Some things are going right.
I feel like (with the exception of the exciting news of sweet Elizabeth herself), all the news I ever share on this blog is bad. And, lets be honest, 2020 is rough on us all so far. As we start school again, I think the only lesson any of us learn may be about flexibility, if we are lucky. Eliza is on the other side of the world and we have absolutely no idea when we will be able to travel to get her.
But some things are going right. And if I'm going to avoid the slow erosion of my sanity that this endless adoption process seems determined to accomplish, all I know is to keep listing them:
-Eliza seems happy, loved, and well taken care of from the pictures and videos we have. I really wish I could share them here. I had someone tell me today that her laughter is like music, and I couldn't agree more. It always makes me smile.
-We sent off another package to her, this time with a note to her caregivers expressing our appreciation for this excellent care. A sweet friend and her daughter were able to translate and then write the note in Mandarin for us.
-ALL our paperwork is done on the U.S. side of things. The next step is for China to issue us Travel Approval. Here's hoping.
-We received a grant from Show Hope that covers the remaining adoption expenses we were expecting, especially related to travel, which we expect to be different and probably longer with quarantine time built in.
-Our stateside kids are running wild and free through this quarantine time and loving (almost) every minute of it.
I'm leaning so hard on Psalm 13 these days that I think I'll just include it here. How nice that David included screaming at God into the Holy Scriptures. I'm fairly certain shouting is the most appropriate way to read this psalm.
So many people need things during right now, and I want to pray for them all, but if I'm being honest, the only thing I really want is two tickets to China, and three tickets back to America. Please pray every day that we can bring Eliza home soon.
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
for he has been good to me.
I’m so thankful that this quarantine is happening during the spring. If it was winter I don’t know what we would do with ourselves. But every day we are outside in the soft grass, under my dogwoods (they bloom for my birthday every year, did you know that?), walking around the yard enjoying all the flowers we inherited on the property. Seriously, spring is glorious at our house which is a blessing I never knew I needed. We have dogwoods (I mentioned), daffodils, peonies, tulips, azaleas, snowball hydrangeas, a tulip magnolia, and irises. And these things were established when we moved in. Even our grass blooms: buttercups, clover, stargazer flowers, violets, and some little tower of purple flowers I don’t know the name of.
I’ve always been thankful that this stuff was here when we moved in because, though I am my parents’ daughter, I’ve always liked the idea of gardening more than gardening itself. I don’t like to sweat, I sunburn easily, and I understand that you can’t procrastinate weeding if you want to grow anything besides weeds. So I never planned to have a well manicured yard. As my momma taught me to say: I’m good at other things. It was such a pleasant surprise when the yard started blooming our first spring here. What a gift!
But this year is different. At Nana’s memorial on Valentine’s Day (God, those words still bring tears to my eyes. How painful to lose someone who loves you so well!), there were three GIGANTIC peace lilies. They were beautiful and green and hopeful next to the picture of my Nana reading to a classroom full of kids. And I wanted to take one home.
I’ve never had a plant in the house, but I brought home the biggest of the three and put it in the living room. The kids kept saying that we live in a jungle now. It is seriously taller than Andrew. There it stood in my living room, proving that things still grow.
Suddenly, I was hooked. As Robin says, I became a plant lady. I started buying plants every time I left the house. I discovered they are a great antidote to sadness. Two weeks after Nana died, we had to stop pursuing a referral (another precious little one, not Eliza). A fresh wave of grief. I bought two philodendrons that day. I helped my mom make some decisions about some of Nana’s clothes one day at their house. I brought home a plant of Nana’s from her living room. Now it is in mine. The first Friday in nine years that there were no grandparents to visit, Anna, Sam and I bought a plant for their bathroom, a plant for each of their rooms, and an air plant for my car. Yes, my car. I want plants everywhere.
The urge to fill the house with green things only got stronger after we saw sweet Elizabeth’s face. If ever there was proof that spring is here, she is it. Now I can’t be stopped. It’s a good thing I can’t go to the store very often right now because I always seem to come home with a plant. I’ve been getting tulips in pots to keep on the bar in the kitchen. When the flowers fade I plant them along the edge of the house. Not sure if they will come up next year or not, but it will be a nice surprise if they do. Andrew informed me that there are now 23 living things in the house including us, the dog, his betta fish, and the plants.
