Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mandy's Moon

This is a post for all of you out there who are in the adoption process - whether domestic or international. I recently found the cutest store for adoptive families, and I am SO excited to share it with you!

I didn't realize until we planned to announce our adoption to our families how hard it is to find adoption appropriate items. And just the other day, my friend Malerie was talking about how they wanted an Asian version of a certain doll for their little girl when she comes home. It's getting a little easier to find some of these things thanks to Etsy (and Target - I found adoption greeting cards in Target!) but it usually takes some searching. So when I stumbled upon this store, I was THRILLED!

The store is Mandy's Moon and the owner, Laurie, is the adoptive mom of two beautiful little girls from Vietnam - Mandy and Amy. She was so sweet and helpful when we talked - she even let me use the stork graphic above for my blog (because I've had so much trouble finding any graphics for Thailand adoptions). Isn't that awesome?!

While I think you should really explore the online shop for yourself (I'm pretty sure I still haven't seen all she has to offer) I thought I'd highlight my 3 favorite items - including the one I've already ordered!

1) Adoption Stork Stickers
Aren't these just the cutest?! I love that the babies are wrapped in their country's flag, and I was SO excited to see all the options she had! So many countries (including America) and you can choose the race and sex for the stickers to match your baby. You can also have a blank white background if you ask for it in the notes (which I chose for 1 sheet of stickers, and they're definitely my favorite!) And I love the little Asian hat on the Asian storks!

I ordered 2 sheets for myself, 1 for my friend Malerie (she and her husband are adopting Gia from Korea), 1 for my friend Candice (she and her husband are adopting from China), 1 for my friend Heather (she and her husband are adopting Rowen from Haiti), and 1 for my "blog friend" Polly (she and her husband are adopting Esther from Ethiopia. I'm excited to meet Polly at this conference next month!)

I'm not sure what I'm going to use them on, but they were so cute (and reasonably priced) I had to have them!  I think they would be precious on little thank you gifts at a Baby Shower, or to seal thank you notes for baby gifts or adoption donations too! (Anyone have any other ideas for how to use them?)

2) Flag baby Announcements
This graphic is just the sweetest! I love the little boys and girls holding up the flags from their home country and America! And it's perfect that they are toddlers (because we all know that is typically the age babies come home if you're doing an international adoption). These would be great for announcements or baby showers, and Laurie told me she should be able to add any flags that aren't there yet if you just ask.

3) Adoption Stork Christmas Ornaments
If you love the adoption stork stickers, then you'll definitely love these too! They're resin ornaments made from that image, and I think they are just precious! I'm checking to see if she can do these for countries other than Korea and Vietnam. I think they would make the perfect addition to our Christmas tree as "Baby's 1st Christmas"!

There is so much more I haven't talked about in Mandy's shop - things like Asian Christmas Tree Toppers in traditional dress, Asian dolls, luggage tags - the list goes on! So go check it out and support Laurie's business today!

*I wasn't compensated in any way for this blog, I just loved the store and wanted to share! Laurie did tell me she was excited about the blog idea though (because they are a small family company) so I know she would appreciate your support!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Thailand Adoption FAQ :: Part 1

I cannot say THANK YOU enough to everyone who has expressed their excitement with us as we begin the adoption process for our baby girl in Thailand! I have loved reading all your sweet comments on my blog, facebook, and via email. We are so grateful for your prayers, support, and encouragement! I can't wait for our daughter to meet all our wonderful friends someday!       
I just wanted to take some time today to answer some of the most common questions we've been asked over the past few weeks. I'm calling this our FAQ :: Part 1 because I'm sure there will be several more of these posts needed to explain and update you guys about our adoption :) 
1. Why Thailand?
There are several reasons we chose Thailand, and I talk about a lot of them in this blog. We work in Thailand and lived in Thailand for 4 months last year, so I can confidently say that we truly love the culture, language, and people. We are excited about keeping our daughter's Thai heritage as a big part of her life. But the main reason is simply that we believe God led us to Thailand, and I really can't explain that anymore than I can explain why I married Rusty and not some other man! God made it clear that Rusty was who He had for me, and He made it clear that we were to pursue adoption from Thailand.

