Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Experimenting with a new flash

I saved some money that I had been given for Christmas, my birthday, and money that I been paid back in the winter for getting called into work for 5 different "emergencies."   I decided to use it to buy a new flash for my camera.  I've had a DSLR for about 4 years, but I had never gotten a flash to use with it.  I have a Canon Rebel and I got a Canon Speedlite 580 EX II flash from Amazon.  It was $50 cheaper there than at our local camera shop.  It came in the mail today, and I took some photos of our dogs this evening.  I have always had trouble taking good pics of our bigger dog indoors.  Her photos taken indoor would almost always have "pet eye".  No more of that with the new flash.  Here are some of my favorite pics from this afternoon:

 Lily is intentionally out of focus.  I like this picture.
 I found that bouncing the flash off the ceiling worked best.  If I aimed it at the dog, the photo was too bright.  Since the flash is not bouncing right into their eyes, they don't mind having their pictures taken as much either.  I wish I had gotten one of these a long time ago!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Processing our grief

We met with a grief counselor last week, and she gave us a few suggestions to help us get some closure on the death of our two girls.  One thing she suggested was to think of something that we could do in lieu of a funeral.  Something where we could say good-bye to them and "bury" them so to speak.  I want to share what we decided to do as a little memorial service.  Maybe this will help someone else who has either miscarried or been through the same thing we have been through.

I had started a scrapbook back in the summer to document our adoption.  I had spent hours on it.  Once we got our first referral for Baby D, I put her photos in it and information about her.  After we got our second referral, I removed the photos of Baby in order to use the book for Baby #2.  As we talked about what we should do for a memorial, James suggested we burn the scrapbook.  I had a few other photos of the girls that I had not put in it, and we decided to burn those as well.  We decided on a place to scatter the ashes.

This afternoon, we burned the photos and the whole scrapbook in our chimenea on our patio.  We placed the photos in the fire one by one and watched until the fire went out.  We listened to "Jesus Loves Me" and we prayed together.  Once the ashes had cooled, we put them in a little box and drove to the place we had decided upon to scatter them.  There was a small body of water there,  James scattered the ashes over the water, and we stood there for a moment watching them dissipate.

That was it.  Simple, just the two of us.  We never would have done that without the counselor's suggestion.  We both found it to be healing.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

  a time to be born and a time to die,
  a time to plant and a time to uproot,
  a time to kill and a time to heal,
  a time to tear down and a time to build,
  a time to weep and a time to laugh,
  a time to mourn and a time to dance,
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bathroom Remodeling

 We have a small half-bath in our basement, and we are doing some remodeling in there.  We are replacing the flooring, vanity, fixtures, mirror and repainting.  Basically the only things that stay are the wastebasket and toilet.  Here are some before pictures:
You can see spackling on the wall in this photo, above the sink.  That is because there used to be a medicine cabinet there, and whoever installed it decided that it would be a wonderful idea to glue it to the wall.  Ugh.  What is wrong with just using screws?  The glue damaged the sheetrock, so I had to spackle over the damage.
The floor had seen better days.  This is was vinyl flooring, and the upper layer of it had started to wear off.
We had a really difficult time removing the vanity because it was also glued to the wall.  Again, the glue damaged the sheetrock.  I understand needing to use caulk or silicone around a sink, but this much glue??  I have been unable to remove all of the glue from the wall.  If anyone has any advice about how to remove it, I'll take it!  I've been trying to scrap it off with a putty knife, which has not worked that well.
A close up of the damage:
A shot of the room once we got everything removed:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Homemade Granola

This is a really easy recipe for granola. It tastes much better that what we had been buying at the grocery store, and it is considerably cheaper.

