Wednesday, March 30, 2011

You Want To Take A Mission Trip Here?

A couple of weeks ago our little church had the distinct privilege of hosting a group of some pretty awesome kids from East Central Mississippi College's BSU group.  The fact alone that I call them kids I suppose officially makes me an old lady.  These "kids" gave up their spring break to come to our boring tiny Midwest town and serve.

From what I understand, they spent a day helping a family move, a couple days meeting people in the community and trying to share the love God has for them, a day leading worship at our church and a couple days helping our small city with some landscaping and trash clean up.  All really exciting, life-saving, missionary-type stuff that will likely get them on the front page of their hometown newspaper, right?  Um, ya right!  To be honest, at their age, I would have been less than thrilled to be asked to travel hundreds of miles to serve in this capacity.  But, unfortunately, I was nothing like them at the age of 19.



What kept running through my mind as the boys came back each night to crash in our air mattress-lined basement, often times sweaty and dog tired from their labors, was this; I bet this kind of service, the kind that isn't glamorous, doesn't require a passport, perhaps not a ton of fun, the kind of service where you don't see lives saved or awesome fruit produced ... I bet that's the kind of service that makes God look down and smile.  Jesus, he chose the lowest, most humble job he could when he was teaching the disciples to be servants.  He chose to wash their dirty, dusty, smelly feet because that was the job no servant wanted.  Oh, and he told us to go out and do the same.



This BSU group - they were an inspiration.  I never once heard a complaining word or tone.  Most of them seemed to have more musical talent in their pinkie finger than I could ever hope to have in my entire being.  They spent an hour praising God in my living room that could have been recorded and sold to a record company.  These kids have such amazing potential, such bright futures coupled with humble spirits, it is down right exciting to see what they will do with their lives.

Because we're spoiled and selfish like that, we were Going Through The Big D during the first half of their stay and participated in none of the above mentioned service.  We came home at 10:30 at night to a houseful of animated beautiful young people who must have been threatened within an inch of their lives, because our house looked virtually spotless.  As the week came to an end, I was sad to see them go and sad I had missed half their trip.  I think I was called ma'am more times in that 72 hour period than in all my life.  I'm still not sure how I felt about that, but it definitely solidified my "old lady" status.  My kids were sad to see them go as well, but thought they'd won the lottery when they discovered they had left behind three boxes of Pop Tarts, (also known as crack cocaine for kids).



As always, Joseph was a little ladie's man, and he didn't have to look far to get laughs and giggles and love from these girls.

And this little one didn't have to search far to get someone to hold her, even finding another Anna to carry her around
So, thank you Chad, Matthew, Dustin, Zach, Josh, Breanna, Anna, Laura, Lindsey, Polly, Megan and their fearless leader Scott who was like a big teddy bear with a drill sergeant candy coating.  Thank you for your service, and thank you for your example.  It meant more than you will probably ever know.


What does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rose-Colored Glasses, Where Did I Lose Thee?

When we sought to adopt the first time, it was simply for two reasons.  First, we felt God had blessed us with abundant love, home and opportunities and we wanted to share that with another child.  I never really foresaw having four children, but we wholeheartedly felt God was calling us to that blessing.  Second, God's word clearly calls believers to take care of orphans.  We felt that adoption was a pretty cool way to do that.  Yes, I know those reasons are not "acceptable" within part of the adoption community, but those were our reasons.  Whatever arguments you may have for or against our initial inducements, all I can say is, there is absolutely no way we could love our little Joseph more, and under no circumstance do we consider him a "charity chase" and under no circumstance do we believe he should "appreciate all we've done" anymore than our other (biological) children.

Rewind a couple years ... we simply wanted to adopt an orphan in need.  We knew so very little.  As embarrassingly naive as it sounds, I thought 'an orphan is an orphan', and how can adopting one be bad?  Perhaps we knew just a tad more than that, but not much.  I thank God everyday He protected us, because quite honestly one agency with an absolutely terrible ethical reputation was on our "list of considers."

