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!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Difficult doors to open lead to open windows: courageous meets crazyonce again!

     God's really good at stories.  When reading His love letter to us in His Word, it's obvious He likes adventure, knick of time rescues, miracles, and evidence that only He could have done something marvelous  in someone's life.  He likes to show off!
      Well let me tell you what He's up to in our lives.  I wish I could share a book, but for now, we are just sharing what is happening in the present.  Good sequels always take a long time to be told.  God seems to be like that too as His plan unravels in our lives as the days, months, and years go on.  We can't rush it but thank Him and see Him working in every moment, every answered prayer, and even in every setback.

     If you know us and/or read my blog regularly, you know we have been trying to adopt again since March 2015.  We have felt led to adopt privately in our region through an adoption lawyer and word of mouth at local doctor's offices, crisis pregnancy centers, and our home study agency.  So far, God has kept this door closed.  Because He hadn't placed our next daughter in our arms yet, last summer we felt led to host an orphan from Eastern Europe.  Hosting led to trying to pursue adoption, which was stalled until the winter hosting period to try to help her make a sure decision.  It was obvious after the winter hosting she did not want to be adopted for various reasons.  Fortunately, though, she is now staying connected to us through Facebook.  Heartbroken, yet still trusting God, we prayed about what to do next.  Because of our hosting experience we realized that our family has grown through grief, loss, and having to say goodbye to someone who we consider a part of our family.  Though it was one of the most difficult things we had ever done, it made us more like Christ.  We pulled through it and realized we COULD do it, as difficult as it was.  After making inquiries and asking lots of questions of other families who had gone before us, we made the decision to become foster parents.

     Fostering has had a stigma of being something extremely difficult to do.  How can I love a child in my home for months, even years, and then send that child who I have loved as my own back to an abuser, a drug addict, a criminal?  But the real question should be how can I say I can't open my heart to a damaged and broken child who may never know love, family, and experience the Gospel lived out in front of them?  How could I be unwilling to take them in? It is a selfish, closed-hearted attitude.  We must love as Jesus loves and be willing to be broken as He was.
    There is a huge need for foster parents in our area.  Foster homes are so full of children that many are having to be placed several counties away from their birth families.  This means moving schools, long trips to court and visitation, and dealing with loss in a worse way than having to move to a foster home nearby.
     We have completed training for fostering and have all of our many documents ready for certification. It took three months to complete the requirements, including 10 weeks of night classes in a neighboring county.  We will be approved to foster one girl, aged 5 or under, at a time in our home.  The limit for children in our home is 5, so that is all that will be given to us.  Whether or not she will be adoptable will be determined with time.  It is a long, emotional process.  Each girl may stay with us weeks, months, even a year before she is placed back with her family, a family member, or is released to be adopted by us.  We don't know if God will give us a forever daughter through the foster system or not.  We simply want to walk through this door to be ministers of love, family, and the Gospel to children and their families who are terribly broken.

     As foster parents we will be given placements with only a couple hours' notice.  When this happens, we will likely get on social media and share as vaguely as we can (abiding by policy) what our situation is.  If it's a baby, we may have immediate material and feeding needs, need help around the house with children (automatic sleepless nights), we could really be blessed by meals, and will need lots of prayer and encouragement! Even a child as old as five arriving at our home with very little preparation will create a large amount of stress and need for support and help as we adjust and minister to her grief, shock, and individual issues from the trauma she has experienced.  While we won't be begging for help, please understand we will need it.  Fostering requires a big support system and we know we can't do it alone.

And Here Comes the Twist......

     We were under the impression that shortly after completing our paperwork and training we would be certified and soon afterward receive our first placement.  The time line looked like this would happen soon after school was over for our kids in June.  However, our social worker signing off on our paperwork is extremely busy, so busy she wasn't even returning my messages and initiating contact with us until May 9th, when I caught her in her office.  When we talked I asked when would be a reasonable time to expect our certification to be signed off so we could receive children.  She answered "The first of August".

     My first response was "Oh no...that's so long.  What a wasted summer of waiting".  Then I realized the orphan hosting period for this summer was scheduled to be over on the first week of August.  The eyes of my heart were wide open.

