Friday, April 24, 2015

Starting The International Adoption Journey

international adoption


"We're just waiting for the State of Illinois at the moment, to send the home study approval," I chuckled into the phone. I could almost sense Julie, our paperwork coordinator, nodding her head sympathetically. It was a short call earlier this week, just pulling together a few loose ends before we prepare to finalize most of our documents.

It's not so bad to be waiting sometimes. Recently Marc and I had spent multiple nights a week staring at a computer screen, envisioning every possible health/behavior/cultural scenario in an international adoption. This was an educational requirement to complete our home study. It was useful information, but the process was borderline torturous (didn't I graduate college already?). So doing nothing now is a nice change.

Right now we're waiting for approvals, for background checks, for people to get back to us so we can fill out more papers.

How did we get here? Here feels like nowhere, but it's somewhere.

It started in each of us separately. We agreed before we were even married that, if and when it could happen, we would look into adding a child to our family through adoption. It just made sense to both of us. Kids need families. We wanted kids. We could examine the adoption option when the time was right.

Three biological kids later, it was time to look at this option a little more seriously. After Grace was born, we began talking to agencies, saving money, scouring the Internet about, talking to friends who had done it, figuring out how this might work for us.

Our hearts led us internationally for several reasons. The whole thing terrified me, even though I wanted it. I prayed that if this was going to work, it had to come together in a pretty clear way. Otherwise there was no way it was gonna happen...*

This story has taken years to evolve, but in the past year several puzzle pieces have come together, including a lot of the funding, an agency and a country. And so last November we started the paperwork process, which should be wrapping up in the next several weeks.

And yet that's just the beginning. Before the beginning.

I've hesitated to share this publicly until now because this information generates a lot of questions that I haven't felt ready to answer to just anyone. But I generated a lot of curiosity a couple of weeks ago when I revived the dead blog. So here are the answers to your most burning questions:

The "what": we are pursuing an international adoption, as that's where we have felt the strongest pull based on our experiences and research. We wanted to choose a country that has significant need and is also "Hague accredited," meaning that it adheres to international standards in the adoption process. This criteria was important to us because we wanted to avoid any risk of child trafficking. It narrowed down our search significantly.

The "where": after much research and prayer, we chose Bulgaria (Eastern Europe). There are many children in orphanages in this country, although some are in foster care. While in college, Marc spent some time volunteering in orphanages in Romania and Russia, and he is familiar with this region of the world. I also focused on the region while obtaining my bachelor's degree in international studies.

The "who": we've requested a girl age three or under. We are open to minor/correctible special needs, many of which (like developmental delays) are almost unavoidable in children coming from institutions. I wrestled with guilt for not wanting to be open to more severe needs, older kids or siblings, but we're making a decision based on what we think we can handle with our three biological kids too.

The "when": after we submit our dossier (kind of like our adoption profile) to Bulgaria, we have much waiting to do. Like two years, three years or more. After receiving and accepting a referral, we'll take two trips to Bulgaria, the second of which will be to bring our daughter home.

The "why": I cannot even begin to explain how I've wrestled through this question, especially in the early stages. I remember a conversation we had with friends, in which I shared my hesitation about whether I was doing it for the "right" reasons. He simply replied that James 1:27 says to "look after orphans in their distress" and not to worry so much about the "why." Just do it in faith.

So that's our story, the beginning of it anyway. There won't be much to update until we actually bring a child home, which is obviously not for a (long) while. I truly appreciate all the support and encouragement we've already received. I'd only request that you pray for us as we continue stepping out on faith. Thanks, friends.




*As I read over this part, it dawned on me that these feelings were identical to what I experienced when I met Marc and the whole development of our relationship leading up to our marriage. So I already know what it feels like to take a leap of faith with something that seems a little crazy. That's encouraging!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

What Does It Mean To Be a Woman of Strength?

I don't know about you, but I am bombarded daily with images of women telling me what I should do, whom I should be, what I should look like.

True strength for women
Image courtesy of marcolm at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It used to just be the magazines in the checkout line; now it's Pinterest, online advertising, articles in my Facebook newsfeed, and of course the videos. The videos about how to do anything, available at the tap of my finger!

As a blogger, of course,  I would shoot myself in the foot if I took a strong stance against social media. As a matter of fact, I've spent some time this past week updating my various accounts so that I can be more engaged with my readers (wink!).

Not all of the messages we receive through various media, whether printed or electronic, are inherently evil. Media is just a tool, and it can be used for good or bad, on both the publishing end and the consumer end.

