A Very Merry Christmas!

What a whirlwind of celebration we've experienced this past week! It has been such a blessing to experience all our traditions in a new, fresh way through Felmata's eyes. We've had lots of parties, spent time with all of our family (except Paul's brother and family who live in Boston ... we missed them!), opened lots of presents, sat around the fire and spent some time pondering what an amazing God we have. To think that He would chose to come down from heaven, take on the form of a human baby; all to die on a cross in order that we may have life.

Emmanual ... He truly is with us!
We're looking forward to a healthy 2010 with lots more exciting adventures.


Christmas (& other) Confusion

So often we have to hold back the giggles as Felmata tells us something new he's learned. He has come such a long way with his English, and yet there is still a lot of confusion. We giggle because he reminds us (even though he's not trying to) the silly ways we use words.

Not too long ago my Dad was helping him into the car. Dad was getting ready to close the door and said "Felmata, watch your hands". So, Felmata looked down at his hands and watched them. And why not? That's what Grandpa said to do!

Last night at dinner we encouraged him to eat a few more bites. "I can't!", he said. "If I put anymore food in there my tummy will POP!" After a few more questions we figured out that he thinks if he eats too much his tummy will get bigger and bigger and then it will explode. An interesting concept...

Christmas has been the same way. As a family, we've never made a big deal out of Santa, and this year has been no different. With Felmata especially we've been focusing on the meaning of the season ... Jesus' Birthday. But, this is America, and so he's seen some Santa stuff here and there. This was our conversation from this morning...

"Ma ... I want to be awake when the reindeer bring Santa to our house."
"Well, honey, if Santa does come it will be at night when we're all asleep."
"But how will we watch him blow out the candles if we're sleeping?"
"What candles Meta?"
"The candles on Baby Jesus' birthday cake!"

Somewhere this past month he put 2 and 2 together and figured out that Santa will come on Christmas Eve and blow out the candles on Jesus' birthday cake. Hmmmm I guess we have a little more explaining to do!


Where is Baby Jesus?!?

This is my blog which means I get to write about whatever I want to write about. And so, I'd like to ask the question where is Baby Jesus? Seriously. Isn't it almost CHRISTmas? I get that our country has secularized the heck out of this holiday, but still, it is still a celebration of Jesus' birth for those of us who are Christians, right??

Here's where I'm coming from. I am hosting a little neighborhood Christmas party on Monday. We're doing a birthday party for Baby Jesus. I'm asking each child to bring a picture of themselves as babies, then we'll do a show and tell about how we ALL were babies once, even Jesus. I want to put a "picture" of Baby Jesus in the center of the board, and have the kids place their pictures around it. For a 3 year old, it will be a good visual that Jesus actually WAS a baby!

Which brings me to my discovery ... where to find a "picture" of Baby Jesus? I went to the local card shop. One would think there would be a card out there somewhere with a picture of the manager on it. I looked and looked and looked again. I saw santas and snow flakes and trees and presents and lights and reindeer and beautiful flowers and candles and snowmen but not one card with a manger and the baby on it. Not one. Maybe I'm terribly naive but this has shocked me a little. And I think it should.

And then I look around my house. And there are santas and snow flakes and and trees and presents and lights and reindeer and beautiful flowers and candles and snowmen and yes, a baby Jesus, too.

Traditions aren't bad. But I hope I can regain a renewed determination to keep the Christ in Christmas. And if the card stores don't want to, then so be it. But at our house this year we're not going to forget what exactly it is we're celebrating. The birthday of our risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

And if I sound politically incorrect, I'm not going to apologize. Cuz like I said, this is my blog. And it's Christmas. Jesus' Birthday. And I think He should be prevalent in the celebration. It just makes sense.


Winter is Here!

It's December in Michigan which means snow! Felmata has been praying "please God, send snow SOON!" for a few weeks now. Last week, his prayer was answered. We have snow! He was practically jumping out of his skin when it arrived. He ran outside bare foot, and then discovered how cold it is! Paul made a fire that night, and the kids would run out to catch flakes in their mouths, then sit and warm up by the fire.

The Christmas activities have begun. I just love this time of year. So much celebrating with family and friends. So many traditions. So much to be thankful for. Each year it is a joy experiencing Christmas through the eyes of my kids. This year will be that way too. It's already been so fun to explain Christmas to Felmata. From the telling the story of the birth of baby Jesus, to the decorating of the tree, to the gifts and lights and time spent with family; Felmata has been loving every minute.
Paul took Ella for the 2nd year to the Winning at Home Father Daughter Winter Ball this past weekend. They had a blast. They danced to the song "Cinderella" tons of Hannah Montana and Mitchell Musso. The chocolate fountain was a big hit! Ella laid in bed that night with a huge smile on her face. It's going to take a really special guy to live up to the standards her Daddy is setting!


Where are the Feathers?

We had a fantastic day on Thursday. There really is nothing better than my Mom's Thanksgiving meal. She's been doing it for years, and has it down to perfection. I'm a sucker for tradition, and Thanksgiving with my family is all about that.

