Friday, May 25, 2018

A Journey through the Desert

Like most people, on January 1 this year, I flipped my calendar to a brand new year with a clean slate and vowed to read through my Bible and loose those pesky five pounds that taunt me each time I get dressed.  2018:  A brand new year - plus this was the year we'd #bringJennyhome!

A friend who happens to be a travel agent had sent us a calendar magnet with her company's logo:  Embrace the Journey.  "What a perfect mantra for this year!" I thought as I put the magnet on our fridge next to Jenny's picture and a list of practically completed steps of the international adoption process.

The Journey to Jenny has been filled with hills and valleys, and along with my self-improvement resolutions, I added a desire to truly embrace our adoption process with all of my heart and soul.

Little did I know our journey was about to head into the desert. all just saw that tumbleweed blow past, right?  

Moses famously led the nation of Israel on a similar journey through the desert.  As I'm progressing through the life of Moses in my Bible study time, I've come to what many people believe to be the driest, most boring book of the Bible:  Numbers.  But hear me out - the parallels are fascinating!

Numbers is the account of a 2 1/2 week road trip through the desert that ends up taking more than 40 years.  Sound familiar?  (Not that our journey has taken 40 years yet even though it feels like it to us, but it's lasted a lot longer than we anticipated when we set out).  Contrary to popular belief, Moses wasn't lost in the desert because he failed to ask for directions.  On the contrary, he and the entire nation of Israel were actually following God.

God had a plan for the Israelites during those 40 years that they "wandered" in the desert.  The Promised Land was their ultimate destination, but along the way they were learning to follow HIM.  They moved when he moved and stayed when he stayed.  3500 years later, Heaven is our ultimate destination, and this life on earth is a journey to get there.  This is where we learn to follow God, move when he moves, and stay when he stays.  

Back to Moses.  Ultimately his story ends just outside the Promised Land.  That's right, he didn't even get to complete the journey because of one seemingly trivial mistake he made in listening to God (ref:  The Waters of Meribah, Numbers 20:8-22).

Poor Moses!  It doesn't seem fair, does it?  Often what happens in life doesn't seem fair, but that's usually because we only see part of the picture.  Life on this earth is finite.  Our lives, even Jenny's life, are but minuscule specks in comparison to the wonderful, glorious eternity that God has planned for those of us who believe in Him. 

And you know what?  Moses did make it into the promised land.  It wasn't in his lifetime, but Jesus himself brought him there 1500 years later.  Mark 9:4:  "And behold two men were talking with Him, and they were Moses and Elijah."  I can only imagine Moses' reaction when he appeared on that mount with Jesus and Elijah.  He had finally made it!

Viv's journey includes embracing the puddles!

In much the same way, we know one day we will complete this journey to Jenny.  We still have faith that it will happen in our lifetime on this earth, but even if it doesn't, we know that Jenny will always be our daughter and when we find her in heaven, it will be a truly wonderful family union!

Monday, May 14, 2018

A Mother's Day Reflection from an Imperfect Mom

Let's face it....this motherhood thing is h-a-to-the-r-d.

Viv, c. April 2015
There are many times that I feel like a failure as a mom:  When my infant was declared "failure to thrive" because of her slow weight gain.  Or when she wasn't sitting up at 6 months like the books said she should be.  Or when she couldn't count to 10 by her first birthday like my friend's kid could.

Or like last week, when she completely and blatantly ignored my requests to get her water bottle and sit at the table to get ready for dinner.   It wasn't her behavior that made me feel like a failure, per se.  It was when I raised my voice out of exasperation (desperation?) and yelled at her to "listen to mommy!" I knew I had reached my breaking point, flipped my lid, and broke one of the cardinal rules of Connected Parenting.

"That's it," I thought to myself and said to God.  "I can't do this mom thing.  I'm not good at it and there's no way God will allow me to adopt a traumatized child when I can't even lovingly discipline my own biological child."

The enemy loves to steal our hope and feed us lies, doesn't he?  I have moments like these more frequently than I care to admit to you face to face.  I'm supposed to look like I have it all together and that my well-behaved little angel is a picture of perfection and a direct reflection of my unparalleled parenting skills.

