Tuesday, June 18, 2013

SO after our last post, our life kinda got turned upside down.  One day we will be able to share all of the details but for now I can share that it has been a FIGHT for our daughters.

In December we began to sense that not all was as it seemed with our adoption.  Though our agency advised against it, Ryan and I felt that the time had come for me to go over to the DRC to figure out what was going on with our daughters and to try to figure out what needed to be done to bring them home.

From the moment I arrived at the guest house in January, I knew that the remainder of our journey was not going to be easy.  I battled for my daughters, and was broken hearted when I left one month later... with empty arms, and more questions than I had received answers.  Broken and bruised, grief stricken... unsure of when or even IF I would ever see my sweet girls again.

Ryan was in Afghanistan, I was in Africa, and our boys were in America.  Stretched across the planet, we ached to be together again, and God, ever so sweet, answered our prayers and Ryan returned home less than a week after me and the boys (and 3 1/2 months EARLY).  

We continued to try to unravel the web of confusion, and deceit... waiting patiently (sometimes impatiently) for the Embassy to do their investigation into the orphan status of our daughters.  Seems crazy to do such a thing at the very end of the process, and even crazier to process for Ryan and I that the girls might not be true orphans after all the documents had been processed.  BUT I promise it isn't that crazy knowing now what we didn't know then.

In April, some events unfolded that left us no choice but to travel again.  SO, this time Ryan stayed home with the boys, and I flew across the ocean to take care of the things that in reality I should not have had to take care of... but none the less... these are our daughters... and we had NO CHOICE.  The trip was very successful, but again I left empty armed.  The tears streaming down my daughters faces as I had to say good-bye to them at the airport left me more than broken hearted.  I felt peace, but also intense pain.

Then, last week, we finally heard the words that we have been LONGING to hear.  "We are going to issue visas."  OH.MY.WORD!!!  Our girls are coming HOME!!!  FINALLY!!!

Our plan is to fly out at the end of this month (June) and we hope that we will be home mid-July.  Please pray for our family!

*Pray for our boys, as they will be apart from us for ANOTHER month this year.
*Pray for our hearts and for our daughters hearts as we prepare to travel to bring them home, and for the adjustment following.
*Please pray for all of the details that need to fall into place between the now and then.
*Please pray that we are issued Exit Letters without delay or difficulty.

We danced a very happy dance when we discovered that our fundraising was complete... so we thought... but since we had the two additional trips and several unexpected expenses we are short.  We are all out of steam for fundraising, but we are in need of an additional $2500-$3000 to cover our expenses in country.  Many of you have asked what you can do to help us get ready to go on this final trip, there isn't much that can't be done by Ryan and I, when it comes to getting ready to go... but we invite you to pray fervently and to give if you so feel led.  Our motto from the beginning has been "One Drop at a Time".  Every single dollar helps and will be used for travel expenses.  Our plane tickets alone are going to be about $6800.00.  We know that we serve a mighty God!

Thank you for continuing to follow our journey.  For all of the prayers, support, and encouragement that we have been given.  We could not have walked this journey alone.  We praise God for each one of you!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Where we are...

Ok, first things first... I have not forgotten about the rest of the story.  Sorry I have left you hanging on "But God..." I have attempted several times to write the blog sharing the rest of the story, but it has been a little hard to sum it up.  I talked to Ryan tonight and we both agree that it is important to finish the story, but more importantly that we write it together.  SO we are going to do just that... Promise, it is coming soon.

In the meantime, I just wanted to take a moment to update you on where we are with our sweet Ava and Zoey's process.  Alot has happened in the past few weeks.  W received our Adoption Deed at the beginning of November, followed by their birth certificates and our I600 was submitted to the USCIS for approval.  We don't have a set date to bring the girls home, but we have made a plan for the remaining time prior to the girls coming home.

This past weekend the boys and I took a trip to Gatlinburg, TN to soak up some mother/son time.  It was a real treat and we all had so much fun!  We are excited to bring Ava and Zoey home, but it was necessary to spend some time building into Taylor, Kole and Riley before the big transition.  We also celebrated Riley's ninth birthday riding roller coasters at Dollywood.  SO.MUCH.FUN!

On December 15th we will drive to Florida to spend some time with family for the holidays.  Then we will trek to NH, where we will stay until I fly out to the DRC to pick up the girls.  My in-laws will be driving the boys home while the girls and I are making our way home.  Ryan will also be flying home for the grand reunion.  I am so excited that we will be able to bring our girls into our house hand in hand, though it will break my heart into a million pieces to have to let him go again for a few more months!

