Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Next Steps and "what about Ethiopia?!"

Thanks for stepping into the joy of where God has led us.

Thanks for having hope for the remainder of this journey.

We need that moving forward these next couple months.

Sharing that story, it is easy to sit and get comfortable in the beautiful parts of it.

Yet I am sure there were some of you reading through that who were feeling guarded for us and its unknown ahead . . .but with the journey we are walking, I desperately needed to share the beauty and clarity of what God has done separate from the "what if's."

Because this is what I am daily reminding myself.

Every detail God has provided and shown us thus far is not negated by the fact the ending of this story isn't known yet.

He is not less faithful if we fly to Texas and come home with empty arms.

I need to write that.  I need to speak that.  I need to claim that.

Because yes, here is the truth that still lingers in our story . . .we don't yet know the ending.

And there begins our next steps.

1.  Baby is due January 27th.  Mom will have a scheduled c-section so unless she goes into labor early, we will be able to know how to plan and schedule flying down there.  We are blessed that at this point, birth mom does want us there.  We are planning and holding loosely to that as we want to honor her, her heart and her journey . . .and her choices in all of this.

2.  After birth, birth mom has 48 hours before she signs relinquishment papers.  There is no way of knowing how that will go.  We are trusting God has brought us here and knows the ending.  We are trusting He goes with us either way.

There are parts to that unknown that caused us to really debate even sharing about all this until it was done to protect our hearts, the hearts of our girls, and just so many pieces of this story.  We have sat with this fear.  I have watched too many of those I love walk the hard of adoption and adoption journeys that have gone differently than they would have chosen to write to claim ignorance or naivety.

But I feel like God has asked us to count these costs and still called us to this.  He has asked us if it is still worth it if it doesn't go through and our answer is yes.  I go back to that session we sat in on at Summit and if this was only for birth mom to know that she and her baby are precious, it will have been right.

It's excruciating to sit there.

In our hearts, this is our son. 

Our girls have been told there is yet a chance his birth mom could decide she wants him to grow up with her.  We have talked about it as simply and age appropriately as we can as their questions allowed us to share this part of the story with them very naturally. Yet we aren't sitting there in the fear with them and we can't sit there either.  It is a daily battle to hand this all to God and so we plead and ask for your prayers.

3.  Once mom signs termination papers, we will have to stay there for essentially the two states "to talk."  We are told this can take between 7 -14 days (there are so many jokes I want to make here but won't). We are planning roughly 10 days but will take it as it comes.  After that we are praying we will be able to bring home our son and began the transition to a family of six!

4. What about Ethiopia?!

Our heart is that this is a concurrent adoption.  So when I say this journey has been as much about handing two adoptions to God as it has been about one, I mean that in every sense of the word.  This detour has thrown our current age parameters (0 -3) out the window as our agency has a strict birth order rule (so our Ethiopian child will have to be younger than this little guy).  They also won't place two adoptions close together as they feel the family needs to focus on the current attaching and bonding (this is me sharing their policies - not said in judgement). So we will go on hold for a year once the adoption is finalized (as they too recognize nothing is final yet).

We have had to grapple with all of these details.  Because of some incredible number crunching friends :), I do know our current numbers with our Ethiopian agency (best guess of course) are 44 for a girl and 30 for a boy.  With those numbers and our parameters, that could have been one month to two years left to wait (how is that for estimates!!!).  I have had to ask myself is this journey still right if a referral goes out that we might have "otherwise gotten."  One day as I really wrestled with that, it was as if as clear as day, God whispered to me, "then that wasn't your child."  We can't control every detail of this story and we don't need to.  I am also daily reminding myself of that.  Some days that is easier said than done.

So that all sums up to the simple fact that praying our domestic adoption goes through, the earliest we would receive an Ethiopian referral is January of 2015.

5.  What about birth mom?  Here is what we can tell you. Birth mom is African American. Birth mom is young.  Birth mom is incredibly courageous.  Birth mom made the choice for life and for that we honor her and thank God for her.  There may be some of you that as circumstances and relationships allow, you may learn more of her and our child's story.  But beyond that, we really ask that you honor her story as you would want your own story to be honored if you were in her shoes.

