Monday, May 27, 2013

Finding Sarah... Part 2

You can read part one here.

***This is the story of how we came to be matched with Sui Feng Lan, our Sarah Ann.  As with all international adoptions there are a lot unknowns and blank spots.  Some things may seem vague or left out,  sometimes this is intentional in order to give her some privacy other times we may just not know.

Several weeks before we first noticed "Susan" on our agency's website, Lifeline had taken a trip to China.  We have a wonderful agency that not only works to place children in families but also does so much work in orphan care ministry.  They have partnered with many orphanges in China doing all kinds of work with them.  The purpose of this trip was to evaluate children and also help educate nannies and to put feet to the gospel.  I emailed some of our family and friends and asked them to pray for the people on this team.  I knew we were interested in partnership files and I knew it was possible they would be working with our future daughter-whoever she may be!

Fast forward a few weeks and there was that face:

She was at Suixi Welfare Institute.  One of Lifeline's partnerships.  The one with the scary warning.  That didn't seem to matter to me anymore.  I put her face on my homescreen and Shane and I decided if she was still available after we were logged in we would ask to see her file.  We had our home visit the Monday of spring break and it went great.  Later that afternoon the phone rang and it was our China specialist social worker calling from Birmingham.  She was letting us know that she was leaving her postition and we would have a new social worker and that we would be in good hands.  We talked for awhile and then I called Shane and told him about the change.

Now I decided early on in this process that I would rather be embarresed than regretful and I think I have embarresed myself a couple of times, but the deeper we get in the more I realize that all these mammas are just as crazy as I am!  I can only hope I'm not the craziest!!  When our new social worker emailed the next day introducing herself she asked to please let her know if we had any questions.  What the heck, I decided!  And I asked if we had to be LID in order to see the orphanage partnership files and she said as long as they were labeled special focus we could match at anytime!  I was wrong- we could look at her file, provided she wasn't on hold for another family.

 Now we had asked to see several other files, most of which were already on hold.  In fact, only once had we asked about someone and she wasn't on hold.  It was more than likely that she was already being consedered by another family.  But in my heart I knew she wasn't.  There was such a sense of peace, not a sense of urgency.  I asked Anna to check and see if the file for Susan was on hold.  It wasn't-would we like to see it?  Yes, we would.

All of these conversations took place over several days.  We left on Friday morning to head to Oak Mountain State Park to camp with some friends, the Webbs.  We loaded up and headed out.  I checked my email and we still didn't have the file.  I emailed Anna and asked again and in just a couple of minutes her file was in my inbox.  The kids both had headphones on and so I opened it.  I knew in my heart that there was very little it could say that would change my mind, but I tried to be objective.  Along with the offical file we had a report the Lifeline team had done on her a year ago when they visited.  There was also another file that I couldn't open on my ipad.  For the next several hours we talked about it and I read and reread that file.  We got to our campsite and while we setting up the tent we decided to put her file on hold.  I went and held my phone just so in order to get a signal and sent Anna an email.  Over the next several days in the quiet of camping we took several walks and talked about her.  There were several things that stood out to us:

*Her need was one we had just talked about being one that we really felt good about.
*She was the age we had talked about.
*And lastly, we started to go down this road about 5 years ago.  We didn't.  I have struggled with the fact that we were looking for a child about 5 years old.  What if we hadn't waited-would she have had to wait for so long.  "Susan" was not available for adoption until this summer.  Right about the time we started really feeling God leading us down this path again.

When we got home from our trip, I emailed Anna again and asked if the team that had gone to China in March had seen her, was there an update?  There was and she would work on getting it.  I also emailed the International Adoption Clinic in Birmingham asking them to review her file as well.  I recieved an email back from Dr. Chambers saying that she had been the one to examine "Susan" and she would be glad to review her file and talk with us about her.  We were also able to open the file that we couldn't get to open before.  It was no less than about 50 pictures of her from a year before.  What I saw was a sad, scared little girl. We were anxious to get the update from the team that had just come back from Suixi.

Also happening that week was the release of the shared list.  Families matched from the shared list have a major time crunch- 72 hours- to make their decision, get medical reviews and write their letter of intent.  We had 2 weeks, so we told the Adoption Clinic we would wait for our review in the hopes we would get the updated information.  It would be another week before we got the update and it held some unexpected news.

