Sunday, February 12, 2017

Settle in for a story...

Some few years ago the Lord burdened our hearts for orphans. We knew that one day we would love to expand our family through adoption. We didn't know for sure what that would look like, or when exactly that would come to fruition. We prayed a lot about it.

At one point we thought our adoption story would start by fostering children in our area. But as we wrapped up the final classes to become licensed, it became clear to us that was not the path for our family at that point in time.

Shortly thereafter, we started the international adoption process. In late March of 2014, we sent a check for a large sum of money to an international adoption agency. There were a few hiccups in those early months of the adoption process. At one point, I recall saying something along the lines that we won the prize for taking the LONGEST amount of time to have a homestudy completed.

FINALLY in December of 2014, our homestudy was finalized. We were hopeful that the pace of our adoption process might pick up a little bit.  Most of 2015 was spent on the "paper chase". The paper chase is a friendly way of saying you are rounding up the 500million documents needed for your dossier.

The paper chase ended as we sent our 500million documents to our agency, ready to adopt from Haiti. But as our documents were arriving at our agency, they were receiving some troubling news from Haiti. The adoption process is never speedy, and there are almost always some unexpected's along the way. We were well advised to not get too discouraged if troubling news came. The news we did receive still shocked us a bit. Instead of the process taking 2-3 years, the process would most likely take anywhere from 4 to 6 years to complete. Haiti was at a near stand still for processing international adoptions.

I remember feeling defeated when we received the news. I remember praying.. asking for clarity, even asking the Lord "Did I hear you right? Is this really what you want us to do?" Honestly, we just weren't sure if we were ready to be in a season of limbo for another 5+ years. We communicated quite a bit with our agency about what all of it meant and what our choices were.

In November of 2015, we made the decision to switch countries. I wondered why the Lord didn't just have us start with China to begin with? Why... why would we be in the adoption process for over a year and a half just to completely change our course to the opposite side of the earth?

Several months passed before we began the laborious process of chasing papers. I spent the hot summer months of 2016, specifically July, gathering 500 million more documents. In a sense, it's almost easier since I'd already done it once. I knew what to expect, I knew where to go, and I knew just what was needed. Gathering documents for China was a breeze.

From there, most of you know that all those 500 million documents travelled to China in December of 2016.

But let's rewind for just a minute.

In March of 2014, as a young family from Texas began the international adoption process, the Lord was weaving together a beautiful creation on the other side of the world. In a northern province of China, He started knitting together a precious boy in a mother's womb.

In December of 2014, as that family was moving forward in the adoption process, that precious boy in China took his first breath of life.

That family received disheartening adoption news in 2015 that rocked their world. And that little boy was fighting for his life. His sweet little heart, although beautifully and fearfully made by a loving Creator, didn't tick just the right way when he was born.

In November of 2015, as that family changed gears in their adoption process, that little fighter was receiving heart surgery to make sure his heart would tick in all the right ways.

In July of 2016, as that family started the paper chase yet again, that little peanut spent a bit of time in the hospital for pneumonia.

In January of 2017, that family's world collided with his in the most beautiful way. And all those questions of why.. all the frustration of timing... all the wondering if we REALLY heard the Lord correctly in this whole adoption thing... They were all laid to rest when we saw our sweet boy's picture for the first time.

There have been countless times that I've said "Only God" throughout this process. A lot of those times I've even blogged about them. Truly, only God could have orchestrated this. Truly, only God could have woven our stories together like this. Truly, only God.. in His Goodness.. in His timing could have known what would happen, when it would happen and why. And sometimes, He's so good to let us see the answers.

Please allow me the pleasure of introducing you to our beautiful boy.

Benjamin James

Benjamin, after Matt's grandmother, Bennie. A wonderful matriarch who loves fiercely, prays often, and fears the Lord. Benjamin, the son of the right hand, favored, loved. May our Benjamin know how loved he is for now and always. James, after my grandfather. A man that kept us laughing and made us all feel secure and safe until his last breath. A man that loved deeply and was generous in showing his adoration of his family. James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. May our James know the loving kindness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; and may he serve Him.

