Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Man Child

I can't really remember what our plan was, but I'm quite sure that it wasn't 2 babies in 16 months.....Trevor Dean Florida was our first experience with "God's plan for our family's children is soooo much better than our own!"  We were given the gift of a second man child, sturdy and strong with a tender heart and a will of iron on May 19, 1996.  This past weekend has been a sweet celebration of the baby grown up.

Since Trevor himself isn't too keen on hearing the details surrounding his birth (he wouldn't even let me play his birth video while his friends were here....sheesh, boys!!)  I've decided to chronicle the story here for the day his future wife or daughters want to hear his story......and maybe because it was such a precious time for his Momma!

There was a part of me that was hoping Trevor would be a girl, mainly just because I already had a boy and conventional wisdom said variety is the spice of life.  There was a bigger part of me that hoped the ultrasound would reveal another little Florida boy.  I envisioned brothers....a total immersion in little boy world with fire trucks, sports balls and super heroes.  Since I never had brothers, I think my "boy" dreams must speak pretty loudly to how great man-hood looks on my Dad and husband.  When the ultrasound tech said, "Congratulations, it's another little boy!"  I gave my baby boy blue dreams full rein.

Pregnancy with Trevor in my belly was pretty easy.  It was obvious he was going to be a big boy, but I felt strong and healthy.  He seemed to have settled in pretty comfortably....my growing belly started listing a bit to my left side where the palm of my hand could usually find the curve of a baby back nestled in as my right hand could pick out two little feet outstretched to the other side.  His first little man-cave seemed to include a  recliner where he enjoyed having a place to stretch out!

He was due May 31st.....but we woke up May 18th still discussing name options and unable to commit to one.  We got ready for a warm Saturday full of fun family and church events weighing the pros and cons of each of our favorites.  After visiting friends and playing at the park during a church picnic we gathered our church teens and headed for the local roller rink.  Momma didn't put skates on but I did enjoy watching Daddy and Riley take a few laps around the rink before sleepiness overwhelmed me.  Riley and I left Scott  and the kids to finish out the night and headed home.

As soon as Riley was snoring in his bed, I stretched out on the couch with the air conditioner at my back and the tv at my front and drifted off  to await Scott's return.  Instead of his entrance waking me as I expected though, warnings of baby boy #2's entrance did instead.  The achy, tired feeling I had brought home with me, had transformed into regularly spaced achy tired feelings with enough power to open my eyes.  I was tired enough to drift back to sleepyland after I labeled what was happening and woke the second time at Scott's return home.  He came in exhausted and declaring out loud how much he was looking forward to a deep night's sleep.  At my announcement, his eyes widened and he screwed up more "get the job done" power.  A quick check to make sure the hospital bag was ready and warning call to babysitter Uncle Eric, and he was off to sleep for as long as he could.

Now, my frame of mind at this point in the story is particularly important to the next 24 hours....so let me tell you what was going on in my mind.  First of all, everybody says that 2nd babies come in half the time of first babies because you and your body know what you're doing this time.  Well, I believed everybody and have just enough of a competitive spirit in me that I was convinced I could match that expectation and set a new record for myself just with the strength of my will.  Riley's birth had been an 8am Monday appointment for an induction and he had been born at 5:49pm.  9 hours, 49 minutes from very first fluttery contraction to baby boy.  My first contraction this day had happen spontaneously and while I was asleep, so it wasn't quite as easy to pinpoint, but I was sure it had happened by 11pm.  So by my calculations, I would be holding a sweet, sleeping newborn by dawn's early light and our church friends would all  raise their eyebrows in surprise as they sat in the pews and heard what I had accomplished in the few hours between our picnic and Sunday morning services!  In fact, I had invited my newly married little sister to be in the room for the birth this time so she could share the joy of my easy, fast, well-scripted baby birth experience....encourage her with the beauty of birth, you know??!  Keep that reasonable, totally well-thought out plan of an experienced mother in your mind as you read......

We left for the hospital around 3am and alternated between laughing like giddy kids and "breathing through" as we made the pitch dark drive to the hospital.  I fully expected the nurses to tell me I was ready to push as soon as we got settled in our room and my plan would be complete.  Instead, as they poked and prodded my belly and "ahem - other parts" I heard the words "Sunny-side up" for the first time.  I didn't know enough then for the combination of that description and the certainty of a big baby to run ice through my veins and upend my expectations.  I do now....oh baby, I know now!  These days I'm ready with a commiserating cluck and pat on the hand when I hear it applied to young moms I know.

I will spare you the details...my sister still hasn't been able to wash certain things from her memory (although I'm happy to say that the experience didn't totally scare her away...she still gave me a great nephew!) but I will tell you this.  "Sunny side up" is a nice way of saying that your kid who made himself a recliner in your womb wasn't about to give up that comfy posture on the way out and instead of maneuvering his hard, round head around your tailbone and other immovable body parts he preferred to keep his Lay-Z-boy position and attempt to come out face up like a battering ram.  Dealing with this situation takes a lot of time, a lot of not pushing when all of creation tells you you're supposed to, a lot of un-natural positions that require extra staff to be brought in from the hallways to prop you up as your "gown" gives way to gravity,  a lot of blood vessel bursting and lip biting.  Oh....and did I tell you that sunny-side up babies produce a thing called "back labor" that isn't affected by epidurals like normal labor is???

