(I realize that title is just ridiculous.  But everything else I was coming up with was boring, and I couldn’t deal with that, so there ya go.)

Of course adding a child to our house is a “big” deal, but in reality, it’s made up of lots of “small” stuff.  Lots of little changes here and there, and I thought it would be cool/interesting/useful to highlight some of the practicals of what this addition has looked like for our home…

-Our week starts by driving about one hour through the compounds of Lusaka to pick Sarah up from her family. She says goodbyes, hops in the car, eats a “cookie” (quotation marks signify that this particular treat looks and tastes like a cookie, but it actually packed with sneaky proteins like flax seed), and promptly falls asleep.  I think Sarah is quite overwhelmed by all the changes in her life, so she sleeps a lot.  Which is a huge praise- sleep has not been a problem for any of us in the transition.

-Then, we go to home church with our friends, and both kids get to play at “Sunday school” with their friends.  Favorite songs and books help to ease Sarah into the week, and plus, we end church with a fabulous pot-luck dinner.

-Each night holds pretty much the same routine, which I think is important for all of us.  I want Joab and Sarah to be able to have certain expectations for their day, especially since both of them have enough complications navigating this world (Autism and Down syndrome can add layers of frustration to their daily activities).  So, we eat dinner, we dance*, we bathe, we watch a “short show,” read a book (Night-Night, Little Pookie for Sarah; and Snuggle Puppy for Joab- we love Sandra Boynton), and go to sleep.

*I find our dance parties to be a very necessary part of our day, especially after dinner.  At this point, each one of us is on the verge of a meltdown, for whatever reason.  So, we turn up the tunes and dance it out!  Our song of choice right now is “Happy” by Pharrell Williams- it’s so catchy, and speaks a good mood over all of us.

-Mornings have proved to be the most difficult change.  So much that I have had to hire our nanny for extra early hours to help us get out the door.  This was a really hard decision for me to make.  To me, it felt like a huge failure that I couldn’t manage getting the three of us ready for the day and arrive on-time at school/work.  After several days of rushing around in a bad mood, however, I chose to suck up my pride and bring in help.  Thank goodness for that, it has totally changed the start of our day!

-Throughout the week, I try to get quality time in a couple forms: with Joab, with Sarah, with friends, and for myself.  Each of these QTs are really important to me feeling like we’ve done the week “well,” and not just survived.  Whether Joab and I go to a movie, Sarah and I grab an ice cream cone, I meet friends for dinner, or I read a book- these times help us, and me particularly, to feel settled.

-Then, on Friday, I drive back to drop Sarah off with her family.  Thus far, the Sunday and Friday transitions have gone smoothly, thank goodness, no tears from any party.  It makes me feel good that everyone involved seems to understand their roles, and still believes that this arrangement is the best option for Sarah right now.

I’ll add more later, but send questions, thoughts, etc!  I’m so appreciative for everyone’s support in this, it has meant so much to me!

After three weeks of foster parenting, I feel like I should have more to write.  Or maybe… I feel like I should be able to put more into words.  I think sometimes, though, when it comes down to the meat of raising children- it’s hard stuff to process, let alone share.

Overall, these weeks have been emotional.  For me, in particular.  The first couple days of having two children under my roof were difficult.  In spare quiet moments, I would try to analyze why exactly- and I think it came down to all the ways it changed our routine.  I am a creature of habit, and like things to be and do in very certain ways- and so adding another body into the mix threw me.  For the past two+ years, it has been Joab and me in our little cottage, with all our quirks and patterns.  Sarah doesn’t know our structure; has her own even.  And so, these past weeks have seen a lot of adjusting by all involved.

In the midst, I have kept reminding myself, “This is the person you want to be.”  I want to be a mother who makes sacrifices in her own family for the sake of other mothers and families.  I don’t want my family to be one shielded and boundaried from those hurting in this world.  I want my family to be one who hurts alongside them- not from afar, but up-close and in our personal space.  I want Joab to know and understand that our home will often be one that has to stretch and bend in service to others.

Maybe that’s not a popular angle on family life- but it’s mine.  And I want to actually live it.  I realize more everyday that doing so is hard.  It’s real.  It’s messy.  Stuff that’s not comfortable to my controlling self.  Right now, I’m thankful to be in the middle of it all- as challenging as it may be, it feels like privileged space.

*I’ll try to write more this weekend on the practicals of the past three weeks.

More on becoming a foster parent, taken from various emails sent to family and friends…

I found a little girl while walking down a dirt road a couple years ago.  She was on her sister’s back- I caught up with them and spoke to her sister…

“What is her name?” Sarah.

“Does she go to school?” Yes, the Catholic school just there.

“Does your family know she has Down syndrome?” Mmm, yes.

Fast forward a year, and her family moved to Ng’ombe, where we have a Community Care Center, and so Sarah started coming to sessions.  She came alive in some ways, but was limited by her malnourished and stunted frame.  Fast forward to a couple months ago (when I saw her for the first time in a while) and she was smaller than ever, or at least it seemed.  Sarah is six years old, weighs 27.5 lbs, which is less than half the size of Joab (who is five) and below the fifth percentile for girls with Down syndrome.

