Friday, June 20, 2014

Home For 1 Week: Where Are We Now?

Welp. Tonight we will have been home one week. One week away from the cute guy that stole our hearts. So I figured I'd give you the update on how close we are to getting back to him and bringing him home on the "jet" as kids there said. Apparently airplane is not the word they learn? I move on...

I don't know if I ever explained all the steps needed to bring IC home. So here's a quick rundown:
  • pass court in Ethiopia
  • wait for court decree
  • translate court decree to English
  • use court decree to get birth certificate
  • use birth certificate to apply for passport
  • get passport
  • go to embassy medical appointment
  • do final once-over of all immigration documents
  • submit documents to embassy for approval
  • wait for clearance email and set up flights and an interview date in Ethiopia
  • hang out a few days in Ethiopia as they process IC's visa
  • fly home with our cutie!!
As you can see, we are moving along in our steps. Thanks for praying! Keep praying we can get that passport and medical appointment done quickly.

On a state-side note, I took IC's birth certificate, along with a thick packet of paperwork, to register him for school yesterday. I didn't really want to have to add that to the list of things we'll have to do when we gets home. So I just went for it. I filled out all the paperwork as best I could (there were lots of blanks and question marks!) and headed off to the elementary school.

Our district does English language learning cluster schools. I actually didn't go to the school he will attend. I went to our home school. When I told them our situation, they told me he would have to be tested to make sure he qualified to be placed in an ELL school. However, after going through his extensive English vocab (which is mostly mom, dad, I love you, thank you, Batman, and Angry Birds) they agreed with me he would most likely go to the language learning cluster school. I have to share that I got really nervous! I felt like it was part of my indoctrination into mommyhood! I was so nervous they were going to shoo me out or tell me I was doing it all wrong. Luckily, the staff was SO incredibly nice to me and congratulated me on the adoption. While he's not 100% registered, I feel good about the fact that I was able to "blend in" as a big-kid mom and had a good first experience with the school. 

I shared my foray into elementary-school mommyhood on Facebook and got great support. It warmed my heart to see how many mamas were cheering me on and even offering their kids as little English mentors to IC. We feel very blessed that his school specializes in English language learners and the kids there are used to helping out their non-English speaking friends. I know God's placed him in the right spot.

On the "nesting" side of things we are making progress. Not as much progress as I would like but we're working on it. He has a bed. His mattress is on the way. My goal this weekend is to paint his furniture. It's so surreal after three years of putting off preparations it's finally time to hurry and do it all!! I'm thrilled and overwhelmed but so glad I waited. It's definitely keeping me busy as I wait for the little man.

I'm hoping I can come back next week with a few more "to-do's" ticked off the list. This family is ready to add a little boy!

Monday, June 16, 2014

So This is Jet Lag

We got home from our travels Friday evening. Which was ironic because we left Ethiopia on Friday. The whole gaining eight hours on the way back was a complete trip. Ha. Trip. I'm hilarious.

Anyway, we have now been home for about three days and I feel mostly like I've been hit by a bus all the time. Jet lag. There's just nothing like it. So what I'm saying is I'm really looking forward to feeling like this in a few weeks or months while transitioning my non-English speaking son to the US and into our family. Who said I wasn't going to be sleep deprived because we weren't parenting an infant? LIES.

I kid a little. Of course we'll do anything to get him here and make him a part of the family. The past three days have been a mix of emotions. I'm taking up my traditional coping mechanism of staying way too busy. Which does seem to help. The day we traveled when 5pm ET-time hit I got pretty sad. I realized it was the first day that IC had no visitors at the transition home. Had we been there, we would be back on the bus at that time to go to the guest house with a day full of memories. But no memories on Friday. Just tired traveling. When my days stay full, I focus less on the heartache that someone else is getting to visit their kids while our little guy is being shooed off the porch to play by himself.  So, busy it is.

Saturday was a fun day celebrating my friend's birthday at the winery. Girls, stories, wine. Great times. Oh yeah, and we did the most fun adoptive parent thing ever. We went to Target and on Amazon (at the request of some super friends) and we registered for our little guy's non-baby showers. That's right. Registering for a 7 year old HAS to be more fun than an infant. I mean, not that I know from experience. But when they gave me the little "congrats on registering" packet, it came with a bottle, a pacifier, and breast milk storage bags. Meanwhile I registered for Legos, Toy Story, and a dinosaur nightlight. I mean, who's winning here? Totally the elementary-age registry. Seriously, though, we would have never done it had we not been prompted. And we had a really good time and felt super blessed at just the thought.
Seriously so fun

By 6pm Saturday I was begging E to let me fall asleep. He held me off til 8pm. By 8:09 I was out. Like, can't move me, I-hope-the-house-doesn't-burn-down-because-I'm-not-going-anywhere, out. Which was good. I needed it.

Yup. This is how I feel most of the time right now. P.S. I missed this girl.

I had been anxiously awaiting Sunday. I missed all my little people. And also their parents. It was a good, busy day. Lots of hugs. Lots of well-wishes. We are so, so blessed by our church community. Say what you will about big churches but I have always felt so loved and had such a personal experience at our church. E got wished "Happy Father's Day" on multiple occasions. He told me that it secretly made him really sad each time, knowing that our little guy wasn't home with us yet. I promised him it was just everyone wanting to show love and express congratulations. It's hard to express how it feels to be so overjoyed to have met your son and so torn up to not have him home.

In general Sunday morning was great with lots of celebration and hugs and love. But, it made me realize how overwhelming it will be for IC when we get home. And it made me confident in our decision to cocoon when we get home. I'll talk about this more in-depth when we get closer to travel but for those who've not heard of it, let me give a brief explanation. Cocooning is the process of trying to simplify life, stay at home, and bond with your new kiddo as much as you can for a period of time. During this time, we won't be going to church...we'll be live-streaming from home. We want our little guy to have time to bond with us before we send him into the wide world of everything else. More on that later. But Sunday was just a good reminder of why we'll take our time on the first church visit. It was amazing support to me but if I didn't know any of those people and I didn't speak English I might be a little shell-shocked.