I got the email with the updated medical report and teachers report and updated pictures.  I was able to open the pictures, but could not get the report to open.  This was the first picture I saw.

Precious!  More hair!  Shane emailed a minute later with the news that her file had some unexpected things in it.  I could tell that maybe we were going to have to walk away from this file.  All my objectivity went out the window.  Shane came home from work that night and I just cried on his shoulder.  We were both so sad.  We agreed to go ahead and talk with Dr. Chambers.  It took several more days and a few missed calls but we finally were able to have a conversation with her.  Actually I was the one who had the conversation.

We had a good and frank conversation about our "Susan."  She talked to me about the orphanage, the conditions there.  She talked to me about Susan's future and what her needs would be when she got home.  I read the teachers report to her, Susan has a sweet smile and a sweet spirit.  She concurred that this was a quiet, timid, child.  We talked about lots of things.  She said that there was a video of her walking that she felt like we should see before making our decision.  I thanked her and emailed Anna asking for the video.  I then asked Shane to meet me for lunch.

I relayed to him all that Dr. Chambers had told me.  We knew that she had only been there for a year and she declined some in the year she had been there.  We talked about Dr. Chambers view on her needs and what her future would hold. I told Shane I didn't know what the answer was but I felt a peace about her.  We made the decision to wait for the video and then to release her file. We would revisit things once were LID and if she was meant to be ours she would still be available and if not then we would have our answer. I fully expected to have that video by that afternoon. It would take another week to get it.

Our 2 weeks were up and we still had not seen the video. Anna assured us that the deadline would be extended until we had all the information available to us and that they were working on getting it to us. I was getting pretty frustrated. Not at anyone, just at the situation.  I really wanted that video!

One week and a day later the video came through as I was leaving preschool on Friday. I raced home and called Shane. He was going to meet me at home for lunch and to see it. Once I got home I tried to wait for Shane but I just couldn't. I clicked the link and it would not work!  I couldn't get to the video!  AAHH PANIC!  I quickly emailed Anna and prayed she wouldn't be gone to lunch yet. She answered right back with a new link and I clicked it.  And there she was. Thirty three seconds of her walking away from the camera and then back again. Shane came in about that time and I played it for him. Wow! Was all he said. We were shocked at how well she walked!  So much better than we anticipated. Her grin at the camera was precious. We watched it a few times and then had lunch and went on with the day. We would need to let Anna know on Monday and the decision had been to release the file. 

On Saturday we decided that the 2 of us would go to dinner that evening and discuss things. We needed some time to talk things over again.  We went to one of our favorite Mexican restaurants.  There was a giant elephant in the room as we tried to make small talk and talk about other things. We finally got around to the reason we were there. What do you think?  I don't know- what do you think?  I asked you first. This went on for a few minutes when Shane finally looked me in the eye and said, "I think she's the one." And I cried in the middle of El Potrillo. Desicion made.  She is ours. 

We both knew that the Lord had given us the gift of an extra week to pray and process and become sure of what we both knew. 

We settled on a name as well during that dinner. I knew I wanted Ann as a middle name because Will and Jenny have a family middle name and Ann is my mom and Shane's mom's middle name.Jenny had picked Sarah out awhile back and was pushing hard for it. So it was settled. 

As we walked out into the parking lot Shane gave me a hug and said, "I think we just had a baby!". It sure felt like it!!

On Monday I called Anna and told her we were ready to move forward with "Susan". She was excited for us and sent us everything we needed. I worked on it on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, April 10 we submitted our Letter Of Intent to adopt Sui Feng Lan. One year to the day after she entered the Suixi welfare institute. 

Six days later we received our premilinary approval from China and introduced the world to our precious Sarah Ann. 

A week later all the files listed on her orphanage page with Lifeline were released back to the shared list so while it is possible we could have still gotten her, another agency could have easily snatched her file up. We got her just in time!  

We are still hoping to travel before the end of the year and we should be DTC in just a few weeks!  

Friday, May 24, 2013

Finding Sarah

**This is the story of how we came to be matched with Sui Feng Lan, our Sarah Ann.  As with all international adoptions there are a lot unknowns and blank spots.  Some things may seem vague or left out,  sometimes this is intentional in order to give her some privacy other times we may just not know.