2. Why not adopt domestically?
I've gotten several versions of this question in our line of work, including, "why don't you care for orphans in America?" Some people seem outraged that we could care for children in desperate need overseas, and believe that children in America should be taken care of first. I have a heart for children everywhere, and I absolutely believe that orphans should be loved and cared for in EVERY country. But I don't believe just because I am American, that means I should only love and care for children in my country. God has commanded me to love my neighbor as myself, and that includes my neighbor in Thailand too.

There is nothing wrong with domestic adoption - we have several friends who have adopted domestically and several more who are pursing domestic adoptions right now! I think it is absolutely wonderful, and no less important or thrilling than international adoption. The bottom line is - these children deserve to be loved, and adoption (every kind of adoption) is close to the heart of God! We have just always felt led to international adoption, probably because of the work God has called us to in Swaziland, India, and Thailand.

There are more complex issues I'd love to talk about with you in person someday, about things like the foster care system overseas (in most countries kids get turned out on the street at only 12 or 14 years old, unlike the 18 year old age in America) and also the issue of closed vs open adoptions (most domestic adoptions are open). But at the end of the day God calls some to international adoption, some to domestic adoption, and some to other kinds of orphan care (financial support, volunteering, etc - we are all called to SOME kind of orphan care!)

3. How long will it take?
This is a great question. From what we've read online (which varies from agency to agency) it could take anywhere from 14 months to 4 years. The average though, seems to be about 2 years. We should know more when we begin our paperwork, but in adoption the timelines are never a sure thing.

4. Do you know the little girl yet?
No. We don't have a child picked out that we are pursuing. If Thailand works the way other countries do, then we will be "matched" with a child during the adoption process.

5. How old will she be?
We are hoping to get a child as young as possible, but there is a good chance she will be around 2 years old when she comes home. The best case scenario would likely be 14 - 18 months old.

6. What agency are you using?
We have not chosen an agency yet. We are still in the "research" process and would LOVE some advice from any of you who have adopted before! There are not many agencies that do Thai adoptions (at least not that we have found). We have started contacting agencies this week to begin asking questions. So far we have contacted Lifeline and Holt International. If you have any other suggestions, please comment below!

We would also appreciate prayers about this part of the process, because I think it is going to be challenging. Already I have heard back from Holt that the program is not open for applications right now. Please just pray for open doors and for God to direct us in this next step!

7. How much will it cost?
According to our research, it will probably cost around $30,000 (including all our travel expenses). We should get more definite information once we choose an agency.

8. Is this because you're infertile?
It seems like most people who aren't familiar with adoption think that the only reason you adopt is just because you can't have biological children. This simply isn't true! Most adoptive parents that I know adopted because they felt called to adoption, though some have started the process sooner than they'd previously planned because of infertility. Rusty and I don't know if we are infertile or not - we haven't tried to have biological children yet. And though no one has flat out asked us this question, several have hinted around at it, so I thought I should go ahead and address it.

Rusty and I have always known we wanted to adopt internationally, but we planned to have biological children first and then add to our family through adoption. God simply changed our hearts. We feel led to adopt now - for no reason except we want to be parents to a little girl from Thailand. This is how we've decided to start our family, and God has given us perfect peace about it.

9. Do you have any names picked out?
We do have one name that we keep coming back to, but we haven't decided on it yet. We'd like to consider other names first and we definitely want to be matched with our little girl before we decide for sure. We are hoping we'll be able to incorporate part of her Thai name into her new name, so we're going to wait and see what that is.

10. What about the language barrier? 
Some adoptive parents struggle with a language barrier, especially if their child has started speaking. Because we know some Thai, we are hoping this won't be as big of an issue for us. We know some basic conversation and are planning to learn more, so that we can at least ask if she is hungry, sleepy, say "I love you", etc. We would like to continue learning Thai and to teach her some Thai so that her language is preserved (to the best of our ability). 