My solution to dealing with this  change of plans was to set goals and pretend to still be in charge.  I asked my very nice OB to predict when the baby would be born as the light of the sun started peeking over the horizon.  I thought we still had time to pull off a beginning of service baby announcement at church.  I'll admit to tears when his answer was, "I'm sure by noon we'll be all done here."  But I gritted my teeth and decided that an end of service announcement could be ok too.  I'm not proud to admit to the whiny tone of voice I chastised Dr. Ligon with as I watched 12:00 creep up on the clock and we were still trying to turn a baby instead of birth a baby....I may have accused him of things that weren't his fault...

The gymnastics were successful, he turned his head eventually and tucked his chin like a good baby....and entered the world at 1:10pm.  Just on schedule.....God's schedule.  I was left with a bloody lip, every part of my body swollen and bruised, and a full heart because of the precious, beautiful boy that was placed in my arms.  He greeted me with a serious, thoughtful expression and wide open dark eyes that seemed to be speaking deep thoughts.

We thought that as soon as we saw him, his face would speak a name to us and we'd know which of our two favorites to use on his birth certificate.  Scott cut the cord and Dr. Ligon asked what the baby's name was....we looked at him, looked at each other.....and shrugged.  It wasn't that we couldn't agree, we agreed too much and had two names we really like...both would have suited him just fine.  Scott solved the dilemma when he said, "You know, we can't lose, their both great names so let's just flip a coin!"  The quarter came down and declared him Trevor Dean.  I can't imagine him anyone other than my Trev.

I fell madly in love then, when I hardly knew him....and am even more madly in love now that I've had 17 years to get to know him and hear some of the deep thoughts that were behind those soulful eyes.

  This baby has turned into a man I am extremely proud to call mine.  He's good, he's strong, he's a well spoken deep thinker and a defender of justice.  I love who he is so much, my heart feels like it's going to burst when I think about offering him as a man to the needs of the world.  I'm so glad that Trevor Dean Florida was born....and that I was chosen to be his Momma.

Happy birthday sweet boy!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Travelogue Ethiopia Part 2

We met the girls on Wednesday and slept very well that night.  We woke Thursday to the sounds of Addis Ababa....new construction, children laughing and running, the rumble of cars and trucks, animals of all kinds and the occasional call to prayer over the tinny loudspeakers.

The view from our guesthouse window.

One of the (many) different and cool things about adopting older children instead of babies is that we were able to be a family on this first trip.  Usually, adoptive parents get to meet their children on the sly, pretending to be nothing more than everyday visitors to the orphanage.  Until the court date and a declaration from the judge anything can happen....and the tender hearts of the children must be protected from the potential, however small it may be, of yet another loss.  But the word "usually" hasn't figured much into our story!  Right from the first day we began talking about our girls, our adoption workers would tell us what protocol is for adopting older children, and then with the next breath say, "But your girls are about 10 years older than the normal 'older child' adoption....so we'll have to talk it over as a staff and get back to you with how we should handle it for your family."  Blazing new trails, forging new paths....for us and our girls!  So, our girls were able to "meet" us long before we even came.  They were told that they have a family and given pictures of us soon after our referral acceptance was complete.  That was a giddy day in Michigan while we imagined them coming home from school....and being met with life changing news!

So when we met them on Wednesday, we were able to meet them as Mom & Dad.  And when we woke up on Thursday, we woke up as Mom & Dad and they woke up as daughters.  We had plans to spend the afternoon with them again at the orphanage, but before then had a few appointments, the most important of which was a visit to the Bethany offices to meet with the lawyer.

He briefed and explained in a very professional manner, preparing us for our court appointment the next day....telling us that it would likely be a very smooth appointment.  The usual reason for a case to be put on hold and not immediately cleared was if a judge felt in-country family options had not been explored enough for a child.  As is our habit, we asked more questions than the average person which led us to a discussion about the system and the orphan problem as a whole.  His "on-the-ground" assessment confirmed the conclusions my reading and wondering had led me to assume.  The recent slow-downs in the adoption process in Ethiopia have been born out of good intentions.....intentions to  exhaust all resources that might keep a child with extended family or at least place them with a family in country before international adoption is considered as an option.  The new system adds double-checking to that end, which is a good end.  But the reality right now is that it's leaving children stuck while the kinks are worked out.  Too little staff and too little training at the beginning of the learning curve have slowed the flow of children to families while the flow of children to orphanages or the streets has remained the same.  The Ethiopian system is feeling the strain between big picture goals and right now needs.

It was at this point in our "big picture" discussion that our lawyer's professionalism cracked a bit and he told us, with obvious emotion in his voice, that he felt a lot of gratitude toward our family for adopting Asnaku and Ruth....that it meant a lot to the whole Bethany staff.  His words referee-ed another wrestling match that had been happening in my heart since we set foot on the Ethiopian red dirt. 

 Even with the poverty of the orphanage and the other hardships in my girls' lives, my heart had been heavy these past few days with the pain of them having to leave all they've every known behind in order to have a family.  Ethiopia is a place, a people and a culture that is very easy for me to love.  It bothers me that the girls have to lose this in order to gain us.  I wish I could scoop up part of it to bring home for them. 

 The lawyer's next words brought me peace and answered our prayer that God would lead us to a child that truly needed us.  He told us he was confident that the judge would approve our case the next day because we were the only chance the girls have at a family.  "Really??" we asked.  "The only chance?"  

