China LOA

China said yes!

This morning I sat down and started to write, sharing my heart and my disappointment that we had not yet received our Letter Seeking Confirmation (LSC)/Letter of Acceptance (LOA). A number of families – many of whom had submitted their dossiers after ours – received theirs on Wednesday, and to say that I was disappointed when ours was not issued at the same time was an understatement. I had been so sure it would come. Our case worker assured me that this often happens, and there’s really no discernible rhyme or reason for it. She believed that if the CCCWA had any questions about us or our dossier, they would already have asked them during the dossier review phase, and our agency had never had the CCCWA deny an LSC/LOA to a family, so she really thought it was coming and would be here soon. The wait and the not knowing were still hard, though, and I felt very discouraged this week. I tried to trust that God would lead us where we should be when we should be there, and focus on the things I actually could and should be doing – preparing freezer meals, doing school with the girls, etc.

And then today the call came – the CCCWA computer system showed this morning that our LSC/LOA has been issued!

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This is China’s official approval of us as adoptive parents of our precious baby #4, Fang Fang, as her foster home calls her. We couldn’t be happier! As I spoke with our case worker on the phone, I had to go hide in the play room, as the girls were running around screaming in their excitement, “We got our Letter of Acceptance! We got our Letter of Acceptance!”

Travel before Christmas is still by no means guaranteed, but it just got a whole lot more likely!

This news was particularly wonderful to receive today, as it follows a rather difficult week for us. First was our disappointment that we didn’t receive our Letter of Acceptance on Wednesday with so many other families. Then later that night, after the kids were in bed, Matt ran over to the art department to get some files he needed for a talk he’d be doing Thursday morning. He was gone for half an hour, then an hour, and then I texted him to make sure he was okay. No response. I knew he had his phone with him, because he’d come back inside specifically to get it before leaving. I waited 20 minutes and texted again. No response. I called and got his voicemail. I figured that the most likely scenario was that his phone had died, but I was still getting concerned. We were approaching midnight, and he was almost certainly alone in the building, so if anything was wrong, there probably wasn’t anyone there to help him. Finally I messaged one of our friends, a colleague of Matt’s, and asked if he’d mind going to check on him. He did, and actually right as he pulled up in the parking lot next to our van, Matt texted me that his phone hadn’t been working and needed to update its operating system, and he had just then gotten my messages. Phew!

So Matt came back home, but it was less than 14 hours later that he sent me a text message, “I am at hospital,” and we had the following exchange:

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That’s a picture every wife wants to get from her husband! A friend graciously came over to hang out with our kids, and I drove to the ER to be with Matt (whose colleague had, thankfully, talked him out of driving himself there). They ran a number of tests (bloodwork, head CT, x-rays, an EKG), and everything came back normal, so essentially they think he was tired (it hasn’t been a great week for sleep here at our house) and potentially dehydrated and probably fainted for a moment. They told us what symptoms to watch for but discharged him and said they expect him to be fine. He’s pretty banged up and sore today but generally feels alright.

And now, we are heading into a weekend that we hope will be filled with catch-up sleep, catch-up work, and some time for Matt to rest and heal, but also some celebration that we are officially approved to become parents of our FOURTH child! This is a great feeling, my friends :)

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FAQ: Adoption Travel – Who? When?

Some of the most frequently asked questions we’ve received as we’ve worked our way through this adoption process relate to travel.

First, who will travel? At least one adoptive parent is required to travel. Last time Matt, Miranda, my mom, and I all traveled to adopt Madeleine CaiQun, and it was an amazing trip, and that was absolutely the best decision for our family at that time.

