Monday, December 8, 2014

God is in the details

Sometimes writing is painful. Putting words into print somehow solidifies the reality. But everyone knows that writing is therapeutic and sharing one's story is really more for the writer than the reader, right?
I have had an aversion to sharing in the past several months, because how do I say it? How do I justly tell a story that has so many details and changing parts that won't leave me feeling torn apart and raw or worse yet...vulnerable. After all, isn't dealing with child loss and grief enough? I mean why tell a story that will make me look like a glutton for punishment? I don't know. But what I do know is that an amazing story is unfolding in my life and I haven't shared it because of vulnerability. I have avoided the messy, ugly, scorching parts in order to preserve what little dignity I have left. Questions, opinions, judgement, they all raise the hairs on my neck. So I have turned to close confidants and my prayer posse to stand there, in this foggy ditch and intercede on my behalf until I can muster the words......God is still working. He has not set my tapestry down and forgotten. He is very much working out the finest of details.

This 'new us' is now on a constant quest for joy. Consistently, almost methodically searching and seeking not the temporary thrills and distractions from our pain, but eternal, long-lasting, blanketing joy. We did a lot of talking and praying about this joy. I asked God to tell me where to go to find this gift He had for us and very clearly he pointed us to children, the beautifully packaged joy that He has time and again chosen for us since we were just 18 years old.  May 2014. Mother's Day weekend. We got an email that informed us that a young, homeless girl in Florida is pregnant and has chosen us to be the forever family for her baby, due in October. We were ecstatic! Oh, how we have longed for a baby to hold and love since that day just a year before when our lives were shattered and our Freh was taken from us. I finally felt like there was some A baby, a young mother in need, a little package of hope.

We flew to Florida and met "D" and her boyfriend. We went to an ultrasound and saw the little life inside her. It was a boy. He was healthy. We enjoyed the time we spent with this young girl, talking about her life and her plans for herself. Seeing that the relationship she was in with her boyfriend was not healthy,  Sten and I talked with her about that and ways she could get help. We bonded with this young mother. I felt an immediate love for her. She showed us the hotel she was now staying in, and we taught her how to cook some food for herself.  On the flight home, Sten and I admitted that we felt conflicted. We really wished she could somehow find a way, like we had over 19 years ago, to keep her baby and yet, we still really longed for a baby. I committed to praying simply that God would move in D's life and that He would guide her to the right decision.

She and I texted throughout the summer and I was able to have a few very meaningful conversations with her. We talked about purpose and God and joy. She knew that we had lost our daughter a year before and she asked me how I handle that, a question that brought such a lump to my throat because I knew what possibly laid ahead in her future. I simply answered that I just let God handle the hard parts and I never stop seeking Him. Her response was that her grandmother used to tell her the same thing.

35 weeks, ultrasound day....we received a call that D had not shown up for her ultrasound and that she called to tell our consultant that she has decided to leave her boyfriend and keep her baby. She had reunited with her mom and they were going to raise the baby together. Now, you might think that we were angry with her for this...afterall, how could she string us along all summer and take thousands from us in support? We had our house ready for a baby. WE were supposed to be his parents, right? Nope. God had protected our hearts so perfectly that when we got the news, and the initial (5minute) sting wore off, we were so HAPPY for D. She found a way. She gets to be a momma to her baby!! How could that make anyone angry? God had worked it out to the smallest details. My concern was that she knew we were so happy for her and that we loved her, no matter. It was ok. I felt that peace that only God can wash over me.

