Praying for a miraculous exception

One week from tomorrow we should hear about our court date.  Still hoping for late September or early October.  We were originally expecting to hear about our court date by Friday (2 days from now), but in the adoption world things almost always go slower than expected.  I have my hopes up for a late September court date but I am trying to prepare myself for early October.  It will happen when it happens, right?  Right.  I'll keep telling myself that.

Missing our little man a lot these days. 

When we started this process, we anticipated making two trips to bring him home.  Since we began our adoption journey 11 months ago, things have changed in Russia and we now must make three trips to bring him home.  I will never forget what it was like for John and I to read that email in December and try to come to terms with having to make three trips instead of two.  It was a stretch just for us to wrap our minds around making two trips.  Three seemed impossible.

But our caseworker at our placing agency ended her email saying, "We all know that parents who adopt from Russia are not “sissies” and those who want to bring these children home will still find a way to do it."

That's right.  I ain't no sissy.  I will find a way to bring him home.

Thankfully, the additional trip did not change our mind about the adoption.  We made the decision 11 months ago that we were going to pursue this adoption with everything we had in us and we haven't looked back. 

We are not deterred.  But.  But I am getting tired and that third trip has been staring me down something fierce lately.  Since we found out about the third trip last December I have been praying that somehow we'd get an exception- an exemption- from the new rule.  That the 35 day "waiting period" between our court date and the time when we can bring him home would be waved.  I'm taking a note from King David who begged, pleaded, fasted, and prayed for his ill son until there was no more hope.  When his son died, he got up, ate something, and moved forward.  I'm going to be praying for miraculous exception from the waiting period and that third trip until it happens or until there is no more hope. And then I'm going to get up and move forward in the strength of the Lord.  Like David.

The second trip is the most nerve wracking- the one with the court date in it and that life changing "dah" or "nyet" that will either make us parents or not.  That's the scary one.  But it's the third trip that's going to be the draining one.  The one that will make us survive 35 days of being parents without a child in our arms.  35 days of recovering from the emotional exhaustion of trip number two and drawing from what I'm sure will be near-empty wells to gather the energy to bring our little man home. 35 days of my son living in an institution instead of a home.  I just want to hear the "dah" and bring my little boy home.  Right away. 

That third trip stares me right in the face and I look into the face of God.  He will provide; of this I am sure.  I pray he provides by making three trips into two.  I know he will provide the strength we need to come home and go back again if that's what he allows to happen. 

Praying for a miracle; it's a strange thing.  It's walking the line of faith in the thing you are asking for and faith in a God who might not provide it.  It's asking and begging with the full force of your conviction and yet leaving space for an answer you'd rather not hear.  It's trusting that your prayers will be answered even if they're not. 

Anything you ask for you will receive,

and yet

Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

Something of a paradox, if you ask me.  I think David lived in it with perfect wisdom. 

I'll be here, praying for a miraculous exception until he's home or until we're on that second flight back without him.  Either way, the Lord provides. Answers, miracles, hope... he gives and he takes away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.



Adoption fundraising advice

If there's one "adoption question" that gets asked over, and over, and over again, it's, "Can we afford it?"  In fact, besides "When is he coming home?" the fundraising question is probably the one I get asked the most. Most adoptions are expensive.  Most families don't have $20,000-$30,000 tucked away somewhere to pay for their adoption.  Fundraising is usually a necessary step in the adoption journey.

I've shared our fundraising journey in detail throughout this blog, but I think it's time to condense it down and spill it out all in one post.  So from all the books and articles I read, to the seminars I attended, to our personal experiences: here it is.  My very best adoption fundraising advice.

First things first, if God has called you to adopt then take heart.  He will find a way to make it happen.  Before you write your fundraising letter or start planning your ice cream social, commit yourself to prayer and ask for one thing: clarity and confidence of calling.  Only when you've determined in your heart that this is indeed God's calling on your life can you summon the energy, the tenacity and the staying power to work your way through the fundraising.  You will be humbled by the generosity of others; let it humble you and give thanks for it.  Do not be embarrassed by it.  All the money in the world belongs to God and when he directs it toward your adoption, give thanks and use that gratitude to energize you as you move forward in your journey.

And then we get to the practical.

1. Write a fundraising letter.  Send it to everyone you know.  Don't not send it to anyone.  Really- send it everyone.  You never know who God will use to bring your little one home.

Your letter should include a few things.  First, remember that your request for help is not about you, but about a child.  You are not inviting your friends and family to make you parents (or make you parents again) as much as you are inviting them to make an immeasurable difference in the life of a child who needs a family.  You are also inviting them to be part of a story, a story that imitates what God has done for us in Christ.  A story that reminds us that we are all adopted by our heavenly Father.  Make sure your letter reflects these truths.

Second, share your story.  Why are you adopting?  Who are you adopting? What kind of adoption are you doing? When will this adoption happen?  People want to know.  Share the information you are able to share. Be generous with your story and invite others into it.

