Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Paul Harvey Update's the Paul Harvey update, also known as the "rest of the story."  Or, at the very least, as much of the "rest of the story" as we know right now!

On Monday, December 5, we said YES to our sweet girl's file.  We had to sign a Letter of Intent and provide China with a Care Plan (thank goodness for Lifeline's template!) that would be sent to them in order for them to approve us to adopt.  I printed everything and brought it home for Zeke to sign, and we sent it to Lifeline first thing Tuesday morning.  We were told to expect pre-approval, or PA, within a few days.  On Wednesday, right after telling my sweet kiddos at school that things had kind of settled down and so I would NOT be jumping to answer the phone anymore, my phone rang with that sweet Lifeline number showing!  I answered and, to my surprise, we had received pre-approval OVERNIGHT!  The key part of receiving PA was that we could share our sweet girl with everyone, so you know what that meant: FACEBOOK POST!  It was so much fun to finally be able to post her picture and share our excitement.

Our next step was to wait for our Letter of Approval, or LOA.  It was tied to our PA, so no additional paperwork was needed at this point.  We were told it should be a couple of weeks before we received that and 4-5 months before we could travel to get her, so we settled in to wait again.  However, on Thursday, December 8, one day after receiving PA, that sweet Lifeline number popped up on my phone again!  I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen, and started writing what our social worker said.  The first words were, "Well, I'm calling about Sophie--we kind of have a cool situation."  My notes actually say "Sophie--cool situation."  Haha.  At this point, I'm wondering what in the world God is up to this time.  She then said that China really likes to fix their own heart issues.  I'm pretty sure that's when my heart stopped.  I was thinking how in the world could we travel to China for her surgery and how long would it take for her to recover and will we have to go back to adopt her or could that be considered our adoption trip and are Chinese doctors good at fixing hearts and blah blah blah blah blah.  So, typically the type of surgery that she needs should be done within the first year of life, but because of how sick she had been early on, she had not yet had surgery.  Since she had just turned one and by all accounts was doing well and still getting stronger, the orphanage wanted to begin making plans for her surgery.  But then they found out that she had a family coming for her.  That's us!  She said that China is very respectful of the family and wanted to make sure that we had the chance to make those kinds of decisions for her and be with her when she did have surgery.  So...they offered to EXPEDITE her paperwork so that we could travel sooner and bring her home for surgery here!  I'm pretty sure that was when my heart stopped again!  Of course my first question was about a specific timeline, and she said that all she could tell us was that it would be "shorter."  Yikes!  My emotions were all over the place.  Of course I was super excited to go get my baby, because obviously the sooner the better, but again, planner girl was trying to press the reset button!  All of my plans--for travel, work, childcare, funding--and expectations of how I *thought* this might happen were going down the the best way.  Again--TRUST.

In order to expedite her paperwork, we had lots of paperwork to do in a short amount of time.  China was actually the country who offered to expedite, but the United States had to agree, so we needed a letter from the doctors at UAB to confirm that it was medically necessary to move things along faster.  Their letter made me cry--it is scary to hear her condition detailed, but awesome to hear that a team of amazing doctors is "on standby waiting for her arrival." Once we received that, we could submit her immigration paperwork although we didn't yet have the LOA--the medical letter would take its place until it arrived.  Our I800 was mailed on Tuesday, December 13.  We received our LOA on Friday, December 16--the coolest Chinese document that we have received (even with the extra "signature" Camp added to it when he was looking for drawing paper!)--and it was sent to USCIS to meet our I800 application.

The typical timeframe for the I800 paperwork is 4 weeks, and we were so hoping that USCIS would grant the expedite and it would be faster!  However, the holidays have impacted us and we are still waiting for this approval.  Just this week we got a receipt in the mail that shows it was received on December 14, and I'm stalking my mail lady every day for another envelope from them!  There are still two more big steps before we can travel--Article 5, which typically takes 2-3 weeks but can be expedited, and Travel Approval, which usually takes 1-2 weeks but can be expedited.

The next big hiccup in our process is Chinese New Year.  This year, Chinese New Year is January 28.  Everything in China (government offices, etc.) will close for a week during this time, so the last "Gotcha Day" in January will be January 16.  We were really hoping for this day, but without our I800 approval, we will probably be looking at traveling at the beginning of February instead.  While any delay is hard, if there is one thing that we have learned during this process, it is that God is in control and He is more concerned about the details than I could ever be.  He has a reason and a purpose in allowing things to happen in this timeframe.  I may not see it now, but I can trust Him--even when it is hard not to jump on the next plane bound for China and just make my own way!