Every day since December I have looked over the waiting child lists on our agencies website.  I have mentioned before that with China adoption there are several ways to be matched.  You can wait to be logged in and then matched from the shared list, which is a list released each month with children available for adoption.  You can also be matched with a waiting child.  These are children generally assigned to a specific agency for a set amount of time. These children would be labeled special focus meaning there need is more severe or they are older. Our agency also has a partnership with about 7 orphanages in China.  They work with these institutions with education for nannies, humanitarian work and also advocating for the children.

Each day I looked over these faces.  I checked advocacy websites like Wonderful Waiting Kids.  If you want to your heart to break, for God to change the way you think about orphans, stare at these faces.  Put a name to them, even if it is an agency given name.  I made lists of their names in my Bible study notebook.  I prayed for them.  Jenny and I watched their videos and rejoiced when the word MATCHED would appear next to one of them.  And I prayed for the Lord to show me our daughter if she was on that list.

We inquired about several children.  All of whom had families already interested in them.  We prayed over one little girl in particular but it was evident that she was not ours (she has a family now.)

I focused my attention on the agency specific files and not the orphanage partnership files because somewhere along the way I got the idea in my head that you had to be logged in to look at those files.  I had particularly not looked at one partnership list very much because of these words:

These children are coming from a state run orphanage with very little outside support. Therefore the neglect of the children is typically more pronounced. This causes developmental and cognitive delays that are more significant. For example, many 5 year olds in this orphanage will look like 1-2 year olds developmentally and cognitively. Please consider this as you review the files. Often these delays can be overcome, but can take months to years to reverse and can carry long term affects on children.

That was kind of scary and so I glanced at that list from time to time but did not pay it a lot of attention.

On the first Sunday of spring break Shane and sat down to fill out the child desired form. We had another home visit the next day and we had to turn in it. We prayed over it and then started down the check list. First, age of child. We have said from the beginning 4yr-6yr. After looking at all the children I was willing to go younger, Shane was willing to go older. We finally decided to stay with what we had originally said-4yr-6yr. Now to tackle that list of special needs. All children being adopted from China have a special need. Some are correctable, some have already been corrected, some are minor, some not so minor. We knew that going in and were comfortable with that. Having to look at the list and mark no to some things was very hard. Having looked at those faces for so long I could just about put a face to each need listed and I felt like I was saying "NO- this will inconvenience me - stay an orphan." Shane told me to quit saying that and focus!! We worked our way through the list and got to cerebral palsy. For whatever reason we both felt at peace about marking yes to mild cerebral palsy. We had discussed this from the beginning. We just felt ok about it. We also discussed that we would love to get an orphanage partnership match. There were lots of reasons for that but we liked the idea that someone from our agency would have been there and seen her. We finished up the form and signed it and got up from the table. I walked over the computer and pulled up our agency's website and started looking at the lists again, but this time I looked at the orphanage partnership files. There are lots of precious kids on these lists, I said, but I think we have to be logged in first. And I clicked on the Suixi list. The one with the warning above. I scrolled down the list and there she was.

Listed as "Susan", age 4, mild cerebral palsy.  

It was sort of like one of the 3D pictures that were so popular when we were in college.  The ones you stare and stare at and then all of sudden the image comes jumping out at you.  I had looked at these lists a hundred times.  Even the ones I didn't look at that often I looked at a couple of times a week.  How had I not seen her,  She popped out at me just like those images.  Except this image seemed like it had flashing lights around it. I could not look away from that face.  I won't say I knew immediately that she was our daughter, but I sure did take a screen shot of this picture and put it on my home screen. I went to Wonderful Waiting Kids and found her on there and was able to see a couple of more pictures and get a sliver more information.  Shane and I agreed she was precious but we had to be logged in to see her file and that was months away.  We would keep her in our minds and wait and see when we got to that point.

Little did we know I was wrong!!  And I was not good at keeping her at the back of my mind either!

To be continued....

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Proud of my girl

You know how awesome it is when people say nice things about your kids?  

She's very smart!

He has a great attitude!

 Well, here is what they say about my Sarah.
"She has a sweet smile and a sweet spirit"

Those are the words used on the evaluation by our agency's team that saw her in March.  She is also a good helper and helped clean up the blocks.  She listens to and follows instructions.  Sweet, sweet girl!!