Between now and then I have more paperwork to get done, and a TON of packing to do.  Please pray for our family over the next months as you have been over the past several months.  We covet your prayers!!!

Tomorrow we will return to homeschooling and begin the crazy packing for FL weather, NH weather... And the DRC!

I am certain that posts will become more regular now that we have so much going on... As if the holidays don't bring enough excitement on their own... Haha!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Thank You Video

We made this video as a way to say Thank You to everyone who has supported us as we have journeyed to bring our daughters home from the DRC.  Thank you so much for being a part of their beautiful story.  We cannot wait to tell them how it all unfolded.  The list at the end of the video is humbling and moved us to tears.  A true testament of God's faithfulness.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we are so thankful for you!  

We cannot wait to bring our girls home!!!  SOON, VERY SOON!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dear Ava and Zoey...

Dearest Ava Joy and Zoey Grace,

I have so many hopes and dreams for you my precious little girls.  But even more I pray that you will come to know that Jesus has so many more.  I have such a deep longing for you to be here with me, but I pray that you will know that Jesus longs even more for you to abide in Him.  I have so many fears, but I pray that together we will learn that Jesus' perfect love casts out fear.  My heart breaks for the pain that you have experience, but I pray that you will come to know Jesus as the one who heals all of your hurts.  I long for you to be able to be little girls, but I pray that one day you will learn that even a child is known by the things that she does.  I pray that you will be smart, and love learning, but more I pray that you will learn that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom.  I pray that you will become women of vision, but that in that you will learn to desire God's vision for your life, and that you will learn to submit your desires to Him, and discover the blessing and beauty in a life abandoned to Him.  I pray that you will be strong, but that you will know that your strength comes from Him, and Him alone.  I pray that you will sing, and sing loudly because He inhabits the praises of His people.  I pray that you will be free, but that you will choose to become a servant, just as Christ humbled Himself and became a servant.  I pray that when you look in the mirror, that you will see beauty within, that you will see the woman that God created you to be and that you will embrace every detail of who He made you to be.  

You are coming home to America.  You will be given so much.  You don't know it yet, but you have SO many clothes, and shoes, and toys.  These things will never satisfy.  I pray that you will one day understand that it was not to give you all of these things that we came for you, but it was because God chose us and in doing that He chose you!  He chose you for us!  He chose you and us for a specific purpose... we will journey down this road together to discover that purpose.

Sweet girls, I promise you that I will fail you.  I promise you that I will make mistakes.  Not because I want to fail you or hurt you but because I am still learning each and every day how to love like Jesus, and how to walk in His ways.  I pray that you will learn that Jesus will never fail you... and that He never makes mistakes.  I pray that together we will discover more and more each day how deep His love is for us, and that because of that we will love each other deeply, and grow together, all seven of us, in His grace.

There will be hard times, there will be storms, and there will be trials... I know this because God tells us these things are true... but He promises that He will carry us through them if we will only trust Him.  He tells us that even in hard times that we can have JOY... not a fake-it-til-you-make-it kind of joy, but a deep and satisfying joy because we are assured that He makes all things beautiful in His time.

It will take time for you to come to know all of these things, but even tonight I pray that He is embracing you tightly, holding you in His strong arms, singing over you, and speaking to your hearts.  I pray that tonight you sense His presence all around you... I pray that He is making Himself known to you, to those very secret places of your hearts!!!

Girls, I LOVE YOU!!!  I am overwhelmed that God has chosen me to be your mommy.  There truly is no greater gift that He has ever given me than to be a momma, to be YOUR momma!!!

There are so many more things that I want to tell you... and I will...


Thursday, October 25, 2012

When marriage feels like sinking sand...


I mentioned in our last post that I really should blog about the event that changed the course of our marriage.  SO that is what I am going to do!

Tonight, Ryan is thousands of miles away, deployed in Afghanistan.  Though deployments are nothing new for our family, (this is our 4th), this one is SO very different.  I miss Ryan in a whole new way because our marriage is in a very different place than it was during the last deployments!  There was so much insecurity surrounding the last deployments.  Sure, it was hard for him to be away, and the typical fear that comes from knowing that your loved one is at war, that there are people who are plotting consistently to take their lives.  But the fear that gripped me the most was... are we strong enough to survive this deployment.  Will our marriage make it, even if he comes home.

