The Shoafs

The Shoafs
Family Photo: October 2013

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Next Big Step: Over the Ocean

I can't even make this stuff up, folks. God continues to impress us with His creativity in revealing our part in orphan care. Just when I was feeling hopeless because of the roadblock in Ghana, God stepped in and said, "Trust me! I got this, just wait and watch." Something tells me, His plan is much greater than my wildest hopes and dreams (and you'll soon see, I'm a pretty big dreamer).

Even before I published our "Unexpected, Sad Twist" post, Tim focused on trying to fix our predicament. He plunged in with determined level-headedness (which I obviously lacked!) and began making phone calls in efforts to find our footing in the turbulent world of international adoption.

One phone call landed a stranger named Mike on the line. I use the term "stranger" loosely, because although we hadn't talked to or met Mike, he is a father/father-in-law to our dear "small groupies" with whom we have done a lot of life (laughter and tears) over the past seven years. In fact, when we began this process last summer, they willingly offered his name as an adoption resource.

Well, Tim remembered their suggestion and Mike's name and number made the short list. Awe, who am I kidding, we only had one list...and it was pretty short. We felt paralyzed in our adoption process. After losing a seemingly perfect match, we didn't know who to trust or where to turn. We thought maybe Mike would know.

So, Tim conversed with Mike for about 45 minutes (that's always good, right?) and when he hung up, I looked at him with eyes that pleaded, "Tell me how he's going to fix this!" and Tim just scratched his head.

"Well," he began with something like, "Mike is a good listener, has a heart for African orphans, and it sounds like he knows African adoptions can be tricky."

"And..." I leaned in, waiting to hear what was next in our "Shoaf Family Adoption Story" and ultimately revealing my attitude of ridiculous optimism that leads me into all sorts of interesting predicaments.

"That's it." Tim ended and turned away with his own mantra of hard-core realism that keeps him out of my said predicaments.

Of course, I considered his response anti-climactic. Optimists hit walls harder than realists and it appeared I just ran into yet another. Our reality in adoption settled in deeper. We were stuck.

A few days later, we told our family the bad news and a few days after that, I posted here. Tim's sister and brother-in-law came over for dinner the following week and asked if Tim made any progress in his phone efforts. He told them about his conversation with Mike and then butchered Mike's organization name enough to warrant retrieving Mike's contact info. When he did, he mentioned a website with the agency's name that prompted me to bring out the laptop and explore.

The agency's impressive website lead me to a blog entry (and y'all can imagine I'm a sucker for blogs!), written by Mike about a recent trip he had taken to Uganda. Yes, Mike has a passion for Ugandan orphans. I could feel it in his post and saw photos of the dark faces he had touched.

Then, my face lit up when I read the description of Mike's endeavor's in Africa. Along with affirmations of his passion and vision, the website stated clear plans for Mike to make another trip to Africa in March of 2014.

March of 2014 was just around the corner (at that point), and my wheels began to turn. Didn't Tim want to learn more about the credibility of the African adoption systems? Wasn't Tim the one who began this whole journey, passionate to participate in orphan care? Didn't Tim run a business offering a flexible schedule during March of 2014?!?!?

Are you connecting the dots? So I totally blurted out what would only come from the mouth of a ridiculous optimist, unafraid to dream big and tell the whole world about it, "Tim, HE IS GOING TO UGANDA IN MARCH!"

"Yeah?" Tim tried to curb my enthusiasm. He already knew what I was going to say and wanted to soften the blow of hitting yet another wall.

"YOU SHOULD GO WITH HIM!"

Tim halted my exclamation with a realists view that this man, Mike, probably didn't want to lug a globetrotting stranger around Africa and besides, flying over the ocean seemed too risky for a person who doesn't even love to fly over land. (I could launch into a whole different post about this, but I'll save it.)

In the end, all at the table agreed, it was perfect timing and witnessing African orphanages first hand may curb our newfound distrust of orphanage directors. Then there were sad, wishful sighs, and we changed the subject.

I didn't forget about my idea, but Tim's reaction convinced me the plan was a little ridiculous.

So, you can imagine my surprise a few days later when Tim told me after work that he had indeed called Mike to inquire about his trip to Africa as mentioned on his agency's webpage. The news took me by surprise! It wasn't like Tim to go out on a limb with a dreamy, unrealistic idea.

"...and?" I questioned with confusion.

"Well, first I just asked him if he was going. He confirmed his plans to head to Uganda in March, so I asked him what he would be doing there." Tim explained.

"He seems very organized and ran through a whole list of places and people to visit on his agenda. He is pretty much going to set up contacts for their agency's international adoption program that will be Hague accredited in a few months."

This seemed too perfect, "...and!" I urged with a little too much anticipation.

