Fostering, Living with a Community Mindset, Uncategorized

Spotlight on the Mommas : Keeping Siblings Together

Guys, you will LoVe Becky. She is the real deal. There is nothing coming out of this woman that is less than 1000%. She lives in the present and celebrates the little things like it’s going out of style. She is Momma to 4 kiddos, a compassionate IR nurse and wife to the mailman. She may look like the nice neighbor next door, but there is FIRE in her!

Becky’s pretty darn cool and not just because of the snow or serious adventuring with her first born

How did you decide you wanted to foster to adopt? (Were you and your hubby always on the same page?) Ryan and I always wanted a large family (we’re both 1 of 5 kids – he’s the oldest and I’m the youngest of our families) but pregnancies were HARD. We had a difficult time getting pregnant, and then with our oldest I was in bedrest from 18-34 weeks due to a subchorionic hemorrhage (bleeding behind the placenta which threatened the pregnancy). The second one I was also on bedrest for a complete placenta previa (the placenta was over my cervix) and then she developed heart problems and passed away in utero, her delivery was precarious and we were advised that I’d most likely die during delivery…niiiiiiiice. Did I mention she delivered our anniversary? Ha! We know how to do things! Our third was also bedrest from 10 -24 weeks and then we had a crash c-section during delivery at 37 weeks because I had a concealed abruption and Cy (our son) nearly bled out in utero. Our fourth pregnancy we miscarried at 10 weeks. All of this to say, I had a dysfunctional uterus, it was a miracle ANYTHING survived me gestating it, and after our pregnancies we knew we were DONE trying for bio kids. BUT we also knew we needed time to heal. So, after after a SEEK fast at Radiant Church, God brought adoption back to our hearts individually. We ended up talking about it, and it was amazing that God had laid adoption on both of our hearts during that same season. We considered foreign adoption, domestic adoption but NEVER infant adoption. (Ha! We were DONE with diapers!) After praying longer about it, we realized were being led to adopt from foster care. Honestly, that first info meeting about foster care, we were surprised. (I think we were the only ones in the room that didn’t know you received a monthly stipend to care for the kids you fostered! Like shocked!). We entered foster care intending to take in kiddos that needed a forever family, and the first two kids placed with us did become ours after a LONG year and a half.

How did you decide to foster/decide what ages and how many at a time? We wanted siblings that were younger than our oldest child (preserving birth order). So at the time that meant any sibling set of 1-3 kids, ages 4-9, boys or girls. We knew the older kids were harder to place and much harder to place together and we wanted to be able to keep siblings together.

How was the licensing process? How long did it take? What helped you during all the inspections/ paperwork? The licensing process for us was HORRIBLE! They lost our total volume of paperwork…like ALL of it… not once but TWICE! Ryan and I agree that we think they lost it a third time but then found it. We were so done with it all that I had taken forty days to pray about it, and then called the agency to tell them we were out. It was that phone call that changed everything and kept us “in the game”. It must have been a Holy Spirit led conversation on the other end because I found myself saying we’d stay in it to get licensed when I had been adamant that we would not continue the process before the phone call took place. I’m so glad we prayed. I’m so glad He moved!

How do your bio kids feel about fostering/adopting? (How do they help? What’s hard? Where do each of you shine?) Our bio kids…hmm. They’ve taken it well, but it’s been hard. A lot of sacrifice involved. I’m not sure how to explain what they’ve gone through other than it takes a lot of dying to yourself to make room for others to occupy your home and family and lives and not swing through all of the emotions. I think all four of them now just treat one another like siblings….it’s becoming blissfully normal…and I am thankful. Recently I took our new teenager on a surprise trip to Colorado for her birthday. She just needed that one on one time to be appreciated and loved on without the pressure of everyone and everything. I didn’t realized how much she’d need that until we were gone together. Intentionally. I’ve realized how intentional we’ve needed to be to make each kid feel seen and loved. We plan on more of that coming along.

And what no one tells you about foster care and adoption is how much it takes for a family to recover. It’s been a year and a half since we adopted, and we’re just now hitting our stride and coming up for air. Normalcy takes time. Healing from trauma (our adopted kids, our bio kids, our’s) it takes time. And when you invite trauma into your home, you ALL walk through it together, you all die a little together, and it’s hard. It’s beautiful. It’s good. But you feel like you’re drowning for awhile. Is it worth it? Absolutely. We wouldn’t change a thing. But is it hard? Harder than anything we could have conceived. But again, is it worth it? Always. A year and a half, and we feel like we’re just coming back to finding ourselves. It’s new, it’s better, it’s hard, but it’s good. AND it takes grace. Grace for ourselves, and grace from others.

