The Home Study :: Our Adoption

We have just completed the first interview for our home study. Now, friends and family are asking “how did it go?, “did you hear back already?” and we don’t really have a response. So let me shed a bit more light into the adoption process and explain the purpose of the home study or family assessment.

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This is not what our interviews look like.

Actually, there are three purposes:

  1. Educate and prepare the adoptive family for adoption.
  2. Evaluate the fitness of the adoptive family (and by fitness they are not looking at my love handles and Mr. Thrasher’s abs).
  3. Gather information about the prospective parents that will help a social worker connect the family with a birthmother/birthparents whose needs/requirements they can meet.

To kick off our home study, we had to plow through a massive pile of paper work. In my post “What’s Next :: Our Adoption” I’ve roughly explained the complete adoption process.

From A for Affidavit of Health Insurance to C for Criminal Records to L for Live Scan Prints (fingerprints) to P for Physicals for Mr., Mrs. and Baby Thrasher to Z for ‘Z’ertified copies of marriage license and birth certificates for every member of the Thrasher Clan (they didn’t ask about our dog though) – we had to provide information we didn’t even know existed. Gasp!

We received the package with all the forms on May 11, 2013. It took as more than a month and $1,000 in fees until we finally sealed and shipped a big, padded envelope including every little detail about our lives and a check for $2,500. No matter how quickly I gathered documents and information, there were a lot of things that were completely out of my control. (Oh, how I hate that!) Such as getting an appointment for physicals, finding a day for Paul to take off work so we could get our fingerprints, obtaining the results from our blood work (for said physicals), finding a date where we could get a babysitter so we could attend a First Aid/CPR course and so on. You can imagine why we celebrated when we dropped off the package at the UPS store.

During our interviews our social worker is asking more in-depth (read: very personal) questions about our marriage, our childhoods, our health, and our struggles. Did you have any marital problems? If yes, how did you overcome them? How were you disciplined as a child? Did you experience physical or verbal abuse in your home as a child? Explain your finances. Do you have cancer in your family, a history of depressions or mental illnesses? What did you parents say when you told them you are seeking to adopt? Was everyone supportive?

The level of intimacy in these questions appears almost intrusive. Thankfully, our social worker is sweet and fun so these meetings feel a lot more like we’re getting to know a new friend.

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Might have to clean up the house a bit before the home visit.

We have two more meetings in the calendar: Individual interviews where Paul and I won’t be together and a home visit where our social worker will take a look around Thrasher Home to ensure that our home offers a safe and child-friendly environment. She will also check in with us about our plans to accommodate our newest addition to the Thrasher family.

Once our home study is completed, our social worker will write a report and hopefully approve our family for adoption which is the requirement to legally adopt a child.

On to my last update: our finances. The bad news: We still need $11,000 to reach our adoption fund goal of $29,000. The good news: We only need $11,000 to reach our adoption fund goal. It really depends on how you look at it. I choose faith and gratitude. A few more weddings, a few more months of saving and hopefully a few more donations and we will have made it.

Please join us in prayers for our baby, its birthparents, our family and God’s favor over our finances and one birthmother’s decision to choose us. Thanks for being on this journey with us, friends!

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Never A Bridesmaid… :: A Life Lesson In Friendship

friendship_quote1A few years ago, a friend told me about a Thank You card she had received from a girl saying that she was “grateful for their friendship in this season of her life”. My friend said she appreciated this card because it took the pressure off their friendship. To her, it meant that for that very moment, they were close friends, encouraging and inspiring one another but that it would be ok if their friendship would become less intimate when they moved into the next season.

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Little girlfriends

Seasons are marked by changes. They are subdivisions of a year. Like chapters in a book. I never thought of friendship that way. I thought all friendships were supposed to last a lifetime, get stronger as the years go by. What my friend told me back then, changed me, changed my expectations in friends and our relationships, and thus changed the quality of my friendships. And, it helped me deal with the loss of a dear friend. She didn’t die. But our friendship did.

