Meeting Malachi

It was 13 hours of slow torture in the middle seat as we crossed the Atlantic ocean. We slept a couple of hours, but just couldn’t seem to get comfy. And my mind was racing.

After landing, it took us almost 2 hours to get an airport visa, then change money, then go through customs, then go through security. And then we found Semmey. He’ll be our guide for the next week, and we think he’s pretty great.

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Completely jetlagged, but running on adrenaline, we set out for Adama. Everyone knows Americans are spoiled rotten, but oh my, was it ever obvious on our drive to Adama as I snapped some photos out the window. Ethiopians are such beautiful people, and many of them lead lives of severe hardship. We’ve visited our share of underdeveloped countries before this, but you see it all through a different lens when you know your child lives among the poverty. We’ve seen lots of cargo-carrying donkeys, and horses, and goats. Many of the buildings are simply makeshift shacks built of sticks and sheets of scrap metal. Children roam the unpaved streets in tattered clothes and bare feet. Other children were tilling fields using livestock as machinery. Poverty is much more heartbreaking when your own child is one of its victims. Knowledge brings responsibility, and friends, may we all be compelled to do something about this.

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We stopped by the hotel to check in and quickly change clothes before heading to the orphanage. Unfortunately, I can’t show you pictures of our time at the orphanage just yet. Malachi legally becomes our child on Thursday at court, and I will be able to share them then.

At the orphanage, we walked up to an outdoor courtyard with open-air rooms surrounding us. And within minutes, Malachi was walking toward us with assistance. Yes! He was walking! The last videos we had seen of him were in November, and then, he could barely take a step. What a sweet surprise – a miracle, certainly.

I walked toward him. “Tadias.” (Amharic for Hello.) I reached out my hand and he reached for mine in return. We helped him down a few steps and the three of us sat down in the courtyard where the orphanage workers had arranged three chairs. He didn’t seem scared at all, just really curious. He was soaking it all in. The workers had told him we would be coming, and that we wanted him to become a part of our family. I can’t even begin to imagine what must have been going through his head. Nor can I imagine what all of the other children were thinking as they watched us play, likely hoping that their family might arrive soon too.

We handed him a Lightning McQueen puzzle. “Wanna play?” The three of us got down to business on that puzzle with Semmey sometimes chiming in with Amaharic to help. As the minutes moved forward, Malachi became even more comfortable and began jabbering at us in Amharic as though we could understand.

We shared a photo album we had created for him with pictures of our home, his room, Maddox, Mia, and other close family. He rubbed the photos on each page almost endearingly. He was enamored with his room. The kid absolutely loves cars. So how did I know to make cars and trucks the theme of his room? We’ll just call it a God thing, for sure.

The car obsession also means bringing five of Maddox’s matchbox cars was a great idea. We zoomed and zoomed those cars around the brick pavers in the orphanage courtyard. When we had to leave for lunch, Semmey told Malachi we would be back. Malachi said, “Bring some more cars when you come back.” Ah. Never before has an expression of American entitlement made me smile so big.

Malachi likes both of us, but he really really likes Mitch. Maybe it’s because he is so tall, or maybe because he wore a soccer jersey with his jeans today. Or maybe just because the kid already has a sense that Mitch really is the most wonderful dad ever. Whatever it was, my heart was happy watching those two play. We brought one of those big rubber band punching balloons to bat around. For not being able to walk without help, that kid sure can move. He does this super fast and super sweet bear crawl running thing. His ankles are rough and calloused from dragging them on the pavers, as it seems he is usually barefoot.

We were shocked at how well he does with English. We simply point to an object, say the English word, and he will immediately repeat it with the most precious accent you have ever heard. He knows his ABCs and can also write some English letters. He was sure to show off his skills. Videos to come later!

Oh happy day. I know we had many fears going into that first meeting, but now I can’t even remember what they all were. My heart is full.

Now to another favorite part of the day. In addition to all of the donations of clothes and diapers and hygiene products that we brought, many people had also given us cash to use toward helping the orphanage. We ended up with about $600 from friends, my work family, and the kids that attended Skycrest VBS. The orphanage has about 58 children and receives no government assistance. It is funded solely through donations.

