Our Adoption Story

This is a long but still glorious story.  I hope I tell it well.  Prepare yourselves.

I am aboard our flight to Ethiopia, sailing along the coast of Albania. It is dinner time at home, night in Ethiopia. I am still considering all that has happened in the past nearly three years, from our decision to adopt to this day, when our third child will be placed in our custody permanently.

Our decision to adopt was born from infertility, infertility I suspected initially in my early twenties when my body just didn’t seem to work right. As I progressed though my medical education, I studied the detailed cyclical nature of women, the ebb and flow of hormones and blood, the precise and perfect release of an ovum, and I knew. We sought the advice of my physician two months after trying to start a family. For two years, we submitted to examinations and ultrasounds, provided temperature charts and fluid samples, tried pills and injections, inseminations. A process that is so simple, even accidental for so many, could not, would not be replicated in me. During this time, we moved to a new city, started new jobs, searched for a new church home. We only had each other since we had no established relationships in our new home.

We began exploring adoption even before our infertility treatments ceased. I think somehow I already knew that it wasn’t useful to continue. I did a lot of begging and pleading with God during this time, but I think I didn’t listen often. Sometimes I think if we had been more in tune with God’s desires for us, we wouldn’t have bothered. Adoption was such relief for me at first, a new process to pour my energy into, a break from each failed cycle. I had hope. I may not be able to ovulate, but I can handle paperwork. Our agency was very optimistic, promised an infant boy home in my arms in 9-12 months from our initial meeting. No one with our agency had requested a boy, all had requested girls, and there were boys waiting to be matched with families. We completed our home study and dossier in about 2 months. We prayed blessings over our stamped and sealed dossier and mailed it to Ethiopia.

By this time, we had waited almost three years for a child, and I was sinking. I avoided the mall because of the maternity store, blocked posts from a pregnant friend on Facebook, tried to avoid sending hateful glares towards strollers and bulging bellies. I attended to newborns in the hospital nursery every week, cupping each of their little heads in my hand and whispering, “God, I want this” while biting the inside of my cheek. Five staff members in my office were pregnant at this time, and I warred within my barren self. Infertility creates a bitterness that claws away any attempts to express joy over others’ good fortune. It was hard to pray, hard to know that God is omnipotent but wouldn’t do this one thing for us. I know the kind of prayer that has no words, the one that bubbles up out of dark places that no one wants to confess.

Six weeks after our dossier was mailed and after one long day on my knees, our social worker called with our referral. I stared and stared at that face, our son, the promised little boy, Mente. He was only 3 months old. I pictured him home in 2 months, thought about warming bottles, snuggling him up in sleepers, rocking him to sleep. Matt, overjoyed, showed everyone pictures of his boy.  We gave him a second name, bought a tiny pair of black high top Chuck Taylors. We expected a court date within a month, home with him in two. Weeks passed, and we received no calls. I didn’t want to be obnoxious mother, so I waited 6 weeks before trying to reach our social worker. She didn’t return calls or email. Our agency had changed ownership, but we were never notified. Another adoptive parent finally placed me in touch with the new owner who promised to look into it for us.

During this time, I participated with some friends in a chronological reading through the Bible in 40 days. It was an enormous challenge, but as the timing of our court date neared, The Lord showed me 19 different scriptures to encourage me in our wait. I wrote each one down, little sprinkles as I waited for the rains.

Two more weeks passed, and our new agency contact called. She said there was a problem, one she didn’t understand fully, but it had something to do with our son’s paperwork. She said he never should have been referred to us at all, that he did not have appropriate paperwork to proceed with a court date. Ethiopian Agency staff had assured her that this was correctable with time. I had traveled in Africa twice already by this time, and I knew a little about what Africans really mean when they say it will take time. If they say hours, they mean days, and if they estimate days, they mean weeks or months. This was extremely unsettling for me since no time frame was given at all. Our agency contact said not to worry, the agency feels badly about this delay. “If you would like, there are other children who will be paper ready in a few weeks. They will refer one of these children to you, and when your son’s papers are ready, you can adopt him also,” she assured.

We were terribly disappointed. Not only were we unable to conceive like most families, we were also somehow unable to adopt as well. I simply didn’t understand how God could promise this child to me and not deliver him. I held up the 19 promises I had read during my 40 day study, and argued with God, reminding him of each of those promises. Around this time, we learned that our son’s Ethiopian name means “God can do anything.” I rationalized this delay as God’s way of giving us two children instead of one.

