Monday, June 22, 2015

What now?

Now that I've shared with you stories of what has led us to this point in our lives, you may be wondering where we are actually at in our journey.

About 3 or 4 years ago, we decided to attend an informational meeting on international adoption at a local adoption agency.  We knew we weren't ready to adopt at that point, but we knew it was often a very long process and wanted to learn more so that we could be sure to begin the journey a few years before we thought we'd be ready for children rather than find ourselves ready, and then get trapped in the waiting game.

After planning for many years to grow a family via international adoption, it was surprising to me that the meeting we attended actually pushed our hearts away from that path.  We left the meeting wondering whether international adoption was right for us -- not just at that current time, but ever.
I'm so thankful for the truths that were addressed in the meeting -- they were very transparent about the costs, the trauma that is often experienced by the child in being uprooted from everything they've ever known, and the "red tape" that surrounds the process.

At that time, we decided to step back from adoption planning, and instead focus the next few years on growing our careers and getting where we wanted to be with our house.  Since that time, I have done more research and focused more thought towards both domestic infant adoption, and domestic foster care adoption.  For a while, we were fairly certain we would pursue the foster-to-adopt program.

However, time and time again, my heart kept pulling me towards international adoption.  I often have people ask me "Why don't you just help a child here (meaning the U.S.)?... There are SO MANY that need good homes."  And I could spend a whole lot of time attempting  to answer that, but what I really want to say is:
1.  If you have a heart for those children, why aren't YOU helping them?
2.  Why does it matter where a child comes from?   A child is a child, and if one is U.S. born and one isn't, but neither of them have parents to love and care for them, does it really matter who we help?

I won't spend much time going into this "debate" here - just know that I've done my research, and I've done my homework.  I know that domestic adoption is "cheaper", and I know there are plenty of DESERVING children who need homes right here in Grand Rapids/Michigan/the U.S.  But God has placed China on our hearts, and however I try to push it aside, that calling keeps getting louder and louder.  I will follow where He leads us,  and right now I am fairly certain he is leading us towards China.  This doesn't mean we have closed our minds to other options, or that we will never pursue a domestic adoption, but for right now, the plan is to adopt from China.

China's rule is that you have to be 29 1/2 years old to apply to adopt a child.  So, while we wait for me to meet that requirement (1 month from today!), we have been doing as much research as possible on Chinese adoptions, culture, their one child policy, their orphanage situation, and so forth.  And the more we learn, the more confident we are that our child is in China.

We decided that before we started a family, we wanted to be intentional about getting back into the habit of attending church on a regular basis, so that we were getting fed with solid teaching, and also that we would be part of a church community during what is sure to be the most trying time of our lives.  I was hoping to find a church community close to where we are currently living, but we were having a hard time finding what we were looking for.

Throughout and shortly after college, I (and James once we began dating) attended a church we LOVED called Madison Square Church.  We were married by a pastor there, and did our marriage counseling with her.  Last Saturday night, feeling discouraged by the options we were finding near our home, I went to Madison's website and learned that the pastor who had married us had become head pastor of a new campus.  I knew right away I wanted to check it out, as I had really wanted to find a smaller congregation to join.  The next morning, we made the 25 minute drive across town to visit "Madison North" for the first time, and as soon as I walked in the door I knew we were "home."  It's exactly the type of community, worship, and message delivery we have been looking for, and what a blessing to have the person who helped us begin our marriage journey is in a place of leadership.

