Thursday, June 25, 2009

Finding the Big Picture

Today the little ladies and I went to Costco to pick up bottles of children's multivitamins. Our church is sending a team to Uganda to work with about 1900 children who are served through Discipleship Mission International, a local indigenous Christian organization in the country. Many of these children are HIV/AIDS orphans. The team asked for vitamins to help meet some of the nutritional needs of the children they will be working with. Malnutrition is the #1 killer of kids under 5 in Uganda. Through connections with a few other moms, I was able to get nine big bottles. As I drove away from Costco, I was doing the math in my head and realized that at 300 vitamins a bottle, that's 2700 vitamins ... a little more than one vitamin per kid.

That leads me to the point of this latest post. One thing that Davis and I have been discussing lately is how it has been easy to lose sight of the whole reason we even got into adoption in the first place now that we have two toddlers. You get so caught up with the micro-level issues - scheduling swim lessons, getting to music class on time (getting anywhere on time is kind of joke now), demonstrating appropriate potty behavior as your little audience stands by enchanted by the magic of the flush, trying to figure out when the heck you are actually going to get your work done so you don't get fired, policing your youngest so she doesn't pick up a nasty Tic Tac from the grass at the park and put it in her mouth (this really happened...and I realized after it had already been in there for who knows how long), etc. - that you forget almost entirely about the larger macro issues. We got into adoption because there are children throughout the world, made in God's image and precious in His sight, that have no homes and no families and are destined to lives of poverty (and worse), unless we do something. We felt when we adopted that in doing so we were fulfilling a part of a larger calling God has for our family. The challenge now is trying to find a way to keep the Bigger Picture in sight even when the Little Picture of our lives is so messy and so loud and often pretty chaotic. It's so easy to get insulated and lazy. It's much easier to just go about your business. My day is stressful enough as it is in Mommyland without figuring out what our "next step" needs to be with regard to the global orphan crisis and yet we are finding that we sense there is next step that we need to pray about. A good friend asked if we will adopt again. It's not something that we are seeking out right now but it's also not something we are opposed to if that is what God has for us. Given how much our girls adore older kids, I can see us adding an older child to our family if God provides the resources for us to do that. I have always had a burden for older children in my heart and that still remains. All I know for now is that just because MY girls are now home - loved, protected and provided for - doesn't mean I get a pass on all the rest of the orphans that remain.

If I ask Junia now if she is from Africa, she will happily say yes. She understands that she and Eden are from Africa and that Mommy and Daddy are not. I explained to her today that we were buying the vitamins to help sick kids in Africa. I can't help but feel like my one vitamin a day effort is nothing more than a pittance. You are not going to solve the larger systemic problems of malnutrition in a country by giving a kid one vitamin but at least it is something. We are trying to teach the girls even now that they, as members of the human community and The Church, must do SOMETHING, no matter how small, because everything helps when you have nothing. And that's what far too many kids across the globe have - absolutely nothing. If you read this blog, I'm probably preaching to the choir here though so I'll stop.

Recently, we participated in a Mission Ethiopia conference call on Facebook. A great organization called World Orphans was highlighted that is worth checking out. They work with local churches within Ethiopia to serve some of the 4.5 million Ethiopian orphans. Their model is really smart because it draws on the strength of local communities to create opportunities for mentoring that children need to move into adulthood successfully. Their model makes a lot of sense to me and I find it inspiring to see people continuing to look for fresh approaches to dealing with these seemingly overwhelming problems. Check them out and see what you think.

If you've read my blog for some time, you also know that I love Tom Davis. I've never met him, but he is a bit of hero to many in the adoption community. He's got a new book out that I am SO excited about. It's called Scared. I can't wait to read it. What's so cool is that Davis’s nonprofit, Children’s HopeChest, is raising $1 million to support educational projects in Swaziland. The sale of the books goes towards that. You can even download a free copy of the book here.

Scared - A Novel on the Edge of the World from Children's HopeChest on Vimeo.

What I love about Tom Davis and World Orphans and groups collecting multivitamins is that they are all about taking action. They are about doing something to make a difference for those who so desperately need us as friends, advocates, and possibly even parents.

For fun, I hope you enjoy one of my favorite recent pics of Eden. I cannot imagine what she would be like on sugar cereal. This photo pretty much captures what her personality is like from dawn to dusk. We laugh - and yawn - a lot around here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Half Mommy and Elephant Birthdays

I have "blogging" listed as one of my many "hobbies" on Facebook and yet this is the first time I have checked back here at MuchHasBeenGiven for literally a month. My friend Christy told me today that "much may have been given but much has not been written". I'm glad she even still reads this! Even the idea of multiple "hobbies" is kind of comical right now. The girls have now been home three months and my previous "spare time" continues to elude me. Hence, my lack of blogging. Because I am a ridiculous perfectionist, I now feel like I am such a "slacker blogger" that I'm anxious about trying to pick this back up again. My blogging hiatus has seriously not been for lack of desire. I've thought "Oh, I should blog about that" about a zillion times but, as you can see, there hasn't been a whole lot of fruit come out of those thoughts - primarily because those thoughts are often interrupted by "What IS that she is sticking in her mouth?!" more often than not.

