So normally I leave the blogging up to Derek, but I felt like I might take a stab at it. So while this might not be as eloquently written as the blogs Derek writes, it is still just an honest account of where we are right now in our adoption process.

I talk to someone almost everyday about our little Zoe, and without fail I get the same question from people. “Is the waiting just so hard”? I always give the same simple answer “Yes”. I give that answer because until now I haven’t known exactly how to put my answer in to words. I don’t want to ever say “no the waiting is not so bad” because that would make me seem like I’m not fully committed to this journey or that I'm not already in love with my child. But the truth is “the waiting is not really that bad.” For me, this journey did not begin 2 months ago when we filed out our first piece of paperwork. It did not begin before I got married when Derek and I talked about wanting to make adopting a child a part of our family life. For me, this journey began almost 13 years ago in a small village outside of Vinnitsa, Ukraine. It was there that I met my sister Hope and God planted a seed in my heart. While I know that the Lord used me as an instrument in Hope’s adoption and I had a huge desire for her to become a part of our family, her adoption did not fulfill the desire that the Lord placed in my heart. I have known since I was 16 years old that I wanted to adopt a child. I knew that this was a desire that the Lord had placed in me. So for 12 long years I have lived with that desire with no knowledge of when there would be a light at the end of this waiting tunnel. While I wasn’t sitting everyday for 12 years thinking about when I would adopt, it has been a deeply planted desire. For 12 years I have clung to the promise that the Lord gives you the desires of your heart. I didn’t know how or when this would or could happen, but I knew that it was a true desire and that the Lord would be faithful.
So here I am 12 years later right in the middle of the adoption process. We are down to the last few months until we get to bring our little girl home. I long everyday to be able to hold her and love her and have her here. However, I don’t look at the waiting as just hard. After waiting 12 years with no light at the end of the tunnel, a few months with a bright light at the end doesn’t seem all that bad. I know and am confident that He who began a good work in me all those years ago is going to be faithful to complete it in just a few short months.

So what do I do while I wait?
Well, I do just that…wait. I am trying to remain as still as possible and seek the Lord’s guidance for every step I take. I know that this last stage of waiting has a purpose just like the last 12 years. I know that there are things that the Lord is doing in me and Zoe that requires just this specific amount of time.
It’s funny; I was sitting on my back porch the other day and saw a caterpillar attach it to the wall of our patio. It was this big fat nasty looking caterpillar that had all of these ugly spots on it. It quickly began forming a cocoon. I could see through the cocoon and could see that nasty fat caterpillar. It looked disgusting. Then just a few days later an amazing thing happened, that caterpillar was no more and a beautiful butterfly emerged. I feel like that is what is happening with my Zoe. The first time I saw her picture she was this tiny little girl with a shaved baldhead and was described as the sad little girl. There was no smile on her face and no hope in her eyes. Then we got another set of pictures and she started to show signs of maybe smiling, but she was horribly sick. She had almost a yellow color to her and her eyes looked sick. We got to see a half smile from her, but mostly we saw fear and apprehension. Then, just last night we got a new set of pictures, and just like that caterpillar, she has flourished. We saw a little girl with beautiful black soft curls beginning to grow on her head, healthy coloring to her skin, and huge smile that can light up a room. It is amazing to see how much she has flourished over these past weeks. And as I was thinking about her development, I started thinking of my own development. I can feel the Lord working, changing and shaping me in my own life. I too am becoming a “new creature”…a mommy. I see myself thinking less and less about myself and more and more about my child. I find that the boundaries that I have needed to set in my life for so long are so much easier to set and stick to knowing that it is for my Zoe and for my family. I am gaining a new perspective and appreciation for Derek. I am seeing him grow and develop in to a daddy. It is amazing, scary, thrilling and challenging all at the same time, but more than anything it is just part of this journey, part of the waiting.

