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...


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.


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...


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!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Room for Kate

Today, we will meet our little girl. I have butterflies just typing those words! For 5 years, we've been working to make room for her in our hearts, our lives, and our home. And this afternoon... she will walk into those spaces and fill them up with so much love and JOY! We can hardly wait!!!

For years, I have dreamed of creating a special place, just for Kate. I have pinned beautiful artwork, tucked away special decor, and dreamed of what her room would look like someday. We've called a specific room of the house "Kate's room" for more than 3 years... but waited until we were matched in April before beginning to truly make it hers. I needed to know exactly who she was, before I could make a space especially for her! And now today, I'm thrilled to share photos of Kate's beautiful room for you all to see!

A Special Bed for a Special Girl

Kate's bed is definitely the most meaningful piece of furniture in her room. I begged my Dad to make a bed for Kate. I really loved the idea of her having something special, handmade by her grandfather. And I had this beautiful daybed in my mind (that I couldn't find anywhere in any store!) So with the help of my mom, and me here and there (but mostly by himself), my Dad took my sketches and made Kate this beautiful oak daybed. Eventually, he will add a trundle drawer too... for when she's a little older and has sleepovers!

Mom and Dad delivered it to our house and set it up... and then I got to work sanding, staining, and sealing it. I stained it with one coat of "weathered oak" from Minwax. Then, when it was dry, I went back with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in "Coco", and worked that color into the grain. After that, I sealed it with 3 layers of ASCP clear wax. Pictures really don't do the finish justice! I wanted something that looked a little bit like driftwood - and that's what I got. The finished color is warm, light, and has just the right amount of gray in the grain.

Before we put the final pieces together, my parents came back to see the finished project. Then we each took turns writing notes to Kate in the corner beneath the mattress. Someday she'll be able to read the special things written to her by her Yaai (grandmother), Dtah (grandfather), Mama and Daddy.

The bedding we chose is an ivory quilt from Steinmart (the rug is also from there), and the pink pillows were handmade in India and bought for Kate on our last trip there. The gorgeous aqua, pink, and coral quilt at the foot of her bed was made for her by her "Auntie Shell". I know there was a lot of love, some tears, and many prayers put into each stitch. I'm sure both the quilt and the bed will be family heirlooms for years to come!

Have Courage and Be Kind

I had pinned this vinyl lettering several years ago on Etsy, along with many other pieces of art that I had to choose between for Kate's room. I just kept coming back to this quote though! Rusty and I have talked a lot about the things we hope to teach our daughter. I think two of the most important things we will ever impart to her is to be kind and to be courageous! I love that she'll see this reminder every day - first thing when she wakes up, and again before she falls asleep.

The shelf holding the pretty cubes for her toys was also made by my Dad, and painted by Rusty and me. The books were collected over the years by us (it was the one thing we knew we could buy her that she wouldn't outgrow!) and given as gifts by so many friends. I am most looking forward to reading "On The Night You Were Born" and "The Crown On Your Head" to her as soon as she's home. They were the very first things that I bought for her once we started our adoption, and I cried thinking of her when I read them in the store that night!

Her glider is from Buy Buy Baby. It's the Roni Swivel Glider - special ordered in the fabric "Snow". I absolutely love it! It's beautiful, so comfortable, and the printed linen fabric was the perfect choice for her room. I'm looking forward to a lot of rocking, snuggling, and reading in this chair.

The bunny was a gift from my friend Mindy - off her registry from Target.  Bunnies have always been special to me, and this one is so soft and snuggly! We sent Kate a mini-version of the same bunny in a care package in June. I hope that when she sees this one in the chair, it helps her recognize this room as her special place!

Prayers for Kate

The banner over Kate's bed has a story behind it too! At one of Kate's baby showers, my friends decided to make this craft for her. Each person in attendance was invited to write out a prayer for our little girl. At the end of the day, my friend Katie put them all together into this beautiful banner... that just happened to fit perfectly in her window! Rusty and I could not hold back the tears when we read all the beautiful words our friends had lifted up to God on our daughter's behalf. I love that these prayers will hang over her each night when she sleeps.

