Friday, August 21, 2015

"When will you come?"

My sweet, precious Daughter,

I received your beautiful letter the other day. 

Thank you so much for sending it to us. Our adoption agency emailed it to me and said “seems like she somehow knew she needed to reach out to you today!” They were right my child. I needed to hear from you, to know you are well, to see your precious handwriting and to imagine what you looked like writing it. Maybe you were sitting at a table in the care center, pencil in your small left-hand, maybe you were sticking your tongue out when you were focusing (like your sister KK does) or maybe you were tapping your pencil on the table as you thought of what to say next. I imagine your bright smile across your face as you called us your family and wrote to us the words, “I love you.” I could see the joy you felt as you decorated the page with the stickers we sent you…how did you know Ariel is my favorite princess? I savored every sentence I read, enjoyed every sweet curl of each letter written from your hand, hearing that you like it there and are doing well. But there was one part of your letter, the very first thing you asked us, my sweet girl, that I just can’t answer yet…and it leaves me with an empty gaping hole in my heart each time I read it.

“When will you come?”

You have been waiting for us at the care center for one and one-half months now, going to bed each night dreaming of being home with us. What you may not know yet is that we have been fighting for you since the day we first met you over three years ago!  We didn’t tell you at first because, well, no one thought it was possible. We didn’t want to promise you something and have you wait…well, for YEARS..and then not be able to adopt you in the end. So, we sponsored you and continued to grow our relationship with you, loving you without you knowing the depth of our love or the relentless battle that we have been fighting since we made the decision to trust God’s plan and bring you home with us as our daughter so long ago.

The first question people ask when we tell them about you is, “When will she come home?” At first our answer was, “Hopefully within 6 months” as we thought we knew what needed to be done and we were sure we would have it done by then! But it hasn’t worked out quite like that, my child. As things fell through over and OVER again..agencies changed their policies, paperwork was gathered then lost, the list of things we needed to do grew..tremendously,  agencies were corrupt, people we thought we could trust betrayed us, approvals were not granted, governments changed their laws and policies, having to jump through countless hoops, watching the mountain of obstacles growing each day, we realized that we could not predict the timing. As of today, we have been trying to bring you home for 3 years, 2 months, and 17 days. Unfortunately, my dear one, this week the mountain of obstacles getting in the way of us bringing you home continued growing.

We have been waiting to be approved by the US Immigration office to “classify an orphan as an immediate relative” and on Monday, August 17th, we received a letter back with the title “NOTICE OF INTENT TO DENY.”  It is very complicated, but back in May, they had given us 87 days to collect five additional documents and our agency was only able to get one of those five documents. We turned in what we had and a letter explaining why we couldn’t get the other documents and US Immigration did not accept it. They have now given us 33 days to gather the rest of the documents they requested or they will deny our case.

We are doing everything we can to get these documents and asking everyone we know to pray for God’s help. Because, honestly, it is only by His help, His strength, His power, and His grace that ANYTHING can be done. Remember that mountain of troubles I was telling you about earlier, sweet girl? Well..God helped us get past ALL of those things and brought us to where we are right now. Things we were told were IMPOSSIBLE..have now happened, and you are in the care center you are today, closer than EVER to coming home with us, because of God’s power and love for you and for us! He is SO GOOD..even when things around us are bad!

I have never felt like more people/governments/policies are against us than I feel right now. It feels like the attacks just keep coming. It is exhausting and incredibly frustrating!

BUT…

I have also never felt more loved, supported, and cared for than I do right now. Over the last two weeks God has been placing people directly in my path to encourage me, love me, and remind me that He is here fighting right alongside me. First, he crossed my path with a woman named Sarah, that I’d never met before, in a Starbucks while on vacation..she called out my name and told me that she had been following our adoption and had been praying for us. She also told me that she wanted me to know that there lots of people praying for us..praying for YOU my sweet girl..people we have never met, who we have no idea ARE in fact, behind us, lifting us up in prayer! Then, we went back to the place we were staying and our next door neighbors, who were just arriving on their vacation, recognized your Daddy’s Visiting Orphans shirt. It turns out that both families who were staying next door had gone on a VO trip…and one of the couples, Kara and Ryan, not only have gone on a VO mission trip, but have led multiple trips themselves, started a child sponsorship program in Rwanda (Imana Kids http://www.imanakids.org), and have adopted two children as well. They ended up being and continue to be a HUGE support, encouragement, and blessing to us!

