Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Bittersweet Mother's Day

Today has been a day filled with so much joy and so much love. Tom and my two precious girls have gone above and beyond to make me feel special, filling the day with lots of love…



special surprises of sweet treats…


pure joy & laughter…


and family fun and games…


My heart is overflowing with love for these two children God blessed me with when he made me their Mommy.

But…

Today is also a day where my heart feels..a bit empty. My oldest daughter, the one I have dreamed about bringing home for close to three years now since her little hand first held mine is sitting in Africa, waiting for her Mommy to hold her once again. My heart breaks when I think about her being across the ocean, unable to join in the family fun with us today...and it just doesn't feel complete without her. 



I find joy and SO much gratitude knowing that we are closer than ever to bringing her home. In fact, last week on May 5, we received official notification from U.S. Immigration saying we had been approved (again) to adopt internationally. Now we wait on the PAIR process, which is where U.S. Immigration (in the U.S.) and U.S. Embassy (in Ethiopia) review all of HER documents and give us approval to adopt her specifically. This can take anywhere between 2-5 months. So, although I am grateful and happy that we are as far as we are in this process, I still find myself longing for the daughter I do not have here with me today with a sense of urgency to get her home like never before.

The emptiness I feel today also comes from a loss that stings a bit more today than it has on other days. Today is the first Mother’s Day that I have experienced since we lost a precious life that was growing inside me this past September. I know the baby I never met is in the arms of our Creator right now in Heaven and I completely trust God’s plan, but I can’t help but feel the raw emotion of knowing I’ll never get to experience being a Mommy to that precious baby or the joy it would have brought to my life. And today..it hurts.

I know many of you reading this have been through or are going through similar situations. Some of you reading this whom I’ve never met and some of you being near and dear to my heart, are currently in the midst of a struggle with infertility, some of you are feeling the pain from a loss of an unborn baby or a baby who only got to breathe a few sweet breaths of life before going into the arms of Jesus, some of you are in the midst of waiting on an adoption to happen..wondering if it ever will, some of you are feeling alone and abandoned as you care for your babies by yourself, and some of you are clinging tightly to your little ones realizing not every Mama can celebrate today.

Let me share something with you. In whatever season you are in, whatever pain or loss or grief you feel…know you are not alone. Even if you feel like no one could ever understand what you’re going through, I promise, there is One who does. I have found joy through the darkness in allowing the love of Jesus that never runs dry to fill me more abundantly during this season than ever in my life before. I want to encourage you with this today friend, find your strength in Him. In the One who will never leave you, will never let you down, and whose plan for your life is greater and higher than you could ever imagine. Trust Him. And know you are NOT alone.


“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13

Saturday, April 11, 2015

What to Expect When You're "Expecting"

It has been 2 full weeks since we announced that we are now officially “expecting” another daughter (via the news of our referral for our adoption).  We want to first take a moment to give God the glory for the amazing outpouring of love and support we have received. He has truly been moving hearts in ways we never would have imagined and we have heard story after story about how our journey has inspired, brought hope, and given the opportunity for so many of you to step out in faith. Thank you for sharing those stories with us…they help us to remember that God is doing SO many amazing things through our adoption journey, not only in what we are experiencing first hand, but also in how He is impacting the lives of so many others too.

It is amazing.

As of today, we have received over $12,600 in donations to help us bring ‘Hope’ home. Friends, that is over half way to being fully funded. In just 14 days.

14 days, 70 donations, over $12,000.

God is moving.

It is amazing.

YOU are part of this miracle.

Thank you.



So..since we are now “expecting” and so many of you have joined us in this journey, we wanted to take a moment to answer some of your questions we have received over the last two weeks as well.

What does “official referral” mean?

Well, for starters, if you didn’t think God could truly do ANYTHING, think again! This is proof. It’s a miracle. It means that ‘Hope’ has been officially matched with our family for the purpose of adoption. It means that she will not go to a different family or spend any nights in the orphanage without a family waiting for her…officially. She has a family, and it is US!

What’s next?

Paper, paper, paper.

Wait, wait, wait.

Pray, pray, pray.

Our next step is to submit our case to the “PAIR” process, which is new since we began this journey almost three years ago. Our agency will submit our home study along with all of ‘Hope’s’ documents to US Immigration to review it all and hopefully approve our case. Once it is approved there, it will go to the US Embassy in Ethiopia where they will have to review and approve it as well. Once this is completed, we will receive a letter that is then sent to our agency and we can be submitted to  court. This PAIR process has been known to take 2-5 months depending on how quickly it is approved or if any other documents are needed once they review it. PLEASE PRAY OURS IS APPROVED PROMPTLY WITHOUT ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTS REQUESTED!!! (We have still not been submitted to PAIR as there is one document in limbo…we should be submitted next week.)

