Friday, February 25, 2011

Preparing for Adolescence

This weekend, my oldest daughter and I are on a special overnight trip to celebrate the transition she is going through from "kid" to pre-teen.

Dr. James Dobson first wrote the book Preparing for Adolescence back in 1978 (when I was four!) and it has since been revised, most recently in 2006.  We are reading and listening on CD, but he talks about stopping the "tape" and playing it on the "recorder".

As usual, Dobson's message is timeless.  Yes, he talks about the "birds and bees", but that's only one small part (about 1/7) of his discussion.  This talk is geared toward pre-teens, to prepare them for the coming years of change not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.  He prepares kids to the major feelings of inferiority they will face, assuring them that they are not alone.  He also hits one controversial topic many Christian leaders won't discuss.  I'll just say "long showers".  And I love love love how he addresses this topic with grace, love, and composure.  Mostly, I'm thankful that he put words to it so I didn't have to.

Listening to (or reading) Dr. Dobson is like listening to my dad,  He has so much wisdom and heart-deep love for the kids he's talking to.  For those who have spewed hate toward this man in the past, I challenge them to listen to even 10% of his 35+ years of broadcasts and books.  If you do, you can't help but feel the genuine love he has for others.  He's truly an outstanding man of God who has taken his leadership role seriously.  In an age of TV and internet evangelists who have mistreated and misused the name of God, Dobson has remained true to who he is in Christ.

I didn't mean to make this a Dr. Dobson love-fest, but I DO love him!  I've listened to him almost daily for over 10 years now.  If I ever get to meet him, I'll give him a hug like he's family.  He is family.

But I digress.  I've been impressed so far with my daughter's reaction to what we've discussed.  I'm also thrilled to learn that she has been sheltered from most of the teasing and peer pressure that lots of kids her age feel.  She's confident in herself and who God says she is.  I told her the blessing of this weekend is that we can talk about these feelings before they hit, so that she has tools to lead her to the freedom God intended for her instead of being sucked into the bondage of self-loathing.

Another pleasant surprise is that she had forgotten much of what I had told her about the birds and the bees when she was much younger.  As a foolish first-time mom, I once spewed way too much information about this subject when she was about 5 or 6.  A neighbor kid had brought up the topic and I panicked, kept running my mouth and didn't shut up.  In the following months, I prayed that she would forget much of what I told her.  She did.  Over the years, through our conversations and through school biology, she's pieced a lot together, but by her reaction today, I could tell that she didn't know it all.  That comforts my heart!

This weekend has strengthened her trust in Ken and me.  When she learned a few new things, her reaction was "Ew!!".  Gotta love that.  She has been able to see why Ken and I don't answer all of her questions.  She's pretty happy not knowing everything about everything.  She's also more understanding of why we put up some of the restrictive boundaries we do.  It's all to protect her.

Innocence is a beautiful part of childhood.  We want her to have as much of that as she can for as long as she can.  And we will make no excuses for guarding her innocence.

Preparing for Adolescence also covers the topics of conformity, puberty, the meaning of love (a great one, because crushes and infatuations do happen around our home right now), identity, and common issues teens face.  I believe it's currently out of print, but you can still find it on Amazon, eBay, or at Mardel.

I spend a lot of time blogging about our waiting boys in China, but while we wait, Ken and I are still parents to three amazing kids.  This will be a weekend to remember.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Feeling Kicks

Normally, it's our tax forms that make me cry each year around this time.  Today, however, our agency sent us instructions on how to properly complete our I-800 form from USCIS.
We've already completed our I-797 and gotten an I-800A form, but this one is different.  Don't you just love how our government makes so much sense of things?

The I-800 is a "Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as Immediate Relative".  Okay, just typing that gets me choked up again.

I guess I can liken this to feeling the first strong kicks during pregnancy.  I know these boys are our sons, but each step is making it more real.
With pregnancy, the milestones were the EPT test, hearing/seeing the heartbeat, starting to show, feeling flutters, then full-force kicks, Braxton hicks, then labor.
With this paper pregnancy, the milestones have been seeing their photos for the first time, getting pre-approval from the agency, sending a letter of intent, getting pre-approval from China, receiving our match packet from CCAI/CCAA, filling out a form stating your intent to make these boys our "immediate relative".

I have loved following this blog from a fellow North-Texan who is coming home today from China.  Her real-life, mostly uncut journaling of her time in China has been a blessing to me.  I would encourage anyone to read it, especially if you have a fairytale picture in your head of the whole adoption process and "gotcha" trips.  Read her entries from the last two weeks if you are traveling soon to get your kids or if you are a family member of someone going to get their kids.  It's important to see the real picture so you won't freak out or think you're alone.  Adoption is beautiful and wonderful, but it's also tragic, scary and heart-wrenching.  And it's all worth it.

One seasoned adoptive parent commented on Kenlyn's blog said, regarding the hard days in China, "Funny thing though it is kind of like labor, God has a way of letting those memories fade and then you have LOVE LOVE LOVE left! And then some of us do it all over again."

