Saturday, April 23, 2011

Change Is A-Comin'

As time nears for us to travel to get the boys, I'm focusing on being thankful for any quiet or independent moments I have right now.

The Brownies get up and often make their own breakfast.  They all dress themselves, do their chores and take care of their bathroom needs on their own.  When school and chores are over, they go outside to play and I'm in the house alone to clean, do laundry, make dinner, blog, read or even lie down for a few minutes.

Change is a-comin'!

Tonight, a large group of us went out to eat after church.  Even as I sat visiting with some new friends, I had to stop and think, "It's not going to be this easy once the boys are here."  The Brownies sat down at the opposite end of the row of tables with their KODA buddies, ordered for themselves, and entertained themselves while I visited.  I vividly remember when the Brownies were young, feeling like we could never finish a conversation (sometimes a sentence) without a distraction from the kids.  Since I'm with Deaf friends for the most part, once my eyes are on the kids, I'm completely lost from the conversation.
(I understand that hearing people also get distracted with caring for kids, too but at least while you're feeding them, picking up the pacifier from under the table, digging in the diaper bag or whatever, you're still able to talk or listen in on the conversation.)

Am I worried or upset about this upcoming change?  No way!  I know the trade-off and it's totally worth every distraction.  Worth every missed conversation.  Worth every fit thrown in a crowded restaurant.  Worth the loss of naps.  Worth. Every. Minute.

So I'm thanking God for this time of peace before we have a whirlwind of toddler-dom back in our lives and looking forward to having little ones back in the Brown house.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Planning Our Trip to China

The boys' immigration and visa papers are sent off and on their journey that ends in Guangzhou, China at the American Embassy.  The Brown 5's visa paperwork is filled out and ready to send off early next week. Grant and loan applications are in, the US government has approved "provisionally" both boys to enter the US as our sons and citizens of the United States of America.

April is coming to an end and as soon as May is here, I'll be able to say that we most likely will see the boys "next month!"

We are over the mountain of "adoption process" and are sliding down the other side, picking up speed all the way.  Now I can have a little fun shopping and preparing for our trip to China!
The Fort Worth Museum currently has a special exhibit spotlighting life in China
Next week, we plan to go visit a special exhibit at the Fort Worth Museum called "Children of Hangzhou: Connecting With China."  It looks like it will be great.  Just as I was working on this entry, I noticed on my dashboard that another woman who's blog I follow just took her kids and posted about it.  The exhibit is perfect timing for our family!

Several friends have asked us about our China trip, so I thought I would answer the most popular questions here:
We should travel in June, Lord willing.  All three Brownies are traveling with us.  We will stay in China 21-22 days as opposed to the regular 16-day stay since we are adopting two boys from different provinces.  We will have CCAI (our adoption agency) representatives with us at all times, including tours.  They act as our guides, translators, and experts.

Our trip will look something like this:
Day 1: Travel 13 hours by airplane to Beijing, China.
Day 2-3: Sightsee, sleep, adjust to China time and prepare for the boys! We plan to tour the Great Wall, Tienneman Square/Forbidden City.  We are also working on meeting up with some Deaf Chinese people while in Beijing.
Day 4: Travel to Zhengzhou, the capital of Tian's province.  Our last day as a family of 5.
Day 5: Gotcha Day for Tian!
Day 6: Paperwork filled out.
Day 7-9: Wait for paperwork, medical checkups, touring the city. We plan to go visit the Kung Fu Temple.  Zhengzhou is the birthplace of Kung Fu.
Day 10: Get all official docs back in our hands, then fly to Fujian, the capital of Travis' province.
Day 11: Gotcha day for Travis!
Day 12: Paperwork filled out.
Day 13-15: Wait for paperwork, medical checkups, touring the city. We hope to visit Travis' birthplace about 3 hours away.
Day 16: Get all official docs back in our hands, then fly to Guangzhou, city of the US Consulate.
Day 17: Rest, shopping and tour.
Day 18: Visa physical exam and visa photo for the boys.
Day 19:  Visa paperwork delivered to US Consulate Adoption unit.
Day 20: To US Consulate to take the oath! This is adoption day! Lots of tears, I'm pretty sure. Gets me choked up just typing it.
Day 21: Receive the boys' visas.
Day 22: Fly home to the USA!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Supporting Tian and Travis' Adoption

A couple of months ago, I had posted about my struggle with asking for financial support.  If you haven't read that, doing so will help make more sense out of this post. I had planned to follow up with this post the day after posting that, but God had other plans for us.

