Tuesday, December 31, 2013

An End to a Beautiful Year

As we sit on our couch, on the last day of 2013, pondering the year with awe, we are so grateful.

The therapist in me loves reflection.  Loves looking back on the year and remembering.  The good.  The bad.  The sad.

And the downright awesome.

2013 was the Year of the House.  It is so crazy to think that, this time last year, we didn't even know we were buying a house.  We hadn't even looked at houses yet. 

I know that it might seem, at times, like we are a bit obsessed with our house and that we talk about it A LOT.  But I think those that know us know that our house was the second big obstacle in our adoption journey, with debt being the 2012's obstacle to overcome.  A Facebook group that I belong to asked what you thought was your biggest accomplishment of 2013.  I said that we "found, fought for, and purchased" our first home. 

Fought for.  It might seem like an exaggeration to some.  But those who walked that journey with us know that it was a fight.  Every single step of the way.  There were so many intricate parts that had to line up for this to happen, some of which still don't make logical sense.

I remember, as a kid in the country, that I hated to do yard work.  I hated the raking and mowing.  Last weekend, on an unseasonably warm December Saturday, I found myself doing yard work with such a joy and gratefulness in my heart that people would think I'm crazy. 

And there may come a day when I'm not so thankful to do yard work.  But, for right now, in preparation of Part Three of the Adoption Journey (the really good part!), I'm content to rake leaves and burn tree limbs and clean out window wells.

2013 also brought about loss. 

My dear sweet grandma Ruth died in February.  Adam's Pap died in December.  Two bookends of grief that sandwiched the year.  Even the loss of my favorite person in the world, a person who loved me more than anyone ever has and maybe ever will, has been eased the acquisition of our home.  It is not just the ownership of a home, but rather the ownership of THIS home, that has been a balm to my spirit.  A house that reminds me of her at least once a day.  A home that still, six months later, smells of her when I walk in the door. 

The year saw the loss of a close friendship.  It is hard to ask people to join us on this adoption journey, knowing that not everyone gets it (or is interested in getting it).  It's hard to explain that the financial priority is to save for the adoption, which limits the things that we can and want to do.  While it is hard to be on this journey, we are also understanding that it is hard to join us on this journey.  We are so grateful for those who can and continue to do so, even if only for a season. 

This year brought about new furry family members, Shelby and Beatrix.  It took Shelby probably four months to really settle in and hit her groove, which mostly includes chasing the cats and snuggling with Adam, but she finally got comfortable with being a part of our family.  Obviously, we don't have kids yet, but I can imagine that the way I feel about Shelby is probably 5% of how parents feel when they add another child to the family.  Man, our lives were FULL before Shelby.  But, really, how did we ever live without her?  How did we not know she was missing from our lives?

Probably the biggest thing that's happened in the last month is that ADAM FINISHED NURSING SCHOOL!  This has been a long time coming, as his school schedule has been erratic due to military service obligations and (cancelled) deployments.  He should be able to take his nursing boards in January or February.  So PROUD of his accomplishment and excited to see what the new year holds for him!

As I look back, I'm a little disappointed that our adoption didn't move further along in 2013.  This time last year, I was SO SURE that 2013 was going to be the year that we really gained momentum and started moving in a direction or, better yet, the year we brought home a baby.

This was a year of big doors opening and, just as suddenly, shutting with no explanation or reason.  It was (another) year of waiting.  It was a year of managing expectations of life, God, ourselves, and each other. 

But, fortunately, dreams don't expire.  So I'll just carry this wish and hope for our family into the new year.

2014, the Millers are ready for you! 

(All of us.  Wherever we are.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

2,000 Prayers

As many of you know, I started praying for our "future family, whatever that looks like" on the day before Thanksgiving, back in 2010.  I have consistently prayed this same prayer, every day, for the last three years.  Which means that I have prayed the. same. prayer. (at least) 2,000 times. 

And I will continue to pray this prayer every day until all of our babies are home and tucked safely in their beds.  Where they belong.

But I cannot even begin to articulate how dark this feels. 

We attended our adoption meeting back in September.  And I was so excited, because I was SURE that this was going to be the springboard to starting our family.  And it's taken me almost three months to be able to process and wrap my brain around what changed for us after that meeting. 

It was just an information session.  It wasn't anything personal.  I was pretty sure that they weren't sending us home with a baby (but always open to the idea!).  Sitting in a room with thirty other couples, most of whom weren't even sure that they wanted to adopt.  Adam and I have been reading and researching and praying about our intent to adopt for THREE YEARS.  We could have led the information session with our eyes closed. 

And then, in the conversation about approval, the record scratched.  I think I stopped breathing.  As part of your home study, you have to make sure that you have a plan for any unsafe situations around your house (firearms, ponds, major roadways), but you also have to be able to prove that you can pay the placement fee at the hospital.  Which is roughly $17,000.  That we don't  have. 


People asked questions about how to loophole around that; because, frankly, I don't know a ton of people who just have that kind of disposable income laying around.  Some employers offer rockin' adoption benefits and you can even get a letter from family members saying that they will spot you the money.  There are even low-interest adoption loans that are available for just this occasion. 

I love being self-employed, but sometimes I get a little annoyed that my employer doesn't offer rockin' (or really any) adoption benefits. 

We talked about the adoption loans for weeks.  We kept talking about how we should look into it, but we never did.  And, finally, we had a pretty tough conversation over breakfast at a pancake house.  We talked about how, for us, it felt irresponsible to go into debt for adoption.  I kept hearing Dave Ramsey's voice in my head saying, "God will never call you to do something that will cause you to go into debt."  And, as you probably expected, I cried at the pancake house. 

When I first talked to Adam about adoption, his first concern was everyone's first concern.  Money.  How are we possibly going to afford it?  And I was so confident.  I said, "I have no idea.  But the money will come."  The last thing on my mind was where the money was going to come from.  And I have to say that my heart aches to be sitting here, THREE YEARS LATER, and to still have NO IDEA where this money is going to come from. 

And, yet, I see God moving in other people's adoptions and in their families.  Reminders of what He can do.  Reminders that He loves adoption.

