Monday, May 16, 2016

Happy Dance!!

If you had been in my house about an hour ago, you would've witnessed my happy dance.  My kids thought it was hilarious, and probably a little embarassing.  Aedan wanted to get it on video and post it on Facebook.  Luckily for me, and all of you, he had no access to any camera!  So why was I doing my entertaining little dance?  Because...drum roll please.....my I800-A arrived today!!!!!!  For those unfamiliar with adoption terminology, the I800-A is an important piece of paper granted by USCIS (immigration), giving permission to bring a child into this country.  It's the last piece of paper needed to complete our dossier.  Yes, our dossier was already sent, in hopes that someone will take an early look at it.  But without it, we can't be matched with any child.  Now that we have it, the ICAB will thoroughly read our dossier (hopefully someone has already at least glanced at it) and decide if they need any more information from us.  Once they are satisfied, we will be matched.  Then back to USCIS we go for the 800-A, then passport and visa have to be issued, and then we can travel.  It's still months away, and all that can take an unreasonably and inexplicably long time, BUT GOD.  God can and does move mountains to get children home!  See, I have prayed and prayed that this approval would come quickly, but I wasn't letting myself believe it actually would.  Based on other people's timelines recently, I was *sure* it was going to take "forever."  Certainly longer than 6 weeks and 4 days!  But God is so good.  Even in my doubt, even in my weakness, HE is faithful!  It's so easy in this process to become overwhelmed and anxious.  Almost all of it is beyond our control, and it involves so much waiting, so much unknown.  But I have to continually remind myself that my God is in control, and He makes it all happen in His perfect time.  I have to trust Him, even when it seems like things aren't going to go my way, or when things are much harder or taking much longer than I like.
So now I will pray for a faster-than-usual matching, with no additional paperwork required!  And after that happens, I'll believe God for fast-fast-fast visa and passport.  I am doing my very best to believe God that we will get our little girl home this year.  It would take a miracle, but lucky for me, I serve The Living God who still does miracles.  Especially where orphans are concerned!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Trash Bags are for Trash

Remember Toy Story 3?  Remember the scene where Andy is packing for college, and he puts all his toys into a garbage bag?  All except for Woody, of course.  Anyway, he starts to put the toys in the attic for storage, then gets distracted and sets the bag down on the floor.  Mom comes along and mistakes the bag for trash, and to the curb it goes.  You can't blame Mom, of course.  Trash bags are meant for trash, after all.  Later, after Woody rescues the toys from the garbage truck, they make their way to a box destined for a daycare.  Woody tries to convince them to go back, that Andy meant for them to go in the attic.  But no one buys it.  Andy put them in a trash bag; he must have been throwing them away.  Trash bags are meant for trash, after all.
So why am I writing about Toy Story and the trash bag scene?  May is Foster Care Awareness Month.   I don't know if you're aware, but when a child is taken into foster care, they are given a trash bag to carry their belongings in.  A trash bag.  Right now, trash bags are an important thing in my house.  I have 219 of them filled with shoes for our shoe drive.  But I would never consider using those same trash bags for my kids' stuff.  For instance, I wouldn't send James to school with his lunchbox and homework in a trash bag.  I wouldn't send them to baseball with their gear in one either.  I would not make Liana go to Girl Scout camp with her clothes in one.  And neither would any of you.  And yet, kids everywhere are forced to do just that.  They have to leave their homes, endure trauma, and they aren't even given the dignity of real luggage.
You and I can change that!  It doesn't take much.  A small duffel bag, a backpack, or a drawstring bag packed with some essentials (hygiene items) and a few small comfort items (stuffed animal or blanket, coloring book and crayons) will make a world of difference for a child whose world is being turned upside down.  From now until the 25th, our orphans' ministry will be collecting bags to give to kids going into care.  You can bring your bag to our Friends of Adoption Picnic on Saturday, May 21st.   Everyone is welcome to attend, even if you aren't a foster or adoptive parent.  If you can't attend, you can still donate a bag.  I'll be taking them to the county office on the 26th.  If you are reading this and aren't local, you can still take part in ending the trash bag trauma.  Call your local county office or foster care agency.  They'll be more than happy to take bags for kids in their care.  If you are local and want to donate a bag or two, please let me know!  I'd love to take a whole van full of bags and show the love of Jesus in a real and tangible way.  Thanks, friends!

27Do not withhold good from those who deserve it
when it’s in your power to help them.
28If you can help your neighbor now, don’t say,
“Come back tomorrow, and then I’ll help you.”  Proverbs 3

14What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  James 2


Wednesday, March 30, 2016

So What's With the Shoes?

