Thursday, January 31, 2013

28 Days of Lila: year 3!

In all the hullabaloo of telling our Faith story, I nearly forgot that January is coming to a close.  Which means next month is February.  Which means it's time for the third installment of...
Hooray!  So tomorrow we will begin our annual 28 Days of Lila!  For the last three years we have dedicated the month of February to this little tradition because we want to remember the little things about the stage she is in right now.  

I just spent about 45 minutes reading through last year's posts and it really sunk in how much Lila has grown up this year.  I am already loving the bitter-sweet look back at who she was and what she was doing each February of her life.

So for the next 28 days, we'll have a post a day sharing our favorite things about three-year-old Lila.  Like this outfit:


P.S. for a look back at the last two years click here: 28 Things to Love about Lila


Monday, January 28, 2013

love, life and happiness

A few days after we learned about Faith, I came across a blog - you know in the usual way when you follow link to link to link to link and suddenly you're halfway across the internet and you don't remember how you got there.  I think it started with a search for "special needs parenting" as I was trying to wrap my mind around what our life would look like.  The blog is called halfpastnormal and it's about a mom's life experience with her children who have special needs (and a hubby who has ADD!).  One post had me captivated enough that I copied down some of her words thinking I would use them some day in a post of my own.  That post has come.

In the post, she's talking about the decision she and her husband had to make when they were pregnant with their second child. They had to decide whether to test him for the same genetic markers that her older son had in order to determine if the second son would be born with the same life-threatening diagnosis, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD), as his big brother:
When the Chief of Genetics explained the genetic ‘blip’ that causes Mr. Sensitive’s DMD she emphasised that if we choose to have another child we would be offered prenatal testing, and then went on to explain the process of artificial insemination, if we so choose. The doctor drew six circles and put dots in three of them. I leaned forward, excited about six babies, even if they were just circles. 
Envisioning myself a Canadian ‘Octomom,’ I was thrilled to have the large family I’ve always dreamed of, at least on paper. The doctor then drew x’s across the circles with dots, saying that those embryos with the genetic mutation would be culled. Killed. I shrank away horrified. I glanced down at my son, then age three, playing on the floor. 
I cannot imagine life without him. But, I know that if I did not have this experience with him I might choose the ‘healthy’ embryo. I would never know what I would miss, and am devastated by that thought. I cannot believe that I could make the mistake of selecting ‘health’ over love, life and happiness.  But I know I would have, because I did not know any better.
I read those words and I cried because we were, ourselves, being faced with a similar choice.  This was the decision with which we were wrestling.  How much weight did healthy and normal hold for us?  How much would those words cost us if we said no to unique and special?

We have talked a lot about how our lives would change - both immediately and in the future.  From filling our weeks with doctors appointments and finding baby-sitters, to deciding where we live and how we will educate our kids, Faith will change the way we make decisions and how we spend our lives.

But honestly, what I've thought about the most is how having Faith as a sibling will affect Lila.  I read articles like this one, to try to gain some perspective on how to parent Lila as a sister of a child with special needs.  I thought about what it would cost Lila if we chose to adopt Faith.  In the short term it would mean less time with us, more time running around to various appointments (doctor, physical therapy, etc).  She would have to bend to the needs of her sister who had significantly different needs than a "normal" little sister.  She might not get the built-in playmate I have always hoped for her to have.  In the long term I imagined having tense arguments with 13-year-old Lila during which she yells at me that she hates being responsible for her sister, that she didn't choose it - we did.  I imagined her having to care for Faith as she ages when we are no longer able.  I felt the weight of the burden it would be on her and her future siblings.

I realized that it would probably be easier for Lila to not have a sister with special needs.

But, when it comes down to it, easy is not what I want for my children.  Character is what I want.  Selflessness.  Generosity.  Integrity.  The ability to put aside her own desires for the sake of others.  None of those things come from having it easy.  They come from experience with hard stuff.  By my own standards, to say "no" to Faith for Lila's sake would make me a bad mother.  It would make me the opposite kind of mother I want to be.  The experience of having a sister with special needs is not something I want to protect Lila or my other children from!  It's a gift!  A unique, beautiful, awesome gift.

Of course it matters to me how Lila might feel in the future, but I realized that how she feels is much less important to me than how she is shaped by her life's experiences.  And for Faith's sake, I don't think I could manufacture a better big sister for her.  Lila is confident and smart.  She is a caretaker.  She is fierce.  She is strong and stubborn.  She is creative and intuitive.  All of these things natural giftings will give her the grace and courage she needs to handle being a big sister to a special girl.  In the short term, I think she'll be able to sense and understand Faith's limitations, and in the long term I imagine Lila watching over Faith at school, protecting her, standing up for her.  They will be a gift to each other.  And I could just cry at the thought of it.

So as much as we felt the weight of the decision - as much as we know it is no small choice - it ended up being a relatively easy one.  In the end, we felt that we would lose so much more if we said "no" to being Faith's family than if we said "yes."  In the end, we chose life, love and happiness.

****
While we're on the subject of blogs I've been reading, there's a blog I've stopping in on from time to time for about a year now that I now subscribe to.  Once you click over there, you'll see why.  The mama who writes it has a little girl with Down's syndrome.  She just turned three and they are raising $300,000 for Down's syndrome awareness (makes our $20,000 goal seem piddly!).  Check out this video and prepare to wipe those tears away. (2:51 is my favorite)

Nellas triple crown from ETST on Vimeo.

Friday, January 25, 2013

what's next and FAQs

There's no such thing as a "normal" adoption.  There's always some x factor - domestic and international alike - that adds a little twist to the narrative.  Whether it's a pre-orphange story with a lot of gaps, a birth parent who is waffling on the idea of adoption, family members pressing the parents in one way or another, political changes in the child's birth country, I could make a running list of less than clear-cut circumstances that families encounter during an adoption.

Faith's adoption was proving to be no exception.  But, we felt such an extraordinary level of peace and clarity about saying "yes" to pursuing her adoption that the complicating factors of her circumstances didn't deter us.  We made the choice to operate under the assumption that Faith's birth mom will choose us and that she will be our daughter.

So, we are officially withdrawing from the China program with our international agency and adapting what would have been an international home study into a domestic home study!  We have been around the world and we have some major emotional jet lag from all of the "traveling" we have been doing!

Now, to answer some basic and frequently asked questions:

Q: How much will this adoption cost?
A: We don't know yet.  The cost of domestic adoptions can vary greatly depending on attorneys' fees and the potential that birth mothers may need financial support while they are pregnant.  Since Faith is already born, we don't anticipate having those kind of expenses, but the attorneys' fees are still unknown.  We estimate that this adoption will be about $10,000 less than our Chinese adoption would have been, but we just don't know.  At this point, we have a little over $8,000 raised and we anticipate getting $1200 back from our international agency to put toward Faith's adoption so we have close to $10,000 raised.  We would like to have $20,000 raised and ready to go so that we are covered and whatever we raise over the amount we end up needing we will put toward our Ethiopian adoption.

