12.21.2012

We Are Blessed

For months now, I've hardly written in this blog, and when I have, I've mostly written about where we are with the adoption. For the first two months, I felt like I had to live, eat, and breathe adoption paperwork and to-do lists. However, since November, I've had way more time to just enjoy Ryan and the kids!

I had a two week break from work during October for Fall Break (I love the new balanced calendar!). We decided to take a quick trip to St. Louis, as it's one of the many places we put on our list of places to visit. We left one Friday night after work and drove to Edwardsville, IL for the night. Noah loves staying at hotels, and Liam (surprisingly) went to sleep without issue. The next morning when we woke up, we grabbed a quick breakfast downstairs at the hotel, and then we drove to the St. Louis Zoo. If you've never been there, OH MY GOODNESS. Now that is a zoo! Subsequent trips to the Indy zoo have left me feeling "bleh." I mean, I knew our zoo was pretty basic, but seriously, the St. Louis Zoo is INCREDIBLE and my favorite price - FREE. Dalia and Kevin met up with us for most of the day's adventures, which was a lot of fun for all of us! We had dinner at Imo's and stayed at a different hotel downtown St. Louis. We took the boys swimming and had a nice quiet evening at teh hotel. We were beat!

The next day we went to visit the arch and walk around downtown. It was a really fun experience! The view was incredible, and we really liked the museum under the arch. We grabbed a quick lunch at Jimmy Johns and hit the road. The boys slept most of the way home, and Ryan and I enjoyed quiet, uninterrupted conversation during the drive home. Here are some of my favorite moments captured on film digital file.

Eating dinner at Kahuna's somewhere in IL

Brothers at the hotel.


Getting ready for the day's adventures
I love elephants. The only thing better than one elephant is a mama elphant with her baby

My absolute favorite exhibit - we went twice - the hippos! INCREDIBLE!

Snuggles.

Brushing goats

Eating lunch - super delicious and healthy unlike the fries and burger options in Indy


The coolest little bears!

Penguin exhibit - it was huge and FREEZING inside!
A fun carousel ride!

Made me think of the movie Project X. Beautiful.

This was HILARIOUS! These two chimpanzees were walking in unison holding grass in front of "themselves." HYSTERICAL!

Noah snapped a great picture of us!

 Noah and Ava (wedding slideshow material, I think!)
 
Happy Nate!

A train ride around the zoo to say goodbye to all of the animals

Dinner at Imo's Pizza (smooches are the best!)

Beautiful day to visit the arch!
Perfect

In the pod getting ready to take a trip to the top of the arch

Love these boys!

Best buddies!


Goodbye St. Louis! We had a wonderful time!

We are so blessed.

Application for Immigration

Last night we celebrated a very special occasion in our adoption journey! We received our final home study reports on December 18th from MLJ, overnighted them to Lifeline December 19th, and they sent our I-800A application (Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country) to US Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) yesterday afternoon (December 20th)! For anyone familiar with the adoption process, this is a exciting step in our journey!! We were told that within 2 weeks, we should receive a Notice of Receipt from USCIS. Then, 10-14 days later, we will each receive a notice for our biometric fingerprint appointment. Our fingerprints will be filed with the FBI, and our pictures will be taken.

The home study process went very well with MLJ! We had four visits total with them in November. The first and last visits occurred at their office downtown Indy, and the other two appointments took place in our home. The home visits were each 2-3 hours long and involved lots of questions and conversations so that our social worker could really get to know our family in order to write a thorough Home Study Report. She worked very quickly and very hard for our family! We were extremely fortunate that our social worker completed her report in less than one month from when we turned in our binder. She then sent her report to Lifeline the first week of December, as MLJ is Hague Approved not Hague Accredited. Our agency is accredited, so they conducted a review to make sure that all necessary requirements for a China Home Study Report, including Hague Accredited language, were all included in the report. This review process took approximately 2 weeks. After completing a few last minute pieces of paperwork, Lifeline approved the final Home Study report, and MLJ signed it, notarized it, and gave us the thumbs up to pick them up! We are so very lucky that the entire process from turning in our binder to receiving the final report only took a little over 6 weeks. I just heard someone say that it took them 6-7 months! Now that is probably rare, but still, we are counting our blessings.

Not only is the Home Study report needed to apply for our I-800A with USCIS, but a copy of the report will also go to China with our dossier. Our agency sent us the next part of our China manual, which explains the dossier process. Fortunately, we've already collected several documents for our dossier. The timing is again incredible because today begins 17 days off work for me! Hopefully we can get everything together so that when we receive our approval from USCIS (which typically takes 2-3 months), we can send out our dossier right away.

In the meantime, I've continued communicating with lots of people who are part of a Yahoo group specifically for families adopting children with cleft lip/cleft palate. Additionally, a new acquaintance created a Facebook Group for people who are adopting and should travel within the next year. We are connecting with lots of people who are just beyond the stage we are in, people who are just applying with USCIS, and people who are just completing their home studies. It's so nice to have support during this process! I am praying that I can be a resource and support for some of you who decide to take this step. It is such an exciting process, and I cannot believe that we could have a new son or daughter home before next Christmas. What a perfect gift! All FIVE of us will take our Christmas pictures together next year, and I can't wait.

11.05.2012

Two Months Later...

I can't believe it, but two months have passed since we applied to Lifeline, and six weeks have passed since we applied to MLJ, our local agency who will complete our home study. Ryan and I spent the last six weeks working at least 5 nights a week on various adoption requirements, and boy have we accomplished so much! When you know there is a child waiting in an orphanage for you - a child who probably doesn't have the best nutrition, hasn't felt the love of a mother or father, and isn't able to have the experiences that typical babies and toddlers have in the US - it becomes VERY easy to stop watching your favorite television shows, having movie night, and reading enjoyable books. This person is counting on us to keep working hard to complete all of our necessary requirements, and thankfully Ryan and I are both on the same page about the urgency of the situation.

Work is extremely busy for Ryan right now, causing him to bring work home several nights per week. So, he will work on stuff for his job for a couple hours, and then he will switch gears and work on adoption stuff. Despite having a marathon to run this past Saturday, he gave up all of his training time and focused his efforts on this adoption. We are SO grateful for that sacrifice, and boy is he SORE after running 26.2 miles without any training the last three weeks before the race.

