Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Our Story: The Loss of a Referral

On September 2, 2013 - a Friday night - my phone rang around 6 pm… our adoption agency was calling.  Our social worker was calling me after hours...on a Friday night.  It's either really good or really bad.  And it's too soon for this to be really good because we haven’t even submitted our dossier.  So it must be really bad, right? I finally stopped the inner dialogue and picked up the stupid phone.

I can truly barely hear our social worker, Beth, over the pounding in my heart - and the squeals coming from the smalls - when she tells me she has a file of a 2 year old little boy who seems just perfect for us...do I want her to send it to me? ABSO-FREAKIN-LUTELY!  She sends it to me while we’re talking and I immediately opened it and scrolled down to the first picture.
And there he is...this beautiful, precious, so adorable that he has to be mine little boy. 

I immediately called my husband, Jacob, as soon as I got off the phone with our social worker.  We were both floored.  I gave him a quick summary of Sweet Boy's file and tried to send a picture of him to his phone, which didn’t work out because his phone is, um, old school to say the least.

All night, I translated parts of his file in Google translate.  Y'all....this sweet, little boy.  So innocent.  So precious.  The brownest eyes.  The cutest smile. The darkest hair.  And so much to process about the things he had been through in his life and the events that led to him needing a new mommy and daddy.  My heart could not help but to start  protecting this child I had never held.

My husband is a police officer and he was on the night shift that night, so as soon as he got home the next morning, I showed him Sweet Boy’s picture.  The look in his eyes...I've only seen it 3 other times - the first time those eyes landed on our children: Anna Beth, Lynnsie, and Creek.  I knew in that moment that we were going to pursue this little boy.

After several unsuccessful attempts at being productive that day and Jacob trying to get any rest, we sat down to talk about Sweet Boy.  It was a quick talk because we both knew we wanted to adopt him.  Our social worker had told me to call her over the weekend if we wanted to submit a Letter of Intent and she would send it for us immediately.  After a quick call to her, we put together our LOI and it was on its way to Colombia.

My mommy heart immediately grew as I began to take on all of his life experiences and grieve for him and with him all that he had been through.  I vowed in my heart that he would NEVER experience those things again.

A few days later, our social worker calls me back.  I knew that she had to double check his file to make sure our LOI was the first one submitted, but we really weren't worried about that being a problem.  But I could tell in her voice as soon as I answered.  I could hear the sadness and the dread in what she was about to have to tell me.  And somehow in my heart, I just knew what was coming.
We could not adopt Sweet Boy.  Somewhere along the way there was a mix-up.  It was really, really great for Sweet Boy  because he was actually already being adopted by another family.  Pure joy and excitement for him.  Total heartbreak for us.

Over the next few weeks his sweet face popped up twice on two different waiting kids websites that I apparently have an account with.  Both times we contacted the listing agency, the website, our agency, and Colombia and both times we were told, “I’m sorry.  He shouldn’t be listed.”  It was salt on a gaping wound.

That first week was hard and I was mad. I needed to figure out who I was mad at.  God? Whoever caused the mix-up? The waiting kids website for getting my hopes up again?  Then it hit me - I was mad at the whole  situation.  I was mad because a precious 2 year old little boy should NOT have to look further than his front door for a family.  I was made because that precious little boy should never have been an orphan.  I was mad that there was even a need for adoption because it's NOT FAIR that every child cannot grow up and live with their birth family because in a perfect world, that's how it would be. 

Even though I hadn't held this little boy in my arms and I had only seen his picture, I could so strongly imagine what it would be like to hold him. He was about the size of my son, Creek, and as I would pick Creek up I would think, “This is what it would’ve been like.”  The heartbreak was real and painful and deep.  I cried a lot that week.  Friends gathered around us and carried us through with words, kind deeds, hugs,  Starbucks, and lots and lots of love.

So how did we cope with this?  We held tight to each other and trusted in God and His plan.  I kept on singing "It Is Well With My Soul" - and sometimes I believed it.  I had friends checking on me, letting me talk through it.  I remembered my friends Daniel and Emily and how their hearts had broken, and yet God carried them through and pieced together a beautifully amazing family.  I read in Isaiah over and over that God's thoughts are not my thoughts and that His ways are higher than mine.  I asked Him to use me and my heartbreak in order to comfort others who share this experience.  I asked Him to help me see what we could learn from this.  And He answered that prayer.  We grew and learned and trusted more.  For that, I am very thankful.

