Friday, January 29, 2010

Court Results

The court has granted us interim adoption meaning Samuel would be with us for 2 years and then we would need to return him to Ghana for the final adoption to be finalized. We have appealed for the final adoption instead of interim adoption.

I don't understand this. I have never even heard of an interim adoption, nor do I understand why this was the ruling for our case.

I am going to keep praying. That God’s justice for Samuel and his mother would prevail. That God’s will be done in this adoption, whatever that may be.

I was reminded this morning that as much as we love Samuel already, and as much as we have compassion for Samuel’s situation, God’s love and compassion for him is more. God is a father to the fatherless. He is a defender of widows. He hears the cries of the oppressed. God’s mercy NEVER fails. His grace abounds. His compassions NEVER fail. He is a faithful God. God alone hears Samuel’s cries at night. God knows the number of hairs on Samuel’s head. God alone fully understands the situation that surrounds Samuel and his mother. Samuel is God’s child. All the days ordained for Samuel were written in God’s book before one of them even came to be. Samuel is fearfully and wonderfully made by the Creator of the world. And, He will not forget him. God has a plan for Samuel’s life. Today my prayer will be that I can rest in that plan. I know that I serve a God of justice. A sovereign God who is in control of all things. A God who has changed the mind of kings and judges past. My hope lies in Him.

Psalm 140:12
I know that the LORD secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.

Isaiah 1:17
Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

Isaiah 30:18
Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Yaw's First Game

Just wanted to post some pictures of Yaw playing in his first high school game! He has had to sit out half the season because of the Iowa High School Athletic Association’s ‘transfer student’ rule. We did not realize that a student coming in from another country fell in the category of a transfer student, but it was one thing we learned this year about F-1 visa status. So, Yaw had to sit out 90 school days before he could play sports. He played in his first game about a week and a half ago. He was a starter that game, and has been each game since. Yaw is averaging 10.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 3.3 monster blocks per game. And, when I say monster blocks, I mean ‘get that thang outta here!’ monster blocks! At his first game, a parent told me a cool story. She shared that her friend said that her 5th grade son (who goes to DMC elementary school) woke up the morning of the game. He came downstairs for breakfast. And, the very first words he said to his dad were, “Do you know what today is?” The dad said, “No, what is today?” The boy replied, “Today is the day of Yaw’s first game!” And that pretty much sums up the excitement in the air that day! Yaw said his teachers kept mentioning it, students kept mentioning it, and after school parents were coming up to him and telling him they couldn’t wait to see him play! He finished his first game with 14 points, 3 alley-oop dunking attempts with one slam dunk, and 4 awesome blocks. Enjoy the pictures!

JJ and Jayla get their dance on during warm-ups!

Getting announced.

Yaw's fan club #1

Yaw's fan club #2


Grabbing the rebound.


Something tells me that shot is not going to get in.

Definitely not! It's OUTTA HERE!


A big thanks to my friend Stacy for taking these action photos for us! You can check out Stacy's photography blog at http://stacyseayphotography.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Learning from the Best!

I think I’ve mentioned that JJ really likes to play cards…Old Maid, Go Fish, UNO,etc. Well, while we were on our trip, JJ learned card game strategies from the best….Great Grandpa!

My mom would take JJ and Jayla over to my grandparents house for lunch while we were gone (my grandparents live about ½ a mile from my mom) and apparently JJ would talk Great-Grandpa into playing. Everyone knows my Grandpa cannot turn down a challenge to play a game of cards….even if it is against a 3 year old playing Dora the Explorer Old Maid!

Come to think of it, Great-Grandpa has been playing Old Maid for a long time……even since 1988 when Mommy was a little girl!


Yes, I was taught by the best as well. I used to LOVE playing cards with my Grandpa......
And I still do!!!!!!!!!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Cat Charmer

Jayla is constantly chasing our two cats around! She likes to bury her face in their fur, pull their tails, pet them while saying 'be nice', and she often kneels down and talks to them face-to-face as if she is having a conversation with them. Every morning the first thing she does is hunt for the orange kitty to tell him 'hi'. If you can't find Jayla during the day, she is probably off in one of the bedrooms playing with one of the kitties! They are good entertainment!






