Thursday, March 25, 2010

Referral Photos

It was one year ago today that we saw Yikealo's face for the very first time in the referral photos that our agency e-mailed to us. We had been waiting for a week while David's surgeon wrote a letter to AGCI stating that his upcoming surgery would not hamper his ability to parent, and we had been calling every single day to see if the letter had been sent yet. On the morning of the 25th, I was praying about Yikealo right before I picked up my Bible to read. I had been working through the One Year Bible, and the Psalm reading for that day really spoke to me, especially these verses: “A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in His holy habitation. God setteth the solitary in families…” I told David that I just had a feeling that we would finally receive the photos that day!

I was right. That afternoon, AGCI e-mailed us the referral information on a little boy named Yikealo Haftu. I can't begin to explain how it felt to sit down at our computer to open the photos of the child that would more than likely become our son. I was so excited and so nervous. David and I prayed together before opening the file, and this was the first picture that we saw:
It was labeled "first day at HH", and we could so easily see the pain and confusion in his eyes. He looked like his whole world had been torn apart, which in reality, it had. Other photos showed him full-length, dressed in little girl's jeans that said "Princess" in sparkly letters across one thigh, pink tennis shoes, and a string of green beads around his neck. All of the photos from that first day show the same haunted look to his eyes, and they still break my heart to look at them.

There were lots of other pictures too though, ones that showed a happy smile and a little boy who seemed to be adjusting really well to his new temporary home.

I was so completely caught off guard by his appearance - he didn't look AT ALL the way that I had been picturing him, and David and I were both shocked by how much he resembled a couple of our nephews. When we got to this photo,
we said in unison, "Oh my! He looks like Cole!" We were both crying and laughing. I remember looking into that little face on the computer screen and asking over and over, "Are you my son?" as if he could somehow reply.

When we had thoroughly looked through the file, David walked over to his Bible and asked God for some confirmation. "Father, we've been praying all along that the very first referral would be the child that You intended for us. We're a little confused with the timing, Lord, and we don't really understand why this is happening right as I face what could be a life-threatening health condition, so we're asking for some direction. Above all, we don't want to jeopardize this little boy's future in any way, so if we're supposed to wait for some reason, please let us know. "  He let the Bible fall open in his hands and looked down at it. Moments later, he looked up at me with tears streaming down his face and said, "Well, there's our answer!" He then read out loud to me, “I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” (Psalm 2: 7-8)

I am still in awe of the way that God spoke to us throughout our adoption journey, and I am so thankful that we serve a Father who chooses to answer our questions and to provide clarity when we need it. I don't know what the future holds, but I know that He does, and I feel so secure in that knowledge!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Looking Back on Our Referral

It was one year ago today that we got "the call" - as it is known in adoption circles - and unlike the typical adoptive parents who have been waiting and hoping for their referral, ours caused complete panic! Here's a little bit of our worldview at that time:

We had finished our last social worker visit on February 25th, and when she left our house, she told us that we probably wouldn't hear anything further for at least a month. She had to write the report, send it off to the main office in Oregon for approval, get an approved copy back in the mail and have it notarized. She said that we might be on the waiting list by early April.

David had been having some Crohn's issues since the middle of January, and a routine test on March 4th showed what looked like a possible abcess in his abdomen. The doctors were very concerned and thought that he was probably going to need surgery to remove the remainder of his colon, (he'd had about 2/3 of it removed 4 years earlier) but they decided to treat him with antibiotics for two weeks and do another CT scan on March 20th. We were hoping and praying for healing, and had made the decision not to call Julie (our case worker) about the potential surgery until we knew for sure whether he actually needed it or not. If the test results were better, nothing would have changed in our file; if they were worse and surgery was imminent, we'd have plenty of time to let her know before we even made it to the waiting list, right?

Imagine my utter shock on the afternoon of March 18th when I learned from David that Julie had called him at work to tell him that she "had a little guy that she needed to talk to us about." I stammered out all kinds of things like, "But our home study isn't even approved yet!" and "We can't possibly take a referral now! What if you need surgery?" and "David, what in the world are we going to do?" He calmly said, "Honey, God knows the future. I don't know any more details than what I told you, because I asked Julie if she could please call us back this evening to talk to both of us at once. When she calls back, we can ask her all of these questions, okay? Hang in there."

I was in my car at the time, and when I hung up, I had tears streaming down my face. I felt absolutely overwhelmed and panicky. After praying desperately for awhile - "Lord, please help us know what to do here! I'm not ready for this! Why is it happening right now?" - I turned the stereo back on as I continued to drive toward home. The very first words that I heard were from Steve Green's "All Is Well":

He's ordained the paths we take,
What father would his child forsake?
Immanuel, God is with us, all is well.