One of my favorite blogs features a family with six kids, two of whom are adopted.  And I have to say that I just love this momma's heart.  After bringing home their sixth child, they almost immediately begin the adoption of their SEVENTH child, who has special needs.  They have NO IDEA how they are going to cover the cost of the adoption, but they are stepping out in faith, and God is delivering! 

Another blog I follow is written by a woman who has been married to her husband for twelve years.  After years of infertility, they have adopted four children.  Two from Uganda and two from Ethiopia.  And then, after the first of the year, she found out she was pregnant.  For the first time ever.  And their darling son was born last month. 

I've seen adoptive families be able to raise $40,000 overnight.  True story.

Amazing stuff.

So, when people ask about the adoption, it's hard for me not to get caught up in the fact that things aren't moving and we have no idea how long this is going to take or what this is going to look like.  It is so strange to have a momma's heart, but no babies to love on. 

But I believe that God is going to do some RADICAL things to create our family.  And, just like with our house, I believe it will happen quickly and it will be so perfect for us (beyond our wildest imagination) that we will not be able to believe that we doubted for a second that it would work out.


Make it 2,0001. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Four Months

We've owned our own home for almost four months.

Can you believe it??!

People are always asking, "How's the house?  Do you still love it?"

I almost get the impression that people are expecting me to reveal to them that it was all a big mistake.  That, somehow, we were wrong.  That we never should have bought a house this old...this big...this soon. 

But, I will be honest.  Yes, I still love it. 

There are days when I start to cry as soon as I pull onto our road because, wow, THIS is our house.

And I will admit...there is so much that I could have never imagined...never anticipated about this house.

I thought we would already have the electrical stuff fixed.  I thought we would already have a dining room table.  I thought we would have already ripped off the wallpaper in the kitchen.

I thought we would have semi-tamed the yard.  I thought I would have planted a garden.

And, this summer, we did none of it.

But, oh, the other things that I could have never imagined!

I could never have expected to be surrounded by neighbors who truly watch out for us.  Who bring us tomatoes and peppers from their garden.  Who help us look for our dog and pull our mower out of holes.  Who secretly mow our yard when we break our mower for the second time in as many weeks.

I was totally caught off guard by all the critters and the noises and how, after the first month, I stopped being so scared of every single tiny bug...and frog...and bat...and bird...and chipmunk. 

I grew up in the country, but after living in the suburbs for 12 years, I forgot how absolutely stunningly gorgeous the country is.  I forgot what it's like to be able to be in your yard in the early light of the morning and see deer eating apples from the tree.

I forgot how quiet it is in the middle of the night, when everyone is asleep, even all the critters and bugs.

I certainly didn't expect to have the neighbors' cats just prowl around our property...to say hello to them and pet them and to feel like, somehow, they are a part of our little community.

I love being out in the yard with the dog in the middle of the night and looking at our house...how everything is completely dark, except for the golden hubs of life in our home...the kitchen...our bedroom. 

I love having room in the kitchen for Adam and I to cook side-by-side.  I love being able to have room for our friends to gather and drink wine in our kitchen.

I so loved our first attempt at a cookout, where we learned all the things that we didn't know about hosting a cookout at your house...having friends clustered in the barn, on the porch, in the dining room, in the family room...playing cards, eating, exploring our yard. 

I didn't expect it when our friends came over and their kids found a turtle in our yard. 

Which makes me sigh and think that our kids are going to be so lucky to grow up here. 

And THAT is why we bought this house.  This too big...too much...too soon house.

Which leads us to probably the most exciting news yet...

In one week, on September 7, we have our very first adoption meeting!!!

It's really just a general information meeting, BUT we have to attend it to be able to fill out our application to start the adoption process.  Even though it feels like we have been waiting forever (almost 3 years!!) to start this process, I like that our agency only holds these meetings twice a year, in the attempt to create a supportive group for families who are all going through this journey together.

And our hearts and minds have changed some on our adoption route...

Back in May, I was looking at some adoption-related things...photolistings of waiting children, watching YouTube videos, reading articles written by adoptive parents...the usual stuff you do when you're waiting for this process to start...especially when your husband is out of town.

And, for some reason, I was watching all of these videos about domestic adoption.  Which is really kind of strange since, historically, we had both been pretty sold on international adoption.  And I was trying to weigh in my heart if this was something significant (like, life-changing) OR if I was just being overly emotional because we're ready to start a family. 

And I can't really explain it.  I think sometimes people describe a peace in their sprit when they make a certain decision or are faced with a particular situation.  And the only words that I can use to describe how I felt are....blind panic. 

I sent Adam this e-mail that I'm sure didn't make any sense and came totally out of left field.  But the gist of it was...I feel like this day is significant...I feel like we should consider domestic adoption...I'm not sure what all this means...just be open to the idea...and pray about it.

And the best response that a husband could ever give a wife..."I trust your gut on this." 

So, I wanna put it out there...somehow....May 19 is a significant date for our child's life. 

In the meantime, since things aren't already crazy enough, back in July we added a fourth furry member of our family...Shelby. 

Shelby...the dog that stayed with a friend of Adam's for 3 months until we could be ready for her.

Shelby...the dog that tries my patience every. single. day.

Shelby...the dog who bruised the backs of my legs when she ran into them with her cone.

Shelby...the dog who doesn't always under the "potty outside thing."

Shelby...the sweetest dog I've ever had.

Shelby...I don't know how we ever lived without her.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dreams Come True

A week ago, we were pretty sure that it wasn't going to happen.

We'd spent the whole weekend having the "What do we do if we don't get this house because we're pretty sure that we're not going to get it and we need to be emotionally prepared when everything falls through" conversation.  We were having a pretty nice pity party, with the table set for two.

When the call came Monday morning that we passed our final loan approval with the USDA without a glitch (the first step of our process to NOT have a major glitch), we were kind of dumbfounded.  We set the closing for Wednesday morning; but, even then, I don't think either of us really expected that it would happen...

That we would get this house.  That it would be ours.  Forever. 