Friday marked a very special occasion when Ryan, the kids, and I drove to MLJ to drop off our binder full of home study required documents. Just to give you an idea, here is a list of everything they needed:
  • Adoption preparation application (both of us)
  • Autobiography (both of us)
  • Physical with bloodwork (Ryan and Amy)
  • Form signed by boys' pediatrician stating their health
  • Form signed by our vet stating Kya was safe for children and up to date on vaccinations
  • Symptom form - to indicate level of anxiety, depression, etc. (both of us)
  • Four letters of reference
  • Tax returns (state and federal) for the past 3 years
  • Recent statements for all financial accounts (investment and bank accounts)
  • Request for CPS history chek (all four of us)
  • Local criminal history check (both of us)
  • Fingerprints taken (both of us)
  • Two forms of ID - copies (both of us)
  • Mortgage or lease verification
  • Verification of employment - letters from employers (both of us)
  • All insurance policies - medical, homeowners, auto, life, etc.)
  • Characteristics of child we wish to adopt form
  • Marriage certificate - copy
  • Out of state criminal history and child abuse checks - Ryan only
It took us 6 weeks to complete and gather all of those required documents. Fortunately, I had a 2 week break from work, and we were able to check SEVERAL items off our list! You can imagine our excitement when we dropped off our binder Friday. We met our social worker, who we will meet with 4 different times as part of our home study. This Wednesday is our first meeting, so we have been deep cleaning, checking fire extinguishers, etc. We hope it goes well, and that our other meetings occur quickly. Again, there is a child who needs medical attention, the love of a family, proper nutrition, and appropriate stimulation. We cannot wait to know who this person is!

Turning in our binder!!
You might look at that list and wonder why so much is required to adopt a child, and when you think about it, it's easy to see how all of it will serve the child's best interest. The US and China both need to see that we would provide a caring, loving home and that we can financially support another child. I am grateful for the protection given to these children. So many of them have endured such hardship already. They deserve great families! I wanted to give you the list to make the process of adoption more transparent so that those of you who have felt the quiet voice in your own heart, urging you to adopt a child someday, that you will have an idea of what is to come. Trust me, it is a lot of work, but I do it with a happy heart because I know it means we are one step closer to bringing home our child.

Franklin Fall Festival

Ever since we moved to this area, we have gone to the Franklin Fall Festival each year. It's the perfect opportunity to breathe some fresh, cool, Fall air, to enjoy the quaint area of downtown Franklin, and to eat some delicious fair food (AKA: ribeye steak sandwiches and fried biscuits with apple butter).
 
I am just smitten by these brothers' love for each other!
Noah was really resistant to going into the bounce house. They are like his all time favorite thing, but when they are crowded, he really prefers to just stay away from them. I finally coerced him to go in, but then he really didn't want to go down the slide. I explained that he would be afraid to do it the first time, but after he went down the slide just once, he would want to do it over and over again. Miraculously, Noah climbed the stairs and down he went!

Going...

Going...

Gone! (and of course Mom was right)

Dalia, Kevin, their kids, and Kevin's parents joined the fun! I adore this family and tell them all of the time that this wouldn't be home without them. They are some of the greatest friends we've ever had, and I love their kids so much! Dalia took care of Noah when he was 2 and now watches Liam while I'm at work two days a week (and both kids on my half day). Dalia is truly like my sister, and Kevin is one of Ryan's best friends! We are blessed.



I love this little guy! I'm not sure if all of you know this, but Liam has acquired a nickname that I'm worried will never go away: Bert. Seriously, Bert. Ryan started calling him Bert months and months ago, and I quickly picked up on the habit, as did Noah. Extended family started calling him Bert, and now even friends and their kids call him Bert. Poor kid! Liam is such a cute name, but he's our little Bert Bert nonetheless.




We ran into some old friends from Hanover, Holly and Adam at the festival. They both seem very involved in the Franklin community, and we see them each year at the festival. Holly's business is sponsoring It's a Wonderful Life at the Historic Artcraft Theatre in December and recently gave us tickets! It's one of our favorite Christmas movies, and we are already SUPER excited for this date night together. Thanks, Holly!


Are these pictures of Dalia and the kids beautiful or what?? I am crossing my fingers that Nate and Liam will be best buddies and that Noah and Ava will always be close.


 
We had a wonderful time watching the parade and spending the day with friends.It was fun to get outside and just enjoy the day together!

10.03.2012

Adoption Update

Last Wednesday we spoke with our incredible social worker from Lifeline and had our orientation phone call. She basically took us through the entire process and gave us an idea of the timelines we are facing. She also asked us several questions together on the phone, as well as separately over the phone. One thing I did not realize about the adoption process is how much you share with these agencies! I mean, it's really no surprise when you think about it. They need to ensure that we are healthy, financially secure, strong in our faith, committed in our marriage, etc. so that we can then provide the best home for a sweet child who does not have a family yet.

Between the paperwork and verbal conversations, we have shared nearly every detail of our lives. All of our financial information has been disclosed. Our history of alcohol and drug use (or lack thereof)was shared. Numerous questions about our personalities, marriage, relationship with family members and friends, physical health, church life, spiritual beliefs, etc. all have been asked. We both are writing extensive autobiographies about our lives. I have relived moments and memories that I have not thought about in years. It really is an incredible process, writing individually about our past, present, and hopes for the future. One purpose of a home study is to ensure that any issues we have experienced in our lives are properly acknowledged so that we can heal from them when necessary. While it can be intimidating to share so many intimate details of your life, no one expects us to be perfect or have it all together. We are all human, and the idea is that you are striving to deal with difficult issues of your past in order to be the best parent you can be. I think by the time I am finished with my autobiography, it will be 9-10 pages single-spaced. I can't wait to read Ryan's!

Last week we also chose a local adoption agency to complete our home study. After logging in to view the paperwork they needed, I had to take a deep breath. Everyone has told us very consistently that we will have more paperwork to complete than we can even imagine. It is so true! While it is overwhelming at times, we continue to take small bites of this elephant, knowing that it is all serving an important purpose to prepare for bringing this child home.

I recentely read an awesome blog (from beginning to end): http://journeytoganggang.blogspot.com/. It is the incredible journey of a family friend who adopted a little boy from China in June 2011. Their family story was perfect in helping me gain one perspective of a family who has taken this step in their lives. I highly recommend it if you are curious about adoption from China, specifically, what people might do when actually in China. They had an extraordinarily long trip - I believe it was like 20 days. Ryan and I will probably be in China for 10-17 days. I can't imagine how difficult it will be to be away from Noah and Liam, though the only thing I can imagine making that part easier is having our third child in our arms finally! At the very least, check out her video that she created one year after adopting their son.

