Adoption, HOPE, Our Journey: Adopting from Africa

A Playlist To Worship While We Wait

Oh my sweet Elisee. He is so innocent. And so joyful. I have revelations of the Father’s heart every time I think of my little African treasure. Here’s his latest photo. ( And you can ignore that serious face, it’s a farce!)

My big 10 year old!

I can just imagine his bedtime thoughts as the world quiets and the day fades into peaceful darkness. “Where’s my mom & dad?” “Why haven’t they come yet?” “Why did God choose me and yet leave me here?”

Of course, I haven’t asked Elisee about these things. I’m sure I couldn’t bear to hear his little voice speak my own wonders. Yet here we wait: him and I on two different continents.

So I choose to praise the God who holds the sun and the moon and my Elisee.

I think God is amazing to have introduced us to Elisee in such a unique and divine way!

I am thankful that I have met and spent time with the son I prayed for, for so long! I’m thankful for every single kiss I planted on his round cheeks!

I am thankful Elisee has met his birth-mother and gets to see her occasionally.

I am thankful he can go to the very best English school and live with a  family who can show him love and relationship in new and beautiful ways.

I am thankful my son learned how to give and receive love during our 3 week stay with him. (Adoptive moms: Healthy attachment potential, yay!!)

I am thankful for God’s promises which stand strong despite my doubts and fears.

orphans-john-14
God’s Literal Promise

I am thankful I have a Father who loves me enough to love my children even more than I could ever love them. And fulfill their needs before I even know them.

And so, for now I will worship. So many powerful songs have been written about the correlation between worship and waiting, I know I’m not the only one needing the encouragement. So here’s a few to inspire hope inside of you as you wait for your promises to be fulfilled 💕

Hillsong United – Stay and Wait

John Waller – While I’m Waiting

Kristene DiMarco – Take Courage & I Am No Victim

Brian & Jenn Johnson – You’re Gonna Be OK

Upper Room – Surrounded

Elevation Worship – Do It Again

Skillet – Stars

Elevation Worship – Nothing is wasted

Aaaaaand here’s the whole playlist on YouTube in case you want to listen to it all on repeat.

That’ll get you started 😜

Let’s lift our hands together!

Our Journey: Adopting from Africa

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.

Siblings
*Siblings*

Our Journey: Adopting from Africa

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.)

Natache

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

GoFundMe Posts, Our Journey: Adopting from Africa

GoFundMe Post #10

A good long read for when you have time! 🙂

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 the 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 Pul Cherie 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 Pul Cherie’s home and the orphanage). She drove out their 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 remember quite a few 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 Pul Cherie 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 Pul Cherie traveled hither and yon collecting new copies of the paperwork we had already done (but the first judge had confiscated). 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 Pul Cherie 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 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!- and left a handsome bribe for the judge. 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 Benin) and thanks to the adoption of the Hague Convention Act and thanks to 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 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

GoFundMe Posts, Our Journey: Adopting from Africa

GoFundMe Post #8

2 days until we leave! And 4 days until we have our Elisee in our arms! It’s coming up so quickly and we are so grateful to be this close!! Please continue to pray over the kids we leave behind and the appointments we have in Benin to finalize all the paperwork.

Also, we did have to take out a small loan to cover the rest of the costs we have. Please help us spread the word and continue to pray for our finances to come in! We know God is going to finish what He started and it will be so good!

GoFundMe Posts, Our Journey: Adopting from Africa

GoFundMe Post #7

Thank you everyone for joining us in prayer today! It is been a crazy day, but Elisee’s adoption has been approved! The judge said “YES!” The only hold up is a crazy situation where the judge will be leaving the district he is in and another judge will come. Apparently this means the current judge has to close all his cases before leaving -meaning us! He needs to officially hand us our adoption papers before June 22. (Our current fly out date) We did successfully switch our plane tickets (although not for free) and we are leaving a week earlier in order to get our papers from him. Praise God! Please continue to pray for us as this means we will be gone from our (US) kiddos for THREE weeks. Please also pray as we need to raise slightly more money to cover the change in tickets and the extended time in Benin. We have an extra week of food/lodging and taxis. I know God will finish what He started in us and in Benin. We have complete peace that this was God’s plan and redirection for our trip. He’s got big things coming and we’re willing to trust Him every step of the way. It’s going to get even more miraculous!!

GoFundMe Posts, Our Journey: Adopting from Africa

GoFundMe Post #5

Please join us in prayer today! I just got the call that Pul Cherie, Elisee, his mom, grandmother and uncle are all going before the judge today to present the adoption. Today is the day the judge will decide. Elisee may officially be a Schuiteboer today!! I told the kids and we prayed together immediately. Then they went back to coloring as I kept praying. A few minutes later here comes Carter with this prayer coloring. I’m in tears at the purity of his plea!

“Dear God, please O please Help the juge to say yes. Amen”
GoFundMe Posts, Our Journey: Adopting from Africa

GoFundMe Post #4

Hey everyone! We are getting so close to our goal!! Thank you for your support. The final money we are raising is for Elisee’s visa, taxis while traveling to and from our appointments with the Court in Lakossa and US Embassy in Contonou, food while we’re there and all the small expenses that add up in-country. Please also join us in PRAYER for the kiddos while we’re gone. They will be with my amazing brother, his lovely wife and their fabulous family- pray for them too!! Please pray for our communication as time draws nearer and communication is everything! And please pray for our dear Elisee as he says farewell to the only place and people he has ever known. He will be grieving for months to come no matter how much we love and cherish him. Thank you again so much for love and support!!!! And thanks God for your faithfulness and provision!!