Friday, May 21, 2010

Casey and Mary Beth Picker

Casey and Mary Beth's baby will be coming home soon!  They passed court today!  YEA!  Support their adoption of Evelyn by buying their t-shirt.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Worth Reading...

My good friend, Anna, and missions minister at my church (I'm proud to say), posted this last night on her blog.  It is so timely with the last entry I posted.  I would love for y'all to read her perspective on American orphans and widows.  See the entry here:
Great blogging, Anna!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Domestic v. International?

One of my wonderful friends from college told me today they were thinking of adopting!  YEA!  I was so excited to hear that!  One of her questions for me was, "How did you decide between domestic or international adoption?"  Good question!  There are different families called to different types of adoption or foster care.  It is definitely not my place to persuade anyone in one direction or the other, as domestic and international adoption are both VERY important.  We have some close friends here in NOLA that just adopted domestically.  Their story is so inspiring, and their call to domestic adoption is undoubted.  There are so many reasons why children should be adopted from one's own country.  As a Ukrainian pastor I heard speak recently said, "You can't take all of our children!  There would be many problems for us if all of our children were adopted by Americans."  His point in saying this was that his country his in the middle of a transformation.  Church members all over the Ukraine are sensing God's call to care for orphans in their country.  The orphan population has gone from 300,000 to 30,000 in the last 5 years because Ukrainian people (pop. approx. 45 mil.) are taking care of Ukranian orphans.  This allows them to raise up a new generation of Ukrainians to be responsible citizens, and compassionate people toward future orphans in the country.  Only an orphan can truely know how to minister to another orphan in need.  The Ukraine is developing an army of orphans that will pay it forward to future generations.  There is something to be said for this.  I think it is vital that American citizens care for American orphans in the same way.  America has a population of approximately 307 million.  There are approximately 123,000 children in foster care.  If the Ukraine can shrink a larger number of orphans by 90% with a population of 45 million, America can definitely place 123,000 children in permanent homes with a population of 307 million!  We should raise up a generation of compassionate children that love others the way that they have been loved.  This will only happen if American people will provide permanent families for foster care children.  The need is great in America, but we don't often see the need glaring at us, as an orphanage building would as you drive to work in the Ukraine.  Many of these children are in foster care homes, which provides a temporary solution, but they ultimately need forever families.
On the other hand, there are many countries, such as Ethiopia, where their citizens are dying of HIV and Malaria.  Children are orphaned by disease and poverty.  Parents are unable to care for their own children, much less the children of neighbors.  It is a crisis situation there.  4.5 million orphans fill orphanages in Ethiopia.  This is only ONE country of many in Africa have the same plight.  Rwanda has 1 million orphans because of war, disease, and famine.  The number of orphans in Africa is a problem that requires global attention.
Recently, I shared a passion I have with our home study worker.  When she asked us how we would keep the culture of Ethiopia alive in our home, I told her that I hope to raise a son that loves his country so much he wants to go back there to minister to others who need God's love.  She gave a beautiful reply, "I don't see how it could be any other way.  With your hearts so impassioned about Ethiopia and your desire for orphans to know the love of God and a forever family, your child will have no other choice than go back to his country."  Then she uttered words that seemed almost prophetic.  "I have seen a lot of people who adopt children from various countries, but the ones who adopt from Ethiopia are different.  There is something different about them...they are passionate about a purpose.  Imagine these parents raising Ethiopian children to love Ethiopia and hear the calling of God to help their country.  You could have an entire generation of Ethiopian adoptees who willingly return to their country and change their country's future."  Wow.  That's exactly the passion of my heart.  As much as it would hurt to see my baby grow up and leave me, I know that God is his inheritance and his destiny is with Him.  I want my child to be wherever God is working, even if it means being a world apart.
In the debate over whether to adopt Domestically or Internationally, there is no question about the bottom line:
"Father to the fatherless, defender of widows — this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families."

Psalms 68:5-6
We were made to love God and love people.  Our calling is clear - "Father the fatherless."  What your role is in that no one can know but God.  Whether adopting domestically or internationally the need is great, our mission is clear, our time is short, and lives are at stake.  
Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.

Isaiah 1:17
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.
Proverbs 31:8-9 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Final Home Study!