At the end of my last post I mentioned needing about 6,500 more pairs of shoes.  I didn't elaborate since I had already written a short novel.  But if you're new to our journey, you might be wondering, Why on earth does she need that many shoes???  And that is a very valid question!  So let me explain.
I first heard about the Angel Bins Shoe Drive fundraiser a few years ago, when a couple I went to college with held one for their adoption.  I thought it was a great idea, and decided if we ever adopted internationally again, we should do it too.  Little did I know...  A company called Angel Bins, based in California, pays people for used shoes.  (It's unclear to me how exactly it works, since they are a for-profit company, but that's ok.)  Then they take those shoes and send them to developing nations where local people sell them to earn money for themselves.  It's a win-win for everyone.  The only catch is they require a minimum of 10,000 pounds.  And 10,000 pounds of shoes translates to roughly 10,000 pairs, as an average pair of shoes weighs a pound.  As you can imagine, 10,000 pairs is a LOT of shoes.  I must admit, I seriously underestimated the work it would take to collect that many shoes!  Once we have all the shoes collected, paired, and bagged, Angel Bins will send a tractor trailer to us.  We will load at least 400 black trash bags into the truck, and a driver will deliver it to California.  The current rate for shoes is $0.40/lb.  So we are looking at $4,000, if not more.  That's a very successful fundraiser for not that much work, really.  Yes, it's a long process, and it can be time consuming to rubber band or tie all those shoes together.  And we are totally depending on other people, many of them strangers, to give us their shoes.  But we have several great friends who are working hard to collect shoes for us too, and we are so thankful!  We could never make this goal on our own.  Our local paper even ran a story about us and our shoe drive.  We are getting the word out there any way we can, and the shoes are coming steadily.  But at the rate they are coming, it's going to take many more months to reach 10,000.  Which is why I NEED YOUR SHOES!!!!  All kinds of shoes are accepted - tennis shoes, dress shoes, heels, sandals, boots, cleats, kids's shoes, adult shoes.  The only things we can't accept are golf shoes and metal cleats.  We also can't use shoes that have holes or worn out soles.  Remember, these shoes are going to be someone's livelihood, so they need to be in good shape!  If you are local, or sort-of local, to Pittsburgh, please consider not only cleaning out your own closets, but asking all your friends and family to do the same.  If you'd like a flyer to post somewhere, I can email you one.  If you need us to pick up your collection, we'd be glad to.  Otherwise, you can bring them to us in Plum.  If you need to contact me, you can email me at merissayusko@hotmail.com.  And if you're not local enough to give us your shoes, you can always donate via the link on this blog. :)  We need dollars as much as we need shoes!  Thanks for helping us reach our goal and bring our precious girl home!!!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

This is My Story

I really like reading other people's stories about adoption - how it all worked out, how the kids are doing, their struggles, successes, and how God has been faithful through it all.  Maybe you'll like reading our story.  Maybe it will encourage you in your own adoption journey. I hope so!  Since I haven't blogged in a terribly long time, there's a lot of story to catch up on.  If you'll stick with me, you'll be up to date by the time you get to the end.  And I'll try and keep current from now on!