                                        God,  you are opening another door!!!!!!

     I called Kris, not knowing what he'd say.  Never had we seriously discussed hosting again, because we assumed we'd have a foster child this summer.  We couldn't do both.  It was logistically impossible to handle both.  But we had 24 hours to make a decision.  The hosting matching period, having started in February, was going to close the NEXT DAY.  I told Kris the situation, and he calmly replied "Call our New Horizons coordinator NOW."

     She answered the phone immediately.  On the last day or two of hosting matching, workers are scrambling, begging, pleading with all their followers on social media to pray, give, and make a last-minute commitment to host.  While over 100 children from Eastern Europe had been matched to be hosted, another 100 had not.  They were about to be told "no one picked you".  Their hopes of coming to America for the chance at love, hope, and family, whether it be simply a connection or as significant as adoption, were about to be shattered.  I told her our situation and she gave me story after story of the remaining children we potentially could have in our home.  It came down to a couple different teen girls and a brother and sister sibling group.  She told me "I will have the person who met and interviewed them call you and tell you more about each of them".  Wow.  Within a few hours, the phone rang again.  I got to hear all the details of each of those kids who never had been to America, had amazing potential, and may never have this chance again.  Then I got really serious with the interviewer and asked "Of these kids we have narrowed it down to, which one, in your opinion, needs hope the most desperately?  Which one could benefit the most from being in our family this summer?"  She paused and said "It's the brother and sister".  I was surprised she didn't tell me one of the teen girls.  They were about to age out and be put out on the streets.  Surely they need hope!  But after meeting them, she felt this sweet brother and sister needed it more.

                                                       Let me tell you about them.

     E and E are going to be 10 and 11 when they arrive.  They both have birthdays within a couple weeks of each other, just before they arrive, and are less than a year apart in age! They are from the same country as "L", so we will already know a little of their language, common foods, and culture when they arrive.  " Little Miss", as the interviewer called her, is a chatterbox.  She knows a good bit of English already and is so excited about coming to America for the summer.  She loves art, especially painting and origami, and really wants to see a zoo and ride a roller coaster in America.  She plays with dolls, but since she lives in a home with lots of boys, likes playing with trucks as well.  She'd love to learn to swim this summer too.  "Little Mr." (I'm giving him this alias) loves basketball and running.  He really is laid back and lets his sister dominate the conversation.  They get along really well and love each other dearly.  He wants to learn to swim, ride a roller coaster, and see a zoo this summer too!
When I learned about these kids, tears welled up.  They would absolutely love to hang out with our kids!  There couldn't be a better fit!

     E and E had a significant scholarship donated toward their hosting fees.  When evening came and Kris and I hadn't made a final commitment yet (we had until the next day to put them on hold) we got a message saying "The next family to put a child on hold has been offered an additional scholarship".  Kris said "Ok, let's do it!"  We got the scholarship, essentially allowing us to host two kids for the price of one.  What a blessing!

    We will have to move Anna Faith into her brothers' room in order to host these kiddos (no worries, she and the boys are thrilled about bunking together!).  There are rules in place about ages of kids they need to share the room with, so we had to put them in a room alone.  Because of their closeness, they should love to have each other close.

     I will be posting a list soon of items they will need this hosting.  We will need to collect stuff quickly since all of this happened literally in the last possible day!  We have been shuffling around in one week getting documents notorized, letters of agreement mailed, trainings and even a face time home visit completed, all before the deadlines established.  In the next two days the kids' tickets will be purchased and we'll be able to count down!

     Would you please be in prayer for E and E?  We know this is of the Lord.  He has opened this door at the last hour and we have been able to walk through it in faith.  Yes, we will have six kids this summer for about six weeks!  Having a 4,6,8,10,10, and 11 year old will be loud, energetic, chaotic at times and very stressful with language and cultural barriers, but we know God will give us the grace and strength to serve Him in this way.