God took such good care of us....even people we hadn't shared this with, would call or text and say, "Hey...I was thinking about you.  Are you okay?"  He provided a dear friend, a foster mom, who took me into her arms within an hour of receiving our heartbreaking news and she just held me tight.  She knew and understood my pain and she acknowledged my grief.  One morning, He sent the perfect words to me through my SIL, Bekah..."Only He can make it right.  But it won't be right until Christ comes again.  Until then...we just have to hold on for dear life." And so that's what we will do...we will hold on for dear life and we will rest in the fact that God is taking care of every member of our family.

"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth." 3 John 4

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Fear of the Finances.

In 2001 as I was getting ready for work, I was listening to a Focus on the Family broadcast about adoption.  Steven Curtis Chapman was describing their first (and only at the time) adoption from China.  Have you ever tried to put on makeup and cry at the same time?  It doesn't really work, but as I listened to Steven Curtis Chapman share his heart for and experience with adoption, I was deeply moved.  I knew in that moment that we would adopt someday.  My husband was on board with it from the beginning, coming from a family with 5 siblings adopted out of the foster care system.

At that point we had been married for a year and weren't ready to start a family.  When we decided we were ready to grow our family, we tried and failed to get pregnant for years--8 of them to be exact. 
We knew we wanted to adopt someday, so while we were trying to get pregnant, we decided to also research adoption and try to find the best option for our family.  The research phase that we thought would take months, turned into years.  We were quickly discouraged by the financial cost of adoption. My husband is a worship minister and I had just graduated with my masters in counseling and had all the student loan debt to go along with it.  Needless to say, like most families, we didn't have an extra $30,000 laying around to finance our adoption.  I kept requesting information packets from an agency, seeing the cost and sending for the next packet from the next agency.  This process repeated over and over again.  But my faith was about to be stretched in a big way!

A friend of a friend introduced us to an orphanage where the missionaries love to work with ministry families.  It was the extra push we needed to start the process.  We began the amazing journey of adoption without knowing where the funds were going to come from.  BUT we knew God was leading us each step of the way and we just had to follow Him.  We began the process and completed our home study. 

During the home study process a precious family at our church handed us a check for $1,000 to help with our adoption expenses.  Shortly after this, two sweet friends at church approached me to ask how they could help us raise the funds for adoption.  We began planning a fundraising event.  The event included a silent auction and a cookie exchange to be held on December 6th.  My friends went to area businesses and called people in the church and community to make donations of items to be auctioned.  People were really creative and donated things like a day out on their boat, or a laser cut sign for a favorite sports team. God greatly blessed this event. On December 7th, someone anonymously gave an additional gift through our church.  I want to make sure you notice the dates here.  On December 6th and 7th we raised the exact amount that we would need for the remainder of our adoption expenses.  Our son, Nathanael was born on December 8th and we were matched with him 16 days later!

If we had not obeyed God and taken the leap of faith to adopt, we would never have been able to see how God would faithfully provide and we would not have known the amazing joy of becoming parents.

If you feel God nudging you to adopt but the cost scares you, you can trust Him, He will provide!  No number we can read on paper is greater than his ability to provide over and above what you need.  We even had people handing us cash for spending money the day we were to fly out.  We certainly didn't need that, yet God provided it.  Those gifts enabled us to buy a gift for our son from his birth country for each gotcha day until he turns 18.  What a blessing above and beyond what we could ask or think!

"But happy are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the Lord their God.  He is the one who made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them.  He is the one who keeps every promise forever,"

Psalm 146:5-6

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Foster Care? Sibling Set? Not ME! And Then God Laughed...

My husband and I felt called to adoption three years before we first met our children. In 2009, we received an unexpected infertility diagnosis giving us less than a 2% chance of conceiving. In that moment, our picture of how our family would be built was dramatically altered. Initially, this was devastating. We wanted to be parents, even felt called by God to be parents, but it seemed as if our deep desire would not be met.

In response to this shocking news we prayed, grieved, sought counsel, scoured Scripture, considered medical options, met with an adoption agency, and read books on adoption, infertility, etc. Then over the course of a few days God used a new family in our small group from church to encourage us toward adoption. We stepped out in faith, trusting and absolutely believing that adoption is what God had for us.

Over the course of those three years of waiting, God confirmed over and over our call to adoption. We met incredible families, saw the Gospel in action, and rejoiced in the birth and adoption of many children in our community of friends and family.

Initially, we worked with an adoption agency, stating we were only open to very young children. After that agency shifted to working with families interested in older children, we worked with our attorney pursuing a private birth parent adoption. Then after a number of failed connections, we took a year off - to pray, to consider what was nextit was during that time I clearly stated, Ill never do foster care. Theres too much risk, too much uncertainty.