"Then I told him that my crazy-dreamer wife thought I should ask him to ride along on his trip. I threw in some comments about knowing he may well have a team in place and didn't want to be a burden and that I thought it seemed like a far-fetched idea but it didn't hurt to ask," Tim hurried. Were we really  having this conversation? Ridiculousness is so out of character for Tim.

"What'd he say? What'd he say?!?!" the suspense was killing me!

Tim continued, "Well, he is going on this trip alone. He's traveled to Uganda twice in the last year and is quite comfortable with the contacts he's made there and confident to go by himself on this trip."

My expression faded. "Well, that was anticlimactic," I thought to myself. Maybe Tim made the call to prove realism trumps ridiculous optimism. But then, Tim continued....smiling.

"But...he said as much as he is comfortable going alone, his wife is really struggling with sending him all by himself. He wondered if God told us to ask about going on the trip and communicated that he would appreciate a companion, even if it was a stranger."

"And then he flat out asked if I would like to travel to Africa."

"What!?!?!?" did he just say what I thought he said?

"I can go...er, well, I've been invited to go."

And so a short discussion over whether or not we could actually plunge into this dream began. It seemed like a perfect opportunity for our adoption woes, but did Tim really want to go to Africa?

You can imagine my adventurous and dream-filled ideas require a grounded man to maintain balance in our home. He is grounded in the sense that he is practical, realistic, and likes to stay on the ground. He doesn't have a lot of flying experience, and doesn't seek out adventures involving airplane rides. He is not against flying, he just doesn't promote it. Even when originally choosing to adopt from Africa, the plane trip made his "cons" list.

Tim's wariness to fly doesn't even touch the impractical disadvantage of spending so much money on an exploratory trip while we work diligently to save money for adoption fees. We didn't have a lot of time to talk that night, but this was certainly a concern. Mike asked Tim to give him a yes or no within a week so they could get plans and plane tickets together if needed.

Laying in bed that night, I remember thinking the trip would require a lot of discussion over the next week. It seemed as if God Himself invited Tim to go to Africa because of the way it all played out! How could he NOT go? Did God have something specific there for him? Something so special as to require a personal invitation? But how could Tim go, when leaving his family to fly to Africa "just to see what he could see" seemed extreme?

Well, THE very next day, after our five minute chat between just the two of us about a whirlwind trip to Africa the night before, Tim took me out for lunch. We wanted to seriously discuss this trip and a lunch date without the kids' curious ears around seemed like the only opportunity.

When he picked me up at work, he was on the phone in his truck and had a curious look on his face. Before he could even say hello, he pointed to the phone indicating he was taking a call. I closed the door and he turned the conversation on through his speakers so I could hear and immediately, I recognized the voice of a friend on the other end.

A call from this friend was unordinary because he wasn't the "let's chat on the phone in the middle of the day" kind of friend and acknowledged this very thing as I settled into my seat. Then he went on to say that not only was it weird to be calling Tim in the middle of the day, but something bizarre had happened during the week prior that he and his wife could not ignore.

He said they had money to donate and were just going to throw it in the plate at church on Sunday when they both felt God saying they should hold onto it...that someone would need it. He kept reiterating how strange it all was, that they both felt that way. Then he said they felt the money belonged to us as a gift and he would have it waiting for us if we wanted to accept it.

Oh, and did I mention the amount was the approximate price of a plane ticket to Uganda?!?!?!

I looked at Tim through tears.

Wow.

We hadn't even told our family (our kids even) that a trip to Uganda could be an option. We weren't sure if we had enough purpose or money to make that kind of trip happen. But this phone call, from this friend, on this day was almost as if God reached down and pushed Tim forward, saying, "Go."

And so he is.

My tears fell as a realization that God does have something for us. We still do not know what that something is. All we know is that Mr. "There's No Need to Travel the World" is feeling like he really needs to go to Uganda. And that Mrs. "Adventure Seeking, World Travel Loving, Dreamer" is totally fine letting her husband go without her on this one. In fact, I feel like Tim doing something uncomfortable swings the door wide open for God to speak into Him.

That is my prayer.

We have a feeling that on this trip to Africa, God will show Tim what kind of orphan care he has set aside for the Shoaf family. We don't know if that means adopting an orphan, helping in a different way there, or raising awareness here. We really aren't anticipating possible outcomes (Although when Tim was asking what souvenirs he should bring back for each of us, Josie asked for a bracelet and Jackson asked for a boy!), because we have a hunch God's going to inform us of our part in His timing. And we are totally okay with that.

