Thursday, 25 November 2010

We Are Thankful for...Abundance

As we all gather with family and friends around our Thanksgiving tables, we will be thinking about all the blessings in our lives: the people, the provision, and all the extras we enjoy. We all know that Americans live in extreme abundance. We all have access to clean water, free educations, and more material goods than we need. Yet, for much of the year, we often forget all that we have and focus on what we don't have. I include myself in this list. Just yesterday, as I stepped outside into the hail/wintery mix to throw a load of laundry in the washer, I was lamenting the fact that I don't own a washer and dryer, that I have to walk outside all winter to do load after load of laundry, when I remembered scrubbing Tommy's parasite poop covered clothes in a little bucket over and over, wringing them out, and hanging them to dry, then having to make sure they were ironed before anyone wore them to kill any mango worm eggs (worms that burrow into your skin to incubate and then crawl out when they hatch), and I realized that I shouldn't complain. I have a lot to be thankful for.

I originally started the remainder of this post about a week ago, inspired by a poll I saw next to some article posted for National adoption awareness month. I saw an (admittedly unscientific) poll posted online asked parents, "If you haven't adopted, what is the biggest reason why?" The primary reason, cited by 56% of respondents: "money, money, money, money!"

In response to that, I decided we need to share our testimony of God's provision for Tommy's adoption, and I decided to post this today because, of course, Tommy is at the top of our "thankful for" list, and because we are so thankful for the abundant provision we received during our adoption process. Today is a day to reflect on one's blessings, and this is an area where we have been blessed beyond what we could imagine. So, here is the post I wrote, minus the original intro which explained the "money, money, money, money" poll referenced above, originally just titled "Abundance:"

I truly believe that if God is calling you to adopt he will provide, just as he provides for all the rest of our needs, and often for our wants as well. Yes, part of that provision may come from your income, which can probably stretch farther than you think. Most adopting families cut back and make sacrifices, but often that is not enough to come up with the huge amounts required to adopt. Yet, the more families I talk to about this subject the more evidence I see for not letting money hold you back when it comes to deciding whether or not you should pursue an adoption, because I have heard so many stories of provision that echo what we experienced. Anyhow, here is our story:

When the doctors first told Jeff and me that the condition that killed Leah was genetic, we shared with them that we would prefer to adopt rather than pursue the options they had for us. They thought we were crazy, but we had always wanted to adopt after having biological children, so it seemed to us that God was simply accelerating our adoption timeline. I called a large Christian agency and shared our desire to adopt with an intake employee, and talked a bit about our living and financial situation. She told me she was sorry, but they wouldn't be able to work with us, because our apartment was too small and they did not believe that a couple in our position would be able to meet our financial obligations (i.e. pay them their money). At that point, I believed that the reason we wouldn't be adopting was "money, money, money, money!"

This was terribly discouraging. Our health insurance would pay for various fertility options, but that was not something Jeff and I felt comfortable pursuing, and we truly preferred the idea of adoption. We thought through our alternatives and came to a place where we believed we had no good options. A few weeks later we shared this with our small group during prayer time, and a friend in the group, who also happened to be a social worker employed by a foster care agency, indignantly responded that she was sure we could adopt and that she was positive that the information we had been given regarding our eligibility was off-base. That was the encouragement I needed to make a few more phone calls. The next agency I called told me exactly how they would "fix" the "problem" of our apartment, and that as long as we weren't in debt and had some savings they weren't concerned about us paying our bills. Although we didn't end up working with that agency, that phone call gave us hope, and we began seriously researching adoption. We found both an international and home study agency and got started.

Money was once again a consideration for us as we looked at adopting from various countries. Some countries require that couples have a significant amount of assests, which disqualified us, or have yearly income standards that we could not meet. I had initially wanted to adopt from either South Korea or China, but we were ineligible for both of those countries. Uganda did not have those requirements, so we were able to pursue adoption there.

