Mar 18, 2014

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Travelogue: Day Five — The Orphanage

The road was a narrow strip of rusty red clay that dropped sharply into deep ditches littered with trash. Chickens strutted lazily across the dirt while a few goats slept in the sunshine atop roadside beds of tall grass. It didn’t seem like the row of stucco storefronts quite belonged there. In Georgia, you’d see farms and cotton fields along a red dirt road like this, not stores. I wondered where their shoppers came from, and later learned it would be on foot; there was a much larger network of huts and houses here than was immediately apparent to me.

It seemed an even odder location for an orphanage. It’s a long story as to how they ended up in this temporary location, but like he’s always done, Pastor has made it work.

When we drove up, dozens of familiar faces poured out onto the porch to greet us. After initial hellos, a cautious jump across the wide ditch, and lots of handshakes, we entered the building. It was a single, dark room, not much bigger than my living room at home, with a wood and screen panel in the middle to separate the boys from the girls.

Bunk beds were crowded in the space, stacked three high and draped with somewhat holey mosquito netting; other than the beds, I only noticed a few small shelves where supplies were stored. No tables for eating or chairs for sitting. It was austere, to say the least.

We quickly moved through the building and out the back door, where we saw half a dozen girls sitting on the tiny patio, cleaning rice to remove stones and other impurities before cooking it for their daily meal. Off the patio was a small closeted area that I’m guessing hid the latrine or toilet. And that was the extent of their shelter. There was a long yard behind the building, and laundry was stretched out to dry along the shrubs. There was no kitchen for cooking the rice — just a small round charcoal stove for that big metal pan fit atop. Two kids were bent over small plastic buckets, washing plastic plates and cups. I wanted to help, but wasn’t sure if I should offer to or not.

I didn’t see any toys, or pictures or pretty blankets or anything that would make this feel like a place where children lived — not even an old ball to kick around the yard. The only toys were the two baby dolls we’d given Violet, that the other girls graciously held and shared. Violet joined some of her friends in a pat-a-cake game on the front porch, but those few moments were the only times I saw anyone engaged in play.

Later that night, I’d think about what I’d seen, and how these simplest of living conditions are still such a gift to these kids. It’s a richer life than the one they’d have in the remote villages most of them come from.

It’s still hard for that to sink in, almost two months later, that one meal a day and access to school — things totally taken for granted here — are so hard to come by that a widow will send her child away to receive it. Some of the kids in this orphanage are double-orphans, meaning that both parents have died. But many have a living parent who cannot provide even the most basic of the child’s needs. To prevent them living on the streets, they send them to places like this, where the kids are stacked two, three, sometimes four on one twin-sized mattress, twenty-plus kids and adolescents in a living space not much bigger than the average American bedroom.

I’d stay awake a long time that night, having seen how my daughter has spent the past five years of her life, thankful that she’s been fed and kept clean and educated. But it’s a stunning realization to see the difference in how we define those words here compared to what they mean there. “Fed” in America means three meals a day plus snacks. “Clean” is fresh clothing in the morning and at bedtime, daily baths and toothbrushing, shoes on your feet wherever you go. “Educated” means free access to twelve years of schooling, and if you’re needy, they’ll even give you feed you breakfast and lunch for free.

Nothing is free in Uganda. Nothing. There’s no governmental safety net, no food stamps or Medicaid, no free education. The only things you have are what you earn for yourself or are given. Period. I realized in a new way that our daughter truly cannot have any idea the extravagance she is going to experience, even in our ordinary, middle-class American world.

Anyhow, back to the orphanage. Everyone was so warm and welcoming, in that gentle Ugandan way. I loved finally meeting everyone we’d talked to through the years, and seeing how much the kids had grown since I’d last seen their photos.

We had an opportunity to distribute dental care kits and bibles that were donated from friends back home, and Donnie was really in his element. Look at all those beautiful smiles! My friend Bev asked me if there was something in the water there, because Ugandans are so lovely. I have to agree!