Me & Kara
God’s help did not stop there…we have been blessed with friends from all over the WORLD bringing us meals, babysitting for us, sending notes and texts, knocking on our door unexpectedly to bring us encouragement, emailing us with your beautiful photos, and then finally we received your letter. He is caring for us, making his presence and comfort known.

This is the picture we received of you this week. You are holding the package we sent to you at the care center.
Your smile lights up the room.  I can't wait for everyone to finally see it!!

So..my answer to your question today, knowing what I know after this 3 year journey is simply

 “We will come whenever God says, ‘It’s time’.”

One lesson we have learned over and over again is to trust God’s timing and plan. We had a six month plan. It didn’t work out. We have learned to trust God’s plan because it is greater and bigger than we could ever imagine. He weaves together a PERFECT plan for each of us, and this three year journey is part of that plan. These trials are part of our growth in Him. And he will, yet again, overcome this challenge.

I don’t know how much longer it will take to bring you home and knowing you are waiting on us breaks my heart. But I do know this…God is with you, loving you more than I’ll ever be able to imagine, so I have peace in the waiting. I pray that you are covered in God's peace and that you feel his presence and comfort as well my precious child, until He says "It's time."

Love,
Mommy


Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”                                James 1:2-4

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The PAIR Process


I have been waiting for more news to share before I updated our blog…but things are taking so long, I decided I would update anyway since so many people are wondering what’s going on! In our What to Expect When You’re “Expecting”  post, we explained the adoption process and what was coming next: the “PAIR” process.

The “PAIR” process was put in place to “protect prospective adoptive parents and promote the best interests of children” by the Ethiopian and U.S. governments. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website , the PAIR process “allows USCIS to review the child’s eligibility to immigrate to the United States in every case before prospective adoptive parents establish a permanent legal relationship to the child.” You can learn more details about the PAIR process here.

We officially submitted our case to USCIS to begin the PAIR process on April 23rd and on May 15th received a Request for Evidence (RFE) from USCIS. This RFE asked for five more documents to be submitted by August 6th in order to complete our case so they can make a final determination as to whether or not she will be eligible to immigrate to the United States.

Our agency staff in Ethiopia has been working on gathering these documents since May 15th and we unfortunately still have no news to share. We have not seen any of the required documents yet, and continue to be told that they are “working on it” or “pushing for results.” This is a very similar scenario to what we have been through time and time again in the past with other agencies, which lead to…nothing. We are struggling to trust that anything is being done for our case as we have been “burned” so many times before. We are doing all we can from here to ensure that our case moves forward, but August 6th is fast approaching and we still have nothing in our hands. If we do not have these 5 documents by August 6th, there will be a “denial due to abandonment.” Reading those words sting. In times like these, we just have to completely trust God and allow him to do his work.

Easier said than done.

The hardest part for us as the days go by and we continue to wait with no results…is not even about the paperwork and “PAIR” process. Yes, that is what we are focused on at this time and it is what is required to move forward, but ultimately this is about our DAUGHTER. Our precious little girl is living one more day without her family, living one more day in conditions unimaginable to most of us, one more day when her poor belly is distended and sour from pains of parasites, one more day when she doesn’t have her sisters there to laugh and play with, one more day when she doesn’t feel our arms around her, one more day when she doesn’t get a goodnight kiss from her mommy and daddy…one more day…

A photo of "Hope" holding the art work she made for me the other day at the Out of the Ashes (click here for link) compound


Please pray…for us to surrender and trust this process to God fully, for the staff in Ethiopia to be motivated to make our case a priority and get all the documents needed turned in before the deadline, and more importantly than anything…for our sweet daughter as she continues to wait to come home.  We know God has and will continue to provide and care for her, but please pray for her heart as she longs to be with us.

