Difficult Decisions

Last night I tried to write about Christmas. I started the post and couldn't get past the first sentence. I wanted to share stories and pictures from all four of our very special Christmas celebrations to help document the memories we made together. I wanted to write about Christmas, but I can't. Not yet anyway. I am plagued today in such a hard way, and I know I need to write this down first. I need to share my heart and pour it out in order move forward.

In my last post, I shared how the precious boy we had been pursuing since February 12th was not going to be our son. I have never experienced a miscarriage after conceiving biological children, but I will say this, a miscarriage is the only thing to which I can liken this experience. When we conceive a child, the heart of a mother becomes attached, bonded to that child. We know we might miscarry. We know the pregnancy could result in a child being born too soon or a still birth. The child may be diagnosed with a condition that will end its life too soon. We know in our hearts that we may lose this child, but we hope and we love with abandon anyway because we are mothers after all. It is what God created us to do.

The same concept is true with adoption. You see a child, and with the knowledge that you may never meet this child - due to illness, injury, a halting of the adoption process, not being chosen as the child's family, etc. - you fall in love anyway. You hope. You dream. You imagine the future. Your risk it all, falling in love, because the child is worth it. One redeeming piece of this story, as it has been written so far, is knowing that the little boy's family is absolutely, positively incredible. With amazing courage and tenderness, his mom reached out to me, and her family is all that I could ever hope for this sweet boy. I adore them and pray that their new son will be in their arms very soon!

When waves of grief come over me, I have to remind myself that God is good all the time. I trust Him above all else, and His ways are not my ways. This life is not about me, my happiness, or my comfort, even though I selfishly wish it was. I told the Lord 2 1/2 years ago that I would follow Him. I made the decision to stop playing it safe by living for myself and gave my life over to Him in a new way. While waiting for the little boy's file, I told God that I am not willing to get what I want at the expense of missing His purpose for my life. Less of me. More of Him. The Lord's decision is clear, and Ryan and I really believe that the right family was chosen for the little boy. I am learning that I can experience great joy and heartache simultaneously. One does not negate the other. The emotions are not mutually exclusive. Our peace with this situation is the result of our deep trust and surrender to His Will, as well as knowing that the chosen family is going to shower their son with unconditional love all the days of his life.

In an effort to move forward, Ryan and I have been looking at pictures and videos of many children on our agency's website. For those of you outside the adoption community, this is an extremely difficult experience. For those adoptive mommas and poppas out there, I know you feel me. We honestly did not look at our agency's waiting children a lot during our first adoption. When we did look at the waiting children, our hearts broke into a million pieces. Oftentimes, we would look at their age and special need because looking at their pictures hurt too much.

If you remember from my post about how we matched with Tucker, our social worker called us right before we had our fingerprints taken to ask us if we would consider a sweet little boy from Chongqing. Soon after seeing his pictures, video, and file, we said, "YES!" and Tucker became our third son.

Almost two years later, I have looked at more pictures and videos of waiting children that I can count. These children consume much of my Facebook newsfeed thanks to the advocacy efforts of the adoption community. I see blog posts on No Hands But Ours and posts by our agency with children of all ages and with every medical need you can imagine. On Christmas morning, rather than immediately seeing presents under a tree, I awoke to the picture below in my newsfeed with an accompanying video. Are you brave enough to watch 30 seconds of it? Can you get through the entire video? On Christmas morning, I honestly made it through about three minutes with tears in my eyes and had to turn it off. It is painful to see REAL children behind bars, ALONE in their cribs, in a REAL orphanage. This is real life, heart-wrenching stuff.

Relational poverty, policies within countries, disease, lack of resources, etc. have created the status of an orphan. However, all of us allow children to continue living apart from families by not inviting them into our own. Yes, Tucker is home with us, and yes, we will bring another child home, but when do we stop? When does our responsibility end? The truth is, it never will. "...Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless..." (Isaiah 1:17). God does not say, "I will call only a few people to help the orphan." God asks all of us to help these children.

"What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead...I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2:14-18).

"So many won’t do anything unless they hear a voice from heaven telling them precisely what to do. Why not default to action until you hear a voice from heaven telling you to wait? For example: Why not assume you should adopt kids unless you hear a voice telling you not to? Wouldn’t that seem more biblical since God has told us that true religion is to care for the widows and orphans (James 1:27)?” (Francis Chan, You and Me Forever)

The fact that there are children waiting for a family is a reality that we allow. The significance and depth of that statement is not lost on me, especially at a time when I am faced with dozens of children waiting to be chosen. Their orphanages have prepared their paperwork. The governing bodies have approved their files for international adoption. Agencies has been selected to advocate for them. Now they wait to be chosen.

For our current adoption, Ryan and I are approved to adopt a boy or girl between the ages of 0-6. Because we adopting through the China Special Needs program, we had to determine which medical/special needs that our family felt capable of addressing. Our list of special needs is quite broad, as we know what a gift children with medical/specials needs are to families.

As you can imagine, I am overwhelmed by where things stand in our adoption process. To have been matched with the little boy would have been so much easier (because we loved him, felt a supernatural connection to him, and would not have to "find" our child since he was already known to us) than what we are facing, but God has not given us our desired easier road. We are faced with the reality of looking at pictures and videos and discussing special needs. We are asking ourselves, "What would it be like to parent a child who has lived in an orphanage for 5-6 years? What is it like to adopt a child without arms and how would he feel going to public school with his brothers? How would our friends and family feel if we adopted a child with HIV, and is that even something we would share with others? What would our lives look like if we adopted a child with cleft lip/palate, club feet, or thalassemia in terms of surgery, treatment, therapy, etc.?

