So soon. But not.

It’s been quiet on the adoption front for a while as we wait for China to look at our life story bundled in a tidy stack of paper and tell us that they approve of our adopting Yuan Li. And I’ve had a weird level of disconnect from the adoption during this waiting period. But in the back of my mind I’ve started having the thought of “Get the calendar out and start getting your bearings.” I’m weird in the sense that I haven’t stalked the China adoption group forums or become internet BFFs with ladies on social media who are in the same boat as us. Sometimes I think I’ve missed out on some critical part of the adoption process by not being in on these things, but the reality is that stuff exhausts me while it fuels others.

So, I haven’t had a calendar where I’m marking off the weeks till we get him. But this morning I texted my friend Carrie who was waiting on her LOA (letter of acceptance from China) about this time last year to ask about their timeline. It was THIRTEEN WEEKS from the time they received LOA to meeting their daughter. Only thirteen weeks. There’s no reason at the moment to think that our timeline wouldn’t be fairly similar and our caseworker thinks we could get LOA this week. So hypothetically, if we got LOA from China this Wednesday we would travel to get our boy the week of February 16. (Which we wouldn’t actually do because the Chinese New Year falls on February 19 and the country all but shuts down while they celebrate for an extended time. So our hope’s that we would travel prior to that instead of waiting till after the holiday.)

Can I say that again? THIRTEEN WEEKS. It’s such a short time. But it’s such a long time. A short time because we have so much to still do in getting ready. (Like, you know, getting clothes and his room put together. Never mind the money we still need to raise.) A long time because so much life will happen in that time that we won’t be together with him. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year will happen. Magnus and Elliott will, hopefully, get to watch a snowfall out the window and we’ll drink hot chocolate in our pajamas. We’ll eat an ungodly number of bowls of my favorite chili and, hopefully, watch the Broncos play. We’ll gather with friends to watch the Superbowl. Yuan Li will celebrate a birthday. He’ll be celebrating it with the family he knows and who have loved him and celebrated him on January 16 all these past years. But it’s still not with us….  And our boy still has no clue we’re coming for him. But soon. As soon as we have that LOA there will be a package going across the world and he’s going to know then. So if you’re one of those that think of us and our adoption over the next few weeks, will you pray for us? For Yuan Li’s heart as he learns the news that we’re fighting for him and coming for him- that he’s going to have a family that he belongs to and we belong to him. For us that our hearts will be prepared, too. And that we would use our time wisely and it would be productive.

THIRTEEN WEEKS. Oh my.

The Talk: The first time I said the words “You’re adopted” to my son.

 *Disclaimer: not one of my lighter posts!

It happened. The conversation Jon and I knew was coming. The one that we’ve been preparing ourselves for. The one that wasn’t supposed to be any big deal- just a formality.

Magnus asked me why Moses had two mommas.

And before I knew what was happening, the adoption talk was spilling out of my mouth. The conversation that will be a key part to the foundation of how our 3 year old will view his story from here on out.

We talked about how babies grow in mommas’ tummies. That Elliott grew in my tummy and he grew in R’s tummy. And that sometimes first mommas and daddies aren’t able to take care of their tummy baby the way they wish they could. Enter second mommas and daddies. I explained that when he was born his Daddy and I brought him home and we get to take care of him and have him as our son. He got to hear that he’s not the only one, that Yuan Li had a momma and daddy that couldn’t take care of him the way they wished they could so we are going to be his parents, and he is going to become their brother.

And true to his trust in me as his Momma, and typical for his 20 second attention span, that was enough for him right now. And he immediately moved on to what was on the menu for breakfast.

And I’ve been wrecked ever since. It was NOT just a formality for me.

I love this little boy that made me a momma. I can’t imagine a life that he’s not my son. And I don’t want to. But I’m now painfully raw from my reawakened awareness of why adoption has to even be a thing. My heart is grieving for first mommas that don’t get to act in that role to one or more of their kids. I want to scoop up Magnus’ birth mom in a death grip and cry for her and over her. And I want to thank her a million times over again for trusting me w/ her firstborn son.

I’m simultaneously rejoicing and grieving for my boy who’s going to have very real, very deep questions of Why? Oh God, please give us the wisdom to answer those questions and to instill the confidence in Mags to never feel like he needs to hide them. To ask them w/ his dignity fully intact. That he knows adoption is a beautiful redemption plan for what could be a story viewed through a lens of shame and guilt.

But God changed all that in such a breathtakingly beautiful turn of events. His story is not a story of shame.

