Wednesday, May 16, 2012

FAQ's of our adoption journey

I've had lots of friends and friends of friends email me with questions about our adoption journey and adoption in general. I figured I might as well make a blog post out of it I could refer back to or send to others.  As you know, I am no adoption expert nor do I have all of the answers! I'm just on this journey God is taking us on! (The pictures are from my trip to Uganda)

1. International or domestic? How do you decide?

This was decided through a matter of prayer, fasting, and the Lord leading for us.  It is sad to me that people rank one above the other in matter of importance or which is a "nobler cause". Adoption is the gospel whether you adopt from your own city or across the world. God will call some to domestic adoption and others to international. We couldn't make a dent in the orphan crisis if we all only adopted one way or the other. This is why He refers to us as a body of believers, all serving different parts and functions.  There are needs both here and abroad. The Lord had just put Africa on our heart. We tried to pursue other avenues and kept feeling totally unsettled. We ended up choosing the continent first, then our country based off of what criteria we matched within. For example some countries you have to be over 35 or married over 10 years so that wouldn't work. Some countries you have to have no biological children at home or not more than 1.  Some countries you have to stay in country months and months so that limited us. We ended up with Congo, a relatively new program, in the rape capital of the world. We were excited to bring home children from this country that may have ended up in prostitution or abducted/affected by war. However, I cast no judgement on foster care or domestic adoption. Instead it excites me so much to see families adopting from US. The wait is often quicker, sometimes not, and I've heard several stories of there being such an abundance of African American children on waiting lists with no prospective parents open to transracial adoption. 

2. What about the cost?

I would never let cost be a deterrent to adoption (unless maybe you are up to your eyeballs in debt and it is a source of dissension in your marriage). Yes adoptions run $12,000-32,000. Ours with two children will end up being in the neighborhood of 38-50,000. But I've tried to let this be an area of trust instead of stress. I do believe we need to be wise when entering this as with all financial matters, pray and seek counsel. But this is something God asks us to do hundreds of times in the Bible- to care for the orphan, to fight for the fatherless, to sacrificially give and serve the least of these. We do have to "count the cost" but we also have to trust God for big things. If he has laid adoption on your heart, he will provide. It may take work on your part, and lots of prayer. But he will equip you for the journey he has called for you. You can fundraise, seek grants, write letters to friends/family/church, yard sale, sell necklaces, dinners, speaking at churches, etc.  There are lots of ministries out there to help you with fundraising or grants!  

I think we see such a big price tag as the bottom line, but I wonder if that is exactly where God wants us to be.  Rarely in life do we have to depend on him dollar by dollar. It is an awesome experience to depend on God for everything, we just rarely get the chance to do it. Also,logistically this is not a one time lump sum. It is broken up into payments and chunks that are more manageable. Not to mention, there is a 13,000 tax credit still in effect once you finalize your adoption. It is in petition to continue after 2013 so do your research and sign the petition for the refund to continue!
In addition, before we had our first child, someone told us kids cost over a million dollars over their lifetime. Not sure if this is true or not, but regardless, it did not deter us from having kids. I can't put a price tag on motherhood or any of my children. We will just continue to try and seek Biblical wisdom in our finances and ask Big things of God as he asks big things of us.