His expression and body language made his answer emphatic, "They'll never have a family here."  Disease, poverty, stigma, and too many birthdays had stolen that chance in the country of their birth. Us....one family from across the world had become their only chance because God sees, He hears, and He speaks.

It was a strange peace to my heart.  It was awfully hard to hear your children described in such dire circumstances.  But it was also good to hear.....good because it confirmed our steps.  Having a family and belonging to someone trumps culture and hometown every time.  That reality explains our girls excitement for us so dramatically overshadowing the fears of the unfamiliar and a new language they must also have.

We boarded the van and headed out for our afternoon with the girls.  We played and laughed.  Scott had the bright idea of a two on two soccer match.  Ruth was game, but Asnaku had to be persuaded!  Scott used his  Daddy charm to plead and convince.  Finally, with a little roll of the eyes, she relented.  It felt very much like a typical Daddy Daughter moment to me and made my heart swell.

We played the "English/Amharic" game that's popular with adoptive families and on missions trips!  They point and speak, we repeat, everyone laughs.....we point and speak, they repeat and we cheer and tell them they're awesome!  The game ended with Ruth explaining to Scott that Addis Ababa means  "new flower" and Abaye means "Daddy" so Addis Abaye means "New Daddy."  More sweetness!  New Daddy also found out that one of his girls is pretty tickle-ish and can't help smiling big when Abaye's got a finger poked into her side!!

It was a good, good day.   My journal entry for that day ended with this, 

"So the list of confirmations and hearing from the Lord grows....not to mention how great our time spent with the girls has been.  If each day keeps continuing to get better and easier with them, everything will be more than fine.
God is good....I'm so glad He brought us to Ethiopia...."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Celebration Redeemed!

There are days that are a glaring fork in the road because they contain the moment upon which everything hinges.  Days that have the potential to be either looked back on with the fondness  of great opportunities that were birthed or with the regret of unfulfilled wishes and dreams.  Today is one of those days.  

The first time April 23rd stood out on the calendar for me was because it carried the weight of a deadline... a deadline that prompted my introduction to my daughter, Asnaku (who went by "Ashley" on the waiting child list.)  

Connected to the picture of a big-eyed girl with a serious face were these words, "Ashley, age 15 years -Ashley will turn 16 in April 2013; an adoptive family must file an I-600 (which occurs at the end of the adoption process) before she turns 16 years old, or she will not be able to be adopted. If you know of anyone interested in Ashley’s adoption, please contact us."

Today could have been the day that she knew her fate as an orphan was sealed.  I imagine her trying to gulp down the heaviness in her heart and find a way to imagine the future with the certainty of aloneness.  How do you swallow down that fear at the tender age of 16?

But....our God!  He is a redeemer!  Since evil cast the first shadow over the Garden of Eden He has been tirelessly buying back what it stole from His precious children.  

Some wonder how there can be a good God when there is so much evil.  I say, how can you  not see God's hand when innocence is preserved, hope is renewed and children are snatched back from the hand of evil?  He is a redeemer....every day.  You have to be blind to not see it...especially today.  Open your eyes and celebrate!

Today ....
He has redeemed faith.
He has redeemed family.
He has redeemed the future.
He has redeemed health.
He has redeemed innocence.
He has redeemed security.
He has redeemed belonging.
He has redeemed Hope.

So sweet Asnaku Hope, I pray that you are reveling in the freedom and redemption of today...and that the stirrings of happiness you're suddenly feeling about the future are glaring evidence to you that you are the apple of your Heavenly Father's eye.  He's been moving powerfully on your behalf to redeem today....and He won't stop.  Happy, happy birthday!  I'm so glad that you were born, and that God has given me the gift of celebrating this day with you!

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jer. 29:11

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Do I have "Orphan Fever?"

There is a buzz forming right now about a book that investigates the link between the recent wave of Christian adoptions and adoption corruption, calling it "Orphan Fever:  The Evangelical Movement's Adoption Obsession."  I read an article summary yesterday written by the author.  You can read it for yourself here.  We should all read this article because accountability is always good and wrongs, wherever they are discovered, should be righted.  But I hope we will also consider my story, and the thousands of others just like mine that weren't reported.

As you read, I want you to think about me.  Not because I'm eager for attention, but because I'm the case study that's not mentioned in this article.  Most of the motivations the author lists for these horrible adoption cases are things that you could have heard coming out of my mouth....with tears....word for word.  Our words may sound the same but result in actions as different as night and day.  I have read THOUSANDS OF PAGES of adoption blogs, google-searched about every topic I could think of related to adoption and tried to connect with people of any and every adoption persuasion and motivation to educate myself.  I have NEVER encountered these people the article talks about as being a force in the current Christian adoption movement. Their names or ideas haven't come up on a single google search I've done during the last 2 years of my research.   But I have met hundreds of organizations and people just like me who are cautious, thoughtful and almost overly concerned about fighting corruption and championing education and adoption training.  Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying here, I'm not saying what the article says is not true....I'm NOT saying that these people are innocent or should be excused....by no means.  What I'm saying is that these people or people like them did not cause or shape my motivation and methods for adopting, even though our language may look the same, I had never even heard of them until yesterday.  So read the article and be appalled and convicted to fight corruption and protect children...but also think about me, what you know about me, what you've heard me say and what you've seen me write.....and know that there are infinitely more Christians who look like me adopting than the ones highlighted here.