Q: When will she be home?
A: We don't know that yet, either.  Our best guess is April based on Faith's birth mom's expressed desires.  It is a voluntary placement so the ball is 100% in her court and we are subject to her time line and desires.  Again, I don't want to go into details on Faith and her birth mom's circumstances at this point.  Once she is home, I think I will have some more clarity on what feels safe and appropriate to share.


Q: So, what's next?
A: We will finish our home study and wait to hear from Faith's birth mom.  In the meantime, I realized that I'm basically 7 months pregnant and I have been in nesting mode the last week or so, drawing up floor plans, researching developmental needs for children with DS, figuring out what we need to sell/giveaway to make room for a new baby, deciding if the girls will share a room, etc.  It's all great fun!  I love this part!  In fact, I make the conscious decision to not fret about the possibility that the adoption won't work out in favor of enjoying these next few months in anticipation that it will!


Q: Will you keep her name?
A: How could we not!?  She also has a Chinese name, but we don't know how to say it or what it means.  We hope to find that out and take that into consideration when naming her.  We also have some ideas for a middle name, but won't be sharing our official decision on that until she's in our arms.

Q: Will you still adopt from China?
A: We don't think so.  Faith will be our Chinese adoption!  We still are planning on adopting from Ethiopia (by the way, I have an email in to our adoption consultant for that program to see where we are on the wait list these days!) and I still don't know if I'm ready to say I won't have any more biological kids so right now China is off the table.  But, we have learned that our plans are quick to change as the wind blows so we won't say never!

Q: What if Faith's adoption falls through?
A: We are hopeful that it won't.  But if it does, we will evaluate where we are at that point and decide what path to take.  It's hard to say what we would do if that happened because we don't know how our circumstances will change between now and then.  If we had a completed domestic home study, we may choose to pursue a domestic adoption.  Or we may re-apply to the China program.  God only knows!  All we can say is we know that we are supposed to say "yes" to Faith right now and if that path leads us to a dead end, then we'll see what intersecting roads are nearby and go from there.

Q: What about Lila? How is she feeling about all this?
A: She is thrilled!  We have told her that we are trying to adopt Faith and she's seen a picture of her.  Her Nana got her an asian baby doll for Christmas whom Lila promptly named Faith, so she is already practicing her big sister skills.  I don't think she really knows what that means, so I'm not too worried about her being disappointed if it doesn't work out.  I'd rather her be prepared for it and risk her being confused/disappointed than have her unprepared and unaware of such a big change.  I have a post in the works expressing some of our thoughts on how Faith's special needs will affect Lila so stay tuned for that.

Q: What do you need? How can I help?
A: Awww. Thanks for asking!  For now please pray for us, for Faith, for her birth parents, for Lila.  I will write another post giving some specific prayer requests and also sharing some practical needs we will have to prepare for Faith joining our family and once Faith is home.  In the meantime, I am loving your comments, emails, texts and phone calls.  It means so much to me to know that we have such a supportive and loving community.  Thank you!

It's hard to tell a story and give enough details that it makes sense to those reading it, but not divulge more than is appropriate for the circumstances, so if there is anything that doesn't make sense or that you have questions about, shoot me an email or leave a comment.  I'll answer what I can!

Thanks for being joining us.  We wouldn't have the courage without you all with us.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

a decision

On January 8, my obsessing paid off.

We received an email from our agency that revealed two things:
1. Faith's birth mom was definitely leaning toward choosing our family to adopt Faith
2. She would not be making the official decision by the end of January

After much obsessing and frantic email checking, we finally had some news.  We were extremely encouraged by the information that showed she was leaning toward choosing our family for Faith.  The fact remained, however that she still hadn't officially chosen us and it didn't seem like she would be making a decision any time soon.

I know without giving you details, it may seem to you like Faith's birth mom was waffling on the decision to place her daughter for adoption.  But with what we know, we don't think she was or is.  It may seem like she was changing her mind and her plan at every turn, but it was actually a case of us (the agency and Eric and I) misunderstanding her intentions from the beginning.  Once we got some clarity, we had this moment of, "Oh! So that's what she meant when she said that!"  (Just for clarity's sake, we haven't met or talked face-to-face with Faith's birth mom.  All of our information is relayed to us from the agency which is how it's possible to get things a little muddled when information is being passed down the line!)  Of course, there is always the lingering fear she will change her mind and choose to parent Faith - that is the case with every domestic adoption.  But we do not feel that the situation is unstable enough to make us more nervous than we would be with any other baby-birth mom situation.*

By the way, I know I'm being a bit cryptic with what I'm sharing here and that's mostly because I'm avoiding sharing most of the details of the situation.  I don't feel comfortable sharing every detail of Faith's background here because it's not my story to tell.  Most of her story is her birth mom's story and if I were in her birth mom's shoes, I would not want every detail of a very difficult part of my life to be divulged as narrative for all to read and analyze.  I do want to say that it is so evident to us that Faith's birth mom loves her daughter.  Every decision she has made has been with Faith's best interest in mind. We are so grateful to know, if we are privileged to adopt Faith, that we can tell her how much her first mom cared for her and wanted her best.  That is a gift and an answer to an Impossible Prayer.

So, as much as we were encouraged and excited about the good news, we also were acutely aware that we were now in a difficult position.  Our international agency had given us until the end of January to withdraw from the China program and receive a refund for a fair amount of the fees we had paid to date.  We had hoped we would have a clear answer from Faith's birth mom before we had to make any declarations about our China plans, but it was now apparent that we would have to decide on, well, faith.

We took some time to talk and pray some more and process with our friends and family.  One of the big questions we were asking God was why He had led us to that place.  We had both felt a great peace about each "yes" up until that point, so now we were asking what we should say yes to next.  Faith specifically? Domestic adoption? Being open to more severe special needs in China than we previously considered?

From a practical view, we had three options:

1. Withdraw from the China program and continue to stall with our home study until we heard one way or another from Faith's birth mom.
2. Withdraw from the China program and, in faith that things work out with Faith, do a domestic home study and if things with Faith fell through, consider a domestic adoption.
3. Walk away from Faith and do a Chinese home study and proceed with our Chinese adoption.


It seemed risky to pull our back-up plan (China) without a clear indication of Faith's birth mom's intentions.  I think most people who have been involved in a domestic adoption would consider us a little nuts to go all in with a baby whose birth mom hadn't even officially chosen us.  But we had to ask ourselves: Do we or do we not want to adopt Faith?  If the answer was yes, then what choice did we have than to drop everything else and put everything we have into bringing her home?

