Monday, February 28, 2011

court and cuteness

i haven't shared much about the potential additional delays that we're now facing with our march 11 court date - mainly because up until this weekend of some heavy and honest prayer, i've been really discouraged about the whole thing.  but thankfully the lord is faithful even when i'm not, and by god's grace, i'm in a place of contentment and peace now.

but we still need your prayers!!  we got word this week of two snags that could drastically slow our timeline from this point on: 1) the agency that's responsible for submitting an approval letter for us in country announced that they're dropping their daily case load from 30 letters per day to 5 per day.  if you do the math, that points to no approval letter in time for our new march 11 court date (this is the agency that caused us to not pass because they unexpectedly closed the week of our first court date).  2) if the government shutdown takes place this week, the adoption-related officials at the US embassy in ethiopia will leave on furlough, so even if we were to pass court, there wouldn't be anybody in place to push us through the last leg of the process.

but take heart!!  we received an email from our case worker this afternoon that our attorney in addis is trying to get our case moved up from the 11th so that we can hopefully avoid this series of potentially loooong delays.  if you'll recall from this post, we've been praying daily that the lord would sovereignly and miraculously move us through court earlier than march 11th.  please, please pray with us specifically toward this end.

for the first time in a while, i can truthfully say that i'm at peace with whichever direction this goes.  it's not that i want micah home any less than i always have (no, in fact, after the past couple of days of getting the nursery painted and set up for our baby boy, i'm more excited than ever!), but as i wrote to some friends this weekend, i don't understand why this journey has been so long and sometimes heart-wrenching...

but the lord does

he has sovereignly ordained every step, and while i haven't always liked it, i find myself more in awe of the lord and walking more intimately with him now than i have ever before in my 20+ years as a believer.  i think that's greatly worth anything i could ever walk through.

with the heavy stuff out of the way, let me share a pic of izzy from her first night in the big girl bed.  jury's still out on whether she was excited or not...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

a whole lot of preciousness

i've got so much left to share (most of which will have to wait until after our second court hearing on march 11), but i'm all BFF with photoshop this week as i'm wrapping up some wedding album designs for a couple of recent brides. so in lieu of a "real" post, i leave you with this:
a whole lot of preciousness.

Friday, February 18, 2011

the fun of compassion

we were 7,800 miles away from home, but something felt so comfortable and familiar about sadamo genet.  maybe it was the amazing welcome or the scores of little people - i don't know what it was, but i could have stayed there all day and more.


after our short tour and the time of sharing from the mothers there, our gracious hosts served us with a traditional ethiopian coffee ceremony.  by this point in our trip, we had taken part in several coffee ceremonies (and i might have developed an intense love in the birthplace of coffee), and we were always wowed by the meticulous and beautiful process by which the women would prepare the dark, delicious drink.  always present: fresh flowers, a traditional coffee urn, and an aroma that i crave even as i type.


but they had saved their best for last.  fekadu led us to a table that held a massive, circular loaf of bread that was probably two feet in diameter.  he listened to our hosts and translated that this was a delicacy reserved for very special occasions and that the women, knowing we were coming that day, had decided to work together to serve it to us.  that, my friends, will humble a person.  the program director presented josh with a knife and asked if he would do the honors of "breaking the bread". 


josh took the knife, placed it against the loaf, and began to cut.  at least he tried to.  what he didn't realize was that this special occasion bread had the consistency of a wooden log, and he was going to have to put a whole lot of muscle into it if we were ever going to eat.  the best part is that the women watching got quite a giggle out of this light man's struggle.


as we were wrapping up our time of food and fellowship, some of the older kids arrived from their tutoring lessons.  i began soaking in the freshness of these uncertain new faces...


but one particular face kept drawing my eyes back time and time again. 


her name is mihiret.  mercy.  i don't know the circumstances of her family or her birth, but i do know that in the ethiopian culture, a name's meaning is everything.  this child of mercy spent twenty or thirty minutes in an uncertain dance of wanting to approach these new, light faces she had never seen before but, along with her friends, being a bit too afraid to do so. 


i'm sure i wanted to know her even more than she wanted to know me, so i spent much of my time from that point on gently coaxing her in.  and lucky for me, many childhood games are universal, so before long, i had a new playmate and friend.


mihiret was thoroughly intrigued by the small black box i kept sticking in front of my face, so i took her aside and gave her a two-minute sign-language crash course on digital photography.  then i set her loose...


this one got the most giggles out of mihiret and her friends (it's a good thing everyone there was used to us by this point)...


i've got a couple of other things in the works, but for now, i'll leave you with a parting shot of some of the precious women and children of the sadamo genet child survival program...


