Monday, May 26, 2008

A New Do for Big Sister!

Well, this has been the sick house lately! Big sister has some kind of virus causing a long week of fevers. I was feeling bad because since we didn't want Maleah to get anything on top of what she already had, Dad was taking care of Big Sis. Now that Little Sis is feeling better, she's taking more to her Daddy ... so yesterday while they were rocking Naomi and I had some time to reconnect. We received these great little "hair snaps" from a friend just before we left for Ethiopia. I've been so anxious to try them.

So these pics show our first attempt at twists. Naomi's head is very narrow, so the parts didn't end up just as I had in mind, but since she was still sick I didn't want it to get too long for her. She was THRILLED with her new "do" ... so we had to go outside and get some pics to send to Grandma.

Her hair is not very coarse at all, so this style is not going to last as long as it does for some. But I do think it will be a great style when she's outside to keep her hair from getting so tangled. It's also fun to finally see how LONG her hair really is.

Thanks Rebecca for our sampling of "hair snaps"!! Naomi loves them! Where can I purchase more?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Traveling with New Friends!

As many of you families have encountered for yourselves ... one of the greatest blessings on this journey is the support you have from fellow adoptive families.  All along we wondered who we'd be traveling with.  Finally it all came about when we passed court and frantically made travel arrangements.  There were three of us families that really wanted to stay in one of the guest houses we'd heard such great reviews about.  So it ended up that we shared the Ayat House with Angie & Anil  ... and just down the road the Treats stayed in the other guest house.  We will never forget our time with these two amazing families!  As you'll soon get to realize, mealtime is LONG in Ethiopia.  Thankfully most meals we shared with these families so while we waited to order, waited for our food and then waited for our ticket (this became our group joke) ... there was much time to be together.  Three unique families ... three different ages/stages of children.  We saw each other on our good days and our bad.  Our experience was so much richer, sharing it with these friends.

We were so grateful to get to stay at the Ayat House.  Honestly, we really needed it for the financial option, but we were so glad to be near where our daughter had spent the last five months of her life.  The Ayat House is not right in the city.  The HUGE plus is, the air is cleaner.  The downside is it does take increased travel time to get to and from everywhere.  There were days that made me weary.  There is a fridge, yet we experienced quite a bit of power outages that we were glad we hadn't purchased much food needing to be kept cool.  The hospitality of Wegayu and the housekeeper Wimmet was fabulous!!!  They are very into babies/children.  It's too bad it took til the very last moment for Arsema to realize how great Wegayu was.  I think she burst his bubble as she was not about to accept his affections the entire week.  These great photos of the kids were captured by Angie and Anil while I was upstairs finishing packing.  

I remember someone mentioning that the dogs bark at night.  Well, um .... it is true.  And the earplugs I took just didn't end up fixing the problem for me.  The first few nights I think they camped out under my window.  I certainly felt safe!! ... yet it was terribly loud.  Either I got more and more tired, or they calmed down ... either way, by the end of the week I noticed that I woke far less from them.  

I would choose staying here all over again.  It was a great place for our family.  We were also excited to learn while in Ethiopia that Belay is opening a new guesthouse right in the city!  David and Colton got the tour one day (I stayed in the vehicle, as Arsema had finally crashed for a nap!).  It will be another wonderful option for families!!  Ask your caseworker if you're interested.  

I'm swallowing all pride posting this last picture.  Yes indeed, Ang and I look like we just survived a 17 hour international flight leaving at 10:30 pm no less!  I really should have packed a cute  hat like Ang's!  We still had two flights to get back to ND.  I don't know that I even want to see what those pics look like!  HA!  It didn't help that there was no power our last day either, which meant no last minute showers.  

We'll never forget you .... Renee & Todd and your amazing son Samuel .... 

Angie & Anil and your terrific little man Noah Arone.  

We look forward to keeping in touch and cheering you both on your next adoption journeys.  

