Tuesday, April 22, 2014

An Adopted Heartbeat: Part 1

         “It must not be God’s will.” 
“I got pregnant with my husband just looking at me.”  Newly infertile,    I’d just give a courteous smile and nod.  12 years later…I’d reply with “No, I have zero doubt God wants me to be a momma.” 
“Well, Jason and I have been doing much more than looking at each other.”  I wouldn’t ask for advice, but sure seemed to get it.  I became bitter.  Well, I’ll be honest.  I became MAD.
         I’d preach at myself.  Tara, you have an awesome husband.  You both have awesome jobs and make great money.  You travel to Mexico   whenever you want.  You have a summer house on the lake.  You are healthy.  You have a close-knit, healthy, fun, and supportive family.  God has blessed you in numerous ways.  Is it not enough?  I’d fake it, put on my bright smile, and play the game.  Truth was – no – it wasn’t enough.  My self-sermons were only buying time; getting me through weekend to weekend. 
(Stick with me.  I get positive.  I’m very honest and need to tell the whole truth.)
         Jason and I were high school friends, friends only.  We reconnected in 1999.  Timing was perfect in our reconnection.  (We’d have never made it in high school.  I was older.  I liked more of the bad boys.  I was ignorant, actually. )  He says he never thought he could get me.  I say I’m sure glad he tried 10 years later.  It was love.  I know that sounds like a cliché, but it really was.  I couldn’t get close enough to him.  I still can’t.  He skipped a lot of work to be with me.  We married 5 months later.  We will celebrate year 15 in August.
         After we celebrated our 1 year anniversary, we were ready to start a family.  I was already 26 and wanted 2-3 kids, so we started trying to get pregnant.  We weren’t tense.  We weren’t counting days or propping up on a pillow after sex. We were loving each other.  We made a baby.   I carried our first baby for 3 months.  We had the ultrasound picture on the frig.  We had the heartbeat as our answering machine recording.  Getting excited, we knew that we would hear boy/girl soon.  Then, I started bleeding.  It scared me some.  I didn’t get too alarmed, at first.  Doctor said to come on in.  Ultrasound showed no heartbeat.  Jason swears he will never forget my face.  Momma said she will never forget Jason’s.  I know we never got to hold and kiss on that baby, but we loved that baby.  I had a D & C that night.  (Jason still believes the D & C messed something up.) “I’m sorry sweetie.  There is no heartbeat.”  My heartbeat stopped, too. 
         We tried for several more years.  Now scheduling sex.  Counting.  Planning.  Propping.  We started Chlomid.  Ovulation Kits.  Baby Aspirin.  You name it, we tried it.  Doctor did several tests and exploratory surgeries that showed I was completely “normal”.   I was once labeled as “perfect”.  If someone mentioned another doctor “who could get a cactus pregnant”, I was there.  I drove an hour for weekly acupuncture treatments.  I went to an Amish doctor who told me I’ve had many miscarriages.  I begged God.  I’d breakdown when starting my period…every month for years.
         We moved on to a big, out-of-state fertility clinic.  Several intrauterine inseminations – no baby.  More meds and testing.  Normal!  Normal!  Normal!  I would roll my eyes when I’d hear normal.  I was ready to find a problem to solve.  We then moved on to the big daddy of fertility…Invitro Fertilization.  Jason gave me several shots a day.  I was crazy emotional.  This wasn’t covered by our insurance and cost us $15,000.  They implanted 3 embryos.  I was on 2 weeks of bed rest – bigger shots.  I got a positive pregnancy test.  I remember shouting.  Jason was home with me.  We cried and cried.  I miscarried weeks later.  Heartbroken…again.  Actually, heartbroken doesn’t describe it.  Just broken…
         A lightbulb came on.  I’m hit and miss praying.  I’m hit and miss going to church.  The only Bible reading I’ve really done was our Bible study at church.  I was trying to control it all.  I’m a “manager” in so many ways.  I’ve taught elementary for 16 years.  Being a manager, aka control freak, is part of the job.  I prayed only when I wanted something.  I was slacking.   
I was miserable.  
*****Tune in on Friday for the second half of this story*****