Here's the thing about all of these messages: they only go viral when people want to see them. I know I certainly perpetuate the trends. For example, I generally feel pretty good about my body image; I've had three pregnancies and I'm not overweight, I eat pretty well and I exercise. Yet I don't look like those other strong, beautiful women. And so I click on the fitness tips, the healthy eating suggestions. I'd like to say it's because I'd generally like to be healthier, which is a good thing. But sometimes something else lurks behind my motivation. Is it jealousy? Discontent? Idolatry? Probably all of the above.

The body image thing is a whole issue in itself which is important but beyond the scope of one post. But it's not just those types of messages that are alluring. The messages that burn can be anything: how to be the best parent, wife, chef, fashion maven, blogger, and generally the most balanced, righteous female alive.

For a recovering perfectionist like myself, these messages can be pure poison if I'm not careful. While a lot of media is meant to be inspiring (and it actually is!), we can misinterpret it as condemning because we just don't measure up to the standards we see.

Lately I've noticed one theme in particular about women across every type of media: strength. A lot of popular TV shows and movies, comedies and dramas alike, now feature woman protagonists. Think Liz Lemon, Leslie Knope, Carrie Mathison, Jess Day, and of course Elsa and Anna to name a few. I think that these are positive developments for women in popular culture, and I hope the trend continues because I could use about ten more comedies written by Tina Fey.

Yet, sometimes along with the positives we hear the ever so slightly deceitful whispers: "To be strong enough you have to be as good or better than a man. Be powerful, be a b****. Be muscular, both physically and mentally, and you will be beautiful." I saw a book recently called Strong is the New Skinny.

I have to admit, the concept of being strong is exciting and pulls me in. But what do I have to do to be this "strong woman?" Do I have to workout like an Olympian, hold a powerful position in my career, all while perfecting my role as a wife and mother?

And let's not forget that the Internet has plenty to say about strong motherhood, which includes things like breastfeeding, reading lots of books to your kids from the time of conception, limiting electronics and cultivating an organic garden so you can live off the land and avoid all chemicals. If you're strong enough, you will be the pillar that upholds the ideal family (but you better not break or they'll all go crashing down with you!).

Again, these ideas are not bad in and of themselves. But the way they are presented and/or interpreted can be devastating.

Many women know they can't have it all or do it all (a healthy admission), but we're left with this disturbing question: when am I enough?

And this is where our lives, careers, bodies and families fall short. Because the truth is, when we continue to hold up the standards we love so dear from the media, or even from our own minds, we're never enough.

I wrestle with this dilemma daily. I write from a Christian perspective, so the "Christianese" answer is to be strong in the grace of God, which is absolutely true (study the book of Romans for a thorough explanation of the subject. Or anything by Philip Yancey). Grace is the answer and is more than enough. I could stop writing here.

But what I've been pondering for quite some time (recall that I took a break for several months) is what that grace looks like today, amidst all of these messages. What exactly does grace mean to the modern woman? Whether you're single, married, with kids or without? If I'm living my life and embracing my shortcomings because of my understanding of this grace, what does my self-image look like? How am I responding to that bombardment of messages?

Can we really be strong?

The short answer is: yes. We can be strong. But not in the ways you might think. True strength does not look like the way most media portrays it, and it does not look like the way that even a lot of spiritual thinkers portray it.

Unfortunately (for me, anyway), strength isn't something I can achieve by checking items off a list. 

I've discovered that biblically, God provides strength through several means, including:

  • character
  • suffering
  • rest 
  • grace
  • humility

Hmm, I don't see many of those themes on Pinterest very often...

What do you think? Am I on target here? What are some of the deceitful messages you hear through media?

Where do you find your strength?


You then, my [daughter], be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:1




Friday, April 3, 2015

Relaunching a Dead Blog

Hello? Hello.

You might remember me. I last clicked the "Publish" button about...seven months ago. The year was 2014, and even my kids know that was ancient history.

So tonight I'd like to announce that I am not dead. In fact, I'm in my Starbucks office right now. I have a hot chocolate stain all over my shirt because that seemed to be an appropriate way to celebrate my relaunching.

Starting over with a blog
Going high-tech with photo editing now.
Admittedly, the blog was dead (or else the title of this post would make no sense...). There are a lot of reasons why I didn't write, and I'm not sure I need to go into all of them.

