Thursday, August 1, 2013

Where we are!

I haven't posted an update in months....simply because there just really hasn't been anything to update on! 

We're in the part of the adoption process that most people would say is the hardest -- the wait. The looooooong wait. The part where you've done all you can do. All the paperwork is done, the dossier is in Ethiopia, we're on the wait list.....and we just wait for a referral. Right now I'm feeling really good about being at this point. Impatience hasn't set in yet (thankfully), and I'm just trusting in God's perfect timing. I'm not sure how long that will last....

We've been on the wait list since April, starting out at #112. Lifeline has told us that it has been taking families 12-15 months to get through the list, so we're hoping to be matched by this time next year. We shall see! We're slowly but surely inching our way May we were #108, June #106, July #97, and this month we're #81. We get an email updating us on where we are on the list and if we've moved or not on the first of every month. We love getting that email!

In the meantime, God is doing some big things in my heart....preparing me for what's next. My favorite thing right now: 

We can only take our kids as far as we’ve gone ourselves. Talk about the hard stuff and get comfortable with those feelings in yourself. 
Work through your own stuff! You can't expect to be able to help a wounded child heal without first being willing to go to the hard places in yourself. 
The most important thing you can do is to take care of your own issues first. You'll have a greater capacity to help take care of what's going on in your child's mind, because you're more aware of what's going on in yours. 

I love it. So much. I am so there right now. Those are just some little snippets of wisdom from Carissa Woodwyk (I just love her) and some things I learned at Summit this year. 

And look at all these smiling, supportive faces!!!! We have sold SO MANY SHIRTS!!! Thank you, Jesus. This isn't even the half it....these are just all the awesome people who have sent me their picture or indulged me and let me snap one of them in the hallways at church. :) 

Every month, I update our adoption timeline (on the right side of the screen) with the new wait list number for that month. So if you're curious where we are and I haven't told you, that's where you can find it!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Visiting Orphans China Trip

Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
I Corinthians 13:13

What. An. Amazing. Trip!! Southside is partnering with Visiting Orphans in China to connect with an orphanage there that we can love on and serve long term. We just took our first trip there, to an orphanage in the Shaanxi province, to meet them and begin a relationship and love on some precious kids! It was incredible. The travel was insane and full of delays, but it was so worth every minute and God was truly taking care of us. When we finally got to Beijing, we had missed most of our sightseeing day and in order to get to The Great Wall we had to hop off the plane and race straight there! We found this written on the wall  :)

The next day we flew into Xi'an in the Shaanxi province and drove to the orphanage city. We went straight to the orphanage to meet the staff. They gave us a huge welcome complete with lots of speeches and Chinese tea and thanked us over and over for coming. :) This is a glimpse of what the city looked like from our hotel window.

The orphanage staff was nervous about our visit at first. They had never had foreigners come to the orphanage and they weren't sure of our motives. But eventually they were saying "welcome back again and again and again." :) I think it was a good beginning to a relationship with them, and hopefully next time they will be more relaxed and less uptight. While they were very welcoming, at the same time they were very cautious and hesitant. They wouldn't let us take pictures of the kids, which was really disappointing! I'm hoping maybe for next time! They did let us take pictures with the staff and of the building so we can share what it looks like, and let me tell you--this place is unbelievable. It is so nice, and the children are well-cared for. I really wasn't expecting that. We had no idea what to expect, so I think I was more preparing myself for the worst. But this orphanage is one of the best. It is only 3 years old and in very good condition, and they have plans to build more. They seem to be doing a lot of things right! They are loving in their care of the kids and they have a "foster family" situation for some of the kids in a separate building where they have a paid mom and dad the kids go home to in the evenings. (Although their funding for this is about to get taken away.) Processing all of this was challenging because part of me felt like they didn't have any needs we could possibly meet! In praying through it though, I know that even if all of their physical needs are met, they still need to be shown the love of Jesus, and those precious kids still need extra people to love on them and hold them and give them individual attention. Three or four nannies can only do so much for a room full of 20 toddlers! Some pictures of the orphanage--