So, we took the leap and we sent in our application to Holt International, and began our process to adopt a baby boy from Ethiopia.

It was really then that I began to learn.  I joined yahoo boards (several of them) and started reading blogs (lots of them) of families who had adopted from Ethiopia.  I read lots of happily-ever-after stories.  I also read several horror stories about agencies recruiting babies from hungry, poor (but probably really good) mothers off the streets of Ethiopia.  I read of agencies lying to families, selling adoption as something temporary or as a co-parenting type of situation.  I read scary stories about one of the agencies we had considered, and wondered how in the world I could have been so ignorant.  It is what it is, and I'm not proud.  All I can say is, you don't know what you don't know, until you know it.  I will never judge a parent who (unknowingly) signed on with an unethical adoption agency.  It easily could have been me.  I suppose it's what you then do with that knowledge that matters.

Fast forward to now ... we are in the midst of our second adoption, an adoption we did not initiate but one we are no less excited about.  This time, however, could not be more different.  Somewhere along the way, I misplaced my rose colored glasses.  I now question everything, and want to challenge every truth that is thrown my way.  I play a mental tennis match between God's call to care for orphans, how to do that best, family preservation, supply and demand for healthy babies, and what that means for defending the rights of the oppressed.  I wonder what was done for my sons' birth father.  If he had been given some assistance, could he parent these boys?  My agency never considers "poverty alone to justify international adoption."  I want to know, specifically, what they do to back up their policy.  What I blindly accepted as "good form" the first go round, I want details and specifics and proofs of this go round.

I have nagging questions that never existed before.  "Did someone approach MB's dad about adoption, or was it his idea?"  "Did he truly understand adoption was forever, that he may never see his son again?"  "Did our meeting with Joseph and MB's dad and the pictures we sent look so appealing, so wealthy, that we somehow convinced him to relinquish another child?"  For the record, I have no basis for these questions and I'm pretty sure I know the answers.  I have no doubts about our first adoption.  I consider our agency to be very ethical and I have no reason, through our experiences or experiences of lots of fellow families, to believe otherwise.  However, since I misplaced my rose colored glasses along the way, I do not believe any adoption agency to be perfect, to be above reproach, above questioning. 

In all this muddied water we call orphan care, I believe we can rely on One truth. God's truth says "religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress" (James 1:27), and His word says to "defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and oppressed" Psalm 82:3.  I still believe adoption to be a good thing.  However, to consider the needs of the weak and fatherless, the poor and oppressed, we must realize that sometimes those categories overlap overwhelmingly to our birth families.  What do we do with that?  What do we do for them?

If I could say one thing to someone who feels called to orphan care, to someone considering adoption, it would be to struggle... to research, research, research, ask questions, even the hard ones, and listen to the answers, even the hard ones, even the bitter we-had-a-horrible-experience ones.  You don't necessarily have to agree with their conclusion, but listen to their experiences and perhaps heed some of their warnings.  Our children, our children's birth families, our children's nation - they are worth this struggle.  In the end, seek knowledge, truth, and the Father's wisdom.

What does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Thank You Mr. Governor

Never, never have I been more upset to kill trees.  Like most adoptive families I know, we filed our taxes as soon as humanly possible.  Unfortunately, we had to kill approximately 15 trees in the process, as the government made us file a paper return due to our adoption credit.  We currently have an IRS status that says our federal refund (which will fund a good portion of our adoption of MB) will be deposited into our account on April 19.  I'll believe it when I see it, as most folks I know have been required to submit additional information.

Upon filing our state return, we received a notice saying our state wouldn't even begin reviewing paper returns for at least 16 weeks.  Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, but our state refund this year is substantial enough to nearly pay for our Dossier fees and Home Study fees, so it's a big deal. But, fear not!  My husband sent a very compelling letter to our Governor that said, in not so many words and as eloquently as possible, that this equated to stealing our money.  He also mentioned that this refund was helping pay for our next adoption.  Being the total cynic, I thought "oh ya right.  You won't even get a reply."  Imagine my surprise when he receives an email back from the Office of the Secretary THE SAME DAY that said if we faxed our return information to them, they would expedite our return.  Now, ever the cynic, I'll believe it when I see the big fat check in the bank.  But, for now, I say "Thank You Mr. Governor" because I know you at least read our letter and forwarded it on to the proper channels.  Do you think a letter to President Obama would have the same affect?

