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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

.So You're Moving to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia? {links to help with preparation}. Part 1

We have been preparing for our move to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a year now. It's hard to believe that it has been a year already! When it comes to planning and making lists and charts and preparation, I am type A, all-the-way. (Strangely that does not carry over into all areas of my life.) Being such, as soon as I knew we were moving our family of six over to a third world country to live, I began scouring the internet for advice on moving  and life in Ethiopia in order to start planning. I kept thinking that I wished I could find a place that had everything I was looking for compiled on one website or blog. Now, I know that not very many of my loyal readers are planning to move to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but I am compiling this blog post for the random reader, who is moving there that might find me via google. Here are the very best of the best links to help you navigate and prepare for your move (this is part 1 of 2):

Go to guide for Everything:

The absolutely BEST resource that I have found is this "Welcome to Addis Guide" published by the International Community School's PTA in Addis. It is AMAZING!! If you don't feel like clicking on any other link, then this one would be pretty sufficient for your preparation. It is full of great recommendations, tips, immunizations needed before travel, and the reality of life in Addis, hospital and physician information, the best grocery stores, leisure activities, taxi services and tons of phone numbers for each etc. It is just massive (at over 100 pages) and so full of valuable information. This is from their table of contents: general information, before you arrive, getting settled, getting around, health/medical concerns, medical practitioners/facilities, Addis with children, shopping in Addis, services in Addis, leisure in Addis, inconveniences, exploring Addis and beyond. This is such a gold mine for me, that I have talked my husband into getting it printed and bound, so that we can have it at our fingertips in country!

Organization:
5 tips to organize for an international move
Moving Checklist

Packing:

Health items to pack for Ethiopia
CDC's Healthy Travel Packing List

General Packing Lists
Peace Corps Packing List for Ethiopia

A packing list and general information about moving your family to Addis. (I love this blog! I believe the woman's husband works in the US embassy. She has great tips and beautiful photos.)
Our Yuppie Life - Moving to Addis Ababa

Practical tips for packing
Packing Tips for Moving Overseas (find this by scrolling down to the bottom of the post)

Infographic for packing
How to pack your luggage right (the second infographic on the site)

How to fold shirts military style
Efficient Packing

Preparing your family for the move:

8 ways to help toddlers and young children cope with change and moving overseas











Tuesday, September 2, 2014

.The In-Between.

I have seen the topic all over social media lately and in book stores. The topic about saying yes to God. It's beautiful what God is rising up inside of His Church, in this generation. The invitation to say yes to what He is doing in the world is exciting, and I believe that He has big plans for us - for this generation and the generations to follow us. The creativity and the uniqueness of His personal invitations are limitless, and it leaves me breathless. But lately every time I see another blog post, or facebook status, or cute instagram quote pop up that talks about saying yes to God, I cringe and my heart hurts, because I am inside of the yes, and it hasn't felt very cute being here. Saying yes to God cannot be reduced down to the next cute, fad thing. It just can't. Everyone that says yes to God knows this. There is a realness and rawness that comes with the yes that is both exhilarating and excruciating.

I am beginning to discover that there is often a gaping hole between saying yes to God and the fulfillment of that yes. That gaping hole is dark and deep. Right now my family is inside of that gaping hole. We are in the in-between; no longer are we living off the high of the yes, and we have yet to see the yes fulfilled. We are just hanging precariously in the middle. I wish that I could say that since last summer, when we finally surrendered our yes to God to move to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia -when we stepped out in faith and accepted His invitation to partner with God by serving street kids - that our life has been rainbows and butterflies. But it has been anything but that. It has been hard, ugly grueling; we have fough tooth and nail to fulfill the yes. It has become a sloppy mess of intentional daily obedience. There is very little glamour inside of the gap where daily scratching out obedience becomes your battle cry. It's continuing to say yes, by putting one heavy, aching foot in front of the other and burrowing deeper into the gaping hole of the in-between.

Being completely transparent with you, I have cried buckets of tears, eaten my way through too many chocolate bars, questioned our sanity, doubted our call, and been more fearful than brave in every single step of this process. The in-between is hard. Some moments when I look at what is before us, and what is left to be done in order to fulfill this yes, I am more scared than anything else. It is inside these shaky moments, where my heart is panicked and terrified, that my soul knows that this yes has been and always will be God-ordained. Because the Tiffany that I know so well, would never ever set out to do something so big on her own. We know that this is where God works and moves. Sometimes He asks us to do hard things, to claw for that daily obedience after the initial yes, with no reality of that yes manifesting itself.

