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.

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!