Sunday afternoon we celebrated Father's Day at my parents' house. My mom and my friend Amanda put on a Noonday fundraiser for our adoption. It was a wonderful time to share Noonday's mission and work in developing nations while also celebrating our time with IC last week. We showed the official "meetcha" video to the parents and got lots of hugs and support. I could not be more thankful for parents who love us and IC so well. They are absolutely over the moon in love with him and it is just beautiful to watch.

Mom and I surrounded by beautiful Noonday jewelry

We got home late so any semblance of making up for jet lag disappeared and I feel like I'm back at square one today. I seriously think about the time I get back to normal it will be time to head back to Ethiopia. Which is perfectly fine with me. Today consisted of laundry, grocery shopping, and oh yeah, calling the US Visa processing center.

A word about calling the Visa processing center. You all, our friends and supporters, have been so faithful to lift us up to the Father and love us and ask for God to bring our son home soon. Today was another little blessing that shows your prayers at work. When I was in ET, my friend Colleen was lamenting how long it took her to get ahold of the Visa people. Her husband had been calling for a week straight on behalf of their eight-year-old. While we were there, she finally got in but it took 1.5 hours on hold. I realized, after talking to a few people, her situation was not unique. Most people spend about a week trying to get their receipt number (needed to file a Visa request) and when they do finally get in, they spend several hours on hold.

So today when I got the instructions I figured I'd just give it a try. For fun. And five minutes later, I was in!!! I was on hold--a huge step in the right direction. Eight minutes later I hung up my phone. You guys. THIRTEEN TOTAL MINUTES. OK, I am just realizing the significance of that. How fun! Anyway, I spent 13 minutes today trying to get IC's visa application started. And it's officially done. And now we wait more. But a BIG hurdle has been cleared. Praise the Lord.

So to recap: Tired. Visa processing. Waiting.
Yup. That tired. And yes, that's my Kids Club shirt. Trying to feel like I fit in.

I plan to make a list of all the things I want to do in our waiting time. And I'm secretly hoping not many get done because we get the call to fly quicker than we could anticipate. Again. Thanks for praying for us!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Goodbyes Are Always Hard

Today was the hard day we knew was coming. We said goodbye to our little IC, not knowing when we would get to see him again.

Since today was our last day with IC, we didn't plan any cultural activities. We headed straight to the transition home, where he was waiting inside the gate for us. He grabbed his backpack and we headed off to play.

First things first: he went through the whole pack. Then he found his new shirt and we helped him switch into it. We made more pipe cleaner jewelry today and E and I each got a hat with a bill. It was too cute. We made him some jewelry as well. He taught us hopscotch and we taught him our version.

I did a little nail painting again today, too. I have one hand painted because a little girl worked really hard to paint them but we didn't get time for the other side.

Math was also a big hit again today. E spent a ton of time last night looking up math problems and IC flew right through them just the way a mathlete would, grinning and giggling all the way. He had a great time and E was pretty happy seeing him get all the questions right.

Guys, I have the cutest son ever.

Today we also pulled out the phone for music. At first it was just me dancing and then I had a genius idea: the Cupid shuffle. If it can get grandmas to dance at weddings, surely it can get kids to dance in Ethiopia, right? Well, sort of. E popped up to dance with me and a couple of sweet girls played a long. We had a pretty good time and I think the girls did too. There was lots of giggling and smiling. IC wasn't sure what to do so he took pictures of his looney parents doing some robotic dance on the porch.

We could tell from the beginning of the day he knew this was our last day of this trip. He wasn't as interested in playing ball (though we did play) or playing games. He really wanted just to sit together and snuggle. I couldn't blame him. We were pretty happy with just snuggling. He had a hard time saying goodbye just for lunch but we promised we would be back.

Lunch was at a restaurant we hadn't been to before. We sat down in a quaint cafe and noticed the boys next to us were speaking and studying in English so I asked where they were from. One was from Oklahoma and I told him where we were from. At which point the girl on the other side of us, in her early twenties, spoke up and said she, too, was from our home state! And that she just graduated from Mizzou. Um, what?? Yep. She has family in Ethiopia and is working here for a few months before starting her job in Washington, DC. At work, my friends joke that I am an extreme extrovert. But here's the thing: if you don't talk to random people in Ethiopian restaurants, you don't find out you're from the same stinking university town. I'll reach out every time. God always has fun treasures tucked in the least expected places.

After lunch, the first thing we wanted to do was head to the Ethiopian equivalent of Starbucks. Ironically, this is called Kaldi's. Kaldi's is also the name of the coffee shop where E and I met for the first time. We wanted to have coffee and take pictures. Our driver and guide obliged so we made a little pit stop before heading to the transition home.

The afternoon was just really, really hard. We knew we were leaving and he knew we were leaving. There was a little ball-playing, a little coloring, a little more Cupid shuffle. We got to take photos for a couple of families who had sent us approval to do so. Mostly, though, we spent the afternoon just hugging each other. Lots of tears. And finally we had to go. We all just sobbed and sobbed and hugged and sobbed more. He blew kisses and so did we and finally the gate shut and we couldn't see our sweet son any more and both of us let the floodgates of tears open up. I'm trying not to let tears well up as I write it. As much as you tell your son who doesn't speak English that you promise to come back and you count to forty and tell him it will be about forty days (which we don't know but figured might be a long estimate so he wouldn't get disappointed), it's hard to know whether he understands. And even if he does it's hard to do.

All of our gifted bracelets. We kept pointing and saying "Family."