Mark and I completed the last leg of the home study last Friday afternoon.  I don't think my house has EVER been that clean!  I really didn't know what she would be looking for, so I WAY overdid it.  Mark dusted every corner, I vacuumed twice in one week.  We put away everything that could be perceived as clutter.  We moved furniture and decor around 5 times to see how it would look in various positions.  I scrubbed the bathroom floor, toilets, and bathtubs with pumice.  We did laundry, and I EVEN IRONED THE PILLOWCASES that go on our bed!  I was sure she was going to look in our refrigerator to see if we kept food in our house (you know, to make sure the baby won't starve); therefore, Mark and I stocked up at Winn-Dixie with fruit, vegetables, whole grains.  We had all our basis covered.
Our case worker came in the house, took a brief tour to see the rooms, commented on how great our furniture was, and then sat down to talk.  I almost blurted out, "WAIT!  DIDN'T YOU WANT TO SEE OUR FOOD??" When the "good angel" tapped on my shoulder and reminded me that I can't risk looking "psychotic" with a social worker in our house seeing if we'll be fit parents!
In all seriousness, it ended up being a breeze.  We felt very comfortable and talked with our case worker for 2 1/2 hours about all kinds of topics related to adoption.  It was a great conversation, and I was encouraged and energized when she left.  It was clear, I had no need to worry about the house, especially the food in it.
Our home study will be complete shortly.  We are still waiting on a TEXAS birth certificate and marriage license.  (God love 'em.)  And we need to finalize our financial statement, receive proof of medical and life insurance, and get everything notarized.  Once that is done, we are ready to send off our dossier to America World!
By the way, neither Mark or I tested positive for HIV, Hepatitis B, or TB.  Phew.  That's a relief.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dr. Visits

So apparently TB is something you have to get tested for before you complete your Dossier.  No big deal, unless you have no idea what TB is!  I go to the Dr. today to get a "physical".  I'm thinking sight, hearing, reflex exams, you know?  Isn't that what a physical is?  I get there and they tell me I have to get blood work.  Blood work is NO PROBLEM for me.  I've had to get blood work so much this year that I tell THEM what vein to poke these days.  What I don't like is UNEXPECTED pokes, and that's what they did to me today.  For a TB test you don't get poked in a vein, but in your forearm.  I don't know why this makes me wince as I write.   It's not like I've never seen a needle, but I guess I've always known where the needle is going!  I was totally stressed out as the Doctor randomly stuck me in the arm.  I just thought I'd warn anyone reading this that might be considering adoption.  PREPARE FOR THE TB TEST.

Besides that, what's with the Doctor asking you if you've been working out????  Ugh!  No, okay!  I've been a little too busy for that!  WHY ARE YOU ASKING?  Do I look fat in this outfit?  Geez-o-peets! (Cajun for "Golly!")  Isn't it enough that you already know my weight?

On a lighter note (yes that is sarcasm), I will be getting my HIV and Hepatitis B blood work done tomorrow.  This stuff is intense.  Necessary, but intense nonetheless.

I am grateful though, that with every "test", "stick", appointment, and phone call we are one step closer to our child in Ethiopia.  It's gonna be MORE than worth it all!

Monday, May 10, 2010


Our first piece of paperwork arrived today!!!  Mark's birth certificate from Illinois wins the fastest arrival time award.  Way to go Illinois!  Texas...what in the world????  How could you let them outdo us like that???

Paperwork is part of my job description as a public middle school teacher.  I do it ALL the time!  I almost thrive on seeing how fast I can do it.  Is that sick, or what?  You want a growth plan?  I'll give you a growth plan!  Bam!  Done.  Part of being "type A" is that checking things off the list is exhilarating.  There's a sense of progression and achievement when you see paper moving in Education.  As I grade papers, I stop periodically to count how many I have left, look at the clock, and time myself.  With each stack of papers, I am more efficient and timely.  Wonderful.

Adoption paperwork, while MUCH slower, is also exhilarating.  With each signature on a line, each demand for a notary, and each time UPS rings my doorbell, I get closer and closer to seeing my child!  I come home every day now and check the mail first thing.  I then open my email accounts to check for any updates from my Family Coordinator or contact from my Home Study person.  When there are no updates, or very few, I then spend the next hour or two reading updates on the AWAA Yahoo Group about people all over the country receiving referrals, getting court dates, traveling to pick up their child.  Not to mention the countless blogs that I read of Ethiopian adoptive families who have received their children.  I am officially obsessed.  It's no longer "OCD tendencies", it's certifiable.

While obsession over the internet, paperwork, and any adoption media I can find is not necessarily healthy, I do wonder if this is what God feels when he's pursuing us.  I don't think we have any idea what goes on behind the scenes.  We go through the same daily rituals blinded to the spiritual world around us.  Sometimes we forget that God is even there.  We have no idea that he cares about our situation or that he even exists.  Meanwhile, God is lining up all the necessary items until we are officially His.  Our baby has no idea who we are or what we are doing to bring him home, and it's the same for us.  If we had any idea what God was doing to bring us home, we would be filled with joy and anticipation of our homecoming day.

