Happy Birthday Tuck!

My Beautiful, Sweet Tuck,
When I woke up this morning, I first thought of you! Of course by then, you were probably getting ready to go to bed yourself. Because of the time difference between China and the US, I feel like we got to celebrate your birthday for two days, which is fine by me! You can ask your daddy, and he will tell you. I like to celebrate birthdays for as long as possible. Why should it just be a day? This was your birth weekend! I sometimes like to even celebrate a birth week! It's just more fun that way.

As soon as the clock showed 7:00 p.m. last night, I knew you were waking up. I wondered if any of your nannies sang "Happy Birthday" to you when you woke up. At the very least, I wondered if anyone said "Happy Birthday" to you. Did they play any special games? I have no idea if your birthday was acknowledged today, and if it wasn't, just know that birthday number 3 will surely be a wonderful celebration of your life!

I am so curious to know what you thought of being the center of attention at your birthday party this week. We sent you a cake, stuffed animals, a special pillow to sleep with, and a letter. I wish I could have been there to see you blow out your candles and eat your delicious cake! I wonder how you felt when you saw the picture of four strangers on that pillow? Did the nannies tell you that we are your family? Did you understand what that meant? If so, were you scared? As much as I want to bring you home, I know the life you have lived is the only one you know, and the orphanage walls you see around you are the only home you've ever had. My heart breaks for the grieving you will feel someday when we completely change everything you have ever known. I keep praying that God will prepare your heart and whisper to you that we are good, we are loving, and we will be your family forever and ever.

Tuck, when I think about your birthday, I immediately think about the moment you came into this world. There was a woman who chose to carry you in her belly...for months you grew inside her in to a sweet, tiny little baby boy. So when I think about your birthday, I think about your birth mom. I wonder what today was like for her, knowing that it was your birthday. I pray that God has given her peace that you are being cared for and that soon you will have a family to love you, to nurture you, and to provide for you forever. We may never know the circumstances of how you came to live in the orphanage. I am so sorry for that. Know as you grow older, you are not alone in this journey. You have a family, and together will walk this path God has laid before you.

Today was a day of both happiness and sorrow for me. I am so filled with joy that God has brought you into our life. I was excited to recognize your birthday...you were on my mind all day! We wanted to do something to celebrate your birthday, but a cake just didn't seem right. You wouldn't be able to eat it with us. Instead, we as a family sang "Happy Birthday" to you at least a dozen times. You should hear your brothers belt out that song! We ended up going out for Chinese tonight, as that always helps us feel closer to you. Your daddy and the boys had ice cream, too! While they enjoyed dessert, I wondered if you have ever eaten ice cream. Today was hard because you are still far from us. I truly ache to have you home. Each day, I go about my life, but there is this obvious missing piece, and that piece is you. I feel like I have known you forever - like my heart is connected to yours - but there is still so much I want to learn about you. I cannot wait to finally meet you!

This is your last birthday in China, my love. I know you will carry memories of your friends and your nannies with you when you come home. I hope the memories you have will be ones of kindness, love, and fun. I have connected with many of your friends mommies on Facebook, and we are going to do everything we can to keep all of you in touch with one another.

As your birthday comes to an end, just know that while you sleep soundly in your crib, I am halfway across the world missing you and loving you more than will ever know. I pray for your protection, your health, and your heart each and every day. I love you so much!



Highs and Lows

What a week this has been in our adoption journey! It has truly been a week with the highest of highs and some of my lowest of lows. Let's start with how the week began, which was my low.

