Oct 30, 2011

The Staircase

The Hero and I came home from Ethiopia early on a Saturday morning. The following Friday we closed on a new home. It seems as though it has taken forever to get moved in and unpacked (which we are still not finished doing). While Daddy and I seem to be consumed with unpacking toys, clothes, and our 7 years together of mess, the kids are consumed with one thing:
the staircase in the new house.
It has been a slide, a launching pad for throwing a variety of items, and a stage.
Yesterday, The Angel and I were playing paper dolls, when The Dinosaur came running through the living room like this:
Yup. You guessed it. That is a plastic Halloween bucket on his head. He headed to the top of the stairs, holding a plastic baseball bat, sliding down the stairs on his belly, squealing with delight.

After the third time, The Angel's interest was sparked, and I was left holding the paper dolls and searching for my camera.

For almost an hour, they giggled and slid and added "flair" to their sliding uniforms.

I cannot wait to see what the staircase becomes next.

Oct 29, 2011

So How is She Doing?

Ya'll will probably remember that we had to talk about the dreaded "R" word with The Angel last year after 1st grade. After much discussion and tears and debates and teachers' meetings, The Hero and The Angel cried about it. Mama blogged about it and we all prayed about it. In the end we all agreed that it was the right move to retain The Angel in first grade.
So how's she doing?
This mama is glad you asked.
She has 1st grade by the horns and is wrestling it to the ground!
It's like having a different child in the house.
Where before there were frowns and grumps about school, she bounds for the door every morning, is restless waiting for school even on Saturday.
Her scores are off the charts.
Vocabulary is above average.
Reading is through the roof.
Homework that use to take us hours to complete each night, is done now a matter of minutes.
She loves reading so much that she and I even started reading LONG chapter books together at night when The Dinosaur goes to sleep.
I am very new to this parenting thing.
Don't even have 2 years behind me yet, but I can tell you that retention has worked for us.
I am so proud of our baby girl I could burst.

The Angel,
For all that you have accomplished and all that remains to be conquered,
you are one of my heroes in life.
There is no goal you cannot reach and I am
humbled to be your mother.

Oct 26, 2011


The Hero and I have been home from Ethiopia for a month now.
There are days it feels like ten years.
Others, I can still feel the African dirt inside my sandals.
Re-entry is always challenging.
Processing the experiences while being bombarded with the disparity of here vs. there.
Ethiopia is always beautifully tragic for me, but in some ways it is easy.
I feel at home. Helping people is not a "good deed for the day."
For me, coming home is hardest.
I struggle with how to mesh the woman I am on one continent,
with the one I'm expected to be on another.
I've spent my fair share of days sobbing in the shower,
crying out for God to make beauty from the ashes in my heart.
I've struggled with patience with family members,
co-workers and friends.
But I've struggled the most with The Angel and The Dinosaur.
Being around so many children who have nothing,
it is easy to lose my patience with two who have everything.
Toast with just enough jam,
strawberry oatmeal instead of peach,
and huffs if their favorite dessert doesn't follow dinner.
But I've also noticed that it has given The Hero and I opportunity
to have some discussions with our kids that we didn't have before this trip.
While I want my children to know that they are the center of my universe,
I need them to understand that they are not the center of the universe.
There are days I yearn for the simplicity of Ethiopia, but I am learning
that sometimes the hardest part is to continue to be a light where we are:
in the car pool line,
at the grocery store,
at The Angel's soccer games with ridiculous, screaming parents.
Some days are harder than others.
Some days I feel like I'm not a light, but a stubbed out candle without a wick.
But He is faithful.
When I think I'm at my breaking point, He fills me up.
And there are days I'm sure I exhaust Him with my requests.
Again, Father. Again.
Yep. There are days I long for Ethiopia.
But I am learning that He has a plan for me here and I am
reminded often that His plan involves an Angel and a Dinosaur
and how the intertwining of our lives with continuously glorify Him.
It's not about our geography, it's the location of our hearts.