To catch you up on my life, I'll do a little recap:
  • We started homeschooling. Ummm, we play a lot of Legos and read books sometimes (calm down, don't send CPS, I use curricula).
  • Christmas happened.
  • Marc and I went to Europe for his sister's wedding. And we left the kids behind for ten days. Maybe I'll write more about that sometime.
  • I've been writing and editing a lot. Which means more money but little time for leisure writing.
  • Something else, sort of big...we've been applying for an international adoption. What did I just say???? I'll explain more sometime. But that has been extremely time consuming.
  • Just normal life raising three kids, Marc working for a small business, being very active in our church and community, so...busy.
While it may seem like I have forgotten about this whole blog thing, I haven't. At first I didn't miss it much. I think that I was kind of turned off from it for a while because it didn't have much purpose. I was just writing whatever came to mind whenever I felt like it. This was after I had been blogging a couple of years already...prior to that I was getting sucked into trying to attract more followers and whatnot, without a lot of direction other than "I hope people like me!"

If an endeavor doesn't have a meaningful purpose in my life, it doesn't last.

But lately I've been thinking about blogging again. I miss it. I miss sharing my thoughts and interacting with people and seeing what they think about what I think. And I keep coming up with post ideas. I journal some of them, which is therapeutic to an extent, but there's something more daring about putting it all out there.

So here's the deal, folks. I'm going to try this again. I think I have a clearer vision for what I want to accomplish here. My hope is that through my writing:
  • God will be honored
  • Others may be encouraged and inspired
  • I have an outlet to share my creativity
I can accomplish this through:
  • Humor
  • Advice
  • Sharing my observations about life.
I just spent a whopping $12 on a domain name, so I am committed now. That would have been like three lattes. We'll see what happens. I'd really like to post once a week if I can.

Talk to you soon! Love you all

Gina


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Soccer Mom Confessions

Minivan: check.

Lots of kids: check.

Extended family in attendance: check.

Soccer ball, shin guards, oversized uniform: check, check, check.

Folding chairs: check.

Snacks and water bottles: check.

Five-year-old with limited capacity to know which way the goal is: check.

Where's the ball? Who cares?

Heeeeeeeeey!


It's here. I'm a soccer mom. Little did I know that after my adolescent years of intensely competitive soccer, this was my destination. Forget being a collegiate athlete when you can be sitting on a sideline clenching your fists watching people 1/3 of your size, trying not to laugh when they have to stop the game because the players are too distracted watching a plane take off.

We parents try to play it cool. Like we don't care who wins or who contacts the ball last before it rolls into the net. But inside we cringe when the giant Goliath child on the other team scores another goal, and we cheer when our littler guys sneak around him.

True story. Goliath child. I think his name was Kyle.

We parents try to practice some sort of weird mind control method in which we sit on the edge of our chair and forcefully will our kids to move their bodies in such a way that they actually navigate a ball using a foot and not a hand and move said ball in the general direction of a net -- the right net. We yell, "Kick it! Kick it!" And then wonder, Why would I say that? Think about it.

I never wanted to be one of those moms who lived vicariously through her children and screamed her lungs out on the sidelines and lived for Saturday soccer. I don't think I'm there. Please stage an intervention if I ever am.

James' first game was last weekend. They didn't officially keep score, but man, Goliath child really slaughtered them single-handedly. Or singe-footedly. Really, he just mowed them over with the brute force of his whole eight-year-old-posing-as-a-five-year-old body (Poor Kyle. It's not his fault he's huge, but he wasn't very popular with the parents on our side.).

I was supposed to leave early to go to a meeting, as one of the directors for some nonprofit work done in partnership with our church. We had planned to send the kids home with their grandparents after Marc and I left. My pre-mom self comes back to life in such scenarios, and I feel like I'm doing something important and meaningful outside of wiping noses and studying the deep significance of vocabulary words like "cat" and "bat."

But James' team was getting slaughtered, as previously noted. Marc and I debated what to do. After a somewhat disheartening first game, he wanted to stay and be there for our son to make sure he knew how much we supported him and loved him. I had a mini identity crisis meltdown on the spot. I hated  to look unprofessional in the only opportunity I EVER have to look professional, but I hated equally if not more abandoning my oldest son when he might need me.

We decided to stay. We gave James a big hug after the game and told him we had to go but were proud of him. I don't think he cared that they got slaughtered because he was pretty proud of himself for every time he touched the ball. But he cried because he couldn't come with us. Fail.

Oh well. At least my friends/colleagues didn't tease me for being late. Oh wait, they did. Fortunately, I think they had all been there. Hooray for kids' sports!

