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Friday, July 29, 2011

Finally...a post from Ghana

Akwaaba. We’ve heard that word many times since coming to Ghana. It means welcome. The people of Ghana are very welcoming, and so hospitable.
They are a beautiful people! I think the women are striking, and the children…they are the images I will always keep with me.
The women are really remarkable because they are all either wearing a baby on their back or carrying a large load of something on their heads. Or both. What are we doing with all these expensive and bulky strollers in America? Why don’t we just strap a baby on our back and go? We must seem so silly to them! I can hardly believe the loads the women can effortlessly balance on their heads. I saw a woman carrying a huge TV on her head yesterday! But mostly they are carrying what they are selling, or transporting some kind of goods.
I think I’m getting used to the use of the car horn here. Everyone is using theirs, constantly, but it’s really a form of courtesy, actually. It says, “here I come, watch out!” It keeps people in the road from getting hit. It let’s drivers know you need in, or need to turn. Or it may just be telling someone to get out of the way.
We are for sure on Africa Time. Things move at their own pace. When you visit someone, you sit, you tell them your “whole story”, and you stay a while. You enjoy their hospitality, and you say a long goodbye. There’s no “dropping by” or a “quick stop”. Some sound advice people gave me before coming was to slow down, remember TIA. This is Africa. That was good advice. I have thought TIA many, many times.
The people here are educated in English. But only the highly educated are proficient in English. Almost everyone we’ve met speaks Twi, or a dialect of it. The signs are mostly in English, so you would think everyone speaks English, but they do not.
We have felt like freakin’ Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie everywhere we go in the villages! We are rock stars! I am guessing many of these children have never seen white folks. So the children come from far and near to see us. They are so polite, and once I smile at them, they always smile back! What would we do without the magic of the iPhone to entertain the crowds of children? They can’t believe their eyes when they see a picture of themselves! And a video…that blows them away!
Ella. Our Emmanuella. This has been a traumatic week for her, saying goodbye to her family. There are so many ways to describe this girl. Dramatic. She’s a drama mama! Hilarious! Boisterous! Playful. Bossy. I think wherever she goes, she’s running the show. Natural born leader. Smart. She has the potential to do and be something great, by God’s grace! Stubborn. I’m sure that will transfer into determined! She is something else. I just can’t wait for you to meet her. Her laughter fills a room.
As Ella was feeling such deep grief in separating from her birth family, I was grieving with her. I held her close and cried with her. I felt like “What have we done!? We have just come here and wrecked this girl’s life!”
But yesterday, we visited her village and her family’s home. I am thankful for that insight. I needed the peace it gave me. There is no hope for a future for Ella here. For children whose family can’t afford school tuition, the children end up working at a young age. Some children end up in slave labor, like the children working in the fishing trade that Mercy Project is working to save. Slave traders come around to the villages and offer the parents to give their child a job. They say they will take them to work on farms or fishing, and their child will bring back money. This seems like a great opportunity! But they lie. And the parents never see their children again. The children are badly mistreated and overworked. Other children end up begging on the streets. But the lucky children get paying jobs. They are very low paying, but they can be street vendors, or work on a farm. But Ella can’t be a street vendor. She can’t communicate, and you must be able to communicate with hearing people to be a street vendor of any kind. She wouldn’t get a job like the other children. Without school, there is no hope. No trade, no ability to work. I asked our guide Peter where she would end up? His answer to me was graphic. Deaf children here must go to the school for the deaf. But it’s expensive. It’s a residential school, and it is more than her family can do. There are so many children in their home! It’s hard to tell who belongs to who. They all belong to each other it seems. Some children were orphaned when Ella’s aunt died, and so those children now belong to Ella’s Mom. There are children everywhere, and they all need schooling, which costs money. They can’t support them all. I don’t know if they can feed them all. They sleep in a small enclosure the size of my closet. They cook their food on an open fire in the open area you can see in our photos. Their bathroom is a squatting dump on the outskirts of the village. The living conditions are poor like I’ve never seen before. They had Peter, our guide and director of ACEF, African Children Education Fund, take pictures of some of the children, hoping he can find support or hope for these kids also. Those pictures you see on websites, like Compassion or ACEF, I watched them take the photos. It seemed surreal. But I want you to know, there is love and laughter in this home. So much laughter! I find Ghanaian people quick to laugh! There is real family.
They love Ella so much! They were gesturing for her to go, and to go to school. That’s what they want for her. That’s her only hope. Nothing good awaits a deaf adult with no trade school or training of any kind. Nothing good. Even with schooling and a trade, many of them will not get far. No one in Ella’s family can communicate with her. There are no signing classes for parents of deaf children, like we have in America. Many parents in America don’t even take advantage of it, but it’s available. So her discipline has been minimal. But her family loves her, and they want hope for her. They want a future for her.
Birth mothers always amaze me, because they put their own desires to have their children close to them aside for their children’s good. It is the most selfless move any mother can make. Ella’s Mom gave me her baby. She only wanted to know if we would bring her back to Ghana someday. It is our hope to do so.
I would like to write a post soon about the Ashan's Children home orphanage. It was a place I'll not forget, and they are in desperate need of funding to stay open. I am praying God would do something to save the 65 beautiful orphans living there.

