Thursday, March 27, 2014

the ultramarathon {DRC adoption}

I have a deep admiration for cross country runners. They can be very eccentric (shorty shorts in 4-degrees Fahrenheit, anyone?), but they do something that not many of us regular, sprinter-type folk do: They finish, despite the challenges.

I once watched a state cross country competition in which a girl, the clear favorite to win the race, ran so hard that her body gave up on her. She collapsed and literally belly-crawled her way up the hill to the finish, a mere 100 yards away, yet so far away she couldn't get there without the help of all four limbs.

I've watched a lot of sports in my life, and it was one of the most incredible and heroic sports moments I've ever witnessed. And despite the physical pain she experienced, the humility she probably felt, and the after-effects of her middle-of-the-pack finish fall, I wish I was more like her.

Especially now, when our adoption is beginning to feel a lot like an Ultramarathon, complete with all of the ridiculous obstacles, adjustments and elements.

Image: kingdompen.org
I'm coming to grips with the fact that it will probably be at least September before we finish this race and bring Sweet C home. The very day I posted an update on the adoption situation in DRC, the Department of State and USCIS hosted a conference call with adoptive parents seeking to adopt from DRC and those who have adopted from DRC but do not yet have their children home. The purpose was to discuss the recent State-USCIS visit to DRC and continuing efforts by the US Embassy.

I did not join that conference call, but after reading the notes, I will share with you what I learned about it:

There is basically nothing new to report, but here is some of the information we received:

1. The Exit Letter suspension will last up to twelve months, which puts the end of the suspension in September 2014. However, they are not guarantying anything.

2. A delegation from the US visited DRC a few weeks ago and talked with them about the US home study process, follow-ups and the investigation process in the US and DRC. A delegation from DRC is making a trip to the US to visit service providers and families who have adopted from DRC. Someone asked if the trip might help shorten the suspension on Exit Letters, and it appears that is not really all that likely, but it will aid the future of adoption in DRC. That's a positive.

3. They also discussed VISA issuance, the process of reissuing them, expiration dates, etc. Since we're not there yet, we will cross that bridge when we get to it.

4. People who attempt to or succeed at illegally moving children will be arrested in the US or DRC. (Hallelujah. These people are putting the future of adoption in DRC in major jeopardy, because for some reason they think they are above the law and their kids are more important than everyone else. Argh.)

5. Requests for Evidence (RFE) is being requested regularly during investigations. Parents should submit as much documentation (regarding orphan status) with I-600s as possible and still expect to be required to submit more. It should not cause worry, as it is now a normal occurrence.

6. This is where it hurt a little: They recommend that all families file their I-600 stateside, as filing in DRC does not make the process go any faster at this point. This statement was sort of like a punch to my gut. I had tentatively planned to file in DRC and go meet our girl, but with this announcement I'm not sure that will happen. The reality is this: Even if they begin issuing Exit Letters in September, I would imagine that they will be so far behind (a year's worth!) that it will add many more months to the timeline. I can't be sure that's how it will go down, and I am leaving plenty of room for God to move mountains, but it is a bit discouraging to see that they are telling families not to file in DRC. That was kind of my excuse for going to meet our girl--not that I really need an excuse to visit a little girl I am calling my daughter, but with the minor financial setbacks we have experienced lately I did feel that a visit needed to be for a logically legitimate reason, such as decreasing our timeline, decreasing the monthly care costs, etc.

This is the Ultramarathon of adoption from DRC. I feel like in the beginning, we--along with every other family adopting from DRC--were pegged as the favorites in the marathon because processes were going so smoothly when we started running. We were well-trained and prepared, dotting our i's, and crossing our t's.

Then there was a little bump with a short halt in adoptions last Spring, then another larger bump as Exit Letters were halted. "Ok," we said. "Breathe in and out. It's just a bump in the road."

Then a blow to the heart as we learned of the twins' deaths and the devastation of dysentery in a land so remote we'll probably never even see it.

Next, several little bumps, bruises and cuts as we received news that some parents were cheating the system, skipping miles in the Iron Man by "finishing" the race but not meeting all of the checkpoints requiring proper paperwork.

And now, receiving updates from DRC that essentially say, "Slow down. Don't even bother with trying to sprint to the next checkpoint. You won't win this race, but we might let you finish."

But who's winning here? I'm not sure. I know it's not us. Not now anyway. And it for sure isn't the kids who are waiting for all of us at the finish line.

But maybe it will be all of us, and hopefully--prayerfully--the finish line is closer than we think.

Image: oulixeus.com

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

This happened

It all started with a little cold water. And a challenge.

My cousin posted a video to Facebook in which she jumped into extremely cold water and challenged others to do the same. (It may be early March, but it's still so cold snow fell in our area Tuesday.) My cousin also pledged a donation to her charity of choice, and challenged her sister and me to do the same. 

She knows I like a good challenge. I once jumped out of an airplane while on a break from my summer camp job, just to say I did the most extreme thing ever on a break. I also ran a marathon in Alaska once, despite my then-hatred for running at the time--just to say I did it (Bonus: It was for a good cause).


(Don't judge my speaking skills here; I sound like I have a lisp. Whatev.)

So, of course, I completed the challenge Monday night in a pond down the road. I pledged my donation to the Springfield Pregnancy Care Center (such a great place!!) and challenged my husband and our friends to do the same.

And they did. 

And, as an unexpected bonus, they pledged donations to the Lotz/Casto adoptions. (The Castros just brought their little guy home from Kentucky, and he is a CUTIE!) Our friends have already donated to our adoption fund, so we don't really expect them to do it again, but the very fact that they mentioned it was a great gesture of friendship and solidarity for the cause of adoption. It was heartwarming, despite the frigid temperatures. Another bonus: Our specific adoptions got some major shout-outs, because this thing is taking off.

