May 27, 2010

Just One Candle

I had the chance to catch up this week with someone I consider a very old friend. It was only after we got to reminiscing that we realized we had only know each other a year. WOW! How much things change in such a short period of time. Brandi and I met here in blogworld and our relationship was supposed to be one-dimensional: advocating for a village of 600 orphans in Ngariam, Uganda. Le and I were in the very beginning of our paperchase with our adoption, I was working like a fiend, Le and I were the back row Christians at church and my relationship with people and especially Jesus were on the back burner. I was lukewarm and it was the perfect temperature for me. I thought my life was perfect.
But the Lord knows me better than I know myself and He knows what I need. I'm not that perceptive.

I agreed to go meet a handful of women in Cincinnati in August of 2009 and those women helped change and our relationships became anything but one dimensional. I left Ohio and for the first time in a long time, I stopped running from my destiny, my true self and my God. I promised to be obedient whatever that would be. I blogged about that here. I came home with an even bigger determination to see Ngariam sponsored. And I had a new lease on who Jesus thought I was.

Westmoore Community Church signed up to sponsor 600 orphans and to date there are only 35 unsponsored. And Le and I slowly moved from the back row the front; not just at church but in our lives too. Advocating for not only our children but those of kids we had never met brought a vigor back into our relationship and changed our preconceived ideas for what we thought we wanted out of life. We were dreaming about making the trip to Uganda, setting aside money and checking things off our travel list. We were going to travel there and set the world on fire for Ngariam with just our two little candles.

And right now across the world in Ngariam, Uganda, a group of my fellow churchgoers are falling in love with a village that I have never seen. I'm here in Oklahoma, sitting at my desk. Their adventures are amazing, heart wrenching and all a part of what God wants them to experience. People have asked me all week if I am jealous or sad that I am not there with them. I am, but deep down I knew that I was never going to make this trip. Ngariam was on my heart so that passion could spread to someone else and those people could help ignite a bigger fire. My obedience was in just saying "yes God". "I will do it." "I will go where you send, even if that ISN'T Uganda". That's the thing about obedience. It doesn't require argument. Just action.

When our team gets back, their passion will spread and those 35 unsponsored kids will find sponsors and an entire congregation will slowly be set aflame for orphans, poverty, sex trafficking and injustice.
I'm just one candle, but together, we're building a bonfire.

If you want to read an AMAZING post from the spiritual leader on the trip to Ngariam, Sean Gutteridge, go here. Just have the tissues handy and be ready to have your candle lit.

May 24, 2010

Father's Day...2 Months In The Making

When I met Le there was no doubt he wanted kids. He was ready right then. I didn't know if I would ever get there. One of his biggest desires was to have a daughter. It was easy to see why after watching him with his niece. To say Lexi adores him would be cliche. She truly thinks he hung the sun, the moon and the stars. He was hopeful that his daughter would feel the same. She did not.

She wanted Le to be within eye sight, earshot and proximity to touch, but no unsolicited affection, kind words or contact would she accept that she did not initiate. And she initiated none. She wanted to show him her projects, do her school work, watch movies, play ball and show off her new pronunciation of English. But if it involved holding hands, kisses at bedtime or random hugs, she shut Daddy out. Each night we would lie in bed he would lament about what he had done wrong that day. He kept saying that he was okay if it took her years to love him, but I knew he was secretly asking God for an outpouring of love from his little girl.

She talked about him constantly on days he was at the station or at the print shop. Days that we met him for lunch she would ask "Daddy, lunch?" If my answer was yes, a six year old "Yipeee" erupted from the back seat, but upon his arrival, she seemed to ignore his existence. Until a few days ago.

I heard his car door slam and I immediately heard the front door open and slam shut. I ran because I thought Alazar had managed to unhinge the lock and go outside. It wasn't my son but my daughter, wrapped around Le's leg screaming "Hi, Daddy! Hi Daddy!" His hands were full and so were his eyes and on walkway of our house holding his girl, my husband celebrated his first real father's day.

May 13, 2010

Would You Leave These Faces In An Orphanage?

We've been home from Ethiopia for a little less than two months. My mom said everything changes when you have kids. Like usual, she was right. Everything has changed. I've never laughed so hard, been so sleep deprived or scooped poop out of a bathtub in my life before now. I wouldn't change a thing.

Ruta's English is better everyday. Yesterday she looked at Walter, our french bulldog, kissed his face and said "there you go Walter." I'm not sure Walter knew he needed a kiss until he had received it. That's kind of how I feel too. People will say to us at church "oh that is such a great thing you are doing for them", "how lucky they must be", but I feel just the opposite. I have found a piece of my soul in my children and I would have never had it if they weren't here.

They have changed every dynamic of our family. We use to see each other on holidays and special occasions, but I've seen my parents more in the last two months than in the last two years. The transformation of Le and I's relationship itself is mind blowing. He looked at me last night and said "mommy why don't you go take a bubble bath and I'll put the kids to bed." My mouth fell open. I've never loved him more than that moment.