Oct 25, 2011

Being a working mom is stinky most days.

I feel like I run from task to task.


Soccer practice.




But more and more often, I'm reminding myself that the laundry will always be there.

The house will never be clean enough.

They'll never remember what I made for dinner in a week.

And that this face won't be little for much longer:

Praying you stop and take in a small moment of your own today.

Oct 24, 2011

Ethiopia Trip Recap Day 8: Our Ethiopian Network of Love

Our last morning came too quickly. I had told K all night the night before to be sad tomorrow. "Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Let's be sad tomorrow."

Tomorrow was upon us. When he opened the door to the guest house, he immediately burst into tears. I was able to swallow mine until he hit my chest. I'm sure The Hero and Yemamu loaded the car. I know that we drove to the airport with the entirety of our team, but I don't recall any of it. My final moments in Ethiopia were full of tears, spilling on the face of the eleven year old, laying his head in my lap, rotating between telling me that he was "no happy" and singing "I have decided to follow Jesus."

We were a mess.

He asked me if I would ever come back.
I promised I would.

I asked if he would be a good boy.

He promised he would.

There we were. Standing outside the gate, snapping final snotty, wet pictures and hugging good-bye. The Hero grabbed our bags and squeezed my hand and drug me through security. I really thought if I dug my heels into the sidewalk, I would sprout there and stay forever. It didn't work.
I cried all the way through security, checking in the gate and onto the plane. I stopped long enough on the way to Dubai to swallow some dinner, but as soon as The Hero asked if I was okay, the tears fired up again. They stopped when we hit Atlanta.

I'm still not sure after three years, why God put K in our lives. We know adoption is not available now and although I cannot imagine our lives without K in it, I often wonder if seeing him once every 18 months is breaking his heart and ours. But isn't life better with even one more person one your team? Someone else you love and who loves you?

The Hero says it best. Of course he does. He says that K has a network of love of those he loves and who love him and who wouldn't want that in their life?

So here's to our Ethiopia network of love and my favorite pics from our trip:

May you all be as blessed by some one's presence and may they in turn be blessed by yours.

Oct 21, 2011

Ethiopia Trip Recap Day 7: Every Good Gift

Last full day in Ethiopia. The Hero and I wanted to pack it as full as possible. We got our wish. We drove early to the center to start preparing the afternoon meal. The thought of our first official meal being served this day was almost more than my heart could bear. What an amazing gift that God would allow The Hero and I to be here: for such a time as this.
As we arrived at the center, we looked out of Korah to the dump and saw a line of people. The Hero asked Sisay what they were all doing. He explained that the truck from the Sheraton hotel arrived and the people were waiting to go through it because the Sheraton always throws away the best trash.
My heart melted, but knowing that our kids in our program would not have to ever stand in line for garbage just spurred me to continue giving thanks.
If you look really closely, you can see the line of people and the white trash truck.

Our cooks prepared the meal and our team began sorting clothes we had brought, serving up plates of food and playing games with our kids.

Seeing all that food was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

We gave thanks and the kids sang praise songs while our team served the food. Glorious is one of the only words I can think of to describe those moments. Watching those babies eat was truly a prelude to heaven. Wow how our Father is Glorious!

Each kiddo received a full plate and a whole loaf of bread.

When each belly was full, our team decided that we needed to get the boys from the dump some clothes and some decent shoes to wear. Our team had been specifically praying on how to use the funds that were sent with us and we were burdened to care for the boys who live at the trash dump. So we loaded close to 20 people in a bus and went on a shopping trip.

The sales clerks at the shoe store were so appalled by the boys' appearances, they required the boys to put plastic bags on their feet instead of socks to try on shoes.

I've been shopping a lot but this blew all the others away. It was the first time ANY of our boys were bought anything new. You would have thought we had given them a million dollars.

