Friday, April 29, 2011

Fighting for Love

Forever Angels Baby Home, at first glance, looks like a really excellent pre-school or day care facility.  Bright murals cover every wall.  Everything is spotlessly neat and organized.  Detailed schedules are laid out on a bulletin board.  Safety gates are on every doorway.  A beautiful fenced-in garden gives the children plenty of space to play.

But of course, there are differences from a day care center.  In the bathroom, there are rows and rows of carefully labeled colored cups and toothbrushes.  Each child has a small crib with his or her name on it, and a mosquito net.  And these children are not "checked-in" every morning by loving parents.  Instead, this place is their whole life.

The children are universally beautiful, healthy (unless they've just arrived), and happy.  Big eyes, round tummies, loads of giggles.  Forever Angels truly is the highest quality orphanage I have witnessed.  But it was a bit eerie.  I sat down on the lawn yesterday and was instantly covered with about 6 toddlers.  One pulling my hair, one climbing on my shoulders, and about four more shoving and squishing and pushing their way into the coveted lap position.  Literally instantly.  These children know no strangers.  Anyone who comes through their gate is a potential source of love and attention.  And the most persistent ones tend to get the most.  So they learn to persist.

It was both beautiful and strikingly sad.  As an adoptive mom, it cuts me open.  I was only there for 24 hours, and even that was almost too much.  So many children who needs families, and I am only allowed one.  There was Zawadi, a petite little fairy princess of a five-year-old, extremely bright, completely-bi-lingual, and a total charmer.  She's old enough now to understand her circumstances, and every time a child gets adopted, she asks the director, "When is a family going to take me?"  There was Baraka, a three-year-old with a mischievious grin.  He figured out my name and all day reminded me of it.  "Amy!  Amy!  Amy!" 

And of course, there was the one we think God has planned for us.  I looked into her eyes and she looked into mine....she seeing only another white stranger, someone who would hold her for a day and then disappear, but she was willing to take what she could get.  I seeing a daughter, a princess, a whole long future of laughter and conversations and celebrations stretched out in front of me.  You have no idea what you are seeing, do you, dear one?  I whispered to her.  You have no idea how your entire life has just profoundly changed. 

I followed her around and stared at her all day; she noticed my attention and flirted back, always checking to see if I was still looking.  I always was.  Today I had a few hours before I left to come home, and she just wanted me to hold her.  She would scream if I put her down.  I'm not sentimental enough to think that somehow she knew I was different from the others; I know that she reacts exactly the same way to anyone else who will give her attention.  She would fight and screech and shove any other child who would try to touch me or get on my lap. 

Dear one, how I long to give you a love that you don't have to fight for.  Soon, soon, hopefully, prayerfully soon!  I'm coming back for you, I whispered to her.  I know she doesn't understand.  But soon she will.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Labor Pains....and Joy

The social worker in Mwanza wants to meet me and wants me to meet our little girl.  She won't move forward until I go. 

So I'm going tomorrow.  Booked a flight today, and I'll be on my way tomorrow morning.

We didn't plan for this, because it's a bit expensive, but I'm not complaining.  I get to meet my little girl tomorrow.  How wonderful is that?

But it will make waiting a lot harder.  We met both Grace and Josiah before we got to take them home, and it was torture.  I was kind of hoping to keep my distance for a while longer.  But now I'm excited.  Who wouldn't be?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


We stared at pictures of little girls and prayed all week.  I had emailed the orphanage director with some questions about the children, but due to an email mix-up, we weren't in communication with her until last night, when we returned from Kenya. 

We knew there were three children at Forever Angels that met our specifications (girl, about 2 years old) who were available to adopt.  We narrowed it down to two, mostly based on age.

Long about Thursday I asked Gil who he was leaning towards.  He told me.  She was the same one on my mind. 

But it was torturous thinking, honestly.  I read this post by the orphanage director on Friday.  She wrote about how on that day, they had to transfer two of their beautiful four-year-olds to another orphanage, since Forever Angels only cares for babies and toddlers.  Both these little girls were available for adoption.  No one took them.  Now, most likely, they will spend their whole childhood in an orphanage. 