In the end, it became a simple decision.  We wanted Faith in our family.  And we didn't have any reason to believe that wasn't the path laid out ahead of us.  Yes, it is an unusual path, but we're used to that by now!  It also was a path marked with un-ignorable road markers.  It was a path that could only be paved by a God who knows how to make a way in the most unusual of circumstances.  We made the decision the way we have made all of our other decisions about our adoptions.  We held up our compass, and stepped in faith in the direction it was pointing.

And in this case, it was pointing to Faith.

*In fact, we feel less nervous than most prospective adoptive families.  We would, of course, be heart-broken if our hopes aren't realized and Faith is not meant to be our daughter.  But we also know that Faith's birth mom is a great mom.  We don't have any fear for her well-being in her birth mom's care.  It is a great comfort to us to know that even if we are disappointed, we will feel at peace about Faith receiving the love and care she deserves.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

!!!!!!!!!

When I say I was terrified, I mean that kind of holy fear you feel when you know you might be getting into something deeper and wider than your own little self can handle on her own.  I felt a similar fear when I was pregnant with Lila.  I worried I wouldn't know what to do, that I wouldn't be a good enough mom, that I wouldn't be able to figure her out.  I have the same fears about Faith, but I know it's the good kind of fear.  The kind of fear you feel because of how important the task is.

With that fear bubbling up in our hearts and guts, we waiting anxiously for news from our agency about a decision from Faith's birth mom.  After a whirlwind week, we were hoping to have some answers so that we could make some decisions regarding our China home study.

I'll be honest I couldn't help but send multiple emails asking our agency if there was any news or at least when we could expect news.  I refreshed my email late into the night - well past the hour I would expect the adoption consultant to be working.  When I awoke the next morning I sent another email.  I'm sure she was so appreciative of me hassling her.

In my memory, we didn't hear from her until much later in the day because it felt like we waiting eons, but I just went back and checked the time stamp on the email and she actually emailed me back a little before 8:00am the next day.  I absorbed every word.  Especially these words: 

She really liked the information about you and was touched by several things you said in your letter.

and

 I definitely felt she was most interested in your family.

I was positively giddy.  I forward the email to the Husband with nine exclamation points as my only text.

!!!!!!!!!

Also in the email she said that Faith's birth mom did not indicate when she would make a decision and that she got the feeling that Faith's birth mom was not feeling a need to rush the decision.  We were okay with that, especially since Christmas was upon us and it seemed just as well to not expect to hear anything until after the holidays.  We were encouraged by the positive feedback and resolved ourselves to enjoy Christmas without obsessing over what might happen.  (Little did we know that we would all be sick as dogs for Christmas.  I'm still a little grumpy about that.)

Christmas passed and we still hadn't heard anything.  I made it a whole week before emailing the agency again to see if they had heard anything.  The adoption consultant responded saying she still hadn't heard anything new.  But once again she affirmed that, while she obviously couldn't guarantee anything, she still believed that our chances of being selected by Faith's birth mom were good.

We might have been more lax about it, but we were so aware of the fact that we were technically still in the middle of a Chinese adoption and an Ethiopian adoption in addition to flirting with Faith's domestic adoption!  In fact, one of our references for our home study asked me, "So, which adoption is this for?"  I laughed because it was a fair question being that we were in the middle of THREE adoptions! It was the oddest feeling, to be at once so confused and so peaceful!

We did have a deadline looming, however - the end of the 60 day refund period during which we could withdraw our application for the China program and get back $1200 of the $1700 we had invested in our Chinese adoption.  I put a call in to our international agency and tried my best to explain the situation (remember, it's pretty complicated) and to clarify our options.  They were gracious to us and gave us an extension of the refund period while we waited to hear from Faith's birth mom.  At the time, we were under the impression that Faith's birth mom would make a decision by the end of January, so they told us they would give us until then.

In hindsight, I wonder if our illness that lasted from Christmas through the New Year, wasn't some sort of twisted heavenly gift.  We were so sick that we hardly had time to obsess over the weeks of hearing nothing.  Although I managed to obsess a little.  I'm tenacious that way.

Monday, January 21, 2013

It's complicated...

At this point in the story, I'm not sure if I should go into many details.  I think I'll just say for now that the situation was not exactly simple. There were several complicating factors that, by themselves, would have made things interesting.  But all stacked together it was quite complex.

The strange thing was, the biggest factor in our decision - the fact that Faith has Down's Syndrome - was quickly taking a back seat in our minds as we sorted through some of the peculiarities of the situation.  Our questions and conversations became less about "Can we handle DS?" and more about "How would this actually work?"  

Without going into the details now, I'll just say that there were several factors that made it seem risky to us to drop everything and pursue Faith's adoption.  At the time, we were just a few weeks into our Chinese home study.  We had paid about $1700 in fees and other costs associated with beginning our Chinese dossier, and we were on track to have all of our paperwork done by the time I turn 30 in April.  So the question wasn't just about saying "yes" to Faith, it was also about saying "no" to China.  And when we learned about some of the complexities of Faith's situation, we simply weren't confident enough to pull out of the China program with our other agency based on what we knew about Faith's circumstances.

But the reality was, we still didn't know all that much!  We didn't even really know how a "normal" domestic adoption worked so it was extremely difficult to wrap our brains around an abnormal domestic adoption!  We asked to sit down with the agency's director (who had been the one to talk with Faith's birth mom) to try get a better understanding of how it all might go.  So Saturday - just three days after we had first heard about Faith - we met with the director and she told us everything she knew about Faith and her birth mom and how and why she came to be placed for adoption.


Then she explained how a "typical" adoption would go.  Here's a very brief explanation (to the best of our knowledge):
- Adoptive families apply to an agency, complete a home study and then write birth parent letters and create photo books which together make up their family profile.  They fill out questionnaires about how much contact (openness) they would be comfortable having with birth parents before and after placement, and about the parameters they are open to as far as a child - age, race, special needs, etc.
- Birth moms contact the agency and express their desire to place their child for adoption.  They may articulate the sort of family they are looking for for their child, the level of openness they are hoping for, etc,  or they may not know what they are looking for.  The agency shows them several family profiles that match the family's preferences with the birth mom's preferences and the birth mom chooses a family from those profiles.

She explained that Faith's birth mom was coming in the following Thursday to look at profiles, so if we wanted to be considered, we should create a photo book and write a birth mother letter.  Usually families have several weeks or months to compile their profiles.  We had four days.  There was no time to waffle.  We left that meeting and both of us felt, in our guts, that we should at least present a profile to Faith's birth mom.  My parents (who were in on the newest development because my mom had been at my house when I first got the email) had been watching Lila while we were at the meeting and my sister and her husband happened to stop by for dinner so we decided then was as good a time as any to catch them all up on the latest twist in our adoption journey.

