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!!!