God is writing another story

God is writing another story. It starts with 3 Johnsons, a ministry to unwed mothers in Taiwan, 2 passionate God-loving ladies, an 18 year old girl and 1 tiny baby. Let's see where the story goes...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Reflecting on Four Months with Selah

(Edited with additional content:  See below)

I can hardly get my mind around the fact that 4 months ago today we held Selah in our arms for the first time.  She felt so good in my arms, yet she held herself very stiffly.  The expression on her face for the first few hours was one of curiosity and mistrust.  She did not cry one tear, yet we could tell she was very uncertain of her new arrangements. 

She must have been thinking something like, "Who are these odd looking folks I've been handed over too?  Are they some new His Hands volunteers I will hang with for a few days?  Will we laugh and play and have a couple bottles of milk together?  Or is this something completely new...?"

Selah did start to relax over the next few days.  We began to see some lovely smiles and she even broke out her infectious laugh on a few occasions.  She didn't have a clue who we were or why we were together, but she did seem to trust that we would take care of her.  She had a long way to go, however, to begin to understand the permanent and unconditional love of a family.

I am pleased to report that Selah has come far in attaching to her new family members.  She connected with me first and would get nervous if I wasn't close by and now has started to cry if I leave the room.  It took a bit longer with daddy, but sure enough, she wants this strong, handsome fellow to be around her as often as possible.  She cranes her little neck to see where he has gone, and gets quite fussy if he doesn't return soon.  Noelle, on the other hand, had an instant connection with Selah.  I think Selah saw and felt something familiar in her new sister.  These two laugh and wrestle and squeal and play like nothing I've heard.  Eric and I LOVE it. :)

Selah has also started to call us "Mama" and "Dada".  Oh what a wonderful sound!  She only says it when she's in the mood, but when I hear that simple word, my heart sings!  One other new development is that Selah is learning to cuddle--one of my favorite things to do. :)  It was many, many weeks where she would sit stiffly in our arms when we held her, but now she will relax and snuggle right in.  Ahhhhh... :)  Our baby girl is learning about Family and Love.  Thank you, God, for this wonderful gift!!

Now for some developmental milestones---
~Selah has learned to eat solid food, pretty well. ;)  She is cutting tooth #9 and does a little chewing, mostly sucking and mashing her table food and some stage 3 baby food.
~Selah learned to clap...and knows what it means (i.e. "Good job, Selah!"). She loves to join in the applause at church or if she sees/hears it on tv.
~Selah is learning to wave hello and goodbye.
~Selah's sense of humor is really developing.  She loves to make goofy faces so everyone laughs.  She thoroughly enjoys diving her whole body onto anyone laying on the floor.  And she finds it extremely amusing to try to feed her bottle to family members, or stick her paci into mama's mouth.
~She recently starting walking!  Not a lot, but several steps here and there, until she realizes what she's just done and gets nervous. ;)  I suspect it won't be long before we are chasing that short chubby legged girl all around the house!
~Now this is a big one. Selah is learning to sleep through the night!!!  What an answer to prayer!  Seriously.  Going to a comfort a crying child or calm a laughing child several times a night leads to extremely exhausted parents (and big sister, who is also often awakened).  It is a challenge to parent effectively, or do anything effectively, for that matter, on little sleep.  So I praise God every night Selah sleeps through, or even makes it past 5:00am.  We are starting to feel energy again--woot!!
~more to come...

Monday, September 12, 2011

I Miss This Ministry!

It's been less than 2 weeks since we were last with members of the His Hands Taiwan ministry team, but boy do I miss them.  What amazing folks, with such a heart for God and a heart for the vulnerable and hurting young women of Taiwan!  Please click the link below to watch the video.  It gives an excellent overview of the purpose behind the ministry and how it came together.  And if you are me, it will make you smile a bittersweet smile, because you wish you were back in Kaohsiung with all of the wonderful His Hands people!
http://vimeo.com/25920034

Sunday, September 11, 2011

After The Airport...What do YOU think?

This recent post by Christian author, speaker and adoptive parent Jen Hatmaker will move you deeply and open your eyes. 

"I'm going to tell you something; a little confession, if you will. Some of you will pull your hair out and smear your faces with ashes and put all my books on eBay and quit believing in God, but I'm willing to take that risk..."
Jen's post has stirred up a fair amount of controversy in the adoption community--the message boards are alive with responses.  I also have a lot of thoughts on this topic.  I would love to hear your thoughts.    So please post comments! :)

(After you post your comment here, go read the rest of her blog.  You will love this gal's way of communicating and her story will challenge and encourage you.  Ok, now get going!)

We Meet Selah's Grandfather

(video error)

We feel very fortunate to have met Selah's grandfather.  He had planned to meet us only briefly for tea, but ended up relaxing greatly and stayed for an hour or so.  What a wonderful and important visit!  Sadly, Selah's mother was unable to attend our rescheduled lunch meeting (she had taken off work the previous day but the typhoon messed up our plans).  Our hope is to connect regularly via email and see where God takes the relationship.  We know God has a bigger plan in mind... :)

Jet Lag / Drs Appoinments / Dedications / Blogging / Sibling issues

Jet Lag--
Don't worry.  I haven't forgotten the blog.  We are, however, just starting our recovery from jet lag.  Praise the Lord.  Although Selah is unfortunately still on Taiwan time, which means she wants to be awake at night.  We are functioning.  But until today, just barely. ;)

Doctor's Visit--
We did visit Selah's pediatrician on Friday and thank goodness, we are starting our 10-month-old on baby food!  This should mean a fuller tummy for longer periods.  Which also translates to longer periods of sleep at night.  Woohoo!!  Dr. Jeanie is also making appointment for Selah to see a pediatric cardiologist to evaluate the hole in her heart and a poorly functioning valve.  We will also see an opthamologist to evaluate her retinopathy.  A dermatologist is next to help determine the cause of the mysterious itchy bumps on her head.  Sometime in the midst of all this we will go to the children's hospital for blood tests - oh fuuuuun!  Everything is rounded out by her 1-year physical the end of October.  All in all, the pediatrician was very pleased with Selah's size and development.  She may have come into this world a couple months early, but she is trucking right along now!

