Posts tagged Kristen Howerton

Happy 5775!

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Last week, I celebrated the Jewish New Year at an event on the banks of the LA River. An eclectic group of us wandered past the birch trees and down the concrete slope of the embankment, with hunks of bread in our hands. As is traditional, crumb-by-crumb we released the sins of the past year, each one hitting the water with a ripple of light reflected from the yellow streetlamps across the river.

I thought a lot about the people I had met and things I had seen in Ethiopia.

Two weeks ago, I returned from my Love Hope trip with Help One Now, where I was privileged to see the community development work they’re doing to support struggling families in the village of Gunchire. After long days traveling over unpaved roads in a rickety van, our dusty group of travelers unwound by listening to music and telling stories late into the night. They were a terrific group of people, who taught me a lot about what it means to truly make faith and social justice work a centerpiece of your life.

Back home on the riverbank, I thought about the ways I had lapsed, even over the course of a week, into vanity, selfishness, and convenient forgetting. As I stepped into 5775, I felt frustrated by the fact that in many ways I am no wiser, no more sure of my religious identity than I have ever been. I keep waiting for the ray of light through the clouds that will make me sure. I sighed and pitched my last hunk of bread into the water. What if in the end it is all just bread and just water- yucky LA River water at that- and I might as well have been home eating chocolate-covered almonds and watching Blacklist on the couch?

After the ceremony, we held hands and sang. I thought about standing in Gunchire, hugging Marta, who had only a year before been starving. With our arms around each other, it’s easy to see that we are all suffering. I realized that, riddled with doubt though I may be, I understand God and myself most fully when I am taking action to address this, both by looking outward and looking inward. I went home feeling filled-up, if not with answers than at least with community and prayer (and baklava!).

For me, walking into this New Year is not about some litany of shoulds and shouldn’ts. I’ve had quite enough of those lists in my life. Rather, it’s about noticing when I feel most myself, closest to God, most present with my family, stronger and lighter. It is about moving towards those things.

If you didn’t get the chance to follow our journey to Africa, you can either just scroll down or visit my page on the Help One Now website. While you’re at it, check out what Jen, Kristen and Korie had to say about it.

You can still sponsor a child! It’s truly life-saving work. By doing so, you’ll be making it possible for local leaders to leverage their resources, break the cycle of poverty and keep a vulnerable family together. If you haven’t done it yet, please check it out.

A very sweet New Year- new Hebrew calendar year, new school year, new harvest, new chill in the air, new chance to make a difference- to all of you.

(photos/video by Ty Clark and Scott Wade)

Hope Happens

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We’re back in Addis now, with its crazy slow-moving traffic, tons of construction, brightly colored corrugated tin shacks, miles of market stalls and crowds of people walking everywhere. I’m sitting under an overhang in an outdoor café, the rain blowing in sideways and soaking the bottom of my skirt as an Amy Winehouse album plays on repeat and I try to digest all that we’ve seen over the past week. The smell of frankincense wafts in from a neighboring shop.

I’ll see my little boy soon (okay, not that soon- after about 25 hours of travel). On every street corner I have little jolts of recognition as I catch glances of features that look like his- his wide forehead, his big bright smile.

I’m drinking a cup of rocket fuel coffee approximately the texture of wet sand, as the faces of the people I met in Gunchire hover in my mind.

I think about Marta, who has been sponsored by Help One Now for the past year. Her home was the humblest of the four we visited, a one-room construction of sticks and mud. You could see straight through parts of it to the green hills on the other side. She wrapped us in her thin arms and greeted us with four kisses each. Aschelew, the local leader of Help One Now, translated as she told us that she used to eat one time a day at best; her children were starving. Now they eat three times a day and have money for school supplies.

Marta wants the same thing for her kids I do, as all mamas do- that they be fed and healthy, that they have access to healthcare and education. The moms I’ve met over the last few days humble and inspire me with their strength and tenacity.