     Would you also please consider being a blessing to these two precious children while they are here with us?  They are actually adoptable (yes, we know for sure this time!).  We said we'd never put our hearts out like this with host children again, but here we are.  Just a side note, never say never to God....  We are not considering adopting them (logistically we can not have more boys in our 3 bedroom house so it is impossible).  But giving them a summer of love and family is much better than passing them over and knowing their hopes will be dashed.  These kids are going to need love from our community and from people they may never even meet.  Receiving gifts, meals, hugs and special time together, basic necessities they must have to live here and take home with them, all of these are items you can bless them with.  Last year "L" was blessed and overwhelmed by the gifts people gave.  She enjoyed writing personal thank you's to each giver.  I have no doubt these kids will react the same way.  If you'd like to give them a gift of zoo tickets, water park passes, Discovery Park tickets, gift cards to a local restaurant (they may very well have never eaten in a restaurant before), new shoes, a backpack, etc. please let me know.  Bringing over a meal and/or volunteering to babysit our other kids so I can take them out for shopping and special time alone would be HUGE as well.  I'll be compiling a list soon of items we need to collect and wish list items that would make their day.  It blesses them, but also blesses us as we have been instantly bombarded with having to collect everything for TWO kids in a month's time!

     So once again we are seen by the world as crazy.  But while on the surface we may appear insane with six kids in tow for the summer, in our hearts we are acting out our faith in courage.  We can't wait to see what God will do with our imperfect family to make an eternal difference in two children's lives this summer.  Are you excited to see how this story will continue to unfold?  We sure are!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Those Stubborn 10 Pounds: What Difference Does it Make?

What difference does 10 pounds make?  I'm not writing to sell you on a method, a product, a program, or a special fad diet.  I'm not knocking any of you friends who are sales representatives for them, because according to your daily posts about your products that help you earn a significant second income, they have amazing impacts on your personal health.  However, I want to share my story and how it doesn't just affect my waist line, energy level, or confidence nearly as much as it has taught me much deeper truths.

After "L" left us and returned to her country (for her story, see my posts about orphan hosting) I entered a period of discouragement and despair.  I mourned for the girl who I prayed would be my forever daughter.  I ate more comfort foods, was less active, suffered more migraine headaches, and from the stress even got a misaligned neck needing adjustment from a local chiropractor.  I've discovered I have a lower than average metabolism, so even a week or two of reducing my activity level results in instant weight gain.  Several pounds that had creeped on over a couple years rapidly added on several more, and before I knew it, all my clothes were getting tight, my energy level was plummeting, and my ailments increased.  Many of you may think "What's 10 pounds?  I have to lose 50!"  The reason 10 pounds is significant to me is that it signified I was entering a path I didn't want to go down.  It revealed to me that I was relying on food to be my comfort, not the Lord.  I was more irritable and moved more slowly with my kids, and it was affecting my parenting in a godly way.  Something needed to change.
After running a 5K run down the road with my oldest

I tried exercise first.  I exercised three times a week to the point of exhaustion.  One hour workouts while the kids were running in and out of the house were stressing me out.  I never lost a pound, but actually started GAINING more weight!  So then I started calorie counting on my phone with a Fitbit Kris got me for Christmas.  It seemed to make sense, but after a month of reducing my diet by 800 calories a day (simply eating less) and intensely exercising 3-5 times a week for 30 minutes I had only lost a mere 1 pound.  I was getting really discouraged at this point.

It was around this time I joined a Bible Study at church.  It was about being a prayer warrior, based off the movie "War Room".  Studying what God's Word teaches us on prayer every day for eight weeks taught me how to pray more specifically, passionately, and intimately.  I had to pray before even getting out of bed because if the kids heard I was up, it was over (They are really good about beating me up every morning)!  This new discipline and deepened walk with God refreshed my day to day attitude and my cravings for comfort food to relieve stress throughout the day lessened.  I started replacing carbs (granola bars, yogurt, bread, sugary cereals, etc) with protein (plain granola, peanuts, greek yogurt, low fat cheese sticks, whole grain unsweetened cereals) and never felt hungry like I used to!  No special diet, no fancy expensive foods, no cutting out gluten, fats, etc, but just a big increase in whole foods without additives, substitutes, and lots of sugar.  Sure I eat chocolate sometimes (dark chocolate isn't so bad when you get used to it), and love to eat fruit instead of sugary snacks, but these general replacements throughout the day became my new favorite foods!  And FINALLY the pounds started rolling off!  I lost 1-2 pounds a week for the last 2 months and am finally at my goal- the weight I was before getting married 12 1/2 years ago.