We all learned it in Psychology 101... "Correlation does not imply causation (cum hoc ergo propter hoc, Latin for "with this, therefore because of this") is a phrase used in science and statistics to emphasize that a correlation between two variables does not necessarily imply that one causes the other."  If you study baldness in men you'll find that a high percentage of bald men have been married for a long time.  Does that mean that long marriages cause baldness?  My husband would be more likely to site the study that shows that women perceive men with shaved heads as more manly and strong.... more attractive.  Maybe this second study is the real link between male baldness and long marriages. Does a long marriage cause baldness....or does sexy baldness cause along marriage??  Or the cause could just be the fact that anyone who's been married a long time is getting older and baldness is a sign of aging. If I base my life on either of those first two correlations being the cause I'll likely make some pretty silly judgement calls.  It's the same with adoption and Christians...let's be careful to not throw the baby out with the bathwater
My husband and I agonized for months over which adoption agency to use.  I had a stack of information next to my sofa tall enough to need propping up during our research phase.  This decision was the biggest one of our adoption and we felt that pressure right from the start.  Why?  Because of corruption.  Because I heard stories about people finding out their adopted children had not really been orphans after all and that gave me cold sweats at night.  Because bad people exploit any opening they find.  Because our adoption agency would be our biggest line of defense against participating in corruption and truly having our motives match our actions.  And so, we were committed to finding an ethical agency that went above and beyond to double and triple check every step along the way.  We chose Bethany Christian Services, not because they were the cheapest or promised the fewest wait times, but because of their commitment to putting the needs of children first and being known for their  excellence in ethics.  There are many other adoption agencies just like them.  A few points to consider about our personal adoption process:
  • Bethany Christian Services does far more in Ethiopia on family preservation projects than international adoption.  That's important to me.   Orphan prevention is plan A.  But it's too late for orphan prevention to help my girls.  In the meantime, while we work to solve the orphan causing problems, these children are growing up without families.  Bethany's philosophy reflects this....family preservation first, in country resources second, international adoption only for children who's needs haven't been met as all other resources have been exhausted.  That's the case with our girls.
  • That's why I'm part of also part of a program in Ethiopia called Hope+ Sisterhood that supports moms in with a 6 month business start-up program that will enable them to feed and keep their children. While we were in Ethiopia last month for our adoption court date, I was able to visit the woman that my friends and I are sponsoring.  Her name is Tigist and she has 3 beautiful children.  Her husband didn't just leave her alone, he left her with HIV, shame and poverty.  Tigist says the program "has brought a lot of change in my life. I can now care for my kids and work. I am so happy. I had no options before I had this program. I am hopeful now. I led a desperate painful life. I could not send my kids to school. When I learned that I had been selected for the program it was the turning point to hope for me. Thanks to God..."  Family preservation is orphan prevention, you can't be committed to one without the other.
  • You can't read much literature from Bethany without knowing that their mission is to find families for children....not children for families.  There is a big, big difference.  One view sees children as a commodity used to meet someone else's need, the first sees children as valuable individuals who have needs that need to be met by a family.  That philosophy has shown itself in our experience.  As we've asked questions about children on the waiting list, our Bethany social workers'  responses have been to ask extensive questions,  recommend further specific training and then tell us to keep waiting because we were not a good match for the needs of those children.  Children must have adoptive families who have the resources to meet their needs or adoption does more harm than good.
  • We have completed over 40 hours of required training and education and have more left to do before our adoption is complete.  And let me tell you, this training is thorough, pre and post adoption.  Worst case scenarios are explored in depth.  You will not complete Bethany's required training and adopt expecting it to be all unicorns and rainbows.....you will be shaking in your boots and be doing it because the needs of a child outweigh your comfort.
  • We have found the layers of checks and balances to be thick.  People often complain to me about how awful it is that our adoption has to take so long and cost so much....but I find security in that.  It takes time and dollars to do proper investigations.  The Ethiopian government investigates and interviews.  Bethany investigates and interviews.  Bethany in Ethiopia actually employs a full-time investigator trained by the US Embassy to investigate the orphan status of each child they work with and the orphanages from which these children come.  And the reason we're waiting to go back and bring our girls home right now is because the US Department of State does their own independent investigation and interviews before they grant a visa.  All three entities have to agree that a child is a true orphan and that no other resources are available in country before I can bring my girls home.  I'm ok with that process and the fact that it takes time and money to accomplish...actually I'm incredibly happy about it.  I can't tell you how many times I've asked experts involved with our girls if the girls really need us, if this is the best option for them, if there's any way they could stay in Ethiopia with a family that loves them.  The answer has always been that we are their only answer.  I needed to be sure of that, for their sake.

I usually don't jump into hot topics like this, particularly in a public forum.  I really prefer that everyone just get along!  But the need for adoption is real, just as real as the need for people to fight for ethical practices and education in adoption.  I'm concerned that this article is likely to cause broad generalizations and misunderstandings that will jeopardize future good adoptions and leave orphans neglected.  Neglect is a form of abuse.  That result will be as harmful to the world's children as corruption in adoption....both must be fought.

