Soccer Stars

So… we’ve got a lot of catching up to do here. Since we arrived back in the States on January 13, we’ve had Eva to the doctor for no less than four visits as well as a four-day stay in the hospital. She left Ethiopia with a fever which led to a diagnosis of pneumonia the day after we arrived here. She’s had three different oral antibiotics as well as antibiotics administered via IV during her hospital stay. After coming home from the hospital this past Monday night, the fever returned today. We knew we’d have our share of crazy once we took on five children but this has been somewhat unanticipated. At any rate, we press on and hope for some new insight from the docs this week.

On a more pleasant note, the other four kids have been playing indoor soccer the last two Saturdays. Although Aidan turns 5 in April, we signed him up to play with the 6 year-olds on Maura’s team since we figured his skills would probably put him beyond the younger kids. After he scored three goals and dominated the first game (Maura also scored a goal in that game), however, the league coordinator felt it would be good to bump him up to the next age bracket. So now he’s playing on Liam’s team with the 7-8 year-olds. How did he do today? Aidan and Liam’s team scored five goals to the other team’s zero; Aidan had two goals and one assist while Liam also had two goals. Aidan’s assist, actually, was a pass to Liam—sweet. Aidan’s soccer chops have become quite the buzz here and it was great fun to watch the boys play together.

Vignette: What Would We Be?

Last night, Liam was engaged in a destruction project: he was attempting to take apart a remote controlled car that was no longer working. The two main screws that held the top of the car together, though, were giving him difficulty so he came to me.

“Dad, do you think you can get these screws out?”

I wrestled with it for a few moments and loosened them.

“Wow–Grandma and mom tried and they couldn’t do it.”

“Well it’s a good thing you have a dad then, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” he said. “I don’t know what I’d be without you.”

“Right back at you, bud,” I replied.

He smiled, then returned to dismantling his car.

Just a Few Things from Addis Ababa

This isn’t really a post, just a collection of observations and thoughts from the past few days.

Aidan really likes the shower—I think he had his first shower ever here at the guest house. He squeals with delight in the falling water.

Aidan also had his first hamburger and ice cream here. When he first tasted the ice cream, he was surprised that it was cold but then discovered the taste. Brilliant. Today, after a huge bite of ice cream, he had his first “brain freeze.”

Eva is bonding well with Suzanne. It’s amazing that after just a few days, Eva has identified her as mommy—the one woman in her world who will love and care for her like no other. (And yet my heart breaks for the woman who gave her life and is unable to be Eva’s mommy.)

We’re recognizing that the transition home children are accustomed to being independent. That said, Aidan is adapting well to the new routines he’s learning as a member of our family. Although we need to correct him occasionally, we spend the days playing games, running around Addis, eating together, hanging out with the other families at the guest house. He’s learning, I hope, that we love him and that he can trust us.

Erin is a huge help here. She plays with Aidan and enjoys holding Eva. She and Aidan got into a giggling fit over dinner in our room today—it’s fun to watch them growing together. She’s also seeing and experiencing life the way most of the rest of the world lives, and I know this will have a deep impact on her.

The Coca-Cola here is made with sugar instead of HFCS. It’s the real thing.

We worshiped at an international church here in Addis today—young and old, Ethiopians, Germans, Britons, Americans, South Koreans, Australians, and all manner of other Africans, Europeans, and Asians. Beautiful to be gathered among brothers and sisters of every nation and generation.

As we were just about to leave our room at the guest house to get in the van for church, Aidan grabbed his backpack, looked at me expectantly and said, “Amereeka?” No, I said, but soon. Very soon.

Being here with the other AWAA families—Scott and Rachel Miller, James Smith, Eric and Billie Grant, and Courtney Hammons—and their kids has been a fantastic experience. The kids have had time to play together at the guest house, easing their transition from their life here to their new lives with our families. When we left Addis yesterday for a day trip and I forgot Eva’s diaper bag (with diapers, clothes, and bottles of formula), James shared an extra bottle he’d packed and the Millers gave us a diaper. What could have been a disaster (there’s no Wal-Mart in rural Ethiopia) turned into an opportunity for us to bless one another. Saying goodbye as they return to their homes in the US has been hard; good, but hard. James and his son Phin blew us kisses from the van tonight as they left for the airport.

