Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sweet Adoption Dreams

A handful of times along our adoption journey, I have been blessed with the most amazing and comforting dreams.  Now, I know this might seem a bit hokey and I honestly thought so myself the first time it happened.  I chalked my dream up to something I must have read the previous day or a conversation I had with someone.  However, two months after having one these dreams something amazing happened.  We received our referral and there it was, a connection to my dream.  Written in one of the reports we received about our daughter was her birth location or 'hometown', the same town that I had dreamed of.  

There was also a time period when I found myself awake every night around 3 a.m.  This went on for nearly a month.  Every night I would pray to God and ask Him for direction, guidance, discernment.  What message was He trying to send?   At one point, I thought we had cracked the code.  We made a few changes that expanded our adoption request and surely peace, solace, and sleep would be on the way.  Wrong!  So...prayers continued and one fine day, we heard loud and clear what God was asking.  The precious boy who we had been praying about daily for months is going to be our son.  That was it.  Why hadn't we figured this out months ago? The reason, I believe, is that God knows me (of course, better than I know myself) and had He revealed this to us months ago, I would have been a nervous wreck.  You see, it is our adoption agency's policy that we receive our infant daughter's referral first.  We had to wait for her to pursue him.  

On a more somber note, hindsight showed that during this period of sleepless nights there was another family contemplating what I would imagine to be the most difficult decision ever.  As I lie awake praying, God was preparing my heart for our daughter.  He was bringing our two worlds closer together.  I imagine that He was also comforting her first family, the family that was facing a decision that I cannot even grasp.  A family that probably loves her more than life itself, yet was forced to make a life-altering decision.  I pray for that family daily and ask the Holy Spirit to unite us and forever bind us in God the Father. 

The other night I had the most amazing dream about our son.  He was here, we were all together.  His bright smile lit up the room and I sensed unity, laughter, and a ton of affection.  When I awoke from this dream, I was still hugging our son and that joyful feeling has been carrying me for days.  

It is only a matter of time, God's time, that my dreams and reality will unite.   Praise God for that beautiful day!
Photo Credit

Monday, September 13, 2010

Acts of Mercy vs. Acts of Justice

One recent Sunday morning as we settled in and began listening to the message, I couldn't help but laugh.  Yet again, another message speaking directly to us.  Did this sort of thing happen pre-adoption journey?  I am certain it did; however, the magnitude and frequency of these occurrences is worth noting.  God knows those of us on the journey need to hear Him and therefore fills our calendars with these divine appointments. 

The message on this particular Sunday was on the difference between an act of mercy and an act of justice.  Below is the (condensed) story our pastor shared, and one you may be familiar with:
One day, bunch of villagers found a baby floating down the river.  When the elders asked what they would do, the villagers responding by taking the baby in, clothing him, and caring for him.  Every day, the same situation unfolded, only the numbers of babies found each day increased exponentially.  When asked what the villagers would do, every day the response was the same.  The people took in the babies and cared for them.  Finally, one day when asked what they were going to do, a wise man replied, "I want to go up the river and see who keeps placing the babies in the river."
The take away message, and one that just happened to have a literal meaning for us, is that adoption is an act of mercy.  Acts of mercy are certainly good things and God wants us to love and take care of one another.  In addition, adoption is spoken of highly in the Bible.  We are told that God places the lonely in family (Psalm 68:6) and that God cares for orphans and widows (James 1:27).  However, an act of justice requires righting the wrongs that cause adoption to be necessary in the first place.  This is a huge task, obviously.  However, doing nothing is not acceptable.  Proverbs 24:12 tells us that "Once our eyes are opened, we cannot pretend we do not know what to do.  God, who weighs on our hearts and keeps our souls knows we know and holds us responsible to act."  Little by little, as the world becomes a smaller place and ordinary human beings step up and make a difference, the atrocities that occur daily in many parts of the world will hopefully be eradicated.  After all, that is what needs to happen and nothing is too big for God!
Photo Credit

Thursday, September 9, 2010

When Consumption Consumes You. Hold the Trinkets!

There are many areas of our children's Ethiopian heritage we hope to embrace, assimilate, and keep alive.  The easy ones will be food, music and dance, love for soccer, and love for family and community.  A not-so-easy one may be language and the hardest by far yet one that I am determined to use as a benchmark for our entire family is that of consumption.  

Here in America, we consume simply to consume.  It is unfortunate that the driving force behind America's prosperity is also the one that tricks, ahem, I mean makes us realize through clever marketing campaigns, appetizing color schemes, and a host of other business strategies, that we need whatever product or service is being sold.  However, in Ethiopia and other developing nations consumption is a matter of necessity.  In all reality, consumption should be that simple.  One is hungry, one finds food or a way to sell something to get food.  However, we have become so rich that as a nation have lost sight of the beauty in that simplicity.    

