Monday, December 31, 2012

mine and yours (favorite posts that is)

So, I have never mastered any kind of analytics for my blog beyond the basic one that blogger provides.  I really have no idea what were your most favorite posts over the last year, but I can share your most favorite posts (by numbers of visits to the page) since this blog started.  Not too surprisingly I guess, most of them are about adoption in DRC.

Writing this post in February of this year was really hard for me.  It has been the #1 most read post on my blog.  Taking the stance that adoptions should be put on hold was (and still is) quite a painful one to take.  But I still stand by it.  "What are we so afraid of anyway?"

But, I didn't stop with that.  I figured most people reading my blog are folks that are going to adopt from DRC regardless of my opinion on their current state and my opinions about not starting adoptions from DRC.  (And those of you who know me personally, know how conflicted I am about this).  I decided maybe I could still help those adoptions that are going to happen, be as ethical as possible.  Maybe I could help adoptive parents along with the way.  Because, honestly adopting from DRC is confusing and heart wrenching.  The 4th most read post was one that was actually created by a bigger group of adoptive parents (from African countries) that were concerned about ethics in adoption.  I added and modified it to fit DRC.  "Questions to ask your agency."

The third most read post was the very first post I wrote about adopting from DRC in August of last year.  I was definitely going out on a limb praying it wouldn't break.  I don't regret writing that post or the ones that followed, but it certainly hasn't been easy.  "For all of us adopting parents and those that consider it."

Fifth most popular post (I know I'm jumping around, sorry about that) was also the most commented on post.  Actually some of those really nasty comments made me want to take a break from the adoption stuff.  But I'm still here and going strong.  I realized I just needed some support to keep on going.  This post almost made me regret my policy on not moderating comments and allowing anonymous comments.  I still see the benefit to it (I mean, allowing the ugly comments reveals the ugliness out there in the adoption world), but if the nastiness continues, I'll moderate (which may happen sooner rather than later).  I'll always allow anonymous commenters however.  "Adopting from DRC: Pray hard and reconsider." 

Okay, so the second most read post is the one where I said I bribed the immigration of DRC and also basically implied that so has (mostly) everyone else that has adopted from DRC.  (Also more nasty comments).    I did bribe DGM (immigration) and so did everyone else that paid one penny or more to them.  Legally, in DRC law, DGM should charge no money for this immigration letter.   But we all do it, so it's okay, right?   "Yes, I bribed DGM. Or did I?"

I'm so glad this post made the list of top read posts.  Here is a quote from the post, "Ask your agency/organization about the orphanage that your child is coming from.  Ask other adopting families about the orphanage.  Ask about how your donation is being used.  Follow your money.  Ask about follow up of the funds.  Ask about receipts from the director.  Ask about independent oversight.  Ask about the investigations on the abandonment of the child you are adopting.  Ask about the conditions of the other children.  Ask about the transparency of the leadership of the orphanage.  Ask to visit the orphanage without an appointment.  Ask about what other partnerships the orphanage is currently involved with and how your agency collaborates and works with those other agencies/organizations.  Consider asking this question to your agency/organization, "If I went and gave $1000 to the director of the orphanage, are you confident that that money would be used for the children in the orphanage and do you have a way to verify it was used for the children in the orphanage?"  "Orphanage, ethics, and international adoption"

#10 read post was two essential ways to increase the chance of an ethical adoption.  Follow your money and orphan status investigation (Basically making sure the story about your child is true.  So key.  Take some time to read the guest posts.  Especially #1, #3, and #5).

And I'm so happy that two posts about Reeds of Hope made the top 10 list!  The news that we received our 501c3 status and changed our name to Reeds of Hope with babies that need sponsors is a key post.
And an older post about babies that needed sponsors.

And the story of Cito Wambili, that really got this all started was on the top 10 as it should be.   She should be the first one on the list.  Really, in the end, children left in orphanages that suffer neglect and harm should be our first responsibility.  And the wonderful part about the orphanage we work with is that all the kids have families and almost all of them can go home.  That is the exciting work we are a part of at Reeds of Hope.

Okay, for some of my favorites not in any particular order).  Well, I'm just going to a pick a few from my whole blog since I have a lot of favorites.  Why not?

The follow up to Cito Wambili's story up there is probably by favorite post.  That was the best day at the orphanage I ever had I think.  I will never forget that little girl reaching up for me, smiling, and laughing.  "Some things are too amazing NOT to share."

Saying goodbye to Moses was very hard.  He still lives at the orphanage (not the one we support).  There are so many complicated circumstances around his birth that created the situation why he lives at the orphanage and why he probably will grow up there.  Because of corruption we had to stop our adoption.  I will always pray for him and he will always be in my heart.

A random glimpse into my life when I lived in DRC.  Pushing my BOB stroller passed lots of soliders and lots of guns, can't get much more surreal than that.

Writing letters to my daughters' mother.

The story of Howard Patric.  Really a story of my struggle with my faith and trying to trust when surrounded by suffering.  Actually, it's a story about an incredible family that openned their arms to a very very special brave little boy.  Please be praying for Howard, he is still a pretty sick little guy, but doing well every day.

How really life is in God's hands, and not mine as I tend to think sometime.  My attempts to save a little baby's life and her death.

The words of Dr. Mukwege and when I met him and I thought I was in labor at his hospital in eastern DRC.

A letter to my amazing daughter Natalie while we lived in DRC and her bigger than life heart.  Also the story of being handicapped in DRC and the brave women, men and children that make their lives there.
And the second part of the letter where I write, "What do I want you to remember Natalie?  I want you to remember the world as you saw it as a small child.  I want to remember the world as you saw it at four years old.  As adults, we often see in pieces, "he is handicapped, he has no legs, he is poor, he is black" or the hundreds of other labels we place on people around us everyday, we judge, we compare, we try to measure up, we fight to be noticed, we step on others to get our way, we put "me" before anyone else.  You will soon be surrounded by a world that judges you based on your external appearance, your wealth, your education, your skin, your... this or that, that pulls people apart piece by piece leaving no room for grace and compassion, for love.  As a small child, you don't look in pieces nor do you see fragments, you see it all.  Somehow, in your child-like innocence, you saw Laurent as a whole person, just like your self; someone to treat with dignity and respect (to share your cookies with). "    And the final part where I realized if you are handicapped in DRC you might just get treated like you are a dog and the village response.

