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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Our New Life

(Images above: Ella learns to play in the Bacak house! I love the dress-up on her! Also, she shows off her Ghanaian superpower of carrying things perfectly balanced on her head.)

Today marks two weeks with Ella home.
I know, it's taken me two weeks to finally update, but it's been a bit crazy, adjusting to our new life.
I do call it a new life, because life will never be the same.
Much like having your first baby, life is forever changed in good AND hard ways.
Just to recap if you don't know us, we have adopted an older child internationally, disrupted our birth order, and she is deaf, so this is a special need that very much affects all of our lives.
All the changes and adjustments are complex, and I find it hard to answer they question, "how's it going?"
I usually say GOOD and HARD.
So let me recap some of the "goods" and then the "hards". Those are my main two categories.

*It's so good to have Ella home! We waited for what felt like forever for her visa to come through, and it is still a little surreal that the Embassy ordeal is over and our little Ghanaian daughter is home! I love having her here and so enjoy her!

*She is bubbly and fun! I LOVE seeing life in America through her eyes! The smallest things bring her such joy! The water and ice dispenser, automatic paper towel dispenser, hot water from the sink, baths in the bath tub, riding her bike, and swimming...all bring her pure elation every time! It doesn't get old.
Deaf kids are generally very expressive, but my daughter...good heavens...SO expressive, so dramatic, such a big signer...she's just entertaining at times.

*Our bonding with her and her with us is going unbelievably well! It's such a night and day difference from our experience with her in Ghana. When we were there, she didn't want anything to do with Rusty. We never dreamed she would be the Daddy's girl she is today! It's such an answer to prayer! When we were in Ghana she wouldn't even sit next to him in the taxi. It had NOTHING to do with Rusty! She had no regard for men at all, and no respect for them. She didn't have a reason to. Respecting men is a new way of life for her. But today, she respects Rusty, she runs to him when he comes home from work and wants him to hold her for an hour. I've watched my man jump on the trampoline while holding her. He's amazing. She adores him now, Praise the Lord!
She and I bonded pretty well in Ghana, and have continued bonding even more since she's been home. I'm so thankful that this process (and it is a process!!!) is going well.

*My ASL skills are improving. They were more than a bit rusty, so I'm so pleased that communication for us is going well at home, and my brain is starting to think in ASL more and more. I have little difficulty understanding her most of the time. Her language level is still relatively low due to her underexposure to language in her life, but rising daily.
I'm so proud of my husband!!! He is signing better every day! He works so hard at signing and is doing amazingly well!

*God has provided in such a huge way with people in our life that have prepared us and supported us in very specific and important ways! I have two women who are so dear to me who have walked ahead of me. They are lifelines for me! One of these friends has adopted deaf children, so she has prepped me on my ADA rights for Ella and how to request an interpreter for her. I've done this twice already and it made my stomach hurt. People are not always excited or aware of ADA and the cost it incurs. This is why America is so great! People with disabilities are not second-class citizens! I feel so blessed to live here and for Ella to have so many opportunities open to her! But I have to be an advocate for her, always ready to defend those rights. You see why it makes my stomach hurt? With this issue and about one hundred more, Shannan and Shelly have walked me through it, talked me down from panic, given me the, "Yep...I know" commiseration, and such profound and Godly wisdom and advice! I'm SO THANKFUL for God's provision in these women, and others. Of course, for my Mom. She is my constant source of wisdom and advice. This road is hard, but God has provided people to walk alongside me and give the support we need. He is so good!

*Of all the issues that fall under the "hard" category, we could be experiencing them more severely than we are. I'm thankful, though there are daily issues to deal with, they're not worse. And sleep has gone amazingly well, Praise the Lord!

* Ella is adapting to American life so much better and faster than I could adapt to another culture. I am amazed at her adaptability at times. This life is utterly foreign to her, and she is rolling with it better than expected.

(DISCLAIMER: While I want to be honest with you about the struggles we face, I will not always fully disclose to the world on the internet the nitty-gritty details. I want to protect my children, their stories, and their right to tell. I want them to be able to come back and read all of this someday and not feel embarrassed or ashamed about what I disclosed. I can tell my own junk. They have the right to choose when to share their own junk.)

*Assimilating Ella into our family is harder than I anticipated. I should have anticipated this more, but I'm not sure you totally can. We have disrupted our birth order. This is not recommended because it's hard. Children see their ages as a badge they wear and they fall in line in the pecking order accordingly. We sometimes forget this as adults, but it's true. Ella falls smack-dab in the middle of my bigs and my littles. This has been extremely difficult for my littles. They do not enjoy feeling usurped by her. They have not warmed up to the idea yet.

* Trying to interpret her personality to them is difficult at times. Blending these personalities together is a challenge. We are crossing many cultural boundaries here. She is very much Ghanaian. Their culture is very different from ours! Also, deaf culture is very unique and distinct. Her volume level, her inappropriate use of her voice, laughing at things they take offense at, are all examples of issues all the kids are struggling with. This is going to take time to work through some of these issues. Much to my dismay, it doesn't all fall into place in two weeks time. In my dream world, I just thought "they're kids! They'll just play and love each other instantly!" It's not that easy. Don't get me wrong! Some of this is going well, but it's different for each of my kids. Some of them feel more love, affection, and acceptance of her than others. Bonding just doesn't happen instantly. Much to my chagrin.

*Learning to sign all of the time is very difficult. I personally find it difficult while I'm trying to teach school to the other kids. The kids find it difficult all of the time. Understandably so! Learning a new language is not easy, and it's completely life changing to have to speak it almost all of time! But it's a must. We have to all sign, end of story. How to get my kids there, I'm not quite sure yet. We are in the midst of this one, and when we arrive, I'll let you know. Again, some of them are doing better than others on this one.

*Interpreting everything in our lives is not an easy task either. Church just became very difficult. But God is providing for us as we adjust to this. We also just purchased most of the Bible in ASL that we will utilize in church and in family worship. I'm so thankful for resources like this one!

*We have the normal issues that so many international and older adopted children experience. Food issues. She is adapting better to food than I expected! She just found she likes ketchup as well as peanut butter sandwiches, which I think officially makes her an American kid. But food is still an issue. Meal time can be exhausting. She likes eggs. Those are familiar. We have literally gone through triple digits of eggs since she got here. I'm officially tired of scrambling eggs. She eats five scrambled eggs every morning! (We have documented her starting weight!) Food for these kids needs to be accessible and on-hand, which I sometimes stink at. I forget to pack snacks when we leave the house sometimes. That can bring on a breakdown. There is great security in knowing that food is there, and it's still going to be there tomorrow.

