Friday, April 20, 2012

Catching Up....

I began writing this at the Ethiopian airport and finished in my backyard two days later.  Although hours passed, it seemed like one long day…
Part One: New Parents
Well, we are officially new parents!  We had a roughly wonderful day today, it was great, hard, bittersweet, and awesome; and I am so tired right now that I can’t believe I am awake.  Let me start at the beginning.  We had our Ethiopian court appointment today for the judge to approve our adoption.  After a quick breakfast we get in the bus with our new found friends Camille and Matt who are on the same mission as us and we are all nervous.  There is always a chance that it can be delayed to another date and this would just lengthen the time between trips.  We drive through the streets of Ethiopia and then pull off near what looks like a city square and just wait.  Not nervous, because our driver (one of two), Danny says, “Here we wait.  It’s no problem!”  After a while the passenger door opens and in walks our court representative and we are on our way again.  We get to the court, no marble, no columns, and no parking, so we are dropped off and head inside.  Here another strange thing, I walk right through but the female security guard stops Karie and pats her down… and I mean pats her down.  It is a good thing she was a female security or it would have been really uncomfortable! 
Then we go up several flights of stairs and enter the waiting room.  We are prepared for a long wait, books ready, settling in when we hear our representative’s name called.  I can’t remember a time in my mind when I have been more nervous.  I don’t even know how to address an Ethiopian judge!  Will she ask us questions?  Is she in a good mood?  We head in and sit down and wouldn’t you know it we go first.  “I will call you by the children’s names… Ubang and Chad?”  I croak out a yes maam’ to her next several questions, “Do you have children currently?  What our their ages?  Are they happy about the adoption?  Have you had training on international adoption?  Have you spent time with the children?”  And then she stops and says, “Ethiopian adoption is final.  Once you take these children they are yours forever.  If you do not return for them they will be your children that you left in Ethiopia.  Do you understand this?  Do you want these children?”
“Yes maam’” I say.
Then she stamps a paper and says, “They are all yours.”  Walking out I hold hands with Karie and say in her ear, “We’ve got two more kids… was this a painful as the last two?”  And we head back to the car ready to spend the rest of our last day with our two official children.
Part Two:  At the Orphanage
We get an unexpected surprise and get to spend the rest of the day until dinner time with the kids.  It is hard when they find out that there is no “tomorrow” with us. Chad is the first to learn as she is told by one of the staff before lunch.  She cried as Karie rocked her and I watched them both knowing that we would be back as soon as possible but my heart breaking because I don’t know how to say it so she will understand.   Ubang insists that we take the toys we brought the first day.  He had boxed everything up into the bowling set we brought and gave it to me, pointing to the sky saying, “America”.  I tried over and again to explain that he could keep them here, that we would have more at home, but in frustration he finally ran off and when I found him in a hallway he was crying.  I hugged him and told him I would take everything home, to his home and it would be there waiting for him.  “America, America, Ubang’s home.  I will take it.  Ubang’s home.”  It was hard.
Not long after this, we have lunch and I sit with them both.  Chad is fine but I can tell Ubang is more distant than usual and when he finishes early we sneak off to the balcony again.  And this is the best part of the day.  We take turns drawing something on the iPad and guessing what it is.  He is much better than me, but it doesn’t matter because I know that time is passing and soon we will say goodbye. 
Its not fair.  As I look at him as we play a puzzle game and I think about how much I will miss him… and his sister.  I have seen the t-shirts, heard the stories, and read the blogs about how “half my heart is in Africa” but until this moment I didn’t fully understand.  It is not natural to leave your kids thousands of miles away and count the days until they can come home.  Half my heart is in Africa, and this is not a cool feeling.  It hurts. 
We play for a few more hours.  They have to shower and both he and Chad come out at least three times before they go in to make sure we are still there.  It is like we all understand how precious a moment is and we don’t want to waste one. Finally it is dinner time and we say goodbye.  For the first time we ride back to the hotel in silence.  Wass is great, but we don’t talk.  He knows. 
Part Three:  Coming Home
Finally we pack up and get ready for the long journey home.  It is filled with crappy airline food, running to make connections and the boring mundane stuff that used to stress me out but seems to have less meaning now.  We showed the videos and pictures to Zach and Liz and they seem to catch our spirit.  We all can’t wait for them to come home.  When I look at my watch I count 7 hours ahead and think about what my two kids are doing right now.  If I could ask you all for anything it would be that time would fly, that paperwork would be filed and that we would get the sacred email that tells us we can go back and get our own, and bring our two kids home.  Until then, it is my prayer that God would continue to watch over Ubang and Chad even though they are no longer orphans.  Their Forever Family is longing to bring them home for good.