The little ladies continue to thrive. The doctor told us that Junia gained the equivalent of a year's worth of weight for her age in just 2 months. She is now in the 20 percentile! Go, Big Bear! Eden too is gaining weight and is now actually on the chart at a whopping 3%. Junia's transition to English has been nothing short of remarkable and it is amazing to watch how she learns new words and grammatical conventions each day. She loves to talk and often gives us a play-by-play on everything that is going on right now and everything that has gone in the past (ex. "Eden pulled my hair three days ago"). She communicates solely in English now with the exception of the word "Daddy" which she still likes to say in Amharic. Eden is also starting to talk A LOT and we can actually understand much of what she says now. Both girls are also thriving socially and really enjoy other people. They love to play with other kids and are very affectionate. We have also been pleased to see how - with consistent practice - they are quickly gaining competency in areas where we noticed some deficiencies (climbing, running) that were probably related to very limited opportunities in their early environments. Overall, they are blossoming and we count ourselves blessed. We are of course dealing with lots of challenges too because our kids are 3 and 18 months. That alone means we are asking for trouble. We have been given hearty servings of sibling rivalry and defiant behavior in addition to the warm fuzzies - but we are surviving. We have also recently taken on potty training which has been "fun". My saving grace has been a little fuzzy red man (?) named Elmo. For whatever people say about that little guy, I will always be in his debt for the 20 minutes of QUIET that he affords me each day. He also has a sweet potty video too. Rock on, Elmo - and thanks.

We are holding our own as well. Things improve with each month that passes as we continue to settle into our routines and roles and learn more about how to actually be parents. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about my children in light of Matthew 25. I recently had a moment of "intense fellowship" with our youngest who has a strong will just like I do. My response to a screaming and defiant child more often than not is "Do you REALLY want to go there with Mommy?! BRING IT ON, GIRL!" I was reminded by the Quiet Voice that spoke under the pounding of my own pulse that she was one of "the least of these". She came to us with nothing. She needed everything. She was and is entirely vulnerable. And in that way she was - and is - Jesus to us. Putting your parenting in that perspective forces you to examine and evaluate much of what you say - and do.

So I've been doing a lot of questioning. I think every new mom does that. You already wonder if you are completely inept as a mother because so many things are beyond your expertise and totally out of your control but being an adoptive mother in a transracial family adds an additional level of evaluation to EVERYTHING you do. I have slowly come to just accept that random people will always be looking at - and talking to - me and my family. This continues to be stretching for me as a more private person and I am praying that God will shape my heart so that I can be more gracious. I have also become more confident with using humor to deflect the truly ridiculous or invasive comments and that to me is empowering (like when I recently told the woman who asked me rather incredulously when I was in line at a store with my two squirmy toddlers if the girls were "mine" that I had found them outside in a shopping cart). I have also found that having a "plan" for how I will answer certain invasive questions is helpful. That way I can be gracious and yet still quickly put an end to questions that are becoming inappropriately intrusive. This is going to to become even more important as the girls get older. We got into Ethiopian adoption because we feel passionately and urgently about the need for action to address the global orphan crisis. We want to see orphans find forever families and our own family story may serve in a small way toward that end. But as an adoptive family of two very young children the tension is balancing those Big Picture goals with the need to not always feel like a poster family for international adoption. This is particularly challenging when you are out and about with two toddlers in tow. What I find difficult is that people are already looking at you for various reasons so when your toddler has what would be just a normal - albeit embarrassing meltdown - in a public place you add to the embarrassment you are already feeling the anxiety of life under a magnifying glass. You wonder - or at least I wonder - if people are thinking I'm not really qualified to be a mom because these are obviously not my birth children. It's a strange feeling, almost as if you feel like you have to prove to everyone that you are legit because you didn't actually give birth to your children (this is exacerbated by people who talk about what it is like when you have "your own" - as if adoptive families somehow don't share in that). Sometimes I feel like a "Half Mommy" who needs to justify to the world that she really is a "real mom". Maybe other adoptive moms deal with that - I don't know. I just often feel like I have to try twice as hard because everyone is looking at me and judging me all the time. For me, I've had to just be ok with the fact that no matter what the random lady in line thinks, when my daughter manages to fall out of bed and land on her head, as she did in the middle of the night last night, the one she is screaming for is me - Half Mommy or not - and that needs to be good enough.

Our most recent family highlight was celebrating JuneBug's 3rd birthday with an elephant birthday party. It was a great day for our Big Girl as we celebrated with special friends and family. Highlights included jolly jumping, playing pin the tail on the elephant, decorating elephant cookies and getting a new trike from Grandma and Grandpa and a new wagon for the beach from Uncle Larry and Aunt Kim. We hope you enjoy the pics! Also included are a few fun ones from daily life in our little family and our favorite picture from our recent family photo shoot on the beach - more on that to come!