Saturday, January 29, 2011

Board and batten... without the board

The trendy girls started doing faux board and batten a while ago, but I've never been one to jump on the bandwagon in it's first lap. The Nester, Thrifty Decor Chick, Kimba, and Karla (to name just a few) have all made their homes more beautiful with this cute, easy, inexpensive treatment. They've also documented their projects to make it easier for the rest of us.
Our home is on the newer side and thus devoid of any real architectural detail. We've tried to add a little interest with paint, and someday we hope to beef up the mouldings, but the kids' bathroom has remained about as bland as the day we moved in. I didn't know quite how to make it cute, unisex and fun for the kids. I tried vinyl stickers, brightly colored accessories, new lighting, new hardware... but still didn't really love it. This weekend we hoped to solve that problem.
Board and batten seemed simple enough for non-carpenter types like Danny and myself. We also figured that if it looked really dumb we could just pull it off and only be out a hundred bucks. Happily, it was simple, and didn't follow the home project standard of doubling the budgeted dollars and tripling the budgeted time. We started Friday afternoon and were completely done by Saturday night - painting included. Danny looked downright masterful in his use of his brother's saw and nail gun, and Alyssa took real ownership of her self-appointed role of nail-hole-filler and caulk-smoother. The only problem is, I'm tired and Danny's already looking for the next room we can batten!

Before
World's cutest carpenter

Oh so handsome handy-man

After

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Whole Story - The Choice

(This is part 5 of our Malawian drama. If you need to catch up, just click on the titles for An Intro, Getting There, Meeting Ernest, and Still Day One.)
I’d like to say that because it was dinnertime we sat down to a nice meal that Wednesday night, but food was the furthest thing from our minds. (Could be why Danny and I both came home 7 pounds lighter. An effective diet plan, but not one I would recommend!). Instead, we began discussing just what it would be like to parent a child with cerebral palsy.
This is where our story is touched by one of the strangest aspects of adoption: special needs become a choice. Had one of our biological children been born severely disabled, we would have stopped at nothing to love and care for them in the best way possible. If Reagan had had a seizure on the plane on the way home from Vietnam that significantly impacted her mind or body, again, we would have loved and cared for her as we do now. She was already ours, and we had committed to parenting her no matter what. When we thought we’d be adopting from China, we completed a long, thorough checklist of the special needs we thought we could effectively parent. Honestly, there weren’t a lot of things we didn’t check off, but neurological disabilities were not on our list.
We believe that God has given us minds to make decisions when there is a choice to be made, and the will to accept His plan when the decision has been made for you. A mother of a child with cerebral palsy left a long comment on one of my previous posts defending what I’m sure she saw as an affront to the condition her son is stricken with. I have only compassion for the difficulties she and her family have endured, and understanding for the love a mother has for her son, no matter his capacities. However, the key difference between her situation and ours was Choice. God gave her a son with special needs. God gave us the responsibility to make a choice that would bring Him the most glory. That includes considering the impact Ernest might have on our family, our marriage, and the children He’s already entrusted to us. Because we’d not yet made any commitments – legal or otherwise – we were not yet responsible for Ernest, and thus left with a choice.
By God’s grace, the other side of that choice did not involve leaving a little boy on the streets. The scene of this whole drama is an incredible orphanage. Despite the director’s total disregard for the truth, our family, and the other children we might otherwise have had the opportunity to adopt, Annie provides a beautiful home for many needy kids. It truly was one of the nicest buildings of any kind we encountered in Malawi. Though Annie would later throw her entire staff under the bus, insisting that it was impossible to find any Malawians to work there for any reason other than a paycheck, it was clear to us that many of the women there really loved the children. When we started to lean towards walking away from Ernest, our hearts were comforted by the fact that he’ll forever have a home in such a wonderful place.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Whole Story - Still Day One

(Don't worry, I won't be recounting each of the 22 days we were gone in this much detail!)

