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. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Unforseen Inheritance

I have asked myself, my pastor, my counselor, my husband, my mom, and God the same question at least a thousand times over in the past 5 years (and especially over the past few months):

"Why does this have to be so hard?"

As I shared in my last blog, our adoption journey has been brutal. While every adoption has it's challenges - ours has had 100 times our fair share. Our 4th agency (yes... we're now on agency #4) calls it a "traumatic adoption". The joys we've experienced have been minimized, and the pain and stress have been multiplied. There has not been one segment/season/step in our adoption that was completely enjoyable. Every good day has been quickly shrouded by a dark veil of bad news in some way, shape, or form. We have had more people praying for our adoption - all over the world - than I can count. They number in the thousands. And yet, we have seen very, very few specific prayers answered in any recognizable way.

I'd be lying if I said I haven't been mad at God. And I don't just mean a little miffed. I mean FURIOUS - shaking my fist at heaven, crying until I can't breathe, "I don't want to talk to you any more" mad. I actually spent a few weeks this Fall not going to church, because I just couldn't bear to hear others sing worship songs when I felt so forgotten by God. How could He answer other people's prayers and not mine? I get that He is not a "Santa Clause God" - but I wasn't praying for a shiny new car! I was praying - in accordance with scripture, after being obedient to His call to adopt, as the Holy Spirit prompted - for my daughter to come home. I didn't ask for an unrealistic miracle. I didn't request that somehow we adopt a beautiful Thai infant in a 6 month process. I just asked for a typical timeline - a 2-3 year process to adopt a child somewhere between 1 and 2 years old. Instead, we got an almost 5 year timeline and we have an almost 4 year old. And I am still deeply grieving the years we lost with our daughter. 

It was in the midst of this grief and anger (and a season of "I don't want to talk to you God") that He decided to talk to me. It was mid-September, after all my faith for an "August" word was spent. I was brushing my teeth before bed one night when He began our little chat. 

God started by reminding me of everything our daughter is about to lose. You see... the day we take custody of Kate is the day she loses the only home she's ever known, caregivers that she loves like family, children at the orphanage who are like siblings to her, her sense of stability, her language, her culture, and her community. Yes, it's true that she is gaining a family - and that is going to change her life forever! But to get a "forever family" - first she has to lose everything.

Our little girl is in a good orphanage. She is well loved and well cared for - and she has no idea that those caregivers (hired nannies and willing volunteers) are not her family. She doesn't understand what a mommy and a daddy are. She doesn't understand that right now - she has no family, no safety, no security, and no inheritance. And she won't understand when we take her - why she has to lose everything.

She won't understand that in the long run - it's worth it. She can't see that at 4 years old. All she's going to see is pain and loss. And she might hate us for it. Because from her perspective - we are causing her immense pain! And she can't possibly understand right now that it will be worth it someday.

It breaks my heart to think about what Kate is going to have to endure just so that she can have a family. If there was ANY other way for her to get a family - any easier way - believe me, I would take it (even if it meant us losing her). But her birth family is unable to care for her... and domestic adoptions (which would at least allow her to keep her language and culture) are not part of Thai culture. (As a matter of fact - even step children are often abandoned in Thai families because their parent's new spouse does not want to raise them!) International adoption is the only way for Kate to have a family. She will have to lose everything, to gain an unforeseen inheritance. 

And when I realized that, it dawned on me. What if what I'm going through is for the same purpose?

This adoption process feels like it has cost us everything... and I don't understand why. From my perspective - it shouldn't cost this much. From where I'm sitting - there has to be a better way. In my finite understanding - I think God could have made this process so much easier.

But what if - like our daughter - we have to lose everything we have now, in order to gain something even better? What if losing what is comfortable and beautiful here and now - means that somehow we will gain an unforeseen inheritance?

What if walking through this FIRE is what it takes to get us to destiny? And what if there's something extraordinary waiting for us on the other side of these flames... but the only way to reach it is to walk right though (and maybe get burned in the process?)