Grab a coffee or Cosmo (depending on the time of day) and get comfy…

A few years ago, a very good friend of mine broke up with me. It hurt. It hurt badly. Even today, that wound is still healing. But the scar on my heart is hardly visible and I have nothing but gratitude for the times we’ve had. No grudges. No regrets. But more importantly, I am forever grateful for the lesson I was taught. Besides lacking severe control of my tongue when I get angry, my expectations in our friendship were nearly impossible to live up to.

Back then, I often measured a friend’s love for me by the frequency of her calls or texts, how many pictures of us she would post on Facebook (sad, ey?), and if I was included in her leisurely activities. I got jealous when Mr. Thrasher and I were excluded from fun gatherings, road trips or Holiday celebrations. I was upset when things that were important to me didn’t (seem to) matter as much to my friends. thought I’d never be asked to be someone’s bridesmaid or the godmother of their child. And why would I always have to throw my own birthday party while other friends had parties hosted for them? It certainly didn’t help that I was miles away from my old friends in Germany. Naturally, those friendships faded away and important, life-changing events weren’t shared instantly anymore. In a nutshell, I pretty much doubted every friendship – old and new, near and far.

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Fictional friendships in TV shows like Friends and Grey’s Anatomy, movies like Beaches and novels like Firefly Lane, created in me an unquenchable thirst to experience the same, intense, romantic kind of closeness my favorite characters displayed on a flat screen. And it certainly didn’t help that Germans form friendships differently. Germans generally draw a strong distinction between their few friends and their many associates, co-workers, neighbors, and others. We have relationships that take time to transition from ‘acquaintances’ to ‘friends’. If they transition at all.

For Americans, friends tend to be people whom they encounter fairly frequently, and that are similar to themselves in demographics, attitude, and activities. While many other cultures value deep trust and meaning in their friendships, Americans will use the word “friend” to describe most people who have such qualities (Stout 2010). ~Wikipedia

After losing my friend, I had arrived at a crossroad. I could go one of two ways: Guard my heart by shutting people out and don’t let anyone get too close ever again (read: Become bitter and angry. And let it all out on my poor husband.). Or I could turn to God to manage my expectations, be vulnerable and humble myself about my shortcomings (read: Learn to be gracious and forgiving. And start therapy.).
friendship_quote3 A few, very good friends put on gloves and hard hats, and plowed through the dirt with me. They remained loyal through that ‘breakup’, never took sides and helped me weed out bitter roots of disappointment and rejection. They fed me with love, patience, prayer and truth.

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Today, I cherish those rare, high quality friendships that have solid ways of resolving conflict, ultimately leading to stronger and healthier relationships. I need friends whose wisdom, whose willingness to say difficult things, or whose different perspectives will sharpen me.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” ~ Proverbs 27:17

Friends, who cheer you on from the sidelines, who lovingly discipline you, who forgive, over and over again. They hold your hair back when you lean over the toilet, they make you chicken soup and leave it on your porch along with flowers, they come by to help you with your toddler when you’re too sick to get out of bed, they hold you accountable when you claim you are working on your marriage, they take you to the airport in the middle of the night, they support your cause no matter what, they remember the sad and the good stuff you told them, they speak your Love Language, they hold you accountable for being a good wife, they pray – for and with you.

Lifetime friends teach you life lessons you can learn from and use as foundation for all other relationships. 

A soul mate reflects back to us that which is unhealed while testifying to what is already perfect. Soul mates provide different things at different times: sometimes a safe haven from which we can branch out and explore, and sometimes challenges that bring us to our knees. ~ from The One: Discovering the Secrets of Soul Mate Love by Kathy Freston

I may not have found another cast of Friends to live life with but as long as I have a hand full of girlfriends I could call in the middle of the night with any emotional emergency, I know I am blessed.

Oh, and by the way, Mr. Thrasher and I now have a sweet, little goddaughter. God is good.