I read Proverbs 3.27 this morning: Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God’s hand for that person. We walked through the neighborhood around the guest house today and bought a couple pounds of fresh oranges at a small grocery store (for about 90 cents, no less). We then passed an old woman shuffling along the sidewalk, begging for money from passersby. Erin handed her one of the oranges we’d just bought. Your hand is God’s hand for that person. A couple blocks down, just as we were about to cross the street to return to the guest house, two young urchins in dirty clothes walked up with smiles and outstretched hands. Erin gave them each an orange; as they turned to walk away, we noticed that the older of the two, a girl of no more than 10, had a baby strapped to her back. Your hand is God’s hand for that person. We entered the gate at the guest house and a cheerful little boy who lives in the neighborhood waved to us. I sent Erin back out with an orange for him, which he received with gratitude. Your hand is God’s hand for that person.

We can’t fix every problem in the world or even in this small corner of Addis Ababa we’re in right now. But God calls us to make life better for those who deserve help, so we do what we can. Maybe it’s a few dollars (or a lot of dollars) here or there, maybe an orange for a hungry person on the street, sponsoring a child, or caring for an orphan.

Your hand is God’s hand for that person.

I Had Christmas Down in Africa!

Today we said “Melkem Genna”—Merry Christmas in Amharic—as Jan 7 is Christmas Day in Ethiopia. Our Embassy group decided to head out of Addis and take a two hour trip to the gorge. The waterfalls we were looking forward to were not there because it was not rainy season, and the baboons we were hoping to see were not around—probably to stay out of the heat. But one of the best parts of the trip for us was our time with some of the local kids who tried to sell us baskets and hand-made cross necklaces so they could attend school. They also asked for pens. (We made sure to tell the next group to bring lots of pens to pass out!) To end this unforgettable day, we had an amazing time of worship together on the way back to Addis—such a beautiful time together!

When we got back to the Guest House, Rachel Miller showed us a song by Straight No Chaser called “The 12 Days of Christmas” that is quite funny! It has an allusion to the 80’s Toto song “Africa” which I actually downloaded on my ipod before our first trip for court. Thought you might enjoy it as well! I hope the YouTube link works—not sure since I’m trying to do it from Africa!! 🙂

Straight No Chaser – “The 12 Days of Christmas”

On a deeper note, I want to share something about being here on Christmas that I have not told many people before now. I have held onto a promise I felt God made to me a year ago—not sharing it but with a couple people for fear of putting words in God’s mouth or looking silly myself to think God would speak to me. Last Christmas, 2009, I was decorating our tree with my ipod earplugs in, listening to praise music—it was such a meaningful time for me. It was the evening of the last day of one of our fasts about our adoption and I was not hungry at all, except for the hunger I had to praise our faithful Redeemer! I was not thinking about our adoption at all at the time, and yet in the middle of it all, out of the blue I felt like God told me that we would be celebrating Christmas with our Ethiopian kids next year. What?? Really! OK, well, we’ll see what happens. Then when it was coming down to the wire, I really thought we would have the Dec 22 Embassy date and be home in time for Christmas. As time went on, I started to really worry that wouldn’t happen. I think one of the main reasons was because I was afraid God wouldn’t follow through with His promise, or that I was crazy and not really hearing His voice after all. Finally, I came to a place where I could trust Him no matter what, like Abraham with Isaac—that God would provide even if I didn’t understand how (see my earlier blog post when I finally let go of this worry).

Now I understand. We DID celebrate Christmas with our Ethiopian children! Not in my myopic thinking of having it in America, but we celebrated with them in THEIR homeland! It was such an unforgettable experience!! I had to hold tears back much of the evening of the Christmas Eve kids’ service with the children at the Transition Home. I SO wish we could publish the little pageant that they did—I have never seen anything like it and I have seen a lot of Christmas programs in my lifetime! 🙂 Rachel Miller and I kept looking at each other through wet eyes, incredulous of the moment we were sharing, in awe of God’s timing and grace to allow us to experience it, and thankful that God, in His incredible mercy, saw past our complaining and worrying and begging to get our kids sooner, in order that we could experience something “even greater than we could ask or imagine,” and so that God could be glorified!