** Addendum:  After typing this, I checked the status of our federal return again, and it now says our refund is scheduled to be deposited TOMORROW!!!!  I'm telling myself "self: don't get too excited, don't get too excited"  But guess what?  I'm totally excited!  I'll be even more excited to get that big bill from Holt International because it will be attached to an official referral along with PICTURES!  Never said this before, but bring on the big bills!

 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Going Through The Big "D"

Lyla's birthday always falls the week of spring break.  As if I didn't hate planning a kid's birthday party enough already, throw in the fact that half her friends are on vacation and the weather usually makes it unbearable to party outdoors, I will do just about anything to get out of it.  This year we gave Lyla the choice between having a party with a bunch of kids or going on vacation.  We might have really played up how lame the birthday party would be and how amazingly fun the vacation would be.... I don't remember?  Either way, she took the bate and chose the vacation.

Our primary goal was to go as far south as possible so as to hit 70 degree weather within an easy day's drive.  So, we chose Dallas.  And yes, that old "Going Through the Big D and Don't Mean Dallas" country song would not leave my head the entire trip.  Every time I thought I'd replaced it with another less-annoying one, I'd see a road sign that said Dallas, and bamm, there the song was back again.

We spent a full day at Six Flags over Texas, which was by far the best day.  Lyla and Timothy got to ride their first "real" roller coaster.  It wasn't an upside down, feet dangling, fear-factor type ride, but it was a legitimate roller coaster with some pretty big hills, and they were thrilled.  I didn't get any pictures from this day because, quite honestly, I thought we were kind of pushing our luck managing four smallish kids at an amusement park over spring break week.  I was too afraid to add my nice new camera into the mix.

The next day we had intended to go to the Dallas World Aquarium.  We navigated downtown, paid for and navigated a crazy crowded parking lot, loaded kids into strollers, walked a couple blocks, and then spotted this sign:

The thought of wielding a huge double stroller and other darting children amongst a wall to wall crowd sounded worse than an 8 year-old's birthday party.  So, we changed course and went to the Dallas zoo instead.  It started out a bit chilly, but slowly warmed up and proved to be a very nice day.  Lyla would not allow us to walk in any direction unless she first found where we were on the map, and then where our desired destination was.  I've mentioned it before, but she's a planner like that.

Lyla had her dad and I a wee bit worried with how much fun she seemed to be having, posing for these pictures.  We finally had to cut her off, and tell her no more posing for fear of exciting any potential pervs who might be watching.
I thought this huge bird's nest would be a hilarious picture.  Me (mama bird) with all her little chicks.  What it ended up being was an embarrassing spectacle as I think all or nearly all of my kids were crying before it was over, I was laughing hysterically and Travis was clicking pictures.  Travis can generally see train wrecks like this coming a mile away, but I stubbornly hold on to my good idea way past common sense.

 

Our hotel was great for kids. We had a two room suite, which meant four kids in one room, two adults in the other. Except for absurdly early morning wake-ups, the kids slept really well. There was also this beautiful nature path and river right behind the hotel where we walked, explored, Joseph tried to give us panic attacks by running full speed at the water - fun stuff like that. We were able to glory in God's creation, the newness each spring brings, soak in the warm weather and arrogantly laugh at everyone back home as they were expecting 4 inches of snow. 

The kids spent each evening "winding down" at the indoor pool, and each morning pigging out on omelets, waffles, bacon and more. Let me tell you, the value of a free (good) breakfast for a family of six is not to be underestimated, even if the servers did seem highly annoyed that I was apparently getting more than my fair share of food. I don't think they realized I was getting food for myself and four children, and my kids can snarf down some waffles, let me tell you.




