Monday, December 31, 2012

Preparing for Diabetes

We found out just before our first trip that our girl has Type 1 diabetes.  After our trip to meet her, and learning her food/insulin/blood sugar information, I committed myself to eating more like a diabetic, so I could better help her manage her condition.

I started watching carbs, for the most part, trying to keep each meal in the range I needed for myself, if I was diabetic.  We already eat very little processed food, so there was no real change there.  But I hung onto my bread.  I may or may not have said many times at Golden Corral (and Quincy's when they still existed), "I know the Bible says man cannot live on bread alone, but with yeast rolls and sweet tea, I could make it."  I love bread, pasta, pastries, cake... if it has flour and yeast, I'll probably eat it.

But I knew my relationship with bread could only last so long.  Both my grandmother and mom are quite sensitive to grains, and their sensitivities showed up first with rice, then moved on to wheat and most other grains.  And about a year ago, I gave up rice, when I started turning red and itching after eating it.  I couldn't even wear my wedding ring, because the skin under my ring was raw.

I kept hearing people rave about Dr. Davis's book Wheat Belly, so I bought the e-book when it was on sale and began reading.  I'm promise I am not being paid to say this, but after being wheat-free for a week, I feel like a fog has lifted and I have energy, focus, and don't have to fight to stay awake in the afternoon.  I haven't noticed a difference on my waistline, but I think the added energy will help a LOT with that.

My goal for January is to go sugar-free, as well.  Not in my coffee, not in my oatmeal, no more delicious Chick-fil-A sweet tea, and no artificial sweeteners, either.  Not that I can stand the taste of them, anyway.

Anyone else go wheat- or sugar-free?  I'm really hoping this helps me to prepare for helping Tory manage diabetes.  The "side effects" so far are quite nice!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Timeline Update

I was very quiet these past few weeks, with the exception of my last post about our paperwork delay.  It was a huge weight off to share that burden with you, and the response from so many that we were being covered in prayer was such a blessing to my heavy heart.

Well, everyone, prayer works!  On Friday, I had a frantic message from our state-side agency that our paperwork was in their office, and they didn't realize it, and they were busting tail to get everything done and out the door.

That evening, they emailed the two packets to me for review and then get our signatures on.  Then we sent the paperwork, and our USCIS 2nd Child fees ($720) overnight to their office.  Our paperwork arrived and left their hands yesterday, and I am begging for your prayers for fast approval of our USCIS paperwork.  The approvals are typically coming in around 30 days, which means our paperwork should be approved right after the first of the year.

Thinking about our timeline now, here's where we stand:

USCIS approval: ~30 days (Jan. 3)

Article 5/Visa Interview: ~2 weeks (Jan. 17)

MOJ Signature to be assigned a Judge: ~3 weeks (Feb. 7)

Assigned Judge to set court date: ~3 weeks (Feb. 28)

Pick-up after court: ~3 weeks (March 21)

I don't know how the short winter shutdown, judge vacations, and agency schedules will affect this timeline, but I will be continually praying for favor with the USCIS agent, embassy, Minister, and Judge so we can return quickly, and I am begging for you to pray with me.

Oh, and thank you for continually sowing into our adoption.  If you peek at our "Priceless" page, you'll see that we're over $35,000 in, and under $7,000 to go!  All our agency fees are paid, so we're down to plane tickets, in-country expenses, and visa fees!

Monday, November 26, 2012

He Longs With Me

For the past several weeks, I've been meeting with other women from church and working through Beth Moore's study on Esther.  It has been so relevant to every woman participating, on different levels and in different areas of our lives.

This past session's DVD, Beth Moore said something so simply profound, which just spoke to my heart, and I felt hot tears on my cheeks. 

She read Isaiah 30:18: "Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion.  For the Lord is a God of justice.  Blessed are all who wait for Him."  She said, "A wait without longing is just a passing of time."  Then she pointed out that God is longing for His plans for us to come to fruition, just as we are.

So, when I'm missing my kids, wondering why paperwork that was supposed to be here 4 weeks ago still isn't here, why people who traveled after us are already sending back to our kids' country paperwork we haven't even gotten to start on, waiting for unanswered questions to be answered (here on Earth and from Heaven), I can rest assured that God is longing for these things just as much as little itty-bitty me.  He's excited about our gotcha day, anticipating our kids being orphans no more.

Before you think I've become patient, I'm on the verge of a big cry fest.  We've been waiting 6 weeks for papers that were supposed to be here in only 2, and I don't even know when they'll be here.  At this point, I'm beginning to wonder if our paperwork was lost with the postcard that never arrived.  (We mailed a postcard to the kids while we were in-country, and haven't gotten it yet.)  There are families who traveled after us that are now over a month ahead of us, because their immigration paperwork is finished, and we can't even start ours without the missing documents.  And I can't get an answer on where the paperwork is.  So, I'm most definitely failing in the patience department.

But those words were reassuring, as Scripture always is during my frequent moments of humanness.  And I'll take every bit of reassurance I can get when I'm getting ready to take away my toddler's award of "Best Tantrum Ever." 

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thank You Is Not Enough

There have been several times during our adoption where I tried to find something more eloquent to say than a simple 'thank you.'  Today is one of those days.

Yesterday, we had our first holiday after meeting the kids, after they became real, more than a picture.  While I was busy making food and spending time with several of our closest family friends, there was little time to think about missing them.  I noticed their absence in the little things; as we set up chairs at the kids' table, I told my friend, Jessica, that we'd need two more seats next year.  One of our friends asked at lunch, "What is it going to take to get them here?"

Last night, when the house was quiet and the dishes were done, I felt just how strongly my heart is aching to have them here with me.  It's so strange, a new feeling I've never experienced, to have my heart ache this way.

I smelled Denny the other night.  I was looking through pictures of our time with him, and I smelled his little scent, not freshly bathed, but also not too long past a bath.  Just his sweet scent.

I can still hear Tory's voice, remember how her chubby little fingers felt in my hand.

And I want them home.

And today, we made a big stride closer to them.  No, the paperwork we've been waiting on for over a month still isn't here.  But a dear couple came to our house this afternoon, and gave us a gift.  This couple has poured into our adoption again and again, and a simple 'thank you' does not do our gratitude justice. 

You know who you are, and you are such a blessing!  When our thanks don't seem enough, please know that you are such an encouragement to us in your selfless obedience.  I pray that more and more, our hearts are stretched like yours, and that we can be as much a blessing to others as you have been to us and to others in our community.

For those of you adopting or feeling pulled, we had no idea when we started where our funding would come from, or how it would come.  We praise GOD for every dollar that we've been able to pay, because it hasn't been from us.  I am continually amazed by how and who God moves, and I assure you, you will be amazed as well!

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Recap of Our Trip: Visit 2 & 3 (Take 2)

Our second visit with Tory was actually a full day, so I'm blogging it as visits 2 and 3 (typically visits are a couple of hours each, and we were with her for 7).

We drove from our apartment to her village, excited to see her again, and looking forward to spending a full day with her!  We pulled up to the orphanage and walked through the gate, up the sidewalk that passed in front of the building, and up the stairs to the door.  Even before we made it to the door, an excited little girl was there waiting for us!  She ran to me, then Scott, giving us each hugs and announcing that her Mama and Daddy were back to see her!

She was wearing the same outfit from the day before, only she had changed her shoes to white sneakers.  She's independent in picking out what she wants to wear, and it's her favorite outfit!  She had a new pink bag, full of her toys from the day before, and we were told that she had not let her gifts out of her sight!

We were not at the orphanage long before it was decided that it was a good time to go and take Tory's visa photo.  We left the orphanage with Tory and her baba, and made the drive to a city about half an hour away.  We parked and made our way to the local photo shop to have her picture taken, and she isn't a fan of you just clicking the camera in her face.  She sort of stared down the camera at first, but after a bit of coaxing, she finally smiled for the photographer!  She loves to see her picture after it's taken, and seemed pleased with her picture.

While we were there, I popped my camera's memory card out and put it in the photo kiosk, printing the picture we took the day before of the three of us.  Once it was finished, I gave it to Tory to add to her photo book.  She just beamed!  All pictures and paperwork finished, we asked for directions to the post office, so we could mail the postcard we picked up in Denny's region.  We knew we'd beat the postcard home, but our kids love getting things in the mail, and what's cooler than a postcard from mom and dad!  (As of this post, that postcard still hasn't made it here.  Hopefully within the next week?)

Tory spent the ride back to the orphanage looking back and forth between Scott and me, looking at our wedding rings, holding our hands, and listening to the conversation between our translator and her baba.  Neither of us can remember the question asked, and we almost missed it, but Tory was asked a question, and she responded with an English "yes" instead of "da."

