07 April 2015

I suck at praying (but I rock at altered lyrics)

I'm a terrible pray-er.

I think I used to be better at it, but over the years my time spent praying has consistently dwindled.

I'd like to blame it on having a 4-year-old child constantly underfoot, but that's not totally true. I know prayer works--I've seen too many other-worldly experiences not to believe. But I get overwhelmed.

Like lately. I try praying for M, M, and D who are stuck in Ethiopia, waiting for our adoption to be finalized. I try praying for my sweet mother-in-law who is courageously fighting Stage 4 cancer. I try to pray about the sale of our condo in Florida that is supposed to close this Thursday--and for which we have to bring $13K+ to the closing. (#UpsideDownTimesAMillion) I try praying for my hubby and the writing deadlines he has for his book deal.

But more often than not my prayers devolve into something like Anne Lamott's book on the three great prayers: "Help, Thanks, Wow." (With an emphasis on the HELP portion.)

Sometimes I manage to utter whole sentences such as, "Lord, have mercy." And I feel proud of myself for having both a subject and a verb in my sentence.

And maybe, probably, my non-poetic utterances are OK. God knows. It's not like He needs a debriefing on our situations.

This past Sunday in church, we were singing "Mighty to Save" The lyrics go like this:
Saviour, he can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save

I started thinking about the mountains in my life and the first thing that came to mind was MOWA, the Ethiopian Ministry that must sign off on our kids' adoption. So, with a smile on my face, I sang my revised lyrics in to Ken's ear:
Saviour, he can move the MOWA
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save

Then we sang "Your Grace is Enough" by Chris Tomlin. Once again, I inserted my own lyrics:
So remember Your people
Remember *our* children
Remember Your promise
Oh God

I have to admit, I felt rather clever singing these new lyrics. While I'm no Weird Al Yankovic, this felt like one of my more brilliant moments. I always get songs stuck in my head, so when I turn the stuck-in-my-head song lyrics into a personal prayer of sorts, I'm praying constantly. 

For my mother-in-law, who is thousands of miles away from us, I like these revised lyrics of Kari Jobe:
When she walks through deep waters
I know that You will be with her
When she's standing in the fire
She will not be overcome
Through the valley of the shadow
She will not fear

She is not alone
She is not alone
You will go before her
You will never leave her

In the midst of deep sorrow
I see Your light is breaking through
The dark of night will not overtake her
We are pressing into You
Lord, You fight her every battle
And we will not fear

I haven't found a song yet for my hubby that says, "Stop procrastinating and finish the stupid book," but I haven't given up looking.

What about you...any songs that you like to sing as your own? What do your prayers look or sound like during this season of your life?

24 March 2015

Nobody Should Cry Alone

Nobody should have to cry alone, especially a kid.

In one of our last updates on the children, the social worker that sometimes M gets sad and goes off by herself to cry for a while.

I know all kids cry. My 4 year old cries at some point nearly every day. But Mom or Dad is always nearby to comfort him.

I keep wondering what would cause a 9-year-old girl to cry. It could be anything really. A toy not shared. A disagreement with her sister. The perception that someone else is receiving preferential treatment.

Or maybe she cries because she has no mommy to tuck her in at night. Maybe someone is bullying her, and she doesn't have a grown up to stick up for her. Maybe she longs for a daddy to tell her how beautiful and funny and smart she is. Perhaps she is hungry. Feeling sick and not getting the right medication. Maybe she longs for a family. Maybe she is sad or scared or anxious and doesn't know why.

Whatever the case, the fact that she sometimes cries, alone, keeps me motivated.

We won't give up on these three children. No matter how long it takes. No matter how much money it costs. We will keep praying, advocating, and trying every avenue we can think of to get our kids home.

14 March 2015

Game Change

I haven't blogged about our adoption in more than a month. In a lot of scenarios no news is good news. In this case, no news isn't great because it means our kids are spending another day, another week, and another month in an orphanage without a mom and a dad.

It's such a complicated situation, and because of language and cultural differences, even we don't understand it fully. But I'll try to break it down, and then tell you about the new plan of action.

