Saturday, December 9, 2017

When International Adoption is a Waste of Money

A little over a year ago we took our first trip to Bulgaria. Upon returning home, I wrote the following post. I didn’t end up publishing it at the time because I didn’t feel like I had found the right words. Those “right words” never came. I’m sharing anyway.


“People who say that international adoption is an unwise use of God’s money just don’t know.” 

I listened to my friend, the mother of two internationally adopted children, and I nodded my head in agreement. I thought I knew what she meant. I have been so frustrated throughout our adoption process to hear people say that international adoption is poor stewardship of God’s money. That we really should be adopting through foster care because it’s free. Or that we should be using our money to support Gospel preachers instead. Leave it to the orphanages to care for the kids.

I know these comments are made with the best of intentions, but most of these comments are also made in ignorance. People tell us, “Your money is better spent supporting orphan homes where they can care for many children.” These good-hearted people have no idea of the damage caused by growing up in an institution – even a “Good” one. They can’t possibly know. Surely they don’t understand. If they did, they would never say such a thing. Never.

I thought I understood.

When my adoptive friends relayed to me the things they saw in orphanages overseas, I cried with them. When they told me of little babies who lie in cribs staring up at the ceiling for hours without making a sound, I got chills. When they described how the children are lined up and force-fed a liquid diet no matter their age, and the bruises they acquire simply due to malnutrition, I was angry. How could anyone hear of children living in these conditions and not know that it is worth every penny it takes to get them into a safe, loving home?

But I didn’t understand the half of it. And in truth, I still don’t.

I thought I was prepared to walk into the orphanage where our daughter has lived since she was born. They tried to warn us. They told us that our daughter’s Center is one of the better ones, but that it would still not be “Good.” I had read and researched and talked to other adoptive parents. I thought I was ready. It wasn’t as if I have never been outside the U.S. I’ve been to third world countries, and I didn’t think this could be much worse than what I had previously seen. But I underestimated what it would be like to walk into that building for the first time, knowing this is where my little girl has been raised.

When we first arrived, a nurse unlocked the front door and led us into a dark, musty corridor. There were no lights. Concrete walls and floors surrounded us like a prison cell. We could hear the screams of a baby coming from somewhere on the second floor. The unheeded cries echoed throughout the building; the only sound to break the eerie silence.  

We waited with our translator while the nurse went to get the Doctor who was on call in the Director’s absence. Down the hall, a baby was swinging – the only other person in sight. It was as if the orphanage was nearly abandoned. Yet, we later learned that there were children in every room lining those halls. Children who never made a sound.

The Doctor greeted us warmly and led us into her office where we met with her and the Psychologist. They told us as much as they could about our little girl’s history and personality. They were helpful, caring, and as open as they were permitted to be. Little Miss was obviously a favorite, and they were more than happy to answer most of our questions.

During this conversation we met Little Miss for the first time. She was wheeled into the room, and the next few moments were a mix of joyful tears and nervous giggles. To read more about our first visits with her, click here.

Over the course of the week, we got to see a good bit of our daughter’s environment. She lives on the second floor with the young babies because of her limited mobility. There are eight children in her ward, and she is the oldest by far. This has pros and cons. She rarely interacts with any children, and she doesn’t know what to make of creatures her own size. She also doesn’t know how to play with age appropriate toys, or how to get attention without babbling like a nine month old (though she is perfectly capable of communicating on an older level).

The pros are that, because she does have more communication skills than the babies, the nurses talk to her more frequently and give her more individual attention than she would probably receive in the ward with children her own age. The nurses love the fact that she can sing along with them, and they all get a kick out of her dance moves. As a result, she interacts with adults really well and makes great eye contact. She is particularly attached to one nurse who even our translator commented was one of the best orphanage caregivers she’s ever seen. That is huge!

Children raised in orphanages are often neglected not necessarily from a lack of concern but more often due to a lack of resources and a lack of education on developmental needs. These things were obviously lacking in our daughter’s orphanage, but the staff was doing the best they knew how. The meals at this orphanage are varied in texture and content, the children are fed slowly with bottles or spoons (depending on the age of the child), and the Doctor and nurses pay decently close attention to the nutritional value of the food they provide. Our daughter is definitely in one of the better orphanages. I am extremely grateful that she has been given such advantages and that she ended up in an orphanage with a very special caregiver. The Lord has been mindful of our little girl.

And yet.