What?  Isn't this how you wind down in the evenings?


And, general proof I am the most humble mom around have the four most beautiful children on earth.





This one is dedicated to Semi Feral Mama who convinced me to make Ergo my co-pilot for the week.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Betrayal

After almost 15 years of marriage, this kind of deception and betrayal was not what I expected.  I thought we had a relationship built on trust and open communication.  Apparently I thought wrong.

I suppose you sensationalism seekers want gory details of what this kind of betrayal looks like.  Here you go - this is a picture of the exhibition of disloyalty I came home to yesterday...



Need I say more?

When did rodents become furry creatures we desired to cuddle with and invited to poop in our houses?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kids Say The Darndest Things

Right now I'm sinking in laundry, bills, suitcases, work, hosting 7 college BSU boys from Mississippi, four kids out of whack and sleep deprivation.  As soon as I come up for air, I'll give y'all the boring run down of our little Dallas vacation complete with pictures.

For now though, I'll write down just a couple funny moments, before my ever disintegrating brain forgets them.

Timothy - oh Timothy.  He's such a cute little charmer.  When riding the tea cups at Six Flags, he and Lyla were paired up with a cute little girl, maybe 6 or 7 years-old.  They were spinning wildly, making jokes and just generally cracking each other up.  As soon as the ride was over, Timothy came running over to us and told us how nice this little girl was.  He was very insistent he should ask for her phone number because "Mom, she's a really nice girl, and I want to talk to her again."  Ya, right.  I'm sure her dad would love that idea.

Joseph, sweet Joseph.  Word to the wise.  If you are lucky enough to be crammed into an elevator with our family, and you don't want my baby boy copping a feel (or two or three or four), perhaps wear jeans with a little less gold bling on the butt.  There's more to this story, but that's all I'm gonna say.

And, proof our kids don't get out much:  In the same crowded elevator there was another woman talking to the kids in a very deep southern accent.  Timothy gets a confused look, looks at me and says quite loudly, as if the woman wouldn't understand a word he was saying "Mom, is she speaking Spanish?"

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Renny

Baby girl turns 8 today.  Mama to an 8 year-old; I think this officially makes me a grown up.  I can't believe I'm old enough to have an 8 year-old, but mostly I can't believe what an amazing little 8 year-old God has blessed me with.  This little girl ... well, God designed her special.  Get your barf bags ready folks, cus Mama's gonna brag a bit.

Renny is a kind hearted caretaker by nature.  She is mature beyond her years, and more of a helper to me than I could ever explain.  For example, she wakes up by herself to her alarm (which she has done since kindergarten) and begins her list of morning chores ... gets dressed, makes bed (I don't even make my bed in the morning, do you?), brushes teeth, eats breakfast, and makes her own lunch.  We started this alarm system because, unlike her mama, she is sloooowwwww in the morning, needs some extra piddle time and rarely responds to the words "hurry up."

She is a girl who likes to be prepared.  When I take the babies out for fun or errand, I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of mom.  I figure, if I've packed diapers and wipes, I am more or less prepared for whatever may come my way.  Darling little daughter has other thoughts, and often times she will pack a big-sister-bag complete with toys, books and snacks "just in case the babies get fussy."  She is an amazing big sister like that.  I'm not sure if I'm convincing you what a great daughter I have or what a slacker mom I am.  Either way, she makes my load lighter.

The other day, Travis and I both had a terrible stomach flu.  I won't go into details, but it weren't pertty.  Renny was supposed to go to American Heritage Girls, but there was no way we could drive her.  You know what she did instead?  She cheerfully stayed home and took care of her baby brother and sister while mom and dad lay wretched on the couch.  And she never once complained.

These are a few of her favorite things ...

She loves anything art or craft related.  She loves music and is pretty darn gifted at it  She has more talent for pitch and tone than the rest of the family put together.  As we speak, I'm on craigslist trying to find her a budget-friendly piano and hoping I can find some weekly lessons we can afford.

