Some Thank Yous and Our Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Pre-Travel Sale

This is going to be my last blog post about money, as it relates to this adoption. Some of you might want to stop reading right now, but if you’re a friend or family member or a follower of our adoption journey, I am asking you to hear me out 🙂 After this post, I’ll be on to talking about bigger and better things – things like bonding and attachment in adoption and some ways in which you can be praying for us as we go to China to adopt FangFang – in short, the beginnings of the real work of adoption and parenting. Before I do that, though, I’m going to write about finances one more time. Money isn’t the most important thing, not even close – but it’s important, and it matters, and what we do with our money is a reflection of what truly matters to us in our hearts.

First, we want to say a huge thank you to those who have already contributed toward the costs of our bringing FangFang home. Those of you who have bought artworks or offered financial gifts have played a huge part in making it possible for us to complete her adoption. THANK YOU. Not only has your financial support been so incredibly helpful from a practical perspective, but it has been a tremendous encouragement to us. We know that you want to partner with us in doing something that reaches beyond just us and beyond just you, in bringing our precious girl home and into our family. All children deserve families; she deserves a family; and we are grateful for your part in making that a reality. We know that you are with us for real. Not just when it’s convenient and not just when it costs you nothing, you are truly with us. Thank you.

To the friends from high school who have reached out and contributed, thank you. To the friends from college who have given gifts and purchased artworks, thank you. To our moms and dads and brothers and sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles, we thank you. To friends from our church in Chicagoland and friends from our church here in Missouri, thank you. To our friends in the art community, thank you. To friends who may not fit into any of those categories, thank you. So many of you from so many different times and places in our lives have come together to make the completion of this journey a reality. We see you standing with us, and it makes such a difference to us. We know, and ChenFang will know, that even before she was here, even before she was officially a part of our family, she was loved and cared for by so many.

We are so close to being fully funded to cover the rest of the costs associated with finalizing ChenFang’s adoption. In an attempt to get us as close to that number as possible, we are offering some additional artworks for sale in Matt’s etsy shop. He uploaded a number of prints over the weekend, all of which are priced to sell – there are 6 images remaining for $40 or less. These are a couple of my favorites.

shell-print

book-brick-print

If you’re doing some Black Friday or Cyber Monday Christmas shopping this weekend, would you consider purchasing a print or a painting for someone on your list? If you’re sharing with others a list of items you might appreciate receiving as Christmas gifts this year, would you consider including one of Matt’s prints or paintings on that list? It would be tremendously helpful and a great encouragement to us.

Or of course, if you would like to make a straight financial contribution, you may do that, as well, at this link, or there are instructions in this post for mailing a check.

Thank you all for partnering with us, for helping to bring our sweet little girl home and into our family. It means the world to us.

adoption progress

Friends, we are getting close to the end of our adoption process, and it has been such an amazing journey. It was just over 9 months ago that we first saw her sweet face. We received pre-approval to adopt her – and then spent about a month wondering if we’d be able to proceed with adopting her after Matt’s heart attack. Those days were so intense. Once we finally heard that everyone involved had signed off, and we could move forward, we celebrated, and then we walked through the home study, our initial immigration approval, and pulling together all of the documents necessary for our dossier.

DTC pic

We rejoiced when we got our official Letter of Acceptance from China, and it was so satisfying to check off the boxes for the few US immigration approvals that followed. We expect to have the last of those, our Article 5, on Monday, and then we’ll really just be waiting for our Travel Approval! We’re so close I can practically taste the amazing food!

chinese-food

And along the way, we’ve learned a book’s worth of information about osteogenesis imperfecta and how to care for this sweet girl, and we’ve gotten connected to an amazing community of parents caring for kids with OI, who, I know, will continue to help us as we seek the best medical care possible for her.

We’ve also paid a huge portion of the costs involved with our adoption. Our home study is paid in full. Our US immigration fees are paid in full. All of our document notarization, certification, and authentication fees are paid in full. Our fees to the China Center of Children’s Welfare and Adoptions (CCCWA) are paid in full. All fees due to our placing agency are paid in full. We’ve gotten our entry visas for our upcoming travel to China. And we have the funds to cover a lot of the remaining costs.

That is in large part due to many of you, our friends and family. We started this process with the expectation that we would be able to fund more of this adoption ourselves out of our savings – but then when we had to pay the medical bills from Matt’s heart attack, those savings were depleted significantly. We’ve still been able to put a lot of our own savings and earnings toward the costs of adopting our precious girl, but the fact that we weren’t able to pay as much as we’d thought from our savings has made us even more grateful for the contributions so many of you have made. If you haven’t received a personal thank you note yet, it will be to you soon. We truly appreciate the support that so many of you have given us. Our matching grant goal was met within a couple short weeks, and so many of you have contributed outside of that, as well. It is obviously a practical help, but it has also been tremendously encouraging to know that we have friends and family walking with us in a real way on this journey!