Semmey told Selam, the orphanage director, that we would like to buy something that the orphanage really needed. She shared that what they needed most right now was a printer/copier/scanner. The orphanage has been operating all this time without one! Maybe this helps to explain why every document takes weeks to obtain. The adoption process is sometimes so highly inefficient because some of the offices involved do not have these basic necessities. The printer/copier/scanner would allow Selam to complete the necessary paperwork to accept new children into the orphanage and to complete the needed documents to facilitate adoptions that would take children out of the orphanage.

So in the afternoon, we drove with Selam and Semmey to a small, dim shop that sold every kind of appliance, including printers. And we used that money from our friends and family to buy the orphanage a mac daddy printer/copier/scanner. It was absolutely the perfect gift! Here’s to renewed efficiency in document preparation. Future adoptive families, you’re welcome. Love my generous friends.

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We went to bed super jet lagged, and I woke up four hours later unable to sleep. I arose to write and reflect on all of the day’s life-changing happenings. Back to bed with heart overflowing.

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The Last Leg

We enjoyed some down time in DC yesterday evening. A leisurely dinner and a movie before departing this morning for Addis. We made some new friends in DC. A phillipino shuttle driver who wanted us to adopt our next child from Manilla. A taxi driver from Kuwait who thought us converting to Islam would be a good idea. And a restaurant buddy who was sure that adoption and being Republican were synonymous.

This morning, we headed to the Dulles airport and boarded our plane. 

   
 
We’ll be on the ground in 12 hours.  When we land, it will be 7am in Ethiopia. We’ll meet our driver and then make a couple hours drive outside of Addis Ababa to Malachi’s orphanage in Adama where we will meet him for the first time. Lots of butterflies are happening right now. It feels like the night before your wedding or some other super important life event. Maybe worse. 

Will he smile or cry? Will he hate me or like me? Will he be excited or completely afraid? Will he even want to play with any of the toys we brought? Will he be able to comprehend in any sense what is about to take place? This kid’s world is about to get turned upside down, beautifully wrecked. And he likely will have no clue that it is for the better. Adoption is redemption. Where there is redemption, there was brokenness. Today is day #1 of healing for this little boy. Oh that he might comprehend today just an iota of the wonderful adventure that is to come. And if he doesn’t, may we have the grace and wisdom to gently lead him to understand how much we care for him. 

A long and life-changing day is ahead. Must sleep on this flight. Here’s to hoping the sleep mask + Melatonin do their job.

  

Takeoff Round 1

The last 6 days are a blur. Since that call on Monday, a beautiful flurry of activity has made us busy bees. I thought I was ready, but there were tons of little last minute to-dos to prepare us to cross the Atlantic. Malaria pills, medical authorizations, flight booking, travel insurance, donation packing, and on and on. And then my getting-ready time was cut short when my work trip to Baltimore became 2 days longer than expected.

So I landed in Tampa on Wednesday afternoon, and the packing commenced. The suitcases were a hot mess, and so was our bedroom. When it came to clothes, we went with the bare minimum so we could have space for the important things. Puzzles, play dough, legos, and games to play with Malachi. And snacks. Lots of snacks. The Kuhns aren’t very adventurous with foreign foods. I’m prepared for forced weight loss, and if they have my pizza and mac & cheese staples available, I will be pleasantly surprised. The biggest packing debate was whether or not to tote my laptop. My life is in that laptop. My opinion prevailed, and it came along so I can feel like a whole person.IMG_6998

The suitcase situation gradually got better as Sunday departure day neared. We ended up with 4 overstuffed bags and 3 carry ons. Mitch and I packed super light, I swear. It’s the orphanage donations that make us look like hoarders. Thank you friends who gave so generously for supplies for Malachi’s orphanage. Can’t wait to introduce those precious kids to brand new clothes, socks, undies, and more.

T minus 18 hours to departure. This is what “I have so much to do” + “My whole life is about to radically change” looks like.