Once back, it was time for us to learn more about her diabetes, and she sat down at the dining table, while her apartment "mother" explained her ideal blood sugar level, and how much insulin she gives based on her actual level.  Tory helped with each step of the now familiar process of checking her blood sugar level and receiving insulin.  She had lunch after that, a nice meal of fish, fresh tomato and cucumber, a feta-looking cheese, and an apple.  They take care of Tory, and for that, I am so very thankful.  I cannot imagine how Tory's diabetes would be handled in other orphanages, or if anyone would ever have bothered to push to find out why she lost weight suddenly, why she was apathetic about playing.

Tory wanted to take us on a walk through her village, and we were hungry, so she escorted us outside, up a set of stairs, and out a different gate that led further into the village.  She held Scott's hand the entire walk, and I stopped to take several pictures.  Somehow she knew when I stopped, and she turned around to call me to come on.  As we walked, we passed an old playground, with painted metal fencing around the outside, and metal swings, slides, and jungle gyms inside.  Our translator asked if she liked to play there, and she replied that she did.

We walked on to the grocery store, and Tory stopped once to drink from a running fountain.  We went in to the tiny store and got snacks and water, then walked back to the playground.  She wanted to swing on every single swing there, and would call to Scott to come push her or me to swing next to her.  I barely fit my hips into the metal swings, but we had so much fun, swinging and climbing on the playground.

It reminded me so much of my childhood, before all the metal playgrounds were gone, replaced by big plastic slides.  I know, I know, the metal gets hot in the summer, but there is something wonderfully nostalgic about the paint-chipped blue jungle gyms, red and yellow swings, and bright silver slides.  And not only that, but we talked about our tendency here to get rid of the old, bring in the new, and there, they preserve what they have.  It was beautiful, everything there was beautiful.

But back to our visit.  The one day there that the temperature changed drastically from morning to afternoon, I was wearing long sleeves, and I felt a headache coming on strong.  I was  a bit dehydrated, from eating these yummy dehydrated bread slices, and even drinking a liter of water wasn't enough to help.  We sat at a table at the playground, and Tory got out the nesting cups we gave her.  She would unstack and restack the cups, pretending they were full of tea or coffee or (ahem) beer, and occasionally full of chocolates for us to eat.  We must've played there for over an hour before walking back to the orphanage.

Back in her room, she changed into something more comfortable.  She called from her room into the living area "Obicham te, Mama!" again, just like the day before, telling me that she loves me.  My girl has been waiting for a Mama for a long time.  Even the initial report we received about her described that she would draw pictures and say they were for her Mama.   I don't know how far in advance they prepared her for us coming, but she knew that she was finally chosen before we arrived, and she was excited!

We sat down at a table in the living area, and Tory dealt cards to us.  She made the rules up as she went, calling the game 'Dog' (we called it 'Tory Makes the Rules' because we never knew how she was going to set up the game or make us turn in our cards).  But we laughed the entire time, and talked about how we are really in for a change at home with such a bossy young lady!  She is a sassy thing; cute, for sure, but S-A-S-S-Y!!!

Faster than we wanted, our day with Tory was over, and it was time to drive back to the capital.  She happily waved us off, knowing we'd be back the next day and ran to play with one of her friends.  My headache tapered off a bit, as I dozed on the drive.  We needed to sign documents and have them notarized, stating we wished to continue with the adoption, so we drove to meet one of the other ladies with our agency at a notary's office.  We went over the translations, signed 5 or so documents, then left to go back to the apartment.  We were so tired, and the cigarette smoke inside the notary's office brought my headache back in full force, so we didn't even eat out that night.  I think I fell asleep to Phineas & Ferb speaking a foreign language.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Recap of Our Trip: Visit 1 (Take 2)

We left Denny's region and made the drive about an hour northeast to Tory's region.  I was exhausted, emotionally drained, and apologized to our translator for nodding off so much.  So, I missed a bit of the drive, but I was awake enough to see the highway being widened (which we were told takes just as long over there as it does here, for anyone who has ever driven I-40 in NC and griped about the decade-long construction).  Getting in a quick nap meant I'd have energy for our first visit with Tory, so I didn't feel too guilty.

Denny lives just outside a decent-sized city, where there were several restaurants, plenty of stores, and um, a hotel.  Tory lives in a small village, and we passed what appeared to be a restaurant, probably more like a deli, and there was a very small grocery store.  Aside from a small playground, houses and the plentiful gardens that grew in front of the houses, there was nothing else in the village.

Denny being in a city and Tory being in a village had absolutely no correlation to the condition of their orphanages.  Where Denny's was very old, drafty, and dark, Tory's was completely renovated with all new... everything.  I was shocked when we walked up to the freshly painted building and were welcomed inside by one of the caretakers, who led us down a bright hallway to the director's office.  Every door we entered was new, the floors were new, it was immaculate.

As we entered the director's office, she was engaged in conversation with three or four older kids, and they left shortly after we came in.  She was instantly warm, and began talking to us almost faster than our translator could tell us what she was saying!  She was so excited that we had come to meet Tory; Tory woke up that morning and dressed in her favorite outfit to meet her Mommy and Daddy; the social worker was on her way in if we have any questions; we're a beautiful family, on and on, just beaming.

After speaking back and forth for a few minutes, she asked one last question: "Do you want to meet her?"  I almost jumped off the couch with my 'yes'.  Seriously, she has been a picture since January, and we had finally jumped through enough hoops, filled out enough paperwork, and paid enough of the fees to be standing in the director's office, just a door separating us from our daughter.

The door opened, and in walked a beautiful young lady, her dark hair braided around her head (which we later found out was done by one of the older girls there), wearing a pink shirt with matching denim skirt and jacket with pink flowers on the hem, white stockings, and pink shoes.  She. Loves. Pink.  This is her favorite outfit, and she wanted to be wearing it when she met us!

She shyly held her head down as we said hello to her, and someone suggested that she sit next to us.  She responded 'da' (yes) when questions were asked, but she was still too shy to look up.  My bag was sitting at my feet, and I pulled out the doll I made for her, with her name stitched on the front of the dress.  She immediately beamed and held the doll close to her, and the shyness was gone!  She did have one question about the doll, which I hadn't really considered, but she wanted to know where her panties were.  I told her I'd make a pair, and she was satisfied.

After a few moments, she leaned over to see if there were other things in my bag, and there were.  A couple of things I meant to leave at Denny's orphanage, but forgot.  There were nesting cups and one of those peg thingies that you can press your hand into, which she was absolutely terrified of at first!  Everything we gave her she would not put down, and kept saying, "These are mine, from my Mommy and Uncle Daddy."  ('Uncle' is a term they use for introducing male strangers, like we use 'Mister' here.)  Having personal possessions in an orphanage is a BIG deal, because almost everything is communal property.

She wanted to show us where she lives, so we made our way back up the hall and up the flight of stairs to another doorway.  Through this doorway was an apartment, with a kitchenette, dining area, living room, 2 bedrooms, and bathroom.  Everything was new, freshly updated.  We asked when these renovations happened, and it was all in the past two years, with the director advocating and looking for donors to sponsor all the updates.  It was wonderful to see how passionate she is about these kids, and made me feel so good about Tory waiting there for us.

The director left, and we were alone with Tory and our translator, who told us that she took the 40 pictures we received when we first inquired about Tory.  The pictures that were almost two years old when we committed to her.  So our translator, who we saw all week loved being with these kids, was personally invested in Tory finding a family.  I was so glad she was there for our first meeting!

We spent our time with Tory, just playing... with Legos (she gave Scott every single teeny tiny piece she dug out), with playing cards (we called the game "Tory Makes the Rules" because she would deal the cards in the order she wanted, take them away from you at random points during the game, and declare a different winner at the end of each round), and with the toys we brought.

She was still a bit reserved, keeping her personal space, except for one picture of the three of us, which for us was very reassuring, because all our education has stressed attachment and how it's important that children *don't* hug and show affection to each person they meet. 

She looked through the photo book we brought, stopped at each picture, and "kissed" each of us.  She'd say again and again, "I love Mommy, I love Uncle Daddy, I love the girl (Ayden), I love the child (Elijah), and I love the baby (Sadie)!"  She would just look at us and grin, and once she ran into her bedroom and called "Obicham te, Mama!" (I love you, Mama). 

A couple of the girls came into the room that afternoon, and they were learning English in school.  They were so proud to say "Hello.  How are you?  What is your name?" to us, and us respond.  One of the girls was the one who had fixed Tory's hair, and Tory loved any attention she got from her.

We left that afternoon with her standing at the doorway of the orphanage, and as we walked across the yard, she ran to each of her friends and said, "I have a Mommy!  I have a Daddy!" and showed the pictures to everyone.  Everyone.  She beamed the whole afternoon, and so did I.

