Friday, December 27, 2013

Merry Christmas and Mary Emily

 Merry Christmas!!! Oh and one other little thing...we had a baby GIRL, Mary Emily Wilmadine Erb (we call her Mary Emily). She was born October 31st, weighed in at 7 lbs 12 oz, and is named after my (Rebecca's) grandmothers. Mary Emily's brought so much joy to our family. Her big brothers and sister are in love and are truly a huge help to mama, especially the older 2. We are loving the newborn phase of her life and savoring every day. Our 4 kiddos are keeping us busy and filling our days with lots of laughter. There's never a dull moment around here;). I obviously don't get to blog as often, but still try to capture our BIG family moments.

Mary Emily (almost 2 months)
Abel (20 months)
Hadassah (3.5 years)

Malachi (6 years)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Finding Abel

August 1st will mark 1 year since we received a call about our son, Abel. Our story to finding one another began long before that. When we got home with our first 2 children, in July 2011, we were so overwhelmed and couldn't imagine adding another child to our family. It was a bit intense for awhile, actually plain hard;). But, things marched on and the dust started to settle around us. Life became mundane and although we were still going through HUGE adjustments all around, adding another child didn't seem so crazy.

While in Ethiopia, our eyes were opened to the opportunity of adopting children who were HIV+. I met a family who was adopting a sweet little girl who was positive. They told me their story and I was blown away by all they shared! As summer faded and fall rolled around, I couldn't shake this idea that we should pursue an HIV adoption in Ethiopia. I threw the idea out to Nate and he was all for it. We started researching, talked to other families who had journeyed the same road, and were in contact with a ministry called Project Hopeful. They were extremely helpful and have GREAT info on their website. We learned so much about HIV: like how it can/cannot be transmitted, what daily life looks like in the USA, what daily life looks like in Africa (specifically Ethiopia), the adoption process for an HIV+ child, the life-span for a person living with HIV, where things stand medically, and so much more. We sought council and prayed about it for a few months. We wrestled during those few months with a lot of fears and God met us graciously right where we were.

Orphan Sunday rolled around that November and we had a great service at church, dedicating our two children to the Lord. We were once again overwhelmed with a brokenness for the fatherless and a stirring to adopt again. We went home that Sunday and made the decision to move forward with another adoption from Ethiopia, pursuing a child who was HIV+. Everything wasn't all neat and tidy-our hearts were still working through some things, finances weren't lined up, we still felt deeply in the trenches of bonding/attachment, but we felt very excited, nervous, and peaceful all at the same time about this venture. One thing was clear to us...we felt God simply said, "just say yes and I'll take care of the rest. All I'm asking of you is to say yes." So we did. We said yes and moved forward, committing to take it one step at a time.

We found an awesome agency to work with who was specifically starting an HIV adoption program with the governement orphanages in Addis. With our first adoption taking so long, we thought we'd have a pretty long wait for a referral. But, once we got on the waitlist, it was barely 5 months before we got Abel's referral call! I actually forgot to ask if Abel was HIV+ when we were on the phone with our case worker. We were so completely taken with him; he was just our beautiful son, Abel, and that was all that mattered. We just wanted to get to him as soon as possible!

We geared up to travel in October. While in Ethiopia, and planning to go meet Abel the next day, we got an email from our agency saying Abel had a negative test come back. What?!? Crazy! Now we knew with infants that HIV antibodies could falsely say a baby was positive until 18 months of age. But, we learned that the tests being done at this point on our son were not testing antibodies, but much more specifically, the very genetic material of HIV and the viral load itself. Our agency warned us though to be very cautious and that he likely could still be positive. They said the HIV testing through the US embassy would give us a clear answer. But, when we went to the transition home to meet Abel, the Ethiopian staff told us they believed he was negative and he seemed SO healthy. So, we just started thinking he was negative.

Then embassy testing came and went and we never heard results and really DIDN'T CARE, lol! We were just so thrilled to clear embassy that we didn't think much about his testing results and assumed they were negative since we hadn't heard anything. At the embassy window, they started going through all these waiver forms about HIV. I asked why we were having to sign these papers and go through this if he was negative. They then told us that Abel was indeed HIV+ according to their tests which are much more "reliable", the blood actually being sent away to one of the best labs in Nairobi, Kenya.

