Faith, dead or alive?

Hmm, sounds like a Bon Jovi song…… but that’s not where I am headed.

Last night, in the middle of our first dinner together, Ramen noodles in our room, tears started to fill Kieran’s eyes.  I tried to ask him what was wrong, but he didn’t want to answer.  Did we say something that unknowingly offended?  We were just talking about how our dog Elli used to like to sit under Liam when we all sat around the dinner table because that was the likeliest place to find crumbs.  Did that remind him that he was not sitting with his first family for dinner?  Was he worried about his birth father or upset that we did not end up seeing him that day like we planned?

He didn’t want to say and was obviously trying to stop the tears, but to no avail.  When he and I were alone and I asked him again and he kept trying to tell me he was okay.  I didn’t want to push, but I explained that it was okay that he was sad and I wanted to help him.  He finally told me that he was worried about his father.  It seemed as though he didn’t want to tell me because he didn’t want ME to worry about HIM (as is consistent with the Ethiopian “it is no problem” culture, not wanting others to concern themselves with their own problems), or because he didn’t want me to feel bad that he was thinking about his father though he was with us.  Probably the former, but with the language and cultural and teen barrier, I truly do not know.

Today after church, we went to visit Kieran’s birth father at the hospital.  His only living parent has been blind from polio since age seven, and now he is in the hospital after having a major hip surgery two weeks ago.  (He fell and broke it about 8 weeks ago and spent a good 4 weeks just waiting for a hospital bed and another couple weeks waiting for the surgery.  That’s a long time to wait for hip surgery.)  He explained that the physical therapy is showing that his leg is not working well and now he has to leave the hospital since his two weeks post-surgery is up.  He used to have a friend he stayed with some in Addis, but that is not going to work out any more.  His relatives live in such remote village that it takes an 8-9 hour bus trip plus a 30 min walk to get home.

Now I was the one sitting there crying, as the sound of the unseasonal rain outside filled the scene as on cue.  All I could hear in my head was James 2:16 (which, come to find out, is in the next session of my Beth Moore: James study):

“If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

Yet, this is what I am about to do.  I am going to leave him with all these needs, and I don’t think I can do anything about them.  It is illegal for an adoptive parent to give large gifts to the birth family of whom you are adopting.  We leave on a plane in 3 days.  What can I do?  Is my faith dead?  Am I ignoring the sermon this morning about having compassion, which is more of a verb than an adjective?

I wasn’t making any noise with my cry, but the remaining senses of blind people are often heightened. He then told me through the translator not worry about him, that he would be alright.  He assured me that he is better than he was before the surgery, that he was thankful for our help, and that he would be praying for us.  You hear that?  HE doesn’t want ME to worry.

What are you wanting me to do, Lord?  What can I do?  I know some may try to tell me that we have already done enough, that we have come all the way across the world to take care of his son so he doesn’t end up alone on the streets with a bum leg like his father.  And we did arrange for the payment of this surgery through others, though we did not ourselves pay any of it.  But how do I know what is enough?  Is there ever an “enough”?  Would James or his half-brother Jesus let me off the hook?  I am thinking not.

Please pray for wisdom to know how to have compassion with action, a faith that is alive.

Traveling Light

All of Kieran's stuff

Suzanne, Liam, and I arrived in Ethiopia yesterday morning to bring Kieran to our home in Illinois. After dropping our bags at the guest house, we drove to the transition home where Kieran has lived for the last few months. The eight hour time difference between Lincoln and Addis Ababa is proving rough for Liam: he fell asleep on the table at lunch. Right now, at 3:00 AM local time, he and I are up reading and writing.

We’ll have more details to share in the days ahead. For now, this:

Every valuable material thing Kieran has with him fit into the small bag photographed above.

His backpack is a metaphor and a lesson for me.

Many more, however, are the memories of his father, his brothers and sisters, his friends, the life he’s known in Ethiopia that Kieran carries deep in his heart. Days of loss and grieving lie before us. We would not expect otherwise.

But it’s our prayer that God is in this journey with all of us and that He will make all things new.

So what was I reading before I started writing this morning?

Matthew 25.

Thanks to all of you who help care for the least. Travel light, friends.

Goodbye Elli

Today was a hard day.  It marks the end of an era.  Our almost 14-year-old dog Elli has gone to doggy heaven, or wherever good little doggies (and maybe even the naughty ones) go.  The vet said she is now running free in Creation as God intended it.  I don’t have the theological answers, though I was asked several times by my kiddos.  What I do know is that God created her with purpose, loves her as He does all His creation, and is taking care of her now.  She is no longer in pain.  Yet even with the seven of us, our house feels much more quiet and empty tonight.

So I need to write a post on the passing of our old puppy who was, by many standards, another family member.  I realized recently that there has hardly been a day in the lives of most of our kids that she has not been present.  The older two kids skipped school today and are still having trouble sleeping tonight.  The middle two are sad and bring it up often, but will have an easier time moving on.  And Eva, she just keeps seeing someone cry and exclaims, “Erin sad?…. Tissue!  Be right back!”  Then she trots off, brings back a wadded tissue, and insists on wiping eyes and making people blow. “There y’go.”