Out of love for my daughter - I am going to put her through one of the hardest, most brutal transitions of her life. Out of love for her, and because it is the only way to get her what she really needs (a family) - she will lose everything that is dear to her right now. It is going to hurt her. But ultimately I will allow her to experience that pain - because I know it is what's best for her in the end.

So - what if God is doing the same thing to me? What if He is allowing me to experience this pain, because He knows it is what is best for me in the end? To Kate - us taking her out of the orphanage (and away from everything familiar) will not seem loving. It will actually seem cruel. And yet we will tell her it's because we love her, and we will ask her to trust us in spite of the pain. So what if all my pain - which appears to be cruelty at the hand of God - is actually done in love? What if there is incredible purpose in this pain?

God spoke all of this to my heart in the 5 minutes it took me to brush my teeth that night. I crawled into bed, and humbly revealed it all to Rusty though tears. I felt guilty for not trusting God. "How can we ask Kate to trust our love for her through her pain, when I can't even trust God's love for me?"

And then I realized something else... 

Kate may actually hate us for a while when we first take her from the orphanage. She may scream and cry and kick and throw things. She may say awful, hurtful things in her anger. I actually know an adoptive mom who was bitten by her son just a few days after meeting him. I know another whose little girl screamed "I DON'T WANT YOU" to her face all day, every day, for weeks.

And you know what? If Kate does any of those things, I will understand. I will have compassion on her - because I know she cannot see how this pain could possibly be good for her. I will endure every hateful word, wipe away every tear, and comfort her through every outburst if I need to. I will sit nearby as she cries and whisper words of love all day, every day, until she believes them. Nothing she can say or do will ever make me love her less.

I believe it's the same with God. In the days when I have felt so abandoned... so betrayed - I think He understood. The days I've yelled and screamed at heaven - I don't think He turned away for one second. And the days I cried until I couldn't breathe, were the days that I believe He sat nearby and whispered words of comfort. I couldn't hear them at first, and once I heard them I couldn't believe them for a while... but still He persisted - undeterred by my fits of anger and sadness. Why? Because He knows this hurts, and I believe it breaks His heart to put me through it. But maybe, just maybe, He is willing to cause me pain for my ultimate good - and an unforeseen inheritance is waiting for me on the other side. 

A Girl Worth Fighting For

I have heard adoption called many things. Beautiful, sweet, precious, kind. Most people think of it as charity...  something "nice" that is done to "help" a child in need. But friends - that couldn't be further from the truth. A fellow adoptive mom reminded me recently as she prayed over me that adoption isn't charity, it's WAR.

If you don't believe in "spiritual warfare" try adopting. I promise, your eyes will be opened in ways you never imagined. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us that "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." We have experienced spiritual opposition and attacks in the past, especially in the line of work we do - but I've never felt "stalked" by the enemy before the way I have since we started this adoption process. The truth is, adoption isn't "beautiful" and it isn't "charity". Adoption is hard, heart-wrenching, sacred work. Adoption is fighting fiercely to protect those most vulnerable in this world. Adoption is saying YES to enter the suffering of an orphan - so that their lives can be ransomed.

And the enemy hates it.

I can't even being to tell you all the ways we have been "attacked" since this process began. And the closer we got to our daughter, the more vicious the attacks became. I haven't shared them all on my blog... mainly because I didn't want this to be a place where I constantly complained. But the close friends who I've shared everything with, and the counselor I've been seeing have been horrified by what we've been through. I literally have had at least half a dozen new "assaults" to deal with each week over the past few months.

We have dealt with financial issues - both in the form of unexpected fees (or lost finances) in the adoption process, and in our personal income levels. We have dealt with health issues - for ourselves, the children in our care worldwide, and our families. All in the same week (a few months back), we had children we care for through the Sound of Hope diagnosed with tuberculosis, typhoid, epilepsy, and one hospitalized for an overdose due to a doctor prescribing her too much medicine. My back completely "went out" due to inflammation from stress back in October - landing me flat in the bed for almost 2 weeks. I was in so much pain that I couldn't walk, couldn't sit up, couldn't dress myself. It was unbearable.

