Sunday, September 27, 2009

A blessing; a lesson

I've been a Christian for over 19 years. However, like many 19 year-olds, it turns out that I think I know significantly more than I actually do know.

In particular, God has taught me through my son just how little I actually know about God and His word. While I've consistently attended church services and had personal devotions over the last 19 years -- I even started attending Bible study about three years ago --I was, and am, well aware that God's word is as infinite as His will. The more I learn about the Bible, the more I appreciate just how much there remains to be learned.

I am fairly certain that every believer reading these comments has a similar sentiment. I would warn you though: you really don't know how much you don't know (wait... I just said that!) What I mean is that there are levels of not knowing something: I tend to lump the things I don't know into the category of "things I haven't yet studied sufficiently". My thinking is that given sufficient time -- eternity, say -- I will understand everything in the Bible and the entire scope of its application.

As it turns out, I'm going to need eternity times two. God just taught me the following lesson: not only are there "things I haven't yet studied sufficiently", but there are also "things that I've studied and think I understand which, in reality, I'm simply looking at incorrectly". I was chagrined to learn this lesson; after 19 years you'd think I wouldn't still need this type of lesson... maybe after 40 years I will have come to expect them.

The lesson at hand centers around Psalm 127 and, specifically, verses 3-5. These verses describe how children are a blessing from the Lord. Those of you familiar with Larisa and me have some sense of the importance of these verses: God has used them twice to significantly influence our thinking about children and family; first in the context of biological children and more recently in the context of adoption. I know these verses and can repeat them from memory. I did not understand them though, and still may not.

The flaw in my thinking has to do with God's outlook on children: children are "...his reward" (to us) and "Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them...". At no point would I have consciously thought of a reward from God as something to be dreaded, yet I was very worried about being a parent: would I like it? Could I handle it? Would I constantly be yearning for my old life?

If I had taken this passage seriously -- which I think I always must -- I would have considered that a reward from God is not the same as a white elephant exchange: instead of the egg cooker, purple bowling ball, or Macho Man Randy Savage action doll that you'd expect in a white elephant exchange, you're getting, well, a reward from GOD. You won't need to put on your "smile for the toilet paper cozy from great-great-auntie Glenda" face. No indeed. You need to take God's promise seriously and expect a reward as only God can deliver. Therein was my flaw, and therein lies the lesson: God's promises are sure and their fulfillment as inevitable as the tide or progression of the seasons. God's reward cannot, by definition, be something undesirable and should not be viewed as such.

In retrospect, I think a large part of my perspective stemmed from another of God's rewards: Larisa. You would think that the blessing of our marriage would be sufficient for me to yearn for more of God's rewards. However, quite the opposite happened; our relationship was so blessed, so enjoyable, and so comfortable that for quite some time I have feared the thought of children as a proposition that would ruin an ideal relationship. Over time, the blissful (I know, I know, you're thinking "gag"... but it's true) state of our marriage began to skew my perspective on children. As best I could tell, children were an undesirable side effect of adult relationships. When they happened, you put on your best face, turned in your happy life, and made the most of a somewhat rotten situation. I never could understand married couples who were pining away for children; neither Larisa or I have this propensity in us and as our relationship and lifestyle continued to improve, the thought of children become increasingly unsavory.

So it was with these eyes that I read Psalm 127, and as the Bible warns: having eyes to see, I saw not. Enter my instructor:

It shames me to confess that I was actually "prepared to put on a good face" for this whole adoption thing: "well... God wants us to adopt and, even though I'll probably never like it, I'll do my part to help out some poor starving kid and figure out some way to muddle through until he graduates and moves out." How gallant, if totally wrongheaded and unnecessary, of me.

I thank God that He has cut through my short-sighted perspective and saved me from myself. Yikealo is an aspect of life that I never expected to enjoy, but which I now find I cannot get enough of. Like wine, he is getting better and better as time passes. I want to "sa-nuggle" and "scha-mooch" him, I want to wrestle with him and hear his infectious giggle. I want to give him a home, teach him of God, watch him grow, and just spend time with him. Yikealo is no white elephant gift; he is truly a reward from God.

