Our Adoption Journeys



"Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me."Psalm 66:16

Our Adoption Journeys

God has formed our family in a miraculous way.  From around the world God has led us to our children… Russia, Ethiopia, China, and currently Eastern Europe.  Though we have (soon) seven amazing adopted blessings, only two of their stories are currently written below.  We are working on the rest. 

We want these stories to be a testimony to God’s goodness. 

You may wish to read the stories not yet condensed into one post or video.

The trip to our 6th and 7th children (our twins from Ethiopia) or to our 8th blessing (daughter Jael from China) are listed “Kat’s Kat-agories” at the bottom of the blog.  Just click on “Trip to Bring Home the Twins from Ethiopia” or “Journey to Jael”.

Our journey to our son Jonathan Sasha Thomas in Eastern Europe didn't turn out as we planned, but GOD's blessings are SO much better!  On his 9th birthday we found that he is now running through meadows and on streets of gold...in the presence of our Savior.  He IS our 9th child.  If you wish to read about the beauty and pain of Jonathan's journey, please see "Journey to Jonathan".

Benjamin is our unexpected blessing...which are some of the best!  It has been a hard and painful journey to our 10th child, our sweet Ben.  If you wish to read his story, please see "Journey to Ben"

Timothy came home most recently.  The trip changed me.  It was beautiful and hard.  If you search "The Treasure of Timothy" or April/May 2016 you can read his story.

We are now traveling a new road...to Grace and Glory.

Max

OUR JOURNEY TO MAX

It was a normal Sunday, like any other Sunday when, while setting in church listening to a sermon Thomas and I both received this wild intense feeling of anticipation. You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach that either feels like a thousand butterflies or that you’re going to throw up. Neither Thomas nor I talked about it until after church was over, but when we did it was so odd. This is somewhat of how it went.

“Honey, I just got the weirdest feeling”
“Ya, me too”
“It’s like something big is going to happen! Really big!”
“Ya! I don’t if its going to be good or bad, but it’s gonna be huge!”

Through much nudging and a couple of good clunks over our heads, God brought into both of our hearts (separately) the knowledge that is was time to start the adoption process. My husband and I knew, before we ever married that we wanted to adopt. We knew the situations of the children. We had seen the programs and heard the stories (both good and bad).

The knowledge that it was our time to consider adoption came after 9 years of marriage and 3 biological children (our youngest being 2). We felt the call, in souls, in our spirit. We didn’t have the money, but when God calls you, you answer.

We decided to look for an agency first, though we weren’t really sure where to start…not really.

We looked everywhere until we found a wonderful Agency called “Hope International”. After the endless searching, researching, and phone calls, we dialed a number that changed our lives. We were not sure “Hope” was a Christian Agency and we weren’t even sure that we should call. That was until the previous executive director Susan answered the phone and we found that she was a member of the Church of Christ and had also attended the same University that we had! We had even met her previously. They also had a main social worker/adoption advocate that is a Christian as well (as well as their staff). Not only this, but their office was only 40 minutes away. We were to find out the many benefits of this later on. Everything started falling into place at this point.

Then we needed to decide where we wanted to adopt from.

My husband and I knew from the start that we wanted to adopt internationally. Children here in the U.S. need homes every bit as much as the precious children overseas. And though some are in deplorable situations right here in the U.S., the Institutionalized children in so many developing countries are struggling for even the basic necessities. Every child has a right to love, but international adoption just happened to be our decision. The only difficulty we saw was the “Hope” worked from countries that we had not yet considered. Russia and China were the predominate ones. We actually leaned toward China since we didn’t care what color our child’s skin was; only that he was ours.

But a strange thing happened, all through this process of choices, we had people constantly talking of Russia. We heard “My neighbor adopted from there” to” my sister used to work in a hospital there.”. None of these things changed our minds though. It was a little story about a young boy adopted by a couple like us that already had biological children.

This couple had biological children, but they always knew they wanted to adopt. When they went to Russia to pick up their two year old son he was wearing pink stretch pants and a thin sweater, that’s all he had. The orphanage asked for the clothes back, because they needed them.

We discovered Russia had around 700,000 orphans (since communism fell it had doubled). It has risen since we adopted in 2003 though. It has currently 880,000 orphans. For many of the children, human touch is an uncommon event. Most are malnourished and developmentally delayed. There are so many stories from so many countries, but Russia captured our hearts. The need is everywhere, but after much prayer and searching we decided on Russia.

We had decided to adopt a little boy (between 12 and 18 months old). T.C. (our oldest at 8) had stated quite definitely that he is "girl trapped" and Anna (our youngest) was just 2 when we began this adoption process and we felt it would be best to adopt younger than her.

Every roadblock we have had (and there have been some significant ones) God has provided a way. We had our home study. Now that was a stressful experience (totally us, not them)! We struggled to financially get everything together, but with help from friends and family and a lot of faith, God provided. We received INS approval. The approval, which usually takes about 4 months to receive back (after fingerprinting), took 2 1/2 weeks.

We then received our referral, a video of little Nikolai. He was (and is) beautiful. Nikolai was only 9 1/2 months old in this video and first thing we noticed about him were his liquid brown eyes. He was tiny with layers of clothes on including a little girl’s shirt. He kept one of his fists closed most of the time, which we have heard is common in many institutionalized children (he out grew this quickly upon arriving home). After what seemed like a long wait for the dossier to be accepted (that's a story within itself) we finally were able to receive a court date. Ten days later we left for Moscow, Russia. Max was 13 months old.

