Saturday, November 17, 2012

If We Can Inspire Just One

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have to live without you.
 - A.A. Milne (Winnie-the-Pooh)

As we have mentioned numerous times before, adopting Koby and Kwame has been such a blessing to us, both as individuals, and as a family.  Words truly can't express what having these two as part of our lives is like other than to say that it is truly amazing to watch them change each day before our eyes.

Truth be told, however, it's probably us that have been transformed just as much as they have been.  The transition we've experienced with them has far exceeded our most optimistic expectations of what this would be like.

While we're sure that there will be bumpy times ahead, as there are even with biological children, they have both simply been amazing.  At times, other than the language gap, it's as if they've been with us since birth.

Although it's been a few weeks now, we wanted to include the video of their arrival in this post.  We've been overwhelmed at the number of people who have stopped us, or family members, to state how impactful the video was.  Rest assured, it's difficult to believe that anyone there that day will forget the emotion anytime soon.

We have always felt that sharing our story was in no way an effort to bring attention to ourselves, but instead, Lord willing, to hopefully touch others to reach out to those less fortunate than themselves in whatever practical way possible. 

After all, if each of us could, even if just for one other person, inspire someone to do something compassionate for another, it's difficult too comprehend how much better off the world would be.  God Bless.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

The View From 36.5" - A Moment of Reflection

There will be a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.
 - Louis L'Amour

To many, this post will seem a bit odd given the glorious circumstances that have transpired over the past week to two weeks, but it's something that is always in the back of my mind so I'm going to selfishly take the liberty to share it.

Throughout the adoption process, one general topic has crept its way into my mind repeatedly, and perhaps will continue to do so for quite some time; what is this really like for Koby and Kwame, and so many others like them?

Despite our overwhelming joy relative to them becoming a part of our family, and their apparent joy at the love they are receiving and their new parents and siblings, what else is inside them as this progresses?

The picture above is more than symbolic to me as to the questions I have regarding this amazing ordeal. 

Look closely at this picture and then think about this; what did this mean to a barely three-foot tall 3-year-old boy prior to boarding this plane?

This picture was taken in the rain in Accra, Ghana, as we carried the boys onto their first airplane, yet realistically, it could quite conceivably have been the last time either of them will ever be in their native country.

The boys were both excited and nervous, as were we, but I imagine there were significant differences in those two similarities.  We were excited and nervous about getting them through the next 22 hours of flights and airports, about seeing our own biological children back in the States, about whether or not the boys would have trouble on the flight and how we'd deal with it, etc.

What were the boys nervous about?  Were they aware that they would likely never again see their mother, their family, many of their friends from the orphanage, etc.?  Did they really understand this wasn't just another week with the American family like the one in March?  Do they now?  Are they waiting for us to take them back but can't express that to us?

I'm sure I'll never really know the answer to these questions, and the true goal now is to continue to love them and raise them as our own with the hopes and expectations that most parents have; that they grow up to be terrific young men that then have families of their own, and that in some small way the family that they're now a part of touches both of them and encourages them to someday reach out to help others.

There are a lot of contradictions involved with adoption.  For instance, it's quite common to hear how lucky the boys are to be in our family.  While on the surface this makes sense, thinking about it further points out that there are real problems with that comment.  There is really nothing lucky at all about the boys' situation, or that of other adopted orphans.

In fact, being born as a baby into a geographic area of the world where it is next to impossible to economically feed your child, where parents die of otherwise preventable diseases, or where war ravages areas leaving children parentless really isn't that lucky at all. 

If they were really lucky, they'd be at home right now with their parents enjoying a dinner together and discussing each other's day.

In the end, it's really Michele and I that are lucky.  We're lucky enough to be blessed with the resources to reach out to help someone else.  We're lucky that we weren't born where the boys' and millions more like them, were born.  We're lucky that, despite ongoing conflicts overseas, we don't live in an area where tribes from the next village come in the darkness of night and slaughter our parents.  We're lucky we live where we can worship the Lord and not be punished by death for doing so.  It's truly us that are lucky. 