The other day, I wrote down ten different names of children who are currently with our agency and fall within our age range and special need list. I'm sure there were many others. I found myself thinking, "Why not this kid? Why not her? Why not him?" I feel like I could choose any single one of them. They are all deserving of a family, and they all need medical care. How will we ever choose? And then, what is hurting the most right now is the fact that we are only bringing one child home. It is one thing to say yes to one child, but in doing so, we will say no to dozens of others. Some of them will be chosen, but others never will. It is heart wrenching, and I find myself wondering why all of these kids are waiting. They are all beautiful and amazing and deserving of a family, and the truth is, there are not enough families willing to adopt them. So they wait. Their pictures are posted on a list for days, weeks, months, and years. Out of the estimated 20 million orphans in China, 2,000 of them have files prepared, and they are waiting for 1 out of 7 billion people to bring them home. Of course I wish more than 2,000 children had files ready, but there aren't enough families coming forward to justify the expense of preparing them. Am I coming through to you? Does your heart break like mine? I am longing for people who share my heart.

So, today I really wanted to write about Christmas. I wanted to write about funny stories, generous gifts, and delicious food, but my heart is heavy with the decision we need to make. So many children are waiting, and I wish more families would rise up to bring them home. I am overwhelmed by the decision we have to make. Every single one of these children deserves a family, and we can only bring one home. Please God, lead us to the one you have chosen for us. Please guide us and make it so apparent that we know that this is the child you want us to bring home, just like we felt when we saw Tucker. We trust you and are willing to follow where you lead. For all of you reading, we appreciate your prayers, as we make what feels like an impossible decision and consider all the beautiful children who need families.


God Is Good All The Time

For the past 5 1/2 months, I have imagined what I would be writing in this post today. Would this be a time of celebration? A time of sadness? Would I be able to announce our new child?

I learned on June 30, 2014 that a miracle had taken place. The child to whom I felt a strong connection was having his file prepared for international adoption, and more amazingly, once complete, his file would be distributed to our adoption agency. A week later, after many prayers and discussion, we decided that this was either our son, or he was leading us back to China for whoever our next child would be.

Since that time, we have been racing the clock. Our home study was completed in  6 weeks - record time! We received our Immigration Approval a little more than 2 months later. Our dossier was authenticated and sent to China 3 1/2 weeks after that. In the meantime, this little one's file was taking longer and longer to arrive. Naturally, our hope that he would be our son grew stronger and stronger, as the arrival of his file was aligning to possibly arrive near our next big milestone: Log In Date (LID) into China's database, which would indicate their acceptance of us as adoptive parents. As our hope grew stronger, we took the opportunity to send the little guy Christmas presents. Shopping for him was very special, and my heart ached for him like it had longed for Tucker when he still lived half a world away. I was dreaming about him at night and imagining him playing with our other three boys.

But not everything we dream will become our reality. Not all of our pursuits will end as we hope. Sometimes we fall in love only to be left mending our broken hearts.

As it turns out, the gifts we sent this precious boy will be the only contact we will ever have with him this side of heaven. After making the decision to adopt again, I initially prayed that God would allow this boy to be our son. However, knowing that there was at least one other family interested in adopting him, as well, that prayer never felt right in my heart. So, I started praying that God would place this sweet boy in the family where he would draw closest to the Lord. If growing up in a different family would lead him to love God more than he would with our family, I prayed that he would be placed with them.

And I believe that God has answered that prayer. He has chosen another family to love, adore, and raise this precious boy.

Upon hearing this news, I will be honest, I collapsed and wept in Ryan arms. My heart shattered piece by piece as I processed the fact that I would never be this little boy's mother. I would never pick him up, kiss his cheeks, or put him to bed at night. He would never play with our three boys, open birthday presents with them, or watch movies snuggled under blankets together. This beautiful, little boy would never be my son.

When I attempted to tell Ryan what our agency had shared, he told me that he heard every word. He said that he wanted to throw my phone, shield me from the words, and put me in his pocket. His heart ached for mine, while my heart ached for what we had lost. Many would agree that for men, they become fathers when they meet their children, while women become mothers during pregnancy. This has been true for us during both our pregnancies and both our adoptions. Ryan grieved mostly for me, while I grieved for the tiny one who was never coming home.

The next day when I awoke, my first thought was driven by the aching in my heart. I went to a breakfast with the women in my Bible Study group and tried to repress the sadness I felt. I wasn't ready to share the news. I volunteered in Noah's class, had lunch with him at school, and spent the rest of the day on the couch sleeping and grieving. My heart was heavy with deep sorrow, and at the same time, my mind was strong with God's Truth.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)
"And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)
"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

We always knew, from the very first day, that this was a possibility. We knew that God was possibly using the connection we felt to this little boy to get us back to China. And indeed, he has done just that. The only reason we are adopting again is that this little boy's file was being prepared, and it was being sent to our adoption agency (versus any other agency in the world), and we are 100% certain that we wouldn't be adopting right now otherwise. For that reason alone, we will always be grateful for this precious boy's life and the time we have loved him. It is pretty astounding that without having any knowledge of doing so, he is leading us to our next child. And there is so much beauty and wonder in that alone.

I wrote a sweet friend, an adoptive mom, to ask her to pray for me the day after hearing the news. She wrote back, "I was praying as I was putting [my daughter] to bed...asking God to give me something profound and not cliché to say to you. And all I kept hearing was, "I AM GOOD!" And you know what? She is right. God is good all the time. Even in the heartache, the brokenness, and the loss, God is always good.

I spent most of the following day pouring into my Bible, my devotional, and another book I am reading called, Straight-Up Crazy: A Call to Radical Faith that coincidentally arrived on my doorstep at the same time I learned that the little boy would not be our son. The book was a gift from the same adoptive mom I spoke of previously. The knowledge in my mind slowly began to seep into my broken heart, covering my sadness with love and truth. One line of my devotion read, "You are approaching a crossroads in your journey. In order to follow me wholeheartedly (there are those words again you guys - FOLLOW ME), you must relinquish your tendency to play it safe." The devotion contained three supporting verses:
Psalm 23:4 stated, "...you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me."
Psalm 9:10 read, "And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you."
John 12:26 stated, "If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him." (emphasis mine)

Reading these verses and opening my heart to God's Word provided incredible comfort to me. The news we received was not intended to hurt us but to guide us deeper in our journey with Him. You see, adoption is most definitely about inviting the fatherless into your family, but adoption is also an avenue for growing more faithful and into a deeper relationship with the Lord. Despite our hope not being realized, we have complete trust in God and continue to seek Him as we navigate the unknown waters ahead. My heart has been transforming the past 2 1/2 years from someone who wanted to live a happy life to a woman who wants to serve and follow Christ above all else. In doing so, life hasn't always been comfortable or easy, but being close to the Father is right where I want to be.