Help One Now supports the whole family in order to help break what seems like an impossible cycle. Marta is a widow with HIV, who finally has access to ARV drugs, without which she was too sick to work. The cool thing about Help One Now’s progressive model of international aid, is that it empowers women like Marta by leveraging her already-existing resources. Marta has land, so her Help One Now sponsorship is providing her not just with financial aid but also with seeds and training to help her farm.

This has been an awesome adventure in a beautiful country with a kick-ass, thoughtful group of people, but it has also been terrifically difficult emotionally. I live a sheltered life. I know theoretically that crushing poverty exists, but it is another thing to put a face to it- to hold the babies who have no families, to look Marta in the eye and kiss her cheek. I will take her home with me.

We reached our child sponsorship goals for the trip! You can still be a part of it. We have now shifted shift to vulnerable children in Uganda. Thanks to all for you who have supported our effort. We are coming alongside these struggling families and helping them to transform their lives. I love you all. You have blown my mind.

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(thanks to Ty CLark, Scott Wade and Jacob Combs for the beautiful photos)

The Road

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“From here on out, the road is KAPUT,” said Aschalew, the local Help One Now director and our emissary here.

Translation: the road is screwed. He wasn’t kidding.

We drove for two hours on a rocky unpaved road, through rolling green hills dotted with acacia trees and tukuls (traditional mud huts). We swerved around herds of oxen and goats. All along the roadside, people walked with bales of sticks on their heads and jugs of water on their backs.

We finally arrived, in need of serious chiropractic adjustments, at the Transitional Children’s Care Center in the village of Gunchire, which felt like it existed not just in rural southern Ethiopia, but also hundreds of years in the past.

When we got out of the van, a swarm of children rushed out of the house to greet us with flowers and hugs. One three-year-old boy ran right up to me laughing, his arms hopefully raised. His wide liquid chocolate eyes were so much like Tariku’s when we first met him- alive and sparkling but also confused and sad.

“His name is Tamrat. He’s new,” said Aschelew. “He just came to us a couple of weeks ago.”

I carried Tamrat on my hip all morning as we visited with the children, wandered around and learned about the work they’re doing at the care center. I tickled Tamrat’s soft belly, his smile wildly bright and sweet. Right about when we were getting ready to move on, he locked his arms around me, lay his head on my neck and sobbed. I put my palm on his warm little head and rocked him as he keened with sorrow.

Until that moment, I was filled with purpose, telling myself that I was strong enough for this, that I wouldn’t cry. Fat chance. I held his little body to mine, my cheeks wet, and remembered the time that Tariku used to wake weeping with grief five times a night.

The care center will attempt to reunify this little boy with his family and, if that isn’t possible, to arrange a (still rare here) domestic adoption. These goals may or may not be met. He may or may not find a family to love him. Like so many of the world’s orphans, he was orphaned not because his parents died but because they were so extremely impoverished that they could no longer keep him alive on their own.

The unique thing about Help One Now, is that they’re focused on orphan prevention, preserving families in the community. Help One Now is dedicated to keeping kids like Tamrat from winding up sobbing in some weird white lady’s arms in the first place.

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Later that day, I met a woman named Birknesh, but we call her Berkie. Looking up at us with a bowed head, her tone was shy, but underscored with fierceness. Berkie’s house was built of mud and straw and the inside was painted a deep summer sky blue. Berkie is a widow and not long ago her family was dying from extreme poverty. Take a minute with that and imagine yourself into it. Your children can’t eat. You feed them once a day, if that.

You have to give one up or the others won’t survive. Which one will it be?

We all rolled with laughter as her littlest, the mischievous one, the showboat (the Tariku of the family!) mugged for the camera and danced around.

Help One Now came alongside Berkie’s family and helped them to develop a sustainable plan. You should have seen her sparkling almond eyes when she showed us her coffee plants, her enset plants, her two milk-producing cows. I was leveled by it. There is so much I’ve learned in these last few days.

I’m going to get really real with you here. I don’t often talk about T’s origins, or the reasons he came to be with us. Tariku is a poverty orphan. Which is to say, that without the pressures of extreme poverty, he wouldn’t have suffered the trauma of separation, malnutrition, pneumonia- all the things that made his eyes so scared when we met him, his little legs hanging beneath him like skinny, limp noodles.