The boys are simply victims in an oftentimes cruel and unfair world that now hopefully have a greater opportunity at a better life than they would have otherwise.

As I mentioned, this might seem strange to many, or even hard to understand.  I'll end in general summary.

Each of us has a responsibility to do more than we're doing now.  We can't wait on the government, on the Presidential election, or on the wealthy.  We need to turn from a "what can you do for me?" mentality, go right past the "what can I do for me?" mentality, and dive into the "what can I do for others?" mentality.

It doesn't take lots of money to run a 5K for a cause, to pass out food to those less fortunate, or to contribute clothing to the homeless, cold from a lack of shelter.

Perhaps we all need to look at life through the eyes of a 36.5" three-year-old.  Then reach down and lift that person up so they too get the chance to see life from a better perspective.  God Bless.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When Six Plus Two Equals One

Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.
 - C.S. Lewis

Perhaps it's not the same for everyone, but there are certain moments in time when, regardless of how much thought and preparation a person has committed to a particular event, the moment it happens is really little more than a blur.

Such was the case when we returned to Ghana to pick up Koby and Kwame.  After months (we had last seen them in March) of waiting to bring them home, the days became hours, the hours became minutes, and finally, the minutes became seconds. 

You've spent so many waking moments imagining, wondering, thinking, and considering what the actual event would be like.  Would you breakdown, would the kids remember us, would they be emotionally distraught, and on and on and on?

Upon arrival in Ghana, we had taken a taxi to the hotel where Kofi was to bring the boys to meet us.  After a short period of time we received a call from the front desk indicating that Kofi had arrived and asking whether or not he could come up.  Of course we asked that he come up right away.

A lot of thoughts can go through an individual's mind while waiting for someone to go from the first floor to the second, though it's difficult to recollect any of them clearly. 

What we do know is that the moment the knock at the door occurred and the door was opened, two of the most excited, smiling little boys you could ever imagine came charging in with gleeful exclamations of "mommy, mommy" and ran straight into Michele's arms. 

The sense of joy, relief, and happiness is impossible to describe.  Needless to say, the boys hadn't forgotten us!

Truth be known, the reunion was not emotional draining as one might expect.  We, parents and children both, were so excited, it was perhaps more of a relief that the actual adoption process was finally culminating and a new story was beginning than it was emotionally overwhelming.

Perhaps the most difficult part of that portion of the trip was saying goodbye to Kofi.  Words can't convey what he has done for not only our family and the boys, but countless other orphans and adoptive families here in the United States and abroad.  We can't thank him enough, and may God Bless him always for the work that he performs.  He truly is doing the Lord's work.  Thank you Kofi.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Uncertain Excuberance

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.
 - Galatians 6:9

Today marked yet another tremendous milestone in our adoption journey; we received our I600 Approval!!

It's honestly hard to describe how it feels to be this close to actually getting to bring the boys home.  Suffice it to say that we're covering the emotional spectrum.  Excitement, joy, love, happiness, uncertainty,'s impossible to pinpoint just one or two specific emotions to convey adequately.

While we've done our best to be patient and maintain positive thoughts, it has not been easy at times.  We have, however, been Blessed to have met so many people along this journey that have become unbelievably supportive.

We'll keep this post brief, but we'd be remiss to not expand upon the title somewhat.  As we've gone through the adoption process, we've faced countless requirements regarding documents, filings, approvals, resubmittals, etc.

We want to clearly and truthfully state that at very few points in time did we know what we were! 

Without the help of our adoption agent (Carla), our POA (and the director of the boys' orphanage......Kofi), and individuals on the Ghana Adoption site (too numerous to mention, but thank you one and all), we would still be trying to figure out what a homestudy was!

This post, then, is for all of those individuals that have been so key in boosting our spirits, praying for us, and continuing to ask how things are going. 

When you've been so excited by progress reports such as "we received our I600 Approval today!" and you've excitedly stated how "terrific" that is, before then asking "so, what does that mean exactly?", do not feel badly!  For the most part, we haven't been sure either!!

We do know this............we're down to the visa packet filing and the exit interview in Ghana by Kofi, and Koby and Kwame will be coming home!  Thank you all and God Bless you!   