On Monday I was enjoyed the day at home with the boys. While Liam was napping, I was in my office paying bills and trying to get organized. As I've mentioned before, I have joined a few private adoption Facebook groups. When I found out we had our Log In Date (LID) of 3/20, I also learned that many other women from my adoption agency also had been notified that they, too, had a 3/20 LID. There were so many of us that we said we were the 3/20 club! So on Monday, I had Facebook pulled up on my computer when I saw one of the 3/20 mommas announce she had the HUGE surprise of receiving Letter of Acceptance (LOA). On average, LOA takes 60 days, but lots of people wait 90 days or more. Monday made Day 32 of the LOA for all of us 3/20 girls! Before I could really process what was happening, another 3/20 momma announced that she had LOA, too. Then another. And another. And another. I was on my knees, pleading with God that we also were going to find out we were LOA that day. It would mean that we could bring Tucker home a month sooner than expected. My friend, Kelley, and I both have boys living in the same orphanage, and we have been hoping and praying that we can go pick the kids up together. I was praying SO hard that she would be LOA, too, as she had been waiting even long than me. You should've seen the tears of joy when she announced that she got LOA! I was SO happy for her. I had prayed that even if we didn't get our LOA that day, I was praying that she would get hers. And when she did, I was truly overjoyed!

Soon after, I learned from our social worker that we did not get our LOA. I was so heartbroken. This is the last LONGGGGGG wait we will have in the adoption. All I keep thinking to myself and saying to others is that I just want my son to come home. I just want him home with his brothers and his parents who love him forever. I learned that the reason we did not get our LOA and others did is because those families had Pre-Approval to adopt their children before LID, as they are considered "special focus" children. Tucker's designation is "special needs," so we could not get Pre-Approval until after LID. Therefore, our paperwork is being processed more slowly.

So much red tape. So much waiting. And so much paperwork.

When I feel frustrated, which has happened more than once this week , I just remember that Christ endured so much pain, so much heartache, and so much sadness to bring US home. When I look at my situation from that perspective, I feel encouraged and strengthened. We are officially 37 days into our LOA wait, and I would appreciate your prayers that we receive it VERY soon and that while we wait, our hearts remain strong and our trust for God's timing always outweighs the aching in our hearts to bring Tucker home.

The high point of the week happened the minute I woke up this morning! We received pictures from Tucker's birthday party at the orphanage! Yes, Tuck is officially two years old! We contacted a lady named Ann from Red Thread in China a couple weeks ago, as she puts together care packages to send to children living in orphanages and foster homes. We decided that our first care package would be for his birthday, and a few days after placing our order, Ann sent us pictures of the items she sent Tuck.

A flash drive for the Nannies/Director to load pictures of Tucker

A momma and baby panda set

The last gift is something we have wanted to send him since we first saw the idea. This is a pillow he will sleep with during naps and at night, and Ann ironed on a picture of our family. When he opened his gifts, it would have been his first time seeing a picture of his Mama, Baba, and brothers. 
So today when I woke up, I had pictures of my beautiful son celebrating his birthday with his friends (who I have cropped out for their privacy). 


Looks like he swiped a quick lick of his cake before blowing out his candles! The nanny (who I also cropped out) was clapping in the picture! Isn't it beautiful? I just love the cake they chose for him. Two long skinny candles for the BIG two year old boy!

Stop growing, sweet boy! You're getting so big.
I truly hope he felt special the day he received this package. I have no idea if Tuck has ever celebrated his birthday before, but we will make sure his next one is extra special.

I have just stared at this last picture all day today. My son could seriously not be more beautiful! It was my first time seeing him in something green, and he looks so darn cute! I try to memorize each detail of his face, his hair, his ears, his little hands. All day my heart has just ached for him. I just want him to come home. In our package, we also sent a letter introducing ourselves and thanking the nannies for taking good care of him. We asked 10 questions about Tucker, as we want to get to know him as much as possible. Each time you see the name Tucker, know that his letter had his Chinese name. We just cannot share it at this time.
1.       What do you call Tucker (for example, does he have a nickname)?
2.       Has he been around any animals, specifically dogs?
3.       What words is Tucker saying now?
4.       Is there anything that he is afraid of?
5.       How does he get along with other children?
6.       Which nannies does Tucker have a close relationship?
7.       How would you describe his personality?
8.       If Tucker gets upset, are there certain things you do to help him calm down?
9.       What are his current measurements (for example, height, weight, head circumference, shoe size, clothing size)?
10.   What are some of his favorite things (for example, toys, foods, drinks, games)?
We have not yet received answers to our questions, and we may never know the answer to any of them. We are hoping and praying to receive something back soon, though.
Oftentimes, on my Noah's and Liam's birthdays, I will write them a letter to share how I feel about them, and I post them on my blog. I want to do the same for Tucker, so hopefully I will be ready to share that tomorrow. Until then, thank you for your prayers and support while we continue to wait.



