Waiting patiently on you Lord, please incline and hear our cry

On the eve of Christmas eve, Marissa and I are home with Owen, Roni and Connor and really wishing Aseres was here with us.  The US will not allow her to enter the country and has asked for new evidence from all cases prior to submission.  Our agency is busy gathering that new evidence and will submit Aseres’ file once it is complete.  Our agency is only allowed to submit files on Thursdays, so we await news of submission each Thursday.  Four Thursdays have now passed with nothing, and we are torn in what to do.  We want to go be with her during the wait to start the parenting, but we also feel there is a lot of work for us here in San Marcos – between my office, three older kids and other things God has given us.

We want to go Addis today, despite the fact that we don’t have the money to do so, it would spin the other three kids into chaos and I cannot exactly abandon my office, yet we wait in San Marcos.  I could paint our hesitance as a lack of faith or certainty in where this adoption is going, but while dramatic that would be untrue.  We feel confident that God will bring this to a conclusion and it is his victory to win.  We are still here because God has not called us to go yet and we trust he will make it clear to us when the time is right as long as we are quiet enough to listen.  It isn’t just that God hasn’t called us to go, it is that he has called us to stay by trusting us with more and bigger kingdom work here in Texas.  While every day we stay brings sadness and pain, God is revealing his grace by providing us distractions and joy.

Sunday at church, we read David sing that he “waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1).  I have read that passage a bunch of times and sang songs based upon it, but it had a new meaning.  David waited patiently for the Lord when the waiting was so hard it caused him to cry out to God.  Then God inclined to hear his cry.  Waiting is so hard and fighting is so easy, because we want to believe we have control over the outcome and that our fighting is the key to victory — or broader, that victory is somehow to our credit to the same extent it is our responsibility to fight for it.  As in most things, there is nothing flying to Addis is going to do to speed up the process, because we have no influence and we cannot win this victory.  God will bring this to a conclusion just as he has brought it thus far and it is his victory to win, just the same as all the glory is his.

Yet it is so hard to wait patiently, because every day we don’t go I feel like we are somehow failing our new daughter that needs us so bad.  Do we love her enough to leave today or tomorrow or Christmas day?  Do we love her as much as the three kids already in our home?  Of course, but those seem like false questions more of the enemy than God.  It seems the better questions are if we are faithful enough to wait, and if we can avoid making the new daughter, whom we have sought after so hard for two years, into an idol.  So we wait in painful patience, until the victory is won before us or God calls us to Addis.  Still, every morning we wake up in our comfortable bed, we are wrecked for the beautiful girl in the small crib.  And we cry.  Maybe that is a pain we should always feel even after Aseres is in the room next to ours and thriving and loved, because there will still be millions of beautiful orphans stuck in cribs too small away from a family and unloved.  And we should always cry.

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Going to Prepare a Place for You

Adoption from Ethiopia requires two stages of approvals:  the government and courts of Ethiopia then US immigration.  Prior to this year, US approval was a quick process that traditionally followed within one week of Ethiopian court approval.  Therefore, adoptive couples made only a single trip of around ten days and were able to return home with their new child.  Late last year, US immigration began to conduct more in-depth investigations of each child’s background before approving their entry into the US.  The US approval went from less than a week to four to six weeks to in some cases several months, depending on the case and the individual investigation process.  For several months we have known we would have to make two trips, but we determined not to look ahead to our last visit and goodbyes but instead praise and celebrate each visit and God moving to complete Aseres’ adoption.

We awoke Thursday completely focused on our third and final one hour visit.  Marissa and I decided that if all we had left was one hour with our new daughter, we wanted to spend all 3,600 seconds taking in her eyes, and her skin, and her smell, and giving her all the love we had — there would be plenty of time for tears and mourning after the goodbyes.  As much as I was committed, I was dazed when we arrived, but Marissa went straight to work doing just what we both committed to, scooping Aseres up into her right arm and holding her tight to her as she sought permission from the caretaker to go downstairs and out in the front yard.  It is unlikely that the caretaker understood what Marissa said, but she was warming to us and smiled approvingly.  On the way out, she told us thirty minutes remained before snack.  In the hall, I took Aseres from Marissa as she asked for Aseres’ special mom.  In Gladney lore, the special mom is the original caretaker assigned to each child upon their transfer from the orphanage.  We heard families speak with reverence of their child’s special mom and the bond they shared.  I was still in a daze but loved seeing my beautiful wife go to work; oh how her faith has grown by answering God’s call upon her life.  We heard adoption stressed marriage but I have never loved her more.