Felmata and I had been talking about Thanksgiving all week. We read lots of books, so he could be "caught up" on what it is we do. ie... eat turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie. Go to Grandma's house. Go bowling (we've been doing that for years ... kinda wierd but tradition is tradition, and it's kinda fun to have an activity after lunch). As we read and talked and anticipated, he had lots of important questions ... like how would Nana put the stuffing into the turkey? I answered the only way I could think of ... through it's butt. Opps ... he has been repeating that one with a little grin to anyone who will listen. Not sure why I didn't think of "through the turkey's neck"!

He also made me promise to see the turkey before we ate it. No problem!

When we got to Grandma's house, he ran to the kitchen. Me see the turkey! We opened the oven and he was quite disappointed. Apparently he wanted to see the turkey BEFORE it was dead. The next best thing was to see the feathers and the head. "Nana! I want to see the feathers!" Then we had to explain that the store took the feathers and head off before we bought the turkey. Bummer! I get why he thought it would be alive ... in a lot of the Africa we've seen families have a little chicken in a little fence, which they would eventually kill and eat. No wonder he wanted to see the head and feathers.

After his first bite we asked what he thought ... "tastes like chicken" was his comment.

To make a perfect day a near fairy tale to one Ethiopian American, just as we were fitting the last bites of food into our tummys, my Dad said "Look outside! Here come the turkeys!" Nearly 2 dozen turkeys were making their way around the backyard. Right outside the window. Felmata and Noah ran outside where Felmata attempted to catch a turkey for "next time". No so luck, but the look on his face is something that I will remember for a long time. For all he knows ... chasing turkeys for "next time" is just part of the family tradition.

Happy Thanksgiving little buddy! I hope all of them are as magical as this one was. Now ... onto Christmas!


Happy Thanksgiving!

Oh how I love Thanksgiving. It is such a great time to reflect and look ahead. It is tradition. It is family. It is good food. It is a reminder of all that I have been given. It is another chance to say " thanks" for all the things I haven't "earned", but cherish with all my heart. My God has been so good to me; and I am thankful.

I am thankful for a God who knows better than I do what I need. I am thankful for a living, adventurous God who doesn't allow me to coast through life, but challenges me to grow and change and thrive. I'm thankful that when storms come my way, Jesus wants me to row, but also gets in the boat with me.

I am thankful for a husband who loves his God, his family and his work. I get to be married to a man who shares from his heart and wants to look into mine. I am thankful that we are learning to be our "true selves" with each other.

I am thankful for healthy kids with different personalities. I have been blessed with 3 children who not only bring laughter and joy into my life, but who challenge me and stretch me and make me a better person.

I am thankful for my parents who are proud of me and still remind me of that, even though I'm 33 years old. I am thankful for in-laws who support my role in our family and cheer us on with each new "adventure". I am thankful for a father-in-law who calls me just to say I'm doing a "good job".

I am thankful for 2 sisters who knew me when I was at my worst, and still love me anyway. It is an amazing blessing to not only love but also like your siblings.

I am thankful for friendships that have gone deeper this year. I am grateful for women in my life who are willing to be real and authentic and allow me to be too (even when it's ugly).

None of these things I have earned. None of them are mine. I don't possess them. I try to hold them loosely, knowing that my hope comes from above. But oh, for the moment, I am so grateful to the One who has given them to me.


Hope & A Future

"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope & a future" Jeremiah 29:11

This weekend we publically dedicated Felmata to the Lord. Obviously we did this a long time ago in our hearts, but this was the night we stood up in front of family and friends and declared it out loud. We chose Jeremiah 29:11 to be read for Felmata. This is a verse I "claimed" for Felmata long ago.

I so believe that God has good plans for my son ... plans to give him hope and a future. It is a sobering job, this thing called Motherhood. It is filled with ups and downs and fear and joy and pride and regret and so much more.

More than all of that, in the middle of all of that, really, there is my God who promises not only for me, but for my children as well, that He will never leave us. That He has plans for us, and those plans are good. And because of that promise, and His love that never changes, I can take the ups and downs and fears and regrets, and also the joys and laughter and hugs, and I can wake up each morning with eagerness to do my job the best that I can. I have my part, and God has His, and for that I am thankful this year!


Like Nothing I've Ever Seen...

Today was a normal Monday, other than Noah and Ella had off from school for conferences. On Mondays I get groceries; today was no different. Other than what I experienced at Meijer was like nothing I've ever seen before ... ever.

Noah and Ella have had their share of tantrums. Not large. Not long. But they've each had fits over not getting their way. Felmata has had his share, too. But I've never seen one like this ... even from somebody else's child. Never. In all of my life. And I've seen some pretty ugly tantrums.

We were wrapping up our shopping. Noah brought a few of his own dollars to buy a tech deck. Felmata wanted a toy, too. I explained that he got a new toy just this past Saturday, and that Noah was using his own money. The tantrum began. It was manageable, but that's where it started. We headed for the check out, kicking, yelling, crying, but still, mostly manageable. A little embarassing, yes, but no big deal. I have thick skin. An older Mom smiled as she passed and encouraged me to "stay strong".

At the same time the tantrum began, Felmata was clutching his Little Debbie brownies. I let the kids each pick a Little Debbie snack for later. See ... I'm not really a mean Mom.

Anyway, as the kicking, yelling, crying continued, Felmata made the choice to throw his brownies over the edge of the cart. "That'll show you" was the look on his face. "I don't think so" was the look on mine.