Sometimes He makes us wait inside the gap, and sometimes the wait is long.

The scariest part of the journey comes after the yes. Sure the journey begins when one courageously surrenders that yes and takes the leap of faith. Absolutely that is hard and scary, but to be suspended in the gap after the yes is frightening. It's a painful place to be to be caught between your yes and the dream of that yes becoming a reality. It is in this chasm that the enemy slips in, and we must guard our hearts. But it is also inside this chasm of the unfulfilled yes, that I think God intentionally backs us into, in order that we might see that there is no way for our yes to be fulfilled except from Him. Our desperation is just a way to set the stage for God to finish what He started in miraculous ways that only He can.

That's where I am right now - where my family is - inside the chasm between the yes and the fulfillment of that yes -we are waiting - wandering aimlessly in the dessert desperate for that Promise Land. But while we wait, I have to believe that God is working behind the scenes - in our hearts and on the details of the yes. We are in some kind of supernatural holding pattern. Somedays I am okay with that, and I am intentional about enjoying the here and now and building the Kingdom from here. Other days I am discouraged and confused and fearful and doubtful, and both kinds of days are okay. God can handle my questions and concerns and loves me through them. I am learning that every yes, every dream, has difficulties, and during this time where we wait, God is preparing us. I now believe that a year ago, our hearts weren't ready for the unknown reality of what lies ahead in Africa. Today, a year later, I believe that although we are not there yet, we are much more prepared for our future life. It is in this delay that our faith has been tested and we have grown. We have had to learn how to better respond to pressure, to stress, the unexpected, and disappointments, and how to continue striving for that daily obedience to our Jesus. All things that we will need in order to survive in Ethiopia.Things that I now believe we had to go through this past year, here, before we move there.

We are not alone in this waiting period. There are so many examples of Biblical precedent to where we find ourselves.The Egyptians always come to mind. When we say yes to God, there is no easy guarantee, there is a promise that we will never be alone and that God's way will always be best, but most likely it will not be easy. Saying yes, puts the reigns firmly in God's hands. I've surrendered control and yielded to Him. My yes offers everything back to Him - even this moment right here between the yes and the fulfillment of that yes - the in-between - He has it all. He's here now, in the in-between, and wants to do more with this than I could ever imagine. I trust that - even when it is hard.

A recent family photo - thanks to my sweet friend, T!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

.Homeschool Fail.

We just entered our eighth week of homeschooling. We started early this summer, in anticipation for our upcoming move to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The kids and I did not want to jump into a new country, a new culture, and a new school year all at the same time. So we decided to school throughout the summer, and take our summer break when we move to Addis. The first five weeks went swimmingly. There were a few bumps to smooth out, we hired a nanny for Jamesy, and there were attitude adjustments to be made (the kids and mine), but overall we fell into a rhythm and it was working.

And then Habi had surgery - a complete ACL repair and in the midst of surgery the surgeon also found a meniscus tear and repaired that. We took two weeks off. It was a nice break for all of us. In the middle of the two weeks some friends offered us their home to rent, so that we could have some privacy and re-group as a family, so we moved {again}. We had our second week off here at the new place, and then we jumped back into school. This time we have no nanny for Jamesy. We also do not have access to a printer - for my lesson plans I use a free block lesson plan printable, and then print a daily checklist for each child. The printer is my life line. Without it things began to spiral down hill.

Rapidly.

I am notoriously unorganized when it comes to physical things (like my closet or the pots and pans cupboards - pretty much if it goes behind closed doors it's almost guaranteed craziness, and I am okay with it if I do not have to see it), but I am obsessively organized on paper - with my calendar, schedules, lesson plans, day planner, etc. I am pretty careful with the homeschool books being organized as well - everything runs better this way. I am detail oriented and a planner when it comes to school. All of this may sound contradictory, and that is me in a nutshell - a juxtaposition.

Aaaah. Neat and tidy, and we all know what we are doing!


The kids just check off as they go, that way they know for sure, and I know for sure that everything that needed to get done was done. It's beautiful.


But we moved here with no printer, and I decided I was going to be care-free and go-with-the-flow - tra-la-la - everything was going to work itself out just great and homeschooling and all the things would be amazing! Becuase I am such an easy-breezy, fly-by-the seat-of-my-pants kind of mama. EXCEPT THE OPPOSITE. But for two weeks I gripped my mug of coffee and put on a happy face, I tried to be carefree and work through school with no. lesson. plans. and no. checklists. (I am jittery just typing that.) I went into these past three Mondays with a vague idea of what I needed to accomplish that given week and some random lists written on papers, but let me tell you I am freaking out without my PLANS!!