Because we have already received so much support from so many of you, I almost don’t want to put this out there. But we have been honest thus far, and we want to continue to be real with you. Our hope is also that God will continue to write this story – our story, our baby girl’s story, and ultimately His story – in such a way that His faithful provision will be apparent, and we want that to be evident to those of you following along through this blog. And so, we’re going to share this – we are still in need of funds in order to cover the remaining costs to complete our little girl’s adoption.

As I wrote above, we do have a significant amount of funds on hand to cover these remaining expenses. However, the expenses are large. The following remain to be paid:

  • our international flights
  • in-country hotel, travel, and food expenses
  • in-country guide fees
  • a mandatory donation to our daughter’s orphanage
  • official adoption finalization expenses

We are well over halfway there, but we still need to come up with the remaining funds to cover those expenses. We have 2 more grant applications out there, but we don’t anticipate those fully funding us. We’ve been looking into some loan possibilities, as well, and I’ve been working some extra hours. We are pursuing every pathway available to us to to secure all the funds necessary to complete our baby girl’s adoption. And as part of that, we come before you once again and humbly ask if you would consider making a contribution toward our adoption costs? We would be honored if you would join us on this journey in that way. You can contribute via Paypal, make a tax-deductible donation through our myStory page or by sending a check to Lifesong (full instructions to ensure it is credited to our account are contained in this blog post), or purchase an artwork from Matt’s etsy site, and those funds will go straight toward these remaining adoption expenses.

situation-and-circumstance-overcome

To those who have already contributed, again, we say thank you. You have been such a blessing, support, and encouragement to us. We are more humbled and honored by your participation with us on this journey than we could ever express. And if any of you readers have been considering contributing or are considering it now, please know we would so appreciate donations in any amount. We look forward to someday being able to tell our little girl about the many friends and family who came together to make it possible for us to bring her home and adopt her into our family, to be forever our precious daughter!

Will you help us bring our daughter home?

Having been immersed in the adoption community for 4 years now, I’ve witnessed and been a part of numerous conversations about the ethics of fundraising for adoption expenses. Each of us is responsible for our own convictions before God, and I earnestly believe that it is possible for people who are seeking to act honorably to have different opinions on this topic.

We believe that it is one of the biggest tragedies on our earth today that so many children are alone. UNICEF estimates that there are approximately 13 million double orphans (children who have lost both parents) in the world today. Many of them are living with another family member, which is the best solution possible in a situation that is obviously less than ideal. Others are cared for within their communities. But for various complex reasons, neither of those options is always possible, and in those cases, international adoption may be a child’s best option. We believe that’s the case for the precious little girl whose adoption we’re pursuing. Although she is currently in the care of a wonderful foster home, she does not have a family, and her legal guardian remains an orphanage. Orphanage life is grim – a friend’s daughters shared recently on her blog about their experiences in orphanages prior to being adopted.

The reality is that international adoption is expensive. There are very real costs involved – the cost of our home study, the agency fees to cover the costs of the work our placing agency does on our behalf, US immigration expenses, charges assessed by the governing body in China to cover their services, a mandatory donation to our child’s orphanage, and our travel expenses. Many families, ourselves included, can work hard, earn extra money, make choices to cut costs in other areas in order to save money, and still not have all of the funds on hand to pay the entirety of those costs. Simply put, we cannot, completely on our own, afford to adopt internationally.

However, we believe that God calls His people to care for the vulnerable, the lonely, those in need. Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” We believe that pursuing and supporting adoption is one way in which we can do that. And we believe that God Himself is passionate about adoption – He describes Himself as an adoptive Father, and He tells us that He “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). Not everyone is called to adopt, but everyone can support in some way vulnerable families and the adoption of children who are without families.

And so we humbly ask, would you consider contributing toward the costs of our adoption of a precious little girl in China? We’ve been given an awesome opportunity through which the amount of your donation can actually be doubled. Chosen and Dearly Loved has offered us a matching grant of $3,000, with $2,500 to be disbursed to our agency for adoption costs and $500 to be used for post-placement needs (counseling, adoptive parent training, or any other needs our family or our daughter might have), if we can raise the funds to match those amounts. If we’re able to raise the full $3,000, we’ll also receive the full $3,000 offered by Chosen and Dearly Loved, which would be an enormous blessing to us as we seek to bring our sweet girl home. That means that your donation of $10, when matched by Chosen and Dearly Loved, becomes $20. Your contribution of $100 becomes $200. We know that many of our friends and family members are living on tight budgets and cannot afford to give large amounts of money, but this is a situation in which the impact of your gift can go beyond even what you can give, as it is matched, and we would so appreciate contributions in any amount. Would you consider giving up one dinner out and donating that money toward our adoption expenses? Or making coffee at home for a week instead of stopping at Starbucks? We would so appreciate any help you can give in bringing our little one home.

