Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Our Adoption: Which Country?

I posted recently that I would write some posts answering some of the questions that have been asked of us regarding our adoption. Last time I wrote about the decision to adopt itself and how we arrived at that answer. Today I will answer the next most common question we have been asked:

How did you decide to adopt from Ethiopia?

I have heard this question asked of other adoptive families, and I have heard it answered in this way: "Because that's where my child was." While I completely understand the heart of that answer (more now than ever!) that answer doesn't completely get to the heart of the question... How did you know that's where your child was?

When I was pregnant, even before we found out "officially," I just knew I was pregnant. I knew. Not only did I know there was a baby, but I knew where he or she was! Physiologically speaking, it seems obvious, but now that we are adding to our family another way I see a correlation (at least for me.) Once I realized I had a child somewhere, the next thing I needed to know was where that somewhere was! The decision to adopt was solidifying, but to continue taking steps it was necessary to pursue a particular program for a particular country. Whether domestic or international, we couldn't just apply to receive a baby from "somewhere." The requirements vary from country to country, paperwork has to be submitted to a particular country, travel arrangements have to be made. There wasn't some Global Adoption Agency where you submit general paperwork and get your child from... Somewhere. So, the question was... where???

My husband and I came at this from two different angles. I believe this was by God's design and would ultimately confirm this decision for us. Of course it was a major matter of prayer, one of utmost importance. At first it seemed like it might be China. It seemed we were seeing news and video of Asian orphans at every turn, we had at least one family friend pursuing a Chinese adoption and knew of several others. Additionally, my daughter and I made our first mission trip to China in 2005 and our whole family's hearts were captured by a growing love for the people and country of China. That year we were in the beginning stages of praying about adoption, and while I was there I looked intently at precious Chinese babies, checking my heart to see if I felt any "tugs." Then, I wondered, would I feel it? Is that even a reliable way to know? Is that relying too much on emotion for a decision this big? The next summer, in 2006, our then-12-year-old daughter spent 6 weeks over there without us, staying with our sweet missionary friends. Never before had my heart been in China to that degree! For a month and a half, I knew I had at least one daughter in China! But, did I have another? I continued to pray. Both my daughter and my son felt like it was China. My husband was pretty sure as well... but not me. Why was that? Why couldn't I just get on board? I purposed to pray specifically about it in China on our 2007 trip. And I did. Along with the other myriad of things to pray about on any type of mission trip, I spent a significant amount of time before our trip last May, on the plane on the way, and on the ground in China praying about our potential adoption. Is she here? God, will you tell me? I didn't want to have a child somewhere and not know it! I asked God to please tug at my heartstrings, or in some tangible way show me where my child was while I was in China. Of course, He was not obligated to give me a "sign" but there are Biblical examples of Him graciously doing so for others (Gideon comes to mind) so I prayed those Biblical precedents and asked Him to please do the same for me.

Before I tell you what happened in China, I will say that I had been praying through all the countries. When I say "all the countries" I mean, countries with programs in reputable adoption agencies that my husband had found. So there was a veritable UN council living in my head! Many countries were represented, and pictures of precious children from those countries were burned into my heart. Would one of those children be mine? I was still praying. Meanwhile, my husband was looking seriously at agencies. He boiled it down to a few agencies that he felt really "knew their stuff" and with whom he felt comfortable working. So, while I was praying through the countries, he was praying through the agencies. The two would eventually meet!

During the time I was praying through the countries, begging God for some sort of "sign," my heart continued to be drawn to Africa. Of course, after our family's first trip to Ghana in 2004, a large part of my heart never came back! I had been thinking about Africa every day, in some form. Of the agencies my husband had found, none had a program for Ghana, but the continent of Africa was always pictured prominently in my mind as I prayed about where we would adopt. And then I began to see it... everywhere.

