Birthparents

Almost eight years ago, in a hospital in Russia, a woman in her mid-twenties gave birth to her second baby girl. She already had one daughter, and she and her husband were excited to welcome another child to the family. Except immediately after she delivered her sweet, tiny beauty, the whispers started. Her beautiful girl was born with Down syndrome, and this diagnosis would alter the course of their lives forever.

During her post-partum hospital stay, the “specialists” came to talk to her. She was confused, and afraid, and just desperately wanted to hold her baby. Hear us out first, they forcefully asked.

It’s not worth it, they told her, to get attached to this kind of baby. She will be nothing but a burden for the rest of her life. She will never be allowed or capable of attending school, so you’ll have to quit work and will never be able to find another job. Moreover, your poor older daughter will be an outcast, shunned by her friends and never invited for sleepovers. Your husband will invariably grow tired of the child and leave the family, and you’ll have to fend for yourself and your children.

To make matters worse, children with Down syndrome become aggressive as they get older, and end up with monstrous strength that could be a danger to your entire family. It’s better to leave her now anyway, because she will never be able to form a connection with you – she won’t be able to give or receive love, and she’ll never understand that she has a mother anyway.  She won’t have enough intelligence to even feel sad in an institution. This is really the best choice for everyone.

They whispered the first of these things to her while she was still on the delivery table, crushing her joy and extinguishing her strength. Then, throughout the next few days, different experts all came around to reiterate the same message – I’m sorry for your loss but your baby simply isn’t fit for society. Please go home and do your best to forget about her.

And this sweet young mama, this mama who was shocked and scared, confused, grief-stricken and numb, she did what they told her. She went home and tried to move on with her life. Because what other option was there? But she never forgot.

She and her husband got pregnant again, and this time gave birth to a healthy baby boy. But life, it’s unpredictable, and their little man got sick. He was fighting cancer and eventually became too sick to go to school. (He is now in remission). She had to quit work to care for him, and the strain was too much on her marriage. She took a hard look at her life one day and realized, I’m am in the exact situation they described — I have no job, no husband, and a sick child who can’t attend school.

The thing is, life can be unkind no matter how hard we try to protect ourselves, to insulate ourselves and our family from hardship and pain. And she determined, in that moment, that she would get her daughter back. Whatever the cost.

She met resistance every step of the way. Searching through every possible database of children available for adoption, she finally saw a picture of a little girl she knew was hers. And she ignored protocol and called the orphanage in tears, begging to come see her daughter. They hung up on her. But she persevered, and obtained all necessary legal documents to reclaim the child she was persuaded to give up.

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Seven and a half years after she was born, her sweet girl finally felt the soft touch of her mama’s hands stroking her hair. She felt the cool tickle of her mama’s lips on her cheek as she whispered I love you. Yet even as her mother picked her up from the orphanage to take her home forever, they tried to convince her it was a mistake. She belongs “behind the fence” they told her, not out among the people. They virtually demanded she leave her child at the institution. But this mama, she wasn’t going to be persuaded twice. This time, she knew her daughter was worth fighting for.

It wasn’t an easy transition, but she finally connected with an organization called Downside Up, a non-profit that provides support and advice for families raising children with Down syndrome in Russia. They also operate an Early Learning Center in Moscow, and develop innovative child training and parent support methods, as well as disseminating knowledge and experience among Russian professionals.

But in Russia, where old prejudices and misconceptions about the nature of Down syndrome (and potential of people with Down syndrome) are still prevalent, sometimes a family’s biggest obstacle is others’ unfriendliness and lack of understanding. To that end, Downside Up works towards raising public awareness in hopes of changing societal attitudes.

Today, this almost 8-yr-old attends a special school, and is thriving in her family.   She is home, and free to grow at her own pace and in her own way with a mama who loves her madly. She is lucky to have a mama who is stubborn, unwilling to give up on her girl. But she represents so many more little boys and girls in Eastern Europe, who are relinquished to an orphanage because their parents are told it’s the only reasonable choice.

This is a real story, about a real mother and her daughter.   You can link to the Russian version here, as well as the Google translated piece here. I added emotions and feelings as I imagined they would occur, but the truth is intact. I imagined these feelings because I often imagine Boo’s birth mother, agonizing over the little boy she felt kick in her womb and saw laugh in her dreams.

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I brought Bug into this world only 15 days after she delivered Boo, and I know she loved him as fiercely in that moment he took his first breath as I loved Bug. It is such a beautiful moment. Then someone took a sledgehammer to her moment, and it shattered into a million pieces. I don’t feel angry when I think about his first mama, I feel compassion. Bucketfuls. And heartache. The same day I held our tiny bundle in my arms and cried tears of joy at his very existence, she mostly likely cried alone in a nursery prepared for a boy who never came home.

Oh, Boo’s beautiful birth mama out there somewhere – I wish you could know … I promise you I will love him with all of my heart for the rest of my life. We will do everything in our power to make sure he always has what he needs to grow and learn and succeed. He will be cherished, but also challenged. We will always celebrate how lucky we are to have him, and he is finally going to make it home.

