Sunday, April 28, 2013

It is About Me

Starting in 2009, we were beginning to understand and accept that this life is not our own.  It is not about us.  We made decisions that have changed the course of our life and the path of our children.  They were costly decisions and ones we would not change.

When the journey became long and quiet, people would ask, "How are you all doing?"  We would say, "We are alright.  It's not about us, though."

When the days became painful and the future was not promising, people would ask, "How are you holding up?"  We would say, "It hurts so bad, but this is not about us.  It's about a little boy 8,000 miles away."

When the triumphant day came that we walked off a plane holding our son's hands, people rejoiced.  They said, "Good for you!  You have waited so long."  Deep down, we would scold ourselves for believing any part of it was about us.  We tried to remember that the airport was not the finish line, but the starting point.  It's not about us and our victory, after all.  In adoption, in order for the joy to come, there must be loss so painful, it's wrong to even pretend to understand.  We reminded ourselves that our joy was so many others' loss, including birth family, nannies, friends who were like brothers and sisters living in the same orphanage home, and others we've probably not imagined yet.

Now he is home and has had the most beautifully miraculous adjustment and attachment we could've even imagined.  He eats anything you give him, sleeps well most of the time, and wants to follow the rules.  He loves his family and he cares about every one of them.  He asks where each and every one is a dozen times every day:  roll call.

When people see us out, they say, "He is so beautiful.  How has he done?"  We say, "It's just been too good to imagine.  It's like he's been with us forever."

People are amazed to see how his brother and sisters have adjusted.  Very few people ask, "How are you doing?  How have you adjusted?"  And that's ok.  It's not about me.

I will admit.  This has been harder than I thought it would be.  We've done crazy before.  Three kids in 4 years was enough to make us raise the white flag.  When people told us to enjoy the peace in our home before Jude came home, we brushed it off because we'd done crazy before.  Nothing new.

Enter God.  Enter humility.  Give us the most well-adjusted, healthy, beautiful beyond description boy in all of Ethiopia and watch us squirm.  We are so weak!  I am not proud of the struggle it's been for the past several weeks around here.   Ugly places in my heart have come out of hiding and it is very clear:  IT IS ABOUT ME.  This entire journey.  It's been about me and my busted heart.  God is using this adoption to heal busted places in my heart.  Weak, faithless, wobbly, proud places of my heart.

I knew we'd never be perfect, but I figured 3 years of waiting and preparing were enough to allow for some smooth-sailing after the airport.  Could not have been more wrong.  No amount of time, no amount of pain, no amount of felt victory is enough to protect a family from the challenges of adoption.

Tonight we dedicated our little boy to the Lord.  We made a promise to Him and to our church family that we would depend upon God for strength and wisdom in raising Jude.  In my heart, I made a promise to the special mother who brought Jude into the world.  In the program, the church included the names of the families dedicating their children.  They also included the meaning behind the name.  We chose Jude because the meaning we found was "Praise" and "Thanks."   The church found his name to mean "Healer."  Oh my.  This little boy is a healer.  All this time I thought we were supposed to be healing him: healing past trauma and loss and showing him what a family is and what unconditional love feels like.

It is about me.

Psalm 147:3  He heals the broken in heart and binds up their wounds.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Catching vomit

We had a sick baby boy yesterday.  From the minute he woke up, he was not himself.  He had a fever and a runny nose.  I made an appointment with the doctor, just to make sure there was nothing else hiding, like an ear infection.

After a 3 hour nap, he woke up vomiting.  Not just a little.  Like a champ.  It broke my heart into 1000 pieces to see him in pain.  But I have to admit, it was the first time I spent the day catching vomit with joy in my heart.  It literally turned my day right-side-up, because I'd been dealing with a little bit of "poor me."

I had the privilege of not only catching his vomit multiple times, but also following up each session with a warm wash-cloth and a couple warm baths, a lot of rocking, holding, and sleeping.  Jason met me at the doctor's office, where we stood together and caught his vomit in the parking lot, with our other 3 kids running around like escapees from the local mental hospital and dozens of Cerner professionals watching.  Privileged.

This is the first time he's been sick in the 7 weeks at home.  During the in-between (529 days), after we saw his face for the first time at age 4 mos, and our "gotcha" day, he was hospitalized at least twice.  Once for repeated vomiting and once for respiratory complications.  Neither time did he have Mommy nor Daddy with him.  Neither time did he have even a nanny or care-giver with him to comfort him and make him see that everything was going to be alright.  No one to watch him sleep in the tiny little hospital bed or rejoice when the dr. gave the "all clear" report.  Nope.  Just a driver, hired to drive him back to the orphanage.