About a month later, our agency called while I was in the midst of an international medicine course out-of-town.  “I have a referral for you,” she said, “a girl.”  How was that possible?  The waiting time for infant girls was nearly two years, and yet there she was, a petite, pink-lipped baby girl, my Lulu.  I spent the rest of the afternoon searching a photo listing where other adoptive parents place photos of the children still living in the orphanage for pictures of my baby girl.  I found only a few and studied her crown of shiny ringlets, the fuchsia birthmark behind her left ear, and her candlestick-thin wrists.  Within the month we were given a court date a few months away.  We packed and prepared, spent a weekend in New York babymooning, and relished our last few months without a child at home.

Finally, on September 24, 2010, we left the crisping, colored trees of our home and set off for Ethiopia, our third visit to this nation of coffee, injera, and incense.  On the flight, I studied scripture and prayed to pass the time.  These verses from the book of Haggai drowned out the engine noise:

” . . . from this day on, from this twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, give careful thought to the day when the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid . . . until now, the pomegranate and the olive tree have not borne fruit.  From this day on, I will bless you.”

Another promise, the barren now bearing fruit.  I believed our court date would be a success.  I am especially sentimental about Ethiopia because I first met Africa there.  Stepping out of the airport we received an assault by color and fragrance, woven scarves, bright blue taxis, cooking spices, soap and exhaust.  We rested that evening and arose early the next morning to meet our daughter.  When we arrived with five other adopting families, we found all the children asleep.  My Lulu was asleep in the first crib, her legs tucked under, fist clutching a square of pink satin.  I knelt by the crib to watch her, wanting desperately to hold her but not wanting to wake her.  She awoke as I snapped a picture, raised her little head, grinned, and then buried it in her lovey.  She popped up again, smiling wide.  I lifted her, held her close for a few minutes, whispering to her, then lifted her to her daddy.  We heard her growl and coo, watched her rake for toys that we offered and practice standing on our thighs.  We fed warmed bottles and held her when she napped.  We stood in the Federal Court of Ethiopia and a gentle Ethiopian judge pronounced, “She is yours.”  We had only to wait for her visa to be issued several weeks later by the U.S. Embassy.

While in Ethiopia, we visited the orphanage across town each day to see Mente, the child we believed to be our son.  The orphanage director was very optimistic, thought he and the social workers had nearly solved our paperwork problem.  We had very little time with him each day since visiting hours were limited and we also wanted to spend time across town with Lulu.

We returned home to await our Embassy appointment, bought dresses and patent leather shoes, invested in a baby carrier, and packed a bag for our daughter.  One month later, we were on our way back to Ethiopia to bring Lulu home.  We relished spending time with our daughter, and each day, we visited Mente in the orphanage.  This time, the orphanage director felt he had done it, repaired the paperwork awaiting only one more document.  We journeyed home optimistic for our future with our two children.

Three weeks after Lulu’s homecoming, our agency contact called to tell us that Mente’s paperwork was complete and had been submitted to Ethiopian court.  We eagerly shared this news with our family and friends.  Not long after, we were given a court date on February 14, 2011, Valentine’s Day.  Finally, this boy would be ours.  We bought a second crib, imagined our two kids playing together in our home.

We boarded our Ethiopian Airlines flight with the same optimism as our prior visits, sure that this time our promised son would be given to us.  He toddled after balls we tossed and played peek-a-boo from under the crib railing.  He played on a blanket spread across the grass of the transition house, the Ethiopian sun grazing us.  In court, the judge said, “Everything looks to be in order, but something is missing.”  We did not pass court, and we had no idea why.  The in-country agency staff didn’t know either but promised to tell us the following day.  I spent most of the night on my knees weeping and begging God to fix this.  What had I done wrong?  We returned to the transition home the next day and were informed that no staff was available as it was a holiday.  We departed Ethiopia that night, without a son and without knowing why.

For weeks we heard nothing from our agency despite calls and emails.  I prayed fervently, but God was also silent.  I felt no encouragement, no reassurance.  Nearly a month later, our agency contact phoned with devastating news: “You did not pass court because Mente’s extended family has been located.  They’ve spoken to his mother, and she has decided to parent him.”  There was such conflict inside me, this intense grief at losing this little boy and still gratitude that he would be united with his birth family.  I felt like he had died, except that he hadn’t.  I felt foolish for grieving a child who was never really mine, silly for owning two cribs but having only one baby.  I imagine this is a little like a miscarriage, a great loss of a child you love intensely but still never really knew, and there is no real support from others because you lost something you never really had.  They do not understand.

