Thursday, January 18, 2018

Packing Our Bags- the final week of waiting!

For those of you women who have biological children, imagine being pregnant for three years.  You were told at the beginning of this pregnancy "You may deliver next month, you may deliver next year, or it may take several years.  You may have several false alarms, discouraging diagnosis about your little one, and they may even not make it to birth, but you must be strong and pray, because God is calling you into this pregnancy".  That may sound bizarre, impossible to wrap your mind around, or absolutely fascinating.  But it is the reality for our family.  Almost three years ago to the day, we entered our second paper pregnancy.  And we are fixing to go into labor!

Why all the clothes?  Laundry services are more expensive at our hotels than buying cheap clothing, so it is better to just pack as much as we can!
Paper Pregnancy is actual pregnancy with some stark differences to a typical, healthy physical pregnancy.  It results in a child being brought into a family, but that is about where the similarities end.
There are neither guarantees nor predictable dates.
There may be many milestones and many setbacks, and sometimes there may be years of waiting between each one.
Your child will grow in your heart, not your belly.  That love will grow to such immense proportions you will feel consumed by that love to do the impossible, to spend whatever it takes, to go however far the journey requires, and to exhaust your mind and body to the point of taking years off your life.
But that is your child, and even though there is no baby bump for the world to see, he or she is just as much a part of you as if they were growing inside your womb.
I can make these comparisons, because I've been on both sides of the coin.  Honestly, physical pregnancy, though because of complications could have cost me my life (with my firstborn) and caused me pain, physical discomfort, and sleepless nights, has still been worlds easier on my heart and body than adoption.

I'm not saying all this to make us adoptive families out to be heroes.  We aren't supermen and women.  We are simply called to something absolutely amazing- redeeming a child into a forever family.  A child who can carry our name, and say "I belong to them".  A child who is entrusted to us to be raised in the ways of the Lord, displayed the Gospel to day by day, and trained to be an ambassador for Christ.

Last weekend we took our annual vacation but it doubled as a baby moon!
Lottie Hope is waiting for us.  The medical update sent to the American Embassy was given to us last week after we requested it.  When we read what she is currently doing, we received confirmation more than ever that this little girl was created to be a Dixon.
First day was The Ark Encounter, then second day was this cool indoor center in Cincinnati!
The entire week we have had snow and ice outdoors!  It's beautiful!
Lottie takes around our photos several times a day and points to each of our pictures, introducing us in a non-verbal way.  She is so proud of her family who is coming for her!  She is said to be "a smart girl".  She can't verbalize much at all because of her special need/delays, but she has taught herself signs to communicate.  She helps other children get ready for bed, she helps fold laundry, she loves to hold her friends' hands and give hugs.  She knows the names of every child.  She is said to be "a little angel" when participating in activities in the orphanage.  Her favorite foods are the EXACT same foods our Anna Faith loves.  They have identical personalities, except Anna Faith loves to gab and be the influencer in the group.  Lottie is such a compliant girl I can already see her getting along beautifully with her new big sister.
This week began by finalizing child care schedules, writing instructions, and making out the boys' medical forms

Here is a simple time line of what is ahead:

January 24th fly out
January 25th arrive in Beijing, China
We will visit in Beijing with a former UTM student we hosted, who lives and works in the city.  She is taking care of all the details for us those 2 days and is very excited to be able to host US for a change!
 January 28th take a train to Nanjing, the provincial capital of Jiangsu Province.  It is a province adjoining to Shanghai.
 January 29th we go get our girl!
January 30th sign papers to make her officially ours!
 February 2nd fly to Guangzhou
 February 7th Lottie has a Consulate Appointment to be able to get a Visa to go home to the USA.
 February 9th we receive her Visa and take a train to Hong Kong.
 February 10th fly home!

Up goes the baby gate!  We don't know how brave Lottie will be- she's still learning to go up stairs.
Our boys are going to be staying with 8 different families in our area while we are gone.  They are both excited and anxious.  It has been 5 years since we left them this long and it won't be easy to do it again.  We are so appreciative to the families who are taking time, energy, and resources
to love on them and meet this big need!