Recently, my mom was talking about her study of Elijah and the widow in I Kings 17.  That prompted me to go re-read the account.

God provided for both Elijah and the widow by directing them to help each other.  The widow provided food to Elijah, but only through her obedience to the difficult thing God asked her to do and by her own sacrifice.  God asked her to first make bread for Elijah, even through she and her son were on their last handful of flour.  The widow obeyed and made bread for him by faith.  If her faith was an error, she and her son would starve.  Of course, her faith wasn't an error.  God is faithful always.  God provided an endless supply of flour and oil for as long as it was needed.  But the widow first had to trust, then had to sacrifice.  Elijah had to also trust God and ask the widow to meet his needs, even through she was someone who had almost nothing to give him.  If Elijah had ignored God's instruction to ask the widow for food, SHE would have suffered by not receiving the blessing of abundant flour and oil.

What this teaches me is that 1: I must trust God.  2:  God is worthy of my trust.  3. It isn't wrong to let our needs be known.  4. God will direct others to help for a reason beyond our own needs.  My not asking as God directs could hinder someone else's blessing.  5. I must step out in faith and listen to how God wants me to bless someone else, even in my own time of struggle or suffering, just like the widow did.  It's sometimes easy to feel like Ken and I have a "pass" from being financially generous to others during this lean time when so much of what we have is going toward the adoption.  This account of the widow and Elijah convicts me otherwise.

So here it is.  I'm officially letting you, our friends and family and anonymous readers know that we could use financial help to complete the adoption.

What do we need?

$45,000  Approximate Adoption Total
$10,000 Approximate Paid So Far

This total does not reflect post-adoption cost or medical costs when we get home.

Lest that number scare your pants off (like it so easily did us), there is a current tax refund of about $13,000 per child.  

So to recalculate:
$45.000 approx. total
-$10,000 already paid
-$26,000 tax refund

That tax refund removes much of the burden, for which we are grateful.  However, we won't see a penny of that until the summer of 2012.  We need $1500 this week to complete ours and the boys' visa and immigration paperwork.  By the end of May, we will need to book our flights, pre-pay for in-China costs, and have cash in hand, ready to take with us to China.
Some of the $10,000 we have already paid is on credit cards.  If you know us, you know we had paid off our debt except for the house.  We prayed over this before deciding to use credit cards and feel strongly, that for us, putting adoption expenses on a credit card is different than buying "stuff".  We're talking about two human lives and we know we will be able to pay if off within 2012.

We are fervently praying that the sale of our house goes through without any problems so that we have the cash we need to purchase our plane tickets, buy the items we need for China, and have the $18,000 cash we will need to take with us for the various fees we will pay there.  Since we had to drop the price of our house substantially, we will not have as much as we had first anticipated.

Ken and I are letting our needs be known and we trust that God will direct anyone He wishes to help.  Would you pray about it? Please also be in prayer for us, that Ken and I will be quiet to hear from God as He directs us, even if it seems counter-intuitive.  It may sound cliche, but it's true: We value your prayers for us above everything else.

If you would like to help us financially, you may use the PayPal link in the right column.  You may also send us an email if you have questions or need our address.  Thanks for even considering it and for praying for us and the kids during this process.

With Much Love,
Sarah and Ken

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Packing, Potties, and Bottles

A few months ago, I posted on Facebook a suggested packing list for China.  It was FIVE pages long, listing anything and everything you might need while in the country.
Since our boys aren't infants, there are some items on the list we can disregard, but most items will be needed or at least seriously considered.
From studying various packing lists, we get one big idea:

Less clothes. More medicine.

There will be a nearby Wal-Mart in at least three of the four cities we will visit, so we can purchase some items there such as an umbrella stroller, clothes for the boys, diapers and some foods.  Evidently, they don't have American-type over-the-counter medications, so we have been advised to take a LOT!
For us: stomach medicines, sleep aids, decongestants, cough suppressants and pain relievers.  For the boys, we pack the same type pediatric medications, skin creams, lotions, first-aid supplies and doctor-prescribed antibiotics. By the look of my packing list, we're going to need one suitcase to serve solely as a medicine cabinet.

Another helpful tip we read was to take one package of American diapers.  For whatever reason, the ones in China aren't quite as absorbant, which just means we will change them more often.  The recommended American package of diapers is for the plane rides, when we may not have the opportunity to change the boys before an overflow.

