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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

.Confessions of a Rookie Third World Missionary.

My family and I have now lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a little over a month. It has been everything and nothing like what we have expected, but slowly, surely it is becoming home. Here are a few things that I have experienced, learned, and observed along the way.
  • ·      The weather is absolutely perfect. I have always been one to embrace season changes, and I become as excited as my children over snow days. However, to have this consistent, warm weather every day, to see the sun shining warmly in my bedroom window every morning at 6 AM is amazing. We are experiencing Ethiopia’s summer – their dry season. There has not been a hint of rain since we arrived. Of course I will miss the snow days and the magic they bring to the holidays (Elvis Presley Christmas music playing in my kitchen is helping some), but to be tanned and warm at the end of November is pretty lovely.
  • ·        Nothing is easy here. I prepared for this and expected it, but honestly there is no real preparation for living it. Every menial task takes at least three times as long. Sometimes that is due to power outages or water outages, sometimes it is due to lack of convenience products, appliances, and sometimes I just have no explanation for why everything takes so long and is is so hard. It just is. Traveling is hard. Shopping is hard. Cooking is hard. Cleaning is hard. Communicating is hard. Life really is harder, BUT, even though we are probably still in the honeymoon period, I dare say it really is sweeter. Accomplishing any task is so fulfilling and rewarding. I fall into bed so happy when I know that I have washed, dried, folded and put away a basket of laundry AND cooked a good, safe meal for my family. I am sleeping better than I have in years, because I am so exhausted. Life here is difficult. It is hard. It is rewarding. It is worth it.
  • ·        Now I say nothing is easy here, but to be completely honest, I make things harder on myself (big, fat surprise to those of you who know me – snark, snark). The majority of Americans that we know (missionaries included) have hired domestic staff. There are so many reasons for this; one is respect for the culture and to give back to the culture and economy by hiring Ethiopians. Another reason is because, as I mentioned, everything takes three times as long, and in order for most people to come and do what they are called to do or hired to do, they have to have help with the day-to-day tasks, or else there is just literally not enough hours in the day. But my first priority mission field is my husband, my children, and my home, so right now that is where I pour all of myself into. Because of this. we have not hired a full domestic staff, however, we have hired a part time housekeeper that will help me with some of the cleaning, and we plan to hire a nanny for Jamesy. Once I start homeschooling again (we are still on our summer break) we may have to reevaluate and hire additional staff – specifically a cook. This is hard for me to let go of, though, and I am really praying through what God is asking of me as we live here. And so, right now I do a lot of the stuff that staff would typically do for foreigners living here.
  • ·        The city has really been built up since we were here two years ago.  There are stoplights and traffic signs and things are becoming more modern. Police (or “traffic” as most people here refer to them as) are everywhere. They seem to be quick to {try to} pull people over, but I am learning that most people just duck their head, avoid eye-contact and drive on! It is pretty wild to see. Driving in general is wild and crazy. I am really proud of my husband for getting his license and driving all over the city. I, on the other hand, have no plans {ever} to get my license {shudder}.
  • ·        Produce here is plentiful and cheap. We load up on produce every week and really love the availability of so many fresh fruits and veggies. Being from upstate NY, there are only a few months of the year that we were able to have access to fresh produce. Most of the time, it was shipped in from other climates and sub-par. Most of the produce (save watermelons, but perhaps we got a bad one) taste better here, too. The oranges are actually not orange, but greenish, yellow and they are so sweet and juicy! It is time-consuming, but for our safety, all of our produce has to be very carefully sanitized before consuming or really even handling too much. With the amount of produce we purchase, this is an all-afternoon task for me, but once done, we really enjoy grabbing fruits to snack on, and I love the abundance of veggies to cook with.
  • ·        Hyenas are very, very loud. I never knew the noise that hyenas made, but every night around midnight they travel to our neighborhood and howl and yelp for about an hour. It is quite an experience to hear, and because we live in the mountains, the echoes are eerie. One of these nights, we are going to take a spot light, go onto one of our balconies and try to shine it on the pack of hyenas to see them.
  • ·        Spiders are everywhere. Every. Where. Every night I check my bed for them. They are huge and gross. I have bites all over my body, and I am trying to just pretend they are normal mosquito bites. And I found a HUGE mouse (maybe rat) on my stove burner. Enough said.
  • ·        My children are awesome. I already knew this, but seeing the way they have acclimated to a new culture and to so much change is amazing. They are resilient and strong and encourage me every single day. They are doing so great and loving so big. I am so proud of all of them.
  • ·        We could not just land in Ethiopia and immediately begin our mission work. This has probably been one of the toughest things. However, the government is really cracking down, and we must follow all of the laws, so that we do not ever have to fear being permanently banished from this country. So we plug along, working towards our NGO status, then work and residency permits. Thankfully, we found out today, we are here on the right visas to do this and should not have to leave the country for two years as originally planned. This whole process goes back to what I said about everything takes T-I-M-E. But in the in-between God is already giving us opportunities to build relationships and love big on people – we don’t need a work permit to do that, and I believe that even during this space and time God has plans for our family .So we forge ahead learning how to just live life here and sharing the love and mercy of Jesus with whomever it is that God places in our path on a given day. We are living life on mission, and I could not love that more – every day is truly an adventure!
  • ·        God is here in this city. He is working and moving and His Kingdom is being built. He didn’t need us to move here to accomplish His work, yet He invited us in. I am truly thankful and excited to see what is ahead!