Why yes, they are REAL children who make faces at the camera and don’t always get along. They’re true siblings.

How do you stay connected in your marriage and as a family? Praise be to JESUS we don’t need a babysitter anymore! Ryan and I have reinstated date night once a week and it has been a game changer! We need that time away together, and to reconnect. And the thing that helps us grow as a family, honestly, is going to church together, having dinner together and praying as a family. Psalm 126 seems to be the story of our family AND the cry of our hearts.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.” The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

Psalm 126 : 1-6

Do you have a family photo to share? Well we have two! The first Gotcha Day photo is ours, and the second is from our kiddos Little sister’s Gotcha Day. So our story takes an odd turn in that there are three kiddos from the sibling set, but Angel went into foster care with another family. When we got the phone call about Genesis and Breanna we were told there were only two, but then a couple of days later we found out that there was a third. She was 7 months old when she went into foster care, and the caseworker said she could be ours too, if we wanted her. So we prayed about it and asked questions about the other family and how well bonded she was. We found out that Angel was doing well and THRIVING with them and that the other family had bonded with her also – it just didn’t set right with us to rip her out of their arms. God had a different story. And we love it! So instead of adopting her to keep her with her biological siblings, both of our families adopted each other! All four of my kids call Angel’s parents “Aunt” and “Uncle” and call the other kids their cousins (except for Angel who G and Bre obviously call their sister). Angel’s adoption day was also the day they got her baptized and they asked Ryan to be her Godfather. So, we all become one big family and see each other as much as we can. Talk about being grafted into one another! God is so incredible.

Ya’ll! I love how separate families in the same community can connect to make one big family, because it takes a village and sometimes even TWO villages to raise a child!! These kiddos have double the love, double the birthday presents and double the siblings because one family was willing to listen to God and hear HIS ideas for their story and not just what made sense or felt “right.” I’m so thankful for Becky so generously sharing all these pieces of her heart and her story. I love how God is using her story to inspire others and encourage us all to lean in and hear God speak!

Hearing from God, HOPE, Living with a Community Mindset, Uncategorized

Powerful Prayer Part 4 ~ What To Do When Doubt Creeps In

Well now that you’re becoming a crazy prayer WARRIOR, you’ll undoubtedly join the ranks of those who’s faith has fallen and risen again and fallen and risen again. The truth of the matter is: The more you pray, the more likely you are to see miracles (yay!!) and the more likely you are to have questions, fears and doubt.

I love this quote from Shauna Niequist’s Savor:

“The  question is not, will my life be easy or will my heart break? But rather, when my heart breaks, will I choose to grow?”

We all have our moments of doubt. We start to think that maybe God doesn’t want to answer our prayer, or maybe He just won’t. Maybe it’s Him, maybe it’s us, but for some unknown and invisible reason, the answer is no. Honestly, the bigger your faith is, the bigger your questions will become – which is good! With questioning, and voicing our fears, comes a strengthening of our beliefs as we seek the word of God and our faith community for the answers. This actually deepens our resolve in what we believe and why – instead of just taking it at face value.

Buuuuuuut, what do we often do when faced with dissappointment, fear or doubt? We have a little temper tantrum. Yep, so often when I see my youngest lay herself down on the floor for a good scream or stamp that little foot and scrunch up her face into a pout, I think: I bet that’s what I look like when I hear “no” from God, haha!

So as I tell Miss Mya so often “Please, just use your words to tell me how you feel!” And I put on my big girl britches and “choose to grow”. I tell God my doubt and fear. Sometimes this process takes me days. The worries or anger oozes out of me from so many unknown places I never realized it had been building up so much! Sometimes it’s one good cry or shouting session and I can feel the release of my angst and put words to my fear to see it’s only that: fear. There’s no truth in it at all!

OK, but what if your fear and doubt is beyond words? What if those lies have run so deep that they’re mixed up with truth and experience and perhaps even trauma (eek!) and you have nowhere to begin and no way to start? What if you feel hopeless about a thing you hold so dear and it hurts to talk about it – even to God? What if you’re scared or lost or broken or fragile? I think we may all have such an area or season in our hearts if we are truly being honest. You are not the first, nor the last to enter this place.

This is where I have found 3 things to be helpful. (Hint: they all start with my own humility!) Essentially, I admit that I have nothing- not even the words to express my heart. I alone have no power to bring change to the world or my situation and I honestly cannot even change my beliefs. If you are still in the struggle and haven’t reached the bottom yet, this is a difficult thing! If you’re already at ground zero, it somehow seems a little easier. So, on to three things:

#1 : The Fake-It-‘Till-You-Make-It Approach

Maybe it’s not even faking anything, but just pressing forward in the direction you want to go whether you feel it or not! I surround myself with truth. I want to move toward faith so I listen to speakers of faith. I spend time with people who have big faith! I post scripture on every surface of my room/house/car/office and read or listen to TRUTH on auto-pilot until some of the thoughts I’ve chosen to “fake” become my own. (Does this qualify as self-brainwashing? If so, it works!)