I wish I had pictures of all the places I saw it. I wish I had written it down! One that comes to mind is an Africa-shaped grease spot at a gas station not far from my home. (I'm not kidding. The kids verified it.) Another was perfectly Africa-shaped bunch of grapes. A commercial here, a song there, a photo in a magazine... Africa everywhere! But, meanwhile we were going to China again (as I mentioned above) and at this point the other three members of our family still felt like she was in China. Which brings me back to our trip there last May. While there I prayed and prayed. I looked at precious Chinese babies right in the face. It was as if I was searching for her. No matter what task was at hand, it was in my mind at all times. And I felt I was getting an answer: Not China. I just knew it wasn't. Three days before we were to leave the country, I felt like I had my answer, or at least part of it. The "not China" part was only half of the question.

We spent the last 2 days in Beijing, our trip was winding down. I was with two other women on a bus, the rest of the team was elsewhere, including Bethany who was at a market with some friends. The two other women I was with were talking with each other and I took some time to look out the window and take in some new views of Beijing. While we were riding, I also decided to pray. I prayed for a few moments, for my husband and son back at home, for our travel, for the people of Beijing, for Chinese Christians, and once again, for some clarity on the adoption issue. After I had finished praying, our bus continued toward our destination, and I looked out of the window to my left and saw a sign. (I'd been praying for a sign, right? God may have given me a literal "sign!") This particular sign was written in English and in plain letters, simply said, "ETHIOPIA" What? A sign in China that said the word "Ethiopia? In English? Where did that come from? Was I seeing things? I turned to my friend (who lives in China) and said, "Um, J.? Did you see that sign back there that said 'Ethiopia' or am I seeing things?" (I was wondering if perhaps God had put that sign there just for me.) She told me that that was the Ethiopian Embassy. So, there were two good reasons for that sign to be there!

I wondered if perhaps the second part of the "not China" answer could be "It's Ethiopia." I took that answer home with me and began praying for God to tell the rest of the family.

And, He did!

I decided to continue to pray and wait, much like I had during the decision to adopt. I didn't want everyone to come to the same conclusion I had simply because I kept yapping about it (my usual M.O. ;) Slowly, one by one, throughout the summer and fall, the other three members of the family began to say, "Yeah, I think it's there, too." First was my daughter, then my son, then finally my husband. (The agency he wanted to work with had a program for that country.) I'm not sure how each of them came to that realization, I just know we all finally landed in the same country.

And we haven't looked back. We are so excited about this new direction we are headed, to a place we've never been. A new people group to embrace in our hearts, a new country to fall in love with, and most of all, the one who's been missing from our lives will come home to her forever family!

We know where she is.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday Menu

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do,
do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31

Happy Monday!

I "heart"ily recommend this
Go Red Light and Easy Cookbook from the American Heart Association that I mentioned on last week's menu. I made the raspberry scones and the Tuscan Bean Soup and both turned out wonderfully. (Although I added some blueberries in the scones and they turned, well, blue. Bordering on green. I was lamenting how *not* pretty they were and my sweet daughter consoled me by saying, "Mom, scones are never pretty..." ;)

As I posted this weekend, I am officially "adoption obsessed." Our final home visit with our wonderful social worker is today, so I'm cleaning house like a mad woman! Tonight's dinner in the slow cooker will be just the time-saver I need, and maybe will give the house a nice, homey feel. :) One more step toward bringing our little girl home!

I decided to follow Laura's lead and add pictures this week. Since I'm so visual, I found that helpful on some of the menus I read last week...

Crock Pot pork chops (with Newman's Sesame Ginger Dressing), rice, stir-fry veggies

Fish Fillets with Lemon Crumb Topping (Light and Easy Recipes), roasted carrots, salad

Pesto Chicken Penne, green beans, bread


Kids both have somewhere to be, so... date night! :)

For more menus and some great organizing tips, head on over to Laura's.
Have a terrific week, and thanks so much for stopping by!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Adoption Obsession

"God sets the lonely in families..."
Psalm 68:6

I'm just so happy. So very happy. Yes, that's my view of the dining table... My glasses, my cup of coffee, my HUGE binder and my stack of books. If only I could just let all of my obligations go for the next few weeks and just snuggle up and read! But, life doesn't work that way does it?