Baby Dedication--
Today before our church congregation we had Selah dedicated to the Lord.  This is a very important commitment Eric and I choose to make to God on behalf of each of our children.  Our children are a gift from God--in fact they are "on loan" from God and we are merely stewards of each precious soul.  We strive to honor God in the way we raise our kids.  Our highest aim is that 1) they grow to love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength, and 2) that they are secure in the unconditional love of their forever family.  Our children's pastor, Roberto, performed a lovely and personal ceremony.  We were also blessed to have Eric's parents in attendance, all the way from Illinois.  My dad was also up front with the group, but my mom, who had surgery on her shoulder that past Tuesday, was unable to make it (please pay for her pain and for a swift recovery).  This is one of those special memories we will always cherish.  I'm glad we got video of the ceremony. :)  I will upload that later.

Blogging--
I am working on a "comprehensive" day-by-day travel post.  Once I started I realized I had lots to share.  I also have lots of pictures and video.  It may take several days, but I will eventually post it...

Sibling Issues--
Being first time parents to an infant (Noelle was almost 19 months when we arrived home from China) has been a very interesting experience.  I can see that it will take a few weeks of caring for Selah's particular needs for it to become second nature.  Every day does get easier than the day before.  And every day we fall more in love with this second blessing God has sent our way.  Regarding Noelle, we would ask that you keep her in your prayers over then next several weeks and months.  She is struggling with "sharing us" with Selah.  This is normal for all first siblings.  However...she has been experiencing some big insecurities related to how she entered our family back in 2008.  She has expressed some deep fears that have Eric and I very concerned.  Only God can unravel these hurts and doubts our sweet daughter feels within her soul.  Thank you for those prayers.  I should tell you one very positive development.  Selah totally loves Noelle.  She thinks her big sis is tops and grins, giggles and belly laughs at almost everything Noelle does.  Every time Selah giggles at Noelle antics, Noelle starts to enjoy having a little sister.  We thank God for this connection that is starting between the two girls. 

Hmmmm I'm trying to think if I need to share anything else before I sign off.  Well, if I think of anything of value, I'll just write another post.  Later~

Friday, September 2, 2011

Last day In Taiwan...


Tomorrow we leave Taiwan and I realized I hardly touched this blog.  I had grand ambitions to blog every day during our adoption trip and post pictures and videos.  As it turns out, I just couldn't pull myself away from our gurgly, drooly, giggly, big-toothy-smiles 10-month-old baby girl!  Selah is irresistible and when it came down to choosing spending time bonding with her and creating special memories with Eric OR blogging about what we've done and where we've been,,,well I chose the former.  I'm sure you all understand. :)

In the coming days, however, I would like to share the details of our trip with you.  I'd like to share our packing list, travel advice and tips, do's and don't's, hotel reviews, Taiwan must see's, fun moments, scary moments (yes, there were a couple) and moving moments (including meeting with Selah's biological grandfather).

I am passionate about adoption.  I am passionate about the ministry of His Hands Taiwan.  I am passionate about our daughter.  I am passionate about sharing lessons I've learned and am still learning.  Hopefully the information will be helpful.  Maybe it will encourage some.  Maybe it will challenge others.  So please stop by again!

Just The Facts:
Saturday September 3 - We leave Taipei at 9:35AM
Switch planes in Tokyo
Switch planes in Atlanta
Saturday September 3 - We arrive in Chattanooga at 8:25PM!!!

And we get to hug and kiss our daughter Noelle (who turned 5 years old today!)!!!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Our first moments together

(Having problems uploading the gotcha day video...will try again later)

(check out facebook to see a few gotcha day pics)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

We are IN TAIWAN!!!

our trip thus far (the very short version...)
left thursday morning, travel was a-ok, we arrived friday night in taipei
took high speed train to kaohsiung saturday morning
the his hands crew was waiting for us at the train station...with SELAH!!! (she is AWESOME!)
today (sunday) went to church with the his hands crew and had a fun visit over lunch,,,and then prepared the house of hope for the coming typhoon
this evening checked into a hotel near the house of hope and visited the shopping mall in the hotel complex; we will spend tomorrow in our room waiting out the storm and having family time :)

coming up...
tuesday we register Selah's adoption at the household registry office to make it all legal and official
then we will have lunch with selah's birthfamily (super coolness!)
tuesday evening we head back to taipei
wednesday morning AIT appointment to get selah's visa
hang out in taipei a couple days until we leave saturday morning, heading back home to the USA!

pictures will be forthcoming....including gotcha day pics....since that's what folks are actually interested in ;)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Travel Confirmed :)

(updated 8/23)
On Wednesday, Eric and I contacted a travel agent that specializes in helping adoptive parents plan their trip overseas.  Todd Gallinek came highly recommended and has been a tremendous help to us.  It is such a relief to let someone else do all the legwork, finding the good flight itineraries, booking the best hotels, finding great prices, etc.  And, we love that we'll be able to call on him for assistance should there be any problems during our trip.  Holly from His Hands is taking care of booking our hotels in Kaohsiung and part of our time in Taipei.  The last night our travel agent booked us at one of the airport hotels, approximately 45 minutes from AIT.

ITINERARY (August 25 - September 3):
We fly out from Chattanooga Thursday morning and arrive in Taipei Friday night.  We'll stay at a hotel next to the airport since we will be a smidge tiiiiiired.

Saturday morning we take the high speed train to Kaohsiung...Selah will be waiting for us at the train station along with various members of the His Hands ministry team!!!  We will also get to stay this night at the House of Hope (yay!) because our Kaohsiung hotel is fully booked that night.

Sunday we'll attend church with our HH friends.

Monday is a free day in Kaohsiung.