Back to the incident in question:  as soon as I raised my voice, Vivien promptly got her water bottle and settled herself at the dining room table.  But that didn't erase the fact that I had lost my cool.  As we were eating and I was feeling like a failure for the umpteenth time that day, she looked up at me and softly said "I didn't listen, mommy.  I should get a timeout."  And with that, she left her seat at the table, climbed the stairs, and put herself in her room for a self-inflicted timeout as Justin and I sat dumbfoundedly starting at each other.

Could it be?  Are we doing something right?  What three-year-old puts herself in timeout?

I wish I could say that this incident is the norm in the Etter house, but lest you think we're super-parents, let me assure you that it is far from typical.  To date, that was the only time Vivien has inflicted a self-induced punishment.  And she still drives me up the wall when she blatantly ignores me.

But I do think that God gives us those "parenting wins" when we need them most.  I was in a very dark place, questioning my qualifications as a mother, when He spoke to me, through Vivien's actions, and said "See?  You can do this!  You're not a failure!"

There many times I still question my motherhood credentials, and sometimes I even let the lies bubble up to tears.  But it doesn't take much for God to bring me back into His truth. It's when Viv cuddles under the covers on the couch to watch Homeward Bound for the 3rd time in a week.  It's when she reminds us to stop and say Grace before eating a hectic, thrown-together lunch on the go.  It's when she thanks God for her big sister during her goodnight prayers.

And in those moments, I know I'm doing something right.

"She is clothed in strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come." (Proverbs 31:25)

Monday, May 7, 2018

Where's Jenny?

"So what's the hold up?  I thought you'd have Jenny home by now!"

Yeah, so did we.

Viv says "This would be so much more fun with my big sister!"
It seems that the hold up is the result of many things that are much bigger than we anticipated.  When we began this journey, we knew there were some issues in Jenny's country that may present a few hurdles along the way, but we never imagined a delay this long or the possibility of an outright denial.

Since we're being asked almost daily what some of the issues are, or how you can pray specifically, here's a rundown:

National Pride 
The current administration in Jenny's country is very nationalistic, which is admittedly an admirable quality.  After all, aren't we Americans as proud as anyone of our country?  As such, the leaders in her country are very adamant that their orphans remain there, even if no domestic family can be found for the child. 

We knew this to be the case shortly after we found Jenny on Reece's Rainbow.  We hadn't even begun our Home Study yet when we were told that all international adoptions in her country were put on hold due to new legislation.  By God's providence, Jenny was determined to have international status in large part due to her "difficult life and health situation."

Regulation Nation
Lest we begin to cast all of the blame on the officials in Jenny's country, we should take a step back and see the bigger picture.  Over the past month, a spotlight has begun to shine on issues with international adoptions in general - not just those in Jenny's country.

Fox News Video
A mere 1 week after our adoption agency flew to Jenny's country to advocate for us, Fox News @ Nite aired the clip above.  Two days later, a friend from church handed me her copy of World Magazine which featured the following article:  "Regulatory Orphans."

Just Google "Decline in International Adoptions" and you will come upon dozens of hits, most dated within the past few weeks.   Our own state department is making it more and more difficult for US families to adopt children from other countries.  One by one countries are dropping out of international adoptions altogether.  Russia, Guatemala, Ethiopia, and now it looks like even Japan and Korea are making it more difficult for their children to be adopted abroad. 

So what can we do? Pray.  Pray for international adoptions.  Pray for the families that have invested so much time, emotions and money into this process.  Pray for the children, many of whom are institutionalized and/or with special needs.  Pray for God's intercession.

And raise awareness of this issue.  I don't think we've heard the end of this story just yet.  Our journey is far from over.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

What does Moses have to do with our Adoption?

As most of you are aware, we've hit a devastating snag in our adoption journey.  As our placing agency representative traveled to Eastern Europe the week of April 8 to advocate on behalf of us and three other families who have made it this far (two of which have already been denied and are in the process of appealing), we dropped to our knees in prayer for her and the ministry officials she met with.

The past few months, our church has been doing a study of Moses and the Exodus.  What does this part of Israel's history have to do with our adoption journey?  Actually, a lot more than you'd think, but there was one specific passage that stuck out to us recently.

Exodus 30 and the "Altar of Incense."  Admittedly, Exodus is a difficult book to read - there's a lot of intricately detailed instructions that God gives to Moses:  construction plans for the tabernacle and everything in it, all the way down to the undergarments for the priests who would work there.  It makes sense that God would be so picky...after all, the tabernacle was literally His home on earth.  Yes, He actually came and dwelt among the Israelites at the mercy seat over the ark of the testimony. 