Friday, May 23, 2008

Milestones and Making Memories

Today our wee-one is fifteen months old. Maybe I should add she doesn't feel too "wee" as I cart her around! Ha. Thanks so much to everyone who's been checking on us and praying for her health. She has finally turned the corner and is doing MUCH better! Decided I best get the girl outside for some photos to mark this special day. You can see how we started out ... yep, she wasn't too thrilled with my idea to sit on a strange chair. She is SO cautious. But thankfully with the help of her brothers coaxing some action out of her, she started showing us her other various expressions.

She got her giggle back today too and that was a welcomed sound after feeling so rotten for a week.

Today was also very special as I received another letter from my far-away-son. I am overwhelmed with this incredible opportunity to love and mentor someone so amazing. I am searching for more pictures of Getahun. So any of you families that have traveled to Kolfe .... could I ask a huge favor for you to search for pics of him! They can be group shots as well. I want to put together a picture book for him to send. I'd be so grateful for anything you find.  You can scroll down to see a recent post about him that has his photo.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

While at Gladney . . .

Going Back . . .

Okay, I have tried and tried to begin telling the rest of the story of our journey to and from Ethiopia.  It's just challenging to do so.  Between the needs of a bunch of sick people in our family and the difficulty in finding the right words . . . usually I just put it off another day.  So tonight I'm beginning my feeble attempt to tell the rest of the story.

To some, when they hear the word adoption, they probably think each situation is similar.  But for the adoptive family, they know how each and every journey is unique.  There are so many variables.  For me, international adoption was a HUGE stretch.  Yes, I will shamefully admit I was "one of those".  Oh I would whole-heartedly rejoice with families that were adopting or had adopted internationally ... but inside I'd think ... I could never do it.  I look back now and see all the baby steps the Lord took me through to bring me to the place of hearing His voice tell me something I could not ignore no matter how hard I tried to rationalize it all.

I could tell you the exact locations here in my home that the Lord so tenderly and clearly and persistently prodded at my heart.  While I knew it was real ... my mind would quickly have a bunch of reasons why it just wouldn't work.  I'd get caught up in doubts, yet when I was brave enough to listen, the message was so clear.  "There's a child in Ethiopia that needs you ... you are to bring them into your family."  US LORD???  We have no finances.  What about our family?  What about our ministry? ... what if people don't approve?  What about the small issue of vehicle size?  

It got a little out of hand when I couldn't enjoy a peaceful meal or restful night sleep anymore.  Please understand, it's not that I wasn't "open" to adoption again .... but what about the MOUNTAINS???   

Why do I recount this part of the journey? .... well, because I know there are so many families out there in the same dilemma.  They need to be reminded to not lose heart!  These mountains are worth climbing.  I cannot tell you it was easy.  God did not just send all the needed funds in one big lump sum.  It was a brutal year in many ways.  Sometimes I questioned if we had truly gone overboard this time around.  But with everything in me, I knew there was a little person across the world counting on us to make it.  

Some of you who follow our blog are on your own journey.  Perhaps there are times you question if all this insanity is really worth it.  Maybe you have times like we did that you really had nothing left to give.  BE encouraged! . . . you are not on this journey alone.  Maybe the "unknowns" keep you awake at night and you can't handle another month of not having answers to all your questions.  You give up so much control when you begin the road of adoption.  Maybe there are things you fear that you can't even bring yourself to voice out loud.

Oh, did I have my moments.  But one day, that glorious day did come when we received the call and began having answers to many of the questions that had filled our minds and hearts all those months.  Then the sadness came, of all we'd missed.  

When it was finally time to leave for Ethiopia I was so eager.  The time had finally come we'd see our daughter face to face.  I would meet the amazing women who helped to nurse our daughter to health.  This video montage is of her five months at Gladney.  When she arrived at nine months old, she wasn't even strong enough to bear much weight on her legs.  If you could only see her legs now!  These women, many still young girls, loved her so dearly.  So when we received these photos just before we left Ethiopia, it was such a gift.  

