Saturday, December 31, 2011

3 weeks later

It has been 3 weeks since we first got on a plane to go to Addis Ababa. To make the long trip over to meet our precious daughter at last. It has been a little over 2 weeks since we came home and let me tell you...those 2 weeks have been long.

It was hard to leave Ethiopia - the sweetness of the people, the amazing JOY they have, amidst the poverty and dirt. The beauty of the terrain. So many things that heighten your senses. We had such a sweet, sweet time there with our little girl. I feel myself longing for not only her, but for Ethiopia as well. Craving the food, the bustle, even the crazy driving. To leave that sweet week and come back into the crazy busy, crazy commercial, crazy hustle of the holiday season. My kids had one week of school left and it was full of Christmas parties and such - the scramble of the forgotten teachers presents! Last minute presents to buy. Loads of laundry. Trying to grieve - oh how my heart felt paralyzed. Such a dear reunion with my kids, but they had suffered our absence as well. They had a great week with friends, but within an hour of being with them, I could feel the release of a weeks worth of pent up emotions coming out of them. Trying to be present with and for them, to just sit and hold them, to not get frustrated with their whining when I really wanted to whine myself. Loved being back with them, but it made the "unfinished" part of our family even more obvious. Trying to process out all I was feeling, getting in the Christmas "spirit", when the meaning of Christmas felt so very different than any other year of my life probably. Honestly, this paragraph wears me out just writing it!

We had a sweet Christmas - spent together as a family and with some extended family. Celebrating the birth of our Savior, loving watching my kids open their gifts and the excitement that they always have.

But the absence is never far from me. My arms longing for the weight of her. Wanting to start this new stage of our life. Our kids are very excited to bring her home and love looking at the pictures of her over and over, the videos showing her sweet smile and giggle. My 3 year old asking most days if we can go get baby "R" after dinner, or after nap, or tomorrow when we wake up. My almost 8 year old telling me that the thought of R coming home ranks a 10 on a scale of 1-10, but sometimes the excitement gets bumped down a couple of points by the fact that he is now having to share his room with Micah (the 3 year old!). My sweet Kate is ready to go shopping for her new little sister! Not a day goes by that I don't go through all the pictures - memorizing her face again and again.

So, what are we doing now? Waiting...again :-) Once all of our paperwork is gathered from passing through the Ethiopian courts, it will be submitted to the US Embassy in Ethiopia. That normally takes a few weeks. Then it take another couple of week for them to process your case. Typically there are request for further information, such as requesting to meet with R's birthmother. Sometimes it can get referred to a bigger US Embassy in Nairobi. Then eventually, though we do not know when, the Embassy will clear our case and we will be issued an Embassy date - THAT is when we get to go back!!!! So, it could be 5 weeks, it could be 3 months. Please pray with me that it is the former, and we can get this baby girl home to our family!

So, in the meantime, I am nesting some more. Moving Micah into Daniel's room. Unpacking the crib, going through girl clothes - what do I have, what do I need. Learning all I can about caring for african hair and skin, practicing my techniques on Kate (though she has silky straight blond hair). Shopping :-) Working on being in the present. Savoring this time with only 3 kids, and no infant. Movies, putt-putt golf, ice skating, sleeping in! I know that will change for a time when little miss gets home, but I am ready and excited about the change.

Can't wait to be able to show you the sweet little smile that is behind this heart!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Trip 1 - Day 5: the day we have to say good-bye

