Tuesday, July 1, 2014

It's been a while

It has been a while since I have posted anything on our blog, but we have been extremely busy. Our dossier was completed and sent to Albania for approval. Because the Albanian Adoption Committee only meets once a month and our dossier had to be translated from English to Albanian prior to being submitted to the committee by our NGO, we had to wait about four weeks for our dossier to be approved by the committee.

Once the dossier was approved, Lucy's official referral documents, which include copies of her birth certificate, the court decree terminating parental rights, and medical assessments on Lucy were forwarded from Albania to our agency and then on to us. With the referral documents, another document declaring our intent to continue the adoption also came. With our signatures, we declared our intent to proceed to bring our daughter home. There were also other court documents from Albania that we had to sign, notarize, certify and have apostilled at the Secretary of State's office. We completed those documents and had them ready to go back to Albania in less than a week.

As these documents were being sent to Albania, Rob and I were also filling out our I-800 for USCIS. The I-800 is a petition to US Immigration requesting that the convention adoptee be classified as an immediate relative. Basically, USCIS uses the information found on this form and the accompanying documents to determine if the child is an orphan and eligible for convention adoptee status. The accompanying documents include copies of Lucy's original birth certificate and the court decree terminating parental rights from Albania.

USCIS logged in our I-800 application and documents on June 17th, and we have an assigned officer. Rob spoke to our officer last week who stated that our documents had not made it to her desk yet, but she felt that she would get them soon. The receipt for our documents from USCIS stated that the application would be processed in 10-14 days. We are definitely at that point now. Rob and I intend on calling our officer again tomorrow for an update. We are hoping for I-800 approval by the end of the week.

So what happens next? Well, our I-800 provisional approval gets sent to us, our adoption agency and the US Embassy in Albania, and Rob and I get to do, you guessed it, more paperwork. Rob and I will be required to fill out a visa application for Lucy with the help of our adoption agency, and this application will be submitted to the appropriate consular office at the US Embassy in Albania. After reviewing our provisional I-800 approval documents and Lucy's visa application, the Department of State will then issue an Article 5 letter to the Central Authority in Albania. Our documents will then be sent to the court in Lucy's city in Albania, and the court then will issue our first court date.

Yes, folks, that is how close we are to meeting our sweet angel! Once we get I-800 approval, typical wait time to travel is four weeks. We will be hitting the time period when the courts close for the whole month of August in Albania, but we are confident that we should be traveling in mid to late August if we get a court date for early September. We have to be in country 15 days prior to our first court appointment to meet and bond with Lucy, hence why we are hoping for travel dates in August.

This process has been 15 months in the making, and now we are ready for the real journey to begin. The journey that does not start with a bunch of paperwork, but the journey that starts with gentle words, hugs and kisses, timid moments of getting to know one another and becoming a family. This journey will last a lifetime. This journey will have ups and downs, happiness and sadness, joy and grief. But, this is the journey that we have worked so hard these last 15 months to begin. This is the journey to be a Lucy's forever family.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

This adoption has changed me

This adoption has changed me. It has stretched me and pulled me in ways that I never imagined. It has on many occasions brought me to my knees in tears, and it has lifted me up with amazing joy. It has shown me at times the most ugly part of human nature as people have both attacked our choice to adopt and disagreed with our choice to adopt internationally. However, those negative voices have been silenced by all of the amazing friends and family and other kind people who have supported us on our journey to adopt Lucy. I choose to focus on this ever surprising and wonderful side of our adoption. I choose to focus on all the people that love us and have made sacrifices to help us bring our daughter home. And, I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you from our family to yours. You have all blessed us so much! Thank you for the words of encouragement , the donations, and especially your prayers.

Our Facebook Event, 150 Envelopes for Lucy, is doing so well, and we are hopeful that all of our envelopes will be taken by the end of the event May 9th, which is the date when the remainder of our fees will be due. The event is doing so well because so many loving and giving people have decided to step out in faith and make sacrifices to support our family, in the same way that Rob and I stepped out in faith to pursue Lucy’s adoption. And, we are grateful, thankful, and forever blessed by every single person who has done so.

We are also blessed by the sisters in Lucy’s orphanage who are taking amazingly good care of our little girl and who are telling her daily that mami and babi (mommy and daddy) are coming. We have been told that as soon as our paperwork is in Albania and we have a court date that the sisters will begin sharing our pictures with her daily and reaffirming to her that we are her parents and that we are coming soon.  For those of you who have been in this process before with another country, you know how amazing that is!  That sort of preparation to help the child before the parents arrive is typically not the norm for international adoption, but I am so glad that it is for Lucy.

