Monday, May 14, 2012

Delayed, For Now

When I posted my last entry, I fully expected to have completed the pre-approval application by the end of the day yesterday. That, however, did not happen. I haven't been feeling well since Friday, and yesterday the cold settled in, preventing me from going to church. Kristie managed to go with both of our girls (well, both of our girls at home), but she got quite sick yesterday afternoon. Two of our kids are also manifesting some symptoms of the cold (thankfully not severe), and so today has left us knocked flat again, meaning that we haven't been able to wrap up our paperwork. I still feel the need to finish the papers in short order, and so far our prayer that Isabelle's adoption wouldn't be delayed a single day due to a lack of funds has been answered affirmatively. We just didn't expect to have things delayed because of illness. There's always something, isn't there? I'm hoping that we will feel well enough tomorrow evening to put the finishing touches on this paperwork, but we will have to see what tomorrow holds. As badly as we want to complete the application and submit it, it seems that God has answered our recent prayer for rest by forcing us to stop for a couple of days. Perhaps a good night's sleep tonight will set us up well for tomorrow and Wednesday.

I want to thank everyone for praying for us and for our daughter over these past few days. In spite of the fact that we are still not where we would like to be in this process, we have not been tempted to despair. And thank you to those who have donated to her adoption. I cannot tell you how much we appreciate your generosity, nor how much encouragement that has given us. Thank you, and I pray that you will all enjoy peaceful, restful nights tonight.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

The First Real Sense of Urgency

We knew when we began Isabelle's adoption that we could only move as quickly as God would provide the money. Each step in the process has fees associated with it, and so we committed to pursue her adoption fully aware that we were following Him by stepping out into the great-somewhat-unknown. I put it that way because it is only somewhat unknown. We don't know how He is planning to provide for Isabelle's adoption (indeed, any time in the past that we have tried to guess where His provision would come from, we have been dead wrong), but we know that He is going to supply the money. Why? Because He has called us to adopt her, and He has shown Himself over and over again throughout history to be the One who keeps His promises. In fact, the Lord has a pattern of asking His people to step out and take the first step, trusting in Him to bring the journey to a successful completion. An older, wiser Christian man whom I met only a few weeks ago made this very point, learning from the account of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River under Joshua's command. They were told that the waters would not part until the priests bearing the ark of the covenant should stand in the river. Then, and only then, would God stop the flow of water and allow His people to cross to the other side on dry land. (Joshua 3:7-13) Many situations in the Christian life mirror this; we are asked to take a step into what seems to be an unknown, crazy, irrational situation, and what He really wants from us is to trust Him to be the firm ground on which we'll walk. And even though we have done this before, it's hard to fight the doubts that assail us daily, begging us to question seriously whether God will follow through with what He has asked us to begin. We can only remind ourselves of His loving faithfulness and ask Him to give us the faith that we need to trust Him completely.

Along those lines, we are now feeling a strong sense of urgency to complete our pre-approval paperwork. Technically, we have another two-and-a-half months before these papers are due, but we don't want to wait that long. Isabelle has a heart condition that has deprived her of fully-oxygenated blood her entire life. Her blood is part-oxygenated, part-deoxygenated, and that means that her little heart has been working overtime since she was born. We don't know exactly how bad her condition is, but it certainly isn't helping her. Moreover, we long to have our daughter home with us. There's a hole in our house right now, an empty bed in her bedroom, an empty seat at our table, that needs to be filled by this little one. She needs to be home with us because this is where she belongs, to put it simply. We are nearly finished with this pre-approval application, and we expect to have it done by the end of the day tomorrow. (FYI, the application for pre-approval will be submitted to the Chinese authorities. If they approve us, then Isabelle will be officially matched with us and we will be allowed to continue her adoption. If they reject us, then we won't be allowed to adopt her. Please pray with us that they will grant our pre-approval request!) The problem with this is that we have only 1/5 of the money needed to submit this application. Rather than wait for the money before completing the paperwork, we feel that we need to complete the papers first, so that we can be ready to submit it as soon as God provides enough money. I don't say this to try to influence anyone to give towards her adoption. I mainly ask that you pray with us and for us, that we would look to God and God alone as the One who will bring our daughter home to us, and that He would work in such a way that not one step of this process will be delayed because of a lack of funds. Right now, that isn't the case because we are not ready to submit for pre-approval. But we hope to be by Monday, and something is going to have to happen between now and then if we are going to be able to send everything in that day.

Thank you for your prayers for us and for our daughter. It means a lot to us to have you all coming alongside us in this incredible journey.

- Greg

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Most Significant $50 We've Ever Been Given

(Note: I was planning to post this earlier today, thus the mention in Kristie's post of an earlier entry.)