Hmmmm.....someone else used to love her kitties too when she was a little girl.....Mommy!


Friday, January 22, 2010

Adoption Finances & On My Soapbox

Today I wanted to post about something that I haven’t really touched on yet regarding our adoption, and that is finances. How can a young couple like you afford an adoption? That is the question that I feel hanging in the air. Well, today I will tell you how.

On average, an international adoption costs between $20,000-$30,000. Depending on which country you adopt from, this could be more, or a little less. With our Ghana adoption, the total cost is going to end up right around $25,000. When God first put it onto our hearts to adopt, we had about $20,000 in our savings account that we had built up from the pre-baby years when I was working. This savings account was never touched by us unless it was an emergency……an emergency meaning we ended up short one month on paying a bill so we would use a little from our savings, or if an unforeseen medical issue came up that needed to be paid for we would dip into the savings, etc. Well, when God put it onto our hearts to adopt, we felt like he was saying to start the process right now. No waiting. Dive in. Of course, the first obstacle we came to was how we would afford it. I mean really, who has thousands of extra dollars just laying around that they are all gung-ho on spending on an adoption? I am sure, not many. But, Jake knew that we had a very perfect adoption amount in our savings, and that figure stared him in the face for about a week. It ate at him, because he knew if we used our savings, we could do the adoption, but the thought of losing our complete financial cushioning was sickening to him. I was a stay-at-home-mom and both Jake and I wanted it to stay that way. But, using our savings up would put a ton of pressure on Jake as the sole provider for our family, because that meant that every month we would have to ‘make it’. Not only all of this, but at the point this adoption thing came around, we had only been in our new house for less than a year, getting used to paying a mortgage payment instead of a small rent payment. And, we had just had Jayla so we were paying for diapers and formula again. And, Jake had just switched his basketball program over to a new facility, with a new owner, which meant his paycheck was coming from a new place, and we were still waiting to see if his players and coaches would stick with him through the change, or stay back with the previous owner. All of these things combined meant tremendous pressure and not much stability. The thought of losing our savings which was always there ‘just in case’ really made Jake want to throw up.

But, here is the good news. And, here is where I might get on my soap box a little. I believe that if you are a follower of Christ Jesus, and if you feel his calling on your life to adopt and if you step out in faith and answer the call, then He will make a way for you. Financially. He will. That is what I believe. But, the hard part is you aren’t going to know how he is going to do it. That is why it comes down to faith. You will have to make the decision to adopt, maybe even before you know how God is going to provide the way for you to do it. Sounds crazy doesn’t it? The great thing is that I have lots of proof to back up my theory. :) This proof comes in the form of story after story after story of people who have adopted, and God somehow miraculously provided the way for them to do it financially. I wish you could have all listened to my favorite radio station a little over a week ago (96.1). They were airing stories of families who have adopted, and the families were sharing how God helped them to be able to afford it, even though going into it they weren’t sure how they were going to do it. One family was in the middle of an adoption and another family had invited them to dinner. This family that had them over for dinner basically said ‘pass the peas, and oh by the way, we’d like to pay for your adoption.’ Wow! And that wasn’t the only story. There were many. Not sure if you remember the family that we ran into at the airport….The Gibsons. Well, they had another great story along these lines. The adoption had really run their bank account dry, and then when they were in Haiti visiting the two kids they were going to adopt, it was then that God laid it on their heart to adopt Christopher (the oldest) as well. This meant even more money, that of which they didn’t have. However, when it came time for them to start paying fees for Christopher, some financial things had come their way that they were not expecting, and they ended up having enough money to fund the adoption of Christopher, as well as the other two.