Even during the closing, when there was a slight snag about the use of Adam's full middle name or initial, we were pretty aloof.  (We were just shocked that it wasn't MY name that caused any problems in this process!)

"Oh, you mean it might take a few days more?  No biggie.  We're used to that.  You know, we don't have to be out of our apartment until Halloween, so we've got time." 

But there was an immediate fix to the snag.  Thank goodness for technology and quick secretaries who can amend things and e-mail them over immediately!

And then...it was done.  And no one was more surprised than us to have the key in hand!

(No, really, there was just one key...for the entire house.)

It's been over a week since we got possession of the house.  And, honestly, it still doesn't feel real.  I keep telling Adam that I feel like we're squatters in this house and, at any moment, someone is going to come and say, "I'm sorry, you have to move out so that the real owners can have their house back."  I cry every single time I drive to the house.  Every.  Single.  Time.

We are in awe.  This is truly our dream house in every possible way.  I remember, last fall, when we first started thinking about houses and we kept saying, "There is a house that is perfect for us, and we will KNOW which house is supposed to be ours."  We had people who suggested that we find a house that we "liked" but not to hold out for a house that we "love" because it simply doesn't exist.  We had some who kind of scoffed and snickered at our desire for land.  I remember Adam saying, at Christmas, that he wanted about 4 acres.  We ended up with 3.93...it's close enough for us!

So, what do you do when you get a ginormous house that is all yours and you've lived in a tiny apartment for the last 10 years?

*  Lay in the middle of the living room floor and drink champagne
*  Buy a grill and make hamburgers on the deck
*  Yardwork!
*  Vacillate between being so overwhelmingly grateful that everything lined up perfectly for us to get this house and laughing hysterically that we somehow pulled this off!
*  Spend all of your time and money at the hardware store
*  Make lists of things that you still need to buy that you never even thought you might need
*  Explore the house
*  Clean up dead mice in the basement...puke!
*  Get a dog
*  Periodically say, "Can you believe that this is our house?", "This is the life," and "We are so lucky."
*  Strategically plan for how to transition the kittens to the house
*  Try to figure out what certain parts of the house are called
*  Have friends over and show them around the place

The couple selling the house are a brother and sister who were selling their childhood home that their parents moved into in 1957.  They were gracious enough to give us a summary of our neighbors, tell us some stories from growing up in the house, and to give us the abstract of the house, which tracks the deed of the house all the way back to 1835!  There is a sense of peace that comes from knowing that there were happy memories attached to this house.

The brother said, "I've thought about moving back in here myself, but this house just really needs a family."

(Sob.)  We're working on it.  

Sunday, April 21, 2013

'Cause We're Crazy Like That

Well, we are a'rockin' and a'rollin' our way to becoming homeowners.  I think this is really going to happen! 

Right now, we are just waiting on the termite inspection report to be reworded, sent back to our bank, and then the loan needs to be signed by the USDA, which could take up to a week right now.  We are hoping to close by the first week of May, but we're good to wait until the end of October (when our lease is up), if that's what it takes!

During a meal at our favorite wings' place/family decision-making home base, we started talking about our adoption timeline.  We had originally talked about starting the process in August or September, but we were starting to doubt that, since we aren't getting any money back when we close.  The house doesn't need to have major repairs done, but it does need to have some work done with the roof over the front porch and with some of the electrical work.  So our August plan turned into, "Well, let's see where we are with things.  We can always push it back if we need to." 

Which seems logical, but kind of made me sick to my stomach. 

And I just couldn't shake it.  Usually, if we decide something like that, I feel a peace about it. 

Not this time.

So, before bed that night, I blurted out, "We are officially back on the poverty diet!  WE ARE GONNA START THE ADOPTION PROCESS IN AUGUST!" 

And my dear, sweet husband said, "Okay.  Sounds good."  

Now, I don't like talking about money any more than the next person.  But based on 2007 data from the US Dept. of Health and Human Services, roughly 30% of Americans have considered adoption.  You know how many actually do?  Only 2%!  And you know the Number One Reason that stands in the way? 


So, to break it down a bit and demystify some of this, I want to show you where all this money goes (for an international adoption):

For our process, we'll end up using two adoption agencies.  One will be a local agency that will do our initial paperwork and our home study, which basically asks for every scrap of information from Adam and I, to determine our fitness as parents, and to match us with the kid or kids that we are the best fit for.  After the mortgage application process, Adam and I feel like we're gonna be PROS when it comes to this!

So, with Agency 1, we have the application fee ($300) and the home study fee ($1500 + mileage).  There could also be post-placement home visits, depending on what our country requires.  Those are $225 + mileage.  Lemme tell you that I am SO GRATEFUL that we live where we do, because some states (and some agencies) have rates that are up to three times what I'm quoting here!

So then we move on to Agency 2, which works directly with the agency in our country to help facilitate the adoption.  We start with a $3,000 non-refundable US Processing Fee, which helps to pay administrative costs at both the US agency and the in-country agency.  It also covers any translation services with our dossier (giant packet of paperwork).  There is a fee ($100-$700) with collecting all the required documents for our dossier, which includes our marriage license, birth certificates, things like that.  We have to complete an application with US immigration to make it legal to bring our child home, which can range from $805-$1250. 

Then there's an adoption program fee, which can range from $9,890 to $20,500, depending on which country you adopt from.  I know most people are thinking, "Holy crap!  Why so much?"  This money goes to support a variety of expenses, including the care of our child, donations to the orphanage, translation services, visa services, and a lot more!  Right now, we're eyeing Ethiopia and Uganda, which both have program fees of around $10,000.  This fee gets paid in full when we accept the referral and are matched with a child, which can take anywhere from 3 months to 2 years.

We also have to attend adoption education classes, either in person or online, which can range between $150 and $500, depending on how many classes we choose to take beyond the required minimum. 

So, at the very least, we are looking at around $16,000. 

Oh wait!  We actually have to TRAVEL to go get our kid(s)!  Fortunately, when travel is arranged by an agency, the costs ($3,000-$15,000) tend to be much lower than if Adam and I booked our flights ourselves.  There is such a huge range in possible prices for travel, because different countries have different travel requirements.

