Thursday, May 23, 2013

Piece of Our Puzzle

We have officially kicked off our first fundraiser to help offset the costs of our adoption! If you have not already received a letter, prepare yourself. It is probably already in the mail! We are hoping that our family, friends and loved ones will want to be a part of this unique "puzzle" God is piecing together ever so precisely. We have sent out letters containing a representative puzzle piece and a current photo of our family with special significance to our waiting children. The puzzle pieces being sent are symbolic of pieces to two puzzles that will stay at home. Each piece is up for sponsorship by anyone who would like to express their generosity financially. The pieces being sent out are not the true pieces, but a tangible representation for each family to keep if they choose. We chose to keep the actual puzzle pieces with us so that we could keep in contact with the whole. As each person or family sponsors a piece we will add their name to the back of the piece. Eventually we hope to complete both puzzles to be placed in our home for our children. Once completed they will be placed in a double glass frame, showing the names of those who lovingly helped bring them home on one side and an African themed picture on the other side. We feel this will be one of hopefully many special gifts for our children to look upon and feel the love surrounding them. 

We debated back and forth if we indeed wanted to place a price on each piece or if we merely wanted the hearts of all of you to be the deciding factor of what to sponsor. Your hearts won! In keeping our humility at the forefront of our hearts and our minds set on Christ, placing a price did not seem in accordance. We pray that you will prayerfully seek God's guidance in whether or not you choose to sponsor a puzzle piece and in determining how generous God would lead you to be. Then it is up to you to comply in obedience. Could you sacrifice for our children? Sacrifice is a tough pill to swallow for a lot of us. The thought of it makes us uncomfortable because sacrifice is associated with pain. It could be as simple as sacrificing a weeks worth of Starbucks. It could mean going as far as sacrificing an entire month of dinners out! Is the equivalence of a month's worth of cable television or a month's worth of smart phone usage too painful to relinquish in order to help change the lives of orphans in need? We certainly are not asking you to cut off your services! We are simply asking that you share our perspective for a moment if nothing else. 

Although we did not choose to place a price on any one's giving, we did think it would be helpful to express the goal in which we must meet to bring our children home. We have listed various steps in the adoption process and costs associated with each.

$6000 - America World Adoption Agency Program Fee (paid in 3 installments): 
$1800 - Home Study
$500-$1000 - Background Checks
$240 - Adoptive Parent Training
$890 - USCIS Application Fee & Fingerprinting
$1350 - Dossier Notarization, Certification, Authentication, Courier, Translation
$4500 - Ethiopian International Program Fee 1st Installmen                                       
$9000 - Ethiopian International Program Fee 2nd Installment ($4500 per child at time of referral)
$2400-$4000 - Trip #1 Airfare (2 adults)
$40 - Trip #1 Visas
$1400-$2500 - Trip #1 In Country Travel/Lodging Package
$2400-$4000 - Trip #2 Airfare (2 adults)
$40 - Trip #2 Visas
$500-$2000 - Trip #2 Airfare (one-way 2 children)
$1400-$2500 - Trip #2 In Country Travel/Lodging Package
$460 - Embassy Fees (2 children)
$3350 - Post Adoption Fees

$36270-$43670 - TOTAL

We will put our goal at $40,000 (give or take a few thousand dollars) on our fundraising thermometer! Did I just mention something about a pill being hard to swallow? It is daunting to say the least, but we are not backing down. We would like to lean on you. If you choose to give, and we certainly hope you will, you can give in one of three ways. You can give cash, check or pay by Paypal through this blog. Please keep in mind that Paypal will retain their own convenience fee, which is approximately $.52 per $10 transaction. We will periodically update our blog with those who have graciously given and the progress being made towards completing our puzzle. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Nine Months!!!

Little Shy is nine months old! She is learning new tricks each day! At her check up with Dr. Amy, our pediatrician, she weighed 18 lbs (50%), was 26 inches long (10% short stuff) and her head circumference was 42.5 cm (90%). She is growing and she is healthy. She is still a little unsure about food (simply because she has not tried CHOCOLATE yet!) She will get there. Food before one is just for fun, right? Although, she has tried a number of different things from under the table. Who needs a dog when you have a curious baby? Nurses 6 times a day. Naps twice a day. She is almost completely "moved into" her nursery. She is sleeping much longer at night, waking only once some nights to nurse. Still waiting on those teeth to come in.