Because this week little IC became our son in a way he wasn't before. Legally, yes, but in our hearts, definitely. We love him more than words could express. It's clear to me more than ever that God is the one who makes families, no matter how he makes them.

We get on an airplane in a matter of hours so I am going to take the last shower I'll have for the two days of traveling and finish packing. Thank you for your love and support through this journey. By Friday night we will be back in our beds, counting the days until we can return. We'd love your prayers as we wait. Prayers for IC and his heart, that he believes we will return. Prayers that the connection we established this week will not be diminished by the wait. Prayers our trust and love of God will grow stronger and we'll stabilize on him as we wait. And prayers the wait is short, short, short. Like, miraculously short. What does that look like? Well 2-3 weeks would be a miracle. Want to join us in praying for that? You all have made our journey beautiful. You have covered us in traveling mercies and beautiful moments with our son. We'd love for you to join us in asking the father for him to be home with us as soon as possible.

Goodbye for now, Ethiopia. We've fallen in love with you and your people forever.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mountains, Bracelets, and Flowers

 Today started with a little sight-seeing. One of the things we really wanted to do while we were here was see Entoto Mountain. It has a storied history, the best views of Addis in the city, and it's got a beautiful palace and church. Problem was, we didn't have any time. At all. Well, our itinerary changed last-minute and we got to go with the O family up the mountain.

When I say "up the mountain" I'm going to need you to picture a tall, tall Colorado mountain but with no snow. I mean. Those mountain passes you've taken to get to the ski slope? We were taking them in a 15-passenger van with a guy who's used to driving on streets with no rules. We cut back and forth so fast it was dizzying. And awesome!!

Locals carrying their firewood down the mountain

When we got to the top, the first thing we had to do was go through the museum. Our museum guide spoke in the quietest, fastest form of English I have ever heard. Picture an adult Ethiopian man speaking like the girl from Pitch Perfect. Seriously. Some of the history was super interesting. And other times I just wanted to get to the palace/church part and look over the views of the city. Our museum guide asked if E was from Holland. I giggled. That was a first!

A flag outside the former palace

We finished up in the museum and headed to look at the church and the palace, which was partially destroyed in the war with Italy. Which Ethiopia won. But with some hardship.

The church...we can't go in but it's beautiful even from the outside

A tomb of one of the former leaders. Also known as: a pretty building.

As we were walking, we heard quite the commotion. We looked over and saw quite a few people headed up to the church, water jugs in hand. One was yelling uncontrollably. I had heard from my friend Amanda about the holy waters of Entoto mountain so it wasn't shocking to me to see this site but I wasn't sure I would actually get to see it. Yes, sir. A steady stream of people with ailments, from the one who our guide told us had a demon, to people who had to be carried up on the mountain. It was a tragic site to see so many needy headed up the mountain. If you know about Noonday, their artisan group works with some of the women who come here for healing. They give them medicine, jobs, and hope. And the people I saw today needed hope.

Taking a few photos at the palace
Inside the palace

By far my favorite part was looking out over the city. Sure, it was pretty foggy today. And sure, you can usually see the entire city and we couldn't really see too much. But it was still beautiful. A site I am so glad I saw. 

We headed back down the mountain and stopped to take photos at some of the most beautiful overlook spots along the road. Because in Ethiopia, you can stop your van anywhere on a tiny mountain switchback road for your passengers to jump out and take photos. Totally normal.

At this point, afternoon was approaching and E and I were DYING to get to IC. But instead, we had a notoriously long lunch. With no power at the restaurant. Again. A group of 40 sat down just before us and it took two hours to get our food. I think E was about ready to run to the transition home and would have, if he had any idea where in the world it was. But Ethiopia doesn't have street signs. It's nearly impossible for us white people to figure out where were are at any given time. Well, by that I mean, I have no idea where we are at any time.

It felt like midnight when we paid our check and drove off. We finally arrived at the transition home to see our son and he came running.

We started our time together with the sweetest moment. I think I shared with you that we gave him a bracelet the first day and we each have a matching one. Well today, IC came out with bracelets of his own. He had made a friendship bracelet out of yarn for each of us, matching exactly, and one from rainbow loom loops. He carefully tied both on dad's wrist. Then mine. Then he pulled out his matching two and asked me for help. I tied them on. Matching family. 

This photo is from yesterday. I add it because 1, you can see his bracelet (the turquoise and gray one) and 2, He's looking at Kids Club photos on my phone. I think he's ready to go!

We spent the afternoon playing catch, drawing, and playing with a craft set I found with beads and pipe cleaners. We made spiders and snowflakes from the box. He asked for a necklace with beads and E obliged. I made him a crown and he wore it with pride. And then, with no explanation on the box, he created a flower and gave it to me. Today, I got my first flower from my son. It's sitting right here next to me. I will treasure it.

I also got to paint a few nails today. Shout out to my friend Tanya who ran around town gathering some goodies for me before I left. One little girl had been following me around all week. I pulled out the purple polish and she held her hand very still as I put it on every nail. She grinned and ran off. Turns out, she was grabbing a friend. The friend picked out a color: pink. The friend then proceeded to tell me first little girl's favorite color was purple and she was so happy I chose purple. I'm gonna call a holy spirit interception on this one. I had no idea. But it made us all very happy.

After several games, E started writing out words in English and we'd sound them out together. This was a fun game so he went on to math. E started writing out simple addition problems. He looked at us like, "you kiddin' me?" and answered them all. E went a little harder. Then subtraction. Then multiplication. He looked like the happiest guy in the room as he went through each problem, getting them all right. We have a little mathlete on our hands. Let's all get jackets.

It felt like it went so fast again today!! Before we could even realize how long we'd been there, our guide told us it was time to take off. We hugged pretty hard today. We got in the van. He hopped in and hugged again. The driver closed the door, IC still inside. He was grinning from ear to ear. Sorry, bud. We tried as hard as we could (with zero Amharic skills) to explain we'd be back tomorrow and he'd get to ride in the van soon. We all had pretty sad faces as we drove away.