Third, talk about why you need their help to cover the costs.  People who are not familiar with the adoption process are often surprised shocked by the cost.  Tell them what the money goes toward.  And tell them how else you plan to cover the costs (tax credits, applying for grants etc.)  Show them that you've thought this through and have a plan to make sure their donation does not go to waste.

Fourth, tell them how they can donate.  Is their donation tax deductible? Who can they make their check out to?  Etc.

Last, write a thank you card or email every single time.  Never loose sight of the generosity you've been shown and always show your gratitude.   

As a result of our fundraising letter and flat out donations given via our blog, we raised $16,924.
Signing one of many letters we sent out. 
2. Cover the spectrum.   By this I mean: make sure your fundraisers give everyone in your life an opportunity to participate.  Think about the demographics of your community with respect to age, gender, finances, and general interests like hobbies or introversion vs. extroversion.

Our community looked like this:
- lots of younger families nearby (mostly from our church)
- young professional friends who live in a couple hour radius from us
- extended family and lots of friends from my side who do not live close by at all
- most of our community is what you'd call middle class

 We held two big event based fundraisers and two smaller on-going fundraisers.

Our main event fundraiser was a pancake breakfast.  We thought long and hard about doing a dinner fundraiser "banquet," but settled on the breakfast after really considering our community.  A dinner would mean our friends would need babysitters and to mark up another night on their already busy calendars.  A breakfast, however, included the kids and could be held as more of a come-and-go event rather than a long evening.  Plus, breakfast food is much cheaper to prepare than dinner, so our out-of-pocket expenses would be less.

We raised $4,507 at our pancake breakfast, which included one enormously generous $1,500 donation. 
Serving breakfast at our fundraiser!
Our second event fundraiser was an online auction.  When we announced our adoption we had a few people say that they could not afford to write us a check, but they would love to help in another way.  This help came through in the form of donations to our silent auction.  We had hand carved pens, children's clothing, a fishing trip and lots more unique items donated.  We decided to do it online so that our friends and family who did not live nearby could also participate.  We used the site 32auctions.com to host and ran it for two weeks.  We "showcased" a different item via facebook each week.

Winners of the fishing trip, just last week!
We raised $1,388 through our online auction.

Our two on-going fundraisers were the jewelry I made and sold via my etsy shop and our t-shirt sales.  In all of my fundraising research the idea of making something and selling it kept coming up over and over again.  When I was 10 I sewed a couple sack bags with a drawstring closure for my grandparents to keep their dominoes in.  That was about as successful as my crafting skills were.  I enjoyed art class in high school, but that was a far cry from being good at it.  So the question remained: what to sell?  I knew I had to teach myself a new skill.

Inspired by a necklace I had bought during our struggle with infertility, I determined to teach myself the art of hand-stamping.  I researched my little heart out: materials, methods, sellers, prices.  Etsy, Michael's, and youtube became my close friends.  It took a few many tries to get my first necklace right, but I did it.  I set up a shop on etsy and advertised to all my friends.  I spent many hours wielding my hammer, but it was worth it.  Through my sales on etsy, we raised $1,635 for our adoption.
My very first successful necklace.
My jewelry was "marketed" (for lack of a better word) at women, so we wanted something that men buy to support our adoption as well.  Enter our t-shirt sales.  We asked my sister and sister-in-law, who are both artistically inclined and have the right software for this sort of thing, to each design a shirt.  We guesstimated how many of each shirt we should order and in what sizes and friends of ours who own a local print shop did the printing work.  We sold the shirts for $20 each and then lowered the price to $15 when we had just a few in hit-and-miss sizes left.

I only recorded t-shirt sales until we hit out fundraising mark, but we kept them up on etsy after that.  I have to guesstimate the money raised on this one, but it was somewhere in the $500-600 range.

There were a few small things we did in addition to these like sell cards a friend made for us and sell coffee through justlovecoffee.com.  The youth group at my childhood church also threw us a spaghetti dinner fundraiser which raised over $700! We made an appearance via Skype to that one since we live to far away now.

Though our various fundraisers we really covered the spectrum; there was something for everyone.  Some people gave a donation and bought a shirt.  Some came to the breakfast.  Others bought a necklace for all their friends at Christmas time.  People who wouldn't necessarily donate $20 because it seems "too small" (it's not!) will happily buy a shirt for the cause.  One little girl did chores around the house to raise money for "Mrs. Burden's baby" and brought it to us at our breakfast fundraiser.  Friends of ours gave us their Christmas money.   As I type this is the screen is getting blurry because I'm still so moved by the generosity of others. 

