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Those left behind

There’s no doubt our year long wait to hold our daughter in our arms has been hard. But much harder than that is every time we visited her orphanage. Seeing just a few of the roughly one hundred children housed in her institution alone, broke my heart bit by bit. Seeing them wave and grin behind the glass of their rooms, where five to six children sleep, each in their own crib or toddler bed. Seeing the lanky teenagers with Down syndrome, all of whom could have been our daughter in ten years, waiting, still waiting. Some have parents who still visit, and so are not eligible for adoption. One darling, with sparkly shoes and pink painted nails, has a daddy who visits every week with gifts. Nikolina’s two best friends from her little baby room both also have parents who visit, not ready to take them home, and not ready to give up.

But there are the others. The ones that the caregivers keep telling us are available for adoption, with hopeful glances, wondering if maybe we could take two kids with us? I carry Nikolina on our way to the Snoezlen room, while one of the caregivers asks if Joey can walk a sweet, dark haired girl, who marches firmly down the hallway while he holds her hands. The institutes’ special education teacher tells us how far this girl has come, and again mentions, “she’s adoptable.” And my heart breaks just a bit more. Because our arms are full for now, with three kids 3 and under. But this is just one institution in Serbia. One of many. Serbia has five hundred families waiting for “healthy” kids, which means the orphanages have only special needs children. There is only one agency allowed to work in Serbia, and tho their heart is for children with special needs, they struggle to find families willing to take them.

And why? When I first laid eyes on Nikolina, through an intense haze of tears, all I saw was the most perfect, blond haired, deep blue eyed little cherub. From her drunken sailor walk to her almond eyed look of indignation she gives when she is annoyed, she’s entirely darling and utterly perfect. She may not be talking yet, but she gets her point across. She may make a mess eating, but she can do it on her own. Her little heart has had some troubles, but it doesn’t slow down this little fireball. She’ll knock you down if you look at her food even for a moment.

I know not everyone feels like they can take on special needs. I get that. It’s hard. But I think a whole lot more of us could do it than we like to admit. And so when I think about those precious children left behind, the ones who wait, all I see are children. They’re not a diagnosis or an age. They’re children, who belong in families.

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Nikolina Beatrix Josephine!

It is with great joy and pride that we announce the adoption of our darling daughter, Nikolina Beatrix Josephine Tell, on September 23rd in Belgrade, Serbia. We praise God for entrusting us with this precious child and are so thankful that after more than a year of working toward this goal, we can finally say she is officially and forevermore our daughter!

Nikolina – Victory of the People (her birth name and a very popular Serbian name)
Beatrix – She who makes happy (Joey’s proud father pick)
Josephine – Jehovah increases (after my brother, Joseph)

She was born on December, 14th, 2012, and also goes by Nina.

We would also like to take this moment to thank all of you who have prayed, encouraged and given of your time and finances to make our family united today. We are humbled to have so many people take part in our story. You all have been part of changing her life and our life and we are so so thankful.

Today is just the beginning of forever for our life as a family, and we could not be more excited for the future ahead of us!

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Blessed Be Your Name

Seven years ago, on September 10th, 2008, my brother Joey passed away. It was without a doubt the beginning of one of the most transforming periods of my life. All my deepest faith in God’s beautiful love and unending providence stem from that pivotal event and all the events that followed. In the aftermath of his death the song Blessed Be Your Name was like my lifeline. Each line spoke deeply to my soul and spoke the truth that was being wrought by fire in to my heart and soul. To this day I cannot sing it without fierce ugly tears. I can remember singing it the morning of Joey’s funeral, playing it on repeat till I thought I couldn’t cry another tear. And so yesterday, as I found myself standing in a room of Serbian Christians, worshiping in a language I cannot speak, but a language that I love from my heart, it felt like the most perfect rightness that we began to sing Blessed Be Your Name. Seven years later, two days after the anniversary, I stand, seeing all that God has wrought in me from that one event. A husband I have only because of my brother’s life and death. A life and ministry in Thailand because of the call to ministry from a life affected by disability. And now tomorrow we meet the daughter that we are adopting, whose middle name will be Josephine, after my brother, the first child my parents adopted.

I know I will forever treasure that memory, standing with my Serbian brothers and sisters in Christ, days away from making this beautiful Serbian girl my daughter. And my heart can only cry, blessed be your name. For God is faithful, and His plan is so perfect. Even though we had to delay our visitations for an entire week, His timing was perfect. We had time to rest, to regroup, to experience Serbia in so many ways that we could not have had we been in the thick of visits. Much as my heart has wanted to finally hold my daughter in my arms, I can see God’s hand in us waiting, allowing us this gift, to know and love Serbia. And the pinnacle was a day of worship, prayer and teaching with our Serbian brethren. That is a gift I could have never even begun to have imagined, nor longed for. And that’s how the best gifts from God are. We can’t even begin to imagine that they exist, and yet He gives them to us.

