Assembling Your Home Study Binder

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The dreaded home study- this is the adoption version of birthing: tons of paperwork, hours of labor, and a lot of waiting. Many prospective adoptive parents fear the home study because of its daunting nature and mountains of paperwork, but it really doesn’t have to be that scary. I was blessed to be a housewife during our home study process which really allowed me time to organize and reorganize our home study binder until I found a system that worked for me. And I believe God called me to help others who may not have the same luxury of time I was blessed with.

With that being said, this is not the only way or even the best way for YOUR home study binder. This was the best way, so far, that I have found for myself. But I understand that many of you work and may not have extra time built in to your schedule to organize and reorganize a home study binder to fit your needs. I know for myself, when life got super busy and I was still searching for a way to best organize my binder, the paperwork stacked up super fast. Before I knew it I had a binder full of loose papers and I had no idea which documents I already copied and which ones I scanned and emailed before sending out all the originals to the agency. The confusion is enough to make you have a breakdown, IF you don’t have the time to or energy to “deal” with the mess of papers.

First things first, if you are on the verge of a breakdown or at the very least a tantrum, THAT’S OK!!! Go ahead and feel it. It’s ok to be pissed that you have to do this in order to have a baby. It’s ok to be angry with God, He can handle it. It’s ok to cry and mourn over this process. I believe the greatest blessing of the home study process is the very stressful nature of it all. I believe the fact that you will be interviewed about your past, questioned about your parenting, and expected to sign forms stating you promise to vaccinate your child (I agreed, but I still felt like the choice had been taken from me), is all a beautifully challenging way to get us adoptive parents to mourn our inability to conceive our own children. A lot of this process seems unfair because most parents don’t have to go through these hoops in order to have children. And as much as I hated all of that in the moment, it forced me to recognize how hurt I was by the unfairness of it all. It forced me to confront the issues of unfairness with the head of it all: God. The agency was doing their best to help me become a parent, these measures were to cover their butt in case I turned out to be crazy, and most importantly to find a suitable and loving family for these babies that they vowed to protect and speak for. As much as it felt like it, the agency was not causing my feelings of unfairness and hurt, no, I had to take this up with the source of all life: God. So if you find yourself in this place, GREAT! You are well on your way to becoming the parent your child needs! Because this mourning process will help open your heart FULLY to the wonderful child God has planned for you and your family. Every piece of paperwork is a labor pain that is so worth it, I promise.  Start working through the emotional crap (I ended up finding a counselor to help), and I will help you organize your home study binder, so you can work through the shit and still have a beautiful binder with everything you need. YAY!

Today, we will simply be putting together the binder. No paperwork just yet, but at the end of today you will have a place to put your paperwork. This binder will be able to store all of your home study paperwork before you are matched with your child and all of your placement documents and progress reports after you matched, so everything for your child will be in one organized place! This is super helpful, especially if you move houses less than a week after you have been matched (Like us).

 

What You Will Need:

  • One 4in Binder (believe me, the bigger the better, even my 4 in binder is about to bust at the seams)
  • One set of 8 Tab Dividers
  • At least eight Velcro expandable binder pockets (I have 8 and wish I had 2 more)
  • One 3 hole punch (not those sissy plastic things you put in your binder, I broke 3 of those before sucking it up and buying a nice hole punch)
  • Easy Access to a Printer
  • Tape

Instructions:

1.Go into the kitchen and rustle up your drink of choice, beer, coffee, wine, whatevs, I don’t judge, but I prefer drinks I wouldn’t be allowed to have if I was pregnant; it makes me feel special or something.

2. Download the following pdf for your title-labels-dividers and print them out. Of course you are always welcome to make your own.

3. Let’s get these title pages out of the way first. The large print “Adoption Paperwork” will go on the front of your binder and the smaller version, needs to be trimmed to fit on the binding.