Deuteronomy 24:21 says, "When you gather the grapes in your vineyard, don't glean the vines after they are picked.  Leave the remaining grapes for the foreigners, the orphans, and the widows."  

It seems that we are gleaning to the edge of our fields and then some.  There are more than enough resources to feed, cloth, and hydrate every person alive.  However, that is not what we do.  For example, 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending, while the 33 percent of the world's population living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent. Americans alone make up only 5% of the world's population yet consume 24% of the world's energy.  Yikes!

It is amazing the amount of stress our "stuff" can cause us.  More stuff, more stress, more worry.  For people like myself who like all of their stuff to live in "homes", it only seems natural to simplify.  But that, we know, is an uphill battle in America where more is better and tomorrow has already outdated today.  Looking around my own house, there is actually very little that gets daily use and I imagine the same holds true for most homes.  Our beds, linens, hygiene items, clothing, and cookware and cleaning items seem to top the list.  After that, what is considered necessity is quite relative. 

As we draw closer to bringing our children home, I pray God helps us to embrace the simple things in life, to learn from our children, and to help them by providing for them yet not letting them lose sight of what is truly important.  I pray that God helps us and our children understand how to live in this world, but not be consumed by this world; that He helps us discern what we truly need versus what is frivolous.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

It's 2:00 a.m. Do You Know Where Your Kids Are?

I do.  Two of our children are tucked in, sound asleep in their comfy, air-conditioned bedrooms.  The other two are 8,000 miles away, in a land foreign to us but all they have ever known.  They are being cared for by wonderful nannies and are having their basic needs met.  There are doctors, psychologists, and nurses.  They are loved on, hugged, fed, bathed, and tucked into bed.  Not bad for a least developed country.  I know God is watching over them and He is orchestrating every detail of this process.  However, my heart aches for us to all be together.  

Tonight has been one of those nights where I lie awake thinking about two of our children.  While they live and grow in our hearts, our physical separation can be extremely painful.  We have seen their sweet faces, read over their profile, and heard stories about their personalitiesWe cling to these documents as if somehow they will cling back.  We pray that their hearts remain open to our love and that God gives them wisdom beyond their years to accept and love us.  We ask God to protect them and keep them safe and that He will unite us together soon.  

In the meantime, we ask Him to help us use our time wisely.  To love and cherish our family, to prepare our hearts and homes for our children's arrival, to make necessary preparations, and most importantly to love and worship Him.  

Philippians 4:6-7 says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.  And the peace of God which transcends ALL understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. 

Friday, September 3, 2010

Why Does Adoption Cost So Much?

Another question I am asked quite frequently is about the cost of adoption.  Shouldn’t adoption be free?  After all, millions of children need homes, right? 

While it is true that in a perfect world, that was not governed by human law but by God’s command to love and take care of one another, adoption would be free.  But then again, in a perfect world, there would be no need for adoption.  Sadly, that is a far cry from the world we live in.  We live in a world made up of borders and laws.  We have to follow national and international laws and treaties, state and local laws, and also the customs and courtesies of each county.  The same laws that will protect our children and guarantee them the basic rights afforded to all US citizens are the laws that have definitions attached.  If this was not the case, how would we define “dependent children” or “citizen”? 

With that being said, in order to protect birth parents, adoptive parents, and most importantly the children, there are fees associated with legal contracts, government issued documents, social work reports, document processing and filing, and travel expenses.  There are fees required to help with the transition homes and orphanages where our children are being cared for. There are fees associated with our adoption agency, where countless people work to facilitate adoptions.  Keep in mind, adoption agencies are 510 (c)(3) or “not for profit” organizations. 

It is true, adoptions are a very costly undertaking.  My best guess is that most domestic and international adoptions cost an average of $25,000.  To do a quick comparison, most Americans spend about that much on a new vehicle, yet the average American owns his or her vehicle for less than five years.  To help ease the financial burden, there are many fundraising options and grants available to adoptive families. 

If you feel like God is leading you to adopt, please to not let the “price tag” be a show stopper.  While finances are indeed important, there are creative ways to raise the funds necessary.  Is it hard work?  Of course!  Do you have to put more faith in God to provide than you are comfortable with?  Yup!  Will God provide?  No doubt! 

Matthew 6:26 says, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” 

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Referral Call

Our adoption agency has an amazing resource that will no doubt continue to serve adoptive families throughout the years.  We have an online group dedicated solely to Ethiopian adoptive families in our agency.  There are families just beginning the journey, those in the "paper chase" stage, those enduring the paper pregnancy, or wait, those who have received their referrals, those who have passed court, and those traveling to bring their children home.  One of the databases we keep is an unofficial list of families waiting for referrals.  This list is racked and stacked and everyone is assigned an (unofficial) number.  This list serves as a huge blessing, but also creates a bit of anxiety.  Don't get me wrong, I breathed this list in every night.  However, once our names arrived at the top of the list, I was an anxious Annie. 