We long for the day we get to see this precious face in person. For now, we're busy filling out immigration forms. We're anxious for all those government agencies to process all those forms and let us know when we can hug our boy! (Based on trends and current statistics, it looks like we'll be heading to China in late April to get our boy.)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

In Case You Were Wondering

2 and a half years of emails. 2 and a half years of driving here and there gathering documents. 2 and a half years of phone calls made. Countless hours of preparation. Unexpected twists and turns. 

And then, 7 days of sleepless nights. Tears that pour out at the most random times. Grief. Longing. Hope. Lots of thinking of all different kinds of thoughts. Lots of talking with lots of people. Prayers. Many prayers prayed by myself (and Matt), and others on our behalf. Scripture being read.. and more scripture being poured over.

Finally, a sound night's sleep. Deep, deep sleep for the first time in what seems like a very long time. And a dream happens. It's such a really good dream. I wake up refreshed, but somehow confused. 

At that point, all the noise just has to stop. It's time to take a deep breath.. be still.. pray some more.. read more scripture. Unexpected phone calls come in, more talking and words are thrown around. Peace abounds. But still, it feels like there's just one last question mark that needs to be resolved. 

But Chinese New Year is coming up, and quickly. With a 14 hour time delay and a massive National Holiday looming, it seems unlikely that the big question mark will go away. Much to our surprise, some communication happens.. and the question mark vanishes as if it never existed. 

While his file seemed daunting at first, we spent lots of time dissecting it. Each phone call made, each email received only provided more and more answers. Lots of medical jargon and prognosis were thrown out. What would have seemed scary to us years before, didn't sound troubling at all. We felt peace. We asked lots of questions to some really wise people. We prayed a lot. We asked our agency about things and stuff. More answers were given. 

On Tuesday, January 24th, it was confirmed in our hearts what I had felt from the morning hours of January 12th. This little boy is ours to pursue. 

For us, we found that sweet spot between leap of faith and being prepared. We learned all we possibly could. We found the right questions to ask, and were given answers. We took the leap of faith. 

On January 25th, we sent China a formal letter stating our desire to make this boy a Brantner forever. 

There's no telling when we might receive a response. The entire country shuts down for about 8 days for Chinese New Year. 

We've never heard of a family not receiving a Letter of Approval. And we're really praying we aren't the first. :)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Thursday. January 12, 2017.

Thursday. January 12, 2017. 

A great day for so many reasons. I spent the majority of the day loving on the sweetest, cutest and all-around-most precious little toddlers. 

Sometime that afternoon, my phone buzzed with an incoming email. While the sweet cherub babies rested,  I sent a flurry of text messages and emails. 

Our agency had the file of a toddler who didn't quite fit in the niche of the waiting families of the China program. To advocate on his behalf, they sent a brief summary and a picture of him to all the waiting families. This was not the first time we've received emails like this. But, it was the first time my heart skipped a beat. It was the first time that a picture tugged at me. 

Matt and I communicated with a pediatric neurologist to help break down the meaning of some of the medical terms in his summary. We contacted our social worker to request permission to look at the file. Lastly, we contacted our family coordinator to actually email us the complete file. 

Friday. January 13, 2017.

Our coordinator emailed me back. Her response didn't surprise me necessarily. The adoption agency had received a few responses quite like ours to view this sweet boy's entire file. Another family further along in the process were given access to it first. 

But something in me just wouldn't quit. So, I did what I do. I prayed. I realized, even in the midst of my angst to hurry up and get the file, that this other family was in the midst of making a HUGE decision. I prayed for peace for them.. for discernment.. and for joy no matter what. The weight of a child's future is (somewhat) in your hands at this point. Is he yours? Is he the one the Lord has set aside for your family? Or does the Lord have someone else for you? Even knowing that God is sovereign.. and Good.. and Holy.. and definitely knows... doesn't necessarily always negate the sting of having to say "no" to a precious little boy waiting for a family. 