We actually drove the director home that afternoon, to a larger city about half an hour from the orphanage, and she talked most of the time, asking how we thought the first meeting went, telling about the orphanage meeting the new EU requirements, talking about how happy she was that Tory was being adopted.  She talked about her son studying American legislation in college, which is why she was without a car.

Once we were back at our apartment in the capital, Scott's first words were "Whatever it takes, we've got to get them home fast!"  The difference between the two orphanages was night and day, and we were sad for Denny that he has grown so little in his, and thankful beyond measure that Tory is in such a wonderful place, especially considering the medical update we received just before we traveled: that she has Type 1 Diabetes.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Recap of Our Trip: Visit 5

I dreaded even getting up that morning, because going to see him meant saying 'goodbye' for the next several months.  But it also meant one more visit with this amazing little boy who, even when he was just a picture and especially now that he was real, had stolen a piece of my heart, and that was worth a few more months of waiting.

We drove to the orphanage, no sign of the cars that forbid us to drive the day before, and waited in the corridor while our translator went to have documents signed by the director.  A few moments later, and we wove our way back to the playroom to see Denny.

I walked in, scanning the room for my sweet boy, and didn't see him.  Another scan of the room, and he had turned his face toward us, and no wonder I didn't see him, his hair had been cut!  He had ears!!!  (You think I'm kidding, but his hair stood UP a good 4" on the top of his head, and was long enough that you couldn't see his ears.)  I rushed over and scooped him up, and he leaned in for the kisses he knew were coming.  A smart boy, that one, knowing that mommy loves to smooch on those cheeks! 

I asked our translator, and she confirmed that they had cut his hair for his visa picture.  Which meant that we got to leave the orphanage with him.  His physical therapist joined us, and the five of us drove down to the city, Denny sitting between Scott and me, his hands resting in mine.  In that short time, I imagined what it would feel like in a few months, knowing he was out for good, and I had to stop thinking, because I was getting emotional.  (They call it a "paper pregnancy" for a reason.)

I carried Denny from the car to a small shop tucked away in a corner of several buildings, and I had a moment where I thought, "I wonder how far I'd get if I just started running now."  I'm not in jail in a foreign country, so obviously logic won over insanity, but I get to be honest here, and it was a real thought.

Getting a 5 year old boy, who is cognitively and developmentally about a year old, to sit up with his head at just the right angle with his eyes looking straight at the camera and not irritating him in the process was no small task, but finally it happened.  I wish I had a picture of the scene, me practically laying on the stool, with Denny sideways on my lap, my arm hiding behind his body to push him into sitting up straight and move his head to the right position.  There were no less than 10 pictures taken, and I was so happy when the photographer finally looked pleased with a picture!

We waited for the photo to be cropped and printed, then we started back up the mountain to the orphanage.  The orphanage is not like most other places you go, where they fade into the scenery and you have a hard time picking them out from any of the other places around them.  No, this building was visible from the highway as we came into the city, and at almost every turn up the mountain, you get a view of it.  Every time I saw it on the drive back, it was silently pointing out that Denny was still stuck there, that I couldn't have him yet. 

Back in the playroom, we were left alone with Denny, and I wanted only to snuggle with him.  Our translator was in and out of the room, but she stayed on the far side of the room so Denny wouldn't notice her there.  I hadn't forgotten my goal of getting him to go down the stairs on his own, so when he seemed like he was ready to go, we made our way over to the stairs, and up he went.  At the top, he grabbed the railing again, knowing what I wanted him to do next.  I helped him bend one knee while stepping down with the other foot and cheered when his muscles didn't fight me to do it.

Once down, we circled around to do it again.  This time, at the top, he watched my face as he took a step down on his own, and I cheered so excitedly that Scott shushed me (oops)!  Denny is smart, capable, and loves to be praised!  He has just been trapped in a place where he has not been given more opportunities to grow and develop.

We sat back down with Scott to spend our last bit of time just being together and, even without a watch, I knew it was time to go.  More time passed, and no one came in to announce that our time was up.  I was thankful, but Denny was starting to get restless.  I didn't want our last visit to end like the day before, so I asked if it was time for him to eat and take a nap.  Our translator said the other children were already eating, and that we would need to leave soon so he could eat.

I stood Denny up, and he started walking with me, and I let him lead where he wanted to go.  Not surprising to me, he went straight for the door leading out of the playroom, knowing it was time to eat.  I picked him up and held him close once more, taking in my last moments with him as we walked back to the door that led to his bed.

When the door opened, he leaned into me, not wanting to be handed back, but thankfully he didn't scream.  I don't know that my heart could've handled leaving like that again.  I don't know if he expected us to be back again after his nap, but I prayed for him to know we'd be back as soon as we possibly could. 

We saw his physical therapist, and remembered that we never took the picture that I wanted of him with her.  She brought him back out and we sat together, getting a quick picture before leaving again.  Denny went back to his bed, and the physical therapist walked out with us.

I tried so hard not to cry as we left, and again I failed.  I can't even type without crying.  Leaving is hard.  It was, to date, the hardest part of the adoption.  It doesn't matter how much you tell yourself that it's the next step to bringing them home, or that in only a few months you'll have the rest of their lives, it's hard in the present, and in each day that passes.  I am so, so thankful that we took lots of pictures, because I look at them all the time. 

As hard as leaving was, it was bittersweet.  As our translator said, leaving meant we got to meet our daughter.  And she was only a picture for nine long months.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Recap of Our Trip: Visit 4

Denny always seemed more sluggish at our afternoon visits, and once again he was carried out to us and we made our way to the playroom.  We needed to give him about 10 minutes to wake up, so we sat together and I sang, bounced him on my knees, and played peek-a-boo until he was a little more alert.  He was eating up the attention and affection, and was really leaning in for kisses.  He would giggle every time my lips smacked his cheeks! 

Scott held Denny a bit, and they took in the view from the window.  (Denny prefers women, understandably so, since the only two men we saw at the orphanage never spoke to us or acknowledged the children, so he didn't want much to do with Scott until this visit.)  And we quickly discovered that Denny can almost run with the right motivation!  If Scott held Denny's hands, and I walked backwards on my knees, calling to him, Denny would do his best to run to get to me!  We were moving now! 

He had endless energy with this game, so we put the stairs to the test with our new game.  Scott helped him walk up the stairs, and I stood ready on the other side, to help him bend his leg and step down.  He needed a LOT of help, but when he made the first step down and I cheered "Bravo!!!!" his whole face lit up.  It made my heart so happy to see him love the praise so much.

Those were the fastest 2.5 hours of our trip, and we got our 10 minute notice from a caretaker.  Denny was doing so well this visit, and I wasn't ready to leave.  But leave we must, so I carried Denny back through the corridors that twisted to where the littles ate and slept.  The caretaker who just popped in to tell us we had 10 minutes was nowhere in sight, and another worker was walking up the stairs, and said she would take him.

I pulled Denny's arms from around my neck to pass him to the worker, and as I did, he started screaming and twisting to get back to me.  I fought every maternal instinct to pull him back to me, and the worker tried to shush him as she walked away, but I could hear him crying as we walked away, tears streaming down my face.  That was the first time he preferred me over someone else, and having to leave him right then was gut-wrenching.

The whole drive back to the hotel, I rode with my sunglasses on, trying to push back the tears, and quietly failing.  I thought about leaving Sadie in the NICU on my discharge date, and how similar the feeling was, even though one was carried in my womb for seven months, and the other in my heart for only three months.

Scott's words that evening mirrored my feelings, when he told me that he didn't care what it took, we had to get them home fast.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Recap of Our Trip: Visit 3

We drove up to the orphanage, and were stopped by two cars half-blocking the road, and a woman wagging her finger at our driver/translator.  We were told that a helicopter was passing over the trees next to the road, to spray chemicals, and that we couldn't drive on the road, and needed to park on the road that forked off of the road we were taking.

Somehow a difference of 100 ft. in where we drove and parked made a big difference, and we were okay to walk down the road to the orphanage, but told not to breathe in what the helicopter dropped if it passed again.  Reassuring, really.

We arrived to find Denny sitting on a big rocking fish in the large playroom, and I scooped him up immediately.  He definitely remembered us from the day before.  We were asked to move to the next room, which was much smaller, but we were able to focus solely on Denny.  We had little room to move, but we walked back and forth down a small hall that was part of this room connecting to the large playroom.  He was uninterested in the toys, unless one was in your hand, then he was interested long enough to toss it aside and take your hand.

After about an hour in the small room, the six or so other littles came filing out with the caretakers, and we were able to go in and work with Denny with a little more elbow room.  His physical therapist came in again, and we started with our questions while she showed us that she can't get him to walk down the therapy stairs, because he doesn't realize that he needs to bend one knee while stepping down with the other.

This became my goal for our time with Denny.  As much as I just wanted to sit and snuggle with this little guy, he's really ready to be mobile, and I had five hours (over the last 3 visits) left to work with him.  I was determined to get him to walk down the stairs before our visits were over.  Going up was no big deal, but he stood, stuck at the edge of the stairs going down.  He was eating up the praise, at least!