So though I was leaning towards one child in particular as being the best fit for our family, I was haunted by the faces of the others, who could very likely never join families.  One child to gain a life of hugs, bedtime stories, an excellent education, a brother and sister, grandparents, and cousins, Disneyland, ticklefests, and toys she will always call her own, and the other child never truly belonging to anyone. 

Some people have asked us why we are choosing a toddler this time, instead of a baby.  The simple answer to that is that the older a child gets, the less likely he or she will be chosen.  Since we've already had a baby girl and a baby boy, we decided to choose the oldest child we could and still preserve the "birth order" in our family. 

We'd pretty much made our choice, and then last night we heard from the orphanage director.  She told us that one of the two little girls we were considering is being pursued for adoption by one of her Tanzanian staff members. 

But not the one we had chosen.

Praise the Lord!  Not only can we rejoice in the little girl who will join our family, but we can rejoice that the other little one will get a family as well.  Just as it should be. 

Now....not to disappoint anyone...but we're still not revealing her identity.  There is still a lot of paperwork to be done, and things can go wrong.  We're not even telling our kids who she is until we are as sure as we can be that we will be bringing her home.  However, if you want to go through all 49 profiles on the website and try to figure it out, go for it!  My mom did, actually (of course), and interestingly enough, God put on her heart the same little girl we had chosen. 

And when will we bring her home?  Well, when we were at this point with Grace, it took another 4 months (which was very unusual).  With Josiah, it took another 6 weeks.  It has been a lot faster for some people, but we've learned not to get our hopes up too high.  We're hoping for a month.  Soon!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Box 70027

In all my eight years living in Tanzania, I have never once checked the mail.

We use HOPAC's mailing address:  P.O. Box 70027, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  The box is way downtown and is checked by a staff member once a week or so, and all the mail brought to school.

I have written that address on countless applications, letters, and forms.  But I had never actually seen the mailbox. 

Until yesterday.

Last week, after hounding the social worker with my phone calls and texts, she finally told me that she had mailed our approval letter.  I didn't totally believe her, but was still optimistic.  When we returned from the Morogoro orphanage trip on Wednesday, I rushed to the staff room to check our cubby holes.  Magazines.  No letter. 

Richard is the guy who checks Box 70027 these days.  On Friday, I hounded him.  "Will you pleeeeease check the mail today?"  I begged.  Spring break was starting; we were leaving the country to visit Kenya, and I didn't want to wait another week and a half to know if our letter had come.  "I'll try," he told me.

At 6:00 that evening, we were at school for an event and Richard drove up.  "I didn't make it," he told me.  "Traffic was too bad."  And how could I blame him when he got back so late?

But I was determined.  "Is there any way I could get the mailbox key and check it myself?"  So we went into the office and he helped me hunt for the spare key.  Eureka.

I would have driven down the very next day, but I knew it would take me four hours round trip.  So I decided I could wait one more day, because we were going to the airport for our trip to Kenya, and could stop at the post office on the way.

So we did.  And I found Box 70027 for the first time.  Sifted through the crammed mailbox and found the glorious sight of a slim brown envelope with my name on it.

It was there!  Oh happy day!

We've been approved!  It's there, in writing...finally, after all these months.

However, there was a big surprise.  Throughout this whole past year, our social worker has insisted that we could not choose the child.  We could give specifications, and even choose the orphanage, but we could not choose the child.  We were totally fine with that.  In fact, we preferred it.

So you can imagine our surprise when we found that the letter stated that we were to have a girl, around 2 years old, from Forever Angels Orphanage in Mwanza.  But we are to choose. 

We will make the decision this week, based on pictures and prayer alone.  We'll then be about a month away from bringing her home.  Praise God with us, and then pray!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

God is Gracious

Stella got her stitches out today, and was discharged to go home.  So we went over to pay the final bill and take William and Stella home. 

Their baby's name is Janet, and she is one week old today.  Baby and Mama are both doing great, and exceedingly beautiful.  Enjoy!