Do Not Worry
25 “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 than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 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? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own.


Matthew 6:25-34

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Part II: Can I Really Make a Difference?

Three years ago, on June 2 (when this entry was written), we stepped off a plane onto African soil for the first time in our lives. Holding hands as we took it all in…the smell of berbere (a spice used in almost every Ethiopian dish) filled the mountain air, the sight (and smell) of diesel exhaust fumes hung heavily in the air, casting a haze over the mountains within our view, and a face of a friend who has been there with us every step of the way since that day greeted us with his gorgeous smile and warm hug. We had no idea what God had in store for us, how every person we met along our trip would touch our lives tremendously from that point on, especially the one who God had sent us there to meet…our daughter.




A moment ago while I was washing dishes while listening to the thunder and watching the rain pour down out of my kitchen window, reflecting over this day and the following10 days that God had planned for us..I had a flash back to one moment in particular and turned the running water off as quickly as I could.

I had been asked to be our mission team photographer on this trip and was thrilled at the opportunity.

It was the rainy season in Ethiopia during our stay there, which made for some spontaneous torrential downpours throughout the week. We were in the village of Korah, where we met Hope for the first time..3 years ago..TODAY (June 4, 2012), and our job that afternoon was spreading this red clay dirt around the compound (as much of the “road” had been washed out..this was a very needed task).

The first photo taken of me and Hope..right after she climbed up in my lap
     


However, in the midst of our team’s work, the rain came. This wasn’t just any rain..this was monsoon rain! The children who had surrounded me as I photographed that day (including our precious Hope) quickly took me into their bunks to dry off (and thankfully save my camera too!). They sat me on the bed, wrapped me in blankets, and brought me flowers. Their love and hospitality was overwhelming.


Then, they did something that still brings me to my knees when I saw it happening. They ran back out into the rain to bathe and drink. They smiled and danced as the rain drops hit their skin and they soaked up every drop there was. They scrubbed their arms and legs with the fresh crisp water and cupped their hands to catch enough to get one or two sweet sips to quench their constant thirst. I couldn’t help but think about how they were SO thankful for this gift of clean water pouring from the sky..and how we take it completely for granted. These children and families have to walk miles to the nearest water source, which does not provide them with clean water but muddy, contaminated, river water. There are a few wells within the village that drip, at best some water, but it is not near enough to sustain them and it is still water that you and I would never drink due to a lack of cleanliness. 

Washing their hands with local water
My husband and I decided that we would bring them fresh water every day while we were there. We knew that it was not a long-term solution, but it was a need we could provide for them while we were there. (Thankfully when we discussed this issue with the church leaders at the time, we were told that another mission team had plans to bring water filtering systems with them to help meet this need long term) 

The next day, we stopped on our way into the village to purchase water and our vans pulled in with cases of bottled water to share. When we began filling cups of this pure, fresh water and handed it to the kids, crowds began forming. What happened next, again, was a moment that I never expected and touched me to my core. The children began pouring the cups of water onto their hands to wash them. They were so used to not drinking water, they thought that this water was for washing too. I quickly stopped them and showed them that it was safe to drink and the look of awe and wonder in their eyes was unforgettable. 



So, today as I stood over my sink watching the rain pour down, I turned off the excess water that was filling my sink while I scrubbed my dishes. I have also made a point to turn off the water while I brush my teeth ever since this trip (I have no idea why I left it running in the first place?). My kids bathe together. And my showers are just long enough to get the job done..no lingering in the hot water for this girl. Ultimately, I know this doesn’t change much..and it doesn’t change their circumstances, but every little bit counts. And it reminds me of all of the things I have to be grateful for…clean water people! It’s a big deal!

Sometimes looking at the big picture and realizing the vast amount of need in the world can become overwhelming…and to many people, paralyzing. Have you ever had this thought, “If there is so much need/hurt/pain/poverty/evil out there, anything I do won’t make a difference anyway.” This is one of the biggest lies out there!!! I KNOW that one person CAN make a difference. 

