A Fun Game: “In My Mind I Just…”

Erin (our almost 14-year-old) and I have been playing this game lately we’re calling “In My Mind.”

It usually starts with a conversation between us that may be just a little “off.” For example, Erin’s telling me about some bit of her day at school and I start to space out a little, envisioning the story taking a different direction. Or maybe I just get distracted and see myself doing something completely unexpected and extreme while she’s telling the story. So I tell her, “In my mind, I just plowed into you like Hobbes when Calvin gets home from school.”

HobbesPouncesErin might then respond by saying, “In my mind I just watched you walk into the kitchen but I was hiding behind the door and I smashed it into you and you fell down and cried.”

Interestingly, a lot of her “in my mind” vignettes end up with me injured and crying. Not sure what that says about me, her, or how she perceives our relationship…

Video: “Old Stuff”


And now for something a little different.

It’s spring break for me (Michael) this week and I wanted to get out of the teaching routine, stretch my legs a bit. So I decided to make a short film about old things in and around our house.

Have a look. And watch until the end–there’s a punchline.

We Spent a Week on a Plane One Day

Traveling shoes - Michael Gowin

Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
— Romans 8.24-25

We’re home.

We left the guest house in Addis Ababa on Thursday around 2:00 PM (Ethiopia time). From the three flights, layovers, delays, driving from the airport, and other general waiting around, it took us about 38 hours to get home.

Maura fell asleep on the flight from Dallas to Peoria and had a hard time waking up enough to even walk off the plane. She slept in the car for the 45 minutes back to Lincoln and went straight to bed once we got home.

It was good to get home last night, to sleep in our own beds. I’m looking forward to a hot shower later. And, from what they tell me, everyone else here is looking forward to my taking a hot shower, too.

Since our last flight from Dallas was delayed, it was after 7:00 when we drove home from Peoria. The sunlight was gorgeous on the corn and bean fields along I-155. As we drove Suz and I talked about some of the contrasts between Ethiopia and here:

  • On our trip to southern Ethiopia, we watched farmers drive wooden plows behind oxen on small plots. Some used hoes and hand tools to break up the soil. In America, farming is a science dominated by decades of research, knowledge, and machinery.
  • Roads here get clogged with cars and trucks. In Ethiopia, they get clogged with people, sheep, goats, donkey-driven carts, and cattle.
  • Everyone here owns a car and they’re all relatively new. In Ethiopia, they take blue-and-white taxis. The small sedans for a couple people are expensive; most folks ride in a minivan that hauls 10-15 people and doesn’t leave its stop until it’s full. Addis has other public busses as well but few people own cars. And a car from the mid-90’s is considered “new.”
  • You can drink water straight from the tap here and it won’t make you sick.
  • Black diesel fumes choke the air in the city. But you get used to it after a while.
  • The Internet here is zippy. In Ethiopia it’s more like dial-up. On a good day.
  • It’s easy to get anything here in the US. Seriously. If you have money, you can get it. Even if you don’t have money, you can get it (loans, credit cards–but that’s another story).
  • America is a place of opportunity (I alluded to this the other day). Ethiopia wants to offer that but economics and other factors make it impossible for most people.

We really have it good in America. If you haven’t taken time to reflect on that, please do. Then do something to help someone else who could use a hand. Maybe here or here or even here if you’re so inclined. You have lots of options if you look.

While it’s good to be home, we’re aware that we’re not all here. We have to wait another two months (or so) for our embassy appointment. At that point, Kieran will join us.

Pictured above are the shoes that Suzanne, Maura, and I wore while we traveled. They bear the dust and sand from Dubai and the beach at the Persian Gulf as well as dust and mud from the hundreds of miles (or kilometers) we traveled in Ethiopia.

After our embassy trip, I’ll make this photo again but with an extra pair of shoes. Or maybe a photo with eight pairs of shoes. We’ll see.

Until then we live in the “already but not yet,” a family of eight but only seven of whom reside in our house. Until then, we hope for that which we don’t have.

Until then, we wait patiently.

We Have a New Son

On a cloudy and uncharacteristically cool day in Addis Ababa, we attended court to learn if we’d be able to adopt another child.