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4. Insert your 8 Tab Dividers into the binder. Use the hole punch to punch holes in the 8 Divider Title Sheets and place each title sheet behind its own divider in the following order: “General Info & Notes”, “Application”, “Instruction Sheets”, “Home Study Documents”, “Renewal Documents”, “Home Study Drafts”, “Placement Documents”, and “Progress Reports” img_9772

5. Take a moment to cut out the labels for the divider tabs and insert them into the corresponding divider tab (or just write them on the tabs, it’s up to you!). img_9775

6. Now, cut out the medium sized square labels along the gray lines. Each one of these labels will be taped on an expandable binder pocket. I taped mine behind the pocket flap to keep it looking nice. Actually, to be completely honest I made these labels for this blog post so that your binder would look nice. Mine was just these same titles scribbled on sticky notes. I put it behind the flap so dust wouldn’t get in there and make my sticky note stop sticking. img_9779

7. Some of the locations of these expandable binder pockets are obvious, but some not so much. These expandable binder pockets were the MOST useful items when it came to my home study binder. They easily held packets of paper, loose receipts, business cards, donation checks, etc, without any fear of them falling out of the binder. If I didn’t have time to hole punch some papers, I just slipped them into the “To Do” binder pocket with a sticky not label “to punch” (sometimes I put a picture of a pregnant lady in there with that label on it just for fun. Just kidding…but you know…that feeling is legit.)slapping-pregnant-ladies

At the moment, most of your expandable binder pockets will go behind the “Home Study Documents” tab because you will be using them to organize paperwork that is still be processed and is incomplete, but we will go into more detail with that in a different post. Right now, let’s just focus on getting this binder put together and ready for the eventual paperwork. Place the “To Do”, “To Copy”, “To Send”, and “Original Documents” pockets behind the “Home Study Documents” tab. The “Placement Documents” pocket will go behind the “Placement Documents” divider and the “Progress Reports” pocket will go behind the “Progress Reports” divider. You should have two more pockets: “Donations” and “Receipts & Expenses”. These two pockets I have moved around so many times. It changes based on where we are in the process. When we were accepting donations I had the “Donations” pocket in the very front of the binder. Then every time a check came in I could quickly get it into a safe place until I had time to deposit it and write a thank you note. Now that we have our son and don’t need donations, I keep the pocket in the back of the binder where it stays out of my way. The “Receipt & Expenses” Pocket I like to keep in the back of the binder, simply because I hate looking at it. Really, it can go anywhere as long as you know where it is because this pocket will be your frenemy during every single portion of this process, especially when you go to file your taxes (yup, sorry I brought up taxes, but this will be so helpful I promise!)IMG_9782.JPG

8. (Optional Pockets) I would have liked to have an expandable pocket for my photo book ideas and quotes and a pocket on hand in case I needed an extra for some reason. I don’t know why I never bought 2 more pockets…I guess I felt we were already strapped for money with the adoption, but honestly I could have just gotten them.

9. (Optional) Print out some encouraging quotes or bible verses to place in the front and back covers and the front and back pockets. Or just tape them anywhere you will see them. This helped me a lot. I read these bible verses over and over and over and over again, and slowly I started to believe them and feel the truth in them.

10. Close your binder, take 3 deep breaths, and congratulate yourself on a job well done. Your binder might not be full of papers yet, but it is ready and so are you!img_9783

I hope this has been helpful so far. If you have any questions do not hesitate to comment below. I will do my best to answer them in a timely manner. Also, keep an eye out for the next Home Study Binder post: Organizing You Home Study Paperwork. Also, please share this with anyone who you think might benefit. Happy Home Studying!

Big News: We Are Moving

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This is a little out of sorts because, well, I’m out of sorts. I wrote most of this a week ago, but I couldn’t organize it, and now a week later I still can’t make up or down of it and I really just need you all to know that everything is changing.

Dean and I are most likely moving to Annapolis.

The very small amount of control I had is gone once again. But I am determined to hold onto the promises God gave me and the truth of His word. “He settles the childless woman in her home a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord!”11374566_989008217798741_1182382827_n

Let me back up. Dean got a new job; it’s a great job! It’s actually a huge blessing to us right now, but this blessing comes with a lot of loss. There are amazing new opportunities, but in order to have those opportunities we must say goodbye to a lot of people and places we love.

You see, this job most likely requires us to move to Annapolis. It’s not far, but it’s just far enough that we have to change everything: doctors, church, doctors, doctors, therapist, and more doctors. We will be leaving our family, church, and friends. We can obviously still see our family and friends, but it will look a little different.  And we also have to redo some of our adoption paperwork, inspections, and photo books. It’s not the end of the world by any means; it’s just an exhausting extension to this journey I thought was under control.

