Tuesday, November 14, 2017

1-797C, 1-800a, Visa Applications, GUZ, and DS-260!

The title to this post can be mind boggling, especially to the person responsible for keeping track of it all!  In the last two weeks I have spent countless hours combing over instructions, forms, postage requirements, tracking numbers, email correspondence and returned phone calls to get every step of our immigration of Lottie right the first time.  And every time a step is completed, I rush to do the next one so as not spare even an hour that could be wasted.
We are down to the wire, y'all.  Part of me is so excited to know that everything has been mailed, the last form has been sent via email, and after (hopefully) tomorrow all we get to do is wait, pray, and received updates until it is time to buy tickets!

Here is a time line of what has led up to this point for those interested:

10- 2011 Initially felt the call to adopt at least 2 girls

03-07-2013 Brought home our first daughter, Anna Faith, from China

01- 2015 Began the process to domestically adopt our second daughter

04- 2015 Began the process to host our first orphan from Eastern Europe in hopes to adopt her

02-2016 Applied to become foster parents after adoption plans were disrupted and still no domestic
adoption match

02- 2017 Withdrew from the foster program, never having had a call for placement (we moved states)

02- 2017 Withdrew from domestic adoption search/listing (never chosen after 2 years)

02-11-2017 Found Lottie Hope on a waiting list and applied for pre-approval from China to adopt her

05-29-2017  International Home Study Complete

06-02-2017 1800a application submitted with USCIS (immigration preliminary approval)

07-19-2017  1800a Immigration approval received

08-17-2017 Dossier Documents certified/authenticated

08-22-2017 Dossier sent to China

09-12-2017 Log-In-Date received from CCCWA in Beijing

10-20-2017 Letter of Acceptance from China

10-24-2017 I800 paperwork submitted to USCIS

10-31-2017 I800 provisional approval application received and 1-797C sent

11-07-2017 I800 provisional approval given and sent in mail

11-07-2017 Information for visa sent by USCIS to National Visa Center

11-14-2017 GUZ number given, DS-260 submitted to the US Dept of State

11-14-2017 Visa applications for Kris and Tonya submitted to the China Consulate in Chicago

11-    -2017 Information for Lottie's visa cabled to the US Embassy in Guangzhou by the NVC

11-   - 2017 Article 5 letter received

          2017  Article 5 letter couriered to the CCCWA in Beijing (typically 14 days from receipt)

          2017  Travel Approval received from CCCWA in Beijing (typically 2-5 days later)

          2017  Apply for Consulate Appointment in Guangzhou (within a day of Travel Approval)

          2017   Receive Consulate Appointment (1 business day after Travel Approval)

          2017  Travel to China! (About 2 weeks after Consulate Appointment given, sometimes 3 weeks)


As you can see, after a total of 6 years of praying and waiting, there are very few blanks left to be filled!  This is where we need more prayer than ever.  The next step could very well be done tonight or tomorrow morning.  If so, we can have the Article 5 submitted on Thursday 11/16.  That means it can be couriered to Beijing the week of Lottie's 5th birthday.  That also means there is a chance we can receive Travel Approval as soon as her BIRTHDAY on 12/06!  If we receive travel approval that soon, with the way consulate appointments are trending, it is likely we will travel to China either the week before or the week after Christmas!  We could either have our Lottie as a Christmas Day or New Year's Day gift! That is because they fall on Mondays, the only day of the week when most provinces in China deliver their child to the parents.  Obviously, the former date is better, but we are overjoyed it is all coming together.

Could you please pray specifically for these dates:

1.Pray that the information for Lottie's Visa is sent and we get a copy of the email tonight or tomorrow morning- this means a 4 day jump in when the next step can be completed.

2.Pray that Travel Approval comes the week of her birthday, specifically ON her birthday December 6th

3.Pray that we can get a Consulate Appointment for the first week of January- then we can travel and get Lottie on Christmas Day.

The chances of all of these events falling together are POSSIBLE, but every detail has to be perfect.   God ordains everything perfectly, and He listens to the specific prayers of His children.  We can see His hand moving in this timeline to show out that He is in control.  We had closed door after closed door and heartbreak for 2 years for a reason. We had multiple delays earlier this year for a reason.  Things are moving on time at this point for a reason.  If there is a setback in the final steps, that is also for a reason.  But we know now that in the end, our daughter will most likely be in our arms in 48 days or less!  I'm in major nesting mode right now!

Thank you for your support and intercession.  We love being on this journey with you!

Lottie (on the left) with her Nanny and friends 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Updates on Lottie!


So I'm totally smitten!  Our update on Lottie has arrived!  She has grown so much this year, and is almost as big as her big sister!  
The best news is she KNOWS us now!  She loves to look at our photo book we were allowed to send, and can identify every member of her family when their name is called.  She is especially fixated with her big sister <3 
We got 2 videos and saw how she is progressing.  She is learning how to feed herself right now, which is great!  She is also learning to climb stairs!  This is especially good since her bedroom is upstairs :-).  Her favorite activities include going on slides.  Guess it's time to mount that slide we've had sitting in our yard all year!
It is likely she is still confined to a crib most of the day because now that she has a family coming for her the welfare institute won't be investing in her development and education.  They know she will reach her potential when she goes home.
Our immigration documents are now in the hands of officials who will process them.  Please pray for no complications and nothing being lost in the mail.  We had a big scare when the 39 pages we sent went missing in the tracking system for over a day.  They finally made it, but it makes it hard to trust our postal service.  Postal errors have already happened to us a few times this year.
Enjoy the pictures <3 We can't wait to look into those beautiful eyes soon!
And the little boys in the photos with her- they are her best friends. <3 I pray they find families soon if they haven't already!










Monday, October 23, 2017

Approved!

Another big milestone has been achieved  for our sweet Lottie Hope:  China has given their official approval to allow us to adopt her!