Oh, and the guys squealed like little girls. Evidence:



Moral of the story: We have great friends and families.

I have been trying to think of a way to one-up this challenge, as it truly was exhilarating and awesome. Any ideas? (I already have an idea for a fundraiser for next winter...we'll see if I follow through with it.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

cappuccino punch {how i cope}

Some of you who don't really know me in person might be under the false impression that I'm a health nut or hippie something, based on my anti-microwave post and my post about using cloth diapers (which we still use for Brecken when I'm home, by the way).

In case you do believe I'm a health nut, you obviously don't follow me on Twitter, where I post regularly about my ice cream and chocolate habits.

I may have unintentionally misled you, and I apologize.

Case in point: The other day, I was up early before school, making my usual coffee drink. Brody woke up and came in, still groggy, to ask for juice.

I told him it was too early for juice and to go back to bed, and as I was taking him back he said, "But Mommy, can I have ice cream?"

"Oh, no, Brody. It's too early for ice cream." (In denial regarding my own ice cream habits, obviously.)

"But why did you have ice cream in there?" he said as he pointed to the kitchen.

BUSTED.

Yes, my morning coffee drink includes ice cream. (And chocolate syrup, which he didn't see.) Sue me.

But it's GOOD, and I'm going to share it with you here because, if you're like me, the mornings are getting to you. (This is our first week back from Spring Break. Ouch.)

For you, in case you need something amazing in life to help you wake up, get out the door, or function, in general.


Boom. The best cold coffee drink ever. (Drink your heart out, Starbucks.) If you become an addict a pro like me, you will soon learn how to cheat the system and make your own personal-sized cappuccino punch.

This drink is how I cope with early mornings, toddler visits in the night, the wait of an adoption, and getting old. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

the DRC adoption situation

I know I mentioned Wednesday that I would return Thursday with an explanation of the happenings in DRC adoptions.

But then this happened.
His cuteness is so distracting!

And this.
Sleeping/thinking. It seems to all be the same.

And this. Yes, our closet exploded. As in, the shelving literally collapsed.


 So then this happened.


THAT IS A FAKE GUN, people. 

And this. This can be super distracting!

Yep, new pics of Sweet C, sporting the biggest smile ever! 

And baseball outside happened. It was nearly 70 degrees today, people. I can't be expected to be indoors.

And some research at the actual library happened. I know. That's just crazy talk.

But here I am now to explain. I'll start by reminiscing and try to connect the dots for you.

Do you remember a time in grade school when you had a substitute teacher and a few kids acted like fools, throwing crayons or putting chewed gum in people's seats? This would then lead to a bad sub report, which usually meant--in my school, anyway--no recess for the entire class.

One or two people acted like fools, and the whole class was punished for it.

That's kind of what's happening with the adoption situation in DRC (and in the eyes of many people who are judging adoptive parents), but it's on a grander scale and something much more important than recess is being taken away. A chance at life with a family is being taken away. The chance to be raised with loving parents is being taken away. The chance for a new future, despite the hurts of the past, is being taken away.

It's being taken away for now, at least.

We are still waiting for DGM to lift the suspension on the issuance of Exit Letters. You can read an explanation of this in earlier posts, but it essentially means that parents who have finalized adoptions in DRC are unable to take their children home. Therefore, the kids must remain in orphanages or foster homes until the suspension is over.

DGM issued the suspension because of reports of abuse and rehoming of adopted children in the US and elsewhere and because a very small number of adoption agencies were unethical. These agencies acted selfishly and without regard for the value of others, children and hopeful adoptive parents alike.

At this point, the suspension will last until at least September.

But, obviously, we hope it will be lifted earlier. A US delegation has traveled to DRC to meet with officials there and to learn more about the adoption process. A delegation from DRC is planning to come to the USA to check on adoptive families in the future. This is what we hear, anyway.

But here's the problem: On the very same day that the US delegation was supposed to meet with officials in DRC, a woman was caught trying to sneak children across the border. I don't have specific details about whether or not she was an adoptive mom, but I do know that this hurts our cause.

She is that kid. The one who put her needs above others despite the consequences everyone might have to face. She is that kid that caused other students to miss recess because she wanted to do what she wanted to do. However, the stakes are higher in this case. People aren't just missing recess; they are missing precious moments with their legally adopted children. And those children are missing opportunities to bond with their parents, to make memories, to smear ice cream all over their faces and sleep in their very own beds and drink perfectly clean drinking water.

The suspension hasn't even affected us to the same degree it has affected other adoptive parents, but I'm already tired of being punished and tired of others being punished because of the unethical and selfish actions of others; it's not fair. I think it happens in life more often than we realize. However, I also recognize that life is sometimes unfair, and I don't blame DGM for wanting to critically assess the adoption situation if they believe people are behaving unethically. I believe they--like ourselves--want children to be treated fairly and lovingly; I can respect that. However, we (along with thousands of others) will continue to prayerfully walk through this situation a day at a time, doing what we know to be right and hoping for good news from DGM soon.

We will pursue Sweet C in the same way we have been pursued by our Father. That's that.

(I know this post will elicit more rude comments from ridiculous people who don't have a clue about our specific situation, Sweet C, our agency, or the DRC adoption world. I will not waste my time on your comments if you are one of those people. Your comments, judgments and rants have no value to me.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sweet C update

A short adoption update for you...

There's not much to tell at the moment, but we do know that our agency has received another legal document from the court process of adopting Sweet C, so we are happy to hear of some movement in her case. That's about all there is to update, but we are hoping to hear more as the days go by.