My "orphan theology" boils down to this:  "There is a God.  He champions the cause of children.  So will I."  For the sake of my girls, and other kids like them I can't not speak today.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Travelogue Ethiopia - Part 1

I realized as I was typing the title that my fingers fly over the keys for Ethiopia these days.....it rolls right off my fingertips....I've formed a new muscle memory....and I like it!  It's a fun word to type fast.  Ethiopia, ethiopia, ethiopia, ethiopia!!  That word makes me smile....even more now that what I can tell you about the place is what I've seen, not just what I've read.

It seemed like we had been waiting forever for travel dates.  We officially accepted our girls' referral on December 4th but it took until mid February for the wheels to turn and the email to arrive with our court date of March 1st.  Then, all of a sudden, wait wait wait turned into hurry hurry hurry!!  We flew out Monday afternoon, hardly believing that it was real and we would fall asleep on the plane and wake up in Africa!
Our overnight flight dropped us into Addis Ababa as the city was waking up.  We did the usual things, money exchange and passport control, with an unusual lump in our throats knowing that this would be the day we would meet our girls face to face.

Honestly, I had been living with an underlying current  of fear about this day since we first considered adopting older children.  I enjoy people, I love children, I've been a youth pastor's wife for almost 20 years so I "get" teens....but I'm not a good "meet-er."  New people stress me out.  I have to keep telling myself that all my deep, dear friendships started out as new people I had to meet for the first time once.  Lucky for me, I'm married to the other side of the people loving coin.  If you've taken the Strengthfinder tests you'll understand when I say I'm a relator, and my dear husband, he's an includer.  Add a dose of "we don't speak each other's language" and a dose of "I've never met one of my children for the first time when they were old enough to remember if I was a dork" pressure and an overnight flight and jetlag to the fact that I don't sparkle during introductions.  Yeah - I was sweatin' it.

My coping mechanism for this nervousness was to collect a bunch of fun activities to bring with me to fill the awkward moments.  I was banking on there being a group of kids, including my girls for part of the time and we could just play.  My suitcases contained my "crutches"....jump ropes, sidewalk chalk, Uno, Jenga, nail polish.  I breathed easier imagining the first meeting with these things in my hands.....so I'm sure you can imagining the tightness that wrapped around my throat with each turn of the suitcase carousel that didn't contain our suitcases.  Apparently, our bags decided to extend our long layover in Frankfurt and stayed in Germany
So we walked out of the airport with just our awesome personalities and carry-ons that contained a change of clothes, camera and the necklaces I was bringing for the girls.  

We met our Bethany guide, Abel, and he gave us our first taste of Ethiopian culture with a history-laced guided tour from the airport to our guesthouse.  He dropped us off to get settled and told us he would be back mid-afternoon to take us to the orphanage.  It would have made sense to take a nap then....rest up from 30 hours of travel and all.  There was no way my eyes were closing and my mind was turning off pre major life event.  So I laid on the bed and stared at the ceiling and called it rest while Scott snored beside me.  It wasn't long before it was time for lunch, and then a coffee ceremony (which is a beautiful, beautiful piece of Ethiopian hospitality I'll have to write about some other time!) 

...and then ....it was time.

We picked up the girls' social worker, Gelila, along the way so she could go with us.  Daddy conspired with Abel to find a fresh flower shop along the way so he could bring his daughters roses.  As Gelila and I waited in the van for the guys, we talked about the girls.  Eventually the conversation turned to my worries...the fears I was fighting I might not be enough to be what they need.  Gelila's words have been ringing in my ears since...."Oh you will be, they're just sweet girls who need love.  Just love them, that will be enough."  I took a deep breath and thanked God for sending a social worker that wasn't only what my girls needed, but what I needed too.

It was a sweet, sweet afternoon.  The nannies had kept the girls home from school so we would have private time with them...so not only did I not have my "crutches" but there wasn't any other orphanage activity distractions.  They had fallen asleep waiting for us so we waited on the porch while Gelila woke them up....longest few minutes of my life.  It felt like walking into one of the pictures I've had on my fridge for the past few months, except I had my arms around them and could breath in their sweetness and watch their shy smiles form.  They seemed excited and a little nervous,  just like me.  Scott scooped them up and swung them around, like big American Daddy's do....and their smiles got bigger....and the nannies hid their giggles behind their hands....and the adoption workers videoed and photographed like they knew something momentous was happening. 

After the initial excitement, we sat down together and tried to talk.  They offered us the bits of English they had been practicing and our Bethany workers helped when our gestures  and explaining couldn't get the job done.  We gave them their necklaces and explained the names we had chosen for them and they read their letters.  There was some excited chatter between the girls and Gelila while they were reading.  We put the necklaces around their necks that say "forever Florida" and took happy pictures.  And then we just spent the rest of our time that day using the language of play.  We delivered letters from sisters and friends.  Scott and I got schooled at Kelebeleboshe, a twist on jacks that they play with a handful of rocks.  Then Scott showed off some of his PIG moves for a big basketball win!

The rest of the children came home just about as it was time for us to leave and looked us over with wide eyes and whispers.  It's an awful thing to smile into a child's eyes who you didn't come for.  Moms and Dads aren't as common in this place as they are in orphanages full of chubby cheeked babies and toddlers.  Most of these kids will find themselves grown up without a family in a few years....and as much as their heads must know the odds, you can still read hope on their faces.

