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!




Thursday, March 21, 2013

Why Are We Doing This??

We're on the verge of this adoption moving from the "something we're doing" column to the "what we've done" column.  I've met my daughters, touched them and started falling in love with their sweet faces and voices.  It won't be long before you all meet them and fall in love too and they will be the faces of this story.  I'm so happy that's going to happen....because you're going to love them.  You're going to be captivated by who they are and what they bring to all of our lives.  You're going to wonder how our family was ever complete without them.  I can't wait.

Last night, a song and portions of the book of Acts brought me right back to the beginning of this whole thing....and the first face that we fell in love with, the face that started the ball rolling and made this whole things happen.  Before it's about us, before it's about our girls, as sweet and deserving as they are.....it's been about Him and I need to tell you why and how.

Acts 4 records an experience of Peter and John shortly after Jesus death and resurrection.  As they were walking through Jerusalem, on their way to the temple, they encountered a man who had been crippled from birth.  He had sat begging, in this opportune spot for the better part of 40 years and had become part of the landscape to the locals.  He called out, asking for coins, as he had every day before, and was met with and unexpected response from Peter and John.  They looked him in the eye as they told him that they didn't have any money to give but quickly followed that disappointing news with an unbelievable offer.  Peter reached out his hand and said, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, get up and walk."  Here's how the Bible records what happened next, "Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong.  He jumped to his feet and began to walk.  Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.  When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him."

Amazing!  The kind of thing you can only believe if you see it with your own eyes.  If you had seen it on youtube you would be searching for a follow-up video of the editing tricks they used to make it look real.  But this man's healing was undeniable - the people knew him....he had never been able to walk, and now here he was, in person, not just standing or walking...but jumping and leaping!  This kind of stuff doesn't just happen with good wishes and fine motives....it takes something extra-ordinary....the working of God.

If you've been reading along, and following our journey to our girls, you've seen some undeniably amazing things happen.  You've watched our bank account stay in the black as almost $40,000 worth of bills have been paid over the last 2 years.  You've watched connections be made with people and resources at just the right time coming from unexpected places.  You've watched things fall into place in unexplainable ways.  And as we bring the girls home, you're about to see a bunch more....you're going to see hearts healed and a family forged in a miraculous way.  You've seen things that don't just naturally happen with good wishes and fine motives....you've seen something extra-ordinary....just like the people who saw the man walking at the temple.

This lame man walking in Jerusalem caused such a stir that the rulers of the temple called Peter and John in for questioning the next day.  They were concerned about the power "this thing spreading" could have over the crowds they were wanting to control.  They questioned Peter and John, "By what power or what name did you do this?"  "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them:  'Rulers and leaders of the people!  If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel:  It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.  He is the  stone you builders rejected  which has become the capstone.  Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.""When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.....Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.'  After further threats they let them go.  They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.  For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old."

So when you ask "how" or "why" as you look at what is happening to us....when you wonder where the power is coming from....we want you to hear the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth and see His face.  We want you to look at us and realize that we're unschooled and ordinary and be astonished at the things you see.  We can't help speaking about the crazy things God is doing through this adoption because it's so crazy and so unable to be explained apart from it being God's work.  We hope it inspires praise to God.

Our adoption journey began entirely as a response.  It was a response to statistics and needs and sweet little faces around the world who are alone, yes....but that response was almost a side-note to the real deal.  The response that bore our adoption was a complete and utter awe at our own adoption and the meeting of our needs.  Our fears have been calmed, our needs satisfied, our healing is complete through the power of Jesus Christ of Nazareth who was crucified to pay our debt but was raised from the dead by God to provide salvation and adoption as sons.  He did this for us....and we are in awe....and we want to show Him how much we love Him.






This is our song, our stand.  Our adoption story is really just the story of how our family is trying to stand with our arms high and hearts abandoned in awe......He loved us first, when we had nothing to offer....how could we not respond to such great love?


Sunday, March 3, 2013

The New Us

Can't wait till I've got one of all of us together....but this is a good start!!
 
 


Friday, March 1, 2013

He Knows My Name....

Two very precious possessions I packed in my suitcase for Africa were necklaces made by my sweet sister. These necklaces carry a lot of meaning from our hearts to the hearts of two Ethiopian hearts that are probably pumping with the same mixture of excitement and fear as ours.  I'll be wearing my own version of the same necklace, stamped with "Momma."  They'll each have a letter to read, that explains in 2 languages each thought and prayer.  When we leave, we'll leave them with our love and promise hanging around their necks.....until we come again....