 

***Don’t forget about Reece’s Rainbow’s Angel Tree 2014 children, still waiting for families.  Especially our sweet Ryan (L), who, while I would love to see his grant grow, I’d really like to find a mama.***

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Where We’re At: November 21, 2014

We are tired. Well, mama is tired, and if mama’s tired, everyone’s tired, right? :) The darkness has descended upon Northwest Florida, and it’s surprisingly as dark here by 5 pm as it was in the Pacific Northwest. I am a sunshine girl, and eagerly looking forward to the winter solstice on December 21. Come back light, come back! But, the fact that we are getting SO CLOSE to Boo gives me something to look forward to.

Since our last update, there has actually been a ton of progress. After our initial approval from USCIS, we were able to officially submit our dossier to Boo’s Central Authority. Once they reviewed and approved our file, they agreed to “match” us to him, and pull his file from the central database. Yay! Then, the  Central Authority compiled an official report all about him.  After receiving the report, we could choose whether or not to accept his official referral (we choose YES, obviously!).

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This report talks about his biological family, and includes his medical history and orphanage reports throughout his little life. The best part — reading all sorts of information about our guy, including that he loves to bang on the drums during music class and that he makes his wishes known by shouting and waving his hands. :) He’s a Kojak, for sure. We learned that he is currently wearing hearing aids, and it’s recommended he see a ophthalmologist for some possible eye issues.  Umm, a two-year old with glasses?  I might die from the cuteness :) We also noticed he recently had a follow-up echocardiogram on his little heart, but we haven’t heard back the results of that test. All in all, it was awesome to get a fuller picture of our little man, and a better idea of his health needs and where we will need to follow-up when he gets home. The worst part — reading the line on report after report, “Nobody has visited the child.” It wrecked me a little bit to think about him all alone. He went to live at the orphanage when he was four days old, and I picture my own teeny tiny four-day-olds, and my heart breaks for baby Boo.

It’s such a double-edged sword though, because his lack of visitors actually makes it easier for an international adoption. They have to highlight the fact that not a single relative has ever shown any interest in him in order to make it clear that international adoption is in his best interest. So their loss is our gain. And although I will forever be grateful for our son, my soul aches for his aloneness. For his aloneness that represents the aloneness of SO. MANY. MORE.

A child born to another woman calls me mom. The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me. –Jody Landers

So where do we go from here? Good question. First, we go BACK to US immigration. Yesterday we sent off our I-800 application (wait, you thought we already did that? Ha! That was the I-800a, you see. The approval of which is actually called the I-797. Get it together!) This form is officially titled, “Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative.” Once USCIS approves our I-800, we will get yet another approval form (actually I don’t know the name of that one yet) to send back to Boo’s country. Then, the hardest waiting yet. This time, we will be waiting for the Central Authority to assign us a judge. Once we have a judge, said judge will give us a court date. The court date is the day we will ask to officially adopt Boo, so we will have to be in country for a week or so before that date. It finally feels real, and although we’re disappointed he won’t be home for Christmas, we are excited to have what feels like an end in sight. And we want to take this time to enjoy our current “calm before the storm” with Sissy and Bug. Although realistically, there isn’t really ever a calm with these two. All is grace.

Let me digress for a minute to talk to you about two more sweet babes. One is Ryan, a four-year-old little boy living in an orphanage in the same country as Boo. This guy seriously has the best smile ever, and would make an incredible son. Since I’m his Angel Tree Warrior, I asked our agency about him. They’ve had him listed for some time and she let me know that no one has ever asked for more information about him. Not once, friends. Even asked about him. I think my heart split into a million pieces hearing that. And I’m guessing his orphanage file has the same line, “No one has visited the child.”  Please  consider donating to Ryan’s grant by clicking on this link. And maybe sharing his picture and link to help his family find him.

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Also, I wanted to introduce you to sweet Valerie. This little pumpkin is only two-years old and our agency just sent out updated information that says the staff calls her Miss February.  Miss February also has Down Syndrome and a couple of genetically-related heath concerns, but she is actually doing pretty well at her orphanage. You can also donate to her grant and read a little more about her here, but what she really needs is a family to come scoop her up.

M 221 Vasare Foto - 4Thanks, as always, for reading and caring about our family. Hope your Thanksgiving week is filled with lots of friends, fellowship and food! We truly have so much to be grateful for in our house, and in this season of darkness, I know how important it is for me to keep my eyes fixed upon the blessings.

Happy Birthday Sissy!

Dear Sissy,

Happy Birthday beautiful girl! Four years ago today you made me a mama, and the magnitude of that responsibility still brings me to my knees. Anne Voskamp reminds me that motherhood is a hallowed place, a sacred vocation and a humbling privilege. I am partnering with your father and Our Father to sculpt a soul, and there is no manual for making sure we get that right.

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And as you know all too well, that means I get it wrong a lot of times. You’re the firstborn in our family, which means we practice the most on you. We guess at the best way to love you, correct you, motivate you and console you. And sometimes those guesses are spot on. And sometimes those guesses are terribly off, and we all pay the price for those missteps. But you have the most forgiving heart. You don’t hold our inexperience against us, and we get second chances every day. We are learning to love you, and one another, day by day. It’s a lifelong process I think, and I promise to never stop learning, to never give up on getting it right.