We are trying to use our time wisely--to love on our babies that we have here, to get our house ready, and to do fundraisers which not only help us financially but help make us feel like we are doing something.  But I will say it's kind of like the end of a pregnancy, when people tell you to enjoy that last little bit of sleeping/eating/sitting/etc because soon things will be different.  Yes, we know that we should be doing all of that right now and not wishing this time to pass faster, but part of our heart is in China and we can't rest well until she is here.  So we continue to pray for the hands that touch our paperwork and our mail and our endless USPS overnight envelopes--that they will feel urgency and be blessed in their work as they process our documents EXTRA FAST. Because there's an empty spot in our hearts and in our house and in our arms, and the only thing that can fill it now is THIS sweet face:

(Maybe we should've sent a picture with all of that paperwork?!?!)

We are so crazy grateful for your prayers and your support.  We couldn't do this without all of you, and we can't wait to share her with you and for her to feel how very much she is already loved.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Adoption Update: Raising our Ebenezer, Part Two

If you missed Part One of Judy Lin's story, you can find it here.  Or, I can just give you the cliff notes (also known as the way Zeke would tell this story).  We heard about a little girl, kind of asked for her file, found out she had some medical conditions we weren't sure about, and couldn't decide what to do.  So here we are :)

Saturday morning I woke up with swollen eyes and a heavy heart.  We didn't really talk about her all day, but waited until the babies were winding down and getting ready for bed.  Zeke was on the laptop, and all of a sudden he started talking about chromosomes.  He was researching again!  I was inspired so I started googling things too.  I somehow found some kind of society for genetic counselors, and realized that there was an office in Huntsville.  I immediately--without any hesitation--started emailing files to a geneticist in Huntsville.  We were desperate!  We decided to try to talk to them before we had to make a decision on Monday.  

Sometime in the middle of a sleepless night Saturday night, I was googling Suixi orphanages.  It seemed that my Lifeline China page had suddenly been full of posts about Suixi, and I wanted to see pictures and get more information.  I found a blog about visiting Suixi, and remembered that Lifeline had a blog too.  When I googled "Lifeline blog," and clicked on the link, there was our girl!  The story that came up said "Sophie's Story."  My heart stopped!  I had to wake Zeke up to make him see it too.  Her story broke our hearts, but what a sweet little blog star!  I couldn't quit looking at her picture.

On Monday, I called the number I had found online for the genetic counselor but got her voicemail.  I left a message and kept waiting, hoping I would see a 256 number pop up before that 205 number called for our decision, but it didn't happen!  Our social worker called before I was ready to give an answer.  I shared what we had learned from the IAC with her and told her that we couldn't really say yes or no at that point, but we had been hoping to get more information from the genetic counselors. I assumed that our indecision would be taken as a no, but she said that since we had contacted people and they had not replied, we could have another week to consider her file!  I was amazed!  I didn't even know that was an option.  I did discuss with her that we had seen "Sophie" online and didn't want to block her from being considered by another family if someone saw her and called.  She told me that she had been on hold for our family since Day One (!), but that their priority was to advocate for her and so if anyone called they would create a pool of interested families to contact after we had made a decision.  Win-win for everyone.  Strangely, although we weren't any closer to making a decision than we had been before the phone call, I felt relieved when I hung up.  It almost felt like she had been given back to me, and I kind of liked that feeling.

On Tuesday, I gave up waiting for a phone call and called the office of the genetic counselors.  I spoke to their administrator, who was super nice (and an adoptive mom herself!) but who was really concerned about HIPAA and whether she could give out any information.  She called back and asked more questions later in the day, and made plans to call our social worker and get the ok to investigate further.  I felt like things were happening, so I was content to let them work on it for a bit and wait.  Other than praying for peace and clarity (and maybe checking out some baby girl clothes online!), we kind of tried not to think about things for a couple of days.

On Wednesday, I realized that EVERYTHING that I had written on my calendar for Monday and Tuesday either didn't happen or got changed.  Yes, I know that shouldn't be a big deal.  But to Type A planner-girl, crossing out that writing two days in a row made me twitch.  I wrote underneath it, "The best-laid plans of mice and men...God, what are you teaching us?"  I'm pretty sure He laughed.

