Wednesday, October 26, 2016


It's nearing 9pm and we have had a relaxing day in the guesthouse all day.  Our agency planned us an "off day" since it's our first full day with Asnake (we don't call him Tyson yet.  So it's either Akuye or Asnake for now).  He woke at 6am and I hardly slept.  I kept waking, walking to his bed, and looking to make sure he really was here, with us.  So, when he started to stir this morning, I went right over, crawled into his bed and we told each other "good morning."  He got up and then I finally encouraged him to get into our bed between us for a few minutes (I mean IT'S 6am).  It was super sweet, but in about 5 minutes he said, "Mom, wake up!"  He climbed out of bed and pointed to the clothes he wanted to wear today.  Turns out it was his "officially a McKeehan" shirt made by his cousin, Megan.  He wanted jeans and black high-tops.  As I have noted before, he is very disciplined...he brushes his teeth, washes his face, and lotions himself without having to be told.  By 7:10 this morning we were outside kicking a soccer ball.  It was chilly, so just after going out, he said, "Mom, spiderman jacket, please."  So, off I went back upstairs.  By the time I got back down with the jacket, he had grabbed Mark's coffee and was wearing part of it on his new shirt.  SO, back up to the 2nd floor to change (thankfully, I soaked it immediately with detergent in our kitchenette sink and it all came out! Thankful for washing my hand experience in Haiti).  This time, he chose a neon orange superman shirt.  By then, it was breakfast time and he ate toast, but didn't really eat any of his eggs. Noted.

The rest of the day involved playing games, building with blocks, playing cards with Regan, working on English and math, watching movies, and listening to music on his iPod.  The day seemed longer than the others, just because it started so early, but also because we didn't have plans to go anywhere. Being here all day brought out a few of the expected issues with testing boundaries, but learning to be in a family will do that.  He can't know what a family is all about without testing boundaries to know how our particular family works.  Overall, today went better than expected, as we had prepared ourselves for tears or meltdowns or defiance, which are all normal and common at this phase.  So far he hasn't cried the first tear in our care.  He giggles a lot (right now as a matter of fact!).  He obeys for the most part and really is (seeming) to want to figure out what it's about to be a McKeehan. For lunch he ate leftover injera and tibs (traditional Ethiopian dish) from our take-out last night.  After lunch we tried to get him to nap (which on days with no school he was used to), but he never fell asleep.  He did stay quietly in his bed, but he was distracted by his blue flashlight and the fact that Brycen and Regan were downstairs in the living room playing.  You can't win all the battles on day 1.  But, we made progress on several things and now we say, "families stick together" so he knows to stay close to one of us without running ahead of us.  
After "nap time," we went to the living room/dining room area of the guesthouse.  It's open and large and we played cards and kicked around a small soccer ball.  He worked a puzzle with Mark and sang (in English) "Good, Good Father" spontaneously all day long.  Then, we came up and worked on English and math.  He already knows how to count to 20 in English and recognizes all those numbers.  His handwriting is quite good and he is eager to learn.  He identified (in English) fish, cats, cows, flowers, lions, many zoo animals, all the shapes, colors, alphabet, and numbers.  Yes, he's a genius.
When dinner rolled around, I made his plate and set it on the table and quickly realized he either doesn't like rice, or he didn't want any tonight.  No big deal, that plate became my plate and we all live to see another day.  While we were walking down the stairs to dinner he held up his fingers (like I do to him when I am explaining his choices or what we are going to be doing.  Thank you, Karen Purvis for being BRILLIANT in regards to to bonding, helping prevent meltdowns, etc.  Her curriculum for adoptive parents has been a lifesaver).  Anyway, he held up one finger and said, "Mom, after we eat, shower, and then (now holding up two fingers), pajamas and movie."  I agreed because it sounded like a fantastic plan to me.  I know showers for him everyday aren't good (for his hair and skin), but when your first warm shower of your life was yesterday am I going to prevent you from having another one today. Um, NO.  So, here we went again... I helped give him his shower again and with less tears in my eyes I was able to take note of things I didn't know.  Like, he has a birthmark on his chest and an "innie" belly button, things I haven't known until today.  He wants to wear a t-shirt under his pajama shirt and he loves having lotion all over (something he didn't have often at the orphanage).  Finding out these things contributed to my persist thoughts about his birth mom today. More on that later.
If we counted right, he brushed his teeth 5 times today.  I figure there are way worse things he could've done today, so we gave him a resounding, "Gobez" every time.
After he was all clean and wearing his cozy pajamas, something super fun happened.  I can't put my finger on what it was exactly, but it's like he just realized that it was now or never... he had a normal body function happen.  Loudly.  We all busted out laughing!!  And from then on it was giggles upon giggles.  He had Brycen and Regan laughing and they had him laughing so hard he couldn't catch his breath.  It was sheer joy to sit back and watch it unfold right before my eyes.  And the sounds of their playing and laughter together is nearly more than I can handle.  As of now, he and Brycen are both in his bed.  He's fast asleep and Brycen, like the rest of us, can't take his eyes off of him.  It's just so tender to me to see.
As the day progressed, and I watched this handsome, smart, courteous, funny personality come out, I couldn't help but to be drawn back into this past Monday night.  I mentioned that while we were at court orientation, Meselu gave us Asnake's LifeBook DVD.  I left the details of it out on purpose that night.  I just couldn't quite process it yet.  As the days have passed and I have thought back over the contents of the video, I wanted to share some of it with you.  A LifeBook DVD is made by our agency and includes all the videos of birth family that have been done throughout  his adoption process (there are many investigations by both governments to ensure consistency and that his story is the truth).  The video starts out so benign with general information regarding Ethiopia as a whole.  Then, Meselu's voice begins talking specifically to Asnake.  It changes from stock photos online to a video of driving down a narrow, rural countryside road.  And Meselu explains that this is the town and road Asnake's birth mom lives on.  About that time, the camera shows a young, beautiful woman walking toward a gate.  And, she took my breath away.  He looks exactly like her.  She entered that small gate and we learned this is where she lives and works.  She is a maid in a town close to where she grew up.  She is able to work and live there.  Right now, she is going to school (she's in 7th grade now, but in her 20's).  We did learn her actual age when he was born, something we had only guessed about by looking at photos and reading his story.  I am going to leave much of the details of that part out.  Ultimately, this is his story to tell and I want to respect that.  But, the interviewer asked her SO MANY QUESTIONS.  Ones I may have never thought to ask, but I am so grateful to have her answers.  Guess what?  He was born on a Sunday night at 8pm after a beautiful sunny day.  These are the details few children get in international adoption and one of the reasons in Ethiopia it takes so long to adopt right now.  These types of interviews and investigations are TRYING to prevent trafficking and agencies from paying moms for their babies so the agency can profit (yes it happens all over the world).  So, I am forever grateful to have her answers.  TO SEE HER FACE.  Y'all.  It was more than Mark and I could take.  We weren't sure what to expect when we put that DVD in, but I know it exceeded every exception I had.  She described him as a baby and said he cried a lot, but she went on to say, "but because I was so young, I didn't really know what to do for him."  She described her family and siblings and the fact that her dad passed away when she was a child, leaving her mom as a widow farmer unable to make enough to send her to school as a child.  So, now that she is old enough to work (and has been working in this capacity since she was 15), she works to pay for herself to go to school while also working full-time.  HOW AMAZING IS SHE?  She described making the decision to relinquish him and who was with her.  All along we thought he was 3 months old.  Turns out, he was 6 months old.  A momma doesn't forget.
The interviews went on to include interviews with Asnake's maternal grandmother... a beautiful woman who appears to have lived a hard-working life.  They (she and two of her children) live on a farm her husband ran, but since she is widowed she has a job cleaning streets to try to make enough to eat.  There were videos of his maternal uncle and confirmation that he has a maternal aunt as well.  It is such a gift to us.  Perhaps the part for us that was the most unexpected and tender was when the interviewer asked his birth mom, "If you could say something to his adoptive parents what would you want to say?" I literally put my hands over my mouth, tears streaming, and said, "Oh my goodness."  WHAT A GIFT.  Her reply was sweet and sincere and simple, "I pray to God he will give them strength and provision to raise him properly."  Her prays are so special to, I can't express how much they mean.  And, when we are able to meet face-to-face I can thank her for her willingness to give us the honor of "raising him properly" with God's help.
With every stroke of his pencil across those letters or numbers today, I had her on my mind.  I want to serve her well by stewarding him well.  Her sacrifice is not lost on me as I look into his eyes and watch him learn.  This is what she wanted for him and now I know that FOR SURE.  She is getting what she wanted, but at the cost of her own heart.  She speaks of her love for him multiple times in the video.  Her mother even echoes the same heartbeat saying, "I love him.  He's my grandson."  Yes, he is and we are honored to walk this road out never forgetting where he came from and that God's plans are so big for her.  With grace and mercy, we desperately long to honor her with the way we love him (Asnake)  and the way we love Him (God).  This life isn't our own.  And as we continue to let Him piece together the pieces of Asnake's life, we are humbled and grateful that He lets us in on it in even the smallest of ways.