I know it sounds naive, but I honestly thought we would be matched by now. I thought that if any one saw our book they would instantly choose us and want us to be a special part of their family. It’s not a cocky thing, it’s a confidence in God’s promise to us, it’s an assurance of the call Christ gave us. But my expectations have once again led me astray and I am forced to reevaluate them.

Dean’s job switch can pretty much carry over into our home study seamlessly, but the home is a different monster. When we move we will be pulled out of the waiting pool until we can get our new home inspected. Depending on the house we get, this could be a while. Dean and I have found a lot of joy in buying our first house that was in need of a lot of love and fixing it up. This might be something we decide to do again.

We have poured our hearts and bodies into this house and made it our home. It pains me to leave. It pains me to paint our bold and bright walls neutral colors. It pains me to take our pictures down from our family wall and remove all the “save the dates” from our fridge. Of course we can bring all these things to our new home, but our last several weeks/months will be without them and it just won’t seem like home anymore.

I spent some time raging at God. I was excited for Dean and proud of him too, but I was sad for the loss of my beloved home, yard, and support system. I was angry that once again I was waiting to wait for a baby. I felt like I was so close to being a mom and now I had to take a step backwards. It’s a small step, but at this point any step that isn’t forward towards mother hood is agony. Dean went to New York for work and I spent several days crying and raging at God.

Most of my time was spent in the “Nursery”. Right now it’s set up as our office and craft room, but when I painted it 3 years ago it was with the hopes of one day decorating the room for a baby. I found a nursery online that I liked and I painted my room the same.IMG_6645 I would spend hours in that room praying for our darling children that would someday rest their tired eyes within the confines of that room. Their freshly bathed naked bodies would waddle down the hall from the bathroom to that nursery with me and Dean “chasing” them and lifting them up, kissing their cheeks, and blowing raspberries on their bellies before clothing them in their snuggly footy pajamas. That room would be the place I would rock my child back to sleep after a midnight feeding. That room would be filled with books and toys and lots and lots of joyous prayers of thanks. But now that room will always remain a ghost of what could have been; a dream never fully realized. When I painted that room I was scared to paint it as a nursery when we knew we were struggling to get pregnant. My conclusion was, “I trust you God, I trust that you will fulfill the promise you gave me two years ago. I trust that you are settling me in my home to be a happy mother of children, so I will paint this room with expectation and hope (that was 3 years ago).” What I didn’t realize was that this was not the home God would be settling me in. And at first, I was angry with him for doing this to me, for breaking my heart once more. I still find myself in that place every couple days.

But I’m starting to see a new side to it. As I prayed this morning I stared at my lime green walls dreading the day that I would have to paint them gray (to appeal to more than 5% of buyers) and I started thinking, “This house is a gift, not just to me and Dean but handed down from me and Dean. When I paint these walls I will paint them not with resentment and anger, but excitement for the family who will make this their home. I will paint these walls gray as a symbol of the love I will be sharing with the next family. I want the next family to love this house as I did, I want them to walk in and see what Dean and I see. Dean and I were able to see past the hideous forest green carpet and mauve walls, we were able to envision the house without an obtrusive wall blocking the dining area from the living area, and with hardwoods all throughout. Dean and I were blessed to see the potential. I want the next owner to walk in and say, “This is the place for my family; this will be our next home.” If that means painting the walls gray, then I will do that for them. If that means fixing the mailbox and the doorbell, I will gladly do that too. I will do it without fear of getting a return in our asking price, I will do it without fear of being taken advantage of, and I will do it out of love for my home, out of love for the next owners. Maybe their kids will be rocked to sleep in that nursery. Although the teals of our nursery will be covered up with gray, the prayers prayed in there will remain. The love poured into that room is baked into the walls. The cries comforted there, although mine and not a babies, will be forever a part of that room whether known or not. Whoever lives here will be blessed and that is worth praising God.