Please pray for Tim. Pray that he will hear God in Uganda. Pray that he will be protected physically. Pray that God would help Tim to see what He sees, to touch with the power and love of Christ, and to listen with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Pray for safety and sleep and for healing over Tim's nagging knee pain. Pray for orphans (keep Edmond and Edina on the list!) in Africa. I expect great things.

I'm already more proud of my husband than I have ever been. This very grounded man is clearly learning that God's way is so much bigger than his way and his own preferences. He is excited to experience God's work in the lives of orphans. Even if that means he has to fly over an ocean to see it.

Go, God!






Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Processing

Sitting in the middle of February, we find ourselves processing. I thought our mid-February processing would mean documents shuffling across the desk of a Ghanian lawyer, preparing for a day in court. I expected to schedule flights, pack luggage, and find babysitters for our kids at home so we could meet our new kiddos in Africa for the first time. But alas, God is asking us to process differently.

The news of ending our adoption plans with Edmond and Edina warranted a reckoning with the fragility of international adoption. For Tim, this uncovered corruption brings new resolve to maintain integrity in our adoption process and ensure stability in the plan. Camping out in the fragile for a while has been my approach.

After my last post here, phone calls, texts, and facebook messages acknowledged my broken heart. Individuals at work, at church, heck...even at Wal-Mart offered hugs that brought more tears. Sharing our story means sharing our pain. I've never been a fan of crying, but this whole adoption situation might change my crying philosophy!

One particular epic cry moment happened two weeks ago at church. Tim missed church on account of (ANOTHER) Sunday morning snow. (He pushes snow for a living...more on that later.) That morning, I felt a deep nudge to share about our experience of loss with the church. Tim and I consider our church "family" and I wanted them to be informed. I had already posted here, and as a result, many people knew about our adoption process status, but other dear prayer warriors from church did not know this new disruption in our adoption plan.

When sharing time came, I realized I wouldn't be able to share without tears, and if you know me, I don't do tears, so I decided I couldn't share. Not that day.

However, as others shared, I conjured up a real business-like way to share our fallen-through adoption and convinced myself I could do it without crying. Well, my brain and my heart must have miscommunicated.

I announced four words (real business-like) before I choked up and couldn't speak at all. I sank into my pew, shoulders heaving, trying my best at "silent sobbing" (either I'm a total newby or silent sobbing doesn't exist).

And I sat, ugly crying in front of the entire congregation.

Here's what I learned that morning about ugly crying in church...

First, it's humiliating and ruins your make-up. However, you will quickly find reasons two through five far outweigh the woes of running mascara.

Second, unlike my first inclination with criers (RUN AWAY), many people possess the true gift of nurture. As I sat down that morning, unable to tell the whole story, church members rushed to my side. And then (more tears) I witnessed Sunday school teachers, family, and friends hold tight to my daughters, dealing with their own broken hearts.  Dear, dear "family" embraced our struggle while the pastor and others prayed over our family. Nurturing people proved to me that transparency (even in the ugly crying form) gives them an opportunity to use a gift God granted for specific moments like this. (Thank you hugging, hand-holding, tissue givers...you know who you are!)

Third, sharing my pain opened the doors for others to show compassion. After the service, individuals from my church lined up to tell how they also felt loss. Tender stories, some from decades ago, came from men and women alike. Each one with an experience of loss and a promise that God is faithful. Compassion became a theme in every story, hug, and smile. Hurting hurts less when others cry too.

Fourth, my church is awesome. That Monday, and for many days to come, our family received cards. Lots of cards. They offered encouragement, prayer, and hope. You know when you go to church and people walk by, or even stop to chat and always ask, "How are you?" and you (and everyone else for that matter) say, "I'm good!"and then you go on your way and celebrate the friendliness of church-goers? Well, ever since my complete mess of tears in front of our church, people stop me and they want to know how I am...how I really am. And I tell them.

I tell them it is hard, but God is good and then I tell them why. Sometimes, what used to be a 6-second conversation turns to 10 minutes. And this, folks, is the church being the church, sharing pain and carrying it right alongside me so that the burden is a little lighter and the future seems a little brighter.

My church hasn't all of the sudden gotten awesome, it's always been amazing. This is just the first time I've exposed my heart to this extent. That Sunday morning, with my tears, my heart mouthed, "Help me." And they ran to answer my heart cry. They are marvelous people being used as the tender hands of God to wipe away my tears. I love them! I love God and his plan of believers living in community. If you don't have a church family, my ugly cry morning would strongly suggest you find one!

[And here's my shout out to First Menno! I love living in community with you!]

Fifth, (last, but not least...probably the GREATEST) prayer works. Thanks to the thousands of prayer warriors checking in here and to my church family for praying! So many friends assure me that prayers continue to be offered up on behalf of Edmond and Edina. I won't be surprised to find them true Ghanian royalty someday because of the investments of prayer. People across the globe are depositing eternal pleas for their protection and prosperity! To tell you the truth, my prayers for them have taken on new urgency and fervor.