until WE'RE home,

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Good, Good Father

This post could get long (and take me forever to post) because there is a sweet 5 year old sleeping about 12 feet away who keeps stealing my eyes.  WE ARE SLEEPING UNDER THE SAME ROOF and I could not be more humbled.  Drawn to tears no less than 1.335843 million times today.  I will do my best to recount the highlights of the day. As I type, I want you to know it is with tears in my eyes and streaming down my face (think emoji with tears streaming...).  I can hear that little miracle boy snoring as I type.  He's in his new Avengers pajamas, with new socks, after a long warm shower, with teeth brushed, belly fed, and toys in his bed. I will get to all of that in just a minute, but for now, I wanted you to have a mental picture to get you through this post.
The morning started earlier than normal, so the plan was to leave at 7:15am for our 9am court appointment because Addis traffic is one of the craziest things I have ever seen unpredictable.  We did NOT want to be late.  And, let's be honest, we weren't getting much sleep anyway.  Our alarm was set for 6:15am, but when my eyes popped wide open at 6, I couldn't believe it.  THIS WAS IT.  GOTCHA DAY.  We all scurried getting ready and I adjusted his pillow and comforter for the 400th time before we left.  The entire ride to court Mark and I kept saying, "this is really happening," "do you know how many times we talked about this day?" "think about how many days we didn't think this would happen," etc.  We arrived super early and had time to swing into a local coffee shop just down the street.  We all enjoyed a delicious macchiato and while we were there, Tesfahun, our attorney,  joined us.  He is a quiet guy, who has WORKED HIS TAIL OFF FOR US.  We repeatedly heard today from numerous sources, "This case very difficult." Um, yeah, we know.  But, we are eternally grateful (literally) for people who persistently pushed through, fought for, and delivered on getting all the necessary paperwork, even when government offices here asked for silly things that didn't matter.
As we arrived to the court building, there were two lines already forming outside, one for the boys and one for the girls.  Regan and I took our respective place in the back of the girl line, but when the court house opened, we were in in no time.  We waited inside for Brycen, Mark, Mengistu, and Tesfahun.  We wandered through the halls of the courthouse and finally settled in on the second floor just in front of an old wooden door with a number plaque that read "106."  I looked at that door and number and knew behind it our lives would change forever.  Our court appointment was scheduled for 9am.  At 9:15am when no one had come for us or opened the door, I was getting nervous.  So, I asked Tesfahun if they were usually late.  He replied, "No. But, we are the first case this year."  I stood in disbelief.  "Bethany's first case since court re-opened?" I asked.  Tesfahun, "yes, but also THE first case since court opened for any agency. First one of the year for the court."  I nearly died right there.  The favor of the Lord swept over me in a millisecond.  I didn't want to miss it.  God gave us the very first court appointment of the fiscal year for the Ethiopian government. And then my worries melted away as a young woman opened the door and motioned for us to enter.  Here we go,  room 106, here we go.
We entered a fairly small room with dingy walls and purple carpet.  At the back of the room sat a judge at an old office desk.  In front of the desk were 2 rows of chairs, 3 chairs in each row,  facing one another.  Mark and I sat down on the left row, with Brycen.  Regan sat across from Mark in the first seat of the right hand row.  The judge shook our hands and asked to see our passports.  Next, he asked us a series of 8-10 yes or no questions.  For instance, "have you met your child?"  "Have you talked to your biological children about this adoption?" (helped half of them were present, because he asked them), "how many times have you visited your child?'  You get the idea... Our favorite question was, "Do you love him?"  YES.
Before we could even finish, his pen made big strokes across the page, indicating his signature and as it did, he said, "I approve this adoption."  Mark grabbed my hand as we watched him sign and I batted away tears that were hanging on to my lower eye lids for dear life.  We shook his hand and out the door we went.  Three minutes. MAX.  DONE AND DONE.  With the stroke of a pen, Asnake Haile became Asnake Mark McKeehan (until we legally change his name in America to Tyson).  As we pranced back down the steps, Mark said, "I feel like a thousand pounds have been lifted off my shoulders."  And, I thought, "Our God finishes what He begins."  The enemy sought to destroy us in this process.  His plan has been intentional and very personal.  We have known it and we have felt it.  Today, he was crushed under the heel of Jesus who came to set captives free, bind up broken hearts, and put the lonely into families.
We walked out onto the courthouse steps, hand-in-hand, smiling from ear to ear, tasting tears.  Mengistu snapped a couple of photos of us in front of the courthouse, even though it's against the rules not advised.  We played a real life game of Frogger back across the blaring streets of Addis Ababa and sat down in the van as a family of 7. Officially.  Now, the court and government FINALLY get to be caught up with what our hearts have known since April 20th, 2015 when we saw his face for the first time.  As we drove away, I looked at Mark and said, "it's done."  We giggled through our tears like teenage girls and held hands.  We know it's actually only beginning, but the fight changes today.  We aren't fighting the same old battle anymore.  It's done.  Tesfahun spoke up shortly into the drive saying, "You know Asnake's case was very difficult" (one of many people to point that out).... he went on to describe some of the hold up's.  We thanked him profusely for his legal representation for us and for continuing to advocate and represent adoptive families in a culture that is not currently fond of international adoption.  We have sensed it from officials already.  To continue to advocate for these children AS AN ETHIOPIAN puts many of them at risk for social stigma's because so many people aren't supportive of it here.  It was more confirmation that what the enemy set out to destroy, God redeemed.  Right before our eyes today, with the stroke of a pen.  Black ink to be exact.
Next, we dropped Tesfahun off at the US Embassy (the line to get in was SO LONG).  Anyway, we headed to Ethiopia's National Museum where we saw all kinds of artifacts, art work, archeological findings, and other historical pieces.  We took it all in as much as we could, but I kept thinking "WE JUST PASSED COURT!" After the museum we headed to lunch at the Lime Tree.  It appears to be owned by Americans, as everything was written in English and the atmosphere convinced you you were in Atlanta or Market Square.  The decor was bright orange and neon green and the oversized chalk board menu hung over the kitchen.  After we ate and tried orange Fanta (shout out to Mirinda for being the better of the two!), we decided to head back to the guest house because we wanted to upload 72,000 photos for you to see we knew another family had arrived last night and were waiting to see their child for the first time at 2:30pm (same orphanage as Asnake, so we were going to ride together and share Mengistu).  As we drove back the guesthouse, the commute was about an hour due to traffic.  So, Mark decided to play music from his phone for us to sing to in the van.  First up, "Good, Good Father."  As it started Mark said, "He is a good, good Father.  What a day!"  We all belted it out.  We arrived in time to download photos, FaceTimed our parents, let the kids and Mark change clothes, and get everything ready for Asnake to come back with us.  Surreal.  We tidied the room up and packed him a change of clothes in case he needed it.  Then, we bounced down two flights of steps to the living room of the guesthouse.  We sat there a while and then everyone was ready to head to the orphanage for the other family to have their first meeting and for us to have Asnake's farewell ceremony.
I just want to tell y'all something.  We know God is good and big and into details.  But, I just have to let you know that the family who came today, their 12 year old daughter was born in the same region as Asnake, in the same original orphanage as him, and moved with him to their current orphanage in 2014 when the original one was closed by the government.  She has been with him since he was 6 months old.  She's like his big sister.  They have been together for the long haul.  How kind of the Lord to bring her parents here TODAY so she didn't have to sit through his farewell ceremony alone, wondering when she would have a family.  Tears. Again.  She even told us about the fall he had at that original orphanage that caused the scar on the back of his head.  No one else knew what had happened.  Jesus, we love you.  Thank You for being a God of details.
We pulled into the green gate and let the other family out because their daughter was sitting there waiting for them... first visits are just emotional to watch.  I will try to post our video soon.  It's like when you're pregnant and you want to finally touch your baby, tell him you love him, and see him for yourself!  Except these pregnancies are LONG.  really long.  Then, Asnake came out saying, "today I go with you. No more staying here."  We were batting away tears THE WHOLE LIVE LONG DAY.  He played with Brycen and Regan on the monkey bars.  Let me just tell you... our updates from the agency while we were waiting indicated Asnake liked to climb, but people.  He takes climbing to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL.  He climbs vans, slides, hearths of fireplaces, etc.  I mean, he has obeyed us every time we have asked him to get down, but he just has a NEED to climb.  Anyone know of any good climbing gyms or bars for our yard?  We are clearly in the market for one.
Next, he climbed two vans again finally found a soccer ball and started to play.  While he and the other kids (along with Brycen and Regan) played soccer, the orphanage director asked if he could talk to us for a few minutes.  OF COURSE.  He took us into his office and congratulated us on being Asnake's parents.  Then, he started, "I know this case has been frustrating for you.  Asnake's case has been a very difficult one...." I didn't hear the next eight sentences because all I could think in my head was, "yes, but we have a

Good, Good Father."