Another change I knew I needed to make before beginning this journey involved my career.  I had taken a position as a CSR with Chemical Bank in March 2012, and quickly grew my career under the leadership of a wonderful boss. I was able to learn so much and really grow my professional skill-set, along with form many friendships that I know will last for years to come.  Last summer, I was made Assistant Branch Manager, and while this was a huge honor, when I accepted the promotion I did so with hesitation, because I was already starting to feel a little burnt out.  What people don't always realize about me, is that even though I'm a very sociable person, and find it very easy to connect with others, being a social setting all day is absolutely draining to me.  My job involved wearing about 10 different hats on a daily basis, a lot of interruptions, switching gears from one task to the next, and a large amount of customer service.  At age 29, I was finding myself suffering from high cholesterol, frequent heart palpitations, and even sudden short-term memory loss.  I knew that there was just no way I could go through such a stressful life situation, let alone become a parent while I was working in a job that was so mentally and physically draining of my energy.  It was so hard for me to decide to leave, because I felt in many ways that I was "failing"; that I should be able to handle it all. However, I knew I had to be fair to myself (and my future child) and admit that I just couldn't handle all of that stress.  I felt like I was letting everyone down, including my boss, who had been so encouraging to me the past few years.  I hated to say goodbye to some of my customers, my work team, and a role I had become so confident in. For the first time in my life, I had found myself becoming confident, assertive, and sure of myself- the thought of trading that in for a new role in which I would be the new person, the trainee, the one who asked questions instead of answer them was all very intimidating.
I put my trust in God that He would open the right door for me, and sure enough, one June 8th I began my new position in our mortgage department.  I am now working in the "back of the house", processing files for mortgage lenders.  I have no customer interaction, and rather than wearing 20 different hats on any given day, I just wear one.  I am not responsible for anyone else, and I have no team to help manage, no sales goals to meet, track, and measure, and no office to help manage.  The new job is still of course very busy- but it's doing one thing all day, with very little interruptions.  I have been so much less stressed since starting the job, and have so much more energy each night when I get home.  I miss my customers and my co-workers, and I miss being part of a great network of branches and teammates, but I know that this change was exactly what I needed for this period of my life.

We are also focusing on our budget, and how to find ways to save money, as we know that the expense of this journey is going to be tremendous.  It is almost certain we will be undertaking in a few different fundraising efforts, but will not begin any of those until we hear back on our application process.

The last major change James and I are making in our lives is the way that we take care of our bodies.  As we leave our 20s, we were finding ourselves gaining weight, feeling more tired, and just realizing we can't keep eating bagel bites and french fries and keep our bodies going strong.  We would never want to raise a child on the kind of diet we had gotten so used to eating, so it was time to get healthy and start fueling our bodies with real nutrition.  We have been exercising more, and trying to avoid processed food, while eliminating as much added sugar and carbs from our diet as we can.  My husband has been a champion at this-  while I have been researching "all things adoption", he has been researching nutrition, health, and recipes, and also doing most of the cooking for us.  We feel better than we ever have in our lives, and I'm so thankful to have him as my coach in those times I feel like giving up and eating a whole pack of Oreos.  My circulation has improved, I find myself more alert and clear-minded, and even just feeling happier and less lethargic.

The other big step will be completing soon is what's called a "Medical Conditions Checklist", commonly referred to as an MCC.  This is the part of your application file that actually seals your place in line for placement with a child.  This document gives you the opportunity to make requests for any specific age group or gender, and also has you say yes or no to each individual medical condition that a waiting child might have. This does not commit you to accepting any particular child or condition, but just gives the agency an idea of what you are looking for in terms of a match so that they can best match you with a child in need.  We will be completing this document with the advice of a few medical professionals, along with a lot of prayerful consideration.  If you are wondering how you can help us during this time, I will say that this is it- please pray for wisdom and guidance for us as we complete this particular part of the process.  We want to remain as open as possible, but it's also important to keep in consideration what we would be able to deal with financially as well as emotionally.  If you would like to learn more about the MCC, here is some information:

So, as you can see, we are in a state of "preparation".And that is what what we've been up to:  changing my job, changing our diets, doing our research, finding a Church family, and trying to make a financial plan.  So while we haven't exactly "began" the process, we are certainly in the mode of preparing our lives, our hearts, and our bodies for the big journey that lays ahead of us.

Our hope is that we will be submitting our formal application to adopt within the next two months.

My next blog post will focus more on China's adoption program, what I have learned so far about the current orphan situation in China, and a little about the agency we have chosen to work with and why we selected them.

I will leave you with an excerpt from the book that tells the story of the couple who started that agency, "Bound by Love."  This passage really touched my heart and affirmed my calling to pursue an adoption from China.

"I'm working as fast as I can to get them out [of the dark, dirty orphanage].  There's no time left to help those left behind.  But who else will help?  They have no family, no power, no authority. Yet someone must speak for them."

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Why Now?

I've been intentionally delaying the starting of our family for as long as we have been married (coming up on 7 years now... woo hoo!).  I've come up with a lot of great reasons for doing so, and have presented a number of convincing arguments to back up those reasons.