I know people are praying for us too and our journey to adopt because I can testify that God is up to something...BIG.

I can't wait to tell you about it.

But that testimony is for another post. I need a bit more processing before I confidently share how this part of the our journey nudges us into something greater in our quest to touch orphans for Christ. I'm not even sure what it looks like yet, but believe me, I am sitting on the edge of my seat!

But now, today, in this post, I can honestly say, "I am thankful for the process." The process contains valuable lessons built in to prepare us for the end result. Thank you, God, for this part of our story and for people who mirror your compassion. And thank you, God, for allowing me to camp out in the fragile and attain a better understanding of your tenderness and care. I love You and Your plan, even in the struggle.

Oh, and about the aforementioned snow: we prayed for God to provide financially for this adoption and Tim has pushed enough snow to add mountains to our adoption fund. So, sorry if you live in Indiana and hate snow, I may or may not have prayed in our snowpocalypse!


Monday, January 27, 2014

An Unexpected, Sad Twist

Every award winning story contains an extraordinary, unexpected twist. Well, we've hit ours and it plays on our worst fear.

We hadn't heard much from our agency for about a month, so we decided we'd touch base with them after the holidays. Turns out, we didn't have to. They called us.

They wanted a formal discussion about the Ghana program in general. Yes, we could do that. We scheduled a call with them on the day we headed to Indianapolis for our fingerprinting appointment, necessary for international adoption.

Cradle of Hope had bad news.

In the preceding week, they discovered discriminatory evidence pointing to the corruption of the orphanage director on whom they relied for the entire Ghana program. The news devastated the agency and they wanted to inform all families in the program to see what kind of reaction it would generate. Our hearts sank into our stomachs. Was this really happening?

They told us to think and pray about what we might want to do going forward. We clicked "end" and both took a deep breath. What were we supposed to say? What were we supposed to do?

Moving forward with our adoption of Edmond and Edina meant likely more corruption, more money, and an uncertain outcome. The agency emphasized the breach of trust blew holes in the program's integrity in general. If he lied about one aspect, did he lie about how he acquired the orphans? Was he caring for them as advertised? Would he make good on future promises?

Terminating interaction with this corrupt director meant terminating our dream of including Edmond and Edina in our family. Tears came.

Angry tears. One man's corruption shattered the future of dozens of orphans and a few families like ours waiting to love them. The plight of orphans in the world took on a different shade that day. A dull, gray shade. Millions (yes, millions) of orphans never see the hope of a family because of corruption in their communities and in our world.

Sad tears. Spiritual investments on behalf of Edmond and Edina were in full swing. Hundreds of intimate prayers connected our souls to the plight of these two orphans. Severing our hopes of ever meeting the precious faces we invested so heavily in, tore my heart. Would I never squeeze Edmond's hand on my way into the grocery store just to say "I love you"? Would I never tell Edina a made-up "Princess Edina" story to help her settle down for sleep?

Uh. This is what a broken heart feels like.

Tim and I consistently prayed throughout our adoption process that honesty would prevail and corruption would have no place in welcoming an orphan into our family. This development was difficult to navigate. We really, really did not want to work with a corrupt man. But we really, really wanted Edmond and Edina to join our family. After some discussion, we decided that we would lean heavily on what the agency recommended for us. We have no experience with international adoption and they've had decades. If they thought we could manage a road of corruption, we may attempt it. If not, we would stop pursuing this route.

We called them about a week later to touch base. They asked what we were thinking. We told them, "We aren't even sure what to think." We asked them what they would do if they were us, lined up to adopt two kids from this orphanage?

They said, "Run."

They explained again that trust had been broken and moving forward could be unpredictable and precarious and my cost us unnecessarily only to be devastated in the end with empty arms.

It was decided. We would terminate our connection with that orphanage. They explained that Edmond and Edina would be removed from foster care without our support and placed back into the orphanage indefinitely.

I wanted a good-bye hug. I wanted closure. There was none.

After much thought I realized, in a way, I didn't have to say goodbye. My prayers before that day were heartfelt and heard (and I believe answered!). My prayers going forward would be just as effective. Although Edmond and Edina will likely never be in my direct care, I can spiritually continue to invest in them.

So I am. Praying for God to intervene in their lives. Ultimately praying that they will have a family. Praying for full bellies. Praying for the living word of God to sink into their hearts. Praying against trafficking. Praying against abuse. Praying for a hope and a future.

Tim and I talked about our part in all of this. Perhaps our very prayers against corruption uncovered the crooked ways of this orphanage director. Perhaps our prayers saved the futures of other would-be-orphans. I trust that this turn in events IS an answer to prayer.

