Saturday, July 30, 2011

"...rarest chords in the soul's harmonies"

With August approaching there has been a lot of talk in my house about going back to work.  This is foreign to the majority of adults out there who work year-round, but for those teachers out there, you know the feeling.  This has also lead to Sean and I discussing the changes in the last year and half.  It has been almost a year and a half since we decided to have a baby, and the changes and growth we have seen in ourselves have been astounding. 

Although this blog may seem nothing but positive, we were met with some dark days on this journey, and though they may be distant memories, they are not forgotten.  On many of those days, I took to writing, and I found myself praying that these words of despair would one day serve as a reminder of what life no longer was.  Well, I am there.  I no longer feel the sadness and hopelessness thanks to the plan God has laid out before us, but here is just a small glimpse into my past thoughts.  This particular rambling followed a description of what I had just gone through at the fertility clinic:

I didn’t plan for this.  In no part of my 28 years did I ever envision this as my life.  But this is what I do, month after month, because my husband and I have officially been diagnosed as infertile.

How do I feel about it?  Well that depends on the moment… not the day, not the hour, but the actual moment you ask because my feelings are inconstant.  I may wake up feeling hopeful, just to turn on the news to see a woman arrested for beating her child and become angry that she was ever blessed with a baby at all.  Why her?  Why not me?  And then I unhealthily feel bad for myself and wonder why life is so unfair, until I realize what a waste of time this is and tell myself to pray, to remain hopeful, to have faith. 

My husband says I have to see the baby, feel the baby, believe the baby is coming.  So I do this.  I see, I feel, I believe.  And then, weeks later, I fall harder than ever before because this month I saw, I felt, I believed, and nothing came of it. 

Maybe this is my fault.  Maybe if I had been better to other people.  Maybe if I had been a better Christian.  Can this be my fault?  Do I deserve this because everything else in my life has always come so easily for me?

So I stop seeing.  I stop feeling.  I stop believing.  And this time, the hurt doesn’t hurt so much.  This time, I am numb and my heart has stopped beating.  This time, I wake up and turn off my mind, storing away all that’s inside me for the next time my husband encourages me to have faith.  And that time will come because days will turn to weeks, and I will forget how bad it hurts to think and to feel and to live.



In no way has this journey been easy, and in no way have we been able to rise above for a year and a half, and that is my purpose in sharing this.  But it is therapeutic to uncover these words after the storm has passed.  Here we are, happier than ever, just knowing our children are waiting in Ethiopia, thanking God for his plan, thanking God we have each other and thanking God we never lost sight of our future family.

To take this post in a different direction... I was recently re-reading a book that my seniors were assigned over the summer: The Book Thief.  It's been a few years since I last read the book and there were new passages that spoke to me in ways they hadn't before - yet another sign of growth.  These passages really resonated in me, as the young girl in the novel shared sentiments that my future children may have, and they really touched my heart.

The young protagonist, Leisel, is a young German girl during WWII that is sent to live with a foster family.  The narrator writes the following after Leisel arrives at her new family's home in Molching:
"When Leisel arrived in Molching, she had at least some inkling that she was being saved, but that was not a comfort.  If her mother loved her, why leave her on someone else's doorstep?  Why?  Why?  Why?"

Soon after arriving Leisel begins to have nightmares everynight and her new "Papa" begins to come in and comfort her:
"After three weeks he held her.  Trust was accumulated quickly, due primarily to the brute strength of the man's gentleness, his thereness.  The girl knew from the outset that Hans Hubermann would always appear midscream, and he would not leave."

Finally, the narrator often stops to define things for the reader.  At this point he writes,
"A DEFINITION NOT FOUND IN THE DICTIONARY: Not Leaving: an act of trust and love, often deciphered by children."


Wow - poignant and powerful.  The simplicity of it all is what really gets to me... "thereness" and "not leaving."  Concepts foreign to these children.  I cannot begin to imagine how powerful these simple acts will be for these deserving children.

I will finish with the poem that inspired the title of this post:


Life's Harmonies
LET no man pray that he know not sorrow,
Let no soul ask to be free from pain,
For the gall of to-day is the sweet of to-morrow,
And the moment's loss is the lifetime's gain.

