Friday, August 28, 2015

The First 10 Days

These first few days are the kind when you can only think 10 minutes into the future.  The rest is all hazy.

I came down with the stomach flu a couple days after Johnny came home.  Gil had pulled a muscle in his back while were at the orphanage and found himself in quite a bit of pain.  Little guy doesn't want to go to sleep, and when he does, wakes up (and wakes us up) multiple times a night.  Um, kind of like a newborn, I'm guessing.

And yet not like a newborn.  Maybe more like when the undisciplined neighbor child comes to your house and doesn't know the rules and messes everything up.  Like when he throws his entire bowl of eggs on the floor because he doesn't want to eat them.  Or dumps a cup of water in the trash.  Or grabs the dog's ears and sticks his fingers in her eyes.  Except unlike the neighbor kid, you can't send him home in a couple hours.  It feels like a stranger is in the house.

So then you do discipline him because, well, he really can't touch the stove, but there's no long history of trust already built in the relationship.  Which makes that whole love-discipline balance a lot trickier than it already is, even when you're only talking about one-minute time-outs.

Some of his tears are angry, but a few times, they have been sad.  It starts over something inconsequential, and quickly turns into chest-wracking, whole body sobbing.  Yesterday he said, over and over, I want to look for it!  I want to look for it!  But there was nothing to look for.  His three-year-old mind has no words to express what he has lost, but his heart is grown-up in what it feels.  I hold him and cry with him until he pushes me away.  He wants me, but he knows that somehow I am responsible for his pain.

In the midst of the sleeplessness and the haze and thoughts of, What did I get myself into?, there's much more that I don't want to forget.

On that first morning, Josiah told me, Mommy, when I knew that Johnny was coming home the next day, I wanted to jump out of the window and fly all the way home!  

And then, hours after the two met each other, Johnny said to his big brother, Njoo (Come) Josiah!  And Josiah turned to look at me with absolute wonder on his face.  Mommy!  He can say my name!  And he wants me to come!  

Or when he fell asleep on his big sister.

Or when he was terrified to get into the bathtub until I told him, Ogelea (Swim), Johnny!  and he realized that the bathtub was pretty much the same thing as a wading pool.  And then "swim" he did, as evidenced by the water all over the room.  Josiah said, I can't wait for bathtime tomorrow night!

That sweet mixture of English and Swahili, the English coming out with the Tanzanian accent that I know will soon be lost.  How all birds are called vultures.  Except for crows, which are called penguins.

The most exciting part of the day is when he gets to go in the car.  Anywhere.  For any length of time. Coming in close second is the time of the day when he gets to pick out his underwear.

I listen to them laughing outside.  And I am given the gift of looking past the haze.  The orphan becomes a Son and a Brother.  The Becoming is painful and joyful, full of loss and gain, of dying to self and becoming a new person.  For him.  For us.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Now We Are Six


Totally need to submit this to Awkward Family Photos

Just keepin' it real.

Candy in mouth; tears gone.  Mostly.

What DID you get yourself into?

No One Told Me Youth Ministry Would Be This Rewarding

Youth Ministry is filled with lots of, um, drama.  We loved our students, but there were many nights Gil and I would stay awake fretting over their poor decisions or self-destructive behavior.  And that's not even counting for what we would basically call....immaturity.  

Sometimes we wondered if anything we said was making a difference.  Our whole hearts were poured into these kids, and yet often I thought they really just showed up for the caramel popcorn.  

Like anything worth waiting for, we just had to be patient.  Our years of youth ministry are over, but we are just now getting the privilege of seeing the fruit.  This summer was great evidence of that.  So many of our former students were in Tanzania this summer, many of them visiting their families, but others coming back on their own, pilgrimages to the country where they grew up.  

And the cool thing is that they looked us up.  We want to see you!  They said.  Sweeter words are never heard to a youth minister's heart.  They wanted to see us!  

They are adults now, all grown up, yet full of that infectious excitement of youth adulthood.  Succeeding in school, getting advanced degrees, earning awards.  But more importantly, caring about people, passionate for Africa, following Jesus.  

There were so many here this summer that we didn't even get to spend time with them all.  If that was you....we still love you!  Come see us next time!

Cecilie and her friend introduced us to the Danish tradition of making a birthday cake to look like the child....and then making the first cut at the neck while everyone screams.  Obviously a good way to keep Danish psychiatrists in business.

McKenna was an intern with us for six weeks this summer.  She wasn't one of our HOPAC students, but she was one of our flower girls when she was 3, so she falls in the same category!  

Monday, August 24, 2015

I Want a Daddy Too.

This is George.  George is almost six years old, and has been at Forever Angels since he was a newborn.  

When Gil and I went to Forever Angels to pick up Johnny last week, Gil told me about a conversation he had with George.  

Why did you choose Johnny?  George asked Gil.  What did Johnny do to make you choose him?  I want a Daddy too.

Oh, Child.  Rip my heart out of my chest.  And then jab a knife into it.

How do you possibly answer that question?

Well, George, we were looking for a child who is younger than you.  It just sounds lame.

What did Johnny do to make you choose him?  From our first trip up to Forever Angels, it was obvious that George was doing everything possible to get chosen.  He tries hard to be happy and charming, all the time.  He smiles fetchingly.  He poses for the camera.  He wants to be the first to hug you.  He gives kisses to strangers.

When we were saying our good-byes, in the midst of the din of dozens of noisy children, George whispered to me, I want to go too.  

Just go ahead and twist that knife.

Forever Angels is only licensed for kids up to age 5.  So just this week, George is being transferred to a long-term orphanage.  A sponsor is paying for his school fees, so he will get to go to school.  He tries to be excited about this.

But it's still an orphanage, not a family.  And George knows there is a difference.

I know that not everyone is called to adopt.  There are many good reasons not to adopt, and I would never encourage anyone to go into it out of guilt.  Because let me assure you--adoption is tough, especially with older children.  It's a arduous process to bring home a child, and then it's even more arduous to help that child adapt to your family.

I know not everyone is called to adopt.  But there needs to be more who are.  I don't know if it's you; I don't have anyone specific in mind while I am writing this.  But there needs to be more who are.  

There are thousands, millions of Georges out there.  There are about 30,000 children in the United States alone who "age out" of the foster care system every year.  That's 30,000 children each year who turn 18 and have no one.

In a country that is one of the richest, most Christian in the world, this should not be.  Among churches who are exhorted to care for the fatherless, this should not be.  Among people who say they are pro-life, This Should Not Be.  

Unless you live in Tanzania, there's not much you can do to help George get a family.  But remember that there are thousands of others out there who, if given the chance, would look you in the eye and say,

I want a Daddy too.

How will you respond?

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after their distress.  James 1:27

Update on 4/21/19: Tragically, we received word that on Easter Sunday, George suddenly passed away. George was living at a Christian orphanage where he was loved and cherished, but he never did get a Daddy. May his story inspire many others to consider fostering or adoption. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What We Missed

We missed out on a lot of years, but Forever Angels volunteers took dozens of pictures.  We get to recreate Johnny's history for him, and as any adoptive family knows, that is priceless.