A message to younger mothers

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On Sunday during church I glanced over at my 14 year old daughter.  She was sitting on the pew, cross-legged and jeans-clad and barefoot, having abandoned her shoes under the bench.  On her left arm was a rather ornate flower drawn in ink and colored in with gel pen. A moment before she’d been singing her heart out to Jesus. As my eyes lingered admiringly on the gel pen art, it suddenly struck me how very much I have changed over the years.

ink-2With our first half dozen children or so, I was so very caught up in appearances.  Sunday clothes meant skirts for the girls, with pants allowed only now and then.  Boys wore nice pants, or maybe black jeans, but only if not too faded. Shoes, of course.  No going barefoot in church. Keep your feet on the floor. Hair was neat and tidy and slicked back. No writing on your arms, and especially not with colored ink.

I am not sure how I decided on all those rules, but I’m pretty sure I had unhappy moments with my older children over every single one of those rules.

So why on earth the other day was I simply admiring my daughter’s arm instead of coaxing her to put shoes back on, and sit up straight, and wipe off all that ink?

It’s simple.  When you’ve raised enough kids, chances are you’ve seen enough big stuff– the really important decisions that big kids make– to see that appearance means nothing.  Not one thing.

You also see more clearly how fast this parenting journey goes.

Plenty of times in my early parenting years I ruined good moments– moments that could have bound hearts together– making sure my kids looked good in public. I valued their appearance over their hearts.

Don’t get me wrong– I’ve always cared for their hearts too.  We spent many hours teaching them truth and sharing our values and praying with and for them. But I know there were times when my worry over how things looked to the world sidetracked me from the really important stuff that was going on in my kids’ hearts.  Times when the ‘appearance’ message made it hard for my kids to see how profoundly I do care about their hearts.  And probably harder for them to share those precious hearts with me.

If I could go back as a mom and redo the parenting of my older kids, I’d release my expectations about appearances. With little kids, expectations are often related to whether their clothes match or look nice enough for church.  With big kids these days, parents find themselves wrestling with questions about piercings and ink and what’s modest and what’s not.  These discussions are weighty indeed.  But when it comes down to it, none of those things truly affect my child’s salvation.

The real heart-and-soul questions have nothing to do with what my children wear or what they choose to write on their bodies, or whether their feet are on the pew or on the floor during the sermon. It all comes down to the heart. What’s going on inside those precious, priceless hearts of theirs? Do they love and trust in Jesus? Are they loving the people around them?  Do they know how much they are loved by God and by us?

We humans can fall into so many pits and traps.  We can be sidetracked in so very many ways.  But our only hope — our children’s only hope– in life and in eternity is faith in Jesus’ perfect atoning work on the cross.  Faith in the Saviour who passionately loves us.  Enough that He died for us right in the middle of all our mixed-up imperfection and brokenness.  That is the one thing this finally-getting-wiser momma wants each and every one of my precious ones to understand.

Where is your child’s hope?

Where is yours?

In Christ alone our hope is found.

That’s what really matters.

Nothing else.


1 Samuel 16:7–  “The Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”




What we can bring

Way back in 1992, we were living in a cute older house in town, were the happy parents of three tiny children, and were dreaming of homesteading in the country.  Big garden, orchard, chickens, all of it.  When we found a 3 acre piece of land for the princely sum of $13,ooo, we leaped on it.

The next summer, after looking at dozens of house plan books and finding just the right plan, we sold our first house (in 5 days, no less) and began building this one.  The plan was that we would serve as general contracters, subbing out all the parts of the build to various subcontracters.

Finding an affordable rental to live in during the build was made harder by the fact that we had a dog.  We ended up buying two old travel trailers which we paid for on payments– $112 a month. No way we could have found rent that cheap.  We rented an outhouse, drilled a well, and lived right there on that 3 acre stretch of land while we built us a house.

Yes.  Three kids, two parents, a dog, a couple of cats, and a couple of travel trailers.  Our full-size refrigerator, our house plants, and a whole variety of other household items were protected from the weather by nothing more than a cattle chute that we covered with a tarp.  We jokingly called our ramshackle campsite ‘Okietown’.

Now, looking back from the perspective of a parent, I wonder just how worried our parents were about us.  They probably thought we had taken leave of our senses.  Thankfully God watched over that home build.  Our maiden voyage as home contractors went smoothly, and just 3.5 months later, in October of 1993, our home was done and we were moving in.

Just in time.  The weather had already gotten cold enough that I made frosty footprints walking across outdoor carpet each morning from our travel trailer to the kids’ trailer to get them out of bed.  Wow, were ever glad to move into our new home.  It felt like a palace.

Since that happy move-in date in 1993, we’ve added 7 children to our family, had many huge gardens, many happy Christmases, and many years of homeschooling.  We’ve birthed children, adopted children, seen their first steps and their first words and their first Christmas programs and all the other firsts that come with watching children grow.

We’ve read story after story on that old green living room carpet.  We’ve built Lego masterpieces and gathered eggs and bottle-fed baby calves and gone for long lovely walks and even welcomed grandkids into the family who then proceeded to do all the things here that our own children have.

Oh, this has been a good home for us.

We are definitely feeling many pangs of nostalgia.  But we’ve done all we came here to do, and we’re ready for some different pursuits.  And it helps to remember that in leaving the house, we’re not leaving all those amazing memories.  They get to come right along with us, and continue to be a huge part of our children’s childhood.

So we’ll take pictures.  We’ll copy our wall-mounted growth chart to a piece of trim we can mount in our new house, and then use it to document the growth of the grandkids just as it did their parents. We’re breathing deep of the last days we have here in this house.  (Due to a paperwork snafu, we’re getting a few extra bonus days.  In fact, it looks like we get one more Christmas right here.) But we’re also confident that in looking forward to this next adventure, we’re not truly losing all the neat blessings we’ve gained while living here.  It will forever be a part of the memories of a really wonderful part of our lives.

