Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Picture Says A Thousand Words...

Sometimes You just need to have a little fun! Knowing that we will soon be away from the boys for almost 3 weeks, and when we return, will be adding a new child who will need so much of our attention, I have really been trying to spend every minute I can with the boys. We have really been squeezing out a lot of fun times, and I thought I'd share a few pictures with you. First we have our fort night...everyone had their own set of blankets and "structure" materials to build whatever they wanted. We've done this numerous nights over the past few weeks. This was one nights result...
Nathan...he's peeping out over Stitch's head
Then we had fun baking Banana Nut Bread Cookies for church Sunday and this Ah-Mazing Earthquake Cake. (Thanks Delores for the recipe!)

 And of course there was the day we let them make a "flood" in the ditch in the back. Making a flood consists of letting the kids run the water hose for 10-15 minutes in the ditch in the back yard. It creates red mud, and this was the result of their hour long session in the flooded ditch...

 Since Alex was the only one clean, he got to do the honor of spraying the other two off with the water hose.

I love love this one! I know Alex was thoroughly enjoying every second of his role ;)

At night we snuggled and watched TV. One night Andy didn't like any of the spaces left to lay in on the bed for TV time, so he crawled up into the clothes basket on the cedar chest at the foot of the bed...and promptly fell sound asleep!

Remember I mentioned in this post about getting a new zoom lens for our camera? Well, we've been playing around with it some, trying to get a feel for it. This is a shot we took of our cat Sadie. Isn't she a beauty?
With all that's been going on, we've been blessed enough to receive some incredible gifts from some friends for Annabella. We got this from Nancy, Jessie, Cheyenne and Garrett Etheridge...
It's a precious super soft lamb and a gorgeous, soft pink blanket. The lamb is going to be as big as Annabella, and the blanket is so soft I just want to snuggle under it myself! I'm not as good as Greg with the camera, so please excuse the quality of these photos...I still have a lot of learning to do ;)
This quilt was handmade, and our friends Jackie and Tim Bowland, and their son Sky gave it to us. It is white, with a soft pink and light cocoa brown color.  It has so much character, I just LOVE handmade quilts!
This is what is over Annabella's crib. The phrase I saw on a picture frame one day, and I had it recreated into a wall sticker. Since I have such an affinity for butterflies, I had to add them to the edges too. The phrase reads "We loved you even before we knew you, even when there was just the hope of you, we loved you" The cross beside the phrase was another handmade gift. Evan Nanney made it for us to match the colors in her nursery, and he wrote a similar phrase on the back for her. This one brought me to tears, I had been especially down the week he gave it to me, and God used him to just lift me up multiple times and in multiple ways that week. I will always remember how much He worked through Evan, for my good, that week when I see this cross in Annabella's room.
And we got this Sunday from our friend Lori McElheny and her family. She remembered me mentioning one day how much I loved butterflies, and so she nabbed these precious pants, two pair of socks, and a super cute set of p.j.'s for us. It is truly humbling that so many people have asked about the progression of our adoption, and how many people who've told us that this journey has in some way touched them, and all who have prayed for us countless times throughout this entire journey. We have received several donations, and have raised several hundred dollars so far through our fundraising efforts, and each person who has contributed to that has touched our very souls with their generosity. These gifts are just a few of the items we have received from our friends, and we've also had people give us donations to take with us for the orphanage and the workers there. I can't wait to give those to them when we get there...I know that each small thing will mean something very big to the children and staff there! I continue to be awed by all the unexpected supporters we have, and reminded that when God is in charge, there is no limit to the amount of blessings that He has shown and continues to show us daily!
"God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you're ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it, He throws caution to the winds, giving to the needy in reckless abandon. His right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out. This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God" 2 Corinthians 9:8-11 MSG

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How it all began...

Several people have asked me recently, to share our adoption story. It made me realize that I've not really ever put it "out there" for our long distance friends and family, so I thought this would be the perfect post!Before I begin, I'd like to point out the new button to the right side of the screen. It is a link to our secure Paypal account. We have been asked about how to send donations for our adoption fund, so we set up an online account specifically for it. If you feel led to donate even 1.00, it would mean so very much to our family!

Let me begin before the beginning, as it's the only place to start where you can truly grasp the gravity of our journey, and the impact God has made on our lives through it. I grew up in the small town or Louisville, MS. We lived in the country, but near us was a very small subdivision. It had about 16 houses in it, and three had adopted children. All were domestic adoptions, and one of these people grew to be one of my dearest, lifelong friends. My entire life I always envisioned that I would eventually get married, and that we would grow our family through adoption. Domestic adoption, at that, I never even considered International adoption.