When life is like a tempest sea,
His Spirit calms the storm in me.
God sets my anxious soul at ease
When the winds of trouble blow.
Peace is a place, a harbor safe
For riding out the storm.
For each there's a grace, a strong embrace,
The comfort of the Lord.
He's ordained the paths we take,
What Father would His child forsake?
Immanuel, God is with us, all is well.

Those words reassured me that God knew exactly where I was right then, and He knew all about the little boy that Julie had mentioned. Still, it was impossible to think clearly for the rest of the afternoon until David got home. We prayed together and discussed possibilities until the phone rang. As soon as we answered, before we could get a single word in about our situation, Julie started spilling information! "We've got a little guy to talk about! His name is...let's see...Yikky-Ay-Lo? I'll have to find out how to pronouce that for sure..."  We learned about his mother's leprosy, that he had an older brother, and that he was from the Tigray region. He had just arrived at Hannah's Hope on March 5th, and he was healthy, except for some ringworm, which was being treated. When she paused for a breath, I said, "But we haven't even heard that our home-study was approved yet!" She answered that it had been and then looked down at her paperwork for confirmation. "Actually, it was just approved yesterday!" When she finished talking, she said that she would e-mail his entire file to us, including photos, and we should let her know the following day whether we wanted to proceed. If so, she would then send us the official referral packet. That's when I was finally able to discuss our predicament: "Ummm, Julie, we're actually having a CT-scan done in two days that may show that David needs to have a very serious surgery that could require a lengthy recovery time. Knowing that, I'm assuming that you probably don't want us to have a referral yet?"  After talking a bit more, she decided that she would "hold" the file until we called her about the results on Friday. If surgery was not necessary, we could proceed, but if David DID need an operation, then they would give the referral to someone else, and our file would be put aside until David was fully recovered.

We spent the next day calling our family and some of our closest friends to ask for their prayers - for David's health and for the little boy that was now firmly in our thoughts. On March 20th, David's 35th birthday, our visit to the Cleveland Clinic confirmed our fears: David needed surgery and would have a temporary stoma for possibly up to 6 months. The surgeon stated that it would be possible to travel with the stoma, so the adoption hopefully wouldn't need to be put on hold until after the second surgery. We spent the whole day meeting with various doctors and nurses and going through pre-op testing. When we were finally able to leave the hospital around 5:00 that afternoon, we were physically and emotionally exhausted. We had planned to spend the night at a hotel in Cleveland to celebrate David's birthday, and as we moved our luggage, we were both grieving the loss of a little boy named Yikealo. Why had that referral call come on Wednesday? Why had we learned so many details about someone that now we would never meet? Why had God led us to adoption at the same precise time that David was having a health crisis of sorts?

Once we checked into our room, we called Julie to tell her the news. She reaffirmed what she had told us on Wednesday - that our case would be put on hold indefinitely until David was back to health following his surgery. She was excited that the stoma didn't seem to be an issue as far as proceeding eventually, but said that for the time being, they would give Yikealo's referral to someone else. Right before she hung up, she said that she would need to verify her decision with Hollen Frazier, one of the directors of AGCI, but Hollen was out of the office for several days, and we probably wouldn't hear back from her for a week or so. When we got off the phone, I was really struggling with my emotions: "Here we go again, Lord. I just hate the thought of sitting in that hospital waiting room for hours upon hours while I wait to hear how my husband is doing. How am I going to take care of a stoma anyway? Ugh! Why did we learn about Yikealo just in time to find out that our adoption is being put on hold indefinitely? What are You trying to teach me here?"

As I paced the room, trying to gain some equilibrium, David's phone rang. To our surprise, it was Julie again, "Hey guys! You're not going to believe this, but Hollen just stopped by the office for a few minutes to get something. I happened to run into her in the hall, and I told her about your situation. After discussing it, we've decided that we'd like to go ahead and proceed with you. We need you to get your doctor to send a letter to us stating that this surgery will not affect your ability to parent a child. Once we get that letter, we will go ahead. Could you possibly see if you can get it to me early next week?"

HUH??? What happened to putting our case on hold, you ask? We believe that it was God - weaving together a very complicated set of timelines and circumstances to join us with our son. There are so many reasons why Yikealo becoming our child shouldn't have been possible in the "normal" scheme of things, but we serve the God of the impossible, and He delights in stretching and molding us more fully into His image. He cares about the most minute details of our lives, and His plans are perfect even when - maybe especially when - they seem too hard. The following weeks got more and more precarious for us - and I may write more about that at a later date - but as we look back over the last year to the day when we first heard Yikealo's name (sort of!) we stand in awe of our holy, powerful Father and what He has done for us! Praise His name!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Meeting an Old Friend

We had a great weekend in Michigan where Yikealo got to see Zipporah, one of his good friends from Hannah's Hope. AGCI had a family get-together at a children's museum in Grand Rapids, and since our cousin Eric lives in GR, we decided to make a weekend of it. We left on Friday afternoon, stopped in Toledo at a hotel, and then drove the rest of the way on Saturday morning. The hotel was great fun, of course, since there was an indoor swimming pool, and Yikealo cannot get enough of "big woha" entertainment. The bad part was that I forgot his water wings, and this child has absolutely NO FEAR!! His wriggly, slippery little body is not easy to hold onto in the pool when he is constantly fighting to get down. I definitely need to enroll him in swimming lessons before our trip to the beach this summer, because I don't think that David and I have enough eyes between us to watch him carefully enough around water.