(I LOVE her personality!)

She has made a new friend in Lila! Lila is so patient and tolerant. Shy loves her fur, so much that she pulls and tugs at Lila's coat. Can't ask for a better pet.  

 Her newest trick, pulling to a stand! One day I found her in her crib this way. No looking back!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Jesus Calling

Here it is! This is the post I have been most anticipating; the one I have poured over most to assure I do the gravity of its contents the justice it deserves, the one I have stressed over in the late hours of night and early hours of morn, the one in which the weight of I fear will not be felt. The truth is, for many it will not be felt. My hope is that for many it will. It is heavy in its fullness, but even in the little piece being offer to us; it is heavy. My heart can finally purge what it has kept secret. Jesus is Calling. If you have tuned in to hear about a daily devotional by Sarah Young, you are in the wrong place (although I recommend it and the children's version). Instead you are privy to an intimate portion of our lives, just beginning, one that may even cause you to probe your own heart in response. The Father has placed a precious calling on our family. It can be argued that He places it on every family in different facets if you read the words written in scripture, but for certain we know He calls ours. And, after a bit of hesitation, momentarily losing our focus, and getting a grip on ourselves, because its huge...for us and any other family facing the same call, we have boldly accepted. We are expanding our family again. This time in a more unconventional way. WE ARE ADOPTING! More over we are adopting internationally from Ethiopia. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment we knew God was calling us to adopt from another country. God was gradual with His approach. He started to dissolve the hardness that had permeated my heart by this world and this culture in which we live. Third World poverty has never really been a second thought for me. I could watch a Feed the Children commercial, momentarily feel pity and by the next commercial, I had forgotten. Until God began this good work. God began placing us in circles with adoptive families and former orphans. We began to love these families and love these children. Little did we know, He was preparing us. My heartstrings were being pulled every time I turned around. Before I knew it, adoption was everywhere I turned. Many that we look up to spiritually we found, had adopted. David Platt: Secret Church pastor, author of Radical, adoptive parent. Toby Mac: christian recording artist (that we rock out to with reckless abandon on a daily basis), Grammy winner, adoptive parent. Jen Hatmaker: women's bible study author, church mobilizer, (kindred spirit), adoptive parent. Was God holding these fellow Christians to a higher standard simply because of their celebrity? The God I serve does not. We found adoption was in the midst of our scout troop, our soccer teams, our t-ball team. God definitely had our attention. Even before all of this, He had made it more intimate. My husband's sisters, my sisters-in-law were both adopted. One was an international adoption and the other was a domestic. It was already a part of our lives. Sometimes things just get lost in translation. We get too busy to even notice the little details. Does anyone feel that too? God even took me back to my childhood best friend. And I am not talking about an acquaintance that I am conveniently referring to as my best friend for blogging purposes. She was the real deal. I have some of the sweetest memories with her, and some of the most ridiculous. She was one of those that you could do some crazy things with and live to tell about them. God was showing me adoption had always been a part of my life and I had just never really taken notice. God was revealing all of these things but I dared not confess what seemed like madness to my husband. I just knew he would call me insane-in-the-membrane, crazy! When one day, we were driving home from church and he turns to me and says "Do you think we'd ever adopt?" DID HE REALLY JUST SAY THAT?! What was going on?

