Sunday, July 20, 2014

Life: Ever moving

Once again, it's been about a hundred years since the last post.

This time, i'm not apologizing! :)

Summer is always busy for us, but this is the first summer since Chad and I were married that he hasnt had to work weekends. This has really freed us up to not feeling so hectic and I am continually learning how to relax and just be.

We have gone to weddings, vacationed in West Virginia, had family and friends visit and so much more. It has been good. And there is still so much left!

Kwe is doing so great in his new home in Ghana. Since moving him in March we have gotten regular updates and have Skyped with him a couple times a month. The blessing that this is still overwhelms me at times. If he was still at the orphanage we would have had little to no communication and we may not even know if he was ok on a day to day basis. What we have been given is rare and beautiful.

We are currently waiting on Immigration (I-600) Approval. We submitted our application at the end of April and the requested additional evidence arrived to our Officer's desk on July 7. If we are approved, we could have as little as a month until he comes home. Here is the breakdown:
- We get I-600 approval
- Those documents are sent to the Embassy in Ghana (2 weeks)
- We request a day for our VISA Interview (the last thing Kwe needs to leave the country)

We are going to be present for the VISA interview and represent ourselves for the best chance at passing.

So that's where things are at! Still praying for July 25th to be a big day and asking God to bring him home this August. Please join us!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A quick adoption update

This feels long overdue. So for that, I apologize. I could say that I have been SO busy or something something but I think I have just been getting a bit better at slowing down. Accepting demanding a touch less from myself EVERY day! We have been trying to enjoy this beautiful West Michigan spring/summer and have actually allowed ourselves some days of doing nothing.

So, since it's another beautiful day here, this will be short and sweet! :)

So on April 26th we mailed out our i600 application which starts the US government's investigation into Kwe's orphan status. Essentially its their way of making sure everything is legit and that he is actually an orphan. This is an important step as many countries define things differently and less developed countries dont often have the same resources to pursue thorough investigations. We expected to receive a Request for Evidence (RFE) as most people do and particularly because we had submitted our application before we received his birth certificate. On May 23 we received the RFE requesting 4 additional documents (but not the birth certificate that we were still waiting on... which was weird). They are pretty specific requests that will require very specific documents from our POA in Ghana. We have since learned that the Immigration Officer we were assigned to has a reputation for being specific and thorough. Which is great! I truly would rather have that than someone who didn't care about their job. It is funny though, as we have literally fought every step of the way...why wouldn't we get a tough officer too! :)

We are staying positive though and having faith that the documents will be collected this month and submitted by the deadline, and that we will receive quick approval after turning them in.

I read a book recently about praying specific and clear prayers. It makes you have a different kind of faith. Well, we have paid for Kwe's room and board and school through July 25. So I am praying that we dont have to pay more and that we will be heading back to pick him up then.  It seems it's exactly something only God could do!

I personally continue to practice saying that God's will and timing is perfect and not allowing myself to get caught up in talk about my personal plans and hopes.  It is a challenging balance though because we have to be ready for him to be home as soon as August but also be ok with it taking longer. So we have been researching schools and will turn in our application for our first choice tomorrow, in faith that he will be home and ready to start school in time. There is a long waiting list and its not easy to get in so we decided it was best to apply now. Even as I write this I question my own need for a plan b school. If my faith is big enough to apply for a spot in the school that Chad and I both believe he is supposed to go to...then it should be big enough to not need a contingency plan. Right?

So there's the update! Praying there is more positive news to share soon!

Monday, May 5, 2014

2 Choices

2 choices.

That's what you get.

It's pretty much the story of my life.

I have believed, for as long as I can remember, that we all have two choices in life. When bad things happen, we can generally respond in one of two ways:
1) we can allow them to define us, to cause a change in our course, to break us down, to reduce our hope; 
2) we can use them as fuel, propelling us forward to something we cant yet see, believing that something of value can (eventually) evolve, that they themselves can in fact be the source of hope. 

I have often shared that perspective when I am telling my "life story", specifically when I get to the part where I am about 15 years old. It was one of the darkest times of my life. I was struggling with my first serious episode of depression; questioning why certain things had happened to me, confused about how I never quite seemed to "fit", grasping for what the purpose in my life was. I wanted to run away...maybe not even exist anymore. It's part of why I went into social work.