We made it to a manicured patch of grass surrounded by plants and trees.  It was wet to the touch but one of the drivers found a twin mattress and placed it in the middle of the grass.  We fell upon the mattress and let Aseres out of our arms to admire her from three feet away.  Marissa had already noticed congestion and snot that traditionally announce a cold, and the coming cold limited Aseres play.  She couldn’t be sick here, not on our last day, not when we couldn’t nurse her and love her to well, not before we could break her out of her germ encampment — but she was.  She kept her thumb in her mouth for comfort but didn’t cry.  I awoke that morning with congestion as well, so my kleenex became her kleenex — all I have is yours baby girl.

Twenty minutes felt like five, and Marissa talked Greg, a brother-in-law to another traveling family to snap some pictures of four of us then three of us.  I still felt nothing but joy; there were other feelings in the background but the forefront was dominated by joy and awe at how God had moved.  A slender, young lady in a white nurse’s outfit appeared and was introduced as Aseres’ special mom.  This is who we were to thank and share with, right?  I couldn’t wait to tell her that our court date was a success and she was ours and we would.. “No, English,” she interrupted.  Marissa stepped forward and I back and she handed Aseres to Special Mom.  We learned that Aseres had been with Special Mom until two months ago when she was moved to her current house across the street from the old one; the caretakers don’t move, just the kids.  Marissa pointed the camera towards the anticipated special emotion that did not come.  Aseres appeared to not even recognise the one woman who was assigned just to her and tasked with loving her until Marissa came for her.  My fading hopes were renewed as Marissa took Aseres back and the special mom pulled out a phone to show us pictures of a beautiful two or three month old little girl.  My heart leapt, because we had never seen baby pictures of our beautiful new daugther.. until Special Mom corrected us, “my baby” and it was hers not ours.  No mom, no home, a distracted special mom; American government can we please take her home now?

Our outside time dwindled, and we wanted to pray over her for longer than what remained, so the four members of our family of six huddled on that small mattress and prayed from deep within and with all we had for healing, for caretakers, for protection, for God to love her and care for her, for God to bring us back to her with his speed, for love, for forgiveness and for strength.  While all four of us remained huddled with six hands in every direction and all focus on our beautiful baby, Aseres held my leg with one hand and comforted herself with her other thumb.  The prayer continued and changed at the same time as I explained to a beautiful angel with words God must have given her ears to understand that we had no choice but to leave but we would be back; God wanted us to go and prepare a place for her — her forever home, predestined for her from the beginning of time — have faith sweet child.  We don’t want to leave, I again assured her through tears which God kept from falling upon her face, but the perfect Father will never leave her and has perfect love especially for her — the former orphan, the least of these.

Back upstairs, we stretched our hour through her meal, until it was goodbyes one at a time — Owen, mom, dad.  Marissa brought some clothes and a photo book which were tucked in the corner and obscured by her tears.  I saw the large plastic bag holding them as I made my first attempt out the door, so I reversed back to where we left Aseres on the floor.  I handed the clothes to the caretaker who tried to assure me with her eyes and smile away my tears.  I got back on the floor and went through each one, “Mommy… Daddy… Roni…. Owen…. Connor…. your whole family.  She grabbed it and I grabbed her head with both hands, wanting to continue a prayer I wasn’t sure had ever stopped, but I couldn’t come up with the words; hopefully God understood my silence and made her to understand as well.  I kissed her on her forehead unable to avoid leaving a few tears this time and turned to rejoin Marissa and Owen who were putting their shoes on in the hall.  Don’t look back; can’t not look back; give right hand folded over wave just as another boy took Aseres new family photo album.  The caretaker returned it and told him no in Amharic, because we are hers; forever joined by God — at least she told him the “no” part.