Here's a list of the top reasons (in no particular order) why we have yet to start our family:         (note: before forming opinions or judgments, please continue reading to the end)

1. I've always wanted to travel before having kids
2. I'd like my own student loans to be paid for before any children we have start college
3. I couldn't imagine paying for full-time daycare OR quitting work, given our current financial situation
4. I enjoy our freedom to just get up and do whatever we want, whenever we want.
5.  Kids are a lot of work. I worked in childcare for years and have a deep respect for the amount of work that goes into raising and caring for a child.
6. I never want our children to worry about money.  That doesn't mean I feel the need to have tremendous wealth saved up, but I never want my kid to be afraid to ask for soccer cleats, or school pictures because they know there just isn't enough money there for the "extras"
7. I am already so worn out and tired after work I just can't imagine having to invest any extra energy into anything or anyone.
8. I like the way our life is- I enjoy the ways I spend my time and the amounts of "me-time" I have... I'm selfish and don't want to give some of those things up.
9. When I become a parent, I want parenting to be the number one priority in my life.  I don't want my kids to feel like a burden, or a hassle, or like they are in the way.  Until I can confidently decide that I want my focus to be on parenting, I shouldn't start a family.
10. It's hard to imagine raising children without the immediate support and presence of our families.  Our nearest relative lives 2+ hours away.  There's no calling mom when the baby has a fever and can't go to daycare... there's no calling grandma to come show me how to rock a colicky baby to sleep.. there's no asking mother-in-law to watch the baby at a moment's notice for an hour just so we can go out to dinner alone... etc.  In a way I feel like we're all on our own.

Now that I've got you all fired up and you have a rebuttal in mind for at least half of those answers, hear me out...

What's the REAL reason I didn't want to start a family?  What's the REAL reason why I needed to keep putting this off longer and longer?

Anyone who knows me, knows that I hate change.  I hate change and I love control.  I like knowing exactly what to expect and I like calling all the shots.  I  am fully aware that once you have a child, you can throw planning and control right out the window.  Kids change everything.  And when you're dealing with a baby or a toddler, well, you can make all the plans you want for your weekend.... but you better have a backup plan, and a backup plan to your backup plan- or you had just better be okay with winging it!

I will say that in the past year or so, my heart has been changing.  I still haven't experienced the "baby fever" that everyone has been telling me for years would be showing up soon, but my outlook was starting to change, and parenting a child has been seeming more and more "do-able."

Last May, we move from a big old historic house in the city to a newer, modern house in a subdivision out in the suburbs.  We traded an awesome charming (yet crumbling) 108 year old house in an "iffy" neighborhood, where we didn't have a garage, driveway, or even shed for the lawnmower for a traditional family-style home (complete with driveway, garage, and fenced in yard) with a in-home-daycare next door and a slew of moms and strollers going by every evening.

For the first time in our marriage I began thinking "hmm.... I could see having a kid here."  There's an elementary school within sight and a huge, beautiful (and culturally diverse) high school less than a mile down the road.  This neighborhood is safe, friendly, and full of other young families.

As those thoughts towards parenthood began blooming, so did our careers.  James and I have both been honored with raises and promotions over the past year that have made life a little more comfortable than it ever has been.  There's still not that "extra" left over each month to put away in the savings, but for the first time I can at least fathom raising a child and still having money for groceries and soccer cleats. (forget vacations, name brands, or cable TV but I know we will all have food to eat!)

As more and more of our friends began either moving away or having children of their own, that social life that I had always valued so much began changing as well. Over the past couple of years my circle of friends has been getting younger and younger to accommodate our habits of staying out late and last-minute planning. If we continue on this path, pretty soon we'll be hanging out with people so much younger than us it just won't be easy to connect.  Some days it feels like if we remain childless for too much longer our own kids aren't going to have anyone to play with! (which actually isn't true at all... some of my dearest friends aren't even married yet).

About a year or two ago, friend through the animal rescue group that I volunteer with revealed to me  that she and her husband would be pursuing an international adoption.  Her and her husband brought home their son from China in January.    I was able to follow her journey through her own blogging, and got to catch up with her a few months after her arrival back to the U.S. with her son.  She had such a great experience with her agency and the whole process it really peaked my interest, and I began doing a little more research on international adoption, and specifically China.

