Tuesday, November 30, 2010

smile big

Nate, Dexter & Zeke (ages vary, but all between 14 and 20 months old)

Sunday, November 21, 2010


This weekend we had an event at church where families gathered to create a new art exhibit together for Advent. The theme was "Symbols of Christ" and each family chose a symbol to incorporate into their art, along with imagery that was representative of their own Advent experiences and traditions. Each family also wrote a statement to accompany their piece. I didn't bring my camera so these cell phone pictures aren't great quality, but here are some pictures of our art, along with our statement.

We chose the Iota Chi as a symbol to focus on, one of the oldest symbolic representations of Jesus Christ. This symbol reminds us that Jesus Christ is our true foundation and source. This Advent season our family is spread across two continents: Jon, Haley, Nate and Dexter are in Washington, while our newly adopted son Zeke is still in Ethiopia. Our paintings are a visual representation of the truth that, though we are far apart, we are united in Christ.

In other adoption-related art news, Nate was coloring today and drew a family picture. This is the first time he has drawn his family and included Zeke in the drawing!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


We had a great time celebrating our big day on Monday with two other YWAM adoptive families -- it is such a huge blessing to have friends close by who are walking this road with us. Especially the kind who are willing to drop everything and invite you over for dessert, or drive across town just to give you a big hug! The other cool thing about these two families is that all of our Ethiopian children were born in the exact same town - how crazy is that? Our children will travel all the way across the world to join our families, but they will still have neighbors who share their birthplace. God is good!

the kids had ice cream

the adults had (home-grown!) pumpkin pound cake

the boys loved the dollhouse elevator

can't wait to have a picture with the WHOLE family...

and so it begins

[In line at the store today with Nate & Dexter]

Random Woman: Do you have two boys?

Me: (honest to a fault) Actually I have three.

Random Woman: Oh that's great - I had three boys also.

[Sidebar -- why do people say that they had children? Even if your children are adults now, wouldn't it still be accurate to say that you have three sons? Just sayin'.]

Random Woman:
So is the baby at home then?

Me: Um... yep.

It's not exactly a lie, right? He is at his home, which is not my home, but nonetheless it is home for now. In some ways he is more at home today than he will be after he moves across the world to live with us.... but that's not a conversation I want to have in line at Safeway with a perfect stranger.

And so it begins: the awkwardness of talking (or not talking) with strangers about adoption. At this point we are not even conspicuous yet (unless you happen to ask a specific question like "Do you have two boys?"), but soon enough it will be open season. In the meantime I think I'll be avoiding eye contact at the grocery store and memorizing Colossians 4:6 --

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Monday, November 15, 2010

we're yours

We are thrilled to introduce you to our SON,

Eba Ezekiel Ballast

(or "Zeke" as we will call him) officially adopted into our family TODAY, November 15, 2010!

We were happily surprised to receive a phone call early this morning letting us know that our case was approved today and we are now the proud parents of a third beautiful boy. It should be just about 6-8 weeks before we can go back to Ethiopia and bring him home!

We are praising God today, thanking him for doing this good work and also thanking him for each one of our friends and family members who have faithfully prayed for this day! We love you, and we're so thankful to have you with us on this journey.

Zeke, we are humbled and privileged to be your parents. Today is the day we've been waiting for: we're officially YOURS!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

not yet

Earlier today (MUCH earlier, since Addis Ababa is 10 hours ahead) we had our 2nd court date. We did not pass.

We don't know very much about why we didn't pass except that the staff of our agency is confident that it will get worked out and we will pass soon. We do know that our lawyer had all the proper documentation, nothing was missing, everything is in order... but for some reason the Ministry of Women's Affairs is not signing off on our case so the judge can't finalize the adoption.

We don't have a 3rd court date scheduled, apparently because the judge wants to proactively investigate why MoWA is holding things up and as soon as she (yes, our judge is a woman - how cool is that?) figures out what's going on and gets what she needs then she will pass our case (and several others like it).

There is literally nothing we can do at this point... except pray. Will you pray with us? Please pray for the judge as she investigates the way MoWA is handling these cases - pray that she would get the information she needs to be able to pass them all. Please pray for the people who work at MoWA to have integrity and wisdom and to act in the best interest of the children whose lives they impact. Please pray for the children who are waiting - that they would receive excellent care, remain healthy, and get lots of love and attention. And please pray for us and other waiting parents, that we would have peace and would trust God's timing.

Thank you!! We'll give more updates when we have them... hopefully the next phone call will be GOOD news!

Monday, November 8, 2010

let's go back

This morning when I looked in the mirror my eye caught on a faded orange smudge across the hem of my tank top. Then I remembered that I was wearing this tank top under my t-shirt on a rainy day in a rural town in Western Ethiopia. Its been through the wash since then, but laundry detergent's got nothin' on Gimbie dirt!

Ohhhh, I want to go back so bad.

You're probably thinking, DUH you want to go back - your son is there. Yes. I do want to go back because it will mean bringing home our little boy. But it's more than that... we fell in love with all of it - the beauty, the culture, the openness and sincerity of the people we met... even the deep red dirt that stained our clothes.