From my understanding, the court process consists of a series of papers being passed from one government office or leader to another, getting their signatures, then coming to our agency. There might be more or less to it, but that's my understanding.

On another note, here's one of the latest pics of our girl. Notice the hair! Oh my...I will have a lot to learn, or a lot of thick headbands to buy!


Our agency director has been to DRC several times in the last month to see first-hand what is happening there and to work fervently to restore trust and truth where other agencies (very few of them) have lost it for those who are doing what's right. She is also getting a first-hand look at the investigations of orphaned children to be sure she has as many details and information as possible. In short, she is saintly, and we are extremely thankful for and proud of our agency's work in DRC.

Oh, and she visited Sweet C! Sometimes I get a bit jealous of the fact that others get to see her when I don't, but I am SO THANKFUL she gets so many great visitors. Here's a bit of what our director had to say about Sweet C:
She looks great! Her hair was braided really cute! I got some good pictures. She had been sick, but she's well now! I can't get over how great she looked! Even her little ears were clean. 
But we keep waiting and praying...

Hugs,
Jenny

PS -- I hope to be back tomorrow with more of an explanation of what is happening in DRC regarding the Exit Letter situation. Seriously, keep praying.

Monday, March 17, 2014

hugging it out

I am not a hugger.

This is not a rigid statement about how I live my life. This is just a statement of the truth. I can't really help it.

In fact, it's genetic. My whole family consists of nonhuggers. Sure, we hug at family events and when we say goodbye after a day of pelting eachother with Nerf guns (our true love language, and I wouldn't have it any other way), but it's not a bearhug that screams "I love hugging." Instead, it's a hug that says, "I love you but I am not that fond of being this close to you."

There's NOTHING wrong with that. My family is extremely generous and awesome, with tons of love to share. But hugging is not a way in which we show that love. To us, speaking the hugging love language is the equivalent of speaking Swahili.

To be perfectly clear--just so you get a good picture in your head--watching my family hug is like watching an armadillo hug a porcupine. It just doesn't come naturally.

And then there is myself, with all of my awkwardness and hard edges. I've embraced my awkward introversion my whole life, but throw in the mix the lack of hug-love, and you have quite an odd package. Not only do I have hard edges in the metaphorical sort of way; I also have literally hard edges. You will hardly find a soft curve on me. Even my face is lined and angular.

In fact, I've been called out for being a bad hugger. (How is that even possible?) Our great--albeit insulting--friends have made fun of me for years for being such a bad hugger when I offer only a lean-in and stiff hand-pat at best. No hard feelings, Doug and Mandy, I have recently received plenty of hugging practice. And I think I might have finally mastered it.

But my recent mastery of hugging is not my point of concern today. I have a hypothesis to share: Hugging increases extroversion and joyfulness. That's my understanding, if nothing else. I'm not sure if there have been any scientific studies on this, but there should be.

Here is how I came to understand this: The other day I was starring in a movie, and I had to hug someone over and over to get the scene right. (Did you see what I just did there? I slyly implied that I am a movie star, which is blatantly misleading and false. In reality, part of my face will be shown in a 5-second clip for something at our church, which is absolutely not a big deal.)

The real star in the mini-movie is Meagan Hardwicke, and in the shooting of the short clips I had to hug her over and over again. Then I had to hug her some more. I know I make it seem like Meagan smells like a gorilla or something, but I assure you, she doesn't. She actually smells quite pleasant. And she is super sweet. (And did I mention that I had the privilege of coaching her in volleyball her senior year of high school, and now she is married to our church worship leader? Full circle, people. After being her volleyball coach, I probably owed her a few hugs, anyway.)

Anyway, we hugged over and over and over. Then we hugged some more. It was all for the sake of the camera angle.

And I noticed something: I was happier. Not just happier, more joyful. And more outgoing. And more of everything I wanted to be: fearless, giving, talkative. The list goes on an on. I even sang a solo in our jam session. (Well, no, that didn't really happen. But there was a jam session. Maybe I just enjoyed it more.) We continued filming that night, and when the camera got close to me, my sometimes-painfully shy self was ok with the possibility that "the world" could see me up close (because, you know, whenever there's a camera there's always that chance).

I'm not going tell you to go around hugging perfect strangers, but if you haven't experienced a good hug in a while, I suggest you find someone to help you out by hugging it out. And allow yourself to be hugged back. It just might change everything--including your perspective--at least for a bit.