What difference can $50 make? Apparently, a rather large one. Before I get to that, however, I need to back up about a week and start the story there.
Kristie and I have been feeling for months that God was preparing us to adopt in the not-too-distant future, and so we have been praying and seeking His will for us, our family, and our future child(ren) during that time. Briefly—for a week—we thought that He was leading us to adopt a little girl named Abigail from Taiwan. In fact, we were so convinced that He was leading us to her that we chose the name Evelyn Amanda for her. One week after we began calling her Evelyn, we found out that she was being pursued by another family, which left us disappointed, discouraged, and confused. I still think of her often, and I know that if she were ever to become available again, it would take me almost no time to think of her as my daughter, so close had I grown to her from November to March. Whatever they might be, God has His reasons for having led us to her, and after trying once more two weeks ago to confirm whether she was being adopted, we made the difficult but necessary decision to consider her door closed and to consider carefully the other children that He had drawn our attention to recently.
In the middle of last week, we focused our prayers on four children whom we had been drawn to, in an attempt to discern God's will more clearly. They were: (1) Aaron - 2½, Philippines, Klippel-Feil syndrome; (2) YNX - 3, China, Down Syndrome; (3) WY - 2½, China, Down Syndrome, heart defect; (4) WFC - 2½, China, Tetralogy of Fallot, heart defect. By last Saturday, we had narrowed our search to the two girls with Down Syndrome. That day I made an offhand comment in our kitchen that perhaps God wanted us to adopt both of them. I wasn't convinced of that, but I recognized that it was possible and that we therefore needed to remain open to that possibility. Kristie was leaning strongly toward one of the girls, but I had only the slightest leaning and was feeling more than a little directionless about all of this. Neither of us told the other which way we were leaning. Our prayer was that God would give us a clear answer by the end of the weekend, and we have learned that it's often a good indication of His will when the two of us reach the same conclusion independently. So, I was resolved not to tip my hand until my conviction was sure, and I continued to pray.
On our drive to church that Sunday morning, the whole situation changed dramatically. When I woke up that morning without any more clarity than I had had the day before, I was initially discouraged. I said as much in the minivan, and I even told her that I was slightly more drawn to YNX than to WY, strongly suspecting that she would be leaning the other way. She was. That led us to discuss more seriously the possibility of adopting both girls. As crazy as that sounded—after all, that would leave us with four three-year-olds—was that any crazier than adding "only" one more to our family? If we were going to trust God to provide the funds for one adoption, to open up our hearts and the hearts of our children so that we could rescue one more orphan, who was to say that we couldn't—nay, shouldn't—trust Him to do that for two children? The thought of adopting two children was terrifying, but by the time we arrived at church, we were almost convinced that He wanted us at least to try to adopt both of these girls. Interestingly enough, we almost didn't go to church that day because we had had a bad night and had consequently slept in, but we made it to church and, in a shocking turn of events, with a few minutes to spare. Boy, am I glad that we were there! Our pastors have been preaching through the book of Revelation, and the sermon was on the fifth chapter, a scene which takes place before the throne of God. The music selections had the effect of focusing our attention on God: His majesty, His worthiness, His holiness, and the awe of being in His presence. It had been a long time since I had felt that close to God in a worship service. in fact, the last time that I can recall sensing His presence that clearly was our first time back at NCCC after returning from Ukraine with Mikaela. At the conclusion of the service, we were fully convinced that He wanted us to try to get both girls. The idea still seemed crazy, but we were at peace with it—so long as we didn't think too much about the paperwork and the fund-raising ahead.
That night, we caught our Core Group up on what God had done in our hearts that day and asked them to pray for us as we continued to seek His will in this process. As part of that seeking, Kristie wrote to Cheryl Graham on Sunday afternoon to find out whether we even had a shot at adopting both girls. We found out Monday evening that the chances of that were essentially nil. That news hit us hard, and it hit me harder than I had expected it to. I withdrew a little bit Monday evening and through the first part of the day on Tuesday, largely because I couldn't fathom why God would be so clear in leading us to pursue both girls, only to tell us the next day that we could only have one of them. What frightened me about the news we received on Monday was that I was rather at peace with it. Did that mean that I didn't care enough about the YNX? (Kristie's concern for WY was such that there was no way we could leave her behind.) Why would God seemingly change directions so suddenly? Had we misread Him? I can answer the first and last questions negatively, but I'm still not sure about the second. Maybe we'll never know, and I'm okay with that. I pray that YNX will have a family someday soon, and we did commit to adopt WY—whom we are calling Isabelle Noelani—on Tuesday evening.
We knew that we were starting this adoption with no money in our pockets to start anything, and we were nearly thrown into the fire right from the outset. Isabelle was on the Shared List, and Cheryl put in a request on Wednesday morning to have her assigned to Heartsent's list, which would give us three months to submit our papers for PA (along with the requisite $1,300). If, however, China should deny her request, we would have only forty-eight hours to complete the PA application and raise that $1,300. Yikes! Knowing on Tuesday evening that this was a possibility, we stayed up that night in order to get a good start on the paperwork, all the while praying that she would be assigned to Heartsent's list the next day. Cheryl had said that we'd know for sure by the end of Wednesday morning, and so when 1:00 rolled around and we still hadn't heard anything, we were really wondering what was going on. Thankfully, her request was granted, which has given us a chance to breathe. We are not resting on our laurels, though, as we have no intention of waiting long at all before submitting for PA. But, at least we weren't put in dire straits right off the bat.
Soon after committing to her adoption, fear of the unknown began to settle in. How would God provide all of the money that we'll need? How will we have enough strength and patience and focus to complete our paperwork accurately and promptly? Are we crazy?!?! Well, yes, we are, but that's not the point. The point is, God has taken us back to a place where we have to rely completely on Him and, just as it has been with TSC in the past (and present) and with Mikaela's adoption, it's almost equal parts exciting and terrifying. There is a profound joy and thankfulness that comes from receiving one's daily bread almost directly from His hand, and it is also frightening to have to relinquish all control. That's where we are, and all of this hit home this afternoon over a measly $50.
When we filled out our tax return this year, we were due $418 from the federal government, easily the biggest refund we've ever received. But, we owed $711 to the state of Ohio, which was actually not a bad tax situation for us. (Because Kristie is self-employed, we get hit hard at tax time.) That left us with a total of $293 that we would need to pay Ohio, a total which we didn't have after having just bought our first house—and all the necessary household items that can't be collected while living in an apartment—in February. As we were preparing to move, however, I found the security deposit refund check from our second apartment (which we left in 2009), that had never been cashed! The funds had been sent to the Ohio Division of Unclaimed Funds, so we had to submit a form to them in order to receive the funds. We did that shortly after moving into our house. And then we waited. And waited. We received no confirmation that they had received or processed our request, and at a couple of points I nearly gave up hope that we would ever see that money. The day after we committed to adopt WY, the very next day, that refund check showed up in the mail, for $254 and some change. Amazing! When Kristie sat down this afternoon to write the check to pay for our state taxes, we decided just to go ahead and pay the last $39 out of our pocket right now and be done with it. After all, having to pay only $39 of our own isn't too bad, right? Well, apparently God thought so. A few hours after writing that check, we found an unexpected and completely unlooked for check in our mailbox. Our mortgage lender sent us a $50 refund check for our appraisal. We had no idea that this was coming, and the timing of its arrival did not seem coincidental in the least. We had been praying for months that God would provide what we needed to pay our taxes this year, and sure enough, He did. And, as is often the case with Him, we never would have been able to guess where and how He would provide,. Our only certainty was that He would. The arrival of that $50 check this afternoon cemented not only that it is right for us to embark on Isabelle's adoption, but also that He has us right where He wants us: in the palm of His hand. It's a terror to be so close to His might, and yet a comfort to be held so dearly by Him. I pray that He will use Isabelle's adoption to draw us closer to Him, and that He will use her story to manifest His glory to those around us, just as He did with Mikaela's adoption.