Funny things I've learned in Ghana:
-I can hold it when I have to go to the bathroom so much longer than I thought!
-Carrying tissues for personal toilet paper was a brilliant travel tip I received!
-I have learned how many people you can squeeze into a tiny sedan. I had no idea!
-I have gone to the school of traffic and driving in Ghana. Wow! We have spent most of our time here in a car. We haven't necessarily traveled many miles, but it takes many hours. We have had an excellent driver who I have great respect for! It takes some serious driving skills!
-Best sign I've seen so far: "Have fun, but think about AIDS".
-The children just call out to us in Twi "white person!" I think that's funny.
-We went to the zoo in Kumasi and they had a highly venomous python in a tiny cage with chicken wire around it. I didn't get too close.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Leaving for Ghana

We leave for Ghana today.
I will not write long, because I am soaking up every minute I have with my kiddos.
I can't seem to swallow the reality that today is July 24....July 24th. We've been telling people for weeks that we would travel on July 24th. I guess that seemed far away. But it's not. It's now.
I have bags packed. Full of my stuff (what do you wear in Africa? I clearly don't know!) Full of Ella's new stuff. Full of coffee creamer, because I'm a coffee addict that really doesn't like coffee without good creamer. I'll fall apart.
With a bucket of goldfish and Craisins,and food that will sustain us when we can't fill up on fish with eye balls looking at us.
My stomach is nervous. It has been since yesterday. What in the world is this going to be like?
We will meet our daughter for the first time in a little more than 24 hours. What will we say?
I am leaving my kids behind for longer than I ever thought I would. (I'm a homeschool Mom, okay? 2 weeks is like forever.)
How will they feel while we are gone? (Peace of mind for me: they are in AWESOME hands!)
There is so much opportunity to TRUST THE LORD. Trust them with my current children, and my child I've not met yet.
Trust him with every anxiety, every nagging fear, every creeping thought that if I let it grow will become a cancer in my mind of full blown WORRY.
I will pray. pray. pray. PRAY!
God has been amazingly faithful to get us this far. His hand has been on every single detail. If this thing were up to me, I would have totally screwed it up by now. This deal started more than two years ago, and when I thought it was all falling apart, questioned if this adoption would ever happen, God was at work. He was orchestrating every event to lead us to this. Looking back, it's been like clock work. Invisible clock work.
So I will trust Him. And I will beg every person I know to pray for us. So here is how you can pray:

1. For my kids while we are gone. That the weeks would go fast, but that they would lean on the Lord, and be safe and happy. We've obviously never left them for two weeks. Pray for my anxiety about leaving them and for theirs.

2. For safe travel. I am a little nervous about missing our connection to our flight to Ghana. If we do, we miss our court date! I am also nervous about the long flight over the ocean, so I'm praying we can sleep on the plane. That travel time would be calming and God would ready our hearts to meet Ella.

3. For our meeting and bonding with Ella. I have no idea how our little girl is feeling, and we can't expect her to be excited about us, but we are praying for immediate bonding, and for love and trust to grow daily! Also pray for our communication to be clear.