6 cups rolled oats
1 & 1/2 cup shredded sweet coconut
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 & 1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, coconut, and brown sugar. In a separate bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, and salt. Combine both mixtures and pour onto 2 sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to achieve an even color. Remove from oven and transfer into a large bowl. Store in airtight container.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My advice for waiting families

After how difficult our adoption journey has been so far, I felt like I should share a few things that I wish we had known when we began waiting for a referral.  This is just my two cents, so take it for what it's worth.  Maybe this will help someone.
  • Remember that you are not obligated to say "yes" to a referral.  Yes, it is an exciting time, but try your best to separate your emotions from the situation.  This may or may not be the child that God has intended for your family.  The matching is done by human hands, which God certainly does work through, but humans are not perfect.  Take a few days and discuss the child's medical reports with a physician, and pray.  Pray that you and your spouse will be in agreement over your decision and that you will have peace about the decision that you make. 
  • Be realistic about what kinds of medical issues you will be open to.  Don't accept a child with special needs if you truly feel that you are not going to be able to address those needs.  The treatment for some medical conditions can be very costly.  Can you afford it?  Will it mean that you will have to modify your home?  Is the child so sick that they might not live long enough for you to bring them home?  These are hard things to wrestle with, but I feel that it is best to be realistic and be prayerful about what God is calling your family to do. 
  • Have a doctor in mind before you get your referral.  We consulted an International Pediatrician regarding our first two referrals.  No, their services are not cheap, but they are very helpful.  You may want to consult a traditional pediatrician first, and then if there are any red flags that you want to talk about with a specialist do so then. 
  • Once you get your referral, remember that the child's medical report is not going to be complete.  We don't know what either of our girls weighed at birth or if they were born premature or full term. The International Pediatrician taught us how to consider the "what ifs?" regarding the rest of the story.
  • If there is something weighing on your mind that you want to talk about with your social worker, do it.  That is what they are there for and they want to help you.
  • Consider how you want to share the good news of a referral with your family and friends.  Do you want to tell them right away, the day you get the call?  Do you want to wait until you speak with a doctor?  Do you want to wait until you have turned in the acceptance papers?  Do you want to wait a month or so until you've gotten an update on the child?  It just depends on what you are comfortable with.
  • Remember that just because you have accepted a referral that your adoption is not a "done deal."  There are a number of things that could happen that could prevent you from bringing that child home.  The child could get sick and die before you even meet them, as has happened to us twice.  The birth family has the right to claim custody until they appear in court.  I know of someone who had a referral fall through just days before their court date because the birthmother picked the child up from the orphanage.  Once you travel for court and meet your child, you might realize that they have a significant special need that you are not going to be able to face.  
  • Hold off on registering for items for the child until you have passed court.  After we got our first referral, we began to talk about when we should register for baby things.  I wanted to wait until we had passed court to register, but for various reasons we went ahead and registered.  I really, really, really wish we had waited.  We've had a nursery pretty much ready since October.  I had never wanted to have that happen.  A crib set up for months with no baby in sight.  Having the room ready so early has not really been a good thing for me psychologically.  If we had this to do over again, I would definitely not register for baby things until we had passed court and I would stick with gender neutral items.  There will be plenty of time to get a baby's room ready in between your court date and embassy date.
I don't mean to scare anyone, I just wanted to share a few things that I wish we had known a year ago.  Be happy and enjoy this time of adding a child to your family, but be realistic.  Just like there can be all kinds of unknowns with a pregnancy, there can be a lot of unknowns with adoption. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

God's Love is Hard

"We're not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."  C. S. Lewis

I have thought about Romans 8:28 a lot lately. "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." (NIV)  I want to believe that God will work all things out for our good.  I do believe that.  God will do the best for us, but on the path to "our best" He promises that we will suffer.  I also believe that we will not see the full working out of all things until God's redemptive work that He began ages ago is finally complete and all things have been made new.  When the lion will lay in peace beside the lamb and the curse will be removed.

Then he showed me the river of living water, sparkling like crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb  down the middle of the broad street [of the city]. On both sides of the river was the tree of life bearing 12 kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations,  and there will no longer be any curse. Rev.22:1-2 (NIV)

One book that I have repeatedly turned to when I'm in the midst of one of life's storms is The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis.  My copy is well worn.  The cover is creased.  The margins are written in, page numers are circled, selections of the text are underlined.  I am a fan of Lewis, but this is one of his harder books.  I remember pulling out a dictionary more than once during one of the times I read it.  It has a lot of helpful insights, particularly in the chapters "Divine Omnipotence" and "Divine Goodness."  True to form, there is some less than solid theology, especially in the chapters on the fall of man and animal pain.  There is a lot of interesting things to think about in those chapters, but it is not solid theology.  I have learned a lot from this book, and Lewis' writings have been instrumental in healing my heart a number of times.