Well, eventually I did get married, and when we began to talk about having children, I said that I wanted to do that by adopting. Greg immediately said that he would never, ever adopt, that he could never love a child that was not his own flesh and blood. So, knowing that it would be unfair to subject a child to that, I set aside my dream of adoption. We tried for 5 years to have a child, and finally reached the end game. I.V.F. or adoption. We could not conceive a child without the aid of I.V.F., and weren't even sure that would work. We discussed adoption again, and came up with the same result, where Greg said he'd rather just not have children if we couldn't successfully conceive through I.V.F. So I dismissed my dream again, for what I thought was forever. We went on to go through I.V.F twice and have three beautiful boys to show for it.

We talked about how many children we wanted, and decided that 3 was it. Three children in 22 months was HARD to say the least! Most people get baby fever a few years after their last child was born, but not us. When I say we were done, I mean we were D.O.N.E. Greg even took care of the "1 in a million" chance we could ever have a miracle child by having a vasectomy.  DONE I tell you!

Fast forward on to a year ago. Nathan was 8, and the twins were 6. We were finally reaching a stage in our lives where the boys were all old enough to fend for themselves, if I was sick, or at least walk next door to my parent's house. They went to school 5 days a week, and having had them all so close together, they all played well with pretty much the same toys. Over the summer of 2010,  I'd gotten a call that hit me straight through the heart to go to the mission field. After at first deciding that financially we couldn't do it, Greg had begun to stand behind my calling to support me in my efforts to raise the money to go to the Philippines with our church. It was Memorial day weekend, 2011 and I'd taken hundreds of jars of pickles, jams, and jellies to Louisville to the Red Hills Arts Festival to sell. This was to be my very first fund raiser for my mission trip. Little did I know how much that weekend was going to change my life!

Greg had gone to church that Sunday morning, and in my absence, help was needed to work with our "house lights." So he filled in in my stead. That put him in a seat on the back wall of our church where he could see everyone who walked down the aisle. At our church when it is time for the tithes and offerings to be taken, most of our regular attendees and members stand and walk down the aisle to deposit them into our offering buckets. We also do the traditional method of passing the plate down the rows, but many people give by walking down the aisle. That said, Greg sat there that morning and watched as three little Chinese girls walked hand in hand down the aisle to place their offerings into the buckets. As they walked back up the aisle, something inside of him just blew. He said it was as if the Holy Spirit broke down a wall, and struck him with a bolt of lightening. In that moment, that split second, he knew that we were being called to adopt. He said it brought chills to his body, and tears to his eyes. Talk about the movement of The Holy Spirit!

That afternoon, as I was driving home from Louisville, and he from church, he called me to say that we had to talk about something important when I got home. I had no idea what he had to say, but I knew it had to be big! So a couple of hours later, we sat on our bed, and he began to tell me about what had happened to him, how it made him feel, and what he believed we had to do. He felt that we were being called to adopt. That we were supposed to adopt from a non-Christian nation. We began to do research on International adoption, countries, requirements, and cost. We narrowed down the countries through our research. Some we had to dismiss because we just didn't meet the requirements, some because multiple trips were required, that would take us both away from work, and our family for too long. The more research we did, the more doors to countries were closed to us. Eventually we would up with China. It was what Greg felt called for in the beginning, and it was the only door God left open for us to go through. Again, how is that for the calling of God? Only He had the power to close every other door to us that was available at the time He called us to adopt!

Once we had a country picked out we began to research agencies. We decided on CCAI because of all the agencies we contacted they were the one who was easiest to reach, and they spent almost 2 hours on the phone with us answering questions, before we even signed a contract! So on June 11th 2011, we signed a contract with them and began our crazy adventure! We were approved June 17th, and we began the paper chase. For all of you who are not in the International adoption circle, the paper chase is the portion of any International adoption where you have official documents notarized, verified, and sealed for a dossier which will be sent to the child's country. This included official copies of birth certificates, marriage certificates, police clearances in every state you've ever lived or worked, local fingerprints, and clearances, federal fingerprints, and clearances, and so much more. Each piece of paperwork must be notarized locally, then sent to the state it originated in, to be verified, then sent to Washington to the State department to be certified, then sent to the Chinese consulate to be sealed. It is then ready for inclusion in the dossier. Once the dossier is complete, it must be sent to your agency, who proofs it to make sure every "i" is dotted and every "t" is crossed, and then they send it to China. This is a tedious process, to say the least, and is very time consuming.

