Saturday, January 7, 2017

One Month In Our Arms

Christmas Eve marked one month since we met our beautiful doll... and December 29th was the one month anniversary of the day we got custody of her! One month of hugs and kisses. One month of sass and sweetness - sugar and spice! One month of hairbows, sparkly shoes, and princess songs. One month of tucking our little darling into bed each night and waking up to her smile each morning. One month of snuggles and giggles and beautiful memories together! This post will recap all of her "firsts" with us so far, and some of our favorite things about Kate - but for now let me just say - I have experienced more JOY in the past month with her than I ever imagined possible! At bedtime on our 1 month-iversary" when I said "I love you", she repeated it back to me three times before I turned off the light. I thought my heart might burst! 💗


I've had friends ask if every day with Kate is magical... and the truth is, most days are more comfortable than they are magical (and there is a sweetness in the "comfortable" too!) Most of the time, it honestly feels like she's been with us forever! She fits so beautifully into our family, and she's doing so well that we have to remind ourselves that we've only had her for a month! But every now and then, the magic sneaks up and surprises me. Suddenly an ordinary moment will feel so extraordinary - because the reality that she is HERE and she is OURS will set in anew. When I get to sing her to sleep.... it's magic. Seeing her play in her room for the first time had me crying happy tears in the corner. Watching her dance to Christmas music while I make breakfast, and seeing her sitting beneath our Christmas tree at night makes my heart swell! And while opening Christmas cards addressed to "The Jackson Family of THREE" or "Rusty, Ericka, & Kate Jackson" I could not hold back the tears. There are plenty of difficult times that we are still experiencing as we adjust to life together - but then there are these moments when our life with her feels so completely picturesque... like watching my daughter play with my Dad for the first time, and hearing the song "Cinderella"come on my Pandora app at that exact moment. Suddenly my Dad and I were singing Kate the song we danced to on my wedding day, while she giggled. I wanted time to stand still!

* * * * * * *

We missed so many of Kate's "firsts" while we waited on her the past few years - first smile, first words, first steps... but we sure are enjoying the "firsts" we get to experience together! In the past month, Kate has enjoyed:


Her first tuk tuk ride in Chiang Mai (she would ride them all day every day if we’d let her! She LOVES tuk tuks!), first paddle boat ride in Bangkok (Swan Boats in Lumpini Park), first train ride at the Birmingham Zoo (for Zoo Light Safari), and her first airplane ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand! (Followed by the long trip home – Chiang Mai to Seoul to Atlanta to Bham!)


Kate also had what we believe was her first trip to the beach in Pattaya (it was just a few minutes in the carrier on our first day after custody - but we'll say it counts!), the aquarium in Bangkok (she loved the penguins, otters, sea turtles, and sea horses), and the Zoo in Chiang Mai (she loved the elephant, birds, and tiny monkeys!)


We've taken our little girl on her first shopping trips too – to the mall in Chiang Mai for her first (shiny silver) tennis shoes (she never wants to take them off now!), and to the night bazaar (she picked out a bracelet and a coin purse).


And of course our most favorite "first" so far, was having Kate here for her first Christmas HOME with her family!!! It's taking me longer than expected to update my blog (personal time is few and far between these days) - but I hope to have a recap of Christmas (and a video) to share here with you all soon!


* * * * * * *

A few more things about Kate...

SLEEP

I prayed so hard that I would have a good little sleeper… while literally EVERYONE told me to kiss sleep goodbye. Luckily, God knew just what I needed! Kate sleeps anywhere from 9-12 hours a night (she even pulled a 14 hour night our first 2 nights home after travel!) She also takes a 1-2 hour nap most days. She is fully potty trained and only had one nighttime accident the first month with us. She loves bathtime before bed (she had never had a warm bath before... only cold showers at the orphanage due to the heat), putting on her PJs, and brushing her teeth. (One night she brushed them 8 times in a row!) We have only had 3 nights of “grief” that came either before or after a big move/transition (the first night of custody, then the night before the trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and the night after we traveled from Chiang Mai home to America). She is a bit of a night owl and fights sleep at times (melatonin helps with that), but once she’s down – she is a sound sleeper! When she wakes up in the morning - she is a happy girl, who likes to stay in bed and snuggle a bit with Papa before eating breakfast. We loved co-sleeping with her in Thailand and our first few days home, but she decided on her own that she wanted to start sleeping in her own bed Christmas Eve Eve! (And her Mama cried! I wasn't ready for that yet!) She ends up in our bed sometime in the middle of the night still (each night), but I'm proud of how brave she is wanting to sleep in her own bed.



FOOD

She is a GREAT eater. She has eaten almost everything we’ve offered – at least while we were in Thailand (though we usually were offering familiar Thai food). She has been more picky now that we’re home, but we’ve tried to keep rice, noodles, and spaghetti (all her favorites) in rotation often. She has no food issues as far as we can tell – she does not hoard or overeat. She will even share snacks happily with Mama and Papa, and with her friends too! Her favorite "treats" are gummy bears, gingerale, sprite, and anything chocolate!



LANGUAGE

We have definitely slowed down her English acquisition with the fact that we speak basic Thai... but it's just been so much easier to actually be able to explain things in a way she can understand (instead of forcing English on her). We primarily spoke Thai to her in Thailand, but are working on more English now that we're home. Her English vocabulary right now consists of, "Mama, Papa, Baby, Puppy, Bunny, Airplane, Yup, No, Yucky, Yummy, Banana, Apple, Medicine, Potty, Bath, Uh Oh, WOW, Please, and OTAY!" (okay) - plus some people's names (friends and family). She will repeat other things, but these are words she uses on her own. She can also sing "Happy Birthday" in English (I think she learned that at the orphanage), and every time she sees a candle she thinks it's time to sing "Happy Birthday" and blow it out! Haha! (Her birthday is going to be so much fun!) She can also do a few of her ABC's and 123's (which is something she was learning at the orphanage in her English classes!)