After we distributed the gifts, we presented Pastor with a french press coffee maker and some Seattle’s Best coffee. We also gave the kids some sweets and 10 lbs. of beef jerky we’d brought from America.

Then we piled as many people as we could into our driver’s van, and took off for a short drive to the orphanage’s new location, the building site they are trying to finish and move into as soon as possible.

They’ve really done a great job on the building. Most of the walls are up and I believe they plan to move in as soon as there’s a roof in place, living there while finishing up the rest of the construction. It’s going much slower than any of us would like, due to a lack of funds and laborers willing to donate their time. (Please keep them in your prayers and if you’re able to help fund the construction, let me know.)

As you can see above, after touring the site, I sought shelter under their banana trees. My ghostly-white skin was broiling under the equatorial sun and I had to find cover from it! (Note to self: next time, bring hat!)

As we stood there, cooling off, a strange, tinny-sounding version of the “Titanic” theme song begin waft through the air. At first, I thought I was hearing things, but then it grew louder and Donnie commented on hearing it, too. We said in unison, “That sounds like an ice cream truck!” and then chuckled at the thought of an ice cream truck cruising this corner of the world. But then I turned around and saw something that amazed me. And little did we know, that cheesy song was bringing us one of the most meaningful moments of our entire trip.

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Mar 14, 2014

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Passport Party

Oh yeah, we’re rocking a Passport Party over here today!

I think this might just be the first thing throughout this adoption process that’s happened at the time it was promised, but our Ugandan Pearl has a passport!!!

Honestly, I don’t know how to act. Having something happen on-time in a Ugandan adoption is just crazy talk!

But we prayed, and our sweet friend worked his tail off to make this happen, and it did.

Praise God!

Next step, medical exam and then we are on our way to get our girl and bring her home!

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Mar 12, 2014

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Travelogue: Day Five – Road Trip

The next day in Uganda started early. I was feeling somewhat better, so I went down to to breakfast for the first time since arriving at the Apricot Guesthouse.

And it would be the last time there, because we were leaving for Jinja that day. As you can see from the pic, I stuck to carbs — toast, banana, a dry pancake, tea. And of course, more Imodium before that road trip! Hahaha!

On the way out of Kampala, our driver Francis took us to a neat market to shop for souvenirs. Unfortunately, about five minutes into shopping, I started feeling weak and dizzy again and had to go sit in the car. When I uploaded pictures from my camera, I was SO disappointed to see all that I missed! Violet had taken dozens of pics of beautiful things, and I wished I’d seen them with her. I also wish I’d gotten the earrings she had me model. The fact that I didn’t should provide insight into how bad I was feeling. Oh well — there is always next time!

As we made our way out of  Kampala, Violet kept snapping pictures. She is just like her new mama in that regard! She took many pics of the traffic, and captured one of the Mandela football stadium that was a bit further outside the city.

She also took lots of selfies, and pictures of her doll, and of Dad taking pictures, and even swiped my sunglasses and Donnie’s new ballcap! She is a hoot! And as you can see, she put stickers all over our faces. I don’t know what the story is behind Ugandan kids putting stickers on their faces, but they love to do it!

The road to Jinja was gorgeous. We passed rainforest and huge fields of sugar cane and tea.

And we stopped to buy chicken on a stick from roadside vendors, as recommended by Francis. As we pulled over, he said, “Watch…we’re going to be swamped!” and we were! Dozens of people rushed the car, offering to sell us everything from the chicken, to sodas, to mysterious-looking meat chunks on sticks and roasted bananas. A little boy stopped by my window and wanted to sell me a bunch of tiny bananas. It was a little overwhelming and I was glad that I wasn’t lying when I told him that I had no money (Donnie handled all the cash for us).  It only took a few minutes and Donnie, Francis and Violet enjoyed their lunches of chicken, chapati and roasted bananas as we drove off again.