We got back and decided to head up to the roof of our guest house. We'd heard about the views but hadn't ever caught it when the roof was unlocked. Today we got lucky. Everything they said about the views were right. It made me so happy to see the bustling city from so high up. Everything about it is uniquely Ethiopia.

We decided the best decision for tonight was just to rest in the room. So we've been sharing leftovers, sorting donations, and even had a St. George (Ethiopian beer). We're trying to not think about the fact that tomorrow might be the last day we see our son for a month or longer. I can't think about that.

Instead I will think about how wonderful today was. I got a flower from my son. My math whiz son. And that, my friends, is a great day.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Our Incredible Child

You all are so sweet about all my posts that I feel like I have to clear up one tiny little thing. That mom glow? It's called "Jess is only wearing beauty balm and no powder in a country that has as much weather swing in one day as our local town." Anyway, you all are really sweet. I'm so thankful for all your kind words.

I know you want to know whether we passed court. Whether we're legally parents? Well, I don't mean to leave you in suspense or anything so let's get right to the recap...

Today was our earliest day yet. We climbed into the van at about 8:30 and headed off to court. We were told the rules for court were no shorts and no short skirts. Basically, knees? No! Which is fine with me. I have a no shorts policy and only brought maxi skirts and dresses for the trip anyway.

We arrived to the courthouse, climbed the stairs and the two families (our family and the amazing G family, who have been our leaders, gurus, and friends through this whole experience) sat in this room with rows of chairs. There was one other family sitting there. We met our lawyer, who I have heard so much (all good!) about and our guide sat with us too. We arrived around 9:00 and I was expecting to wait but by 9:15 we were called in and went to the judge. The judge was in another small room and both of our families went at the same time. They ran through a list of questions with each of us, asking about our family, our intentions to adopt, and the kind of training we've had. It wasn't 10 minutes later we were officially declared IC's parents. So fast after such a slow process. I teared up. E just kept giggling. He was beyond ecstatic.

My friend Liz mentioned to me today that we can't really call our little guy Imaginary Child because not only is he not imaginary but he is, as of today, legally ours. But still. I'm all for boundaries. And you all already know him as IC. So today, our Incredible Child joined our family legally. He is ours. The courts said so and everything.

Our next stop was not, oddly enough, to visit our little guy and tell him the good news. Here's the thing: he didn't need a judge to tell him we were his parents. I'm not even sure he understood the whole proceeding anyway. What he knew is we told him we were his parents months ago, we showed up and proved it, and it's real in all our minds. Court? We don't even have the language to explain why court is important.

Our next stop was to a coffee bean production facility and roaster.  As you can imagine, we were in HEAVEN. We pulled up and the smell of coffee was immediately intoxicating. They were roasting on-site and you could smell it just walking out of the van. We were waiting for a few minutes for another family and so I decided to pop in to the restroom.

And that's when I saw an Ethiopian man going to the restroom.

Apparently, locks are optional in Ethiopian coffee shops. Glad I know now.

So I apologized profusely and did my thing. I have zero idea if the guy understood my apology.

Yeah, back to the tour. I don't know if the pictures will really give you any idea what happens here. But basically they sort, wash, sort, and bag the "green" (read: not roasted) beans for roasters. And then they also do a small amount of roasting.

Never have I seen so many coffee beans in all my life.

The actual owner had to run out to do business so our guide showed us around. E had tons of questions that our guide couldn't answer so we are going to try to set up a meeting with him for embassy. Because my guy LOVES coffee. And it shows in the way he talks about it. He threw his hands in the air and grinned a giddy, schoolboy grin when he saw all the beans stacked high.

The smell of the roaster was so intense that the two kids with us had to leave the room. But I felt like it was intoxicatingly delicious.

And now? Well now our whole room smells like that because we may have bought a couple of bags to come home. You know, for fun.

As we left the roasting part, we heard a ZAP sound and all the power was gone! Hey, Ethiopian electricity. You're back to your old tricky self again.

They took us to the front shop for macchiattos after the tour and it was one of the best I'd ever had. Coffee, y'all. God is so funny to line up the details that one of our favorite things in the states was created in the birthplace of our son. I couldn't love it more if I tried.

On to lunch...I think E and I were hoping lunch would be quick. It was fairly quick by Ethiopian standards. At this point, all we wanted to do was get to our son, as soon as we could, for as long as we could. But we went to Lucy instead. Nicknamed for the early skeleton found in ET, it was a delicious restaurant next to the museum.  It looked a lot like my favorite restaurant from my days in Mexico. I had shiro and injera. Because I am in Ethiopia. Why have lasagne? It was very tasty.

As we move to the part about meeting our son today, I have to tell you I am going to be very quick about it. We were so happy to see him. We took "first family day" photos but they are on someone else's camera. We played some fun games. And then things got hard. I told you all from the beginning that there are certain details, stories, moments, that are our family's to share and no one else's. Today was one of those days.

We are so thankful for our son. He is just more than we could imagine. But we know his story comes with loss. And today we started to see how painful that loss is in a real way and our hearts were broken for the road to healing our son is on. I had some teary moments and I know they won't be the last.

I will not share more but we are so thankful to have him in our life. We want him home as soon as possible. And now that we have passed court, the clock is ticking. They can begin to gather the documents needed for us to bring him home. Please join with us in praying the documents needed to come back and bring IC to the states will come quickly and without complication.

My little guy playing memory today with my big guy. IC won. Big time:).

The other family had to leave today so we were both pretty sad when we jumped in the van. We decided the best way to handle it was to share one last meal together before they had to get on the plane.

A candlelight dinner.