*I don't know how else to explain this adjustment time other than exhausting. This requires all of my time and energy. Every minute of every day. Trying to keep everyone together, communicating, breaking up disputes and misunderstandings, hoping to facilitate bonding breakthroughs, helping her to feel loved, secure, included, at home, helping all the other kids feel loved, secure, not forgotten...there's little time to answer e-mails, shower, return texts, and school my children! This leads into our decision to put Ella in public school. One reason: No one is getting a good education around here right now. That makes me crazy! I can't meet her educational needs, and I can't meet anyone else's. It's just too much. Also, I am not providing a language rich environment around here or able to spend quality time with her in the morning. So she will soon be starting school with the Deaf Ed program here in Bryan. It's at a great school and is a great classroom! I am very pleased with everything I've seen and learned so far! It is definitely weird and hard for me to put our child into public school for the first time. No offense to public school, this is just new for me. But I know this is a good place for her and for all of us right now, and she is very excited to get a backpack and ride the bus. She will start going half days at first, which makes it feel do-able I think.

This is not an exhaustive list of the goods and hards, but it's a start. I need to get back to my life swirling around me. I am thankful for prayers for us and for Ella!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Emma!

I know I need to update my blog...Ella's been home for exactly one week, and I so appreciate all of you who have been praying for our transition.
However, there's hardly time to shower, much less blog, I feel like. (Can I hear an AMEN!?)
But today, I need to pause this craziness in our life and celebrate my baby girl...my very first baby girl...Emma.
I am so thankful for this child. God has poured out his grace and goodness on her and made her His own!
She is a daughter of the King!
She loves God's Word, and many mornings snuggles next to me while with her own Bible, her own reading plan she has come up with.
The massive change that this adoption has heaped on her life could turn her inside out, but she has been steadfast this week.
Not unshaken. We've all been a bit shaky.
But she's leaning on the Lord with us and been adaptable when she probably didn't feel like being adaptable.
She loves us with all her might.
She reads like I always longed for my child to read.
(She got a Kindle for her birthday today, and has already downloaded "Pride and Prejudice" and "Great Expectations". I love it!)
She can run on all fours like a horse freakishly fast (when she doesn't have a broken arm). That's uniquely Em.
She loves to ride. She was born in love with horses somehow. She has taught me to love horses.
She actually teaches me all the time. I'm not sure who's homeschooling who?
She has her moments and struggles...because, duh! We all do!
But I adore my first baby, my sweet Emma Michal!
When she made her long awaited entrance, we had no idea what motherhood and fatherhood would really feel like.
I remember the amazing revelation of not only how much my parents must love me, but how deep the Father's love for us is.
We love you, Em. We have always, and will always, LOVE YOU!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

It's our homecoming day!

Watching the sunrise this morning was exciting.
Here I sit, in the same spot I have sat for the more than a month, every morning.
I have pleaded with the Lord in this spot.
I have battled hopelessness, anger, frustration, and sadness.
I have wrestled with them, and have run to the Lord and His Word.
Ten days ago, I wrote in my journal as I sat here,
"I'm watching light spill out on another morning, and Ella's not here.
She's not coming this week.
Probably not next week.
Lord, help me to trust you and your timing."
The Lord has ministered to me in those moments.
But today...today I have watched light spill out on the day she comes home.
This very day, she will be in our home! I have thought about this day everyday
for the past 113 days.
It's finally here!
In fact, as I type, Rusty and Ella are on a flight from Washington D.C. to Houston.
She is actually a U.S. citizen now. (I think. I won't pretend to understand all the legalities from here.)
She handled the overnight flight beautifully. Two more flights to go.
Today will just be the beginning of our new life together.
There is so much to adjust to! Our electronic lives take these children by surprise!
It's like us going to live with the Jetson's all of a sudden!
Things move by themselves! Escalators, garage doors, like magic.
The face of College Station, TX could not look more different from her home in Ghana.
Food. Oh goodness. Food is so hard! This will be a challenge.
And I know that some things I anticipate to be hard, might go swimmingly well!
And there will be things that catch us completely off guard!
Signing all of the time, all of us, is going to be challenge #1, if you ask me!
But all of these challenges, we are ready... I think we're ready (deep sigh and prayer)...
to face them today. We face them with great joy in having all of our family together,
under one roof for the first time today! Praise the Lord, for putting all of these children
as a gift under our care. What an awesome, take your breath away, strike the fear of God in you,
responsibility and privelege.
By the grace of God, we forge a new path today in the Bacak home.
The Bacak Nation has gone national! Praise the Lord! Today is the day!

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Coming Home!

Finally, our daughter is coming home.
Rusty is leaving this week to go get her and we even have a plane ticket for her to the U.S.!
We are so relieved that this waiting period is coming to an end, and that we feel certain her visa will be issued.
We appreciate more than we can say the prayers so many have prayed on her behalf.
We can't wait for her to get here! Friends and family, this little girl is a spitfire, so it's time for you to meet her!
We know getting her home is just the beginning of a sweet, rewarding, but extremely difficult journey.
But we are so thrilled to add Ella to our family, as God ordained it to be from the beginning of time!
These first few weeks are going to be overwhelming for her, and probably for us as well.
Can you imagine the culture shock these children feel?
Having spent two weeks in Ghana, seeing how night and day different it is there, I know it's going to be serious overload for her.
Every adoption expert tells you to stay home and establish a routine as much as possible in the first few weeks.
Introduce people in your life slowly, not all at once.
Keep the traffic in and out of your house at a minimum initially.
Some of the hurdles we'll face involve food, air conditioning, and of course, BONDING!
Adding an older child to your family is big enough, but adding a deaf child has its own unique challenges.
Communication as a family will be a learning process, to say the least.
If you feel led to pray for us, you can pray:
-For all of my children to learn to sign fluently and that we would all be committed to using sign at all times in the house. This is huge! (Some of my kids are signing better than others.)
-Pray for Ella's adjustment to U.S. culture, food, environment, being surrounded by SO MANY white people, and sleep.
-Pray for bonding for everyone! As Ella grieves the loss of her birth family, she has to embrace us as her family, and vice versa. Please pray for this process, that God would do what only He can do in our family!
-For Ella's schooling. There is so much to consider, and we need divine wisdom as we begin teaching her and continue to make decisions concerning her education.
-We need people in our life that can sign/ will learn to sign to be babysitters, interpreters at church, etc. We are so thankful for the people He has already provided! Praise the Lord!
-Finally, safe travel for Rusty and Ella, and for their bonding while they are there together.