Here is the short of what's going on!
Our LOA (or Letter of Approval) was completed October 20th.  Today we got a soft copy (electronically) of the document so we could go ahead and complete the next step in the process: completing the immigration procedures in the United States to allow her to become an American Citizen upon arrival on U.S. soil.  Today I will overnight mail another 39 pages of documents to U.S. Immigration in Texas.  Within two weeks they will complete their final approval and then we will have information wired to the National Visa Center.  That will begin a chain of events with a couple other documents along the way to get Lottie's permission granted for a Visa to enter the U.S.  After all of that is completed our profile waits to be carried back to Beijing so we can be granted Travel Approval and ultimately an appointment with the U.S. Consulate office in Guangzhou, China.  Then we can purchase tickets and fly out about 2 weeks later!
All of these "tiny" but important steps are very complicated and seem to be getting tweaked every time I get information.  But the bottom line is we are on an approximate 10 week countdown to getting our "baby" girl!
We still have not received any updates on Lottie from her orphanage.  We've been told it may take another month before her orphanage takes photos and/or gives information about how she's developed this year and her height/weight/shoe size, etc.   I can't wait to see what she looks like at almost 5 years old and possibly even get word on if she understands who we are and is excited about her Mama and Baba coming to get her!
I hope the next blog post will be filled with new pictures of our daughter and news of more progress in our countdown to travel day!

Today we celebrated Lottie's big brother Nathanael's 8th birthday.  She wasn't here to celebrate with us, but we were all talking about her.  Nathanael asked if we could freeze a cupcake for her to eat when she gets home.  I told him we'd freeze a piece of her own birthday cake for her! Her 5th birthday is December 6th, and she's getting a party!  One day she can look back at the photos and know how much we were thinking about her as we waited to bring her home.

Someone recently asked me what it feels like to be adopting a child I've never met.  Many people choose adoption of a newborn, who they can meet from their first days.  Others adopt foster children who have lived with them for months to years.  There are some who host their children and bond with them before adoption plans are started.  We actually tried every one of those options for two years, but door after door closed!  But with Lottie, we are in love with a little girl we've never talked to or seen face to face.  We have a handful of pictures and a brief description of her personality.  Yet we want to fight for her, pray fiercely for her protection and nurture, long every day to hold her, and know the moment we meet her she will be forever ours, no matter what surprises or failed expectations await us.  She is our chosen daughter, hand picked among millions, to be entrusted into our family to be forever a Dixon.  And God's working of bringing her to us is written all over our journey.

This past Sunday Anna Faith sang a solo with her choir in the morning church service.  As I saw her stand there with her microphone, glancing over at us with a big smile and a thumbs up, I beamed with pride.  But when I heard the beautifully sung words come out of her mouth for all to hear "You give us life, You give us life, You give us life everlasting," tears welled up.  Yes, our beautiful girl is alive.  Her birthmother gave her life, and I am the blessed one to raise her as my child.  She has a life filled with love, nurture, and best of all, the upbringing in a Christ-filled home.  She has the opportunity to receive ETERNAL life!  Lottie is going to have the same, very soon.  She will be redeemed from a life void of family and love to a home that can't wait to have her here.  She will learn about Jesus with her siblings, and also have the opportunity to receive Jesus as her Savior and have life.  A beautiful life.

Please pray that God's will be done in the timing of our travel.  We have some still praying for a Christmas Gotcha Day for us, and while that would be completely amazing, we trust God knows best. It is in His hands.
Please also pray for our anxious hearts.  As the days draw nearer, my heart trembles more.  So many questions and unknowns are there, many more than with Anna Faith.  We know there will be potentially a lot of time spent on addressing issues and catching up to do with Lottie once she comes home.  Being confined to a crib for 23 hours a day (the average in China orphanages) for 5 years comes with a price.  She was also born with a special need, resulting in her abandonment.  That special need also has unanswered questions until she sees specialists in America.  So please pray we will lay all of this at the Lord's feet and be anxious for nothing.

Thank you all for your many words of encouragement through this long process.  We love you!




Saturday, September 9, 2017

Americans Have Dirty Shoes!

After a 2 1/2 week stay, we have had yet another international student come and leave Maple Hill Manor.  She was the first Japanese student we have housed, and we have learned a dearth of lessons from each other.  Some things have been interesting, like how our cultures dispose of a tooth a child has lost. But others have been eye opening to how we as Americans and Christians appear to outsiders.  The longer we spend with people of other cultures, the more I realize I don't have it all together.  I am in need of change, more brokenness, and a willingness to see life more clearly through other's perspectives.

Japanese culture should never be seen as "Asian culture".  Sure, they share the same continent as Chinese, Koreans, and Vietnamese people, and they all like to eat rice!  They all have black hair, they all have different shades of beautiful olive/tan skin, and their eyes are more oval shaped than caucasians.  But the similarities end just as quickly as they would if we compared ourselves to Mexicans in North America.  I have been just as guilty as the other person about passing general assumptions about culture and Asians.  We are still learning a lot!

Here are 10 big differences we discovered about each other: 

1.  Japanese have a strong fixation with clean feet.  Maybe this isn't every Japanese person, but culturally there is a preference for shoes to be placed at the door, for clean shoes to be ready indoors to walk with, and for the floors indoors to be always spotless.  No clothing, bedding, books, or personal items are ever placed on the floor, even for a short time.

2.  Hygiene is extremely important.  Keeping hair combed, teeth brushed, nails trimmed, skin clean and moisturized is a high priority to everyday life, and much time and effort is devoted several times a day to it.  One of the first nights she was here, our water had to be turned off for Kris to fix a leak going under our house.  Our student became very nervous because the faucets were not working for a couple hours.  She wanted to wash her hands but couldn't.   On top of that, she walked outside in her clean shoes and they got some dirt on them she could not immediately wash off (refer to #1).  She panicked!  We don't think much of it, but it made her extremely uncomfortable.

3. Toilet paper must be in abundant supply.  I don't know if this is all Japanese, but tissues and toilet paper are used for many purposes.  It is likely for hygienic purposes (note #2).  She went through one to two rolls a day, and when supplies ran low upstairs became very concerned she would run out!  I had to make an extra trip to the store once just to keep her amply supplied.