The agency promised us another referral within a few weeks since we’d already paid fees for two children and appeared in Ethiopian court for the adoption.  This felt so strange to us though, as if we were replacing one child with another.  My husband explained it to a friend this way:  “Imagine going to pick your child up from daycare.  Your child’s teacher meets you at the door and says, ‘I’m sorry, we’re not able to give your son to you, but if you like we have this adorable little boy you can take home instead.'”  I wrestled so much with my disappointment with God during this time.  After all, he promised Mente to me, and I believed in faith that he would come home, despite his paperwork problems.  The Bible instructs us to have great faith, and I had been obedient.  Why would he promise this boy to me and then allow this?  Did I misunderstand?  I was truly thankful that Mente would live with his birth mother; there is no better outcome for him, but why then, was he referred to us at all?  Why would God allow us to endure this heartache?  I could not understand how to balance having great faith and disappointment, and I could not make sense of any of it.

In May 2011, our replacement referral finally arrived, and I began the process of moving on from Mente and allowing myself to love another baby boy, Teme.  Teme’s paperwork was complete, and we were assured no problems with his adoption.  We did not have to travel for court, so we waited at home for things to progress in Ethiopia.  After already losing a child, I was anxious about falling in love with our new son.  I wouldn’t allow myself to look at his picture or imagine him in my home.  I called him “Maybe Baby,” afraid to get too close.  My reservations weren’t unfounded.  The Ethiopian Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth Affairs office (MOWCYA) must approve every adoption before it is granted by the judge, and they had announced that they would only process cases at a rate of 5% of their previous rate, which meant it was very difficult to pass court quickly.  There were rumors that Ethiopian adoptions may cease altogether.  Night after night, I prayed late into the evening, covering the morning hours in Ethiopia with prayer for Teme.  We fasted regularly.  It took two months for us to pass court in Ethiopia, and another four months before we had clearance from the U.S. Embassy to bring Teme home.

We traveled back to Ethiopia in December 2011 to bring Teme home.  We were horrified to find him malnourished, with sagging skin around his abdomen and thighs, dull eyes, and a silent cry.  His scalp had two painful infections that needed treatment.  We spent our first few days feeding him, holding him, hydrating him, spooning medications into his mouth, and he brightened quickly.  He clung to us constantly and fussed anytime food was nearby and not immediately in front of him.  I ached over his insecurity and promised him he would never hunger again.  On our third day in Ethiopia, we visited the orphanage to bring donations for the children there.  We were met at the door by Yacob, a man we hadn’t met before.  He informed us he was the new director.  He thanked us for our donations and then offered to allow us to visit the children.  In the first room we entered, my eyes fixed immediately on Mente.  I fell to my knees, reached for him, and he stared at me.  As Matt walked in the room Mente cried painfully.  He would not calm until Matt left the room.  Somehow, he remembered us.  It had been nearly a year since we were told that Mente was going to live with his birth family.  My mama anger rose up, and I demanded to know what had happened.  Yacob assured me he would go directly and look at the file.  I spent a few minutes with Mente, his hand resting on my shoulder, and returned to the office where Matt was waiting for Yacob.  Yacob poured over documents coated in Amharic script, Mente’s picture affixed to the top corner of each one.  We explained what we had been told by our agency.  Yacob exclaimed, “All lies!”  Our agency had done what every adoptive parent fears.  They had lied.  Mente lacked a critical document to be eligible for adoption.  Rather than go through proper channels in the Ethiopian government to obtain this document, our agency had substituted documents from a child who had died at the orphanage.  The courts had either recognized this falsehood or identified the family of the deceased child, so we could not adopt him.  Either option is terrible.  Yacob had other bad news.  The agency, the orphanage’s primary source of support, had ceased providing any financial assistance in July 2011, five months before.  They had mounting debts with the school, the hospital.  The rent was unpaid, and they had very little food for the 86 children who remained there, Mente included.