The week before we left for Thailand, literally in one 24 hour time span - two long-time family pets died, our car had 3 different problems we needed to fix, my Great Uncle had 2 strokes, and my mom announced that she needed to have surgery on her spine while we are out of the country. (Hard news to hear at anytime... but it was especially hard for me to know that I wouldn't be home to take care of her, and that I would be SO far away if anything went wrong!)

In the midst of all these personal issues - we have faced more obstacles in our adoption than I can even begin to recount here. There have been delays, on top of delays - that no one can explain. We've dealt with lost paperwork, excessive requirements, innumerable errors in paperwork, closing agencies, negligence, and more red tape than you could ever imagine. Every timeline we're given - we surpass it. If I had a dollar for each time someone told us, "I don't know why this hasn't come through yet!" or "We've never seen this happen before!" or "that really should be approved by now" or "your case is really difficult" - we could buy a new car.

We spent our last few days at home (when we should have been packing and resting up for our trip) dealing with a new and unexpected delay/issue/obstacle. I spent hours on the phone with agencies and government offices - desperately trying to expedite our final approval so that we could come home in time for Christmas. Here in Thailand, I spent hours again yesterday desperately trying to fix the same issue. Today, we found out that our approval still hasn't come, and we will likely be stuck here for weeks - missing our first Christmas home as a family, and costing us more money than we had initially budgeted for this trip.

We're exhausted by the stress we've endured. There has not been one segment of this process that has gone as planned. Every time we experience JOY - it is quickly dampened by the news of a new obstacle to overcome. Every single step we've taken over the past (almost) 5 years has been excruciatingly difficult. And these difficulties have affected our marriage, our friendships, our financial stability, our health, and our sanity. This process has brought us to our knees again and again. Our adoption journey has been brutal. And it wasn't a battle - it is a WAR.

So why do we keep fighting? I know so many people think we're crazy. The truth is we don't HAVE to do this. We could probably get pregnant if we "just wanted to have a baby" (we don't know because we haven't tried). But we have believed this whole time, with all our hearts, that our baby girl is in Thailand. And we believe that SHE is a girl worth fighting for.

It isn't crazy to willingly walk into battle if you believe in what you're fighting for. Much like the Armed Forces in our wonderful country (God bless our men and women in uniform!) - we entered this war willingly. This wasn't a draft. We CHOSE to "enlist". That's what people do when they believe that they have something worth fighting for.

The week before we left for Thailand, I spent some time catching up with another adoptive mom. As we shared our hearts, and I recounted some of my latest struggles she asked me - "Knowing what you know now... would you do it all again?" Without hesitation - I said YES.

YES. Not because I want to endure these things. Not because I have to. But because parents do whatever they have to do to get to their child.

If you're a mom or a dad reading this right now... what would you do to get to your son or daughter? If someone kidnapped them... how much would you pay? What would you endure to get them back? What lengths would you go to - to ensure their safe return?

I see our journey in that light - much more than I see it any other way. That little girl whose picture we've held in our hands for 7 months is our daughter. And I don't feel like I'm fighting for the sake of "some adoption" - I feel like I am fighting to protect the life of my daughter. And all that this has cost us? This is her ransom.

I shudder to think what Kate's life would look like if she was not adopted. The past few days in this city, I have seen her in the eyes of so many young women I've crossed paths with. I wonder if she would have ended up on Walking Street... one of the worst Red Light Districts in the world (less than 3 miles away from her orphanage). I wonder if she would have ended up working some dead-end job... struggling to make ends meet. I wonder if she would have gone on to University and gotten a good job - but come home every night to an empty apartment, and endured every holiday alone year after year.

I think of how empty and lonely and frightening my life would be without my parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. I cannot imagine our little girl - or any child - enduring a lifetime utterly alone in this world.

And so, we keep fighting. We keep fighting so that Kate never has to be alone. We keep fighting so that Kate never has to feel unloved. We keep fighting so that Kate has a family, a future, and an inheritance that she could not get any other way. We keep fighting because she is a girl worth fighting for. We keep fighting - because EVERY child is worth fighting for.