What happened next I can only describe as a "God moment".

I felt something take over me.

I was on my knees on my bedroom floor, crying. Then I experienced the first real sense of 'power' over my life that I had ever felt. Not only did I now know that there was, somewhere, a purpose for what I had endured, that some beauty could come from these ashes, and that, as cliche as it sounds, there was a light at the end of the tunnel BUT ALSO, I knew in my core that I got to choose between two roads.
1) I could become hateful, angry and unmotivated. I could easily play the victim card like I saw others do. I could continue to give away my power, one choice at a time;
2) OR I could forgive and then fight with everything I had to do and be something different. To be better because of it! To not let my past win.

It's free will! I get to choose. Only I can choose. 

So why am I sharing this?

See, what 99.9% of you reading this don't know, is that back in November, I began struggling through the new darkest depression I have faced. It came fast and it hit hard. Very hard. It lodged itself deeper into my life than ever before. It's shaken me to my core and has had ripple effects across my life.

And while that whole story is probably too long to ever share on this blog (but maybe someday in the book Chad thinks I'm going to write!) I hope that for a moment you can put aside any judgements you may have about the reality of depression or it's cause or how someone who seems like they have such  a great life could possibly have ANYTHING to be depressed about....and just hear my story. Maybe we can talk more about those things later. :) Thanks.

So specifically relating to our adoption, the weight of this wait (see what I did there?!?!? Bahahaha) has been extra difficult since coming back from our trip in March. I have found myself saying to God, "Come on, I'm dyin' here!". (Now, to be clear, I haven't been lying about the peace and the trust I've felt. Seriously! Maybe it's another juxtaposition?)

But the heaviness has been real and the wars waging inside of me have been fierce. As I've been climbing out of the fog, Ive been asking familiar questions. What is the purpose of my life? Is my life what I wanted it to be? Have I gotten stuck (personally, professionally, spiritually, relationally)? What is God calling me to do next and how do I know that it's His voice and not just one of my own natural instincts to fight or run?

"Why God, is this taking SO long? Seriously. I'm dyin' here."

So where is this going???

I havent been to a morning service at Madison in a long time. Yesterday, we went to the early service and I was excited! I felt so alive. And I knew why as soon as Pastor Beelen explained that today's message was about trusting God's timing (You can hear the entire sermon from 5/4/14 here).

He explained that if it feels like God is taking His sweet time, "committing divine malpractice", then we can be sure of one thing: that we dont have all the facts! We just cant see as deep and as wide as He can. In my arrogance, I impose my schedule and if I continue to do that, I will continue to struggle to feel loved by Him. Funny how our ability to feel love and belonging and purpose can be so tainted by our own expectations.

He went on to say that we really only have two choices: to trust or to die. Well, that seemed a little extreme. But then he told a story of a shepherd in Whales who, to keep his sheep from dying from a fast-spreading parasite plague, had to completely submerge them in a antiseptic bath. As he held their entire body under water for those few seconds, the sheep thrashed violently, eyes-wide, certain that they were dying. There was literally no way for the shepherd to communicate that he was actually saving their lives! The communication intelligence gap was just too great.

How true is that for me? And maybe for you???

Every now and then I feel like I'm drowning. Like it's one baby step from being too much. But yesterday I was reminded that I have a choice. I can trust or I can die.

I can continue to say to God "Hurry, I'm dying here!!!" and feel the weight of my own panic pull me down further or I can say "I trust." Here. In this minute, in this second, in this millisecond if that's all I can do.

A weight lifted from me.

I love explaining the adoption process and telling people where we are and what has to happen next.
But I need to make a change. I can't continue to answer the question, "when is Kwe coming home?" with the same weary, discouraged, robotic timeline description. THAT is what's killing me! Instead I choose life and trust!

I dont know what God is cooking up. I'll probably never see all the pieces of the puzzle. Geez, the outline is barely together! I'm out of the darkest part though and I do think I'm stronger because of it. I choose to be stronger. 