The next day, my devotion read, "When your private world feels unsteady and you grip My hand for support, you are living in conscious dependence on Me...trouble can highlight your awareness of My Presence." The first supporting verse stated, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am  your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isaiah 41:10). The more I read, the more this knowledge poured into my heart, and I began to feel what I knew to be true. Psalm 139:10 read, "Even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me." I love the visual of that verse so, so much. In a time when we have no idea where God is taking us, He is leading us with one hand, guiding our way through the unknown, while simultaneously holding us with his other hand. As we are held, the Lord is comforting us, giving us His strength, and protecting us from harm because He loves us so much.

At the same time, we are rejoicing that this precious little boy will be loved and adored in the arms of his family! We are thankful that there is one less orphan in the world. We celebrate that He will know Christ and how much He loves him. Maybe someday this story will reach him, and he will learn how God used his life to bring another child home.

Just as we guessed, we coincidentally received our Log In Date (LID) on December 9th! Now more than ever we are curious and wondering who our child will be. Will God lead us to a 1 year old girl? A 5 year old boy? Will he have a serious heart condition? Will she need her club feet repaired? There are so many things that we do not know, but this we know for certain. God is always good, and we trust Him above all else no matter where He leads.

"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have light of life." John 8:12
And so we follow.


Mudlove Bracelet Fundraiser Results

My dad and Danette with Liam, Tucker, and Noah

One of the most beautiful and humbling parts of our adoption experience is receiving love and support from our family and friends. In bringing Tucker home, we stood in awe as people encouraged us and financially supported our endeavor. The same can be said for our second adoption.
When I called my dad in July to let him know that Ryan and I were adopting again, I wasn't sure how he would receive the news. My dad isn't one to blindly support anyone and anything. He won't say, "I am behind you 100%," if he doesn't agree with your decision. My dad isn't afraid to voice his thoughts and concerns. So, on my drive home, before I lost the courage to do so, I called my dad to tell him our news. I gave him my speech about how I had fallen in love with a sweet one across the ocean, and miraculously, his file was bring prepared and would be sent to our adoption agency. I shared that while Ryan and I had no guarantee that we would be chosen this little one's family, we felt that God was leading us back to China for him or another child He had selected for us. After I shared my heart and asked if he would be comfortable writing us a letter of recommendation, I held my breath, waiting to hear his response. Much to my surprise- because dads want to protect their daughters from difficulties in life, and as you have learned, adoption is both beautiful and difficult my dad said he supported our decision completely and would be happy to write us a letter of support. I can't express the relief I felt because going through a major life change can be so much easier when your parents are in support of your decisions!

MudLove Staff Photo - Courtesy of MudLove
From the time I can remember, my dad has always loved supporting local businesses. He is currently a cadet in the Kosciusko Leadership Academy (KLA), and he had an opportunity to tour a local business in Warsaw, IN called MudLove with KLA. During this tour, my dad learned that the company allows people to fundraise with their products. He shared the information with my stepmom, Danette, and they decided to purchase us 100 bracelets in hopes of raising $1,000 toward our adoption costs. Ryan and I felt so humbled by their gesture and excitedly chose the following bands.

After receiving them in the mail, I wrote a blog post about the fundraiser, closed my eyes, and hit "publish." I posted the link on my personal Facebook page, as well as in several adoption groups online, and prayed. Side note: Every single time I launch something like this, I always feel a surge of doubt. How are we going to sell 100 bracelets? Are people going to feel obligated to buy them? Will people like the colors and words that we chose?

"But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind." James 1:6

Not even five minutes passed, and we received our first order...then a second order...a third. Within the first hour, I think we had sold 50 bracelets. They were selling faster than I could record them in excel. I was receiving email and comments/private messages on Facebook. Within 3 hours, nearly all 100 bracelets had sold, and people were requesting that I order more.

A week later, I placed a second order with MudLove for an additional 165 bracelets (60 Hope, 35 Redeemed, and 70 Be The Change). I told them that I would pay for them as soon as they sent me an invoice. However, I quickly received an email back from them stating that the invoice had already been paid. I immediately started to cry, knowing that my dad and Danette had surprised us yet again by purchasing this second order. How can you properly thank people for sacrificing their own money to help you? There were just no words for our gratitude!

Order #2

When I posted on Facebook that I was packaging the second order, several more people wrote again to say that they hadn't ordered one yet. Many had given theirs away and wanted more. I contemplated starting a third round, unsure if we would have a minimum of 50 bracelets. In light of the upcoming holidays, I decided to take a leap of faith and open up a third round with the following words:

Be The Change
Order #3
You can imagine my complete shock when two weeks later, I ordered 195 more bracelets! I told MudLove to send an invoice as soon as they received it and told my dad not to pay for another bracelet. He and Danette had done more than enough! He agreed. Well, a few days later, I heard back from MudLove, and they told me that the invoice had been paid yet again. Now this time I was really in shock! I called my dad, pretty sure I was in tears, thanking him for his extreme generosity. He said that after reading my blog post, A Burdened Heart, he felt so strongly about paying for this third round. Again, I was speechless by their generosity, as the result would be more money toward our adoption costs. They had paid more than $1,800 out of pocket to help our family. There just are not words to describe our gratitude!
Thanks to many of you, nearly 190 orders were placed, and we have sold all 460 bracelets!
I even had one friend share our fundraiser with her Mom's Time Out group and another forwarded our information to a sorority she advises. An acquaintance from college bought 10 bracelets for teacher gifts while a friend from Bible Study purchased 17 to be gifts for girls who attend her dance studio. Some friends bought bracelets in 2 or 3 rounds of our fundraiser, while dozens upon dozens of people purchased 1-4 bracelets. Regardless of how many were purchased, every single order made a difference in lifting the financial burden of adoption.
Because of MudLove's fundraising opportunity, my dad and stepmom's generosity, all of you who participated, and God's amazing provision, this fundraiser has provided our family with $5,106 toward our adoption costs!!! Thank you will never be enough.