Magnus and his first mom

I want to take every woman and man, young and old, that has made the, out-of-this-world, difficult choice to place a child up for adoption and hold them firmly. I want to look them squarely in the eye and tell them from the absolute bottom of my gut- You are not forgotten. You are loved and appreciated w/ a fierceness that aches in the bones of your child’s adoptive parents. You have made a selfless decision that is part of your child’s legacy.

And your story is not a story of shame.

We have a beautiful relationship w/ Magnus’ birth family on both sides that I’m overwhelmingly grateful for. I had the privilege of being in the delivery room and holding onto our birth mom when Mags was born. I saw his first breath happen and have the sound of his very first cries etched into my brain for the rest of my life. Three days later, in a small, intimate ceremony, R placed him in our arms and told him we’re his Mom and Dad.

We’re now bringing a son into our family that, from what we can tell, spent 3 whole months w/ the momma that carried him, labored w/ him, brought him into the world, and met his every need for 12+ weeks. Then something happened. And whatever that something was changed the trajectory of Yuan Li’s life for the rest of his days. We have prayed for him to have favor w/ God and man from the day we said yes to adopting him, and God’s been answering that prayer years before we ever began speaking it. He’s been w/ wonderful foster families, rarely institutionalized, has excelled in school, and has had very few complications from his medical issues. But the depth of his emotional scars aren’t something we can read about in his file. We won’t be able to jump on Facebook and see what his mom and dad are up to that week. I won’t be able to show him pictures of them and point out that he got his eyes from his dad and his nose from his mom.

And I’m grieving over this.

I can say w/ certainty that God’ll give us grace and wisdom for the moment when Yuan Li begins to trust us w/ his questions and his wonderings. But I hope we have the courage to admit that sometimes we don’t know the answers he’s looking for. (When we’re in the thick of that, will you remind me of this?) That we live in a broken world. That we’re sad, too, for the same reasons he’s sad. And it’s my soul’s deepest plea that Yuan Li will have a relationship w/ God someday that gives him a ridiculous peace about always having those unanswered questions.

Do you have your stories of walking through this w/ your adopted kiddos? If you’re comfortable, please share! I’d love to hear them. There’s so much comfort in knowing others’ war stories when you’re getting ready to walk into your own.

-Sarah

God Bless This Hizzle

blessthishizzle

Etsy

*Nothing like writing a post about peace when my kids are driving me bat crap crazy and I’ve spent part of the day wishing they were old enough for me to banish to the backyard.*

When I was single and living on my own or w/ a roommate I strove for my home to be a place where people felt welcome to come over unannounced and chill enough to put their feet on the furniture. As I’ve gotten older and gone and gotten myself hitched, that desire has become a family goal and not just mine. Jon and I both want our place to be somewhere people can take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Whether they just need respite for an hour long talk on the deck over coffee or a full on multi-day recharge, we want to be available for that.

One of the many, many cool things about being married to Stepan is that I automatically inherited some amazing friends. Perfect example: Captain Dirty Pants and Mrs. Dirty Pants, aka The Captain and his Mrs., aka Dirty Pants and Mrs. Dirty, aka Jason and Ashlee Blacklock. When we were first married they lived in Kennedale, TX and we would stay at their place when we went out to the DFW.  No exaggeration- when I walked into their home I breathed in Peace and instantly felt at home. I even slept better in their home than I did in my own. Their place is forever etched in my brain and I’ll always be thankful for the role their family and their home played in some pretty stressful seasons of our lives. When I think of how I want my house to feel I think of Chez Blacklock.

The thing is, it shouldn’t just be a place of refuge for outsiders coming in- it needs to feel that way for our family in the everyday. Some of it comes naturally, but so much of it has to be intentional. We’re far from living in our dream home, but God’s faithfully chipped away at my bad attitude and discontent w/ where we are. Having that internal change has made a huge difference in the feel of our place and I’m learning hospitality goes beyond being able to give my guests their very own wing of our house. I’m not going to go all proverbial soapbox on you and get into spiritual roles, etc. the people under our roof are supposed to have, but the reality is  the tone of our home rests largely on me. And I fell flat on that for a long time.

We’re in the process of winding down one season (being a family of 4), and gearing up for the next (adopting an older child that has medical needs we’ll have to address, as well as his psychological/emotional needs). The magnitude of that’s not lost on me and it’s given me quite the wake up call. We have no idea what we’ll be dealing w/ when Yuan Li becomes a permanent part of our family. He seemed amazingly well adjusted and fully capable of bonding during our short time w/ him last summer, but I’ll be honest- we’re preparing for a curve ball. When we come back from China and all our lives are turned upside down, and they will be, I want to say that we are enveloped in a ridiculous peace that passes all understanding because we’ve created a habit of inviting the Giver of Peace into our home over and over and over again.