Thursday was December 1.  Our sweet girl's birthday!  Halfway around the world, a little girl in a Foster Center was turning one.  When I walked into school, there was a gift hanging on my door.  My sweet next-door neighbor-friend had left me a card and a sweet plaque that said, "Celebrate every tiny victory."  I loved it and put it on my computer.  Every time I looked at it, I wondered if "Sophie" might be opening a gift or celebrating in China.  I thought about her all day!  That afternoon, a friend at school asked me about our girl.  I told her everything--what we knew, what we didn't know, and why we were afraid to say yes.  When I finished, I remember thinking, "That didn't sound so bad!" It was the first time that thought had crossed my mind since the phone call from the IAC, and it felt good!  Then, I decided on a whim to deliver one of our adoption shirts to a sweet friend who has also adopted from China.  I was only about three weeks late in delivering at that point, so the timing was "random."  Without sharing too much of her story, while we were talking she asked for an update and when I started to tell her what we had found, she understood completely.  It was the strangest and most comforting "coincidence" we had experienced at that point, and I started to feel a glimmer of hope that we really could make this work.  I began to feel like she was our sweet girl again, and although I didn't realize it then, God had started to whisper.

On Friday, we still hadn't heard from the genetic counselors.  We only had the weekend left, and then decision time was looming.  Yep--time for me to curl into the fetal position again.  I woke up early and had a great quiet time before school, during which I reminded God that we had 72 hours to make a decision (as if He didn't know).  I just really wanted HIS answer, and I wanted it to be clear!  

At lunch, I called the genetic counselors' office in Huntsville, and the administrator informed me that she had spoken to our social worker and that she was going to call us and refer us back to UAB.  Our social worker thought that the administrator was calling. one had called.  Womp womp.  We actually discussed driving to UAB and just sitting in an office until someone could talk to us, either that day or on Monday, or maybe even calling the IAC again over the weekend to try to get more information.  I actually wasn't even frustrated, because by this point, we really knew deep down that even if they could tell us that the medical report was correct, they couldn't tell us what that would mean for her future.  It just became a question of whether we would take the leap of faith.  After my conversations on Thursday, I was really feeling like she was our girl, but I thought that Zeke was leaning towards no.  We had already discussed it and knew that if both of us weren't 100% sure, we couldn't say yes.  Potentially walking into more intense special needs than we had anticipated meant that neither of us could ever have the opportunity to look back and question the other's role in our decision.  I had asked several close friends to pray that either God would give me a very loud "NO" or give Zeke a very loud "YES" over the next two days, and Courtney had prayed that morning that God would be so clear that she told me not to be afraid when He spoke aloud.  At that point, I was HOPING for that loud voice and writing on the wall!  I talked to our social worker again that afternoon and asked for her advice.  She  reassured me that if we said no, it was of no consequence to our family, and that our strength was knowing our family's capacity and being able to do what we knew was best for us.  She promised to pray with us over the weekend.  I felt better after I hung up with her and promised to talk to her again on Monday.  

Friday night, I started getting out Christmas decorations.  We were hosting our Sunday School Christmas party on Sunday, and had nothing done!  I started making a really big mess.  Around 7pm, I clicked on Facebook, and saw this picture:

My heart stopped, and I read the update and clicked the link.  Lifeline had added a video of the Foster Center Director talking about her, and it was fun to watch that and see what she had to say.  I kept decorating, and clicked on Facebook again around 1am.  There was a post in the Lifeline China group by another adoptive mom who had received PA for her sweet baby that day, FROM SUIXI.  She was asking if anyone was going to Suixi soon so that she could send some gifts.  I started reading the comments, and there were two ladies who said that they had seen her baby and could talk to her, because it was often helpful to be able to talk to someone who had actually laid eyes on your baby.  My heart started pounding, and I couldn't help it: I hijacked her Facebook post!  I posted that I was also a Lifeline mom with a file of a sweet girl from Suixi who needed more information by Monday, and asked both of these ladies to check their Facebook messages.  I sent two quick messages asking if they knew our baby and if they could give me more information about her.  I woke Zeke up to share what I had found with him.  We had said during the whole decision making process that if we couldn't just fly to China and see her and hold her ourselves to see how she was doing, we would love to talk to someone else who had seen her and held her and knew what she was like.  Here was our opportunity!  I sent friend requests so that maybe they would see the messages that I sent, and I finally went to bed a little after 2, exhausted yet excited.  God was getting louder.