This need to fill my life with new things is not limited to plants. I’ve read more books in the last three weeks than in all of 2020 so far. I’ve busted out a pair of socks, fingerless mitts, a small plush toy and a scarf, and I’ve started Sara’s new baby’s blanket. And I’m writing every day.
Before Adam died, this was who I was. I did a thousand things, always squeezing a little more out of each day, adding new projects and new things to learn. I figured I’d just keep adding to my plate until it overflowed. Then I would know I was doing as much as I wanted with my life. I think of this as something fundamentally Trantham about me. My dad is certainly the same, and Papa, and his mother.
Then my brother left us and grief filled up most of my plate. For the first time I cut back. I did less. I gave myself permission (with help from people who loved and listened to me) not to knit, not to read, if I didn’t feel like it. It was hard and foreign not to be busy and making things, but it was the right thing. I wondered if I would ever feel the surge of maker-ness overflow again. Truthfully, I missed it.
Here in the middle of a global pandemic that threatens to keep us from our girl for even more months, I’m finding spring blooming in my own heart. I feel a fresh version of my old self emerging after a long winter hibernation. The promise of Eliza, the pictures and videos we get of her sweet self from half a world away, they bring with them a Joy that cannot be squashed by this world.
The world is broken and full of disease, but my girl is in this world, and we will be together.
And there will be plants.
We got new pictures and video this week of our Eliza Joy! I wish I could share them here. Please feel free to ask us (or any of the aunts, uncles, and grandparents) in person, we will be delighted to share her sweet face. Since I can't show them here, you will have to settle for a picture of our three stateside children. They are cute too. ;)
The update we got from her orphanage shows that she is tiny for her age (she will fit right in!). They say she "is a personality, likes to participate in activities by herself, likes freedom, doesn't like being limited, and is eager to get attention and love." Sounds like a Fleenor to me!
We also were surprised to find out that she had the first of several corrective surgeries she will need for cleft lip/palate in November of 2019. Her cleft smile has stolen our hearts and is framed all over the house, and we can see from the new pictures that her repaired smile is just as beautiful.
Truthfully, I feel two ways about this news. I am relieved to know that she is getting the care she needs at what seems to be an excellent center. We are encouraged by every picture and video we receive that she is getting regular attention and care from people who love her. I also wish we could have been with her for what was no doubt a scary and painful experience. We are ready to be her parents, and it's hard to know your child has gone through something difficult without your support.
So the basic timeline going forward is this (minus any expectation of time frames, because no one can predict that now): We are waiting for China to approve our match with Yu Yi. As soon as we receive this letter, we will complete the two part immigration application we began as part of our dossier last year. When we receive the immigration approval, we will apply for a Visa for Eliza. Then our agency will begin working with China to plan our travel.
Yep, still traveling internationally. To China. In 2020, the year of the global pandemic.
Good thing we've learned to be comfortable with ambiguity.
We don't know when we will be approved to travel, if we will have to be quarantined on the front or back part of the trip (or both!), if we will get to see our daughter's birth country like we hoped, we don't really know anything. But you know what? We didn't know any of that stuff three weeks ago, or a three months or years ago, and we are still closer today. We are still on this journey. The Fleenors are still going to be a family of six. Eliza is still our child, and whatever comes on her journey or ours, we will face it together.
I hope that you can find some comfort in this idea as we all face the ambiguity of global pandemic. We don't know when things will look different than they do today, but they will. And we are all still here together. We can still care for each other. We can still show each other empathy and grace. Whatever comes during this season of quarantine or in the season after, we can face it together.
Thanks for staying in it with us these last three years. I think it will only get better from here.
So we have an announcement...
We've been matched!!! Our beautiful new daughter, Yu Yi, is 3 years old and she lives in South China. We locked her file and submitted our Letter of Intent today!! We wish we could share her precious face here on our blog, but that will have to wait until we have her home in the States. In the meantime, here are some pictures of her new family throwing a spontaneous party last night out of sheer excitement!
The two characters of her Chinese name was beautifully translated by a Chinese friend of a friend: "'Beyond, higher than others' This girl must be very smart and strong. She will be able to do things beyond others' expectation in the future. 'Happy and Joyful' The happiness and joy is from the peace, the comfort and satisfaction from the bottom of her heart." What a beautiful blessing over our daughter's life!