I'm emotional today, feeling these "kicks" and dreaming about our boys.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Red Thread - The Story Behind the Video

An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.  -Ancient Chinese Proverb

This proverb is one you will see often in the stories of families adopting from China.  The entire adoption journey is often referred to as a "Red Thread Journey".

As a believer in God, Elohim, Creator of everything, I know that He is the one that directs this "red thread".

We received an email from a young woman telling me she might have some information about one of our sons.  Following the link she provided to her blog, I saw that she had spent the summer in ZhengZhou, China working in the Lily Orphan Care Rooms (LOCC) in the SWI, holding and loving on babies.  (How cool it THAT? My girls are already saying they want to do that when they are older.)
I replied that Ken and I would love information and she sent the video, reminding me that it might not be him, but she thought it very well could be.  Tian had been moved to a foster home, so she hadn't seen him until this day he came in with his foster mother.  He sat down in front of the mirror and began playing with his own reflection.  She said, "I took a short video of him with the off chance that I may get in touch with his adoptive parents one day."


Guardedly, I opened the file and watched the video.  Cute baby boy!  Can it be him?  That first expression he makes doesn't look like him.  Watch again.  Hmm...It sure looks like him there, but not here.  That face doesn't look familiar.  But look at his ears!  I have close-up photos of his unique ears.  Dig out every photo we have of Tian to compare. Watch video again, pausing each frame.  Yep! That's him!  Those are his ears!  That's his expression! That is our son!


My heart was beating quicker by the minute as I watched the video over and over, then asked Ken to come upstairs to view the "evidence" I had collected that assured me that this was Tian.


Why didn't we recognize him instantly?  Because we've only seen a few still photos.  He smiles in his infant pictures, but he has a neutral expression in the more recent pictures.  We weren't used to seeing him make all of those faces.


I sent the video to Xia from our agency.  She was there at the LOCC when Tian was brought in and has seen him several times since, including last October.  She confirmed what Ken and I had already decided.  This is Tian!


As a side note of more people tangled up in our red thread, I don't think my blog would have been found by this family if I had not switched to Blogger upon the request of my new friend, introduced to me on Facebook by my grade school best friend.


I'm going to end on a cheesy note, but as I typed this, an old church camp song kept playing in my mind:
Bind us together, Lord
Bind us together with cords (threads!) that cannot be broken.
Bind us together, Lord
Bind us together, Lord
Bind us together with love.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Video of Tian

It's a long story I'll share later, but, through God's grace I have a video of Tian!
Taken this summer, soon after he was placed in foster care. He and his foster mom went in to the SWI for a visit.
Needless to say, I've watched it 50 times and plan to watch it again and again.  That's our son!

video

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Making Our Needs Known

When the funds we need to complete the adoption come our way, it will be only because of the grace of God.  Not because we worked hard to sell our house.  Not because we were diligent selling tee shirts.  Not because of our choice to downsize.  Not because we've been so wise with our money all these years, even if we had been. God will provide because He is gracious and because He will finish the work He began when He put it in our hearts to adopt.


From the beginning of our adoption journey, Ken and I have not felt a strong leading or motivation to do a fundraiser.  We did research our options and read of families who sell flip flops, tee shirts, host auctions and garage sales, or simply do a letter-writing campaign to help raise money to fund the adoption.  (We are working on applications for a grant, matching grant and no-interest loan.)

Initially, I thought about all the stories we have read in school about George Muller. If you read a little about him, you'll see that he's well known for living by faith and never asking one person for help.  He prays and trusts God to provide for his needs. God does!  The stories from Muller's life are incredible.  They build my faith and encourage me to grow in my own.  

As I've thought and prayed over it, the idea of raising support keeps coming up.  First of all, I was connected to a new twitter friend and read her blog post titled "The Blessing of Fundraising".  She said, "We need the people of God to come alongside us and partake in the story."

Ken and I have had friends tell us they want to be a part of our story.  They can't adopt at this time, but they want to be a part of what we're doing right now to bring these boys home.  We had our own experience of wanting to do something to help friends during their adoption journey.  We couldn't give money, but offered babysitting and were thrilled to do it.

I decided to see what God says about asking for money.  Why do I wait!!??  I just blogged about this less than two weeks ago!  Sure, George Muller was an amazing man of God from whom I can learn much, but he isn't God.

At the end of Romans 15, Paul asks for the church to assist him and contribute to the poor among God's people in Jerusalem.  In 2 Corinthians 8:1-15,  Paul talks to the church at Corinth about giving.  I camped out quite a while here.  The passage overall shows me that making your needs known is not wrong.  Paul also says "[The Macedonian church] urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord's people...they gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us."  Each person's choice to give is by the will of God, not his own goodness.  Again, we can't boast except in Him.

After I saw from scripture that asking for support wasn't wrong, I then struggled with the idea of asking for support for an adoption.  Every example I saw of fundraising in the Bible was for those in full-time ministry or for a specific building need (ex. the temple).  But God brought to mind the "adoption" verse:
James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
(Job 31:17, Deuteronomy 14:29 and other verses tell Christians to care for orphans.)

