Thursday, July 24, 2014

ETC Conference

I just got an email from ShowHope reminding me about the upcoming ETC conference, which reminded me to tell you all about it!

Friends... if you are anywhere near the Washington, DC area (or if you can get there) GO. Seriously - you do not want to miss this conference! It's September 12 - 13 and you can register now!


Since we entered the adoption world, I've heard about a lot of adoption conferences (most of them just for adoptive mommas, and most of them pretty expensive.) I was surprised when a friend from our Thailand Adoption Facebook group recommended this one, because I wasn't familiar with it at all. I was even more surprised to find out that it was so affordable (our tickets were around $35 each!) So when she gave it glowing reviews, we signed up for the February Birmingham dates.

I am SO glad we didn't miss this conference! Many of you are familiar with the name "Karyn Purvis" because you've read the book "The Connected Child." Hearing Dr. Purvis speak in person was beyond incredible. I'm telling you - the woman is so gifted, and she has so much wisdom to share with adoptive and foster families. For 2 days I scribbled notes furiously (even though I had an incredible workbook provided at the conference, and even though I knew I was buying the CD's) because I didn't want to miss a word she was saying. I left feeling encouraged and better equipped to parent our internationally adopted child.


But more than that, I also felt like my eyes had been opened to some situations in our Children's Homes around the world. (For those that don't know, my husband and I co-founded an international non-profit 4 years ago and we do orphan care in 4 countries). As Dr. Purvis was sharing explanations behind different behaviors, I was connecting the dots to several children we know and love in our homes. I was introduced to some tools that could help our kids - and I hope I can do some more training with Dr. Purvis' teachings in the future!

So friends who are adopting, friends who are fostering, friends who work with vulnerable children - even friends who want to better understand adoptive families - GO to this conference. Friends who work in education, counseling, social work, or ministry - those of you who come in contact with "kids from hard places" - I really believe you could benefit from this conference too! If I had it to do over again, I would go again AND I would bring my parents as well. (I think this would be a great way to help your parents understand why their adopted grandchild will need to be parented differently than a biological child!) The conference was extremely helpful, organized, and enjoyable. We were given great tools (detailed workbooks and notebooks) that followed the speakers' powerpoint presentations, and there were some excellent resources available for purchase. And again - I can't get over how affordable it was. Thank you ShowHope for giving us such a great experience for such a low price! I know that's a blessing to so many adoptive families who are saving for adoption expenses!

Here are a couple of links with more information:

Empowered To Connect Websitehttp://empoweredtoconnect.org/

If you aren't in or near Washington, DC though, don't despair! From what I understand, this is an on-going annual conference and they are held in different locations each year. Just email info@showhope.org and ask them to put you on an email list so you'll know about upcoming conferences!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dossier To Thailand!!!


I got the phone call this morning from New York...

We are officially DTT - (Dossier To Thailand)!!! 


Our agency finished all of our authentications, and all our important paperwork is now on its way across the ocean to beautiful Thailand. The thought of that stack of documents flying to Thailand makes me so EXCITED, but if I'm being honest, also a little anxious! I'm trying not to think about all people who will handle it and places it will be before it's in the hands of the woman who will match us with our child. I'm just trusting that God will get it where it needs to go!

"So... what's next?"

That was my question for our agency this morning. And the short answer is, we wait! At this point, we are just waiting on a referral. It could come at any time really, though it will likely be at least 6 months (and possibly longer) before we are matched with a child, and probably another 6 months until we travel to get her. I know that sounds miserable, but we are just SO thrilled to be done with paperwork, that entering this season is a bit of a relief! We know that we've done all we can, and so now we are trusting God to handle the rest in His timing. We don't know who our daughter is, where she is, how old she is, or when we will meet her - but God does. And so, for the next few months we will wait and pray and prepare our hearts to be parents!

We are determined to embrace this season. We know that when our baby girl gets home EVERYTHING will change! And as excited as we are for that day, right now, we are trying to live fully where we are. We don't want to take this season for granted. This is the last time it will just be the two of us, so we're going to try to enjoy it, live it fully, and bless the people around us as we wait.