FAVORITES

These are a few of Kate's favorite things (right now anyway!) After not really being interested in stuffed animals the first 1-2 weeks with us, she now loves her Pooh Bear, Belle doll, and Bunny. She is constantly watching “Tigger lah Pooh” (My friends Tigger and Pooh) and watching the videos (in Thai) of the songs "A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes", “How Does She Know”, and "The Farang Song"! She loves being tickled, dancing, and GOING! Whether it's in the car (she hasn't cried once getting into her carseat), a train, tuk tuk, or an airplane. She loves to watch the airplanes that come over our house too! 

Now that we're home she likes her baby dolls (she takes their clothes off and on a million times)... but during our hotel stays she loved playing “elevator" (our closet was her pretend elevator), playing with rolls of toilet paper (she would make herself clothes out of them! Haha! She looked like a mummy!), and playing with the phone in the hotel room (we had to detach the phone line so she wouldn't call other rooms!) She also loves the water – whether she’s swimming, taking a bath, or just playing in the faucet. Sometimes she’ll wash her hands a half dozen times just so she can continue to play! 

Kate loves animals, and is OBSESSED with "puppies" right now. She has watched the movie "Santa Buddies" (the one with the golden retriever characters) at least a hundred times since we got home! I don't think she's ever been around animals, and now she squeals every time she sees a dog. I am grateful that we have so many "puppies" on our street (a bulldog, german shepherd, corgi, golden doodle, and 2 labs) and for our sweet neighbors who patiently let her look at them and pet them all the time! 

At least once a day we play a little game we've made up called "Mai Sabai". Rusty asks Kate in Thai, "Sabaidee Mai?" (Are you well?) and if she wants to be tickled, she responds, "Mai Sabai!" (I am not well!) Then she gets tickled until she yells, "Sabaidee Mak Mak!" (I'm very, very good!) Her giggle is the new soundtrack to our lives! 



* * * * * * *


In the midst of our brutally long wait to be matched with a child, I remember having an emotional conversation with a fellow adoptive mom one afternoon. I don't remember the details about what we said that day, but I do remember one thing she told me, "You cannot miss your child." She reminded me that God knew exactly who our daughter was, and that no matter how much time passed or how many errors we dealt with in our case, we couldn't possibly "miss" her. I wanted desperately to believe my friend, but at that time I thought, "How crazy. We could be matched with any number of kids, and the truth is - we'll love any child we are matched with." And while that might be true - after meeting Kate - there is not a doubt in my mind that she is specifically ours! It is no mistake she's in our family. All that waiting wasn't for "any child" - it was specifically for HER. She was handpicked from heaven for us, and it's so evident that she is OURS!


Kate is definitely Rusty’s child because she loves sweeping with her broom, and she always wants everything (including her) to be clean. If a single piece of spaghetti falls on the table she wants it wiped up on the spot! And if her hands and face get messy, she begs for a wet wipe! She also likes to take photos and videos (just like her photographer/videographer Papa). She has so much fun with her wooden toy camera – telling us where to stand and how to pose. And she has taken no less than 10,000 selfies and photos on our iPhones (usually pretty bad ones blocked by her little thumb. Haha!) She is also athletic like Papa, and can pitch and hit a foam ball with her foam bat, and catch and throw a football surprisingly well. And then there is the most special "sign" that she is Rusty's child... on our 2nd visit we realized that Kate has a birthmark on the back of her right hand – exactly like Rusty had when he was her age! Isn't that amazing?


She is definitely my child because – she is for sure a girly girl! Kate loves to have bows in her hair and at least once a day she'll put her hand on her hip, cock her head to the side and ask, "Soi mai kha?" (Am I pretty? YES you are baby girl!!!) She also loves to pose for photos just like her modeling Mama! Kate likes lotion, anything you can spray that smells good (perfume, hairspray, febreeze, essential oils, etc), and pretending to put on makeup. She LOVES shoes – and her first few days home she would rather change my shoes for me 15 times (I wore dress shoes with pajamas a lot those days!) than play with her toys! She also loves princess songs, princess dolls, and crowns. She got a Princess Sophia doll as a Christmas gift, and within 10 seconds of having her out of the box she’d taken her crown off to put it on herself! Haha! That’s my girl! (She was certainly named appropriately! ;) She likes to sing and dance – and loves to have music playing. She has already figured out how to work her toy microphone at home (thanks Aunt Kristian!) and in our hotel room in Chiang Mai she would pull the coffee table up to the bed to create a “stage” for herself to dance on! She also loves bunnies – which makes me smile! 


* * * * * * *

There are so many other memories I wish I could record, but for now I want to write down a few more things I don’t want to forget about Kate at this age... like the smell of her sweet little head, how soft her skin is, and how her precious little voice sounds saying “Mama!”. The first time she kissed me, what she looks like when she's sleeping, and how her tiny hand fits into mine. Hearing her try to sing along to my worship music, hearing her read to herself in “toddler Thai”, and the sound of her giggle (it is the best sound in the world!) The first time she saw a photo of me dressed as Belle (she gasped and smiled!), her bragging to the other kids about how pretty her mama is (we were told she did this every day after our visits to the orphanage! So sweet!), seeing her mimic me and pretend to put on makeup in my lap, and the very first time she said, “Love you Mama!” 


If you're still reading this long post, and you're considering adoption (or even if you're not) - please say YES! Start the process NOW! Every child is precious, and every child deserves a family. Kate has been the biggest blessing we've ever received! There is no way I could ever love a biological child more than I love this little girl. I can't believe that we could've missed her if we had said "no" to adoption - or if we'd given up when things got hard. My worst day with her is so much better than my best day without her. She was absolutely worth the wait! 💗 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Welcome Home Kate!

We are HOME with our beautiful daughter. 
We are finally home with her in our arms... and it still feels completely surreal! 


We left Chiang Mai, Thailand around midnight on Saturday night, December 17th - which was hard on our little girl who loves to sleep! Kate usually gets anywhere from 9-12 hours of sleep a night. Our first 5 hour flight was a rough one - with it being in the middle of the night, we had a very sleepy, fussy girl on our hands. She cried hysterically for the last hour - and we were so afraid the rest of the travel day would look the same way! But as soon as we got her out of the plane to play in the Seoul airport, she was our happy girl again! We ran around with her a LOT there, boarded our 13 hour flight to Atlanta, and she slept peacefully for 6-7 hours! She finished the flight by playing with the kiddos in front of us (they shared stickers back and forth through the seats for an hour. She is such a good sharer!) She even hugged them goodbye - it was precious!