I look in this child's eyes and it's all so clear.  That battle that was going on in me? ... between listening to God's voice and being overwhelmed by the mountains? .... that's when she was born.  I don't believe in chance.  I know that I will never again question obeying and following God's leading.  While it breaks my heart that I could not be there for her in that first year of life (maybe someday more to come on that) . . . it is such a JOY to get to be there now.  

Arsema is only one child.  We saw SO MANY, who like her need a family.  Not all of us are called to bring another child into our family ... but we are all called to help care for orphans.  These children are not merely statistics.  They are real, uniquely designed precious human beings.  Our family understands that sometimes the stakes are high.  Sometimes those mountains just seem too tall.  Sometimes friends and family don't understand.  But these children understand.  They are filled with hope that someone out there will hear their cry.  

Next time I'll tell you more about our experiences in Ethiopia.  But for tonight, I needed to go back to the beginning one more time.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Welcomed Visitors!

Gee this is a lot of smiling faces to get looking in the same direction! Besides, our tummies were all growling after church ready for potluck. We were SO glad to have some grandparents come visit this last weekend. We packed a lot into a couple of days. Unfortunately, Grandma had to fill the role of taxi-service for us as we had to make yet another trip back to the doctor Sunday afternoon. Hopefully now after a med change our babe will be well soon. What a tough week she has had.  

Thanks for coming, Grandma & Grandpa!!!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I Have Another Son!

Yes, it's true .... this morning confirmed what's already been in my heart. When we traveled to Ethiopia to bring home our daughter we gained a SON as well. While he may never experience sitting around our dinner table here in our home .... we plan to love and support and encourage him from afar in every way the Lord allows us to.

While visiting the Kolfe boys orphanage, I was on a mission to deliver a package for the Mestas family. My heart was also open and ready for whoever the Lord might allow us to visit there. It wasn't long before we were touring the complex and we stepped into a room where a couple of young men were studying. I will never forget seeing Getahun for the first time ... tall, dark and handsome he was. He took a break from his studies (Physics I should add!) to meet us and talk with us awhile. We learned that his parents along with his sister are no longer living. Our time there was much too short. Now looking back there are so many things I'd love to have sat down with him and visited about. He has plans to become an engineer. He is not hindered by his circumstances and is working hard in his studies to prepare for his future.

We gave him our contact information and while I've thought of him MANY times since our return home, I hadn't written him yet. This last week I was able to be in contact with Ryan to inquire about this young man who stole some of my heart. We were SO excited to learn that Ryan is working on a sponsorship program for these amazing boys at Kolfe. I'm sure there will be more news in the future about this.

Anyway, so you can maybe imagine how thrilled I was this morning to receive an email from this most amazing boy across the world. He called me mom, so I guess the feeling is mutual. :)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Seizure + Urinary Infection = NO fun!

Well, quick post here.  I've been trying for a few days now to organize my thoughts to share more about our trip.  But today we took a detour instead to the hospital.  Arsema woke this afternoon from her nap with a seizure.  Since I knew her birthmother had some of these episodes it definitely caused concern.  My mind raced a hundred directions.  She couldn't cry, she just looked through me with those eyes of hers and shook.  Long story short, we made some calls and made the hour trek to the Urgent Care.  We received loving and compassionate care by every staff member (this is truly a miracle - some of our friends might even chuckle as they know all too well my past experiences with some of this staff! - Ha!).  FYI, we ended up traveling "Ethiopian style" .... babe on my lap in the back of the van as she was just limp and lifeless and at times would wake throwing up.  She acquired a fever .... We ruled out ears, etc. and the doctor said we maybe should do a culture to see about urinary infection.  Sure enough, it came back significantly elevated.  So THIS is why my girly has been a bit whiney the last couple days.  

We got our follow up X-ray taken care of for her previous TB as well.  Yeah, one more thing marked off the list.  