I didn’t want to eat, since my stomach was still off, but Donnie was raving about the food and insisted I take a taste of everything. I admit — the chicken was amazingly grilled, the chapati very flavorful and the roasted banana reminded me of soft, cooked plantain. I probably could’ve managed a banana or a whole chapati, but one of my greatest traveling fears was being hit with the “Big D” and not having access to a proper toilet. (NO food is tasty enough for me to risk facing a squalid squatty-potty or having to duck behind a snake-and-bug infested bush beside the road!)

About an hour later, we finally caught our first glimpse of the Nile River, which marked our entrance into Jinja. It was so beautiful!

After crossing the bridge and going through a roundabout, we turned onto more country-looking roads as we headed to our first stop: the temporary location of Violet’s orphanage. Finally, I would get to meet the other children I’d only known so far through photographs and Skype!

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Mar 11, 2014

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Labors of Love

I was thinking earlier today that if the adoption experience was equal to the birthing experience, I’d have delivered four or five babies by the time this is all over.

I don’t mean months-wise (although…9 x 4 = 36 and we ARE into our third year of the process) but I mean in regard to the number of times this process has felt like being in labor.

Just so, so much painful waiting…

Except we’re birthing documents, not babies.

Now before I delve into this, a disclaimer: this is not meant to generate any back-patting for me or my family. It just struck me today how much I admire the adoptive families I know. It’s kind of like before you have kids, how parenthood looks stressful, but totally doable and you just have no way of knowing how thrilling and amazing and heartbreaking and exhausting it actually IS. You can’t know it til you live it.

I have to confess that I went into adoption wearing somewhat rose-colored glasses. It seemed easier than those high-risk pregnancies I’d gone through. It seemed like such a beautiful way to build a family — and it most certainly is! — but it didn’t seem especially hard or grueling. I guess maybe I was reading the wrong blogs, because now that I’ve been immersed into the adoption world for over two years, I am blown away by what some people have gone through to adopt.

So the point of this post is to say to all my adoptive friends: you rock for enduring all you’ve endured. We’ve had it so easy compared to so many of you. After I delivered my first child, I had a whole new appreciation for my mom and every woman before me who’d ever gone through that pain and lived to tell about it. And I wasn’t sure I was made out of strong enough stuff to do it again. I feel the same way now about adoption — I have the deepest respect for those who’ve gone before us, and that’s just multiplied for those who’ve adopted more than once. Just…wow. Your strength and perseverance blows me away. Here’s a virtual “high-five” for you all.

Anyway…back to my (probably very poorly articulated) adoption/birth analogy….

The first “baby” we had to deliver was getting our homestudy approved. Not to be crude, but everything that went into that felt as intrusive as the repeated pelvic exams of pregnancy. It felt like documenting everything right down to the time you last burped, with no guarantee that you’d be approved at the end of it. I don’t even know if I was blogging yet when those papers came in, but this was me the day of their delivery:

I was sooooo stinkin’ happy!

And then we entered into our next gestational period: waiting for a court date. It was active waiting, with fundraising and praying and the mailing of papers and the paying of legal fees, and lots of other little waiting in the form of meeting monetary goals and missed communications with the lawyer. And that actually morphed into a time period nearly two pregnancies long, as there were delays in the courts, and with our judge in particular, and then a big false alarm when we were offered a short-notice court date that we couldn’t accept.

But finally, the pushing and groaning and aching and praying and crying was over, and it came. Another crucial delivery complete! Another period of waiting ended.

So then we left on a plane to go meet our daughter, and had the most amazing trip, and court went well and we began the next phase of waiting — to receive the judge’s ruling. We thought the hearing went well, we were promised to receive a ruling one week later, but alas — the promise of a week extended into six and once again, we were agonizing, waiting…waiting…waiting and like contractions in labor, not really able to do anything to alleviate the pain.

For adoption offers no epidural.

And the waiting hurt extra-badly because we’d seen our daughter, and held her and connected with her, only to have to leave her behind.

But then, it came! And OH, the relief when we saw the judge ruled in our favor. This girl was OURS now. Amazing stuff!