I have been so fortunate to have some wonderful guest posts written by some amazing people on my blog this last year.  Please take a minute to read them, they are on the right side of blog.  That has certainly been a highlight.

So, with that I will sign off for now.  There are more I could share, but it's late and this has been long.
Happy New Year!

Oh--I forgot one.  Cammie, this is for you!  "Motion detected automatic toilets: the bane of my existence!"  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mountains, near and far

We are a bit snowed in this weekend.  We could get out, but why slip and slide on snowy roads when we have everything we need at home.

When I look out our windows, I see snow falling in sheets, horses walking in thick snow, and hills mountains covered in bare trees standing in snow.  It's incredibly beautiful and peaceful.

Earlier today.  

Later today.

It makes me think of my drives to a little village in eastern DRC where sweet little ones live.  They too look out on mountains, but they are covered in green and rise high into the sky.  Incredibly beautiful and peaceful.

The drive to the orphanage.  
Now, our manager in eastern DRC takes this drive 3-4 times a month to check on the babies and children.  In the rainy season, the road can get quite slippery with mud.

He also brings formula for the babies.  

And fortified powdered milk for the big kids.  And salaries for the 7 mamas we hired to supplement the staffing at the orphanage.

Reeds of Hope does a lot more than this and you will be hearing more about that in the coming days.  Tonight I've been thinking of mountain roads and bringing formula to babies.  

Interested in giving to our work in eastern DRC?  Follow this link.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

PEAR cautionary statement on DRC

Here is the link to PEAR's cautionary statement on adopting from DRC if you haven't already seen it.

I agree with their post completely.  I have some posts that will be up in the coming days about adoption in DRC.  Specifically, I have some guests posting about their experiences in DRC, I will be posting about money and how much adoption costs in DRC, frequently asked questions I receive, and I will be talking about referrals of abandoned babies/children v. referrals of relinquished children/babies.  Please check back.  I will also be posting about Reeds of Hope and updates on kids.  (Those are my favorite posts).  Thanks for following along.

Happy Birthday Isla!

Isla (pronounced with a silent "s") turned 4 years old two weeks ago.  I really can't believe she is four.  Maybe it's because she still is so little, maybe it's because her speech is a bit delayed, or maybe it's because she loves to be picked up, carried, and cuddled so often; whatever the reason, I'm still a bit in shock that she is 4 years old.

When she was right around 8 weeks old she moved to eastern DR Congo.

She had her passport picture taken (on the kitchen floor on a white towel :)

Along with big sister Natalie, Mommy, and Grammie, she left the U.S. to join Daddy in DRC

She loved life in Congo.  Here is a christmas picture from after her first birthday.  It's in our front yard.  

Isla was (and still is) a very sweet little baby/toddler.  She rarely every threw tantrums, was laid back and just went with the flow.  Because of all the malaria mosquitoes in our house at night she usually ended up sleeping in bed next to me (as I was breast feeding).  If I rolled away from her, she would often pat the bed in her sleep until she found me again and then just put her hand on me as she slept.  She was also very quiet, rarely talking.  Maybe all this is why I made my most regrettable parenting mistake with her when she was 1 1/2 years old.   At that point we were fostering a set of twins that were being adopted to the U.S.  Lauren and Noah were only one month younger than Isla.  And she loved them like siblings.  I really think, in her mind they were her brother and sister and she was a triplet.  They were with us for 6 months.  Well, on the day they left to travel across the country with their new mom, I packed them up in their land-cruiser and told them goodbye.  It was really rushed as we were all running late.   I forgot to tell Isla they were leaving.  I forgot to let Isla tell them good bye.  I didn't tell Isla anything about it.  

And then to make matters worse, I had no idea why she would stand at the door and cry all day, every day, for the next week.  It wasn't until the second week that it finally hit me that she thought they had died.  Her little brother and sister had disappeared on one day and because she couldn't talk, she couldn't tell me that her little heart was broken and she was grieving them day after day.  It took her a long time to get over their absence and I will always regret not taking more time to prepare her for their departure.

Natalie, Isla, Lauren, Noah, Mia, and Ellie (yes, life was just a "little" crazy).
Isla remained her sweet (quiet) quiet self through the next year.  Enjoying life, loving her sisters.

Christmas, two years old.

Finally when she was three, she started talking spontaneously with words we could understand.  Her first sentence, "I'm a monster, and I'm going to eat you up!".  Yes, the sweet little thing has a very vivid imagination and is often making up stories about dragons, monsters, and giant spiders eating her doll's legs.  One day, when I picked her up from preschool, I noticed all the kids with face paint on their faces.  You know, things like butterflies, rainbows, and similar happy pictures.  When Isla turned to me, what did she have on her face?  A skull.  Yup, you read that right, she had a skull on her face.  That's how we roll around here.       

Happy 4 year old birthday, Isla, we love you!

And some final shots of the three littlest girls of the family at christmas, just because they make me smile.  

Mia, Isla, and Ellie

Monday, December 24, 2012

magic and mystery

Yesterday, I was talking with a friend and she was describing the excitement of her 6 year old finding a gift from santa early.  The sheer thrill and wonder of the magic and mystery of santa.  I have to admit to feeling a little sad that my almost 6 year old doesn't get to the have the same experience.  She has always been an extremely logical kid and early on asked me, "Is Santa real or pretend?".  When asked so directly, I couldn't say he was real and so I didn't (and had honestly never planned on pretending he was real).   It hasn't been a big deal, she never has thought he was real.  But the wonder of the gifts appearing, of a jolly old man bringing presents, the awe on a little one's face---I think I missed that for her for some reason yesterday.  

I want her to believe in magic and mystery.

Then, of course, the obvious hit me.  I believe in magic and mystery.  The incarnate Christ.  The God man.  The baby Jesus.  Magic.  Mystery.  Wonder.  Awe.

And she has caught the spirit of christmas too.  The birth of Jesus, the hope for the world come in flesh as a baby.  Her face lights with excitement and anticipation.  She believes in magic and mystery, too.

And I am content and at peace.

Wishing you all a lovely christmas and hopeful new year.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Doing unto others...