So, until we bring our beautiful Zoe home, I will wait. If you ask me if it is so hard to just wait, I answer yes but I am so grateful that Derek, Zoe and I have this time to allow the Lord to continue working in us. So I face each day proclaiming the promise that he who began a good work will be faithful to complete it.
It is weird to adopt. Tori isn't pregnant, like several of our friends, but we are about to be parents like they are. We have all the same fears and expectations of what it will be like to have a child, but we don't have any part of her yet. She isn't growing before our eyes. We can't feel her move. We have a few images of her and that's all. It's just weird. I had a friend whose wife went to the hospital today because of some concerns with her pregnancy and we have another friend who got to hear her baby's heartbeat the other day. As scary and worrisome as this time is for them, they have the opportunity to check on their kids who aren't here yet. When something doesn't seem right, they have medical professionals check their babies. If they need to, they can change their diets to help their children receive the proper nutrition, they can wrap up in a blanket if it is cold or take medicine if they're sick. We know that Zoe isn't getting everything she needs, but we can't do anything about it. We recently learned that it probably isn't hot in Ethiopia at night and now Tori goes to sleep concerned that Zoe isn't warm or cozy. But we can't help her, snuggle her or tuck her in tight. We just have to wait, fill out some more paperwork, look at her picture and dream of the day she will be with us. Everyday that we wait, we know that it's one more day of her life that we miss out on. There are millions of firsts that we will know absolutely nothing about. We don't know her first word, we missed out on her first step, we never saw her first smile, we didn't give her first hug, we didn't witness her first breath. No matter how many firsts we will be blessed to have with her, the first years of her life have been absent from ours. 

I have been thinking lately about how I have learned so much in this last year from the precious preschoolers at church and watching Matt and Carrie parent their 3 awesome kids. I see how amazing, unique and special every single child is. I think about how we want to raise Zoe as our child, not our "adopted" child. She will be just as special and wonderful to us as the biological children we will have one day. The story of her arrival here will be extraordinary, but the arrival of each and every child is extraordinary. 

It kind of freaks me out to think about being a dad. This would probably surprise a lot of people, since I am a kids pastor, but it really does freak me out. I absolutely love teaching and entertaining a huge group of kids for an hour once a week. I have a degree in Family Studies and I have been training other adults to lead children for years. But the thought of being responsible to raise an entire human and prepare her for life is quite daunting. What if I work too much and how much is too much? How will I give her the attention she deserves so that she will grow to be a confident woman? Will she trust me? How will I let her know that I truly love her unconditionally? How do I keep her away from boys? That makes me think about the fact that Zoe is a girl. Yikes! Of course, I've been told that I will be a good dad to a little girl...I think that's because I am more of an artist than an athlete, but still I have almost 29 years of experience being a boy and none as a girl. I don't really know what dolls do or why a tea party is fun. I do know that this stuff is really important along with pink and sparkly things. I realize that all first time dads are completely clueless, too, but I guess that working with kids shows me how much and how easily I can really screw her up. I just don't want to screw her up, you know? 

It is a huge relief and ginormous blessing to know that Tori will be her mom. She will be a truly amazing mom. Really the best. Seriously, no little girl could be luckier than Zoe. Tori is amazing with all kids. I watched her love on our nephew, Will, today and thought about how lucky Zoe is going to be. Tori will hug, play, cuddle, sing, kiss, bandage and do more for Zoe than she could ever dream of. She will make our little girl feel like the most important person in the world. She'll ask her ten million questions about the simplest thing and listen to every detail, celebrating the mundane and honoring the ordinary so that her every moment feels special. It is a blessing for me to watch her as we go through this journey. Her heart breaks everyday for Zoe in a million different ways. I am blessed, challenged and humbled to hear of her concern for our little girl. I am blessed to be taking this journey with my best friend and love of my life. I have learned so much about love from Tori and I can't wait to watch her teach Zoe to love, give and celebrate.

