Twenty Months

Fred, today you are 20 months old. Twenty months seems like a long times (especially when I consider that I haven’t slept for 8 hours straight in 20 months), but at the same time, it’s weird to think you haven’t already been here.

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You are a pure delight to your dad and me. We both miss you like crazy when we are apart, and you light up our days with your personality. At night, you sleep between us, and we stare at you in wonder that this little boy gets to live with us.

You love water – swimming, baths, showers, puddles, and buckets of water outside. It doesn’t matter. You can play in water for hours.

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You are very coordinated – whether it’s eating cereal with a spoon, kicking a soccer ball, throwing a tennis ball, or holding your crayon correctly for “colora.” Your language develops every day. You have new words each day and repeat everything we say.

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You love the music at church. You sing along, and when it’s quiet, you yell “Amen.” It cracks us up. You love playing harmonica and piano with daddy while he plays guitar too. You make song requests at night when I sing to you. You ask for “Row Row” and “ABCs” most often.

 

Dude. Let’s talk about your obsession with shoes. It’s the first thing on your mind when you wake up, and at night, you have to put all the shoes “night night.” Your first sentence was “shoes on,” and your first three word sentence was “blue shoes on.” You change your shoes multiple times a day, throw a fit if we don’t comply with the request, and try on our shoes all the time. You notice whether people are wearing shoes in books, and sometimes you insist that daddy and I change our shoes.

You LOVE playing outside, and you love watching the animals. You held a bunny this past week. You are learning to be gentle with the smaller animals, and you love to chase the goats.

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Most importantly, you just make your dad and me so very happy. We feel so privileged to watch you grow and get to know you. You are like us in many ways, and in other ways you are just your own Fred. We are so excited to get to know you more every day. We love you so very much.

 

 

Life

I went back to work (temporarily) so that’s my excuse for never publishing anything – that and the fact that my internet is so bad that I haven’t been able to log into the site for over a week. Nothing too exciting to share here but a few glimpses into life in Rwanda.

We live in Rwanda. Like, we seriously live here. And I hope that someday we have something to show for it other than sun damage to my skin.

But really, that’s part of why we are here, right? We want this to change us. It’s not that something was wrong before, but something was missing.

A friend once said that if we don’t set spiritual goals for our lives (like financial, physical, career goals), then we wake up each year the same.  As a Christian, I believe we are on an eternal journey toward holiness – becoming more Christ-like. It’s not attainable in this life of course, but it’s where God seems to be calling us.

So Rwanda is a piece of that, for us. Every part of our lives should be a piece of that.

I’ve been humbled in awe at some of the memories we are creating as of late. Last Friday night, we had about 25 kids and a teacher in our driveway teaching a Bible class. Freddy crawled in the middle, poking their faces, saying “hi,” clapping along with the songs.

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Now that I am back at work, Freddy spends his days with our three Rwandan staff members – Phoebe (“BeeBee”), Mugenzi  (“Mu”) and Adrian (“Abada”). I watched him running in the yard with them laughing and cheering him on.  He dances when they arrive and yells “bye bye” from the window when they leave.

BB spends his days learning how to become a manager and then how to be a manager in Rwanda. I’m not sure how he will ever be able to capture his education from this time period into a resume (not that he would ever consider actually working for someone!), but the lessons he is learning are priceless. And his employees are being challenged and encouraged in ways that I am positive couldn’t have happened without him taking a chance on them.

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And me. Well, today I’m a high school English teacher preparing to give a test on Beowulf. This most certainly could not have happened anywhere else in the world.

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God continues to confound and amaze us. We’ve struggled a bit financially with starting the business. In America, it would not have been different, but feeling so separated from all that is familiar makes normal struggles seem scarier. And yet at every turn, God has provided for us (and so so much more!). He provides not in just the financial way, but he provides friends who listen, family who encourages, and neighbors who have us over for dinner when we are tired.

This experience has both shaken and deepened my faith in Jesus as Lord. My faith is being refined. I’m learning to discern the true Jesus from the false, the fundamentals from the false fundamentals. I’m letting old beliefs about the world fall away and fade into gray.

At the same time, I’ve never been more convinced that God is real and that he loves me. I think being far away from most of the people who love me makes me crave his love more.  I see his person in the beauty of his creation and his people. I see the way he provides for the broken-hearted and the broken in body and spirit by sending his people out as missionaries.

So we are accumulating things in our backpack that we will take with us on the next journey, wherever that might be.

We are here in Rwanda until January. Lord willing, we will return to Chicago for a mild winter and be adding one more little joy to our family sometime in late February or early March. Our plan is to return as a family of four in May.  Whether these are God’s plans, I cannot say. But we will keep walking through the open doors and are happy to share the journey with all of you.