Dear Asnaku,

We have been praying and waiting for this day for many years, and finally it’s here.  God’s hand has been obvious leading and guiding in all of our lives to bring us together and make us family.  We had this necklace made for you (by your Aunt Kathy) to remind you of all the ways God has been caring for you and planning your future.  And our friend, Aster, who was adopted from Ethiopia when she was 12, translated this letter for us.  We want you to see God’s hand in your past and your future every time you look at the necklace.

You are loved, deeply, strongly and forever….by your heavenly Father and by your new family.  Jeremiah 31:3 says, “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”  This will always be true, no matter what.

The names you and Ruth were given when you were born are no accident and are a beautiful part of your story.  We saw you first on the list of children who were waiting to be adopted because you would be turning 16 soon and then be too old to be adopted.  We felt God calling us to be your family and immediately wished that you had a sister to come along with you so you wouldn’t be alone.  We had hoped from the beginning to adopt 2 children at once but usually the adoption agency will only allow siblings to be adopted together.  We saw Ruth’s picture on the waiting list and wondered if there was any chance you and Ruth knew each other and if the agency would let us adopt you both.  When we got the file of information about Ruth, there were pictures of you and her together!  It seemed like such a miracle that the 2 girls we picked out were actually friends and our agency decided to let us adopt you both at the same time!  After that, we researched the meanings of your names and found another confirmation of God writing this story.  Your name, Asnaku, means “one chosen above the rest” and Ruth’s name means “a companion to go along with.”  Your Ethiopian names describe how we found you, and they are precious to us.

We want to add American names to your Ethiopian names that help tell the next part of our story.  We’ve chosen the name Hope for you.  Your new name will be Asnaku Hope Florida.  Hope is a confident expectation in something.  As Christians we place our hope in who God is, His character.  A hope place in God will never be disappointed and is the source of many of God’s blessings.  We have already seen you living as a person who has a confident expectation in God’s goodness in your life and that is beautiful!  Each of us choosing to place our hope in God has made us a family and we are so happy to get to watch how God’s good plans for your life continue to be revealed as you trust Him!  Ps. 147:11 “The Lord delights in those who fear him,
 who put their hope in his unfailing love.”

This name is a gift to you.  You can choose to use it as the name we call you or a name you carry in your heart to know that you are a blessing that came from our hope in God.  We will be happy to call you either name, Asnaku or Hope, because they are both very special to us.

We love you sweet girl, and we always will!
Dad & Mom



Dear Ruth,

We have been praying and waiting for this day for many years, and finally it’s here.  God’s hand has been obvious leading and guiding in all of our lives to bring us together and make us family.  We had this necklace made for you (by your Aunt Kathy) to remind you of all the ways God has been caring for you and planning your future.  And our friend, Aster, who was adopted from Ethiopia when she was 12 translated this letter for us.  We want you to see God’s hand in your past and your future every time you look at the necklace.

You are loved, deeply, strongly and forever….by your heavenly Father and by your new family.  Jeremiah 31:3 says, “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”  This will always be true, no matter what.

The names you and Asnaku were given when you were born are no accident and are a beautiful part of your story.  We saw Asnaku first on the list of children who were waiting to be adopted because she would be turning 16 soon and then be too old to be adopted.  We felt God calling us to be her family and immediately wished that she had a sister to come along with her so she wouldn’t be alone.  We had hoped from the beginning to adopt 2 children at once but usually the adoption agency will only allow siblings to be adopted together.  We saw your picture on the waiting list and wondered if there was any chance you and Asnaku knew each other and if the agency would let us adopt you both.  When we got the file of information about you, there were pictures of you and Asnaku together!  It seemed like such a miracle that the 2 girls we picked out were actually friends and our agency decided to let us adopt you both at the same time!  After that, we researched the meanings of your names and found another confirmation of God writing this story.  Asnaku’s name means “one chosen above the rest” and your name, Ruth, means “a companion to go along with.”  Your Ethiopian names describe how we found you, and they are precious to us.

We want to add American names to your Ethiopian names that help tell the next part of our story.  We’ve chosen the name Jasmine for you.  Your new name will be Jasmine Ruth Florida.  Jasmine is a very sweet smelling flower that is often used in incense like frankincense.  In the Bible, incense is used in worship as a picture of offering one’s life to God and the Bible says that offering is a pleasing, sweet smell to God.  The sweet smell of the incense is released most strongly when it feels the heat of the fire.  We already see that type of sweet smelling offering to God in your life.  We are so glad that we get to be your family as we watch God make beautiful, sweet smelling things out of your life as you offer all of it to Him.  Psalm 141:2 “May my prayer be set before you like incense (jasmine); may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.”


This name is a gift to you.  You can choose to use it as the name we call you or a name you carry in your heart to know that you make our life sweeter.  We will be happy to call you either name, Jasmine or Ruth, because they are both very special to us.

We love you sweet girl, and we always will!
Dad & Mom