Hugs,
Jenny

Friday, March 14, 2014

our domestic adoption timeline

Our adoption timeline for adopting Brody, which began three years ago. (This is more for my own remembrance than anything, really, but in case you're interested...)
  • December 2010 - Decide to adopt domestically.
  • Feb. 5, 2011 - House sold. We have 24 days to move out.
  • Feb. 21, 2011 - First day of Spring baseball practices for Brad, who was head coach at the time
  • Feb. 25, 2010 - Move-out day. The three of us (Brad, myself and Banjob, our cat) moved into my parents' basement.
  • March 4, 2011 - Official home study approval date
  • March 9, 2011 - Brody was born in Kentucky, unbeknownst to us
  • March 10, 2011 - Received approval letter for home study
  • March 12, 2011 - (First Saturday of Spring Break) We received referral phone call. It went something like this:
    • "You've been chosen!"
    • "Yay! When is the baby due?"
    • "He was born Wednesday. You'll need to get here as soon as possible."
    • "WHA...?!?"
    • "And the birth mom would like to talk to you on the phone in a few minutes."
    • So we talked to her over the phone in the conference room of Brad's school, where we had been getting stuff done for the baseball season. I had very little to say, which is sort of normal for me.
    • In our discussion, we learned that birth mom had two other kids from another dad and just could not provide for another. She said the birth dad would not want a child.
  • March 13, 2011 - Home study addendum so my parents' house was permitable
  • March 14, 2011 - Headed to Kentucky through snow and torrential rain. I mean, portions of the road were flooded.
  • March 15, 2011 - We had a perfect little baby boy in our arms.
  • March 18, 2011 - Brad's first baseball game of the season, which he missed. His assistant took the helm.
  • March 20, 2011 - Brad's assistant coach's wife had a baby right after he had coached a baseball game. Brad begins travelling the 8 hours to Missouri and back to Kentucky several times to coach baseball. My parents come to Kentucky to be with me when Brad is gone.
  • March 21, 2011 - Parental rights termination court date set for March 28
  • March 23, 2011 - News of possibility that potential birth father (different from the man we initially thought was birth father) wants custody; court date cancelled
  • April 8, 2011 - Brody and I move out of the Kentucky hotel and into the basement of a family that our agency coordinator knows.
  • April 15, 2011 - A heaven-sent attorney begins working with our case.
  • April 20, 2011 - DNA testing to determine if potential birth father is, in fact, birth father.
  • April 22, 2011 - GOOD FRIDAY. Receive ICPC clearance AGAINST ALL ODDS enabling us to cross state lines and come home.
  • Early May, 2011 - DNA test results show that potential birth father IS birth father. He is also in jail for trafficking meth and has wanted no part in being a parent, even though he already has a son from another woman who lives elsewhere.
  • May 7, 2011 - Sent pleading letters to birth father and his sister and his mom, who were pushing him to try for custody.
  • Summer 2011 - I took a day off from summer school and vb to drive, with Brad and both of our dads, to Kentucky for an urgent court proceeding. Birth dad's mom claimed that Brody was in immediate danger with us in order to try to get emergency custody of Brody. During this court trial, her lawyer's job was to try to get the judge in their small town to fight for the right to make the decision regarding the birth dad's "fit-ness" to parent. We knew that would be BAD, because we were dealing with a very small town and the good ol' boy court proceedings would be ridiculous. We drove overnight, rented a hotel room to clean up, then went to the hearing. They were not expecting us. After a few moments in court, they made us sit in a small room with the birth dad's sister while the court proceedings took place. We saw very clearly that small-town politics were very powerful here, as our lawyer--who was also an outsider in this town--was hardly allowed to speak in the time we witnessed proceedings in the court room. I have never seen anything like it, and I hope to never see it again. In the end, the judge with the higher rank (from the main city, not this tiny one where the emergency court proceedings took place) fought hard to rule on the birth dad's parental "fitness." We believe that made a huge difference because he could see the birth dad for who he was, not for a fellow resident. Our lawyer is a rock star for helping judges see what is really going on in any given situation.
  • June 9, 2011 - Bought house and begin decent-sized renovations. Began planning Brody's room (finally!)
  • June 24, 2011 - Birth dad's parental rights were terminated! We wait for potential appeal.
  • Birth dad DOES appeal.
  • July 13, 2011 - Birth dad's appeal ruling comes back in our favor! He can appeal to the state one more time, so we wait for it.
  • Sometime between - Birth dad emails us, asking us to reconsider. We believe his sister wrote it. Also, his sister calls my parents' house. CREEPY.
  • August 18, 2011 - My first day of school and the deadline for an appeal. Learn that no appeal papers have been found. Will wait until the next Monday to double check.
  • August 22, 2011 - No appeal papers found. WE CAN OFFICIALLY ADOPT BRODY.
  • April 18, 2011 - Officially adopt. Shew.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

5K the Kenyan Way {for clean water}

At the end of a post a while back, I mentioned that you should keep your calendars open for April 26th. I probably should have explained that a bit better, as I kept it to "We are not renewing our wedding vows," and people got a little worried, excited, and/or apprehensive about it.

Here's the deal: On April 26th, I want you to do a "5K the Kenyan Way."


Let me explain: You can choose between a mile walk/jog or a 5K run, but here's the catch: I'm asking you to consider literally walking it or running it like a Kenyan: In bare feet or sandals. Obviously, this is not a must, but I think you should at least consider it just for kicks (haha...punny). If you haven't heard, barefoot/minimalist running is kind of a thing.

But seriously, you can you can wear well-cushioned shoes if you'd like. No one will judge you.

WHY? Because Generation Next is hosting a mile walk/5K fundraiser on April 26 to benefit the children who attend their school, "Pamoja" (meaning "Together") in Kenya. Specifically, the 5K will help bring clean water to the school.

Clean water. There it is again. Who knew it was so hard to come by? I am learning so much about its importance and the devastating effects that a lack of it can cause. (More on that here and here, if you're new to the blog and you'd like some back story).

Speaking of clean water, I have recently felt the effects of the lack of clean water, as our family just lost our supply of clean water from our well and had to install a new well pump. Very costly, let me tell you, but not as costly as not having clean water. (And God is still trying to drill that truth through my tiny, whiny head that is currently kicking and screaming three-year-old-temper-tantrum-style, saying, "This is not fair!" and asking, "Where is my God thing?!")

But back to Kenya. The children and adult workers at Pamoja walk 5K or more to and from school and get clean water, and they do it joyfully because they have the opportunity. If anything is not fair, this is not fair. (My husband and I drove a little over 5K to our relatives' house to take a shower last night, and I complained in my head about the inconvenience and the costs the whole time. Soemtimes I have heart issues.)

So relatively, a 5K isn't much, but it's something. And it's something you can do to help. So come run with us. Or run from your own state (or your own country, dear German, Italian and elsewhere-ian readers).

Or if you TRULY hate running, come volunteer with us or help us as a sponsor.

