Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How God Changes Lives for His Glory, Part 2

Read Part 1 here

A Family for Maria
We prayed about moving forward and committing to a child featured on Reece’s Rainbow. When I went back to the profiles, one of the girls and the boy were no longer there. That left Maria’s profile. The profile that had caused me to sob and to blurt out, “You can be in our family”:

Maria F. Мария Ф.
Brothers and sisters no Date of Birth: September 17, 2007 Gender: Female Eyes: Brown Hair: brown Nature: cheerful, helpful, social
This muffin has a caregiver who loves her dearly.  When they learned of the possibility of finding a family for her, they were so happy and offered the following info about her:  "Maria is very friendly and in her group she helps the caregiver to give the food to children, like they give her cookies, for instance, and say please put to everybody and she does it. If she has one cookie she would divide it into pieces to give to all the people around."
From our facilitator:  Maria was born from a socially strong family, the both parents were highly educated, not too young, they were in registered marriage. The parents were just not able to overcome the fact of appearance of a child with DS. Maria has also had heart problems, and she has had a surgery, which has solved them. Now she is functioning well.   Also she has had problems with intestinal tract and she has had the surgery, which was also successful.

Our original plan was to adopt a little boy. We already had two girls and my son really wanted a little brother (still does :).  We also had never considered adopting a child with Down syndrome.  Next we found out she was in Russia- of all places! We speak Spanish! We knew nothing about Russia and had little desire to know anything about it.  But I had met a couple who had adopted from Russia and had heard their entire adoption story and I felt at peace knowing at least a little about the process.  I love it when God takes things out of our hands and reveals what His will is for us.  Makes it harder for us to mess things up!      

Now, I am a very practical person and it seemed like the logical steps were to find a house with enough room for four children and then start the adoption. But that’s how I knew God was in control. It wasn't practical, but I had peace. It’s not how I would have done it, but I felt so urged that I had to do it out of obedience. So we were ready to commit to Maria’s adoption through the Reece’s Rainbow grant program but I really had no idea how to start. I went on the yahoo group and asked a question about if anyone knew if there were adoption laws about the number of people allowed in 2 bedroom apartment. I received a response that totally hit me in the gut.

Hi Gentry, I don't know the laws BUT I do know our God and if He has put adoption of this little girl on your families heart then you can be confident He has a plan. He is just waiting for you to step out in obedience to His call. He will make a way when there seems to be none. The things that keep you from committing are really just fear put there by Satan to keep you where you are and that child in his grasp.  

I knew then we would move forward to bring Maria home. This girl had my heart! It was like someone had stolen my baby and I was ready to do everything I could to get her back. They don’t call us “Mama Bears” for nothing!       

We used part of the money from my winnings from Wheel of Fortune to begin the adoption process. We paid for our home study, fingerprinting, psychological evaluation and various other documents we needed to collect. We had deadlines to meet in the process and each time we needed a specific amount of money by a specific deadline, God met that need- almost to the dollar.  We never received a $30,000 check for our adoption.  But over 200 people donated to help save Maria’s life.  We stressed a lot about raising the money for our adoption, but when we went to God and poured out our hearts, he gave us peace and helped us to push forward even when the end seemed unattainable. 

When we began our home study, part of the documents require us to show our family income.  Russia has high standards for adoptive families and because of my winnings on Wheel of Fortune, we were able to report that income on our home study.  If we had waited to adopt until after we had bought the house, we likely would not have been approved, because that income would no longer have been in the bank.  I am so glad I listened to God’s voice, even when it seemed impractical.

We also found out that we came for Maria just in time.  There had been several delays in our adoption, most we couldn't avoid, some caused by our move.  But if we had not decided to start our adoption when God told us to, and had waited until the timing was “right”, Maria would have experienced the traumatic experience of being transferred to an adult mental institution. You see, just two months after our first visit she turned 4 years old and as the prosecutor testified in court, she would have been transferred then, where she would have been on her own in regards to dressing herself, feeding herself, toileting and would have had little supervision and little to no caregiver affection.  We thank Jesus for sparing her of this experience- she already had enough trauma during her first 10 months where she was in the hospital after having two surgeries.