A link to this post was on the Riley's blog today.  It's so very good, please take a minute to read it.

One reason I really like it,  is it encourages us to look at the root of the problem.  Why are children in orphanages?  What is happening to families that leads to children being left in orphanages?  Or left somewhere else so that someone else brings them to an orphanage?

You might be surprised to know that many, if not most children in orphanages have living parents. These parents are either unable or unwilling to properly care for their children. The parents’ problems usually stem from lack of education about caring for children, extreme poverty, addiction or their own history of abusing children.

The article points out that a family environment is critical to a child's development and it cannot be provided by an orphanage.  Orphanages harm children.

Children were made for families.  As hard as an orphanage may try, no institution can take the place of a family. Residential care facilities are considered “placements of last resort” by those who work in social services. If a family member is not able to care for the child, foster care is preferable to placing the child in an orphanage. The reasoning behind this is beyond the scope of this blog post, but it stems from the fact that in an orphanage the child is removed from the safety, security, nurturing and consistency that a family environment is able to provide.

Another reason I like this article is that it points out when an orphanage does have a place.  I hope that the orphanage we support can become that short term emergency situation that will give babies a place to go when there is no other place and then the care they need to live while they are being transitioned back home or to foster care.

Orphanages are an appropriate solution when used to temporarily address an emergency such as a disaster or famine.  The orphanage structure allows for a few people to provide for the immediate needs of many children. While the children’s basic needs are met, research and planning can be done to develop ways to address the fundamental issues that are causing the orphan problem as well as developing a foster-care program for children who cannot return home.
Orphanages are also appropriate temporary placements while children are waiting for relatives or foster families. 

I have come a long way in my thoughts about orphanages.  I always dreamt of building an orphanage and working in an orphanage.  I became broken in the time I lived in DRC.  I saw what happens to children in orphanages, and I met families when they were leaving their children behind, and saw what it did to them too.  Now, I still feel broken.   I support an orphanage.  Everything in me wants to move those children out of the orphanage and into homes today.  But all my desires and passions can't fix the brokenness and pain in the world.  There are not easy solutions.  There needs to be long term commitment and partnerships with those who share the same vision.  Sometimes there is not that vision.  Sometimes there is that vision.  Sometimes all the barriers you face, make you feel like you are trying to drink water out of a fire hydrant.

Another article brings to light all the ethical dilemmas in giving aid.

In the end, I'm just like most people.  I want to help, show compassion and love.  Show the love of God to those I encounter, the love He showed me so generously.  I pray and trust that in the work I am doing (and all of you who are partnering with us at Reeds of Hope) I am doing that, showing compassion and love.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Very worth checking out!

If you have been reading my blog for awhile then you already have heard about the Rileys in Uganda.  They are doing amazing work in Uganda coming alongside Ugandans helping and working with vulnerable families.  It is very worth checking out.  There is so much they are doing; take some time to peek around their blog.  They have been bold and courageous in their work and lives; they have taught me so much about working with children and families in Africa.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Raising three 3 year olds and a 5 year old

Last year I wrote this post and thought I would do it again.  When we adopted our girls, we wanted to adopt in birth order and I wanted to adopt a child that was nine months younger (at least) than our youngest child.  We didn't go into it planning to adopt two children.

The twins are 10 1/2 months younger than Isla.  For a month and a half they are all the same age.  Or as Natalie puts it, "everyone is three, but me!".

When the girls first came home, Isla seemed so much bigger than they were!  (July 2010)

Isla was 1 1/2 and the twins were 8 months old.

But it wasn't long before they all three of them started to look the same size

last year

Natalie has been an amazing big sister.  It's not always easy (and she'll let you know that sometimes she will go scream into her pillow or put ear plugs in when the screaming gets to be too much).  She is patient and kind to them.  Her latest idea to make them all happy is to write messages on pieces of paper and then put them inside of balloons and blow them up.  Then she writes their names on the outside of the balloon.  The messages are things like "I love you little sister."  

I grew up with three younger brothers.  To say the dynamic is a little different might be a huge understatement.   I still can't get over how many times I hear "she hurt my feelings" or "you're not my best friend anymore" or "you can't talk to me like that" or "mommy, you don't say those words to me like that" and how often I don't hear "he (brother in my case) hit me, bit me, threw something at me".  They have those moments, but they can sure use their words in amazing ways for good and for harm.  

I'm am still trying to desperately figure out how to raise kids in the states.  I don't know how anyone does it.  I don't know how stay at home moms (parents) do it and I don't know how working moms (parents) do it.  Most days I'm lucky if I remembered to brush my hair before going to work.  One day I  was almost to work before I realized I was wearing my flip flops and hadn't brushed my hair and had to turn around and go back home (I work in a doctors office) to change.  I still haven't figured out how to work at a place where I don't wear scrubs every day!  But that aside, I really don't know how it all works.  I do think I need to live in a community setting or something where everyone takes care of each other kids.  I think that would work out just fine, because we sure can't keep it together on our own!

Three year olds.  What to say about them?  There are days when they make two year olds look like chocolate sundaes.  The insanity!!  Between the three of them, they are finally potty trained.  (Thank you God!!).  One of them is trouble and mischief and cuteness and sassiness all rolled into one little person.  She is inevitably the last person at the table eating (after we've all left) because she talked the whole meal and forgot to eat.  Another one is bouncing off the walls and stuffing wipes down the toilet, unless her dad takes her out running or pulling the wagon or riding her scooter.  And the third little one wants me to tell her how to spell "octopus" while I am talking on the phone.  

The twins.  What to say about them?  I don't think I ever realized how much energy two little kids could have.  And how little energy I have!  They wake up singing at the top of their longs (yes, sometimes it is "What a friend you have in poopy" while they giggle and laugh) and go to bed talking and yelling.  When I picked them up from a daycare (drop in kind) center a couple weeks ago Mia runs and hugs me and say "I had a great day.  I had such a great day.  I love you!".  

Most days, I feel like I am losing my mind!  I remind myself often to remember and savor this time.  It's not easy.  Life is crazy.  I'm often trying not to yell (sometimes all I feel like I do is say, "It's not okay to....") and instead desperately trying to encourage kindness and respect.  I hardly remember those first days when the twins came home anymore.  I try to remember that I want to hold tight to every minute I have with them because it will also be a distant memory.  