We arrived in Moscow too late on Friday to see Nikolai. As Gregary, our driver (also an engineer), took us to our apartment we were stunned at the buildings surrounding us. The history in Moscow is amazing. Even the most beautiful buildings had paint peeling and had none of the modern look we are used to in America. The streets and the buildings make you feel as if you’re living a part of history. Moscow celebrated its 856th year this year Gregary stated.

We learned very quickly that driving in Moskva (as Moscow is called) takes courage of its own. The lines in the street mean nothing. Pedestrians have no right-of-way. We were surrounded by the sound of horns blaring and these amazingly strong Russian voices yelling aggressively at other drivers. There are very few cars with seat belts. We found that you get in the car, close your eyes, and pray (smile) and we were ones that had an amazing driver. It's funny, after a couple days and you find yourself totally relaxed after you have almost got in your 3rd accident of the day (smile).

We arrived at our apartment. It was in a beautiful old building that had a sense of history of it's own. We stayed in a small one bedroom, very European looking apartment. It has hardwood floors and these beautiful ancient looking chandeliers. It has a washer, but generally no one feels the need to have a dryer. You hang your clothes and iron them to complete the drying. It had a small kitchen, a living room, a restroom with a bath and is actually quite pretty. The front door is actually two very heavy doors, each with heavy bolts on both. One door swung outward (the outer door) and one swung inward (the inner door) – for added strength and safety. The halls and floors outside the apartment are cement, but functional and quite old (and run down). It had its own unique Russian feel.

We woke up the following morning anticipating just being able to touch the littlest Marr. We arrived at a rundown two story building surrounded by what in the states would be considered the projects; huge apartment buildings that reeked of poverty. Outside the orphanage we could hear a single baby crying. . A strange smell invaded our nostrils….Cabbage and unwashed bodies (we would come to know). A vicious sounding dog warned us of his presence as we entered the outer courtyard. As we entered the building, we were immediately drawn up the stairs by our host. They led us through a maze of elderly corridors, Disney Characters decorating the walls. Finally they led us through a set of doors into a silent room. We were shown into Nikolai's group (#8) and all we heard was silence. Eleven children around the age of one...silent. One child was sitting (facing away) on a caregivers lap being spoon fed (as all of them are) with an adult large spoon and a small plate. All the other children were in a large sectioned off corner of the room. Maybe a couple toys were in with all these children and that was only once in a while. At most times at least 3 children were rocking to comfort themselves since they are so deprived of the love and attention they require. There was one child with Downs Syndrome who would set in a wet diaper that had soaked through her clothes. Another always stood a top a little platform in their penned area. Another little one was always rocking and tearful. Nikolai was standing at the wooden wall of the partitioned section. His eyes, those precious eyes. They looked empty…almost dead, from the severe neglect he endured. We recognized him immediately. One of the caretakers scooped him up and motioned us to follow her. She led us to a room lined with chairs with a table in the middle. It was fairly empty besides that. She plopped Nikolai our arms and left. Wow, what an introduction. We were finally holding our son….finally.

Sidebar: Before we go on we must say that some of these women do care, but are continuously dealing with (only 2 of them) 11 babies. They are not trained and have become somewhat desensitized. Most do not realize the basic necessity of touch and love these children require. Of course, we think that they also seem to realize that they can’t get too emotionally attached, since they never know how long a child will be staying. This is not always because of adoption, but also children may be moved from group to group.

Nikolai looked at us with his huge big brown eyes. He was finally in our arms!!!!! looked a lot thinner than the last picture we had and we were later told he had begun to lose weight recently. We were finally holding our son….finally. He looked down and played with our keys. We waited and we finally saw his eyes peek toward us and the heavens opened as he smiled.

We found out quickly how ticklish he was. You poked him and he cracked up. He was so sensitive to any touch. He was initially very stiff with us, as if he were not sure what his response should be. When we set him down for a brief moment he very quickly put his feet and hands on the floor (with his bottom sticking up in the air) and started rocking. We found out this was what he did when he was overwhelmed. We were told to expect the rocking and that this is normal in orphanages. We have loved and kissed on him daily since. He was very smart (we could see this even then) and he could melt your heart with his smile. We brought him cheerios and he was always hungry. When we asked if we could bring him food, we were told we could if we brought diapers for his whole group (which we were already doing). We had been told that the children only get 2 meals a day (milk for breakfast). He was and is such a blessing from God. We were able to take him outside for the very first time in his little life. He saw and touched his very first tree. He was able to see his first bird and a stray dog. He wanted to explore everything. He went back and forth from that and hesitation. We could see the strangeness of all this in his eyes. We went into his group with him. We couldn't just ignore these other children, but Nikolai showed us (for the first time) that he was starting to view us as his. He gave us such a look, not angry, just possessive (smile).

We went to court on a Tuesday. It took us an hour to get there. The building was older and the carpet did not fit on the floors. We went into the court room knowing now was what was going to determine our parental rights of Nikolai. The judge quizzed us and then let the 3 other people that have a say in this process speak. The Education minister stood and told of Nikolai’s past and how he was found by a police officer on a street corner in the very early hours of a cold morning in Moscow. She told of a search for his parents and of reviewing our life story in the documents she had. She recommended that we be awarded the adoption rights of Nikolai. Next the deputy director of the orphanage stood (we had a meeting with her the day before). She stated that she felt we would make a good family for Nikolai. The prosecutor then stood. Yes… I said prosecutor. She was the one we were most nervous about. The prosecutor’s job is to argue the negative. As she stood we held our breaths. She went over Nikolai’s vital statistics and then stated that it would be in the best interest for Nikolai to be adopted into our family!!! No argument! God was working yet again! Why should we even be surprised?! Nikolai was then legally ours, though we had to wait for actual custody until Sept. 30th.