4.  Eating meals is a long event, not a rushed necessity.  She was shocked we eat meals quickly so we can leave for practices, events, and outings every day.  Japanese like to sit down and slowly eat, engage in conversation and take their time every meal before getting up from the table.  In our family (like many American young families) we rush to prepare a meal, sit down quickly, and as soon as we're done eating, we hop up and run to get ready to do what's on our nightly schedule.  This came as a shock because Japanese culture does not have nightly activities like we do.  This reflects on the  crammed/busy lifestyle Americans are known to have.  Japanese culture is much more relaxed and slow-paced, even in big cities like the one she comes from.

5.  Some Asian ethnicities love spicy food, but not Japanese!  Even a peppermint was overwhelming to our student, and we had to find her a drink after giving her a lifesaver in the car one day.  We are learning that we have to prepare blander foods for our Japanese friends.

6.  Americans are very emotional people.  Japanese hide their emotions, at least from people they don't have very close relationships with.  They don't show sadness, anger, fear, even excitement openly.  They are very even tempered at all times (on the surface).  I am an emotional person, especially when I am tired, rushed, or stressed.  These emotions on display in our home (accompanied by 4 loud, emotional children) was extremely shocking to her.  She didn't react by complaining or getting upset, but just sat in silence and occasionally retreated to her room and closed the door to get some peace and quiet!  

7.  Japanese are too polite to say no or disagree.  She would agree to do things with us, but when it was time to go, she would be in her room.  This was disconcerting to me since I'm a person of my word.  If I commit to something, you can be sure I'll do it.  Japanese culture isn't that way.  It is better to avoid saying no and then avoid confrontation when its time to go.  

8.  Japanese are much more modest than Americans.  I highly admire the girls we've met for this!  They haven't succumbed to Western culture that screams "the more skin you show the better you look".  We don't have to worry about our boys getting exposed to sights they shouldn't see when our Japanese friends are with us, even in the pool.

9.  White skin is better than tan skin!  It is very odd to Japanese that we like tan skin.  To them, pale skin is very beautiful and tan skin reflects being a part of the poor working class that has to be outdoors working all the time under the sun.

10.  Porta Johns are extremely disgusting.  I just had to add that one.  Poor girl,  she had to use one at a festival and I didn't think she'd ever recover.  Needless to say, we are never offering to take any Japanese girls camping with us!  



Now I'd like to share on a more transparent level what being in a home with a Japanese student has revealed to me about my heart.  

1.  I am too fixated on schedules.  Being pushed to get to all our appointments, events, and practices on time stress me out to the point of bringing on anxiety, migraines, and even meltdowns.  Trying to herd our crew into a van when no one seems to care whether we are on time or not drives me bananas.  I need to figure out how to handle this better, as it comes across as not trusting God and trying to be in control of my own little world.

2.  The more I serve others from other cultures, the more I realize American culture is not perfect!  There are so many things about our culture that come to light when we talk with students about theirs.  They are sometimes very surprised and delighted we do things differently, but other times they are shocked at our behaviors and practices.  Every culture has positives and negatives, and coming to realize that helps me be more sensitive to serving our friends best.  We as Americans can not be ethnocentristic (believing we are the superior culture) if we want to connect with others.  We can all learn from each other in humility! 

3. Whether a person of a different religion/worldview comes to faith in Jesus or not does not define whether or not we've been obedient in serving them well.  Every person who comes through the doors of our house will at some point hear the Gospel.  God opens doors for us to share our faith on a continual basis.  This is such a joy and answer to our prayers.  Maple Hill Manor is our mission field.  Yet the results of our sharing our lives, resources, blessings, and beliefs with others is not up to us.  It is an individual choice of every student we form a relationship with.  We can not coerce, manipulate, or force them to believe.  We only can be obedient to what God has called us to do, and that is to be His messengers, His hands, and His feet to others who need to experience His love and forgiveness.  It is often discouraging to me, but it shouldn't be.  Adoniram Judson spent 7 years in Burma before he saw the first person become a Christian.  Many other pioneers before us had to serve and share for years before they saw any lives changed.  So we will continue in hope and prayers that God knows what He's doing.  He will sovereignly do the work in their hearts through His Holy Spirit when His timing is perfect.  Every one of the students we love on will go home one day and carry these memories with them.  They all acknowledge to us as they leave that they appreciate our sharing with them about our faith.  They know it is something worth considering.  They understand it is why we do what we do.  We love them because God loves them.  We pray that the seeds that fall will penetrate their hearts...one day.  But we can't grow discouraged.

4.  To Whom much is given, much is required.  These are the words of Jesus in Luke 12:48.  I don't know why He chose me worthy to call me to this place.  This is not easy work.  Most days It weighs heavy on my heart.  I feel so much responsibility to find every opportunity I can to love on these students who consider us one of, if not the only ones, who are like family to them in America.  With all the other responsibilities I have as a wife to an extremely busy farmer, mother and educator of 4 (about to be 5) children, part time night shift nurse at a psychiatric hospital, friend to so many precious people in our community, and keeper of the huge historic home and grounds we are now up keeping, it overwhelms me.  God placed all of these things before me because He is good.  He is love.  He answered my prayer for each and every one of them (you should see my prayer list- He gives what we ask for, y'all!).  But the hardest thing is giving it all back to Him.  He wants us to manage, work, obey, and serve, but giving back the results in trust to Him.  That's really hard.  It is as if the message Jesus gave us in that verse is "If I give you much to do in My name, I expect you to use it much, but I also expect you to place it much in my hands for the results as well"

Thank you for taking the time to read of these lessons I'm learning.  International ministry can take so many different forms.  If you'd like to invest in the lives of international students, please pray for God to open doors for you.  He did for our family.  There is such a vast, vast need across our nation.  God is bringing them to us.  We need to go to them.



Saturday, July 29, 2017

Immigration Approval Complete!