*********

I originally wrote this post a few days ago but didn't have any good pictures, so I decided to wait until I got those gems at the top of the page (notice no ball in any photos? Hmmm...) Here's some more news from today: Game 2. I think they tied. Or something. At least it was closer than complete decimation and there was no giant this time.

The best part was when James cried at the end of the game. Again. Because he was really sad that it was over.

Friday, September 5, 2014

When You Have a Slow Poke Kid

I don't think I truly understood the meaning of patience until I became a parent.

Particularly, a parent of this one:

Guess how long it took to eat this breakfast...


He's not a bad child; on the contrary, he's sweet and affectionate and respectful and obedient...umm okay maybe not always. He just has the occasional epic meltdown that puts my sanity in jeopardy. You know, normal 3-year-old antics. We're working on it.

But here's the real thing. He is. So. Sloooooooow. Not in the intelligence realm. He knows his ABCs, numbers, shapes, colors and can work a jigsaw puzzle like nobody's business.

I'm talking about take an hour to eat your breakfast. Sit on the toilet for 30+ minutes. Get dressed in 10-minute phases for each garment. Consume a bowl of rice one precious morsel at a time.

It's enough to make even the most easy-going mom want to rip her hair out. Yes, it drives me absolutely crazy. Especially when we are trying to go anywhere beyond our walls.

My husband pointed out to me the other night that if I am constantly thinking of my frustration when I think of him, then I need to start thinking differently. I quickly responded that of course that isn't the only way I think! Just sometimes.

But how much frustration is acceptable when you're thinking about your children? That's a real head scratcher.

The flip side of my slow poke's pokiness is that he is fascinating to watch. He savors every bite. He inspects every detail. He completes every task down to the finest detail. He understands at a very young age what it is to be deliberate and diligent.

It's when I exit my normal whirlwind of task-oriented existence and sit and observe him that I realize that maybe he has something figured out. He can't tell time, so what's the rush to do anything? Why not savor every moment? Why not appreciate the finer aspects of life's details?

It's not easy to change the way I think. But these kids sure help me out. Now if only I could convince him that you can successfully consume and enjoy more than one grain of rice at a time...



Thursday, August 28, 2014

How To Be Productively Lazy

I had one of those days this past weekend when nothing was planned all day. So what did I do? Whipped out the to-do list, of course! I was on a roll all day long and got a ton done. Until about 7 p.m. And then I pretty much became a vegetable.

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only woman in the world who works herself into complete exhaustion trying to get it all done (when really the work is never all done). Sometimes I just don't know when to stop until I practically pass out.

I felt bad on this particular day because I could barely peel myself out of my chair to put the kids to bed, let alone give attention to my husband, whom I'd effectively ignored most of the day. Oops.

We talked about it. Fortunately, it wasn't a despairing conversation. The problem was not how to work harder and get more done, but rather how to find a place where I could feel good about what I accomplished and still have time and energy left over to give more to my relationships. I knew what I needed: to chill out. Rest. As we like to say, have some "Sabbath time."

Since then, I've pondered what it looks like to incorporate adequate rest into my daily schedule. And I've come to the radical conclusion: I need to be productively lazy.

For as hard as I work, I have no problem being lazy once my energy level is zapped. But what do I do during my lazy time? Do I surf the web, watch TV, or just zone out? Nothing is inherently wrong with those things, but if I don't use my down time to recharge my own batteries and get refreshed, then I'm setting myself up for failure later. Here's what I mean:

Example 1: I'm decompressing after a long day by scrolling through Facebook on my phone, taking those worthless personality quizzes or reading dumb articles. So I stay up half an later than I intend, sleep in the next day, and start the morning grumpy because I didn't get up before the kids.

Example 2: For an evening together after the kids are asleep, Marc and I binge watch our favorite shows on Netflix. We have no meaningful conversation, stay up too late, and feel distant from each other the next day.

Example 3: I get up early to do some yoga, read the Bible and have some time to myself. Instead of meditating or praying I start thinking of all I have to get done...and I begin the day feeling stressed.

Example 4: I'm doing dishes so it's technically not "down time," but the kids are occupied elsewhere so I at least have my thoughts to myself. I start thinking about how hard my day has been or how lonely I feel being home all day or how I'm missing old friends and family...and I start down the road of negativity, which deflates my spirits for the rest of the day.

Since my lazy time is limited, I want to be sure that I'm making the most of it. Yeah that makes perfect sense.