I'm sure there's more, but I'll stop.
Thank you again to those who have followed this, who have prayed, and who continue to pray. We can't tell you how thankful we are!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Waiting Well

Let me update you on the progress of Ella’s visa…(deep sigh)...well…there is no real update to give. She has an appointment at the Embassy tomorrow, August 29th, and we hope to know something after that appointment. However, we have learned that this Embassy is completely uncommunicative and only gives us conflicting and confusing bits of information via e-mail. So answers and timelines are extremely hard to come by.
We have been in a period of waiting. Who likes waiting? Not me! This is not the way I wanted this thing to go down. But God is truly sanctifying us during this time of waiting for Ella to come home. I pray we look more like Christ because of it.
A friend and elder at our church wrote an article several months back about waiting well. They were waiting for their baby to come home, in the painful waiting period of their adoption process. I was so glad my friend Lindsay sent me that article to read this week. Her husband Kyle wrote, quite articulately, about what it meant to wait well.
This was a good jumping off place for me this week in my time with the Lord and journaling. I decided to share my own thoughts of what God has shown me concerning waiting well, and how I’ve failed to do so at times.
Here are my five points, inspired by my friends, in what it means for us to wait well right now:

1. Waiting with truth. We need to be meditating on scripture, on God’s goodness, His nearness, and His love for us during this time. I also have put on scripture that reminds me that God can be trusted, and that our hope is in Him, not in man. The passage I’ve clung to the most is from Psalm 33.
“We wait in hope for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
In Him our hearts rejoice,
For we trust in His holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us,
O Lord, even as we put our hope in You!”

2. As I wait, I need to be making the most of the waiting days I'm given. This means being productive, present with my husband and children and the people around me, not just living for the future. I need to take advantage of the days of preparation this allows me. I found this very difficult at first. Moving on with our life as normal without our daughter felt wrong and painful. Our life is not normal. We did not just go on vacation to Ghana and come back the same. God did the amazing thing He does with adoption, where He takes our hearts and knits them together with a child that does not look like us, does not share our DNA, does not share much at all in common, come to think of it! But in two weeks time (and this is a bonding process that can vary in time for every family, every adoption, but the end result is the same), we gained a daughter that we love like we love our other children. Something drastic happened to our family. And it was invisible to everyone who saw us because we did not bring her home with us. God had to force me to get up and move and be present in my life during this waiting period and grief I felt in leaving her behind. I think this is true for many people who are grieving, period. We have had a summer filled with grief. Just to recap this summer, we lost Rusty's Mom, and 10 days later, lost my grandfather. A few days after the funeral, we left for Ghana and started the emotional roller coaster of our adoption. It's been intense! And everywhere we turn, we feel grief. But people who have grieved much more tragic losses than ours can tell you, we have to move on. I need to take each day of this waiting period as the gift it is, and live the precious life He's given me.

3. Waiting in prayer. I'm going to be honest. Sometimes it's easier to seek distraction rather than focus on prayer. Don't get me wrong, I think distraction has it's place in seasons like this, but my focus need to remain. Prayer. It's all we have. Pleading to the God of the universe that holds all things in His hands. He is good and hears our prayers.

4. Waiting in community. Even when clinging to the truths about God and being in prayer, pain exists. Real pain. It's tempting when you are feeling pain to want to crawl inside a shell and hide from people and community. I have had to force myself at times to be with people and to be real with people. I have found myself gravitating toward the people I feel freedom to be the most real with. Being in community in these times can be challenging, but the alternative is withdrawal from community, and isolation. I believe isolation is exactly where the Enemy wants every one of us. That is where he does his best work. The truth is, I need people in my life I can hurt with, be honest with, cry with, and live this life with. This is the Body of Christ. This is what I need desperately.

5. Waiting with perspective. Grief, pain, loss, and waiting can be consuming. It tends to be the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning, and the last thing when you go to sleep. It can fill your thoughts every minute in between if you let it and your dreams at night. But I need my thoughts to be outward, remembering others who are hurting, some in far more severe situations, and some in far less. I need to force myself to draw my thoughts and attention to others and always to Christ. Thinking about myself and my emotions 24/7 is not the answer. Isn't honesty lovely?

I know these are just my thoughts as we wait, but maybe someone else is in a waiting season. I mean, who isn't waiting for something? And maybe some of you are grieving something as well. This has been a strange time in our life. We have so much to learn about waiting well, and honoring God in all we think and do! But that is truly our desire.

I hope to give a good news update very soon on Ella's visa. Will you continue to pray with us?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Waiting on a visa

So, I know I've neglected to update here, as I promised I would.
Do you ever feel too sad to go public with all your emotions and tell cyberspace exactly how you're feeling?
That's been a lot of this summer, and I chose this time to revive my blog. Ironic.
But I know it's time to update so many who are praying for our Ella to come home, and ask you to pray specifically.
Obviously, we left our Ella in Ghana.
That was one of the hardest things we've ever done, to sum it up simply.
We tried to explain governmental bureaucracy to an eight-year-old for two days, explained where she would be going after we left...in ASL/ Ghanaian signs...but our explanations fell flat.
She didn't understand, and we don't understand it really either.
Our experiences with the U.S. Embassy have not been all pleasant. That was disappointing.
Everything I knew about U.S. Embassies was on the movies. Like everything else in movies, it's not quite the same.
We brought our little girl to the airport. She and I both had started crying about two hours before the airport.
I held her and cried with her right up to the very last minute.
I would sign things to her like "You know we love you, right?" She would shrug.
I would sign, "when you come to America, we will celebrate! We will have a party! I don't know when it will be, but we will be waiting for you!"
She would shrug.
She didn't know those things. She doesn't have a context for parental faithfulness. She doesn't really know if we're people of our word.
Right now, she waits at her school, in the care of her headmaster, but I don't know how she's feeling. I don't know if she expects us to come for her at all? Has she written us off yet?
I pray she hasn't.
I am praying that God would whisper in her ear, "They're coming back for you. They're coming. Just wait."
We are waiting too.
It felt completely wrong to come home and move on with life as usual.
It was wonderful to wrap our arms around our four little ones here at home! Wow! We missed those kids!
However, jet lagged parents should not be allowed to parent unsupervised upon arrival.
We were completely unfit parents! Rusty came down with a fever in the first hour we were home.
We both had felt sick, but I thought it was just that youth group lock-in feeling from "sleeping" on an airplane, traveling for 24 hours, and eating the airplane snacks and what was left in my disghusting backpack.
But when I saw Rusty with fever and ASLEEP when we arrived, I knew we were in trouble.
I thought for sure he'd brought the souvenir of MALARIA home with us.
He ached, had a headache, chills and fever. You know what that's called in Africa? Malaria.
But thank the Lord, his fever came down, and he assured me it was some other virus. Still a virus picked up in Africa. Not very comforting.
Rusty has since recovered, thank you dear Lord.
We have spent time with our attention starved children.
The giant pile of LIFE waiting for me has been waded through and sorted into piles, some of it accomplished.
Life is moving on in this house with our four children.
BUT WE HAVE FIVE. We have five children. One is missing. We left her on another continent across the ocean.
We are awaiting her visa, and then Rusty will be on a plane to go get her!
We don't have a way to communicate with her, so pray with us that she knows we are coming for her.
But we don't know when.
Let me try to break this down as best I know how.
There are two main parts to getting our little girl a visa.
The first falls under the Department of Homeland Security. They can take up to 60 business days to review her file. Yes friends, that is about three months.
They can interview all of her birth family, and anyone else they want. It would be about a 10 hour trip, a long bus ride, to get them from their village to Accra and the Embassy. But it happens all the time.
We have a great praise to report, in that we received our approval from the DHS on Friday!!! I sat shocked with my coffee and hardly awake at my computer Friday morning! There it was. I read it, reread it, and then called Rusty! Wow! It only took 8 business days! Praise the Lord!!!
Next, we have the Consular Dept. They should contact us soon and tell us what we need to do and when we can come for her exit visa interview.
We have heard of people getting appts. within two weeks, or two months. There's no way for us to know when.
We hope to hear from them soon!
Please pray with us for an appt. very soon, and for Rusty to be able to go and get our little girl and bring her home!!!
Friends and Family, you have no idea what is about to hit you! This girl is one BIG personality! I'm ready to introduce our world to Emmanuella Bacak.
I'm ready for her to come home!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Finally...a post from Ghana