You would think that I would have put an end to this craziness the very first week of this nonsense, but no - I don't like to fail - like not at all. I am a weirdo perfectionist, that will dig my feet in and become psychotically stubborn about making something work if there is even the slightest inclination that it's not working. Make sense? No?! Welcome to my world. And we are now headed into week three with no lesson plans, no checklists (I do have notes scribbled on a paper, but it's not cutting it), and today, I will admit that I went all nutbar on my four darlings. Let me paint a picture of what we are dealing with after yet another school day where I was floundering completely lost without my plans ....better yet let me show you.


For some this chaos just leads to beautiful creativity. For me it leads to one crazy mommy. This was the result of homeschooling today with no lesson plans and no check lists. After about the gazillionth time that I had three different children asking me what was next, and Jamesy escaped out the house sans diaper, I totally and completely lost it. I may have yelled something really immature and ineffective, like I can't do this, and I don't know what is next! And why do you all keep talking to me anyway?! I may have ran out of the room, leaving four stunned children. I may have ran into my room, where I could privately sob into my cell phone to my unsuspecting husband about the tragedy of trying to do school with no plans and no printer.

Yeah, something kind of like that might have happened.

I came back, apologized, gave out hugs and kisses, wiped tears (mine) and plugged on, but alas, I can't go on (yes, my children come by their drama honestly). So, I am putting this out on the world wide web, for all of you that have this figured out way better and way faster than I do. I know in Africa I will most likely not have access to a  printer every week. And yes, I do know that right now while here in the states, I could just go to a Staples and print out oodles of blank lesson plans and check lists; I have thought of that. But that requires time, a vehicle, a Staples, money, more organization on my part, and all the things that I just cannot do right now. So I am looking for a CHEAP, lesson plan book that I can buy - either one that I can purchase multiples of, so that I can have one for each child, or one that has enough blank plans for all of my kids. I like my kids to be able to see the work they have for the week, and to be able to work autonomously whenever possible. I do not like being asked what's next fifty trillion times a day. I just don't. It makes me die a little bit every time, and I become a really crappy mother. There are things we do together, absolutely, but there are things that they do on their own, and it works for us. When it works, that is. So, please, please please, for the love, send me your links of your best, cheapest lesson plan (block, please) books, and help a girl out.

Because I am not sure if my kids can handle mama going all nutbar on them again tomorrow. In the mean time I will be in the fetal position, rocking......errrr cleaning the above mess.

Monday, August 25, 2014

.Let's Revisit Orphan Care.

This was published as two separate posts several months ago, but all of this continues to marinate in my heart today. This weekend we brought a boy into our home. He originally came from Ethiopia and was adopted by a family in America, for reasons that are not mine to share, the family decided the adoption was not working out, and he was sent to a residential facility for troubled children. He has been there for years now, and it is all he knows. His childhood was stolen from him due to poverty in Ethiopia, and it has been years since he has been inside of a family. As I cooked meals for him and loved on him the best that I knew how, my heart broke over the injustice of this all. So much of his story could have been different. So much of it should have been different. I am NOT attacking the family that adopted this child, because I know the trenches of adoption. I have been in the dark valley, and I know how hard it all truly is. There is no way that I can point a finger, when I have seen and experienced what I have, because there have been moments, except for the grace and mercy of God, that I may have been tempted to throw in the towel. However, with as much grace as I can muster and humility, as I am not involved in this situation, I can honestly say that international adoption was not the best choice for his boy, and it should not have happened. He should not be here in America - in an institution. There could have been another way.

We, as the Church, must keep dialoguing about this hard stuff. And again, I am NOT against international adoption, it has its place, but it is not the solution for the orphan crisis. It's just not.

****
Part One:
Today marks three years since we brought Jamesy into our permanent care. Three years ago we landed once again on Ethiopian soil, and for the first time in months my heart slowed and beat out a new rhythm that felt like home. It was adoption that drew us to that country - that continent. God opened our eyes to orphan care, and we became obedient. But now after three years in, we realize that our eyes were just beginning to open back then. Our lives are always changing and growing - emerging as we learn and grow and do better when we finally know better. And we have learned a lot along the way. Where at one time, as we were learning and growing, you read this blog and you read passion and devotion for international adoption in my words. And some of you read dogma and pride and self-righteousness and forcefulness as well I am sure, and I apologize. Truly I am sorry. It is part of why this space has grown silent on these matters. I am a quiet girl who turns fiery when I am passionate about something. Writing is one of my only outlets and how I process what is in my head and my heart, and so this blog received the brunt of my growing pains.