Tuesday we register the adoption at the Household Registry Office in Kaohsiung.  That evening we will take a train to Taipei and check into our hotel to stay for 3 nights.
     His Hands processes the adoption paperwork so that parents meet their newly adopted child before the adoption is officially registered in the new parent's names.  This is very, very cool.  It means Selah will be able to come home on an IR3 Visa, which makes her a U.S. citizen as soon as we touch down on American soil.  The other option would have been an IR4 Visa, which means she would have received a green card after entering the U.S. and we would later apply for American citizenship.

Wednesday we have an early visa appointment at AIT.  Some of the His Hands folks will accompany us to the meeting.  Assuming all goes well, Selah's visa will be ready that afternoon.

Thursday and Friday are free days in Taipei.  Friday night we will head out of the city center and check into our airport hotel.

Saturday morning we board a plane and head back home.  We arrive home in Chattanooga that Saturday night (yeah, it seems weird...it's the whole time zone thing).  Our whole family of four will be united!!!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

We have our AIT APPOINTMENT!!!!!!

Last night we received the long awaited email from the American Institute in Taiwan.  We have a visa appointment scheduled for Wednesday August 31

We are leaving for Taiwan next week!!!

Selah PingChen Johnson...Here We Come!!!

We don't have exact dates as of yet.  I've been on the phone today with Trena at His Hands to hash out some of the details.  We are also emailing back and forth with our travel agent regarding flights. 

Because I just really had this feeling inside me that we would be traveling soon, I've been making lists on post-it-notes like a mad woman.  I'm continuing the pre-packing (yes, I started that last month, the day we found out we had Final Decree! lol).  Spending time on the phone to various entities.  Making trips to Walmart.  Perusing local shops for thank you gifts and something special for Selah's birthmother.  Making a hair appointment.  etc. etc. etc.

SO MUCH has happened behind the scenes this past week+.  God has been amazing.  He has gone completely above and beyond all we could think or ask.  When I'm not so tired and brain-fried, I will write an explanatory post.  It is a story worth telling. :)

wowowowowowowow this is surreal..... ;)

Monday, August 8, 2011

God Did It!!!!!!!!!

He paved the way and granted us favor with the immigration officers in Atlanta to get our fingerprints taken 3 weeks early!!  Alleluia!!!

We arrived at 10:30am, left our cellphones in the car, entered the building and was greeted by a friendly guard / immigration officer.  He was actually the same fellow that checked us in, March of 2010 when we first started our adoption journey.  We didn't get far because I had my purse and a tote bag with reading materials.  I got to keep the books, but the purse and bag had to go back to the car.  While Eric ran back to our vehicle, the officer and I chatted and I told him I remembered him from last year.  He asked about our adoption and it was all very relaxed and friendly.  The chatting was good, I thought.  Get on good terms with the immigration officer so he likes us and will want to help us. ;)

When Eric returned, we each filled out a form with all our pertinent information and returned it to the same officer, along with our IDs and our fingerprint appointment letters.  The whole time he checked us in and stamped our paperwork and reviewed our materials, I kept thinking, "Is he going to notice the date?  Is he going to notice that we showed up 3 weeks early??  Is he going to care???"

Well he did notice the date.  Without looking up from his desk, he said, "You guys aren't even supposed to be here today..."  With barely a pause, he continued processing us and sent us to the waiting area to be fingerprinted.  Woohoo and Praise God!!!

The rest was easy peasy breezy.  We waited about 20-30 minutes, and the lady who printed us was super nice and asked about our adoption.  She gave our appointment letter back to us, never having looked at the date, and sent us on our way!  Wow.  What a huge burden lifted.  We have been singing God's praises all day long!

Next Step???
Tomorrow I call our immigration officer and give her the great news that we have new fingerprints and ask her if there is some way to expedite the processing of our approval.  I will also call the National Visa Center to let them know they should be receiving our updated fingerprint approval soon.  I will also very nicely ask them to expedite the process and please quickly cable our approval to AIT. 

THEN we will be back on track.  Yeah, baby!!!

When you're up against a struggle
That shatters all your dreams
And your hope's been cruelly crushed
By Satan's manifested scheme
And you feel the urge within you
To submit to earthly fears
Don't let the faith your standing in
seem to disappear

Praise the Lord!
He can work through those who praise Him
Praise the Lord!
For our God inhabits praise
Praise the Lord!
For the chains that seem to bind you
Serve only to remind you
That they drop powerless behind you
When you praise Him...


(Russ Taff - "Praise the Lord")

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ok God, Do Your Thing!

We are traveling to Atlanta USCIS tomorrow.  Dropping Noelle off at the grandparents and hitting the road with a stack of legal documents...and a fingerprint appointment letter for August 25.  Tomorrow is August 8.  This "risky business"---all for our daughter Selah. 

God started this whole gig.  He always finishes what he starts.

Ok God, do your thing!!!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Update: Fingerprint Saga

Great News!!  We have a fingerprint appointment!!  Granted, it's not until August 25th, but we may have a way to speed that up.  Let me explain.

At 7:33am my cellphone rang with an unfamiliar number.  I didn't actually hear it ring.  I didn't even listen to the message until a couple hours later.  It was our Immigration Officer.  From USCIS.  She called before most folks are in their offices...and actually she's on Central Time which would have been 6:33am. ???   A government employee calling me at 6:30 in the morning??  Weird. 

Now here's the goofy part.  When I listened to the message, I was initially excited until I realized it sounded just like a voicemail she left me back in May.  I thought, "Oh yay.  Verizon has once again resent me an old voicemail."  So I ignored the message.

Until after lunch when I had this nagging sense that I should listen to it again.  And listen to the voicemail from May to compare.  Turns out, the message from this morning was new.  And the officer was apparently responding to the email I sent USCIS detailing our problem.  A good sign...

I called USCIS, got transferred to the our officer's direct line and...voicemail.  A voicemail message that said something like, "...Due to my heavy workload and the number of calls received each day, I am only returning calls between the hours of 8am and 10:30am..."  Awww man!  I missed it!  I called too late!  I left a message anyway.  Guess I'd hear something tomorrow.

