Friday, September 28, 2012

Crossing the Atlantic

It's official: we are finally DTE!

(DTE = Dossier to Ethiopia)

Our paperwork arrived at our adoption agency Monday morning, went through additional staff checks, then taken to the Department of State and the Ethiopian Embassy for certification/authentication. Our dossier will head over to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where it will sit until we receive a referral.

And now? We wait.

So tonight, in addition to celebrating my husband's birthday, we tacked on a DTE party to it.

Add caption

The cousins are ready, in Meredith's words,
"to send my baby brother balloons to Africa."

My Tennessee girl, rocking the cowgirl boots.

There they go! Off to Africa!

And no celebration is complete without a cake.

We are excited, relieved, and yet nervous about this next stage. I am praying hard that Drew and I (probably mostly me) will have the patience for the waiting we'll have to endure. But before I begin to worry, I want to spend tonight celebrating this first phase. So we will send many, many  more balloons over to Africa during this time.

Much love,

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dossier to D.C.!!

I have to keep this post short. Emotionally, I'm drained, but in such a good way. Today started out normal enough. Errands to run, pictures at church for the directory, followed by lunch and playing at the park with the girls. I had found out the day before that our I-600A had been approved and that within a week to two weeks, we could expect that all-important I-171H form to arrive in our mailbox. This form is the one sheet of paper I've been talking about non-stop because it's the final document needed for our dossier.

Our Dossier - blood, sweat and tears
As I got closer to home, my heart started to quicken because I knew by then that the mail had arrived, and that there was a chance it would be there. But I really didn't want to be disappointed so I talked myself out of it. "Courtney, it's okay if it's not there. Remember, the U.S. postal service takes forever to get these kinds of things across the country. It's NO BIG DEAL." (yes it is)

There was one envelope in the box. One envelope with a return address of U.S. Department of Homeland Security. I about hyperventilated. My poor sister-in-law, on the phone with me at the time, asked if everything was okay.

Within seconds, I was staring at that sweet piece of paper; it had finally arrived!

Needless to say, the next 2 hours were a flurry of activity as we contacted my friend who was available to notarize the document, scanned and made said copies of this document and did one final check-through of everything needed. And of course, we had to write out a big, fat check (more on the costs of adoptions later - promise that post is coming).

On our way to the one FedEx office still open, I kept a tight grip on the bag containing everything. It was so bittersweet to realize we were finally sending off everything.

When we got to the office, Meredith asked if she could carry it in (nervous mama over here!). But she did fine - I think she knew this was a big deal!

Proud big sister
The girls were, ahem, rather loud normal and I thanked God we were the only customers there. And thank goodness we had such a nice FedEx man there. He quickly realized what we were doing and heaped words of congratulations upon us.
The girls, making themselves comfortable.

There it is! Just need to slap on the address and it's ready to go.

She asked, "Okay, so NOW can we go get my brother?"

Miss Sassy Pants Junior.

I had one moment where my breath caught in my throat. As he was finishing up the package, he asked us what we'd like to list as the value of that package. I jokingly said, "One million dollars," and then looked at my husband as I realized this package truly was priceless. Needless to say, the package is officially OUTTA HERE and hopefully on a plane, making its way to Washington D.C., the location of our agency.

What's next? Our agency has to do a bunch of super-secretive stuff to the documents before the dossier is sent to Ethiopia. Kidding, of course. But seriously, they have to translate everything, authenticate some know, make sure every I is dotted and T is crossed. I'm thankful for the fine tooth comb investigation that's conducted. I pray all our paperwork is indeed fully complete. This review process can take anywhere between one and three weeks, then after that, our dossier is on the way to Ethiopia and we "officially" begin our wait of approximately 18-24 months (or longer, or shorter).

I find it fitting that this took place today. It's technically the first day of autumn; we are in the process of changing seasons. As we transition from this rushed paperwork process and settle into what will be an excruciating wait, I pray that this change in "seasons" is one I will grow to appreciate. What little control I had in this first season is now lost as all paperwork gets turned over to our agency and in turn, over to the Ethiopian government. We have a long season ahead of us; winter will come. But even though we can't see it, God is planting those seeds, and nurturing them. One of these days, spring will come, all stars will align, and when our child steps forward, in need, we will be ready.

Okay, this "short" post has become longer, and deeper than I intended, and a blank sheet of paper sits next to me, begging for the makings of a grocery list to appear. Much love, as always, to all of you.


Sunday, September 16, 2012

Brain Dump

Ouch, my brain hurts. If ever there was a time I wish I could do a brain dump - use some type of chip to download everything I learned this weekend to a hard drive - I would. Drew and I took time to attend the Empowered to Connect conference this weekend and what a life-changing experience it was for us. Yes, you heard me. Life-changing. On so many levels. Can't even get into it all right now, that will have to wait for another day and another post.