I spent the night on the floor in the bathroom of our guest house, fists clenched, begging God to tell me what to do next.  We couldn’t trust our agency, yet they were primarily responsible for Mente.  We knew nothing of Yacob other than what he told us.  My son was in a struggling orphanage.  How could I leave him?  I poured over my Bible for instruction and read, “By this you know the Spirit of God:  every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God . . .” (1John 4:2).  Did God mean for me to have three children instead of two?  The following day, we met Yacob and bought groceries for the orphanage.  In the car he asked, “Miss Kelly, do you know Jesus?”  He told me that he is an educated man with a university degree in agriculture that could easily find work with a private company.  Instead he feels called to care for orphans, so he stays at the orphanage despite not having any regular pay or any guarantee of support for the children there.  He trusts God to provide for them.  Yacob pledged his support in helping to complete Mente’s paperwork and transferring him to another agency to facilitate the adoption.  Later that day, we went to the Embassy with Teme to obtain his visa.  I happened to be in line behind a woman holding an emaciated infant.  When asked by the Embassy guard which agency she was with, she responded, “None.  This is a private adoption.”  I chose a seat next to her in the waiting area and asked her to tell me her story.  Like us, she had been with a corrupt agency.  She broke all ties with the agency and hired a consultant to help her finish the adoption process, EthioStork, based in Virgina and run by an Ethiopian-born American woman, Duni Zenaye, fluent in both American and Ethiopian customs and intimately acquainted with all stages of the adoption process.  My prayers had been answered.  We at least had a plan.

I contacted EthioStork on Christmas Eve, the day after we arrived home.  A few weeks later I received a reply from Duni.  She agreed that Mente’s adoption was awful on many levels, and she wasn’t certain that she could help, but she offered to try.  I sent her some information and awaited her response.  Meanwhile, we mobilized other adoptive families to provide support to the orphanage.  Some missionary friends offered to facilitate providing food and helping to pay bills there.  Duni visited the orphanage on a trip to Ethiopia in March 2012.  At that point she understood Mente’s paperwork problems and knew how to fix them, but she needed the approval of several governmental officials for it to happen.  We contracted with her formally.  In May, she advised us to apply with a new agency, one she had selected for its reputation for ethical work in Ethiopia.  Mente’s paper problem was nearly resolved, but there was still no guarantee that he would be sent to the new agency.  I gathered signatures and notary stamps, pressed our friends for recommendation letters, and hired a social worker for a new home study.  On June 1st, Mente was transferred to our new agency’s transition home, and I could breathe again knowing that he was in a stable environment.  We completed our dossier in just 4 weeks, and Mente was formally referred to us by our new agency in June.

We had little hope of receiving a court date prior to the 6 week court closures of the Ethiopian rainy season.  Courts generally close for the season in the first week of August and reopen in October.  This year, the courts remained open until August 22, and we were given a court date on August 6th.  We returned to Ethiopia, this time certain that all was in order, and Mente became our son.  We received our Embassy clearance just over a month later, and now we return to Ethiopia to bring him home.  God can indeed do anything.

He’s ours!

I can hardly believe this through my travel fog, but WE PASSED COURT!  Mente is ours!  This boy has been my son since I first heard about him in a quick conversation with our adoption coordinator over two years ago.  Just over a year ago, I believed that he could never be mine, but now, here he is, calling me “mommy.”  I don’t think he really knows what a mommy is yet, but I intend to show him, just as soon as I can get my hands on him permanently.

Now we are waiting on our official court decree, new birth certificates and a passport in Mente’s new name, and a medical exam before we can be submitted to the Embassy.  I hope that process happens quickly.  The Embassy has 5 days to review our case once we are submitted.  Once they have reviewed it, they will either clear us (yay!), request an interview with Mente’s family, or forward the case on to the USCIS office in Nairobi for further investigation.  I think Mente’s case is pretty straightforward, so I’m not expecting any complications.  We have a birth family interview on DVD, so that may be sufficient to clear us immediately, but it would not surprise me if the Embassy requested to interview his relatives.  It shouldn’t be too difficult since they live in Addis Ababa.

I have a flurry of busy-ness now that I have three children.  There’s so much to do still to prepare our home for our third (or first) child.  We have tried to spend as much time as possible with Mente during our 3 days in Addis, so there’s not been time to even think or celebrate properly.  I plan to soak a little in God’s goodness and spend some time thanking and praising him properly.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  John 15:5-8

I want to be certain that anyone reading knows that Mente’s adoption is entirely God’s work.  Some people have commented on our tenacity or dedication to bringing him home.  We only prayed for him and followed the path that God set before us, often times completely unsure what we were doing.  We risked our finances and our emotional stability because we believe that God keeps his promises.  Mente’s case is completely impossible without God.  My son’s Ethiopian name means “God can do anything,” and God has certainly shown us that.