OK the reality is the power was out at the restaurant when we got there so we only had these candles. They could still cook but there was no way to light the restaurant. Second power outage today. I think it just makes the whole trip feel authentic.

We said goodbye to our friends after dinner. We are now the only ones visiting our little dude at the transition home each day. Only two days left. This is going so, so fast.

Thanks, again, for being excited to welcome IC into our family. We couldn't do it without you.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Day Two

Today was even better than yesterday. It's clear we're feeling more comfortable with each other and that's shown in our interactions. It's feeling more and more "real." Know that, while I am trying to share my experience with all of you who are so near and dear to my heart, I am also very cognizant of keeping some special moments for just the three of us to share. I am trying to find the right balance. We'll see how it goes.

This morning we did breakfast as usual. We had to say goodbye to our medical mission friends as they headed off to a more rural area of the country. There were lots of hugs and promising to keep in touch.

We headed out to the Transition Home fairly quickly and IC was waiting for us as we entered the gate. Most of the other kids had gone on an outing so it was just us and a couple other kids for the morning, which was nice. He gave big hugs and E picked him up and spun him around, something he had done yesterday before as we left. My first goal of the morning was to take pictures of another family. They cleared embassy and were doing their "gotcha" day as a family of five and had brought their two boys. IC was patient to wait as I videoed their meeting, which was nearly as emotional for me as it was for them. They have a little, little (think toddler) and he's grown so much since they saw him last. It was a beautiful, emotional moment.

I quickly stepped back over to IC. We brought a backpack for him yesterday and tried to explain that the backpack is his but comes home with us each night. We will give it to him for good in America. The first thing he wanted to do was look at all the backpack items and see what we had brought in today. He spied the gum first and looked at us to make sure it was ok before he pocketed it. He knew that gum was a hot commodity and he didn't want to have to share it without making the conscious decision to do so. Smart kid. He did share one piece with me, though, and my heart was very happy with this small sign of affection.

We went through the bag together, looking at the contents. We explained again we would take the bag home but if there were things he wanted to play with he could.  He wanted to keep it all in the bag so it would all stay his, and we were totally fine with that. We spent the first part of the morning putting together a Star Wars puzzle. For those of you that know me, puzzles are my jam! We worked together for quite a while and finally brought it all together.

E and IC played a little frisbee, IC and I hung off the monkey bars, and then, the main event. We pumped up the kickball to play soccer. He and a the few other children around ran themselves ragged. E and I would pop in to play now and then but mostly he and his buddies played and we watched like proud parents. He grinned and we grinned and he played so long that he eventually wore himself out and deflated the ball to give back to us for safekeeping.

We decided to try to set a standard to today when he, or any other kid, asked to play games on the phone we redirected. It went surprisingly well for IC, though many of the other kids were disappointed IC wasn't going to push harder for them to play. For him, paper airplanes and shoulder rides from Dad were pretty good. He didn't ask for more.

After the piggy back ride, it was time for lunch. He asked if we would return and we promised we'd be back after lunch. Our itinerary had shopping after lunch so we agreed with our guide the best thing was to shop for Ethiopian souvenirs as fast as possible and then head back to hang out with our number one little man.

I haven't talked a lot about what Ethiopia is like but I feel like this picture does a good job of conveying some of it. Traffic? It's everything you've heard and more. There are no rules, the horn is king, and most cars show signs of wear and tear from everyone gently bumping into each other over and over again. I joked that the horn is kind of the equivalent of "runner speak." Like: "on your left or go on through, pass me." But for cars. Lots of the Americans flinch as they drive by. I kind of find it entertaining so I don't think too much about it but it is pretty busy and wild. And fun.

We headed to a favorite Ethiopian adoption lunch spot, where they sell beautiful Ethiopian art. E and I each had a pizza. This was rookie mistake #1. The pizzas were called "small" but were actually huge. We could have shared. We each ate exactly half one pizza. Whoops.

Orange soda is big here and comes in two popular varieties: Fanta and Mirinda. I kind of like orange soda and kind of decided to drink it for novelty while I'm here. And shout out to my coworker who loves orange soda. This pic is for you (you know who you are...).

For the afternoon, the two families that hadn't passed court went back to hang with our kids. Since E and I wanted to shop first, we were just going to drop the other family off and tell them to tell IC we would be there soon. But wouldn't you know it, he was waiting around the corner with big hugs for all. We played for a few minutes and then explained we were going away and would be right back and our driver and guide were up and out to the shops.

I had heard for years about the famous "post office shops" where most people do their souvenir shopping. When people from our agency go, they take the beloved guide and get better rates. So our guide traveled along with us. I have haggled in several countries and this was similar, except, well, I had a local with me. And there's something so comforting about that. I don't know if it's because I grew up as a local in an area with so many tourists that you couldn't shake a stick without hitting one (and most days you wanted to hit at least one. Sorry, tourists), but having a local around is so comforting to me. We got everything we wanted quickly and there was only one item we had to walk away and come back for...a blue giraffe for IC's room. He loves blue. We couldn't say no.

We tried to rush through and make it back to our little dude as quickly as possible. (For those of you who were wondering, our schedule is very packed and we wanted to bring a few things home so we had to sacrifice time with our little person... it's a very hard decision to make. We are here for such a short time and we want to see him but we also want to grow to love his country. It's tough and we're doing the best we can to get both. And of course we hope to come back after our embassy trip when the timing is right).

We got back and he was excited to see us. I think we wore him out because he really just wanted to sit and snuggle. No complaints from this mama and daddy. Sitting and snuggling was just fine with us. We sat on the couch, snuggled, and looked at photos. We pulled up people and explained relatives. I forgot to mention that yesterday he pulled up photos of our dogs. He pointed to Dash and pointed to himself and said "mine." Then Gabby and to E and said "daddy's" and then to Rodrigo and back at me and said "mommy's." Yes sir. I think he has it figured out. He pulled them up again today and said their names. We have been so worried about the dogs but so far he seems to understand the concept that they are just a part of the family with us.

