Friday, December 23, 2011

A family for Christmas

I bet you think I'm going to write about how Amani has a family for Christmas this year.  Well, you're wrong.  Actually, okay you're right, this is Amani's first Christmas with his forever family. That is true.

But it's not just Amani who gets a family for Christmas this year. It's me.

This year, my family looks like it always was supposed to look. Last year I was yearning for a child whose face I had never seen. I was holding out hope that maybe, just maybe, I'd get to see his sweet face before the new year began. Two Christmases ago, we had no idea it would take us almost two years to complete the process we'd just begun.

This year I hold him in my arms.

I got a family for Christmas. I have three beautiful children. Beautiful. In so many ways.  When I look at the three of them my heart swells with pride.  They are my gifts this Christmas, more valuable to me than anything you can wrap up and put under a tree.

And I am so honored that my family looks how it does. I am honored that God would use my family to show how he feels about racism, about orphans, about love.  My family is beautiful. Not because of anything I have done, but because God makes it so.

Merry Christmas to all of you. 
May you find your joy in the things that matter.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Just a sweet update

Three months ago today I picked our sweet boy up at the orphanage and brought him home with me to the guest house, never to live the life of an orphan again!  It has been a FAST three months!  We are still chugging along at our house! Things with Amani are still slowly getting better. I'm learning to measure progress against how he was months ago instead of days. It helps me see his overall improvement much better!  Although we are still looking for an attachment therapist just to check in with.

And we had our big craft sale at church tonight to raise money for the next trip to Swaziland. I haven't heard everyone's totals but I was able to raise over $300 towards Rob's trip. I'm pretty proud that I was able to make a bunch of stuff... and maybe now I can start going to bed before 2 am! ;)

Here are some of the latest things we've been up to:

He got his first haircut this month... a waaaaayyyy too short haircut but it's growing back fast! :)

I'm learning that "Amani" sounds a lot like "Mommy" and I often answer "Yes?" when I hear Riley or Allyn say it only to then hear, "I'm not talking to YOU Mommy, I'm talking to Amani!"

Allyn relishes her new role as both a BIG sister and a LITTLE sister. She tells me about it all the time; then proceeds to analyze all her friends' statuses in their families.

Amani LOVES to kiss. He blows kisses and give kisses all the time. Very slobbery, but very sweet. He has also learned to dance. The poor child is learning to dance from his VERY white family, but it's dancing nonetheless. And he loves it. We have dance parties almost every night before bedtime.

Amani has solidified his place with Riley's friends as "King" of whatever they are playing. Today it was "King of the Snakes." Those boys in Riley's pre-K class sure are sweet to him.

I chuckle sometimes at the outings he's been on since he left the orphanage: the children's community theatre's rendition of Aladdin and the Princess and the Pea, Disney Princesses on Ice, trips to the Science Center to see tigers, meerkats, and turtles.  It's amazing to think that three short months ago he'd never left that little room at the orphanage.

Amani has some friends! Granted, they are the younger siblings of some of Riley and Allyn's friends, but they are around his age and know his name! And he has a baby friend that he definitely recognizes and goes to check in with every day on the playground.

And we took some sweet Christmas pictures in the matching pj's their Grand sends them every year. It was so sad that we couldn't have ALL the cousins together for a picture, but I'm hoping that the pjs will still fit everyone so that we can re-enact the holiday get-together sometime this spring when we can finally travel with Amani again!

Here is quite possibly the best picture I've ever been able to take of the kids:

and one that is MUCH more indicative of their normal behavior:

And then, my favorite.  With all the adjustments we've had to bring Amani into our family, Riley and Allyn have yet to show any resentment towards their little brother. I know this may change, but for now, they just l-o-v-e our little guy:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Moment.

It happened.

I've read LOTS of adoption blogs, lots of adoption books, done a gazillion web-inars on adoption issues.  And lots of them mention a moment when the adoptive parent thinks, "oh no, what have we done?"

Ours happened last Sunday.  Thank God I'd read those other blogs/books because as it was happening, I thought to myself, "it's okay, this is just the moment. We'll be fine in the long run."

Amani and I are having a tough time lately. There's something called mother rejection and apparently it's an issue that is most common when a child is adopted as a toddler.  The very simplified explanation is that it's when a child rejects his mother as a self-defense mechanism: he's lost every other caregiver he's ever had and they were all women, so why should his mama be any different?

And that Sunday morning, he wanted anything but me. If I picked him up, he started to cry. If I tried to soothe him, he'd cry harder.  And if I sat him down on a pillow away from me, he'd settle down.  And that scenario is a much more extreme version of the general way he's been reacting to me lately.

It was heartbreaking. The only thing I know how to do is to be a mom and that was the only thing he didn't want. And I cried. A lot.  So much that I couldn't pull myself together to go to church. And I'm not a church-skipper. I have to miss church every other Sunday for work and that about kills me. So if I don't show up on a weekend I'm not working, you better bet something's up.  In the midst of my meltdown, I thought to myself, "oh no. What have we done???"

My angel of a husband took all three kids to church and let me stay home. I let myself cry for a bit and regrouped.  And the moment passed.

I also just read a blog about how we as adoptive parents need to be careful about just how honest we are on our blogs. Honesty is great - it can be really helpful to other adoptive parents or to family/friends so they know how to be supportive. But the last thing I EVER want is for my honesty to someday hurt Amani.  I would never want him to read words on this blog that would wound him. Never.

So as I thought about whether to share this experience, I realized that I have had the moment about all my kids.  Riley's appearance into our lives rocked our world in a way I was entirely not ready for. And when I was struggling to figure out my relationship to Rob now that I had this crazy needy newborn, I thought to myself, "what have we done???"

And it's no secret that Allyn was a total surprise.  When I told Rob I was pregnant, I burst into tears and then started apologizing (I realize it takes two to tango here, but I was just completely thrown off guard that day!). I remembered how hard we had to work on our family after Riley came and I thought, "what have we done???"

So while what Amani is going through is hard, both on him and on me, it helped me greatly to remember that I've had the moment every time we've added a child to our family.  And once the moment was over, I've been so blessed by those children I once worried over.

And that moment really has nothing to do with the child.  It's just about me. It's me questioning whether I can handle this: can I really be responsible for this little life? Can I do the absolute best by this sweet child? Do I have the strength to give my children everything they need?

But the truth is, I don't. I can't. I pray every morning for patience, grace, mercy, strength, and more patience. And I know God has given these children to me and that He will give me what I need to raise them well.

And my children are my joy.  My children and my husband are God's greatest gifts to me for the short time I have on this earth.  Amani is a gift, just like Riley and Allyn.

And God only gives good gifts.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Who do you worship this Christmas?

I love Christmas. I love the "cultural" Christmas stuff - Christmas lights, Christmas songs, Christmas cookies, Christmas bells, Christmas wreaths, you name it!

I love kids in applique Christmas t-shirts and even love staying up half the night to finish them in time for the church kids' Christmas program:
seriously... is it asking too much to get all three to look in the same direction AND smile sweetly at the same time???

But most of all, I love what Christmas means.  It's more than just the birth of baby. It's a time I can celebrate that my God, who loves me so, came to earth and lived here as a human and He could really truly empathize with the human experience. When He became one of us in order to die and sacrifice himself and reconcile us back to the Father. Amazing.

And it is SO hard to focus on that between all the red-nosed reindeer, Christmas cookies, shopping lists, and cooking/baking there is to do. And have I mentioned the Christmas COOKIES?? :)

But we were created to worship Him.  And we worship all the time; except it's not always Him. Because we were created to worship, we find things to worship. Want to know what you worship? Look at where your money goes and where your time goes. That's what you worship.

That means I often worship my family, sewing/crafting, and the internet.

I should be worshiping the Creator of the Universe. I was created to worship the Creator of the Universe. Instead I'm worshiping my sewing machine, cute fabric, and facebook. Seriously? Ugh.

So every Christmas I strive to celebrate in a way that honors the One that all this hubbub is all about.  Waaaaaayyyy back in high school my youth minister challenged us to donate the same amount of money that we spent on Christmas presents. I thought it was a great idea... and never really did it until a few years ago.

So now I pass the challenge along. How are you spending your time and money this Christmas? Who (or what) are you worshiping? Is it an item? A trip? A coveted toy for your child?  Those darn-good Christmas cookies?  What if we all cut our Christmas budgets in half and spent one half on the gifts we want to give, and gifted the rest in a way that would be used to glorify God: feeding children, restoring justice, clothing the naked, loving the downtrodden and oppressed?