I woke up Saturday morning and checked my messages.  Nothing yet.  I checked my email.  I saw this:

Really?  There she is again!  Apparently our girl IS a rockstar :)  A few minutes later, I received a message from one of the ladies that I had contacted.  She said that I could email her anytime!  That could have been the wrong thing to say, because I took her up on it.  She also said that she had been praying for her family since the first day she held her, and that she was easy to fall in love with.  I felt triumphant.  Ha! I knew it!  She is precious!  I sent an email introducing us and asking for information, and waited.  I ran some errands, had a great conversation with my mom about our decision, and headed back home.  I had been texting Courtney about all of these little coincidences all day, and she asked me that afternoon if I had heard anything yet.  I had just checked my email so I said no, then immediately refreshed my email, and there it was!  Of course, our new Lifeline friend didn't have a crystal ball, but she was able to say this:

What I will tell you though is she is a sweet, lovable little girl who has come a long way since the day I stood over her crib and looked down at her at Suixi.

Oh, my heart.  I needed to know that.  I needed to hear someone talk about her like she was a real person and not a medical file with scary words and lots of question marks.  I needed to know that she was a prize.  I needed to see her through the eyes of someone who loves her, and through a series of emails that she was so gracious to send on a Saturday, I saw that.  My heart gave in and I loved her too--without reservation.  I read and replied and forwarded emails, and Zeke and I laughed at some of the little stories that were shared.  Finally, he said, "Where are you?"  I just turned it around and said, "Where are YOU?" He said, "I'm about ready to just give this story to God and see what He does with it." I immediately started crying and said, "Me too!" It was the most amazing feeling of surrender and relief.  We curled up in the recliner together (he said he felt like he was holding Buddy the Elf.  Ha.) and prayed and thanked God for what He was doing in our lives and for choosing us to be Judy Lin's parents.  We felt incredibly honored and grateful.  And relieved.  All of that potentially scary stuff somehow melted away once we called her daughter.  Whatever comes, she is ours, and from now on we will all handle it together.  

When I shared with Zeke that I thought he was going to say no, he showed me what he had been working on while I was gone.  He was trying to figure out how to space out SIX stockings on our mantle and make it look right.  The proof?  He had six little hooks sitting on the mantle.  I had to take a picture.

At this point, we shared with our family and close friends that we were ready to say yes to our girl!  We really wanted to shout it from the rooftops but had to contain it until we officially said yes and China officially accepted us.  On Sunday, I thought of one more question for our new friend at Lifeline and sent a final email.  She replied, and I was able to tell her that we were saying yes on Monday morning.  This time, her reply was my favorite:

To add to her story...I carried her out of the orphanage that day in April, took her to the hospital held her while they examined her and held her as they did x-rays and just held her whenever I could while we were there. I will never forget my time with her and I hope one day we can sit down and share stories. At that time in April I was praying she would survive. Then as she started thriving my prayers turned into prayers that she would she have a mama and that she would live in Alabama. :-) This sweet girl stole my heart! And I am thrilled that she will be in Alabama!!!

I felt like it was confirmation that our girl was meant to be ours.  I emailed our social worker and let her know to expect our phone call on Monday morning!  Finally, Monday afternoon, December 5, we officially said YES to our sweet girl.  We don't know what the future holds for her, but for that matter, we don't know what the future holds for any of us.  We just know for certain that by the time we said yes on that rainy Saturday afternoon, it felt like God was shouting at us through "coincidences" and feelings and conversations.  We know how it felt to say that yes and feel the peace that we had made the right decision.  And we know that looking back, there are even more coincidences--when she was in the hospital in April, fighting for her life, I had written on my calendar that "My heart is heavy for China today."  I was praying for Judy Lin without even knowing what to pray.  On our anniversary, she was having bloodwork done so that she could have a file created that would get her to us.  And on the day that I was randomly spontaneous and outspoken, so was Mr. Newell, who, in his owns words, typically doesn't mention specific children to waiting families.  

We are blessed and honored that we were chosen for her and she was chosen for us.  We cannot WAIT to go to China and bring our girl home.  More than anything, we want her story to be seen as His story.  We believe now, more than ever, that things don't happen by chance.  Yes, we could have adopted any one of the 153 million orphans in the world.  It would have been what we are called to do and it would have been amazing, but HE placed HER with US.  He does SET the lonely in families.  (Psalm 68:6)  This is not random; it's not an accident or a fluke.  He has had plans for our sweet Judy Lin since before the Earth was formed, and we are so excited to have a front-row seat to watch it all unfold.