There is much more to study and cite on this topic, but basically, we are going to let our needs be known and ask you to pray.  More details will come in the next entry.

Friday, February 18, 2011

LID!

Big day over here! HUGE! We just got our LID!  Today, our dossier was logged in to the CCAA!
(The  Chinese government entity that handles adoption.)

Deaf and Hearing Marriage Part 4

Originally, this post series was 3-part, but I realized there is one more major issue.  I shared about the crucial value of common language and a little about kids, but failed to discuss the two together.

Managing communication between hearing kids and Deaf parents takes thought and follow-through.  When I first married Ken, I imagined the kids would just naturally sign.  They did!  They all began signing before they could speak.  But as they got older, we saw that they would default to spoken English if we didn't keep encouraging them and reminding them to sign.

When we slacked off in this area out of laziness, we paid for it!  Here are some tips and tricks we have learned that have helped us and helped our kids to automatically sign when they are around their dad or any other Deaf friends:

Ken (or the Deaf spouse)
- Keep voice off and just sign. This takes work and thought because it's natural to "code switch" and both talk and sign when communicating with any hearing person, but having a voice-off approach allows the kids to see and understand ASL without using English as a crutch.
- Don't allow the child communicate just by talking.  Pretend you don't understand, even if you do, unless, of course, it's some emergency.

Sarah (or the hearing spouse)
- If Ken is in the room or within sight, we all sign.  We have taught our kids from early on that this one way to show respect to Dad.  As the hearing spouse, the responsibility is on me to model this to the kids. When Ken walks in the room, I start signing, even if he's not paying attention.  (We also always leave closed captions on. Again, it's a sign of respect and value.)
- If the kids talk to me without signing in front of Ken, I act like I don't hear them.  This is tough, because I have to fight naturally responding, but it makes all the difference.  If they come up and start talking to me, I will simply look at them and sign (without voice), "What? I don't understand."  Or I'll just sign, "SIGN!" ** Guess my response depends on my mood and how many times we've had to remind them.
**5 years later, I'll edit my above comment to say that instead of telling the kids "Sign!" we found it much more effective to just sign, "What did you say?"  In ASL, that's just pointing at my chin with the "question" grammar on my face.**
- Give them alone time with Dad!  Since I homeschool them, they are with me, talking all day.  Right now, we don't sign during the day when Dad is at work.  That will change when the boys come home, but that's how it is for now.  When I leave them alone with Ken, it gives them time to connect with him without defaulting to speech.  I've been amazed at how their ASL increases when I go on a 3-day or more workshop and they are home with Ken for that long stretch.  It convicts me to be more diligent at "making" them sign when they forget.

One of my favorite things is when they come to me, signing without voice, forgetting that I can hear them.  I love that!! This usually happens after they've been alone with their dad for an extended period of time.

Both of us:
- Expect them to sign! Don't allow anything less.  It may seem difficult in that moment, but it's SO worth it in the long run.
- Have the kids spend time around other Deaf people.  Their time with other people in the Deaf community is invaluable!

The Brownies love signing.  They love their dad and value being able to communicate freely and easily with him.  Ken and I are certainly not perfect parents and this is one area we've had to work at with a purpose.  The work pays off, I promise!

Often, you'll see the members of the Deaf community, whether it's teachers or advocates, talk about the 90% rule.  90% of deaf children have hearing parents. 90% of deaf parents have hearing children. 90% of the hearing parents don't learn to sign in order to communicate with their children.  When I state this rule in my classes or lectures, I get gasps of disbelief from the audience.  People wonder (not understanding the complexity of the issue) how in the world parents could be so heartless.  But...what isn't reported is how many Deaf parents fail to sign with their hearing kids, making communication difficult at best.  Isn't that just as "heartless"?  It's certainly a double-standard.

There is so much more to this issue I can't possibly articulate it here.  More than anything, I hope this is encouraging and maybe even convicting to parents, both Deaf and hearing, to make communication a top priority if you have a bilingual household.

Read Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tian Update and Waiting Well

We got a short, but sweet update on Tian today, along with a photo.   The report was dated January 10, but we aren't completely sure when this photo was taken.  It seems fairly recent.  He's 19 months now. At the time of the report, he was 17 months and 20 lbs.
We learned that he still drinks from a bottle and enjoys using it as a pacifier when it's empty.  The foster mom and nannies also stated that he doesn't like sharing his toys. He hits and pushes when other kids take his toys.  They also said he's a happy boy who is always in a good mood.  Well, obviously not if people mess with his stuff.  The Brownies will teach him to share!

These updates are bittersweet.  I cherish every new photo we get and any new bit of information about the boys' personalities, likes, dislikes, or habits.  At the same time, they make my heart ache to hold the boys and see all these things for myself.