Seeing the smudge on my shirt today made me feel something bittersweet, something hard to put into words but if I had to try...

I'd call it homesickness.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

thinking before we speak

I am really annoying and nit-picky about words. I think maybe I always have been. According to my mom, when I was 2 or 3 years old and she tried to pull off the classic parent trick of skipping words on a page of a book I would have none of it. "You skipped a word Mommy!" My voice is probably slightly less grating now, but I am every bit as militant about words today as I was then.

Every subculture has its own language and adoption is no exception. My word-loving brain has had an absolute field day over the past year learning (and unlearning) all the lingo, and sometimes finding out the hard way which words get which groups of people all worked up. I think adoption language has become particularly important for me because I believe that words have the power to shape our attitudes, our self-concept, and how we see the world, and therefore words about adoption have power to shape my child's attitudes, self-concept, and worldviews. This is critical stuff, deserving of our careful thought and attention.

I don't want this post to turn into a rant about all the adoption wording/language that frustrates or angers me (though that temptation is strong!), but I do want to use one example of how I see language as a powerful tool to set the tone for a child's identity. [Disclaimer: I am not trying to condemn or judge anyone here. I am just sharing my perspective on language in adoption, one that I know some might disagree with and that is OK. Yep, talking to myself here as much as to anyone reading this.]

Gotcha Day. I read this phrase on adoptive parent blogs all over the internet. For the uninitiated, this phrase is used to mean the day that a child joins their adoptive family. I believe this phrase is an example of language having the unintended-but-still-significant power to influence the perspectives, identities, and attitudes of not only a child, but the family and community surrounding the child. What are the implications of the phrase "Gotcha Day"?

1. The child is objectified into something that can be "gotten".

2. The phrase is inherently adoptive-parent-centered, because the adoptive parents are the ones "getting" the child.

3. "Gotcha" is a word used in other contexts to mean that someone has been tricked or that someone else has gotten the better of them. How does it feel for an adopted child the first time they hear the word used that way?

4. Gotcha Day is cute and catchy, making it appealing for parents of young children. But these young children will grow into teenagers and then adults. Does a 15 year old want to celebrate "Gotcha Day"? Does it still feel appropriate at this stage to talk about the parent-child relationship as the parents "getting" the child?

5. The phrase allows friends and family to continue to view the adoption only through the lens of the adoptive parents who "got" a new child.

Let's compare this to another language option for the same event: Family Day.

1. The phrase does not contain implications about transactions, commodities, or other negative aspects of the adoption industry.

2. The phrase is more neutral in terms of perspective - the adoptive family is adding a child and the child is becoming part of a new family. However this phrase might not be a wise option in domestic open adoptions or some foster-to-adopt situations because it implies that this child is only now part of a family because of adoption. If the child was very much part of a family before the adoption then this would be an insensitive choice. On the other hand, for a child who has been without parental or familial care for the majority of their life this phrase might be appropriate.

3. The word "family" has a fairly unambiguous meaning, therefore a child will not hear another opposing meaning that could muddy their understanding of adoption.

4. Family Day is something that does not feel silly or hokey to celebrate with teenagers or adult children.

5. Choosing a phrase like Family Day sends a message to friends and extended family that this adoption was not just about parents getting a child, but about a significant event in the life of the whole family, which in turn affects all its members.

My least favorite thing about language is that it is always imprecise and imperfect in some way. There is no perfect way to talk about adoption. I'm definitely going to mess it up, both in my own home and on this blog. But that is not an excuse to say that language doesn't matter. It does. Again, I'm not judging - I'm simply saying that we need to think it through and we need to do so with a long view of our families and our kids. How will this sound in 5 years? 10 years? 30 years? What will this mean to their friends at school? What message does this send to our community? How will my child reinterpret this when he or she reaches adulthood? We can't do it perfectly, but we can be intentional and thoughtful and, call me an optimist, but I believe that will make a positive difference in both our children and our communities.

Monday, November 1, 2010

prayer and perspective

OK so I found a little more time to blog... :)

There are many YWAM families like us, waiting on one more document until our cases are finalized and we are legally made parents of our sweet kiddos. It's no fun, especially since most of us have already met our little ones and fallen off the deep end in love with them. We want them home. It's natural.

But on the other hand... we signed up for this. This is international adoption. If there is anything we can expect, it is bumps in the road, changes to the process, and delays in the time-line. That doesn't mean we have to like it, but it does mean we can accept it as a normal part of the journey. In this rough waiting stage here are a few things I'm trying to remember to help me keep it all in perspective:

1. I can't make this go any faster, but is not going as slowly as it feels. Ethiopia has one of the fastest processing times for adoptions. China has a 4 year wait for non-special needs adoptions. Domestic foster-to-adopt cases can take years and years to be finalized, depending on the birth parent's status. We have been in this process for 13 months and we are almost done. In the grand scheme, this is a lightning-fast time-line!

2. I am not entitled to a smooth process. We are talking about transferring a human being from being legally in the care of an organization to being legally placed in a family from another country. This can be nothing but complicated. Adoption is still relatively new to Ethiopia and they continue to refine their process to make it more ethical and safe for families and children. Bumps in the road for me will hopefully mean a better process for the future.

