Thursday, March 29, 2012

Our Adoption Story 26--Drastic Times Call for Drastic Measures

I am nearing the end of our adoption story.  If you'd like to read the whole thing, please go back to Part 1.  Thank you for reading about the humbling  journey that God called us to, in order to bring Rebekah into our family.  

I closed my last post by sharing one of the saddest periods of our lives.  We were deeply saddened by Mark's mom's diagnosis and also feeling hopeless and helpless to get our daughter out of Thailand and into our home. 

We prayed that God would show us what to do and we told Him that we would do anything.  John 14:18 became our banner verse, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."  Just as Christ did not abandon us, we did not want to abandon Rebekah.  We began to sense the Lord calling the five of us to temporarily relocate to Thailand.  If Rebekah couldn't come to us, we would go to her.  

We also knew that once we had Rebekah home in Japan, she would not yet be allowed to freely travel to and from the US.  Because of strict immigration laws, we knew Rebekah would have to live with us overseas for a full two years before she could become an American.  During that two years, she would likely not even be allowed to visit the US.  With Mark's mom's health declining, we felt like we had better get that two years started and we sensed that it was more urgent than ever to get Rebekah into our home. 

We began to dialogue with our mission, Cadence, to see if they would be able to provide fill-in staff for the Harbor and if they would allow us to live in Thailand for up to possibly 6-months--however long it might take to secure a passport for Rebekah.  The Cadence staff had been laboring in prayer for our adoption over the past two years and everyone within our headquarters was very supportive.  We did indeed secure fill-in staff and we began to set things in motion to relocate to Thailand for as long as it took to bring Rebekah home. 

We bought open-ended plane tickets, friends in Chiang Mai rented a house for us, fellow Cadence missionaries offered us a loaner vehicle, friends and family began giving us gifts of money to help defray the cost of "Project Bring Deer Home."  It was humbling to see the Lord provide in myriad ways.  We stepped out in faith and He lavished us with provisions. 

This sad season turned into an adventure.  We five cleaned up our house and left it in the hands of faithful fill-in staff, packed our bags, packed up our homeschool supplies and set off for who-knows-how-long.  It was crazy.  It was God's idea.  It was thrilling, actually. 

We landed in Chiang Mai on February 27, 2010, moved into our sweet, little Thai home, unpacked our bags and went to bed knowing that Gotcha Day would be tomorrow.  We didn't know when we'd go back home to Japan, but we finally knew our daughter was coming home to us in Thailand. 

Hannah is ready to move to Thailand to get her big sis. 

Zoe, Abby Grace, and Mark are also ready for takeoff.

Here we are during our layover and transfer in Tokyo.  Oshman adventures ahead! 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Our Adoption Story Part 25--A daughter stuck in Thailand and Heartbreaking News From Home

I am nearing the end of our adoption story.  If you'd like to read the whole thing, please go back to Part 1.  Thank you for reading about the humbling  journey that God called us to, in order to bring Rebekah into our family.  

As I mentioned in my last post, we had legally adopted Rebekah in Thailand, but were required to return home to Japan without her because she wasn't able to obtain a passport.  We could not get to the bottom of why a passport was not granted to her.  It seemed to have to do with legal guardianship within Thailand and the confusion over whether or not she could get a passport with just the approval of her biological grandmother.  Amazingly, even though we had adopted her, we could not apply for her passport with her.  Such laws are in place for good reason--the Thai government does not want young Thai children to be easily trafficked out of the country.  Orphaned children are especially vulnerable and therefore have an even harder time obtaining a passport.  We hit brick walls every time we tried to get her a passport.

This season of the adoption journey was incredibly frustrating.  Looking back on the two years behind us, we could see God's hand at work.  He had called us to this.  He had provided a Thai lawyer to us, found Deer's grandmother, caused her to be in agreement with us, kept her and anyone else from bribing us, caused more than one panel of judges to agree to let us pursue adopting her even though she was classified as "unadoptable" because she wasn't in the right kind of orphanage, granted us victory with a Japanese adoption agency, and finally caused the Thai government to grant the adoption.  We knew God was in this.  He had moved mountains.  Why in the world was He unwilling to grant this last necessary piece of documentation?

The days in Okinawa became weeks and months.  Our lives at the Harbor were very full with ministry and our own family.  We paused daily to weep and grieve our fourth daughter's distance from us.  It felt like we were living a double life.  On the one hand we were heart-broken and on the other hand blessings were abundant.

We had hired a second lawyer to pursue the passport.  She spoke no English and so calling her was especially frustrating.  I called her all the time anyway and basically yelled monosyllabic English words into the phone in hopes that she would understand something.  She didn't.  I searched for Thai speakers in Okinawa and invited them into my house to call her for me.  These efforts were fruitless too, as they usually hung up the phone saying something like, "Your lawyer can't get the passport."  No kidding.

