Friday, August 23, 2013

Praising Him

Congo River

We found out a couple of hours ago that the Embassy has issued visas for both Josiah and Gideon!
 This is huge as it essentially means we are in the when, not if, stage of when the boys will be here.
That said, we still have some considerable unknowns. It is now very likely that Ry and I will be traveling to DRC in the next 10 days. Initial reports are that we both have to be physically present to submit our paperwork to DGM (the final Congolese approval authority for the boys' exit letters). We are hoping/praying that our in-country representative can submit that paperwork before our arrival to get the clock started. Importantly, we still do not know for sure if DGM will issue the exit letters with our current paperwork. It is possible (50/50?) that we will arrive there, submit the paperwork and then be told our paperwork is from the wrong courts. If that is the case, it could be several months before we could resubmit.
We are doing everything we can to confirm or deny that we have the right documents from the right courts BEFORE we leave. At the end of the day, God is big enough to make any paperwork "right" if He so desires. Please pray that is the case!
We will be discussing all of this in detail with our facilitator, Jilma, late this evening. We should have more clarity on travel dates after that. In the meantime, we are praising God for this huge step forward!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Passed the Interviews!

We received an email from the US Embassy in Kinshasa today stating that the fathers' interviews went well enough to proceed to the final step for the boys' visas. Although we don't have any real details, this would indicate that the US embassy has completed their investigation and, barring some unforeseen event, will approve the visas. 
The next step is called the "Visa Interview" in less than 4 weeks. Our in-country representative will bring the boys and final visa paperwork to the embassy for this interview. Since the boys are not old enough to speak for themselves, we believe it is just for the embassy to see them in person and ask our proxy if we understand the finality of this adoption. That is what we did in person at the embassy in Ethiopia.
Assuming that all goes as planned, we should have the visa shortly after that (a week?). Once we have the visa, we can submit for the Congolese exit permit through a local office known as DGM. We need to do that in person and then wait for it to be processed. Typically that takes 7-10 days but it varies. More importantly, DGM is being very restrictive on the types of cases they will approve for exit permits. We are not sure if ours qualify. If not, the path forward is unknown (or at least it is to us!).
So, best case scenario is that we could be traveling early September. We still don't know how we will work things with Michelle being pregnant, four kids at home, etc... but hopefully we will know more soon so that we can make better plans.
Anyway, long email to say we have made one more (giant) step toward bringing the boys home. Praise God!
Happy day for sure!


Friday, May 17, 2013

Heart Change: Intro of Our Story on Ethical Adoptions

Today is an important day in the lives of our two sons, Josiah and Gideon. As you read this, a private investigator is interviewing their biological fathers in Eastern Congo. We set up this investigation for several reasons- to hear their father’s hearts, to get details of the boys’ history, & to confirm that the boys are, indeed, true orphans. We feel it is critical (& our responsibility) to know that the best effort has been made to keep the boys in their own country & international adoption is the last hope for these boys (without them remaining in an orphanage until adulthood).
But this has not always been my approach to orphans and adoption. The story of our adoption of Solomon from Ethiopia almost two years ago might help explain this transformation…
When we met the 21 year old, she showed us where she found him. “It was early in the morning & I was on my way to a funeral. I heard crying & I found him here.” H confirmed the details in our paperwork & as she recounted the day she found Solomon she was able to give us extra insights that were not in our paperwork. It was a sweet, sobering day but we now had the truth confirmed & could rest assured that we had enough of his story to share with him someday.
It’s been almost 2 years since we brought Solomon home from Ethiopia. You can watch his story here
18 months ago when I tried to write Solomon’s story- what we knew of his life in Ethiopia prior to adoption through his Adoption story- I found myself grieving over the fact that his wasn’t a joyful story. I think most adoptive parents hope for the fairytale adoption. They rescue a child in need & in return are changed in positive & unimaginable ways. I’m now convinced there’s no such thing as a fairytale adoption…but the truth trumps any fairytale.
A year ago when I tried writing Solomon’s story I remember thinking, “I wish we had met his birth mom & that she had given us her blessing to take her son away. I wish she had expressed to us how much she loved her son but simply didn’t have the means to care for him. If all that were true then writing his story would be easy- he’d always know that his first mom loved him.” I hated the fact that one day we’d tell Solomon he was found abandoned.
This year as I try writing Solomon’s story I now think, “I’m so very grateful I didn’t have to look into the eyes of an impoverished mother who loved her child but was making the hardest decision of her life by handing him over to us. I don’t have to tell my son that I took him away from a mother who loved him.”
The truth is, I will never know if Solomon’s birthmother loved him well or not. I don’t know why she (or his father) relinquished him.