I am convinced that there are necessities in life and their are pure gifts. Instead of feeling guilty about what we have, I think we are to gift to others. We had asked Yemamu and Sisay if any of the boys had ever been out to eat. They both laughed and said "never". Our team wanted very much to treat these boys to a restaurant and share a meal with them. Our team had treated ourselves the day before by a good meal and we wanted to pass it on.

So after HOURS of shopping (fitting 12 teenage boys is no easy task), we had socks, underwear, pants, shoes and shirts for each one of them, we headed to a restaurant. We ate outside so that our boys felt a little bit more comfortable. Since all Ethiopian food is eaten with your hands, Sisay explained and demonstrated to each of them the revolution of hand sanitizer.
The term "breaking bread together" had never had a more beautiful meaning for me.

I'd have these boys over for dinner every night of the week. Bilielu has my scarf because he earlier had argued with The Hero that The Hero may well be my husband, but B was my new boyfriend. :)

The cost of our shopping trip:

Twelve pair of leather shoes: $191.04

Socks and underwear: $11.47

12 pair of Pants: $140.00

Dinner for 18 people: $23.50

Twelve months rent for a house in Korah for the boys to leave the dump: $176.00

Total: $542.01

We drank Coke, stuffed our faces, danced and laughed until our bellies and our faces hurt. To say that our last day in Ethiopia was perfect would be too plain, too boring to describe it. It truly was a foreshadowing of what God means when He said He went to prepare a place for us. I've never longed for Heaven like I did that night when I crawled into bed.

While today was amazing, tomorrow would be heartbreaking. Every night, K had asked "I see you tomorrow" and every night I was able to say yes. Tomorrow my answer would be different and all the laughter from tonight would never be able to quench out the tears of tomorrow. As he crawled into the van to be driven home, I gave it my all, slathered him with Momma kisses and as he wrinkled his nose, he tried to tell me he was sad.

I kissed his cheek one last time and whispered "Tomorrow my son. Tomorrow will be our day to be sad. But tonight, let's choose to be happy."

He didn't approve, but he understood.

My prayer that night was simple:

"God please come back. Right now. I cannot face tomorrow.

Oct 19, 2011

Ethiopia Trip Recap Day 6: That's love.

We were told by the government that our paperwork would be approved and waiting on us this morning. Yemamu and I were doubtful. TIA-This Is Africa after all. We were so nervous about our paperwork being finished, I made our entire team get up and travel with us to the government office. All seven of us.
The government official assigned to our case couldn't stop staring at all of us standing next to his tiny desk. He had made a few changes to the proposal and said that as long as we went and made the corrections, he would sign the approval. We raced to an Internet cafe, corrected the documents and were back to his office within the hour. As he promised, there was a paperwork. Signed. Sealed. Delivered. This is what one of my LoPa partners posted on our facebook page when I told her the news.
Isaiah 45:2-3: "I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name."

Amen Sister! We were so excited and everyone was in tears. Well, every one but our Ethiopian official. He really was ready for us to leave. We headed out for a celebratory lunch. We called all of our cooks and security guard at the center and made sure they knew to stoke up the fires and bring on the kids because feeding would begin IN THE MORNING!!!!!

Hugging it out:

We headed back to the center after lunch to finish profiling all of our kids and make sure that we were apprised of needs of each child.

I fell in love with this girl. She was so shy and never really wanted to smile, but when she did, she blew the lens off my camera.

As we neared the end of the day, the last kids to be profiled were the boys from the dump. They had waited patiently for three days while everyone else went before them, as they waited their turn. We were through about four of them, asking each one what grade they would be in school, when Yemamu stopped in the middle of translating. He didn't say anything for a moment. He asked the same question again. He and the boy we were interviewing seemed to disagree. Yemamu asked some follow up questions. Then Yemamu got real quiet. Then he got teary.

He looked at me.

"this boy. Samuel. He is in school."

I was shocked. "How?" "I thought he lived at the dump?"

"He does."

Now I was floored. "Who pays his school fees?" "School is not free in Ethiopia."