We went trick or treating this Halloween with the girls.  It was overwhelming, cute, and a bit nuts.  Natalie, who was given a "trick or treat for UNICEF" box from school, had a lot of fun asking people to give her money for her box.  At one point, one woman, looking a bit frazzled by the idea of having to go look for pennies at that moment, tells her, "well, okay, you are going to have to be patient so I can go look in my house."  Natalie, calmly answers, "No problem.  Do you see all these little kids right here?  They are all my sisters.  I have A LOT of patience.  I have to be patient all the time!"  That sort of sums it up. 

last week, Mia, Isla, Natalie, and Ellie.  They were trying to make sad faces. :)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Emmanuel-for those who mourn

life everlasting

Once, many many years ago, I held a small boy after he had died.
I was a pediatric nurse, a sacred job that night.
I washed his body, scarred and broken from his fight with disease.
His mom was driving to the hospital
when he died,
she tried to make it in time,
but didn't.
She was coming.
She didn't get to say goodbye, his death was unexpected.
She wasn't prepared.
I remember that I asked to stay with him until his mom came.
To sit beside his body, to keep vigil.
In the cold sterile hospital room.
I knew angels filled the room with a holy light I couldn't see.
A light reflecting of His glory.
I remember his mom, stumbling in the room,
Wrenching from her body
From mine.
I remember a tight embrace,
Standing near him.
a distance close, but so far.
He had left, already.
But she had yet to bid him farewell.
She still had to say, until we meet again, my precious longed for son.
I turned away, to give her a moment alone,
her last with him.
I remember stumbling to the window, it was big.
And I remember a sense, a presence.
God was near, He was here.  Emmanuel.
Much more was happening than I could see.
A storm gathered outside,
the rain fell, clouds tossed in turmoil.
His heart broken.
His heart shattered over this small child, His child.
Weeping over a broken son's body.
Weeping over a mother, a father.
Weeping over a broken suffering world.
Peace falling like a blanket of snow over the heart wrenching cries,
the broken pieces of souls, hearts, life
covering the pain,
giving it space,
room to be expressed
carried by the one who bled.
Lifted up
risen again,
Hope in Life Everlasting
in the midst of suffering and fear
in the midst of pain and turmoil
Rest and Refuge.

I wrote this one year ago, after a sweet little boy died.  I reposted it again today, in light of the precious ones that lost lives yesterday.  And remember those that have lost loved ones and continue to do so everyday around the world.  There is so much pain and tragedy in this world.  Today, I remember the meaning of Emmanuel, God with us.  Yes, God with us.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Reeds of Hope update-new projects and the next year

I'm so excited to have all the kids sponsored.  You might be wondering, what is next?

First, we need to make sure the care the babies and children receive while at the orphanage is meeting their needs.  And I don't just mean food and formula.  We need to make sure they are held, touched, talked to, and played with regularly.  With all the new babies, our current staff is struggling to find the time to do all those essential pieces for their development and growth.  We need to hire more women to work with children.  I'm excited about this because it means that the babies will get held, the children will played with, AND we are giving a woman a salary which will in turn help her family.  You might ask, "isn't that what my sponsorship supports?".  Yes, it does!  However, when we set our sponsorship amounts it was at a time when there were a lot fewer babies.  It costs at least $80/month to feed a baby formula.  (Yes, that more than the monthly sponsorship amount!)  We set the sponsorship amounts lower because it costs a lot less than that to give the older kids milk.  We still were able to pay the salaries of the wonderful women we hired before I left the country.  They are working so hard, but they cannot do it all and need help.  Now we need to hire more women, but we don't want to raise the sponsorship costs.  Interested in sponsoring a mama?  Let me know!

This is Gloire (one of two children with the same name, Glory).  

Second, we want to get the babies home sooner!  Living in an orphanage is not good for babies, it's not good for toddlers, it's not good for 3 and 4 year olds, it's not good for anyone!  Even if you are doing it the best you can.  Kids need families!  And guess what?  All the kids at the orphanage we support have families.  We want to get them home sooner.  Up until now we have been stuck meeting only the barest minimum of needs because we were struggling to pay for formula each month.  Now we want to hire more mamas AND we want to work on getting those kids home as soon as we can.  How do we do that?  Well, we hire a social worker to work with us to help work with families, investigate the barriers why the kids aren't going home sooner, and work on bringing the families in to the orphanage to bond with kids.  Maybe even locate other family members who might not know about the children and get them involved.  Interested in working with us on this key piece?  Let me know and we'll talk.

Sweet Ziruka, no longer left in a crib alone, but now in a full family bed
as she was reunited home with her family this year.

(For those that are wondering, there are a small number of children over the past two years who have not been able to go back home to their families (mine included!).  Those children have found homes internationally, not through Reeds of Hope, but through a different organization that does adoption as part of their work in DRC.  They are not looking for adoptive families right now.  However, if you want more information about their work all over DRC, let me know.)

Third, we would love to send some of our staff to trainings on best practices for caring for vulnerable, orphaned, and abandoned children, including resettlements with families.   We would love to be able to also connect with local churches and bring these teachings into the community.  The area surrounding  the orphanage is a very deeply religious one.   Some children that are resettled home are not treated as equals in the home.  Culturally they are often treated as "less" then the others (that may be from a new marriage).  There is so much that can be done through the churches to bring to light teaching in the Bible about how God views children, orphans, and widows.  I really believe that change best happens through the congolese people themselves taking the words of the Bible and transforming lives and families.  Interested, let me know.

Finally, and so importantly, we support 82 children who have left the orphanage by paying their school fees.  Up until now, we have raised the money for the school fees three times a year through generous people who have decided to take on the project and go into their communities and families and raise the entire amount of that trimester's fees (often around $1700)!  We would love to set up a sponsorship system for these children so that we can support going to check on the children and monitor their progress.  I'm so excited about this, because we want to continue to support the children in a more comprehensive way even after they leave the orphanage.  (For those of you who are wondering, the school fees of these children have been paid for years and years by the missionaries that started the orphanage.  They have lost much of their funding over the last two years and we have filled the gap).

Janvier!  I love this little boy! I would love to see him back with his family soon.