In the adoption world, "referral day" is one of the most anticipated and longed for days. After all of the paperwork has been done and redone, after enduring countless months of waiting and possibly having to update any number of time-sensitive documents, we wait (not so) patiently by our phones and laptops.  The phone call could come at any time and we DO NOT want to miss it.  We take our cell phones everywhere with us: to the gym, the shower, the bathroom, as if staring at our phone will some how telepathically communicate to our adoption agency that we are READY.

Our phone call arrived on August 19, 2010.  That day will go down in the books as one of the happiest days of our lives.  As our family coordinator began talking and I heard the words, "This is your referral call" the tears immediately came.  I was so overwhelmed with emotion I could barely speak.  We were expecting a call from her that week, but the call we received blessed us doubly. We were receiving a referral for a beautiful and healthy 11 month old baby girl AND a referral for a handsome, athletic 11 year old boy.  This was it.  The day we waited over one year for.  The day that makes all of the prayer, hard work, and dedication worth every second.

Every time I think about that day, I still cannot believe everything is coming together.  We are overjoyed and extremely thankful.  We are nervous and yet as ready as we are ever going to be.  As we endure these last few months of separation from our children, we ask for prayers of comfort, guidance, wisdom and peace of mind.  We know the Lord is watching over our children and preparing their hearts for our love.  We excitedly wait for the day when our entire family is under the same roof!

James 1:27
"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."

When God Leads Us Out of Our Comfort Zone: Matthew 6: 25-34

I love it when the Lord uses a sermon, daily devotional, or other seemingly random encounter to speak directly to me.

Throughout this summer, the Lord has used all of the above means to get across the message that He trusts me to step out of my comfort zone and take a huge leap of faith.  Being the control freak that I am, I usually like to have a battle plan with every worst case scenario covered and a handful of contingency plans to boot.  However, God is leading our family down a road with many unknowns.  Answers may not be found in textbooks.  There may not be a tried and true method to handling this new and exciting chapter.  Our family may take on a whole new look and feel.  After months of prayer, consideration, and looking for answers, we decided to expand our adoption request to include two children, with one child being eleven years old!  This is where we thought God wanted to us be from the beginning, but we began this process overly-cautious.  Because this was not God's desire, He used every avenue of approach to reach us and get us to where He wanted us.

Bible Study: 
This summer, our Women's Ministry completed Margaret Feinberg's study, "Scouting The Divine".  Each and every week there was mention of caring for orphans and widows;  however two messages in Scripture stood out and resonating in my heart and mind.  The first was Deuteronomy 24: 14-22.  This Old Testament verse commands us to not glean to edge of our fields, but to make sure we leave some for the widows, orphans, and foreigners.  The second message is found in Matthew 6:25-34.   In these verses, Jesus is telling us not to worry.  In verses 25-27 Jesus says, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"

After letting those verses sink in, the things that worried us were reduced to silly nuances.  How could we think that just because our children's college savings plans and activity funds might not look like we expected or that we might have a bridge a communication and culture gap that God would not provide for us.  The things that worry us do not worry God.  He leads, we follow, He provides.  As we open our hearts and follow His plan for us, our spiritual blessings increase.

Not-So-Random Encounters:
God has placed in our paths numerous ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  A regular family who has adopted four children within a two year time frame, two of these children with special needs.  A young pregnant woman who chose to spend her summer in Africa doing mission work, away from all of the creature comforts and prenatal care she would receive at home.  Another woman who chose to sell all of her belongings and move herself and her son to Africa, not knowing what each day would bring.  Each of these stories provided encouragement and helped us believe that yes, we too, are able to ask God to use our hands, feet, heart, and home to do His work.

I find is almost humorous that the things we stress about or are fearful of become the exact things we find comfort  and peace in once we trust in the Lord.  As soon as we understood where God was taking us and said, "Yes, Lord!"  every bit of worry or concern practically vanished.  In its place lives pure joy, excitement, anticipation, and delight.  Thank you, Lord for trusting us, leading us, and providing for our every need!

The Seed Of Adoption Was Planted: Romans 8:15

I cannot say the exact moment that it happened, but I remember thinking from a very early age that I need to help those who cannot help themselves.  The driving force behind this idea came from my mother.  Although my mom spent her entire childhood in a children's home (orphanage), or "The Home" as she affectionately calls it, she never once complained about her circumstances or felt deprived.  Instead, she raved about her experience and spoke of how lovingly she was cared for.  At six months of age, my mom was removed from her parent's home due to severe neglect and abuse.  She was malnourished and in need of blood.  She became a ward of the state and was cared for by an handful of Catholic nuns, one of which I am named after.  These women sacrificed themselves so that others could thrive.  They worked around the clock with these children, offering them experiences they would not have had otherwise.  I have heard so many wonderful stories about the women who cared for my mom and some of her siblings.