We listened to him talk about he orphanage and having Asnake.  Then, Meselu came in to tell us it was time for the farewell ceremony.  GRAB THE TISSUES.  Good grief.  We entered the living room of the orphanage, but there was no "Britain's Got Talent" or "Samford and Sons" this time.  Rather, it was all the children in the orphanage, us, Meselu, the family visiting their daughter for the first time, some visitors, and Mengistu.  Oh!  And a professional photographer and videographer.  There was also one of the nannies' ROASTING COFFEE BEANS INSIDE (the smell was amazing), preparing for our coffee ceremony that would be the conclusion of the farewell ceremony.  They had a couch up front prepared for Brycen, Regan, Mark, and me.  We sat down and in walked Asnake in an all white traditional Ethiopian outfit.  TOO MUCH, Y'ALL.  I had already had so much today.  My heart couldn't hold the gratitude already and then HIM in THAT. so cute.  He hopped up on Mark's lap, like he's been a McKeehan forever, rather than only 7.5 hours.  We know that's because he HAS been a McKeehan longer than that... 5 years and 11 months to be exact.  Anyway.  Meselu started talking at the cue of the videographer.  She thanked the orphanage and the agency and she thanked us for adopting Asnake.  I wanted to interrupt and say, "We are the blessed ones BY FAR out of this deal," but I feared it might be rude. So, I listened on.  She gave the children an opportunity to each stand up and tell something about Asnake or tell him something.  A couple of the children said things like, "he is a nice boy and I love him" or one older girl who said, "he is a nice boy. He loves God. Thank you for giving him this opportunity."  *me opening my second packet of tissues of the night*  Next, several of the kids stood to sing him a song.  Their choice (after discussing it for approximately 32 seconds):  This is the Day the Lord has Made.  The girl who led them?  the one who has been with Asnake since he was a baby.  I sat watching in awe of a God who makes all things possible.  This IS THE DAY the Lord has made and those words are  exactly the ones I uttered this morning (and Instagrammed) starting my morning today as I looked out over the city through our window.  They sang it in Amharic and English.  I tried to sing along in English.  Let's be real.  I just couldn't because I knew my cry would get UGLY.  After the prayer, they asked our family to bring Asnake to the middle of the room so they could pray over us.  Y'ALL.  SERIOUSLY.  tears dripped of my nose onto the red carpet that lines the living room.  All those young voices saying, "Amen" every few sentences (after each blessing that was prayed over him).  So tender to me.  And, one day, it will be to him.
Then, we had a photo session with all the kids in the orphanage and all the nannies and cooks and Meselu.  Finally the coffee has finished roasting and had been ground (by hand) and was ready to drink!  In the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony way, Mark and I were given the first two cups (small cups) of coffee.  Visitors and other adults also partook in drinking the coffee.  It was delicious!  Just prior to the coffee ceremony, Asnake kept saying, "Go, Mom?"  "Go, Dad?" pointing to outside.  We explained we would go as soon as the coffee ceremony was finished.  He is so funny.  In English he said, "No buna, just go.  No buna, just go."  We were able to convince him to let us have "buna" (coffee) and that it wouldn't take long!  He sat down and waited.  But, THEN THE TIME CAME.  It was like it just all happened so fast.  We were walking through the large door of the living room, lined with nannies and children.  Two toddlers wailing, "Asnake! Asnake!"  and the nannies who were quietly crying, wiping their tears on their shirts or each other as they hugged one another.  Meanwhile, Mark is carrying Asnake out the door and his smile was like he owned the place.  He couldn't wait!  He jumped into the van grinning from ear to ear.  I was trying to get in there, but as I hugged Meselu, I just cried and cried.  I hopped in just behind Asnake, but he headed straight to the back seat to sit with Brycen.  As we pulled away, he had his head looking out the side window at the children who had made their way out, the nannies, and our beloved Meselu.  I just kept wondering what he must be thinking.  Then, he turned and looked at us.... MELT ME.  His smile was from ear to ear.  It didn't take long for traffic to pick up and he turned around, looking straight out the back window until we arrived back at the guesthouse.  But, in a flash, he was out of that van and running to the door of the house.  He dashed up the steps at our instruction and as we entered the room I fought back tears, but tried to be so present.  The first thing we did was let him just walk around the room.  Then, we went over and showed him where his clothes, shoes, socks, underwear, jackets, and pants were.  He looked at them and said, "For Asnake?"  He particularly loved the shoes.  I told you he was born a McKeehan.  We only presented a few small toys at first... a small green motorcycle that makes noise and a yellow motorcycle as well as 3 matchbox cars.  He played and played with all of those for the longest time.
Next, he wanted to change into his new pajamas.  But, one of my top priorities had been getting him a good shower, so I said, "Shower. Then, pajamas."  He bought it.  Off he went to the bathroom with new spiderman underwear and Avengers pajamas in his hands.  Before I could think he was undressing.  It was all happening so fast, but I was so glad.  I started the water and when it got warm, he jumped in.  He just smiled and smiled.  I don't think he's ever had a warm shower.  I was still in my nice clothes from court, but I was practically in the shower with him.  I was crying THE ENTIRE TIME.  This first shower was the one thing that I knew would help me solidify that I AM HIS MOM. I had thought about it for 6 years.  And, as I stood there cleaning him off, I kept thinking "You're a

Good, Good Father."

We used soap and shampoo and afterwards I wrapped him up in a big, fluffy white towel and he just giggled.  He stood still while I lotioned him up and put hair milk in his hair.  HE SMELLS SO GOOD.  After his shower he played with "motors" more and then he said, "Mom, can we eat tomorrow?" And then I nearly died.  DINNER.  Our plan was to order take-out (there's a place that delivers to our guesthouse), but we had gotten busy and forgot.  So, Mark dashed downstairs to order food, while I handed him a pop tart and explained we will eat EVERY DAY and if he is hungry he needs to tell Mommy.  Thankfully, Mengistu popped in just in time to make sure he understood in Amharic.  He didn't seem the least bit anxious, but I wanted him to know and see we had food here.  While we waited for the food we showed him a few more toys and gave him his iPod.  We had loaded some English games on it, math games, music (he loves music), and other educational games.  And, I cannot even tell you the cuteness of him in those Spiderman headphones.  Anyway.  Regan got his music going for him and on repeat....

"Good, Good Father."

NO JOKE.  It wasn't 10 minutes later and he was singing it outlaid.  In English. In our room.  Where we could hear and understand.  Tissues. please.  "That's who You are, That's who You are..."  and "That's who I am.  That's who I am."  Mark started recording and I just sat there. crying. He had the song on repeat and continued to sing it the rest of the night, even without the headphones or music.  We knew he was getting tired, but had hoped he'd stay up long enough to FaceTime Corbin and Hudson after school (10pm our time).  So, we went downstairs to wait on our food.  We played with "motors" and ate chips.  Don't judge.  Finally, dinner arrived and the five of us sat around the table, held hands and prayed.  Another first.  Our first meal together.  It made me miss Corbin and Hudson so much, but I was so grateful Asnake ate well and loved it.  He had asked for candy for earlier and I gave him chips instead, telling him after dinner he could have the candy.  I know chips aren't much better, but it made me feel better.  Laughing at myself as I type.  Anyway.  As we finished eating Asnake said, "Movie and candy next, Mom."  Yes!  So, we came upstairs and put Kung Fu Panda 3 on (his favorite) just after eating some Sour Patch Kids (which he LOVED... thank you Erik and Jennifer Jackson).  I couldn't watch the movie.  I was too distracted with his laying there between Mark and Brycen and then between Regan and Brycen.  It's like he's been here forever.  No-one will ever convince me it's anything less than all out PRAYER.  Next we pulled out the sunglasses and he remembered his spiderman jacket.  So, he zipped it all the way up so his face was covered and he looked like spiderman.  We said, "Where did Asnake go?  Asnake, where are you?"  He just giggled and giggled and then showed us his face.  Beaming.  It was so fun.  Eventually, we said, "Mom, sit," while patting his bed.  I sat down and he crawled in my lap.  I asked Mark to give us a book to read.  Guess what he brought?

"Good, Good Father."

It's a new children's book that is co-authored by Chris Tomlin (thank you, Averee Gentry!).  Sweet boy sat in my lap and we read our first book together.  He held a small flashlight in his hand the entire time, giving me light to read (even though the power was on).  He's always so thoughtful.  When it came time to brush teeth, I gave him a new toothbrush and went in behind him with the toothpaste.  As I walked into the bathroom, he was holding out his pointer finger and said, "colgate."  It was right then I realized he had never used a toothbrush.  He had always used his finger to brush his teeth.  I fought back tears and taught him how to brush his teeth.  He kept brushing and brushing.  and smiling and smiling.  And brushing and brushing.  I asked him in Amharic if he liked it and he raised his eyebrows with a wide smile, indicating, "YES."  I showed him where to put his toothbrush and "colgate." It was finally time to talk to Corbin and Hudson!
We FaceTimed them at Nina's (but Camryn Pinner was there, too).  When the screen came up all three boys, 2 on one side of the planet and the other one with us, grinned SO BIG at seeing each other live for the first time (shout out to technology!).  We let them talk as much as they could given the language barrier, but it was so sweet to hear them tell each other they loved each other.  I will forever remember all of their smiles.  I know God is growing all of their faiths.  Today was a huge marker in the road.  A huge faith growing marker.  We love You, our

Good, Good Father.

