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.

Friday, June 9, 2017


Last week, we were overwhelmed in multiple ways.

We finally got a checklist of everything we need to do to submit our final adoption application to Jenny's country.  This is called the "dossier".  And let me tell you:  the requirements are staggering. Even for me, a certified type-A stage manager and self-professed administrative guru who thrives on deadlines, color-coding paperwork, and re-organizing her daughter's toy room on a Friday night...just for fun.

Previously I made a joke about how there's no morning sickness with adoption, but the paper cuts are horrible.  Well, it was a joke.  Now it's a reality.
Adoption Paperwork is Serious Business!
We showed you a checklist of our Home Study requirements (copies of tax returns, credit card statements, pet vaccinations, medical exam forms, and proofs of health, home, life, and car insurances just to name a few).  Our Home Study makes up just a fraction of our dossier!

Plus, when you're dealing with international governments, it's not good enough for official documents to be simply notarized.  In order for our dossier to be submitted to Jenny's country, we need to have everything in it apostilled.  Basically, all of our notaries have to be notarized.  The state has to verify that the notary, or seal in the case of our birth and marriage certificates, is actually legit.

We are currently in the process of obtaining original birth and marriage certificates and then we'll submit them to the state to be apostilled, or authenticated.  This process can take many weeks (after all, don't forget that we are dealing with government entities here).  We've also just sent our second (of three) sets of fingerprints off to the FBI so they can issue official letters saying neither of us have records, and then those letters will need to be sent back to Washington DC in order for them to be apostilled.   Are you following?

If you're praying for us, please pray that God's hand would be on each of these documents, through the mail, onto the desk and into the hands of the person authenticating them, and then back through the mail to us and into our dossier.

On the flip side, Justin and I were also overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support from our friends and family.  Ever since we made the announcement about Jenny, we have received nothing but encouragement.  We know people are praying over every aspect of this situation.  We feel your prayers.

Every year that we've been married, we have hosted a Memorial Day picnic.  It's only right to kick off summer by roasting marshmallows for s'mores out by the fire pit in our backyard.
This year, even though  the weather was on the dreary side, we had a packed house with 30+ aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends crammed into our modest house while Justin grilled hot dogs and hamburgers outside on the grill.

As I stood around our kitchen island with my aunts and uncles, I was overwhelmed with the questions and interest that everyone showed for Jenny and our journey.  I know they can't wait to meet her and I know she's joining a very large extended family that will love and cherish her as one of their own.
We do feel buried...under a giant mass of paperwork.  "Inundated" feels like an understatement right now.  But we are NOT completely defeated!  We've got this.  Why?
"God is able to make all grace abound to [us], so that having all sufficiency in everything, [we] may have an abundance in every good deed." (2 Corinthians 9:8 NASB)

Friday, June 2, 2017

Adoption is the New "Pregnant"

Adoption is the new "pregnant".  Ok, I just made that up.  Or I heard it somewhere.  But it's pretty true, at least for the Etters.   Sure, there's no morning sickness, but the paper-cuts are terrible.  And our "gestation" period might be closer to that of a manatee (13 months, in case you were wondering). And like many pregnant couples, we kept our news discreet during that fragile first "trimester".

It's hard to imagine what our lives will be like once we bring Jenny home.  All expectant parents have dreams and images of what they envision for their children.  The same is true for us as we await the arrival of our adopted daughter.

Viv & Guyana, BFFs
It will be interesting.  First of all, Vivien is going to be a little sister instead of a big sister.  At least in terms of chronological age.  All of the research and courses that we've taken on adoption indicate that Jenny most likely will exhibit a younger age in terms of her cognitive, emotional, developmental and even motor skills.  That's just the nature of having lived her whole life in a hospital or institution. We're sure she was cared for, but research has proven there is so much that hinges on a mother's and father's involvement during the very first weeks and months of a child's life.  Plus she won't know much, if any, English.

We know for sure that she'll need medical care.  And she may also need counseling or therapy like many adopted children do.  No matter what professional help Jenny requires, we know that our schedules are about to be turned upside down!  Justin and I are blessed to have jobs and supervisors who support us in this endeavor and allow for schedule and workplace flexibility.  We're also blessed to have close family and friends nearby and a wonderful, supportive and praying church family.

So we will spend the next few months converting our guest bedroom into a toddler girl's room, and we will ponder the real questions along with you:  Will she and Viv get along?  What is her favorite food?  Will she be good at math?  Does she prefer grape or strawberry jelly?  Mayo or Miracle Whip?Will she like these LuLaRoe leggings that I bought for her?

Waiting for Jenny
Before Vivien was born, we read What to Expect When You're Expecting from cover to cover.   We even highlighted it and took notes in the margins.  The Etters are nothing if not thoroughly nerdy. We also attended a breast-feeding class and birthing class that we never actually got to use because Vivien ended up being an emergency C-section because she was breach and insisted on exhibiting early signs of possessing her parents' "stubborn" gene by not turning around despite every (sometimes painful) effort to make her do so.  But I digress...