When it came time to say goodbye, we all held hands and stacked our hands up, sports-style and did a little "hooray" cheer.

We sat in the van as it started raining. We saw him looking at the van and he waved over. He realized we weren't taking off immediately so he hopped in and we hugged more, waiting for the other to come back. When it was time, we hugged again, promised we would be back tomorrow, and he hopped out.

At which point I cried. And E didn't look so good either. Each day our connection builds. And each day brings us one day closer to going home.

Without him.

But that's sad. Let's move on to dinner.

It's a tradition for families from our agency to go to a traditional Ethiopian restaurant for food and dancing. So that's what we did this evening.

We started with drinks. Our guide helped us order beer..

my beer, based on our guide's suggestion

And then he ordered honey wine for us. I tried to ask E what honey wine tasted like, since I didn't feel like I could describe. He said, "It's like a high-alcohol wheat beer that you poured a half a cup of honey into." I would say more like a wine cooler. But whatevs.

So honey wine...Yes. we had it. And then LOTS of good food.

Eric commented on how in America our wine is in a big glass to give lots of breathing room for smell, etc. Honey wine? Not so much. It looks like a potion. You hold it in between your index and middle finger if you're trying to be traditional.

Food. Oh glorious food. I was joking earlier that my two favorite characteristics of food are spicy and containing bread. This makes Ethiopian food perfect for me because instead of utensils they use a spongy teff-flour-bread called injera and pretty much every dish laid on the injera, that is shared by the table, is spicy. What makes it not-so-perfect is it's taboo to eat with your left hand. People, I can barely do anything at all with my right hand. My guide said I would be forgiven because I was American. I hoped so because I would have certainly made a mess if I tried to eat as a righty. But the food was just so, so good I would have eaten it mouth-first if that was required.

My favorite? Doro wot.

It is just like me to have taken tons of photos of drinks and zero photos of food. Whoops. I was too busy actually eating the delicious food. Anyone want to open an Ethiopian restaurant in our town? I will be your first customer.

As we ate, there was traditional music and dancing. And toward the end of the meal they walked around and encouraged diners to dance with them. Read: they encouraged crazy white people to dance with them so the locals and the dancers' families could enjoy.

Did I dance?


Are there photos? Yes. But not on my blog. Be sure to grab my husband sometime. They are on his camera. Since this is my blog and they are seriously incriminating, I am not posting them.

Moving along, the last thing before the meal ended was coffee.

In Ethiopia, coffee is a big deal. It was started here after all. Any time coffee is served, it's served with incense and popcorn. Why? Well, I am not exactly sure but the family that knows more than we do says the coffee is so strong you can't take it on an empty stomach. So they serve popcorn.

They traditionally serve it black with sugar. I just had it black and black. And E and I both slurped ours down as fast as we could. Delicious.

Notice the Ethiopian flag

We left the restaurant full and happy. As we arrived at the guest house, our guide reminded us to bring our paperwork tomorrow. Because tomorrow? Welcome to the big show. The court will officially deem us fit to be parents. We hope.

Look out world. Not sure you're ready for E&J: The Parental Edition

On a serious note, thanks for your continued prayers. We feel them and need them more each day. 

Sunday, June 8, 2014

We Met Our Son (no catchy title, sorry)

You guys. Today I met my son. And he's beautiful, and sweet, and we're gonna take him home. Well, not yet. But someday.

I am pretty sure I could just stop the post there and that would be good. We could all call it a day there. But I kind of want to tell you about the rest of my day. So, before we get to the "good stuff," back up with me a few hours, will you?

We had breakfast this morning at our guest house with a couple other families. One family is a mama waiting with her son. They passed court two weeks ago and she's staying with him until they go home. The other are here on a medical mission. It was nice just to chat and talk about what the anticipation is like. Breakfast was so tasty and we kept smiling nervously at each other, knowing we were going to be meeting the little guy later. The one family had met him and kept telling us what a peanut he was and how he had a great smile!

Our driver and guide came and we headed to church. I didn't take any pics of the service but it was an international church. This particular church service was all in English. We sang "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and "Every Hour I Need Thee." Our sermon was on Jesus in the temple. It was so nice to be there with everyone. We sat by another adoptive family and next to her was a sweet local mama and baby. At some point, she turned to my friend and said, "Can you hold my baby?" So there we were. Two American adoptive mamas ogling over a sleeping baby. At one point the baby woke up, looked a little surprised to have two crazy white ladies staring at him, and then fell right back to sleep. Apparently we looked scary but not scary enough to come out of his cute sleepiness.

After church we headed to pick up a family who arrived that morning and we all headed to lunch. Lunch was at Amsterdam, a restaurant known for being as slow as it possibly can be. This was not an appealing quality, as you can imagine, since we really just wanted to meet our son. Our guide walked in and encouraged them to be speedy and from what I understand, they were. We were there less than an hour and got on the road to the transition house.

We drove down the road and I finally saw the sign that I've seen in all the videos and photos from so many adoptive families with the logo of our agency. We pulled in the gate and all the kids started surrounding the van. The other family confirmed that our kids were tucked away so we wouldn't accidentally see them--we got the grand meeting. My heart started pounding. We created a plan for how to take each other's photos while the family who had already met their son agreed to be the "porch guard" so the rest of us could get some private time with our kids.

The other family went first and I took video. Their kiddos came out and I tried my best just to hold the camera and not think about the fact that our little guy was on the other side of the door, waiting for this little intro to end so he could meet his family. They hugged and we traded cameras. It was our turn.

