Heartbreaking

My friend and Gladney buddy, Missy, of It’s Almost Naptime, is in Ethiopia right now on her family’s first trip to meet their new daughter, a darling 25-month-old little girl whom they will spend only a few hours with this week during their visit to pass court, and then hopefully go back within a couple of months to bring home for good. Missy and her husband Walker (whom I’ve been friends with since our days at Texas A & M) got on the wait list at Gladney just three months before we did, so we’ve really appreciated being able to watch each phase of their adoption journey. I’ve loved the pictures and updates she’s sent this week as they meet their daughter, and experience Ethiopia for the first time.

As part of our trips to visit Ethiopia, we are given the opportunity to visit government orphanages and see the reality of what life is like for many of the children who are not brought into care at a Gladney or other type facility. Missy’s blog post today after their visit to an orphanage makes my heart hurt, but I want to share it, because the sad truth is that children in so many countries are brought up in these conditions. You can read Missy’s post here as well. As a side note, neither Missy’s daughter, nor our future daughter reside in government facilities like this. Instead they live in a Gladney foster care center where as much as possible, they are held and loved on and played with, and are able to develop an attachment to their caregivers. 

No pictures allowed

We went to visit the government orphanages today.
The one where they keep the babies, no cameras were allowed. So I can’t post a photograph of the police van driving up as soon as we arrived, nor the police women who jumped out of the back of it with a five day old baby girl, wrapped in swaddling clothes, who had been abandoned at a hospital. Which happens sometimes as many as five times a day, we were told.
I can’t show you a picture of the bleak room we entered where fifty or so children, all dressed exactly alike in white tshirts and blue pants, immediately surrounded us as we walked in. Have you ever thrown a piece of bread in a pond just to watch the ducks fight each other for it? Imagine that, but with toddlers, literally crawling our legs. They swarmed all of us, including my children, but we mothers were attacked the most voraciously, so desperate were they for a mother’s embrace. I can’t show you the face of one of them, a boy I think, as I held him tightly, but imagine the purest joy you’ve ever seen. Then another climbed my leg and I held one in each arm as they clung to me, burying their faces in my neck until they pulled away and laughed.
And I’m sorry I can’t show you a picture of the bright sunny small room at the top of the stairs where the walls were lined with cribs. Even if I could, you couldn’t hear what I heard, which, aside from the caretakers chatting to each other, was silence.  Except for one chubby little girl who must have been new to the orphanage and therefore still mistakenly believed that if she cried, someone might come. She sat whimpering in her crib with a confused look on her face. In the picture I can’t show you you’d see that they were all clean and had dry diapers and were fed and appeared healthy, including the newly born, yet already orphaned babies sleeping wrapped in blankets. The other three in the small room, old enough to sit or stand, just stared at us, silently. All of them curious, except for one.
I can’t show you his picture. But he was sitting up, so he must have been about eight months old. He was wearing a hot pink sweatshirt with an American label and a diaper and he had those beautiful Ethiopian almond eyes.  He did not look at us. He stared straight ahead, at nothing. I can’t show you a picture of what it looks like for tiny almond shaped eyes to be completely hopeless. I can tell you though that when I reached for him, he flinched. But as I continued to hold my arms out, he cautiously rocked his little body closer, still not looking at me. And when I picked him up he melted into my chest completely and very soon I could tell that his breathing had regulated to mine. And he felt like he was mine.
But then I had to put him down. And he cried, probably for the first time in a long time he cried, painfully cried, and I looked desperately at one of the caretakers begging her with my eyes to please, just hold him. And she did, but she almost immediately put him back in his crib. I can’t show you a picture of him banging his head against the sides of the crib in frustration. Or of the worker scooting him back and shaking her finger and fussing at him in Amharic.
Imagine him going silent again. Imagine him staring, at nothing, again.
I can’t show you a picture of the next room, which was sunny and bright, where twenty or so cribs lined the perimeter and were also paired in a line down the center, with two to four infants in each crib. You can’t see that the mattresses were raised too high for most of the children, who should have been crawling out at their ages, but weren’t. Imagine them all beautiful, perfect. Imagine half of them napping. The other half sat or laid in their cribs, empty except for their tiny bodies. No toys. Most of them were under one year, only three seemed older than that. Twin little girls were in one crib who may have been two. One little girl seemed at least three, and she sat in her crib, making no noise, just smiling shyly, on the too-high mattress.
I can’t show you a photo of my son, my firstborn, going from crib to crib, tickling, hugging, kissing, playing patty cake with each baby, just as had been done to him every day of his infancy. I can’t show you how their eyes lit up as he bent his blond head over them and gave them each a nickname: Smiley, Cutie, Jailbreak. How they tried to sit up and reach out their little brown hands to touch him. How they drooled and smiled toothless smiles at him. How their coos and giggles broke the silence in the room of fifty babies. How when he left them, they looked disappointed, but not surprised.

 

I’m sorry, but I can’t show you any pictures of this because the government wouldn’t let us take any photographs.

