cultivate (kuhl - tuh - veyt)
v. 1) develop 2) nurture

graft (grahft)
n. 1) transplant 2) bud 3) union

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Something For Everyone To Do

I feel like I've hit you hard this month. The global orphan crisis is formidable to look squarely in the face. Thank you for trudging through the ugliness of it with me. I'm convinced there is a no more accurate portrayal of God's love for us than adoption. In my absolute wretchedness, God picked me up, cleaned the filth off of me, gave me garments fit for a daughter of the King and called me His own. Can I not go and do likewise for the "least of these"?

This looks different for each person. There are a good number of ways to get involved in caring for the orphan:

1. Sponsor a child. Think of this as orphan prevention.*

2. Similarly, financial giving to sponsorship organizations helps families fight poverty, which is a leading motivation for giving a child up for adoption in Third World nations.
3. Shop! Especially this time of year, you're already shopping for gifts. Make it count. Purchase gifts that benefit African women, adoption fundraising, etc.**
4. Become a Guardian or Prayer Warrior for children on websites like Reese's Rainbow.
5. Advocate for orphans on social media sites.
6. Volunteer to help families who are fundraising for an adoption.
7. Give financially to adopting families and/or donate towards adoption grants.***
8. Recognize the unique challenges kinship adoptive families face (it's not easy being raised by your grandparents/aunts/uncles, and for them to raise their grand kids/nieces/nephews). It can be highly isolating for these families. Their stories are almost always tragic. Regard them just as you would any other adoptive family. They need your support!
9. Become foster certified to offer respite for foster families.****
10. Speaking of foster families, boy do they have a doozy of a job! Here are a couple of ways to assist foster families:
     A. Upon placement, meals can be a godsend, because they are running like crazy the first week (getting kiddos enrolled in school, therapy and counseling appointments set up, doctor's appointments, etc.). They also may need some clothes for their new kids, depending on what they already have in their stash.
     B. Upon reunification (or any other reason for leaving the foster family's home), support the family during their "regrouping" time. If there are other kids in the home, keep in mind, they just lost a sibling.
     C. Also, keep in mind that other kids already established in the home (either biological or prior adoptions) may or may not be thrilled with their new sibling(s). Be sensitive in assuming they are on board. (Thank you, Melissa, for bringing this to my attention).
     D. PRAYER!!!!!
11. Mentor foster children. Kids in group homes are not getting the one-on-one time they desperately crave.
12. Become foster parents.
14. How can you help foster kids and adopted children? I've already thrown out quite a few things to do (or not do), but here are a couple quick reminders:
     A. PRAYER!!!!
     B. Use discretion when talking with the parents. This may come as a surprise, but not all foster and adopted kids are deaf. They can hear your insensitive inquiries. Asking if their "real" parents died of AIDS, or are in jail, or did drugs is not cool.
     C. Along the same lines, these are children we are talking about, not fish in a fishbowl. Unless they are auditioning for American Idol, they probably don't want all the attention.

So there you go. Just a small list of possibilities. I urge you to not glibly skip over numbers 9-13. It's easy to assume those toughies are for someone else. But maybe. just maybe, one of those numbers is piercing your soul.

Thanks for walking through this challenging month with me.



P.S. A big, fat "Thank you" to Tiffany for sharing her Pinterest board with me. And for Lesley sharing her heart for foster care! You ladies rock my world. 

*Compassion International and World Vision are two great sponsorship organizations.

**Everything from Pampered Chef, Etsy, necklaces, coffee, etc. Check out my friend's Pinterest board. It's a veritable smorgasbord of amazingness, including fair trade options and opportunities galore to bless those in need and assist adoptive families in their fundraising.  
***Show Hope is just one of several reputable grant organizations. Just promise me you'll research the organization first. We don't want to pad the wallets of scammers.
****It's only necessary to become certified if you are going to babysit for an extended amount of time (ie. a weekend). Offering your friends an evening out without the kiddos (hint, hint) does NOT require certification.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Day My Heart Broke

We were standing outside an orphanage, waiting for the drivers to unload our donations. I stood by like a helpless American while they hefted huge boxes down from the tops of their vans. A nearby window was open and there's nothing like a group of ferengis* to draw a crowd. In mere moments, the window was crowded to capacity with little arms straining to reach us. Their noses were drippy, their clothes were dingy and their eyes held unreserved, unwavering hope. They all said the same haunting word over and over.

Ah-by-ay, ah-by-ay, ah-by-ay...

Daddy? Daddy? Daddy? 

Are you my daddy?

