Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Saying "yes" (again)

If you have read our blog for long, you probably know that we try to have an attitude of "yes" in our lives. We explore options that present themselves to us and rarely discount something until we have checked it out. For us, that is how we try to be faithful to God's direction in our lives...as we rarely experience clear signs, etc.

So when this conversation came up multiple times over a couple weeks it finally stood out as something we should explore. We explored it and have decided to take the steps towards putting our house on the market!

WHAT?!?!?

I know! I am shocked too!

We bought this house 5 years ago thinking it would be our 10-15 year plan. We envisioned paying it off, selling it and using that money to pay off down our student loans. But what we have recently learned is that it is a sellers market right now in GR. There are not many homes for sale, a lot of interested buyers (bouncing back from the recent recession) and our neighborhood is in demand because all the positive change in last few years!

SO, we figured, what does it hurt?!? We will throw a rather high number on it, (what we would need to pay off a big enough chunk of loans to make it 'feel' worth it) and see what happens. Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe no one will be interested. And that is ok too.

But maybe, just maybe, this house was an investment and not our forever home. So we say 'yes'. We take one more step and we watch.

If it does sell we will  hustle to find an apartment again for a while. This is the part I am really excited about. Although I love my house, it is a LOT of work to keep up. Cleaning, yard work, projects, cleaning, painting, re-doing projects that we did 5years ago, cleaning... The American Dream turned out to be a heck of a lot more sacrifice of time than I imagined it would be 5 years ago.

We have been talking a lot lately about the simplicity of a minimalist lifestyle.  Selling most of our possessions and downsizing into a 1000 sq foot apartment downtown is incredibly appealing (and extremely hard to actually make happen- apparently we arent the only ones with this idea). Less to clean, less to manage, less to worry about.

What about Kwe? We have heard that a few times as we have discussed this plan with our closest friends and to be honest that was one of our biggest worries when we first started talking. But what we quickly realized is that Kwe needs us. Not a big house, not a fenced in back yard, not 100 toys. He needs our attention, our full attention, our time, our passion for enjoying life! Our hope is that by greatly reducing our stress at home we will have much more time and energy (physically and emotionally) to give to him. We both have busy and often stressful careers and that wont change when Kwe comes home. But by reducing our financial stresses and our home-owner responsibilities, our time 'home' will be fully focused on our family.

So. We are racing to finish up some projects so that we can get it on the market and hopefully move before Kwe comes home. That way, he never really knows the difference and doesnt have to experience another major transition in his life right away.

If you know of anyone interested in a beautiful 3 bedroom 1.5 bathroom home within walking distance to 2 parks, a library and a bakery, let me know! ;)


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Last, first and free

Today is my last. 
Tomorrow is my first. 
And a few days ago we were set free.


TODAY
I broke a new record!!! My first day at Arbor Circle was April 25, 2011. I worked there full-time for 3 years, 3 months and 11 days. And while I will stay on contractually (very part-time) for a while yet, I am not "there" any more. I learned an incredible amount about myself and my "style", about some of the things that hold families and youth down and about the challenges that keeps support services from doing all they have the capacity to do. It changed me. I now have a lot more experience, a healthy amount of skepticism and a stronger (maybe unbreakable) passion to keep pushing forward.

TOMORROW
Tomorrow I start something new! The next chapter. I will be am the Director of HQ, a drop in center for youth who are experiencing homelessness, who have run away or who are just struggling. The dream of starting something from the ground up, pouring my vision and passion (my everything) into it,  being a part of something big that was going to have a lasting impact, has been just that: a dream. Maybe something that would happen in 10 or 20 years. Maybe in another country. But here I am. People believe in me. A lot of people. I cant even describe how that feels. I am humbled...so honored....so shocked by it all. I have moments where I freak out a little bit and ask myself when everyone around me is going to realize that I cant do it. I had just had one of those moments before I read the Jesus Calling devotion today, which told me: 

"Rest in My sufficiency, as you consider the challenges this day presents. Do not wear yourself out by worrying about whether you can cope with the presures. Keep looking to me and communicating with Me, as we walk thru this together."