I didn't have to pray for that other family for long. Mere hours passed before my phone buzzed again with more incoming emails. In that group of emails was the complete file for one of the most precious little boys I've ever seen. Text messages and emails started flying... letting our families know the latest in our adoption journey.. our closest friends.. and sending the file onto the neurologist. Lots of tears flowed as I read through his complete file. 

The next few days were spent a lot like Friday. Lots of communicating with lots of people. 

I talked a lot with lots of other adoptive moms. So many people have been so gracious to answer our questions.. to share their own experiences with us. We're so grateful for their wisdom, honesty and complete openness. 

One such lovely person... whom I just happened to meet by sort of a chance encounter.. is adopting a 3rd child from China. And wouldn't you know that she and her husband are using the same agency that we're using? Oh, and they just so happen to be open to adopting a little boy around the same age range that we'll be adopting!!

This friend and I texted quite a bit. She asked which orphanage Little Boy is at. And.. he's at the VERY SAME orphanage one of her precious girls was at! She provided a wealth of information about what life is like for many of the children residing in this particular institution. 

It's been 8 days since we received ALLLLLLL the information possible on this impossibly tiny little boy. I've scoured the internet for every possible photo of him. I've wept over the things he's had to endure.. wept over the absence of a Mommy and Daddy in his life. I've praised God for truly sustaining him for the last 2 years and 1 month of his life. I've spent countless hours researching his medical needs, possible prognosis and treatment plans. I've spent many minutes staring at his pictures. I've spent countless hours communicating with medical professionals about what his life has been like and what it could possibly be like based on the medical notes in his file. I've memorized every word about what he was wearing when he was abandoned at the orphanage, what his personality is like, and which major milestones he has accomplished. 

This adoption process has been a lot of things. There have been many tear jerking moments for us. There's been some angst, some grief, and lots of hope at times. 

But no amount of emotion over the last 2.5 years could compare to what we've felt in the last 8 days for this handsome little boy. 

Adoption is a leap of faith.. but also needing to be prepared to love your child well. A 16+ page document can in no way fully prepare you to love and care for your child, but it can offer some insight as to what your course of action should be. 

Right now, we're in the limbo of leap of faith and being prepared. Are his medical needs just too much for us? (And if they are, may we not feel the sting of guilt by saying "no" to him so another family can have their "yes" with him.) Once he is home and loved, will he grow by leaps and bounds? (Is our home his home?)

We're praying for discernment. For peace. For wisdom. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Bringing Home Brantner Boy

Let's cut to the chase.

Adoption is expensive. Like crazy expensive. 

There's not much we haven't done to help bring our boy home. 

Offering cleaning services: Yep. Did That.  Garage Sales: Yep, quite a few of those.  Acquired extra jobs: A handful of those too. 

And although this process has been costly, we've seen the Lord provide in so many wonderful ways. 

There's been lots going on in our little adoption process the last few weeks. And we can't wait to share ALL THE DETAILS about all the happenings. 

But first. Some friends have graciously offered to help us raise the last teensy bit of funds to help us bring our boy home! (Eek.. its getting closer and closer!!)

On March 24, our church will host a benefit not only to bless our family, but our hope and prayer is that it will serve as a catalyst for Orphan Care around the world. 

You can Reserve your spot HERE!!! 

And if you want to be a BIG PART of the event, email me! :) (We're collecting donations for a silent and live auction. Your donation would be a huge blessing to one very loved and lonely little boy. And will serve as a catalyst to provide love and care to many more kids in need of a loving family.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

It's A Wonderful Life

The past few weeks have been filled with one fun activity after another. All the Christmas celebrations and festivities have provided a welcomed distraction from all the waiting. Sort of.

Because even in the midst of all the amusement, it's hard to keep my mind from wandering to what it will be like with our boy home and enjoying all the fun, too. Will he like the sugar cookies, too? Or will the process of baking them be overwhelming to him? Maybe he'd prefer chocolate chip cookies?