I'm so excited about all the people who are partnering with us right now and even more excited about the work we are doing in eastern DRC that comes alongside our Congolese friends and family as they care for vulnerable children and families in their communities.  

Thursday, November 29, 2012


For the last few days, my mind and heart has been on this little boy.  And about the injustice of the world that allows sick children to linger in an orphanage day after day.  About the suffering of children when death separates them from their parents.  And about the beauty of new families forged from this pain, that somehow, redeem it.  Tonight I'm thankful for adoptive parents who bring into their families little ones that would otherwise not have a family.  I'm thankful that love of a child goes beyond shared blood.  I'm thankful for compassionate hearts who reach out to others and try to ease burdens.  I'm thankful for listening ears who don't judge, but somehow look to the heart.   Tonight, I'm so full of gratitude for the family that brought Howard Patric home and loved him as their own.  I'm thankful for other families that have now become good friends who have welcomed other children that I love into their arms with complete love and acceptance.  I'm thankful for these children now have homes and families to call their own.  Sweet dreams, little ones.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

and who will watch over the least of these

My husband and I have been talking a lot about Congo the last few weeks.  We've talked about our friends that live in Bukavu, the city we called home for 4 1/2 years.  We talk about the recent upsurge in violence and the take over of Goma.  We talk about the constant ongoing war, insecurity, displacement, poverty, death, and suffering.

Today we talked about the fear of knowing that if you are an average person in the area we lived in, there wasn't anyone to watch over you, to protect you.  Any given day, in times of increased conflict (like now) or times when the level of violence was constant but not in the public eye, you might find yourself targeted by petty thieves, by military, by police, by rebels.  And there wouldn't be anyone to call to come to your aid.  Fear.  Some resort to vigilante justice.  And honestly, I can understand why.

Protests in the areas where we lived were fairly common.  Protests that sometimes turned violent.  Anger about the lack of protection and basic human rights.  Anger about the lack of water, the lack of electricity.  Anger about promises broken, corruption, constant bribery, government failure, extortion.  Anger about the lack of trust in each other.

When there is a general lack of security and infrastructure you already don't have a buffer.  You are already full of worry and anxiety every night walking home.  You already are thankful for each day that you are given where you find your children healthy, your job intact, enough food for that day, water to cook with and maybe a little extra to send your child to school.  You don't take life for granted and you mourn and grieve for those that have died as passionately as you celebrate a marriage of those you love.

You learn not to trust your government, the police, the military, or any other group that should protect you and your family.  Violence is a normal way of life.  You have seen take overs before, you know what it can bring and you know what it could mean to your family.

And if you live in a village outside of the bigger city, this may be your daily life.  You may have planted your crops and seen them grow only to have a military or rebel group come through and steal the fruits of your labor.  You may have evacuated from one village to another only to have your children and wife die of cholera within a week.  You may be eking out a life in a refuge camp only to have a new group come and you flee for your life again.

The recent violence in eastern DRC is not new.  It is ongoing for so many.  It is complicated.  There are not easy answers.  But we must not turn our eyes away from this beautiful country and its incredible people.  Who are people just like us who want security and safety for ourselves and our families.  Who deserve dignity and respect and equal human rights.  We are a necessary part to making change happen, we need to listen, we need to not stay silent.  We need to support those working on the ground and around the world to help stop the violence and to work towards lasting peace.

If you are a praying person, here is a wonderful guide to praying for Congo which was put out from the Anglican Church in Congo.

There are so many organizations on the ground doing wonderful work in eastern DRC.  Here are a brief few.  Feel free to post comments linking to more.

Heal Africa
Women for Women
Panzi Hospital 
City of Joy
Food for the Hungry (this is who we worked for in DRC)
Eastern Congo Initiative 

the children of congo

For all of you who support our work in eastern Congo, the orphanage is in a remote location not threatened by the new violence at this time.  If you are interested in what we are doing, we now have a facebook page.  And our website is

Monday, November 19, 2012

unexpected happenings

This will be a bullet type update as it is very late tonight.

--First, and most importantly, please pray for peace in eastern DRC.  As you all have probably seen in the news, the ceasefire has ended and there is increased fighting in the last week which has reached Goma.   There have been evacuations in Goma and large movements of terrified populations.  This is tragic and completely heart breaking.

This blog has very good analysis and news about eastern DRC and is a good resource to understanding this very complicated conflict.

--Two very good friends (long time missionaries) from our time in DRC (we shared a large house with them) came to a city that was 6 hours from where I currently live.  So, I very unexpectedly packed up the two older kids and drove to see them.  We all miss them so much.  Isla said, "I did remember Aunt Sue.  I miss her so much.  I love her so so much.".   It's very good to be with them right now and it will be hard to say good bye tomorrow.

--And I am saving the most unexpectedly wonderful news for last.  In the past, when I have new babies that need sponsors, it usually takes me about one month to find one sponsor.  If it's a good month, I find two sponsors.  When I posted on here that I needed 14 sponsors I was hoping hoping there might be some miraculous way to find them before January.  Then, I heard from a woman who told me that she believed God would provide them by the end of this month!  And, you know what, it took three days!  Three days.

I have been humbled and amazed by the outpouring of support and interest, not only from this woman's amazing community of friends and family, but also from others around the U.S. that want to partner in our work.  I am so thankful for this testimony of God's provision and faithfulness.

And not only does this mean that we will be able to bring up formula and milk, but we will be able to fundraise in some other areas we have desperately needed to fundraise in for some time.   What are these areas?

We need to hire more mamas.  There are too many babies these days for the number of caregivers and they are in cribs or bumbos too long.  My goal?  Six mamas.

We need to develop a role for a social worker to help us get the kids home sooner and then do more work with the kids that have been moved home (that we provide school fees for) to make sure they are being taken care of well.

We need to set up sponsorships for the school fees of the 82 kids we support (who have moved out of the orphanage over the last 15 years) who wouldn't be going to school without the support.  Right now, we have had amazing people come alongside us every trimester who raise the fees or give to the school fee fund (it is about $1500/trimester and then $1500 for school uniforms and notebooks once a year).

And there are more projects, but I am so excited and thankful to be able to provide for some needs that are essential and vital to the childrens' health and well being.

Thank you!