We passed.

Here is Kieran Solomon Sintayehu Gowin, our newest and oldest son.

Newest Gowin family member - Michael Gowin

We’ll post some more details later but we know that friends and family are eager for news and photos. So we’re giving the people what they want.

Again, we’ll have more soon. Thanks to all those who’ve been praying for us and supporting us on this journey.

Ethiopia Will Break You

Neighborhood kids in Addis Ababa - © Michael Gowin

It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.
–Dag Hammarskjold

In the two posts I’ve written about our trip to Ethiopia this week, I’ve shared the agendas and details of our days but little of what’s taking place inside of me. Reflection takes time and I’ve been able to let some things simmer for a few days. Here’s a quick summary:

Ethiopia is killing me.


The kids at the transition home. They’re kids without families. And they want families to love them. We’ve played cards with them, passed out glow sticks, bracelets and other treats. They want to sit with you (and on you), to touch you, to hold your hand. They want to be wanted.

The kids outside the transition home. Each time we pull up in the van, they’re out there–the ones I photographed above–asking for a bit of food or a toy car. They live in the crowded apartments nearby and spend their time outside in the streets. They smile and laugh and push and clamor. They want attention, too.

Solomon. He enjoys our company, smiles and laughs occasionally, but he’s also pensive, thoughtful, and lost in his own reflections at times. His Ethiopian name means “how much I see” or “how much I’ve experienced.” In his 15 years he’s endured more loss and tragedy than most. There lies a deep sadness behind his dark, gentle eyes. I hope that we can help redeem his story.

The future. My children could enjoy a more prosperous material life than me, or at least a similar life, if they go to school, work hard, seek opportunities. Same holds for most everyone who lives in America.

Not true for the majority of Ethiopians.

Much of this country’s population still lives in conditions similar to those of people living in the time of Jesus. That’s 2000 years of non-progress.

Most children here will live the same way their parents did, and their children will live the same way as well. Planting, harvesting, raising sheep or goats or donkeys or cattle, eking out a living from one season to the next. Or not.

For them, progress (or a “better life”) is less than an abstraction; it is an impossibility.

For me, Ethiopia raises more questions than answers. If Ethiopia and I were in a relationship on Facebook, I’d indicate, “It’s complicated.” This is a remarkable place with remarkable people in so many ways. And it’s a frustrating place in so many ways.

Ethiopia will break you. Break you like glass dropped on concrete.

So what do I do?

The problems here are overwhelming. And not just here: pick any third-world country and you can tell the same story.

So–I plod forward one step, one day at a time. Attempt to be faithful to simple commands.

Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Who is my neighbor? Go and do likewise.

Continue to love in this dangerous time and kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.

In the midst of questions and frustrations, give myself completely to the One who gave himself for me and to those whom God has entrusted to my care.

Today: take in a boy who needs a home and a father.


2012 Ethiopia Adoption Trip Update #3

Traditional Ethiopian singer - Michael Gowin

We’ve spent a lot of time not sleeping since we left Illinois and it’s already 11:30 PM here now. I’m making this one quick.

It’s Sunday and we attended services this morning at the international church here with the other families staying at the guest house. Since we arrived in Addis Ababa on Thursday, four other families have joined us. We’ve had a chance to visit with all of them and continue to enjoy the path that God has set before all of us. It’s a delight to share experiences with others who are on the same journey.

Side note: Adoptive families talk about airline flights the way you talk about the weather with other folks. It’s something we all have in common. How was your flight? What airline? KLM? How was that? Lufthansa? What did you think of the Frankfort airport? Did you do the overnight in Dubai on Emirates? How many people threw up on the plane?

The international church is evangelical and (probably) Baptist in its theology. The worship is “contemporary Christian” but featured a broader range of music than what I’ve encountered in similar services in the States. Given the stark differences in culture between Ethiopia and the States, I expected the preaching to address the realities of life here; it didn’t. You could have taken this service, stuck it in any middle-class, Bible church in the Midwest and not have known the difference. Except for the congregation. It was truly “international” and featured a wide variety of Africans, Asians, Europeans, and westerners. That was cool.