#2 : Praying Scripture/Praying in the Spirit.

When I have no words, I have nothing to pray. I admit, I don’t have the answers or the solution and I get to a point where I don’t even know what I’m asking for anymore. This is where the Bible says “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27) These groanings of the Spirit can be so many things. Sometimes my creative side comes through and I can paint, draw or even dance. Sometimes praying in tongues is a way to allow the spirit to do the talking and my heart finds peace. Another way is to play some soaking music and allow the Lord to speak as you rest in His presence. Just allow yourself to be.

Praying scripture is the most powerful way to fight the enemy. There is nothing stronger (especially when I have no words) than the very word of God! Our pastor just gave an incredible sermon referencing this very thing and it might just be the truth you need to fake-till-you-can-make-it! Another great resource for Praying Scripture is Beth Moore’s Praying God’s Word. Her book is an incredible list of scriptures organized by topic. If you want to pray for your marriage/anxiety/co-worker, she’s got God’s word ready for you to search and speak. I encourage you to seek the scripture and find a verse, story, or chapter that speaks to where you are right now and pray that! Our pastor gave Psalm 32 and 51 as launching points for prayer and it’s a great place to start.

#3 : Worship & Thankfulness

Worship while we’re waiting, of course! Worship fills my mind and the atmosphere around me with hope even when I’m not feeling it. It’s true that silence can be healing as well, but perhaps a balance of both is what you need?

Thankfulness is a practice of positivity. If I’ve been focusing on the negative, just naming three things I’m thankful for will switch my brain and change the focus from “Woe is me” to “Whoa, I’m blessed!” There is loads of actual research supporting this, but I’m sure you’ve heard it. Play the “Glad Game” you Pollyanna fans!

Now I have a choice, I’ve unloaded on God. (I often view it as a spew or vomit, but perhaps you’d prefer to see it as leaving baggage or burdens at the feet of a wise and capable King.) I’ve surrounded myself with what I WANT to believe and chosen to look for the good. So what next? I can leave His presence and I am truly better for the time I’ve spent. I feel lighter and less overcome already. OR I can stay there. I can choose to let Him speak truth over me. I can listen for the refreshing truth that replaces those ugly burdens. This practice can change the way my brain works to renounce those lies in the FUTURE too! I want to prevent myself from coming back to this place of doubt and despair.

Hebrews 6:19-20 The Message (MSG)

“We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us…”

No matter which avenue you choose, (one or all three!) just keep moving forward. Do what needs to be done so that you are choosing to GROW. As long as we trust God and HIS plan, we will come out as victors- no matter how long it takes to get there and how much “faking” it takes to finally believe.

So what are you trusting God for? What fight are you holding out hope for? What brings you back from a place of doubt? Please share so we can all stand together in faith and even benefit from other’s great ideas!!


Elisee’s Mother ~ Part 2

Boy, do I have a beautiful moment to share with you. It’s kind of a bonus. I shared a lot of Natalii’s story here but there is so much more to her story!!  A piece I’d like to share with you is when and how I first met Natalii.  Man, hold on, it’s goooooood.

So to rewind a second, let me set the scene: Collin and I were in Africa for the very first time. We were NOT expecting to adopt internationally and this little man ran by me and I realized I had been having dreams of his very face for years…YEARS! So we asked the other kids about him and no one knew how old he was or where he was from. What we learned was that he was quite reserved at the orphanage and that although he had lived there for several years, he had not learned the national language (French) which all the staff and children speak. He still spoke his tribal language, Fon. I believe the exact words that were told to us were “Oh, he does not speak. All he knows is ‘Come to eat’!” (He was more Schuiteboer than we realized! We, Schuiteboers are not afraid of food.)

When we asked our friend Patrice about him, she said Elisee’s grandmother had brought him and an older brother to the orphanage almost 3 years before because she could not afford to feed them. Patrice hadn’t seen the grandmother since then, but was willing to call her to ask about adoption. The grandmother of Elisee and his brother Jeret, came the very next day to meet us. She agreed to sign any paper to adopt her grandson to us. This was a shock since it is not common practice to adopt in general, in Benin.  We asked questions about Elisee’s parents and she covered her face each time, sighed a lot and said “They are dead.”