We were deeply entrenched in the deployment dance.  For those of you who have experienced back to back to back deployments, you understand.  For those of you who don't, this is what it looks like...  You find out that your spouse is going to be deployed, so you spend several weeks preparing to say goodbye for a really long time.  You live in an alter reality, experiencing all of your "lasts" for the next year.  You know, our last movie, our last dinner out as a family, our last outing to the park, our last..... During this time you focus on the necessary details of wills and Power of Attorney's and such.  You do whatever it takes not to argue, so you avoid all sensitive topics at all cost.  THEN finally they leave, and you find a new rhythm to your days.  For me, it was caring for our children and home on my own.  Whenever Ryan would call, we would try to avoid any "real" conversation because well... the phone calls are short and it might be your last.  You don't want to hang up angry.  This dance goes on through the length of the deployment.  THEN FINALLY the day comes when you find out your man is on his way home.  You go get your hair done, buy a new dress, get the kiddos a special outfit, make posters and join all of the other families in this great and glorious welcome home ceremony.  You kiss, and embrace and all is right in the world... NOT, atleast not for us.  For about 6 weeks we were in the honeymoon phase... then reality drops in like a bomb from a B52.  Out of no where chaos moves in, and makes himself at home.  The fact that we had not had any "real" conversation for about 14 months meant that we had grown apart, rather than together.

We struggled to find a way to communicate, and to connect.  I had learned to be pretty independent in just about everything and well, Ryan and I became glorified roommates.  This is the ugly truth.  We really didn't like each other.  We had been through such different experiences during those times and we just didn't know how to get back to where ever it is that we had come from.   We tried counseling, the traditional way, meeting weekly with a professional marriage counselor, but it seemed that we left more angry and with more questions.  It seemed that it was like we were there just to get through another week, but never really dealt with the underlying issues of why we were where we were.

In November 2009, I watched Ryan pack up all of his belongings into duffle bags, and tough boxes in preparation for another deployment.  Those things were packed up and sent off to Afghanistan.  We were expecting that he would leave sometime shortly after the new year.  However, he had blown out his knee and was in need of surgery, and something had happened to his ears, and he was unable to fly.  I think that I mentioned that in the other post.  This was a pivotal moment for us.  We had been dancing and dancing and suddenly the music changed, and we didn't know how to dance to it.  He was home.  The unit was deployed.  We were stuck with each other.  I truly believe to the very core of my being that all of these things happened to save our marriage.

In July 2010, Ryan (the boys and I tagging along) went to Pensacola, FL to try to overcome whatever it was going on in his ears that kept him from being able to fly without getting so sick.  This was the last-ditch effort before being taken off of flight status.  Ryan had wanted to fly since he was a young boy, and now all that he had worked for to make his dream reality was quickly fading.  Along with that, we were unsure of what the Army was going to do with him, and feared that we might soon find ourselves making a major life change out of the Army.  There was real and intense stress!  One day we blew!  We started fighting and could not stop.  Our anger had turned to bitter hatred and we were DONE!  Ryan told me that he wanted me to leave and go home, and that he was going to have the divorce papers drawn up.  I knew that without a miracle we would never recover from this argument.  Having grown up with divorced parents, this was the very last thing that I wanted for our boys.  Divorce might make things better for the adults, but it is never better for the kids... NEVER!  It still effects life today... and my parents have been divorced for 20 years!

BUT GOD... to be continued...

It's been a month... and much has happened...

Wow, I can hardly believe that a month has gone by since I last posted to the blog.  I have started posts, and left them undone, unable to really gather my thoughts and put them into sentences that would make any sense.  So let me try to summarize where we are with life, adoption and deployment.

Ryan has been gone almost 2 months.  I cannot believe that we are almost a quarter of the way through this deployment.  A wonderful friend of mine helped me to put into words why this deployment has been the hardest yet.  As I shared in the last post, our marriage has really been transformed.  The tragedy of a wonderful marriage is the intense pain that comes when you are separated.  Amen!!!  This deployment is unlike the last deployments when I was stricken by fear - fear of death, not only the possibility of Ryan not coming home but also the death of our marriage.  I don't fear those things, but I miss Ryan deeply.  Reality is that you never get used to it, it never gets easier, and it never hurts less!  BUT God!!!  He gives me the grace to walk through this, and he lightens my load, and comforts my broken heart.  He is near!