When we landed in Atlanta, I started getting emotional. After the traumatic 5 year process we have been through - I could barely believe we were finally on US soil with our daughter!!! I got teary when we saw the US Immigration sign, and cried when we hit the customs line. Our adoption still won't be completely final for another 1-2 years (we still have to do post placement reports, finalization in the US, and finalization with the Thai consulate) - but having her here in America is such a HUGE step!!! She was fantastic through customs (we have such a great kid ya'll!), and was excited to let me change her into her cute Christmas PJ's before our final flight HOME!

I was not prepared for how emotional that last flight would be. Many of you who have been following our story on Instagram and Facebook know that Kate has been pushing me away a lot - sometimes all day, every day. It's been hard and heartbreaking. But it has slowly gotten better and better - and on our travel days we finally turned a corner! She finally started asking for me again - wanting to sit in my lap sometimes, and rarely pushed my hand away when I reached out to comfort her. She started the final flight on Rusty's lap, but once we took off she decided she wanted to sit with me!

What happened next felt like a dream. She got out my phone because she wanted to listen to music (this little girl loves music, loves to hear Mama sing, and has already started dancing and trying to sing along when she hears us play songs in English!) She especially loves worship songs. I turned on my playlist for our trip - which includes the song "Mine To Love" - our song for Kate's adoption.  Every time I have heard this song for the past 4 years - I have seen our little girl in my mind. A mini video would play in my head and heart each time I heard those words... of us meeting her for the first time... hugging and kissing her for the first time... hearing her giggle and seeing her smile... and of course, us coming home with her. Well, imagine my surprise when she took out the earbuds we'd given her, put one in my ear so that I could hear too, and happened to "skip" to the song, "Mine to Love". It came on just as we started our descent to Birmingham, and I could not hold back the tears. (Luckily, she was focused on the phone and couldn't see me crying!)

More than anything, I wanted to walk into our Airport Homecoming with my daughter in my arms. I've dreamed of that moment for years... but with her preferring Rusty so strongly, I just knew it wasn't going to happen. There have been a lot of times in this process that I felt like God was distant... but on this day, I was reminded that He is very present, and He is still a God of detail. Kate wanted Mama after the flight - and that's what she got! We rushed through the airport with butterflies in our stomachs, hearts beating faster than ever, and the biggest smiles on our faces! Kate hopped on the escalator holding Mama's hand (she wanted to ride it with her Pooh Bear!), and my darling little girl was in my arms when we ran into our parents' arms!






I am crying again as I type this blog and see these photos. More than anything I wanted to sit down and sob in that airport - tears of relief, JOY, and thanksgiving! But Kate has never seen me cry - and I didn't want to scare her when she was doing so well! So I let myself cry a little (as you can see in the photos below - I couldn't help but cry the moment I had my baby girl in my arms, and I had made it back to my mama's arms!), but I tried to hold back the tears (until I came home and truly let them go once I saw her playing happily in her beautiful room!)


[Introducing Kate to her Yaai and Dtah! (my parents)] 


[This was such a special moment! I'm so grateful my mom made it through her spinal surgery well 
and was able to be at the airport to meet her first grandchild! I couldn't hold back the tears!!!]

[Kate meeting some of her soon to be best friends - Piper, Karis, and Evie - as all her grandparents look on!]  

She was a total HAM at the airport - LOVING the attention, and putting on a show for everyone! Every time we counted "nung, song, sam!" (one, two, three!) for a photo she would throw her hand into the air and yell - "YAY!!!" It was hilarious! She loved meeting her family and friends (those who could make it) - just as long as she was in Mama or Papa's arms (which shows great attachment! We were really pleased to see that!) Towards the end when the crowd thinned out, she would run back and forth to me and Rusty and jump into our arms to be spun around. (I told ya'll - she loves to put on a show! Haha!) She is just so much fun!!!

[Kate with her Yaai & Dtah] 

[Kate with her Tutu and Pappy] 

[Kate meeting all her new friends! These babies have helped pray her home, and they were all SO excited!]



December 18th will always be a special day in this family! To everyone who came to welcome us at the airport (and to Heather who took these beautiful photos - and Kali who shot the video that we'll share here soon) - we can't thank you enough! We know this is a busy time of year, but it meant the world to us to see your smiling faces (and special signs!) when we came down that escalator! You gave us such a beautiful homecoming, and it is a memory that we will never forget. Thank you for being there to welcome Kate home at last!

And now, our "Happily Ever After" begins... 

* * * * * * *

I apologize that this update was delayed a few days, but our first few days home we were both deliriously happy - and delirious from exhaustion. Haha! A 26 hour travel day + jet lag with a 3 year old will really wear you out! Luckily we have an awesome little sleeper - she got 14 hours the first two nights home, and 9 hours the next two nights. These days we are sleeping when she sleeps though - because she insists we go to bed together (we are co-sleeping) which means we aren't getting much of anything done, but that's okay! We go to bed early, wake up early, and play with her all day every day. Our bags are still mostly packed, we have up minimal Christmas decorations (a barely decorated tree + stockings is it this year!), and we can't leave the house without her getting extremely upset (there is still fear that we won't come back!) - so our 2 trips out have had to be as a family of three. This is why "cocooning" is so important! She is still learning what it means to have a family! 

These first few days home we've been focused primarily on giving Kate as much attention as she wants. This is another big transition for her, and she's in a house with walls between us (she can't see us if she's in another room here - versus our time in Thailand where we were in studio style hotel rooms!) So we play a lot together wherever she wants to be, and we come running every time we hear "Mama! Papa!" so that she knows we're there! 