So without further ado, we would like to introduce to you our daughter, Judy Lin Terry. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Adoption Update: Raising our Ebenezer, Part One

Before we forget all of the tiny details that led us to saying YES to our girl, I want to raise our Ebenezer--to write down everything so that one day, when Judy Lin asks how she came to be a part of our family, I can tell her that, without a shadow of a doubt, God placed her here.  There may be nothing else that we are sure of at this point, but we are certain of that.  This is her story.

**Edited:  This is the FIRST part of her story.  I'm too wordy.

On November 11 and 12, Zeke and I went to Birmingham for Crossings training with Lifeline.  That weekend, we were privileged to meet Gabe and Melissa Ross in person.  They shared with us that Herbie Newell, the director of Lifeline, would be speaking at Lifepoint on Sunday for Orphan Sunday, and they invited us to join them.  We had missed the two previous Sundays at Trinity because of gymnastics meets, so we discussed it but decided not to go.

Sunday morning, I woke up overwhelmed.  Why is it that Sundays can be the stinkiest days of the week?  After being gone all weekend, Monday was looming almost from the time my eyes opened, and all I could see was my to-do list.  We decided to go to small groups at Trinity and then head to the grocery store to start checking things off the list ASAP.  When Sunday School was over, I looked at Zeke and in an uncharacteristic moment of spontaneity said, "Let's just get the kids and head to Lifepoint.  Want to?"  If you know Zeke, you know he thrives on spur of the moment, so off we went.

Herbie Newell didn't just speak.  He preached.  He had just returned from a trip to China on Friday, but jet lag didn't seem to have kicked in; I was scribbling furiously, trying to keep up.  At one point, he told the story of visiting an orphanage in Suixi.  He said that the two things that you noticed when you arrived were the stench from babies lying in their own waste, and the silence.  With 150 babies crammed into a tiny space, you could still hear a pin drop.  The babies had realized that no one was responding to them, so they had quit crying.  However, a baby had been dropped off on the orphanage steps just a couple of days earlier, and was crying loudly.  His words haunted me: "That baby had not yet learned the secret of Suixi."  I sat for a few minutes, and then wrote a note to Zeke on the back of my sermon notes: "So can we ask him for that crying baby at Swayshe?"  He just raised an eyebrow and kept listening.

After the service, we spoke to the Newell family (who sat right in front of us), and mentioned that we were a Lifeline China family.  Herbie asked where we were in our process, and I said, "We are just waiting to be matched.  So...if there's a little crying girl in an orphanage in Suixi, we are available!" (It was a weird day.  I was spontaneous and overly outspoken, all within a couple of hours.)  He asked us for our age parameters, and asked about our special needs considerations.  I started talking about what boxes we had checked (ha!), and he said, "Heart condition?"  I looked at Zeke, and we both nodded.  He said something along the lines of, "That's all I can say right now," and I honestly can't remember how the rest of the conversation went or how it ended.  My brain was in a fog and my stomach was in knots!

We got back to the car and I looked at Zeke and said, "Did we just ask for our baby girl?"  He said, "I'm not sure, but it really feels like something happened!"  We couldn't shake the feeling that something was going on.  We went to lunch, I ate less than half of mine, and Zeke ate both his and mine.  It's how we cope.  Ha.

That evening, after a day of nerves and an entire to-do list derailed by one conversation, I emailed our social worker to tell her about the conversation.  I also may or may not have called on Monday to repeat the story and reiterate to her that, no matter what our paperwork said, we were ok with a heart condition, especially if it belonged to one crying little girl from Suixi.  I felt a little crazy, but I did want her to have a heads-up in case she heard anything about it on her end ;).  She told me that most of that team that had just returned from China wasn't in yet, but if she found out anything, she would let us know.  We were a bit deflated because we had both just felt like something was happening.  Nothing had really changed for us in the process, so we just prayed for that little girl in Suixi and kept waiting.