His name is Max Nikolai Michael. Max after my father, Nikolai for his heritage, and Michael for the warrior/angel (because he's a little bit of both). He wasn't overly familiar with any name since it was so rarely spoken to him.

I was to leave the next day to come back to the states. So after court we headed straight to the orphanage. We were able to take Nikolai outside again. He was dressed in an unusual outfit as many are. They keep them clothed, but as with everything else they are very limited and though clothing may be made for a girl or boy, that doesn't matter. Nikolai was tired that day. He actually (for the first time) laid his head down and kept it there. My heart melted. Though Thomas would be there, leaving was not easy. I left and went back to the states to be with T.C., Sarah, and Anna, who needed me as well.

The orphanage worker told Thomas, while I was back in the US, that Nikolai cried for the first time when seeing Thomas leave. We had already seen what happens as a child cries. They may be moved to a different place, but no one holds them or comforts them in their tears. We have seen that Nikolai is a wounded child. You could see it in his eyes back then, when he rocked, when his lower lip stuck out a touch (but no tears surfaced). Many of these children don't cry because they know no one will come. Nikolai has a home now, and we are so blessed to be the ones to give it to him

On Sept. 28th, Anna (our 2 1/2 year old) and I returned to Moscow. Knowing we would be coming home with Nikolai (Max) was such a joy. Though for some reason this trip was a lot harder. Yes, having a 2 1/2 year old there could be "interesting" at times (smile), but that wasn't even it.

We arrived tired and bedraggled, but found we landed early enough to introduce Anna to her little brother. I could not wait to get my arms around our beautiful little boy and of course Thomas couldn't wait to see Anna either (he'd been away two weeks at that point).

For the first time we arrived at the orphanage at dinner. These were different caregivers than I had met last time. Max was unsure of what to think of me. He had seen a movie (on our video camera) of me daily, but still was not quite secure with me. The food soon arrived and they proceeded to plop Nikolai in a little wooden chair with a small table in front of him. As they motioned me over they sat a steaming hot bowl of soup in front of him (along with what looked like barely cooked hamburger and a curd type dish). Nikolai sat with his hands flat on the table for the entire meal. He did not reach out to grab the piping hot bowl, as most 1 year olds would try to do. It worried us at first and then saddened us when we realized why he did this. We watched as another child was being fed. We watched as they grabbed this 8 month olds head and literally wrenched it back into place when he tried to look at me. We watched them (also literally) shovel the food into this child's mouth at such a rate that most of it poured back out. This was what the bowl under the child's chin was used for….to catch the large amount pouring back out. They then took a teacup and poured tea into this child's mouth the same way. They did this for a few minutes then plopped the child back into the pen, very little food or drink having made it to the child's stomach. We wanted to cry, to be angry, to rail against this kind of treatment of any child, but we wanted Max out of there and knew doing that could offend the wrong person and make it hard to get Nikolai out of this situation.

The next day when we arrived at the orphanage we were told that we could take Nikolai for a walk. We changed his clothes (head to toe) and for the first time, we realized how grossly malnourished his beautiful little body was (as Thomas stated later, he had never seen a child look this way except on the commercials requesting funds for hungry children) (sigh). The day was beautiful as we walked with Nikolai in a broken down carriage with Anna trotting beside. It was one of those truly peaceful times we will always treasure. Certain areas we avoided because of the smell, but we were used to it by now. We watched as Nikolai's eyes lit up at each new sight and listened to his beautiful little giggle that was becoming a more frequent thing. It was a long way to come, but so worth it.

The next day was our big day, wow...we finally get to take Max into our arms and into our family (he was already in our hearts). It seemed as if it took forever to get to this day, though it really hadn't (6 months). As we walked in, we first met with the head of the orphanage and gave them the clothes that so many friends and family donated. They were amazed and thankful at the sheer number. We then were off to wrap our arms around the littlest Marr. He had just woken up and gave us that early morning sleepy little smile. We then changed him into the outfit we brought him (since they needed the clothes he was wearing back) and we said goodbye. There is one worker there that we will truly miss, so we were misty eyed as we said goodbye and received kisses on both cheeks. As we looked back at the children rocking back and forth in the pen trying to comfort themselves our sense of joy was dampened at the thought of leaving all these children behind (it's still hard to think about), but our own happiness still overflowed at the actuality of little Max in our arms.

The rest of the trip went so quickly. From the U.S. Embassy, to passports and visas, the Max's medical check, to finding ourselves in the middle of a communist protest surrounded by riot police (don't ask). Our bodies sagged with sheer exhaustion. We realize we have now seen a country and a life so foreign to our own, a life of such extreme contradictions. A Place where those on the Metro give up their seats to the elderly, yet children lay in orphanages malnourished, neglected, and looked down upon by many. A Place where the so-called joys of freedom have also brought the Russian Mafia and rampant pornography. You can't even watch the news without seeing nudity. A Place where Metro stations are ornate and marble covered and the buildings (tenements) lay falling down around them. Moscow is a different world, so beautiful and ancient, yet parts are so unimaginable.

