Saturday, November 21, 2009

Standing in Awe...

Tonight I spent some time looking through photos of families united through AAI's Ghana program. The longer I do this work, the fewer very sensitive and emotional days I have. I think it's just survival with this type of work. If I didn't protect myself from the highs and lows at least a bit, I would burn out. But tonight was one of those nights where I felt a flood of emotion wash through me. How did I become so blessed as to be able to be involved IN ANY WAY in creating families? Wow God. I am so humbled tonight.

When we started the process to adopt Taevy 10 years ago the whole concept of international adoption was new to me. Certainly I had never thought my life's path would have me involved more than as an adoptive parent. But months before Taevy came home I was already praying for the Lord to open doors so that I could help other people adopt. That's not exactly a job that folks advertise for in the newspaper, so it felt like a long shot prayer.

Then our adoption coordinator for Taevy's adoption decided to start her own agency. And she asked me to be the family coordinator. It's one thing to pray for a door to open, and another very scary thing when the Lord actually answers that prayer and expects you to walk through it! LOL! That was one of the craziest years of my life. I was working full time as an elementary music specialist, parenting for the first time, and working nights for an adoption organization (we didn't have an agency license yet). I didn't have a handle on the work. I was an adoption junkie, and honestly, my family suffered for it. I answered the phone in the middle of the middle of the night...whenever it rang, whomever it was. I felt like my whole life was riding on the success of each family's adoption, and on the over all success of the agency I was helping to establish. A low point for me personally, was seeing the disappointed looks on my family's faces as I checked my email on Christmas Day. GREAT if you're an adoptive parent waiting for news, but a really out of line thing to do to my family.
Even though it was a hugely busy year, and unhealthy in a lot of ways, I still had amazing experiences. I got to help establish ethical adoption programs in Vietnam, Bulgaria, and Haiti. I got to travel to Haiti, which was life changing for me. As silly as it seems now, loving on those kids in Haiti is what confirmed to me that without a shadow of a doubt the color of a child's skin has absolutely nothing to do with the love you feel for that child! [Knowing that in your head and feeling it for sure in your heart are two different things.]
That year was also amazing because it brought us to Samren--our surprise adoption. I got to travel to experience the same process I was helping other families to experience. But I also got to see new things, that we hadn't seen with our Cambodian adoption. I got to visit orphanages, to see the need that existed. You can't see these things and then come home unchanged.
Then my life changed in a way I didn't expect. Samren was sick. Very sick. He needed me more than the orphans of the world. And as much as I wanted adoptions to be ethical in Vietnam, it was a constant battle. The corruption was so bad (not in our program, but in Vietnam) that it become impossible for me to feel okay with the work. So I quit. I was burned out. I had given everything to adoption, and not enough to my family.

It felt so good not to be on "the other side" of adoption. I was free! I wasn't some ugly "adoption professional." People didn't assume bad things about me because of my job. I was "just" an adoptive parent again. And I got to volunteer my time. And that felt GOOD. No chance for mixed intentions when you are volunteering your time. No chance that you can be accused of fueling "the adoption industry" if you are just helping with humanitarian projects.

There were years in there when I was just a parent and a volunteer. But if I'm honest with myself, I always found ways to put myself in the midst of helping someone to adopt. I gave advice on yahoo groups--probably made people sick of me because I was such a know it all! LOL! I researched potential new programs habitually. I wanted to know about each country that might be opening to adoptions. At that point I was ready to adopt again, so of course I researched because I was looking for our next child. But once you've seen things from the other side I don't think you can ever just think of things from the adoptive parents point of view again.
I started to know in my heart that I should be praying for a door to open again. A door for adoption work. The right door. And wouldn't you know it, a door opened almost immediately. Vietnam had closed, then it reopened. When it reopened two different agencies asked if I would be their Vietnam coordinator. I mean, really?! Jobs in the adoption world don't just drop in your lap like that. I'd be an idiot to turn it down. But there was absolutely no peace. The corruption I witnessed in Vietnam will always be with me. Even if I were working for a great and ethical agency, I don't know if I could ever fully "trust" in Vietnam adoptions again. I said no to the jobs, and kept praying for the RIGHT door to open.
Eventually we decided to adopt from Liberia. It was new (which is always a draw for me for some reason), and it was Africa (where I knew our child was). Oh how I WANTED our child to be in Liberia! But really, Liberia was a bridge country. It got us to West Africa. It put Ghana on the map for me. In the end, I had red flags about the organization we had chosen to go through, and the Lord made it clear that our children weren't in Liberia.

