Monday, August 8, 2011

A Day With Tigist...and Gotcha Day!

I've been asked many times since we got back home from Ethiopia, "What was your favorite part of the trip?" That's a hard this to answer, as everything we did was so different and touched me in such different ways. But one day does hold a very special place in my heart. On Wednesday of our trip, we were able to spend a day with Tigist, Ellie's birth mom.

When we were in Ethiopia 2 years ago to get Ellie, we were able to meet Tigist. It was nice, and I'm grateful we were able to do so, but it was short and I didn't really have a chance to ask questions or allow her to ask questions of us. This visit was different.

We were accompanied on our trip by Bisrat Fantahun, who acted as our translator. He's an amazing man with an incredible testimony, but that's another post altogether! The drive out to Woliso was about 2 hours, and the scenery was beautiful. I was nervous as we drove, wondering what Tigist would be like, if she would want to talk with us or if she'd be resentful of us for being able to have Ellie all the time. My fears were short-lived.

We met Tigist at the orphanage where Ellie was. We began our time there with a short walk around, seeing again where Ellie had slept and some of the other rooms. We walked out of the girl's dorm and Tigist came running to us. She literally ran into my arms and hugged me. Both of us were crying, and I looked up to see that Jeff was crying too. This is indeed a moment I will never forget!

It was our honor to take Tigist to lunch at the Negash Lodge in Woliso. What a great time!! This place is stunningly beautiful, a bit of a surprise in the middle of a town of such poverty. We sat down to lunch and were able to talk. Tigist told us her story, not exactly what we had heard in the past. It's so good to know the full truth of how Ellie came to be at the orphanage from her mouth. We shared stories of Ellie and more pictures. We were also able to tell her of Ellie's younger sister, and what a joy to see her face when she heard that her girls would grow up knowing each other!! WOW! She told us of her work, how she lives on 200 birr a month (about $11), and after paying rent, had only $7 a month left to live on. That's about 25 cents a day, folks. My heart sunk in hearing that. Even in Ethiopia, that's not enough.
Negash is known for the monkeys that live there, and we were not disappointed. After lunch, we went outside and were able to feed the monkeys. They ate right out of our hands! What a blessing to see Tigist smile and hear her laugh (JUST LIKE ELLIE'S LAUGH!). She told us "this is the only fun day I've ever had in life", and I don't doubt that at all. Then she asked us if we would like to come to her home for a visit. What an honor!

Tigist lives in a 10x12 mud and straw home. She was so proud to have us there, smiling for pictures with us. It was meager, but she was so proud of it. She had taken such care to decorate it, and I was humbled by all of it. I was overwhelmed at the thought of my little girl lying on that dirt floor to sleep.

Here's one thing I know for sure. Had Ellie been able to live with Tigist, she would not have the gazillion dresses she has now. She wouldn't have barbie dolls, coloring books or princess dresses. She would likely never go to school, learn to read, take dance or gymnastic lessons. But there is one thing she would NEVER be lacking, and that is love. Tigist loves her daughters. Of this I am sure! I saw it in her eyes, in the tears that fell on her face. They were tears of joy, knowing that her daughter has what she couldn't give. I felt it in the way she held my hand as we walked together. She held my hand with love and gentleness, not with any animosity or begrudging feelings. I felt it in the way she hugged me, as if she were thankful for me for how I love her little girl.

We connected that day. I feel a closeness to her that I can't explain. She's not a believer, yet I believe that God put this closeness within us. I believe it was His design that led us together. It is my honor to share Ellie Kedest, to mother her on Tigist's behalf. I pray I do it justice. I believe that God has a purpose for Ellie to be here, but I also believe that in a perfect world, her birth mother would be the one tucking her in to bed every night. I don't take this lightly, this gift we have been given.

Tomorrow we celebrate 2 years since we first held Ellie. It's been a gift far beyond my imagination. It's hard to remember life before her, before princesses, barbies, beads and braids, dresses, hair bows, singing and dancing all the time. It's hard to remember who I was before her. I don't really want to remember. She has changed me; Well, God has changed me through her. People tell us all the time that she is so lucky to have us. The truth is that we are the ones who are blessed.