But we still didn't have a house.  We had looked out of the area and put offers on two houses, neither which were accepted.  Then my husband found a listing for a 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom house 2 miles from his work.  It was way under price and we thought, what is wrong with it? First, it was a short sale. The owner owed more to the bank than the house was worth. We found out it was a County affordable housing community.  The owner should not have refinanced his house for more than the County allows, but he did and the house was in danger of being foreclosed upon. Second, this house should never have been listed because there is a very long waiting list of families who have turned in preliminary paperwork that the seller can contact. When we went to see it, though, I didn't want it. It was terribly, terribly dirty and neglected. My husband and Realtor convinced me that the cosmetic issues could be fixed and that this was a great deal and we put in our offer. But, another family put their offer in 5 minutes before us.  Several months passed and suddenly we were contacted by our Realtor.  The bank now wanted to consider our offer because the other family “disappeared”.  Except they needed paperwork in 2 days before it would be sold at the county courthouse auction.  Well, we couldn't get that done and appealed to the bank to have a little more time.  We also didn't know that another person wrote a letter on our behalf pleading the bank to take our offer and postpone the auction until they had our paperwork. 

In the meantime, we also found out that rats had gotten into the house and had eaten through drywall and had gone into the attic, and destroyed the air ducts and had been nesting.  There were rat feces along every wall in the house.  There was mold from a leak in the kitchen sink and the wood was warped.  There were no appliances and the carpet would all need to be replaced and the entire house- walls and ceilings would need to be scrubbed and painted.  The entire front yard was a jungle and the vegetation would need to be removed to discourage future critters from taking up residence.  The side yard was used by the dog for a bathroom and there was a huge trash pile along the back fence.  We kept praying that if it was God’s will to have this house, He would make a way for us to afford the repairs and costs. 

It wasn't until February that we received the phone call that our offer had been approved for the house- as we were about to board the cruise ship to Hawaii (I could not sell or postpone the cruise I won on Wheel of Fortune, and it was such a blessing –an anniversary trip much needed in the midst of the adoption process). 

We are so thankful that my husband has a 5 minute commute to work now and usually comes home for lunch, instead of a 45 minute commute down and up a mountainous road with an old car on its last leg. 

We had a month to fix up the house before we needed to move from our apartment and start paying our mortgage.  My mom and sister came to watch the kids and my dad and I started on the house.  My husband would come home at lunch to help. We had to pull all of the kitchen cabinets out, and my dad sanded and painted them all. I painted every wall and ceiling in the house.  I had never done it before, but learned fast.  I had to paint 3 coats of paint on the ceilings because the previous owner had been a smoker.  I think I developed carpel tunnel syndrome because of gripping the roller too hard.  I also felt a lot like Michelangelo with my head cocked back and paint dripping in my eyes, trying to paint those darn ceilings (and they were super high too). 

On the first night we slept in our house, my husband turned to me and said, "I hope we can afford this house." Then he turned over and fell asleep! I, of course, couldn't sleep at all but tried to pray for God's provision.  The next morning he emailed me to say he had just been given a raise! God answered my prayer and reminded me He would provide for us.  

In the end,  we have a beautiful home, with room for our growing family.  It truly was a miracle that we have this house-we are so blessed! 

A couple of months after we moved in I found out we have a lovely Russian couple that live four doors down.  They fled to America 20 years ago because of religious persecution with their 12 children.  After meeting several times and sharing with them about our adoption, they contacted family members and arranged for us to stay with them during our second trip to Russia. It was such a blessing to live with a Russian family and get to know their food and customs- we even went to church with them!  We also have several Ukrainian families in our neighborhood.  Only God could have arranged this!

To God be the Glory
Several months later, I received a phone call from Wheel of Fortune. They wanted to follow up with me and asked how I used the money I had won.  I told them about the house and how we were in the process to adopt Maria.  They were so pleased and asked if I would be interested in sharing my story on their Changing Lives segment. 

For me, my prayer has always been that God would receive the glory.  If bringing attention to my life makes God famous, then I am willing.  Part of the reason that I am sharing this on my blog is so that I will have a written account of what God has done.  I so easily forget and so easily begin to rely on my own strength, instead of focusing on Christ and putting my faith in Him. 

If you are reading this blog, I hope you are able to see that God does miracles. And He does them through ordinary people.  Ask Him what He wants to do through you.  Is He asking you to adopt or be a foster parent?  Is He asking you to be a missionary?  Maybe He is asking you to lay aside your earthly treasures and invest in things that we can’t take to our grave anyway.  Following Christ is such an amazing adventure- a very difficult, sometimes painful- but amazing journey full of hope, love and eternal life! Seek Him!

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you. Matthew 6:33

Monday, October 22, 2012

Regarding the time I was on Wheel of Fortune and won a bunch of money (i.e. How God changes lives for His glory)

Many of you reading this have watched this story unfold over the past 3 years, while some of you are learning it for the first time.  I have posted the videos of my appearance on Wheel of Fortune below  for your reference.  It was very fun and amazing.  But I want to make it very clear from the beginning that this is not about me!  Please forgive me for poor grammar or for not always expressing things the way I would like. Try to look past the errors and remember this as a story that God has written. It is about miracles and about Christ’s redeeming love. Enjoy!