I think also that our very human wish for a lovely home is a beautiful reminder of the only perfect home we will ever experience:  heaven.

I pray that as we all celebrate home and family and love and the miraculous birth of Jesus during this beautiful time of year, we’ll also be joyful thinking of the heavenly home where some day we will celebrate forever.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours!


Part 11: From Addis to Home

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10

Three days in Harar ended up being just the right amount of time– long enough to visit and sight-see, and also long enough to get tired of our hotel and wish for our nice guesthouse in Addis.  Sunday morning we were up bright and early to get a jump on that 9 hour drive back to Addis.  We were told that the restaurant upstairs opened at 6 AM, so we planned to start the day with coffee.  After getting all packed up, we trundled upstairs to the restaurant thinking happily of coffee.

The restaurant was utterly deserted, except for a man sleeping in a corner on a mat that had been laid on two couches shoved together facing each other.  Hmmm….  We sat for a few minutes, chatting and hoping our talking would wake him up.  But when he didn’t budge, Sophie went downstairs to the front desk to tell them there was no one to help us.  As she came back upstairs, the man’s phone began to ring.  Sure enough, this was the morning restaurant staff.

We wondered if he would be grumpy, but he tossed his mat up on a high ledge in a practiced sort of way, and came over cheerily to take our order.  Soon we were sipping on coffee yumminess.  Then off we headed for a day of driving.  During the 4 hours of twisty mountain roads on the start of the drive I tried hard to sleep– I hate mountain driving, and that road is riddled with enough wrecked and abandoned vehicles that the hazards are hard to forget.

Our faithful Dawit

The desert part of the drive was even hotter than it had been the previous week.  We were all shedding layers and chugging liquids and wishing we could just fast-forward to Addis.  Finally we made it to the one-hour dab of freeway on the edge of Addis.  Now we were almost home.

Before settling in at the guesthouse, we stopped at the Sishu for burgers, fries and ice cream.  (Such a hard life!)  Then we settled in happily at the guesthouse for a quiet evening.

The next day we had a quiet day at the guesthouse– very welcome after the busy days previously.  Sophie, Lidya and I went for a walk at one point, on the hunt for some groceries for the next few days.

We headed out in the direction Dawit had taken us in the van, not realizing that he had brought us on a logical path for a car, due to roads that were blocked in the middle by medians and a train track.  But it was a tremendously inefficient walking route, taking 45 round-about minutes to reach a location that should have taken ten.  Ah well.  The next day we went the easy route.

It was entertaining to walk anywhere, because people talked about us incessantly, and whether people realized it or not, Sophie and Lidya understood the vast majority of it.  The most common comments centered around the words ferenge (foreigners) and Habesha (Ethiopian, which people did not automatically assume the girls were– apparently they look pretty American).  On this walk we were shopping for fruit and veggies, and people were endlessly amused and surprised to find that ferenges might buy onions and garlic.


That afternoon after we got home it rained– a downpour that began with perhaps 3 minutes of warning thunder– leaving us very glad that we’d gone for our walk in the morning instead of the afternoon.  In Addis when it rains, it truly pours.

On Tuesday we visited Kidane Mehret, the orphanage where Emily and Julianna both lived for awhile before coming to us. Sister Camilla greeted us all with hugs and cries of delight and happily showed us around the place.  As usual, she could tell you which kids had families already, where they were going, and how much longer it would likely be before they could come home.

She sighed ruefully over the increase in paperwork time since the changes in the Ethiopian adoption process. The orphanage is much less crowded than in was in the past, which is good, but in general children wait there much longer before going into families. And some of the children, because of lack of documents, will never have families.

I was smitten with a blind girl of 13 or 14 (in white, next to me) who is incredibly smart and knows quite a bit of English.  She is led around by an also-precious girl (in green) who has Down Syndrome;  they are obviously sweet friends to each other.



Here are some photos of our visit, during which we snuggled babies, handed out tiny treats, and painted the fingernails of anyone who was interested, including quite a few little boys. 🙂 You should be able to click on any photos to enlarge.

Korean food in Ethiopia

Korean food in Ethiopia

After Kidane Mehret, we headed for lunch at a Korean restaurant that turned out to be excellent.  Rice is comfort food for more than a few of us, and we thoroughly enjoyed this meal. After lunch we did a little gift-shopping.  I had been commissioned by Erika to find a basket something along the lines of a Moses basket, that she could use with her soon-due baby for nap time.  I was delighted to find a nice rectangular one that I think should work nicely.  Others of us were also successful gift-shopping for friends and family.

Our final day in Addis was spent packing up, weighing luggage, and then meeting a friend of Lidya’s at the mall for a visit.  She came to America just a few months after Lidya and Zeytuna did, and happened to be here on a visit at the same time we were.  They had a great time visiting and catching up.

We had to be at the airport by 7:30 in the evening, and there we were sad to say goodbye to Dawit. He had been with us on this trip from start to finish, and we were so blessed by his steady presence.  I think he may have even been sad to say goodbye.

With Dawit

Bole Airport was full of more than the usual chaos.  First off, at the ticket counter I had a bad moment counting passports and panicking because we only had 5.  We’d been traveling the whole time with my sister Sophie, and in my head I’d gotten very used to counting to 6.  Except she wasn’t traveling til two days later and wasn’t even at the airport with us, so 5 was exactly the right number of passports to have. Whew.