The key players:
  • Our kids-D, a 12 year old boy; M, a 9 year old girl, and L, a 7 year old girl. They have been in an orphanage since L was a baby, which in my estimate is about 7 years too long.
  • Mr. S, our kids advocate in Ethiopia; he also happens to be Ethiopian so he understand the culture and he has amazing access to government officials and people in power
  • The government officials in the state in which our kids live.
  • The Federal government in Ethio.
  • The "Ministry," a division that is roughly equivalent to our Dept. of Child and Family (DCFS) but on a federal level. 
The Requirements for Adoption (greatly simplified):
  • A required set of papers must be collected at the state level; they are then submitted to the Ministry. The Ministry writes a letter of recommendation and passes it on to the Federal Court, and they complete the adoption.
  • The required set of papers includes things such death certificates for the parents, testimony from friends and family that nobody is able to care for the children, birth certificates for the children, a list of all family members, names, addresses, social/physical/emotional exams for the children, all of our papers (doctor reports, references, letters from employers, police records, background checks, etc.) etc. etc. Hundreds of pages of documents. All must be notarized, translated, and authenticated.
  • All of these papers are for the safety of the children. There is a terrible history of child trafficking, black-market babies, bribes, and corruption. And also of some American parents adopting Ethio children and then abusing them, starving them, and not being good parents.

The problem (again, greatly simplified):
  • At one time international adoption was legal in all of Ethiopia.
  • In recent years, the decision to allow int'l adoption has been put in the hands of the states, and some states have exercised their right to no longer allow it.
  • Our children's state previously allowed int'l adoption, but about 18 months ago decided to stop them.
  • Our kids were approved by the state and all necessary papers were collected before they stopped allowing adoptions.
  • After their state stopped adoptions, the Ministry changed the required set of papers. They now require an additional signed letter saying an investigation was done and no local options for adoption were found. (Understandably, they would prefer if Ethio kids were adopted by Ethio parents and kept in country.)
  • So now we have the rub: The Ministry wants this one additional letter. The children's state officials refuse to give that letter--partly because they feel what they provided was sufficient evidence, and partly because they no longer have an adoption "division," per se. 
  • The Ministry won't budge without the letter; the state won't budge and write the letter.
  • Caught in the middle are our children. 
  • Witness after witness have confirmed no local options are available. Our boy remembers the death of his parents. Nobody has come forward in 7 years to adopt these children. They are older, and a sibling set of 3, so they are considered "special needs" in the world of adoption.
 The original plan:
  • Our children's advocate, Mr. S, would negotiate with the Ministry to get a letter of recommendation from them, despite not having this one last piece of paper. He would appeal to them on the basis of the welfare of the children.
The problem:
  • They are more concerned with crossing their T's and dotting their I's. They have gotten bad press in the past for allowing some adoptions that turned out bad, and they don't want any more negative publicity.
The new plan:
  • Since his negotiations with the Ministry have not been fruitful, he is going to ask them to write a letter of recommendation, even if it's a negative letter.
  • There is always the chance that when push comes to shove, someone will be having a good day and write a positive letter...that would be ideal.
  • If they write a negative letter, which they probably will, Mr. S. will take the letter to the Federal Court and appeal their decision.
  • This has only been done one time that we know of, and it was successful in getting the Court to approve the adoption. The only downside is that before the child leaves the country, they must have a new birth certificate issued listing the adoptive parents as their parents. And who has to issue this new certificate? The Ministry. And of course, they are dragging their feet. That case is ongoing, so we pray for a good outcome for that child...and then for us.

It's a risky move; nobody likes their decision to be appealed or usurped. But Mr. S. feels that since we have no traction on Plan A, it's time to move to Plan B.

This is a stressful time for all involved. I can't help but think of all the time, money, and energy, and prayers that have gone into giving these three children a chance to experience a family, a home, unconditional love. And it's not just our time, money, and prayers. It's all of you. Our faithful friends and family who have contributed generously through fundraisers, donations, prayers, and encouragement.

And it's not just our three children. There's another little girl at their orphanage who is in the same boat. She has a family in Utah that is awaiting good news on her case. And that family has been waiting even longer than us.

