Thursday, June 28, 2007

Traveling Trauma

The last post about our Ethiopian kids' first vacation painted a rosy picture. The vacation was indeed rosy, but there were some definite not-so-rosy moments -- like the trip home.

CrazyMom drove separately since she was leaving a day early to go to a home school conference. That left me to get the weary kids up in the morning and pack the van. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, but it wasn't. The kids knew Mom was not around and pitched in hauling all of the gear up the hill to the van. We packed into the car, drove to the front office to check out, and then started the journey home.

The first crisis turned out fine. We were cruising down the road when I realized that it had been days since I had seen my wallet. About 0.5 seconds later I realized that I would not have money to buy lunch for the kids. Not good, but we could survive it, I thought. About 0.05 seconds later I realized I would not have money to buy gas to make it home. Now that was a problem. The post An Irreplaceable Mom has already established that I can't live without CrazyMom so it is no surprise that I pulled out my cell phone to call her at the conference to see if she knew where my wallet was. She didn't know. This was disappointing since I needed my wallet, but it was also satisfying to establish that she is not omniscient.

As the eldest child in the family, Miss Bookworm had the privilege of riding up front with me. Unfortunately, this meant that she knew the wallet was missing, gas was waning, and lunch was in jeopardy. Prone to being a worrier, this was nearly too much for her. I pulled over at the first rest area we came to so that we could determine if the wallet was in the car or not and hopefully put Miss Bookworm out of her misery. I found the wallet packed away in the back of the van and Miss Bookworm was relieved. We headed for the next exit for gas and food.

When I walked into the Arbys-connected-to-a-gas-station place, I was feeling pretty full of myself. People were looking in awe as I navigated the food order and dispatched kids to secure tables, fill water cups, and get the ketchup. Then there was the flurry of food distribution, since nearly everything is split and shared in our family. I could tell others were impressed even though they could not tell if I was the dad of the group or we were from the local Kinder Care.

I was back on the road with all of the kids settled in with full tummies, blankets, pillows and listening to Miss Pigglewiggle on CD when I thought, "I am the man! Look at me load up from vacation with all of these kids and do a car trip." I was proud of myself.

Then Miss Bookworm said the words you never, ever, ever want to hear when you are packed like sardines in a tin can on wheels.

"K.D. just threw up on everything."

What!?! No warning. No "me sick dad" from the boy? I did not even hear him throw up.

I looked around just as the smell hit me. Simultaneously taking in the odor and the sight of vomit covering K.D., blankets, pillows, stuffed animals and the seat was too much to bear. The next few seconds were a blur to me -- quickly pulling off the road, rolling down windows, opening doors, looking for whatever I had that could help me, and wondering why in the world CrazyMom was not there.

As I was trying to work the situation, every single semi rolling buy had to remind me that in my haste I did not pull off far enough to the side of the road for their liking. The sweltering heat mixing with odors from K.D. and trucks, the blaring horns, and the awful stuff I was handling erased a whole vacation's worth of decompressing.

By the time I got K.D. stripped down buck naked, the girls had routed out a change of clothes for him from the back of the van. I found two trash bags and any contaminated non-secured items were put in one and all the nasty paper towels went in another. Dirty beach towels were brought out to cover the cloth seats so they could be occupied on the rest of the way home.

When I was packing the kids back into the off-smelling van, I gently reminded K.D. that if he had to throw up, he could let me know. Then I could get him something to catch it in.

"I say me sick. Dad no hear."

I know what you are thinking. CrazyMom would have heard.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A First Vacation

For half a dozen years or so we have gone to a family camp in the summer with other families that we know. This year there were five families with a total of 23 kids. The entire time is a grand party with the beach, the lake, the water slide, the nature center, the craft time, the many game times, the climbing wall, the camp fire, and all of the food. Of the 23 kids, five were from Ethiopia and experiencing the camp for the first time along with a few other first timers. Sharing in their joy as they did such things as going down the water slide for the first time was a real treat. At times, their faces could barely contain their excitement and it looked like it would be painful if they smiled any broader. Ethiopia sure seemed distant as I watched the kids romp and play without a care in the world. I guess that is what made it such a refreshing, albeit exhausting, time.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Visit from Maria and Father's Day

CrazyMom and I are still able to keep in contact with some of the children who lived with us when we were foster parents. Maria, who spent a fair amount of time in our home, was able to come over and visit for a day last week. What a joy it was to see her again.

As I write this on Father's Day, it reminds me of the opportunity I have to be a father figure in the lives of so many different children - biological, adopted, foster, or friend. I can feel weariness settling in my bones when I think of the amount of emotional energy it takes to authentically connect with each child - to listen to the long recounting of a happening that I was at, to spend twice as long washing my car because I have four "helpers" who all are demanding hose time, to stay focused on the dinner table conversation and not my "to-do" list. Some days I do this poorly, as CrazyMom can attest to having seen my physically present but mentally absent state. This weary feeling fades on days like today, however, with all of my kids gathered around, or on days when Maria comes back to visit. I think it is because on such days I take the time to really look at my kids. When I physically look at them I see their eyes filled with innocent dependent love looking back at me. It is heart warming to be sure, but at the same time I realize the daunting task before me - to be a father figure to these precious children. The task is great, but there can be no doubt of the nobility of the cause. The weariness is gone and resolve is in its place - resolve to be a great father.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Picturing a Special Future

CrazyMom and I were playing out our Sunday morning routine this morning as we have so many times in the past – a cup of coffee, an early shower, getting kids up and dressed, oatmeal for breakfast, the final push for the door, an audio book on the way to church, shuttling six kids off to four different Sunday school classes, and, at last, arriving at our own class. Then an interruption came to the routine. It turned out that our class was not meeting and so on a whim we decided to drop in on another. The first room we picked happened to be where the men's class meets. While it looked like fun to me, it was clear CrazyMom would not stay, so we headed for the basement of the church to find another class.