I love this photo, all the mamas are encouraging little Rachel to take her first steps.  This is from a training done by some friends on attachment and care (of the mamas and of the children), it was amazing.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Exciting news and little babies that need sponsors

It's been awhile since I have posted about Tumaini and children that need sponsors.  I have waited because I finally can share our exciting news.  We received our 501c3 status which means we can directly accept donations rather than working with an umbrella organization.   We still have to get a new website up and running (it's in process) so we are still thankful to Children's HopeChest for accepting our donations over the next month.  

The other news is that we have made the decision to change our name from the swahili name for hope, "Tumaini" to "Reeds of Hope".  We felt that Tumaini is a difficult word to pronounce and spell.  The name "Reeds of Hope" (based off of the biblical story of moses when he was placed in a basket of reeds to save his life) still reflects the hope with which we do our work, hope which guides the families that bring the babies to the orphanage when their mothers die, and the hope that comes from the love of God for all the orphaned and vulnerable children in DRC.

Other wonderful news is that we have had many children move home back with their families.  I will post their photos in the next post.  This is what makes our work most worthwhile, seeing children with  families and out of institutions.

Here are the babies that have arrived over the past three months and that need sponsors.  Also two children who still need sponsors who have been at the orphanage for about a year.  We provide formula for all the babies, powdered milk that is fortified for the older children as well as extra women to hold and care for the children.  Each child needs one full sponsor ($50/month) or two partial sponsors at $25/month.  Please feel free to email me if you are interested in sponsoring one of the babies below (email is top of blog on the right) and I will give you further details.

Chikuru Isenge needs two sponsors ($25/month) or one full sponsor. Fully sponsored!  Her story is also written here.

Bruno, born Sept. 29.  He needs two sponsors is fully sponsored!   Please pray for this  tiny vulnerable little one.

Furahisha, born Oct. 5.  She needs two sponsors is fully sponsored!  Please pray for this precious little one.  

Samueli, born Aug. 26.  Another sweet baby that needs two sponsors is fully sponsored!.

Maajabu, he was born 8/29.  He needs two sponsors. if fully sponsored! 

Chanceline, she needs two sponsors.  is fully sponosred!  

This sweet boy is Lukogo, he needs one more sponsor is fully sponsored!  He is 11 months old.  
This is sweet Consolat, she needs one sponsor is fully sponsored!.  She is 17 months old. 

Sometimes, I think of the families that bring their babies to the orphanage.  I was there one day visiting when a family brought a little one.  They were still in mourning, grieving their sister who had died.  They handed off the newborn she had given birth to, because they had no way to keep him alive.  It was completely heartbreaking.  I think of the small hope that brought them to the orphanage, the hope that perhaps the baby may live when so many do not in that area of Congo.  Hope can sometimes seem as slim and fragile as a reed, but often that slender bit of hope is enough to save a life and work a miracle.  Thank you for supporting our work.    

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

in his own words

I wanted to share this post that was written by Dr. Mukwege after the attack on his home.  I wrote about it and my own experience meeting him here.

Here is an excerpt from what he wrote.  Please take a minute to read his words.

"The dedicated and courageous staff who work at Panzi Hospital are scared, and my thoughts are with them. I want them to respond to this hatred with love because I think that it is the only way we can make a difference. If they continue to do what they do with love and care I have to believe that peace and justice will prevail. Violence can only create violence."  Dr. Mukwege

Friday, November 9, 2012

a letter to my daughters' mother

"I have thought of you all day, actually all week.  Well, the truth is, you are never that far from my thoughts.  Because I am raising your daughters.  I wasn't supposed to be raising your daughters, you were.  You never gave them up for adoption, you never relinquished them because you couldn't take care of them.  You didn't abandon them on a dark night on a road or in a crowded market.  No, you fought for them until your last breath.  I know the story of your death.  It is sacred and completely heart breaking.  Because I know your story and how it ended, I know that you gave every single part of you to try desperately to stay alive and care for your girls.  Somehow, I think you knew what was going to happen to them if you didn't.  I think deep down you knew they would then be abandoned, relinquished to others that weren't you, weren't even family, to keep them alive.   I think you knew that you were their hope.

I imagine myself in your shoes.  Dying giving them birth, and knowing they could very well die also because of your death.  I imagine fighting with everything in me, begging those around me to get me to the hospital, to get me help.  Begging God to keep me alive.  The utter fear and anguish.

Not going gently.

I am not supposed to be raising your beautiful daughters.  You are.  You are the one that should be wishing them happy birthday today.  You are the one that should be celebrating their joy of life, their laughter, their singing.  Sometimes I wonder if you sang to them all the time when they grew inside of you, because they wake up singing, laughing, yelling and they go to bed that way.  They are so full of energy and enthusiasm.

You are the one who should be hearing their "I love you mamas" and you are the one who should be hugged so tightly every day.

Not me, you.

Your girls are wonderful little girls.  They make everyone smile and laugh.  They are not shy at all and love to engage anyone that comes their way.  Mia talks non stop and will make herself laugh at anything that strikes her as funny.  Ellie notices everything and is sensitive.

They are so extraordinarily special.  There is a light inside of them that does not dim.

In fact, your story has not ended. It continues on in them.  In the light that shines in our house every day.

I always pray I will love them enough, that I can somehow try to be their mother too, even though I was never meant to be their mother.  I pray that somehow you know that I love your girls so much.  I pray that you know you are never forgotten and always remembered.  Even now, so young they know about you, their mama.  I can never take your place.

This day is hard for me.  Because we celebrate their birth which also was the day they lost the most important person in their lives, the person that should have been celebrating today with them.  They don't understand this yet, the joy, pain, and loss mixed together.  Somehow I hope that when that day comes, when the pain and the joy is felt by them too, I can wrap my arms around them and whisper that you loved them more than life itself, that we love them and will never stop, and that you also wrap your arms around them and remind them that you live on in them and your love will never leave them."



I share parts of the story of their birth and mother's death only because the orphanage they were adopted from only accepts babies whose mothers have died giving birth to them (and I have stated this many times on my blog and on our website).  The rest of their story is for them to share one day if and when they choose to share it with others.  

Last year's letter can be found here.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

a challenge for orphan sunday

Lovely and challenging words for today, the day called "Orphan Sunday".