Monday, April 16, 2012

You Are Here... Not For Long

I hate to sound redundant, but today was another great day. It started out raining buckets which, we have been told, is an unusual event given that the rainy season is still a few weeks away. But as Wass (our driver) put it, "In Ethiopia, we are always thankful for the rain." We were wondering how this would affect our play time, but the morning was filled with our orientation preparing us for court tomorrow and the coming weeks ahead.

We have been told that the process from this point on will take about 6-8 weeks before we can go back to get them. I think that after being there at the orphanage so long, Ubang and Chad know the drill as they have seen plenty of parents come, visit, and then come back for their kids, but I don't know how well mom and dad are gonna do.

After the Q&A about what happens next in our process, we got to spend what seemed like too short a time playing with them. Four-square, memory, and the iPad all while trying to get their sizes for their clothes. When we pick them on our second trip, they will come with the clothes on their backs, so we have to pack all the clothes/things they need with us. They were both excited to learn that they would be getting new clothes, Ubang more than Chad I think!

Near the end of the day, we went to the balcony again, and this time Chad asked if the world outside that she saw was America. This time dad was prepared. I had bookmarked some locations, our hotel in Addis Ababa and our house in Kentucky on Google Maps where it shows the globe. So I was able to show them down to street level where they would live in a couple months, across the world. When I pointed to our house, Ubang asked, "My house?". Even though the picture was fuzzy, he really still had no idea how far away he and his sister would be traveling, and even though he still had no idea what exactly America is like, it was enough-- more than enough-- that he had a home. He, and his sister have a Forever Family and we can't wait to get them home.

May my faith be that real, may my wants be that simple, and may the things that I strive for be that pure. The next time I worry, complain, want, I hope I remember what my son has taught me, home is enough. While I am here, God has blessed be with home, and when I die He has blessed me again. May that always be enough.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Another Great Two Days

It is no surprise to me that I am reading through the book of Numbers in my daily devotionals at this time.  God is using it to humble me.  If you are not familiar with this book, the back half chronicles God’s people as they go through the wilderness wanderings.  As I read through this story I can’t help but be a Christian snob at times.  “Why didn’t they get it?”, I ask.  “How could you see God’s hand at work so clearly and still doubt Him constantly?”  Then I come to my story.  Let’s just recount the worries:  finances (God miraculously made it work and I still can’t figure it out), will they like us (the first day there showed He was at work before we got there), will Zach and Liz love them (they are setting their phones by their bed every night hoping that we might get internet at the orphanage and be able to Skype at 3 am their time), and I could go on from the beginning until now.  And what do I do last night?  Stay up worring about whether they will do well with learning English and if we will be able to communicate.  And the faithful and mighty God answers again with two wonderful days where we laugh and play and begin connecting and understanding each other.  It was amazing.
Yesterday and today were both awesome days.  Karie and I switched up yesterday and she played with the iPad and Ubang and I got schooled in memory with Chad.  She had to teach me how to play because they do it a little differently this side of the world, and she figured out pretty quickly that I am color blind as she kept saying to me, “No.. no.. no… no color!” 
Today we got some great video as they gave us the grand tour.  We saw where they sleep, eat and play, and it broke my heart to think about how long they have been here.  Over a year, in the same small room with roomies who keep leaving ahead of you.  Same courtyard, not as big as our driveway and with walls high enough that you can’t see over.  They have not left, except for school which is only a few houses over.  Ubang showed us his favorite spot.  The balcony.  He would just sit there and watch as people walked and occasionally drove by.  As my heart was breaking to take him home today, a plane from Ethiopian Airlines flew over.  He pointed and said, “Plane!” and stuck his arms out and made jet engine sounds. Boys are the same the world over I guess.  Karie said, “Ubang go on the plane?”, he only answered with a smile.  Soon, buddy very soon. 
But the best was yet to come.  As Chad was showing her friends over and over the video of Lizzie and her new room (they must have watched it 10 times), Ubang was drawing on the tablet PC we brought.  He loves to draw.  And as you can see, he is quite good. My second favorite is the one of me, and no those aren’t my ears, it is my hair.  Ok, I might need a trim.  My favorite was the one of the plane.  When he drew it, he put the airline colors on the tail (amazing!) and even better, he put himself in the window.  My heart hurts so bad to bring him home… today was hard. 
We love these kids.  They are so special.  We are so lucky that God has blessed us by picking us for them.  I can’t wait for you to meet them.  We will post video and pictures as soon as we get the clear from our agency.  Until then, enjoy my son’s artwork and please pray that he will be in that plane soon.