As hard as it was to leave Sophia behind, it was bitterly more heartbreaking to leave these children. Sophia had a family. She was desired, loved and cherished. I was coming back for her. No one was coming for these children. Despite this horrible truth, their hope remained undimmed during our entire visit at their orphanage.

I firmly believe there are people reading these words, knowing God is telling you it's time. Your family is missing someone around the dinner table. Your movie nights need another child snuggled next to you on the couch. There's one more stocking to add to the mantel.

And somewhere there is a child waiting for you to be their ah-by-ay and eh-my-ay.**

Irreparably Broken For The Better,

P.S. I want to address ways other than adoption to help the orphan, but first will you please, please, please with a cherry on top spend earnest time in prayer, seeking God's heart for your family and keeping an open mind?

*Amharic for "non-black foreigner".
**It's probably obvious, but Amharic for "daddy" and "mama".

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Long before Sophia came home, God gave me a beautiful glimpse of His desire for the orphan.

Allow me to take you along for the ride.

Imagine a Ukranian orphanage being converted to a church. Why? Because an entire church in the U.S. adopted every single orphan in that miserable facility.

Imagine a Guatemalan village growing strong families. Why? Because a church in the U.S. sponsored all their kids through Compassion International or World Vision

Imagine an Ethiopian mother who doesn't have to choose between a death sentence for her baby and placing that child in the arms of a stranger who will replace her as Mama. Why? Because churches are providing micro loans to single mothers, equipping them with life skills and materials to provide for their children.

Imagine older children, and those with "special needs" being embraced into families all across the nation. Why? Because churches are fostering an environment that says, "We aren't afraid to dream big, take risks, and live dangerously for the sake of the gospel."*

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep
oneself from being polluted by the world.
James 1:27

Imagine talking to a social worker who just cannot believe the sheer volume of mentors and foster parents lining up to fill a gaping hole in the life of a hurting teenager. Why? Because pulpits across America are preaching it loud and clear:

Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause
of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.
Isaiah 1:17

Imagine visiting a website like only to see a banner scrolling across the top that reads, "There are no children available for adoption at this time. Please fill out the form below to be put on our wait list." Why? Because the Church became ignited with a passion to address the orphan crisis in their own backyard.

Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the
oppressed and the destitute.
Psalm 82:3

Imagine all of God's precious children being tucked into beds at night, cheered for during a soccer game, or comforted when their first crush ignores them.

Once our eyes are opened we can’t pretend we don’t know what to
do. God who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls knows that we
know and holds us responsible to act.
Proverbs 24:12

Thank You For Imagining With Me,

*AKA, "Can't touch this, Satan. My God's got my back."

Monday, November 19, 2012

Obstacles Schmobstacles

The obstacles in adoption tend to paralyze waaaaay too many people. I truly understand how intimidating the process can be. I also know how incredibly rewarding it is.

Below are, what I consider to be, the most common arguments thrown down, and my honest, non-snarky responses.

I'm not called to adoption.
This one is tough, because the majority of the people who say this have spent diddly time praying, seeking God's will, receiving wise counsel and truly considering why they aren't "called" to adopt. That said, I do not believe that every Christian should adopt. I also don't view adoptive Christian families as spiritually superior. Trust me, we're just as screwed up as the rest of the families in the pews on Sunday. Every single Christian is not necessarily ordained to adopt, but every single Christian is absolutely-without-a-shadow-of-a-doubt called to care for the orphan. It's a default setting (more on this later).

I always wanted to adopt.
I'm sure that's of comfort to the child who said "I always wanted a family" and never got one. Harsh, I know, but the faces of countless street children demand I speak up.

Adoption is so expensive.
My God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. I've heard enough stories of miraculous provision to know that nothing is impossible! In addition, there are roughly a bazillion resources available for funding an adoption.

The process takes too long.
Oftentimes they have waited just as long, if not longer. Millions of these beloved children of God have languished in orphanages for YEARS. This should not be.

We don't have the space in our home.
I guarantee you do. If you have room in your heart, you can make room in your house. We don't need a separate play room for all of our children's toys. We can add on a room. We can move into a larger home. We can make do with less so a child can have so much more.

I don't think I could love a child that isn't biologically mine.
While a valid concern, there are resources galore to help with this. Most adoptive families work hard to foster strong bonds and healthy attachment. With this comes a fierce love that is stronger than mere genetics.