So if you don't already know, we are adopting again!!  Some time last year, Jason started asking me when we were going to adopt again.  I dragged my feet for a while.  I can't even give a reason why, but I did.  Late summer I was ready to get on board and we started searching our state listing.  After we adopted James, Jason said our next adoption was going to be from foster care.  So I looked frequently at adoptpakids.org.  In the meantime, I saw a post on Facebook advocating for little girl in China.  That obviously didn't work out, but she had some physical issues and was unable to walk.  We talked seriously about adopting a child with such a severe need, but since it wasn't going to be an option, the issue was dropped.  That was Labor Day weekend.  I kept looking at the foster care list, but for a number of reasons we decided that was not the right fit for us at this time.  Not long after that, our previous case worker from Christian Adoption Services, Jenica, posted on Facebook that she had the files of 7 kids on her desk, and did anyone want to see one?  It may have been 9, but it wasn't many.  I had been looking at that month's Special Home Finding List, which is the Philippine listing of kids with special needs, sibling groups, and older children.  There are well over 100 kids on this list.  Two little girls had caught my eye.  I asked for the first one, even though she was younger than what we really were looking for.  Her file was one of the few Jenica had.  I read it, and it was very similar to James'.  She was adorable, but very young, with a long list of needs.  So I asked if she had the file of the other girl, who was a bit older.  Wonder of wonders, she had that file too!  A little girl in a green dress with a big smile, named Apple.  Yes, Apple, like the fruit.  She is now 6 years old.  Apple has spina bifida.  She doesn't walk.  She has no control of her bladder or bowels, and likely never will.  But her file said she can crawl on hands and knees.  Still, for our very active family, this was a concern.  We talked about it, Jason didn't say NO WAY, and we asked  if there was any way to get a video of her to see exactly what kind of mobility she has.  I was told that we could ask the ICAB, but not to expect anything.  That was Thursday.  By the end of the weekend we were pretty sure she was to be ours, but Monday morning when I opened my email, there were not one, but two videos!  Jenica told me that NEVER happens.  It had to be God.  And she really can "move fast her body on hands and knees" like her file says.  She can also go up and down stairs, climb into her wheelchair and wheel herself around, and get from the wheelchair to a regular chair.  It seems that it's only from her knees down that she cannot use.  We committed to her and sent the preliminary paperwork.  The Philippines has changed its process since we adopted James.  It used to be that if you submitted a letter of intent for a child, that child's file was put on hold for you and no one else could pursue that child.  Now, however, every agency can submit a family for a particular child and the ICAB will decide which family can submit their dossier.  That process can take months, and at the end you might not be chosen and have to start over.  So we had the option of starting all the paper work so that it would be ready, or wait and see if we were chosen.  We got started, but in just one month we had the green light to pursue this adoption.  Again, only God.  That was November.  Fast forward.  Our wonderful social worker, Ernie, came in January for our home study visit.  We filled out paperwork, got our clearances, filled out more paperwork, and waited for the home study to be approved.  On March 7, it was, and I had it in my hands a few days later.  Last Friday our dossier was sent to the Philippines, and this past Wednesday I sent in our I800-A, which is for immigration.  So everything is moving right along in that aspect.  We are ahead of where we were at this time with James, so it's *possible* we could get her by the end of this year.  But that's only if everything goes absolutely perfectly.  God CAN, I'm quite sure!
What God can also do is bring us 10,000 pairs of shoes and all the money needed.  I can easily become overwhelmed when I think about the numbers, and how far we are from what we need.  But God is good, He is faithful, and He moves mountains to put orphans in families.  If you want to partner with us and the the Lord in giving this precious girl a family, you can!  You can give us all the shoes in your house that no one wears.  You can ask all your friends and family for their unwanted shoes too!  We still need about 6,500 pairs.  You can also give.  The shoes will get us a good sum of money, but we are no where near the end, and we have several fees that need to paid right now.  You can give to us directly, cash or check, or through our Pure Charity account if you want it to be tax-deductible.  Here is the link for that: https://www.purecharity.com/jason-and-merissa-yuskos-adoption.
Most of all, you can pray for us!  Adoption is hard, and this part of the process is only the beginning. Thanks for reading, thank you for praying, and thank you for giving!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

What I Really Want to Say...

About foster care and adoption!  I thought about saving this post until tomorrow after church, but I hope that by reading it beforehand, your heart might be better prepared for what the Lord will speak to you if you listen.  (If you don't go to MAOG, the Lord can still speak to you about this matter!)

Tomorrow morning in both services a video about foster care will be shown.  And then, in the first service, I get about 30 seconds to say something about it and invite people to the info table we've had set up all month.  Obviously, I cannot possibly say everything I have to say in that time.  Thus, this blog.  So what I would say is this…

People often question those of us who adopt internationally, "Why did you adopt from another country? Aren't there kids in America who need homes?  Shouldn't we take care of them first?"  These are the wrong questions.   The correct question is, "What does God want me to do to care for orphans and widows?" Because He does want all of us to do something.  Yes, there are kids in America who need homes.  Hundreds of thousands of them, in fact.  And Y.E.S., we need to take care of them.
People say, "But I'm not called to adopt or foster."  And maybe that is the case.  But my question to you, if you say that, is, "Did you ever ask?"  Or did you just assume?  If you did ask, and the answer was no, that's fine.  But that doesn't let you off the hook.  There are plenty of other ways to be involved in orphan care.  But if you haven't asked, or if you haven't ever even considered asking, I'm asking you, begging you, pleading with you on behalf of waiting children everywhere: Pray about it!!!!!! Be open.  Listen and then DO. God has a part for you in the world of orphan care.  Maybe, just maybe, that part includes foster care and/or adoption.  :)
Because ORPHANS. NEED. FAMILIES.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Change of Plans

