Friday, January 29, 2016

all the pretty pictures

I have received so many personal messages regarding my uber-honest post last week about Clementine's homecoming. People have blown us away with support, encouragement, and love despite our haggard outward appearances and inner-turned-outer turmoil, and we could not be more thankful for "our people."

Similarly, we received tons of messages before and after that post that said, "I know how hard this is. We survived, and here's how..." We were particularly grateful for a message that said, "Forget everything you read in those adoption books and just get through this right now." We were also incredibly happy for the Lingala translations, comfort foods, hair care products, probiotics, chocolate, and food and laundry services. (Clothes laundered by my mom will forever smell better than the ones I cleaned on my own.)

I need to tell you something now, particularly if you are adopting and you felt your heart sink while reading my last post. There is hope. It is beautiful hope, a shining light that sometimes only glimmers periodically in the distance and sometimes shines so brightly it nearly hurts your eyes.

Her laugh. It has been lighting up the rooms in our house and darkest corners of our hearts where we were once so weary.

After that first week--a week full of tears and exhaustion and angst and mourning and doubt from all parties involved--that laugh showed up a little more each day, replacing the deep cries of mourning from before.

Brad had to go back to work, in part because he needed to lose his shadow for a few hours at a time and in part because he is seriously SO BUSY with church planting and discipleship, not to mention a new nonprofit endeavor we've jumped into in the last two months. (More on this soon.)

Since he is a pastor, his first day back to work was a Sunday. I mentally prepared myself for the worst day of my entire life. I had noise-canceling headphones on standby, with plenty of peanut butter and bananas (Clementine's favorite foods) in the cabinet and a few bottles in the fridge for Oaklee to have a chance at fending for herself, to a certain extent. I had movies ready for the boys. I had an army of praying people backing me up and pleading for a hopeful first day at home with Clementine and without Brad.

It went so much more smoothly than I expected. Yes, there was crying, but it didn't last long. She cried when she woke up and he wasn't there, and she cried a few hours later because she didn't know when he would be home, but she did not cry all day as I had expected. I held her or stood by her when she didn't want to be held by me. She cried in fear and anger and sadness. But we all survived, and we all grew stronger in our relationships because of it. (She ate nearly all day long, but at least she wasn't crying when she was eating. [I can almost guaranty she has gained at least 10 pounds since coming home.])

That first day without Brad, she fell asleep leaning on the boys. She laughed and played. She ate well.

We WON the first day and Brad was winning at work.

The next day, she cried less often and for shorter durations, and we even made a trip to Panera where she devoured all of the whipped cream on top of my Frozen Mocha.

See this picture? Unlike some pictures I had taken before that were bookended by crying and angst, this one tells the whole happy story of this moment. No tears before. No crying after. This was real life.


And the next day, she didn't even cry when she woke up and he wasn't there. She got better, more grafted into our family, every day since that first one.

If, during her first week here, you would have told me we would be so far along in our relationship in the second week, I never would have believed you. She rarely acknowledged me in that first week when Brad was home, unless it was to benefit from my duties as Banana Girl, Peanut Butter Girl, Juice Girl, Lotion Girl, or Toothpaste Girl.

It was nothing short of miraculous (we are no strangers to miracles these days). In just a few days, she had accepted the fact that Brad wouldn't be home all the time. I feel compelled to admit that she and the boys are still not happy about that fact, but there are no crazy fits over the fact that he isn't home every hour.

I should also tell you that this has been the absolute craziest time in our family life ever, as we have regular "family-of-6-or-7 duties," along with church planting meetings, regular church meetings, a family Christmas in January, a 15-year-old in the basement who must be dropped off and picked up from his school that is literally 40 minutes away, and the nonprofit's premier event all happening within a few week's time. All of the craziness amounts to Brad being gone A LOT, and that is without the originally scheduled trip to Austin, Texas, to meet with leaders at Brandon and Jen Hatmaker's church, Austin New Church. (He decided to reschedule the trip, based on advice that Clementine and I would be fine without him, but his absence might elongate her adjustment troubles. We did not need that, folks.)

And still, we have come so far in such a short amount of time.

However, she still wouldn't let me cuddle her to sleep. She cried some. She said, "Daddy?" plenty. She threw some fits. (She acted like a two-year-old...how dare her!)