The projected cost of Tommy's adoption was roughly $28,000. Jeff and I were both still in graduate school, and making only slightly (very slightly) more each year than the projected cost of the adoption. We did manage to live on less than we made, barely, but God always seemed to provide when things were tight, and thus we did have money in our savings accounts to get started.

Amazingly, it seemed like whenever we withdrew significant funds to pay for adoption costs: our homestudy, visa, or to make agency payments, those funds would be replaced. Early on some very generous friends and a relative provided enough to cover our homestudy costs and first payment to our agency. Then we recieved a grant from Show Hope, and then another grant from an organization partnered with our international agency, which covered the rest of our agency costs. Right before we traveled more friends and family pitched in, with both money for travel and donations of clothes and shoes for us to take to the orphanage. Finally, when we came home (and faced all those credit card bills), we were given an incredible grant from the St. Andrew's adoption fund. Of course, we did spend more traveling and finalizing the adoption than we received in grants/donations, but in just a few short months we will file our taxes and apply for our adoption tax credit. Between the credit, the grants, and the personal donations, the cost of Tommy's adoption will be covered. Or at least, all of the costs that I remembered to properly record, and I'm sure I wrote down almost everything.

God's provision was abundant.

The funny thing is that I didn't do the math on Tommy's adoption costs until about a week ago- just in time for adoption awareness month, and right after I happened to see that poll. If you know me and my love for number crunching, that might be surprising, but it was a really daunting task. What really inspired me to slog through four envelopes of receipts, most of which were in UGX and not US dollars, was the desire to be ready to send in our taxes the day after we get Jeff's W-2s. We want that refund! I kept meaning to do it, so that I could write a post and let everyone know how amazingly God provided (I knew he did even before I ran the numbers), but I forgot about it, then I didn't have the energy, and so on. In the end, apparently, the only thing that motivates me is "money, money, money, money!"

On a serious note, the adoption tax credit for adoptions finalizing this year and next is higher than ever: $13,170. In countries that allow independent adoption, fees can be closer to $15,000 or 20,000, depending on airfare costs and the price of home studies and US court adoption in your area. Domestic adoption programs for children of color can be less than $20,000 as well. Foster to adopt is very low cost- often free. Adoption can be affordable. All that is to say, if you feel the call, don't let "money, money, money, money!" hold you back.

On this Thanksgiving, I am so thankful that money did not hold us back. I'm thankful that we have Tommy, and that he has us, and that he will soon have a brother. I'm thankful he is now well nourished and growing, that his body is continuing to heal, and that he feels secure and loved. My list could go on and on, because we have much to be grateful for, but I need to get going because it is time to eat and celebrate.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

We're Thankful for...Water!

Earlier I shared that the water at Holy Innocent Ibanda Babies Home (Tommy's orphanage) is contaminated, and that BABTU has been raising money for a well to serve the orphanage, and possibly the hospital across the street as well. We just heard that they have met the fundraising goal, and will be able to move forward with putting the well in place!

We know our family and friends have been contributing to this project, so a big THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts to those of you who helped make this possible. Clean water will make a huge difference in the live of all this kids served by Holy Innocent!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Saving Life

Are you perhaps looking for an opportunity to care for a child who has been orphaned? Juna Amagara (translation: Saving Life) Ministries is looking for sponsors for children in western Uganda. We have been very impressed with everyone we have met who works for this ministry (and we are so thankful for the role Juna Amagara missionaries played in our adoption story).

$35 a month can provide the funds necessary for an orphaned child to go to school. Please take a minute to look at the pictures of these children waiting for sponsorships and prayerfully consider if one of them is waiting for you.

One of them has been waiting for us! We have been wanting to sponsor a child in Uganda for a while now, but had a previous commitment to a young woman in Bolivia. Monday we got a letter in the mail announcing that the community that the young woman lived in was "graduating"- they no longer need intensive aid- and thus our sponsorship commitment was coming to an end. The next day we got the email from Juna Amagara about sponsoring an older child (coincidence? I think not), and promptly filled out our paperwork. We are so excited to find out who we will be matched with and to begin a relationship with them.