Speaking of our paperwork being in Albania, Rob and I should finish our dossier on Monday! We are hopeful that our paperwork will be sent to Albania within the next few weeks after our agency has reviewed it one last time. Wow!  Even, I can’t believe how quickly all of this has come together. The last week has seen a flourish of activity in our house as we finished up the remainder of the documents required for the dossier. The kids had their medicals updated including an updated TB screen, Rob’s apostilled birth certificate came back from Illinois, Julia and I drove three hours to Knoxville to have our home study and a few other documents certified at the county clerk’s office, and Julia and I rounded out the week by having eight more of our documents certified at another county clerk’s office closer to home. Monday, we will go get the remainder of our documents certified at yet another county clerk’s office and then it is off to the Secretary of State’s office for apostilles for all of the documents. After that, it is a simple matter of making copies of everything and sending it all by FedEx to our agency.

My heart is in my throat with excitement at how close we are to seeing our daughter for the first time and finally holding her in our arms. And, we definitely could not have gotten this far without your help.  Faleminderit! (Thank you!)

Monday, March 31, 2014

How You Can Give One to Save One!

We are the featured family this week on the Give One Save One adoption advocacy website. Please check out our new video over at GIVEONESAVEONE and read more about how you can help us this week.

Most importantly: SPREAD THE WORD!

Use the GIVEONESAVEONE link to post to Twitter, Facebook, your blog, EVERYWHERE! The more people who know, the more people can be part of our story too!

(Go ahead, be a little obnoxious…believe us, our daughter’s adorable face is worth the trouble!!)

GIVEONESAVEONE encourages each of its readers to donate $1 to their weekly featured family. The idea is that if each of us gives $1, we together make a big difference.

The donations are tax deductible and go directly to our agency.

Want to help?

Check out GIVEONESAVEONE this week (starting today, March 31st).

Share the address with your friends and family to see if they’d like to give $1 too.

We hope you enjoy the new video we have posted today!

(We know you are really going to like it!)

(An extra challenge to consider: what if we each gave $1 everyday for 1 week? That would make an even bigger difference to a little girl who has never known a family!)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

What a Fisher Price ride on toy says about a little girl

Tonight, Rob and I sat at the dinner table and watched a video of Lucy taken in the play room on the top floor of her orphanage. Lucy is on one of those Fisher Price ride on toys for toddlers.  It is pink and reminds me of the Barbie ride on that Julia had when she was about two years old.  From the side of the video, you can see an adult arm and hand motioning for Lucy to come over, and you can hear a woman’s voice speaking to her in Albanian.  However, the woman is out of the video camera’s range.  Lucy cautiously pushes over to the woman but stops several feet short of going to her. Lucy’s face is serious as if she is thinking about what she wants to do next or possibly not do.  After a few seconds, Lucy begins to back her Fisher Price ride on toy up and makes her decision.  She continues backing up slowly, keeping her eyes on the woman, and then ultimately she turns the toy around and pushes clear to the other side of the play room before looking back.

After Rob and I finished watching the video, Rob began to chuckle and looked over at me and said, “Boy, are we in trouble.” He was referring to the serious face Lucy had been giving the woman and then Lucy’s apparent defiance by pushing away when the woman was obviously motioning for her to come.  We definitely saw a little stubbornness in Lucy’s eyes, but it made us both happy.  Lucy felt comfortable enough to not do what she was being asked to do. I liked seeing that in my daughter.  Some people call it having a strong will. My grandmother called it having gumption. One of the missionaries who works with children at the orphanage said to me that Lucy when she became comfortable with a person was very adamant about what she did and did not want. Whatever you call it, it has probably served its purpose for Lucy as she has lived in the orphanage.

What else did I notice in the video that we ended up watching at least three times in a row? I noticed how small her hands were.  I noticed how big her brown eyes were and that yes, she did have some of the longest eyelashes I had ever seen on a child as another adoptive mom had told me who met Lucy last year.  I noticed how curly her dark brown hair was and wondered what it would look like if I let it grow long instead of the short cropped cut that she has now.  I noticed how fast and capable she was on the Fisher Price ride on, which was completely opposite of her brother at that age.  I noticed her tiny little mouth and remembered that several people told me that she loved to sing.  I wondered if I would get the chance to hear her soon.

And, then it happened.  I noticed how my heart began to ache at the very sight of her.  This incredible longing to hold my daughter for the first time, and all of the emotions that moment brings began to quell up inside of me.  It was a feeling that was bittersweet and familiar.  I remembered having those feelings before our first trip to meet Yuli and living with them every day of the six months between our first trip and our final pick up trip for our son.  It seemed as if every day was an emotional roller coaster as we waited for those final travel dates to be with our little boy forever.