I asked my dad if he wanted to share anything for this blog post, and he wrote the following:

"Amy and Ryan have opened my mind and heart in a way that has been transformational. Initially, I did not understand the reason anyone would want to travel half way across the world to adopt a child. I’m still not certain I fully understand it. What I do understand is that adopting a child in need from anywhere is a good thing, a great thing, and perhaps one of the greatest gifts that a family can give.  But it is also a gift where the giver (and all around them) receives the greatest gift of all – the love of a formerly abandoned child.

I’ll never forget the feeling that I had when I first saw Tucker when he arrived at the airport.  He looked so little and scared, but he turned my heart into mush. More amazing is to see photos comparing the day he arrived to the change that has happened over a year. It surely is amazing to think about all of the changes he went through: to having everything in his world turned upside down, to leaving his home and his nannies at the orphanage, to learning a new language, to eating new foods that were different. The beautiful miracle is watching him bond with his forever family when he initially could not have known what forever meant. He loves his forever family, and we love him!"

My dad (above in yellow shirt and gray jacket) went back to MudLove today to thank them, in person, for all that they do. He has witnessed how their work has made a positive impact on our family and wanted to express his gratitude. He even called me and put me on speakerphone, and I had the opportunity to thank everyone and share how their work has helped our family. They were so kind and encouraging and shared that hearing stories like ours gives them motivation to keep coming into work day after day.
As a reminder, MudLove gives 20% of their profit to an great organization! Thanks to each person who ordered bracelets for our fundraiser, Water For Good will provide clean water for 460 weeks (1 week per bracelet) to families living in Central Africa. How incredible is that?! After going to the Water For Good website, I learned that $40 will provide over 500 people with a month of clean water. So amazing!

As if MudLove hadn't done enough, they gave my dad the gifts above, including a bracelet and the figure for me. Notice the "v" in LOVE is the shape of China...so sweet! I cannot wait to wear it. And that figure of a mother holding her child - it makes me that much more eager to hold my new little love! They also have invited our family to come visit, have a pizza party, and share our adoption story with them. I am really looking forward to that opportunity!
Like I said at the beginning of this post, one of the most beautiful and humbling parts of our adoption experience is receiving love and support from our family and friends. Adoption is redemption, and when our adoption of these precious children plays a role in transforming your hearts, you encourage us in ways you cannot imagine. To say we are grateful to all of you who participated is an understatement. Thank you for loving us and helping us bring home a sweet little one from China!
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen." Ephesians 3:20-21


Exciting Adoption Update

Before I jump into an update for our adoption process, I wanted to share how thankful I am that I had the opportunity to share the deeper parts of my heart in my last two posts: A Burdened Heart and I Will Follow. Your comments on Facebook were so encouraging. I received private messages and email from some several people - some known and others I have never met - sharing that they, too, have had similar experiences with loss when following God's leading. A friend shared an incredible sermon with me called The Pain and the Promise of Obedience, and I loved every word the pastor spoke. Check it out if you haven't seen it yet, as it was such food for my soul! Thank you for being so gracious with your words, as there is always risk to stepping out in a vulnerable position, sharing your heart and faith with others.

Now for the good news! So much has happened the last couple of months. My last update about our actual adoption process took place two months ago on September 23rd. We had just received our fingerprint appointment from USCIS the previous day. This is a background check with the Department of Homeland Security. Despite our appointment not being for a couple weeks, Ryan and I decided to see if they would allow us to have our fingerprints taken early. We drove downtown Indy on September 25th, and we were thrilled when they allowed us in without an appointment! Thirty minutes later, our fingerprints were finished. In the weeks that followed, we were assigned an officer with USCIS, and we awaited the news of our approval.

After Trick-or-Treating on October 31st with some friends and their children, we came home to find our Immigration Approval! We had already sent our dossier to Lifeline, and this approval was the last document needed to start the next part of the process. I emailed a scanned copy of our immigration approval to our social worker, and she started the Authentication process the following Monday, November 3rd. Authentication occurs at the county, state, and federal levels, and various authorities give their stamp of approval that each document is real and not fabricated. For example, our birth certificates are actual birth certificates. We received notification that the authentication process was complete on November 20th. We celebrated being one step closer!

Today we received the most exciting news so far. We are officially Dossier To China (DTC)!!! Our social worker as uploaded our dossier into China's system, and she also mailed everything to them today. HOORAY! We were hopeful to hit this milestone before Thanksgiving, and we are so grateful to be finished with everything on the US side for awhile.

So what next? Well, we first celebrate how far we have come in five months! And then, we continue to wait for a precious little one's file to arrive in the US. As I have shared before, on February 12th I saw the picture of the most beautiful little one, felt a indescribable pull to him, and said aloud, "He looks like my family." I immediately inquired about him while Ryan was asleep next to me. Every month that followed, I checked with my social worker to see if she had learned anything about him. Was a file being prepared? Did his orphanage participate in international adoption? Did they partner with an adoption agency? You can imagine our surprise when we learned on June 30th that his file was indeed being prepared, and miraculously, his orphanage partners with our agency. Within a week, we submitted our application to begin the adoption process once again with the understanding that we might or might not be chosen to view his file. Time will tell how this story shall end, but we have faith that God is sovereign! He is good, and He loves this precious boy more than anyone. I know this child will be adopted by the family that is best for him whether it is us or not. However, I can't help but imagine all four boys playing together, riding in our sweet mini van (haha!), and reading bedtime stories together. I try to protect my heart, but sometimes, those visions sneak in unexpectedly and bring a smile to my face. I will keep you posted and let you know as soon as we hear anything. You can only imagine how eager we are to know who our fourth child will be!


