Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Our Adoption Story Goes National

As a reader of this blog, you're probably aware of our adoption story's origin. It all began last November with an adoption article in Focus on the Family's Citizen magazine. 

And now it comes full circle.

This November, Citizen will run the follow up article, "Our Adoption Story" by Tara Etter. 

We pray that it would touch even just one life to make a difference in the life of an orphan.


Friday, September 29, 2017

Trash & Treasures

Honestly?  We hate garage sales.  With the fiery passion of a thousand hot burning suns.  We get offended when people don't want to own our stuff (what do you mean you don't want a souvenir glass from our trip to the Rain Forest Cafe in Atlantic City?), and neither of us is very good at haggling.

Justin:  What do you mean you won't pay $10 for this slightly chipped and very stained serving dish?  

Tara:  Here let me pay YOU to take this all of this clutter away from me! 

We find ourselves falling into these two extremes with very little consideration for a middle ground.

So when our friend suggested that we hold a garage sale fundraiser as a way to raise money for our massive and ever-growing adoption fees, we balked at the idea.  But after we gave it some thought, we realized that holding a garage sale fundraiser would allow Jenny's life to touch entirely new demographics of people.

And ultimately, that's what this journey is all about.

First there were our friends who wanted to be a blessing to us, but perhaps couldn't necessarily make a monetary donation toward our Family Sponsorship Page.  By hosting a sale where they could donate their gently loved items, it allowed them to contribute in a very meaningful way to our fundraising efforts.

An overflowing garage = overflowing hearts.
We can't express our thanks enough to those who donated to the sale.  Our garage was overflowing with the outpouring of donations.  Each and every item that was dropped off held meaning to us.  It had been loved once and would hopefully be loved again.  These things, used and loved and ultimately discarded, would mean life and hope for someone new.  Perhaps for the person who bought it at our garage sale, but mostly for Jenny, who sits, herself discarded, in an eastern European group home for sick children.  

Then there were the complete strangers who came to the sale.  Those from our community whom we had never met before, many of them asking for details on the adoption, on Jenny, and giving their own words of encouragement.  One shopper told stories of how she had once been a foster parent, and another recalled early memories of having lived in an orphanage himself until he was 3.

My favorite was an older lady who was rummaging through the boys' clothes and said she was going to be sending them to a young man in [Jenny's country].  My jaw dropped and I pointed to the picture of Jenny and explained the fundraiser.  We exchanged a few words in Jenny's native language, excited to get a chance to practice with an expert!

Another life touched by Jenny.

They say one man's trash is another man's treasure.   This was true for the items donated to our garage sale, but how much more true is it of our hearts when it comes to what God treasures?  Isn't Jenny treasured by God?  While we cannot fathom the difficult decision her parents made when they signed away their parental rights, we do know that she is loved and she is precious to God and to us.

1 Peter 2:4 says that Jesus was "rejected by men, but chosen by God and precious to him."  He is our true treasure, chosen and precious, and all too often, we treat him as less than so.   The perfect Savior of the world, despised and rejected by us as if he were broken, worthless and ready for the rubbish bin.

What is your treasure?  "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."  (Luke 12:34)  Right now, as parents, of course our hearts are with Vivien and Jenny.  We treasure them, but (and this might come as a shock to you just as it did to us) even our children shouldn't hold the highest place in our hearts.  No, that place should belong to God and Jesus himself.  I'm not saying it always does for us.  On the contrary, it's something we need to constantly remind ourselves, every hour of every day.  But if there's one thing we're learning on this parenting and adoption journey, it's that HE should become greater, and everything else should become less.  For HE is our TREASURE.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Defying the Etter Family Motto

The Etter family motto is "Nothing's Ever Easy."  In fact, we use our motto so frequently, I just had to have this family crest custom made for Justin's last birthday:
The Etter family defined.

The screws you have are never the right size, the pan you need is always at the bottom of the stack in the cupboard, and the printer is always out of ink when you need to print something right away.

And the government agency fails to tell you which documents you need to bring to your appointment resulting in multiple trips and a wasted day.

And then sometimes things seem way too easy and you wonder if you overlooked some major component of the process that would have made it ten times more tedious than it actually was.  This was the case when we took our notarized documents to the state of New Jersey to be authenticated. We braced ourselves for the worst.  But you know what?  It was way too easy.  So what did we do wrong?

