Thursday, June 28, 2018

The End of the Journey to Jenny

On Monday, June 18th, we received the phone call we'd been praying for since December:  The Ministry approved our Article 5 Letter!  This meant that we could now petition the local courts in Jenny's region to set a date for the adoption hearing.  As soon as I heard the news, I started mentally packing our bags and putting a hold on our mail.
There was just one pretty big devastating snag of a hiccup: On the same day a foster family from Jenny's country had finally stepped forward for her.

If you've been following our journey from the beginning, you probably already know what that means.  The current administration in her country is extremely nationalistic and wants their kids to stay put.  This means that even an out-of-the-blue foster family > a willing, able and loving family from a foreign country.  Even if that foreign family has been waiting and praying specifically for her for over 18 months.  

Even if that family has a bedroom already prepared for her.  
Even if that family has already consulted the world's best pediatric pulmonary doctors.
Even if that family's friends and loved ones have prayed and donated time, efforts, resources and acts of every kindness to bring her home.
Even if that family thought they were following God's plan to make Jenny their daughter.   
A room full of books, clothes, gifts, and love - all ready for Jenny.
Our only thread of hope was that the potential foster family would be found inadequate to care for her and her special needs.  We prayed.  But we weren't sure exactly what we were praying for.

The news came two days later, in a place and a way that only God could have orchestrated.  

It was Adoption Advocacy Day and we were in Washington DC, literally on the steps of the Capitol Building with an agenda chock full of meetings with New Jersey Congressmen and Senators.  We were surrounded by a busload of various adoption professionals, including two from our own adoption agency, when we got the most devastating news: Jenny's potential foster family was actually perfect for her and wanted to adopt her.

And just like that, our journey to Jenny had come to an end.

We realized the irony of our devastation.  For Jenny, it means not having to leave the only country, culture and language she's ever known.  It means she'll get a forever family...and wasn't that what this journey was all about in the first place?

But our hurt is deep.  The wound is still raw.  How do you grieve the loss of something you never really had to begin with?  Yes, we're questioning God.  Why?  How could this happen?  Did we not hear His direction clearly?  Were we wrong?  Was this not His will for our family?  Why allow us to get this far?  

Did we travel this journey to be humbled?  To be refined?  To strengthen relationships with many of you who have supported us along the way? Did we experience this loss so that we could comfort others on similar journeys?  Did our own journey raise awareness in Jenny's country and ultimately allow her to find her perfect forever family?  Was our journey to Jenny really just a catalyst to a bigger journey yet to be known or to another child whom God has planned for us?

The answers may never come, and we have to be okay with that.  Because God really is bigger.  His ways are not our ways and His plans are not our plans (Isaiah 55:8-9).  

Make no mistake:  Jenny will always be part of our family.  When you come visit us, you will be greeted by her pictures hanging on our walls. Vivien will still speak of her "big sister" and we'll still pray for her every night. And we will run to her and embrace her as our own in the Promised Land someday.  

This may be the end of "The Journey to Jenny," but the road is still stretched far ahead of us and we know the One who guides us forward.  Thank you, friend, for being along for the ride.  

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Mr. Smith goes to Washington

Jenny's country has not issued a single approval to a foreign family yet in 2018 which many of us feel is in violation of the Hague Convention protecting children's rights to families as well as a grievous human rights violation.

These waiting children need families.  

United Vee Stands
But where is the justice?  What is our recourse?  We're dealing with a foreign government, after all.

About a month ago, a few friends mentioned that we should reach out to our Congressman.  We balked at the idea thinking it would ruffle feathers in Jenny's country.  But as the dust started to thicken on our file overseas, we fought hard trying to hear God's direction.

Was it "Be still and know" or "Fight for your daughter"?

Our Congressman is Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-4).  Leaving partisanship off the table, we began to research what he could do for us and for Jenny.  We discovered that he was quite possibly the best person we could have in our court.

  • Co-Chair of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (US Helsinki Commission)
  • Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus
  • Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on Poland
  • Senior Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs
  • Member of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus
  • Member of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption

On Thursday, June 14th, we met with his District Director, Mr. Jeff Sagnip, in our local office.  During the two hour meeting, we laid everything on the table:  our concerns with Jenny's country placing a silent moratorium on foreign adoptions leaving waiting families and children in limbo; the lack of support and transparency from DOS and the OCI, and the drastic decline of international adoptions in general.

Meanwhile, in God's perfect timing and at the urging of another family who is also waiting for approval from Jenny's country, we signed up to attend the "National Adoption Advocacy Day" in Washington DC being held on Wednesday, June 20.  This day was organized by the National Council for Adoption (NCFA) and was designed to alert various representatives in DC on current issues and legislation affecting the adoption community as a whole.  We signed up to attend to draw specific attention to the issue we're facing with our international adoption.

When Jeff heard that we were going to be on the Hill the following week, he urged us to schedule a meeting with Rep. Smith's office while there.  He briefed Rep. Smith and his appropriate staff on our situation and organized our meeting with Mr. Mark Milosch, Deputy Chief of Staff and member of the Helsinki Commission, and Ms. Monica Herman, Legislative Assistant to Rep. Smith.  

Mr. Milosch and Ms. Herman were both extremely sympathetic to our story and we're certain they will do all that they can to assist us where, and if, they are able.  

We aren't sure yet what the outcome of our meetings will be for us personally.  But it was an honor to be able to bring our personal concerns to individuals who may be able to prevent these circumstances from happening to another adoptive family in the future.  

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Love is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way

The Etters love U2. 

When we heard about the summer 2018 American leg of their "Experience & Innocence" tour, we faced the reality that we would have to miss the boys this year because we'd be home "nesting" with our newly adopted foreign-language daughter suffering from a severe medical condition. 

When it became clear that our dream of bringing Jenny home wasn't going to be happening anytime soon, we secured some over-prices tickets from Stubhub and caught the June 13th show in Philly (Tara's 7th time, for those keeping record). 

In true U2 fashion, the guys put on a great show with an eclectic set list of old and mostly new stuff.  It was a bittersweet show for us as we kept thinking "We shouldn't even be here" and the tears flowed freely as Bono crooned a song from the new album called "Love is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way." 

This journey to Jenny has been fraught with uncertainty, disappointment and at times, little more than blind hope.  But Bono is right.  Love really is bigger than anything in its way.  And we know that love will #bringjennyhome someday.

The door is open to go through
If I could I would come too
But the path is made by you
As you‘re walking, start singing and stop talking

If I could hear myself when I say 
Love is bigger than anything in its way

So young to be the words of your own song 
I know the rage in you is strong
Write a world where we can belong
to each other and sing it like no other

If I could hear myself when I say 
Love is bigger than anything in its way

If the moonlight caught you crying on Killiney Bay
Oh sing your song, let your song be sung
If you listen you can hear the silence say 
When you think you’re done, you’ve just begun
Love is bigger than anything in its way 
Love is bigger than anything in its way 

Love is bigger than anything in its way. 

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!!!