I’m no peace guru, but I believe in being realistic and practical about the pursuit of peace, and I believe what God says in his Word, so we’re cutting out the stress that we have any say over and I’m praying scripture like a maniac over our family, our home, and anyone who will come under our roof. For years, 2 Samuel 7 has been a place I could spend a ton of time and it’s become more and more relevant to me as I’ve gotten married and we’ve grown our family. And this is my prayer for our home:

2sam7_29

Do you have bible verses posted up around your home? I’d love to hear what you’re posting and where!

In, through, and to Him-

Sarah

Simply put: Simplify.

 

it's okay to be happy with a calm life

2013 was my first year to have a word or a theme for the year and w/ not a lot of thought, and after (I confess) minimal praying, I settled on Redemption. Turns out it was pretty spot on since we began Yuan Li’s adoption in that time. December of last year came around and I started putting quite a bit more thought and prayer into what my word for 2014 would be and I got a resounding “Simplify and Organize”. Which, ironically, has kind of been pared down to just Simplify. Maybe I’ll work on the Organize portion next year.

So I’m almost halfway into the year w/ my simplify theme, and you know what? Things are different. Jon’s adopted it as well. Everything we do, every decision we make, is run through the filter of Simplify. Our calendar definitely looks different. But we’ve always tried hard at keeping a different calendar than is typical in Midland where we live. Have you ever read the quote “Stop the glorification of busy.”? I think it had to have been first said by someone living here. Between the two of us, we’ve stepped off 3 non-profit boards just in the last year. Social media feels different to me- I’m unfriending, unfollowing, and unliking like a champ. Now when I get on Facebook or Instragram I care about 70% of what’s in my feed instead of 10%, and I’m working on making that % even higher. I’m getting up in the morning and giving myself plenty of time w/ Jesus and a buffer window before having to put on my Mom hat. The way we’re eating is changing, albeit slowly. Even our relationships are different. I think I’ve given myself more freedom to turn off my filter w/ most people I’m around. That sounds like a bad thing, but it’s really not. Y’all, it’s exhausting to feel like you always have to be “on”. You know what I mean, Vern?

But in full confession, the part about simplifying that’s the hardest for me is… DUN DUN DUN… my home. I admit it. I hate clutter. I really do. So why the crap am I surrounding myself w/ it in the place that’s supposed to be my/our sanctuary? This is an everyday question for me. But I’m making baby steps and applying all the tips and tricks. I look at the stuff on my walls and countertops and ask myself if things fit w/in this parameter:

have nothing

 

And getting really honest about the kind of wardrobe that fits my lifestyle right now. Hello comfy maxi skirts and distressed boyfriend jeans w/ cardigans. Goodbye blazers, sparkly heels, and embellished tops that are too high maintenance to care for and so I only wear them once in a blue moon because they stay in the bottom of the hamper through innumerable laundry days. I’ve even cancelled 2 different hair appointments to go platinum since Jon argues that the maintenance doesn’t fit our theme. I’ll give him this one for now. But if my kids keep up their shenanigans I’ll end up platinum eventually, even if it’s just from all the grays overtaking my mousy brown head.

It really is a process and learning that I don’t have to have it down to a science RIGHT NOW has been so freeing as long as I’m doing something every day to get me closer to the goal.

Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it.  The time will pass

I don’t know what the correlation is between cleaning out the junk drawer in the kitchen and having deeper friendships is, but somehow cutting out the clutter and implementing some much needed structure is changing me in the core of who I am. The timing of it all’s not lost on me as we gear up for a new season that we honestly have no idea what will be like. But we be getting all practical up in here, yo.

Of, through, and to Him…

-Sarah

p.s. If you have a tip for me, I’m all ears! (eyes?)

Congratulations! You’ve been Pre-Approved!

Have you guys ever been in a mud pit?

One of our last years of Jon being on staff at SG we went to a camp that had one and there’s some pretty funny stories that came out of that mud pit. If you’re picturing a movie-esque scene of kids running around and belly flopping like hillbillies w/ soupy mud flying everywhere… don’t. It was thick, rocky mud that sucked you in like quicksand and didn’t give up its victims easily. Shoes, shorts (!), a kid’s prosthetic…

It’s amazing how many times I’ve thought about that mud pit during this adoption because the similarities are uncanny. Progress is slow and messy. Running is out of the question. It’s frustrating at the time, but will probably be thought of more fondly years down the road.

