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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)