3.  Share your story.  I hinted at this in the first point, but it is worth emphasizing again.  Your fundraising will be more successful if you invite others to share in your story and your joy.  People love to give to something when they feel like they are a part of it.  This blog was one of the best things we ever did for our adoption journey.  Not only have we received great encouragement through it, but I believe our fundraising went quickly because of it.  I used to have a little fundraising thermometer in the sidebar and people always commented how they loved watching it rise.  When we were only a couple hundred dollars shy of our goal, a family from our church drove over to our house with a check for the rest of they money we needed.

We also had people from our pasts and people we didn't even know give us money; that was amazing.  I will never forget opening my email one morning to find a $1,000 donation from someone whose name I didn't recognize.  I honestly thought it was a mistake until my husband told me that it was from a brother of someone he went to high school with.  Unless we had shared our story on this blog, that connection never would have been made.  Share your story.  You never know whose heart will be touched and who will want to join you to bring your child home.


This post is just about fundraising. I haven't touched on all the possible forms of financing adoption.  In addition to fundraising, there are a multitude of other ways to cover the cost of your adoption.  Employee benefits, grants, tax credits, and more.  I've said it before and I have to say it again: read this book Adopt Without Debt. It is only $15 on amazon and it will be some of the best $15 dollars you will spend.  Filled with great ideas and advice, it will inspire you and help you think of creative ways to raise money for your own adoption, as well as explain potential complications for each one.  This is how I got the idea for my jewelry fundraiser and it also gave great advice as we planned our breakfast.

 Blessings to you on your fundraising journey!  You can do it!  xo


The second waiting season, so far.

Photo via flckr / user cogdogblog

We mailed the applications for our next Russian visas tonight.  When we walked into Fedex with our envelope the guy behind the counter gave us a big "Hello! Back again.  More stuff to mail?"  No Bruce, we just love seeing you so much.  And when we left he gave us a, "See you next week!" 

Yep.  See you then. 

Because we basically live at their store.

He's worth it though, our little guy.  Absolutely. 

We're still waiting on a court date, hoping for the last week of September.  We should know in the next two weeks or so. 

I'm thinking about our adoption in 10 phases: 

Home study
Trip One
Trip Two
Trip Three
Bringing him home.

Some of the phases overlap, but they are all their own unique experiences.

Announcing- that was incredible.  I think we received more congratulatory words, hugs, cards, and messages than we did when we got married.  We felt like the whole world was cheering us on.  My mom gave me a square yellow box with snowmen on it- about twice the size of a shoe box- to keep all our cards in.  It is full of cards and full of love for our little man to read someday; to show him ho he was loved and cherished by so many before they even knew his name.  Announcing our adoption will forever be one of the top 10 moments in my life. 

Fundraising- we met this challenge with great apprehension.  The goal seemed so lofty.  The task so overwhelming.  But if you've been with our story for a while you'll know we had no reason to fear.  Our anxiety was punctuated almost daily by the excitement of an emailed donation notification or the thrill of seeing a check paper-clipped to the inside of a card.  Every dollar was one step closer to our little man.  Even now, each time we write a check to our agency or swipe our credit card for our plane tickets I take in a deep breathe and whisper a word of gratitude for all those who stood behind us, cheering us on and slipping their hard earned money into our pockets.  The fundraising phase was simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating.

Home study- this phase felt good because we knew we were making progress and because we were learning so much.  However, it was also quite boring.  It was sort of like a college class; it equips you for a task and it is brings you closer to your goal, but it is also sometimes very dull and makes you wish you were on facebook instead.

Waiting- the hardest part.  The part where we sometimes felt like we weren't going to make it.  The loneliest part.  The longing-est part.  The part where we learned to cling to God's promises and to every present moment in gratitude for what we had. It wasn't the waiting that was so hard, but the endlessness.  The not knowing if our dossier would be registered in a week or year.  The constant thoughts of our little man growing up without us and no idea how old he'd be when we brought him home.  The intangible emptiness.  The hardest part. 

Trip one- the best part so far.  We fell in love with our little man.   All our dreams and hopes and prayers for this adoption were met in this one little precious boy who we immediately adored.  The crinkle of his nose, the weight of his body, the feel of his skin; we carry every precious memory from those four days deep in our hearts.

And now, we are in the second waiting season.  I'm often asked how it is- how it is to be waiting again, having met our little man and having left him behind. 

While it's not easy, I am happy to share that it is a thousand times better than that first awful endless wait.  I don't feel caught in that in-between anymore; the feeling of being suspended in this state between being childless and being a mother is gone.  I've met my son.  He's a real person with personality and potential.  He's someone I touched and held.  I've wiped away his tears with my thumb.  I've had his sweat on my lips from the many kisses that only a mother can give.  My arms have felt tired under the weight of his body.  I've sniffed his head and pulled his dirt covered thumb out of his mouth.  I've told him not to eat a rotting apple off the ground. Only for 4 days and a total of less than 7 hours, but that makes no difference to me.  I've mothered him.  I know I'm a mom.  I know I'm his mom.