I am more aware than ever at each adoption’s “personality”. And not just ours, but others’ as well. I’ve made a friend who adopted her sons from China in 6 months because they were about to age out, and we have local friends who are on year 8+ and still don’t have a new little one added to their family. Some seem to be made of Teflon and everything goes so smooth it barely feels like it’s happening, and some feel like an at-home birth of triplets.

I think we fit more in the home birth category.

So when we have a breakthrough I want to throw a party and yell it from the rooftops, but usually just settle for some Starbucks instead. And if I’m really lucky, a margarita w/ the Dreamer Girls.

At the beginning of the month I posted this on Instagram:

ladybug

It seems that for a while I was seeing them every day. What I didn’t know is that the ladybug has become somewhat of a mascot in China adoptions and in some circles is considered good luck or a sign of good things to come. I’m far from superstitious, but I love it when God gives me little “Perk up, Buttercup. I’ve still got this.” moments. Because the next day, this happened:

dossier

After 7 grueling months I finally sent off dossier papers to our caseworker. This folder is our lives on paper. The dossier is a culmination of everything- our life stories, financials, beliefs, , medical history, everything. And, thank you Jesus, it’s done.

Fast forward to a few days ago and we got an email from Simi, our caseworker, that I wasn’t anticipating:

Good Morning Jon & Sarah,

 Great news- we received your pre-approval (PA) in the CCCWA’s online system today!  This is the CCCWA officially agreeing to review your Dossier when it arrives specifically for Hong Yuan Li! 

Congratulations! You’ve been Pre-Approved for a kid! I’d call that a step up from the $6,000 signature loan spam I keep getting.

Simi, if you didn’t live all the way in PA I’d bake you a cake iced in 24k gold.

We’re ironing out some wrinkles having to do w/ our home study even though it’s technically already been finalized, but after everything we’ve gone through to this point, I’d say it’s par for the course. When the home study is all a ‘go’ then the job of applying for grants begins. Fundraising is still happening. (I’ll post more on that soon.) And we just keep trucking along. As it stands right now, we’ll likely travel anywhere between November-March. Praying for the former so we can throw Yuan Li a big, fat birthday party among friends and family when #8 rolls around in January.

More to come…

In, through, and to Him… -Sarah

God is bigger than the Boogie Man

our big grey couch and its people + 1 dog

our big grey couch and its people + 1 dog

The kids, and especially Magnus, have been on a major Veggie Tales kick lately. It’s set to record on the DVR and at least one episode records every day. But out of the 20 episodes we have available, there’s one that’s requested above all the others: God is Bigger Than the Boogie Man aka God is Bigger, aka Frankencereal (or Frankencelery depending on the day), aka Boogie Man, aka The Scary Guy.

See, Magnus has begun showing a fear of some things. I first noticed it when, out of the blue, one night he showed concern about the shadows on display in his room from a dim nightlight. So ever since then we’ve been on a quest to teach the kids that Jesus is ever present to sit on the edge of their bed when they ask him to. That God is bigger than all the various Boogie Men and things we can choose to be scared of. And that the shadows are just a byproduct of the nightlight doing its job. Something as silly as a well-timed viewing of Magnus’ favorite episode can make such a big difference in my little man’s head- making a big, scary situation so much more manageable.

I have totally had my own Boogie Men in this adoption. It’s seriously felt like I’ve been living in the twilight zone for months. Is it as dramatic in reality as it is in my head?! There have been so many instances where it seems like the health of our adoption (and by default, Yuan Li) have hung in the balance. But just like the kids’ nightlight and the shadows, all the “drama” is just a byproduct of what God is doing. From the time I was in my early teens I’ve always wanted an adventurous life. I have to accept that adventure is every bit as much about the lows as it is the highs. And maybe sometimes more. The lows are what make the highs so amazing. So I’m working at not cringing at the lows. Especially when God’s encouraged my face off in every step of the adoption.