Our team outside the orphanage--

We had three days to spend with the kids in the orphanage. It was SO much fun to love on them and get down in the floor with them and hold them. Oh my heart. :) We didn't see many older kids while we were there, so we mostly spent time with the little ones....babies through toddlers. They were PRECIOUS!! Most of them had some sort of special need--from cleft lip/palate to down syndrome and others that I couldn't identify. In the tiny babies room we would help by clipping fingernails, putting on lotion, giving medicine, feeding bottles, comforting, singing to them, holding them, folding diapers.....I loved it. In the toddler rooms we would mostly just play with them and hold them and talk to them, help take them outside for fresh air, or blow bubbles for them. They loved the bubbles!  A lot of times they would be afraid of us at first because they didn't know us and we looked so different! So we would have to be slow and make friends before we could get very close. :) But once they knew us it was great. Certain ones wanted to be held and wouldn't let go! They would just run up to you with their arms held up high. There was one sweet girl who I picked up and she layed her head down on my chest and wouldn't move the whole time I was there. She just soaked it up. Melt me. I wish China wasn't so far away!! Our second afternoon there, Julie and I went with our guide Lulu and 2 of the ladies from the orphanage to take them shopping for some things they needed. We ended up being able to buy them 99 new pairs of shoes, 25 walkers, and 100 new cloth diapers. That shopping trip was very long and HOT and tiring, but it was really amazing to be able to bless them in that way and get them some things they needed. The nannies have been making most everything they have by hand (including adorable little knitted shoes!) so they said they were really grateful to be able to buy new things they didn't have to spend hours making themselves. Southside family--you were a huge part of that with your giving!! We wouldn't have been able to get them as much without that financial support. These are the ladies we went shopping with-- 

And the little shoes we got--

Here is our team with the two directors and some of the other staff and nannies--

Us with some of the other nannies. They were so much fun!--

Our terrific guide Lulu!!--

She was so great! She did an amazing job translating for us. She thanked us so many times for coming, and she loved getting to go to the orphanage just as much as we did. She also thanked us several times for letting her be a part of our team devotion times. She was so interested in what we believe and why we were there. She asked us so many questions....she was so hungry for it! I so hope she can be our guide on our next trip. :)

The gift bags we packed for the nannies--

The bookmarks doubled as great gift tags! Southside, once again this wouldn't have been nearly the blessing it was without all the donations you provided. We had a great time dividing everything up into bags and giving them to the nannies to thank them for all they do. :) The bookmarks were so special. The GA's made them for us, and they say "Children are a precious gift. Thank you for helping them!"

Julie and me :)--

Julie is the Visiting Orphans mission trip coordinator for China, and she led our trip and taught me everything she knows. :) She is fabulous. I'll stop there because I could go on for days about how much fun we had...

Personally for me, this trip was a game-changer. It was seriously a challenge for me to say I would do this! I was scared and nervous and I didn't want to leave my family and travel to the other side of the world. I'm not adventurous like that. :) It was just obedience. While we were flying (I hate flying!!) I was reading 7 by Jen Hatmaker and this sentence popped off the page at me- "Obedience isn't a lack of fear. It's just doing it scared." So true for me!! When you get to the point where you are literally at the end of yourself and you have to trust God with everything- to lead you , to guide you, to give you strength to get through the day when you have no idea where more strength could possibly come from, to help you face your fears. Where you are literally at the end of yourself, and God takes over. That is life-changing.  A new level of trust develops in my Savior and my relationship with Him is so much closer. Thank you Jesus. :) 

A good foundation has been laid and a healthy relationship  has been started with this orphanage, and now the best thing we can do is take more people back there to love on these kids in person. We need you! God's kingdom comes through His people! Through relationships, through loving them in person, through conversations with guides like Lulu who are hungry and have no one to share with them. 


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Favorite Moments From 2012

Some of our favorite moments in pictures from 2012!

Beginning our Amazima Sponsorship 

Created for Care!

Cousin Love


Beginning our adoption process!

Aralyn turns TWO

Abigail turns SEVEN

Helping out at the downtown rescue mission with friends from church

Going on a hike!

Collecting books and making bookmarks for foster families.
LOVE Africa shirts!

Trips to Memphis

Visits with Mama Mary

Fundraisers and all the people who helped us with them!

Popsicles at the Farmer's Market


Abigail's Baptism

Will's ordination


Our Thankful Tree

Fun with friends from church

Christmas with cousins!

Our first time eating Ethiopian food (More to come on this one!)

So there you have it! Some of our favorite times of 2012. There were many more we don't have pictures of (or can't post pictures of yet:)). 2012 was a great year, and we're looking forward to where God takes us in 2013! 
<Quick adoption update.....we have gotten our finalized copy of our home study (YAY!!!), sent it off the the US government to get approval to adopt, and received our biometrics appointment date (electronic fingerprinting in Birmingham). We do that on January 10th, and then we wait for that approval to come back.> 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Our Home Study

We're done with our home study!! Eeeee! 

We're just a *tiny* bit excited.

A lot of people have asked me what exactly a home study is for and what all we have to do for it, so here's the lowdown on the Neely home study.

Home Study- A series of interviews and supporting documentation put together in a report by a licensed social worker for the purpose of adoption. 