After a year of waiting and more near misses,my husband came home from work feeling led to talk about becoming foster parents with the intent of adopting a child. Predicting my reaction would not be favorable, he was hesitant to bring it up, but felt compelled to ask. Shockingly, the Holy Spirit had been at work on my heart. My response shocked us both as I said, Okay. Lets learn more.

After lots of questions, more paperwork, interviews, fingerprints, and background checks, we became licensed foster parents in February of 2012. On March 6, 2012, we were introduced to two precious kids in a Starbucks an hour north of our home.

Zoe, who was nearly three at the time, came bounding through the door, then timidly approached us as the social worker introduced us to their current caregivers. By the end of the conversation, she had climbed up on my lap, but remained skeptical of my husband. Our son, Logan, who was an infant, initially slept in his car seat, unaware of what was taking place, but gradually woke up and willingly sat in my husbands lap. Our first picture together as a family captured this momenta moment we never could have envisioned. I was elated. I was going to be momto these kids!

We left the introduction meeting and told the social worker we would like these two siblings to be placed with us. She agreed it was a good fit and let us know that the children would come to our home a few days later for a sleepover visit and then move into our home officially a few days after that. We left the Starbucks excited but nervous. We couldnt wait for Tuesday!
Thankfully we had three days before the kids were set to arrive to assemble their rooms, purchase bedding, rearrange our small home to allow for two children, and share our exciting news with family and friends. We were overwhelmed by the amazing generosity of friends and our church community who dropped off diapers, clothes, toys, furniture, strollers, gift cards, meals, and everything we needed to welcome Zoe and Logan into our home.
We felt ready to welcome them into our family. The sleepover visit day arrived. We drove up to the same Starbucks to pick the kids up. We were nervous, but excited. We loaded the kids into the car without much fanfare and waved goodbye. Then the four of us were alone. We had no idea what to do, so I nervously started singing songs like Jesus Loves Me,” “Twinkle Twinkle,and anything else that came to mind.
We arrived home and instantly realized the challenge of a newborn and a toddler for two people who had never been parents before! It was hard. Really hard. There were lots of tears, awkward moments as my husband and I tried to figure out how to change diapers, run a nebulizer, and administer medication to very little people. Both of the kids were sick, so neither slept well. We were up most of the night, and were then of course exhausted the next morning.
That morning, we packed the kids back into the car, took them back to the Starbucks to meet up with their previous caregivers and allow them to have one more night with the kids. We would officially take placement the next day.
We drove home in a much quieter car than the one that had arrived. We walked into a quiet house and missed those two kids. It was very confirming. We missed them! With all of the challenges, exhaustion, and difficulty, we missed them. We already felt a deep love for them.
We slept. We ate when we wanted to eat. We ran errands alone as we anticipated their official move in day on Thursday.
But when Thursday morning came, I woke up with a pit in my stomach. I was afraid. I was afraid to go get the kids and I was afraid not to. I was frozen. I was riddled with nausea and uncertainty and kept thinking about how easy life was without kids, even though it was the very thing I had spent years of my life desiring, praying for, and pursuing. It was now before me and I was paralyzed with fear. I did not want to go pick the kids up.
I tried to talk my husband out of going. I tried desperately to think of a reason that would mean we shouldnt or couldnt go pick them up. My husband was confident in moving forward and didnt understand the depth of my fear as he hurried me out of the house to head north to Starbucks.
On our way out of town, we stopped by a friends house to pick up an item for the kids. When we stopped by, she could tell something was wrong. I was not myself. I was pale, clammy, and in retrospect was having some type of panic attack. She encouraged me and committed to praying for me. I was a mess.
The entire drive north, I talked to my husband about not going. I was AFRAID. He rightly asked questions, never forcing me to do anything, but challenging me to step out in faith. He prayed for me as we drove and then encouraged me to read every verse in my Bible that I could find on fear out loud. And so I started reading. I read the Truth of Gods Word. Instantly I was reminded of Gods love, protection, and care for me. Not that this was easy, but that he was WITH me in it.
We pulled up to the Starbucks, got out, and the moment, the exact moment, I saw the face of my daughter, every single fear washed away. When her face lit up when she saw us, held my hand, and with a smile got into our car, I was so incredibly thankful for my husbands faithful obedience to Gods call.
And I have been thankful for Gods call, faithfulness, and my husbands leadership every day since.
I have spent many moments of the last two years afraid. I was fearful for Zoe and Logan to go to their birthparent visitations. I was afraid of them being reunified with their birthparents. I was nervous with each court hearing. But in it all, my good and faithful God has been with me, comforting me, reminding me of who he is and the good work hes been doing in my heart.
A dear friend reminded me of Isaiah 41:10 early on in our adoption journey: fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.(ESV)
While my fear was initially paralyzing, God used it to teach me about who He is. He taught me that He is with me. He has allowed me to teach my daughter that as she was fearful to attend visits with her birth parents. God never leaves us. He is always there.
Over the course of the two years Zoe and Logan lived with us while still in foster care, we had many opportunities to discuss Gods faithfulness, provision, and grace, even though we did not know how their case would end up and if we would be able to adopt them. Through much uncertainty and turmoil, we were thrilled when Zoe and Logan became legally free in October of 2013 and then we were able to finalize their adoption in January of 2014. What a day of rejoicing that was!
We dressed up in fancy clothes, joined with our friends and family, and went to the courthouse for a judge to formalize what we already knew to be trueZoe and Logan were our children. That had been true in our hearts and now it was true in the eyes of the state.