I feel great.  My migraines are much less frequent.  My neck pain rarely returns.  My moodiness is much more level (no more big sugar fluctuations!) and I'm much more patient with my kids during the day.  I have found a new dietary lifestyle and have no intention to go back to my old favorite foods.  And some of my kids actually have learned to like these foods too (but still enjoy their sugar as well)! Calorie counting has been my biggest accountability, but I also know that if I eat junk one day, even if it is 800 calories less than what I've supposedly burned that day the scale will be up the next morning (it never fails).  My metabolism is just that bad!  Some of us are just designed that way, which gives me much more empathy for people who are constantly struggling to keep weight off that they worked so hard to lose.

I want to be the kind of mom who, when I have 5 and 6 kids in a grocery store with me, gets asked the standard "all they all yours?" and when I reply affirmatively, get a response like "You don't look like a mom of six kids!".  That is a testimony that I live by Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  It is true.  By gaining a deeper walk with Him in prayer, the loose ends of my life came together.  He gave me the strength to go for a 3 mile run when a year ago at this time I couldn't even run half a mile without back pain or a headache.  He gave me the strength to keep trying when I was discouraged.  He gave me the willpower to say no to what wasn't good for me so my health could reach its full potential.

Ten pounds are gone, but much more importantly, I feel empowered to be more for Christ now.  If He can get me through the valley of discouragement with mourning the loss of a child I thought would be ours and can get me through losing weight to restore my body and resolve, He can empower me to do even more.  There is more to this story that I want so badly to share, but you will have to wait a little longer!

This by no means indicates my life is all together.  I still struggle with impatience, showing grace to those who I don't think deserve it, and using consistent discipline with my kids to name a few.  I still have days when I don't want to get out of bed and face those hyper children and my disaster of a kitchen that needs cleaning from the night before.  I still am weak, but Christ is making me more like Him one lesson at a time.

We are all on a journey as we grow in our walk and understanding of God and His Word.  He is working in different areas on each of us.  Recently for me it has been simply learning to pray more and letting my daily lifestyle and activity line up with my growing walk with Him.

Got struggles?  Try prayer.  It works! (no pun with the It Works products intended!)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Love Grew Between the Lines: How The Dixon Garden Was Established

When we have an anniversary of some sort, I share tidbits of what happened, and I have been asked multiple times to explain Kris and my love story.  Every time I reply "One day I will give you the full story".  Well, today's that day.  Many of our close friends have heard this story in it's entirety (maybe more entire than they wish to know!) and we have shared it with several youth groups and Sunday School classes of young people, encouraging them to be patient and wait for God's best.  So for those of you who like a good, clean romance novel with an uplifting ending, here you go!