Max is home now. He is the most loved child. He took his first steps his first night in our custody and T.C., Sarah, and Anna have kept him running ever since. His weight went up. We had some (we consider minor) adjustments/difficulties with sleep, and eating, and such, but he took such major strides each day. He struggled a little trying to figure out what his reactions/emotions should be (because of his lack of interaction the first year). After almost three years he only is a little emotionally young for his age.

Our story has been such an amazing journey that has changed our lives and perspectives forever. Max Nikolai Michael was what we consider our Miracle child. Each step of the way we saw Gods hand…miracle after miracle. There is not enough room here to even grant you more than a brief glimpse of what God has done for us through this. If you have or are considering adoption and you hear Gods call, please listen. He will take care of finances (if that is a worry). We didn't have it when we started. He will take care of you and the child he has for you, in all aspects. He will use you in ways you cannot imagine.

People have started asking us recently “Do you think you will adopt again?”.

There are millions of children out there, orphans out there. How can we say “no” with any certainty that we will not adopt again? This is a question we ask God.

You may ask, do we have the funds to adopt again? No, but that didn’t stop things before. What we do have is eight wonderful children, a stupendous family, support of terrific friends, a fantastic Church and an AMAZING GOD, who has seen fit to bless us so abundantly. So to answer the question “Will we adopt again?” The answer, after all, IS very simple……what God wills…we will.
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Obviously, since this story was written, God did will. We now have EIGHT beautiful children....five of which are adopted. We have a house filled with love and BLESSED BLESSED BLESSED by God.


Bekah

                                                                             
BEKAH'S STORY

Ten years ago my family and I arrived back in the United States after being stationed in Germany. Unfortunately we brought something back that we didn’t plan on….non-active Tuberculosis. Let me tell you, as parents, this is a scary diagnosis to hear coming out of your doctor’s mouth. Thomas, Tom, and Sarah all had non-active TB. For those of you that know me, I am very rarely away from my children. How did they get it? Who did they get it from? Why didn’t I get it? It was a mystery to us. As the primary caregiver to all my children, it remained an unknown.

With a giant sigh of relief we found that TB is fairly easily curable, nine months of medication, but easily curable. We wondered at that point…honestly…what the point was.

It took ten years to get that answered…. but let me get to that later.

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We were very busy with four children (Tom/12,Sarah/10, Anna/6, and Max/4 years old). Being parents is the hardest and the best job there is.

As a family we remained active in the kid’s school. I (Kat) headed an “Outreach” program at their school. It is a priority to us to bring into our children’s lives a since of giving, of making a difference. During an "Outreach" is where the seed, the slightest inkling of Bekah’s existence in our family was started.

Every year, at the kid's school, we do an “Outreach” called “Gods Little Lambs” which comes to the aid of orphans. I sat down at our computer and Googled (our search engine) “Russian Orphans + Number”. Up popped the results, Ethiopian orphans topping the list. Seven percent of the population seemed unreal at the time. We could not comprehend that one out of six children would die by the age of five. Could a nation have that many orphans? It was astounding. A few days later we found an email from our Agency and they had started an Ethiopian program. We weren’t looking for it, the information found us. The next week an Ethiopian Grocery moved in down the street. Within a short time Tom started studying the Ethiopian Eunuch at Church. Days later a “National Geographic-Africa” showed up. It continued and continued. God was trying to get our attention. He succeeded.

Bekah was slowly being planted in our hearts. After seeking God, petitioning Him, pleading with Him to make it clear…our path…we found Bekah…or the knowledge that we had a child waiting for us in Ethiopia. It’s amazing when that knowledge is presented to you, how quickly you feel the void in your family. How quickly you realize it was never complete and you’re missing a vital component.

After seeking an agency, we proceeded at an alarming speed. Again, things that were taking months took half that time. We were flying. Having been given the knowledge that we were to expect 18 months from signing the contract to bringing our child home, we prepared to wait. Approximately six months after signing our contract we received our monthly email from the “Co” agency we were working with (Inter-agency Adoption). Toward the bottom of the email there were pictures…new pictures of little ones that were just admitted to Horizon House Ethiopia..."Waiting Children". These children were either out of the age range most wanted OR, as was in our case, considered Special Needs children. These children had either questionable Hep B status or a number of other ailments.   Ayane (EYE-ANNA), as we knew her then, had a lump on the side of her neck. It was extremely visible and of great concern to the nurses there. She was tiny, at a year…only 14 ½ lbs….the size of an average three or four month old in the U.S. . She could only sit up by herself…nothing more. She sat there with her HUGE eyes in a boy’s dark blue polo shirt, spit up decorating the collar. Her arms hung limply at her side like any sort of movement was beyond her. At the time the email stated that she was 15 months old….we had stated the age range of a maximum of one year old. She barely was outside of our age range…but there was something about her….a connection.

When Thomas FINALLY (that’s the way it felt) arrived home from work I (very casually) said to him “Oh honey,” I faked a laid back voice “we received the monthly email today and there is this beautiful little 15 month old girl on it named Ayane”. I waited. Thomas cocked his head at me and smiled, he said “Well, why isn’t she ours?”.

That is how our journey to bring Bekah home began. After a week of petitioning God (not just us, but Mark and Michelle, Amy, our Church's Prayer Chain and of course Mom) we were matched with our little sweet Bekah.