It’s so easy to fall prey to cynicism and apathy, to think that if you can make a good joke about something, that’s enough. It’s not enough.

Help One Now is so groovy and amazing and forward-thinking because they support community-based development. We partner with local leaders to bring aid to these vulnerable families, whose children will most likely be orphaned within the next year if they don’t receive support.

Straight up, it’s $42 a month to sponsor a child, which supports their entire family. You get lots of goodies, including entry in a drawing for a Weezer-signed guitar. You can give right here right now and I’m asking you…

…won’t you please?

Do it.

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Again, Always: Ethiopia

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The minute we walked off the plane in Addis Ababa this morning, the distinctive smell hit me- some mysterious mixture of frankincense, burning trash, eucalyptus, coffee, and bodies. It’s profoundly human and otherworldly at the same time and lets you know unmistakably that you are in Ethiopia- this glorious and complicated place.

I remembered the last time I walked into that airport. I was holding tight to Scott’s hand, shaking with anxiety and excitement. In only a week, we would finally, finally, be holding our child in our arms.

Tears brimmed in my eyes as the body memory overtook me. Then my mood swung in the opposite direction entirely and I giggled, recalling the hopeful idealists we were then, with all of our big ideas about parenting. Along with those big ideas about who we were, about the world around us, about everything. I look back on those people with a kind of wistful fondness. We were so sure of ourselves, and so totally clueless!

The morning before I left, I awoke as the dawn broke soft grey over the city. I curled myself around my warm, still-sleeping son in the bed and listened to the sound of his even breathing, felt the thumping of his little bird heart, breathed in the smell of him, like fresh bread and grass. I am now in the very place I first met him. It is the farthest I have been from him since that day.

I miss him in my very bones.

What a great gift to be invited to come back to this country that has given me my whole life, really. To once again be amongst its people, so that we might learn from each other and do the essential work of community development and family preservation.

I’m here with Help One Now and an amazing crew of creatives and activists, including Kristen Howerton, Jen Hatmaker and Korie Robertson. Tomorrow we’re going to the village of Gunchire and I will get to do all of my favorite stuff: listening, observing, hearing stories, writing. I can’t wait to share it with you.

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Love Hope

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On the final afternoon of our adoption trip to Ethiopia, we participated in a goodbye ceremony, after which we would be bringing Tariku home for good. Never again would we have to leave him.

By that time, I was beyond exhausted. My spirit of adventure was wearing thin and I was so ready to just be holding my baby in his green bedroom, surrounded by all my groovy baby shower swag. I wanted Whole Foods and clean water and my own sheets and not to have to wait three hours for everything or pass by burning trash every time I walked out the door

During the ceremony, the adoptive families held hands around the living room of the orphanage, while the nannies held the children in the center of the circle and said a few words about each of them. Tariku, looking wide-eyed and confused, wore a little traditional pantsuit, with an embroidered Ethiopian cross on the shirt. He clung to his favorite nanny Fantu.

A translator interpreted, as Fantu said, “Tariku is such a happy boy. He loves to dance when we sing to him. Every day he makes me laugh. You are very lucky. I will miss him. God bless you all.”

She handed him to me, with tears streaming down her cheeks.

Each child put their little hand in a tray of blue paint and left a handprint in a book swollen with pages and pages of these goodbyes. The ceremony was wonderful and moving and sad. At the end, the older children stood in a group and sang some traditional songs, as well as a rousing version of “Old MacDonald.”

E-I-E-I-O, they sang, as my heart fell into my stomach. A fancy grocery store? Nice sheets? I was such an asshole. Those smiling, singing kids were going to, once again in their lives, watch the babies leave with their forever families and then turn around and walk back upstairs to their row of cots.

When the plane left the ground the next day and Tariku was asleep in my arms, I took in a big gulp of air- my first real breath since I had seen his picture three months before. But as soon as the relief had settled into my bones, I felt an acute ache to return.