We ended up in a class comprised of people who are predominately a decade or two older than us. Now our church is not all that big so we knew or at least had exchanged handshakes with all of the people who sat in the metal folding chairs arranged in the shape of a horseshoe.

The class got started on their topic for the day: "Picturing a Special Future", chapter 6 of The Blessing. The discussion was being led by a man who I have known for years but with whom I have only exchanged customary greetings. Within a few minutes I heard him utter more words than I have ever hear him say in total. What a privilege it was for me to catch a glimpse of his heart as he led the discussion.

As the discussion flowed from one speaker to the next and on around the room and back again, a picture was vividly painted for me. The picture was of a stage of life that I have yet to reach – an impending stage of life which is rich, complex, challenging, and yet fulfilling. The picture was painted for me with quietly passionate words spoken about laying parents to rest, seeing children into adulthood, facing personal life challenges, and being the critical cog in a multigenerational family.

Although we were warmly invited into the group, the level of intimacy displayed made it clear that we could not immediately be a part of the group. To belong to such a group takes a lot of time as you share your past, your loves, your hopes and your dreams. As people spoke of loved ones, the loved one's name would not be mentioned for there was no need to mention it. All in the room already knew the name, knew the life story, knew the joy, and knew the sorrow. Even when the words were few, the intensity of feeling - communicated by how the words were spoken, the tears brimming in the eyes, the knowing nods of support by others - bore witness to the power of love. I wish every loved one mentioned, whether dead or alive, could have been there to experience first hand with what love, respect, and concern they were spoken of.

And so as the members of the class discussed how to paint a picture of a special future for their loved ones, they were painting a picture for me. I saw that one may be called upon to simultaneously care for one or two generations of family on either side of one's own generation. I saw what it meant to honor thy father and mother. I saw what it was like to be Godly in the next stage of life.

As the members were painting this picture for me, I also saw that they were part of my cloud of witnesses.

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Heb 12:1-2

While in the past I have thought of the more traditional cloud of witnesses from the hall of faith who are now among the dead (Hebrews 11), I now see the cloud is much larger, for it includes so many among the living.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

"Are You Sisters?"

This is soccer camp week and our four older kids are participating, including F.G. F.G.'s other activities have all been with church groups where pretty much everybody knows that she is one of our adopted children. So in some sense, soccer camp is a debut for her.

Today when I went to pick up the kids, a boy came up and asked me if Ed and F.G. were sisters. I told him they were.

"See, I told you so," said Ed to the boy.

"Did you adopt her or something?" asked the boy.

"That is what I was trying to tell you. We adopted her from Ethiopia," Ed replied.

Due to her limited English, it is a little hard for me to tell how much F.G. understands as she sits there and watches Ed and the boy talk about her.

At the supper table tonight it came up again. As Ed started to tell the story, F.G. interrupted.

"This boy . . . He ask sisters . . . I say yes . . . he say no . . . go ask dad."

F.G. laughed and giggled. She thought it was pretty funny.

"He this one," she said as she pointed to her arm indicating he had brown skin.

This is the first time that I am aware of that F.G. has been asked if she really is a part of our family. It is hard to imagine how many times she will answer this question in her life, but at least for now she is laughing.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Reactions to Poverty

Unpacking the Trip – Part 8

It has been awhile since I have written about our trip to Ethiopia, but I still think of it often. Just last weekend I was in a conversation with someone about our adoption and it drifted to what the current conditions are like for many Ethiopians. After hearing a little about life there, the person said, "Gee, I don't think I will get so upset next time I miss my tee time."

This type of reaction resonates with me. Having Ethiopian children in my home serves as a 24/7 reality check. Sometimes I want to escape "keeping things in perspective" and indulge myself in American excess, get unduly upset about the trivial, or think that for some reason life owes me more. But I can't escape my perspective-setting kids. And I am the better for it.

While we were in Ethiopia we stayed at a guest house along with a veteran missionary couple. They spoke Amharic fluently, had spent many years in the country, and viewed retirement as a great opportunity to provide water in Ethiopia, both by building wells and by sharing Christ.

One evening, Ray was sharing with me the common reactions he has seen when people encounter total poverty. "Why hasn't somebody done something?" some exclaim. Others look straight ahead as they navigate the streets in their SUVs with the windows up and the A/C on. And for some, it is simply too much to bear. These common reactions, whether anger, depression, denial, or even a breakdown, are not usually productive.

Ray thinks the proper response is to come to terms with the poverty and decide what role you should play in being a part of the solution. One should say, "I am yours God. Use me as you please." This is what Ray and his wife have done.

And so I am looking, waiting, thinking. Adoption seems to be just part of my role and the rest is still just out of sight for me. When it comes into view, I pray I will have the strength to say, "I am yours God. Use me as you please."