Altogether, it was an interesting meeting since each person had to be translated and the grandmother’s words said she was so willing to help but her body language was so closed. We were left with many questions and a huge to-do list to get the adoption going. After our meeting, Elisee was brought in to meet his Grandmother. There was no recognition, but only curiosity in him. He was intrigued by her. Patrice, explained what we were discussing and in her blunt African way, turned him to look at her and asked “Who would you like to be your mother?” He giggled, looked shyly at me and pointed. (Thank goodness she spoke in Fon, because I would not have been able to handle that question in that moment!)

Immediately, we set out to find all the necessary papers to begin an adoption. First and foremost was to prove Elisee was indeed an orphan – we needed death certificates of both parents. His father’s was easy to find with the help of Janice, but his mother’s could not be found. There was no record of her death. Patrice took a day to go into Natalii’s village and ask questions and it was there she found out Natalii was not dead but alive!  After questioning the grandmother further, her response was “She is dead to me!” (Ahem…. Different kinds of “dead” wouldn’t you say?) And so it was that Natalii was sent money for travel and food to make the day’s journey to us.

I have been blessed to see such a momentous occasion! Sweet, humble Natalii, who hadn’t seen or heard of her own young boys in over 3 years was able to come and kiss their faces. She entered our story with such humility and gentleness.  Tiny Ruth (Elisee’s sister!!) was tied on her back while she rode the moto (motorcycle)  into town. Her unkempt hair was covered with a hat and she wore what I’m sure was her only and most valuable possession, her good cloths. Her nails had been carefully painted at one time but were worn and chipped. The anxiety in her heart must have been real, but her face was full of peace and hope.

Elisee & Natacha
*A True Mother’s Heart*

Natalii didn’t shout or smother the boys in kisses as I would have imagined, but the pride in her eyes when she saw those boys was unmatched.  Her eyes fell on each one with a mother’s gaze of knowing so much more than meets the eye. I bet she could see their Daddy in them. They were so much bigger than when she saw them last, and they were happy and well fed.  Both boys are strong and full of Jesus. It was obvious to Natalii that they had been loved in her absence.  Jeret recognized both her and Janice right away. He spoke to them in his confident, firstborn way. Elisee, on the other hand, was quite taken with his little sister Ruth. He grabbed her hand and held on tight as he dragged her around with him. Her cherub face adored him in return. He giggled and showed her off to his friends and they chattered away in their own language.

I wonder if Natalii cried herself to sleep that night. Perhaps with relief and perhaps with sadness?  Had she been wondering where her boys were? I don’t know if she knew they were even alive or whether or not they were still with their grandmother. Had she been worrying over them or laying them before the throne of grace begging for their futures? Could she possibly allow one son to leave Africa and become part of another family and culture? To travel across the ocean possibly never to return? Did Natalii trust her Papa God to keep her children safe for her?  No matter the answers to these questions, I praise God that I got to be the instigator of their reunion! Part of me wanted to stay and experience it all with Natalii. I have cried out in prayer on behalf of this woman and her son for years without knowing.  I was privileged to see them together again! Part of me wanted to take everyone away so they could be alone – be a family even for just a few minutes. ALL of me wanted to search the whole earth and find whatever was necessary to make a way for them to live together as a family forever… But Natalii was married. Her new husband was the head of his household and he said “No”to another man’s children.

Blended families are a unique and beautiful piece of American culture. I don’t underestimate the difficulties that come with blending children, spouses, traditions, and disciplines. It is not for the faint of heart. Families with a willingness to work hard and continue loving against every odd are simply inspiring! In Benin, and many other places around the world, it is not so. Natalii’s new husband would not stand for the boys to come home with Natalii. They were not his.  (Praise God that somehow Ruth was miraculously welcomed safely in his home.) And Natalii wanted the very best for Elisee, no matter the cost to herself. She was willing to help us with the adoption and signed every single document. She agreed that we could take him to America and she knew he would no longer be hers. A consent, I cannot even imagine! And we were on our way, another step closer to getting our boy home.



Elisee’s Mother (The Other One)

Elisee has a beautiful biological mother.  She has a gorgeous smile that lights up her whole face, just like our Elisee’s, but her inward beauty is so much more!  Her character is strong enough to face adversity and keep that amazing smile.  She is truly beautiful in every sense of the word. And her incredible story cannot be kept a secret. (For her own security we’ve named her Natalii.)


Natalii married her childhood friend when she was 14. They had grown up in the same village their whole lives. This village is a dark place spiritually, I’m afraid. It is the birthplace of voodoo. Benin is proud of its’ long history of voodoo, claiming it is the country of origin for this religion. Museums spell out picture for picture how Benin so graciously influenced other parts of the world with it’s belief. The people are so proud of the heritage!