Our agency sent us some tips from parents who have been there, done that.  The advice I took away was this: Enjoy the now.  Don't waste your hours and days worrying over the timeline. Use this time of waiting to prepare: your house, your family schedule, your friends and relatives.  Use this time to relax, because it's going to be a while before you get to have quiet moments alone.  Appreciate them now.

This Lincoln Brewster song is my mantra many days:
Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord
Wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord

My charge over the next few months is to wait well.  I'm going to spend extra time alone with Ken, with the Brownies, and work on getting into a good family routine.  Instead of complaining about the time, I'll realize God gave me this time for a purpose and USE it!

Do you not know?
   Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
   the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
   and his understanding no one can fathom.
 He gives strength to the weary
   and increases the power of the weak.
 Even youths grow tired and weary,
   and young men stumble and fall;
 but those who hope in the LORD
   will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
   they will run and not grow weary,
   they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40 - The Bible

Deaf and Hearing Marriage Part 3

Another major issue I did not foresee and did not show up until we had kids is the "backtalk" problem.  My kids are at the age they talk back to me more often than I'd like to admit.  Growing up in my house, my dad would overhear us backtalk our mom and would pipe in and nip it quick.   He would not stand for it.  He'd jump in, defending his wife and reprimanding us for our mouthiness.

In our home, the kids can backtalk me while standing feet away from Ken.  I have to tattle on them to him, which becomes annoying to us all.  Sometimes, I turn him around and make the kids sign to me what they just said behind his back.  "No, child, sign it with the same nasty expression on your face that you gave me!"  We still haven't figured this one out 100%, but we are a work in progress.

Thought and planning often must go into engaging in certain activities.  Seeing a local musical play, attending a marriage conference, going to a summer family camp, taking a couples' Bible class or financial planning course (Dave Ramsey has added captions and interpretations to ALL of his Financial Peace University DVD materials)  are all things we've done or wanted to do, but first had to do a little ground work.  We have to think through communication: Will we be able to get an interpreter easily?  For major Dallas-area shows, yes..for conferences, not so easy.  Will be be at round-table discussions with a bunch of hearing people? If so, it has to be something we think is totally worth it, because that is never fun, even with an interpreter.

We've done classes, conferences, touring Broadway shows, Disney World, Disney Cruise, and Universal Orlando, all nearly effortlessly accessible, requiring a simple phone call or email.  Other events take a little more leg work and occasional fussing to get access.

We've had to fight for our rights to hospitals as well as Christian organizations.  We've also grown as a result and reaped the benefits, knowing that others that come after us will also benefit.

Our family has benefited from being a part of events put on by the Deaf community such as "Men's Camp", as TJ calls it, he and Ken attended at Isaiah's Place.  We've also had fun weekends visiting DeafNation or Deaf Expo or Deaf Awareness Day events in several different states.  We look forward to going to a Deaf family camp together some day.

If I could offer one piece of advice to others considering a deaf/hearing marriage, it would go back to language.

The Deaf partner should be willing to hang out with hearing people, where they will primarily use English.  Most are willing, because that's just a part of their daily life.  Ken is very comfortable around hearing people.  As I mentioned in an older blog, Ken is bold and presents himself as he is: equal.  He will start out lipreading, but quickly be ready to type 100 words per minute on his Macbook to communicate.  He enjoys hanging out with our hearing friends and doesn't mind some of the extra work needed to visit.

The hearing partner must be comfortable in the Deaf community. It's a non-issue for us because being in the Deaf community is just a part of who I am.   Honestly, this is where we, as a couple, are most comfortable because we can just "be".  We can be ourselves, communicate with whoever, whenever, and not have to think about it.  Often, I'm the only hearing person at an event of 30-50 people. I love it!  I feel "at home" among Deaf people and have a genuine love and respect for my friends who are Deaf.  I can't imagine marrying a Deaf man without this comfort and language fluency.
  
Ken and I are getting better year by year!  And you should see us order in the drive thru.  I always wonder what people behind us think we're doing.

What about you?  If you're in a Deaf/hearing marriage, do you have other stories to share?  For my curious hearing readers, what are you wondering about?

Part 1
Part 2

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Deaf and Hearing Marriage Part 2

One issue our pastor, who is a CODA (meaning he has Deaf parents) brought up was the "balance of power".  To me, this is the major thing to consider before marrying, Deaf or not, but especially if the world sees one of you as "disabled".  Often, Deaf and hearing marriages fail because the Deaf person becomes dependent on the hearing person and/or the hearing person pities the Deaf person.  I never pitied Deaf people to begin with, but Ken was truly the driving force in keeping our marriage balanced.  Ken is equal to a hearing person and presents himself as such.  

Ken orders at restaurants.  Ken makes the calls needed to run our household (utilities, plumber, yard guy, etc.).  I don't interpret for Ken at movies.  I don't follow him to the doctor or on a job interview.  He doesn't use interpreters for that stuff anyway.  As I'm sitting on his office floor, editing this post, he's making a call to our adoption agency while I watch/listen in.  He wanted to call to ask them questions.  His first resort is not to come to me to ask me to make a call for him, even if he wants me in on the call. 