We then started the planning. We were given a beautiful baby shower by some wonderful women at Church. Items were being collected to donate to the orphanage by friends, our school, and the Church. Two children at Church, Madeline and Daniel, had birthday parties and instead of gifts asked for monetary donations for the orphanage. We received pictures of our quickly transforming baby. Her medicals stated the end conclusion was that she had Tuberculosis in her lymph nodes. It’s funny how ten years later we find the reason for that TB from Germany. It didn’t scare us. It wasn’t an unknown.

We also waited…and waited for the travel email. We shared with other adoptive parents as they got their travel email and struggled to just walk in faith and wait knowing our time would come. Tom and I danced (literally) and screamed around the house when we finally found out that we would be in travel group #42!

We set our airline tickets for May 29th through June 9th, ten days in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Tom (our 12 year old) and I would be traveling. It was too far for both Thomas and I to be away from all our kids. We packed and repacked. We practically brought a pharmacy, and ended up needing very little of it. Isn’t that the way it usually is?

As the day approached we started to get that anxious, nervous, butterfly feeling. We were actually going. Bekah, or Rebekah Ayane Emmali we would call her, was within reach.

I kissed our amazing kids (except Tom) goodbye with tears in my eyes, and we boarded our Lufthansa flight heading for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The flight seemed to take an eternity. We were so thankful for the portable DVD player for Tom (there were some questionable movies on the flights) and for each other’s company. After 31 hours in transit we FINALLY arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Mulat, our Wide Horizons driver, was there to greet us and all our bags (four overstuffed ones) arrived in Ethiopia with us (yea!).

We grabbed some Birr (Ethiopian currency) and bottled water at the airport and proceed out into a dark starless night and a light, but steady downpour. We didn’t care, our feet were on solid ground and we were within minutes of meeting our reason for being there.

As we climbed into an older van, some chipped paint and faded posters on the inside, the windows quickly fogged up. The only thing I remember seeing is a glowing Sun Microsystems sign. Of course Tom remembers differently, he remembers the glowing “Denver Broncos” sign…lol…of course.

As we turned into a dark alley, ramshackle shacks surrounded us on either side. It was odd…at the end of the alley as we closed in you could see big, beautiful gray gates. Barbed wire surrounded the compound and broken glass set in concrete. We pulled in front of the gates and Mulat honked the (odd sounding) vans horn…it sounded like a toy car from inside the van. A uniformed guard pulled open the gates. In front of us was a three-story building …three balconies and fairly nice looking. To our left was a low setting row of what looked like multiple rooms….almost like you would expect in a school. They were light brownish with corrugated tin roofs. Women dressed in white stood outside and looked at us curiously.

We quickly took our bags upstairs and hurled back down to meet our beautiful little girl. The women in white turned out to be the nannies that took care of all the precious children.

This orphanage is wonderful and the love these children get is immeasurable. There is usually one nanny (at all times) to every 6 to 8 children. What is hard to comprehend is that many of these children are alive because of the wonderful nannies and the nurses there. Most come in SEVERELY malnourished within weeks or days of dying. Not all orphanages are as wonderful as where Bekah was, but most are gifts of our Heavenly Father. They help preserve the lives of these orphans.

As we shed our shoes before entering Bekah’s nursery we immediately see the walls lined with cribs. The outer edge of the small room had every inch filled with either a crib or bassinet. To our left…in the very first crib a curly head laid with a slight sheen of sweat. As we crept closer we could slowly see her beautiful glowing skin and her long eyelashes, shut in a heavy sleep only infants experience. When asked if we wanted to hold her, of course the answer was “Yes”. Maybe not the best answer we found out. Bekah did not like being woken up and handed immediately to strangers, which is what we were to her at the time. We then learned she could scream…lol. I felt so bad. Wondering (remember we had been traveling for 31 hours) if I ruined our relationship forever. Ok, so I wasn’t really super rational, but was walking on adrenaline alone. Tomorrow was another day.

The night echoed in silence, broken only by the sounds of the stray dogs, which are common on the streets of Addis Ababa. Tom and I tried to get comfortable sharing a queen size bed as the sheets popped off every time we turned over and the calls to prayer started resounding off the walls at about 3:00am. Finally when first light broke over the horizon we stepped out into the chilled air of our balcony to see Ethiopia for the first time in clarity. We noticed again the walls of the compound and the glass along the top, but for the first time we saw beyond the gates, not hindered by the darkness.

The compound is surrounded by shacks….miles and miles of poverty. Corrugated tin roofs falling off of broken walls made of whatever material the families inhabiting these could find. Cardboard, planks of broken wood, trash bags, plastic tarps, every material you could imagine was used to hold these threadbare walls together. It was cold too. Ethiopia wasn’t this vast country of perpetual heat, but Addis Ababa, because of its altitude, was cold. We went inside to our heated room and just sat. What world had we entered that this much poverty abounded?

