Monday, February 27, 2012

Almost 3 (gulp)!

My babies turn 3 in a week . ..something that seems totally surreal.

My mom came in town for a couple days this past week. The girls loved the chance to spend a little time with Grandma . .. and I think Grandma was a little happy to see them. : )

They got to open a little present early before Grandma headed back home.
Hooray for new swimsuits!
Such silly girls : )

Kate and Olivia's Turn

Since Kate and Olivia only go to preschool 1 day a week, their party was until the thursday after valentine's day. They picked out their kitty valentines and were excited to wear their Valentine's presents from Grandma.

This picture makes me laugh because Kate looks so much shorter than Olivia . . .but she is crouching folks. : ) But I like how when their hair is pulled back like this it helps others see more of their differences to their faces.
Is there anything better than a twin? Somedays, they really make me want one for my own. : )
My 3 girls - growing up SO fast!

a letter for her teacher

The other night as we were winding down, Ava came downstairs with an intent look in her eye and a piece of paper and pencil.

As she often does through out every day, she sat down at the table and asked me, "Mom, how do you spell . . ."
and this is what she proceeded to have me spell out for her.
Ava 4 (her typical signature)
I love you Mrs. Masten. You are a good teacher.

Don't you wish you were a preschool teacher? Love it.

because she just makes me smile

Friday, February 24, 2012

making more progress!

Happy Valentines' Day! (a little late)

The girls and I enjoyed little bits of Valentine's fun this year while Daddy was busy working.

Ava's preschool party was the day before Valentine's. She was quite excited to take her Tangled Valentine's Cards to hand out with school.

All dressed and ready to go.
That night, the girls and I had some fun making valentine's cookies to give away. When it comes to helping in the kitchen, I always have 3 VERY enthusiastic helpers. With all 3 girls helping, I admit, sometimes it has to be such a conscious choice to include them all but it's fun to see them all enjoy it so much.
Sisters - Ava and Kate
Ready to decorate the first few from the oven
Olivia gets to work
Kate shows me her progress
two of Ava's finished products
Valentine's Day rolled around and we all got to head off to Bible Study Fellowship in their valentine's gear (thanks Grandma Great!!).

Happy Birthday Aunt Callie!

We got to celebrate Aunt Callie's birthday up at Grandma's house. The girls were very excited to help her blow out the candles to her cake.
Then I had decided we didn't have any good shots of Aunt Callie with the 3 girls and wanted to get one . . . .we quickly figured out why.

Being silly
Not looking
Sick of mom and the camera
lost a child
new child sick of mom's camera
The good news for Callie? She's just as pretty this year as she was last year. : )

I'll start working on the girls for our next attempt.

waiting up for daddy . . .

she was SOOOOOOOO tired.
that may have been a lie.

4 1/2

When you're an august baby, your half birthday is a big deal! Treats to school and just for a fun, a little cake to enjoy at home.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Adoptions and Ethiopia

When different people have asked me about our adoption process and the changes going on, I've tried to explain some of the "why" behind all the seemingly "stand still" that we're seeing. Another mom from my agency spelled it out for in a great way.

With her permission, I thought I'd post most of her explanation here. It can help you all know how to pray more specifically for the changes that need to come and just understand it all a little better.

She was addressing, more specifically, why it's taking so much time for any child to become paperwork ready to refer and consequently, referrals are happening so slowly and our agency's home in Ethiopia is only half full (as they only bring in children paperwork ready).

"Actually, MOST of the extra paperwork that is going into each child is related to the embassy stage. I cannot begin to explain the VAST numbers of hours that the HH staff (our agency's staff in Ethiopia) is having to put into investigating ALL the cases that have already been submitted to embassy. And DOUBLE the number of hours related to all the files that are now in Nairobi. I just don't know how it is humanly possible to be spending that much time researching new referrals until these current cases have finally passed.

. . . Right now their resources
(our agency's) are stretched very thin dealing with all these cases.