It's hard to describe what it means to me to bring this wonderful news to you, or how light and happy my heart has been these last two days since we knew she was ours. This blog space has held the darkest days of my life. The last three years have felt like loss after loss after loss, most recently my precious Nana only one month ago. It has been a long, dark winter. But Spring is finally here, praise our merciful God!
There are lots of questions about what comes next. The short answer is: more paperwork between us, the State Department, and the Chinese Government. Then travel! But also, the Coronavirus, so we are holding all timelines loosely. I'll post more updates as we go along, but for today...
Elizabeth Joy Fleenor, we can't wait to meet you!!!
Three things on Thursday
So it's been a long time since I've updated. There are lots of reasons for this. I think the easiest thing to do is to list them:
Reason #1: Three kids
I can't find enough space in a day to get my thoughts together to get them in writing, and after the kids are in bed, I... well.. I go to bed. So there's that. We are at the end of a long winter break: two glorious weeks of crazy family holiday excitement punctuated with long afternoons on the couch watching the original Star Wars trilogy with Anna and Andrew while Sam napped for 4 hours at a time. We party hard, we crash hard. We are at my mom's today on the most dreary winter day I've ever seen, we are all in deep hibernation mode, and I thought I'd try to sneak away to tell you what is up with our adoption journey.
Reason #2: GrandPapa died
My heart aches just typing this. It was a beautiful goodbye that I will always treasure deep in my heart. We were able to walk him right to the end of the road, singing and holding his hands. He wore socks I made him for Christmas. I would want nothing less for a man I loved so much and that I was so fortunate to enjoy not only as a wonderful grandfather, but also as a trusted friend.
Reason #3: The Referral Process is more complicated than we anticipated
Our Dossier arrived in China in September and was translated and accepted in October. China has us on a list of prospective families "waiting to be matched."
Since Thanksgiving, we have reviewed four files. Held four precious girls in our hearts. Considered how they might be ours. And none of them will be.
The reasons for this are difficult and feel very private, so I won't share them here. We have made agonizing decisions and had them made for us. It has taken us back to the bedrock of what we believe about God and adoption and our role and how faith plays a part in all of this.
We are acutely aware of our privilege. We are painfully aware of the vulnerability of these children. We hold this with great humility, and hope we will honor these Daughters of God in this.
It's a fresh grief every time. I feel the loss every time. Their names echo in the empty room in my heart where my daughter will live. And I hold this grief close, because they are worth it. Each of these children, though they will not be my daughters, are valuable and loved by God, and so will be loved and grieved by me. I will hold the hope of their future families just as dear.
My word(s) for 2020 are "hold together." I will hold together pain and gratitude, grief and hope, faith and uncertainty. We hope that 2020 is the year when we can bring our daughter home, for good.
Happy New Year
"He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." Colossians 1:17
Dossier to China!!
An exciting thing happened last week! Our dossier came back to us from DC, all official! Each of 16 documents (basically all the paperwork that could possibly represent our lives) now bears the seal of North Carolina, the seal of the US State Department, and the seal of the Chinese Embassy. After making two copies of E.V.E.R.Y P.A.G.E, we mailed the originals and one copy to our agency. Today I got the call that they will submit it electronically and put it in the mail to China tomorrow!
This is exciting for two reasons: first, it means that China will actually know we exist. That's a landmark for us! Second, it means the next step is seeing our daughter's face for the first time.
After China approves us (4-5 weeks after they receive our documents), our agency will begin looking for a match for us on what is called the "shared list." This is a list of children's files that China releases about once a month to all the agencies. Our agency will have a few days before the release to preview some key details in the files like age, gender, and diagnoses. Then the day the list is released, they (and 42 other agencies) "lock" files for families they are working with to review. That's when we get a call, and we get to see the file and "meet" our sweet little person.
If this call is like the first ultrasound, then sending the dossier to China is be like hearing your baby's heartbeat for the first time. Things are getting real here, folks!
It's hard to describe how this changes things in my heart and mind. In order to survive our extended wait time (June 2017 to Jan 2019), I had to change the way I thought about our adoption process. Instead of being this race to get to China and our waiting daughter as quick as possible, an idea that gave me knots in my stomach when I thought about it, I moved into marathon paperwork mode and focused on that. The last 9 months have been a long paperwork process, sort of like refinancing a house. Lots of to-do lists. Lots of phone calls. Lots of signatures. Lots of double-checking.