Last year, I read this blog about adoption and foster care, and what was written there has wedged it's way deep into my heart. It has been the single most encouraging thing I've read - and I have come back to it on many dark, hard days. Jason Johnson talks here about how saying YES to the suffering that comes with adoption - is very similar to the YES Jesus exclaimed when he was faced with the cross. He said YES - not because He had to. No one forced Him to endure that pain and suffering. But Jesus said YES out of His enduring love for us... because it was the only way to redeem our lives.

When Jesus said YES to the cross - "It was Him willingly choosing the cost of our joy over the price of His pain."

If there had been any other way, he would have taken it. He asked that the cup pass from Him, but ultimately He drank it willingly. And so, I have been reminded of God's love for me each time I've chosen to once again drink from that cup of suffering on behalf of my daughter.

"The truth is that God is using you, a mere human, to solve a seemingly insurmountable human problem. Confusion, frustration and exhaustion are inevitable and unavoidable - but He is faithful and good and right there with you. The gospel doesn't guarantee that everything will be easy, but it does guarantee that there's hope, and that no matter what, Jesus is worth it and so is what you're doing for these kids."  - Jason Johnson

We say YES to the struggle, the suffering, the brokenness, the attacks, the pain, the stress - out of love for Kate. And friends, this world needs more people who will say YES to endure a season of pain and hardship - so that other precious children don't have to endure a lifetime of being an orphan. We need more soldiers, willing to go to battle on behalf of these kids!

We said YES out of love for Kate, and we will keep saying YES. (This doesn't mean Kate is indebted to us in any way. This doesn't make us Kate's savior. This doesn't make us super-human. But I hope it does make us a little more like Jesus, because He is someone I do aspire to be like.)

But the truth is friends, this WAR is far from over. It didn't end when we got matched with our daughter... it only intensified. And it didn't end when we flew to Thailand... we have dealt with another round of attacks this week. And it won't end when we meet Kate... or when we take custody of her... or even when we come home. There are many battles in this war, and some we have won... but others we still have yet to fight. Because ultimately - this is a war for our daughter's life, her heart, and her future.

We hope you will continue to "wage war" with us in prayer - as we meet our daughter this week, as we take our first steps as a family of three, and in the months and years to come as we continue to fight for Kate's heart. This is an epic war... and we are weary, but resolved. We will never surrender because we know we have something - someone - worth fighting for. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Kate's Oxford Shower

Kate's 4th and final shower was on October 2nd, in my hometown. My family has been a part of Lakeview Baptist Church since I was in the 8th grade, and it meant so much for the LBC ladies to throw this shower for us!

All of our showers have been beautiful and so special... and I loved this one because my family (and a lot of the church family and family friends I grew up with) were there! There were people from Lakeview Baptist Church, others from DeArmanville First Baptist Church, and family friends from Oxford High School too. A lot of these ladies helped raise me, and it meant the world to me to have them all come together and celebrate our little girl. (I tried to get a group picture and family photo before anyone left but I know we're missing some. I loved seeing each of you there though! I just wish we could have visited longer!)

We got so many beautiful things, including Kate's first pairs of ruffled pants and her first two items with her full monogram - from her sweet cousins Elaine, Megan, and Mary Beth! 

Top Left - A family photo - Left to Right, my Aunt Beverly, Aunt Tammy, myself, Mom, and Aunt Angie. Love these special ladies! Also in attendance (but they left before I could snap a picture) were my Great Aunt Juanita and cousin Renee. // Top Right - A glimpse of all the beautiful things Kate was given! There were also TONS of gift cards - which allowed us to get things we needed from her registry. Thank you friends! // Bottom Left - Kate's first items with her full monogram. So sweet! // Middle Right - A timeline of all Kate's baby pictures. (Sorry that we have to blur her sweet face out for the blog!) // Bottom Right - A group pic of (almost) everyone who came to this special shower. ]

Thank you to everyone who came, sent gifts, and helped host this shower! 
We're grateful, and we can't wait for you all to meet our sweet Kate!