The other night, I got a text from a friend who is coincidentally our youth pastor at church. He wrote, "Message tonight was on prayer. One prayer station was a world map where students prayed for issues, missionaries, and other things. Here are a couple pictures of what students wrote...one in particular I think you'll find interesting."

You can imagine the tears that fell from my eyes seeing this simple plea to God to protect our son and to bring him home. It is one thing for us to pray for Tucker, but to know that others are praying alongside us is just overwhelming. God is hearing all of our prayers! I am in a really good place of peace right now, and I have several pictures now where Tuck is smiling. Amazing how a little dimpled smile can bring such relief. I am thankful for the distractions found in our temporarily extra-busy lives. It is helping to pass the time while we wait for Letter of Acceptance (LOA).

To the person who wrote this prayer, thank you for loving our son and our family! It brought me so much joy, and I can't wait to share this with Tucker someday. God bless you!


Now What?

In case you missed it, Ryan and I receive pre-approval to adopt the cutest little boy in China. Meet our son...Tucker Y. Abell!!!

So now people have been asking us how much longer until we bring him home. Here is the updated timeline:

07/19/12 - Felt calling to adopt a child with CL/CP
08/04/12 - Made the decision to adopt
09/06/12 - Submitted application to Lifeline Children Services
09/24/12 - Submitted application to a MLJ for Home Study
11/02/12 - Submitted binder to MLJ with Home Study requirements
12/18/12 - Finalized Home Study Report completed
12/20/12 - USCIS received our Immigration application
12/31/12 - Fingerprint appointment date and time received
01/23/13 - 10:45 a.m. Call from Lifeline - saw our son!!!
01/23/13 - 11:00 a.m. Fingerprint appointment at USCIS
02/11/13 - I-797 Approval - Allows us to bring a child into the US
02/21/13 - State Authentications
03/01/13 - Chinese Consulate Authentication
03/01/13 - Letter of Intent (LOI) - not processed until after LID
03/04/13 - Dossier to China (DTC)
03/20/13 - Log In Date (LID)
03/29/13 - Pre-Approval (PA)
               - Letter of Acceptance (LOA)
               - I-800 (Immigration Application for our son)
               - National Visa Center
               - Article 5
               - Travel Approval (TA)
               - Depart
               - Meet Our Son!!!
               - Consulate Appointment
               - Home!!!

So now we are waiting for our Letter of Acceptance (LOA), or it is sometimes called Letter Seeking Confirmation. The LOA gives families FINAL APPROVAL to move forward with the adoption. The wait for LOA averages around 60 days, but I have seen them as short as 30+ days to as long as 120 days. Anything before 90 is considered typical. I am very thankful for busy months of April and Mayour family will have in order to help pass the time waiting for LOA. From what I can tell from other families experiencing it, this part of the adoption process in China can be grueling. I am hopeful we will receive our LOA sometime in May. Once that happens, I think they say 8-10 weeks to travel is very typical.

After receiving LOA, we will submit Tucker's paperwork to USCIS (immigration) in order to get our government's approval to bring him home to the US. Once they give us permission, it looks like things move pretty quickly! One form leads to another form and before you know it, you're boarding a plane to fly halfway across the world. I. CAN. NOT. WAIT.

I have been SOOO blessed by other momma's adopting from the same province where Tuck lives. These moms have already picked up their babies and completed an orphanage visit, or they received pictures from a care package. Either way, after I posted pictures of Tucker on FB, they began contacting me with pictures of him. I got 6 new ones this week. As you can imagine, every small glimpse of him warms my heart. To see him playing, smiling, and with the same group of children is just amazing. We like to call Tuck the photo bomber because somehow he ends up in other people's pictures/videos quite often. It will be so special for him to have these videos and pictures someday, too, as he begins to process where he lived for the first 2+ years of his life. Noah and Liam will have hundreds of pictures of themselves someday, so anything we are able to get of Tucker means so much to us.