That leads me to a question we get asked often:  Will the boys be potty-trained?  They very well could be.  From their pictures, we see that they don't currently wear diapers, but the customary split pants.  In China, most babies potty train at one year of age.  Little ones wear pants that are split on bottom, similar to our babies' "snap" pants, but worn with the snaps unfastened.  When the parents want the child to potty, they are held over a toilet, squatty, trash can, or whatever.  Even through our boys may be trained at this point, kids will often digress and begin having potty issues upon adoption.

That leads to yet another question my mom asked me the other day: Will the boys drink from bottles?  The answer is yes.  Even if we just bottle-feed them at nap time and bed time, we will be using bottles.  "Nursing" from a bottle held by either Ken or me will help the boys bond to us and begin to identify us as someone special, not like any other adult they come across in life.  We can't wait to get that process started!

While we wait, we'll be doing more reading, packing, shopping, waiting and praying.

Friday, April 15, 2011

New Requirements

First of all, we had great news waiting for us in our inbox this morning.  NBC (National Benefits Center within CIS) has approved and sent us our supplement 3.  We had to file a supplement 3 because we changed addresses.  You may remember that we were a bit concerned over this, but decided in faith to just do it.  It's a major relief to know that is done.

With our address change out of the way and a contract moving on the house, our burdens are feeling lighter and we are able to focus more on our upcoming trip!

There are a couple of new requirements related to our adoptive country.  One of those is a required TB test for kids over age 2.  We got word today that EnEn (Travis) was tested and is negative.  A few things cross my mind and touch my heart as I think about the test:

- He had a medical checkup and got a shot and I wasn't there with him.  If I had been with him, I would have held him in my lap while he got his shot.  Did he cry?  If so, I would have, too.  I would have held him close and stroked his hair, rubbed his arm, and given him kisses.  Did anyone do this for him?  Oh, EnEn, your momma and daddy will be there so soon to give you all the love you SO deserve!
- He's being prepared to come home!  The TB test is part of the process he is going through in preparation to come home to his family.

Another new requirement probably won't affect us, but it's a big one for adopting families!  In the past (and until August) adopting families have had to provide to the child's home country, post-adoption updates at 6 months and one year.  At those times, families send in photos and a report on their child.  A new law for our adoptive country requires post-adoption updates at 2, 3, and 5 years of age.  We should travel before this new requirement goes into effect, but I thought I was interesting.

In my heart, June can't get here fast enough.  In reality, it's good we have the time to prepare for our trip. There is still money to raise, items to purchase, and a home to prepare for two toddlers.  Regardless, I'd leave tomorrow if I could!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

New Pictures of Tian!

Doubly-blessed this month! Tonight, we got a letter from a friend in China last month and saw Tian when he dropped in for a medical checkup.
He doesn't look too thrilled to have his picture taken, but he's just precious!  Gotta love those pink shoes!

Today, I was reading a new friend's blog and she said this:
It is nearly impossible to put into words the longing I have for my little girl.  It is so hard to know that she is mine, to love her so deeply, and to not be able to hold her.  Imagine missing the first two years of your child’s life.  I have no idea what she ate today.  I wonder did she get any attention at all today?  Has anyone ever rocked her to sleep or comforted her?  I search online for history of her city and pictures of her orphanage.  I search the location where she was found on google earth, anything just to have a piece of her.  My heart longs for anything to hold on to while I wait.

Yes! I completely identify.  Each picture is cherished. Relished. A true treasure.  Seeing the boys grow via photos is bittersweet.  I'm thrilled to catch any new glimpse of the boys and am so thankful for the updates, but it's also heart-wrenching.  Each photo reminds me how much they are growing without Ken or me there to see it.

We are down to the last couple of months.  We are trusting God, knowing that He has had these boys' lives in His hands since before they were knit in their birthmothers' wombs.  He knew they were a part of our family.  He knows the very day we will meet the boys.  We can rest in that.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Downsizing Adventures 3: Character Revealed

Ken recently mentioned that we should have moved to a place like this when we first came to Texas 4 years ago, but we have no regrets.  

First of all, if we had moved here to begin with, we wouldn't have some of our dearest friends from Dickinson Drive and may not have gone to Valley Creek Church and met so many people we love there.

The dark side of "no regrets" is the fact that I know we wouldn't have been satisfied living here 4 years ago.  Ken and I have been notorious for thinking "things will be better when _____ happens."  When we left Las Vegas, we were thrilled to have done so well in the real estate market and were taken in by how big of a house we could get for "cheap" in Texas.  We were enamored with the idea of a BIG house with a BIG yard and BIG pool as if that would bring us joy.  I hate to admit it, but if we had moved here first, we would have been discontent, pining away until we could have our "dream home."  Now, having lived in what we thought was our dream home, we know what we should have known all along since we know Christ!  