It costs $20 to register beforehand or $25 on the morning of the event. You can also register your entire family for $45, and OF COURSE you will get a t-shirt! Register here, then head out to the Branson RecPlex at or after 8 am on April 26th to check in and get your run on. The mile will begin at 9 am with the 5K to follow.

Haven't trained in a while? Me neither. Don't stress about it. Let's just go have some fun by getting a taste of what the people of Kenya experience. And let's change some lives!

(If you've missed the information about the nonprofit Generation Next, which was started by a 13-year-old and has impacted approximately 2,000 lives in Kenya and locally, check this out as a sort of "Generation Next in two minutes or less.")

Monday, March 10, 2014

this kid

This little guy turned three years old yesterday, and I can hardly fathom where the three years has gone. To be sure, he has quite a crazy little adoption story himself, but that's for another time.


Today, I will share three amazing things I love about our little three-year-old. (Clearly, I can list thousands of things to love about him, but these three just encompass Brody's heart so well.):

1. He thinks about other people (most of the time, you know). We will be praying before bed, and all of a sudden he will jump in with "And please be with Baby Harper." (Harper is our friends' baby, who was born a few months ago needing heart surgery). Or he will jump in with "Be with Granny" or "Help Mike's back to feel better." Yes, I know he says these things because we have prayed for these things with him, BUT he comes out of nowhere in the middle of the day sometimes. "Mommy, is so-and-so feeling better?" "MeMaw, are you feeling better?"


When my Granny was in the hospital due to a bad fall, Brody was OH-SO sweet about touching her hand and telling her to feel better soon, then telling my mom (who had been at the hospital every waking hour) that she was beautiful. What a great kid we have!

Another example: Last night Brad took some of our leftover cupcakes to the home of our friends Marcus and Abby to share them with a few guys in leadership training with Brad. (Side note: They refer to themselves as the Sons of Thunder...pretty awesome). Brad took the cupcakes and told Brody he was going to share them because it's always good to share our stuff with others. He then said he would tell Marcus and Stephen Brody was sharing them and Marcus and Stephen would probably have a message for Brody when he returned home.

When Brad went to take Brody to bed, he asked, "Dad, did Marcus like the cookies?" (He meant cupcakes...) Brad said Marcus did like the cupcakes, so Brody returned with, "Did Marcus have a message for me?"

This kid remembers everything, and he loves everyone.

2. He calls me beautiful. Yes, he has been trained by his dad to tell me I'm beautiful, but it still makes my day. And sure, he sometimes uses the line when he knows he might get into trouble for something. But he also just says it out of nowhere to be sweet. Some mornings, he will wake up and say, "Good morning, Mommy," then cup his little hands around my tired, morning-drawn face and say, "You're beautiful." It will never get old.

3. He is a great big brother to Brecken. They fight, but most of the time it's play fighting, and Brecken thinks it's hilarious. But Brody also makes sure Brecken has snacks, and he makes sure we hear Brecken when he wakes up from naps. And he gets ANGRY when Brecken gets in trouble, even if Brecken is in trouble for hitting Brody. (Seriously, SO ANGRY.) But it's awesome, because he is sticking up for his brother, and we think that's important.


Just three of the many reasons Brody has rocked our world in the best ways possible. (Forgive me for the proud mom post. I couldn't help it.)

Friday, March 7, 2014

a God thing

The other day someone was telling me about how a situation had radically changed and dramatically improved her life, right in the nick of time.

"It was such a God thing," she said when describing the events that took place to bring great things into her life.

And it was a God thing. Praise God, for He is good.

But that doesn't mean only the good things are God things.

I recently got a yellow fever shot (as you might have read here), and I was reminded of this very truth through an example from four years ago.

Brad and I were slated to take a mission trip to Senegal, Africa. We were all ready to go with airfare paid, vaccination appointments booked, long skirts being bought, and sandals dug out of the cold hard winter closets.

Then we got a happy surprise. I was pregnant! It was quite a shock to our system.

However, I'm not sure if you have heard, but yellow fever vaccinations can be sort of nasty. They are not recommended right before or during pregnancy, or even when one is breastfeeding.

I called my doctor's office. "But I'm supposed to go to Africa!" I said. "This is the trip I have been WAITING FOR MY WHOLE LIFE."

"Yes, I'm sorry, but I really don't recommend that you get the shot," said the nurse on the line.

"But can I go to Africa without it?"

"Well, I strongly discourage that."

And she was probably right. I couldn't chance it and deal with the guilt of anything possibly going wrong with the baby because of the shot or because I had gotten yellow fever while in Africa. (Although even recently I have heard of someone who received a yellow fever shot the day before she found out she was pregnant, and everything was fine.)

So I waited around trying to figure this thing out. While I was waiting, I started getting tiny cramps. I will spare you the details, but after a few days and a couple of sleepless nights, there was no questioning it: I was having a miscarriage.

I spent the next night and the next day in the ER with more blood than I had ever experienced.

A little Lotz life was lost, and people all around me were experiencing happy "God things" by raising the last funds needed to go on their mission trip, getting raises at work and finding out they, themselves, were pregnant.

Where was my God thing?

I went home and mourned the loss while also considering what to do about the trip to Africa, which would take place in a few weeks. I ruled out the possibility of going for two reasons: I'd already missed the recommended time frame for getting vaccinations, and--most importantly--my heart just wasn't in the trip anymore.

This was it. No baby. No Africa. 

However, I am here to tell you that this was a God thing. It's not a God thing as in a hopeful, "We got to see our baby via ultrasound the day we were supposed to leave for Africa; a different dream, but a dream come true."

Instead, it was a God thing as in, "God is completely omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, and He loves us and promises to make all things beautiful."