3. How did we decide to adopt two?

There were numerous factors that led us to adopt two at the same time. First, both my daughter Reese and husband John had been praying and both told me within a day of each other that the Lord told them we were supposed to adopt two. Crazy! As I was trying to come around this idea, the Lord poured confirmation after confirmation over me.
Disclaimer: don't hear the following as 'everyone should adopt two'.  This was the personal journey God had for our family and is not for everyone.
First, I didn't want our child to be the token black child of our family. I wanted them to have a sibling that understood their background, what it feels like to struggle with identity or belonging, someone to lean on when they may get made fun of or left out, and to see that their color of their skin is valued by our family.  I also knew that we didn't want to have any more biological children. 3 kids seemed incomplete for our family. I knew we would most likely end up adopting again. I would rather do the paperwork and waiting game once instead of twice. I know it will be crazy bringing two home at the same time. I will be stretched to the limit where only God can handle it, not me.
We have priority over requesting siblings, but if no siblings are in our age range or available,we will accept unrelated children. They're gonna be related eventually! But at least, our children will come from the same place and see a familiar face most likely. I pray this helps their transition. I am not so naive to think this will be easy. Having or raising children isn't easy even if you birth them. But I am honored that God has called us to this. I will walk through good times and the crazy difficult ones knowing this is what God has called us to. I'd rather walk in obedience even if it's hard, rather than fight God on the beautiful story he has for our family.

3. What about special needs/medical issues or potential issues down the road?
This is a question I struggled with at first as the Lord refined me here. At first I was not open to anything as we were deciding to adopt initially. However, the Lord has taken that fear away from me. I know He has our children hand picked.  We are not guaranteed to not have medical issues with kids we birth, so we are pretty open when it comes to special needs. I am opening myself up to it and letting God direct on a case by case basis. People have asked us things like "what if they have hidden diseases?" "what if they give your biological kids diseases they bring into the home" etc.  These questions point at fear that safety is all I am to be concerned about.  I have chosen to make obedience my first priority and let God handle the details.  Safety of our kids is important to me, but not more important than following God. I came to God with psychological baggage and "disease" and he adopted me regardless. Any of our kids may have attachment issues, sensory disorders, learning difficulties, medical issues, identity issues, etc. I humbly and gladly will walk forward with what God has for us.

4. What about adopting a child of another race?

This was a no brainer for us. For others this is tough. I have wanted to adopt transracially since college. I even told John on one of our first dates! :) John grew up in another culture so race to him was not a big deal either. Not to mention, there are a lot less families willing to adopt transracially so we knew that is where we fit! Not to mention, most of Africa is black so we were pretty sure once we chose Africa we would have black children...haha. But seriously. We are excited to have a family with a little color in it. Like we tell our kids, how boring would it be if God made us all the same color. We want our family to reflect the Gospel. The Gospel is inclusive, the Gospel tells us we are not superior to anyone else. The Gospel is anti-racist and race is disregarded at the foot of the cross. 
Yes there will be struggles our kids will face growing up with black skin with white parents. We are preparing ourselves how to handle this as a family. Teenage years may be hard for them to identify with one group or another. My prayer is that they will know who and whose they are on the inside more so than the color of their skin in relation to ours. My prayer is that the Gospel will shout louder than the feelings of not belonging or race.

5. What if my spouse doesn't want to?

Just like #1 this one has to be addressed in prayer and fasting. God places our husbands as the spiritual leaders of our families but that doesn't mean he may not work through me first as he reveals the story of our family to us. In our case, I brought it up, not John. Although we had talked about it as a couple for 8 years, we had never said 100% yes we will do that. John always had more hesitation than me. Once i knew it was getting solidified in my heart, I put it to him and asked him to pray about it for a week with no pressure to talk to me about it before then. I also asked that he make sure he is praying and listening to God without letting his fears cloud out God's voice. 4 days later, he came home after 3 hours of prayer and said 100% yes and we should adopt two. God moves mountains. That was pretty quick in my opinion! But one thing I do know, God will never call us to something that will disunite us from our spouse if we are listening to His voice. God wants to draw us together in marriage. Now this may come through hardship, but we will still be moving toward each other. Pray pray and pray BIG prayers. Fast and then pray some more. 