I heard about Ghana. This pilot program. The fees were ridiculously low and the process seemed so easy. New programs are like candy to me. I am so drawn in by the prospect of being the "first" to go through a new process. I'd worked on the other side, and I thought that would help me weather all of the unknowns of a pilot program. In some ways that's true. But since I had also been on the side of giving "customer service" in the adoption world, I wasn't such a good client when communication was bad and questions went unanswered. I probably turned into that agency's worst nightmare when I started getting red flags, asking REALLY tough questions, and calling them on the inadequate answers.

At that point in my life being offered another job in adoption was NOT at the top of the priority list. I just wanted my baby Bright home. I was all about fighting for him. Fighting for him made me really brave. All of the sudden I was flying to Africa by myself. [Never would have seen that one coming in a million years, just 5 years ago!] I was figuring out where to stay on the cheap (at another orphanage), and what hospital to take him to, and how to get Bright's passport, and how to have an I-600 approved when there was no DHS officer on duty in Accra. It was a mess. But it was a mess that the Lord used, once again, to change the course of my life.

During the time that I was going through the fight to get Bright home, I kept hearing about this one really great agency that was actually ethical. They did things right, even when it was harder to do it right. HONESTLY, out of complete frustration one night, I decided to write to the director. I just needed to vent. And I needed to say THANK YOU for being an agency that did things right. I was crying as I typed, and I told the director that GHANA needed an agency like hers. As far as I could tell at the time, there weren't any ethical options for adoption in Ghana (through an agency). And there were children who could benefit from adoption. I really felt like Ghana's children needed AAI. And I told Merrily (the director) that. And that was that.

Except that it wasn't that. Merrily wrote back and asked me to tell her more. She asked about the process. And by golly if I hadn't just learned a lot about the process because of my fight to bring Bright home. Funny how God does that stuff, isn't it? Hmm... I was delighted because it looked like my wish might come true. AAI might actually be interested in starting a program in Ghana! That was good for ME because *I* wanted an ethical agency to adopt through, should we adopt from Ghana again in the future. Honestly, it never occurred to me that an agency as established and as reputable as AAI would EVER ask me to work for them. But that's just exactly what happened.

God had been preparing that door to open--the right door--for an entire year. I didn't even see it coming. Once again, He provided a way for me to live out my life's passion. I've learned that my passion is not just for orphan care. My passion is also for the adoptive families that I get to help. For me, something would be missing if I ONLY worked with the children or ONLY worked with the families. As it is, I get to spend most of my days working with families, but then I get to travel to Ghana and hold and love on the children that will eventually be in the arms of loving adoptive parents.

So when I looked at those photos tonight--of those recently "put together" families--it hit me like a ton of bricks. I've been working with AAI's Ghana program for 2.5 years now. We established Eban House with six children. And I think we are just about to finish up our 5th or 6th "generation" of children in the home. As in--the children that "were" are now either reunited with their biological families or have been united with adoptive families. New children have come, and gone, and come, and gone, and come, and gone.

Each passing "generation" I celebrate. But I also celebrate the generation to come. No, I don't WANT there to be kids who need to be placed for adoption. But there are. And if they are there, I want them to receive the love and care that they get at Eban House. I want them to know Auntie Comfort's hugs, and Auntie Juliana's bedtime prayers. I want them to know Auntie Florence's "put meat on those bones" food, and Auntie Emma's games. I want to see them go from malnourished to a little pudgy! I want to see their scared eyes fade away into belly laughs. I want to see them go from scared and shriveling, to fully blossomed.
I look at Kendi and thank God. Wow. I'm so thankful for Auntie Comfort, who hugged and kissed her little HIV+ body when the other Aunties were still too afraid. And Emma, who loved Kendi as she would love a daughter. And ALL of the big brothers and sisters Kendi had to love her while she was at Eban House. She was not an orphan when she was at Eban House. She was a daughter and a sister, loved just the same. Kendi was one of those sad little faces that blossomed.
And I stand in awe. In awe because I had anything to do with it. In awe that an email sent in frustration turned into a program that has changed so many lives, including my child's life, and my own.