Much to my chagrin, she is a little hoarder, mostly because she's so darn sentimental.  Her idea of cleaning her room is stuffing all her "treasures" into recesses deep enough I won't find them and subsequently throw them away.

She will almost always stop what she's doing in order to play with Raven, read to her, or teach her something using her "mom voice."  Yep, at the ripe ol' age of 8, she has definitely perfected the mom voice.

She's amazing at school, and effortlessly excels in all subjects, though she says science is her favorite (thata girl, just like her mama).  She rarely needs help with her homework, and the last time she did it was because she had missed a few days of school.  It was grammar and I had to google the answers.  Is that pathetic, googling answers for a second graders homework?  No, I am apparently NOT smarter than a fifth grader (or a second grader).

Favorite Movies:  The Sound of Music, Gnomio and Juliet.

Favorite Books:  Non-fiction books about animals or lizards.  She is an excellent reader, and one of the presents we bought her for her birthday is the C.S. Lewis Narnia collection.

Best Friends:  Jacob and Jaden were the first two she mentioned.  They are both boys in her class, one of which stated his claim to marry Renny two years ago... should I be worried?  She also mentioned girl Jaden, Autumn, Lydia, Camille, McKenna and Jordan.  Second graders must be fickle because this list is totally different than the one she mentioned last week.

45.25" tall (when you're only in the 3rd percentile for height, you definitely count quarter inches) and 49 pounds.  Thankfully, she seems to be proud of her petite stature, and rarely seems bothered by the countless people who ask if Zoom, two and a half years younger, is her twin.

She is a precious child and seeks to please her parents and the Lord everyday.  She, like both her parents, is fiercely competitive and extremely determined when she sets her mind to something.

I am one blessed mama indeed.



This day, eight years ago ... 



When I was in labor, my delivery nurse said several times "I don't feel any hair on this baby's head."  Travis and I were both born with a ton of hair, and so having a bald baby would have been a surprise.  As she was closer to being born, the same nurse was in the room and declared "oh honey, I was really wrong about that hair thing."


Do I really look 8 years older?
Please say no, please say no, please say no!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

While We Wait

While we wait for word on MB, word on MOWA, word on scary Ethiopian government changes, we rejoice in the blessings of today, God's answer to past prayers, proof of his faithfulness, our shiny rocks the Lord has provided.

So, here is some of the stuff we've been up to this week.  These first two pictures completely personify Anna and Joseph.  Here Anna is taking turns between feeding, bossing and reading to her babies.  Oh, her perfect little world, where she's in charge and all her subjects obey her (oh wait - that sounds like my perfect world too?).


Joseph, ahhh Joseph... The last sunny day he ventured outside with older siblings.  Everything looked dry from the kitchen window - seriously, no mud in sight.  Yet, in his ultimate trouble-finding ability, he managed to come back looking like this in less than 2 minutes.  And, he could not have been more delighted with himself!


My friend Mary just got back from ET last week with these two cuties (not the buzz-cut one - he's mine!)  I was on the priveledged 'got to see them the first week home' list.  Oh yes, be jealous!


Do I even need to say a word about how cute this one is?  I didn't think so.
Who said linebackers can't wear tutu's?

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Spirit of Fear

This week has been a crazy scary week in the adoption world.  A few days ago, this article was published.  It basically says that one of the government agencies overseeing adoptions (MOWA) will cut the amount of cases they will review per day by about 90%.  Should this change be permanent, it has the ability to make what would be a six to nine month process to get MB home into a process that could take years.

I don't believe MOWA is some evil entity, merely wielding it's power to make children and families wait miserably.  They do a good work.  They investigate adoptions, make sure orphans are really orphans, that the family member who relinquished the child to the orphanage understood and was not tricked.  Unfortunately, adoption has become big business in places like Ethiopia.  Lots of slimy players (and, I believe, some initially well meaning people who lost sight along the way) have moved in and good families have been ripped apart because of them.  If we feel a call to love, serve and advocate for orphans, this is not part of the equation we can ignore.  Child trafficking is real.  We must stand up for ethical adoptions, transparency and family preservation.  MOWA has been under lots of pressure to work faster, approve cases quicker.  You might remember when we were adopting Joseph, we didn't pass court the first time or the second time because our case was missing it's approval letter from MOWA.

