Travel Diaries: The Video Version (Part 1)

Before we left for Ethiopia last month, the girls at work said I should document our trip via a vlog. I said I was pretty positive I would be bad at it, but I gave it a shot nonetheless.

This video is part 1. It documents the first 48 hours of our trip when we met Farahol – the sweet little boy we sponsor through Compassion International. Later, I’ll get around to posting part 2 where we actually pick up Malachi from the orphanage. It’s probably a #vlogfail, but hoping someday Malachi can look back at these videos and laugh with us. Enjoy!

Video Part 1 – Meeting Farahol

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The only thing we love more than orphan care is orphan prevention. Thank you Compassion International for working to keep children in their first families. You may remember that during our first trip to Ethiopia, we also visited Make Your Mark Ministries – another great organization engaged in orphan prevention. We will vouch for these two non-profits and beg you to check them out. They deserve your dollars!

Compassion International
Make Your Mark Ministries

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A Letter to Our Village

Today, we began the journey back to Ethiopia to make Malachi an orphan no longer. We received the call out of the blue on Wednesday while enjoying some time with favorite friends from out of town- the Kisers – at the happiest place on earth – Disney! Here’s a pic moments after the call. Excuse the crying bio son. He really is happy about Malachi, just not about pictures.

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Two tickets to Addis Ababa and make it three for the return flight please! 60-ish hours and a beautiful, but blurry, stressed-out frenzy later, we were at the airport without passports. Mom brain. Fast-forward 45 minutes. We were at the airport WITH passports and saying goodbye to Maddox. Last picture as a family of three!

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Now, we rest for the night in Washington D.C., waiting to depart tomorrow morning for Addis.

It’s been said it takes a village to raise a child. Today, we write an honest and open letter to our village. The time has finally come to explain what life will look like when we return home.

Adoption was the best plan for our family, but by no means is adoption the best way for a child to enter a family. The world is unbelievably broken, and we realize it now more than ever before. Malachi has experienced more hardship and loss in his 5 short years than most of us ever will. The wounds of hunger, separation, loss, and grief cut deep.

From an orphanage in Ethiopia to a family in Clearwater, Florida, Malachi’s whole life is about to change. We’ll introduce him to strange foods he’s never tasted. We’ll introduce him to doctors who will poke and prod. We’re exchanging a world where everyone looks like him for a world where some look like him. We’re replacing his sterile, yet familiar room, shared with eight close friends, for a colorful room that’s all his own. Malachi is leaving an orphanage that was his family, albeit 60 members big.

In a healthy biological child, secure attachment and trust forms when parents consistently meet the child’s physical, mental, emotional, and social needs.

Child cries. Parent responds. Child cries. Parent responds. Child cries. Parent responds. Over time, attachment and trust form.

Children who have lost or never experienced the love of a parent can often have difficulty trusting that their needs will be met. That means we may need to retrain Malachi’s brain toward healthy attachment. We’ll need to help him relearn the real role of a mom and a dad. Parents provide food and shelter. Parents provide comfort and security. Parents don’t leave you (and if they do leave for a short time, they will always come back). We get it, but for a former orphan (yes, former!), the concept is novel.

He’ll need time to develop a connection to our family and to trust that we are safe. He’ll need extra patience and love as the Lord heals the wounds of his past.

The Case for Cocooning

When we return, we’ll stay home with Malachi as much as possible, attempting to create an environment that is calm, predictable, and comforting. The adoption world calls this a period of “cocooning.” It will last as long as he needs to feel safe and secure and connected to our family.

Cocooning looks like this…

  • We’ll avoid parties and large gatherings.
  • We’ll introduce new people in moderation and only when he is comfortable with us. When we introduce new people, we’ll do so in small groups of one or two.
  • We’re asking others not to pick up, hold, hug, or kiss Malachi. In the beginning, these displays of affection are reserved for Mitch and I.
  • Only Mitch or I should give things to Malachi, especially food.
  • Only Mitch or I should meet Malachi’s needs.