The leaving him behind is hard, but it is not a desperate kind of terrible because an end is in sight.  We are moving forward.  We are sometimes holding our breathe with the expectation that something will go horribly wrong, but then we breathe again in prayer and trust in a God who puts the solitary in families.  This my Father's world, I rest me in the thought.

The skill I learned in that first waiting season, the skill to appreciate the present moment, has carried seamlessly into this second waiting season.  Today I noticed the sunlight on my kitchen table and the gentle rattling of a lid on a simmering pot of stew. I loved that moment, for the time I was in it.  This is a gift God has given me- to cope with the big and overwhelming by engaging the ordinary and the small.  To drive the dark and fear away by resting in the thought of rocks and trees and skies and seas- in all the wonders that his hand has wrought.  The hymns of my childhood play in my heart day, after day- gifts of a Father, singing over his created one who waits- sometimes not so patiently- for his timing. 

I am sharply aware that this skill of savoring the present and resting in today are not just gifts for right now but a preparation for tomorrow.  For the days when late nights, big messes, and long tantrums will seek to undo me.  They are God, teaching me this is how you will cope with that.  In this second waiting season I am given the gift of anticipation, a season to ready not just my home but my heart and mind for parenthood.  A season to put away the hurry and the busy and learn how to enjoy the life that is right now.  I am amazed by the changes God is putting in my heart during this phase of our adoption.   I am thankful that he is using it to prepare me for motherhood.

Anticipation.  Preparation.  Rest.  And growth.   The gifts of this second waiting season.


How to tell a child his adoption story

Our little man as an infant, being loved on in a nanny's lap.
Thank you Molly for asking this wonderful question on facebook: how do we plan to tell our son about his adoption story?

Only a generation or two ago, adoptive parents would often intentionally not talk to their child(ren) about their adoption.  The theory went something like: what he doesn't know won't hurt him.  Eventually we moved away from that decision and it became normal for children to know they had been adopted, but not much else.  In recent years the adoption community has revisited this approach and asked a very important question that had not been considered much before:

What about the right of the child to know his or her own history?

As a community, we had previously considered the rights of the adoptive parents and the rights of the birth parents, but the question remains: what about the rights of the child?

A few years ago I sat down with a friend of mine who had been adopted domestically as an infant and heard the story of how she searched for and met her birth family.  She said something that struck me as rather profound and very important.  She said, "When I first began to think about looking, I sought the advice of a counselor.  I wanted to make sure I was looking for my birth family for the right reasons. What was the right motivation to search?  And you know what she said?  Curiosity is enough of a reason."

Adoptees have every right to know their history.  People who were raised in their birth families, like me, take this for granted.  I know my birth parents, my grandparents, my cultural roots, my family health history... and I always have.  I didn't have to examine my motivation for wanting to know my history; if I was curious about something I could just ask.  Where do my green eyes come from? My dad.  How come I'm tall? Well, I'm Dutch and Dutch people are typically tall.  What kind of health concerns should I anticipate?  Maybe high blood pressure.  I can look forward to varicose veins.   Even my social and cultural history is available to me in the form of many stories about the Netherlands and old black and white photographs that made it across the ocean when my grandparents immigrated.

I've never needed "a good reason" to want to know these things.  Curiosity is enough.  And if someone would have kept this information from me I can only imagine it would have frustrated me.  It's my right to know my history.

Because we believe it's his right to know, as he grows, we will tell our little man everything we know about his history (in an age appropriate manner).  We learned about his history and his birth mom immediately before we met him in the orphanage.  We were even able to see a picture of her, which we are told will be in the file we receive when we bring him home.  We know her name and just a little about her.  Theoretically our little man could search for and likely find her someday, which we would be thrilled about.  It will be his choice.

Before we learned about his history, I worried about how we would share his story. What if his story is that he was just left? Abandoned? I want his history to be one with love in it.  What if it doesn't have love?

Well I gained a lot of wisdom from other bloggers on this one.  As I searched around the internet about how to answer this question I kept reading the same thing.  There is no adoption story without love because every birth mother loves her child. The choice to relinquish a child is not one that is made from hate.  It is always made with love.  And usually with a lot of pain and a deep, deep longing to parent.  Birth mothers are not women with the physical, emotional, and social resources to parent.  They are women who of course wish they could parent, but for whatever reason, realize that they cannot give their children what they need to thrive.

So the story we will tell our little man about his history is the truth.  

His birth mom loved him deeply.  She wished so badly that she could take care of him, but sadly she could not.  She made the decision to relinquish her parental rights so that he live with people who were able to take care of him: first at the baby home with his nannies and eventually (and now forever) with us.  We're sure she thinks of him and would be happy to know that he is safe and has a family who loves him.  And we- John and I- love his birth mom for she has given us the best gift we could ever imagine, the gift of a son.