Thursday, February 17, 2011

bring him home

as i've gotten more and more calls and emails over this last week asking about our adoption process, i've realized that i didn't do a very good job keeping you guys informed of what actually happened with our court date in ethiopia.  so before i continue on with the "stories of compassion", the nutshell version of our court appearance is this:  it didn't go well.

we expected to arrive in ethiopia on wednesday, spend thursday and friday with micah, and then go to court to gain legal custody of him on monday.  we found out at our meeting with the attorney on friday while we were there that because the ministry of women's affairs (MoWA - an agency similar to DHR here) had unexpectedly closed for the week, we wouldn't have a ruling on monday but that he expected it to be handed down within a day or two of our court date.  by the time we touched ground back in the states, micah should be ours, and we would go back in a few short weeks to complete paperwork at the US embassy and bring him home.

so on monday, february 7th we nervously entered the small room where the judge sat behind her desk and a virtual mountain of files.  she asked us several questions related to our preparation for international, interracial adoption, and after recording our answers, she pulled out a small notebook, flipped through several pages of it, and pointed to a specific line item recorded in it.  she and our attorney spoke several things back and forth in amharic, and then it was over.

the attorney guided us back through the densely packed crowds down several floors of the government building and out to the street.  no sooner had the sun hit my face then i excitedly asked, what just happened in there?  in the typical gentle and quiet ethiopian way, he explained that since MoWA didn't have their letter of approval in, the judge was bumping our case to a second hearing.  and the flipping of many pages in that notebook?  that was her finding her first available court date which ended up being almost five weeks later on march 11. 

it wasn't great news in and of itself, but when you add it to the seemingly endless pile of our adoption-related "not great news", it was a weight that, at that moment, felt too heavy for me.  sometimes it still does.

so many of you have asked if we were brokenhearted over leaving micah back in ethiopia last week.  after seeing how lovingly and well cared for he is at acacia village, leaving him wasn't the hardest part.  it's leaving him for so long that's weighing heavy on our hearts.  what we thought would be a few weeks quickly and unexpectedly grew into a few months.  i handled it pretty well at first, but this week has proved to be much harder and it's brought with it fresh tears.  i feel like i should say i'm completely at peace with all of this, but if i'm being totally transparent and honest (a scary thing for me sometimes), i have more questions than anything and i'm really wrestling with god on some issues - adoption and beyond.

to answer the question so many of you have lovingly asked, here's how you can pray:  pray for peaceful and encouraged hearts, intimacy with the lord, health for micah, and a successful court date.  josh and i are also asking god to sovereignly and miraculously move us through court earlier than march 11.  but above all else, we want this to be our heart's cry:
though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet i will rejoice in the lord, i will be joyful in god my savior.  
-habakkuk 3:17-18

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

the colors of compassion

our small, stagnant-aired van begins to make its way out of the grey hue of the city.   burning trash, opaque streams of water, and trailing exhaust from thousands of well-worn cars and buses – addis ababa feels to me a suffocating weight today. 


as we circle one roundabout after another, our path seems to be leading toward somewhere fresher, perhaps somewhere brighter.  oh, it’s not that addis has no appeal. in fact, by this, our third full day here, we’re actually quite smitten with the friendship, fellowship, and love that oozes from the city and her people. 


but the grey.

our translator, fekadu (who lightheartedly told us that he chose for himself the american nickname kyle because it means “handsome”) engages us with stories about the people and places we’re passing.   we stop mid-road at times to let the ever-present flow of goats, bulls, and wandering children pass, and kyle uses these times to tell us who he used to be and who he’s been able to become. 