The village of Elisee’s parents is at the very center of it all. The chief of the village says no one from their people have ever left the country because of the sacrifices their ancestors made during the slave trade to keep their families “safe” (in Africa). The gods of voodoo are keeping them safe still. (And I wonder why I can’t get Elisee to the US?)

Well, Natalii’s father was a pastor. (Which can mean a lot of things in Africa, but basically he loved Jesus at some point and preached something along that line. I wish I knew more about him!)  Natalii, therefore, has ancestry from both voodoo and Christianty- this lays a tumultuous path for a woman in Africa. Women do not have rights in many areas of life in Benin and her destiny has never been her own.

Natalii did, however, get to marry her friend who was her own age and they started a family.  First was Jeret, he is a strapping boy who is rough and tumble and will not be the underdog no matter which way the lines are drawn. He’s tough as nails and wild as a stallion. He was favored much by his only living grandmother (his father’s mom) and she claims him as her own. When asked who his mother is in a lineup of family members, Jeret pointed to his grandmother and smiled that knowing smile with her, “She is mine. That one is Elisee’s.” Next to the grandmother in this lineup was Natalii. Natalii has a tenderness toward Elisee as if he was her youngest, her baby.

Elisee was the second son of his father and quickly followed by baby #3: a sweet-natured girl named Ruth. When Jeret had turned 3 and Elisee was almost 2, their father had pains in his stomach.  It lasted for days with increasing intensity and he was taken to the hospital. He was given medicine for the pain and sent home only to pass away immediately after returning. The western-minded assumption is appendicitis. He was gone and Natalii was left behind. Her mother-in-law (who practices voodoo devoutly) believed the common superstitions and blamed Natalii. She had “killed” her own husband and she was no longer welcome in their village. She was sent to distant relations in another village with her nursing baby while the boys were taken from her for the grandmother to keep. “It wasn’t their fault, after all, that their mother was a murderer.”

Now Natalii has this beautiful humility about her. In this moment, she had no rights to argue or stand up against her mother-in-law, but the level of grace and dignity she holds even after experiencing this travesty of “justice” is insane. Even years later when I got to spend time with Natalii, she was kind and gracious towards “that woman” (as I call her in my own head).  Natalii was sent to her relatives with an infant and no way to protect her. She had no resources, connections nor a single possession of her own. She was “worthless” in the eyes of her culture. Even her reputation was slandered by the words of her own kin- “a murderer”. Who would care for her now? What were her hopes of a future and a family?

Natalii was introduced to a new village without a friend or an ounce of pride.  Her hopes and dreams were lost, but she pressed on. She came to befriend a man who was sick. He was dying and needed a caregiver and so they were wed.  I don’t know what love there might have been between them, but her good fortune was short-lived.  He provided for her basic needs while she cared for him but money was not plentiful and when he was gone, so was her provision. Now she is marked. In voodoo it is believed that she has been the death of 2 husbands, she is not likely to marry ever again. She is an outcast. It was at this time that she also gave birth to a fourth child- another son. Once again homeless, penniless, and with two young babes in her care, Natalii’s only hope was to return to her first mother-in-law who had cast her out and slandered her name.  The woman who had taken what was left of her youth and every last shred of aspiration.

Now the grandmother… That woman… She had two tiny boys in her home and under her care.  Unfortunately, she had also lost significance in the eyes of the village. Her son was her breadwinner. He was her hope and her source of sustenance. Without him, she also had nothing. With no income and no work, how could she feed the babes she had stolen? She couldn’t. And so, not long after sending Natalii on her way, the grandmother took the boys to the only orphanage in southern Benin, perhaps in all of Benin. They traveled 4+ hours southwest to Exodus House Orphanage and she left the two boys on the doorstep of the gracious and Jesus-loving Patrice. Praise the Lord. They were welcome, they were safe. Both boys were cared for and given the basic necessities for life, education, and friendship for the next 4 years before we had the privilege of meeting them.

And so it came to be that Natalii was living with the granmother when we returned to Africa for our Elisee.  They were two women bound together by kinship but with nothing in common. They share nothing and everything at once and there is no love or joy in their communion.

Elisee Biological Family
Top: Natalii (pregnant with #4), the grandmother, her oldest son    Bottom: Ruth, Elisee, Jeret


God has a future for Natalii. As I think of her difficult life and pray for her and the tiny ones she holds dear, I feel God’s heart for her in Isaiah 47:

“But you {Natalii} are my servant.

You’re Jacob, my first choice, descendant of my good friend Abraham…

I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you. Don’t panic, I’m with you.

There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.

I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you.

I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.”