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What’s Next? :: Our Adoption

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Sometimes, I think it’s hard for friends and family to relate to our adoption because we don’t have a due date. We don’t even have a timeframe to share. And besides me getting bigger from eating a lot, it’s not visible that we will have another baby. The adoption process involves many steps, requires lots of paperwork and is not necessarily easy to follow. Someone once said: It’s like going through a divorce, moving countries all by yourself, battling a rare disease or running your own business – if you haven’t had to deal with it, you simply can’t know what it feels like. So I want to shed a bit of light and give you a better understanding of how we are preparing for adoption, where we stand, how much every step costs and what’s supposed to happen next. (Take a look at my posts about Adoption Myth Busters Part One and Two to gain further understanding of the complex process of adoption.)
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We submitted a pre-application to our agency (read more about our choice of adoption agency here) and attended an orientation meeting (via conference call). Currently, Paul and I are completing a list of education requirements: Read books, take online courses and watch videos while completing exercises. Once all books are read, courses completed and questionnaires filled out, we will submit an official application to our agency along with $500. Considering that we will get approved, we then move on to the family assessment or home study.
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Home studies differ by agency, state and country. For us, the home study consists of home visits by a social worker, interviews (joint and separate), training, health statements, income statements, lots of document gathering action, background checks, a day-long Education Seminar and references. The above steps then conclude with a home study report written by the social worker. On average, the home study takes between 3 and 6 months to complete and will cost us about $3,000 (including document processing and such). In addition, the administrative agency fee of $10,500 is due. At this time, we will be able to apply for adoption grants.
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All throughout our adoption (and likely even after a baby is placed with us), we will be raising funds to cover all of our adoption fees and expenses. Adopting – whether domestically or internationally – is incredibly expensive. We are looking at roughly $29,000. Only by faith and with the generous help of others, we will be able to afford our adoption. We have saved up a decent amount of money but are far from having all the funds we will need available to us. Our fundraising efforts are proving to be a great bonding experience for Mr. Thrasher and I. Even Emma has been excited about helping out. (Emma’s Lemonade Stand is now famous in our neighborhood.) And we believe that it opens up the opportunity for friends and family to get involved and become a vital part of our adoption journey. Even if you can’t donate, you can share our story, educate others about adoption or simply pray for us, our baby and the expectant mother who will be choosing us to raise her child. Find out what else you could do to help us make a home for a baby and visit our Fundraising page.
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Soon enough it will be time to prepare our adoptive family profile. This will be one of the most important first impressions we will ever make on any expectant mother/parent who is considering to make an adoption plan. It will address expectant mothers/parents talk about our likes, our goals and dreams, how we met, how we raise Little Thrasher, why we want to adopt, how we celebrate holidays, who our friends are, what our home, our church, our city looks like and much more. It will be an introduction to the expectant mother/parents and allows them to get to know us as a potential forever family for their child. It basically has to accomplish two things:
  1. Share relevant information about our family and
  2. Paint a picture of what a life with the Thrashers would be like for a child.
Once we have written, designed, printed, shared, uploaded and sent out our family profile, we will be officially ‘a waiting family’. Waiting to be chosen to give a baby a loving home and family.
(to be continued)

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The Agency :: Step Two :: Our Adoption

Mr. Thrasher and I took the first step towards adoption when we made our decision to adopt. Which, we strongly believe, originated as a God-given dream in both of our hearts. (Read all about our adoption decision here.) 

Step Two was to choose our adoption agency. Our main criteria was that our agency should be a Christian agency. God had to be in and all over this process and we needed our agency workers to speak the “same language”, understand the power of prayer and share the love and compassion of Jesus Christ. We also knew that we wanted to adopt domestically, ideally from California. After hearing only great things from our friends, we decided to contact Bethany Christian Services.