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This time around, the logistics surrounding traveling as a family would be somewhat more complex given our greater numbers, and it would be tremendously more expensive, and we’re not sure that even if we had that extra money on hand, it would be wise for all of us to travel. Given the young ages of our children, we think it best for one of us to stay home with them and the other to travel. It’s reasonably likely that we’d travel during times Matt is supposed to teach, and on top of that, I’ll be our daughter’s primary caregiver, so it makes most sense for us to encourage her to bond with me first. That means that I’ll travel, and Matt will stay home. And I’m going to take Madeleine CaiQun with me. The cost of bringing one additional child is not all that high, and we saw, on our last trip, how beneficial it was for Mei Mei’s adjustment to our family to have a sibling there with us, and we’re hopeful that having her there will aid in our baby#4’s transition to our family. And of course there is the added benefit that she’ll have the opportunity to return to and visit the country of her birth. Additionally, any two of our children at home always get along better than all three, so my having her with me will hopefully make life at home easier for Matt and my mom, who has graciously agreed to stay home from China and instead help Matt maintain life on the home front.

I would obviously love to have Matt with me on this adventure, but having already traveled to China for an adoption trip once before, doing so without him this time feels manageable. However, I don’t think it would be wise for me to go without at least one other adult. I asked my brother and sister-in-law if either or both of them would be willing to accompany me, and they’ve both graciously agreed to do so, and I’m very grateful for that. They’ll be supportive and helpful and, of course, are much beloved by Madeleine CaiQun :)

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We’ll be a party of 4 traveling to China and party of 5 returning home! I am absolutely dreading leaving Miranda and Atticus for that long – I’ve never been away from them for anything like that length of time, and I’m sure I’ll miss them like crazy. As we’ve talked and prayed about it, though, we’ve become more and more convinced that this is the best travel scenario possible.

While the group of people traveling is pretty well set, our timing is less certain. I’m a part of a number of Facebook groups centered around providing support for families adopting from China, and in one of them there is a pretty reliable chart tracking current timelines for each step throughout the process. If the averages hold, we are likely to get our Letter of Acceptance (LOA), also known as Letter Seeking Confirmation (LSC), sometime this week. Our dossier was out of translation (OOT) last Tuesday, September 13, and we were out of review as of yesterday, Monday, September 19. We have probably lost a little bit of time because the CCCWA (the central governing body in China overseeing everything related to adoptions) was closed September 15 – September 17 for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, but they were back to work on Sunday, and usually the next steps (matching and issuing the LSC) are fairly quick, so hopefully we’ll make our way through that this week and get word that our LSC is on its way! This LOA/LSC step usually has the most variation and is thus the most crucial to our timing.

From there, the process gets a little confusing, but essentially we wait for several levels of US Immigration Approval. First we file our I800 (Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as Immediate Relative) with USCIS. Once that application is approved, our paperwork is forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC), where we will be assigned some new case numbers (our GUZ and invoice numbers) and receive information we’ll need to fill out the DS-260 form to apply for our child’s US immigrant visa. The NVC will also cable our file information to the US Consulate in Guangzhou. As soon as we are able to obtain a copy of the letter verifying that they have done so, our agency will drop off our Article V paperwork with the consulate in Guangzhou. The consulate reviews all of our paperwork and determines that everything is in order, and they issue our Article V to our agency, which is the last US immigration approval we need before traveling. While confusing in their layers, all of these steps are reasonably predictable in their timing, taking approximately 5-6 weeks in total.

At that point, everything is submitted back to the CCCWA, which has to issue us a Travel Approval (TA) – essentially an invitation to come pick up our child. TAs are coming pretty quickly these days – almost all that have been issued most recently have come in less than a week. There is no guarantee that that timing will hold, but we certainly hope it does. Once we have our TA, we request an appointment with the US Consulate in Guangzhou, and as soon as that is confirmed, we can get to work booking our travel! Usually you can leave about 2 weeks after TA is received.

All that to say, from LOA/LSC (which we hope to have this week) to travel can be approximately 9 weeks IF and only if everything goes perfectly. I’m giving us a 1 week grace period and hoping and praying like crazy to leave around December 8 or 9. Please, please, please pray with me that we’re able to do that! If we are able to travel then, we’d be gone for Matt’s finals week and the first week of winter break, which would be a pretty low key time for him at school and should make life here for him and my mom pretty smooth. Then we’d return around December 22 or 23 – just in time to have our family of 6 home for Christmas! It would be crazy – half of our family would be so incredibly jet-lagged for Christmas itself – but we’d be together, and that would be so amazing.

