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.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Scentsy for Jenny!

Have you heard of "Scentsy"?  Let your nose lead the way!  The very generous Scentsy sales consultant, Dakota Lynch, has offered to donate all of the proceeds of this sale (open now through July 24th!) to our adoption of little "Jenny".

Please consider buying something from this fun sale...great products that smell fabulous!

Make sure to have your order shipped to you and not to the consultant or host.  If you have any questions, feel free to message us or Dakota!

Party ends on 7/24 - Happy shopping!!!  And thanks in advance!

Monday, July 3, 2017

This is not a Political Post

This isn't a political post, but let's start by saying that if you are going to pursue an international adoption, New Jersey is quite possibly the worst state you could have to deal with.*

Happy Independence Day!  (Next year with Jenny!)

Over the course of this adoption journey, we will have to deal with the governments in 2 different countries and 3 different states.  Compared to other families, this is a piece of cake.  As our dear friend Crystal likes to remind us, at least we aren't an American family, living in England, and adopting from Armenia.  Yes, I guess that's true, but Crystal never had to deal with the state government of New Jersey, so let's compare war stories once this is all finished!

For those unfamiliar with the intricate workings of state and national governments when it comes to adoption-related documents, let us give you a break down:

Pennsylvania:  We need to have the PA Dept of State authenticate, or apostille, Justin's birth certificate, the notarized copy of our home study, and our social worker's license.   They charge $15 per document and PA's processing time for apostilles is listed on their website as "5 days" (if you mail it in) or "while you wait" if you venture into Harrisburg in person.  (Note there is no additional fee for invoking the "while you wait" option).

North Carolina:  Since we were married in NC, their Dept of State needed to authenticate our marriage certificate.  We mailed them our marriage certificate and the meager $10 fee (regular mail, mind you) on June 1. On June 12, we had the apostille back in our hands.

United States:  Our FBI clearance letters, assuming we ever get them back, will need to be sent to the US Dept of State since they are nationally issued letters.  Fees:  a steal at $8.00 per document. Processing Time:  11 days (plus transit time).

The US Department of State issued Viv's passport and now she's ready to go get her big sister!

New Jersey:  We have precisely 13 documents that will need to be sent to the NJ Department of State to be authenticated.  At $5.00 per document, this is the best deal so far!  But that's where the deal ends.  Processing time is estimated to be 20 days (assuming the government doesn't shut down in the middle of the process) + transit time.  Whoa!  20 days!  And we're pretty sure they really mean "business days", but since NJ was the only site that didn't list a phone number or email address, there's really no way for us to call and find out.  Luckily they do have 3 expedited options available:  For an extra $20 per document, we can have them done in 8.5 business hours (we think that extra half hour is due to their lunch break? Or maybe they allow time for the copier to jam?)  But wait!  There are even faster options!  For a mere $500 extra per document, they can be done in 2 hours and for an extra $1,000 per document, they'll be done in 1 hour!  What a bargain!

Oh, it can't be that bad, can it?  We're currently testing their claims.  We sent in Tara's birth certificate on June 19.  They still haven't cashed the check, but then again, we're only on day 14 out of 20.  The clock, however, has stopped ticking on this until our political leaders learn to play nicely.  Please note: Being realists, we don't actually expect to see the birth certificate ever again and we're actually ordering another one as a replacement.

Oh, and the other little tidbit that dispels the warm, fuzzy feeling of leaving the fate of our adoption, and Jenny's life, in the hands of New Jersey's capable and not-at-all disgruntled employees**:  if you ask one of our newest friends who adopted from Russia 5 years ago, their first-hand testimony indicates that the state of New Jersey almost single-handedly cost them their entire adoption.  We don't have the details on how or why, but we can't say we're terribly shocked.

Viv has her bag packed and can't wait to show Jenny her present from the McCulloughs!

This is where our faith in God comes in.  He's the one who started the engines on this journey and we know that He will be faithful to complete this good work.  We know there are many of you who are praying over our documents and we can't thank you enough. We've seen how His timing is perfect and our faith is made stronger in the midst of this uncertainty.  We can't imagine doing this without his peace and guidance.

How did we get this peace?  How can YOU get this same peace?  Hear the words of the apostle Paul, as inspired by the Holy Spirit 2,000 years ago and explained by John Piper in the video below.

Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philipians 4:4-7, NIV)

*Our opinion based on immediate, personal circumstances.  Note that we have not researched wait times or fees associated with the 47 other states in the union not addressed in this blog post.  There could quite possibly be a worse state than NJ.  Maybe.  But since NJ did completely shut down right in the middle of our journey, we're going to stick with our assumption that it is, indeed, the absolute worst by default.  

**This statement is a gross generalization and is in no way intended to be a reflection of all New Jersey government employees.  We happen to know many wonderful state employees to whom we would gladly entrust our most precious documents.  Sadly for us, however, none of them work for the Division of Revenue and Enterprise Services.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

UPDATE: Home Study Complete & USCIS Application in the mail!

First of all, thank you to everyone who has been following this journey with us.  We appreciate your prayers and your encouragement.  Many of you have asked for an update on where we are in the journey, and honestly, there really hasn't been any progress on the path.  UNTIL NOW!

The Etter Home Study:  ✓✓✓Complete!✓✓✓
Our Home Study has been finalized and is in our hands!  Not only that, but less than 12 hours after receiving the notarized home study, we have slipped it, along with our I-800-A "Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country" to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), into the (hopefully) capable hands of the United States Postal Service.