Standing in the courtroom, stating the names of our children with our last name, promising to care for them all the days of my life, and having a judge forever change all of our lives through adoption was a precious gift to me.

I have learned so much about Gods love for me through this whole process. Despite my fear, he was steadfast and faithful. In my weakness, he is strong.
Mackenzie Ellis is a pastors wife to her high school sweetheart, mama to two amazing kids who were adopted through the foster care system, former elementary school teacher, and self taught gardener with an eclectic style. She and her family live in Seattle where she enjoys spending time with family, sipping vanilla lattes, eating Thai food, and talking about adoption with anyone who will listen.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Our Story: Ava and Kerrigan

I'm thankful for Our Story! Without it we wouldn't be where we are today, this is our story....We were blessed with 2 amazing biological sons Dayne in 1992 and Keagan a short 10 months later in 1993. We had struggled with infertility before Dayne so we were thrilled to be pregnant again so quickly. We love being parents and always thought we would have at least 4 children.

Daddy, Dayne and Baby Keagan

Momma, Dayne and Baby Keagan

In 1996 we got pregnant a 3rd time--again we were ecstatic, but only 12 weeks later we lost that baby---we were devastated! But we also knew we would try again and we would have more children.

It took until 1998 to get pregnant again...this time all seemed to be going great until a routine ultrasound revealed our baby had passed away. Our son Trevor Daniel was stillborn May 5, 1998. We were beyond devastated. Still we knew we wouldn't give up. We were sure God wanted us to have more children. During this period of years I had recurrent dreams of a baby girl we would have, always telling Tim that she is beautiful but that I didn't understand because she has black hair and black eyes (she looked nothing like us). We got pregnant 3 more times between 1999 and 2004. We prayed and prayed and we finally had Peace that we were not having more children. We went on enjoying the boys we have and loving life. We were thrilled God had finally showed us that our family was complete.

Spring Break 2005 we went to Disney World with the Peach family. They also have 2 boys and we all had a great time!
June 2005 Paula calls and says "hey guess where we are ALL going next year for Spring break".  She then tells us how ALL of us are going to China to  adopt baby girls! We thought she was NUTS! I mean good for them...but we have been done thinking about having more kids for over a year , we are happy, we think  we are complete. God had other plans;)

She invited us to come to an informational meeting that an adoptive family was giving at their church it was on Sunday night...ummm I work weekends....no one will work for me...Tim would NEVER  adopt....our family is COMPLETE....so many excuses I tried to use!!   The closer it got to the meeting the more we felt we might like to go.  I asked a couple people at work if they would be interested in working...nope, not surprising its IMPOSSIBLE  to get someone to work a Sunday for me....It's NOT gonna happen. So I give up...we already KNOW we are done having kids anyway....there is no use in going to the meeting!!!!  Well....GOD had other plans!   A day or two before the meeting I get a call...it's from a fellow coworker(someone I hadn't asked...or even considered because this person NEVER works extra! NEVER!) She says I hear you would like to go to a meeting Sunday and I'd like to work for you so you can go!!!!  WHAT???

So we are going  to the meeting---we are gonna go to hush Paula, but that's it! Our family is COMPLETE!

We get there and other people that are in the process of adopting are there, they are all normal ordinary people like we are. Not super rich or super stars they are just ordinary people that are going to adopt! Really? That's possible? I went to the restroom and saw Jackie there with her little 2 year old from China..they were at the sink and I suddenly felt this overwhelming feeling I hadn't felt before...I couldn't look at them, because if I did I would have cried right there in the bathroom.