I don't want to end up with a "messed up" kid.
Then don't have kids at all.*

We would only be open to infants, because we want to avoid the "issues" older orphans have.
I hear what you're saying, and once upon a time I echoed that sentiment. However, trauma is trauma no matter the age. Some of the worst effects of attachment and bonding trauma occur before the age of two, which means the infant you want to adopt is not a blank slate. He/She is still at risk of attachment issues down the road. Adopting an infant is not the "safe" route.**

I want to adopt, but my spouse isn't on board.
Pray and don't stop. Most of the time, it's the wife who wants to adopt and the husband who isn't so hot on the idea. Pushing the issue can create serious resentment. Wives, bring it to God, and don't nag. Husbands, there is just about nothing sexier than a man who steps up to embrace the fatherless. We ladies go weak in the knees.***

Take It Into Consideration,

*Where is the guarantee that all biological kids will turn out perfectly? I must have missed that page in the manual.
**Dr. Karyn Purvis is a wealth of information on the topic.
***Not even kidding.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

...Don't say anything at all.

Humor is practically a requirement in the world of adoption.

Things People Say:

She's so lucky.
We're both blessed to have each other.

Where is her real mom?
I'm not imaginary. 

Does she speak English?
Nope. We're closet Amharic speakers.

Why didn't you adopt from the U.S.?
They were fresh out of orphans.*

Now that you've adopted, I bet you'll get pregnant!
It's not a fertility treatment.**

I always wanted to adopt.
Crickets chirping
What a nice story.

She's so cute. I don't know how someone could give her away.
Because all major life decisions are based on appearances.

Your birth mom loved you so much. That's why she gave you away.
Thanks for giving my kid a complex about parental love.

She's going to be a track star!***
Yesterday she ran into a wall.

Does she get along with your other kids?
Like sisters.

I think it's great that you adopted when you could just have your own.
They are all my own. I promise none of them are loaners.

Where did you get her?
Three words: Blue Light Special.

Now you, at least, know what not to say to adoptive families.

Laugh a Little,

*I jest. Every family arrives at this decision for different and personal reasons.
**For the record, we were trying to conceive our latest peanut. However, if you're saying this to someone who struggles with infertility, don't be surprised if you get punched in the face.
***The stereotypes vary depending on what country your child is from. Because everyone knows that all Africans are fast runners, all Asians are mathematical geniuses and all Russians are alcoholics. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Our Journey to Sophia: Part Two

Let's see...Oh yeah! I left you all sobbing uncontrollably from our touching video. 

If you missed Part One, it's kind of a big deal, so go back and read it. 

Let me start by saying that every adoption story begins with gut-wrenching loss and grief.* This concept became painfully tangible to me when it came time to leave the transition home with Sophia. Ethiopians are not given to displays of strong emotions (at least not in public). To face a room full of nannies who had known my child more intimately and for a longer period of time was humbling. To observe their tearful goodbyes was crushing. The only thing I could do was offer my sincerest appreciation for the role they played in my daughter's life. "Thank you" was not enough, but it was all I had to offer. 

As painful as this was for the nannies, there was, and is, another woman who grieves more deeply. She loved this child first. Her arms will be empty tonight, while mine are overflowing with the blessings of children. Sophia and her birth mama both suffered traumatic loss just a few months into Sophia's life. A loss that each of them will undoubtedly grapple with for a lifetime. There is a part of Sophia that can never be adopted. A part of her will always belong to another mama, another country and another culture. To top it all off, every fiber of that was ripped from her when she and I stepped onto the airplane. The cabin door sealed, shutting out everything familiar. 

Yes. Every adoption story comes at a steep emotional cost. 

Here's where the plot really thickens. Refill your coffee, stretch your legs and then come back.

I'll spare you the flight details, but I will say this: If you are traveling internationally and see a woman on the verge of sleep-deprived hysteria, carrying a child who is leaking poop, your sympathy (and some baby wipes) will go a considerable distance to restoring a smidgen of sanity for that woman. She has a long road ahead of her.

The airport is where all the magic happens. You are greeted by signs, balloons, flowers, teddy bears, your own cheering section, and enough camera flashes to feel like the paparazzi have found you out. Everyone at the gate knows what's going down and a lump forms in the throats of onlookers and passerbyers. It's a "Dear Diary" moment. Everyone feels good for giving you a proper welcoming, but they have no idea what else to do. 

After the airport is light years more crucial than those few minutes in the airport. 

While we truly appreciated the support shown at the airport, I felt completely misunderstood and alienated in the following weeks. While I wanted nothing more than to cocoon in our home and focus on attachment and bonding, circumstances outside of my control dictated otherwise. I felt forced to go out in public, when it was least desirable to do so. Well-meaning people would say things like, "This is so precious." or "You just fit together so beautifully."or "Look at how happy she is with you!" It took every bit of fortitude I could muster to plaster on a fake smile and say "Thank you". No meal deliveries had been set up. Two friends independently brought us enough food to last a few meals and one young woman did some grocery shopping for us. They are all lucky I didn't turn into a sobbing puddle of gratefulness. Our phone remained silent. No one asked how they could help or how they could pray for us. 