Our USCIS approval came in the mail on Thursday, August 31.  Thanks to modern technology and an efficient postal service (did I really just write that?) that morning, I woke up and read an email from USPS alerting me to the fact that it would be delivered later that day!  (Side note:  if you haven't signed up for the "Informed Delivery" option from the USPS, I highly recommend it!)

Our next step was to get the approval notarized and then take it, along with 11 other notarized documents, to the city of Trenton to be apostilled, or authenticated (meaning they verify that the notary is legit).  Because we admittedly lack patience, and because Jenny has been waiting for a family since she was born 4.5 years ago, we paid an extra $15 per document for expedited processing.  We drove into Trenton on Friday, Sept 8 to drop everything off, and drove back on Monday, Sept 11 to pick everything up.  

And it worked like clockwork.  Maybe we were expecting the worst from the state of New Jersey? After all, government employees have a stereotype for a reason. (I can say that because I happen to be a government employee.) We got onto the elevator to exit the building and looked at each other. "That was too easy!" we both said in unison.  

We now had a 2-inch thick packet of our most important documents:  birth certificates, marriage certificate, health records, employment verifications, adoption applications, powers of attorney and a 20-page deeply personal Home Study.  This was our "dossier".  This was the packet of credentials that someone from the Ministry in Jenny's country was going to use to determine our suitability to adopt.   This was everything.

And now it's on its way to Jenny's country.
Vivien loves seeing where her big sister lives!
We have no idea how long it will take the authorities in Jenny's country to review and approve our dossier, but we aren't resting on our laurels while we wait.  We have registered to take a 9-week course for adoptive parents called "Empowered to Connect" and we are busy gearing up for our next fundraising effort:  a multi-family yardsale coming up on Sept 22 & 23.  

Our friends and family continue to support us beyond our wildest dreams.  And God continues to show Himself to us in amazing ways.  Each day we are one step closer to officially adding Jenny to our family.  And each day we are growing in faith and love.  We can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Year of Adoption and 'Roe

2017 has been the year of two things in the Etter household:  Adoption and LuLaRoe.   You probably already know of my obsession with adoption since you're reading this blog.

Vivien is modeling a size 2 Mae, and I am in an Amelia dress (it has POCKETS!)

But did you know that LLR is systematically taking over every piece of clothing in my closet?  Quite literally.   Since discovering LLR last fall, I have not bought a single piece of clothing that wasn't LLR (except for a denim jacket from Target that my LLR fashion consultant, Kerri, said I simply MUST have)  The clothes are comfy and versatile (wear to work AND play?  Yes please!) and they flatter pretty much everything from a pogo-stick to a cantaloupe, which is great because I fall somewhere in-between.

Even Vivien loves LLR.  Especially since they collaborated with Mickey Mouse.  I think Justin is waiting for them to release the Star Wars leggings and then we'll all be one big happy LLR-wearing, adoption-loving family!

This past week, my two loves combined forces in a mighty way:  My sister-in-law, Rebekah, and my mother threw me a surprise pop-up LuLa Fundraiser Party AND my very dear friend and personal LLR fashionista, Kerri, is in the middle of running a week-long fundraiser sale.  Everything made through these fundraisers, with LLR matching, will be donated toward the cost of our adoption fees and expenses.

'Roe-ing with Mom and Rebekah!

LLR goodies sold during Kerri's fundraising Album Sale!
We are overwhelmed by the success of both of these fundraisers...I know we kept Becca and Kerri busy this week as you bought all the pretty things.  So here is my shout out to both Becca and Kerri - two of the greatest fashionistas I've ever met...Please support their small businesses and fall in love with LLR just like I did!

And now for an adoption update:

On August 4th, we had our biometrics appointment with the  office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.  That's a fancy way of saying we went to be photographed and fingerprinted. (for the 3rd time for those who are counting).  Our appointment, which they scheduled, was at 8 AM in Elizabeth.  The appointment letter said to bring a photo ID.  We left Viv with our dear friend Michelle and were on our way.  