Court Date!

Today, my husband sent me a text message to let me know that we received our tax return today, a substantial sum since we claimed the adoption tax credit last year.  It came earlier than we were expecting, and we are relying on those funds to pay for M’s adoption and travel expenses.  He added, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we had a court date soon.”

Three hours later, my phone rang, our agency calling to let me know we have a court date on August 6th, prior to court closures.  This is, without a doubt, all God.  As late as our paperwork arrived in Ethiopia, I really thought it impossible to get a court date so soon.  Why do I worry?  God has done this, and we are so thankful. 

So, we leave for Ethiopia in two weeks.  TWO WEEKS!  We have no donations gathered, no packing done, and my list of things to do before M arrives is still quite long.  Pray for us as we make arrangements.  I’m so excited to see my boy again!

October Baby

I lean on the barstool in my kitchen and stare at the image of my boy who is so much bigger now than when I first scrolled to his 2 x 2 picture in an email in March 2010.  I keep watching him there on my screen, unsure if he’ll still be there tomorrow.  What a blessing he is, such a miracle, a boy I have deeply grieved, and yet here he is, resurrected on my computer screen.  The right words just won’t come.

“God is not a man, that he should lie,
nor a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill?”

Numbers 23:19 (NIV)

My Lord promised this boy to me.  My Lord has created this family.  I hope anyone who knows our story understands fully that God has orchestrated my children’s homecoming.

Our family coordinator sent me a message yesterday to tell me that my M’s birthday is in October.  We know this to be true based on a very early document from his history.  I am so glad to know this for him.  I will also be wearing opal from time to time, in his honor.  🙂

God has this

I don’t know why I worry about things when this is our third adoption.  We never set out to adopt three kids.  We only planned on one, but here we are, about to send our paperwork for #3, only 6 months after bringing #2 home.  We have seen clearly how God has intervened in our adoption process each time, and yet I still worry, maybe not quite as much, but I catch myself trying to estimate our DTE date and court date and embassy and ultimately homecoming, as if I have any control in the matter.  It is stressful and arrogant, to think that I could dictate the arrival of a child.

God is already at work, has been for quite some time for my little M.  Most recently, my husband and I have been concerned about where we would find the funds needed to adopt him.  We had to hire a consultant to complete a background investigation prior to the adoption (expensive, but money well-spent), and we are working with an agency that is much more expensive (though also more reputable) than our previous one.  With two small ones in diapers and daycare, we just weren’t sure where the money would come from.  We will need about $10,000 this week to pay fees to immigration and our agency for the dossier submission.  My husband prepared to take a loan against our home to make up for the difference between our bank account and that $10,000.  Today, we received a check from our state for $7600 that we did not expect.  Last year, we filed our taxes and claimed the adoption tax credit for our state.  When we received our return, it came with a letter saying funds for the tax credit had been depleted, and we assumed we would not receive the money.  It appears the state paid it this year, with interest.  That plus $16,000 that we are awaiting from this year’s federal tax return (including the adoption tax credit), and we’re nearly funded for this adoption.  God is good.  He surprises me with his provision all the time.

Our home study was completed today.  I’m going to pick it up tomorrow morning and take it with the dossier to be authenticated downtown.  Our I-600A will be in the mail tomorrow morning, and hopefully, we’ll be fingerprinted and receive our I-171H soon.  I’ll seen the dossier to our agency just as quickly as I get it back from the authentication office, and I hope we’ll be DTE by the end of the week.  Chances of having court prior to court closures in August are pretty slim, but I can hope. God can do anything.  Surely, whatever he chooses will be best.

A Gift in Faith

My husband is a man of faith. Generally speaking, he believes God.  Last year for Mother’s Day, he bought me a blue topaz necklace and earrings, Lulu’s birthstone.  For Christmas this year, he bought me a sapphire necklace, Teme’s birthstone.  This year for Mother’s Day he bought me two sets of earrings, one opal and one yellow topaz.  We don’t actually know when M’s birthday is yet.  It’s sometime between October and December, but we just aren’t sure.  His documents have three different dates in three different months.  I’m hoping that information will be clarified some when his orphan investigation is completed.  We don’t even know if M will ever be ours, but my husband is believing in faith that I’ll be able to confidently wear one pair of these earrings soon.