The U.S. Immigration process, just like our home study, took longer than expected.  When we sent in our application on June 2nd, the process was taking about six weeks.  We asked prayer for it to take just four weeks.  We knew it had happened in the past, and if we wanted a good chance to get Lottie home for Christmas, our dossier had to get to China in July.  And the Dossier couldn't go to China until the Immigration Approval came in the mail from Homeland Security. 
So while we waited, we put together the other 12 documents required to send with our dossier.  Some documents were easy to process, while others (like a letter from our local police department) took multiple trips, phone calls, appeals to others in authority, and multiple attempts to get them just right so China would approve them.  One word or number off could result in major delays or even rejection of our adoption of Lottie.  As a person who is always in a hurry to get things completed, this has driven me crazy!  I have checked and rechecked every document and attached authentication (which has in itself been a huge headache- 5 authentications per document adds up to a lot of stress!).  I still have made errors resulting in mailing things back and returning to ask someone to do it over again.  But at least we didn't lose time in the process since immigration was taking so long anyway.
After 6 weeks our adoption agency worker suggested I call Immigration to inquire on our status.  Worse case scenario we wouldn't have been assigned an officer to review our application yet.  We knew they had logged us in as we'd received a notice and had been to Memphis for biometric fingerprinting as part of the approval process.  But when I called, I was told "You don't have an officer yet- so we're looking at under 51 days at this point".  My heart sank at this news.  Our hopes of a Christmas home going were dashed.  God wasn't going to answer this prayer the way we wanted.  
We were recommended by a friend to have a local congressman try to pull strings for us.  However, when signing a waiver they sent in the mail to receive our information, we were informed that it would take 4-6 weeks to get any response from their inquiry.  We knew then that our efforts to speed the process would not work.

Moments after receiving our 1800a immigration approval in the mail.
Anna Faith asked "Does this mean Lottie is coming home soon?!"
However, last Saturday (July 22nd) I checked the mailbox while on the phone with Kris who was at work, and to my surprise there was a letter from Homeland Security!  I was in shock as I opened it and it was an approval notice!  Just one week after inquiring, the approval went through.  
I asked our worker at that point "What are our chances of getting her before the end of the year?"  She answered "It is possible, but you better get praying.  There are so many variables at this point that it is hard to predict"  We took that as a "God can do this if He wills" answer!

Our friend Oliver, a local university student from China,
translated photos we are sending to Lottie's orphanage into Chinese
so her nannies can read to her about her family
who is coming soon to get her!
We ended it with "We love you and we are coming!"
So our USCIS 1800a approval has been signed by us, notarized by a friend, authenticated by the county clerk, sent to the Secretary of State of Tennessee, and is now in the hands of a courier in Washington D.C.  All of this has happened in just one week!  The courier will take it to the State Department on Monday, pick it up by the end of the week and deliver it to the Chinese Consulate, and sometime the following week have it ready to send to our adoption agency.  Our other 12 documents will be about one week ahead of this one and in the hands of our agency.  Our target date for shipment to China is August 12th.  That will give us 4 1/2 months to get to China before the end of the year.

Micah accompanied me for our last of many trips to the post office to mail out documents for our dossier.  It was a special moment!
This postal worker has seen a lot of us this spring and summer!
She asks about how things are going when we come in, as
I enjoy sharing with her where each package is going.
She stated before this picture"I'm glad I'm part of her story".
Gotcha Days (the day a child is delivered to their family) in China are typically on a Monday in most provinces.  When Kris and I looked at the date for the last Monday in 2017, guess when the day fell? It is Christmas Day.
We want to ask you to pray for something very specific.  God answers specific prayers.   Please pray our Gotcha Day for Lottie Hope will be December 25th.  As each step in China gets completed we will get a clearer picture of whether or not this is even possible.  There are many stages of approval to be cleared once our dossier arrives.  But we know God can do this.  It is still possible for our daughter to be in our arms for Christmas. Thank you for all your encouraging words as each phone call or letter in the mail can be either encouraging or heart breaking.  




Adoption isn't a fun, exciting process.  It is an anxiety producing, faith testing, patience developing, grace-showing and receiving experience.  And to be honest, the hardest part isn't the process.  It's when we bring her home.  We are already trying to prepare for the adjustment process and all the unknowns.  Bringing a 5 year old home who has only known a crib (yes, a crib at 5 years old) and four cement walls her whole life, has never heard a word of English, and who may or may not know how to trust, attach, and receive love, is a frightening thought for us.  Every child is different in how they handle changes as they come home.  She will not be running into our arms and begging us to take her to America.  She will cry, she will grieve, and she will be in shock at times.  This reality also needs to be bathed in prayer.

We hope to send an update soon when our dossier makes its first milestone in China!










Friday, June 2, 2017

China Specific Home Study Complete!

We thought it wouldn't take long.  The home study for domestic adoption was still active, just renewed a few months before.  We had been the China route before, so figured we knew what to do and how to move things along as quickly as possible.  We had only one home visit to deal with because our worker had already been to our home recently, so we thought that if our home study for Anna Faith took 3 1/2 months, this would take 3 months or less.
But we were wrong.
We didn't figure in the documents that went missing.  We didn't figure in the delays of social workers due to being held up and busy, or getting surgery.  No one caught a missing background check from when I was 18 and still living at home for a few months before moving out, until it was at the point of delaying us once again.
We have cried.  We have fumed.  We have prayed "Lord, please no more errors!".  We have wondered why a one week review has turned into a three week review, why a signature takes three days to be processed, why our papers would go back and forth between people at a snail's pace.
But we have learned with Anna Faith and are reminded again with Lottie Hope that God's timing is best.  If we hadn't waited two years for Him to bring us a daughter, we'd have never found Lottie on the waiting list.  So if our home study hadn't taken 4 months instead of our "expected" 3 or less months, then ......(fill in the blank)  will not be happening.
Maybe she isn't supposed to be home for Christmas.  Maybe God will show out and move the paperwork at lightning speed because it arrived on someone's desk on just the right day.  Maybe He just wants to teach us once again to trust Him when we don't understand.