On Friday night we got the email confirmation that our document was waiting for us. And so on Monday morning we go to the Embassy to retrieve that, then the ministry for a meeting with our daughter’s team, and then we go and meet her for the first time. Finally, we meet our daughter. And I know that she will be a gift that will be beyond my ability to imagine. A gift to our family, and a gift to our community. And I cannot wait.

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Blessed be Your Name

We’re here!

On September 6th, 2014 we received an email with a short bio and photo of a beautiful little girl. On September 5th, 2015 we arrived in Belgrade, Serbia to adopt that little girl! It was quite a trip! The Monday prior Joey and I had departed for Krabi, Thailand, to enjoy a pre-emptive five year anniversary getaway before we had three kids and finding childcare would be infinitely more difficult. We got back to Chiang Mai on Friday morning and left for Bangkok Friday evening. We had one night in Bangkok, in a hotel near our airport. We did a pizza party picnic and tried to make it a fun evening. We were all up bright and early for our flight to Moscow and then Belgrade the next day! For some reason they wouldn’t let us check our baby bed so we had to carry that and the rest of our carryons with us on to the airplane. Joey was a champ!

Bangkok to Moscow was a long ten hours, as Cordelia was sick and hardly slept at all. But from Moscow to Belgrade she slept the whole way! It was interesting to see the friendliness of the people in line for the flight from Moscow to Belgrade. Little grandmothers kept smiling at us, and on the flight one said how she wished she could help with the girls. In line for the toilet I was urged to go ahead, and the nice gentleman next to me kept reassuring me every time Cordelia would start to move in her sleep and kick him. It definitely made me feel a warmness for Serbians even before we landed in Belgrade. It was after midnight by the time we got to our apartment.

Our local host is a delightful man, who has helped 15 adoptive families prior to us. He’s very well informed and so very gracious. He has us in a lovely three bedroom two bathroom flat that is just divine. Since we will be here quite a few weeks, it’s really nice to have all the room to get comfortable. We have a little mini mart just across the street from our building, a great shop that even has fresh produce! We’ve been loving enjoying all the things we can’t eat in Thailand, or at least can’t eat for an affordable price. I’ve been loving the blueberries, peaches and nectarines! We’ve been eating lots of beef and lamb too. Serbian fare is very big on meat, as well as salads.

We are still waiting on a document from the U.S. embassy and cannot begin our process until we have that. So our days have been spent hanging around the flat, going across to the mini mart, and then about one outing per day with our host. We’ve eaten out three times now, all absolutely delicious, but otherwise we’ve cooked at home. Joey has been awesome about making meals so I feel like I’m on holiday! Jet lag is still in full force so we’ve all been going to bed rather early. The kids are getting a bit stir crazy and it does take creativity to keep them busy. We only have a small selection of books and toys because we knew we wanted to bring a lot of mementos back with us for our daughter.

We did have one meeting so far with the Serbian ministry. They told us a bit more about the situation here, more about our daughter’s institution, and they also showed us about 10 photos and 8 videos of our little beauty. We are so so pleased with the obvious care and love that Serbia has for it’s vulnerable children. They are so guarded with her information. We couldn’t keep any photos or video, but once the adoption if final we will get all the files and a whole memory book for her. Everything we’ve read and heard just makes us so much more pleased with the Serbian program. We’re only about the 86th family to adopt from Serbia since they opened for adoption, and only the 3rd post Hague Treaty family! Quite remarkable given what a great program it is!

Although we want nothing more than to finally start visitation with our girl, we have enjoyed the added time to learn more about Serbia. We found out that the Ilyrians were some of the first people in Serbia, which is fun given we have our own little Ilyria. Today we went and toured a park and a fortress. There was a clock tower there that had been built by the Turks. The most remarkable fact so far is that the council of Nicea actually happened in Serbia! What a rich history. We can’t wait to share more of this history with our sweet girl. I had been praying for God to give me a deep love and appreciation for her homeland and God is answering that in a big way! We have more sightseeing on Thursday and Friday and then Friday night our friend Katie and her son Valor arrive. My sweet parents and our friend Shannon all pitched in for someone to come watch the girls during our first week of visitation at the institution. Our sweet friend Katie volunteered to come, along with her little baby Valor, whom our girls love. She will be here with us from Friday to Friday and it will be SO wonderful to have another adult to entertain the babies. We’re joking she’s our adoption doula, haha!