When we finally got our approval after 4 months, and it should’ve taken 2 days, we needed to sign our contract w/ the agency and pay them a big chunk of change. We only had half of it, but friends rallied around us and rallied their friends around us. And in 15 hours we had a wad of cash and checks in hand totaling over $3,000. Then there was the time that we tried to put an offer on a house so we could move before our home study visit happened. We didn’t get the loan to make it happen, but the way people prayed over us and sent encouraging words left me in tears multiple times. Or when I poured out my bleeding heart and all my fears of things falling apart to a friend, then she and her husband pull up into our driveway the next day and hand me a card telling us they believe God’s called us and to hang in there. Not to mention the $300 check that was in there, too. They believed in what God was doing even when I had hints of doubt. They invested when I couldn’t promise a return on it because they recognized it’s God’s timing and ways, not Sarah’s. In one morning I learned that 3 different friends, one that I’ve only known for a short time, are hosting Noonday trunk shows in Yuan Li’s honor. That was a mega cryfest morning.

And by far, my most treasured encouragement in this whole journey…

One morning while I was at my wits’ end and was desperately trying to choose joy when all I felt was stress and wanted to stew in it and say words that would make our post-prison friends blush, THIS happened: I read a seemingly random devotional that included the verse Isaiah 43:5…

“Fear not for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and I will gather you up from the west.”

Done. No matter what the outcome is, it is not outside God’s will. His word’s told me that he’s gathering Yuan Li up and I stake my life on his word being infallible. He’s got this.

When we went through Magnus’ adoption we had a close knit group of friends that were heaven sent during that season. I still have a note from my friend Ashley tucked away in my Bible that seems to fall out on just the right days to encourage me even still. And now in this season I have my Big Dream girls. I could write a long post just about them and their Big Dreams and our conversations about those big dreams. Besides Jon, they’re the ones I go to when I think God’s sparked something in my heart, but I feel fragile and silly about it. They encourage me and tend to my spark until it ignites. These girls have a Big Dream for our family and I’m sharing it w/ you even though I had a hard time even speaking the words of it to Jon this morning. They’re rallying around us and working to raise $37,000 in 37 days. And just like God does, he gave me an encouraging word this morning in a quick text conversation w/ my friend, Mindy. “Your adoption will be fully funded in no time…”. I can honestly say that money hasn’t been my biggest worry. I’ve seen God use insurance payments from hailstorms and freak rollover car wrecks to out-of-the-blue checks in the mail to provide for us right when we need it. I’ve even seen our own loaves and fishes story that I can’t explain play out in our bank account.

Wendy, Jenna, Wynne, and Alison– thank you. I honestly don’t know how to say that w/ enough fervor to make the depth of my appreciation come across. I love dreaming w/ you guys- it gives me sustenance. And to those of you that have been sharing and forwarding our stories and posts- thank you for being part of this. You encourage me daily.

And to do my part in trying to support this crazy train, I’m challenging you Midland/Odessa peeps to get in on the support action by letting me be your photographer. If I can book one 2 hour, $400 session a week for every week of March-June, that equals $6800 towards our adoption. Email me at sarah@sarahstepan.com

sessionchallenge

Other ways people can help w/ expenses are by using our Amazon affiliate link to shop: Our Amazon Fundraiser. We get a small percentage kickback that really starts to add up. Share it w/ your family and friends and encourage them to use it. Bookmark it and it’s easy as Click. Shop. Pay out. Boom- you just supported us. And if you’re so inclined, we also have a Pure Charity account that enables you to make tax deductible donations: Stepan Family Adoption.

You guys rock. Seriously. No, really.

Of, through, and to Him…

Sarah

I can't wait to show you the uncensored, insanely cute grin he's rockin'

I can’t wait to show you the uncensored, insanely cute grin he’s rockin’

One word: referral

The most exciting part of our adoption to date happened the last afternoon of 2013. We got Yuan Li’s referral. It means different things in our adoption than it does in a “normal” adoption. And I use the term ‘normal’ in a very loose way. No adoption is run-of-the-mill or like all others. But most times a family will decide to adopt, start the process, and wait for a referral so they can see if it’s the child they feel God’s pairing them w/. We did it a little backwards by already having Yuan Li “picked out” and working towards him specifically.

What makes the referral so exciting is that it’s the child’s entire history that the agency is knowledgeable of- how and when they became an orphan, where they are, who’s watching over them, their education, their medical history, everything. Our prayer for Yuan Li ever since I began advocating for him to get a medical visa was that he would have favor w/ God and man.

And y’all- he has it in spades.

God was answering that prayer long before we knew Yuan Li, long before we even knew to be praying it. He is overall healthy, aside from the special needs we’ll address when he’s here w/ us. He’s in a loving environment surrounded by people who have his best interests in mind and he is thriving as much as a boy w/out a mom and dad is capable of. Writing this all out is so good for my soul. I’m being reminded how sweet my Jesus is. Oh! And we have baby pictures! I’m counting down the days until I can share that sweet, chubby face w/ the world- and then show pictures of the handsome young man he’s becoming.