We waited upstairs near our gate for quite awhile before I realized that to get around the glass wall to our gate (instead of the flight attendants just opening doors as I’d assumed) we’d need to go through yet another security screening way down at the far end of the hallway.  We figured this out with enough time to spare, thankfully.  But the lines were hugely long and quite a few other people were still trying to get through security when they should have already been on their plane. Airport workers were walking through the mob yelling out city names, and pulling those passengers to the front of the screening lines to try to get them to their planes faster. It was absolute chaos for awhile.

Once on the plane, our first stop  (after 9 hours in the air) was in Germany, where we had a 5 hour layover.  We took up a bit of the time by accidentally going the wrong direction when we got thru security, which meant we had to go through security again 5 minutes later.  And boy, were some of those security screeners bossy. Arg.  Ah, well.  Like I said, we had time to kill.  And after 9 hours on the plane, it was good to walk.

flyingFrom Frankfurt to Chicago was another 9 hours, and in Chicago we were delayed again getting through immigration.  For some reason they passed all of us through except Zeytuna, who they pulled aside (with me) to ask some additional screening questions. Eventually we made it through, picked up and dropped off all our luggage after customs, and had yet more time to kill before our last 3 hour flight home. On that final flight to home,  we were all so tired that the kids were falling asleep all over each other, looking like wilted flowers.  But eventually, 16 days after we left Idaho, we were back to home, sweet home again, much to all of our delight, especially John’s!   What an amazing trip!


Part 10: More from Harar

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

Oh, what a trip we’ve had! We are back home now, so I want to tell you the rest of our story.

In Harar, we saw many ladies in dresses that they called pyjamas (pee-JAH-mahs). Women and girls of all ages wore these very lightweight dresses, often with a head covering as well. One day we wandered through the market in Harar, picking fabric we liked. About $4 per person bought the fabric, and then for another dollar, seamstresses sewed the fabric into dresses in 15 minutes or so while you waited.

Fabric options were many, making it very hard to decide. The fabrics and patterns we chose were (believe it or not) smaller-patterned and more muted than many we saw. Here we are modeling our pyjamas. They are exceedingly comfortable, and– funny factoid– you get the tucking-in at the hip by tucking the sides of the fabric into your underwear.
Our pyjamas

We all wore our pyjamas around town one day. I couldn’t help but feel like the Ethiopians in our group wore them with more authority and panache than Sophie and I could muster up, but it was really fun. And the outfits are so comfy that I could totally picture wearing them as actual PJ’s in America.  Harar

Here’s a Harar lady wearing hers.  She has a lovely slip underneath hers, as well as, of course, a head covering.  Very elegant. And it’s completely normal to own a cell phone these days, while also still needing to tote water to your house.  Such interesting contrasts.

Also in Harar, Lidya helped me go shopping in the market, though her ability to bargain well was severely hampered by the white lady (me) following her around. Everybody knows all white people are rich, after all. 🙂

One of the hardest things for me the entire trip was to ignore the beggars walking around.  If you gave them money, even more would follow you, which would eventually feel very uncomfortable and intrusive. We experienced the most begging in Addis.  Harar people were actually very respectful, however.

At one point we were sitting in a neighborhood in our van waiting for Lidya and Zeytuna to get back from a quick visit with some family.  The day was warm and so we opened our side van door.  A couple little neighborhood girls watched us with interest, and when Julianna waved at them, one came to the door to shake hands with her.  But then they beat a hasty retreat and went back to watching from a distance.  Sophie said if we’d been in the same situation in Soddo, we’d have had 50 kids clamoring around the car door within minutes, and was amazed at how circumspect even the children were in Harar.

We also visited a very old church in Old Town Harar. On the front of the church is Isaiah 50:4-7. Reading the verse on Sophie’s phone, I had to smile, thinking of all the times this trip we’d been awakened by voices chanting over loudspeakers from Mosques and orthodox churches early in the morning in every city we stayed.  (Interestingly enough, after about a week in-country, however, the chanting from various churches no longer awakened us.)
Harar Church




We had no trouble filling three days in Harar with visiting and shopping and touristing around.  But by the end of our 3rd day we were more than ready to head back to Addis.  Our hotel there in Harar was almost perpetually out of water, which meant we could only do wet-wipe ‘baths’ and did lots of bucket-flushing of toilets.  Fortunately Sophie had had the foresight to bring a whole big pack of wet wipes, which along with the small packs I had, lasted just long enough.

Sophie (in a room of her own down the hall from us) was being bitten in the night by unknown creatures.  We are fervently hoping it was fleas, not bed bugs, and have a heap of laundry on the back porch that we are gradually HOT water washing as I speak just in case we brought any creatures back with us.  We’re baking the suitcases in Hefty bags in the sunshine, too, just in case.  On the bright side I only saw one spider and two cockroaches, so they must be doing some kind of critter control there.

Hotel Belayneh offers free pedicures  (if you're lucky enough to be traveling with Julianna!)

Hotel Belayneh offers free pedicures (if you’re lucky enough to be traveling with Julianna!)

The hotel’s proximity to the market, though absolutely delightful fun during the day, meant that the evenings were very noisy until 11PM or so, ramping up to a dull roar again by 6:30 or so in the morning.  One morning we had a very loud man singing at the top of his lungs, Ethiopian-church-style, right under our windows at 6 AM.

On the bright side, the Belayneh hotel has a very nice hot breakfast complete with fresh-squeezed orange juice, scrambled eggs, fresh bread, and the very best coffee we had in all of Ethiopia.  Breakfast for 6 of us was a total of $10USD– crazy affordable.  Always, Julianna scarfed down her eggs like lightening, as they tended to be the most familiar food we had all day.