I hope to blog more regularly while we’re here. Even tho I’m updating Facebook a ton, I want others who may choose Serbia to adopt their child to be able to have a better picture of the experience. We are so very pleased with the program and praying that more families would be completed through Serbia!

When we’re home

Many of our friends here in Chiang Mai have asked how they can help once we’re home. I’ve really been touched by people’s eagerness to learn more about Down Syndrome, attachment, and how to support a newly adoptive family. I think a lot of times the world of special needs adoption can seem so foreign and so scary when you haven’t been exposed before. We totally get that and that’s why we have really appreciated when people have asked questions. To make it easier to know how to support us and maybe others who end up adopting in the future, we wanted to sum up in one post the things we’ve been sharing with people when they ask questions.

The biggest transition for our family when we get home will be the work of building a solid attachment and trust between our new daughter and us. She has lived almost three years without a family. Even though we have been very happy with the level of care she has received, it’s not the same as a family. If you have kids you know that any baby knows that when they cry, their parent will meet their need. However, for many children who were in an orphanage, this isn’t something they have experienced. They haven’t had their basic needs met by a consistent caregiver. They don’t know the same trust that most children are blessed with. And so we have to work hard to build that knowledge in our daughter’s heart and mind. Because of this, we will be implementing some parenting practices that are highly recommended by the experts to build attachment in adoption. When we get home to Chiang Mai we will be trying our best to keep our daughter home for the first few weeks. We want her to know that this new place isn’t just one in a string of new locations. It’s home, and a family. What this will look like is that for the first few weeks one of us will always be home with our daughter. Joey still has to work, and I still have to stay sane, so we will be trading off, but the goal is for me to be the main caregiver at first. We won’t be taking her to church, playgroups, the grocery store, restaurants, anything like that, until we can tell that she is adjusting well. That said, Ilyria and Cordelia still need out of the house, and they would love a play date if anyone is up for it! I’ll talk more about that later in the practical side of supporting us.

Another way to build attachment is for us to be the ones to always meet her needs at first. She is accustomed to having many different people caring for her, instead of just a mom and a dad. This means that we will be the only ones to hold her, feed her, comfort her and care for her. That doesn’t mean you have to ignore her if you happen to be over, but it means that we ask you to hold back all the hugs and cuddles that you will be tempted to dish out, because believe me, this kid is adorable! Maybe you can talk to her while she sits in mama’s lap, or you can smile while daddy is holding her. But if she reaches for you, please don’t pick her up. Please be part of teaching her that mommy and daddy are the ones to meet her needs. This is important for so many reasons, not least of which is safety. She is so friendly and outgoing, and although it’s endearing, it’s also dangerous to lack a healthy fear of strangers. Gradually, as she learns that we are mom and dad and we’re not going anywhere, then you can start to show all the love and affection we know you feel for her. For now, if she needs a snack, needs help with putting her shoes on, any of these things that seem like common sense to help out and give us a break, just remember that we’ve missed nearly three years of meeting the basic needs. It’s our job, our honor, and we’re excited to finally be doing it for her.

Every child is unique and we won’t know for awhile how she is doing with attachment and bonding. But we want to do everything we can to start off well with positive parenting to help her adjust well. As we all get to know each other we may make adjustments. Our time of cocooning may be shorter or longer than expected. We don’t know yet. But we know that God knows and that even now He is preparing all of our hearts to be a family, a family that He has created. If you’re not sure what our current rules are, please ask. We’re happy to help you know what is okay at this point, and what we still need to be cautious about.

You may now be wondering, well if I can’t help with her, how can I help? Lots of ways!

  • Joey and I will need people to ask us how we’re doing, offer to pick up groceries, or maybe bring by dinner. Running errands is a great way to get an excuse to come see her too.
  • Ilyria and Cordelia won’t be getting as many outings, since Joey will be at work pretty quickly, and I won’t be able to take all three kids out and about. Offering to pick them up for a playdate or a special outing with just one or both of them would be a huge blessing and be a way to remind them how special they are. Joey and I plan to focus a lot of one on one time with them too.
  • Don’t stop inviting us to stuff! Maybe we can’t all attend the birthday party, cookout, zoo trip or

    หมูกระทะ, but that doesn’t mean some of us can’t come! Remember to still ask, if only to remind us that we still have friends who love and miss us. In that same vein, try and remember to invite us to adult outings. We will both need time away and adult conversation.