But it went much more smoothly than I could have ever imagined. And now we have some pretty pictures that don't feel like a lie.

This is when she literally cried herself to sleep. It's not exactly pretty, as I can still see the tears on her cheeks and the dirt in my dirty hair, as I had not showered in who-knows-how-long. But I think it's beautiful in a messy sort of way.


And yesterday, for the first time, she fell asleep in my arms. without crying. (ALL OF THE PRAISE HANDS!!)

Sadly, she woke up mad that she had let down her guard, I think, and threw a fit that lasted nearly two hours. I stayed close while she flailed and cried and stomped her feet to get a banana that she knew she could have said "please" for, but in the end she said "please" and allowed me to give it to her, then seemed infinitely happier after discovering I wouldn't leave in the midst of her egregious behavior. She was delightfully happy and asked for everything by saying "please" from there on out. I am no expert in the "fit-throwing coping mechanisms" department, but we got through it and I think our relationship is now stronger than ever.

We know we still have plenty of hurdles to jump and hills to climb ahead, and we will inevitably experience some setbacks, but we feel like we have already hiked the tallest peaks and come out on top.

So here are all the pretty pictures. The ones that don't feel like a lie. The ones that were bookended by smiles and laughs and true joy.

(Um, hello bedhead. I don't even know...)
This ended with her asleep on her brothers.
Two peas in a pod, and it's frightening sometimes. Their quiet moments require a check-in.
Her first night without braids. I don't really want to talk about
how long it took to get them out, but she was a champion while we worked.
She LOVED the snow. Odd, because she shakes like a leaf
when she gets out of the bathtub in our warm house. 
All that glitters is gold in her eyes.

 

Guys, she didn't know how hard we had fought for her, how many tears we had cried over her, how often we lost sleep while pouring out our prayers to God for her. She didn't know how we craved the monthly pictures we received from our agency. She didn't know we have loved her for over two-and-a-half years while she grew up in a foster home and we waited for her to join us in her forever home.

So she didn't know that she was supposed to love us and trust us upon arrival, as we had blindly and ignorantly convinced ourselves she should.

But she will know. She was so loved and wanted all that time.

She IS so loved and wanted.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

a pretty picture

It's been three weeks since the "airport moment" we'd been dreaming about for nearly 3 years.

Only it wasn't a dreamy airport moment.

There's a reason you didn't see a video of the moment we got Clementine at the airport in Ohio. It wasn't pretty, and neither were the moments that followed in the week after she came home.

We waited at the airport for the family who escorted Clementine home to bring her off the plane. With phones ready and eyes teary, we watched her sleep as the man carried her through the doors.

I tried to gently pull her into my arms. I had waited for this moment of holding her so long, and I had wanted it to go well so badly.

And, well, it went badly.

But it's always nice to have a reminder that it's not about me. This adoption has never been about me, except maybe to show me where God is working and for Him to allow me to see it.

I will never forget the deep hurt I heard in her cry when she was placed in my arms. Utter sadness and loss coming straight from her soul, that's what I heard. I understood, yet I could never understand the sort of loss, hurt and fear she was feeling.

Brad held her and calmed her while I continued to hurt for her without the ability to help.

After celebrating the homecoming of our friends who had escorted her home with their daughter, we took a shuttle to our hotel while she continued to be confused and hopelessly sad.

Brad may have been vaguely familiar to her because of his visit last summer, but nothing else about this experience was. It was cold, she had just completed over 30 hours of traveling with a family she didn't know, she missed and longed to protect the relationship she had with her "mamas" who had loved her and cared for her in DRC, and she didn't know what was coming next.

Her sadness and fear were palpable as we laid down in the hotel. She fell asleep on Brad as I went out for diapers, and I was only able to be near her as she slept without knowing I was near her.

She awoke at 5 am the next morning. Without a word she quickly hopped out of bed and stood, staring in bewilderment at Brad and me. She looked back and forth between us as we struggled for words and actions that could comfort her. We offered snacks, play jewelry, a baby doll, a blanket, a movie. She stood, staring at us with fear in her eyes and strength in her demeanor.

Then she cried. Again, she wouldn't let me near her. Brad comforted her and she watched a movie with him while moving away from me and keeping a suspicious eye on us both.