I have prayed for this day for so long. Probably envisioned this day even more than the day that I finally got to meet her. I knew it would be hard. I knew it would rip my heart out, and tear a piece of me off to say good-bye to her - to leave her so far away from me, to have my children on 2 different continents.
It was a day like most of the other days - we were picked up to be taken to Hannah's Hope. We spent the morning easily getting smiles, holding her as she slept, giving her her bottles. Then back to the hotel for lunch. Then back to Hannah's Hope for our last visit with her. I knew it would go by quickly. A part of me longed to go home: I wasn't feeling great, I was dreading the 28 hour travel day home, I was missing my sweet kids here, anxious to get this heart break over and start marking the days until we get to go back and bring her home. In those last few hours of holding her, I longed for her, even more than I ever have. Wondering at her, at this precious child that God had chosen to bless us with, marveling at how He could have picked me, picked her, picked us to be brought together as a family. As I was holding this sleeping child in my arms, I saw Wass coming toward me, I knew the hour. I tried to blend in hoping he would just walk on by so I didn't hear the words I knew were coming,
"It is time to go."
As I walked over to the baby house I felt as though I was walking to my doom. My heart was surely going to beat out of my chest. I had done this every day this week - left her in the more than capable, very loving arms of her special mothers. Yet, this was different. This time didn't have a 'you get to come back in the morning.' It was hard to see my big strong husband saying good-bye to his tiny little girl. Snuggling her one more time.
I held it together pretty well, not wanting to freak the other older kids out with my sobbing disaster of a self. I held it together pretty well as we went back to the hotel to pack up and get ready to go to the airport. I held it together pretty well through the chaos of finding our way through the Addis airport and having our plane delayed over and over because the oven in business class wasn't working.
The plane was pretty full but there were some empty seats right in front of our row so we decided to spread out a bit. Not a great idea, I really needed the comfort of my husband because I DID NOT do so well as the plane took off. In that moment of that plane lifting off from my daughter's country, it hit me so hard I could barely breath. I was leaving her and I didn't know when I would get to go back. There is no getting up and going back in the morning. There is no after lunch visit before her bedtime. I am going to miss these next few days, weeks, maybe months of her life. I really thought I was going to stop breathing in that moment it hurt so badly. I had been praying for grace and mercy all week long, and it was only that building up of my strength in God's presence that got me through that moment. Leaving her not only in the hands of her special mothers, but in the hands of her very Special and very Loving Father. Trusting Him with her took on a completely different meaning once I had held her in my arms.
The flight home was hard. Long and hard. It took us about 28 hours of traveling to get home. There were several times that I swore that only the love for one of my children could make me go through that again! But go through it again I will, and next time I will bring my daughter home for good!

Trip 1 - Day 4: Court Day

On our Court Day, Danny picked us up early so that we could make it to court on time. The traffic was horrible! We had to stop to pick up Haile (our court processor/advocate) to go with us. Court is not at all what you would imagine. It isn't some nice court house with revolving doors. We did go through a security check to go in, and then trekked up the 4 flights of stairs to the court waiting room (not so easy to do in that altitude). We walked into a tiny little room where most of the chairs were broken and it was packed with people. We had been warned ahead of time to be quiet and respectful as the judge has closed court before due to people being too loud. There were tons of people - adoptive families, birth parents there to relinquish their rights, and other people there for various reasons. Though feeling a bit better, Matthew was still pretty sick so he was propped up against a wall in a corner dozing in and out of awareness. There is no order to how people are called so you have to be there when court starts and wait until you get called. We got there at about 9:15 and we were finally called into the judges chambers at around 11. It was very simple and very quick. She asked us such questions as: Have we educated ourselves and prepared ourselves for adopting a child, how did our other children feel about another child, had we started learning some about Ethiopian culture so that we could teach our child about her country, had we connected with other families with adopted children, did we know that once this was over that she was officially ours. Once we answered all her questions, the words we had been waiting for, "She is all yours!" What a strange mixture of feelings! Excitement, fear, what have we done!!!! and wonder, just plain wonder! We officially have 4 kids!
After court, we went to the market to shop a bit. It was crazy - so many things and so many people. We had a list of things that we wanted to look for - some things for our family, some things to have for her as she grows, special little gifts we can give her at different times in her life. It isn't like you can just go back to Ethiopia and pick up something you forgot so we tried to make the most of our time.
After a short rest at the hotel, it was back to Hannah's Hope and "officially" our daughter. Even though I knew she didn't know the difference, I whispered over and over to her that she was "officially" ours. It did feel different somehow.
It was bath time so I got to give her a bath - been a while since I have bathed a slippery little baby! She really loves the water and smiled and "talked" through the whole thing. I lotioned her all up, then one of the special mothers put a big glob of baby oil in my hand to rub in her hair - a little different from my little white babies :-)
Tomorrow is our last day...dreading it already.

Trip 1 - Day 3

This was a great day - nothing planned but just being at Hannah's Hope with R. After we picked up R from her Special mother, we took her into the clinic to weigh her. She is growing! She is about 4 months old (we is hard to know for sure because birthdays are not something that is very important in Ethiopian cultural and are often wrong), but she seems by her size and development to be closer to 3 months. She weighed 10 lbs., was 22 in. long, and head circumference of 38 cm. I loved checking her all out - counting her toes and looking over all her fingers.
We got Wass to translate so we could ask the special mothers some questions about her. She eats about every 2 hours - they really do give them a bottle every time they cry. If she just ate an hour ago but didn't finish all her bottle, the next time she cries, they give her the rest. When she wakes up at night she might drink an ounce of milk and then go right back to bed, so she is really used to just sort of snacking anytime she wants to! She seems like a pretty easy going baby.