The Altar of Incense inside the Tabernacle of the Israelites
There were many different components to God's home on earth, but the one we're focusing on here is the altar of incense.   "You shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, where I will meet with you.  Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it" (Ex 30: 6-7a).

You see, in the Bible, incense is always a picture of prayer.  "Let my prayer be set before you as incense" (Psalm 141:2).  It's sweet-smelling and pleasing to God and it rises up to meet him.  For the Israelites in Moses day, the priests had to make intercession for the people, and even then, there was a thick curtain separating them from God's presence.  When the incense burned, it would waft through the curtain and reach God.

Today we have it even better!   There's no more altar, there are no more priests acting on our behalf, and there's no more curtain separating us from God.  We are free to approach him directly:  "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God" (Phil 4:6).

Not only are we able to approach God directly with our requests, but we also have the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us even when we don't know what to pray for!
Did you catch that?  "With groanings too deep for words."  Sometimes there literally are no words.

Such was the case on the morning of Friday, April 13.  At the exact moment these advocacy meetings were taking place halfway around the world, we knew there literally hundreds of people all over the world, maybe yourself included, who were praying the same prayer.  And when we ran out of words, the Holy Spirit took over for us!

I pictured our prayers all rising up - from Georgia, Michigan, California, Oregon, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Jenny's country - all rising up like incense, mingling together, joining in the air and becoming one sweet-smelling fragrance to the Lord our God.  What an awesome God we have - who accepts and hears our prayers and gives his Spirit to pray on our behalf!

Now let's PRAY JENNY HOME!!!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Fasting for Jenny

By Tara

This blog post isn't about Jenny.  In fact, it's not about adoption at all.  It's about how I have become a completely different person over the past year and 4 months.  To be fair, I don't think you can embark on a journey of this size and not be changed in some way.

The change in me came when I thought no change was needed.  

I am not the same person I was on Jan 3, 2017.  To be more specific, I am not the same child of God that I was a year ago, a month ago, or even a week ago.

Last week, for the first time in my life, I fasted.  I thought I was fasting for Jenny, but really, I was fasting for myself.  The spiritual discipline of fasting is one that many Christians, myself included, find confusing.  Often times we do it for the wrong reasons - thinking we can manipulate God into doing something that we want.  "Look at me, God!  Look what I gave up!  You HAVE to answer my prayers now!" I had fasted just a few times before, and to be honest, that was my mentality.

Never start a fast when there's cheesecake in the house!
My fast began on Saturday, April 7, the day that our adoption agency representative flew to Jenny's country to advocate on behalf of us and three other families who should have completed our adoption journeys by now.  It ended on Friday, April 13, the day when the meetings with the ministry officials occurred. 

Instead of stopping for breakfast, snacks or lunch, I turned instead to my Bible.  Was it coincidence that one of the passages I read was 1 Samuel 17 (David and Goliath)?  Did God know that I needed to hear these words this particular week:  "Nothing can hinder the LORD from saving, whether by many or by few" (1 Sam 14:6b)?

And it was almost miraculous that Viv's preschool posted this on their Instagram account that Monday:

Each time I felt a pang of hunger, which was nearly all the time, I stopped and prayed.  Although I prayed for Jenny and the dire situation for international adoptions in her home country, to my surprise, most of my prayers centered on asking God to find contentment in Him.  I had a sincere desire for His spirit to fill me, and it did. 

Yes, I was hungry.  Yes, I was uncomfortable.  I even got sick a few days into the fast and had a horrible headache.  But God gave me strength where I was weak, both literally and figuratively.  It's amazing what the Holy Spirit can do when actually attempting to tune into Him.  "I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite" (Isaiah 57:15b)

No matter what the end of this journey looks like (and yes, we're preparing our hearts for the worst) we know that God has brought us closer to Him.  The "Journey to Jenny" will hopefully lead us to the adorable child God has called us to love as our own daughter.  But it's also led us to a deeper relationship with Him.  This journey is just a refining moment on our Journey to God.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


If you're starting to think our "Journey to Jenny" will never end, trust me, you're not alone.  We really thought that, by now, we'd be able to change the title of this blog to "Etter, Party of Four" or something else of equal permanence and stability.  But that was based on our timing, not God's.