And I do know that if this had been smooth and easy and fast, I wouldnt have met all these amazing people, I wouldnt have quite as clear a picture of who our TRUE friends and family are and I certainly wouldnt be learning as much about myself, about dependence, about patience... or about trust.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A fat lip & update

As I am sitting here typing this long overdue post, I cant help but start by sharing my pathetic fortune. 

Last night (24 hrs before my agency's biggest fundraiser of the year), I carelessly bend down to pick something up from the floor right as my "crazy" dog flails himself into the air like a dolphin. All 9 pounds of him thrust straight up with the energy of every muscle in his body. He knew he was about to go on a walk and he was imploding with excitement. His head, the density of titanium, met my lower lip and teeth perfectly. 

My brain shook.

Things went black for a millisecond. 

I screeched.

Blood in the sink, I babied my face the entire night and was a little more pathetic than was necessary. This morning I woke up the proud owner of a blue bottom lip! 

At least it will match the fabulous blue button-up I am wearing tonight with my black suit! Thank goodness for tinted lip gloss...sigh.

Anyway. I digress. 

You're here for an adoption update!

So you may remember that there was a bit of a time crunch for getting the corrected adoption decree and filing our immigration paperwork (i600). Our pre-application was set to expire on April 27th, 18 months after originally filing it. Yup, it was that long ago. 

While we could file without the decree, it really wouldn't look good... essentially we would be asking our government to approve the immigration of someone that we couldn't even prove we had any legal connection too. Our case would be flagged immediately and we would be sent a Request for Evidence asking for this additional information and giving us a deadline to provide it or our case would be denied. 

2 weeks prior to our deadline we still didn't have it and we weren't even completely sure whose desk it was sitting on/under/around. As I begin typing yet another email to our caseworker, my fingers just stop. I suddenly recognize the theme that has been swirling around my life... in my devotions, what i am reading, what my friends are saying: 

God: Do you believe that I Am good? 
Me: Yes

If you truly believe that, then you know I love you and full trust would be the naturally flowing result. 
Um, I guess so.


If God is good (in the word's fullest meaning), then I have to believe that He loves me completely, that He is for me, that His plan is perfect, and then trust comes. If i cannot trust, i cannot say He is good. 

There is nothing else my caseworker can say to give me peace. Its just human words after all. I will not send one more email. I will not. I will trust. 

1 week away- no update. My fingers twitch at the thought of sending another email. Just to check in. Just quick. 

I will trust. 
I start to feel that familiar peace creeping in. 

Wednesday the 23rd. To be safe, we need to mail it out by Friday to ensure it's received by the deadline. It's ok. I have peace. I almost feel a laugh starting to gather deep in my stomach. God is going to bring this together right at the last minute!!! Isn't He!!!

Thursday the 24th. I check my email constantly, but I feel calm. God, what are you doing?
     1pm- It's 5pm in Ghana. The end of the work day. Meh, we've gotten updates "after hours" before. We still have time...
     4:30 pm- still nothing. It's not looking good. Its already 8:30 in Ghana.  ...We still have time. 
     4:53pm - a new email comes through. "It is my pleasure to forward this adoption decree to you!"



Sigh... just in time. God has done it again. He keeps proving He is here. Keeps proving His power. 

Friday the 25th. (Did you catch that? THE TWENTY-FIFTH!!! Seriously, this is getting crazy!) Exactly 2 months after passing court, our i600 application is mailed. It will arrive to USCIS on Monday the 26th. One day before our case expires.

So, that's it! That's our life! Pretty freaking cool (and totally crazy), huh?

We are now waiting for Kwe's Ghanaian birth certificate. Ya know, the one that lists us as his parents! ;). Once that is submitted to USCIS they will begin their investigation to determine if he meets the criteria for being an "orphan" and immigrating to the US. Then Ghana gives their final approval and we move to the last stage: Exit VISA.

I feel like so many things have come together "just in time" throughout this adoption process. From finances to paperwork, from court hearings to caregivers. I am starting to wonder what Kwe will finally come home "just in time" for....

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Urgent prayer request

Since i am now such a strong believer in the power of group prayer, we ask you all to join us tonight.