At one point, my mom remembers her birthmother (and aunt) coming back and "taking" her from The Home.  She recalls this time period as extremely stressful, as she was returned to her parent's care, or lack there of.  Her father was an abusive alcoholic, who committed crimes that should have landed him behind bars.  Her mother, having a total of 13 children that survived beyond infancy, was described as absentee, a heavy drinker, and not able to stand up for herself or her children.  (Unfortunately, that scenario was all too common in that time period and did not receive the attention is deserved from law enforcement.)  During this "period of captivity", my mom devised a plan to save up some money and high tail it back to "The Home".

As she planned her escape, she recalls a feeling of calmness over her, knowing that she was led by the Holy Spirit and  God's angels.  Although having no idea how to get back to "The Home", she gathered some belongings and headed out to the bus stop, a three mile walk.  Living out in the country, she had no idea when the next bus would come; however, as soon as she arrived at the bus stop, the bus pulled up and heavy rain began to fall.  God was definitely leading this journey!  Once she arrived back in the city, she hopped in a cab and gave him the address to The Home.  The driver gave her a puzzled look and asked if she was running away.  She replied, "If I were running away, would I be running to an orphanage?"  Off they drove and soon she was back at The Home.  When the cabbie told her the fare, she did not have enough money and asked him to wait while she went inside to ask for additional change.  The cab driver told her not to worry about it and wished her luck.

My mom lived at "The Home" until she was sixteen years old and her eldest sister was old enough (eighteen) to claim guardianship over her.  She went on to attend "Business School", where she learned shorthand and other administrative skills that would help her find employment.   She was able to get a good job, an apartment, and be on her way to starting her own life.  Even though her entry into this world and conditions that surrounded it were less than ideal, God provided her exactly what she needed: loving people to care for her in a safe environment.

When I think about the reasons (and there are many) I feel God leading us to adopt, my mother's amazing story always comforts and guides me.  Psalm 68:6 says that "God places the lonely in families" and working through mere humans is the means by which God attempts to do this.  We are humbled, honored, and gracious for the opportunity to open our hearts and home to God's children.

Romans 8:15  "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father."

Gonzaga Children's Home
The Amazing Caretakers

Embracing The Season Of Your Life: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

My Bible Study lesson this week could not have been more appropriate or timely.  I took away two very important lessons, and the one I would like to discuss in this post revolves around the idea that you (and I) and exactly where we should be at this point in time.  Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 teaches us there is a season for everything and a time for every activity under the sun.  We should embrace the current season of our life regardless of which season we are in, because whether we see it or not, God is at work in us.  Our study this week drew an interesting parallel between the importance of each season from an agrarian perspective and the importance of each season in each of our lives.  Even when we are in 'winter' and cannot visibly see any growth or change, that seemingly dormant period is absolutely necessary for new growth in the 'spring'.  God worked the beauty and importance of each season into his wondrous creation.  After 'the flood', in Genesis 8:22, God promises that "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night will not cease."  That verse speaks to me  not only from an agrarian perspective, but also for the various seasons in our life.

As a full-time, stay-at-home mom living in a season of chaos, constant change, and parenting little children, I often wonder what else I should be doing with my time.  Even with two extremely busy, preschool age boys, I tend to burden myself with the idea there is some other work that demands my time.  I am not sure if this thought is driven by society, the idea that my resume will have a so-called gap, or simply a drawn comparison to other women that appear to be balancing career and family.  Truth be told, before having children there was an innate, God-given desire to be a mother and caretaker.  Why does society diminish the importance and make women feel guilty about that innermost, fundamental desire?  My experience as a mother will add exponentially to any formal education or professional experience, as will the experience of all mothers.  The role of a mother and the season of parenting is extremely important.  Anyone who has spent time around infants, toddlers, or preschoolers can tell you how quickly children grow and develop during these years.  The bonding and attachment period they go through during the first two years of life often has lasting or permanent consequences.  This season of life is important not only for the parent, but also for this child.  Maybe if we were to look at parenting through the eyes of the child and not our own, warped vision, our perspective would drastically change.  Our children need us to love them, guide them, nurture them, and help them develop fully.  Parenting is a job, a season of life, and so much more.

By embracing the season of your life, you will be more at peace that you are exactly where God wants you to be.  All seasons are necessary, and even when we cannot see immediate changes, God is at work.  He always is!

Proverbs 31:28 says, "Her sons rise up and call her blessed.  Her husband also praises her.

Note: Our group's current study is 'Scouting the Divine', by Margaret Feinberg.

God's Timing is Rarely Our Own

2 Peter 3:8: "With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day.”

What exactly is this verse saying to you?  2 Peter was written as a warning.  A warning about false teachers and immoral lifestyles.  Peter also emphasizes the importance of growing in God.  If we use up all of our time and resources building castles in the sand, we will obviously not have time for growth in God.