John and I are so happy we have a few concrete things to give our son.  We have his full Russian name (and are keeping his first name the same).  We have his birth mother's name.  We know just a little about the circumstances surrounding his birth.  And we will have her picture, which will perhaps be the most cherished gift of all.

Everything we know about his history, we will give to him.  It's his right to know where he came from.

And we will pray, always, for his birth parents.   We are forever connected with them, across the world- soul to soul.  I will pray for his birth mom specifically; the woman who relinquished her child so that one day he could call me mom.  I will pray for her peace and security.  For her joy and salvation.  And that one day on eternity's shore I will meet her in a long, warm embrace.  Forever we are connected by our love for one precious child- heart to heart, soul to soul. 


If you are addressing this issue with your child, these are two books I have and can recommend (images link to amazon):

Did My First Mother Love Me? This book is about a little girl who asks about her birth mother.  Her mom reads her a letter her birth mother wrote which addresses both the love and the pain of her relinquishment with gentleness and grace.  We will read this to our son.

God Found Us You.  This book is more about the adoption than the relinquishment but there is a part where the baby fox asks his mom about his birth mom (birth fox??) and his mom tells him about her love and how he probably looked like her etc.  It is a beautiful example of how to show your child that his or her birth mom is someone special and it is okay to wonder about her.




Attachment and adoptive parent needs

 My brother got married this weekend! As is evidenced by the photo, great fun was had by all.  My husband officiated the service and my sister and I emceed the reception.  We got to publicly tell some of the funniest stories about my brother, including one where he puked in a bagel bag and another where he was caught fighting with my sister on the Jumbotron at a major league baseball game.

If that's not a recipe for fun, I don't know what is.

After the high of meeting our little man followed by the high of my brother's wedding this weekend, I am suffering from some major writer's block.  It's not that I don't have ideas, it's that I don't know if any of my ideas are worth writing about!

Thankfully facebook exists and is the perfect inspiration source for a blogger with a mind blank.  Grateful for the ladies who responded to my SOS call! (To catch my blog posts and sharp, witty comments [along with future SOS pleas] find my FB page here.)

All the replies were helpful and I will be filing them away in my brain for future use. My good friend Steph, however, always has a creative idea up her sleeve and right away responded with a list of good topics.  (Side note: I think her creativity was exemplified this weekend when I visited her and met her goldfish Sausage and Dip.  She tried to blame her girls - ages 2 and 3 - for their names, but she can't fool me.  If those aren't the best darn fish names you've ever heard, I don't know what to say.  Except please share the better ones you've heard.)

Steph suggested I write about adoption and attachment and needs of adoptive parents that people might not know about.  So here I go.

Adoption and attachment.  A google search of these terms will show you that there is no limit of information about this topic.  In our home study homework, John and I also spend a few hours learning about attachment.  In the past few months I've been distilling all the information I've read and have started to come up with a plan for developing an attachment- or bond- with out little man.

The "needs of adoptive parents" come in here too; probably one of the most important things for friends and family of adoptive parents to know has to do with attachment.  And that is: when our little man first comes home we are going to be the only ones to hold him and meet his needs.

I'll be honest- this sucks.  I mean, all we want to do as new parents is show off our kid and have our friends and family snuggle with him and love on him and give him cake and just generally celebrate him.

However, attachment doesn't work like that.  To form a secure attachment with our little man, John and I are going to be the only ones to hold him, the only ones to pick him up when he falls, to offer him food and drink, to put him to bed, and to care for him.  You can think of it as taking a few steps back in time, treating him a bit like an infant- basically "babying him."

After having different caregivers come and go, he has to learn for the first time what it means to have a mom and a dad.  He has to learn to trust us to meet his needs, both physically and emotionally.  He has to learn that we're not going anywhere.

Along those lines, five points in our bonding plan:

1. John and I will be the only ones to hold our little man and to meet his needs.  I've read that the minimum time frame for this kind of parenting should be one month for every year the child was not with you.  That means two months for us, but we are planning on four months to start and then re-evaluating.

2. We are hoping to co-sleep for a while. We are flexible on this because we don't know how he will respond to someone else in his our bed after having his own space in the orphanage, but we will give it a shot!

3. Fussing over him.  Scooping him up when he falls down, even if he doesn't cry, making a big deal about any little milestone, rubbing his back if he can't fall asleep- just generally nurturing the heck out of him like you would a new baby.

4. "Baby"-wearing (?)  I am currently researching the best carriers for toddlers because we are going to make an effort to wear our little man when we can.  Like the co-sleeping thing, we will be flexible on this, but I would love to see it happen.  I have a bad back so I only see myself doing some carrying but hope John will get a lot of use out of our carrier and have some quality bonding time.

5.  Playing games that emphasize eye contact, touch, and laughter.  These three things are the cornerstones of bonding. Our house will be silliness central as we love on our little man, blow his belly, kiss his cheeks and rub our noses together.

