Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Israel's First Christmas

Although our son was not with us this Christmas, he was constantly on our minds all day (what's new?). For Christmas this year we gave Israel three gifts to "unwrap."

First, he got three Debby Anderson books! I'd heard these were highly recommended and I echo other recommendations! These books are very full of scripture and have children from many countries represented! I found these at a Lifeway store on clearance for $3 each but they would be worth full price too!

Second, Will found an Auburn University themed car mat for his room! We LOVE this and have been coveting it since our trip to Auburn in September! I can't wait for Israel to play on it!

Third, Will made him a book (he wrote and did the art!). It is very special and I love how creative my husband is!

His loot!

Our sweet boy was also spoiled by his grandparents and great-grandparents! I feel much more prepared for this little cutie every day! Speaking of cute, we got a new picture of him this week and he is SMILING!!! Don't worry, the picture is already printed for our brag books and framed in the kitchen. We can't get enough of him! This morning Will came in our room and said "Uh oh, it happened. He got cuter overnight!" We are completely smitten!

And I might as well post our awesome ornaments that are on our tree this year for the first time!

Thanks Cara Jane & Chris!

His sweet face on our tree is my favorite! (It has been edited so you can't see it- sorry friends! Trust me he's cute!)

I hope you all had a merry Christmas too! Now our New Year's wish: bring Israel HOME!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the McGees!

This year we are so thankful for the journey that 2011 brought us. It brought LOTS of changes (new job, new town, new church, new BABY on the way!). It was definitely a tough year at times and we saw how much we needed God's grace to get through it!

And although we don't have our son home yet, we know our prayers from last Christmas were heard.  God faithfully led us to the son that is meant to be a McGee. We can't wait to meet our Israel and we are thankful to God for demonstrating adoption first-hand in sending Jesus to earth so that we could become sons of God through Christ's redemption.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee O Israel!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Sweet Gift (and prayer request)

Yesterday we got a very special gift in the mail from our agency:

No, that is not Israel on the cover of our travel packet- that is a really cute girl who is home now!

Included was a birth announcement (his name has been blurred for legal reasons).

I just cried when I saw that. I can't wait to send out adoption announcements when he is home forever!

In other news, we applied for a grant yesterday, and hope to apply for a few more this week. Please pray for that if you can, that we would be accepted into at least one grant program so it can fund the rest of our process (travel costs could range from $5-10,000).

Thank you prayer warriors! Please continue praying that we get a miraculously speedy court date! Although Hannah's Hope is a great place, it's not a mom and dad caring for him. We want our son home.

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Next Steps" Call

Last Wednesday night, we had a call with our case manager to talk about what the next leg of our adoption journey will look like. She went over the details of the first trip, second trip, and the requirements of Ethiopian Court/ US Embassy that could possibly slow us down in between.

Adoption is truly a miracle, you guys. There are so many hoops to jump through and random pieces of paperwork/ people that have to be involved in bringing every single child home. The reason it takes so long is that there is a lot of details to be taken care of in an ethical adoption! I would much rather it take a bit longer and have peace of mind that our son is legally and rightfully ours, though. I'm so thankful for our agency's sound reputation!

For now, we are waiting on a birth certificate for our son to be created (which may take up to 6 weeks) and our dossier + Israel's paperwork to be merged and translated, then ALL of that submitted to Ethiopian court, where we will land on a stack of other family's paperwork and eventually get a court date.

We have NO idea when we will travel, and although we can make guesses, it really doesn't help with planning at all because there is absolutely no way to know until it is official. Our guesses were initially that we would travel on our first trip in January or February, but our case manager suggested March for our first trip (she was also just guessing). So we will see. I've been stalking other adoptive family's timelines and trying to guess according to their stories, but honestly the Ethiopian program has changed so much over the last year that you really cannot compare two families at all. Our case manager estimated that Israel would be home in 5-8 months from referral (so late spring/summer??) I haven't really seen that long of a process except in rare cases with AGCI families, the trend I've seen is about 4-6 months. Again, there is no way to know until its official. There can be MANY roadblocks and fire-y hoops ahead for us.

So, will you be our prayer warriors? Will you join with us in praying for a speedy court date, a quick process, and for things to be in order for our son to come home? He is so small right now, and I hate thinking about the time that is ticking away while he is in Ethiopia away from us. We miss him! I know that sounds silly because we haven't met him, but our hearts just ache for this sweet boy with crazy hair and big brown eyes that has our hearts wrapped around his tiny brown fingers. We can't wait for him to be with us forever.