When will she come home?

Once we pass the PAIR process, we will receive our court date (could take 2 or so months to get) where Tom will travel to Ethiopia and we will officially become ‘Hope’s’ parents. After court there will be more paperwork to process in order to get her the documents necessary to come home (new birth certificate, passport, medical/physical exam etc). Then there will be a final appointment with the US Embassy (2-4 weeks after the court date) to approve her US Visa, and she will come home as our daughter!!

Is there anything that could slow the process?

YES!

The tricky part is that the courts close for the summer months due to the rainy season, so if we do not pass the PAIR process and get a court date before they close in June, that pushes things back 2 to 3 more months. So, we are asking for fervent prayers over the timeline and approvals so that she doesn’t have to wait longer than necessary. And as I said, approvals of all these steps are key….without approvals of each of these steps, we can’t move forward.

When do you “expect” her to be home?

Time and time again, we have learned that we cannot put a timeline on this adoption. In one of my first journal entries I was looking back on, I wrote that I thought she would be home in 4 months. I laugh at myself now for thinking that, as we have learned that we cannot put a timeline on this adoption as things can change at a moments notice. BUT, we feel right now that the “best case” is that she would be home in the next 6-8 months.

Is there anything I can do to help?

PRAY: Prayer has brought us this far and will get her home in the end!! Please specifically pray that approvals are met in a timely manner and that there are no more delays. Pray for her heart as she transitions to new environments. Pray that God will continue to provide for us as we move forward in faith. And ultimately, pray that His perfect will be done.

SHARE: Share our story with your friends and family…you never know who needs encouragement and this is a PERFECT example of God’s faithfulness…both in the good parts and in the hard parts of this journey. He remains the same and has NEVER left us, will NEVER leave us, and LOVES us (and ‘Hope’ & YOU) more than we can ever imagine!

CONSIDER DONATING: Unfortunately when adopting internationally there are significant financial requirements. Because of so many generous donations received over the last 2 weeks, we have been able to pay a significant portion of our agency fees. However, there will be more fees as well as we move forward and eventually travel (twice) to Ethiopia. In our previous blog Relentless Love Returns (click here to read it) there is a breakdown of all the fees we will need to complete the adoption. If you would like to make an online donation, you can donate in the right column of this blog via Paypal or GoFundMe (you must view the full website to see these options if you are on a mobile device). We have also been receiving donations in the mail. If you would like to donate that way to assure we get 100% of your donation, please contact us and we will give you the information needed.

We also still have some Relentless Love t-shirts, hand made beaded necklaces from the village where we first met ‘Hope’, and Ethiopian coffee for sale. Please let us know via comments on the blog or facebook message if you are interested in purchasing something.


Thank you for joining us in our journey to bring our daughter home. 


"What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?"  Romans 8:31


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Choosing to CELEBRATE!

Today we celebrate a big step being accomplished in our journey to bring ‘Hope’ home.  Today we woke up at 4:00am and drove 2.5 hours to attend our official fingerprinting (biometric) appointment with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This appointment is the final step to “enable USCIS to determine whether you and your spouse are suitable and eligible to adopt a foreign-born child from a country” in a LONG list of requirements. These requirements must be completed even before you can apply to have this appointment. Here is a brief synopsis of the requirements:

Proof of US Citizenship
Proof of Marriage
Proof of Compliance with Pre-adoption Requirements
Home Study (Requires signing with an adoption agency and months of paperwork, home visits, background checks, doctor appointments, letters of recommendation, interviews, and other requirements must be met prior to receiving the official Home Study): Approx. $3,500
Complete a 13 Page Application
Pay the Filing Fee and postage: Approx. $900

Then you finally receive your appointment!

As you can see that there was a LOT of work, time, energy, funds, and requirements that went into getting to this day..so today we CELEBRATE!



However, this isn’t the first time we have celebrated this appointment day. On January 11, 2013 we celebrated our FIRST USCIS fingerprinting appointment. We had completed all the requirements listed above (including paying all the fees..except the Home Study fee was larger the first time since it wasn’t an update like our most recent Home Study was) and drove 2.5 hours with eager, excited, hopeful hearts that our adoption was moving in the right direction. We had no idea what the next two years would bring…and even though at times, as I wrote about previously in "More to the story," we thought our journey to bring ‘Hope’ home had come to an end, we WERE moving in the right direction. God had a plan that was bigger, more complicated, and more vast than we could ever have imagined..and today it brought us right back to where we were over 2 years ago.