Sorry for the rambling post, but I wanted to just put a word of encouragement out there for our fellow Gladney families in waiting.  Friends .... the staff at Gladney love these children SO very much!  We had put a call in quick to the staff in TX, as I really hoped they could phone Belay and double-check her history, as I did not think there was any history of this, but knew there was with her birthmother.  Sure enough, they quickly phoned him and called us back soon after (it was nearly 11 pm his time!).  Our caseworker was out, but it didn't matter, Jessica took over for us and was so full of compassion and support.  I know how difficult the wait can be.  You feel sometimes forgotten as you wait and wait not knowing the details of what's going on behind the scenes.  Rest assured though that this staff CARES!  Even once you get home!  We are even more grateful for all they do.

So now we're home with an antibiotic and instructions of what to do and watch for about any further seizures.  All I could think of on the long way to the hospital was thank goodness this didn't happen while on one of those LONG flights!  We'd appreciate your prayers for our sweetie while she fights off this infection.  

I promise more photos and more posts about our trip soon!!!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Good Morning!

It's hard to even express how good it is to be HOME! We have much more to share about our time in Ethiopia, but right now we're trying to just settle in. We were thrilled to get back in time for Nathaniel's birthday! How can it be we have TWO teenagers now? We feel so incredibly blessed!

We had a good first night home. Arsema woke at 4:00 AM scared and hungry. Poor babe ... I never even thought to leave a small light on so she could see where we were. But she quieted quickly and we snuggled and rocked with a bottle. Aahhh .... a rocking chair! ... felt so good. Since I realized she's slept a lot of hours on the plane and in Ethiopia it was afternoon, I decided to just let her stay up til about 6:00 AM. So she lazed around on my lap and had a snack and we checked in on some of you waiting families' blogs. All I can say to you is KEEP HANGING ON!!! Your children are waiting and you must not lose hope or give up on this rigorous journey. You WILL get there! The staff in Ethiopia is working tirelessly on your behalf. They want to get you united to your children. They maintain a very high level of professionalism and care in each case. Don't ever think you are forgotten. You are not. So hang in there!

It was such a joy this morning to sit in a daze in the recliner and watch the girls crawl around the house playing and giggling. Eventually the boys woke and got in on the fun too. Naomi was so happy to come to our room and see that sister had just woken up. David let her climb in for a picture. Yes, Naomi has BIG hair in the mornings!!! Then I was thrilled to capture some photos of my main man with his two daughters. What a sight to behold ... no more tears! I think Arsema is finally melting and realizing just how amazing her Daddy is.

Nathaniel wanted Arsema on his lap for birthday breakfast photos, I see now that pic is not loaded here yet. Anyway, she liked the pancakes very much! She hasn't been too open to eating much except her bottle time since we arrived, but she's getting there.

Thank you so much for all your prayers along this journey. Without them we likely would have given up and never gotten to where we are. Adoption is a crazy, rigorous, I don't even have the proper words to describe kind of journey!!! But here we are finally all together. I have so much to share with you. Things we saw, experiences, so many children waiting that you will be hearing about. But for now I must go. Many more pics to come. We have no idea when our families will come to see us ..... hint, hint trying to lay on a guilt trip!!! ..... so you'll have to bear with us for us posting many pics on here right now.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Aahhhh ..... it's good to be home!

Just a quick post to let you all know we made it home safe and sound tonight after three LONGGGGGG flights. We had to do some switching around to get out of the storms in Chicago and we're just so grateful to be off the planes and on US soil again.

Will share more in the coming days. We so appreciate all your prayers and love. It feels so great to finally all be together.

Gladney families, I have lots of photos for you. I hear there are many referrals going on now and more soon, so be in touch when you get yours so I can see if I have pics for you.

Hoping to get some sleep now soon, as I feel I've had the longest aerobic workout of my life! Babe traveled wonderfully considering all it entailed. Momma is wiped out, but nothing a little sleep can't cure.

Oh, and Josiah was completely thrilled with Maleah leaped into his arms. It didn't go that way for Nathaniel, which Dad piped up and said "join the club". Ha. In the meantime, Josiah is up on cloud about eleven.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

It's a Whole New World Baby!!

Note:  Just editing to add the crawling pics we couldn't send before.