She is getting to know the neighborhood children and loving having playmates again! Right now she is outside riding her little pink tricycle with "Papa" and our neighbor friends - so I was able to sneak away and post this blog. Stay tuned for more updates (just as soon as I can slip away and write them!) We have so much we want to share about our beautiful little girl! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

I'll Be Home For Christmas

Today marks exactly two weeks since we took custody of Kate, and we are completely in love with our precious little girl! I apologize for not being able to post any blog updates - but I'm trying to be as present as possible as we take our first steps as a family of three. I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up with my blog during this trip - but I have been posting a short update each day on Facebook and Instagram - so feel free to follow along there if you aren't already (Here are the links to Ericka's, Rusty's, & Kate's personal account for family & friends!)

I do have a lot on my heart that I want to share once we're home - so stay tuned for plenty of blogs to come about our sweet Kate! Today though, it's time to finally announce that we've booked our tickets - and we'll all be...



... HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!

We leave Chiang Mai, Thailand this Saturday night (Saturday morning to all of you). We'll fly to Seoul, S. Korea (5 hours + a layover), Atlanta (13 hours + a layover), and then we'll finally land at the Birmingham airport at 12:52 pm this Sunday afternoon, December 18th!

We will be having an "Airport Homecoming Party" - as many adoptive families do. If you're a personal friend or family member, you are welcome to come and greet us when we land! We know there are so many people who are anxious to meet Kate, and this will be the fastest and easiest way to make that happen. We can all celebrate our homecoming together, have a short visit, and then the three of us will need to hurry home to get some rest after a very long, overwhelming travel day.

We are flying on Delta - so we'll be coming through that area of the airport for "arrivals". We ask that you all please meet in a group at the bottom of the escalators for us to come down to you! (If for any reason our flight is delayed, we'll do our best to post an update on Facebook!)

* * * 

We have just a few rules for those who greet us at the airport (please make sure to read them all the way through!) 

#1 - Please do NOT pick up Kate. There is a good chance she'll be in her carrier - strapped to one of us - but if she isn't, please do NOT hold your arms out to pick her up. If she reaches for you - please shake your head "no" and point to either myself or Rusty and say "Mama or Papa". It is very important for attachment and bonding that she not be held by anyone but the two of us for quite some time.

#2 - Please give Kate some space. If she is in our carrier strapped to one of our chests, you can hug whomever is carrying her, but please try not to overwhelm Kate. You can greet her by talking to her and waving to her (she knows the sign language for "I love you" if you want to do that too!) - but please do NOT kiss her (it's flu season and she has not been exposed to the germs in America) and please do not touch her intentionally (such as stroking her face, arm, leg, head, etc - she does not like to be touched when she's feeling overwhelmed). If she's doing really well with everything happening, we'll tell you if you are able to hug or touch her. (For the record though - she is more likely to be okay with kids touching her than adults.)

#3 - Please allow our parents to meet their granddaughter FIRST before rushing to us. This is their first grandchild on both sides - so it's important that they have a few minutes to greet her (and they get to hug and kiss her!) before she meets everyone else. You'll know my mom - because she'll have a HUGE banner with Kate's photo and a castle on it. (I haven't seen it, but I've heard about it. Haha.) She has recently had back surgery, so please be gentle with her too!

#4 - Please stay for a group photo! We will have friends shooting a video and photos of our homecoming celebration, and we'd love to have everyone stay (after the "meeting and greeting" is over) for a group photo! It will be special to have a photo of all of you that Kate can look back on for years to come!

We have no idea how this little "party" will go - so please be understanding if Kate is overwhelmed, quiet and withdrawn, or upset. We will have just had a very long travel day, and she'll be seeing a LOT of unfamiliar faces. We have videoed 4 different adoption homecomings in the past few years, and every child handles them differently. While we hope you'll get to see some of our sweet, sassy girl's big personality - the most important thing is for us to make her feel safe.

* * * 

Once we are home, we'll be "cocooning" with Kate. This is a term that adoptive parents use to describe a time where they stay home a lot, and they focus on bonding and attachment between them and their child. I will try to post a longer blog explaining what that looks like exactly - but the short answer is that we'll need to be sure that Rusty and I are the only ones caring for Kate. This means only "Mama" and "Papa" will hold, comfort, and feed Kate. It also means we'll need to focus on helping her adjust to being home, getting in a new routine, and keeping her world small for a little while. She has grown up in an orphanage with multiple caregivers for her entire life. She doesn't understand what a family is yet, or what "home" even means. So please understand that we won't be able to have visitors at first - as we work to make her feel safe, loved, and well adjusted in our home!

Okay friends - I'll share more later... but we look forward to seeing some of you on December 18th! We can't wait to introduce you to our beautiful baby girl! 


Thursday, December 1, 2016

Miracle after Miracle

Monday was an exhausting day. We took an unexpected trip to Bangkok in an attempt to get our fingerprints re-done by the USCIS office here, after yet another error/issue/obstacle in our case. We were granted some serious favor by that office - since they allowed us to do our fingerprints again, but we weren't sure how long it would take for them to be in the system and sent to the US Embassy. We knew we had to wait for both of those things to happen, as well as wait for the Embassy to issue our Article 5, before we could take custody of our daughter. We were hoping and praying that maybe, just maybe, we would have custody by the end of the week.

But we had no idea what God had in store for us over the next 24 hours.


In August of 2015, a perfect stranger spoke a prophetic word to us about our adoption. Not knowing anything about our case at the time (and having no idea about how long we'd waited or any of the obstacles we'd faced) - she said she saw a vision of God "cutting the red tape". She even asked us to put a piece of red tape in our daughter's doorway and to cut it - as a symbol of faith that God would do this on our behalf. (In case you haven't been following along... if they made a movie about our adoption it would either be titled "WWIII" or "RED TAPE". Seriously - the "excessive rules and formalities" that have been applied to our case have been mind blowing. This was definitely a word from God.)


A month later, the craziest thing happened. On our last Sunday before we left for a work trip to Africa, a woman at a church we were visiting prayed over us (for our trip). Halfway through the prayer she stopped and asked, "Do you have children?" When we replied we were adopting, she closed her eyes and nodded knowingly. "Uh huh.... hmmm... yes.... I see an image of God cutting the red tape..." - I seriously almost came apart. How could she possibly know? It was our first time at this church, and once again she knew nothing about us or our story!