Every day that passes, I think, They could be here. They could be learning how to be kids. They could have a mom and dad to protect them and provide for them. They could have access to medical care and good nutrition. They could be grieving their losses and moving toward healing. 

We feel this is a critical juncture. Would you, once again, pray for all involved? God holds the hearts of those in power, and He can change their minds. He can soften hearts.

We're putting all our eggs in His basket, because He is our only hope.

13 February 2015

Love is in the air

Valentine's Day has always been a favorite holiday for me, even when I was childless, unmarried, and not even dating. It's one of the only holidays where you can get away with making handmade cards and little ditties for around the house, even if you're not very crafty.

So once again this year, I have plumbed the depths of my innerPinterest and have come up with a few projects to share with you.

A few weeks ago I found this "Christmas" tree on clearance at Kohl's. It normally sells for $39,95, but I got it for something like $6.99. I think it makes the perfect all-holiday family tree, so don't be surprised when you see it decked out for Fourth of July or Easter.

For Valentines, I've decorated it with little paper hearts on card stock. Some of the hearts have heart-shaped photos of our family. The 3-D pink hearts are from Dollar Tree. They were on long sticks which I broke in half, then twisted the branches of the tree around them.

Next up: V-Day Bunting. You guys, I am crazy about bunting. Partly because I have have the perfect wide door frame to hang it, and partly b/c it is so sweet and easy to make.

For the love of all things good and right, I can't find the original post I got this bunting pattern from. But I know it was on this website: http://thecraftingchicks.com/

I enlarged their bunting to fit my space, but the artwork is all theirs.

Ok, and now we're on to Valentines for Jack's preschool class. Rest assured, when we have 3 additional children, I am confident I will buy the boxed variety like every other busy mom. But really, these were pretty quick to make. And we only had to make 16.

I got this idea from FiveHomeHearts and actually borrowed several of her elements. I had to change the shape of the card because the bubbles I bought were a different shape than hers. (Hers were long and thin bottles; mine were short and squatty.) I also thought it would be fun to add some heart-shaped bubbles coming out of the word "Blow."

 I got these bubbles, which were 12 to a pack, for a couple bucks at Walmart.

Because the bubbles came in neon colors, I decided to go with this theme. I like this bold look for Valentines from a little boy. They seem more playful and less dainty/girly.

I started with 8.5 x 11" cardstock and printed two images per page.
I cut the paper in half and punched holes (using a pin and a pen b/c I can't find my hole punch) for the string that would hold the bubbles.

Then we threaded some red yarn through the holds, tied it around the bubbles, and folded the sides to make a built-in envelope.

Clear tape and stickers keep the valentine closed. 
Lots and lots of stickers.

Here is the template I used, in case you feel inspired. I took out my son's name, but if you want to add your own child's name, the "HeartlandRegular" font is a really fun one to use. Download it for free here.

 So there you have it friends. Pinterest extravaganza at our house. 

Wishing you a love-filled weekend!


29 January 2015

It's Beyond Me

When I was a young girl, maybe 8 or 9 years old, my friend invited me to go to the Y with her and her mom.

I didn't know how to swim, but being a tall kid, I usually managed to keep my head above water and had a good time in the pool.

Unfortunately, I wasn't exactly aware of what my height was, because I jumped in the pool at a spot where it was way too deep.

And by "way too deep," I don't mean it was super deep. But it was over my head.

I remember gasping for air, waving my arms frantically, and swallowing a whole lot of water. It was a terrifying, desperate, out-of-control feeling.

To this day I am not a big fan of being underwater.

. . .

I was driving down the road last week, on my way to somewhere I don't remember, and I thought, "Wow...I am so tired. And I've been tired for a while now."

I try to be positive on my blog and in my FB updates about this crazy adventure we're on, but truthfully, it's exhausting. It seems like every day we hear something new from our adoption agency. Great news one day, terrible news the next. Up, down, up, down, up, down. Rollercoasters ain't got nothing on this ride.

Sometimes I feel like throwing in the towel. I hate to admit that, but I do. And then I remember the sweet faces of three Ethiopian kids. A brother and two sisters who don't have a mom or a dad. Who don't have a home. Who don't have stability. Who don't have the love of a family.

