A Couple More Rest Days
I feel like a CIA operative held up in a safe house. We have spent the last three days sleeping, playing, and eating. And did I mention drinking Fanta? The chef here at the Terrace is an incredible cook. We have had cheese burgers, chips, (remember Uganda was colonized by the British so they don’t say French fries) chicken wraps, salads, beef fillets, French toast, and fried chicken. They also make Milk Shakes and have a Coffee Bar. This is a double edged sword because Carla and I are fasting from our favorite things during this process. Her sacrifice is sweets; no milkshakes! My sacrifice is coffee; what was I thinking! Trying to support the other is hard because I want to eat everything sweet and she loves to drink lattes. We will stay the course and hold to our fasts until the day we get ZG’s visa. All this eating is in addition to our toast and jam each morning. The first week Carla and I had visibly lost weight. However, since moving to the Terrace, we may be up a few pounds.
When I say we have done nothing over the last few days I mean it; nothing. The highlight of Thursday was when I walked up the street to go to the market for some medicine. ZG has a slight cold, but it is going away. The highlight of Friday was finding out my uncle was named Interim President of a Community College back home. As for Saturday’s highlight, we took a car to a food festival and walked around for about two hours.
Our batteries are charging, slowly, but surely. We are a bit homesick, and at times just want this part of the process to have a definitive end. Please pray that we get home as soon as possible and the remaining paperwork moves swiftly.
Yesterday we did receive a report from the orphanage director that they are temporarily caring for a three year old girl from the community who was being neglected. If not for the relationship the director has built with law enforcement in the community this child could have been left alone with. She also informed us that the young girl from Rotterdam and her mother had taken a doctor to the home of the malnourished children and the crippled mother. Hopefully we will learn more about this visit soon. Continue to pray for this home and the suffering that is there.
It’s Hard to Believe…
Two years ago this Thanksgiving we traveled to Birmingham and met with our adoption agency about the prospect of bringing a child into our home. The first meeting with the agency was very relaxed and informative. We went back home and thought about it over the next 3 weeks. On December 16th, 2010 we were formally accepted as a prospective adoptive family. Five days later, Carla and I left on a two- week long European vacation. The whole trip we joked about how it would be our last big trip as a childless couple. We just knew that somewhere out there our child was waiting.
Listening prayer is a tool that God has given us that it largely underutilized. The Lord wishes to give us his direction; all you have to do is ASK! Listening prayer involves preparing your heart for the Lord’s direction in your life and listening for the words, images, or scripture that he provides you. Carla and I began to understand the power of this tool while in Haiti in 2009. Believe me when I say this, I was skeptical of praying to God to deliver me, a sinner with no hope, a divine message. For the first few days during our listening prayer time my mind was an empty black chasm. I refused to believe that God would grant me the wisdom to further His Kingdom during prayer. Growing up in conservative congregations taught me to limit my bothering of God; after all, there are people that really need Him and my burdening requests might stifle our Creator God’s ability to give them some small amount of serenity.
Since that trip to Haiti,I love referring to the mindset that so many people have about our Lord as “Putting God in a Box”. This mindset is especially widespread in the conservative south United States where Christianity is more about denomination and building funds than worshipping our Creator. If you drive north on US HWY 43, out of the city limits of Tuscaloosa, you will find a lawn decoration that perfectly exemplifies “Putting God in a Box”.
Tuscaloosa was fortunate enough to be home to an incredible sculptor and artist. His favorite media was wood. One of his most famous works is an eight foot tall wooden sculpture of The University of Alabama’s beloved coach Bear Bryant. When I was a little kid the wooden statue towered over me as I walked past it in the University Mall. Now it is a fixture in the Home Field Suite at Bryant Denny Stadium.
Rabbit trails, I digress.