Yemamu pointed to the group of boys from the dump.

"They pool their money from selling scrap so that at least he can go to school."

My small feeble mind still couldn't comprehend. "Why?"

Yemamu just smiled. "Because they are family and they love him."

Samuel wants to be a teacher. With supporting LoPa art sales, you are sending him to school, along with all the other boys who sacrificed to see their friend succeed.

Our team was exhausted but The Hero and I only had two more days on the ground and I wanted to breath every last breath of African air I could squeeze into my lungs. Cherinet, the LoPa artist I met a few days earlier, had invited us to a jazz club that evening, so we went for a few hours.

As we were leaving to take Tom to the airport, Sisay grabbed The Hero and asked me to take picture of he and his American brother together. My heart has never been so full. Full of a day of provision, love, grace and knowing that for the first time in a long time, I was living in the center of who He had made me to be and He was receiving the glory.
As I lay in bed, I let the tears roll. "Tomorrow. Tomorrow feeding would begin. Our 60 kids would be starving no more. Jesus, 'every good and perfect gift'". This day was definitely a good and perfect gift.

Oct 13, 2011

Ethiopia Trip Recap Day 5

I had a lot of excuses for going back to Ethiopia. I wanted to see K, LoPa products needed to be purchased, kids in our program needed to be profiled, office space needed to be secured and paid for, Hands for the Needy needed supplies brought in; but all these excuses with the exception of seeing K could have been done by any one other than me. I felt extremely selfish taking The Hero and I away from our family for 10 days without a really solid reason, but I booked our tickets praying that we were being obedient.
Three days before we left, we learned that Hands for the Needy paperwork continued to be held up in the government office; we were still being denied governmental approval to be a fully functioning non-profit and therefore we could not feed any of the kids in our program. One piece of paper being signed by one man was all that was keeping sixty kids in our program from receiving two daily meals.
I had my mission. God was sending us to Ethiopia for such a time as THIS.

The Hero, Yemamu and I set off early in the morning for the government office on Tuesday. Since most of the children at our center were still celebrating with their families for the holiday, our remaining team went to help treat a woman in Korah who had been run over by a trash truck.
The official at the government office was less than helpful. Our paperwork had been on his desk for almost four months and we only needed one more signature to make us legitimate. He was less than thrilled to see us. He explained the program was outlined perfectly but that he was a very busy man and didn't have time to sign the paperwork. I explained that I could not feed the kids in our program without the proper paperwork and that I would not leave the country until our paperwork was final. He said to come back in the morning. Again, I explained I would not leave Ethiopia and he this time promised to sign the paperwork in the morning.

We returned to the guest house, gathered our team and walked to lunch. Yemamu was obviously worried that the paperwork would not be signed, but I assured him I would make good on my promise; I would send The Hero home on Friday morning and stay here until we had the proper paperwork in place.

As we walked to lunch, a loud voice across the street kept calling Yemamu's name. It was one of the artists that LoPa partners with, Cherinet! He offered to take us to one of his studios, which was just around the corner from our guest house.

Me and the Ethiopia Picasso:

An example of his amazing work:

We finished lunch and of course our daily dose of caffeine:

Since our day was suddenly blank, we ran some errands.

Someone needed new shoes.

Tom needed a haircut.

We needed supplies at the guest house.

We drove all over Addis.

We played with the camera.

The picture of my necklace is significant because it is my JunkPosse Africa with tiny heart with K's name on it. When we met almost two years ago, I was wearing it but K had no idea what it meant. As we were driving down the road this day, he grabbed the Africa, said "this is Africa." I smiled and told him he was right. He grabbed the heart and said "this is me." "Yes, son. It is you, right next to my heart."

We played new games.

We fulfilled one of this mama's life long dreams, to push my son on a swing.

We cuddled in the grass.

We discovered new things. Like Abbey's head lamp.

We just played.

The air was perfect and still. The mood was soft and light. Other than being denied our government paperwork, it was the perfect Ethiopian day. I wanted to do it again. And then again. And again every day again after that.