After we finished talking, it was bedtime!  He obeyed our first request to get into bed, but asked if he could sleep with 3 motors, sunglasses, and his small red flashlight.  Um. Sure.  It didn't take long and he was fast asleep.  Since I started this post, I have retrieved 2 of our "motors' off the the floor (I heard them drop), but he is sleeping peacefully in a room with his oldest brother, only sister, and his mommy and daddy.  I don't know what his mind was thinking or his heart was feeling.  I do know, our day and night went a million times more smoothly than we had anticipated.  His English is just so much better than we anticipated, so that is a huge blessing.  But, there is more to it than that.  Our prayers for God to knit our hearts together long before we met him have been answered.  He welcomes our affection and while he was on my lap earlier he (unsolicited at all) leaned over on me and said, "that's my mommy."  I had to ask Regan to bring me (another) pack of tissues.  God has allowed all of us to sit back and watch Him answer prayers regarding a case that  the government couldn't and wouldn't do.  They said this case was too hard.  He has given us a beautiful first week with bonding and attachment in an environment that is difficult.  He has given us overwhelming peace and joy.  As he put on his white Converse tennis shoes tonight with his pajamas, I couldn't help but think back to the day we bought them.  It was a day we were missing him and wondering what in the world was going to happen.  As he feet dangled wearing those shoes tonight, I was reminded of redemption.  That Jesus came to make all things new.  His plans are wise and good.  His love is steadfast and strong, able to carry us though what we, on our own, could never carry.  He restores. He purposes.  He redeems.  As I lay my head on my pillow tonight with the quiet, steady deep breaths that our new to our room in my ear, I am undone with gratitude.  Overwhelmed with His goodness toward us.  Grateful for His provision and making a way for Asnake to come to our family.  I am going to bed singing the anthem of the day, "You're a

Good, Good Father."


And I am grateful.


Monday, October 24, 2016


Lasts.  It's been on my mind all day.  As we woke this morning and eased into the day, I kept wondering what Tyson must be feeling or thinking, knowing tomorrow is THE day.  Court day.  It's our GOTCHA DAY and it's TOMORROW.  I am alone in our guest room, as Mark and the kids throw football outside, and I am a tearful mess. I think Mark sensed I was on the verge of crying and wanted to give me privacy and a place to do that.  The emotions going into today were excitement, as we knew we had our court orientation and a few legalities to take care of in way of paperwork and Visa info, etc.  We had a lazy morning in, except for Brycen and Regan doing their school work.  We knew tomorrow would be long and busy, so they did today and tomorrow's work this morning. At 2pm, Mengistu picked us up and drove us to the Bethany office.  It was a bit surreal to walk into the office, knowing this was the place and these were the people who had tirelessly, effortlessly, and sacrificially done the paperwork on the ground to make this adoption possible.  They have fought for us and for Tyson more than we will ever know.  We tried to express our sincere, deep appreciation and pray they were able to sense how genuine we were.  We sat in a small room with two long tables and 10 chairs.  We were the only ones in there for a few minutes, and then Tesfahun (works for Bethany) joined us and went over what we should expect at court in the morning.  He explained that the whole process will likely only take 5 minutes.  FIVE MINUTES.  Which, I am grateful for, as I will probably be ready to bust out into tears THE ENTIRE DAY.  Our appointment is scheduled for 9am (2am your time).  After court orientation we completed (more) paperwork, paid for Tyson's visa, and received Tyson's LifeBook from our agency.  The LifeBook is a disc of all the interviews with his birth mom that happened during investigations (from Ethiopian government as well as US immigration) as part of the adoption process.  This will be a disc that will tell him about his story and he can, for himself, hear and see what his birth mom's circumstances were and what led to his being relinquished.  We are going to watch it tonight.  I am sure I will need a lot of tissues (thank you, Bethany Gentry, for sending us with plenty!).  Next, we were able to meet with his social worker, Meselu, again.  She answered a few of the questions we had regarding his past.  It seems his story is one that is quite different than so many others we have met or that we continue to hear about.  We are thankful he seems well adjusted now and know that will aide in his transition to us.  After we talked with Meselu, the nurse for Bethany came in.  She discussed with us that "he is a healthy boy who rarely gets sick."  She told us about his current weight (44 pounds!) and height (41 inches).  She talked to us about his immunization history and what to expect at the VISA medical exam (required for him to get a US VISA).  When we finished with her, we headed to the orphanage.
When we first entered the gate, Tyson saw us, but he seemed more shy.  It took him a few minutes to seem as happy, though he greeted us all with hugs.  We asked Mengistu if something was wrong or if he was sad.  Tyson replied that he had not gone to school today because his nannies thought we would be there early.  Poor thing had been waiting on us all day!!!  We thought he was at school all day.  It was just a miscommunication and we made sure he knew what time we would be there tomorrow.  Mengistu also said that it is likely his nannies have been having conversations with him about his leaving and how they will not see him again.  He seemed very contemplative all day, which is totally understandable and good.  He finally went to play basketball with Regan and Brycen after putting Mark's watch on his arm.  He loves our watches.  While they were playing a worker from the orphanage came out and gave him a small Ethiopian flag on a stick.  He loved it... he held it and twirled around.  He didn't want anyone to touch it.  It seemed like a very special gift to him.  While he was walking around with his flag, some of the boys were running around us.   One of them snatched Regan's water bottle out of the side pocket of her backpack.  I didn't even know Tyson was paying any attention, but as soon as it happened, he ran toward those boys!  It was instinctual.  He retrieved the water bottle back and worked so hard to put it right back in her side pocket of the backpack.  I stood with tears in my eyes to see how he already feels like protecting her.  He put his beloved flag down in order to aide her.  It was powerful and such a huge moment for us of seeing that he knows he already belongs to us.
As the visit progressed we were able to video him singing a few Christian kid songs he has learned in the orphanage.  We pray long-term these will be a blessing to him to have. We did have one question we hadn't asked yesterday (thought of it in the night) and that was what he was afraid of (we had already established he is afraid of big dogs, but past that we didn't know).  Turns out he immediately replied (in Amharic to Mengistu), "if I go in a room and the lights are out and someone shuts the door I would be afraid."  Noted.  And so would I.
The longer we sat there and the more I observed, the more I realized that we have no idea what he must be feeling.  Since he didn't go to school today, it is likely he won't go tomorrow, so he has had his last day of school here.  There is one friend that he is particularly close to and today was there last full day to play together.  I am committed to praying for that friend as Tyson leaves.  It must be so lonely and hard to watch your friends (that seem like brothers) leave.  Then, thinking about his sweet nannies.  The thought of them helping him with his shoes or his shower each day, knowing their time with him is coming to an end.... and the conversations they must be having with him, knowing they will never see him again.  This is the only house and "family" he has ever known.  At one point in the visit, Mengistu asked him if he was happy or sad today.  He replied, "I am very happy.  Tomorrow I get to leave here."  That made me feel good, but I also know that involves a lot of grief for him.  He has no idea how drastically different his life is going to be.  But, it made me aware that he knows tomorrow is a big day and that means one thing:  tonight is his last night sleeping in an orphanage.  Ever.  The reality of all it is overwhelming to me.  I can't imagine how a five year old is supposed to process it all.  It seems, to me, that most of these lasts for him likely carry a banner of being bittersweet.  It is impossible for him to know the "sweet" and the lasts have to be full of uncertainty.  As I have noted before on previous posts, adoption is a story of grief. As much as we know we can provide more opportunities, stability, family, love, education, etc, to a child who has only known living in an orphanage, they don't trust that.  Their lives have been spent surviving.  So, adoption isn't necessarily something they all sit and dream about.  Furthermore, it isn't something most of them get, so the hope of being adopted is one they don't let themselves dream about often.
Yet, here we are.  This time tomorrow he will officially be a McKeehan.  I can't even.... After court, we have plans for the whole day and we will end our day (at 5pm) going to the orphanage for Tyson's farewell ceremony (cue the tears).  He will wear traditional Ethiopian clothing (that he gets to keep) and all the other children will be present.  The nannies prepare a traditional coffee ceremony and his social worker and Mengistu will join us as well.  These ceremonies are a big deal, as it is his last time to be in the orphanage with these people he loves and who love him.  Those will be his last moments of not knowing what it means to be in a family.  His last hugs and kisses and songs with his friends and nannies.  But, it will open  up so many firsts.  I can't help but sit back and consider how all of this is a story of pure redemption.  What the enemy set out to destroy, God has redeemed.  God sets the lonely in families and pursues us just like this, even while we are in our sin unaware of Him.
As the gavel falls tomorrow morning, the judgement is final.  He will be ours.
With hearts of gratitude and joy, we will lay our heads on our pillows tonight because one very important last is behind us:
our last goodbye.
As we pulled out of the green gate today I said, "That was our last goodbye forever."  For me, this is the most important last of the day.  REDEMPTION.  Find yourself in this story.  It's God's story.  The day we come to faith in Jesus, the gavel falls, declaring us His child.  And, oh how His heart must swell, knowing He will never leave us and we will never be alone again.
As I close tonight, I am mindful that this is my last post as an (official) mom to 4.  It's a last I welcome.  Bring on the firsts.

we love you. thank you for joining us as we walk through so many firsts.  And so many lasts.