After lunch we went back to Hannah's Hope - R had just gotten out of the bath. We spent some time talking to Almaz and she gave us a CD of pictures of R birth mom. When her birth mom came to Addis for her court date, she came to Hannah's Hope to see R. The staff talked to her for a while and asked her questions that they will give to us when we go back and they took pictures of her with R. It was much harder to see these pictures than I thought it would be. She is a beautiful woman and her love for R was obvious. I love this woman dearly and my heart hurts for her.

Matthew got really sick today. Running a pretty high fever, chills, and having a hard time staying awake and being upright - a little scary when you are in a 3rd world country and have no idea what to do if he needs medical help. Thankfully I had brought a prescription of antibiotics so he started those and within about 24 hours was feeling better. We had court the next day so staying in bed was not an option!

Trip 1 - Day 2

So sweet to wake up knowing that that we get to go right to Hannah's Hope to play with our girl! We only got to go to Hannah's Hope in the morning this day because we had some other things planned for the afternoon. Like every morning, we found R outside with the babies playing in the sun! She became more and more responsive through the week and it was awesome to watch her become aware of us. Hannah's Hope works like a clock - the kids wake up every morning about 6:30, eat, rest, play inside a little, then they are outside by about 9 to sun. At around 10:30 all the toys and babies are packed up and taken inside to the baby room. I spent a lot of time in the baby room rocking and feeding R. It was pretty intimidating to care for her in the midst of the special mothers who care for her all the time. With the language barrier it is almost impossible to ask questions or talk to them about her. It was interesting to watch the special mother's response to me as well. Their caution of me at first, then becoming more and more comfortable with me as they saw that ,"oh, maybe she does know something about what she is doing!". There were several times toward the end, when Matthew was holding our R (so my arms were free) and another baby was crying that they would point to me and then to the crying baby telling me to go help with that one. They often have a baby in their arms drinking their bottle, one foot bouncing a child in a bouncy seat, and another toddler snuggled into their side. I was more than happy to love on the other kids when I could. So they feed the babies and then lay them down for a nap, the toddlers know to come in, lay down on the rug, they cover up their heads with a blanket, and they go to sleep - amazing! This is a picture of the baby/toddler room:
While the kids are napping, they clean. To go into the the baby house, you take your shoes off and put on a pair of crocs or flip flops - these are scrubbed every day. The toys are cleaned, the blankets washed, the floors are swept and mopped, the courtyard swept - it is very clean.

Typically by around 3:30, all the kids are upstairs, getting baths, playing, having bottles and getting ready for bed which starts around 6:30. R is in the ladybug room with about 6 other kids.
We went back to our hotel for lunch and to rest before our Ethiopian cultural dinner that night. Since this was really the only day that we had a large amount of free time, we decided to see some of the city. Addis is pretty hectic! There are tons of people, and lots of cars and they drive like crazy. There are no stop lights or traffic signs so even at a major intersection, people just sort of bust their way through. Pedestrians have no right of way so there are people running across the road everywhere trying not to get hit, all this coupled with the donkeys, horses, cows, and goats that just walk around or lay in the road, riding in a car in Addis was quiet an experience. So we hired a taxi and went to the National Museum and St. George Orthodox Cathedral.
We got back to the hotel just in time to be picked up by Wass and taken to the Ethiopian Cultural dinner. Wass is the primary driver, tourist guide extraordinaire, and special father at Hannah's Hope. He is a very willing conversationist and we loved asking him questions. Some interesting things we learned from Wass is that Ethiopians love American Country Music, Ethiopian Protestants only listen to spiritual music and they do not drink or dance, to tell a girl you like her you would throw a lemon at her chest and if she like you back she will pick it up and kiss it, and that Beyonce learned how to shake her booty from Ethiopians who are the best booty shakers around! He knows a ton about the different regions of Ethiopia so we also learned a lot about the Afar, which is where R is from.
The cultural dinner was amazing. They bring you warm water and soap before and after you eat to clean your hands and after dinner you have a coffee ceremony. Ethiopian food is yummy - you eat it by tearing off a piece of Injera (a flatbread) and picking up the food so you really need your hands cleaned in the end!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Trip 1 - Day 1

We left Knoxville at 6am on 12/10. Don't really think I slept at all that night! Our donations were all packed and we were ready to go - that big box is a rocking chair and we had a tote and 2 duffle bags packed full of diapers, wipes, formula, etc. So thankful for all the things that people gave to take over with us.