I can't tell you that this part of our story ends beautifully. After all, we aren't at the end yet and--with plenty of road left ahead of us--we don't have the foggiest idea of where it will lead us.

This particular experience did, however, strengthen my support of what the Pregnancy Care Center is doing for mothers and babies, place Africa in my heart as a "someday," and give us a little kick in the amazing direction of adoption.

All of these  things are God things, although we didn't proclaim the initiating event as a God thing when it happened.

I don't write this to mince words or to make anyone feel bad for saying great things are God things. God is always in the greatness. I've seen him in the greatness and in miracles and in answered prayers, and I know it to be true.

But he's also in the sorrow. And the brokenhearted. And the mess.

I write this to encourage. If you are in a sorrowful, brokenhearted mess of a situation, and you are frustrated, downcast, or confused when people talk of their great God things (because where is your God thing?), take heart.

God is there with you, too. In the sorrow. In the broken. In the mess.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

CHIFF {i support}

Last week I asked you to call your representatives and ask them to support CHIFFCHIFF supports a redirection of a "portion of the $2 billion the United States already spends on children living abroad toward ensuring that all children grow up in a family. What’s more, it calls for programs funded with US tax dollars to focus on reducing the number of children living without families and increasing the capacity of other governments to better protect their own children." 

In short, it ensures that money we already spend is being used for the greatest impact with regard to helping children, particularly children who lack family. CHIFF will be fundamental in stabilizing adoption procedures and in expediting the adoption process while continuing to do what's best for children, even reuniting them with family when it's safe and advantageous for them.

I have done some research on this, because I tend to go into things--particularly political matters--blindly and headfirst if they sound good on the surface. 

There's a Facebook group called "Stop the Children in Families First Act." I read some articles posted in that group for my own information, and I can tell you that the people who are against CHIFF have a few main points of opposition, and I intend to address them here:

1. "I am so tired of the "white savior" mentality. We just aren't all that like we seem to think we are."

I understand why people may think adoptive parents, particularly in the United States, think they are saving kids. Brad and I are white, and we are adopting a black little girl with the hopes of giving her a life she wouldn't have if she were to remain in DRC. We are not "all that." Anyone who knows us or who has seen us dance knows that. However, if she remains in DRC, here are a few of the things she will face (that she would not face here):

  • 1 in 5 kids die before they reach the age of 5 (If you'd like even more dark statistics, consider the fact that 33 of 52 children in a remote orphanage died of dysentery because they didn't have clean water, the type of clean water that we take for granted every second of our lives)
  • Congolese people do not understand adoption in the way we, as Americans (in general) understand it. It is a foreign concept to them, meaning it is very unlikely that Congolese people would choose to adopt a child who needs a family, 
  • Many families in DRC can hardly afford to feed their biological children, let alone any additional children they might like to help.

2. The United States has 400,000 children in foster care who are unable to find loving adoptive families.  Why don't we focus on them? (This argument comes from this article): 

I understand the sentiment of this argument. The United States has plenty of children in foster care who need families to care for them and accept them into their families. However, children are children, no matter where they are located. Furthermore, the children in our foster care system are being provided adequate food, shelter, clean water, and medicine. The children in developing countries like DRC are often not provided these "luxuries." Our adoption agency has done an amazing job of reaching out to orphanages in DRC to help them maintain healthy and safe environments, including researching and providing supplies for creating clean and safe drinking water for the children who remained in the dysentery-stricken orphanage. It's safe to say that a child who is adopted by a family in the United States or any other first-world country is providing a significantly improved living situation (in addition to a family) for that child.

But please do not see this as my way of saying the children in the US foster care system are not worth our time and efforts. THEY ARE, and we plan to get involved when we are able, which I am hoping is sooner rather than later. Their hurts and needs are just different. (And just so you know, the force behind CHIFF, Mary Landrieu, is also a huge proponent for the US foster care system. I should also note here that I have not researched her other political policies...I am so out of my element talking about politics, like a cat in a bubble bath.)  

3. Research suggested that children were neglected and abused in familial situations just as often as they had been in institutions. 

Yes, this indicates a problem in some families (which we have always known). CHIFF is working to get children into loving, stable, forever families that will not abuse them, and just because there is abuse is some families definitely does not mean that all families are bad. This seems clear to me. 

Honestly, those were about the only arguments I saw in regard to CHIFF's points of emphasis. The rest of the posts contained unintelligent arguments and empty fighting words.  The group seems to be anti-intercountry adoption without the grounds to support their reasons, but that's just my opinion. 

Does anyone know anything about CHIFF about which I should truly be concerned? 

If not, PLEASE help us by calling your representatives today. This is something EASY you can do to help, and it costs nothing except a few minutes of your time. I am pleased to say that both of Missouri's Senators, Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill, are already endorsing CHIFF. Representative Billy Long, however, is not. Here is his contact information if you need it. :o) 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

planting the seeds {a game-changer}

The other day Brody found a Veggie Tales gourd-growing kit in our kitchen cabinets. I bought it three years ago to give to my young nieces and nephews for Easter. (Trust me, it is cooler than it sounds, and they were younger children at the time, too...stop judging.)

Clearly, that kit never made to it my nieces and nephews. We had a bit of excitement right before Easter three years ago, so it was thrown by the wayside along with everything else we once considered important.

Since the kit had just been sitting around for three years, we decided to open it up and give it a try. We pushed the seeds into the soil, watered it, and set it on the counter where the sun would at least partially shine on it to make something grow.

Since we've just experienced a snow storm and Brody can't keep his hands out of it, I can't really say that anything will grow out of it. But we do know the seeds are sticking there.

On that note, there are some other seeds we are trying to plant in our house: Seeds of Praise, Seeds of Courage, Seeds of Purpose, Seeds of Character.