This is the part where it got really really ugly. I picked up the brownies off from the floor, and simply put them back on the shelf. I'm not going to tolerate food being thrown out of the grocery cart. Tantrum or not.

The yelling became louder. The kicking got stronger. The crying more intense. The spitting began. During flu season. My child was spitting on everything he could get to. And on and on and on.

2 store employees stopped to ask if they could help. Shoppers left their aisles to find out what the racket was. Several women stopped their carts completely to stare. Literally just stood and stared.

What was I to do? Abandon my cart and leave the store? Reason with a totally out of control child? I tried a time out in the shoe aisle to no avail. Should I just try and get through the checkout super fast? I picked option 3. I hurried to the checkout.

Where, you guessed it, I saw not 1, not 2, but 3 people I knew. 2 pretended not to see me. Although I could see them walking a little quicker as I got closer.

With tears streaming down my face, I quickly loaded my groceries, paid my bill, and started to head for the door. When person #3 chose to get into my chaos for a second. My friend Missi stopped what she was doing, walked over to me (now she was being stared at, too) and gave me the biggest bear hug I've gotten in a very long time. It wasn't a pat on the shoulder, a "poor you", kind of hug. She hugged me until I let go, and whispered what a good Mom I was.

The last few years I've often times made my outings to Meijer an intentional place to show some love. Often when I'm there, I'm looking for people to extend a smile to. I try to make conversation with the cashiers. Try to ask about their lives. Often I let frazled moms go ahead of me in line. I feel like I can be Jesus for just a second to someone I run into. I feel like maybe a small gesture could brighten someone's day.

Today the tables were turned. I'm not sure Missi will ever know how thankful I was that God had her right there, right then, and that she chose to walk into my world for just a second, and be Jesus to me.

I cried most of the way home. Not because I was frustrated, or embarassed, or angry. But because someone showed such kindness, and I felt such love.

Life is hard sometimes. It's not always easy being a Mom. But how much brighter the world looks when someone chooses to walk across the aisle and share a little of the burden.


Happy Halloween!

We had a great Halloween weekend filled with friends, family, neighbors and lots and lots of candy. What's not to love about that?!?

Felmata and I have been reading books about Halloween for a few weeks. So, when the big day arrived, he pretty much knew what to expect. Costume, knock on doors, say trick or treat, get candy. What he didn't realize was that the candy was HIS and he got to take it home and EAT it.

Every house he stopped at he would turn to Paul and say "All done Daddy?" Paul would say "Nope, let's keep going". His reply? "YIPEEE!!"
Today he said "Tomorrow should be Halloween too Mom". Sorry buddy, tomorrow is just an ordinary Tuesday with laundry on the task list. I think it's time to start reading about Christmas!

Here's a few pics from the weekend.

Noah the Nerd...

Ella aka Hannah Montana
Felmata the "friendly" lion. He refused to say "ROOOAR" but chose instead to say "meow".


I so Happy Mom!

It's a cold, rainy day in Michigan today. Felmata and I spent part of the morning snuggled under the fleace blanket, reading books. About 5 minutes into our snuggle, he looked up at me with those big bright eyes and said...

"I so happy Mom"!

I so happy too Felmata ... What a joy you are to me.


3 Months

Fall has arrived in West Michigan, and for a child from Ethiopia ... It's COLD! Almost every day Felmata steps outside these days he says "MA! Isss coooold!" Oh sweet boy, you have no idea. He loves reading books about snow, it looks so fun. I'm afraid some of the joy of snow is going to be diminished by the sheer brutality of the wind/ice/sleet that is surely on it's way.
We were treated once again by my parents to a fun weekend away at a cottage. The highlight of this for Felmata (besides for all the great family time) was the chance to go fishing. He caught 2 fish, and it was pretty clear he had done that before. It is so strange to not know what your child has experienced in his earlier life. I suppose this is a feeling I should be getting used to, but I'm not sure I ever will. It's not natural to not know about your child's earlier years. As Felmata's English improves, we are beginning to get clearer glimpses into his early life. He tells us certain things about Ethiopia. But, he's only 3, so I know a lot of those memories will fade and be lost forever. I hate that! Maybe that's why I'm trying to capture as much as I can of his new life here in America.
We continue to be amazed at the progress Felmata is making. He is learning colors, shapes, letters and their sounds, and lots and lots of English words. He is beginning to get much pickier about food, goes to bed like a champ and loves loves loves his brother and sister. Each morning before school, he insists on praying by the back door with Noah and me before Noah leaves for the bus. If he hates anything, it's being left out.

It's now officially 3 months since Felmata joined our family, but to be honest, it feels like he's been a part of us for much longer than that. I thank God every day for the love He has placed in my heart for this child of His.


Touchdowns, Cartwheels & Balloons

I sometimes get sick of saying "WOW! What a busy week we had". I try so hard to create a home and schedule for Paul and the kids that isn't busy, but rather refreshing, rejuvinating, and restful. And yet, what a busy week we've had! I'm beginning to realize that even though we are a busy family, we are busy with good things, and so I'm starting to adjust my expectations a bit. When I look into their eyes, I still see light, peace and joy. So, we're going to keep on keeping on, and enjoying stuff as it comes.