Who caught his vomit?

Who wiped him off?

Who gave him a warm bath?

Who gave him crackers to settle his stomach?

The pain and anger we felt during his African hospitalizations:  it's still there.   It's still alive and well. However, it feels good to know that from now on, he will not be sick alone.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Heart Attack

I know it might be hard for some to believe, but there was a period of roughly 2 years when I loved to run.  I ran with 2 special people, one friend and one sister.  I have such fond memories of that physically fit time in my life.  We were pretty dedicated and disciplined about getting in 3 solid runs per week.  It seemed that no matter how comfortable we were with the running, it always hurt for the first 5-10 minutes, until we found our pace and our heart had time to catch up with our legs.  It was so tempting every single time, just to slow to a walking pace until the hurt went away, but we always pushed through until it felt like we were on cruise control.  

I feel like that is a great example of what life feels like right now:  the beginning of a run.  There are days it is so incredibly difficult and I just want to hit the easy button.  We are dealing with sick kids who need our constant care and attention and healthy kids who are trying to understand a new language and life outside a 10' x 10' room.  There are a lot of moving parts here and it is not easy trying to figure it all out!

If you have called or texted or emailed and I haven't answered, it's probably because I was wiping a nose, taking someone potty, tying someone's shoes, getting someone a snack, picking up remains of broken goods, or maybe it's because I declined the call altogether.  I know that sounds so rude, and it pains me to admit it, but there are days I just don't have a lot of words for anyone.  My brain feels like mush and my emotions have gone through a wild spectrum from glad to sad to confused to overjoyed (and the list goes on).  To do anything above survive is just not happening right now.  We'll get there, but it might not be soon.  

Many friends have asked what we need.  Here it is:  We need you to forgive us for missed calls, un-returned emails and texts, and general forgetfulness.  We love you all and need you.  We have not forgotten about you and the joy you bring us.  

Today is the first day since Nov. 16 when every person in this house is at school or work or home, where their normal routine would have them be.    On Nov. 17, it seems we went from a comfortable pace of living onto a treadmill paced at 10mph (which is faster than my short legs can carry me).  Please bear with us as our hearts adjust to this new pace and keep calling!   We will answer when we can and we need to know you still love us! 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Weight of Glory

Dearest family and friends:

We are home at last with our son.  After years of anticipation and longing, we now hold the son who was placed so heavily on our hearts 3 years ago, before he was even conceived.

The past one month has been a whirlwind of triumphs.  We have known during this wait that our Father was fighting a battle for the life of our Jude Mengistu, but we never knew it would end so gloriously.  Exodus 14:14 tells us that "The Lord will fight for you.  You need only to be still."  On the days our hands were tied, it was comforting to know that the battle continued in our absence:  in His strong hands.  Some days were indescribably painful.  We were shown time and again how weak we are and how strong and mighty He is.  We have been carried by Him through friends and family.  He has been ever-present throughout the fight for our son.  

After waiting so long for even one victory, we had so many in such a short amount of time.  We passed court October 15, and were cleared to travel November 15.  In case you need perspective, it takes most families 3 months to get cleared to travel after passing court.  After being submitted to the US Embassy for Jude's visa, they cleared him in only 2 days, when it usually takes 4 weeks.  What a surprise it was to hear that we could travel!  We packed quickly and got out of the country within 48 hours---not a small miracle.  We could not have done it alone.   Our support system stepped up in a big way.

Since leaving and returning to the US, God has shown so much of His glory in the life of Jude.  Sometimes it is overwhelming.  Like when I'm driving down the road and Jude is right behind me singing a song in his sweet angel voice and I realize it's not my imagination.  And when we rock him to sleep in his room, where we spent countless nights desperately crying out to God to bring our son home.  And when he clings to us and calls us "Momma" and "Pappa."  And when I look at his scars--the places where I did not get to kiss and bandage--and I have no idea what happened in those places, but I know my Father held him then.   Glory.

People:  Time and again I prayed specifically for God to allow Jude to feel a sense of lonely, a longing for a family.  When I say it outloud, it sounds cruel, but I know that He created us for family
(Psalm 68:6--God places the lonely in families.)  Praise God that He placed the lonely in our family 3 years ago, even with the chaos that 3 young children under age 5 brings.  Praise God.

