Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's That Time of Year

It is that time of year where we get together with friends and family, some of whom we don't see but a few times a year. It's also the time of year that many of us reflect on the previous twelve months and think about the upcoming year. We think about personal, spiritual, and professional goals, as well as big events that are in the near future(I turn 40 in just a couple of months!)I don't always write my goals down, but I always have them in mind. Of course, I have the typical resolutions: lose weight, be healthy, save better, spend less, etc. But after tonight, I'm adding another to my list and I encourage everyone else to think about doing the same. I think the most important thing we can all do is spend time with those we love. In a time of Facebook, Pinterest, Words with Friends, and countless other time wasters, it's easy to fill up what free time we have with things that really aren't that important. It's true social media and gaming do have their places, but it's friends and family, old and new that should receive our undivided attention.

Tonight, I attended the viewing of a dear, old family friend, Bob. And when I say old, I mean he and his family lived in the house behind ours when my parents moved to Farmers Branch in 1971. Both he and his wife, Barbara were like second parents to me and my brothers. Their kids babysit us when we were little. And even when they moved to a different neighborhood a few years later, Bob and Barbara remained a constant part of our lives. We attended the same church, they played bridge with my parents, and they were always there for us when we needed them. Even after my parents moved to Tyler when I was in college, I always had a place to lay my head when I came back to town.

Over the course of time, as it happens to most of us, we simply lost touch. The annual Christmas card was sent and we might see each other at occasional events, but it just got harder and harder to "find the time" (Really? Have you seen the amount of time I spend on Facebook and Pinterest?). The last time I saw Bob & Barbara was three years ago as they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. (Yes, you read that correctly...53 years of marriage after dating only one week.) So to receive that call on Christmas Eve was a bit jarring. And after attending the viewing tonight (Bob's 80th birthday, btw) and seeing so many important people from my childhood, it's reminded me that I need to be smarter with my time. When I have five extra minutes, instead of playing WWF, why not pick up the phone and call a long lost friend? Even better, I need to be intentional and proactive about my time. So, my New Year's resolution this year, is to carve out time to spend time with those who are dear to me. It might be a Sunday afternoon visit, or a 30 minute phone call. I might be a little old fashioned and write a letter. No matter how it occurs, my goal is to spend time with the people who are important to me.

Our time here is limited. Perhaps we should use it a bit more wisely.

Happy 2012!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Adoption


This week I had the opportunity to travel to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, with my brother, David, and sister-in-law, Shanna. They were at the end of their eighteen month long journey. They finally had a date at the U.S. Embassy that would finalize the adoption of Musse. Musse is a little over 2 years old, although he's about the size of a one-year old, and he is the cutest little thing. He has a gorgeous smile that lights up a room and eyes that dance with laughter. And his laugh! What a beautiful, infectious giggle he has. Musse is also the master of facial expressions; the best is when he rolls his eyes and smiles a very sly grin.

We arrived at the transition home where Musse had lived for the last 10 months to pick him up and bring him back to the guest house with us. It was so beautiful to see how naturally he went to Shanna and David. He had last seen them at the end of May and it was now August, but it was just like he had see them just the day before. And in the four days he's been with us, that bond has already grown exponentially. He walks to them with his arms open wide and grins when they pick him up. When he cries, a hug and simple words calm him down. Despite his limited vocabulary, his eyes and his smile have communicated so much to us. Words can't really express how awesome it is to see the three of them together. It's hard to believe it's only been a few days. And I can't wait to see Kyle (my other precious nephew) and Musse together. Kyle has such a good heart and he has been waiting for a little brother for so long; I am excited to see their relationship grow.

Families who adopt are the ultimate rock stars, in my opinion. It is a long, frustrating, and often heartbreaking process. But despite that, thousands of families adopt children into their families every year. And the process, however painful it might be, yields rewards that are immeasurable. It is a game of waiting - waiting for the referral, for court & embassy dates, and for answers. And it is during the waiting that families grow stronger, closer, and even more faithful.

Many times you may hear people (often strangers) comment on how lucky an adopted child is. And to a degree, that statement has some validity to it. Adoption does afford a child the opportunity he or she might not have had otherwise. There are millions of kids out there who have been orphaned; the reasons are numerous and not even that important. What is important is that these children deserve the opportunity to live a life of happiness without fear of hunger, disease, abuse, or neglect. But a greater than a child's "luck" are the blessings the adoptive family feels. When I think back to the conversations and the tears of joy and frustration over the past 18 months, it's no wonder that families grow closer. As I sit here and think about what to write next, I feel overwhelmed for my blessings are too many to count.