Through want of a thing does its worth redouble,
Through hunger's pangs does the feast content,
And only the heart that has harbored trouble,
Can fully rejoice when joy is sent.

Let no man shrink from the bitter tonics
Of grief, and yearning, and need, and strife,
For the rarest chords in the soul's harmonies,
Are found in the minor strains of life.

-Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I currently find myself thankful for "the minor strains of life."

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Great Joy is Coming: Enjoying Life in the Meantime

Today we completed our second meeting with a social worker.  This local social worker had to come to our home, get to know us, and complete a safety audit.  All went very well.  As I mentioned on Facebook, my cat Penelope even jumped up next to the social woker twice and let the woman pet her... very unlikely for Penelope.  Look how innocent!
This had to be a sign from God!

Because we can do the two separate interviews in one meeting, we only have to set up one more meeting!  She even made it a point to say it should be all done before we go back to school... wow!  Once she completes and finalizes the report, we can move forward in our dossier process, which then will take a while, as it involves more government fingerprinting and paperwork.  Feeling good though :)  We also had to give her our applications for unrelated children and the concurrent family building plan.  The unrelated children application is required because we are willing to accept two children whether they are siblings OR unrelated, but we have to be approved for this.  Obviously bringing home two children who may not even know one another and who will have completely different background stories will be more complicated, so we have to get special approval.  For this scenario to occur, we would most likely wait until we are given a referral for an infant and then see if there are also any available waiting children that are older that may also need a home.  On the other hand, the concurrent family building plan will allow us to stay in the program if we get pregnant, IF we are approved for this.  I am praying we get approved for both!

The wait time for a referral was just increased, but we were expecting this.  For an infant boy (which is a little less than an infant girl, so more likely for us) the wait time from dossier submission to referral was 7-11 months and it is now 10-16 months.  I have been telling people about a year anyway, because I knew the program was changing when we entered; however, if you can spare a prayer or two for the program and the Ethiopian government to keep this program thriving so these kids can find homes, that would be great!

I also learned a few new things from our social worker today:

1) She said that through her research and through direct experiences with medical professionals specializing internationally, she has discovered that Ethiopia has the healthiest babies!  Amazing, right?  Such wonderful news for all those beautiful kids in need!  This reminds me of a campaign "I Need Africa More Than Africa Needs Me" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAB-zJPsJjs).  The theme is that we believe that they are probably so downtrodden because of their living conditions and all of the negative things we hear, but after visiting, Americans can't help but realize that THEY (the Africans) are the happy ones and THEY are rejoicing and full of life.  Pretty amazing!

2) Our social worker pointed out that in addition to all of our family members, most of the "important" adults in our children's lives will be white.  I had not thought of this before, but yes, she is right... our doctor, dentist, teachers, hairdresser, etc... all white!  She suggested finding people of a different race to fill some of these important roles.  What a great idea!  And one we had not thought of before!

3) An older child will learn English fast and forget Amharic.  Our other social worker said the same thing: through immersion these African children pick up our language quickly!  The sad thing is they forget their native language, so she suggested lots of video taping when they first come home.  Another great idea :)

All in all it was such a great day.  I love the feeling of checking an item off the list, especially a big item like this!  Our passports also came recently, which was pretty exciting.  Just looking at them knowing they are in our hands because we will be traveling to Ethiopia to bring home our children is AMAZING!

WARNING: for those of you only interested in the adoption, the rest of this post will be about our great vacation to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York.

"A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in."  Well said Robert Orben!

It was a perfect vacation at the perfect time.  Thank you to Dale and Kathy (my in-laws) for providing this wonderful trip.  I will just share a few highlights here, and if you want an obnoxious amount of photos, visit my Facebook page.

One of the greatest parts of the trip was getting to READ... not just read, but read WHAT WE WANT. It has been a very loooooong time, which is what makes summer so great.  In cleaning for the garage sale I found old Borders gift cards that were unused and Sean got Barnes and Noble gift cards for his birthday July 1st, so we went shopping:

(Those of you that know us, see if you can guess which are mine and which are Sean's) 

Anyway, I got to read three and start a fourth while sitting on the dock with this view:


Yeah it doesn't get much better than that!  But if it did, it would be finding an Ethiopian coffee at the gift shop of a great winery! 
Oh yeah, and if you wanted to see my excitement, it has been captured for your enjoyment!