Thankfulness

I Thessalonians 5:18 is a well-known verse: “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you…”

This verse arrives in the chapter right after we are instructed to rejoice always, and pray without ceasing. All of which God must have known we humans would struggle with, and struggle with aplenty, especially in this fallen, sin-riddled world.

It seems then, that during a season of Thanksgiving, I should not be surprised when my ability to give thanks is tested. Such was the case this year, though nothing we struggled with was nearly as challenging as some of the very, very hard circumstances many in this world are faced with each day. This blog entry will feel a bit long and tedious and I don’t expect many to read it all the way through, but I want to get it down in writing for my own remembrance. Because we truly have so very much to give thanks for this year.

The Monday night before Thanksgiving, our oldest child began experiencing very sharp chest pain which continued through the night. Any sharp intake of breath also caused pain, and she was unable to lie down, and could only get relief while sitting propped up with pillows. We got her comfortable in the recliner in the living room and there she spent a fitful night. These were scary hours for her, and for us, and a morning call to the pediatrician didn’t offer any answers except the directive to go straight to the ER and get a chest x-ray. Jay accompanied Abigail so that I could stay home with the rest of our children, and hours later we learned that our daughter had a nasty case of bacterial pneumonia which had resulted in fluid accumulating in her left lung, thereby causing the excruciating pain. We were shocked at the diagnosis, but actually quite relieved it was “only” pneumonia, given some of the other possibilities chest pain presents. But we called my family immediately to tell them we could no longer spend Thanksgiving weekend with them as planned, and this was terribly disappointing for all of us, because we all get together once a year at best due to one of my siblings living in the Northeast now. My mother had planned a professionally-photographed family portrait for Friday morning since there were two new babies in the family since we had last taken a picture together, and I hated to be the one to ruin her wonderful photograph, but of course it couldn’t be helped.

And yet, here was an opportunity to give thanks: for incredible medical care not five miles from our home, for relief from pain for my precious daughter, for antibiotics to combat the infection in her lungs, for the ability to bring her home and put her to bed in a warm, comfortable place where she could rest and recuperate. For all the family and friends who prayed for us during that day while we waited for news, and loved us enough to keep calling/texting/emailing for updates.

While Jay was with Abigail at the ER, I had to accompany our second oldest to the surgeon’s office to have some pins removed from his arm that had been placed there during surgery several weeks before. The pin removal was done with no anesthesia, and our boy, who has some sensory issues combined with quite a bit of anxiety was rather undone by the procedure. It was not only painful, but a highly stressful ordeal for him, and all this was going on while we continued to wait for results on Abigail’s situation. To say I felt a bit of stress myself puts it mildly. If they’d offered me a margarita to suck down before they began the procedure, I’d have gladly accepted, and shared half with Jonathan.

But here was another opportunity to give thanks: that despite his very real struggles, Jonathan made it through the procedure without fully “losing it”, and had that little victory to be proud of.  That after a bad break, and surgery, that his arm was nicely healed, and that we enjoyed care from one of the best orthopedic surgeons in Dallas who tended to his injury. That I had not one but at least five offers of childcare for my younger two while I took him for his pin removal, again for family, friends, and neighbors who care for us so well.

Thanksgiving Day we spent at home; due to the somewhat last minute nature of our holiday plans, we opted not to cook a turkey feast, but Jay kindly offered to try his hand at a prime rib roast, which it turns out he will now be asked to prepare for each and every family holiday because it was so. incredibly. delicious!! While the lovely roast was cooking, and we were cleaning up the kitchen from some of the meal preparations, we noticed the sink starting to back up, not just in the kitchen, but the laundry room as well…and yes, of course, we ended up with a plumbing backup on Thanksgiving Day, when it turns out, no plumbers will call you back even if you offer to pay them a premium to do so. After a couple of hours of effort to dislodge the leak himself to no avail, Jay spent the last hours of the evening on his hands and knees doing dishes in the stand-up shower near the kitchen. Sigh…

So…thankfulness here?? Well…honestly I wasn’t feeling all that thankful. I was actually leaning more toward fretful, because after delaying their visit to us due to the pneumonia, my sister and her family were due to arrive on Friday, and here we were without ability to clean dishes or laundry, and the mess was right in the area of the house where they would have to stay. But I was reminded that I take for granted our constant access to clean, running, hot and cold water, and the reality that we have machines that will wash our dishes while we sleep, and clean our clothes while we take a trip to the grocery store. Amazing. How thankful we should always be for these admitted luxuries.

We figured after the plumbing backup was cleared on Friday morning that the worst of this weekend was behind us, and we could concentrate on preparing to welcome our beloved houseguests who were soon to arrive from Austin. But before they could get here we were greeted by houseguests of another kind, and I don’t mean the human kind. During a trip to the garage to grab something out of the fridge in there, I heard the tiniest movement near the wall, and reported my suspicions to the man of the house, who quickly confirmed that yes, there was a critter hiding out behind the refrigerator, likely having come in from out of the cold to take refuge under the warmth of the nice garage appliance. Sigh. Over the next 48 hours, the man of the house and his eldest son trapped 9 of these critters and as I write this, they are still waging war on the uninvited houseguests, much to the dismay of yours truly. I hate critters. Despise them. Get all yucky feeling just imagining them…so let’s just say that knowing they are trying to take advantage of and stake claim to my warm garage is quite upsetting to me. And what’s even worse: I have had the unfortunate experience of being in the garage while a trap goes off loudly, mere feet from where I am standing, accompanied by awful squeaking sounds…and well, this was almost more than I could handle.