We are sitting in the meeting and hearing all the testimonies of these "ordinary" people, then Jackie stands up....she brought some visual aids----her children from Guatemala and China! She tells her story and shows us her beautiful children. I cried through this whole meeting. I had never felt anything like this before. God had put all these things together so that we could be here with these people! So we could learn about this wonderful thing called adoption---He had even taken care of finding someone to work for me!!

We left and I asked Tim what he thought. I'm nervous at this point I'm thinking I would like to do this but we both have to want it! He says we should talk with the boys, we should decide as a family. We sat the boys down when we got home and asked what they would think if we decided to adopt them a sister...they both said "we aren't sure why that is even a question. There are babies that need homes and we want a baby...we should do it!"

That was Sunday night....Monday morning we called a homestudy agency, filled out the application with FTIA for China and called all our family and friends and told them we were expecting a baby!;) We started the crazy paper-chase and decided on a name!
 Ava Christine would be our daughter!

On November 17, 2005 we were officially LID (log in date) for China! we thought it would be a 6 month wait....but Gods plan is perfect and our daughter was born January 14, 2007 in China. We got THE CALL August 2, 2007. Ava's Gotcha day was October 14, 2007

    We are thrilled! Our family is COMPLETE! People ask us if we will adopt again, we say NO we are DONE.....well God is in control, He knows best! 

 August 2010...we hear about His Hands Taiwan! Some Friends of ours Donnie and Gina have just been home a short time with their little girl from there. The Dunns from Mt Carmel are working with them and we start reading about their ministry. We contact them and just inquire if we can adopt from there. We are told there is a waiting list. But we are put on the waiting for an application list. 

On November 17, 2010 we are given an application to fill out! This is 5 years to the day we were LID with Ava;)

On February 9, 2011 we were accepted officially into their program. Now the real wait begins!

We thought the wait would be short, we are impatient and sometimes forget that Gods plan is perfect.

On February 9, 2012---yes one year to the day of acceptance with His Hands we got an amazing email telling us that we have a beautiful daughter born January 12, 2012 in Taiwan! We click on her picture and we instantly know she is our daughter. She is what we have been waiting for! We are instantly in love!

On September 7, 2012 in a train station in Taiwan we are handed our beautiful daughter Kerrigan Jane! What a blessing!

As we look at these 2 beautiful Blessings, Praise God that when we said our family is complete...He said "no it isn't".

So again we think we are complete;). We are happy and thrilled with the family God has given us! We will see what the future holds and if God calls on us again then we will say yes!

The journey wasn't always easy! But when we look back we see God always had the perfect plan for us!! 
We are blessed beyond what we could have ever asked for!!!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