Here are a few other interesting facts -
  • We've read in some of our research that Thailand actually favors families without children! I can't help but wonder if that's why God changed our heart and led us to pursue adoption first... He is such a God of detail!
  • When we lived in Thailand last year, we volunteered in a government orphanage that facilitates international adoptions! We had no idea until we volunteered about this fact, but we are planning to see if adoption from this home is possible at all. We love the children and the staff there, and were so pleased with how well the children were taken care of. It would be wonderful to adopt from somewhere so familiar to us!
  • We found out that part of our paperwork will have to include a letter from our family doctor that proves we are in good enough health to parent a child. Believe it or not, our doctor in Alabaster, AL is THAI! My chiropractor suggested her when I moved here, but I had no idea she was Thai until I went for a check up. Her parents actually live in Bangkok - how neat is that?
  • We have a friend in Bangkok who works for the US Embassy (she's Thai). She doesn't work in anything adoption related, but it is so encouraging to have a personal connection with someone like her!

I can't help but look over these details above and see God's hand in this process already. He is so good!

Friday, February 10, 2012

We are beginning the ADOPTION JOURNEY!

We are beyond thrilled to announce our wonderful news...


My heart is almost beating out of my chest and my hands are shaking as I type these words - I am just OVERJOYED and BURSTING with excitement! We are beginning the process of adopting a beautiful little girl from Thailand, and we couldn't wait one more minute to share the news with all of you!

Adoption has been something we have both felt called to since before we got married, and I have actually been saving money for an international adoption since the summer of 2007. I will never forget the night of our engagement, when Rusty was looking at some beautiful baby pictures on our wedding photographer's website and suddenly announced, "I think adoption just became important to me." With tears in his eyes he said, "How can these babies have parents that love them enough to spend thousands of dollars on pictures, when there are babies all over the world who don't have anyone?" And so, the very night we committed to get married, God gave us the same heart for adoption. He is always right on time!

Since then, adoption has been a regular part of conversation in our home. It has never been "if", but always "when we adopt". We both felt called to international adoption because of the work we do, but neither knew which country we would pursue. Then, when we were living in Thailand at the beginning of last year, Rusty told me how much he would love to adopt a little girl from there. I knew how much he genuinely loved Thailand - the people and the culture - but this was more than that. With the sex-industry running rampant throughout the country, he said, "I would love to know that we could rescue one little girl from that... to know that horrific industry would never touch her life." At the time, we were volunteering at Viengping Children's Home, and I found myself loving the children of Thailand just as much as I had loved the children we worked with in India and Swaziland. I prayed and rocked and cuddled as many little boys and girls as my arms could hold when I was with them, and I cried when I left them. Those beautiful babies had found a place in my heart. With my husband's suggestion, and my growing love for the culture and people of Thailand, I considered adoption from there to be a real possibility for "someday".

We have always thought we would try to have biological children first, and then pursue the adoption of one (or more) children internationally. But for some reason, over the past few months our feelings began to change. We joked that we weren't ready for children, and wondered aloud about whether or not we could continue our work with The Sound of Hope if we had a child to care for. But God was changing our hearts.... ready or not.

In October, when Katie Davis came to speak at Brookhills, something incredible happened. After she left the stage, a pastor came up to lead a prayer for adoptive parents and foster parents. He asked that anyone who was in the process of adopting or who had adopted or fostered children to remain standing. Because we were not pursuing adoption yet, I sat down. But it took all my strength to do so. For some reason I felt like I was supposed to stay standing! The thought scared me, but I could not shake it! Later that night, Rusty admitted he had felt the same thing!

During the prayer, there was one question that kept racing through my mind. "What if our child, the child God has for us, is already out there? What if he or she has already been born, and we aren't pursuing adoption yet? What if she is crying in a crib somewhere, without a mommy to hold her?" These difficult questions continued as the pastor prayed, and I sobbed.