This all might sound over-protective, secluding, or like we’re over analyzing. But we’re following the advice of professionals who know the adoption thing way better we do. We want nothing more than for Malachi to be able to love and hug the awesome people who prayed and gave and prayed even more to bring him home. We just need to allow him the time he needs to get used to a brand new world and way of life. When he’s ready, we’ll widen the net and begin to look less like recluses. We’ll find our new normal in time.

The weight of the responsibility ahead is sinking in. Pray for us often. Offer to visit in small groups when he is ready. Text and call with encouragement – we’ll need lots. The same village that brought us to this point will bring us through the months ahead. Plus a whole lot of Jesus. Love to you all!

Memoirs of Malachi’s Shower

It’s been more than three weeks since we returned from Ethiopia, and we are so ready to go back and pick up Mr. Malachi. We received his passport last week, and now we are just waiting on the Embassy to complete his medical review. This could take one week, or it could take nine weeks. So we continue to wait in that always unknown timeline we have been in for two and half years. Peachy.

In the meantime, we’re getting everything ready for his hopefully-very-soon arrival. On Monday, friends and family threw a shower for Malachi. Let me just say… my people are the best people. Lots of people. They’re the most wonderful community of support ever. Malachi is the luckiest little dude to get to be loved on by this awesome group.

Friends from Skycrest Community Church, friends from Lakeside Community Chapel, friends from Dunn&Co., friends from Ruskin, friends from my old job, friends from near and far. More than 70 in all. MY LOVELY PEOPLE!!! I love love love you to the moon and back. And Malachi will too.

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Amy T., I especially love the above photo of you. We clearly caught you at the wrong time, but your arm muscles look beautifully defined as always.

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BFF Shawna Kiser made these precious prayer bracelet favors. Special delivery from Arvada Colorado. Thank you friend.

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MAMMAW!!! Enough said. Especially if you know her and her unique cool grandma vibes.

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Meet my mom and sister. Decoration bosses. They made the the theme super heroes since those guys were adopted too.

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Meet my go-getter, make-things-happen sissy-in-law who rallied the troops. I’m sure you never tired of her reminding you to buy leather bracelets, order t-shirts, or come to the shower. Someday, I will tell Malachi about all that TT (permanent term for Auntie coined by Maddox) has done for him. But I’ll wait until he understands English.

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Meet my friends Karen and Melissa. Karen orchestrated the food and spent lots of the evening in the kitchen. And I guess that’s how I only ended up with one pic of you???

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And then it was time to open presents galore!!!!

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Clothes and shoes and toys and car seats and gift cards and medical expense cashola. We are so loved. My boy is so loved. My heart is full. My heart is ready to return to Adama, Ethiopia.

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.

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!

The 18 Months Preggo Kind of Feeling

Can you imagine being 18 months pregnant? I sure can. I don’t have the aches, pains, cravings, and itchiness that go along with carrying a biological baby in your physical belly. But I certainly understand the expectation of preparing your heart and home for a child you don’t know, yet already love, every month… for 18 months.

At this time last year, we were feverishly applying for grants, creating leather bracelets, and selling t-shirts, knowing that after our dossier arrived in Ethiopia we could at anytime within the next 18 months receive a referral and at the same time be asked to give away a pretty penny (like the median income of a US household for a whole year kind of beautiful penny.) Charity funds, complete strangers, friends and family (you know who you are), provided all the needed resources within just a few short months. And the only job left was perhaps the most difficult… wait.

So here we sit on our DTE anniversary. DTE is obsessive adoptive momma speak for dossier to Ethiopia. We’re about as close to receiving a referral as Maddox is to eating vegetables. No, friends who don’t spend much time with our choosy child, that’s not very close at all.