TAXES?! Superb Info on the Adoption Tax Credit

“Any one may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes.”  Gregory v. Helvering, 69 F.2d 809, 810 (2d Cir. 1934).
Ahhhhh, winter is finally starting to release its icy grip, baseball players are reporting for duty, and it is that time of year when you take deep breath and . . . do your taxes.
The good news is that as an adoptive parent, this should be a good tax year for you
DISCLAIMER: There are attorneys who work in the courtroom and attorneys who do not but are good at helping you stay out of the courtroom and/or saving you money.  I do more of the former than the latter, and I am neither a tax attorney nor a CPA.  So please, please, realize that specific tax questions about how the adoption tax credit may impact your tax situation should be addressed to a qualified tax advisor.  Like all my blog posts, this is for educational purposes, not legal advice.
What is the Adoption Tax Credit?  The Adoption Tax Credit is a section of the Internal Revenue Code that allows most American adoptive parents to take a tax credit on their federal income tax return for“qualified adoption expenses” paid to adopt an “eligible child” and an exclusion for employer-provided adoption assistance. 
Why does the Adoption Tax Credit exist?  The adoption tax credit has been around since 1997.  Its purpose is to encourage adoption and to help offset costs to low- and middle-income families.  According to Department of Health and Human Services, a third of all adopted children live with families whose annual household income is at or below 200% of the poverty level.  Despite the misconception that usually wealthy families adopt, nearly 46% of families adopting from foster case are at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.  Lawmakers claim the promotion of adoption as “one of the most important things” to strengthen American families.  Here is a link to more detailed information about the Adoption Tax Credit: http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc607.html
I thought the Adoption Tax Credit died in 2012?  The adoption expense tax credit was set to expire at the end of 2012.  It was a close call, but rumors of its death were greatly exaggerated.
Thanks to the advocacy of, among others, the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys (AAAA), the credit is now “permanent,” meaning it will extend automatically from year to year without Congress needing to renew it every few years. Congress now would have to pass a new provision in the law for the Adoption Tax Credit to cease to be available to adoptive families.  This was part of the fiscal cliff legislation, passed by Congress and signed into law on January 2, 2013.  (American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 [Pub. L. No. 112-240])          
All of the ground rules remain the same as they were for the 2012 tax year except that the amount of the maximum credit increased, as did the numbers that define the lower and upper limits of income eligibility. All three of these numbers are adjusted each year in accordance with the cost of living.  The maximum credit for 2013 was $12,970 (up from the 2012 number of $12,650).
How much is the adoption tax credit now?  For taxable years beginning in 2014, the credit allowed for an adoption of a child with special needs is $13,190; the maximum credit allowed for other adoptions is the amount of qualified adoption expenses up to $13,190.
Therefore, if you are adopting through foster care, you should not have to pay in any taxes unless your tax liability exceeds $13,190, even though you may have paid nothing for the adoption because of your subsidy. 
If you adopted privately and have qualified adoption expenses, then you should not have to pay in if your adoption expenses exceed your tax liability for that year.
Keep in mind, however, this is per adoption attempt for an eligible child.  This can get a little more confusing if your adoption spans calendar years.  (See the “carrying forward” question below). 
What is a “Qualified Adoption Expense”?  Qualified adoption expenses for both the credit and the exclusion include reasonable and necessary adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, traveling expenses (including amounts spent for meals and lodging while away from home) and other expenses that are directly related to and for the principal purpose of the legal adoption of an “eligible child.”
What is an “Eligible Child”?   An eligible child must be under 18 years old, or be physically or mentally incapable of caring for himself or herself.
Can I claim the Adoption Tax Credit for any adoption?  No.  It is not available for stepparent adoptions nor most adult adoptions.
May I carry the credit forward in order to use it all up?  Yes, but the dollar limit for a particular year must be reduced by the amount of qualified adoption expenses used in the previous years for the same adoption effort.  This is best explained by an example:
Jonathan and Martha Kent spent $3,000.00 in 2013 for a homestudy, criminal background checks and attorney fees to adopt their son, Clark, and claim the $3,000 as a credit on their 2013 return.  The Kents spend another $13,000 on Clark’s adoption in 2014, when it becomes final.  The maximum credit the Clarks can claim on their 2014 return will be $10,190 ($13,190 dollar limit, less $3,000 of qualified adoption expenses claimed in 2013).
So if my Adoption was not a stepparent or adult adoption, I can claim the credit?  Probably, unless your modified adjusted gross income exceeds $234,580, in which case the tax credit phases out completely.  The credit starts phasing out around $194,580. 
We spent money this year on a failed adoption.  Can I claim the credit?  Probably yes.  There are reasons, however, why you might not want to (see below).  Talk to your attorney or tax professional.
How do I claim the adoption tax credit?  The adoption credit is calculated on Form 8839 Qualified Adoption Expenses (PDF). That form, a publication explaining how to complete Form 8839, and additional information on the adoption tax credit can be found on the IRS website at www.irs.gov
Is the tax credit “refundable”?  Not anymore.  This was one of the concessions make to preserved the Adoption tax credit.  For tax years 1997 through 2009, the credit was non-refundable.  It was refundable (meaning taxpayers could receive payments over and above their tax liability) for two years, 2010 and 2011, but it is not a part of the current law.  For the 2012 tax year, the credit reverted to being non-refundable, with a maximum amount (dollar limitation) of $12,650 per child.
Am I asking for an audit?  Well . . . unfortunately that is a legitimate concern, though I believe less so starting in 2013 and moving forward.  Here is why I think that, but remember, I do not work for the IRS nor am I a tax attorney, so take this for what it is worth:
In 2010 and 2011, when the credits were refundable, this led to a drastic increase in refunds and more families eligible for much larger returns than in previous years.  This did not go unnoticed by the IRS.  In 2011 approximately 68% of returns that claimed the credit were audited and 90% were flagged for further review in 2012.  By contrast, usually only 1% of all returns are audited.  So, yeah, there seemed to be a pretty strong cause/effect relationship.  This also did not escape the radar of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, who asked for a review that resulted in some problematic findings for the IRS. 
Relatively speaking, very few of the increased audits resulted in additional tax liability.  The IRS came under heavy scrutiny for this practice, and paid over two million dollars in interest for holding up legitimate refunds due to the delay of the additional audits.  Therefore, going forward, I am cautiously optimistic that claiming the adoption tax credit will not be the “red flag” it has in the past.  The credit is once again non-refundable, and therefore the 2010 and 2011 refunds will hopefully be considered a two year anomaly.
What records do I need to keep, and what records do I need to file?  To answer the last question first, there is no longer a requirement to attach the adoption documentation to your tax returns (another reason why I think the IRS may not scrutinize these returns as much).  However, documentation must be kept as part of a taxpayer’s records.  If in doubt, if you are going to claim it, you need to have a paper record of it
Also, keep in mind that most state courts have very confidential and sealed adoption files, and it is not always easy to get copies of needed court documents that will be required at tax time after the fact.  A little advance preparation will make the tax season an easier one for you, your tax preparer and for the IRS and will likely speed up your refund.  Every Spring my office receives a frustrating flood of phone calls from February through April requesting copies of court documents, invoices, etc.  These are things your attorney should be sending you all along.  Keep careful track of them.
However . . .
Can I claim a flat credit (without the need to show actual expenses) for the adoption of a special needs child?  Yes.
Happy number crunching!