Well, Jake and I did decide to use ¾ of our emergency savings to cover the cost of the adoption. We also decided to apply for a loan which we were approved for, and that funded our remaining adoption costs. And, you know what? About 3 months into the adoption process we found out that in Iowa, families can qualify for an adoption tax credit. This credit can be claimed in the year after the adoption is finalized, and the full credit amount is $12, 150. You can read more about the Iowa Adoption Tax Credit here: http://www.articlesbase.com/parenting-articles/how-the-adoption-tax-credit-works-895938.html
There are other states who also exercise this adoption tax credit for those who qualify. Of course this is a tax credit, meaning it’s money back from money already spent….so it’s not money that we were able to use towards the adoption. But, it is one way in which our savings will start to be replenished after the adoption. Not only this, but about 6 months into our adoption, our church decided to start giving adoption grants in the form of $5000 to members of the church family who adopt. Our church is AWESOME, isn’t it? For our situation, they will be buying our plane tickets when we travel to bring Samuel home. Praise the Lord. These two things combined will be about $17,000 back to us, that we had no idea was coming our way when we began our adoption journey.

Adoptions are expensive. It’s just silly isn’t it? That there are so many orphans in this world that need a loving, caring home, medical attention, food, and a chance at a better life, and yet, that it costs thousands of dollars to be able to give them that opportunity? Yes, it’s silly. It’s hard to even understand why. I’ve heard it over and over again ‘Adoptions should be free’. Yes it would make more sense if they were. But, what if the cost is God’s way of testing your faith? Because, it could certainly become an excuse. An excuse to not answer the call. An excuse to miss out on an opportunity for your relationship with your Savior to become deeper, and more powerful than you could ever imagine. If God has put it on your heart to adopt, I believe you will know it. It will be clear. You will feel it. And, I say to you step out in faith and do it, even if you don’t know what the outcome will be. Pray every single step along the way, ask God to provide a way for you to adopt, ask for strength and trust in His plan for how this will all work out. Learn to rely on God and not on yourself, or your bank account, or your job, or your savings. This post is by no means meant to persuade you into making a silly financial decision for your family. I have many friends who are saving now to start the adoption process in a few years. I think that is great and smart. I more would like this post to be an encouragement to those who are struggling with the financial aspect of adoption. It is a struggle, it is a stress, and it is a lot of money. But I believe if you step out in faith to obey God, then He will provide for you. He will.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Remaining Steps In Our Adoption of Samuel

  1. Final court date for Samuel, his mother, and Kofi in Ghana scheduled for this coming Tuesday (1/26/10).
  2. Finalized Ghana court documents should be in Kofi’s hands approximately 1 month after the court date.
  3. Once we have finalized court documents in hand we will file the I-600 form (Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative) with the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS).
  4. Wait on USCIS approval of I-600 form (wait time is usually 2-3 months).
  5. Meanwhile, as our power of attorney, Kofi will secure Samuel’s passport as well as required visa medical.
  6. Kofi will then attend the visa exit interview (in our behalf) with the U.S. Embassy and Samuel.
  7. Once the visa exit interview has been completed and once we have approval of the I-600 form we then will be set to travel.
  8. Once in Ghana we will then obtain Samuel’s visa by filing two more forms (DS-230: Application for Immigrant Visa & Alien Registration and the I-864: Affidavit of Support) with the Embassy in Ghana. Estimated time for visa approval is less than a week. Total trip time approximately 7 days or less.
  9. Bring Samuel home. Let’s party!

So according to this schedule we have about 3-4 months left in our adoption of Samuel. I have been praying that our travel dates would be at the end of March or early April. In order for that to happen all of these steps would really have to stay right on track, and some of them would even need to happen earlier than expected. :) Please pray for our adoption, that paperwork would be processed timely, that the court date scheduled for Tuesday would not need to be postponed for any reason, and that God would time our Ghana travel dates so that they fit well with Jake's work schedule. Many of you know that the month of April is when Jake gets his highschool teams back and we start traveling all over the place for tournaments (I like to call it April Madness). It would be awesome if Samuel could be home with us by this point! :) Thanks for your prayers! We have seen so many ways in which God has answered them!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Last Day of Ghana Trip Journal: Day 7