We finally finalized all of our documentation, and our dossier was officially "logged in" to China on December 8, 2011. In China, you can be matched with a child anytime after submitting your medical conditions checklist. We submitted ours on June, 14, 2011. The match process widens when your dossier is logged in though, because you are allowed to be matched with children reserved for people who have logged in their paperwork. Many of the LID, (logged in date,) only children have a lesser degree of special needs. On January 3rd, 2012, we received our match, and knew in our hearts that Annabella was our daughter. Annabella's file was the second file we'd received. The first file we prayed about, but decided to decline. That was absolutely gut wrenching for us, and cause me to be deeply depressed until we found out that the next family who got her file, adopted her. For God, it was that simple, she was theirs, and we were meant for Annabella! A sense of peace came over me as I prayed when we declined her file, and though you normally do not find out about the fate of children other than your own, we did find out that she'd been matched and was adopted by her own forever family. This again was evidence for us of how God was touching our adoption journey.

January the 9th, 2012 our LOI (letter of intent,) was logged in to China, stating that we officially intended to adopt Annabella if they would allow it. A very long 4 months later we received our LOA (letter of acceptance,) from China on April 30th, 2012. This is the letter that China sends saying they officially accept us as Annabella's parents. The next steps have all gone quickly and we received our Article 5 which was the last official piece of paperwork we got on June 9, 2012. Now we wait for our TA (travel approval,) which is our official invitation to travel to China for our adoption. We should receive this within the next 3 weeks, and will travel to China anywhere between 10 days and 3 weeks after receiving it.

There are so many things that God has taught us and so many ways we've grown throughout this adoption. I have no doubt that His plan all along was adoption for me. It is why I had the strong pull from such an early age, and why that fire never died within my heart. One thing I have learned is that you should never give up on your dreams.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 NIV

 "But he said, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.”"
Luke 18:27 ESV

Patience. That is something I have struggled with my entire life. He has taught me how to have patience, and the value of it. 

"For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might ,so that you may have great endurance and patience and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light." Col 1:9-12 NIV

"So that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises."
Hebrews 6:12 ESV

Never say never. I realize to some that this post may make Greg sound a bit barbaric, and that could not be further from the truth. Adoption is not for the faint of heart! I have a whole new post planned on that topic, but for now, just know that God was only using Greg's resistance to adoption, because His plan was for us to be joined with Annabella. No other scenario could have worked for our family. We believe He sent the twins to us early, so that we would understand the gravity of special needs, because He knew one day that we would be adopting our daughter through the special needs program from China. This has all been a lesson on His divine timing. And I tell you, I am a true believer, and have found SO MUCH SOLACE in the fact that God is faithful, and I know that He has this whole thing in his hands, and that His timing is perfect.

 “In the time of my favor I will answer you,..." Isaiah 49:8 NIV

 "And then God answered: "Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what's coming. It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait! And it doesn't lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It's on its way. It will come right on time." Hab2:3 MSG

 And He has helped me to trust in Him, knowing that He has a plan for my life, and that no matter what I say or do, He will love me and guide me to do His will.

“The Lord says, ‘I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.  I will advise you and watch over you’.” Psalm 32:8 NIV

“For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10 NIV

 Most of all, I have grown in my walk with Jesus Christ, in seeing how He has worked through this whole process. He knew just what we could handle, and gave us just enough. He gave us solace when we needed it, along with a good dose of strength and patience, He supported us in so many ways, emotionally, financially, and spiritually and these things were all tangible things. I could give you all of the examples, but I choose to keep some of these lessons a bit more private. I'm happy to share others, as I've already done on this blog, both in this post and in previous posts. I have been humbled by the people who have helped us, and prayed for us, and supported us in a variety of ways, and been shocked to find that our journey has inspired others to take steps of faith of their own. God truly uses people in such unexpected ways! I continue to trust in Him and know that He will continue to show me how to delight in His great works! For all of you who are new to our blog, or have been here since the beginning, I hope you will take a moment to pray for our family and our continued walk of faith! Thank you for allowing us to share our lives with you!

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Eph 4:20 NIV

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A day in the life of the Bennett family

Well, a few actually! Last week I spent some much needed "down time" in Louisville with my best friend Katie. Friday she took off work and we went shopping in Jackson, MS. We had sooo much fun! The first thing we did was have lunch at a Mexican restaurant where they made their own tortillas. I was absolutely mesmerized by the process of it. First the lady flattened out small pieces of dough by running them through a roller, then they went into a spiraling oven, where they started at the top and ran down to the bottom where they were deposited onto a conveyor belt that moved them upwards as they cooled and finally deposited them into a stainless steel  "table" where periodically waiters would come by and scoop them up to deliver to the kitchen.
See how puffy they are right out of the oven? They flatten as they cool on the conveyor belt.

This thing was HUGE! The hand made tortillas were super delicious!


 After lunch we shopped til we dropped at Target, Ross, Babies R Us, Charming Charlie's, The Children's Place and several other places in the mall. The Children's Place was having their bi-annual "Monster Sale" and so we wound up actually hitting TWO locations where I scored big time! 