On Wednesday afternoon, my phone rang.  My sweet class knew that I was waiting on an adoption call and would answer any 205 area codes that popped up.  When I saw the Lifeline number, my heart started pounding.  The first words our social worker said were, "Lisa, this is kind of crazy, but I have a file for your family to review.  It's the little girl that Herbie was talking about Sunday...that little crying baby from Suixi."  Um, yes God?  WOW.  She emailed the file, but Kinley had a dentist appointment that day and I had already shut down my computer.  I couldn't look at much of it from my phone.  I skimmed over the medical info, but really the only thing I focused on was this picture:

I was immediately smitten with that smile!  Zeke and I talked for a minute, I picked Kinley up and showed it to her, and called my parents.  We all agreed that she was precious and that she really looked like a Judy Lin, and I started trying to forward her file to our pediatrician.  When I got to the dentist office, I noticed that she had genetic testing done.  I saw things about chromosomes and some ??? (the file had been translated from Chinese and apparently it didn't all translate) and my heart stopped.  Of course, Dr. Google is not much help when you are a panicked mom holding a baby, much less to a panicked mom who hasn't even physically laid eyes on a baby who is halfway across the world!  So, for the rest of the night, we did some research and looked at the many pictures that came with her file.  

The next day I spoke to our social worker.  "Sophie," as her file was named, was referred to us as a baby with CHD, but at this point we were most unsure about the genetic testing.  Our family was given until the Monday after Thanksgiving--an extended time period due to the holiday--to make a decision about moving forward with adoption.  I called the International Adoption Clinic at UAB to have her file reviewed, and settled in to wait again.  We looked at pictures, repeatedly consulted Dr. Google, called friends and asked for favors from geneticists, and prayed for this sweet girl and our decision.

On Friday, I still had not heard from the IAC or the pediatrician.  I called again, and apparently none of the files I had sent to any doctors went through because of their size.  I resent everything, and began a 3-day wait for their analysis. All day, I had this picture on my computer, and her little eyes seemed to look straight into me.  

By Friday afternoon, I was almost ready to throw caution to the wind and call the adoption agency and just say yes.  

My Friday night plans included a hair appointment and CrossFit.  I made it to the gym early, and my phone rang in the car as I pulled in to the parking lot.  No three-day wait necessary!  It was the IAC with information about our file, so I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and scribbled notes down as the doctor talked.  The heart condition, Tetralogy of fallot, seemed pretty textbook and a relatively easy fix.  One (OPEN-HEART!) surgery, and she should be ok there.  The unknown is the genetic testing.  She went through some scenarios of what it could mean, and encouraged us to go back to the parameters that we had set for ourselves at the outset of our adoption journey--before we saw any photos or video of this precious girl that might sway our opinion about what we thought our family could handle.  It was great advice, but my heart was broken.  I couldn't even call Zeke.  The information that I had been given was more than I thought we could handle--definitely more than we had planned for.  I walked in to the gym, and when friends asked for an update and if I had heard from any of the doctors, I broke down.  I was going to call Zeke and discuss it with him, but decided to just wait until after class. I knew he was falling in love with that little face already and I just didn't want to share.  When I did call him, we were both upset.  We agreed to just keep praying and see what our pediatrician said, but I couldn't keep from feeling that it was over.  I sat on the couch and ugly cried that night for almost an hour after our kiddos went to sleep.  Just hours earlier, I was ready to say yes to this little girl, and with one 15-minute phone call, I felt like someone had taken her from me.  It wasn't a fun night.

Over the course of the next week, we tried to convince ourselves that saying no would be ok, and sweet friends and family reminded us that they would think no less of us and that it would be ok either way.  We heard from our pediatrician, who restated the uncertainty of her medical file.  We kept praying, but were probably leaning towards saying no.  The closer we got to our deadline, the more I began to find my normal comfort zone with decision-making: I like to just curl up into a little ball and wait until the decision-making time has passed, because usually at some point a natural conclusion occurs and I don't have to actively make a decision.  Unfortunately for me, this situation wouldn't resolve that way.  I was going to have to give someone a yes or a no, like it or not.    

Part Two to come soon!  

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Adoption Update: Home Study Process

We've had several people ask recently about our adoption process.  An update is long overdue!

We started our home study at the end of January.  For more information on Meeting #1, click here.  When we left off at that post, we were busy working on our autobiographies and collecting paperwork.

The autobiographies turned out to be quite a job!  We had those infamous four pages of questions to answer, and boy, did we answer them.  Zeke Terry is a writer, in case you didn't know.  His descriptions of his parents were on point, and he painted the most beautiful picture of their personalities and their relationship to each other.  It was interesting to go back through our lives--from childhood to now--and think about who and what has made us who we are today.  There were lots of tears shed and all the feelings felt.  Maybe someday I'll post part of that here.