Ok, so we switched back again...Abel is positive. Our love and commitment to Abel was unwavering dependent on his being HIV+ or not, but we just wanted to know to make plans for how to best care for him. We went home and began several rounds of testing, mandated through the Dept of Health. Poor baby was stuck SO many times to get all this blood drawn over the first 5 months he was home:(. Our pediatrician and Abel's case worker at the Dept of Health told us Abel's positive testing at embassy was most likely accurate as they'd never had a child test positive at a US embassy and come home to be negative. We just wanted a definite answer so we could move ahead with a specialist.

Well, Abel was the exception. Since coming home, he's had 3 negative tests and the Dept of Health has officially signed off on him as being negative! Praise God!

We had a very clear sense and peace about Abel belonging to God from the time we got his referral. We didn't even stress about the whole HIV thing because we knew whatever the outcome, positive or negative, GOD WOULD BE GLORIFIED in his life! We wanted to share more intimately about Abel's life, but felt we couldn't until we had a "definite" answer on his being positive or negative. Had he been positive, this post really wouldn't sound that different:). Abel's one special kiddo and his life is marked beautifully by a Heavenly Father who cares deeply for him and has been working on his behalf. We feel so honored to have Abel as our son. Him being negative or positive is not his identity, but this is a part of his story. Some may feel that we shouldn't share something so intimate about our son. But, we want to give God the glory for the work He's done in Abel's life and testify to it! When our pediatrician called with his final test result she said something like this, "HE IS NEGATIVE! There's no explaining how he was testing positive at the embassy and has come home to be negative. The Dept of Health is quite baffled by your little guy and said they've never quite seen this." I don't know exactly what's transpired in Abel's little body his first year of life, but I do know that God has been ever-present in our son's life and faithful to him! 

We also feel deeply compelled to help educate others about the truth surrounding HIV. Throughout this adoption process, we learned so much about what living with HIV looks like today. And boy oh boy, how misinformed we were!!! We had so many fears and uncertainties that were based off of things we'd been told that simply are not true, though they may have been thought to be true at one point. And sadly, many of these misconceptions were never set right. I've even heard of medical professions who still believe many untruthful things about HIV and who discouraged families from adopting a child who may be positive. Check out the link below for some very important truths about HIV. It was a lot to copy/paste in, so I just included the link

We don't believe God's calling everyone to adopt or to adopt a child who's HIV+, but we do feel He's calling all of us as believers to be loving, truthful, and to care for the fatherless (which can look extremely different in various families: adoption, foster care, sponsorship, supporting an adoptive family, providing respite care, prayer, donating items to orphanages, making a meal for a family who just got home, and so much more). People living with HIV face incredible stigma all over the world. I've heard stories lately of God's people leading the way in speaking the truth concerning HIV and caring for orphans who are positive. This is so exciting! We simply didn't know the truth; we were naive and scared. The issue of whether or not a family discloses their child's HIV status is a very personal and important decision. I believe both decisions can be completely right for different reasons. I've gotten to "know" (some in person and some I just found their blogs) other awesome families who have adopted children who are HIV+ and they've been such testimonies to me as they've shared their stories! Check out their blogs...their families are inspiring.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Breaking the Silence...with news:)

When our blog goes silent, it's not usually that nothing's going on. It's usually quite the opposite. Life happens and suddenly I've missed important announcements, celebrations, holidays, and just documenting some fun thoughts and snippets on life. I feel so behind that my mind becomes mush when I sit down to blog and none of my disorganized thoughts make it to the computer. So, the question becomes, "where to start?" How do I blog about the past 3.5 months of life which have been jam-packed with sweet life happenings? Well, I'm not gonna try to play crazy catch-up with everything that's happened. I'm going to fill you in on the highlights of the past 3.5 months and then hopefully do a better job of keeping things up-to-date in the future. I want my kids to have this blog someday as a small tangible piece of sweet memories and childhood!

So, where to start. Let's start here....we are no longer a family of 5, but are working on becoming a family of 7!!!!!!!!! We're in process to adopt again from Ethiopia AND we're also expecting a "belly baby" end of October!