I read an article from one of my favorite authors who was quoting a recent study on adoption. It said that adoptions were down 40% since 2004. In a world where statistics quote anywhere from 143 to 150 million orphans, why is this so. If only 7% of those of us who drive to a church on Sundays, sit in a pew each week, put $5 in an offering plate and claim that Jesus has changed our lives, would open our hearts and our homes there would be NO. MORE. ORPHANS.

Most people in order to assimilate with a situation need to put a face with a problem. Do you want to know why my family and I are passionate about orphans? Because these faces have changed our life:

Aunt Laura and Ruta:

Papa Clay, Ayat and Alazar fighting over pizza:

Kisses from Aunt Laura:

Cinco de Alazar:

Consider opening your hearts to someone who needs a home, not to save their lives, but yours:

Hugs and Love,
The Andrews Clan

May 10, 2010

What Kind Of Mother Am I?

The morning we left Ethiopia, I was a basket case. I cried all day and as our plane took off and my precious daughter was screaming with delight, I turned my head so she wouldn't see me cry. My heart was screaming for the son I was leaving behind. What kind of a mother would leave their son and return to her easy life? Why weren't we selling everything we owned to live down the street from Kaleab and his grandma? What the hell was wrong with me?

While in Addis, Kaleab's grandma had told us that she wanted him to be adopted. But the truth is, I've stopped praying for God to allow Kaleab to be adopted. While God sets the lonely in families, He doesn't always set them together in living rooms. My prayers have been simply for God's will. For Kaleab to be adopted would require the greatest sacrifice of his grandma's life and I refuse to be the catalyst that forces her to make that decision. Whatever God's path is for our lives, they intersected for a reason and I will be obedient. Le and I save money every month in an adoption fund and each night that we say our prayers we mention our son in Addis and each meal, holiday and fun moment has a little piece of it missing. But I am learning to forgive myself for not staying in Addis. I am choosing instead to be obedient to what lies ahead and preparing my heart for whatever decision God calls us towards.

This last weekend was one of the best of my life. Having my sister home and spending my first mother's day with my kids was amazing! But in the midst of the cards and flowers, I still missed my oldest son. I suppose I always will; however, I have wrapped my heart around the knowledge that I may never make Kaleab's bed in my house, but he will always have one here. I'm that kind of mother.

May 7, 2010

The Addis Affair: Day 3 with Kaleab

I've been a family lawyer for a long time. A huge percentage of my work is divorce cases. I've always been curious about the psyche behind people who have affairs. About 90% of people I've polled who have been in an extramarital affair, tell me it's not about the physical activity; it's the emotional connection, the thrill of being wanted and sneaking around. I never understood that. And then I went to Addis.

The four days between our second visit and our third with Kaleab were horrible for me. Our guest house was about thirty minutes outside the city and we were having so many problems adjusting with Alazar and Ruta, we just couldn't risk going back to see Kaleab until the day before we left for home. I was a basket case. While being with my own kids was hard and demanding and I was doubting every decision I made with them, being with Kaleab was truly rainbows and cotton candy. During those days I took deep breaths and when Alazar was screaming for me not to come near him, I silently prayed that one day my youngest son would cling to me like my oldest.

I can't fault Alazar and Ruta. I can't even fault myself. Le, Kaleab and I knew we were playing against the clock, that these moments were coming to an end, which only fueled my desire to spend as much time as I could with Kaleab. But in the back of my mind as much I wanted Monday to come, knowing this would be our last day together, the closer Monday got, the harder my emotions battled.

Le and I went clothes shopping Monday morning. Nothing I found was perfect, but Le finally said it was because I was over analyzing again.
We picked Kaleab up from school on Monday afternoon. I again was greeted by a screaming "MAMA" and his tiny body thrown into mine. We climbed in our cab and headed to his part of town.

One thing I had been dying to do with my son was share a meal. There is a tiny restaurant across the entrance to his neighborhood and our driver about fell out of the car when I told him to take us there. But with Kaleab wrapped in my arms and his hand holding Le's, I wanted some place familiar to him. I wanted him to be at ease, like he was in this moment.

We ordered a sampler plate of food and I ordered a Pepsi. The waitress looked at me like I had fallen out of the sky when I asked Kaleab "son, what would you like to drink?" His face lit up like a sparkler and he cried "PEPSI!"

We sat outside on the patio and watched the cars go by. We tried small talk but it was just more fun to sit and smile at one another. It is customary to show affection to one another by feeding someone with your hand. Kaleab fed Le and I both. We both fed him. I choked back the tears with injera. And I kept fighting the urge to hand the waitress a hundred dollars and tell her that whenever my boy is hungry, let him eat. And order a Pepsi.

We spent the rest of the day arm in arm touring his neighborhood. And as the sun sunk lower and lower, so did my heart. It is respectful to walk a visitor to the gate upon departure. Grandma walked us to the gate of her house. My son walked me back to the gate of his neighborhood. I drug my feet. Like a two year old who is anticipating being disciplined, I came up with every excuse to stop and look around.