Or what if the "things" we gift to one another reflected the way we want to honor Jesus? I got a present of a beanie baby chick one year with a card that said the giver had donated a flock of chicks in my honor to  Heifer International. I've never forgotten that gift.  What if the gifts you give your family and friends (who, most likely, need nothing) bettered the lives of others?

Soooo... in case you need any ideas, here are some of the things we will be spending half of our Christmas budget on this year or have in years past. These are places you can either donate directly to or buy items that support their programs:

Connected in Hope Beautiful scarves and woven bags made by Ethiopian women who used to carry heavy loads of firewood down Mount Entoto every day.  Carrying firewood is six hours of backbreaking labor for a few dollars. Now they can weave beautiful scarves and bags and feed their children.  What's more, they gain the respect of their community (the women who carry firewood are social outcasts; even the police mistreat them).  I met these women and was honored to meet them. Read more about my experience with them here.  Be a part of this amazing empowerment initiative.

Heart for Africa - GO! Go to Swaziland and ask family/friends to donate to your trip cost instead of asking for presents.  Or sponsor someone who is going.  Or check out what HfA is doing through Project Canaan. Another empowerment initiative bringing resources and jobs to the Swazi people so that they may bring about change in their own country. Help provide a baby home for babies who would otherwise be on their own.

Invisible Children (link to shop) - 100% of your purchase goes towards supporting Invisible Children's (link to agency) programs to try to end the use of child soldiers in central Africa.

World Vision:  Donate to support their programs that provide clean water to communities, or purchase livestock to enable communities to thrive and feed their families.

Support a family that is adopting!  If you know someone adopting, even if they aren't actively fundraising, consider giving them an anonymous (or known) gift towards their adoption.  You can often do this in a way that is a tax-deductible contribution (check with the family about that).  Not everyone is going to adopt an orphan, but everyone can be a part of caring for them and helping bring them home.  So many people donated to our adoption and now have "stock" in our family - they are a part of why Amani is no longer an orphan and we will forever have a special place in our hearts for those folks!

The challenge is this: slow down and use this most wonderful time of the year to worship the One. I pray my life may always reflect the heart that God is molding within me. I pray my children grow up and remember that Christmas was about honoring Jesus, not about getting stuff under a tree. I would SO much rather spend our Christmas money and know that, as a result, hungry children are no longer hungry, suffering people are no longer suffering, downtrodden women are uplifted, the desolate no longer feel alone.

Those are the true gifts of Christmas.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An Open Apology...

I'm sorry!

I don't think I really understood how crazy life would be after we brought Amani home. Had I known, I might have issued this apology earlier.

This apology goes out to everyone who is normally in my regular, everyday life. Or even some of you I don't see or talk to every day but every once in awhile. And to those people who have left me message(s) and I still haven't called you back.

And most of you haven't heard from me. Or gotten return emails from me. Or seen me. Or been able to schedule those playdates we used to have every so often.

I'm really am sorry.

I feel like lately I am just doing all I can to keep my head above water. I'm like a duck. When you see me, I probably look calm and put-together... but underneath I am paddling like the dickens just to have my eyes open.

I'm trying to be honest when people ask how it's going with Amani. But when we are out in public, he's in the sling, so he's happy and smiley and blowing sweet kisses at everyone. So it probably looks like I'm lying when I say how hard it's been.

But it is still hard. I just finally was able to return a phone call today to someone who called me while I was in Ethiopia. And it was the first non-family, non-close friend phone call I've returned in a looooong time.

Let me explain what exactly is hard:

Amani is friendly. He loves people. He would let anyone hold him and often reaches out to whoever I'm talking to. That seems wonderful to those who aren't in the adoption world.  However, it is very dangerous to allow a child to grow up not knowing the difference between strangers and family.  And right now, we really need him to realize who his family is (and what a family is).  It's not good for attachment purposes for him to even have little connections with strangers (and strangers right now is pretty much anyone who isn't me or Rob).  That's why he is always in the sling... he can't pass himself off to anyone that way.  He's been cared for by a variety of women all his life so he has no clue about what a family is.  He does great at the church nursery for that very reason... he's cool with a variety of caregivers; that has been his normal.  We've asked the nursery workers to page us if he even so much as whimpers and they think we're being over-protective. It's not that at all. He'd be just fine with someone else comforting him. We want that to change so that he can have healthy attachments with everyone in his life.

Also... he still struggles with anything that is different, chaotic (like us trying to leave the house on time every morning), or that he just doesn't like.  And he only has one way of expressing that he doesn't like something: absolute meltdown.  For example, I'm trying to keep him out of the bathroom. Just turning him around and trying to send him in another direction could provoke a 5 minute crying spell.  That's why I'm exhausted all the time.

Please don't read this thinking "gosh, life must be so terrible for them right now."  The thing is, it's hard. But it is supposed to be hard. I'm glad Amani is reacting in a normal way to the fact that his world went from one tiny room in an orphanage to our community here in Greensboro.  I'm glad he is healthy enough that he's reacting to the crazy change.

Just because it's hard doesn't mean it's bad.

But I do apologize to those of you who might be feeling like I've dropped off the planet. Don't take it personally when I say no to playdates right now. It's not you, it's us (ha ha!)

And we are getting better. Slowly but surely. I'm still praying for compassion and patience and peace every morning but I have a God who grants it. And just having him home brings us so much joy.

He is worth every second of the craziness!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The World I'm in...

I love the glimpses I get of my kids' imaginations sometimes.  Riley's friends have been great about including Amani when they play. Last week, the boys told me that they were "robot-coyote-superheroes" and that Amani was their King. Amani had no clue, of course, but he happily sat on the step at the playground as the boys ran back and forth.

Another day, I kept a friend of mine's little boy for the morning. I managed four little ones for half a day! We had a great time (I really do think I want four kids!) but one of my favorite parts was when the three oldest ones decided to dress up. Riley was in his ironman costume, Allyn put on a princess/dancing dress, and Pearson (our friend) chose a cowboy hat.  And here's the conversation that followed:

Riley: Hey Mommy. Pearson and I are Superheroes. I'm Ironman and he's a Cowboy. We live in Cowboy world.
Pearson: Yeah! Yeee-Haw!
Allyn: Well, I'm in princess world!
Riley: Yes you are.  And we all have a LOT of work to do!

I love how quickly they can launch themselves into another "world."

Lately I've noticed I've launched myself into another "world."  It's unfamiliar to me, though.  I'm in the world of second-guessing and, to be honest, I'd rather be in princess world with Allyn (and you know I am NOT into princesses).

For some reason I am second-guessing everything we do with Amani lately. He'll have a great day and I'll think we're really doing well and then the next day will be just really rough and I will wonder if we're doing everything wrong.  Anytime he cries for an extended period of time I worry about what that's going to do to him in the long run.  I worry all the time if things I'm doing or not doing now are going to come back to haunt us in ten years.

I am simultaneously aware of how resilient kids are and how crucial these first few months are with him.

And we made a mistake already. Not a huge one, but one that's set us back a bit. Ugh.

We went out of town to my in-laws both to visit them and to participate on the senior retreat with the youth group. We were only there two full days (three nights) but it turns out it was too soon for traveling. Amani seemed fine the first day, but then the second day he started having some trouble falling asleep. By the time we'd made the drive home, he was crying all the time again. He cried for about 5 hours straight on Sunday evening. I could barely get frozen waffles toasted for dinner that night!

And now that we've been home three days, I'm still seeing some behaviors we'd already gotten through. It is so frustrating and heartbreaking to see.  Tonight as he fell asleep, he did some of the same things he did when we were in Ethiopia to try to keep himself awake. And he's been going to sleep for me without so much as a whimper and the past two nights we've had full-on crying & kicking.  Argh.

But the good part is that we know how to handle it better now. And Amani knows now that it is possible to go away from home and come back. And I've been keeping him close (in the sling), where he's happy, so he's been great during the day.

For those of you wondering about his surgery update... I found out this week that he will need one more surgery. I can't tell you how bummed out I am about it. I really had convinced myself that he wouldn't need any more.  And I was so sad that I forgot to ask big questions like, "will he be under general or local anesthesia?"  But the good news is that, unlike the last one, this is a surgery we can put off for 6-8 months. We'll have more time to stabilize our relationship before he has to be in recovery again. I am SO thankful for that.