This is where it gets ugly and messy and, for sake of sanity and humility and all.things.sensible, I will just share the watered down version. Have you ever had an experience that is so confusing and awful  that all you can do is chalk it up to the darkness in this world? Well, that's kind of how this next part played out......Two days later we were matched with another baby due "any day now". He was 100% certainly ours, or so we were told. We let our guards down, went to Target and bought everything we would need for this soon to be born child. Then, I asked if a prenatal record was available for us to look over so we knew what to expect with this baby and he was stripped from us and given to a family who would "love him unconditionally" (aka pay more money and not ask questions) To my friends in the adoption community, you may take a short break to wash the vomit from your mouths. I know. Brutal.
Two weeks of refusal to answer our emails and phone calls. We had nothing. We were devastated, angry, hurt, seething mad. Talk about God putting up a huge wall. In the midst of hurt and loss upon loss like this, we barely could see straight. I pushed hard into God and the very close, personal friends he has gifted me with. They spoke truth into me.  I cried, paced, spit...all of those ugly things you do when you get seething mad. But, God was loud and clear to me, once again, to wait. be quiet. TRUST HIM.
I decided I was not going to share publicly what had happened. I was going to let things pass and hopefully ease into the next chapter, without many scars or should I say judgement. People would notice when November comes and we don't have a baby. I just didn't have the words. I kept hearing God nudging me to 'write it out'....share what He is doing in the midst of pain, but golly! That is just such a vulnerable place to put yourself. And in the center of all that confusion and hurt, I certainly couldn't see the thread of God's needle. I could feel more of the flame of his blowtorch... How could I possibly find some wonderfully holy inspiration for writing? But God kept revisiting the issue. Write.

Behind the adoption drama unfolding, another ache. Our oldest son. He has had a difficult stretch these last few years and we have had to let him learn some incredibly hard life lessons. Ones that you think to yourself, "son, this is going to possibly wreck you, but you must walk across these burning embers in order to heal and learn." I can see now that God knew. God saw way in advance that if we had been given D's baby, we certainly would not have been available to help our first-born child through quite possibly, the most difficult time in his life. I love my God for protecting my children that way. For answering my very own prayers for my children so perfectly. Weaving our hearts together in the most intricate way possible.  I am thankful.

My husband is a patient and introspective man. He encourages me to do things that really stretch me, like be patient, wait it out, be quiet (HA!), listen. He is such a ROCK for me. After all the dust settled from that terrible "you have a baby, wait, no you don't" week...Sten said to me that we should wait a month, get our bearings and start looking around us at what we should do next. We certainly agreed that we weren't going to give up on adoption. God put that call on our hearts and we haven't felt as if he is taking it away.

On November 6 we signed with an adoption consulting firm called Christian Adoption Consultants. Turns out, Freh's friend in Heaven, Mattie Sam, well, his mom is one of the lead consultants there and they orchestrated the whole "hey, our moms should totally meet" thing. Tracie and I firmly believe that they are up to some serious Heavenly Shenanigans! Isn't that cool? Isn't it amazing how if you just take a half step back, you can see that GLORY IS RIGHT THERE? God, just waiting to do His thing! Now, we are working with Tracie's team at CAC to meet a need and be matched with a baby who needs us and we cannot wait to see what God will do with this. It finally feels like we are right where He wants us to be. Adoption is very hard. Adoption is very risky. But, with God and Godly people by your side, He will use the ugliest of situations and bring beauty from them!

All this time, I have heard God speaking to me to write. "I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together. I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears." Psalm 34:1-4 This verse has come to my plate many times over the course of the past 8 years. Be a lamp. Still, I struggled inside my own head with sharing. People will just understand, I told my self. God will understand why I don't want to write about it, it's painful. But then, without even mentioning this spiritual struggle to anyone, God used one of his people to deliver a message. A facebook friend wrote me and said she had been feeling like the Lord was leading her to pray for me. We chatted about that and I let her in on the very surface details of our adoption trials. Then just Sunday morning, she messaged me again, "Have you blogged about any of this? I'm wondering if sharing your thoughts, your story might bring your baby home? I believe God is not asking you to share your sorrow rather share His love and openly SEEK your baby. I'm positive God is asking me to tell you to listen to that voice you hear calling." 


Yes. My God. Our God. He does these things. He uses his people as 2x4s to smack us upside the head. He's done it before. Why am I surprised? 

So, I just spent the better part of a Monday writing to you about the wonderful, faithful, amazing love that is God. He is in the very details of our lives, even when we feel so far from him. He is right there. Listening. Beckoning. Leading. 

A I am not giving up. Refinement is painful at times. I can see joy and sorrow, contentment and longing all rolled up into a holy ball of fire and ice, beauty like nothing ever witnessed before.  