It is fall, and at our house that means Football and Soccer!

Ella played her first game of the season on Tuesday. The "Candy Bashers" had a great first game. Ella had a lot of fun. I think the highlight for her was the cartwheels she perfomed in the goal. Ahh, Ella. She does not have her brother's competitive nature, but she sure knows how to have fun. She's the kind of kid who really believes it's not about winning or losing, but it's about having a good time that matters most.

Which brings me to Noah. He had his 1st football game of the season on Saturday. The "Mud Dogs" won 12 -6 and Noah scored one of the touchdowns for the team. His first ever ... and hopefully not his last. I can not even explain the joy on his face as he ran across that line. This kid loves sports with every part of his being. He also loves to win! He was awake at 6:30 Saturday morning thinking about the game. It's fun to see him so dedicated and passionate about something. The lessons he has learned and is learning on and off the field/s will do him well someday.

Bedtimes at our house have quieted down! Praise God for that! I can not put into words how big of a victory this past week has been. We have finally found the "formula" for Felmata, or maybe he's just learning to trust us more? Whatever it is, we've now gone 7 nights successfully with no screaming, no fits, just a simple bedtime routine with a book, prayers, kisses and the closet light on. Can I hear a hallelujah!!!!!

I got to have a little fun this week, too! For Christmas, Paul's employees gave us a hot air balloon ride. The pilot called this week and wondered if we could make it on Saturday. We said "yes" ... and last night we went up for the first time ever in a balloon. What a blast! It was so peaceful and relaxing and even a little romantic. It was so great to get away from the house and kids for a night, and focus on each other and have some fun. I don't blog about Paul very often but he is the absolute love of my life and if I could pick anything to do on any particular day it would be to spend time with him. I am blessed beyond words!

So there you have it. A few pictures from the last week. I'm choosing not to blog about the 2 bouts of ring worm we've had to battle this week ... thanks Ethiopia! ... or the "time out rug" that has been added to our home ... maybe some other time!


Good-Bye Summer ... I Will Miss You!

I really do love every season of the year. (OK, maybe not winter!) And as much as every season has to offer (except for winter), summer has become my favorite. What's not to love about it? There's the farmer's market twice a week with fresh, homegrown veggies and fruits and beautiful boquets of flowers (for only $6!!). There's ice cream and watermelon and burgers on the grill. I'm pretty sure when I'm old and alone the memory of the smell of sunscreen on my sweet children will make me long for them to be little again. We love to boat, and beach and sit in chairs with sand between our toes drinking cold beer with good friends. I love my flowers and the tomatoes in my garden and reading good books. Summer is way too short and now it's over. And I kinda miss it already.

We had a good Labor Day Weekend. But now that is over with too. Onto Fall ... I'll enjoy it ... attitude is everything right?!? But I'm going to post a few pictures of the final summer holiday, so that when the snow is flying this winter I can look back and remember that winter turns into spring and spring turns into summer and summer is oh so good.


Fish are our friends!

This is a story that just has to be re-told.

For weeks, anytime Felmata sees a fish (on TV, in Cartoons, in a book, in aquariums ...) he says "YUMMY!" "FISH"! Then he makes a cutting motion and pretends to be picking apart the fish to eat. One would think I would have cooked the child some fish by now. I'm embarassed to say ... I have not. I am not a fish lover. In fact, the smell of it turns my stomach. I did not eat fish as a child, I do not eat fish as an adult ... unless it's tuna from a can with mayo and lots of veggies added in. That's not the funny part of the story.

Today was a hard day for Felmata (see my last blog post). A few days ago we were at the neighbors, and he got to feed their pet fish. He thought that was fun. I thought ... Felmata needs a fish of his own. What a fun project that would be! We could care for it, love it, he could have a pet of his own.

At Meijer today we bought a very cute (if they can be cute!) Beta fish complete with his own food and "safe water" solution. You can probably see where this story is heading ... I, on the other hand, didn't follow the logical conclusion until it was almost too late.

Fast forward to lunch time.

Me: "Felmata" ... "What would you like for lunch?"
Felmata: "FISH!"
Me: "Oh, Honey! Mommy's sorry but we don't have any fish. How about some pasta?"

This is the part I should have seen coming. For the Beta's sake, if not for my own.

Felmata proceeds to run to the fish bowl, and grab for the Beta. He splashes, he stabs, he very nearly has the Beta in his hand. There is water everyone. If fish could scream, Beta would be howling.

Felmata: "FISH! YUMMMMY! FISH for LUNCH!!!"

Apparently he thought the nice pet Beta was our lunch.

How could I serve the child pasta after that?? We got our shoes on and headed to Lamberts (a seafood specialty market) and I bought the boy some perch.

He loved it. And the Beta is still alive ... for today anyway.

Back to School

Today Noah and Ella went back to school. This is always such a tough day for me as a mom. I cried sending both of them off. I thought my tears would be over after the first day of Kindergarten, then 1st grade was tough but I figured it's all day every day so of course I would get emotional. Noah's in 4th Grade this year and the pattern remains. Maybe this is just what I do? We had such a great summer, and they're both such fun, uplifting kids ... I miss them when they're gone all day. And I don't want them getting any older. And the 1st day of school is yet another reminder of how quickly time is passing me by; and so I cry. And it's OK. I'll be fine, and they'll be more than fine, but I miss them anyway.