So what happens now?
Our 1800a, a required document for Hague countries for the U.S. Homeland Security to allow Lottie to immigrate to the U.S.A. and become a citizen upon arrival, has been sent off today.  Sometimes the document only takes a couple weeks to process, sometimes it takes up to 2 months.  We would love for it to be one month or less, because that will give China five months to process our Dossier and send paperwork through all the channels to allow us to travel possibly before the end of the year.  Five months is not a guarantee we will travel by Christmas, but it will give us a decent chance.
If Immigration takes two months to approve our application, then our chances of travel before January are much slimmer.
So we are asking you to pray.
Please specifically pray that our immigration approval will process in less than one month.  Pray that if that doesn't happen, we will still trust God in all circumstances.
We don't want to look at an empty stocking this Christmas like we did while waiting for Anna Faith.  But if we do, as Anna Faith so positively exclaimed when asking about her sister recently, "We can give her Christmas presents when she comes home!".

Thank you for your support and encouragement.  We have crossed a big hurdle, and pray we'll get over this next one soon.  The more we work for and fight for our daughter, the more we love her.  That fierce Mama love just takes over me when I see that sweet face.  I will work sleepless nights, wrestle through a yard sale, and make whatever other sacrifices are necessary to get this girl home to our family.
Lottie at 14 months.  Isn't she a doll?!
She's worth the wait.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Match Made Only in Heaven: Introducing Lottie Hope

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. Proverbs 16:9

5 years ago we began a journey of adoption.  We knew God was calling us to adopt a total of 2-3 children, but we decided it wise to start with just one, a baby girl from China.  He led us to our Anna Faith, and what a wonderful blessing she has been to all of us!  She couldn't have been a better match for our family with her personality, joy, and affection.  We know God created her to be a Dixon.
Yet from the beginning, we knew there was at least one more daughter somewhere in the world who God was preparing for us.  We didn't know who she was, but we have been praying for her for almost as long as we've been praying for Anna Faith.  

We were so certain Anna Faith would have a sister that when we set up her room, we got two sets of bedding and a bunk bed.  We even bought two of a couple special gifts so the sisters could match.  
Yet two years ago, after her 5 rounds of surgery were completed and we felt we were ready to add a second daughter to our family, we had no idea where the second paper pregnancy would take us.
Most of you have been following our long, difficult road to adoption.  We tried domestic infant adoption first.  We printed off several profile books, met with a lawyer who promised us we would be matched in a matter of time, visited several crisis pregnancy centers, hospitals, and OBGYN offices, asking them to share with birth mothers that there was a loving family who was willing and able to take in the baby girl she couldn't raise herself.  But month after month passed and no phone calls came.
We then saw the open door to host orphans from Eastern Europe.  After our first hosting, we pursued adoption of L, a beautiful girl we fell in love with.  Certainly she wanted a family of her own.  But sadly, she didn't.  She rejected us due to reasons we'll never completely understand and our hearts were crushed.  

So after experiencing that loss we decided to foster.  Even if we couldn't adopt a foster child, we at least wanted to care for young girls in need of a family while we had room in our home for them, even if it be for short periods of time.  After a seven month process of being put off repeatedly to be certified, we got our license.  But once again, the phone calls never came.  It wasn't until later that it was explained to us that because of living in such a rural county in KY, we likely wouldn't get calls except in the rare occasion of a more populated county's foster families having all their homes exhausted with other placements.  So several months went by again with no children.
In the meantime we once again hosted, this time a sibling group that had no other hope of a family for the summer.  We knew from the beginning (due to logistical and family reasons) we likely couldn't adopt them, but because we were their last chance of being picked (it was the last day of matching) we chose them.  We fell in love with these two children, and as hard as it was, we chose not to pursue adoption.  The Lord told us in a still, quiet voice "They aren't yours.  They belong to someone else".  We advocated, gave, and prayed every day, and at the very last moment of opportunity, the Lord led a family to host them for Christmas.  Now they are in the process of being adopted by that very family.  