In a culture obsessed with deadlines, goals, benchmarks, and metrics, it can be hard to step back and realize that God’s timing is often at odds with our own timing.  After all, we have deadlines to meet, places to be, things to achieve.  It’s about us, right?  That seems to be what we are taught from a very early age.  We are taught the importance of goal setting, education, professional achievements, and worldly success.  I am not saying that these things are not at all important, just that God may view them through a different lens and wants our focus on Him first and foremost.

We set goals, often goals that are not even true to our innermost self, and then hit the road running, off in various directions toward achieving those goals.  We have lofty ideas about where our personal and professional life should be at, say age twenty-five, thirty, forty, etc.  When we fall short of these goals, we beat ourselves up.  However, the Bible is very clear that God, the creator of time and space, has a different measuring stick.  Sometimes God creates detours in our life so that we are able to grow in Him and are therefore better able to serve Him.  Therefore, the detours are not detours at all, but learning and growth experiences.

Before having children, a large portion of my life revolved about career, upward mobility, and success. Even after our first son was born, I mistakenly thought life (a.k.a. my old, long-gone, kiss it good-bye life) would get back to normal.  Boy was I wrong!  Praise God for the beautiful career of parenting, which has been the most humbling experience to date.  An experience where my "to-do" list and priorities are disheveled by 8 a.m. daily, an experience where selfless living becomes the standard, and an experience through which I can only begin to comprehend the love God has for us, His children.  I never completely understood how someone could openly and freely lay down their life for another person until becoming a parent; yet, that is exactly the kind of agape love our Father demonstrated for us.

As for my old plan, I am thankful to be completely derailed.  Becoming a parent and being forced to make some tough decisions about the direction of my professional life enabled me to close a door behind me and open the door to the plans God has in store for me.  What I found out (and a part of me always knew) was that I spent nearly a decade in a career that was not compatible with my innermost self and God-given gifts.  (It was simply compatible with my education and professional background.)  Of course, I had some wonderful experiences during those years and met many fantastic service-minded people; however, the little voice inside my head kept on insisting I was not on the right path.  There are days when I wonder what the next chapter will look like; however, I am learning to trust that I am exactly where God wants me to be right now.  God does not get it wrong, even when we do.  Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

