Monday, September 17, 2012

The Visible Family

My family used to be invisible: Mom, Dad, two kids. One boy, one girl. ho hum. la dee dah.

We didn't stand out anywhere we went. I shop at the same grocery stores, same fabric store, same Target, but there wasn't much to make us different from all the rest of the folks. Often, I was recognized by my bright, multicolored, striped sling, but if I didn't happen to have a baby in a sling, I passed through my days pretty much unnoticed. It was nice. More than nice. I didn't realize how wonderful it was.

That all changes when you become a trans-racial family.

We've been at the same preschool for four years now. And I know a lot of the moms through our kids having classes together, playing on the playground after school, etc.  You know, the normal ways.  But now I find myself being known.  What I mean is, people know I exist because I'm the white lady with the black child. They may not know my name, but I find myself being introduced to people and they say, "yeah - I know you!"  This never happened before.

We've bought our milk at Earth Fare for the past 6 years. {SIDE NOTE: I love Earth Fare. I love that it appears to be a requirement that you have some hippie quality in order to work there, usually in the form of hair. I'm a closet hippie so I feel this little love for the Earth Fare employees.}  The same guy at Earth Fare has been ringing up my milk for six years. Now he talks to me. When I come in with Amani, he says "I know you!" This never happened before.

We go places and I get comments and questions. This used to happen a little before, but only when I had a child in a sling. I'd get sling questions. Now I get questions about whether I am babysitting, adoption questions, or plain ole stares. This never happened before.

I don't mean any of this in the negative sense, but it can be hard for me to stand out sometimes. I don't think of us as A Trans-Racial Family. I think of us as a family, and it sometimes takes me a second to figure out why I'm being looked at, noticed, or known. Or why the person I'm talking to hasn't quite figured out if Amani is my son or not.  I suppose I will get used to it. Eventually.

And let me tell you something: racism makes you paranoid.  Well, it makes ME paranoid. The fact is, racism exists. It's also a fact that it doesn't exist in every situation. But that doesn't matter.  After every encounter in which we are noticed, stared at, or commented upon, I wonder about it.  When we are first noticed, stared at, or commented upon, my guard goes up; mama bear readies herself, just in case. I don't believe I'll ever get used to that.

There are some positives to being The Visible Family. We get to have sweet conversations about adoption with both kids and adults. We have seen racist or negative attitudes around us change. We get to challenge the traditional notion of family and make a statement about racism without saying a word. That can be awesome.

But do me a favor... if you are an invisible family like we used to be; one who blends seamlessly into the fabric of your culture, talk to your kids. Let them know about the visible families. Teach them that we are families too. Teach them that there might be times when someone might not act like that's the case.  Or that someone might not be nice to someone else because of how they look or how their family is made up.  It will be hard on my kids to carry that message alone, but they don't have a choice: it's written on our family. Visible. And there will be times when my kids need some allies.  Because being a family can be a hard thing to be sometimes; it takes a lot of work, no matter what your family looks like. And I want my kids to have your kids' backs. And vice versa.

'Cause that, my friends, is a little glimpse of heaven.

Our first day...

So I wanted to post this earlier but I got hit by some kind of crazy stomach bug. And now I'm not sure which is worse: having a 12 hour stomach bug, or the impending doom you feel when you fear your husband and/or kids are going to get it?

But anyway... I've been a little nostalgic and emotional the past few days as I think about where I was a year ago. Have I ever explained how crazily my life became entwined with my friend Kim? Let me tell y'all... this is a God thing - there is no other explanation.

When you are an adoptive mama, you read blogs. Not casually. You READ them. And somehow connect with the mamas who are writing them from across the country. So after we traveled for our first court date, I somehow made the connection that the other Gladney mama who got a referral the same day we did was adopting a child in the SAME room as Amani.  Out of the six rooms in each of the four houses, our children were in the same place.

We got our referrals the same day, traveled for court within a week of each other and got to talking. We both felt like we needed to get our behinds over to Ethiopia and not wait for Embassy clearance like you're supposed to. I think we set a tentative date to travel before we'd even been submitted to Embassy. When we both got news on THE SAME DAY that our cases had been submitted to Embassy, we booked plane tickets and traveled halfway across the world with no clue when we'd be returning home.