Akwaaba. We’ve heard that word many times since coming to Ghana. It means welcome. The people of Ghana are very welcoming, and so hospitable.
They are a beautiful people! I think the women are striking, and the children…they are the images I will always keep with me.
The women are really remarkable because they are all either wearing a baby on their back or carrying a large load of something on their heads. Or both. What are we doing with all these expensive and bulky strollers in America? Why don’t we just strap a baby on our back and go? We must seem so silly to them! I can hardly believe the loads the women can effortlessly balance on their heads. I saw a woman carrying a huge TV on her head yesterday! But mostly they are carrying what they are selling, or transporting some kind of goods.
I think I’m getting used to the use of the car horn here. Everyone is using theirs, constantly, but it’s really a form of courtesy, actually. It says, “here I come, watch out!” It keeps people in the road from getting hit. It let’s drivers know you need in, or need to turn. Or it may just be telling someone to get out of the way.
We are for sure on Africa Time. Things move at their own pace. When you visit someone, you sit, you tell them your “whole story”, and you stay a while. You enjoy their hospitality, and you say a long goodbye. There’s no “dropping by” or a “quick stop”. Some sound advice people gave me before coming was to slow down, remember TIA. This is Africa. That was good advice. I have thought TIA many, many times.
The people here are educated in English. But only the highly educated are proficient in English. Almost everyone we’ve met speaks Twi, or a dialect of it. The signs are mostly in English, so you would think everyone speaks English, but they do not.
We have felt like freakin’ Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie everywhere we go in the villages! We are rock stars! I am guessing many of these children have never seen white folks. So the children come from far and near to see us. They are so polite, and once I smile at them, they always smile back! What would we do without the magic of the iPhone to entertain the crowds of children? They can’t believe their eyes when they see a picture of themselves! And a video…that blows them away!
Ella. Our Emmanuella. This has been a traumatic week for her, saying goodbye to her family. There are so many ways to describe this girl. Dramatic. She’s a drama mama! Hilarious! Boisterous! Playful. Bossy. I think wherever she goes, she’s running the show. Natural born leader. Smart. She has the potential to do and be something great, by God’s grace! Stubborn. I’m sure that will transfer into determined! She is something else. I just can’t wait for you to meet her. Her laughter fills a room.
As Ella was feeling such deep grief in separating from her birth family, I was grieving with her. I held her close and cried with her. I felt like “What have we done!? We have just come here and wrecked this girl’s life!”
But yesterday, we visited her village and her family’s home. I am thankful for that insight. I needed the peace it gave me. There is no hope for a future for Ella here. For children whose family can’t afford school tuition, the children end up working at a young age. Some children end up in slave labor, like the children working in the fishing trade that Mercy Project is working to save. Slave traders come around to the villages and offer the parents to give their child a job. They say they will take them to work on farms or fishing, and their child will bring back money. This seems like a great opportunity! But they lie. And the parents never see their children again. The children are badly mistreated and overworked. Other children end up begging on the streets. But the lucky children get paying jobs. They are very low paying, but they can be street vendors, or work on a farm. But Ella can’t be a street vendor. She can’t communicate, and you must be able to communicate with hearing people to be a street vendor of any kind. She wouldn’t get a job like the other children. Without school, there is no hope. No trade, no ability to work. I asked our guide Peter where she would end up? His answer to me was graphic. Deaf children here must go to the school for the deaf. But it’s expensive. It’s a residential school, and it is more than her family can do. There are so many children in their home! It’s hard to tell who belongs to who. They all belong to each other it seems. Some children were orphaned when Ella’s aunt died, and so those children now belong to Ella’s Mom. There are children everywhere, and they all need schooling, which costs money. They can’t support them all. I don’t know if they can feed them all. They sleep in a small enclosure the size of my closet. They cook their food on an open fire in the open area you can see in our photos. Their bathroom is a squatting dump on the outskirts of the village. The living conditions are poor like I’ve never seen before. They had Peter, our guide and director of ACEF, African Children Education Fund, take pictures of some of the children, hoping he can find support or hope for these kids also. Those pictures you see on websites, like Compassion or ACEF, I watched them take the photos. It seemed surreal. But I want you to know, there is love and laughter in this home. So much laughter! I find Ghanaian people quick to laugh! There is real family.
They love Ella so much! They were gesturing for her to go, and to go to school. That’s what they want for her. That’s her only hope. Nothing good awaits a deaf adult with no trade school or training of any kind. Nothing good. Even with schooling and a trade, many of them will not get far. No one in Ella’s family can communicate with her. There are no signing classes for parents of deaf children, like we have in America. Many parents in America don’t even take advantage of it, but it’s available. So her discipline has been minimal. But her family loves her, and they want hope for her. They want a future for her.
Birth mothers always amaze me, because they put their own desires to have their children close to them aside for their children’s good. It is the most selfless move any mother can make. Ella’s Mom gave me her baby. She only wanted to know if we would bring her back to Ghana someday. It is our hope to do so.
I would like to write a post soon about the Ashan's Children home orphanage. It was a place I'll not forget, and they are in desperate need of funding to stay open. I am praying God would do something to save the 65 beautiful orphans living there.