I'm also excited about filling this time with things we've been too busy to do (because we were working on adoption paperwork.) I want to enjoy time with friends, catch up my blog, and learn to use my new sewing machine. We're finally renovating our office, and will hopefully be finished with it by the end of the summer. (I know how important it's going to be to have a separate office once Kate is home!) Also, our Thai is getting rusty the longer we're away, so we're looking forward to brushing up and learning more Thai in the coming months. And we're planning to travel this Fall to several of our partnerships overseas for The Sound of Hope, so I am really looking forward to that!


For today though, we will just enjoy the fact that we are now OFFICIALLY "paper pregnant"! We've finished our paperwork and (though we don't know when we will bring her home) as of today we have a baby girl on the way! It's been 2 years, 4 months, and 15 days* since we announced we were adopting from Thailand, so this is a major milestone that we've been working and waiting a long, long time for. We are now officially "expecting", and we are SO grateful that this day has come! Our hearts are full!


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*If you're considering adoption from Thailand or just adoption in general, please don't let this timeline scare you away! Our journey thus far has been very long and arduous, but our timeline is not the norm. Many families have shorter timelines and very different experiences. Ultimately though, we believe our child is worth the wait, and that every child in need of a family deserves to be fought for (no matter how long it takes!)


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dossier is DONE!!!!!!!

Friends, I could not be more thrilled to tell you that our dossier is DONE! Well - my part anyway, which means that for me, all the "big" paperwork for our adoption is finished! (Go ahead - shout and cry tears of joy - I already have! ;) Yes, we'll still have some things to file and update here or there, but with our homestudy and dossier done I feel SO relieved!!!

I have to say thank you to all of you who prayed for me and encouraged me after my last post. I really wanted to finish well, and you guys helped give me the push I needed! Also, I have to share this little glimpse of my devotional from the day I posted that blog. The title was, "Dare To Be A FINISHER" and the verse was just what I needed to hear!


So I got busy the next day, and ran all over downtown Birmingham to get our local documents finished. No. Literally. I RAN. What was supposed to just be one stop at the courthouse turned into a trip back to the police department for the THIRD time just to get a document stamped the right way, and then a second trip back to the courthouse. I was desperately trying to finish before they closed, so I ran from the parking deck, downtown, and into the courthouse to get those last few certifications in time! So if you were driving in B'ham that day and saw a crazy woman running downtown with a purple folder full of documents - hair flying and a determined look in her eyes.... that was me. ;)


Our next step was a trip down to Montgomery for our state certifications. This was the last step that I was responsible for, so it was SUCH a big deal! Since we had 9 documents that needed to be certified, we just drove down (I didn't want to risk them getting lost in the mail.) About 15 minutes later and we were done!


Hanging out on the front steps of the state capital, 
so happy to be DONE!


Look at all those shiny seals! I was so excited that I jumped for joy!!!


After that, we had to wait another week on our documents to come back from Arkansas and Georgia. It seemed to take for-ev-er. I was so happy when they finally arrived with the State Seal! Georgia - I have to give you credit. Between the shiny seal and pretty blue cardstock, your document definitely looked the most official. ;)


Once we had everything together, we got some passport size photos made, and then it was time to package everything up. The night before we mailed it I spent some time sorting through everything, making copies, and organizing it all to mail. In the middle of my prep session, Rusty looked at me and said, "Can you believe it's done?" and it all just hit me.

I was packing up 28 months of our lives. 12 months of wishing and hoping and desperately trying to find an agency... all those months of wresting with the "what ifs" and the unknowns and the heartache of not being able to move forward until suddenly, we found our agency and got a YES! Then 12 more months of working on a homestudy (that only should've taken 3-6 months).... doing way too much "busy work", frustrating phone call after frustrating phone call, 31 hours of adoption education, filing and refiling paperwork and getting the request for "additional documentation" one too many times, edits and more edits and waiting month after month before we finally had that homestudy in our hands. Then 4 months of dealing with government officials in 5 counties and 3 states... mailing extremely important papework and praying it would come back.... driving other important paperwork all over the state to get those pretty little seals for our dossier...