Friday, April 13, 2012

We Finally Meet

We met them today and I can’t imagine it going any better.  We played soccer, colored, played on the iPad and even had lunch (actually we watched while they ate).  They are wonderful.  He is incredibly smart and a gifted artist as well. And she has laughter that makes everyone smile.  It was too short of a day.  It just flew by.  We get to spend the next couple of days with them and then it is goodbye for a little while.  I am already dreading it. 
It was amazing how fast my concerns, doubts and worries melted away.  The closer we got to this date the more worried I got.  But God, in His wisdom, kept time marching on because He had already seen how awesome this day would be.  And the thing that made it most wonderful is that they were totally excited to see us. 
There are four couples, including us, here at the orphanage this week.  We all got here at different times, but we were the last to arrive.  They have all see our kids this week and each day a new couple arrived, we were told they asked about us.  When we got there today, the staff cleared the courtyard play area and we walked in to an empty place.  We had seen kids at the door peeking as we pulled up in the car, but they were all hiding now.  When the inner door opened, a boy with his hood on came smiling up to me, and held his arms out to hug me, it was my new son.  Behind him was his sister and Karie had her in her arms just seconds later. 
It was so surreal.  We had not met before, and here we were hugging and laughing in this courtyard.  Within moments we were playing with a soccer ball we brought for them.  For all we knew we could have been in our backyard at home in Kentucky.  It was like the whole world faded away.  Then we introduced them to Zach and Liz, their new brother and sister and showed them their new rooms.  Before we left, we had Zach and Liz each make a video for their new brother and sister.  They were amazed and learned their names within minutes.  For the rest of the afternoon, we hung out, and it was hard to say goodbye.
Ok, I know that this may seem selfish, and I know that there are those of you out there who pray for us daily, but I have one more request to ask of you.  I know it is ok to ask it of the Lord because he tells us over and again that “you do not have because you do not ask” and you should “pray continually and never give up”.  Jesus even told a story to illustrate this with a persistent widow who wore the judge out with her requests (Luke 18:1-8).  Please pray that they come home quickly.  They are ready to go to their forever family and we are ready to have them.  Thanks from all of you, our friends and family.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

TIme to Meet

After a restless night's sleep, we are up now and about to meet our kids for the first time. I'm sitting here thinking of other first times that I have been nervous or excited about. The first time I saw the ocean I was in my twenties and I was so excited that they blindfolded me and I didnt see it until I felt it on my toes. The first time I saw my children was one of the few times in my life that I cried at the miracle God gave us. My first sermon was more along the terrifying scale, even though it was a church with only 9 regular weekly attenders (my family there doubled attendance). All of these felt similar, excited, nervous, filled with anticipation. None of these come close to what I feel right now.

It is 7:30 here in Addis, and in one hour I will meet my two children. For most parents that statement doesn't make sense. What will they think of us? What if they don't like us? How much will we be able to communicate? What will we talk about with the little communication we do get across? And there is some excitement, but the more I sit here and think, the more the thorns of worry come up to choke it out.

This is probably what Jesus meant when He gave us the command "Do not worry". I have to remind myself this because it was Him who has brought us this far. This was His idea in the first place and He is full of good ideas. "I know the plans I have for you", he says, "plans not to harm you, but prosper you and give you hope and a future".

So that is my prayer this morning. not they they like us, it goes smoothly, we can miraculously speak amharic in an hour, but that I do not worry. Because there is joy in the rest of that stuff; in all the trials and troubles of anything, there is joy. And after there is even more because of them. How many times in the little things do I miss the joy my Father has for me because I waste time worrying?

So it comes down to this, do we, do I trust God? His plan for me? Do I really believe it is better than any I could cook up? It only takes a quick second of reflection on all of my blunders to answer that. And once again I am faced with the comforting truth that Father knows best.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Best Easter Ever

