Sunday, January 28, 2007

Pieces of Our Hearts

We hopped in the car after church today and drove 1 1/2 hours away to visit the very first foster child that we had in our home four years ago. It was great to see her. It is not too often that we get to do that now that she is in a different town than us.

There are many great benefits to fostering. One of them is having the opportunity to give of yourself and build into the lives of children. But you also have the opportunity to receive a new richness in your life that comes from having your life become intertwined with so may others. Yes, your life will be "harder" since you will have to give a piece of your heart away each time a child leaves, but "richer" as well. We count it a privilege to have known and loved each child that has passed through our home.

So consider contacting your local children services agency, not to foster, but just to do a little volunteering. That is how my wife and I got started so many years ago. We simply volunteered in a program similar in style to the Big Brothers & Big Sisters program. But do be careful! After a few years it led to fostering, which led to adopting, which led to . . . who knows what is next?

Eating Ethiopian Style

Last night our family got together with some other families that are also adopting from Ethiopia to cook an Ethiopian meal. The preparation started the day before when a few of the ladies went to a local Ethiopian market to buy spices and injera. The menu consisted of Doro Wat (chicken stew), Vegetable Alecha, Kae Misr Wat (Red Lentil Stew) and Iab (a lemon-flavored cheese and yogurt mixture)--all served up on fresh injera. Another friend prepared some curry chicken with an African influence from her mother-in-law. It was all very yummy! We did have a backup plan for the kids -- good ol' American pizza!

The whole house is taking on the smells of Ethiopia, as the spices are very aromatic! A primary spice included in a lot of the Ethiopian dishes is called berbere. It is extremely HOT and must be used carefully to protect our uninitiated palates. Other spices common to the foods we prepared are cardamom, caraway seed, ginger, garlic, paprika and nutmeg.

Injera is the primary bread eaten with an Ethiopian meal. It is made from a grain grown primarily in Ethiopia called teff. Injera resembles an over-sized crepe (but medium brown colored) filled with lots of little "eyes" or holes made from bubbles that form while it cooks. A large flat griddle is used to cook the batter into a 15-20 inch circle. The sour-tasting injera is placed onto a platter and the various stews are dished onto the middle of the platter. Those enjoying the meal together each have their own piece of injera and tear off smaller pieces to scoop food out of the common dish.

With a special new griddle one friend made an attempt to cook her own injera. More practice will surely perfect the special technique!

If you're feeling adventurous and want to try something, the Doro Wat is a classic. The berbere is a necessary ingredient – you can find it at your local Ethiopian market. Here's a recipe:

Doro Wat
3 1b chicken (I used boneless, skinless)
2 c. onions, chopped
2 T. garlic, minced
2 T. lemon juice
salt to taste
2 t. fresh ginger, chopped
1/2 t. Fenugreek
1/2 t. cardamom
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 c. butter or niter kebbeh
3/4 c. water
1/4 c. dry white wine
1/4 c. Berbera sauce
2 T. paprika
4 hard-boiled eggs

Cut chicken into serving pieces and pat dry. Combine onion, garlic, lemon juice, salt, ginger, fenugreek, cardamom, nutmeg and butter in a saucepan. Simmer 2-3 minutes. Add the water, wine, berbere sauce and paprika. Cook briskly for 3-5 minutes or until sauce is the consistency of cream. Add the chicken. Cover tightly and simmer 15 minutes. Pierce eggs with the tines of a fork and add to the pan. Cover and cook 15 minutes more, or until chicken is tender.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Feeling the Support of Fellow Coworkers

I received notice the other day of another meeting that I had to attend during a pretty busy week. Much to my surprise, when I arrived I discovered the "meeting" was just a cover for a surprise adoption shower. I had no clue. As I looked back on the last few days and the interactions I had with others about the "meeting", I realized how they had all played me so well.

I was also surprised at how much it meant to me. The show of support by my fellow coworkers taking time out of the end of their day, bringing food and gift cards, and offering words of encouragement was really meaningful to me. My wife and I have been advocating for adoption for about a year. In addition to advocating, at various times we also have been defending our decision to bring additional children from Ethiopia into our home. It was so refreshing to stand in the midst of people I respect and feel supported by them. I can't thank them enough.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Introducing Our New Children

Since we were adopting older children, there was no need to wait for a referral as one does for an infant. There were already many children waiting for homes. Our adoption agency gave us web access to the photo lists. You look at all of these tiny photos of children looking back at you and pick one out with virtually no information at all. Of course this seems strange and you want to know so much more, but then you don't really get to pick your birth kids either!