I dream about the day we meet our new child, and I can't wait to make my own slideshow of our journey. I am already picking out music! What else do I have on my hands than time...oh and lots of paperwork. :)

9.18.2012

Quick Post

Today was an exciting day! We received our first call from our assigned social worker, who seems absolutely perfect for our family. She gave us some information to start working on our next steps. Tonight we spent a couple hours reading, initialing, and signing several documents that Ryan will scan and send to our agency tomorrow. Our next big step will be choosing a local agency to complete our home study and starting that process. I am so excited take these next steps!

9.15.2012

Am I Pregnant?

No...I'm definitely not pregnant, but I've got to tell you - this whole adoption thing sure feels an awful lot like pregnancy to me! When we made the decision to embark on this journey, I had no idea the parallels that we would see between actually being pregnant and pursuing an adoption.

Exhibit A:
I find myself feeling super emotional about everything, causing me to cry at the drop of a hat. Seriously, I cannot keep it together. The first week at work after we decided to adopt, I found myself just staring at the kids with Hispanic or Asian backgrounds walking down the hall, wondering if my son/daughter would look like any of them (at the time, we hadn't picked China). Seriously, I would go to my office and tears would just fall down my face. More recently, I've cried watching a speech therapy session, listening to our server share that her son passed away years ago when he was 17, and reading blogs about adoption. I. AM. A. MESS.

Exhibit B:
Just like when you are pregnant, and your pregnancy is always in the back of your mind, this adoption is always at the back of my mind. Rather than feel a constant awareness of a person growing inside my body, I have a constant awareness of the love growing in my heart. It honestly feels so full sometimes I think I will explode. I really thought I would compartmentalize better, but the truth is, this adoption is always lurking just beneath the surface of everything I do, waiting for an opportunity to pop up and say hello!

Exhibit C:
You know how when you're pregnant you have this CRAZY love for a person you haven't even met? There is this instinctual desire to protect, love, and nurture this tiny little person growing inside of you? I remember feeling this even stronger the second time I was pregnant because I had a better understanding of what was in there and who would come out 9 months later. Once again, adoption is the same. We're one week out from choosing our country, and I am already in love with this little person beyond anything I would have imagined at this stage. It's really wild.

Exhibit D:
When I was pregnant, I always wondered, "What will he/she look like? What will his/her personality be like? How will this person's life change life as we know it?" And again, I am wondering the same things. Is our child a boy or girl? Will I have another son, or will I have my first daughter? What will his/her beautiful face look like? How will Noah and Liam respond to having another sibling?" So many questions that only time can answer!

Exhibit E:
Waiting. There is a LOT of waiting in pregnancy. Waiting to find out if you're pregnant. Waiting to find out if the baby has a heartbeat. Waiting for maternity clothes to finally fit. Waiting to find out the sex of the baby (we did the second time around). Waiting to make it to 24 weeks when the baby might survive if born premature. Waiting to find out if you passed the glucose test (I failed the first time and had to deal with gestational diabetes). Waiting to hit the 30 week mark...then 37 weeks...38...39...40...and in my case the second time around...almost 41 weeks. Waiting to go into labor. Waiting to finally hold that precious one who grew inside you for 9 months.

Adoption is no different. Waiting appears to be the name of the game, and it doesn't necessarily happen in this order! Waiting to start your home study. Waiting to collect the million documents needed for the dossier. Waiting for fingerprints to be processed. Waiting for all applications and documents to be processed. Waiting for the country to receive your dossier. Waiting for a log in date. Waiting for a referral and deciding to adopt that child. Waiting for your letter of acceptance from that child's country to adopt that sweet one with whom you are now completely in love. Waiting for a travel date to be announced. Waiting to actually travel. Waiting on a crazy long plane ride to reach the country. Waiting to go to the orphanage/foster home to meet your child. Waiting to complete all health checks and legal requirements in country. Waiting to leave the country and bring the child home to his/her new family. THERE. IS. SO. MUCH. WAITING.

So, no, I am not pregnant. But you know what? I totally feel like I am. :)

9.11.2012

Save the Adoption Tax Credit

Huge favor to ask. Will you please take 10 minutes to help save the Adoption Tax Credit? This credit currently provides $12,650 for families who adopt and greatly helps offset the costs of adoption. Read more here: http://adoptiontaxcredit.org/. It is set to expire at the end of 2012. Here are the steps:

1. Find your Representatives:
http://house.gov/representatives/find/
 
3. Use this letter http://adoptiontaxcredit.org/advocate/sample-letter or write your own
4. Copy and paste the letter into a contact form on that representative's website.

I finally sent this letter to both senators and our house representative tonight, and it was super easy! I am embarrassed to admit this, but it was the first time I've actually contacted a government official. Knowing how easy it is makes me want to do it more often in the future. Here is the letter I sent (with a personal addition in blue):
 
Dear Representative/Senator _________________:
I am writing to ask you to support the adoption tax credit, which is set to expire on December 31, 2012. Since 1997, the adoption tax credit has helped tens of thousands of parents offset the high cost of adoption, making it possible for them to provide children with loving, permanent families.
The adoption tax credit is especially important to me and my family because we are just beginning our adoption journey to adopt a child born with cleft lip/cleft palate from China. This calling occurred about 15 months after our second son was born with a cleft lip here in Indiana. We are SO fortunate to have an amazing plastic surgeon, Dr. Havlik, at Riley Hospital for Children who can help these sweet children. In their home countries, they are unwanted and unloved, outcasts in their societies. Employment is usually difficult, if not impossible. Indiana has such amazing resources to help orphans, and saving this tax credit will ensure that families will be able to offset the high costs in helping sweet orphans all around the world.  
If Congress does not take action, the current adoption tax credit will expire at the end of 2012. The credit will be reduced to $6,000, and will only benefit the few families that adopt children with special needs and have qualified adoption expenses. Most families adopting children from foster care, intercountry adoption, and domestic infant adoption will not receive any benefit. Without the adoption tax credit, many parents hoping to adopt will be unable to do so, and others will face great financial hardship. The adoption tax credit is essential to ensuring that as many children as possible find the forever families they deserve and ensuring that those families are in a more stable financial position to provide an environment where children can thrive.
The adoption tax credit must be extended to help as many children as possible find the permanent, loving family they need and deserve. And for 2012 it should be made refundable again so that most adoptive families will benefit from it. The best adoption tax credit would be permanent, refundable, inclusive of all types of adoption, and remain a “flat” tax for children with special needs. Enclosed, for your reference, is a factsheet with more information about the adoption tax credit.
On behalf of the countless children waiting to be adopted, and the many thousands of families that stand to benefit from the adoption tax credit, thank you for your attention to this important issue.
 Sincerely,
Amy Abell
A huge thank you, in advance, to those of you who will follow through! I have had over 1,300 hits on my blog posts relating to adoption, and if our senators and representatives received even 325 email about saving the adoption tax credit in the next 48 hours, we might just get their attention! How awesome would that be??