She has not been forgotten by the one who holds her heart.  Natalii can smile that beautiful smile because she has Jesus. He is enough. He is her strength and her song. And because of God’s work in Elisee’s life, we had the privilege of meeting her. We have prayed for her and her children and all of their futures for a year and a half now.  Our friend Patrice has taken her in as a friend to encourage, speak life and give gifts to. This year on our last day in Benin, we were sent money for some “impromptu” paperwork and the sender felt led to double the amount. That same day we met with Patrice to see if there was a way to bless Natalii with it, was there a business she could possibly start  for this amount and keep it running while being a mom? Could she become her own provider and no longer be at the whim of her mother-in-law? YES! It was Natalii’s own idea to use the money to drive into the Bush (the African countryside) and buy beans and rice to sell in the market.  Her travels would not be frequent and she had enough money to take a car instead of a “moto” (motorcycle) and the two young children could come with her. They could stay with her in the market while she sold each day and the work would not be too much for her to bear.  God is good. He has provided where there seemed to be no way. She is his favorite, His first choice and He has a firm grip on her. She is not lost. I can’t wait to return to Africa to see her smile and drink tea in her house. I can’t wait to see what God uses her to redeem in her village and what He does through her children!

Natacha,Elisee & Baby
Natalii, Elisee and Baby


Flying Home Alone : When We Expected A Finalized Adoption

In an attempt to answer the question “What happened in Africa?” I’d like to try to explain a few of the goings ons we experienced. I’m sure this will bring more questions but here’s the gist: Last year in Africa we started our adoption with a lawyer at the Court of Ouidah. It’s a big courthouse in a somewhat “major” city in central southern Benin. After several months of putting us off again and again, the judge ruled against our case. In prayer one day, our friend PulCherie got a revelation from the Lord to go to the court in Lokossa and try again. Lokossa is a smaller city close to Elisee’s mother’s village on the far west side of Benin (4 hours from PulCherie’s home and the orphanage). She drove out there several times a week and acted as our lawyer. She made excellent progress within the court towards our adoption. This led to us being summoned to the court to meet the judge and our last minute trip commenced!

Once in Africa, nothing was easy. Our meeting with the judge was more of an interrogation with no promises made of adoption and the judge seemed to think of quite a few MORE papers necessary to progress that we would need to bring him. On top of that, it was the parliament’s election time and all judges (including ours) would be campaigning for the next few weeks before the actual election. “Come back in a few weeks” he said. Not an option! We want to fly home in a few weeks!

Next we knew the visa would be difficult. It is not possible for just anyone from Benin to leave the country and more specifically, from Elisee’s family’s village. Long ago in the “birthplace of Voodoo” (this very village near Lakossa) agreements were made with Satan himself to “protect” the people and keep them safe from the slave ships. Ever since the time of the slave trade this village and many others have been marking their children upon birth with the sign of the snake. Almost every single person we met in Benin had some variation of this sign which is three scars in a row that have been bled, filled with powdered snakes blood and healed to a scar over time. This sign proves a child’s inheritance of the snake’s protection. Elisee has this sign (faint and small yet still evident) on each cheek. He has been “given” the snakes protection which (obviously to a believer) is bondage. This spiritual battle was overarching every meeting and plan we had in Benin. We were fighting for every step forward.

Also, we found out an appointment is needed to be made for a US citizen to meet with the US Embassy. This we did not know since PulCherie (& even both of us) had been several times for her visa and never had an appointment. So when we tried to set an appointment there was only ONE available during our three week stay and it was 5 days before we left. (Please consider the fact that 2 of the 5 days were a weekend and one was the 4th of July. NO TIME for adjusting paperwork if needed!?) Little did we know the Embassy was moving to a new building on the other side of town and was completely shutting down during the transition. SHUT DOWN. Great.

The second week we spent in Africa the amazing PulCherie traveled hither and yon collecting new copies of the paperwork we had already done (since the first judge had confiscated it). She felt it best to go alone since most officials in Africa are eager to charge double or triple the price of anything if a “Yovo” or white man is present. She searched and dug and drove until she was worn out. She dragged along the mother and grandmother of Elisee for signatures and photos and help searching in their village archives. All the while she rose at 3 am to make pate’ with the older girls in the orphanage which could be sold in the market for enough money to buy the next days’ food for the children. At the end of the week, Elisee’s grandmother called and said she had some things that “might be helpful.” When PulCherie took the envelope of papers she discovered it held every single paper she had just spent a week and hundreds of dollars to gather. The grandmother knew all along.