It might have been the biggest leap of faith I've ever taken: leaving my first two children and my husband behind, not knowing when I'd be back.  And God knew I couldn't do it alone: so he worked it out for another mama and her sweet daughter to be there with me.  A year ago today, we were in Ethiopia with our new sons, trying to manage their fears along with Embassy requests while not being allowed to leave the guest house. I thank God all the time for Kim and her daughter - it's quite possible I would have completely lost my mind without them! We fought together at the Embassy and they ended up treating our boys' cases like one case. Halfway through we just started sending them one email from the both of us, since they'd already figured out we were together.  We cleared Embassy the same day and our embassy ticket even had our names written on it together. And, all together, we flew back to NC (oh wait - did I not mention that part? We live about an hour and a half apart).

Go ahead and try to tell me that's all just happy coincidence.  Oh wait... one MORE thing: they are both from Gondar and were at the same orphanage there. Seriously. I couldn't make this stuff up.

And... in case you missed it a year ago. Here's the letter I wrote to Amani after our first day together. I can barely believe that is the same child. What a difference a year makes!!!

Dear Amani,

We’ve almost been together for 24 hours now. I’ll never be able to tell you what you first day of life was like, but I can certainly tell you about our first day together.

I went to visit you at the orphanage yesterday as soon as you were up from your nap. We played for a long time.  Word got around that you were leaving that evening and your caregivers came by to say goodbye. They obviously love you very much.  Senet and Sarah are your “special mothers” and they are wonderful. We’ll see them again next week to say goodbye for real at the coffee ceremony.

I fed you dinner there and we played a little while longer. And then when I left, I didn’t have to leave you behind!!  You came right along with me!  Samuel Reisen was with us too because his mom and sister are here doing the same thing we are: Waiting for Embassy clearance.  You must have been some kind of favorite at the orphanage because we were stopped several times on our way out so that women could say goodbye.

Usually you would be brought to me at the guesthouse and that was our original plan but when the visit was going so well, Kim and I figured it would be so much easier on you and Reisen if you came with us while you were having a good time with us.  There were no tears. You didn’t try to reach for anyone at the orphanage instead of me.  I think it was way better than having someone from the orphanage bring you to me in the morning.  You didn’t really enjoy the car ride. It seemed to freak you out… you just sat very quietly on my lap with a slight look of alarm on your face.

We came back to the guest house and played a little longer. I changed you into pjs, and gave you one last nightly bottle.  Your schedule says you take one at 10 pm but I figured if I gave you one at 8 right at bedtime that you’d do just fine all night.  I was right – you slept all through the night until about 6!
I woke up because I heard a loud CRASH! You had woken up, stood up in your crib and grabbed the ring stacker I’d accidentally left on the bureau next to your crib. Oops.  You wake up so quietly… I wonder how I’ll know you’re up tomorrow morning.

You are a great eater! You had an entire banana, a bowl of rice cereal, and a bottle for breakfast!! And you played happily until about 9 when you decided you were going to take a nap. The orphanage said you only nap once a day but maybe moving was tiring so you needed a little rest.

You slept about 45 minutes and when you woke up, I gave you a bath. I think up until now you’ve only had sponge baths.  You did NOT like the regular bath. Not at all. I washed you up quickly and didn’t do your hair since you were so miserable.  And then after that you really weren’t yourself.  You only wanted me to hold you. You cried if I even sat down and cried harder if I sat you on the floor to play.  Most of the morning you were pretty out of sorts.

It was hard to watch you suffering like that.  I’m sure you are confused about where you are, about where your friends and caregivers are.  I don’t know your routine. I don’t know how you like to be held. I can’t speak the language that can calm you.  This morning was hard.  And it made me a little mad. I know the adoption would have been easier on you if we could have gotten to you earlier.  But now you are 13 months old. I’ve known about you since you were 8 months old. All those 5 months I wish we could have been together.  But things are not that way so we’ll have to get through.  A part of me is glad to see you grieving. I know it’s a healthy reaction.  It would not be a good sign if you just attached immediately to me as if nothing ever happened.