I'm dreading the back to school routines like practicing spelling words and packing lunches and setting the alarm clock (I honestly don't think I used an alarm clock all summer long ... what a charmed life I have!). I don't like trying to find matching socks and matching gloves and setting clothes out the night before and hurrying in the mornings.

I need to remind myself of all the good things that go along with back to school. I'm glad to get back to prayers standing by the back door for safety and kindness and courage. I can hardly wait for our 3:30 snack time where we get to talk about all sorts of "issues" from the day. I love the "Love you Mom"s when we say goodbye and the playground dilemnas we talk through again and again and again and the consistent bedtimes. Oh how I love the consistent bedtimes! I love fall and picking apples and walking through crunchy leaves and sitting in a steaming hot tub in the crisp air underneath the even crisper stars with my very best friend.

So, here are a few pictures from our morning. Soon it will be lunch, and then Felmata will nap and I will work; and then it will be time for N&E to come home for the day. Tomorrow we'll do the morning all over; probably without the tears. Although my heart will still be sad, for at least a few more days. And then I'll leave summer behind and forge into fall; with all the good that comes with it.


If you're wondering how Felmata did with sending his 2 favorite people off to school today ... these pictures say it better than I could. Poor little guy!!

Thankfully he's resilient and I had the foresight to have a new box of playdough waiting for when we got home!


1 Month

It doesn't seem possible but the calendar tells me it's been a month since Felmata arrived in America. It truly feels like he's been here much longer. We've been so occupied with our new and improved family, I haven't taken the time to organize pictures or video from our time in Ethiopia.

I took a few minutes tonight to look at a few, and so many emotions came rushing back. The joyful, fun loving, exciting, loving, lover-of-all-things-new child we've been blessed with came from a very different world than we know. I should know that ... I was there ... but life takes over and I forget. Even in a short month. I sometimes forget about his birth mom who loves him. I think less and less about the poverty & hunger he's experienced for most of his life. I forget about the friends he's left behind. It's only been a month, but somehow I have to remind myself that he hasn't been mine forever. And I'm so thankful he's mine now, and will be from here on out.

This image of a market in Ethiopia

compared with this image of our day today

is a stark reminder of all that has happened in my sweet little boy's life in one short month.


Back to (a new) Reality

Vacation is officially over at our house.
We found Felmata in his bedroom late Saturday night with his (clean) pajamas waded up in the dirty clothes hamper and lying in bed in his swim suit. He was very upset that Saturday we didn't go to the pool or beach or even out on the boat. I soo wish I had the language to explain to him what "vacation" means. I'm pretty sure the poor kid thought that was our new reality ... sleeping in, late bedtimes, lots of time with family, beach, pool, bike rides, dessert every night. Oh how I wish that was true ... but alas, it's back to reality at our house.
Today was filled with lots of whining and screaming and just general crabiness. Unless we were doing something fun. I think the reality is sinking in for my sweet, new child. I think the frustrations of not being able to communicate are starting to show up a little. On the other hand ... he did GREAT at the dentist. Go figure!
Several people have commented that our "adoption story" seems too good to be true. As I read through my other posts, I guess I have painted a pretty stress free picture. But I don't regret that. Felmata has brought so much laughter and joy and hope and excitement to our family. Even today. Even amidst the other not so fun behavior.
It's not all hugs and laughter and giggles. Sometimes (actually more like lots of times) there are tantrums. And spitting, yes, I said spitting. And kicking humans and one very tolerating dog (who may have enjoyed his vacation even more than we did!).

This is not easy. And I'm sorry if I've made it sound like a cake walk. Because it's not. But it's God's plan and I'm so very glad.

I'm adding a few more vacation pictures ... cuz this is my blog and I can.



Northern Michigan is such a glorious place in August. We are having a blast with brothers & sisters and the kids are so blessed to be able to spend extended time with aunts, uncles, cousins and their opa and oma. We were worried Felmata would be confused about his new surroundings for the week, but he's having a blast too. The only trouble has been leaving the pool or beach. He cries and cries and cries, and I really can't say I blame him!


Family Picture

We had my sister-in-law snap a quick family picture today at a picnic. Our first as a family of 5. I think we look pretty good ... if I do say so myself!

Things are still going well. Felmata is a joy! He remains happy and fun and full of energy. He doesn't like going to bed, but neither did Noah and Ella at age 3. He experienced his first boat ride last night. The waves in Lake MI were big, so Paul took it kind of easy; that is until he heard Felmata yelling "YESSSS!" and clapping with a huge smile. This kid has no fear ...

We're looking forward to a quiet week at home filled with more firsts.

It has been such a cool thing to watch Noah and Ella interact with their new brother. They have so much fun with him, and yet have a healthy amount of protection as well. It is very clear that they are older, and he is younger. There have been a few times when I think they've wished he could get back on the airplane (like the 45 minutes of whining because I cut his sandwhich in half, or the times he gets into THEIR stuff). But, for the most part, they seem happy to have Felmata join us. When I asked them if it's like they imagined, they both said "no" ... "it's way better". I kind of have to agree!