If you have endured this post to the very end, would you do one more thing? Would you please pray for us. Pray that whatever baby God is intending for our family will make it to our family soon. Praise God with us for the mighty work He is doing in our oldest son. Ask God to give our weary hearts strength in this wait. Pray protection and peace over our children. Ask God for grand logistic graces for all of the ifs and whens of this adoption and the impending adoption of Mihret's brother from Ethiopia. Please pray that I will continue to seek and see Him in all of the details. 

Love you all.

Monday, May 19, 2014

 This is written in reverse order, for it to make sense, start at the bottom and read up.

Part 8: The Tragic Day

Because of the magnitude and the pain of this past weeks events, I didn’t want to drag out Amy’s story throughout the week because I know that she is re-reading it here.  The pain will never stop.  Praises to the Lord that Marra Freh is safe with Him.  Her life has made an impact on everyone she has met and everyone she has not met.  Please continue to surround this ENTIRE family with love and prayers as they continue to breathe each and everyday.  I know this is a lot crammed into one day, but I chose to do this after reading today’s memory.  The pain that she and Sten are going through is unbearable.  Take your time in reading through the last final days, as I have continued to add them according to the days that Amy has written them.
In my mind, yesterday was a day of reliving and remembering the events of May 18, 2013. It was a Saturday last year and so vividly etched in my heart now. But, alas, the day came yesterday and I couldn’t bring myself to write a single thing. So haunting. For the past 365 days, I have played and replayed the events of that day over and over and over again in my head, looking for a loophole. Looking for a way that we could go back and change the course. But, this is it.
Today, the 18th of May, 2014 came and I can’t change the anniversary. I can’t make it not be true. So many details of that Saturday haunt me. They wake me up at night, they sneak up on me in moments that should be joyous and I shutter.
I was still in the hospital that morning when Sten had stopped in to see me. He was alone. We talked about the basics and I could tell he was feeling the stress of me being sick and away from home. I asked him not to take Freh to the tournament that afternoon since those events are always so crowded and really not safe. He said she would be fine and that I shouldn’t worry so much. I reminded him how she had taken to running from us and thinking it was funny. He said they would be fine.
He had many things to do that day before leaving for the games, so he said good-bye and I prepared to get into the shower. I was feeling irritated that I just couldn’t be home doing things the way I wanted and being with the kids. I got up to shower and my nurse came in to give me medicine. Again, irritated. I sat on the bed and was texting some sheets people who were arranging to pick up their sheets from another friend that day, I suddenly thought that I needed to call Sten and remind him to put the stroller in the back of the van to use with Freh at the tournament. We had taken it out to accommodate our luggage when we came home from Ethiopia and never put it back in. I had started putting Freh in the buggy straight from her carseat in recent weeks because she would take off running otherwise.
I tried him, but he didn’t answer. I thought I would go get my shower then. As you know, if you have spent any time in the hospital, NOTHING happens fast. I rang for my nurse to bring me stuff to cover my IV while in the shower and it took what seemed like forever to get it. Irritated. I sat and ate some of my lunch, broth and jello….and tried Sten again, no answer. The nurse came in and gave me what I needed to shower and asked me if I needed any pain medicine (I had been having a horrible head ache since Friday.) I decided to hold off on the shower until later and take some pain medicine and a nap.
I woke up, 4:15. I picked up the phone to call Sten again and as I did, it rang. It was my grandmother. We chatted about various things and in my head, I decided that I had missed the opportunity to call Sten about the stroller and I regretted not texting him about it. My GiGi and I continued to talk and then Sten beeped in. I let it go, thinking he just wanted to let me know that they had arrived at the park. It rang again immediately. I told Gigi to hold on a second. I clicked over and what I heard will echo in my head forever. Sten, breathless. screaming my name over and over. The only thing I could make out was Freh had been hit by a car. AMY.
He hung up.
What happened over the next several minutes remain so clear in my memory. You’d think it would be a blur, but it is crystal clear. I climbed out of bed. Put my call light on. Called my sister Kristen who was on her way to come visit me and told her to hurry, Freh had been hit by a car. I called my in-laws, who were at my house. I gathered my things into a bag. I stopped to look out the window. It is so evident now that the information that Sten had said on the phone took about 5 minutes to register in my brain. Then, the nurse came in and when I had to look at another person and say “My daughter has been in an accident, I need to leave.” That is when it hit me. I had no idea how bad it was. I just started to shake. The nurse left to get the charge nurse. I took out my IV and stood there, shaking. Kristen arrived and she was freaking out. Sten called back. The only words I remember were helicopter, CPR, faint pulse and whimper.
I asked him what part of her had been hit, he said he thought it was her chest and back because she had tire marks up her back. I remember thanking God that it wasn’t her head. That she was so tiny and soft-boned that, as long as it wasn’t her head, she would survive.
I don’t remember much of getting to Johns Hopkins. I know I said prayers and begged and pleaded and offered exchanges with God, that if he would only just spare my child…….
We pulled up to the trauma center and we got out. A peace fell over me that to this day I can only explain as the Holy Spirit. We told the gentleman at the desk that we were the family of the infant that was coming in via helicopter. He called on his radio to another security person and then directed us down a long, empty white hallway. He asked us to stand at a door until someone could come get us. It was Krissy, Ben, Karen, Lars and I. Sten was coming with Abe from the tournament. A coach was driving them. In my head I envisioned going in to see my girl on some tubes and maybe with some broken bones and cuts and scrapes. In my world, my kids would always be ok. I mean, I had always been given a chance to fight for them. To advocate and pray them back to health. To persevere on their behalf.
The doors swung open and three people walked out. A doctor. a nurse and another woman. As soon as I saw their faces I knew. They asked who was “mom”. I stood. Then he said it. “I’m sorry. Your daughter didn’t make it. We did everything we could, but she died in the helicopter from severe injuries to her brainstem.” As he spoke, I slid down the wall to the floor. and everyone was talking and crying.
I begged them NO. NO. NO.
Sten came then with Abe. I remember grabbing his face in my hands begging him to never blame himself. I didn’t even know what had happened. That there never even was any reason to blame him. I saw the terror on his face. I felt the weight of ten-thousand years as he held me and we sobbed for our baby. The most precious baby.
It is hard today to look back at that day and see God’s hand. But, over the past year, I have gained a holy perspective and because of the events that followed this horrific Saturday afternoon, I am able to sit here and attest to the palpable power of the Holy Spirit. The people who showed up and literally held us up. They are proof that God is very much real and living and breathing, and He showed up to weep with us. To hold our hands, feed our bellies, wipe our tears. And he has not left us. For our God is fighting for us always. We are not alone.
Run, Marra Freh, Run! She is running with the angels….