We thought for sure we would see God move in an extraordinary way at some point very soon. We cut a piece of red tape in the doorway to our daughter's room, and left the two pieces in the frame as a reminder of our faith. We prayed, and hoped, and waited in anticipation for God to make His move evident. But a year passed, and it never came.

We thought for sure the "August word" God gave me had something to do with the red tape... but nothing happened in August. And then we thought maybe our Article 16 coming earlier than expected was the beginning of God cutting the red tape... but soon after that we came up against even more obstacles. By the time we left for Thailand - we still didn't have the approvals we needed (we only left because we knew we could visit our daughter, even if we couldn't take custody). I actually got pretty furious about that "red-tape word" because my faith had run out for anything extraordinary to happen. In a moment of anger one day this Fall, I ripped the red tape remnants out of Kate's bedroom doorway and threw them away.

* * * * * * * * * * *

In November, we booked our one-way tickets to Thailand. While on the phone with Adoption Airfare, our agent asked if she could pray with us about hopefully getting approval to make the December 1st Board Date. As she prayed - out of no where she said, "And God, we're just asking you to cut the red tape to make a way for this family..." - I was instantly in tears again. When I told her the significance of those words, she said she NEVER uses that phrase and "didn't know where it came from". I wondered then if maybe God was up to something? Could it be that something miraculous could happen, and we could make the December 1st Board Date (and be home with our daughter for Christmas?)

We tried to be brave and hopeful, but it was hard to be expectant after so many disappointments. We were courageous enough to come to Thailand though - even though our agency advised against it. Somewhere, deep inside, there was a tiny flicker of hope still burning in me. I knew that we needed to be ready, "just in case" God moved on our behalf. But then the US Embassy set a deadline for November 22nd, and our fingerprint refresh didn't come in by then. So our hopes were dashed. We weren't even sure if we would get custody before December 1st... and we definitely weren't going to make the December 1st Adoption Board Meeting. We tried to focus on the positives - at least we got to visit our daughter (and hoped to have custody soon). At least we'd be with her for Christmas - even if we were stuck in Thailand. We bought an advent calendar here and some toys for Christmas morning, extended our hotel stay, and bought groceries for the week.

BUT GOD...

We thought we'd be stuck in Thailand for weeks to come... but God had a different plan (and we're so glad He did!) It turns out... He was just sharpening His sword and would soon be slashing ALL the red tape!

Not only did the USCIS office in Bangkok grant us favor Monday by redoing our fingerprints.... they had our new fingerprints in the system less than 12 hours later. By Monday night, we had an email from our very kind USCIS officer in America, who'd been checking constantly (for days) for our refresh to come through. She instantly uploaded the information so that the NVC and US Embassy could see it, and sent out a notice to us and our adoption agency. The agency then forwarded the information on to the US Embassy on our behalf, and we let the Orphanage Director here (Khun Toy) know late Monday night that we were just waiting on the Embassy to respond with our Article 5!

The plan on Tuesday was to go pick up our daughter and her best friend for another visit to our hotel to go swimming at the pool (just like we'd done on Saturday afternoon). But this time, we'd have our longest visit thus far. We came downstairs packed for the pool (even wearing our swimsuits under our clothes) - but instead of Khun Toy waiting in the car, she was waiting in the lobby. "We need to talk," she said. "I have been calling the DSDW about the Board Meeting. I have talked to the supervisor, and they agreed that if your Article 5 comes TODAY by 3pm, they will give you the December 1st Board Meeting."

"WHAT?!?" - Rusty and I were in shock. Khun Toy had been working behind the scenes to advocate for us - what a gift! We quickly got my computer to write the Embassy and let them know the latest news. We felt a flicker of hope - even though we knew we'd passed the Embassy's deadline. Would they make an exception for us? Would God cut THIS red tape? Was there any way this might be possible?

It seemed utterly and completely impossible. We'd exhausted all our hope and faith - but God wasn't done with our story yet. The next few hours were a WHIRLWIND. What was supposed to just be a visit to swim at our hotel, turned into us being granted custody when an email arrived from the Embassy. They said YES! Yes to our Article 5, and YES to a December 1st Board Date!

As soon as she heard the news, Khun Toy made calls to all the necessary departments and supervisors, and 3 more "yeses" were confirmed. Rusty and I stared wide-eyed at each other, while Kate begged to go to the pool (clueless about what was happening around her!) Within a matter of minutes we went from not knowing when we'd get custody of our daughter (and planning to be here in Thailand until January) - to having custody, taking our first "official" steps as a family, making plans to attend the December 1st Board Meeting, and realizing...

WE'LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!


In the past 48 hours we cancelled our hotel stay in Pattaya, started taking care of our daughter 24/7, packed ALL our bags (with a precious child who wanted to be held every moment - Lord help me, it was my worst packing job ever!), called our families to tell them the news, sent all our gifts for the children and caregivers to the orphanage (we're still so sad we didn't get to say goodbye! We thought we'd be back there Friday!), moved all our things and ourselves to Bangkok (1.5 hours away), got settled into a new hotel, got our paperwork in order, and attended an extremely important Child Adoption Board Meeting at the DSDW.


Honestly, I think I was in a kind of blissful shock for the first few hours. Here we were, suddenly responsible for this precious little girl - and suddenly and the midst of a tornado of decisions, changing plans, and things to do. It didn't really set in for me until she was fast asleep in our bed next to her Pooh Bear. And then, I took a minute to stand across the room and quietly cry tears of relief, JOY, and thanksgiving.

* * * * * * * * * * * 

I still don't know how everything happened so fast. We have heard some of the details of how it all came to pass and I will tell you that they are extraordinary! The Thai Adoption Board is so kind and compassionate. They really care about their children and adoptive families! When they realized they could make this happen for us and we could make it home for Christmas, they bent over backwards to make it possible. The director told us today it was her Christmas gift to us, and we thanked her profusely! I was so moved by their love and kindness, and we really enjoyed our meeting with them today. They asked us a lot about our work with The Sound of Hope, and were pleasantly surprised to hear us speak Thai! They even asked if we would consider adopting again (who knows what God has in store for us?!)