This week we attended a wonderful two-day seminar at our adoption agency. I cannot say enough about our wonderful agency and its top-notch staff. Not only are they providing such solid and valuable information every step of the way, they are truly partnering with us in bringing home this precious child. It's amazing to see their dedication, not only to the orphans and their caregivers around the world, but to the families who are eager to welcome them into their families. It's clear that they want to see God glorified in every aspect of this. They also have monthly events, support groups, educational opportunities as well as great ways to partner with them in ministry. Additionally, they offer support groups and retreats for adopted children. I pray for anyone reading this who may be considering adoption now or sometime in the future, that you would find an agency that offers this level of support. It's such an indescribable blessing!

We learned so much over the past two days, covering all areas of adoption, including not only how to prepare ourselves but also how to view the process through the eyes of the birth parents and most importantly, the child. We looked at the issues of bonding and attachment, developmental issues, sensory integration issues (very interesting to me), medical, speech and language development, meeting the child for the first time, and bringing them home. We also discussed something I think will be so fun... creating a "life book", or a story book for your adopted child telling his or her story. There are some wonderful resources for that here. I'm not a scrapbooker by any stretch, but I can't WAIT to do this!

The best part of all...we met in country-specific groups and had a fabulous time meeting the other families, who I already feel are kindred spirits. One of our agency's staff members just returned from our child's birth country a couple of weeks ago and we saw an unspeakably precious video of the staff and children in the baby home there. My eyes brimmed with tears as I realized that I could be looking at our child!

So, it's official. I'm obsessed. This adoption all I'm thinking about, reading about, planning for, and cleaning house for (our final home visit is Monday!) I think that emotionally I've held much of this at arms' length for awhile because I was afraid once I started crying I might not be able to stop. (And I don't cry pretty.) Now, I just don't care. I am a blubbering idiot. I'm crying right now as I type this. I have at least one other child on the other side of this world, and it's okay for me to be emotional about it and be passionate about bringing her home!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

No Parking

I did it again last night. I went to bed feeling incredibly guilty about how I had handled a situation with one of my children. I totally blew it. Again. The guilt was palpable, my chest actually felt heavy.

Oh, I had apologized (and so had my child... for we both had a part in it). All was forgiven. The truth is, I'm not perfect. I blow it, usually more than once a day! Not only do I need to ask my child's forgiveness, but God's as well. He freely gives it, as well as the grace to do better next time. And there seems to always be a next time!

In his book Sacred Parenting, Gary Thomas says:

"What is better for the kingdom of God: That my son and daughters would say, "I can never serve God like Dad did" or "If God can use my dad, he can use me"? There is no question- the latter statement is the reality that most serves God's purposes long term. It is my job as my children's parent to model my own need for God's mercy and to demonstrate how God can use even sinful people to accomplish his aims."

"In this sense, we shouldn't look at guilt as a parking lot but as a car wash. When guilt feelings keep us self-absorbed, destroy our motivation, and make us discouraged, guilt has become a parking lot- not a good thing. But when guilt reminds us that we are insufficent, and when this insufficency points us to God- his forgiveness, his empowering Spirit, and his provision of grace- then guilt becomes a spiritual car wash. You don't camp out in a car wash; you just go there to get clean! You drive through the car wash and come out on the other side with a completely new outlook. That's one of the healthy roles that guilt can play for parents: pointing us and our children to God."

Lord, thank you for the gift of this child. Most of all, thank you for the incredible gift of Your Child, who came to earth to pay for my sins and my child's sins. Thank you for the gift of guilt, which points me to You. Please help me not to self-centeredly stay in the guilt, but to come to You who will wash me "whiter than snow." Thank You for teaching me about Your grace, mercy, and sufficiency as I parent my children. Help me and my children to experience those in abundance, daily. Amen.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Fun Food "Facts", Heart Health, and Monday Menu

I received this in an email from my fun (and very health-conscious) friend Sandy. I tried to check it out on Snopes to see if all of the facts are right and couldn't find it. That's why I put the word "facts" in quotes. Some of it is undeniable, though and it's definitely interesting!

A sliced Carrot looks like the human eye.

The pupil, iris and radiating lines look just like the human eye...and YES science now shows that carrots greatly enhance blood flow to and function of the eyes.

A tomato has four chambers and is red. The heart is red and has four chambers. All of the research shows tomatoes are indeed pure heart and blood food.