As I was saying, the artist also portrayed in beautiful form exactly what our God is not. If you look off to the west as you are traveling towards Fayette County, you will see a wooden sculpture of Jesus Christ happily situated in a Plexiglas box. Dressed in a white robe and holding a staff, his Caucasian features and flowing brown hair can be seen from 100 yards away. It’s a beautiful work, but symbolically it represents everything that is wrong with how capable we believe God to be. We have to ask ourselves what he really is. Then we choose have to choose is he capable of anything.
While in Haiti I didn’t believe in a God that was capable of speaking to me. After all I am a worthless excuse of man, covered in sin from head to toe; filthy is actually the word that fits me better. So even after we returned from Haiti I still decided that listening prayer was not for me and scrapped the whole thing until early 2011.
After our second visit to the adoption agency, the director sent us home with a small packet of information that described each country’s adoption program. By virtue of our age and tenure of our marriage, several of the countries were automatically eliminated. The remaining countries were as different as different could be. They included a few from Eastern Europe, China, Costa Rica, and Uganda. There was absolutely no way to decide what direction to take. Over the next few weeks we turned to prayer for our answer. Carla suggested that we practice listening prayer. Still very hesitant about the approach, I reluctantly agreed. As we prepared our hearts to pray each night with music, I still had that same empty black chasm in my heart each time I tried to seek the Lord’s voice. Finally, after ashamedly admitting to Carla for several nights that I wasn’t being led in any particular direction, I saw what the Lord wished for our family. Very clearly I knew that we were called to Uganda. At the time, I believed that God called us to adopt two children. Although we were only granted one adoptable child this go round, I am certain we will have the opportunity to bring another child into our home through adoption in the future.
People ask me how I knew it was the Lord’s will and not my own flesh directing my thoughts. For me the answer is simple, because in my flesh Uganda was a distant fourth place out of the four eligible countries for both Carla and I. It had nothing to do with white or black, I just thought of us as a north of the equator type family.
So we confirmed our country selection with the agency and sat back for what we thought would be 9-16 months of paperwork and waiting. Starting that February I began to pray for my children each morning. My prayer was always the same.
While we wait please protect my children and meet their needs. Let them have a stomach that never growls and a mouth that never thirsts. May they be loved and love back. Give the orphanage workers strength. Keep the social workers and lawyers focused and organized. Break the hearts of the judges for our case. I will give you praise in all things and trust your timing. Forgive me of my sins and I love you. In Christ’s name, Amen.
For almost a year I prayed that prayer before my daughter was even born. Because international adoption is accompanied by so many unknowns, God is the only way you can keep your sanity. It is hard to believe that I loved her so much before ZG even took her first breath on earth.
Prayer and reliance on God had to be my answer. Listening prayer may not be for everyone. God may use other ways to speak to you. However, prayer is essential, no matter how peachy your life is in its current state. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you are able to discern without talking to God first. Remember that pray is a gift from God and a tool to be used. Forget about the big words and pomp and circumstance of it. It’s not a show. It a conversation; and God is a great listener.
Just make sure you are ready to listen back!
Just Do It,
Two Sometimes Obedient Parents
Who Doesn’t Look at a Train Wreck…No One
Trains very seldom wreck in the United States. When we do see a report of a crashed train on the news we stop and watch. We just can’t help it. How bad was it? Maybe it was really bad. Twisted metal. Cargo on fire. Ambulances and rescue workers on the scene looking for the survivors. It’s disturbingly entertaining. If CNN would have broadcast our yesterday, everyone would have watched as intently as if it was a train wreck.
Even metaphorically speaking, I have had very few train wrecks in my life. It only took two weeks in Uganda for me to derail and fly off the tracks. The last twenty four hours have been a train wreck. A cluster bomb. A total Screw-Up. A glorified failure.
Apparently, our precious child, who eats everything under the sun, can’t handle beans. Beans, beans good for your heart, the more you eat them, the less you sleep and the more your kid screams bloody murder all night long. It doesn’t have to rhyme because the whole thing is a train wreck.