handsome fekadu himself used to be a child under the care of compassion international’s program, sponsored by a family in australia.   he tells us of the joy of being supported and loved by a family a continent away, and he humbly shares about the opportunities he was given wholly by the faithful generosity of intimate strangers who wanted more for him.

the beginning of his story isn’t that new for us.  we’ve seen the diligent work of compassion and its sponsors time and time again.  we’ve marveled at the glimmer in a child’s eyes as she proudly clings to her sponsor family’s photos and letters, and we’ve listened tearfully to another as he thanks his world-away family for food, for books, for clothes.  but the farther we climb into the mountains of that village land, the more we wind through the story of a life that was radically impacted by the work of compassion.  


when fekadu aged-out of the regular sponsorship program, he was given opportunities far beyond what most young men and women of his country ever know when he was sponsored by an american family in the leadership development program of compassion.  he was guided, shepherded, taught, and molded.   he made the most of the extreme rarity of university training, becoming a veterinarian several years ago.  i sit against a dirty window and marvel at how the immaculate landscape seems to turn greener and fresher with each new detail of our guide's life story. 


as he completes his wonderful tale, i ask about a compound that’s perched oddly in the middle of the countryside and fekadu explains its utilization as a greenhouse, a center of floral exports from the amazing land we’re passing through.  but i realize there's one thing missing out here.  for all its bustle, grime, and grey, the city does have something of great value that this outlying beauty doesn’t – accessible water.   suddenly, i become shockingly aware of the scores of girls and women we’re passing on our long drive who are hunched over with bodies decades beyond their years - bodies gnarled and bent by a life of carrying life-giving drink from here to there.   there to here.

where do they get it? i ask.

fekadu answers, the water? they get it from the greenhouse.

i stare at his face, perhaps waiting for him to correct a mistake.   you mean, from that greenhouse?   yes, that’s the one.  it’s miles away from us by now, and it’s miles away from them always.  as the exhausting weight of these young and old lives alike begins to settle into my western heart, we arrive at our long-awaited destination.  our driver gingerly turns the van off of the poorly constructed road onto a path that could be labeled as a rocky trail at best.  the grey concrete of the city’s construction has long since given way to the tan straw of the countryside’s huts, and i watch with a mix of excited wonder and stabbing heartache as children much smaller than my own run in and out of see-through, six-foot square houses.  


we make a hard-right turn onto another dry, bumpy path and shortly stop at the doors of compassion international’s sadamo genet child survival program.  the program director for the CSP meets us as we climb out onto the hard soil, thanking us profusely for visiting in a thickly accented mix of english and the village’s local amharic dialect.   i try anxiously to soak up everything around me - the big metal gate, the makeshift guard station, the pattern of the stones under my feet, and the friendly, ongoing battle between ethiopia’s hot sun and its cool mountain breeze.  but fast as my brain tries to memorize, there’s no way to fully grasp what i witness next. 

the director ushers us through the gate and waves his arm toward the right to reveal a living wall of dark and beautiful mothers, children, and babies.   colors everywhere!   and then i see it – they’re each dressed in their brightest and finest clothing, but the vibrancy of their ethiopian threads is surpassed only by the limitless colors of the roses they each hold in their hands.   i have so much, they have so little.   i came to serve them, but they are ministering to me.  the beauty of that magnificent moment overwhelms me and i kneel to the ground in flowing tears as child after mother after child offers me a welcoming gift. 


looking up from the dozens of roses i now hold, i see frightened and anxious faces on several of the littlest around me.   the program director explains with an awkward giggle, we’ve only ever had one other visitor here before, so for most of them, you’re the first light person they’ve ever seen.  we all laugh and exchange gentle hugs – and for the rest of the day the only colors that seem to matter are on the roses i hold in my hands.


they're proud to show us their program.  medical care, childcare training, fellowship, and most importantly, christ’s love – they learn about it every week.   each day holds its own agenda, and we walk through the wooden rooms of the program’s few small structures hearing about how every component of the CSP is designed to give these women and their children needed basics, training, and education.  finally we find ourselves in the resource room – a room lit only by the sun through the small windows and door – and we sit toward the front as mother after mother carries her little ones with her to the front to talk not about the global purposes of compassion international but to share about the real and intimately personal impact that the sadamo genet child survival program has had for her and her children.