I doubt that most of you reading this have even a passing thought of me during your days. Why would you?! LOL! But sometimes people think that somehow I have done something to get this "great job" I have--that somehow I have mastered my own destiny. Tonight, I guess I just wanted to put it out there that I am just a passenger on this ride. Somehow the Lord has put me on this path. I don't know how long He'll have me here. But I am so humbled that He would trust me "here" for even a moment.


Laurel 3:18 AM  

Fun to hear your story! Thanks for sharing! And ... thanks for the work that you do!


Faith 8:24 AM  

I'm so glad for the way God is using your heart for the children. And I'm so thankful for the kids in Ghana to have you advocating for them. Your family is such a blessing! The first time I saw you at church and your beautiful family was such a gift to me. God knew I needed to have your family in my life at that time. Wow! He's so awesome. Thanks for giving of yourself to everybody whose lives you are involved in.

Renee 8:55 AM  

Thanks for all you do and for being the best adoption coordinator EVER!

Our family would not have been complete without your faithfulness.

Much Love!

Shonni 10:16 AM  

What a beautiful post!!! Thank you for sharing you heart and for fighting for ethics in adoptions. We went through "hell" in Vietnam. It is so wonderful to see you living the dream, desire, and passion that the LORD has placed in your heart!

FullPlateMom 4:15 PM  

That's wonderful, Anita! I LOVE that God led you to something that is your heart's desire. It is REALLY hard to do an ethical adoption on your own. If I didn't have friends leading the way, I would have never gotten past square one. We can't afford agency adoption, so we're doing it independently with a lot of advisors. You have to make decisions you never thought you would have to make. I've had so many people leading the way for me.

Without people like you in Ghana, there would be SO much corruption that people like me that are doing a "guided" independent adoption would be sunk. You're fighting the good fight, and we all owe you for it.


Amy 10:36 PM  

As one of the families you have forever changed in the most amazing way, I have tears in my eyes reading this and remembering our family's journey- with you. You- as our guide and support system. I think of you just about every day for one reason or another and hope you know that your work and the amazing good you do has a profound impact not only on the children, but the families you create.

I love you Anita and am so glad that you brought Ghana to AAI. We decided on AAI first and Ghana spoke to us (because our kids were there, of course!). It always felt right to us.

You will always be honored in our family almost like an extended family member because you were such a huge part of us finding each other. In fact, the girls and I were just talking about the story you shared from your trip to Ghana about the need for siblings to be adopted together and the girl crying about not being chosen... That story changed us from thinking of 1 little girl to being open to 2. That girl you told that story about was one of MY girls! Amazing!

Love you and God bless you for weaving families together and helping children find their forever families while keeping them loved and safe until they can be joined together!


whenpigsfly 11:33 PM  

AS a long standing friend, fellow adoptive mom from Cambodia and then as one of your families for Vietnam, I have loved seeing how God led you to AAI and Ghana. God is SO good, and I think a lot of people have and will continue to benefit from His good in you!!!

A. Gillispie 11:35 PM  

Thanks for such kind words my friends. Promise I wasn't fishing for compliments. More the opposit--it's just so crazy to me that I get to do what I get to do.

Fabu, I almost wrote in my post about the amazing memories I made with you while we were in Ghana together. You are one seriously special person in my life, even though I don't say it nearly enough. Love you too girl.

In His Dust 12:04 AM  

Anita, we are also so thankful to AAI and to you. You are a wonderful woman. I don't know what we would do without Madi. She has truly been a blessing to our family. Getting to visit Ghana was truly life changing for us and will always be a part of our lives forever. God is good! We love you girl! Keep on rocking!!

bbqdaisy 5:40 PM  

THANK YOU JESUS for Anita and her servant heart and the passions you have given her for adoptive families and orphans! THANK YOU JESUS for Eban house and the dedicated and loving staff there! THANK YOU Jesus for AAI that always works to do things the ethical way ... all for the purpose of loving all of your children!
Anita, this was an awesome post ... so full of evidence of God! THANK YOU for this awesome testimony!!!
EXCITING what God will continue to do through YOU ... Eban House ... and AAI!!!