I Will Follow

Almost 2 ½ years ago, I stood at church singing a Chris Tomlin song (click to play while you read)…

I will follow you
I will follow you
No turning back
No turning back
No turning back
No turning back

This is my heart cry
Though none go with me
The cross before me
The world behind me

This is my heart cry
Though none go with me
The cross before me
The world behind me

I will follow You (I have decided. I have decided)
I will follow You (I have decided)
No turning back
No turning back
No turning back
No turning back
After singing that song and listening to the subsequent sermon on obedience, Ryan and I made the decision to surrender to God’s will for our lives. We decided to deny our selfish desires, put aside our fears, trust the Lord, and move forward with adopting a child. The lyrics, “I will follow you. No turning back,” became an anthem of sorts to us. Many of you probably remember hearing it in the video we made for our puzzle fundraiser. We entered a world that was completely unfamiliar to us but felt God’s presence and affirmation at every turn. Our eyes had been opened to a broken part of this world that we knew existed but never allowed ourselves to feel or see. Soon, the term orphan became personal. These children became real. I experienced an insatiable hunger for the Word like never before and longed for a child I had never met. I spent more time praying on my knees and drew closer and closer to God than I ever knew was possible.
Fourteen months after making the decision to FOLLOW the Lord, I held Tucker for the very first time. I can still remember how his tiny, warm body felt in my arms, just like those first moments you have with your newborn baby. In time our difficult beginning was replaced by deep roots of love and a strong foundation. We have experienced the true meaning of beauty from ashes.

Over the past year, I have struggled with all that we have lost since bringing Tucker home including our family of four, our church home, and our community we experienced there. I resigned my position as a school psychologist, which I really loved. Walking away from a possible opportunity to create and lead an orphan care ministry was more painful than I can describe. Several relationships have changed. Some have ended altogether while others have shifted significantly. Two years ago I had certain dreams for the future – what could have been but will never be. I have grieved each of these losses and have often questioned why so much has changed and why we seem to have lost so much.
In the time that the leaves have changed colors and fallen off the trees, God has revealed answers to my questions in so many ways, and I am finally beginning to understand the purpose in our loss. For book club, we read Tim Keller's book Counterfeit Gods. The term counterfeit god is another word for idol and is defined as:
-Anything more important to us than God.
-Anything that absorbs our mind, heart, and imagination more than God
-Anything we seek to give us what only God can give
-Something so essential that, should we lose it, our lives would feel hardly worth living.
-Anything on which we spend most of our passion, energy, emotional, and financial resources
-Something that we look to for significance and security
-Something that when it is removed, we feel despair
Tim Keller states that the most painful times in our lives occur when our idols are being threatened or removed. Although the past year has been filled with great joy, I have also felt heartache and disappointment after losing what I now understand were treasured idols. Without them, I have sometimes felt isolated, in despair, and alone. Over the past six months, I have often felt like I don’t fit anymore. I have wanted to leave and start a new life somewhere else because trying to live here without my idols was uncomfortable.
I now realize that throughout this past year, God has stripped these idols away so that He could fill that space in my heart. Tim Keller wrote, “You don’t realize that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have” (p. 19). Instead of seeking the majority of my spiritual nourishment at church, I am primarily being fed through quiet time with Him, studying His Word, reading additional books like Counterfeit Gods, and having discussions with women in my Bible Study. Rather than placing expectations (which Beth Guckenberger calls premeditated resentments - love that!) on outside relationships, I am trying to find healthier boundaries for them. More importantly, I am striving for deeper relationships with my family and the Lord. I am working to find my acceptance, security, significance, and approval through Him rather than through my career, a church, and my relationships.
On November 10th, I was reading a devotional from Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. She wrote, I am molding your mind and cleansing your heart...
...I am re-creating you into the one I designed you to be."
More affirmation that all things lost were for my good. God was cleansing my heart so that I could continue to FOLLOW Him.
Last Christmas, I downloaded Kyle Idleman’s book Not A Fan on my Kindle and finally started it a week or so ago. Sometimes I laugh when my circumstances collide in perfect timing with a book, song, sermon, etc., and this was definitely one of those cases. I have highlighted so many parts of this book – it is so good! The main theme is what it means to be a true follower of Christ versus just a fan. Idleman writes that:
Fans are enthusiastic admirers. For example, we are amazed by what Jesus has accomplished.
Fans want Jesus to inspire them, but Jesus wants to interfere with their lives. For example, we are willing to go to church until it interferes with our kids' ability to play on travel teams.
Fans don’t mind Jesus doing a little touch-up work but resist when He wants complete renovation. For example, we are willing to give a small portion of our money to His Kingdom but resist a full financial makeover through a program like Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University.
Fans are happy to follow Jesus as long as it doesn’t require any significant changes or have negative implications. For example, we are willing to accept Jesus as our Savior as long as we don't have to stop living our comfortable, pleasure-filled lives.
Idleman states that “When we decide to believe in Jesus without making a commitment to follow him, we become nothing more than fans” (p. 32). In reading this book, I found it so interesting that within the four gospels describing Christ’s life, Jesus said Believe in me approximately five times but said Follow me about twenty times. Idleman defines following as requiring more than mental assent, as it calls for movement. He writes, "There is no way to FOLLOW Jesus without him interfering with your life. Following Jesus will cost you something. Following Jesus always costs something.”
I was once a fan all the ways described above. I loved God but stayed inside my safe bubble. I wanted to sit in a pew, listen to a sermon, and be inspired. I didn’t know what it meant to make sacrifices for God. I thought God wanted me to be happy – not feel pain. On July 19, 2012, God asked us to stop being fans and decide to FOLLOW Him…really FOLLOW Him…for the first time in our lives. In fact, I am still learning how to stop being a fan as I strive to FOLLOW Him.
This past Sunday, we attended a local Chinese Christian Church for the second time, and Dr. Thomas H. Hermiz spoke. His sermon was entitled Full Submission. Again, this was another situation where our circumstances and God’s message collided so perfectly. Dr. Hermiz stated, “Following Christ requires surrender, submission, and obedience.” As I continued to listen to his talk, I started thinking about how God will never lead us astray. Ryan and I have lost parts of the world that we loved, but those pieces stood between us and God. With those idols removed, God can reside in our hearts more fully, and He can more powerfully work in us and through us. Following Him will cost us, but I believe with my whole heart that there is nothing sweeter than living in the center of God’s will for our lives. Dr. Hermiz said, “No one ever regrets entering the mission field God calls them to.” I love that. His words were so encouraging to my soul. 
On Orphan Sunday, Ryan and I stood with friends at a church we’ve been attending for the past 6 months. We sang a beautiful song by Hillsong (click to listen while you read):