At some point this winter someone posted a link to a movie on Facebook about a movie that was coming to theaters called "The Dropbox." (see link to the trailer below). The film is a documentary about a man and his wife who started a safe haven for orphans in Korea.  After mixing up the dates, I ended up missing the only showing in our area. I was thrilled when I learned that it was so popular they were bringing it back for another round of showings a few weeks later.

I almost forgot again, but then one night after work it popped into my mind.  I quick looked it up and realized it was showing in 20 minutes.... at the the theater that is 20 minutes from home!  James and I sprung into action, hopped in the car, and got there just in time. (this really meant a lot to me, as my husband is not a last-minute plan type of person)

So all of that thinking brought me to the place I was at mentally and emotionally on March 16th, 2015.

I'll cut to the chase and just say that the movie totally rocked my world.

I have never walked away from my Christian beliefs, but let's just say I haven't been the most "plugged in" the past few years.  My heart was in the right place, but just like with child-raising, I was full of good excuses why I couldn't go to church or get involved in a small group.  I had constant intentions of praying and reading my Bible, but the days just keep slipping away, as did my attention.

Thankfully, sometimes God speaks to us even when we aren't listening or looking for answers.

For the past 2-3 years I've found myself increasingly unhappy, increasingly stressed, unsatisfied, and unfulfilled.  I've placed the blame on money, work, friends, my marriage, our house, the pets, you name it.  I kept thinking "If only I lived here" or "If only I had {this} type of job" or "if only we made more money" or "if only we could travel.".....
What I WAS NOT ever thinking was IF ONLY WE ADOPTED A CHILD....

Now, hear me out... I am 100% aware of the fact that parenthood will not ease my stress, lighten my burden, or just miraculously make all of my worries go away. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's likely to (at minimum) triple them.

Here's the catch:  As I explained in my last post, my life's calling is to help orphans.  I've been doing very fulfilling and meaningful work in helping orphaned cats and dogs the past few years, but that wasn't (primarily) what I was put on this earth to do.  I  love it and plan on always doing whatever I can to help in those efforts, but my number one reason for living is to help orphaned children.  I've been making differences in people's lives through my career, but I'll be honest, my job was increasingly becoming a bigger and bigger drain on my spirit, not a source of fulfillment.

God spoke to me on March 16th, 2015.  And if God spoke English it would translate to something like this:

"Kristen Adele Gere, you can try to ignore your calling for as long as you want.  You can try to fill your life with your career, with house repairs, with animal rescue, or anything else you choose, but that little nagging feeling you get that says none of it is enough is not going to go away until you start putting your trust and faith in Me, and you start obeying My calling on your life.  What are you waiting for?  Don't you trust Me?  Don't you trust that if I have placed this calling on your life I will provide the way?  Don't you trust that just as in everything else in your life, I will ensure your needs are taken care of?"

All I could think was... yeah.... that list that I've been clinging to?  Pretty lame.
How can I honestly sit here and say "I can't afford to help" when Pastor Lee and his wife (from the film) have FAR LESS than we do and they have helped countless orphans.

As my sister called me out a while back... if I could afford a mortgage and two car payments, I can afford an adoption, and I'll figure out the budget for the rest.  Nothing in life worth doing is easy.  And while you can't just raise a child on love alone...  we are admittedly more financially secure than many of our family and friends have been when they entered parenthood, and things have always turned out ok for all of them.  If you want something bad enough, you'll make it work.  And if God is telling you that He will provide... you need to trust that He will.

So, we will put our faith in God and move forward.  We will seek his guidance and blessing in fundraising efforts, in the big decisions that lay before us, and in all of the other details along the way.  But as of March 16th, 2015, James and I have committed ourselves before the Lord's plan for us, and we have begun our journey into adopting an orphaned child into our family.
It's time to put my favorite Bible verse, James 1:27 into action.

Here's a link to the trailer for "The Drop Box" film:
(the entire film can be ordered through Amazon)

"The Drop Box" - Documentary Trailer from Arbella Studios on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why Adoption?