Grapes hang in a cluster that has the shape of the heart. Each grape looks like a blood cell and all of the research today shows that grapes are also profound heart and blood vitalizing food.

A walnut looks like a little brain, a left and right hemisphere, upper cerebrums and lower cerebellums. Even the wrinkles or folds are on the nut just like the neo-cortex. We now know that walnuts help develop over 3 dozen neuron-transmitters for brain function.

Kidney beans actually heal and help maintain kidney function and yes, they look exactly like the human kidneys.

Celery, Bok Choy, Rhubarb and more look just like bones. These foods specifically target bone strength. Bones are 23%sodium and these foods are 23% sodium..If you don't have enough sodium in your diet the body pulls it from the bones, making them weak. These foods replenish the skeletal needs of the body.

Eggplant, avocadoes and pears target the health and function of the womb and cervix of the female - they look just like these organs. Today's research shows that when a woman eats 1 avocado a week, it balances hormones, sheds unwanted birth weight and prevents cervical cancers. And how profound is this? ... It takes exactly 9 months to grow an avocado from blossom to ripened fruit. There are over 14,000 photolytic chemical constituents of nutrition in each one of these foods (modern science has only studied and named about 141 of them).

Figs are full of seeds and hang in twos when they grow. Figs increase the motility of male sperm and increase the numbers of sperm as well to overcome male sterility.

Sweet potatoes look like the pancreas and actually balance the glycemic index of diabetics.

Olives assist the health and function of the ovaries.

Grapefruit, oranges, and other citrus fruits look just like the mammary glands of the female and actually assist the health of the breasts and the movement of lymph in and out of the breasts.

Onions look like body cells. Today's research shows that onions help clear waste materials from all of the body cells They even produce tears which wash the epithelial layers of the eyes.

Interesting "food for thought," huh?


Did you know February is American Heart Month? I picked up this cookbook at the checkout stand last week and will be incorporating some of the recipes in our weekly menus. It contains many yummy and *easy* recipes!
I had heart surgery in my early twenties due to a congenital defect that, by God's grace, was found before I had children. Having been a heart patient before (and never wanting to be one again!) I am increasingly aware of making sure my cooking is more "heart healthy." Forty-one percent of all women die of heart diease. Women are ten times more likely to die of heart disease than cancer! I know this sounds scary, but it can be prevented more easily than we think. We just need to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables we eat, eat more fish and more whole grains, and increase physical activity. As evidenced in the list of foods above, God knows what our bodies need and has provided food to keep everything working as it should! There are more dietary and lifestyle recommendations over at the American Heart Association website. Another very informative resource that I picked up last summer is the book How to Keep from Breaking Your Heart: What Every Woman Needs to Know About Cardiovascular Disease by Barbara H. Roberts.


And now for our menu! I don't go "all out" on healthy recipes as I should, but in our weekly menus I use low sodium soups, whole wheat flour, and low fat ingredients as much as possible. I don't always mention it in my menus, but I try to keep fresh veggies available for snacks (especially if they come into the kitchen before dinner hungry.) If you've read our menus before you know that I make my fair share of gooey desserts and my husband loves the fact that I can make gravy with anything! So... I've had to make an effort to go healthier over the years!

We will be attending a two-day adoption seminar all day Thursday and Friday, which will cut into our evenings on those days, so we will be eating leftovers, going out, or taking something home those nights. It'll be a shorter week in the kitchen for me as a result!

B: cinnamon toast, yogurt, fruit
D: Pizza Pancakes (with Heart Healthy Bisquick and turkey pepperoni)

B: Raspberry Scones with Lemon Icing (from the Light and Easy cookbook), fruit
L: baked potatoes, salad
D: Chicken Spaghetti, whole grain bread, salad, green beans

B: leftover scones, fruit
L: fish, mixed vegetables
D: Tuscan Bean Soup (L&E cookbook), salad, bread

Thursday and Friday~
B: on the run
L: at the seminar and the kids will be at friends'
D: Out, yey!

For more menus and some *great* organizing tips (February is kitchen month!) visit Laura.
Have a wonderful week!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Fun at Aunt Cyndi's and a Chinese New Year Party!

