Monday, July 23, 2012

Buying a Baby

I had an incredibly awkward conversation with someone at the pool today. Someone was talking to me about adoption and all of a sudden they are telling me that it really is just buying babies.

I wasn't even sure how to respond. And this was another adoptive parent, actually.

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure how domestic adoption works. I do know that birth mothers often have their prenatal care paid for, but I'm not really sure what else. I'm convinced, however, that it is not buying babies.

Adoption is quite expensive. It is expensive in some ways where it doesn't have to be (I still can't figure out why it costs $700 to ask the US government for permission to adopt internationally) but I also believe it is expensive in areas where it should be too.

My fear is that when we balk at the expense of adding children to our lives through adoption, we make a statement that orphaned children aren't worth the cost of the process. As far as I can tell, Jesus loves the orphaned children just as much as he loves children in families.

For my biological kiddos, we paid our OB and midwife, we paid our doulas, and we paid the hospital where they were born. We paid for a childbirth class and a hypnobabies class. We paid for access to a pediatrician. And a lot of those costs were deferred to insurance. Without insurance, I'm certain the cost of adding my biological children to my family is much higher than our adoption.

My children are valuable to me and I never considered not paying for the services they needed in order to safely join our family.

For my youngest, we paid an adoption agency to provide us with a caseworker and a paperwork assistant and wonderful training to guide us through the process and prepare us to parent an adopted child. Some of those fees also paid for the care my child was receiving in Ethiopia. We paid for him to have access to a pediatrician. Those fees kept him out of the government orphanage (if you aren't sure what a blessing that is, read about them here.) We paid for background checks, homestudies, and documentation so that we could prove to our son's birth country that we would be fit and loving parents for him. We paid for plane tickets so that we could meet him, attend court, and tell a judge how much we wanted to have him in our family. And we thank God every day for the people who partnered with us to help us pay those costs, because without them, we could never have been able to finalize our adoption.

My child is valuable to me and I never considered not paying for the services he needed in order to safely join our family.

Yes, it takes a bigger "team" to bring a child home through adoption. Instead of midwives, nurses, and pediatricians, you need social workers, judges, foster parents/nannies, government officials, birth parents, doctors, and sometimes airplane pilots. But children are worth it. Would you expect your OB-GYN or midwife to work for free to bring your child safely into your arms? Of course not. In the same way, I wouldn't expect my social worker, child care provider, or judge to work for free to bring my child safely into my arms either.

So in case you were wondering... I'm confident that I did not, in fact, purchase any of my children.
And now I will gracefully step down off my soapbox. :)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

One year ago today...

Rob, Riley and I woke up in the guest house.  Allyn was back home in the US.  We were a family divided one year ago.

 I asked Riley if he knew what day it was. He was only four, but he excitedly said, "We're going to meet Amanuel!" We got ready and ate breakfast in a hurry and jumped up as soon as our driver, Abey, arrived to take us to the orphanage.

It was a 40 minute drive to the orphanage. I couldn't sort out my thoughts. So excited to meet the child we'd been praying for for so long. I was about to meet my son, except I couldn't shake the tears from my eyes. Every single bit of my happiness was wrapped around the thought that I was going to have to leave Ethiopia without him in just a few short days.

Then we were there. A muddy side street in what looked like a residential part of the city. We walked through the white-washed gates and into a tiny courtyard. Baby clothes hung on clotheslines in the back. I remember greeting Anabes, one of the in-country staff for our adoption agency in a fog. I wasn't really listening to anything anyone was saying. All I could think about was "he's here... my son is here somewhere!"

We followed Anabes up the stairs and someone opened the door to one of the rooms. I scanned the faces of the babies inside and immediately found Amani. He had looked up when the door opened, mid-crawl on the floor. I recognized him right away and we came in and sat down near him. We weren't supposed to bond with him on that first trip; I wasn't supposed to act like I was his mommy.

I managed to interact with him at arm's length for about 90 seconds (we have the video to prove it) and I just couldn't stand it anymore. I reached over and pulled him into my lap.  We had started the adoption process 19 months earlier and I finally had my arms around my child. Only he still wasn't mine.

Lots of people have asked me what it's like to meet your child the first time through adoption. It wasn't a whole lot different from meeting my biological children for the first time, honestly. You hold them, snuggle them close, let your eyes roam over their little faces, instantly memorizing every feature.  It was nice this time because I wasn't exhausted from labor. My mind was clearer.  But it was harder this time because my third child wasn't going to come home with me just after meeting us and I was never able to shake that thought.

This morning, one year later, we woke up at home. ALL of us.  And instead of being led by a stranger to meet my son, I hear "Mommy! Daddy! Riley! Allyn!" from the next room. He calls for all of us by name when he wakes up. In random order, usually.

Last year, he didn't know what a family was. This year, he calls us all by name.

Last year, I didn't know how to comfort him. This year, I know that he likes to go back to sleep for a few minutes after he wakes up from his nap in the afternoons. I know how he likes to be held.