But…and I know you’re seeing the pattern here…today we’re “pregnant” again, defined by Webster’s dictionary as, “having possibilities of development or consequence : involving important issues rich in significance or implication.”

Yep. We’re “preggers” alright. This time, the “baby” is her passport, which we’re told would come on Friday, but in reality could take longer than that.

And then she has to pass a physical, and then the United States Embassy has to give us permission to fly her home. Even though the Ugandan courts have already declared she belongs to us now.

More waiting. More laboring. More unknown outcomes. More digging up drying-up reservoirs of blind faith that all things will, indeed, work together for our ultimate good.

I’ve had three high-risk pregnancies, two labors, three births and I’m here to tell you: the physical stress of carrying a baby is nothing like the mental stress of adopting a child. It sounds cliche to say it, but of course it’s all worth it in the end. But now, nearing the end of the process, anticipating my last few “Document Deliveries” I just want to salute every family that’s ever gone down this road. I’ve met so many amazing people and I have a huge respect for them, for fighting for their kids when it would’ve been a thousand times easier to just quit.

Janice and Christy and Tim and Laura and Chicke and Robert and Bonnie and Colleen and Jessica and Diane and a dozen more whose names evade me at the moment — y’all rock, my friends.

Thanks for coaching me, inspiring me to keep breathing and pushing and working hard until our sweet daughter is home.

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Mar 11, 2014

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Nighttime News

We’ve been enjoying an early taste of spring around here, and today we had the windows open. That fresh air always feels so glorious after the house has been closed up all winter long.

It’s still pretty chilly at night, though, and as I stepped into the darkened bedroom to close the window, I was pleasantly surprised by the sound of croaking frogs and chirping crickets. That’s another thing I love about the return of spring. I don’t really notice how silent winter nights are until the sounds of spring reappear each year.

Those rhythmic songs took me back to Uganda, where the nights are much louder than the days, where millions of little critters stay up serenading one another all night long. I will record it for you when I go back, because it’s almost impossible to describe how loud it is. Think of a summers’ night in Florida, amplified times ten.

Anyway, it made me happy to hear that tonight, because I’m glad our daughter will be coming home to us in the spring. Not only is everything green and blooming, like she’s used to, but the nights are not deadly silent and the air bitterly cold. Because to her little tropical bones, anything under 68* is positively frigid and I can only imagine that a silent night would seem very creepy indeed if you’d only ever known a life where nights were always louder than your days.

(Look at Miss V — she is smiling again!)

Which brings me to the news of the day: a pretty encouraging answer to prayer!

Our pastor friend returned to the passport office today in the hopes of completing the process of applying for Violet’s passport. This is the first step of the last three steps we have to take before bringing her home. He has a friend who works there and though I am (understandably) leery of believing things in Uganda until I see them come to fruition, it sounds like her passport could be ready for pickup this Friday!

Which would be amazingly fast and wonderful!

After that, he can take care of the medical exam and once that’s done, we can hop on the plane to go finish the process of getting her travel visa from the embassy.

And then we come home.

We are praying so hard that we’re back home by Easter. What a glorious Easter that would be!


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Mar 5, 2014

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Officially Ours

Look at what came today!

YES! Finally, the written ruling! AND the judge just signed it last week. So the delay was within the court itself, leaving me (and other adopting families) wondering if six weeks is the new normal for receiving a written ruling? If so, I am ever so grateful for the illness that sent me home early, that led us to make two trips instead of me staying in-country for six weeks, bleeding money while being unable to move forward. It really was a blessing in disguise.

Anyway…this means that now the pastor can move on to getting the passport and her physical. Once those are done, we will be on a plane to go complete the process and bring her home! That could be in as little as two weeks or so.

I talked to her on the phone today. She was so cute, not really understanding the process still involved. She kept asking, “Can you come back next week? Please come back next week!” Bless her sweet little heart — she just is SO ready to have a family.

And we are so ready to give her one!