As we peeked out the curtains once more we noticed activity in the courtyard. The nurses were awake and you could see children, toddlers peeking out the small rooms with their beautiful wide eyes. Practically inhaling breakfast so we could get to Ayane, we made our way out of the guest house, with a little bit of trepidation, not knowing if Ayane would ever talk to us again without screaming. As we stepped up to Ayane’s room we saw the children milling around, playing, and sitting on the Nannies laps. A few children were in their cribs, struggling to wake still, while others screamed in glee at the hard plastic green ball flew right past them. There was Bekah in her pink jumper and t-shirt that was too small and would not button all the way. Though there were many donated clothes, they made do with what was on hand to get this many children dressed day in and day out. Ayane sat on her nanny Alem’s lap. She looked happy and secure, like the fright we gave her the night before never happened. We shed our shoes and sat on the floor trying to tempt her with an electronic phone that lit up and played music. She was curious, but took the phone back to her nanny. This was soon to be taken by a precious little guy named Eyob. The lights and sounds were just too much for the boys to resist. Ayane didn’t really seem interested in us. She came to Tom briefly, but she already had the women she was attached to…her nanny, she didn’t seem to feel she needed us at this point.

Unfortunately, it was time for Nurse Askala to give Ayane her shot and crushed pills. Once a day Bekah had to have the largest shot I have ever seen. It was the only thing available. She would scream as the shot went in (I think I would too) and fought the foul tasting pill. We were later to find out the injection, though effective, was highly toxic, and was changed to a different oral med upon entering the U.S.

After her meds and interacting a little we edged her to the courtyard to play in a walker that was slowly falling apart. She didn’t like going anywhere with strangers. After a few successful and a few unsuccessful attempts we decided staying in the line of sites of the nannies wouldn’t help her to see us as anything but kind hearted visitors.

The first day was not easy. She fussed, as any child would being handed to strangers. We played in the common room…rolled stacking toys like wheels across the floor, and generally tried to distract her. When it was obvious she was tired, we took her up to our room and rocked and sang to her as she cried herself to sleep.

Ayane falling asleep on me was like a piece of me falling into place. Her curly hair tucked against my chest, her long eyelashes brushing me as the feel of her sweet breath warmed my heart. “ This is my daughter” I thought, “The daughter of my heart”. There may be trials. There may be adjustments, but this little girl sound asleep at my breast was part of us, of me.

Returning her to the nannies was a hard thing to do, though necessary for her and for us. It was a necessary part of her transitioning into our family. Sitting down to eat that night, waiting for the other families in our group to get there, Ayane was never far from our thoughts.

In the morning after visiting with Ayane, this time she was even less thrilled to see us, fearing being taken away from her wonderful nanny, we decided to accompany our Social Worker, Erica, and Ayane to the “Big Kids” house. The place where the older children waited to find the family that lay in their future. We were going to take them to the Hilton to swim.

Climbing in the elderly van we had ridden in before, we waited as the guards pulled open the gates to a world we couldn’t imagine. Walking down the street we noticed a man in a three-piece business suit, hand in pocket, just like in the states. Yet next to him, surrounding him, was a poverty level we had not experienced before. Steps away from this “up and comer” was a woman, looking like her feet were weighted, every step an effort. Her clothes hung in rags on her body. Her shoulder blades poked through like knifes that would cut a cake. Dirt caked her from the dust we found surrounds Addis. She looked as if tomorrow was a dream for her that may never happen. This is not far from reality for many living in the beautiful country where many live on less that $100 a year.

The streets were lined with shops, the likes of that we had never seen. They were the shacks that were so prevalent, with the fronts open to the street as they sold their wares. Along the streets you would see a lump, some covered with thin blankets. We saw a yellow heap along the side of the road, the yellow blanket covering this, one of God’s children, from head to toe. This blanket was nothing against the cold of the morning. Women and children sat huddling on grass along some of the giant thorough fares looking like they hadn’t eaten since the week began, having no home, no place to lay their head. Driving along new four lane roads, donkeys and goats would be herded by. Beyond the store fronts, large building were taking shape as the workers climbed the raised scaffolding made of branches, not wood or metal like we were used to seeing.

As we pulled up to the “Big Kids” house. It looked like a yellow wall, surrounding a building, surrounded by even more rooms. We walked into a cement courtyard filled with children. Many were smiling and laughing, some had a haunted took that filled their eyes. We were to find out later these were usually the children that had been only recently relinquished (or found) by a relative or the Kebele. Being introduced to the kids, I took pictures of the children whose parents were waiting in the States. We hoped to make their wait just a tad easier for them. The older kids of this group were waiting eagerly to pile into the van for our swimming excursion. I remember meeting a little girl named Aberdeet, who prayed every night for the other children to find families, and hoped to one day have one of her own. She suffered, in her young 12 years of life, from the results of polio. She hobbled, limped severely, but there is no other way to put it, was stunningly beautiful. We fell instantly for this precious girl. What she didn’t know at the time is that she did have a family waiting for her, they just couldn’t tell her due to waiting for a final approval. I called Thomas that night and said, “Are you sure you don’t want six children? I’ve just met a little girl named Aberdeet.”

As we walked with Erica to the back of the buildings, she called us aside. Asking us (another adoptive parent and I) how old we thought two of the children that they just admitted were. Many parents when relinquishing their children will tell their kids to say they are younger than they are. They do this because they know that they will have a greater chance of being adopted this way. The kids will promise they are years younger than they are and there is no convincing them otherwise. Often it takes a doctor and educated guesses to truly find out. We guessed the ages of the two boys and a quickly as that got ready to go.

We piled on the van, Ayane finding comfort in Tom and I (the familiar) as she snuggled into my chest. It felt a little like a clown car, children kept piling in, sitting on each other’s laps, giggling, waiting until the metal beast closed its door and rumbled onto the street.