I dont have to be perfect. I dont even have to pretend like I am! I can just put my all into every day knowing that every step of my life has been led, at every turn I have been molded and shaped and I wont be alone now (or tomorrow!). Interviewing for this job was one of the biggest tests of my faith. I'd been fully on one side of the pendulum: I wanted it SO bad, it was my dream, what else would I do... and the other side: maybe I shouldnt even apply, I probably won't get it anyway, I don't know if I'm ready. Then, as the interview process came closer I found the middle. I gave up control. No, really. I did!!! Why is that so hard to believe?? :) I felt so at peace. I gave it to God and told Him I would honestly live either way. :) If I got it I would step 100 million percent into it...if I didnt, i would look forward to what He was preparing me for. 

Deep breath. 

Then I got it!!!

And the "crazy train" leaves the station tomorrow! Woohoo!!!

And- Chad's job is going so great too! He absolutely loves it. He is learning a ton, being challenged (personally and professionally) and gaining confidence ever day. I am so proud of him for taking the risk and working hard!!!

Ok, so adoption update: basically it continues to drag on at the pace of a elderly snail. Last Thursday we mailed out the 3rd packet of supporting documents to US immigration, in response to the Notice of Intent to Deny Kwe immigration. Our Officer received it yesterday. Maybe we will hear something in the next week.

The day after we sent it, Chad sent me a text sharing a "God download". I dont know if you have ever experienced that but for me, it's in the stillness (when I can actually figure out how to make my mind pause) and its usually a simple word or a few words that just enter my mind. There's nothing and then  there's something. 

So anyway, this is it. It touched us so deeply that we couldn't not share it with you! Enjoy!

"I have Kwe in my arms, right where I need him to be. Have peace knowing he's in my care. I'm instilling in him character and a passion for my people. I need him here for a time such as this to learn and grow. The future for him will be much more brighter because of this! Rest assured my child for I know the plans I have for him and for you!"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

One word

Today something just hit me.

I've probably written about it before.

It's one of those things that I have to be reminded of over and over again. And then it feels like a new thought each time.

It's simple really.

Or is it.

....
Thankfulness
....

There it is.

Tomorrow (July 25) is 5 months since we passed court.

Last night as Chad and I were falling (literally) into bed, he commented that we should be preparing ourselves mentally for the fact that Kwe may not be home for another 5 months. Ugh. That felt heavy. I wanted to be angry at him for even speaking such nonsense!

Instead, I slept on it.

This morning, Jesus Calling, reminded me that thankfulness is one of the most effective ways to experience God's presence. Which is sort of funny because I was just praying yesterday about how to feel that again.

Some of you may know exactly what I mean. Throughout your faith journey you often have times when your conversation with God seems to flow naturally. He is right there. You feel something different. Other times, its like a uphill struggle. You try to do all the right things (which inherently might be the problem) and you still feel floaty. Disconnected. Alone. It's like a human relationship in some ways I guess. Sometimes you just 'click', other times you crash.

So anyway...I am supposed to be practicing thankfulness. And I have A TON to be thankful for in EVERY. SINGLE. AREA. OF. MY. LIFE.!!

But how much harder it is specifically with Kwe and this ever-twisting adoption process...

So I began brainstorming.

Here are some of the first few things that come to mind. We are thankful:

  • that we even know who Kwe is. He is not a number. He is not an orphan. He is our son, we know him, we talk to him, we talk about him, we pray for him.
  • that he is in a loving and supportive environment. We couldn't imagine a better place for him anywhere in the world (besides with us, of course!). And reflecting on how all that came together is an entirely separate list of reasons to be thankful.
  • that he is healthy. I cannot imagine how much more difficult this would be if he had some illness that threatened his life every day he wasn't here. 
  • that he is resilient.
  • that we have an AMAZING support group. Seriously. We love you guys! :)
  • that we serve a God who is so much bigger than any of the challenges we have faced. There is a plan. There is a purpose. There is a fullness.
Help us add to this list! Comment here on the shared link on FB! 



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 FLY TO GHANA!

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 impossible...so 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.

Silence.

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!"

WHAT?!?!? 

WHAT?!?!?

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....