So much resonated with me when I read this post.  And one little girl's face came to mind.  A very special little girl that I worry about a lot.  Who lives on the other side of the world.  When I received her most recent photo, my heart broke all over again.  When you pray for orphans today, would you pray for her?  Her name is Chito Wambili.  This little girl is loved by all those have met her.

If you want to read her story, start here.  But read all the follow ups if you read her story, then you will understand even more the love I have for this little girl and why I started Tumaini in the first place.  Children do not belong in orphanages.  They should be in families.  The children that live at the orphanage we support have known families.  More have been going home to their families than ever, but not enough and not fast enough.  Living in an institution, in an orphanage, does harm to children.  We support the children and then we support the work of the orphanage staff to reunite the children with their families.  Again, to those that have supported our work--thank you.  

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The cost of speaking out against injustice.

I recently had a conversation with friends about if we would speak up for something you believe in, especially injustice, if it could bring harm to yourself or your family.  We debated why someone would put their lives in harms way for a belief or cause and whether or not it was something we would ever do ourselves.  Being the ever idealist, I said I would.  I said I would stand up for by beliefs, even if it meant harm coming my way.  It was harder for me to say I would stand up for them if my children were in harms way.

In the end I think I am a lot of talk.  I've never had to take a stand for anything that put myself at risk of being harmed.  I think the riskiest stance I've taken lately is talking about unethical adoption in DRC.  The worst that happens because of that is nasty comments on my blog and I'm not included in most adoption circles.  That's nothing really.   And seems a bit lame on the scale of standing up for a belief in the midst of danger.

When I was in my 20s, I dated a guy who asked me if I had ever been arrested (on our first date).  I was shocked and said, "no way, of course not!".  I was sort of full of myself at the time.  He said he had and he didn't regret it.  He had participated in civil disobedience when he was protesting something (I can't remember what it was anymore) and had been arrested and released the same day.  He asked if I would ever do that.  I said, "uh, no way".

When I moved to eastern DRC I was a naive, scared, and totally out of my comfort zone.  I mean, I read the news, I knew that eastern DRC wasn't a place most Americans moved to if they had a family.  I had never lived overseas.  I was moving with my 8 week old little girl.  Somehow I managed to cross that border and we ended up living there for 4 1/2 years.  And my life was actually really safe (considering where we lived) and quiet.  While I lived there, I never took a stand for anything that put me in danger and I never publicly spoke out against the injustice I saw while living there (and there was plenty).  I stayed safe.

When I was pregnant with my second little girl I was still in DRC.  One day, when I was about 20 something weeks along I got really sick with some kind of GI bug.  At the time, I thought maybe I was in preterm labor.  I knew I at least needed IV fluids.  My OB worked at Panzi hospital about a 30 minute drive through town.  On the worst road you can imagine through the most congested and poor area of town.  Driving to the hospital on that road would put a woman in labor if she wasn't already in labor!

When I got there, I had to take a number to wait in line.  I got the last number.  I think it was number 40 or something.  Then I had to sit outside with all the other women waiting in line.   There wasn't any triage.  You waited with everyone else.   For hours.

I have to back up a minute and say that if you are a mzungu (white person) or a rich person of any skin color in this area of the world most of the time you didn't wait in lines.  You were treated differently, like you were a celebrity.  I never got used to that part of living there.   That day I was the only white woman sitting in that line waiting to be seen.  I was the last one in the line.  Most places in town I would have been somehow moved to the front, or I would have been shown a different place to wait that would have expedited my visit, a sort of VIP room.  And it would have happened whether I asked for that treatment or not, and I would have probably not been aware of it, if it did happen.

But not that day, and not with my doctor.  At one point he came out and saw the long line of women.  He looked exhausted and overwhelmed.  But he had a kind smile for us all.  He saw me (I stood out).  He came over.  He said, "I can't see you before these women, you will have to wait".  I think I might of audibly sighed in relief, as I said, "of course not".  It was one of the rare times in DRC where I was treated like an equal.  I was just like every other woman waiting in line, I wasn't special because of my skin color, and I didn't deserve different treatment because of my skin color. (Of course, it was embarrassing that he even felt like he had to come over and tell me).   I was simply a woman, waiting to see a doctor.  And this doctor saw all the women in line as equally important and valuable.  None was more special than the next.  They all were worth his time.  And my illness and pregnancy problems were not more critical than the woman in front of me with similar problems who had brown skin and lived in destitute poverty.

That doctor was Dr. Mukwege.  Please take a moment and read the link.

He is an incredible man, who not only treats women with respect, dignity, and equality, he fights for the injustice done to them in eastern DRC.  He is one of my heroes.

He recently came under attack, and one of the men who protects his home was killed.  It is unknown if it was because of his work and advocacy.  It is unknown if it was an assassination attempt.  But it is likely.  He takes a strong stance against injustice and names those who are the perpetrators (even when it is his own country and countrymen).  He stands up for the wrongs done to women, for the raping and damage done to women in eastern DRC.  He not only uses his voice to demand that world act against these atrocities done to women and to their communities, but he also uses his hands to repair their bodies after they have been violently raped.

He lives in the neighborhood next to where I lived in eastern DRC.   I think of my life there.  My quiet, safe life.  I think of his life, how it is the exact opposite.  And I wonder, if given the chance, would I do the same?  Would I risk my life for another?  Would I speak out and stand against injustice and for the truth?  Would I demand action at all cost to myself?  Would I rage against the atrocities done to women, to our sisters, on the other side of the world?

I am thankful beyond words for men and women around the world who do so.  Like Dr. Mukwege.  I can hope and pray that his courage and bravery will inspire others to fight against injustice as it has for me.   And I do hope, that if I am ever called on to stand up even in the midst of danger, I will remember   and take that stand.

And perhaps, when I reflect on my brief interactions with him during my time in eastern DRC, I most remember the humility with which he carried himself and the quiet dignity, respect, and compassion he showed all women, regardless of race, wealth, or nationality.  It's a good place from which to start.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An incredible alternative to orphanages. Consider opening a home like this in Kinshasa!

My heart and passion is working in eastern DRC with vulnerable and orphaned children.

Perhaps yours is to work in Kinshasa or a different area of the country.  Perhaps you adopted a child from Kinshasa and you want to help other vulnerable children, the children you didn't adopt.  Perhaps you chose not to adopt, or your adoption fell through, and your heart is still there, with the children in Kinshasa.