There is so much more that I could write, but for now this will do.

Wifi is pretty sketchy, but I am hoping to get this to publish. Thank you for your continued support, prayer, and encouragement – we feel it!

Monday, September 29, 2014

.God Writes THE BEST Stories.

I wasn't going to write, because I have already been gushing all over facebook all day long. I am obnoxious like that. But I couldn't stay away from here either. The place where so much of this story has tumbled out of my heart. The space where I shared my hopes, dreams, and prayers with you all. I feel like shouting to the world this story, and what God did. This morning in a little courtroom in NY state, with some of the people who love us best, our family made history, and God did what we were told over and over and over could never happen. He did what we had been told for three years was impossible. He did what has never been done before in the United States. He pulled out all of the stops, and showed His power in a way that will leave me breathless for the rest of my life. Today Habi became our legal, official son through the miracle (and it truly was that) of adoption.

There are so many details that we have hidden away to protect our Habi. While what we have shared of this story is miraculous enough, all of the other little details added in, the huge hurdles that God had to break down to get us to this point, the number of doors He had to crash open that had been tightly shut, it is all more than I can even comprehend. I know that for the past three years we have stood inside of a move of God, and it was HUGE, supernatural, and mind-boggling. As I sit here in the quiet, my mind flipping through all of the events that have taken place to get here, it doesn't seem real. Everything that had to happen was so perfectly timed out and orchestrated by a loving, creative, Author. There is no way that we could have scripted this. I told Jim that it feels as if we are in a movie. And it does, because this just does not happen in real life. BUT it did happen!

The most powerful lesson that I have learned in all of this, and what I hope people see when they hear of this is that God writes the best stories. Shortly before we decided to adopt from Ethiopia, God began to work in our hearts and lives in a brand new way. A more real way, but a way in which I had to intentionally surrender the pen to Him, and allow Him to write my story. It wasn't easy for me to give up the sense of control that comforted me. None of it has been easy - not one paragraph, one page, one chapter. I haven't always done it right. I have faltered along the way, and I have questioned the story so many times. Sometimes I have not appreciated His plot line, and I have thought that I could have written it better. But God in His mercy allowed me just enough strength to not yank the pen back, and God kept scratching out this story over my life. While I do believe that if I had held on to the pen, my story would have been easier, I also know that it would not have been nearly as beautiful. I would have under-written my story. The beauty needed to be sharpened by the pain that can only come with surrender. He is strong in our weakness, and that is why I believe he chose my family for this story, because we are weak and ordinary.

Today is a huge 'ta da' life-changing moment in our story. A chapter closed with a big reveal - a movie-style ending. But what you need to know is that there has been a lot of middle to this story, and that today is not the whole story. What I want you to know is that God wants to write your story, too. Perhaps you have not yet handed Him the pen, and I want to encourage you to give it a try. Or perhaps you have, but you are inside the middle, and it is hard and lonely and painful, and it feels like it must be the end. But friend, it's not the end. He is still writing your story. He hasn't left you and closed the manuscript. The pen is still hovered over you, and He is still writing. The hard times, the moments when God is silent, the painful pages that seem to suck the life from you, they all have a purpose in your story. Don't read my ending of this chapter of my story and be discouraged thinking that God only writes stories like this for some people. The story God has for you is unique and beautiful and YOURS. Sometimes God is just writing further into the story than you have read. Be patient, wait with hope and expectation, because God writes the best stories. Trust the Author of your story. What He is writing is better than you can ever imagine.

Today this chapter in my story came to a beautiful close, but tomorrow a new chapter looms before me blank and white and ready for His pen. I am ready for the story to continue.

Here we are just after the judge declared the adoption to be final. This is our son Habtamu (his given name in Ethiopia which means "rich") Theo (which comes from the Greek word theophany which means "in the image of God" - my name Tiffany is also from this same Greek word) Byron (a family name that has been passed down through generations - all of our sons have this name).

Sunday, September 28, 2014

.A Moment.

I am sitting here pecking out letters that race across my screen, and I know I should be packing instead. Because in just 17 (almost 16 now) days our family boards a plane and embarks on a new journey in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia serving street children. I am giddy about that and about all that God is inviting us into, but this moment, right now, I am even more giddy about the absolute miracle that is about to unfold tomorrow.