6. What if my family is against it?

Start with prayer and fasting yet again. But regardless, we decided that our family comes first and what God asks of us trumps our families opinions. we went to scripture, sought counsel, and then told our families our hearts. We had several mixed reviews from the get go, but we knew following God meant sometimes not following our families desires for our lives. Just like when Jesus called his disciples, he asked them to leave behind their families and follow him. One guy couldn't even bury his dad, talk about "not honoring your father and mother", but Jesus calls us to himself first. Love God, then love your neighbor. We still honored our family members who were not ok with it, and we still spoke respectfully and tried to honor and hear our family members who were not ok with the race thing, but in the end, we knew we were going to follow God first and foremost. After the initial shock wore off, there were several instances where we saw God move mountains in family members hearts. 
We pray that our adoption will shine the Gospel love that knows no boundaries into our families where racism may still have a hold on their hearts. We pray by getting to know and love our kids, they will realize that race isn't as big a deal as we make it out to be in our society. Because after all, real God centered love is not bound by race or color, country, language or upbringing. 

7. Isn't it taking the child out of their own culture?

This is a hard question for me to answer calmly. I am working through my issues with it and realizing that some people have a very limited view of the orphan crisis and we all are entitled to our own opinions. I laughed out loud when a fellow blogger, Linny, responded to this question this way...
From in regards to one of their son's.
Frankly we are wondering if you ask an orphan sitting in an orphanage that question what would they say??
Let’s just imagine it for a second. Imagine walking up to a 13 year old boy in China who has Arthrogryposis. He is sitting in a cement building looking at the same walls he has seen for the last 13 years. He has never been outside the gate. The doctor he has seen a few times comes to the orphanage. He walks on his deformed sides of his legs and his hands struggle to do the normal daily tasks. He gets up when they tell him, sits where they tell him, he eats the same food day in and day out. He doesn’t even dream of anything different, because he knows nothing different, so there is no hope in his heart. He is curious about what he sees from the outside window, but it is far, far away and there is no real thought that he will ever be part of it. After all, when he ages out he will be put outside, most likely to beg on the streets. After all, in his culture an orphan has no place. BUT he gets to see Chinese faces everyday!! That surely must make him feel so cheery.
OR There is a 13 year old boy with Arthrogryposis who was adopted by an American family when he was just four years old. He sees pictures of how his legs once turned so desperately, but he walks with little effort, as his mom and dad had his legs worked on by a specialist. He spends parts of his day in school where he is surrounded by kids from all cultures. When he is home he can be found talking to his dad about flying planes, or his mom about hunting for treasures in another city. He laughs, talks, rides a bike, shoot baskets outside with his Caucasion brother, gives piggy back rides to his Guatemalan sister, and can be found reading to his little African sister. He is also becoming quite the drummer because of the lessons he takes. Hmmm, let’s see.
Yeah, absolutely, he would rather have been left in his culture. Ugh

Similar for our kids. Once kids age out of an orphanage, many turn to prostitution to make an income. Many men have several wives. Many turn to drugs and living on the streets. Many continue the cycle and abandon their children due to choice, death or poverty. Many young boys are forced to fight in a violent war. 
In the orphanage our kids live in, there is 4 "mamas" and 102 kids. This is one of the best orphanages in the area. They get one meal of rice and beans a day and sleep 4 to a twin bed. They do not get individual attention or affection, unconditional love, or discipleship. They cannot afford school fees for these children so few have a skill that will actually help them if they age out. 

I feel like adoption is the response to trauma and tragedy.  God did not intend for these children to be abandoned by their parents due to choice or death, but we live in a world with sin and free will. Yes, I would love our kids to grow up in Africa with their birthmothers loving them well and taking care of them, but instead they are in a tough situation. Abandoned, malnourished, and without much hope. So yes, it would be great if they could stay in their culture, but not stuck in an orphanage with 100 other kids eating one meal a day maybe. More important than culture is that they grow up knowing there is a God who loves them and a Jesus who died so that they would be saved from their sin. Will we educate our kids about their culture? Definitely! Will we travel to Africa as a family? Tons of times I hope. I would love to do ministry there as a family every few years. But God has called little old us, here in North Carolina. We are just a tiny piece of this puzzle, but if it means that we can raise our kids knowing Love and knowing Jesus, then I will take them out of that African orphanage and bring them here to our home. 

