Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Brown Envelope

I'm not exactly sure why we have it. I think it's really important. It came to us from China. We're supposed to take it back to China (when we adopt Noelle). Guess I'd better not lose it...

In case of fire...

When you put 5 whole months of your life into something, you want it to last.

When we applied to America World to begin the process to adopt from China, we entered into a phase of our lives that adoptive parents "affectionately" call The Paper Chase. This intensive process culminates into what is called the dossier (a.k.a. our entire personal, professional and financial lives - on paper) which is then sent to China for review (The Paper Pregnancy).
The outrageously fat binder above contains all the paperwork, documents, passports, certificates, etc. etc. that we file away safely then take with us to China when we go adopt Noelle. I know where this binder is at all times. Nobody messes with this binder (Eric has to ask for permission). If we have a house fire or natural disaster, this is the first item to come with us, even before the kitty cats. It's that important. Seriously.

Sweet Dreams and Angel Kisses

This room has been waiting for Baby for a very long time, even before the Lord placed adoption on our hearts. Knowing we wanted to start a family, we bought the crib and began decorating with love as we dreamed of the future. Then when God led us to apply with America World to adopt a daughter - a daughter from China we would name Noelle - then our vision for this room started to take shape. Pink pretties started creeping in to the pastel decor and little dresses from Grandma and Auntie were hung in the closet. We were waiting for a daughter.

Now in December 2007, we actually have a face (a beautiful, loveable, kissable little face) to go with the name, and this room has become even more special. I dream of what it will be to like to look down into the crib at her, saying bed-time prayers, giving kisses, and watching our precious little one drift into dreamland. I can only sigh in awe as this amazing gift of a child is soon to be ours. A little girl so deeply loved, even before we knew who she was.

Thank you, Heavenly Father.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Family photo time!

Here's a shot of our three kitty-children. As you can see, they refused to pose for the camera and said they'd rather be playing. Hmpf. (In photo: Stormie, Shadow and Rainie's backside)

We had to have a recent family photo to accompany our LOI to China. Thanks Lisa M. for helping us out with this!

Miracles along the way...

This whole adoption process has been one miracle after another. We stepped out on faith from day one, not knowing where the money would come from to adopt our baby girl, and not knowing where we would end up. But God is faithful. I'd like to share just a few of the extra special miracle-blessings God has done for us recently.

1. Noelle was with her first family for approximately one month before she was taken to the orphanage. That means her parents held her and rocked her and fed her and loved her for a whole month before circumstances compelled them to place her for adoption. These first weeks are so important in an infant's life, and we feel blessed that Noelle had this time with her biological parents (please pray for them, as we know this loss of their little girl is very painful).

2. Noelle has been part of an "assisted fostering program" since she's been in the orphanage. This means that she has been assigned a foster nanny who has been giving her the love, care, attention, play time, etc. that many children in many orphanages do not have access to.

3. Noelle has the same heart condition as Grandma Johnson. Who knew? Literally no one, except God. Cool!

4. God moved our paperwork out of the "healthy child" review track just in the nick of time (literally one day!) to be able to get our LOI sent in without the expected 5-6 month RA wait. Amazing! (In case you didn't know - God moves mountains!)

5. Noelle means "Christmas; Christ's birth". Getting "the call" on December 7th - finding out we have a daughter - is the very best present of all! :)

We are officially LOI!!

Melissa notified us this afternoon that our LOI was electronically sent to China today, December 20th! This officially begins our countdown to RA (Referral Approval or Referral Acceptance) from the CCAA (China Center for Adoption Affairs). This is China's final "okay" for us to adopt Noelle JiaZhen.

Melissa said that we would be waiting approximately 2 months for RA, then another 2-6 weeks for TA (Travel Approval). At that point, we will be packing furiously, 'cause we'll be leaving for China possibly within days. Yikes! We could be parents before Easter!!!

I still can't believe this is really happening.

Noelle, mommy and daddy will be there soon! We love you, baby!

Writing our LOI to China

After receiving our referral, the next big step is writing the "Rehabilitation and Nurture Plan for the Child", commonly referred to as the Letter of Intent (LOI). This is the letter that goes to the Chinese officials to persuade them that we will be wonderful parents for the special needs child our agency has selected for us. In this letter we describe how we have consulted with doctors about Noelle's medical condition, that we have an ongoing plan for treatment, that we have insurance, that we will love her unconditionally, and so on and so forth. Eric and I talked about some of the main points we wanted to include, then I was off to the computer.