Things we needed......

Our autobiographies, pictures of our family, pictures of our home, birth certificates, marriage license, copy of driver’s license, copy of health insurance card, latest tax return, copies of pay check stubs, fingerprinting and  criminal history clearances, child abuse clearances, medical exams, employment verification letter, financial statement of net worth, international adoption financial worksheet,  guardian forms.....I could go on and list all the other many forms and papers we had to read and sign, but I'm sure you aren't really THAT interested. :) 

Paperwork date at the kitchen table

Completion of the required education.....

International Adoption Clinic seminar (8 hrs. of videos), Inter-country adoption journey Hague-Compliant training from the National Council for Adoption (10 hrs. of videos and readings), required reading- The Connected Child, pre-adoption education from the Department of State on Ethiopia, discussion questions, trans-racial exercise....I think that was all. It's all kind of blurring together...For our trans-racial exercise we were working on getting prepared to be a trans-racial (involving two or more races) family. For one part we had to go to a place where we would be put in the position of being a minority. It was good to experience being in that situation....we're typically surrounded by people who look like us, and that won't be the case for our adopted little one. We've been challenged to not automatically flock towards people who are the same as us but to try to make our surroundings more diverse. I like the way it was put in one of our International Adoption Clinic videos-

Try to surround your child with diversity. At the same time, help them to realize that physical characteristics are only one small aspect of what contributes to "matching" as a family group. Send the message that the power of a family surmounts differences of race or skin color, and show them that as a family you do not categorize other families or groups by race.
And this quote by Russell Moore in Adopted for Life-

Emphasize the good providence of God in putting your family together. "God chose to bring this child into our family through adoption. He chose to bring this child into the family through birth. Isn't it great how God brings families together? We are so happy he knew that you were to be our child!"
In our Adoption Clinic Seminar, the NCFA videos, and The Connected Child we learned a lot about development and the effects of early institutionalization.

  • The basic needs of a baby or toddler often go unmet: to be fed when hungry, to be changed when wet, to be warmed when cold, to be comforted when experiencing pain/fear/distress, to feel safe, to be held/rocked. Even if there are good caregivers in the orphanage, there usually aren't enough to be able to meet the needs of all the kids they have to take care of. 
  • Neglect and trauma during the early periods of rapid growth in the first year of a baby's life often cause problems related to areas of the brain controlling sleep, appetite, and behavioral regulation. So a lot of the education was preparation for the possibility of dealing with those kinds of issues and knowing why those issues have a high chance of showing up in the future. 
  • They haven't gotten their needs met, they have missed trust, consistent nurturing, normal attachments, safety, predictability, and what a family even looks like. 
  • Establishing a connection and building trust with a child from a hard place like that takes time, repeated loving and nurturing actions (over and over and over), physical and emotional closeness, eye contact, safety and structure.

As time consuming as the education part of our home study was, it was SO worth it. We have learned a lot, and I'm thankful Lifeline requires it. We still have a lot to learn, and I'm sure most of it we're just going to have to experience to really get! The next step for us is getting approval from USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) to bring an orphan into the country, and then submitting our Dossier. Maybe there will be another post explaining what a dossier is in the future. :) 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Our yard sale was a HUGE success!! Can I just say that God is an amazing provider?! We set the goal of $4,000 to be raised with both of our yard sales (the one in Memphis and the one in Huntsville), and as I was typing that I was thinking how unlikely it would be to raise that much with just those 2 sales. It was a stretch. But I knew that was how much we needed, and I knew that if God was involved it was possible. Well the grand total was $4,070. !!! God knows what we need and he is faithful to provide! Don't you just love how God leads us to things that we absolutely cannot do without him? We can't afford this on our own! But when God tells us to do something, we can't say "no, God... I really don't have the money for that..." God is so much bigger than money. He just wants obedience.We have to trust that he will provide each little step of the way. It's such a relief to know that the next step is covered. It's still a little nerve-wracking to think about how much more we're going to need, but I can't wait to see how he will provide and what he will teach us through it.

I'm so so thankful for everyone who donated (we had SO. MANY. amazing donations) and everyone who helped or contributed in some way! There were countless people involved in this, and we couldn't have done it without you!! We are all totally exhausted and don't particularly want to ever think about having another yard sale ever again, but it was definitely worth it. :)

Our little lemonade stand entrepreneur

Jan counting the money!

She was working hard!

We've been enjoying our summer and trying to get everything together to complete our home study.....doing LOTS of reading at this point, and we still have a lot more to get through. And still getting lots of shirt orders! More pictures here! And if you'd like to order one you can go here. So thankful to be on this journey!!