After church, we visited and ate lunch together at Metro Pizza. You can get really good—I mean really good—pizza in Addis. Some of the best pizza I’ve had. Really. A few doors down we hit a Kaldi’s Coffee shop for coffee and dessert. Kaldi’s is the Starbucks of Ethiopia. It’s said that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia, a tradition to which the folks here hold fast and proud.

Maura contemplates her ice cream at Kaldi's Coffee, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Michael Gowin

The transition home with some time with Solomon was our next stop. Before we drove through the gate, the neighborhood boys I photographed the other day (plus another accomplice) were waiting outside. They ran up to the van and asked for some food (they’ve learned that this is a good spot to hang out). I gave them my leftover pizza and one of the other families gave them some granola bars. The expressions they wore said, “Jackpot!”

Ethiopian boys with food - Michael Gowin

We spent a couple hours with Solomon today, chatting and taking pictures. He flipped through the family photos we had on our phones and learned a little more about his brothers and sisters. We talked about some foods that he liked or didn’t like and tried to figure out his clothing sizes. Tomorrow we plan to spend most of the day together and we’re looking forward to simply being with him.

Late this afternoon we relaxed for a bit at the guest house before heading out to dinner at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant, Habesha 2000. Injera was on the menu as well as cultural music and dancing from the various areas around Ethiopia. Several diners—including a couple from our party—were invited to dance with the pros. By invited, I mean that some volunteered and others were coerced and cajoled. All were good sports nonetheless and everyone enjoyed themselves.

Dining at Habesha 2000 - Michael Gowin

After the constant to and fro since we left home, I needed today’s slower pace. We’re still getting to bed late and this is taking a toll on Maura. Hopefully we’ll get all of us in bed earlier tomorrow.

Until then, thanks for your continued prayers and support. Blessings.

2012 Ethiopia Adoption Trip Update #1

We landed in Ethiopia today and met Solomon. More on that in a few moments. First, here’s what’s happened in the last couple days.

We left Peoria on Tuesday, July 17. Our flight was supposed to depart at 7:00 AM so we were there eaaarrrrlly. Passengers and crew boarded and were ready to leave on time; however, the pilot discovered that previous day’s maintenance crew left some paperwork unfinished and we couldn’t leave until that was completed. And the maintenance people wouldn’t arrive until 8:00 AM. So we deplaned, waited, maintenance resolved the problem and we left at 8:30.

Obligatory wing shot - Michael Gowin
Obligatory wing shot – Michael Gowin


We arrived at Dallas (DFW) with plenty of time (but less) before our next flight, grabbed a quick lunch, then boarded. We chose to fly Emirates Airlines for this trip, which would overnight us in Dubai then bring us to Addis Ababa the next day. Because the flight to Dubai is some 16 hours and you cross 8 or 9 time zones, our 12:30 PM departure from DFW got us to Dubai the next day (July 18) at 1:00 PM. Suz and I pulled an all-nighter before we left to get stuff packed and things squared away; we were traveling toast.

Suz took a snooze while we cruised - Michael Gowin
Suz took a snooze while we cruised – Michael Gowin


The airport in Dubai–like most everything else there–is new, huge, and designed to impress. In the middle of the desert, Dubai is full of five-star hotels and resorts, luxury brand shopping, pricey real estate, and devoid of any pedestrian traffic during the day because it’s so stinkin’ hot. But it’s very clean and safe. We’re not really shoppers or 5-star hotel people but it was interesting to see those things. And Emirates does a fantastic job of taking care of its passengers: they put us up in a hotel, covered our meals during our stay and painlessly got us to and from the airport. The crews were also great.

We had time in the afternoon to take a two-hour taxi tour of the city as well. We stopped at a few sites including the Burj Khalifa, (currently) the world’s tallest building.

Suz and Maura outside the Burj Khalifa - Michael Gowin
Suz and Maura outside the Burj Khalifa – Michael Gowin


Before we left Dubai this morning, we met a couple from Montana, Brian and Danna Hopkins, at the airport who were also on an adoption trip. They’re using the same agency as we are, AWAA, and came to Ethiopia last week for their court appointment. They were in Dubai for a short getaway before returning to the States. Turns out that they’re also staying at the same guest house in Addis Ababa so we were able to visit some more and enjoyed dinner together tonight at the Zebra Grill here.