My heart is honestly pounding just typing about it. We stood there and before I knew it, Little IC popped his head out the door and we stood in a three-person hug for a few minutes. I don't think I would remember the next part but we watched the video earlier and it came rushing back. E and I tucked down and just talked to him for a minute. I told him our names and that I was "mama" and E was "dad." And then we pointed to our bracelets and said we had a matching one for him. And in the tiniest voice ever he said, "thank you."

He pointed to Eric's arm and gave a quizzical look. Eric smiled and said "tattoo." He asked if he could get one. We said maybe later. Trying to give yeses, people, trying to give yeses.

We took a quick photo and then I pulled out the backpack we got just for him, filled with things. First things first: we pulled out that Mizzou shirt and put it right on our sweet babe. He's swimming in it:). We'll be attempting a smaller size before we come home. But he liked it and said "thank you" again. I then pulled out the gum and he grinned. He started handing it to everyone. Kids would look at us and I'd direct them to IC. He handed out gum and was quiet and patient and made sure every kid got some. 

We only got to spend a couple of hours with him today but it was a good couple of hours. We colored and several other kiddos colored with us. All the kids immediately found Angry Birds on my phone and it was a scramble for who could play next. Each time I would give it to IC, he would hand it to another kiddo to play. I'd take it back and before I knew it he had given it away again. We played Uno, where we became aware that he can at least count to four in English when someone drew a "draw four" card.  I blew bubbles and he helped pop them and then wanted to take pictures of me blowing bubbles. He wanted to take a picture of us. While I can't show you pictures of him, I can show you a picture he took of us. Ladies and gentlemen, I present: My Parents. By IC:

He's a prodigy. I know you can already tell. We played on the porch a little longer but then we pulled out the big gun: the soccer ball.

He and E and a little helper aired up the ball and then we got to see the skills. Guys, he really is good at soccer. This coming from someone who is so very bad at soccer that he kept cracking up. Which was to my delight because seriously, I don't care if your child is 3 weeks or 13 years, that first giggle you get to hear is everything. And it was. He giggled for us a few times while playing soccer. We played with several other kids and he was good about taking turns and including everyone.

Before I had blinked it was time to go. We hugged and promised him we'd be back tomorrow and he rushed off to snack time.

And that's when it really hit me that we were done with our time for the first day. It went SO fast.

We got in the car and I think E and I just stared at each other, completely unsure of what to say or how to process the fact that we just got to spend two hours with our son. The one we had pictured and prayed for and loved before we knew him. And he was so sweet.

We were whisked back to the guest house and the other couple who met their kids today went with us to dinner. They'd been here before so they said we could just walk to dinner, no problem. We had a few wrong turns and the original restaurant was closed but we ended up having hamburgers and orange soda at a cafe and all was well.

Both of us just keep staring at each other day, hugging each other tightly, unsure of how to put the sights and sounds and thoughts and smells and emotions and everything else into words. We can't.

We're excited to see him tomorrow. He already asked if we can all go home together at the end of the week. This leaving stuff is not going to be easy.

Thanks for your prayers and love. We're so thankful to have your support as we begin life as a family of three.

We're here!!

Greetings from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia! After 3 flights and more than a full day of traveling we are here! I am drinking good coffee and getting ready to head to church. It's sure to be an experience.

No photos today (sorry) but all you would see would be airplanes and terminals and one German breakfast. It was exciting to us but maybe not as exciting as you had hoped for.

Anyway, our travels started a little rough but smoothed out from there. When we arrived for our first flight, it had been delayed 2 hours. We got worried, sent out the calls for prayer, and you all must have responded big. Because not only was our flight moved back up and gave us plenty of time for our layover, but the rest of the trip was full of blessing.

In Newark during our layover, I got called to the desk at the terminal. Never have I been called to the desk at the airport terminal so I was super worried. I came up and the gate attendant handed me new boarding passes. He had noticed we weren't sitting together for either of our international flights so he took the liberty of switching our seats so we could sit next to each other on planes for the next 18 hours. When we booked we were so concerned about getting there I wasn't even worried about seat placement. But the fact that this guy took the time to think about it and switch it for us was HUGE. We got to snuggle and chat the whole way to Germany.

We know for certain we love Lufthansa airlines. They were so kind to us and have so many perks. The food was pretty decent for airline food and we got warm towels every few hours that really helped kick the airport stink. I can't say I slept much but I did rest a lot. E, on the other hand, watched 3 movies and lamented the fact he didn't have time to watch more. Ha! After eight hours of flying, we arrived in Germany.

Quick layover in Germany (complete with a German breakfast) and we were off to Ethiopia. As we boarded, I looked for our seats and noticed we were the very first seats after first class. That may not seem like a big deal but with that position came LOTS of extra leg room. Like I could sit in my seat and push my legs all the way out and barely touch the wall. Guys, for me that's great but for that guy I call man friend? HUGE. Because his legs are approximately 18 feet long. So we just kept grinning from ear to ear, knowing its was your prayers that kept us together in the first international flight and gave us ample space to stretch out on our longest flight.

I slept the entire flight. Like, E tried to give me dinner they served and couldn't wake me up type of sleeping. Which was good. Because this girl likes her sleep and at that point we had been traveling for about a full day. So I was so thankful for the opportunity to crash hard. E was worried about me not being able to fall asleep when we got to the guest house. He was worried for nothing.

When we arrived in Ethiopia at about 8:45p.m. their time.  I had always heard about Ethiopia having a specific smell and I immediately recognized it. I can't accurately describe it, I'm sure, but the best I can tell you is it's a mix of incense and earth. It smelled so good and felt so familiar even though we'd never been there. I was never worried but it immediately put me at ease, none the less.

I was a little worried about navigating the airport but it went very well and we were out in less than an hour...through Visa line, luggage, customs, and money exchange. We were in the parking lot waiting for our guide approximately one minute before he arrived, introduced himself, and we were whisked off trough the streets. It was Saturday night and it was BUSY!!