Just like those first few months of pregnancy, you can't really tell what, if anything, is happening. But tonight I started re-reading some of my favorite adoption story blogs and hearing about their stories of logging their dossier in China and receiving referrals and it hit home again:
we are getting a baby at the end of this.
Summer 2019: A Precious Pause
When I took this picture I realized at once that it captured the spirit of our summer. The three of them, dancing in the sprinkling rain at the farm. All laughing, about to disintegrate into an argument. Anna actually fell down backwards in the gravel 5 seconds after this shot. No, Sam isn't a chicken. He's wearing a knight's helmet and holding a kaleidoscope, which I am informed makes him a scientist. Obviously.
We started the summer with a super clean play room. I won't show you a picture of what it looks like now... :)
We did So. Much. Drawing. this summer. The house is basically wallpapered in really amazing art. All three of them sort of exploded with talent at once. Also I can't find any of my Sharpies. I'm choosing not to dwell too long on that one.
We had cousins come to visit all summer. No one ever had cooler cousins than us.
Andrew got his very own fish (named Adam), Anna convinced us she should really get her ears pierced BEFORE kindergarten, and we celebrated a hard-won birthday with Grandnana.
The whole summer has been full of so many magical moments of childhood that my camera roll on my phone makes me teary. I admit too that I'm a bit surprised. I'm ending this summer feeling sort of exhausted from the lack of structure and all the... togetherness. Being with these three all the time has driven me to read parenting books with fresh desperation. (BTW, if you are looking for one, I recommend the Whole Brain Child and the books that follow after. Woah. Majorly course correcting our parenting for the better.)
Josh and I reflected this last Christmas that we are probably building the memories that will serve as touchstones for our kids as adults. When they think of their childhoods, they will think of this year, when they were all children.
As always, it seems, we hope/expect/wish that this is the last summer without our baby girl in these pictures. It may not come to pass, but it's possible we could be traveling to China next summer to bring her home. (Dear Jesus, please let it be so!) As we have learned to do, we play, sing, and imagine what she will be like while we wait for our time to come.
Next week Andrew starts 3rd grade, and the week after Anna begins kindergarten. Right after that we will have a memorial for my precious Grandfather who died last week, and all of us Bartholomews will gather again to reflect on the wonderful gift of family that Mom and Dad B gave us. Then before we know it the State Fair will be here in October, then Thanksgiving and Christmas, then birthdays, then Spring Break, and then the end of another school year. And maybe we will get to adopt a daughter. It's enough to make your head spin.
Thank you Jesus for summers, for pauses of all kinds. Thank you for living in the bright and shiny moments of Joy and Belonging and the dark moments of Frustration and Sadness. You never leave us. Hold all us tightly this year, and hold our daughter in China as we hold her in our hearts.
Further than we've ever been
Progress!! Actual progress! Today, we put our i800a application in the mail. This is officially the furthest we have been in the adoption process, with all our delays and restarts. Basically, it's an application requesting pre-approval for our child to become a US citizen upon our adoption of her. It's required to submit to China when we ask to be considered as Prospective Adoptive Parents. Just another step of paperwork to be completed, but it's a new one for us. Here's a picture of the precious thing in the mailbox:
We may wait up to 3 months to hear back from this application, but we are praying for it to move quickly. We are getting impatient to meet this precious person. My favorite line from our homestudy update is this: "Samuel is too young to interview, but joined the discussions about the adoption, asking 'Do we still have to wait more?'" Amen, son!
The number one question we get asked is "When will you be matched with a child?" Unfortunately, we don't really know. There are too many steps between here and there to really know for sure, and a lot of the wait time doesn't depend on us. We (read: Emily, the planner/predictor/controller) learned over the last few years not to get attached to any timelines. But we promise, you will hear (loudly!) from us as soon as we know!
In the meantime, some summer shenanigans:
Anna set up a FREE lemonade and cookie stand at Grammas today and MADE $37! She is donating this round of "profit" to the VBS mission project, but we may put her in charge of fundraising this summer!
Thank you so much for loving on us and caring about this long, long road we are on. We love you so much!
On your birthday
You would be 30 years old today. I wish you had made it. I think 30 is pretty good.