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We strive toward a world where every child has a loving family. ~Bethany Christian Services

After a few calls, asking lots of important questions, and discussing our fears and concerns, we submitted our pre-application and attended an information meeting where we learned more about adoption in general. Bethany cares first and foremost for the birthmothers. They love and care for them before, during and after the adoption. Bethany encourages long-lasting, open relationships between birth and adoptive parents. Paul and I now understand that we will not just be welcoming a baby into our family but that we will forever be bound to a loving, courageous mother who selflessly decided that her baby should be raised by us. My heart breaks for her, I’m overwhelmed by empathy for her and astonished by her sacrifice. Our prayers are no longer just about our baby. We pray for the well-being of our baby’s mother. We pray for her emotional stability. For her safety.
adoption-logoToday, we received Bethany’s “Next Step” package. A plain brown envelope on our door step filled with forms, questionnaires, fee schedule (yikes!) and a list of education requirements. Besides a bunch of paperwork, this envelope also contains hope, excitement and joy.

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Being Still Vs. Being Still :: Another Adoption Update

I read this somewhere: “Remember if God brings you to it, He will bring you through it!” Isn’t this encouraging?

Shortly after posting my recent adoption update, friends started asking me why we decided to start fundraising for our adoption? They were confused because I had just told everyone that we would “be still and wait” (for God). So all this activity around our garage sale, the “Make A Change By Giving Change” baby bottles and our fancy, new PayPal donation button, came as a surprise to some.

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I designed this logo for our adoption.

For us “being still” doesn’t mean sitting on our couch, twiddling our thumbs and waiting for God to bring us a miracle. It simply means to be faithful, to not panic and to trust Him. It means “having peace, being calm”. While we feel peace about our situation and know that God has us covered, we also believe that faith without action is dead. I don’t think God can move if we don’t move.

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. ~James 2:17

That said, we are kicking off our adoption fundraising campaign but won’t be stressing out about it. As someone who struggles with high expectations, I might need you to remind me to be ok with whatever the outcome will be. I do believe that part of God’s provision are the many friends who are, have been and will be supporting us on our way to making a home for a baby.

What do you think about fundraising? How would you find ways to raise money?
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Be Still, And Know That I Am God :: A Long Overdue Adoption Update

“Be still, and know that I am God.” ~Psalm 46:10

Serenity found in Maui, HI.

Psalm 46:10 encourages us to reflect on what God can do in the face of what we are unable to do. Sounds pretty much like the headline of our adoption story which, at this time, is not necessarily a story yet. It’s more like a draft or outline.

Most of the times, our desire to adopt seems so unrealistic, so unreachable, so impossible. Last year, we thought, we’d be in a great position to get started with the adoption process: Attend the workshops and online classes, read the obligatory materials, submit our application and maybe even complete our homestudy. You might have followed my Adoption Awareness Blog Project or joined our excitement when we announced that We Are Expecting Again. Then, Thrasher Home went awfully quiet all of last year, very few posts, no word about our adoption. Dear friends, I owe you an update:

A call to the adoption agency of our choice in January of last year made us slow down, rethink our approach and finally turn to God for advice. We were told by a very sweet agency worker that it may not be a wise decision to start the process considering the little funds we had available to us. It may not work in our favor if we had to interrupt the process while trying to save or raise more money to move on to the next step. With only one income and a tight monthly expense budget, we were only making small progress towards our adoption savings goal of $29,000. When we called the agency, we had merely $4,000 in our savings account. (Just reading these numbers again makes me nauseous.)

While I was disappointed and sad, Paul received a word from God that Sunday in church. God told him that we need to be still and trust His timing. Certainly not a mind-blowing revelation but as usual God’s timing was perfect: Paul’s regained confidence, helped me understand that we were trying too hard to force our own agenda. We were desperately trying to control the situation.

Surrender yourself to the Lord, and wait patiently for him. ~Psalm 37:7 (GWT)

There it was.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” [...] ~ 2 Corinthians 2:9

Yes, more of that, please.

Family peace.

The most important thing Paul reminded me off is that this adoption will happen. We will add to our family through adoption. Only God knows when. In the meantime, we must not be discouraged but be faithful. And surrender.

The American evangelist D.L. Moody once said that “If you partner with God, make your plans big!”. Our plans are big indeed…

Do you have any big plans that require someone like the Almighty as a partner? How did you surrender? Did you already reach the end? Do share. We appreciate any words of encouragement, prayers and stories.
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Teaching A Toddler To Be Thankful :: A Family Christmas Tradition

With Christmas being only weeks away, I wanted to share how we are hoping to teach our almost two-year old Emma about being thankful and giving back. My prayer is that you are inspired to join us and millions of others who are participating in Operation Christmas Child. (National Collection Week is only until Nov 19, 2012. So hurry up!)