the first woman to come forward is a soft-spoken mother of several small children.  she shares about how, since joining the CSP, she has learned how to properly care for her children and has received the needed clothes and blankets to help keep them warm and dry. 


for the next mother, the fellowship of other moms and believers has been vital to her as she’s welcomed her first child into the world.  she’s been taught how to sew and is now making and selling clothes to provide an income for her family. 


but it was the next woman’s unexpected words that broke me.

when i was eight months pregnant with my daughter, i knew i was going to have to give her away after birth.   there was no way to pay for her to eat, to provide what she needed.  your giving let me keep my baby.


i’ve long since known the drastic quality of life improvement that is birthed out of the programs of compassion’s child survival programs.  i had even begun to understand the true difference in life and death that this ministry can make.  but until that moment, i had never been so poignantly struck by the knowledge that through the work of compassion and its sponsors, mothers are freed from the unimaginable decision of choosing which of their children’s mouths to feed.

which of their children to keep.


several other women share about their children and their lives.  some make me laugh - others make me cry.  but one common thread weaves through the tapestry of each of their stories:  compassion international's child survival program offers them hope, joy, and a future. 


want to help change a life?  save a life?  these women and children are real people with real needs.  i've hugged their necks, kissed their cheeks, and bonded my heart to theirs.  i wholeheartedly urge you to please join with me in sponsoring the families of sadamo genet.  for only $20 per month, we can radically impact lives.  


come back next time for coffee, the breaking of bread, and photography lessons (ethiopian style).  you won't want to miss it!!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

meeting micah

**from my journal entry on february 3**

my brain is going a hundred different directions right now. i can’t believe that josh and i met our son this morning. as soon as our new friends, al and lyndsey, announced that the driver was here to take us to acacia village (our agency’s transition-type home for children who are being adopted but are waiting for their parents to pass court), i started getting nervous and my tummy filled with butterflies. after more than two years of praying for our son, we were about to meet him for the very first time.

we all hopped in the van together, and our driver began the – oh, how should i word this – the treacherous drive to acacia village. it’s not dangerous in terms of the terrain (with the exception of the occasional portions of completely missing road); it’s more like a weirdly kind-of-organized-mass-of-vehicular-chaos. no stop lights, very few lines on the roads (and when they’re there, they’re ignored), and a never-ending game of cat and mouse with two-ton toys. more than once we slammed on our brakes to avoid hitting cars, men running through the streets, children playing in the middle of the road – not to mention the goats. lots of goats.

al and lyndsey shared the wealth of knowledge that they’ve gleaned during their three weeks living here, and before i knew it, the twenty-minute drive was over, and i heard, “look, there’s acacia village.” oh. my. word. i can’t believe this is really happening. the guard let us in, and we drove up to a simple but beautiful building that’s situated 7,500 feet above sea level on a stunning piece of property surrounded by lush-looking mountaintops, a funny-looking italian pasta factory, and a dormant volcano that guards the landscape from 13,000 feet above. within seconds of our arrival, precious brown faces began to peer and call to us through the ground level windows. i don’t know what i was expecting, but i do know that i was wonderfully taken aback at the joy that exudes bountifully from that sheltering home. smiles, laughter, and singing permeated the walls and easily found their way through to the life outside. the children are well-loved there.

once inside, we were so sweetly and warmly greeted by the older kids at acacia village who were gathering to prepare for a day out. one-by-one, they locked eyes with us, took our hands in both of theirs and each said with toothy grins, “hello” or “welcome” as if they were sharing with us their exotic retreat. al and lyndsey’s five-year-old daughter, signey, opened a bag of candy and offered it to the friends she had begun to make there, and each boy and girl patiently filed past, warmly thanking their little blonde benefactor for the single piece of candy they had each chosen. and before i knew it, they were all gone. the foyer area grew quiet, and helen – sweet helen – who so giftedly helps operate acacia village, asked "would you like to meet your baby?" i threw my hands over my heart and excitedly whispered, yes please!