I still can't believe we've done all this with a brand new (to us) child - and we're actually all doing well. Honestly, our little girl is a dream come true, and she has amazed us with how well she is adjusting and attaching. I'll try to post another blog soon with more details - but you guys, we are in awe of our little Thai darling! She's been sad about this transition because she misses her caregivers and her friends at the orphanage (which is totally healthy. We're so glad she was loved and cared for well - and that it was hard for her to say goodbye! Pattaya Orphanage really has an incredible level of care!) - but 97% of the day she is genuinely happy and having fun. She's well behaved, so sweet, funny, and has a huge personality! She loves to laugh, is eating well, and sleeping surprisingly well too. She also seems to really like both of us, and wants us both with her all the time. She loves to snuggle and be held, and fills our room with giggles! We feel so lucky and blessed that she is ours!

The past 2 days God has cut SO much red tape in this adoption process.... but we also believe that He cut away the "red tape" from our daughter's heart too. We never dreamed our first few days as a family would feel so natural and easy. Waking up with her beside us each morning is amazing. This morning she let me fix her hair in cute little pigtails for the very first time (she loves her bows Kristin!), and I put her in the little bunny dress I blogged about here. To see her walking down the hall in that dress, hand in hand with her "Papa" on the way to the Board Meeting was so surreal. We are truly enjoying our time together, and we're amazed at the work God is doing to bond our little family!


Thank you to all of you who have prayed for us so far. We went so long with what seemed like unanswered prayers in our adoption. I still don't understand why we had to wait almost 5 years for our little girl,  and I still don't understand the purpose of much of our pain. But I do believe that (as I said in this blog) God was "taking His time to gather a crowd to watch a show that would bring Him glory". He is often an 11th hour God - and He absolutely came through for us in a MIRACULOUS way at the very last minute! We have seen miracle after miracle in the past 48 hours. This truly felt like the parting of the Red Sea... and we're still amazed that we walked through on dry land!

God really does write the best stories. Today was a historic day for our family, and a historic day for our daughter's country too. As Kate stepped into our lives completely (with this momentous approval from the Thai Adoption Board) and we descended the stairs at the DSDW as a family, the new Thai King ascended the throne. I watched video coverage during dinner, holding our little girl (in her princess pajamas) in my lap. This joyous day will be remembered in Thai history forever... and in our family's history forever too!

(I wish you could see the face of our "Joyous Thai"! She has a beautiful smile!)

Please continue to cover our family in your prayers. Tomorrow we have Kate's medical appointment at the hospital - which will be a difficult day (even with such an easy, awesome child!) So please pray for her little heart to be able to trust us. We really wanted a week to bond as a family before the Board Meeting and the Medical Appointment - but that just wasn't in the cards. Once the appointment is done though, we'll have a few days to rest. Then hopefully (if the medical results are back in time), we'll have our visa appointment early next week!

We're still unsure of when we'll be coming home. We would like to take our daughter to Chiang Mai for at least a week to enjoy time with her in the city where we lived back in 2011, and to introduce her to some dear friends. We know it will be a few years before we're able to travel here with her again... so we want to take this opportunity to make some special memories together in Thailand! But once we've booked our flights home, we'll definitely let you all know (and we'll let you know when the "Airport Welcome Home Party" is happening!) It may only be a few days before Christmas.... but this mama is on Cloud 9 knowing I'll see my little girl beneath my Christmas tree on Christmas morning! What a dream come true!!! 

Monday, November 28, 2016

We're Still Fighting

I have waited almost 5 years to hold my daughter. The anticipation for that special moment has been building for so, so long. I have literally dreamed of it - both waking and asleep. To say I had some expectations would be an understatement.

Not for Kate really... I know enough about adoption (and am friends with enough adoptive families) to know not to hope for anything extraordinary from our little girl. I expected nothing beyond her to maybe be scared, or to even be crying the day we met. We were pleasantly surprised to get giggles and hugs on Day 1! But for myself.... whoa did I have some expectations.

I expected to cry tears of joy. I expected a flood of emotions. I expected the first time I held her to feel magical somehow (am I alone in this?) Silly - maybe - but when you wait and work and wage WAR to get to something.... to someone... you expect that moment to be pretty epic.

I've been disappointed with myself for how my heart is struggling to engage. Don't get me wrong - I've experienced some serious moments of joy with our little girl so far! She is more beautiful than we ever imagined, and so much fun! We have seen little glimpses of her personality that make us so excited to get to know her! I am incredibly grateful that I am here - able to hold her - instead of still at home, waiting to meet her. But if I'm being honest - I don't feel like her mama yet. With the work we do, right now my "visits" with her feel a lot like my visits with other kids I love in our Children's Homes around the world. It is hard to see her as my daughter, Kate. Right now she answers to Namfon, and after every visit she goes back to an orphanage.

If I'm being really, truly honest - I don't even feel that attached to her yet. I know that after all these years of loving her from afar I SHOULD! But I mostly feel tired. And scared. And overwhelmed. And a little numb.

I've cried and felt guilty over it - even though I know plenty of friends who struggled with attachment to their adopted child. I've shamed myself - even though our agency told us that after what we've experienced (a traumatic adoption) - we might struggle to attach. But the more I've thought about our situation, the more I've started to give myself grace. Of COURSE I don't feel a sense of peace, relief, overwhelming joy and abounding love.... I AM STILL IN THE MIDDLE OF A WAR.


We thought we'd have our final approval before we met our daughter - but that day, along with our 2nd visit - were both overshadowed by the looming "unknown" of when we'd be able to take custody. And then, just hours before visit #3, we got the devastating news that our fingerprint refresh (that should have come in "any day") didn't come at all.

Someone in the US government made a mistake, and our fingerprints did NOT get refreshed. Honestly, my head is still swimming from that news. Before we left the country, I confirmed with 3 different USCIS officers on 3 different dates that all we had to do was send an email and request for our fingerprints to be updated. They explained that they would then forward the request to the FBI, and within 1-5 weeks, they would be "refreshed" in the system. At that time, we could take custody of our daughter. We were never, ever, ever told that there was any risk of it not happening. But of course it did happen, to us.