The therapist moved Denny to the ball pit, and that morning, he just did not want to be there.  He quickly got frustrated, and began to cry.  Immediately I had him back in my arms, but he went from frustrated to inconsolable very quickly.  A glance at the clock showed that he was right at lunch and naptime, so we needed to leave.  I hated to leave him crying, but knew he was with the one woman who shows him love, so it made it easier.

We walked back to the car by way of a trail on the back of the orphanage that lead down to the other road.  We saw old orchards and gardens, with rusted gates leading in, but no home remained.  We saw old cars and beautiful views.  My love for this country grew by the day.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Recap of Our Trip: Visit 2

We dropped our bags off in our hotel room, then met our translator to walk downtown to have lunch.  Our translator asked us what types of food we liked, and we told her that we didn't travel to another country to eat at McDonald's, so to please take us to a typical restaurant.  We sat in an outdoor part of a restaurant, one of several in a long line of restaurants and bars in the pedestrian area of the city.

Even before our food arrived, there were four or five cats circling our table, as if to say, "Look, Americans!  Maybe they'll take pity on us and give us a scrap!"  Our food came, Scott's meal a chicken leg with vegetables, mine a pork skewer with tomato, cucumber, and mashed potatoes on the side.  The cats were persistent, but easy to ignore, but one lunch guest was allowed to have its fill of Scott's plate of food: a yellow jacket.  The bee would fly over to Scott's chicken, tear off a small piece, and fly away with it.  I had never seen anything like that before, but I learned that I'm not the first one to have seen that and in some parts of the US, yellow jackets are called "meat bees."  (They are not called yellow jackets in Eastern Europe, by the way.)

After lunch, we asked for directions to an electric shop, because the adaptor we bought for the plugs did not work, since the plugs there were recessed and round, and our plug was square.  We found the shop, tucked away down a road I'd probably never be able to find again, and I paid less than $2 USD equivalent for the adaptor, which made me ill that I spent $13 on the one that didn't work.

It was time to head back to the orphanage, after Denny's nap.  After the ten-minute drive from the hotel to the orphanage, we walked in again, and this time we were asked to wait in one of the corridors, walls made entirely of windows that overlooked a play area one one side, and another windowed corridor on the other side.  The corridor was lined with plants, ranging from small hostas to snake plants, and while we waited, I followed the lace curtain as far as I could walk around, and realized that it was one long and continuous panel of lace.  The section I followed was at least 20 ft. long.

Finally, Denny was carried out and handed off to me by a caretaker, and we made our way back to the playroom, by way of the balcony.  Denny grabbed on to the swing as we walked past, and Scott received a nice bruise from being an inch too tall to miss the air conditioning unit sticking out next to the door we walked back into.

Once in the playroom, Denny seemed a bit more sluggish than he had in the morning, and there were no other children in sight.  We were told he was just up from his nap, and after playing with him for about 15 minutes, he started to perk up a bit.  Our translator talked to him, and he ate up the attention.  We talked to him, too, and he leaned his face into mine, loving being kissed.

It was in the afternoon that I really noticed his teeth.  The top teeth had a bit of plaque in the crevices, but his bottom teeth were not even visible, because of the thick layer of yellow plaque covering all but the very tips of what we believe are still baby teeth.  We found out that morning that he was still bottle-fed, with the pureed version of whatever the other children were eating.  Based on his bottom teeth, I guessed that he was just propped with a bottle, which would explain why he burped a lot in the afternoon.

Two hours of walking, dancing, climbing through the ball pit and up the therapy stairs passed quickly, and a caretaker came in to announce that we had 10 minutes left.  I quickly began to dislike the caretakers opening that door, because it meant the end of precious time with my son.  But Denny was tired... typically having one hour a day with someone who cares about you and 23 hours of mostly unengaged time, and then having 4-5 hours of attention in one day is exhausting.

So we left, back down the mountain to our hotel, where I fell asleep until time for dinner.  We walked from the hotel to the pedestrian area again, and chose another restaurant.  And oh, my first dinner in Denny's region is one I will never forget, and will most definitely try to replicate at home.  I'm going to cover my favorite meals in another post, and hopefully I'll be able to find recipes or just wing making them on my own, so I can share pictures.  Because I didn't want to be *that* person, the one with the big ol' camera at the dinner table, the "crazy American."

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Recap of Our Trip: Visit 1

We woke up Monday morning, packed up our bags, loaded them in the car, and made a 1.5 hour drive to Denny's region, where we would spend the next couple of days.

Even before we got to the city where he lives, our driver/translator pointed to a sprawling building up on the mountain and told us, "There is the orphanage."  We drove through the city, every turn to his orphanage etching into my mind, and I can vividly remember scenes from each day at the various buildings and homes we passed along the way.

We entered through the left part of the building, which we were told was the baby house, where Denny still lives, despite being almost 6 years old, because there is medical staff there.  We passed ride-on toys, walked through corridors, squeezed through doors that would stick half open, from the building settling over the years.

We squeezed past people, nodding and saying "Dober den" to each one we passed, and finally came to a small, dark room to be introduced to the director.  We sat on a small couch, waiting for Denny to be brought in, and I remember a large eye shadow compact sitting open on the table in front of the couch, like we had interrupted the director finishing putting on her makeup.

After a conversation between the director and our translator that lasted only a couple of minutes, the door opened again, and in the arms of a caretaker was our Denny!  I felt stuck, trying to find a way to squeeze around this little table and Scott's legs to get to my son, without jumping over the table.  Very quickly, the translator suggested we go into another room, so we went down halls, ducked under lace that hung over doorways, out onto a balcony that stretched the length of the orphanage, and into another hallway, through doorways, and finally made it to the playroom.

There were probably 7 other children in the playroom that morning, and the caretakers in the room quickly whisked all the other children out, so we would have the room to ourselves to play.  "Playing" for Denny meant nothing more than wanting to hold our hands, and any toy we offered was tossed aside, because toys were only in the way of holding our hands.  I held him close to me, rocked him, and told him we were there to be his Mama and Daddy.

His physical therapist came in, and I knew from the moment I saw her eyes that she was a kind person, who loved my boy very much.  She explained that she works with him for an hour a day, Monday through Friday, and that he had made a lot of progress, but not like being in a family.  She showed us how she works with him, and we used our hands as toys, encouraging him to walk, climb the therapy stairs, walk around the edge of the ball pit, and dance. 

By the time 11:30 came, Denny was tired, and his physical therapist took him to eat and have a nap.  She told our translator that she would be back the next morning if we had any questions for her.  We thanked the director for having us there and left, driving back down the mountain to take our bags to the hotel and find a restaurant for lunch.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Letter to You... Yes, You!

Dear (Your Name Here),

Our adoption process began in January.  Maybe you've been part of our story since the beginning, been part of our lives for years.  Or maybe you've only recently been introduced to us, or only know us as my profile picture on facebook.  Either way, this letter is for you.

We would not have spent a wonderful week in our kids' country without everything you have done for us.  I mean it.  I think back over the past several months, and I cannot even wrap my mind around how we have gotten to this point.  You entered giveaways, bid on auction items, ran a 5k, played in a soccer tournament.  You bought a t-shirt, a book, cleaning supplies, purses.  You emptied your basements into my van for a yard sale.  You gave us amazing items for giveaways (still grieving not being able to enter my own Chick-fil-A giveaway), crocheted hats and made jewelry.  You made $5 donations, $100 donations, and even $1,000+ donations.

And most importantly, more than the money and the participation in our endless fundraising efforts, you've been excited for us.  You've asked about where we are in our process, when the kids will be home.  You've congratulated us on every small milestone, and listened when I groaned again over how endless this process is.  (Sometimes, you've even told me to put on my big girl panties, and I needed that, too.)  And you really just don't know how important it is to know that we're supported, that our children are loved.

We're coming home now, after meeting two children God has made a place for in our family.  Our daughter and son.  A sister and brother.

We're not finished yet.  We still have more time, more paperwork, more financial mountains to climb.  But you have brought us this far, and we wanted to thank each of you for that. 

We love you, and are so incredibly blessed that you have chosen to be a part of our adoption story.

Scott and Chandres

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Goodbyes and Hellos

Yesterday was a long day, with a lot of emotional ups and downs.

We spent the morning with Denny, for our last visit.  We drove downtown to have his visa picture taken, and the orphanage staff had given him a haircut for the picture (it was so nice to discover that he has ears!).  We spent the rest of the morning in the two play rooms, but he is very big on having hands to hold, so a lot of our time was spent sitting together, with his hands in mine.  I kept promising him I'd be back, that he'd have hands to hold forever in just a few months. 