Why am I writing all of this & where am I going with this? With all my heart, I’ve come to believe the world doesn’t need more orphanages. We need more families! Ironically, if we try to solve the problem through adoption, we can make things worse. If we apply our energy and resources toward preventing children from becoming orphans and international adoption as a last resort, we might move in the right direction.  
More to Come…


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Memories of Mom

I only spent 10 years with my mom & then she went with Jesus. As I reflect on  Mother's Day this year I think about how foundational those 10 years were in making me who I am today.

While I wouldn't have described mom as the "fun" parent (hmmm, is that where I get it from?), I smile at a lot of sweet memories. Mom liked getting dressed up on dates with Dad & would have me critique her dresses & jewelry. She taught me the word "sexy" (in relation to the  80's style side-pony- yikes!) & I thought, "Why is mom teaching me dirty words?"  Like most people, I loved the smell of fresh laundry, & I remember bringing her to tears as my brother Steve & I emptied the entire linen closet of clean blankets & sheets in order to make our beloved forts. I loved listening to her play the piano- Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata was my favorite. I remember her thin hands & beautiful fingernails, natural, never painted. I remember her talking "for hours" to friends on our old dial-up wall phone. Mom tucked me in the night I told her I wanted to follow Jesus & she helped me pray & figure out if I knew what that meant. Of all the life lessons learned from my mother, however, the one that sticks out the most to me is her heart for others & how important it was for her to teach that to me.

Back when Cabbage Patch dolls were all the rage my parents took me looking for one for an upcoming Birthday or Christmas present. I quickly fell in love with a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl that I knew I would call Leslie. Instead, mom asked what I thought about the "pretty brunette doll with brown eyes?" "Ugly," I told her. "I don't want that one. I want this one." Wouldn't you know that when the holiday came around & I opened my present it was the ugly brunette doll! Why would my parents spend all that money on a Cabbage Patch doll that I hated? I couldn't believe her. I didn't like the doll & made that known. After taking scissors to her hair, lipstick to her clothes & eventually nail polish to her face I thought, "That will show my mother!" She'll feel bad & buy me the one I wanted. I don't remember mom ever saying a word to me. But she was now my doll & I had to live with her. Was I able to look beyond the exterior & still love her?

A second strong memory of my mom is her setting up play dates with the "unwanted" kids. D was an un-popular girls with freckles, red hair, crooked teeth & often smelled like pee. She lived in a rough apartment in a bad part of town & didn't have many if any friends.  I remember my mom inviting D to come over & play with me (against my will). I didn't want to be associated with her! And you know what? D & I had a fun time after all! After that I did my best to ignore what other kids said was or wasn't popular. I be-friended who I wanted. D & I never became great friends but thru her & a few other children mom taught me it was okay to stand out & love the lonely, no matter their looks or status.

Those two memories show the heart of my mother & I believe she helped train my heart to see people in need of extra care & to pursue them. Thank you mom for helping me look beyond the exterior of people & things. I didn't grow up rich or poor. We lived simply, out in the country, & made the most of what we had. I'm thankful my mom taught me to love all.


Thursday, May 2, 2013


Tonight we were shocked to have received this devastating announcement put out by the US State Department.

Basically, DRC has temporarily blocked adopted children from leaving their country. Please pray. 

Here's a recap of this part of the process...Once the US Embassy completes their investigation (the stage we're in) they issue visas for the children to enter the USA. In addition to the visa, DRC issues this exit letter allowing the children to leave their country. Most parents travel to DRC during this time & wait a couple weeks for the visa to be issued & then another week or so for this letter to be issued. As of now, no more letters are being issued until this specific case is cleared. Ugh!