Mostly, though, I think adoption is about love, hope, faith, and doing what is right.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Adoption Wordle

I took all of the wonderful posts from Facebook and put them in a Wordle.  This journey was made extra special by all of the sweet words and blessings from my friends.  Constantly amazed by all of the love.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Trees of Glory

Wednesday afternoon...
Yesterday I told y'all about the throngs of people who covered the roads on our trip to Hawassa. Some were obviously headed to or from market, some were herding goats and cows; some it was difficult to determine what their goal was. But today, I did learn another possible reason for what seems to be an endless amount of walking. Drop in centers are not uncommon here in Ethiopia. And that is where we are headed this afternoon - to a place called Trees of Glory. I'm writing this on the way there so I can't truly describe it yet, but it sounds like a combination between a daycare center and the Boys and Girls Club. It's a safe place for kids who are at risk (ummm, I think that's most kids in Ethiopia) to go on a daily basis for shelter, food and education. David & Shanna sponsor a little boy there, so we are going to meet him and take him a care package.


Later that same day...

So today was simply a fabulous day. The drive to Trees of Glory took about an hour and a half. I'm not really sure what direction we drove, but we did drive out of Addis into the mountains. Like our drive to Hawassa, any pictures I did take won't really do it justice. It was extremely lush and beautiful. Even thought the sky was overcast with rain off and on, I think that contributed to the beauty. As we drove out of town, the first few miles reminded me of the Great Smoky Mountains. Eventually the trees became less numerous and faded into open meadows populated with typical Ethiopian homes and storefronts. Maybe because the drive wasn't as long as yesterday's, or because it was in a different part of the country, but it didn't seem like there were quite as many people here.
Trees of Glory is not just a drop in center, it is also a school and an orphanage. There are some children who have been orphaned so they obviously live there. But, there are also dozens of children who walk many miles each day to go to school, learn about God, get a couple of meals each day, have a safe place to hang out, and just be a kid. To learn more about this agency, please visit http://www.hopechest.org/trees-of-glory/.

We were immediately greeted by the lady in charge of Trees of Glory. She ushered us into an all-purpose room and with her was the young boy David & Shanna are sponsoring. He was such a cute boy, about 10 years old. He had such a serious, quiet look about him and there was a sadness in his eyes. He does still have a family, but apparently, they struggle, so everyday he walks approximately 40 minutes from his home to the school. We brought him a care package filled with school supplies and 3 new shirts. He was pretty excited; in fact I think he put on 2 of the shirts right away...one on top of the other. Even if there hadn't been a language barrier, I don't know that he would have said much. I think it was pretty overwhelming for him. We had also brought with us a care package for another little boy from another family. Still a language barrier, but this boy had quite an infectious little grin. The two settled in next to Shanna and Mussee to look at some pictures. They all looked so stinkin' precious! At about this time that I was really thankful for my brother and his dry sense of humor (as well as his ability to pick on me). This will surprise many of you, but I was ready to lose it. Those two boys who have pretty much nothing were so sweet, loving and well-mannered, not to mention they were so appreciative of us spending time with them. I turned to my brother and told him to start picking on me, knowing that would allow me to keep it together. He must have been storing up some thoughts about my hair because he didn't miss a beat.

Not only were the boys grateful, but a handful of adults took time out of their day to visit with us. We were blessed with a coffee ceremony; coffee beans were roasted and ground in front of us. When the coffee had boiled, she added it to fresh milk. With a side of popcorn, it was the perfect snack for a rainy afternoon. We were also treated to injera and cabbage prepared two different ways. Defintely interesting and I'm glad I tried it, but not sure that injera will be breaking my top 10 favorite foods.

Before we we left for Addis, we toured the compound. I think I might have to save that experience for another day. Pictures are definitely a part of the story and it is a story all by itself. Until next time...

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On the Road to Hawassa...

This trip is such an experience and I have so many friends who have been so supportive and so excited for my family, I decided it was a good time to revive the blog and share the journey. As I've written down some thoughts over the past two days, I've come to realize how difficult it is to come up with the words to describe this moment in my life. I'll try to share different pieces of the adventure over the next few days.

As soon as we arrived in Addis, we went off on our first adventure to Hawassa. The orphanage Musse lived in for a brief time is there and that is where we planned to meet his birth dad. Hawassa is about a 5 hour trip from Addis, I believe south of the capital city. The drive has some spectacular vistas, but it also incredibly heartbreaking. We were on an actual highway for the most part, although not always well-maintained and more like what Americans would call a Farm-to-Market Road. And all along the way are throngs of Ethiopians. They are on foot, on cart, in a taxi...everyway imaginable. Some people are just walking along with nothing but the clothes on their back while others carry packs, water jugs, or fruit & vegetables. Carts filled with cornstalks rolled by as we sped down the roads. Other carts, led by overburdened donkeys, had people as their passengers, sometimes up to 10 or 12 on one tiny cart. While it was pretty sobering, at times there was also humor. Like the time we passed a cart that appeared to have no owner. Upon closer inspection, he was simply napping while letting the donkey lead the way.