Through Facebook, I have made the greatest friends also going through the adoption process. The support, encouragement, love, and prayers that these men and women have provided has been priceless. I group message with three women every single day throughout the day on Facebook, and they are all incredible! My friend and I started a private Facebook group for families who have or are in the process of adopting children from the province where Tuck lives. Not only is it amazing support for each other, but it also allows us to keep our children who have grown up together in touch, as well. When they start dealing with identity development issues, we are hopeful that just having each other will help them...if even only a little bit. We live all over the country, but you can bet that we will make sure our children meet and keep in touch.

I also want to thank all of you again who read this blog and have shown our family so much love through your comments, email, and FB posts. We are SO SO SO blessed to have all of you in our lives. Many people have not experienced the love and support that we have, so we understand how lucky we are.

Please pray that we will be Out of Translater (OOT) soon. This is when they translate all of our documents for processing the LOA. Once we are OOT, we will be that much closer to LOA. :) Then, we will naturally be one step closer to our son...sweet Tuck.


Plan A

In our country, the natural progression of life is graduate from high school, go to college, get married, have 1-3 kids, focus on your career while raising your kids, retire, and travel the world until life ends. That's just life, and in this culture we don't really question that life. It is "normal"...what we see around us all of the time. This is Plan A in the US.

What if you don't go to college? People judge you.

What if you don't get married until you're in your 30's? People question you.

What if you don't have kids within 3 years of getting married? People have opinions about it.

What if you have 4-10 kids? People definitely have opinions about it!

In the US, Plan A means having biological kids and then maybe adopting later. That was exactly how Ryan and I felt about adoption before beginning this journey. We always thought about it and knew there was a strong chance we would adopt "someday," but it was always after having biological kids. Notice I'm not saying our "own" or "real" kids. Kids who are adopted are those parents "own" or "real" kids, too. We decided long ago that we hoped to get pregnant twice and then maybe adopt. It was an "option" but not a necessity. It would be "neat" to adopt, but if we never did, that would be ok, too. I am ashamed to admit those thoughts, but it is true.

My, my how things change in a 8 months...

By the majority of people in our country, adoption is seen as Plan B. Obviously I'm not judging anyone for feeling that way because before this enlightening, I felt the same way. This is the message of our culture! Adoption is something you do after having biological kids or only if you struggle with infertility. So sad. Why is this the overwhelming belief in our culture? The majority of people in the US are educated, middle class folks with decent homes and jobs. How did the idea that adoption is Plan B come to exist? Christianity is the most prevelent religion in the US. I just learned that 78.4% of adults claim to be Christians, and why are Christians buying into the idea that adoption is Plan B?

I was one of those people. For years I was, but not anymore...

I have struggled with my own guilt since learning about the state of orphans in this world. How could I have ever considered them as Plan B? I am a mother, and I work with children who have special needs. God gave me a heart to LOVE children. How did I turn a blind eye to the fact that are 153 million orphans in this world? How did I get so caught up in the American Dream that I turned away from loving "the least of these?"

God also has a Plan A, and His plan was ADOPTION: http://vimeo.com/48047907 (Watch this)

There is a really awesome movement happening in our country right now, and I am seeing it progress day-by-day and minute-by-minute. There are amazing families out there with HUGE hearts, and they want to live out exactly what God did for them. They want to take a child who lives in an orphanage, an instituion where there may or may not be food, clean water, medical care, heat - let alone opportunities for love, education, and development - and bring that child home to love, nurture, and protect forever. There are more and more couples who see adoption as Plan A, adopting before they try to have biological children or adopting instead of having biological children. Yes, people in our culture judge them and have strong opinions because they are going against the grain, but I am totally inspired!

I am so thankful that God intervened in my life and asked me to take this journey. I finally feel like I'm living with a purpose and not just going through the motions of what our culture says life should be. We live once...only once. What are we going to do with this amazing opportunity we have?

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