The third week was the charm we had been waiting for! Finally our appointments with the Judge and the Embassy had arrived! We had spent a chunk of week 2 in prayer and felt fully confident that the Lord’s favor was upon us. We just knew that the downhill slide was about to turn into an airplane ride home with our little man. We met with the judge Monday and had all the wonderful papers collected and copied. He in turn requested more information, more paperwork and remembered the need to send a social worker to Elisee’s mother’s village for interviews. This would take more than two weeks. TWO WEEKS. Our flight out is in 6 days. We paid the social worker triple the fee and he headed off to the village immediately- he actually left the building before us, PTL, he understood our urgency! We left believing for a miracle.

Tuesday was our appointment with the Embassy. It was actually the first day the new building was open to “the public” (or those with precious appointment papers). We were literally kept outside the main doors until one minute past our appointment time and then entered into the chaos of the first day. This is where the nightmare began. Once we made it through the minor glitches of security and got our “misplaced” passports back we waited for a meeting which turned out to be a bank teller window with an audience of a whole room full of waiting appointment holders. We were informed that unless we had applied for adoption in the US before May 14, 2014 we did not stand a chance due to the incoming Hague Convention Act. This is NOT what their website had told us a year before, I might add. And it shouldn’t matter since the adoption in Benin was almost finalized, right? We wanted to speak directly with the consular. She was in a meeting, but we were more than willing to wait no matter how long it took. She did come forward at long last but informed us in no uncertain terms that she would NOT be offering our son a visa either today or any day and no, there was no other way to get our boy home. She did after some consideration offer us the opportunity to move to Benin and adopt him. “I know an American family who did that and loved living here so much, they’ve stayed and it’s been seven years.” How lovely for them.

So thanks to the lack of US paperwork (which, might I add, is simply not possible since we can find no agency or attorney in the US who works with the country of Benin) and thanks to the adoption of the Hague Convention Act (which won’t be in place and active for several years) and thanks to the US government and their inability to accept a bribe and look the other way (jk, we didn’t even try) we have no visa. There. The end. Or so it seems… Praying for some crazy miracles to align and bring to fruition this adoption story, because to quote pretty much my favorite book of all time:

“The God who created the universe did NOT create too many children in His image and not enough LOVE to go around…[And] He doesn’t ask me to take them all but to stop for just one.” -Kisses From Katie by Katie Davis

Sitting Next to Elisee’s Empty Seat : For 42 Hours of Travel

Love at First Sight

After two years of knowing we were going to West Africa “someday”, that day finally came! My husband and I were traveling for our 10th anniversary to love and serve the children at Exodus House Orphanage and see what God had planned. We took off on a forever long trip touching down on 3 different states and 4 countries to land in the Republic of Benin. We had the name of a person who would “most likely” pick us up and no phone number. Oh and by the way, the national language is French- I took Latin in high school and Collin took sign language… not at all helpful!!

We were road weary and smelled like airplane food but we made it alive. Our excitement and nerves built inside of us as we waited… and waited to be picked up. It was day 3 of traveling and we had a two hour drive ahead of us.  Back at home it was past my bedtime but in Benin it was 4pm.  We had to stay awake. Finally a woman came to us and tried to pronounce our names (African French people don’t speak the best Dutch) then told us the taxi had broken down but the driver (forever named Driver to us!) was fixing it and would be along shortly.  So we sat some more and finally hopped into the oh-so-trustworthy vehicle and headed out of the city and into the villages. The culture shock of riding down a third-world African road is a story in and of itself but again, we lived to tell the tale (another time!) and arrived in the village of Pahou.

As we pulled up outside the orphanage children spilled out of the gates and rushed up to the car. Their cheering and smiles filled us with joy and we knew God’s love was in this place. They swarmed us and sang “Brother John” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes” to impress us with their English.  They grabbed our hands and pulled us into the compound. We couldn’t begin to take in each one of their sweet faces and names but they gladly shared with us everything they could think of to share. We were overcome. After several minutes of this beautiful chaos our host, also known as “Big Mamma,” instructed the kids to gather their instruments and welcome us with African song and dance. The beauty and joy that followed was incredible! More children poured out of the buildings as soon as they heard the beat of drums. I think the best part of it for them is watching us try to dance because, of course, we were not allowed to sit and rest our weary feet!  We attempted to copy the moves we saw and feel the rhythm as best we could but there was much laughter and pointing.  We were the entertainment and we knew it. As I laughed at myself I looked around at the smiling faces and noticed the concentric circles of children- outgoing and self-assured kids were right up close, the exuberant and interested kids right behind them, uncertain bystanders kept a little more distance but stayed close enough to witness it all. Beyond that were a few “outsiders” who stood by a wall or continued their playing or work. It was in this last group that I saw two boys running past and I froze. I knew that face. I had memorized that profile.