We got home from supper tonight and since Arsema is getting a bit more comfortable in her surroundings, I thought maybe some playing on the floor time was in order. We put some toys out and she would crawl like 3 "steps" and then pivot back to sitting and turn and do this over and over again. Then she's stop and play with the texture of the rug. You could just see her mind working. I began to wonder when it would occur to her there are NO limits! .... That she could crawl much further. She would go just a bit further and then it's like a big light bulb came on and the whole new world opened up. She began huffing and puffing SO excitedly and just cracking up laughing crawling back and forth, round and round. She could not believe what she was doing. Each direction going a bit further. It was hysterical. Colton caught it on video.

I've really been struggling with tomorrow approaching, going to see the government run orphanages. I know that it will tear at my heart, especially seeing where Arsema was for those long nine months when she was ill. As I put my newly hyper girl to bed tonight, the tears just came as I felt God's abundant grace on her life. It was as if He was saying to me ..... "Hello!, I'm right here .... Look at this child ... Look what I have done in her life. Isn't it beautiful?".

It's been such an intense week. While my heart is so heavy for the needs of these children ... To have a home and a place to experience the natural milestones in life, such as crawling ..... I am also encouraged tonight as I see this precious child continue to grow and thrive.

Perhaps in the morning, the sadness won't last as long for her and the laughter will come a bit easier. Each day seems like another step in the right direction.

Gladney Older Baby Care Center

"This is the Gladney Older Baby Care Center that Arsema was in. This is one of her main caregivers who was closest to her. She ran out to see us before we left ... That is before Travis tried to shoo her away. He tries to keep the "meeting day" just for the parents so they can bond with the children, but I was so glad she ran out because it felt perfect to see her on this memorable day. We hugged and hugged and she was so happy to see Arsema with her momma and daddy, but will miss her so much. We will go back to visit her again .... I promised her as Travis moved her on. :) This is one of the caregivers I'd made that picture book for.

We will forever be grateful to the caregivers for all they have done to help our precious girl thrive and grow. We will never forget. Their memory will always be honored."



Today we visited three government run orphanages. We'd seen many pictures of other traveling families, so we knew some of what to expect. That had definitely helped to prepare us. Countless times I had wondered where the room was our daughter spent her first nine months of life at Kebebetsehay orphanage. While the conditions were hard to see, what was so beautiful was the love in the women who cared for our precious Arsema. I had taken a picture of her when she went to Gladney because we didn't think they'd recognize her. All we had to say was her name and the smiles came ... And the joy in seeing her so healthy and strong now. They showed us the crib that was hers during her stay there. It was surreal ...... To just be there and to be holding this big heavy, healthy baby in my arms.

After pictures with her caregivers, we stepped outside and were greeted by the director there. She right away was calling for Arsema. This woman was the one who worked with Arsema's birthmother during her time of need. She told us the story in her own words and we soaked up every bit of information. She told us how she looks exactly like her mother. We anticipate meeting her tomorrow. We are grateful for this opportunity and are trusting in God's grace to help us through it.

We'll write at another time about the rest of this day. At this point we are just weary and tired, but grateful for our time here. Eileen, if you're reading this, we got the package to Solomon and have photos for you when we return.

Arsema's crib is in the far back right corner. In the photo are our new dear friends Angie & Anil. They have been sharing the Ayat House with us. We will never forget our time with them. Angie's companionship was such a blessing today as we stood and looked at the room that was our daughter's. Not many words were needed ..... Some times there just are not words to express what this journey entails. But when I looked into her eyes, I knew she knew .... And that was enough.

Another long day traveling around the city. Arsema caught a short nap between stops.

While so much of this trip has been exhausting, both physically and emotionally ...... We cannot help but smile when we look at this sweet face!!! There is hope. There are so many children that are just waiting for a family. Arsema was so weak and ill ... But look at this precious child ... As humble as the conditions are in some of these places, these children are truly loved. Their caregivers hope for families to rise up and help these children. Arsema is so bright and we will never forget the people who loved her and nurtured her during her first year of life. None of us can change everything, but many of us can make a difference in the life of at least one child. It comes in many forms. There is so much that can be done.