Image from SeedsFamilyWorship.net
We began listening to the above Seeds of Praise Worship CD several weeks ago and, if nothing else, the seeds are sticking to us. The songs, which are direct quotes from the Bible, are--at the very least--helping us memorize Scripture. Brody sings along. Brecken dances.

Many times a day the songs come to my head--much more often than does other Scripture, even if I have it memorized--and I can honestly say that I believe they are producing fruit. Not full gourds or anything, but maybe a small sproutling.

"Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." -- This one comes to me when I am SO VERY TEMPTED to tattle-tale on people who aren't doing what I think is right. (What a crummy heart I have sometimes!)

"The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing." -- This one came in handy last night, right after I experienced this, the most ridiculous thing that has ever happened:  
"Just got my yellow fever shot. Of course, after reading the symptoms of a "severe reaction" (um, death) involving fast heartbeat/difficulty breathing, I could feel my heart beating THROUGH MY CHEST and I felt a strong desire to try breathing into a paper bag. This has never happened before, and it is the most irrational and annoying trick my brain has ever played on me. I'm fine now. Argh."
And the same verse is also great when I explain to Brody that God is with him, even at night in the dark. 

I have always known memorization is important, but it was just SO HARD. However, these CDs are providing our whole family with a great start. 
After all, Chuck Swindoll wrote, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified” (Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994], p. 61).
Seeds family worship CDs (also available on iTunes) make it super easy to memorize Scripture. (Disclaimer: We only have one CD, but we are wearing it out and we plan to get more soon! Shout out to Amy, Brad's sister, who gave us the CD as a gift for Brody.)

Although this doesn't guaranty that anything will grow, we do know that the Seeds are sticking. And that's why I call it a game-changer.  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Imara update {the good and the bad}

A quick update on Imara: She is doing really well in some areas and not-so-well in other areas. How is that for vague?

Most of you saw that we had the privilege of spending an evening with Imara (mentioned here) and her host family (because we are not her host family). She giggled, ran, played and ate a lot of fish, despite having some residual scarring, brain injury and hearing loss in one ear.

But, beneath the surface of all the joys she is experiencing now and in addition to her physical hurts, she still has a lot of emotional hurts. She lost her mother, was brutally abused and mistreated, dropped off at an orphanage, treated for injuries by many different doctors in several different places and brought to America, where she is now adjusting to new life with new people. Even for an adult, that's a lot of adjustment.

But for a three-year-old, the drastic changes (even if they are good) are hard to handle at times. If you are an adoptive parent, you probably know that children (particularly those who have come through hard places and are older) sometimes deal with the crazy changes by regressing, acting out, and behaving differently in some circumstances than other children. Although Imara isn't adopted at the moment, her cute little head still has plenty to process.

Her host family says she is displaying classic signs of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which one might expect with the extreme circumstances she has been through. But there is a strong possibility that she is also having seizures. They are not classic seizures, where one's body shakes and muscles spasm. They involve a blank stare and significantly decreased brain and motor functioning. (This may be a clue as to why her extended family accused her of being a witch; they probably have very little understanding of seizures and medical reasons for her actions.)

I say all of this to ask that you continue praying for Imara and her host family. Imara is in a much better place now, but even with the joy of redeemed life comes the pain of past experience. Imara is experiencing some of that pain, and her host family goes through every step of that pain with her as she tries to heal. The possibility of seizures is a concern, but not one that can't be overcome, just like the hundreds of other situations Imara and her family have already overcome in the last few months.

(For more details regarding Imara's current situation, go here. For Imara's full story/updates, go here.)

Monday, March 3, 2014

broken to burdened

(Brace yourself; this is a long one.)

If you read the blog Friday, you saw some of the questions people have asked me about resigning. You also read some of the answers to those questions that I don't recommend. Today I'll be answering those questions as openly and honestly as possible, and later this week I hope to share some plans for next year. I'm not sure why I feel the need to explain myself; maybe because I want people to know that I am still sane, I'm not a flake, and my school district is amazing because they allowed me to get through some pretty crazy baby situations.

I can't explain every bit of my crazy decision, but I can say say this: My heart is changed, my priorities are realigned, and my calling is becoming more clear and focused.

All of the rapid realignments can be traced to three definitive events (and all of which happened during a volleyball season, for the record):

1. Brody's difficult adoption
2. Brecken's 9-week premature birth
3. Losing twins in DRC to dysentery

Brody:

Brody and Brad, snuggling a few days after we met him

We received the call about Brody almost exactly three years ago, and from that moment our spirits climbed and crashed in a multitude of different ways over the course of five long months. We spent much of our time during those months praying, but also fearing that he would be taken from us for reasons that would be difficult for us to understand. Even while hoping to get great news, we pictured him being driven away from us, back to Kentucky to his birth dad, who was in jail for trafficking meth and who had never been interested in being a father, even though he already had a biological child in another state.

During that time, I had to take a few days off because my heart was in such a mess that I didn't know what to do. And then I had to take more days off to make an emergency trip to Kentucky, to attend a good ol' boy-style court proceeding. In the hearing, birth dad and his mom tried to prove that Brody was in "grave danger" with Brad and I. Once we got there, we weren't even allowed to sit in the court room or defend ourselves. Instead, we were sent to a small room with members of birth dad's family. Talk about awkward.

One summer night while we were waiting for the court to make the final decision about Brody's future, Brad--the realistic one--said to my parents and me, "We need to be realistic. There is a very real chance we will lose him. It's difficult to terminate biological rights--as it should be--even if someone has made some very bad decisions. We just need to be ready to say goodbye." It was what we'd all been thinking, but we didn't have the guts to say it out loud.