In November, we received heartbreaking news, which was not directly related to our adoption.  Mark's mom, Janet, was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gherig's disease.  It's an evil, wretched disease with no treatment, prevention, or cure.  It is very, very painful.  We didn't know what to do.  We wanted to go and be with Janet, but now we had a daughter in Thailand and we knew we couldn't leave her there.  The average life expectancy after an ALS diagnosis is 2-5 years.  Questions began to swirl in our heads--what was our role in this for Janet?  For Rebekah?  For our ministry at the Harbor?

It was a hard time.  Mark and I slept little, wept much, and wondered what God would have us do.

I visited Rebekah briefly in December 2009 to provoke the lawyer and investigate what we should do next.  Here is a photo of her and me on that trip.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Our Adoption Story Part 24--The Board Reviews our Case

I'm closing in on the last third portion of our adoption story.  Thanks for reading about the incredible journey of faith that God ordained for us to bring Rebekah home.  If you'd like to read the whole story, scroll down and start with Part 1.  

After the Thai Adoption Board received all of the extra necessary paperwork (including the death certificates, which were miraculously provided by God!), they reviewed our dossier.  Because I continued calling daily, I knew exactly when they were going to review it and I called directly afterwards and heard the good news from the social worker assigned to our case.  I hung up the phone, ran from the house, through the Harbor, and up to Mark's office where I hugged him and cried over the good news.  We had been approved!!!  Our friends the Rathmells brought over a cake and we had an approval party. 

After approval, the adoptive parents must travel within one month to appear in person before the Thai Adoption Board along with their adoptive child.  We began planning our trip right away, in order to be at the Adoption Board meeting the following month.  While we had great joy over our approval, one dark cloud continued to hang over the situation: Rebekah still did not have a passport and was, for some reason, unable to secure one.  It was becoming increasingly clear that while we were going to be able to adopt her, we were not going to be able to bring her home.  We did not know on the day of our approval that we would be in for another yearlong battle to get our girl out of Thailand.  

In April 2009, Mark and I flew to Thailand for the third time without Zoe, Abby Grace, and Hannah.  The Rathmells were now pros at Oshman childcare.  The Thai Adoption Board meets in Bangkok, so we only had to fly there.  We purchased plane tickets for Deer and a social worker from Im Jai to fly from Chiang Mai to Bangkok for the board meeting.  We all stayed in a large hotel room together and enjoyed a little bit of free time before and after the big meeting. 

At the meeting we received the usual comments from the board members:
"You have three children, why do you want another one?" 
"You are young.  You remind us of Brad and Angelina."
"Do you know she does not have a passport?"
"Why do you want four children?" 
"You are very kind.  She is very blessed to have you."

Our replies tended to be, "We love her.  We want to give her a mom and a dad.  Yes, we know we are young, that she does not have a passport and that we already have three kids--but we love her and want to be her parents.  And WE are the blessed ones." 

Our appearance was brief and ended with congratulations and best wishes from the board.  We watched about a dozen other families depart the meetings WITH their children, bound for the embassy and then their new home country.  It stung deeply to know that we and Deer would board different planes and she wouldn't be coming home yet, even though she was rightfully our child now. 

Just after hearing our approval.  Joy! 

Afterwards we did a little sight-seeing with Rebekah in Bangkok.  Later that day she had to fly back to Chiang Mai.  These were her first two plane trips, by the way--and she really liked them (except for a bit of motion sickness). 

Our joy and grief were mingled as we said goodbye.  Over the course of this brief trip and the one the month prior, we realized we needed another lawyer to help us get her a passport.  We weren't thrilled about our prior lawyer, so we hired a woman who was recommended to us by the orphanage staff.  We hoped and prayed she would help us get the job done quickly. 

We returned to our family and community in Okinawa with the good news: we had one more daughter!  And also with the prayer request that she would be granted a passport soon, so that she could join her forever family in her new home. 

Hannah (2), Abby Grace (almost 4), and Zoe (almost 6) wearing new Thai outfits and rejoicing over their new sister. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Our Adoption Story Part 23--An Unbelievable Provision

I'm closing in on the last third portion of our adoption story.  Thanks for reading about the incredible journey of faith that God ordained for us to bring Rebekah home.  If you'd like to read the whole story, scroll down and start with Part 1.  

In March of 2009 the Harbor sent a mission team to the Im Jai House, which was Rebekah's orphanage.  By this time, we had sent many teams there and we had a core group of volunteers who led a VBS for the kids at Im Jai.  Mark and I joined the team, without our other daughters, so that we could give some personal TLC to Rebekah, as well as possibly make some progress on the adoption. 