Sambusas (Photocredit: My Somali Food)

In Harar there are many sambusa sellers.  Sambusas are little fried bread packets with lentils or potatoes inside, and cost only 1 birr each. 20 birr is $1USD, so they were a very affordable quick meal. Many that we bought were mildly seasoned, but one batch ended up being insanely spicy, leaving everyone but Lidya carefully picking everything green out before each bite.  Here’s a recipe for beef sambusas and another for lentil sambusas if you want to try making some yourself.  And here’s a fun video in Amharic showing how to make zilzil alecha, another Ethiopian dish.

One other fun food factoid about Harar:  the Teodros Hotel had been recommended as a good place to eat.  Once there, we found it to be only moderate.  But the very kind owner stopped at our table to chat with us, and when he heard Julianna wanted french fries, he sent one of his workers out on a fry hunt.  He ended up with potato chips (‘crisps’), not fries.  But we were very touched that he tried so hard to please us.

Goodness, this is getting long!  I will quit now and try to finish out our story in one more post.  Thanks for following along.  I’ve so much enjoyed hearing from all of you as I’ve shared this story.

Part 9: To Harar

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

During the three other times I’ve been to Ethiopia, I’d never ventured outside of Addis.  So this trip has been a completely different and interesting experience.  One of the cities I’ve wanted to visit for a long time, for a variety of reasons, is Harar, an ancient walled city in eastern Ethiopia.  It is actually one of the oldest cities in all of Africa.

After our trip to southern Ethiopia, we had one short night in Addis, then off we went to Harar.  The first hour or so of the 9 hour drive is on a brand new absolutely gorgeous freeway, just as nice as anything in America. No people, no cows, no goats walking on the road, no big trucks in oncoming lanes passing at the last minute. Heavenly.


After the freeway comes normal Ethiopian 2-lane highways complete with walking people, all sorts of animals, plus desert.  I suppose it is exactly what most people imagine when they think of Africa.  But let me tell you, it is really different from the cool, lush greenery in Addis and down south.


Here in the desert we saw tons of cactus, acacia trees, and even quite a few wild monkeys.  We threw a few old brown bananas to some of the monkeys and caused much screeching and running.

There are also camels, some domesticated and others who seem to be living out in the wild, including one camel napping in a relaxed fashion in the middle of the highway. Apparently being taller than most of the vehicles on the road can give you a superiority complex.


Supposedly there are also lions in this area, but happily we didn’t see any of those.  Sophie did see a hyena, however.

Once we made it through 4 hours of relative flat driving, we made our way up into the mountains, where the scenery is as beautiful as any I’ve seen anywhere.


Along with having vegetation different from Idaho mountains, it was also much more densely populated.  There were houses and little fields everywhere, which also meant that traffic on the roads never quit.  Always there was another slow-moving truck to pass, or a minibus intent on passing us.  It was utterly normal for drivers to take the exact center of the road as long as no one else seemed to be needing part of it, and many, many times I’d see oncoming traffic in our lane, passing someone. Then add in sheep, donkeys, and random children running out into the road– yikes.

Always it seemed to work out, usually because both our driver and the driver being passed slow down to let the passing car in.  And at least twice it was only the grace of God and the alertness of our driver that kept us from killing a silly child. It was much more nerve-wracking than normal mountain driving.  And sadly, getting through those mountains takes a good 3-4 hours– 4 in our case since our driver is the sensible type and says, “I think slower is better.”  (Hooray again for Dawit!)

We had a hotel reservation in Dire Dawa, a town an hour or so from Harar.   I’d done it to keep our stay in Harar shorter, since Harar hotels aren’t known to be all that great.  And that hotel was better than ours in Harar, by a long shot.  But it turned out to be quite a bit of extra driving, both to get to Dire Dawa, and to find our hotel there. The hotel is called the Selam Bluebird, and is at the edge of Millennium Park.

We got two rooms for the 6 of us, on two separate floors.  After the long drive, we opted to eat dinner in the hotel  restaurant, which was utterly empty.  Not a good sign. The serving lady found us difficult — we were slow to decide what to order– and she mildly chastised Lidya for not speaking better Amharic, which greatly irritated Sophie and me.  Lidya’s Amharic is coming back by leaps and bounds and she can express herself in Amharic remarkably well– truly a miracle considering she’s been surrounded only by English for 8 years.

We had reasonably ok Ethiopian food for dinner, plus french fries, which made Julianna very happy. She likes Ethiopian food ok (her fave: the injera) but overall she much prefers mom-cooked food.  Funny side note: the worst food on the whole trip according to all the girls was on the airplane.

Halfway through dinner, the power went out. At that point it was still light, so we finished our dinner, and then decided it might be a good idea to get settled into our rooms before it went fully dark.  Before going up, we asked at the desk for candles, and a few minutes after getting up to our rooms, they were delivered to us.  Not likely any hotel in the US would hand out such fire hazards to their guests.

Just about the time we were settled in to sleep, the power came back on– hooray for A/C!  The fan noise and the cool air made for a good night of sleep, even for Emily and Julianna and me who all shared one single bed.

Dire Dawa hotel

Breakfast was supposedly included with the room, so we went down half an hour before the end of breakfast time to find very slim pickings indeed– a few eggs, potatoes, and a dab of firfir.  An Ethiopian man coming in after us chastised them for the lack of food. When the worker asked if we wanted omelets, we happily accepted, only to get billed at the end of breakfast.  Apparently the omelets weren’t part of the free breakfast.

Ah well.  Off we went to Harar.  The drive was blessedly short- only about an hour.  We had reservations at Hotel Belayneh, which is at the edge of Old Town.  The old town is surrounded by a wall, with many gates and we were next to the Shoa Gate.

This hotel was by far the worst one on the trip which is pretty much what I expected.  The whole place was dirty, the bathrooms stunk, and we had water a couple hours a day max.  There were several good things though. First, it was a mere $45 a night for THREE rooms.  And even better, the rooms all had balconies, on which we sat for hours at a time watching the chaos in the marketplace just below.  The color!  The action!  The noise!