If you wanna have your first panic attack, price a round-trip flight to Uganda.  I dare ya.   

So, grand total, we're looking at a ballpark of between $19,000 and $31,000, which kind of makes it hard to breathe.  We have set our goal at $20,000 because it seemed like a nice, round number.

But, since we're crazy like that, we set the goal to have the money we need by the end of the year, which basically means that we need to save $500/week for the rest of the year.  The great thing is that we can start the process in August, and we don't need all of the money up front on Day 1.

We started the week with about $4,100 in our adoption account, which is a sacred account that doesn't get touched, regardless of what's happening.  As of right now, we are at $5,100!  

Not too shabby for our first week! 

 If you are interested in becoming a part of our adoption story, we have a variety of ways that you can contribute, support, and encourage! 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Choosing to be Grateful

A while back, I wrote this post about how our friends keep asking us about our adoption; even though, from the outside, it looks like nothing is happening.  And while it's hard to keep clarifying our timeline and pointing out the microscopic movement in this whole process, we are so appreciative of those who continue to be so hopeful with us.  For those who wait, expectantly, faithfully, with us, waiting for the time when we can say, "It's done.  We did it!"

It's kind of starting to feel that way with the house too.  People keep asking, "Have you closed yet?  When will you close?  Is the house yours yet?"  The answers:  Nope.  We have no idea.  Nope.  It's so easy for us to get caught up in the end game and to not see the movement that is happening.  A good friend said, "I need for you to get this house and your babies, because I don't think my heart can take much more of this!"

I know the feeling.  But, while we wait, I want to take some time to point out some positively AWESOME things that have happened in the last two months.

*  Let's start with our realtor.  Since we have never done this before, and we've only lived in our area of about five years, we still don't have a lot of community contacts.  Fortunately, a friend of mine is the secretary at a big real estate office, so I asked her.  She gave me a list of about six people that she thought would really fit well, specifically with Adam and I.  I am always amazed at the ways that people are put into our lives to be able to look out for us.  I narrowed the list to three and had Adam pick one.  He picked our realtor because "he has a kind face."  Indeed, he does.  And our realtor has been a rock star on our behalf...working early in the morning and late at night...fighting for us, helping us understand, explaining things to these two dumb kids who have no idea what to do with a house this big.

But the coolness doesn't stop there.  Early on, Adam had mentioned our plan for adoption, when trying to justify why we needed a house with this many bedrooms (six!), since we don't presently have any children (other than the cats!).  A few weeks after that initial conversation, our realtor sent us this very heartfelt emailing.  He said that he very rarely shares details about his personal life, but that he felt led to share with us that his granddaughter was adopted and that he wanted to connect me with his daughter, who is an adoptive momma!

** We have hit every stinkin' delay that we possibly could in the process of buying this house.  (I've been cautioned to not say that, lest something else go horribly wrong.)  But the cool thing is that every delay actually benefits us, because that will decrease the time that we will be paying a mortgage AND for our apartment.  And, honestly, this is good practice for the adoption process, which will be pretty much like this for over a year. 

*** Because of the loan we are using, we had to make a deal that resulted in us not getting any money at the closing for repairs that need done.  This is a total bummer, but Adam and I had gotten very comfortable with the idea that we would do whatever was required for us to get this house, as long as we got this house.  So we are trusting that there will be a way to get those repairs done without that extra money, and we are choosing to focus on having a mortgage that is $10,000 less than we anticipated.

****Another friend of mine messaged me the other day, asking about how the house-buying process was going.  As we were chatting, she kind of blurted (can you blurt when you're chatting online?), "Have you ever thought about adopting from Ukraine?"  While Adam and I have ideas about where we might adopt from, we are also open to God's insistence on a specific child, in a specific location.  So when people make suggestions, we are always open to truly hearing it, because I have seen God use other people to point us in very specific directions.  Turns out, a friend of hers is doing some mission work in Ukraine, specifically with orphans, and she felt led to point me in that direction.  We are so grateful to people who listen to their hearts and share things with us, even when they (and we) have no idea where this fits into our family story.

*****On Sunday, my best friend invited me to go to her church, since they were having a Music Worship Night.  She had no idea, but Sunday was a really hard day for me and this was EXACTLY what I needed.  So, basically, a minute into Song #2, I was bawling.  Fortunately, my friends aren't afraid of my tears.  She just looked at me and said, "We sang this song this morning, and I thought of you." 

 ******Two weeks ago, when the bank was saying ugly things like "worst case scenario" and "if we have to cancel the loan" I was feeling pretty desperate.  It's so hard to be in a position where other people get to make BIG decisions that affect you and your future children and to feel like there's absolutely NOTHING that you can do to sway their decisions.  I remembered a little snippet from Joyce Meyer a year ago.  She said, "Why do people say, 'All we can do is pray' like it's some kind of small, last-resort choice?"  Prayer and God's provision in our lives is really all we EVER have.  And it's enough.

But I will say that, when you start following God's will for your family, man, you are going to hit some serious roadblocks.  I was starting to feel like it was really just us; but, then, I read a billion blog posts about that exact same thing.  And then I talked to some adoptive mommas that I know and they confirmed my suspicions.  They shared stories of disrupted adoptions, panic attacks, broken appliances, late night marathon prayer sessions, and all sorts of craziness that was intended to keep them from adopting.  I kind of unloaded my fears with them a bit and asked for some serious prayer on our behalf.  Later that evening, the final underwriting approval on Adam and I was approved.  Coincidence?  I think not.

I don't want to sound overly dramatic, but I feel like Adam and I are in for the fight of a lifetime over these kids; who, most likely, aren't even born yet.  We have yet to fill out one single scrap of adoption paperwork, and we are already encountering this kind of resistance.  It's gonna be one wild ride!

Thanks to everyone for your prayers, support, and obedience to that nudge in your heart on our behalf.  


Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Gift of a Very Intentional Year

It's so weird to think that, this time last year, we were planning for a deployment. 