Well lo and behold, less than an hour later my phone rang when Noelle and I were driving to meet my parents for an outing.  I recognized the number this time...USCIS!!!  It was our officer calling, "Ms. Johnson, I have a fingerprint appointment for you.  If you give me a fax number, I'll send a copy of the letter right through!"  She also said that our appointment was not until August 25th but we could show up on an earlier day and see if the immigration officers in Atlanta would let us in and fingerprint us anyway.  And that, my friends, is exactly what we will do.  Monday, in fact. :)

So I stopped by a copy center and with great relief, received my fax.  My day, my week (no, month) had taken a big turn for the better.  I called Eric and we praised God together!!

And to top off the day-- When I got home and checked the mail, guess what was in the box?  Fingerprint appointment letters from USCIS.  Seriously???  And for an August 23rd appointment. 

Yeah.  Go figure.  Don't think I will never understand our government. ;)

Big Problem Could Delay Our Travel

We have run into quite a snag with our adoption the past 48 hours.  Our case is on hold with AIT.  That means no travel dates.  They will not finish processing our case until they receive new fingerprints from us.  Ours expired July 13 and the following week we mailed the application to get them renewed.  When I spoke on Monday to our caseworker at USCIS, she said our paperwork had indeed arrived but had not been "transferred" to her yet.  When I pressed for a time frame of when we would receive our appointment letter in the mail, and how soon our appointment would be, I got a, "Ma'am, you need to just wait until you get the paper in the mail."  Ugh!  In hindsight, I should have applied for our renewals a couple months prior, but had it in my head that all we needed was current fingerprints at the time of travel.  Wrong I was.

So at this moment, no travel dates are in sight--which could cause even bigger problems as our immigration approval to bring Selah home to the U.S. expires October 14th.  And we all know how slowly bureaucratic wheels tend to turn.

Eric and I emailed His Hands right away to update them.  I also got online and emailed several Taiwan adoption groups to learn their experiences and advice.  Ain't the Internet great?!  I have also been in contact with USCIS, NVC and AIT via email and or phone.  We will make more contacts today.

Depending on what we learn this afternoon when we call our caseworker, again, at USCIS, we just might drive to the Atlanta USCIS office on Monday morning and beg them to let us in.  Even if we don't have an appointment.  But we are praying that either,
1) Our appointment letter does arrive in the mail this week,,,and we still drive to USCIS Monday and wait in line until they can squeeze us in for fingerprints, or
2) USCIS will be super agreeable and fax us the letter even before they mail it. 
Now of course, this is all contingent on whether or not our caseworker has reviewed our file yet.  We are praying she has!!  If none of the above works...we will call our congressional office (per the recommendations of many adoptive parents) to try to move this along.

Just another bump in the road of adoption!  Granted, it seems like a super HUGE bump, but God is used to moving mountains!!  Thank you, family and friends, for your ongoing prayers for this whole adoption process.  Someday soon, that sweet little Selah WILL be in our arms!!! :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Waiting for THE APPOINTMENT from THIS place

The American Institute in Taiwan, also known as the American consulate in Taipei. 

This government office is in Taipei, and is where we will go to have an interview for Selah's visa to the United States.  If all goes well (and we are completely expecting it to), they will issue the visa, and we'll head home to Chattanooga!!

Eric and I are prayerfully waiting to hear when AIT wants us to come to Taiwan.  We would sure love to travel this month, yet we know that all is in God's time...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Whirlwind of Activity Around Here

I have the bleary eyes and sleep deprived body to prove it! ;)

Since we learned on Thursday that Selah is legally a Johnson, I have been on a mad race to the finish line.  I don't know where (when) the finish line is, but international travel is looming in our near future.  I have been "nesting" like crazy-- dragging all of Noelle's old baby (toddler) items out of storage and cleaning them.  I've organized the baby dish section of the kitchen cupboard.  I've made lists of things we still need and have been registering at baby stores for our shower next month.

Eric and I also pulled suitcases and bags out of the attic to see what we have for traveling.  We have one mongo suitcase and an odd assortment of smaller bags.  But the mongo suitcase that went to China with us will unfortunately not be taking a trip to Taiwan.  You see, I've been talking with my friend Cindy-- Taiwan adoptive parent 2 times over and somewhat of a travel pro.  She and her husband highly recommend traveling with only carryon bags.  And friends, that is what we intend to do!  Google has been a tremendous friend of mine as I have embarked on this travel-light plan.  Yahoo Group friends and my crew on facebook have also been very helpful.  Airlines and hotel recommendations have also come in handy.  You know, I really think we can do it.  The challenge is On!

Part of the "carryons-only travel" is the 1 Quart Bag for Liquids rule.  Praise God for itty bitty bottles and the toiletry travel sections at WalMart and Target.  I will somehow cram every product we need into 2 small ziplock bags.

After the news Thursday morning, I also realized that we had to move quickly to renew our expired fingerprints.  U.S. Immigrations will not let us bring Selah home on expired fingerprints.  I had been procrastinating a bit, but mailed out our fingerprint request the very same day.  I do hope we get something in mail soon telling us when to go to Atlanta.  That will be the last bit of red tape (on our end) to complete the adoption process.

Here's the thing.  I have gotten much accomplished, but still more needs to been done.  Noelle's room has to be painted (we promised it would happen before Selah arrives).  Safety gates n such need to be installed around the house.  The travel agent needs to be called to start making hotel and flight arrangements.  My house needs to be scrubbed and floors sterilized (or close, anyway) before a crawling baby comes exploring.  And some other stuff.  Can't quite think what.  But trust me, there is more.

Ahhh the crazy, wild pre-travel ride of International Adoption.  I LOVE it!!! :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fluffy Cheeks

Ok, so I said I'd be adding lots of updates to the blog this weekend.  I've got lots to tell--it's all in my head.  I've been quite the busy beaver for 2 weeks when it comes to adoption related activities.  Posts will be forthcoming.  Soon. :)

Here's a little pic from our good news Skype session Thursday.