Let's go back to 1993 in West Columbia, South Carolina.  This tall, blonde girl who has just begun the dating game at the age of 16 goes on her first missions trip.  She was encouraged by an older student she barely knew to take a leadership position in their Christian school's Student Missions Fellowship club her Junior year.  Excited for an opportunity to get more involved in another club (she couldn't get enough of extracurricular activities) she committed to the task, understanding that all officers go on the yearly missions trip the club promoted every Spring Break.  She took the plunge, raising money to go on her first trip away from her family for a full week. This was her first plane ride, and first time ever sharing her faith.  Oh, did I mention it was to Spain, and she spoke in Spanish to everyone she met?  Talk about going out of her comfort zone!  At the end of the week, the missionary in Spain who coordinated the trip asked of the dozen or so students in the room which of them was willing to commit to a life of missions.  This missionary felt in her heart that at least one of the students in the room was going to be called into a life of ministering cross-culturally.  This blonde girl let those words sink in deeply.  She pondered over that prayer for weeks, then months, praying like she never had prayed before.  "Lord, are you calling me to do this? I thought I was going to be a news broadcaster.  I want to get married one day, not be an old maid living in a hut in Africa!"  After what seemed like a year of struggling with God, she finally surrendered the call to ministry at youth camp that July.  With the full support of her parents, she decided to study nursing in order to use medicine as a platform to share the Gospel.
 After studying at Liberty University for four years, she continued to study two more years to get a masters in
 Intercultural Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  But let's backtrack a little.  During her freshman year at college, this blonde girl was a social butterfly.  She exploded in her newly found freedom in college and after one semester of scoping the field with lots of guy friends, she decided to date a particular guy who made her laugh.  She specifically wanted to find the husband who would spend his life with her on the mission field, so she was skeptical when that guy was studying youth ministry.  He tried learning Spanish to impress her, looked into going on missions trips to give her hope, but 1 1/2 years into their relationship and a returned engagement ring later they realized their callings were taking them in opposite directions.  With a crushed heart, she vowed to never enter a relationship again until she knew he was the man she would marry. College friends tried setting her up, seminary friends (and even a professor) attempted to play match makers, but every time there was no peace.  So after graduating again in 2001 she headed to Paraguay for a two year term as a medical missionary church planter, excited about finally fulfilling the career calling God had placed on her heart to share with those who had never heard.  In the back of her heart she was anxious, picturing herself as the "old maid living in a hut in Africa" because she was leaving single.  But regardless of that fear, she knew she was going on the path God had set out for her and trusted Him with her heart.

Now let's go back to 1996 to a little rural corner of Western Kentucky.  A farmer's young son begins studying agriculture at Murray State, a nearby public university, heading to follow in his father's and grandfather's footsteps.  However, while settling in, he meets a new friend who is different from other guys he's met.  This student friend has a vibrant love for Christ and lives it out in a radical way.  Although this young man has always attended church and grew up in a Christian family, he never has seen such commitment and passion for a walk with God.  The influence of this friend affects him to the point he realizes he has never surrendered his life to Christ as His Lord and Savior.  This young man becomes a genuine Christian, and God leads Him on a path of evangelism with his fellow students. He eventually spent a summer in Brazil to share His faith.  By the time he completed college, he knew God was calling him to something beyond the realm of farming.  After working a year on the family farm, in 2001 he committed to serving two years in China to share Christ with students there who had never heard.

The dear friend God used to bring us together!
That is where providence takes hold.  This blonde girl and young man meet for the first time on a hot July day in 2001 as they both initiated a six week training at a missionary learning center near Richmond, Virginia.  He noticed her, but she was too busy to notice him.  Then he got a splinter in his finger.  A good friend from seminary who was staying in the same dorm as this blonde girl found out and said "My friend is a nurse and should have tweezers.  Would you like me to get her to pull it out for you?"  And that is when she first took care of him.  The splinter came out and he thanked her.  What he didn't realize though, was that she and her roommate had already made a pact.  While they were in training they would not allow young men training with them to become a distraction.  They would only be focussed on going overseas to serve, not find a husband in the process.  This blonde girl worked extra hard not to notice the young man.  He "followed" her (a nice word for stalking) and figured out all her interests, her schedule, and where she frequented the most.  And he was there, watching, waiting for his opportunity to say hello, make small talk, and hopefully win her attention.  He thought all was lost until the last day of the training, when all the trainees went by bus to a nearby church to be commissioned as missionaries.  While this blonde girl normally sat with her roommate everywhere they went (to intentionally avoid available men), her roommate was late to the bus.  The young man entered the bus, and seeing the empty seat asked if he could sit there.  She agreed, and the conversation they had will never be forgotten.  They talked like they had always known each other.  They shared about immediate family who they thought were not Christians and vowed to pray for their salvation.  Then they exchanged email addresses.  This blonde girl didn't think much of it, but wanted to stay connected with someone who genuinely cared about the salvation of her loved one.  He was something special.  The young man finally had his open door into her world.  He strategically waited, then he began to write when she arrived in Paraguay.  The emails started, and continued until they were writing every day about their struggles, their discoveries, their milestones in language acquisition. They rejoiced about the people they were able to share with. And between the lines, God began to grow something.

