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
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