Funny things I've learned in Ghana:
-I can hold it when I have to go to the bathroom so much longer than I thought!
-Carrying tissues for personal toilet paper was a brilliant travel tip I received!
-I have learned how many people you can squeeze into a tiny sedan. I had no idea!
-I have gone to the school of traffic and driving in Ghana. Wow! We have spent most of our time here in a car. We haven't necessarily traveled many miles, but it takes many hours. We have had an excellent driver who I have great respect for! It takes some serious driving skills!
-Best sign I've seen so far: "Have fun, but think about AIDS".
-The children just call out to us in Twi "white person!" I think that's funny.
-We went to the zoo in Kumasi and they had a highly venomous python in a tiny cage with chicken wire around it. I didn't get too close.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Leaving for Ghana

We leave for Ghana today.
I will not write long, because I am soaking up every minute I have with my kiddos.
I can't seem to swallow the reality that today is July 24....July 24th. We've been telling people for weeks that we would travel on July 24th. I guess that seemed far away. But it's not. It's now.
I have bags packed. Full of my stuff (what do you wear in Africa? I clearly don't know!) Full of Ella's new stuff. Full of coffee creamer, because I'm a coffee addict that really doesn't like coffee without good creamer. I'll fall apart.
With a bucket of goldfish and Craisins,and food that will sustain us when we can't fill up on fish with eye balls looking at us.
My stomach is nervous. It has been since yesterday. What in the world is this going to be like?
We will meet our daughter for the first time in a little more than 24 hours. What will we say?
I am leaving my kids behind for longer than I ever thought I would. (I'm a homeschool Mom, okay? 2 weeks is like forever.)
How will they feel while we are gone? (Peace of mind for me: they are in AWESOME hands!)
There is so much opportunity to TRUST THE LORD. Trust them with my current children, and my child I've not met yet.
Trust him with every anxiety, every nagging fear, every creeping thought that if I let it grow will become a cancer in my mind of full blown WORRY.
I will pray. pray. pray. PRAY!
God has been amazingly faithful to get us this far. His hand has been on every single detail. If this thing were up to me, I would have totally screwed it up by now. This deal started more than two years ago, and when I thought it was all falling apart, questioned if this adoption would ever happen, God was at work. He was orchestrating every event to lead us to this. Looking back, it's been like clock work. Invisible clock work.
So I will trust Him. And I will beg every person I know to pray for us. So here is how you can pray:

1. For my kids while we are gone. That the weeks would go fast, but that they would lean on the Lord, and be safe and happy. We've obviously never left them for two weeks. Pray for my anxiety about leaving them and for theirs.

2. For safe travel. I am a little nervous about missing our connection to our flight to Ghana. If we do, we miss our court date! I am also nervous about the long flight over the ocean, so I'm praying we can sleep on the plane. That travel time would be calming and God would ready our hearts to meet Ella.

3. For our meeting and bonding with Ella. I have no idea how our little girl is feeling, and we can't expect her to be excited about us, but we are praying for immediate bonding, and for love and trust to grow daily! Also pray for our communication to be clear.

4. For her visa. This will require a miracle. But basically, if she could get her visa in three days time, she could come home with us. They have the right to review it for 60 days. We are the first family from our agency to adopt through the Ghana program, so we really don't know how long it will take, But we REALLY want to bring her home the first time. We have been told this is basically impossible. But we are asking anyway. Will you please pray for a miracle with us?

5. We have the opportunity to visit with her birth family while we are there. Pray that we would be a blessing to them, we could share the Gospel when given the chance, and would bring them peace of mind about Ella's future well-being. (Note: we won't be sharing publicly her "story" behind her birth family and reasons for this adoption. We want to protect them and Ella's privacy.)

6. Paperwork. Ugh. Please pray for every detail to fall into place with paperwork. Our adoption hangs on this.

Thank you for praying, and we will try to update our blog to keep everyone posted.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My baby is 5 years old!

We are celebrating Treston's birthday today! I can hardly tell you how I love this kid. He's such a boy, we simply got a pile of mulch delivered to our house today for his party. When you're T-Bear, what else could you ask for? A pile of mulch and some trucks. He's in heaven.
He makes me smile and laugh out loud every single day. Last year I wrote him a birthday song. If you know our T-Bear, these lyrics will make sense to you.

Treston. T-Bear.
Everybody loves your hair.
Cute as could be, we knew you'd be our own.
for football
I'm not sure that's such a good call.
looking at you
I can't believe how you've grown!

Five years old so suddenly!
You make me and your Dad so darn happy.
I just keep wonderin' where the time does fly?
Treston, T-Bear, precious boy of mine.

Treston, the athlete.
Sure and steady on your feet.
At least when you tackle us you use impeccable form.
Amazed at
what God's done
We're so thankful for adoption.
'Cause in this family we're just not us without YOU.

Five years old so suddenly!
You make me and your Dad so darn happy!
I just keep wonderin' where the time does fly?
Treston, T-Bear, precious boy of mine.

Happy Birthday Treston! We adore you- high volume, all boy, and just so dang cute!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Psalm 127

Unless the Lord builds the house,
it's builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early and stay up late
toiling for food to eat-
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Sons are a heritage from the Lord,
children a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of the warrior
are sons born in one's youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their
enemies in the gate.

This Psalm spoke to me where I sit this morning. I awoke with a start and a knot in my stomach. I went to the refrigerator to take my Typhoid immunization pill. I go back to my white board and add three more things to my to-do list. It just keeps getting longer but nothing seems to get scratched off.
Last night we learned of three more government forms that have to be done perfectly to pull this off. It is a miracle we got this far, because the paperwork always makes me want to cry. I have great respect for every person I know that has done international adoption, because the paperwork and hoops to jump through seem endless to me!
There is so much to do between now and when we leave. Stress. It's sitting on me, feeling heavier and heavier.
Rusty and I prayed together last night that we wouldn't stress but would trust God. So I'm getting my coffee this morning, trying to remember that prayer, thinking of more things to write in red marker on my white board, and make myself sit down in my white Bible reading chair to visit with the Lord. I know I need a dose of His good Word this morning. But part of me would rather dive into the white board list instead.
But no, I go back and sit down. I wander to the Psalms. Do you ever have days you just need the Psalms? I depart from Ephesians 1 where I've been camping out, and go to the Psalms.
"Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late- (like I was up until midnight getting "stuff done") toiling for food to eat- for he grants sleep to those he loves."
In vain...in vain...he grants sleep. I love sleep!
My footnote says "A good harvest is not the result of endless toil, but of God's blessing."
O Lord, I need you to help me not toil endlessly, but to trust you as I work! To rest in You!

Sons are a heritage...children are a reward...Blessed is the man...
This is so counter-culture for us. We don't see children as a blessing, but a liability, a burden.
This becomes more evident to me when we are in process with an adoption.
People tell us how amazing we are, how there's a special place in heaven for us, how lucky our daughter is, etc.
I feel uncomfortable in these moments, and probably never respond the way I should. But what I want to convey each time is,
Children are a blessing and a reward. Children from our womb, children in an orphanage in Africa, they are a blessing and a reward.
We all know they're a lot of work. True. I'm a lot of work too. Most everything wonderful and good that God calls us to is also really hard. But what a blessing! What a gift!
And just keep in mind, when my kids hear people say that to us, it sends the direct message to their little brains that they are not a blessing, but a burden.
I know those comments are meant in kindness. Thank you. But I hope our family is conveying that we are the blessed ones to have these little people. Just as you are blessed to have your little people, if you are parents.
I am guilty of thinking wrongly about this when I am annoyed, when I am flustered, when they make big messes, and my house goes from clean to post-frat party in minutes. Deep breath.
I pray He is re-shaping my thinking and yours on the blessing and reward our children are. We cannot wait to bring home blessing #5, Ella Bacak.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Getting ready!