Normally, one of the caretakers would come in 15 minutes before we needed to go to tell us, but yesterday, no one came.  It was the last visit, the one none of us wanted to end.  My sweet boy was tired and hungry, and I didn't want him to be upset when we left, so when he walked me over to the door, we took that as our cue to leave.  A quick photo with his favorite caretaker later, we were off, and I did my best not to be an emotional wreck.  (Our translator assured me that it was good for me to be upset, which I know, but I was a little worried she'd think I was nuts... good for me that she understood.)

As sad as it was to leave him, I knew that leaving meant we got to meet our Tory, and I've longed for that for about nine months.  When we arrived, the director told us that Tory got dressed to meet us first thing this morning, and had been waiting all day for us to come! 

We first met with the director and the nurse, to go over her medical needs and her plan, since we now need to make sure we have everything in order to handle her diabetes.  (We're going to meet with doctors once we're home to go over current dosages, diet plan, etc.)

Then, the director asked if we wanted to meet her, and I couldn't hide my excitement!  "Yes!  Please, please!"  And in came a shy little thing, her chin tucked into her chest, and she sat next to Scott on the couch.  Our translator suggested I give her one of the toys we brought, and I reached down and handed her the doll I made.  That was all it took!  She hugged her and said she was never going to put her down!  Only seconds later, she was digging through the bag to see what other goodies she could find!

She absolutely loved the photo book we brought, and wanted to show everyone that she has a Mama and a Dad!  We spent another hour together, playing with the toys we brought, and watching her little personality come out.  When it was time for us to leave, she didn't want to walk out with us, and we believe she was crying.

Yesterday was emotionally draining, and I was physically exhausted.  I spent the evening wondering how Denny felt with us not coming back for an afternoon visit, and hoping that Tory didn't cry for long after we left.  This is definitely a roller coaster ride, but a few months from now, it will all be worth it!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Second Day Visits

My sweet Denny was a little overwhelmed this morning.  He is not used to having quite so much attention; instead he is used to being with a group all day, and only having an hour of one-on-one time with his favorite caretaker.

We arrived at 9:30 this morning, to find a happy Denny playing on a big toy fish rocker, and you could tell that he recognized us from yesterday.  We moved into the next room to play alone with him, and got him to walk even more.  He will do just about anything for you if you are holding his hands or if he is trying to get to your hands.  But when he is done walking, he sticks out his bottom and refuses to move his feet or lets his body completely flop.  So, our time exercising sounded something like this: "I-dee, Denny, hup, hup, hup.  Bravo!" ("hup" comes with each footstep)

By the end of our visit, around 11:30, he was very tired and hungry, and started to cry.  We left our sleepy Denny with his favorite caretaker, and told him we would be back. 

After a quick nap (thank you, jet lag) and lunch downtown, we bumped into Denny's favorite caretaker, walking through the pedestrian area between all the restaurants.  She and our translator talked for a moment, and it was decided that we would go with Denny downtown tomorrow to see where he has therapy twice a week, and then go to take his Visa photo.

This afternoon, we were greeted by a still sleepy Denny, who just woke up from his nap.  (He has the biggest cowlick/mohawk I've ever seen, by the way, and it stands just a bit taller after his naps.)  He was a bit zoned out at first, but we turned on the radio and took care of that!  The boy loves music and loves to dance!  He was happy to work on walking, if that meant Scott moving him across the room and holding his hands while he practically ran to me, smiling and giggling the whole time.  Over and over, up the stairs, down the stairs, across the room, just not into the ball pit.  It's too much work for him, and he gets easily frustrated.  Plus, he knows that no matter what he does, he can never truly reach you, because he is IN the pit, and you are OUT of the pit.

We had a wonderful two hours together, and we love that we have so much time with him, but this afternoon, at 5:30, it was time to leave, and I carried Denny back to the part of the orphanage where he eats and sleeps.  When the caretaker came out to take him, he started crying, knowing it meant we were leaving, and he tried to twist out of her arms to get back to me.

I had no choice but to leave him with a "ciao" and a promise to be back in the morning, and it just ripped at my heart to leave him crying like that.  I am hoping our last visit tomorrow is easier, since his favorite caretaker will be with him.  Then we go to meet our girl, "Katrin."

Oh, I cannot wait until I am able to share pictures... his smile makes his whole face light up, and he has the best giggle.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The First Visit

We left the capital city this morning, to drive to meet Denny in his region.  The windy and chilly morning meant more people were driving to work instead of walking, so we were stuck in traffic until we made it far enough out of the city.

Thanks to traffic, we finally made it to the orphanage at 10:30.  We could see it from the main road leading to the small city, sprawled out on the side of the mountain, beyond all the communist-era block tower housing.

We pulled up to the orphanage, and our translator told us that there were two orphanages in the same building: the baby house for ages 0-3, and the second was for ages 3-7.  I assumed he would be with the older kids, but we entered the baby house, and went to the director's office.

A few minutes later, in came a little boy with a head full of light brown hair, carried by his caretaker.  I cannot describe the moment where the picture becomes a person, but he was just beautiful!  Within a few moments, everyone decided it would be best to move to the playroom. 

We made our way to the large room, and found several other small children playing.  The other caretakers took the children into another room, so we were alone with our translator and one caretaker, who was in and out of the room.  He loves to be held, especially to hold your hands.  Even when I carried him, he kept trying to get me to give him both my hands, without understanding that I was using one hand to keep him on my hip.

After about half an hour, he started to calm down a lot, not that he was hyper or excited before, but you could just watch him melt.  The caretaker said this is what he needs: to be held and worked with and loved all the time, not just the hour that she can give him each day.

When we went back in the afternoon, Denny was carried into the hall and handed to me, and we made our way back to the playroom.  He was excited to see us, and was actually willing to walk with me, whether it was holding his hands and leading him or putting him in the ball pit and calling "I-dee" (phonetic spelling for 'come on'). 

He danced to music, played in the ball pit, climbed the stairs, and walked around, as long as his hands were in mine, or working to get his hands in mine.  He showed off his speech, which was only "I-dee" and his name.  By the end of our afternoon visit, he was babbling quite a bit, which is very good.  Three more visits with my boy... I am so dreading leaving him here, but so looking forward to bringing him home!

(I know you all want to see pictures, but this goes back to January, when we signed a privacy agreement with our agency not to publicly share photos.  So, give me a few months, when the kids are legally ours, and I'll post more pictures than you can count!)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Still Fundraising!!!

I'm still standing in awe of God's perfect timing of our current funding, and the jaw-dropping gift of $3,000, and I wanted to write a post about our upcoming needs.  Not from the standpoint of doubt, but from one of information, and especially because this need is time-sensitive and explains why I can't stop fundraising right now.

Counting our $3,000 gift, we'll have roughly $2,400 in our fund when we come home.  When we come home, our agency will be waiting on a package from our kids' country, so they can file our I-800 with USCIS (2nd stage immigration paperwork).  As soon as that package arrives, approximately 2 weeks after we come home from this trip, our final foreign fees will be due.  Some of our fees are due in euros, so this is a very close estimate. 

  $4100 - "Katrin's" fees
    4000 - "Denny's" fees
      900 - Post-Adoption Reporting Service fees
      500 - Report Deposit (refundable after 3 years)
      720 - USCIS fees (2nd unrelated child)
-   2400 - In our fund
  $7820 - Due about two weeks post-visit

I thought we would have more time to fundraise for these final fees, but we don't.  The timeline I originally read said we'd pay after we officially accept the referral for the children; then I read a timeline that said we'd pay when we received a court date.  The second timeline was for non-Hague cases, so my first information was correct.  We're looking at the end of October.

We've applied for grants, and have heard "no" from one and nothing from the others yet.  We're trusting in God's perfect provision, and we have had every penny as we've needed it thus far.  It's a big, scary number, but it means we'll have only a tiny bit left to raise for the final trip once it's paid. 

We're never sure from where the money will come, but it always does.  We don't know if it will come from a grant, or from a fundraiser, or as a large gift.  We don't know if we'll have it ahead of time or at the very last minute.  But we know it will be there.

In the meantime, our giveaway is still running, and we'll draw the second vacation winner on 10/15.  If we hit (or exceed) our goal of $2,500, we'll draw a winner for a $100 Amazon gift card, just in time for you to start Christmas shopping!  (Our current giveaway amount raised is $1,432!)

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Prayer of Relinquishment

A few months ago, one of my dear friends, Jessica, passed around copies of an article to a small group of women, gathered together for a short, 3-week study.  The article was from a Guidepost magazine from 1960, and her mother had passed a copy along to her.

The title of the article was "Prayer of Relinquishment" and was about a woman's journey through illness, and giving up control over that illness, even giving up praying for healing.  She questioned why some prayers are answered and others are not, even the most sincere prayers.

Coming to the end of herself, she told God, "I'm tired of asking.  I'm beaten through, God, You decide what You want for me."