We're hoping the US Embassy will still continue investigations (the stage we're at) while this pause is taking place. Pray for all the children "stuck."

That Time of Year

It's that time of year again & no, I'm not referring to beautiful Spring in the Hudson Valley. It's that time of bittersweet goodbyes in the military community. Today it finally hit me that starting in just 2 weeks my family & I will be saying goodbye to many dear friends moving away from West Point. Some moving on to schools, some deploying, some heading "home" for family support, & some headed back into the "real" Army again. We will be forever grateful for the fantastic friendships West Point has brought our way.

I recently read a sweet article floating around called 5 Friends Every Military Spouse Should Have & I am beyond blessed to have experienced each of these important relationships.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Riley's Visit with Boys Today

For those of you who don't know, Riley's back in Congo for a quick trip. Today he was with our boys at orphanage & tomorrow morning is his embassy appointment. I received an email from him this afternoon sharing about his time spent with the boys today:

"Just got back from the orphanage and thought I would send you a quick update.
J was really doing great. He gave me a little smile when we first saw each other and was really happy the whole time. He laughed a lot and wanted me to hold him constantly. We played ball and he was actually throwing it a little bit (mostly with his left hand!). I asked about his testicles and PL said the doctor was not that concerned. He claimed there was "water" in there and that it would go away on its own without medicine. I checked for myself and I would say his right testicle was about twice the size of his left. The mamas said that it was smaller than it had been and it was getting better. I noticed he was a little uncomfortable when I held him on my left hip, probably because it pushed on his right testicle. Other than that, he didn't ever seem affected by it. Lots of smiles and hugs... you would have loved it!
G was a little more apprehensive when I saw him. He was being changed when I came in and he cried when I held him. He wanted to go back to the mamas. After a while (and a lollypop) he warmed up to me and he was his normal self. The mamas said he had "malaria" and that he was on a prescription for it. I asked to see the prescription but they said PL had it (he didn't stay at the orphanage with us). They said he had had a fever and chest cough. He still seemed to have a little cough but no fever. That might explain why he was a little fussier than last time. He took a few steps for me while I was there and the mamas said he started walking a couple of weeks ago. He can put 3-4 together at one time now. I also got him to say "ball" while I was there. The mamas said he doesn't really talk but I heard him gibber a little. J says "mama" and a "mai" (water). Probably a few other words too but I couldn't understand.
The boys both love playing ball and I actually got them to play with each other a little. J really likes to throw and he tries to catch like a big boy. G is happy to just hand the ball back and forth. I got a little video of it, but it doesn't do it justice.
I have all of the documents I need from PL and I don't foresee any problems. Hopefully everything goes smoothly tomorrow."


Thursday, April 4, 2013

On His Way

 Via confirmation this morning, Riley will be flying back to Kinshasa in a couple of days for an appointment net week with the US Embassy. He will spend a day travelling, a day with our boys in the orphanage, a morning appointment at the embassy & then flying back that night, home the following day. Phew!
Gideon meeting the family

This appointment is two-fold: (1) We apply (on behalf of our sons) to request their Visas to travel to the US & (2) We provide the English & French translations for ALL the Congolese documents that show Josiah & Gideon to be our children (adoption decrees, consent forms, birth certificates, death certificates of mothers, etc- 2 binders full of meticulous paperwork that Riley has put together!) While we could forgo this appointment & apply in the US, that process is longer & we feel an urgency to get this portion completed immediately so investigations aren’t delayed. Continuing, the US Embassy will review our binders & begin their investigations- interview birth fathers, confirm legitimacy, etc (remember, the birth fathers are on the other side of the country possibly in a war-zone so this is not a simple task). When the US Embassy is satisfied that J & G are our children legitimately they’ll issue the visas. At that time Riley & I (or just Riley) will return to DRC & wait up to 3 weeks for all to process & then bring the boys home!
Congo River

Please pray for Riley’s safety, the health of the boys, & the efficiency of this process. Feels good to be moving forward…


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Spring Clean

Help feed kids! Any Heart for Congo sales/donations that come in for the month of April will be going towards feeding these kids. I am cleaning & purging our closets, cupboards, garage, attic, shed, basement, etc this month & all profits will go towards feeding these children. My challenge to you is to do something similar... Spring clean!- Have a yard sale, sell on Craigslist, & use profits towards feeding these children.

