Saturday, December 16, 2006

Safe arrival

We have arrived "home" in New Hampshire. Gracie was a gem on the 30 hour journey to America. But now we are all struggling with sickness. We are enjoying family and Gracie is winning hearts left and right (of course).

Thank you for your prayers during our journey. Please pray for quick recovery, pray that Gracie does not have malaria and only has a cold, pray that we would bring glory to God's name as we introduce our beautiful image of God's grace in our lives to those around us!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Heading "home"

It's always with mixed feelings that we leave Africa. We are even more confused this time. We are on one hand very eager to introduce Gracie to the rest of her family and get into our own home and settle into more of a routine with her. But there remains that longing to keep our feet on African soil and our hearts and minds in African culture.

We leave a relational culture for a culture where we have trouble getting to know people who share a hallway with us. We leave a place where we can stay up until 1am talking with our neighbors for a place where we have to obey quiet-hours after 10pm.

We leave delightful moist heat and constant sweating for a land of dryness, weak sun, and cold.

We leave a place where we never know if there will be electricity for a land where the house stays lit up all night long because of all the street lamps and power-consuming appliances glowing in the night.

We leave a place where it may take all day to do one task (due to poor roads, waiting for transportation, police stops, waiting for a given person to show up, paper work, having to go across town to print something out, having to pay the right fee, having to find the right contact person, etc.) for a place where every day requires the accomplishment of as many tasks as possible.

We leave a beach-house with stretches of deserted warm-watered beach for an apartment building that overlooks a bank of trees and a parking lot.

We leave a place where we have to wait till a vehicle is ready to take us somewhere for a place where we have to struggle with constant car break-downs and gas prices.

We are looking forward to putting Gracie to bed on something besides a bench. We are looking forward to not waking up soaked in sweat (at least I am - Josh is a bit different). We are looking forward to taking a "real" shower and giving Gracie a long warm bath. We are looking foward to not having 4-6 inch spiders and malaria carrying mosquitoes biting our feet at night. We are looking forward to Gracie giving her grandmas kisses and hugs!

We are not looking forward to the crush of activity, the pressures of tasks, the responsibilities of owning a condo and cars, and going back to USA work!

Please pray for us as we leave the continent that has embedded itself in our heats for the continent that God has called us to for this season of life. Pray that the 28 hour journey home would go well, that Gracie would sleep well during the journey (and the parents too!), that all would stay healthy, and that we would have energy to spend time with our family and friends who will meet us at the airport!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"Why that baby black?"

Our favorite question! We get this question at least once a day as we walk around the community with our beautiful black baby.

Possible responses:
1) "We don't know! She just came out that way!"
2) "I'm black too, can't you tell?"
3) "WHAT?! She BLACK?!"

The question represents an underlying discomfort that exists here. One perceived problem is the robbing of natural resources from this country. Although we have been told that in general there there is a relatively small importance placed on children in this land still torn apart by the ravages of war, poverty, and corruption, when it appears that a child is leaving the country to go to America, they are justly concerned.

The next question is, "She can' walk?" (i.e. she can't walk?)

Our answer of, "not yet, she is weak" justifies us adopting her and the interviewers walk away satisfied that yes, this weak child should indeed go to America. They often say, "God bless you! God bless you! It is a wonderful thing!"

One astute inquirer (a guard at a guard station where we had to hang out for an hour waiting for approval to move on beyond the gate to an abandonned mine up-country 2 hours) then asked, "will she come back here?" and we answered honestly that we do not know but that we plan on living in Africa with her long-term. He answered with a heart felt and sincere, "thank you, God bless you, God bless you."

We're also trying to get used to being the primary attraction, even at the big local "football" game, the beach, the market, etc. When we swim in the ocean, a line of observers lines up on the beach to watch this curious thing - two white people throwing a screaming black girl around in the water! Her huge smile wins everyone over!

This intense observation by curious spectators to our lives will not end when we leave Liberia. Although Americans are not always so comfortable with straight-out staring as many of our African friends, there will certainly be some hostility, some questions, some judgements, even from people who we know and love.