Oh, I should add that the latest bit of progress today was that Arsema enjoyed helping Daddy eat his omelet this morning. This is a big deal!, for her to actually take food from him. The longer we are here, the more attached she becomes and she is quite good at giving nearly everyone the cold shoulder. I'm thinking once we get home and she has to share my lap with Naomi, she may realize Daddy is quite a great guy after all! Ha. It is so fun to see her blossom and show her personality. As determined as she is, she is also very tender-hearted. We feel so blessed to have her in our family.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

This is "Sister", the Gladney nurse. Arsema couldn't figure out who she wanted most, me or her .... It was SO much fun seeing her squeal with excitement with all her caregivers around and then wanting to come back to her momma. She is making the transition .... It is a difficult one, but we see progress each day.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Hi Everyone,

Well, today was quite the day! It started off a bit later than planned with a little mixup on pick up time .... Then we gathered with two other couples and Travis and Johanna (in-country Gladney workers) at Kaldi's for breakfast. Kaldi's is the "Ethiopian Starbucks". We enjoyed the infamous "machiattos" and croissant sandwiches. We all enjoyed a nice visit, but were also eager to finish up so that we could meet our children.

I (Shelly) was very torn about what this moment would be like. I knew that with Arsema's age this could be a very interesting first visit. We had been warned numerous times before in updates of Arsema's less than thrilled acceptance of strangers. It's a peculiar thing, to spend a year working on paperwork, fund-raising, traveling across the world to meet a little person who has no idea who you are. The visit was soon upon us and went much as I'd expected. Arsema had been woken up for our visit and changed into an outfit we had sent for her. Very sweet .... Her caregiver was quick to be sure the clothes were indeed changed before they brought her down. She was very reserved during our meeting and you could just see her little mind trying to figure everything out. It broke my heart to see her scared. We were able to take her outside awhile and just did a lot of looking at each other. I think most of all, I was just relieved to begin this process. It is going to take time and it just felt good to spend today working on our relationship.

We then got to come back over to our guest house and spend another hour or so before it was time to go to lunch. Arsema just looked at us and it was as if she wanted to cry, but just didn't even know about doing that. She finally just laid her head down on me and drifted off to sleep. So we just spent the next hour snuggling on the couch with her getting a nap. Then it was off to lunch to meet Belay at his wife. It was wonderful at lunch because Belay's wife held her and got to chatter about with her and she'd show some expression and then be quick to hide it again for fear we might just see her smile! Ha. It was pretty funny. Since we'd had some video of her, we knew what she was like in her familiar surroundings so it was interesting seeing her reaction to everything.

Then it was time to head back to the guest house for awhile again. I finally got her to take a bottle then which is a big step from pulling in her lips before. If you could only see her THIGHS you would see that she has not missed many meals! Oh my. Then it was time to fall asleep for another little nap before heading out to supper. Those of you know that we were sleep deprived for two years of Naomi's life will understand how strange it is to us to have this child just fall asleep on us with no effort. What a fun gift from God!

It is going to be a joy watching her build trust and show us her personality. Right now she is extremely guarded and quite afraid we might make her laugh when we play and we might actually see her smile. It's funny.

We've had some precious moments today and many somber ones. This precious babe just looks at us wondering why in the world her little life has turned upside down again. Tomorrow we work to expand her horizons into Daddy's arms. She was stretched to her limit today, so she spent the day in my arms ... All 22 lbs of her. Thankfully I had been working up some muscle for this girly.

Okay ... This is just too funny. She was sitting here next to me on the couch playing with a toy and her blankey and just nodded off to sleep. Our family reading this is probably laughing out loud right now in comparison to getting Naomi to sleep! David, Colton and I are just cracking up! Maybe she's worn out from hiding in those smiles all day. I have a feeling tomorrow will be harder for her to keep them hidden inside.

That's it for today ..... Time to try and get some rest.