Buying gifts at Walmart for about 20 various workers in China, and 18 gifts for our boys for every day we're gone.  Don't forget our travel snacks, extra thick socks and more underwear!

Anna Faith keeps drawing pictures- I can't erase this one in our kitchen.  Note the "5" and "6" (years).  They are on every one she draws!

As much as is possible, we will post daily to share our adoption story with you, just as we did with Anna Faith.  We are so glad you are on this journey with us, praying for us each step of the way.  If you tell us that Lottie is such a lucky girl, I will politely disagree.  WE are the blessed ones.  And she is not lucky.  Luck has nothing to do with her story.  God has chosen her, we answered the call to wait for and seek her out until He said "yes", and we GET to be her forever parents!

Gifts for our boys to open for every day we're gone.  They are mostly their favorite treats , but they will be daily reminders we will really miss them.

Please be in prayer for us on departure day.  January 23rd will be very hard for everyone as we see off our three boys.  They understand this is part of the process, but it will still be hard being left behind.
Please also pray for safety for our entire family during this trip.
Pray for health- we have dodged illness so far this winter but the flu and other illnesses are running rampant right now in our area.  We can't get sick!
Pray for our hearts- that we will not be anxious and we will trust God in every detail of our trip.
On the back of each day's card is a message about where we are, what to pray for, and a Scripture verse to read with a promise.

We love you!  Thanks for remembering us and for all your encouragement!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Joy Comes in the Morning: The Delay is OVER!

Psalm 30:1-12 You turned my wailing into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.  LORD my God, I will praise You forever.

For 27 days we only received bad news after bad news.  There was no update on our situation, other than that the Embassy wanted a medical update on Lottie before they would send her file on to Beijing for Travel Approval.  The embassy will not tell anyone what warrants their scrutiny of the orphans' medical files and justification for this.   They only say they want to expose any corruption in the Chinese government.
Our agency only gave us one update in this entire time period, and it was bad news: no medical report has been turned into the adoption authority office for translation yet.  That was the latest we received, two weeks ago.  Since then my heart has been despairing.  The end was not in sight.  Updates that were supposed to come didn't come.  I felt that silence just meant more bad news.  For some reason Lottie was not getting taken to the hospital for updated medical information.
Yesterday was the worst day yet.  I felt so beaten down, so ashamed of my lack of faith, that I didn't even want to face my friends.  Satan was winning this battle of faith in God and I knew it.
Then last night, on a whim, a thought crossed my mind.  I should check the embassy database to see if Lottie's case had been updated recently.  That was the only way we could get information on our own- to see if her immigration status had been revised.  We hadn't checked it in about 3 weeks.
I looked, and to my amazement, on January 3rd, there was an update to her case.  That's all I knew.  I told Kris, and we immediately began looking for the embassy phone number to ask personally what was going on.  Kris got a hold of an agent, and as soon as he introduced himself, she knew exactly who we were! She said, "Yes, you have Article 5 Approval now".  The entire kitchen broke into emotion.  Kids were crying, hugging, jumping up and down, it was so loud Kris had to leave the room to continue to talk to her!
For those who don't understand what Article 5 Approval is, that equates to: "the medical update
was turned in to Beijing, translated, sent to the embassy, and was approved and sent on for pick up for Travel Approval".  All of these events happened over the last few weeks and we were completely in the dark until we called!

So our Article 5 is on it's way to Beijing and will be arriving tonight!

Within 2-5 business days we expect to have Travel Approval!

That's when things get tricky. Unfortunately, Chinese New Year is February 16th.  Because of the upcoming holiday in China, there will be lots of closures to offices.  We have a chance of slipping in to get a Consulate Appointment before the New Year, but we may have to wait until the week after.  That puts us at a 3 week range of when we could travel.

But at this point, it doesn't matter that much!  We are just overjoyed we're going to get our girl!