It was Christmas night, 2001, when that young man asked to have a chat time with this blonde girl.  She was in Asuncion, the capital city, staying with an American missionary family for Christmas so she wouldn't be alone for the holidays. Unlike her small town across the country, this home had a steady internet connection to make chatting possible.  She agreed to the conversation, and in 105 degree weather that unbearably humid Christmas night, she chatted with that young man, who was so freezing his feet were numb early in the morning twelve time zones away in his unheated apartment in southern China.  He asked her as they were abruptly finishing their chat ,"Would you be interested in more than a friendship with me?"  Coincidently at that very moment she was asked to get offline immediately by her host family, and couldn't answer the question.  He was baffled and thought she was letting him down.
A long week went by.  She wondered what happened to him, not knowing what to say or how to say it.  Yes, she wanted a relationship, but she realized the implications. If she was true to her commitment in her heart made years earlier, he was likely going to be her husband!  That's a huge yes!  Meanwhile, he thought she wasn't interested.  Until, that SAME friend (remember the one who got him to have her take out the splinter) saw him at an annual gathering that happened to be around New Year's. When she "happened" to run into him (we know nothing happens by mistake!) she asked "So what are your intentions with my (friend)?".  Then he knew....she was talking about him to her friend!  That must mean there was something there! He then got up the nerve to write her again.

He wrote her to see how she was doing,  and in her reply she answered "Yes" to his request!
Every day they emailed and got to know each other more.  Late every night, she would go to an internet room on the edge of the tiny town she lived in alone, and an email was waiting about his day.  Then she would reply and tell him about hers, so he could read it when he got in from ministering (with the time zone difference, it was hard to be online at the same time).  Conversations on the phone were very expensive since they had to do a three way call though the United States with his mom connecting the calls.  A one hour call cost $40.  So they only talked once a month.  Eventually, the young man asked "Can I come to visit you?"  This proposal was huge.  One can't just hop on a plane and drop by when traveling from China to Paraguay!  It was an almost two day journey that went literally around the world to a different hemisphere and spanned three continents and two oceans.  It would cost him all his savings just to make the trip.  They agreed to spend their vacation time together that year and finally meet as a couple in August, eight months into their relationship.

With Concepcion, the woman whose house I shared when first moving to Paraguay.
I looked at this photo after he returned and cried. A lot.
The day after he arrived, the young man knew he had to tell her what he came to say.  So he more or less blurted it out after breakfast: "I love you".  She was not prepared, so paused.  He about passed out with fear and anticipation while she digested the declaration.  Finally, she looked him in the eyes and replied "I love you too".  The color returned to his face and he said "Good, because I really didn't want to get back on that plane in the morning!".  While they didn't get engaged (yet) they spent those 10 days talking about a life together.  It was the closest thing to dating they got to do, even though most of the time they drove around they had a chaperone. This had to be done to protect her reputation in a country where rumors can fly and witness can be ruined quickly.  They agreed ahead of time to not kiss, but it was definitely difficult to refrain.   They wanted to grow strong in their relationship without complicating it with physical affection. Putting him on a plane heading back to China was the hardest thing she had ever done in her life.  Her heart tore into a million pieces that day, and to this day she has never cried longer or harder.  Only God's peace that passes all understanding gave them the strength to continue the work they knew God had given them to do in China and Paraguay.

On the top of the mountain overlooking my first home in Paraguay. But no kissing!

Receiving Valentine's Flowers, all the way from China (he had the help of a missionary kid ordering them from across Paraguay for him!)

Seven months later, this blonde girl's sister was getting married in the United States.  It was four months until the end of their 2 year terms, so the two love birds decided to use the remaining vacation time they had and spend two weeks together in the U.S. to meet each other's families and participate in the wedding.  This time, they agreed they would kiss when they saw each other.  When he went to pick her up at the Nashville airport (he arrived the day before) they shared their first kiss at the baggage claim. It may have lasted ten minutes.  The anticipation of that kiss was like nothing any bystander had ever seen.  People walked by, others made comments, but this reunited couple didn't notice.  They were finally together again after being so far apart.  He took her home to meet his family, and the next day, while both of them were still whirling from jet lag, he drove her to the most beautiful spot he could find in the area: Columbus Park in Columbus, Kentucky. At a little gazebo overlooking the Mississippi River, the young man read a poem he wrote, then got on one knee and asked this blonde girl to be his wife.  She said Yes!