This month, I have muddled through homeschooling.  Haha!!!  All of the greatest of intentions have not led to the destination that I envisioned, but my children are learning, and we are putting one foot in front of the other.  Some of the greatest growth in my sons has not been academically.  They are truly becoming young men.  There are moments when I see the little shoots of life sprouting forth from the seeds planted long ago... how badly I want to just move the "dirt" out of the way, but I know that doing this would only weaken them.  Strength, character and fortitude are being solidified in these moments!  I am so proud of them!  The boys are so much help and I am so blessed to have them home with me, even if school doesn't always look the way I had envisioned.

As for Ava and Zoey, my sweet girls, they seem to be doing well.  They are in a new orphanage in Kinshasa.  The orphanage is much cleaner and the caretakers are very nice!  (Fellow families from CCI shared these facts with me.  They just "GOT" their kiddos from the same orphanage that our girls are currently living.)  On September 25th, we received our adoption judgement that means we had passed court!  It was amazing to see their names Ava Joy Owen and Zoey Grace Owen written on the official document.  YESTERDAY, we passed the required 30 day period of non-appeal.  Today we received our Certificate of Non-Appeal.  It is official, we are a family of SEVEN!!!  There are still many steps in the process, but we are praying that they will be home soon!

This past week, my sister-in-law, came to help me clean and organize my house!  I cannot even express in words the huge blessing that it was to have her help, but also her company.  We worked hard, and my house has become an uncluttered sanctuary.  The most exciting part of it all is that the girls' room is completely put together!!!  Due to some super generous donations, there are more clothes in their closet than I could ever have imagined.  Breanna organized them all by size and season, and neatly arranged them accordingly.  I could have never done all of that on my own.  Thank you Breezy!!!

God continues to show and extend His grace daily, though sometimes I return it with a smug-upturned nose.  Life doesn't always look how I think it should, and it is in those moments that God has gracefully reminded me that I am not in control, and that in fact, I am HIS, to be a vessel to glorify Him in whatever it is that He choses.  The unbelievable beauty is that He still choses to use me.  He promises me that He has a plan for me each and every day... I am moved to humble tears when I think of all of the ways that He has demonstrated His love for me.  Reality is that I am nothing... I have nothing good to offer anyone... BUT GOD!!!  In my brokenness may I always remember this... Apart from Him I can do NOTHING, but through Him I can do all things!  Even the really hard things.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

When God writes the script...

I can remember October 2009, we were at Catalyst in Atlanta.  Mac Powell from Third Day shared about adoption and their journey to adopt their little baby boy.  Then all of these beautiful children from Kenya joined him on the stage and together they sang 'Mighty to Save'.  It was the most beautiful thing I had ever experienced!!!  I can remember the feelings that I had in my heart, a longing that was deep in the core of my being to have more children.  We stopped by all of the adoption agency tables and picked up information.  Ryan was humoring me, more than encouraging me... Nonetheless, I poured over all of the information, and then threw it away.

It was not the time for us to adopt.  Our marriage was holding on by a thin thread, though God was definitely calling our names, drawing us nearer to Him, we had continued to resist the transforming work that He so longed to do in our hearts, in our marriage, in our family and in our lives.  A few weeks later, Ryan sat up in bed and emphatically stated, "If this is all that life is, I'd rather be dead."  We were on the brink of coming to the end of ourselves.  I completely agreed with his statement.  I wanted to experience the freedom of a wrecklessly abandoned life!  I so badly wanted to understand peace and to live it in my life regardless of the circumstances.  I wanted to be made new, but I was SO afraid, and I didn't know how to let go of all of the baggage that I had carried for so long.  We did not know how to forgive, or how to trust.  But God was not going to relent in His pursuit...

One morning in November, Ryan went to play basketball with the guys, and came home saying that he had hurt his knee, but thought that it was just sprained.  Later he would find out that he had torn out his ACL.  Running was the way that he burnt off energy and relieved stress.  Now, God had removed that outlet... He couldn't run and had to learn to be still.  He found himself awake with the Lord every morning...  God would not let him sleep!  At the same time, he was struggling with issues in his inner ear that made flying (his lifetime career goal) impossible!!!  After a few very long months, surgery and recovery, we found ourselves in Pensacola, Florida.  Ryan was going through a program to see if they could 'kick-start' the organ in his ear that had been identified as the source of his issues.  There were so many questions lingering about the future of his career if this did not work, but it seemed obvious that it would not.  We found ourselves crushed by the stress and uncertainty of the future.  No longer were we on the same team, we were fighting for air, trying to stay afloat, trying to breath... We were sinking and sinking fast.  We were ready to call it quits!!!  We were ready to cash in the remaining chips hoping to make something out of what seemed to be NOTHING.  THEN...