I wouldn't exactly call myself a planner.  If a friend says, "Hey let's get together tomorrow," I say OK! and wait to see how it all unfolds.  But if I mention said conversation to my husband, he drills me with a dozen questions.  "Where? When? What food is involved?  How can you make plans and not know any of this stuff???" And he keeps asking until I have answers.  Kind of drives me crazy. Drives him crazy, too. :)
But for the last 2+ months I've had a plan for James.  That plan included him attending Western PA School for the Deaf for a half day, finishing out this school year and ESY in preschool and then moving to kindergarten in the fall.  When I informed the school district that this was what I wanted, they were less than enthusiastic and very slow to get the ball rolling.  I'll not bore you with all the details of the inefficient process used to place kids with special needs, but suffice it to say that it's quite aggravating when you are watching the school year tick away and nothing seems to be happening.  Everything was settled on the WPSD end of things, and James asked almost daily if he was going to school.  Fast forward to this week.  I (finally) had my meeting with the "team" of people involved in determining James's placement on Monday.  They read the eval report to me (that I had already read 3 times myself) and then asked what I thought.  I told them what I wanted and why.  I had my nice list of things just to make sure I didn't forget something if I got upset.  Then they asked why I hadn't considered the other deaf school in our area, DePaul.  I explained, again, why I wanted him at WPSD.  NOT DePaul.  (The main difference between the two schools is that WPSD is ASL based, but supports kids with hearing aids and implants with spoken language and speech therapy, while DePaul is an all oral school.  There is no sign language happening in that school.  They teach kids to utilize HAs and CIs and to speak to the best of their ability.)  Then they proceeded to tell me that they were recommending he attend DePaul.  And was I willing to go and visit, and would I like them to set up a tour, and would I like one of them to go with me???  Um,  no thanks, I'm a big girl and I can go by myself.  Anyway… I agreed to go, figuring that if I was cooperative with what they wanted, when I came back and said I still wanted him at WPSD they would be more likely to listen.  So I went home and set up a tour for Thursday.
Here's where things went awry.  We went to DePaul.  The school that doesn't sign.  And we decided to give it a try.  (Insert slight freak out here!)  My other children strongly objected to this sudden change of mind. "But he needs sign!" Said the child who signs the least out of everyone in the house.  "But you said he's never going to this school!" and "I never change my mind."  (Oh, don't I know that!)  But here's the thing.  We will still sign.  No one is taking that away from James.  But signing is a skill he can learn just as easily in a few years (or in one year, if this doesn't work out) as he can now.  Listening and speaking, that's a different story.  Yes, WPSD would give him spoken language along with sign language.  But that means he can ignore the spoken language if he chooses, since that would be the easier route.  DePaul is focused and intensive spoken language and speech.  And the class size is so small, he will be getting a lot of one-on-one instruction.  And their main goal is to catch kids up to their hearing peers so that they can be mainstreamed.  I would simply homeschool James full time at that point, but that's beside the point.  The point is, we implanted James for a reason.  Well, for several reasons.  But to not try this approach at this point seems counterproductive to our main reason and our  goal of him becoming oral.  And if it doesn't work out, if he's unhappy and not thriving, we will change plans again.
I hope this doesn't sound like I'm trying to defend my choice; I'm not.  Just explaining where we are coming from, because many of you know how adamant I have been about him attending WPSD.  And before that I was adamant that he would stay home and homeschool.  It's funny how God works, though.  To end my story, remember that I asked for James to attend WPSD at his kindergarten transition meeting in early February.  Here it is, the end of April.  I went to DePaul two days ago.  We have his IEP meeting on Wednesday and he could possibly start at DePaul Thursday or Friday!  So the moral of the story is, don't hold too tightly to your plans, however perfect you think they are.  And if things aren't going according to that plan, maybe God really does have something else in store!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014

Where did the year go???  Seriously.  Actually, where have the last 14 years gone??  I remember Y2K and all the fuss, and someone turning out all the lights at midnight, just to be funny.  And now it's about to be 2015.  15!!!!!  I also remember when 2015 was considered the very distant future when we all might live like the Jetsons.  But here we are, still driving cars and cooking food and doing laundry.  Granted we have much more technology, but overall, life isn't really that different.  Except that now I am 35, married, with 3 kids and a dog!  Crazy.
Anyway, 2014.  Some highlights as they come to me, not necessarily in chronological order.

1.  Surgeries, three of them.  CI number 2, followed by a bunch of tests leading up to an adenoidectomy and then the pharyngeal flap just a few months ago.  It was a long year medically.  But the outcome has been terrific.  James's hearing is very good, his comprehension amazing, and his speech is finally progressing.  Surgery stinks, and James still talks about them and how he doesn't like them.  I reassure him that surgery is finished and we move on until the next time he remembers.  It was all worth it though.