This is our only engagement photo....

unless you count this- he bought me this ring from across the world! Thank goodness for internet!
In those two weeks they planned the majority of their wedding.  With the help of a newlywed friend, she picked out a dress in one hour, they set up a caterer and photographer, they picked their wedding party, and the venue and minister were booked.  All of this was done along with visiting seminary where they would live and he would attend before the wedding would take place in October.  They determined housing, met up with old friends she attended school with, and returned to Kentucky before saying goodbye for four more months. During those four months they picked out their registry online, picked out flowers and bridesmaids dresses (and several of the wedding party members were spread out across the world as well!), and made many plans by email.
Those four months in Paraguay and China were bittersweet.  While they missed each other desperately and wanted so badly to be married, they knew they couldn't leave their commitments on the field.  They had to complete what God sent them there to do.  Saying goodbye to the many friends they met, people they had led to Christ and discipled, and in her case, a group of indigenous people who would never again have a Christian witness for an indefinite amount of time was excruciating.  It tore her heart out to leave them behind, entrusting them to the One who cared about them more than she did.  Returning "home" to America was so difficult, but being reunited was a glimmer of joy.  They immediately moved to North Carolina for him to begin classes.  There was 10 weeks for this blonde girl to set up their home in another seminary housing apartment, for them to both find employment, and to complete wedding planning.  Most weekends were spent driving four hours to the wedding location in  South Carolina whenever they had the chance to tie up loose ends, attend showers, and see her family.
Finally, on October 4th, 2003 all the plans came together and this blonde girl and her young man exchanged vows.

And the kiss was timed.  It was a long one.  Five seconds to be exact. Their guests are still talking about it.

They scrapped up enough money to take a honeymoon in Kawaii, Hawaii, because that was her dream since childhood.  And they almost drowned there together, but that's another story.

The wait to see him again, to be with him intimately on our wedding night?  It was difficult.  It was more than difficult.  It seemed impossible.
But it was worth it.  It was worth it to those who got to hear.  It was worth it to build their character and trust in God's timing.  It was worth it to put their hearts in God's hands, knowing He would make all things beautiful in His time.  It was worth it to be able to share with their future children, with young people struggling to wait for God's best, with youth who think all is hopeless when a heart throb breaks their heart and shatters it.  It was worth it.
Wearing Chinese dress for our rehearsal dinner.  

Twelve and a half years later, we are at a place we could never have imagined.  I could not be here if He hadn't carried me then.  I could not be living with joy now if He had not taught me through that difficult time of waiting.  I couldn't wait for His plan to continue to unfold in my life if He hadn't strengthened me to see His faithfulness then.
He makes all things beautiful.  His plans are never fulfilled early or late.  And He is still reminding me of this lesson  Those days are my Jordan River.  When Joshua and the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the promised land, God told them to  build an alter right there in the river to remind them, their children, and their children's children of how He had been faithful.  40 years they waited in the wilderness, but He was faithful.

After our first year of marriage, Kris presented me with a small chest.  I excitedly opened it, and beheld a huge stack of printed out pages with the cover page titled "Love Grew Between the Lines".  It was our story, in emails.  Every single email we wrote each other for two years was in that box.  That is our pillar of stones in the Jordan.  When we doubt God's timing, His purposes, or His reasons, we can look back at that box and remember.  He's faithful.  He has a plan, and waiting is worth it.

I hope you've enjoyed this "little" story.  It isn't done.  It has only begun.  And God is weaving a story in your life too.  Is isn't the same as mine.  If it were, we'd all be dull and boring.  Everyone's is different.  And those differences reveal God's beautiful tapistry of journeys about His faithfulness that we can hear and marvel over.
Thanks for reading, and may this encourage you to strive to wait for His best in your life as well!