will "carry it on to completion".  It will be ongoing, until the day he sees Christ.  After he's healed from this palate repair there will be speech therapy.  Lots of speech therapy.  There may be more surgeries.  There will be frustration.  There will be tears.  There will be emotional burdens, attachment problems, anxiety, fears that run so deep he may never outgrow them.  And questions.  so many unanswered questions.

And God will carry it on.  Continuing to allow temporary pain to provide long-term healing.  Healing for Titus, healing for Mei, healing for Eric and I and for our other children.  The thing about adoption is you embrace a child with extreme trauma and invite pain in to every part of your life to bring about healing.  No one under our roof is immune to it.  Some of our close friends have not been immune to the pain of the trauma and healing of our family.  For each one of us it is part of the good work that God is doing.  The best kinds of good work start with pain - the discomfort of a good workout, the pain of a corrective surgery, the pangs of childbirth.  It is only with this perspective on pain that we can continue with joy into another adoption while we're all still healing from the current changes and challenges in our family.  And so we invite it, we embrace it, we wait for healing.  Carry it on, Lord!

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What Remains

Seven months ago we landed on US soil and Titus became an American citizen.  We were greeted by friends and family at the airport, along with exclamations like, "It must be so nice to have all your family together now."   At that time, most people didn't understand is that this moment, right here, where we walked away from the orphanage and were supposed to be so glad to be taking Titus away from there forever, I dragged my feet.
 A beautiful piece of our hearts, a piece of our family, remained behind.

When we disembarked our final plane and were greeted with shouts of joy for the completion of our adoption, we remained "in the process" - all the paperwork, the feelings of helplessness, the red tape of the process, and above all, the burden of the fees.  I wrote in an earlier post about how God provided all the funds we would have needed if we could have brought them home together.  All that had remained between Mei and our family was our agency's unbending policy, but it was an insurmountable obstacle at the time.

So what remains now?  What is it going to take to bring her home?  

Well, as far as paperwork is concerned, we're doing it all over again.  We don't get much of a break from either country for having just been through the process.  Nearly every piece of paper has been re-done.  This also means that every single fee must be paid again, leaving us with the full cost at around $30,000.  A large sum for us, but a small price to pay for the ransom of a life.  The wonderful news is that the funds raised to her Reece's Rainbow grant will become available for us to use at the very end of our process.  It is enough to cover the orphanage fees, which are paid at the time we travel.  That lifts a huge burden off of the end of our process!  Of the additional funds that had been pledged to help bring her home last summer, $1,500 has been given. Those gifts, along with the bit of funds that remained with our Lifesong account after Titus' adoption, have been so helpful in the fees we have already paid.  Our family also has a "Family Sponsorship Page" with Reece's Rainbow, and although we can't see who has made the donations, we are so thankful for the nearly $800 that has come in to that account!  It will be released for official expenses toward the end of our process too.  

Since our cost of travel can't be perfectly calculated yet, it is our best estimate that we will be lacking about $15,000 in order to complete Mei's adoption.  We have been working hard to put forth the expenses up to this point.   Eric has built furniture, Megan has sewn weighted blankets and sold sensory bins in our Etsy shop.  These endeavors have been profitable and allowed us to move along in our process without delays so far.  However, we've come to the end of ourselves.  

When I was an exchange student in Venezuela, I had the privilege of attending an agrotechnical school.  This was a stretch way outside of my comfort zone but provided some insightful learning experiences.  One such experience was a week spent learning about and executing the process of  grafting trees.  We learned not only about how to perform the actual graft, but also the long-term care
required to ensure that the graft remained successful without compromising the health of the base plant or the newly grafted portion.  An adoptive family is in many ways like a grafted tree, requiring careful nurture to ensure optimal health.