It is easy to want to write a really good story or share a really good story.  But this is our child's story and her story too.  Both are sacred to us.  So we just ask for your grace as we navigate that all together.  Please don't be afraid to ask, just please know that there may be pieces of the journey we hold close for our child and for her yet and I want you to understand the why.

And with that, I'll sign off for now.  Thanks for walking this journey with us.  We are so grateful for each you!!!

Monday, December 2, 2013

We have a son! Our journey.

It seems surreal to type those words.

It seems a little anxious to write those words.

But it feels so good to write those words.

As some of you may know, whether through word of mouth or facebook, we were super thankful to share this thanksgiving that we are expecting a little baby boy!!!

The twist and turn of this journey, as only God can write, is that this little boy will not come from across the ocean in Ethiopia, but will be born to a precious birth mom in Texas . . .due THIS January 27th!


So are we.  : )

And in that we find comfort as this story is one that only God could have written.

We've been asked for the story, the "how" of how we got here. Not only do we want to share with all of you who have been praying and loving us through the waiting of these past 3 years, but we want to share so we will remember and tell what good things He has done and is doing.

To really share how God has been weaving this story I need to back track just a bit (I can never make it simple, don't you know yet?!).

This past May, Ryan and I were blessed to be able to attend Summit in Nashville.  It is a gathering of those with a heart for orphan care, adoption, and foster care.  There is so much good info, incredible breakout sessions, solid teaching and ministry opportunities.  Ryan and I chose most of our breakout sessions based on our upcoming adoption from Ethiopia . . .but we wanted to be open to other ministry opportunities and we both were drawn to an session entitled something like "Abortion and the Church" (as I work to retell from a faulty memory).  We both felt pulled and walked in, neither knowing quite what to expect.

This session changed both Ryan and I.   It was a session you can't pretend you haven't heard.  But what really impacted us both was that it talked less about abortion itself and spoke more of how the church is failing birth mom's, vulnerable moms, teen moms . . .and how we bear much of the responsibility their roads sometimes otherwise take.

At the end of the conference, Ryan and I went out for dessert, partly to celebrate my birthday, but partly to just talk through all we had sat through those two days and what God had been speaking.  We dreamed big  - even speaking out loud what might otherwise feel like the absurd.  Some of our dreams involved how God might use our family and birth moms.  We wrote some of those down.  And we put them in God's hands and asked Him to keep leading our family and its future.  I firmly believe God knew we needed to be in that session for where He has us now.

A month or so later I was watching a friend's baby boy for part of the day.  On that particular day, my heart was aching with the wait and for our child.  The past month or so had been especially hard. I can look back in notes, emails, writings, just speaking over and over about working to surrender an urgency I felt for our child amidst a wait that seemed to stretch out unending in front of us.  The two didn't make sense to coexist and yet there I was, aching and waiting, amidst a very real urgency for our child.

As I rocked this sweet baby to sleep and then held him as he slept, I snapped a picture on my phone and sent it to a couple close adoptive friends and just shared how thankful I was to God that day for letting my tender heart get to snuggle and love another friend's little one that day.

I still remember getting an instant text back from one.  My friend Rory shared this,

"Amber, I gasped as I saw your picture.  Because as I have been praying for your adoption this week I felt God whisper He might have something different for you and this picture is almost exactly the picture He gave me."

Receiving moments like that are a little vulnerable . . .as not only do you not want to make more of those words than they are, but you don't want to miss God speaking.  Because if I am honest, that is some of what Ryan and I had been feeling too; that God was moving, and yet we couldn't see.  That He was at work but we didn't know the how.  And so I have shared that all I could think of were the words, "And Mary pondered His words in her heart. . . ." and I tucked my friends words deep in my heart and continued to move forward.

As months went by, the ache just grew.  There had been numerous times we had inquired about waiting children, and each time God had firmly closed those doors and said "stay."