All of this uncertainty, not knowing when we will be able to bring MB home, the possibility that it could take years; it has the power to create incredible fear.  But, today I will choose to live in hope and not fear:

"For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children"  Romans 8:14-16

I will choose to remember that OUR God defends the cause of the fatherless and widow. 

And, I will remember that our God said: "Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours"  Mark 11 22-24.

And so I ask you, my friends, this week to pray for God to move mountains.  Pray for the orphan, pray for the child at risk, pray those slimy money-grubbing child stealers will be smashed to smithereens and thrown into the bottom of the ocean stopped, and please pray for MB, MOWA and that this situation will be resolved.  MB turns 5 years-old in exactly one month.  Join me in praying that he will not turn 6 without a family.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Quick Update

As most of you know, we have yet to see a picture of MB.  We know his height, weight, DOB and a statement that he is "seemingly healthy."  Other than that, we're as in the dark as you all.

Not to get anyone too excited ... we still don't have a picture.  BUT, we did get a short note from our agency today that said they have been in contact with their staff in Ethiopia and expect to have a picture and a health report to us very soon.  I'm not sure if these pics and health reports mean the official referral is on it's way very soon or if that may still be months.  Either way, I will likely need to remind myself (a lot) that the Ethiopian translation of the words "very soon" and mine are two totally different things.  But for now, it was a nice reassurance that we aren't totally crazy, this little boy does really exist and the fine folks at Holt have not forgot about him or us.  I know those thoughts seem completely crazy and they probably are, but they are real crazy thoughts that have been flittering through our minds lately, and I will be glad to see them leave.  It's impossible to describe the range of emotions associated with adoption if you've never experienced them, but let me just say that pregnancy hormones don't begin to compare.

And, just in case you need to be brought up to speed on the adoption of MB ...

The Call That Changed It All
The Desires of My Heart
Just The Facts
Adoption Update

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

13 Lucky Lessons Learned

Because of one amazing Groupon.com deal, this weekend we were able to take all four kids to a local indoor water park for the low low price of $30 TOTAL.  I know, we are rockstars!  I forgot to take my camera, but here is a pic of our endless opportunities of fun.



And now, for the 13 lucky lessons I learned (or was reminded of) when taking four small children to a water park:
  1. Family changing rooms rock!
  2. Joseph is happiest when running full speed on slick pavement, meanwhile water is blasting him from all directions.
  3. Anna is happiest when moving as slow as possible with the least amount of water touching her.
  4. Two year-olds who aren't yet potty trained but can talk are capable of really embarrassing their mother.
  5. Swim diapers don't hold liquid.  Anna reminded me of this as we were sitting at the table eating lunch, and she proudly proclaimed "I peeing, I peeing, look mom, I peeing" as said liquid ran all over the plastic chair, through the holes and onto the floor.
  6. One shouldn't expect kids to automatically show their appreciation for this exhausting fun day by instantly becoming the perfectly obedient angels you wish for.
  7. Taking two toddlers to a water park is a whole lot of work, but worth it when they take four hour naps afterwards you see the pure joy on their faces when splashing crazily through the water.
  8. When Groupon.com offers a day of family fun for $30, be prepared for a crowd.
  9. Some girls need a smoke so bad, they are willing to stand in 25 degree weather, ice and snow in nothing but bikinis and flip flops.  Upon seeing this, my kids were instantly indignant of the coats I forced them to wear.
  10. One should always always check the contents of a swim diaper before haphazardly yanking it off.
  11. Turds can roll a really long way.
  12. Older kids squeal really loud and attract a lot of attention when seeing turds roll, especially when someone accidentally steps on one.
  13. My poor children will probably be 16 years-old before they are tall enough to ride the really cool slides, especially my girls.