8. Is adoption the answer to the orphan crisis

Like I said before, adoption was not the original idea. Marriage was, family was. But adoption is the response to tragedy.  There are over 163 MILLION orphans in the world. Adoption will not solve it all, nor should it.  That is why adoption is not the only answer in my heart to the orphan crisis. It is a part of it, but not even maybe the biggest part. Orphan prevention is another piece. That is why our family will sacrificially give to ministries who try to prevent kids from being orphans in the first place. Sponsorship programs allow families to be relieved from the financial burden of feeding or sending their kids to school when they do not have an income to support it. But we cant knock down this ginormous number with only orphan prevention because there are millions already orphaned, Adoption and orphan prevention can partner together to really work at this issue. But it takes both and then some. I was so encouraged to see the Ugandan ministries we work with empower the family to raise their kids. So only adoption will not solve the orphan crisis. But it will help for one child..and another..and another. And we will work to keep families from giving up their kids due to poverty alongside of adopting. We partner with a ministry called CARE FOR AIDS that breaks the cycle of poverty in Aids stricken families in Kenya with health and spiritual counseling as well as skills training to ensure they can bring in an income to remain parenting their children and send them to school. It is an amazing orphan prevention ministry!

9. Why Adopt?
Jesus.  It is merely our response to the Gospel.  God adopted us into his family, he bought us at a high price, he welcomed us as his firstborn child despite our disease, he treats us like firstborn children,  Adoption is merely our response to the love that has been given freely to us. It is the ultimate discipleship. It is caring for orphans. It is serving the least of these. It is advocating for the fatherless. And loving the oppressed.
Second of all, we wanted more children and this is they way God put on our hearts to pursue it. Since I was a little girl my heart has been drawn to the strength and beauty and plight of the african people, little did I know he would weave that into my story for how we expanded our family.

Here are a few of my previous posts about adoption as well:
This post was how we announced our adoption.
This post is more on the medical issue question.
Here is a post with more scripture references.

Here's a great video about adoption

Here's a great ministry called loving shepherd that you can fill out an adoption assessment to help you navigate the channels.

Feel free to comment or email me with any thoughts you have as well!

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A different sort of Mother's Day

This mother's day held a host of different emotions for me.
First off, I am so grateful to be a mother, every day, not just one day a year. I recognize our children as a blessing from the Lord that I did not earn nor deserve. They are His not mine and he could take them at any moment he chooses. I pray I steward their lives with this open-hand mentality knowing they are not under my "control" but only his and I pray I point them to the joy filled life that comes with walking closely with Jesus.
I miss it a lot of days, sometimes my patience runs thin or I'd rather just sit instead of playing tag or running in the yard with them. But I realize how short these years are and I want to take advantage of my time with them at each impressionable age.

Next my thoughts on mothers day went to the many single widowed or abandoned mothers I met in Uganda.  Damalie- who has taken in 14 babies and now 3 more since I left a few weeks ago. One that is 16 months old extremely malnourished wearing 3-6 month clothing and never seen solid food before. To the Karomajong mothers who raise their children and other deceased friends' children without complaining. Who do what they can to put food in the mouths of their children. To the mothers there who felt like dirt, who made a few dollars a week from digging for roots in the hot sun, who sold their bodies exposing themselves to HIV for only a few dollars.

(this is a mother who is getting her life back together with the help of Return Ministries. She is stepping away from prostituting and looking for more sustainable, healthy ways of earning income to take care of her daughter)

Also to the mothers all over Africa, who have experienced genocide, rape, displacement, and war. The mothers who carry their children while they run from villages being looted and ravaged by soldiers. Who protect their children from being abducted. Who literally give up their lives for their children to survive.
(taken from article "world's most dangerous places for women: #2 Congo")

Next my thoughts went to the mothers of our children who have yet to come home. I thank God for their sacrifice. For the job they did of loving these children the best they could for the time they could. I pray for them today as they could still be with our sweet little boy and girl. I pray they are showered in God's love and favor today. I pray they enjoy these two little treasures they are stewarding for this time. I pray they give them hugs, kisses, songs and laughs today. I pray they can do that despite the hardships they are facing while they live in poverty and war.