9.05.2012

Today Marks Day One

Today our prayers (and yours) were answered!! Today we felt complete peace and excitement about taking our next step after choosing our agency and country.

Drum roll please..................

We have decided to pursue our adoption of a child with CL/CP through CHINA using Lifeline Children's Services (click to check out their website). They are an incredible, Christian-based organization known for their humanitarian work and excellence in adoption. They have have responded quickly to our inquiries and spent over 30 minutes with me yesterday on the phone. The main office is in Birmingham, AL, but they have 9 other locations around the US. The closest one to us is Louisville, KY. The people at Lifeline fully believe they are fulfilling God's teaching to help orphans, and that means so much to us! Watch this video for more information about Lifeline:

http://lifelinechild.org/lifeline-information-video/

While we did not expect to end up finding our sweet one in China, God surprised us by showing us so many reasons why it is the best fit for our family. First, the China program is Hague Accredited. This is important to us in order to ensure the children are protected. Second, the highest number of orphans born with CL/CP are adopted from China. With strict guidelines and taxes associated with multiple births, in addition to poverty, sweet babies with CL/CP are often abandoned in China. For those who do not know, it is illegal to "give your child up" for adoption in China; therefore, abandoning a child is oftentimes the only practical option families have in China - I know, it's totally heartbreaking. Third, through Lifeline, from application to bringing our child home, it should only take 12-15 months. Special needs children in China can be adopted at a very young age, which is ideal in many ways medically, environmentally, and linguistically.

Watch this video for an example of a Chinese Orphanage. It will bring you HOPE (because the kids and employees look so happy, and they are doing some awesome therapy and play exercises) and break your HEART simultaneously(because there are just so many children who have NO parents): http://vimeo.com/27008457 (Password: maoming)

There is so much for us to learn and so much I want to share with you, but I am exhausted. We spent the past 3 hours filling our the eight page application. Someone told me that completing the paperwork involved in the adoption process is similar to eating an elephant - you have to do it one bite at a time. I am already beginning to understand how true that is! Nevertheless, we are encouraged, excited, and ready to fill out more paperwork tomorrow.

Thank you again for your prayers and excitement as we embark on this journey. Who knows...maybe God will surprise you with a journey to adopt, too, or maybe if your heart is already open to adoption, you will begin doing your own research! I promise to support you along the way!

9.03.2012

Fear

Well, it was bound to happen. A few days ago, I started to feel a lot of fear about moving forward with an adoption of a child with CL/CP. So many questions went through my head that day...

     Will the baby be able to form an attachment to us?

     What kind of conditions will this child be living in prior to our adoption?

     Will this child know what love is before meeting us?

     Who will take care of the baby before we pick him/her up?

     How will the language barrier impact us?

     How will growing up in a predominantly white community impact this child's identity?

     What will other people say/do to hurt my family when they see we don't "match?"

     How will people treat my sweet ones born with CL/CP b/c of the scars on their faces?

     Will this child's speech be very difficult to develop due to effects of having a CP?

Attachment is such a huge thing when it comes to adoption, and depending on the amount of nurturing and love the child received will impact how he/she will form future attachments. Many children live in orphanages, and when you see those cribs lined up a dozen at a time, it is truly heartbreaking. The alternative is foster care, and obviously that situation largely depends on the caretakers. There are just so many unknowns facing us at this point that when I start to think about them I can feel completely overwhelmed. Then I remember that this baby has had a consistent caregiver from birth - our Heavenly Father - and we could not ask for a better parent until we meet our son/daughter.

My fears about other people can be especially overwhelming because we cannot control other people. I know all we can do is take advantage of teachable moments and attempt to educate people on appropriate language (e.g., real child vs. biological child). Whether we're concerned about the attachment issues, social issues, or medical issues, one thing rings true. God will help us overcome them all. When we rely solely on ourselves, we are bound to fail. But...when we lean on God for understanding, hope, love, acceptance, and peace, He will always come through.

Reading Kisses from Katie could not come at a better time in our journey. Her words have helped melt away so many fears I was beginning to feel because she wrote about the same issues I described above. Even in Uganda under different circumstances, Katie has experienced her kids begin bullied for having a white mom. She has adopted children who have never felt love from another human being before she walked into their lives. Katie relies on the strength of the Lord to meet their every need - social, physical, medical, etc. And you know what, He comes through each and every time.

I'm already wondering how many times I will read that book throughout the course of my life. For those of you who do not know the story, Katie Davis (from TN and at age 18) traveled to Uganda to volunteer for 3 weeks. Several months later, she returned to Uganda to begin teaching kindergarten at an orphanage. She ended up starting an organization call Amazima where she helps (through sponsorship) 400 children receive education, clothing, food, and medicine in addition to being a modern-day Mother Teresa to hundreds and thousands of people around her. As if that wasn't enough, by age 22 Katie had adopted 14 children by herself. The story is incredible!! I won't spoil anymore by sharing with you, but truly, this book is phenomenal. The one thing she writes over and over again is that she is nobody special. Katie shares that she experiences the same struggles as anyone else, but in the end, she chooses to say "Yes" to God's plan for her life.

She writes, "My family, adopting these children, it is not optional. It is not my good deed for the day; it is not what I am doing to 'help out these poor kids.' I adopt because God commands me to care for the orphans and the widows in their distress. I adopt because Jesus says that to whom much has been given, much will be demanded (see Luke 12:48) and because whoever finds his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for His sake will find it (see Matthew 10:39).

At one point, Katies shares that there are...

143 million orphans
11 million children who starve to death or die from preventable diseases
8.5 million who work as slaves/prostitutes/other horrific conditions
2.3 million with HIV

= 164.8 million needy children

Although that seems overwhelming, Katie writes that 2.4 billion people claim to be Christians, and if ONLY 8% of the Christians cared for one child, there would not be any statistics left.

And that profound statement makes my jaw drop to the floor.