In order for your gift to be doubled, it needs to go through Lifesong for Orphans, which administers the grants for Chosen and Dearly Loved. It also must, in order to be credited to our account, mention “Family 6341 – Ballou.” Probably the simplest way to ensure that your donation is routed correctly is to give through our myStory page here. However, you can also give online at Lifesong’s Giving Portal – under “Please direct my donation to” select “Adoption,” under “I’d like to give to” select “Adoptive Family,” and then enter our family account number (6341) and name (Ballou) where asked. You may also mail donations to this address, making sure that any checks mention our family account number and name in the memo line:

Lifesong for Orphans
P.O. Box 40
Gridley, IL 61744

Lifesong does not take any percentage of donations for their administrative expenses, so 100% of the donated amount (minus any fee that Paypal or Stripe assesses) goes straight to the adoptive family. In following IRS guidelines, your donation is technically to the named non-profit organization, which retains full discretion over its use, but intends to honor the donor’s suggested use. Individual donations of $250 or more and yearly donations totaling $250 or more will receive a tax-deductible receipt. Receipts for donations under $250 will gladly be sent upon request. Lifesong is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization.

Thank you for any help you can offer toward bringing our next little girl home, bringing her into a family where we can promise she will be truly chosen and dearly loved, as all children should be.

Moving Along in Adopting: DTC and LID

I shared last time I wrote about our progress toward adopting our next little girl that we were waiting on one last document to come back to us certified so that we could send the rest of our documents to Chicago to be authenticated and then send our dossier to China. It all finally came together, and on Friday, July 29 our agency sent our dossier to China (DTC)!

DTC pic

That dossier-to-China milestone is huge – pulling together all of those documents is such a painstaking, detail-focused, perfectionistic process that it is a gigantic relief to be done with them all!

From there, we waited for our log-in-date (LID). That log-in date is essentially China’s official acknowledgement that they have received our dossier and have it in their system for review. Others who were DTC on the same date as us but with different agencies got their log-in-dates a few days before us, which made those extra days hard, but yesterday we got word that our dossier had been logged in, as well 🙂

LID photo

Now we start what we expect to be the longest wait of the process, the wait for our Letter of Approval (LOA), also known as Letter Seeking Confirmation (LSC). That letter is China’s official approval of us as parents for our little girl. It’s basically the most important piece of paper we’ll get through this whole process, and it’s what we’re waiting on now. Sometimes the database system to which our agency has access will have updates on our status through the process of China’s review of our dossier and issuing our LOA – first it will show that our dossier is in process of being translated, then in process of being reviewed, then matched, and then LOA issued. Usually it takes about 60-90 days to receive your LOA, but right now the process is moving pretty quickly, and it’s averaging more like 30-50 days. We’re hopeful that that trend will continue, but you never know what to expect!

So right now, in terms of our official progress through the adoption process, we’re just waiting 🙂 However, we’re using the time to gather additional funds. I’m working on some grant applications, I’ve been working extra hours, and Matt has continued to sell artwork, as well as embarking on a new project – he compiled a whole group of drawings he’d already made of friends of ours from our church and put them into a coloring book, which many of our friends have been delighted to purchase in order to support our adoption!

We’ve also been encouraged to receive an official update on our little girl 🙂 We’re incredibly fortunate that her foster home has a significant Internet presence, so we actually get new photos of her quite frequently, much more frequently than is normal in international adoption, but it was still fun to get new measurements and a bit more new information. She has grown a little over an inch and gained almost 2.5 pounds in the last 5 months since she moved to this foster home, which is awesome! She’s also continuing to develop, sitting for long periods of time unassisted, smiling, laughing, and talking. We’re so thankful for the care she’s getting and loved getting even more of a glimpse into what her life is like now and how we can be preparing for her to join our family in a few months!

the light shines in the darkness – announcing our next big adventure

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).

That verse has always been one of my favorites. I love the hope it proclaims, the certainty of the ongoing triumph of good in a world that seems full of evil and uncertainty. I trust in this hope and in the Person who provides it. And in the midst of this difficult time in our lives, we’ve seen God at work, shining many rays of hope through darkness.

While I sat in those hospital rooms, listening to the ventilator breathe for my husband, I wondered if he’d make it out of the hospital alive, and I wondered how many of our dreams might also be dying during those days – our dream of raising our kiddos together, sending them off to college, and seeing them grow into adults themselves; our dream of traveling the world together, returning to Italy and China, someday visiting more of Europe and Asia and exploring the southern hemisphere; our dream of continuing to study and learn together.