She had not given up faith.  She had given up control over her health.  Over time, she realized that "a demanding spirit, with self-will as its rudder, blocks prayer... God absolutely refuses to violate our free will; that, unless self-will is voluntarily given up, God cannot move to answer prayer."

That hit me like a ton of bricks, and I thought back to times when I had witnessed God moving.  When Sadie was born, and her tiny 4 lb. body couldn't self-regulate temperature, couldn't be outside of her little "tanning bed," I went in to the NICU every day, trying to gauge when I thought she would be able to leave.  Of course, I wanted her to be well enough to leave, but I wanted it NOW!  It was so hard walking out of the hospital without her every day, and I cried out to God for 50 miles to the hospital and 50 miles home to make her well enough to come home.  Every single day.

I sat in the pod with her for 10-12 hours a day, praying over her, holding her close to me as often as I could, feeding her, bathing her, willing her time in the NICU to come to an end.  Finally, I let go of what I wanted and asked for God to heal her in His time, to let His will be done.  Within a day or two, we were asked to bring her car seat in, and she went home shortly after.

When we started this adoption, we needed $7,000 in 7 days, and I didn't know where that was coming from.  Even though we were fundraising, there wasn't enough.  I remember laying on my couch, crying violently, telling God that $7,000 was too much for me to raise in such a short time, that He would have to work it out.  That I didn't even know if I had a mustard seed of faith to go on.  And on the 7th day, ten minutes before our agency's office closed, I hand-delivered a check for the full amount.

And I thought about other times I prayed and prayed and prayed, and I didn't get an answer.  It's hard to let go of those prayers, to give up that control.  If God's not answering, at least I'm still asking, still doing something, right?

And this next part is really important.  "[The Prayer of Relinquishment] does not let us lie down in the dust of a godless universe and steel ourselves just for the worst.  Rather it says: 'This is my situation at the moment.  I'll face the reality of it.  But I'll also accept willingly whatever a loving Father sends.'  Acceptance therefore never slams the door on hope."

All of that novel to say this:  Early yesterday afternoon, I told God I was overwhelmed.  That I don't know if I can keep working on this large local fundraiser, get ready for two weeks of travel (and two weeks of everything at home needing to be ready), and focus on fundraising for plane tickets.  It was too much for me, so I just really needed Him to do something big.  I had reached the end of myself.  (Scott later told me that he had been praying for something big for me, because I was at the maximum I could handle.)

Now I'm tearing up as I type, because the answer was so swift, such a blessing to us, and such an incredible sacrifice on the part of the giver.  At 5:00, I received a phone call from one of my dear friends, who we are so blessed to have in our lives, and her family is gifting to us $3,000.  It's not here yet, but it will be.  I was an absolute mess after I hung up the phone.  I went to the one place every woman can have a good cry, and just washed all those tears of joy down the drain.  And at about 8:30 last night, I was handed two checks: one for $1,000 and one for $200.

So, the God of the universe, my Father, my Abba, the One who says He cares for the orphan, provided when I gave up on being in control of the money.  Once we have that $3,000 in hand, we will have the remainder of our first trip expenses, our USCIS fees that we need to pay as soon as we get home, and the start of our final fees, which will be due within a month or two of us coming home.

I immediately thought of Ephesians 3:20: "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us..."  He did abundantly more than I hoped for.  Abundantly more than I imagined.  He provided beyond my expectations.  As He always has, when I allow Him to.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

First Winner!

Just a quick update, since I said I'd draw the first winner after we passed the $1000 mark in our newest giveaway.

The winner of the first 4-night vacation is #190 of 229 entries... the lovely Erika Rogers!  (I'm guessing she'll want to stay in the cabin with that big, beautiful family!)

Thank you, dear friend, for sowing into our adoption, and let me know when you want to go!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane!!!!!!!!!

I was on the phone with Scott, just chatting a bit over lunch, and I saw the number on my cell phone caller ID.  THE number.  It was our agency.  Regular stuff happens over email, but BIG news makes the phone ring!

When I saw the number, I screamed something like "OhmigoshitshopscotchigottagonowBYE!!!" 


So, we leave in 11 days (and counting), on October 6!  And we're still fundraising for our first trip.  That ticker needs to read $9820 for us to be fully funded for our first trip.

Am I freaking out?  Nope.  I know we're good.  I don't know where it's coming from, but I know it's coming.  Our current giveaway is running until October 15, and we'll be drawing the first winner as soon as we raise $1000, and we're at $210.  It looks like we'll be drawing the other winners while we're in country!

In the meantime, if you don't see me in blogland or facebook, it's because I'm running around like a headless chicken, trying to pack for a 2-week trip, while organizing a very large fundraiser that is taking place the same day we leave, while packing my kids for a trip to the beach with my mom, while sending emails to the guests who have booked trips to my parents' vacation homes during the time I'll be gone, while still being mom to my three precious kids, who I am going to be miserable without while we're gone. 

I am so looking forward to updating everyone once we are in our kids' country.  Now, to get the money for the plane tickets... that I need to book NOW!  If you feel led to give, please know that every amount is needed, appreciated, and I will never be able to thank you enough.  If you can only share our need, please, please link people to our giveaway.  We've got two vacations up for grabs, plus a $100 Amazon gift card if we hit our goal of $2500 raised.

And a huge thank you to everyone who has been excited for us today!  And another thank you if you have offered to do even the smallest thing to make life easier for us before we travel, or while we are gone.  We are so, so blessed to have such an amazing support group!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Getaway Giveaway!!!

We are $2500 from having all we need to travel on our first trip, which is quite possibly just a month or so away!  So, it's time for another giveaway!

We're bringing home TWO kids, so how about TWO vacations, to your choice of TWO homes!!!

And because waiting is no fun, we're going to stagger the drawings for winners!  As soon as we reach $1000 in entries, we'll draw the first winner, and at the end of the giveaway, we'll draw the second winner!  (All entries from the first drawing will count toward the second drawing, so give early to make sure you don't miss TWO chances at winning!)

Here's how the entries will be added:

Sharing on facebook/twitter/blogs -- 1 entry per day
Up to $20 - 1 entry/$4 donated
$21-$50 - 1 entry/$3 donated
$51-$99 - 1 entry/$2 donated
$100+ - 1 entry/$1 donated

For those of you who don't like math, that's 2 entries for a $10 donation, 5 entries for a $20 donation (or 7 entries for a $21 donation!), 16 entries for a $50 donation (or 26 entries for a $52 donation), and so on.  The more you give, the better your odds, but even if you are only able to share, please tell me so I can add your entries!  

Donations can be made directly to our grant, so the donation IS tax-deductible.  In order for your donation to credit to the giveaway, you MUST email your Paypal receipt to me.  The giveaway is running from NOW through Monday, October 15 at 10:00 Eastern, so you have just over 3 weeks to donate, share, and help us raise the money for our plane tickets!

Oh, what's that?  You wanted to know more about the houses?  Well, why didn't you ask before?!  You'll have four nights at your choice of either a 3 bedroom/4 bathroom cabin or 2 bedroom/2 bathroom chalet, with hot tubs, pool tables, Xbox with Kinect, and only 10 minutes from Dollywood and everything else in Pigeon Forge, TN!  Slideshows for the homes are on the right side of the blog, under our grant button.

Oh, and if we hit our goal of $2,500, everyone who donates or shares will be entered to win a $100 Amazon gift card!  Just in time to do some Christmas shopping!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Coming Soon: Another Giveaway!

I don't post about money on this blog very often, for several reasons.  First, there are many families fundraising who have needed money urgently, and it was hard for me to push for our adoption when our need wasn't urgent.

Second, God has provided exactly what we needed, exactly when we needed it, and I try and pay attention to when I feel led to write about money and when I'm hearing the whipser of "Just leave it alone, be still."  So, when I feel the "be still" whisper, I do my best to do just that.

Recently, I felt I should be still on fundraising, and now, it's starting to sink in that we need another Three. Thousand. Dollars.  Not to finish, but by the time we go on our first trip, which could be as early as a month from now. 

We got the green light on another vacation giveaway, which is exciting!  And since we're bringing home TWO  kids, we'll have TWO vacations up for grabs!  As soon as I figure out how it's going to work, I'll make another blog post but, for now, that's your teaser!

Our grant button is hanging out on the right side of the blog, so if you want to help chisel at that $3,000 mountain, we'd appreciate every single cent!  And if you donate now, and forward your receipt to me, I'll make sure you're entered in the giveaway when I get it started!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The First Month of 7 - Halfway

I wrote an earlier blog post about studying Jen Hatmaker's newest bok 7:  An Experimental Mutiny on Excess.  And I was tempted to start a separate blog just for the book study, like a couple of my friends have.  But I struggle with what to write on this blog most days, without sounding like a broken record (still waiting to hear that our dossier has been reviewed, still need lots and lots of money, still coming up with ways to fundraise with my limited time available, etc.).