4. For her visa. This will require a miracle. But basically, if she could get her visa in three days time, she could come home with us. They have the right to review it for 60 days. We are the first family from our agency to adopt through the Ghana program, so we really don't know how long it will take, But we REALLY want to bring her home the first time. We have been told this is basically impossible. But we are asking anyway. Will you please pray for a miracle with us?

5. We have the opportunity to visit with her birth family while we are there. Pray that we would be a blessing to them, we could share the Gospel when given the chance, and would bring them peace of mind about Ella's future well-being. (Note: we won't be sharing publicly her "story" behind her birth family and reasons for this adoption. We want to protect them and Ella's privacy.)

6. Paperwork. Ugh. Please pray for every detail to fall into place with paperwork. Our adoption hangs on this.

Thank you for praying, and we will try to update our blog to keep everyone posted.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

My baby is 5 years old!

We are celebrating Treston's birthday today! I can hardly tell you how I love this kid. He's such a boy, we simply got a pile of mulch delivered to our house today for his party. When you're T-Bear, what else could you ask for? A pile of mulch and some trucks. He's in heaven.
He makes me smile and laugh out loud every single day. Last year I wrote him a birthday song. If you know our T-Bear, these lyrics will make sense to you.

Treston. T-Bear.
Everybody loves your hair.
Cute as could be, we knew you'd be our own.
for football
I'm not sure that's such a good call.
looking at you
I can't believe how you've grown!

Five years old so suddenly!
You make me and your Dad so darn happy.
I just keep wonderin' where the time does fly?
Treston, T-Bear, precious boy of mine.

Treston, the athlete.
Sure and steady on your feet.
At least when you tackle us you use impeccable form.
Amazed at
what God's done
We're so thankful for adoption.
'Cause in this family we're just not us without YOU.

Five years old so suddenly!
You make me and your Dad so darn happy!
I just keep wonderin' where the time does fly?
Treston, T-Bear, precious boy of mine.

Happy Birthday Treston! We adore you- high volume, all boy, and just so dang cute!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Psalm 127

Unless the Lord builds the house,
it's builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early and stay up late
toiling for food to eat-
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Sons are a heritage from the Lord,
children a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of the warrior
are sons born in one's youth.
Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their
enemies in the gate.

This Psalm spoke to me where I sit this morning. I awoke with a start and a knot in my stomach. I went to the refrigerator to take my Typhoid immunization pill. I go back to my white board and add three more things to my to-do list. It just keeps getting longer but nothing seems to get scratched off.
Last night we learned of three more government forms that have to be done perfectly to pull this off. It is a miracle we got this far, because the paperwork always makes me want to cry. I have great respect for every person I know that has done international adoption, because the paperwork and hoops to jump through seem endless to me!
There is so much to do between now and when we leave. Stress. It's sitting on me, feeling heavier and heavier.
Rusty and I prayed together last night that we wouldn't stress but would trust God. So I'm getting my coffee this morning, trying to remember that prayer, thinking of more things to write in red marker on my white board, and make myself sit down in my white Bible reading chair to visit with the Lord. I know I need a dose of His good Word this morning. But part of me would rather dive into the white board list instead.
But no, I go back and sit down. I wander to the Psalms. Do you ever have days you just need the Psalms? I depart from Ephesians 1 where I've been camping out, and go to the Psalms.
"Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late- (like I was up until midnight getting "stuff done") toiling for food to eat- for he grants sleep to those he loves."
In vain...in vain...he grants sleep. I love sleep!
My footnote says "A good harvest is not the result of endless toil, but of God's blessing."
O Lord, I need you to help me not toil endlessly, but to trust you as I work! To rest in You!

