(Warning: Kind of long, and it's okay if only our nearest and dearest persist through it all. Of course, if you don't persevere through it, you'll miss seeing God work in a major way. Just go grab a cup of coffee...it might help).
In finishing up our home study autobiography, some of the questions pertain to how we will help our daughter stay connected with her culture, what issues we've considered in affirming her race, etc. For those of you close to us in conversation, you know this has been a major issue on our hearts. To try and understand our feelings on it, imagine deliberately, knowingly, sending your child off to, say, a birthday party. You know in advance that there will be several bullies who will be attending the party also, and that these bullies have wreaked havoc for the neighborhood kids. And, there will only be one adult there to chaperone 30-some kids. Would you go ahead and send your child to the party anyway? Probably not.
That's kind of what it feels like to plan on bringing home a child whom you "know" is going to face prejudice and ridicule based on their skin color...do you really think that's the best thing to do? To top it off, you then start reading blogs of adult adoptees of non-Caucasian races who are adamant that it's not the best thing to do, that it's near cruelty to have to be raised by white parents in all-white families and communities, and that life in an orphanage in their home countries would have been preferable to the lives they have lived as adoptees.
I do wholeheartedly believe that it is valuable to glean understanding from adult adoptees who are sharing their experience. But as one commenter pointed out, adult adoptees who say that it would be better to remain in an orphanage say so from this side of the experience, never having had to remain in an orphanage. How much easier to criticize a situation when you only live on the side of the experience in which you have enough food, a comfortable bed, and parents to love you, as imperfect as their love may be. In my newfound but growing understanding in this arena, this seems to be quite the extreme extrapolation to say that they would have been better off surrounded by children of their own race in an orphange situation, when they never had to live it.
The commenter's point was well-timed for me, and really helped to round out the issue. So many orphans are left at orphanages not so that they will have a better life, but to simply live. Is wrestling through the issues of transracial adoptions and any forthcoming prejudice worth life? We think so. We know so. Or we wouldn't be doing it.
So, while we feel completely confident in following the path we're on, we're trying our best to not be naive, to be wise about the challenges that we may face...all the while resting on the assurance that since God has led us in this direction, he will certainly give us the grace and resources to handle it all as we come to it.
Thus, we have been wrestling with thoughts on how to keep our daughter connected with the Ethiopian culture despite many roadblocks, such as the absence of a support group to gather with every once in a while (something pretty common in larger cities. Okay, maybe even smaller cities. Somehow our town of 250 doesn't quite make it in some areas...). We knew that perhaps we would have to spend more time in Anchorage, or even driving the kids back and forth to S. for soccer, knowing there are at least a few black families with kids there. Our town is just really lacking in the diversity department!
Now, from your perspective, these issues may be small details. To us, and to others, they're big ones. But no matter which way you slice it, our God is a God of the details. Let me explain.
Two weekends ago, Mark and I were unexpectedly blessed to get away for our Baptist Convention's Minister and Spouse retreat. Although we had attended in past years, we didn't want to divert extra money away from the adoption, so didn't plan on attending this year. One couple who had already registered and paid had a family situation come up, so we were contacted to see if we would attend in their stead. We gratefully accepted, and thanks to my mom and Rebecca, we had child care worked out within a few hours so that we could accept the invitation!
Due to Mark's work schedule, we knew we would miss the opening session and banquet, but would meet up with everyone for the only other teaching session on Saturday morning. We checked into the hotel, and were delighted to learn that breakfasts were going to be provided at IHOP! While we got to the restaurant Sat. a.m. in what would have normally been plenty of time, the place was packed with, well, a bunch of Baptist preachers and their wives. :) And it seemed that only one waitress was working. We entered IHOP the same time as two other couples, both of whom had on name tags already, so we knew they were with the Convention. As the hostess was giving us our wait time estimations, I quickly asked the other two couples if they would like to have us all sit together to be seated more quickly. Voila! Instant friends and meal companions, and instant seating as well!
We had a delightful time visiting and getting to know Frank and Marian and Mike and Pam, which we had plenty of time for with an unbelievably long wait for our meals. It was accompanied by a growing sense of guilt that we were going to be very late to the session. The only session. A short one, which we would miss, um, half of. Gulp.
When Pam, Marian, and I finally arrived in the women's session, the ladies were taking turns sharing stories of how their church families had been ministers of grace in their lives. I instantly knew what I was to share when it came my turn...and I shared how much grace our church family has given us in support of this adoption. They really are amazing at loving and helping and giving of themselves, saying (and really meaning) that while we get to raise this baby, she really belongs to all of them. :) The rummage sale, which required tons of time and effort on the part of a lot of people, is a prime example.
At the end of the session, a woman I had met before, who lives in Sol. near my parents, came right up and wanted to share her sister's blog address with me, since she had adopted twice from Africa. Where in Africa? I asked. You guessed it-Ethiopia. Granted, there are lots of people who have blogs who have adopted from Ethiopia. But her sister Crystal is different. She has a blog, has adopted from Ethiopia, and lives just 70 miles from us. An hour's drive, in a town I frequent, well, frequently. Are you with me on this? There are two other Ethiopian children that LIVE LOCALLY! (70 miles is local when you're in Alaska-just trust me on that one). And, ahem, they also, um, homeschool. And, um, they also...raise goats. Crystal and I haven't met each other in person yet, but she's like, my new best friend. :) And apparently they aren't the only ones in Sol. that have adopted from Ethiopia, so they actually get together for activities and such. I hope you get an inkling of HOW HUGE this is for us!
But back the retreat, there's more. Saturday evening, all the pastors and wives gather at a local restaurant for dinner. It's totally packed in there...like we were going to be the sardines being served or something. We pick our way around the tables to one of the few tables with seats still open (no, we weren't late, either!), and lo and behold...we get to dine with Frank and Marian again! It just cemented the rapport we had with them. They are just the sweetest couple, willing to share their wisdom. I'm the same age as their oldest child, so there's definitely a mentor-type relationship potential. Frank pastors a church in Anchorage, but they used to drive to S. regularly, so know our little town from passing through. It was such a blessing to gain good friends so quickly. But you want to know how neat God is in this process? Frank and Marian are black, and they couldn't have known how much we need them right now. And they are so thrilled for us to be adopting our baby girl, and are so encouraging to us that the transracial issues aren't the major issues. Marian urged me to realize that our baby's self-identity is not going to be forged through being around other people of color, but through the value we place on her. Marian placed her beautiful brown arm next to mine, pointed and said "this is not what matters. Love for her matters. God will handle all the rest."
Marian is now Auntie Mae, and wants to come down and help me learn how to take care of our baby's hair, among other things. :) We can hardly wait to continue getting to know them better.
So, as you can see, our God has done some amazing work in filling in some major details for us! We are nothing but grateful!