Monday, February 18, 2013

2012 - The Year of Adoption

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in my journal recapping 2012, and I wanted to use this past weekend, a very special and celebratory one, to share what the Lord has been doing in my life. On Friday February 15, 2013, my family and I celebrated my sister’s 40th birthday. That’s a milestone in many people’s lives, but the crazy and amazing part of this story is that it was the first time we had all celebrated it together.
                2012: I’ve referred to it as “The Year of Adoption” for me. I think I’ve probably experienced the greatest joy and greatest heartbreak of my life in 2012! I’ve also experienced more than ever the great peace in knowing that God is sovereign over all things!
                On January 11th, we received pictures and a brief summary about Maria. We practically hit the ground running in our pursuit to adopt her. The Lord had brought to our attention so many times in the preceding weeks James 1:27 – “But true religion is this: to care for widows and orphans in their distress.”
                Meanwhile, the Lord was working in my parents’ lives to allow my mom to meet Lisa again for the first time since she was born 39 year earlier. I later learned that the week after Daniel and I first saw Maria, my parents prayed for all their children (all 6, not 5). The very next day I called my parents to tell them Daniel and I were two days later with some big news. Upon telling them (about our plans to adopt Maria), they were very excited and supportive – I wasn’t sure how they would respond. Hindsight, I realized they were so excited and supportive because they were experiencing a different adoption story at the same time! The day that I called them was the same day my parents had gone to the required counseling to be reunited with Lisa.
                When Mama placed Lisa for adoption, it was “closed,” meaning neither of them would have, nor be able to obtain, information about the other. In 1991-ish, South Carolina released documents to private organizations and changed the laws such that if each party (birth mother and child) “registered,” the organization would give them information to contact the other party. Mama registered back then but took her name off in 2002 – I was in high school, Kyle and Kelsea were getting older, and my parents didn’t feel the timing was right. We later found out that Lisa registered a couple of months after Mama took her name off the list… God knew it was time for them to be reunited yet.
                Mama re-registered in the fall of 2011 when Kelsea went to college. In the last 20-some year, Compass of Carolina (the organization which held the paperwork and through whom the registration was done) has only made 2 “matches” – my family being one of them. Mama was hesitant for the first time ever when the match was made. When Lisa was born, Mama got to hold her and as she talked to her and said she loved her, Lisa smiled and a tear ran down her cheek. Mama said she knew that waw God reassuring her she would see Lisa again one day. Mama is not exactly the type of person to stand her ground, but Daddy said she never wavered on this. Throughout this process, I’ve seen my Mama’s faith and assurance in God more than ever – normally something she is more reserved about.
                Mama and Lisa finally met in early March. After a few meetings, the rest of the family found out about her and/or reintroduced on June 1st at Granny and Popa’s anniversary lunch. Granny had told a friend only a few weeks earlier her assumption that she would not meet her granddaughter before dying. They say upon learning who Lisa was, Granny gave her a huge hug – very usual for her really embrace someone that way. Popa couldn’t stand up due to all the emotions but told Lisa he’s prayed for her every day of her life! It’s been amazing to see how God redeems relationships!! This was all something that was extremely hard 39 years earlier for a 16-year-old, her family, and church. I see a piece of how the Lord had prepared our family for this: Mama helping raise Daddy’s two sons, us never thinking of each other as half siblings, Bryan embracing Mama as his, Daddy always teasing that he had another child and us being okay with that.
                When Maria was placed with the Russian foster family, it absolutely broke my heart but I was still pretty sure we would be able to meet her in the fall. It’s so crazy that I found out about her placement while on the Ladies’ Retreat May 5th – really only wanting to be with Daniel. That night, the lesson was on women in Moses’ s life – how Miriam had trusted God when she placed him in that basket! Wow! How the Lord has a hand in the planning of those lessons! How my mom had done the same thing (even though I didn’t know it at the time), and how I needed to do the same. The Lord provided such peace despite the heartache!! I know He is sovereign and is doing what is best for His glory. We prayed that the Lord would put her where she would know Christ, and I am trusting she will give her life to Him where she is now!
                In early October, I went to an adoption conference where Lisa spoke. I obviously went to hear her speak but also for the adoption seminars. That was about the time we were realizing we might not get Maria. It was very tough and I wanted some guidance. Despite having already learned the facts, I was reminded of the staggering statistics of orphan girls becoming prostitutes and the Lord clearly laid on my heart to adopt a little girl – still not sure who, when, or where from but confident He will reveal in His time.
                About three weeks later, after having read the entire blog we wrote about Maria and having looked more at Reece’s Rainbow than in previous months, I was pouring my heart out to Daniel but it was clear that he didn’t see it all from a maternal perspective. At that point, the Holy Spirit suddenly brought to mind that Lisa knew what it was like to “lose” a child she had never seen. I called her the next day and was soooo encouraged by her story, her prayers for us, her perspective (especially as a solid Christian), and especially since she’s my sister! She was able to share how the Lord had helped them decide to adopt another little girl after losing Mary Anne – they already had plane tickets to go get her in China when they found out about her death. Lisa shared how she knew she had played a role in Mary Anne’s life even if it was only prayer. She hoped that Mary Anne could feel her love even from around the world. She was confident in God’s plan… despite the heartache!  I was blown away at how the Lord had provided this sister that I didn’t even know I had a few months earlier – that she knew exactly how I felt – how I didn’t know anyone else who had experienced what I was going through – that she could relate to having had a child in her heart as her own but never having actually held her! How God knew about this moment 40 years ago when my Mama was deciding to place Lisa for adoption! How Lisa had been raised with a very positive view of adoption! How she had adopted a child herself!
                So many times I’ve also been reminded and been so thankful for how the Lord has adopted us into His family!! How I can be a daughter of the Most High!! How Christ left glory in Heaven to come rescue me!
                I still don’t know what’s in store for Daniel and me, but I am excited to continue giving more of me to Him and His glory!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