Further, and just to show He can, God has continued to bless the relationship I have with Larisa. While I feared our relationship would be lost in our quest to become parents, so far -- and today is the three month anniversary of the day we met Yikealo -- our spousal relationship has continued to grow. We are not only Yikealo's parents. I am David, Larisa is Larisa, the two of us are David and Larisa, and the three of us are a very blessed family.

And he's so stinkin' cute!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The "Why?" Stage

Well, we've hit it - that stage that I'm convinced is the bane of all parents' existences - the phase of constant "Why?" questions. Take today for instance - Yikealo and I were traipsing up and down the street on his morning tricycle ride and one of the other houses was being re-shingled. Here was the conversation:

Y: "Mom, menden?" (What's that?)
Me: "They're fixing the roof."
Y: "Why?"
Me: "Because it was broken."
Y: "Why?"
Me: "Well, just because sometimes a roof wears out and then the rain could get inside, so they have to fix it."
Y: "Why?"
Me: (Didn't I just explain it, for crying out loud?) "Ummm...let's ride down the driveway of this empty house. Won't that be fun?"

I finally got his attention directed elsewhere, and we headed back to our house, where a city employee was flushing out the fire hydrant that sits in our front lawn.

Y: "Mom, menden?"
Me: "He's cleaning out the fire hydrant."
Y: "Why?"
Me: "Because sometimes the water gets really dirty, and they need to run it out."
Y: "Why?"
Me: "So that the water is clean again."
Y: "Why?"
Me: "How about racing to the other end of the street? Bet you can't catch me!" (Sometimes avoidance is just the best option!)

Or take lunch today:
Y: "Mom, more pineapple."
Me: "You've already had some pineapple. Eat your sandwich first, and then I'll give you some more."
Y: "Why?"
Me: "Because your sandwich is good for you. You can't live on just pineapple."
Y: "Why?"
Me: "Because I said so. Now eat it, please." (And to think that such a short time ago, I thought I was going to be above using the old stand-by "because I said so!" How the mighty have fallen!)

And what is it exactly about little boys and their fascination with grime? I was vacuuming this morning, and Yikealo wanted to go outside and blow bubbles on the front steps. The first three times I checked on him, he was blowing bubbles or stomping on bugs or running his hands over our filthy car, but after I'd put the sweeper away, he wasn't on the porch any longer, so I went outside to investigate. As I walked through the garage, he came around the side of the house clutching huge fistfulls of grass that he had yanked out of the lawn. Huh? He dropped them when he saw me, and stood there looking slightly guilty. That's when I noticed that he had dumped half a bottle of bubble solution on the front step, and was covering it up with tufts of grass. I'm not going to notice the big pile of dead grass on my steps? Not to mention the disgusting bits of sticky, soapy grass stuck to your hands? Just how unobservant do you think I am, anyway? I am so glad that I just spent 10 minutes scrubbing underneath your fingernails this morning, and now it looks like I haven't touched them in weeks!

We visited my parents again this past weekend, and got a bit of a late start driving back on Sunday evening, so Yikealo drifted off in the car. Here's a cute picture of him and his precious teddy bear Bereket.

Over the last two weeks, we've begun leaving his room before he's asleep at night. We'll usually stay with him for 10 or 15 minutes, and then kiss him goodnight and leave the room, after which he'll generally fall asleep in record time. It's turned into quite a ritual though, because when we leave, we have to say the following to Bereket also: "Bereket, listen to Yikealo. Close your eyes, be quiet, and go to sleep. I love you." Then we have to hug and kiss the teddy bear and place him on his own pillow. Yikealo grins hugely through the whole thing, and then he'll usually try to prolong it by telling us that Bereket needs to go potty or needs a drink. "Sorry son, but I know that Bereket most certainly does NOT need to go potty - now go to sleep!" Of course, Yikealo gets the parting shot: "Why?"

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Getting Healthier

Just another quick update on my health (Yikealo Groupies can quit reading now :)...