From Juna Amagara's recent newsletter:
If you go to our website sponsorship page, you will find 20 children waiting for sponsors. Most of these are teenagers, some of them 18, 19 or older. Why, you may wonder, are these kids needing sponsors when other orphan care organizations offer only small children, ages 5 and older?

Rev. Ben offers this answer:

"Given the opportunity of promise of a better life and hope through education, teenage orphan boys and girls who didn't get a chance to start school early because their parents had died and there was no one to give them a glimmer of hope earlier until they heard of JAM, their pleading for help is: IT'S NOT TOO LATE FOR ME TO START STUDYING, PLEASE GIVE ME A CHANCE! Then ugly reality stares you in the face that these teenagers who have lost all or one of their parents and all sense of security gone, and if they are girls will soon lose their virginity and innocence due to rape or sexual exploitation as they look for support and survival, a sense of exciting assurance wells up in our guts that ALL IS NOT LOST for these precious ones once IF they can get sponsors to get them into JAM Programs. We have seen it happen that age ceases to be a deterrent for these teenagers and with ambitious gusto they pour their youthful wits and strengths to studying hard.

"There are kids like these all over Uganda. Growing older with no education leads to all kinds of problems, the greatest of which is HOPELESSNESS. That's why we run Youth for Survival Conferences around the country - to give hope to those we cannot bring in to the program. We need to tell them that with God, ALL IS NOT LOST."

Indeed, seeing a tall young man in class with small children seems odd, but to him, a 16 year-old going through primary school, is the chance of a lifetime, a drowning man grateful that someone saw him in time and threw a line.

Sponsoring a young child is perhaps a 15-year commitment. But many people would like to see a "return on their investment" much earlier, say 5 years or less, watching a child gain enough education - reading, writing, arithmetic and English - to support him or herself in that time. Sponsoring a teen will do that. And when you come to Uganda, you can hug someone your own size."

Thursday, 18 November 2010

T is Thankful For...

Today we made a turkey with five paper feathers. On each feather I wrote something that Tommy told me he was thankful for:

Five hot dogs
Tacos and beans
park and zoo
Daddy, Poppa, and Tommy
Being treated like a prince

Of those five things, guess which one was totally unprompted? That's right. Being treated like a prince. In fact, he just wanted to write that on every feather. I'm still shaking my head/laughing at that. We are in for trouble.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Waiting, Waiting, Waiting...

Any new news on the adoption? I wish. This one will probably be quite a wait.

I knew entering into this adoption that we would be waiting much longer than we did with Tommy's. Or, at least, much differently.

With Tommy, we waited about five months for our match with him. Those months were excruciating, as we were matched and then unmatched with a child whose circumstances should never have led to a referral, found out that our international agency was not as ethical as we were led to believe, and later found out that someone at our agency had actually deliberately stalled our final match. Lovely.

That said, God absolutely used all of that to bring us together with our precious boy. Therefore, I am glad that I suffered during that time, although then I certainly did not feel that way. I wish that God would have found a more pleasant way to bring our family about, but every single tear I shed led me one step closer to my amazing son. I'm trying to hold on to this perspective as we wait for Mtoto to come home.

This time around the process is different. We were matched with Mtoto within weeks of receiving our visa approval, and now we will be waiting on the slow wheels of bureaucracy to turn, while he gets older, and someone else gets to witness all of his firsts. I know I missed all of that with Tommy too, but I didn't know I was missing it, and knowing does make a difference. This part of waiting is hard.

However, waiting with a child at home is far easier than waiting without one. The house is full of laughter, we get tons of "slobby kisses" (as T refers to the wet ones), and we are both rather distracted by his many hijinks. I'm guessing this wait has also been easier because our wounds from losing Leah are no longer as fresh. We aren't simultaneously mourning and waiting, and, we no longer have the "what if we never have a child" scenario in the back of our minds.