I'm often presented with this very simple question.  Why do you want to adopt?
As the desire to adopt has been within me for as long as I can remember, and I've been faced with this question for the 15 years I've vocalized that desire to others, I've had quite some time to perfect my response.
However, the more time I spend trying to think of a profound answer, the more and more I struggle with the right way to describe my "why".
Sometimes, what I really want to say is "Why DON'T you want to adopt?"  or  "Why do you want to have your own children?"... not because I'm casting judgment upon others, but because whatever it is that motivates others to either have their own children or to remain childless, must be similar to whatever it is that calls me to adopt.  It's so engrained in my mind, heart, and soul, that explaining it  seems futile.  In essence,  I want to adopt because it's what I've always wanted to/planned on/dreamed of/hoped to do.  I've never been able to imagine my future WITHOUT thinking of adoption.  I feel that it's the right thing to do, and I think/hope I'm the right person to do it.
I have never (no not even a little bit) desired to become pregnant, carry a  baby, or birth a baby.  Yes I agree that pregnancy/childbirth is a miracle and a blessing, and a wonderful, beautiful thing.  But that doesn't mean I need to experience it myself in order to appreciate it. 
I like to think that God simultaneously placed the desire to adopt on my heart just as he removed the desire to produce offspring.  But for those of you who might not share the same religious beliefs, you could probably come up with other explanations.  Either way, the WHY doesn't really matter, does it?
No one ever asks mothers of biological children "Why do you want to have a baby?"  And that's because we view motherhood and childbirth as a normal, "natural" desire, and of course for evolutionary purposes, it's a good thing that it is!  But just as a biological mother would struggle to answer that question, I also struggle to answer the question of why I want to adopt my children.  Because to me, that desire just feels normal and natural.  It wasn't something that I spent much time debating or thinking about.... it just showed up! (as I remember, around the age of 4)
That does not mean that I don't have very specific reasons to support my reasoning, or that I haven't had certain experiences in my life that have deepened my calling.  I will share some of those with you in a later post, but just know that they are only supporting a desire that I believe I was born with.
I honestly believe that we are all sent to this earth for a reason.  Sometimes our calling might be vocational (to be a life-changing researcher/scientist/author/teacher/etc).  Sometimes the calling is personality-based (to be that friend/neighbor/family member that brightens the lives of everyone around them).  Other times the calling is based on a role (motherhood, ministry, missions, etc).  I struggled through ages 18-28 trying to figure out my reason for being on this earth.  I found a lot of things I was good at, a lot of ways I could help others, and a lot of things that were really fulfilling to me.  But I just never had those "ah ha" moments that you hear about when you attend Calvin College... where the universe all seems to connect and you have this sense of purpose and calling come together providing you a clear picture of what it is you were placed on this earth to do: VOCATION....  Until recently.  I will share the details of this event in a future post, but for now all you need to know is that I had my moment... I had my big "ah ha" moment 2 months after my 29th Birthday... and I was awakened.  I was reminded that I can try and try and try to ignore it, replace it, postpone it, and argue against it... but my reason for being on this earth is to help orphans.  To love the unloved.  To nurture the un-nurtured.  And until I become brave enough to accept that challenge, I was going to continue to feel empty, frustrated, unfulfilled, and lost.
And so here we are.
Am I ready? Will I ever be ready?  Is this the right time? Will we be able to afford it?  How will we provide childcare? Healthcare? What about the traveling we wanted to do, or the home repairs we wanted complete?  Shouldn't we have more money in our savings account?  Are we NUTS?!
I believe I have been told by God to push all of those thoughts aside and to TRUST.  To trust that if He has placed the calling on my heart, and He has awakened my spirit to His timing, that He will take care of the rest.
There have been a few other times in our married life that I've had a similar experience, and where all of you may have been standing back scratching your heads at my seemingly reckless, irresponsible actions:  when James and I got married and had no plans for housing or jobs.  When we purchased a new home without having sold our current one. When I accepted my position with AmeriCorps even though the economy was crashing and it was fairly certain that James was about to lose his job due to cutbacks (and he did... just hours later).  What I learned through each one of those situations... is that if you believe; if you listen to the calling that you know is being placed on your heart from The Man Upstairs... He WILL provide the way.
And so here we are.  Do we have the needed 20-25 thousand dollars saved up that we are going to need to bring this child home to us? No, we do not.
Do we have daycare figured out? Healthcare? Our support system? Travel plans?  No, not those things either.
All I know is that now is the time.
Now is the time to stop delaying my calling because I'm not ready.  It's time to place our trust in God, and to do whatever it takes to follow this calling.
I don't have a timeline nailed down, and I have no idea how long this process might take us.  But I do know it's time to do whatever we can to see this plan come to fruition.

Please join us in your hearts, prayers, and thoughts as we embark upon the journey of a lifetime.