Our family loves piling on a couch with a bowl of popcorn and watching movies, especially Christmas movies. But all the relaxing can sometimes be hard, too. My mind wanders during those still nights. One night specifically, the cost of the upcoming part of the process seemed incredibly daunting. (Around $20,000+ left.) Dollar signs would not stop swirling in my head. I snuck away from the couch for a quick second, ran as quietly as I could to the computer, logged in to one of the organizations (ShowHope)  we had applied for a grant through. 

A few weeks prior, I had told some friends "this Christmas would be so awesome if it were like It's A Wonderful Life and all these organizations and people just throw money at us for this adoption." (You know, sans the reallllly sad and troubling rest of the movie.) Then, we laughed because sometimes I say ridiculous things. But.. there I sat.. waiting for the computer to load up the page.

Wait. What?!!? What does that mean?!? Why can't you just TELL US ONLINE?!?! Why do we have to wait for a letter in the mail?!?! The suspense is KILLING ME!!!

After freaking out for a minute and texting a few friends, I breathed.. and prayed. I prayed for the Lord to calm my heart... my mind recalled another organization (Lifesong) we had just heard from the day before. We were awarded a pretty generous matching grant through Lifesong. But the thing with matching grants is that people donate.. and the organization then matches the amount that has been donated toward your fund. We were so grateful for the news... but wait. All these people... they've all lavishly poured money into our adoption process. Knowing this little boy... our boy deserves a family though, I don't mind putting his story and our story out there. If anyone deserves being donated to, I know he does. So, we put our situation out there for all the people to see. We praised God for the gift of this grant. 

I made my way back into the folds of entangled limbs on the couch and enjoyed the remainder of the movie. And the next day held more distractions in the form of sugary treats, errands and general Christmas break fun. I had resolved in my heart and mind to try my hardest to not check the mailbox 500 times a day in anxious waiting of the letter from ShowHope. I prayed for extra grace.. for extra patience.. and to fully enjoy the wonderful gifts the Lord's given me in the form of 4 blonde people that take up all the room in our warm home. 

Imagine my shock when I opened this that very afternoon... just one VERY SHORT day after the decision was made regarding our ShowHope grant.

My fingers fidgeted and fumbled clumsily... my eyes refused to focus on the words. A few deep breaths later, my heart slowed enough to make all my motor skills work fine enough. And much to my surprise and delight... Show Hope had granted our family an abundant amount towards our adoption costs. ($5,000 to be exact!!!) WHAT?!?! It goes without saying that we praised God for this beautifully HUGE gift.

And much to our surprise.. people weren't done being openhanded with their cash either. Donations poured into our Lifesong account for the matching grant. 

Sure, we've discussed the costs of adoption... its a whole bunch of agency fees, government fees, costs of forms, postage and a million things all wrapped up. All the donations towards LifeSong and Show Hope will largely pay for the remainder of all those agency fees, and even 50% of our travel fees. The other 50% of travel is cash we HAVE to have in hand. Lifesong and ShowHope can only send all moneys raised to our agency. And our agency cannot just send us that cash needed for traveling. So, it's a funny little line.. trying our best to raise all these funds through these two beautiful organizations.. but also, somehow acquire the cash needed when we step on the plane. 

Overjoyed by the news of Lifesong matching grant and the Show Hope gift, my mind was pretty far from being too worried about the cash we still had to come up with for travel. 

Christmas Eve was spent celebrating the birth of our Savior with our wonderful church family. A few of our dear friends wrapped me in warm embraces, celebrating all that's been happening in our adoption world lately... and snuck bits of cash into our hands as well. And I cried... and laughed...cried some more. 

That ridiculous notion I had about our Christmas being like It's A Wonderful Life... that thought I had chuckled over for weeks... that seemed absolutely preposterous... well. I guess it really wasn't. 

In just 12 very short days, people generously gave 75% of our matching grant goal, we were awarded the Show Hope grant... and were given about 5% of the cash needed for traveling. In less than HALF a month, the Lord provided $14,040 through many generous donors!