And now... now it was about to be out of my hands. The realization hit me hard, and I couldn't hold back the tears. Tears of joy - YES! But also, tears of relief. I felt like this huge burden was being lifted off my shoulders! It was cathartic really, and I couldn't stop. I cried off and on for more than an hour as I packed up those papers. I just couldn't believe that I was DONE!

28 months of work... that's what was inside this folder. 28 months of hard work, and setbacks, and frustrations, and excitement, and progress, and heartache, and step after difficult step to get to our sweet baby girl. And now it is out of my hands.


The paperwork (homestudy and dossier) is supposed to be the "fast" part of an adoption - but for us it's been a long, hard road. I never thought it would take us this long to get this far - but God is the one writing our story, not me. So here we are, after 28 months, finally done with our dossier. We mailed it to our agency in New York on May 30th. Now they are finishing up with more certifications (it has to be authenticated again by the US Department of State and the Thai Embassy) before it can be mailed to Thailand. Once it's mailed and translated, we'll be able to be matched with a child! We couldn't possibly be more excited!!!

Thank you friends, for praying us through the past 28 months. I truly do believe that your prayers have carried us on this uphill climb. I'm so grateful to have the support of so many as we pursue our little girl. I'll keep you updated as we make more progress!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I800A Approval!

On Monday we got our I800A approval from the Department of Homeland Security! For those who don't speak "adoption" - that means that after reviewing our homestudy, supporting documents, and processing another round of $900 fingerprints, the US Immigration office has officially approved us to adopt!



This is a big step in our adoption - and a very important piece of paperwork that we have to have before sending our dossier to Thailand. I should've celebrated when I opened that envelope... but instead I burst into tears.

*Sigh.

This adoption thing is hard ya'll.

The truth is, I'm THRILLED that we got this approval, but I'm also feeling really, really guilty that the rest of our dossier isn't finished. Our hope when we mailed off our I800A was that we'd have our dossier legalized and ready to go to Thailand when this approval came in. Now we're probably another 3 weeks away. 

And this time it's no ones fault but mine.

I've blamed my lack of progress on a lot of distractions... several trips out of town, the unexpected and truly heartbreaking death of one of our close friends, and a summer cold that will.not.go.away. - but if I'm being honest, a big part of it is just the fact that I am really struggling to be productive and focused and finish this last leg of our paperwork "race". 

The truth is, I am worn out. I started this process with so much excitement and commitment and I just knew we were going to get things done so quickly! I am a detail person... I am an excellence person... and I like to check off a good "to do" list. Unfortunately though, every single step of this process has been an uphill climb. Finding an agency is usually something that takes a couple of weeks, a phone call or two, and a short application. Ours took a year of disappointing, frustrating, heartbreaking phone calls and emails and internet searches. Completing a home study is a somewhat invasive, but usually pretty simple process. For most people it takes 3 months or less. Ours was an emotionally, mentally exhausting YEAR of mind-numbing paperwork and frustrating phone calls. This paperwork portion (application, homestudy, dossier) of our process has taken 9 times longer than it should have taken. It usually takes around 3 months to get your paperwork ready to send overseas. But we are in the middle of month 27 of pursuing our child, and our paperwork still isn't in Thailand.

I'm not writing all that to vent or complain.... (okay... maybe I am... a little...) I don't want to come off as whiny or negative, and I certainly don't want to discourage anyone else from considering adoption (our journey thus far is not at all the "norm"!). I'm sharing this as kind of a confession. I don't really feel angry or bitter... I just feel tired. It's as if I set out on a 3 mile run on flat ground only to find myself in the middle of an 27 mile uphill hike. I've been running really slowly these last few weeks (and I'm frustrated with myself for it.) But mentally, I just wasn't prepared for this. And I think I'm finding it harder to trust in the process... hard to believe any sort of timeline or expectation. Which gives me a terrible "unsettled" feeling about what will happen next (and fears about the rest of our process that I'm having to battle.) I know there are lots of "unknowns" in the adoption process - and I was prepared for long wait times AFTER our paperwork was finished. I just wasn't prepared for such a difficult first two years. This was supposed to be the "easy" part! I think it's all beaten me down more than I realized.