It possibly would not been as bad if we did not have to be out the door this morning at 6:30am. The good news is It was convenient for ZG because at about 5:30am she got rid of her stomach problem. Her diapers are a size three. After her evacuation this morning, the pamper was stretched enough to fit me! Okay, enough potty talk!
So with zero hours of sleep, and a ten hour day ahead of us, we got into the iron beast and set out for church in the community of Namataba. First, we stopped at the Shell Station to fuel up. Then we made an even quicker stop at GAME for me to use the ATM. Since we left so early, there was no Jam and we made it to the orphanage in thirty minutes. The nannies were almost unrecognizable in their Sunday best. Uganda is a country of beautiful people. All of the nannies, except for one who stayed back to cook, and all the children piled into the eight passenger van for the quick trip up the hill into the Namataba community. I’ve decided that riding in the van on the dirt roads in the village is a lot like going to the chiropractor. We you get through with the ride you either feel like a new person or are in so much pain that you just want to die. The ride this morning with an overloaded laden made me feel like the latter.
The church is an Anglican Church. If you can recall from your world history class in high school, England’s Henry VIII split away from Catholicism and formed the Church of England because of some social disagreements with the doctrine. The Ugandan Anglican Church is essentially The Church of England. Outside the foyer of the church, set into the masonry, is a plaque that dates the construction of the church back to 1975. The metal roof has shed so much water over the last 40 years that the brick foundations are now exposed due to erosion, stained red with mud that has splattered up the walls during the wet seasons. There is nothing fancy about the church, except for the stained glass hinged windows that are equally spaced down each side of the simple building and the stained glass mural of Jesus overlooking the pulpit. Even in Uganda they depict of Savior as a fair skinned brunette with Northern European features! Do you think Jesus ever gets tired of being depicted as a skinny white dude with a ratty beard?
Each year the Anglican Church of Namataba has harvest Sunday. Today was harvest Sunday! The service was just like any other with announcements, singing, and preaching. The only difference was at the end of the service the local farmers brought an offering to the church in the form of their harvest. Lined up in the pulpit were bunches of bananas, sugar cane, greens, and one farmer even brought in a baby goat. There was a goat was inside the church! After about an hour of auctioning off the harvest, all the high bidders paid their debt and the proceeds were returned to the parish.
The orphanage director arranged for us to sit on the front row of the sanctuary. During the service the Bishop had a special prayer for ZG in the local language. As he held her up in front of the congregation, wearing the same robe that he baptized her in, the director and the mamma nanny brushed away tears as he prayed blessings over her life in America.
A few moments later the Bishop asked Carla and I both to share a message with the congregation. We thanked them for their love and support for our daughter and encouraged them to be a strong community that helped one another. One of the church clergymen translated our sentiments and we sat down to a round of applause.
All of the school aged children were dismissed to Sunday School after the announcements. Carla and I took ZG to Sunday School and sat in the back while about fifty children recited lines and sang songs. The church shares a piece of property with a school that has about 600 primary aged kids (K-6). The Children’s Church takes place at the school in one of the 6th grade classrooms. The school is a series of long brick buildings about 30 feet wide. There are outbuildings for the kitchen and restrooms. A chalkboard hangs in the front of each classroom for the students to learn from their wooden benches that serve as desks. There are no lights and the floors are mostly dirt with some areas of concrete near the front. English is the language used in all Ugandan schools for instructional purposes. The 6th graders must be studying biology right now because there were handmade posters of the human heart and of the anatomy of a fish hanging on the wall. Written on the chalkboard were hints about safe sex and abstinence. It’s good to know that sex ed is being taught in other areas of the world.
Chaotic would be an understatement for how the lesson took place. Casting aside the three chickens roaming around the school house floor looking for little grain, the universally contagious “pee-pee” bug where one kid goes they all have to go, and the game of tag being played in the back by four preteen girls, everything was just like children’s church back home.