We have come to understand that the burden of time spent on those activities in striving to earn our adoption fees is not sustainable for the long haul with the attachment, medical, educational, and caregiving needs of our family.  Titus is still healing from his past and learning his new life, and in truth, we are ALL still healing and regrouping from the major family transition.  Our family needs my undistracted, unencumbered nurture.  After God's amazing provision of all the funds needed to adopt Titus, I think we felt a little hesitant to ask Him - to ask His people - to do something that big again.  But I had to remind myself that although God had sent miraculous signs and parted the Red Sea to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, they distrusted that he would come through for them again when it was time to take possession of Caanan.  This resulted in them wandering in the desert for 40 years due to their lack of faith.  I calculated that even if we continued building, sewing, and crafting at the rate we have been since this last fall, it would still take us more than 2 years to come up with the funds to complete Mei's adoption.  Attempting to do this in our own strength would only result in wandering from God's plan.
Jesus says in John 15:4, "No branch can bear fruit by itself.  It must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me."  
It is impossible for us to fulfill this calling from God without full reliance on Him.  So we humbly choose faith again.  We choose to trust God in the face of giants, to wait eagerly as he parts the waters, moves the mountains, and filfills this promise to Mei:

And we have confidence in our God because in all the changes and transition we experience, God remains the same.  He is today the same that he was last year when he brought Titus home through the beautiful worship of his people.  This is not to say that we are giving up on our efforts completely, but we are asking you to come alongside us in it.  

As God gave his people laws for living righteously he included laws to protect and provide for orphans and widows.  

19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 

We are looking now to our "village" and asking,  "What can you leave behind for Mei?  What resources have you overlooked that you can designate for her?  What remains in your excess that can help ensure this child always has food, a home, clothes that fit, education, and a mom and dad who love her? " 

What are the best ways to find excess and donate?  The time of year is coming up when many people are filing for a tax return.  Eager to see how much they'll "get back", they lust after the newest gaming system, a larger TV, an exotic vacation.  What if, instead, they considered this to be "what remains" after their harvest?  What if it were designated for the foreigner, the fatherless, the widow?  Consider donating a portion of your tax return to help bring Mei home!  Another way to "leave what remains" is to have a garage sale for us!  Do your spring cleaning, set up a garage sale, and donate what you make from it.  I'm happy to provide pictures and posters for you to use to get the word out that your garage sale is for a cause! 

Right now, the best way to donate funds is through our account with Lifesong for Orphans.  These donations are tax-deductible and aside from Paypal fees, 100% are immediately useable by our family for official adoption expenses.  You can find information HERE on how to send in a check, or click the donate button here or on the side bar for PayPal.  We are currently facing an immediate need of $2700 to complete our dossier and send it to China.  Our goal for this is March 25 in order to continue without delay.

We have another exciting opportunity for you to give without making a monetary donation, but as this post is already pretty long, I'll save it for another!  
Thank you so very much for being part of our "village", for loving our family, and for investing in our mission to Mei!  

Titus can't wait to actually play with Mei again.  He often sets her picture next to him while he plays.  He says her name while signing "friend, sister".

Saturday, February 27, 2016

More about Mei

Last week we got to share with you a little bit about how God brought Mei into our hearts.  This week I'm so excited share more about her.

 At 8 years old, Mei is among the older children in her section of the orphanage (those eligible for adoption).  She helps out with the younger children, and enjoys organizing them for games.
And there's a glimpse of tiny Titus in the white!

The nannies describe her as very sweet and sensible; cheerful and open with her caregivers.  
She attends tutoring in the orphanage and is happiest when she is in class with her friends.

She enjoys singing, performing, and memorizing and reciting poetry.  Enjoy this sweet video from several years ago!  (bonus glimpse of Titus in the background at 5-7 seconds :D )
Oh, how I wish I could scoop her up and hug that tiny little girl!

As with most cases in international adoption, her special needs are not fully diagnosed or explained in her paperwork, and may take us a while to evaluate once she is home.  We suspect one of two specific conditions, which can both manifest in some of the physical characteristics she has, but are caused by very different genetic conditions with very different outcomes.  Or, as it seems to be the case with Titus, they may simply be physical differences without affecting her overall health.  Please begin praying for her, and for us, even now as we start planning and preparing.

She is very aware about adoption.  At least every month it seems there are children adopted out of her orphanage and she has seen many of them come through to tour with their new families.  Her caretakers say she is longing for the day that her mother and father will come for her.  We are too, sweet girl!

Next up: Our fundraising plans and progress to bring her home!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Journey to Mei

An ancient chinese belief states that "an invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstance.  It may stretch or tangle, but it will never break."

We announced a couple of weeks ago on Facebook the wonderful news that our family is growing again!  God has had this addition in the works for a while and now we'd like to share with you some of the details of this stretched, tangled, and beautiful story!