until he's home,

Sunday, October 23, 2016

My Tyson

Happy Sunday from Addis Ababa.  We just finished dinner while you are worshipping.  We are praying for you!  Today was another great day.  We started out slow, not having to be ready to go until 10:45am.  Church started at 11:15... and we went to a church called IEC (International Evangelical Church).  It is a service that is completely in English, so it was great to see so many Ethiopians there!  As the service got started, Mark and I were trying to figure out how many nationalities were present.  I don't know for certain, but the ones we know for sure were American, African, and Asian (many Chinese people are in Ethiopia).  It was a small slice of heaven to stand, singing, all of us in one accord to the one, true, living God.  The songs were all familiar and the people were all very welcoming.  Church ended around 12:30 and we headed off to lunch.
We originally had plans to go for pizza after church (there is a pizza place here that makes gluten free crust out of Teff flour), but the pizza place closest to church wasn't the one.  We will find it and try it another day.  So, Mengistu recommended going to a hotel for lunch where we could eat at a buffet or order off the menu.  Um, holy cow.  It was so fancy, but the food was SO GOOD.  It wasn't what you think of when you think of Ethiopia.  All the tables had cloth linens with accents of orange and cream.  A HUGE chandelier hung in the center, going through the floor of the room we were in and hanging above the lobby below us.  It was unexpected and beautiful.  It was also delicious.  Four of us ate the buffet while Brycen ate a steak he ordered off the menu.  After we ate we had "chai" and "buna" (tea and coffee).  It was during this lunch we had some very "real" conversations with Mengistu.  We were able to ask some questions about Tyson, his past, and his birth mom.  Some of the answers were hard to hear, but mostly the answers brought us great clarity on some things we had felt were previously unclear.  
The conversation made me realize, again, that our son comes from a hard place.  No child comes to adoption without it.  Though sobering, it was a great reminder that his head and heart have had to process and grieve so much in 5 short years.  I will never know, this side of heaven, all that he has endured.  And, admittedly, that is hard for me.  But, I am more confident now than ever, being here, seeing him and knowing about him, that God created me to be his mom.  Often, parents struggle and feel insecure.  I, in no way, am confident I know what I am doing or that I know how to parent him exactly.  What I DO know is that God created me to be his mom and I am confident in HIM.  As we rode from lunch to the orphanage, I couldn't help thinking about all the challenges and transitions Tyson has already endured.  He's a survivor.  He's strong.  I am glad he doesn't have to be so strong alone anymore.  I am grateful, he can stop trying to survive and he can depend on and trust us to help him.  I also spent time thinking about his birth mom.  Mengistu explained, again, that we will be having a birth family meeting with her while we are here.  Due to the protests recently just outside of Addis, we have been prevented from going to visit her.  But, before we leave, we will have the opportunity to meet her.  As a few of of you know, because I haven't shared it with many people (until now), meeting his birth mom is one part of our trip that I have been the most anxious intimidated prayerful about.  I get one shot to ask her questions, to try to extend the love of Jesus, and to try to adequately convey the immeasurable gratitude I have for her.  Human words can't do two of the three of those, apart of Holy Spirit.  I am not sure what you say to the woman who BIRTHED YOUR CHILD and then had the bravery, compassion, courage, and love to walk him to an orphanage, knowing if she kept him he would die.  How do you even express, with only 26 letters in the alphabet, how AMAZING she is?  It's a profound kind of love.  One that I can't even wrap my head or heart around.  With every step she took walking her 3 month old to the orphanage, she knew she was one step closer to never seeing him again.  And, I get to meet her.  These are the thoughts that occupied my thoughts as we drove to see that bundle of joy she so selflessly held in her arms that February day.  
When we arrived no children were playing outside, but it was about 2:30pm, so I knew it was nap time for the younger children.  So, I wasn't sure if Tyson would be up or not.  We meandered through the orphanage from the back door and made our way to the living room.  It wasn't "Britain's Got Talent" playing this time.  It was "Sanford and Sons." I mean, really.  I can't make this stuff up.  We have been asked how they have TV shows.  What they have is a TV with videos...some cassette tapes, some downloaded onto discs from YouTube.  So, charities or volunteers bring them videos and movies to watch.  Anyway... Tyson was nowhere to be seen in the living room among the older children.  About the time I sat down on the couch, I saw a sleepy-eyed, just-woke-up boy walk in and curl up on my lap.  He gave me a half-smile that I recognized as "I am not awake yet, but I am happy to see you."  So, I curled him up, gave him approximately 72 kisses, and held him until he was more awake.  Before I knew it, he said, 'Mom, outside."  So I asked his nannie if it was ok for us to go outside.  She said, "of course."  We went out and kicked a (flat) red ball around.  Then, we found a small, red American football.  Brycen picked it up and asked if Tyson wanted to play catch.  He had never thrown one before.  If you follow Mark on Instagram (or Facebook), you will see a shot of his first throw.  Mark crouched down behind him when Brycen would throw it back, because Tyson wasn't sure how to catch it.  While they were passing ball, I was cheering them on and Mengistu came and sat beside me.  He said, I think Tyson (though he uses his Ethiopian name) would like it if you added 'yea' after you say his name. This means 'my.'  It's very personal.  So, what he would hear you say is, 'my Tyson.'" I looked at him and said, "YES!  I love that."  Mengistu said, "not all children are ready for that.  He is."  And then, I batted the tears away again.  So, the second he threw the next ball and he came to give me a high-five, I said, "My Tyson" (except with his Ethiopian name and in Amharic).  His grin was so big and he shook his head "yes."  Then he hugged me and said, "my mommy."  And, I nearly needed resuscitation.  Yes, big guy.  I am always and forever your mommy.  
Next, Mengistu had THE BEST IDEA.  Since today is Hudson's 7th birthday (Happy Birthday, Hud!!!!!), we videoed Tyson singing him Happy Birthday in Amharic and English to Hudson. It was THE SWEETEST thing on planet earth.  We have sent those videos to him and we are planning to FaceTime him at 1:00pm his time to watch him watch the videos.  Tyson was so excited to know it was Hudson's birthday.  Tyson watched himself singing it about 12 times.  And he smiled every time.  Not to mention I was sitting with him and kept telling him in Amharic how handsome he looked on the video.  As we sat watching the video, his nannie came out and sat down beside me.  I hugged her and grabbed a list of questions we had thought about that we wanted to know.  She was so gracious to answer our questions like, "how does he respond to conflict with the other kids?" and "has he ever swallowed pills before?" and "does he bath alone or with help?" You get the idea.  There are so many things we take for granted that we know about our kids that no one else knows.  I am trying to learn as much as possible.  We rattled off probably 10 questions and she answered them all. Once she stated, "He is number one for his age getting dressed by himself.  The only thing he needs help with is washing his face and getting his shoes on the right feet."  DONE and DONE.  We discussed bedtime routines, morning routines, things that comfort him... just so many things.  And, he sat there playing English games on my phone right beside us.  I am so thankful he is getting to see us have these conversations together so the dots can continue to connect that she is turning her care over to us.  She patted his back as she walked away and said, "I am thankful for you all too.  Hopefully he will be somebody."  I watched her walk away and thought, "he already is."
We played basketball and chase and chatted.  Tyson wore my long necklace around and played in the van.  Riding in a vehicle is so unusual for him... he is fascinated by it.  He sat on the back seat and buckled the seatbelt (most vans here don't even have seatbelts).  So, I had Mengistu explain about his booster seat and wearing a seatbelt in America.  He grinned and kept buckling and unbuckling it saying (in English), "in American I do this."  Then, Mengistu told him that in America Mommy does most of the driving.  He said, "Mommy let's us go."  He's super excited about all things cars.  As he flipped through my photos on my phone he was especially taken by the photos of our summer trip to Charlotte to visit our friends, Trevor and Ashton.  At first I thought he liked the photo with Trevor because it was one our whole family was in (he really can't wait to meet Hudson and Corbin).  But, I later figured out it was likely the brightly colored car hauler we were standing in front of with a big red "6" on it.  Either way, we will have another Nascar fan on our hands (Go, Trevor, Go)!  He really loves cars!
Soon it was time for us to go.  We hugged him good-bye, gave him big kisses, and assured him we would be back tomorrow after school.  He hugged us and kissed us and told us he loved us.  He waved good-bye to us as we drove out of the green gate at the orphanage.  That's when I thought, only two more nights of sleeping here, sweet boy.  Two more nights.  
We came back to the guesthouse and ate a traditional Ethiopian meal.  Now, the kids are working on homework and Mark is reading.  Tomorrow we will be in the guesthouse all morning (so the kids can do school work) and at 2pm we will go to the Bethany office to have our orientation regarding court.  I will leave the details about court for tomorrow.  I already CAN'T WAIT.  
As I fall asleep tonight, I will be so mindful of all the sacrifices Tyson's birth mom has made, not just for him to survive, but also for us.  At one point in our process we needed her to show up to court and it was likely an 8 hour trip for her to come.  She likely walked most of it.  There is no doubt in my mind that she loves him, otherwise, she wouldn't continue to make a way for him to come to us.  I am praying for her to know Jesus, the One who understands her sacrifices and grief like no one else can.  
I am also praying for our son, the one his nannie "hopes" becomes somebody.  I know God's plans for him are big.  I know they are full of grace and to give him abundant life and healing.  He's already somebody... he's 

My Tyson.