Yuan Li experienced his 7th birthday a couple of weeks ago and I hope there was a big celebration and he was made to feel like a prince on his day. We’re begging God the next one’s spent in our home, surrounded by people celebrating him and what God’s done. Lord, let it be.

Of, through, and to Him…

Sarah

6.5 years and counting…

Our quest for getting into a home w/ a little bit of breathing room has been a 6.5 year journey.

And it’s not over.

You guys rallied around us, prayed for us, messaged us the most encouraging words when I shared on Facebook our situation of trying to move in this stage of our adoption- it was completely humbling.

The process of getting a mortgage has always been a nightmare for us since we’re landlords, self-employed, yada yada yada…  I’m too brain-tired and emotionally spent to go into all the details today, but the short version is that we finally heard back from the bank today and our answer was “no”. We’re perplexed, to be honest. It doesn’t make sense to us. But God’s very clearly shut the door and so we’re hunkering down where we are. And we wait.

We’ll move forward in the adoption, but we’ll need to navigate some weirdness in our home study. Our prayer is for patience, trust, and wisdom. And I’m banking on James 1:5.

I have adoption news to share- and it’s good and exciting! But I’m saving that for tomorrow.

In, through, and to Him…

Sarah

12k in 12 days: the Gully family

I love how God times things! This post goes right along w/ what I shared last week about God providing the finances for an adoption when you just say “yes”.

There’s a family in our town who’s been walking step by step in obedience and the culmination of all those steps has led them to this: the adoption of 6 girls who, along w/ the girls’ bio mom and brother, they’ve walked hand in hand w/ for years.

I may rattle some people w/ this statement, but I don’t believe everyone’s called to adopt.

There, I said it.

I do believe everyone’s called to care for the parent-less no matter what end of the moral/ethical/religious spectrum you fall on, though. And there are as many different ways to care for these kids as there are people who want to care. Sometimes caring means enabling a family that HAS been called to adopt. That’s why I’m stoked to introduce you to the Gully family. I think I’ve met Jody in passing a couple of years ago. In a small city like Midland, social circles always overlap in some way- especially in families that have adopted. I’ve known little snippets of their story told to me by mutual friends, but Jody’s sharing the steps that have gotten their family to this point today. Their adoption process is getting to a critical point and there are certain financial aspects that need to be taken care of… Now. I’m partnering w/ a handful of other ladies to share their story because we believe that it’s entirely possible for those financial needs to be met and for $12,000 to be raised in 12 days. Boom.

Here’s the Gully’s story from Jody herself:

We have never publicly shared our story in 9 years.  Ever.  We have been asked many times to and have never felt it was the right time.   Honestly, I would be good to wait and share it once the kids are all grown up.  I am super protective of people knowing very much about them and it is such a hard thing to share.  And there are things about our situation that just aren’t picture perfect and don’t make sense to everyone. From the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand.  From the inside looking out, it’s hard to explain.  It’s just not an easy story to write, but I’m going to try.
In August 2005, I met our precious kids.  Ceree, Alajia, De’levyus, and Oceana came to Crockett Elementary to begin their school year as I began my very first year of teaching.  I had Alajia in my kindergarten class, Oceana and De’levyus next door to me in kindergarten, and Ceree a couple doors down from me in first grade.  Jeniyah and JJ were still babies at home and Gigi was three weeks away from being born.   I think it took me all about two weeks of school to know that Mike and I were supposed to be involved in their lives.  I’m not kidding.  I’m sure everyone thought that I had met some kids and this was just a “phase” that every first year teacher goes through of not being used to the poverty and sadness I felt everyday as I came to work.  Mike and I had been married a whole nine months and I was already formulating huge plans of what I wanted to do on a daily and weekly basis to help this family.  I have no idea why or how he jumped on board immediately, but he did and I am SO GRATEFUL.  So, we started taking food and all kinds of supplies to their house and staying over there to clean and organize and do homework and make dinner and run errands and anything else we could think of just to spend time over there to get to know their mom and the kids.  We just wanted to do anything we could to make their lives happier and easier and better.  That year, we continued this way.  We recruited my family and tons of friends to help us and we built a firm foundation that year.  
 
The next year, we decided to start doing more activities with the kids in our home and taking them places.  We were 23 and 24 at this point and we were learning how to do black hair, discipline some very rowdy kids, teach kids to read, homework,  take them to church, do black hair, teach them about the Lord, take them to soccer and basketball practices, and did I mention learn how to do six heads of black hair?!  We were falling in love with these children and beginning to see some progress as we spent more and more time pouring the love of Christ into them and into their mom. 
 