We had planned to celebrate our anniversary, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and both of our birthdays...separated.  We were resigned to this; because, as hard as it would be, it would provide us with the finances to purchase our first home and cover the cost of our adoption.

But then, in true Army fashion, the deployment got cancelled.  And while I was grateful and relieved, I was disappointed in some ways.  It did not seem financially possible for us to do either of those things--let alone both.

And, yet, if you've been following along with us, you know that it is HAPPENING!

I've been hesitant to talk too much about the purchase of our home, because it looked like it was going to fall through at every possible turn.

Everyone kept telling us to find a house that we "could live with" and not to get caught up in a house that we "are in love with."  Well, I can tell you that I would not have fought this hard for a house that I only sorta liked.  Man, we are in love.

This house is made up of everything that Adam and I have dreamt about, both out loud and quietly in the secret places of our hearts.  This house has things that we didn't even know we wanted.

This house was picked out with one very intentional purpose.  Filling it.  I don't know how other people go about picking out homes, but we did it by imagining it with (at least) four extra little people in it.  We pictured future holidays and bedrooms and dinners around a table and bath time and birthday parties and shelves to hold games and puzzles. 

I think we both agree that the best thing about this house is that it has so much space, both inside and out.  Technically, it has 6 bedrooms, though two of the rooms are tiny, and one will be converted into a master bathroom, since we only have one full bath and one toilet in a closet quarter bath.

The house sits on slightly less than 4 acres.  Now, despite the fact that neither one of us knows how to operate a riding lawnmower, this is actually ideal.  We've already marked out the space for the garden, fruit trees and bushes, and we have ample space left over for things like swing sets, practicing t-ball, and room to just run around.  Did I mention there's a pond, perfect for observing all sorts of wildlife?

We have three outbuildings:  a pole barn, an old carriage house, and what looks like an old chicken coop.  Right before we found this house, I had been looking at additional office space to open an office that offered counseling and space for some creative art stuff.  Well, the carriage house is absolutely perfect for that, if I would decide to follow through on it.  Perfect.

This journey has been full of so many nerve-wracking moments:

1.  We had to be below a certain income to qualify for our loan.  Several vendors would only look at our total income, which was over the limit, but since I'm self-employed, you have to look at the adjusted income, which is just barely under the limit.

2.  We qualified for only slightly more than the exact amount of the purchase price of the home.

3.   Adam's work history got called into question, since he's in school and working part-time.  This led into a conversation about "worst case scenarios" and "cancelling the loan," which honestly made me want to throw up.  Fortunately, my business is up 70% (amazing!) from last year, so it was enough to satisfy the lender.

So we're looking to close on the house before the end of April and then moving in by the end of May or beginning of June.  Which means...we can start the adoption process toward the end of the summer!  Wow!

So, in the course of this very intentional year that we weren't supposed to have together, we paid off a ridiculous amount of debt, saved up a bunch of money, and bought the perfect house.

And the best part?  We got to do it all...together.  


Thursday, March 7, 2013

We Are Long Shot Kind of People

It's such a weird feeling...only a week has gone by since my last post.  But, wow, WHAT A WEEK!

On Monday, we found out that someone had put a low offer in on the house that we wanted.  The house that we had claimed as OURS.  When I got the e-mail from our realtor, I was just heartsick.  I told Adam, "I can't believe it...they're going to sell our house out from under us!"  This led into a long conversation about the merits of emotional investment inside our home in comparison with the weight it holds in the rest of the world.

Adam had to pick me up from work on Monday night because I was feeling sick.  I had a headache, blurred vision, and I was really dizzy.  After ruling out a brain aneurysm and a stroke, I feel pretty confident that it was a combination of low blood sugar, high blood pressure, and STRESS.  I talked to a friend on Monday night, telling her about a loan program through the USDA and saying it was "a long shot."  (Fortunately, for us, we are long shot kind of people.)

Tuesday pretty much had us both just wandering around the house, moping and being stressed out.   This whole situation just felt so IMPOSSIBLE.  At this point, we couldn't even fight for this house.  This house that we KNEW was OURS.

Wednesday morning we met with yet another banker (our third, at this point).  And he was the first one with GOOD NEWS!  So, apparently, because the house we want is out in the middle of nowhere, we DO qualify for a USDA Rural Development Loan.  The cool thing about these kinds of loans is that they are actually a better financing deal than the FHA loans that we had been pursuing.  They require 0% down, which would mean that we would be able to use our savings for repairs, equipment, and maybe some grown-up furniture.  And, you know, that ADOPTION thing we're doing!

The only downside is that you have to be UNDER a certain income...ack!  So frustrating to have so many different requirements.  For some loans, we need more money--for some, we need less.  Fortunately, we were just under the the income limit.  I have never been so happy to not have more money!  I had to leave the meeting early and go to work, so the plan was to have Adam bring any papers to my office, I would sign them, and then he would take them back to the banker. 

Adam showed up at my office during one of my breaks on Wednesday afternoon.  When I got back from the bathroom, our realtor is on the phone, talking about how Adam dropped off a pre-approval letter and telling us about putting an offer on this house!  At this point, my head was SPINNING, and I felt like I was about 2.5 steps behind everyone else in this story.  As I was getting caught up, we found out that the sellers of the house were going to make a counter offer to the low offer.  This was bad.  This was really really bad.  Because, basically, if the other people accepted the offer, we were done.  Game over for the Millers.

At this point, our realtor says, "I hope I haven't overstepped my bounds, but..."  Basically, he asked the seller to withdraw the counter offer, IF he could get us to commit to a certain purchase price.  The seller agreed.  Now, the offer was a little bit more than what I think we would have offered (which is totally risky and aggressive, but totally the right thing), but it got us in the game and caught the seller's attention.  We submitted the offer and gave them 48 hours to accept.  They came back the next day and had ACCEPTED

Thursday night, we sat on the couch, facing each other, basically going, "Oh my goodness...what. have. we. done?"  We had been afraid they wouldn't accept our offer, but we hadn't really considered the implications of an acceptance.  Holy. crap.