We told them about Faith and everything we knew about her situation.  And then we told them we felt like we were supposed to present our profile to Faith's birth mom.  The Husband called his parents to get them up to date, too.  At that point, I think both the Husband and I were feeling confident enough to put ourselves out there, with the comfort that she may or may not choose us to parent her baby.  It was just the right amount of out of our control.  We both simply felt like we should say "yes" and see where that yes took us.

So I got to work on our birth mother letter and photo book.  I stayed up until 2:00am for four nights in a row in order to get it done just under the wire (as I teased here).  

I finished it early Thursday morning and had it printed at Costco.  I actually never saw it completed because the Husband picked it up for me and dropped it at the office at 2:00pm - just two hours before Faith's birth mom was scheduled to look at profiles.  There are a bazillion typos in it which aggravates me to no end.  

I was exhausted, irritable and stressed which, of course, made me a really good mommy that day (sarcasm).  Also, it was a snow day so I stressed about the Husband making it in time and Faith's birth mom making it in at all.  By the time 4:00pm rolled around I was a basket case.  I texted this picture to my few friends who were in on it and praying for us:
Those responses are why I love them.
One entire bag of sweet potato chips later, I settled in to wait for a call or email from the agency, terrified Faith's birth mom wouldn't choose us and just as terrified she would!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I want to say YES

This is what I wrote:

I want to say yes. 

We received an unexpected email today from our home study agency saying they had a little girl for whom they were looking for a family.  She's three months old.  She's Chinese.  She has Down's Syndrome.

I love people with Down's Syndrome.  Love them.  But am I ready to parent a child with Down's Syndrome?  I don't know.

I expected the Husband to say, "no."  He is usually the more conservative one between the two of us.  But he didn't say, "no."  He said, "I'll have to think about that."  Which has me thinking about that.

And I'm realizing that deep down, I want to say yes.

But I don't even know how to begin to consider what that would mean.  The gift and the curse of giving birth to a child with special needs is that you don't have a choice.  The choice is made for you.  We can choose to parent this girl.  This little peanut.

Lila wants a sister.  She prays every night for a sister.  I worry that this is not what she had in mind.

I imagine my children grown with families of their own.  This small one won't have that.

I imagine my house empty, my Husband to myself.  This small one likely won't leave our home.

I imagine my life.  My normal life.  (Well, I suppose we gave up normal long ago when we said, "yes" to adoption, to multiple nationalities, to special needs.)  I think despite all the out of the ordinary choices, I still imagined my life as normal in the future.  This small one takes away all possibilities for "normal."

The Husband said, "I don't know what raising a child with Down's Syndrome would mean."  I told him, "She's three months old.  It won't mean much right now.  She's a baby."

I tell myself that, too.  I tell myself there are no guarantees that any of our children will have "normal" lives.  But this is a guaranteed un-normal life.

I can feel my expectations, my limits, my parameters being stripped away.  Gently, little by little.  I never thought we'd consider adopting from a country other than Ethiopia.  I never thought we'd consider special needs this soon.  I never thought...well, I surprise myself with where we find ourselves.  The small decisions we have made have led us here.  Is this the destination or just another bend in the road?

"I want to say yes."  Those raw thoughts were somewhat shocking for me to see in black and white.  I knew the Husband wasn't quite there yet and to be honest, I wasn't sure I really was either!  When I would think, "I want to say yes," my brain would respond with, "Really? Are you sure??"  I told myself that more information would help and looked forward to our meeting the next evening.

The next day I busied myself with calling a few intentional people to let them know about this crazy development.  One of those people was Kim, Kirby's mom.  I carefully explained what we knew and we both cried on the phone as she shared her encouragement and affirmation.  Not that I was surprised, but it was such a comfort to have a mom of a child with Down's Syndrome say, "You should do that!"  In fact, she had almost no words of caution - I expect partially because she knows how well I know Kirby - only enthusiasm about our opportunity to have the same kind of joy she has experienced as Kirby's mom.

Our meeting that evening was to consist of short individual interviews and one longer joint interview.  I dropped Lila off at my sister-in-law's house and the Husband took the first slot for the individual interview.  By the time I got there, he was done and I went in for my interview while he waited in the lobby.

When my interview was done, our social worker got up to call Eric in to join us for the joint part of the interview.  When he walked in the door, I knew something had happened.  I could see it in his eyes.

"What happened?" I asked him.

"I saw her," he said softly.

"What? Who? The baby??" I said in quick succession.  He nodded.  "What do you mean you saw her?!"

He explained that as he was waiting in the lobby he heard two women speaking another language.  He looked up to see two Chinese women walking toward him and one was carrying a car seat.  As they passed him to leave the office, he peeked into the car seat and there she was.  Round-cheeked and tiny with her tongue sticking out.

Tears burned, unbidden in my eyes as the Husband wiped his own.  At first I was mad that he got to see her - I wanted to see her!!  But quickly I realized what a grace it was that he was the one who saw her.  I think mamas can "get there" easily in their brains when it comes to feeling maternal about children.  The Husband, in all his manly emotions, has always needed an extra nudge to cross the line between "that's a cute kid" to "that's my kid."

For Ethiopia, he and I both saw newly adopted children clinging to their parents in the airport and our time there gave him a connection to the country and people that made it easy to say, "My child is in Ethiopia."  For China, it was a documentary we saw about four Chinese adoptees.  As we walked out of the theater, he said to me, "I needed that."  It was not lost on me that perhaps God was giving him that extra nudge as confirmation that we should consider this baby girl.  I marveled at the coincidence that we were there at the same time at all and at the tears that both of us were wiping away from our eyes.

Needless to say we were worthless in the interview.  Partly because we now had the question, "Do we even need an international home study?" floating around in our heads and partly because our minds were on that baby who had just sailed past what could be her future Daddy.  Our social worker picked up on this and said, "Let's finish up next time."

We went home and emailed the adoption consultant to see what else she learned through the meeting with the birth mom.  It was about to get a little more complicated.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Down's Syndrome

Domestic Adoption

Chinese

3 months old

Baby Girl

Down's Syndrome

I'm sure when you read that list, the last words that stand out to you the most.  Down's Syndrome.  They did for me, too.  We had actually talked quite a lot about adding Down's Syndrome to our list of special needs we would consider.  I have a dear friend, Kirby, who has Down's Syndrome.  Kirby and I grew up together and it has been a great gift to have her as a friend for 20+ years.  I have seen our friendship as a significant resource - an experience that equips me in a way that many people are not equipped.  So I have often asked the Husband if he would ever think about adopting a child with Down's Syndrome.  His answer has always been something like, "Not right now.  I don't think I'm ready for that."
Isn't she pretty?
Can I pause here and say that I love him so much for the "not right now" part of that?  It means he's allowed himself to remain open to the possibility.  I count my lucky stars that I married a guy who is willing to consider adoption at all - much less a special needs adoption - so I have been careful not to press him on it.