A very hard answer.

Please, please, please pray for our family. When we told the kids, they were crushed. Through tears Jackson had to say, "I just thought Edmond was going to be my brother." We did too, bud. We did too.

We are all very, very sad.

Starting again seems daunting. But we will. Cradle of Hope has already suggested we move into their Uganda program. They even have a sibling set of three waiting to be adopted (they must think we are INSANE). However, we are hesitant to move forward with an agency associated with so much heartbreak. We have a few other connections with other agencies that are possibilities for adoption in other African countries. We are making those phone calls and trying to decide what is next for us. We need prayers for discernment and direction.

Since receiving this devastating news, a scenario plays out in my head over and over again and it brings  my heart much hope. I see myself in that Haitian orphanage we visited in the summer of 2012. I imagine hugging a set of twins, overjoyed to learn I could adopt them. Then, in this picture, a worker comes in as I am packing them up and says, "There was a mistake, these two aren't up for adoption! I'm  so sorry!" Then she points to another pair of orphans. "But, these two are...Would you be interested in them instead?" Of course! And I would adopt the other orphans instead, and life would be blessed and full with those two. This vision helps to heal my broken heart.

Yes, we will continue in our story. An orphan (or two....or three?!?!) out there in the world is depending on us to push through this. The unexpected twist in our story brings us to tears, but provides even more purpose and resolve to help those in distress.

What should probably make us scared to move forward has bolstered our faith in the only One we can trust in this process. God is faithful. So we will be too. Our faith continues to grow in this determined state. We depend more than ever on the author of our story. We cling to Scripture like Deuteronomy 31:8. We continue to say, "Thank you for this refining process."

As for our story, this crazy twist should pump out a real page-turner with a fantastic ending....right?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Combatting Fear in the New Year

I don't have much to share except: I'm scared. The thought of this new year seems too big to me. I have no idea what's in store come next December.

What if this all falls through and our emotional and monetary investments seem wasted? What if Edmond and Edina come and we don't adjust well or parent well? What if our biological kids revolt?!?

Ah! I'm scared.

I decided that before I was transparent with you here, I would be transparent with God. He lead me to Ephesians 5:15-16 and reminded me to, "Be very careful, then, how you live- not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity..."

Even though I'm scared, I want to make the most of this opportunity (and I do feel like we are being wise, even though some people may question our barometer for wisdom!). I guess that's why I choose to blog my thoughts throughout this process. Tim and I are passionate about orphans and sharing here has proven quite the open door to show how ordinary people can play a part. But writing here makes me scared too. The world-wide web spotlights my fears and throws them on a platform. Yikes!

Tim and I viewed a sermon a while back featuring Francis Chan sharing insight over Psalm 23. It spoke to me in my fear and reminded both Tim and I why it makes more sense to go ahead with this than to hold back. We watched it again on Sunday, and I knew I wanted to share it with you!

If you are snowed in like I am and have a little spare time, I highly recommend watching Francis share his thoughts on Psalm 23. This scripture generates confidence and peace in situations that call for fear and anxiety.

Confidence and peace. Yes, I'll take that over fear any day! "Hi-Ya!" (That's me karate-chopping fear in the face! I'm fighting it Karate Kid style because I've been cooped up for a looooooong time with a Karate Kid marathon on TV. Wow. Cabin fever is setting in, folks.)

That's where I'm at. If you think about it and want to, you can pray for me and for us. Specifically that we would have peace and confidence in this process. We have watched God answer so many prayers! I trust He will answer these as well.

Maybe I can share more about ways we've been blessed and encouraged during the Holidays in a later post. God is THE great shepherd and we have much to share!

Anyway, here's the video. Warning: it's a world rocker!  Click here to view Francis Chan's sermon, "The Lord is My Shepherd" The preaching starts at about minute 18 (but the stuff before is good too).



This is what snowed in looks like for us! I'm calling it our very own "Snoceanfront property."



Saturday, December 28, 2013

Christmas Morning

Well, it wasn't our most exciting Christmas morning. Nothing can compare to the "Disney Trip" Christmas morning we had three years ago that made all the kids cry....because the thought of driving 16 hours in our mini van only to be separated from friends and family over Christmas Break upset them to tears! That totally didn't turn out like the commercials promised, but THAT is whooooole different story.

 About a month ago, we decided to forgo the gift-buying this year, and we stuck to our guns! Our extended families supported us and understood our reasons for wanting to save money and reserve our Christmas energy for next year when ALL of our kiddos are around the tree on Christmas morning.