With Lucy’s adoption, I have tried to keep myself busy with the tasks of first completing our home study and now finishing our dossier. Of course, I am also working full-time and raising two other children while we wait.  But, there are moments when I let my heart and my mind go to that place where I am enveloped with thoughts of my daughter. I let myself dream about our first meeting, touching her face for the first time, holding her tiny hand in mine, and carrying her on my back down the streets of Albania  in the Ergo.  I want to know what look she will give me the first time she sees me.  I want to tell her “Te dua” (I love you).  These are times when I let myself feel the longing of making our family whole, and I let myself feel the emotion that brings at full strength.  These are the times when the waiting is hard…so very hard.

In those moments, all I can do is remember that our trip to meet Lucy will be in God’s timing, and I must accept that and trust in His timing.  It does not mean that I cannot long to be with my daughter.  It means that I can take solace in knowing that today we are one day closer to making that happen.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A little update

This last week has been extremely busy for our family.  We are gathering documents for our dossier, and then we are going through the process of getting the documents notarized, certified and apostilled.  We are trying to get all the tasks completed for the dossier so that when our I-800 approval arrives we will be ready to send the entire dossier packet to Albania.

Some of the documents on the dossier are easy to acquire while others are more difficult and time consuming.  I think the one that will be difficult this time will be the updated medicals for both me, Rob and the kids. We all had physicals last year for our home study, but our insurance will not pay for any more physicals for us or the kids until a calendar year has passed since the previous medicals were done. The calendar year will not be up until June.  Just to take the kids to the pediatrician to have a physical and the required TB testing done again will be $600 out of pocket.

I did manage, however, to set up an appointment for Rob and myself. I will just need the TB testing, HIV testing, and drug screen done, because I recently had an office visit with my physician.  Rob will be getting what is called a combat physical, which will be coded as an office visit, and he will also have to have the same testing as I do. Then we will need to coordinate with the doctor to make sure that the notary is there when the paperwork is filled out. Oh, and I did I mention that there cannot be any mistakes or white-outs on the paperwork? It is just standard procedure for an international adoption.

Sometimes, the amount of stuff that we have to do and the amount of money that we have to raise for the adoption overwhelms me, but then all I have to do is pull out Lucy's picture or play one of her videos and the strength to finish this starts pulsing through my veins.  She is my daughter, and I will do whatever is necessary to bring her home, even if it means humbling myself to say that we need help in raising the funds.

We started a fundraiser event on Facebook Sunday night called 150 Envelopes for Lucy, and it has been amazingly successful.  We are asking everyone to just take an envelope.  The envelopes are numbered 1-150. If you take envelope 7, then you are committing to a donation of seven dollars. We are asking that the checks be made out to our agency instead of us. Once you verbally commit to an envelope, we mail the envelope to you with a self-addressed return envelope that you put your check in and mail to us. As of my post tonight, almost half of the envelopes have been taken.  All of these amazing people are blessing us by their generosity and desire to have Lucy united with her family.  And, God is showing us one again his plan for us, which we have known since the first time we laid eyes on Lucy.

We pray for Lucy daily, and we have also begun praying for the director and the sisters who run Lucy's orphanage. These women have a huge responsibility to care for these children, and every adoptive parent who has been to Lucy's orphanage has praised them for the great love and care they show the children. We are thankful that Lucy's situation is better it seems than the one our son was placed in after he was born.

Please continue to pray for us as we still have a few mountains to climb on this journey. The one thing that our 150 Envelopes for Lucy fundraiser has taught me though is that we are not alone on this journey.  We have a whole community of friends and family walking along beside us.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Do Something!

I am just going to come out and say it. This post was difficult to write.  I have been pondering my words for several days and trying to think of the best way to say what I needed to say.  I did not want to upset anyone with my words, but at the same time, I needed to answer the question that I get asked continually with truth.  I finally realized that I just needed to say it.  I needed to speak from my heart and let the thoughts flow into words on this page.

What is the number one question that I get asked about international adoption?  “Why would you adopt from another country when there are so many kids in the United States that need a home?” That is the question.  However, the implications behind the question lie much deeper.  The implication is that American families should just adopt from the United States. There is also an implication that the need here in this country is so much greater than anywhere else in the world so how can we turn our backs on those children that live here in this country.  Sadly, many times the person that is asking me this question has never and would never consider domestic adoption or foster care adoption in this country.

I am not going to debate the importance of domestic or foster care adoption versus international adoption in this post because I believe that they are all important ways of creating a family.  I support anyone who chooses to adopt by any of these means because a child gets a family, and doesn’t everyone deserve to have a family to love them?