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We dropped Maddox off with Gigi and Papouli on Saturday evening. He was happy to go with them which made saying goodbye easier. But boy oh boy, I already miss that little guy. Let’s review his handsome face.

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Sunday morning, and it was time to load up and leave.

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A sweet friend gave us some airport blow money to fund Mitch’s coffee habit. Thank you Laurie Tarbox. You just enriched our marriage.

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So now we join you on Sunday morning via in-flight wi-fi on the first leg of our voyage.

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I’m blogging, and Mitch is having church.

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We’ll spend the evening in DC, and then depart for Addis tomorrow morning.

We’ll visit Malachi on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then on Thursday, we will have court, and Malachi will legally become our child. Oh beautiful day. On Friday we say goodbye. Ugly day. We then wait 4 to 6 weeks for the US embassy to process Malachi’s paperwork and prepare him to immigrate as a US citizen. Then, we’ll return to pick him up.

Adventure awaits.

Court Date!!!

Hello from Baltimore where I’m on a quick one-night work trip. This morning, I was having breakfast at the hotel, preparing for our client presentation with Troy (owner extraordinaire), Glen (creative director extrordinaire), and Corinne (account executive extraordinaire), when my phone rings. The screen says Lesley. (She’s the case worker who has put up with my endless complaining and badgering. Thank you Lesley!)

Ring Ring

Me: “THIS IS MY COURT DATE!!”

Get up from table and run to lobby

Ring Ring

Me: Hello.

Lesley: Are you ready to go to Africa?

I’ve been waiting on this phone call for nearly three years, so I felt like ugly crying and screaming simultaneously. I did neither. When in a pressured panic, I put on a calm façade, assess the situation, and get the details! There will be time for crying later. Thanks for the life skill, mom.

So, we’re heading to Ethiopia THIS WEEKEND to meet the little dude we’ve waited an eternity to meet. And Esther 4:14 keeps playing in my head: “Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created.”

It’s really happening. We are really are coming for you Malachi!

The Loveliest Letter of All Letters

Folks, we have a LETTER!!! The precious piece of paper we have been waiting on for 5 months just got filed with the Ethiopian courts. I can’t see that dreamy document, but if I could, I would spritz it with my most expensive perfume and kiss kiss kiss it.

Miracle of all miracles. The Lord has surely done great things for us, and we are filled with joy (Psalm 126:3).

Now, the Ethiopian courts will assign us a court date. This part can take anywhere from 1 day to 1 week.

It is no longer the time to be cautiously optimistic. It is time to pack our bags!

Sweet Malachi, prepare to meet your momma!

Cautious Optimism

Mom has often said that dad and I are pessimists. But I say we’re realists. If the good Lord graced me with a few droplets of optimism at birth, this journey has beaten them straight out of me. Perhaps two and a half years ago I approached this journey with calm and confident anticipation. Now, I’m fresh out.

Today, we were told the one letter we have been waiting on for nearly 5 months could be just days away. Caseworker says, “Get your plans in order and be ready to travel on very short notice.” Well actually, the travel to-do list was completed in February, so I think we’re all set.

Hope has come and gone more times than I can recount. Right now, I have it again, but it is purposefully extremely cautious. I am more than ready to end this paper pregnancy slash non-hormone induced emotional roller coaster. But I’m holding off on my happy dance until my feet are on Ethiopian soil. There have been enough hiccups and delays and dark, “this-might-never-happen” moments to keep us 100% dependent on the Lord.

Most recently, the government office that needs to write the letter was closed for 10 days due to power outages, a common occurrence there. Dear God, keep the lights on long enough for them to write this letter! I never thought I would send up fierce, on-your-knees, tear-filled battle prayers… for electricity.

When it comes to getting ready for the trip, there’s one thing I haven’t done yet, and it’s actually something you could help with. We plan to bring 2 suitcases full of donations for Malachi’s orphanage on each of our two trips. The orphanage needs some very specific items. If you’d like to help by donating some of these items, we’ll make sure they make it with us on one of our two trips. Please only new or almost new clothes, toys, and books.