It’s hard to describe the haunting realities of what we saw. The orphanage is dark, sterile, and bare. Broken glass covers the playground. But that doesn’t matter because the children rarely go outside. Bedrooms about the size of a small walk-in closet line the halls, two cribs to a room. The babies sit or lie in these cribs until they are taken out, on schedule, to be fed or changed. There is silence in the ward, except for the rare cry of a baby who has not yet learned that his cries gain him nothing. Most of the babies do not respond if you try to engage them. They only stare at you with hollow, expressionless eyes.

One constant thought swirled in my head.

We must get her out of here!

But who will come for the others?

No one who sees a place like that can possibly believe that any amount of money used to get even one child out is a waste. Surely, they cannot.

And what I saw is not the half. I don’t know the half. I only know stories.

The stories of the family who traveled to meet their daughter, held her in their arms, and committed to bringing her home, but never got that chance. Just months before they were due to pick her up, their daughter starved to death under the care of “doctors” who were feeding her a very “special” diet. Their daughter was seven years old. She weighed nine pounds.

The stories of the family who adopted a little boy with almost exactly the same condition as our daughter. Except he was in a much worse orphanage. His body was covered in scars and sores. He was the same age as Little Miss, but he had no language and very little communication skills. He was caged in his crib for days. He was the subject of medical experimentation and abuse.

The stories of the little boy who kicked and screamed in fear when his new parents took him outside because he had never felt the sun on his face.

The stories of malnutrition, sexual abuse, and emotional trauma.

Stories that are more the reality than the rarity.

I’m not sure exactly what this post is about. Mostly, I think I’m still processing. It’s hard to put into words what it was like to visit Little Miss. Some of it doesn’t sound so bad as I go back and read what I’ve written. That’s only because I’m incapable of finding words to accurately describe the living conditions of these kids. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Sure, I’ve been to third world countries. I’ve seen devastating poverty. But in all those places I’ve been before, I also saw the love of family. Walking into an orphanage where these children have no one to count on but themselves… It was a different level of heartbreak.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a huge supporter of adoption, whether domestic or international. This is not a post about how everyone ought to adopt internationally. Children in foster care face some of the same harsh realities as do children in orphanages. This has nothing to do with “adopt this way, not that.” This is a plea from my heart to yours. Don’t tell me that international adoption is a waste of God’s money. When you say that, I hear a forgotten baby’s cries echoing down the hall. I see the prison cells that serve as bedrooms. I see the face of a mama whose daughter starved to death.

And I have to believe.

You just don’t know.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Dear Friend Who Can't Adopt,

There are so many of you. You’re the ones who were most ecstatic when we announced our adoption. You were some of the first to give when we mentioned our financial need. You are the ones who have offered the most consistent support throughout our adoption journey.

You’ve shared your stories with me. I know how your heart aches to be able to provide a home for a child in need. I know how it stings when you hear people say that there would be no more orphans in the world if only every Christian would adopt. I know that the pang in your heart is not the result of a “someday” wish, but the shattered pieces of a lost dream. I know you feel the judgment of sideways glances from adoptive parents who wonder, Why aren’t you doing your part? You wish you could tell them how hard you’ve tried. But, instead of constantly trying to defend yourself, you humbly carry on the fight, knowing that what you’re doing has eternal value.

It’s not that you don’t want to open yourself up to the complications and heartache that adoption brings. It’s not that you simply think that, “Someday it would be nice, but I’m too busy right now.” It’s not because you don’t feel the burden of every child in need of a loving family. You aren’t adopting because… You can’t. You wish you could. You’ve tried. You’ve pounded on doors, you’ve fought the system, you’ve jumped through hoops; yet, for whatever reason, you were denied permission to adopt. 

Still, you don’t give up. There is a fire in your heart to do anything possible to care for orphans. You will not yield. God has given Christians a mission to care for the fatherless, and you continue to march to that order. You can’t adopt, so you are determined to help those who can.

Some of the biggest supporters in our adoption are those who have previously tried to adopt but were not allowed to do so. You know how important this is, and you know the stakes. Adoption was not an idle dream to you. You invested time, money, and your whole heart into trying to bring a child home. Some of you were told that you already had too many children. Others of you were told that your methods of godly discipline were unacceptable, or that you didn’t make enough money, or that your house wasn’t large enough. Some of you went through the unbearable experience of being matched with a child only to have the adoption fall through. 

Whatever your experience, you’ve been through enough to know that adoption is HARD. And you know that there usually isn’t a whole lot of tangible support, even from other adoptive parents. You know this because you’ve gotten the message from them, too. If you aren’t adopting a child *their* way, you’re not caring for the fatherless the “right” way. But you know that’s not what God says. You know that just because you are not able to adopt doesn’t mean that you can’t help give a child a home. So, you tirelessly offer your encouragement, your financial resources, your time, your earthly goods, your wisdom, your love, your everything to support families who are in the process of adoption. Your hope remains that, one day, God will make a way for you to parent a child who desperately needs to know the love of a Christian home. But, for now, you see those who are able to provide those children homes, and you give your all to help them.