The Ethiopian Adoption Process

Another question I am asked frequently is about the adoption process itself, what is entails and why it takes so long.  While the process may vary in specific details and requirements, there is an overall sequence of events that most adoptions have in common.  The two most common types of adoption are domestic (adopting a child from one's home country) and international (adopting a child from a country other than one's own).  Since we are adopting internationally, and specifically from Ethiopia, I will document that process and try to explain what is required at each step along the way.  I will also include our personal time line in order to bring the process to life.
  1. Research adoption and consider all options that may work for you.  Be sure to be realistic and honest with yourself in acknowledging your family structure, home,  and resources.  Make a list of the pros and cons of each option.  Contact various adoption agencies, attend information seminars, and READ, READ, READ!  We prayed over this part of our journey from 2005 until 2009, approximately 4 years.
  2. Apply with the adoption agency of your choice.  (Note:  There is sometimes the option to do an independent adoption.  This is where you work to adopt a child yourself, without the use of an adoption agency.)  We applied and were accepted to American World Adoption Agency's Ethiopia program in August 2009.
  3. Read over the requirements and begin the "paperchase".  For international adoptions, there are two main categories that you will need to gather information for: (1) The Home Study and (2) The Dossier, pronounced Doss-E-A.  Our entire paperchase, including Home Study and Dossier took about 7 months.  The average amount of time needed to complete this part is 6 to 12 months.
    • Home Study:  At first look, the most daunting part of the home study might seem like the numerous visits the Social Worker pays to your residence.  However, that is actually the fun part.  The Social Worker does not care if your house is in pristine condition with everything neatly organized, and certainly does not conduct a "white glove test".  Rather, he/she is there to help guide prospective adoptive families on this journey, to help them learn more about themselves and their household, and to help educate and prepare them for life as adoptive parents.  We thoroughly enjoyed these visits and learned a great deal about our motivation to adopt through them.  The arduous part of the home study process was the amount paperwork and background checks required BEFORE the Social Worker could even come for the first visit. From background clearances to autobiographies to government issued documents, the amount of paperwork involved in the home study is enough to make your head spin.  (Please keep in mind that home study requirements vary by state, adoption agency, and the type of adoption you are pursuing.)  Our Home Study process, to include document collection, visits and receiving the approved report took approximately 3 months.
    • Dossier:  A dossier is a collection of documents needed to legally process adoptions in countries other than one's own.  Think of this step as going to the DMV with two cranky toddlers multiplied in intensity by 100!  When compiling your dossier be sure to follow the rules exactly as they are given by your adoption agency.  Oh, and just like dealing with any government agency, the rules are subject to change at any time, with our without your knowledge.  Most documents in the dossier need to be original, less than one year old, and notarized.  Some need to be state certified or authenticated.
  4. Submit an I600-A (petition for orphan) application and all scheduled payments to USCIS (United States Citizen and Immigration Services).  After the application is received and processed, you will receive a biometrics (fingerprinting) appointment.  Once approved,  you will receive a I171H in the mail stating that you are approved to adopt a child of specified age and gender, from specified country.  We mailed our application packet and fees to USCIS in early December 2009 and received approval in March 2010.  The I171H is usually the final document needed for adoptive families to complete their dossier.
  5. Submit completed dossier to adoption agency and begin the "wait".  The current wait time for a little girl in our age range is 8-11 months.  Our dossier was sent to Ethiopia on March 18, 2010.
  6. Receive referral phone call from adoption agency.  This phone call is the much anticipated part of the journey as it is the day we will see a photo of our little girl for the first time and also be able to find out more about her history.  We received our referral in August 2010!  This was one of the happiest days of our lives. 
  7. Accept referral.  We accepted our referral in August 2010
  8. Travel to Ethiopia to attend a court hearing and declare our intent to parent our daughter.  If we pass court, she will legally become our daughter.  At this time, we will be allowed to share photos of our precious angel.  After one week spent in country, we will sadly have to travel home without her as the US Embassy conducts a background investigation and issues her birth certificate.  4 to 8 weeks after receiving and accepting our referral we will travel to Addis Ababa, ET for our scheduled court date.
  9. Travel back to Ethiopia.  Approximately 4-12 weeks after the first trip, we will travel back to Ethiopia to BRING OUR DAUGHTER HOME.  The time in between visits is needed by the US government to conduct their investigations.  They cannot do so until the US adoptive family passes court and become the legal parents.
  10. Bring our daughter home.  As part of the new Ethiopian adoption process (effective May 2010), our daughter will be issued an IR-3 Visa and automatically become a US citizen when she steps foot off of the plane on US soil.
  11. Complete post-placement home study visits and reports.  These reports are completed at 3, 6, and 12 months post placement and sent back to Ethiopia.
  12. Do it again?!?!  :-)
While it is true that most adoptions take longer than the gestational period of an elephant (nearly 2 years), the way God works during this process and the wait is amazing.  We continue to connect with other adoptive families that share invaluable insight and advice, our love for the Lord and His orphan's continues to grow and deepen, we have time to prepare our home and hearts for our daughter, and God teaches us the importance of patience and being still.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
Because I know who is leading and directing our adoption, I am able to rest and know that just as God is preparing our hearts for her, He is also working in her heart to prepare our worlds to join.  We serve an amazing and wonderful God!

American Dream

This song has been playing over and over in my head, so I wanted to share the video along with the lyrics.  Casting Crowns is one of my favorite bands.  Today was the first time I  watched this video and I thought a lot of people could relate to the message.  We live in an "always on" society.  Constantly plugged in, plugging away.  Is that really what God wants us to be doing?  Is that really how He wants us to be using our time, our gifts.

Obviously, work is required of us.  From Genesis and throughout the Bible, the Word speaks of our toil.  The Scripture verse coming to mind is Ecclesiastes 4:8: "There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth. 'For whom am I toiling,' he asked, 'and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?' This too is meaningless-- a miserable business!"

If you've never read the book of Ecclesiastes, I would encourage you to do so.  It is quite humorous.  The main theme is Biblical vanity, which means that apart from God, eternity, and heaven everything we do may seem empty and worthless.  It is only through God that we will find the answer and fulfillment our souls long for.

All work no play may have made Jack a dull boy
But all work no God has left Jack with a lost soul
But he's moving on full steam
He's chasing the American dream
And he's gonna give his family finer things
“Not this time son I've no time to waste
Maybe tomorrow we'll have time to play”
And then he slips into his new BMW
And drives farther and farther and farther away
Cause he works all day and tries to sleep at night
He says things will get better;
Better in time
So he works and he builds with his own two hands
And he pours all he has in a castle made with sand
But the wind and the rain are comin' crashing in
Time will tell just how long his kingdom stands
His kingdom stands
Well his American Dream is beginning to seem
More and more like a nightmare
With every passing day
"Daddy, can you come to my game?"
"Oh Baby, please don't work late."
Another wasted weekend
And they are slipping away
'Cause he works all day and lies awake at night
He tells them things are getting better
Just take a little more time
So he works and he builds with his own two hands
And he pours all he has in a castle made with sand
But the wind and the rain are comin' crashing in
Time will tell just how long his kingdom stands
His kingdom stands
He used to say, "Whoever dies with the most toys wins"
But if he loses his soul, what has he gained in the end
I'll take a shack on the rock
Over a castle in the sand
Now he works all day and cries alone at night
It's not getting any better
Looks like he's running out of time
'Cause he worked and he built with his own two hands
And he poured all he had in a castle made with sand
But the wind and the rain are coming crashing in
Time will tell just how long his kingdom stands
His kingdom stands
All they really wanted was you
All they really wanted was you
All they really wanted was you