You know, you think you're prepared when you begin your adoption journey, but nothing - no book, no blog, no conference, no friend's experience - can ever prepare you for what this process does to your head and your heart. 

So as I confess where I am (and beat myself up for not being more productive the past few weeks), would you mind saying a quick prayer for me? A prayer that I will be able to fight discouragement and fear? A prayer that I can hold it together and get this paperwork FINISHED in the next 2 weeks? A prayer that nothing will get lost in the mail, and that everyone I talk to and meet with (all government officials) will be helpful and kind? 

Thank you in advance, sweet friends, for holding me up and helping me get to this finish line!


Friday, April 18, 2014

5 years...


5 years ago today I walked down the aisle while my dear friend sang this song
and I said "I Do" to the one I love. 



HOME 
has been anywhere this man is... 


3 houses in 2 states 
and an apartment in Thailand


FAMILY

 ...the first few years looked like learning to love the people our spouse loved - 
those related by blood and those dear friends that we consider our "chosen" family


And family the last 2 years and 2 months has meant 
pursuing our little girl through adoption from Thailand. 
(we're praying this will be the year we are matched!)



WORK

 has looked like running a nonprofit full-time 
that's raised over half a million dollars 
(thanks to God, not us) 
And believe me - it's a miracle, 
considering our big personalities and opinions - 
that we still like each other after working together 24/7!



MEMORIES

have included traveling to Canada, France, India, Africa, and twice to Thailand,
Seeing the Eiffel Tower, Niagra Falls, and the beautiful beaches of Koh Samet...
Visits to orphanages and slums and brothels and leper colonies...
Safaris and elephant rides and snuggling tigers...




There have been many lessons learned while working together, ministering together, traveling together... and even more lessons learned buying and renovating our first house together.

We have truly been on an adventure! We have been abundantly blessed! There have been many memories made in the past 5 years. We've experienced so much JOY, but also plenty of heartache, disappointment, and tragedy. We have celebrated together, and we have grieved together. We've learned not to take a moment for granted... and not to take each other for granted either. Marriage is hard, but beautiful.

It is such a gift to have spent the last 5 years by the side of my very best friend... in sickness and in health, for rich or for poor, in joy and in sadness...


5 years ago today we had the most beautiful, sacred ceremony where we pledged our love and our lives to each other. 5 years ago we danced to this song, and in the years that followed we have learned what it means to truly "be here" for each other.


We have learned that life is sweeter when you don't walk alone. 



Thank you God for this blessing. 
We can't wait to see what the next 5 years hold!

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*For a more detailed walk down memory lane, check out my anniversary post from last year -  4 YEARS

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I-800A to USCIS! (adoption update)

I know that for those of you who don't speak "adoption" (yes... at times it's like a whole other language!) that title might not mean much. So let me explain...

We just sent our adoption pre-approval papers (I-800A) to US immigration (USCIS) which is a big step in our adoption!

Even though we turned in our finished homestudy paperwork on December 16th, we didn't get our completed homestudy in our hands until March 10th** (from our contract agency). So that's why you haven't heard an update in a while. Once we had that though, the ball was rolling! On March 26th our placing agency was able to send off our I800-A application to the USCIS office  (U. S. Citizenship Immigration Service). We should get an appointment from them soon to have another round of fingerprints done, and then they'll review everything and (hopefully) approve us to adopt a child! This is the first half of the approvals we'll need from USCIS (they will also have to approve a specific child to be adopted by us and brought into the US - but that won't happen until after we're matched.)


So you're probably wondering, what's next?

Right now we're waiting on our 2nd fingerprint appointment, and waiting on USCIS approval of our I-800A. This should take around 6-8 weeks.

In the meantime, we are also working on finishing our dossier, which is a fancy way of saying, "a huge stack of important paperwork." This includes things like our homestudy, financial info, references, marriage license, medical reports, etc. We almost have all our paperwork, so now we have to LEGALIZE it. This means that almost everything in our dossier (around 50 pages of documents) must be (1) notarized (2) notarized/legalized again by the County Clerk from whatever county that notary is located in (3) notarized/legalized again by the State Dept from whatever state the notary is from (we'll have to do this for documents in Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia). Then we'll send all our paperwork to our placing agency, and they will handle making sure our dossier is (4) notarized/legalized by the US Dept of State and (5) notarized/legalized a final time by the Thai Consulate. Whew!