As I took a breather from getting my butt kicked in soccer, I whined to God:

"Why can't it be like this forever."
He whispered back:

"Why cannot you not accept these small gifts? Each moment of each day is a gift if only you will open it and realize it."

I shut up.

And went back to playing soccer.

Oct 11, 2011

Trip Recap Day Four Part Two: All I Could Do Was Laugh

I've never had a good sense of smell. I often times have The Hero smell food in our fridge because I can't smell well enough to determine some thing's freshness. But that gift was of no measure in the city dump. I smelled before I knew we were there. The putrid air sprang up a sudden cough that I couldn't stop. My nostrils stung and the bugs that hung around my face clamored for space inside my eyes, nose and mouth. I could barely see to walk even though the sun was bright and warm. I hung very tightly to Solomon, a man who helps Yemamu and Sisay with their work in Korah.

I've attached the video below to give you an idea of what our team was walking through once we were in the dump. But what I cannot impart to you is the smell. Imagine the worst smell you've ever known and multiply it by infinity.

Every living thing in this place seemed to be on the cusp of death. Dogs ran wild and I knew for the first time why my children were terrified of dogs when they first came home from Ethiopia. Puppies were everywhere, scavenging for trash on the side of a sliding mountain of filth. Men and boys dug with their hands where I was terrified to place my feet.
I don't know what hell will be like, I pray I never know, but I am sure that Korah's trash dump will be at it's entrance.

As we passed out food, we approached a boy who was no older than 11 or 12. He had a bag of treasures from his morning working that he would soon take to the market to sell. He may make 30cents from his efforts. When Yemamu handed him the bag, he plopped down and began to tear open the bag and I noticed his hands. His black skin was amplified fifty shades of dark but the mire, feces, trash and debris of his work. I hurled inside my mouth. It was the stupidest thing I could have done at that moment, but I asked if I could wash his hand.
He stared at me like the crazy, white woman I am, just wanting to eat, but he let me. It took six wet wipes and half of travel-sized hand sanitizer container to wipe off the muck so he could eat. I just couldn't bear the thought of this angel ingesting any more of this despicable place into his body.
I would not let myself cry, even though this mama's heart was so pissed off that this place exists and this boy was not in school or with a family. I choked down my own bile and tears and just kept telling him he was beautiful.

We obviously were drawing a crowd and some of the boys from our program came to meet us. They did not want us to hug them because although people of Korah are cursed~a literal translation of the word, these boys were worse. They were thrown away. I hugged them anyway. I wasn't going to forget them or throw them away and I'd be damned if I let anyone else do it again.

One boy especially took great care in helping me. I recognized him from the center and he took great pains in helping guide me down the hill so we could see his "home". Amy crossed a trench of flowing water along with two more of our team, so when Bilelu jumped across, he assumed I'd be right behind him. I must have stepped on something different, because all I could feel was me sinking and then I was moving...downward!

My feet couldn't find a place to stand up and even though it was an open invitation to inhale a mouth full of bugs, I screamed for Solomon and Yemamu. I was waist deep in sewer and all I could see was Bilelu's face, he was almost in tears. The sweetie thought he had let me fall. Solomon's massive arms were grabbing my hands and pulling me out so fast I wasn't stuck for more than a few seconds and I could only pray I hadn't cut myself; a lot of the children from our center and Korah have contracted HIV and/or Hepatitis from this place by picking up a broken vial or needle from the hospital's trash.

I regained my head and looked down at my body. I almost fell back in because I was laughing so hard. It was all I could do in that moment. I laughed. Abbey was right behind me and fell ankle deep too, and boy were we a disgusting mess.