Mark and Rebekah enjoying shrimp at a favorite BBQ-at-your-table restaurant, which our teams always take the kids to. 

Our dossier was already in Thailand and our Japanese agency had already done what they could do.  The Thai Adoption Board was almost ready to review our paperwork, but they wanted a few more documents.  I knew exactly what they wanted because I called them every single day.  Two years into this process I had learned that if I wanted anything done, I was going to have to be a squeaky wheel.  And I wanted our dossier reviewed now.  So I called and called and called everyday.  People who adopt through a normal American adoption agency would never be allowed to do that--so working with a Japanese agency and spearheading our own adoption process allowed me the luxury of calling the Thai government and demanding/begging/pleading for whatever I saw fit.  I always heard my dear friend and fellow adoptive mom Carrie's voice in my ear, "You are your child's best advocate.  If you want something done, who better to do it than her mom?" 

The social worker who I bugged each day (after calling at least 6 times before the connection was actually made, plus an additional 8 or so attempts to get an English speaker) informed me that they needed the death certificate for both Deer's mother and father.  This request felt like a large blow to our progress.  Deer had left her hometown over 6 years prior to that.  I knew the living conditions of her grandmother.  I was convinced that a long drive to her hut would not be beneficial because, to me, the chances of her opening a file cabinet and pulling out legal paperwork seemed slim to none. 

But what choice did we have?  The government wanted those certificates and without them they would not look at our dossier.  We had no choice but to do our best to get them.   The orphanage director and her husband escorted Deer and me, along with an Im Jai house father who drove us on the long drive to Nan.  We left well before sunrise.  Mark decided to stay with the team because we knew it was a risky drive through the mountains on windy and ill-repaired roads and we didn't want to risk us both being killed in an accident.  In fact we never traveled together on that trip for that very reason.  We five set out on our quest for death certificates and I had very little faith that we would be successful.  

I learned about 30 minutes into the drive that Rebekah gets car sick.  Poor girl.  

We drove and wound and sped through the hills for over five hours.  We reached Nan by lunch--it's an eight hour drive, but our house father driver had a lead foot.  When we got to Nan, no one knew where to go, as none of the adults had ever been there before.  Deer didn't remember exactly how to find her grandma's little home either.  The driver pulled over and--just like our lawyer had--asked a few people if they knew her grandmother and where to find her.  Sure enough, someone did, and then we did. 

We parked the van and Rebekah began to remember where she was and we walked down a few mud-caked streets and right into her grandmother's dusty yard.  The women were frying bananas--the family trade.  I heard cries of "Nong Deer!" coming from a few different directions.  "Nong" is an affectionate title that is said before a child's name in Thailand.  Deer didn't appear apprehensive at all and walked right into her grandmother's home.  It was pretty awkward for me, as I didn't understand any of the conversation and was quite obviously "one of these things doing her own thing..."  White, six feet tall--not exactly blending in.  

Thankfully, I did not have to say, "Oh, hi.  It's me--that tall American lady who has been called by God to adopt your granddaughter.  Do you happen to have any death certificates in here? Would you mind checking and then perhaps running up to Kinko's and having them copied for us?  That'd be great.  Then we'll just be on our way.  Thanks so much."  

The Im Jai director seemed to do a great job speaking on my behalf and Deer's family very warmly received us and invited us in for a visit.  

Me and sweet Grandma--she told me that day that I had put on some weight--I'm still trying to figure out if that was a compliment or insult based on her culture. I wonder what things she'll say when I see her again next month!  

Rebekah on the lap of her aunt (her mom's sister) and her cousin

Rebekah's half sister is on the chair and her aunt it in red.  They are looking at photos of her mother's funeral. 

At some point our meeting's purpose was evidently revealed and people began to rummage about the hut.  I was floored when I watched one of them walk to a corner of the wooden-slat house, pull a grocery sack off the wall, look inside, and pull out official-looking paperwork.  Lo and behold, right there in that sack was her mom's death certificate.  I would not have been more shocked if they had pulled a live alligator out of that bag.  There it was.  Holy cow.  One down, one to go.  You are amazing, Lord.  How did You do that?? 

The certificate was taken by the Im Jai director who promised to take very good care of, bring it back to Chiang Mai to be copied and have it returned to them quickly.  There was much conversation and concern in Thai as to how to obtain the father's death certificate.  His family lived in the same neighborhood, but the two families were not on speaking terms, so they weren't sure how they would go about trying to get it.  We did not go home with that certificate that day, but I was thrilled with what we had. 