You are an invaluable part of this journey.

You have meant so much to us over the last three years. In the days when it looked like our adoption would fall through due to lack of finances, you gave. When it looked like every door was being closed because our agency shut down, you helped us find a new direction. When we desperately tried to be matched with a child and were denied permission because of a certain agency’s unbiblical worldview, you were there to listen, to cry, and to empathize. When we were finally matched with our daughter, you were there to rejoice with us. You’ve shared our fundraisers, you’ve donated items, you’ve cooked us meals, you’ve helped us research, and, most importantly, you’ve diligently prayed for us. Without you, this would have been a very lonely road. You have been a shining example of God’s heart for the orphaned, and the impact of your love for others reaches far beyond anything you can see. We are forever in your debt.

Thank you, precious friend, for caring for the fatherless. Thank you for pouring out your hearts for us. Thank you for helping to provide a home for our daughter. Your sacrifices are not overlooked. May God richly bless you for fulfilling James 1:27.


Photo Credit: Painting by Tianay Lewis

Friday, February 24, 2017

How God Provided a Home for Little Miss

Big news, y’all!

Today we hit our fundraising goal! I was doing some calculations this morning and estimated that we needed about $200 more to pay for our travel expenses to pick up Little Miss. About an hour later Joshua came in with the mail and, lo and behold, there was a card from a dear family member with a check for $200! What a marvelous blessing!

Our adoption is now fully funded (assuming costs for lodging and airfare don’t skyrocket in the next couple of weeks) and we will soon book flights to go pick up our daughter! I know there are lots of you out there who are in the process of fundraising, or who are looking at the cost of adoption and wondering how in the world anyone could ever afford it. I want to share some of the ways we raised funds and encourage you that God is able to provide far more abundantly than you can imagine!

At the beginning of our adoption, we estimated that it could cost up to $40,000. We thought at the time that we were way overestimating, but it turns out this figure was pretty accurate. There were several factors that made our adoption more expensive than most, so don’t let that number overwhelm you too much if you’re considering adoption.

1)     We chose to adopt internationally. Private domestic adoption, while also expensive, does not usually cost this much. There is also the option of foster to adopt which, in most states, is low to no cost. Our family chose international adoption. (Click HERE for some of our reasons for choosing this route). If the cost of international adoption is prohibitive, don’t let it stop you from checking out other paths toward adoption!

2)      We are already a family of 5. This means that we had to have medical exams done for all of 5 of us several times throughout the process (which came out of pocket due to our insurance situation – a total of about $3,180). We also made the decision to take all three of our biological children with us on both the bonding and the pickup trip, which meant we had to spend a good chunk of change getting passports, airfare, lodging, and food. Yes, it was expensive, but this was one of the best decisions we made. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to write a post on that in the future. If Joshua and I had traveled without the kids we probably could have done it for half the cost.

3)      We went through several country changes before we were matched with our daughter. We started out adopting from Uganda, but when that program shut down we switched to Ethiopia. Then our agency in Ethiopia was forced to close and we switched to another agency that works in Ethiopia. Shortly after, our agency asked if we were interested in a little girl in their Bulgarian Waiting Child program, and we said YES! All of these changes involved transfer fees and home study updates which drove the cost up. If we had been able to stay in Uganda I’m estimating we probably could have saved at least a couple thousand dollars. But, God had other plans! (Incidentally, most adoptions do not take this long, so don’t let our three year process deter you, either. These closures and country changes made the process take much longer than we anticipated, but it also gave us time to get the needed funds together without going into debt).

4)      We had a couple of major life changes which required several home study updates. We gave birth to our third child in 2015, and we moved states in 2016. Both were great blessings, but they did require updates to both our home study and our immigration approval. Probably around $2,300 worth of update fees.

If we didn’t have three biological kiddos we insisted on keeping with us, if we had been able to stay with our original country of choice, if we had better insurance, and if we had not had two major life changes, we could have saved over $10,000. As it happens, we do have three children we insist on keeping with us, we were blessed with two wonderful life changes, our insurance stinks, and (as international adoption often goes) we did go through several difficult changes in the adoption process. Waste of money? Bad stewardship? God’s Providence? Another topic for another time.

The current question is: “How did you come up with that amount of money??!!”

The only answer is, God provided.