Then, for the past couple months, Sarah didn’t come to her normal sessions the Center.  Milika (Special Hope staff and dear friend) and I went to her house two weeks ago to talk with her mom.  Mom told us she wasn’t bringing Sarah to sessions anymore because “she’s just not growing, I don’t know what to do, all the other kids grow, but not Sarah.  I just give up.”  I feel such compassion for this mother- because really, I don’t think it’s her fault.  I don’t think she has malicious intentions for Sarah.  I do think, however, she lives in a world that doesn’t allow her much opportunity to do “right” for Sarah.

On top of that, the family is moving to another compound, far from our Community Care Center.  Knowing that, Milika and I offered her a free spot at our Resource Center (paying school, where Joab goes), and we would even provide a taxi to pick her up and drop her off everyday.  This was the best plan- Sarah would get to stay with her family, but we would get all day to take care of her, make sure she eats, etc.

Mom agreed to the plan- I felt a great sense of peace that Special Hope was doing everything possible to keep the family united and still working to get Sarah healthy.  And then last week, we drove to their new house, and realized the plan wouldn’t work.  It is much farther than we thought, and would take a one-hour, one-way walk by a family member to even get Sarah to a spot where a taxi could drive.  That means, someone in the family would have to walk a total of four hours per day for Sarah to go to school with us.  This is not possible for Sarah’s family.

So, through a lot of prayer and counseling with lots of different folks- I have offered to the mom, and she has excitedly accepted that Sarah stay with me Sunday evening-Friday afternoon, then return home to be with her family on the weekends.  In my mind, it’s foster care the way it was designed to function- that a foster parent step in to provide what a biological parent cannot, with the ultimate hope that the biological family be reunited when possible.

The goal is that Special Hope is able to keep a closer eye on her to help her gain weight, and to investigate more serious medical conditions that may be happening under the surface.  It is my hope that this is somehow a temporary best for Sarah.  I so desperately want her to grow up with the family she was born into.  But, I can’t see that far yet- this is obviously not a long-term solution. I trust God will give me insight in pieces and as necessary.

I am so thankful for the support I have surrounding me- my housekeeper, my nanny, my “Mr Phiri” (there is no title to describe him, he is an older Zambian man who works so hard in our garden, to fix broken things in our house, to run errands, etc), my family, and my friends.  I would not be able to help this little girl without the help I receive from all these.  I’ll try to keep you all posted here, on Facebook and Instagram!

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Joab and I were thrilled to have my cousin, Mary, visit us in Lusaka for the past week and a half.  She is incredibly talented when it comes to working with kids with special needs, and besides that, she is super fun!   Here is a post from her, reflecting on her time here…

As my time in Zambia comes to an end I have begun to reflect on my experiences these past two weeks. The last couple of days I have become a little home sick. I miss my husband and boys. At the same time I know that once I return to the States I will also become a little home sick for Zambia. I came to this beautiful country with the simple hope of being a small part in Special Hope Network’s (SHN) work.

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Ever since Beth first told me that she was moving to Zambia I knew I wanted to visit her. While I knew my time there would always be brief, it was difficult for me to align my schedule in order to make the journey. Since Beth first arrived in Zambia I have had two boys, changed careers to a full time stay-at-home mom, and experienced the normal things that tend to occur during the course of ones life that delays a one’s ability to travel to another continent.

When the time FINALLY came to begin my trip I noticed that my feelings of excitement were beginning to be replaced with a new intense nervous excitement. I was nervous about leaving my family. I was nervous about how they would handle my absence. I was nervous about how I would perform once I arrived in Zambia. I was nervous about working with the staff and families that make up SHN. I wanted to make a difference in the lives of the children and families I would be working with.

As I started working with SHN I was able to go to the care centers in Garden and Ngombe. At these centers, I found SHN staff that were both welcoming and eager to learn. They participated during my presentation on ‘Manding/Requesting and Motivation’ (all of the things needed to evoke communication) and they proved to be a truly wonderful staff!

One of my main goals during my trip was to train SHN staff one-on-one in the practical setting of a family’s home. SHN staffers Diana, Goodson and Milika accompanied me to the homes of many families in order to receive first hand experience in teaching communication. I was properly briefed on the living situations of the families we were about to visit. Most of their homes only consisted of one or two rooms for the entire family. Their diet was usually poor and none of the homes had running water. The water they did have was used for drinking, bathing and washing clothes. Also there was usually only one bed per house. Despite all this, each of these homes contained within them a tremendous amount of love.

One of the most important things I have learned in the many years I have worked with children with special needs is that while everyone can communicate, not everyone has language. The children at these homes were at varying levels of learning. Most of the families wanted their child to be able to communicate and these children (as well as the SHN staff) were eager to learn. The young women I closely trained with were amazing. They picked up on all of the technical terms and by the last day they did all of the training for the parents. Diana and Milika made me extremely proud.