In October, after yet another home study update visit with our wonderful caseworker, an email went out from our agency about some waiting kids with another country program they had.  We didn't feel those children were ours but as my heart was a mess of emotions that day, I set out on what had become my therapy of past months . . .a walk/run with God to hash it all out.

This time, I needed to put it in words.  And as I started to walk, I started typing out an email to our current Agency and caseworker, Julie, . . .tears just falling as I pecked away on my phone.

It was one of those days my heart couldn't handle even the thought of waiting one more day.  We were open, we were available, we were ready . . .and yet we waited.  And I bared my soul.

Bless her heart, Julie called me that same day.  She heard me and encouraged me to possibly pray about a concurrent adoption with another country's program that was moving more swiftly and that, with our open parameters, could hold potential to move extremely quickly.

Mind spinning, I got off the phone with her and called Ryan and before I knew it, we were seriously praying about stepping forward with a concurrent adoption.

It is in that season I wrote the most recent post on my blog, the dichotomy of the wait.

As we wrestled and prayed and talked, we both felt open . . .but there was a burden we couldn't shake. I remember looking at Ryan and saying, "I can't tell you why we shouldn't move forward.  But I do know that all that has sustained me in how long this current wait has been is that I know, that I know, that I know God called us to it and I know, that I know, that I know until now He has said "stay."  I don't feel that here.  And  I can't justify moving forward with out that.  When the hard comes, we need that to stand on.  Without it, we can't." Ryan felt the same and we knew it was a "no" to move forward.

Sending that email to our agency was heart breaking. I don't know how else to say it.  Because we were saying "no" to the very thing we had prayed for . . .to move forward.  By saying "no," we were settling back into the wait for the unforeseen future.

It was like facing the wait all over again and that was another email I just cried as I typed.  And yet I knew it was right.

I loved the words our caseworker responded to me with.  Julie wrote:

"When we are in desert times, we are blessed as Christians to have the shade that Jesus gives us.  Trusting and having faith one day at a time is what we have.  Please know that I am here to wait by your side."

Trusting and having faith one day at a time was all we had.  But it was enough. And day by day He kept being enough.

Yet I'll admit I kept looking.  Because the urgency was still there.  And we felt He was telling us to be ready.  And I started letting the urgency take over.

One day, as I was working on my Bible Study, God just spoke so clearly to me and stopped me in my tracks.  

My study took me to 2 Chronicles 20.  Jehoshaphat had been told a vast army was marching against him and his people.  He was terrified and was begging God for guidance.  He began looking to those around him for help, was fasting and praying and in his prayer, reminded God of what He had already done, what He had promised and pleaded for God to show Himself.  Part of the last verse of his prayer was the exact cry of my heart as he said in verse 12, "We do not know what to do, but we are looking to you for help."

That is where I felt we were at. We knew we were where God had called us.  He had shown His faithfulness time and time again.  Yet every where we looked we saw adoption under attack.  We were pressed down on all sides.  We didn't know what was next and it threatened to overwhelm us and rob our hope.

God's reply to Jehoshaphat struck me to my core.  

"This is what the Lord says: Do not be afraid!  Don't be discouraged by this mighty army; for the battle is not yours, but God's.  Tomorrow, march out against them. . .But you will not even need to fight.  Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord's victory.  He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem.  Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you! .. . Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be able to stand firm."

Oh the words planted me, chastised me, encouraged me and held me up.

I remember texting friends those words as I knew they were feeling some of the same and wanted to encourage them with those truths.  

The next day, I was picking up at my desk and found a random scripture card that again just spoke to me as it read, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still."  Exodus 14:14

I chuckled to myself as I read it . . .as I finally felt like I was hearing Him.  That waiting, available, was exactly where He wanted us.  And I remembered it was this same verse a dear friend had written out for us a couple months ago and had been hanging on my fridge every since.  Sometimes we just need it spelled out for us again. : )

I knew we were where we were supposed to be . ..I just had no idea how fast God was going to show us His doing . . . .

That afternoon I had some down time and sat down with my computer.

I about wanted to shut it again after the first thing I saw on my agency's facebook page was a post from another family.  She shared that an agency her friend had used recently had two birth mom's due this january that they were looking for families to match with for adoption.