I have surgery scheduled for October 12th to reverse my stoma. On April 6th I had the remainder of my colon removed and at that time the end of my small intestine was hooked up to my rectum. In order to allow this area to heal, I was given a stoma whose function is to divert my digested food into a keen pouch that is taped/glued to my stomach. The surgery on 10/12 will put everything that belongs on my inside back on my inside and route the food back through the normal processes (sorry folks... there's just no classy way to describe all this).

I had my pre-op testing Tuesday during which 13 different people verified that my birthday was 3/20/74. In addition to confirming my birthday I had X-rays and a procedure to confirm that my guts were all hooked up and healed. They are, in fact, all healed up. I was able to look at them myself during the procedure and everything is the reassuring pink of healthy tissue. Woot!

As part of my procedure I learned that the air used to inflate my intestine during the sigmoidoscopy (or whatever they call it for folks who have no sigmoid colon) has an amusing effect on my stoma pouch. If you've ever seen the guy who makes balloon animals use his balloon inflater then you have an accurate picture. Who would have thought you could have this much fun at the doctor's?

Anyway, my blood work looked really good on Tuesday. In the March-June time period my blood test results were a real mess; there are 25 basic levels tested during the normal course of blood testing and, of these, anywhere from half to two-thirds were out of whack. Not only were they high or low, but some of them drastically so. My favorites were Sed Rate (124 on a scale where normal is 0-10) and Alkaline Phosphatase (465 on a scale where normal is 40-150). (Is that bad?) Additionally, my red blood cell count was so low that I needed to have two units of blood before my surgery and two more units on June 10th.

So yesterday, it looked like my file was mixed up with a healthy person's file: only three levels were out of the normal range and these barely so. I was amazed and so thankful. God is truly awesome!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The thousand-yard stare

David's Dad served as a medic in Vietnam, and he has often described what is known in military circles as the "thousand-yard stare" -- the far-away, unfocused gaze of a soldier who has seen too many atrocities. In Dad's case, it's usually being exhibited by other members of his platoon at one of their reunions, as they talk about the battles they saw and the friends that they lost.

Well, Yikealo has it too every now and then -- that slightly haunted, distant gaze that looks right through us and tells us that he's gone off to another place in his head. I doubt whether he has ever been exposed to a war-zone, although there's no way to know for sure what kinds of horrors he may have seen prior to March. At the very least, I'm sure that there were many times when he went without food. The stare usually happens once or twice a week, and it is almost always followed by him mentioning someone from Ethiopia. This week, David started the whole thing by telling him that Tomas was coming to America. Tomas is a very sweet nine-year old boy that we met at Hannah's Hope, and he was thrilled to meet us, as his new family also lives in Ohio. We've been following his family's blog, and his new Dad and one of his new brothers have been in Ethiopia this week to bring him home. Of course, we've been very excited about it, and David was attempting to explain the situation to Yikealo on Tuesday evening. Since I'm fairly certain that he has absolutely no concept of what "America" or "Ohio" really means, the explanation went far over his head, and all he got out of it was that Tomas was coming to Yikealo's house, and that maybe Yikealo was going to fly on an airplane to see Tomas., actually, to both scenarios. Nice going, Dear.

On Wednesday, at supper, he asked if Mihiret was coming to Yikealo's house. No to that too, bud. Sorry. He seemed okay with that, but was definitely over-reacting to almost everything that evening. He was very hyper, and would start melting down almost immediately if we tried to settle him down at all. While I was attempting to put his pajamas on at bedtime, he was bouncing wildly all over the bed, and when I told him somewhat sternly to sit still for a minute, he started crying again. I picked him up and held him, rocking him back and forth for a bit, and that's when I noticed the stare again. He was looking somewhere far, far away with a very sad look on his face, so I asked him about it: "Sweetie, what's wrong? Are you feeling sad?" It took him a few seconds to come back from wherever he was, but then he nodded and whispered, "Ow." (Yes) I asked if he missed Mihiret, and he said, "Ow" again, and then asked for her photos. We dug them out of the box of mega-blocks for the first time in over a month, and when he saw the album, he grinned and said, "Yikealo do it!" while pointing to the container of blocks. He started looking through the album and kissing her picture, and then he pointed to her hands: "Mom, hands ouchie" and proceeded to fold his hand under in the same position that Mihiret has her hands in most of the photos. We have never mentioned her hands to him, and I did not print out for his album those pictures that show the worst of the disease. It's obvious that he remembers her hands though, and I'm so glad. It tells me that he does remember HER, and it should make her relinquishment of him a bit easier to explain to him as he gets old enough to understand.