We have been a little MIA online, with no recent blog posts or FB action.
Do you ever have so much going on in your life and heart that you don't have words for it? A blurb or a post just seems wrong.
That's where we've been.
Rusty's Mom had a stroke about 10 days ago, and we returned from our Camp Ozark trip just two days into it to be by her side. Rusty was able to spend most of his time by her bedside. What a gift this was! She wanted to hang on so she could meet Ella. But she just couldn't. We spent her final days with her, and Bernadette Bacak passed away last Sunday. Losing a parent...well I have no words to do it justice...but it stinks. She was only 67. She had complicated health issues, and her body just gave out. But we are thankful for our time with her, and are missing her so much. My children are grieving with us, and Rusty's whole family, especially her devoted husband, Ray, is missing her terribly.
She was a great Grammy! She loved her grandkids, and I'm sad Ella will miss knowing her in person. But we will certainly tell her all about her Grammy, and my kids will surely fill her in. She was the Grammy with candy in her pantry and in her purse every time they saw her, that LOVED giving the kids presents and watching them play with them, and loved just sitting and talking with them.
We are sad for us. Terribly sad. But we can't help but rejoice for her, that she is with her Savior, with a brand new, perfect body. We can't wait to be with her again, because our hope is in heaven, and in Christ alone! When it comes down to the end of this life, it's amazingly clear that ALL WE HAVE IS JESUS! Nothing else matters! What we've done with Jesus and the Gospel message extended to us is IT.

As we have come home, and tried to catch up on life, we realize...
We leave for in Ghana in just over two weeks! What!? Time is flying, and there is much to do.
Check out her bunk bed that Rusty built! The top bunk is the bed Rusty built for Emma when she was ready for a big girl bed, about 8 years ago. He built a duplicate and stacked them on top of each other. Our girls will be sharing a room.

My favorite thing in Emma's room is this name board that my sweet friend Heather made for Emma's birthday one year. We decided Ella had to have one too. So with some help from Rusty and my friend Mallory, we have one for Ella.

Last night, we did some shopping to get some things ready for her. I am taking clothes for her to wear, and little things for her to do. Here are some of her cutest new outfits. (I'm totally guessing what size she is! I hope I'm right!)

Here is a book of paper dolls I bought last night. I got some coloring books and books to read as well. We have lots of hotel time, plus a loooong flight home before she sets foot in Texas.

Shopping for her is the fun part. Doing all the online classes and reading all the books about everything that could go wrong and all the hard stuff is not exactly fun. I know it's necessary, but not fun.
Having a bed ready, with sweet pink rosebud sheets is FUN.
A girl!!! We are a little heavy on boys around here. Every time I clean a bathroom around here, I have begged God to give us another girl. Thank you, Lord!

We also have made some wonderful new friends who have the greatest kids, Jian and Tanner, who are deaf and adopted. How awesome is that! Thank you, God! My friend Shelly gave us some signing DVDs that we can take along for her to watch, as well as some travel tips. Thanks Shelly!

What you can pray for:
* Pray for us as we grieve the loss of Rusty's Mom, and prepare to add to our family at the same time.
* Pray for Ella's visa to come in while we are still in Ghana so we can bring her home! The odds of this are slim, but we are praying for a miracle, so that we don't have to leave her there and make a second trip back to Ghana.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Adoption and Loss

I'm a procrastinator. Sometimes. We have hours and hours of education that need to be done before we travel to Ghana, and now I'm trying to knock it all out. We are reading books, (Rusty can speed- read, and I can only slow-read; that's why I gave him the bigger books) doing online classes, and doing CPR certification. If you've adopted or fostered, you know the drill.
I did a class yesterday about adoption and loss. This is a huge piece of adoption that we don't talk about much.
Adoption is a beautiful way that God builds families. He takes little people who don't look like us and makes them our very own. Just like bio children, they are our babies, our kids, our most precious little people. It's magical.

We are excited! Adding to our family gives us much joy! Many people will say, "Ella is so lucky!" Well, she's no more lucky than my other children, or your children. We are blessed. God says children are a blessing from the Lord. We are the recipients of the blessing!

But adoption is a funny thing...in the midst of joy and excitement, there is grief.

The adopted child grieves what they have lost. They have suffered a blow, and we would be foolish, ignorant, even neglectful to ignore it. My little guys who came to us as babies, they will feel that grief at various stages of their development. There will be triggers that open the floodgates throughout their lives. Birthdays, "gotcha days", stupid kids movies that are fraught with adoption issues themes, (seriously! Kids movies need to come with a warning for all adopted kids! Kung Fu Panda- we didn't need that!) and even mention of anything related to their genetic or medical family history.

They lost a birth family. They lost a family who looked like them. They lost people they may never know. Some adopted adults would say the loss they felt was minimal, and some would say it was and still is intense. It's a loss that is necessary for what we all gain. But it's still a loss.

Adopting an older child internationally, I would think the grief is something we will deal with immediately.
She will need to grieve her birth family, her country, her friends, her culture, every familiar food, every familiar smell, everything she knows. It's all about to change.
Can you imagine more change happening at once? More goodbyes in one single day? More loss in one fell swoop?

I have to keep in mind, she might not be excited to get on a plane with these white, American, hearing people. That's perfectly understandable.

I am praying we can facilitate Ella's grieving. I pray we become, in time, a safe place to cry, to talk, to be angry, to share what she's feeling.

This is new territory for us. We are learning how to deal with adoption issues over time, as they arise, with our little guys. But we have never adopted an older child. We don't know fully what to expect.

I do expect to cry with our little girl when she cries. I pray we will be sensitive to loss, and welcoming to all things brand new in her world. I pray we will be patient, as she processes, adjusts, and adapts.

I pray God would give her a resilient spirit as she has already suffered what I deem unimaginable loss in her little life. I am praying for God's overcoming comfort to rest on her already.

This post is kind of a bummer, I know. Adoption truly IS beautiful, it's belonging, it's restoration, it's blessings!
But it all starts with a loss. And our God alone is the only ONE who can turn mourning into dancing, weeping into praise. We are praying that for Ella.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day to Dad and Rusty!