I wanted to run.

God had just said "stay?!"  RIGHT?!

Or did He.  That verse from 2 Chronicles just echoed through my mind.

"Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord's victory."

Was this what God was doing?  

Yet I was so skeptical.

You see so often with those posts, I feel like you always find out it is actually a few weeks old.  Or you go to find out more and see that 100's have inquired.  I was a skeptic.

So as a skeptic, I messaged this friend to see what she knew about the agency (because you know, it probably was just a fluke).

Instead she said, "Oh, let me put you in touch with my friend who used them."

gulp. a little real.

Next thing I knew I was messaging with this friend about her experience with them (all good) which I took in but then still closed a reply back with, "I'm always such a skeptic with these kind of posts so I'll talk to my husband and we'll pray and see what God does."

She replied this was exactly how they found their son.

gulp.  a little more real.

I went to Ryan expecting him to kind of shove it off too.  But my husband?  He was all in.  He thought we should inquire and see what came out of it as little bits that we did know resonated with our story thus far.

So I sent an email and put it in God's hands.

The week went by without a reply and I am a little ashamed to say I washed my hands of it initially and shrugged it off and was ready to put it out on my mind and just settle in again.

That sunday night we had put the girls to bed and were hanging out down stairs when the alarm on my phone went off.

You see, for much of the past year, a group of us with my agency have set alarms on our phones at 8:38.  It is meaningful to us with Ethiopia and it is a time we commit, where ever we are, to say a prayer for Ethiopia, adoptions and each of our family's journeys.  Sometimes it has been a silent, short prayer by myself.  Sometimes I have prayed with others.  There have been nights those alarms has seen me falling straight to my knees.

That sunday night? I wanted to run from that alarm.

I was weary with the wait.  I was defeated by it.  I was emptied by it.

I looked at Ryan and said, "I can't pray. I don't have anything to pray.  It is all I can do to say I believe it will happen . . .because tonight I don't."

God bless my husband as he took my hands in his and he prayed for both us as I cried.

And Ryan prayed the most beautiful prayer.  But it was these words that stopped me.

Ryan prayed, "God we just ask you to move really mightily in our adoption and in our family this next week. . . ."

Can I confess that as he prayed those words, all I could pray was, "Lord, forgive my unbelief."

I didn't believe it.  And all I could offer God that night was my confession of unbelief.

I wasn't thinking of this inquiry. I wasn't thinking of a plan.  That night I just prayed for hope and faith to believe He could.

Monday I was on the phone with Ryan after lunch and he asked if we ever heard back about that birth mom from the agency.  When I replied I hadn't, he asked if I thought we should just check in. I was so torn.  Was this taking up the battle that wasn't ours?  Ryan said he was fine with whatever I chose to do but thought we should at least follow up.

I wrestled after getting off the phone.  But the more I wrestled, the more I realized that this time, I would not be ok letting it go without knowing they had found a family.  As clear as it had been we felt burdened to move forward with another country the month previously, it was clear that same burden wasn't present.  In fact, I felt like we would be disobedient NOT to inquire further. So I sent one more follow up email just seeing if the mom had been matched. An hour later I was reading the reply that birth mom was still unmatched and they were still seeking families.  Then I was texting with a case worker.  

Fees were then being shared.  This was another part of the story that astounded us.  

You see, a couple months ago we had been contacted unexpectedly asking where we were at with our adoption expenses.  God had blessed us hugely with our Both Hands project we had done but Ryan and I never wanted to just fall back on that or negate our role in those expenses and had really wanted to try and save and provide the travel portion of our adoption as we felt like the tax credit was there to bless adoptive families and it would be such a blessing to provide that part ourselves if we could. We had been saving towards that so that more of our Both Hands project could go to more immediate needs outside of us but with some different circumstances that had arisen, still had a decent gap left there.