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I did find time to see some of the local sites of Zambia. I went to a soccer game, rode a blue bus, and most importantly went on a safari. I knew I could not come all the way to Africa without seeing any elephants. They are such massive yet gentle creatures I knew I wanted to see them outside of a zoo once in my life. At first it appeared during the safari that I would not get my wish. Then suddenly there they were, Elephants! Right in front of me I was able to watch a mother with her baby. What a perfectly symbolic image for my trip. As I watched this mother elephant with her baby I could not help but make the correlation between the two groups of strong women I have witnessed these past two weeks. Both elephants and Zambian mothers and grandmothers possess strong matriarch women. Both live in tight communal groups. Both raise their children with love and protection. Both are gentle and yet very powerful. I will always be thankful that I had the opportunity to witness them both.

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Mary, I’ve said it already, and it will say it again and again: we could never properly thank you for all you did on your trip to Zambia.  And while we know it is definitely a sacrifice for you to come all the way here, we cannot wait for the next time you are able to come.  We love your heart, your passion, your drive, your spunk- we love you!

I’ve been impressed with a conversation happening out in the blog-o-sphere these days.  If you haven’t checked out Jen Hatmaker’s series on The Ethics of Adoption, I would highly recommend giving it a sit-down.  I promise, it is well worth your time, especially if you have anything to do with adoption/care about injustices happening in our world.

There are lots of ways to spin this thing.  But when it comes down to it, there is a lot of shady and sinister stuff happening in the midst of the good and beautifuls of adoption.  Just yesterday an article popped up on my BBC app– people in the developing world stealing babies order to feed western adoption demands.  I do believe parties on either end of this transaction have been duped- but as in similar situations of injustice, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves on how to do this better.  We must take some intentional first steps in marking out more clear boundaries between adoption and trafficking.  I am so thankful to know there is a growing group of people working to see this happen.

Here’s why it especially matters to me- what does it mean when people stand in a line hundreds of families deep waiting to internationally adopt a healthy infant (because that’s what those 151 million orphans are, right)?  It means a lot of kids in need being missed in the meantime.  Older children, sibling groups, and (surprise) kids with disabilities sit waiting for families RIGHT NOW, and well-meaning PAPs (prospective adoptive parents) are queued up for babies who haven’t even been born.  Whattttt?

We have to decide if we really want in on this thing.  If we do, then we have to be ready to adopt kids with special needs, period.  In deciding to become a parent, you have to be ready for anything, right?  So why do we have so many hesitations when it comes to adopting kids with disabilities?  I’m not suggesting we take it lightly. Believe me, I know how hard parenting a child with a disability can be- but when is parenting ever easy?  I’m not even suggesting international adoption as plan A for kids with disabilities, as we obviously need to do whatever we can to support the families into which they were born.  But, let’s take a more realistic look at the situation, examine it carefully, do the same with our own hearts and get at it.  

After more than two years of “fostering,” I am finally about to cross the finish line in Joab’s adoption!  All we have left (on the Zambian side, anyway) is to go to court and get a “yes” from the judge.

To celebrate, and just to get away- we took a babymoon.  I know that phrase doesn’t technically fit- but there are a lot of ways Joab and I “don’t technically fit,” so just roll with it, please.

Friday was International Women’s Day, so we took off to the bush for the weekend.  When we arrived, however, we found the bush and the lodge in it to be a little dirty for our liking.  So, we took off for the fancy hotel instead!  Oops.

So glad we did- it turned out to a really relaxing weekend away with good food, a lovely swimming pool and lots of QT for Mama and Jo.

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Dudes.  To say that 2013 has had a busy start would be a gross understatement.  And though I think upon this blog from time to time, it obviously has not been on the forefront of my to-do list.  Sorry about that.

I really do want to keep this thing up, and I struggle to know how to do that well.  Consider this my inaugural try-again sort of post- though you will quickly realize I have ulterior motives for starting back up today…

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You all know kids with intellectual disabilities are very near and dear to my heart.  So much so, that when a typically-developing kid comes around, I often freak out and don’t know how to interact with them.  Because I am so often surrounded by kids who are developmentally delayed (including my own son), kids who are growing and learning normally seem more like child-genuises than typical children.  My world has been overtaken by these kids.

I came to Zambia with one purpose- to give these kids a chance.  I had no idea and very few skills on how to do that, but three years later- here I still am.  I have adopted (almost, anyway…more to come on this) a little boy who is on the Autism Spectrum.  The organization I work with has opened two Community Care Centers in order to serve over 70 kids with disabilities and their families.  We have trained more than 100 and hired 11 Zambian staff on how to equip parents and caregivers.

When it comes down to it- there are something like 650 people* who depend on the work I do everyday.  It terrifies/humbles me to even think about it.

And so, here is my shameless plea.  Share that responsibility with me.

Today, Special Hope launches its Child Sponsorship program.  I am asking you to consider becoming a sponsor to one of our kids.  You can read the details on how the program works on the Special Hope website– but here is the gist…  By giving $35 a month, you could make an incredible difference in the life of a kid.  One who really needs things to be different.  Please, would you consider taking on some of the load?

*For each Zambian that has a job, there are an estimated 10 dependants.  In one “household,” there are roughly 8 Zambians.  If you consider what we actually provide to our staff and kids every month, then do the math, we are responsible (in some form) for about 650 people.  Dang.