About a dozen different people/families gave money to make sure Stella got good medical care, and I'm sure hundreds of people prayed.  William and Stella have told me repeatedly to thank everyone who stood beside them through this.  But don't stop praying!  1 in 9 children in Tanzania don't make it to their 5th birthday.  

Janet M. is a very good friend of William and Stella's whom William has known for over 10 (15?) years.  She and her husband were deeply involved in William's life and ministry.  If she had been in Tanzania this year, I know she would have been the one making sure Stella got good medical care.  It's a perfect name for their baby. 

Then I looked up the meaning of 'Janet':  God is Gracious.

Definitely perfect.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Orphans and Former Orphans

Service Emphasis Week (SEW) has got to be one of the very best things about HOPAC.  This year secondary students spread out all over Tanzania on 17 different build water filters, run kids' camps, teach English, serve disabled people, teach computer classes...and the list goes on. 

Gil led the team that went to Agape Children's Village in Morogoro, a city about 3 hours from here.  So the kids and I joined him, and we took 12 HOPAC students to serve the 28 kids there for 5 days. 

Love these trips.  The students step up.  In leadership.  In love.  In service.  The kids shower their adoration on these teenagers who are willing to give of themselves to them.  It's beautiful to watch.

Visiting orphanages is not a new thing for me.  But visiting them with my two children, who were once orphans, was quite a profound experience.  In each child's face, I saw the faces of my children.  Neither of my children came from this orphanage, but if they had not been adopted, they would have grown up much the same way.

I often imagined Grace there, as a resident, not a visitor.   Her head shaved, instead of full of braids and beads.  Eating ugali with her hands instead of a spoon.  Her eyes with a yellow tinge from malnutrition or too many bouts of malaria.  Speaking only Swahili.  Helping to wash her clothes by hand, making her little bed in the morning, and putting away her meager possessions. 

Would she still be as full of life?  As confident as she is now?  As gregarious?  Would she love to laugh as much as she does in our family?  How different would she be without a mama, her Daddy, her brother?  How would her mind be different without the plethora of experiences she has had...if her whole life revolved around three buildings and a nearby school?  

She would be such a different person that I don't know if I would recognize her.  Yet that person could have been, if not for the sovereign hand of God in her life.  And millions of children in Tanzania are living that life.  The differences are stark. 

And yet....what would I be like, had I not been adopted into His family?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Weeping May Remain for a Night, But Rejoicing Comes in the Morning

There she is.  Beautiful, beautiful sight.  Born around 11:30 this morning, 2.6 kg.  I took this picture about two hours after she was born.  No epidurals at this hospital, so Stella was put completely under.  When I saw her, she was still too groggy to really stay awake or even hold her baby.  Only awoke enough to say "Asante" when Dr. Carolyn and I gave her our congratulations, both of us in tears. 

 5:30 pm update:

(by the way, no name yet.  In Tanzanian culture that can come days or even weeks later.)

Friday, April 8, 2011


C-Section Scheduled for Tomorrow (Saturday)

Ultrasound revealed baby is 2.9 kg/6.4 pounds, 35 gestational weeks.

Pray!  More news to come soon!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Eternal Investments

Remember Maggie?  She is a part of our family this year.  Grace still insists on calling Maggie her big sister, though today she said worriedly, "Mommy, is Maggie going to leave us soon?" 

Now why would she say a thing like that?

Maybe because I just happened to hyperventilate today when I saw the package Maggie got.  FedExed.  From Stanford University.  Yeah.  I'm from California, and grew up 40 minutes away from Stanford, yet they never FedExed me anything

We knew a couple of weeks ago that Maggie got accepted to Stanford and MIT, but she didn't receive her financial aid package until today.  (FedExed--did I mention that?)  It says:  Parent contribution:  $0.  Student contribution:  $0.  They even gave her money for books.  And airfare

Oh my word.  Do you think they want her to come?

My best friend in high school was valedictorian.  I wasn't too far behind.  Where did we go to college?  San Jose State University.  Not sayin' there's really that much difference, of course, between Stanford and SJSU.  Oh--you haven't heard of it?  Well, your loss.