We had our inspection done Saturday and all went well.  I absolutely adore our inspector.  Both our realtor and our inspector used to be home builders, so the two of them together were an awesome team.  The house has some...interesting...features, and it was helpful to have two brains working together to figure out what the heck some of this stuff was and how it works.  Obviously, there are some things that need to be fixed.  The house was built in 1920, and (we think) has been vacant for almost a year, but there was nothing that was a deal breaker.  Our inspector actually said he had seen homes that were ten years old that have more wrong with them than this house.  Whew!  What a relief!

So, now, we're waiting on final approval from the bank.  Then, the loan has to go to the USDA to get signed and approved, which could take about three weeks.  Say a prayer that none of this is affected by the whole "government shut-down/sequestration" thing, which ultimately could slow things down and even significantly reduce funding to the USDA for home loans.

So, if you're keeping track at home, we have a long list of blessings that have all come together to pave the way for this moment:

1.  Financial blessings that have allowed us to pay off debt, save for a house, and save for adoption
2.  The provision of a dream house within our budget
3.  Awesome teamwork between Adam and I to get everything done as quickly as possible
4.  Qualification of a loan that requires us to have a lower income and zero down payment
5.  An amazing trifecta of realtor, inspector, and mortgage broker

Things still left to pray for:

1.  Final approval on our loan
2.  Timely approval of our loan from the USDA
3.  Low cost estimates on repairs that need made
4.   Financial provision for said repairs (and all the other "house stuff" that we need)

 If all goes well, we are set to close by April 13!  (Yikes.)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Millers Pursue the Impossible

This week has been an emotional roller coaster.  (The part about me locking my keys in the car while it was running is a story for a different time...)

We decided to start moving in the direction of purchasing our first home.  As I'm thinking about it, I'm not really sure why we started this early.  We had always agreed on and talked about doing it later in the spring, even into the summer.  The lease on our apartment isn't up until the end of October, so we've got plenty of time.  But something made us both go, "Now.  We need to do this now."  And anyone who spends any amount of time with us knows that when one of us feels like we need to do something RIGHT NOW, even if it doesn't make sense, we do it.

So we met with a mortgage broker on Monday.  Without going into too much personal detail, there may be an issue with our ability to get financing right now.  A lot of this has to do with my being self-employed, which lenders often think of as "risky," despite the fact that we think of it as "awesome."  There are other issues that could impact that, but we are working with several different folks to figure out what our options are.  So that was a bit stressful.

And then...never to be deterred, we met with a realtor on Friday.  One thing I love about Adam and I is that we talk about everything to death, but when we are ready to execute a plan, we are ready!  We looked at 6 houses in 6 hours.  It was overwhelming.  We had an ice storm the night before, so it wasn't the best conditions to be driving around and looking at homes.  Many of the homes that we are looking at have land and out buildings (which Adam mistakenly calls "outhouses"), so we basically just traipsed around outside for 6 hours.  All of the houses were nice.  They were very nice.  But they weren't for us.

Except for the fourth house.  Oh, the fourth house...

A client of mine is currently looking for a new house, and she had repeatedly said, "Houses will speak to you.  You just have to listen."  Since we've never looked at anything bigger than an apartment, I thought it was as good of advice as any.

This house almost brought me to my knees.

We walked into the kitchen from the porch and the smell hit me.  It was comforting and something that I had longed for for the last five years.  We moved into the dining room.  Adam was leading, with his back to me.  The realtor was behind me, still in the kitchen.  I kept gulping the air, just hoping that the smell wouldn't go away, trying to make it a part of me.  And then I started crying.  Sobbing.  Big, heavy, wracking sobs.  The house smelled like my grandma's old house.  Old wood.  Old house.  My grandma.

Adam turned around and was, obviously, very concerned that his wife was now crying hysterically, almost out of control crying, in this house.  I told him what was going on, and we kept looking around the house, while I cried.  I was able to finally get myself somewhat under control, but I still cried quietly through the whole house.  Our poor realtor kept looking at Adam with the shifty eyes, and Adam kept saying, "She's okay.  She likes the house.  She really likes the house."

We went downstairs into the creepy cellar basement, and our realtor (who used to be a home builder) was pointing out several features in the basement.  There are a lot of things about buying a house that probably should be important to me, but aren't.  Because, honestly, I was going to fight like hell to buy this house simply based on the fact that it smelled like my grandma's old house.  It could have been falling down around us (don't worry, it's not)--I'm not sure that I would have heard anything the realtor said.  But, anyway, back to the basement.  The realtor pointed out this weird wooden tunnel thing that came into the basement from up above--a laundry chute!  Wanna guess who used to have a laundry chute that I thought was the coolest thing ever when I was kid?  My grandma!

And did I mention that the curtains in the dining room are the same curtains that we had in our living room when I was a kid, except ours were blue and these were cream?  And the ones that we had used to belong to (you guessed it!) my grandma!

I couldn't talk to Adam until later about it, but my experience in this house caught me off guard for one major reason.  Since my grandma died three weeks ago, I've really struggled with not being able to feel her spirit.  I'm not necessarily sure that I'm entitled to that, but I think I definitely expected it the instant that she died.  And it didn't come.  And I just miss her so much sometimes, and I was so astounded to find her all over this house.  (And in the aisle of Easter supplies at the grocery store last weekend.  My apologies to the nice people around me trying to buy their groceries around the Crying Lady...)

So, right now, Adam and I are going to pursue this house until someone else takes it away from us.  It may take us up to 2 months to get the whole financing thing squared away.  The house has only been on the market for something like 25 days, so we are definitely working under a time crunch.  We are praying constantly about this.  And I mean constantly.  The kind of prayer where you finish up and start right back in again.  Please join us if you feel so inclined.  

There are so many reasons this is impossible:
 1.  As of this second, we don't have a loan.  We're not sure how long or what it will take for us to be able to get one.
2.  This is an amazing house and anyone who sees it (in our opinion) will want to snatch it up.
3.  The house is a bit pricey for us.  It's in our range, but it'll be a stretch and a sacrifice.
4.  This house is huge.  We don't know anything about owning a home.