Kate's Corner

This corner is the focal point in Kate's room. The vintage pink dresser was handpainted by me - in a custom color mixed by me, and all the gold details were added by hand. The little wooden shelf there was passed down from my grandmother, and is full of special things!

The Eucharisteo art piece was a gift from a friend, to remind us to choose joy, grace, and thankfulness - even during the difficulty we faced during Kate's adoption. The "LOVED" glitter letters were a gift from another friend, who also adopted a beautiful little girl from Thailand. The little teak box on the top shelf was handmade in Thailand and bought on our last trip. The little bunny on the top shelf was the very first thing we ever bought "for our child someday" from Thailand - before we even knew we were going to adopt! The beautiful wooden "K" was a gift from her Auntie Beth, and the silk flower crown hanging from it was made for me by the little girls in our Thailand Girls Home. I wore it in our House Mom's wedding last year.

There are two round baskets of stuffed animals on either side of the pink dresser. They have so many special toys inside - including a Winnie-The-Pooh from my Aunt Tammy (a right of passage for every child in our family), a bunny puppet from Cambodia from my friend Connie, a handmade elephant from the children in The Refuge, a canvas elephant from Thailand, a beautiful handmade Karen doll from Burma (you can see it peeking out in the picture!) and a set of handmade elephants (a mommy, daddy, and baby) from Kate's "Auntie Shell" that match her beautiful quilt.

Kate's Gallery Wall

Kate's gallery wall was my favorite thing to create. I have pinned ideas and collected artwork for years, just anticipating what this would look like someday! The "Bunny Parade" in the top left corner, and the Little Elephant in the middle right were two of the first things I pinned from one of my favorite artists on Etsy. Bunnies are my favorite animal (and Rusty's nickname for me!) and elephants are sacred in Thailand, and a huge part of Thai culture. So bunnies and elephants have found their way into her room in many places!

The bottom left is a vintage map of Thailand. The small frames on the middle left hold photos of us from our "Adoption Photo Shoot" (in the aqua frames) and a Mommy and Baby Elephant (in the white frame) - which is an original piece of art we bought in 2014 from a Thai artist.

The center piece is a Lindsay Letters "Hello Sweet Beautiful Girl!" - that I've loved for years! The tassels beneath it were handmade by the same sweet friend who made the glitter "LOVED" letters in the corner. And the art in the very bottom in the middle was handmade by me! The song "Mine To Love" has been our song to Kate, since I heard it for the first time performed live by Dave Barnes several years ago. I painted the lyrics out in gold and silver... just for our little one. I hope she reads them often and remembers just how loved she is!

The beautiful peach rose in the bottom right is another piece of original art from Thailand, purchased on our trip in 2015. The small frame beneath the "K" holds a piece of vintage music, which is actually a Tune Dex card from 1941. It's the chorus from the Rosemary Clooney song, "Oh You Beautiful Doll" - the special song my grandmother sang to me when I was a little girl.

The final piece to complete her gallery wall had to be a photo of the Thai King and Queen. Thai citizens always have a photo of the King in their home, and traditionally it is the highest picture in the house. I adore this photograph - a vintage shot from the 50's - of King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit in their royal attire.

While the Thai King has recently passed away, and our daughter's beautiful country in still in mourning, having his photo up still seems very appropriate. At this time, the new King has not yet ascended the throne, as he too observes a time of mourning for his father.

The photo below is the final corner of Kate's room... and the view from my beautiful rocking chair! The chest-of-drawers here was the very first piece of furniture I ever painted (back when I was learning to use ASCP), and it's still one of my favorite pieces. The beautiful vintage mirror above it was passed down to us by Rusty's grandmother. The photos tucked in the corner of the mirror are two more favorite vintage shots of the Thai King and Queen. The cross between her closet doors was a gift from my friend Stefanie - who has a matching one in her home. She uses it as a reminder to pray for our little girl each time she sees it. How special!

This has quickly become my favorite room in our house. It's the one with the most light, and the one with the most love. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent in here praying for our little girl. I have prayed, and cried, and sung worship songs on so many days and nights in this space. And somehow... it feels different when you walk into this room. There is a peace that meets you in this place.

I hope that when she steps into her room for the first time, she can feel all the love and prayers and peace that it holds. And I pray that somehow she will know, just from being in this place, how unbelievably loved she truly is.