I want to be part of the 8%...and I think a lot of you want to be part of the 8%. I have so many friends who are beautiful, nurturing, loving, amazing mothers. Fear should never stop us from answering God's calling to care for orphans and widows because God does not give us a heart of fear. That emotion prevents us from doing exactly what we are created to do - love. And loving is what most of us do best. :)

Today, I don't feel fear. I'm sure it will return at some point, but for now I continue to research agencies and countries and look at pictures of beautiful children just waiting for homes. I appreciate all of your prayers that God makes it clear which country and agency we should choose. We are getting closer and closer everyday!

8.31.2012

Shaken

Soon after we made the decision to adopt a baby with CL/CP, Ryan was flipping through the channels on TV (yes, we are antenna people!) and saw this video:

http://youtu.be/R2vpwoDYdkw

It is incredible! Watch it and love it. I see an adoption montage played to the tune of this song in our future.

Until then, we keep praying.

8.28.2012

Countries, Agencies, Children...Oh My!

I have researched countries and agencies for hours and have found 6 great possible agencies. This is largely due to joining a Yahoo Focus Group specifically related to adopting children with cleft lip/cleft palate - from this point known as CL/CP. The adoption community continues to open its arms to us and provide wonderful feedback about their experiences.

We feel very drawn to Eastern Asia, Central America, and South America. However, the latter two both seem to require very lengthy stays in country. For example, one month was probably the shortest stay. I would prefer not to live anywhere for various reasons, so my searches keep leading me back to Eastern Asia. We are very interested in Taiwan, Phillipines, Samoa, and China. Initially, China was not on my radar, as it seems that so many adoptions occur there; however, I am learning that there are so many children with CL/CP available for adoption in China. Many parents were able to pick up their children 10-15 months after beginning the process. This would be ideal! The idea of waiting 4 years for a child is much longer than we prefer at this point.

I have begun reaching out to different agencies to begin learning about their processes, waiting children, etc. I have even started looking at Waiting Children lists, which is heartbreaking and hopeful all at the same time. On one agency's website, it stated that 35% of the special needs adoptions occur with children born with CL/CP - the majority of all special needs adoptions! It's exciting to join this already awesome group of people who are saying yes to helping a little one who needs wonderful parents.

I also went to my first adoption meeting locally on the northside of Indy. It was helpful just to learn the expected Adoption 101 information, and I was very inspired to see around 20-30 families interested in adoption. I was fortunate to have two girlfriends attend with me! I have big dreams that many of our friends will also adopt children in the future. If you've read my blog for very long, you know that I get really passionate about different topics - coupons, natural labor, water birth, breastfeeding, recipes, etc. - and I like to talk others around me into having those same experiences. Maybe it's all been practice for encouraging others to adopt. How awesome would that be?? I love the idea of our future child having other children around him/her who were also adopted. It would be such a support group for the kids, as well as adults!

Will you please pray that Ryan and I have clarity about our next steps? Specifically, we would appreciate prayers related to which country we should choose and with which agency we should work. This dream was inspired by God's calling, and I know that if we listen, He will also help us make those decisions with peace and clarity. Whether you pray one time or everyday, I appreciate them all the same. Thank you friends!!

Who knew this sweet little lip would change our lives?

8.27.2012

The Journey Begins...

By definition, affirm means to support or uphold the validity of or to confirm. Since making the decision (August 4th) to be obedient to God's calling to adopt a child with a cleft lip/cleft palate, He has given us two awesome experiences that have completely affirmed our decision to adopt. The wild thing is that we've had such complete peace about the decision, knowing it is exactly what we are supposed to do. So the fact that God has given us experiences to help us feel affirmation is just Him showing off at this point. He is awesome and so faithful to us!

The first occurred less than one week after making the decision. It was Friday, August 10th when Noah, Liam, and I drove to our realtor's office to hand in a form to dissolve our contract for the 4 acres. I felt total peace about the decision and was excited to share our exciting news all weekend with family. As we were leaving our realtor's office, I asked Noah if he wanted to go to the park or playground. He chose the library and two minutes later, we had arrived.

After choosing some movies to check out, I walked up to the children's librarian and saw that it was the lady who bought our house. How funny is that?? I knew she worked there, but in all the times we've gone, I've never seen her there before. She asked how the house building was going, and I shared that we had just made the decision to adopt a child instead. We talked for a bit longer, and she showed us a section of small chapter books to start reading with Noah.

As I browsed through that section, I saw a girl my age nearby. She looked SO familiar, but I just couldn't place her. Finally, when she very close to where I was standing, I said, "I'm so sorry, but do we know each other? You look so familiar." She felt the same way, so naturally we asked each other where the other one went to church, preschool, work, etc. Then it hit me! This was one of two other women who shop the big Target sale each year when I go to buy prizes for the kids at school. We laughed about the coincidence, as we truly only saw each other that one morning, one time each year. No sooner after we made the connection did I see her reach down and pick up this BEAUTIFUL little girl with beautifully dark skin. I stuttered and stammered for a second and finally got out the words, "I'm so sorry, but did you adopt her?" Jana (whose name I later learned) shared that yes, they adopted the sweet girl from Ethiopia. I smiled to myself and just could not believe that God had orchestrated this incredible moment. I mean, I had just turned in paperwork to dissolve the agreement and formally make the decision to say 'no' to our dream and say 'yes' to God's dream. The next minute, I'm meeting someone I have seen one time each of the last four years, and she has adopted a child internationally.

We talked for while, and I told her how much I had chills from God totally affirming this decision by meeting her there that day. We both had moments of getting emotional, and I could so easily see how much joy this baby girl had brought to her life. Jana said, "It is the best decision we have ever made," and I could tell that she meant it. She gave me her email address, and after corresponding just a few times, she is already proven to be a wonderful friend, encourager, and resource in our journey. THANK YOU, JANA!

The second affirming experience occurred at a playground behind a neighborhood where we were thinking about living. We had taken the kids there to see if it felt like home and to talk about our options for living arrangements. Only minutes after we arrived, a guy our age walked up along with a young, Hispanic boy. I smiled to myself and thought, "Here you go again, God. Just showing up and showing off!" I struck up a conversation with the guy, asking if he lived in the area and if he liked it. I shared with him the quick version of our story, hoping that he would also share his story with me. Sure enough, Eric shared that 4 years ago he and his wife had adopted their son from Guatemala. He told me their story and was blown away. I shared with him that I just knew that God was again affirming our decision to be obedient to his plan. Eric then said, "You know, I wasn't going to stop at the park today. I just picked up my son but needed to get to my other son's daycare to pick him up. My older son said, "Dad, can we go to the park really quickly...just for a minute?" Eric almost said no but decided to make a quick stop anyway. I was speechless, knowing that God orchestrated another moment through a child (the first time was Noah choosing the library...this time the older son asking to go to the park). I had chills once again. Eric gave me his and his wife's email address, offering to support us in any way...whether it be answering questions, listening to us vent, etc. They were happy to help! And you know what - that's how the entire adoption community appears to be so far, welcoming us with open arms. We are so fortunate!