Later that night when we finally fell into bed in our African home-away-from-home, I told Collin what I had seen: “I saw our son,” “I must be crazy,” “How  could it be him!?” I couldn’t begin to process what I saw in the orphanage, never mind that our boy was quite possibly here and not in the US foster system! I was obviously beyond tired. I wasn’t sure of anything. Thank you Jesus for my even-steven hubby who soothed me with words of peace and encouraged me to search for him tomorrow and pray. “Time will tell.”

The next day a part of me wanted to bust into the boys dormitory and search every bed for our boy. I wanted to stare into every pair of eyes and ask God “is this him?” But I held back, I waited and loved each and every child I got to hold hands with and listen to and sing with. We had so much fun playing games and learning French. About midday I saw two boys running again and I reached out and snatched one out of the air. He looked at me incredulously and leaned in for a snuggle. I don’t think it ever crossed his mind to gain the attention of the Americans- there were 73 other kids who were vying for that.

I had a storybook moment. You know that moment, when a mother has just pushed until every vein on her temples stands out and she’s shaking from fatigue after laboring for hours.  At the sound of the first cry she looks down and sees the head of her very own child- the fruit of so much labor- rising and reaches out as the doctor or nurse places that baby for the first time on it’s mother’s chest. The mother can finally rest in knowing her child is alive and well.  She rejoices in holding that child because IT IS HERS.  I looked at this child’s dimples and traced the shape of his ear. I held his hands and counted every finger. I kissed his head and breathed in the scent of African dust and the hot sun. I hugged him and felt his ribs and belly and I traced a pattern on the smooth skin of his skinny arms. I memorized the shape of his nose and the way he raised his eyebrows and laughed. And he was content to bask in this attention and I was content in knowing he was alive and well and he was mine.

(Please also appreciate my amazing hair-compliments of the girls of Exodus House Orphanage)
                      The Day We Met Elisee                                                     Elisee is in my arms!                                             (Please also appreciate my amazing hair compliments of the girls of Exodus House Orphanage)


A Dream

To begin with, let me tell you I have wanted to adopt from the time I was 10. I recently found an old journal from the 90’s where I confessed to wanting to adopt because #1 who wants to push a child out!? (eek!) and #2 our world is so full of children in need already!  So I decided then and there: I would adopt someday. When my husband and I had been married a few years and were [ridiculously] surprised twice with biological children, I had a dream.

The dream came one night when my dearest friend Megan returned from the World Race with stories of kids from every corner of the map.  (I should have realized!) We talked all night and I went to bed so filled with love for kids that I dreamed of a young African American man who was once an orphan. He was returning to the orphanage he had lived in and was challenged to “make something” of his life. He faced where he came from without knowing where he was going. A man who ran the orphanage seemed to be persuading him to the side of “evil & darkness” over and over again, yet in the end he always chose good. In the end, he even returned to run the orphanage so that he could change the fate of others and give them a second chance- to believe in kids the way his adoptive family believed in him. He was going to give back all the Father’s love he himself had received. During the whole dream I felt a protective mother’s heart for the young man. He had been through so much! And despite America’s claimed “racial equality” an African American man does often have to prove his good intentions, it is not assumed. Well, God pointed me toward that mother’s love and made it clear that this boy was to be my son someday.

God allowed me several more dreams of my boy including one just a year and a half ago where all I saw was his face. I saw him smiling at me. I saw his deep dimples and the caramel color of his eyes. I saw his light eyebrows and his shaved black hair. I saw his profile and memorized the shape of his head and ears. I saw how his skin was like midnight on the back of his neck and faded slightly until it was milk chocolate on the apple of his cheeks. It seemed like I got to stare into his lovely cherub face all night and when morning came I asked God why I had only seen him and not spoken or played or had a glimpse into his life like before? God seemed to say all I needed was to know my son- really know him. And his eyes had told me everything.

This is the face I have prayed for. After the first dream I started a prayer journal and wrote down my dreams of him and my prayers for him. I have prayed over his biological siblings, his mother and father, the “orphanage” (or in my unknowing mind, the US Foster family) where he lives. I have prayed for his past, present and future not knowing where I fit into the story. And I have prayed for my biological kids to have a heart for the orphan and my whole family to be prepared and bursting with love and acceptance whenever this little guy comes to us. And God gives me hope- patience to wait and hope to know he is coming…someday.



I know a boy whose smile lights up a room. This boy is so full of hope and anticipation and yet his eyes speak of wisdom.  He knows expectation and he knows disappointment. He knows love and loss and worry and joy. But oh that smile!  His deep dimples wash aside the fear I know he battles and offer joy to anyone who receives such a precious smile.


Here’s the proof of his hope. Look at that face! He’s looking at his Daddy. Who wouldn’t have that look when they see the face of a Daddy who loves them and seeks out their best interest before His own?