I won't belabor this point, but I want to make it crystal clear that Post Adoption Depression is real and very sticky. Sticky because it is a big question mark to those outside the adoption community. Everyone understands Postpartum Depression. We identitfy the hormonal changes as the major culprit. Considering the lack of hormonal changes taking place in an adoption, struggling newly adoptive parents just seem mental and needy. There's a sense that others are thinking, "You made your bed. Now lie in it." You chose this path. Ouch.

So here's what I have to say to families who are waiting to bring home an adopted child (or children):

1. Rest in the Lord's timing. I know it's agonizing, but savor this season and use it prepare your heart for the tough months to follow. Saturate yourself with God's word.

2. Devise your "after the airport" plan, and stick to your guns. You will not be popular. You can always relax the plan as you reevaluate. Yes. You will miss out on things. Events will come and go on your calendar. So be it.

3. Set up a strong support system. Do not be shy about telling people ahead of time what you will need. Encourage close friends, family and pastors to educate themselves on the unique challenges adoptive families face. There are excellent resources available that you can pass along to your support network. Get to know adoptive families. Most of us are more than willing to answer your questions and address your concerns with transparency. Ask someone to be in charge of setting up meals. It doesn't matter whether you are bringing home a baby or a fourteen year-old, you will appreciate this gesture!  

4. Lastly (and unfortunately), be prepared for criticism. A lot of people don't understand the delicate thread holding your family together right now. In our case, most people didn't seem to understand that a one year-old is not a "blank slate".** It didn't compute that she couldn't be held by everyone or go in the church nursery. Again, stick to your guns. It'll be worth it in the long run.

To friends and family of a future adoptive couple:

Don't wait until the airport to declare your support. Walk the long journey with them. Let them know ahead of time that you want to help them during the tough first months. Respect the boundaries they lay out. Call them to ask what they need. Don't wait for them to call you. Remember that they won't always be this needy-it's only a season. Let them vent and say demented things without passing judgement on them.

One of the best conversations I had during the rocky first weeks was with a friend who caught me at a vulnerable moment. I confessed my attitude and admitted to sounding like a deranged woman. Her response was heaven-sent. She told me nothing I could have said would have sounded crazy. I clung to that small measure of acceptance. Every adoptive family needs that caliber friend.

Adoptive families, what did I miss?

Striving for Transparency,


*I know this doesn't fit nicely into adoption reality tv shows. POP! Now that your bubble is burst, we can continue.

**More on this later. Consider it a cliffhanger. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Our Journey to Sophia: Part One

It's time to unpack our adoption story for you.

WARNING: Most adoption journeys are not Hallmark Channel pretty. The outside of the package usually looks decent, but there's a big ol' mess inside. Ours is no exception.

Here's the Reader's Digest format:

August of 2007 we applied to our agency.
March of 2010 we finally got our act together and submitted our dossier.*
September of 2010 we received our referral.
January of 2011 we traveled to Ethiopia for court and met our newest daughter.
March of 2011 I traveled with a friend to bring Sophia home. Shout out to my friend Lori! It takes a very special and brave woman to travel halfway around the world with me.

OK, first point I'd like to make is that the most idiotic way to handle adoption paperwork is over a two and-a-half year period. May I suggest you not follow our example on that front?

But I digress.

Our story begins well before 2007. Adoption was woven into the hearts of myself and my husband while we were dating (2001-perhaps even earlier than that). It was somewhat of an assumption that we would, at some point, probably adopt. By 2006 we were married, had a toddler and a peanut on the way. After choosing an agency, we applied to their El Salvador program in 2007. Some of you may notice that Sophia is a shade darker than most El Salvadorans. Mid-process we switched to our agency's brand spanking new Ethiopia program (at our agency's suggestion). Africa has always held my heart captive, so it was a done deal.**

Adoption paperwork is a bear. Imagine the paperwork required for buying a house, selling a house and doing complicated taxes all rolled into one. Now, imagine that each document is spread out over your city and you need to gather them in a specific order, within a specific time frame. Add fingerprinting (three times) into this lovely process and you're beginning to get the idea. Did I mention these documents have expiration dates? When you take (going on) three years to complete the paperwork, you have to start over with a lot of it (I told you it was idiotic).