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Patience, Perseverance, and Reaching Out

What then is time?  If no one asks me, I know what it is.  If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.

 - Saint Augustine

Today marked an incredible event in our adoption journey; we passed court in Ghana!  While technical in nature, what this means, in essence, is that we are now legally the proud adoptive parents of Koby and Kwame, and we could not be more excited!

Kofi and Koby at Court!
 It should be noted, however, that the journey to bring the boys into our home, and more specifically, into our family, still has a ways to go, although it is fair to say that the finish line is now easier to visualize.  While we'll refrain from throwing out speculative guesses, we can say that it will still be a matter of months before the boys are finally here.

Kwame and Koby with
friend's daughter at court!
We were fortunate enough to receive feedback relative to today's court proceedings from another family that was kind enough to take care packages down to the boys this week while they visited and physically attended court today with the children they are adopting.  They said the boys were adorable, and despite the long day, behaved terrifically.  They were also, we were informed, thrilled to receive their packages!

The thrill of today is very difficult to describe, perhaps because it's not the only emotion that we encountered regarding the magnitude of what actually occurred in Ghana.  We would be remiss to not add that our hearts were also touched deeply by the fact that the boys were in court with their biological mother throughout the proceeding.

Kwame and Koby and their
mother Elizabeth at court.
As we have mentioned previously, we are profoundly touched by what the boys' mother is doing for them, and for us.  It seems more than fair to state that few of us can actually imagine the heartache that she had to feel today in that courtroom, granting final acceptance of giving up her two sons to a family thousands of miles away that she has met only once.

We want to thank all of our friends and family members that have continued to support us emotionally, financially, and spiritually.  A number of people have asked us about the lull in blog posting and we apologize that it's been so long since our last post.  There are some reasons, however, that we hope people will understand.

First, as you know if you've been following our posts, the adoption process is long.  If you think it seems long to you, imagine what it feels like to us.

After we returned from spending a week with the boys in Accra, it was difficult for us to spend a lot of time talking or writing about them after awhile without feeling quite sad in how much we missed them.  We tended to avoid not only blogging, but also even visiting the Ghana Facebook group we're in because reading about other people's delays or references to time made the process all the more difficult.

Second, and of more significance (we believe) is the fact that upon returning from Africa, we felt a strong calling to do even more than just adopt two beautiful boys, thus we have been busy starting (with the help of some incredible friends) our own nonprofit corporation!  For those of you that haven't started a corporation yet, it takes a bit of!

We can't discuss a lot of details yet because we're still establishing corporate structure and finalizing some other aspects, however we can share that the corporation does formally exist and we hope to be unveiling a LOT more information very soon!  It's a concept that became very apparent relative to need while we were in Ghana and was solidified in working with some unbelievably compassionate people and organizations upon our return to the States.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Road Less Traveled By

There are no foreign lands.  It is the traveler only who is foreign.
 - Robert Louis Stevenson

Some final miscellaneous notes from an unbelievable trip to Koby and Kwame's homeland:

  • The lizards in Ghana are awesome!  We saw lizards in food courts at the Accra Mall and at the ocean, and they were numerous and fun to watch.  Jordan wasn't initially to sure about them, but after awhile he couldn't get enough of them!
  • Independence Day in Ghana was the day after we left, Tuesday, March 6, but they began celebrating on Friday with honking horns, etc.  It was really incredible to see the country pride that the people had, despite economic difficulties, etc.
  • The prices at places like the Accra Mall and Koala (a grocery store) were extremely high.  When discussing this issue with Kofi, he informed us that few local people actually shop at places such as these, with many simply buying food at a local stand and eating one meal a day.  We shopped for items we had forgotten such as a belt, and the only belts we could find were 90 Cedis (approximately $60).
  • Yes, Wal-Mart is in Africa!  It was called Game in Accra but many of the product tags said Wal-Mart on them and they utilized the same "Dropping Prices" signage.  Unlike here, however, Game was expensive!
  • Even those people living in shanty-like homes attempted to sell things.  It was not unusual to see very rudimentary structures with signs out front that said things like "Ice Cream for Sale".
  •  Church in Accra was a very special event with services lasting two to four hours in many cases.  There were numerous billboards advertising what appeared to be mega-churches.
  • Seeing pictures of women carrying large objects on their heads on television, and then seeing them live, represent two vastly different levels of appreciation for the actual skill involved.  Kofi said that many women practice a very long time to be able to perfect the practice.  We witnessed numerous women balancing things on their head while simultaneously carrying a baby on their back and holding the hand of another small child all while walking down the sidewalk.  It was truly incredible to observe.
  • The Accra Mall movie theater was showing Safe House, the latest Denzel Washington release.
  • Picture taking in Accra was not as straightforward as it is in the United States.  Numerous places did not allow picture taking, and as a custom, it was recommended that we ask anyone before taking their picture.  Some people would even ask for money to take their picture, though we did not encounter this.  The boys loved to have their picture taken because they could look at the screen after the photo was taken and see themselves!
  • Drivers in Accra, and in particular Taxi drivers, use their horns incessantly!  Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but only a slight one.  At times it was as if horns had replaced all forms of communication.  They beeped to notify of turning, beeped to cut into other lanes of traffic, beeped to get potential customers' attention, etc.  At times it was entertaining just to listen to the traffic.  At other times, not so!
  • Although many adults were able to speak English in Accra, when we were just listening to others speak (and weren't part of the conversation), they did not do so to each other.  They spoke much better English, however, then we spoke Twi!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Man Behind the Curtain

I don't think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.
 - Abraham Lincoln

In large part, our trip to Ghana represented a type of quest for answers.  After all, it's only normal that visiting a foreign country inhabited by individuals speaking a foreign language, to meet children you've never met but that will soon become your own, lends itself to a lot of unknowns.

As with Dorothy during her stay in Oz, we too discovered our own wizard, and his name was Samuel Kofi Offong, our POA, and more importantly, the director of the boys' orphanage in Kwahu.  It would be very difficult for us to adequately describe the respect and appreciation that we have for Kofi.  Perhaps the greatest compliment we can convey is that as a parent, there is no question that he is the type of individual that you would pray your son or daughter would grow up to emulate.

During our final day in Ghana, we had the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time with Kofi who had been accompanied by the boys' mother and baby sister.  In discussing a number of events and reactions that we had observed throughout the week, Kofi provided us answers to many different circumstances, some of which we speculated correctly about, and others of which we totally missed the mark.

We thought it would be fun to share some of the clarifications, if for no other reason than to provide further reminders to us regarding our initial meeting with our two newest family members.

One of the issues that became apparent to us right away was the boys' reaction when a jet would fly over.  Our hotel seemed to be fairly in line with outgoing flights and whenever a jet would pass over us, both of the boys would immediately scramble to make eye contact with the airliner, as well as begin to sing a song relative to "air-o-planes". 
Our plane after arriving in Ghana.

We speculated that neither of them had seen many airplanes that close and Kofi confirmed that in the village, seeing planes was very rare, thus their incredible enthusiasm upon seeing even a small plane fly over.

Another incident that occurred that we didn't expect, and in this case we totally missed with our diagnosis, was Kwame's reaction to receiving a bath.

On the first night, he was very timid, but didn't really appear to be scared while receiving his bath.  The only aspect we thought was a bit unusual was that he refused to sit down in the tub, and appeared to be somewhat apprehensive about what was going on.

On the second night, there was no question that he was terrified of receiving his bath.  As Michele attempted to lower him into the bathtub, he shrieked, kicked, and cried hysterically as if he was suffering some sort of pain.  She immediately brought him back out and attempted to console and comfort him to assure him that everything was okay.  He finally relaxed enough to receive a bath, but remained very timid.  The next evening Alexis suggested having Koby enter first and then giving Kwame a bath at the same time so that he would understand there was nothing to fear, and this idea seemed to work very well.

