Monday, December 6, 2010
A Different Kind of Christmas
"Daddy, can you help us find Sam?" Sam is the Elf on our shelf that arrives at our house every Thanksgiving and then proceeds to reappear in a different spot every morning through Christmas Eve. Every day, it's the kids' job to try and find where Sam is hiding.
At night, Sam flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa on the kids' behavior and enjoy a beer with his little elf buddies. I'd imagine it's a pretty good gig if you're an elf. At least it's better than being shut up in a workshop 24/7 and forced to crank out toys at a production rate second only to the Chinese.
Still, Sam has to sit still all day. I figure that's gotta be tough. However, I do have my suspicions that Sam doesn't really stay put. I'm pretty sure he gets up and moves around when no one's home. Just the other day, I came home to find that my laptop had been tampered with. Someone had been Googling pictures of Tinkerbell while I was out. I don't have hard evidence, but I'm pretty sure I know who the guilty party might be.
Anyway, Sam's mischief aside, this year looks to be a very special one for the Howard household and a very different kind of Christmas. As I mentioned a few weeks ago in my last post, Meredith and I are adopting twin baby boys from Ethiopia. Our initial trip to Africa was awesome! We stayed in the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, and had the chance to see much of the countryside as we drove five hours to Hawassa, site of our sons' orphanage. Meredith and I absolutely loved the Ethiopian people. Despite the fact that there is much poverty and most of the people there have 100Xs less than even your poorest Americans, the Ethiopian citizens we encountered seemed happy, full of faith, and very grateful.
Most encouraging, our sons, Samuel and Asher (their Ethiopian names are Abenet and Afework)appeared happy, healthy, and well-cared for by their nannies. When we arrived at the orphanage, we were warmly welcomed, presented with a gift, and honored with a "coffee ceremony." (Ethiopia grows some of the best coffee in the world, and coffee is a part of many Ethiopian ceremonies).
Then, we met our boys. It was an amazing moment. Finally, our sons were no longer merely photos sent to us over the Internet. They weren't simply stories we were told by an adoption agency caseworker or official forms to be signed as part of an administrative process. At last, they were real. They were little hands to be held, little cheeks to be caressed, little smiles to laugh at the sight of, and little ears in which to whisper the words, "I love you." After thousands of miles and countless prayers, we were holding our boys. We were finally kissing them, tickling them, and making ridiculous goo-goo faces at them. All the while, Samuel and Asher kept looking up at me wide-eyed, as if thinking, "Holy Crap! Dad's white!"
One of the most moving parts was when the director of the orphanage told us Samuel and Asher's story. They had been born in a hut in rural Ethiopia. Their mother, sadly, died giving birth to them. Their father, a very poor man who suddenly found himself facing the prospect of raising his two older children without a mother, could not raise the twins. Distraught by his wife's death, he relied on an uncle to call the orphanage and ask them to take the boys. Born premature and fighting just to stay alive, Samuel and Asher arrived at the orphanage at a mere 4 lbs. each, with umbilical cords still attached. Rushing against time, the orphanage got them to the hospital as quickly as possible. The nannies blew on the babies' faces to keep them awake, lest they fall asleep and never awake.
Samuel and Asher's last name in Ethiopia means "God is with us." The care givers at the orphanage told us that they cried out to God collectively for days, reminding God of the meaning of the babies' name, and calling on Him to be with them. God heard their prayers! Miraculously, Samuel and Asher survived. They are the orphanage's miracle babies--and ours. Surely, God must have something very special planned for these boys.
The only downside of the trip is that we could not yet bring Samuel and Asher home. That privilege is reserved for later this month. Meredith will return to Ethiopia with my father and our seven year old daughter Emerson (a.k.a., Assistant Mommy). There they will appear at the U.S. Embassy to sign paperwork and bring my sons to the United States. I'll stay back with William, Carson, and my mom.
Unfortunately, we'll be apart on Christmas Day. But whenever we're tempted to get a little sad about not being together on Christmas, we remember the reasons. Our kids remember that Mommy is going to Africa to bring home the best Christmas gift ever: their new baby brothers. Meredith and I remember that loving an orphaned child (or children) makes Jesus smile; and what better way to celebrate his birthday than to do the very thing that would make him happiest. And we all remember that the separation is only for a few days. God-willing, we will all be together again by New Year's Eve.
Yes, it's going to be a very different kind of Christmas. But it's going to be the most memorable and blessed one we've ever had too. So please say a prayer for Samuel and Asher. Pray that they will continue to grow healthy and strong. Pray that Meredith and I will have the wisdom and spirituality to raise them the way they deserve. And pray that my new young sons can somehow deal with the fact that, "Holy Crap! Dad's white!"