So, here are the choices.  Any guesses?  Matt is rooting for October, but I’m rooting for November.

We had a nice day today.  I had to work this morning, so I visited 5 newborns at the hospital and wished each of their mothers well.  I caught the end of our church’s service, chatted with a few friends.  Matt made lunch and I worked on some Bible study while the kids napped.  After they woke up, we went to the park, ate a PB&J picnic, and let the kids run silly for two hours.  We arrived home in time to read a few stories, snuggle the kids up in their jammies, and put them to bed.

Oppression

Oppress – abuse, afflict, burden, crush, depress, dispirit, harass, lie heavy on, mistreat, overwhelm, persecute, sadden, subdue, suppress, torment, trample, and weigh heavy

I am in the midst of an oppression of sorts.  I have been challenged personally and professionally more in the last few weeks than I have ever been in my life.  A series of different circumstances have arisen all in a very short time which have questioned my integrity, professional judgement, and personal safety.  Obviously, I cannot discuss details of any of these except to say that I feel attacked and helpless.  I examine myself over and over, searching my methods, my motives, wondering if I have been careless or misguided.  After some very thorough introspection, I do not think that I have.  I am innocent.  Even so, I consider how I could have communicated better, spoken more clearly, asked more questions, glimpsed the nuances of tone and body language.  I feel I have failed somehow.  This burdens me.

These professional struggles arrived as we wait for the final step in the adoption of our son, a child who is already legally my own but still lives in an orphanage in Africa.  I ache over him constantly.  I am the mother of a child whom I have never met, who grows older week by week, and I am helpless.  There is nothing that I can do to bring him home.  There are other challenges as well, relational problems among friends (that I somehow feel personally responsible for), family members with deteriorating health and crumbling marriages.

Daily, I feel a physical and tangible weight, a heaviness pressing down, as if the Earth’s pull has somehow strengthened and caused the atmosphere to thicken.  The physician in me checks lists of depressive symptoms, reaching for some self-diagnosis and clarity.  I am not depressed.  I am oppressed.  The Bible is clear that I have an enemy, and because my enemy has already lost my soul, he will settle for destroying everything else.  There is a great war that I cannot see, but I can feel it.  So I pray that my eyes will be opened, that I might be alert.  I pray for conviction when I have caused my own troubles.  I pray for clarity, for compassion, for forgiveness.  I ask God to make me better than I am.  I ask him to give me grace and peace.  I ask others to pray.

I feel silly talking about this oppression, which I know is only momentary, an inconvenience, a time to be brought low, when I know that so many others experience oppression that I know nothing about.  There are thousands of young women (children really) forced into prostitution, raped dozens of times every day, some sold by their own parents into brothels where they inherit disease and disgrace.  There are places where children not old enough to attend school are captured by radical armies and taught to murder their families and their neighbors.  They know nothing except brutality.  Billions of people spend hours each day just searching for enough food and water to survive.  I have never worried for water.  I have never ached for food.  I have never been enslaved or violated.

I am foolish, reeking of arrogance again, worried about all these momentary things when God is able.  His promise is redemption.  I am so blessed.  The weight and the wait remain with me, but I remember my husband who brings me water whenever I ask and massages my head when I have thought too hard.  I remember my daughter who loves my singing and pats my cheek and offers her puckered pink lips for kisses over and over.  I remember diagnoses-found, when lives have been saved and mothers have been comforted.  I remember friends who pray, who send me text-messages to encourage me on hard days.   I remember my mother, who prays long for her daughter, who inserts my name into the scriptures that she reads and speaks blessings over me.  I am bowed low before my Lord, unworthy of all this grace.

“The righteous cries out and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:17-18

Good Thoughts

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and well-fed,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?”  –James 2:15-16

 

I have thought about this for a long time, but this particular rant results from my observations of Facebook commentary.  On many occasions I have seen my friends ask for prayer over particular things, gallbladder surgery, pneumonia, bike accidents, a splenic laceration, delayed adoption paperwork, dying grandmothers, the severe illness of the family dog, chronic pain.  I think it is good to share struggles and seek prayer from as many as possible.  That is one of the things that makes Facebook great.  Communication with hundreds of people is effortless, and suddenly prayers from all over the world drift like smoke signals to God’s ears to on your behalf.  That is a beautiful thing because prayers are powerful.