While we were writing our autobiographies, we were also chasing paperwork all over town.  We had to go to the doctor for physicals, to the lab for bloodwork, to the courthouse for marriage certificate copies, to a local printer for fingerprints, to our employers for verifications of employment...the list goes on and on.  The doctor's appointments were our biggest God moments during this part of the process.  Zeke and I have wanted to adopt for a long time, but his part of the "elephant" was getting healthier and going to the doctor.  We weren't super healthy ourselves during that time of prayer about adopting, and he had a family history not only of bad health, but of bad news at doctor's offices, so he wanted nothing to do with this part of the process.  We are in better health now, thanks to our favorite new CrossFit hobby, but he still looked like he was about to bolt when I walked in to the doctor's office the day he was waiting.  (Just for clarification, I didn't go to hold his hand--I was there picking up my paperwork from the week before and getting my TB skin test checked!)  Only God--and love for a little girl across the ocean that we haven't yet met--could make him go in to that office for that appointment.  And only God could turn his biggest fear into our biggest praise.  Great test results, a clean bill of health, and signed adoption paperwork are all ours.  Yay God!

My doctor's appointment was both a Jesus moment and an opportunity to share Jesus that I had never anticipated.  While I sat on the exam table (yuck) and waited...and waited...I thought, I really don't want to do this.  But it hit me that Jesus didn't want to go to the cross either.  (Luke 22:42)  And yet He did that, so that He could adopt me.  (Galatians 4:5) This tiny doctor's appointment--an inconvenience in my day--is nothing compared to His sacrifice.  And if one of my three babies who have a name and a face in my heart were across the ocean, and someone told me all I had to do is go get a checkup so that I can go get them, I'd wait as long as it took.  And then the waiting paid off!  Everyone that day--from the nurse to the lab technician--was interested in hearing more about adoption.  I left the hospital that day with my hands raised in praise to the One who writes our story and places people in our path with whom to share it.  We have prayed from the beginning that God would be glorified through this process and that we would have opportunities to share about Him, and that day was the first of what will hopefully be many answers to our prayer!

While we were collecting paperwork and writing our autobiographies, we received a phone call from Lifeline.  Our sweet social worker who came to our house for our first home study left, and we were assigned a new social worker.  Lifeline was amazing--we had no less than three phone calls in 24 hours, assuring us that our family was still loved for, prayed for, and that no one would drop the ball on our adoption process.  We now have a new sweet social worker who, true to their word, is taking good care of us and working diligently to help us get this home study complete!

After turning in our autobiographies, we were ready to schedule home study visit #2: the individual interviews.  Cue scary music.  Would we say the same things?  Would we say the right things?  I turned in my autobiography first, so I scheduled my meeting and met our new social worker on a Wednesday afternoon at Starbucks in Huntsville.  A good excuse for coffee sounded like a great idea at first, until I realized that it was PACKED and I was about to discuss my entire life story with people sitting all around us.  Um, oops.  I decided to just own my crazy and let it be ok, but I was definitely nervous about putting it all out there in a crowded public place!

We were out of town the week after my individual interview, so Zeke scheduled his interview for the week we returned.  Unfortunately our social worker, who usually does domestic adoptions, had a birth mother situation come up and had to reschedule.  Then, she was called for jury duty the next week, and Zeke was out of town the following week.  My glass-half-full mentality tells me that God is up to something, but the control freak in me has been chomping at the bit with all of the delays!  I'm anxious to look backwards at this sometime and see God's hand at work in the waiting...I know in hindsight it will make more sense!  Finally, they met last week at Starbucks in Madison and checked his interview off the list.

We have a couple of online education pieces to complete before our (hopefully!) FINAL INTERVIEW for our home study on May 9!  We are waiting on the audit of our file, but we have what we hope are all of the final pieces of paperwork to turn in that day.  We were prepared for a 3-4 month process for the home study, and although we had hoped that it might be shorter, it looks like we are right on target, and hopefully by the end of May our home study will be complete and we will be on to the next step!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Adoption Update: Home Study Begins!