We're not sure how long this will all take, but we're hoping that all of the above will be done by the end of May (>>fingers crossed<<). At that point our legalized, official dossier + our USCIS I800-A approval will be sent to Thailand and we will finally, officially be waiting to be matched with a child!

From there, the timeline is honestly unknown, but we have been given some estimates. Our agency said that the average time to receive a referral once our paperwork is in Thailand is 9 months (but of course, it could be a shorter or longer amount of time.) Once we have a referral and have officially been matched with our child, we should be able to travel to get her within 6 months!

That means we could be going to get Kate from Thailand sometime around August 2015, though there's really no way to know for sure right now.

Of course there will be other paperwork to file along the way, but I am really excited that our major paperwork (homestudy and dossier) are almost behind us! I can't wait to have all these forms and documents off my "to do" list, and to just be able to focus on fun things... like learning more Thai language, finishing some projects in our new home, and learning to use my new sewing machine before my baby girl gets home!

If you could pray for FOCUS as we diligently work to finish our dossier, that would be such a blessing. Please pray too for all these government workers to process our paperwork quickly, and that nothing gets lost in the mail!


** If you've been following our process, then you know that it took us a year to finish our homestudy. I don't want our timeline to scare anyone away from adopting, so I thought I should note that this is not the norm! Usually a homestudy takes anywhere from 6 weeks to 3 months. We put ours on hold for 3 months because we were moving our home and non-profit, and renovating several rooms of our house (which is not a good time to have important papers lying around!) Unfortunately, it was then delayed an additional 6 months because the contract agency we chose for our homestudy had excessive homestudy requirements that were very time consuming (which was quite frustrating for us.) Everyone's timeline is different with every adoption, but I didn't want anyone expecting their homestudy to take as long as ours! You can learn from our mistake however. I would encourage you to really research the requirements and timeline for any agency you hire as your contract (homestudy) agency or your placing agency. We have learned that they can differ greatly, even for a Hague homestudy!

Friday, February 28, 2014

So you drew a red X on your hand. Now what?


Let me preface this blog by saying that I'm a huge fan of Passion (where, from what I understand, the End It Movement began), and an avid supporter of any organization that does anything to help stop human trafficking and bring an end to modern day slavery. So I hope now you won't see me as a "hater" when I question people's commitment to this whole red X #enditmovement thing that happened yesterday. I don't want to come off as a critic, because those of us working against horrors like trafficking need to bond together (not tear each other down). But I did feel the need to write this blog to (hopefully) challenge some people who were a part of this red X movement.

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Here's my question for you... every one of you who posted or tweeted that you were "in it to end it" yesterday. Ready?

"So you drew a red X on your hand.... so you told people who asked about it that modern day slavery still exists.... so you can rattle off some harrowing statistics about slavery... what now?"

No, really. What now? What else are you going to do to "end it now"? 


I get that you're all really excited about "shining a light on slavery", and that is important. But in many places around the world, slavery is happening in broad daylight. So you're going to need to do more than just shine.

I know you're going to say that awareness is important, and I agree wholeheartedly. One day, years ago, someone told me about human trafficking and child soldiers and genocide and gendercide and the orphan pandemic - and all of that led to the nonprofit work that I now do. And if I had never known then I never could have acted. But what happens now that we're all aware?

I was concerned about this last year, but I'm even more concerned now that I've seen it 2 years in a row. Because what I've seen is - for a day - my twitter feed and facebook are taken over by "activists" raising awareness about human trafficking and calling for an end to modern day slavery. And I get SUPER excited because for once my twitter feed is full of people who are passionate about something that matters, instead of the petty things we all normally tweet about. And I get really PUMPED because I think something HUGE is going to happen from this! And I get really encouraged because I think - "if all of my friends are passionate about this, then they are really going to start doing things that will make a difference!"

But that's what I don't see.

Because the day after, it all goes back to normal. 