So, despite feeling so much peace and knowing that we are following God's - not our own - plan, He has given us affirmation anyway. We can't wait to find out what he orchestrates next. Is our child already born? Is the mother pregnant now? Will the baby be conceived soon? Only time will tell.

Noah's 1st Day of Preschool


Four years and 3 months after the day he was born, Noah Ryan began his first day of preschool. I can't believe he is old enough to be away all day long, learning new things and making new friends. Ever since I toured the preschool last Fall, I just knew it was going to be a wonderful place for him to make the transition from toddler-hood to kindergarten. After getting ready and snapping a new "First Day of School" pictures, off we drove to preschool.


While we were in the car, we all prayed together. We prayed that God would help Noah feel excited and happy at school that day, that he would make a new friend, and that He would help Noah stay safe while away from us. Noah prayed afterward, saying his usual prayer: "Dear Lord, thank you for this day. Thank you for my mom and dad and helping me in the dark. Please be with Liam. Amen."

We drove up and I felt my own first day of school jitters - that perfet mixture of anxiety and excitement. After we walked into his class and signed him in, Noah sat down to have breakfast. He chose Kix cereal (my favorite as a kid), pouring the milk and cereal himself. I love how much they focus on helping kids become more independent. I kissed him goodbye and walked to the door, watching him stare at his peers like a deer in headlights. It was the first time in a very long time where I felt him take a very large step into his future. I know he's only 4, but he feels so much older
to me already. So excited for all the adventures that lie ahead this year! We even got his first field trip permission slip - a ride on the school bus around the property. How cute is that? :)


Love my guys.

8.12.2012

A New Dream

Oh my goodness! I am so giddy with excitement to share with all of you what has been transpiring in our family over the past two weeks. And, if I really think back, this journey began years and years ago. I just didn't know it at the time.

Hmm...how should I begin?

Should I build up the story bit by bit in the way I experienced it, or should I just blurt it out?? I've always been a bit of a blurt-er.

Yeah, let me just go ahead and shout it from the roof top...

WE HAVE DECIDED TO SCRAP THE WHOLE DREAM HOUSE AND ADOPT A BABY WITH A CLEFT LIP AND/OR CLEFT PALATE!!!

AHHH!!! I feel so much better sharing that with all of you!! I have been bursting at the seams to tell all of you and am so excited to write this story so that we can share it with our kids for years to come.

Now let's back things up a bit. First of all, I shared in my last post about Nepa, the four year old boy who we are sponsoring from Indonesia, that from an early age I felt drawn to the idea of adopting children from another country. Fast forward to high school, when I met a lady in Florida who had just adopted a beautiful little girl named Emma from Cambodia. She was the first person I had ever met to do such a thing, and so I started researching Cambodia and adoptions there. I remember feeling sad when they closed adoptions between the US and Cambodia because I thought that was something I might do someday. Next on this journey was meeting Ryan. After getting married, we talked a lot about adoption and how we both felt drawn to the possibility someday. It was always one of those things that we would maybe do someday. Sweet Noah was born in 2008, and three years later Liam graced us with his beautiful presence. I think back to Liam's birth story and remember how surprised we were that he was born with a cleft lip. We always wondered what the purpose was, and in my letter to Liam the night before his surgery in November 2011. As I prepared to share this news with all of you, I re-read that letter to Liam and found that I wrote this:

"I've wondered so many times why God decided to give you this special smile. Years before I had you and your brother, I always was drawn to the pictures of children from other countries who have cleft lips/palates. I think it was God's way of preparing my heart for your arrival. I know someday we will understand why, and I am excited to see where this journey leads us together as a family, as well as individually. Your daddy and I have already bought three other children smiles in your honor, and it is our hope that we can do this for at least 100 children. We are so lucky to live in a country with access to such great doctors and hospitals and that we can afford this surgery for you, so we felt led to give others the same opportunity you will have - the chance to feel proud of their smile. Will we reach our goal of 100 smiles together as a family? Will we go on mission trips to help other families across the world? Will you or Noah help children in your same situation someday? God has a reason for this, and I am so excited to find out His purpose. Your birth was a catalyst for something, possibly many things, and I cannot wait to find out what happens next."

HOW CRAZY IS THAT?!

So let's fast forward to about 6 months ago when I read Mary Beth Chapman's book, Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope. In this book, Mary Beth writes at length about her experiences adopting three little girls from China in addition to stories of her friends adopting children from the same country. I started imagining what it would be like for my friends' and for us to all adopt children and how awesome it would be to have one another's support, as well as see these beautiful little children all grow up together, as well. One story in Mary Beth's book especially touched my heart strings. There was a little baby boy born with a cleft lip/palate living in an orphanage in China, and she felt strongly that her friend was supposed to bring this little boy home. I was crying during that part of the book, thinking to myself, "I could be a mom to a little baby like that." And as soon as the thought came to my mind, I quickly pushed it out. The thought scared me, and I just didn't think I could go through that again.

I began talking to friends about adoption, and many of them are really interested in pursuing adoption. For me, though, I was still thinking it was a someday issue for our family. We sold our home at the beginning of May and had an accepted purchase agreement on 4 acres of land to build our dream home. All of June we were focused on designing that house from the inside out. All of our efforts and dreams were focused on that house. We were getting so excited that by the beginning of August, we would be closer to breaking ground. Adoption was still on my mind nearly everyday, but I kept focusing on the house and thinking we would maybe do it someday.

Then, we had plans with friends for the 4th of July that got cancelled due to sickness, and last minute, our friends Tim and Beckie invited us over to celebrate the 4th of July with them. We accepted and were so excited to spend time with them. Our friends Jackie and Danny were there, and we also got to meet our the new youth pastor at our church and his wife, Aimee. What we didn't know until that night was that not long ago, they had adopted a beautiful little boy from Ethiopia. I was dying to ask them their story, and finally while playing a game, the opportunity presented itself. I loved hearing the details of their experience and again thought, "I'll tuck that away from the future in case we ever go in that direction."

