Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Let it start with me.

It's been a hot minute since I've used this platform.  Raising two black teenagers in todays world can be terrifying, I cannot sit complacent.  Many will think this story is unbelievable and that this stuff doesn't happen. It does. I cannot stay silent.  We must unite with our black brothers and sisters, we must listen and learn from them, they have suffered far too long.  Bridges must be built.  Let it start with me.  

I am a white woman married to a white man and we have five amazing kids.  Three are white and two are black.  We are a family.  

One summer day I let my two young black children go for a walk in the neighborhood.  You see my young son desperately wanted to work to earn money and a neighbor had mentioned he was such a hard worker around our house that maybe he should offer to do yard work or dog walking in the neighborhood for a small fee.  He’d been begging me for weeks to let him ask the neighbors and I hadn’t let him.  I’d never let my young black son walk around the neighborhood alone.  Not him nor his younger sister.  I’d always made one of his older siblings go with him.  This seems prudent except that it wasn’t because I didn’t trust him, or he wasn’t responsible and respectful or he wasn’t old enough.  I knew that he’d be safe with his older white brother or sister.  Normally I wouldn’t describe my children by the color of their skin, much the same as I shouldn’t have to decide which ones can safely go outside in our own neighborhood because of the color of their skin.  

This particular day he was persistent and I don’t operate in fear so I didn’t want my son to either, yet I felt like I was protecting him.  I finally gave in with the instruction that him and his sister stay together and not walk in anyone’s yard and to be respectful.  I knew they always were but I just wanted to remind them.  To keep them safe.  Off they went, thrilled that they had some freedom and responsibility to engage the neighbors, my son is incredibly outgoing and gregarious.  He doesn’t know a stranger.  They came back without incident and my heart slowed a bit as I asked them about their walk and if they’d found any neighbors that needed help.  They hadn’t but my son wasn’t phased, he planned to go out again the next day because several people weren’t home.

Thirty minutes later the local county sheriff was at my door.

My son answered the door not knowing who was there, we lived in a safe relatively diverse area and had an open door policy so this wasn’t abnormal.  I was cleaning in my room and he calmly came in and said “mom there’s a police officer at the door”.  I bristled and began to shake uncontrollably.  I quickly self corrected as I wanted to remain calm for my children.  I came around the corner and could see the officer with his hand on his gun, I calmly said can I help you sir?  He immediately shifted when he saw me.  It was clear he didn’t expect me to be white and in that moment I felt my privilege in a tangible way.  What would his response have been if I had been black?  He could hardly speak clearly as he fell all over his words asking if I lived there and if I’d seen anyone in the neighborhood that didn’t belong?  I asked for clarity on what he was asking me.  He then pointed to my son and asked if he lived here I said yes this is my son.  He again seemed at a loss for words.  He asked if he’d been home all day and I quickly realized where this was going.  

I explained that for the first time ever I’d allowed my two youngest children to go outside without one of their older white siblings.  This officer didn’t have any idea what he’d just gotten himself into.  He listened to me and he commended my son and said he wished his son wanted to work to earn some money.  I asked him why he was called and he struggled to tell me that someone had called the police because “there had been a series of car break ins” and they saw suspicious people knocking on doors and looking in cars.  My kids did not look in cars.  They walked by cars as they were walking in their own neighborhood.  I asked who had called and I kept pressing for more information because it just didn’t add up for me.  He said that someone was talking in the church parking lot and had seen my kids walking around and that they had gone up to a door and they felt they were looking in the windows.  They described my kids as older teens.  They were 9 and 11 and of very small stature.  The officer even agreed this was far fetched and struggled to admit this was racial.  He went with the “fearful old ladies gossiping in the church parking lot and called the police”.  The officer was kind and understanding when I called out what I thought was blatant racism especially because the house in question knew my children lived in the neighborhood.  He didn’t disagree but was quiet on the matter.  I let him know that I now understood clearly that it was unsafe for my children to walk around their neighborhood by themselves because of their skin color.  He tried to assure me they were safe but I could tell he knew I was struggling.  I assured him it wouldn’t happen again.  For their own safety.  He put his head down, apologized and left.