She acknowledged me at breakfast, after I brought her food, but still I couldn't touch her as she clung to Brad.

At the airport, she played peek-a-boo with me while clinging to Brad. She cried when he went out of sight around corners.

At home for the next week, she needed to be held by Brad constantly. The need was constant, and she wanted him to be standing, preferably moving, the whole time. She cried that deep, mournful cry often. Our other kids hurt and mourned the time they had with us before. Their hurts were clear. The boys missed wrestling with Daddy. Oaklee was fine but needed to be held more often at night. I continued to be sick for the third week in a row. (I went to the doctor twice...unheard of for me, but my wise mom made me, and she was right to do so!) I missed "normal" (as normal as you can have with three kids 4-and-under) conversations. Brad needed to get back to work, for purposes of sanity of productivity.

I know many people wanted some pretty pictures in that first week. They wanted proof that Clementine was happy to be home with her forever family. I wish I could say she was, that she totally understood what happened and that she was meshing into our family with ease. I wish I could say she had an inkling of an understanding that we wanted the very best for her, that we wanted the very best for her future and we wanted her to know the love of a forever family.

But she didn't, and it showed.

I didn't want to paint a pretty picture that didn't exist. I wouldn't have felt right about posting pictures of her smiling that would have given a false sense of perfection and well-being in our home. She simply couldn't understand it all, and no one in our family handled it exceptionally well. Pretty pictures existed in small doses, but a pretty home life did not.

Pretty pictures did not tell the whole story.

Cognitively, we knew that the first weeks after her homecoming would be hard. However, after a 2.5-year wait to bring her home we thought we had experienced enough hard moments to make this sort of hard easier.

The truth is, adoption is hard on all levels. The wait was extremely painful and difficult (DRC waiting parents...you are still experiencing the hard wait, and we continue to pray and fight for your families to be united). However, the week after she came home was even more difficult than we imagined. This is often the case, as we heard from several adoptive parents who experienced similar hardships after bringing their children home.

Honestly, we thought we had ruined our family. That sounds extreme, even as I type it (but it is also a normal reaction, from what others have told us). I assure you, it was an extreme week. We thought we had ruined our other three kids, and I secretly wondered if she would have been better off continuing to live where she was comfortable in her foster home in DRC.

Only, I knew we were wrong in thinking that way. She needed a family. WE are her family, and we had to fight to find the truth of that and the truth that God is capable of redeeming the hurt and the time.

I can't help but think back to this quote that filled my spirit in the beginning of this process and continues to fill us up as everything else is emptied out.
I am happy to report that we have seen VAST improvements since that first week. Each day gets better and better as our family is stitched together with a sweet and sassy little thing that has changed our lives for the better. (I hope to share more details soon.)

Never has the quote above been more true or  more fitting. Never have we been this thankful for what God has done to adopt us into His family or the road we have traveled to adopt Clementine into ours.

She is worth it.

And here is a recent pretty picture that tells the whole story:



{I am probably breaking some sort of adoptive rule about sharing the hurts that come along with adoption. I realize this is Clementine's story, but it's also ours and it's one that can hopefully encourage other adoptive parents who have struggled in the first few weeks after the homecoming of their children. Others encouraged us, may we encourage others.}

(More about how she came home with a Medical Exit Letter here.)

Saturday, January 16, 2016

this year

I have mentioned before that when 2015 began, I was frustrated that Brad's prayers included the words, "Bring C to us this year." In my opinion, that was too broad, too far away. I was praying for her to be home "soon," "in the next few weeks," "quicker than we could ever imagine." I wanted her home "tomorrow."

Her Exit Letter, the elusive Exit Letter, was stamped with the date "31 December 2015." If it had a time stamp, it would be "2 minutes until closing time."

The family who brought her--along with their own daughter who also received a Medical Exit Letter--then packed their bags and left for the airport to board a plane a few short hours later. She was on her way home to us before the end of the year.

I don't think that's a coincidence.

I don't understand why we got an Exit Letter while hundreds of others still wait. It's not fair, I don't understand God's ways, and I am so sad for those families and children who still wait to be united.

Our prayers now are for all children to be united with their families this year.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

the homecoming

Where do I even begin to tell the story of how Sweet Clementine came to join our family in our home?