But more goes into this. I mean, we are moving. Dean and I have both heard God call us to be missionaries in Annapolis. Missionaries in the sense that we will proclaim God’s unfailing love and sacrifice, wherever it is we find ourselves. Yesterday, in church, I went up to the altar for prayer. I have fears and doubts, how will we leave all these people? I knelt down, people laid hands on my back and shoulders and the tears began to flow. Those same tears have fallen every single Sunday for the past month. I can’t hold them back, I am so overcome with love, and I am overwhelmed with support and friendship. I can’t stand to leave this. Even with snot dangling from my running nose and tears dripping off my chin, my church family hugged me and reassured me, mourned with me, and prayed with me.

I don’t want to leave, and yet, I’m excited to follow God’s call. I can’t wait to see what’s out there, but I’m scared of what I’ll be missing out on. I want to share what I learned at my church with everyone, but I don’t want to lose it.

The other week I watched as our teens walked up to communion. The teens on the left side of the church and the teen on the right side were in the communion line at the same time. It was just teens. The teens that I have watched grow up, the teens that I have lead, the teens that have lead me, the teens that I have sung with, played with, cried with, worked with, been pranked by, etc. They all stood in line to commune with God and the saints and they were poking each other, smiling, and waving to each other, and I lost it. I could not stop crying, it was so beautiful- how could we leave this?

It was after church that day that I prayed, “Lord, I don’t want this. I don’t want to move. I want Dean to be happy and love his job, but I don’t want him to get this job, I don’t want to leave. Lord, if you don’t want this shut it down. But Jesus, if this is what you want; if this is really what you want, please change my heart. Transform me, because I don’t want this. I can’t force myself to pretend to want it; I need you to straight up change my heart if this is your will. Amen.”

Dean got the job, and although I was sad, something started to change. There was a glimmer of excitement. It quickly faded, but then the next day there it was again. And then a week later while in church I heard God say, “Liz, I am calling you and Dean to Annapolis to share what you have learned here at Redeemer. You will be missionaries there.” And in the car on the way home Dean said, “In church today, I heard God say He was calling us to be missionaries in Annapolis.” That was the first time we both heard a call from God at the same time! And from that moment on I have felt at peace, although sad for what we will be leaving behind, I am at peace, I am excited, and I’m so glad Dean follows God instead of me.

But, there will surely be more sadness…I haven’t even started thinking about moving away from my family. It’s not even that far, but it’s not right down the road either. dbae79db6617a93a34273f2517f44cee

 

I Am For You

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Photography by Jessie Patterson

I prayed the entire drive. Dean and I were on our way to meet our social worker, Chelsea* (that’s not her real name, but I changed it to protect identity. I’m not sure what is necessary during this adoption process, so I’ll just be safe). I was so nervous, and Dean was, well, Dean. Dean was calm, confident, and composed. I was worried. I have a tendency to get defensive in these types of situations; situations when someone is making a judgement in regards to my abilities.

Instead of focusing on my positive attributes, I get bogged down by my inabilities. I start to think every question is a trap: that the interviewer is questioning my judgement and wants to prove to me that I am wrong. Basically, I get paranoid that everyone is out to get me. Everyone wants to shame me, hurt me, and be mean to me. Everyone is against me.

I know this isn’t true. I know it’s a lie, but it’s a lie I believed my entire life. It’s a lie that shaped the way I interact with people, and I am just now learning how to live differently. I am just now realizing that not everyone is out to get me. I am beginning to trust people again and that’s a scary thing. But I am also learning that God is for me, not against me.

So on that ride down to our agency I just kept saying “Ok God, You got this.”

This was our very first home study interview. The home study is typically comprised of four meetings with a social worker. Our first meeting with our social worker, Chelsea was at the adoption agency with both me and Dean present. The second and third meetings are individual interviews at the adoption agency and the fourth is an interview with me and Dean at our home followed with a home inspection. After all the interviews are complete, Chelsea will write up our home study and go over it with us, then she will send it in for approval by a judge. Once we are home study approved we can be matched with a child at any time.

The interview seemed to go well, it’s hard to tell because Chelsea never really gave us an indication about what she thought of our answers. There doesn’t seem to be a “right” and “wrong”, and then randomly there is. It’s hard to explain. I felt like when I was “right” I wasn’t actually “right” because more and more questions were asked for clarification, but when I was “wrong” I was really “wrong” and I needed to fix it before the next interview. Everything about that unsettles me and I can see now that God has been preparing me for this very situation.