 

Here is my problem.  Many times, over and over when I read comments on these pleas for intercession, I find others offering to send “good thoughts.”  How does this help the afflicted?  Maybe I don’t understand, but what power do these good thoughts have over the circumstances of my friends?  Can these thoughts heal or guide the hands of surgeons?  Do they prevent accidents or motivate foreign governments to action?  Do they soothe the grieving?  While I appreciate the courtesy, I don’t see how the offer of good thoughts is helpful.  I imagine that saying “good thoughts” makes the “thought-giver” feel better, but who exactly is the recipient of these thoughts?  Must I receive a certain number before good comes my way?  Do bad thoughts travel this way as well?  Is it possible to cause calamity simply by thinking?  Surely humans should not possess this power.

 

For me, good thoughts in the end amount to worry.  When I am dwelling on good thoughts for my friends and family in need, really, I am considering contingencies, reviewing the possible outcomes, wondering how my friends will handle things if the good thoughts don’t work out.  I have started with good thoughts and ended up in a worried stress frenzy.  I appreciate so much what Francis Chan has to say about this.  In his book, Crazy Love, he says, “Both worry and stress reek of arrogance.”  Worry and stress presume that I am in control somehow, which I am not.  They imply that my God doesn’t care enough about me and my friends to take care of our circumstances, and ultimately, by allowing this stress, I begin to believe that my concerns are important enough to excuse me from being impatient, ungraceful, overly controlling, and generally unpleasant.  These good thoughts can become quite complicated.  Personally, I don’t want to reek of anything, especially not arrogance.

 

I know not everyone shares my faith, but then I wonder, if I did not have this faith, what would I do?  If I did not believe that God is a benevolent, sovereign, omniscient God who hears our prayers, where could I turn?  If I did not know that prayer is powerful, what hope would I have?  Would it be sufficient for me to place my faith in the good thoughts of others?  I think I would be left at the mercy of circumstance which gives me no assurance at all.  I think thoughts about anyone’s misfortune should motivate action.  Sometimes there are tangible ways to help, buying some groceries, cooking a warm meal, listening to a distraught friend, providing physical comfort and encouragement.  More though than any visible action, prayer helps in ways we cannot know.  Prayer places us in a place of dependence on God so that we can receive the outflow of his grace.  By interceding for our friends, we direct them towards the Almighty, the lover of our souls.  I just don’t see how any amount of just thinking or wishing can accomplish as much.

Weary

We find ourselves waiting, still waiting.  I’m not sure how long to say we’ve been waiting.  We’ve waited to conceive for 3 1/2 years, waited 20 months to adopt a son, waited 4 weeks to hear about baby T’s court date.  I am weary of waiting.  It makes me tired.  It is so much harder not having any way to count down.  When I was young, my mother usually had a countdown to Christmas calendar of some sort.  I remember gluing cotton balls to spaces circled on a Christmas tree to mark each day from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day.  Somehow, the counting helps pass the time, marks the days with a goal in sight.  I have no markers now to measure the distance to the finish line.  Guessing at it only leads to disappointment.  I can quantify and track each day that passes without news, each month of my son’s life that passes without knowing him.  It’s too defeating though.  Rather, I try very hard to focus on my girl, my sweet Lulu.  She has been with us for 8 months.  Next month we will have known her for as much time as we missed of her little life.  The following month she will have been with us for as long as she was without us.  My girl is 18-months-old and growing and changing every day.

 

Most days I can keep my Maybe Baby at a safe distance, but every little while this waiting comes bubbling over and suddenly I have oatmeal burned all over my ceramic cook top, and I cannot be consoled.  This week’s events have not helped.  I have had three complete strangers ask me this week if I can have kids “of my own.”  Usually I just smile and say, “not yet,” but what I want to say (quite rudely) is “SHE IS MY OWN!”  What does it matter if she came from my uterus or not?  One woman (who I’d met only moments before) offered to be my surrogate so I can have “my own child.”  Truly, I know that she was trying to be helpful, but really, THINK!  Just think a little bit before you say something ridiculous.  I am irritated by all of this questioning.  What these individuals don’t realize is that this line of questioning about biology invalidates my daughter, and it invalidates me as her mother.  It implies that I cannot possibly love her as much as I would love a child with my DNA and that my life is endlessly lacking because I am missing out on having matching cells.   I think these individuals assume that since we have no home-grown children we cannot possibly know whether we love our adopted children the same.  They are not certain.   I am absolutely certain that I love my Lulu just as I would love any other child raised in my home, from my womb or not.  I love two little boys in Ethiopia as my own even though they are not my own.  One of them will never be mine.  The other I have never met, but I love them anyway, just like I love my Lulu.