Noelle describes her new sister as having "Fluffy cheeks"

Saturday, July 23, 2011

FINAL DECREE!!! Selah is our DAUGHTER!!!

Watch this video from our Thursday morning skype session with Selah and Sara and Ashleigh from His Hands.  It explains everything...

God has gone above and beyond any and all of our hopes and expectations
in this adoption process.  May His name be glorified!!
 
I'm now a mother of TWO!!!!  Oh. My.Word.  Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee :):):):):)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

WE HAVE **HUGE** NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But you'll have to wait just a wee bit longer to find out (unless you are on facebook).  I am exhausted by the week we've had so far and plan to turn in early tonight.  I do hope to post lots of updates here on the blog over the weekend. 

BTW, I have now OPENED the blog so anyone can read.
THAT is a huge hint about what has taken place in our adoption...

:)

pssst...you're gonna love it...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Box Is On Its Way!

I just returned from the post office where I shipped out a care package to Selah.  I included a couple of "size 9 month" summer outfits (yay Target Baby!), although I'm a little worried now that they will be small, judging by recent photos.  Our girl is growing well...and is quite well fed! lol  I also sent along a soft blanket which I've been sleeping with, since experts say that allowing the baby to get her new mom's scent aids in bonding.  Noelle slept with a little stuffed monkey head (yes, no body, lol) so she could be involved as well.  I found a soft photo album online and filled it with close-ups of our faces, the 2 kitties and a picture of Selah's bed. 

The last item is for the nannies.  Absolutely The.Most.Delicious. chocolate truffles I've ever tasted.  They are from Earth Fare and are made with creamy, smooth organic chocolate.  Mmmmm they will love these!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Here's How Things Stand

Things seem to be progressing quite well towards the finalization of Selah's adoption. 

On July 6th, about a week and a half after the court hearing, a court appointed social worker came to the House of Hope to do a home study on Selah.  The social worker is writing up a report for the judge, and assuming the judge is satisfied, she (the judge) will issue First Decree.  This simply means that she intends to finalize the adoption.  If no biological family member comes forward within 10 days to contest the adoption, the judge will issue Final Degree, which means Selah is legally our daughter!  This could be sooooon.... :)

We also learned that Selah is having a physical conducted next week as part of the process to get her visa from AIT (the American consulate in Tawian).  There is some other paperwork that goes to AIT, but this is an important step in the process.  When all of the ducks are in a row with AIT, the consulate can issue us a visa appointment = we travel to Taiwan!!!

Boy, I just love the way all these items are getting ticked of the check list towards completion!!!

Monday, July 11, 2011

House of Hope - Moving Day VIDEO

If you are interested in seeing the inside of the new House of Hope facility, please take a look at this video.  You will also see some of the babies (including Selah) and nannies in their new environment.

http://vimeo.com/26095592

I THINK we have good news :)

Something came in the mail today.  Letter number 5 or 6 from the IRS in regards to the status of our adoption tax refund.  All previous letters have contained messages of "delay".  This is the first letter that sounds like good news!!

"We are pleased to tell you we did not make any changes to the tax reported on your return.  We will be returning any original documents you sent relating to your return in a separate envelope.  If you are due a refund, we will send it to you within 6 to 8 weeks..."

It sounds like a check is on its way.  End of August, early September.  Just in time to travel to Taiwan.

Thank you, Lord!!!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Switched back to Taiwan - whew!

We received a very important yet nondescript looking piece of paper in the mail this week.  It was from immigration services letting us know that we can now bring a adopted child from Taiwan (not Ethiopia) home to the U.S.!  It took our new Taiwan home study, several supporting documents, $410, a phone conversation with an immigration officer, 2 months of waiting, and we are good to go...until October 15.

Will we make the deadline???  This has been a HUGE concern. 

The desire to avoid paying for a "possibly needed" home study update and almost $1000 for new fingerprints/filing a new I-600A application is something that seemed eminent.  What if we don't get Selah and arrive back home to the U.S. before October 15??!  That would be big trouble.  Recommended refiling: 90 days before expiration.

Here's the GOOD NEWS:  According to the immigration officer I spoke to on the phone, even though we used up our "1 time free change of country from Taiwan to Ethiopia" and we paid for a 2nd change of country, we still haven't used our "1 time free I-600A extension".  Woohoo!!!  We thought using our "1 free change of country" voided any other "freebies" from the government.  Apparently not!  So praise Jesus, we can mail in a little form with no money, get a fingerprint appointment in Atlanta and get an additional 18 months to travel to Taiwan to pick up Selah!!!

Woohoo another 18 months!!

huh? wait. umm, not really excited about the 18 months part.
let's get this show on the road before October!!! :)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A NEW House for the Babies and Mommies!!!

 Official moving day is July 1st!!  More pics and details to follow!!

The outside of the new House of Hope


The babies trying out the new play area in the nursery

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Selah's Meets Her BirthMom

After the court hearing, Selah's birthmother and grandfather went to the House of Hope to visit Selah.  Eric and I are SO grateful to His Hands that they have such openness and support for the birthfamilies and that they make this kind of visit possible.  It is vitally important for the families/babies to have these healthy connections.  We cherish the photos and videos we have from their visit on Friday.  Oh there are some tender moments captured on film!  Someday Selah will be blessed to 'see' how she is deeply loved by 2 families!

Court Hearing = Awesome!!