What I do want to talk about is why international adoption matters. Is our ability to love a child really constrained by the borders of our own country?  I don’t think so.  Our love should be boundless like the love that Jesus has for us.  When a child is born thousands of miles away in another country whether it be Bulgaria, Ethiopia or China, that child deserves a family.  In a perfect world, these children would find families in their birth country to love them and care for them and to help preserve the culture of their birth, but we don’t live in a perfect world.  The truth is that we live in a broken world, and these children, especially the ones with special needs, will have little hope of finding a family in a country where there are no services for children with disabilities, where there are no handicapped parking spaces, or handicapped seating in restaurants.  So, if there are willing and able parents in the United States who can love these children and provide them with the healthcare and the services that they need, then who are we to stand in their way?

Mother Teresa said, “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” And, isn’t that what adoptive parents are trying to do? They are trying to remedy a great poverty in our world.  Adoptive families are wanting children who were previously unwanted.  They are loving and caring for children who have known what it is like to feel unloved, neglected and ignored.

Can you imagine being a three month old baby and not feeling loved? It is almost difficult to comprehend, but it happens in orphanages every day around the world.  Imagine a room filled with 20 to 30 metal cribs and in each crib is a child, but there are only one or two orphanage workers to feed and change all 20 to 30 children.  The workers simply have too many mouths to feed so the babies are given bottles with large holes cut into the nipples of the bottles. The bottles are then propped up next to the child laying in the crib so that the liquid flows quickly down into their tiny mouths.  There is no holding of these children while they are being fed, no gentle pats on their small backs after the feeding, and no soft rocking in warm arms until sleep falls again.  The feeding is over and done almost as quickly as it started, and then the children are left alone, untouched in their cribs for hours.  No one is there to rock you so you learn to rock yourself, back and forth, side to side, harder and harder in your crib.

Diapers in many orphanages are changed only once a day so the children lie in their cribs for hours with not only a soiled diaper on but with wet clothes soaked from urine and feces.  You might think that there would be babies crying and screaming every day in these rooms at the orphanage because that is what a child who has been held and loved will do to get the attention of the mother.  A baby will cry when his diaper is soiled or when he is hungry because he is uncomfortable. The child knows that his mommy can remedy this discomfort. Why? Because his mommy has done it over and over since the child’s first day of life.  However, orphanages are sometimes the most quiet places.  Why cry when you know that no one is coming?

When my son first came home from Bulgaria, he would never cry.  He would fall and hurt himself, but he would never cry.  As little boys do, he would get into all kinds of scrapes while playing outside, but not one tear would fall.  It wasn’t until months later when he realized that mommy would come and kiss his boo boos and hug his hurts away that he began to cry when he was injured.  He learned that I would come and help him. He learned that I would wipe away his tears and give him a Band-Aid if needed.  He learned that I would give him food whenever he was hungry. He learned that I would hold him when he was sad or tired.  He learned that I would cheer for him when he did a good job.  He learned what it was like to feel loved.  He learned how to be a part of a family.

I firmly believe that all children whether born in this country or in China, Ethiopia, the Ukraine or any other country deserved to be loved. Love should have no boundaries or borders, and it should not be constrained by our nationality.  A child should not be deprived of a family because there is an ocean lying between him and his family.

So what happens if we put up the walls and decide that children in orphanages in other countries are someone else’s problem? What if we turn our heads in apathy because these children live thousands of miles away, and we don’t have to look them in them in the eyes every day? What happens then?

Per documented research on children living in orphanages in Romania, a child will be three months behind in development for every one month that a child spends in an institution. I have seen a four year old come home to his adoptive family and be developmentally and physically around 18 months.  These children will grow up in these orphanages and will lag behind in almost all areas.  They will be given a limited education, and they will be put on the street, sometimes as young as 14 years of age with no skills, no money and no prospects.  They will fall prey to human trafficking, particularly the girls who are at a much higher risk.  They will not have the opportunities to succeed that they so desperately deserve. A family would give them everything they need to succeed in life and stop this unbelievable tragic cycle.

You might ask how I know that the descriptions I have given of the babies in the orphanage are accurate. My simple answer is because I have been to such an orphanage. I have described the place in which my son spent the first three and half years of his life.  What I have seen, I cannot unsee.

God has given me a heart for orphans and a desire to help adoptive families in any way that I can.  He has also called me not once, but twice, to be an adoptive parent.  As I have said many times before, not everyone is called to adopt, but everyone is called to help the orphans. James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Sometimes that calling comes in the form of helping adoptive families by praying for them and being there for them on this very difficult and emotionally, mentally, and financially taxing journey.  

One of my favorite songs right now is by Matthew West, and it is called “Do Something.” If you have not heard this song, I greatly encourage you to take a listen and do something!  Here is a portion of the lyrics.

Do Something – Matthew West
I’m so tired of talking
About how we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something”
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
“I’m gonna do something.”