The next year, we approached their mom with the idea of getting joint guardianship with her.  Basically, she would still hold primary custody, but she would make us the temporary guardians so they could live with us and we could take them to school and to the doctor and make educational and medical decisions.  She agreed and I’m not sure we had ever been so ecstatic about something in our whole lives.  It was a complicated decision and we spent so much time trying to explain it to anyone who asked because it wasn’t something that many people ever do.  Our whole intention has been to help the children be close with their mom and to also help them have every opportunity and everything they need to be successful in life and to know the Lord fully and deeply. 
 
We renewed temporary guardianship 8 times.  During those 8 years, we have learned how to change diapers, potty train, crochet extensions, cook in huge portions, shop wisely, bought two twelve passenger vans, and renovated our house 500 times to try to accommodate so many people.  All 7 of the kids have asked Jesus to become the Lord of their life and to reside in their hearts forever which above anything is the only thing that matters.  We have been on road trips that I can’t believe we actually did.  We have had a precious baby who is such a joy in all of our lives.  We have gotten two crazy dogs that the kids talked us into. We have made some ER trips and we’ve had surgeries.  We have spent a ridiculous amount of hours listening to kids sound out words and learn to read and endless hours doing algebra and homework and I know there is so much more to come.  We had a fire in our house and we had to live in a hotel room for two months.  I’m telling you, we have lived a crazy life in the past 8 years with these kids and it has been worth every single minute.
 
There have been times that have been really hard to understand too.  So much communication has gone into our relationship with their mom.  We have had to work at a relationship that hasn’t come easy.    I have learned so much over the years about humility, grace, and priorities.  There are so many times she has been self-sacrificing in choosing this life for her kids because she has always wanted what is best for them, but there is nothing easy about the situation. She has seen such change in them and is always so amazed at where they are today.   We are truly grateful for a mom that wanted her children to succeed in life and wanted them to escape the cycle of poverty. 
 
The hardest decision we have ever made in our entire life was made four years ago when we all decided it was best for Delevyus to go back and live with their mother.  It is something I cried about everyday for 6 months.  It is what is best for him and where he is the happiest.  We still see him often and his sisters giggle with him incessantly when we are together.    He will always be my baby.
 
We have learned so much over the years of relying on the Lord for everything.  I have never had to learn this lesson so many times.  Like 500 times.  Like I am still having to learn it.  We have been so worried about providing for the kids so many times about a ridiculous amount of things, but every single time, HE provides.  People have brought us groceries, clothes, school supplies, furniture, and anything else we seem to need.  If we get low on money, a check will show up under our door mat or in the mail box or somehow something will get taken care of that we don’t seem to have the means for.  I’m telling you–we never would have been able to do this on our own.  There are a ton of people that have surrounded us and poured Christ’s love and generosity on us over and over to provide for these kids in so many ways. 
 
All of this to say– we have made the decision, with their mom’s blessing, to adopt the girls.  We started this process 4 months ago after a year of prayer about it and some conversations with their mom.  Our prayer was that if she was not at peace with the decision that we did not want to push this.  When we approached her about it, she was ready and willing and we were all united in our decision.  I had no idea 8 years later this would EVER be in the Lord’s plan.  EVER.   We are so grateful. 
 
God has blessed us abundantly and we are honored to continue to parent these amazing children. We thank God for entrusting us with them & seek Him in every decision we make and everything single thing we do. Thank you ahead of time for coming alongside our family & being a part of their adoption story.
 
All for Him,

Mike & Jody Gully

My sweet friend, Anna Reed, said this and I think it’s perfect, “We live in the wealthiest city in America, let’s prove we are generous as well.” Five dollars may not seem like much, but when you add together a bunch of people giving $5 and $10 you begin to make a pretty hefty dent. Or maybe you have connections to people that have the resources to write a check and take care of it all. It happens. I know from experience. Or maybe you are really good at fundraising and can put together a fundraiser in a matter of hours. Helping an adopting family raise money doesn’t always mean logging in to PayPal or writing a check yourself.

But if you do feel led to help this family by investing in them financially, you can do so through the following PayPal link, or emailing me ( sarah@sarahstepan.com ) for the address you can mail a check to.

Checks made payable to:
Mike & Jody Gully Family
or PayPal

Of, through, and to Him…

Sarah

Ready or not….