With Abel's adoption we were approved for 2 children, but obviously we just brought home 1 child. After some discussion with our agency, they approved us to immediately go back on the waitlist, rolling Abel's paperwork over into the next adoption. We were excited and ready for another adoption. Then, a few weeks later we found out we were pregnant! There was a small window of time where we could have accepted a referral and brought a child home, avoiding the end of pregnancy and birth. We also could have used all the same paperwork. But, that time has now passed with no referral, so we're officially "on hold" until our belly baby is 3 months old. This means we should be coming off of hold in February sometime. And, depending where we are on the waitlist, a referral could be quickly after that or quite a few months off yet. We'll have to wait and see. Unfortunately, we do have to update all our paperwork now too, boo. Homestudy update's done and we're currently working with USCIS on immigration stuff. And then soon, we'll start on a new dossier. How are we here again???? LOL!

Belly baby's due October 26th. We're gonna let this one be a surprise:). I'm about 24 weeks along and feeling really good now. The first trimester was hard with Abel having just come home and feeling so icky and tired. But, it was also a sweet time of finally having Abel home and sharing the joy of expecting new life in our family. And a very special time of rejoicing in God's faithfulness and goodness to our family the past few years.

We have some exciting news about Abel to share, but I think I'll leave that for next time. Another adoption and a pending birth is enough excitement for today, right? Abel's doing great and we've been having a really good adjustment. It's had it's ups and downs, but going on 6 months home is feeling really good these days! With M and H, 6 months home was a real turning point. It seemed every 3 months felt like a huge victory in adjustment, bonding/attachment, and things just starting to feel more and more natural. Abel is a super happy and easygoing baby. I'll leave you with some pictures of the past few months.
This was from Easter and is the best family picture we have since Abel's come home. New family photos is a priority this summer!

Abel is seriously so happy! It's crazy to think he could barely hold his head up when he came home. He's now crawling all over the place!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Awesome Fundraiser!

Good friends of ours are adopting! They have their first fundraiser this weekend. Check out their blog to learn more about their family and see the amazing items being sold at their artisan and craft sale. If you're in the area come enjoy the yummy food, fellowship, and supporting this moving work of God. We are beyond excited to support them and see how God's leading them in their adoption! Hope to see you there:). And feel free to share this info to spread the word and help make this fundraiser effective toward raising money for them to get their precious child home!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kinds and Queens

My brother pointed me to this song a few months ago. My kids (and I) LOVE watching this music video! If you have 4 minutes today, press play:).

Monday, February 11, 2013

2 Weeks Home: hard-messy-beautiful

Disclaimer: This post got REALLY long...had a lot to catch up on and didn't want to leave anything out. Sorry for the picture overload!
We have just been home over 2 weeks now...hard to believe! Abel's doing really well. Poor guy came home with an ear infection, mono virus, cutting his first tooth, major belly trouble, and severe jet-lag to name a few (no wonder our flight home was so horrendous).  All of the above are finally starting to get better though! He's been a trooper and is a really happy baby most of the time as long as he's not hungry, stinky, or tired. Once he cuts a few teeth I think the sun will shine a little brighter in our home. So, I'd say he's a pretty typical 9 month old, right?;)

He truly is a sweet gift for our family. While the transition with Abel has it's own challenges, it's been much different than when M and H came home. With M and H it was an intense cannon ball and we did not come up for air the first 6 months, haha. Seriously though, going from two to three has been a totally different adjustment. It hasn't quite had the "turn our world upside down effect"-I'm already a stay-at-home-mom, we're not first time parents, there's only one...ONE of Abel (this makes a huge difference...we can actually tag-team at night), we already have 2 kiddos on a schedule so what's it to add another, and our marriage has already adjusted and made space for children. And, we're living at my parents right now so our support system is just a flight of stairs away:).

Now, I don't want to sound like we're some super star adoptive parents who have it all together 2nd time around, because we DON"T! There have been serious tears from all parties (esp Abel and his mama), fears, uncertainties, painful trial and error, frustrations, serious sleep deprivation, grieving, messy misunderstandings, and probably about every emotion in between. It's been very overwhelming at times. Nights are hard, but getting better. Our little one does not like to sleep and it seems he's very used to demand feeding every 2 hours through the night. Some nights he's up from 11:30-5:00 and other nights he's only up once. Hadassah was sleeping through the night from the time we got her home. Abel is his own little person; this I'm learning, accepting, and enjoying more and more every day. I've really had to let go of expectations of him to be like his big sister when she came home. Much of what we did with Haddie is simply not working, so we're having to be creative and try different things. We're finding our way though and the long difficult nights only come every few days it seems. Now, that's summing up some of the "hard"...but, there's been tremendous joy, laughter, contentment, peace, and grace that have surrounded these bittersweet transitional days as well.