I was able to get Annabella two pair of footed p.j.'s for 7.99, two pair of leggings for 1.49 each, a cute onesie for 2.99, a white skirt with bloomers built in for 2.99, a white shirt for 1.99, 2 pair of dressy ruffled socks for .99 each, and a pair of pants that can be rolled up and worn as capris for just .99! I also snagged my Mom a pair of adult fleece p.j.'s for just 4.99. She loves the fleece p.j.'s and wears the top as a "house" jacket to help with her fibromyalgia, so when I found a pair for that price I couldn't pass it up. Although I really didn't find any good deals for the boys at CP, we did wind up picking them up a new shirt Saturday at Target, and some shorts and a shirt at Dirt Cheap today. All Shawn White brand, (which is their favorite craze at the moment,) so they are over the moon! I didn't want to come home from my trip though, empty handed, so I picked up this little treat for them at the mall candy buffet...

Yes, It's a 3 foot long gummy snake. I have BOYS, they love 3 foot long gummy snakes! Since we joined the Godiva rewards club eons ago, but rarely every get a chance to go into a Godiva store, I was able to get a discount on a box of truffles, and a freebie, so I did something I very rarely do, and treated myself . (I mean, I was supposed to be spending a relaxing time unwinding after all, and what better way to savor the moment, than to savor it with Godiva truffles, I ask?)
The blue one is Mint Chocolate Chip, then clockwise is a Pistachio, Pecan Caramel Sundae, and Roasted Almond.  I also got a Coconut one that was divine for free!

I'd originally planned to stay in Louisville until after supper Saturday night before heading home, but wound up making a change of plans Friday evening. We've been looking for a very inexpensive van or larger SUV that could fit all of our kids and still have room for a stroller, groceries, diaper bag, luggage for vacation, or anything else we may need to haul. Our Toyota Highlander seats 8, but there is absolutely NO room for luggage, and a stroller would never have fit with all of us too. We'd gotten a lead on a Honda Odyssey that was in Florence, AL. so, I headed on home Saturday morning. I had time to unload my stuff, load the rest of the family, and head on to Florence so we could meet the salesman at the dealership at noon. After driving the car and then haggling a bit for a better price, we drove away the proud owners of this:

It's not a great picture, but you get the idea. It's a 2004 and has a pretty good amount of miles, but was owned locally by 1 owner who traded it in on a new vehicle recently. All the service was done by the dealership, and we were able to get the complete history on the vehicle, which was very clean. It has leather seats which are a super plus since we will soon have FOUR kids including a toddler riding around in it, and a DVD player with wireless headphones. Oh, they were also running a Father's Day special, and everyone who bought a vehicle, got a free gas grill and gas tank. Greg looked it up, it sells for around 250.00, and it's way nicer than the one we have, so we were pretty excited about that little bonus too! After the car shopping was complete, we stopped in to Target and Best Buy looking for an additional set of head phones for the DVD player in the car. We didn't find the head phones, but we did find a zoom lens for our camera that had been marked down since it had been a floor sample. We'd been talking about purchasing one before we went to China, since we know this is a once in a lifetime trip, and we want to be able to capture every moment of it, to be able to share with Annabella as she grows up. This was just too good a deal to pass on, and so now we are getting used to a new lens that can take some pretty amazing close up shots from a pretty fair distance.

So all in all, I had a very eventful weekend, but also had so much stress taken off me. Getting the boys a couple new outfits to wear that aren't completely stained up or worn out, and finding a good deal on p.j.'s, which is one of the items I still needed for our trip was just fantastic. Getting a vehicle as inexpensively as we got one was a huge relief, and then getting a really good zoom lens was absolute icing on the cake. I was able to spend 2 relaxing days in Louisville, and catch up on all the latest news with Katie and my "brother," Patrick, who is another lifelong friend I only rarely get to spend time with. Each of these days and gifts were all answers to prayers, and though I've mentioned this before, I never cease to be amazed by how God is working in our lives, so clearly, through this adoption. For each thing we've needed and asked for in prayer, He has provided for us, and in this I will have faith that He will continue to provide for us in everything we need spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and financially. If you are a new reader to my little corner of the blogging world, and you have your own little corner, I'd love to visit you too. Please leave me a comment with a link back to your blog and I'll hop on over and say hi!

"And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” Matt 21:22 ESV

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Slow Down...