Apparently, some kind of story was presented to the father's family within a few days of our visit.  His family surprisingly agreed to provide the certificate--another testimony of God's hand in all of the details.  The Thai government received a copy of his certificate within a few weeks time.  

Here is Grandma posing in her doorway on our way out.  

My faithful and sweet Im Jai helpers. 

Deer inspecting a leaf bug during a potty break on the drive home. 

Momma-and-daughter-to-be at the end of our visit. 

Once again, the Lord had required us to walk by faith and not by sight.  And once again, He alone provided what we needed.  And once again, the adoption inched closer to the finish line. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Our Adoption Story Part 22--Strength Will Rise as You Wait

I am about half way through retelling our family's adoption story and the supernatural journey that God ordained in order to unite us with our oldest and newest daughter, Rebekah.  If you'd like to read the whole story, go back to Part 1 and meet me here for daily (well, almost!) installments until the story is finished. 

Our social worker headed back to Tokyo with our life story in her hands.  She would be sharing it with our adoption agency's staff and they would be voting on whether or not to approve us.  Thankfully, they only took a week to decide that we were indeed worthy to pursue the adoption.  What a relief and work of God!

We then had to compile our dossier.  The dossier is an enormous package of information covering everything from one's income and assets, to employment history, to fingerprints, to blood type, to GPA in college, to residential history, to health history, and much, much more.  It's a big package with all, and I mean all, of one's skeletons in the closet making a star appearance.  It took us a couple months to compile it and our agency finally sent the whole package to the Thai Adoption Board after the new year in 2009.

At this point, we had been pursuing Deer for over two years.  It felt like a lifetime.  My friend Jen's son Jack once said to her, "Mom, why is it taking so long for them to adopt Deer?  That should take like a day."  Amen, Jack!

Our family was growing in love for Rebekah even over the miles and months.  She was prayed for about five or six times everyday by us.  The kids drew her cards, learned to write her name, made her gifts to give her when she came home.  At times, the pain of the wait was really heavy.  Some days I struggled to breathe when I woke up because I would instantly think of her, waiting for us, without a mommy and a daddy and at the mercy of a slow and often corrupt government.  I would beg God to hurry the process along--why make an orphan wait, Lord?--I would ask Him.

"Everlasting God" by Chris Tomlin became our family song.  We would blast it at home and in the car to chase the tears away.  It speaks of Isaiah 40 and reminded us of God's goodness, sovereignty, and heart for the weary and weak.  The chorus echoes the promise of scripture that as you WAIT on God He makes you stronger.  It's still a favorite song of ours, but now we sing it with Rebekah and with big smiles on all of our faces.

"Everlasting God" (by Chris Tomlin)

Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord
We will wait upon the Lord

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won't grow weary

Our God, You reign forever
Our hope, our Strong Deliverer
You are the everlasting God
The everlasting God
You do not faint
You won't grow weary

You're the defender of the weak
You comfort those in need
You lift us up on wings like eagles

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Our Adoption Story Part 21--Getting through the Home Study

I am about half way through retelling our family's adoption story and the supernatural journey that God ordained in order to unite us with our oldest and newest daughter, Rebekah.  If you'd like to read the whole story, go back to Part 1 and meet me here for daily (well, almost!) installments until the story is finished. 

One week after the horrendous initial interview, our social worker called us to say that ISSJ would work with us.  Thank you, Lord!  She did add many, many times that our pursuit was risky and there were no guarantees that we would in fact be able to adopt Rebekah and were we sure about this?  With relief and gratitude I told her thank you for accepting our case and yes, we were sure.

She set up our home study right away.  As any potentially adoptive family knows, the home study is a big day.  It's nerve-racking just trying to prepare one's house for it.  My house contained two toddlers and a baby who followed me around undoing whatever task I had done and it was nearly impossible to keep the house in order before her arrival.

On our big day our social worker flew in from Tokyo and I went to pick her up at the airport.  Mark tried to keep the kids and house looking fairly decent.  She stayed for 8 or 10 hours.  She did not even want any water or anything to eat.  She was all business and so we had to also be very on our game.  It was not easy to keep the little ones happy, fed, and cared for during the intense, nonstop, gut-wrenching, do-or-die conversation taking place.

Any parent of a toddler who has had one or more temper tantrums at an inopportune moment can relate.  In the back of my mind was a voice that kept saying, "Oh my word!  There is a precious 11-year-old orphan just a few countries away from here who will remain motherless if I do not figure our how to placate my toddler and scoop her naughty self off the floor without too much incident.  There is to much at stake for these little people to fly off the handle.  God, help them!  You have to!"

