Thursday, February 24, 2011

Birthdays, Brokenness and Beauty

As a momma of three children, I was used to celebrating birthdays. Often they are such a "BIG" deal in a child's life. The anticipation .... the excitement .... the looking back (at photo albums of past birthdays) and looking ahead. Then came number four child. Often her birthdays were a time of reflection for me. I think of her 4th birthday. Also, her 5th birthday. Thoughts would go to the beginning of her precious life. How God gave her birthmom incredible courage and strength to give her life. How he spared her little life through much trauma after birth and then open heart surgery.

Then came child number five. No longer are birthdays just full of balloons and cake and presents and joy and laughter and memories of nearly every living moment together. Birthdays now contain brokenness. When we adopted precious number five we came face-to-face in an even greater depth with the miracle of life. There are no birth pictures to show her ... no "going home from the hospital outfit" .... no infancy "firsts" to tell her about. Oh, but there is so much more. There is the realization of how God spared her life and led her sweet birthmom to a place that she could receive food and medicine. Medicine that would heal her from disease. There is the truth that while she went through a time of inadequate nutrition, God protected her amazing little brain and spirit. There is the faithfulness of how during the time preceding her birth, God spoke to us that there was a child in Ethiopia needing a family.

My heart breaks that I was not there during her first fourteen months of life. I would have given anything to be the one to give her the needed medicine all those months, to diaper her and keep her dry, to feed her til her tummy was full ... to just simply HOLD her.

Even in the brokenness, you see, there is beauty. Beauty in knowing her Heavenly Father was there .... never leaving her or forsaking her. Beauty in orchestrating countless miracles to take us to her. Beauty in redemption and providing her with the love of a family. That kind of beauty humbles me to my core. It causes me to worship. Teaches me what love is all about.

It's so easy to get overwhelmed with the orphan crisis and be baffled with the statistics. We throw out stats and percentages and facts. None of them are bad. At times like birthdays though, I am reminded that behind each number in those stats is a CHILD ... a living, human being in need of love, compassion and mercy.

Many of you reading this blog know of that brokenness and beauty. For you, too, have climbed mountains to your child. You have sacrificed what you used to think was important for something of far greater worth. God knows the brokenness your child(ren) has faced. He has a redemptive plan for their lives to give LIFE and HEALTH and WHOLENESS. May you be encouraged as you continue to walk this journey ... often that is filled with much pain.

Some of you hear of those statics and stop and wonder if maybe YOU will be used to make a difference. And perhaps you will be. But let us never forget the ONE who truly is the difference maker. It all began a long time ago when He chose to make the ultimate difference for you and for me. It is because of that, we have something to offer.

Sweet Arsema,
Your life, my precious child, is such a GIFT. The journey to you was such a difficult one. One that required great sacrifice and labor. One that taught us so much about the Father's heart. One we will never ever regret.
God has given you the greatest smile. At first I didn't know if we would ever see much of it. Now you walk around our home just exuding JOY. That is except for the times that your big sister causes you great conflict. :) And to her credit, sweet girl, you do know how to intimidate her. Your life has taught me so much about love. Not just the love that I have for you as a mother, but about the love that the Father has for each of us.
I am forever grateful and humbled to be your momma, sweet girl. I continue to be amazed at how the Lord includes broken people like me to be part of extraordinary things in this world. I can't imagine loving you more, my Maleah .... but each day that love grows..... even on the days you wake in the crabbiest of moods. Your life has radically changed my own. I am so grateful. Love, Mommy

Monday, February 21, 2011

Becoming sisters

Been thinking back a lot to the time that our girls became sisters. You can read about that all HERE. Nearly three years ago we laid on eyes on our precious sweetie from Ethiopia. These photos were from our first morning at home all together {FINALLY at last!!!}. The girls were vastly different in size back then. They are pretty much the same size now, yet two full years apart. Big sis had climbed into little sis's crib to tell her good morning! :)

God has taught me so much about how to love through their lives. I've learned incredible truths about how He loves ME, His child. He's taught me new ways to parent and shepherd my kids. He's taught me what lack of trust looks like. He's taught me what faith really is. I'm so thankful.

I ache for the children who wait .... needing the love of a family.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Tale of Two Adoptions - Part 2

As I was saying over here, we had two very different experiences in our domestic and international adoptions. I know there are a lot of other families out there who also have experienced both types of adoption. Again, what we have experienced is just that ..... our journey. That being said ....