A trash truck had pulled into the entrance of the neighborhood. I found it odd. I didn't remember seeing anyone leaving trash cans to be picked up. The truck dumped its load on the ground and grown men, women and children began shopping through it. I almost vomited.
I refused to say good bye. Even as I was climbing in the car and he was no longer within my physical reach, I chose the words of Mickey Mouse and said, "i'll see you real soon."
I had shown Kaleab the heart with his name engraved on it that I wear around my neck on our second meeting. I almost fainted when he pulled his cross necklace from around his shirt and displayed his new metal heart hanging on the string. I don't know if he made it, found it, stole it ( i know he didn't, my son doesn't have the capacity) or bought it, but I fully understood it's meaning. Our relationship is no longer an affair, a fleeting binding of feelings and emotions. We are committed. My heart belongs to him and his to me. We are a family.

As our car drove away, I shuddered as I watch my son cross a very busy street without holding any one's hand. And I burst into tears at the thought that there was no one to hold his hand. For the first time in Addis, I let myself go somewhere other than the shower. I cried for leaving him. I cried for his situation. But most selfishly, I cried for myself. I was never going to be the same. A ten year old boy had changed my life. I would sell all I have if it would change his circumstances, but I wouldn't take all the money in the world for my time in Addis and the neck that carries a little metal heart.

May 1, 2010

Not Lost In Translation: Part 2 Day 2 with Kaleab

Thursday was supposed to be spent with our travel group touring some church that is very cultural significant in Ethiopia. We skipped the whole thing to be with:

I was unaware that people were staring at us everywhere we went. I didn't care. I had finally received what I had flown halfway around the world for, and he was holding my had. We had let our driver go for the afternoon, so when our two social workers asked if we wanted to see Kaleab's neighborhood, they almost choked when I said "yeah. Let's walk it." We took a cab. Eight people climbed in a cab and drove about four miles to the entrance to my son's "neighborhood." My son walks from home to his care center every day. I didn't think to ask him if it was his first time in a cab. I'm kicking myself now.

His neighborhood looked like all the others slums I had seen in Addis. Sheet metal, hay, mud and barb wire structured together like a house made of toothpicks. One wrong move or overturned lantern could be a recreation of the great Chicago fire. I ignored the open sewers, stray dogs and children who thought it hysterical to have two white visitors in their midst. Through all the stares and the outright comments, I felt so at home and at peace. This was my son's turf. He knew where we were going and I just wanted to soak in the company and forget that our relationship made no sense to most of the people who were observing it.

My son's story is tragic and heartbreaking. But it is his and only his to tell. But the woman in the picture below is his grandmother. She is my son's hero. She is my hero. She saved my son's life. Her goal for him is to be a good man, a good student and have a mama.

During our time with her, she told me about her grandson, her life, her love for Jesus. While we were talking to her through translators, she suddenly turned to Kaleab and asked him something. He nodded a response and turned to me and smiled.
Both social workers teared up and turned away from us. Incredulously, I kept asking "what did she say?" until they answered me.
'She asked him if he had finally found his mama.'

Who Is This? Part 1 Day 2 with Kaleab

I fretted for days about whether or not to return to see Kaleab. My selfish nature wanted to be there every minute of every day, but I knew better. I made myself wait almost a week before we went back.

Again Le asked if I wanted it on video. I still did not.

The minute we stepped into the courtyard, it was brimming with sweat, bodies and the funk that can only be described as the stench that follows boys until they reach their twenties. They had all just arrived from school in their uniforms and while they all looked similar to me, we stuck out. In the midst of two pick up soccer games, a ping pong match and at least ten boys chasing a dog, I heard a voice screaming for their mama. I found such a request odd in a place where there were probably only four women at any given time. And then I looked up.
The command were meant for me. The voice belonged to my son. Kaleab was dressed in his Oklahoma t-shirt and he was yelling. For me. His mama.

He hit me in the chest at full speed and when his legs flew around me, I was cursing not having the recorder on. No one would believe how amazing this was.

The boys were called in for a lesson and we were invited to join. Kaleab never let go of my hand. While Le exchanged pleasentries with the staff, I sat on a small stool at the back of the room with my son, relishing every moment, every look, every touch. While the person in the front of the room was teaching in Amharic, my son was showing off his English by reading to me. I was floating on air.

There came a time in the lesson when the boys were to bow their heads and pray. In my exuberance, I chose to be irreverent and snapped this picture. My only prayer was to know what my son was asking his maker for. I still am unsure.

After the lesson, we were dismissed and the boys were each given balloons. I joined in the fun. On our first visit, Kaleab was gracious and let the other boys be close to me, touch my hair and drag me around the compound on a whim. Not today. His shirt said it all. He belonged to the woman from Oklahoma. And he quietly, yet firmly, let everyone know it. If we were not holding hands, we were close enough to be. He had staked his claim. I was his. I had been for a long time.

My heart officially left my body and to this day is carried in the body of a ten year old child, somewhere in Addis Ababa.