There was an additional overwhelming circumstance at play.  Japan's population is less than 1% Christian.  And we live inside a Christian ministry building.  We are missionaries.  Mark is a pastor.  We have worship services in our home.  Our worldview, all of our opinions and values, and our very reason for pursuing Deer are because of our faith in Jesus Christ.  Relating that to a non-Christian in a culture with very few Christians was really awkward.  I wondered countless times how bizarre she must've thought we were.

We finally made it to the end of the day.  Exhausted and hungry I drove her one hour to her hotel before returning home to collapse on the couch with Mark and stare at the wall for awhile.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Our Adoption Story Part 20--Interview with ISSJ

Sorry for the brief delay in my post--the Oshman family has been ill and I have something like pink eye.  I would like to speed things up a bit with these posts and get to the good part--the real Gotcha Day!  In addition, Rebekah and I are going to Thailand in three weeks to visit with her biological family and I want to be done with this story, so I can share that one while it's happening.

ISSJ agreed to an initial interview with us.  We met in August of 2008.  An English speaking social worker flew to Okinawa from Tokyo and sat down with us for over five hours at a Starbucks in Naha (Okinawa's capital city).  The words "initial interview" led us to believe that it would be a meeting that lasted only a couple hours and included her gathering some superficial information about our family, background, and goals in the adoption.

Boy, were we wrong.  She grilled us.  Big time.  She asked us every deep question possible--things we were not at all prepared yet to discuss.  We knew that, if ISSJ chose to work with us, these questions would eventually come in the Home Study, but we were not ready for them that day!

She wanted to know all about our families of origin, how we met, what our marriage is like, what our kids are like, how we function as a family, how we discipline our kids, what we hope for and dream of, what we anticipate our struggles to be with Deer, how we plan to bond with Deer, how we plan to react to her misbehavior, how we plan to discipline her, what we would do in myriad hypothetical situations, and much, much more.

At this point, we knew we were called to adopt Deer and we knew that the Thai government was going to let us try, but we had not yet done very much work to prepare ourselves for the nitty-gritty parenting of our potentially adopted child.  Many of our responses were, "Uh, wow.  Huh.  That is a really good question and something we plan to research.  We, uh, well, we will do our very best to do the right thing should that happen to us."

At the end of five hours we were fried.  Not only were we trying to give thoughtful and accurate answers. we also had to do the mental gymnastics of relating to a JAPANESE social worker.  I don't have enough space here to describe the very deep differences between Japanese and American families, their values and the parents' goals for their children.  Suffice it to say, American family values and Japanese family values have some strong differences. Not only did we need to articulate our answers to the best of our ability, we also had to craft them in a way that struck some kind of common ground with this Japanese woman who was assessing our fitness for adoptive parenting.

We left Starbucks and on the Expressway home we watched a tornado descend from the sky in the distance.  It was eerie.  And it felt like an omen to me. The interview had been tough and I did not feel good about it.  It really felt like a failure to me.  Thailand would only let us adopt through ISSJ and I felt pretty certain that they were not going to be willing to work with us.

We went home to our three little ones and prayed our hearts out once again that the train wouldn't stop here.  I shed tears a few times thinking about the what ifs and begged God to clean up after us and help the social worker approve us.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Our Adoption Story Part 19--Lice and Japanese Adoption

This is part 19 of our adoption story.  I am only about one-third of the way through the story.  If you'd like to read about how God brought Rebekah home to us, go back and start with Part 1 and meet me back here each day as I tell a little more of God's amazing story in blessing us with our daughter. 

We came back to Okinawa feeling relieved that we would be able to move another step forward in our adoption journey--what a blessing to have one more critical step under our belts.  We were also fairly concerned about securing a Japanese adoption agency.  We already knew there was not one located in Okinawa.  

Before finding an agency though, there was a more pressing matter to attend to.  We brought lice back with us from Thailand.  I didn't realize it for a few days, however, I knew we were doomed when I saw Zoe uncontrollably scratching her head and I took a closer look and saw teeny brown bugs scurrying around her scalp.  The other two girls had them too and I wasn't sure about myself.  Lucky Mark had a buzz cut and was lice-free. 

For the next three weeks I was consumed with getting rid of those awful buggers!  The kids watched innumerable movies while I combed each teeny lock of hair with a lice comb and repeatedly used toxic lice shampoo on their little heads.  Then everyone's bedding and stuffed animals and anything else cloth got washed and bagged--not to be opened until the lice were surely eradicated.  It was an all-consuming chore, but we finally became lice-free.  Phew!  (Does your scalp itch now?  Mine does.) 