Embassy Passed, Travel Docs in Hand, Ethiopian Christmas

Yesterday we announced on facebook that we’d passed embassy. After clearing security at the embassy, we and three other AWAA families had a short wait then met one-by-one with the official who handles adoption cases. Suz, Erin, and I raised our right hands and swore that our responses to his questions would be true, then were asked a few questions about ourselves and Aidan and Eva. The interview took only a few minutes and the final step of our adoption journey was complete. Today, the AWAA staff visited the embassy to pick up the passports and immigration documents for the children and delivered them to us at the guest house. We are, as the kids say, “good to go.” We’ve got a few days left before our departure, though, so we’ll visit some nearby special places and report on those as we’re able.

And, as it so happens, tomorrow is Christmas in Ethiopia so tonight we visited the transition home for a big Christmas Eve party. Although we can’t post photos of the kids, we had a terrific time. We and some of the other families brought fun items specifically for the party: Santa hats, Micky Mouse ears, flashing Christmas lights, decorations, and gifts for the kids. The 40-ish kids there played games, sang songs, visited with Santa, and performed the best Christmas pageant we’d ever seen—it was even done in English! We were so grateful to have been here for this—it was a wonderful blessing to celebrate Christmas Eve with the kids and staff.

The Past Two Days in Words and Pictures

Since we arrived in Ethiopia on Saturday night, Suz and I have been sharing the days’ events here and in bits and pieces on facebook. I’m hoping to bring everything together in some kind of summary here.

We’ve mentioned that Erin didn’t fly well on the trip here. She’s still having a difficult time catching up on sleep (at least during the night when she should be sleeping) and the lack of sleep is affecting her eating habits as well. She’s barely eaten like mouse since we arrived and we don’t want her to spiral into a worse state of sleeplessness and hunger. That said, she did very well at the transition house today, playing with Aidan and Eva as well as many of the other children there. Please continue to pray that she’ll get the rest her body needs and be able to eat to keep up her strength.

Here, Erin tries to catch up on sleep after waking up super early in the morning.  In true Ethiopian fashion, she’s covered her face for better sleep.

Suz and Erin at breakfast, though Erin is eating and enjoying little.

On the bright side, Erin and Aidan shared a wonderful moment together when they met for the first time yesterday.  Erin also got some “quality time” with Eva as well.

When we visited the transition home yesterday, we enjoyed some good time with Aidan playing cards, putting together a puzzle, and kicking soccer balls around the compound while Eva napped. He also enjoyed “writing” in Erin’s notebook.

Job, one of the AWAA staff here, is terrific with the kids–they all love him.

Yesterday was laundry day (I imagine there’s probably more than one laundry day a week at the transition home). Lines were draped around the compound with hundreds of baby- and toddler-sized socks, underpants, onesies, shirts, pants, and all manner of children’s clothes hung to waft in the warm, arid breeze.

After another night of fitful sleep(lessness?), Suz went out shopping today while Erin and I stayed back at the guest house. She wasn’t feeling well and slept; I took advantage of the quiet to read.

Two more AWAA families arrived this morning. We had lunch together then went to the transition home this afternoon to see the kids. A traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony had been prepared for us, and these are always a treat.

We played with the kids, delivered care packages from other families, and made photos for some other families as well. We met with one of the staff nurses to get a health update on our children. Aidan is doing fine but Eva wasn’t feeling well when we arrived yesterday and has since been diagnosed with a fever. She has an upper respiratory tract infection which, frankly, is the default condition of most of the babies and toddlers.  She’s on a course of antibiotics that have to be administered via injection for the next few days. Although we would have had to travel to the transition home twice a day to have the nurse take care of this (a 20-30 minute trip one-way, depending on traffic), we met an adoptive mom staying here at the guest house who happens to be an RN. She offered to handle the injections, which will be a huge help to us.