Yes, I've been quiet for awhile now in my advocating for international adoption. I still love adoption. I still believe in it, value it, champion it, but I also have seen the other dark side of it, and now even question whether it is truly a top solution in orphan care. I still whole-heartedly believe that every Jesus follower is called to orphan care - nothing has changed that view. I still am very convicted by James 1:27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. I am an orphan advocate and a justice advocate, and I strongly believe that so was my Jesus. Something in my heart broke, though, when I began to understand that orphan care is way bigger and more complicated than I originally thought, and that to find the solution we really have to go so much deeper than international adoption - because the problem as a whole is just too big for that. 

I am going to be very careful here in what I write, because I have two precious children from Ethiopia who I am responsible to protect. However, after living with Jamesy for three years and with Habi for almost two, I can honestly say that in a perfect world, the world in which God originally intended us to live in, adoption was never His plan for these children. Adoption was never God's original plan. Adoption springs from great, horrifying tragedy that should never be. The suffering and overwhelming devastation that flows from all that these two children have lost was not part of God's original plan. I now firmly believe in my heart that God's original plan was for Jamesy and Habi to grow up in a loving, nurturing home with their birth parents - not with us. It is only because we live in a broken, messed up world that they are now in our family, and don't get me wrong, God can and does redeem the mess. But the mess leaves deep scars, and we experience that reality every single day in the brokenness, trauma, guilt, shame, and grief that accompanies our two boys.

Bringing these boys to America and into our family didn't automatically heal them or {flinch} fix them. It doesn't tackle the core. My heart is broken and bruised realizing the tragedy that is the fact that my sons cannot grow up inside their birth families. As much as it hurts to write this, because of how fiercely I love my boys and now see them as my 100% sons, if I could give them anything in this world, I would give them their birth families - whole, healthy, and thriving. But I can't give them that. So, we all do the best that we can with the grace of God pouring down over us. It was not God's first choice for these boys to grow up in our family. Please read carefully, this does not negate the beauty that has occurred inside our family because of adoption, the way the gospel has taken on life to us, or the amazing way in which God redeems, restores, and renews our boys. It doesn't take away from the amazing work that God did inside of my husband and I because of adoption. But knowing what we now know, without going into personal details, we have come to the conclusion that orphan care has to be less about international adoption - it should never start there - it should never be the first plan of action in tackling this need.

So God has been opening our eyes to family preservation. This is huge and hard and not as romantic or as flashy looking as adoption. I now think that when it comes to orphan care, and when we feel the call (as I believe all Jesus followers will), this should be our first priority - keeping families together, discipling them, nurturing them, sharing Jesus and the gospel with them, extending mercy wherever and whenever needed, helping them sustain a living and giving them the life-skills to pass on a hope and a future to the generations behind them. I believe that our number one priority in orphan care should be keeping families together - not advocating for international adoption. I have heard it said before, and now I get it and believe it, international adoption is just a bandaid slapped over a bleeding, oozing, gaping wound. 

We've got to do better. This is too big, too deep, too mammoth of a problem for a quick patch-job, and we've got to get to the core of the tragedy that ultimately places children in situations where they are orphaned, abandoned, living in institutions and waiting for international adoption. The core begins with family - birth families. So, let us start delving into orphan care right there - we have to.

Let me stop here and shout that I do not think that international adoptions should end, and I do not believe that they are wrong. So if you are reading this post and are inside an international adoption, please, please hear my heart - I am not anti-international adoption. Remember that I call two Ethiopian boys my sons. Don't hear me say anything like that. I just firmly believe that it is not and cannot be the the answer to orphan care - it is one small teeny-tiny bandaid fix - a necessary one at times, yes, but we must, must, must look beyond that and move deeper inside the root of the problem to find a real solution. Adoption is a teeny part of the solution, but it should not be the main or only focus. The core tragedy will never see justice, healing, or a sustainable solution if we only focus on that one minuscule piece. Yes, we need Jesus followers to respond to the tragedy that has forced children into the need for international adoption - absolutely these children need to grow up in loving families, BUT at the exact same time we need to be tackling the core and fighting for family preservation.