As soon as the door closed my two precious children burst into tears, I held them close and just wept.  Immediately I called my husband and told him to come home I then updated our older kids who weren’t home.  Soon everyone was at the house affirming the kids and speaking truth over them.  We prayed for the callers and begged God to heal our land.

All of this seems like too much but it wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted to know how my children’s names would be used in a report and get it removed if they were in there.  I wanted to know exactly what the report said and how I could file a complaint against these false reporters.  I wanted justice for my children.  For the first time I felt a tinge of what black mothers must feel when their children are wrongly accused and targeted.  

What I discovered in the police report was more than my heart could take and why I never shared this publicly in 2017.  It shook me to my core.

The woman that called the police described my children as rattling door handles on houses and attempting to open car doors.  None of that happened.  My son opened a screen door to knock on the door as there was not a door bell.  They walked by cars in the drive way, they didn’t touch them.  Because of what one woman said this was classified as a robbery in progress.  We lived in an unincorporated area of an affluent yet somewhat diverse town.  The county sheriff was dispatched and a police surround perimeter of our neighborhood was made.  They were searching for robbers and I have no idea what my children would have done if they had been surrounded and shouted at.  They were babies.  I’m afraid they would have run or one of them would have and my son without a doubt would have protected his sister.  This scenario plays over and over in my head.  What if they hadn’t come home.  What if their fear told them to flee?  

This is real friends.  I don’t blame the officers, they had no idea what they were walking into that day they only knew what was called in.  I talked at length with a friend (a former police officer) that day and he said this was protocol.  I believe that.  I just don’t know what would have happened if they had been in the middle of that.  

It saddens me that for far too long the black community has begged to be heard and we haven’t listened.   Too few white Americans are speaking up.  We must unite, we must listen.

Too many mothers and fathers have lost their children to senseless tragedies just because of the color of their skin. 

Deadly assumptions.

As a white woman I cannot stay silent and you shouldn’t either.  I stand united hand in hand with my black brothers and sisters everywhere.  #blacklivesmatter

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. 
- Martin Luther King Jr.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Beauty & The Sovereignty of God Reigns

Having adopted two kids at two different times from the same country may seem to some that everything is similar or even the same.  Its not. 

Each of our children have very different stories.  Both equally beautiful, messy, hard, yet they are both filled with so much love. Both of our kids are so incredibly loved by not only our family, our entire village, but by their birth families.

Zahra was born in a remote village of Ethiopia.  When I saw her precious face on a waiting child list I knew she was meant to be our daughter. We've always taken a long time to name our kids.  Meaning is very important and today as I begin writing a bit of her story and knowing what we now know her name has even more significance than the day we chose it.  God knew.

Zahra Belaynesh Reign
Zahra is the african form of Sarah meaning "Princess", Sarah is also one of my closest friends and a big part of our "village". Belaynesh is her given Ethiopian name and means "Above All". Reign means "God is sovereign".  Put together "His Princess, He is above all sovereign". 

Zahra wants God to be glorified in her story and wants the world to know how proud she is of her heritage and the things God has done in her life and so are we!  We are humbly sharing the raw and real. Her story is beautiful, we want to empower her, to teach her to be bold, we want her to be proud of her story, where she comes from, and there is no shame in sharing truth. (there are MANY things we won't share but some we are) I know that others are walking a similar road and we pray this brings hope and light to those wrestling through the hard to see the beauty.

Zahras true story and what we were told by our agency didn't match.  We choose joy, we trust in Gods sovereignty, and we've done all we can do to ensure what her families desire was for her. (I ask that you keep your negative comments to yourself, there is beauty from ashes, this is our families story and we pray it only gives you hope in your own story if you're walking this beautiful hard as well.)

Today we walked the hard and the beautiful. Together. Hand in hand. Our daughter is braver than any other nine year old I've ever met. She heard hard things, she embraced hard things, she saw beauty, she walked boldly into the village she spent the first 4 years of her life in, she was filled with love and grace as she embraced her mom, her dad, and her siblings.  She freely shed small tears at different points. When asked what advice her brother had for her since he'd walked it just two days before he said "just cry when you need to don't hold it in like I did, it'll make you feel better". She did just that and it was beautiful.