In addition to pursuing adoption, we have also been sponsoring multiple children from this village since we left. Our sponsorship may not change the world, but it DOES change the world for the child who is sponsored. Sponsoring a child has a ripple effect and makes a difference for their families and everyone they will touch in their lifetime. It makes a HUGE impact.

One of our dear friends, Stacy, who we met on this first trip to Ethiopia is now, along with her husband, a founder of a sponsorship program called Out of the Ashes. Please take a moment to watch this video, go look at the website and get more information, and pray about sponsoring one of these children. It’s truly amazing to see how these sponsorships impact the children of Korah and we have witnessed it first hand.









Or..if you would like to help with the water crisis, go to water.org and learn about ways to help there.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Part I: Born in the USA


Over  Memorial Day weekend, we spent time with our family and had a wonderful picnic reunion with my fathers side of the family. While driving home on the interstate, we noticed up ahead on top of an overpass there was a man waving an American Flag. As we approached him, he could not be mistaken for anything else than a very happy, proud, veteran as this 70ish year old man was decorated in his uniform and medals and waving the flag with all his might with a smile you could see for miles! We honked and waved as we drove underneath him and a couple miles down the road further we encountered a friend of his at the next overpass doing the same thing...taking pride in his country and honoring those who have served and died for our freedom.
 


As I waved and Tom honked once again, I was overcome with emotions. Overcome because it wasn't until this past year that I realized what a true blessing and privilege it was to be born into this country...and I did absolutely NOTHING to deserve it. Granted, I have always been thankful as I live in a country where I have so many opportunities, I have access to wonderful medical care, I can openly express my views, opinions, and practice my faith, I can go to a store and purchase any food item I desire, I have CLEAN water at the turn of a faucet, I get a free public education, I feel safe and secure, and so much more. What's more...if I can't afford some of these things on my own, the government is there to assist me! The country we live in is truly amazing!

 I wasn't blind to the rest of the world having my eyes open through not only basic knowledge of happenings around the world (we've all seen the news) but also going with my own two feet and serving in the impoverished villages of Ethiopia...which was completely life changing. But this year, on top of the things I already know about how privileged we are as Americans in comparison to the MAJORITY of the world around us, I have been witness to just how difficult it is to even come to the USA to visit, much less to immigrate..if you are not born here. Did you know that because we are Americans, the world is our playground? We can go anywhere..and come back as we please. That is not true for the majority of the world around us. A dear friend of mine was denied a visa to visit the USA for his sisters wedding, numerous families and children wait in long lines at US embassies all over the world praying and hoping to have a chance at a visa to visit or join their families and are denied CONSTANTLY.

Last July, we experienced this first hand when we applied for a student visa for Hope. It was the first time I had been on the "other side of the tracks"...advocating for a daughter that was not born into my family but is my daughter never the less. At that time we thought adoption was no longer an option for her and we thought this was the only way we could still provide for her here in the USA and bring her home into our family. There was no reason to deny this child who had crossed all her T's and dotted all her I's showing the USA proof that she would be provided for and had the opportunity for an education she would never receive otherwise...yet, even she was denied.


Through this experience, I came across countless other families who had opened their hearts, homes, and lives to bring children into the USA for the same reason and had also been denied. My heart breaks at this injustice. Why should I...or my biological children, have all of these opportunities at our fingertips and other children do not..just because of where they were born? Why did God choose me to be born into this country? What does that mean?

So, as Memorial Day passes and the 4th of July approaches, and we wave our flags, enjoy cookouts with our friends and family, and sing the Star-Spangled Banner watching the amazing fireworks displays all over the country, I hope you truly think about where you live, what you have been given, and what you can be doing with this privilege you've been blessed with that you do not deserve more than any other human being on this planet. Think about it...


Luke 12:48 tells us "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." 

Friends, we have been given "much", we have been entrusted with "much" so much more is demanded and asked of us as followers of Jesus. My prayer for you is to not just be thankful for the much you have been entrusted with, but that you will find a way to use it to further the Kingdom. Nothing that we have is ours anyway, so let's use it for the Glory of the One who truly deserves it all!