she took us up to a second-story balcony area that overlooked the amazing mountains behind us and told us she would be right back with him. we readied the video camera and strolled along the sunny patio as we waited. within minutes, helen walked out of the door with micah in her arms. with our son. not wanting to scare him, i walked slowly in that direction as i heard josh behind me frantically whisper something about "not working" and "what’s going on here?"

it’s true - we have no video of our first moments with micah. but as josh and i have talked about it through the day, it’s almost more special that way. no sooner had helen handed him to me than she quietly snuck away, leaving the three of us alone to become a family. and so as it turns out, that moment truly is and will forever be ours alone. i laughed at the wonder i was holding in my arms and i let the tears roll freely off my cheeks. it was almost like an athlete who collapses into an exhausted heap of thankfulness when he finally crosses the finish line of a tremendous race. so much time, so much work, and so much prayer. and for what? for the precious baby who stared quietly at me with huge brown eyes at that very moment.

i don’t even know how long we stayed out there. maybe two hours? we held our baby, played with his feet, rubbed his soft head, and whispered we love you so much over and over in his ear. we rejoiced over being able to pick up on some of his unique quirks and traits: he sucks almost continually on the knuckle of his right index finger, he giggles without fail when josh tickles his head or neck with his scruffy beard, and he makes sweet, quiet murmurs while he sleeps.

which brings me to the most amazing part of our time with him today.

after a long time of playing, taking pictures, and shooting a couple of short videos (we figured out the camera problem), micah began to get sleepy. i cradled him in my arms as he sucked his finger and succumbed to the excitement of the day. i laid down on the patio with him on my chest and josh soon came and sat behind me so i could lay my head on his leg. and there we stayed. 30 minutes? an hour? maybe longer. daddy, mommy, and new baby boy basking in the heat of the african sun, the cool of the mountain breeze, and the love and thankfulness of a tremendous blessing from the lord. huge, exotic-sounding birds joined with the nearby braying donkeys to compose an appropriate lullaby for our ethiopian-born son.

no pictures, no video. just perfect.

part of me feels like i should just stop writing here. this was, after all, a picturesque ending to an enormously blessed day, but there’s one more piece of this story that begs to be told. after micah woke up, we took him with us to the infant room so we could see where his little crib was. the room was incredibly small – maybe 6 feet by 8 feet – and it had a row of small bassinet-type cribs lined on one wall. 7 or 8 of them i think. micah had just been moved to acacia village the weekend before our arrival so his area was a little more sparse than some of the other babies’ beds, but my heart leapt for joy a bit when i saw the name on the next bed over. biniyum. we have some friends from church back in birmingham who are also adopting from ethiopia (and who thankfully and prayerfully passed court here last week), and their precious baby is micah’s next-door neighbor. the boys were born within days of one another in completely different parts of the country, but they’re already sharing their lives together 7,500 miles away from where they will soon live and grow up.

but the story doesn’t stop there. in the cramp of the room, i hadn’t noticed a particular little guy laying in a carrier kicking his legs excitedly near my feet. i took one look at his face and gasped. most of you don’t know that five days after judah died, we actually received a referral for another baby. it’s impossible to explain the agony that went into saying no to a baby who desperately needed a home, but our hearts needed time to heal. and he needed a family that was ready and waiting for him with fully-prepared and excited hearts. on august 18, 2010 we weren’t that family. but there i was, staring at that same face i had seen so long ago in referral documents. i gingerly lifted up his leg to read the name tag around his ankle. his name, his story, and a twinge of guilt came over me. until, that is, i looked at the sole object laying in his crib.

a photo album.

the album was full of pictures of a mom, dad, and brother who are in love with the baby they’ll be traveling back to take home soon. al and lyndsey met them not long ago and told us what a wonderful family that sweet little guy is going to have. god has so richly provided for all of us along the way.

our amazing friends and family - our hearts are full beyond measure tonight as the sun fades from the african sky. we’re in a continual state of thankfulness for the perfection of this day and for the story of adoption that we’ve been so blessed to take part in. thank you, thank you for the roles that you have played in this journey. the lord has truly used each of you in countless ways to encourage, support, and love over these last couple of years.

we can’t wait for you to love micah as well.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011