This morning we got to sleep in! It felt so good to rest. Around 10am we talked with Esi and she said she would have her husband pick us up so he could show us around the town. She said he would be over in about 30 minutes. Well, an hour and a half later we were starting to wonder where he was. Although, when you are in Ghana, you are on Ghana-time, and that usually means about an hour later than what is said. About noon we wandered out of the hotel to wait for him and outside, and we found this:



Esi had planned a surprise party for us! She had invited close friends and family to come and thank us for helping Nana Yaw. One thing that I have certainly learned about Ghanaians is that they are so grateful! Esi cooked the best meal we have had since being here. Hands down – THE BEST! Just look at this line-up:
There was everything there from a freshly roasted turkey, to 3 different kinds of rice, to soup, beef, chicken, potatoes, fresh salad, even spaghetti. Now I know what Nana Yaw is missing! Have I mentioned that one of Esi’s 4 different jobs is that she is a wedding decorator? She also helps with catering and cooking so she has all of these food warmers that she uses at weddings. She’s got all the perfect pieces to throw a great party, and that she did!

We were introduced to lots of Nana Yaw’s friends and family, we ate and had a great time. Towards the end of the party Nana Yaw’s grandmother presented us with gifts….traditional African wear and personalized jewelry with our names on it!




In Ghana they hand sew all the beautiful fabrics to fit your exact body dimensions. Well, since they weren’t able to measure us they guessed our sizes from pictures. The outfits were so fun! They wanted us to change into them right away, so we did!

Jake looked pretty spiffy in his African shirt, athletic shorts, and high-top basketball shoes. He’s pictured here with Nana Yaw’s mother and father.

And, here is me in my outfit! I am pictured here with Nana Yaw's sister, brother, mother & uncle.
What a great way to spend our last day in Ghana!

Later that afternoon we met up with Mark & his wife one more time to talk through a few more details about Kingdom Hoops Ghana. It was then that Amina gave me a beautiful gold necklace with a heart shaped charm that has the Ghana flag in the middle. This gift was the perfect ending to our trip. This heart shaped necklace represents so many things. Leaving Samuel here in Ghana means that a piece of my heart also stays here. Not only that, but this necklace also represents how this trip has opened up my heart to this country and to this group of people. I will always think of both of these things when I wear this necklace.

-----

It’s evening time now and we are sitting in the airport waiting to board our flight home. As I sit here I’ve started to reflect on this amazing trip that we have just had. I am not sure yet how this trip has changed me. I feel very changed on the inside, and I think I will be able to tell in what ways when I get home.

While in Ghana I really missed my kids and our friends and our family. I am also really missing just the normal routine of life. I love our crazy-busy life at home in Iowa, and I missed it while being here. I also really missed American food, and warm water for taking a shower. When I get home I may never eat rice and chicken again because that is all I have eaten for almost 8 days now. Right now I just feel hungry for some ham or ground beef or Italian food. Or some chips and salsa. And a diet coke.

This trip was also emotionally draining in such a deep way. I’ve gone through full-range of emotions while being here. The first few days I was sort of in shock and trying to figure out how exactly to digest the sights and experiences. Then the next few days I felt extreme sadness for the conditions here and complete lack of opportunity for these people. Suddenly, the next day frustration set in….this led to anger and lots of questions running through my mind. Over all of these emotions I also was elated over some of the relationships we had started with people like Mark, and Kofi, and of course Samuel and his mother and their community. And, now, I am so happy to be going home. I can’t wait to hug and smooch my children. I just can’t wait.

We leave here, knowing that we will soon be back. Hopefully, many more times. Until then, Samuel and Ghana will be in the memories floating through my mind every second. They will be in the pictures and stories that we will tell when we get back. And, for sure they will stay in my heart until we meet again.



Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ghana Trip Journal: Day 6

The rooster outside our window started crowing at 4am this morning and woke me up. I think he was confused because the sun hadn’t even come up yet. I realized that I had been dreaming about Samuel all night, and I layed there trying to fall back to sleep. But, no such luck. My mind was racing with excitement! I couldn’t wait to see Samuel again today. I layed there for 2 hours thinking and then I decided to get up and get ready.

Morning view looking down the mountain from our hotel.

Cool archway outside of our hotel.

At 8am we went over to the uncle’s house again as they wanted to prepare breakfast for us. The uncle lives right next to the school that Samuel has recently been able to go back to, so I snapped a couple of pictures of the outside of it.

After breakfast Kofi took us back over to the village to see Samuel and his mother. When we got there, Samuel and his little brother were playing with the little spiderman car that we had gotten for him.
They sent that thing up and down the alleyway for about 30 minutes straight. And, of course Samuel wanted to play with Jake’s I-phone again! We also posed for more pictures (I’ve already uploaded these on a previous post….if you want to see them click here) since the lighting was a little better than last night, and then we got to meet Samuel’s grandmother. I am just kicking myself that I didn’t get a picture of her! After all of this, it was then time to head to the celebration that Samuel’s uncle had planned. Jake, Samuel and I crunched into Kofi’s tiny car to head to the church, and Samuel’s mom would come later. During this car ride I was again reminded of how great it was that Samuel seemed so comfortable with us. Thank you all so much for your prayers! They were answered!

So, we got to the church….


and it was then when we realized that Samuel’s uncle had planned this celebration specifically for the purpose of celebrating the adoption! Honestly, I just thought we were going to a church service to celebrate the New Year. We had no idea that we were the honored guests. They had seats for us up front and we were positioned so that we would face those in attendance. Let me just pause here by saying that this is a very sort of ‘miraculous’ thing that our adoption of Samuel would be celebrated. In our adoption training books, we were prepared for the opposite sort of reaction to trans-racial adoption. In many African countries, the adoption of an African child into an all-white family is often opposed and spoken against within communities. Heading into this trip I had expected and prepared myself to face more of this type of reaction to our adoption. But, here we were being honored and celebrated. It just blew my mind! Anyways, back to the celebration! These kids were in charge of the music:
So, the celebration consisted of about a 2 hour church service full of scripture reading, a sermon, worship and dancing. Here is a little video clip that I took during one of the songs:

video

So, you’ll notice that during church they have all the children sit together on one side of the church, and most of the adults sit on the other side. The children have been taught to sit still, listen, and not talk the entire time. WOW. They are VERY obedient. Towards the end of the service we got to pass out the goodie bags for the children. Here they are waiting patiently! (Samuel is in the middle)

Jake hands out the goodie bags! If you click on this picture to enlarge it you will really be able to see the tint of Samuel's reddish hair. I LOVE IT!

When Kofi saw the bags he said they were great and he noted that many of the children would use the sacks for their school bags to carry their books! Well, if I would have known that I would have gotten them some more durable sacks than these 50 cent ones. I hope they last!

To end the celebration each child was annointed with oil.

And Jake gave a speech to those in attendance, telling them all how thankful we were for their support of the adoption.
Jake also mentioned that they would see us again. We weren’t going to just adopt Samuel and then never return. We would be back to visit, and then Jake also made a commitment to them that he would get a group of workers together to come and help them ‘finish off’ the church. The uncle had expressed his hope that someday their church could be remodeled (and it really wouldn’t take much) and Jake reassured them that we would get a team together and be back to do it! Exciting!

Then we posed for some pictures as the celebration came to a close.
It was then that Samuel’s mother came up to Jake and I and gave us each a big hug, and she said a very humble and grateful “Thank you.” I knew she wanted to say more, but this was all she could say in English. Also, I had learned from Mark’s wife earlier in our trip that Ghanaians don’t give hugs unless it is someone that they know very well, or to someone who is family. They usually just give and receive handshakes for everything. After this hug I knew that Samuel’s mother trusted us. It meant everything to me. And, this is when the tears started. You knew they were coming didn’t you? I had done so good and really held it together up until this point. But, I couldn’t hold back any longer. I quietly cried as the group walked us to the car. It was time to say goodbye.