Christ is my reward
And all of my devotion
Now there's nothing in this world
That could ever satisfy
(not even the most enticing, comforting idols)

Through every trial
My soul will sing
No turning back

I've been set free

Christ is enough for me
Christ is enough for me
Everything I need is in You
Everything I need

Christ my all in all
The joy of my salvation
And this hope will never fail
Heaven is our home
(Of course I don't feel like I belong - this isn't my home - and leaving won't change that)

Through every storm
My soul will sing
Jesus is here
To God be the glory
Christ is enough for me
Christ is enough for me
Everything I need is in You
Everything I need

And before I knew it, we were singing out those beautifully familiar words. Our anthem had returned two years later under different circumstances and in a different song.
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back
No turning back

I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back
No turning back

The cross before me
The world behind me
No turning back
No turning back

The cross before me
The world behind me
No turning back
No turning back
Christ is enough for me
Christ is enough for me
Everything I need is in You
Everything I need

Christ is enough for me
Christ is enough for me
Everything I need is in You
Everything I need

I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back
No turning back
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back
No turning back
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back
No turning back
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back
No turning back
And so we keep singing our anthem and marching toward the Lord – wherever and however He leads. This journey hasn't been comfortable or easy or without loss, but there is no place I would rather be. Christ is enough for me.


A Burdened Heart

Have you ever spent a week at church camp or gone on a mission trip? The traveling, the relationships, the food, the work, the learning - so enriching and enlightening. We are exposed to experiences that fill our souls yet break our hearts. We make new friends, feel a special kinship to them, and sadly say goodbye at the end of our time together. Our heart stirs in new ways, feeling emotions it has never felt before, and should we choose to delve deeper, investigate, process, and follow its lead, we know our lives will never be the same.

Then we come home. At first we feel raw with emotion, the experiences so fresh in ours mind. We share with anyone who will listen about all that we saw, did, and cannot wait to do now that we are home. There is a new passion alive within us. We correspond with friends we met during the trip, and share a common desire to go back. We long for the memories and intensity of emotions to be real again. We have come home with deep convictions, which lead to new priorities. We hope to never go back to life like it was before this experience.

Day and weeks go by. The intensity of emotions shifts to a mild remembrance, and the convictions we felt at one time now feel a little dramatic (i.e., It's not wrong to have 10 pairs of shoes). You slip back into old habits and ways of life.

     A week of providing food to starving families initially led us to extreme gratitude for food without waste, and before we know it, we're throwing away leftovers in the fridge because they just don't sound very good.

     A week of studying God's Word and singing our hearts out initially led us to waking up at 6:00 a.m. every day to have quiet time with God, but a couple weeks later, we are back to sleeping in every single day because we stayed up too late watching TV and playing on Facebook.

     After a week of seeing children rummaging through trash, playing with a half-deflated soccer ball, going to the restroom in the streets, and living at a landfill, we promise ourselves that our children will get one or two Christmas presents this year, but when the holiday season arrives, we can't help but buy them toys, candy, clothing, and gifts galore because they will be so happy on Christmas morning.

On the inside, we feel a little guilty that the experience did not change our lives like we hoped it would. We had the best intentions to never forget what we saw and did, and in our heart of hearts, we truly wanted the passion we experienced to transform us. However, we live in America, and the people we surround ourselves with did not have our same experience. The passion we felt is not affirmed. Our loved ones do not feel our same convictions. Their hearts are not burdened in the same way ours hearts are burdened.

And the burden hurts. It is painful and real, and part of you wants it to just stop hurting. How can we live in America, with this burden, and still live a happy life when that is the American way - to strive for happiness? Our longstanding priorities of success, wealth, material goods, approval from others, achievement, and love beckon louder than our new passions to change the face of worldwide hunger, orphaned children, preventable disease, vulnerable widows, and clean water. Our original priorities are affirmed by those around us, and suddenly, it feels normal to pursue them again.

In the end, we decide that the best thing we can do is send money to an organization that supports what broke our hearts. We know that it will truly benefit the lives of others, and when we're really honest with ourselves, we know that our guilt for not doing more will also subside. We didn't make the life changes we had hoped for, but at least we were doing something to help (and of course that financial aid helps...it's just not what the initial convictions of the heart led us to do).
Today, I found myself wanting to forget what I've seen. I want to forget what I know. The burden is too heavy and cuts too deep. They are just children, helpless, and vulnerable and deserving of so much more than life has given them. They deserve a mom and a dad and brothers and sisters. They deserve a hug in the morning and a kiss goodnight. They deserve to have healing for their club feet so that they can walk and run and play. They deserve to have their HIV treated so they can live a long life. They deserve to have their cleft lips and palates repaired into beautiful smiles. The deserve to have their extra chromosome cherished and celebrated. They deserve to eat meals that nourish their bodies. The deserve to learn at school and become world changers. They deserve to hear about the Father who loves them so much and learn that they fearfully and wonderfully made. They deserve LOVE. Oh how they deserve love. Unconditional, sacrificial, I-would-give-my-life-for-you kind of love.
Ryan and I went on a mission trip of sorts, and we came home from China on October 25, 2013 with Tucker. Our experiences filled our souls yet broke our hearts. We made new friends, felt a special kinship to them, and were sad to say goodbye. Our hearts were stirred in new ways, feeling emotions like never before, and we knew our lives would never be the same.