And beyond our specific prayer requests regarding timelines, please join us in praying for God's glory to be given through this process, as we have much waiting ahead. We don't want to portray God's blessing and grace in a negative light- we want to praise Him even in the hard wait.

Thanks again for walking beside us, and for praying for us as we move forward.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Two Months Old!

Dear Israel,

Today you are two months old! We heard very sad news today that you are not feeling well. Oh, son, we long to have you home so we can snuggle you when you don't feel very good. We are praying for you all the time and throughout the day your dad and I call each other just to talk about how cute you are. All day we wonder what you are doing, and imagining you as you discover more about yourself and your environment. You look so quiet and thoughtful in your pictures. And you hair! Oh, you have some styling hair right now. Your dad hopes we can keep the mohawk that you are rocking right now.

Son, we are praying for you non stop. Today we are celebrating that you are two months old and that God has gracefully allowed us to pray for you during this time. It is a privilege to look at your pictures and know that God is working on our behalf to have you home.

This weekend we bought you a LOT of clothes in preparation for next summer and fall. Every outfit we imagined your cute little arms and legs inside. Your dad bought a baseball outfit for you to wear to a Braves game next season. He's already making plans to take you to lots of fun places!

Tonight, to celebrate your two month birthday, we're having some international students over. We love having people from different cultures and backgrounds in our home- and we look forward to incorporating what we learn about Ethiopia here, too! We love you sweet boy. We can't stop praying for you and asking for God's hand of protection over you. We hope you feel better soon, little man. Your mom and dad can't wait to take care of you.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Family Education Coordinator Call / A Brief Insight into Cocooning

Last Thursday, Will and I had a phone conference with our Family Education Coordinator, "E" (Not to be confused with B, our first case manager, or T, our current case manager)! It was really fun talking with her about what the coming months (especially after bringing Israel home). We talked a lot about our transition plan (a document we completed and sent in with our referral paperwork that discusses what resources are around here, plus our "plan" for transitioning Israel to our home/family).

We discussed that Israel is going to have been through some extreme losses when he comes to us, and talked a little bit about how that grief can manifest itself (sleeping a lot, disconnecting from us). You see, Israel already lost his birthmother (whom he connected with in the womb), then was moved to Hannah's Hope, where he will be accustomed to a routine and special mothers. Then, he will be taken from his country, the language, the skin color of his caregivers, the noises of lots of kids, the smells, etc... and he won't understand what parents are. By the time he comes home, he's been through some great losses, and so we have to learn how to help him process that grief and love him through it. 

In addition to that, she gave us some great insight into "cocooning" - a term that many of you know if you're deep in the adoption community. Cocooning is a time period after you bring home your child in which you focus on bonding/attachment with your child. This means very minimal amounts of leaving our home, not passing around Israel (even for family members), not going to church (well, me & Israel) for a few weeks, wearing him in the Ergo 6-8 hours a day, avoiding over-stimulation, him sleeping in our room in the pack & play, bottle feeding, not letting him feed himself, rocking him to sleep (even though he won't be used to that), etc. Also, Will & I are going to be the only ones to feed him and change his diapers, aka meet his needs in any way for a long time (no babysitters). We want him to learn that we are his primary caregivers and we are not going anywhere. He's used to self soothing and being passed around. We need to teach him what a mom and dad is- that we will meet his needs and love him.

Now I know sometimes it can seem really extreme but it isn't forever. There are some things we may stick to the books about and some things that we are more flexible on, it all depends on how Israel accommodates and what his needs are. If we start to be more flexible around 3 months and realize that he's not ready to meet a lot of strangers or go to the store, we'll figure out how to meet his needs. Where this will get difficult is that Will is on staff with a large church, and I'm sure there are some well-intentioned people who won't be able to resist loving on him. He's adorable, remember? I think one of my biggest fears when looking ahead at cocooning is that people will get their feelings hurt in the process, because I will be so private with him and won't be so willing for people to just drop by or hold him. The way we parent him will look a lot different from other families at first.  I know that in the grand scheme, Israel is my priority and I need to get over people-pleasing and trust that what time we invest into attachment with him in the beginning will pay off!

"E" gave us a lot of good advice on the first few months and answered a lot of questions that we had. It is great to have these conversations now, and to hear some of the tips we've heard along the way reiterated.

So as we look ahead to the time after Israel is home, I would appreciate: (1. Your grace in us being so private/going through cocooning (2. Prayers for Israel as he goes through some deep losses (3. Support as we cocoon and focus our energy on our son so he will bond with us.