In the chapter on Divine Goodness, Lewis compares our sanctification by God to a good man training a puppy:

"Man interferes with the dog and makes it more lovable than it was in mere nature. . .To the puppy the whole proceeding would seem, if it were a theologian, to cast grave doubts on the "goodness" of man."  He goes on to say that older, fully trained dog who has been the recipient of much affection due to it's successful training to have no such doubts regarding the goodness of man.  "He does not house-train the earwig or give baths to centipedes.  We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He left us alone to follow our natural impulses - that He would never give over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves: but once again, we are asking not for more Love, but for less."

I just wish His love didn't hurt so much right now.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Our current plan

We've had some tough conversations this week between the two of us and with our agency.  I have cried and shook my fist in anger while on the phone with the staff in our National office and our local agency office.  We had been told over and over again that they never had a family loose a referral due to the death of the child.  On Monday I learned that was not true.  A mom reached out to me and told me that they knew what we were going through because the same thing had happened not just to them, but also to another family.  Both of these families were working with our agency.  I am oh so thankful that this mom contacted me and shared part of her story with me.  We were both upset that the staff had been telling us that no other family in their Ethiopia program had a child die before they could bring them home.  I didn't know what to think, and I was very upset that this information had been withheld from us for whatever reason.  I was able to determine that the staff at the national office had experienced a complete turn over since this other mom had experienced her loss.  The information simply got lost in the shuffle.

These past few months have been awfully hard.  After we lost our first referral, it took a couple of months before I could make it through a church service or read scripture without crying.  After having been told over and over that this hadn't happened to one of their families before, we began to wonder why God seemed to have it out for us.  I looked and looked for someone who had been on this wretched road.  Someone who could tell me that my sorrow would end, just as theirs had.

Last night, I typed out a long, um. . .transparent (i.e. angry) email for the staff.  I labored over my words, and I took out a few things that were probably not appropriate.  I sent the email last night before I went to bed, and turned my phone off - knowing that my social worker would probably call me soon after she got to work and had read it.  I got a call from her at 8:40 this morning.  The staff at HQ wanted to speak with us.  I waited a couple of hours to call her back.  I needed to calm down and get my thoughts together before I said something hurtful to her.  We set up a conference call for noon.

The call was helpful.  I made it clear that we needed to know that we were not alone.  The staff has been very compassionate and patient with us.  They offered their sincere apologies.  We are going to continue to work with this agency, and we are going to stay in their Ethiopia program.  We have changed our age preferences to 12-36 months.  We have no idea how long will have to wait.  We are once again back at the top of the waiting list.  It took us twelve weeks to get our second referral, and I am praying that we hear much sooner than that this time around.  We are greatly encouraged to hear that people are praying for us, just please don't ask if we have any news.  If we'd had a two miscarriages this winter would you ask me if I was pregnant again every time you saw me or talked to me on the phone?  Didn't think so.  Please grant us the same courtesy.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Where do we go from here?

We had a conference call with our agency on Thursday regarding what happened with baby #2 and what our options are.  We have learned that her caregivers did the very best they could for her.  Other than that, we were not able to get any other information about what happened to her, but we were given some options and a lot to think about.  Here's what we are trying to think through:

1.  We could drop out of the Ethiopia program and switch to our agency's domestic adoption program.  Since we have had such an unusual experience in the Ethiopia program, our agency is willing to refund part of our international fees.  We are thankful for their willingness to do that.

2.  We could cut our ties with our agency altogether and not adopt at all through them.  They are again willing to refund a portion of the fees that we have paid both on the state level and the national level.

3.  We could stay in the Ethiopia program.  If we do this, we will change our age preference from 0-2 years to 1-3 years.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has prayed for us.  We feel your prayers.  Please keep them coming.  Pray for us as we try to decide what path we should pursue.  Please continue to be respectful of our feelings at this time and do not bombard us with questions or continually ask us if we have heard anything about a third referral.  We will keep everyone updated when we are comfortable with the decisions that we have made.  Thank you all for the love that you have shown us the past few days.  I know people have cried with us, prayed for us, and poured scripture into our ears.  We are thankful for the way the body of Christ is carrying us through our heartbreak.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Shell shocked

Yesterday at about 4 pm, our social worker called us.  She called James' cell phone, but he was outside so I answered it.  She told me that her boss was also on the phone with her and that they needed to speak with both of us.  I went outside to get James, and they said they had bad news.  They offered to come to our house and deliver the news in person, but I knew that it would take them about an hour to get here and I didn't want to wait that long to hear what they had to say.  We decided to speak over the phone.