I told you this all the time when you were here, but your birth is the oldest memory I have. I think this is because you joining our family was the first thing I decided was worth remembering forever. When we were little, we were buddies. You let me teach you schoolish things and read aloud to you. As we got older we argued, disagreed, and sharpened each other. As adults we bonded in new ways over my kids and discovered the joy of adult siblings: best friends who know (and share) all your shit.
We are coming up quickly on the 2-year mark since you went on ahead to rest with Jesus. I miss you so much. I wish you could see us all now. I can't say we are better than we were, because we love you so much that your absence is a wound that will never, ever heal. But we are stronger. And the Lord is still with us.
You would be so proud of Momma and Daddy. They bought a new piece of land and built a farm on it just months after you died. It was hard to leave the home we shared with you, but it really was the right thing to do. At the one year anniversary, we had a party in their newly completed house to celebrate Sara and Robin. It had been raining for weeks and it was a muddy mess. The guests had to walk on pieces of plywood just to get to the door. So symbolic of our life at that time, really.
Next week we are going to have the party again. But this year, there is a barn, a chicken tractor, chicks in the brooder, a garden with a fence, 30 blueberry bushes, 20 raspberry bushes, a hen house, eight bee hives and still room to grow. Most amazing of all, there is peace. The whole farm is covered in the kind of peace that holds you where you are, without erasing the feelings you bring to it. The peace at the farm says "It's ok to be sad here. We've done that. It's ok to be joyful here. We've done that too." I don't know how they've done it, but our amazing parents have acted with hope, literally planting it in soggy, muddy, ground, watering it with (so many) tears, and grown good things to sustain us all. It is a wonder to watch.
I wish you could see the kids. Andrew is going to third grade as a reader with a goofy sense of humor. He's planning to build a Cardboard Kingdom this summer with a buddy. You would love that. Anna is about to begin Kindergarten. She literally sparkles with joy where ever she goes, which wouldn't surprise you. Sammy is so much like GrandPapa: a performer, a ham, and a rascal. And so so sweet. They all have pictures of themselves with you in their rooms. Thanks for being such a great Uncle. Even though you weren't here for long, you marked their lives for the better.
Baby Sister will never know you, but I'll tell her about the look on your face when you found out we were planning to adopt her. You were always so excited when we announced we were having a baby. One day about a week after we announced the adoption you were holding Gracie and told me I wanted a baby from China so I could have an Asian Sunrise baby like Sara. Leave it to you to say something inappropriate/affectionate like that.
I can't believe you aren't here. That it's been two years since I've seen you. That I'll live the next 50 years without you. When I see you again I am gonna slug you, I swear.
But like I told Andrew tonight when he was talking about how much he missed you, great grief can only be because of great love, and you loved us so well in all the ways you knew how. We are marked by it forever.
Happy Birthday, little brother. I love you.
Happy New Year!! Yeah, that one sort of got away from me. Here are the highlights so far:
All the kids are older: 8, 5, and THREE!!!
Anna and I went on two adventures. The first was to the Charlotte Ballet with my mom to see a friend dance as Tinker Bell in Peter Pan!
Then the big one: we flew on a plane to see Aunt Cayli and her new baby, Ezra!
The boys did cool stuff too.
Also, Josh has another new job. Can I just take a second to say that I married someone with an amazing work ethic and point out the amazing ways that improves my life on the daily? Josh has been on a career rollercoaster this last couple of years, and it's not always super fun. But he stays positive and he never stops working at whatever he can find to do. Recently that has landed him at Waynesville's new Starbucks store as a shift manager. What started as an "ok for now" job has turned into something that he genuinely enjoys, and his strengths as an employee and leader are being recognized and valued. It's awesome.
But that's not the best part: Starbucks has an adoption benefit for their employees to help with expenses. And it's amazing. When we heard that on his first day, we knew the Lord had sent us the perfect job, even if it wasn't what we expected. Isn't that always the way?
Pray that this little envelope gets safely to it's destination and that we get our FBA clearances back quickly. (PS. If you are keeping score and curious, YES, we did all this before in 2017, but things must be updated. PPS. If you are paying really close attention, YES, we did it all again this past August, but we hit more delays and that round of paperwork is now also expired. Sigh.)
Hopefully this is the year we will have more exciting news to share about our sweet baby girl. Whatever road is ahead, if these people with me, I'm looking forward to it.
Josh and Emily
We hope that by sharing our steps, challenges, and milestones of our adoption, you will see yourself as part of the community we hope to build around our child as she grows up.