Because of this long journey, God has done so much.  Not only have our hearts changed as we've waited and prepared for our next daughter, but He has used us in several lives.  We are so grateful for that opportunity!
Because of our move over the state line to Tennessee in January, we had to close our home as a foster home.  To switch to a new state system would take several more months of trainings, visits, and money.  We just weren't ready to go through it all again so soon.
So in January we had to make a decision: update our domestic home study in our new home in Tennessee or switch to international?  Should we continue to wait for a newborn baby to be matched with us locally or pursue a little girl in a different country this time?  We had reached a crossroads and weren't sure what to do.
A week after we moved into our new home, which is another incredible story in itself of God's provision and blessing, a Taiwanese family stayed with us for a week while they waited to return home to Taiwan after studying at the local university here.  Things were chaotic.  We were still unpacking, the kids were beginning back with homeschool in a new setting with different schedules and people around them, there were several rooms not ready to be used yet in the house, and we were at an all time high-stress mode.  In the middle of that week Kris showed me an email he got regarding orphan hosting.  We frequently get emails advocating for orphan hosting and adoption because of our interests.  This email caught his eye because several Chinese orphans had been given full scholarships for hosting this spring.  They could come to America for FREE, but just needed families to commit to them. This was a very unique opportunity that doesn't come around often at all!  The only girl in the group was beautiful.  We couldn't have a well thought out talk about it because of all the chaos, so sat on the idea a while.  When we finally decided to pursue hosting this girl, several days had gone by.  When I called the agency, they told me she had just been chosen by another family.  My heart sank.  But then she went on to tell me about several other younger girls she had files on who desperately needed forever families. They could not be hosted, but could be put on hold immediately for adoption.  I wanted to say "Whoa, lady!  I was just calling about a free hosting opportunity, not a commitment to adopt a little girl!  We haven't even decided if we want to adopt internationally right now or not yet!"  I let her talk though, and took notes.  I assumed Kris was going to shoot down the idea of adoption immediately because we just hadn't talked much about it yet.  But when I talked to him on the phone about the several little girls immediately available to commit to, he got excited!  We requested to see their files and were at a loss.  We were still in a high level of chaos in our home.  We were working late into the night every night after he got home from work to get things done to parts of our house to make it livable.  Yet we needed to make an immediate decision about adopting one of those sweet little faces from across the world?
I was drawn to a little 4 year old.  Her smile stuck in my memory and wouldn't fade away.  It was as if she was looking right at me from that photo.  
We sat on it for a week.  We prayed, I researched, and we waited.  When there was a time of calm, we sat down and talked.  That little 4 year old- she had been waiting for two years with a file ready.  Yet no one had adopted her yet.  Now that she's four her chances of being chosen are fading rapidly.  Almost everyone wants a 1-2 year old.  There are enough of them in the orphanages that the older ones get picked through and passed over because they usually have more significant delays the longer they live in their orphanage.  
We looked at her photos again, and we decided.  It is her.  She is our daughter.  We must fight for her and bring her home.
I sent the email, and the process began.  We started collecting documents, printing off long applications and instructions, contacting our social worker, and the Letter of Intent was sent on to go to China.  Then we waited.
A couple days went by and I contacted our agency director about the status of our request.  She replied that it all was done correctly by us and arrived in China, but there was a problem they were trying to figure out.  She said "Another agency may have your file and there may be another family trying to request the child you requested".  We were in shock.  After sorting through all the questions and confusion, we were told that our girl's file was accidentally handed over by the Chinese adoption officials to another agency.  That agency had an interested family who was reviewing her file and hadn't committed to adopt her yet.  China was going to give that family a full week to decide whether or not to request to adopt her before they would give us the opportunity, and only if that agency were to give us her file back.  We were heartbroken and confused.  
So we waited all week and only asked a select few people to pray that God would do His will.  We had already chosen her name!
Two days before the week of waiting was up, while I was sitting at the computer, a fellow adoptive friend sent me a message.  She is in the process of adopting a daughter from China as well through a different agency.  There are dozens upon dozens of agencies that do Chinese adoptions, and we had no idea which agency had our girl's file in their possession.  In her message she sent me a photo of our girl with information about her and how she needed a family.  It came from her agency to all of their families!  I couldn't believe my eyes.  Her agency had the file!  And since the family that was considering her just rejected her, the agency representative was trying to find another family for her!  My friend gave me the number of her agency's director so I could speak with her personally.  Long story short, if it weren't for my calling this director we likely would have never gotten the file back on our daughter in order to ask China for permission to adopt her.  She heard my plea, called the people under her, and assured me she would resolve the issue.
I still can't wrap my mind around this.  What are the chances that one of the couple of people who we had even shared our daughter's photo with could possibly be connected with one of the dozens of adoption agencies that could have had her file, and could have at the right moment opened the email that was just sent and immediately be able to contact me so I could contact their agency director personally and get things resolved?  It is only God.  Plain and simple.  That is the only way this can be explained!
So very long story short, we were able to officially submit our request two days later, on February 20th.  After a ten day wait to hear back from China, we received a letter granting us preliminary approval to adopt her, granted all our documents reach China by August of this year!
So with no further ado, we present to you our Lottie Hope:

She and Anna Faith are just 16 months apart, just like our first two boys.  Anna Faith is thrilled to finally have a little sister!  We are overjoyed that little Lottie will be so close in age to her that they can grow up together.  Because of her reported personality of being gentle, quiet, and loving, we already are confident they will be inseparable!  

We never began the road to our second adoption intending to go with a Chinese adoption again.  But God knew.  He had it planned from the beginning.  So as Proverbs 16:9 says, we can make our plans, but the Lord will establish our steps.  We know now that we weren't ready for Lottie two years ago.  The Lord wanted to use us in other orphans' lives first.  He wanted to give L. a family to love her and share the Gospel with her, even if it wasn't through adoption.  He knew that E and E needed us first before they could find their forever family.  Now they are on their way to being a part of a loving Christian home.  He was preparing Lottie all this time and our hearts were being prepared for her.

We can't wait to wrap our arms around her as her Mama and Baba!

We chose Lottie for her first name because of an amazing missionary named Lottie Moon.  This woman spent most of her life in China sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the Chinese people.  She died in China after literally giving her life so that others could live.  We want Lottie growing up knowing she can live a life surrendered to Jesus just like this great woman of faith did. We chose the middle name Hope because hope has brought us to her.  We have hoped and prayed for many years for her, and God has granted us our request.  We also know that by adopting her, we will be able to introduce her to hope as well: hope of a future and hope in knowing Jesus as her personal Lord and Savior.
If you are wondering what we will call her, she will just go by Lottie!  

Please be in prayer for us, that the Lord will provide everything we need for this adoption in a timely manner, that there will be no delays or issues internationally as we go through the process. We also pray that God will graciously allow her to be home by Christmas.  While this is a possibility, there are many variables in our wait and we do not know within a 3-4 month window when we will be able to travel to China to get her.  We will give regular updates as we complete  the many steps along the way!

Thank you for joining this leg of our adoption journey with us.  We are so excited that after waiting two years, we finally have a name and face for our daughter.  We are already in love! She will be so worth it!


Monday, August 29, 2016

I don't want to be a Foster Parent!

Ever feel like you and God keep having a conversation that doesn't end?  Like when you try to come up with as many really good reasons as you can to not do something you know in your heart He wants you to do?

Lately this is the internal conversation I've been having with the Lord:

1.If you wanted us to be foster parents, you would have done it by now.  If a worker is too busy to certify us for 7 months, that means you are closing a door.
God: My timing is perfect.  Just wait.

2. We hurt every time a host child is taken from us.  The grief is overwhelming for our entire family and it takes us a month or more to recover every time they have to say goodbye.  We aren't tough and resilient enough to do this job.
God: That is why I want YOU.  You love them like I love them, and that's why it hurts. I will heal you.

3. I am exhausted with my own four children.  They drain me almost every day with homeschool, activities, and discipline issues.
God: I will give you the strength.  My power is made perfect in your weakness.