It seems that often with domestic adoptions the adoptive parent can be left feeling awfully alone. For us, we weren't in a "group" with our domestic adoption. We had limited contact with other adoptive families. While we had fabulous support from our social worker, it was still so different from what we faced with our international adoption. For months our file sat at a US agency we had chosen .... we waited and wondered if anyone was looking at it {prospective birthmoms}. We doubted if we'd ever be chosen. On the flip-side we KNEW God had led us to domestic adoption. It was a huge test of our faith. Month after month went by. Then my health scare with cancer when we had to withdraw our file til we were certain I was healthy. They might as well have removed my heart the day they removed my womb, but that story is for another post. Then we were back at the waiting again. By Christmas I was downright depressed and wondering what on earth was happening. Had we even heard from the Lord??? New Year's Eve came and I {once again} laid it all down before the Lord ..... trying all that was left in me to trust Him for another day. Little did I know a most amazing wee-babe was about to be born!! You can read about her life HERE!

With our international adoption, while we didn't know an exact date, we had a time frame. We also had incredible families walking the journey with us!! There was community. When one family was struggling, another would help life them up and remind them of WHY they were doing this in the first place!! It was beautiful. JUST as beautiful was what God taught us in our first adoption. Each journey unique .... each an opportunity to be drastically transformed if you will let Him.

We've often been criticized about why we didn't adopt through the foster care system. Every single time it's been a money issue. Yes, you read that right ... a money issue. See, for many onlookers it would be "ok" to adopt, as long as it didn't cost you money. "You can adopt for FREE" we were told time and again. Oh really??? The last time we checked nothing is free. Tax dollars are paying for the foster care system. It's interesting how quiet people get when that is brought to their attention. And even so!, that is exactly where our first daughter was headed. Into the foster care system. The agency had no family to call for her. Would she have been fed? .... well, yes, I suppose she would have. As opposed to going without nourishment in a third-world country. But she has JUST as much of a right to family. And how is it that we JUSTIFY what is going on in our country anyway? It isn't acceptable for children to be born and put into a system when there are SO many families that could welcome them into their homes permanently. Do you REALIZE that if a child is born with white skin in America and is relatively healthy that there are families WAITING in line for that child? Not so for the majority of children with dark skin, or children with extensive special needs. How can we criticize other countries and their cultures and their orphan problem and IGNORE OUR OWN?????

With our adoption journey to our second daughter we were surrounded by so many other families walking a similar journey. That in itself was a blessing, as we were walking further and further away from what many in our lives thought was acceptable and good. The community of other adoptive families was a great comfort and encouragement to us. This time we became keenly aware of the realities of children that didn't have adequate medicine and nourishment. They were no longer statistics ..... one of them was our daughter. In this adoption we fought feelings at times of worrying we were somehow part of a cultural clique. With the Ethiopian program up and running so well there were many, many families adopting in that program. There were t-shirts and jewelry and a host of other accessories just waiting to be purchased. Sometimes, deeply within, my heart would cry ..... where was the fan-fare for my other precious brown girl? The child who's spirit just as much needed a momma's love? I soon realized that it wasn't just all in my head ..... no, it was also in the responses on people's faces and lips when I'd gently inform them that "No, both of our daughters aren't from Ethiopia ... one was born in TX". I would get Facebook requests from moms who thought from my profile pic I was an "Ethiopian adoptive mom". Yes, it's true that I am .... but I am also an adoptive mom of another precious child as well. It would go deeper .... moms would comment about pics I posted of how beautiful my Ethiopian daughters were, never even asking where they were born.

Let me say very clearly .... our Ethiopian adoption has been a VERY wonderful thing!!!!! Anyone who followed our journey to Maleah knows how deeply passionate we are about her life and the needs of her people. But her life represents the needs of just ONE place in this world. They are SO many children WAITING for and NEEDING a family. We are all about the needs around the world ..... including the needs right down the road from where you live. Each with a soul and spirit that needs nurtured.