When I saw Down's Syndrome in the email, my initial thought was, "Oh, probably not," because I assumed the Husband would give me the same answer as in the past.  But I couldn't help but wonder at the coincidence that the baby was Chinese.  And here in Kansas City.  And a girl.  And three months old.  I couldn't ignore that all of my Impossible Prayers were answered in this small one.  We thought we would be going to China for our Chinese adoption, but I couldn't help but wonder if China had come to us.  But I tried not to think about all those coincidences because I was certain the Husband wouldn't feel ready to take on something that severe.  I wasn't sure I was ready to take on something that severe.

All the same, I mentioned the email to the Husband when he came home from work and to my utter shock he didn't say no.  He said, "I'll have to think about that.  Let's talk about it."  Cue jaw drop.

So we talked about it.

We talked about the realities of parenting a child with such severe special needs.  We talked about what that would mean for Lila, what that would mean for us for the length of our lives.  I worried about potty-training a child with Down's Syndrome (they're notoriously stubborn) and the Husband worried about caring for an adult dependent in our old age.*

In the end, we agreed that we both felt peaceful/curious enough to at least get more information.  I jotted down a list of questions and sent them off to the adoption consultant.  She responded that same night with the answers she had and told us that she would know more the next day because the birth mother was coming in to talk with her.

We already had a meeting scheduled with our social worker at the office the next evening for our Chinese home study so we hoped that we might be able to get more information at that meeting.

Before bed, I jotted down my thoughts to try to get them to stop swimming frantically around in my brain.  The first words I wrote were, "I want to say yes."

*It probably goes without saying that there was much more to our conversation than just this quick summary.  I'm planning on writing out more of our thought process and decision-making in another post.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Faith

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

Confidence. Hope. Assurance. Faith.

Our entire adoption journey has been one of faith.  Just as every birth is a miracle, so is every adoption. The number of things that have to align to bring a child from one country into another is outlandish.  Not to mention the paperwork that must be completed just so, the finances that must appear in time to pay the fees, the people who have to show up - social workers, orphanage directors, lawyers, birth families, adoptive families, etc, etc - all of these things have to fall perfectly in to place in order for a child to legally become ours.  Our children will already be the product of multiple miracles by the time they pass through our front door as Kautzis.

We fill out each form, write each check, say each prayer, clinging to the hope that these things will lead to a child in our arms.  If we can take a step forward, it is only because of the confidence we have that our hopes will be realized.  It is only because of our faith in the One who spoke adoption into our hearts.

When we began our Chinese adoption, I started praying three prayers - three hopes I had for our child that, to be honest, I lacked the confidence that they would actually come to be.  But, in faith, I prayed them believing that my hopes matter to our Good Lord.

I called them my "Impossible Prayers" because each was highly unlikely for our circumstances due to the nature of Chinese adoptions.  These were my Impossible Prayers:

Prayer 1: That our next child would be a girl
Why it's our prayer: Lila desperately wants a sister.  She prays every night for a sister.  She won't even consider that she might have a brother.  I grew up with a sister, so that's always what I have imagined for Lila.  The Husband says, "I know what to do with a girl!"  We would, of course, be thrilled with a son, but we all feel especially partial to a daughter/sister.  I liken it to when I was pregnant with Lila and hoped/thought she would be a girl.
Why it's an impossibility: If we were adopting from the healthy list, we would almost definitely be referred a girl.  A cultural bias that favors boys and China's one-child policy make girls undesirable so the adoptable children in China are most often girls who have been abandoned by families who hoped they would be boys.  However, a boy born with a medical need or congenital defect might as well be a girl.  Chinese families typically prefer boys, but not imperfect ones.  Because of this, there are five times as many boys as girls on the special needs list from which we are adopting so the likelihood that we would be referred a boy is much higher than the likelihood we would be referred a girl.

Prayer 2: That our child would be home before her first birthday
Why it's our prayer: There are some medical needs that have no real urgency - cleft lip and palate children often wait until they are a year old or more to undergo surgery anyway.  But there are many special needs for which time is of the essence.  The longer a child goes without a needed heart surgery, the less likely she is to survive.  The longer a child has to wait for a meningocele (spina bifida) operation, the higher the risk for developmental delays and infection.  In general, early intervention = higher success rate in healing or developmental catch-up.
Why it's an impossibility: I hated the thought that our child might be sitting in an orphanage in need of medical intervention longer than necessary, but our agency told me we would be lucky if our child was younger than 18 months when he or she came home.  I am assuming this has something to do with the time it takes to gather all the paperwork to prove orphan status.

Prayer 3: That we would have some connection to or knowledge of our child's birth family
Why it's our prayer: There are heaps of research showing how important it is for an adopted child to have some sort of knowledge or connection to his or her birth family.  When children have no answers regarding how they came to be placed for adoption, they have to deal with special fears and worries about their own value and the intentions of their first families.  Of course, in circumstances of abuse or neglect, a child should be protected and guarded from unsafe influences.  But for the most part, just the knowing can answer a lot of nagging questions in the back of an adoptee's mind.  "Why did she place me for adoption?  Was I wanted?  Was she scared? Did she regret it?  Did she love me?"  Plus, for the sake of the birth family, I long to be able to give them peace about their child's well-being, happiness, and opportunities.  I long to forge a connection with the other mother whose choices allowed me to be my child's mother.
Why it's an impossibility? The trouble is, most children adopted from China came to be orphans because they were abandoned.  In Chinese adoption circles the phrase, "found place" is often discussed.  It refers to the place the child was discovered.  Not birth place, not home town - found place.  The lucky ones are found with a note explaining their circumstances, perhaps their birth date, their name, maybe even why they were abandoned.  But many children are found with no identifying markers.  Birth dates are guessed, and the only fact known about their life before the orphanage is where they were found.  Their "found place."  When we began our Chinese adoption, our friend Kim, whose daughter was adopted from China, told me, "You have to get used to saying, 'I don't know' when she asks you questions.  That's the only answer we have."  I didn't want that to be the only answer I had.  So I began to pray in earnest that we would have answers - that we would know something about our child's first family.

I prayed these impossible prayers in secret - I didn't even tell the Husband.  He knew, of course, of my hopes as his were the same, but not that I was praying earnestly for these things to be true of our adoption.  They were those sort of prayers that you almost don't want to admit to hoping for because you know how unlikely it is that they'll be answered the way you hoped.  But Faith tells us to have confidence in the things we hope for; certainty about what we can't yet see.  So, faith-fully I prayed, "Jesus, please give us another baby daughter.  Bring her home soon.  And may we know her birth family."

These prayers ended up being very significant to me when I opened my email after school on December 12th.  One email stood out to me because it was from our home study agency (we work with two agencies - one is our international placing agency and the other is our local home study agency).

The subject line was Possible Situation.  Because were in the middle of our Chinese home study, I thought it might be about a hiccup in our paperwork or something like that, so I opened the email with an internal groan thinking something was going to take more time/work than I had thought.