Baby/Children’s Shampoo
Lice Shampoo
Baby/Children’s Soap
Hygiene products
Oral Hygiene Products
Diaper Cream, Powder, Lotion,
Baby Wipes
Nutramigen baby formula
Pedialyte Packets
Rice Cereal
Diapers – Cloth or Disposable
Surgical Gloves – Size Medium
Children’s Tylenol and Pepto-Bismol
Other Common Children’s Medications
Slip-on Closed toes shoes
Bedding (Crib, twin and full sizes)
Mosquito Nets
Toys
Books
Clothing for children ages 4 – 12
DVDs (learning or Disney)

We’ve walked this road for long enough to know that if the next blog post is a bon voyage, it will certainly be miraculous. I’m calling my warrior prayer people. You call your warrior prayer people. If ever there was a time to go before the throne and beg for a booming miracle, it is now.

Recovering Control Freak

This journey is grueling, gut-wrenching, faith-shaking. Hope arrives and is then deferred at the blink of an eye. And when you near the end, every day is a hard one. Especially for those of us with control issues. Tell me there is a problem I can’t control, and you just gave me a reason to fixate on attempting to control it anyway. Give me a timeline only to obliterate it, and a borderline psychological disorder just kicked in. Dear home study social workers, I’m really just kidding. Really.

I do know all of the theological reasons that my battle for control is really an idolatry problem. Surely, surely, surely, God should have made me the boss of my own life… and perhaps the universe too. Sorry. I’m working on controlling the control problem.

Writing an update on June 4 where we still haven’t met our little dude certainly did not fit into my tidy strategic plan for growing the Kuhn family. We were more than hopeful that Malachi would have been home by now, but here we sit without a court date for our first trip.

For several months, we have been waiting on that court date which hasn’t come and hasn’t come and hasn’t come. Some families in this process have had court dates scheduled and are in Ethiopia this week. Others are preparing to travel next week. It’s a weird thing, and maybe sort of selfish, to feel so happy for them and so sad for yourself.

We’ve tried to think of any and every possible way we could advocate to get our little guy home (including, but not limited to, traveling to Ethiopia ourselves to beg the government to move our process along); but, we’ve been assured that at this point, there is absolutely nothing we can do…. but wait. Cringe.

Very soon, we will take our every-other-year big family vacation. We’re heading to Vancouver, then on a Disney cruise to Alaska, then staying for a few days in Seattle. Thank you Mammaw for the special treat!

So essentially, one of my boys will be sailing on a luxury cruise ship eating too much vanilla ice cream with Mickey head sprinkles while gagging on the two bites of carrot we force him to take. My other boy is waiting for his next meal in an orphanage where the caregiver to child ratio is 1:20. I’m disgusted by the disparity and the injustice.

To head straight from Seattle to Addis Ababa would be a dream come true! We’re praying specifically that God would move in the hearts of those in charge and that we will receive a travel date that will allow us to board a plane very shortly after returning from Seattle.

In the meantime, I’m trying to relinquish the illusion of control as a nasty villain that sabotages spiritual growth. God is rewriting my tidy family plan with adventure and risk and struggle and tears. Messy journeys have unique charm when they swerve way off of the course outlined on our own roadmap and onto a route prolonged, but much more divine. I am learning to grasp the obvious. God can put up a vicious fight for Malachi with or without my worthless attempts to micromanage Him. After all, it is He who “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow.” (Deuteronomy 10:18)

Dear Lord. Let. It. Be. With all that you are and all that is in Christ, FIGHT to bring this child home.

Dear mamas of littles, hold them tight and kiss them often. Some of us would move heaven and earth for that privilege.

Dear Malachi, sit tight. You might not get to start K-4 on time, but we are coming!

~ Kam

Happy Birthday Malachi

Dear Malachi,

Your 5th birthday has come and gone, and we weren’t even allowed to spoil you with presents or a celebration. We’re ready to come for you at a moment’s notice, but Ethiopia’s government needs to assign us a court date first. On that date, you’ll be in our family officially and forever. Let’s hope it is assigned very soon.