We ate Ethiopian food for lunch. You’ve never had real solid foods and you’ve never fed yourself before. I put you in our little highchair and gave you some tiny pieces of injera, gomen (collard greens) and a little meat. You ate like a champ!  You still prefer me to put pieces of food in your mouth but you ate a lot by yourself. And after lunch you had an entire bottle! I don’t know where you put it all!
After that you were back to yourself. Smiling, laughing! You’re walking now and you like to toddle over to Jaeden or Miss Kim and then turn around and toddle back to me. You’re so funny. You make some awesome faces. And you babble quite a bit but I don’t think you’re saying anything in Amharic. I know it’s not English J

I’m learning some Amharic to make life easier for us. More, all done, water, milk… I’m trying to learn the basic words we’ll need to get by for the first couple months.

You know what? I was nervous about coming to get you. I didn’t know how it would go between us. I wasn’t sure how I would feel. I remember feeling so strongly that you are mine when I came to visit you in July for court, but I was a little scared about how it would go when we were actually living together.  But you are my child.  I don’t feel like I’m babysitting. I don’t  feel like I’m having to try hard to feel motherly towards you. I love you. I love getting to know you. And I love knowing that we are finally together.  Only one hurdle remains and that’s getting you home to the rest of the family.  But it’s in the works and our adoption agency staff have been really encouraging.

I’m going to nap a little while you’re napping.


Friday, September 14, 2012


Six years ago today, a tiny baby entered my life and rocked my world

How could something so tiny bring such a GIANT change to my life? Babies are funny that way. And as far as I can tell, it doesn't matter how many more you add after that, that first one changes EVERYTHING.
Thank you, sweet Riley, for being the boy to make me a mama. You are funny, smart, silly, and your imagination is beyond my wildest dreams. You are the best big brother your little sibs could ask for. Thank you for sharing your day with your little brother.

One year ago today, this bigger baby entered my life and rocked my world:

That's right. Somehow it just so happened that I walked out of the orphanage with Amani in my arms on Riley's birthday!!! And Riley didn't say a word about his mama not being there the day he turned five. He knew I was away working hard to bring home his baby brother.
Amani, you are my survivor, my toughest cookie. This year has probably been the hardest for you in your short life, and the best. You are silly, sweet, and the best little mimic I've ever met. Through all your tough times this year: leaving Ethiopia, two surgeries, finding your niche in our family, you find joy and a reason to smile every day.  You are amazing, my love, and we are so honored that we get to be yours!

And now, these three rock my world on a daily basis. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

An excess confession

I haven't blogged about the 7 month fast in awhile. It's still going strong! We have just finished up the possessions month - the plan was to give away the equivalent of 7 items a day for a month - 196 items. We really wanted to find a good place for all of our possessions to go.  Our church hopped on board and now we have a free yard sale planned for some folks in our refugee community here and we're collecting donations to add to our stash! I'm excited.

But that's not why I'm blogging. I have to confess to the ridiculous amount of excess I have in my life.  We have an older home, which means smaller bedrooms and even smaller closets. My husband & I have a closet, a wardrobe and two dressers in our bedroom just to fit all of our clothes.  Plus I put my summer stuff in the attic for the winter and vice versa every season.  After this month, we have downsized to a MUCH smaller wardrobe (that still isn't full), I don't have to move my clothes around with the seasons, and Rob has an entire empty drawer in his dresser!  We had that many extra clothes.

It gets worse. As I went through each room, I wasn't just de-cluttering. I was honestly looking for things that I felt we needed to give away. I had twenty almost brand-new wooden puzzles in the cabinet in the family room; a few that I don't think my kids ever put together even once. I found a tabletop grill we haven't used since we moved here seven years ago.

And it wasn't just like-new stuff we've been hanging on to. I found the food processor we got for our wedding NINE years ago still in the box (um, thanks Auntie Karen! She reads this blog, so this is super-embarrassing to admit!). At the time we got married we were living in a little apartment so I had gotten a smaller one but held on to the big one for when we bought a house. Well, we've been in this house almost seven years and it still hasn't made it out of the box. Actually, knowing Auntie, she'll be happy to know it will find a new home in with a refugee family.  AND I found a dehumidifier I bought when I was pregnant with my SIX YEAR OLD because Babies R Us told me I had to have a dehumidifier.  Still in the box. With the receipt taped to the side, no less.