After a group photo with adoptive friends James Smith, Scott and Rachel Miller and our kids, we piled into the van to return to the guest house. Aidan and Eva are now staying with us here and will be with us the remainder of our time in Ethiopia.

As we drove away from the transition home, Aidan was seated next to me, looking out the window, absorbing the sights. He knows he’s going to America; I wonder what he’s thinking now. That these are the last days during which he will see Addis Ababa for many years, its chaos and poverty and beauty? Does he envision America as a kind of fairytale promised land in which his dreams come true? What are his dreams? I couldn’t help but remember that, of the 5 million orphans here in Ethiopia, he and his sister are the lucky ones. They’ve won the lottery. In 2009, fewer than 2,300 Ethiopian orphans were adopted by families in the United States, and the fate of those who remain here is bleak. Many have lost at least one parent to AIDS or some other disease. Without other family members who have the resources to raise them, some—as young as five years old—will take on the responsibility of raising their younger siblings.

We arrived back at the transition home and prepared dinner. Suz had to run an errand with Eva so I cooked some ramen noodles for Erin and Aidan. Erin loves the stuff; Aidan ate a few bites but didn’t really care for it.

He ate some crackers and a slice of bread. After dinner he climbed up into a chair and gazed out the balcony window of our third floor guest house room. I sat down next to him and rubbed his back gently. He stayed there for several minutes with the same pensive look he’d worn in the van. What would we have said to each other if we shared a common language? Does he feel anxious over whether we will love him and his sister and be good parents to them? At four-and-a-half years old, would he be able to articulate his feelings of hope and expectancy, of grief and loss?

I caught a glimpse of an answer, I think, later tonight as we tried to put on his PJs after his shower. I showed Aidan the brand new outfit: a blue long-sleeved top with a handsomely embroidered friendly-looking grizzly bear and striped PJ bottoms. He looked at the shirt then wagged his finger at me and shook his head–no, I don’t want to wear that. He held the pants up, frowned disapprovingly and chucked them across the bed. I managed to get the shirt on with little resistance but he protested the pants by pitching a fit. Suz and I don’t give into fits, our other children have learned, and, well, now Aidan is one of our children as well. I held him for several minutes while he kicked his legs this way and that; slowly, though, he tired and lost momentum. In the end, there were a few, small silent tears as he surrendered and let me pull the PJ pants on, one leg at a time. I held him close and told him he was a gobez, “good boy,” and kissed him on the cheek. After another minute or two, the episode was forgotten as we happily pushed Matchbox cars back and forth to each other across the room’s hardwood floor (I hope there’s no one in the room below us; if so, I’m truly sorry).

Tomorrow we’ll have our “paperwork party” after the final two embassy couples arrive. On Wednesday, we head to the embassy to get the kids’ visas so they can enter the US. We did learn today that, thankfully, all of our paperwork has been submitted and the embassy has everything it needs (at least, as of today). Please pray that these last few pieces will fall into place so we can get on a plane next week, all five of us here. Pray also for Erin and Eva that they will feel better soon, and pray that we and Aidan will continue the slow process of learning who we are and how to trust each other. Thanks again for all of your faithful support.

2011: The Year of the Lord’s Favor

We passed over the ocean yesterday, passed into a new year, and are passing into a whole new chapter in our lives. When we got to the Guest House in Ethiopia (basically a hotel where we stay), I signed us in and was surprised to see the dates we were “arriving” and “departing”: 1-1-11 and 1-11-11.  It’s a year of firsts as well.  We are excited to see what God beholds for our family and our community!

As most of you know, there is some trepidation for this trip in that we never truly received “confirmation” of our Embassy appointment on Jan 5.  We were told there “should not be a problem” and that it happens that way sometimes (see our past blog entry).  We have to acknowledge in writing that we are taking a risk in coming, yet we still have to come or we will miss our Jan 5 appointment.  It is our choice, but do we really have one??