For Emma, Christmas could possibly be even more about receiving since her birthday is around the same time and she is an only grandchild. She doesn’t lack anything: cute, warm clothes in her closet, delicious organic food on her plate, the latest educational, wooden toys in her toy box, a cozy bed, meds when she needs them and two parents who love, adore and protect her. We know that Emma is still very young and she likely won’t understand the concept of giving but Paul and I believe it’s never to early to begin.
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A few years ago, we have participated in the Fill A Shoe box project through our old church. Thanks to Life As A Mom, I was reminded how beautiful, simple, and fun this concept is and together with Mr. Thrasher decided that from this year on, the Thrashers will participate every year. Go ahead and read the stories on the Samaritan’s Purse website, take a look at the photos of children receiving and opening their shoe boxes. It warms your heart! Such a simple gift. Such a huge impact on a child’s life.

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As we were gearing up to pack our boxes, Emma was getting very excited about all the ‘new toys’ piled up in her room. Now, how do you explain to your toddler that she won’t be able to play with them? I picked two small gifts for Emma, showed them to her and told her that first, we’d have to pack the toys into the shoe boxes for other children but that afterwards she can play with hers. Seemed to work.
I continued to explain that some kids don’t even have socks and that’s why we will be giving them socks. So Emma took off her socks and put them in a box.

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Until it was time to put that plush reindeer with sound into the box. She had to rock and sing to Rudolph before she could put him away. As soon as I turned my back to hand Emma the next item, she had pulled Rudolph out again.

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Eventually, the boxes were filled and I asked Emma to hold my hand so we could pray over the boxes and for the kids who would receive them.

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Last action item before we drop off our boxes: We’ll include a personal note and a photo of our family for each box.
What would you put into your shoe box? Do you have any family traditions to give back or volunteer together? Do share.

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Camping With A Toddler And A Dog :: Part Three

Besides feeling utterly uncomfortable, I was so afraid of bears that I couldn’t sleep at all. Like I said, we had lots of fun during the day but being sleepless for several nights wasn’t really recharging my batteries. After three nights of biting my tongue, I asked Paul if we could go home if I couldn’t get any sleep that night.

It must have been just before daylight broke, that I heard the sound of an animal approaching our camp. Then I saw a shadow. I prayed that Emma wouldn’t wake up and that Griffin stayed calm. I tried to wake Paul, whispering that I think there was a bigger animal wandering around our tent. Thankfully, he didn’t brush me off nor fell back asleep (like he usually does). He had heard something as well. He held my hand and with a soft voice I explained my escape plan to him.

After a while, it was quiet again. The gently gurgling of the creek and those darn chipmunks throwing pinecones on our tent was all we could hear. My prince in shining sleeping bag nodded off again.

The next morning couldn’t come fast enough and I was almost glad when I heard Emma stir in her travel crib. As soon as we crawled out of our tent, we saw our camp neighbor walk towards us. Her family had been up since the break of dawn to pack up and get ready to head home. She greeted us friendly and asked if we needed more fire wood, we could use their leftovers. Her next question, however, had me break out in sweat: “Did you see the bear that visited your camp earlier this morning or have you been asleep?”

When she continued to tell us how that bear walked up to our picnic table and put his paws up on my cute tablecloth sniffing around for food, my smile froze and I wondered why I was the only one shaking. Turns out she was a camping veteran and “totally used to sharing her camp with bears”. Oh, right.

Well, not me. A bear sneaking around our tent was enough reason for me to tell my husband that the Thrasher camping adventure was over. And the next time, he wants to take the kids into the woods, I’ll be heading to a spa in the wine country. Mark my words.

{Read Part One here and Part Two here.}

Camping With A Toddler And A Dog :: Part Two

Unlike her Mama, Emma loves camping. And so does Griffin, our dog.