until he's home,

Saturday, October 22, 2016


Good grief.  It's 3:35pm and I already don't know where to start about today.  I will save the best for last and start at the beginning of the day.  We had a little earlier start to the day today.  Mengistu arrived to pick us up at 9am so we would have plenty of time for shopping. On the way to shopping we were sitting in traffic (because that's what you do here) and (as usual) we had many beggars coming to our windows for money or kids trying to sell us crackers or sunglasses.  Street kids are everywhere.  This means they literally live on the street... no family, no education, no home, no money.  The street and each other.  That's all they have.  We have seen many street boys since being here.  It always breaks my heart.  But, today as we sat in traffic I saw the most beautiful young girl.  I am guessing her age to be 12 or younger.  Beautiful.  I noticed her when she was at the car to our right.  Then, she walked to my side of the van and approached the driver about buying what she was selling (which I can't even tell you what it was).  I was so taken by her physical beauty I literally got tears in my eyes and said, "Oh my. Oh my."  I couldn't even think my heart was so broken in an instant.  A young girl like her, on the streets alone....Heaven only knows what she has endured or what her future holds.  I DO know, however, that I am committed to praying for her, knowing she represents thousands more.  I sat quiet the remainder of the ride.  
 We went to a "mall" to look for traditional dresses for Regan and me as well as to get the boys soccer jerseys.  We found dresses and a few souvenirs (and gifts).  Our favorite memory was finding a soccer jersey that said "abibas," but it was trying to be adidas!  We laughed so hard... it even had the same logo & font with it.  We found traditional cups for a coffee ceremony and a traditional wooden stool (made of one piece of wood) that is often found in homes in the country.  I already know where it will sit in our house! The shopping trip reminded me that I forgot to tell you about our trip to "walmart" yesterday.  Well, not EXACTLY Wal-Mart, but you get the idea.  The store is called Shoa and you have to have a security pat-down before entering (pretty much everywhere, including restaurants).  Then, it opens up and it has everything... food, household products, toys, etc.   We went looking for bowls for our room so we could eat noodles, cereal, etc.  We finally found them and (of course) the one set of bowls that we wanted didn't have a price, so Mengistu asked how much they were.  The lady returned and said, "It's a new item and doesn't have a price yet. If you return tomorrow, we will tell you how much."  And we just looked at each other like "of all the things in this store, we would pick the ONE with no price."  It made for a fun memory.  We walked out with different bowls and 4 forks and 2 spoons!  
Anyway, after leaving the mall this morning Mengistu asked us, "Is it ok to go ahead and go to the orphanage now?"  Of course we were all like, "YES."  What I didn't tell you in my previous post is that Mengistu mentioned to us yesterday that we MIGHT get to take Tyson out for lunch with us today.  He said,  he would ask, but he thought it was a big possibility.  We were so excited about the possibility, but knew it may not happen (especially given that is was the weekend).  So, I didn't mention it to you.  
When we arrived at the orphanage, we immediately saw Tyson standing there and his face LIT UP when he saw us through the van windows.  Before we could get the door open he was standing there waiting for us.  He greeted us all with BIG hugs.  The first thing he wanted to do today was ride his bike.  So, he hopped on and said(in English), "Dad cycle me."  I mean, y'all, how cute is that?  Mark, like any good dad, straddled the back wheel, put his hands on Ty's hands and started running. Then, when Mark got tired (the high elevation here makes us out of breath easily) I took over.  He would say, "Mom cycle me."  Then, he would say (in English), "Let's go!" One time he repeated me by saying, "Run, Dad, run!"  We had the best time. Later we realized he could totally ride by himself, but he had wanted us to help him anyway.  We were happy to oblige.  It was amazing to watch him when the chain would come off (it's too loose and falls off nearly every time someone rides it), he would sit down & patiently put it back on, knowing exactly what to do.  
After "cycle" we shot basketball by having a shooting contest (winner: Mengistu).  But, we all took turns and had a blast.  While we were shooting I noticed Tyson had run inside.  As I began asking where he went Mengistu said, "He gets to go to lunch with us and he went inside to change." Apparently, Tyson had heard Mengistu asking about us taking him out and before we knew it, he had gone to change clothes. WHAT?!?! Mark and I literally jumped up and down!  So, when Tyson came out wearing his little denim shorts, a blue shirt, and a red jacket, you could tell by his strut he was ready to go!  
He walked straight to the van and hopped in.  I wasn't far behind.  I kept thinking, "Let's get out of here before someone changes their mind about him leaving with us today."  The other children at the orphanage kept asking, "Are you bringing him back after lunch?'  Of course we answered, "yes," but I loved their concern for him.  
Initially he sat between me and Mark on the first row of the van.  But, we could tell he really wanted to be able to see out.  So, I picked him up and sat him on my lap by the window and he hardly moved a muscle.  He just watched and watched, trying to take it all in.  We finally arrived a Sishu (amazing burgers and fries!!!!).  As we walked in,  Tyson was just looking around. Mengistu asked if he had ever been in a restaurant.  He said, "Once.  On a holiday."  So, we are assuming the orphanage took him out for a holiday at one point.  One of our concerns was how he would do in public... we weren't sure if he would run away from us (common among adopted kids who are newly with family).  But, today, he stayed right with us.  He always wants to be touching one of us.  So, we held hands a lot.  I'm not complaining. It WAS however, his first burger and fries.  HE LOVED IT.  And he is desperate to do what we do.  He saw Regan eat her fries with a fork (um, I don't know WHO taught her that.  Fries are for fingers, but anyway...).  So, he began eating his with a fork.  Then, he saw her cut her burger with a fork and knife (because she doesn't eat a bun).  Then, he, of course, tried to cut his burger the same way.  Just before we left, Brycen grabbed a piece of lettuce that had fallen off of his burger and ate it.  Tyson picked up the lettuce off his burger and he ate a small piece and gave Brycen and me the rest to eat.  Part of living in an orphanage is learning to share. While we ate, Mengistu taught us several Amharic words that we were curious to know how to say.  This will hopefully aide in our transition time.  Near the end of the meal, Tyson had already finished his Miranda (think orange Fanta.  SO popular here and very good), but he was still thirsty.  So, he took Regan's water bottle, opened it, poured himself a little water into his cup and took the rest and poured  a lot of it into her cup.  It was so sweet to watch.  We asked him if he liked his food, as is common in Ethiopia, he raised his eye brows indicating, "yes."  He ate all of his french fries (there were a lot of them) and almost all of his burger. As we finished eating, Mengistu said, "Do you all want to go out for coffee or ice cream?"  And, you know what we said!  A resounding, "YES!"  First restaurant experience:  HUGE SUCCESS. Getting to keep him out longer: DREAM.
As we hopped back into the van, Tyson jumped into the back to sit by the window with Brycen.  He was smiling the entire time.  We finally arrived to Kaldi's, a coffee shop that is popular in Ethiopian, with many locations around Addis Ababa.  Think Starbucks, except they also sell ice cream and milkshakes.  I ordered a caramel macchiato (and it was delicious), Mark and Mengistu each had a coffee American, Brycen went for a bottle of water, Regan had chocolate ice cream (in a cup, of course), and Tyson wanted "chai" (tea).  Our orders arrived (at Kaldi, if you sit upstairs, they take your order at your table and bring it to you), and when Ty saw Regan's ice cream, he asked if he could try.  She spoon-fed him (his first ice cream) and we were all expecting him to not like it due to it being cold (he's never had ice or anything cold due to no refrigeration).  The only thing bigger than his eyes was his smile.  Oh my goodness.  He loved it.  So, we ordered him a scoop of chocolate ice cream.  He drank his chai and ate his ice cream and we warned his nannie about all his food consumption, in case it all backfires on his stomach later! As we were leaving Kaldi, Ty spontaneously grabbed Regan's hand walking out.  This was an important first for us... something Mark and I have been praying about the last few days.  It's always so natural and "easy" for the boys to connect because of ball and playing similar games.  Sometimes it's harder for a sister to find a common denominator to connect on with a brother.  She beamed and I cried.  He continued to hold her hand as we walked into another mall (attached to Kaldi's).  She kept looking back at me saying, "I just love him, Mom."  Again, being in this mall (he hadn't been with us this morning when we were at the first one) taught us a lot about his personality.  He didn't go anywhere without one of us.  He held our hands and obeyed our first request.  We know there are going to be challenges and issues.  We also know, this first step is a blessing and we don't want to discount it.  Leaving the mall I stood back, looked over at all of us and nearly had a meltdown right now.  THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING.  Sometimes I kiss his head and still find it surreal.  We are really together and never have to go another day without seeing each other.  For this momma, it gets me emotional every. single. time.
As we headed back to the orphanage, Tyson sat with Brycen again, but I loved hearing Regan in the backseat telling us how many unsolicited kisses she had gotten from him (2 to be exact) while sitting at Kaldi's.  WHICH REMINDS ME... She taught him about SnapChat filters while we were there. HILARIOUS. She would put a filter on them that was, say, a dog for instance.  Tyson would look at my phone screen and then touch his head to feel if he had actually grown dog ears.  HE LOVED IT and kept laughing.  Leave it to good ol' SnapChat to overcome the language barrier!  
We arrived back at the orphanage and it was raining, so we went inside.  The children were all gathered in the living room watching "Britain's Got Talent."  We all chuckled a bit at the whole scene, but the kids were enjoying it immensely.  Tyson took off his shoes before entering the living room (which, by the way, he is very disciplined!) and plopped down in the very front to join in on the fun.  It was fun to see how the other children made room for him front and center.  I am not sure if that is because of his eyes  (so he could see the screen better) or because of their love for him (or both), but it did my heart good to see.  We decided to join them, so we sat down in the back.  Right when we arrived, Ty's nannie came in carrying a baby (a small baby).  I jumped at the chance to GET THAT BABY IN MY ARMS.  So, I sat down and held, and kissed, and prayed over the sweetest little bundle you have ever seen.  I am believing Jesus to have BIG plans for him/her (I have no idea if it was a boy or a girl).  After a while, we decided to go (Tyson needed nap time after all that food!).  So, as I told him good-bye in the living room, I noticed Mark had already walked out.  So, Tyson grabbed my hand so he could walk us out (that's a big deal to him).  When I went to exit the back door, I still had baby in tow, but I saw Mark talking to Tyson's nannie with Mengistu.  As I got closer, I heard Mark say, "Please tell her how thankful we are for her.  We have prayed for 6 years that whoever was taking care of our child would have strength and have a good day."  She seemed thankful to hear that and we continued to ask her questions about Tyson and his schedule, his personality, his sleeping habits, etc.  She told us (through Mengistu), "He is my favorite boy.  He is always kind, respectful, and obedient to everyone.  If he has an issue with someone or something, he just comes to tell me.  He is gentle and kind."  The next words literally made me cry.  She said, "He has small body (stature), but his mind is tall."  She explained that he is very disciplined and once he is told what to do, he does it.  He takes good care of the house and is very responsible by helping to turn the TV on and off each day, organizing the shoes at night, etc.  We figured out (remember his liking to keep his hands clean?) he is tidy and wants things orderly.  This might present a problem sharing a room with his brothers Corbin, but we will work it out!  His nannie gave me the distinct privilege of having my picture made with her.  I will cherish it forever... she is likely the first "mom" he will remember and her impact on him has been profound.  I would post the photo, but a cute little Ethiopian boy named Tyson is loved up right between us!  Just wait... on Tuesday, it's all yours to see.  I hugged her (hard), told her thank you again, and as we left, Mark kissed her hand.  Our hearts pray she knows how we feel, a gratitude human words can't express.  It was my first time to cry (and let tears actually FALL) in front of Tyson. The nannie told Mengistu, "They are lucky to be getting him." But, hearing her kind words (he was hearing them, too), made me just so humbled and grateful that God picked us to be his parents.  I know that 5 year olds aren't just kind, respectful, and obedient on their own.  His nannie has paved the road well for us and I feel forever indebted to her for her selfless love toward him.  
As we headed back to the guesthouse, my heart had taken all it could and the tears just fell.  Mengistu was so sweet to say, "It's ok.  All mom's cry."  Brycen and Regan agreed, reminded of all the days along the way that they saw me cry, knowing it was about adoption.  It literally got to the point at times they would see me silently crying and say, "adoption?"  just knowing.  To sit beside that sweet boy in a van today, beside him in a restaurant, and to hug and kiss him and tell him I couldn't wait to see him tomorrow... it's just a heart full of happy tears.  I feel like God is literally fleshing out beauty from ashes right before our eyes.  I don't want to miss His grace, His mercy, His love, His redemption story that is happening RIGHT HERE in front of us.  