When we have Travel Approval and a Consulate Appointment (usually comes the next business day) we can buy tickets and make all the needed plans.  We will share all the exciting details with you then!
I have been told we have LOTS of people praying for us.  I know some of you really didn't know what to say during this month of discouragement, heartache, anger, and waiting indefinitely to hear something.  We know you still love us.  We know you were praying.  God answered, in HIS timing,  not ours.  But we are once again overwhelmed by His faithfulness.

So much lies ahead.  Our journey with the newest member of our family is just beginning.  There are so many unknowns before us.  But we know who is holding our hand, and we know many are bridging the gap for us.  We are so thankful for you all.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

When the Silence is Deafening

Every time I turn around there is more bad news.

I always try to be positive in my posts, but this one will be different.
We are discouraged.  We feel defeated.  We are depleted of our enthusiasm to adopt.
Right now adoption stinks.  Right now we would punch in the face anyone who came up to us saying "Awww, you are adopting?  I'd like to do that some day.  It would be fun!"
It's not fun. It's the farthest thing from fun.  Adoption is torture on your heart.  It is a wrestling within to fight the voices without saying "Why are you putting yourself through this?  Why add another child?  Aren't you already too busy?  You should be doing other things with your time.  Spend your money on something else."  The comments go on and on.  It is a struggle to fight tooth and nail for a child, working against government red tape, regulations, very high expenses, and paperwork that goes on for miles to bring them home.
I know we are near the finish line.  But this is that last short leg of the marathon of 3 years when we're gasping for air, have an injured, overworked heart, and are looking around for someone to resuscitate us, just so we can crawl across the finish line to get our daughter.
We battle anger.  The delay from the embassy was not called for.  It can not be justified.  The embassy has done this as a political reaction to a campaign to expose corruption in China.  It is not corruption to have a little girl wait for 3 years to be adopted an have a medical report considered outdated.  It's not her fault. It's not our fault.  We will take her without an updated medical file.  She's going to get a doctor visit as soon as we return home anyway.  It's not fair to her or us.
We battle trusting God.  He allowed this to happen.  I try to stay strong for our kids on the outside but they see my tears too.  They ask "Why does God let this happen?" I answer in my most theological voice "Because He only gives us His best, and His best is still coming.  Getting her on Christmas Day wasn't the best, so we should be excited that what is coming is even better".
But sometimes those words feel so empty.
Our hearts are tired.  Our bodies are weak.  We dread looking at Facebook posts giving more negative news like delays with travel because of the upcoming Chinese New Year.  So once we are finally approved to travel, we likely will still have to wait several weeks.
This period was not expected.  This "stage" in the adoption process didn't exist before.  And those of us caught up in this political campaign are left with no answers, no time line, no help to get things moving.  The wait for families with this delay can be 3 weeks minimum.  Ours is already longer.  The maximum has been 100 days.  All to prove a point in a corruption campaign against China.
Lottie's updated medical report was requested either on December 7th or the week before.  It still has not been turned in to the Beijing office to be translated and then forwarded on to the Embassy for a review.  Translation may take 2 weeks waiting, the Embassy may take about a week, and then Travel Approval will come about a week after that.  We may have to wait 3 or 4 weeks to travel instead of one week like previously hoped.  But none of this time line will happen until her medical report arrives in Beijing.  We have no communication with her orphanage and no explanation why it is taking them so long to take her to the hospital for a physical and required blood tests.
Please pray for us.  Please don't condemn us or judge us for not having enough faith.  Please don't try to put yourself in our shoes.  You can't understand unless you've been there.  Our pain is not the same pain as the death of someone, it is not the pain of having cancer, it is not the pain of missing a child who is away from home.  The longing for a child you have been stripped of at the last moment, unjustifiably, of the ability to get after a three year wait, when it was going to be Christmas Day, can not be described in words.
We are starting back homeschool today without her.  When we began our spring semester she was supposed to be scribbling in a coloring book and playing with play dough as we worked.  But her chair is empty.  It hurts.  It enrages me.  It makes me want to cry bitter tears and punch the daylights out of the embassy official who had the power to do this to prove a point.
I hate the sin that caused this.  And after this is over, we will not be silent any longer.  When our daughter is safely home, away from any government official who can flex their power muscle and keep a child from their parents, we will make our voice heard.  This never should happen again. Not like this.  Not at the expense of the families trying to be completed and orphans redeemed and rescued.  The US Embassy messed with the wrong parents.
When Lottie is home, we invite you to join us in an outcry.  I will give more details after our adoption is complete.  We can't get her home sooner, but we work to prevent it from happening again.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Hope For Christmas

This post was supposed to be an announcement that we got the go ahead to get tickets to China today.  This morning other families with the same time line as us are excitingly sharing their travel plans after getting confirmation that their little ones will be in their arms on Christmas Day.