And while I'm so sad that my baby has to have surgery again, I am praising God that we live in a place where his surgeries are no big deal. We can improve the quality of his life without any hassle and he's getting surgeries he would never have had access to in Ethiopia.

God is good! :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Help Me Send My Husband AWAY...

... to Swaziland, that is!

Sometimes I think we have been nonstop fundraising ever since Rob's first trip to Swaziland in 2008.

It's kinda true.

So now we're raising funding for his next trip (the one I had really hoped to be on... sigh).  And I thought I'd have a "Help Me Send My Husband AWAY" Sale.

I sew lots of stuff and I am a terrible entrepreneur. I just hate selling it.  But when I have a good reason (aka orphan-related trips to Africa or adoptions), I find a way to put some prices on my hard work!

I'll put up some stuff on the "Store" page of the blog and as soon as it's all gone, I'll add some more stuff! Kind of like an on-going deal-of-the-day kinda thing.

First up are some super-cute turkey barrettes (and one owl): $3 each!

Email me at yklj AT triad DOT rr DOT com and let me know if you want one! Shipping is $1. And, if you care, let me know if you'd like the clip to be pointing left or right!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Orphan Sunday

Today is Orphan Sunday. Hopefully you will hear something at church today about orphans. I know our church did not recognize it last year and I came home really discouraged. So I decided if I wanted our church to do something I'd have to ask... so I'm speaking at church today along with a friend of mine who went to Swaziland recently. I am NOT a public speaker. I hope it goes well.  I'll post what we said later this week.

But for now, I want to leave you with some resources in case you haven't heard anything about Orphan Sunday today.

Click to see the Orphan Sunday website and video

Also, a friend of mine posted this last week:
How Does God Feel about Orphans?
Read it. Don't skim it. READ it.  God has a LOT to say about orphans.

And some of my favorite links to info on how to care for orphans:
Heart for Africa - Travel to Swaziland to empower local churches to help the orphans in their community; learn about Project Canaan as HfA comes alongside Swazis to help them create real change in their country.
It's Not Okay With Me. - Janine Maxwell (of Heart for Africa) tells how God called her to Swaziland
 Is it Okay With You? - Janine's second book.  Both are a MUST read.
Orphanology - A great book not just about WHY Christians must care for orphans, but HOW churches should go about doing so. It has some great adoption stories and ideas for other ways to care for orphans outside of adoption.
Lifesong for Orphans - What an amazing organization. We did our fundraiser, Both Hands, through Lifesong. They partner with orphanages overseas, help churches here establish adoption funds for church members who want to adopt, and much more.

I'm beyond thrilled that our church is recognizing Orphan Sunday today. We'll spend 7 minutes of our service time talking about how God loves orphans and calls us to love them too.  Last year I read about churches that had adoption and foster care booths set up for after the service so that people could come by and get more info. There's a church in the Raleigh area that called social services and asked how many foster homes they needed... and then hundreds of families from that church became foster parents!  This is why we do Orphan Sunday. I pray that next year our church does even more than our 7 minute presentation.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Special Kind of Crazy

I use a lot of self-deprecating humor. Or so my husband tells me.  But one of the things I've said about myself lately is that I'm a "special kind of crazy" because I want to go through the whole adoption process again for another child.

I really shouldn't say it like that.

Because our society has already set adoptive families apart as something "different."  Someone told me I am "brave." Someone else told me I am "strong."  Someone told me I am "called to adopt."  Someone else told me they could "never handle what I'm going through."

And all of those people were trying to give me compliments. And I surely appreciate compliments, but the problem with all of those statements is that they take God completely out of the equation (okay maybe not the "called" one but stick with me, I promise I have a point here).

I believe that you certainly need strength and bravery to adopt. But I needed much more than I have on my own. I relied on God during the entire adoption process to see me through and I am relying on him even more now that Amani is home.  Yes, I needed to be strong and brave; but I am not, in fact, all that strong or all that brave.

I believe whole-heartedly that God wanted us to adopt. Was it a calling? Well, a calling implies that my family was picked out especially to adopt. That we were set-aside to do so.  But the Bible clearly states that ALL Christians are to care for orphans. If it's a calling, then we are ALL called. So the Cassells are not all that special. We just chose to be obedient in the form of adoption.

And let me tell you, no, you cannot "handle what I'm going through." Neither can I. It's hard. Getting Amani home was HARD. Having him home is hardER. I can't handle it. Not by myself. God gives me strength and patience and compassion every day to be able to help Amani transition into our family while making sure my other two children (and husband) get their fair share of attention. And to not yell at the big kids the 45th time I've told them to put on their shoes (um... more prayers needed here.)

When I set myself apart, even jokingly, I am limiting God.  God can use each and every one of us to make a difference in the life of an orphan. Everyone. Not just the "especially crazy" ones.  My family is not set apart. We are not special. We were merely obedient in adopting. God doesn't think any more highly of us and so chose us to adopt. No, He will use those who are willing.

So why do we wait? Why do we say no?  Why aren't we willing?  What excuses do we give for NOT adopting? For NOT sponsoring a child? For NOT fostering? For NOT traveling overseas to work with orphans? For NOT mentoring a child here.

Are we waiting for God to call? He already has.

Are we waiting for finances to be in order? I didn't see anything in the Bible about caring for orphans only after making sure we have nice cars, kids in brand-name clothing, and a giant retirement fund set up.

Are we waiting to feel ready? Trust me, you're never ready. When I was pregnant the first time, I read every book I could get my hands on and still wasn't ready for that newborn I brought home.  With this adoption, I read every book that was recommended to me, did trainings, talked to other parents, and we still weren't ready when he came home.

Are we waiting for a big-enough house? In Ethiopia, there are 45 babies in one room. More than that many boys sleeping in bunk beds in one-room barracks.  We have enough space, I promise.

If we wait for those things we'll be doing just that: waiting.

November is Adoption Awareness month. I guess I want you to be aware. But more than that, I want families to be inspired to adopt. How hard is it? Well, yes it's hard. But there are children raising themselves, going to bed alone, dying alone.  Do you know what a difference we can make?

This Sunday is Orphan Sunday. Again, I guess I want you to be aware there are orphans. And I want you to be aware that you can do something to help them.  But more than that, I want people to rise up. To DO something.  Just because we've already adopted we aren't "off the hook."  Rob's headed back to Swaziland next summer. The only reason I'm not going is 'cause we're not ready to leave Amani yet. You can bet I'll be there the following year.

'Cause guess what? We are all that special kind of crazy. You... yes you reading this right now. I am officially calling you crazy.  So now you're aware.

And you can go make a difference in the life of a child.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Adoption Month and an update

Just a quick blog update! November is Adoption Month and I had to share the facebook status of a fellow adoptive mama, Lyndsay, today:

Today begins NATIONAL ADOPTION MONTH... Pray for the day that it is just a "given" that we find it unacceptable that children would suffer and die alone because our vehicle and house payment took precedence and priority.

Wow. I don't think I need to say anything after that.

But for those of you wanting an update on Amani and on "how we're doing," here is the latest:

Amani has gained a pound an a half in the four short weeks he's been home. I'm not surprised... sometimes I think he's part vacuum-cleaner.  He really is a great eater.

I am FINALLY starting to see some improvements in his breathing since his surgery! Praise God. I seriously was thinking we'd had the surgery for nothing. We go back to the ENT soon to see about what our next steps might be.  We have a series of other doctor/specialist appointments this month as well. So pray for Rob and I as we make some decisions for him about his health.

And things are getting easier. The last four weeks have been hard. Some days have been REALLY hard. Adopting is hard. I knew that before. But knowing it and living it are two different things.  We are not out of the woods yet, but I'm getting paid back with some beautiful smiles and snuggles. And I have I told you he gives spontaneous kisses? They are the drooliest, slobbery-est kisses, but I love them!

And he got to meet his grandpa!!! My dad has/had cancer and was going through radiation treatments while I was in Ethiopia (our family rarely does drama one event at a time) and so we had to wait for him to be cleared before he could come down to meet Amani. It was a wonderful gift that he was finally cleared and could come.  My dad has always made those funny "clicking" sounds at my kids, especially when they were babies. It just so happens that that is one of Amani's favorite things to do...they're buddies already.