We live in a suburb of Tupelo, Ms. Tupelo isn't really a BIG town, per se, but we have a mall, 2 Wal-Marts, and a pretty decent smattering of various other big box stores such as Staples, Best Buy, Kohl's etc. Living in a place like Tupelo, is sooooooo much slower paced than living in a "real" big city like Memphis, where we lived for the first 10 years of our marriage. I have lived in 3 areas my entire life, the Tupelo area, where we've lived the past 4 1/2 years, the Memphis area where I lived mostly from age 15-34, a year in Oxford, while I was at Ole Miss when I was 20-21, and Louisville, MS, where I was born and raised, and still call "home." Few people understand the pace of living in a small town. Small towns in the south are all filled with the same types of people, places, and things. If you go to a grocery store, you will most likely have your groceries bagged for you, and taken to your car, by a young man. You can still find gas stations that pump your gas for you, and check your engine oil, washer fluid, and wash your windows while you wait. If you pass a car, the person driving is going to smile and wave at you. If you have car trouble, someone is going to stop, and most likely they will be able to fix it right there, or will take you to town to the mechanic's shop. You don't have to worry about your safety, because people in small towns in the south are tried and true, and honest and as loyal as it gets. You have your "old money" families, these are the people whose parents were cotton farmers, or cotton gin owners. They still have a real southern twang, and will never miss a Sunday at church, or an opportunity to gossip over a tall glass of iced sweet tea. Their children all grew up to be doctors and lawyers. Then you have your middle class families, these are the ones whose parents worked at the phone company, or on the railroad. These families are the backbone of the south, and will give you the shirt off their back. They also won't miss a Sunday at church, and are the first in line at the bake sales and pot lucks. Their children mainly grew up and went various ways, becoming a wide variety of professionals, and moving away from the small town that was good enough when they were growing up, but is somehow not really good enough any longer. Then there is the working class, whose parents depended on the factories that used to be so prevalent, but that began to dry up as more and more of our business moved to places like Mexico and China where labor is so cheap. These families struggled the most as the economy went into a decline, and most live hand to mouth still. I don't mean any of this in a derogatory manner, it's just the truth of small southern towns.  Any one of these people from any one of these groups will greet you with a yes ma'am, and a no sir, and a wave, handshake, smile or a hug. They are all Bible toting, God fearing, good ole country people, who would give you anything you needed to get by. There are exceptions to every rule, but mainly if you grew up in a small town in the south, you can name people in each of these categories, and know exactly which one you fit in as well. Life has changed since I grew up in Louisville, but many of the people remain.

Today I made the 2 hour drive from Tupelo to Louisville to stay a few days with my lifelong best friend Katie for some much needed rest and relaxation. Katie's home is always open to me, and I always feel so relaxed here. Not many people are blessed enough to have had the same best friend for nearly their entire lives, but I am one of the fortunate few. Here is a picture we took last summer when we went to a concert in Tupelo.

The pace of life in Tupelo is much slower than Memphis, but the pace in Louisville is simply a snail's pace compared to Tupelo, and when I really need to unwind, unplug, and unstress my life, this is where I head. Although she doesn't expect anything in return, I always like to thank her for allowing me to stay in her home by cooking dinner at least once while I'm there. Today was the first official day that the Farmer's Market was open in Louisville, and I took full advantage of it! Just last week we visited the Farmer's Market in Tupelo, and I bought a pound of snap beans for 3.00. Today in Louisville a pound was just 1.00. I also bought 4 green tomatoes, 4 ears of corn, 4 large cucumbers, 4 fresh bell peppers, 1 pound of squash and 1 pound of onions all for just 1.00 each. And to top it all off, I got a home baked sweet potato pie from home grown sweet potatoes for just 8.00! I stopped and grabbed a pound of hamburger meat and cooked hamburger steaks with sauteed bell peppers and onions, boiled squash with onions, fresh snapped green beans, boiled corn on the cob, fried green tomatoes, sliced fresh cucumber and sliced fresh tomatoes that Katie grew. This feast cost me just 8.75 including the meat, and would have been enough to feed 4 adults with leftovers, not including the pie. We will be able to eat on that meal the entire time I'm here. Not many places can you buy fresh HOME GROWN produce for prices like those!

Tomorrow's plan is first thing in the morning, to add salt to her parent's new pool, as they are making it a salt water pool, then afterwards heading on a shopping trip to Jackson. I've got to find a Father's day gift for Greg and one for my Dad, and I want to price a few baby things for Annabella as well. Tomorrow night is more R & R, then Saturday we will most likely swim, and pick blueberries, and maybe even do the unthinkable....NAP! I've got to head home late Saturday evening, because it's my weekend to run Media shout lyrics at church. Since I have to be there at 7:30, I really don't want to have to get up at 4:45 to get ready then drive the 2 hours to church Sunday morning. For the past several years I've taken advantage of the solitude here many times, and never thought about NOT having that choice. It's hard to believe soon we will have a new  child, and that this will likely be the last time in a long time that I will have the opportunity to just soak up the quietness, and stillness, the peacefulness, and serenity of time spent here.