David asked him if he'd like to pray for Mihiret and her ouchie hands, and he said yes, so we spent a few minutes asking the Lord to be with her, to provide comfort and healing to her, and to help her get enought to eat. After we finished, Yikealo asked to see his album -- the one of our house -- and he kissed our pictures too. It was time for bed at that point, so he put the two albums away, ours on top of his dresser, and Mihiret's buried under all of the pillows on his floor.

The next morning, when I made his bed, I asked where he'd like to keep her photos. I didn't really want them back in the box of blocks, since he refuses to play with them while her album is in there. We agreed to keep it in one of his dresser drawers, inside the painted box where I store extra buttons. He's been completely fine ever since, but I wonder how long it will be until he wants to see it again....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Of cousins and kitties

Well, we ignored the advice from our agency and took Yikealo to my parent's house over Labor Day weekend...and it went beautifully! Both our social worker and the Family Education Coordinator at AGCI strongly suggested that internationally adopted children should not travel anywhere overnight for at least the first six months that they are home, as it can be too overwhelming and confusing for them. We've thought, though, that Yikealo has been doing great. He seems very attached and secure with both of us, and I really didn't think that he would worry that we were giving him up to someone else, so on Saturday morning, we made the three hour drive to Mom and Dad's for the weekend.

He did just great in the car, and in fact sang, "Lexi, konjo! Lexi, konjo!" most of the way there, which I must admit did get a bit tiresome to the occupants of the front seats. Lexi is my youngest brother Seth's daughter, and "konjo" means beautiful, so I guess that means that he was excited to see her again!

As soon as we got to Mom's, he dashed into the house passing out hugs to everyone, and that was the start of a truly great weekend. He got to swim in Grammy's "big woha" and play with lots of cousins. Mom and Dad currently have 11 grandchildren ages 8-1, so needless to say, it can get pretty noisy around there when the whole family is together, and I say "currently" because there are two more due at the beginning of next year! It was so great to finally introduce him to the remainder of my family, and he loved seeing Shana and Mimi again too. He just adores Shana, and submits to quite a bit of mothering from her! Of course, he bosses her around too, as evidenced by this photo!

My youngest brother Seth, his wife Casey and their two children spend every weekend at Mom and Dad's house, so Yikealo got to spend lots of quality time with their son Zavier, who is 2 1/2. The two of them are hysterical to watch! They weigh exactly the same, although Zav is a bit taller, and their coloring could not be more different. They are both "alpha males" who are very used to getting their own way, so they got a bit irritated with each other from time to time, but for the most part got along very well. Zavi followed "Yee-kee-kay-lo" around EVERYWHERE and giggled at and imitated EVERYTHING that he did. They'll probably get to spend many weekends together over the next few years until Seth finishes pharmacy school, and I hope that they get to be great friends.

Among other delights, he enjoyed time on Grammy's swing and he got to meet some alpacas down at my Uncle Randy's house.

The best part of the weekend in Yikealo's eyes was undoubtedly seeing all of Papaw's tractors. He got to take several rides in the Gator, or "alligator" as Zavi calls it, and when we visited the farm, he could not move fast enough from one huge piece of equipment to the next. He been talking non-stop about Papaw's "BIG tractors" ever since we came home.

I was the most concerned about bedtime, and wondered if Yikealo would get upset about not being at his house, but he did just fine. He thought that it was a great adventure to sleep on Grammy's floor (at the foot of our bed), and never fussed once about going to bed.