When I went to high school, everyone pretty much talked about their three college choices:  SJSU, West Valley Community College or De Anza Community College.  Here, at HOPAC, so far this year students have been accepted to Princeton, Dartmouth, and Yale.  And MIT and Stanford, of course.  Among others.  And there's only 25 students in the class.  Um, yeah.  Did anyone from my graduating class go to any of those schools? 

I just kept staring at that piece of paper.  Never seen anything like it. 

And you know what else?  She's probably going to turn it down.  She hasn't received her MIT package yet, but that's her first choice, and we're all guessing it will be just as good. 

We've always known, teaching at HOPAC, that we would be impacting students who have the capability of changing the world.  Since this is only HOPAC's third graduating class, we haven't been able to really see the fruit of that investment yet. 

But now we are.  Maggie wants to return to Tanzania and help change her country.  After she majors in aerospace engineering at MIT, of course.  To God be the glory.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Waiting to Meet That New Little Life

Last week I ran into William and he told me the doctor says he will do a C-section on Stella this Thursday.  I was a little shocked to hear that, and decided not to post it until I had it confirmed. 

So Dr. Carolyn did some investigating on Saturday.  The OB doctor was too busy to talk, so she asked around with the various nurses.  You have to understand that even though this is a "good" hospital, the methods of running this hospital are very different from what you would be used to.  Nothing is computerized; everything is hand-written. 

She said that what she discovered is that there is certainly an ultrasound scheduled for Wednesday to determine the size of the baby.  She is guessing that based on the ultrasound, they will decide when to do the C-section.  So it's possible that if the baby is big enough, they will take it on Thursday.  But it hasn't exactly been scheduled as William said, so he probably misunderstood.  

I wondered why they would do a C-section when she is already staying at the hospital and it seems logical to let her go as long as she can.  But Carolyn thinks that because she lost so much blood during her last delivery, that this doctor doesn't want to take any chances.  That seems to make sense. 

Carolyn says that all her other reports are good.  Stella and baby both seem to be doing great.  I'll keep you updated as much as I can! 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Thankful Things In My Life That Simply Do Not Fit Into a Cohesive Post

I read all seven Harry Potter books for the first time in the last four months.  I am now officially a Harry Potter fan.

I finished six classes towards my Master's degree in Biblical Counseling at the end of February.  It took me 3 1/2 years.  I had paid for those six classes, and so I was determined to finish them, but I had decided a while ago that I wouldn't go on and finish the MA for a number of reasons.  Now, I am free and clear and don't know what to do with myself.

Maggie, the student living with us, just got full-rides to Stanford and MIT.  Oh my.  My first thought was that she would freeze to death.  My second thought was that I am scared for her to be introduced to American culture.  Oh, and of course, there was plenty of screaming and hugging and dancing.

Grace just did a back flip into the swimming pool for the first time yesterday and shocked all of our socks off. 

Grace and Josiah's current favorite song is "Shackles" by Mary Mary because they saw it performed at HOPAC's Talent Show.  I think we have listened to it about 300 times in the last three weeks, and every time they try to perform it just like the kids at the show.  Josiah always asks me, "Mommy, Can you put on "Take the Shackles Off My Feet So I Can Dance?"  I wake up in the middle of the night and the song is going through my head.

The rain has finally come.  Good for the earth.  Good for the soul.  Bad for the traffic.

Now that I am done with my online classes, I am praying about what is next.  Pretty sure I am going to get involved with Teacher Care at HOPAC.  My mind is swimming with ideas. 

I am incredibly proud of Student Council this year and all the great things they have done.  A few weeks ago, they put on a huge "Community Night" which included a Talent Show, basketball game and soccer game.  Over 400 people came.  It was fantastic.  Hence the origination of "Shackles." 

My grandma's memorial service was yesterday.  Sad.  Missing my family.

Spring break is coming in a couple weeks.  We are thinking of going up to Nairobi to visit with three other MK schools and get inspiration and ideas.  That is, unless we will be going to Mwanza to pick up our little girl.  Not very hopeful on that, but it could happen.

Social worker told me on Thursday that the commissioner has given us approval.  I would be more excited, but am waiting to see it in writing first.  I have learned the hard way about getting excited too soon.

God is good.  I love this Season.