As we pulled up to the Hilton, automatic weapon hung off of armed guards outside. We pulled passed them and stared at the opulence surrounding us. A circular drive led to the high rise hotel surrounded by palm trees and uniformed Conciers. Run down taxis lined the drive. Our van had arrived. We piled out, only to go through metal detectors so that we could enter this lavish establishment. Expensive shops surrounded us. High-end restaurants filled the bottom floor. The stark contrast to what was outside the gates was shocking.

We filed (well that’s probably not the right word when you have a bunch of children) we rolled, laughed, shoved, joked our way to the changing rooms and then plunged to the shallower pool. Ayane and I sat on the sidelines on deck chairs, under the shade of umbrellas, and fed the birds Cheerios. To this day I think Bekah Ayane still thinks she’s feeding the birds when she throws Cheerios in the car.

Many of the children couldn’t swim. They would hold on to the side of the pool or walk along the shallowest parts. Tom joined in the fun and the children quickly realized his love for them. The language barrier didn’t stop the joy on the kid’s faces as Tom carried them across the pool. Back and forth, back and forth, he would take two kids at a time and didn’t stop. Eventually Tom came to me, his feet aching. As I looked at the bottom of his feet, I noticed the blood. He had walked the kids across until his feet were raw. He still didn’t stop at that point. He knew it was one of his only chances to make a difference to these kids. Though his feet bled, his heart had swelled and partaken in the compassion of Christ toward the little ones of this world.

We went home tired, but happy. Ayane had relied on us, the familiar, for her safety. She had laughed…fed the birds, and fell asleep under the umbrella on my shoulder. God is and was good.

The next day would come to be one of the most difficult of our lives. We were going to meet Ayane’s birth father.

Fitzhughm, our driver, showed up early the next morning. He had the first new car we had seen, a SUV prepared to take on some of the dirt roads we would face that day. Knowing there would be nowhere to stop to eat, toilet paper, and restrooms. We prepared accordingly. Normally we would stay in the city of Hosanna (the city where we were to meet Ayane’s biological father) overnight, but with the rainy season coming early, many of the roads to the small villages were made of dirt and were wet. Overnight wasn’t a possibility. We said goodbye to Ayane, the trip being too much for her to take, and climbed onto the leather seats of Fitzhughm's vehicle.

Side note: The thing about the Ethiopian people was that they have so much inner joy that most American’s have yet to master. Many people we met may not know where there next meal will come from, but the joy on their faces would shame many Americans. They had so little and yet….what joy!

As we exited the city we continued to be awed by what we saw. Women, trying to make a small bit to help their families live, carried half their height in sticks and straw across their backs. It was often almost as wide as the street, their backs stooped, the strain laid on their faces, stopping every few yards to suck in what little oxygen their lungs would hold.

We were carried out of the city into another world. As we drove, country surrounded us. Acacia trees lined the countryside, surrounded by overgrown grasses and beautiful hills. In the distance a hut would rise from the fog, a small child by himself would be running around naked from the waist down, a shirt barely hanging on him, yet you could see the curiosity of childhood playing across his face. As we drove farther, we would see in the middle of no where, a young child…maybe 9, carrying a two year old sibling swaddled on her back along the side of the road, no civilization in site. We would pull into villages, goats clogging the roads, a horn a constant in our ears. Swarms of people, just walking, some barely clothed, all thin, clogging the arteries of the town. It was more than once we found ourselves praying as we almost hit one of these proud Ethiopian people. Many women had headdresses or had a child swaddled on their back.

In the country side oxen pulling plows could be seen on the farmland…often a young boy or a man plodding beside. As traffic slowed we would see children and Fitzhughm was used to us asking him to stop. Tom would give them a few pieces of candy and greet them warmly. These children were lovely. They would smile, flies often crusting their eyes, clothes falling apart. The warmth they showed us we will always remember.

As we would approach a semblance of civilization our hearts would often be heavy as we saw the repeated scene of litters being carried out of the homes. Covered with whatever blankets they had, would be the bodies, death having claimed them. The litters would be surrounded by people, hope lost on their face, trying to see tomorrow. Unfortunately, this was an all too often occurrence for us to view.

We finally arrived, on much of which had been dirt roads, at Hosanna and pulled up to a dilapidated building, painted in a light green. There we were ushered to a room where a man stood…thin, his clothes clean, his face vacant…he stood shorter than us.

*This is where the story belongs to Ayane. We have to leave many details out, knowing Ayane has the right to hear them first.

As we came out of the meeting with a mixture of pain, sadness, frustration, we felt blessed by this opportunity. It was often difficult having to have two translators, one to Amharic, and then from Amharic to Ayane’s native dialect. Her father would often talk for 5 minutes and we would receive a five word sentence. We gave him a photo album and a letter (translated). We found from this interview that he couldn’t take care of a baby with his wife gone, it was too much. Ayane’s brothers at ages 13 and 6 were only 50 and 28lbs. She has two biological sisters as well, but we don’t have much information on them, which is common in this culture. We hope to help someday. Our hearts broke, we left a scattering of the pieces in Hosanna that day.

On our way back we experienced more of the wildlife. My children would never forgive me if I didn’t mention the monkeys swinging in the trees as we drove past.

The rest of our travel group had arrived by now. The group was filled with wonderful people from every walk of life. I fell in love with their kids, they will always be special to me.