I’ve let months go by without posting. I keep ignoring that little checkbox in my to-do list app made only for the borderline OCD that says “write a blog post.” It’s not because I don’t have anything to say. But rather because the thoughts are too hard to organize. Writing them down forces me to assign some kind of logic to a process I can’t understand. To get the answer to the “why so long” question, you must first rid yourself of applying American time values to a culture we’re a hemisphere away from.

Many families walking this journey have already switched programs and chosen a new country because the wait is turning out to be so much longer than expected. The lag in the process is not described as a delay, but rather Ethiopia’s new normal. Our agency has asked us many times if we would consider switching countries. We’ve entertained the idea, but honestly, we just can’t stomach throwing a year and a half of waiting in the trash. If we switched to another country, we would be back at the end of the line, and that’s not a fun place to be.

God has used the extra-long wait to begin to open our hearts and help us begin to reconsider a different family scenario – older child and/or special needs adoption. You see, the younger and healthier the child, the longer the wait. Many older children or children with significant special needs remain on a waiting child list and are available for nearly immediate adoption by a family who feels equipped to parent them. God has indeed already moved our hearts to a place of willingness, and we are actively praying about specific children on the waiting child list.

We need great wisdom and discernment to make the decisions that lie ahead. We need great patience and endurance to travel the journey we’ve been called to. We need supernatural intervention in the government of a country that is under-resourced, under-staffed, and disorganized.

The pregnancy pangs I feel aren’t physical, but I think they hurt equally as bad. Here’s to praying and waiting and waiting some more.

Breaking the Mold

I’ve always valued uniqueness… places, ideas, clothing, people. But my appreciation for uniqueness isn’t all that unique, is it? Most people appreciate originality. But when it comes to family building, perhaps fewer people can appreciate styles that break the mold. International adoption is our current method of choice. And seeing that in 2012, it only happened around 8,000 times in the US, I like to think we’re breaking the norm. We’re challenging conventional notions about how families are created and defying social expectations as to how families should look. In less than two years (God-willing), we will welcome an Ethiopian baby boy or girl into our home in the same way we welcomed Maddox and in the same way we will welcome our next biological child who will be born out of the same belly Maddox was born out of. (No I’m not pregnant! Just referencing baby #3 who we’re hopeful is far in the future).

So why adoption? It’s a question we’ve been hearing a lot lately. After all, Maddox proved that the baby makers seem to be working properly. Crafting a response quick enough for the casually curious minds who seem somewhat eager to move on to the next subject has not been easy. The long version is much better.

There are probably a handful of answers to that question you’re expecting me to say, and they’re all true. We want to father the fatherless. We do not want to be aloof believers simply living out a Christian version of the American dream. We refuse to ignore the orphan crisis. However, for our family, adoption is less about the nobility of rescuing a child and more about the celebration of God’s miraculous rescue of us – two orphans who could do nothing deserving of entering God’s family. Our desire is that our family become a picture, as imperfect as it will be, of God’s beautiful display of grace toward two broken down sinners.

We don’t actually believe orphan care is a calling, but rather a command. God has so deepened and widened our understanding of the Gospel, leading us to conclude that adoption is at the very center of God’s purpose of the universe. Earthly adoption is a beautiful display of God’s grace.

So why international adoption? We wanted to impact a child who would have never been able to access nutrition, education, or medical care. We wanted to snatch a child out of a culture where they likely would have never been blessed to hear and receive the Gospel. Adoption from the American foster system is desperately needed, and God calls specific families to it (namely, my sister and brother-in-law). But God has led our hearts overseas. Not to mention, we are somewhat enamored with the idea of having a multicultural family. If God’s family is made of many tribes, nations, and tongues, let’s make this comparison picture accurate!

By my survey of the environment around me, adoption as a means of family building isn’t very common. And international adoption, even less so. But shouldn’t more people break the mold?

“Rescue the perishing; don’t hesitate to step in and help. If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,” [i.e. “that’s not for me”] will that get you off the hook? Someone is watching you closely, you know— Someone not impressed with weak excuses.”
~Proverbs 24:12 (The Message)