I am overflowing with thankfulness today! The older I get, the more deeply I understand the blessing it is to have Godly parents. Don't get me wrong...God redeems families who are broken in every way, and every family is broken somehow. But by God's grace, I had a Dad who was an earthly picture of my heavenly Father to me. For many adults who still struggle to comprehend that God loves them, I do not. (I have plenty of other struggles, friends, so no boasting here!) I believe I have always felt loved by God because my Dad so beautifully loved me. He was patient with me. He pursued my heart. He invested in me spiritually. He lovingly corrected me. He encouraged me and always told me he was proud of me. He was not perfect, because no earthly Dad is. But he loved us with a love that only comes from the Father. In 1 John it says that if you don't know God, you don't really know love. The One True God is the One who loves through us, and He loved me fully through my Dad.
One of the things that now amazes me about my Dad is that he didn't have a Dad. His Dad was killed in the Korean War, and his mother died a few years later. He was raised by his grandparents. He grandmother was a believer, and God used her to bring him to faith. His grandfather...well, I don't know that much about him. He was called Pappy, and I know he loved my Dad, but drove a truck for a living. I know he had one arm, lost the other to war. He was not always around, from what I understand. In short, my Dad was not a great Dad because he had an example to follow. He didn't mimic what he knew, or look to a role model. He started from scratch, and asked the Lord to make him a Godly Dad to his five children. What an example of God's transforming love! It sure is nice to have a Godly role model, but it's not always the reality. I'm sure God used other Godly men in my Dad's life to teach him. But my Dad's story could have ended very differently. He had every reason to. I'm so thankful for God's hand on my Dad and the legacy that he has produced in the brevity of one generation. My Dad now has five adult children who know, love, and serve the Lord wholeheartedly. He has seventeen (Ella will make eighteen) grandchildren that are becoming the coolest kids ever! We can't wait to see what they are going to do for the Kingdom! Are Dads important? I sure think so.

It's a funny thing, but I married a man similar to my Dad is several ways. Servant hearted, to the core. My husband Rusty amazes me. It requires very little sleep, a whole lot of caffeine, and a ton of Advil to pull of what he does each day, but he makes it look easy. My husband is a Dad of four, almost five little people, family practice Doctor, and an elder/ pastor at our church. A typical day for him entails getting up in the wee hours. This week he was preparing a sermon. Rounding on his patients in the hospital. (That's where he is at the moment.) Then on to whatever breakfast meeting he has for that day; mentoring younger men, meeting with his accountability group, or having a weekly elder meeting. THEN, his actual work day starts at 8am. When he comes home from work, he jumps on the trampoline or wrestles with the kids. He eats dinner with us and then leads us in family worship. I'm exhausted thinking about it! But he also suffers from a rare arthritic condition, so he pops the Advil like crazy all day to ward off the joint stiffness all over. He doesn't complain, and it humbles me when I think about what I would be like in his place. (BIG complainer!) But most of all, he loves us with all He's got. He is so faithful in teaching and loving us! Like my Dad, he is investing in us spiritually on a daily basis, he is loving and affectionate, he has made us a top priority above all of those other things. He continues with the madness that is our life with JOY. I love this man so much! I am so proud of the Dad he is to our munchkins. He's not perfect. Again, no earthly Dad is. But he is more than I could have prayed for! Rusty, I hope you feel honored and loved today. I am so thankful for this journey we are on together. And this journey of parenthood is about to take us as far as Africa together! This calling you have as a father is a holy one, it's an adventure, and it's downright sanctifying. Thank you! We love you! We are overflowing with thankfulness to God for you today!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Jax!

Nine years old!? There's just no way! I feel like such an old lady every time I say "It goes so fast!" But guess what? IT GOES SO FAST! The day Jax was born is a sweet memory. Well, first of all, natural child birth...WOW! That was interesting.
But then our firstborn son entered the scene, and he was a joy! He was easy-going from the get-go, and still is. This kid goes with the flow, just here to have a good time, happy to make the most of the day, whatever it brings.
He doesn't let the little stuff get him down. He is up-beat, positive, and a ray of sunshine.
He is one of those kids that loves to snuggle, thankfully even still at nine, and really LOVES to just talk. He says this to me all the time. "Let's talk Mom." As far as love languages go, he is quality time all the way.
He has recently hit a super cool stage. He doesn't smile at photos anymore. He's busy looking cool. He is nine going on 16, and is obsessed with music and especially Toby Mac.
He wakes up really early on fun days, like today. He jumps out of bed ready to go, and ready to talk. He's a party waiting to happen on any given day, but his birthday is definitely the best day of the year for him. This kid loves to celebrate! (He comes by that honestly.)
He is patient and servant-hearted, and seeing how he serves his sister, we have always said he's going to make the best husband someday! (Like his Daddy.)
Jax is a gift to us, and we are so thankful to God today for nine years with Jax!

I am pregnant with a four to eight-year-old

Adding to your family through adoption has some commonalities with birthing children. The waiting period before your baby/ child arrives is still a waiting period. I don't go to the bathroom as much, and nobody asks me about her date of arrival while I'm in line at Target, but she's coming nonetheless.

When I was waiting for Justus, I very much felt prego. Well...in some ways. When I was pregnant, I threw up. A LOT. I was super sick and my body rejected pregnancy on every level. This is not why we chose adoption after we had Emma and Jax, but it sure confirmed for us that God had been leading us in the right direction. Our world came to a stop when I was pregnant with Emma and Jax, and I lay in bed or by the toilet, depressed, miserable with what felt like a stomach virus that would just NOT go away. (Young ladies, who have yet to birth babies, don't let this freak you out! This is not the norm! You'll be fine.) Was it worth it? ABSOLUTELY. Every second! But God had begun a work in our hearts before we ever said "I do" that we would add to our family through adoption.
So with three-year-old Emma and two-year-old Jax in tow, we brought home baby Justus. During that waiting period, I pulled out the baby clothes, washed and folded them, and put them in his drawers. We had the infant car seat ready. We did all of those things that waiting parents do. I threw up less, but I was keenly aware that Justus' birthmother, who had chosen us for her baby boy, was carrying him all the while. When we brought him home, we brought home our son, and we could not have felt prouder of him! The waiting was over. This was the part I knew how to do. The baby stuff.

Treston had a different story, and we didn't get him until he was four months old. There was a very short waiting period with him. We got a call about our Treston, and two weeks later- PRESTO! We had our beautiful baby boy with us. He was foster-to-adopt, but somehow my brain shut out the word "foster" almost immediately, and I felt like the emotional, brand new Mom bringing him to church for the first time. He was ours. I cried and held him and marveled at how much I loved him already.

Now we wait for Ella. This waiting period is very different than any other. We've been in this paperwork adoption phase for so long, I think people have quit asking me about it. Somebody recently told me they knew we were in process, but they never thought we would actually bring home a child. Me too, kind of! The day we got the call about our match with Ella, I was shocked! It was one of those phone conversations that went in slow motion almost for me. We were actually swimming at our neighborhood pool. I'm watching my kids splash and my husband throw them in the air, and it feels like a normal day. But it wasn't. It was the day she became real to us. I remember the slow-mo moment waiting to hear her name, waiting to hear that she was deaf, waiting for every detail our social worker had to offer. I felt a little pregnant. I had this amazing secret! No one in line at Target next to me knew. But I knew. I had a daughter named Ella. It was the first thing I thought about before I opened my eyes in the morning, and the last thing I thought about at night. I have a daughter named Ella.