I’m still working on giving thanks in this circumstance; the best I can come up with is this: if I have to have critters in my garage, I am so glad I have a brave husband and son who are willing to handle the nasty task of disposing of them. And at least for now, I am very, very thankful that the vermin are out there and not in here…and I pray it stays that way.

I told a friend at church yesterday that I’m waiting for things to settle down to normal around here…that I’m really and truly ready for normal, whatever in the world that looks like. Admittedly, I’d love to experience “normal” before we get that call for a referral for a precious little girlie in Ethiopia who we are dying to meet. I’d like to be able to fantasize about bringing our girl home to a more “normal” household and family. Wouldn’t that be best for her, anyway? Doesn’t God think maybe she could use some “normal” after all she will have been through in her short life? And it is with this thought that it hits me that no, I don’t think I need to be looking around the corner for “normal”…because didn’t that verse back in Thessalonians talk about rejoicing always and giving thanks in every circumstance (even, and especially when life isn’t “normal”?).  Because how much more incredible is it that God sees fit to use me, to use us, our family, in all our imperfection and with all our various “issues”, to accomplish his will in this world?!

I don’t really know if I will be any better at giving thanks in all circumstances from here on out. However, I’m quite sure our family will never forget this rather odd Thanksgiving week where we were faced with a little collection of opportunities in which we could choose to rejoice and give thanks, or throw up our hands and pout about life. May God give us all the grace and ability to see his hand at work in each of our lives, so that we can give thanks in both the good and the bad that comes our way. And now it is only fitting that I tell you, dear Reader, that if you have managed to hang with me all the way to the end of this long entry, that I am very thankful for you and your patience!!

24 months!

Today marks 24 months on the wait list.

Or, if you prefer smaller numbers, 2 years on the wait list.

Which is another way of saying today marks two years since we became what is known as “dossier ready” in the adoption world, ie: our dossier was complete and logged in with the powers that be in Ethiopia. Since that time we have been legally eligible to receive a referral for a little girl who will, Lord willing, some day join our family. We began our process closer to three years ago, but have chosen to keep track of the official dossier-ready date since that is more common among our friends and acquaintances who are in the middle of or have completed the adoption process.

Tonight Abigail and I had the radio on while we drove home. I wasn’t listening all that closely but my ears perked up when the strains of a familiar Christmas tune began. How could that be? It’s only November 16th, and Thanksgiving is almost a full week away. Shocked that this radio station should commit the egregious sin of playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving week has even begun, I tried to change the channel, but Abigail insisted that she loves Christmas music and couldn’t I please just keep it on for her sake? I grumbled and muttered something about people who insist upon running all the holidays together, blah blah blah but eventually I joined my daughter in belting out a few Christmas tunes and we had a jolly time singing together.

And then it happened. After “Do You Hear What I Hear” finished playing, the station that doesn’t know you’re not supposed to play Christmas music till it’s Christmastime played the song that was performed back in 1984 by a collaboration of British artists known as “BandAid” (including Bono, David Bowie, and Sting plus many others) for the purpose of helping to raise awareness of the terrible famine that was impacting Ethiopia at the time. The performance brought in millions of dollars of aid and the song has become so popular that you’ll hear it over and over again on your local radio stations around the Christmas holiday. And, as I learned today, even well before the holiday. So be it.

The song is called “Do They Know It’s Christmastime” and ok, sure, it’s not the most amazing prose ever crafted, but it was written with Ethiopia’s children in mind so it hit home pretty hard on this, our two year anniversary of officially waiting for Little Sister. And I realized that wherever she is right now, and whatever loss or tragedy she has suffered in her short life so far, she doesn’t yet know she is loved and wanted and yearned for by a family around the globe who wonders how many more months it will be till we see her little face and know who she is. And even if we get a referral tomorrow (which we won’t because I’m pretty sure Gladney doesn’t give referrals out on the weekends) there is no way she’d be home in time this year to spend Christmas with us, here in our home, as part of our family. All of this came in a rush at me while Bono sang his heart out about Ethiopia and I began sobbing and crying for this little girl whom we have spent years journeying to, but whom we have not yet reached.

And now, if I were a great writer, I would pen a paragraph here which ties all this up into some tidy and finished package, bringing in the unmistakable comparison about how we weren’t even aware of God’s love and care for us, or our need for His grace and love, and yet He pursued us passionately and at great cost to Himself. With an undying, unfailing, never giving up, never stopping love. But I don’t feel any compulsion to present you with a neat package or a beautifully crafted ending. Because adoption is not neat or tidy and because we don’t yet know how this story turns out.

And so for now, we continue to wait. And to pray. To love this little girl we haven’t yet met or even seen a picture of. And to trust God for what lies ahead for her and for our family, for tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.