It’s entirely doable for us to travel then, but it’s by no means guaranteed. We really need to get our LOA/LSC this month, preferably this week, in order for it to be possible, and every other step needs to continue to go pretty quickly. If that doesn’t happen, we’ll need to make the decision about whether we travel at the end of December, which would mean getting our girl home faster and having more of Matt’s winter break left to enjoy all together but would also mean spending Christmas with half of us stateside and half in China; or travel in January, which means not traveling over Christmas but then bringing our little one home later and not having as much time over Matt’s Christmas break to settle into life together. I really don’t want to have to make that decision. I really, really want to travel and be home by Christmas. Would you pray with me that that can happen?

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Heaviness, Choosing Joy, and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

It has been a heavy week at our house. My mom’s boss – but, more than that, her friend – died completely unexpectedly on Tuesday night of a heart attack. I hadn’t spent much time with him myself, but he was always friendly and kind in the few interactions I did have with him, and more than that, I loved him and his family for enfolding my mom into their lives with genuine grace and care. His death followed closely on the heels of the death of the father of my best friend from high school the prior week, also of a heart attack, also completely unexpected. And I sit in the knowledge that it was only 7 months ago that I was the one calling 9-1-1, and our outcome could have been much different, and I am humbled by that, and my heart is broken for my friends and family whose loved ones did not make it.

And all of that was happening as we were sharing about the matching grant we’d just received (and then working to resolve the technical difficulties associated therewith). And in only a couple days, the donations have started coming in, and I find myself rejoicing, because each one brings us one step closer to being able to pay all of the final costs associated with the adoption of our next daughter. And yet as I rejoice, I also feel the weight of that blessing. We have friends and family members who are truly giving sacrificially, and receiving those gifts is so humbling. I want to do all that I can to honor them and their contributions in our journey.

And in the midst of that weight, we are parenting our three precious kiddos, and we are choosing to pursue joy – not because we want to pretend the pain of loss does not exist,  but because, as this poem I love states so beautifully, “We must risk delight…We must admit there will be music despite everything.”

Yesterday was the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, celebrated in China with importance second only to Chinese New Year. As the girls have gotten older, we’ve tried to incorporate increasingly more Chinese culture into our family’s life, and so, while I’m not sure we’d enjoy traditional moon cakes, we decided to make moon cake cookies together. The kids and I made the dough yesterday!

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And then today we had stir fry and ate with chopsticks for dinner…

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…and used our new amazing cookie molds and all worked together to make the cookies!

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We thought they turned out pretty well, and they were yummy, too!

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We read a bit about the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, went outside and actually looked up at the moon, and generally enjoyed our evening together :)

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some technical difficulties – now fixed!

If you haven’t read yesterday’s post in which we humbly ask for your assistance in bringing our little one home from China, you can check it out here.

We need to let you know, though, that we encountered some technical difficulties. Yesterday’s post linked to our myStory page as an easy way to contribute toward the matching grant we received – but unfortunately, the page was not functioning properly yesterday! We heard from multiple people that they tried to send gifts, but upon submitting the form, they were immediately taken back to the donation form instead of to any confirmation of their donation. Our contact at Lifesong was working on the issue at 6:00 a.m. this morning, and they had it working again by this afternoon!

If you tried to submit a donation through that platform yesterday, it did not go through. If you’d still like to contribute, you can now do so through any of the 3 means described in yesterday’s post, and all should work! I very much apologize for the drama, and thank you for hanging in there with us while we got all of this resolved!

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Will you help us bring our daughter home?

Having been immersed in the adoption community for 4 years now, I’ve witnessed and been a part of numerous conversations about the ethics of fundraising for adoption expenses. Each of us is responsible for our own convictions before God, and I earnestly believe that it is possible for people who are seeking to act honorably to have different opinions on this topic.