Eric and I are excited to report that our court hearing to adopt Selah went well-- no, it went great--no, better than great!  Here is a portion of what Mona at His Hands reported to us after the hearing:

Court is over and it was amazing.   I have been to 3 court hearings and this was by far the shortest.   We were only in with the judge for ten minutes at the most.  Rae Fang said this was the nicest she had ever seen this judge, she has given them a lot of interrogation in other cases but this time was very short and to the point.   She asked why you guys wanted to adopt.  She wanted to be assured that you guys would love her as your own and provide for her.  The judge questioned the birth mom and grandfather, asking birth mom if she realized what she was doing.  Once this judgement was passed she would no longer be responsible for the baby.  The judge wanted her to state that she had signed all papers and made the decision totally on her own that she was not coerced in any way.  The grandfather was asked if he realized what his daughter was doing and he said yes.  The judge asked if social services had been to their home and done a home study and the mom answered yes.  Rae Fang and both mom and father were given papers to sign and the judge dismissed us!    Rae Fang was very excited concerning how things went, she has been in the court every time so she is a good judge as to how things were.  Rae Fang will now request the home study be done for the baby and then we wait on the court's ruling. 

Wow, what an answer to prayer!! 

There had been those tiny little fears that pricked at our minds.  Feelings that most potential adoptive parents experience--  Will the judge like us?  Will the judge think we have the resources to care for another child?  Will she think we are ready to take on the responsibility? etc.

Then we learn how short and sweet the hearing was. 
Eric and I know without a doubt that God was the one in charge of that meeting. 
Lots and lots of people prayed, and God did his thing!

So now comes another period of waiting.  A guesstimate for when the judge will issue the final adoption decree?  8-ish weeks. ;)  We will keep praying for God to guide the process and trust in his plan.  And in the mean time, we will enjoy every drooly photo of Selah we can get our hands on!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

TODAY IS THE DAY!!! (court)

After 2 1/2 years of trying to adopt our second child, in just 12 hours our Power of Attorney from His Hands Taiwan will go before the judge in Taiwan to represent us in our adoption case.  (Thursday June 23 9:50pm EST / Friday June 24 9:50am Taiwan time)

We are praying that everyone who needs to be there will be there, that all paperwork will be in order, that the judge will agree to proceed with the adoption, strength for Selah's birth family...basically that everything goes fabulously!  I'm not sure when we will find out how it went, but as soon as we know, we will pass it along. :)

We love Selah PingChen!!

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

Friday, June 10, 2011

We've got a Selah Update headed your way! (about that...)

New pics, videos and new "tricks"...details to follow!!

************************************************************

Regarding the update mentioned above... I know, I know. I am SO behind in blogging.  It has been a majorly rough 2-3 weeks - personal stuff, church stuff, illness, work drama, blah blah blah - ugh!  I just haven't been able to post the uber-cute pics and videos of Selah.  But I will. :)

Let me fill you in one one exciting bit of Selah news:  She is sitting up, all on her own!!  This is a big accomplishment for a 7 month old baby born 10 weeks early.  Go baby girl!  We are so proud of you!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What's new?

I wish I had new photos and videos and adoption information to share, but Holly and Trena and their families and some of the House of Hope volunteers have recently left Taiwan for the summer.  Things have been crazy for everyone the past couple weeks-- end of the school year activities, packing for an extended trip, and making transitions to proceed with the His Hands Taiwan adoptions in progress.  Please pray for all these folks in their travels and for their summer to be a restful and blessed one.  Please also pray for those who remain in Taiwan and continue working with the ministry.  And when those "Selah Updates" come along--don't worry--I'll share! :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

We have our COURT DATE!!!!!!

On our 16th wedding anniversary, June 24th, 2011, a judge in Taiwan will hear our adoption case.  Our Power of Attorney, His Hand's administrative assistant Rae Fang, will go to court on our behalf and will take Selah with her.  Selah's biological mother and family will also be in attendance.

Eric and I do ask our family and friends to pray with us for a few specific issues:
1)  That God will grant us favor with the judge
2)  That all the paperwork will arrive in court and be "in order"
3)  That every person expected to be in attendance will be there on time
4)  That the court process will be complete before we need to reapply for U.S. Immigration approval to bring Selah home (our approval expires October 16; we will reapply 30-90 days prior??)
5)  That God will give comfort and reassurance to Selah's mother and family that Selah will be deeply loved and cared for, and that we will maintain contact with them in the years to come.

Thank you all!

Selah at 7 months




We continue to receive regular photos and videos of our baby girl.  As of May 22, Selah is 7 months old.  She seems to be "catching up" in her growth and development.  She hasn't grown very long yet, but is sure filling out weight-wise!  Her personality is blossoming and she regularly gives her care givers big smiles and laughs frequently.  We are also told that Eric and I will have our hands full-- as she knows how to get attention / get her way when she wants it!  That's ok by us.  We like our girls spunky! lol

I'll post some videos soon~

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Blessings

I heard a powerful song on Family Life Radio today, "Blessings" by Laura Story.  It was an encouraging and touching reminder that God never wastes our tears and uses every difficulty to grow and enrich us.  If you've never heard it, I encourage you to listen and watch the video here.  Or just read the lyrics below and let the message uplift you as it did me!
We pray for blessings
We pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
All the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

We pray for wisdom
Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win
We know the pain reminds this heart
That this is not, this is not our home
It's not our home

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
And what if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy
And what if trials of this life
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are Your mercies in disguise

Monday, May 16, 2011

What If...?

As of today, we are a little over 3 weeks in to our 2-4 week wait to hear when our first court hearing is.  I check my email obsessively, hoping like crazy to see a message from His Hands.  Getting the court process going is major, and I can hardly wait to hear the news that a judge in Taiwan has been assigned our case!  It's like waiting for Christmas morning when you just know you are getting that wonderful something you always wanted.