  • Most of all, give us time. I remember when my parents first adopted that many people disregarded the importance of attachment, or were to quick to judge that the child seemed adjusted and my parents must be dragging it out to suit themselves. Right now we need support and for people to trust that we’re trying our best to be mindful and careful in all of our decisions. And we will be the ones who know our daughter and see all aspects in order to make decisions. We appreciate you being understanding.
  • Pray for us! This whole process has required much prayer, and the need won’t stop once the legal paperwork is done. Now is the time to make the adoption fully real in all of our hearts. It’s a process that takes time and prayer.

Now, I’ve covered a bit about attachment. But many of our friends have asked about Down Syndrome. They haven’t met someone with Down Syndrome before, or at least they haven’t had them in their life on a regular basis.

Well the first thing that I would tell you is that Down Syndrome is a small part of our daughter. First and foremost she is a little girl, created in God’s image, and fully loved by God and us. She’s just like any other child, who loves to play, be loved on, and cared for. I suspect she will love cuddles and dancing and singing and laughing. She might do things a little slower than her peers, and she may never quite catch up. We know she’s nonverbal right now, but she is already walking! Kids with Down Syndrome often have low muscle tone which means it’s harder to walk, talk and do other things involving your muscles. She will be in Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy as soon as we can get that all squared away, and once she has had some time to settle in. And she’s going to have two of the very best therapists she could ever ask for, Ilyria and Cordelia! As a typical sibling I know that there is nothing like a typical sibling to get a child with special needs to strive for success! She will be climbing out of her crib, sneaking into the fridge and coloring the walls with markers in no time, thanks to her sisters.

We will have to be mindful of certain things. She has a heart condition so we need to make sure she doesn’t get overheated (I know what you’re thinking… #thailand). She may become easily overstimulated, so sometimes we might need to go to a quieter area, take a break during an activity, or leave an event early. But you know what? That just means she is a lot like Joey because HE is always needing to take a break from social situations and he has to recharge every day from being overstimulated by people. So I guess introverts can relate!

There are lots of great resources out there about Down Syndrome. I’ve compiled some of my favorite videos below!

A great video  that gives lots of information and practical insight into being friends with someone with Down Syndrome. It’s meant for kids, but I think adults will enjoy it too!
Click Here

Dear Future Mom, a video to make you cry!
Dear Future Mom

And Father’s Day one to make all the dads cry too!
Father’s Day

And just because it’s my hands down favorite video… a Down Syndrome Adoption Video!
Sunflower May

A day at first grade for a girl with Down Syndrome
Rosie!

As the last video says, that little girl defines Down Syndrome, it doesn’t define her. The same is true of our daughter. Get to know her. I think you will be pretty enchanted with her.

Tickets are booked!

Flag_of_Serbia.svgWe have a travel date! We leave Chiang Mai for Bangkok on the 4th of September and spend the night in Bangkok before our flight to Moscow and then Belgrade on the 5th. We will have Sunday to settle in to the place our agency has for us to stay, and then have our meeting on the 7th…. and hopefully meet our daughter that day! Everything else is less planned. We’ve been told to plan to stay 21-25 days in country to finalize the adoption and have her new Serbian passport issued in her new name, and to get her U.S. visa. We did recently find out that it’s very important we take her to the U.S. first, before returning to Thailand. We need to apply in the U.S. for her U.S. passport and her visa to come to Thailand. After a lot of thought and prayer we decided that I would take all three kids to the U.S. while Joey returns to Thailand. We have some major work commitments and we’re not sure how long the process in the U.S. will take.The hope is that we can be home before October 29th when Cordelia will turn two and can no longer be a lap baby.

We’re looking at about $2000 in extra costs. We’re so thankful for how God has provided, and know He will continue to do so. You can still give through our God’s Grace Adoption Ministries account, if you fee led. Remember, we’re down the list of names, Joseph and Jasmine Tell – Thailand.