It was around 4:30 a.m. when the phone call came this morning. Donnie hopped out of bed and went to the computer to read the document for himself. Then he came back in the bedroom, and even in the darkness, I could see his smile as he kissed me. I stayed awake a long time after, thanking God for the ruling, but mostly just thinking about things in a new, concrete way. It’s no longer the same thought process of the past two years, where every thought of Violet carried with it a big “if”….”IF we’re granted legal guardianship….IF she gets to come home this year…” Even as we met her in January and spent that wonderful week with her, the “Big IF” hung over our heads because we knew the judge could just have easily said “No.”

So this morning, it finally, truly sank in that we HAVE a daughter. *I* have a daughter! Me, this mom-of-boys who always longed for just another touch of girlishness in the house, this mom who always knew that God had left a sparkly pink vacancy in my heart for a reason, now officially has a daughter. I can tell people I have FOUR children now, no longer just three. I’m a mom of four. ME, the previously infertile, a mother of four? How can that be? But it’s real and it’s true and it’s in writing now! And my sons now have a sister, and my husband has a daddy’s girl, and our parents have a granddaughter and our siblings have a new niece. And all our amazing friends have someone new to dote on and love.

That beautiful “It is done” feeling was not unlike what I felt after our biological babies were born. As I looked over their impossibly tiny fingers and toes, ran my fingertip over their velvety new cheeks, and marveled that something so perfect could’ve been made by love and entrusted to me, it was a holy moment. And today brought an entirely different, but equally holy moment, to realize that finally, after two years of struggle and tears and pleading and prayers, this daughter we longed for was ours. Just like the babies laid upon my chest at birth, God has laid her now in our arms and love has once again, multiplied my family.

Whether by womb,

Or by judge’s decree–

Love builds a family.

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Mar 3, 2014

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New Prayer Requests

So many of y’all have stood with us in prayer through this whole process, and our family will NEVER be able to thank you enough.

As we enter this last phase of the process, I have these specific requests to share with you all.

But first, look at this picture we got yesterday… (Yes, I played around with it on PicMonkey, one of my favorite pastimes!)

Her hair is getting SO long…can you believe she’s only been growing it out a few months? It’s getting long enough for us to try some products and styles I’ve been studying on sites like Chocolate Hair/Vanilla Care. I am SO looking forward to that bonding time with her.

ANYWAY…back to the prayer requests:

  • For the written ruling to be in the pastor’s hands in the next day or two
  • For the passport process to go smoothly and quickly
  • For Violet to pass her physical and most importantly, her TB test (because if she fails that, it opens a whole other months-long set of delays)
  • Wisdom for Donnie and I to know what’s best with regard to which of us goes back and stays for the embassy/visa process (one of us must be present for that and it can take several weeks)
  • That we get her travel visa easily and quickly
  • For all trips there and back to be safe and for all of us to stay in good health–including our boys at home!

This has truly been one of the biggest adventures and challenges of our lives and we are just so grateful for all of you who’ve stood behind us, beside us and lifted us up. I mean it when I tell people that I have some of the most generous friends and family in the world! I pray God’s blessings over each of you in return for all you’ve given.

“For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use to give—large or small—will be used to measure what is given back to you.”

-Luke 6:38 (TLB)



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Feb 27, 2014

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Apples of Gold

“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a ruling rightly given.”

-Proverbs 25:11

Praising God today because we received our ruling!

And now I’d like for you to officially meet our daughter, Violet.

Until now, we’ve called her Pearl on this blog to protect her identity until we knew we’d been awarded legal guardianship. We chose “Pearl” because Winston Churchill called Uganda “The Pearl of Africa” and she was our Ugandan Pearl. Later, a friend of ours reminded us of the passage in Matthew 13 about the pearl of great value. What a fitting passage to apply to this beautiful treasure!

This is the first picture we ever saw of Violet. Now can you see why she just pulled at our hearts from the first time we saw her? Look at the hope in those eyes. This child, she just glows.

I know God has big things planned for this girl and we are humbled and honored that He’s allowed us to help nurture her into all she’s meant to become.

Truly, we’re blessed beyond measure.


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