(This Zahra smash is priceless to me, her smile was worth all the work to get to this place)

Today I saw Jesus in a whole new light.  I saw Jesus in a rural village in Ethiopia.  I saw Jesus in each hug and kiss, I saw Jesus in the coffee that was served, I saw Jesus in the false banana leaf paste they served us but we couldn't eat, I saw Jesus in the brokenness, I saw Jesus in the dancing, I saw Jesus in the tears that a precious mama shed as she hugged her baby girl.  I saw Jesus as I sat across from my daughters biological parents as they wept telling us how grateful they are that we're raising their daughter to love Jesus, how evident it is that we love her so very much and how grateful they are that we would bring her back to see them. I saw Jesus as her family shared their hopes and dreams for Zahra, I saw Jesus even in the moment that my daughter proudly told her family she wanted to be a dolphin trainer or a model (the model part was new for us too) even though I knew they really wanted her to be a doctor. 

(watching Z share her family book with her mama was priceless)

One thing was obvious throughout this whole day.  So. Much. Joy. Its obvious in these pictures and I really just cannot say enough about this opportunity. This was so good for everyones soul. So. Good.

(Sometimes all of the people and all of feelings are overwhelming and you need to weep, for the good, for the hard) 

(the language barrier was frustrating on both sides, but God met us even there and grace abounds)

Jesus was there through my tears as Zahras friend she played with every day prior to leaving the village came to see her.  He was there when I asked her to sit with us and we took fun pictures and selfies as we coaxed a smile. He was there when she disappeared without a goodbye. I saw my daughter in this precious girl, my heart torn that she lost her friend and now the language barrier kept communication at bay. Yet she was there. Present.

I saw Jesus in my daughter as she embraced her biggest sisters who traveled for two days to see her.  As they ran across the grass throwing down their head coverings to embrace the little girl they hadn't seen in five years.  I saw Jesus in the eyes of the baby who made my daughter an aunt and I saw Jesus as her mama handed me her only grandchild so I could swoon over his precious face.  Watching my daughter hold her sweet nephew and the look of emotion on her face.  Jesus was there.

Z has long said that her oldest Ethiopia sister reminded her of Nichol. Today I saw why as this precious sister engaged all the kids in the village getting them to sing, playing a water bucket drum and singing praises to Jesus.  It was obvious by her personality why Z compared the two. Really no words. Just more of Gods grace and sovereignty.

(one of my very favorite moments of this day)

A mama and all her girls. Priceless.

These sisters were PRECIOUS and loved getting to sit and talk to Z despite the frustration of using two translators to translate three languages.

 Baby Fekadu

(we don't have to wonder where Z gets her height, her uncle is at least 6'8" at our best guess)

Seeing the family resemblance was incredible.  I loved watching Zahra interact with each family member.  These are a few of my favorites.



Sisters. Their mannerisms - identical. Build. The same. Looks. Obvious.

As I sat across from my daughters parents who made an adoption plan for her five years earlier I wept. I get to raise this precious girl. I get to be her mommy, I get to hold her hand and catch her tears, her daddy gets to twirl her around at the father/daughter dance, he gets to stay up late working on school projects, he gets to teach her to drive, he gets to walk her down the aisle one day. Today I just needed to know that they wanted that.  That they fully intended for us to raise their daughter. Today they gave us that. It was clear this was their choice and they couldn't be happier that we were her parents. I have to rest there. They wanted a different life for their youngest child and God sovereignly entrusted us with this sweet girl, with the heaviness of her story, and with the weight of raising her to know who she is in Christ despite circumstances. 

Today our family grew immensely. We're raising their daughter who is so very clearly loved. Today our daughter saw her biological parents and her adoptive parents embrace, talk, and just be.  All was right in her world. All of the questions and struggles in her heart were okay in that moment. 

Love always wins. Our hearts were full, a birth families wish to see their daughter/sister/friend again was fulfilled, there is no way to put into words how it felt walking out of that village. Pure joy, a day perfectly ordained but God.

Enat (mother in Amharic) necklace left as a reminder of how loved she is by God, by us, and by her girl.

The emotions of the day are real and overwhelming.  Trying to process as an adult is difficult, I can't imagine everything she was feeling. At the end of all of this and to sum it up Zahra said she doesn't understand a lot of things but she knows that God loves her and wants whats best for her. That doesn't make things easy or keep the questions from rising up but it does create rest. Rest in the sovereignty of God that He loves us more than anyone else.