I can't remember exactly how I found our adoption agency.  I believe I googled for adoption and Japan.  The US Embassy lists three agencies for this entire country, as adoption is exceedingly rare here.  I called our one and only hope: International Social Services Japan.  The woman who answered the phone passed me off to an English speaker who was a social worker.  The social worker sucked her teeth a lot as she listened and then finally said, "Oh, Oshman-San, your situation is very rare.  It's very difficult.  I do not know if we can work with you.  I will bring it to our staff at the next meeting and I will call you to tell you what they say." 

Our adoptive future was in the hands of the staff of a small and rare Japanese adoption agency.  Another huge leap of faith in our journey.  We prayed like crazy that they would accept us!  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Our Adoption Story Part 18--the Hearing and Near-Death by Elephant

This is part 18 of our adoption story.  I am only about one-third of the way through the story.  If you'd like to read about how God brought Rebekah home to us, go back and start with Part 1 and meet me back here each day as I tell a little more of God's amazing story in blessing us with our daughter. 

We finally had our day in court.  We had to take all our kids with us, Deer, her grandma, a translator, and an orphanage social worker.  It was a hot and steamy courtroom and we had to keep a 5-year-old and 3-year-old and a 1-year-old happy and looking like the children of nearly-perfect parents who should definitely be allowed to adopt.  Mark and I were sweating, for sure.  We were stressed out by our lawyer, worried about the pressure poor Rebekah may be feeling, hoping the grandma was speaking in our favor, and wanting to appear normal to the judges who were really perplexed as to why in the world we wanted another kid. 

The judges wouldn't reveal their ruling for at least one week.  We thought it went well, but we weren't sure.  Once again, all we could do was pray.

Mark was trying to keep the kids happy while we waited hours for our turn. 

Lawyers in Thailand wear robes in court.  Kuhn Joe felt pretty good about the hearing. 

On the court steps after the hearing. We were relieved it was over but really curious about the ruling.  We were in limbo in a make-it-or-break-it moment.  If they ruled in our favor we could apply to adopt Deer.  If they ruled against us we didn't know what we would do. 

Kuhn Joe wanted us to stay in Thailand until the ruling was handed down.  We had a job to return to, but we were able to stay one more week.  We spent a few extra days in Chiang Mai and then went to Bangkok.  

During that last week in Chiang Mai my stupidest parenting moment ever happened.  We took the kids (sans Rebekah because she was at school) to an elephant camp.  The kids really enjoyed watching the elephants play, wade in the water, and paint (they're actually quite good!).  Mark and I had both been on elephant rides on prior trips so we thought Zoe and Abby Grace should ride an elephant. 

At this camp they have riders climb up to the top of a platform and wait in line for the next available elephant.  You take a large step from the platform onto the back of your elephant.  There is a bench for a seat, a back to the seat, and a broom stick that lowers in place in front of you.  Mark and I both knew that elephant riding was precarious and we have both seen very temperamental elephants.  As such, I really don't know why we thought our five-year-old and three-year-old should ride one.  

Mark and the two older girls waited in line while I held baby Hannah.  Their turn was up.  Low and behold, their elephant was the largest one in the camp, by far.  This dude was huge.  For some reason, the kids got on first--another serious and potentially deadly lapse in judgement.  The elephant's master was beating him on the head with a club while holding a cigarette in his other hand.  The beatings did nothing to make the elephant obey and he actually backed away from the platform before the broom stick was lowered and before Mark joined the girls. 

At that point I realized we were seriously stupid.  I was panicking, but it was too late.  I was sort of screaming, but nothing would come out because I was so shocked by what was happening and that it was actually our dumb idea.  Finally the elephant obeyed, tramped back to the platform and Mark got in.  Why didn't they all get out and call it a day, you ask?  I don't know.  Good question.  I couldn't watch the rest of the ride because I was too terrified.  And even if I wanted to watch, the route heads through the jungle, through a river, and out of sight and lasts for about an hour.  

I paced with Hannah in my sling, praying for the second time that week that God would deliver my children safely back to me and begging Him to forgive me for being such an idiot.  They did return.  Thank you, Jesus.  After telling our local friends the story they said, "Oh yes, several tourists die there every year from being trampled by an elephant."  

Walking around the camp.

Feeding the elephants. 

Zoe during the ride.  Happy?  Scared?  Scarred? 

Abby's lovin' it.  Ignorance is bliss. 

Do you see how huge this dude is!?  Abby Grace's head is the same size as the tip of his trunk.  Mark is 6' 5" and looks smaller than his ear!  And why is the trainer off the elephant and taking the picture!?  Get back on and bring my kids back to me! 

The edge of the platform, the not-so-good trainer, and the pathetic bench. 

Here's one last picture for all my safety-conscious mom friends.  This is how we roll in Thailand. 