For more information go here


Monday, April 1, 2013

Let Me Be With You

Josiah & Riley
Today was one of those mornings where everything felt meaningless. I was in the middle of single-leg squats in my basement & I broke down thinking, “What is the point of working out so hard when the results don’t last? I’ll be working just as hard tomorrow, and the next day, & the next!” Then the meaningless spread to my other daily tasks- “Why do we make our beds day after day? Why do I ask the boys to pick up their cars when the mess will be replaced by something else within the minute? Will I be doing laundry forever? Why am I always in the kitchen when these people devour my hard work within minutes!” I was making myself crazy. Resentment began to well up inside of me. I began to cry.

Clearly, I was missing the point. As I was staring out my tiny rectangular window with a bar on my back, a cool Spring breeze flowed into the room & the Lord whispered the word “RELATIONSHIPS” to me.

I started to ask myself those same questions in a different context: What if I was working out so hard alongside others, encouraging them & building them up. Then, would my physical work feel so pointless? No- relationships would bring meaning to it.  And, what about making our beds? Is it just a task or is there meaning behind it? My conclusion: I’m setting an example to my children in discipline. Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  Same concept with picking up cars, chalk, putting covers back on markers, etc.  And is there meaning to the laundry & cooking? Matthew 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”  Food & clothing are provisions that should not stress me. I need to be thankful I am taken care of in these two areas. I need to be grateful I have abundant food & enough clothing that laundry is annoying. Period.

My pity party conclusion? Life’s not meant to do alone. We were created for relationships- with God & with mankind. Christ would retreat to secluded places to pray to his Father & other times he put himself out there to make himself available to humanity. I needed this reminder today.
Michelle & Dugheesha
And when I think about what brings me the greatest joy & what longings & deepest heartaches? All answers are relationships. I want my broken relationships to be reconciled. I want my sons home because I long to be in relationship with them. I want the highs, lows, laughter, tears, all those beautiful emotions that make us who we are! I want my sons home. How can I continue with such menial tasks when they’re not with me? I find meaning & invest in my present relationships!


Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Weekend

Cadet Fritz & trampoline games

Best street ever! Love the Barry Rd Easter Egg hunts!

Confetti eggs & an afro don't mesh so well

Smashing confetti eggs on his own head...cause that's what 2 year-olds do!

Cruisin' in Cadet Brendon's truck

Family pic at church

Rock throwin' & donut eating at Daddy's North Dock hunting spot

Making our pre-Easter morning resurrection rolls

Love getting to see Jessie!

Uncle Kyle & the chaotic Good Friday NYC trip

Central Park Carousel

I can hardly keep up with these rock climbers

NYC with friends!

Julianne, Saedi, & Avery. 5 year-old besties

My super-hero friends rocking WP to NYC via public transportation.  4 Moms & 15 kids. 

Boys 1st choo-choo ride

Egg coloring 
One of the best Easter's I can remember. Thankful for friends, family, & salvation that is our hope!


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Solar Panel Team Effort


The reason we went to DRC 2 weeks ago was to install solar panels. That was possible because a group of people came together & made it happen...

Engineers Jess & Chris
Remember 6 months ago in September when we launched our 1st Heart for Congo fundraiser? With an expectation of raising $5,000 to install a solar panel in the orphanage we held the Congo Carnival. We came away with $12,000! That money was enough for solar panels plus launching us well into our 2nd goal of feeding an entire orphanage for a year. And, this was just the beginning.
Diligent Jess at the box & brave Stori 

Jumping a head to now, it was an honor to be a part of the team getting to install those solar panels in DRC. Meet the team- 2 engineers from Portland- Chris & Jessica- volunteered to do the installation. They did the prep, ordering, drafting, & teaching the rest of us what to do. Along with engineers Chris & Jessica, there was Ryan (an adoptive Father of 2 Congolese children), Stori (an adoptive mother of 2 Congolese children), Jim (Deacon of a church in Portland who’s building & starting up a school in a rural community outside Kinshasa,  Ms. Jacky- originally from DRC, now living in the US- translator & woman extraordinaire, & Jilma & Nathan- founders of Our Family in Africa & the vision & drive behind making a difference.