When we first started to pursue Titus we had truly only intended on one adoption because we had always imagined we'd have four kids.  We were just fine when we found out that our agency had a general policy against adopting two children at once, although it is a common decision amongst adoptive families with other agencies.  We had seen two or three pictures of Titus before making the decision to adopt him, but once we moved forward we were given his full "file", including medical information, social descriptions, and a handfull of photos.  This one was among those first pictures we saw of him.

Aren't they so cute?!  It is no secret that our famiy has developed a love for children with craniofacial differences.  I immediately started praying for her and for a family to choose her.  I supposed they had as close a relationship as my kids do with their siblings. 

She continued to show up in pictures we found or received of Titus.

Titus' Third Birthday

Last winter another mama who has adopted from their orphanage posted this picture and asked if anyone knew whether this little girl had a file and how we could join together to advocate for her.  (That mama's little girl is on the right, Titus is in the middle.)

Since I had worked hard to find Titus' file when we were ready to pursue him, I volunteered to try tracking down her file.  It was easier than I could have imagined, as the day after I emailed the agency who partners with their orphanage, they were able to tell me that her file was on the "shared list", a list of children's files who had been available for a long time without a family's commitment.  Families adopting with any agency can choose a child on the shared list.  

I began helping to advocate for her in various adoption related facebook groups.  I talked with potential families and shared my research about various craniofacial differences and other thoughts that the group of families who had met her offered.  One family I spoke with was very interested in adopting her and I thought I might get the joy of carrying over a care package for her when we traveled.   They were close to commiting but didn't feel God's peace that she was theirs. "What about your family?"  she asked.  My list of why not's went something like this:
I'd love to, but...
(1). Our home study is only approved for one child.
(2). Our income doesn't meet the guidelines for us to adopt two.

God said, "Are you sure?"

So I looked a little deeper.  When our home study was written, Eric had a side job with the school where our church meets.  After the home study was complete they had changed his position, resulting in an increase in pay.  We met the guidelines for our family to adopt two.

I contacted our home study case worker who let me know that he would enthusiastically update our home study to reflect that we are approved to adopt two children.  

At this point we were waiting for our letter of acceptance from China.  We contaced our placing agency and requested to see her file.  Unfortunately they would not give it to us, since our home study was currently only approved for one.  They gave us a number of additional pieces of paperwork for us to fill out before they would discuss with us the option of adopting two children together.  The paperwork took many hours, and asked a lot of good questions about services available in our school district, our family's support system, how much flexibility we have in our daily lives, etc.  I won't say how ;)  but we did manage to get our hands on a basic version of her medical file and submitted it to our craniofacial team, who drew up an incredibly manageable plan for beginning treatment for both Titus and Mei together, scheduling various appointments and surgeries together to place less strain on our family's schedule.  The craiofacial team was very supportive of our desire to adopt them both, and eager to be part of their care.  

We gave all of the above information to our placing agency, confident that they couldn't say "no".  God had confirmed for us through all of the additional essays and paperwork that we indeed desired to be her parents and felt that we could meet her needs.  Meanwhile, we sent a care package to Titus through another family who was traveling and we received back this picture.

Mei had been the one to lead them to his crib as soon as they said his name.  She watched somberly as she realized the gifts were from his future family.  We were told she grieves each time a child from her room leaves the orphanage - both because she will miss them, and because she was again overlooked and left behind.
  We continued to feel that they share a special bond and that it would be a beautiful thing for them to share the rest of life together too.  Adoption is a wonderful thing, and so is a child's personal history.  We desperately wanted to give both Titus and Mei the gift of a sibling with shared history.

With silence on the part of our agency, we began discussing the option of swithing agencies to one who would happily help us adopt them together.  We were ready to make that move if our agency gave a difinitive no.  However, our agency came back and said, "show us the money".  They wanted to be sure we could come up with the approximately $10,000 in additional funds it would take to adopt two at once.

We gave it to God.  If he could provide that (all in the timing before we received our letter of acceptance which we expected in about 2 weeks), we would know she was our daughter.  I told two good friends in the adoption community as well as the group of families who've adopted from her orphanage.  Thankfully, Mei already had her own grant account set up with a charity that provides grants for families who adopt children with special needs.  The grant funds stay with the child in order to make it easier for a family to say "yes" to that child.  The family receives the funds for expenses toward the end of the adoption process.  So, any additional funds raised to help us bring her home would stay with HER, no matter what family pursued her in the future if we couldn't.  We like the thought that at least if we couldn't bring her home, our journey could help her toward a forever family.  Our two friends and the orphanage group shared the link to her grant account and encouraged anyone who was led to donate.  