With Heavy Hearts

We have some unexpected and discouraging news to share this week.  On Friday we received the following email from the director of our adoption agency:

Jessica & Daniel:

I’m told the foster family who applied to adopt Masha was considered today by a commission of 10 people.  6 voted for the foster parents.  4 voted against them.  So . . . The foster family has been approved.  Masha is to be moved to their home on May 12. 

Unless the family changes their mind or the placement should fail, you will not be able to pursue adopting Masha.  The representative who advocates for these children says she has several other girls who need families but we haven’t yet been told what their needs are.  I want to give you time to absorb this news and we’ll move on when you feel the time is right.

I’m extremely disappointed with this decision.  I can only imagine how you must feel about this news.

This was not what we were hoping to hear, but we know that God’s plans are bigger than ours.  Based on the email above and other adoption accounts, there is still a chance that things may not work out with the foster family.  Jessica and I are still pushing to finalize our paperwork in case something falls through.  Timing-wise we are still expecting to finish up sometime later in May.

Although the news is discouraging, Jess and I have been encouraged by three different things: 
First, we know that God is in control of every element of the process.   He put Maria on our hearts.  He directed us to pursue her and gave us a number of really cool confirmations along the way.  The same God also controlled the commission of 10 people who voted on Friday.  We know that He is still in control.
Second, our continuing pursuit of Maria even when the outcome seems unlikely has reminded Jess and I about how God has pursued us throughout our lives, even when we have at times rejected or run away from Him.  We are so glad that He never stops chasing us!  He is faithful, even when we have not been.  God didn’t give up on us, and we’re not giving up on Maria until she is home with us or the door is completely closed.
Finally, the thought that a little girl who has lived with no family for the first five years of her life is now wanted by two different families is very exciting for her.  Certainly we want Maria here with us, but the fact that she will soon leave the orphanage one way or the other is a very good thing for her.

Please keep us in your prayers this week.  I think more importantly, please keep Maria in your prayers this week.  We are praying that God would do what is best for her…whether it’s a Russian foster family or a permanent American home!   

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I-600A Submitted!

In our last post, we told you that we were finished with our homestudy. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case at the time. We can now say with certainty that we have finished the homestudy and sent it off to the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services)! What this means for us is that our first major step is complete. The way we look at it, prior to our first trip to Russia, there are three major steps to go through:
1.       Homestudy
2.       Approval by the USCIS. The form (I-600A) states that it could take between 60 and 90 days, but we have heard that they’re being processed in about 30 days.
3.       Sending dossier to Russia. This is a huge packet of information, including our homestudy and lots of personal documents.
The same day we finished our homestudy, we found out that one of the two Russian families that expressed interest in Maria back in February contacted the orphanage again and let them know they expect to have their paperwork ready in May. We think the family was planning to visit Maria sometime last week, so we are hoping to hear more about that this week.  It sounds like this family is a foster family, so the orphanage director may be more interested in placing Maria in a permanent home.  We are continuing to pray that God will work all of this out for his glory and for Maria’s best.
As far as our timing goes, we hope to have our paperwork ready mid to late May. That would be contingent upon getting our approval from the USCIS within 30 – 45 days.  Another consideration is Moscow Region’s current moratorium on US adoptions.  There are indications that the moratorium will be lifted within the next month or so, and there is also the chance that even with the moratorium in place, they may make exceptions for special needs children like Maria.
Please pray with us that God would work through all of these circumstances to give Maria a permanent loving home as soon as possible. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A slow few weeks