Well, it's been a little over a week since I posted. I do plan to continue talking about our adoption (Oh, if you haven't read it, please read this post below! This is the biggest thing going on in our lives right now!) but last week we had just a little more going on. I got to keep my nieces for three days, and we had a wonderful Chinese New Year party on Friday. It was a week of fun, for sure!

My brother and his family are moving a few hours away (::sniff::) and while he and my sister-in-law were working on the move, I was excited to spend a few days with my sweet nieces here. G, the four year old came first while H the 6 year old spent an extra day at my mom's getting over a stomach bug. It was so fun to have little ones in the house again! It's getting me ready to have one or two more!! Here's a little slide show of our fun. It was fun to get our gray tubs of toys down out of the attic and enjoy them once again! We also pulled out some books on tape that hadn't been listened to in awhile. I found a fun cardboard "clubhouse" at Hobby Lobby that they could color, which we all enjoyed (and the beanie babies got to live inside it for a few days.) Speaking of beanie babies, I also found at Hobby Lobby these fun "build-a-bear" type beanies you could stuff yourself. We had a great time!

Then on Friday we celebrated Chinese New Year with two other families who have hearts for China like we do. In fact, they have both adopted precious daughters from China! So we all dressed in our Chinese clothes and enjoyed some fun Chinese activities and food, while we welcomed the "year of the rat." We made "Year of the Rat" picture frames, Chinese lanterns, read a book about Chinese New Year and all of the customs,ate some yummy Chinese take-out, enjoyed two fun games, danced to some hip Chinese pop music off of iTunes, and popped party poppers. (I've posted the games and resources we used on my homeschool blog.) It was a great time! I'm still finding confetti!

We had a great week last week, and I hope you did, too. We have our first visit with our social worker for an extended time at our agency tomorrow morning. Things are clicking along!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Our Adoption- The Decision to Adopt

"Whoever receives one child like this in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me does not receive Me, but Him who sent Me." Mark 9:37

Aside from announcing it a couple of months ago and alluding to the "paper pregnancy," I haven't really written much about our adoption. I haven't started a separate "adoption blog," like many other families have (which I may do at some point in the future). I mentioned early on that I was, like Mary, "pondering these things in my heart." I guess I thought of that since the beginning of our adoption journey was during the Christmas season. As we got started, many of the questions that were being asked of me were questions I was still asking myself!

I thought I would write some blog posts to answer some of the questions that have been asked of me "irl" ("in real life") lately. Because, the truth is, we are very much in the thick of the process. I've gone from not really wanting to discuss it because I could hardly believe it myself, to loving it when someone (who perhaps just found out) runs up to me and asks me about it. I feel like I did when I was pregnant but not yet showing. I wanted people to know I was an expectant mother! And that's very much what I am right now, an expectant mother!

So, here's the first question:

When did you decide you would adopt a child? Did you and your husband always know you would grow your family this way?

I can't exactly say the "moment" we "knew" we wanted to pursue adoption. I can honestly say that we didn't always know we would. In fact, this was just about the furthest thing from my mind. (Just a smidge past "homeschooling" on the radar, which wasn't even ON the radar years ago.) Sometime back in 2003, though, the thought passed through one of our minds. I can't even say which one of us it was or how it came up. I can say that 2003 was a year marked by an intense interest in becoming much more "intentional" about our family. Our oldest child was turning 10, so we had been parents for almost 10 years. We were looking ahead at what we wanted our family to "look like" as far as how to best glorify God in all areas of our lives, our children's spiritual development, our ministry as a family, activities, etc. We had begun to enjoy missionary biographies as a family and were exploring possible mission involvements. I loved that time period because it seemed everything was possible! God finally (and rightfully) became so... so, BIG to me! And I wanted (and still want) all that He has for me, and for our family. Sometime during all of the prayer, planning, and dreaming, it occurred to one or both of us that the "perfect boy/girl-one-of-each" family we had prayed for and received was not all there was for us. That was a HUGE realization for me. God had given us an unspeakable blessing in our children... but did He have more in mind? Could I even envision more? We had carefully "planned" our family. We had wanted two children. I had wanted to have a girl when I was 26 and a boy when I was 29. For some reason known only to Him, God gave us exactly that. We had our family before we turned 30 and that was that. (And I mean, that was that. We "took steps" to not have more.)