Last year, I didn't know his favorite foods. This year, I know how much he loves bananas and all things spicy.

Last year, I didn't know what he looked like every day, what clothes he was wearing because someone else dressed him.  This year I know how much he loves shoes and his Nemo bathing suit.

What a difference a year makes.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Homeless Servanthood

I'm not sure if I've talked about my homeless friend on this blog or if it was on facebook, but I have a friend who is currently homeless who keeps his dress clothes on hangers and dresses up to attend church every Sunday. He's the man who, the first time I met him, asked for a Bible in his own language (he's Spanish-speaking) when I asked him what he needed. He didn't ask for food, clothes, or new shoes. He just wanted to be able to read God's word and understand it. Amazing.

I found out something even more amazing about that same friend today. But here's some background info first.  About three weeks ago, he had to leave the tent city where he'd been staying. And from what I gather, it was kind of a result of some unfair stuff going on.  I actually couldn't figure out where he was until Friday and I can't even tell you how much my heart leapt for joy when I saw him.  Regardless, he left the tent city, spent a night under a bridge, then fortunately was able to find a clearing and a broken-down tent to stay in. 

When I saw him on Friday, he asked me for a new tent because the one he's in is broken and it leaks and lets in mosquitoes.  He didn't tell me anything else.

This morning, I had the amazing honor to go serve some breakfast to homeless folks downtown before church with another church in our city. I saw a guy who looked familiar so I went up to him and we started chatting. As I was getting to know him, he told me where he was staying. It was the same area as my friend. I asked if he knew him. He said, "Yeah! He actually found me under the bridge and invited me to share his tent."


There is a homeless Christian man in my city living in a broken-down tent who is doing a better job of being the hands and feet of Jesus than I am.  He invited another homeless man to share his broken, leaky tent because he knew that was better than sleeping under the bridge. And they don't even speak the same language.

The opportunity to serve the homeless in my city is a gift God has given me. I am not worthy of the honor.  Some days I think my friends at the tent city don't know that I think they do more for me than I do for them. When I see that friend this week, I need to thank him for being quite possibly the best example of Jesus I know.  Wow.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

My day...

Today was one of those nonstop days. You know, where you blink and the day is over and you're still not sure you really did all the things you did.

My day today started with an early coffee get-together with a friend who's struggling to lend a supportive, listening ear.  I happened across a homeless friend on my way home so I stopped and made him sit in my car with me to chat and get out of the rain for a few minutes.  Great news! He should have a housing voucher by the end of the month.  Headed home to clean our basement like CRAZY (my brother is coming this weekend... the cleaning wasn't for him - he might be bringing his new girlfriend!!).  But then I got word of a crisis with another homeless friend. I thought for a second I was going to have to run out the door with the kids but thankfully was able to wait till Rob came home so I could go out by myself. Headed to the hospital to pray over one of my homeless friends who is stable after surgery but still crazy sedated.  Decided to head to his tent city to check on everybody.  Spent some time with them, checking in, praying for our friend in the hospital and each other.  Then managed to get turned around downtown (yes, I've lived here seven years) while trying to return a phone call from a family member of my friend in the hospital.

Somewhere in the middle of all that I talked to a different hospital about a different friend who was being discharged today to a rehabilitation facility. And went to the post office. And the kids and I did a painting craft. Which means at one point I was on the phone with someone at Baptist while saying "Hold on baby, don't touch your face!" to Amani, who had managed to get paint all over his hands (and his face) in the two seconds it took for me to answer the phone.


But this is what living for Jesus looks like. It means being open to the mess and hurt of other people's lives.  It means listening, going, visiting,  hurting, praying.  It even means coming home smelling like alcohol and cigarettes (from hugging my friends at the tent city).  It means tearing up when you see your friend with a bandaged head, tubes everywhere, sedated so that he doesn't even know you're there.  It means visiting friends at a tent city and having them ask you why you haven't brought your kids back by in awhile.

But the best part? I checked my voicemail on my way home. There was a message from my friend, the one who sat in the car with me this morning to get out of the rain. He just wanted to say hi, tell me how his day went. And the message ended like this: "I appreciate you."

God is good, even on my most hectic of days. I've been praying "less of me Lord, and more of you." Today is what it looks like when that prayer is answered.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Christmas in July - updated!

My wonderful husband found the Christmas ornaments I bought last year at Christmastime so now I have one more thing to add to the Christmas in July fundraising sale!  All proceeds will help me return to Swaziland during the summer of 2013 (and hopefully bring a team of folks with me) to work with Heart for Africa.

Email me at yklj AT triad DOT rr DOT com or leave a comment if you are interested!

Paint-your-Own Canvas Artwork $10
Oh how I love these!  What you get: a white 12x12 canvas with your child's name in a white sticker (it's black in the picture so you can see it). You pick the font.  Let your child paint all over it, allow it to dry, and carefully peel the stickers off.  A perfect masterpiece for the playroom or bedroom!

