Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Balance

There are several questions that often arise throughout the adoption process. One question that I have struggled with in the process of our past adoption process and our current adoption process is using money for "luxury" items (things we don't "need") while at the same time asking for donations to complete an adoption. And since someone brought this up in a recent comment and it is something we don't talk much about, I'll address it as well as possible here.

Specifically, how can we take a vacation when we are asking people to donate money to complete an adoption?

This is a valid question--albeit a difficult question--and it is a question I've asked myself NUMEROUS times regarding our past adoption, our current adoption and--yes--even adoptions that others are pursuing.

To be fair, this question does entail a few assumptions: It assumes this was a fairly expensive vacation. It assumes we paid for all of it (rather than someone else paying for it because they wanted our family to enjoy a vacation together).

However, assumptions aside, the best way to answer this is to say that we have to find the balance in a number of areas. We have to find the balance between our current family and our future family, between spending zero dollars on luxuries or spending too much on frivolous junk, and between past, current and future financial situations.

1 -- Finding the balance between our current family and our future family.

We could hole ourselves up and not do anything with the two babies we have because we want to save as much money as possible for our current adoption. This means we would not attend minor league Cardinals games with our family, enjoy a slushie or two with the boys, visit the zoo, or go on vacation, all for the sake of a future Congolese baby that we are saving our money to adopt. However, this doesn't seem practical or healthy. Sure, we need a LOT of money to adopt, but we don't feel it's fair to Brody or Brecken to eliminate all fun activities while we wait for WHO KNOWS HOW LONG to adopt. Do we go to an event every night? No. Do we even go to an event every week? No. But we do feel that the boys need to experience life outside of our home, and one way to do that is through a vacation. And this wasn't just any old vacation, it was a FAMILY vacation that included several members of Brad's extended family and that provided us with a lifetime of memories of our little boys playing on the beach, in the pool or in the house with cousins, aunts, uncles and Mommy and Daddy. You have surely seen me repeat one of my favorite quotes from Kristen Howerton: "The lack of family is the greatest form of poverty." Extended family is important to us, and our boys are important to them. We will not deprive our kids of family when it is in our power to provide opportunities for some extra hugs, kisses, snuggles and tackles (Brody's favorite) from loved ones. (Not to mention the fact that we rarely spend time together as nuclear family during most seasons of the school year, as we are both teaching, coaching, and helping at church.)

2 -- Finding the balance between spending zero dollars on luxuries or spending too much on frivolous junk.

We could refuse to spend money on anything that isn't a "necessity" (and GOOD GRIEF, America's list of necessities grows every day), but where do we draw the line, and how exactly do we find the line? We have eliminated a lot of extras from our budget (we broke up with DIRECTV and began using a detailed Dave Ramsey-style budget), and we have also learned to say "no" to things that we truly do not need. Do we occasionally spring for some Andy's Frozen Custard (seriously, why are they not sponsoring us?) or Cold Stone Creamery (calls my name e'ery day!)? YES. Do we sometimes spend money on a modern convenience like takeout Chinese? Of course. Spending zero dollars on "luxuries"--which does include a trip to Panera for a frozen mocha, as well as a pair of cheap Old Navy flip flops for Brody--makes no sense when those things might not be necessary but definitely make life more convenient or enjoyable. However, we are getting better and better at saying "That can wait," and we are getting even better at evaluating the things on which we spend money and when we spend it. I broke my phone screen in May, for example, and although it is a pain in the tail to read through all of the broken shards of glass--some of which might have ended up in my finger--I am holding off on getting a new one until it's really necessary. Brad's phone is so messed up right now that it hardly lets him carry on a phone conversation when he's inside our own house. We haven't taken a vacation in three years due to our first crazy adoption (unless you count my five-week stay in Kentucky as a vacation, which I DON'T) and the early arrival of Brecken almost exactly one year ago (Did I mention that we were supposed to get on a plane to Florida three days after my water broke in my 29th week of pregnancy?). We have a fistful of delayed-until-after-the-adoption home improvement projects that most would consider a "necessity," and we work summer school and various other extra jobs at school in order to help us save for the adoption or other things that might come up. I do not tell you all of this so you'll feel sorry for us...our life as a family is awesome. But you should know that we carefully evaluate our purchases. Assuming we paid for the vacation ourselves, please know that we did not just put the donated money into our vacation fund. We keep track of money coming in for the adoption and make sure it is there to cover adoption-related costs when needed. A vacation may be a luxury, but it definitely adds value to the moments we get with our kids. Again, priceless and definitely worth spending money on. It's hard for me to spend a ton of money on anything when I remember that there are children who hide food and share clothes in  orphanages all over the world. Sometimes I let my greedy self take over, but I am learning to nurture a global and loving perspective while staying in touch with our family and culture.

3 -- Finding the balance between current and future financial situations. Did I mention that Brad is completing his Masters degree right now? Well he is, and that costs money, too. However, we feel that this is an investment toward our future as a family that will help us continue to provide for our kids (the 7 or so we want to adopt, right Brad??). So...we are spending money on that now without worrying that we won't have money for the adoption because we are confident in its lasting rewards for our family. This, again, requires us to assess our needs and wants, and evaluate purchasing decisions carefully based on both our current and future financial situations. We could spend zero money on education right now, because we are adopting, but it would not help us provide for our family in the future. We have to find a balance. Besides, what if we end up waiting for a child for three years? We would just be "on hold" and not advancing ourselves in any way. Not a good idea to put life completely on hold while waiting.

Lastly, we haven't even mentioned the fact that while many of our ideas about planning and saving money seem logical, we also know that God has a plan for us and our family, and because we are following Him in faith we know that He will provide. And here's something else: The more we talk to people, the more we are learning that all sorts of people think adoption is awesome and want to be involved in some way. We aren't twisting anyone's arm to give us money, and a $15 donation for a sweet t-shirt isn't breaking anyone's bank. If nothing else, those people who invest in our adoption are investing in a life, and they feel pretty good about that. I think the next shirts we sell will say "It takes a village to adopt a child." We have a great village of people surrounding us and supporting us, and we hope they know their investment (great or small; financial or otherwise) is making a world of a difference for a child--or more.

(Not even mentioned here are the issues of foreign adoption [expensive] vs domestic adoption through the state [which is free] and asking for money to adopt when a birth mom might be able to use the same amount of money to provide for a child, among other issues in adoption finance. Keep the hard questions coming... keeps us on our toes and makes us better.)

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