For this reason (and many others), it is important for us to remember why we are adopting. Are we adopting for our comfort? Are we adopting even for our own pleasure? No (although Grace will certainly bring us much joy over the years). We are adopting Gracie to bring glory to our heavenly Father who adopted us, saving us from the gutters of our sin, making us full heirs to His kingdom (Galatians chapter 4). With this perspective, the challenges ahead seem inconsequential.

Gracie and Josh - quite the attraction!

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Food... (yes, by Josh)

I’m gapping oh! - “I’m really hungry!” Since I tend to be oriented toward food, I (Josh) decided to write a short blurb about the food here in Liberia. We have had the privilege of eating real Liberian food at least once day during our stay here, and it is VERY GOOD!

The staple here is rice; if a meal does not contain rice, it is not a full meal! Along with the rice, they usually make a “soup” to eat with the rice (to put on-top of the rice). Here on the coast at least, the base of the soup is fish and palm oil. A relatively small fish is gutted and de-headed. It is then cut into cross-wise chunks, fried (skin and bones included) in palm oil. To this base may be added an assortment of different foods to create various dishes. One of our favorites is potato soup. It is made from the greens from sweet potatoes (I’m not clear if these are really sweet potatoes or a type of yam). The greens along with copious amounts of pepper (chili), a little chicken bouillon, and various other spices and water are added to the frying fish in a big pot. For other dishes, they will use Cassava greens or lentils instead of the potato greens.

The food here tends to be spicy, which I LOVE! Some tribes, such as the Kru (Gracie’s tribe), often give their children very spicy food at very young ages “to make them strong.” Needless to say, Gracie eats food almost as spicy as me! For this I am very happy!

Saturday, December 9, 2006

The Rattin Family in "Fine African Suits"

We took a moment to pose for real family portraits on the beach outside our residence taken by one of our housemates. The beauty of God's creation right here - one of the most beautiful beaches in the world - is one of Liberia's many blessings from God. God has blessed this land with beautiful nature as well as beautiful people. The beach that we reside on is a popular spot for missionaries, Liberians, and UN personnel (lots of UN trucks most of the time!) and we are so blessed to have had this time on such a beautiful beach introducing Gracie to swimming, the ocean, chasing crabs (Josh's obsession), and meeting the many curious onlookers, spectators to our lives as a new racially-mixed family.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Our African Princess

Another photo while the internet is actually working!
We attended the embassy today and have been approved. Praise God! We have just one last requirement to complete to get possession of our packet of all her papers but we are assured that the process is done here in Liberia! We are headed home on Wednesday!

The family celebrating Gracie's Birthday

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Birthday Girl and Life Beyond

Yes, there is life beyond Gracie occuring in this country - believe it or not!

But first, the Gracie!

We had the most fun birthday party for her - the 3 year old actually had more than 15 people attend her party on Tuesday night! We ordered 20 banana cake muffins from a local cook, found three pints of ice cream (at a high premium), a sweet juicy pineapple, lots of oranges, Fanta and Coke, ice, and even birthday balloons, a banner, and a "3" candle! We do not take credit for most of that as our friend here supplied much of the delicacies and decoration! Gracie had SO much fun with all her friends and was in heaven with all the attention!

She is growing up so much and maybe even gaining a little weight? She today actually got a few slimy pieces of banana into her mouth herself while she played with her food! It's very fun to coach her in activities although we wish that we could get her to learn some signs to communicate a little better - but hopefully she'll catch on with time! She has clearly not used her hands for many useful activities previously. She is now moving from staring at her hands to chewing on her fingers, playing with food, putting food or her cup close to her mouth, etc.

We are getting ample opportunity to be consistent in discipline as she continues to challenge our two simple rules. What a delight to be able to have two rules and just two rules and to have the luxury of time to use those rules as an example of what it means to obey and why God commands children to obey their parents. We pray that these lessons are being applied to her heart.