I'm so thankful God saw fit to allow us the incredible blessing of expanding our hearts and family in this way. Through it, I have learned so much about my Father's heart. I have learned to love in a greater way than I ever knew possible. I've been stretched beyond what I ever thought was bearable. I know that God isn't done teaching us. We're challenged deeply by the needs in the US foster care system. What our responsibility is there we aren't sure. Perhaps it's to be a voice for them. Maybe more. If I have learned anything through this journey it's this ...... there is only one thing that really matters about my life and it's what I'm living it for. Is it for pleasures here on this earth? Is for my own personal gain? Is it for comfort in worldly treasures {both monetary and relational}? OR .... is it for and about HIM. The one who created me. The song below from Robin Mark sums it up well. We are each created for a purpose. That is gonna look differently for each of us. I should not be consumed or primarily focused on what others are doing ...... but on what MY Father wants ME to do. Each day I ask for His help in that. Each day I NEED His help in that. Lord, how thankful I am that you look beyond our weakness .... that you find purest gold in miry clay ... thank you for your mercy.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Tale of Two Adoptions - Part 1

It appears that the horrendous flu has finally left our home and family. Yahoo!!! After playing catch-up for a week or so, I am finally getting back to things here where I was supposed to be sharing about the Tale of our Two Adoptions. :)

People that don't know us personally, often assume our daughters are both from Ethiopia. Why that is, I'm not exactly sure .... there are children with brown skin being born each day in America needing families as well. Three years into this journey though and I'm seeing that is not just an isolated assumption. It's led me to really analyze our two adoptions and quite frankly I'm amazed at how really different they were. Some of this may have to do with technology.

Six years ago (when we began our domestic adoption) we didn't have a blog. Goodness, I didn't know what a blog was! We primarily learned about other adoptive families through agency and ministry websites. We knew a very, very small hand full of other adoptive families. Four years ago (with our Ethiopian adoption) things were very different for us. We were welcomed into the world of blogging. What an INCREDIBLE source of support that brought. It was a beautiful way to communicate our process and progress to friends and family all over the world. It also brought a huge sense of comradeship with other adoptive families. We never felt alone, as we did with our first adoption.

Before I go any further into this post, let me just say as I have before .... this is only OUR experience. I cannot speak for what other families have faced. And I should probably also say that some of the things I'm going to share here are hard to hear. So with that lovely disclaimer, let me share with you some of what we experienced in both adoptions.

With our domestic adoption, back in 2004, ethnicity was a BIG DEAL. The phone calls to agencies went something like this ...
"Hello ... Agency Adoption? ... yes, this is Shelly. My family and I have a deep burden for children being born in the US with need of a family. Could you please tell me what your program is like and what you sense the needs are?"

I then would be asked about what types of situations we were open to ... everything from medical needs, emotional needs, a variety of disorders ... and then it would always come back to ethnicity. You see, ethnicity was all how it was broken down into categories. I learned about ethnicity that I didn't even know existed. Labels that I didn't even know what they meant.

Then I would proceed to let the social worker know that we were open to all ethnicity .... especially those with the greatest need. That typically brought us to the break down of the AA section. And no, I'm not talking about the "Absolutely Adorable". They were referring to ethnicity and genetics. AGAIN, I would say that we were open to any ethnicity .... especially those with the greatest need of a family. That brought us to the nitty-gritty. You see even in the AA group it got broken down further with most agencies. There was FULL African American and Bi-racial. I then learned that Bi-racial meant nearly any other ethnicity mixed with AA. I remember one day hearing the voice of the social worker .... "Oh, you are open to FULLLLL BLACK?????" My heart sank deeper than I knew was possible. We were far enough into the process to know God's call on our life .. to know there was NO turning back .. to know these CHILDREN she spoke of .... that one was our child! I was no longer an inquirer on the other end of the phone .... I was a MOTHER.

Adopting domestically for a (full) AA child in 'my' country began one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I grew ANGRY. Angry that I lived in a world still full of prejudice. Angry that there were children being broken into categories based on their ethnicity and depending on what those stats were determined their chances of a family. Of a F-A-M-I-L-Y??? Every human deserves to belong to a family.

Fast forward to after we brought home our AMAZING little African American-spunky Texan girl!! .... and again we'd be faced with these realities. People were convinced she couldn't possibly be full-AA, because of her skin tone. Even some friends would mention this meaning it was a really good thing! You could tell by the tone in their voice .... their certainty that she couldn't possibly be full black. My heart would shriek in silence and I would hold my precious daughter closer nearly in fear of what the future would hold for her. I was seeing in a small way, what many before me have lived. What many fellow humans in 'my' country have lived. There were many solemn moments. During that season we didn't have a lot of other families we knew that had adopted domestically and I felt very alone and sad and yet SO THANKFUL .... so incredibly THANKFUL that God had given us HIS eyes for HIS children. And I just kept trusting Him to be the mom He created me to be. You see, He knew before the beginning of time that there would be this little girl in need of a family. I still to this day am moved to tears with the realization it was me. I don't even come close to deserving such BLESSING. {Naomi is age 2 in this photo ~ taken on Mothers Day as we were waiting on our 2nd daughter from Ethiopia}