Out in the driveway, two families stood completely inside out.  I heard the Spirit inviting us to pray together, and we all huddled with arms around shoulders, former strangers now co-workers in the orphan field and we prayed — forgive our unbelief, thank you for moving mightily, thank you for having the orphan’s back, protect these little ones and thank you Jesus for leaving us to prepare our place in our father’s house — until this day I never realized how hard that must have been; give us a measure of that strength to do the same for these former orphans now co-heirs and reunite all of us in your perfect timing, Amen.

We Danced at Kolfe

Editorial note — the Ethiopian government does not allow public posting of photos which could identify orphans.  We have 40 or 50 photos from Kolfe which we cannot publish without password protecting.  We will do something like this when we get home, because if even a small fraction of our readers felt called to adopt a boy they saw, Kolfe would be emptied.

Monday night, Marissa and I prayed over Owen that he be healed of whatever ailed him so that he might fully enjoy his second visit with Aseres and the Kolfe feast.  We also enlisted our Riverstone Community Church family to pray for him, and Tuesday morning he woke up feeling great.  We had wonderful omelets at the guest house then went to our second visit at with Aseres.  She was even better than the first day.  She immediately responded to Marissa and I and interacted like she had known us for far longer than a day.  We fed her once again and all of us played together on the floor of the small upstairs room while the Ethiopian caretakers watched our every move.  About 30 minutes into our visit, she pulled upright onto her feet and tool a tentative step from Marissa to me.  Let’s go with that was her first step.  She soon lost interest in any more mobility milestones and dropped back to the floor.

Owen was amazed that she could hold a runner’s stretch with one leg behind her and one leg straight ahead while turning 180 degrees.  Unlike the first step, it was clear she had done this move before.  Aseres walked between us on her knees and hammed for the camera, until the door opened to a caretaker with a tray.  Aseres knew what was coming even though we did not, and she tore off across the room on her knees towards a chair in the far corner.  She pushed two boys back to get pole position for a banana snack.  The caretaker stepped over the five babies awaiting their turn for banana, and sang Aseres name so beautifully that I wished I was rolling tape — “Ahs – rais; Ahs – rais” and then pressed the banana skin from the outside with a spoon which she then used to share the contents with my beautiful, impatient daughter.  The banana was gone way too fast for her new family reveling in her joy and too fast for Aseres.  As if she knew how much we were loving seeing her joy, Aseres pushed the boy second in line back onto his bottom and protested that she should also receive his banana.

Banana Time

We went over and picked her up to assure her it was okay and that we could wait and she could wait until a day soon when there will be plenty of bananas.  Big tears rolled down her ample cheeks and some baby snot bubbles followed.  We loved seeing her spirit, but another caretaker swooped in to stop the crying, not out of discipline but because Ethiopian women do not like babies to cry.  After first failing as we had, she took Aseres out of the room and returned with sink water running down from her hair and face.  The water did the trick and we resumed playing on the floor.  Before we were ready, the hour was up and we were back downstairs away from Aseres until Thursday’s final visit.

The rest of the day consisted of some sightseeing and shopping and waiting for our return trip to Kolfe for the feast.  Finally, 4:00 arrived just after our car arrived at Kolfe.  Today we were forced to park on the street outside the gate, and Owen took off to join the play he saw on the soccer field before Marissa even emerged from the car.  There was more organization on the field today, on account of three older boys who appeared always in charge of controlling the games and picking the teams.  They stacked their own team by simply staying together and Owen and I were assigned to the opposition.  Owen played all out for two hours while I alternated

in with Steve from Utah.  Within a few minutes, Owen got a nutmeg goal through the legs of the second oldest boy in a yellow sports shirt.  The oldest boy, and clear soccer alpha dog, then spent the next hour showing off his handles.  Owen interrupted the show a couple times by stealing the ball from his control, and the mutual respect grew and allowed the game to get better.

By the end, we were all sweaty and Owen had new friends of 15, 16 and 18 who only gave respect to those who took it.  Owen realized that soccer was soccer and through soccer got closer to understanding that boys were boys .  We all posed for pictures together.  Owen told the boy in yellow that Owen played for the Ajax at home, and boy in yellow asked if Owen knew Suarez; wrong Ajax Owen corrected.