You don’t know yet that you’re being adopted. You don’t know about us, but we’ve known about you for many months – long enough to have met you in our dreams over and over.

You looked like you had grown in the updated pictures your orphanage just sent. We wish that you could grow here in our home instead. It makes us sad to miss the growing. And your pants looked worn and quite a bit too big. Dad is anxious to get you in some skinny jeans. Kuhn guys wear skinnies – except for Grandpa, he doesn’t.

Every night, we pray that God will prepare the four of our hearts to be a family. We pray that the grief you will feel over leaving the orphanage will be reduced because your heart is happy to be in our home. We pray that you will like the food here, and that you will know you will always have plenty to eat. We pray you will feel safe here and know you don’t have to fight to survive. We pray you will feel deep down that you are loved and wanted, because you are.

Are the workers there treating you with care? Are you getting plenty to eat? Are they teaching you any English? Do you have friends to play with?

Every day, people ask me questions too. They want to know if we’ve heard any news about when you will come home, and I’m getting tired of saying, “no.” Everything is ready and waiting for you. We just need a phone call saying “It’s time!”

Our hearts are anxious. We’re not sure what’s taking so long, but we do know the one who is in control. We’ll tell you all about Him soon enough.

A mom usually knows her son better than her son knows himself. That can’t be true if we’ve never met. Are you analytical or witty? A rule breaker or a rule follower? Relaxed or uptight? Free spirited or deliberate? I can’t wait to find out.

Next year, your 6th birthday will be much different than this birthday was. We’ll plan a celebration with presents and food and family and friends. And maybe we’ll look back on this note, and at the very least, you’ll know that on your 5th birthday we were thinking of you.

Happy 5th Birthday,

XOXO

Mom, Dad, & Maddox

Say Again?!?!

Since the first week of February we have been anxiously awaiting a court date when we will travel to Ethiopia for the first time. Our bags are semi-packed, including 4 cans of disease-carrying mosquito repellant. We’ve each been to three different doctors for a total of seven different vaccinations. The family books we prepared for Malachi are completed and packed. The passports are up to date, and the travel agent is awaiting our call for an OK to book flights. Once we get the court date, we could have anywhere between 3 days and 3 weeks notice to leave the country.

Waiting for a court date is by far the most excruciating part of the process yet. And it’s taking way longer than we originally anticipated. So to avoid boring you with an emotional rant about the pain of waiting that would leave you wondering if I’ve lost my marbles, I’ll turn my attention toward a little friendly foot-in-mouth prevention education.

7 Things Not to Say to an Adoptive Family

Most people are well meaning in their comments. They’re coming from a place of genuine concern or curiosity. But sometimes, uneducated remarks are simply inappropriate or downright offensive. Parents can easily discern the intent, then smile, nod, and politely respond. However, comments like this can be much more hurtful for children when made in front of them. So for the sake of adoptive families everywhere, let’s get smart about how we talk about adoption. If it sounds like I’m angry, I promise this list is more of a kind imploring to avoid this line of remarks and to put the needs of the child in front of our own curiosities.

  1. “Is he yours?”

Yes. He’s mine. Are you asking if he is my biological child? Oh! In that case, no. (as if it wasn’t obvious :))

  1. “Are you going to have any more of your own children?”

I’ll hold back a snarl. All of our children are “our own,” thanks.

  1. Where did you get your child?

Children are not commodities. Instead try asking, “Where was your child born?” Or “I’d love to hear the story of your adoption journey.”

  1. “How much did he cost?”

I know it sounds crazy and seems obvious, but adoptive families claim this question is asked way too often.

  1. “You are so lucky.”

Think about this from the child’s perspective. They have often faced more tragedy in their early years of life than most people will in a lifetime. That’s not lucky.

  1. “You’re so cute! I’m going to take you home with me.”

That’s ok to say to a child who is securely attached, but not to children who could likely be struggling with fear of separation or abandonment. A common complaint among adoptive parents is that their biological children are ignored in public and the adopted child is showered with attention. So if you’re going to say that Malachi is cute, don’t forget to mention that all of my children are cute – the bio one too!