4. What if we get a child we can't handle?  What if they have issues we don't know how to deal with?
God: I am sovereign, and nothing takes me by surprise.  Trust me.  I have a plan.

5. Why can't we just drop everything and write a big check to get a baby through an agency?  We are guaranteed to have a newborn, forever daughter in three months or less- wouldn't that just be easier?
God: This is my plan for you.  If you take another way, it is not of me right now.  Wait.

6. We are the pioneers in fostering among our friends.  Why do we always have to be the first ones in ventures like this?   Many of them think we're crazy!
God: Take the lead, and others will follow.

7. Do I really want to be under the scrutiny of the social welfare system?  We like to live our own private lives, not live in a home with constant visits of workers who will criticize us for breaking their rules and regulations.
God: Live your life before all men, and they will see Me in you.  I am creating opportunities for you to shine your light in your home.

8.  Why do we face opposition from those we love?  If we don't have support, we can't do this well.
God:  If I am for you, who can be against you?  If you are facing opposition because of your obedience to me, then you are blessed.

9.  What if we never get placements?  All of this will have been for nothing.
God: Trust me.

10.  We could have a child who has to be returned to an abuser who we don't see as safe.  How could be possibly allow that to happen?  It would break our hearts and make us so bitter!
God: Trust me.

11.  Fostering will be one of the hardest things we've ever done.  Everyone who has been touched by the system is telling us this.  We are already stressed, worn out, and scarred from loving and losing.  How can we survive doing this over and over again?
God: Trust me.

I don't want to be a Foster Parent.  I am already angry and frustrated with the foster system and we haven't even signed our contract yet (but it's probably been sitting on someone's desk for quite a while now).  I want to fix a broken system, or at least give a piece of my mind to some people about how they are hurting children by not doing their jobs well, and then wash  my hands of it.  Yet God continues to remind me that it's not about me and what my flesh wants or doesn't want.  It's not about good or bad workers.  It's not about a government-run entity that is in desperate need of an overhaul.  It's about glorifying Him through our obedience and service.  It's about caring for the precious children He's created: the least of these.  The neglected, abused, abandoned, tossed-aside children in our midst who need love and nurture, a home that is safe and full of Jesus.

So even though I don't want to be a foster parent, I will continue to stand in this open door.  The door that has been open since February which we are still waiting with weary hearts to walk through.  One day, maybe soon, but maybe on the other side of heaven, we'll find out why we were called to this, and what God's plan was.  But until then....
 We obey.
 We trust.
 We persevere.






Saturday, August 20, 2016

Why I don't mind glitter anymore

Glitter.  It's a plague to most moms of littles.  Pull the stuff out and kids go nuts.  They dump it all over their craft, their clothing, the floor, track it all over the house. And then that gorgeous craft they proudly created sheds it all over the house until Mom can't stand it anymore and dumps it in the trash when they're not looking.  Then when Mom thinks it's gone, it shows up in nooks and crannies of the house for weeks and months to come.
This is how I've seen glitter in the past.  Not anymore.
Today my Chinese-American daughter (a title she proudly holds) had her first birthday party with friends.  She turned 5 this week, and wanted nothing else for her birthday other than to have a princess party with her friends.  She loves having little girls over.  It is something she treasures and brings more joy than a car load of new Barbies.
Maybe it's because she's had sisters she's gained and lost and craves the company of other "sisters", even if it be for just a couple hours.
Mommy understands that void.  That is why I don't mind glitter.

Glitter represents the fact that I have a daughter.  This daughter was a daughter we chose, we were called to, we were gifted with through the sovereign hand of God.  5 years ago this week this same daughter was abandoned at the entrance to an orphanage, given a chance at life and love by a birth mother who knew she'd never see her again.  This daughter is a treasure to me, and she didn't come to us easily or with little sacrifice or expense.  So I don't mind the glitter.

Glitter also reminds me of our two host daughters we've had live with us in the past year.  The fun they had with glitter was enough to make them giddy.  They loved pulling out projects and making messes in our classroom.  Both of them would have loved to have been here to celebrate with us today. Most recently I look at our last host daughter, E's, glittery handiwork she left us on the walls and a tear still comes to my eyes.  Just today, after the party, she connected with us, chatting about how she misses us, our Bear dog, loves us very much and wants to talk to us.  We still couldn't get a conversation to work on our computers but we tried so hard.  We exchanged photos and heart emojis. Two weeks of separation across the world still feels like two days.  I miss her and her brother dearly.
So I don't mind glitter.

I look in my daughter's bedroom and see the empty space, space reserved for a crib.  The tubs of baby clothes and items we're keeping close by in case the call comes and we need to run to the hospital to bring our new daughter home.  It's been 1 1/2 years of waiting, for a match, but every time the phone rings my heart still leaps and I run to see the caller ID.  If this new little one makes double the messes with glitter, I won't mind.  She can make 4X the mess, and I'll still sigh and smile.  Because that means she'll be here, and we'll have her in our arms.
So I don't mind glitter.

I don't have big news to share about our adoption journey.  We do know we are still moving forward with being foster parents, for now.  After a 7 month wait to be approved (thanks to a very "busy" worker) we still haven't received any placements of children, but we've been assured it will be very soon.  Where this fits in God's plan for our family in the long run, we don't know.  We're just being obedient to His call to care for the least of these.  As for our hosting journey, it is ending for now.  We desperately want to see E and E find a forever family.  They would thrive in an adoptive home where they can be given the time, nurture, and unconditional love they need and respond so well to.  We will be heavily advocating for them to be hosted and adopted in the months to come.  If our family situation were different, we'd be pursuing them in a heart beat.  If you or someone you know is interested in pursuing these precious children, please let me know.  We want nothing more than God's best for them and want to be their biggest cheerleaders. 

While this seems like a perpetual wait for us, as we walk in and out of doors of opportunity, we can sit in discouragement or walk in joy.  Some days there are honestly mixes of both.  It has been emotionally, spiritually, and relationally exhausting.   God is teaching us that this journey is not about us or our gaining another forever child or children.  Instead, it's about glorifying Him in our care for the fatherless, whether it be transient, from a distance, or for forever.