Twenty kids played and 40 kids watched but eventually we headed away to an assembly room across the red dirt complex.  On the way, boy in the Cambridge elementary shirt told me that there was a surprise awaiting us.  By the time we arrived, the entire orphanage was seated in lined chairs facing 20 reserved for the honored guests.  I saw through the open door that several Gladney in-country staff had arrived and were already seated leaving enough chairs for the four families.  I almost couldn’t go through the door as I saw three boys were working to fill ten unmatched cups with sugar and coffee for a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony in our honor… No they could not serve me coffee screamed my pride… I am here to serve them because life has given me all the advantages which it has thus far withheld from them; food, family, love, education; they cannot serve me!  I took a breath and suppressed the welling tears and resistance, because this was important to these boys; they wanted to honor me and the families even from their station so my pride could not get in the way of receiving their honor.  A little coffee was served on top of a lot of sugar then a community bowl of nuts and a second community bowl of popcorn circulated around the room and to us after we found our seats.  Owen at first refused the nuts and popcorn, likely on account of germs, but soccer alpha dog in a stern “yes” reminded Owen that soccer equality did not mean he set the rules anywhere else around Kolfe, and Owen dutifully took like the rest of us.

After several boys praised us in Amharic from a microphone connected to a boom box sitting on a window sill in the corner of the room and Scott from Southlake explained that the honor was ours, we were taken outside to the front of the queue for a buffet serving of ox and lamb stew.  We all took and we all ate; some more than others.  Finally, it was back to the assembly for a dance.  We hardly fit in the room amongst all the boys but a space was cleared for featured dancers.  Something told me that would be the honored guests and it was, as we were each taken one at a time.  Marissa went third and grabbed one of the Kolfe boys to deflect some of the attention.  I grabbed Owen when I shortly followed and we grabbed one of our new friends.  We were awful and they loved it.

Scott and Greg -- that's how we get down

Then the boys went into collective chants as they collapsed into two circles in either corner of the room like NBA teams before tip-off, only their circles swelled to 30, then 40, then 50.  After more celebration, the circles disbanded into almost a congo line which snaked through the room with new songs and chants.  At one point, it looked certain to end in riot, but we were all transfixed and unable to move or even avoid posing another obstruction for the line to slither around.

By now it was super late and court was in the morning.  We said “chow” to our new friends who each pleaded with eyes and a single word “tomorrow.”  “No” we responded “but soon.”  I doubt they believed us but their smiles remained despite our tears.  The three lead soccer players took more pictures with Owen and told him they expected to see him on tv someday playing in England; too easily they discounted the fact that they were just as good, assuming instead that soccer glory outside Kolfe would be one more break reserved for our son and withheld from them.

Thirty boys spilled out the gate into the street around our cars still pleading for “tomorrow” and we responded with all the hugs we had.  Ten minutes later, the car got away to silence — we were all wrecked even our previously callous driver.  I would normally have talked to Owen at this point about takeaways and lessons but there was no need for words tonight; tonight was more real than our prior experiences and we walked through it together.

Years ago I wrote a list of sports experiences I wanted to enjoy — The Masters, the Kentucky Derby, Wimbledon and others, because I thought it was up to me to determine what experiences would complete me.  “Dance at Kolfe” was better than everything I could of ever come up with, and as I drove away from Kolfe I praised God for replacing my list with his own.  Come sweet Jesus, give me the faith and strength to go where you would have me.

Aseres Grace McGlothlin (in pictures)

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One Less

There are several milestones in most foreign adoptions — sending your dossier, being matched with a child, passing court and taking placement of your child.  Our court date was Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

We met three other Gladney families in Addis at the Gladney office, and we all met with our collective attorney.  We went about six blocks to the federal courthouse which is a nondescript building with no real identifying information and photos were strictly forbidden inside and out.  The judge over our cases held court on the third floor so we climbed five flights of stairs (I don’t know) and shuffled past fifty locals and several police armed with automatic weapons.  The judge’s courtroom was at the end of a long hallway, and the door opened to reveal a large tile floored room packed with about twenty families pursuing adoptions and four girls who appeared to be relinquishing children.  None of the children up for adoption were required to attend, and none were in the room.  I wanted to know everyone’s story but I was mainly focused on the next chapter of our story.