The point is....we prepared ourselves for Viv's arrival.  And now we're doing the same for Jenny's arrival. We already have 12 hours of adoption courses from Adoption Learning Partners under our belts.  This fall, we'll take a 9-week course called "Empowered to Connect" based on the theories of adoption expert Karyn Purvis.  And we continue to build our adoption library with nearly every book that's recommended to us.  See our Adoption Resources page for a list of all the books and organizations that we've used to prepare us for this journey.  

In the end, we have a feeling that Jenny's arrival will be similar to Vivien's: we'll prepare as best we can, but I don't think we'll have any concept of just how life-changing and wonderfully miraculous her addition to our family will be.  We can't wait.

Friday, May 26, 2017

April 27

God's timing.  How many times have you questioned it?  I've personally stopped counting.  (Please refer to the previous post ironically entitled "Patience".)  But if the journey to Jenny has taught us only one thing, it's this:  God's timing is everything.

To understand just how awesome his timing is, let's take a trip back in time to three different April 27ths.  Same day.  Different years.  

April 27, 2009 

A Monday.  The saddest and most surreal day of my life so far.  This is the day we stood by my father's bed at Temple University Hospital with our pastor and his acoustic guitar, a chorus of shaking voices softly singing "I'll Fly Away" and "When We All Get to Heaven" as Bill Gruber slipped from this world straight into the arms of Jesus.
Tara's Daddy...a month before he met Jesus
He died from "Acute Pulmonary Hypertension".  I'm still not even sure what that is, but I do know that toward the end of his life, he was hooked up to an oxygen tank to help raise his O levels, and the weekend before he died he was placed on the transplant list for a rare heart and lung combination.

In a way, I think this is what made Jenny stick out to us initially.  Her write up on Reece's Rainbow listed her diagnosis as "chronic respiratory failure due to respiratory distress in the night."

Breathing.  The most fundamental function of all life.  An act we literally take for granted every 3 seconds.  Breathing.  A struggle that both my father and Jenny have experienced.

April 27, 2012

A Friday evening in Frisco, Outer Banks, North Carolina.  Windy and unseasonably chilly for the OBX at the end of April.  We and about 35 of our closest friends and family gathered on a tiny, private sound-side beach as Justin and I became husband and wife.

The significance of the date wasn't lost on us.  We had asked my mom's permission and received her blessing to add a happy memory to the date 4/27.
Daddy at our wedding
Justin had never met my father...we didn't begin dating until about a year after he passed.  But I believe he and my father would have been best friends if their paths had ever crossed.  Almost daily, I am astounded at the similarities between the two most significant men in my life.  Even Justin's sneeze is identical to my father's!

That young couple on the Outer Banks beach had no idea of the adventure God had planned for them!

April 27, 2017

A Thursday.  It was shaping up to be a gorgeous spring day for NJ in April - temps in the 70s and full on sunshine. My phone began to ring as we slid into the diner booth. We had just dropped Viv at school and planned to spend the day together to celebrate our 5th anniversary.

I looked at my cell phone.  It was the Adoption Placing Agency.  I looked at Justin as I quickly grabbed the phone.  It was here.  The voice on the other end gave me the news we were waiting for. Tears began to fall.  I was still on the phone when the waitress came to take our orders.  I was crying and listening to our rep at the placing telling us that our application was approved!  The Adoption Center in Jenny's country had approved The Etters in America to be her family!  Now she just needed the international clearance, which we were sure she would get since her region already approved her for it!
Celebrating 5 years!
It took me a minute to remember what date it was.  And the significance of the date brought more tears to my eyes.

I texted my mom right away:  "I think Daddy would be proud."

"Yes," she replied.

Death.  Breathing.  Life.  April 27th is just a date on the calendar.  We've cried on April 27th for many different reasons.  Because of loss.  Because of sadness.  But also because of love and most recently because of life.   
Now Death where is your sting?  Our resurrected King has rendered you defeated! 


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

SHINElife for Jenny!

Special thanks to our Adoption Warrior, Crystal Kupper, on setting up our very first fundraiser to raise money to help BRING JENNY HOME!

Adoption is expensive and these fundraisers are a great way for our friends (and strangers!) to help our journey just by shopping for pretty things!

SHINElife for Jenny!

If you haven't heard of SHINElife, you're missing out! It's a mom-and-pop jewelry-and-other-pretty-things company in North Carolina. What sets them apart from other jewelry companies is that they hand stamp amazingness on everything -- so, if you want a your deceased grandmother's signature on a bracelet, you can do that. If you want a sentence from a love letter on a bookmark, you can do that. If you want your baby's toeprint on a necklace, you can do that! 

The customer service is EXCELLENT, the quality is sky-high and the attention to detail is exquisite. We cannot recommend this company enough! 

And guess what? Hillary (the shop owner) has a huge heart for adoption! From May 25 to June 8, 20% of all purchases from with the code ETTERADOPTION will go toward Justin and Tara Etter's adoption of a young girl with disabilities from Eastern Europe! (Don't forget the ETTERADOPTION code at checkout, as otherwise the proceeds will not go to Jenny). 

Hint:  Tara's birthday is 10/29!!  

Please share this fundraiser with your friends and family, on your facebook and instagram walls and beyond. And don't forget to emphasize the dates and code ETTERADOPTION at