When we got home that night, I explained what had happened to Rusty. I told him that I knew we hadn't planned to start a family yet, but that suddenly, I was wondering if our plan and our desires really mattered! We had our own selfish reasons for waiting - the truth is, it is easier for it to be "just the two of us!" There is no one to wake us up in the middle of the night, no one to take care of but each other, no one else to plan around, no one who is dependent on us. We have enjoyed just being newlyweds the past (almost) 3 years. "But those selfish reasons just don't seem like good enough reasons to tell a child, 'I don't want to be your mommy," I explained in tears. I knew that God was moving in my heart, and from Rusty's response, He seemed to be moving in his heart too! We agreed to pray about pursuing adoption for a few months, and discuss it again in January.

What happened next is hard to explain... but I can tell you it is nothing short of a miracle of God. He has confirmed to us - in some truly supernatural ways - that this is His plan for us. (If you ever want to know those details, I'd be glad to explain in person! :) We do not have one doubt in our mind that this is how God is leading us to start our family, with the adoption of a precious baby girl from Thailand!

I would ask that you please begin covering us in prayer as we pursue our daughter. Pray for wisdom as we begin researching agencies, and clear direction. Pray for favor over the process and open doors in both countries. Thailand is not a very common place to adopt from, so we are starting at square one. If you know anyone in America who has adopted from Thailand - please, please put us in touch with them! We have a lot of friends who have, or are adopting from other countries, but the process is very different for each and every country.

Please pray for us as we work and as we wait, but most of all, please pray for our little girl. We don't know if she is alive yet, or if she has even been conceived, but we are already praying for her. We are praying for her health - emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. We are praying for protection and for God to place the right people in her path to keep her safe and to love her well until we can get to her. I don't even know this baby girl yet, but I know that I already love her because I find myself in tears when I pray for her. God is already giving me a mother's heart... what a miracle!


I know many of you probably have questions, and we have a lot more explaining to do! So feel free to ask questions in the comment section, and I will follow up this blog with a FAQ post :)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Missing Cousin Sam...

We have been thinking of cousin Sam a lot the past few days, and missing him. I realized recently that we never announced his passing... I guess partially because we didn't want to believe it. But Sam went to be with the Lord on January 13th.

Most of the time, it doesn't seem like he's gone. Not yet. When we're in the US we typically talk to him via Skype once or twice a month... so it just feels like we'll talk to him "in a little bit". I think it will really sink in when we go back to Thailand and he isn't there for a visit.

Rusty and Sam holding a gift from our Karen friends.
Sam was always so supportive of the kids we care for, calling and checking in to be sure they were well taken care of.

I can't believe that just over a year ago, we didn't know this man. In the short time we have known him, he has truly become family to us. Losing him was almost like losing a grandfather, because that is how much he loved us and took care of us (and the way we tried to love and take care of him). We have re-told our favorite "Sam stories" the past few weeks with laughter and tears. He was such a kind, funny, tender, compassionate, generous man. I will miss the twinkle in his eyes and the funny way he had of putting things!

A picture taken on the mirrored "wall" behind Sam's favorite countertop restaurant in Thailand.
He introduced me to mangosteen that night and was so excited when I told him it was my new favorite fruit!

While in Thailand last March, we got to celebrate Sam's 81st Birthday. He told us not to make a fuss but I'm so glad we did, considering it was his last. We took him out to dinner and for some reason there was a firework show that night! (I told him it was for his birthday, haha!) We surprised him with a CD Player and an MP3 Player in his car - full of his favorite music - which really tickled him. He couldn't believe 800 songs fit on that little jumpdrive! At the end of the night we gave him a piece of chocolate cake and sang to him. I found the video today and cried remembering all his little mannerisms. Can't you see the twinkle in his eye? 

We found out from his son that Sam was actually a war hero. He served in Korea and in Vietnam for 12 years. He won 2 bronze stars and 1 silver star for valor - apparently he continued going back for his men under heavy fire. Of course he was too modest to tell us that.

One of Sam's favorite things to do was take us out for coffee and ice-cream after dinner. Here we are at his favorite place!

We only knew him for a year, but it was truly an honor to share in his last year of life. I'm eternally grateful that God crossed our paths and gave us the great blessing of a relationship with him! We are forever changed because of it.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Shopping from the Kids' Rack

Let's do a fun blog today... shall we? It's a blog about something that I don't normally talk a lot about on here - FASHION!