You meet the nicest people while adopting.

Maura checks out our plane in Dubai - Michael Gowin
Maura checks out our plane in Dubai – Michael Gowin


So we arrived at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa early this afternoon, cleared the circus customs and baggage claim, then were met by our friend Job, one of the AWAA staff here. Job also fits into that “meeting the nicest people while adopting” category. We took a quick trip to the guest house to drop off our bags then headed over to the transition home to meet Solomon.

FedEx will get it there overnight, even in Ethiopia. - Michael Gowin
FedEx will get it there overnight, even in Ethiopia (but the trucks are a little different). – Michael Gowin


And that brings us to the part that you’ve probably been waiting for.

We’ve heard a lot about Solomon from AWAA friends who’ve met him. “Oh, he’s such a sweet boy!” is the most common response, followed by “I was so glad to hear he had a family!” and “We LOVED spending time with him at the transition home.”

That’s quite a reputation.

Though we’ve spent only an hour-ish with him so far, we look forward to seeing all those qualities that others have shared about him in the days and months ahead. But here are some impressions and reflections.

Solomon is very small, maybe the same height as Erin, but seems to have strong shoulders (probably from using his crutches–despite which he’s quite agile). He has strong, well-defined facial features and reminds me of a half-sized Laurence Fishburne.

He is quiet, gentle, soft-spoken but attentive and thoughtful. He appears eager to learn–we brought an English-Amharic phrase book and he was quick to sound out and read the English words. This will be a huge help to him when he transitions to his new home, culture, and schools. Though his quietness makes him appear shy he is not withdrawn. He converses easily through a translator.

Games, fixing things, and the color blue are among his favorite things. Since Aidan, Erin, and Maura all enjoy playing games and Liam enjoys building and fixing things, Solomon should fit in perfectly. 🙂

When he came out of the transition home and I hugged him, I could feel him trembling. I’m sure he was nervous and scared–who wouldn’t be? He probably has as many or more questions about us and what his life will look like as we do about him. But he warmed up as we sat and chatted, each taking turns asking questions. We joked and laughed a bit and took some pictures together. We won’t be able to show any pictures until after we pass court; please pray for that.

NOTE: what follows steps outside the narrative and approaches a sermonette. You’ve been warned.

The arrival of adoptive moms and dads always draws a crowd at the transition home, so we were surrounded by a gaggle of curious onlookers while we visited with Solomon. These kids, who are dearly loved by the same Father and who trade smiles so easily, need homes with parents who will love them. It takes a lot to do that and it’s hard.

But someone has to do it.

If not me and Suzanne then who? If not the Church then who? Who else is better equipped to love with self-sacrifice? Who else will say “yes” if not us?

Someone has to do it.

Adoption gives us a window into God’s heart. And I look forward to seeing that window open further as Solomon becomes part of our family. I believe I’m a better man, a better husband, a better father because of the insights I’ve gained through adoption. I would have missed so much if we’d not said “yes.”

Sermonette over.

We’ll be traveling outside Addis Ababa the next two days and likely won’t have Internet access. We’ll be back online as we’re able.

Thanks for following our story. I expect Suzanne will make a post with her insights and it will have much more emotional appeal than the observational/analytical angle of mine. But that’s who we are and how we work. So look forward to that.

Since we can’t post photos of Solomon yet and we can’t post photos of the other kids at the orphanage (privacy reasons), here are a couple boys we met playing outside today. Their enthusiasm is typical of what you’ll find among the children in Ethiopia.

Ethiopian boys playing in the neighborhood - Michael Gowin
Ethiopian boys playing in the neighborhood – Michael Gowin


It’s now 12:30 AM here. That’s all for us.

Peace and blessings.

Addition from Suzanne: BTW, don’t get too attached to “Solomon” as his name—that will be his middle name—we will have to let you know his first name later!  🙂