Joe Hensley is an attorney with offices in Joplin and Carthage, Missouri.  His practice includes civil trials and litigation, with an emphasis on adoptions.  He is the former Chief Legal Counsel for the Jasper County Juvenile Office and is a member of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys.

Friday, March 28, 2014

"Just What I Needed": Bekah's Story

I almost didn’t register to come to Joy in the Journey 2014. Like most or all of you, we budget and don’t always have a lot of wiggle room left for “extras” … but I have an amazing husband. One who practically told me I was going to this retreat! I am so thankful he was willing to sacrifice the cost and the time I was away to watch our twin three year olds. I really had no clue when I clicked the button to pay for my ticket that months later it would have such an impact on my life.

I have never been to any kind of a momma retreat, and I was shocked at the number of ladies who had responded to show up to this first-time event, ladies traveling from all over the country! I thought it was brilliant to allow vendors at the retreat who were raising support for their adoptions, and in some cases, raising funds for friends. The photo booth was serious fun! There was always too much food and just enough coffee. I was able to see dear friends who live near and far away, and meet new, amazing mommas from all walks of life. It was surreal to sit in the same room with and be surrounded by adoptive mommas, foster mommas, mommas who were waiting to bring their children home, those in the paperwork process, those waiting for referrals, those with heart-wrenching stories and those with miracle stories.

When it finally hit me – the magnitude of women in my own backyard who shared similar Journeys through adoption or foster care – I was almost breathless. I knew four years ago the level of support Brian and I would have with families in the area who had also adopted from Taiwan, but… I seriously had no idea how many families in our little sphere were on this amazing Journey with us. The crazy thing is, the number of mommas at the retreat with me only represented a small number from our own backyard.

That room was full of amazing women with hearts so huge, broken, open, searching and courageous. God was in that room. I could feel it. From the words that were spoken, the scriptures read and prayed over us, the questions asked, and the stories, laughter and tears that were shared. It was as if that weekend were orchestrated months before any of the planning had taken place, before those rooms were booked, tables decorated and amazing swag bags were filled full of beautiful goodies for our momma hearts and souls. It was. This event was prayed over, God-inspired and God-filled. For those of you who weren’t able to come … You were missed. You were prayed for. You were.

I wasn’t certain what I needed to hear that weekend. I couldn’t even remember the breakout sessions I had signed up for. It was hard to choose, because there were so many that sounded so good! I even changed my mind on the last breakout session *gasp* and attended another class. It ended up being a class I really needed to hear.

One thing that stood out to me in my first breakout session, in the Adoptive Mom panel and in a table discussion that led long into the night, was how important it is to constantly share your child’s story with them, creating a space for open communication. Many children just want to know why they were relinquished or abandoned. We should be careful not to make them feel bad about where they came from or their story. It is okay to practice what to say to them, age appropriately. Some things are too big for them to “carry.” Be prepared for the moment when they will ask, but don’t “keep” that moment from them. Prepare yourself for the grief, but let them have that grieving period… It was amazing to hear other momma’s stories who have already had that conversation with their child(ren). I feel further equipped to prepare myself when my sons ask one day about their story, and they will ask.

That weekend was all about finding Joy in our Journey, no matter what our Journey looks like. We are God’s treasure, and even when we have a pile of rubble lying at our feet, we can still find beauty in the brokenness. No matter the season, He is revealing that Joy to us.

When I think about all of the God-breathed words spoken to my hungry heart over those two days, I kept hearing words of a song played over in my head: Beautiful Things by Gungor. I won’t make you read all the lyrics, but no matter your story, no matter your Journey to Joy, this still rings true of our Heavenly Father:

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

My Expectant Heart after Joy in the Journey Retreat 2014

I have to thank Kate at the Adopt Shoppe for spreading the word and making me aware of the beautiful ministry the ladies at Joy in the Journey provide to families on their blog and through social media.  It has been resource for me on ideas for my family, but also connected me to other moms who have gone through similar life experiences in a new community. When I heard they were having a retreat to support women having considered adoption, who have adopted, or who were in the process of adopting/foster care I knew I needed to be there.  They blessed me with an opportunity to be a vendor and share about Trades of Hope {www.mytradesofhope.com/jessargetsinger} but I knew I needed to attend for my own heart and personal struggles as an adoptive mom.   