Being here two weeks has revealed in me my own ego and attitude.  I find myself wanting to explain to others that we did live in a house...a big house...and that this is our first time in an apartment.  Or I'll want to make sure people know that where we live isn't like a regular apartment.  That need to explain exposes ugly parts of my character.  Pride.  Judgement. Protecting my "image". Yuck.  I thank God for His willingness to chisel away on my heart and make my character a little more like His.  My prayer is that He will continue to reveal and remove the ugliness in my heart, even if it's painful.

Philippians 3 - The Message
Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God's righteousness.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New Pictures of EnEn!

Also known as "Xu", to be known as Travis.

We got these pictures via email from our agency yesterday.  We couldn't have been more thrilled!!  Seeing these makes us want to scoop him up and give him lots of hugs and kisses!
Posing with the basketball
His last report said he loves cars, "dumbbells" and balls.

Ironically, playing the piano

Sunday, April 3, 2011

More Downsizing Adventures

We've been here at our new place for 2 full weeks now and are feeling settled in.  I have our school cabinet pretty much organized.  This "china cabinet" sits in the wall right across from our dining table, so the location couldn't be better. I'll still need to tweak it a bit and work on making the top shelf look pretty, but I have everything we need for daily school work.

The Brownies are making friends and today we had a little of the girl drama that goes along with it.  My girls' feelings were hurt when two kids they had been playing with all last week kept running away from them.  When the Brownies asked them why they kept running, they told one of my girls she had acted like a "jerk" earlier in the week.  Oh, the drama!  Fortunately, it ended in apologies all around.  I'm sure they will be friends again.  We had our share of girl drama on Dickinson, too.

Earlier this week, Mackenzie told me that she sometimes feels like she doesn't fit in here.  I asked her why (she is one that easily makes friends) and she said, "I'm the only white kid here and that makes me feel left out. Sometimes the other kids don't want to talk to me."
Is it bad that I'm grateful for her experience?   I reminded her that the bit of discomfort she feels is what many more people feel all the time, everywhere they go and that her experience will help her remember to be kind to everyone, even if they look or sound different from her.  I'm grateful that she will have the chance to grow more empathetic and less judgmental of others.  Yes, I'm grateful for her chance to "suffer" because I know she will be better for it.   Of course, she made that comment last Wednesday and by today she was out playing with the kids, having a great time.  That is until she came in and the front door slammed on her finger, but that's another story.

Our neighborhood backs to two ponds they call lakes.  They are ponds, but I digress.  A benefit of this is that we get to see ducks come to visit in the community pool.  We also have a pool view from our living room and balcony, so enjoy seeing them daily.  Today, the kids noticed a mamma duck, daddy duck, and 9 ducklings!  After a few hours, they had drawn quite a crowd.  For hours, the mamma was going to each corner, jumping out, seemingly trying to show her babies how to do the same, but they were stuck.  A neighbor put one of the lounge chairs in the pool for the ducklings to use as a "ramp".  The ducklings certainly provided adorable entertainment for the afternoon.
While we totally miss our Dickinson neighbors and our own pool (this one isn't open yet), there is not much more we miss about our old place.  We have awesome trails here that are FLAT!  Yay!  We walk or ride less than a mile to Andy Brown Park where there is a nice playground, soccer fields, and a dirt running track.  Another 1/2 mile or so down the trail is an awesome park and community rec center.   Just across the street from that is the library.  We've never lived close enough to walk or ride bikes to the library, so we are stoked!
We'll keep exploring the new 'hood, making new friends, and adjusting to the new place.  So far, smaller is certainly better for our family. 

Adoption Vlog Part 2

This time, I added voiceover.  I hope you can't tell by looking/listening how horrible my allergies are right now.  I can't wait to get to the allergy doctor this week!
Below the video, I added a few links to resources I've used to learn more about adoption and attachment.  Enjoy!

Attaching in Adoption  Great book about attachment
Toddler Adoption: The Weaver's Craft  Another attachment book specifically for toddlers Website with some excellent articles
Other families!  Find other families who have adopted and learn from them.

I want to add that I hope that some of the stories don't scare you away from considering adoption.  It's a beautiful thing! Much like marriage or rearing children or going to school, it's tough, but oh, so worth it! Since you are adopting a child for life, it's crucial to enter the process with "eyes wide open."