Sons are a heritage...children are a reward...Blessed is the man...
This is so counter-culture for us. We don't see children as a blessing, but a liability, a burden.
This becomes more evident to me when we are in process with an adoption.
People tell us how amazing we are, how there's a special place in heaven for us, how lucky our daughter is, etc.
I feel uncomfortable in these moments, and probably never respond the way I should. But what I want to convey each time is,
Children are a blessing and a reward. Children from our womb, children in an orphanage in Africa, they are a blessing and a reward.
We all know they're a lot of work. True. I'm a lot of work too. Most everything wonderful and good that God calls us to is also really hard. But what a blessing! What a gift!
And just keep in mind, when my kids hear people say that to us, it sends the direct message to their little brains that they are not a blessing, but a burden.
I know those comments are meant in kindness. Thank you. But I hope our family is conveying that we are the blessed ones to have these little people. Just as you are blessed to have your little people, if you are parents.
I am guilty of thinking wrongly about this when I am annoyed, when I am flustered, when they make big messes, and my house goes from clean to post-frat party in minutes. Deep breath.
I pray He is re-shaping my thinking and yours on the blessing and reward our children are. We cannot wait to bring home blessing #5, Ella Bacak.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Getting ready!

We have been a little MIA online, with no recent blog posts or FB action.
Do you ever have so much going on in your life and heart that you don't have words for it? A blurb or a post just seems wrong.
That's where we've been.
Rusty's Mom had a stroke about 10 days ago, and we returned from our Camp Ozark trip just two days into it to be by her side. Rusty was able to spend most of his time by her bedside. What a gift this was! She wanted to hang on so she could meet Ella. But she just couldn't. We spent her final days with her, and Bernadette Bacak passed away last Sunday. Losing a parent...well I have no words to do it justice...but it stinks. She was only 67. She had complicated health issues, and her body just gave out. But we are thankful for our time with her, and are missing her so much. My children are grieving with us, and Rusty's whole family, especially her devoted husband, Ray, is missing her terribly.
She was a great Grammy! She loved her grandkids, and I'm sad Ella will miss knowing her in person. But we will certainly tell her all about her Grammy, and my kids will surely fill her in. She was the Grammy with candy in her pantry and in her purse every time they saw her, that LOVED giving the kids presents and watching them play with them, and loved just sitting and talking with them.
We are sad for us. Terribly sad. But we can't help but rejoice for her, that she is with her Savior, with a brand new, perfect body. We can't wait to be with her again, because our hope is in heaven, and in Christ alone! When it comes down to the end of this life, it's amazingly clear that ALL WE HAVE IS JESUS! Nothing else matters! What we've done with Jesus and the Gospel message extended to us is IT.

As we have come home, and tried to catch up on life, we realize...
We leave for in Ghana in just over two weeks! What!? Time is flying, and there is much to do.
Check out her bunk bed that Rusty built! The top bunk is the bed Rusty built for Emma when she was ready for a big girl bed, about 8 years ago. He built a duplicate and stacked them on top of each other. Our girls will be sharing a room.

My favorite thing in Emma's room is this name board that my sweet friend Heather made for Emma's birthday one year. We decided Ella had to have one too. So with some help from Rusty and my friend Mallory, we have one for Ella.

Last night, we did some shopping to get some things ready for her. I am taking clothes for her to wear, and little things for her to do. Here are some of her cutest new outfits. (I'm totally guessing what size she is! I hope I'm right!)

Here is a book of paper dolls I bought last night. I got some coloring books and books to read as well. We have lots of hotel time, plus a loooong flight home before she sets foot in Texas.

Shopping for her is the fun part. Doing all the online classes and reading all the books about everything that could go wrong and all the hard stuff is not exactly fun. I know it's necessary, but not fun.
Having a bed ready, with sweet pink rosebud sheets is FUN.
A girl!!! We are a little heavy on boys around here. Every time I clean a bathroom around here, I have begged God to give us another girl. Thank you, Lord!

We also have made some wonderful new friends who have the greatest kids, Jian and Tanner, who are deaf and adopted. How awesome is that! Thank you, God! My friend Shelly gave us some signing DVDs that we can take along for her to watch, as well as some travel tips. Thanks Shelly!

What you can pray for:
* Pray for us as we grieve the loss of Rusty's Mom, and prepare to add to our family at the same time.
* Pray for Ella's visa to come in while we are still in Ghana so we can bring her home! The odds of this are slim, but we are praying for a miracle, so that we don't have to leave her there and make a second trip back to Ghana.