Have I mentioned we don’t have a freakin’ clue how to do an international adoption? Thankfully we’re not going into it completely blind, having done an adoption before.

But holy smokes.

I’m part of a group on Facebook full of families that have adopted through the same agency we’re using, or are currently in some phase of the adoption process w/ Living Hope. I feel like every week I’m reading a post and asking “Newby Q: What is ____?” LOA, LSC, DTC, LOI, PA, TA, 1800A, 1800. It’s adoption alphabet soup up in here, y’all.

But- and this is the most relief inducing ‘but’ so far….

WE ARE FINALLY SUBMITTED TO CHINA FOR OUR WAIVER. I have to sit here for a second for that to sink it. Considering how far we have to go in the process before Yuan Li is in our home and under our care, it may seem like a drop in the bucket. Or even a drop in the ocean. But it’s something. You fellow adoptive/adopting families out there know exactly what I mean. I was getting to the point where I felt we were never going to get any traction.

I had my psych eval done and was waiting for the report to be written. You can read about that ordeal in this post. The day of our deadline for this, the report finally got submitted to our agency in order for them to look over. They had a few suggestions on changes before sending to China so I contacted the psychologist’s office to relay the suggestions. And then I waited. And I called. And I waited more. Blerg. Our agency had given us another deadline extension to get our crap submitted. That deadline fell on a Monday and I sent a tearful email on Friday to our caseworker telling her I didn’t know what to do anymore. We were at the mercy of someone else coming through for us, and I didn’t feel like he was going to. I was frantically looking for more options in order for us to keep going. I got a reply from Lynn on Monday that started out saying she would call the doc, too. Mid-email she breaks paragraph and says, “Oh! I just heard from his office. I have your report and changes.” And just like that- our first of what is going to feel like thousands of interactions w/ the People’s Republic of China was sent.

Not gonna lie to you- I sat in my chair and cried sobs of relief.

And now the fundraising begins. We need to raise somewhere in the neighborhood of $35,000 in roughly a year.

Commercial break: If you’re reading this and you’ve been feeling a tug on your heartstrings for adoption, if God’s been quietly whispering to you, or He’s agressively putting a country and its orphans (or the foster system!!) in your face multiple times a day, never letting up- DO NOT LET FINANCES be your meager excuse for not being obedient. Not having the money sitting in a savings account should never be a deterrent. Say “yes” and you will begin the most insane roller coaster adventure of your life. You’ll most likely get beat to a bloody pulp in the process and scream obscenities. It happens. No judgment here. But you will be absolutely blown away by the way God provides. People will crawl out of the woodwork to support you. Your friend’s cousin’s neighbor’s teacher will advocate for your to-be son/daughter on FB and someone in Alaska will donate $5 to your Paypal account when they only have $8 in their bank account. It happens.

Reminds me of this: (Jesus talking to his disciples) “And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” ” Luke 22:35 ESV

We’ll be looking for multiple ways to fundraise, but so far, here’s what we have:

  • Photography. I’m trying to shoot until my fingers are numb. If you’re in the Midland/Odessa area and need family photos, senior photos, newborn photos, etc., I want to do them! Contact me at sarah@sarahstepan.com.
  • I’ve created a Pure Charity project for Yuan Li. If you’d like to help us out, go to Pure Charity’s site and create an account, then download and install the PC widget on your internet browser. When you shop online w/ companies that have partnered w/ PC the widget will pop up in the corner-click on it. Follow the prompts it gives you and a percentage of what you spend gets donated into your Pure Charity account! Then, whenever you want, you can log on to your PC account and put your accrued money towards whatever non-profits/projects you want to give to. Search for us under THE STEPAN FAMILY ADOPTION. It’s such a cool thing! Some of the companies partnering w/ Pure Charity are Apple, Lowe’s, Barnes & Noble, Target, Old Navy, Gap, Best Buy, TOMS, + tons others.
  • We’re an Amazon.com affiliate! Click on this link and bookmark it onto your bookmarks toolbar. Every time you shop Amazon w/ our link, it gives us a little commission. How cool is that?! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU Natalie Seitz for turning me onto this! (While you guys are at it, go show her some blog love. She’s an adopting momma, too, that’s in the thick of it. If you want to see an example of grace during the waiting season, she’s a good one.)

And because I like blog posts w/ photos better than posts w/out photos… here’s some kiddos for you. I remember watching them this particular day and having a little ache in my chest for the days when Yuan Li’s going to be doing this w/ them. He’s quite the little artist.

paint time

paint time

Of, through, and to Him…

Sarah + crew