Today, one of my students said..."So...he isn't even born yet?"  Wow.  Yea, I guess our child isn't even born yet.  Since we requested a baby 0-6 months old, he may not even be conceived.  Yet every day, ALL day, he is all I can think about.  God said in Isaiah 49, "Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name."  Just as Mark and I think and dream about our little one to come, God dreamed of us before we were conceived.  He knew us in our mother's womb Psalm 139 says, and in Jeremiah 1:5, He says "before you were born, I set you apart."  Oh how I hope that our little one always knows that they were thought of, mentioned by name, known, and chosen before we even laid eyes on him.  What a beautiful picture of how God sees us.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Adoption Miracles...ALREADY!

Mark and I didn't discuss having children much when we were dating.  It rarely came up, and when it did, we agreed to wait A LONG time before trying to have children.  We were so young when we got married (22 and 23), we moved to a new city (New Orleans), started new careers, joined a new church, etc.  It was too much to adjust to right away, and kids did not fit into the mix.  Two years after our wedding Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.  An entirely new set of circumstances arose from post Katrina aftermath.  Our focus was on rebuilding our church and our city, supporting our somewhat traumatized youth group, and rebuilding relationships.  there just hasn't been a moment until recently to think about expanding our family.

Meanwhile, many of my friends began having babies and announcing the start of a new phase of life.  I questioned myself during this time and asked God to reveal to me why I did not have a desire at the time to have biological children.  During my prayer time, I felt a peace about not having this desire, but when I was with my pregnant friends, I thought that maybe something was wrong with me!  Sometime about two years ago, I felt a strong urge to adopt children during a women's conference.  I can't remember exactly what it fact, I don't think it was anything prompted by man that impressed my heart to adopt.  The focus of the conference was not on adoption, and I really can't boil it down to any one thing that influenced my heart's desire to adopt that day.  The only way to explain the desire I had was by the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  I came home from the conference and excitedly announced to Mark that I felt called to adopt!  I just knew that he was going to be thrilled with the word I felt I'd heard from God.  Afterall, he prays daily and reads the word, so of course he would understand my desire to adopt!  Much to my surprise and disappointment, Mark was taken aback by my desire to adopt and unsure about the possibility.  I felt a quiet whisper tell me to not say another word about it and simply pray for him.  Mark is a godly man, and I knew I could trust God to bring Mark to the same conclusion that I had come to if it was right for us to adopt.

A year later, something inside me urged me to bring up adoption again.  I was shocked to hear Mark say, "This is definitely a part of our family plan.  There is no doubt we will adopt; it's just a matter of when and how we will adopt."  God had done his miraculous work in Mark's heart and I had done nothing but pray!  It's amazing what God can do when we let him!  Now Mark is so passionate about adoption that it can only be explained by God's work in his heart.  It is so good to know that we don't have to change people and force them to see things our way...God is in the business of changing hearts and he does it perfectly!

Once Mark and I decided to adopt, there was a small (Mark would say "huge") obstacle in our way...FINANCING ADOPTION.  To adopt a child internationally, one could expect to pay between $20K and $50K depending on the country.  This is not the kind of money that we have lying around, obviously.  We began to pray about God providing the money if we were supposed to adopt.  We know that all things belong to God, and if He wanted us to bring home a baby from another country, He was going to have to provide a way.  About two months into praying about this, God gave us several monetary blessings that are ONCE IN A LIFETIME kind of situations:  a performance bonus, an increase in salaries, a little here, a little there.  Before long, we had exactly what we needed to move forward with the initial stages of adoption!  The best news was the government re-approved and increased a tax refund to adoptive families from $12K to $13K!  This sealed the deal.  God had granted us favor and unfathomable monetary blessings that can only be explained by His faithfulness to us.

In March, Mark and I applied with America World Adoption Agency to become adoptive parents to an Ethiopian child.  We were drawn to Ethiopia because of the vast need there.  There are 4.5 million orphans in Ethiopia due to Malaria, AIDS, and poverty.  Most of these orphans live in institutions or on the streets.  They are malnourished, neglected, and too much for the government to care for on its own.  This crisis causes many children to live their lives alone, begging for food, shelter, and other basic needs.

We requested a 0-6 month old baby boy (s).  We could end up with two siblings, cousins, or just one boy depending on the availability when we receive our referral.