We thanked the Children’s Church leader and walked back to the van. The harvest auction was still underway so we hung out in the sweat box with the children as we waited over the course of an hour for the orphanage director and the mamma nanny. Finally, we are loaded back up and went down the same knobby road that delivered us earlier that morning. Train wreck! Since we are now all soaking wet, not only with our own, but with the perspiration of everyone else in the van and we are starving to death because it is almost 12pm and we haven’t eaten since 6pm the day before, let’s just say the Mzungus are getting a bit testy.
Homesickness has set in. Our schedule is as consistent as George Wallace’s party affiliation. Our precious baby is a warrior, but is very much sick and needs relief. Every need that we see we are compelled to help, but we are losing control of our sanity and it is obvious to everyone. The director asked us what was wrong. We lied. Carla told her we were just tired. It’s more than just fatigue; we want our family and friends. We want to sleep in our own bed. We miss our jobs. We want to feel normal again and today we feel like E.T. when he wanted to just go home. Sure, we can put on a happy face, but it quickly melts away when we become frustrated at playing the waiting game and seeing needs that we simply cannot meet.
Do we love spending time with ZG? Of course! Would we rather love spending time with her in America? Today, you betcha!
Pray for us to be patient as we wait for our clearance to travel back home. Pray for us to learn a lesson about ourselves each day. So far, sometimes the lessons have been big, scary, and embarrassing. Hopefully, we will soon learn a few of the lessons that seem more like lemonade on a Fall evening in Alabama. It’s terrifying how much you learn about yourself when you aren’t protected by the comforts of your natural environment. Hey! I think I just learned another lesson!
Milling around the orphanage for a few minutes before we all loaded up and took the one hour drive to the city for ZGs “Farewell Party”, we were served matoka with homemade cheese. Matoka is a green banana that is usually boiled or baked and tastes a lot like a potato. The cheese was homemade earlier in the week by the nannies. The result was a dish that tasted like scalloped potatoes on steroids. It was incredible and we scarfed it down in less than five minutes.
Luckily, the founder of the orphanage and school was there with his personal motorcar. He planned to accompany us to Kampala for the party. Well, I said that it was nice that he was there with his personal car to help reduce the number of people in the van, but when we were preparing to leave, three more party goers arrived. One of the orphanage director’s friends and her infant son made up two of the additional passengers. The final passenger was ZG’s biological mother.
Ladies and Gentlemen, prepare yourselves in the crash position. The wreckage just became more tangled and menacing.
During the initial conversation about the “Farewell Party”, we were asked about the mother participating by the orphanage director. Carla and I, at that time, were feeling Godly and full of grace so we smilingly obliged. But today the sight of her brought venom. Why is she here? She dumps her three week old baby out in the woods and gets to celebrate her guardianship with her new parents. Pardon my French, but this is 100% crap! Where in the world would this ever happen?
After getting calmed down from the emotional high, Carla and I were able to talk it out and remember the story of Grace. It didn’t make it any easier, but it made it manageable.
ZG’s biological mother rode in the van with us and the ten others through the pothole filled tarmac and jam. One of the boys from the home sat beside me with his eyes glued on the road. It was only his second time in a motorcar and it took him a minute to get comfortable. A local taxi cut us off just before we got into down. I threw my arms up in disgust at the poor driving and the little boy mimicked my gesture. Each time we braked or turned he threw his arms up and copying my Bronx accent said, “Eyyy, we’re driving here”. The other children, divided between the two motorcars, had all fallen asleep before we arrived at our destination.
After one hour we arrived at the Metroplex. The Metroplex is a lot like a Galleria, except with a supermarket. Outside, in the grass that backs up to the highway, was a KidZone play area. After examining the unsupervised “DeathZone”, we paid the “enter at your own risk” per child fee and the chaos continued. Remember that playground from Nightmare on Elm Street? Add in bouncy castles and a few blow up swimming pools and you have our setting for the afternoon. Oh, I forgot to mention the bicycles with missing parts that were sitting beside the Woolworth’s loading ramp. And yes, the kids were riding the bikes down the ramp at max speed and bailing out before slamming into the wrought iron fence!