Click to Donate Through GGAM

We’ve seen so many miracles along this journey, and one day soon we will finally be able to share her name, which I think is one of miracles that has meant the most to me. I am continuing to remind myself of all that God has done because this last part of our journey feels scary for me. I’ll be taking three children to the U.S. and then three children back to Thailand. Our ticketing is complicated because I’ve been strongly advised to fly her through Chicago for immigration purposes. We also are worried about booking tickets before we have her Serbian passport so they may have to be last minute from Belgrade to Chicago, which means more expensive. The flight I will be flying doesn’t get in till rather late either, so I will need to take the kids to a hotel and fly to Arizona the next morning. If I can get there on a week day then I hope to go the very next day to Tucson where there is a Passport Center that does expedited passports, whith proof of travel within 14 days or need of a visa within 4 weeks. We have frequent flyer miles that we can use to fly back to Chiang Mai, praise God, so that will save us considerable amounts of money, and allow us to book very easily changed tickets! Our prayer is that I can get us home the last week of October, before the Joni and Friends team comes for the Wheels for the World distributions. We covet your prayers for us. We’re approaching a very big transition for a family, one we’ve prayed and longed for for over a year now, but one that will be full of much joy and hardship. I’m nervous about traveling around the world with three children, including one who has just met me and speaks an entirely different language. Joey’s heart is sad about being away from all of us for several weeks. However, in our moments of worry we’re comforted by how God’s hand has been so evident during this whole time. And much of that has been through our dear friends and family who have so beautifully supported and encouraged us. I’ve said it before but I will say it again, you all have been integral to our story, you have been vital in bringing our daughter home, and because of that you’re all part of her story. We love you all! Our specific prayer points are below:

  • Please pray that even now God would be preparing our daughter’s heart to join our family.
  • That our time in Serbia would be full of many precious moments of bonding.
  • Comfort for Joey’s heart to be separated from us.
  • OVERWHELMING grace, patience, peace, energy, hope and everything else needed to transports three kids three and under to the USA, and then to Thailand.
  • For supernatural guidance in all the legal aspects, especially citizenship and immigration, and that everything would happen smoothly and seamlessly in order for us all to be reunited as soon as possible.
  • For the months following our adoption, as we ALL experience transition and adjustment. Also prayer for wisdom as we try to do things now to make that transition easier on all of us.

Thank you again for all you do and all you are to us! We cannot wait to finally show you our daughter’s sweet face! And I just want to scream it from the rooftops that we will finally get to hold our daughter, September 7th!

The Home Stretch

Dear friends, as you know, we are in the proccess of adopting a young girl with Down Syndrome from Serbia. We are currently waiting for our I-800A and then all of our paperwork will go to Serbia, and then we hope to travel in the fall to bring our daughter home!

I’d like to share a short video with you that shares why adoption is so close to our hearts, and how my brother (the very first of seven children my parents adopted) made all the difference in my life. With Joey’s memory we are now embarking on our own adoption journey.

 

We still have about $7,300 left in costs. This includes our airfare (which could be about $1,000 per person, or as low as $600 depending on time of travel. We are praying for lower!) housing while in Serbia ($2,000 includes translators, transportation, and place to stay for three weeks) our daughter’s passport, medical exam, and the $900 post adoption fee from our agency. If we can travel before October we won’t have to buy Cordelia a ticket, and that will greatly reduce our costs! So far it’s all been covered by selling the Thai pants, and our savings from the summer, and a few gifts from family and friends. Because we’re already living on support as fulltime missionaries to Thailand, raising money for our adoption has been a daunting task. When we first began the process, $20,000 seemed like an unattainable goal! By the grace of God, with the fundraiser and saving we have already paid $12,000+ in fees! That’s HUGE! We still have $1,600 in savings toward the adoption too. Now tho, we really need your help! God’s Grace Adoption Ministry has granted us a $2,500 matching grant. That means that if people will donate $2,500 we will end up with $5,000 to finish paying for the adoption! GGAM allows you to donate through them, gain a tax deduction, and then once our daughter is in our custody, they will reimburse all of our final costs! This is HUGE! We could potentially have this adoption completely paid for!
Would you consider giving toward this grant? ANY amount will be a blessing. By giving just $5, $10 or $20 you will be part of our daughter’s story, part of uniting us as a family! So many of you already support us as missionaries to Thailand, and so it’s humbling to ask you to give further.  So here’s the home stretch. $2,500, turned into $5,000. Compared to $12,000, that’s nothing! Would you please consider giving? If not giving, would you consider sharing about our need on Facebook? With your church? Small Group? Family? We need you to spread the word! Donating is SIMPLE!
Go to https://ggam.org/support/
Type in your info. It’s totally secure! GGAM is a Christian, nonprofit ministry that strives to help families adopt. Your information is completely secure. Then where it asks “Who would you like to help?” click and look for Joseph and Jasmine Tell- Thailand. We’re toward the bottom with the other “T” families. Select our name and then continue with the donation process.

And then, smile a big smile as you think about the fact that you actually just gave twice as much because it’s been DOUBLED! I mean, how great deal is that?!?!? Your $5 just became $10, or your $100 just became $200!

Now, after you’ve done that, please consider SHARING the need!