I saw Bekah when we arrived from our trip. As we had planned, we now took custody of our little blessing. We took her to our room and gave Ayane her first, albeit awkward bath. The children tended to smell a little like old towels. This is NOT to be insulting, but washing things easily is limited there. We washed things in the sink and hung them out on our balcony (only two rooms had these) or the roof. As we went to fill the tub we realized there were no stoppers. We plugged the hole the best we could with a towel, but still she screamed, from fear, from anger. We had taken her away from the ones who had fed her, clothed her, and loved her for three months. She was mourning, first her mother, then father, and now her nannies. We took her down to dinner in the clothes we had brought for her. Still barely in 6 to 9 months clothing (she swam in them) she was (we would find out) now only around 15 months old. Sinidu or Eskadar usually cooked dinner consisting of Ethiopian or Italian foods (cooked Ethiopian style). We ate spongy bread called Injera, hand dipped in many mixtures of foods. Though we tend to LOVE all foods (a little too much), we never completely got used to Injera. TC and I ate everything in small amounts, but our diet consisted mainly of the trail mix we had brought with us.

The next morning was pretty special to me. When I was awoken by the Orthodox call to prayer in the wee hours I found TC with Ayane curled up in his arms. He was already in love with his little sister, and she with him.

After only a few days was our Embassy appointment where we awaited Ayane’s Visa. Crowded with all those waiting in a cold cement building after passing through lines and check points, those who were adopting bypassed all those who had been waiting ahead of us. It didn’t seem fair, but as your back ached (no one used stroller) and screamed in protest from carrying a snuggling child (that you can’t bear to put down) we just went along with what everyone required of us. This was a big day for us. We could now take Ayane….Bekah Ayane home.

The rest of the trip was a blur. Yonas (our driver) took us to shop (of course) from a big modern mall, to small shacks along the side of the road. We went to a museum, visited the “Big Kid” house a couple of more times, and Tom passed time by playing Soccer with the awesome guards at Horizon House. Tom often surprised me, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. . As we would walk back from the “Big Kid” house, Tom would notice people, people in need of help. He would use his own money and ask the guard to walk him across the street to give to a mother and her small child.

People would ask me if Bekah was my child. She has my chipmunk cheeks. They just said my husband must be very dark (smile). It was hard with the language barrier to communicate how Bekah was entering our family. I love traveling, and because we felt comfortable, I think that came across and that’s why others didn’t automatically assume we adopted.

It was when visited another orphanage and I realized how blessed we were at Horizon House. This orphanage was run down, bare rooms, dirty beds. The children were obviously loved, but the quality of life wasn’t what Horizon House afforded.

Late one night we heard a commotion and saw large cars setting in the drive. Tom and I stumbled outside to find out what was going on. They were admitting children, about six from what we could figure out. The children were clean, but dressed in old clothing. They were so thin and their heads were all shaved. They looked so lost. A room was cleared for all these new babies coming in. We knew they would all soon have families, but all we wanted to do was cry. They were quiet as if they had lost hope. The pain echoed in each of their eyes. You could see their loss. They said all the children look like this when they first come.

Finally the day came for our goodbye and the final Coffee Ceremony. It had been reiterated to us from the day we received our travel email how important this ceremony was. Unfortunately they hadn’t reiterated this to Bekah Ayane that her nap would have to wait. The guesthouse filled with all those that loved these children. Those at the “Big Kid” house came over with songs they had prepared for our little blessings. Yet Bekah was tired…and cranky. She decided that it was time for a nap and screamed at the top of her lungs until everyone’s ears hurt….sufficed to say, we missed the ceremony. TC got a few pictures, but Bekah got a nap.

As we said goodbye, there were tears, lots of pictures and hugs and a lot of packing (we came back with a ton!). We loaded up the van. The luggage was literally 4 to 5 feet high on the top of the van. We packed inside with even the bigger kids having to set on parent’s laps much of the time. I believe our total in the van was around 17, if I remember right. It was CROWDED!

So, again looking like a clown car, we proceeded to the airport. Cars honked, we prayed, we swerved, we prayed, and we all laughed at the looks people gave our luggage at the top of the van, and we prayed it would stay on.

After having been through many international airports I thought I was prepared. It’s funny looking back at it now. We first went through security and had our bags scanned. Each passenger was taking around 10 minutes just to be processed by those taking the tickets. We then went and filled out about 20 minutes worth of paperwork and went to wait in the long customs line. We must have looked pretty pathetic because an airport employee came to us and moved us to the diplomat line (did I mention Bekah was screaming the whole time because it was past her bedtime and the airport scared her). After passing through customs we stopped to show our passports again to highly armed guards. By then we felt it our own personal challenge to make these serious guards smile…usually it worked. We finally made our way to our gate (which was behind glass) and went through another bout of luggage scanning. FINALLY we could set down. It was CRAZY! I know that this part wasn’t necessary to the story, but I still can’t believe how crazy it was.

After a very long 28 hours in transit we heard the call that we were landing at a familiar airport...home. Finally, after prayers, struggles, exhaustion, and more prayers we had made it back to familiar soil.

They strange thing is, when we landed, yes, it was with excitement, but it was also with a little sadness, a feeling that we had left a part of us behind. We had fallen in love with Ethiopia.

Though, when I saw my kids running to me, when I felt my husband’s arms around me, when Bekah looked around and saw her family, and when we felt complete at last I knew I was home…we were home.

God took a family and created an image of what He sees. A world of his children, adopted, loved, and one in His body.

We may be from different lands. We may have different colors of skin or different languages, but I thank God, because in that we found our family.

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