We finally have a bit of news to tell! We finished our homestudy!  Okay, well the final edits are being made now. We were expecting to have it finished about four weeks ago, but due to circumstances that have been out of our hands, things have taken longer than we expected. Once we get the final version we can send it in to the USCIS (U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services) along with our I-600A form. The purpose of this form is to process us as adoptive parents in addition to setting up Maria to become a U.S. citizen.
The past few weeks have been fairly slow. We have gathered some things for HAPS, the adoption agency that we’re using. I think we’ve had at least 6 different kinds of background checks. We’ve gathered references, wrote our personal biographies in multiple forms, filled out various documents, and lots more. We have also been in touch with various doctors and educational institutions in our area. Like we said earlier, God seems to have settled us in a perfect area for Maria to get the care she needs.
We spoke with an audiologist at UNC a couple of weeks ago. Just another way God is watching out for this little girl: the audiologist identified from the pictures of Maria that she already has a state of the art hearing device! She was surprised to see that Maria had access to it since many children here in the U.S. don’t have this high quality of a device. Of course we don’t know how she obtained it, but we’re so thankful that she has such good care. The device she has now (which you can see in the picture on our blog) is attached to a headband and sits directly against her skull bones. It amplifies the noise and sends it into her skull. The audiologist informed us that children with Treacher Collins often have perfectly normal middle and inner ear; it’s just that the outer part of their ear didn’t form properly. That means that if we can get noise inside her head, she should be able to hear fine. It appears this is already happening – praise the Lord! We also learned that instead of Maria likely being a cochlear implant prospect, she will probably benefit more from a bone-anchored hearing aid (“BAHA”). This is a hearing device similar to the one she already wears, except this one is a permanent hearing aid that would be implanted in the skull behind her ear. It would basically consist of a metal piece being implanted into her bone and a hearing device that would be attached. This would help the noise “get inside her head” much better than the device she has now which is only in contact with her skin. She likely wouldn’t be a candidate for the BAHAs for a couple more years, though.
Daniel and I also met with a craniofacial specialist at Duke last week about procedures that might be in Maria’s future – primarily cosmetic surgeries. Although we took in a lot of pictures of her, he said they really wouldn’t be able to tell us anything concrete until she is here. He also informed us that like all other children, her features will change as she continues to grow and develop. This should give us plenty of time before we have to make any decisions about possible procedures.
Another way in which God has placed us in such a great spot is the educational resources that we have here. CASTLE -  the Center for the Acquisition of Spoken language through Listening Enrichment – is a part of UNC and provides therapy and even preschool for hearing impaired children. We have learned that families drive from hours away to visit, and it’s only 45 minutes from where we live! Additionally, the public school system that we’re in seems to have wonderful services for special needs children. We’ve been in touch with some people at the county office that are directing special needs education. Once Maria is here, we can have her evaluated, set up a learning plan for her, and pick a school based on location and her needs. It sounds like it’s very interactive and very focused on the children.
The last bit of news we have, which really isn’t much news at all since we don’t have much to say, but as of a couple of weeks ago, our contact in Russia had not heard from the other two families that had expressed interest in Maria in early February. While they could still be moving forward and gathering their documentation, we’re obviously hoping that no news is good news for us. Regardless, our prayer has always been and will continue to be that God would watch over and protect Maria and that He would place her exactly where and when He wills.
Thank you all for your prayers and encouragement!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Monday January 23 – Friday January 27, 2012

On Monday we sent in our homestudy application and autobiographies. We also met with the elders at our church.  A couple of them already knew about the adoption, but we told them the whole story and asked if we could make an announcement the following Sunday during the main service.

The following day we heard back from the social worker about the homestudy. Originally she had told us that we would probably have to wait a couple of weeks for an interview, but it just so happened that we were able to meet with her two days later. She was only available during the work day. Since this is a very busy time at work for me, I felt compelled to tell my co-workers a little earlier than originally intended as I wanted them to know the reason I would need to leave early that Thursday.