We believe that it is one of the biggest tragedies on our earth today that so many children are alone. UNICEF estimates that there are approximately 13 million double orphans (children who have lost both parents) in the world today. Many of them are living with another family member, which is the best solution possible in a situation that is obviously less than ideal. Others are cared for within their communities. But for various complex reasons, neither of those options is always possible, and in those cases, international adoption may be a child’s best option. We believe that’s the case for the precious little girl whose adoption we’re pursuing. Although she is currently in the care of a wonderful foster home, she does not have a family, and her legal guardian remains an orphanage. Orphanage life is grim – a friend’s daughters shared recently on her blog about their experiences in orphanages prior to being adopted.

The reality is that international adoption is expensive. There are very real costs involved – the cost of our home study, the agency fees to cover the costs of the work our placing agency does on our behalf, US immigration expenses, charges assessed by the governing body in China to cover their services, a mandatory donation to our child’s orphanage, and our travel expenses. Many families, ourselves included, can work hard, earn extra money, make choices to cut costs in other areas in order to save money, and still not have all of the funds on hand to pay the entirety of those costs. Simply put, we cannot, completely on our own, afford to adopt internationally.

However, we believe that God calls His people to care for the vulnerable, the lonely, those in need. Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” We believe that pursuing and supporting adoption is one way in which we can do that. And we believe that God Himself is passionate about adoption – He describes Himself as an adoptive Father, and He tells us that He “sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). Not everyone is called to adopt, but everyone can support in some way vulnerable families and the adoption of children who are without families.

And so we humbly ask, would you consider contributing toward the costs of our adoption of a precious little girl in China? We’ve been given an awesome opportunity through which the amount of your donation can actually be doubled. Chosen and Dearly Loved has offered us a matching grant of $3,000, with $2,500 to be disbursed to our agency for adoption costs and $500 to be used for post-placement needs (counseling, adoptive parent training, or any other needs our family or our daughter might have), if we can raise the funds to match those amounts. If we’re able to raise the full $3,000, we’ll also receive the full $3,000 offered by Chosen and Dearly Loved, which would be an enormous blessing to us as we seek to bring our sweet girl home. That means that your donation of $10, when matched by Chosen and Dearly Loved, becomes $20. Your contribution of $100 becomes $200. We know that many of our friends and family members are living on tight budgets and cannot afford to give large amounts of money, but this is a situation in which the impact of your gift can go beyond even what you can give, as it is matched, and we would so appreciate contributions in any amount. Would you consider giving up one dinner out and donating that money toward our adoption expenses? Or making coffee at home for a week instead of stopping at Starbucks? We would so appreciate any help you can give in bringing our little one home.

In order for your gift to be doubled, it needs to go through Lifesong for Orphans, which administers the grants for Chosen and Dearly Loved. It also must, in order to be credited to our account, mention “Family 6341 – Ballou.” Probably the simplest way to ensure that your donation is routed correctly is to give through our myStory page here. However, you can also give online at Lifesong’s Giving Portal – under “Please direct my donation to” select “Adoption,” under “I’d like to give to” select “Adoptive Family,” and then enter our family account number (6341) and name (Ballou) where asked. You may also mail donations to this address, making sure that any checks mention our family account number and name in the memo line:

Lifesong for Orphans
P.O. Box 40
Gridley, IL 61744

Lifesong does not take any percentage of donations for their administrative expenses, so 100% of the donated amount (minus any fee that Paypal or Stripe assesses) goes straight to the adoptive family. In following IRS guidelines, your donation is technically to the named non-profit organization, which retains full discretion over its use, but intends to honor the donor’s suggested use. Individual donations of $250 or more and yearly donations totaling $250 or more will receive a tax-deductible receipt. Receipts for donations under $250 will gladly be sent upon request. Lifesong is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization.

Thank you for any help you can offer toward bringing our next little girl home, bringing her into a family where we can promise she will be truly chosen and dearly loved, as all children should be.