Later that day, after lunch and a little shopping spree to replace some of the items in our still-missing luggage, we had the opportunity to spend more time with Ernest. For the first hour or so we hung out with him in the lobby area of the “baby house” where all the children under 3 live. We attempted to engage Ernest, played catch with a soft football we brought, and fed him an afternoon snack of crackers and milk. Throughout the entire hour he was completely mute – even when something startled him at one point and he began to cry. A faint, odd moaning came out, but no real noise. He also, again, seemed completely engrossed in activity out the window – except there wasn’t any. Danny and I were starting to sense that something was dreadfully wrong, but still held back from voicing anything.
The head nanny came to give us a tour of the facility where Ernest has spent most of his life, and honestly, it was very impressive. The entire house, about 4 large rooms and several smaller ones, was impeccably maintained and full of every convenience and tool one might need to care for so many precious little ones. One room even had incubators in the event that a very sick infant was entrusted to them. Every inch was sparkling clean, and each child appeared to have crisp sheets, a fresh outfit, and a huge smile for us – the odd-looking visitors.
We were led to the back room where all of the preschoolers were playing, and we were an instant hit. Everyone (except Ernest) was jumping up and down in excitement over our cameras, and couldn’t believe what they were seeing on the preview screen of our video camera. Each of them wanted to be held, played with, and photographed. The kids showed us their playground just outside the double doors, and we spent several more hours interacting with them there.
The children were clearly thrilled with this change in routine and couldn’t wait to show us all of their tricks. We were treated to renditions of their favorite African nursery songs, as well as many familiar to us including the ABC song, all of the months of the year, days of the week – in their second language, English! (Reagan can’t even do that, and she’s four with the benefit of a family!) Ernest, however, didn’t participate in any of the songs, dances or play, despite the obvious best efforts of the nannies. The more we watched him in comparison to his peers, the further our hearts sank. Our faces were still plastered with the smiles that said we wanted to believe everything was all right, but it was quickly becoming clear that that was a fa├žade. We later discovered that each of the four of us (me, Danny, my mom and my dad) approached the nannies individually to ask whether Ernest talks. Each time they answered definitely, “no,” but seemed hesitant to elaborate.
As dinnertime approached for the children, we said our good-byes and started the walk back to our guest house. We were barely outside the nursery grounds when my very non-confrontational mother turned to us and said “well, I think he has cerebral palsy.” At that point, our hearts just dropped right down onto the ground. Not because it was an offensive thing to say, but because it rang so true, and because we knew it carried so many serious implications. Danny and I had sensed something wasn't right, but we couldn’t put our finger on it. My dad, however, practiced medicine for decades and actually worked in a cerebral palsy hospital ward for a time. He and my mom started pointing out numerous traits Ernest exhibited that are common among CP patients. They were also convinced that he was probably much older than three as had been represented. At that point, I think time started to stand still as we began to question whether anything we had been told was true. The next 14 hours would be some of the longest of our lives, and we were still only 24 hours removed from 40 hours of travel.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Meeting Ernest

Tuesday evening, November 30th, provided us with much needed nourishment, relatively good sleep (my first under a necessary, and moderately romantic mosquito net), and the promise of a memorable introduction soon to come. We awoke Wednesday morning to the sounds of African children singing and playing, and eagerly awaited the opportunity to see the little Malawian we hoped to call our own. After a quick shower and trail mix breakfast, Danny, my parents and I walked the short distance between our guest house and the home of Annie, director of Kondanani Children’s Home. Our friend Kondi joined us as we sat on the veranda waiting for the arrival of Ernest and his nanny. Before we were even really ready for it, the little boy we thought would be our son came through the door in Stella’s arms. Though Annie had told us Ernest would likely scream and throw a fit, he was calm, quiet and content to just stare off into the garden. He quickly warmed up to us, and seemed completely unfazed by the constant flashes of the camera and accompanying video. In retrospect, it was actually odd how disinterested he was in seeing himself in our media. It was also odd how interested he was in… nothing. Though we could grab his attention momentarily, he was constantly distracted by non-existent activity over our shoulders. Even candy and toys didn’t keep him occupied for long. At the time, we just assumed he was overwhelmed. We were just thrilled that he didn’t hate us. I’m sure my parent’s concerns were already forming, but Danny and I were blissfully unaware. Strangely enough, however, neither of us made any promises to Ernest in those moments that we ended up breaking. We didn’t call ourselves “mommy” or “daddy,” nor did we promise to love him forever as we almost immediately did with Reagan. It was just the beginning of countless little ways God protected us in the midst of what would become an impossibly (without Him) difficult situation.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Whole Story - Getting There