On July 18th, Dalia and I decided to get away for an overnight in Cincinnati to shop, eat, and just enjoy girl talk without kids around (aka: paradise!). The first night I shared with her about Aimee and her husband and showed pictures of their son on Facebook. I told her about how adoption had been on my mind a lot. The next morning, after a quick run, she was taking a shower and I sat down to check my email. I had an email from Operation Smile, and although I had deleted the last couple without reading them, I decided to read this one. The story was about a little boy born with a bilateral cleft lip  in the Amazon who miraculously was dropped off at an orphanage. I say miraculously because most babies born with cleft issues in the Amazon are killed instantly, for example, someone drowning them in a river. As if that wasn't difficult enough to read, the writer went on to say,

"That first week, 14 couples came to the orphanage to adopt children. Each couple passed by little Yan, barely even giving him a second glance; he was thin, weak and dying, and in need of critical medical care."

I was crushed...my heart broken into a million little pieces.

I felt God pushing His way into my heart and say, "This is what I am asking you to do." I felt waves of chills rushing through my body while simultaneously thinking, "I could have been this child's mother. I could do it again," as well as, "I can't go through that again. I am too scared!" The tears kept falling when Dalia walked out from the bathroom and asked me what was wrong. I briefly shared with her what I read and told her how adoption had been on my mind so much the past few months. She said something like, "Amy, if adoption is on your mind so much, you really need to consider that God is trying to tell you something." Of course that only made me cry harder. I excused myself to the shower where I found myself continuing to feel broken, crushed, and God pushing His way into my thoughts and heart. His pursuit was not over. I kept feeling Him telling me, "This is what I want you to do. You can be a mother to a baby. I know it was hard before, but you can do it. This is the purpose of Liam's smile."

I always knew adoption was a possibility for our future, and I had always believed that there was a purpose behind Liam being born with a cleft lip. I had no idea the two ideas were related, and at that moment, it became completely clear that this was God's desire for our lives.

After a day of shopping at IKEA with Dalia, we drove back to Indy. Through many tears, I shared with Ryan what happened in that hotel room in Cincinnati. He received the news with complete serenity and said something like, "If that is where God is leading our family, then I think we really need to pray about it and listen to Him." Ryan shared that he was scared, too, but that he was open to the idea.

We stayed focused on the house with a new thought that someday we would adopt a baby with cleft lip/cleft palate issues. A week later, on July 27th, my mom watched the boys during my first day back to work. When I got home, I shared with her what happened in Cincinnati and told her that adopting a baby with those medical needs was a really strong possibility for our future. She was supportive, as expected, and then I shared the floor plans for our "dream house." At this point, we were still waiting to hear back from one person (out of four) about his bid for building our house.

The very next day, we were at church for the Saturday night service. During the last song, a thought entered my mind: "Being obedient to God's plan often means giving up your own dreams." This thought played over and over again in my mind, and I was left wishing I had said that very thing to my mom the day before. I had tears in my eyes and chills running through my body. When the song ended, I sat down and opened the bulletin to prepare to take notes during Steve's sermon.

The title of the sermon was "OBEDIENCE." I think my heart stopped...and immediately the tears started falling. At that moment, we knew that God's pursuit had not ended. He was making himself perfectly clear. Steve shared the INCREDIBLE story of a girl named, Katie, who started an organization called AMAZIMA. She went on a mission trip to Uganda at 18 years old, and soon after moved back to Uganda by herself, started an organization that feeds, clothes, and educates 400 children, and adopted more than 13 girls on her own. Did I mention she is only 24 years old??? Steve read excerpts of her book, Kisses from Katie (which Ryan and I plan to start reading next week). In her book, Katie wrote, "Jesus wrecked my life, shattered it into pieces, and put it back together more beautifully." During that sermon, Ryan and I made the decision. We were moving forward with an adoption of a child with a cleft lip and/or palate. We were ready for God to take over our lives, knowing that His plan will be more beautiful than anything we can imagine.

We tried negotiating with God to do both: build the "dream house" and adopt the baby. Surely that was still the plan, right? After a meeting about our 4 acres, which to our knowledge on the right track for building soon, Ryan came home to tell me that it would be another 2 months for platting and that one neighbor planned to have livestock on his land. I was angry, stormed out of the house, and had the best run of my life that night! In my heart I think I knew that this was God telling us that it was not his desire for us build the house, but I was in denial. Ryan and I decided we would find other land. We did just that...and found a few options that would be just fine.

Before we knew it, we were back at church the following Saturday night. Ryan had been really down the day before, as well as Saturday, and I felt really strong. It was all going to be ok! During the service, Ryan made two lists. One gave reasons to build the house of our "dreams." The second gave reasons to build or buy a home at a lower price level. After the sermon, Ryan said, "Amy, everything on the "dream house" list is about us. Everything on the second list is about this baby. I just don't feel think we should move forward with the house." I diverted my attention and dove into researching international adoptions and all that goes into them. I felt excited and completely at peace that we were going to have a new member in our family!

Then, the next morning I woke up really sad. Reality hit and denial left...we were not building the house. I had spent the entire summer dreaming, designing, and planning, and it wasn't going to happen. It seems silly now - and a little laughable - that I was so sad, that I even cried over a house, but truthfully, I did. By that afternoon, we were pricing out a house with a builder closer to our new price point just to see if it was an option. I met the most beautiful person, a true sister in Christ, who worked for the builder we were visiting. I slowly poured out the story, still a bit raw with emotion, and she was absolutely the perfect person to help me pick up some pieces that day. She not only encouraged me in our circumstances but also shared that her husband was adopted when he was younger. I am still so thankful that God put her in my path that day!

I met with Aimee the next night to learn more about international adoption, which was so helpful. She was encouraging, excited for us, and really helped me make the transition from our old "dream" to our NEW DREAM. I continue to learn so much each day and am amazed by all of the people who are willing to come forward to help us along this journey. I have already experienced so much affirmation that this is exactly what God wants us to do with our lives.

We spent the weekend telling our parents and siblings, which was A LOT OF FUN!! They are all so excited for us and supportive of the direction we are taking. This is sure to be a journey for our family and is bound to have its own ups and downs, but ultimately, I cannot wait to meet the child God has chosen for us.

Mary Beth Chapman wrote, "Will you trust me with the details that you've been worried about and walk in faith where I'm leading you and your family?" My answer is yes! She also wrote, "When we all stand before Christ in the end, the main thing we'll have to show for this life will be the spiritual children we've been a part of bringing into His kingdom." I can't think of a more beautiful way for us to leave a mark on the world.