Getting ready to lift panel onto roof
3 entire days were spent installing 3 solar panels in 2 locations- 1 at an orphanage & 2 at a future school for village school.   The solar panels will charge cell phones, a fridge, & provide roughly 5 hours of light every night in a place where flashlights, the sun & the moon were the only sources of light. Check out the awe-inspiring pictures! 

Stealing the words in an email from one of the engineers, Chris… 
“I wanted to take a moment and give credit to where it is due. As you all know, it took a significant amount of work and a combination of all of your skill sets to make these projects happen. Each person accomplished so much in a short period of time. There is no task in these installs considered glamorous. It was so easy working with everyone since we all had the unified objective of doing our best for those kids. You should each be very proud of your contribution..."

Deacon Jim (blue) & Ry (on roo

Chris on the blazing hot tin roof at 3pm

And my personal message to 
Heart for Congo:
Your perseverance inspires me daily. Thank you for going along with my crazy ideas & for sending words of encouragement my way. So many of you ask me, "What's the next project Michelle? Sign me up to help...I want to help..." Thank you for each of your individual contributions- giving, hugging, writing, selling, sewing, motivating, baking, cheering, talking, painting, pottery-making, laughing, etc. I love each of you & your heart for Congo.

Installed by sunset


Sunday, March 24, 2013

DRC Adoption Update/Process

Gideon (L) & Josiah (R)
 We had a fantastic week in DRC & many more blog posts will be following.  Until then, here is a summary of what we know, where we are in the process of adopting the boys, & what we THINK will happen next.

Adoption in Congo, like most foreign adoptions, can really be broken into three sequential parts: 1) US immigration checks on the parents via a homestudy and background checks, 2) Congolese courts assigning custody of the children to parents via adoption decrees, and 3) the US embassy in Congo granting a visa to the boys that will allow them to enter the United States. 3 days ago (finally!) we received our adoption decrees from the Congolese courts. Although we are still working on getting a few parts of those decrees in hand, we know that we have been named the parents of Josiah and Gideon!

You might think that would be the hard part, but the biggest hurdle in this entire process will be obtaining their visas from the US embassy. Once we have the complete decrees and other supporting documents like their birth certificates, mother's death certificates, etc... either Riley or I will be flying to Kinshasa, the capital, to submit the visa applications. We are praying that we will make that trip in the next 4 weeks. Upon receipt of our application, the consular's office in the embassy will launch an investigation to validate the authenticity of our claim to the boys. Primarily, they want to interview the birth fathers to ensure they willingly gave their sons up for adoption and that they were not coerced or deceived into doing so. This is problematic because the fathers live about 1,000 miles from the embassy and have no means to come to Kinshasa for an interview. We were told that the embassy MAY be sending one of their interviewing personnel to Bukavu, near where the fathers were last known to live, some time in May or June. If we can get the fathers to them, they MIGHT interview them out there and be able to wrap up the investigation. To make this happen, we are considering hiring a man that worked in that area, to find the fathers and arrange for them to link up with the embassy rep in Bukavu. 

If all of the above happens as planned, the interview could be complete by May/June and the investigation wrapped up sometime this summer. Once the embassy is satisfied with our case, they will contact us for a visa appointment in Kinshasa. Either Riley or I (likely not both) will then fly out for the visa meeting. From that meeting, it should take about 3-5 days for them to issue the visas for our boys. Visas in hand, we will then turn to the Congolese Department of Immigration and request a letter of release for the boys. We need these letters for the boys to make it through the airport customs check in Kinshasa. The letters can take from 7-20 days to secure. We will likely stay in the country waiting for those letters. Once we have our visas AND the letters of release, we will be free to bring the boys home. Since we have already met them, they will come home on an IR3 visa which means they will be US citizens as soon as we touch down in NYC. That, my friends, will be a wonderful day!