Our immediate hypothesis was that at some point Kwame had either had a bad experience with bodies of water (since at this point it was apparent he was not comfortable being in a swimming pool either), or that perhaps he had been burned by very hot water previously and wasn't comfortable enough with us yet to trust us not to do the same.  It turns out that neither of our theories was even close to correct.

Kofi explained to us that the boys would not have recognized a bathtub as the village utilized streams to wash themselves with, either by standing at the stream and washing themselves by dipping their hands into the streams, or by bringing buckets of water up from the streams and washing themselves in a similar manner after reaching into the buckets. 

This was extremely enlightening to us, and explained a great deal relative to Kwame's reactions.  It also highlighted the degree of bravery that Koby displayed throughout the week with the swimming pool and bathtub, despite being as unfamiliar with both as his younger brother.

There was another entertaining experience with Koby while we were on one of our numerous taxi rides.  It should be noted that the six of us taking taxi rides together was basically the equivalent of a clown car in a circus!  Michele, Alexis, and myself would each have a child on our lap.  When you see the size of the typical taxi in Ghana, and then picture the six of us in addition to the driver, the scene had to be amusing to those walking by trying to peddle things to us.

Anyway, during one particular ride, Koby was sitting on my lap in the front passenger seat and he began to sing a song that basically went:

When you go out driving there is something you should know.
Red means stop, yellow means look/ready, and green means go, go, go, and go!

He continued to sing this song in very good English over and over.  We assumed that the orphanage was teaching the boys to sing songs in English to help them learn the language, and this was correct (they also sang songs such as Rain, Rain, Go Away, etc.)

What we didn't appreciate at the time, however, and what Kofi would clarify for us was why he started singing  the song and then repeating it.  Kofi stated that when the children learn the song about the traffic lights, they have no idea what the song is referring to because in the village, there are no traffic lights.

He explained that when they then come to visit a city such as Accra, it will suddenly dawn on them as they see the various lights and the associated colors that the traffic lights are indeed what the song they have learned is describing!  Upon hearing Kofi's explanation, it provided us yet another moment where we were able to see the boys make associations with words, phrases, or songs and for us to get to truly relish in just how quickly these two were able to learn.

Foreign cultures will always require some degree of recalibration relative to what the visitors are accustomed to in their own homeland.  For us, part of the adjustment necessary was getting used to the fact that many people in Ghana urinate outdoors when they need to go, many times wherever they need to go.  This, of course, caught us somewhat off-guard, and in fact the first time one of the boys walked from the pool area, across the sidewalk, and to the vegetation growing on the other side to relieve themselves, we were stunned.

It was obvious from the reactions of those around us, however, that this was not abnormal, and in fact we saw adults do the same thing (we only witnessed males, but apparently it's not unheard of that females would do the same).  It should be noted that it was always done discreetly and not in a manner in which inappropriate areas were exposed to others.  It was just something that we weren't used to noting outdoors in public areas.  Kofi did confirm that this was fairly normal there, even in Accra.

Finally, there was another custom relative to the eating habits in Ghana that left us very surprised.  As we've mentioned in a previous post, the boys absolutely loved chicken and rice.  As a family, we enjoy the same foods so this was not a problem for us at all, although for a few in our family, the spices were a little too spicy at times!  LOL!

What floored us was when we witnessed Koby begin to eat his bone from one of his chicken legs.  At first we believed he was simply gnawing the remaining meat off the bone, however when he put the bone down, it was apparent that the end was missing.  Needless to say, with us not knowing the culture well enough, we stopped the bone-eating initiatives immediately.

As it turns out, that was actually normal!  We explained what had happened to Kofi and he told us that in Ghana it is normal for individuals to eat the entire chicken, bones and all!  Likewise, when they eat fish, they eat the bones, head, eyes, etc.  While we very much wanted to conform as much as possible to the Ghanaian culture, and would like to keep as much of it alive as we possibly can when the boys join our family here in the States, this is a practice that we do not plan on maintaining! 

There are some practices that are better left in their home!!  :)

Our most sincere thanks to Kofi for explaining so much to us about life in Ghana, life for the boys and their families, stories about the orphanage, and various other pieces of insightful information that helped us understand so many things like we never would have without him.  We are forever grateful.