I find myself indulging in lots of "what if" scenarios, especially late at night when I can't sleep. 
I wonder when our court date will be and how long the process will take...and if it is possible to travel to Taiwan in August
I imagine the phone call when Holly and Trena say, "You passed court!  Get your bags packed!" 
I dream of holding Selah for the first time and imagine what it will be like to spend time at House of Hope and exploring Taiwan. 
Oh lots and lots of dreamin' going on here! :)

We do know that Holly leaves Taiwan on June 9th and returns at the beginning of August.  Trena leaves June 6th and returns August 24th.  Mona and Dudley will be at House of Hope all summer taking care of everything if our court date occurs while Holly and Trena are out of the country.  So here's my new favorite dream/prayer request:::  Dear Lord, can we please have our first court date before June 9th???  ;-)

On one other note, I spoke with USCIS on the phone Friday to inquire about our application to change our orphan immigrant visa approval from Ethiopia to Taiwan.  Their website ("check your case status") was not working correctly.  I was very relieved to learn that our application was received and is indeed being processed.  We have had very positive results with USCIS every time in the past, so we are hoping to receive our "Taiwan approval" in a few weeks.  Let you know!

a few recent photos




5 New Videos!!! includes major laughs! :)

Selah on Mother's Day

Selah on Mother's Day

Selah and her friend Lena
 
Selah laughs loads
 
Selah laughs some more

IRS Runaround

Yo!  IRS!  Quit pulling our chain!!  Finish your "review" (aka "delaying tactics") of adoptive parents' 2010 tax returns and release the promised funds already!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yes I'm feeling a mite hot under the collar.  For the first time we are eligible for the Federal Adoption Tax Credit for Noelle's adoption due to changes made to that bill as part of the Health Reform Act.  Yet we are one of thousands of adoptive families who are having their refunds held up by the IRS. 

--Our accountant filed our 2010 taxes in early February
--In early March we found out our return was being "reviewed" (i.e. "audited" says our accountant) because we were claiming the adoption credit.  We received a letter telling us we would receive a letter telling us what to do next.  Yes, seriously. 
--In April we received the letter requesting additional documentation to prove we adopted Noelle in 2008.  We also needed to include copies of all the receipts to show we spent enough money to be eligible for the credit.  Since we knew this request was coming, we already had everything gathered together and mailed it immediately. 
--Today (May 16) we receive a letter from the IRS saying that our "correspondence was received" and they have 30 days to review our paperwork.  (This means that since February that have not yet started reviewing our return.)  OR they would send us another letter telling us when they would review our paperwork. 

You have got to be kidding me!!

Know what, how 'bout just be honest up front and tell us all one of the statements below:
a)  We are woefully untrained and every office has different information so no one knows how to process these adoption claims anyway.
b)  Plan on receiving your money by the end of 2011, or whenever we get our act together.
c)  The government has no money, so forget about ever seeing your refund.

I apologize for the dripping sarcasm.  We truly are grateful that the changes to the bill allow us to receive a refund for part of the money spent on Noelle's adoption.  It is a blessing!  It is tough news to swallow, however, when the delays keep coming.  We wonder if the money will arrive in time to finish paying our adoption fees to complete Selah's adoption...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pics, Update and a Video!

Keep reading all the way to the end and you will find a new video...of Selah laughing!!!
I LOVE this picture!!  This is our Angel-face Selah...  Look at those eyes!!

The most notable news to report is that last week we submitted a petition to U.S. Immigrations.  We are already approved to bring a foreign-born newly adopted child into this country.  HOWEVER we are currently approved to adopt from Ethiopia, and our approval expires mid-October.  This time around we paid for our approval to be switched to Taiwan, but we still only have until October to complete the adoption.  Otherwise we start over with the application process.  We would love to avoid that, if at all possible. ;) 

USCIS received our small stack of paperwork on Thursday and yesterday we received our electronic notification that they received our paperwork and opened our case.  We were unsure where to send the paperwork, so it is a huge relief that our paperwork is now in the system.  I sent a nice cover letter and photocopies of every document I thought would be helpful.  I am hopeful that we won't have to wait too long to get switched back to Taiwan.  The truly humorous thing about the electronic notification is that they sent me 5 text messages and 5 emails to tell us!!  From what I heard from other adoptive parents who never received any confirmation, I wasn't expecting any either.  So 10 notifications was a shock, to say the least! 

The other adoption news is that the Chinese translation of our new Power of Attorney is being mailed to us tomorrow.  We should have it early next week.  We will get it state certified, TECO'd and mailed back to His Hands.  I think this means that we will be officially done with paperwork.  I hope. lol




 Is that the most adorable thing you've ever seen, or what??!!  Maybe I'm biased, but we 3 Johnson's LOVED this video of Selah's first recorded laughter!!!  Her personality is starting to shine through.  It is also reassuring to see her continue to grow and develop.  Thank you Lord!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

It's A Mess!

Okay so I know I haven't posted those new videos and pictures of Selah yet. 
We've been a bit distracted around here.
This past week has been a mess.  Our area had bad storms on Wednesday and we personally lost power / Internet for several days.  We are so blessed, however, that we had only minor tree damage, and my parents had none at all, in spite of being only a mile or so away from the path of the EF-4 Tornado in Ringgold, GA.  Thank you Jesus!!  Unfortunately many many people in our area facing devastating loss-- houses, cars, businesses--   There has even been loss of life.  The current death toll is 78.  So awful!!  Here is a link to the Chattanooga Times Free Press article which includes a video of one section of the destruction in Ringgold.

Please pray for all the hurting families in the coming weeks and months as they try to rebuild their lives.  I pray that Eric and I personally, and the many Christians in our area, will do everything we can to help show the love of Jesus in this time of need!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Adoption Update

I'm heading to bed after a long day, but here's a quick update:

~We found out today that our dossier paperwork has been submitted to court for a court date.  We should find out in 2-4 weeks when our first hearing is!

~I gathered all the documentation needed to apply for a change of country with USCIS.  We are currently approved to adopt a child from Ethiopia and need to have that switched (back) to Taiwan.  I'll mail that package out tomorrow after work.  I have no idea how long it will take for the approval to be changed; I just hope and pray I filled everything out correctly and mailed it to the proper USCIS office.  We have received conflicting information from several sources, so I'm counting on God to get it to the right place at the right time and done the right way!