Now for the part of the weekend that I probably should have thought through a little more: about three or four weeks ago, we were adopted by a stray cat. She just moved onto our front porch and took over, no doubt encouraged by the fact that David and Yikealo fed her often. David named her "Barnacle" because of the way that she stuck like glue to the porch, and we started calling her "Barney" for short. She was a very sweet, friendly little thing, but I'm already allergic to the two cats that we have, and I really did NOT want another one. When Mom told me that Casey was wanting an outside cat, I thought we'd found the perfect solution, so we put our cat carrier in the back seat and hauled Barney out to Mom's house on Saturday. The problem arose on Monday evening when Casey loaded Barney into HER van, and we drove an empty cat carrier home. Yikealo hadn't paid all that much attention to Barney, so I hadn't thought to explain the situation to him. Apparently, that was a mistake, because he was pretty upset that Barney wasn't coming home with us, and she was the very first thing on his mind on Tuesday morning when he woke up, "Ababa, Barney outside?" He asks about her several times a day and prays for her every morning. When I say that Barney is Casey's kitty, he'll look sad and reply, "No! Yikealo's kitty!" After I explained that he already has two kitties, he's finally agreed to share Barney with Casey. Ummm....sure, I guess that we can "share" Barney....especially since she now lives two hours away from us!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What could it hurt.....?

The problem with rhetorical questions is that they typically only get answered when negative things happen. Pandora only found the answer to "what could it hurt to open this box?" after all the evil had escaped and manifested itself on the world. Lot only found the answer to "what harm could come from selecting the greener pastures?" as he watched his home destroyed and his wife turned to salt. I should have known better than to ask myself "what could it hurt to let Yikealo play in the car while I sit on the porch and have my devotions?"

These were the thoughts running through my mind as I stood watching my car's engine gasp and shake.... in my Sunday best.... in the church parking lot.... on the hottest day of summer. (Those of you who know me are probably asking yourselves: "David, what were YOU doing with your car hood up?!" Don't worry, I didn't do it. Several beneficent Brothers were kind enough to help me out - I was just watching).

As it turns out, Yikealo had turned the lights from "auto" to "on". This is not something you notice on a bright shiney day. You would think that the frantic "dinging" that announced our exit from the car would have alerted either Larisa or me to the situation. You would think...turns out my ignorance of all things automobile is not always bliss.

This is what I now know about cars:
  1. When the lights are on for 4 hours in 90 degree weather, the battery dies.
  2. When the battery is dead, the computer forgets everything.
  3. When the computer has amnesia, the car won't start immediately when you connect jumper cables. You must let the computer charge up just a little.
  4. When barely charged, the computer "remembers" how to start the car, but, apparently, still "forgets" how to manage the engine and the throttle.
  5. While the computer has engine management amnesia, the whole car shakes.
  6. While the computer has throttle amnesia you cannot go above 5 mph on a straight-away and cannot climb hills at all.
  7. Letting the car run for awhile, turning it off for 15 seconds, and then restarting helps the computer "remember" more.
  8. Your "service engine soon" light doesn't come on when the battery is dead.
  9. Your "service engine soon" light does come on before the computer remembers much else.
  10. Your "service engine soon" light goes back off if you ignore it long enough and the problem was that your battery was dead but is now charged again

All this newfound knowledge still doesn't help me with the panicked question: "how does a dead battery make my entire car shake when I restart?!" However, it does go a long way towards answering "what could it hurt to let Yikealo play in the car while I sit on the porch and have my devotions?"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

143,000,000 Orphans

I recommend that everyone check out the video from Loving Shepherd Ministries that we have posted on our sidebar. I cried the first time that I saw it. It really brings home the realization of just how MANY orphans there are in the world, and I feel so thankful that God convicted us to provide a place for one of them. At least this one is no longer homeless!

For those who don't know, Loving Shepherd is a wonderful, Christ-centered organization whose mission is to advocate for orphaned and abandoned children around the world. They are involved in a number of different ways to help orphans, and while they are not an adoption agency, they are an invaluable resource to prospective adoptive parents, by providing information about adoption specifically tailored to each family. We found that they were absolutely great to work with when we were first beginning to do our own research last fall.
You can check out their website at:

Better and better

Everything is still going REALLY well - in fact, it just gets better all the time. Yikealo is such a sweet little boy, and David and I are irrevocably in love with him. It's amazing to both of us how smoothly he has transitioned to his new life - and he is just so OURS! I honestly can't imagine a child more suited to our lifestyle and personalities, and God certainly knew what he was doing when he put Yikealo in our family. My parents visited last Friday, and my Dad made the same comment about Yikealo seeming just perfect for us.