We got to the car and Jake gave Samuel one last gift that he had been waiting to give to him until the very end – a soccer ball, and a basketball. We had found out during our time here that Samuel LOVES soccer, so we thought that he would enjoy having the new ball. But, to our surprise at this particular moment he was more interested in what exactly he was supposed to do with the basketball! So, Jake showed him how to dribble.


His last words to Samuel were “Make sure you keep practicing until we can come back and get you.” I then gave Samuel’s mother the letter we had written for her and mentioned to Kofi that he would need to translate it for her. And then, the moment came that I had been dreading – we had to climb in the car and say goodbye. I can still remember looking out the car window and seeing Samuel and his mother smiling and waving. Samuel’s mother was yelling out ‘bye’ as she waved….this is another English word that she can say. That image of the two of them waving to us with their smiles is frozen in my mind. I knew we were leaving them happy and hopefilled. But still, I can’t even begin to describe how I felt leaving him there. It was just heavy. This heavy feeling. It wasn’t depair because I knew we would be back. But, it felt like heartache. Heavy heartache.

Well, I had a 2 hour ride back to Accra to think about Samuel, his mother, and the time we got to spend with them. I kept flipping through the pictures on my camera and thinking about how exciting our next trip will be when we get to come and bring him home. My exciting thoughts are too often crowded out by the devil whispering in my ear What if the adoption falls through again? What if you’ve become too attached to him and something bad happens and the adoption can’t be completed? What if, what if, what if? Each time this happens I have to remind myself that I am not trusting in men to complete this adoption. I am not trusting in Kofi’s expertise, or the courts, or immigration services. I am trusting in God to complete this adoption in His time. God is my trust. God does not fail. Even if this adoption does fail, God’s faithfulness does not. He has a plan. And that is the plan I want to go with.

Once we got back to Accra Kofi showed us the CompAfriCare office.

And then we unloaded the suitcase full of formula that we had brought for CompAfriCare. Jake carries it in the African way!
Then, we went and visited a foster mother who is caring for a little baby boy that is being adopted by a family in Ankeny. We went there to drop off some of the formula that we had brought. We walked in and chatted with the foster mother and she asked me if I wanted to hold the baby. OF COURSE I WANTED TO HOLD THE BABY!
Um, could he get any cuter? I think not. Now, let me tell you the story behind this sweet boy. His biological mother had gone to social welfare services in Ghana because she couldn’t care for the baby. She had not been able to find any orphanages with available spots for an infant, so social welfare was her last hope. She eventually was connected with Kofi, and told Kofi that she wanted to give the baby in adoption. But, she also mentioned that in the mean time, there was no way she could care for her child. She was so desperate that at one point Kofi said she had almost ‘thrown him in the bush’ to die. On another occasion she tried tricking Kofi and leaving the baby with him. Kofi was able to convince her to hold off doing anything drastic as he was searching for a foster family to care for the baby. Eventually he found a foster mother in Accra, and also in the mean time our adoption agency found the family in Ankeny to adopt him. Praise God! Isn’t adoption B E A U T I F U L?

After our visit to see the baby, Esi’s driver came to pick us up to bring us to her home where we would spend our last day in Ghana. When we arrived in Esi’s town we checked into our hotel (we stayed in 3 different hotels during our stay in Ghana!) and then the driver took us over to Esi’s house. When we got there her niece and house help were preparing dinner for us. It smelled so good! And I was so hungry.
We had a wonderful dinner of rice, seasoned chicken strips, seasoned beef strips, potatoes, fried plantain, and then chocolate cake and custard for dessert. We sat and talked for a long time about our trip. Nana Yaw’s family is so loving and welcoming! Esi had even made a big poster sized picture of Jake and I that said “Welcome Jake & Janel!” She is such a great host! Esi’s home cooked meal was the perfect ending to our emotional and busy day. About 10pm we left for our hotel to settle in. Only one more day left in Ghana and then home we go!