Our adoption gave us more than the family we were longing for; it also allowed us to experience our interconnectedness with people halfway around the globe, the permeability of the membranes between our lives. Since then, Scott and I have been trying to finagle a return trip. We often wonder- what can we do to work toward a world in which children are not orphaned by poverty? The answers are not always easy. Like a lot of people, we are sometimes overwhelmed and confused by the choices. How can we do the most good in a conscious and respectful way? Is there something we can do beyond writing a check? Is there some greater understanding we can gain, some more immediate action we can take?

Imagine how completely thrilled I was when an opportunity to do exactly this came and knocked on my door, in the form of an invitation to go on the Love Hope Storyteller Ethiopia Trip, with Help One Now. As soon as I learned more about this remarkable organization, I jumped at the chance. We leave in two weeks and I can barely wait.

Our group of artists, storytellers and influencers will have the opportunity to visit the town of Gunchire (Gun-CHEER-ee) in southern Ethiopia. In Gunchire, Help One Now is dedicated to work very close to my heart— orphan prevention. Using a sponsorship model, Help One Now is bringing aid to families who would otherwise be in danger of dissolving due to extreme poverty. Without help, the children of these families will wind up being more sweet faces next to the ones I saw singing at the orphanage.

We have a wildly exciting travel group, including my friend and hero, Rage Against the Minivan’s Kristen Howerton; author, house fixer-upper, rabble rouser and mom extraordinaire Jen Hatmaker; and the very lovely “Commander of Ducks,” Korie Robertson. I promise, we will not bore you!

I’m so excited to go back to the land that gave Scott and me our life’s greatest miracle and so captured our hearts in the process. I’m going to go meet the people of Gunchire and learn about the essential community development work happening there. I’ll be reporting back from the trenches the whole time. I hope you’ll come with me in spirit and hear their stories.

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#$%@ People Say To Transracial Families…

Kristen Howerton, Deborah Swisher and I got together with our clans one Sunday and made a little video about the #$%@ that gets said to us every day at the mall, the playground, heck, on our front yards! Being in a transracial family is a very visible way to walk through the world. I look at dumb remarks as a chance to advocate for adoption and to educate people who are usually well-intentioned, but insensitive. This video is in that same spirit. Plus, we had a blast making it. Hope you enjoy it. If you do, please circulate it!

Bloggy Playdate

Sunday we had a playdate with my blog-friend-turned-real-life-friend Kristen and her amazing brood.

The only danger of hanging out with Kristen is that I immediately want three more children. She and Mark are so graceful about the whole thing that it looks like a completely reasonable option. In reality, I got cold feet about a year and a half ago about our second adoption process and it’s been in limbo ever since. I actually touched base with the agency yesterday and asked them to keep our paperwork on hold for another six months.

I just don’t know, folks. I feel so inadequate most of the time, especially when faced with Tariku’s challenges and needs. I feel like I need to get a better handle on this mothering thing before I add another little being to the equation. But is that completely delusional? Will I ever feel like I have a handle on it? For now I’m checking the undecided box and just crashing the party of Kristen’s big family once in a while.

It’s definitely challenging and overwhelming for Tariku to be around more than one friend at a time. In all, I think he did beautifully. I really saw him trying to figure out how to participate and be kind.

The nice thing about hanging out with some of the other adoptive families I know is that there’s so much less explaining and apologizing to do. They get it. They get that my kid didn’t have parents for a while at a crucial time in his development. It has repercussions We’re working it out. We’re healing. We’re doing great, actually. But our version of doing great looks different that it does for kids who have had a typical attachment cycle in the first three years of life.

I’ve learned so much about all of this- attachment, adoption, parenting, faith, love, community- from my blogger friends. They’ve made me feel less alone on many desperately sad and scared nights. I’m not someone who generally goes to blogging conferences (yet), so it’s a special treat for me to hang out in the flesh with one of my fave blogging moms. One of my fave moms period.

