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.