Brad always has the guts to say what needs to be said--and to not say what doesn't need to be said--and that is what makes him so incredibly admirable. I like to pretend things are going well and will continue to do so, so hearing what was probably true was quite a blow. I cried myself to sleep that night and several others.

I continued working at summer weights, open gyms, and volleyball camps, even while my heart was breaking and I was longing to hold Brody and relish his presence as much as possible. My school district and assistant coaches were AMAZING in helping me through this time, but it was very hard for me to have a clear mind through all of the craziness. And I believe that hurt the volleyball team, although I could do nothing about it but try to be present when I was with them.

A few days after that, we got the call: The judge had ruled the birth father "unfit" to parent, but we should expect an appeal. So we waited again. We didn't have full relief that Brody would be able to remain with us until midway through volleyball season, when we finally got confirmation that no appeal papers had been filed.

He was ours. For good.

Brecken: 

Brecken, all 3 lbs, 13 oz of him.

Brecken wanted out of the womb early. 11 weeks early, to be exact. He wanted out the afternoon after I'd spend three long days in a hot volleyball gym, stressed out by coaching good girls, but girls who needed more volleyball experience in order to compete with great teams. My water broke that evening, and the next I missed another team camp while on hospital bedrest, leaving my new assistant coach to take the reigns (shout out to Brianna Kelly and Jacqueline Snyder, who are so GREAT!).

While in the hospital, I also missed one of my player's phone calls about her commitment to play at MSU. That's a big deal, and although I texted her a congratulations while under loopy drugs, I was still unable to communicate my sincere excitement. These sorts of moments are the things that change teams and individuals, and I missed a lot of those moments.

Fast forward to Brecken's birth, 9 weeks early. I was released from the hospital while he stayed there. I attended the first weeks of practice while my newborn son was in a hospital 45 minutes away. School started a few weeks later, and because I needed to save my sick days for when Brecken came home (after all, nurses were taking care of him in NICU), I went back to work. I left my house at 6:30, taught school all day, went to practice until about 5:45, drove home to say a too-quick "hi" to Brody, then went straight to the hospital so I could make it there by feeding time, 7 PM, when I could hold him for a few minutes that day. (And did I mention that I pumped during my conference hour, lunch break and right after school. That equals ZERO spare minutes.) Other parents with babies in the NICU probably felt sorry for Brecken in the way that I felt sorry for babies whose parents were never visiting them. Except this time, I was the absent parent.

Brecken came home on a monitor five weeks later, and I took about every other day off from school to be with him. This left me coming to practices and missing some games and vice versa. Not the best way to coach a team, and although I had amazing assistant coaches who took over in my absence, the season lacked consistency while I lacked sleep.

When it came down to it, I had to choose what was best for my family, and I had two kids who desperately needed a mom. Even so, I missed a lot of time with Brecken, and I probably missed even more time with Brody. I hadn't been able to hang out with him the entire time I was in the hospital. His 16-month little self couldn't handle being around all the cords and wires in the hospital room. And after Brecken was born and I returned to work, I felt compelled to visit Brecken at certain times to give him love and cuddle time to help with his development. Essentially, I split time between three kids: Brody, Brecken and the volleyball girls. Each of them got slighted.

Life is important, and I was missing it.

Losing the twins: 

 

This past fall, we were in the middle of our second adoption. We were thrilled to have a referral for twins. We had their picture on our wall. We were choosing names to add to their given names.

Then we received word that dysentery was reeking havoc on the orphanage, and the twins had been moved to protect them. We worried and prayed. Then we learned the move out of the orphanage wasn't enough: The twins had died. We received the devastating phone call on a Monday night, right after I'd gotten home from a volleyball game and laid my head on a comfy pillow in my cool, clean and safe house. Suddenly, nothing else was very important. So we had lost a volleyball game. There were thousands of children losing their lives in the US and abroad because they don't have adequate food, medical care or clean water.

Clean water, which we put in water balloons and throw at each other for fun. Clean water, which we all drink in America without giving it a second thought. It's hard to reconcile that without being debbie downer. "First world probs," I want to say to every high school kid who tweets about the heat in her Mercedes being out. "First world probs," I want to tell the athletes who have to work out in a hot weight room.

But I know that's not right, because I was once that high school athlete, complaining about using a huge fan instead of having AC during hot summer practices. And, if I'm honest, I am still a big baby who wails about leaky shower heads, walls with the pee of a two-year-old dripping down them, and the unfairness of life.

I went to school the Tuesday after learning about the twins' deaths, only to leave school early and try to refocus for the game that evening. I spent time with my kids at home and prayed for children abroad. But I knew nothing would ever be the same for me. I coached that night in a daze of questions: "Why dirty water, God?" and "Why do we get to enjoy volleyball while others don't even get food?"

I knew. This was my last year of coaching volleyball. How could I explain to my players that there are thousands of things that are more important that volleyball? I was one of those players once: A girl who loved volleyball. And I still do, but it will never be the same.

And how could I risk being partially absent--in spirit or in body--with the development of Sweet C's case? After all, we could receive permission to travel and bring her home right in the middle of another volleyball season. That would have been my fourth interrupted volleyball season, and that--yet again--would not have been fair to the players.

Sweet C!
My heart has been rapidly realigned and my purpose reconfigured. I can't spend time stressing about volleyball when I know there are bigger problems that I might be able to play a small role in solving, there are two (hopefully three, soon) kids at home who need their mommy to be "all there" when she's there, and 30-some volleyball players who need a coach who can be fully present.

My broken heart created my burdens. A couple of difficult adoptions have rocked my world. Brecken's early arrival changed my perspective. Losing twins broke me. These are my burdens. And they are clarifying my calling.