Sometimes I question what I write on this blog. Does anyone really care about my kid’s day out at the beach? Am I engaged in a navel-gazing waste of time when I should be working on an article or another book? And then I remember why I do everything I do- books, plays, blogs, whatever- I do it to connect. And I’ve connected to so much that I value in my life through blogging. I was reminded of that on Sunday.

What You Can Do: Link

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A few weeks ago, my friend Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan blogged about actions all of us (particularly people who aren’t in a position to adopt) can take to address the global orphan crisis. I woke up thinking about it this morning so I thought I’d share the link to her amazing and solution-oriented post.

Here’s an excerpt:

I’ve written pretty passionately about the global orphan situation recently, and several commenters asked: “What can I do if I’m not in a position to adopt?”

I’m so glad you asked.

Adoption is not for everyone. Nor is it the answer to the world’s orphan crisis. In the best of circumstances, adoption creates a loving family for a child who has been orphaned. But it does not address the root causes of why a child has been abandoned or orphaned to begin with. It is a band-aid on a much larger problem. It is estimated that 99% of the world’s orphans will not be adopted. Adoption is an answer for some orphaned children . . . but not for most of them.

There are two sides to the orphan crisis: finding families for children without, and preserving families that are intact. Prevention is the side that is not addressed by adoption. If we profess to care about orphans, then we must care about the circumstances that lead children to be orphaned. If we care about adoption, then we must care about seeing less children enter orphanages to begin with…

Too Dorky For My Playlist

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After about ten years of working out to the 8 Mile soundtrack, my LA Marathon goal has finally inspired me to put a new workout playlist together. I’m not the kind of person who gets aggro and works out to death metal. I prefer to get extremely dorky and cheery. I thought I’d share with you my top ten. This goes out to all my fave running mom bloggers (Kristen, Christine, Tyler when you get back on your feet…).

A special holler to Jamie Ivey, who’s running the Chosen half-marathon for adoption this Saturday.

Warning: if you are allergic to eighties rollerskating music, major chords or show tunes, turn back now. That means you, honey.

1. “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey. Shameless inspiration.
2. “Milkshake” by Kelis. Makes me feel sassy about hauling my big tush around the track.
3. “Fire Woman” by The Cult. Oh Ian, how I loved thee back in the day. Hair extensions and all.
2. “Champion” by Kanye West. Obvious, but effective.
3. “Hey Ya” by Outcast. The perfect running beat.
4. “Bette Davis Eyes” by Kim Carnes. I like to picture roller skates on my feet.
5. “Let’s go Crazy” by Prince and the Revolution. Classic.
6. “Shiny Happy People” by REM. The cheerier the better.
7. “Riding on the Metro” by Berlin. Almost as good as a trip to Paris.
8. “Centerfold” by The J. Geils Band. Perhaps not as resonant if you never had the treat of seeing yourself in a magazine with a staple in your navel.
9. “Burnin’ for You” by Blue Oyster Cult. Reminds me of the juke box at a Jersey diner.
10. “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Optional mega dork selection:
1. “Defying Gravity” from the Wicked soundtrack. Did I just admit that?

Ragin’ With You, My Sister

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Besides having the best name in the world, Kristen Howerton’s blog, Rage Against the Minivan, is one of my adoption touchstones. They re-aired her appearance on The View today and her blog post about all the things she wishes she had said is a mind blower.

Here’s a tidbit:

I wanted to talk about the deficits that we will have as a white couple raising black children. I wanted to compare it to a single mom raising boys . . . how we will need help from others. I wanted to talk about how painful it can be as a parent to know that, while I can empathize, I will never fully understand my sons’ experiences as African Americans, or as transracial adoptees. I wanted to talk about how every adoptive parent needs to suck up their pride and admit that we can’t do it alone.

I wanted to talk about how much I have learned from reading the writings of adult adoptees, and how their experiences of loss and isolation inform me as a parent, and also break my heart.

I wanted to talk about the persistent question I hear asking why people adopt internationally instead of taking care of “our own kids” in the US. I wanted to talk about how every child, in every nation, is deserving of a family, not just American children. I wanted to say how petty I find this question.