Sunday, November 19, 2017

4,265 Miles

Yesterday, Vivien was eating lunch and pointed to the picture of "Jenny" on our fridge and said quite matter-of-factly "I want to go see Jenny."  

A lump formed in my throat as I whispered my reply, "So do I, baby girl.  So do I."

I want to go see Jenny.
A few days prior, in the calm, quiet hour of 5am, I was reading Psalm 8.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? (verses 3 & 4, NIV)
In our house, we have a fascination with the vastness of the universe and the astronomical time and space mysteries that mankind is just too small to figure out.  Galaxies go on literally for ever and the starlight we see in the sky this very evening was emitted from a celestial being that burned out and died a lifetime ago!

So where does God fit in all this?  Over the past half-century, mankind has traveled quite literally to the ends of our galaxy and beyond.  Voyager 1 was launched over 40 years ago and is currently over 13 billion miles away from the earth.  And it's still going!    And it's still sending data back to us!

What feels like a world away is actually just in the palm of His hands.
Jenny is currently ~4,265 miles away from her forever family.  Compared to 13 billion, this doesn't seem like much.  But to us it feels like a chasm. 

We pray for Jenny everyday.  And I'll admit:  some days I feel like David in Psalm 8.  Who are we, and who is Jenny, that God is mindful of us?  There's a lot of crappy things going on in the world.  Big, crappy things.  Things that should take God's attention away from the Etter family, their immigration paperwork, and their medical insurance logistics.   I wouldn't blame God for not having us or Jenny at the top of his priority list.

But our God is bigger.  Bigger than all the big, crappy things that are happening in the world.  Bigger than the natural disasters and the depravity of mankind.  And so we still pray.  We pray because Jesus said in John 16:24b, "Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete."  We pray because he hasn't forgotten us.  And most importantly, he hasn't forgotten Jenny. 

And someday soon, when we tuck Vivien into bed and she says "We go in the airplane to get Jenny!" (as she does almost every night) we'll be able to answer her with "Yes!" 

And we will.

Monday, November 13, 2017


As we sit here waiting for US Immigration to approve an immigrant VISA for Jenny, we feel the deafening and almost overwhelming calm before the storm.

I remember the baby shower that my mother and sister-in-law Rebekah threw for us before Vivien was born.  A party to celebrate this new and exciting addition to our family.  It was a joyous occasion.

Doesn't she look so well-rested and kid-carefree?
No one dared to bring up the scary realities of having a newborn:  crying for hours, not gaining enough weight between pediatrician visits, post-partum depression, saying goodbye to your life as you knew it.  Sure, everyone made jokes about the sleepless nights we would experience, but nothing, I mean nothing, prepares you for that kind of sleep deprivation.   I wish someone would have had the courage to sit me down and tell me the harsh truth of parenting a newborn. 

Because that's exactly what's happening to us as we now prepare to parent an adopted child with serious medical needs. 

Each Tuesday evening for the past two months, we have been attending a parenting class called "Empowered to Connect."  This class is preparing us to build a meaningful relationship with Jenny who likely has never had a meaningful relationship in her short little life.  Add to that the terrifying reality of caring for a fragile life dependent on a machine to breathe for her and we have certainly embraced the old adage "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best."

Watching as Daddy paints her new room!
We aren't the only ones prepping these days.  This weekend, Vivien moved into her "big girl bedroom" with her "big girl bed."  The Etter's guest room took on a purple hue and a toddler bed as Viv moved from the nursery down the hall into her new bedroom.  She handled the transition like a trooper and was excited that she could climb in and out of bed on her own! 

Viv's big girl bedroom!
Her old room has turned into a blank slate waiting for Jenny's arrival and Viv is already proudly boasting "that's my big sister's room!"   

We're preparing for the best.  Because we have a hope that isn't in our own abilities, or in the advice of the experts who compiled the ETC course materials, or even in the doctors and nurses who will be caring for Jenny and teaching us to adjust our lifestyles to meet the physical and emotional needs of our newest family member.  No, our hope is in Him - the Author and Finisher of our Faith. He is the one who holds us in the palm of His hand and He has had a firm grasp on us since January 3rd when we first began this adoption journey. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A New November

It's funny how life works.  Exactly one year ago, we had no idea that November is National Adoption Awareness Month.  And now here we are, neck-deep into our own international adoption and advocating for orphan justice around the world.  Our journey started with a magazine article.  This guest blog was written by Crystal Kupper, author of that article, adoptive mother, and mentor.   Thanks, Crystal!
My career is literally wordy. As a freelance writer, I transfer what’s running through my or someone else’s mind and put it on the paper and screen. In that sense, words are transactional for me, a mere business move, counted blots of ink that add up to a paycheck.

But a simple transaction is rarely my goal. I want to make my readers laugh, think, pause, be moved, cry or ponder (and if I can make them do it all in one article, even better). I want my words to be the spark that lights a fire. I want anything and everything I write to push someone to action to make this world a more just place.