When all you have is a picture and a short video sometimes you begin to wonder if she's really real.  All the way on the other side of the world is there really this precious girl that I already love so much?  And then I read what someone who has put their hands on her has to say and it brings peace to my heart.  She is so very real.  She has a sweet smile and a sweet spirit.  She likes to clean up.  The nanny reports that she helps fold the laundry!  WHAT!!  She is perfect for me!!  Actually I'm not banking on that one.  Can't see how that could be possible but a mom can dream right.

And then last night I got another little gift.  I belong to a Facebook group of people that are in the same time frame as we are- all adopting from China.  some of these people are with our agency but many are not.  Someone asked for everyone to say who their child was and what their need was and where the child was.  I did so.  And then someone posted this:

"Stacy Huff, was your daughter on the Lifeline specific list?  Was she Susan?"

Holy Cow!  YES!!  That is her!!!

And this reply:
"Oh how I love that girl!  I advovate for kids and she is one of my favorites!  SO happy for you and for her!"

Someone else saw the preciousness of her face.  Someone I don't even know was praying for my girl!

Gifts from the Lord, these little glimpses!!  I am so proud of all three of my kids!!

God is so very good!

Mother's Day

My sweet Sarah,

I have watched your sweet video 100 times this last week.  It is 33 seconds of my only glimpse into your life.  When you turn and smile at the camera I just can hardly stand it.  I want so badly to hold you.  To tell all is going to be ok.  You are loved and cherished.  Not only by me but the God of the universe!

My mother's day was very good.  Your daddy and I went out of town for the weeknd and came home that afternoon.  We went to your cousin's house to pick you and visit with family.  I am so thankful for my mother and the example she set for me.  I am thankful also for your Peanut and for Lulu.  Two ther precious women who have set an example of motherhood for me.  I am thankful for your aunts, Julie and Cameron.  There are some wonderful women in your life and they love you already.

My mother's day was good, but oh how I missed you.  In one picture your sweet hair is messed up and I want to brush it and change your clothes and just sit with you and hold you.  In another picture your hair has obvioulsy been shaved again and it makes me sad.  I hope you weren't scared or sad when they cut your hair.  We will let it grow long and beautiful.  Or keep it short and sweet- whatever suits you!

Next year on mother's day you will be with me.

I can not wait!

I love you my sweet girl and I am coming!!


Success at the Federal Building!

You will never believe it, but it's true!

I left the Federal Building yesterday with a smile on my face!  My step was even light and there was not a tear in sight!  We even got out the parking garage without incident!!  God is good my friends!  God is so very good!

We went to our schedule fingerprint appointment yesterday.  Just walked right in and walked right out 10 minutes later.  The lady that did them was so sweet and asked about our daughter and what her needs were.  She even got a little teary eyed.  

I'm going to enjoy that success because the next time I go there will be to get a SS card for my new daughter and let's just say that based on rumor and speculation there will probably be tears.  On the other hand I've already had one memo sent about me so they may do whatever they have to to get me the heck outa there!!

That step is done and now we wait for approval.  Anywhere from a couple of weeks to 2 months is our estimated wait.  Please pray with us that it will be a short wait.  I know thats everyones prayer for each step, but I feel like if we can just get all of this to China I can breathe a little easier.  I'm sure when we get to that side of things I'll be wrong but it will just be such a major step to get it there!!

Also please be in prayer for all the families that are in China right now.  The US consulate has closed for a "facilities emergency."  All consulate appointments have been canceled and those families can not leave China.  It is a difficualt situation.  Please be in prayer for them!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Pity Party is OVER!

My little self imposed pity party is over!  I was a little whiney in my last post and there is enough whine in this house already so that has got to stop!  Best way I know how to stop feeling sorry for myself is to have a grateful heart so here is what I am grateful for today!

*My Lord and Savior whose adoption  of me was a whole lot messier and costly than a few weeks wait for fingerprints.  For His overwhelming grace and His mercies that are new EVERY day!

*For our adoption agency.  The pateince exhibited with those people by the whole crazy lot of us adoptive parent's his God given for sure.  There love for orphans all over the world is evident in all they do.  We are so thankful God led us to them.