We hugged our girls, looked into their eyes and told them "Woo chalo, I love you" and kissed them goodbye.  They eagerly asked if we could please come back tomorrow......sweet music to our ears.
The van door shut, the gate locked and the "how do you think that went" conversation started, wondering what the girls thought about their names and if they understood what we meant by giving them, especially Asnaku.  

As we were driving up the hill away from our girls, the van abruptly pulled over to the side of the road and stopped....and God winked at us!  We had been particularly thoughtful about giving Asnaku the name Hope.  Although it had topped our best-loved names list for a long time, we didn't want the fact that Hope is also part of the name of the name of the orphanage to make her think we might have named her after it.  We decided to use the letter to explain because there just wasn't any other name that fit so perfectly for our sweet girl and her life....and prayed that God would help her see it as a beautiful name full of meaning for a beautiful girl.

So we pulled over and Gelila opened the window to talk to a white girl she had seen walking down the road.  They chatted for a minute and as we were on our way again Gelila explained that that girl had been volunteering at the orphanage for the last few months...and her name was.....
Do you need me to say it??  You've gotta know!  If you know anything about our story and how gently God has cared for every detail and answered every worry along the way....you know already, that her name was HOPE!  And she had been there loving on our girls for the last 8 months....making them see and feel hope.

Since we've been home Hope has found me on facebook and told me about what happened when she walked through the orphanage gate a few minutes later.  Girls came running and yelling, telling her that Asnaku and her have the same name now!  The next day Scott asked the girls what their "Highs and Lows" had been from the day before....it's a little thing we do with our kids around the dinner table at home.  Asnaku spoke right up to tell us that her "High" had been her name.  God's wink, His quick expression to remind us that He's got it all under control, came in the form of a girl He brought into our girls lives at just the right time with just the right name.  He's so, so good.

The drive back to the guesthouse passed in a beautiful Ethiopian blur.  Then....just like all Mommas do after they meet their newest little person for the first time.....after the googling and wonder.....I breathed a big sigh, laid down and slept with a silly smile on my face.  It had been a very good day, a good that was "first day with your new babies" good, with an African, teenage twist!

Friday, March 29, 2013

What's Next??

Processing has been slow for me.  I came home with a headcold and ears that stayed plugged up for 2 weeks....that put my thinking skills in molasses mode.  It's been 3 weeks since we've been home from the trip of a lifetime.  I realize I've left many of you in the dark, some thinking we already have the girls home, everyone wondering how the trip went and what's next.  I'm sorry.  I've realized as I've been praying for anxiously awaiting the next installment of my high school friend's blog who's just brought home 2 little sweeties from China, that I've left all of the Florida family prayer warriors in the dark.  Although I realize God's not in the dark and can convert your prayers to reflect the things you don't yet know....I want you to know because my heart needs you all with me.

I want to take you along to Africa and let you meet my girls.  But first, let me tell you what's next.  Our last formality, last document driven hoop to jump through are the immigration requirements to get a United States Visa stamped into the girls' passports.  Our country is thorough and requires their own full investigation into the orphan status of our girls.  They also require complete, independent medical evaluations that include a TB test that can take up to 8 weeks to show results.  The Bethany team in Ethiopia has been on their toes checking off boxes and gathering requirements.  We have new birth certificates that list Scott and I as the girls' parents.  We have an official adoption decree from the Ethiopian government.  We have 2 Ethiopian passports of girls who's last names are Florida.  These documents (and a 2nd trip to Homeland Security for fingerprints) were the last things needed to apply for visas.  Our case was submitted to the US Embassy in Addis Ababa on my birthday, March 26.....and the deadline we've been racing for, submitting this paperwork before Asnaku's 16th birthday, has been met with almost a month to spare.  What we're waiting for now is:

  1. For the investigation to be completed.  Best case scenario it could take a couple weeks, worst case it could be forwarded on to the African headquarters in Nairobi to be reviewed and could take a lot longer.  We're not anticipating any hold-ups.....but you just never know what twists and turns could arise.
  2. For medical testing to be completed, particularly the TB sputum test.  This test is required because of their age and special needs instead of the the more simple, quick TB test you're probably familiar with.    The tests were begun March 20 and the results will likely take 8 weeks from then.
  3. Once the Embassy approves our case, they will issue us an invitation to travel and we will be able to start making plans to leave.  
In the meantime, we're finishing a basement, rearranging and redecorating bedrooms and gathering "teenage girl" supplies.  God keeps pouring the blessings on us.....one of our church's Bible study small groups gave us the gift of professional drywallers to help us with our basement re-do.  What a blessing!  Progress has been happening down there without Scott burning the midnight oil....and fast too!  Our church is also throwing an adoption shower for our girls in April.  They've had me filling out baby registries and making wish lists.  I'm feeling completely surrounded by other people who are "in it" with us, and it feel good, really good.