So glitter doesn't bother me anymore.  






Friday, July 1, 2016

They Call Me Mommy

We're on day five of thirty-eight days of hosting "Big Bro" E and "Little Sis" E.  While I want to share all the wonderful things about these children God has so sovereignly ordained to be in our home for the summer, I can't help but think about the road that brought them to me as their "Mommy" for the summer.

God weaves our story in such an intricate way.  It is so complex we never can fully see all the details of the journey until we reach heaven.  While watching these six beautiful children entrusted to me, ages 4 1/2 to just turned 11, play in the pool yesterday, I started thinking back to how we got to where we are right now.
Kris and I had three biological sons in just 3 1/2 years.  It was a high-energy, keep you on your toes kind of life back then.  Why God brought my children to me in that time frame is hard to understand, but right now I'm seeing a piece of the answer.  If they weren't that close together, I would have never been conditioned to handle the demands of children at such an intense level.  If they weren't all boys, I would never have felt a piece of our family was missing.  I wouldn't have sat dreaming of adopting a girl one day and wouldn't have purchased the book Orphanology.  If Kris hadn't read that book, God wouldn't have an avenue to convict his heart about adoption.  If we hadn't chosen China, and God hadn't led my eyes on that Waiting Children page to see Anna Faith's photo that discouraging night after we didn't get a match with a child that month, we would have never been able to choose her.  If we hadn't chosen her, we'd have never had a child with congenital nevi, and joined an online support group filled with families of children with nevi.  If I hadn't have been on that support group, I would have never seen the opportunity to host orphans through a host mom who friended me and whose hosting story I read about last spring.  If we had been chosen by a birth mom last year we would have never decided to host orphans.  If we hadn't  hosted "L" last summer, we would have never thought we could love a child and let her go, and would have never pursued fostering children. If we hadn't been delayed three months by a busy social worker to be certified as foster parents, we would have never had the opportunity to host again.  On that last night of matching when we inquired about hosting, knowing the child or children's last chance of being hosted likely rested with us, the interviewer encouraged us to choose E and E over any other child we could logistically have in our home.  And here they are.  And they are thriving.  And they are lighting up our home with more love, more laughter, more hugs and more "I love you's".  And we are blessed more than they ever could be.
The financial sacrifice, the immense amount of energy required, the trading of a relaxing summer out of school for a summer filled with investing love, cooking and serving food every hour to ravishing little bodies, and answering countless questions and requests in a different language are all worth it.
And putting another piece of our hearts on the plane in less than five weeks, well, we know what that feels like now.  And it will be worth it too.

Little Sis is a communicator.  She mixes her own language with English quite often, because she gets excited about something and can't get her words straight.  So we use a translator app on my phone quite regularly.   She can be a tough girl and get right in with the boys to play, but enjoys playing with Anna Faith with dolls and crafts as well.  Big Bro is more stoic, with a tough exterior but a gentle heart.  He has a soft spot for hugs and being a gentleman, and loves getting pumped up with compliments about his character and sports skills.  While he seems to understand quite a bit of English, he is more reserved about talking and leaves it to his sister unless she isn't around.  Both of them are very bright and are building on their English very quickly!
I don't want to compare with our previous hosting experience.  Each orphan has their own story, their own trauma, their own makeup and personalities, and every experience with orphans is going to be different.  However, I can already see that these two kids are forming a bond with us like I haven't experienced before.  Just this morning I was given this:
Last night we were told "I love you" before we could say it first.  Every morning I am greeted with a bear hug from each child as I walked out of my bedroom door.  This first week is called "The honeymoon week" where most children are on their best behavior and aim to please their host families.  On week two behaviors are usually at their worst, as the children test their boundaries and see just how much their host parents love them.  We experienced this in the past and are ready for it, but in the meantime it is wonderful to see good manners, appreciation, courteousness, immediate obedience, and no whining or complaining!


These two are so brave.  They have come across the world to strangers who speak a different language, eat different foods and have different customs.  Why did they want to be hosted?  We will ask them that eventually.  I do know this.  It wasn't for stuff.  They would rather be with us playing in the yard and just hanging out together than shopping, looking over their gifts in the closet (though they are very appreciative!), or doing big outings.  They have never even asked about what we have planned.  They just want to be with their family!







I know what many of you are thinking.  Believe me, we've already been asked, by several people.  Please let Kris and my decision about our future with these children be kept private, without outside opinions, and please do not assume we will make a huge decision simply because we absolutely adore these children.  So many factors come into play when permanency is pursued, and while we know God called us to host them, that is all we know and have decided to do right now.  The "A" word can not be mentioned in their presence so please do not mention it!
What we do want to talk about with you is how we can pray for them, how we can encourage you and those you know to host orphans, care for orphans, and how we can love them best.
Here are some of my favorite pictures from this week:











As for the children's status spiritually, we have yet to find out what their understanding of the Gospel is.  They do know how to pray memorized prayers and Little Sis volunteers to pray before meals.  They also have an affiliation with some sort of Christian church in their country (I was told this by the interviewer who met them in their home).  We have been and will continue to pray for a clear understanding in their hearts of what Jesus has done for them and what it means to be a true follower of Christ.  And we pray we may be a part of their journey to come to know the Lord if they haven't already.

Specific prayer requests:
- Please pray for continued bonding with E and E
-Pray that our children will learn to show each other grace and will be able to model obedience and forgiveness to E and E.
-Pray for strength and energy for us, especially me (Tonya) as I am with all of the kids almost every hour of the day.  I have to devote almost every moment of their waking hours caring for the children, and it takes its toll on me physically and emotionally.
-Pray for improved communication between us and rapid English learning.  They have so much to say!
-Pray for good vision and dental visits!  We really don't want to have traumatic, potentially expensive dental experiences again this hosting.  It can cause so much fear when these children come from a country with very rustic dental treatment.
-Pray for their salvation!!


Thank you all for your encouraging words and prayers!