*I am thankful for the promises of Psalms 139.  Yes, I am fearfully and wonderfully made, but more importantly Sarah is fearfully and wonderfully made.  He knows the number of hairs on her sweet shaven head.  He knows the details of her life that I will never know.  She is fully known by her creator.

*I am thankful for Will and Jenny.  For their open hearts to a new sister.  For their hilariously different personalities.  I am thankful that God entrusted them to me and I pray everyday for their heart and soul and mind.

*I am grateful that in the uncertain, shakey world of international adoption that China is fairly steady.  A predictable set of steps.  The timetable may differ for everyone, but the steps are the same.

*I am thankful that now our fingerprint appointment is only about a week away.  And I'm thankful we only had to wait 2 weeks.  Many people wait more than that.  Thankful in all circumstances.

*I am thankful that my belly is full of crawfish and birthday cake tonight.  I am thankful I ate that meal with my family.

*I am thankful for the leagcy my parents have given me.

*I am so very thankful for Shane.  He loves me.  Never one day for nearly 19 years have I ever questioned that.

The Lord has done great things for us and we are FILLED with joy!
Psalms 126:3

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Not Again....

So I left the federal building in tears again.

You may remember this little episode.

This time it wasn't the Social Security office.  It was Homeland Security.

We've moved into the first immigration phase of our adoption.  We are working on our I800a approval.  Basicly we need USCIS to approve us to adopt internationally.  We have sent in our application.  We've received our biometrics appointment.  It is 2 weeks away.  It took 2 weeks to get the notification.  So that's a month of doing NOTHING!!  Then once the fingerprints are done there is another month or so of waiting for apporval and MY plans of being logged in by the end of June are fast slipping away.  I had to do something.

There are lots of stories of people walking in early for their fingerprint appointment.  Weeks early.  It was worth a shot.  Go early in the day.  Be syrupy sweet. Tell them it's for an adoption.  Pray your guts out that they let you through the door.

We set out Thursday morning for the Federal Building and that horrible parking gargage.  I had everybody I could think of praying.  The closer we got the more confident I got that we were going to get in!  We made our way up the elevator and found the Department of Homeland Security.  There was nobody in the waiting room.  Nobody.  Zero.  Empty.  Woohoo!!  This so going to go so well.  Once again I had premature confidence while in the federal building.  A sure sign things were going to go badly.

A lady took our forms and told us the officer would be with us soon.  She was.  She very quickly informed us that we would not be allowed to have our prints done today.  We had to come back on the 14th.  I have to work that day I said.  This is the last thing we need before all our paperwork is done.  Its for an adoption.  Please.  There is no one else here.  Please.   Please.  Please.  Please.

No.  They had other things to do.  We were welcome to reschedule for a later date.  Thank you.  Goodbye.
Goodbye my foot.  I wasn't going anywhere.  I  stood there.  At the window.  It was a little awkward but it was worth a shot.    

A few minutes later another lady walked through and saw us.  She asked did we need anything.  I told her YES!  We need our fingerprints done today.  We knew we were early but we knew other people did this and look!! This so where I whip the picture of Sarah out of my purse.  She needs me.  She is waiting.  Please.  She actually had a kind look on her face and said she was so sorry.  Right before she told us no.

And so we left.  And I cried in the elevator of the Federal Building.  Again.

Luckily Shane was driving and we made it out of the parking garage in record time.

Truthfully, I should have been prepared to get turned away and I thought I was.  But I wasn't.  My time frame is slowly slipping away.  We will be lucky to be logged in by August.  It is beginning to look way more like January than November.

I have had a hard time this week.  This week more than ever I feel like her mother.  I need to mother her.  She needs to be mothered.  If you see me this week please don't tell me Novemebr isn't that far away.  If one of your children was thousands of miles away and needed help you couldn't give her November would seem like an eternity and today it feels like 2 eternities and it's probably going to be longer than that.

I've made peace with this part of the wait though.  Theres nothing I can do to make the 14th come faster.  What I can do is enjoy this next week and half.  Will has 2 baseball games.  Jenny has her 6th grade choir concert.  We have awards day.  And it's my birthday!  Shane and I are going to New Orleans to see my very favorite musical and then it's the 14th!  It's a very busy, fun week and I am going to enjoy it!!

I'll deal with the next wait when it gets here.

And I am going to stay as far away from the Federal Building as possible.