Tonight my thoughts are with Tigist, wondering if she remembers that tomorrow is the anniversary of the day we first met. I wonder if she's staring at Ellie's picture and thinking of her. I pray she knows that we are telling Ellie of her every day, reminding her that she is loved by two mommas- one who gave her life, and one who holds her daily. I promised her that day to tell Ellie her story, of how her first mother loved her so much that she sacrificed everything for her. It's a promise I will keep.

Happy Gotcha Day, Ellie Kedest! I'm so blessed by you in our lives. I love love love being your momma!! I love watching you with your big brother, and I love how you are such a daddy's girl! I love celebrating you in our family!!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Thoughts on Ethiopia... part 1

Many of you have asked about our trip to Ethiopia. To say that it was incredible, mind-blowing, life-changing, awesome, etc etc is all just an understatement. It WAS all of those things. But it was so much more. It was redemption, sacrifice, vulnerability, humility, healing, convicting...

I've put off posting here for a little while so I could pull my thoughts together. I could write stories for days, if truth be told. But I don't want to just tell stories. If that's all I do now that I'm home, it's all been in vain. What I want is for people to see the change in me, in my life, and to be able to say why I'm different. Because, believe me, I AM DIFFERENT NOW.

This morning was my first time in corporate worship since we've been home (we took last week off to catch up on sleep and try to get over some jet lag). It was hard for me. It was too comfortable. I know that may sound odd to some of you. To explain, I'm going to share with you an excerpt of I wrote in my journal while at the Covenant Church in Ethiopia.

The Spirit is alive here this morning. I've watched the young man in front of me weep as he raises his hands in praise to God. I watched a family of 4 come in and immediately kneel. The mother seems both relieved and broken to be here- a picture of conflict. It's as if this place truly is her resting place on earth, as if she's been waiting for this moment all week long. I watched as she buried her face in her hands and wept, all the while her young daughter danced and sang in the aisle beside her.

The people here worship as if they really believe that God is listening. It's beautiful, scary, exciting, passionate, lively and ultimately it is convicting to me. How often do I sit in my pew and wait for something good to happen? How often do I walk into church with a thousand things on my mind and none of them Jesus? How many times have I felt led to lift my hands, but don't because I'm worried about what someone behind me might think? How many times have I entered into worship thinking of Holly instead of my Savior? Here I sit , a little cold on this rainy morning, watching the rain drop down onto the man across the aisle, unable to understand the language being spoken (Amharic), wondering if their bathroom has toilet paper. All of these things run through my mind and more. But the only thing that really matters is Christ glorified. And I know without a doubt that He has been glorified here today.

Here's the thing about that worship time. The people who came there brought everything they had; they brought themselves. They didn't have fancy clothes, cars, bibles, programs, bulletins, orders of worship. none of that mattered at all. They brought themselves to their Savior, broken and spilled out for the One they love. They came surrendered in their poverty, their need, their desire, their sickness, their desperation. And they bowed down to the One they know is greater than all of that. They worshiped with complete abandon, their only thought to bring glory to the Father. They came broken, hungry, hopeless, poor, in need. But they left whole, full, hopeful, rich in His grace, satisfied with Jesus.

This morning, I entered my church broken by my sin, hungry for His word, poor without Him in my life, in need of a Savior. And He was faithful, as He always is. I met God there because I was looking for Him. I came ready to worship, having put all of the unimportant things away.

My sweet Ethiopian friends taught me that it doesn't matter what our circumstances are, what our clothes look like, how full our bellies are, what our church looks like (even if there is rain pouring in the sanctuary!), or if there were crying kids in the service. They reminded me that what matters is whether of not I'm there seeking to meet Jesus. Because HE IS ALWAYS THERE, seeking to meet with me.

May I never forget this experience. May I worship with reckless abandon, the One who gave His life for me. May I experience daily the freedom He bought for me, for where His spirit is, there is freedom indeed. God be blessed.