From our perspective, we see a few critical pieces that should be the focus of your prayers. 

1. We need the remained documents as quickly as possible so that I can get the visa application to Kinshasa PRIOR to their trip to Bukavu. 
2. We need to find those fathers AND they need link up with the embassy interviewers in May/June. If we miss this shot, it could be several months before we can arrange an interview.
3. We need that interview to go properly so that the embassy does not doubt the intentions of the fathers

afternoon/evening meal of water & rice & beans
And finally, I hope having these pictures helps you think of and pray for the boys and the children they live with in the orphanage. They are loved by the orphanage Mommas, but there are 20 children and two workers. Nutritious food is lacking and they get very little emotional stimulation. We know God is gracious and loves those boys, but we also feel a burden to get them out of there as quickly as possible. 

Sorry this update took so long but I hope it helps clarify things.

p.s. We do not have birth certificates but the court documents indicate that Josiah was born in October 2010 (date UNK) and Gideon on 10 Sept 2011. That makes Josiah a couple months younger than we thought and Gideon a couple months older. Once they are home, we will have four boys born within 13 months of each other. Should be fun!


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Oatmeal with Cranberries & Apples

I feel like a miniature me has been set atop a spinning record. I’m looking out at the world in a fast-paced trance but going nowhere. I’m dizzy & tired of the ride but can’t get off. But perception isn’t reality. It’s how I feel right now, but the truth is my life is not spinning out of control. The truth is God’s plans are to prosper me & not harm me (Jeremiah 29:11).

2 months ago in November I found out I was pregnant. Shocked, overwhelmed, & excited would be the 3 most accurate adjectives to describe my emotions. We were now going to be “that freak family” with 7 kids under the age of 7. Yikes! 4 days after finding out I was pregnant I experienced my first panic attack. I went home, sobbed & slept the Sunday away and then I was fine. Then I was excited and convinced that all the glitches and stresses of #7 would work themselves out. Ry and I re-budgeted, we began looking at 12 passenger vans, we debated whether or not to move houses, and then addressed that lurking question of whether or not I could travel to Congo to help Ry bring our boys home. I wouldn’t be able to get the required yellow fever vaccine nor could I take the modern malaria medicine that woudn’t leave me with feverish nightmares. All this to say, we were stressed, but accepted the pregnancy as a joy & exciting test of faith.

Yesterday, however, my 8 week 5 day sonogram showed no heartbeat. In fact it showed that my body had tricked itself into being pregnant. All the right hormones were there in appropriate levels, the sac was there, but no baby had formed in that sac. I now had to decide whether to wait for my body to miscarry on it’s own or pursue medical intervention (medicine to begin contractions or a D&C).

I’m too tired to be angry. I’m sad- at moments, horribly sad. I’m relieved. I’m disappointed. I feel like the last 2 months were pointless. I went from tears of panic that I was pregnant to tears of sadness that I’m not anymore. I am relieved that some difficult decisions have been answered- I can travel to bring my sons home & I no longer have to grieve over that possible loss. I have hope that maybe I do actually want to be pregnant again, and maybe someday that will happen when the timing is right. I have a heart overflowing with gratefulness for friends that immediately stepped in to care for my kids, to cover Ry at work so he could be with me (when I miscarried in 2009 he was away), to bring us meals & send us messages of encouragement. Grateful for friends taking my kids sledding right now so I can sit in a coffee shop with my husband and get my thoughts on paper. Thankful for hugs & tears & understanding. Thankful that I’m not alone.

In God’s perfect timing, at the very moment everything was seemingly crumbling here, our new boys were being delivered from the war-torn East to relative safety in Kinshasa, DRC. They are now in a better orphanage and even had a breakfast of cranberries, apples and oatmeal this morning. We were blessed with three new pictures of our apparently healthy, thriving boys. Despite how I may feel, God is at work. “Do not dwell on the past. I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert & streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19” Praise God!

I think I’m going to make oatmeal with cranberries & apples for lunch.