God Made Boys

Some time before my oldest son, “Larry”, turned two I realized that there were in fact distinct differences between girls and boys, even at this young age. My realization occurred while at a library play date with some of my girlfriends and their children. A little girl about the same age as Larry was standing there, minding her own business, when out of nowhere my precious little Larry screamed, “tackle Abby” as he ran across the room, leaped into the air and pounced on her, bringing her to the ground in tears. This would be the first of many times I would be embarrassed my son’s innate “boyness”. Now, I will be the first to admit, Larry’s behavior is sometimes too aggressive and/or alpha male for the particular situation, but most of the time he is just doing what God made him to do, be a boy. Boys are different from girls, God made them that way for a reason.

Genesis 1:27 says, "So God created man in his own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. Genesis 2:21-23 (after the creation of Adam and realizing that it was not good for man to be alone) says, "So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to come over the man and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. Then the Lord God made the rib He had taken from the man into a woman and brought her the man.

If God wanted man and woman to serve the same purpose, He could have easily just created one of the other, but He did not. He created man and woman, both made in His image and likeness. It is unfortunate that we live in a society that seems to want to minimize these differences.

For the science and research-minded, here are a few of the ways boys and girls are different:

  • The different regions of the brain develop in a different sequence, and different tempo, in girls compared with boys. A young woman reaches full maturity, in terms of brain development, between 21 and 22 years of age. A young man does not reach full maturity, in terms of brain development, until nearly 30 years of age. (Leonard Sax, M.D. PhD. Gender Differences in the Sequence of Brain Development.) That explains a lot, eh?! :-)
  • The largest study ever conducted on the genetic differences in the human brain found that 1,349 genes (across 46 chromosomes) are expressed differently in the brains of men compared with women. Gender differences are therefore programmed before birth and not societal. (Sax. Gender Differences in the Expression of Genes in the Brain.)
  •  During a fight or flight moment, boys experience the physiological responses of increased heart rate, rapid breathing, widened pupils more intensely than girls. Boys are also more likely to react physically while girls tend to react emotionally. (Abigail James, PhD. Gender Differences in Response to Stress.)

Shortly before Larry’s second birthday our second son, “Moe”, arrived. Equally spunky but certainly distinct, our two boys collectively pack enough punch to power to a small country. Always on the move: climbing, exploring, building. I realize that although sometimes I would love for them to be still and passive, God has work for them to do. It is our job as parents to help our sons discern their gifts, strengths, and limitations. If it were not for the fact that we live in a developed nation, there is no doubt that their energy would already be put to use. (I recently heard a story from another Ethiopian adoptive family about their five year old climbing banana trees with machetes.) My sons love it when there is “work” for them to do. Whether it’s helping dad with a project around the house, doing lawn work, or “painting” the deck, when they are constructively engaged, everyone is happy. Instead of trying to make our sons fit into societal slots or molds, I pray that I can help them use the gifts God gave them at birth in order to fulfill His purpose for and in them.

Obviously, neither all boys nor all girls will fit into any particular mold. We are all created uniquely with special gifts and talents. However, it is important to note that the most brood classification of all human being is male and female. We are different for a reason and that reason should be embraced, coached, and molded as opposed to scoffed at or minimized.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ethiopia At A Glance

When I first told my sister we were adopting from Ethiopia, she seemed very supportive but not thrilled.  I guess I thought she would be jumping up and down, over-the-top ecstatic they way my husband and I are when we talk about the adoption.  Then, during another conversation with my sister, about a week or so after the first, she asked me to tell her more about our Indonesian adoption.  I was flattered that she was taking an interest, but once again realized that not everyone is studying up on Ethiopia the way we are.  I made a joke about buying her a map (that joke did NOT go over well), and tried to explain why were so passionate about adopting a child from one of poorest countries in the world.

Ethiopia is in fact one of the world’s poorest countries, ranked 105th out of 109 on UNDP Human Poverty Index and subsisting on an average per capita income of only $280 (World Bank 2008 estimate).  Think for a minute about what $280 gets the average American family.  Two weeks worth of groceries, a couple of house bills each month, perhaps three pairs of running shoes?  The Human Development Report (2008) states that 78% of Ethiopians live on less than $2 per day.  That would not even cover half of your morning Starbucks drink.