We know that our paperwork is with our lawyer and that he is pursuing a court hearing for us, and has been since mid-October. Unless something is wrong with our paperwork, we likely will not know about our hearing until it is finished and we have received approval. It is a little disconcerting to know that someone across the world is deciding your fate without having any idea of when that might be happening. We have been told that cases are currently averaging two to three months to get through court. Right now our prayer is for a quick hearing and a positive ruling, and lots of patience as we wait. We know the timing of everything is in God's hands, and when there is new news we will be sure to share.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A Little Tommy Update

Tommy has begun to occasionally refer to himself as "T-Master." (How Jeff is that?)

He tell us, "I'm a big guy. I'm a man."

Tommy gives me a serious look:
T: Mum! Bears put their pee pee in the toilet.
M: Oh, ok.
T: Yay Bears!
(Variations of this conversation occur frequently with different animals, or the names of people we know)

The other night we were having dinner with Jeff's supervisor and his wife and son, and at one lull in the conversation Tommy turns to me and says: Mum wearing underwear? Then to Jeff: Daddy wearing underwear?

When he needs to respond to a question in the affirmative, he no longer just says yes, but "Yes, I did." Or "Yes, I am..." His inflection when he does it is so funny.

People have begun to ask how Tommy has reacted to news that he will have a brother. I don't think he really understands what it means quite yet. Sample conversation:

Tommy runs up to me hold the letter "F" magnet.
T: Mum, F is for family!
M: That's right. And do you know who is in our family?
T: Papa!
M: Yes, papa is in our extended family. But our immediate family is Tommy, Mum, Dad, and soon, Mtoto.
T: Mtoto toot?
M: Yes, Mtoto toots.
T: Mtoto say excuse me (this is said as a command, not a question).
M: Well, you can teach him.

In other news, he wants to name his brother "Boris." He has become possessive about the empty chair at our table, informing guests that it is "Mtoto's chair." Also, he will say, when handed a picture of Mtoto, "this is my baby brother." Or he might just mention that it is a picture of a sleeping baby. Still, progress. I've checked out a few books at the library about getting new babies, and so far he seems to be enjoying them. I am confident that he will adjust to having another child in the home, and he has quite a while to get used to the idea. I'm just not sure how it is going to play out when he actually sees me holding someone who is not him...this has been a big struggle in situations (like church nursery) where I have had to hold other kids.

But for now he is very anxious to have his brother home. He recently ran and opened up our front door. When I asked him to shut it, he told me "no, door open for mtoto to come in." Explaining to him that it will probably be another six months just breaks my heart.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Call to Orphan Care

Disclaimer: This may be a hard post. My intention is to encourage reflection and discussion, not to guilt or preach. After all, it is God who knows and speaks to our hearts, not me.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard "I've always wanted to adopt, but..." we would be well on our way to paying for adoption number two. Now, there are plenty of great reasons for not adopting. Not everyone is called to adopt because God simply has other plans for them, and many people who might otherwise be willing are disqualified from adopting based on age, medical conditions, marital status, or financial situation. However, the sheer volume of adoptable orphans begs an important question about the adequacy of the church's response to the needs of the parentless.

Providing for the parentless is something that has to be done on numerous fronts: giving resources to keep families intact in the first place, assisting willing relatives to care for orphans in their family group, encouraging adoption in the child's place of origin, and providing for children who live in countries where adoption is not an option. However, when adoption is a possibility and these others options are not working, social science is abundantly clear that adoption is the best option: children prosper in families, and wither in institutions. In the long term even the best institution cannot provide the security and stability of loving parents.

Adoption is not the sole province of the infertile. Those who cannot create children biologically may adopt in higher numbers as a way of building families, but the idea that adoption is or should be the "back-up" option for building a family both places an unfair burden on those who already struggle with the emotional weight of infertility and incorrectly places those who are adopted into families in a "second best" category. Adoption is for those whom God has called. Period. It doesn't matter how that call comes about.