It was January 20, 2011, when I first laid eyes on him, and in the 1,335 days and 32,044 hours between that moment and tomorrow I have not stopped dreaming of and fighting for this very day.  It was a moment. Just one minuscule, unnoticeable to passers-by, moment, and my life and its path were forever changed. I have said it all here a thousand times a thousand different ways, but the story doesn't get old. How could it? Out of the almost 8 billion people that live in this world, out of all the millions of street boys - a woman born into luxury and comfort and a boy born into squalor and pain, an ocean apart, collided in what could only have been a God-ordained moment. And it really was only that - a moment. A few words exchanged, a few tears, a beaded bracelet and some granola bars. But that was all it took for our hearts to become entwined.

I have repeated it so many times, and it sounds crazy - even still - but I knew the moment our eyes held each others that God was up to something. I knew this child was destined to be my son, and I his mama. There were so many other boys that day. I had been tugged on, hugged, and begged from, but in that moment, I only had eyes for one.  I knew he was mine when his grubby, little hand thrust the beaded bracelet through our van window, because my heart could not contain the moment. I could not fathom another breath without knowing that this child was safe and secure, wanted and loved. Every single day since then, I have expended myself to be sure that he knows this with every fiber of his being. In that van that day, a new part of me was born, a fighter, a part of me that I did not know I possessed. Even then courage took root, and I turned to our friend, Job, and asked what was the likely hood of me adopting a street boy - that boy. He smiled at me, amused at my ignorance and naivety, and said "Oh, Tiffany, that is impossible."  And when I typically would have just backed-down, as was my nature, a fighter emerged. I nodded, and prayed, and dreamed big, and I ignored the impossible.

I ignored the impossible because I have a God who specializes in the impossible. If ever I doubt this, all I have to do is look back over these past three years and remember the way that God has smashed through the impossibles and obliterated the no's. God taught me how to stand up and to fight for justice in this journey, but the truth is that He didn't need me to do anything. He could have done this without me. All of the glory is His. The only thing I did was step into His invitation, and even in that I am pretty certain He dragged me in.

The day I met Habi.

Tomorrow, a miracle happens. Tomorrow, what so many people told us was impossible happens. Tomorrow that moment - the one that took place on the dusty street of Addis, comes full-circle. Tomorrow, what we were told would never happen is happening, our family stands before a judge, and my sweet, precious boy, the one that is so connected to my heart in a way that could only be supernatural, becomes my legal SON. 

Our God still preforms miracles, He is the exact same God that made the sun stand still for Joshua, and He still moves mountains to do the impossible. Tomorrow He is moving that mountain for us. This has not been an easy journey, for anyone involved. It has not been without tears and fear and heart-ache, but every single step along the way has been worth it. I would do it all over again in a heart beat.

In just a moment that boy will become mine.

[If you are new here, and don't know this story, click here.]

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

.So You're Moving to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia? {links to help with preparation}. Part 1

We have been preparing for our move to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a year now. It's hard to believe that it has been a year already! When it comes to planning and making lists and charts and preparation, I am type A, all-the-way. (Strangely that does not carry over into all areas of my life.) Being such, as soon as I knew we were moving our family of six over to a third world country to live, I began scouring the internet for advice on moving  and life in Ethiopia in order to start planning. I kept thinking that I wished I could find a place that had everything I was looking for compiled on one website or blog. Now, I know that not very many of my loyal readers are planning to move to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, but I am compiling this blog post for the random reader, who is moving there that might find me via google. Here are the very best of the best links to help you navigate and prepare for your move (this is part 1 of 2):

Go to guide for Everything:

The absolutely BEST resource that I have found is this "Welcome to Addis Guide" published by the International Community School's PTA in Addis. It is AMAZING!! If you don't feel like clicking on any other link, then this one would be pretty sufficient for your preparation. It is full of great recommendations, tips, immunizations needed before travel, and the reality of life in Addis, hospital and physician information, the best grocery stores, leisure activities, taxi services and tons of phone numbers for each etc. It is just massive (at over 100 pages) and so full of valuable information. This is from their table of contents: general information, before you arrive, getting settled, getting around, health/medical concerns, medical practitioners/facilities, Addis with children, shopping in Addis, services in Addis, leisure in Addis, inconveniences, exploring Addis and beyond. This is such a gold mine for me, that I have talked my husband into getting it printed and bound, so that we can have it at our fingertips in country!

5 tips to organize for an international move
Moving Checklist


Health items to pack for Ethiopia
CDC's Healthy Travel Packing List

General Packing Lists
Peace Corps Packing List for Ethiopia

A packing list and general information about moving your family to Addis. (I love this blog! I believe the woman's husband works in the US embassy. She has great tips and beautiful photos.)
Our Yuppie Life - Moving to Addis Ababa

Practical tips for packing
Packing Tips for Moving Overseas (find this by scrolling down to the bottom of the post)

Infographic for packing
How to pack your luggage right (the second infographic on the site)

How to fold shirts military style
Efficient Packing

Preparing your family for the move:

8 ways to help toddlers and young children cope with change and moving overseas

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