We were pleasantly surprised with how quickly and efficiently the registration process was considering the volume of other individuals and families with 8 AM appointments.  Everything was going great.  Until they realized I had a maiden name.  When they asked to see my marriage certificate, I stared at the office manager, dumbfounded.  

"This appointment letter says nothing about bringing a marriage certificate."  

Redness began to burn in my eyes and I began my yoga breathing as a measure of keeping my cool as I realized I was not going to be fingerprinted without my paper-trail of legal names.

No USCIS employees were harmed in the events that occurred on Aug 4.
After a trip back home to get my marriage certificate, a misinformed superfluous trip to the Mt. Laurel USCIS office in the opposite direction, and another trip back to Elizabeth, we finally completed this step in the process.  

Meanwhile, the FBI agent who was working on adjudicating our 2nd sets of fingerprints must have finally returned from his 3 month sabbatical backpacking through Europe because our FBI background checks finally arrived!

"You asked for miracles, Theo.  I give you the F. B. I."
So for those keeping track, we're now waiting for approval from USCIS, and for the US Dept of State to apostille (or verify the authenticity of) our FBI background checks.

Waiting is so hard, guys.  Everyday we think of Jenny, sitting there in her Eastern Europe orphanage, wondering if there's a family out there, a mommy and a daddy who would love her.  She has no idea how we long to curl up on the couch with her in our arms and love on her.  We know that day is coming, and God is in control.  But we pray it comes sooner that we could ever hope!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

LuLaRoe For Jenny

The very first thing we bought for Jenny was a pair of LuLaRoe leggings that match a Mommy & Me pair that Vivien and I already owned.  I cried when I paid for them and I told the LLR consultant who they were for.

And this is why our next fundraiser is particularly dear to my heart.

Meet KeRRi DailoR - Wife, Mother, Sister, Friend, MOPs leader and LuLaRoe fashion consultant.

Kerri & Newborn Noel
In February 2014, my husband Matthew and I had exactly three days' warning that our one-week old baby boy was coming home!
After a quick Target run with my best friend (who had given birth to her son literally 30 days earlier!) to get diapers, wipes, and a NoseFrida nasal aspirator (just in case) we were ready!
On Friday, the 28th of February, we loaded up an empty car seat, formula that we had no idea what to do with, tiny diapers and a 0-3 month outfit and set off!
After more than an hour of signing a tower of paperwork at the adoption agency, the door opened!  In walked Noel's birth mom holding the tiniest 6lb bundle of baby in a blue and white crocheted blanket with two itty-bitty feet popping out the bottom!  
Noel's birth dad was close behind and the two of them handed us our son to hold for the first time. And just like that we were parents!
The next 3.5 years would fly by quicker than we knew, and we were blessed to have an open relationship with Noel's birth parents.  They are able to see him grow and thrive and play with trains and worship Lightening McQueen!  They haven't missed a birthday party or museum visit yet!  We are one big family. 
We are so very thankful for the gift of adoption and what it has done for all of us.  While having a very unique start and story, we actually feel very normal.  Our normal.
I was more than ecstatic when Tara told me about Jenny and asked if I would be willing to participate in a fundraiser event.  I assumed she asked because she knew our family has been so blessed by adoption too!  Nope!  She had no idea!  She just loves LuLaRoe and thought it would be fun (and it will be!!)  How awesome to see God working in this incredible story of bringing Jenny home.  Time and time again He has stepped in and just proven to their family how this is all 100% meant to be!  I'm excited to play a very small part in bringing another child home to their family! 
Shop LULAROE KeRRi DailoR for JENNY!

So what's LuLaRoe?  Besides being my latest obsession, it's awesome, adorable, quality clothing - they are famous for their buttery soft leggings, conservative styles, and unique prints.  A portion of the proceeds from Kerri's sales during the week of Aug 22 thru Aug 28 will be donated to our Family Sponsorship Page (FSP) with Reece's Rainbow.   THANK YOU, KERRI!
Leggings for the Etter Girls!

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Disney Effect

I wonder if Jenny likes Mickey Mouse?  On a scale of 1 to 10, the Etter family is a solid 8 as far as our Disney fandom goes.  So I hope she does.   Everyone likes Mickey Mouse, right?