Don't open a new orphanage.  Don't open another institution where children live for years and years.

I would challenge you to think of starting a project like this one.  Child's i Foundation is based in Uganda and it resonates with me on so many levels.  There are so many children abandoned in Kinshasa.  What if there was just one project like this one in Kinshasa?  They have already found families for 80 children IN Uganda.  They find the families of the children.  For those that can be reunified they do so. For those where they cannot find families they find Ugandan adoptive families.  They work on supporting families to stop abandonment in the first place.   Their children stay for a maximum of six months.  They support social workers and do trainings.  

What a wonderful way to help orphans, widows, and their families.  Take some time and explore their site.  Take some time and consider alternative ways to care for vulnerable, orphaned and abandoned children.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Guest post: What happened? (and things to read this weekend)

Amanda has given me permission to repost her story from her blog.  Remember those people I talked about at my last post that I respect and admire for speaking up and sharing the truth about their adoptions, and fighting for change?  She and her family are some of them.  Thank you, Amanda, your story is hard and not easy, you could have chosen to remain silent.  Thank you for being a voice for change in adoption in DRC.  

What happened?

The details, as promised.  Commentary to follow.  For now, just facts.

We signed on with One World Adoption Services, Inc. (“OWAS”) in November 2010 to adopt two kids under 4 from DRC.  In October 2011, after being told that our referral would come soon since May 2011, we were sent a referral for two children (who we called Carolyn and Freddy) (who were said to be 5 and 3 – thus outside of our range).  Their paperwork did not include any information about the biological family, except that the mother was unable to care for them, and the father was “unknown.”  We asked a number of questions about their birth family and where the children came from and were told by our caseworker that she would look into it.  We never heard anything further.  We naively accepted OWAS’ word that this was all the information that we would/could receive from DRC.
[Sidenote: I said commentary would come later, but I lied.  Never, ever, ever believe this from any agency.  Information abounds.  Just now I found the former orphanage director on Facebook.  People.  It's 2012.  Everyone has a cell phone.  Everyone has an email address.  Everyone has a computer.]
In February 2012, we passed court and received the parental authorization form.  This was the first time that we ever heard that the biological mother would have to be contacted and actively relinquish her rights.  Again we asked for information about her and her situation but did not receive any information from OWAS.  On the request for birth certificates, for the first time, we saw the name of a third child (Katie) and asked for information from OWAS.  We were then told that she was the children’s biological sister, who was raised with them and had been brought to the orphanage at the same time.  Based on this, we can only assume that when we had previously asked OWAS for information about the biological family, they were not attempting to get that information.  If they had looked into our questions, it would have been clear that the children had a sister in the orphanage.
We accepted the referral for the older sister not wanting to split up the siblings.  At that time, we finally received the “intake form” that included a little more information about the biological family, again stating that the father was “unknown.”
In the spring/early summer of 2012, the woman running the orphanage in Kinshasa was fired due to allegations of corruption.  This started raising our red flags.  When she was fired, she took (at least) three children from the orphanage to her home.  These children were later removed by the police, and she was arrested.  (This relates later.)
We passed court with Katie in March 2012 but never received all of her documents or confirmation that her birth certificate or passport were ever requested (we pulled out at the end of August).  This was concerning to us given the “shake up.”  We never got a straight answer as to what was going on with Katie’s case and whether OWAS had the documents, whether they were in progress or whether they were missing/lost/stolen.
In April 2012, we filed I600s for Carolyn and Freddy.  In June 2012, we received a request for evidence asking for more information about the mother’s situation.  OWAS was never able to gather adequate documentation, so we had to withdraw the I600 in order to avoid a denial.  Since we did not want to solely rely on OWAS, we hired another attorney in DRC to investigate.
It was at this point that the red flags became flaming red on fire flags.  First, our investigation revealed that the address given by OWAS for the biological mother was incorrect and that no one by her name had ever lived there, and no neighbors had ever heard of her.  Second, we then learned that Freddy was one of the children taken from the orphanage by the fired director, which explained why we had not received any photos of him for months while we did receive photos of the girls.  We asked for an update on him but never received any information from OWAS.  Finally, in another review of the documents, we saw that the biological mother had the same last name as the fired orphanage director.
In their attempt to respond to the request for evidence, OWAS told us that the biological mother could not be found and/or had moved.  However, days later, we received an updated “certificate of indigence” that said, on its face, she had recently appeared at social services and testified as to her status.  When we asked OWAS about this document, they told us that the officer had remembered meeting the mother (presumably a year before) and could sign the document based on her memory.  This did not sit well with us and looked a lot like a fraudulent document to us.
Based on this series of events, we decided we needed to conduct our own personal investigation since there were too many red flags for us to feel comfortable proceeding.  In August, we went to DRC.  We met with members of the children’s birth family and quickly learned that our suspicions were, unfortunately, true.  The documents that were used to support the children’s cases were all fraudulent.  The children were the nieces and nephew o0 the fired director, who had falsely indicated that the father was “unknown” in order to complete the adoption.  The mother and father are in a committed relationship, have other children and live about a 4 hour plane ride from Kinshasa.  Because the documents were fraudulent, we could not proceed with the adoption.
While we were there, we also learned that Freddy had been back living with his grandmother for a number of months after he had been removed (while we were paying monthly orphan support for him).  While in DRC, we met the children’s grandmother, and while she is not rich, by any means, we could see that she had some means to provide.  The children have been returned to her, and we are very glad for that.  Their grandmother loves them, and there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the best situation for them.
When we met with OWAS upon our return, they confirmed that we could not proceed with an international adoption where there are two known, living parents (not to mention fraudulent documents).  While we had hoped that they would work with us to resolve our situation, they refuse to refund any of our money.
These are the cold hard facts.  We have many other suspicions about further corruption in DRC and adoptions, and I will post my commentary another time.  Thanks for following our journey.  We are down, but not out!

She has a couple wonderful follow up posts here and here.  Definitely worth reading.  

Also, some more interesting posts to read today.   A very interesting program to help prevent orphans by supporting vulnerable families, for $35/month.  In Haiti, a local project to help farmers grow peanuts, create local jobs, and prevent malnutrition.  A wonderful post about the language of poverty