Everything here is shared with permission from my resilient, brave, precious daughter Zahra. Thank you to our village on both continents, to my amazing older children who helped make this trip possible. To Jessica Oh of whom we owe the gratitude for these pictures.  Thank you for walking into the hard and beautiful with us. PC: Jessica Oh Photography

Friday, November 13, 2015

It Takes A Village

I've long debated how I would write this post.  We've known we would take our kids back to Ethiopia since before their adoptions were final.  It was something that was very important to us from the beginning.  Now that we're in that place and we're doing exactly that what I thought I knew has been completely shattered.  In a good way, a beautiful way, a way I never imagined.

What I learned today was more than the cliche "it takes a village", I saw the village first hand.  Having a village of people that love your children nearly as much as you do is a gift.  People that want whats best for your children but perhaps bring a different perspective to the table, an ability to say things in a way you haven't.  A different gifting that maybe brings out a side in your child you didn't see before.  Today I saw some of my kids' village.  We're blessed that our village spans oceans, it bridges cultures and religions, our village is a complex group of people with one thing in common; a deep love for us and our children.

Today our village grew. You can never really prepare for what it will be like to have your children see their birth family after so many years. The anticipation of that was very real for all of us. There was never a moment that I felt like I didn't want to do this. Never.  Never a time that I was concerned about my place in my kids' lives. I knew God had sovereignly entrusted these kids to David and I, we were simply sharing them with the people who loved them before we even knew them and made a painful choice they felt was their only option to allow me to be their mother and David to be their father.  

The quote below says it best.
A child born to another woman calls me mom. The depth of the tragedy and the magnitude of the privilege are not lost on me. 
- Jody Landers

Today we bridged that gap. Today Silas embraced his biological grandmother, his aunts, and the neighbors that helped during his early years of baby/toddlerhood. Today filled some holes in his story, he heard first hand stories of his life before he came to us.  He heard, felt, and watched the deep love his family has for him.  He watched his two families embrace, his worlds collided, and in one incredible coffee ceremony all was right in his world. Lemonade and egg sandwiches in the mud house where he was born filled his heart to overflowing.  He knew his roots, he knew his family, he could ask questions, he could share pictures, and above all he could just be.  

Sitting in this tiny house with my son and his family was as much a gift to me as it was to him. A unity was formed, bonded by the mutual love of a small boy, and a desire to see him thrive. His village loved him well then, they have continued to love him and are so grateful to see him again.  His village in Ethiopia was comprised of family, friends, and neighbors.  His village in our home is made up of the same.  Today some people from those villages met and I couldn't be more honored and blessed to have these people in my sons life.

Because of our village we have pictures that are priceless.  My kids will be able to look back at their first birth family visit and relive those moments because it was so well documented by someone who loves them well.  Someone who gets what it means to be apart of that village.  Someone who loves well.

 Silas' immediate family.

Part of the village. Family, neighbors, social worker, friends that are really more like family. 

 Without this amazing lady NONE of these photos would be possible. Check out her other work here.  She's blogged about this trip from her perspective as well here.

 It was truly incredible that a whole neighborhood had stories to share about our son.

A Grandmothers love meant a sacrifice of possibly never seeing her grandson again.

 A friend pointed out my shirt in this picture.  I didn't think about it but that's another beauty in the village.  Together we're stronger.  So. Much. Truth.

 I just really have no words.

When you see family resemblance. 

 Pure joy. I really can't even articulate it.

This boy. So brave. Such an open heart. He grew up a whole lot today.

This sweet auntie was 5 when Silas left. She cried and cried. It was an honor to stand with her and tell her to come back each time the emotions were too much and she walked away. To embrace the hard. She did and she did it with beauty and grace. 

At the end of the day the joy in the hard, the beauty in pain, all of its comes together and you just need a good cry.  When I asked what he was feeling the only thing he could eek out was "Mom, I'm just so happy, thank you"

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

Everything here is shared with permission from my valiant, brave, precious son Silas. Thank you to our village on both continents, to my amazing older children who helped make this trip possible. To Jessica Oh of whom we owe the gratitude for these pictures.  Thank you for walking into the hard and beautiful with us. PC: Jessica Oh Photography