As this individual probed, we shared what that deficit would be to meet that and before we even knew what had happened, these people had asked if they could cover that difference.  It was incredibly humbling as we in no way asked for it. It was incredibly encouraging as we felt so stuck and unmoving with our adoption. Yet I will admit it left us wondering what God was up to as we had no immediate need for it and yet there it was.  So we gave all glory to God and had accepted the funds with deep gratitude.

Would you believe that as the caseworker was messaging me what all the immediate fees due would be, this amount covered those initial set of fees almost exactly?  It wouldn't cover the entire adoption, but it allowed us to step forward in faith and not use the immediate financial investments as any reason to say no or to hesitate.   It was in that moment that I knew without a doubt God was up to something and we were looking at a situation that had just gotten very real, very fast.

Monday night involved alot of talking and praying.  We shared we were wanting to possibly move forward.  Next thing I knew, it was tuesday and I was looking at medical records in my inbox and talking more next steps.

I called Ryan with some details and parts of the mom's story.  The reality of the situation was hitting me and I was feeling anxious.  Ryan was stedfast, constant, and committed to moving forward. I have always prayed, in any circumstance, that when I doubt, God will be my peace, through Ryan's leadership, and time and time again over these days, this was exactly what He gave me.

As I was texting with the caseworker that tuesday afternoon, I shared we did officially want to be included in the families presented to birth mom and to please let me know what we needed to do next.

"Great!" The caseworker replied.  Just send me your profile book and we will mail those out to birth mom on friday!"

Profile book?

What profile book!?!?!?  (Insert panic attack - please remember it is tuesday.  They want to mail out friday).

I may had googled "adoption profile book."

So tuesday night we put the girls to bed and I got on snapfish and hit "overnight ship" and "submit order" at 3:45 the next morning.

I am convinced God knew we needed 8 hours to make a profile book so the only option we had was to leave it entirely in His hands. We couldn't make changes, we couldn't try to influence.  All we could do was put ourselves out there and let it go for what God wanted to happen.

Well friday came and books weren't mailed out.  Then monday came and went.  They were supposed to mail that next friday but another family that wanted to submit was having computer issues.  I tried to be thankful they were waiting knowing that every birth mom should be gifted with choice for her child.  In the meantime, I was a scatter brained mess. Forgot to book babysitters.  Forgot to make potluck reservations.  Forgot to order christmas presents in time for an early christmas. : )

Books were finally mailed that following monday . . .and I left tuesday for a girl's trip in California not knowing how this was all going to end.

This trip was such a blessing.  It was with 4 friends who had become like sisters to me as we walked adoption journeys together and had met through our agency.  They know me about as well as anyone and we have lived the crazy, the raw, the hard and the silly together . . .and often in the same night.  

Thursday morning came and I was messaging back and forth with our home study worker about some details that we were suddenly worried could become problematic in moving forward.  Next thing I knew I was on the phone with the case worker from Texas, Alicia (keeping all this straight?), as she could tell I was panicking and wanted to set things straight.

I was relieved to realize that the details we thought were issues weren't . . .and in the conversation I was able to find out a little more.

 I was able to find out a touch more about birth mom and learn there was a total of four families whose books had been given her . . .and that until now, not a single family had been presented to this sweet, sweet momma.  Oh my heart hurt for her . . .and how thankful I was that she wasn't just given one family, but four.

I was also so blessed to learn that the caseworker had prayed over the books before she mailed them out and just shared that she really felt this momma's family was one of those four.

My friends was excited we were 1 of 4.  My pessimistic nature told them I heard that and thought it a 75% chance of a no. :)

Friday morning, our Ethiopia agency sent out an update that was the most encouraging and transparent we had received in months. It encouraged me and shook me.  As I opened my bible just pleading for a word from God, He gave them to me.  I opened up to read, "We do not shrink back . . ." I sent Ryan an email just asking him to pray. I told him I was just fighting doubts . . .that I knew it didn't change anything or God's hand over all of it, but that I was having to work to speak those truths to myself amidst all of this.  Suddenly it wasn't just one adoption we were having to surrender to Him, but TWO and I felt it threatening to be too much.  Ryan's response blessed me so much.