I imagined it happening in a thousand ways, but I never imagined it this way.

As you may remember, minutes after delivering Oaklee, I opened an email from our adoption agency with disheartening news: Clementine had TB. (Full details from that day here.) I had a hard time reconciling my emotions as my newborn baby girl was cleaned and scrubbed in the cleanest of hospital rooms while my other baby girl was experiencing major health issues due to inadequate health procedures in a developing country.

She received treatment while we continued to wait and pray for a passport and an actual visa, then an elusive Exit Letter. (We learned that we had passed our I-604 investigation on the same day Oaklee was born and the same day we learned of Clementine's TB, but Clementine still had to have a visa interview, a medical evaluation, and a passport in order to receive her visa. Not to mention the fact that DRC was not--continues not to--issuing Exit Letters to adopted children.)

On the morning of Saturday, October 31, I received notice that DGM (the office in DRC that issues Exit Letters) requested a list of medically fragile children from the Embassy in Kinshasa. We had two hours to get Clementine's info on that list. Specifically, DGM was looking for a list of children with medical issues that were life-threatening and untreatable in DRC. I knew TB was treatable in DRC, but I also knew it wasn't treated as well there as it would be in the US. That said, while we wanted to get her the medical treatment she needed (and we wanted to get her home!), I did not want to take the time and attention of the Embassy and DGM away from children who were truly FRAGILE for medical reasons. I checked with other waiting families to be sure that our submission of Clementine's TB case would not distract from other children who were sick and potentially dying, and I was given the green light from those families.

I submitted her information to the Embassy and waited for next steps. The Monday following the request for info from medically fragile children, we learned the amazing news that 72 children (not medical cases) would be joining their families soon. With that news, however, we received the devastating news that DRC's commission that was reviewing files for Exit Letters had quit reviewing files, meaning no other children would join their families without a vote on new adoption laws. (Full post about that here.)

We weren't sure where to go with all of the news on Monday, so we dealt with it internally (or externally, sometimes) while we waited for more news.

One piece of good news came while we waited: We received Clementine's passport! This was huge for us, as our file at DGM would not be considered complete without it and a visa.

Meanwhile, we received word from the Embassy that we should gather three medical reports from different doctors in DRC to submit to DGM with our medical file. The medical reports should state that her medical issues were untreatable in DRC. We knew that defining TB as "untreatable" was a long shot, as it could be treated in DRC (just not well, in my opinion). Our agency's rep, who lives in DRC, was able to get her to her medical appointments, and doctors wrote up a report stating that she had a condition that could not be treated in DRC. It turned out to be a kidney condition, and it might have been a result of the TB. They said it would require surgery outside of DRC because of the lack of equipment in DRC. That was something. (Details here.) We waited and prayed for favor from the people who reviewed her files (and the files of a few friends of ours who had also submitted for medical exit letters).

Soon after receiving the medical reports, we learned that Clementine had completed her medical evaluation for the Embassy in order to receive her visa. She would have a visa interview the following week and hopefully receive her visa a few days later. (Details here.)

Clementine went in for her visa interview on December 9 with two other children who were also related to our agency. They were pursuing medical exit letters, too. We received word that the interview went well, but the Embassy might have a problem with the TB aspect of her medical report. (The US is allowed to block people with TB from entering the US unless it has been treated for a certain amount of time or shows up clean on chest X-rays.)

We hoped and prayed it wouldn't create a problem for Clementine to get her visa. I even began emailing the State Department and my senators to help us deal with the issue and/or find special exemptions for TB visas if needed. It seemed absurd that the very medical issue that could allow Clementine to come home might be the very thing that kept her from entering the US. I even told the Embassy I'd live in Italy while she received treatment and became clear...just give her a chance to get out of DRC while the door was jammed open for a bit!

One family received word that DGM had promised their daughter a Medical Exit Letter, and within hours they were on a plane to DRC to get her and bring her home! (They already had travel visas ready to go.)

The other family whose daughter went with ours to their visa appointments received word the next week that her visa was ready, and when their file was submitted to DGM they were promised a Medical Exit Letter. They sent in their visa requests to be able to travel to DRC to get her as soon as possible. Learning of this, we sent our visa request in, too, just to be sure we were ready to travel if we received the promise of a medical exit.