~We found out that we need a new Power of Attorney document for His Hands.  It looks like our court case may occur when Holly and Trena are out of the country this summer.  So we are preparing a new document which gives their administrative assistant the power to act for us in court.  This means another round of county and state certification and authentication at TECO.  Such is the way of international adoption!  And I'm getting pretty good with it now! lol

~I have new adorable Selah pictures and 3 new videos to post soon.  You're gonna love it!

K, that's that.  TTFN!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pictures you haven't seen

Eric and I were so excited to receive this package from Taiwan a couple weeks ago. 
It contained the Chinese translations of our Adoption Contracts, Power of Attorney and Home Study.  These were the final pieces needed to complete our dossier.
Here's a portion of the Chinese translated adoption contract.
With all of our needed dossier documents in hand, the next step was to get everything county certified.
Then we had each document state certified.  1 document (marriage license) was sent to the Illinois Secretary of State; the other 16 documents were sent to the Tennessee Secretary of State.
The final step for completing the dossier was to take everything to the Taiwan consulate (TECO) in Atlanta (well, except for the IL marriage license...but we discovered that later) for certification.  TECO requires 1 complete set of photocopies.
Noelle helps me pack up the stack of paperwork to bring home "her baby"
Taipei Economic Cultural Office in Atlanta
We were in and out in under 30 minutes.  We filled out an application, showed our passports, paid our fee, handed over our documents, photocopies and the pre-paid FedEx return box.  We were told, "Paperwork done in 7 days".  That was Monday morning.  We had it in hand Friday afternoon!
A sticker like this was added to the back of each document to show that TECO had certified the document as authentic.  Very simple.  Very pretty.

DOSSIER IN TAIWAN!!!!!!!!!!!!

10:00 p.m. Update:  Just heard from Holly and Trena.  They received our dossier and have looked through our paperwork.  Everything appears to be in order and should be ready to submit to court on Monday.  In 2-4 weeks after that we should have an assigned court date!!!

Densise has processed many adoption packages for us in the last 2 1/2 years

Quickie Update:  Our dossier arrived at His Hands Taiwan at 10:36am Monday (Taiwan time)!!!  It took approximately 52 hours to get from Chattanooga, TN USA to Kaohsiung, Taiwan.  Simply amazing.

We haven't heard anything from Holly and Trena yet, so are anxiously awaiting word that everything is in order.  We also emailed our Family Photo Pages to them Sunday night (our time).  Turns out that was a bad decision.  It took about 10 emails and still never arrived in one piece.  Ptooie on technology.  I guess we shoulda taken the time to make a hard copy photo album and FedEx'd it with the dossier.  Live and learn.  We shall see what the ladies say about the photos when they contact us...  Hopefully they can piece together a respectable photo album for the judge.

Ohhhhhhh I'm so anxiously excited to submit our paperwork for a court date.   Eeeeeeeeeee!!!  I'll let you know when we know something. :)

Noelle was too into playing "Angry Birds" to give me a real smile ;)

"The Box"

Thursday, April 14, 2011

GREAT news...

The last step to complete our dossier (adoption paperwork) is finished!!  The Taiwan consulate in Chicago returned our authenticated marriage license to us today.  And our 16 other documents (adoption contracts, home study, financial statement, etc.) authenticated by the consulate in Atlanta arrive tomorrow morning!!  Our goal is to quickly scan the authentication page of each document, head to FedEx, box up our life on paper and ship it to Holly and Trena at His HandsOnce they receive our dossier, they will apply for a court date

This. Is. Big. 
Court is where the action happens, baby!

Thank you Lord!! :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New Pics and Videos!!

Just wanted to show off a few sweet photos taken over the last week or two.  I could upload lots more for you to view, but you do have a life! lol










 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Paper Chase = Almost Complete!!

The past 7 days have been a paperwork marathon.  Listen to this...

Our Chinese translations of our home study, adoption contract and our Power of Attorney (all of the above in triplicate) arrived via Taiwan postal service on Tuesday!  I was in the Walmart parking lot about to go in the store when I received a text message from Eric which said, "Translations at my office."  Huh???  I immediately called him and shouted, "What?!?!" when he answered.  In an ever so calm voice he explained, "I have our translated documents from Taiwan right here."  At which point I started screaming in his ear! lol  It turns out that the documents had been mailed Taiwan Express Mail but had been sent to the wrong address, so they ended up back at the post office.  Fortunately Eric's cell # was on the mailing slip, so this is how we received our precious delivery.  I hopped back into the car and drove straight to his office at the church, crying and praising God all the way.  These translations are what we had been waiting for to finish our dossier!

We spend the next 2 hours trying to figure out where to sign our names on the Chinese adoption contracts (thank God for facebook friends who jumped in to answer my questions!), making photocopies and tracking down a dear friend who is a notary.  I even made it to my shift at Chattanooga Coffee Company on time!  During a break at work, I sped to the county courthouse and got 16 documents certified before the office closed, then headed back to work.  The next morning (Wednesday) I cruised on down to FedEx and overnighted the documents to the TN Secretary of State in Nashville for the state certifications.  By Friday morning we had our completed documents in hand!!

Friday I called the Taiwan Consulate (TECO) to find out the procedure for getting our dossier documents certified.  There was some confusion about what the fee would be for this service.  We had to bring a cashier's check for the proper amount and I received conflicting info from several sources.  I didn't get a clear answer from the TECO representative either, due to communication difficulties.  In the end, we went with our gut and purchased a cashier's check for the most logical amount.

Today (Monday) I was able to get the day off work, so Eric and I drove our dossier documents to TECO Atlanta.  We guessed correctly about the amount due.  Yay!!  Well almost.  We were over by $15 because we had included our Illinois marriage license in the stack of documents.  Turns out TECO Atlanta doesn't service Illinois.  Ahhhh I missed that one!  So before we left Atlanta, we called the Chicago office and FedEx'd the marriage license to them for processing.

So we have just a few more days of waiting.  I expect that next week sometime we will be able to ship a large stack of legal documents to His Hands Taiwan, Inc.  These documents will be our "ticket" to a court hearing to adopt Selah PingChen.  It feels great to be moving forward!