Then we come home, our emotions raw and the experiences so fresh in ours mind. Through this blog, we shared with everyone what we saw and did. Our passion for orphans was stronger than ever. We regularly correspond with other China families and share a common desire fight for the fatherless. The memories and intensity of emotions is as strong as ever. We came home with deep convictions, changing our hearts and leading to new priorities.

Our adoption experience has changed our lives, the kind of change that, even a year later, makes life in America still feel different. There are many times I have wanted to leave, walk away from our life here because I don't feel like I fit anymore. The passion we feel has transformed our hearts. Much like in the example above, despite their incredible love and support, the people around us did not have our same experience. The passion we feel is not always affirmed. Many people do not feel our same conviction that every child deserves a family. Their hearts are not burdened in the same way ours hearts are burdened. And the burden hurts. It is painful and real, and sometimes I want it to just stop hurting.

"Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they’re not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes” -David Platt

Go to Africa to build a clean water well, but don't just come home when you are done. Instead, invite a family who has never experienced clean water to live with you in your home. I bet you will be aware of your seven faucets, washing machine, water heater, refrigerator with filtered water, dishwasher, and three toilets like never before. The family's presence makes you aware of just how very fortunate you've been all these years. You realize that real people spend a large part of their day collecting water to drink, cook, and clean. You know they are real because they live in your home. These real people watched their child and dozens of others die from a water born illness. You try to explain to them why you own a water softener, but when the words come out, you realize how crazy you sound. The family living with you continuously ignites what you experienced in Africa. Because of them, you can't forget what you know or what you've seen. You can't brush your teeth with the water running ever again because there is a family in your home who sees water as more valuable than gold, and now you do, too. Your heart has been transformed, and you will never be the same. All you want to do is get more involved with the water crisis in the world. You blog about it. You post about it on Facebook. You donate to clean water causes. You see Christmas as an opportunity to fundraise for a new well. You go back to Africa every year instead of going on family vacations in order to build new wells, maintain the old ones, and connect with the people who still suffer from the water crisis. You realize that while God has created you for many purposes, one of the most important is helping people obtain clean water.
The people around you support your efforts, but you wonder if they are tired of hearing about the water crisis. Maybe they want to brush their teeth and take long, hot showers in peace. If that's the case, you understand how they feel - secretly you miss the days of long, hot showers, too. God has put this desire in your heart so strongly, though, that it pours out at all times and in all places. You find yourself sitting quietly at get togethers just listening because you know what will flow from your heart if you open your mouth.
Everyone thinks the family living with you is really nice and that their kids are so cute. They can't believe how much the family is thriving in your home. You think that maybe, just maybe, getting to know this family will make the water crisis real for them, too. Posting pictures of them on Facebook and telling stories about them on your blog...surely that will make the crisis come alive, making it personal to them, too, right? Every time you look at this family, you are reminded of all the other families trying to survive in Africa. You hope and pray that it stirs the same in others and motivates them to get involved in the water crisis, too. Your heart's burden to provide clean water for others is lifted only when many carry the weight. So you stay, and you keep sharing.


Let's Get Real: Affording a Second Adoption

When we experienced our unexpected surprise in July and learned that a specific child's file was being prepared and would eventually reach our adoption agency, one of my thoughts was, "How will we afford this adoption? I just quit my job." Tucker had made so much progress since coming home, and I was afraid that my going back to work for the 2014-2015 school year would negatively effect him - and the rest of our family to be honest. So for that reason, I decided to resign my part time position as a school psychologist.

I have shared countless times that affording adoption is possible. Few people have $35,000 sitting in their bank accounts for adoption. However, I have witnessed family after family have every penny they needed to adopt their child through hard work, awarded grants, and the generosity of loved ones. In February I wrote a blog post about funding an adoption with grants, interest free loans, the adoption tax credit, and employee assistance benefits. The following week, I wrote a second post about using fundraisers to help afford adoption costs. When we decided to take the leap for a second time, you better believe I went back to both of those posts to see what we needed to do to afford this adoption.

I don't know about you, but I really appreciate when people are transparent with me. So, for the sake of transparency, I want to share with you how we are hoping to afford this adoption. My goal in doing so is to encourage those of you who are considering adoption to not let finances be the reason for saying no. Too many kids need a family for us to let something like money get in the way of making it happen!

Based on our estimates, we believe this adoption will cost us $34,103.80. Your next question is probably, "Why does adoption cost so much money?!" Let me break it down for you. For our situation...

$1,900 - Home Study Fee - includes visits to home and report giving approval for adoption
$250 - Hague Review of Home Study - to ensure that all requirements are present in the home study
$8,855 - Adoption Agency Fees - facilitates our entire adoption process
$235 - Education & Trainings - to prepare us for our second adoption
$79.80 - Fingerprints for Indiana - background check
$890 - Immigration - federal background check with the Department of Homeland Security
$579 - Authentication of Dossier - county, state, and federal approval on dossier documents
$1,190 - Log In Fee - China collects this fee when our dossier is logged into their system
$600 - Matching Fee - once we are matched with a child, this fee is paid
$350 - Visas - allow us to enter China
$4,800 - Airfare to and from China
$14,375 - Travel Expenses - orphanage donation, hotel, flight within China, food, tours, etc.

$34,103.80 - GRAND TOTAL

For our last adoption, we used $25,000 that we had set aside to build our "dream home" to pay many of our adoption fees (of course now we know we are living the dream in our real dream home). Our puzzle fundraiser brought in an additional $5,425, and the Bauermeister family donated $6,000 to us. Our first adoption was fully funded! This time, we have much less money set aside for this adoption...$8,400 to be exact. Your next question is probably, "How do you plan to afford this adoption?"  Let me explain.