When you were 9 months old, I wrote you this letter.  I love you as much today as I did then, and the magic of your eyes has only intensified. Sometimes I just stare in awe at your perfect little face, and I honestly just can’t believe that you are mine. And I want to wrap you up and put you in a box so that nothing bad ever happens to you, to maintain that innocence and sweetness forever. I want to protect you from ever being hurt, from ever feeling sad, from ever seeing pain. We read a book together a lot called Blueberry Girl, and there is a line in it that always chokes me up:

Words can be worrisome, people complex, motives and manners unclear. Grant her the wisdom to choose her path right, free from unkindness and fear.

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But part of my desire to freeze time is selfish. In this time, in this place, you need me. You want ME to comfort a skinned knee or a bruised heart. It’s my arms that make you feel safe, and my love that makes you feel valued. You promise Daddy and I that you will live with us forever, even after you go to kindergarten. And most days, I really wish you would.

But that’s not the point of parenting, right? From the moment you were conceived, I was preparing little-by-little to let you go. First, you grew your own body and life support. I helped you grow bigger and stronger until you were ready breathe this earth’s air on your own. Then, with each day, and month, and year, you have grown more independent and able to care for yourself. When you were about 6 months old your Daddy asked me when you would start talking and ask to help make dinner. Three plus years later, you talk all the time, and you love to help prepare food for yourself.

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Each minute of every day, we are doing our best to get you ready to face the world without us. Psalm 127:4 says, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.” You are an arrow, and will shoot out into the world with passion and hope and joy. You have so much to offer this world, and it is humbling to think of my responsibility in helping you find your way. I want you, more than anything, to always feel confident in who you are, and how you were made, and what you are worth. The way your Daddy and I love you is only the teeniest fraction of the way your Creator loves you. You are His greatest delight, and there is nowhere you will go that He won’t be with you.

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But right now, when the walls of our house are your only world, I want you to know how much you are loved. How deeply, how desperately, how wildly. You are my little ball of fire, and your determination teaches me more about grace than a thousand Bible studies. The other night when I asked you to bring me your plate, you handed it to me and sighed, saying, “Why do I have to do everything around here?”

Oh, little one, if only you knew. That most everything your Daddy and I do is for you and your brothers. Trying our best to create a life for our family that instills strength, values authenticity, and teaches kindness. If only I could somehow explain how my heart beats in time with yours, and how I long to hold you when you’re sleeping, so that I’ll never forget the miracle of your childhood.

Image-1And yet, all too frequently, I send you a different message. You have a front-row seat to the very worst parts of me. You get the impatience, short-temper, harsh words and lack of grace. Isn’t it funny how we expose our most ugly selves to the people we love the absolute most? And it’s strangers that get all our gentleness, patience and smiles. Maybe it’s because we know our loved ones are forever people, but honestly, it makes me sad. I heard it described once that it’s because we rub up against one another in our raw places. We spend so much time together that it’s inevitable, this rubbing of raw hearts, emotions, souls. And raw on raw is painful. But there is a beauty is that too.

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.  -Timothy Keller

Oh, heart of my heart, girl of my dreams, joy of my world – THAT is my wish for you on your fourth birthday, and every birthday thereafter…that you may be fully known and fully loved all the days of your life. Not only by the God who made you, but by those who surround you, especially your family. May I always strive to truly know YOU, and forever remind you of my unwavering love.

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Happiest of days Emilja Rae…I love you so much my heart could burst.

Love,

Mama

****Would you please consider donating to help a little boy who has no mama to wish him happy birthday…no mama who knows the smell of his hair or the magic of his eyes.  No Daddy to fully know and fully love him, to guide him into manhood with grace and gentleness.  You can either buy an AWESOME t-shirt here, or donate directly to his fund here. (Link available at the bottom — phone — and side — computer — of my blog as well).****

Accepted, not asked.

So if you read my post about our Angel Tree bub, you know that on October 21st, we were officially matched to Boo. And that means his file has been pulled and matched with our dossier…and that might seem insignificant, but it’s the first time in his little life that someone has claimed him. He BELONGS. To us. We don’t deserve it. And although we still have to wait for more information and an official referral, it definitely makes things more real. For me, it felt similar to when we found out the gender during our 20-week ultrasound. Just knowing I had a little girl (and then boy) growing inside me somehow solidified the pregnancy, reminded me that yes, this is really happening.

And it’s the same reminder here. This is really happening. And sometimes when I lay awake at night with that realization, a thousand taunting voices creep in. And sometimes those voices can be paralyzing. Lies always cloak themselves in darkness. Truth is revealed in the light. And when I wake up in the morning, my heart in calm, and my resolve strong. But I wanted to be honest here about those fears. However, please know, in that honesty, there is never doubt about our decision. We have never second-guessed that we are doing exactly what our God is asking, and that He will be there every step of the way.