First thing Wednesday morning, I told my boss about Maria, and he was so supportive. Perhaps I should have mentioned sooner that it’s a common theme in our lives that so many people around us have either had babies in the past year or are currently pregnant – lots of couples at each of our jobs as well as lots of couple within our little church. At my work, we’re constantly trying to guess who the next couple will be to get pregnant. I had been itching for the past week to tell my co-workers about Maria. Not only were we having a “baby,” we were getting a 6-year-old. Once Maria is here, I will be the parent with the oldest child in my office. Daniel and I liked to say, “We’re having a baby, a BIG baby! A 40-pounder!” After talking with my boss, I sent an email to the rest of my office, and it was so good to get to chat with everyone about it. I seriously have some of the best co-workers!

We spent our evenings that week calling close friends and family members to tell them about Maria. We also filled out and sent applications for the various documents we would need for a dossier (packet of info that we will send to Russia). The dossier includes items such as background checks, copies of our passports, marriage license, and so much more…

Before our homestudy interview we looked into what we should expect. From comments people made on the internet, it sounded like a lot of people really stressed about their homestudy. Fortunately, Daniel and I did not, and praise the Lord the first interview went well. It was very informative and conversational. I guess that makes sense as we will be spending a lot of time with the social worker. Even after Maria gets here, the social worker will still have to meet with us several times over about a three year period.

As Daniel and I were sitting in the living room one night, he pulled up the song “Lead Me” by Sanctus Real. That song has been powerful in my life, but now it is even more powerful as we pray that the Lord will lead us and help us to lead as well!

One more exciting thing that happened that week – shortly after we told Mike and Martha about Maria, they told us how Mike’s mom, Kathy, had been telling them to adopt Maria. Like others, she too had fallen in love with Maria before we even knew about her. I had prayed that the Lord would provide an opportunity for me to tell Kathy in person instead of having her find out at the church-wide announcement. On Friday of that week, Kathy sent me a quick email asking if I could host a Ladies’ Social at my house this summer. Instead of requesting that I simply email her back, she specifically included her phone number and asked me to call. I took that as a sign – so exciting! I called and we chatted about the Ladies' Social, then I told her that Daniel and I were going to be adopting “Dana” (this was the only name that Kathy knew her by as this was her Reece’s Rainbow alias). I could tell she was at work because she started shouting in a whispering voice, “Are you serious?! Are you serious?!” She proceeded to tell me how she had specifically prayed that the Lord would place Maria in a family nearby just so that she could meet her. Well didn’t He answer that prayer in a big way?! J

Sunday January 22, 2012

After church on Sunday, we had lunch at Daniel’s mom’s house with his grandma, siblings, and our niece. They were all very eager to find out what was going on. So finally after lunch, Daniel told them the whole story and we gave them some pictures we had printed out. Aubrey, our niece, was very excited, and continued to ask over the next few days when “her friend” was going to be here. We tried to explain to her that it would probably be during summer, when it will be warm outside. That was especially hard for her to understand considering it has been in the 70’s around here lately. I think it was pretty relieving for Daniel’s family to find out that we were not going on the mission field; although, we both know they would be very supportive if we did. Remember how Daniel asked them to pray for us a week earlier because we felt that God was calling us to go somewhere and do something. So not only did they find out that we were not moving away (at least not now), but they are getting an additional family member! J

Saturday January 21, 2012

This was one of the big days we had been waiting for! We left the house around 10:30 and drove to South Carolina to tell my family in person what the Lord had laid on our hearts. We were able to tell my parents, siblings, grandparents, and close cousin. I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen my parents so excited! They were so interested and had lots of questions. It was also so, so reassuring to hear their perspectives about adopted vs. biological relatives. We definitely caught them off guard when we told them we were going to adopt a six year old, but they are so excited to meet her! Since my little brother and sister, Kyle and Keslea, weren’t able to meet with everyone else, Daniel and I went with my parents to take them to dinner. They are in college at a school about an hour from my parents’ home. We passed out pictures of Maria to everyone before leaving. We also asked them not to tell anyone else yet since we were planning to send out an email to all of our friends and relatives after making an announcement at church on Sunday.

Immediately after we told my parents about Maria, they informed me that my cousins, Billy and Diane, had just adopted a little boy. I had no idea that they were even planning to adopt! I had been trying to get in touch with Diane for a while, since she is the one mentioned in the Prior to Wednesday January 11, 2012 Post, as I wanted to get involved with helping victims of human trafficking. Now I had even more reasons to talk to her! On top of that, Billy has spent some time in Russia and really has a heart for the people there.