After an few days in Chiang Mai, we still didn't have a ruling.  We did have tickets to Bangkok, so we left.  Kuhn Joe flew with us to Bangkok so that we could visit the federal government's adoption division while we were there.  If we did receive a positive ruling, we needed to know how they would allow us to move forward.  

We took a taxi to the appropriate government building and asked to speak to a social worker.  She outlined the next steps for us and then gave us what seemed like bad news: we would have to use a Japanese adoption agency.  Even though we are American, because we live in Japan, the agency would have to be Japanese, no discussion.  That felt overwhelming.  

However, that bad news was turned into joy when we received a fax at our hotel on the last evening of our stay in Bangkok. The judges had ruled in our favor!  We were allowed to apply to adopt Deer.  Huge relief.  Thank you God for bringing us one step closer. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Our Adoption Story Part 17--Some Faith Building Moments Before the Hearing

This is part 17 of our adoption story.  I am only about one-third of the way through the story.  If you'd like to read about how God brought Rebekah home to us, go back and start with Part 1 and meet me back here each day as I tell a little more of God's amazing story in blessing us with our daughter. 

We had about a week to prepare for the hearing.  That week was filled with both preparation with our lawyer and bonding moments with Deer.  Two incidences that week stand out as causing a crises of faith for us.

The first one happened one afternoon while Kuhn Joe was sitting at our table discussing the testimony we would give the judges.  He wanted us to lie.  Mark and I can't remember exactly what he wanted us to lie about.  We do remember well, though, the conversation becoming very heated and all parties having to leave the table for a breather.  Somehow, our Christian lawyer wanted us to lie.  What was up with that?  We knew that before God, we could not, no matter the outcome.  Like the potential of being bribed, we knew in advance we could not participate in anything questionable.  We almost lost our legal representative that day.  We think he may have still lied in Thai, without us knowing it.  But we spoke the plain truth to the judges on the day of the hearing.

The second crises of faith also included our lawyer.  We had many meetings with various social workers, orphanage staff, and others in order to prepare for the hearing.  There was a lot of hustling our five-member family around Chiang Mai, along with Deer and her family, our legal counselors, and orphanage staff.  At one point, Zoe (then 5) got into the car of our lawyer's wife.  We were going to caravan to a meeting.  That car sped away, while the other cars waited for final word on a meeting point.  In that short time, the meeting was cancelled, but Zoe's car was long gone and they didn't have a cell phone.

Our five year old was driving around Chiang Mai (have you ever driven in Thailand?!) in the car of people we did not know well, and bound for a destination at which we would not be, and we had no hope of reaching her.  Moms, can you feel my panic?  My five year old was stranded with strangers in Thailand.  I was beside myself.  I could only pace back and forth in the yard and pray that God would bring her home.  She was gone for about an hour, which felt like a lifetime.  I was so relieved when the car rounded the corner of our street and her big brown eyes were peering out the passenger window.

The other events that week were really sweet.  We had a blast with Deer.

Here are the girls cuddling together on the couch watching a movie. 

During the day Deer went to school and Zoe and Abby Grace busied themselves by doing crafts at the kitchen table of the home in which we were staying.  

In the evening we were able to keep Rebekah and we had a great time playing board games with her, especially Mouse Trap and Jenga, which can be played easily without a common language. 

Deer has always been really good with her hands.  She has perfected solving the Rubix Cube and she only needs to watch someone crochet and she can teach it to herself with just a few tries. 

Here we are celebrating Zoe's birthday on June 20. 

We took time to visit Isaiah, another Thai boy that we have been sponsoring for a few years. 

Here I am teaching Zoe and Rebekah to make friendship bracelets. 

We also celebrated Deer's 10th birthday on June 27. 

It was so fun to have a cake for her and sing "Happy Birthday!"

Sweet family photo--by faith! 

The court hearing would be in just a few days.  I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Our Adoption Story Part 16--Home from Thailand, Back to Thailand

This is part 16 of our adoption story.  I am only about one-third of the way through the story.  If you'd like to read about how God brought Rebekah home to us, go back and start with Part 1 and meet me back here each day as I tell a little more of God's amazing story in blessing us with our daughter. 

We returned to Okinawa victorious.  We were thrilled to be reunited with Zoe and Abby Grace.  They were mostly unscathed, though I will say that the Rathmell's son did his best to corrupt my adorable and completely innocent (wink, wink) Zoe Anna.

We awaited word from our lawyer as to the actual pending court date.  We understood that at the coming hearing, we would stand before a panel of judges, along with all our kids and Rebekah and her grandma, and ask for special permission to pursue adopting Rebekah.