He is allowing us so many new opportunities and glimpses of grace.  So many chances for FIRSTS.  
From a Momma who didn't get to hear Tyson's first word, see his first step, or feed him his first food, I am undone with gratitude that He is giving us the gift of so many FIRSTS.

I will update tomorrow.  Hugs from Addis Ababa!

Until he's home,

Friday, October 21, 2016


I am all curled up getting ready for bed thinking back over our day.  We have been on a roll of really great, fun experiences.  We woke this morning and ate breakfast at the guesthouse.  While eating, a gentleman staying here came in and began asking us about why we were here.  He and his wife are in year 5 of their adoption.  He came to advocate for their son and to fight to try to get necessary approvals that have been LONG delayed.  It was a sober start to the day, just reminding me of the weight of the wait.  There is nothing that can prepare a family for this process.  But, we were encouraged by their commitment to not stop fighting. And we are committed to praying for them while they continue to face opposition.
 After breakfast, we loaded up in the van with Mengistu and went about an hour away to tour a small museum, church, and home of Ethiopia's first king.  We learned a lot of history about the country and its relations with other nations.  It was up on top of a mountain and, therefore, at a higher elevation (Addis Ababa is 7,000 feet above sea level).  The 10,000 feet above sea level tour was a much cooler climate and gave us pristine views overlooking Addis Ababa.  The road up was winding and the traffic in town had been stop and go.  Regan got car sick once on the way up, but after we got out of the car for a few minutes, she perked up and didn't have any problems the rest of the day.
We had plans to go shopping for soccer jerseys (for the boys) and traditional dresses (for Regan and me).  But, traffic made our tour trip take longer than expected.  So, we ate lunch at a really great restaurant so we could head on over to visit Tyson.  Regan and I had tilapia, rice, and vegetables while Brycen had chicken in a gravy sauce with veggies and Mark had a steak with rice.  And, Regan had her heart set on french fries (called "chips" here) so we ordered a side of those to share.  The restaurant was called "Lucy's" and if anyone is visiting Ethiopia, it would be worth a stop... and it's close to the US Embassy!
After lunch we went straight to the orphanage because WE DID NOT WANT TO BE LATE (duh).  On the hour long trip back to see Tyson, we discussed with Mengistu about changing Tyson's name from his Ethiopian name to Tyson.  We were so encouraged by his telling us that he thinks that is a good idea. For us, the primary reason for changing his name is because in English, his Ethiopian name does not translate well.  Secondly, because our biological kids names all end in "n," we did not want him to feel more different by having a name that didn't end in "n."  Thirdly, many times when someone in scripture had a profound life-changing event, God changed his/her name (Paul to Saul, Sarai to Sarah, Abram to Abraham, etc).  It is a very biblical concept and one we want to navigate  well. This topic brought up Tyson's nickname at the orphanage.  His nickname is Akuye (pronounced Ah-ku-yay).  Mengistu told us this is a term of endearment and evidence that he is loved.  He said, "No one calls him [Ethiopian name] except in formal settings like school.  Everyone calls him Akuye."  This was just so tender to me on so many levels.  One of our prayers for 6 years has been that our child would be socially protected and in a place where he felt loved.  None of the other kids (that we know of) have a nickname.  It was also tender to me because, as many of you know, Tyson has an eye condition called congenital bilateral horizontal nystagmus.  Basically, this means his eyeballs move horizontally/jump all the time. It's a condition he was born with (he has had clear MRI's to rule out brain trauma/tumors).  To know that his nickname was one of love and his being well-liked made me so grateful.  In an environment where the kids aren't always nice, I know he could've been made fun of or laughed at.  Instead, he's Akuye and he's loved.
We finally arrived at the orphanage and Regan was greeted with the first hug today.  She smiled from ear-to-ear.  We immediately began playing soccer and were quickly interrupted by one of the children and a water gun.  Thirty kids.  One water gun.  You do the math.  It was a mad house.  All the children wanted to shoot all the other children with water, including Tyson.  He shot all of us about 100 times with water and laughed and laughed.  Then, he began using the soccer ball as a basketball and went to Mark and said, "Dad, up!" pointing to the goal.  So, Mark picked him up and he was able to give us a slam dunk, just giddy with giggles the entire time.  Of course we all stood back clapping saying, "gobez" which means "good job" in Amharic like he had just won the National Championship.  And then he did it about 42 more times.  We kept saying, "Gobez! Gomez!" As we finished up basketball, we asked him if he preferred being called by his Ethiopian name or Akuye.  He didn't hesitate, "Akuye."  DONE.
Regan just told me, as I am typing,  that when she was playing with him and said, "I love you," he immediately responded to her with "I love you."  These are the things that prayers are made of.  Asking God for years to help Tyson to sense he is loved  and to know it from the very beginning. There were a couple of times he did not do what we asked and he would come over and say, "sorry."  I melted and gladly accepted his apology.  Brycen and Regan have now made friends with the older children at the orphanage.  It brought me such joy to see some of the younger kids run to them immediately for hugs and for the older kids to come out to play ball with them.  Regan and some of the girls turned the soccer ball into a volleyball and Brycen played soccer and played chase with the water gun and everyone had fun.  We did more sidewalk chalk.  It was hilarious... Tyson drew a person and then said, "That is me."  Then, we asked him to draw Mark. He said, "ok." and then he drew a person with short spikey hair.  Pretty much he IS a genius.  One of the older girls (she's 12) has her family coming to see her for the first time next Tuesday.  I have been in contact with her family and she couldn't wait to show me her family photo book that her family made for her about them.  We looked over each page and she just beamed.  Then, Tyson looked at me and said, "I will show you my photo album."  We acted like we hadn't see it before...even though we made it for him last year and we looked at it together Wednesday.  Just then it began to sprinkle so we sat on the porch and looked through his book.  IT WAS SO SWEET.  He pointed to the picture of the front of our house and said, "My house."  Then, he turned the page and pointed to each of us, saying our names.  Mark got it on video.  It will forever be etched in my mind because of all the days, weeks, and months we so longed for him to know us.  To see him now, knowing our names and showing us affection, it is still surreal in many ways.  We were able to ask him what he is most excited about coming to America.  He said, "playing with matchbox cars and swimming."  MatchBox cars.  We just burst out laughing.  We told him we had him some cars he could play with once he comes back here on Tuesday.  He seemed really happy about that!
The smallest details are coming out as we watch him play and see his patterns emerge.  He does not like his hands to be dirty, so anytime they have chalk on them at all, he goes to the outdoor water station and washes his hands as quickly as possible.  Today I went with him to wash his hands and while we were there he said, "Mom" and pointed for me to put my hands under the water.  Then, he washed my hands for me.  I think I will just take him home and keep him forever!
Right about the time we were leaving it was time for his dinner.  As we were going he said to Mengistu, "I get to go with them Tuesday?" Mengistu said, "Yes." Tyson replied, "I prefer going with them today."  WE PREFER THAT TOO, AKUYE, WE PREFER THAT, TOO!