The little girl that we just turned in our acceptance papers for has passed away.  She developed flu like symptoms suddenly, and she died in the hospital.  Our social worker was shocked.  She told that she had no answers as to why this happened and why we had to go through this.  She said that this has never happened with one of their families before.  Before the first baby we had been matched with died, they had never had a child die in one of their orphanages.  Now it's happened to us again.  There were other referrals that went out the same days that we got both of ours.  Why couldn't God have led the agency staff to place us with a different child?  If we had gotten matched with one of the other children that were referred to other their families back in September, we'd be home with a child now.

We are stunned and heartbroken, and we are asking ourselves a lot of questions.  If God knew that he was going to take this baby to be with him, why couldn't he have done it two weeks earlier and spared us another loss?  Why did he choose to put us and our families through this loss for a second time?  Why did God give us a desire to adopt just to put us through this hell?  I can say for sure that if we had known we were going to go through this, we would not have wanted to pursue adoption.  We've had so much bad news around here lately I hate to even wonder what God has in store for us next.  Things haven't been easy in our house for over a year now.  This season of sadness began last January, and we are beyond ready for it to end.  What's the next thing God's going to take from us?  My husband's job?  One of our parents?  One of our pets?  Our home?  Is he going to leave one us a widow(er) at the ripe old age of 31?

I believe that one big reason God allows his children to go through hard things is so that we will see the brokenness of this world.  He wants our hearts to be hungry for heaven, and we will not feel that hunger if our hearts are captivated by the things of this world.  Well, I lost my affections for this world years ago.  I have suffered, and I have beheld suffering beyond what seems natural.  I know that this world is cursed, stained by the fall, and crying out for God to finish his redemptive work.  We get it God.  How much more heartbreak are you going to put us through?

We know that many of you are praying for us.  Thank you, and please keep them coming.  One of our pastors called us last night, and he's getting us set up with a counselor.  We are going to have a conference call with the staff at our agency's national office.  That is probably going to take place sometime today.  While we covet your prayers, please do not bombard us with questions right now.  We are encouraged to know that people are rooting for us and that you want to see us bring a child home, but please do not continually ask us if we have heard anything from our agency about a third referral.  After we lost our first referral, we were asked that a lot.  Sometimes it was helpful to know that others were thinking about us, and sometimes it was a jab at my heart to have to say that we still hadn't heard anything.  Just let us know that you are praying for us.  If and when we ever have news of another potential child, we will let everyone know.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Next Step

We've had lots of people ask us what the next step is for us in the adoption process, so I thought I'd write about it.  The next thing that needs to happen is for our case to be submitted to court in Ethiopia.  Until the past month or so it usually did not take very long for cases to be submitted to court.  The process has slowed down.  We found out last week that the list of documents that have to be gathered before a case can be submitted has grown longer.  I don't know exactly what all is needed, but I do know that the court needs a birth certificate for the child, a photo of the child's birth family, and a death certificate of anyone in the birth family who has passed away.  Sounds simple, right?  Wrong.  It can take weeks, if not months to acquire these documents.  Our agency is now telling families to wait 3 months after accepting a referral to ask if their case has been submitted to court.  After your case has been submitted, your court date will be in 6-8 weeks.  So,  three months from now is the end of May, and then another 8 weeks after that is the end of July.

We are hoping and praying that we can travel for court before the end of July because the rainy season in Ethiopia usually begins in early August.  The courts close for approximately 8 weeks during the rainy season, and we are hoping that we can avoid that delay!  Our social worker told me today that the earliest we could possibly travel for court is June.  Our anniversary is in June, so maybe we will be spending our tenth anniversary in Ethiopia! 

When can we expect to have her home?  That is hard to say.  We are just hoping to have her home by Thanksgiving, but it could be sooner than that. If we don't get to travel for court before the rainy season, it would be October before traveled, and then we'd have to wait another four to eight weeks for her visa before we could bring her home.  If we do get to travel for court in June, we could have her home by the end of the summer!