One amusing picture from the way to the museum on Saturday morning:
Is this a spoiled modern kid or what? Shades pushed up on his head, looking at a Thomas book while listening to his I-pod shuffle and drinking the last of my Cinnamon Dolce Latte from Starbucks.

Zipporah's family lives close to the museum, so they were already there when we arrived. We had been showing Yikealo pictures and talking about Zipporah all week long, and he had been excited about seeing her, but he acted pretty shy once we actually saw her. She, on the other hand, came running up shouting his name and gave him a big hug! We spent quite a bit of time with her family while we were in Ethiopia, and they were seated just across the aisle from us on the flight home. Yikealo and Zipporah spent a lot of time jabbering to each other in Amharic and squealing with delight over all the cars and planes at the Dulles airport, so it was great to see them together again. She is such a gorgeous little girl!
Yikealo and she spent a little time playing with bubbles together, but then they went their separate ways for a while.

Yikealo ran around trying out all kinds of different things and especially loved playing with the legos, but before long, he was asking, "Mom, where's Kenean?" Kenean was Zipporah's Ethiopian name, so that told me that he really did remember her. I said that I didn't know, but we could go find her if he wanted to see her again. He replied, "Yeah, I wanna find her. I wanna give her a hug." Once we did find her, he decided he really didn't want to hug her after all, but apparently he just liked knowing where she was. They spent quite a bit of time chasing each other through a triangular mirrored tunnel, and she just laughed and laughed. I think that she may have a most infectious giggle I've ever heard!

Unfortunately, I never was able to get a good picture of the two of them together, but I did take some  photos of Yikealo and Zipporah's 5-year old sister Reese, who was adopted from China 3 years ago. Aren't these kids darling?

By this time, it was mid-afternoon, and all of the little ones were starting to get pretty cranky. Zipporah's family left for home in order to take naps, and soon after they left, Yikealo was asking about her again. "Mom, where's Kenean?" Me: "Sweetie, she went home to take a nap. Why, do you miss her?"  Y: "Ummm...maybe.....Yes, I do." We played for awhile longer, and then decided to walk around outside to enjoy the sunshine. A few more pictures from the museum:

It's around this time of year when I start to realize just how starved for sunshine I really am. We spent probably a good hour wandering around downtown Grand Rapids, thoroughly enjoying the mid-40's temperature. It's just so good to see the sun again!

We eventually met Eric at a great Ethiopian vegetarian restaurant for dinner, and then headed to his house for the night. Yikealo hadn't taken a nap, and was SOOO tired by this point. One interesting thing about this kid is that when he's tired he gets HYPER, so he was absolutely bouncing off the walls. Thankfully, Eric's a great sport and seems to really enjoy wound-up little boys. Either that, or he's a good actor! At any rate, a big thanks to Eric for his hospitality and for letting Yikealo tear around his house.

On Sunday, we went to church with Eric, where Yikealo started introducing himself to everyone as "Ike." We've tossed around the idea of using Ike as a nickname, but he's never really wanted anything to do with it before, always saying, "No, my name is Yikealo!"  On the drive home that evening, we talked about it:

Me: "Yikealo why were you telling people that your name was Ike today? It's fine if that's what you want, but usually you say that your name is Yikealo." 
Y: "I no wanna say Yikealo. It sounds funny." 
Me: "No it doesn't. It's a very nice name. But,do you mean that when you tell people that your name is Yikealo, they look at you kind of funny and say, 'What??'" 
Y:  "Yeah, I no like it."
Me: "Well, you know what? People do the same thing to me. When I say that my name is 'La-ree-sa,' they always say 'What??' and then they call me 'La-riss-a' or 'Lucinda' or 'Clarissa' or something like that. So I know how you feel, but you shouldn't let what other people think upset you. If you want to be Ike, that's fine, but if you want to be Yikealo, that's great too, okay?"
Y: "Okay. I wanna be Yikealo right now. Sometimes I Ike and sometimes I Yikealo."