This is where God has opened our eyes and is drawing our hearts with Mercy Branch Inc. We know better now than we did four years ago, so we are begging God to help us to do better. We are obeying God's call to extend the mercy of Jesus to street kids - kids that are not viable for international adoption but still very much fall under the umbrella of orphan care. And we are learning more and more about the importance of working toward birth family reunification with these kids - because many of them do still have families. Yes. they have been abandoned by their families for so many devastating reasons (reasons that I whole-heartedly believe have solutions and can be stopped as the Church would step up and out), and most live as orphans. But stop for a moment and think what God could do if someone would step in and disciple these children and their families into beautiful, redemptive reunification. What would happen if someone even stepped into a family's life and helped prevent that family from feeling as if their only choice was to abandon their child to the street? How might a generation in Ethiopia be changed by this? And for those kids who have no remaining family or where reunification is impossible and international adoption is just not viable, what then? What if godly, whole Ethiopian families stepped in and brought these children in as their own sons or daughters in domestic adoption? What if these children, who undergo the tragedy of losing their birth family, could still remain inside their continent, country, city, culture? Would the trauma scars not run quite so deep if they were not removed from every single thing that they know?

We don't have all of the answers. We do not want to pretend to be an authority on this. We are just beginning this journey of asking God how He wants us to attack the core. We are just beginning to see how much bigger the solution is than international adoption. We will probably make mistakes along the way, but we have to try to tackle this from the inside out. We need to be part of the fore-runners in fighting the core tragedy that causes the need for international adoption. We hope that our ministry with Mercy Branch Inc. will be a small part in that. We are determined to pour our lives into helping birth families stay together and giving them tools to raise their children well, and when that doesn't work fostering domestic adoption, so these children can stay where they are. Ethiopia needs them - its future depends on a generation of godly men and women that are also involved in tackling the core tragedy.

We realize, even this, is a drop in the bucket, and we are praying to keep our hearts open and sensitive to the Spirit's leading. But this is the direction our hearts are beating. Here is a small taste of that heart beat.








Part Two:

I have received several messages regarding yesterdays post, which I was prepared to receive. I responded to each, but I think there were enough questions to warrant a small follow up post for those of you who have the same questions.

I tried to tackle this subject delicately, because it is polarizing. I do not want this space to be a place for conflict, inflammatory statements or judgment, however, I do want it to be a safe place to dialogue with the ability to be open and transparent. I may have been too delicate in my approach yesterday, and it appears that it left some people questioning whether or not I am even for international adoption at all any more.

For the record - I am.



Yesterday, I wrote about tackling the core tragedy in orphan care by focusing on family preservation. This is so important. But please hear me say this - there really are children who need familes to step up and adopt because it is too late for family preservation for them - for whatever reason. The answer is not for these children to grow up and languish in an institution, and that is where adopting families step into the orphan care paradigm. What I was trying to explain yesterday, though, is that international adoption is not enough to solve the orphan crisis. It is too big for that. The orphan crisis is just going to perpetuate for generations, unless people simultaneously adopt the children who are already past the point of family preservation, while at the same time tackle the core tragedy of why children are being orphaned in the first place.

I think orphan care is as much about orphan prevention as anything else, and that all goes back to family preservation, as I talked about yesterday. When we step up and take care of families, we are taking care of these at-risk children, who without intervention, could potentially end up orphaned in the future. I am very passionate about this need of tackling the core tragedy - not just the ramifications of the core tragedy.

Not too long ago, I believed that international adoption was possibly the best solution for the orphan crisis, but now I understand that is most likely not true. I understand it because I have lived it with my two Ethiopian sons. I have held their grief racked bodies as they sobbed and raged. I have listened to heart breaking questions with no answers. I have witnessed the depth of the loss that they have encountered, and I see the way it impacts so much of their lives. It is a deep pain that I have never witnessed or experienced before this. International adoption is a good solution for a lot of children who no longer have the option of family preservation. However, there is so, so much loss that occurs for these children when they are stripped of everything that they have ever known - including country and culture. It is much more complicated and muddied then I first naively thought when we began the adoption process four years ago. I still think it is viable and necessary for some children, but now I see just how much of a loss there really is for them. So, I yearn for more children to be able to stay inside their birth country, through domestic adoption, in order to ease the loss for them a little more. I am also adamantly not saying that the loss is too devastating for internationally adopted children that God cannot redeem it. He can and does. I have also witnessed huge healing and redemption in my boys.

You see, all of this is complicated. We live in a complicated and broken world. Nothing is as it was intended, so we will continue to flounder and fight for solutions only to find better solutions that we first missed. I don't think the messiness of this should scare us away, though. There is a time and a place for us in building His Kingdom, and it is now. Our generation is needed and has been specially hand picked by God to be right here, right now for a great purpose. So let us have open, honest dialogue about this. Let us be united for these children - for these families. I honestly believe there is a beautiful hope for the future of orphan care, and I want to be part of it.

What do you think?
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