It's been a while since our last update!  Life got a little crazy in the late fall, and we decided to wait until after Christmas to begin our home study.  Our first big payment to our agency and Christmas coming at the same time was quite a combination!  We can't explain why, but we felt a peace about it, so we decided it was ok to wait.  During our waiting, I went back and forth from "God, how in the world are we going to do this?" to, "God, you are amazing us already!"  His provision exceeds our expectations every time.

We contacted our Social Worker at Lifeline and made plans to hold our first phone interview on January 13.  We had a great conversation with her about who we were, our decision to adopt, and what to expect during the process of adopting from China.  I, of course, took notes, and Zeke sat and absorbed the conversation and made me laugh.  I think our social worker could be our daughter...she is precious and sweet but sounded so young on the phone.  Zeke really got me tickled when she told us about the Lifeline China Facebook group and said that she didn't really do Facebook but thought we could just search for it and join.  His face was priceless!  Of course, she could just really be one of those people who refrains from using social media, but he's convinced that all the cool kids are on some other social media platform now and all of us old people are still hanging out in Facebook land.  I think my favorite part of the call was when we hung up.  Zeke turned to me and said, "Well, I guess we're pregnant!"

After our phone call, we were contacted by the social worker from the Lifeline Huntsville office who will actually handle our home study.  We wanted to get started as soon as possible, and so on January 27, we had Home Study Visit #1.  Wow!  We were so anxious.  We had been cautioned not to make things perfect and not to clean from top to bottom, but honestly, it was so hard not to want everything to look like a magazine!  It seems like a lot of pressure for someone to come in and judge whether our home is fit for a child--especially since there are three already here!  It will be a little hard to explain if we fail this part.  So, armed with our shiny new fire extinguisher tucked away in a cabinet and guns tucked into our newly drilled and reprogrammed gun safe, we waited.

When our Social Worker arrived, she came to our front door.  We don't even know the doorbell code (one door has one ding and the other has two) and so it took us a minute to get to the door.  She came in and said we would dive right in, so we walked to the Keeping Room.  She wanted to sit so that she could see both of our faces at once, which we thought was amusing!  She explained that the Home Study process could be an introspective time in our lives and that we could use it as a tool for growth, to take our family from a "good" family to an exceptional family, or that we could view it as a checklist.  Of course, mushy ol' me was ready to take that checklist and GROW!  I love the idea of God working in and through our Home Study.  Sign me up for that anytime!

She then said that we wouldn't waste any time, so she started asking questions immediately.   The questions ran the gamut from questions about work, to questions about how we handle arguments, to questions about how our parents handled arguments.  It was quite interesting!  My favorite was when she said, "Lisa, how do you know Zeke loves you?"  I answered (because he is the most selfless person in our household and always puts me first, if you want to know my answer :), and then she said, "Zeke, how do you know Lisa loves you?"  His first reply was, "uhhhh..." and I think I jabbed him in the ribs with my elbow and said, "You had to know that was coming!"  We all laughed, and she mentioned that she could always tell who to start with when asking questions.  Um yes, I guess I'm the talker.  At least until he gets to know you.  Ha.  (And just for the record, he did make me cry when he finally answered!)

When she finished asking questions, we took her on a tour of our home.  My favorite part was the kitchen:  she said, "Do you have a fire extinguisher?"  And I said, "YES!  Would you like to see it?  It's shiny and new and we bought it just for you, so please look at it!"  She laughed with us and admitted that she doesn't even have one at her house.  You can fuss at me in the comments, and I don't know why, but we have never had one!  (Ok, I guess I do know, and it's probably because neither of us grew up with a fire extinguisher in the home.  Ha.)

The entire visit only took a little less than two hours, and we were finished.  We will have three more meetings as we gather paperwork, and during these we will discuss our marriage, our family and parenting styles, and what to expect during the adoption process.  She did leave us with an assignment: writing our autobiographies.  We have four pages of questions that have to be answered in our autobiographies, and these have to be turned in before we can meet again!  It's the carrot she's dangling for us :)

Probably the funniest part of our first meeting has come in the aftermath.  For the first week or so, it seemed that every day Zeke would remember a different question that she had asked and try to read into it.  He is convinced that there was some psychological voodoo going on below the surface and he's dying to read her little notebook that she was writing in while we were talking :)

That's it for now...we are busy writing our autobiographies (or procrastinating; hence, a blog post!) and collecting papers.  I have another post planned to detail our paper chasing--look for it soon!  Until then, we would be so grateful for your prayers as we fill out paperwork, fingerprint, and write!