What I haven’t shared here yet is that there was one dream I was really pretty sure was dying. You see, Matt and I had been talking for quite a while about when the timing might be right to pursue our next adoption. We’d been setting aside money for over a year, and we were thinking we’d start the process at some point during 2016. Then on the evening of January 19, I showed Matt a blog post I’d read about a little girl who needed a family. This happens with relative frequency, but what doesn’t happen all that often is that he asks for more information, and that’s exactly what he did that night.

The agency working to place this little one sent us her file the next day, and we reviewed it closely and began researching and reaching out to others for counsel. We spoke with some close friends; we talked with the social worker with whom we’d worked for Madeleine CaiQun’s adoption, who knows us well; we had conversations with other parents whose children have the same special need as this little one; we sent her file to our pediatrician, to the local specialist he recommended, and to the national specialists recommended by other adoptive parents; and we were able to get some additional information about this little girl from another agency that has done some work with her orphanage. We prayed for God to bring a family for her and for wisdom for us to know whether that was us.

And ultimately we came to the conclusion that we believed we could be a good family for her, and we wanted to submit the necessary documents requesting that China approve us to pursue adopting her. On February 9 our agency submitted our Letter of Intent (LOI) to China, and on February 16, we received pre-approval (PA) from China to adopt this precious little girl!

But then, the next night, Matt had a heart attack. And so, as I sat there in those hospital rooms, I was fairly certain we would have to surrender our pre-approval and, instead of completing an adoption and becoming her family, we’d be advocating on her behalf and trying to find another family to adopt her.

As the days went on, though, and Matt’s cardiologists were saying that they expected him to have a full recovery, we asked them about adopting. They saw no reason why we shouldn’t continue. I talked with our agency, and they said we’d need a letter from a cardiologist saying they expected him to be healthy and they believed it would be alright for us to continue with the adoption, but assuming we could get that and our home study social worker was on board, they would see if we could continue. We talked with our home study social worker, and she agreed that if Matt’s cardiologist was willing to write a letter in support of our continuing the process, she believed we could still be good parents for this little one. Once we were home and set up with Matt’s new cardiologist, we discussed it with her, and she was very positive – she said Matt’s heart function looked great, and he needs to make lifestyle changes and take the medications they’ve prescribed for him, but she does not expect further issues for him, and she was very willing to write a letter in support of our continuing the adoption process. Our agency reviewed the cardiologist’s letter and said we should be able to proceed!

As full as these last weeks have been with trying new meals and going to cardio rehab, they’ve also been full of home study visits with our beloved social worker, collecting paperwork, and starting to pull together our dossier. As we’ve talked about how to re-structure our lives to be as heart healthy as possible, we’ve also dreamed about what life will look like with four children.

It might have been easier to back down, to walk away, to say that with Matt having had a heart attack, anything and everything could be too risky, too dangerous. But as we’ve wrestled with what we want our post-heart-attack lives to look like, we’ve concluded that we don’t want to live in fear. There’s a quote I’ve appreciated much over these past few weeks – “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” We’ve had to ask ourselves what we are built for – and we believe we are built for loving God and for loving those around us, for doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with Him. We believe that we are called to step out of comfort and safety and to reach toward those around us. And there is a little girl right now in China who needs a family – we believe we can be a good family for her, and we’re going to do all that we can to get there and become her family.

And for us, this is one way in which we get to bear witness to the light shining through into the darkness. What we thought was a dying dream is still alive. It looks like we will be able to adopt again. In Psalm 68:6 it says that “God sets the lonely in families,” and we believe He is at work in making a way for our baby girl to come into our family.

Friends, we share this news with you with excitement and humility, and we ask that you consider whether you might be able to be a part of this journey with us. We ask that you consider praying with us and for us through this process. And we ask that you consider helping us to cover the costs of her adoption – we’ve been doing extra work and setting money aside for a while now, and we’ve been able to cover all of the costs that have come up thus far, but we know we’re not going to be able to pull together all of the remaining necessary funds ourselves. We’d be honored if you’d consider purchasing an artwork from Matt’s etsy shop or contributing financially to our adoption fund.

And we ask that you pray for our little girl. She is 2 years old and has deep, soulful eyes and a smile that could light up a room 🙂 The agency with which we’re working is very conservative and asks that we not share any photos publicly until she is actually our daughter, but if you ask us in person or via a private message, we’d love to share a picture and prove to you how adorable she truly is! She has osteogenesis imperfecta (sometimes referred to as brittle bone disease) and is very tiny and rather delayed in terms of her gross motor skills, but we look forward to seeing her develop as she gets the medical care that will help her reach her full potential.

We’re excited to be embarking upon this new adventure and hope you’ll be excited with us and perhaps even be a part of the journey with us. We’ll have many more updates, I’m sure, in the days to come!