Other than that, in my non-Mommy life, I have been teaching daily seminars to the nannies. This has been so fun for me. Our series yesterday was first aid - the older children acted out a dozen different skits of injuries for the audience - it was fantastic! The nannies got into it to encourage the children and asked great questions about various common health practices. Today we talked about nutrition and dehydration and the ever challenging question of how to get protein (expensive) into the childrens' daily or at least weekly diet. I used an adapted analogy that I learned from a colleague here of a three legged stool - the legs representing carbs, protein, and greens (i.e. green vegetables - my version). If you only have two legs (here, as in most of the developping world, it is carbs and vegetables) the stool (i.e. child) falls over. They really resonated with that analogy and we are working on brainstorming cost-effective ways to get a source of protein into the diet as eggs, milk, fish, meat, and even beans are all expensive relative to the staple rice.

Pray for the nannies to take ownership of the material that we are covering and to take ownership of their ministry to these children! I have been affirming that they are mothers, school teachers, nutritionists, nurses, and missionaries to these children - what a job description!

I have also been doing medical evaluations and reports on special needs children - I have been so priviledged to be a part of their beautiful and often sad stories and have taken every opportunity to affirm the birth family for the wonderful care they have provided for their more challenging children in a setting where resources are so scarce.

We have also enjoyed getting to know various methods for orphan ministry and have become a little more acquainted with Rafiki Foundation - we would recommend checking out this concept of a village for orphans to raise them to be leaders in their own communities. We would welcome your thoughts and comments about orphan care in sub-Saharan Africa!

We finally have our embassy date for Friday - hopefully after Friday we will be all set to leave next Wednesday. Pray that all goes smoothly. We have been forwarned that we may get a hard time in our interview because we are relatively poor, but God is good - pray that we represent Christ through any stressful times that we encounter!

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Exploring the world

Gracie is exploring her world more every day. She gets a furrowed look on her face while she reaches for something, willing her uncoordinated hands to pick up or play with the object. At times she even pulls at her right hand with her left hand, relaxing the spasm in that hand and getting it to obey her a little better for a while. (so cute!)

More milestones in development:
- Last night she was really sitting very securely on my lap supporting herself with her own arms only at the table playing with food and even trying to get kernels of rice to her mouth and handing me her cup and guiding her cup to her mouth when she wanted to drink!

- Today she rolled over twice from back to stomach!

We played for quite a while in the delicious ocean (perfect temperature and waves!) and Gracie loves it! She stands for a long time (of course always supported) to feel the waves crash against her. She even tolerates the splash of waves in her face for the thrill of waves and water around her!

Friday, December 1, 2006

Details on Gracie

Many are asking what Gracie can do, so here's some info!

She's basically at most at a one year old level of development in all aspects.

She just sat on her own spontaneously today propped with her two arms between her legs, but otherwise is too floppy to sit on her own.

She occasionally stands in a fairly non-functional way if well supported. Her legs lock up so that she cannot take any attempts at steps while standing.

She cannot feed herself but I have succeeded in getting her to use her hand at times to guide the food to her mouth so I think that she is not too far from learning that she can feed herself.

She understands limits set but tries to push them as much as possible. She has figured out things that we praise her for (saying "ga," standing, pushing up, etc) and will do these things when she's in trouble to get us smile and laugh. She giggles hilariously when anything falls, bumps, jumps, thumps, when she burps, etc.

She cannot talk but vocalizes very strongly and fills the house with "screams of joy" when she gets going. This bodes well for learning to speak once we get to have som mouth control as well.

She of course is not potty trained - that might be a bit far from our reality right now, but perhaps we we're home with with a routine and electricity and running water all day we'll be able to work on it!

She drools a lot - we call her the "drool meister" - but has decent control of her drooling when she's not anywhere close to a meal.

She did not cry for three days straight but now she is clearly out of the honeymoon period and into the secure period where she feels that she can whine and fuss for what she wants. 2-on-1 attention will do that to a child!

She is a lefty - she has to be encouraged to use her right hand, but can use it when she remembers that it exists.

She has started playing with objects, not just focused on people and receiving attention from people and she just started noticing animals (kittens, cats, "softly softly" ).

She is a "fine" child and people love to come up and pinch her cheeks and talk to her because she is so lovely and rewards them with a huge smile. Apparently when she was born she was so beautiful that all the nurses at the hospital just kept passing her around and made a big deal about her!

When she laughs or thinks something is funny she curls up in a little ball or throws her entire body out in wild extension with wildly flung arms and whole body laughter.

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