Oh yeah... and we celebrated Halloween:

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Cost of Compassion

So I guess the best way for me to keep the blog up lately is to point y'all in the direction of other blogs or other articles. I do actually have some things to say for myself... and I'm hopeful some day soon I'll have a chance to sit and blog about it.

But in the meantime...

I just read this article:

It is great. Please read it. I blogged awhile back about being heartbroken - this is exactly what I'm talking about.

And that's how life has been for us for the past few weeks. It is wonderful having Amani home, but it is hard. It hurts sometimes. And I can't stop thinking about all the other children I left behind in Ethiopia. I cried in Swaziland the night I walked with the women down to the river to get water, knowing it was tainted with diseases that are killing their children. My heart broke for the children I held who have no parents to care for them.

I pray that this kind of compassion stays with me for the rest of my life. And (watch out friends) I pray it is contagious. A LOT of my friends are headed to Swaziland with Rob next summer. And if they don't already know, they are about to find out exactly what it means when we say compassion hurts.

But it's the best kind of hurt. Like that quote from Incubus, I think it's part of how I know I'm alive.  It is so easy for us, especially here in America, to protect ourselves from this hurt.  But I don't want to live in a bubble.  That's not life.  With no risk comes no joy.

I pray that we will take down our walls, take off our protective armor, and allow ourselves to hurt alongside those who are hurting.  That is exactly what Jesus did for us. If we want to be like Him, how else could we expect to live?

Monday, October 24, 2011

How to Support Adoptive Families

I read a lot of blogs. Pretty much all of them are adoption blogs (or sewing blogs).  Today I happened to read a post from one of the blogs I follow. It's short and sweet and pretty much just all-around great:

As I read it, all I could think was "YES!"... and then I thought, isn't that what all families need?

And, like Julie, the writer of that blog, I certainly need grace. I got some pointed comments about having left Riley and Allyn to go to Ethiopia to get Amani, not knowing how long I'd be gone. I've gotten some hurtful comments about what adopting a child from another country would do to my biological children and how adoption takes away from them, both emotionally and financially.  As I talk about maybe one day adopting a fourth child, I've been asked if that's right to do, knowing that our family could more easily "afford" three children (see my post about that one)

She's so right. Adoptive families need grace. We might do things that make no sense within the context of our culture. We travel thousands of miles, leaving behind husbands, wives, children, in order to bring home our children. We stretch budgets, do fundraisers, take out loans in order to bring these children home. We spend years working on paperwork, getting fingerprinted, waiting, waiting waiting. We love children who have no genetic ties to us; who sometimes look nothing like us, who need surgeries, medications, and an insane amount of individual attention to get through the day.

We need grace. I need grace. I promise I am just doing my best to be like Jesus. I am going to fail. Miserably. Many times.  But I press on, knowing that God loves orphans, knowing that Amani sleeping in his crib next to his big brother's bed is worth every bit of the craziness.


The word brings peace to my soul.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Bring your good times, and your laughter too...

Someone call Kool & the Gang 'cause we are celebrating! (good gracious, how do I even have any friends? I'm such a nerd.)

This has been an AWESOME week.  Wanna know why? Two families on this journey with us passed court this week! That means two more little girls in Ethiopia now have families. God is so good! I had the absolute honor of meeting these two precious girls while I was in Ethiopia! They are amazing, as are their families! These families didn't pass court before the rainy season, even though they traveled to Ethiopia around the same time we did for court. That means they've been waiting waiting waiting for this news!  Hooray!


One of the cool things about this crazy adoption journey is the connection I have made to other mamas who are on this road with me.  And there are lots of them!  Their blog posts & comments have been inspiring, have kept me sane, and have lifted me up along this journey. I used to think it was weird to have internet-only friends. Now I thank God for them!

I am SO excited to celebrate with them this week! :)

PS. Good gracious, I am sorry for how grumpy I was in that last post. Sometimes I think I should wait 24 hours before clicking "publish."  My outlook is not that negative, I promise! yikes! :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

How's it going?

I get asked this question a lot lately and to be honest, I really don't know how to answer it.

I think we're fine.

But that doesn't mean that it isn't hard.

So I don't know how to answer the question. If I say "great!" it doesn't feel like the truth. It is great that Amani is home. We are thrilled to finally have him here. That part is beyond great.  But during this transition time he cries a lot, he needs to be held all day long. My back hurts from having him in the sling all the time. And have I mentioned that he cries a lot? And, poor baby, his breath is about the worst thing I've ever smelled. It's from his adenoid surgery and I called the ENT to make sure it's okay. Apparently it's supposed to do that. And it should get better this week. Praise God. It's really that bad. And remember, he's in the sling all day... right below my nose! :)

But if I am honest and say "well, it's hard," I tend to get lots of advice. I don't mean to be rude, but I didn't ask for advice. I didn't bring up the fact that it's hard, they asked.  And, again, really really not meaning to be rude, but advice on how their biological child went through this too isn't really that helpful.  I promise a biological child did not, in fact, go through this. And explaining all this for some reason takes a lot of energy out of me, so I don't say anything.  Instead I think, "how can I turn this conversation off of my struggles and onto something mundane?"

So the honest answer to "How's it going?" is "I don't know."  I'm not sure how well Amani's doing. Is he supposed to cry this much? I don't know. How much longer will he need until he feels safe and comfortable with us? I don't know that either.  But for right now, I am doing the best that I can with him. I'm tired. It is really hard to hang out with a child who cries all day long. And only naps in 20 minute increments.  Really hard.  I pray for grace, patience, and compassion every morning. And again at night before I go to bed. And a couple times during the day.

But I expected this. I asked for this. I want this. Amani is home. He is grieving, he is freaking out because this "normal" isn't anything like what it used to be.  That is okay. We will weather this storm.  This is what adoption looks like.

And it's beautiful. I love this child, more than I can even explain. I look at him and my heart wells up the same way it does when I look at Riley and Allyn.  And honestly, every day gets a little easier. I hope I don't sound too down with this post. Things are so much better than they were.

So... how are YOU doing?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

On Ethics and Adoption

I've been thinking a lot about how to write about my experience with the US Embassy while I was in Ethiopia.  It wasn't a good experience but I am glad I've had some space between now and then to reflect. I can think a little more objectively now than when I was in Ethiopia.

I definitely think the Embassy should be involved. It is always tricky to adopt from a different country. Different cultures and different governments have different priorities.  What happens in Ethiopia is that you get approval from the Ethiopian government first via your favorable opinion from MOWA and then the judge's decree making you the child's legal parent.  But the tricky part is that I was only Amani's legal parent in Ethiopia. As far as the US government was concerned, the adoption was not at all final.  But they don't become involved in the process until after we became his legal parents in Ethiopia.

That makes things tricky if the US government decides it's not a legal/ethical adoption.

And I was faced with this very problem while we were there. I hinted at the Embassy's unreasonable requests while I was in-country.  One of those requests involved doing something that might have completely jeopardized our adoption of Amani.  To be fair, what the Embassy wanted was completely reasonable... it was the timing that was not.  It just doesn't make sense for the Embassy to become involved in the process so late in the game. I am hoping some changes may be made so that the US does their investigation at the same time as MOWA. That would be acting in the best interest of the children and families involved.

Because that is what we need to do. We need to act in the best interest of the children, THEN the families involved. I confess that when the Embassy first made their request, I balked. I wanted to fight it, to find a way around it.  But I realized that while their timing really was inappropriate, the request itself was in Amani's best interest. Not necessarily mine. I didn't want to do something that could result in me not bringing him home. We had already grown to love him, he was already living with me.  It would have been devastating.

But I absolutely did not want to adopt a child if there had been any kind of corruption involved in his becoming an orphan.  And I needed to do everything possible to be sure that's not what had happened. We complied with what the Embassy requested. And I had nightmares. I imagined what it would be like to return home without him; what it would be like to discover that there had been corruption in his case and that he was not in fact an orphan.  It was a scary time.

Thank goodness for us everything was in order. I had done my own research when we traveled to Gondar so I really believed everything would work out okay but it was scary nonetheless.

But my point is this: adoption is not for the parents. It is not for the families. Yes, we benefit greatly because we get the honor of raising these incredible children. But we need to protect children (and their families) from those who wish to use them or benefit from their suffering.  It would be easy to lose sight of this; to pretend there is no corruption; to stick our heads in the sand because we desperately want these children.