I couldn't have been more off base.

The email began with these words: We received a call today from a hospital social worker and are looking for families interested in the child.  

My eyes flew over the rest of the email and a few words stuck out.

Domestic adoption

Chinese

3 months old

Baby Girl

Down's Syndrome

Our local, Kansas City agency was asking us if we would like to be considered to adopt a three month old Chinese baby girl with Down's Syndrome.

A baby girl...named Faith. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

If it's not good yet, he's not done.

My dad sent me a link to devotional podcast he listens to every day as an encouragement in our long and ever-changing adoption journey.  The guy giving the devotional is talking about a passage in 1 Chronicles in which the author is giving the lineage of someone.  Honestly, I usually just skip over that stuff when I come to it, don't you?  But the guy calls it "stunning."  I think I snorted a little bit when he first said that.

But then he goes on to read a little break in the lineage where the author tells the quick story of a descendent whose only two sons are killed.  The father mourns his boys and then sleeps with his wife again and she becomes pregnant with another son who they name Beriah.  Then the lineage continues and Beriah ends up being an ancestor of Joshua who would, of course, eventually lead God's people into the Promised Land.

The point he's making is that when we face trials in our life, we often question why.  But we can only see the short view of our story.  God sees the long view.  He sees how it all fits together.

The guy doing the devotional ends it with this: "Even if there are things that you come across in the short view that are hard to understand, trust his goodness in the long view because in the long view, He makes all things good.  And if it's not good yet, He's not done."

If it's not good yet, He's not done.

That is stunning.

Isn't that what the oft-quoted scripture in Hebrews 11 is suggesting?

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

Or you could say, "Faith is having confidence that there is a long view of our lives, despite the fact that we live in the short view." We live our lives in the short view, but it is our faith in God's goodness and promises that allows us to hope for the long view.

Our adoption journey is a perfect illustration for this.  I see it that way - in the short view.  Of course I do!  It's the only perspective I have!  But every so often, I have felt like I have gotten a glimpse at the long view, even if it's only by turning back to see the brush strokes painted by each twist and turn.

In fact, the amount of changes we've made to the Master Plan is somewhat comical.  I recently wrote in an email to our friends who have been praying for us for the past two years about our adoption(s), " If we have learned anything from the last two years on this adoption journey, it is that we are not holding the road map - just the compass.  We come to intersections and hold up our compass and ask the Lord 'Which way is North?' and then we walk that direction.  I've long since given up on guessing where we are headed.  I'm sure to those watching us we must look confused and indecisive at best and noncommittal and fickle at worst.  But we hope that those of you who are getting this email can see our hearts in this - we just want to be obedient.  We are learning to trust, to let go, and to trust the Map-Maker to lead us well.  We know that HE knows who our next child is, even if we are unsure."

When we first began our Ethiopian adoption, we predicted we would be home with our child by now!  I laughed when I read a letter I wrote to the parents of my students the fall of 2011 when I said we expected to have our baby home no later than the end of 2012!  At the time that seemed like a conservative estimate!  But here we are at the dawn of 2013 with a long stretch of road dragging behind us and we once again are holding up that compass, asking the God of the Long View to direct our paths.

And I hesitate to say it - because I've been so wrong before - but we really think this is it.  It makes too much sense not to be.  When we think about this latest turn, we can actually see the long view - the rest of the story makes sense!

I know I'm dragging this out, and partly it's because I want to paint an accurate picture of how we came to be here telling you something new AGAIN.  It's important to me that I communicate it well because you all have been so supportive to us.  I feel a great responsibility to use your support - your prayers, your generous dollars given that have filled our fundraising thermometers to overflowing, your words of encouragement and hopes spent on our behalf - in obedience.  So I want to be really clear that this is not a change of heart or a decision made out of desperation or on a whim - this feels to us like the missing piece of the puzzle.  It feels like the release that all of our hopes and plans and dreams and prayers have been building up to.  It feels good, in the most Godly sense of the word.

So, if you'll indulge me, I want to turn to yet another new chapter.  One that took us by surprise, but that fits oh-so-perfectly into our story.  It's a story of answered prayers, of grace upon grace, of peace that passes understanding.  It's a story of Faith.

I'll tell you this story.  Tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

the Voice

What echoes above the sea?
thunders?
is powerful?
is majestic?
splits and shatters the mighty cedars?
makes mountains skip like a calf and a young ox?
strikes with bolts of lightning?
makes barren wilderness quake?
twists mighty oaks?
strips the forests bare?

According to Psalm 29 the answer is "The voice of the LORD."

It all sounds so powerful, so...unmissable.

But the voice of the Lord is also like a shepherd guiding his sheep.  It's also still and small like a whisper behind you.

Two years ago, we heard the Voice like a small whisper, proposing the question, "what if you adopt your next child?"  So we began to research adoption - the cost, the options, the agencies, the countries, etc.  After 6 months of research, prayer, meetings, and discussions, we heard the Voice, powerful and majestic saying, "Your child is in Ethiopia."

We began our paperwork for an Ethiopian adoption, raised close to $10,000, completed our home study and our dossier and 6 months later (a year ago) we officially became a waiting family.  Through those six months, we heard the Voice of the Shepherd saying, "This way, see I have provided a safe journey for you.  I have given you green pastures and a stream from which to drink.  I have provided all that you need for this path."

When we became a waiting family, we also learned that the wait was going to be longer.  We prayed, we talked, we researched and we decided to try to get pregnant while we waited.  We heard the Voice echo above the seas: "I am with you. You are mine."

Each month began with disappointment and cycled through renewed hope back to disappointment.  We began to wonder if there wasn't another way.  We began to wonder where in the world our child was and if we should consider a third option.  And on October 1st, with an email from our agency telling us the wait was now four years, we heard the Voice as thunder punctuates the chaos of a storm, "Yes. Go.  Be released. I will be with you."

So we prayed and researched and talked some more and the mighty oaks began to twist into roadsigns and arrow markers as the Voice called us to China.

It's decided! we thought.  Our next child is in China! And with joy we began our home study and fundraising with the confidence that the way would be paved once again by the Voice of the Shepherd.

And then, the mountains began to skip, the wilderness began to quake and a new path emerged.  An unexpected, unresearched, undiscussed, unimagined path.  Like a strike of lightening at the tips of our toes, the Voice said, "There is another way, would you consider it?"

And we said, "Yes."

Honor the Lord, you heavenly beings;
honor the Lord for his glory and strength.
Honor the Lord for the glory of his name.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea.
The God of glory thunders.
The Lord thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars;
the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon's mountains skip like a calf;
he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes with bolts of lightning.
The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists the mighty oaks and strips the forests bare.
In his temple everyone shouts, "Glory!"

The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
The Lord reigns as king forever.
The Lord gives his people strength.
The Lord blesses them with peace.