Kate's Birmingham Shower

Our sweet Kate's 3rd Baby Shower was thrown by some of my closest friends, and held in our neighborhood (Crestwood) on August 7th.

Every one of our showers were beautiful and special for different reasons. This one meant the world to me, because it was thrown by my best friend from high school and three of my closest Birmingham friends (who are also our neighbors!) They went all out for this special day... and every little piece of decor was perfect, down to the last detail! It looked like something straight out of Pinterest! ;)

I loved the map connecting Alabama and Thailand on the mantle, and the pink "ultrasound" with Thailand on it too. There were little touches all around like bunnies and elephants - that showed just how much these friends know and love me! They even printed out some photos from my blog to display of us throughout our adoption journey!

The food was delicious, and the decor was absolutely lovely! But what surprised me the most was the sweet craft idea the hostesses came up with. I have seen many craft stations at baby showers... to "create your own onesie", or burp cloth, or something else special for the baby. I had no idea my amazing friends would come up with something that would work for an adoption shower though! I almost cried when I saw this spot set up in the kitchen. 

Every one who attended was invited to write out a prayer for Kate on a prayer flag, that was later turned into a banner for her room. Neither Rusty, nor I, could hold back the tears when we read the touching words of our friends, lifted up to God on behalf of our daughter. This little "craft" was such a special addition to Kate's room!

Pictured below are my 4 amazing hostesses: To the left is Kristian (my best friend since the 8th grade), Heather (a dear neighbor-friend and fellow adoptive mom... and her new baby girl she is pregnant with is technically "pictured" here too! Her sweet kids Mason and Karis came as well. I loved the gift Karis picked out for Kate, and Mason was an awesome little 5 year old photographer when we needed a group pic!) To the right in this photo is Stefanie (a neighbor-friend who has been such a great support system to me), and Katie (a neighbor friend and church friend I have been so blessed to have in my life... and her sweet baby boy Harp!) I love these girls to pieces! There aren't enough words to say what they each mean to me, and I cannot wait for the day Kate gets to meet them! 

Once again, Kate received a car full of beautiful gifts! Her Aunt Kristian is already spoiling her rotten - by giving her dozes of gifts, including a princess doll, a princess castle tent, and a working microphone (the perfect gift from the friend I sang with for years and years! Her daddy was our choir director too, and I know he would have loved that gift!) My dear friend Erin got her the most adorable little gray upholstered chair for our living room (not pictured) that is just Kate's size! Our neighbors got her so many sweet things from her registry, including the cutest little kaleidoscope camera (so she can be a photographer like daddy!), and lots of Thai books that we will enjoy reading to her. And we love her little backpack from our across the street neighbors, which I know we're going to use a lot on this trip to Thailand! 

I got emotional several times throughout this shower... because the people who attended are the ones who have seen so much our our journey up close. They have witnessed the tears and the hard days first hand... and prayed and cried alongside us. They have cheered us on, held us up, and been the best support system we ever could have asked for. They are the ones who celebrated in person with us when we were finally matched, and the ones I know I will call when I need support once our baby girl is home. I loved every moment of this beautiful day with all of these beautiful ladies in the same room!

Thank you dear friends, for helping to shower us and Kate with so much love! 


Kate's Arkansas Shower

Kate's 2nd baby shower was held in Arkansas at her "Tutu's" church - First United Methodist Church of Monticello, on July 31st.

It was a beautiful event that just happened to be all pink and aqua - the colors we're decorating Kate's room with! Now you know you are loved when you have more than a dozen "hostesses" at your shower! (Only 8 are shown below, but there were more than 12!) These ladies put together a lovely event, and they all went in together to get us a top of the line carseat to keep Kate safe! We were thrilled to have that item checked off our list. Thank you ladies!