God’s grace towards us in Africa began before we even left Los Angeles. On a good day, we can get to LAX in 45 minutes. On a bad day, it can take 3 hours. On the Sunday evening of Thanksgiving weekend… we had no idea. We decided to give ourselves 5. As it turned out, even with a stop at our favorite Mexican dive for a delicious last meal, we had hours to spare. The airport was nearly empty, security was a breeze, and we had plenty of time to set up camp at our gate and score a late night snack.
Our flight across the states was uneventful, and we had plenty of time to check in with South African Airlines at JFK. Unfortunately (and this becomes a key element later on), their computer system shut down half-way through the check-in process. My parents received their boarding passes for both our flights to Johannesburg and our connecting flight to Lilongwe, Malawi. Danny and I, however, were just issued passes for the JFK/J-burg segment and told we should just check in when we arrived in South Africa. The agent made it sound like it was no big deal, and we thought nothing of it. Instead of worrying, we settled in for our long trek across the Atlantic where God again prove Himself to be gracious. The flight was relatively empty and we each had two seats to stretch out in. 19 hours even in two seats is a long time, but we were able to get some rest.
As we approached Johannesburg, we realized that our 3-hour layover had turned into 40 minutes due to rain delays, and we sprinted off of that plane. My parents were able to run through security and get to the gate just in time… but here’s where that computer shut-down comes into play. Danny and I, bereft of boarding passes, were stuck in a seemingly-endless line of other panicked fliers also minutes away from missing their flights. With no working cell phones to communicate, my parents were left to wonder if we were coming or not… and finally determined that they also should stay behind, so that at least if we were stranded, we would be stranded together. The minutes ticked by. The gate closed. The plane that was to take us to our son left, without us.
We stood in that line crushed, not knowing we would soon get our first lesson in the course “God’s Plans Are Better Than Yours 101.” You see, our original flight was into Lilongwe, a 4-(at best) hour drive to Blantyre where Ernest lives. We had tried to get a flight that would fly us into Blantyre and out of Lilongwe three weeks later, but neither the schedule nor the economics worked out. When we missed that flight to Lilongwe, however, South African Air arranged for us to fly straight to Blantyre just three hours later after Hagen Daas and a nice lunch on them. What we initially saw as a set-back, God had orchestrated so we could avoid a long, harrowing drive, after what would have already been a forty hour trek.
A day earlier than we had hoped, we arrived in Blantyre, and were met by our dear friend, Kondi (a Malawian Danny got to know on his prior trips to Malawi, and best friend of our “adopted” brother Kwacha) who made the drive in record time so that we could see a familiar face and have a car to use during our time in Blantyre. We later found out he picked us up because the orphanage director refused. She was “having dinner guests” (us!) and couldn’t send anyone. Though she certainly didn’t have his best, or ours, at heart, God used even her inconsideration for our good. Just two days later that car, and the cell phone he brought us, became our lifelines.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Back to the quick, easy photo post

Between life, laundry, a cold making its rounds, restarting school after a 5-week hiatus, houseguests and a quick trip to Disneyland, I haven't had much time this weeek to write. So instead of the first installment of our 2nd adoption story, you're stuck with a few photos of my ever-cuter children. I never get tired of looking at them, and... at the very least... neither does my mom.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Whole Story – an intro

Over the course of the last month I’ve shared bits and pieces of all that transpired for us in Malawi. I know you may not all be interested in hearing every last detail, and I’ll try not to let it get too lengthy. I’ll likely break it up into several posts. However, I also know that many, many of you have prayed for us through this trial without knowing many specifics. I’d like to share more as a way for you to see how those prayers were answered, and to show just how good God was to us through incredibly difficult circumstances. God repeatedly commands us in Scripture to remember, and much of the Law is designed to help His people recall the things God had accomplished for them. Psalm 105:4-6 (NASB) says:

4 Seek the LORD and His strength;
Seek His face continually.
5 Remember
His wonders which He has done,
His marvels and the judgments uttered by His mouth,
6 O seed of Abraham, His servant,
O sons of Jacob, His chosen ones!
Danny and I want to be careful not to forget all that God has taught us through this experience. Since this is a journal for me of sorts, I hope that blogging will help us accomplish that goal, to His glory. I’d love for you to follow along, but I’ll also understand if you elect to skip these posts and move on to photos of the world’s three cutest kids.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

SNOW!

Those of you who live in parts of the country that actually have winter won't be impressed with this accumulation, but we were pretty excited to see some white stuff falling from the sky this afternoon! We don't have much cold weather clothing - no gloves, only girly hats, just "raining" boots, and no snow pants - but that didn't stop us from enjoying an icy/snow ball fight, making snow angels, and pulling the sled around the yard. Alyssa even took Daddy up on his 4-quarter bribe to make an angel in just her t-shirt (of course that meant he had to join her - in shorts). I'm sure it will all be gone at sunrise, but we did our best to make the day memorable. We probably won't have snow here again until our kids are ready to play in it with their own children!