But we are human, and our hearts are fragile and our flesh is weak, and sometimes we grow weary. And I’m a mama of two toddlers, which probably makes me more emotional. And okay, I’m fairly Type-A, so my inability to control the outcome of this journey rocks me to my core.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”    -C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This isn’t a safe choice. But it’s good. And it’s right. I can still remember this quote painted on the wall (Tiger 10 represent!) at the Air Force Academy that said, “If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.” (Which a quick Google search tells me is attributed to Tom Hanks in A League Of Their Own). I loved that quote, and loved reading it on the wall as I sweated (swat? ha!) through a training session. And it’s not that I’m a glutton for punishment and I think that doing something hard somehow makes me worthy. But there is truth in that, right? If adoption was easy, we would have no orphans.

But at night, when the rest of the house is quiet, sometimes all I hear are whispers of just how hard this hard might be. And those little lying whispers, man, they are surprisingly loud.

What if this ruins everything? Any by everything, I mean US. Our family, our life, our plans. Sometimes, I will be rocking my sweet man cub in his room in the dark at night, smelling his baby hair and savoring his warm little body and fear suddenly strikes, “What if I never do this again?” The boys will share a room, and bedtime with two boys will mean less rocking, less cuddling, more chaos. And what if Bug resents that shared time. . .what if he feels replaced? And what if that feeling ruins the rest of his life? Or maybe worse, what if Bug doesn’t resent it, because Boo doesn’t want to be touched? He might not want his mama to hold him or kiss his head, preferring to be laid down alone in his crib. Will I feel resentful? Will I unintentionally place unfair expectations on our new babe, and stress him to just LOVE us the way I think he should? What if it’s worst-case scenario, and Boo never attaches to us as his family? Are we still committed then? If he’s angry and disconnected, doesn’t communicate or engage? What if I’m not as strong as I want to be? What if I stop believing He will be strong when I’m not?

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My kids are so amazing. And absolutely crazy too, yes. But I love this family we’ve made, and in the dark of the night, fear says I might blow it. It’s tricky, fear. Because it doesn’t even have to be specific to cause damage, and it preys on emotions. Which for me, are sadly pretty fickle. :) My hubby, he’s amazing also. But what will this new little man do to our relationship? We know date night will be out of the picture for awhile, but then what? What if he resents all the time I spend with Boo? What if I resent all the time he doesn’t? What if he thinks I’m not giving enough attention to Sissy and Bug? What if the stress in our house makes him want to be somewhere else? What if it makes me want to be somewhere else? But that somewhere else isn’t together? What if we regret this?

And the truth is, in the middle of the day when the sun is shining, it’s actually hard for me to remember what I was even worried about. It all seems insignificant. Then I get lucky, and stumble upon a post like this one and I remember, it is NOT all rainbows and unicorns. The pre-adoption adrenaline we are feeling now WILL give way to post-adoption blues, and we will get down to the serious business of redeeming life. His life, our lives.

Adoption is hard.  It is inherently loss, not just for the adoptive children, but for everyone in the child’s life. Beautiful, lovely, miraculous things come from adoption. But we do a disservice to adoptive families and their children when we overlook where that beauty came from. It came from ashes, ashes that are blown into a home, leaving the family to clean up the great mess that follows.  It’s not pity that I, or any adoptive parent, needs.  It’s prayer.  Understanding.  Support.

We are under no illusion that we are part of a fairy tale. We know Boo’s transition into our family will be difficult, but knowing something and experiencing it are two different realities. It’s hard to prepare for something you know will be hard, but aren’t exactly sure what that hard will feel like. It’s like giving birth the first time. Or becoming a mother for the first time. Or, you know, #life, in general. You don’t even know what you don’t know yet.

And yet, you do it anyway. You weigh the cost and you make a choice to embrace (or at least tolerate) the pain. Why? Because of all the beauty that follows. And when a mother cries out in the pain of childbirth, we don’t smugly look in her panic-filled eyes and say, “Well, you asked for this.” So why do we do that with adoption? When life gets hard for those who have grafted a child into the tender tree that is their family, why do we feel like we need to say I told you so? You asked for this. As a military wife, I hear that sometimes. And I just think we need to clarify the difference between asking for something and accepting it.   When you ask for something, it generally indicates that you actually WANT it, for some reason or another. And while sometimes a person might ask for pain or difficulty simply because they desire the attention that often accompanies such situations, I’m guessing those people are in the minority. And most likely those people have deeply rooted security issues that are best left addressed by professionals, while the rest of us work on our compassion. But most people in this world, they aren’t asking for the brokenness around them. They are accepting it as part of the deal.

Adoptive families don’t ask for the tension and chaos that comes home with a new child. But they accept it as part of the deal for bringing that child into a home. Adoptive families don’t ask for the financial stress that lingers after spending thousands of dollars to ransom a life, but they accept it as part of the deal for that redemption. Adoptive families don’t ask for attachment disorders, severely neglected and abused children, or self-harming behaviors that might plague a child from a hard background. But they accept that it might be a part of the deal to give that child a chance for a better future. Adoptive families don’t ask for countless hours of therapy, hospital visits, and insurance claims, but they accept that monotony as part of the deal for the privilege of seeing a child made whole. Adoptive families don’t ask for the loss of friendships, isolation, or loneliness that sometimes mark a homecoming. But they accept it as part of the deal for refusing to let a child spend their life alone.