There is corruption in adoption. Not in all adoptions, but it exists where adoption exists.  And we need to always act in the best interest of the children even when it's not in the best interest of the waiting families.

That's easy for me to say to say now that I have my son home.  But I promise you I had to act in his best interest in order to bring him home at all. I had to do something that could have turned EVERYTHING upside down and I would have come home without Amani after almost 2 years of waiting and praying for him.  And while I still wish the Embassy had asked for it months ago, before I became his legal parent, I am glad we did it.  Because while it was not at all in my best interest as the mom who wanted to bring him home, it was completely in his best interest as a child needing a family.  And in all honesty, I'm more interested in what's best for him, not me.

I am praying lots for Ethiopia. Being in-country for three weeks allowed me to see and hear about some of the negative things that are going on over there.  There is a great need for change in the adoption process.  I am praying for that change and for all who are still in-process.

Most of all, I pray for the children. They are the ones with the most at stake here.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Power of Language

The words we use are so powerful. And sometimes we don't realize at all what we are saying or how it comes across.  I know a lot of people in the adoption community get very offended by certain terms. I don't blame them, although I am not as easily offended.  I figure I'd rather give the other person some grace and realize that they probably don't realize what they are saying.

For the past two years, I've been doing all kinds of training; reading books on interracial adoption, reading about adoption in general, doing web-inars, etc. I'd consider myself fairly well-educated on the matter. Plus, I'm a social worker. In grad school, the power of the labels/language we use was drilled into my head. I try to always be very aware of what my words are saying.

But I have to realize that many people are not. They didn't spend two years learning about adoption and probably didn't have any grad school classes on language.  I can choose to get upset over what they say or I can educate them. I think, in most cases, people just don't have the working vocabulary they need to talk appropriately about adoption.

And I figure most of y'all who read this blog are my family or close friends or you know someone in the adoption community. So I thought I'd provide a tiny lesson on adoption language, free of charge! :)  Here are some rules of thumb for talking with adoptive families:

Please don't ask me about Amani's "real parents." Rob and I are his real parents. I know who you are talking about when you say that, but to be honest, it hurts my feelings a tiny bit. And, MUCH more importantly, someday Amani will hear and understand your words. He will wonder why you think his Mom and Dad are not his real parents.  Feel free to say "birth parents" but don't expect us to tell you anything.

Please don't ask me about my "own" kids. All three of them are my own.  I've had people say, "oh, I didn't realize you couldn't have any more of your own." Or say things like "what do YOUR kids think."  I know you mean my biological children, but every child of mine is my own. I don't want Amani to ever hear this and think he is not mine.  I don't want Riley and Allyn to hear this and think he's not ours, too!  (And in case you were wondering, we chose to adopt. We had no reason to believe we couldn't have more biological children. We believe adopting is just as good of an option for growing a family).

Don't ask "where did you get him?"  That's the kind of question you ask someone with a new puppy.  "Where is he from?" is much more appropriate. I know those don't seem like important differences, but if you want to connect with the mom you're asking these questions of, I promise it's an important distinction.

Please don't ask "Was he expensive?" or "How much did he cost?"  I did not purchase my child. I NEVER want him to get that impression. EVER.  It's probably never appropriate to ask someone about the cost of their adoption in the presence of their children, but if the kids aren't around, it's fine by me if you ask if adoption is expensive. But then I just might ask you how much you paid your OB or midwife for your labor & delivery! :)

And don't try to use him to get a certain message across. He is not a poster-child for adoption. He's not a poster-child for Ethiopia.  I am happy to speak about adoption or about Ethiopia but I am not bringing my child with me as a prop.  If you were giving a talk on birth and labor, you probably wouldn't bring your baby along when there was a much more age-appropriate activity for your child to participate in.  The same goes for us. Amani is a child, not a message.

That's a lot of "don'ts".  Want to know what you CAN do if you see someone with a child and you think it's maybe an international adoption?

Compliment their child.  Every mother loves to hear great things about their children. I was out with Amani tonight and was told twice that I have a pretty baby. It made my heart sing.  And if they had chosen to follow that statement up with nicely-worded questions about adoption, you know I would have been happy to talk to them about it!

Talk about regular mom stuff. Get a conversation going the way you would with any other mom. Say "how old is he?" or make some kind of comment about something your child did at that age. You know, those weird things we mamas say to each other when we're sitting on the benches inside the Chick-Fil-A play area. To that mom, their child is not "my adopted child." He is simply "my child." Act accordingly.

Ask.  If you aren't sure if it's okay to talk about a child's adoption, wait until the child is not around and ask if it's okay. Some parents are super-open about talking about their children's adoptions. Some are not. It's okay to ask.  But be prepared to allow them to say they don't want to talk about it. Just because it is obvious that a child is adopted doesn't mean the parents are open to discussing it.  For us, I'm more than happy to talk about it as long as it's also appropriate for Amani to hear what we are saying. If it's not, be prepared for me to change the subject, hoping you'll take the hint that now is not the time.

And don't freak out. We all make mistakes in our wording. We do it all the time. Our culture condones a lot of it. I'm certain I've said things that I didn't mean to say or I didn't think before I spoke.  And I'm not writing this post in response to anything in particular, so if you are my friend, please don't wonder if I'm talking about you! I promise, I am not!!! You don't need to walk (or talk) on eggshells around me. But realize that, just like every mom, I want what is best for my children, and that includes what they hear about how they came into our family.

So now you know. And knowing is half the battle! ;)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Surgery Day

I'm sitting in the hospital watching my sweet boy sleep in those weird baby-hospital-bed-crib things, so I thought I'd do a quick post!

I wish I'd brought a camera with me today 'cause he was just the world cutest patient in his little gown. You'll just have to imagine it :)

I was anxious about today. To be honest, I was anxious about this morning. I wasn't really worried about the surgery. Lots of my friends' kids have had tubes put in. And a few more have told me they had adenoidectomies too. And they all were fine.  What I was worried about was pre-surgery.

You see, my sweet, food-loving, food-issues child was to have NOTHING to eat or drink until after his surgery today.  That would make for a tough morning for any child, but for my child who is just learning to trust me, this was a big deal.  I was so anxious about that moment when he looked at me and signed "more" and I couldn't respond.  We've been responding to him as quickly as possible when it comes to food. We need to build up that trust that food comes when he asks for it. Every time. Fast.  But today, I had to wake him up at 5:30 and then refuse to feed him for 2 hours until he went back for surgery. I can't even begin to tell you how much I was dreading it!

Let me tell you I could feel the prayers this morning. I know lots of our family and friends were praying for us. He got mad a couple times but he managed really much better than I thought he would. Although man did that blood pressure cuff on his leg make him mad. yikes.

And then I had a small "moment" with the anesthesiologists.  Because he is a newly adopted child, I wanted to stay with him until he was out under anesthesia.  And a friend of mine from church had told me she had done that with her daughter. So I knew it was possible. I asked and was told quite briskly, "no, that is not our policy." I explained that he's newly adopted. I explained attachment issues. I asked if there was someone else I could speak to. She brought another anesthesiologist who basically said the same thing but with more words. He told me that, to them, it was not a medical issue and therefore my child did not require anything different.

Crying, I told them that if it was my biological child, I would put them on a stretcher and wave goodbye. I told them I was not trying to be difficult, but that I needed to do my best by my son and that I needed to stay with him until the last possible second, so that he was not taken away from me on a stretcher, screaming.  They conceded enough to say I could walk with them up to "the red line" (which was not really a concession).

And then our wonderful surgeon stepped in. I had heard great things about him from friends but this man certainly proved them right.  It's Dr. Bates at Greensboro ENT in case anyone is wondering.  He looked at me and said "I'm more familiar to him, how about if I carry him in my arms." Amani's only met him once, but that really was nice of him, and judging by the comments I heard from the anesthesiologists later, that was not a normal thing for him to offer.  And luckily Amani was given some oral meds just before which made him a little loopy.

So instead of watching my child rolled off in a stretcher, screaming, reaching out for me, I was able to hand him over into the arms of his surgeon. He did reach for me, but there was no screaming, no crying (at least not on his part).

God is so good.

And, of course, I cried. I was no longer worried about pre-surgery. I wasn't fighting for the opportunity to stay with my child. I just had to wait. And I cried and prayed.

And he's just fine.