As we wait this time, we are not pulling out car seats and baby swings. We've never adopted an older child, and it's a new world. In our preparation, we are sending documents, searching flights, making hotel arrangements, dealing with visas and passports, and gathering every sweet morsel of information we have about her and trying to guess her age. But my questions definitely outnumber my answers. We have just five short weeks to prepare her room (she is sharing with Emma), Rusty will build her a bed, buy her some clothes (hoping we get something that actually fits her), and most of all, SIGN, SIGN, SIGN. Our world is about to change. In the waiting, there is joy, anxiety, questions, anticipation, preparation, and a lot of prayer.

I'm so thankful for my Savior who is here with us, in the waiting.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Get your sign on!

As we prepare to bring home Ella, I am trying to make the people in this house fluent in sign. This may be the most overwhelming task of all right now. Ella attends a school for the deaf right now with 500 other deaf students. She is immersed in the deaf world. And we will be bringing her home to a house full of white, hearing people. How could that not be a shock? I desperately want communication to flow easily. But this is going to be a process, and we need to be wholly committed to educating our family and friends for Ella to have real community.
For those of you who are interested, I want to begin equipping you with the resources you need. The best website I have found is Lifeprint.com. You can click here to go to the first lesson. I think the lessons are easy to follow. I want to have a class where you can come and learn and use the sign you're using, but here is a jumping off point.
I know it's not easy to learn a new language. It can be overwhelming! But let's take it one lesson at a time. And for every sign you learn, I want to say thank you! Thank you for loving us, and for loving the daughter we haven't even met yet!

Friday, June 10, 2011

My heart is in Ghana!

This is a moment like on ER where they call a code and pull out those shocker paddles, and shout CLEAR! and ...SHOCK! I am doing that to my blog today. Bringing it back. Maybe not for forever, but to share our adoption journey.

Just to summarize who we are very quickly: Rusty and I live in College Station, where Rusty works as a Family Practice Doctor, and I stay home and school our four children. We have two biological children and two we have adopted domestically. Rusty is an elder at our wonderful church, New Life Baptist Church, and I also volunteer as an advocate for Compassion International. One of my biggest life projects has been Run For Compassion. It is my joy and privilege to work with Compassion!

Adoption has been a beautiful part of my life for a long time. My sister Jessica was adopted when I was a teenager. She was like my first baby. I took that sweet girl everywhere I went. My Mom has worked for New Life Children Services, facilitating adoptions and working with pregnant women in crisis for over 20 years. Adoption is woven into the fabric of who my family is.

We adopted Justus and Treston, the first of the grandkids to be adopted. My brother Brian and his wife Amy adopted two beautiful kiddos from Ethiopia, so now we have two more: Yeneneh and Sosy. They are definitely a piece of this journey for us. Brian and Amy's adoption journey to Ethiopia changed who we were and God used it to open our eyes to what the reality was for children around the world. We read a book, per Brian and Amy's request, called There is no me without you by Melissa Fay Green. God used this book to turn us inside out, break us, change us, call us.

So we responded to Him. We asked God to show us if we were to adopt internationally. We felt sure that this was where He was leading. We asked God to give us faith in starting that journey, and plunged in. We decided...decided sounds kind of strong...it was not even a question, really, that we would adopt from Ethiopia, from the same agency and home that our niece and nephew came from. It made perfect sense to us to continue adopting from Ethiopia. We began the process, and were very excited. We had read about Ethiopia, prayed for Ethiopia, learned a few Amharic words from Yeneneh and Sosy, and began a long-distance love relationship with the beautiful people of Ethiopia.

The adoption paperwork phase took over. Ugh. It overwhelmed me for a while. We were stuck on several points, just stupid things. Getting me life insurance...finding our marriage license...(I seriously went to bed one night thinking Rusty and I were not even married at all. Then I realized that we were common-law married if this was true, and that did NOT make me feel better. The bright spot was I was planning our wedding in my head.) Turns out we indeed did have a marriage license. Good news. It took us forever, and I was discouraged. I did not think of us as slackers. But our progress was slow. It was stagnant. It took us FOREVER to finish our second paperwork stage.

God had a plan.

Just after we sent in Part 2 (sigh of relief) we were ready to get our homestudy done and get the ball rolling! But news came in from Ethiopia. Adoptions were coming to a screeching halt. The Ethiopian government was concerned with some corruption discovered in their adoption processes. Understandable! So they cut back on their adoptions by 90%. This is devastating for orphans in Ethiopia waiting to be adopted. But with petitions signed and prayers for change, this is where we sat. We did our home study, but honestly didn't know what to do. Our time would run out due to an age requirement with Ethiopia before long.

We went to the Lord. What does this mean? What was His plan for this adoption? I felt like our adoption was falling apart in front of our eyes, and I didn't know what it meant.

We talked through our options with our social worker. Dillon International, our agency, had just opened up a brand new program in Ghana. They were looking for pioneer families who would be willing to give Ghana a try. We were very set on staying in Africa. So I called the Ghana director to get some more information on Ghana. In our conversation, I asked her about special needs they may have encountered in Ghana. Her answer took my breath away. She said they had really just encountered one...Deafness.

Did you say Deafness? She said that they were encountering a prevalence of deaf children in Ghana.

I was an interpreter for the deaf when I worked outside of the home, and a Deaf Ed teacher for Pre-K and Kindergarten. Rusty and I had always talked about adopting a deaf child. In fact, I had recently talked with a Dillon representative about specifically seeking a deaf orphan in Ethiopia if there was one that needed a home. For many people, deafness would be a huge hurdle to jump. For us, it was do-able. I am fluent in ASL (though I still have plenty to learn) and my husband and children are decent beginner signers. I have always loved deaf people and deaf culture! I enjoyed working with deaf children SO MUCH! It would be hard. NO DOUBT. But I felt like it was something we could do.

So we switched to Ghana. We knew we had to expect the unexpected, with it being a brand new program. We started to work on Ghana paperwork, and we prayed that if God had a deaf child for us in Ghana, that He would send her to us.

He did.

Last week we were matched with Emmanuella. (We will call her Ella.) It's amazing how much you can love a little girl by seeing four pictures and reading her medical history. But you can.

Emmanuella attends a residential school for the deaf in Ghana, and goes to her orphanage when they are on break. She is said and documented to be four years old. However, she looks much older and we believe she is older.

So here we are. Each day brings in a new piece of information that we try to digest. We are riding the roller coaster of information, about her, her family situation (of which I will share very little of for the sake of discretion and protecting her story), travel requirements, paperwork requirements, and the new 100 questions we have each day.

I will chronicle our journey here. Our projected time frame, which could change at any given moment...seriously...I could check my e-mail after this and it could shift it all around...but we hope to bring her home by the end of the summer.
We will likely travel to Ghana twice.
And we are working on getting every person in this house completely fluent in sign language! Lord help me!
Will you pray for us? For Emmanuella? For the details and for us to trust God with every detail?

This is what we already know.

And we're all in.

(Here is a video made at Ella's school, Ashanti School for the deaf)