I am so proud of each of my kids. God has blessed me in more ways than I can count. We are giving Him all the glory for the smooth transitions in our home.


What kind of country is this?!?

It's naptime so I'm taking a precious few minutes to open my computer and post an update. Noah and Ella are at camp this week, so Felmata and I have been having a great time getting to know each other. I keep waiting for the tantrums, the frustrations, illness, anxiety, and all the other stuff we've been warned about. What I've experienced so far is smiles, hugs and lots of giggles. OK, and quite a few tears at the Dr's ... but what 3 year old doesn't cry when they get shots?!?

When I think about all the "firsts" Felmata has experienced in just a few short days, it makes me realize what a huge transition this is for him. Because of his easy going personality, I quickly forget how new everything is. Riding an escalator, learning to pedal a bike, jumping on the trampoline, getting immunizations, playing with Edi the dog, swinging, clean pajamas and bedtime stories, wrestling with Daddy, flushing toilets, cold (& warm!) water out of the faucet, going to a playground, neighborhood friends, taking a bath ... with bubbles!, eating at McDonalds.

I laughed out loud as Felmata slowly slowly savored his french fries, ketchup and chicken nuggets. When every last morsel was gone, I handed him the Happy Meal toy. The look on his face said it all ... You mean I get all this yummy food and a TOY too?!? How can that be?!? What kind of country is this??

When we were leaving the lodge in Ethiopia, heading toward the airport, toward Felmata's new life, I had tears on my cheeks. Although the poverty is overwhelming, although his life in Africa was so hard and provided no hope for a future, although he didn't have clean water or enough food or a safe place to rest his head at night; he did have a culture. He was part of a group of people who loved each other. He was a part of a country that loves their children in ways that America can't even begin to understand. He belonged. He was cherished. He fit in perfectly.

In our world of fast cars and fast food and glitz and glamour, and rampant materialism, it's going to be easy to lose Ethiopia. It's going to be easy to get sucked into the America that we see everywhere we turn. Some of it so good, and some of it not so much. Like the lady at Meijer yesterday who asked me "where did you get him?" I think next time I'm going to respond with "Ebay".
As Felmata grows and explores and hopes and dreams, I'm going to continue to pray that he doesn't lose sight of where he came from, that somehow, someway, he can become part of us, but also remain a part of them. I'm going to pray he becomes all that God has planned for him.
And I'm pretty sure, even after only a few days together, that God has very large plans for this very special little boy.
I have to pinch myself to be reminded that I get to be a part of it!


It's GOOD to be Home!

What a week it has been! Without a doubt ... the longest week of my life. So many emotions. So many unknowns. So many ups and downs and fears and joys and sadness. So much poverty. So much injustice. So many smiles and laughs and hugs and answered prayers. It has been a long week. For now ... I'll just post these pictures. It is so good to be home!


News From Ethiopia

Here is the latest email from Jess & Paul. According to their travel schedule, they should be in the air now on the 7,000+ mile flight back to the U.S. (Washington D.C.) Can't wait to see them safely home with Felmeta!

We all slept fairly lightly but the sun is now up and we’re going to make it through this day. Paul is feeling a bit better. We have nothing to do today except sit around, so hopefully the rest will help Paul. We have a very long 48 hours ahead of us. Thanks for all your prayers. This has been quite the week, and we know we couldn’t have gotten through without your prayers and the strength of God.

On a brighter note, Felmeta is one amazing little kid! He woke up this morning by crawling into our bed and saying “Mama!” “Papa!” with his bright happy smile. This little boy is going to fit right into our family.

Can’t wait to see you all soon!!!!!!!! Tell Noah and Ella we miss them so much!!!

Paul and Jess


Update from Ethiopia

Hi-This is Julie, Jessica's sister. I received this email from Jessica today.....

Hi Everyone!

We have had a busy 2 days! We were able to have a wonderful, very emotional meeting with Felmeta’s birthmom yesterday. Her story is Felmata’s to share someday, but we will say this. She is a beautiful woman filled with courage. We have very big shoes to fill.

Today we were able to pick up Felmata from the orphanage. What a GREAT day it has been! We have never seen a child with such a large smile, or so much energy! He talks and talks and talks and we have no idea what he’s saying! Yet he just keeps on chatting and smiling. We are in love! He is already starting to repeat English words that we say, and when we held him for the first time he said “mama”! “papa”! Clearly the orphanage prepared him very well. We brought a long a toy airplane and he seems to know he’s going on one soon.

We’re getting dinner soon, then calling it a night. We’re hoping he sleep well.

Thank you for all of your prayers. I am feeling a little better … kind of frustrating to not be 100% feeling good, but God has given me the strength exactly when I’ve needed it. Please keep praying that I feel better soon.

We (I) miss home so much and can’t wait to come home on Saturday. Africa is a wonderful place, but I miss Michigan. Not sure when we’ll be able to email again … the power just came on and had been out for a long time.

Love you you all!
Jess & Paul

Ps If you happen to see Noah and Ella please tell them we LOVE THEM and can’t wait to see them soon!!


Here we GOOO!

Our bags are packed and we're ready to head out this weekend. This past week has been filled with fear, peace, excitement, fear, peace, excitement, fear, peace, excitement ... you get the picture!