Think about that the next time you want to tell someone they “asked” for something. Do you really mean it? And I try to think about that whenever fear surfaces. There are so many unknowns in our story, and that is the hardest part for me. We have no idea what we have chosen to accept as part of the deal for making Boo our son. We are willing to accept whatever may come, but the uncertainty of it all can be scary.

But the truth is, we are stronger than the fear. Well, maybe we aren’t, but He is. He will sustain us, maintain us, and surround us with His beauty. In the midst of the pain, and the hurt, and all of the broken, He will show us His glory. He will put our family back together more beautifully than we can imagine. He makes beautiful things out of dust. He does, I promise. It’s our belief in family that led us here in the first place. Boo deserves to be part of a family that doesn’t give up on him. Or each other. Or hope and joy and life. Sissy and Bug deserve that too. So we have accepted that there might be some ugly before the beautiful.

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Please be kind to us during that time.

****And please, consider buying a shirt to support Ryan, a spirited little boy who doesn’t yet have a mama in his corner, no one willing to accept his hard in order to uncover his beautiful. You can also donate to this handsome boy through the link either on the side (computer) or bottom (phone) of this blog!

 

Keep Singing

Every year during November and December, Reese’s Rainbow promotes an “Angel Tree” of waiting children. These are children listed through their site that don’t have a family committed yet, no one promising to come, no hope of a better Christmas next year.

Some of these children have been waiting longer than others. Some of them are fairly young, others close to aging out of the system. But they all wait, not belonging, not feeling the love and warmth of a family or home during the holiday season. I love the holiday season. I love November’s month of thankfulness followed by December’s coming awesomeness. I love traditions and memories, togetherness and joy. And I hate that there are babies out there that might actually think they aren’t worthy during this time of year. I hate that the holidays may only make them more painfully aware of just how alone they are.

This year, we signed up as a “warrior” for one of the children on the Reece’s Rainbow Angel Tree. This little boy, Ryan, is from the same country as our Boo. And I looked at his picture over and over as we made the decision about which child to commit to. And this boy, he has the most beautiful smile. Really, truly, captivating. And in his picture, he just seems so happy. The only hold-up for us was his age. And my stomach tightens as I write that, because I now realize how unimportant that is. But eight months ago, when we started the adoption process, my heart wasn’t the same heart it is now. And our Boo, he seemed like a little baby back then, he seemed like maybe an easier choice. And since as of last week, we are officially matched to that little love, I truly believe he was supposed to be ours all along. He is our son, and we are just waiting on all of the paperwork (and court approval, and travel, and immigration, ha!) to catch up to that reality. So I don’t second-guess our decision. And yet the reality is that our yes to Boo was a no to little Ryan. And that no is painful. So, we will shout for Ryan until his family finds him.

Ryan-2-224x300The goal of Angel Tree is simple: help raise $1,000 for every child on the tree. Ryan is my child. My goal is $1,000. Will you help me? Will you help him? I have a couple of options for you. :) You’re welcome.

1) You can simply donate to his fund. All donations for Ryan can be made HERE, and all money donated through this link is tax-deductible. There is also a direct link to his fund on the side of my blog. Every dollar (REALLY, TRULY, EVERY DOLLAR) counts.

2) You can share this post and/or his fund! Maybe you have a friend who was looking for a good place to donate this holiday season. The more people who see him, the better chance he has of finding his family. And let’s be honest, the more money he has in his fund, the more appealing he might be to families for whom adoption is a stretch financially.

3) BUY A T-SHIRT! This is the fun part, and I’ll explain below.

I was trying to think of a way to raise money for Ryan, while also providing people with something tangible to walk away with. But EVERYONE does t-shirt fundraisers. So at first I was hesitant. But there is a reason they are so popular, right? :) So I thought really hard about how I would best describe adoption, or a way to really share my heart about such a complex situation, or what it means to support adoption in one way or another…and I just kept coming back to Maya Angelou’s poem, Caged Bird. I wrote about this piece back in May, and the words run through my mind fairly often when I think about our Boo. Especially as the waiting drags on.

But the truth is, it’s hearing the caged birds singing that makes all the difference, right? If no one heard them, nothing would ever change. And despite all odds, despite circumstances I wouldn’t last in for 5 minutes, these children keep singing. Keeping hoping, and keep believing there is a BETTER LIFE waiting. And I am so inspired by that bravery. By anyone who sings despite a seemingly inescapable cage. And I realized that somewhere in all of that was the message: KEEP SINGING.

And I worked with my talented friend at Jessica Stephens Design to create this graphic for a t-shirt.

keep singingblueAnd honestly, I’m incredibly excited about it. I’d love to have it printed on more items once this t-shirt campaign is over. Because I just love this message. Keep singing. Keep singing!  Because it says so many things all at once. It says, for one, SOMEONE HEARS YOU. You are not alone. You are not unworthy. You are not unloved.