Face it, any former pageant girl has to love fashion. One of my favorite hobbies is "shopping", and adore any reason to get all dressed up! I just try not to focus on fashion too much in life, because to me, there are more important things than having a designer fill-in-the-blank.

So, I try to be current without overspending. One way of doing that is avoiding too many "trendy" items, and instead investing in pieces that stand the test of time. That... and always shopping the sale rack!

But today, I thought I'd share my latest very trendy find with you, along with a tip that might help you score a crazy good deal like I did.

Ready for it? Here it comes... I suggest that you shop the kids' rack. No - not for your child. No - not for your friend's child! Believe it or not, if you are petite (like me) you might actually find something on the kids' rack that could fit you!

Now, before you start calling me crazy - check out my new purchase. Aqua skinny jeans for only $5!!! These were originally $46, but they were crazy marked down because they are LITTLE BOYS JEANS! (And what little boy would want to wear pale aqua skinny jeans? I grew up with 2 brothers and let me tell ya - pigs would fly before they would wear these!) So, needless to say, TJ Maxx just kept marking them down and marking them down. I couldn't resist trying them on, only to find that they FIT (and are really cute!)

Here's a pic for those of you who don't believe me - wearing my Levi's Supper Skinny Boys Jeans - Size 18. It's not the best pic (I was just trying them on to show my husband) but you get the idea! They are actually a little more "aqua" in person.

I found similar styles online at Nordstrom for $104 and Macy's for $98, which made me even happier about my find :)

And if you think it's just because I'm teeny tiny, you're wrong. I have everything from a 2 to an 8 in my closet, and typically wear a medium or large in some things. The actual measurements on these jeans are a 29 x 29.

I've been resisting colored jeans for months now, because they make me think of the 80's every time I see them. But when I tried these on they were just too much fun to pass up! And let's face it, for $5 I could wear them twice and get my money's worth!

If I were you, I would definitely check out the kid's rack next time you shop. It's the style these days to wear things flowy and there's a lot of elastic in skirts and tops. Who knows? You might find a little girl's maxi skirt in a size 16 and turn it into the perfect "just below the knee" skirt for you!

Now, for those of you who aren't petites, there is still another rack you can check out too (especially if you're tall and have longer arms!) I'd encourage you to check out the men's clearance rack next time you're looking for a good deal. Yes, the cuts are typically unflattering for women - but you just never know! Some companies even make "boyfriend style" jeans and pants (I have some gray ones made my Hurley that I love!) You have about as much luck on the men's rack as I do on the kids' rack... it's a "treasure hunt" of sorts. I did see some XS and S thin hoodies the other night marked way down on the men's rack because they were purple and light green. I'm convinced they would've been super cute on a woman!

If you find any good deals on the kids' rack or men's rack in the next few weeks, be sure to share them with us in the comment section. Happy shopping ya'll!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

2012 & 28

Hello 2012 & 28 (for me anyway!) Okay, okay... I know I am seriously late on this post. As a matter of fact, I'm super behind on my blogging (as usual!) But every year around my birthday I try to do a list of my favorite memories from the past year - and even though my birthday was over 2 weeks ago, I am bound and determined to get this out there!

So here goes... in attempted chronological order.  27 wonderful memories from my 27th year!

1. Being a National Champion
This actually happened exactly 5 days before my 27th birthday. (What can I say? It was a great birthday week!) Even though I didn't get to see the National Championship game in person, it was an incredible moment for this Auburn Alumna! It sure was nice to be a National Champion Auburn Tiger for most of my 27th year! 

2. Living in Thailand
Just 3 days after my birthday last year, we packed up and moved to Thailand! It seemed so crazy to me then, but now I am really proud of myself (and my husband) for taking this amazing opportunity. We had a precious little apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand for 3 and 1/2 months of last year and we learned so much during that time. I have a deep love for Thailand, Thai people, and Thai culture thanks to that experience! And if you count the 6 weeks we spent overseas in Nov/Dec - then we lived overseas in Thailand and India for about 5 months of last year!