But here's where things get cool.  NOTHING is impossible with God.  NOTHING! 

I love Matthew 21:21-22:

 So, surely, if we have the power to tell the mountains to throw themselves into the sea, we have the power to claim this house as OURS.

And so we have.  

Stay tuned...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I Think It's a Sign

We have great friends.

Friends who are always kind to ask, "What's new with the adoption?" even though they know that there is probably nothing tangible for us to report.

People who are waiting expectantly with us.  Hoping for progress.  Even though, repeatedly, nothing has visibly changed.  If I were in their shoes, I don't know that I could keep asking that question, knowing the answer.

But, I tell you, things are changing.  We are moving in a direction.

Adoption is not a sprint.  If we've learned anything, it's that.  The idea of adoption was planted in our hearts far before it even become feasible for us to do anything.  I feel like the first year after our decision to adopt was really just spent getting our hearts and brains wrapped around the idea.  But that second year...man.  The second year was amazing.  We saw things happen that we simply could not explain.  Things that stunned us, made us laugh, and made us cry at our good fortune.

A year ago, we were living paycheck to paycheck, with a substantial amount of debt, and with nothing in the savings account.  In ONE YEAR, we got rid of $25,000 worth of debt.  Some of that we were able to pay off, and some of it just disappeared.  (Either way is fine with us.)  My business doubled from the year before.  Several business opportunities were put in my path over the last year.  For the first time ever, we have money in a savings account for the adoption AND money in savings account for a down payment on a house.

God has found favor on our adoption. Anytime I start to doubt if we are on the right track, I am constantly bombarded with proof that confirms that our decision has been the right one.

As some of you may know, Adam and I have been looking at houses.  We don't really plan to buy a house until the summer, but we just can't help ourselves.  It's fun to wander around and dream about our family's future.  "Is this the yard where my garden belongs?"  "Will my kids grow up eating breakfast in this kitchen?"  "Is this the living room where we will celebrate our Christmases?"

A few weekends ago, just for fun, we were looking at some houses and, on our way home, drove by a house.  It was huge and stunning and had a lot of land.  As we looked at it lovingly, we realized that it was for sale!  We immediately pulled into the driveway, hoping that no one was living there.  When we were sure the house was empty, we decided to just trespass walk around the outside of the house.  Initially, we were thinking it might be a bit of a fixer-upper, but we got closer and realized that it was A-MAY-ZING.  And appears to have everything that we are looking for. 

This is the first house that Adam and I have completely fallen in love with.  (You might remember that I fell in love with a house last fall.  Once we looked at it, I realized that it was far too small for the family that we intend.  Case closed.)

This house has everything I never knew I always wanted (name that movie!).  As we stood outside, in the dark, staring at this house, we were both just like, "This is what I've been picturing in my head the whole time!"

This is not the actual house.  But this is sorta what the house might look like if we didn't buy it!  

But the reality is that it's going to take some major favor on God's part to make this happen.  Adam and I both feel like there is one house that is meant for us.  And, if this is the one, then God will make it happen.

Right now, we are praying that:

1.  No one else has the desire to buy this house, allowing us to save more money for a down payment.
2.  We get a tax refund to use toward this house.  Since I'm self-employed and our business doubled this year, this is close to impossible.  (But so was paying of $25,000 in debt, so it stays on the prayer list.)
3.  That the sellers will accept a lower price or keep dropping the price.
4.  That the home stays on the market until we can afford it.
5.  If this isn't the house for us, God will let us know and shut the door.
6.  If God wants us in the house sooner, that He paves a way for that to happen. 

Please join us in asking for guidance about this house (or other houses that we may come in contact with).  This is such a huge step in the adoption process; because, once we are in a house, we can start the paperwork almost immediately to begin the adoption.

I am warning you now...2013 is going to be a BIG YEAR for the Millers!

Update:  We filed our taxes this week.  We were squared away and resigned to owing a sizable chunk of money and, despite a short moment when the accountant said, "This is bad.  This is really bad.  You're not going to like this...." and Adam almost stroked out...WE ARE GETTING A REFUND!   As we sat at our Family Meeting Restaurant, eating wings, Adam said, "I think this is a sign.  I think this is a very good sign." 

Indeed, it is.  


Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Favorite

"Grief makes one so terribly tired." ~The Dowager Countess, Downton Abbey

I am always quick to tell my clients that there is a huge difference between grieving and when someone dies.

Because of my job, I can listen to people talk all day long about death and the horrible circumstances surrounding some deaths.

But grief...oh, grief is different.  Grief, even when you see it coming, is all encompassing.  It takes your breath.  Grief makes you cry for 36 hours, even when you're sleeping.  It steals your appetite and makes you ravenous, all at the same time.  It starts the slideshow of memories and sets it on repeat.  Grief, even when you're at peace with it, is fierce and does not leave quickly.    

My grandma died.  My favorite person in this world...gone. 

Somehow, in this sea of grief, there is peace with her death.  Alzheimer's is an ugly disease, and I always said that it would be a fascinating disease if it weren't happening to the one person that I loved the most in this world.  The grief comes from a place of remembering who she used to be and being sad that person doesn't exist anymore.  And didn't outwardly exist for a long time. 

My cousin asked me what my favorite memory of Grandma Ruth was.  And I couldn't pick just one. 

There are so many...


I used to dream about her a lot.  I read somewhere that it was a "psychological fact" that if you were dreaming about someone, then they were dreaming about you.  I'm pretty sure that this is not a fact, and was indeed an idea invented by 14-year-old girls.  And, while I have a million reasons to hope this is not true, I always hoped that it was with her.  I was hopeful that, somewhere, over time and space and this ugly disease, we were able to connect somehow. 