We went from Knoxville to DC, and then boarded our plane that went straight to Addis Ababa - a 13 hour flight.
Watching the screen the entire way - pretty sure I didn't sleep for that 13 hours either!
We landed in Addis at about 7:45am (about midnight our time) and after we stood in line forever to get our visa, go through immigration, find our luggage, customs, etc. we found our ride and got to our hotel at about 9:30. We were given our itinerary and saw that we were being picked up in 45 minutes to go to Hannah's Hope to meet R! Can't even explain that feeling - to know that I was finally going to get to hold my little girl. This is us riding in the van to go to Hannah's Hope.
Finally we saw them - the black gates that I had seen so many times in other people's pictures - the gates that lead you into Hannah's Hope.

We were greeted by the older kids will shouts and hugs - so precious to be greeted by these sweet little faces. Tears are already rolling down my face and these aren't even my children, but they are kids that I pray for daily. Then our driver D told us that our little one was over at the baby house. The special mothers take the babies and toddlers outside every morning to "sun" and play. R's special mother was holding her when we got there. Finally, the moment of holding her in my arms had come. She was so tiny, even more tiny than I thought she would be. But so perfect. She fit perfectly in my arms.
It always amazes my how my body doesn't forget the feel of a baby in my arms, or the swaying my body automatically started when I held her. It remembers what to do. We spent about 4 hours that day holding her, giving her a bottle, and getting to know her.

We also met with Johannes (our family coordinator) to exchange money (100 birr = ~$6 USD) and to place our coffee orders.

Fell into a very happy sleep that night - looking forward to the next day!

Friday, December 9, 2011

In 24 hours...

we will be on a plane to go and meet our sweet little girl!

We have been so amazingly blessed by phone calls, prayers, tons of donations, little gifts to take with us. The Lord continues to bless us with the fellowship of His people around us. Can't wait to share her with all of you :-)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Thoughts during Advent

Advent is always a special time in our family. We get back into the routine (which we often lose during the hustle of getting back into the groove of school) of nightly family worship. The lighting of the Advent candles, the readings printed out, the hymnal open, the Jesse Tree starting to fill out, our favorite little Advent Calendar set up - we have many little family rituals we tend to each day to remind us of where our focus should be.

This year these things seem so magnified. It began with our first night of Advent. My husband had us all sit in darkness for a short time (our 3 year old doesn't sit anywhere for very long), then he lit our first Advent Candle. It was so very real. The longing for the lights to come back on. The waiting for the light...then the one candle lit. It made the darkness go away. Not fully, not yet, but a light in that dark room. While the dark has been penetrated by the light, we still wait, with longing, for it to be gone completely.

I think it all seems so much more real this year because I have been in a state of waiting, of longing. If I am honest with myself, I will admit that there have been few times in my life I have really had to wait for anything. Maybe a week, or a month, or a year. But to really WAIT? Probably not. Let me note here also, that I do not do waiting well, it is not pretty. I am an instant gratification person. So this wait has been really hard.

There is the waiting, yes, but there is also this AMAZING story of adoption. God has gone to such impossible lengths to adopt us, to rescue us. This year I have been overwhelmed with the OT prophetic stories of the coming of the Christ child. The plan that God had for us. His voice, the light that was brought forth out of the void of nothingness in Creation. The amazing Shoot that will branch out of the stump of Jesse. The sacrifice that God provided Abraham in place of Isaac. All those OT stories point us to the story of our adoption, an adoption that will change the course of our life.

During this time of waiting for our child, the love of God has been so present and so real for me. I want so much more of Him. The longing has pointed me to Him over and over. As I have longed and waited for our sweet Ethiopian daughter, I have had to cling to my Father who has adopted me. Knowing that His love for her, for all my children, for me, is so much more that I can comprehend. Knowing that He longs for her adoption as well (not just into an earthly family).

Now we prepare for our first journey to meet her. My heart is all over the place, as are my hormones! I am crying at everything, laughing and sobbing at the same time in amazement that God has called me to this period of longing in my life, and that at the end of this waiting, there will be a sweet little light as our prayers are finally answered and she will be united to our family. The darkness won't be gone, the pain of her story will still be there, there will be hard days for all of us as we walk our journey out, but it will make us LONG even more for the day when all darkness will be cast out, and we will walk in Pure Light and Joy again.

I can't wait to get her in my arms. To touch her and kiss her sweet face. The longing.