WDW, Jan 2017
Vivien's passion for "Dickey Mouse" and the "Hot Dog Dance" skews our fandom scale slightly, but Justin and I have been fans ever since our delayed Honeymoon in 2012.  It was his first trip (my 4th) and it happened during what those in the Northeast will recall as Superstorm Sandy. Sandy actually delayed our return home by one day so we spent our extra time in Disney sitting through their DVC membership schpiel so we could get the $50 gift cards to spend shopping at Disney Springs (still called Downtown Disney at that time).  Needless to say, we walked out of the pitch as the proud owners of a piece of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge!  There's a sucker born every minute, right?

Since 2012, we've used our DVC points in many different places in the world..

Ireland, 2013

Hawaii, 2014
Vero Beach, FL, 2016

This past January, we used the points to take Vivien to Disney World for a week.   She was almost 2 and we brought Grams along for reinforcement.  While she enjoyed all of the rides and attractions, she was a bit intimidated that her favorite cartoon characters had jumped off of her TV screen and became 10 times bigger in real life.

Our trip came just after we began the process to adopt Jenny.  In a way, we felt a bit guilty taking a trip to the most magical place in the world without her.  See, even then she felt as much a part of this family as if she'd been born to us.  We thought of her often on that trip:  "I wonder if she'd like this ride", or "Next time, we'll be doing this with Jenny!"  

That's how many of our thoughts have been lately.  "Next time, we'll be doing this with Jenny!"  Just last week we went to the Farm Fair (a new Etter family tradition, by the way.  Apparently Vivien loves cows and pig races!)  This annual event in our county is a time-marker.  With lots of prayer, next year, Jenny will be coming with us.


The same was true a few evenings later as we went to the Thunder game.  We even picked up an extra foam finger for Jenny, with the hope that she'll be proudly waving it with us this time next year.

With every day, every outing, and every event that passes, we're reminding ourselves that our family is incomplete right now as we wait for our special addition.  Next time, Jenny will be here to share this moment.  We're working hard to get there.  And it'll be so worth it once we do! 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Father's Perspective

By Justin

It's clear God has a heart for widows and orphans, as was illustrated in our previous post on how the Bible calls upon us to take care of them.

Justin, portraying Jesus in Graceway Bible Church's "Christmas Live"!
During this adoption process, I keep reflecting on one specific event in the Bible.  In the book of John, there is a moment while Jesus is being crucified.  Almost immediately preceding his death, he performs yet another miracle.  At least, in light of our current circumstances, it seems like a miracle to me.

This moment occurs after Jesus, the perfect and sinless Messiah of the world, had already carried and incurred the entirety of sin, pain and anguish of His creation.  After He had already been humiliated, with soldiers throwing the equivalent of dice to see who would get His tunic, right there in front of Him.  After being mocked by the crowd while He suffered for each of them.

The moment is recorded in John 19:25-27:
Therefore, the soldiers did these things.  But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, "Dear Woman, behold your son!"  Then He said to the disciple, "Behold your mother!"  From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.
The miracle is that Jesus created a family!   Although the passage is primarily cited as an example of God's caring for widows (housing a widow was customary with Jewish law at the time), I keep coming back to the fact that Jesus didn't just say "Hey, you should take care of this woman!"  He used words reserved for an extremely personal relationship:  "mother" and "son."

In this moment, Jesus was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.  Bleeding, crushed, humiliated and about two or three breaths away from death.  And what did He do?  In the few minutes remaining before yielding His spirit, He created a family?!  He provided a mother to a son and a son to a mother.  After this, Jesus stated "It is finished," and died.*

Out of the chaos surrounding the cross of pain, suffering, fear, hate, and rejection, Jesus used love to create a family.  Two people's lives were unified in that moment.  It is a testimony to the importance of family to God.

I keep reflecting on this moment in the Bible.  It echos back to when our path toward adopting Jenny became a reality all those months ago.  As we were scrolling through the "other angels" pictures on Reece's Rainbow, Jenny's page struck us in a special way.

Although her story certainly spoke to our hearts, it was her picture that stood out.  It felt familiar, like we were looking at a picture of our child.  It felt as though Jesus said to us "Behold your daughter!"

Almost 2,000 years later and Jesus is still making families through adoption.  It's a blessing that He's using us for His purpose!

*The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave occurred three days later, as He overcame sin and death.