In the adoption community there is a lot of "hurry up and wait" going on. Once your dossier is in country, you just wait. And wait. And then wait some more. People have a tendency to ask a lot of questions during this phase, because it appears you're not pursuing adoption anymore. It's monotonous and painful to answer the same question with the same answer. "Our dossier is in country and we're just waiting for our referral."

And waiting.

In all fairness, we didn't have a very long wait until our referral. Considering we had two younguns at home, our attention was not solely on the calendar, marking the slow march of time, noting that we were nearing the end of the posted referral time-frame. It's almost surreal when that phone call finally comes in. When you first lay eyes on your child, something shifts and all that paperwork fades to a dim memory (at least temporarily). I couldn't stop staring at her beautiful eyes (a weakness for anyone who takes one peek at her lashes). I wanted more than anything to hop a plane, gather her in my arms and never lay her down as an orphan again. Directly following our referral, I was scheduled to chaperone a youth trip to Magic Mountain. These seemingly opposite worlds collided, resulting in a painful explosion. Deeply embedded in my heart was guilt-ridden shrapnel of frivolity and poverty. Here was a group of kids, gaily comparing their spending money totals and posting pictures on Facebook of them having a blast on the rides. Meanwhile, my eyes were practically glued to my phone as I gazed, teary-eyed at two thumbnail-sized pictures of a girl halfway around the world, who had stolen my heart and who had never known such joy as could be elicited from a trip to an amusement park. Joy for her meant a semi-full belly.

Christmas passed, and we took comfort in the knowledge that next Christmas, Sophia would no longer be "just another orphan". In January, we traveled for court, and anxiously met our third daughter. Never have I known so much elation and sorrow to simultaneously engulf my heart. She was finally in our arms, only to have us leave her an ocean away, with no idea of when we would be reunited. We hadn't passed court (a common obstacle) and didn't know when our next court date would be scheduled. It could be days or weeks or even months. Turns out, our next court date was later in January. We passed-Thank you Jesus! And were submitted to the U.S. Embassy. We fully expected to be investigated by the embassy, but surprisingly were not.

Just a couple of months after meeting our beautiful Ethiopian daughter, I was headed back across the big pond to bring her HOME.

That's when the adventure truly began.

To Be Continued...

Dedicated To Those Still Orphaned,

P.S. Here's a rough-around-the-edges video from our court trip. 

*Aka ream of paperwork necessary for international adoptions.
**A mission trip to South Africa made sure of that.

Sunday, November 4, 2012



While Americans ordered 3 billion pizzas this year, 143 million children remained orphans.

For every hour we spent planning birthday parties, 257 children were orphaned due to AIDS.

While 50%-60% of American adults purchased lottery tickets, 10%-15% of Russian and Ukranian orphans who aged out of the system committed suicide before turning 18 years old

While 6 million kids were blessed to attend a summer camp, 500,000 children remained in foster care in America.




Thursday, November 1, 2012

People Say The Darndest Things

We're kicking off National Orphan Awareness Month, Cynthia style. 

Below are some of the wackiest most memorable conversations we've had regarding our family.


Setting the Scene: A grocery store parking lot, a random woman (RW) and me with my kids*
RW: Oh my word! Are these your children?
Me: Yes.
RW: They are exquisite!
Me: Thank you.
RW: Let's see...(pointing to Mikayla) this one is definitely European. This one (pointing to Naomi) is clearly Scandinavian. (taking a step back to survey Sophia) Aaaand thiiiiiiis oooooone is obviously black.

Nailed it.


Setting the Scene: Crowded room, casual conversation swirling around my husband and I. Enters a random man (RM)
RM: Does she speak African?
Us: Ummmm. Well. She's only one year old, soooo...
RM: Is there is a lot of clicking in her language?
Us: There's a subtle click of sorts in Amharic, but it's not very pronounced.
RM: I was just curious, because the only African talk I've heard is (starts chuckling)...Have you ever seen The God's Must Be Crazy?



Setting the Scene: Inside a doughnut shop, paying for our highly nutritious breakfast** and a friendly cashier (FC)
FC: Oh my gosh! Are these all yours?
Us: Yes.
FC: She's so pretty!
Us. Thank you.
FC: You're like that one couple...Brad and Angelina! 


Laugh a Little (and take some notes),


P.S. You may want to bookmark this one, because November is dedicated to the orphan crisis and I'm not going to mince words.*** 

*Anyone else hear the narration in Liam Neeson's voice? You do now.

**Don't judge. I've heard that a bagel and schmear contains just as many calories as a doughnut. 
***Never fear. My usual charm and wit will still be lurking in the shadows.