So, here's the pertinent question: is God calling your family to adopt? There are millions upon millions of orphans in the world, and only thousands of adoptive families each year. The imbalance is striking. If you have felt the call to adopt, please seriously examine what is holding you back (if you haven't, feel free to skip on down two paragraphs). Is it that the child you adopt might not be perfect? Are you simply complacent? Too comfortable with the status quo? Afraid of the bumps in the road? Perhaps you are concerned about racism effecting your family (or is it in your family)? Lack of money? Unwillingness to travel? Fear of paper cuts?

Adoption can be painful. So is labor. It can be expensive. God provides. Adoptive kids can have special needs, and require extra effort to catch up developmentally, they can have long term effects of malnutrition, including a slightly higher rate of learning disorders. But passing on your genes isn't necessarily a guarantee of superior performance or behavior. Adoption can be hard, but there are numerous avenues of support from other adoptive families, families who will lift you up in prayer and provide you with encouragement when you need it. Yes, racism exists. Yes, you will get intrusive questions, but is that a reason to deprive a child of a home? Travelling to another country can be nerve-wracking, but it can also be a huge blessing. Sorry, I've got nothing for the paper cuts, except to assure you that band-aids are cheap.

Is God calling you to support children without parents in another way? You have no idea what a blessing you can be to a foster or adoptive family by coming alongside them in prayer. On hard days (during the looooonnnnnngggg wait to get Mtoto), I am so thankful just knowing how many of you are praying for his healthy, safety, care. It really makes a difference. There are many other "tangible" options as well: you could sponsor a child, support an orphan care organization, support special needs orphans with little chance of being adopted, donate to your church's adoption fund, babysit for an adoptive family that has training or interviews to attend, make a meal for a family that has recently brought a child home, help an adoptive family clean their home pre-inspection (huge huge blessing, trust me), become a foster parent, volunteer to support local foster parents, help a single mom or dad who has decided to parent, honestly, I could go on and on, there are so many ways you can serve.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


Last weekend we made the first attempt at wearing this year's Halloween costume, a very cute and warm tiger outfit. To say that it did not go well would be an understatement. There were tears, screams, and desperate pleas to get out of it. Needless to say, we took it off. Then we spent all week talking about how great it would be to dress up like a tiger, how it would be kind of like Tigger, and how big kids like to wear costumes and trick or treat. All week Tommy has been telling people that he was going to be a tiger for Halloween, and has been making comments about wanting to trick or treat.

Today when the time for trick or treating arrived, Jeff and I both made a huge deal about how wonderful it would be to wear a tiger costume. Jeff put it on his head first, and then when Tommy agreed that it was cool and tried a few roars we helped him into it. For about the first 30 seconds I thought he was actually going to wear it. Then the meltdown started. Despite all of our best efforts it became evident very quickly that there would be no tiger prowling the streets for candy this Halloween. I was bummed because it was a really cute costume, but not that upset because it was a hand-me-down, so it wasn't like we had spent a ton of money on it, and Mtoto can always wear it in a few years. But, Tommy still wanted to trick or treat. And, (no surprise here) he declared that he wanted to be a pirate.

Jeff thought fast and pulled together some pirate-like accessories, and in about three minutes we had a decent costume together. Had Tommy agreed to wear the "treasure" we had, or to put on a make-up beard it would have been even better, but those ideas were flatly rejected.

The Pirate:

The Booty:

The Booty after Mum looted it (hey, I had to get the "dangerous" candies and the gluten out...and if a few candies that I happen to like got mixed up with those, Tommy will never know):

Monday, 1 November 2010

It Sure Beats Olan Mills

Our church is putting out a photo directory. Instead of going with the old stand-by, they used Hop Skip Photography. This resulted in my favorite church-directory photo ever:

I wish T would have smiled, but he was going through a no-smile phase this summer. He's back to smiling now, of course. As a side note, can you believe how color coordinated we are? And we didn't even buy anything new for the picture. So, basically this photo is a double miracle. 1. We all look good. 2. I pulled together decent matching outfits from our closet. Seriously, this has never happened in my long church directory photo taking history. But then again, maybe it isn't me, maybe all those bad photos should be blamed on Olan Mills...