And this is what I have a problem with. Do you really think that picking up a red marker actually made a tangible difference in the life of a trafficked child? Do you really think an X on your hand set a slave free? This isn't enough people! It's no where near "enough". I'm terrified to think that I'm living in a world where social media "activism" has completely taken the place of real activism. I see it everyday with our work for The Sound of Hope. We'll post a need for our kids overseas, and people will retweet it or "like" it or comment on it or share it - but they won't GIVE to it. Rarely do people actually DO anything to meet the need.

Clicking a button on your computer is not activism. Tweeting something from your smart phone does not make you a freedom fighter. Drawing an X on your hand doesn't make you an abolitionist. Issues this big require so. much. more.

Can we just look at scripture for a minute? Jesus told us to care for orphans (James 1:27)... heal the sick (Matt 10:1)... and set the captives free (Luke 4:18). He did not  tell us to just tell other people about the orphans and the sick and the captives. We're not fulfilling any commandments by raising awareness friends. We've got to take the next step! Awareness and action should go hand in hand.

Now I know from the little bit of research I've done, that the End It Movement is partnered with organizations that are actively working to end modern day slavery. I was glad to see the option to donate directly to that work on their homepage. I've heard about the millions raised to fight this issue at Passion Conferences, and that's really, really encouraging to me. But it's still not enough. I still feel like a lot of the "followers" of this movement aren't quite getting it. I know, because out of the hundreds of tweets I read, not one was encouraging their friends to GIVE to the End It Movement. As a matter of fact, I didn't see even one tweet that said anything about taking any action beyond a red X to raise awareness.

So I hope that I can encourage you to re-think your involvement. If you drew a red X on your hand yesterday, then I hope I can make you think about what else you're being called to do today, and tomorrow, and next month to "end it now". There are 10 organizations partnered with the End It Movement that you can get involved in. There are dozens more that aren't listed (a couple that I love are She Dances and Exodus Road.) And of course, there's The Sound of Hope. This is an issue that I am extremely passionate about, because it's an issue that affects the kids we care for in all 4 countries we work in. Human trafficking is one of the biggest dangers facing the children in our care. We have heard horrific stories of children being sold into slavery, sold into prostitution, sold (and maimed) as beggars, and even trafficked and killed for organ harvesting. We work to rescue children from some of the most dangerous areas overseas - like the slums, brothels, and impoverished villages (areas we know traffickers target for their victims.) We are fighting to protect these children, but we cannot do it without the funding we need. 

So GIVE. It doesn't matter if you gave at a Passion Conference last month - give again. I can tell you from experience (as an Executive Director of a non-profit) that our organization and every other organization I mentioned desperately needs your money so that they are equipped to do their important work! So give again, give regularly, and do more than just tell your friends about modern day slavery. Encourage your friends and family to give too! Put together a fundraiser - a bake sale, a car wash, a yard sale, a benefit show. Use your abilities as a FREE man or woman, to raise money that will bring others their FREEDOM.

Volunteer. There are plenty of organizations that are looking for volunteers. There might be one in your own back yard! Remember that human trafficking isn't just something that happens overseas. It's local too. Consider looking for a women's shelter or a nonprofit that works to rescue victims in the US. (For those of you reading in Birmingham, The Wellhouse is one.) There are plenty of great organizations that need your help! 

Continue to educate yourself about human trafficking. Go further than just learning the statistics. Become an expert, and learn what NOT to do. Learn about how the porn industry is connected to modern day sex slavery, and pledge to never view or purchase porn. Learn about what companies still use slave labor, and pledge not to use their products.

There is so much that you can do beyond just drawing a red X on your hand, and I hope and pray that you will do something tangible to truly help #endit! I'd really love to see some comments, facebook posts and tweets that said...


I'm in it to #endit! I'm drawing a red X to raise awareness and  I'm...                                                            
                                                  ... donating to Not For Sale
                                                  ... becoming a volunteer at IJM
                                                  ... organizing a fundraiser for The Sound of Hope
                                                  ... (fill in your own pledge here!) 


If everyone who tweeted their red X yesterday would commit to do something, then I believe we could see an end to slavery. So this is me, challenging you to be more than just a "social media activist".  If we all take action, then we really can #endit!