Harar Christian Market

It was ALMOST worth the dirt and the need to bucket-flush the toilet to have the fun of that view.

Harar Market

(Bucket-flushing, for the uninitiated, is when you fill the toilet tank with a bucket so that it will have enough water to flush. The water was brought into each bathroom by workers. Not ideal, but it works.)

In Harar we were blessed to spend some time with Lidya and Zeytuna’s extended family, who were utterly thrilled to see them.  Such a blessed time!

People recognized and welcomed Lidya and Zeytuna everywhere we went, it seemed.  And let me tell you, Ethiopian hospitality is amazing.  Always people want to feed you and offer you coffee, and make sure you’re sitting someplace comfortable.  We had friends of the family invite us into their homes, and perfect strangers in restaurants send people searching the streets for the french fries that Julianna craved.

One lovely family friend invited us for dinner and then when I complimented her shoes, she offered to give them to me. (I refused as graciously as I could, and barely talked her out of it.)  She served us dinner complete with gursha, an Ethiopian custom of hospitality that involves tucking (stuffing) choice bites of food into your guests’ mouths.  Yikes!  Such a foreign (and frankly uncomfy) tradition — and yet I loved the sweet heart behind it, and of course her obvious love for the girls.  Once again, proof that all our girls have people who love them on both sides of the world.


Part 8: Visiting and Driving

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7


After the enormous events that had unfolded on Saturday, we felt kind of in a daze– ‘did that really happen?’– on Sunday.  But Sunday was our last day in Soddo and it was packed with going-away activities for my sister Sophie, who has worked there as a missionary for 5 years.

Sophie and sweet Jake, the assistant guard dog

The morning was spent making a birthday cake for little Elen, a toddler Sophie has cared for since she was born. We also prepped the fixings for fried rice, since later we were making dinner for a missionary family who had been in Addis for awhile and was just driving back to Soddo that day. The mom has been one of Sophie’s best friends in Soddo, and Sophie was very eager to have a little more time with before we left.

soddo (2)

At noon it was time to head off to Amarech and Elen’s house for the birthday/ going away party. Our trusty driver Dawit dropped us off, and then on our request headed off to the town where Emily’s birth mom has lived in the past.  Maybe, maybe he could find something about her while we went tot the birthday party.

soddo (4)

Amarech’s house was full of people whom Sophie has loved and known for years, and it was really fun to be in on the celebration. As is typical in Ethiopia, we were urged over and over again to eat, eat, eat. They served us injera and wat for the meal, and then there was fruit and coffee and cake for dessert.

soddo (3)
The girls and Sophie and I sang happy birthday to little almost-4 year old Elen American-style, which everyone found very funny. And then Sophie and Lidya sang it Ethiopian style too. Little children hung in the doorways watching the party, and periodically neighbors dropped in too, greeting Sophie, some of them staying and eating too. Goodbyes were hard that afternoon. So many people love Sophie and are sad that she is leaving.

soddo (10)
One interesting side note. Amarech, adoptive momma to little Elen, has been a foster mom to many babies for many years. We learned after talking to Dr. Mary that Amarech was also Julianna’s foster mom during the month or so before she went to Kidane Mehret in Addis. When Amarech heard that Julianna was one of ‘her’ babies years ago, she gave Julianna extra kisses.

After the birthday party we headed back toward the Soddo Christian Hospital compound on foot, and were good and sweaty by the time Dawit caught up with us in the van. Unfortunately he hadn’t been able to track down Emily’s birth mom, but she was still so happy to have met her dad that she felt peaceful about not finding her.

soddo (1)
In the evening we had a nice meal with Sophie’s friends, who have 6 children. In an interesting ‘it’s a small world’ set of circumstances, the family will be moving to Kenya soon where most likely the dad, who is a pediatrician, will be working alongside our daughter’s sister in law at Kijabe Hospital. As they are all such nice people, I am sure they will enjoy each other.


One interesting side note: The Soddo Christian Hospital compound is an absolutely lovely place with comfortable homes in which doctors and their families live all ringed around beautiful gardens and a big playground for children.  Every effort has been made to help missionaries feel comfortable, right down to a huge generator that kicks in within 90 seconds after a power outage, which is a huge luxury in a place where the power disappears often.



We headed out of Soddo on Monday morning. Emily and Julianna were both wishing they could have somehow had more time with their families. But we’d done the best we could with the limited time we had, and were so grateful to have gotten to see them.
On the way out of town we paused at a roadside stand for Coke since my stomach was threatening revolt, and Coke usually helps on car rides. We had two extra people with us—an older missionary couple who was headed to Awassa for a little rest and relaxation.
Apparently Awassa is a bit of a tourist spot. Awassa is a 2 hour drive from Soddo, and we got there just in time to drop off the missionary couple and then eat lunch with Marcus and Esther, friends of Sophie’s. Marcus is the helicopter pilot with whom she’s been flying heli-missions for several years into remote parts of Ethiopia.

soddo (7)

We ate at an interesting restaurant which is actually a culinary school. You pay a set fee for the meal and are served a 5 course dinner, something different every day, depending on what the students were being taught to cook that day. This day’s offering consisted of a very nice quiche, potato soup, a salad, crepes wrapped around a filling that reminded me of rich meaty spaghetti sauce and then cake for dessert. Most of the girls liked the potato soup the best—its taste was most familiar and least intimidating to them. I really liked the quiche.

soddo (8)
After lunch we were treated to a tour of the helicopter place, and spent some time visiting the families who live on that compound. The kids there have a sweet spot to grow up—a big yard with swingset, slide, trampoline, and even a zip line—all looking out over Lake Awassa.

soddo (9)After visiting them we went next door to a rather posh looking hotel where Emily and Julianna swam, and the rest of us just chilled out. We had dinner there too—some very underwhelming hamburgers and fries—before heading over to the Norwegian Guesthouse which was just a little further down the same lake.