Three summers ago, I received an email from another home schooling mom that Wheel of Fortune was looking for contestants. I had signed up to be a contestant several years before but was never contacted. My husband had always urged me to try to get on the show because I was so good at solving the puzzles. I went to the website and found out they had a new system called the Wheel Watchers Club. Each time you watched, you would enter the bonus round puzzle on your account and you received points. There were other activities you could do to earn more points. After reaching a certain number of points you were entered into the contestant pool. I did this for about a month until school started when I found it difficult to keep up.  Nevertheless, in November I received an email inviting me to audition in Los Angeles 2 weeks later. I started watching as many shows as I could, played online versions and searched the internet for tips on being a contestant.

I was so nervous at the audition. First we had to stand up in a room of 200 people and say our name in a loud projecting voice. I am so thankful for all of my church choir and high school  drama performances! Then we were called on to try to guess a letter and solve the puzzle like in the game.  I guessed a couple of letters and solved and I won a Wheel of Fortune tote bag!

Then we had to take a written test. It had different categories with puzzles with only some letters showing and lots of blanks. It was quite difficult. Then we were given a break. They would consider our test score plus our game trial performance and narrow it down to 40 contestants.  Well I made it through. Then we were called on to stand in the front with 3 other contestants and pretend to spin and compete. I don’t think I did very well on this part. 

However about 2 weeks later I received a letter saying that I would definitely be on a show in the near future. Most contestants wait years, I only waited 2 months! I amped up my studying and often stayed up late. In January I received a call asking me to come down the following week. It helps that I only live two hours away!

During this time the idea of adoption kept coming up. We already had three children and were thinking our family was complete. We had always talked about adoption before, but it seemed impossible under our circumstances. We lived in a small two bedroom apartment with no yard or patio and all three kids were crammed into one bedroom. We had just read about George Muller and his orphanages. It was such a challenging book for my faith! Then I saw the movie The Blind Side. It seemed like the theme kept popping up everywhere. My heart kept feeling stirred. I was afraid my husband would think I was crazy, so I just prayed that God would make it clear what we should do.

We started praying about my appearance on Wheel of Fortune and that whatever the outcome,   God would be glorified. Sure some extra money would be fabulous, but we know our happiness is not in wealth or possessions, but comes from our salvation in Jesus Christ.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-20

The Wheel of Fortune show taping
This was one of the hardest things I have ever done. My nerves were out of control! Six shows were going to be taped in one day and I was going to be on the third one.  During the show, it was hard to concentrate. They kept saying stand this way, look this way, spin the wheel harder, speak louder, clap all the time.  

Wheel of Fortune Part 1:  

So the show started and three puzzles went by and I didn’t win any money. But I kept praying and later found out that my husband was sweating bullets and praying for me the whole time.  Then all of a sudden something happened.  I kept landing on big money and I kept getting multiple letters. And it was the Prize Puzzle. I actually didn’t know I had landed on $3500 because they told us not to look at the wheel. I almost said another letter but quickly realized there were more “D’s”.  That landed me $13,800. Then I solved and got the Prize too- a two week cruise for two to Hawaii! From $0 to $20,886 in 2 minutes!

Wheel of Fortune Part 2: 

The third puzzle was going well and then my mouth repeated the last letter I said, even though my brain was thinking another letter.  (Yes, lots of people have reminded me of my mistake, so you don’t have too. J).  Although I missed the third toss-up, luckily I got another chance.Just as I was getting into it, the timer buzzed and we would have to do speed round. While Pat spun the wheel and explained the rules, I had about 20 extra seconds to study the puzzle and that’s when I figured it out.  That moment seemed divine.  I had been doing so poorly- then all of a sudden it just seemed like things were rolling. (I'm not sure why Pat had such a hard time pronouncing my name- it's Gen-try, not Gent-ry)

Last was the Bonus Round. Before my taping, I sat in the audience and watched the two previous tapings. I did not figure out the bonus round puzzle nor did the contestant.  I was a little intimidated, but kept praying. The theme for the week was Going Green so I had that in the back of my mind.  I had a strategy for picking the letters depending on what letters would come up.  Once the letters in the puzzle appeared, I definitely knew the second word was atmosphere. So it was easy to choose the letters that I knew were there, plus another one just in case. I knew what the puzzle was as soon as all the letters came up! I had told my dad the night before that the category “THING” was the hardest because they always do abstract concepts, not an actual thing like a chair.  Then Pat opened the envelope and I had won $30,000 more! $57,236 in less than 20 min! It felt so surreal.