We saw this flyer.  On the front cover was that same choir that had sung with Mac Powell at Catalyst.  It was the Daraja Children's Choir from Africa.  We thought how wonderful it would be to go and see them, so we got up early one Sunday morning and drove an hour to this little church to see them sing.  We found ourselves worshipping TOGETHER with this choir.  We were the only two crazy people standing, lifting our hands, with tears running down our cheeks, worshipping with these beautiful children.  There was a video about where the kids had come from.  At one point, the child taking us on a "tour" of his home went to open the can where they kept the maize and it was empty... and he kindof chuckled... well we have no food.  Then kept on going.  This little man was on stage singing his heart out to the Lord about how good he was.  Both Ryan and I were so moved.  We stayed for a little bit to mingle with the children and this beautiful little lady named Emma came up to Ryan and said, "I saw you worshipping with me, and it made my heart so happy!"  It was as if a hammer of grace had fallen and broke through his hardened heart!  We left that afternoon, went back to our hotel and went down to the pool.  We were reading and then almost simultaneously, Ryan and I looked at each other and knew that we HAD to go back.  Earlier that morning, we had learned that there were plans to build an academy in Nairobi for the children who were in the choir (many of them orphaned or at-risk children). We knew that we were supposed to go back and to give to the project.  Ryan and I both knew the number that we were supposed to give and we were on mission TOGETHER!  It was a crazy amount because it was money we had set aside to be debt free... Debt free or give... we chose to give!  We met this amazing woman named Christi.  She was the Director of the choir.  She shared more and asked some questions about our life.  She poured love into our hearts, enough to keep us going a little bit longer.

We have learned that the times when you step out and start to walk toward the cross are the times that Satan attacks.  AND that is exactly what happened.  Ryan and I hit rock bottom.  I called a dear friend, Cindy, crying my eyes out.  I did not want our marriage to end.  I knew that somewhere in my heart and in all of the confusion that I loved Ryan.  I wanted to be loved by him.  I wanted for my children what I did not have as a child... parents who lived in harmony with one another.  I wanted freedom from the chains of my past brokenness and hurt... I wanted to STOP running!  Cindy, and her husband David left 45 minutes after that call to come and stay with us for a week!  They did their very first Marriage 911 weekend with us!  Though they are not our saviors, Jesus allowed them to be the lifeguards that pulled us out of the raging seas so that He could be our Great Physician!  We learned so much that week about ourselves and each other.  Our needs, our fears, our longings and desires.  What we learned is that we both REALLY wanted the same thing.  We continued to work with this precious couple for months afterward, and still confide in them often.  (I could write a whole post about this weekend... probably should... probably will... but I'll keep on with this story, cause it leads to the amazing events of today).

Remember, Christi, well in the following spring, she sent me a message inviting me to go on a trip to Kenya with her and some others to begin vision casting for the academy.  Through many twists of events... the trip dates changing... I found myself in Kenya in October of 2011.  TWO YEARS after Catalyst.  I was able to meet Emma again, and her sweet friend Hannah.  I was able to share with them that God had used them mightily in our lives, and that a family stayed together in part because of the words that she had spoken.  I hugged that little lady and she hugged me back!  I fell in love with Kenya, with Africa and there I learned so much about God's sovereignty!  He showed me in a very personal way that He speaks!  I left feeling as though I had gained more than I had given.  Ryan was certain that I was to go on this trip, and though I fought him tooth and nail about it, and almost backed out, he felt confidently that he was to make sure that I went.  

When I came home, he knew that something mighty had happened in my heart.  As we talked about all that had happened on that trip, we knew that God was calling us to a change that would be beyond ourselves.  Six months later... we started the adoption process of two little girls from Africa!  There have been so many times through this process that God has reminded me of something that he taught me while I was there.  I was not certain why I had to go... but there are things that he taught me while I was in Kenya, that I could never have learned here.  Without those lessons, Ava and Zoey may not have ever come to be my daughters.

Almost exactly three years after our experience at Catalyst, we see this amazing web of intersections that God has brought us through.  We see how things connect and have come together to become our story... the plan that He had all along for our lives.  Through those darkest moments He was there, working in and through the pain.  He has never ceased to pursue us, to draw us unto Himself.  He has used people to impact our lives in ways that we could have never imagined... and has written a script far more beautiful than any I could have ever imagined.

And yesterday, we became parents of Ava Joy and Zoey Grace Owen.

This is not near the end of the journey, not even the beginning, but another stop along this journey we call life.  This journey can only be defined by the Divine!