It not only says keep singing, but it says keep fighting, keep hoping, keep trusting. Someone is coming.  You are seen. You are heard. You are known. What a powerful thing to believe.

And one of the things I love about this design is that it is so universal. For me, right now, this message is for Ryan, and for Boo, and for all those other little faces on Reece’s Rainbow (and those faces no one has ever seen) –keep singing beauties, we hear you and we are fighting for you.

But it could also send a message of hope to a completely different group of people. Did you know that globally, the International Labor Organization estimates there are 4.5 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation? Or that in 2013, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline received reports of 3,609 sex trafficking cases inside the United States?   Did you know that educating girls can break cycles of poverty in just one generation, yet millions of girls aren’t in school? Did you know that the US has more economic inequality than most of it’s developed world peers? Or maybe there is something else you wish I’d mention here, the thing that makes you fired up and inspires you to action. Who are the caged birds in your world?

I love that this t-shirt gives the wearer a chance to champion their own cause, and an opportunity to start conversations, and encourage others to take positive action to make our world better. I love that it sends a message of hope to anyone who see it, even if it’s a message you might not know they need.

So please, consider buying a t-shirt this holiday season. :) For yourself, or as a gift. You can link up directly to the t-shirt fundraiser HERE, and I will continue to share this fundraiser throughout the month of November.

https://www.bonfirefunds.com/raising-ryans-chances

And of course, I felt like some people might relate better to an “in-person” plea, so I convinced Daddy K to help me make a video about these shirts. He was a trooper in my multiple mistakes, and I hope it captures some of the actual passion I have for this design and what it means to me. Thanks for reading.

Did you know it’s not about me?

Last week both kids came down with some type of virus. It was short-lived, thankfully, but still resulted in late-night wake-ups and overall grumpiness. Combined with Bug’s new potty skills, which motivate him to wake me up (by screaming) to change his pull-up if he realizes it’s even a tiny bit wet, I went for a week straight without getting more than 3-4 uninterrupted hours of sleep. It reminded me of having a newborn, and if you and I have ever talked about those tiny, precious and perfect proofs of God’s glory, you know they’re not my favorite.

I love to sleep. I mean, I really love to sleep. I am a wreck if I’m tired. I used to stand in the back of the classroom in college (I’m was trying to be respectful) so I could force myself to stay awake, but then I’d end up sliding down the chalkboard, getting chalk all over my uniform (navy polyester pants, people). I once fell asleep WHILE my computer science professor was leaning over my shoulder, trying to show me how to program my system. I’m the worst, I know it.

So our week of madness was rough. And as I was changing the boy’s puked-on sheets at 4 a.m. during what was my fifth visited to his room that evening, I panicked. I literally can’t do this, I thought. At least not alone. And then it hit me – I have ANOTHER ONE coming. And nothing changing in our home life. Sheer terror froze me for a second. And then I did what mamas do, and carried on. Clean sheets were snapped on, dirty pajamas exchanged for fresh ones, and a little love rocked until he drifted off to dreamland.

I groggily stumbled back to my haven of sheets and blankets, a warm pillow beckoning like a siren in the night, and promptly…PRAYED my frazzled heart out. Lord, help me do this. And by this, I mean, LIFE.

(Did you know I have to feed these children THREE times a DAY, every day, like FOREVER???!!!)

If there is one solid lesson I re-learn every time Daddy K is out of town for an extended period, it’s this: I need Jesus. I know, right? Duh. I’m a slow learner. But the Lord has been gracious to me to show me some pretty cool things lately, as well as being gentle with my thick-skull and defensive attitude, so I figured I’d share them with you.

Because since sweet Daddy K isn’t here to listen to my scattered ramblings, and our FaceTime connections mostly consist of the kids fighting over who gets to “hold” him, I have no one to listen to my random thoughts. (Babe, read this, and then let’s chat!) And if I leave it all stuck in my brain, bouncing around and crowding out what little space I have left after keeping small children alive for almost four years, I might actually go crazy. So, blogland, my apologies. And you’re welcome.

(If you are here for the adoption-only, nitty gritty posts, stay tuned! I hope to get some of my thoughts down on that sometime soonish. And to be matched with the cutest little boy in all of Eastern Europe.)

Last year, I think the main theme God was trying to teach me was, “It’s not about you. Seriously.” Starting out this year, I felt like His message was more, “You are not in control, I am in control. Repeat that back to me.” But apparently I needed a refresher on it not being about me (surprise!), so this fall He’s back at it.

In our small group we were recently working through the first part of Exodus 17 (1-7), and talking about how and where we see Jesus in those Scriptures. Anyway, if you read my post about Moses, you won’t be surprised that the Israelites were complaining. This is actually before the moment where Moses loses the promised land, but similar in that the group is in the desert thirsty with nothing to drink.

But at group, someone brought up the point that the Israelites didn’t end up in that exact spot on accident. God was leading them by day and night. He LED them to a place where they would be thirsty. He WANTED them to be put in a position to sin. And I just kept thinking about that, and wondering what it was He wanted them to learn.