Friday, April 18, 2014


Our journey toward adoption began January 20, 2004 after nine years of infertility, empty arms, and aching hearts. I had finally reached the point of decision that it was not about birthing a child, but simply about becoming and mom and loving a child. After hearing a couple speak at church about their successful domestic adoption of two kids we began to feel the tug that adoption just might be the answer for us.
We entered into it with a preconceived notion that it was going to be a fast, easy, simple solution to growing our family. We applied to a local domestic adoption agency in our town on 4/8/04 and were placed in the waiting pool six weeks later. WOWEE!!! This was going to be so easy.  In no time flat would we be holding our son or daughter. This particular agency gives the birthmom all adoption profiles and allows her to select the family for her child. We submitted pictures and a letter to the birthmom encouraging her to pick us for her child. 
Little did I know this was only the first step in the longest journey of my life. Heartache soon set in as month after month our profile was shown but we were never the top pick for the birth moms. After 16 months of waiting to be selected I began to question why God would choose to keep us waiting. Adoption was supposed to be the EASY solution. Why had God chosen to keep me on this childless journey? What were we supposed to do? This was feasible financially. This was a child that would look like me. This was going to be THE solution.
International adoption started to find its way to my heart. While we left our profile active with the domestic agency, we began to research the international programs that were a fit for us. With a guarded heart we chose a well known agency that offered several country options: Ethiopia, Russia, China, Columbia... China seemed to be the right fit financially and the travel requirements were doable. Plus we were really drawn to wanting a girl, and this program offered just that! I began to allow myself to feel some excitement with the new possibility even though the referral times were stated at 18 months. 
We sent in our initial application -- you know the one that has questions your mom doesn't even ask you! Almost immediately after submitting it, I received a call denying our application. We were not eligible due to our weight ranges. REALLY??? That makes me an unfit parent??? Oh, I felt my heart falling into a million pieces. The agency coordinator sensed my sadness and offered information on a brand new program that had just opened up that she was sure we would qualify for: Vietnam. 
Okay, I had heard of Vietnam in my history books, but adoption? I asked for more information and she explained it too was an Asian country and felt we would have a referral within about 12 months.
My heartache soon turned to joy as I worked feverishly to compile all the necessary documents to get on board. FINALLY AN ANSWER TO OUR PRAYERS!! It just seemed to fit. We were approved in record time and placed on the waiting list for a girl on 8/7/06. VIETNAM REFERRALS WERE BOOMING! This was a sure thing.  It was really going to happen this time! As the wait continued I kept busy with furnishing the nursery and retail therapy.  I even quit my job to prepare for travel, shopping and motherhood. We were family number 127. There were 126 families ahead of us that were requesting a girl.
 After about 6 months, there were signs of a program slow down. Referrals were dropping. My heart continued to ache as other families I had met through my blog that were with other agencies were reporting referrals. Why  not me? Then we got refreshing news! Get our dossier together!! WOO HOO!! This means we are REALLY close to a referral. Our papers were logged into Hanoi in 6/11/07 along with $9,000.00. Surely this was for real!   Months and months went by, no news.  My heart cried out to God. I spent many nights sobbing in despair, crying myself to sleep, my heart broken, aching, wanting it to be my turn. I began to bargain with God, begging Him to please answer my prayer.
"Truly I have spoken, Truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it. I will surely do it. " Isaiah 46:11
Then He spoke to me:
I will bring it all to pass with FAITH from you that I can. I promise to grant you what you desire when I am ready. Believe in Me to take care of You. You are not ready. If I alone stretched out the Heavens and my own hand formed all the earth, don't you trust me to take care of you? Fix your eyes on Me and  you will find refuge.
Wow. Once again grounded in hope and trust.  
Exactly a year later after submitting our dossier we were still waiting, however we had achieved the #10 spot for a girl. Only nine more referrals and then we would have our referral!
Patience: the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune or pain WITHOUT complaint. An ability to suppress restlessness with delay.