I believe it's important to share the hard stuff. So many families come home with their child and expectations are shattered and the reality of adoption and what that really means is a little kicking stranger screaming in their face 24-7. Their child suddenly is not the child they had fantasized about during the long wait and they're left with feelings of depression, fear, and deep guilt. I know this is not everyone's experience, but I think it's more than we'd probably think. I had a very hard transition with our first two and some precious adoptive mamas reached out and told me, "you are normal"! Go through the steps, love them, trust your gut, more so trust GOD and one day "it" will come. "It" for me was a sense of family, togetherness, rightness, confidence, knowing my children and being known by them, routine, and feeling that everything ultimately would actually be ok. And for me, those things came through learning beautiful messy truths about trusting my gentle Shepherd and letting Him lead and knit our hearts together as a family created, called, and equipped by HIM. So there's my little tangent on the adjustment home. I think people are talking more and more about the hard and I love that. I think it's a conversation that should be had more. If you're recently home and struggling...hang in there! Reach out for support, love your kids fiercely (even when those gooshy emotions aren't there), and pray for grace moment by moment.

How are M and H adjusting? They LOVE Abel. Haddie's had moments where she realizes she's not the "only" baby anymore and she cries herself a little river...gets some lovin' from us...and she's good to go (notice I said only baby because she still is and always will be our baby:)). If I'm feeding Abel, she's feeding her baby doll, if I'm swaddling Abel, she's swaddling her baby, if I'm changing his diaper, she's changing her baby's diaper, if Abel's in his crib, her baby is certainly in it's crib. I have a little mommy shadow and it's so endearing to watch. Bringing Abel home has deepened my love for her (and Malachi). She's in such a fun season right now and so full of laughter, words, and love. I'm researching how to extend her 2nd year of life to last longer! She's getting way too big, way too fast! Anyone who knows Hadassah understands;)...she's just a blast right now and you want to savor every minute.
Hadassah loves laying in Abel's crib with him.
She loves giving kisses as long as Abel does not grab her hair.
Mommy's feeding Abel and the bottles come out to feed their "babies."
Abel's laying on his mat, and Hadassah's laying her baby on the mat too.
Abel gets food prepared for him all day from M and H.
We snuck out for some Ethiopian food last week:).
Miss Doctor
Snuggled up with her Ethiopian baby dolls...her absolute favorite sleep companions.

Now to Malachi:). Malachi is Mr Big Brother. He takes his role very seriously; he puts Abel's nuk in, gets me diapers, tells me when he's crying, feeds him, helps dress him, holds him, plays with him, sings to him, and really does anything and everything we let him do. I'm convinced he would fully care for Abel if we allowed him;). Malachi has been Abel's prayer warrior since the day we found out about him and he still is; every prayer time, he's lifting Abel up in prayer.  I've realized with bringing Abel home just how perfectly God placed Malachi as the eldest in our family. Malachi's full of compassion, is assertive, and is an amazing big brother with a very special heart. This adoption has been very special for Malachi and he definitely is learning more about his own adoption through being a part of Abel's. Our oldest son is full of questions about life, hugs, and words of encouragement. He told me the other day that God had a plan for my life and that it was that I should eat lunch. And boy was he right! I had been pushing lunch off until 3:00 everyday and my afternoons were not going well. The 15 minutes it took to eat lunch gave the energy and boost I needed. Love you Malachi!

He sits beside Abel every mealtime is so quick to help his baby brother.
Putting the nuk back in...thanks buddy!
Such a sweet big brother.
Cupcakes for everyone!
Waiting for Ethiopian, one of his favorite foods right now.
Malachi's always asking to hold Abel. We just need to work on the choking affect.
He daily looks through our Ethiopian trip that he was along for. He loves seeing pics of Ethiopia and all the people he met there.
I still look in my Abel's face and can't believe he's home. This whole adoption and Abel's life has been very special in some unique ways. I hope to blog more in the future about some of those special things surrounding Abel's adoption and life. In many ways I feel that Abel was our surprise...nothing about his adoption went as planned and yet it's all been so evidently orchestrated by God.  I'll leave you with some pics of our new sweetie.