We are grateful for all that He has done! And I am especially grateful that He is teaching me more and more about His grace and provision by providing in such a short time frame! Hah!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Process is Craziness

The adoption process is craziness. All the work.. all the emotions.. all the things.. it's just a bit crazy. But it's also a lot wonderful. It's challenging, because you feel like all the papers have overtaken your entire life. Quite frankly, I have no idea how a couple could possibly gather all their documents and both hold down a full-time job. It's challenging, because your heart breaks for the millions of children in the world that NEED a family... and knowing the one that belongs in your family is sitting there waiting for you, while there's nothing you can possibly do to get to him sooner.  And it's challenging because crazy things happen to you during the process. (Being involved in a hit and run accident in the midst of gathering all the documents, or your oven quitting on you and putting on quite a theatrical display of it, too.)

Our hearts have been on this passionate tug-of-war for quite some time now. Our lungs have felt at full-capacity for quite some time as we've been holding our breath in anticipation for our sweet boy. 

But in the midst of all the crazy.. in the midst of the heart-wrenching moments.. in the midst of all the work, the encouragement never ceases to amaze me. From random text messages, to Facebook comments, to a note in the mail, a hug from a friend, a random donation to our adoption fund.. the ways we've been cheered on over the past 31 months has been incredible. 

It's been so inconceivably amazing that it was safe to assume we'd reached a point that no form of encouragement would be quite shocking. Does that mean that any kind of encouragement is expected now? Well, no, definitely not. Does that mean that we don't cherish every donation made and we're not brought to our knees in praise when it happens? Well, no. 

But sometimes, something new.. something fresh.. something different happens... and it doesn't always have to be a GINORMOUS gesture, but even the small and so amazingly sweet things bring a smile to your heart, a gasp to your lips, and the ugly cry to your eyes. 

As we returned home after Community Group, I checked the mail. In the box was a handful of cards and such. It's not unusual for our mailbox to be filled with personalized envelopes this time of year. I love seeing our name and address handwritten on the outside of an envelope. And it brings me so much joy to see all the beautiful faces of our loved ones that take up the space inside those envelopes. But inside one of those envelopes, I also found this red envelope. 

In it, my incredibly sweet friend wrote that it's customary for someone to be given a red envelope in celebration of the Chinese New Year. She wished us well on our adoption journey, and is praying that we can use her gift in China soon. 

And again. At a completely random moment... on a mundane day.. I was overwhelmed by the goodness of the Lord....for this friend that has been so gracious in helping me learn about our son's culture, and hasn't snickered too loudly when I've tried my best at his native language. As the tears poured down, I recalled all the ways He has provided for our family on this journey. For the friends that have spent countless hours helping raise funds... for the friends who've prayed countless prayers on our behalf and for our son... for those who've not held their tongue or stopped their fingers from sending encouraging words.. for those who've selflessly emptied their pockets. 

If there is anything I want to remember about the last 31 months.. and the next few months, its that the adoption process is crazy. The adoption process is crazy amazing. It is crazy good. It is crazy encouraging. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Oh.. Hi there... I have a blog?

It has been so incredibly long since I have blogged. Let's all hope my brain can still make complete thoughts that flow pretty.. and are comprehensible.

About a year ago, we were wrapping up the "paper chase" for our adoption process through Haiti. (The paper chase refers to allllll the 500bazillion documents you have to gather for the adoption process. These documents are pretty much your life on paper. Birth certificates, Marriage certificate, a homestudy that outlines your entire life, reference letters written by people who love you, etc.) Signing up for an international adoption, you know the process could be lengthy.. and sometimes crazy. There is no way to guarantee a completely smooth transaction, and there can always be some unknown twists in the process. So, when we submitted our 5trillion documents to be mailed to Haiti, we didn't necessarily bank on the promise of bringing home our son in a short amount of time. However, we weren't ready for the news we received when we did submit our docs. Our agency had to relay the difficult news that while Haiti wasn't exactly shut down, they weren't really processing adoptions either. The documents we had spent months and months gathering would have to wait in our agency's office for almost a year before they could even be mailed to Haiti. Once there, because Haiti is SO backlogged and unable to keep up, it would be another year before our information would even be put into their child welfare system. Then.. it could be another 1-2 years before we received a referral... and THENNNNN it would be about another year (or possibly longer) before we could travel to pick him up. 