There were a few tears last night (just from me) as I realized that would be the last sit down dinner at our table with just 4 of us. It feels a little bittersweet to be saying "good bye" to our family as we know it. I remember the feeling well just before Ella was born. And, oh my, I can not even IMAGINE life without that child now. How blessed we have been!

Today we are relaxed, and feeling so comfortable and at ease with the whole entire thing. We know that God is with us, in fact He's gone before us, and if He is for us who (what!) can be against us?

We have been touched over and over and over again by the kind words of encouragmenet, love and support from our friends and families. We feel overwhelmed by the people who have surrounded us and who we know will be here waiting with open arms when Judah comes home.

Our hearts are full & running over.

Thank you for your prayers for safe travel, absence of fear & smooth transitions for all of us.

Here we go!


List is almost done...

Our lists are getting checked off. We're almost ready to go! We received word today that Judah passed his TB skin test, so we officially have the green light to travel.

Another family we are planning on traveling with had not so good news regarding their girl's tests. We're praying that their chest X Rays are negative, and that they can travel on time!

I promised a pic of Judah's room, and now that it's complete, here's the photo... All it needs now is a smiley little 3 year old boy!


Independence Day

Happy 4th of July to all my blogger friends! We've had a great weekend! We spent both Friday and Saturday on the boat with friends. This morning we had the annual Bush Beach Bash, complete with lots of yummy breakfast foods. We watched fireworks last night from the lake. We've roasted marshmallows, hot dogs, grilled burgers over charcoal, drank ice cold beer from the cooler ... summer in Michigan is the best!

With all the freedom in the air, on this the 4th of July, my mind naturally drifts to ... Africa. No surprise there! I'm putting the finishing touches on Judah's birth mom's photo album. We are going to be able to meet her while we're in the country. This is something I feel so blessed to be able to experience, and yet so overwhelmed by. I hardly dare even "go there" in my thoughts. How am I going to be able to sit with this incredible women? How am I going to be able to look her in the eyes, see the love for her son, and rationalize the injustice in this world. It is pretty safe to assume that life has not been kind to her. What does freedom look like to her? Surely she didn't ask to be born into a country where there is a 70% illiteracy rate. I can not imagine, if given the choice, she would live in a world where HIV is eliminating an entire generation of her family & friends. Surely she didn't ask to live in poverty the likes of which I've never even seen. Surely she didn't choose to give birth to a beautiful boy, with the hopes of relinquishing him to the care of an orphanage. Surely if she had even a little bit of freedom, she wouldn't be where she is right now. And so I think about her

with tears in my eyes

and pray that God will give me the words to express to her how sorry I am

that she doesn't have the choices I do

and pray that God will allow her to sense

just a little bit of how much I'll love this child

how much he'll be a part of our lives, our hearts, our hopes and our dreams

somehow ... someway ... I pray she'll get just a glimmer of hope in one of the choices she was able to make ... the choice to trust us to give him the best life we possibly can


A Picture is Worth...

This week has been filled with long "to do" lists. Coordinating the kid's schedules while we're traveling, getting the house "ready" for our live-in sitters, completing yet another round of paper work to get notarized for our Embassy Appointment, filling prescriptions for us and Judah, finishing up the 14 "required" gifts we need to bring with us, deciding what to pack; what not to pack, coordinating with the bank to get US currency dated 2004 or newer (strange, but at this point we don't ask questions), guessing on what size clothing & shoes to bring with (it's hard shopping for a child you've never seen before!), putting finishing touches on Judah's bedroom ... and the list goes on, and on, and on...

and then ... we get this new picture...

and I am reminded once again that this temporary "crazyiness" is soooo worth it ...


Time Ticks On...

There are 16 days left before we hop on a plane and pick up Judah. We are busy packing, getting the kid's schedule's arranged, finalizing paper work, finishing up gifts we need to bring, and lots of other "adoption related" stuff. In the midst of all that, summer is upon us in Michigan!

When we began this adoption process a wise friend told me ... "don't cancel your life" ... "continue to do the stuff you enjoy". While the adoption is forefront on all of our minds, we've been having a great summer, too. We've been swimming, boating, spending time with friends, having picnics, celebrating birthdays, eating delicious Michigan strawberries (while saving a few for jam!), the kid's have been involved in lots of sports ... swimming, baseball (All Star Game tonight!), cheerleading, ... and we've been enjoying these last few weeks as a family of four. All that being said ... we're ready for Judah to join in all the fun!


We have a son!

Sometime early this morning Felmeta Judah Hoekstra legally became our son. He's been ours in our hearts for quite awhile now, but as of today it's all official. We are rejoicing and giving thanks to God!



We just received an update from our agency that of all the "additionally requested documents" have been prepared and delivered to the court in Ethiopia. Everything is "in order" for our court date on Wednesday. We are hopeful...


No Go...

We did not pass court today. Judah's birth mom did appear in court and gave her conset, which is a very good thing. Most likely she will not have to appear again. We are so thankful for this! The court requested additional documents and our agency is checking into what exactly this means. We'll know more soon, but feel good about the fact that they've already scheduled another court date for June 10. This is also good news.

While we're disappointed, we're confident that God's timing is perfect. We're just really anxious to go get our little boy.