As I sit in yet another airport (i fear its becoming my second home) i received a brief update. Not good news. The judge has still not signed our corrected adoption decree. Its my understanding that even after this happens it still must go on to higher officials for approval...again.  Essentially meaning that we haven't made any progress (with the exception of moving Kwe) since 2/25. Each minor error seems to be another month or two in delays.

Our POA is going back tomorrow to check on the status again and we are persistently taking our request to God that it be ready when he arrives.

Thanks for the continued support! We'll keep your posted!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

It's Impossible

Maybe I haven't said it out loud but my brain has thought it...a hundred times (...ok fine, more than a hundred). Things have seemed impossible at many points throughout this journey.

1. God leading us to international adoption
2. Not taking a single dollar of debt yet having just what we needed. For. Every. Single. Invoice.
3. Getting a referral after Ghana banned adoptions
4. Passing court after Ghana banned adoptions

But here we are. Just a few days home from our second trip to Ghana. And Im no longer thinking about that kind of impossible. I have more peace in my heart than I have ever known. The stress and uncertainty has been replaced by excitement and intrigue.

The kind of impossible I want to talk about now relates to my gross inadequacies at describing what exactly happened over the past few weeks.

Note: While there, we received some very direct words of caution about how much we share publicly about the details of our adoption experience. While mostly I feel like this is just Satan trying to keep us from singing our praises, I do realize and respect that the adoption climate is very intense right extreme that legal adoptions are being confused for illegal child trafficking. People engaging in processing adoptions are often in danger physically and professionally. I didnt realize how serious this was until I saw it for myself. So having said that, please know that my desire to be transparent will be bridled in order to ensure the safety of Kwe and those who are helping us bring him home.

Back to the story. We arrived in Ghana around 8:30pm local time on a Sunday and were warmly greeted by the founders and directors of City of Refuge. You can read some of their amazing story on the website. We hung out on Monday and got a tour and met the staff and kids. Tuesday we went with our POA to the Attorney's office to review the Adoption Decree. We had been told the document was complete but that there was an error and therefore it may not be adequate. We prayed hard that we would be able to move Kwe (by this time we were sure COR was the right place for him). To carefully sum up what happened next, ill just say that in Ghana, us legally being his parents didnt give us the cut-and-dry rights and protections that we have in the US. It was a surreal, extremely stressful and scary and we pray that these new traumas will not bury themselves into Kwe's beautiful soul but that he will heal and be stronger for all that he has survived.

On our way to City of was an emotionally draining day for everyone.

We made it back to COR late Tuesday night and began a completely indescribable week of being his parents. We fed him, we bathed him, we played with him and he slept between us each night. We enrolled him in school, we pushed him on the swing, we colored, we cuddled and we cherished every smile, every laugh, every time he said "mommy" and "daddy".

We became parents in the most tangible sense. It's impossible to describe. I dont know what words to use to facilitate your understanding, your ability to "feel" it. We were in another country, another culture with a 5 year old boy who had known us for less than 4 hours of his life and who we knew very little about. Ive never been so thankful for my professional experiences and education and all the books we read! But none of that prepares you totally. I looked at Chad several times asking "what do I do", "what do you think", "what is he saying"??? It was messy. It was often uncomfortable.

But it was the most beautiful and completely life-changing experience I have ever had. I couldnt have asked for anything to go better. If you would have told me before boarding the plane how much we would have bonded and attached as a family, I would have laughed in your face and called you Optimistic Pollyanna.

Some of my most precious memories:
- the first time he called out to me as "mommy".
- the first time he called Chad "daddy" and Chad heard him and responded.
- waking up in the middle of the night seeing Kwe big-spooning Chad. One arm around his waist, the other in his hair.
- how much he LOVED bath time and broke out in the craziest dance moves when i poured water over his head
- just being still and listening to his singing, drumming and humming
- walking into our room to see Chad and Kwe in their PJ's cuddled up reading a book
- holding his hand as we prayed
- every day seeing him open up and realize that we were there to care for him in a different way than others had.
Reading with daddy

Swinging with mommy

I could go on and on. Beautiful is just all i keep thinking. Beautiful in the deepest, most pure and intense meaning. I love this kid with everything I am.