What do we do with the money?
We started praying about what to do with the money but we mostly were hoping to move into a bigger home.  My husband was doing laundry on Saturdays because I couldn't walk down the street w my 3 little kids toting a heavy laundry basket and with lots of back pain ( I had back surgery several years prior). We didn't have a yard or even a patio for my kids to play outside. 

On one drive out looking at houses my husband all of a sudden said maybe we are supposed to adopt.  I couldn't believe it but I also knew those words must have been inspired by God because it was so much on my heart. But during our search we quickly realized that Santa Barbara CA real estate was way out of our price range. We even looked at mobile homes and we couldn't even afford that!

In the meantime we also attended an adoption conference. There one speaker encouraged us to not be afraid of what God might be calling us to do because of financial reasons. You see we knew we could either buy a house or adopt internationally (which we had always felt called to). So what were we supposed to do? We began looking into foster care/adoption but quickly found out that because of our current housing situation and because our youngest was not old enough, we did not qualify for their program.  We also started researching international adoption. My husband is from Peru and we had always thought about adopting there. It just seemed to make sense. We spoke the language and knew the culture.  As we began looking into the program we found out Peru was only allowing special needs adoptions.  That’s when we became open to special needs orphans. I had worked in a special education day class and because of a back injury had to quit. But I loved that job and loved working with children with special needs. 

So we began to contact agencies that work with Peruvian adoptions.  Through one of the websites, we found Reece’s Rainbow and their grants for special needs adoptions, specifically for children with Down syndrome.  When I started browsing the website with all those faces and profiles my heart was broken and stirred. Who has the right to discard these babies; precious children made in God’s image?  I would browse those web pages for hours. There were two girls and one boy that stood out to me in particular. But since we didn't have a house and we had just received the money (after waiting about 7 months), I wasn't sure if the timing was right.

After a couple of months I felt like God was challenging us to step out in faith. George Muller did it. The money was sitting there. We knew if it was God’s will He would provide the funds for a house and for the adoption. We didn't know how, but we were ready to be surprised by Him again!

~Watch the Changing Lives segment at the end of Wheel of Fortune tonight to see what happened after I won!~

Read Part 2 here

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Some changes

I haven't posted in awhile as we have a crazy life and it's hard to keep up. But I did want to post some notable changes we have seen in Maria before I forget.

Around May or June, about 6-7 months home, Maria stopped speaking Russian. She transferred all of her Russian words into English.  She now speaks more English than she ever did Russian.  I don't think she wants to speak it.  Sometimes we say some Russian words, but she doesn't want to speak it. She understands some words, but she definitely prefers English now.

At the end of September, she seemed to be a little more weepy and clingy. I think she was grieving. In the adoption world, this happens at different times for each child. I'm not sure if there was a trigger, but I think it was as if she realized that everything is different now. She is now staying here and her old life is not coming back.  I don't think she is sad, but I do think when your whole world changes, it can be upsetting.  It only lasted about a week. We also saw some regression with potty issues. She started having accidents, so we had to put her back in diapers.  She is showing some improvement again and is even initiating potty use, so that makes me feel happy for her progress.

I am learning how to be an adoptive mom! Maria talks a lot, but she cannot tell me about the past or what she might be upset about.  I do a lot of guessing and sometimes I read her all wrong! God has been answering my prayers to help me love her and meet her needs (because I don't always know what they are!)

Our fall is busy! Here are the activities Maria is involved in: AYSO soccer, rhythm music class, Occupational Therapy, Awana, Bible Study fellowship and Sunday school. Maria doesn't go up to strangers to get their attention anymore. She stays close to mama and has shown that she feels safest with me. She now goes to three "bible classes" weekly along with her sister, and enjoys them all! And I haven't even mentioned what my other 3 kids are up to!

The one behavior that has not changed has been her rocking.  She rocks to get herself to sleep if she is awoken during the night or as she is coming out of sleep. She also rocks when she is bored.  We are researching ways to help her. One thing that stands out is a lack of serotonin in her brain. This is caused by her needs not being met during the early part of her life (especially the first 10 months, with the added medical trauma). I also just found out that children with DS also have low serotonin. So we are looking into supplements to help her.  We will also begin a new play-based developmental therapy that analyzes her behavior from many different angles and they will set up a therapy plan based on what the therapists observe and from my testimony.