This is the first photo we saw of K.D. from the photo list. While in some way it seems a bit arbitrary which child you pick from the photo list, in another way it seems ordained. As you gaze at the faces, some just leap off the page at you. And the ones that you are drawn to are different than the ones that others are drawn to. K.D. seemed like a good fit for our family since he was just about the age of our boys and could join our "boy group".

Then came the task of picking out a little bit older of a girl to join our "girl group". We looked over the photo list and chose S.M. Her father had died and her mother could not care for her as a single mother in a land that can be harsh on single parents. It is nearly impossible here in America to imagine what the poverty must be like for a mother to choose to give up her child. When the agency went back and told S.M.'s mother that a family had been found for her, the mother changed her mind. It is hard to know half a world away, in a different culture, and hearing the story third or fourth hand just exactly what happened. We were surprised at the sense of loss we felt and at how attached we had grown to the 1 inch by 2 inch picture we had so carefully been studying for the past few weeks. But in the end we knew that if the mother had found a way to make life possible for her and her child, it would be a sweet blessing for them to be together.

By this time we had received a DVD of children from our agency. We went back to the DVD to watch the often painfully awkward 10 to 15 second clips of kids who were in some way performing for unknown faces in America. This is an image that we captured from the video of F.G. who we had not noticed on the photo list. We once again were drawn in and found ourselves giving our hearts away when our brain was saying, "Slow down, it is not for sure yet!" But it was too late.

More time passed and eventually we were allowed to send a 1 gallon zip lock bag for each child. We filled the bag with a few toiletries, a little hard candy, gum, markers, a notebook, a shirt, a small toy or two, and a small photo album of our family. Our agency actually took a video of them presenting the bag and photo album to our kids, which was a delight to see. This was the first time that F.G. and K.D. met each other and found out that they would soon be brother and sister. Here is a photo of that meeting.

It is certainly hard for us to know how they feel about becoming siblings, but we hope there there is some comfort in having another child from their area - a bit of their culture, a bit of something familiar - as they set out on this incredible journey.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

It happened! We are officially a family of 8!

We just got the great news that the court date in Ethiopia was successful and that F.G. and K.D. are now officially part of our family (at least, according to the Ethiopian government).

This means that we will soon be traveling to Ethiopia to meet them and bring them back. The next thing that we need to wait for is a date with the US Embassy. We will then travel to be in Ethiopia on that date so we can take the kids to the embassy and get visas for them to travel back to the US with us. Our best guess at the moment is that we will travel sometime in February.

Before I got married I had a good friend who told me that after I was married, I would experience emotions that I had never felt before. He was right. The same thing happened when Sheri and I had kids. Once again there were new feelings that we experienced that we had not had before. Just when you think that you have experienced it all, again we find ourselves experiencing something new. Intense love freely mixed with both anxiety and anticipation. It is like expecting a child, I suppose, except that these children have already been shaped in so many ways that we may never know.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Why Adopt Internationally?

A common question that my wife and I get asked is why we are adopting internationally when there are so many kids right here in the US that desperately need a family.

First of all, we firmly believe that any child without a family NEEDS a family. We loudly applaud families that open up their doors to any child that is in need of a home.

In our specific case, my wife and I have been fostering for about four years and have had multiple children pass through our home. We would have loved to been able to adopt kids this way, but it just did not work out for us. The kids we had in our home have all moved on from us. We also came to realize that all of the children in our local children services "system" have food, clothing, and shelter. In addition, they will receive an education and have instant access to some of the finest medical care in the world. Over time, since it did not work to adopt any of these children, our hearts were drawn to the children in need in Africa.

If you are thinking about adopting, that is fantastic! Providing a home for a child in need is an incredible thing to do. Should you adopt domestically or internationally? As you dive in, we trust the path will become clear to you as it did for us.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

What do our current kids think?

One of the questions that we get asked is what our current kids think about our family adopting. My wife and I have opened up our home over the last few years to other children through foster care. Whenever a foster child has had to leave in order to go back home or on to other relatives our kids are sad and inevitably wish that the child could stay. Because of this they are thrilled with the thought of adopting and are excited that the children we are adopting will be able to stay for good and be a permanent brother and sister. Here is our youngest as he talks about adoption. (Warning: He is young and not all of the information provided is accurate!)