Do you know a sure fire way to know if God is calling? The mission will take you straight out of your comfort zone. Like when we hear that still, small voice whisper "Tell them about me! Testify to My goodness!" That is hard and we often cannot muster the words to tell a stranger or even a friend about our Savior, Jesus. No matter the direction He moves us or the task; if God desires it, it is always for His glory. If my beliefs are what I say they are, how can I say no when He brings a meaningful blessing before me? How do I just sweep it under the rug and pretend He did not just say what I know He said. He said "Go." It was not forceful. So simplistic. He just said "Go." Trust me when I say we went through every single reason why this did not make sense. And sometimes if I think to hard, it still does not make sense! Have you counted my children lately? I have. I know each and every little face by heart. The Spirit assures me that God knows each and every face as well. He knows my children's faces and yours. He knows every face of each little orphan, many of which do not have sufficient nutrition, clean water, or access to adequate sanitation. These precious ones do not have the loving arms of family. They do not have a voice. Many do not have hope. What if this was MY child? What if this was YOUR child? We prayed fervently over this and heard Him say to seek the least of these. We discovered there is a Waiting Child List, compiled of children who are not first choice on most parents' lists whether it be because of age, an impairment, or simply being part of a sibling group. We felt led to pursue a sibling group, possibly with an older child, which currently means merely above the age of five. These are God's children and He is asking us to go and take care of them. Could we make room for more than just the five we have? Excuses came. Well God, we would need a bigger home. Further observation revealed not one, but two empty beds in our home. We already have too much going on. "Be still and know that I am God." This will be crazy hard to bring children from another culture, of another race, who do not speak our language from all they know. "My grace is sufficient." God shot down every excuse we had. So, we abandoned the life we were planning for a much better one, His perfect plan. Do you know what happened next? The peace that passes all understand poured over us. And, believe me, Satan has been working overtime to try and change our minds. The evil one is good at what he does. If we take our eyes off of Jesus, we begin to sink just like Peter. We know, that we know, that we know, that we know God called us to save these children.

James 1:27 Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by this world.

We had to figure out from where in this entire world we would seek to adopt. Did you know that there are approximately 147 MILLION orphans in this world? We asked ourselves "Who needs us?" They all need someone. We felt drawn to Africa. Researching, we found that there are currently an estimated 53.1 million orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is greater than the total number of children in Denmark, Ireland, Norway, Canada and Sweden. We began looking to the horn of Africa, comprised of Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti, and Ethiopia. There are approximately just over 100 million people in the horn. More than 86 million of those people reside in Ethiopia. That is more people than California, Texas, and New York combined, our three most populated states. Almost 6 million of those people are orphaned children which hunger and thirst for food, water, and love. One out of every ten children in Ethiopia will die before their first birthday, and one in six before their 5th birthday. Malnutrition contributes to half of those deaths. Ethiopia is one of the most impoverished countries in the world, per capita receiving the least amount of aid among the countries of Africa. In 2009 there were fewer than 2500 Ethiopian adoptions in the US. They are suffering. We will be their voice.

We took a leap (a monumental one) and applied with America World Adoption Agency! We were told to expect to hear back between 8-11 business days. We were apprehensive because we have an infant in the house, we are already considered a large family, and we are a one-income family. We were officially accepted into the Ethiopian program the NEXT BUSINESS DAY!!! And thus our journey begins! We will continue to chronicle this adventure amongst our typical happenings and shenanigans! We hope you will tune in and follow along with us. Most of all we hope you will pray for this adoption. Our hearts are invested greatly already, but the needs of these children, whom we do not know yet, are much more critical. Please pray for their provision, their safety, their physical and emotional strength. Please pray He will rain down His provision, paving the way to our children. Please pray God moves swiftly to bring them home.

          “It is a poverty that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.” -  Mother Teresa

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Vacation to Disney & Sea World


We made it to Spring Break, and it seems like its been ages since!! The kids really long for this week (not to mention Mom), to break from structured learning, to play freely and rest our minds. Sometimes we just need a break from the normal routine. Although, I like routine, A LOT! The kids have been talking about Disney, Disney, Disney for some time. Marcus and I discussed how we could incorporate a Disney vacation without interrupting our frugal lifestyle. It is very important to us that we be good stewards of God's money. So what is a family to do? Sweet talk, that's what! We called up who else, but Grandma and Paw Paw! It didn't take much more than a "pretty please" and they were sold on the idea of a visit! Now let's pause for a moment and delve into what exactly this visit entailed! We are a family of how many? Everyone say "SEVEN"! Sometimes it can be a challenge for this group of seven to get along easily in our own home, being used to the dynamic! We were asking for a family of seven to barge in on the harmonious life of five. (Grandma is giggling, or choking on her soda about now :-)Without hesitation, Grandma and Paw Paw opened their home to an additional seven people, five of which are children, for five days!!! I am sure they earned some jewels in their crowns for this!BLESS THEM!!