Although we had a tiny glitch. Apparently someone was supposed to tell us to plan to spend the night at the hospital. Instead, they told us we'd be discharged straight from the recovery room.  Imagine our surprise when Dr. Bates said "I know you were planning to stay the night but I'm thinking as long as he's still doing well by 4 you can probably take him home." Um, what? I had two diapers in my diaper bag and one bottle.That was it. I hadn't showered, thinking I'd take one as soon as we got back home!

So there I was in the recovery room, texting a friend to see if she could watch Allyn for the morning and pick Riley up from school! Thank God for great friends!

It's 3:20. You know in 40 minutes I'll be hitting that call bell asking them to start the discharge process!

But for now I'll just watch that sleeping boy and be thankful.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Our New "Normal"

Amani has been home for three whole days.  Three days of having three kids.

Here's what life looks like so far:

I never organized Amani's clothes in his drawers since I wasn't quite sure what size he wore. So right now all his clothes are in piles on the couches in the living room. I have to walk out there to find clothes for him. Except for socks. Those are in a drawer in his room.

I also never quite figured out what I wanted to do about a changing table. Allyn's room was the "baby room" since it has a built-in desk that was a perfect changing table. But now it's a desk again. But we put the diapers on top. So we have to walk into Allyn's room to get a diaper, then I've been changing him on my bed, on the floor in his room, on the floor in the living room, wherever.

He doesn't appreciate food preparation. I was prepared for food issues so I expected this, but when Rob took Riley to soccer practice Tuesday night, I figured I could handle making mac & cheese for Amani and Allyn. Not so much. He screamed the entire time I was making it. It didn't matter if I held him or not. I ended up quickly heating up leftovers for him to eat while the mac & cheese finished up cooking but by then he was so worked up he couldn't sit in his high chair.  Fun times.  I'll be working on some new strategies... or maybe we'll just be eating take out for the rest of our lives!

And, just to sum up our new "normal":

I went to give Amani a bath tonight and reached into the linen closet for a baby washcloth. Instead I got a pair of my underwear.

Hey, at least I'm putting laundry away!

Monday, October 3, 2011


I've been updating facebook and neglected the blog!

Here's our timeline!

We went to the Embassy on Thursday and they wouldn't see us! The person in charge was in a meeting and we were so frustrated that, after waiting for an hour, they told us to send an email.

We hurried straight home and sent an email.

Friday morning we got an email reply saying that they'd received the documents but we were not yet cleared.

Bummed, we decided we were stuck for the weekend. Jaeden & I took Amani up back to Gladney for his injection but on the way there, my phone rang - it was Belay asking how quickly we could get to the embassy! We were cleared! And if we could get there by 11:30 we could have our appointment that day!

In a mad rush, we drove back to the guest house to get Kim & Reisen and our paperwork (remind me to tell you about that drive... oh my! Driving in Africa is an experience all by itself... driving in Africa when you've told your driver you are in a crazy hurry is something altogether different! Whew!)

Another crazy drive and we were at the Embassy at 11:16! We had our appointments, waited on our visas and we were out of there by 12:20! Amazing!

We went straight to the Ethiopian Air office and were thrilled to learn we could get tickets for Saturday!

We arrived home on Sunday afternoon (I'll blog later about the plane flight... let's just say at one point I was contemplating jumping out the window).

I was so surprised when we got to baggage claim! Some of our closest friends were there to meet us!!! It was so wonderful to be welcomed home like that! As soon as I got to the bottom of the escalator I was greeted by Riley and Allyn and their friends... it was so sweet! Our "lunch crowd" from church was all there! So was my best friend from college. We are so blessed to have such amazing friends.  All I can do is marvel at the people God has placed in my life.
Proud Big Brother & Big Sister (and best friend Ella!)
Amani being greeted by friends!

Big Sister's first kiss!

We headed home and Aman did okay in his car seat. Thank God for siblings! They could distract him when I couldn't!! :)

As we turned onto our street, Rob said, "uh, I think there are a lot of people at our house." I was sitting in the way back with Riley so I didn't see at first. I looked up at there were all our youth and their families and some more of our friends with signs, balloons, and they'd even decorated our hedges with streamers. So amazing.

We love y'all! And thank you. Thank you so much for being so supportive over the past two years while we we've been adopting. And thank you in-advance. We know y'all are here for us as we begin this next (harder) step of adoption: parenting.  Thank you for loving our family, for loving Amani before you even met him.

And now we are a family of 5. Praise God!
Our first family picture!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wake up Church!

I might step on some toes in this post and for that, I apologize.  Well, except I don’t really apologize. God not only stepped on my toes years ago when He opened my eyes to what’s happening to children around the world, He stomped on my feet. HARD.  I need to do a little foot stomping – maybe your foot will be underneath. Sometimes that’s okay. I promise it’s out of love.

Want to know what I did today? I left Amani with a caregiver to go love on some orphans. We visited the same three orphanages we visited when I was here in July. I thought I’d be just fine. I knew intellectually that today would be hard but I had already forgotten just how hard it is. Then I nearly lost it before we even left the first orphanage. I am really not sure how I’m ever going to sleep tonight.

We spent time first at the boys’ orphanage. It is a place where I wouldn’t let my children play, much less live. And I spent most of my time talking with a 13 year old boy who has been at this particular orphanage for 4 years but was at a different one before that. He’s working hard at school and wants to be a doctor one day. Do you know what his chances of success are? Not so good. If he’s still in school by the time he turns 18, the Ethiopian government will give him $500 and send him on his way. No training on how to spend that $500, no guides to make sure he finds a place to live and a place to work. I know I’m not sending my kids out with $500 when they turn 18 and just expect them to know what to do.  We were told most of them have spent the $500 within the first week. And then they’re just out of luck.

Know what else I realized? If Amani were not adopted, this would be where he’d grow up: in an orphanage in Ethiopia. Where boys sleep in bunk beds, row upon row, with thin blankets over them on cold nights, where they only recently all got pillows.  Where ONE “mother” is there for hundreds of boys. No good night stories, no snuggles, no one to answer boys who call out in the night. No family.

We went to the baby orphanage next. I blogged about this back in July. It’s still heartbreaking. These babies get two diaper changes a day. TWO. Do you know how many diapers Amani went through during our first few days when he had diarrhea?  Seven or eight at least. We walked around picking up babies who were crying. I picked up one and realized she had burns on her neck and shoulder. Burns.On a baby.Uncovered, untreated, just open to the air.   And her cry was so weak. How long until infection sets in? How did she get burned? How does a baby dealing with burn pain get through the day when there is no one to pick her up when she cries? How long until she gives up?

From there we visited the girls’ orphanage. These girls are not unlike my youth girls at home. The walls of their bedrooms are covered in pages from magazines: pictures of Beyonce, Brittany Spears, and some Bollywood stars.  They dream just like American girls do. Only these girls have no mom to giggle with; no one to talk to them about how boys should treat them.  Many girls who grow up in orphanages end up in prostitution in Ethiopia. These beautiful girls I hugged today are likely to share the same fate. Do you know how sick that makes me?I have a daughter. The thought makes me want to throw up. Then scream. And throw things.

I started to title this post simply “WAKE UP” but I realized that the basis for everything I have to say is in the Bible.  That doesn’t mean at all that people who aren’t Christians can’t help – they certainly can. But if you call yourself a follower of Jesus and you aren’t doing anything, you might want to have a little talk with your Creator about that.  We, as the church, need to wake up.

I know I’ve said that before, but I am so mad today. I’m mad at our culture, I’m mad at our churches who focus on keeping Christians happy and comfortable in our fancy churches with flat-screen tvs. I’m mad at myself for buying into the idea that I need comfort and security when my comfort and security comes at such a cost. I have so much when these children have nothing. I am at fault here.

That doesn’t mean everyone needs to adopt. If God is calling you to adopt, I suggest you answer. But maybe He isn’t calling you to adopt. That’s great. Adoption isn’t going to solve all the problems.  Maybe you’ve been reading my blog and you want to do something to help the orphan problem. Check out Lifesong for Orphans. Go to the Heart for Africa website. Read Orphanology. Caring for orphans is MUCH more than just adopting. Adoption is like triage – kids in the system now need to be adopted but we need to do more to make sure more kids don’t end up in the system in the future.