Simultaneously, I messaged the family who had recently received the promise of a Medical Exit Letter to see if they would be willing to escort Clementine home, provided we miraculously received her visa, an Exit Letter and the blessing of DGM for someone to escort her home. We still have a nursing baby at home and would wait at least 13 days to receive our travel visas, so it was worth a shot to see if they could be allowed to bring her home sooner than we would have been able to do so (and to forgo the pump-and-dump scenario that would play out for over a week if I had to travel to Africa). They were willing, and we wrote up an Escort Authorization on the off chance that DGM would consider it after also considering giving her a medical exit.

We had the Escort Authorization translated into French by our dear friend Jeffrey Karr, who has been a HUGE help throughout this adoption when we've needed translations quickly. (The guy is as selfless and clutch as it gets!) I then sent out an urgent request via Facebook for the services of a Notary, and a man and his wife from our church pulled through and met us early before church during the great torrential rains and flooding of December 27 in order to notarize the Authorization. I needed to send the documents to our agency reps to have in hand when they submitted our final documents while the family was (hopefully) still there.

In short, we did a lot of planning ahead of time, JUST IN CASE. We threw a lot of Hail Mary Passes, JUST IN CASE. We called and emailed a ton of people, JUST IN CASE.

We kept hearing that Clementine's visa would be issued when the Embassy medical report was returned by the clinic that created it. The Embassy said it needed to be corrected. I emailed the Embassy often, then began calling them to see if they could call the clinic and check on the status of her report. Finally, I received an email stating that Embassy staff had spoken with someone at the clinic, and they had told staff that the report would be ready "tomorrow." I called the Embassy early on December 28 to check on her visa status again, and after leaving a message on a machine at the Embassy I checked my email a few hours later (in the middle of the night) to see that her visa would be ready for pickup the next day (Tuesday, December 29) after 2 PM.

The other family was still there, and they were SELFLESSLY waiting to see if Clementine could come home with them and join us. I cannot even tell you how amazing this family is!!

I notified my agency, who notified the reps in DRC, who then picked up the visa and dropped them off at DGM to complete her file. We weren't told anything official, but the reps felt good about the possibility that Clementine would get a Medical Exit Letter.

The other family had their daughter with them, and they have a son who must remain in DRC because his court paperwork has taken forever (heartbreaking!!). Clementine would go with them the next day, as her foster mamas requested to have her with them another day to clean her up and do her hair.

At this point in the process, it hit me hard: These nannies were saying goodbye to their dear little Clemence. I cannot express to you the amount of sadness I felt for them, even as I was hoping it was true. They love her so much, they have been so much to her, and they had to say goodbye so quickly. I know it is best for her to have a forever family, but I am still so sad for them and for her. It is a scenario I hadn't imagined until that point, and it was devastating.

Meanwhile, the escort family was making travel arrangements, looking at flights to come home and bring Clementine with them. It still felt like a long shot, but it also felt a little bit like hope. Flights were booked for New Year's Eve, with the small hope and chance that she would be given the green light to come home with them by then.

The family who had traveled to DRC still had not received the Medical Exit Letter by the end of the day Wednesday, and we were told that it was because they pushed back their appointment with DGM so DGM could review their daughter's file and Clementine's file at the same time. This was a bit unnerving, because we assumed DGM would close early on Thursday, New Year's Eve, and remain closed for a long holiday weekend. They still didn't have an appointment time by the end of the day Wednesday.

Thursday was a long day. We hoped to hear something early in the morning, as we believed the office would close around noon (5 am our time). I drove to my parents' house later that morning with a huge lump in my throat and a heavy soul of weariness weighing me down.  I was supposed to drop off Oaklee and go get some quick shopping done without my kids, but instead I just sat on their couch and stewed.

I was physically sick, my heart was sick, and I had just received a message from the family in country: The husband had gone with the agency reps to DGM to show them the flight information for their flights which were leaving that night. He was literally going to beg for the Exit Letters that had been promised because DGM was telling our rep (who is AMAZING, by the way) that they would not give the promised letters. Our rep sent for the husband so he could prove that everyone's plane tickets had already been bought.

Things did not look good. DGM had promised Exit Letters that did not seem to be coming to fruition. The family was going to beg, and I did not see that ending well. I was a mess.