I stepped inside to buy party favors at the supermarket as it started to rain. Basically it rains everyday somewhere in Uganda. Today it was at the Metroplex. The children from the home had never left their community and none of them understood the concept of a party. As a courtesy, I ordered a plate of food from one of the restaurants in the food court so we could use their tables for our party. Patrick happily ate the food. The man has a tapeworm. There is no other explanation. Carla set the table with plates for each of our guests. Each plate had a piece of cake, a cup of ice cream, a few squares of chocolate, and some chips. We washed it all down with, what else, Fanta. The founder of the orphanage had picked up the cake from a local bakery and had it inscribed in pink icing, “FAREWELL BABY”. What a lovely gesture. Now, since we were the hosts of the party, Carla and I served all eighteen children and adults, cleaned up after them, and refilled their drinks.
The rain was quickly dried up by the afternoon sunshine and playtime resumed. ZG spent the remainder of the afternoon under the umbrella with the mamma nanny and her biological mother. Does it count as “grace” if you do it while trying to bite a hole through your lip? Probably not, but we endured.
At 4pm the orphanage director told us it was time to head home. Every time ZG’s biological mother is around her, she has to wonder if it is the last time she will ever see her. Today was no different. She walked all the way to the van with us carrying ZG in her arms. Carla took ZG from her and we parted ways with a half genuine hug. One of the nannies held her hand and walked her back inside the Metroplex. It’s sad and hard to live out, but it’s a train wreck, so wanting to watch it unfold is only natural.
We crashed for the night early, but not after having a beef fillet for dinner. ZG was out like a light and Carla and I said our prayer for patience and grace before passing out ourselves.
It’s unbelievable how much we can endure. We are only human, but God has given us a very large threshold for emotional pain. The key is to understand when we reach that threshold, and let go and give it up to Him. Carla and I have reached that point. Nothing left to do, but let go.
Uh Oh, ZG’s Gotta Rash
The living room of the B&B is very comfortable. Since the Wi-Fi has been broken for the last three days, we have spent a lot of time playing with ZG and getting to know the staff here. They are all in their late 20’s and work here on average 12 hours per day. They each get one day per week off to attend to their personal business. The days are long for them but they like working here and always have a smile on their face.
Right after lunch, Carla decided that we should take ZG to the Wentz Clinic and have the bumps on her skin looked at. The doctor gave us some topical ointment and anantibiotic syrup. She also recommended that we de-worm ZG. It is customary for babies to be de-wormed every three months. The orphanage director confirmed that she was de-wormed at six months, so it is time again to take the 20mls of syrup to kill the intestinal worms. Medical costs are ridiculously cheap here. Our visit to the clinic and three prescriptions cost us eight US dollars. Affordable quality unregulated healthcare. America, please take notes from Uganda.
Before we returned to the B&B, we stopped by the market and got some Chinese food. ZG has lost her appetite since she was so sick two nights before and wouldn’t eat her baby food or rice. She did eat enough to take her medicine and played for several hours outside as we listened to Pat Green on the patio with the staff. The Ugandans love country music and are obsessed with Texas! Carla reminded me that I was fasting from music, but I didn’t enjoy the music as much as the fellowship, so I say the fast is still intact!
My friend Ziggy taught me how to make his world famous German Pancakes about a year ago. I hope he would be pleased to know that I have shared his recipe, complete with Nutella, with our Kenyan born chef here at the B&B in Uganda. Together with the chef, we made five very large pancakes with a layer of Nutella spread thin inside of the rolled up treat. The staff was impressed at how good they tasted and even shared them with some of their patrons outside on the terrace. For me, it was a small reminder of home and my friends.
ZG fought sleep for about an hour, and at 8pm, was snoring. Let’s hope for another good night. God had answered our prayers for this since the train wreck happened a few days ago. Today was a good day, and we are excited to hear all the Independence Day Jubilation tomorrow as Uganda celebrates 50 years as a country free from Great Britain.
Where’s the Wi-Fi,
Two Homesick Parents