Makes sense to me! Since then he's asked me repeatedly to tell him again about people's reactions to my name, and yesterday morning, he informed me that his name was "Yikealo David Larisa Joy."  Hmmm...maybe a bit unwieldy, ya think?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Queen Buster and Other Stories

Yikealo continues to do very well with his new life - it's hard to believe that he's been here for 8 months as of today. He speaks only in English now, although we do have some pronunciation issues from time to time. Take his memory verses for Sunday School, for example: the three year old class is learning the 23rd Psalm this year, with a new phrase being added every two weeks. It took me a couple of days to convince him that "Da Luord is my Shepherd, I shall NOT!" or "Da Luord is my Shepherd, I no want it" were NOT the same thing as "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want!"

Two days ago, Yikealo and David were snuggling in our bed in the morning when David called me back for an interpretation:
D: "Honey, he's saying something about Buster crying in the door because Mom and Dad are all gone. Do you know what he's talking about?"
Me: "Hmmmm.....I have no idea. Yikealo, can you tell me what you just told Daddy?"
Y: "Yeah, Mom, menember story? Buster is cryin' in the door because Mama all gone and Daddy all gone? In my book?"
Me: "Sweetie, I don't know what you're talking about. I don't remember reading a book about someone named Buster."
Y: "Mom, in my book! I show ya." (Runs off to the bookshelf and returns with "My Bible Friends - Book 4" - open to "Esther, the Brave Queen.") "See, Mom? Buster!"
Me: (Giggling) "So, I guess we did read about Buster! Somehow, though, "Queen Buster" just doesn't have the same ring as "Queen Esther."

(You'll notice, of course, which part of the story held the most significance for him. Esther, the orphan girl, crying because she was all alone before her cousin Mordecai came to get her.)

Other Yikealo-ized Bible stories include his very favorite: David and Goliath. We've been reading him a Bible story at bedtime every night, and when we finish reading, he ALWAYS has to turn back to the pictures of Goliath, by which he is completely fascinated. Then he always asks David what the giant is saying. I think after the first two weeks or so, David was getting a little bored of the routine, so he started ad libbing (in his very best deep, gruff, giant voice, of course!): "HA HA HA! YOUR GOD IS TOO LITTLE TO SAVE YOU! I AM GOING TO KILL YOU AND EAT YOU ON TOAST!" and other such nonsense. The other day, Yikealo came running to me with his favorite giant picture and asked again what the giant was saying. I told him to tell me, since he's heard it so many times. He immediately puffed out his chest, scrunched up his face and using his very best, deep, gruff giant voice he said, "I'M EATING TOAST! HA HA!!!" Okay, so I cracked up laughing, which is probably how the Israelites would've responded to such a threat too. I mean, really, can you think of anything more frightening than a toast-eating giant?

Yikealo also informed David yesterday morning that "Dear God says 'Don't read the Bible!'" This was in response to David telling Y that no, he was not going to read Green Eggs and Ham for the 1000th time because he was in the middle of having his morning devotions. We tried to set him straight on that account, but that will only last until the next time that he wants to give us orders of some kind. His direct line to "Dear God's" voice always seems to correlate to what he wants somehow!

Speaking of Dr. Seuss classics, another book that Yikealo loves is "Fox in Socks" - with his favorite line being, "I can't say this blibber blubber! My tongue is not made of rubber!" He walks around repeating this over and over until I honestly feel like my head is ringing. A few days ago, we arrived home with groceries, which I proceeded to carry into the house. When I returned to the car, Yikealo was carrying on a very loud conversation with our elderly next door neighbor, Wanda - across the snowy yards separating our houses. As I walked out of the garage, I heard him shouting, "I can't say dis bibber bubber! My tongue is not made of bubber!" Wanda looked slightly affronted, so I quickly explained that he was only quoting Dr. Seuss. Honestly, of all the things to be shouting to a nice neighbor that you really haven't seen for several months because you've all been shut indoors. Oh well, that's a little boy for ya!

And we musn't forget his version of "Ring Around the Rosie," which goes like this:
"Ring awound a werzy,
Pocket full 'o me,
Ashton, Ashton,
You fall down!"
This, of course, is the most fun when you are spending time with your cousin Ashton, and can use it as an excuse to boss him around.

As I've mentioned before, it does make me sad to see all of his Amharic go by the wayside. It's unbelievable to me that words which were part of our everyday life just 2 months ago no longer have any meaning for him, and in some cases, he can't even pronounce them correctly when we mention them. The human brain is an amazing creation, and this little guy's resiliency has overwhelmed me. It was probably one year ago today that Mihiret relinquished him. He arrived at Hannah's Hope on March 5th, just a couple of days after his mother had given him up to some men associated with AGCI in the northern city of Mekele. So many changes in one year's time, and yet it seems that he's taken most of them right in stride. We grow more thankful every day for his presence in our lives!