A mother is the same whether you live in California, Carolina, Congo or China. We just live in different circumstances facing different challenges. I pray we are mindful of the sacrifice that some mothers give just to give life to their children. I pray it moves us to respond and to act.

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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Where the Spirit Leads

Well its very appropriate that our church has been doing a series on the Holy Spirit while I was in Uganda, because that was a lesson I got big time on the frontlines while I wasn't home to hear it.  Probably one of my biggest takeaways from my time there was the way the Lord yearns for me to live by the Spirit.  Watching the Ugandan people, I couldn't help but feel inadequate in my prayers or the way I asked expectantly of the Holy Spirit to enlighten, protect, lead or provide.  Every day there was a new situation where one of the families/ministries had prayed specifically and then we ended up showing up unknowingly with exactly what they had asked God for.
In America, I feel like we are at such the disadvantage because typically, we can get by without a desperate dependence on God.  Our faiths suffer because all in all, we can typically do life without God.
Sure we give him his 5 or 10 minutes a day, 1 minute before mealtimes, and sunday mornings. But aside from that, we as Christians here don't typically live like we actually need God.
As I watched these people in Uganda ask God for big things, specific things, things I would be afraid to ask for, I was continually humbled time and time again as God showed up.  I read through John 14-17 one morning and God kept hitting me in the face with the same concept each chapter, sometimes twice a chapter.

John 14:13- And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. 

John 15:7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be given to you. This is to my father's glory. 

John 15:16 You did not choose me, but i chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit- fruit that will last. Then the father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love each other.

Now in America, we would want to twist this into a prayer to bring us stuff, bigger paychecks, nicer jobs, etc.  These Ugandans were asking children to be taken care of, food for their families so they could eat a meal that day, pain medicine to bring down the fever of a near death HIV+ child, someone to just encourage them, healing, land so that they could build a farm to sustain a community, a bigger house so they could bring in even more orphaned children, their church attendance to grow and reach the Muslim neighbors that are sacrificing their children and killing their wives.
Time and time again I watched God answer specific prayers in Uganda: small prayers, huge prayers, prayers we didn't even know we were praying.  People laid hands over me and prayed, we prayed over children, cast out demons, prayed for healing, prayed for our plans.  We were literally "living on a prayer" there.
It really challenged me. Rarely do I just stop and pray for someone, ask God for huge things, ask God for specific things and then ask him again the next day, and the next until he answers. Our family has gotten in better practice of this over the last year, but nothing like we did as a team in Uganda. I want to NEED God as if I didn't know where my next meal was coming from, I want to BEG God for things as if my children's lives depended on it. Because let's face it, they do. My life is just padded in American comfort that makes me think it doesn't matter as much or it is not as urgent and necessary.

Prayer is not just an advice helpline or a grocery list of wants and dreams, it is our connection with the father. Just like in my marriage- I cannot expect 5-10 minutes of one way communication to hold us over and keep us connected week by week, month to month. It takes deep communication, heartfelt pouring out, intense listening, time. Who am I to say I don't have time to give to the Creator that made me, gave me my husband and kids, led me to the life I am leading.
So this is where the rubber meets the road yet again for me. I am trying to be intentional in listening to the Spirit's leading and spending time in communion with my Jesus. Not because it is a good thing to do, not because it is an item on my to do list, but because I am privileged to spend time with the creator of the universe, because life DOES depend on it, because I don't want to miss what He has for this story he is writing for us, because I don't want to go through life, patting people on the back, knocking out my to do list, and realize I could have spoken the words he wanted me to speak, done the things he wished I would have done, reached out to others that God wanted to touch through me.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Not color blind...