Two years

This week we watched the movie Philomena. I would not recommend watching that movie unless you are ready to have your heart crushed. It’s really a great movie, but the story is just tragic. It’s based on a true story (that unfortunately is not an unfamiliar story today). In short, a mother traces her son who was stolen from her for adoption in 1950s Ireland.

This time, two years ago, we were in Kinshasa meeting the family of the children we planned to adopt. This is a bittersweet time of year for me. The sadness and heartache are no longer fresh, but the scars are there. At the same time, it was the end of a terrible experience for those kids having to live in an institution away from the love and care of their mother.

This summer, our adoption agency – One World Adoption Services, Inc. – had their accreditation revoked by the Department of State for substantiated claims of corruption and fraud. This was a huge victory for many families in DRC, the US and Canada, but OWAS’ victim list is long. There are dozens of families in the process who are unsure about whether their adoptions will ever be finalized or whether the children should be adopted at all, and there are few people to help get those questions answered. The lawyers that OWAS employed in DRC are now extorting families who seek to retrieve their paperwork or move the children to foster homes. The pain is never-ending, it seems.

Meanwhile, the suspension of exit letters remains so few children who have been adopted have been allowed to leave DRC. Other agencies who have engaged in practices similar to OWAS remain in business, and families continue to wait and hope.

It’s an absolute mess with no obvious solution. I wish I had an answer for the families who contact me. I struggle with wanting to end all communications that I have with people on the topic because the situation feels so hopeless. I get angry when I see people defending the ethics of DRC adoptions and proceeding with adoptions without questioning whether it’s a good idea. When do you stay and continue to fight and when do you throw in the towel?

The community that I have made with other people involved in DRC adoptions is priceless. If it’s possible to be great friends with people you’ve never met in person, than I certainly am. These women get it. They get the pain and the loss and the beauty of adoption. We keep hoping and fighting because we believe it can be glorious. Thanks for sticking with us on this journey.

Our house

Welcome to our house. This year we moved a few street down into a new (to us) house. The set up is largely the same, with a few exciting additions.

Front of the house

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View from the porch

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Living Room/Play Room/Dining Room

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A much bigger kitchen! Rat free!

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Fred’s room that he has not slept in once.

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Our room.

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The Office. It was supposed to be BB’s, but I have already taken it over.

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But the main attraction is the urban farm.

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Cats and Dogs living together. P1050434

Come visit us! You won’t be disappointed, and we won’t make you clean up any animal poop.

A day in the life

Thanks to all of you who wrote such nice comments, sent emails, FB messages, and texts after yesterday’s post. I appreciate all the encouragement! One thing I love about blogging is that every time I post something that feels a little scary, I hear from you all that you feel the same way. It’s comforting to know I’m not (that) crazy.

After our month of vacation, and some upcoming big expenses, our cash flow has slowed down a bit. As a small business owner and consultant, we don’t really have a regular salary. And sometimes it’s a little scary looking out on the coming months and not knowing exactly how much money will be coming in.

Now I love security and comfort. These are my idols. So any disruption to my security and comfort makes me feel a little psychotic. Like when we run out of chocolate, for example. Jesus and I are working on that.

Living in a different culture, especially in the developing world, and dealing with money challenges feels so weird. I’m sitting here counting pennies, stressing out, while people outside my gate live on a razor’s edge of life and death. Our friends are missionaries who live on prayers. All the Christian clichés are busted. “God will provide” falls a bit flat in a land where his people starve to death.

And of course, even in our need, we are rich by local standards. One of our workers asked for a loan this morning (essentially a salary advance), which is normal and expected. It made me bristle a bit since we just returned after paying salary while we were gone (and she didn’t have to work), and we are about to pay her three months maternity leave as well.

As I tried to explain that I couldn’t give her an advance right now, but in a month when she goes on maternity leave, I will pay her for those three months up front, she looked at me quizzically. And rightly so. I’m telling her I don’t have the money right now, and I don’t think that concept is translating cross-culturally. When I say I don’t have the money, it means something different to someone who has experienced the actual reality of not having the money. She saw me pay for groceries this morning and get change in return so she knows I have some money! Caught in a lie, I suppose.

And while my American pride tells me that she should know better than to ask for an advance given the circumstances, I am reminded that we live in two completely different worlds. To her, I have an endless source of money somewhere (which is true in some ways). To me, we are struggling.

What an education! How can two people see a situation so differently and both be right? This is a bit random, and I’m not sure the point. I just find these interactions to be so fascinating as we live this weird life over here.