I will say, going to the mall with no list was LIBERATING! I did not envy the frantic moms clutching seven bags with marching feet and rosy cheeks on a mission to grab it all before time ran out!  We did manage two trips to the mall in December to pick up only the things we needed to keep a family of six clothed...and a baked pretzel dripping with buttery, sugary goodness, of course. I even went to Target and came away with just a bag of mints and a wreath for my door, period.

Yes, I really liked the idea of simplifying Christmas. However, while we were hanging stockings after Thanksgiving, Ally asked, "Why are we even hanging these things up, we won't put any gifts in them, will we?"

Hmmm, I had never thought of that. (We hung the stockings anyway. The place looked too bare without them!)



The next week, I was grocery shopping and ran into a friend who had been reading our story, and we talked about Christmas. I admitted that I did not know what Christmas morning would actually look like and mentioned Ally's comment about the stockings. During our conversation, a light-bulb went off just above her head (I swear I even saw it!) and I knew she was sitting on a good idea.

She started to say she had an idea, and then stopped like she didn't want to impose. Knowing that the best ideas come from the frozen veggie aisle at Wal-Mart, I urged her to share. She explained how words mean so much to her and suggested writing letters to our kids and use them as "stocking stuffers" for Christmas morning. She continued, "Letters cost  no money, could be saved forever, AND communicate love and appreciation for each one of your kids."

WHY HADN'T I THOUGHT OF THAT?!?!? (This Language Arts teacher wanted to hug that girl's neck right by the peas and carrots!)

Okay, I just realized in the last four paragraphs, two of them began with me not thinking. That happens a lot. I am like an idea factory and when I get a good one, I go with it and let the thinking come later! No one knows this better than my husband, so when I told him about this new, great, fantastic idea, he kindly agreed to write letters. Although he does not share my love for writing, he would do anything for the kids...even write. So, he was willing to express his thoughts in hopes of creating a memory.

We decided to share the letter-writing idea with the kids and commissioned them to write letters to each other as well. Soon after their break began, I brought out a variety of paper and pens and pitched the plan.

They agreed, but I'm pretty sure I heard, "I thought we were on a break from school!"

"Writing is good for the soul," I told them in my most inspiring eleventh-grade English teacher voice, and I dreamt of sparkly, adjective filled, three paragraph letters that would be treasured forever. The kids worked on them and began filling the stockings.

Finally, Christmas morning came. Just as planned, we woke up to....(drum roll, please)

an empty tree.

I made a special breakfast and the kids all slept in (that was different). Tim and I set the table and waited for all the kids to wake. Our plans seemed good, but I'm not gonna lie...I came down with the Christmas morning blues.


No gifts meant no wide eyes of wonder, no throwing of paper in intense excitement, no crazy reactions from the kids, no neck hugging and profuse thanking.

It was a downer. Not even a sparkly, three paragraph letter addressed to me would fix what I missed in opening presents.

Even Tim said, "This is kinda sad. I actually miss the presents." (He wowed me with that one...some years I wonder if he is The Grinch!)

The kids finally woke up and felt it too. But we ate our breakfast, read the Christmas story, and then opened our letters.

Yes, the letters were special. Yes, it was fun to open something on Christmas morning. Yes, they made us laugh, and made Tim cry. Despite the lack of sparkle, adjectives, and paragraphs, I realized they were timeless and perfect.

The kids' personalities oozed out of each note as I unfolded them. I love each one of my kids, created by the same God, placed in the same family, but still so different from each other. Grace's letters were pretty and creative. Ally's wordy and thoughtful, Josie's had illustrations, and Jackson's came with instructions to, "Read in a British accent!"


After we laughed (and Tim wiped the tears from his cheeks), we agreed the letters were a winning idea. Jackson said what everyone was thinking, however, when he offered his thoughts:

"Let's write letters again next year AND buy Christmas presents to open!"

And I think that's what we'll do.

I wonder what the letters next Christmas to Edmond and Edina will say...

What kinds of memories will we have at that point?

What personality traits will we dote on in each?

Will they be able to read the letters?

Will they have a great British accent like their brother?

Even as I write these thoughts, I think of God watching us. We are waiting to receive a gift (TWO gifts!) that will not only bless, but complete our family. We don't know what these gifts will hold, but we understand them to be something extremely special. I imagine that we are the wide-eyed, wonder filled, intensely excited kid on Christmas morning. I am bursting to open these new gifts and see what God has in store for our family! I realize that He is the giver of all great gifts and enjoys our reactions, and hugs to the neck with profuse thanksgiving.

Before we even receive these bundles, God, I say, "Thank you! Thank you for the opportunity to grow and love! We owe every drop of gratitude for this story to you and your work in our lives. Thank you, thank you, thank you!"