So...veteran adoptive parents, chime in! What are your tips on cocooning? Sound off in the comment section so that I (and other adoptive parents/ support system friends) can hear what worked for you and what was good for friends to know. What advice would you give to friends of adoptive parents who cocoon?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Moving Along...

This weekend was a whirlwind of fun/craziness/paperwork/picture staring/excitement. I think it was a blessing to have the weekend to sit and just soak in our news before we had to tackle the paperwork. Little Israel has managed to appear in every major room in our house, so I don't know what is going to happen when we have more than 9 pictures! Also, I want to say that I'm not sure HOW you are supposed to get anything done when there is a cute boy to look at!

On Monday we drove to Birmingham to have our social worker sign off on our referral, and then had a phone consultation with Dr. Douglass of Cabarrus Pediatrics in Charlotte (I HIGHLY recommend him! He was only $175 for the consultation and was very, very impressive! He has reviewed referral paperwork for 8 years and is also an adoptive father!).

After getting those objects tackled, notarizing a LOT of paperwork, and finishing our transition plan, we sent our paperwork and a check for our referral fees/ care of our baby in the orphanage fees to AGCI on Monday afternoon! It felt like a huge weight being lifted off of me to have it out of our hands and en route to our agency.

Tuesday we heard from our case manager that she received our paperwork and that she was letting the staff in Ethiopia know that they can match our dossier with Israel's paperwork and submit it to COURT! So now our paperwork is headed into a stack of files representing adoptive families. We're so glad to be in that stack! And glad that Israel will not be an orphan anymore!

Tomorrow (Thursday) we have a call with the Family Education Coordinator and next Wednesday is our official "Next Steps" phone call!

Today I was thinking about how last week I went about every activity with the thought of "when is it (the call) going to happen?" at the back of my mind. I'm so glad to be in the next stage, preparing to bring sweet Israel home.

Monday, December 5, 2011

And His Name Is....

***Updated after Israel is home!****

I'm very proud to share our son's new name!

We have been very secretive about our name options thus far because:
1. we didn't want input
2. I hate name claiming
3. we couldn't really decide between a few of them, so we didn't want to say it was one thing and then change our minds
4. we wanted to avoid having too many monogrammed items.

So, with that said, you have been very patient in waiting to hear the name we have chosen!

Our son will be Israel Biruk McGee!

Israel, as in God's adopted, chosen people in the Old Testament. Israel, who made mistakes and often forgot of God's faithfulness YET God remained faithful to them. The name Israel represents more than just that we chose our son, but the fact that we have a constant unchanging love that is not contingent on how our son behaves or responds to us, but based on the love that the Father gives us. We're not naive to think that our son may never reject or rebel against us, but in those days we will remain faithful as God has to us.

Biruk is his birth name, a part of his heritage and meaning "Blessed" in Amharic and Hebrew. We were told this is a very popular Ethiopian name. When we think of how he was named Blessed, we only smile because WE, his parents, are the blessed ones to receive such a gift of our son. We are keeping Biruk as his middle name, but if he ever decides to be called Biruk as his given name, then we will be proud to call him that.

"O Israel, put your hope in the LORD, for with the LORD is unfailing love and with him is full redemption." Psalm 130:7

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Day We Became Parents

I've read many posts about "the call" and dreamed about how ours would be written- where we would be, if I would cry when we got the news, if my heart would immediately melt when we saw our baby's face... so here it is, the story of the day we had a face and name for the baby we've loved for so long.

Thursday night was probably the breaking point of the wait so far. Honestly, the last few months have been PAINFUL but Thursday night I just didn't hold anything back and just cried for a long time. Will was absolutely precious and stayed up with me to comfort me and remind me of God's faithfulness in the evening moments when I felt like my prayers were not being heard. I was so exhausted from praying the same prayers and petitioning the Lord to complete the good work He had begun. Friday morning we were still tired from a long night and I fought tears. I said to Will that I didn't think I could make it another day without knowing who our baby was. I ached for him so badly and just wanted to know him.

For Pastor Appreciation, our church gave us a night's stay at the Wynfrey Hotel in Birmingham, along with a gift card to Shula's restaurant. We already arranged to spend our evening there and were going to dinner with two other staff couples. We left around 2 for Birmingham, and I was fighting a bad attitude because I was just so bummed that yet another week was passing with no news.