My previous post stated that we wanted to adopt a child where there is a great need.  Ethiopia certainly fits the bill.  Take a look at these staggering facts:
  • One in seven newborns die before their first birthday
  • One in six children die before their fifth birthday
  • 44% of the population of Ethiopia is under 15 years old
  • 60% of children in Ethiopia under the age of five are stunted because of malnutrition
  • The median age in Ethiopia is 18 years
  • 1.5 million people are infected with AIDS (6th highest in the world)
  • 720,000 children have been orphaned by AIDS alone
  • Per capita, Ethiopia receives less aid than any country in Africa
  • In the 90s the population (3%) grew faster than food production (2.2%)
  • Drought struck the country from 2000-2002
  • Half the children in Ethiopia will never attend school.  88% will never attend secondary school
  • Coffee prices (Ethiopia’s only major export) fell 40-60% from 1998-2002
  • Ethiopia’s doctor to children ratio is 1 to 24,000
  • Only 13% of the population has adequate sanitation facilities
  • In 1993, after 30 long years of war, Eritrea broke from Ethiopia and became an independent nation leaving Ethiopia landlocked without any major seafaring ports
  • Ethiopia has approx. 4.3 million orphans
God has opened our eyes are hearts to this beautiful nation.  While we are stepping out in faith in obedience, we know that He has plenty more for us to learn and do.  This is just the beginning.  As I silence my thoughts and ask Him to show me the way, I pray that He guides and directs us during this adoption process and keeps us focused on His will and not our own desires.  Proverbs 3:5 states, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”  While I’m certain there are going to be set-backs and unforeseen circumstances along our road to Ethiopia, I know that God’s timing is always perfect.

Why Ethiopia When There Are So Many Children Here?

The question I probably get asked most frequently is why are we choosing to adopt from Ethiopia when there are so many children in the United States that need a home.  This is a very good question and a question that will probably have as varied a response as there are choices of beverages at Starbucks.

We came to our personal decision through a series of life events, circumstances, happenstances, and encounters with various people God planted in our path.  Starting long before my husband and I were even married, the desire to adopt was planted firmly in each of our hearts.  We discussed this desire, shook on it, and said let's make it happen.  For four years we prayed about our adoption and asked God to lead us in the right direction.  We wanted to adopt where there was a great need, a need not only for children to be placed in loving homes, but a need for eyes and hearts to be opened.  We did our homework, spoke with numerous adoption agencies, and made it a point to seek out adoption resources.  For the month leading up to our application being submitted, there was a two week period where not a day went by that I did not run into an Ethiopian family.  At Costco, the local park, the coffee shop, everywhere I looked, I saw what God wanted me to see.  The door was opened and now it was our job to walk through it.

You see, each journey is unique.  How we arrived at our decision will differ greatly from how another adoptive family arrived at theirs.  Since God has led us to Ethiopia, so many wonderful things have occurred in our life.  Our eyes have been opened to the great need of children around the world.  To quote the lyrics to Brooke Fraser's song Albertine, "Now that I have seen, I am responsible."

There are 147 million orphans in the world, each of them a child of God.  God does not create without purpose and therefore each of these lives is worthy in His eyes.  Are they worthy in our eyes as well?

Intro To Adoption

I have been asked many questions concerning our adoption.  While most questions can be anticipated and planned for, I had one doozie come at me from left field.  In a nutshell, the question went something like this: “God forbid anything should ever happen to your husband and you are left a widow with three children, do you think someone would be willing to marry you considering you have two Caucasian children and one African child?”  (Insert quick prayer for help.)  Lord, please give me the right words to answer this absurdity!!  After I realized that the question was not, in fact, a joke, I spent some time reflecting on how other people, especially those outside of the adoption world, may view and/or perceive adoption.  Then, I spent more time reflecting on how people of various cultures, ethnicities, and (older) generations may view transracial adoption.

After much prayer, reading, and connecting with others in the adoption community, I have come to realize that when people ask questions about adoption or adopted children, most of the time they are genuinely curious.  The questions may sometimes be perceived as rude or offensive, but that is probably because unlike those of us on this journey, most people are simply not immersed in the culture or language of adoption.  They are simply curious and the openness of their questions reflects their curiosity.  Therefore, I believe it is part of our responsibility as adoptive parents to joyfully share our experiences with others so that God may be glorified through the adoption of His children.

While I wanted to shout out a loud, “SERIOUSLY?!” to the aforementioned question, I bit my tongue and tried to explain that it would be my neurotic tendency to over-organize the closets or my insistence on only eating organic produce and dairy and/or my refusing to allow BPA, parabens, or high fructose corn syrup anywhere near our home that would drive away any potential spouse…should I become a widow…God forbid.  :-)

In all honesty, I love getting questions about adoption because it forces me to pray and reflect on my innermost motivations.  In short, adoption is not about me, it is and always will be about God, the ultimate father to the fatherless and if our family can contribute a small piece to His work, then glory to Him!  Romans 8:14-16 says this, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father".