Thanks for reading our blog, talking about it with us and sharing it with others. It is so encouraging to hear you say that you are excited for us and that you are praying for our little girl with us. We're also really honored that you are buying shirts to help share our story and raise awareness about the many children waiting for forever families. There are lots of these kids out there from all over the world and right down the street who we would love to help you connect with if God has prepared and called you to adopt and you just don't know where to start. We would be so happy to help you take the first step. We've taken many steps in this wonderful journey. Thank you all for walking it with us!
The last couple of weeks have been pretty crazy around the Jones house. We are overwhelmed by the many blessings in our lives, but man, even a life full of great blessings is busy and stressful!
Last week, one particular day was a little extra overwhelming and less than perfect. Then, we got home and Tori checked the mail. There was a small package from Celebrate Children with a DVD of our little girl. Instantly we forgot about everything going on and went straight to the TV and watched the brief video. It was surreal to see her like that. The first part of the video was actually a little bit hard to watch. Everyone was trying really hard to get our "sad little girl" to smile. They were snapping in her face, pulling her by the arm, poking at her cheeks and flashing pictures of her. They wanted her to smile for prospective parents, but they were simply freaking her out! She was so very scared of what all was going on around her. It was breaking our hearts to watch. Then, they moved to another part of the room and she played a hand slapping game with one of the translators. It was adorable to watch her play. She was so into it. Tori says she played that game like it was her job. She was going to hit that guy's hand no matter how fast he moved it away! She would hit his hand extra-hard whenever she got the chance. She even tried to trick the guy, so we know there's a little trouble in her. This is when we got to see the first smile that we had only seen in pictures. It was so fun that we watched it immediately again.
I know that Tori goes to bed every night thinking about Zoe, how she is being treated  and did she get enough food to eat today. For me, watching this video connected me with Zoe in a whole new way. She has become more than an idea, more than a picture and more than a child that will one day be ours. As we watched that video we saw our little girl in an orphanage being taken care of by strangers. Zoe is no longer a stranger to me. We see her and know she is ours. The rooms that we have prepared for her seem a little bit lonely now. They sit empty and lifeless. We long for the day that she will play in her new playroom and sleep in her new bedroom.
Our first home study visit is in the morning. Tori has been working hard all night to make sure our paperwork is all signed, notarized, filed and ready to go. Of course I've been sick all day and doing what little I can to help. Tori has promised to prop me up like "Weekend at Bernies" or whatever it takes to get us through this appointment in the morning, without canceling. Hopefully the social worker will see through the spaced out Tylenol Cold fog I will be in. We're really ready to get this interview over. I am sure that it will work out fine. We have a room setup, a couple of new fire extinguishers, our medicine is up high and I can't plug anything in easily anymore.
As the days pass on we get more excited, but it also gets harder. We know this little girl is ours and it is more and more real everyday that she is not with us. The home study is another milestone and there will be more along the way. It is weird that just a few months ago we felt whole. Now there is an empty place wherever we go. We can't wait to experience life with our little Zoe. We can't wait for her to see Thomas the Train with her cousins or watch her receive hugs and kisses from grandparents. That day is not terribly far away. Until then, we will continue to pray for her every moment of everyday. Until then, we will continue to prepare a magical place for her to sleep and play. Until we can hold her in our arms, we will continue to love her from a distance.
For the last few days we have been working hard to refinish furniture, hang curtains (without saying one bad word) and find special items for our little girl's bedroom and playroom. We have been transforming our office into a playroom and guest room into her bedroom.It has truly been a labor of love. We've had so much fun searching out things at Goodwill, looking through Hobby Lobby and wandering around Lowes for hours asking for help from every single employee at least twice. We've found lots of great stuff and it is so cool to put our personal stamp on it all. It turns out that the dressing table we got from Goodwill was actually donated by a friend at work who recognized it from a picture on my cell phone! The amount of pink in our house has increased 100-fold and I'm sure it will only go up from here. It is really fun for us to think about what she will do, how she will play and even what she will be when she grows up. We've been dreaming and talking far into the future about a precious little one who we have yet to meet. During this time, we have been looking at pictures and reading about a sweet, little 3 year-old girl named Tesfanesh and today we officially committed to her! They call her the "sad little girl" because no one could get her to smile for the camera. We will call her Zoe Renae: A Life Reborn, which is our prayer for her. We pray that joining our family will be a rebirth and the days of the sad little girl will be no more. We pray for and dream of days filled with smiles and laughter. We have seen nearly 100 pictures of her and only 1 with a smile on her face. She is VERY small and extremely shy, for now. Her mother is still alive, works at a bar, doesn't know who her father is and can no longer care for this adorable child. In her most recent pictures, they have her dressed in boy clothes...aReebok basketball jersey and khaki shorts. I told Tori that we will look back on this with her and either say, "see you were born an athlete," or "can you believe you ever wore sports apparel?" A few people have seen her picture and say she looks like me. This might be my only hope, since my nieces and nephew look just like Tori's dad.

Thanks for praying with us and celebrating with us today!

Today, we also want to offer you the opportunity to create awareness and support our journey in a more tangible way by purchasing a t-shirt in Zoe's honor for $15. I designed the shirt with some of our favorite words forming the shape of Africa. They are American Apparel shirts in black and red for adults along with pink and blue for kids. The image will be in white ink on the front of the shirts. There is a picture below to show you an idea of what the shirts will look like. We want anyone to have a shirt, regardless of if you can pay or not, so let us know if you need help with one. We really just want tons of you all to share Zoe's story as it unfolds and promote adoption wherever you go. This shirt will hopefully be a reminder for you to pray and a conversation starter to help you share with others. There is a PayPal area on the top right-hand side of our blog where you can choose your sizes and colors as you submit your order. Thanks for partnering with us on this and we look forward to seeing lots of Zoe shirts around!

We will take pre-orders until September 13th before placing our first order of shirts. (Please go ahead and pre-order so we will know how many to order). They should be in shortly after that. We will let you know as soon as they come in! Thanks!!