- Greg

Meet Isabelle

Unfortunately, we have our posts a little bit out of order here. Greg posted earlier today about some encouragement we received during the first few days if Isabelle's adoption, and now I am writing the post that formally announces that adoption. I guess it is just more evidence that we still aren't very good at this whole blogging thing, right. :)

As Greg said in his most recent post, we have been convinced for a while that God was calling us to adopt again. We looked through many different lists of children, and fairly quickly narrowed our decision down to four children. Then, it took days of praying, talking, thinking, reading, and praying some more before we finally chose our daughter. She is a little girl in China who will be three years old next month, and like Mikaela, she has Down Syndrome. The initial uncertainty was a little strange for us, because with Mikaela's adoption, it was clear from the very first time we saw her that she was supposed to be ours. Even though it took us a lot longer to make the decision this time, we both felt completely confident in it once we did decide.

Our next step was to choose a name for our new daughter. Even that was harder this time around. We both looked at this little girl's picture and felt that she needed a name that was very soft and feminine, and we both liked the names Isabelle, Sophia, Lydia, and Alayna, but couldn't seem to come up with the right combination of first and middle name. On Saturday afternoon my parents kept our four kids, and Greg and I sat down at Panera, each with a copy of a baby name book. We read though the girl sections from beginning to end, and did finally find a name that seemed perfect for our little girl. We chose Isabelle Noelani (No eh LA nee) which means "beautiful girl from heaven, consecrated to God." This seems like the perfect name for this precious child that God has given to us, while also reminding us that she ultimately belongs to Him.

The next step in the process is to submit our packet of information to China to request their pre-approval to adopt Isabelle. We are almost finished filling out the forms, but we won't be able to submit the packet until we have the $1300 fee that goes along with it. We are praying that God will send that money soon, because until we have that, we can't even officially begin her process. We know that the timing is all in His hands, but it is so hard to wait when we want so badly to bring this little girl home.

Isabelle's picture is attached below. This photo is about a year old, but we don't have anything more recent right now. Isn't she beautiful.