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

And Sometimes We Are Stubborn and Stupid

Back to the adoption progress...and a bump in the road where we discover how stupid and stubborn we are.

After we had been officially matched with a set of boy/girl twins from Ghana, we had paperwork to complete. The documents that the foreign government requires are often referred to as the "dossier." For Ghana, the documents were manageable to gather, sign, and pass along to our adoption agency. The entire process in gathering these documents was about a month (but would have been about half that time if we would have remembered to sign the most important one!).

Upon beginning our official process with Cradle of Hope, they offered to place Edmond and Edina in Ghanian foster care until we are able to bring them home. This is an outstanding opportunity, and we felt confident about the process in general and love the personal feel of connecting with the orphanage director over the foster family selection. In fact, a few months prior, the agency handling our home-study excitedly encouraged us to get them out of the orphanage and into a home if it was ever offered to us. They had seen countless benefits from cases past in which foster care had greatly enhanced the transition process of inter-country adoptions. Here we were, with an excellent proposition.

However, there was a price.

Now, this won't paint a very pretty picture of Tim and I...but it is where we are (were) at. I'm just keeping it real here!

International adoption is expensive. We knew that going into the process. We understood that if God was calling us to this, he would give us means to cover any financial requirement. But this foster care cost was hard to swallow.

First of all, we were certain that the amount they needed, or charged, greatly exceeded the amount we imagined a child (or two) required for monthly care in Ghana. We knew they would be fed better than the one meal of beans and rice they received at the orphanage, but couldn't imagine food in Ghana being more expensive than food in the U.S. We also counted the cost of schooling and some lodging costs and our numbers were still much less that what they wanted us to contribute every month.

Secondly, we wondered, where would all that money go? We were sure our kids would reap the benefits, but with all of it?!?!? Tim has been especially leery during this entire process, politely asking the agency to clarify procedures and requirements to ensure ethical behavior on our end and theirs. Would this money be entirely used for ethical purposes? We didn't know. We couldn't know. Sure, the agency said that it would. Was their word enough?

Third, this cost was something we hadn't planned on. We had money for our adoption saved, but this cost would add a substantial amount to our bottom line. And, unlike the other expenses that came a bit at a time and then in one hunk, this would be a consistent withdrawal from our coveted savings.

There, I said it, "coveted." It was our money. We had worked hard for it and wanted to use it in the adoption process, but for the end goal...not during and because of the process to people we weren't sure we could trust.

But time was running out. If we wanted our kids to be placed in a home, we needed to send three months of foster care money, NOW.

We knew we would do it. THEY WERE OUR KIDS, FOR PETE'S SAKE. We thought about our biological kids in an orphanage setting with an opportunity to live in a house with a bathroom, kitchen table, and mamma to tuck them in at night and longed for Edmond and Edina to have the same. Yes, it was time to send a check.

I remember the day we sent it. I was off work for the afternoon, addressing other adoption paperwork. Tim and I met at home to look at our checklist and take care of everything possible in those few hours. At around 1:00, Tim wrote the check out, addressed the envelope, placed a stamp in the top corner, and cringed.

"Let's pray over this." I suggested, still feeling uneasy about sending our money off into the great unknown.

And so we prayed. Prayers that the money would be used wisely. Asking God to help us to let go of our money. Pleading that he would use it to care greatly for our kids in Ghana. We prayed for God to help us understand that this check and situation was in his hands and not ours.

Three hours later, we felt God smile (maybe even chuckle) over us.

The kids came home from school and I was busy helping them with school work when Tim came in from the mailbox. He was going through the mail and he passed me an opened envelope and said with a smirk on his face, "Here, look at this...I think you'll find it very interesting."

With a curious look of my own, I felt the small, thick note. When I opened the simple, handwritten note, cash fell onto my arm....lots of cash. The note simply said, "Tim, Lana + Family, Please use this for your adoption. Praying that everything goes well." I counted the money....almost an entire month's worth of money we were required to pay for foster care!

Tears formed again. (I'm not usually a crier, I promise. This whole adoption thing and watching God work is amazing enough to warrant tears, even from me!)

Hadn't we prayed two hours before about money? Hadn't we doubted the process and our capability two hours prior? Hadn't we struggled to "let go" of "our" cash to aid the two orphans we've been praying for?

Yes, God was smiling. He knew that we had no clue about "our" money. He knew that we held too tightly to what seemed rightfully ours. He knew we were being stubborn and stupid, even in this no-brainer situation to help our kids.

He showed us.

He showed us that our money is not really ours. Just like the money in the envelope was not really ours...or the anonymous giver's. He showed us that HE alone is the provider.

And he can be very generous.