  1. “Do you know what happened to his real parents? “

Well, of course, we ARE his “real” parents. And also, Malachi’s story is his to tell and his alone. We’ll try to keep the details of his story close to the vest until we’re ready to share it all with him and he is ready to share it with you. One day Malachi will grow up to be a man, and his life story will be his to share. His story will be all he has when he comes to us, so we will protect it carefully. We want our friends and family to be involved in his life from here forward. Love him sincerely. Remind him of the grace of Jesus, the goodness of God, and the beauty of redemption. Just leave the conversations about where he started for the intimacy of our family. We, like many other adoptive families, truly appreciate your patience and understanding in that.

That’s all for now. Hoping and praying the next post comes to you via in-flight wifi. See you soon, Africa. We’re coming for you Malachi!

Preparing for Malach

The days lag on as we wait for our first trip to Ethiopia. We’ve received our official adoption approval from the US embassy in Addis Ababa. All we need now is a court date from the local Ethiopian government. We’re told that we need to be ready to travel on very short notice. Once we receive the court date, we will need to book our travel and leave probably within a week. Some families have only had a couple of days notice. Better get packing.

Now remember, we’ll make two trips to Ethiopia. On the first trip, Malachi will legally become our son at Ethiopian court. After this, I will show you pics… lots of pics. However, there is still much to be done in order to allow him to immigrate to the US as a citizen. So we will come home for 6 to 8 weeks and then make a second trip to pick him up.

Around the Kuhn house, we continue to pass the time by preparing for our little dude to come home. Here’s what we’ve been up to in the last few weeks.

School Choice

We decided Malachi will attend Skycrest in the fall. We’ve met with both the principle and Malachi’s teacher. We like that Mitch is usually on campus and is a short walk from the K-4 classroom should he need to help out. Because of Malachi’s medical needs, we want to be close by until we’re comfortable with his routine and until we’ve helped him gain some independence. He’ll start out just going to school for a half day. Hopefully, this will make for an easier transition.

Travel Immunizations

Who knew such a simple thing could consume so much time… tracking down shot records which apparently our doctors destroyed after seven years (WHAT?!?!?), debating with insurance, and visiting 2 different doctors plus the health department. At the end of it all, I will have had to confront my needle phobia seven different times, but I suppose it beats coming home from Africa with typhoid.

Pre-Adoption Medical Review

Very few medical records exist for Malachi, but what we do have, we had reviewed at All Children’s Hospital. After our discussions with the doctor, we were able to rule out some of the more serious complications of Malachi’s medical condition.

Training, Training, Training.

We’re prepping for life after adoption with a series of web videos from our agency covering everything from food hoarding to attachment and bonding. 13 hours down and 11 hours to go. Let’s just say we’ll be well prepared.

Malachi’s Family Book

On our first trip to Ethiopia, we’ll give Malachi a family book with pictures of our family members and our home. He can keep it with him until we go back to pick him up. The hope is that the book makes the transition a little easier. When he walks into our home or meets his grandparents for the first time, he will have at least seen pictures to make the experiences less shocking.

Malachi’s Room

This weekend, we finished up Malachi’s room. Apart from an empty closet, we’re ready for him to move in. Maddox helped by playing on my phone and glancing up every now and then to say, “Mommy that looks nice.” Mitch helped with the power tools, although I think he’s wishing I’d learn how to use them for myself. He’s a good hubby to put up with all of my projects.

  

There’s much to do and much to pray for. We’d love it if you would join us in praying during the waiting.

  1. Malachi’s physical capabilities.
  2. Provision for physical therapy. Most insurance coverage for PT is shotty, and we will likely need PT multiple days a week.
  3. Healthy attachment/bonding and a smooth transition into our home.
  4. Language acquisition. While we’d love to be bilingual, English, not Amharic, is the language of choice at the Kuhn family estate. May Malachi catch on quickly.
  5. May God prepare Maddox’s heart to love on Malachi. May he learn to share his mom and dad with a happy heart.