To be continued...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bedtime battles

We've been having some bedtime battles with Lila as of late.  The craziness of this month with her birthday and Christmas doesn't help.  She's had enough stimulation and sugar to last her until next Christmas.  Our bedtime routine has been looking like this:

- the Husband gets her ready for bed while I get 10-20 minutes of much-needed introvert time
- I go in to do the final tuck, prayer, song, back-patting, hand-holding and whatever else she sweet-talks me into doing
- I leave the room and join the Husband in our room
- Lila calls for me for awhile
- When I don't answer, Lila calls for the Husband for awhile
- We hear her door open and some telltale sounds in the kitchen
- We discover her with a pillow from the couch and her Lambie, Snuggle and Birdie Blanket in the doorway between the kitchen and the laundry room (the laundry room leads to our room)
- We send her back to bed
- She manipulates one or both of us to pat her back, sing her another song, etc, etc
- We emerge from her room for the second time with a threat to put the child safety lock on her door if she gets out of bed again
- She gets out of bed again
- I get the safety lock
- I start to put it on her door knob
- She swears up and down that she'll stay in her bed
- I am a sucker
- She gets out of her bed
- I put the lock on her door
- She pounds on the door and cries for what feels like 10 minutes (but is really 30 seconds) while I feel like a bad mom for locking my kid in her room
- I open the door, she swears up and down that she'll stay in her bed
- I take the lock off the door
- She eventually falls asleep

As you can imagine, this routine gets old pretty quick.  We tried spanking, but she got to the point where she decided that the spank was worth stalling bedtime so I felt like I was spanking her needlessly and accomplishing nothing.

So one night, we decide to not intervene when we hear her come out of her room.  I just kind of wanted to see what would happen if we let it play out a bit differently than usual.  So, we stayed in our room and pretended like we don't know she was out there.  At one point, she opened the door to our room for a second - I'm not sure if she was just making sure we were in there or if she was trying to get us to come out and interact with her - and then closed it again.  We could hear her walking around a bit, but after a few minutes, she was quiet.

After about 10 minutes without hearing anything, I went out to see what she was doing.  She wasn't in her usual spot by the laundry room.  Her door was open and she wasn't in her room.  I was just about to start panicking when I noticed something under the table
 Upon further examination, I confirmed that it was my daughter.  Asleep.  Under the table.

 

Why?  I have no idea.  But I had to move the chair away from her head to be able to scoot her out of there and place her back in her bed.  When I picked her up she stirred and said, "Mommy, don't forget my water."

The next night she said, "Can I sleep under the table again?"

No.  You weirdo.

*Sigh*

I'm blaming this one on my Little Sister who had a reputation for sleeping in the hallway outside my parents' room or on the floor next to their bed.  Aunt Jess?  What do you have to say for yourself?

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hope for the New Year

As we reflect on 2012 and welcome 2013, I thought I'd share a few of our family's hopes for the new year.  Not resolutions, hopes.  I think there's a difference.  And while some of these will take discipline on our parts like resolutions do, most are things that are out of our control and require, well, hope.  So here's our some of our hopes for 2013:

1. This probably goes without saying, but our number one hope for the year is to have another baby in this house by the end of the year.  We have had quite an eventful end of our year in the adoption realm of our life, but we aren't quite ready to share details yet.  We hope to be able to share the specifics soon.  These last two years have been such a journey of faith and we have clearly seen our Good Shepherd walking ahead of us each step of the way.

2. To build up our savings again.  Our savings has been wiped out several times in the last few years and it seems that every time we build it up, we have a major expense (sewer lines, beads in noses, etc).  Of course, as soon as we build it up again, we're likely to have need to spend it all again, but it would be really nice to be able to, you know, have the money to spend when something else breaks/gets lodged in our daughter's nose.

3. To be intentional with our time and not commit out of obligation.  In the last half of 2012, we watched as several of our commitments were cancelled - most without our control or consent.  A friend said to me that she thought God might be "clearing our plate" and I came to agree with her as one thing after another slid off our plate of time commitments.  I struggle with finding the balance between being involved (read: not being lonely) and being introverted (read: remaining sane in my own skin) and I'm grateful to have the opportunity to rebuild our calendar of commitments from scratch.  I want to be intentional in those choices.

4. To increase our ability to give generously.  Number 2 and 3 directly relate to this one.  The thing I hate the most about being stretched thin financially and calendarily (I made that word up) is that I end up having to be stingy.  I hate being stingy.  I want to be generous.  I want to be able to bless people the way we have been so blessed these last two years as we have raised money for our adoptions.  I want to treat friends to dinner, to support the causes dear to them, to babysit their kids, to take Kirby to movies, to visit my Grandma more often, but I haven't had the time or resources to do those things this year.  I hope that if I keep the end goal in mind, I'll be able to pull off 2 and 3 more easily.

5. To be able to sell our house and move into a larger house.  When we decided to adopt from China in addition to Ethiopia, we also were deciding that we would for sure have at least three children.  As much as I love our little house and our neighborhood, the lack of basement makes it hard to imagine expanding much beyond one more kid.  We have three bedrooms so we could totally make it work, but this just doesn't feel like our "forever" house.  I dream of having a basement, a garage I actually get to park in, a kid-friendly family room, and a house that can host friends and family comfortably.  We'd love to have a space to have someone live with us again (we loved our summer roommates when I was pregnant with Lila) and to be able to use our house to bless others.  I kind of doubt we'll be able to pull off an adoption AND a move in a single year, but we hope to at least say goodnight to 2013 closer to being able to sell our sweet house.  (When that day does come, I will cry like a baby, I will.  I love this house.)

6. To protect our marriage.  Though this past year has been hard in nearly every way - with the death of a friend, walking with several friends through miscarriages and health concerns for their kids, watching things we invested a lot of time and tears into fall apart (see number 3), trying to get pregnant for 8 months, fretting over the wait time for our Ethiopian adoption, being stretched financially (see number 2), etc - both the Husband and I would say that our marriage has been miraculously steady, comfortable, and - dare I say it - easy.  When I use the word miraculously I mean it.  Only by the grace of God and a lot of hard work in the years prior are we able to have endured what we did and still be on the same team.  When we met with our social worker for our China home study, she asked about our marriage and we both said how grateful we have been to have had the other walking this road with us.  We have made some big decisions in the last 12 months and each one has come with a lot of discussion, prayer, processing and research and each one has been unanimously decided.  The fact that we have been on the same page - with no convincing, pleading, manipulating or misleading - is worth celebrating.  We hope to continue to be open with one another, to value each other's opinion, to trust the other to hear from the Lord, to be supportive and encouraging, and to just enjoy one another.  We pray protection over our marriage and ask the Lord to use it for His glory.