We were heartbroken. We prayed. We asked a lot of questions. Our agency was so gracious and kind.. and honest. We prayed more. We researched other countries. Our agency provided wise counsel. 

And so.. we switched our adoption process to China. Because we stayed with the same agency.. and because the news from Haiti was so sudden and shocking, the agency carried over all fees that had been paid towards our Haiti adoption process to the China adoption process. With one of the biggest hurdles being cleared (financial), the only thing standing in our way of switching countries was losing ALLLLLL that work we.. well, I, had done in collecting those 8zillion papers. But. I was DETERMINED! Hours upon hours.. days.. were spent collecting new papers and new letters. Because China's adoption process moves SO quickly in most cases, ALLLL the documents can't be over 6 months old when you mail them to the country.  And while it was hard and tedious work, it was all the more opportunities to witness the loving kindness of God even more. From big things like finding out of our dear friends is a notary and acted almost like my personal notarizing assistant, to small things like meeting REALLY kind government employees and passing time standing in lines chatting with interesting people. Having fees waived here and there.. 

Once our documents were all collected, we had to get special certifications by the Secretary of State. Next, our documents had to be certified by the Chinese Consulate in Houston. Yall. I'm not even lying or halfway exaggerating when I say that building is the stuff nightmares are made of. There are (almost) literally 500 rules about your adoption documents. So many stipulations. And there must be copies of said documents and they MUST be in a certain order. I prayed a lot about that particular step in the process... I dreamt a lot about it too. And I might have put on an extra layer or two of deodorant the day we had to go to the consulate to drop our forms off. Once there, I was a mixture of nausea and anticipation. After waiting in line, we were greeted with one of the nicest people EVER. No, he didn't cut jokes or smile profusely the entire time. But.. he was kind, patient and APPROVED ALL OF OUR PAPERS! Seriously, not one person I have ever talked to has had their paperwork approved on the first try! But. We did! PTL! 

It takes a few days for all the papers to get their special stamps. If they would have let me, I probably would have slept in the consulate and kept a watchful eye on them. But.. they wouldn't let me. So, I had to leave months of tears, sweat and hard work in the hands of some random guy holding our adoption destiny. 

Several days later, we picked the forms back up, rushed to make copies, copies and more copies, and then mailed the ORIGINALS to our agency. For real. If someone had given me a plane ticket to Virginia right then, I would have not hesitated flying those documents to the office myself. And from there, the documents made their long journey to China. Our sweet family coordinator (person who facilitates your adoption, and virtually holds your hand and emotions throughout the entire process) emailed me the tracking number for the shipment of documents.  Again. I'm not exaggerating.. if I could have flown them to China myself, I would have. My prayer for those few days was that the plane would not have any serious damage while over the ocean, and ALLL those precious papers would not end up floating in salt water. So many friends were so gracious to not laugh in my face about those silly fears, and were so kind to pray on our behalf for those things. 

Once your docs arrive in a country, you have to be logged into the child welfare system. This pretty much means that you'll be recognized as an adoptive family by that country and be available to adopt.

Our docs reached China at lightning speed... okay, 3 days. And we were prepared to wait about 2-3 weeks for our file to be logged into their system. We were SHOCKED to receive an email the same day our documents arrived in China to say that our file was logged in the SAME DAY!  

It seems like our little adoption process has had about 500 crazy little twists, turns, stall outs and general mayhem. So, when we get all those 9trillion documents gathered in the right time frame... and those documents are approved by a consulate that's been known to have stringent rules.. and they arrive at all the destinations without any hiccups.. and they also are logged in so quickly.. we CELEBRATE all those victories.. even if they seem small! 

So. Now. We're waiting. Waiting for the call to say they've found the perfect, most precious, little loveliest boy for our family. We're hopeful, anxious, and like every other part of this process.. we've only got about 500 feels and emotions on the matter. 

And this waiting.. it could be the absolute hardest part of this whole entire process. We know our boy is there.. in need of love.. in need of medical attention.. in need of a family that will love him fight for him no matter what!