He LOVE his hands and looks at them all day.
I have 50 pictures with this expression because he hates the flash, lol,
Love his daddy...and his hand:).
M and H threw Abel a birthday party. Yes, he's in their doll stroller and it's probably not safe. But, it was such a cute idea, I had to humor them!
Abel doesn't have much neck strength and tuckers out quickly during belly time.
Have I mentioned how Abel laughs? He is a giggly boy and oh so ticklish:).
 And if you made it this far, thanks for reading. I should really blog more often so I don't go into blog overload once a month! Ultimately, this blog is for my kids someday, so I try to keep that in the forefront of my mind with every post I pen:).

Sunday, January 20, 2013

In Our Arms Again:)

We had a sweet reunion with Abel! He is doing so well and just laughed and laughed as we held him. He's so alert and interested in everything, from his hands to the ceiling:). He babbles, coos, and baby talks it! Embassy tomorrow and then we head out Wed night. We're greatly delighting in our son and rejoicing in our God. Moments like these in life are special and we're savoring every minute of it!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Abel's Coming HOME!!!

And we leave TODAY!!! 3 1/2 hours to be exact...and why am I blogging:)? Tonight we will be on a plane flying us back to our children's homeland, Ethiopia. It's been a total cannon ball affect around here and I have yet to come up for air. We cleared embassy Monday and have been in high gear since...nesting, planning, and packing. My youngest sister, Joanna, is coming along with us! We spend the day in London on Friday and then arrive in Ethiopia Saturday night. We probably won't see Abel until Sunday morning since he goes to bed at 7:00.  I will really have to restrain myself from interrupting my baby's sleep!

We are ECSTATIC and cannot wait to finally bring Abel home. Malachi and Hadassah are super excited too, especially Malachi as he traveled to meet Abel with us on our first trip. We do hope to update our blog while we're in Ethiopia so check back.

Thank you all for your prayers and support. Our God continues to write our story and we're so thankful this page has finally turned:).

Hope to share more soon...

We're coming Abel!!!!

Friday, January 4, 2013

C'mon Embassy!

Yep, we've reached the final stage of our adoption...embassy (duh-duh-duh-duh). We were submitted Thursday, Dec 27th and have been getting little sleep since then;). Anyone who's been at this stage, knows that your mind is constantly caluculating the time difference in Ethiopia and checking your email accordingly to see if there's ANY news about your case. We have received several emails the past week; the first was that our case was received, then they said they began our I604 investigation, and just recently we got an email requesting the contact information of an individual pertinent to Abel's case.

Some of you may be wondering why we're going through all of this if we already went over and legally adopted Abel. Everything we did on our first trip was the Ethiopian side of things; you're working with their government and judges to have the adoption approved. What we're dealing with now is the US side of things. We now have to go through an even more in depth screening and investigation to make sure everything is A Ok with our case according to US standards. Most cases go through without a hitch, but there's always the chance the US embassy could say the case is "not clearly approvable." If that happens, they will forward our case to Nairobi, Kenya for a higher level of clearance. If that happens, it typically only adds 1-2 weeks. But, we are hoping and praying that does not happen and we are cleared soon.

Prayer is such a crucial part of the entire adoption process, but there's an urgency that we sense right now as we're getting so close to bringing Abel home. Would you please pray with us this next week?

-Please pray that the embassy can get ahold of the individual involved in Abel's case and that they get clear confirming information from him or her.
-Pray for one final medical test to come back quickly so it does not hold us up. We cannot schedule a travel date until this test comes back.
-Pray for us; we are so ready to have Abel home!!! Now that the holidays have come and gone it just feels like it's TIME. Each day feels longer and harder without him home and our hearts and arms ache to hold him.
-Pray for Malachi and Hadassah; their worlds are about to change in a big way. They're super excited for baby Abel, but it'll be a major change none the less.We're ready for the new challenges of bonding and adjusting to a family of 5 instead of obsessively checking email at 3am and hounding our poor adoption agency for answers.

We're getting close, friends. Thank you for walking this road with us...pray us through the home stretch!!!

The embassy will be closed Monday, January 7th as this is Ethiopia's Christmas. So, we won't have any new news until at the earliest, next Tuesday. Can't wait to finally post that Abel's coming home:).