Rusty pointing up at our tiny Thai apartment!

3. Learning Thai
This is another experience that seemed really daunting at the time, but I am so glad we dove in! While living in Thailand, we took Thai lessons once a week from an awesome teacher, Khruu Jai. While we still have a lot to learn (and I'm sure we butcher the tones most of the time,) it thrills my heart to be able to speak to the Thai people in their language! I'm proud to say that I can introduce myself, answer basic questions, and get around the market place in Thai now! I'm looking forward to learning more!

With Kruu Jai after a Thai lesson

4. Playing with Tigers 
Truly a "once in a lifetime" experience! I don't know many people who have snuggled up with a 300 lb tiger! These are truly majestic animals! For those of you wondering - no - she was not sedated or chained, and yes - she had all her claws and teeth! I was really happy to see that these tigers were very well cared for. This was Rusty's Valentine's Day gift to me last year. What a DATE!

5. Riding Elephants
Another great experience in Thailand! This was our "fun day" during our 2nd trip to Thailand this year. We drove out to a Karen Elephant Camp and took an hour long ride through the woods/jungle on these incredible creatures! I was THRILLED when our guide slid down and asked if I wanted to ride on the elephant's head! It was a lot of fun, but there's not much to hold on to. It's a wonder I didn't go tumbling off!

6. Volunteering at Viengping
The 2 hours we spent on Thursdays at Viengping Children's Home was a weekly highlight of my time in Thailand. We usually volunteered in the "Suwadee" room with the two year olds, and we quickly fell in love with these sweet babies! It was so hard to say goodbye!

7. Finally meeting P. Rapee & Pastor Banya
This amazing couple has been a part of Rusty's life since 2007, and he had talked about them for almost as long as I've known him. He really has loved them since he met them, and when I met them, I completely understood why! P. Rapee is so full of life, love, and energy. Her husband Banya is one of the sweetest, funniest men I've met! We now say that they are our Thai family. We know these two will be in our life for years to come!

Banya, Rusty, me & P. Rapee - our very first picture together.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hey ALABAMIANS - help us make history!

To all my friends and family who read this blog from Sweet Home Alabama - this post is for you! Tomorrow - February 2nd, is the very first Alabama Gives Day. This is a day that is dedicated to the hundreds of participating non-profits in our wonderful state. Organizations like the Alabama Broadcasters Association are hoping to increase awareness and funding for non-profit organizations in Alabama. They’re also hoping to show their fellow Alabamians just how much good we can do if we all give a little!

Because our non-profit The Sound of Hope is based out of Alabama, we are eligible to take part in this historic event. Alabamians have played a huge role in helping us get our non-profit off the ground, and we are so excited about the impact this event could have in the lives of the children we care for around the world. Even small donations make a BIG difference for our kids in Swaziland, India, Thailand, and Burma - so I'm hoping every Alabamian reading this will choose to give HOPE to these precious boys and girls by giving a donation on February 2nd.

As our way of saying THANK YOU - we're offering a chance to win a prize during this event!* Every person who donates at least $10 through this link will be entered to win an Alabama Gives Day Prize Pack! (valued at $50.00)

You can choose between an AUBURN Prize Pack...
(navy handwoven cotton scarf from Thailand + orange camel bone bangles from India + SOH American Apparel T -shirt)

or an ALABAMA Prize Pack!

 (red handwoven cotton scarf from Thailand + elephant earrings from Thailand + SOH American Apparel T -shirt)

It may be February, but I know you're already thinking of your tailgate attire for football season this Fall! So give a donation February 2nd, and get a chance to win these unique accessories! (Men - these would make a great Valentine's Day gift for your wife or girlfriend! ;) You can see more photos and descriptions of these items here. The winner will be announced on our blog Friday, February 3rd.

If you're reading this, then I am asking you to please read and share our Sound of Hope Blog about this event with everyone you know tomorrow! Post it on facebook, tweet about it, share it on your blog, or email it to your friends and family. We may just be from "small town Alabama" - but together we can change the world!

Donate Now

*Watch Good Morning Alabama on Thursday to hear them mention this giving opportunity!