2.  Homeschool.  We finished up kindergarten and second grade and I reevaluated what I was doing for this school year.  I backed off a LOT on formal curriculum.  We read a LOT of books, about all sorts of things.  If I can breed kids who love to read, everything else will come.  Well, let's make that kids who love to read AND who know all their math facts!  Liana is my mini-me-bookworm.  She devours books well above her grade level.  But make the child write more than one sentence and her hand is going to fall off.  Or so she thinks.  Aedan is slowly becoming a more willing reader, now that we have found books that keep his attention.  James is still working on learning the alphabet, but he's about 75% there.  He loves to look at books, though, and he enjoys me reading to him.  He will get there.  He still has in-home therapy as well as private speech.  But we are contemplating sending him to school in the fall, if not sooner.  We'll see.  Emotionally and developmentally he is still pretty far behind his six years.

3.  Sports.  Aedan played Upward basketball and enjoyed it.  Then we had two seasons of baseball, spring and fall.  My boy loves his baseball.  And he's good.  That's not just me being a biased mom.  He really is a natural ball player.  We did have a bitter disappointment at not making the tournament team, and there was great outrage both in our house and in many other parents as well who felt he deserved a spot.  He graduated to kid pitch in the fall season.  Kid pitch. is. rough.  Lots of walks, lots of strike outs.  Not a lot of hitting or scoring most of the time.  But he had a lot of fun and is ready to play again.  Liana played her first season of Tball, and was surely the most enthusiastic child on the field at every game.  Both of them certainly inherited their father's athletic ability, thank the Lord!  Tball doesn't run in the fall, so she only got one season in.  And because her birthday is one week past the cut-off, we will suffer through enjoy one more round with her before she can go to coach pitch.  James wasn't quite ready for organized sports, but I think we will let him try in the spring.  He keeps asking for his turn for a game!

4.  Dogs.  Our Swiper, who we had for almost 9 years, met his Maker this spring when he ran out of the house and into the street.  I enjoyed several glorious canine free months.  And now we have a beast of a puppy named Shadow.  Overall she's a very good dog, but she's a puppy.  A very rambunctious puppy.  But she has a nice ferocious bark that makes me feel safer when Jason goes to work in the middle of the night.  The kids love her, and she loves them.  Oh, and she snores.  Loudly.

5.  Adoptions.  So many children were adopted this year by families I know personally and practically personally thanks to Facebook.  They came from China, Bulgaria, the Philippines, and Texas.  Also, super good friends of ours started the process to adopt a little boy from the Philippines.  God is so good.  Every 6 weeks our church lets the orphan ministry run an insert in the bulletin featuring a child/children in need of a family.  Jetlee was my April insert child.  I desperately wanted a family to come forward for him.  He reminds me so much of James.  I almost exploded when my dear friend texted me after church on Easter Sunday and asked what they needed to do to adopt him.  In a few months, my little Filipino will have a fellow Filipino living just 5 minutes away!!  I love love LOVE seeing kids brought into families.  In case you don't know, ORPHANS NEED FAMILIES.  Maybe 2015 will be the year you hear God speaking to YOU about adoption or foster care!

6.  Vacation.  We took our first family vacation this year and drove to Texas.  We visited our framily who also has adopted deaf kiddos.  It was glorious.  You can read about it here.  The plan is for them to come here this year.  But if they can't, I see another road trip in our 2015 future.

7.  Church.  We love our church.  We love our pastors.  But the church and the pastors are just people.  And people can let you down, frustrate you, and disappoint you.  They can also leave you.  We had a lot of frustrating moments this year, and a lot of change.  Two pastors have left since September.  I'm not a fan of change.  Or of being upset with people I respect and trust.  But it happens.  And we remember that we need to keep our focus on God, and trust HIM with our lives and with our church.  He knows what He is doing, even when we can't see it and don't like it.  No church is perfect; no pastor or leader is perfect.  We had such an awful experience 10 years ago, and I think that makes us more cynical and likely to distrust.  So we are working through that, and waiting to see what God is going to do next.  We still love our church.  And our pastors.  Especially ones who still buy your ice cream even after you scared the pants off of them in the DQ drive-thru. :)

8.  Work.  Jason's work, to be specific.  We hate it.  Hate. It.  We are grateful for it, for sure.  But the hours are awful.  The treatment of workers is awful.  Working for free is awful.  We are praying for a new job to come during this time of voluntary layoff.  And if it doesn't, we will still be thankful.  Jason will still do his best to please God at this job.  But we will still hate it!

So that's about it.  It was a good year overall.  I'm having a hard time remembering that tomorrow is January 1st again.  I don't do the whole resolutions thing, because I always plan to do stuff and never actually do.  But I do have things I want to work on this year, and with the Lord's help, I will!  Thanks for following our life and reading all my ramblings.  Happy New Year!!!