Which brings me to the second part of the post: adoptive parent needs.  If there is one thing we are anticipating when our little man comes home, it is exhaustion.  We are going to be deeply in love, but also deeply tired, sleepless, touched out, and probably a little sick of kid-stuff.  Here are the top 5 needs we anticipate:

1. Patience and understanding.  Our parenting is going to look different than typical toddler parenting.  We'll be doing that on purpose.  Trust us, trust our choices, and encourage us in them.  Don't be offended when we ask you not to pick up our little men.  Instead, give his hand a squeeze or give him a warm pat on the back.  When he's established a secure attachment with us things will start looking more typical in our family.  And please ask questions when you have them!  I think I speak for all adoptive parents when I say this.

2. Bring us food.  Yes we would love to eat your meal.  Thank you!  :-)

3. Wait to come over but don't wait to celebrate.  Because of the whole attachment process, we won't be having many guests over at our place, but that doesn't mean we don't want to celebrate his arrival!  Emails, texts, cards, voice mail- we will want it all.  And I think we will need the encouragement as we adjust to life as a family of three! We will offer invitations for company when we think our little man is ready.

4.  Pray.  There is no greater support you can offer than prayer.  Pray for our health, for our sleep, for our energy levels, for our emotional well being.  Pray that we would not just survive those first few weeks as a new family, but that we would find moments to cherish and time to build meaningful memories.

5. Offer to help.  I'm not going to lie- I probably won't want anyone coming in and cleaning my house or doing my laundry but if it snows a lot in those first few weeks you are MORE THAN WELCOME to bring your snow blower over and clear out our driveway.  Just sayin'.

Though we are still a few months away from bringing our little man home, I am per-emptively grateful for all the excitement, grace, and hospitality we will be shown by our amazing community.  I hope you find this list helpful as you prepare to show Christ-like warmth to a newly adoptive family in your life!

And thanks for the questions Steph!



A word on the anticipation

Gorgeous birch trees at the orphanage

You are almost a ghost in my home
a spirit, born of my anticipation

In my ears the sound of your naked feet
slap lightly on my hardwood floors.

On my face dry the splashes
of water from your bath

In my nose is the smell of your warm and salty skin
as I bury my face into the side of your neck

On my tongue melts the sweet
of a summer berry you bring to my lips,
crushed in your little palm

I see you,
barely there
already in this space where you belong

When you come
When move from the light and shimmer of my anticiaption
and become what you already are:
with weight and warmth and laughter

That will be
my richest moment.


Packing Tips for International Adoption Travel: Part 1

Read Part TWO of this series here

Many countries now require two trips to complete an international adoption (three in our case).  In light of that, this will be a two part series on packing for international adoption travel.  Part 1: travel without the child and Part 2: travel with the child.  I will write Part 2 after we've come home with our little man and it will be linked at the top of this post. 


I once interviewed for a detail oriented administrative position and was asked the question, "If I were to tell you right now that you would be flying to Orlando in the morning, what types of things immediately come to mind?"  There was no travel involved in this position, so I immediately began rattling off questions: Why am I going? What should I bring? Will the weather be hot or cold? Am I going in a group? How am I getting to the airport? etc etc etc.

The purpose of the question was to see how much of a "detail-oriented person" I was.  Well, I'm a very detail oriented and you bet I got the job.

Once John and I got our first travel date (okay and a while before then) I put my detail oriented brain to work to figure out the very best way to pack for our trip.  Now disclaimer: this was my first time flying internationally, so seasoned travelers may have even better tips for you, but here's what we did and what worked for us.

The parameters: We could each take one carry-on roller board suitcase, one piece of hand luggage, and one checked bag.

Luggage considerations:
  • One of our checked bags had to be used for orphanage donations like medicines and clothing. 
  • Our carry on bags of course had to comply with TSA regulations.  
  • I had to fit my DSLR camera in my carry on
  • We needed both our luggage and ourselves to be arranged in such a way that would make security quick and easy
  • We needed to include entertainment for our long flights and food, especially for me because I have a food sensitivity which means I can't eat a lot of airline food. (Note: you can request a special meal a few days before the flight if you want.  I didn't this time simply because it was on the bottom of my to-do list and just didn't get done.) 
Here's how we packed:

The best thing I found online was this article in which a flight attendant shows how to pack for a week using only your carry on.  Why not check your clothing you may ask.  Two words: lost baggage. While we only packed about 2/3 of our clothing in our carry on bags, we knew that if our bags got lost somehow, we'd be okay.  We might still be up the creek, but I was going to make sure we had a paddle.  (In the end we made it fine, but it was nice not to worry.)

Read the article for the how-to. Here's what we put in our carry-on bags:
For those who are making their first trip abroad like me, there is a difference between a plug adapter and a convertor.  Get one of each. We took one convertor and two adapters and didn't fight over plugs once.