Complete strangers from our adoption agency who were in town for the conference came over to our home for dinner (hey, when you live in the South, you open your home to others and serve them tons of food, am I right?). At the end of this weekend, they feel like dear friends. We spent precious time after dinner praying over a hard issue for one of the families. We laughed, we cried, we compared notes, we cried some more, and for the first time in this process I felt that sense of camaraderie. I knew the online adoption community was alive and kicking, but boy what a difference it makes to have some of them in the flesh to love on you and speak words of encouragement!

I could tell my brain was reaching overload when I crashed last night at 8:30 p.m. after getting the girls to bed. I simply couldn't focus on anything else. I didn't even care to watch the DVR'd Alabama/Arkansas game (which shows you how exhausted I was!). The purpose of the conference was, in my mind, to have a deeper understanding of where these precious children are coming from, and what our role, as adoptive parents, is in connecting to them as they make this tough transition. I learned so much more, and I'm grateful for all the resources I collected over the weekend.

This awesome conference was followed by two wonderful sermons at church (yes, I attended two services today!). The early service focused on inclusive love, and the passage about Philip and the Ethiopian was discussed (Acts 8:26-40). I've never read that passage before, but my ears definitely perked up when I heard the word "Ethiopian!"

And the second service moved me to tears (really, I should just give it up and start carrying around a package of tissues). The focus was about what makes you angry, and how we should pay attention to what makes God upset. Our pastor asked us that if we had the courage, to ask God to break our hearts for what breaks His. Because if our eyes are opened to what breaks God's heart, maybe we can have the strength to be moved to action. To make a difference. To defend those who can't defend themselves. 

My breath caught in my throat, because I felt like he was singing my song. Ever feel like someone is talking to a crowd but you feel like they're talking right to you? I certainly felt that way today. Everywhere I turned, there was another message giving me such comfort about the direction our family is headed.

We're still waiting for that one sheet of paper from the government so that we can "officially" begin the waiting period. As I always say, I can't imagine how tough this waiting process will be (I really am going to dread still waiting one year from now, I just know it. And I don't EVEN want to think about two years from now). However, I don't want to waste the time I'm given, so I look forward to learning everything I can and deepening my walk with Him during this first stage of the journey.

Much love,

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Do I have what it takes?

We are just a few days out from our federal fingerprinting appointment - hallelujah! Many have asked what happens next. Here's a brief snapshot:

Federal fingerprinting appointment - this Friday!
Wait on U.S. government to send us our I-171H form
Receive I-171H form, and then our dossier is complete!
Mail dossier to our agency - they will process it, translate it, then we will be....
DTE (Dossier to Ethiopia) - the date our dossier is officially sent to Ethiopia

And once we receive our DTE date, then the looooong wait begins. How long? It is an ever-moving target. Right now we're told 18 to 24 months from DTE before we receive our referral, but we're constantly reminded that the time could increase. Or it could decrease. That is the beauty of adoption - you simply don't know. Our agency does a great job of giving us realistic expectations so as the wait officially begins, I hope to learn more.

This past week was my birthday, and it was wonderful, but my heart has been hurting. You wouldn't know by talking to me, or seeing me, or hanging out with me. But it can be so disheartening to read all the stories about families who struggle once their kids come home from orphanages, and it's something that's become a focus of mine. We've discussed it internally with our Ethiopia group in the agency and fortunately, I have found I'm not the only one to feel this overwhelming sense of worry. And also, fortunately, God knows my heart, and once again, he has stepped in to calm my fears.

My devotion this morning was titled, "Do I have what it takes?" (Hello God, you've got my attention now). The devotion asks:

"Have you ever stopped short of God's calling on your life because you felt almost paralyzed by your limitations and insecurities? We often excuse ourselves from God's greater vision because we don't believe we have enough for God to work with. Unfortunately, one of the enemy's most effective strategies is to fill our mind with thoughts about what we don't have and all the ways we fall short. But when we focus on what we lack, it can keep us from realizing what we have is more than enough for God. You see, God has a history of using what little someone has in order to do great things that only He can do. When I hear that voice reminding me of my shortcomings and limitations, I've decided to say, 'You're right. But my greatest limitation is God's greatest opportunity.'"

I can't tell you how much I needed to hear that this morning. My shortcomings seem to smack me in the face constantly. My little voice reminds me of how many barriers we're going to have to overcome by choosing to expand our family this way. It's going to be hard. I'm not choosing the easy road. But God doesn't say our road will be easy. He does say that He will be with us. And that is the thought that crosses my mind each and every day.

My sweet 4-year-old proudly showed off her drawing from school today. She had drawn our family, and the first person (well let's be honest, they all look like amoebas, but it's the thought that counts) she pointed out was her brother. This whole concept is still so abstract for her, understandably, but it warms my heart to know that she thinks about him too. I love her childlike innocence, and her hope for the future. I think that's what I will go to sleep dreaming about tonight.

Forever and always grateful for your prayers,