By then it was getting on toward dark. It has been a really nice place of quiet retreat for Sophie, and it is run by friends of hers.

Our elderly cabin was up a little hill and consisted of a living room, tiny kitchenette and a couple of little bedrooms where each bed was equipped with its own mosquito netting. It’s malaria country, you know. I found the mosquito netting both charming and concerning, and spent several minutes making sure the girls had been properly mosquito-sprayed.


The toilet was attached, but outside, and in desperate need of bleach and a scrub brush.  I was less than impressed.  But hey, we were only staying one night. It would be fine. Sophie went to visit with her friends for a few minutes, and a little later she came back with some bad news.


The couple we’d driven to Awassa, who was also staying here at the Norwegian guesthouse, had gone out to dinner nearby, and then decided to walk back to the guesthouse in the dark through a rather sketchy area of town. They ended up being assaulted and robbed. Sophie saw them right after it happened, and invited them to come sit in our house with us for awhile to settle down and catch their breath.


They have been missionaries in Africa for decades, and are obviously the sturdy sort. But they were shaken up emotionally and beaten up physically, and definitely were distressed from that terrible turn of events. Sophie decided to sleep next door in their cabin with them, just in case their injuries ended up being more serious than it seemed at the moment. (They ended up being ok, though quite bruised.)
We were all shaken up by this happening, Lidya and I especially, and wondered if we were safe with that crime happening so close by. But Sophie reminded us we were in a guarded, gated compound, not out walking on a dark road like they had been. Still it ended up being a restless night of sleep.


The next day we were up and away at 7, eager to get back to Addis at a reasonable time. Dawit, our wonderful driver, had been away from his wife and baby daughter for 4 nights by now, and I was thinking happily of our lovely guesthouse in Addis, which was sounding even better in my mind after the less posh digs down south.
We were in Addis a little after noon, and before heading to the guesthouse we stopped for lunch at one of the most popular ferengi (foreigner) restaurants in Addis, a hamburger place called Sishu.
It first opened in a lady’s house, but soon became so hugely popular that she moved it into a warehouse.

It is decorated less ornately than is typical in a fancy Ethiopian restaurant– it feels clean and modern and western– and has  utterly fabulous hamburgers and fries– yum!! Heaven for foreigners who can sometimes feel tired of eating Ethiopian food or questionable imitations of American fare.

It also has the second-nicest bathrooms we’d seen the trip—the nicest being in our Addis guesthouse. Ours (we decided) were an Ethiopian 10—as nice as you were ever likely to see in Ethiopia. The ones at the Sishu were a good solid 9, and even had paper towels to dry your hands after washing. It’s the little things, people!

More on bathrooms later.  After one more night in our posh Addis guesthouse, we were headed to Harar the next morning.  And that’s when the bathrooms really got memorable.

Part 7: The goodness of God

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Looking back, I can only imagine how nerve-wracking it must have felt for the young man, answering the barrage of questions from Lidya and Sophie and me.

The goodness of God

The story he told is, I suppose, not so different from many others.  Of a high school student, and young love and a baby. Of wishing to do right by the child, and trying for awhile to make everything work.  And finally of grandparents stepping in and making a decision. He told his story with humility, and in a straight forward way.  His good intent was clear, as was his longing for a happier ending, one that didn’t end with an orphanage and a child lost to him forever.

Lost, that is, until twelve years later a man came to his family’s village asking questions and showing photos of a baby in the arms of a nun.


And the father saw the pictures and knew it was her and the grandfather, in whose home this baby had lived for a year, saw the pictures and knew the same thing.  And they wondered if it wasn’t an ending that God had in mind after all.  Maybe there was more to this story.

And now here we were, hearing the story and looking in this young man’s face– he’s 32 by now– and all we could see was  Emily’s cheekbones, and her incredible, unusually beautiful eyes.

I think our hearts felt it even then. But still we wanted more surety, for the sake of our precious Emily’s heart.

We asked if we could meet the man’s father and talk to him too. And we kept praying. We drove with Dawit to a little house in Soddo.  (This was the family’s town house, where Tarikegn and his brother and father live and work all week, while the grandmother lives full time out in the countryside on the farm.)

Once out of the van as we walked toward the house, I introduced Tarikegn to all the girls, not specifying which we thought might be his. But his eyes lingered on Emily.

Still Lidya and Sophie and I played judge and jury, asking questions and praying God would guide us.   At this point Sophie and Lidya were tag-team translating, since we’d had to leave Dawit back to watch his car.

And Tarikegn and his father continued to answer us with humility and patience, never asking us for one thing.  Each detail fit what we knew or added to the story, answering questions  that Emily and I have wondered for years.  The timing was right. The story fit my momma-instinct that my girl had been well loved. It felt right.

And individually each of us loving Emily came to the same conclusion– the protective momma, and the fierce big sister, and the aunty who’s lived in Ethiopia long enough to be jaded about (many) Ethiopian men. We all believed this was her daddy. And Emily?  She felt it too.

And  when I got the nod from her, I introduced her to him and she gave him a shy hug and he laughed with delight.  And we all didn’t quite know what to do then. Because none of us had ever done this moment before– the one where you realize a stranger is something much more important.  But still for this moment you are unknown to each other.

So we set about to remedying that.

Those eyes

I dug a photo album out of my purse, one I’d prepared JUST.IN.CASE the miracle happened and God opened a door and we found someone.  And his rapt attention on the album…oh… he was such a daddy, looking at his little girl, catching up on years he’d missed.