So here we are, in Thailand - at a time when we should be focused on bonding with our daughter - still fighting for our final approval. On days when we should be taking our first steps as a family, and focusing on how sweet she looks when she sleeps, and how cute she is with her Pooh Bear - we are still fighting for custody and visiting her at an orphanage. And on top of all that, we're fighting for physical health, as I have dealt with a migraine and 2 tension headaches the last 3 days, as well as nausea the last 2 nights. (It's amazing the toll that stress can take on your body). We're also fighting for our spiritual and emotional health in the face of all this stress and trauma.... oh yes, AND we're fighting for our daughter's heart. Every single moment spent with her we are fighting to connect, fighting to bond, fighting to make her feel loved and safe with us.

No wonder I feel exhausted and numb.

This should be a time for snuggles and laughter and tears and joy and "firsts" - and a feeling of relief that she is finally ours - but we're. still. fighting. This should be a time of peace, when we can lay down our weapons and enjoy our little girl - but the battle wages on.

Is it any wonder that I don't "feel" the things I hoped to feel? My body cannot produce any oxytocin (the bonding hormone) right now, when it is pumping out cortisol (the stress hormone) in overdrive!

We are so tired of fighting friends. We need to REST! But that doesn't seem possible. We are trying... we are trying. We try to carve out moments of peace here and there - but peace just isn't something you can force. Right now we can do little more than survive. We are getting little sleep, we are dealing with new obstacles this week, and we are so worn out. This is the reality for us. We are surviving - and right now that is a feat.

Today, our battle was in Bangkok. We were told that our only hope of getting custody of our daughter any time soon, was to see if the USCIS office here would do a new, digital scan of our fingerprints. So we hired a driver and woke up this morning at 5:00 am to make the trip. After only 4 hours of sleep, a 3 hour drive, visiting the wrong office, phone calls to the embassy, a whole lot of explanations at the front desk, and an agonizing 40 minute wait - we thought they were going to turn us away. We waited for what felt like an eternity in that office - hearts racing, hands shaking, praying fervently. We were barely holding back the tears when a door opened and an American woman asked, "Are you ready to get your fingerprints done?" I can't even explain how I felt in that moment. I seriously fought the urge to hug this stranger, or maybe even kiss her feet! (I'm not lying - the thought crossed my mind for an instant!) And when I turned around - Rusty (my strong "not so sensitive" husband - who has cried so few times in our marriage I can count them on one hand) was full out sobbing in relief. I thought we were both going to have to sit in the floor to collect ourselves. The nice USCIS officer (bless her) was so understanding. We tried to apologize and explain our situation - but the reality of it friends is that we are raw. We are wounded and weary - and barely holding it together. Thank God for this bit of favor today. I don't think we could have handled it if they had turned us away.

As we walked out with our fingerprints done - so relieved - and waited for our driver outside the Embassy, I heard someone call my name. I honestly felt a moment of dread - fearful it was someone from USCIS coming out to tell us bad news! But I looked up in shock - to find my friend Frankie, his wife, and 2 precious little boys waving from across the street. Out of the 6.35 MILLION people in the massive city of Bangkok, we just happened to run into the one friend we have here - at the exact time of his family's US Embassy appointment. I almost burst into tears again!


Frankie and I led a team on a mission trip to South Africa 8 years ago, and his family is currently serving in Cambodia. They came here to have their second child. I haven't had the chance to meet his beautiful wife and adorable kids yet (one who is just a few days old!) To get to meet them was so special - and to get a hug from an old friend, so far from home, in the middle of so much stress was really comforting. I'm so grateful God worked out the timing to cross our paths! I truly felt like it was a hug from heaven on a difficult day.

I am trying hard today to trust God with the timing of everything else in our case now. It's hard - so hard to trust - when we have had so much go wrong. We have already passed the deadline for the December 1st meeting, so we won't be home for Christmas. I am trying to accept that - but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't also fighting feelings of sadness and disappointment, as well as jealously each time I see another photo of a friend enjoying this season with their child. There has just been so much grief and disappointment in our process.

But today - we are focused on CUSTODY - and nothing else. If we can just get these fingerprints in the system, and our Article 5 issued from the Embassy, then we can finally, finally, finally take custody of Kate. I do believe at that point we will feel a huge wave of relief - and be able to finally start taking our first steps as a family. While not home yet, we will at least be able to truly enjoy her here - and finally be able to do so many things we have waited so long for. Will you pray with us for no more obstacles, no more delays, no more errors, no more red tape - AND NO MORE EPIC BATTLES? Fighting for our daughter's heart is a big enough job these days. We will be so grateful when this last delay is dealt with and we can focus solely on her!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Worth the Wait

On Thursday, November 24th at 3:11 pm... we finally met our little girl. While our friends and families were asleep in their beds... anticipating a day of Thanksgiving, we were preparing to meet the little girl we have hoped and dreamed and prayed for!


The day started beautifully. We awoke to sunshine and blue skies, ate a delicious breakfast, and then headed back up to our room to get ready. I was already anxious. My heart was racing and my hands were shaking. It was such a big day! But I had already packed a bag with toys and gifts, laid out our clothes, and showered. I was planning to spend the next 4 hours posting a blog, journaling, and getting dressed. Imagine my concern when we walked into our room and had no power!

Our room on the 11th floor started to get hot quickly, and I tried not to panic. I wanted so badly to have my hair and makeup fixed for the very first time we met Kate. Newborn babies do not remember what their parents looked like the first time they met them... but an almost 4 year old will! The last thing I wanted to be was a sweaty mess the first time she saw me! Luckily - after 2 hours without power, the outage was fixed. I had just enough time to curl my hair, put on my makeup and get dressed before the orphanage director was set to arrive at our hotel.

Moments before we were ready to walk downstairs, Rusty looked out the window and gasped. There was the BIGGEST rainstorm rolling in! Within seconds, it was raining so hard we could not see anything out our window. Normally I would be upset - but on this day the rain made me smile.


"And like the rain that falls into the sea, 
in a moment what has been is lost in what will be..."
- When Love Takes You In, Steven Curtis Chapman

I've shared our daughter's name before - Kate (the name we chose for her) Suwichada (the name her birthmother chose for her) - but I've not shared her nickname. In Thailand, most people answer to a nickname. Our daughter's is Namfon - which translates to "rainwater". So it seemed pretty special to watch the rain roll in, just moments before we were set to meet our little "raindrop"!