We began our Journey to Jenny by completing our very first eligibility application on January 3, 2017.  As of December 12, we had compiled a mountain of officially certified documents and had received approval from the United States government to adopt Jenny and bring her home to America.  The only thing that we need is approval from the central authority in Jenny's country.

Typically, when families get to this stage in the process, they begin packing their bags. You're practically done!  The hard part is over - now you just need to get through the formalities of the court and Visa processes and bring the child home!

A seat for Jenny

We were told we should hear of our approval within 1 to 3 months.  Great!  We put a mark in our calendars and blocked off the entire months of March and April thinking surely we would be asked to travel by then.  We've saved our sick days and our vacation time, reached out to a few people who might be able to dog-sit and/or house-sit for the 6-12 weeks we'd be away, renewed our Rosetta Stone Language course, and sat back to wait for the call to go get Jenny.

That call hasn't come, and unfortunately, we're not sure it ever will.

There is some turmoil within the central authority in Jenny's country and they have recently tightened the approval standards for their children to be adopted by families outside of the country.  Twelve out of 13 families have been denied in the last few months with no reasons given other than "it's not in the best interest of the children."  Our placing agency, based here in America, has requested an in-person meeting with the ministry and will be traveling next week on behalf of us waiting families and the children we're pursuing.

Pray.  Please join us as we pray with the same power that rose Jesus from the grave!  

  • Pray that we find favor as an adoptive family for Jenny and that we're granted approval soon.
  • Pray for our agency representative as she travels and meets with the leaders
  • Pray for little Jenny who is waiting for the love and care of a forever family.
  • Pray for the other children and families who are waiting and for those who are grieving denials.

Psalm 43

Vindicate me, my God,
and plead my cause
against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?

Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Your Part in the Journey

We wanted to thank each and every person who came to Jenny's birthday party fundraiser earlier this month!  It was such a blessing to spend time with our friends and family who have meant so much to us over the past year as we prepare for Jenny's arrival into our lives.  We were overwhelmed with the love for Vivien before her birth and we are likewise overwhelmed with the love you all have for Jenny - a little girl half a world away who has stolen all of our hearts.  We can't wait for you to meet her!

If you didn't get the chance to stop by the party to film your birthday greeting or sign the back of her puzzle, we would still like to extend that opportunity to you!  Contact us to get in on the fun!

If you played a part in this journey, please sign one of Jenny's puzzle pieces!

As you're probably aware by now, International adoption is expensive. Like stupid expensive.  Think about it - travel and accommodation expenses alone can mount to upwards of $10,000!  And that doesn't include court fees, application and fingerprinting fees, and home study fees.  Fees, fees, fees!  Unfortunately, this reality keeps so many amazing couples from taking the steps to adopt.

When we first made the decision to adopt, one of the things that we wrestled over was whether or not we would do any fundraising. There aren’t many things more humbling than asking other people for money. It sucks honestly! It’s uncomfortable. It’s vulnerable. 
We began this journey knowing that God wants Jenny to be an Etter someday.  And we also know that He will provide for this journey to which he has called us.  He already has in so many ways.  We had enough in our savings to get the process started, but the rest was a leap of faith.

The more we talked about it, the more we understood that it isn’t about asking people for money, but asking them to be a part of our story. Jenny's story, in how she got to come home. Whenever we had the urge to decline someone's generosity, we stifled our pride and listened to the meek little voice inside of us that said "Let them bless you."

And you have blessed us in a huge way!  Whether you bought a pair of leggings from one of our LuLaRoe fundraisers, donated an old toy for our fall yardsale, or made a donation to our Reece's Rainbow Sponsorship Page, we can't thank you enough.
Between all of the fundraiser, auctions, and yard sales, combined with our Reece's Rainbow campaign, we have been able to raise over $7,000 toward the cost of bringing Jenny home!  

Even better news?  We believe that we will be FULLY FUNDED for the rest of the fees that await us in this journey!  Praise the Lord!  And it's all because of your generosity, prayers and encouragement!  Words cannot express our gratitude.

Not every family is as fortunate, however, and not every child has a family preparing for her.  If you still feel led to give, we invite you to peruse the children and families on Reece's Rainbow and see how you might be led to make a difference for another child in need of a family!  Lack of finances should never be the reason a child doesn't have a family.  

Even though the fundraising portion of our journey is over, please know that we will continue to advocate for others who view the cost of adoption as a brick wall in their journey toward becoming a family.