And so we press on.

This song says it all.

16 January 2015


Twenty-five years ago I was a college-aged student teaching English in Eastern Europe. It was soon after the fall of Communism, and anything seemed possible.

My team and I decided to take a jaunt from Bulgaria, where we were stationed, across the beautiful blue Danube River, and spend the weekend in Romania.

Romania was fascinating. They'd had a bloody revolution just a few years earlier, and the buildings were still riddled with bullet holes. We visited a cemetary filled with graves of young men and women, most of whom were the same age as us, who had died fighting for freedom.

The trip back to Bulgaria was tricky. Long story short...we didn't want to wait for the train to cross the border, so we decided to walk across the bridge into Bulgaria. This had been done previously with no problem, but this time Romanian border guards, outfitted with Soviet sub-machine guns, were not accommodating.

As a twenty-something full of nationalistic pride, I truly believed the American dollar could solve most problems. And truth be known, so far in my journeys it had. But these guards were different. They were offended and angered that we though we could "buy" our way across the bridge. (Maybe $20 wasn't enough?!)

They took our passports, forced us into a border office of sorts, and let us sweat it out. Literally. For hours. Finally they pushed us on to a terribly overcrowded tour bus, threw our passports at us, and told the bus driver to take us across the border.

They never did take our money.

I thought of this story this afternoon while talking to our international adoption case worker. Our adoption of three siblings from Ethiopia has come to a seeming stand still. We need documentation that the regional government exhausted all local options for our children before signing off on their international adoption. The federal government is requiring it. Unfortunately, that piece of documentation was not required when the regional office signed off, and the regional office is no longer issuing ANY papers for international adoption from their region, so basically we're at a stand-off.

The Feds say we must have the document. The Regional office refuses to give it. The Feds say, "Keep trying to get it. One phone call or one letter is not enough."

Our agency tells the Feds, "We have tried and tried to get it. They are refusing."

The Feds say, "Try again."

Our agency says, "Think about the best interest of the children. Think about the hundreds of pages of documentation and eye witness testimony we have provided that say these children have been in institutional care for seven years. Their parents are deceased. Extended family members have appeared in court and said they are unable to care for them and they are OK with an international adoption."

The Feds say, "Try again to get the paper."

The Region says, "No."

And so round and round we go.

A dear friend offered to give us the money to fly over their ourselves to sort this out. Another sweet friend said she would be willing to go over there and see what she could do.

But here's the thing: Ethiopian culture is not like our culture. The more pressure we put on them, the more they feel backed into a corner, and the more resistance they put up.

Our team in Ethiopia have several contacts within the Ethiopian government. The agency's African director, and Ethiopian man, is well respected and has worked through situations like this before. But it takes time. Sometimes lots of time. But because he is Ethiopian, he knows the cultural aspect that we as Americans don't understand.

If it were up to me, I'd contact my congressional representatives and have them put pressure on the Ethio government. I'd start a petition and have all 400 of my Facebook friend sign it. I'd demand they hand over these children.

Or, if I got really desperate, I might consider throwing money at the situation. Because the might American dollar solves everything...right?

But that wouldn't work. It would probably make things worse. (And if the money did work, I'd have to live with the knowledge that I contributed to systemic unethical adoptions...which is really human trafficking...)

Today I was brainstorming/commiserating with a friend, and we were thinking about who we knew that could help with the situation. Later in the afternoon, I thought of someone.

His power is greatly underestimated, and yet He alone can change the hearts of those in authority.

He could change the hearts of those at the regional level, and put it upon them to submit the necessary document.

He could change the hearts of the federal authorities, and put it upon them to think about the best interests of the children, and release them without this paper.

Or He could do something entirely different, a solution that my finite mind has not yet considered.


So many of you are praying. Cousins and aunts and uncles in California and Texas and Florida and Connecticut. A Sunday School class in Fort Lauderdale. Grandmas and grandpas in Texas and Illinois. Friends in Colombia and Iran and Wheaton and Elmhurst. Friends at Faith Baptist Church in Winfield. Lifelong friends from Harvard Ave. and Willowbrook. And countless Facebook friends and acquaintances.