I don't interpret "for Ken.".  I do interpret 1 or 2 times a month at church and he is in the audience.  For a few years, we went to a church where he was the only Deaf person and I was the only interpreter., One reason we left is that neither of us were comfortable with that setup.  Many people there assumed I signed for Ken everywhere we went.  People would comment about how Ken was "lucky to have me" and "how sweet it was that I signed for him."  At our wedding, one lady said, "Ken is so lucky to have found someone to meet his special needs."  We still joke about that one!  These comments came from lovely people, but ones who were ignorant regarding Deaf people.  The comments, despite the intentions behind them, are patronizing, demeaning and oppressive.

Ken and I depend on each other just as any married couple.  He depends on me to teach the kids and be a manager of our home.  I depend on him to lead our family, provide for us, reach high places and take care of all our electronics needs. Ha!  That's an oversimplification, but you understand me, right?  We both meet each other's "special needs."  Don't all married couples?

Read Part 1

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Deaf and Hearing Marriage Part 1

In our 14 years of marriage, Ken and I have stocked up quite a collection of comments and questions regarding our deaf/hearing marriage.  We've been asked if we fight and if so, is it silent?  One rude college student even asked me how we were able to have...um..."intimate relationships".  What?!  Obviously, that chick was an uneducated virgin and somehow assumed the inner workings of a man's ear affected that activity. And obviously, her momma didn't teach her manners.

From the Deaf community, the most common questions are, "Are your kids hearing?" and "Do your kids sign?"  Their questions aren't nearly as entertaining as their hearing counterparts.

When I was engaged to Ken, I thought through some of the issues we may face as a Deaf and hearing couple, but didn't really have a clue.  People asked us how we'd talk at night in the dark. (We leave a dim-able light on, then turn it off some time during the night.)  People asked how we'd call to each other from one room to another. (Ken yells for me. I text him, flash lights or call him on FaceTime.  Sometimes, he's right there, but walking away and I need his attention. If I can't reach him or flash a light, I throw something at him.  If that doesn't work, I have to decide if it's worth chasing him or just save it for later.)  People wondered how we would talk in the car.  That question is best answered by watching this humorous video by the CODA Brothers.

I should add that I was fluent in ASL and was involved with the Deaf community before I met Ken.  If a Deaf/hearing couple don't have common language, they need to seriously reconsider their relationship. Marriage is hard enough when you share a common language.

Those other issues about talking in the dark and getting each others' attention ended up being no big deal at all, but there are challenges a deaf and hearing couple face.  I will share what I've learned in the next two blog posts.

Monday, February 14, 2011

DTC!!!

Just got an email from our agency with this in the subject line:
Congratulations--Dossier to China!
Our Dossier should arrive in 3-5 business days, then we have more wait (up to 8 weeks) to receive our LID (log in date).
Once we get LID, we have more waiting before we get travel approval, but I won't think about THAT right now.
Right now, I'm going to focus on hitting this major milestone DTC!  Wanna do the happy dance with me?

Valentine's Day Tribute

Valentine's Day isn't just another romantic holiday for Ken and me; it's also an important anniversary.

Valentine's Day 15 years ago, Ken took me out on a picnic by a pond in Choctaw, Oklahoma.  He had prepared a nice spread of fruits, cheese, and crackers.  I remember thinking he seemed a little nervous, but did NOT have him proposing on my radar.  We had only been dating for about 6 weeks.
At the time, Ken and I both had one-way Motorola pagers.  Before going out, Ken had programmed his computer to send messages to my pager at certain times.  (Yep. He's always been a geek. It's one of the things I love about him.)
To make a long story short, the third romantic message included a marriage proposal.  When I looked up from my pager, he was there with the ring box open.  Much to the surprise of our friends, I said yes!  (They were only surprised because of the short time we had been dating.)
After an 11-month engagement, we were married on January 4, 1997.

I've tried before to put into words the ways I'm grateful for Ken, but nothing I write seems to cut it, including what I wrote here.  There are reasons so deep and so personal, I can't share them on a public blog.  After 14 years of marriage, he's come through for me in ways to numerous to count, so I will just list a few:

- Ken is a Family Man
Ken is a family man.  There is not one day I doubt his love and commitment to me and to the kids.   He (and I, too) has days when he's tired or overwhelmed, but when it comes to acting in the best interest of his family, that's what he does.  He works hard to provide a setting where I can stay home and teach the kids.  He encourages me when I'm feeling worn out from the task.  He loves us.

- Ken is a Man of Character
Ken makes choices in his daily life that reflect his strong character and protect his family.  I've seen for myself, but more importantly to me, I've heard it from others who are around him on business trips.  He protects the reputation of our family by making wise decisions, being mature, and being a MAN who sticks with what he knows is right.

- Ken is a Maverick
A government co-worker back in the law enforcement days gave Ken this title.  She meant it to be derogatory, but it's one of the things I love about him.  He fights "the system" when he's passionate about something.  He's not scared to make a fuss over something he believes in.