I do street outreach with the homeless every week, sometimes more. My homeless friends have nothing; no house, only the possessions they can carry with them or fit inside their leaky tents. My youngest son is from a country where people are starving.  Yet it was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy for me to find way more than 196 items in my house that we did not need. It's an outrage that I am hoarding things in my house when my brothers and sisters have nothing.

Something is wrong here.

It's easy to blame this on our materialistic, "take care of #1" society. But I would have told you I don't subscribe to that. I would have told you I'm not really into clothes, that I don't amass "stuff." I would have told you how I don't have an iPhone or an iPod; that I can't remember the last time I bought new clothes that weren't from a crazy sale from Old Navy or Target. I would have told you that I am trying to live a life that doesn't put me and my family first.

I'm failing more than I realized.

This seven month fast isn't a lesson in how well I can follow rules. It is my attempt to draw closer to Jesus, to give Him more attention and let Him shine light on seven different areas of my life: food, clothing, possessions, how I use media, waste, spending, and stress.  The lessons are painful; it's like I'm hanging my pride, my vanity, my selfishness, my insecurity out on my clothesline. But the result is beautiful. I'm not happy that my house is less-cluttered. I'm happy that God's has brought my attention to how I am storing up stuff.

Because Jesus loved me before I took stock of how selfish I've been. He loves me now that I've realized it. Following Him is not about doing things to gain His approval. His approval is free; I don't have to earn it. But my joy comes from following him; from shaping my life to encompass more of his grace. What an honor that is.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Guest Post: TOMS Miracle

My husband, two of our closest friends, and one of our amazing youth all traveled to Swaziland this past summer to work with Heart for Africa.  And the trip was even more exciting this year because TOMS shoes has partnered with Heart for Africa and they go to do a shoe distribution day.  When I skyped with Rob that night, my eyes filled with tears as he told me what happened that day.  Since I wasn't there, I asked my friend Amber to write a blog post for me about it. Prepare to be amazed, my friends!

Here you go:

So my friend Kirstin asked me to guest blog and tell a little about my recent trip to Africa. My first thought was, "I'm not a writer, I can't do this", but then I realized, why did I go if not to give my testimony about how God is an amazing and loving God.

My husband and I went to Swaziland, Africa over the summer. We went with a Christian organization called Heart for Africa to love on and encourage the people of Swaziland. This summer Heart for Africa partnered with TOMS shoes. One of our objectives while we were there was to shoe the children of Swaziland. Towards the end of our trip we got to spend three days at a school called Ebholi.  About 300 children attend this school from grade k-7th.

The first day there we played with the kids, sized them for the shoes they would be getting the next day and helped with planting a garden. It was an amazing time and it made me miss my three children back home.

The next day we set up shop in one of the classrooms. As we were bringing in the 14 boxes of shoes we became a little nervous that we had three boxes of size 219 shoes, knowing we had not ordered that many of that size.

One by one the children came in to receive their new shoes. We began with the biggest sizes. We were on a roll. Shoes were fitting, children were smiling and we were incredibly humbled- being on your hands and knees putting shoes on those less fortunate than you will immediately change your perspective on life. And then it happened- our fear- we were running out of the sizes we needed. We still had children that needed size 240, 236, 228 and so on and we didn't have anymore, all we had to fit those children were the three boxes of 219. And so we prayed- we prayed hard!

You know how you hear people say 'It was a God thing'? Well we were standing in the presence of "a God thing"! Those three boxes of size 219 fit children who the day before had been sized for a bigger size or a smaller size. It was a miracle and the looks on our faces said it all as the children were walking out with these miracle shoes. How were they fitting?, and not ill-fitting either, they were fitting perfectly!

It seems that people claim 'it was a God thing' after the fact; we knew we were standing in the presence of God working. It was happening right before our eyes.

That trip changed our lives and we can't wait to get back. To serve the least of these is what our Savior Jesus Christ has commanded us to do and so we will.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My not-political political post.

Politics are messy. I understand that our country is set up to run a certain way and that we have procedures in place to make sure laws are passed and that politicians are put in position to run the country. I get that. But I still think most political stuff out there does more harm than good.