Then, right before we passed through airport security in Peoria on Friday, we got a call from our agency to tell us that there is another piece of paper that the Embassy wants that is in Ethiopia and “should not be a problem to get on Monday or so.”  So even more turmoil in the pit of my stomach.  I’m a pretty practical person, for the most part, and common sense tells us this is a “crazy” way to spend our time, energy, and money if we don’t even know for sure how things will go with the Embassy.  But we walked through security and got on the plane.

We flew up out of the stormy darkness (literally—that was the day we had tornadoes and 60 degree weather on New Year’s Eve!) and above the clouds into the beautiful sunshine.  I got my Bible out to continue in my reading in Isaiah at chapter 60.  I noticed that the sun was beaming through the window right onto the pages.  Then I read this:

“Arise shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isa 60:1-3)

I thought, “Oh, that’s cool.  Thank you, God, for this special little gift of sunshine in my life, far above the storms below.”  But then I continued:

“Lift up your eyes and look about you;
All assemble and come to you;
your sons come from afar,
and your daughters are carried on the arm.
Then you will look and be radiant,
your heart will throb and swell with joy;
the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
to you the riches of the nations will come.” (Isa 60:4-5)

Tears I wasn’t expecting came streaming down my face, as they are right now as I write this.  Who am I, that God chooses to give such specific comfort to??  Some may doubt that this was a “Word from God,” but I believe that He was reminding me of his promise that he made to me years ago and He is continuing to work out now.  He will see it through—He is forever faithful!  So I will not give in to fear or doubt him.  I will trust him, even when things don’t look like they are going like I thought they would or should.  I believe that, still in His timing, we will bring our “son home from this far land” and our “daughter in my arms”!  “Joy will radiate out of me and my heart will swell” as “many will assemble” and come to us at the airport (and later at home) after we bring our little “riches from across the seas” home forever!

Thank you, Lord for your Word of Encouragement to me!  I trust you will do YOUR will in our lives and that no one, not even government officials, can thwart your plans because, as you say at the end of this chapter in Isaiah:

“I am the Lord;
in its time I will do this swiftly.” (Isa 60:22b)

Thanks to all who are praying and following us on this journey.  May you be encouraged as well of His eternal faithfulness.  I do ask, please, that you would pray that we will find out Monday morning that all is well with the Embassy.  I will trust Him no matter what happens, but I will be able to let my heart truly live this experience better knowing that we are bringing these children home at the end of this week!  Tomorrow afternoon we are supposed to go get them and they will be with us for the remainder of our stay here in Ethiopia.  But it would hurt my heart if something went wrong with the paperwork and we were not able to keep them after they lived with us for a week!  Even if it was a matter of timing and we had to come back again, I can’t imagine how that would affect the kids, feeling abandoned once again.  So it is difficult to let my heart fully attach when there is the slightest possibility that we might not bring them home this week, and mostly difficult to think what that would do in the kids’ hearts.  I am not doubting God’s power and will, but I cannot proclaim to fully know how He will enact His will either.  Whatever happens, we pray He is glorified!

As I continued in my Isaiah reading later on another flight, it seemed fitting that I was next in Isa 61:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…” (Isa 61:1-2)

I know these Holy Scriptures were written to the prophet Isaiah, not to the prophet Suzanne.  I know there is context to these verses that goes far beyond what we are doing in a small home in a little town in central Illinois.  But I also believe God’s Word is “living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword,” and it has pierced my heart throughout this journey. These are not words He has spoken only to the Gowin family.  It is clear all throughout Scripture that it is His divine will that His people lift up and care for the poor, the brokenhearted, and the prisoners, as in Isaiah 61 above.  God may or may not be calling everyone of His people to adopt orphans, but He IS calling everyone of them to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, invite in the strangers, clothe the needy, look after the sick, and visit and encourage prisoners who are in all types of slavery (see Matt 25:31-46).  It is my prayer that this year, 2011, will be the Year of the Lord’s Favor—that God will glorify Himself and do countless acts of justice and mercy throughout the world by working through the lives of all of His people.