- Ken is True
This is the best way I know to describe his forgiveness and commitment to our marriage.  I can't put any measure of value on this one.  Ken's commitment isn't just to "stick it out" with me, but for us to get better by the year.

- Ken is Handsome
Let's just face it.  He's nice to look at.  That's always a bonus.

15 years ago, on the edge of that pond in Choctaw, I would have never imagined us where we are now.  Having gone through all that we have, now here in Dallas with three kids born into our family and two in China waiting for their Brownie "birthdays".  We have a good number of years behind us, but what an adventure of years ahead!

Here's to 70 more Valentine's Days together.  Ken, you are the one and only love of my life and will always be.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Downsizing With a Growing Family

When Ken and I shared our plans to downsize from our 3000 square foot home, several friends and family were concerned.
"Are you guys doing okay?"
"Do you need help with anything?"
"I'm sorry to hear you're having to move."

We totally understood others' concerns because what we are doing is so odd in this culture, the only assumption was that we had fallen on hard times.

The truth is times ARE hard, for many people all over the country.  But Ken has a great job with an excellent, growing company.  While our ultimate security rests in God's plan for us, we don't have any fears on the job front that would lead us to cut back.

A few months ago, if you had asked us if we'd ever move, we could have answered with an emphatic "no way!"  My answer tended to be, "We'll live here until the kids are grown unless God has something crazy-different in store for us that we can't foresee."

Ken came to me in November, asking how I might feel if we downsized.  I think he was a little nervous to bring it up, not knowing how I would react.  When he asked, I felt a burden immediately lift from my shoulders.  While we adore this house--the look of it, the floor plan, the yards, the pool, and above all, the neighbors surrounding us--we both knew downsizing was something we needed to seriously pray about.

After discussing it with the kids and having an enthusiastic reaction from them, we decided to go through with it.  We had no doubt God was leading us in this direction.  It's scary. It's against our self-protective tendencies.   It's the right thing.

Some of the benefits:

  • The equity from our home will fund the adoption. That's enough reason right there.
  • A simpler home will allow a simpler lifestyle.  While we love the pool and big yard, both of those benefits come at a cost in labor, money or both.  We are moving where we have a pool and play areas, but don't have to maintain it.  I know living in an apartment setting will be stressful in its own way, but if it's unbearable, we can always leave after our lease is out. We have met a family who just signed their 4th year lease there.
  • Pride.  We have had a lot of pride in our house.  Every time friends come to visit we hear comments about it's beauty, perfect location, amazing yard, etc.  Quite a few times, friends have used the words "covet" or "jealous" when they give their opinion of our home.  Ken and I honestly say that we want to use the home God gave us for His glory, but it's easy to begin misplacing our security and pride in this house.
  • Money.  While we are not in financial hardship (for now...keep praying our house will sell quickly!), we don't have much, if anything, left at the end of each month.  After going through FPU two times, taking a marriage class that required us to create and review our budget, then reporting our budget for our dossier, it was clear that this house was sucking away a huge percentage of our budget. Much higher than what is recommended according to any financial planning tool we could find.  Downsizing will allow us to travel, save, give, and do other things important to the Brown family.
Western clture says that a bigger family requires more room.  I love what my friend, Adrienne Freas said: "People don't take up space. Stuff takes up space."

So, here we go! Off into a new adventure!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why We Choose to Sign

This short film says it all! Beautiful!
Remember that you can turn on subtitles in the bottom right corner.

Paper Chase Ends

Whew! *big sigh*

After six months of paper-chasing, the adoption documents are out of our hands.  You may remember that we sent all of our sealed documents, called our dossier, to CCAI (adoption agency) over a month ago, but there were several mistakes we had to resolve.  The biggest mistake was our medical forms being incorrect.  We had a few other delays thanks to Snowpocalypse 2011.  Chinese New Year is coming to a close, therefore documents will begin again flowing in China.

CCAI will have our corrected documents tomorrow and should be able to send them to China next week! That's our prayer and we are trusting it will be so!  I'm still working on ways to add tabs to this site to I can move our prayer request and process pages, but until the, you'll find them by following the links.

Today marked showing #17. We have another showing scheduled for Saturday, then an open house Sunday.  This open house is a "Paint the Town Red" event for other Keller Williams realtors.  It's great exposure for as many realtors as possible to see our house.

Much to pray for and even more to be thankful for.  My heart is linked to China at the moment and thoughts of Tian and Xu fill my head.  They'll fill those places in thought until I can hold them as tight as possible in my arms!  Even thinking about it breaks my heart with both sadness and happiness.

C'mon, FedEx!  Do your work!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Where Does My Help Come From?

This past week has been tough.  With all that hangs in the balance regarding our house, the apartment, adoption, and continuing to parent the 3 Brownies living at home and be a wife to my dear husband, I find myself constantly searching for some help!