I owe you photos of the new house and farm. Coming soon. Time to make dinner. No matter what I do, we all still need to eat 3 times a day.

Back in Rwanda

We are back – in a new house, with a new supply of chocolate chips, and a new set of questions and reactions. We have farm animals this year, which is both delightful (fresh eggs! endless Fred entertainment!) and noisy (goats).

Being home was wonderful. We enjoyed lovely conversation with family and friends who encouraged us and prayed for us. We ate so much delicious food and enjoyed all the comforts of home. Freddy loved playgrounds, the zoo, splash pads, the pool, and the beach. So many people took care of us – lending us cars, cooking for us, letting us sleep in their houses. It truly takes a village to live this ex-pat life.

Freddy and I traveled home together alone as BB had to return early for work. We survived. It was not pretty. I don’t think I’ll do that again if I can help it, and that’s all I’ll say about that!

We are back, and life hits hard. The internet has essentially been non-existent. BB’s work has had some unexpected challenges. Fred is having trouble adjusting to the time change and new environment, and I desperately miss cheese (we can’t even get the smelly Gouda cheese right now since it’s dry season, and the cows are all dehydrated). I find myself spending a fair amount of time feeling like the Israelites wandering the desert asking God if there just weren’t enough graves in Egypt for them.

What I am doing here in Rwanda? That’s the million dollar question that everyone asks me. I don’t know. God brought me here, and I’m wondering the same thing.

I wish I could say that I’m fighting for HIV+ mothers or solving the problems of the poor. I wish I could say that I’m baptizing people and leading people to Jesus. And then I’m horribly depressed that I’m not doing that.

I came here to DO something. And yet, not unlike my life in Chicago, I find myself talking a lot. So maybe my new answer is that I’m doing nothing. I’m waiting. I’m praying. I’m listening. I’m caring for my family (sort of). I’m getting out of bed and sometimes showering. I’m reading books and singing songs to Fred. I want to do more, but God is telling me to wait (as far as I can tell).

So I wait. I keep walking. I grumble. I kick the dust and complain. Sometimes I cry and get mad. And then I make dinner and watch Seinfeld and eat cookie dough. That’s what I’m doing in Rwanda.

Home

I’ve been back in the States for two and a half weeks. What are my first impressions upon arriving back to my homeland, you may ask?

  1. It’s so loud.
  2. Why is the sun still up?
  3. Every single thing I eat here is better than every single thing I ate in Rwanda.
  4. There’s no place like home.

It’s just good to be here in America. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s kind of like how I feel about my family. They are comfortable. They aren’t perfect. They accept me with my flaws. I know exactly how they are going to piss me off. But they are my people. This is my homeland. I know it. I know it’s beauty and it’s ugliness, and I love it all.

Number one question asked = do you love it there?

Um. No. Love is a strong word. I love parts of living there. I love the people who I have met. I love how the experience is changing me. I love the part of Jesus that I see there. But I don’t love it there.

Here’s what has been revealed to me in my 2.5 weeks back on American soil. Every single day in Rwanda was hard. It was a sacrifice. It was a fast.

I think I wanted to ignore that reality. It felt weak and pathetic to think that life was hard while people around me did back-breaking labor for pennies, while missionaries live on the prayers of others, while my family suffered in our absence. I was (am) embarrassed that it was so hard.

But it wasn’t the small things like cold water and rats that made it so hard. (It didn’t help, though!) It was the big things. Loneliness. Boredom. Hopelessness. Depression. Anger. Doubt. Sadness.

It was the questions. Are we helping or hurting? Is there anything that can help this immense suffering and injustice? Do our families hate us? Do our friends remember us? Is God really good? Does God even care? Did we make a huge mistake?

By peeling back some creature comforts and placing myself in another world, the ground beneath me came as quicksand. I no longer knew which way was up. I doubted every single thing in my life that I used to believe so strongly. When I stepped on the plane to return home, I was utterly depleted and exhausted on a deeper level than the physical.

So where am I now? I am refilling. Time with family and friends has been rejuvenating. Life-giving conversations with people who love me and treat my broken, bleeding self with tender love restore my hope. I’m slowly coming back to Jesus, praying that he have mercy on me. I’m sleeping and eating, placing one foot in front of the next.

Another question that comes up – am I excited to return? Today? Absolutely not. I’m not ready. I am healing, refueling, resting. I’m trusting that I will come back stronger.

This is the work of the refiner. It’s painful, bloody work. I want to know the depth of my sin and the reality of the world’s brokenness. This knowledge draws me to the true source of life – the healer, the savior. Only there am I truly home.