I know now what people mean when they say they would literally do anything for their kid. I would do that.

I no longer will laugh when people say they just lay awake at night staring at their kids face. I did that.

And leaving was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I actually thought about turning away from the group, grabbing Kwe and running into the hills. I cried. So hard. I haven't sobbed like that in years.

Another juxtaposition, right?

Feeling so at peace knowing that I have seen God move with my very own eyes while being devastated that I need other people to raise my child right now. That they get to see more of his "firsts" and cuddle with him at night. It hurts deeper than I knew I could feel.


And then we landed back in the States. I ate processed food, took a hot shower and left the water on the entire time, slept in my offensively comfortable bed and went back to work. I tried to fit back in. I am trying to fit in...

But I feel different. Again. More.

I sorta feel incomplete. A little lost. Like a part of me is missing. Heavy. Sad.

I also feel like it was all a dream. That week was in another world, incomparably different than any one of my weeks here. Did I imagine it all?

I wish I knew the words to really describe it to you...

BUT, we are SO blessed! We have received updates, pictures, something almost every day since we have been back. :) People. That is HUGE. Prior to that we had received only a few vague updates over several months and now we can communicate with him and the amazing people who are around him every day! It keeps it feeling real. It motivates me. It puts a smile on my face and in my heart. He is in great hands. He is with people who love him and love Jesus. I couldnt ask for more while I wait.

Logistically, we are waiting for the corrected Adoption Decree so that our POA can file for Kwe's birth certificate. We will be filing our I600 the day we receive these documents (and absolutely no later than mid April as all our immigration pre-paperwork is set to expire soon). Then we wait for approval (i.e. the US government investigating his background and situation to determine if he qualifies to immigrate as an orphan).  Then we file for his VISA (the last thing needed to leave the country). We will travel back for the exit interview in anticipation of passing and being able to bring him home!

What a sweet, sweet day that will be!

On our way to Church

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A quick update

These last few weeks have felt like a whirlwind! Paperwork, emails, donations, packing lists, celebrating, paperwork, cleaning, shopping, more paperwork...

3 days until we leave. Less than a week until I hold my sweet boy again. I just cant wait to be back. I so love that place.

One major update is around this amazing organization we have become connected with. City of Refuge  was started in Accra by an American/Ghanaian couple who became aware of the tragic truth that hundreds of children in Ghana were being forced into slavery and trafficking. They work to investigate these cases and rescue children from horrific environments. God has grown their work into an entire campus that includes safe shelter, access to medical care and a Christian education. We learned about some volunteer opportunities there and the chance that they may be willing to provide foster care for Kwe. Over the course of a few days, we had exchanged multiple emails and they had offered to not only pick us up from the airport but also allow us to stay in their guest house!

I just cant believe their generosity and we are so excited to be able to serve there and collect donations for them. We will be exploring with them the possibility of transitioning Kwe to COR where he would get good nutrition and medical care, be attending a Christian school and be able to Skype with us regularly. How awesome would that be in reinforcing who we are and what is happening! :)

Our other goals for this trip are to obtain the Court's Adoption Decree. Without this we may not be able to move him out of the orphanage as this document proves our guardianship. Once we have that (thinking positively) we can file for his birth certificate (the one that lists us as his parents!). If by some miracle we are able to obtain that while in country (and for many people it takes weeks or months to get) we would be able to file for his passport. Regardless, by the end of our time there we will be filing our I600: Petition to Classify an Orphan as an Immediate Relative (heck yes he is!). If we arent able to get the decree and birth certificate we will still file but our case will essentially be flagged until we submit everything else. We really dont need any more flagging... So we are GOING to get those documents (more positive thoughts)!

Please join us in praying for these doors to open and progress to be made! We are just so excited to see how God moves while we are there because He has certainly moved mountains in the last few weeks and continues to bless us beyond what we expect or deserve.

We are hoping to have somewhat regular access to internet and will be posting updates and pictures as often as we can on our blog and Facebook pages.

Next time you hear from me, Ill be in sunny (and hot!!!) Africa. Aaahhhh.....