Our lives are about to change forever. I am here tonight, in the quiet stillness, pondering all that is yet to come. In so many ways our adoption journey seems to be coming to a close, but it is truly just coming to a new beginning. A beginning of a family of six. A beginning of a bi racial family. A beginning of a family with a daughter. A beginning for Annabella, where she will learn the unconditional love of a family, and of our heavenly Father. She will be immersed in so many new things, a new language, pets, our culture, a home and family, a church. She will have to learn how to trust us, to love us. She will have to learn our language, our culture, our way of life. Our family dynamic, our "house rules." She will have to learn to eat solid food, and drink from a cup. Learn to use a potty, to ride a tricycle. I pray that she will be able to bond with us quickly, and that she will jump right in with the boys, and love them and trust them quickly. So many things are so unknown about the next steps we will take in our adoption journey, and it's in the quiet and stillness that I seek God. I ask Him to calm my fears and worries and He fills me with the sense of peace that He has done since the beginning. In the quiet and stillness, I know that He is the God of peace, the God of restoration.  This is an amazing version of Hillsong United's "None But Jesus." Even if you have seen videos or know the song by heart I urge you to watch this version through to the end. The message is clear, we are God's hands and feet here on earth. It is through us that He works in others. I am eternally grateful to be doing His work in following this path of adoption. To Him I sing all the praise now and forevermore.

“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 NIV

Just a few updates...

It's been an eventful few days around here! Sunday was sooo hectic, I took Monday as a recovery day! Monday was also Greg's last day to work in his 21 straight day stretch, and he was beyond exhausted, so I tried to keep the kids quiet all day while I did some research on the Internet. We got confirmation that morning that our paperwork had been received and that they would be issuing our Article 5 for pick up Tuesday. Since we know now that we can expect to travel during the month of July most likely, I began doing some flight research. We also received an email Monday that our visa's had been approved finally, and that they were on their way back to us. Tuesday we got the news we've been waiting for for almost a month, our Article 5 had officially been issued and picked up by CCAI staff for delivery to the CCCWA. The next step for us will be our TA or travel approval. This is our formal invitation to China to adopt Annabella. We should travel 10-21 days from the day we get our TA, and we can expect the TA in 2-4 weeks. Tuesday also brought FedEx and our passports, complete with visa stamps!

Wednesday is usually a busy day for us, and today was no exception. Greg got up early and began cleaning out the garage, then when I got up and sociable, (those who know me well, know that I need coffee and at least 20 minutes of solitude in the mornings or I can be a bit "un" sociable,) we began cleaning up our bedroom. I know that every one of you has that one room, or closet that you shove everything in to when unexpected company comes over...don't lie, you know you do! Well refer to my super crazy Sunday post here and you can understand why our room needed a double team to tackle it. Not just Sunday, but months of stuff has been accumulating and needed to be taken upstairs to the storage room, or sorted, or thrown away, or donated, or, well, you get the picture! So after we spent about an hour working on that, it was time for me to head off to church to get everything set up for band rehearsal tonight, and our weekly production team meeting. Things ran pretty late tonight so I didn't even get home until nearly 11. The fam and I watched a bit of t.v. before we sent the kids to bed. After tuck ins, hugs, and kisses, Greg and I worked a little on a jigsaw puzzle. I know that this all seems so mundane, but after not really seeing my husband, other than when he was sleeping for THREE weeks, mundane t.v. and jigsaw puzzles, and cleaning was actually a bit exciting!

Since I'm a total night owl, I even went into Annabella's room, and made some definite decisions on which clothes and toys to take with us. I'd sent a proposed packing list to another recent adoptive Mom, who gave us some great recommendations, and that helped me narrow things down just a hair. I was able to get all of her clothes and toys packed into her Trunki, and put the diapers, bottles, and wipes in the back pack we will use as our diaper bag while in China. If you've never heard of a Trunki, they are AWESOME! Here is a link to Melissa and Doug's website, and a video showing the Trunki in action, and here is a picture of "Ruby" which is the style Trunki we bought for Annabella. We even got the saddle bag to go with it, as several of the reviews said it offered an added level of security and stability to the latch system.
Isn't it cute! It holds a TON of stuff too!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Oh, what a day!