Our adoption story can be found at our blog {www.enmicorazon.wordpress.com} and since we came home with our daughter from Colombia in 2012 I had made some pretty significant life changes.  I was grateful to have the opportunity to stay home and connect with our daughter (whom we adopted when she was 27 months old), but coming out of teaching full-time, connecting and attaching to a toddler, and keeping life in check with her older brother was a bit much for me to handle at one time.  I know my demeanor and personality remained constant with my friends but I found my “fleshy” nature was incredibly evident in how I communicated with my children and the expectations I had for them at five and two years old.  I struggled to understand my daughter’s behaviors and questioning if she was acting out because of her personality, her background, or learned behaviors from me or others at the orphanage. Please do not hear that I did/do not love my daughter because she is truly endearing and a bright light in my world.  She brings immeasurable joy to new and familiar faces she meets but training and taming that vivacious spirit has been wearisome. I didn’t feel like I could ‘parent’ her because I didn’t know how to handle the outbursts or the drama.  I worried about how we were going to share her history with her when she grew older and validate her needs. There were so many questions and doubts that I knew were not (and ARE not) of God.  So many of those who shared in honesty at the Joy in the Journey Retreat helped me see that I am not alone with those feelings and doubts.  We are called to share our hearts and be open for the treasure that is to be found in Him and in the gift of our children and families. Adoption magnifies and intensifies God’s heart and when I feel there is too much resistance it is because I am actively seeking the hidden treasure of Jesus Christ in my daughter’s heart and life which fills her up with contagious joy.  I have learned to look at my expectations as her mom and recognize my need to be her steady—and when I feel I can’t then it is time for me to raise up my hands to the Lord and ask for His guidance and help.  It is so freeing to know He has given me the tools-and the community-to be the mother I am called to be.  I see my daughter for the gift she is and I am confident she has been given to our family for her sake as much as my own. I do not take the responsibility I have in being her momma lightly and maybe that is why I had such a hard time in the beginning of our time together as a family of four.  The burden I was carrying of her history and the fear of the future were stealing the present moments of love and light.  I have learned to relish in the good, become more lavish with my love and to let loose the chains of fear.  It is refreshing to see the Truth and release the lies as my heart is being prepared for more change…

Besides gaining connection with others in my struggles and successes I knew there was a Greater Plan ahead for my family. I was eager to attend a breakout session on foster care at the retreat because my husband and I have felt a stirring on our hearts to consider this opportunity in our area.  I knew I had been called to a time of action after hearing the joys and struggles from some of the foster moms at the retreat.  My husband and I attended our county’s child foster care informational meeting this past Monday and have started completing our initial paperwork to become licensed foster parents.  For me to say I do not feel some fear and trepidation going forward would be untrue, but I know the One who orders these steps and He will not leave us as we walk this journey to help other families.  We also see the need to support other foster and adoptive families which may lead us into a ministry opportunity at our church...

This brings me to my final take away from the retreat weekend. I had the privilege of bringing a dear friend with me who has had the call of adoption on her heart for quite some time. Her questions about adoption and taking the first step were confirmed with a resounding YES that she and her family are to go forward with their process!  On our way home from the retreat she commented on how she has literally “felt pregnant” since October.  I told her it is because her heart is pregnant and we laughed at such an image.  But then as I was thinking about it her heart really is expecting her next child and we felt confirmation to call any future ministry in support of foster and adoptive families The Expectant Heart. Similarly, the verse that was spoken to my friend about this weekend was found in John 15.  Our Lord Jesus is the Vine and we are the branches, if we remain in Him we will bear much fruit, and He has chosen and appointed us to go and bear the fruit that is to the Father’s glory. What a beautiful image of our family as the tree and our adoptive and foster children being grafted into our family branches.  There is a purpose coming forth in the fruit after the pain-possibly of infertility, loss, wounds, fear, or heartache-yet the promise of beauty and goodness being born out of it is the Treasure to be found.  So it is with God’s family when we become co-heirs with Jesus—we will bear fruit that will last—for eternity when we cut off the pain and despair of sin to join in God’s everlasting family and heritage.  Our hearts are expectant for this Change and Love to reign in our families and communities…may we bear much fruit going forward.