We assured him we would return tomorrow.  I already can't wait.  Another day awaits with our sweet


until he's home,

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Don't Be Late

Good Friday morning from Addis Ababa!  I am up early (6:30am) while everyone else continues to sleep. I am watching the city come to life this morning.  It looks like another start to another beautiful day. I am sorry for no blog post's the real deal, at 11pm I sat down to do it and the computer was at 5% and all the adapters were in use for charging.  So, here we go this morning.  I hope you all are settling in to a nice night's rest on the other side of the globe.

Just when we didn't think our hearts could swell anymore, they did.  Yesterday started out slow, which was perfect since we were all waking up from our first night's sleep in a few days.  After breakfast and quiet times, the boys threw a football outside, Regan and I stayed in to read (she did school work), and post lunch, we watched "Beauty and the Beast"together.  It was a perfect lazy day in pajama pants!  Seemed to be just what we needed coming off such crazy sleep schedules.

Around lunch we started checking our watches more often, counting down the hours until we could go visit Tyson again.  After an hour long nap from 2:15-3:15pm, we all began getting ready for the evening.  The plan was for Mengistu to pick us up at 5:30pm, take us to the orphanage for 30 minutes, and then go to dinner.  So, that's what we did.  We arrived at the orphanage around 6pm and no children were playing outside.  We had come just as dinner was starting.  We hopped out of the van, hoping to see the routine of dinner.  As we got closer to the building, we spotted Tyson waiting for us at the front window.  I made.  As we meandered through the children in the kitchen to get to his room, we spoke to the other children and gave high-fives.  When we walked into the room where he was, his nannie wanted us to know he had been asking where we were since he had gotten home from school at 3:30pm.  When he saw us walk in, he ran to us, giving each of us hugs.  But, Brycen was carrying a new green soccer ball, so before we knew it, Tyson grabbed the closest shoes to  him (which happened to be pink flip flops), took Brycen by the hand, and off we went.  We went outside and kicked the ball around, asking him about his day and what he learned at school.  He pointed to his eye and said, "eye," then "ear," then "teeth," and so on.  He had learned body parts yesterday and knew them all perfectly (even "tongue!").  Next, we gave him sidewalk chalk.  He and Regan drew moons together (after I drew a sun that he copied) and just when I thought he was going to write his Ethiopian name, I realized he was writing his alphabet!  We were all saying the letters with him as he wrote them on the ground in rainbow sidewalk chalk.  If he needed help on a letter, Regan was sitting, waiting to show him.  Turns out he only needed help with K, Q, U, V, and W.  It was so cute, when he got to "W" he drew an "m" and then motioned in a circle as if to indicate it needed to be upside down!  Smart boy.  When he had finished the alphabet, numbers, flowers, etc he stood up and walked across his masterpieces saying, "I did all of this." Then, he pointed at Mengistu and said, "You did not do anything."  We all laughed.  We wrote the names of each member of our family and then he wrote his numbers 0-12.  He continued to ask about Corbin and Hudson.  I know it may not sound like a big deal, but (here come the tears) we have specifically prayed for God to knit our hearts together in a profound way for years.  We have simply asked Him to unite us in a supernatural way.  So, for us to hear Tyson ask about his brothers and tell Mengistu he is excited to meet them, I couldn't help but thank God for His faithfulness to bond these boys before they've even met!
After getting dirty with sidewalk chalk, we played chase around the vans.  We got to hear the biggest, most genuine laughs you've ever heard.  We would take off toward him to try to catch him and when he slowed just enough, wanting us to catch him, he would just laugh and laugh.  We taught him about taking silly face photos.  So, we each did silly selfies with him.  It was fun to see the playfulness in him.  We showed him once and off he went.... blowing up his cheeks, sticking out his tongue, opening his arms wide with crazy faces.  Such special memories.
After selfies and silly faces, we were just playing around and because all the other children were inside eating, we were able to ask Tyson a few questions to try to get to know him.  Some of the questions I will keep private, but I would like to share a few.  His personality is so fun.  We asked about his favorite foods (turns out he loves carbs... potatoes, rice, and macaroni ranked among the favorites).  Doubt he's ever had mac 'n' cheese, but we can remedy that!  We asked about his favorite color ( this might be a good color to wear if you come to the airport!) and about what he's afraid of (not a fan of big dogs, which is common among Africans).  Then, we asked if he'd ever been swimming.  He said, "I would like to go swimming if there is ground and no water or I would go under and die."  We all laughed and told him his grandparents have a pool and next summer, we will go swimming.  We assured him we would stay with him and keep him safe.  Then, he showed us how he would dive into the pool.  Turned out to be a front handspring, that was actually very good, but he didn't quite stick the landing.  He is a funny boy!  He delighted us by singing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" in English and then he told us his favorite TV show to watch is "Scooby Doo."  Again, it's the smallest things that make us know God is in the details. Scooby Doo is our little boys FAVORITE.  They are going to be a handful awesome together.  We learned a lot more about him (he's ticklish!) and so loved hearing and seeing how happy he was to see us. Perhaps the part I loved most (it's so hard to even pick one thing) was when Mark was holding him and we were asking him questions.  We inquired about his feelings regarding leaving the orphanage and his friends and how he felt about coming to America.  After he answered, we told him, "we will be your parents forever and we will love you forever."  Mengistu told him what he said and smiled SO big, leaned in and gave Mark the biggest hug.  It's forever etched in my mind.  I've longed to tell him that since we first saw his face on April 20, 2015.
It was much harder to leave him this time.  It was obvious he didn't want us to leave.  He kept hanging onto all of us, constantly wanting one of us touching him.  We are grateful of how welcoming he already is to our hugs and kisses.  But oh the surprise when we were wrapping things up and as he came to me, Mark said, "give Mommy hugs and kisses" (I had forgotten Mark said that and thought it was all spontaneous, but it was still THE SWEETEST THING EVER) when he leaned it and gave me the biggest hug and kiss.  It was the first time I squeezed him and literally thought, "I'm never letting go."  It was just so sincere to feel how tightly he hugged each of us and for the longest time!
We assured him we would be back tomorrow (which is today) and that's when he looked at Mengistu and said, "Tomorrow when you come, do not be late.  Today you were late."  We laughed our heads off.  We told him good night and waved good-bye.  And I wanted to go curl up in a corner with him and stay forever.
It's an odd thing, this whole emotional process, that is.  I have tried to sit and think about the days of significance and what each means.  When we have biological kids, the day you meet them is the day they are born to you and it's their birthday.  With adoption, the day you meet for the first time is SO important and special, as is your "gotcha day" (the day the child is legally yours.  For us, this will be next Tuesday), and then there is the child's birthday.  Three different, important, special days.  Then, you have days like today where you know you are making progress in bonding.  These days aren't sacred and holy because of the circumstances.  They are sacred and holy because we know (WITHOUT A DOUBT) God is standing on this soil in these days with us.  We just couldn't be more grateful.
After visiting Ty, we went to a traditional Ethiopian restaurant.  We took several pictures (if you follow me on Instagram, you already saw them).  I will upload pictures to the blog next week (hopefully).  One of the differences from American restaurant is that they wash your hands at the table.  Someone walks to your table with soap and a large metal basin and pitcher.  He squirts soap in your hand (one person at a time), and while you wash your hands, he pours warm water over them.  Then, he moves on to the next person.  This is very important in Ethiopia because all of the food is eaten with your hands (no utensils).  So keeping your eating hand (most just use one hand) clean is top priority.  The food was delicious, though Regan had a harder time finding something she loved (thank you, large piece of chicken, for saving the day!).  She was THE best sport, trying it all and even liking one or two things.  The food is traditionally served on a flat, spongy bread called injera.  It is made of Teff flour, so it is totally fine for all of us to eat.  Then, the main dish is poured on top of the injera.  You tear the injera and grab the main dish(es) with the injera and eat it.  We had what is essentially a sampler platter.  Mark and Brycen were brave enough to eat the cow esophagus.  Regan and I discussed it and felt like one esophagus was enough and we were happy with the one we were born with.  So, we politely declined, but Mark really liked it and ate it all.
As we ate, there was singing and dancing on the stage.  Traditional Ethiopian instruments graced the stage and every other song represented one of Ethiopia's 86 tribes.  So, each dance/song was sung in that native language, wearing the native clothing, all while performing the native dancing.  It was beautiful and educational!  It was very upbeat and VERY FUN.  Mark, Brycen, and Mengistu also enjoyed a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony at our table. Heaven knows I wanted to, but at 10pm, all that buna (coffee) would've kept me up ALL NIGHT (turns out I was up until 1:45am anyway, but who knew?).  Brycen drank the strong coffee like a champ!  We left the restaurant around 9:15pm.  After arriving back at the guesthouse, we were able to FaceTime with Corbin and Hudson for a few minutes.  They were happy and having an after school snack (THANK YOU, NINA, FOR PICKING THEM UP EVERY DAY).  This time change is so crazy!  We were heading to bed and they were just getting home from school! They loved hearing about how Tyson asks for them.  And, they laughed and laughed when we told them about him loving Scooby Doo.
The plan for today is to leave around 10:30am (3:30am for you) and go to a church museum, eat lunch, and then do some shopping in the market (Regan has her heart set on a traditional Ethiopian dress and I die thinking about how beautiful she will be in it), and then go to visit Tyson.
We will arrive to see him earlier today because he left us with one instruction:


Chat soon!
until he's home,