We got to the guest house after some of the well-known traffic and interesting routing and re-routing. And promptly did a little unloading and crashed!

We both slept so soundly and are now up and around and headed to church this morning. We'll do lunch and then finally have the much-anticipated meeting. It's hard to even imagine after 3 years of dreaming we're almost to that moment. It's wild. I know some of these details aren't necessarily the stuff you are curious about but I want to try to write as much down as possible and hopefully will keep a journal too.

Thanks, again, for partnering with us in so many ways. Thanks for your prayers. We will try to update you when we can.

Much love!

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Prepping Whirlwind

When I was in 8th grade I took a 4-day trip to Washington, DC with about 40 other kids from my area. It was my first trip without my parents and I was excited and nervous. I wanted to be sure I thought through every last detail. I made my packing list months in advance. I actually started packing three weeks in advance. For 4 days in DC. I had shoes and jewelry sprawled all over my room. Not that I didn't all the time. But this time was for packing purposes. I even planned a bunch of in-flight activities for myself for my 2 hour flight. I wrapped magazines in gift wrap so I wouldn't be tempted to read them in advance. Everything was meticulously planned. 


Eighth grade me would pass out cold about the preparations that have gone into this trip. I was so nervous to get my hopes up to meet my son that I packed and planned approximately zero things prior to getting our phone call. And wouldn't you know the phone call would come on a busy work day with no time to start planning. 

And, oh yeah, it would come two days before the actual trip. The trip that spans 2 days just to get there. Take note, adoptive families. Go ahead and gather donations and prepack. Or don't. Just know if you don't you'll be in a frenzy. But you'll live. 

Oh 8th grade Jess would be crying on her pink carpet. She just wouldn't deal well. 

I am thankful for growth in my life. E and I started making purchases and combing lists on Wednesday evening. I hit my work to-do list hard on Thursday. 

And you, dear friends, arrived at our home and workplace with so very many donations on such little notice. Thank you!!

At 9pm last night, our floor looked like this:

To clarify, our ENTIRE floor and every surface looked like that. But magically we stuffed everything into bags, weighed said bags, rearranged, and repacked a final time. At 11 we started to pack actual clothes for our own bodies. And by 1am we were in our beds. 

In time to hear our 4:30 alarm. 

What I'm trying to say is coffee at HyVee has never been so delicious. 

We arrived, parked, checked in, got made fun of for our luggage, explained it was all donations and made people feel guilty for making fun of us, got through security, and sat down at our gate about 1.5 hours before our flight. 

We took this cute picture:

And then I checked my email and realized our flight was delayed. 

We are having a lovely airport date just the two of us (and all the other travelers) and are hoping we won't be delayed any further on this trip. But we aren't banking on it. 

We are so close to meeting our son we can hardly stand it. And no amount of packing, lack of sleep, or airport delays can take that away from us. 

We're coming, buddy. And we're as weird as we appear in all our photo albums. Get ready. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

That One Time We Had 48 Hours Notice to Book International Travel

The time has come. We have waited and waited and waited more for the phone call that came this morning.

We are going to Ethiopia. We leave on Friday.  Yes. THIS FRIDAY.

In case the timing is lost on you can I tell you the redemptive work God is doing through our story?

We needed two letters to be cleared for travel. Here's the first one. The second one is waiting for us in ET. We got it Monday.

Last year at this time was quite possible one of, if not THE, hardest week of my life. It was also Kids Club, the biggest week of the year in my job. We had 550 kids and 500 adults come learn about Jesus and I was in charge of it (along with the rest of my amazing team). But I was also going through a huge loss. And last year on June 11, I experienced a surgery that changed my body and my life. I trusted and relied on God through the whole process but I could not understand why any of it was happening. I'm still not sure I do. Sometimes pain comes into our lives and God holds us near but the pain still happens. 

Well. We got a phone call today at 9:15. We are going to meet our son in a matter of days. We have to be there by Saturday night in order to meet him and get things in order for IC to legally become our son on June 10. Yes. June 10 we will go to court and become a family of 3. 

Almost exactly one year after my surgery, I will legally have a son. 

We were told we might hear this week when we would go. We didn't exactly know that would mean we'd get on a plane 48 hours later. But we are thrilled. 

And missing Kids Club. Yup. The biggest week of my year and I am missing it. But I get to meet my son so I'm going to roll with it. 

So. To give you a rundown: we arrive in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Saturday night. We will head to court on Tuesday. We will hug our son as tight as we possibly can on Thursday. 

And on Thursday night we will leave our seven year old son in Ethiopia. 

How long? Well, we don't know exactly. We have to wait for some documents to be completed. Once they are finished, we will get a phone call, request a visa interview, and head over to get IC and bring him home for good. We expect it to be 4-6 weeks and we hope to have IC home for good this summer.

We can't even believe we are really at this part of our adoption journey. Finally! And we are so thankful for you, our faithful friends who are walking this journey with us.

How can you help? Well...two ways come to mind.

1) If you are free tomorrow and want to bring donations to us (and you know us in real life) we are (quickly) collecting donations. Donations are basic things like kids clothes, soccer balls, games and puzzles, and baby items like bottles and formula. If you would like to donate items, you can contact me for a list. We will also be taking donations our next trip. If you want to gather things for us to take then, you can contact me and I'll send you the donation list.

2) Pray for us! Specifics:
  • for safe and expedient travel
  • for both of us to remain healthy during the trip
  • for both of us to connect with IC and things to go well there
  • for IC to connect with us 
  • for all of us as we have to leave each other to remain strong and connected until we can return
I am sure there are lots of other things you could pray for. You can just pray it and if you aren't sure, well, the Holy Spirit will intercede. 

Thanks, again, for loving us so well. If you are wondering, we do have house sitters living at our place. So please don't try anything funny. Please. Please.

We can't wait. We've got so much to do and so little time.


See you soon:).