I was a wee bit concerned while composing this letter as our words could have a strong influence on the decision of the adoption officials. You see, since our agency selected us for this particular child (instead of the usual manner in which China selects a child for us), they still have the right to approve or decline us for her adoption. All these things were in my mind as I typed away. But in the end, my love for Noelle and my trust in God helped the words just flow. Melissa (our family coordinator from our agency) said it was wonderful the first time around and needed no changes or improvements. Yay!!

Crazy Hair Day

This was another photo we received in our referral packet. We think she is probably about 10 months old here (date of her last medical evaluation). It looks to me like Noelle had just gotten up from a great nap. See the smile - and the wild hair?

From what I can tell (the photos are so small), Noelle has very thick hair...with a definite wave to it! I've always suffered from the flat-fine-straight hair syndrome. So, I'm gonna live vicariously! I've got to get going on my collection of cute little bows and clippies so I can play stylist with my daughter's 'do. :)

The Call That Changed Everything - Part 2

So here's the scoop on Noelle. Melissa told us that Lu Jia Zhen was born on September 2, 2006. On October 2, 2006 she was brought to the Children's Welfare Institute of Hefei City, Anhui Province, China. She is part of an "assisted fostering" program through a wonderful organization called Half The Sky. Her Chinese name is pronounced: loo - jyah (like 'gee ah', but spoken in one short syllable) - jen. 'Lu' is actually her last name and it represents the city she lives in (Hefei). 'Jia' means "excellence" and 'Zhen' means "precious".

Everything in JiaZhen's referral packet indicates a very happy and healthy little girl who is on track developmentally. Her motor, social and language skills are progressing normally. Her skin is clear, her eyes are bright, and she's got plenty of that good baby fat. She laughs and plays and loves her foster nanny. She enjoys listening to music and loves being outdoors. She is an active and determined little girl with a quick smile. I think she sounds fiesty and strong. That's our girl! She's perfect for our family. :)

Noelle's special need is a congenital heart condition called Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO). Babies in the womb have a flap, or opening, between the two upper chambers of their heart that allows the flow of blood between them to provide oxygen from the lungs. Typically this opening closes once the baby is born, but usually by age two (this could still happen with Noelle). 25-30% of all adults actually have PFO and most never know it because there are rarely any symptoms. According to the doctor we had review the medical information in the referral packet, our daughter will likely never need any kind of treatment for her PFO. He says she is a very healthy little girl who should live a long, full life. Should she ever need to have this opening closed in the future, it is a very simple procedure that doesn't even involve opening the chest wall.

Amazing! Simply amazing! We had been preparing ourselves to accept a child with much more serious needs, perhaps multiple surgeries, or physical therapy, or who knows what. But instead God chose to bless us with a special girl who, by all appearances, is a normal, healthy little kid! Thank you, Lord!

Another interesting aspect to this story is the fact that Eric's mom also has PFO. We didn't find this out until we called Eric's folks with the good news of our referral. When we started to explain Noelle's heart condition, Eric's mom says "Oh, I have that! I'm 65 years old and have never had a bit of trouble with it!"

The Twilight Zone theme music began running through my head at this point. That's some "coincidence", hu? When Noelle is older and we explain how we got her from China and how the doctors told us about her heart condition, we will say, "Hey, it runs in the family!"

Sitting Pretty

Yep. I'm smitten. I look at that sweet little face and just want to plant kisses all over those adorable cheeks! I think my daughter is the most lovely little girl on the planet.

Yep. It's true. And I don't even have to feel bad about bragging, 'cause I can't take any credit! God's the One who made this very squeezable little punkin' of mine!

The Call That Changed Everything - Part 1

December 7, 2007 was a day like most Fridays - a day of running errands followed by our Friday "date night". On this particular Friday we had several errands to run, including shipping a package, returning books to the library, dropping off a job application (me), and a visit to the eye doctor. The eye appointment was first, then we'd take care of the other items and eventually end up at Barnes & Noble where we could relax with a stack of books in some comfy chairs while sipping a chai (me, not Eric - he's not into those foofoo tea/coffee drinks).

After seeing the doctor, who gave me a light prescription for reading and computer work (yes, I'm getting to "that" age - but I think they make me look especially intelligent!), we decided to take in a bite to eat at Arby's. Doc had dilated my eyes to do some tests, so getting some lunch was a good way to kill some time before running our errands and dropping off my job application (I didn't feel like speaking to a potential employer with dilated eyes - he might get the, ah, 'wrong impression'...).