In ONE WEEKEND, I kid you not... THREE DAYS, God raised OVER $10,000 - more than $6,000 in the form of her grant acccount and $4,500 in pledges from others who would give if we were approved.

Unfortunately they strung us along without a final answer until we reached a point in our paperwork that we could no longer switch agencies.  I am not going to get in to the complexities of the politics that goverened the decision of our "faith-based" placing agency to STILL say "no" even after God's mighty hand moved a $10,000 mountain.   Let's just say that I don't believe those in authority always make the right decisions and I don't believe that God willed for Mei to spend another year in an institution rather than with our family.  But I do KNOW without a doubt that my God can redeem ANY broken thing and make it beautiful.  So, we look for the beauty on this journey back to China for our daughter.  

With the laws governing international adoption, a family is legally free to contract with another agency once they have received "Travel Approval" for the adoption in process.  With our social worker's blessing, we applied to a different agency and placed Mei's file on hold the day before we traveled to China.   With the hold on her file, we had 90 days to begin submitting more paperwork for her - time to settle in and bond with Titus before resuming the paper chase.  

It was a time of mixed emotions traveling to China for Titus knowing that we were also leaving our daughter behind.  We felt a triumph in completing his adoption, while also feeling defeated in our unaswered pleas on Mei's behalf.  The day we received Titus we asked the caregiver who brought him about how he sleeps.  She said he is a good sleeper, but every night he climbs out of his crib to sleep with the child next to him.  We thought this was good, as we were hoping he would cooperate with cosleeping for bonding.  The next day we visited the orphanage and the first thing they showed us in his room was his crib.  She pointed out "this is the bed that he climbs into every night."  and guess whose bed it was?!  Mei's.  Our suspicions about their close relationship were confirmed.  That night and two others during our time in China and a few times since he's been home, Titus has screamed out in the night "Yao Mei!"  I want Mei.  
Titus' bed is beneath the widow.  Mei's is the larger bed between it and the wall.  She is the one older child who sleeps in this baby/toddler room.

I can't really describe what it was like to see Mei and try to interact with her through the guide while not favoring her over the other children in the room or giving away our intentions.  It was sad to see where she was and get a glimpse of her life and wonder what another year there would do to her body, mind, and spirit.  It was a rare privilege that most adoptive parents don't get to be able to see her first on "her turf", even though with foreigners visiting it wasn't a true picture of her most natrual environment.  

We were able to give her a copy of the first picture we saw of her and Titus together and we thanked her for being his friend and told her we knew he would miss her.  We also brought along a small polaroid camera and took pictures of each of the kids for them to keep for themselves.  At one point Mei sat down beside me and I casually took a picture of the two of us together for her to keep.  I have no idea if she still has it, or if any of the kids were allowed to keep their pictures as a personal possession, but I thought that just maybe it may help her when we tell her that we are her family to remember that we had spent a little time together.  She sees foreigners come through there often with their new children and I wanted a way to stand out in her memory without giving hint of our plans.

As if we needed any more encouragement or confirmation of our plans to move forward with her adoption, take a look at this close up of the shirt she was wearing the day we met...

So now here we are on our way back to her!  We have had to re-do every single bit of paperwork that we did a year ago.  Our home study is complete and our dossier papers are nearly ready.  We are awaiting our immigration department fingerprinting appointment.  Please pray with us that our appointment will be soon and that our approval will come quickly so we can get our dossier sent to China!  

Now that you've heard how we came to the decision to adopt her, I look forward to telling you more about HER the next time I'm able to sit down and write!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Brotherly Love

"There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."  Psalm 18:24

Many people have asked how we're doing since my last post, which I wrote at just two months home.  Life has been busy!  We truly are thriving in the midst of this transition.  We've been home for 5 months now and its hard to believe there was ever a time we weren't together.  Life is becoming pretty "normal" and I'm even finding time to get back to personal projects like sewing and painting.  That's not to say it is without difficulty, but Jesus is showing us the way and we're all growing.  I'm looking forward to catching you up some more soon, but people have specifically asked about their prayers for our little boys.  Friends, thank you so much!  These two little brothers have reconciled their hurts and are bonding beautifully.  I don't have a lot of time today to be eloquent, so I'll go with the cuteness of pictures instead!  You can see for yourself how they're doing!

Indoor swing = genius!