In my last blog post on July 13th, I wrote, "Maybe adoption is in our future. Maybe it isn't."

Well, as it turns out, today on August 12th, I can tell you IT IS. And we're working as fast as we can to make our new dream a reality.

7.13.2012

Nepa

Ever since I was a little girl, I was always enthralled with the commercials featuring children from far away countries who needed someone to sponsor them. I would end away for information about the kids and hang their pictures in my room. Recently, I asked on Facebook which organizations different people like to financially support, and it was awesome to see how God has put certain passions inside each one of us in order to ensure that the needs of our world are addressed.

After reading through everyone's charities, my heart was consumed with a desire to finally sponsor a child of our own. Ryan and I have often talked about adopting a child, and at this point in our lives, we know the timing is not quite right. However, sponsoring a child is one step in the direction we may ultimately head in someday. I researched several different organizations that offered child sponsorship and decided that for many reasons Compassion was the perfect one for our family. We decided to choose a 4 year old boy to sponsor, as it would allow for some awesome teachable moments for Noah as he and this child grew up together. Ideally, sponsorship lasts through the child graduating from secondary school, and a 4 year old boy just felt right.

When we searched for a 4 year old boy, there was an option to see who had been waiting for a sponsor the longest. Fredly Septiano Nepafay (Nepa) had been waiting for 281 days, and he was the little boy God chose for us. Ryan and I just felt our hearts drawn to him, and as crazy as it sounds, we love him already.


Compassion has a really neat way of sending letters to children you sponsor. After receiving our packet of information about Nepa today, I was able to log into their website and create a letter electronically. I attached three pictures of our family, too, so that he would have a visual of who we are. Here is the first letter I wrote him:

Hello Nepa and family! We are so excited to say hello and introduce ourselves to you. My name is Amy (age 30), and my husband's name is Ryan (age 32). We have two little boys, Noah (age 4) and Liam (age 1). Noah thinks it is so neat that he and Nepa are the same age! Nepa, we live far, far away in the United States of America. Have you ever heard of the USA? The USA has 50 states, and we live in a state called Indiana. The city we live in is called Greenwood. We read that the town where you live, you eat a lot of corn. We have LOTS of corn in Indiana! In fact, Noah's favorite food is corn on the cob. Is that how you eat it?
Nepa, I want you to know that ever since I was a very little girl, I have always wanted to sponsor a little boy or girl just like you. God has always blessed me, and I very much wanted to bless someone else. Recently, I started looking into different organizations that help children. We really liked Compassion, and when we searched for a little 4 year old boy (to grow up alongside our son Noah), we saw your picture and just knew that God had chosen you as the one we should sponsor! Isn't that so neat?! God loves you SO much, and we already love you, too. You are SO handsome and have the most beautiful brown eyes. We have only seen one picture of you so far and hope you will send more as you grow up!
I will write to you often, and we are excited to hear from you, too. Do you have any questions for us? I will make sure to include some pictures so you know what we look like. Maybe someday when you are older, our family will be able to meet your family. Wouldn't that be neat? I have 3 questions for you. Do you have any brothers or sisters?  What is your favorite game to play? How can we pray for you? Ryan, Noah, Liam, and I are already praying for you and your family. In the Bible, it says, "Do not be afraid for I am with you" (Isaiah 43:5). Remember that God is always with you, and even though we are far away, we are always thinking of you. 

Love,
Amy, Ryan, Noah, and Liam

I wanted to share this story about Nepa because if your heart has ever felt lead to sponsor a child, maybe this will help you take the next step! I can only imagine where this journey will take our family. Hopefully, we will be able to travel to Indonesia someday to meet him! Maybe adoption is in our future. Maybe it isn't. But for now, we are excited about to get to know this sweet little 4 year old boy who lives far, far away and hope that everything we send him helps him grow to be a happy, healthy, educated, loved little boy who ultimately knows that God is behind all of the blessings each one of us receives every single day.

7.09.2012

What a Summer!

Despite all of the promises I made to myself to keep up on this blog, once again, I have found myself caught up in our day to day lives without making much time for reflection. On a positive side, I have had a wonderful summer with Ryan and our boys! Our adventures began the second I work ended for the year on June 1st. We packed our bags, loaded up my CR-V, and started our journey toward Hilton Head Island to vacation with Ryan's family. The kids did unbelievably well the entire drive down. We even got to make a stop south of Charlotte to visit with our friends, Jason and Kim, and their sweet kids. It was awesome to finally visit their home and see where they live! I loved seeing Ryan spending time with one of the most loyal, greatest friends he has ever had. :)

After about 16 hours in the car, we arrived at Hilton Head Island. This was Liam's first trip to the beach, and Noah was the perfect age to really play more independently this year. The weather on the first couple of days was beautiful. During mid-week, the weather was rainy off and on. In fact, that was really the last time I saw rain for more than 5 minutes. I can't remember having a summer so dry and hot! The last day of vacation was super sunny, so I laid out as much as possible to soak up those rays!

Liam's first experience at the beach.

Goofy face!

Papa and Liam playing with Tobbles one evening

We spent a lot of time walking the hallway with this Mater toy from Jason and Kim on rainy days!

One afternoon we went to a really fun Gelato shop owned by someone originally from Indianapolis. It was delicious!

Liam got a new toy with his birthday money - we still play with it everyday!

Mady was a huge help with Liam. She played with him and watched after him all week. I can still remember my first trip to HH when Mady was Liam's age. Time goes so quickly!

Ryan helping Noah and Micah set up Noah's new toy he picked out to buy with his birthday money. Those boys were joined at the hip most of the week!

Coal-fired pizza....DELICIOUS!!!!!!!!!!

Kelli and her beautiful kids!
John and Gloria - the rock of our family. We are so grateful for their ever-inspiring example!

Our sweet fam :)
Best buddies

Liam waiting patiently for his dinner our last night in HH

Someone loves his Aunt Kelli :)

And someone loves sweet Liam :)
We had a wonderful trip with Ryan's family! John and Gloria spoiled us all week, and all we had to do was make dinner a couple of times. There is just nothing as special as spending an entire uninterrupted week with your family. I can't wait for our next trip, though it's crazy to think our kids will be 13, 11, almost 9, 6, and 3. Excited to see where we all are, what we're all doing, etc. in two years. Thank you, John and Gloria, for this wonderful trip that has filled us with beautiful memories!
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