Productive laziness can include mindless activity like TV and social media and random thoughts, but it cannot consist entirely of these things. I do much better when I limit myself. When I'm doing well, I'm not watching an hour or more of TV every night. I'm limiting social media to no more than five to ten minutes at a time. I'm taking control of my negative thoughts and finding more positive things to think about. I'm putting the to-do list away temporarily (even the mental one).

Productive laziness often includes conversation -- with my family, friends or God. It doesn't have to be deep conversation, but it has to be something besides (or at least in addition to) staring at a screen together.

Productive laziness involves taking care of myself. That means I allow myself to sleep if needed, I enjoy good food, have a long shower, exercise in ways that I like, and just sit and be quiet and peaceful.

Productive laziness is positive and refreshing. I like to read and write. Occasionally I play the piano, go for a walk or grab a latte. Some people like to do art, garden, work out, do puzzles, or work on a hobby. Negativity is not allowed!

Productive laziness takes discipline. I know. I contradict myself. But it's true. You have to at least think about it a little bit. And even plan it. And ask your friends and family to watch the kids.

When I'm productively lazy, I don't feel guilty about "me time." What's more, I don't need a whole lot of it! Once I've been refreshed, I'll be more motivated and energized to get back to my tasks -- and be more productive. I'll also be a better mom, better wife, better daughter/sister/friend. And while there might be toys scattered around the room or dishes in the sink, I'll generally not care so much.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

We're Alternative Education Rebels

Surprise! I don't believe I've officially announced that we are bailing out on educational institutions and fully exploring my inability to facilitate craft projects.

Homeschooling!

James is of the kindergarten age. So instead of going through the ritual of sending my darling baby off to school, I decided to keep him all to myself and try to educate him that way.

I could not get a good picture to save my life on our first day of school. There are so many funny things about this picture I can't even begin to explain...
Good luck to me, right???

I brace myself a little bit every time I announce this. While a few people accept this method of education as completely normal, many respond with astonishment, skepticism, admiration, fear, confusion, pity and/or wonder.

So I have to explain and defend myself to some extent. But it's okay. I had to get over my own skepticism to begin with. You see, I married a homeschooler. If it had been any other way, I probably wouldn't have even considered it. But after years of hearing him explain his upbringing and advocating for this odd educational technique, I decided to do at least look into it. And I never really looked back.

It was already a huge step for me to leave the workforce when I had kids, but the homeschool thing just takes me to a whole new level of domestication. It's rather frightening.

So why, you ask. WHY? 

It's not because I hate public schools or think they're going to ruin my children's lives. I love a lot of teachers, I admire their work, and I think my kids would be fine in a classroom. I excelled in public school myself.

It's not because I want to smother my children and hide everything evil from their eyes and ears for as long as possible -- although I have to admit I'm glad their exposure to topics too mature for them will be limited for at least a while longer. So call me overprotective if you want, but I suppose that's a matter of opinion.

It's not because I've had this lifelong dream to sing songs and draw rainbows and butterflies all over my house, reliving some lost childhood fantasy.

It's not because I think homeschooling is the end all be all, superior method of education for everyone and that my children are better than everyone else's and anyone who thinks otherwise can take a hike.

So here's why I'm choosing to homeschool, although I don't think I can fully explain it:

There are several good education options for my kids in my community. However, this option seems the best -- for us -- at the current time. I can provide my kids with a lot of individualized attention, help them learn at their own pace with their own style, explore their interests, and foster a love of learning. I don't know that we're going to do this for the entire K-12 stretch, but I think it's a good place to start.

Homeschool is an extension of our parenting. We can seamlessly blend our family's values with everything the kids are learning. This isn't just about being able to read the Bible or pray together during school hours. This is about talking about heart issues, life's challenges and the real world in every context (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Kids grow up fast and I want to take every opportunity I can to help them excel in life -- not just in academics and work, but in relationships and character. There are some wonderful teachers out there who can help kids in this way to an extent, but nobody does it better than a parent.

Oh yeah, and as I mentioned, Marc was homeschooled and I think he turned out pretty good. Plus if this just doesn't work (as homeschooling doesn't work for everyone), we fortunately have other options.

Isn't it great that we have options to help our kids learn and grow?!! I think so. We're trying this one first.

Now I know you might be thinking things like, "But aren't you worried they won't get enough socialization? I could never do that, I'm not that organized. I couldn't be around my kids all day. Have you been trained as a teacher? Aren't you afraid they'll miss something? Aren't they going to turn out naive and unprepared for life? How could you possibly teach while you have a toddler running around?"

Sheesh, it's just kindergarten. I'll let you know how it goes.
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