We were accepted into AWAA's program at the beginning of April and began initial paperwork and Home Study meetings.  We received the official Dossier documents that will go to Ethiopia on Thursday, April 29th and announced our adoption Monday, May 3rd.

Mark and I are currently collecting paperwork, such as original birth certificates, marriage certificates, background checks, immigration clearance, passport photos, etc.  This can be a slow process and it sometimes requires us to do additional paperwork depending on our situation.  So you can be praying that our paperwork will be acceptable and completed in a timely manner (hopefully early June).

Thank you so much for praying for us and sending us notes of encouragement.  It's so awesome to have such supportive friends and family!  Here's a picture of the journal Mark got me to write letters and prayers to our future adopted child (children).  Isn't he the best!  You can't tell in this picture, but all of the continents are outlined in reddish brown except for Africa which is outlined in black.  I think its a sign.  :)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

It's Official! We're adopting!


Mark and I have been praying about adopting children for a couple of years now.  Why?  It's so difficult to put into words!  Sometimes I don't really know where the urge to adopt began.  It's like I feel that EVERYTHING in my life led up to this point.  How do you explain a lifetime of God's work in your heart in one blog entry?  

I guess it's best to start with the beginning.  From the time I was little, I remember feeling a heavy burden for injustices in the world.  Seeing people who are hungry, the faces of homeless children, or the devastation of poverty bothers me.  I can't shake it.  There is something in me that will not let go of a cause, no matter how difficult or complicated it may be.  

The African Children's Choir arrived at my church in traditional African attire of royal blue patterned with vibrant colors.  I had never seen an African in person much less clothing that looked like a traditional Ethiopian habesha qemis.  I was enamored by their beauty and African dialect and even more intrigued to hear them sing for us.  A little boy caught my attention from the beginning.  He was small, 4 or 5 years old.  I couldn't imagine what he was thinking and feeling, as he was in the United States for the first time.  Did he miss his parents?  Did he miss his school?  When would he find the time to make up his homework?  I couldn't understand why a boy so young would be allowed to travel around the world without his family.  My parents would never let me ride my bike across the busy street behind our house, much less travel the globe alone!  It wasn't long before the concert began.  The music was lively!  The children clapped, smiled, and sang with all their hearts.  It was a beautiful if somewhat discordant cacophony of drums, stomps, and voices crying out praises to God.  I had never heard such singing, but I wanted to sing along!  The little boy who caught my attention from the beginning was placed front and center on the stage.  His face was turned heavenward as he sang, "Glorify Thy Name" in broken English.  Toward the end of the concert the little boy approached the microphone.  I leaned forward in anticipation as he began to share his story.  He said his English name was Ben, but his African name was too difficult for my 10 year old mind to grasp.  His parents had recently died and he had no one to take care of him.  He lived on the streets of Africa hungry and homeless.  By God's grace, he was found by the organization that founded The African Children's Choir and it allowed him the opportunity to be educated through a tutor, housed in a comfortable home, and eat everyday.  He spoke of God's goodness as if he knew him personally, and now I realize he did.  In the worst of circumstances Ben was grateful, happy, and faithful to God, even at such a young age.

Ben stayed in my family's home for the next week before they went on to the next city.  The joy, gentleness, and love that exuded from him struck me deeply.  How unfair it was that this child had no parents, no home, no Christmas morning with his brothers and sisters sitting around a Christmas tree.  There was no security in his life, no guarantee of the next meal.  Yet his life was full, vibrant, and radiant with Christ.   Ben taught me an important lesson that week that Jesus is ALL we need.  Only God can be a perfect Father, Protector, Deliverer, and Friend.  

I guess it was then that a seed was planted in my heart by God.  Through Ben I saw first-hand God's heart for the Fatherless, and a garden of compassion had grown in me since then.  When I read scripture like, "I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you..." I can't get Ben's face out of my mind.  God rescues the poor and the needy, and I want to be on His team.  When I read in James, "Religion that God the Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:  to look after orphans and widows in their distress..." I can no longer think metaphorically or symbolically as it is sometimes tempting to do.  It is clear.  If I really live what I believe, I must do as Jesus did and defend the cause of the Fatherless.

I don't know what that calling means for everyone logistically.  We all have different gifts and capacities; however, the cause of the orphan is a cause we should all be behind.  Whether you mentor a child, give money to orphanages abroad, or adopt, the calling is the same...  
Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

Thank you, Lord, that you didn't leave us as orphans, but you came to us.  Help us to do the same for the forgotten children of the world.