Looking at the album

After I’d shown him every photo, and we’d clicked a few more pictures of our own, they asked us if we’d like to come inside.  There wasn’t a light in the living room/bedroom and it was getting late, but we went in anyway.  (The man in blue is grandpa, and the one in red is dad’s brother.)

We took turns asking questions then– talking about what he did for a living (knee work– the Ethiopian word for work that takes strength) and what Emily wants to do when she grows up (maybe a teacher– they loved that answer).  And I told them what a friend-maker she is and what a gift she is to our lives.  The grandpa then said they’d been praying they would see her again.  “It is God who brought her to us.”


He did indeed.

When we didn’t dare stay any longer, we went out into the yard again, admiring the pretty landscaping, especially the tall beautiful sugar cane.

Breaking sugar cane

Tarikegn strode up the hill with purpose and broke one down for Emily to take along.  Once he had one broken up, he decided that wasn’t quite enough and went up to break one more down, which he carried back to the van for us.

The time felt so short.  We had just met him and now we needed to say goodbye.  It was hard, and sweet all together.

I thought of the corn earlier in the day given to us by Julianna’s dad.  Now there was sugar cane for our sweet Emily from her dad.  Then there was their American dad at home working hard, graciously making this trip possible for them.

Sweets for the sweetAnd above it all their heavenly Father orchestrating every moment of it all. Fathers just love to give good gifts to their children.

I don’t know if we’ll ever have a day that feels more awash in the goodness of God.  He is good.  All the time. God is good.

Saying goodbye

Part 6: Talking to strangers

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

The plan for Saturday was first to  visit Julianna’s family, and then to do a little investigating to see if we could find anything at all about Emily’s family. Since all we knew about her was the police station where she’d been relinquished, that was a very big question indeed. We’d sent a searcher out a few weeks earlier to that town. He had spoken with a government official who had asked for $200 in exchange for information about the father, who he claimed to know.

Now, in Ethiopia small bribes are not uncommon at all. In fact, police pull drivers over regularly asking for money. But $200 is a very big bribe around here. And Sophie and John and I didn’t like the fact that the only information he had was about the father. Right or wrong, our instinct was that a man might claim to know something in exchange for money,  whereas a woman might be more motivated by the heart. What we were most hoping for was information about Emily’s mom.
So on that Saturday afternoon after leaving Julianna’s joyful family reunion, we were willing and eager to hunt for Emily’s family. But we all, including Emily, understood that the chances of finding good information were slim. Our searcher had been able to get the phone number of the man who claimed to be Emily’s father, which would enable us to talk to him without the government official’s involvement. But our searcher himself was not available that afternoon to talk with the supposed father.
Oh, we didn’t know what to do. But we had to leave Soddo in 36 hours, and we had come such a long way. I couldn’t stand leaving without trying for something at least. We decided to have our trusty driver Dawit call the man, and ask if we could visit him in the village where Emily had been relinquished. So on our way back to Soddo from Julianna’s village Dawit did so.
So there we were in the van, pulled over at the side of the road next to Sophie’s favorite hamburger place in Soddo, listening in on Dawit’s conversation with a stranger who might be Emily’s dad, but probably wasn’t. When asked if we could go to his village, the man said he was actually in Soddo working today, at the bus station. The same bus station that was just a few blocks from our location now. He could meet us there, he said.

At the bus station
A nervous conversation ensued between Sophie and me. We so much wanted to ensure we were getting reliable information for Emily. We didn’t like the idea of meeting this stranger at a bus station—we couldn’t quite even figure out why he was there since supposedly he lived out in the country. But maybe if we talked to him awhile, and everything seemed ok, he could take us to his village to meet more family? We were so uncertain. But what else could we do?
We drove to the bus station and then our driver Dawit called him again to tell him we were there. This time the man told Dawit that he was very close, that he was taking a bajaj to the bus station and would be there very soon. Again we were uncertain. First he’d said he was at the bus station and then he wasn’t. As we waited for him to show up, we realized we didn’t know his name, or anything really about him.
After a few nervous minutes of waiting, a young man appeared at the driver’s window. So young. Sophie and Lidya and I all guessed he was maybe 25. After a quick hi at the window, he appeared to reconsider, and stepped away from the van to use his phone. In seconds Dawit’s phone rang and we all laughed, even the young man. Apparently before talking with us, he had wanted to be sure he was approaching the right people.

Dawit opened the passenger front door and invited the young man into the van to talk with us. He pulled out the paper and the pictures that our searcher had shared with him.

We had decided before he even got into the van that we would not identify Emily to him unless we came to be reasonably sure that there might be a valid reason to believe he was a relative. And we were so eager to know the truth that thinking back I’m not sure we even introduced ourselves properly but just began asking him questions. What do you know about this baby? Why do you think you are the father? Tell us the story as you know it.

We were wanting to know if his story would match what we knew, and as he spoke, all of our intuition was on high alert, trying to judge if he seemed trustworthy and was telling the truth.  Above all, we wanted our precious girl not to be hurt. You can bet we were praying hard for all the wisdom and guidance that God could give us.

Part 5: Joyful Grannies

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

On we walked, with our young guides reassuring us that it was close by. Sophie had a picture of the house in her head– a rectangular house with two front doors and a round children’s hut off to one side. When we entered a clearing and were pointed toward a house, Sophie said, “This looks different. I don’t know if this is it.”

Julianna Family (4)

Little children stood in front of the house looking at us curiously, and soon a couple of ladies appeared as well. We said Julianna’s dads name again and they said he wasn’t here. We still weren’t sure if we had the right spot, but then an older lady spotted Julianna and burst into tears, shouting and running into our midst and hugging and kissing Julianna. A younger lady ran into the house and quickly emerged with an album.

The album I’d sent to them from America years ago full of pictures of Julianna.

