The above are pictures of my 2 yr old nephew Jude and 4 yr old Gage in their Ethiopian orphanage. Below are pictures of them now at home.
It's been three and a half months since Gage and Jude have come home. When you are in the midst of the activity that is now the Ellis household (with 5 children between the ages of 2 and 6) it's easy to get caught up in the noise, the reminders of "shoes off at the door!" and to gawk at the amount of food required for five growing bodies. This is my attempt to step back from the crazy and marvel at what the Lord is doing.
I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the catastrophic amount of work that goes into the meshing of a family; particularly when two members are learning new language, culture, social cues, manners, along with the everyday things that pre-schoolers learn. I remember my Pake (grandpa) always talking about how Tademas are either grafted or born into our family. Many of my cousins (and my brother) were adopted and I loved the imagery of grafting. Only later did I realize that grafting is hard work! It involves a sharp knife, inserting a branch into a foreign tree and nurturing it so that there isn't damage or cut off circulation to either the branch or the tree. It has to be intentional and guided.
Parenting isn't always a "natural" process and certainly even stranger through adoption. The bizarre yet delightful part of adopting is that you end up celebrating things a little backward. For example, with a natural born two year old, you celebrate when they eat independently and don't cry when they are dropped off at Sunday School. With an adopted two year old, you celebrate when they are willing to let go of their independent survival to be fed and when they "only want mom" during Sunday School.
The first few weeks Jude was home he would chase strangers down the sidewalk and cling to them- desperate for anyone to feed and love him, with panic when he thought he might be abandoned. This week he barreled into my house "Hi Sh-chilo!" He hugged my legs and chatted but immediately turned to Jazz when he needed help with his shoes. Celebrate!
With a natural born four year old you celebrate when they fall off their bike and are determined enough to hop back on and tough it out. With an adopted four year old you celebrate when they don't hide their tears and run to you for comfort. Gage avoided crying in front of anyone initially, even when he had a horribly painful staph infection on his head upon arriving home. His pillow would be bloody in the morning but he would only cringe. Now every bump, bruise, and scrape warrants tears, a band aid, or hugs from Jazz. Celebrate!
The adjusting is not just for Gage and Jude. Lance has to adjust to having five little mouths to feed, two of which have a lot to make up for! All of his transitioning has happened while working full time and going to school for firefighting. Jasmine is adjusting to washing a lot of sheets as all three boys have regressed in potty training, adjusting to five car seats, to letting the Holy Spirit give her love for her kids when she has nothing left to offer. Pearl is proxy-mom; often helping with sippy cups and dressing a two year old when Jasmine's hands are full. Eve would desperately love to be proxy-mom if only the boys would take her seriously! Dear little James has to divide his pile of tractors into three and has had world invaded on a different level than the others. Ironically, he seemed to be learning just as much Amharic as his brothers learned English for awhile!
I've watched my sister choose a harder route for her life because she is responsive and obedient to the Lord. I've watched her come to the end of herself...daily. Oh, it's hard for an older sister to stomach! How I want to fix it and make it easy when my siblings struggle (the burden of being the oldest!).
Simultaneously I am giddy about what I see God accomplishing. It is His grace when we realize that we are incapable of fixing, healing, or bringing about any good thing in ourselves. By His grace we can lead our children to the One who can fix, heal, and bring about good things.
The Lord has a way of stripping us, of exposing the ugly parts of ourselves that we are shocked to see, and bringing us to our knees in desperation. If only he finished the work of rebuilding us in the same day! Yet when we are forced (yes, forced. It doesn't feel voluntary when you've experienced this level of 'empty') to our knees, He begins to build in us things that have never existed. Jasmine will never say, "I was simply born a compassionate person". She will be able to say, "The Lord took me through the fire to build in me His compassion and to give me His eyes for His kids in a way I would have never known had I not done this."
Did I mention that He gets to use these two devastatingly handsome, smiley Ethiopian boys to do His work in Lance, Jazz, Pearl, Eve and James? And did I mention He is using 5 God-loving, beautiful and obedient Ellis' to demonstrate His love to Gage and Jude?