While we were there, I was speaking to the same man who took my fingerprints the first time we had this appointment. The fingerprints they take are digital and so I asked him if the original fingerprints were deleted after a certain amount of time, trying to understand why this step was necessary to repeat. He laughed and said, “You know, fingerprints don’t change. And we actually do still have your first fingerprints in our system. But…they expire.” Lots of thoughts crossed my mind at that point…most of them were not even worth acknowledging as this “annoyance” is one of the smallest hurdles/issues we have faced…and in my heart, I knew what I had to say in response…because it is the truth.  “Well,” I said, “we will do whatever we have to do to bring our daughter home.”

So, today, instead of being bitter or angry because of a man-made rule that just acts as one more barrier to bringing our daughter home, we choose to CELEBRATE! We CELEBRATE today because we ARE one step closer to bringing ‘Hope’ home. Even though we repeated something we had done 2 years ago, a LOT in our situation has changed and is different today than it was back then. We CELEBRATE because of the love and generosity of friends, family, and strangers who have donated to make costs like these disappear (we have now received over $8,000 in donations in just 5 days of posting Relentless Love Returns). We CELEBRATE because we have a God who is sovereign over ALL of the details of our adoption and has brought us back to a point that is truly a miracle to be repeating.

Today, I challenge you to look at your life, your circumstances, and find something to CELEBRATE no matter what it is you’re facing…because we all share the same Creator whose sovereignty, love, power, and grace NEVER runs out, NEVER lets us down, and NEVER loses hope.  



“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” Declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

                                                                                                            Isaiah 55:8-9

Monday, March 30, 2015

More to the story...

Over the past few days since we shared our adoption news (Relentless Love Returns), we have been overwhelmed and so moved by the response we have gotten. We have received countless phone calls, texts, emails, and facebook messages with words of encouragement, support, and prayers. We have seen countless people share our story via their facebook accounts to help us get the word out. Within the first hour of posting our blog, $1,000 was donated! We have now raised over $4,000 in just 2 days! What has also astonished us is how much support we have received from people we have never even met! God has already done so many incredible things in our journey and I do NOT say this lightly. So, when we stepped out in faith and trust again as we reached out asking for support with our recent referral and large invoice that came along with it, we have been in awe that he continues to pour out his blessings over our adoption through your prayers, your consistent willingness to share our story with your friends and family, and through your financial donations. We truly can’t say thank you enough!

Last night as Tom and I were re-counting all of the amazing things that have been happening in the past two days, we couldn’t help but be moved by how many people, both those we know and many whom we do not, are joining with us to help us bring home our daughter…and many of you only know the brief story I posted the other day. We felt that because of the love and support you are giving to us, that we wanted to share a bit more with you..so you TRULY know what you are part of and can begin to understand how deeply thankful we are.

Much of what will follow is not easy for me to write.

It is not easy for me to talk about. (In fact, most of the time I talk about it, I can’t do it with dry eyes!)

But it is what happened…it is part of what brought us to where we are today..and for that, we are thankful.

So, here we go.

When we began this journey to adopt our daughter in June of 2012, we were told it would be nearly impossible to ever bring her home. But we didn’t let that stop us. We had NO idea what we were about to embark on, but we knew we were going to fight for her just like we would have if our biological daughter was there and someone told us it was too hard…with the relentless love of a parent. And so it began. We signed with an agency (Agency A) that said they could help us and began the long, tedious, and expensive paperwork process. We realized we were not equipped to pay for the large cost associated with adopting from Ethiopia, which is approximately $30,000, so we began fundraising.

We had t-shirts made (beautifully designed by our dear & very talented friend Ben) to sell (still for sale by the way)






We had Ethiopian coffee and hand-made necklaces brought to us from friend’s who had gone back to Ethiopia so we could sell these items as well (also still have some for sale)




We asked for donations from friends and family so we could have a Yard-Sale Fundraiser which ended up being such a huge success (thanks to the amazing donations from so many people) the first time…




We had a second one the following spring (that was so large we had to ask our neighbors to use their driveways too!)




I spoke and sang at a Women’s Event that donated their proceeds to our adoption



A friend of a friend who is a reporter heard of our story and wanted to help so he wrote an article about us to help get the word out 


And..we simply asked for help and people made tax deductable donations directly to our adoption agency on our behalf.

The outpouring of love, prayers, and financial support were amazing.

Seven months had passed and our adoption agency began sending us letters and notices telling us that things were changing. Eventually they told us that they could not promise that they would give us Hope’s official referral..their policy stated they would refer her to the next family in line who had requested her age and gender. That was not an option for us. The SAME DAY we received this awful news and realized we could no longer move forward with Agency A, a friend told us they knew of another agency (Agency B) that would help us. We called the next day and sent in our application.