On the way to Birmingham I recall pleading silently with the Lord "there is still time! You can do this, Lord!" Will was doing his best to encourage and uplift me, being the charming best friend that he is. We were singing along to the radio when suddenly my phone said "Call from 971-..." and I froze. 971 was the AGCI area code!!!!

I looked at Will and we were both freaking out. I answered the phone and T, our new case manager, answered, saying that she wanted to check in with us since we were now her clients. She answered a question I'd asked about updating our FDL and then said she wanted to give us a "pre-referral call." Huh?? I'd never heard this term before and she clarified that she had a little boy she wanted to talk to us about. We needed to be near a computer to look over some documents to continue with the phone call.

We were about 20 minutes away from our hotel, so we had to get off the phone and call her back when we got there. Before we left she told us his birthday, 10-12-11. The next 20 minutes were a mixture of agony over traffic and sheer joy from the prospect of having a son!

When we got set up in our hotel room we called T back and she went over the legal and medical paperwork on our son. I can't share his given name with you online but we plan to keep it as his middle name. We heard all the details they had and before we even saw his face we were over the moon for him.

Then, our case manager sent us a WONDERFUL email with 9 precious pictures. He is ADORABLE!!! He has big brown eyes, a dimple on his chin, long dark hair and the prettiest skin coloring. We're smitten.

After finishing our call with T, we began the adventure of contacting our International Pediatrician and sending off the paperwork to get his approval. Will & I looked at the pictures of our son probably a hundred times in the next hour, and we made phone calls to our family.

We also got ready for our already-planned dinner date with our friends/ fellow staff. While I was primping, Will went out and got me a flower "from our son" :)

Flower from our son to me!

In the hotel elevator on the way to dinner- we're so excited that we have a big secret to reveal at dinner!

It was so fun sharing pictures with our new friends and celebrating the milestone together.

After dinner, we changed clothes and headed to the mall (which was connected to the hotel) on a quest to find SOMETHING for baby McGee. After searching several stores we settled on a little summery outfit and pajamas. We expect that our baby will come home when he is 6-9 months and since we're in Alabama now, we'll be stocking up on warm weather clothes now! :)

We went to bed and stared at the pictures of our son all night. Even though we had a late check out in our hotel, we woke up at 7 am anxious to look at the pictures again and head home to share the news with our friends.

We spent Saturday on the phone sharing the news about our sweet boy. He is precious and I'm a proud mama. When I went to CVS to get my printed pictures I told everyone near the checkout that this was MY SON! I can't believe I can say that now! My son!

And might I brag a bit on the Lord?

I will say that this last few months have been really hard, and I have definitely been through the sanctification process during the hard waiting season. I won't say that "it all disappears when you see his face" because I think that those hard months made it worth it to see him. I could also see that some of those days when I ached and pleaded for news of my son, he wasn't even born yet! He was born on October 12, and we became next in line for an infant boy on August 27th. The Lord ordains it all to be, folks. I'd also like to say that I know that there was and is a purpose to the hard times...the times when we can't see what the Lord is doing and why we're waiting. We won't always get those answers here on earth, but we can trust that our hearts will never be fully satisfied here until Jesus comes back to redeem earth once and for all. I'm thankful that the Lord is patient and that my righteousness does not depend on my patience or faith but that Jesus's death on the cross and resurrection are the sole reason that I am now a part of God's family. That is a reason to bless God- that even in the hard times I can trust in God's redemption.

And can I also say that the Lord was absolutely gracious to give us a referral when I didn't think I could handle it anymore, but that His goodness was not dependent on if we did get it then, or if my mind actually exploded from impatience. :) 

Also, it was purely the Lord's blessing for Will and I to not only be together during the call, but to be en route to a nice weekend away where we could celebrate our news with new friends, and also have a special memory of the call. I'll never look the Bham Winfrey the same. ;)

After over seventeen months of being on the waitlist, we finally got the call we'd been dreaming about. We have a handsome tiny boy who already has our hearts wrapped around his CUTE little fingers.

If you are around I'd love to show you his face- it is so sweet and you'll love him too, I know it!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

We have a son!

I can't believe I am finally writing this!!!

More to come, but for now I want to share that we got the call Friday afternoon that we have a precious 8 week old son born October 12, 2011!

We are absolutely in love with him! We're busy working through paperwork now, but I will share "the call" story when I get a chance! Thank you so, so, so much for walking beside us in this!

I promise you he's the cutest thing ever, and we'll gladly show you pictures in person! Ahhh the Lord is so faithful, so good to us and we are praising God from whom all blessings flow.
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