The day we picked Jude up from his orphanage home, he was understandably terrified (in fact, you might say panicked).  I can't tell you with words how much it hurt us to see him so confused.  We watched a terrified little boy over the next 24 hours begin to develop a trust for us that is beyond comprehension and beyond reason.  Only 24 hours after taking him from his home, we were invited back for a Farewell Ceremony for him, where his nannies and former roommates would greet him and hug him.  We were concerned about a set-back with his new-found trust in us.  We would never have believed that he would cling to us and refuse to go to the nannies who fed, bathed, and cared for him since he was 3 months old.  It defies any kind of reason, except that we prayed for this specifically.  We prayed that he would understand quickly that we are his forever and we will love him unconditionally and we will provide him something his orphanage home can't.  God's glory has been all over this quick adjustment.

If you could be a fly on the wall and watch our little boy run and play and kiss and cry here in his home, you would think he'd always lived here.  If he would let you hold him and rock him, you would feel the weight of God's glory resting in your arms, and trust me:  it's heavy.

So humbled by all of this.  So humbled to be the parents of 4 children.  So humbled by the strength of family and friends who have held us up for so long and now rejoice, as if their own child has come home.

If you feel starved for a glimpse of glory today, just take a look at this boy, who has spilled it all over our lives.

Thank you to all of the prayers lifted up to bring Jude home.  We are eternally thankful.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ugly Beautiful

It seems to me that one of the greatest challenges in life is to remain content in all circumstances.   If you can get to that place of contentment, you have found the holy grail.

In the Bible, Paul says he "learned in whatever state I am, to be content.  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.  Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound abound and to suffer need."  Phil. 4:11-12

It has been a challenge to remain content and joyful for our family since Oct. 25, 2011.  There have been a few peaks of hope, but mainly just week after week of discontent and discomfort with the lack of movement in our case to bring our boy home.  

I have been reading Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts.  She proposes that it is not only possible to be content in all circumstances, but even joyful.  She is not Mary Poppins.  She is a normal human who has suffered tragic loss and has daily challenges just like you and me.

Her book is about writing down the gifts in your life, literally count the blessings, from one to one thousand.  It's a good practice for everyone, especially those who are having trouble finding their place of contentment and joy.  My family started our list about a month or two ago, and we are on gift #250.  It doesn't take long until you start noticing all the gifts in your life that He has strategically placed around you.

Our gifts are lists of people, things, sights, smells, funny moments, and now we even have an "Ugly Beautiful" list.  Voskamp reveals a few of her "ugly beautiful" gifts in the book and it really stirred me up.  When you start listing those things in your life that drive you crazy or get on your last nerve, and instead praise the Maker for them-----your heart changes.  Instead of complaining about them or feeling guilty that you can't make these ugly beautiful gifts perfect, try being thankful.  I am not Mary Poppins, although I would rather see the cup half full than half empty.  I am a real human with real challenges and flaws and fits of rage from time-to-time, and I'm telling you:  if this changed my perspective, it can change your's.

Here are some of my "ugly beautiful" gifts:

~piles of books on the girls' beds
~laundry 3 inches away from the basket
~hardened toothpaste on the sink and rug and tile
~lights left on in the basement
~crumbs under the table
~full dishwasher
~depleted school lunch accounts
~remnants of petrified food in the van
~noisy mealtime
~stains on shirts
~holes in jeans
~dirt under fingernails
~empty mustard bottle (gotta know Sophie)
~wrinkles around the eyes

The thing I've realized is that these are all signs of life.  If not for life in my house, there would be none of these things.

My girlfriends and I have always said we were going to take a "dirty home" tour of our homes, just so we can all see that none of us lives perfect, tidy lives all the time.  We have to learn that so many of the things we feel guilty about or pressured to change in our lives are the ugly beautiful gifts we have been given.

Our wait for Jude has been an ugly beautiful gift.  To be honest, it has been more ugly than beautiful in our hearts, but I believe there will be beauty in the end.  I don't want the wait to be in vain.  It is not easy to do, but I want to praise God for the wait.  I can't wait until we get to the end of the adoption journey and look back and count the gifts we were given during the wait.  The gifts that wouldn't have been given if we could've just brought him home Day 1.  I pray that he is given gifts he would have otherwise gone without---for his wait.

And, just so you are all aware, only 29 days until the judge looks at his paperwork again.  That's less than one month.  His day is coming.  We are filled up and overflowing with hope.

Looking forward to the gifts I can count once he is home~

And now my life verse:  Habakkuk 3:17-18

Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold
And there be no herd in the stalls---
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Court Date: Take 2

The past 2 weeks have been incredibly exciting for our family.  It has been months and months since we've received positive news about movement in Jude's case.