I have spent the past two years in Celebrate Recovery trying to understand and clarify why I do what I do. This helps me to pinpoint my motives and reevaluate whether or not it is something I should be doing. It helps me to accept my opinion as enough of a reason to do something or not do something. For example, the other day Dean and I went to dinner with some friends. I have been trying to watch my weight so I ordered a dinner that fit in my calorie count for the day. One of our friends ordered a burger and fries and he placed half of his fries on a plate to share with the table. I am a sucker for fries and these fries looked amazing. So, I did some thinking. I had some calories saved for a second beer, but I could split a beer with Dean and then have 5 French fries. But why did I want these fries? What was my motivation? Honestly, I just wanted to enjoy a couple fries with friends and feel normal. And I could do that within the calorie boundaries I set for myself. Yes, that was what I wanted to do. But, as I reached for my first fry Dean started to say something, “Are you sure you…” He quickly broke of realizing his mistake. I’m not sure if it was the death stare I shot him or if he has lived with a dieting wife long enough to know it is in his best interest to keep quiet about my food choices, but either way he stopped midsentence and said “never mind.” At that point the old me would have become uncomfortable and unsure about my decision. I would have felt judged and wrong. I would have questioned whether I was making the right choice and then I would have felt the need to defend my decision and convince Dean that the choice I was making was the right choice. But this time I didn’t feel the need for that. I didn’t even feel judged by my husband. It was so cool, I simply said, “you do you, umma do me.” And that was it. It wasn’t angry, it wasn’t defensive. It was just a fact, “I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, and right now it is the right decision for me.” I didn’t need anyone else to agree or understand because I knew what I was doing and why and that alone was enough for me. My opinion about the situation was enough for me and I felt confident in my choice.

But the home study…now I am in a situation with someone who IS judging me. I mean, I hope she is judging me, because she is my child’s voice right now. Her job is to protect my unborn child and make sure that my child has parents that can care and love him/her. The reality is, I want her to judge me, because I want what’s best for my child (which is me, right?). But it doesn’t fix the discomfort I feel. It doesn’t keep me from wanting to be right and understood and heard. It doesn’t stop me from wanting to defend every decision I make so I can convince her to think I am “right”. But God has prepared me. My voice does matter, my opinion does matter, even if she can’t see it. I can be wrong and be ok because I am getting clear on my motivation. My motivation is to love and raise this child with the child’s best interests in mind. Knowing my motivation makes it easier to accept that others aren’t always going to agree with me, it makes it easier to accept when I make mistakes, and to admit when I’m wrong. Because my motivation is no longer “to be right”, my motivation is to provide a caring, loving, and nurturing life for my child. This changes my approach on everything. It gets me to ask questions instead of pretending to know all the answers. It gets me to respond naturally instead of trying to tell her what I think she wants to hear. It allows me to say, “Oh, I didn’t see how that approach could be harmful” without feeling like a failure.

Although, I didn’t exactly remember all of that during the first meeting. I got tripped up at one point and wanted to be right, it got a little messy. I’m not going to go into it because it’s not important (for the record: I was right). The important part is for me to recognize that I got tripped up because once again my motivation switched to being right. Suddenly her questions sounded accusatory and assuming and I started to get flustered and upset. She wasn’t understanding what I was trying to say and I felt like I needed to explain and get her to understand and agree with me. But I caught myself and I was able to re-center. I was able to look inward at my heart and my motivation, the whole point of this adoption is not “to be right”. The whole point is to love and nurture a child; to become a parent. My heart is in the right place, I know I will love and nurture this child, I know I will be a good parent. I know I will mess up and need to ask for forgiveness. I know I am not perfect. But I know that God called me to become a parent through adoption. I know He’s got this, and if He is for me, who can be against me?

Side Note: Chelsea is not against me in the least. She is doing a great job getting me to think about my responsibilities as a parent.

Dean has already completed his individual interview and mine is in a week. I am prepping for this interview by listening so this song on repeat.

Want to help me prep? Send me your favorite “I am for you” songs and as we move forward with this process please continue to keep us in your prayers. Thanks you guys!!