Elli was our first “child.”  She was a black labrador we purchased from a breeder at 8 weeks old.  We knew labs were about the best and safest kind of dog we could get for our future family, so that is how we made our choice.  I had planned on naming her “Angel” because I wanted her to watch over us.  But the night before we went to pick her up from the breeder, I read in Luke where John the Baptist was foretold to come in the Spirit of Elijah, to prepare the way of the Lord.  I knew our dog was going to help prepare us for the rest of our children, so I chose the female version of Eli: Elli.  (You knew there had to be a spiritual influence on the naming of even our dog, didn’t you??)  As you will see below, “Angel” wouldn’t have been the most appropriate name for her anyway. 🙂

So Elli has indeed done a lot to prepare us for the rearing of mischievous small children. 🙂  A habit I started long ago, to constantly make sure the bathroom door, basement door, and gate to the upstairs were closed, is still in effect today—even with the newest installations of baby door locks.  I still fuss at the other kids who forget to close these safeties, as I bring the baby back downstairs again (as I used to do with Elli).  We have been reminiscing about the things Elli used to do, and I would like to share some of the highlights.

As labs do, she loved to eat.  Anything.

Uncountable baby socks were digested and found in the back yard when the first two kids were little.

Crayons were like candy to her and she would focus and wait like a vulture for an unsuspecting child to drop one or leave the entire BOX unattended for 3 seconds.  The back yard was very colorful.

Money was yummy.  Once she ate two $20 bills.  Yes, I found them in the back yard, ripped only a couple times, washed and sterilized them, and turned them into the bank for new.  (What. I had gloves on.  40 bucks is 40 bucks when you are newly married.  Or even now.)  There was another time when she snacked on a $100 bill sent in the mail from Gramps, but I never found that one.

She loved trash.  (Hearing the Grouch’s song in my head right now: “Oh, I love trash….”)  She would sneak upstairs to the bedroom trash and rip it to shreds in seconds—hence the installed gate to the upstairs and door closed to the basement.  Used tissues were a delicacy—she would focus and wait patiently for the second a fresh one was forgotten, snatch it, and run off to hide and eat her prey.  When that was not available, she would devour the toilet paper right off the rolls in the bathroom—hence the closing of the bathroom doors.  Her favorite time to sneak off to do these hunting excursions was when the kids came home from school and we weren’t giving her attention (though she often just laid around during the day while they were gone), or while we prayed during dinner.  Did I mention she was naughty?

She also loved to eat sewing material, and some of her greatest feasts came with novice grandmas, unaccustomed to the ways of a stealthy four-legged omnivore.  She once ate a fully-loaded pin cushion.  Yes, it is true.  We called the vet and he said to feed her a half loaf of bread then, and another half 6 hours later, hoping to bulk up the pins as they passed.  (We swear we heard Elli say, “Yum! Dessert! Thanks!”)  They did pass, surprisingly uneventfully.  One grandma sewing project, the 12 baby bumper pad ties that got wadded in her stomach like a baseball—well, that one wasn’t quite as pretty.

Her favorite toy was the “Indestructible Kong.”  Well, it was the leastde-structible, anyway.  It would last several months, as opposed to several seconds with the other dog toys.  And she was a retriever at heart.  She would play catch-the-Kong (or whatever else you would throw—it’s just that the Kong was the only thing that would make it back to us in one piece) till the thrower gave up.  I’m not sure she would ever stop the game if she had the choice. She even bit a whole in her tongue once from catching the Kong in her mouth, but it never phased her.  She was ready to go again!  The black scar on her pink tongue (as seen in the last picture below) was a regular reminder of her eagerness to persist in her God-given purpose: to retrieve.

The kids would play a fun game with her—they would make her sit and stay (oh so difficult to do but she tried really hard) and they would hide the Kong.  Within seconds, she had followed the trail and would return proudly with her prey, eager to go again.  When guests came, she didn’t care about getting a pat or a scratch behind the ears.  She ran to get her slobbery Kong to drop in their laps.  And you couldn’t throw it off or she would become even more persistent—that must mean you wanted to play!

Even like Eva now, Elli loved to “see the people.”  If we had bags packed in the front room for a trip, she would lay by them for hours, hopeful we would not forget to take her too.  And on school days, she would come stare at me starting about 1:30, wondering if it was time yet to walk to school and pick up the kids.  (About every 10 school days, the kids are dismissed at 1:45 instead of 3:00, so I think that’s why she was always hopeful starting at 1:30.)  She was like the Central Elementary School mascot.  Everyone loved Elli, and I was affectionately known as “Elli’s mom.”

In the last couple years, she finally started losing her “puppy-ness” and was no longer able to join us on our walks to school, as I had to practically drag or carry her on the way home.  In the last several months, she was obviously in more and more pain, but still never complained.  We got to where we were giving her a push from behind up the outside back steps, and we were worried how much more difficult that was going to be for her in the winter.  More and more she was eating less and losing control of bodily functions.  I prayed we would know when it was time.  Though I knew it would be hard on the kids to say goodbye, I also knew it would be worse to watch her pass at home.  And I was concerned that if she actually made it till after Kieran came home, he might forever associate our tears and sadness of losing her, with whom he really had no history, with his coming here to live with us.  I would hate that for him and for our family.  (He might have even been afraid of her—most “dogs” in Ethiopia are wild hyenas who harm people.)  Besides, he will already be grieving much loss as it is.

So it was evident that it was time.  Our hearts ache, missing her, but I have to keep reminding myself that it was for the best.  Lots of extra pictures and videos were taken by the kids yesterday, Labor Day, after we told them.  Below are some pictures Michael took “just in case” before we left on our last trip to Ethiopia.

Goodbye, you little stinker.  Oh how you loved us.  Even when you got lower and lower on the totem pole with each new kid, you still patiently let them crawl on you and poke and pull and stick their hands in your food bowl while eating, without even so much as a snarl.  Thank you for unselfishly preparing the way.