Medicines to take: Advil/Tylenol, Imodium (you never know), a laxative (again, you never know), and a sleep aid. It is also a good idea to take a travel first aid kit, in case you cut yourself shaving like we both did.  Twice.

Wear you bulkiest clothing on the plane.  Wear socks and shoes, but take your shoes off on the plane for comfort as your feet will swell. Ladies, wear a tank with a shelf bra instead of a bra with under-wire.  You will thank me.  I also recommend wearing a long, soft skirt instead of jeans if you can.  For sleeping on the plane, it will feel more like a blanket on your legs than pants will. If you can avoid it, don't wear a belt (security) and don't wear shoes with any metal in them (security again).

Take dark clothing so you can wear it more often.  We also took a travel sized packet of Tide in case we needed to hand wash a few things and line dry.  We never did, but again- the option is nice.

Put your liquids quart bag in an outside pocket so you can easily remove it for security.  On that note, make sure your electronics are easily accessible as well.

Surprise: You do NOT need to remove your camera from your carry on for security.  Only computers, tablets, and smart phones. 

Surprise: yes you can take a disposable razor in your carry on.  

Since we had most of our necessities in our carry on bags, and only needed one suitcase for our donated items, we had a whole extra suitcase to use.  We put some overflow clothes in there (which we never wore, actually), and then mostly food and water.  Our facilitator took us to the grocery store when we arrived, but I knew I wasn't going to be in much of a mindset to be grocery shopping when we got off the plane.  I was right.  We got some necessities but the food we brought was invaluable.

We did not go out to eat for two reasons: 1) To save money. We ate for about the same amount as our weekly grocery budget at home.  Adoption is expensive enough, so save where you can!  2) I have a food sensitivity and I just did not feel confidant about being able to communicate that in Russian.  We ended up having a third reason which was 3) we basically slept all day when we weren't doing adoption stuff and were awake most of the night.  Thank you time change! So we did not have energy to eat out; a trip to the kitchen in our apartment was hard enough!

We felt great the whole time we were there; no food issues or stomach issues because we drank tainted water or anything.  We found a grocery store in walking distance and went twice to buy groceries and water.  John rocked figuring out the currency exchange and requesting two bags in Russian.  I stood nervously by hoping we weren't looking like dumb Westerners.  :-) 
And last but certainly not least, our hand baggage.  In addition to our carry-on suitcases, we each took a messenger style bag with entertainment and snacks for the plane trips.

We wore those super cool under-the-clothing money pouches with our money and passports in them. John refuses to let me call them fanny packs. Our agency gave us the good advice to clean out our wallets and keep a small amount of money in them so we would not have to pull up our shirts to get in our secret fanny packs when we had to pay for something.

I also read somewhere that it is a good idea to take an empty re-usable water bottle with you and fill it up after security at the airport.  This was a great idea and we were both glad we had the bottles to take with us in Russia when we went sight-seeing too.
I think that's it!  If you have any additional travel advice, especially for traveling with a little one, give it to me! I'm always looking for tips to make that final trip a breeze.



Fasting for adoption

I went back and forth over whether I should write this post.  In Matthew 6, Jesus is clear that our fasting should not be done to draw attention to ourselves.  I want to honor that command.  I respect that command.

But in recent weeks I have heard many expecting adoptive parents talk about the agonizing wait and the feelings of helplessness that come along with it.  Since that was me only weeks ago (and in some ways, still is), I empathize. I want to share what is probably the most important thing I did during our endless waiting season: I fasted.  Not the whole time and not a full fast- but I'll get back to that.

My history with fasting is a complicated one.  When I was 18- the summer before I went to college- I visited my grandparents out in Alberta, Canada for their wedding anniversary.  A few days before the party I met a pair of their close friends, friends from the church at which my grandfather formerly pastored.  They asked with honest interest about my future, where I was going to college, what I wanted to do after college etc.  When I shared that I was going to a Bible college with the intention of studying for some sort of ministry, they were excited.

A few days later at the anniversary party, the wife of couple pulled me aside and asked if she could speak to my privately.  Sure.  We ducked into a nearby hallway and she pulled out a little green book.  I have a strong sense that the Lord is urging me to give you this book.  I don't know why, but I can't ignore the feeling. The book was "Fasting" by Jentezen Franklin.

Now I'll admit, I am very skeptical of people who say thing like The Lord told me to tell you... so I thanked the lady but was- well, skeptical.  I didn't know the word evangelical back then but if I had my thought would have been something like crazy evangelical.  Later that evening, however I heard my grandparents talking about their guests and they referred to this couple as "pillars of the church."  That gave them a little more credibility in my mind, but still I didn't know quite what do to with the book.  So I read it, appreciated it, and tucked the memory in the back of my mind.