When we officially signed with Agency B, we had all of our paperwork transferred along with all of the money people had donated to our adoption fund from Agency A. Then we waited. We called. We sent emails. We trusted that they were really going to help us. We kept being told, “one more week” or “there was a meeting set up but the person didn’t show, we will try again next week” etc…the list goes on. But ultimately, a little under one year after signing with this agency, in February of 2014, we got an email that broke our hearts. The agency was being indicted for fraud & conspiracy against the United States.

This news was incomprehendable. The people we had been working with and trusting…were not trustworthy. They were not working on our behalf or on Hope’s behalf. They had taken our money and done nothing else to help move our adoption forward. Now, because of this lawsuit (and the current guilty pleas of all involved), our money..the money so many people had given out of love, was gone. In addition to this news, about a week later we found out that because of Agency B, the government of Ethiopia had frozen all adoptions in progress and was also holding meetings to potentially end international adoption all together.  After consulting with multiple adoption attorneys, adoption agencies, and speaking to friends from Ethiopia we were told our journey was over. There was no hope for Hope.

We still knew in our hearts that she belonged with us. We were devastated at the idea we could not adopt her, but we realized there was another way we could still support her, still have her living under our roof, and still be a family to her without adoption. We would pursue a Student Visa. Even though she wouldn’t ever share our last name, she would still be our daughter in our hearts and that was enough for us.

The doors for the visa opened WIDE! She was accepted into an amazing school, we had a friend in Ethiopia who was willing to help us with all the work there that had to be done (I’ll have to write a separate blog about this AMAZING friend whom without, we wouldn’t be where we are today), things were FINALLY moving ahead and we had an appointment with the US Embassy in Ethiopia for the purpose of getting Hope a Student Visa on July 16, 2014. WE HAD A DATE!!

We booked our flights, asked everyone we knew for prayers, and flew the 17 hours to Ethiopia, leaving our two daughters behind (the youngest turning one while we were away), and went to see our sweet Hope and BRING HER HOME!

As you might have guessed by now, it didn’t go well. We were denied. Immediately. No discussion. No questions. No answers. Our hearts were CRUSHED. We thought we knew what God wanted us to do..we thought we were on the right path as things had gone so smoothly to get us to this visa appointment..and even worse, we had spent a whole week loving on our precious daughter, having her in our arms once again, only to have her ripped from them for no good reason…BY THE UNITED STATES!!!  We were confused, hurt, angry, desperate, and completely without a plan.

After the visa was denied, we decided to go speak to one more person we had heard of, who could possibly offer some help. For families who had been with Agency B, the Ethiopian government ultimately decided to let them move forward (as long as their cases were cleared by a new process called the Pair process..adding up to 5 months to the time it takes to bring your child home), with one of two agencies. The first agency was Agency A, the one we had left a year prior. So, there was only one option left. We met with the director of Agency C in Ethiopia the day after our Visa was denied…with very little hope in our hearts honestly. I remember on the drive to meet with him, Tom looked at me and said, “I really thought we were here because we were going to bring her home on the Visa” and I replied, “Well, maybe God had an entirely different plan and reason for bringing us here than we know right now…or than we may ever know.” And he did. It was for the meeting we were about to have.

This final agency said yes to us. They said they would try to help us. “Try” being the key word as our situation was pretty dire at the time and they had never had a case like ours before. We left our precious girl once again with tears streaming down our cheeks and an empty seat next to us on the plane reminding us of what we left behind..but it still was not over.



I look at this picture now and can still feel the echos of the pain and emptiness that filled my heart the whole flight home. But there was still a part of me that knew we couldn’t give up. We could NOT be defeated by the enemy. And that God was STILL by our side, fighting for us and for her.

And that leads us to where we are today. THAT is why we are so grateful for each word of encouragement, each hug, each time you share our story with your friends and family, and for each penny donated. Each one is so deeply appreciated because there have been so many hardships, so many defeats, and so many "no"s along the way. Every time we feel your love and support, it tells us one more person is with us, alongside us, joining us in our fight to bring Hope home.

We have learned SO much from these experiences over the past few years, but there is one thing I want to share with you today. You may be reading this post and have never gone through something like I just wrote about, but you may be going through your own pain, loss, emptiness, confusion, desperation, uncertainty, fear, the list goes on..and trust me, I’ve felt it all too! But what I want you to know, and what I never want to forget from my experience, is that even when life wasn’t good and was filled with all of those things listed above…GOD WAS STILL GOOD. He didn’t change when my circumstances did. I have realized that I can’t base my understanding of God’s character on the things that are happening in my life. I am blessed and God is good..EVEN when things around me aren’t! These horrible things that happen in life can draw us closer to Jesus and into a more real, authentic relationship with him than we have EVER known before if we let them! If we just cry out to him…he’s there. He will never leave us as orphans friends, he is our father and loves us with a relentless love that will never end.

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.
Romans 8:28

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
                                                            James 1:17

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.      
                                                            John 14:18