While waiting, our lives were full and fast, as they tend to be in full-time ministry.  Living at the Harbor is sorta like living at Grand Central.  And we love it.  It was surreal during our three-year adoption journey to feel incredible pain over the wait and uncertainty, while at the same time answering the phone, inviting in people who drop by, feeding the masses, teaching women, counseling weekly, chasing my kids, and more.  It was a dual-life.  Emptiness and heartache on one hand and sweet fullness on the other. 

We ended up returning to Thailand just one month later.  Here are a few of the things that happened in between: 

We sent a Harbor mission team to the Im Jai House (Rebekah's orphanage).  Here they are just prior to departure.  See the tall guy in the back?  His name is Scott and his wife Ally (below) birthed their first baby while he was gone! 

I was so privileged to be with Ally when she had her sweet baby girl.  We had Scott on the phone from his hotel room in Thailand.  The baby was a little bit early.  Scott and Ally had an amazing eternal perspective on him missing the birth.  When asked about it they said that while they were disappointed that he missed his first moments as a father, he was loving on kids who don't even have a father.  They both felt confident that he was right where God called him to be.  Ally couldn't have been happier to have him blessing orphans the day she became a mom and I was so blessed to witness all of it!  

We took between 60 and 70 people to a neighboring island for a Memorial Day camping trip. 

We watched our BFs, the Rathmells, baptize their oldest daughter. 

And then, we got the call to come back to Thailand for the hearing.  This time I didn't have to leave any kids behind, which was a huge relief.  It was also a joy to finally be introducing Zoe and Abby Grace to Deer.  While they had known her through letters, pictures, and gifts exchanged at each visit, they had not yet actually seen each other.  Our friends and colleagues who had hosted us each time we visited were going to be out of the country.  They generously loaned us their home and their vehicle, which was a great blessing.  Once again, we made our way over, picked up Deer, brought her home, and prayed our hearts out for God to take care of the details. 

This is our family at the Im Jai House the night we picked up Rebekah.  No matter how the hearing went, we knew we were in for a special couple weeks and we wanted to do everything in our power to bond with her and bless her.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Our Adoption Story Part 15--Our interview before Court

This is part 15 of our adoption story.  I am only about one-third of the way through the story.  If you'd like to read about how God brought Rebekah home to us, go back and start with Part 1 and meet me back here each day as I tell a little more of God's amazing story in blessing us with our daughter. 

In order to begin applying to adopt Deer we needed permission from the Chiang Mai Juvenile Court, because she was not residing in an adoption orphanage.  In order to get permission from the court we had to first be allowed in court.  In order to be allowed in court we had to first be interviewed by a court-appointed social worker.  Following the Starbucks Summit, Mark, Hannah, Deer, and I, along with Deer's Grandma and half-sister, as well as our lawyer, a friend who was a translator, and a driver, went to the Chiang Mai Juvenile Court House for our interview.

Mark, Grandma, Deer, and I each had to be interviewed alone.  I don't know what they asked Deer and Grandma but they wanted to really understand how Mark and I knew Deer and why we wanted to adopt her.  This interview was the first of many in which the interviewer was mystified as to why we would want to adopt another child when we already had three.

"Because Jesus died on the cross to adopt us and because God called us to be Deer's mommy and daddy," wasn't exactly the answer they were looking for.  We did our best to articulate our love for her and our deep desire to give her the best life possible.

Apparently, our answers, Grandma's answers, and Deer's answers were satisfactory.  Several days after the interview our lawyer reported that we would be allowed an audience with the judges of the court.  Before planning our next trip for the court date we finished this one well.  We were thankful to have two make-it-or-break-it moments behind us.  Thank you, Lord!

Mark walking Hannah while we waited for hours for our interview.  

Rebekah taking a turn keeping 13-month old Hannah happy in the blazing heat while we waited. 

The court had a beautiful lotus pond.

While we were waiting Rebekah and Grandma had a chance to chat.  

Here's our lawyer, Rebekah, translator, Grandma, Deer's half-sister, and Mark. 

We went out for fish afterwards to celebrate.  Ew.  After seeing this picture, Rebekah said, "I like the fish eyes.  They are yummy!"

We also went to the zoo that afternoon, wanting to provide Deer's family with a few memories of Chiang Mai.  

This is in our friend's guest room where we stayed.  Rebekah and Mark played Uno there, with Rebekah under the covers because the AC was too cold for her! 

I love these smiles!!  It's like Hannah is saying, "I can't believe it!  I am going to have a Thai sister!" 

Thailand has gorgeous flowers.  I couldn't resist. 

We did a lot of puzzles too.  Uno and puzzles go a long way when you don't speak each other's language. 

Happy family.