When I get overwhelmed, I go looking for some kind of "12 steps" that will fix my dilemma.  If I'm struggling with worry over the adoption timeline, I go scour ChinaAdoptTalk for rumors.  If I'm struggling over our school schedule, I search the Sonlight forums or send out an email to my fabulous HOME group moms.  If the kids are being disrespectful and not obeying, I head back to one of Kevin Lehman's books for some ideas.

Last night, during the teaching portion of the women's bible study at The Village Church, Colleen Searcy was guiding a review of the call of Abram in Genesis.  Abram (not yet renamed Abraham) looked to the world for help, just as I do.  So far, his faux pas has been taking matters into his own hands by lying (I know it wasn't a "technical" lie, but his motive was deceit in order to protect himself, so that's sin, no matter how you want to define a lie.) to the king, leading him to believe Sarai was just his sister, not his wife.

We haven't gotten this far yet, but in future chapters, we'll see Abram do this exact same thing again, then later still, he chooses to not trust God's promise to give him a son and takes matters into his own hands.

It's easy when reading these mess-ups in the span of a few chapters to think Abram must be dense.  I mean, he hangs out with God.  One verse that snagged me this week was: "[God] took [Abram] outside" to show him the stars.   God just, ya know, gave him a bump on the shoulder and said, "C'mon, I wanna show you something."  Abram knew God in a way no one else on earth (okay, except Jesus) has.  Yet he STILL forgot to consult God before acting.  He still mistrusted and doubted God's promises.  What a flake.

You know where this is going.  Even though God is faithful to fulfill His promises to me, I continue to go to Him as a later resort.  I say "later", because He's not my last resort, which makes me feel a little more holy.  But He demands first place. Second might as well be last.

For those who aren't followers of God, when I say "go to God", that just means I open up the Bible or use the internet to look up words, phrases and topics in scripture, or pray or all of these things.

Last night, after bible study, I came home and had a particularly difficult moment with the Brownies.  It wasn't the first difficult moment of the day.  I would see their blatant disrespect and wonder where along the way I lost it.  And I also "lost it" with them, raising my voice to a near yell.  (Oh believe me, I've yelled...but was able to restrain myself last night at least.)

As I sat down, I decided to put into practice what I had just studied in God's Word.  Imagine that.  Here is a verse I came across multiple times:

"The LORD is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished."

That shows up several times. Numbers 14, Nahum 1, among other places.

Well, there's my problem right there:
 -The LORD is slow to anger.  Sarah has been quick to anger (even if I CAN control the volume of my voice.)
-Abounding in love. I think I have that one. I love those Brownies no matter what they do.
-Forgiving sin and rebellion.  While I say I have that one covered, I think that, too often, I let things go without resolving or correcting it.  That won't bring about true forgiveness, which leads to the next statement:
-Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished.  I have been finding ways to take privileges away from the kids that won't interfere with my life.  That means I'm letting them get away with a lot.  Of course, they're going to push even harder, knowing they'll get away with it.

I had emailed Ken, asking for his help and confessing that I have not been doing what I should regarding disciplining the kids.  We agreed to work on it together and come up with some tangible guidelines for US to follow when the kids disobey.

How hard was that?  I searched God's Word and He had an answer perfectly for me.  One verse that was a great step-by-step parenting tool.  It's not always that cut-and-dry, but for me, last night, God blessed my obedience by giving me a quick answer.

He promised to give wisdom when I ask for it.  So, may I be like Abram, see the error of my ways, turn around and trust God, who will not fail!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bipolar With God

Lately, I've joked with others that I feel "bipolar" during my conversations with God.  No, I'm not manic depressive, but as the third definition on dictionary.com puts it: characterized by opposite extremes, as two conflicting political philosophies.
My conversations go like this:
God, You said in Jeremiah 10:23 that I don't direct my own steps.  You don't owe me an explanation.
But also in Psalm 37, You told me You wanted to give me the desires of my heart. I'm desiring for You to share with me Your plan! Is that fair?
I'm trusting You--I really am!  But I'm also scared and worried. 
At the same time, I'm not because of Your reminder in that same Psalm to rest in You and trust in You.  
Lord, I'm asking for our house to sell this week. In our eyes, the sale of the house will fun the adoption, but I'm not limiting Your ways and plans.  So even if the house doesn't sell, my faith in You will remain. 


And back and forth it goes.  I also must admit that while it sounds very holy to want to sell the house to fund the adoption, we also are becoming scared as a result of our own foolishness.  When we decided to put the house on the market, the apartment unit we wanted to rent became available.  At that time in December, we went ahead and reserved that unit, obligating us to an 18-month lease beginning February 15th.  Dave Ramsey would be ashamed!  We basically committed to pay for something we truly, as of this moment, can't afford.  Without this foolish mistake, we would still be anxious for the house to sell quickly, because, that is our plan to fund the adoption.  The sooner the better since our dossier should be going to China next week.  But our desire to "determine our own steps" has produced a much greater anxiety and has serious consequences.  We don't expect God to bail us out of stupidity.


This article has provided just the right scripture for my prayers today.  Go check them all out, but here are some phrases from various verses:
The way of man is not himself...
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding...
...He will direct your paths...
The Lord will guide you continually.
The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.