So yeah, pretty great week, I have to say!  As a final note, here is a collage of our lake-loving, wine-tasting, beer-drinking, fire-starting, book-reading, time:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Compelled by Curiosity

When we tell people about our Ethiopian adoption, I have found that we get many of the same questions, so I have listed them below and provided answers.  Hopefully this will help those of you understand the process who may have been wondering the same things.  Feel free to ask me any other questions you may have as well.

Before I begin, here are a few terms that will show up in my answers:
Dossier - the never-ending documents and paperwork completed for adoption
Referral - the officials at the AWAA match a child to each family after looking through the family's file, and then send this match to the family's agency who in turn sends it to the family; the family can either accept or deny the referral that is made to them; the referral comes with a picture, African name, age, birthdate (or approximate birthdate if unknown), medical information and any other misc. information about the child.
Home Study - The home study is required by our country and Ethiopia. This is where a social worker reviews everything about the family, including health conditions, financial status and the home. A licensed social worker from the state the family lives in must complete the home study.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Will they speak English?
Well obviously if we bring home an infant, this will not be much of an issue, but no, most Ethiopians will not speak English.  We will have a guide from America World (our agency) to translate when we are there, but we are also going to learn the most common language in Ethiopia: Amharic.  I will be asking for the Rosetta Stone for my birthday J  If we are lucky enough to bring home siblings, there is a good chance one will be older and will speak Amharic; we want to be prepared for this, so we can communicate with our child.

How much does it cost?
The total estimated fee for one child (including travel) is $25,584 - $35,734.  If we accept a sibling referral, there will be additional fees at that time.  This is why we are fundraising – here comes the shameless plug… https://www.justlovecoffee.com/Voorhies.

Do you have to pay all at once?
No.  The costs are broken up into smaller payments and are due at separate times.  The main fees to the agency are due at dossier submission and referral acceptance. 

Do you have to go to Africa?
Yes.  We are required to make two trips after referral, each about one week long.  The first is to go to court and legally adopt our children, and the second is to be submitted to embassy and bring our child(ren) home.  This means we will have to leave our child(ren) after the first trip until we have an embassy date.

How long is the entire process?
We hope to have the home study completed in a couple months and then submit our dossier.  At that point the current wait time is 7-11 months until a referral, but that is never set in stone, especially with the slow down in the number of cases Ethiopia is currently processing a day.

Will you get to name your child(ren)?
Yes, but obviously this would not be an option for an older child who knew his/her name.  For an infant, we would definitely want to keep his/her birth name, even just as a middle name.

Why Ethiopia?
As I said in my first post, it just felt right.  We did end up realizing, however, that the requirements seem to fit us best.  Also, my husband has always felt drawn to Africa and its culture, even teaching me over the years, so overall it was a great fit.  Finally, there is clearly a great need, with 5 million orphans.

Why not the U.S.?
Some people seem curious and others even bothered as to why we aren’t adopting from our “own country.”  Honestly, again, this is just not what God has called us to do.  But even if I were considering this logically (which truthfully I never have) it seems like it would be hard for me.  There are risks with any adoption and the risks with domestic are for people with strength that I don’t believe I have.  God put international adoption is our hearts for a reason because he made us for this purpose.  We have the strength for this process.

Will you know the birth parents?
If there is a living parent then we will probably get a chance to meet him/her.  This was another bonus for us when choosing Ethiopia.  They really try to get you in touch with living relatives.  They will provide a translator, and they are now even putting together videos with family interviews to show the children when they are older.  Not every country is able to do this.  They will even let you communicate through the agency over the subsequent years. 

Can the birth parents change their minds?
Yes.  What they are doing now is bringing the relative that relinquished the child into the court PRIOR to the adoptive parent’s first court date.  This way, if they should change their minds, the adoptive parents have not travelled or met their children yet.  The judge in Ethiopia really communicates with these relatives to ensure they understand the choice they are making and are at peace with it.