So, I'm borrowing my adoption blog, which I borrowed from my crafting blog.  I'm won't stop blogging about the adoption, but it's just easier than remembering another bloggy place, and I'm sure blogger is happy that I'm not going to create another account that's never going to be used after the book study is finished!

And here's my feeling about "7", after almost half of the first month:  cooking foods from impoverished countries while running the kids to soccer, Girl Scouts, piano, AWANA, Music Together, museum classes, and who knows where else, is HARD!  I feel guilty every day, and I feel like I'm missing the point of the book, which is to be intentional in our actions and in our sacrifice.  It mostly felt like I was always spinning out of control, and dinner was happening later and later every night.

We had our group meeting last night, where I admitted that I feel like I've failed this month, and the other women reassured me that I haven't.  I came home and talked to Scott, and he told me that this month had been MUCH more stressful for him, and he's usually the one who cooks.

So, I'm changing direction halfway through the month.  I think my goal was a bit unrealistic for the month when all our activities begin again.  Instead of focusing on preparing a meal each day from an impoverished country, I'm going to focus on preparing a meal that reduces the stress on my family and my husband (who has enough stress right now, but that's a whole other novel).  So, I'm dusting off the slow cooker, looking up recipes for cooking in bulk for freezing, and continuing to intentionally buy local food.  This will free up time to focus on my kids, which is something I never feel I have an excess of time to do, and we'll try recipes from other countries throughout all seven months, planned around our busy schedule!  And since Scott has cooked almost every meal for the past four years, actually doing the cooking myself is still a sacrifice.

And dinner tonight is already going in the slow cooker!  I made a bed of sweet potatoes and onion (purchased at the farmer's market), and laid a grass-fed beef roast on top (purchased from a friend whose father raises the livestock just a couple of hours from here).  I added in a bit of water and butter, instead of beef stock, and topped the roast with cinnamon, cardamom, and pepper.  Hello fall, and hello dinner after soccer practice!

(On a side note, if you only read the blog to follow the adoption, our dossier is in country, there was a big meeting yesterday to issue referrals, and our agency told us not to expect to hear anything this week.  More waiting, fun, fun.  And we still need somewhere in the ballpark of $2600 before our first trip.)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Birthday Wish

A baby was born
Ten years ago today;
The child of my heart,
An ocean away.

A crease on her palm
And almond-shaped eyes,
Meant for a mother,
She must say goodbye.

So long she has waited,
So much she has grown
One wish has the girl,
A mommy, a home.

Another birthday,
Another year passed;
Sweet child of my heart,
I promise, the last.

A late birthday gift,
If only you knew;
Just a few months more,
Your wish will come true.

~Chandres Pickett

Written for and dedicated to my VKP, on her tenth birthday.



Saturday, September 1, 2012

Beginning an Experimental Mutiny

These past few months, God's been working on my heart, and here are some facts that keep running through my head.  In our kids' country, their yearly minimum wage is less than one month of Scott's salary.

My friend in Zambia provides for his whole family each month on less than my weekly grocery budget.  That means his family's yearly income is less than two weeks of Scott's salary.  And the argument that "things are less expensive there, so they don't need as much" is not convincing me.  When he is trying to scrape by and care for his family, and also trying to minister to the people in his community, watching children starve all around him, it's not simply a matter of inflation in our economy.

So, when I read Jen Hatmaker's new book 7: An Experimental Mutiny on Excess, I knew I had found a way to shift my focus from simply feeling burdened to taking action.

I sped through the book in only two days and, after talking myself out of selling everything I own and moving to Africa (which would completely throw off the adoption, by the way), I talked to a couple of my girlfriends about doing a book study, going through the book month by month.  There were some changes my family made immediately, like...

1.  Parting with jewelry I don't wear, by holding an auction on facebook to raise money for the adoption.  (That auction raised over $800!!!!)

2.  Recycling!  Look at just two weeks worth of recyclables, and our area has a very limited list of things to recycle.

3.  Composting!  And no, it doesn't stink.  It smells like coffee, since we put our coffee filter and grounds in every morning!  We keep it 50/50 with wet and dry items, so we're actually keeping up with our shredding, since we need to add it to the compost to keep it dry enough. 

Between recycling and composting, we cut our trash in HALF!  We used to put two absolutely full trash cans out at the curb, but the past two weeks, we've had only one can of trash, and we'd have less if our area offered more recycling options, like more plastics and glass.

4.  Shopping local!  Look at my great spread from the farmer's market and meat shop uptown.  I love knowing where my food came from!

Today begins the month of September, and the book study's first month of 7, which deals with food.  In the book, Jen Hatmaker limited herself to only 7 ingredients for the whole month.  I took an idea from some of her girlfriends, who also followed the seven months with her, and our family will be eating traditional meals from seven impoverished countries/regions.

It's my plan to share the recipes and photos as the month goes on, probably not every day, but definitely our favorites!

Friday, August 24, 2012

"Dossier En Route"

In the middle of all the papaer-chasing, I've had the labels "Homestudy In Progress", "Compiling Dossier", and "USCIS Approved" on our Reece's Rainbow grant page.  While I am excited about having the label "Already Home", I'll settle for "Dossier En Route"!

Yep, after 7 months, the stack of paper affectionately known as "the baby" is heading across the ocean, where it will wait with other dossiers to be reviewed by the Ministry of Justice.  We are praying for the minister to be very swift with the pen, signing for us to be allowed to travel to meet our children!

Here I am, with one of the fantastic women at the agency, passing off the baby!  (I'm on the right, in case you have no idea what I look like.)

I am so, so relieved to have those documents out of my hands, knowing that puts us so, so much closer to our kids!  But at the same time, there is so much money invested in those documents, so much time spent working on that 2-inch thick stack of paperwork.  And it's no longer filed in my accordion file, no longer safe in my home.  It's crossing an ocean very soon, and you'd better believe I'm praying for it to arrive safely!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

An Update on the Bicycle!

I'm sure some of you read my A Place at Our Table post about our new friend in Africa, a pastor with only his feet for reaching the people in his community.  Well, at long last, God has answered his prayers for a bicycle!

I read something recently, though I cannot seem to find it again, that the timing of God answering our prayers is not solely for our benefit in having them answered, but also for the benefit of the ones who are used to answer the prayers.

My friend has prayed a long time to have a bicycle to more easily travel to those who need to hear about Christ, and he had to wait until we heard his story at a VBS program, for our hearts to be burdened for his need.

We are so incredibly thankful that we had the opportunity to open our wallets, stretch our hearts, and be a vessel to answer a prayer!  I've had several people ask if we'd heard from the pastor since he received his bicycle, and I am happy to say YES!  We email daily, and I cry at the wonderful things he shares about what that bicycle and cart are doing in his village and in the compounds, where the very poor live.

Even more have asked me if I've seen him with the bicycle, and I'm happy to say that I have several pictures of his family, and this one is my favorite!

What a beautiful family! 

As much as I love seeing his children climbing into the cart, I especially love the mental image I have of the children in the compounds, waiting on an anthill for him to come riding the bike with the cart to visit with them!  He shares about Jesus, and takes them for a ride in the cart!  There are around 30 children he's been able to minister to this past week!

I hope to have more updates on Christopher, his ministry, and the needs in his area, especially in the very poor compounds farther from town.

***While we purchased this bicycle and cart specifically for Christopher, ZAMBIKES has a ministry of their own, where donations are received through their company, and bicycles, carts, and even ambulance carts are given to people in Zambia.  See how you can help, and learn more about this wonderful company!***

Monday, August 13, 2012

Adoption Speak: 101

Before December, I'd read an adoption-related update and think, "What in the world is a dossier?"  "Who is USCIS, and why are some people saying I-800A and others saying I-600A?"  Even after beginning our own process, I asked several adoption friends "Why is I-797C on my dossier checklist?  What happened to the I-800A?  I don't understand why I subtracted 3 and went up two letters!"

Now that I'm in the process, I can speak adoption fluently!  But I am forgetting that I have friends following the adoption that don't speak adoption, so I'm turning this blog post into a sort of crash course in my new lingo, as well as a big catch-up post for those of you new to reading over here.

Our homestudy was complete and in our hands in July, and required fingerprinting for state background checks, child abuse clearances, driving records, tax returns, home, auto, life, and health insurance policies, education requirements being met, and so much more.  There were 24 items on my checklist, I believe.  This is simply a thorough investigation on our family, to make sure we're good candidates for adoption.

Once the homestudy was in hand, we needed to submit our homestudy and I-800A to USCIS.  The United States Citizenship & Immigration Services reviews the homestudy and approves us to bring foreigners into the country as US Citizens.  The I-800A is an application to adopt from a Hague Convention country (meaning everything is above the table, fees are determined in the beginning and are clearly outlined, and I'm sure there are other differences, but I've been too wrapped up in this process that I haven't looked into others).