"I am comfortable with what we’ve done.  Like you said, God sees the bigger picture.  We are doing the right thing.  Keep making ourselves available to different situations/needs and letting God lead hearts to what He wants.  I am peaceful with whatever decision comes from Texas.  I might be a little disappointed if it’s a “no”, but I will be okay with it too."

We were taking a walk on the beach as I got his email and again tears just came . .. but in thankfulness.  Ryan's leadership and steadfastness the past few weeks had been such a blessing.

A tiny bit of me wondered if I would find out while still in California . . .but when friday afternoon came and went, I put it out of mind and figured we would wait until next week to hear anything.

Friday evening we attending a prayer/worship night at my friend, Cat's, church.  It ended up being such a sacred night I can't quite even try to put down words.  But know that God met each of us so sweetly.  Even more precious? I was able to pray for this sweet birth mom, and to pray surrendered to however the story would end.  That night was such a gift.

Saturday morning came and Ryan texted me a picture that once more brought tears (see a theme yet?!)  It was this:

But as I shared the photo with my friend Suzanne, she looked at me and said, "Amber, do you see what I see?" I see both adoptions, your baby and Ethiopia."  Oh the peace that spoke right then.  It was as if God was saying, "I can be trusted with both."  And I knew He could.  No matter the outcome.

We headed into San Francisco for the day as we were flying home sunday morning.  We had barely settled into the hotel when my cell phone rang across the room.  My friend, Catherine, not knowing who or what it was sang the name on the caller id to me and I about froze, as it was Alicia, from the birth mom's agency.  In that instant, I was convinced the only reason she would be calling me on a saturday was to let us know it was a "no" and to not make us wait out the weekend.

So I took my phone and walked out into the hall way before answering with as calm of a hello as I could and prepared for the gentle let down.

The next thing I knew I was sliding down on the floor in that hotel hallway, crying, as Alicia told me we were going to have a baby boy and the birth mom had chosen us.

It was surreal. It was nothing like I expected.  It was totally undocumented. :)

I tried to process all she was telling me. I remember at one point just taking a picture of the view outside the window I was later standing at so I had some documentation of the call.

And then the next thing I knew, I was calling Ryan to tell him HE had a son amidst tears.

Can I tell you that I kind of LOVE the fact that Ryan found out he as expecting a son in BEST BUY!?!

And then it was sweeter than sweet to walk into a room of dear friends who so intimately understand the journey we have walked and tell them "I have a son!!!" and cry and scream and celebrate the moment as only they could.  It was precious to then have them, as a group of sisters, to stop and pray, thanking God for me, until there weren't words and all that was right to do was praise.

Then we headed out to Chinatown for a long awaited lunch to celebrate my friend, Rory's, adoption before she had to fly out that afternoon. It was totally surreal and didn't quite feel real.

After we got Rory on her plane home, we headed back down town for dinner and a little shopping.  It got a little more real when we walked into Gap Baby and I stood in the boy section.  Gap shoppers got 50% off their purchases and I couldn't resist to shop just a LITTLE.  Ryan may have received this as a text.

And yet I fell a little more in love with my husband when he sent me a text saying, "Strangely, I am really glad you are there with them when you found out," as he understood what these women have meant and mean to me.

And such is what brought us to today. Expecting a son.  Praying for a son.  Trusting for a son.

It has been joyful to share, scary to share, and stretching to share.  And yet God.  He has carried us this far and we have no choice, no other desire, than to trust Him with the future.

If you have made it this far with me, I am beyond impressed. But I don't just share to tell you. I share to tell us, to remind us, of how God has been in every bit of it.  

Tomorrow I will share a shorter (I promise) bit of next steps and try to answer a few of the common questions we get right now.  

But until then, know how deeply we appreciate each of you.  There are those of you who maybe aren't in the specific telling of this story, but you are in SOO many parts of it.  Your prayers, your encouragements, your caring . . .your grace on our hard days, your faith the times ours has been and is weak, and just for doing life with us.  Know we still need you, more than ever, and are as reliant on your prayers as ever, if not more so.

Until then and always, God is good.