I can do pretty much any font you can find!
Riley wanted his to be Transformers and Allyn said hers looks like Rapunzel's hair.

Custom Christmas Ornaments $12
The sky's the limit with these! I can do whatever you'd like!  This is a glass ornament with a double-sided image inside and a color-coordinated name on the outside.  The image floats inside the ornament! You can email me a picture or send me a link to a picture of what you'd like or just tell me and I'll find it! My kiddos will be getting Ninjago ones for Christmas this year! It's a great way to remember what your kids were into this year (I can add the year to it if you want).
I currently only have 10 of these available. 

Pretend Play Masks and Cuffs $15:
Superhero Mask & Cuffs (more colors available!)
Ready to save the day!

Angry Birds are tough... and, uh, angry.

Angry Birds - Red Bird and Black Bomb Bird Mask & Cuffs

Riley is super-serious about his Spidey pose

Spidey Mask & Cuffs

Sweet Snow White
Snow White Mask & Cuffs

Friday, July 6, 2012

Christmas in July!

I am very excited to announce that my husband will be traveling to Swaziland later this month to work with Heart for Africa and love on some orphans and vulnerable children AND distribute some TOMS shoes! :) That's not really an announcement since we've known he was going for two years, but all his fundraising is done! He's going, it's a done deal! God is good!!!

And that means that now I get to start fundraising for MY trip to Swaziland in 2013.  The Cassells don't go on vacation... we go to Africa. I promise you, it's better than a trip to the beach. :) But, uh, a teeny bit more expensive. Someday we hope to go together again, but for now, we're taking turns. We're such good sharers like that. :)

So here we go... a little Christmas in July! I thought I'd sell a few stocking stuffers!  All proceeds go towards my Heart for Africa trip next year.

And keep checking back - I have a few more designs to come. As soon as I can find all those plain glass ornaments I bought around Christmastime, I will have some super-cool custom ornaments for sale too! (and if anyone can tell me where I put them, I'll give you one for free... heh!)  And I will ship - cost is actual shipping and I'd guess it would be $2-$3 to ship!

Right now I have two of each design. If I sell out, I'll take custom orders. I still have Hello Kitty, and Batman & Batgirl masks on tap. Yes, there is smoke coming out of my sewing machine!

Pretend Play Masks and Cuffs $15:
Superhero Mask & Cuffs (more colors available!)
Ready to save the day!

Angry Birds are tough... and, uh, angry.

Angry Birds - Red Bird and Black Bomb Bird Mask & Cuffs

Riley is super-serious about his Spidey pose

Spidey Mask & Cuffs

Sweet Snow White
Snow White Mask & Cuffs

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Vain Mime

Month Two of the seven month fast started this week. It's clothing month and we're wearing only 7 articles of clothing for the month.  We've played it fast & loose with the definition of "article" so here's my seven:

1. my black skirt
2. my blue Heart for Africa shirt
3. a lilac v-neck "nice" t-shirt
4. black yoga pants
5. black running shorts
6. Bathing suit and cover up (because we are at the pool most every day)
7. Shoes: running shoes and my pink flops (we all decided two pairs of shoes could count as one).

That's it. No jewelry other than my wedding ring. It's funny how many times I've reached for earrings over the past few days.

So here's what happened to me this morning. I was getting ready to go out with Streetwatch and check in on some of my homeless friends and I realized I hadn't put my Streetwatch shirt on my list.  I don't HAVE to wear the shirt but I think it's really helpful when I'm walking up to a tent city that they can see it big on my shirt before they recognize me. And helpful when I'm walking up to someone on the sidewalk.  Sort of a safety measure for them and for me.  So I decided on day three of the fast that it was okay to break the rules and wear my Streetwatch shirt. I'll have to talk to my "council" about that! :)

But anyway, I put on my black Streetwatch shirt and then I have a predicament. I prefer to wear long pants to do homeless outreach. I never know where I'll end up - I might be out in the woods for awhile. Regardless, my options were black yoga pants, black running shorts or black skirt to go with my black t-shirt.  I went with the pants and I looked like a mime... or maybe someone who changes the scenery during a play.

What's interesting is how much energy I put into fretting over the fact that I was going to go out and do homeless outreach while wearing an outfit that I didn't like.  There was nothing wrong with my outfit practically... I just felt like a mime.

I am just soooo human. The irony of worrying about what I was wearing to go hang out with my friends who HAVE NO PLACE TO LIVE was not lost on me.  I would have told you that I'm not vain. That I am really not into clothes.  But today I had to face my own vanity. It's not pretty.

Today I thank God for the lesson, for the opportunity to see a part of me that is not at all like Jesus and have the chance to fix it.

And just to share a little bit about how God provides... I wasn't sure how many folks are at the tent city right now - a few folks have left so I didn't count exactly how many food bags we would need. We just packed some up and hoped for the best.  Turned out we had EXACTLY the number we needed.  I know that's a tiny detail... but my God cares about the details. :)