My grandma remarried when I was three.  And, honestly, my grandpa is the real hero of this love story.  My grandma had been a widow for 6 years, and I think the other grandkids had gotten used to having Grandma all to their own.  Being the youngest, I don't really remember Grandma before she got married again.  My grandma had always said she didn't want to marry a farmer or a truck driver, but she ended up marrying both.  My grandpa was really her knight in shining armor, and I'm so grateful that she got a chance at love like that.  He would visit her in the nursing home, every single day.  That's commitment--doing the same thing over and over, despite the total lack of feedback.  No matter how hard it is.  No matter how heartbreaking it is.  I remember, when I was little, my grandpa saying that he'd promised Grandma that they'd be married for 50 years, even if they had to finish up some of those in Heaven.  Now, I know that most Christian theology says that there aren't married relationships in Heaven, but I think there might be exceptions for devoted old men. 

About a year ago, my aunt sent me a package of old letters that I had sent my grandma over the years.  I always get compliments on my handwriting, which I attribute to the years and years of letter-writing that occurred between me and Grandma over the years.  But in this package, there were also all of the things that my grandma had clipped out of the local newspaper over the years.  Some of them were significant...like scholarships I had won or times my picture was in the paper.  But what stopped me was the tiny cut-out of the time I made the honor roll in the sixth grade.  I was a great student--I always made the honor roll.  And she always cut it out.  And she always put it on her refrigerator, like it was such a big deal.  There are few times in this world when you get a cheerleader like that. 

And then there's the rock.  When I was little, my grandma redid one of their rooms with a peach color.  I found a rock in the field behind our house that was a light peach color and just KNEW that my grandma had to have it to match her new room.  So we washed it and varnished it, and I gave it to her.  And you would have thought that I gave her a million dollars.  And that rock sat in her living room, on the floor by the TV, until I was almost finished with college and they moved.  That's a good grandma right there--to act excited about and then display a varnished ROCK for 15 years. 

My aunt also shared with me this picture that I drew of my grandma.  I'm not sure how old I was...obviously, not old enough to spell "Grandma" correctly.  Adam's questions were things like, "Did she wear a lot of turtlenecks?"  (no) and "Did she wear a lot of make-up?" (yes, when I was little).  Again, it makes my heart ache with love that she saved these all these years...to know that I was so treasured that she saved my little kid drawings of her. 

So here's to 87 years of life--two husbands, three kids, seven grandkids, twelve great-grandkids (three of whom are named after her), and three great-great-grandkids. 

And a legacy of love.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

2 Years, 2 months, and 2 days

Right now, I am overflowing with thoughts and feelings and information about adoption.

There has been so much about adoption in the news and in our little world that I feel like I am just saturated with it.  Confused by it.  Saddened by it.  I feel like I'm carrying around this weight that is causing me to become (is it possible?!) even more passionate about adoption.

Adam and I made the decision to adopt in October 2010.  I have been seriously praying for "our family, whatever form that may take on" every single day since Thanksgiving of that year.  Those exact words.  Every single day.  794 times.  (As a little fun fact, I've been praying this prayer for 2 years, 2 months, and 2 days...weird, huh?)

I heard the words, "Our willingness to wait reveals the value we place on the object we are waiting for" on the radio the other day.  While we aren't waiting on an object, I think the premise is still the same.  Adoption is something so valuable to us that we are willing to wait.  And wait.  And wait.  For as long as we need to in order to make it happen.

So, part of my passion involves educating other people about adoption and the need for orphan care.

The statistics surrounding the exact number of orphans in the world are a little fuzzy.  Every agency that reports on these sorts of things has their own different criteria for figuring this data.  Some agencies don't count abandoned children or children who are sold/trafficked.  UNICEF's recent reports put the number at somewhere between 143 and 210 MILLION CHILDREN worldwide. 

Let me help to break this down for you (keeping in mind that these estimates are probably way low based on an inability to collect proper data)...

-Every day, 5,760 children become orphans (every. single. day.)

-Every year, over 14 million children "age out" of the system.  Aging out is the process of being "old enough" to no longer qualify for adoption or even for institutional care.  In the US, this age is 18.  In other countries, it's as low as 9.  I'll give you a minute to think of any 9-year-old that you've ever met and imagine that he or she "no longer qualifies" for a family. 

-Every 15 seconds, a child in Africa becomes an orphan due to AIDS. 

-Older orphans who "age out" are at an increased risk for abuse of various kinds, prostitution, suicide, slavery, becoming child soldiers, and exposure to AIDS and other diseases.

So, here's my commentary on all of that: 

1.  I. do. not. care. if there are 143 orphans or if there are 210 million or if there are 5 orphans.  All kids belong in families.  Period.

2.  I know that people get really upset about international adoption.  UNICEF actually doesn't endorse international adoption because they would prefer that orphans stay in their home country and be cared for by family in order to further reduce unnecessary trauma and loss.  I wholeheartedly agree.  But if we are not gonna support international adoption than we all need to STEP IT UP in regard to world missions to provide a support net for countries to be able to take care of their children and families.

3.  I'm sure my last point probably led some people to be like, "Well, we need to be taking care of the kids and families in our own country!"  Absolutely.  (I'm starting to think that perhaps we need to STEP IT UP in regard to domestic missions too...)  Adam and I are led to international adoption because we feel that the US has a minimum standard of care for orphans, and other countries simply do not.  Half of the world population lives on roughly $2.50 a day. (This could lead me into a whole different conversation about how the poorest Americans are still far wealthier than most of the world)  I would certainly hope that we are not so short-sighted in our American privilege that we value an American kid over a kid from a different country.  (Go back and review my first point.)

4.  I sit here, typing away, in the safety of my warm apartment, and I cry.  I cry because I'm just as guilty as everyone else for turning a blind eye to world problems that are larger than my little world.  I cry for my future children who, at one point, could have easily become a horrifying statistic.  I cry because I don't think Adam will go for bringing home 210 million orphans (though, I don't know...he's surprised me before...).  I cry because I see such a division between mommas in our world.  There are times that I just want to scream and shake people and be like, "Don't you get it!  Children are dying!  Children are alone!"  (Don't even get me started on people who equate pet adoption with human adoption!)  And I have to remind myself that this is our journey, and I can't expect everyone to "get it" or to join us or to start a journey of their own. 

5.  But, boy, if someone else did start a journey of their own...that might be one less orphan. 

 And I'd be good with that.