Now, on to the task of raising them!

And that's what we were in the midst of doing when He radically got ahold of us and began to take us a step further as a family. And by "further" I mean, into the mission field on short term mission trips. Somehow, through that- through sending my little 10 year old and precious husband to the continent of Africa without me, and then going back as a family two more times, I got a glimpse of what it means to truly step out in faith and trust God in new ways, and to see Him do big things. Perhaps that's where the hint of adoption came from. I don't know. I do know that in January of 2004 I wrote the word "adoption??" in my Bible one morning as I was praying. We went to an America World seminar that spring and got a lot of "food for thought." But didn't feel that we were supposed to move forward adopting just yet, or maybe ever. We were just thinking about it.

And life went on.

You know how life gets... busy. We were busy with the activity-filled life of raising elementary school-aged kids, homeschooling, and taking as many mission trips as we could possibly manage (we were hooked!) From 2003-2007 all or part of our family took 3 trips to Ghana, 3 trips to China, and did work in Mexico, New Mexico and France. My husband and two other men started a non-profit organization to support the work we and others were doing primarily in Ghana, and we still enjoyed the family involvement of coordinating our church's Awana club. In the midst of all of this, the idea of adoption never went away. It would go into the background, but there it was. I didn't bring it up much, and neither did my husband, but nevertheless it was there. And it was "there" for our kids, too. They would ask about it, write us notes about it, and pray about it. I remember praying once about a year ago that the Lord would either bring it to the forefront (through my husband, not me) or take it away. I didn't like the feeling that even in the midst of all we were doing (by His grace!), there was something He had for us that we were not doing. I prayed specifically that He would tell my husband. I would know it was His will for us if it came from Luke. (Luke my husband, not the Book of Luke, though I'm sure it's in there somewhere!) I know some wives are the driving force behind this decision in their families (the idea that the man is the "head" and the woman "turns the head") but for me, for this particular issue, I wanted it to totally come from him. I didn't want to turn his head. This issue was too huge for me. So, I prayed and stayed silent. The former came easier for me than the latter! After months of praying for my husband to be attentive to God's leading in this area, last fall he came to me and said he'd like to go to an upcoming adoption seminar that was to be held at our church. That's when I knew. God had been speaking to his heart about it! Even without me! After that seminar we talked and realized it was time. Time to move forward. In fact, to me this issue had been with us long enough that we either needed to really do it, or really have a good reason not to. And for us there wasn't a good reason not to!

Having the "boy/girl" family we had prayed for and an orderly family life with older children was not a good enough reason to leave a child in an orphanage. Being able to take frequent, periodic mission trips as a family 20 days a year was not a good enough reason to leave a child in an orphanage for 365 days per year for years on end. Doing a bang-up job homeschooling my middle and high schooler was not a good enough reason for another child to live her life in an orphanage, and perhaps receive no education at all. Being "through" raising children in another 7 years and enjoying being "empty nesters" was not a good enough reason for another child to live their remaining childhood and lifetime without parents. Making sure we had plenty of college money for two children and a comfortable retirement was not a good enough reason for another child to be raised in an orphanage and be turned out at age 14 or 15, with no future. Besides, we also began to sense that this wasn't about some nameless, faceless "other child" out there. This was possibly our child. She was somewhere, and we need to go get her.

As it stands now, we are in the midst of our home study. We spent time this weekend child-proofing our home. We are plowing through the required reading list that our agency has provided. We've been assigned a social worker who will come and do our home visits. The timeline (on which I'm trying NOT to focus) could be as early as fall that we travel to get our child. It could be 2009, though, and we know that. The timeline for this in the hands of the One Who created time, and I'm so glad!

Next time I'll post about how we decided which country to adopt from...

An Easy Way to Help

One of the bloggers I have come to greatly admire, Mary at Owlhaven, is doing something really great, and it's not too late to be a part of it. Go here to read all about it and see how you can make a real difference to an Ethiopian orphan.