Every few miles we would come to a cluster of villages with small children playing outside in the dirt, and if they weren't playing, then they were working in the fields. We saw several families plowing the ground with a pair of cows, or harvesting crops. Mothers and daughters hung their laundry out to dry on fences and rocks. Children as young as 4 or 5 herded the goats and cows alongside the road. More often that not, the livestock was without anyone to herd them and they just meandered alongside the cars. Occasionally, some of that livestock decided to cross the road and we would nudge our way around them.

Along the way we also passed through several towns. Not really what we would consider towns back in the states, but here a variety of businesses lined the road and people bustled from one end to the other. There were still the donkey-pulled carts, but the towns were also filled with taxis and cars, usually filled to capacity. Women sat on the side of the road selling roasted corn and other fresh fruits & vegetables. Stores no bigger than most American master baths sold anything from sodas and candy to car parts and electronics.

Quite possibly the strongest memory from today's journey was definitely the most heartbreaking and the one which left us feeling the most helpless. Driving down a fairly empty road, we came upon a group of about 20 people, wailing quite passionately. One woman fell to her knees in the middle of the dirt road. As we came upon them, we noticed one lone boy on a cart being pulled by a few people. He was about 6 or 7 and his legs were covered with a purple cloth. The woman running beside him had to have been his mother for the look of fear and worry on her face can only be worn by a mom. Several people rushed up to our van, their faces begging us to help. As someone pulled away that purple cloth, we understood their concern. That sweet little boy had a huge gash on his leg and it was covered in blood. Helpless to do anything, we could only pray that they made it to the next town where we saw a clinic.


I do have a few pictures from today, but I can't post them until I get home. Truth be told, the pictures I do have don't do the beauty of the countryside or the extremity of poverty any justice. Unless you've been to a third world country, your mind really can't comprehend what you see. I dont even think the poverty I've seen on mission trips comes close. Quite honestly, I still can't wrap my mind around the things I've seen over the past 36 hours. Over the past few weeks you may have seen the news stories about the Horn of Africa and the dire straits they are currently in. Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya are in the midst of a famine and I can tell you that what you see on TV is only the tip of what is on the news. Thanks for letting me share. I'll try to update tomorrow night.

Audra

Friday, June 10, 2011

My favorite part is the frosting...

Recently, I had the opportunity to take a group of seven high school juniors on a road trip to Knoxville, Tennessee. Being away from your home and responsibilities for six days is tough, but I can honestly say that I wouldn't trade those six days for anything. In fact, when I think about the past seventeen years that I have spent in education, those six days were definitely a highlight. Absolutely the frosting on any cupcake.

I know what you're thinking, "What in the world would possess anyone in their right mind to take a group of teens to Tennessee?" "How in the world can she consider that a highlight?" "Did she say road trip? How far away is Knoxville?"

Maybe I should start at the beginning...

The group in question is a Destination Imagination team from Irving, Texas. They did well at their regional tournament and received a score of outstanding at state. This allowed them to advance to Globals, a yearly event held at the University of Tennessee. There are so many things about this experience that are so memorable. The first being the challenge that the team embarked upon - working with a local salon to donate over 200 inches of hair to Locks of Love. The second is how they presented their community service to the audience at the tournament. They re-enacted their hair drive through a creative interpretation of Rapunzel. The tear jerker? When the only boy on the team allowed one of the other team members to cut his hair off (10 inches) at the end of the performance.

Another highlight? Watching one girl in particular go on an amazing journey that started when she was in 5th grade. When asked to stand in front of her classmates to give a book presentation, this girl simply froze, unable to speak with tears streaming down her face. As her 5th grade teacher, I was petrified. This was not my intention; the last thing I wanted was for my students to be afraid. In middle school, this girl found her voice when she joined DI! She continued to grow and blossom, joing a DI team when she entered high school. And since her freshman year, she has done better each year. She carefully choose her teammates, always with her sister by her side. As a sophomore, they made it to State, but didn't advance to Globals. Despite her disappointment, on the way home from the closing ceremony, she started planning for her junior year. Again the goal was to make it to Globals. And make it to Globals she did, along with her sister and five other classmates.

So, really I haven't even gotten to the six day adventure to Tennessee and I've already told you about two highlights in my seventeen year career. I can't wait to tell you about the things we saw and did on the trip. Until next time...