We are not wealthy by the world’s standard. We are a normal family of 5 living on a single income. We make $40,820 which, according to USCIS immigration guidelines, puts us barely at that 125% above poverty level that they require for international adoption (their definition of poverty level is really not even CLOSE to true poverty, but again, another topic for another time). We have a commitment to doing whatever we can to live completely debt-free, so we’ve gone to God in prayer constantly about this and asked that He provide ways of helping us complete our adoption without getting a loan. And He has answered that prayer in big ways.

God provided every little bit of money we needed at every little step of the way. At times it looked like it would be impossible. We started over basically from scratch a couple times, and it was frustrating and all kinds of discouraging. But He never failed us. He gave us exactly what we needed for exactly the step we were on, sometimes (like today) right down to the dollar. And He usually did it through the love and compassion of His people. Here’s a brief breakdown of the ways He provided for our adoption…

·         God blessed us with opportunities to save money. We started our adoption in 2014 with $9,700 in savings. To be honest, I’m not really sure where that money came from. We had been living for the first two and a half years of our marriage on anywhere from $1600-$1800 a month. We were pretty broke and didn’t have any extra to save month to month. During that time, however, we were blessed with two babies 11 months apart, so the Child Credit really helped our tax return for a couple of years. We put that money into a separate bank account and kind of forgot about it. Then in December 2013 we changed jobs and our income increased significantly, but we still lived like we were making $1800 a month for awhile so that we were able to put the extra almost completely into our adoption fund. Our savings funded our original home study and initial program fees.

·         God provided through adoption grants. We applied to every grant for which we were qualified. We received grants from Show Hope, The JSC Foundation, The Rollstone Foundation, Global Orphan Foundation, and our placement agency. We were blessed with a total of $16,300 in grants.

·         God put exceptionally generous people in our lives. We started a YouCaring site, wrote a support raising letter, posted about our funding goal on Facebook, and talked to friends and family in person about our adoption. Money poured in from good friends, family, long lost friends, distant relatives, friends of friends, strangers, and our church families. We met some extremely generous people during this journey, including people who barely knew us – or didn’t know us – but who heard that we were trying to bring a little girl home and wanted to help (like the little boy who told me to "Keep the change"). We were blessed with over $5,600 in straight cash donations.

·         God put compassionate people in our lives. There were times when people found out that we were adopting and cut us great deals on things. A Christian acquaintance sold us a van for $1,000 when he heard that we needed to upgrade to a bigger vehicle because we were adopting. One particular doctor was very generous in cutting her usual fee for physicals to help us out. A friend who is a notary went all kinds of places with us to sign paperwork and didn’t charge a dime. People have donated meals, clothes, beds, items for our fundraisers, and much more to help us prepare for the adoption. These have been huge blessings that made the adoption much more affordable!

·         God gave us friends who got involved. Over the last three years we have been blessed with a ton of friends who helped make these fundraisers happen:
-          Spaghetti Dinner and Auction 2014 - $878
-          Bake Sale - $128
-          Bowling Night - $202
-          31 Bags Fundraiser - $72
-          Craft Sale - $215 (This was an ongoing effort. Sometimes I set up tables at events, sometimes I sold on Facebook, and sometimes I had a bit of luck on Etsy)
-          Aluminum Can Drive - $5 (Can’t wait to tell you more about this funny adventure!)
-          “Always Room for More” - $100 (Joshua’s cousin painted a gorgeous painting and donated it to help us raise funds)
-          Just Love Coffee - $0 (A company that donates a portion of the proceeds from the coffee you sell. We didn’t have any luck with this one, but you might!)
-          Krispy Kreme Doughnuts - $55 (Hahaaaa! Click Here for the tale of that unforgettable day!)
-          Spaghetti Dinner and Auction 2015 - $771
-          Garage Sale - $265
-          T-Shirt Sales - $150
-          Usborne Cards for a Cause - $208
-          Steel Artwork donated by a friend - $106
-          Ebay Sales - $172
Through fundraisers we raised a total of about $3,353

In three years God has blessed us with over $25,245 in funds raised, not including all of the discounts and extras that people have provided. The rest of the $40,000 came from the original $9,700 of savings, frugal living, and the draining of our small retirement, stocks, and mutual funds.

And that’s the story of how God provided the funds needed to give Little Miss a home!

Thank you to everyone who gave from their hearts and put love into action to help us get our little girl home. Without your generosity, I don’t know what we would have done! One little girl has a safe forever family because of YOUR willingness to show the heart of God and GIVE. Your prayers and support have been invaluable. Thank you for your love and for your heart for the fatherless.

*For tips on ways to save money to help with your adoption, click HERE