So anyway... We're in Arby's munching on sandwiches and chatting. I've got my dark sunglasses on, lookin' really cool. We're discussing plans for the rest of the day, and my mind drifts to an e-mail I had received the day before from our adoption agency. An e-mail I wished I had never seen...

Now let me pause in the story to give you some background information. America World, our adoption agency, sent our completed paperwork in to China in September 2006, and we were officially logged in to their system in October 2006. Our 'Wait' had officially begun. Then this past April, Eric and I prayerfully decided to apply to our agency's special needs program. Every 3 or 4 months our agency receives a batch of 30 or so special needs referrals (information and pictures about a particular adoptable child) from China. We knew God was preparing a daughter for us; we just didn't know if she would come from the standard route or from the special needs program. So we wanted to leave all doors open.

We were approved for the special needs program and settled back into life and "The Wait". We felt hopeful that our daughter would come to us through the special needs program, but after going through two referral "batches" and not receiving a call, I had had enough of the emotional roller coaster. I knew God was in charge of choosing our daughter and He had the timing under control, but I was struggling to handle the days of anticipation followed by days of discouragement whenever we didn't get called for a referral. I decided the best course of action was to stay off our agency message boards indefinitely and switch all agency e-mail notices to Eric's e-mail account. This way I would be ignorant of all referral activity and would no longer ride the Emotion Express. Eric said "great" and set up a new account just for this particular purpose. Then...I got busy. Getting into the Thanksgiving season and entering December, my mind was on the hectic holidays ahead of us. I forgot to tell our agency to switch all e-mail notices to Eric. Oops. BIG oops!

Here I am, going about my life, blissfully ignorant of all things adoption related (I did stay off those message boards by the way, and hadn't heard a peep from our agency), and that's when it happened. On Thursday December 6th, I saw an e-mail in my inbox I wish I had never seen. It was from America World and the subject line read "Special Needs Referrals!" I knew EXACTLY what that meant.

I had been doing so well - really feeling at peace about things - knowing that God was working behind the scenes to prepare us and our daughter for the day we would become a family. I had even genuinely felt okay with having to wait a whole additional year to go to China to get our daughter. Traveling to China at Christmas-time to adopt our Noelle would be a pretty awesome thing! But now this e-mail. Suddenly my emotions threatened to take charge. I placed a quick call to Eric and then my parents, asking them to pray for me to hold on to God's promises and rest in the peace He had given me about waiting. Then that was that. Or so I thought...

Back to Arby's - As I'm thinking about that e-mail, I say to Eric "I just wish I didn't know that America World is making referral calls today. I know we won't be getting a call, but it still would be easier not knowing anything about it." Eric agreed and we continued to eat and visit. Then about 5 minutes later, my cell phone rings. We both stop in mid sentence, and I look at the number. The area code looks oddly familier...

"Hello, this is Jennifer--"

"Hi Jennifer. It's Melissa from America World. How are you today?" (the last time we spoke on the phone was when Eric and I first applied to the adoption agency; otherwise we communicate via e-mail)

"I'm fine. How are you?" (my breathing is beginning to become impaired at this point)

"I'm great! I wondered if you had a moment to talk."

(Oh, no, I don't think so. I'm eating lunch right now. I don't have time to talk to our agency family coordinator who just happened to call on THIS particular day...EEEEEEEEEEE!!!!)

"For you, Melissa," I say, "I have as many minutes as you want!" (Eric knows by now that something very big is going down)

"I have a little girl I'd like to tell you about..."

At this point I began to weep, right there in Arby's. For several seconds I could do nothing but cry my eyes out as Melissa shared information with me about our daughter. My daughter. MY DAUGHTER!!! Thank you, Jesus, for this most amazing and precious gift! I am completely overwhelmed by your love and goodness. Thank you thank you thank you!!!

This phone call was followed by mushy stuff - like Eric (who had, of course, quickly figured out what all the boohooin' was about) and me kissing and embracing for all of Arby's patrons to see, followed by pinching ourselves in amazement, followed by more crying from me. Needless to say, many of our errands were left undone that day as we rushed home to see the pictures of our beautiful daughter that were awaiting us in a new e-mail from Melissa. :)

(If you are interested in knowing more about our daughter Noelle and the specifics of 'The Call', please read "The Call That Changed Everything - Part 2" .)