It used to be that getting a child paper ready for court (
Ethiopia's court) was the headache, but what the DOS is requiring now at the embassy makes that look easy. MOWA (Ethiopia government) is truly not the problem right now. Almaz (head of our agency's home in Ethiopia) won't take in a child unless she can be sure that they will pass embassy, and right now that is extremely challenging because what it takes to pass the embassy level is changing.

There is currently a power struggle going on between the DOS
(Department of State) and the ET government. The DOS is trying to strong arm the ET govt into going Hague. Last year ET flatly said "no" and instituted the change with MOWA as their alternative solution. But even so, the DOS was not appeased and has not changed their position. The DOS is now trying to make things miserable with the ET people (being rude to birth parents, insulting the police officers, etc) to bully the ET government into changing. It is very complicated and difficult to properly convey the tense political dynamic here.

Also, there is a little struggle between the DOS and USCIS. The DOS has flatly refused to let the USCIS have an office at the USE
(United States Embassy) in Addis. Which I really don't understand. Anyway, the DOS uses the US criminal standard of proof- beyond a shadow of a doubt. They have the attitude that ALL orphans are probably NOT orphaned and we have to prove that they are. The USCIS uses the US civil court standard of proof- the preponderance of evidence, meaning, this child is, more likely than not, an orphan. Having these two conflicting standards also is causing problems.

As long as this situation is what it is, the number of referrals will be slow. Because right now Almaz is having to 1)focus on getting these current cases passed and 2)find children who will make it all the way through the embassy mess. Which would explain why she might feel like she just can't take in abandonment cases anymore- so far EVERY abandonment case has gone to Nairobi."

We want, in every way possible, to ensure that adoption happens in an ethical way. Families staying together is always our first prayer and I feel like we need to be doing as much as we can to enable families to stay together as much as we work to support and pursue adoption.
But the heart breaking part of this whole situation is that the most vulnerable are being hurt. The mother who can not let her family know she's had a child for fear of retribution or isolation, the parent who is overwhelmed by sickness or poverty and out of desperation, leaves her or his child at the door of an orphanage praying their child will find a family who can care for him/her and provide in the way he/she desires. I understand it's those same families that are probably also most vulnerable to bribery and corruption . . .but there has to be a better way than what is happening right now.

So keep praying - we're trusting God to continue to be the One who CAN move mountains.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

January Numbers

I'm a little late in posting but we did receive our January Numbers at the end of the month.

Girl Number: 101

Boy Number: 80

Can I ask for your prayers for the Ethiopia adoption program? Across agencies everywhere, the program feels much at a stand still. While much of this slow down occurred last year when Ethiopia's MOWA decreased the number of adoptions they were processing, the huge delays and slow downs are now largely due to our own US Embassy. Children are passing court in Ethiopia (and legally adopted in the Ethiopia court system) but hold ups in our government are what are preventing them from coming home.

I could go into many details, but really, we just all need your prayers. As the wait stretches longer and longer, to be this far back and see so little movement can get discouraging. Not to mention the families who thought their children would be home long ago and wait at the top, or even more so, the families who have known their child's face, held them in their arms, and are waiting on our own government just to bring them home.

We did not begin this journey for a "fast adoption." We didn't begin this journey for an "easy adoption." We began this journey because God called us to it. So we will sit and trust and wait. . .

Monday, February 6, 2012

Created for Care

My time at the create for care retreat feels in alot of ways unexplainable. I told Ryan I didn't quite realize how much I needed it until I got there and as I sat in my first breakout session and got to just soak in truths about my identity in Christ. Sometimes I forget how intense this whole "motherhood" thing can be. I forget to come back where it all really starts. I forget it begins with God and me . . .not in who I feel I am as a wife or a mom.

Motherhood is hard. It's intense. Some days it feels bigger than me. And while I love my girls and couldn't imagine doing any thing else, it's been easy to become discouraged lately as we face some of the same struggles over and over. So to be able to just sit there and let the truths of my identity in Christ wash over me again and step away from the busyness? Such a blessing. And it gave me such an excitement to come home and keep working to make sure I build a solid identity in Christ in the hearts of each of our girls and the children God may still bless us with.