3. The YWAM and CHI staff are the best. No really. THE BEST. We met dozens of staff members in Ethiopia - nannies, directors, coordinators, lawyers, etc -- and every single one of them was a superstar. They were truly some of the most compassionate, conscientious, and considerate people I have ever met. It kills us to be separated from our boy. It kills us that our case is still not finalized. But it comforts us immeasurably that our son is being loved on and cared for by amazing people. It sets our minds at ease that smart, capable individuals are doing their best to get our case decided as quickly as possible. We also met adoptive parents in Ethiopia who were working with other agencies and orphanages. Here's what we kept hearing from them: Wow... You guys are so lucky... Gosh, I wish I could say that about the people we worked with... You should see where our kids were... I wish we had the support you have... I wish someone had prepared us as well as your agency did... And on and on and on. It helps so much to know that we are in very good hands and so is our son.

Of course none of the above will make our children magically appear in our arms... but I hope that if you are waiting like us, these things still bring you a measure of peace. God is at work and he will keep his promises. I don't think that necessarily means we'll have our kids home by Christmas or whatever deadline we've set in our heads (though I would love that of course!). God is big enough to be glorified even when our deadlines are missed and our hopes are shattered. God is big enough to be glorified even when our plans fail and our children wait. God is big enough to be glorified in our journeys, even when they are bumpy and longer than we wanted, even when they make us cry out "how can this be your plan?"... even then, God can glorify himself. Let's make that our first prayer - Lord, glorify yourself, with all the prayers for speed and smoothness coming only after and in submission to that one.

ethiopia, part 1 of ?

Where to begin? Since I don't know how much time I'll have to blog in the next few days/weeks, I will first post a summary of our trip and then go into more detail later when I get a chance. Here are the main highlights of our trip:

*We started off the trip with a fun evening in Washington DC with a college friend and her husband. I've never been before so it was fun to see the White House and all the monuments lit up at night!

*We arrived safe on Saturday AM and though we were tired, we hit up the shopping district to stay awake and try to get on Ethiopia time.

*On Sunday we drove 9 hours to Nekemte. The road was everything we had been told it would be: bumpy, crazy, crowded, interesting, and beautiful!

*We visited a 130 year old palace on Monday morning before driving the final 2 hours to Gimbie.

*Monday afternoon we spent time with our son's grandmother and saw the home he lived in for the first 9 months of life. It was a total shock to find any of his relatives -- the experience was nothing short of miraculous for us. The conversations and experiences we had on that day will bless our son and our family for the rest of our lives.

*Tuesday was a long day of travel - 14 hours from Gimbie to our guest house in Addis. From carsick toddlers to minor traffic accidents, there was never a dull moment!

*Wednesday we went to Adama to meet our boy! Although our first hour with him was mostly punctuated by screeching and crying, he did eventually warm up to us and show the sweet personality hiding behind the screams. I can't put into words how much we love this child. The time we spent with him was truly a gift.

*We were graciously given the option not to take our son from the Adama orphanage to the Thomas Center in Addis. Instead the orphanage director, Tezera, will make this trip with him later this week. This gave him the opportunity to stay in his familiar environment for a few more days and gave us the opportunity to say goodbye to him on happy terms. He would have no doubt hated every minute of the 2 hour drive in the arms of strangers, and will be much more comfortable traveling with Tezera, whom he knows and loves. It was a blessing to be able to leave him in the arms of his caring nannies - he even gave us kisses when we said goodbye!

*We spent most of Thursday in the courthouse waiting room. We had already been made aware that all the YWAM cases were missing one document from the orphanage which would delay the final deciding of our cases. Still, we were thankful that we got to appear before the judge and our part went well. And we are VERY thankful that the case can now be decided without our presence so we did not have to extend our stay in-country or make (God-forbid) yet another trip back for a 2nd court date. We hope and pray this document will come in soon so that we can officially become his parents! At this point it looks like we may still be able to bring him home in December or January... It is hard to have all these things out of our hands, but we not only have trust in the awesome YWAM and CHI staff who are working on our behalf, but also ultimately in the God who holds us all in his hands and will bring about the fulfillment of his promises at just the right time. After court we went back to the guest house and enjoyed a coffee ceremony before heading to the airport to begin our 32 hour journey home.

*We thank God for keeping us safe and healthy the whole way - no problems with food, water, or travel.


Now... we wait. The only way to describe how we feel right now is that it feels like we left a part of ourselves in Ethiopia. During this time we will live our lives - love and care for our kids, do our best at work, keep up with our responsibilities and relationships - but in everything we do there will be a subconscious recognition that a piece is missing. And in one sense, I am not sure that bringing our boy home will change this feeling. Yes, our family will be whole -- and what an incredible blessing and answer to prayer that will be! But Ethiopia has captured our hearts and it will always be our son's first home. I almost feel like having pieces of our hearts on both continents is just the new "normal" for our family. I'm not sure I ever want to lose this deep love and longing for that amazing place... So my prayer is for us to be together soon, but also for God to show us how to live with peace wherever we are... and to live with peace in two places at once.