As I write this, it is Easter Sunday and it looks different than any Easter I can remember. This Easter we have no egg hunt, no big ham dinner, no relatives houses, we went to church at the Saturday service, and (GASP), no basket full of candy and toys left by the rabbit (we did get the kids a chocolate bunny so we are not total scrooges).  This year, as we celebrate the Resurrection, we are putting the finishing touches on our kids’ Life Books.  You see, we leave in three days for Ethiopia, and these books are going with us.
Our agency suggested that we make the Life Books to take and give to the kids before we leave.  When you adopt from Ethiopia there are two trips involved.  The first trip we will meet our new children, spend the weekend with them and then go to our court date to declare to the Ethiopian government that we want to be their new parents.  After that, we have to say goodbye for a few weeks.  We have to come back home, they have to stay in the orphanage and we all wait to get our US Embassy Appointment when we can go back and bring them home.  In between these trips, they will have their Life Books.
We have been working on these Life Books for a month now.  Over the past few weekends, here at our house,  we have been frantically painting rooms, building bunk beds, and setting up toys so that we could take pictures to take with us to give to them.  These pictures of their rooms, our house, the dogs, and all of us go in a scrap book for each of them, that Grandma as been working on in Chicago, so they can learn about us in between our two trips.  And this weekend the pictures and scrapbook pages are coming together to complete the books.  But that is only part of their books.  First, we include their story so they will always be able to remember where they came from.  We will tell about their mother, father, what their village was like and include as much information that we can for them to have a memory.
Next, we include a few pages of pictures of them.  From the photos that we have been sent, we put together pages of them doing what they love.  For our son, we include photos of him taking pictures, playing soccer, and playing with his sister.  For our daughter, photos of her braiding hair, blowing bubbles and swinging with her brother.  All decorated with their names in English so they can learn them in this strange new language. 
Finally, the pictures of their new home are added.  Pictures of their toys, their own beds, their playground, their pool, and their new family are all decorated and labeled to hold onto until we come back.  All of this is put together with love and excitement and when we meet them, after we spend time with them, before we have to leave them, we will hand the books over to them and say, “We love you.  We are coming back for you.  When you want to remember us, when you want to look forward to your new home, when you want to see your new family, just look at your book, and know we are coming.  We promise.”
As I am taking pictures, and watching these finishing touches being placed on these books, I have to stop and think that this is better than any basket, any egg hunt, any dinner I have ever gotten.  This, after 37 Easters of my life, is the first time I really understand what His Easter story is all about, and I am so thankful I am nearly overcome.  These Life Books are just a small picture of what Jesus did for you and me.  He came to earth, spent a short time with us, rescued us before we even knew Him, and He left us a Book to remember. 
He said, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms, and I go to prepare a place for you.”  Then he left us a picture book of streets of gold.  He said, “I will be with you always.” Then He left us His words and our story so that we would remember.  And just before He left He promised, “I am coming back to get you.  Where you are at now is not your home.  I am coming back to bring you home.  You are going to live with Me, just wait a little while and read your book to remember.  When you get lonely, read My Words to you, when you miss Me they will help you remember Whose you are and where you belong.”
This is the best Easter gift I have ever been given.  Once again God has shown me that I have been given so much more by these two kids more than I could ever give them.  Thank you Jesus. 

Happy Easter

Sunday, February 12, 2012

One More Set of Fingerprints.... Why?

The most annoying question in the world has to be, "why?".  It is annoying when its asked of us.  As kids we annoyed parents and teachers alike with a constant barrage of whys and now our kids do the same to us.  And it is equally annoying when we are asking it.  We all hate why because it can so seldom be answered and in most cases leads to another, Why? 

Not only is it annoying, it can be frustrating, continuous, and often times painful.  We all have our own set of whys.  Why did he leave?  Why did she hurt me?  Why did this or that happen to me?  All of these heartbreaking questions are rarely answered and if they ever are it is never to our satisfaction.  Why rarely leads to understanding. 

I have a personal 'why' with God.  Its not a 'why did this happen?' or a 'why did you let that happen?', no, mine is much more basic.  I cant for the life of me figure out why God loves me.  You ever think of that?  We really dont bring anything to the table.  There is nothing we can do for Him, nothing we can give Him he doesnt already have, and nothing we can get Him that He needs.  And, if you are anything like me, I am usually more interested in what He can do for me anyway.  I dont talk to Him enough, dont spend enough time with Him and most of the time He gets what I have leftover.  Why, in the world does He love me?

And this brings me to adoption.  I think that God is continually teaching me through this process, teaching me about Him.  Because anyone who has been a parent could at least in a small way, relate to God as a parent.  We have these kids who cant do anything for us, dont bring much to the table (although it is nice when they are big enough to mow the lawn!), and are always wanting more from their parents-- and yet we love them.  But, I would counter, they are my kids.  They have been with me from the beginning of their lives, they look like me and too often act like me.  That is why I do what I do for them. 

But not so anymore.  My two new kids don't look a thing like me.  They dont talk like me, dress like me, act like me, and we share no history.  And yet we are trying to move heaven and earth to bring them home.  It doesn't make any sense on paper.  And so once again I have no answer for the question, 'why?'. 

I bet this is why God gave us this verse However, as it is written:

No eye has seen,

no ear has heard,

no mind has conceived

what God has prepared for those who love him”– but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-11 NIV84)

We can never know how much or why God loves us, but He promises that He does.  That is what we are to rest in knowing.  That He does.  And it is my prayer that He uses our adoption to teach us about how He adopted us.  Just as He now uses Zach and Liz to teach me about how He is a Father to me.

Please keep us in your prayers as we get closer to Ethiopia.  Karie and I go this week to get our last set of fingerprints done for the USCIS.  Pray specifically for a quick turnaround on our Favorable Determination Letter.  Once we receive this we can send our dossier to the Ethiopian government and wait for our first travel date.  And hopefully this will focus us on more important questions than why, like "when?" and then God willing, "How?"  :)

Thank You for Your Prayers,