On August 15, Jason got a phone call from our case manager that Jude's regional approval had been finalized.  It is hard to communicate the importance of this event.  We had been waiting 10 months, 42 weeks, for this paperwork.  It's the same paperwork we were supposed to have on Oct. 25, 2011.  And then again on Nov. 4, 2011.  And then a number of promised dates after.  This victory came on the heels of 2 very hard days of bad news and spirited conversations/debates with our agency and other outside sources (3rd party attorneys, private investigators, etc.).  It was overwhelming.  As soon as Jason said, "Sue called.  We got the paperwork," I fell to my knees and sobbed.  It was such a shock and I was blind-sided with a rush of relief and joy.

The last step in finalizing his case is court (again).  Our prayer quickly became, "Lord, let the judge hear his case before the courts close for recess."  Courts close every year in Ethiopia during August and September, reopening in early October.  As of August 15, they were still in session with no indication of a closure date.  While we were hopeful that our case might be heard before the closure, we were hesitant to expect it.  In fact, to even be given a future date on the calendar would be a stretch, as the courts were tying up loose ends.

On Tuesday, August 21, as we drove home from dropping the kids at their first day of school, Jason saw on his phone that the Prime Minister of Ethiopia had died.  This sent us into a whirlwind of questions-about the possible effects this could have on a court date for us, and international adoption in general.  We read news briefings and scanned facebook group pages, attempting to get a realistic perspective on the country's stability and plans to change over power to a new leader.  It appeared from our reading that the courts would shut down as well as any and all other federal offices.  If the courts shut down for this sort of observance, it was likely they would go immediately into their 2 month recess.  We had to accept that we probably wouldn't hear about a court date for Jude until early October.

We already knew families who'd been given court dates of October 24 and later.  It seemed as if our court date would be late October/early November---at the earliest.

On Wednesday morning, August 22, we received an email with news of a court date.  He had been assigned a court date of October 15.  Courts will reopen on October 5, which means Jude's case will be one of the first to be heard.  We do not travel for court this time.

It is a miracle that our request for a court date was granted quite possibly the same day---maybe one business day prior---- as the Prime Minister's death.  He passed away at 11:45PM on Monday night.  We are amazed that it came so close to not happening before the court recess.

We are thankful to have a date to look forward to, in great anticipation.  We know and accept that anything can happen; however, we believe this is Jude's turn.  There will probably be a lot of silence between now and then, and that is fine with us.

48 days until the judge looks at his paperwork again, just 10 days shy of an entire year since our original court appearance.  Thank you for praying through this with us and thank you for your unfailing support and interest in Jude's fate.   

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Not mine

Jason reminded me this week of something I learned a few years ago.

I had heard a small portion of a sermon by Tony Evans on the radio in the car as I was headed to the store one day. I don't usually enjoy listening to Tony Evans, because he is a loud "Give me an 'Amen'!" kind of preacher. He was speaking on the subject of good stewardship.

I remember thinking, "Yea, I've heard all this before. I know, I know. My money isn't really mine. It's all from God; therefore it's all really His."

He did speak about stewarding our money. However, he then introduced the idea that nothing we have is our's. Nothing. Not our brains. Not our time. Not our house. Not our job. Not our health and energy. Not even our kids. They aren't our's to keep and hoard. Whoa. That hit me like a ton of bricks because I'd never thought about it that way. I had always thought, "God has blessed ME with this little life to enjoy and the job of raising up these children in a loving home."

It had never occurred to me that my babies weren't really mine. They are God's children, whom He has entrusted in my care during their time on this fleeting earth. Not only does that give me a tremendous sense of responsibility, but also a sense of freedom. It helps me remember that we're in this together, and that it's not completely up to me to do this perfectly. I can't do it alone.

I chewed on this idea for weeks and it still comes back every now and again when I feel scared or worried about their safety. I have to remind myself almost daily to release them into His hands, because they are His anyway.

This idea has become even more tangible with our fight for Jude. It seems as though God is reminding us through our wait that Jude is not our own. It's a relief that we are not fighting on our own. It's encouraging to know that we are not praying alone.

We believe we are pleading for Jude not only for our family, but for the gigantic family of friends and loved ones who have already decided to love him. We know that you will celebrate with us when he comes home. We are exceedingly happy to share him with you all. I just cannot wait to share his beautiful smile with the world. He is so worth all the blood, sweat, and tears we've shed on his behalf. He is so worth it. And there are millions more just like him, who are SO worth it. Can I get an "Amen!" ?

1 Samuel 1:27-29
For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I also have lent him to the Lord, as long as he lives, he shall be lent to the Lord."