Ok, plan B.  Looks like this post's name is going to be changed from "Ethiopia Travelogue - Part 1" to "What's Next?"  Combining those two thoughts was biting off more than I could chew.  I promise......next post you see from me will take you straight to Addis Ababa.  But until then.....here's how you can pray right now:
  1. Pray for Florida hearts....the ones in Michigan and the ones in Ethiopia.  All of our hearts need to be prepared to be thick with our love and ability to assume the best and not easily take offense as we forge a new family.  I believe God can be doing the prep work now as we wait.  Also, pray for healing for our girls.  Any way you look at it and whatever "best case scenarios" might be, there's no way to need to be adopted without walking through some serious pain.  Pray that God, who speaks fluent Amharic, will be filling in gaps and slathering on healing salve, even before we bring them home.
  2. Pray for communication skills....us in Amharic, them in English.  We're gonna need a lot of help and it's gonna be hard.  God has brought us just the right contacts we need to make a plan, and that's on my list of things to do.
  3. Pray for timing.  My worrying gene can go into overdrive if I look too closely at my list of things that need to be organized, painted, emailed or called about or my calendar.  God knows the plan, and He'll make it for my good - so I'm ok.......and I'm choosing not to think about the fact that I have my firstborn graduating and am throwing an open house the last weekend of May.  It's important to God too, and He knows how far I can stretch.
  4. Pray for our homegrown kids.  They all would really like to travel with us when we bring the girls home.  (Except for Ginger....a trip to visit her Grandmas sounds much more exciting to her!)  After a lot of praying and seeking advice of adoption people, we feel like there would be a lot of positive benefits to having this journey we've gone on as a family be able to end with us all experiencing the big finale together.  Bonding and understanding between siblings can only be helped by seeing and feeling where their sisters came from, and then traveling home together as a family.  Seems impossible when you think about how much it will cost to take 5 extras with us.....but then again, we've seen God do some pretty impossible things with money these past few years, haven't we?  So, we've decided to start working toward that goal and lay it at God's feet.  The kids have been listing things on craigslist and ebay, selling candy bars door to door and babysitting.  We're going to do everything we can to make it happen and will accept God's answer based on the bottom line of the bank account on the day we need to buy tickets.  So pray for God's will to be done, and for the kids' hearts (and mine!) to be ready to accept whatever that is......and for miracles and cheap tickets too!!

Thank you for walking this road with us.  There is just no way that I can express how soul-strengthening it is to feel such an army around us!  

Saturday, March 23, 2013

He Led Us Ginger-Leigh.....

Have you met Ginger??  If you have, you probably just smiled when you read that!  She leaves an impression, that girl!
The mustache picture is very appropriate to this story....as you will soon see!

Our spicy Ginger...baby Florida #6 was very much planned.  It's been 4 years since she arrived and her story hasn't been recorded anywhere but our hearts.  Her birthday seems like a good time to share!

Her story has to begin with that fact that her Daddy really loves babies....I mean reeeeaaallly loves babies....as in, we would have 64 by now if money, time an logistics didn't have to be a factor in family planning!  So a common comment heard in the Florida house since the first Florida baby came along has been, "How 'bout another baby??  Why wouldn't we want to do that again!"  Now Ginger's Momma loves babies too....really loves babies.  But Ginger's Momma also gets tired, especially after 5 babies in 8 years, so Ginger's Momma just felt overwhelmed whenever she heard that question.....until one day.....when she saw her 40th birthday looming in the squinty future....  For the first time in a lot of years, the idea of having another baby didn't make her gulp....and that made her pause and consider.

We were on the verge of having all 5 of our children in school.  It was that time of my life I had anticipated adjusting course and adding a 2nd career to my first of being a Mom.  The table next to my couch was piling up with grad school catalogs and I was contemplating taking my teaching degree in a new direction.  Scott's question rang in my head though.....classrooms and assignments began to weigh against the sweet smell of a newborn.  We discussed, we listed pros and cons, we prayed and we dreamed.  We played the fun name game on long drives and came up with a girl option we really like.....Ginger Leigh.  And in the end, we decided that we believed what God said about children being a blessing from Him....and since the window of career and grad school stays open much longer than the window of baby-growing, we knew what needed to come first.  Having our kids had been such a blast so far....how could we not do it just one more time!?  So with the fluttery feelings of a new-born secret, we decided to throw away the school catalogs and pray for one more Florida baby.  Little did we know how much she would give to this family and the roads God would use her to pave in our hearts.

The positive pregnancy test came pretty quickly.  After the initial excitement of the two lines, I remember suddenly feeling sheepish when I imagined telling others.  It almost felt greedy to be expecting again, until my sister's words settled me......"this is just lavish, God's lavish love."

1st trimesters are more of a battle to keep the fear down than the food down, more heart-sickness than morning-sickness.  Having past pregnancies end long before their due date have left me with a predisposition to early pregnancy fear.  Just about the time I was beginning to breathe easy, I developed a complication I hadn't even known to worry about!   As I turned off the evening news to head upstairs to bed, I felt a shift in gravity and saw a lot of blood.  What I felt and saw left no doubt in my mind that the worst was happening and there would be another unfinished due date.  We rushed to the hospital, fighting for just a shred of hope....and were met with this:

The long story short is this.  When a tiny little new person is beginning and burrows into the side of the womb for their 9 month stay, they can get a little too aggressive in their burrowing.  Sometimes the microscopic baby displaces a lot of the rich nutrient material along the wall and causes a clot to form.  This can be big or small and can hang on with the baby for the whole 9 months or can fall off sometime along the way scaring the pants off the baby's parents!  The danger comes based on the size of the baby versus the size of the clot. A large clot can be like a tidal wave and sweep a healthy, but tiny baby out with it.  Our ultrasound showed that our tiny healthy baby had hung on like to a tree in a storm.  We were unbelievably, overwhelmingly, joyously happy to be still expecting a baby!  