Our youngest talks about adoption.

In for a Penny, In for a Pound

When my wife and I are talking with someone and it comes up that we are adopting, there is often a little surprise since we already have four kids. The second surprise comes when they ask, "Are you adopting a boy or a girl?" and we say, "Both!" It is OK with us that they are surprised because just a year ago the answer of "Both!" would have surprised us as well.

You see, when we started the process of adopting from Africa, we agreed to adopt one infant. But then one thing led to another. We started reading more about what is going on in Africa and we learned that 90% of all orphans in Africa are six years old or older. While we are thrilled when people decide to adopt infants, we kept asking ourselves if we should wait for an infant to come available when so many older kids are waiting for a family to come available.

Since we were already in for a penny, we decided to go in for a pound and adopt an older waiting child.

Well, our agency promptly sent us pages and pages of waiting children from which to choose. These children were bright eyed, beautiful, full of potential, and more importantly, made in the image of God. For all of the potential bound up in their faces as they gazed into the camera, that potential seemed to hinge on whether or not they would find a family to love and care for them . . .

Since we were already in for a pound, we decided to go in for two pounds and adopt two children.

And so our story is similar to so many other stories we hear. Once you begin to open up the door of your heart to children in need, you get drawn in. Not pushed in, but drawn in. You find yourself captivated by the children and at a point where you can do nothing else and desire nothing else but to cast your lot with these children.

And so when we found out about a third child that had connections with the two we were adopting, we decided that since we were in for a two pounds, we were in for three pounds and pursued the third child as well. Unfortunately, it did not work out at this time.

So is our family complete at two additional children or are there more children still to come? We have no idea but we take comfort in the fact that there is an upper limit. There are, after all, only so many orphans in the world . . .

Friday, January 12, 2007

How Crazy is Our God?!?!

Sometimes my wife and I get the feeling people think we are just a bit crazy for adopting. I guess I think God is kind of crazy, too. It seems that He could have "justified" or "sanctified" or "saved" me by taking care of the sin thing and left it at that. But no, for some reason that was not enough for Him. God decided that nothing less than adoption would do. And so He has gone all out in conveying His love for us by adopting us into His family and making us joint heirs with Christ. (Rom. 8, Gal. 4)

So I guess that if people think we are a little crazy for adopting kids from Ethiopia, that is OK with us. However crazy our adopting may seem, it is not nearly as crazy as what God has done for us.

The Vision

We decided that as an initial step towards doing something about the orphan situation in Africa, the way that we could help out was to adopt. We had this thought that the journey we are on might not just involve us. Wouldn't it be great if a group of families, maybe 10 or so, would adopt children with us? Adopting from Africa would make our family look different than many of the other families we normally hang out with and how great it would be if a group of people we knew also adopted. Then the adopted kids, when they looked around them, would see other families that looked like their family. There would be a support network for us as parents as well as the kids.

So we set off to talk to our friends about adopting from Africa. It turns out that God was already working in the hearts of some and starting to work in the hearts of others and there are now multiple families in the process with us. But that is their story . . .

What are we doing with our lives?

In early 2006, my wife and I went through a process of reevaluating what it is that we want to do with our lives. As we looked at the world around us, it seemed God kept drawing our attention back to the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. With the UN and US estimating that there are over 40 million orphans now and it will grow to the point that by 2010 one out of every 10 kids would be orphaned, the needs there were just overwhelming. The more we reflected on it, the more we knew we had to respond in some way.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Meet the Family

My wife and I currently have four kids. The FamilyOur oldest, Miss Bookworm (on the far right) reads, reads, and then reads some more. She is a delightful young lady and fulfills her role well as the first born. Our second (on the far left, called Ed) is our chatter box. During those rare moments when she is not chattering, she is performing. If she is not chattering or performing, then she must be sleeping. Third in the lineup is Buddy (back row). He is a goal-orientated, self-disciplined young man. Then comes our youngest who wants to be called "Little Foot". Not sure where he got that. He is our charmer. Most all of the moms at church are always oohing and aahing over him.

So there are our kids. Funny how we use to think having four kids meant that we had a big family. Now we are just beginning to realize that for us, four is not a full quiver.