But here’s the deal. God wants you to do something. James 1:27 says “True religion is this: caring for the widow and the orphan in their time of need.”  Caring FOR, not caring ABOUT. Anyone can read what I wrote about those orphanages and care. Do you know how few will actually do something?  There are children going to bed tonight alone.  To steal a quote from one of my favorite people:

“is that okay with you?” (Janine Maxwell from Heart for Africa – read her book!)

There was some kind of research study done a few years ago asking mainstream Americans what they thought of Christians (I can actually get you the info on this, just don’t have it in Ethiopia). Do you know what the main answers were? Christians are hypocritical and hate gay people. Hmmm… sounds like we’re doing a great PR job. Last time I checked neither of those things are in the Bible.

What if Christians were known for caring about orphans or fighting injustice because we love Jesus? What if we all did something? Domestic, international, whatever. What if every person who claims to love Jesus went into action? (By the way, action is more than just writing a check)

What if?

I can only speak for myself… like I said, I’m stepping on my own toes. I don’t know yet if this is our last adoption. I struggle with how in the world I could not adopt again. But adoption isn’t the answer to the problem. We will continue to work in Swaziland helping with the orphan problems there.  I might have an Ethiopia project in the works as well – I’ll blog more about that after I’m home.

Take time today and be still. Ask God what He intends for you to do. I can guarantee His answer will never be “stay how you are and maybe buy a new jacket for yourself.” Are you a friend of mine and He’s been tapping on your heart about Swaziland? Do you only know me through this crazy blog and you’re thinking maybe adoption really could be for you?  Did you find this blog randomly and now you’re thinking about picking up Orphanology or Is it Okay with You?

And if you aren’t a Christian, I pray you will somehow encounter this God I love. We do a terrible job representing him. I personally apologize for any behavior you’ve ever seen in a Christian that was selfish, hypocritical, or hateful. That’s the exact opposite of what Jesus is all about and I’m very sorry.  Like I said in my post about God’s timing… He uses us to set things to rights. He uses me – broken, uncoordinated, selfish, hot mess that I am.  What an honor to serve Him; and it motivates me to try harder, to do more to be like Him.

So tonight I go to bed just kinda mad.  But there is hope sleeping just a few feet away from me. A child who up until a few weeks ago was an orphan.

We can make a difference.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Challenges of Adopting a Toddler

Before I begin, let me say that I know that adopting Amani at 13 months carries far fewer challenges than adopting an older child. We are blessed that we are able to adopt him so young.

BUT… there are definitely some challenges to adopting a toddler. The fact that he’s walking, and walking so well, makes things a little dicey sometimes.

When you have a newborn, you do nothing but make that child’s life better. If he’s hungry, you feed him, if he’s wet or dirty, you change him. If he wants to be held, you hold him. You can do no wrong. That doesn’t mean your child never cries but a newborn doesn’t cry because of something you’ve done.  It’s a perfect relationship: the child has needs and you meet them and that’s how you bond.

Try that with a child who can walk. Amani gets mad at me regularly. He wants to grab the trash can and I don’t let him. He wants to walk outside on to the porch area that has wide railings through which he could easily fall. Of course, I don’t let him. He wants to play on the stairs, grab the stove knobs, push the furniture around the room; he wants to push the doors open and I have to stop the door as quickly as I can before it smooshes his other hand or pinches his fingers.  He wants to bang on glass.  Outside, he wants to walk along the ledge next to the parking lot (about a 6 foot drop).  Usually I can distract him and get him moved onto a different task. But not always.  And it can involve him screaming and dropping to the floor.

It is frustrating.

I want us to be having a lovely bonding experience where I am always making life better for him.  In most ways, we are. I am giving him more individual attention than he’s ever had in his life. I try not to make him wait hardly at all for meals or for a bottle. He gets snuggles immediately when he wants them.  For the most part, we are doing great. But we have some tough times when he moves from one dangerous activity to the next and I have to follow behind being his constant fun-killer.

My heart goes out to him when he cries because I’ve stopped him from something harmful, but for some reason, his freaking out over his bottle is exasperating. He’s on formula and I have to measure the water into the bottle, then scoop the formula and shake it for a bit (his formula has a terrible tendency to clump). It probably takes all of 45 seconds. But he freaks out the entire time.  He shouts “uh uhUHUH” over and over again and grows more and more frantic until he gets the bottle.  And it starts the second he sees me pick up a bottle or grab the can of formula.  I know it is because he had to wait a long time to get a bottle when he was at the orphanage. I can NOT wait for the day when he realizes that it is coming quickly and he doesn’t need to freak. For some reason, I’m just not as compassionate with him about the bottle thing. It drives me a little crazy. Maybe I just need to get out more. J

I’ve had some of you ask me about why we can’t leave the guest house. It’s a MOWA rule. MOWA is the Ministry of Women’s Affairs here in Ethiopia. They are the ones who investigate each orphan’s background and has to write a favorable opinion to the judge in our each in order for the judge to approve an adoption.  We’ve already passed court so MOWA can’t do anything to negate our adoption, but we wouldn’t want to buck the rules and jeopardize future adoptions in Ethiopia.  It has been explained to me that MOWA says Ethiopians don’t want to see a bunch of Americans walking around with the babies they are adopting – that it reminds them too much of the problem.  I won’t say what I think about that. If you read this blog enough or know me personally, you probably already know my reaction to that.  So, the good rule-followers that we are, Kim, Jaeden, and I stay home pretty much every day. Talk about Cabin Fever!

We have figured out a couple places we can go with the boys and on Wednesday we are actually leaving the boys with a caregiver and we’re going to visit the government orphanages again. Kim and I went on our trips here for court but Jaeden hasn’t been.  And my friend Amanda who is a missionary here is going to join us. It is a tough experience but I am looking forward to the opportunity to love on and pray over those little and not-so-little ones.

And yesterday we left the boys with Marta, one of the amazing women who works here at Bejoe. The boys love her and she offered to watch them for 15 minutes so we could walk up the street for a macchiato. It was heaven. We didn’t even care that it rained on us the whole way home. It was so nice to get out of the house and be baby-free just for 15 minutes. And it’s funny how you get take-away stuff here. You have to bring your own cup. We wanted to bring a macchiato home for Marta but you have to bring them a cup. We brought a mug from the guest house but then realized we had no top for it and it was raining! I put my little travel wallet thing over it and walked as fast as I could, trying not to spill.  Living in Ethiopia makes you creative.

As for an update on when we might get to come home: no updates yet. We are going over to the Embassy in person on Thursday afternoon to check in with them. There is a small chance they will clear us then and we could have an appt Friday and fly home this weekend! If not, it is quite likely we could come home early next week.  If you are in the US, please start praying as soon as you wake up on Thursday morning… it’s likely we’ll already be up at the Embassy (we are 7 hours ahead here). Pray for a soft heart in the person that we speak with.

Please pray we can come home Friday! Amani and I want to come home! 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Just an Update

I think I jinxed myself. As soon as I posted that Amani would sleep for 2 ½ hours every afternoon, he stopped.  For the past three days, he has slept only 30-40 minutes, and wakes up tired and cranky but of course will not go back to sleep. We’ve had some looooooong afternoons with him overtired but refusing to go back to sleep.

So I changed it up today. I didn’t put him down for his morning nap. He got sleepy but he did really well. He ate lunch and fell asleep immediately afterwards!! He’s sleeping now and I am praying he takes a nice long nap, both because I think he’ll be much happier the rest of the afternoon and because after keeping him occupied all morning, I need a little break!!! J He’s so much fun though. He loves to play this game where he takes something off my bed and brings it to me, then brings it back to the bed to switch it out for smoothing else and brings that to me. He’ll do that over and over and over again. And his smile really does light up the room.

Everything with Amani is going really well. Everything with the Embassy? Not so much. I will post later after I get home to explain how I’m feeling about this process. I’ll just say it is not a warm and fuzzy feeling. Our in-country representative was going to go to the Embassy today to talk with them about their unreasonable requests. We are VERY hopeful that we’ll be able to be cleared next week and come home next weekend!!

If you’re an adoptive mama and you are considering going over early, let me tell you: it is wonderful and awful all at the same time. I don’t regret coming over early, not for a minute, but it is really really hard.  Having the extra time with Amani is amazing. He and I are getting some invaluable bonding time and I will always treasure this time we have together. And I think it will help us so much traveling home and those first weeks home with the family. He knows me. He trusts me. We can handle flying home and introducing more family members.