As the storm rolled over, we picked up our things and headed downstairs. Rusty picked out three yellow roses from the Royal Project as a gift for our little girl. (Yellow is the color of the Thai King, and it was my grandmother's favorite color too!) I brought along the very first dolly I ever bought for Kate - a Baby Belle. We waited nervously at the front door of the hotel for Khun Toy (the orphanage director) to arrive. I am not early very often friends, but I was a full 15 minutes early for this appointment!


The orphanage is less than 3 miles from our hotel, so it didn't take long until we were there! We were greeted by a volunteer from Germany named Christian (Kate's English Teacher) who agreed to video our meeting for us. Khun Toy told us that Kate had been asking for months when her Mama and Papa would come (bless her sweet little heart!) and that today she was waiting to meet us in the playroom.



We held hands, walked through the grounds, turned a corner and there she was.


The first glimpse we got of our little girl, she was sitting in the middle of the huge playroom with Lam (one of her caregivers), holding a bouquet of tulips, and a cellphone with our photo on it. With Lam's prodding she got up, silently walked to the door, and handed Mama the flowers. Daddy gave her the yellow roses, and I snuck a quick hug and whispered "I love you" in Thai before we all came inside and sat down together.


The first four and half minutes were not at all what I expected. I thought Kate might be shy, or that she might cry... but I was not prepared for a child who seemed so very shut down. We couldn't get any eye contact, and she didn't respond to our touches, questions, smiles - or seem interested at all the doll I brought her. We told her we loved her, and gave her hugs - but nothing seemed to break through.


I have seen a hundred different photos and videos of parents meeting their adopted children for the first time... and every single time I'm a crying mess. I anticipated this moment for our family for so long - and I expected to cry tears of joy! But the truth is - the day you actually meet YOUR child, is much more complicated than watching a video of someone else meeting theirs. As happy as I was to hold her, I was so concerned with how scared and overwhelmed she seemed. She was being so brave by not crying - but it broke my heart to see the fear and uncertainty in her eyes! My emotions quickly took a backseat as I worked to figure out how to get through to our little girl.

Rusty got my bag from the door, and we pulled out some finger puppets I brought. I put on the bunny and duck, and showed them to her - still no response. Then Rusty put on the little pink elephant and said, "Sabaidee mai?" (How are you? - in Thai). Suddenly, our little girl's eyes came to life - and a smile spread across her face! We both gasped! There was our little girl!



Point one goes to Daddy - he got the first smile!  (above)

Before we knew it, she was giggling as the bunny puppet stole kisses on her cheeks, and reaching for the little frog to wear on her own!


Then the next thing we knew, we were taking the most adorable "first family photo" with a happy, smiling little girl signing "I love you"!


We went from playing puppet show, to having the puppets "stolen" by Kate - and thrown for Daddy to catch. (We've been told she likes to "tease" in play, and this was our first glimpse of that!) She let me hold her in my lap, and we got the best giggles when I tickled her! She'd laugh when Daddy threw her the puppets, catch them all, then throw them away for him to retrieve. This went on for a few minutes, and then the staff decided she had warmed up to us enough for a little tour.

We went to see her classroom, and got a folder full of her school work (so sweet!) I especially loved the Winnie-the-Pooh coloring page (and I know my Aunt Tammy will too!) We found out she's been learning some basic English - including numbers, letters, and colors.


While we were in her preschool class, she reached for my phone. (I think she's used to playing with cell phones from visitors! It's a good thing we got her an iPad for the trip home!) Her face lit up when she saw her photo as my screen saver. I showed her a few more pictures of herself, and then some of her with her friends from the orphanage. Each new shot got an even bigger smile. Then, on a whim, I pulled up the album of me dressed up as Belle from my "Party Princess" days. She gasped and smiled - wide eyed! She LOVED seeing Mama as a princess! When I showed the photo to Lam, she explained that Kate loves "cartoon princesses". We are going to get along so well! ;)



By the time we left her preschool classroom, she felt brave enough to reach for Daddy to pick her up and carry her. It was so special to see Rusty finally holding our little girl!


We stopped by the front entrance of the orphanage for a family photo with the King's portrait, Lam, and Khun Toy. This is a photo we will treasure! We are so thankful for these two women - who have played such a big part in our daughter's life! And seeing Kate looking so content in her Daddy's lap was a special sight too!


Our last stop before our visit ended was to meet Kate's legal guardian. She gave us some important paperwork, including Kate's Thai passport. It was awesome to meet her, and to thank her for helping care for our little girl!



Before we said goodbye, we each got one last hug from Kate. After all these years, it was completely surreal to finally feel the weight of her in my arms. I have to say that the 1,748 days we waited were completely worth it to get to hold, and hug, and kiss this beautiful baby girl! Looking into her big brown eyes and hearing her sweet giggle was a dream come true. This is definitely a Thanksgiving we will always remember!


It was hard to say goodbye. As soon as Kate realized we were leaving - she went right back to the way she was when we met. Quiet, expressionless, and avoiding eye contact. It was so heartbreaking to see.... but I know it's going to take time for her to realize that we are coming back. This transition isn't going to be easy for her.

And honestly, it isn't easy for us either. I really felt like I would feel a sense of relief the day we finally met our little girl... but unfortunately, our fingerprint refresh still hasn't come through. That means - we still don't know when we can take custody of Kate. As happy as this day was, our joy was still thinly veiled by a lot of unknowns - as we still have obstacles standing in the way of her being in our arms FOREVER. Things have gotten more complicated in our case thanks to another error by a government agency. We'll share more of those details in the coming days, but for now we're asking for your continued prayers. We are thrilled to have met our daughter... but we are technically still "waiting for Kate"! We are so grateful for the prayers, love, and support you've all shown throughout our journey. Please pray for us tomorrow as we travel to Bangkok to deal with the newest challenge in our case. Pray for protection, favor, and expeditious approvals - so that custody is no longer delayed!