This was most certainly the right place.

Then the pandemonium began.

Someone told us first that the lady kissing Julianna was a grandmother on her dad’s side, but later dad said his mom was not living, so we think now it may have been an aunt. Another lady, a neighbor, kissed Julianna with equal enthusiasm. Children ran to get Julianna’s father and sibings, and now Julianna’s step mother hugged and cried over Julianna.

People ran into the house to get chairs, and insisted we sit down in the shade under the trees while we waited for Julianna’s father to come from the fields.  When finally he did come, I don’t think I have seen anyone happier this side of heaven.

Julianna Family (10)
He hugged her and then raised his hands to praise God for the gift of her presence.

Julianna's Dad


When Julianna’s grandmother, the mother of her mother appeared, sobbing hysterically, I was immediately in tears too. She couldn’t stop looking at Julianna’s face and hands.  Oh the tears. Oh the joy.

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Julianna Family (5)
The boy in the photo above is Julianna’s older brother. His joy was a quieter one, but I think he was just as happy as anyone.

Julianna Family (14)

The crowd grew as more and more family and neighbors appeared. I had brought my computer so I could show a video of Julianna playing the guitar and singing. I knew that she might be subdued when meeting many strangers, so I wanted them to get a glimpse of the real her– a child who actually is far from subdued.  Everyone pressed close to glimpse the video.
Watching a video

In a bit we gathered family in the front of the house to try to get some pictures. The crowd pressed in, and I got a piece of paper and tried to write down names of actual family, so we could maybe later identify people in the pictures.
SO many people

This photo shows many of her relatives, with her sister Bruk just arrived and hugging her.
Julianna Family (3)

And here is much of her family, except for some sisters close to her age who had not yet arrived.

Julianna Family (8)

This photo is of Julianna’s great grandmother on her mother’s side. What a gift, to see so many generations together.

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Back under the tree in the shade again, Julianna’s smaller sisters arrived.
Julianna Family (6)

Hana (in the brown top) is a year or so older than Julianna, and Conjit (in white and pink) is probably another year older than her. Julianna’s father was radiant with happiness to see so many of his children together.

Julianna Family (12)

Soon it was evident that preparations were being made to feed us. Sophie and I were both concerned that they might be killing animals, and making more of a production than they could really afford, and we wondered if we should leave. But we had come from such a distance that I couldn’t bear to leave so soon. And then I was told that they were cooking corn. This seemed to me like a reasonable feast with it being corn harvest season.

We settled in to stay awhile longer. Soon corn was brought out to us– tougher than American corn, but fairly sweet. We quickly began copying Hana’s way of eating the corn, picking it off the cob kernel by kernel. Julianna’s dad gave a joyful speech, and then the uncle did. With the help of the translator, I was able to tell Julianna’s dad thank you and to pray for all the assembled family and neighbors.

They wanted to hear Julianna’s voice, but she was shy. So we thought of questions to ask her, and soon she warmed up, telling people about her life in America. The crowd was huge by now, but any time she spoke, everyone went silent, hanging on her every word.

Julianna’s grandma asked if she could bring her some milk, but we told her that would not be good for Julianna’s tummy. They coaxed us to eat more, and Sophie said we’d be expected to eat all the corn. But when Hana saw Julianna was struggling, she snatched the ear of corn out of Julianna’s hand and set it back on the table. I broke mine in half and gave it to a couple of the little children.

Finally it was time to go. We slowly and reluctantly gathered our things together and walked back toward our van. Many hugs were shared at the van door before we all waved goodbye. Oh, it was hard to leave. But what a blessed visit it had been.

Julianna has many, many people who love her on both sides of the world.

Part 4: This should be easy

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

When we got into Dawit’s van on Saturday morning to go visit Julianna’s family, we thought we knew where we were going.  Sophie had been there before, after all.  How hard could it be?

We were hoping to visit Julianna’s birth father and some of her siblings.  They live on a main road just outside a little town called Bombay.  The name came because the town was bombed in the 1930’s by the Italians.  It’s about an hour and a half from Soddo, half on nice asphalt and half on gravel.

We stopped at the Bombay health center since they have the best bathrooms in town.  And even these were scary– squatty potties with enough rusted out spots on the bottom edges of the doors that you could not be sure of complete privacy.  Most of us took one look and decided the need was not that urgent.  (It didn’t help that there were men moving rocks right in front of the bathrooms.)

In Bombay Sophie couldn’t remember the exact road they lived on, since she hadn’t been driving last time.  We had brought Mesfin, Sophie’s translator along, and he thought the best way to get directions was to ask at the family’s kebele– a kind of govt office that keeps track of citizens for tax purposes.  So several times we stopped and asked for directions to the kebele, with all sorts of varying answers.

Around and around the main city streets we went.  Each time we stopped, we gathered crowds of curious children, drawn by the sight of white faces in the windows.



Finally we were vaguely directed out of town, and off we went.  I had seen pictures of the house before, and Sophie remembered it had a big open front yard.  But she was puzzled because it was described as a short drive and then a 10 minute walk.  She remembered the house as being right on the road.

A bit down the road, still uncertain, we paused yet again for directions, and were directed down an even bumpier little road.  But the person directing this time looked very certain, which was encouraging.

We drove along the edge of a little swamp, which made Sophie sigh.  She had treated Julianna’s family multiple times for malaria, and now she knew why they were so prone to it.  Our best guess is that malaria was probably the cause of Julianna’s birthmom’s death.

Past the swamp, sure enough, the road came to an end. Here our  driver would wait while we walked on, now guided by neighborhood children, who said the house was very close.  Anticipation was rising.


We have sent pictures several times to Julianna’s dad over the years, but only my sister Sophie had seen him, and he didn’t know we were coming.  What if he wasn’t even here?