But we are not one of them.

On Thursday last week, the day our Article 5 was scheduled for pick up after sitting in the US Embassy for 17 days for a final review, the representative from our adoption agency came to retrieve it to overnight it to Beijing.  Within 2 to 5 business days we would be given the go ahead to buy tickets and, if all went well with appointments, leave the following week, on December 20th.  However, we received a phone call from our agency with shocking, unexpected news.

We have been delayed.

We did everything right.  Our agency did everything right.  China had all the approvals and information they were required to have in compliance with the Hague Convention.  But the Embassy needed another piece of information that somehow was overlooked in all the steps of approval over the last six months.  We don't know what it is.  We may have to wait weeks to find out what they want.  But we were told it WILL be resolved, it's just a matter of time.

Time that leaves us home in the US at Christmas without our Lottie Hope.

I was numb on Thursday.  I couldn't grieve in front of my other children.  We had a busy day ahead of us and those we were spending time with didn't understand what was going on.  It wasn't until I was alone that evening in Walmart, buying food for another Christmas party, that I allowed myself to cry.  Cry for the missed Christmas miracle we had been praying for.  Cry for my daughter who would spend her 6th Christmas alone without her family.  Cry tears of anger at the insensitivity of a system to wait until the last possible moment to delay our family from traveling to get our daughter when they had so many opportunities earlier on to resolve a simple issue.  It was a day I wish I could erase from my memory forever.

However, I was reminded in several ways that day that Hope is still there.  Our Lottie will be forever ours soon.  But some people will not feel their hope this year at Christmas.  To them, Christmas is bleak and dark.  They may have lost a loved one this year and there will be an empty seat at the table.  They may have had a life-altering event this year that leaves them depressed and discouraged, feeling there is no way out.  And worst of all, they may be spending Christmas without the hope of their salvation.  While we can still look forward, their Christmas is filled with looking back and grieving.

Yet there is something far more wonderful for us to anticipate.

As I was witnessing the baptism yesterday of a dear woman who I got to watch come to Christ, the sadness of not having Lottie with us in two weeks was pushed aside.  I saw someone filled with joy and hope.  She knows Jesus this Christmas and can celebrate His birth with her new church family!  I looked around at the students filling my living room yesterday afternoon and tears came to my eyes. Never in my wildest imagination could I expect God to answer our prayers to expand our international student ministry to this capacity in one year!  The room was packed with young people who had the opportunity to experience the message and hope of Christmas.  He brought them to us!  Then last night as we said goodbye to seven students who we may never see again, as I gave them one last encouraging word through tears, I was reminded once again.  THIS is HOPE.
Maybe if we were so focussed on packing for China right now we would lose sight of our real hope this Christmas.  Maybe we'd be so distracted in the chaos of logistics, reservations, rushing gift giving, cleaning and traveling, that we'd miss out.
God doesn't hold back His best from His children.  He hurts with our hurting hearts, and
He didn't allow this set back because He's calloused and cruel.  He didn't hold a miracle from us this year.  His miracle He gave us was in His Son.  Yes, every child He gifts us with is a precious blessing, but to let that gift overshadow the greatest gift would rob Jesus of the glory He is due.


When we get word about the timing of our trip to China, we will rejoice and share it will the world.  But for now, let us rest and rejoice in the Hope that has come to us- the Savior of the World, our Immanuel, God with us.  He is worthy of all our joy, all our praise, all our hearts.  He is our Redeemer and Comfort, the sacrifice for our sins.  Merry Christmas to you all, and thank you for your prayers!

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


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 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.