Since that afternoon, we have received a similar envelope in the mail, covering another entire month's foster care. And in our sharing, a couple had previously asked if they could do the same. So, here we are, one month into foster care for Edmond and Edina and the Lord has paid for every day of it and the next two months to come!

We trust that He will continue to provide. (Side note, Tim plows snow for extra money in the winters and to date he has pushed snow 3 times more so far this year than any other year!) God is good, even when we are stupid and stubborn.

We have since created an account with adopttogether.com for such donations. At this web address, anyone can donate to our adoption and receive a receipt (the gift can be tax deductible) and be assured that the money is used for adoption expenses only. We are granted money from our account only when we show receipts of our adoption expenses and it must be approved by their board of directors.

Please do not feel obligated, but if you've wondered how to help or give, this is the answer. The right side bar of this blog has a direct link to our AdoptTogether profile and account and will take you through the donation process painlessly. Or, if you want to give, but not online, you can always send an anonymous note and make me cry:)




Monday, December 9, 2013

A Different Kind of Christmas

Christmas will be different this year. Tim and I discussed a while back that we should cut back or even forego all the gift-giving this Christmas.

Tim is always looking for a way out of the commercialism and the "gimme" fever that settles in our house every November 26th (or so...depending on when the Black Friday ads come out). I, on the other hand, love, love, love gift giving and I'm at the height of my game during the holidays! But, after discussing with Tim, I realized that it would be difficult to celebrate fully around the Christmas tree on December 25th knowing two of our kids are spending Christmas morning in a steamy country across the ocean with much less fanfare. We also acknowledged that it would be an excellent area to cut back in because our kids really don't need anything. And, Tim argued, it was an opportunity to live with less and nurture the value of contentment in our kids. It sounded so idealistic.

Well, we received our first text about exchanging names for Christmas a few weeks ago, which I avoided because I didn't know what to say. Were we really going to sit out? Our idealistic idea turned into a picture of genuine torture for the Shoaf kids. I could see clearly in my mind, all of the Shoaf cousins "oohing" and "aahing" over perfectly picked gifts they exchanged while our poor, pitiful four would longingly look at beautifully wrapped packages, trying not to show their jealousy, secretly wishing one was for them. Ugh. We needed to talk.

We brought it up over dinner (a lot of things happen over dinner, I am realizing as I continue to post to my blog!). Tim just flat out asked the kids what they really wanted to do. Did they want a regular Christmas, or did they want to try to sacrifice gifts this year so that next year we could do Christmas with all SIX of our kids?

We were surprised at the responses.

Ally was very fine with it. Keep in mind, she has "Kisses From Katie" mentality and would give just about anything for an orphan.

Grace toughed through it. She was clearly struggling, but agreed that it was the right thing to do.

Jackson spoke matter-of-fact about the whole issue. Concluding that it certainly was the right thing to do.

Josie's excitement was difficult to hide. She loved the idea!

Well, that was easier than we thought. It was decided: there would be no gifts around our Christmas tree this Christmas. Next, we asked about family exchanges and what they thought about those, and the responses were the same. There would be absolutely no gift-buying in our household this Christmas.

We told Tim's family about it over the weekend. With nods, they told us they understood.

Tim's family is rather large. He has two older sisters and they have three kids a piece. He also has three step-sisters, two of them also have kids. Brooke has two darling girls and Steph has four (a singlet and then a set of triplets...don't drink the water at our Christmases unless you want to run the risk of having multiples!). Christmastime at Grandpa Jack and Grandma Sue's is quite the ordeal. The tree skirt can't be seen with the mountain of gifts piled under and around the tree! We have a family exchange, and Jack and Sue are always gracious with their gifts, so there is plenty to go around on Christmas Day.

That's why Sue's text the next day came as a surprise. She asked if it was okay if we forgot about the exchange altogether and had all the kids bring a small gift for Edmond and Edina.

Oh my!

Tears came to my eyes again. Then I felt guilty. This had not been our motive or imagined outcome. I apologized and reassured her that we didn't want anyone to feel like they also had to give up the exchange.

Then she told me it was all Brooke's idea. Brooke knew that kids even as small as hers would make complete sense of giving up a Christmas gift for cousins waiting to join our family from across the ocean. So, now those darling little girls with pigtails are shopping for kids they've never met but want to love. My heart melts just thinking of it!

I can't think of a better "different" way to celebrate the birth of love itself. Tim and I are incredibly blessed with this opportunity to add to our family. We are beside ourselves in our wait to meet our kids for the first time! We can't wait to go through these gifts with our kids in Africa and show them photos of all the aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents waiting to share life with them and love them in a "Christmas" kind of way all the time.

Yes, this different kind of Christmas may just be one of our favorites so far! (Although, Lord willing, the next one's sure to be pretty historic!)