I pulled out my journal from Redemption Group, and found these notes:

We tend to say, “I’m sinning because of my circumstances.” But in reality, the circumstances merely reveal the sin that’s already in our hearts. The pressure of our circumstances basically squeezes the sin out.

And He brought them there. To squeeze out their sin. Sin is essentially worship distortion. To worship something other than God. And I think He brought the Israelites to this spot so they would recognize that they were worshipping the blessings (the manna and the quail) instead of the ONE WHO GIVES the blessings.  They were actually satisfied with His provision, regardless of if they had his Presence.  And He wanted to expose that truth in their hearts, and to remind them that only He truly satisfies.

They thought it was about them. Being led, being fed, being set apart as His chosen people. And I love learning from the Israelites because any time I start feeling judgmental towards them or shocked by their disbelief, God always whispers (okay, sometimes shouts), “Hey lady, that’s YOU. YOU’RE the Israelites.” :) So I try to absorb as much  as possible from their story, to maybe avoid needing a real-life lesson.

I read a book a while ago (Jesus Wants to Save Christians) about the journey of the Israelites.  The basic gist (and obviously I’m REALLY summarizing here) was that as God blessed the Israelites, they began to feel entitled to those blessings. That somehow they had earned it. They deserved it. And they start worshipping themselves. And so God shows them what they actually deserve (nothing), and they go back to worshipping God for awhile. And that cycle repeats a few times over.

And we see in Exodus, God gently reminding them that they are entitled to nothing. They have earned nothing.  He shows them the sin in their hearts that says, “Where is my stuff?” instead of “Where is my God?” He reveals Himself and reminds them He is always there, always with them. Even if they don’t see the physical proof, even if they aren’t being overwhelmed with what they’d consider blessings.

And I do that all the time. All. the. time. Where is my husband? Where is my help? Where is my sleep? I picture myself stamping my foot like a petulant child, arms crossed. But wait – God LED me here. On purpose. To reveal sin in my heart. My ever-present belief that’s it about me. Even just a little. (See, this is why my heart breaks for Moses).

And an elder in our church recently talked about the three temptations Jesus faced in His forty days in the desert (much like the wayward Israelites 40 years in the wilderness.) Anyway, I’ll skip two of the three, but the second one is where the devil has Him stand on the highest point of the temple, and says,

“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ Matt 4: 6-7

And I was tossing and turning in bed that night thinking about this temptation. He didn’t spend a lot of time on it in his discussion, but I just couldn’t get it out of my head. What was the REAL temptation for Jesus there? To TEST God? Maybe. But maybe even more than that, it was the temptation (like the one Moses gave in to, the one I give in to on an almost hourly basis) to make it JUST A LITTLE BIT ABOUT HIM. Just a little. Just for a minute. About him and not God. If he jumps, angels will save him. That’s a hard thing to turn down.

That tendency is so overwhelming and all-consuming for me. And I was thinking, really, that WAS part of the very first temptation with Eve in the garden, right? They were living the good life and things were awesome but everything was about God. And the liar came in and said, “Hey Eve, why don’t you take a little reward? Make it about YOU for just a minute. One little reward for being so awesome. One bite.”

And the consequences were eternal.

So then I started thinking about Solomon and how for a time he was so obedient and honored God and God gave him everything. Jerusalem was shining in all her glory and Solomon had more riches than anyone. But it wasn’t enough. Because it wasn’t about him. It was all about God.

Man, that little seed of pride destroys kingdoms!   And Jesus had every right to make it about Him, but He never did. Not once. Not even for a second. Not even when he could have. It was always about His Father.

And again my mind circled back to a Redemption Group teaching where our primary teacher said one of the main things he wanted us to walk away with was the realization that behind every sin is a finger-wagging accusation against God.

Meaning, we tend to want to categorize our sin as a passive response to something, like, “I’m just struggling to believe God will provide _______.” In a way, we like to let ourselves off the hook (see, I’m sinning because of my circumstances). But in reality, we are shaking our finger at God, accusingly, saying things like, “You’re not good enough or powerful enough to give me what I need.”

And I was trying to think about what the accusation was in this case (the make-it-about-me case that I struggle with so regularly). And I realized, heart-sinking, it’s saying to God, “You’re not worthy.”

Wow. You’re not worthy of ALL the worship, because I should get a little. You’re not worthy. It kind of broke me, because I KNOW I give in to this temptation all the time, however unintentional or subconscious it might be.

I am so thankful for grace, and Jesus, and new mercies.  I am so thankful He IS worthy, so I don’t have to be.  Amazing grace, how truly sweet the sound.

So, yes, another little toddler boy will soon be filling our house with noise, and mess, and laughter, and chaos. And I will feel overwhelmed and underarmed.  And yes, chances are that I will be changing THREE sets of sheets alone at 4 a.m., desperately fighting to hold on to my sanity. Begging Jesus for just a little more sleep. He might say no. But that’s okay, because it’s not about me. To Him be the glory.