Grandma and Paw Paw living in Florida is difficult with such distance between us. It is especially hard for the kids who ask about them frequently. The family dinners are reduced to a few holidays, meaning less laughter, less hugs, less of Paw Paw's singing and less of the coveted heart-to-hearts with Grandma, a woman whom I consider another mother. If I linger too long on this reality, my heart aches tremendously. They are sorely missed! There is a freedom to belonging to their family. Leave your masks at the door. You can bear your soul and even if it's ugly, they love you anyway! You're accepted and never expected to look like the rest of the world. Thank goodness, because we don't, do we? They are not tight-lipped and will call you out when you're wrong, and believe me I have grown exponentially from it. Loyalty is at the heart of who they are, never judgement for shortcomings. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, they pat you on the back and expect you to keep going. No pity parties allowed. I take pride in being a West, very much! What a testimony they are to what God built marriage to be! They have been married 35 years! Their son and I vow to carry this tradition on in their name! That's right, he is stuck with me!! My mother-in-law teases me often that I may love him, but she loved him first! How so very thankful I am that she did, and still does. I dare not wonder who he might be today if she had not! I am blessed beyond measure that my husband was raised with such biblical values. He loves his wife and children, but loves the Lord first. That is essential in a christian home. I know exactly where he learned that. His father is head of their home and Marcus is head of our home. He is a hard worker and great provider, modeled after a great provider in his dad. One thing I will cherish throughout this lifetime is the memory each time we gather to share a meal together, we always take hands and Paw Paw prays over the food and always over us as if we are honored guests in his home. In this he mirrors Christ Himself, for He is honored to welcome us into his home which is His family. They are leaving a legacy!

 And, they are quite cute aren't they? Still deeply in love to this very day!

During our entirely-too-short visit, the entire extended family of twelve was able to visit Disney World without the multi-thousand dollar, resort packages! It had been twelve years since Marcus and I had traveled to Disney World during a college Spring Break with a group of friends. We had fun, but the trip did lack luster this time around. The kids expected waving princesses as you walked by. For pictures with your favorite character, it was an hour wait. That was the wait time on most rides as well. We rode a handful of rides and walked (very slowly) through the massive crowds. The kids had a fun time nonetheless. We got to watch several parades including many of their favorite cartoon characters, one of which was a Disney street party and one was the Electric Parade in the evening made up of millions of lights! There were high points and low points. The advice I can give is: Do NOT go during Spring Break. It is possibly more crowded than during the summer, peak season. If you or someone in your party has a real reason for a wheel chair, use it! There are benefits! If you want the full "Disney Experience", be prepared to shuck out an enormous amount of money for an all inclusive package. With that you get the breakfasts with the characters, park hopper passes to multiple parks, freedom to enjoy Magic Kingdom as many days as you would like! The trip was not a bust for us. Actually more of a blessing now that we think of it. Disney is quite commercialized.

 Enjoying a cool treat, courtesy of Grandma and Paw Paw.

 Disney Block Party
 This is just two-year old, Disney excitement!


(Are these even the same people?)

We also ventured to Sea World and had a FABULOUS time! Sea World had a much smaller crowd and was much less commercialized. The teaching opportunities were abundant! We were able to make the entire park in a day. We participated in Turtle Trek, a 3-D featured that even Eli was able to enjoy. We enjoyed watching the dolphins being fed at Dolphin Cove. We journeyed through an underwater aquarium with various tropical fish and massive sharks. The kiddos rode all of the rides they cared to ride with very little wait. Mom and Dad even got to take the two biggest kids on Journey to Atlantis, a water ride through the mythical cite of Atlantis, courtesy of a parent pass. This was a wonderful convenience for our family where one parent and child stood in line and enjoyed the ride, afterwards the other parent and child boarded ride with no wait. What a time-saver! We petted live sting-rays at Sting Ray Lagoon which was absolutely the highlight of that trip. So much so that they insisted that we go back to do it again before we left! To conclude the night each child chose a souvenir (within reason). The trip was certainly worth making!  



Other activities we enjoyed while in Florida included a day at the beach, an afternoon of mini-golf, and a DATE NIGHT of Thai food for mom and dad!! 

The love of my life!

 First feel of sand!
 First touch of the ocean!

 Hole in one!

Thank you Grandma and Paw Paw for opening your homes to our family! 
We love you and miss you terribly!