Note that the top of my pants are red. Five minutes before this picture, my entire pants were red.
I made is successfully across the second time and from then until the end of the day, I don't think that Bilelu let go of my hand. We saw his "home" that he shared with six or seven older boys. A pack of twenty wild dogs ran back and forth the entire time we were visiting. Yemamu explained that the boys had trained them to be attack dogs for anyone who tried to steal the metal the boys collected.
We hiked back the way we came because it had started to rain. Our team was quite the sight. Everyone in Korah who was outside just stopped and stared at Abbey and I. We still had about twenty bags of food left but everyone on our team wanted to give to the boys at the dump. Bilelu walked with me home, asking if he was going to see me tomorrow. This question was starting to break my heart, because I knew the answer would soon change. But for today it was still "of course."

Knowing that those boys were heading home broke my heart, but watching them walk back with food enough to feed them all for two days warmed me. Two days...we HAD to get our governmental approval within two days. HFN HAD to be up and functioning. I couldn't leave this place if it wasn't. I would never be able to forgive myself.

We walked home because Abbey and I were too disgusting to use any one's taxi and I was hoping the rain would help wash away my stench. I laughed at the sight of myself. I laughed because I was convinced that if I didn't I would look down and my heart would have shattered into a million pieces and let's face it, I laughed because I smelled worse than the entire group of teenage boys who a half a day early didn't want to permeate my fair skin with their smell. And I'm pretty sure God was getting a good laugh too.

Oct 8, 2011

Ethiopia Trip Recap Day 4 Part 1

One of the things I adore about Ethiopian culture is the dedication to honor and respect. It is reverent and expected to refer to an elder as "Mother" or "Father". We had been in Sisay's mother's home for about ten minutes before it was apparent that both Sisay as well as Yemamu revered the woman they both constantly referenced as "Mother".
I only asked her name once, and although I couldn't pronounce it, I couldn't forget that it's meaning stands for "the sun". She offered to spend her holiday slaughtering and preparing the sheep that we had bought yesterday. I am sure that Yemamu and Sisay learned a lot of their acts of service by watching this woman in their youth.

We arrived at her house early and she demanded that we eat before we began packaging the meals we would be delivering that day. I've had a lot of Ethiopian food, but lamb tips and doro wat fresh out of the open cooking pot were unbelievable. I know now why The Angel always asks me if there will be chicken wings in Heaven. I hope so too!

After we were treated to an amazing meal, we set up an assembly line of preparing the food for delivery. Abbey and Amy folded the injera over a whopping scoop of lamb wat, The Hero placed the food into plastic bags and Tom and I tied the bags. We made well over 75 packages of food.

Yemamu gave us all a taste of what is considered an Ethiopian delicacy which is cooked with peppers and tastes like spicy hamburger meat. I won't tell you what it actually is because you'll never try and you will be missing out!

Our team walked all through Korah, delivering food to people who were sick, injured or who were too poor to have bought food for their families for the holiday. As always, we had a horde of children who followed us everywhere and The Hero and Tom drew a lot of attention with their height, so we often stopped and let the kids get twirled around, picked up and loved on. I cannot tell how precious it was to watch two grown men shower children with hugs and laughs. There's a reason why we all need a father.

Several of the homes we visited were outside of Korah, people who were even too poor to afford the rent inside Korah itself. They were forced to build their homes just outside the trash dump, subject to being attacked by hyenas, thieves or being driven out by the government.

Since it was still the rainy season during our trip, mud abounded and the ground beneath us was subject to constant movement. We went down a hill and through a river.

Back up another steep, slimy hill,

We passed several people who even though it was a holiday, they had gone to the dump to find food, plastics to sell or paper to burn. This was at the top of our last hill looking down. This old woman was carrying a huge bundle of metal on her back to take down and sell.

As we approached the dump, buzzards were everywhere. They were huge, gawking at us as if they were just waiting for one of us to sit still enough to make a meal out of us. Trash, sewer, sludge, water, and bones surrounded us and I wanted to turn around and go back. To go tuck myself in and convince myself that this place didn't exist and that people didn't actually live, work and eat here.

I just kept praying over and over that God would give me strength.

I was definitely going to need it.