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!