Our three Ethiopian children very well may be the most-prayed for children in the world.

But could we humbly ask you to keep praying? Every kid deserves to be in a family.

In my moments of doubt, I start thinking this is never going to happen. I can see what God has done to get us this far, but I also know of other families that have gotten this far and everything has fallen through.

Our social worker has assured me today that they are not giving up. That's not their style. But sometimes my fears overtake my sensibilities. I look at the photos of these three and think it's too good to be true--that they could be ours, and we could be theirs.

But God.

I know all things are possible, but we need God's gracious hand to move. I'm trying to be patient, but I also want the healing to begin. I want to see the redemption that is going to happen.

07 January 2015

Finally...A White Christmas!

Merry Christmas!
Melkam Genna!

መልካም ገና

Today is Christmas in Ethiopia! And it's a white Christmas (but only here in Chicagoland). Ethiopians follow the Julian Calender, so Christmas falls on January 7.

 I wished Jackson a Merry Christmas today, and after some strange looks by him and an explanation by me, he asked, "Do Lucia and Mary and David have a Christmas tree up?"

 No, probably not.

Christmas in Ethiopia is celebrated very differently than here in the United States. I was going to summarize what I've learned, but this website explains it so well that I decided to simply copy and paste. 

*I don't know if this is exactly how our kids are celebrating today, 
but this is the traditional celebration. 
My guess is that just like every family in the U.S. has their own 
variation on Christmas, so do folks in Ethiopia.*


Many people fast on Christmas Eve (January 6th). At dawn on the morning of Genna, people get dressed in white. Most people wear a traditional garment called a shamma. It's a thin white cotton piece of cloth with brightly colored stripes across the ends. It's worn like a toga. If you live in a big town or city you might wear 'western' clothes. The early Genna mass starts at 4.00am!

The Ethiopian capital city is Addis Ababa. It's a modern city. Most people who live outside big cities live in round house made of mud-plastered walls which have thatched cone-shaped roofs. Sometimes houses in the country are rectangular and made of stone.

The design of Ethiopian Church is similar to the houses. In the country, they are often very old and have been carved out of rock. In cities, modern churches are built in three circles, each within the others.

 The choir sings from the outer circle. Everyone who goes to church for the Genna celebrations is given a candle. The people walk around the church three times in a solemn procession, holding the candles. They then go to the second circle to stand during the service. The men and boys are separated from the women and girls. The center circle is the most important and holy place in the church and is where the priest serves the Holy Communion or mass.

It's also a tradition that one of the Wise Men who visited Jesus came from Ethiopia.
Around the time of Genna, the men and boys play a game that is also called genna. It's played with a curved stick and a round wooden ball, a bit like hockey.

Traditional Christmas foods in Ethiopia include wat which is a thick and spicy stew that contains meat, vegetables and sometimes eggs (sounds yummy!). Wat is eaten on a 'plate of injera' - a flat bread. Pieces of the injera are used as an edible spoon to scoop up the wat.

Twelve days after Genna, on 19th January, Ethiopians start the three day celebration of Timkat. It celebrated the baptism of Jesus. Children walk to church services in a procession. They wear the crowns and robes of the church youth groups that they belong to. Adults wear the shamma. The priests wear red and white robes and carry embroidered fringed umbrellas.

Musical instruments are played during the Timkat procession. The sistrum is a percussion instrument with tinkling metal disks a bit like a vertical tambourine. A makamiya, a long T-shaped prayer stick is used to keep the rhythm and is also used by the priests and a stick to lean on during the long Timkat church service!

Ethiopian men also play a sport called yeferas guks. It's played on horseback and the men throw ceremonial lances at each other (sounds rather dangerous!).

People don't give and receive present during Genna and Timkat. Sometimes children might be given a small gift of some clothes from their family members. It's more a time for going to church, eating lots and playing games!

So from the Doman home to yours, Melkam Genna!

(Interesting tidbit: On all the children's paperwork that we have received lately, their last name is listed as Doman. I like that.)