Chairs lined three walls and there was a small stage (I don’t know) on the window with window views of the street below.  Another door separated the judge’s chambers from the waiting room, and the judge was working out of her chambers.  The court administrator would peek out the door every five to ten minutes and call something out in Amharic.  A few families would stand after their lawyer heard the call and follow their lawyer into chambers just as the door closed again.  After about thirty minutes, our attorney explained that the cases were grouped according to the orphanage the children were from, so we were waiting to hear “Bridge to Hope.”  Shamefully, I didn’t know until then that all three of the families appearing in court with us were adopting children from the same orphanage.

Marissa sat on the floor with Owen and some new friends from Utah.  I could not sit, preferring to pace around the room taking all the faces in.  Occasionally, the door would open and another name would float past me without disturbing my conscience.  The room slowly emptied out, so we got some chairs along the wall.  One father, mother and teenage son adopting through another large American agency sat near us reading books.  The mom cast a couple stern looks our direction every time we talked, before finally shushing Marissa for disturbing her book or her nervousness or both.  It was all I could do to show some grace, but the shush distracted me for three or four minutes waiting to catch her next glance and communicate my feelings through my eyes.  I didn’t get the chance.  Her group of five families was called back, and I prayed for her to be successful — we are all on the same journey with the same calling.  Shushers group emerged after about ten minutes with one family crying and shaken.  Marissa leaned over and asked if those were happy tears just as I heard the group consoling the family.  The vanquished mother responded “it’s okay; it will come” as they returned to the packed hall.

My heart broke for her, and our whole group was reminded again that you take nothing for granted in international adoption.  Another group went back and emerged, then the door opened to the call of “Bridge.”  We all walked back with Owen going in just ahead of the attorney (I don’t know).  There weren’t enough chairs for all of us but the judge told us “sit, please.”  Owen and the other families’ traveling kids found a parent’s lap as the judge reviewed our passports.

The judge is a beautiful woman around 45.  She sat behind an overworked desk dressed in a dark robe with her hair back.  She began in perfect, crisp English by informing all of us that our paperwork was in order and then she began a roll call of the orphans names:

“Who is hear for Mamush?”

“I am” said Nancy from San Antonio.

I was lost in how great that question and answer were until she asked “Who is here for Aseres?”

“We are” Marissa and I said in chorus.  And we were; we risked everything and flew to across the world to a place we did not know to be here for a baby girl who has never had anyone “are” for her before.

The judge moved through the other two kids names in similar fashion, and then asked the group a series of yes or no questions.  I was determined to go with yes for the series and hoped she didn’t ask a question which called for any other type of answer, like a number or an explanation.

“Have you met your children?”

“Yes.”

“Do you understand that adoption orders in Ethiopia are forever and cannot be reversed?”

“Yes” (thank you Jesus, forever and ever)

“Have you been told your other kids about, well I see that they are here, but have you told them and your families about the adoption?”

“Yes” said Owen in unison with us.

“Have you traveled and learned about Ethiopia?”

“Yes.”

“Have you taken training on international adoptions?

“Yes.”

“I think keeping the children informed about where they came from is very important as you go forward.  Everything is in order and each of your adoption decrees is approved.  Congratulations.”

She looked back to her overworked dest before I could tell her thank you with my words or my eyes, just as Marissa’s sobbing body fell past Owen onto my shoulder.  I held her as she processed final confirmation that she was a mommy again.  It is forever and those were the happy tears she had asked me about.  The judge did not give us a written order because she never does, but I imagine it would have said:

Ordered this day by the federal court of Ethiopia, a child born on August 31, 2010 two months premature in a hospital in Gonder and orphaned and housed at Bridge to Hope Orphanage where she was known as Aseres with no last name or known family will forever more be known as Aseres Grace McGlothlin.  Aseres now has a sister, two brothers, a mom and a dad who will be hers forever.

God predestined her from before her birth to find just this home in just this way and moved mountains to make this day happen according to his perfect will.  Sin continues to hold orphans in the dark across the world, but today, Aseres began moving to the light and there is one less orphan forever.  All praise be to God.