Election years are my LEAST favorite years. I just heard how much money Obama and Romney have raised for their campaigns and it makes me want to throw up.  If we put that much energy and resources towards making sure everyone had access to clean drinking water we could vastly improve that problem before we land another President in office (and simultaneously improve international relations).  Or, you know, we could implement family preservation so that children aren't orphaned world-wide at alarming rates (including here in the US).  Or provide consistent medical treatment for curable illnesses that are killing our brothers and sisters just a plane-ride away. Or if that money must stay state-side: create supportive rehabilitation centers where people suffering from life-threatening addictions can actually go to get well and return to society as productive citizens.  You know, so we can save money on prisons. Those are just a few things I think might be better than paying for negative campaign ads. But who am I do say?

I usually refrain from putting anything political on facebook or on this blog. Or even talking much about my thoughts around anyone except for those whom I truly trust.  Because I have learned the hard way that putting a political idea out there outside of real conversation does not cause anyone to change their mind about the issue at hand; it causes people to change their minds about me.  Many of you have already tried to guess at which party I'm in based on the above paragraph.  It's only 150 words, but in our society that is more than enough to make a broad judgement about someone and what we think they think. But guess what, I could write another 150 words and then you'd think something completely different.

I see facebook posts on all sides of every issue but there is no way to have an intimate conversation on facebook. It's more like standing on a street corner yelling at cars or holding a sign. It sends more of a message about the yeller than it does about the issue. If you put up a post on facebook about a political leaning, people make a judgement about you based on how you are saying what you're saying. It does little to change minds about the issue you are talking about.  I will be honest: if there's hatred or racism or classism or if the message is just plain mean, I make a judgement about YOU, not the candidate you are championing.  Maybe that's not nice to say... but it's the truth.

You see, we treat politics like sports in this country. You are either for the Good Guys or you are for the Bad Guys.  There's no gray area.  And in order to win elections, each side has to paint the other in the bleakest light possible.  So the Bad Guys lie (because there's no way the Good Guys would do that).  And, because this is our own human nature, we all decide only to listen to the Good Guys and decry anything the Bad Guys might say or do.

I grew up in New England, where it is legally required that you be a Red Sox fan.  And that you hate Yankees fans. I'm only half-kidding.  Honestly, if I had discovered Rob was a Yankees fan while we were dating, that would have been the end of our relationship (trust me, we barely made it through my realization that he's a Mets fan).  I honestly grew up believing that the Yankees were the Bad Guys.  It took me until my adulthood to even understand how a decent human being could honestly like the Yankees. I'm not exaggerating.  You'll be glad to know I've come a long way... I have a very dear friend who is a Yankees fan and I love her anyway (I'm secretly convinced she knows the error of her ways in her heart).

But that's how we are about politics. Instead of loving each other and working together, as the Bible clearly tell us to do (love your enemies? pray for those who persecute you?), we set up firm lines in the sand. We declare "US vs THEM!" and that any leaning toward the middle-ground is treasonous.  We look first to see if someone has an (R) or a (D) next to their name before determining if we like what they have to say. We determine the value and worth of another human being based upon whether they root for the Good Guys or the Bad Guys.

What does this say about us as a nation? More importantly, what does that say about us as Christians? Are we so ignorant as to think that our government is full of Jedis and Sith Lords (sorry, Riley's really into Star Wars and I'm kind of proud that I actually know what those are) -  only Good Guys or Bad Guys?  Are we sending people into the arms of Jesus by dehumanizing the Bad Guys?  Does this show the love of Christ?

I don't care what party you're in. I really don't.  I'm not going to tell you what party I'm in. Because it really doesn't matter. My hope is not in government.  What matters is how I love you; how I treat those who are "the least of these." I've said this before, but when we stand in front of Jesus to give an account for our lives, he's not going to ask, "what laws did you lobby for?" or "What politicians' names were on your bumper stickers?"  He's going to ask, "where are my people?  Where are the ones that you were supposed to love, the ones you were supposed serve and help follow me?"

I pray we re-focus our energies. In my humble opinion, we can bring a lot more glory to God by bringing a cup of coffee to a homeless person on a chilly morning than we can by exerting our energy bashing groups of people who disagree with us.