I think as we had kids I was very aware of race and not wanting to foster any racial bias in our kids.  At first, I think I took the stance of don't let them think we are even different. If I was to refer to a child who was of a different race, I would refer to his shirt or shoes as a describing word instead of his skin. I thought this was beneficial so I didn't "teach" that the child is different than us.  But what I am realizing now, is that stance is assuming different is bad.  How arrogant to think that. I realized this also in the airport coming back from Brazil.  There was a child in front of us with a deformity on his face.  Our kids immediately noticed and commented on it.  Instead of quieting them quickly and getting really nervous, like usual, I tried to coach them through it non-chalantly. I tried to point out the difference and talk about how it is exactly as God had intended for him to be, how God wanted to use him in a way he could never use us, how God wants to look around and see all these differences and unique things about us as a reflection of him.  This is the same for race.
Our kids are going to notice differences in skin color, just like they know red is a different color than purple. The more we avoid the topic and pretend there are no differences or they don't matter, that is just another form of racism we will pass on to our kids.
When we began the journey to adopt, I started showing pictures of African children to Reese and Wheeler. One picture I showed Wheeler was of a 2 or 3 year old boy smiling really big. Wheeler said "Mom, he looks just like me!". I was excited to see Wheeler just see a smiling boy about his age, and see the similarities between them. When I showed Reese (mind you this was right in the middle of last summer so we were rocking our summer tan) she said "is that about what sister will look like?" I explained not exactly but she would look similar to this girl in some ways and different in others. Reese says "Wow mom, Sister has really been out in the sun a lot!".  She recognized her skin got darker from the sun and assumed this was the same. We talked about how God makes our skin just how he wants it, how God even protects us because in Africa it is close to the equator and darker skin isn't as damaged by the sun as ours. We talked about how boring it would be in the world if we all looked the same color hair, same color skin, same size. How difference is a reflection and a peek into more of God's beauty and character. This was a defining moment for me in parenting. I realized it is fine to name it out loud that a child has darker skin than us. That is just a fact. The more I avoid this, the more I am prolonging racism in our family instead of describing how it is beautiful and exactly how God wanted it. This is not however how our society often looks at it, so it is a little shift from society. I know it will be a delicate balance once we bring our next two home from Congo, to recognize and celebrate the differences without making them feel ostracized or so different that they don't belong. Colorblindness, however, is not the way we will choose to handle it.
I just ordered some books off Amazon I am super excited about.  I think we should all have racially diverse books in our kids libraries even if we aren't adopting.  It is great to expose our kids at a young age that we are all on level ground and recognize and celebrate our differences and how God has made us all unique and beautiful. 

It is actually pretty depressing once I started to try and bring diversity in our home even through toys.  The black barbie selection is about 1 to every 20 choices. Up until 2010 there wasn't even a black Disney princess to choose from. The black baby doll selection is ridiculous and the babies they do have "of color" are extremely light brown or hispanic skin tones.  It is so sad to me what our consumeristic culture is teaching about race.

Please read this blog post on teaching our kids about race. It is very thought provoking on the messages we are sending our kids about race... Here is an excerpt...
Parents, teachers, babysitters... are we taking the time to talk about racial issues with our children?  Are we teaching our children tolerance?  Are we teaching our children that it's okay to talk about race and to ask the hard questions about race? Are we teaching them that our differences are beautiful and not something to use against each other to make each other feel bad?  Are we creating environments in our homes that allow children to have an open dialouge about racial issues?  I hope so.  I know that I can't shelter my son from all the jokes, slurs and hatred that will come his way just because of the color of his skin.  But I can hope and pray that this generation of moms and dads will be the generation who takes the time to teach our children about race and diversity.  Talking with your children about tolerance and the differences in race and culture does not make you a racist- it make you a good parent. Do it.
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