Adoption Tax Credit:
We received $8,400 on our tax return due to the Adoption Tax Credit. We will receive the remaining $4,570 on our 2014 tax return, assuming we have at least that amount of tax liability. This makes $12,970 that we can apply to this current adoption due to the Adoption Tax Credit.

Employee Assistance Benefit:
Per our puzzle fundraiser conditions, we paid forward the $5,000 that Ryan received from his employer after Tucker's adoption was complete to the Haun Family as they bring home Charlie Mae from China. We will most likely need the $5,000 that Ryan receives after this adoption is finalized. This brings our total to $17,970. If we are fortunate enough to be awarded grants to cover our adoption costs without this $5,000, we would likely give this benefit to another adoptive family again!

Puzzle Fundraiser:
It is our hope to hold another puzzle fundraiser when we are further in the adoption process to provide an additional $5,000 for this adoption, and the result has been more amazing than we could have hoped. We treasure Tucker's puzzle and tell him that every single piece of the puzzle represents someone who helped bring him home. We would love to do the same for our next child! This time, however, we plan to use a website where people can make tax deductible donations. Stay tuned! If we reach our $5,000 goal, we will have $22,970 to put toward this current adoption.

MudLOVE Bracelet Fundraiser:
When we decided to adopt again, we had no idea that my dad and stepmom would initiate this fundraiser. They bought us 100 bracelets, and we sold them for 100% of the profit. So many people were interested that we reordered an additional 165 bracelets. If our calculations are correct, this fundraiser will bring in $2,032.21. We will announce the final numbers after all bracelets have been distributed, and the money is collected. If that number is correct, we will have $25,002.21 for our adoption.

Adoption Grants:
After completing our home study, Ryan and I applied for seven different grants that provide assistance for adoption. We will probably not hear back from the grant organizations until October and as late as January. We might apply for 2 additional grants, if necessary, later in our adoption process. We are hoping to be awarded grants to provide for the remaining $9,101.59, assuming that our total costs really are $34,103.80. Depending on time of year in which we travel, our hotel and airfare could be more or less expensive, but we will not know until the last minute.

So, in sum, we are beginning this adoption with only $8,400, and to be completely honest, this money is nearly gone already due fees we have paid so far. However, among all of the ways listed above and our very conservative personal spending, we are choosing to believe that God will provide every penny we need to bring home our 4th child.

I know many people are outraged by the costs associated with adoption. However, I am choosing to be part of the group that says it is the best money we will ever spend. Our cars will eventually break down. Vacations will eventually end. In time, we will move out of our homes. Our clothes won't fit, or they will go out of style. Our jewelry will break, get lost, or sit in a box. The latest technology will soon become obsolete.

On the other hand, a child who was once relinquished will now have a forever family. This child will come to know that God loves him/her and will learn all about Jesus. The child will receive love, education, food, friendship, and grace. This child will have the opportunity to make a positive impact in the lives of others. This child will have the opportunity to change the world. I cannot think of any better way to spend my money, and I am SO GRATEFUL to all of you who agree and helped us bring Tucker home and are now helping us bring this child home, too.

Money cannot be the reason that these children never experience the love of a family. I cannot imagine Noah, Liam, or Tucker living in an institution until age 14, having no hope for their future, struggling to earn money to live, and never knowing the love God has for them. Please don't let money be a hurdle that prevents you from adopting a child. I would love to talk to you if you have any questions about affording adoption. I cannot wait to see how God helps us fund this adoption so that it can be an encouragement to all of you!


Mudlove Bracelets

About a month or so ago, my dad called me to ask if I had ever heard of a company called MudLOVE. I told him that I had, and in fact, I purchased one of their bracelets in an online auction that was being held as an adoption fundraiser. My dad shared that he had recently visited the MudLOVE store, as it is located in Warsaw, IN where he works. Here is an excerpt from the MudLOVE website:

In an attempt to deny self, MudLOVE was built on the idea of giving back. Starting with nothing more than an old stamp set, a box of clay, and an unadvised business plan of giving 20% of all sales to clean drinking water projects in Africa, MudLOVE was born, and God-inspired creations emerged. The hope of MudLOVE is to be an inspiration to people, not just providing Africans with clean water, but also encouraging and loving broken people. What one may lack in clean water, another may lack in love.

My dad really liked their business model, especially when he learned that 20% of the earnings go to clean water in Africa through an organization called Water for Good. MudLOVE chose Water for Good because this organization "focuses on long-term development, not just short-term solutions. They believe in solving the water crisis for good, by implementing a well maintenance program that shows villages the importance of maintaining their new water source, and teaches them how to finance the repairs on their water pump themselves, keeping the clean water flowing forever!"

So why am I telling you all about MudLOVE and Water for Good? Well, first of all, they are really awesome organizations! Second, my dad and stepmom surprised us with an incredible gift. They bought us 100 MudLOVE bracelets to use as a fundraiser for this adoption. We are hoping to raise $1,000 by selling these bracelets per MudLOVE's recommendation on pricing their bracelets for fundraisers. The bracelets are made of high-fired clay and are waterproof. We chose the words and color bands for each bracelet and love how they turned out! All bracelets are $10 with the exception of "be the change." It is $12 because it cost more to make. Check out pictures below!


 "For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba Father!" (Romans 8:15)

 "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." (Romans 12:12)


 "I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me." (Jeremiah 32:40)


 "You have taken up my cause, O Lord; you have redeemed my life." (Lamentations 3:58)

Last year for Easter, we held a Forget the Frock t-shirt fundraiser that benefitted Love Wthout Boundaries. The theme was CHANGE STARTS WITH ONE. We chose be the change for our last set of bracelets to continue that theme and to remind people to take whatever they are passionate about and use it to change part of the world.

If you would like to purchase a bracelet, please send an email to amykabell@gmail.com with the details of your order, or you can leave a comment on FB! Be sure to tell me which bracelets and the quantity of each. There are limited quantities (20 of each bracelet), though if there is enough interest, I can order more! These would make great Christmas gifts. Thank you for helping us bring home our new son or daughter by purchasing a MudLOVE bracelet!
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