The book is fascinating.  The author is a pastor of a church whose whole community participates in a month long fast (some full fasting, some partial, some modified) and the book is a commentary on fasting as well as a testimony to what the Lord has done in their community as a result.  When I read this book again a few months ago I asked John if this guy- Jentezen Franklin- was a crazy evangelical, but he said no- he's pretty legit.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

3 years after I received this book, my mom got very, very sick.  She had surgery on her abdomen to remove scar tissue that had built up after a C-section 16 years prior, and she aspirated while she was coming out of the anesthetic.  She was on death's doorstep, as they say.  In a coma, on life-support, touch and go for weeks. The sickest person in Ontario her doctor said, if not Canada.  He described my mom's lungs as looking "like leather."  Every medical advance known to humankind was used on her and she was barely hanging on.

I was in Michigan at college while she was sick, driving home with John (then my fiance) as often as I could.  At the same, one of my classmates Ani was struggling to beat a summer-long battle with some kind of respiratory infection.  That fall Ani received the devastating news that her lung problem was actually cancer.  And cancer that had spread.  A lot.

In the face of my mom's and Ani's desperate situations, my small 300 person Bible college along with our home churches and greater communities committed themselves to three days of prayer and fasting.  We all wore these bracelets as a sign of our solidarity and commitment to pray for their healing:
This is the only picture I have, but the other side said, "Ani & Marg (my mom)"
Only days after the fasting ended, my mom began to get better.  It was by all accounts a miracle.  Her doctors used terms like amazing, surprising, and no medical explanation. In January 2008 after spending 5 months in the hospital, my mom came home.  Today she lives a life that leaves little trace of the disease that previously ravaged her body.
Still on a vent, but well on her way to recovery in December 2007- 4 months after her surgery.
We fasted.  We prayed.  God healed my Mom.  There is no other explanation.

And while we praised God for his healing hand in my mom's life,

Ani died.

God did not heal Ani like we asked.  The cancer spread too far.  She did not get a miracle. 

We fasted.  We prayed.  Ani died.


Every time I hear about fasting I think about my mom... and then I think about Ani.  And I wonder:

What's the point of fasting?  

So a few months ago,  when I began to feel God nudging me to go get that little green book on fasting from my basement shelf, I wondered why? 

When I couldn't shake the feeling that I needed to read this book, I finally went downstairs, sought it out and read it again.  And of course I became convicted that I needed to fast.  Thoughts of my mom and of Ani plagued me as I struggled with God.  I will do it, I prayed, but I don't know why.  I don't know what fasting is supposed to do, but I will do it. 

So I fasted for a week.  I did a partial fast, fasting from food 23 hours per day, eating only dinner, and allowing myself juices the rest of the time.  The purpose of choosing this type of fast was practical: I get migraines if my blood sugar gets too low and I can't do my job as a daycare provider with a headache (turns out kids are pretty noisy little buggers).  I wanted the hunger, but not the headache.  This was the perfect way to achieve that goal.

During my week-long fast, I constantly asked the question why am I doing this?  Mostly I wondered if my fasting was going to somehow change God's mind, to bend his will to make our adoption happen, to change the future in a way that it would not have played out otherwise.

What happened during my fast, was that I was in prayer in communion with God like I had never been before.  Every hunger pain sent me into prayer... which was constant as I was almost always hungry.  The content of my prayer was the same: praying for our little guy, praying for God to move, praying for the Russian and US governments etc.  But the most profound change was the form of my prayers.

Where before my prayers were desperate and I was begging and pleading for God to move, I became confidant before the throne.  I felt assured that I could present my requests before God and he would hear them.  Where as before they were more like "Please, God.  Please.  Please hear me.  Oh God please hear my prayer," they moved into the direction of, "God you know my heart and my prayer.  I ask in Jesus name for it to be done.  I know you are able.  I pray you are willing." I moved from desperation to confidence.  Indecently I realized I was making a move toward better prayer, as commanded by Christ in that same chapter on fasting.

Matthew 6:7-8, "And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."

As I fasted, God bent my will toward his own.  He sanctifed me.  He gave me confidence before his throne.  He taught me how to trust in him.  

Our dossier was registered in Russia only days after my fast ended.  I still do not claim to know what happens in divine realms when we fast, but I also do not think it was a coincidence that the answer to my prayer came after my fasting.  

Matthew 6 says that the Father will reward our fasting.  The reward isn't always the answer we were looking for, but the reward is perfect, whatever it is.  If you are waiting for something or begging God to move in some way, consider a fast.  Present your requests to God.  I pray he answers your prayer in the way you desire and I am blessedly assured that in your fasting you will be sanctified and blessed with confidence before the throne of God.   

Fasting is a way to do something when it seems like you can do nothing.  Though I don't know exactly what fasting does, it doesn't do nothing.  It does something.  And it does something divine. 
My mom dancing with my brother at my wedding in June 2008, home 5 months from the hospital.
I can only imagine Ani dancing with her savior in eternity.


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