Now, we wait for USCIS to tell us when and where we need to go to be fingerprinted for the third time, and with any luck,  we'll have their approval within a month!

In the meantime,  we continue to work on getting all of the documents, notaries, and seals for our dossier.  We each had to get some more bloodwork done, and our Birth Certificates are floating around somewhere in limbo between various state capitals and our house.  Oh, and our second sets of fingerprints have been laying on someone's desk at the FBI for about a month now.   (We're getting worried about this poor FBI agent because clearly he or she is on some sort of extended leave of absence sitting on a serene beach in Hawaii watching the sunset.  Or worse - perhaps he went AWOL and no one knows what happened to him or his case files and so no one has any idea we even submitted our fingerprints!  Or maybe he just spilled coffee all over the prints and is too embarrassed to tell us.  Whatever the case, we forgive you, Mr. FBI Agent!  Just hurry up!) 

At any rate, please continue to pray over these documents and the people who need to process them for us.   We know it's all in God's perfect timing,  and while our journey is far from over,  we rejoice in knowing he just lifted us and Jenny to a giant leap forward!

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Vivien's Big Sister

When Vivien was born, it was our prayer for her that she would grow to love God and have a graceful, adventurous, and compassionate spirit.

Even before she could sit up on her own, we instituted "Good night prayers" as part of her bedtime routine.  Until recently, this consisted of mommy thanking God, on Viv's behalf, for the fun we had each day and asking him to watch over us as we sleep.
Reading the Bible and Praying for Big Sister
Now that's she's a bit older, Viv knows that we thank God for our favorite things at the end of each day.  When prompted to list what she wants to thank God for, Viv's list consistently includes, but is not limited to, the following:  bubbles, baseball, shadows, marshmallows, Mommy, Daddy, and big sister.  And we love how she ends each prayer with a heartfelt "amet".

Some of you may already know, but "Jenny" is not her real name.  "Jenny" is an advocacy name used to protect our child's identity until she is part of our family.   Until things are finalized, we will refer to her as "Jenny" on this blog.

We do, however, use Jenny's real name in our conversations around the house. We have taught Vivien to say Jenny's real name, and we pray for her by her real name each night.  Unfortunately, and quite coincidentally, Jenny's real name bears a strong resemblance to Vivien's newest friend, Guyana.  Poor Vivien has understandably struggled with some major confusion, mixing up the two names, and thinking that Guyana is going to be her "big sister".

Peas in a Pod
No, Vivien, Guyana isn't going to be your big sister.  At least not technically.  But I do hope and pray that she becomes one of your best friends.  And when your real big sister does come to live with us, I pray that both of you girls accept her and love her and look out for her.

We're growing our family by one child, but it's already been so much more than that.  Nearly everyday we come across another member of the adoption community - those who have already adopted, those who are in the process themselves, those who someday want to, and those who support with their words and prayers.  The outpouring of support from everyone has been such a blessing.  We're in this together.

"So then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household." (Ephesians 2:19, NASB).  How cool is that?  We're all in the same family already.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Jenny is Our Starfish

This entire journey has made us become full-fledged adoption advocates.   That's actually one of the main reasons we started this blog:  to make others aware of the need for children all around the world to become part of loving families.  Crystal shared her story and it touched our lives.  Why can't God use our story to do the same?  We realize that we're just one ripple on this vast ocean and God can use our little ripple to make big waves.  

Avinly, Guyanna & Vivien

Justin helping Guyanna roast marshmallows

A simple Google search on "Adoption Statistics" will give you a deluge of information on how many adoptions occur each year and from which countries, etc.  UNICEF estimates that there are 140 million orphans in the world.  In 2016, Americans adopted 5,370 children from other countries.  A drop in the bucket.  Reece's Rainbow is 11 years old this year.  Through those years, over 1,772 disabled children have found forever homes.

(Image taken from Reece's Rainbow homepage)

Not everyone can adopt...we realize that.  But everyone can do something!  The Bible has plenty to say about caring for widows and orphans.  God has a special heart for these members of society because of their vulnerability.  We are tasked to care for them, there's no denying that.

Exodus 22:22:  You shall not afflict any widow or orphan.
Deuteronomy 10:18:  He executes justice for the orphan and widow.
Deuteronomy 24:17:  You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan.
Psalms 10:18:  Vindicate the orphan and the oppressed.
Isaiah 1:17:  Defend the orphan; plead for the widow.
Zechariah 7:10:  Do not oppress the widow or the orphan.
Hosea 14:3:  For in you the orphan finds mercy.

That day, back in December when we visited for the first time, we were blown away by the number of kids who need loving forever families.  We wanted to take them all into our home, into our arms, and share God's love with them.  Our hearts break that we can't make a difference to all of them.

Or can we? We pray for those kids...every day and every night, there is at least one Reece's Rainbow child that crosses our minds and into our prayers.  And we have literally seen the power of specific prayers change a child's status from "Waiting" to "My Family Found Me".  (Meet Reese for the Howard Family)

And of course we're going to make a difference to this one: Jenny.  Jenny is our starfish, and for her, we will fight.  For her, we will endure these paper-cuts.  For her we will sit in these awful Lab Corp waiting rooms.  For her we will decipher 20 pages of instructions pertaining to a 2-page government form.

We will make a difference for Jenny.  And we will continue to fight for orphan justice.

140 million minus 1.