(See, I’m learning. Okay, slowly, but still, I’m getting there. Maybe You could hold off on these particular lessons for a bit? ;) )

Where We’re At: September 10, 2014

I kept stalling on a blog update, thinking that sometime soon a “Where We’re At” post would be in order. Hoping we’d actually be somewhere, anywhere, so I’d have something significant to report.

But today, “Where We’re At” is waiting. Waiting, constantly waiting. Basically, not a single step further than my last “Where Were At,” which was THREE MONTHS ago. And the truth is, that’s hard.

It makes it feel like this whole thing isn’t real, which makes you start thinking about all the reasons why maybe it shouldn’t be. How much easier it might be if we just forgot about all of this. There’s a children’s book about adoption (When God Found Us You) I read to Sissy a lot. It’s about a little fox who was adopted by his Mama Fox, and she’s telling him the story of the day he came home. I change some of the words to more accurately describe our situation (i.e. one part says, on the day you came home you made me the happiest Mama in the world, and I always read, on the day you came home you made us the happiest family in the world). Anyway, the last few weeks, there is this one part that always chokes me up a little:

“Did you ever want to give up?” Little Fox asked. “Sometimes,” Mama said, rubbing Little Fox’s cheek with hers. “But I trusted that God knew you, and knew me, and knew when we’d fit perfectly together.”

I always stop for a second trying to catch the tears, the crack in my voice, but Sissy busts me every time. She will sweetly hug me and say, “Mama, don’t be sad about Boo. I love you.” And the truth is, I do trust that His timing is perfect. I can honestly say I have peace about everything. I am appreciating all of the extra time it gives me with my two babes at home, and how much they will grow and mature while we wait. I know that, and I trust that the wait is good.

But that doesn’t stop the little inefficiencies from frustrating my flesh. For example, specifically for us, our 1-800A (Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country) sat in a “queue” for almost six weeks before someone even pulled our file. As I was calling to check on it, they couldn’t give me any idea what sort of timeframe I was looking at. All they could tell me was the date it arrived to them (which I knew, because I gave UPS my left kidney to overnight and track it). But no average numbers of cases worked per day/week/month was available, no date ranges of cases worked the previous week was available. Literally, no hint as to when ours might actually be reviewed, but I could call back every day.  Awesome. Finally, there was good news. Sort of. They said my file had been pulled (yay!) but it looked like it wasn’t approved (once pulled, it’s usually a pretty quick process to approve and send the required paperwork back).

So instead of the LAST document I needed to officially apply for my boy, I got a piece of paper requesting more evidence. I think I’ve explained before that part of what USCIS requires is a child abuse clearance from every state you’ve lived in since the age of 18. Daddy K and I had about 6 states each, and we passed those on for appropriate documentation. Well, I forgot about Ohio. Because I turned 18 in February, and didn’t leave for college until May. That was four months of unaccounted “adult” time.

And Ohio, it turns out, is not at the top of their game in this arena. The same day I received the “request for evidence,” I immediately submitted a form to Ohio asking to have my name run through their Child Abuse Registry. Every state does it a little differently, but I made sure I followed all the requirements exactly. Then I waited, assuming my results would come back in a week. When over two weeks had passed and I heard nothing, I started to stress. I called a help desk number for several days, but no one ever answered. I finally found (online) a random email of someone who worked in the department (or a related department, but that was all I had). I sent her the nicest email I could muster, just asking to at least confirm that my request had arrived. She was very sweet actually, and immediately located my paperwork. It had, in fact, arrived two weeks prior, and so she processed it that day and immediately sent me the results. While I truly appreciate this particular person’s help, and I understand I don’t really know how this office is supposed to function, I can’t believe my stuff was literally just sitting there. And I can’t help but wonder how much longer it would have continued to sit. May I (politely) remind everyone that there is a CHILD waiting on the other side of this paperwork? I’m not buying a new car, or a boat, or a pretty sweater. We’re working for the right to introduce a child to family, and love, and hope. But I digress.☺

So, eventually I get all required documents back in the mail to USCIS and I beat their 45-day deadline by a couple of days (you can thank my right kidney, and some kind neighbors, for that UPS overnight). If you miss the deadline, they consider your case abandoned.  Then I got to restart on the every day calling gig.  I finally got word we were approved on Sept 5, but I don’t have the physical proof yet.  Which means our dossier still hasn’t been submitted.

In the end, we are delayed at least 45 days for this paperwork issue. Which hurts my heart, and my brain, and my Type-A personality. And ok, it’s possible it also hurts my never-ending need/desire/fight for control. To be totally honest, I feel a little fried friends. I’m sure it doesn’t help that Daddy K is on an extended work trip. Or that my TV broke in a freak storm power surge, leaving my kids to Lord-of-the-Flies-it over the iPad. Or that Bug is potty training and super clingy and whiny 24/7. But I really don’t want to take these things for granted, because when we bring Boo home, life will inevitably speed up for a while, and these quiet moments will take a backseat.

I know, oh I know, that joy comes in the morning. I know, even though I can’t always see it, He is moving. Aslan is always on the move. My boy is coming home eventually. And we will be all the more ready for him because of the waiting. And him for us. Because let’s be honest, we are a lot to get ready for. ☺