A creek and lots of pine cones - better than a million dollar playground.

I have to admit, seeing our little Miss Sunshine explore the woods with her dog made me happy. She had a blast. Not even dime-sized blisters on both of her feet from wearing her water shoes barefoot in the creek all day slowed her down. Too much to do. Too much to discover. Too many pinecones to collect. Too many monkeys (her sign for chipmunks) to chase.

We didn’t bring a watch. Emma was our clock. When she showed first signs of tiredness, we put her down for naptime. To my surprise, she slept just fine. She neither had problems with the bright daylight, background noise from other campsites, her nervous mother, nor the heat. We brought her lullabies but quickly deferred to the white noise provided by the lovely creek. Her naps were between 2-3 hours. For the first time, I was grateful how easily kids are entertained (read: tired out) by roaming around outdoors all day. At least one of my concerns was unjustified.

As for the dog, he didn’t mind our leash-rope-construction that allowed him to roam around without wrapping his leash around every tree. Mr. Thrasher hung rope between the trees, then attached the leash to the rope with a carabiner hook. That way, Griffin could remain on leash. The creek provided a refreshing “water bed” for him. And the best part (if you’re a dog)? We didn’t stop him from digging. Heaven!

He also slept peacefully through the nights with only mild growling every now and then when a monkey, excuse me, chipmunk got too close.

Emma is taking Griffin for a walk near our tent.

Emma is a born helper. She kept refilling Griffin's water bowl all day and fed him every morning. (Also, pants are overrated.)

Dirt won't hurt. Our campsite setup:

Ugly stroller: $12 at Target. Child entertained for hours: Priceless.

Thrasher Home in the wilderness.

Our gear (download our packing list Thrasher Home Camping Trip Packing List):

I know I promised to share our reason for leaving the beautiful California Twin Lakes in a rush. After the jump you’ll find out here. Pinky swear.

Camping With A Toddler And A Dog :: Part One

I hate camping. I simply don’t understand why people like to add discomfort, uninvited critters, lack of hygiene and unstoppable amounts of dirt to their vacation and call it “recreation”. Mr. Thrasher, however, is a big fan of the cheapest way to vacation uncomfortably sleeping under the stars with nothing but a piece of fabric separating you from rain, wind, mosquitos and bears. Despite my dislike of outdoorsy sleepovers, I agreed to take our 20-months old on her first camping trip and even managed to get a bit excited. (I herewith officially apply for the Wife Of The Year Award.)

I started the preparation for our trip weeks ahead of time. One of my mottos is “Be prepared; then go with the flow.” I humbly like to say I’m quite excellent at the first part, but still need to improve lots on the latter.

These were my major concerns:

  • Our child wouldn’t sleep.
  • Our dog wouldn’t sleep (or stop barking).
  • Mama wouldn’t sleep.

Another minor concern:

  • A bear would eat us.

To address my concerns, I packed everything in my home that could possibly assist me in making this trip easier for myself all of us. You can download my packing list here: Thrasher Home Camping Trip Packing List. Don’t judge, I never said I travelled light!

More advice we didn’t follow:

  • Plan a short trip. Fail: We planned a 5-day trip.
  • Don’t travel too far so you can head home if all hell breaks loose. Fail: We drove for 5 1/2 hours to Twin Lakes, CA.

During my first ever camping trip, I learned that keeping food, especially perishables, cool and fresh is a challenge in itself. So I was thrilled to find out about tin foil dinners and packed a few for our first campsite dinner. I also cut and chopped a bunch of veggies and fruits so I wouldn’t have to do it camp-side. Sliced cheese and deli meat was stored in Tupperware containers so the melted ice wouldn’t get it all wet.

Cut and assembled at home, tin foil dinners make for quick and easy meals. Without the mess and need to wash any dishes. Just throw the foil packages in the fire. Genius. Image Source: Lovely Blog

So much for the prep. Wanna know how it went and why we returned a day earlier? Read Part Two and Part Three to hear all about our camping adventure.