God's been showing us a lot lately - so can I just ask that you keep us in your prayers? That we can know God's continued direction in our life as a family and keep seeking Him first? He continues to show He is faithful in everything.

I actually took very few pictures. So much of the first day was a lot of soaking in, meeting some incredible women and just God doing a lot of peeling back some layers. A lot of tears and a lot of worship.

Plus I did mention there was some incredible women speaking and teaching incredible truths? Lots more tears. Lots of laughs. And so much learned.

A few of my "AGCI" family. I firmly believe there isn't another adoptive community out there like the AGCI family within our adoption agency. To be blessed with women who are so honest, prayerful and willing to walk the trenches of adoption with you? I can't begin to tell you how thankful I am as this journey stretches out further in front of us.

One of my roommates, Catherine. She has two little girls right around the ages of our own monkeys and she was a friend from the get go. It was so fun to walk into the room technical strangers (although friends through facebook : ) ) and have an instant friend to share the weekend with.
One of my favorite moments of the entire weekend.
One night after the evening's events were over, most of the moms from AGCI who were at the retreat were able to spend time together "officially" introducing ourselves and just spending time in prayer together.
My roommates for the weekend - so neat to meet these girls and hear how God has moved in their own adoption stories. We can't wait to see how He continues to work.
My other favorite of the weekend? Worship.
I felt like the pictures couldn't begin to capture how much God used this time to speak to my heart. One of my recent favorites you can hear here. Love to let the words just wash over me.
Love these girls and their hearts . . .and yes, this is sunday afternoon.
I'm half sleep walking and I think about cried out . . . : )
Catherine, Cheri and I all got in thursday night and were roomies that night before the rest of retreat came in and started on friday. I loved the chance to get to know these ladies, their stories and just relax before it all began.
On my way out of the lodge, you have to drive down this lane that overlooks the huge lake. The sun was out and shining beautifully and it just matched so much of what I felt God had done for me: the renewal and the promise of His faithfulness.
It's all I can do not to head back in March : ) but am already praying God can make a way for me to head back next year.

But SPEAKING OF MARCH, I am SOO excited and SO thankful for the support given through the Ordinary Fundraiser/Give away I posted about. We DID win - and I am so excited to know that my own friend, Mindy, will get to go and be blessed in so many of the same ways I was and have that time with her sister-in-law too. Not to mention I feel blessed by the support raised towards our own adoption. The sales that are sending them to the retreat (the prize for winning) helped raise a little over $500 to apply towards our still remaining adoptions costs!!! Did I mention God is faithful? Can't wait to hear about their own trip.

How He loves us!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

time in georgia

Ava and I loved the time we got to spend in Georgia at my sister's. It was a fun getaway in the midst of a busy time of year for us.

Rough life: airplane ride, snacks, a movie
I was worried Ava would might get bored during the day while Sophie and Cole were at school? No need to worry. Within a couple hours of them being gone, she had all the toys arranged in the upstairs to her liking and was having a ball.

Not to mention the fact that she had her beloved Oliver to keep her company. They picked up right where they left off, spending the days together and him sleeping beside her at night. You may remember some past Oliver loving here or here. : )
Watching a movie with Oliver

And with that I headed off to Created for Care . .. let's just say the pictures Amy texted me while I was there more than assured me I wasn't being missed. : )

I came back sunday night in time to send Ken and Amy off to a fundraiser . . . (don't they look good together : ) )
and spend my night having fun with these 3!
Ava & Sophie
Cole and me
Some more snuggles for Oliver
And then it was time to get serious. A movie and ice cream were waiting!
One happy little girl: vacation, her cousin . . .and did I mention, Oliver?
Me and my first baby girl.
While there are times our similarities (and differences!) can make for a roller coaster ride, I love our times together. I was thankful for the time to get away and just to love on her. Can hardly believe she heads off to kindergarten next year!!!