Holding My Hand

Tomorrow we have court for baby T.  It is 7:00 am in Ethiopia right now, and I am praying for our social worker, the representatives from MOWCYA responsible for our letter, and the beautiful, soft-spoken Ethiopian judge who presides over adoptions.  I visualize the street outside the court, the stairs, the hall, and the room of waiting adoptive families and relinquishing birth parents.  I have approached this court date as if it did not exist, keeping it only under a blanket in my mind.  I have casually referred to our sweet referral as “Maybe Baby,” not wanting to get too close if things didn’t work out.  I hesitate to even look at his picture.  I’m not sure I believed this day would come.  This morning, I started cataloging all the reasons this adoption is destined to fail.  The odds are against us.  Within minutes, before I even arrived at work, I allowed myself to become so distressed that I wasn’t sure how I would competently see my patients.  I know that our adoption agency has been suspended and that they are guilty of dishonest practices in the past.  They cannot be trusted.  I know that MOWCYA is processing only about 5 cases per day and that there is an enormous backlog of waiting cases yet to be processed.  We have failed court in the past.  All of this leads me to believe that we will not pass court this time, and then I wonder if we will ever pass court.  If we do not, what then?  Where is the baby that belongs in my empty crib?

This morning I knew that if I did not sit quietly before God that my anxiety would grow exponentially, and I would cease to function.  As I believe God would have it, I had an unusually slow morning in clinic which then gave me a completely free lunch hour.  I started my standard stress response, writing.  I haven’t allowed myself to write freely in months, but I needed to be honest, and paper is the easiest way for me to be truthful.  So, I wrote out all of my worries.  I told God that I felt I hadn’t heard from him about this adoption.  I’m not sure whether to interpret his silence as a call to trust him or a warning that things are not going well.  I have no reassurance.  I feel guilty for even desiring reassurance.  God has blessed my life over and over; I know the scriptures, and I know that he is faithful.  I have no justification for demanding even more proof.  Even so, God chose to meet me in my office.

While I asked questions and begged God to bring our baby home, I struggled with doubt, worried that we will be struck down and be out one trip to Ethiopia, several months of waiting, and several thousand dollars (these are compelling reasons, by the way, that we deserve to get our baby, as if we really deserve anything, but if I were in charge . . .).  I added up all the reasons that we should pass court, as if I could really earn the right to parent this child.  I asked God to give me peace.  I asked myself if I am really convinced that the Lord is good no matter what.  I know that if our son ever comes home it will only be because God ordained it.  Do not fear.  I wrote all of this down in a little Clairefontaine spiral notebook.  I flipped through an ESV Bible that I downloaded to my iPad as I wrote.  I settled in Isaiah, one of my favorite books, and randomly selected chapter 40.  First I came to Isaiah 40:5, “the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  I know that God’s will is his will.  No purpose of his can be thwarted.  If this is our baby, nothing will keep him from us.  I came to Isaiah 40:31, “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”  I read on, and this passage grabbed me:

“For I, the Lord your God

hold your right hand.

It is I who say to you

‘Fear not

I am the one who helps you.’”

Isaiah 41:13

As I wrote, ballpoint pen in my right hand, I saw my Lord.  Why do I doubt?  He is here.  I confessed my doubt and praised my Lord for seeing me and meeting me in my little office just to hold my hand and reassure me that he is good.  Does this mean that we will pass court tomorrow?  Not necessarily, but it means that God will only allow what is necessary.  He only delays if his timing requires it.  He only says “no” if he has something better planned.  I don’t know his plans and purposes, but I know that they are good and that they will be accomplished.

This is my desire, that the adoption of my children brings glory to God.  Years ago, I thought that was a silly idea.  How can a minuscule, faulty human bring glory to the God of the universe.  Now I understand.  We glorify God any time that we reveal his character to others.  We glorify God when we make him known.  I pray that our adoption and the lives of our sweet children bring glory to God.

I began by writing questions.

“I the Lord will answer them.”

What now?

“I the God of Israel will not forsake them . . .  that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it” (Isaiah 41:17, 20).

I asked the Lord for peace, and God has granted me the thing that I asked of him.