We received our I-797C (the thing on my checklist that I just didn't get for what seemed like a long time, which is our I-800A approval) in the mail today!!!  We now need to have it notarized and apostilled, then it will go into our dossier, which is nearly complete (just waiting on some apostilled documents to come back).

Oh, boy, the dossier.  Months of paper-chasing, all for the dossier.  The stack of paperwork that every paper-pregnant family loves almost as much as the children they're adopting, after working so hard to pull it together.  The homestudy, FBI clearances, marriage certificate, medical certificates, agency licenses, fee agreements, powers of attorney for two agencies, photo pages, and more (and some of it in triplicate)!  Sending it off is much anticipated and much dreaded because, for a few days, a package worth hundreds and hundreds of dollars and months and months of time will be headed across the ocean.  It goes beyond "tracking" a package, to "stalking" every move that box makes until you know it's safely on the desk at the Ministry of Justice.

Where it waits.  Or at least ours will.  The MOJ is currently shut down for six weeks, and will re-open in mid-September.  I'm still confused about what happens during the six-week shutdown, because they aren't closed, but it seems almost like a catch-up time.  If you sent your dossier in before the shutdown, then they'll get to it during the shutdown, but if you send it during the shutdown, you'll wait until they re-open.

I really have no idea how long it will take before they get to our dossier, but I would love to travel in late October/early November.  So, we're hoping for around 6-8 weeks after the MOJ re-opens.  And I have no idea whether or not that's a realistic goal, it's just my hope. 

After our trip to meet the kids, we'll come home and file our I-800 (different from the I-800A), which is our petition to adopt our two kids, specifically.  We'll have a visa interview (and by "we" I think I mean our attorney), get our Article 5 letter (I have no idea what that is yet, but I think it comes from the visa interview), and submit that with all our second stage documents (more medical certificates, and other things I won't worry about until I'm done with the dossier) to the MOJ.  We'll be assigned a judge, who will assign us a court date, and our attorney will go to court for us.  At that point, I'll finally be able to show pictures!

After all that, we'll be invited to come back and bring our kids home!  The times between travel seem to average about 5 months, so I'm hopefully still good with my "As long as they're home by Mother's Day, I'll be happy" statement. 

It sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but it's not always busy and chaotic.  There's a lot of waiting, and then there are crazy busy times.  The busy times are almost easier than the wait, because at least when you're busy you feel productive.

Got any questions about the adoption?  Just ask, it's one of my favorite topics of conversation!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I-800A Approval!!!

I'm having a hard time focusing today, because the first email I saw in my inbox was from "NBC Hague" and it was a message from our officer, saying that our I-800A was approved!!!!  Once it comes in the mail, I'll send it off to be apostilled, and it will go into our dossier, which will be ready to mail!

(For other paper-pregnant people interested, we mailed our application on July 12, the check cleared the bank on July 19, we received our biometric notice on July 28 (appt. date was for August 7), we walked in early on July 31, and I called just this Monday to see if we'd been assigned an officer, and we hadn't.  Three days shy of one month for USCIS!)

I keep going over my dossier checklist, making sure I've got all my ducks in a row.  I've got a stack of documents out for apostille, and that leaves only one document for the dossier that I need to take care of, and I'm waiting on our foreign agency to send that document for us to have notarized and apostilled.

The MOJ (Ministry of Justice) in our kiddos' country is shut down until mid-September, so that means if we mail our dossier out in two weeks (accounting for apostille times), it will be translated and waiting to be submitted the day the MOJ reopens!  I'm sticking with my late October guess for travel, and we need $3,448 to do that, not counting the current facebook auction that's running through August 18, which has just passed $400 in bids!

Okay, I'm off to try to be productive today, but all I can think of is "We're I-800A approved!!!!"

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Quenching the Spirit

Over the past week, I have to believe that the Holy Spirit has been whispering to my heart.  I have no other way to explain these four things, all separate from each other, and all the same.

First, my pastor's sermon last week was on Quenching the Holy Spirit, and how we, as human as we are, have the ability to limit what the Holy Spirit can do through us.  Is that not amazing?!  We can limit God.  The Creator of the universe can be held back my me, and what I'll allow Him to do through me.

Second, I'm in a very short 3-week study with a group of women on "The Prayer of Relinquishment," an article written in 1960 by a woman who realized she needed to give up control over specific things in her life in order for God to work in those areas. 

Third, my new friend in Africa, the pastor with a bike on the way, posted on facebook on Friday (with his donated cell phone to keep in contact with his "family" here in the US).  His words were: "We quench the Holy Spirit by refusing His authority over us.  In other words, by choosing not to yield to Him.  He therefore retreats His activity and fullness in us, sometimes even to the point that we may not sense His presence."

Last, my very good friend, Mandy, wrote this just now:  "There are no limits on what God can do, except for the ones we ourselves create. Don't put yourself in God's way. Allow Him to accomplish His good and perfect will in your life. He won't force you, you have to let him." 

Whoa.  I don't even have anything more to add, I just need to chew on all this, pray about all this.  Good Sunday morning, I'm off to church!

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Place at Our Table

About a month ago, we sold our dining table and chairs and bought a new (to us) dining table.  It was a break-even deal on the sale and purchase, though we're using a bench made by the seller to match the table and wooden folding chairs as seating.

We bought the new table because it's 7 ft. long and can extend to 11 ft. long with the leaves that tuck into the end.  Which means we can fit more people at our table!  Just this past Sunday, we had our good friends, Marty and Mandy Rhodes, with their four children, sitting around our dining table, enjoying lunch together.  And we all fit around the table, even without extending the leaves.

I love having friends over, because I really enjoy the company, the conversations, and an excuse to put on a fresh pot of coffee in the afternoon.  But is that all? 

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” 

And it made me ask myself, who do we have at our table?  Not only literally, but also figuratively.  Who do you have at your table?  Who do you sign up to take meals to, who do you invite in to your home, who's on your Christmas gift and mailing list?  Where do you send (or spend) your money?

I'd like to tell about a couple of the guests at the Pickett banquet, not to pat myself on the back or for any glory for myself or my family, but to give all the glory to God, for His provision so that we are able to give, even out of our need for funding.   

My children were at VBS last week, where they also attend AWANA.  All week, Ayden and Elijah were talking about Christopher from Zambia, who would love to have a bicycle, and I assumed the church sponsored a child from Compassion International, like our Akoete.  I was only there at the end of VBS, when the donations for the night were announced, and I was imagining the happy smile of a young boy and his family when they received a large financial gift from their church sponsor.

Then Friday night, the parents were asked to stay the entire evening, and the pastor of the church told us Christopher's story.  I was confused when I saw that Christopher is not a small boy, he's a pastor in Zambia.  A pastor who travels on foot to his church and to minister to his community.  A pastor whose family is scraping by on the equivalent of $160 USD per month.  A pastor who wants a bicycle to be able to reach more people, to bring more glory to God.

As I sat there in the pew, my heart breaking as I listened to his story, about him holding his wife as she died giving birth to their daughter, his faith during crisis, and his love for the people in his village, and him remarrying and having another child, and seeing the photos of all the ways they serve, all the ministries they run.  And all he wants is a bike.  A bike!  My kids have bikes they barely ride, and only when they want to.  Christopher wants a bicycle to be able to reach more people, win more souls to the Kingdom of God, for God's glory alone.

And I knew.  I knew right then that Christopher had a place at our table.  I had to force my feet to walk past the pastor as we left the sanctuary and went to the fellowship hall, because I knew I needed to talk to Scott about buying a bicycle before talking to the pastor.  As soon as we sat down to eat, Scott's first words were "We're buying him a bike."  Out of God's perfect provision, we have what is needed to buy a bike from Zambikes, a company in Zambia.  Christopher will soon have a bicycle, and hopefully a small cart that attaches to the back.

Now, back to the Rhodes family.  They literally and figuratively have a place at our table.  They were here for lunch on Sunday, because they needed to be in town to have commitment paperwork notarized.  COMMITMENT paperwork.  They are GOING BACK!  While I would love to tell this story, because of how beautifully God has written every small detail, it is not mine to tell, and cannot be told until they are officially committed.

Their unplanned, unexpected paper pregnancy comes with around $7,500 in up-front expenses, between the commitment fees, homestudy, background checks, and apostille fees.  Oh, how I remember being there, how stressful those upfront costs were.  So, please, sow into their adoption, no matter how little or how much.  Pull a few extra chairs up to your table.  Donations can be made to the ChipIn on their blog, and they need $2,400 of those fees NOW to start the expedited homestudy. 

I'll end this very long post with a quote:  "Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little." -Edmund Burke