He takes so much delight in the simplest of things. He loves to go grocery shopping and gets so excited about every single thing that we put in the cart. And then there are ice cream cones - the ultimate in pleasure!

He loves to know that things are his, and he's constantly asking about various things around the house. For example, when I fold laundry, he likes to sit on the bed and ask about every single item of his clothing: "Mom, shirt yenna no?" Me: "Yes, Yikealo, it's yours." Yikealo, with a big smile: "Thank you!" Then he generally needs to hug the item in question. My Dad is a farmer, and knowing Yikealo's fascination with vehicles, he brought a stack of farm magazines for the boy last Friday, which pretty much sealed Yikealo's affection for his Papaw! I am no help whatsoever in telling him what the various pieces of machinery in the photos are called, but he loves to look through them, and he continually wants to have it confirmed that they are his.

Of course, he still likes to "borrow" our clothes too. Every Sunday morning after he is dressed, he grabs one of David's ties and keeps himself entertained for at least 15 minutes by tying it intricately around his neck. Last Sunday while he was checking out the results in the full-length mirror in his room, I walked in to do the same with my outfit. When he saw my shoes (pink and white gingham high heels) his eyes lit up, he sucked in an awe-struck breath, and immediately claimed my shoes for himself! Ummmm....I think we might need to work on your sense of style, buddy!

Today, in the back yard, he became enthralled with the texture of the bark on one of our big maple trees, and he wanted to know if the tree was his. When I said that it was, he kissed it.

He no longer minds affection between David and I. In fact, last week when David kissed him goodbye before leaving for work, he told him to "Kiss Amama too." He's also okay with letting me out of his sight for brief periods of time during the day. During the last few weeks, he's begun allowing me to go to the basement by myself to start a load of laundry, and he'll sometimes play outside or in the garage by himself for a bit. He's finally realized that I'm not going to disappear if he's not with me every second.

Last Saturday evening, we had family night at David's parents' house, and for the very first time, Yikealo really engaged in play with his cousins. Every other time he's been with them, he's pretty much ignored them, but this time, he played in the basement with Cole and Quinn and then wrestled around with Clint and Abby and they all chased each other around and around through the living room and dining room. It was loud and wild and fairly obnoxious, and....SO good to see! James and Susan enjoyed it too, because it was the first time that their kids had obviously enjoyed playing at Grandpa and Grandma's house since Mark and Julie's family moved to Atlanta two and a half years ago. Yay! Another cousin their age!

This morning, while Yikealo was splashing around in the bathtub, I heard him start talking, so I peeked around the corner to see him staring his rubber ducky sternly in the eye. Here was the "conversation":
YIKEALO: Listen, ducky! Potty?
DUCKY (in a high-pitched, squeaky voice): No potty.
YIKEALO: Okay, shinte pants, AYDELEM. Shinte pants, Yikealo MAD! Shinte, say "Yikealo, potty!" Okay?
DUCKY: Okay, Yikealo.
YIKEALO: Good job, Ducky!

I cracked up laughing at that point, and he looked up and grinned at me, and then told me, "Ducky good job, Mom!" Then he held out his water-filled duck and wanted me to make the ducky go potty, so I dutifully emptied Ducky into the toilet, while Yikealo praised, "Good boy, Ducky!" Can you tell this is a very familiar topic of conversation around our house? Hey, at least I know he's listening!

Here was his prayer at lunch today: "Dear Jesus, thank you for Amama, for Ababa, for photo (camera), for wetet (milk), for sandwich, for phone, for medicine, for Jesus, AMEN!" Then he wanted to "Pay more" (pray again - specifically his bedtime prayer) so we said "Now I lay me down to sleep" before eating our turkey sandwiches. I guess we will be "laying us down to sleep" for our afternoon nap shortly!