But it is so hard. Struggling with Embassy requests. Not knowing when we’ll be allowed to go home.Missing my other two children and my husband. Emotionally, that is exhausting.  And not being able to leave the guest house really took its toll on me this past week.  There is only so much you can do and time goes by really slowly. And that’s hard when you are stewing over not hearing from the Embassy.  We realized after we left the house to go to the coffee ceremony that we really need to figure out ways to get out from time to time.  We have 3 “events” planned for next week to get us out of the guest house with the boys. I think next week will go by much faster!

And I couldn’t have done this if Kim and Jaeden weren’t here. Just having someone else with you, going through the same thing, is unbelievably helpful. Speaking of Kim and Jaeden, please pray for them if you are reading this: Reisen isn’t sleeping at night. He’s up every hour and a half. They are exhausted.

Fresh vegetables!!!  We’ve been avoiding fresh fruit and vegetables since we got here and I’m usually a really healthy eater so it’s killing me that I haven’t had any fruit, veggies, or milk since I got here.  But Genet, the woman who runs the guest house lived in Texas for 20 years and told me she is really careful and only eats fresh veggies that have been washed a certain way and she said it would be okay to eat what we got!  Kim and I were so excited: tomato, lettuce, cabbage, carrots!  Oh, there will be Ethiopian food in heaven, I guarantee it! J

So will we be throwing up later? We’ll just have to wait and see! There’s your cliffhanger for the next post! J

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Coffee Ceremony

Yesterday was the coffee ceremony at the orphanage.  Basically it’s when I take Amani back to the orphanage so that his “special mother” which is what they call his primary caregiver can say goodbye. It’s really sweet – his special mother takes him and changes him into traditional Ethiopian clothing and gets to say goodbye and then the families have a coffee ceremony.

But I was really anxious about it. Amani’s special mother, Senet, is wonderful. It was so obvious how much she loved him and he really loved her back. When we were there for court you could see how bonded he was to her. And when she left the room because her shift was over, he cried for her. I am so thankful to her for having taken such wonderful care of Amani until he could come home to our family.

So why was I nervous? Well, I was afraid he’d choose her over me, that he’d cry for her when we left, that all our hard work bonding over the past week would be undone and I’d be back to square one with him freaking out if I moved slightly away and not letting me sit down with him down ever, much less put him down.
I was really nervous.

And guess what? It was wonderful. I need to email my caseworker about it because I’d emailed her just needing some support because I was so anxious. And of course, because she’s so awesome, she’d sent me a really helpful email about it.

Here’s what happened:

He saw her and grinned, but wouldn’t go to her until I took him by the hand and led him over. He kept his eyes on me the entire time she changed him. I got a beautiful picture of the two of them, both smiling!  Then she took him away for a bit, back to his old room to say goodbye. I took that opportunity to take some pictures of some kids in that house whose moms I’d promised I’d bring back updated pictures.  Since he’d really seemed okay when she took him, I didn’t really worry.  And after a little while, there he was, looking for me!  Kim and Jaeden said he’d been looking for me most of the time he was in his old room.
That makes my heart happy.

And I needed some happiness today… we have a holdup with the Embassy. Argh. But hopefully some progress will be made before the end of the week and I’ll have an update soon.

You know what else was wonderful about today? WE LEFT THE GUEST HOUSE!! Today was the first day in a week that we have been able to really leave the guest house. Jaeden and I had made two quick trips to the grocery store but that was it.  Today we drove to the coffee ceremony, went to La Parisienne to get macchiatos and cream croissants to go, went to the Connected in Hope shop, and took a quick trip into the grocery store (we switched out so the boys could stay in the car).  It was so wonderful to get out of the house for awhile. We’ve done some figuring and have found a couple places we can go with the boys so we’re hoping to go out two mornings next week! Whoo hoo! It really was a wonderful change of pace for us to get out for while. Much needed, let me tell you.

Please keep praying for the Embassy process. Kim got some sort-of encouraging news from them today. I got nothing! But I am so hopeful that I’ll hear from them tomorrow.

Oh yeah, one more thing. Something keeps biting me in the night. I’ve woken up the past two mornings covered in bites and today the bites just seemed to get more & more irritated as the day went on. I think the guest house was going to spray something for them today but I’m not sure they did.  It’s so bad that I’m honestly afraid to go to sleep at night!!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

God's Timing

I’ve been trying to write this post for a long time… since before we got our referral actually. I keep wanting to write it during a time when I am waiting on God’s timing, not after something has happened. And things just kept happening with our adoption, which was good!

Before I begin, I want to say I would never claim to really understand God. I don’t think it’s possible for our little human brains to fully understand all that He is. And to be honest, I don’t know that I’d want to worship a God I could fully understand.

So here I am again… waiting. That’s the name of the game in adoption. I have Amani, he’s living here with me. He is legally my son, and yet we are still waiting for clearance to come into the US. And we’ve asked for a miracle. Last night, Kim and I sent letters to the Embassy asking for appointments on Thursday. That’s in 2 days. We aren’t even cleared yet. It shouldn’t happen, yet I know if it does, it will be nothing short than God’s intervention. I don’t think I’ve stopped praying since I hit the “send” button on that email.

But if it doesn’t happen, does that mean that God didn’t intervene? Does that mean that God wants it to take an extra two weeks for me to bring Amani home? Those are the types of questions I struggle with when it comes to God’s timing. When a friend loses a child, does that mean it’s God’s timing? Does God WANT us to go through struggles, pain, hardship, suffering?

Big questions.

I thank God for Rob, who is more spiritually mature and just all-around a better person than I am. He’s helped me try to figure all this out.  We have an awesome pastor at our church but when I’m truly honest, Rob is my pastor. He’s the one I go to when I need answers. Man, I love him a lot. I’m so blessed.

I wanted to believe that God’s timing would be for Amani to have been home months ago. I want to say that God’s original plan would have been for Amani to never have lost his birth parents. I want to believe that God wants us to have hunky-dory, easy, comfortable lives in which we lack for nothing.

But he made us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. When we have easy lives (like in America), we take the credit. We rely on ourselves instead of on Him.  Look at the US. We think we are a nation of “self-made men.” We think we’ve pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. We think a successful life means more stuff so we work harder to get more stuff: newer cars, bigger houses, fancier vacations.  We tend to leave God out of the equation when life is so comfortable. 

Here’s what I think. I might be wrong and I’m okay with that – I am always learning God’s heart. And I’d never claim to really understand.  But I don’t think God WANTS children to go hungry, families to be separated, mothers to lose children. He doesn’t WILL those things to happen.  He isn’t making it happen that adoptions in Ethiopia are taking longer than they used to. He hasn’t sent the US Embassy to put obstacles in the way of bringing children home.

HOWEVER… God can (and does) use every situation for His glory.  This is a broken world. We broke it almost as soon as it started.  And God knows that. And He has a plan to redeem it… through us, a broken people.So all this crappy stuff happens because of the consequences of sin in our world.  We broke the world and now we have to live in it. And God’s going to use us to fix it… but the problem with using broken people is that we do things in a goofy way sometimes. 

I think of it kind of like teaching my kids to put on their own shoes. It is much faster for me to do it for them. I could just put their shoes on them for the rest of their lives. But that doesn’t make sense, does it? I need to have patience and give them the opportunity to learn so that eventually they can put on their own shoes and, someday, teach their children how to put on their shoes.

I suppose God could reach down and fix everything for us. I know He can. But in His own wisdom, He’schosen to use us to fix the world. What an honor! But, like my children were with their shoes, we’re slow on the uptake. We make mistakes, we put our shoes on the wrong feet sometimes.

In Eden, there would have been no orphans.  In heaven there will be none.  But here on Earth there are.  God wants families to be together – we need to work on family preservation programs without a doubt. But for many children it is too late for that.  And God has established very clearly in the Bible that He is pro-adoption.  I think in God’s eyes there can be two “best choices” for Amani. It would have been wonderful for him to have been able to stay with his birth parents.  But you know what else is wonderful? Being adopted. That’s another first choice.  I’m not a second-best mom for Amani. He’s not having to settle for something “other.”  God is cool like that.

So while I wait anxiously for an answer to my prayer. I know God lies in the answer either way.  He may intervene. We may get a true miracle and get an Embassy appointment in just two days.  Or we might not.  God’s hand is in the works regardless. He is using us to “set the lonely in families”.

I am so thankful for the honor of participating in His plan… even when I know it means sometimes my shoes will be on the wrong feet.