The ultrasound also showed that the storm might not be over....there were more threats to our baby lurking, so precautions had to be taken.  Precautions to let this little baby grow and grow until it was big enough to not be threatened by any more tidal wave clots.  Precautions, otherwise known as bed rest.  Bed rest for a mom of 5.  Looking back, it wasn't really hard at all to lay on the couch for those weeks...I can't even remember exactly how many it was.  My memories are of dear friends cleaning my house and bringing us meals and movies, lots of snuggly time on the couch with my kids, and a lot of time praying over my belly.

That was it.  The one and only complication with Ginger.  It was exciting and dramatic and caused us to face our fears and put our faith in God for things we couldn't see or do.  As ultrasounds revealed that the danger was over, normal life resumed.  She was a fun baby, even before she was born....her under-skin gymnastics made us all giggle and go running for the video camera.

She decided to enter the world with a little drama and excitement too.  A normal school morning about a week before her due date, nothing special....until, WHAM!!!!  Contraction!  No achiness, no wondering if something might possibly be starting....just CONTRACTION!!  I kept making the kids' breakfast and packing backpacks thinking maybe there would be another one in a while.....BAM!!! Contraction!!  A quick glance at the watch made my eyebrows raise and convinced me to zip those backpacks up quickly.  Contraction #3 knocked me in half and got Scott's eyebrows to go up a notch.  "I think you'd better come right back home to check on me after you drop the kids at school."  I told Scott.  20 minutes for him to get there and back and he found me on the floor breathing through constant pain.  I'd never had it go so fast and hard.  Little Elena was still with me since she was only in half day Kindergarden that didn't start till noon.  We called her babysitter, told her she didn't have time to change out of her pajamas before she came to pick her up and started heading out the door.  2 more contractions convinced us that we shouldn't even wait for the babysitter.  Since we were living in the parsonage next to our church....and our pastor is always in his office early....he became our "go-to" guy.  I'll always remember Laney walking across the parking lot with her cereal bowl and then waving out the office window with Pastor Compton, her breakfast buddy.  We had one of those exciting, movie-style drives to the hospital....both of us alternating between laughing and tensing!!

A few days before Scott had grown bored with his gotee.  Every now and then, he likes to get creative with his shaving routine and surprise me with something new....sometimes something weird just to see if I'm paying attention.  March 23rd was one of those days.  Here's the template he used just before the first contraction hit.

He'll tell you that as he was driving home from dropping the kids at school, he was making plans to quickly run upstairs and run a few swipes of the razor over his face to make it something more "baby's birthday picture worthy"....but as he walked through the door and made intense eye contact with his eyebrow furrowed wife, he suddenly knew....that his daughter's first pictures would look like this:

The magical epidural came as we got to our room, and Ginger's birthday felt like a party.  We laughed a lot that day and just felt overwhelmed with how over-the-top lavish this felt, how rich.  Ginger was born into a village of people who love her...she's been adored from the start.

This baby was wanted and this baby was fun.  Having a baby with older kids in the house surprised me in it's level of awesomeness   A friend once told me that the best gift you can give your child is a sibling....and boy has Ginger proved that to be true.  She has brought laughter to our home, shown me kindness and care sparkling inside the hearts of her brothers and sisters, and brought us together.  If a family could have a mascot, Ginger would be ours.  There were many times during the first few weeks after her birth that the kids would marvel with me that just a few short months ago we hadn't felt like we were missing anything and now our hearts were full of a little girl named Ginger who we couldn't imagine being without.  Not only was it super fun to have a baby with a housefull of older kids, but it was waaaaaay easier!!  All those extra and hands and laps and hearts spread the labor out so far that baby chores never became mundane.  We actually had to keep a record of turns and set the timer for baby duties and if my kids hadn't had to go back to school I might have never gotten a turn myself.  It was precious to my Momma's heart to watch the nurturing happen. And I have to tell you that there was something about seeing my man-boy's big hands tenderly holding her that made me go weak in the knees.

Having these last 4 years with Ginger and stepping back into full-time preschooler at home mode was the right decision.  That degree can sit on the back burner as long as necessary....I'm so glad we didn't wait for Ging....she's added so much to our lives.  And now, looking back, I can also see how having her set our hearts up to feel ready to say "yes" when God asked us to do more with our parenting (click here to read about our adoption.)

The Ginger plant is used as a delicacy, medicine or spice and Leigh (also her Momma's middle name) means from a meadow or pleasant place.  Such an apt description of God's blessings through our Ginger.  We all know Ginger's spicy....she uses those eyebrows and shoulders to tell you everything she's thinking without a speaking word!  Ginger is proof of God's lavish love to us, she's our delicacy.....a gift that was undeserved and has bathed our home in the glow of a pleasant meadow.  Instead of making us feel overwhelmed and worn out, she's been like medicine to our souls....convincing us that adding children to our home is a blessing to us, is good for us and is something we should continue to seek.  Who expected baby #6 to teach us that??      It's impossible for me to think of Ginger's life, particularly her beginnings, without feeling like she's the embodiment of how our Father has gently and tenderly led us...particularly as we have little ones.

"He tends his flock like a shepherd:

    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he Ginger-Leigh leads those that have young."
Isaiah 40:11

It's been such a pleasure to celebrate Ginger today and thank God for the gift she is to us!!  Happy Birthday to our spicy little Ginger-Muffin!