We spent the day on the beach, and here's a pic of what was on our minds!


growing ... maybe?

Our agency sent us updated measurements this week. Back in March Judah was 93 cm and 13 kg (about 28 pounds). He was measured last week and is now reported to be 90 cm and 14 kg (about 31 pounds). So, while he's grown, apparently he's shrunk too. I laughed out loud when I read the email, as this is such a good example of how the adoption journey seems to be. I'm quite confidant he didn't actually shrink, but in Africa their use of numbers and ours is quite different. It's all good. I just smile when I think of how God has used this journey to teach me what really matters, and how little of my life I'm actually in control of!

We were also sent a few more pictures of him. Wow is this child ours! He has a smile that lights up my entire computer screen, and his eyes have a twinkle in them that must be from God himself. After we pass court I'll be able to post his picture on this sight, and you can see for yourself what I'm talking about.

We also received confirmation that he received the care package we sent. My heart beats a little faster when I think of him opening the photo book we put together, and imagining how his mind must be trying to imagine life in with us. We pray every day that God will be preparing him for all that lies ahead. I am trusting that God has us on this journey for a reason, and just like He is so good at doing, He's preparing all of us right now for what lies ahead.

On Monday, that's 5 days from now!, our case will go before a judge in Ethiopia and we're praying all goes well. We are trusting God's timing, whatever that might be, but also know if the timing is NOW we will be thrilled! We can hardly wait to bring this precious child home!


longing for lilacs

Not much in life is sweeter than the scent of lilacs in May. Driving around town this week I've begun to notice the beautiful, lavendar flowers blossoming on enormous bushes just about everywhere. Their scent almost takes my breath away. When I spot a bush, I need to stop and breathe them in. There's something in me that feels hope, joy, a sense of well-being; all from smelling a lilac.

We don't have any lilac bushes in our yard, but there's a vacant lot behind our house where I have been known to sneak a few flowers each spring. I ventured over this afternoon, hoping to snag a few, and to my dismay there were hardly any flowers on the branches. The bush is getting old. Each year it produces less and less flowers. I only had the heart to cut one flower off.

Hopefully I'll find another bush to glean from, but even if I don't, my one lone lilac flower has brought me joy already. And so many reminders. I am abosultely in love with a God who would create lilacs, all for the simple purpose of reminding me that He is good (even when life is not), that He is faithful (even when I am not) and that because of His love for me I can have hope, joy and a sense of well-being.


Tulip Time in Holland

Call me a nerd, but I LOVE Tulip Time in Holland! I love the flowers, the visitors, the parades, the costumes and all the energy. The junk food isn't bad either! I'm Dutch Dancing this year so I get downtown lots of times throughout the week. Ella loves to come with me and wear her costume as well. This year I'm dancing with my sister Julie for the first time ever! I had to switch to a boy to do it, but now I have 2 costumes which is kind of fun.

Today my Dad, sisters, neice, the kids and I scrubbed streets in the parade (my Mom was on 'water patrol' at their house ...long story). We had so much fun. This tradition goes back as far as I can remember into my early childhood. My parents dressed us up each year and we participated in the annual street scrubbing. It's fun to carry on the tradition with my kids.

Happy Tulip Time to all my fellow bloggers! Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!


20 days from today

The countdown has begun! 20 days from now, on May 25th, our adoption case will be in the courts of Ethiopia. All our documents will go before a judge, and if all goes well, #3 will legally become our son. A lot has to go "right" for us to be approved. Our agency will be there to represent us and make sure all the i's are dotted and t's are crossed. We won't be traveling to Ethiopia until we have passed court and have been given an embassy date. That usually takes place 4-6 weeks after we pass court.

Lots of preparations are taking place around our house.

The kids and us have finally agreed on a name ... Judah. We are hopeful it will serve him well throughout his life. The name Judah is a Biblical one; it means "praised one". The strongest, most determined, most obedient tribe of Israel was called Judah and Jesus came from the line of Judah. Plus, it's easy to say, sounds a bit like his Ethiopian name and we all agree it's super cute.

We're putting the finishing touches on Judah's bedroom. The painting is completed! Noah & Ella got their way, no surprise there!, and there is a giraffe (actually 2!) on 1 of the walls. I'll post pictures as soon as we get the furniture moved back in.

We've begun the gift buying process. While in Ethiopia, so many people we'll meet and talk with will have played an integral role in our new son's life. It seems natural to arrive with small tokens of thanks. Our agency does a great job preparing us for what types of gifts are appropriate, how many we'll need, etc but to sit down and be creative, without being excessive, is a little more difficult than I had thought it would be. I love to give gifts, but giving gifts to people I've never met in an environment I can't imagine, has been hard. I'm so thankful for those who have "gone before us" and all their recommendations. I know already our trip will be better because of all of them and their great tips and advice.

We are counting down to May 25th, and praying for success! Each day that passes our hearts are getting more and more eager to go get that little sweetie, and bring him HOME!


Spring is Here!

We've been busy with lots of spring fun around our house. Time to post some pics for all our "out of town" blog friends
spring break '09

Bryan checking on the new family bee hive

There's a rolly polly bug in there somewhere! I just love the pic of her cute little hand!