Today has been a looooooooooong day. Sundays usually are long for us, since both Greg and I serve in our church in our tech team, and we are usually there for all three services and rehearsal before the first service. We are usually up around 6:15, get to church by 7:20, leave by 2, home around 2:30, (If we don't have to stop for groceries, lunch, or gas,) then we leave for small group between 4:45-5, depending on who is hosting it, and get back home between 8:30 and 9:15. And I wouldn't change a single second of it. It is time spent with Godly people, in God's house, and doing God's work. I am blessed to be able to be part of our church and the work it is doing in our community. Today should have gone pretty much according to schedule, except that immediately after church, our small group was hosting a bridal shower, for which I was responsible for making the cake. We do this occasionally, and do it in place of our regular small group evening meetings. Next weekend I thought was a baby shower for a good friend of mine, that was going to be hosted here, at our home on Sunday at 3. I was responsible for making mini margarita cheesecake bites,  punch, and the cake. WELL, as crazy a week as this has been can you see where I'm going with this? Yep. You are correct. The baby shower was actually TODAY at my house. I found this out just before 9 this morning. In full panic mode, I threw the fresh flowers into the 2 tiered, "wedding" style bridal shower cake, grabbed my stuff and ran out the back door! I came home to a messy house, messier kitchen, and table COVERED up with all my sewing and quilting projects. Thank goodness my Mom was able to come down and help me tidy up while I rushed around throwing cake into the oven, making icing, punch, and mini margarita bites! Oh, I also had to wrap the gift! I didn't get a chance to take a picture of the bridal shower cake, but if I can get my hands on one, I'll try to upload it this week. Here is a picture of the baby shower one. There were also 2 dozen mini cupcakes to go with it.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Mustard seeds...

He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matt 17:20 NIV

Tonight I was moved to tears...well, more like wreaking sobs, as I am in a heightened state of emotions over our own adoption turmoil, over the story of a family who felt a call to adopt a child who was 13 from China. The catch was that she would "age out" of the system on her 14th birthday, and that was just 3 months away. A normal adoption from China takes anywhere from 1-6 years, and God did it for them in just 3 months! If that is not Matthew 17:20 in action I just don't know what is.

I never cease to be amazed at God's answers to my prayers. Just over 24 hours ago, I felt so helpless, and angry at the whole process. I prayed for God to relieve that stress and to fill my mind with happy ideas, memories, and stories, instead of me focusing on the delays, the desperation, the desire I was feeling. He began by reminding me of what I had to be grateful for, and today He has opened up new avenues for me to find the joy in our adoption process, and spoken to me through friends, new and old, encouraging me, and pushing me to stand straight and continue to have faith in His timing. So tonight I will pray and meditate on this scripture, and I know that my problems are so insignificant to God, and He will move them all in His time, for my faith is in Him and Him alone!

Here are just a few things that He has opened my eyes to today. I pray that you find as much joy and hope in them as I have.

Journey to Eliana   This is a video story of the family I mentioned who was able to adopt their daughter in just 3 months. It is an absolute testament to God's power.
Henan Kids  (This is the province our daughter is from, and CCAI is the agency we are using to adopt her.) This is about the many fundraisers and projects that they provide for the orphanages in the Henan province. It is filled with pictures of kids who have already been adopted, and is so uplifting!

Friday, June 8, 2012

God's timing...

I was fully expecting to update our blog today saying that we had been issued our Article 5, and we're just waiting for our travel approval from China in order to go and get our daughter. BUT, instead I've spent the several hours calling our agency, the National Benefits center, the National Visa center,  USCIS (Homeland Security,) back to the NBC, who is currently, supposedly, calling the NVC again on our behalf. Apparently two imperative pieces of our paperwork did not make it to China. One made it, but was so garbled and blurry it could not be read, the other just plain is not in the file. Without them our article 5 will not be issued. The article 5 is the piece of paperwork that will allow us to adopt Annabella, so without it there is no trip, and no adoption. Now I'm not a doomsday person, I do believe that we will get our Article 5, but it is so hard to see that two weeks have passed now and we thought each day that we would get it, just to find out today that there was never any hope. Each agency says the other agency is responsible, when I honestly don't care. I just want ONE of them to resend these TWO little pieces of paper via email. Sounds easy right?!? Nothing comes easy in adoption paperwork, nothing.

In addition to all of our paperwork issues, we have had very lackluster results from our fundraising, and financially we are struggling so much that I honestly don't know where we will find the money until the next paycheck for the groceries we need. Being able to eat with my parents has helped, and the boys being away for a few days at camp has helped, but we are running on empty around here on things the kids will eat. And being determined not to put ourselves into further debt by using our credit cards, we will continue to push on, asking God to continue providing for us, as He has been faithful in doing thus far.

Since all this "bad" has been getting me down today, I prayed for God to give me some "good" to support me while I wait for His perfect timing. He never fails to deliver and he sent me thoughts of what all I have to be grateful for. I thought I'd share a bit of this grateful with you!
#1. I am grateful for my friend Carrie. She was the very first person to order a t-shirt from our fundraiser, has posted the link several times on her Facebook wall, and has prayed for and encouraged us countless time throughout this entire process. here is a copy of her Facebook profile picture.
How awesome of an advertisement is that?!?