Ken, the Brownies and I sincerely appreciate your prayers.  I'm humbled by how many of you remember us and think of our family. 



Monday, February 7, 2011

The Deaf Factor



{ Chinese Deaf Dancers }
Many of you have seen the girls.
They are either deaf or both deaf and blind.
There is so much to do, think about, and study when preparing to adopt.  We’ve compiled our dossier, an effort that has taken over 6 months, completed our required parent training, read books on attachment in adoption, read and researched being a family of various colors.  (Still not sure what I want to call that. Biracial goes against my belief that we are one race of people. We ARE bicultural, but that refers to hearing and Deaf cultures!)
But I digress....
Over the past month, it hit me that I should begin preparing for raising and homeschooling two boys that are deaf.  We don’t know the degree of their hearing at this point.  We are fairly confident that Xu is completely deaf.  He had a brainstem evoked potential done, which resulted in an “abnormal” reading.  We are further convinced because of the timing of his abandonment.  His birth family relinquished him at about one year, seemingly because they figured out beyond a shadow of a doubt that he couldn’t hear.  In our recent letter to his caretakers, we asked about their opinion regarding him being deaf.  They verified that he doesn’t seem to hear and he has no speech except for an occasional attempt at “ma ma”.  He’s 2 1/2.
Tian is a different story.  An “audiogram” shows that he’s deaf in both ears (bilateral), but we’ve heard MANY stories from friends who have adopted from China, thinking they are adopting a deaf child, only to discover the child can hear, but has other issues (often trauma) that made them appear deaf.
Tain, who is 1 1/2, has microtia and atresia of the right ear, meaning his outer ear never developed.  More often than not, a child with microtia and atresia hears out of the left ear.  After Chinese New Year, we will send a letter to his nanny, getting more information from her.  She’s been his “mom” for 7 months now, so she should give us great insight.
Suppose they are, indeed, both deaf.  We still have many unknowns and decisions.  What’s the best way to go about communicating when we first meet?  How long will it take them to acquire ASL?  Since they are both language delayed, what should we expect in terms of picking up language?  What is their level of hearing?  Will hearing aids amplify their hearing in a beneficial way?  Where will we send them to speech classes?  How will I, their teacher, teach them to read?  Should we look into a visual form of phonics?  Visual Phonics, Cued Speech?  At what age should we start this?  
When they are ready to go into Sunday school classes at church, will there be teachers who can sign? If not, should we leave them in there anyway?  
I recently met a sweet mom overwhelmed with the fact that her daughter, also adopted from China, is deaf.  They, unlike us, did NOT seek out a deaf child.  They agreed to accept other “special needs” and around the time they got travel approval, discovered she was deaf.  I’ve appreciated our candid, raw conversations.  We are certainly on polar opposite sides of the issue, but she has opened my eyes to the deep fears hearing parents face.  She’s also relit the spark in me to talk to parents and do anything I can to convince them to accept their deaf child for what they are...deaf!  
Above, I posted just a *few* questions I have, but because of my family’s background and life in the Deaf community, I already have most crucial questions answered.
-Ken is Deaf. He’s lived it. We’re not scared of it. In addition to their own dad, we have tons of friends all over the US who can be positive role models for Tian and Travis. The Deaf community is our community in our daily lives.
-We have language to start giving them the minute we meet them. (In fact, we will be making a DVD of signs to send them before we go so they can have the chance to  have at least a couple of words.)
-We know we will use ASL in our home. We don’t have to worry over our language options.
-We will simultaneously be teaching them English through books, books, books, index cards, labels, fingerspelling, etc.
-We will raise them to embrace and be proud of the fact they are deaf.  In essence, Ken will model to them how to be a Deaf man in America...and that it is not a curse or death sentence.
-We will use all of the skills, talents, resources and senses God gave them to teach them about the world, themselves, and the God who created them.  We know from experience that hearing is not required for this.
Those are things we know and they are major!  I can’t imagine beginning this journey without those foundational blocks.  (Kudos to my parents-in-law!!)
We are open to hearing aids and speech therapy, of course.  No, we will not pursue cochlear implants. As they get older, if they are interested in it and we see that it could be beneficial in some way, we will look into it.
There is a surgery to “repair” the microtia and possibly atresia that is done very selectively and only after age 5 or 6. This involves removing part of a rib and using it to reconstruct the outer ear, while “opening” the ear canal.  From what we’ve read, the risk is too high.  The “new” ear, constructed by a plastic surgeon, is sometimes rejected by the body, leaving the ear in worse shape.  
Of course, we will be faced with new technology as time goes on, and we will keep an open mind.  But “fixing” the deafness won’t be a consuming issue of our or the boys’ lives.
The “Deaf” thing has been on my mind and seems to be all over TV this week, too!  With the CSI: Las Vegas episode, then “What Would You DO?”, it’s been fun seeing Deaf people in the mainstream media.  I have strong opinions about the WWYD show, but I’ll save it for another time and place.