7. To train and love Lila well.  There's the adage, "Treat your child as if you won't have them tomorrow and train your child as if they won't have you tomorrow."  After being sick for so long, both she and I were lacking coping skills earlier this week.  I had my worst mommy day yet and she was no picnic either.  After a horrible morning, she woke up from her nap and said, "Mommy, I'm sorry you were a grump."  Why was I a grump? I asked her. "Because you put me in time out a lot." No, I did not put you in time out because I was a grump.  I put you in time out because YOU EARNED IT!"  *Sigh* The rest of the day proceeded about like that and I resolved to be proactive with my parenting strategies.  The things that worked when our biggest problems were impulse control issues are no longer working now that she's learning to use words and behaviors in direct disobedience and disrespect.  This year, if it brings with it all we hope and imagine, will be one of big transitions for our girl that may make her feel insecure or out of control.  I want to fill my parenting tool box with strategies so that I don't come up empty when she, oh, I don't know, spits on the floor when she's mad at me. Ugh. So gross.  I love that girl, but she knows how to push my buttons.
My mom took Lila and me out to lunch the other day after our very hard day.  They were putting stickers on their noses.  I don't know why they were doing that, but they looked cute.

8. To keep my house clean.  I have a life-long battle with clutter.  And really, this is of little importance to me in the grand scheme of things, but it is something that periodically drives me up the wall so number 8 it is!

9. This is so cliche, but here it is: to exercise more and eat healthier.  I heard adoptive parents talk about the "baby weight" they gained when they were adopting and I thought they were just making excuses for themselves.  Well, maybe we are, but I'm here to tell you that I cope with stress by upping my Dr. Pepper consumption and this year has been stressful.  And I've been feeling a little sorry for myself because every time I've gotten into a good groove in the exercise department the last few months, I've gotten sick or Lila's gotten sick or we've both gotten sick and my groove has been thwarted.  But I want  to be healthy and I'm sick of Lila asking if there's a baby in my belly.  "No.  It's just fat." Nothing like a three-year-old's innocent question to motivate you to exercise.

10. To bring a baby home.  Oh, wait...did I already say that one?  Well I really want a baby.

2013! The year of HOPE.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2012 recap and never-before-seen pictures

I thought I'd give a quick recap of the main events of each month of 2012 and add a never-before-seen picture from each month.

January:
We had our very last document state certified which put the finishing touches on our dossier for our Ethiopian adoption.  We rejoiced that it was out of our hands and on the way to our agency.
We got a king-size bed last January after saving up for several years (we kept having to spend our savings on other not as fun things like sewer lines and car engines).  Our friends had given us a set of really cool twin mid-century beds that the Husband jimmy-rigged to be a king headboard and footboard.  A year later, they're still going strong and looking awesome!

February:
We officially became a waiting family and joined the waiting list at number 99!  We also found out that the referral wait would be closer to two years rather than the anticipated 7-10 months.  We celebrated 29 things we love about Lila - one for each day of the month. The Husband turned 29.
Lila and I met Aunt Jess at Starbucks on her birthday.  I love this picture of the two of them.

March:
The Husband and I celebrated our 6th anniversary and we paid off my student loan which was the last of our non-mortgage debt!  We decided to try to get pregnant while we waited on our Ethiopia referral.
My friends from high school brought their little girls, Afsana and Eden, over to play one day and Lila insisted on "holding those babies."  It didn't last long, but she was in heaven.

April:
We were devastated when our sweet friend, Matt died unexpectedly from a stroke he suffered while running a race with some friends.  His death will forever be one of those things in my mind that I just can't compute.  We started looking at waiting children lists in addition to trying to get pregnant.  I turned 29.
My Nanny (my mom's mom) came in town for Easter and she and Lila decorated Easter Eggs together.
May:
We took our first family vacation to North Captiva Island in Florida.  We also had our first ER visit when Lila found a blue bead and thought, "Hmm, I wonder if this will fit in my nostril?"
We celebrated the last day of school with Jude's mommy and sisters by getting some ice cream after school.  Look at that cute couple. :)

June: 
We had our massive garage sale for our adoption and raised over $1200!  My iPhone was stolen, but our sweet friends generously offered to replace it.  We were and are so grateful!
This was Lila's hiding spot when we were playing hide-and-seek.  She operates under the assumption that if she can't see me, I can't see her.

July: 
We celebrated the 4th of July with the Husband's family.  The manager at Chick-fil-a made me cry when she was less than diplomatic with me, and then I realized I was actually crying because I was so disappointed about not being pregnant.
A rare snuggle moment with Daddy.

August:
Lila was a flower girl in our friend Mallory's wedding, we still weren't pregnant, and Lila potty-trained!
The Husband's aunt asked us if we wanted an old school desk she was getting rid of.  We said yes, not knowing how cool it was!  What a fun surprise when the Husband picked it up and it was such a good fit for our house's decor!
September:
We took our annual trip to Minnesota, Lila got a big girl bed, I started my 8th year of teaching, we took part in the Walk for TS in honor of our sweet friend Emmaus, I discovered a "hidden" park by our house, and the Husband and I had what we now call the "Could We/Should We" conversation - the first time we talked seriously about adopting a child with special needs.
One of our new dressers.  I got tired of compromising with our old mid-century not-actually-dressers (they were actually buffets) and through some Craigslist magic was able procure our awesome new mid-century bedroom set (two dressers and a night stand) for the same price we sold the beat-up buffets for!  I still can't believe our luck.  We love our new/old dressers!  Aren't they the coolest??
October:
We found out that the referral wait for Ethiopia was now FOUR years and felt permission to seriously look into our other options.  Then, with joy, we announced our plans to adopt a child with special needs from China!
At school, Lila's teachers tell the kids to "put a marshmellow in your mouth" when they're about to walk in the hallway.  I took this photo when I ran into them one day and asked them where their marshmellows were!  That's our buddy, Emri making the silly face, Ellie is looking for Lila's marshmellow, Boyfriend Jude is in the back in the yellow shirt, and Lila's friend, Molly is next to Jude.
November:
We jumped into paperwork and fundraisers for our new adoption, hosted our 2nd American Girl Doll fundraiser, launched our One of One Hundred project, visited our besties in Manhattan, the Husband camped out for the Chick-fil-a opening, we prayed for Emmaus as she underwent brain surgery to remove the tumor causing most of her seizures, and we gave thanks in our jammies due to us all being sick on Thanksgiving. Boo.
Playing in the leaves with Daddy
December: 
We opened our Etsy store as another fundraiser, Lila turned THREE, we had two birthday parties (family and friends), and were sick over Christmas. Double boo!
Lila enjoying her birthday cupcakes at school.
So that was our year!   Highs and lows.  Lots of sadness and lots of reasons to celebrate.  We hope to be doing a lot more celebrating in the year to come.  Tomorrow, I'll be back with a post about our hopes for 2013.  Thanks for reading, friends.