#2. I am grateful for the people who have never even met us, but have purchased shirts to help us out, and those who have shared our links with others and encouraged them to help our cause. Facebook friend Cathy Robinson (who was the second person to purchase a shirt from us,) and fellow NSC member Krystal Riner are just two examples of these people.
#3. I am grateful for being assigned what we've been told is the best caseworker in the USCIS, Gretchen Downey. She has assisted us so tremendously in straightening out several paperwork snafus, and I'm having faith that she will be the person who will be the voice for us in the current issue as well, that will get this one done!
#4. I am grateful for my lifelong best friend, Katie Bouchillon, who listens to me ramble, scream, and cry, every time we have a problem, and rejoices with me every time we advance in our adoption journey, and who has done the same my entire life. Few people are blessed with what we have in friendship.
#5. I am thankful for my friends Amy Tackett and Roxi Phillips who have given us encouragement in ways I don't think that they even realize has meant the world to us.
#6. I am grateful for the myriad of adoptive families who have offer us advice, and support. Without them I believe we would be like a {blind man riding a bike through the New York traffic during rush hour in a rain storm}  in terms of trying to navigate all of the aspects of International adoption! They have been a rock of support, and a wealth of knowledge. Those families we've met who are attempting their first adoption as we are, have been such a blessing to us, in allowing us to share blogs, ideas, and stories, and I hope we've blessed them as much as they've blessed us through this journey.

There are so many other people who have blessed us, and offered support, and encouragement. So many people who really seem to "get" what we are going through. This adoption was not a choice WE made, but one GOD made for us. Trust me, we were a happy family with three kids, and had no plans to have any more, but He had another thing in store for us! This journey is one He set us on, and we have done nothing but followed His commands with faith. There are days I am absolutely terrified of bringing a toddler into our family, days I wonder how a girl will fit in with all these boys. There are days I walk by the toddler toys in the yard we have either been gifted or have gotten second hand for her, and been reduced to tears because they sit, unplayed with. There was even a night I sat in her closet looking at her clothes and diapers and cried myself literally to sleep on the rug in her room, longing for her to be in my arms. But God has reassured me every time, He has sent people into our lives who have supported us, He has given us the strength of an ox to get through the tough times. In this, I will continue to have faith in Him and His timing and I will continue to patiently wait for everything to come together as only He can make it.

"Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12-14 NIV

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." John 14:27 NIV

***I actually wrote this earlier today, though I added this scripture tonight. Apparently the post didn't go through but I decided to just re post it "as is" tonight with this little update. We later spoke with our USCIS officer, who told us she had personally forwarded the missing and garbled documents to the consulate in China. Hopefully we will be able to get our Article 5 next week. We will be in prayer about what to do next if this doesn't solve our paperwork dilemma, and ask that you will join us in praying for the delivery of all our documents to the Chinese embassy, and a speedy processing of our Article 5 and TA paperwork. Thank you and God bless each of you for your love and support, we see God's hands working through each of you!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Home again, home again...

Sunday all three boys left for Lake Forest Ranch with our church for camp.
Our church fed the kids whose parents served and attended services that day. The kids all got pizza and ice cream...YUM!

Getting some Grandmommy love before heading out

So excited!

Heading out!

Our church took one of the largest groups for the session. It took two 15 passenger vans, one mini van, and a trailer to carry everyone and everything! Just as they began loading up, it began to storm. They fortunately got out of the storm quickly, and the kids didn't see more than a sprinkle of rain the whole time they were at camp. This afternoon they got home around 4:30. I know they have had a lot of fun, but MAN OH MAN is Nathan tired! He's not the only one, here's what we saw when they were unloading the twin's van.
 Apparently Alex was in this position the entire way home! One thing I love is that when they come home, we get a photo CD with tons of camp pictures. Here are some of the boys having a blast.
Andy and the "giant swing"

Alex running after the ball

Alex playing kick ball

Nathan tubing, Going...



Enjoying a frosted sugar cookie they got to make

They learned so much, and had so many stories to tell! They really enjoyed the night that Keith Coast entertained them. He did several magic tricks, and the boys thought he was super funny! Their absolute favorite was when he blew up a GIANT BALLOON with a LEAF BLOWER, then GOT INSIDE...and did THE CHICKEN DANCE! If you want a good laugh, you can see this YouTube video of his routine. We have been so incredibly blessed to be able to send Nathan the past two years, and to be able to send all of them this year. The twins were able to be part of the "Sunshine Club" since they were some of the youngest group of campers, and they were able to get a bit more one on one time with their counselors. I think they are already looking forward to next year! Here are a few more group shots of our church group, and the boy's cabin mates.
Nathan (Front left)

Alex (Peeping out on the right side)

Andy (Front left, red shirt)

NorthStar Church Group Picture, we took 28 kids!