After an hour of feeling sorry for myself and waiting for more news, I left my parents' house to get the teenager who has been staying with us (who had stayed with his brother in town the night before). We stopped in Panera for a couple of Frozen Mochas (my drink of choice), and while I waited in line I anxiously checked for a status update from the escort family in DRC on their private adoption page: "We are coming home!!!!!! Praise God!!! Thank you so much for your prayers!!!"

WHAT!?! It took everything in me to not lose it right there in line at Panera. I didn't have confirmation that Clementine was included, so I rejoiced with them and asked for clarification. With all of the hubbub of them packing up and trying to catch their flight, I didn't receive confirmation until several moments later, after I got home to Brad (with other friends who were there to vaccinate our cow, for goodness' sake). "YESS!!!! Same flights."

SHE WAS COMING HOME.

SHE WAS COMING HOME THAT NIGHT. SHE WOULD BE IN OUR ARMS THE NEXT NIGHT.

I was in shock. Happy, but still weary. Still needing confirmation that she had gotten on that plane and left the grounds of DRC.

We rushed around doing this and that and who knows what else (what a blur) and booking flights to meet the family in Ohio.

By that night, my flight check proved it: Their plane had left DRC.

Brad and I were both SO SICK. So much coughing, so many tissues, so exhausted.

But we were going to get our daughter. Nothing else mattered.

Nothing had played out the way we saw it happening, but that didn't matter either.

We were going to get our daughter.

(I will continue more of this story later...I'm sure I'm leaving some important details out!)

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

overwhelmed

The greatest thing has happened: Clementine was finally allowed to join our family. Many of you who read this blog are my Facebook friends, but to others I suppose this news is quite a surprise! I hope to be back soonish to fill you in on all of the details that MIRACULOUSLY brought her home to us with 24 hour's notice, but for now you will have to settle for this post.

Right now, we are feeling OVERWHELMED.

OVERWHELMED by the mercy of God, who we believe moved mountains to allow her to join our family. Not just one mountain, MANY mountains.

OVERWHELMED by the sadness we have for those who still wait for their DRC children to join their families.

OVERWHELMED by the outpouring of love and JOY from friends, family, our DRC family of adoptive parents, and total strangers. We have felt your hugs of both the literal and figurative nature.

OVERWHELMED by the sheer number of people who prayed with us and journeyed along beside us in our heartache as we waited for this time of unity.

OVERWHELMED by the cost of redemption. Clementine is a hurting little girl. I am not going to sugarcoat it. In one day, she experienced more new and different things than most people endure in one year. She is mourning the loss of all she knows. We are so thankful that God can make all things new, and that He is using us to do so, but it is SO HARD and SO OVERWHELMING. Our family is in crisis. I know that seems like an exaggeration, but every one of us is trying to figure out this new "normal" and how to navigate through her sadness to redeem her past. Having a forever family will be better for her in the long run, but she does not know or understand that yet. Right now she is fragile and clinging to Brad because that's all she knows to do.

OVERWHELMED by the generosity of friends and family who have given and offered to do so much. We have meals dropped off on our doorstep (a huge blessing because cooking is one less thing for us to be concerned about), fresh and folded laundry, childcare for our other kids if needed, a nice new minivan (which I truly LOVE!), cookies with which to cope with the stress, clothes and haircare items and tips for Clementine. Our village is blessing us in so many ways. We are overwhelmed by this outpouring of grace and love.

OVERWHELMED by the adjustment that is required of our family and the thought of navigating through the parenting aspect. Quite a bit has changed in about 5 months...new baby, new preschool, new sister from DR Congo, new houseguest (the 15-year-old). We are seeing some regressive behaviors in our boys (wanting to be fed, wanting us to put their clothes on, wanting us to brush their teeth, needing to be held, whining, etc.). We think that's pretty natural, but we also want to navigate with grace.

OVERWHELMED by the selflessness of the Goodbar's, who escorted her home on a LONG journey, and by the efforts of Jeffrey Karr, who translated the final document (an escort authorization) that brought her to our arms. Our hearts are overwhelmed with gratitude to these people.

Overall, we are just overwhelmed by a lot of love, a lot of mercy, and the need for a lot of redemption.