Every so often, not only does this happen, but I get to hear about it. Such is the case with the Etter family.
Tara has already told many of you how our families met — first indirectly through reading my work in a magazine, then in real life this year. This is crazy-cool in and of itself: that something I wrote generated a wonderful, in-person friendship.

 But this story is about so much more than connection over Easter egg hunts, family dinners, baseball games and dessert. It’s about the power of the press to change a little girl’s life — and that of a family thousands of miles away.

Tara and Justin may have eventually embarked on the adventure of international special needs adoption without me, sure. But when they read my article about adopting my own daughter last November, a God-inspired light came on, and they obeyed now. Hearing the very real fears and trials my husband and I went through demystified the process (if we could do it, anyone can!), and suddenly it didn’t matter how hard they knew the process would be; they just had to get to Jenny.
On my end, knowing that a family was adopting (especially through Reece’s Rainbow, the organization that photolisted both of our daughters) blessed my socks off. But the story doesn’t end there. Because exactly one year after reading mine, Citizen magazine readers are reading Tara’s adoption story this month.
Guyana reads her ripple effect article!
That’s right; Tara is a nationally published author! (She’s not the greatest at tooting her own horn, but I am more than happy to do. She knocked it out of the park!).
More importantly, this chain of families finding their children has another chance to continue. If the Etters read the Kupper’s story and were then moved to create their own, can it not happen again — perhaps to even more families and waiting orphans? I certainly pray so!

May this article move you and your own little family to action. May it inspire others across the States to examine how they can personally get involved in orphan justice. May it see another article come out next November (National Adoption Awareness Month, not coincidentally) on how the Etters’ story began another chapter in a new family.

Most importantly, may every single one of my and Tara’s words translate into love from the Father straight into the heart of a waiting child

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The High; The Low; But God

An emotional roller coaster.  That's what this journey is.  And if it's done nothing else, it has strengthened our faith in God.  For his mercy, his grace, his wisdom, and his provision.

Yesterday, in a matter of hours, we went from the highest high to the scariest low.

The High

The adoption agency emailed us to let us know we got Jenny's referral and it's in the process of being translated!!  This is HUGE news.  It means that the authorities in her country have determined us to be a suitable family for this precious child and they are now "referring" her to us for adoption (like it was their idea!)  Normally, this is when a family will be introduced to their potential child and they'll review the child's file and records and make a decision to either adopt that child or ask for the referral of another child.

Obviously we had already prayed about and made this decision way back in January.  Jenny is ours.

The Etters are all in!
Once we get the official referral after it's translated, we will be able to send it to US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) for their approval of Jenny.  (As you'll recall, they have already approved us as a they need to approve the child).  Once they approve her for immigration to the US, they will kick her file over to the US Dept of State and we'll begin to work on obtaining her Immigrant VISA.

Meanwhile, in Jenny's country they will be working on assigning her case to a court and a judge who will then set a date for the proceedings and determine the amount of bonding time they will require for us prior to the court date.  They will tell us when and for long long we will travel.

We see a light at the end of this adoption paperwork tunnel.  God is inching the door open and we can almost squeeze through!  This is actually happening!

The Low

The realities of adopting a child with special needs is not lost on us.  We do not enter into this lightly, and we have calculated the cost of adopting a child from a hard place with extra special needs.  The emotional baggage that Jenny will bring in addition to her physical baggage is daunting.  

We are currently in the middle of a 9 week adoptive parenting course called Empowered to Connect.  One of our homework assignments was to "count the cost" of our adoption.  Our answers were "money and time".  She's going to need medical care, speech therapy, and probably psychological care as well.  These things may or may not be covered by our medical insurance.  And they will certainly cost us time:  time away from our jobs as we run her to doctors appointment and meet with her teachers, time away from Vivien as we deal with Jenny's needs.  The cost is overwhelming.

We haven't studied this hard since college!

A few hours after we got confirmation of the referral, we had a consultation with a doctor from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's International Adoption Program.  She was very familiar with the typical needs of internationally adopted children and she shed some light on the potential cognitive and development issues that Jenny might experience as an institutionalized child.     

She also gave us some things to consider regarding Jenny's physical limitations due to her "chronic respiratory failure at night."  While she couldn't make definitive recommendations due to the lack of official medical files for this child on the other side of the world, she did want us to consider the fact that Jenny might need an in-home nurse to monitor her each night and that many commercial airlines may not allow a mechanically ventilated passenger so we need to consider how we're going to get her home.  The very expensive-sounding words "medical transport" were used.

But God

We left the consultation enlightened.  It's impossible to know everything that Jenny will need or experience until she's home and in our care.  But for now we have some homework to do and some phone calls to our insurance company to make.  We have a direction.  And that direction is forward.  It's a direction ordained by God and he has laid the path ahead of us.  We travel forward knowing where our help comes from.

I life up my eyes to the mountains - 
ehere does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip - 
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD watches over you - 
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all harm - 
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Psalm 121

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!