Doesn't 777 days of waiting count for patience? Soon rumors began that Vietnam was going to close all adoptions on September 1, 2008 due to black marketing of babies and other agencies that were executing unethical adoptions.  We were assured that all dossiers in country would be grandfathered in.  August 1, 2008 the dreaded news arrived in my inbox.. only families with referrals by September 1, 2008 would be allowed to complete their adoptions. All other dossiers would be returned (minus the $9,000.00). 
At this point, I knew it would not happen for us. All of this waiting, hoping, and trusting to yield nothing but another heartache. How much more was I supposed to endure? I totally believe that God allows us to endure trials and heartaches so that we will call out to Him in our desperation. He knows what is in our hearts but requires us to put into words His name and our requests and cry out on our knees before Him. My heart was still holding on to the hope that I would see my daughter. 
Adoption is not for the weary or the faint at heart. It is for the strong and faithful. Nothing is certain.  And I am a planner by nature, so this was SO out of my comfort zone. This had become the most emotional experience of my entire life. I was clinging to God in desperation, hanging in the balance of uncertainty was taking a horrible toll on me emotionally and physically. Through my tears I thanked God for where He had brought me and asked for more perseverance to continue in this journey.
James 1:2-3" When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested,  your endurance has a chance to grow."
Our anniversary, August 21, 2008 we had gone out to eat and were discussing our options. My sister had told me about a small orphanage in Taiwan that worked with Christian childless couples. It was worth a shot. We had two options: Stay in the Vietnam program to retain our $9,000.00  and hope it opened back up in 2010 as projected, or inquire about this agency and start all over again. We decided to leave our papers active with the Vietnam agency while pursuing the Taiwan adoption. If we got a referral from Taiwan we would withdraw our placement with Vietnam and forfeit our money and move forward. I was literally laying my heart on the line for the last time. This was our last hope. 
Little did we know our daughter was being born on this exact day!
We applied and were approved within a month with an orphanage called The Home of God's Love. 
November 1, 2008 we were officially placed on the waiting list for referral. I hold the world's record in patience at this point, so let the waiting begin. Somehow, though, my heart was at total peace.   
Christmas morning 2008, 4:38 AM. the phone rings..... it is TAIWAN. This very loving sweet voice tells me that there is a 4 month old tiny little peanut that would love to be our daughter! I must have fallen out of the bed! THESE ARE WORDS I NEVER THOUGHT I WOULD HEAR! I HAVE A DAUGHTER! SHE IS MINE! MERRY CHRISTMAS TO US!  How totally incredible that my Christmas present was my daughter! 
Now I was on the fast track to getting the papers all together. This time it was different.  I knew there was a tiny 10 pound baby waiting for us. I would move all mountains to get to her. The court decrees came in amazing timing.  The courts granted us permission on 4/14/09 to adopt Kaylee, first decree was issued on 4/28/19, and final decree was issued on 5/1/09. We were on a plane to Taiwan on 5/6/09. I would celebrate my first Mother's Day in Taiwan!!!!
I was beginning to see God's ultimate blessing and plan unfold. Every step I endured, every day I had to wait was necessary to bring me closer to Him, to trust Him. He was preparing me for THIS little girl. She was born on our anniversary, placed in our hearts on Christmas Day and placed in my arms on Mother's Day weekend. After 1932 days of waiting, I was finally embracing the most incredible human being EVER! She was the result of ultimate faith. If everything always went the way we planned it, our eyes would never be open to see the result of being faithful to God and trusting Him. 

"Our tears and prayers poured out to God will never be lost. Rather He stores up His mercy and His blessings and allows them to fall upon us in His time"- unknown
If I had known how long and hard this journey was going to be, how many uncertainties were ahead, how many times my heart was going to break, would we have still embarked on this journey? I really don't know. But what I do know is that my God is sovereign. He is faithful to those who call upon Him. He made me wait longer than I wished in order to bestow a greater blessing than I could have imagined. He planned this journey to draw me closer to Him in trust and faith to finally hold the most incredible, amazing little girl ever. She is absolutely more that I could have ever dreamed of. SHE was the ultimate JOY in the journey.

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.