Do you already know who your child(ren) is/are?
No.  We will not know until we get a referral.  We can choose to accept or deny a referral (though I can’t even imagine denying).  We will be on two waiting lists, an infant and an infant plus child 0-8 years.  Whichever comes up first will be referred to us.  This will include a photo, medical information we will have looked over by an expert and any family history that is available.

Do you get to “choose” your child(ren)?
No.  We are able to give specifications: age, gender, health, and number of children.  Then we simply wait until we are matched according to our specifications.  The only criteria we chose not to specify was gender.  There is, however, a password protected “Waiting Children” list that members of the program can view.  This contains children that just don’t fit anyone’s specifications, so their photos and basic information is given so hopefully someone will connect and want to give them a home (which seems to always happen eventually).  For example, currently on the list, there are older children that are HIV positive, as well as a sibling group of four (which are so stinkin’ cute I can’t even handle them).  Anyone wishing to adopt off this list would have to be ready (home study complete and dossier submitted).

How much time will you spend with them before bringing them home?
The two weeks we travel to Ethiopia.  It seems to me, from reading others’ travel logs, that a majority of the time is spent with the child(ren).  We will get to see the country, especially Addis Ababa (the capital city) and as I mentioned before, living relatives.  We will be able to stay in the transition home (where they stay after we accept their referral) with the child(ren) while we are there.   Although it is not a law or actual rule, they do ask that out of respect for the natives, we don’t walk the streets with the child(ren).

Will you know if they are healthy?
Yes.  A medical report is given and it is recommended that we have it looked over by someone in the medical field that has experience internationally before accepting the referral.  This is because they made word things differently or have conditions with which we are unfamiliar.  Blood test results will be given, including Hepatitis and HIV.  We are with a very established agency which has a history of being fully reliable and ethical so I feel very comfortable in this regard.

Hopefully this answers any questions you may have.  Our first home study visit is July 22nd so we are about to be one step closer…


Sunday, July 3, 2011

WHEW!!!

Yes "whew" was the best word I could come up with to title this post!

The past 9 days have been very busy at the Voorhies household.  Though we are definitely exhausted (maybe that's an understatement), it's hard to be annoyed or irritated when these sometimes tiresome tasks are for our baby (or two) in Ethiopia!  Here is a list of all we've done in the last 9 days:

Got our physicals completed as well as our Home Study medical reports
Went back to the doctor to get our physicals notarized
Got Sean a new license
Went to the post office to submit our passport applications
Went to the police station to get our background clearance letters
Went back to the police station to pick up the notarized letters
Purchased and installed three smoke alarms and a fire extinguisher
Made and posted 2 sets of evacuation plans (plan a and plan b) for all three floors of our house
Had a fire inspection of our home by the fire chief
Painted the nursery
Purchased baseboard for the nursery
Went to the carpet store to order carpet for the nursery
Had an appointment at our home to have our nursery measured for carpet and baseboard
Got fingerprinted for our BCI&I and FBI clearances
Sean got his employment letter signed and notarized
Completed and sent our Home Study financial statement
Completed our "10 hour" online Hague training
Mailed most of our Home Study documents along with our 1040
Prepared for and completed our garage sale

We also managed to work in some other things:
A church equipping interview
A graduation party
My hair appointment
Cross Country and cheerleading practices
Some of our required adoption reading 
Lunch with a friend (though she also gave me her notarized recommendation letter so it was a business meeting as well, haha).
I watched my nephew Noah a couple days, which is my summer job

Yeah, so "whew" is definitely appropriate.  We are now waiting to have our home study appointments.  There are four, and the social worker said she'd contact me to set up the exact days and times, but that the first should be in a couple weeks... YAY!

The most time consuming of all tasks was certainly the garage sale, but we exceeded our monetary goal.  Thanks to my parents and sister Kerry (and her family) for their generous donations and of course my parents for letting us use their house and working with us the ENTIRE TIME!

Here are some photos of our successful garage sale:


Billy!
 
Roxy!

   Dad surveying the junk
 Mom working hard
 Sean trying on that suit coat one more time before letting go
 Mom the cashier
 Mandy sporting her new "Just Love Coffee" t-shirt
 Sean taking a much needed break
The sale (thanks to the Starrs for the tent!)

"The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
-Mark Twain