Kate's "Tutu" (Rusty's mom) has waited a long time to be a grandmother, and I know this shower was really special to her too! She has the sweetest friends and church family, and I had a wonderful time with them! There was lots of laughter and overflowing JOY at this shower (as you can see from these photos!)

At this shower Kate got her very first CareBear (and as an 80's kid, I loved that!), lots of cute clothes, games, and books, and some really special items all the way from Alaska from Rusty's mom. She even got a "moose-keteer" shirt to match Rusty's mom's group shirts from their trip! So cute!

At the end of the day we had so many gifts that Rusty had to come to the church to help us pack them up! We drove back to Alabama with our car overflowing with gifts, and our hearts overflowing with love and gratitude. Thank you to each and every part of our Arkansas "family" who made this shower so special! We look forward to visiting and introducing Kate to you someday soon!

Kate's "Miss Alabama" Shower

I hoped to share these blogs months ago - but this Summer and Fall we kept ourselves busy preparing Kate's room and our home, and dealing with unexpected issues on the adoption front. Now here we are - just days away from meeting our little girl! As many things as I have on my heart to share - I want to first take the time to recap Kate's four beautiful showers here so that someday, when she looks back on this blog, she will see that she was loved by so many who anticipated her homecoming!


I had no idea what to expect when it came to Baby Showers for our little girl. With so many "unknowns" and long wait times with adoption, it is hard to know when or how to plan a shower. I wondered if we would have the opportunity to have any showers for Kate. Imagine my surprise, when mere days after our matching, I was contacted by two sweet friends from my Miss Alabama Pageant days - begging me to let them throw our first shower! I was so touched by their excitement, and soon plans were underway. Our very first shower for Kate was held on July 10th and announced with this beautiful invitation.

My time in the Miss Alabama Pageant and the Miss America Organization impacted my life in extraordinary ways. Growing up without sisters - that void was quickly filled when I began to compete in pageants. It meant the world to me to have so many of my "Mu Alpha Sigma" (Miss America Sorority) sisters, my very first director (from the year I was Miss Gadsden Area), and so many of the Miss Alabama volunteers and pageant moms (who took such good care of me in my competition days) come together to celebrate our little princess! These ladies have helped "pray Kate home" from the moment we announced we were adopting almost 5 years ago. It was so special to celebrate our little girl with them at this beautiful event! 

The "theme" for this shower was "sugar and spice and everything nice" - because that's what little girls are made of you know! 

The decorations were lovely - there were pink roses, pink banners, and pink details everywhere! The food was delicious - and in keeping with the theme everything was sweet and spicy! We had the most delicious cake bites, candied jalepenos and cream cheese, and of course Pad Thai. I loved that so many of our friends got to try this delicious Thai dish for the first time that day!

I loved having 3 of my precious "Impact Award" winners there to celebrate with me too! These girls are so special to me, and I cannot wait for Kate to meet them someday! I am blessed to know so many women through the MAP that I know will be wonderful role models for our little girl (and these are 3 of them!)

This beautiful day was made possible by these two precious ladies below! Katie (left) was one of my very first friends I made the first year I competed in the Miss Alabama Pageant. I just adore her - and have been blessed to stay in touch with her long after we "retired" from pageants. Her incredible mom Laura (right) is the person I lovingly refer to as my "Fairy Godmother". She made the gorgeous custom Belle costume I used for several years in my side job as a "Party Princess"! Both of these women are so beautiful, kind, compassionate, talented, and full of LOVE and JOY! It blessed my heart to have them throw a shower for Kate! Thank you Boyd Ladies! 

At the end of the day, Kate was incredibly spoiled with so many beautiful gifts! She received her very first smocked dress and her very first monogrammed shirt (necessities for any southern lady!)... her very first Auburn dress (from an Alabama fan no less! She is loved!)... fairy tale blocks, princess pajamas, a box full of Princess Belle goodies from my director Amy (she knows me so well) and so many other beautiful things you can see pictured below. She also got an adorable radio flyer tricycle that I couldn't fit into the picture, and lots of gift cards! 

Thank you to my Miss Alabama family for showering our little princess with so much love!