Part 7: Friday

Friday. Sten called me in the morning to see if I was up for a little visitor. Of course. I was longing to see her so bad! I don’t recall what time they arrived, but it just so happened that some of my dearest friends who have been an amazing support to me were there, too. Nini had stopped to offer encouragement and Sherry brought me a nice book about friends.
When Sten arrived with Freh, she was so tickled to see other ladies there! She took her socks and shoes off and climbed into the bed with me. I remember her touching one of my IVs and asking if I had “brokened” my arm. She sat with her little bum right next to mine and her legs stretched out along the bed, skinny ankles, bare feet wiggling back and forth. Sherry played “this little piggy” with her and she giggled. The nurse brought her some juice and she ate some graham crackers that were on my table. She held the straw so carefully in her long skinny fingers and was so careful not to spill anything on my bed. The nurses were so enamored with her, stating several times just how beautiful she was and what a light she had in her eyes.
I agreed.
I hugged Freh tight when she left with Sten and told her I would see her tomorrow. The picture etched in my memory is of her, in Sten’s arms, standing in the doorway to my hospital room. She waved, blew me a kiss, then rested her head on Sten’s shoulder and off they went. The last kiss. The final wave good-bye. I blink and she is there, just under my eyelids. Just like she was that last day. Uneven ponytails.  Graham crackers and juice in her belly. But, she’s not.

After everyone left, my nurse came back in and sat down next to my bed. She wanted to know all about Frehiwot and her adoption and what it meant to me to have such a beautiful gift. I shared with her all of the redemption and glory to God for having such an amazing child. She cried when I spoke to her about Freh. She said she wanted to adopt but didn’t think her husband would agree. We prayed about it, right then and there.
She left the room and a little while later the charge nurse came in to change my IV bag and she said that my nurse had shared my testimony of adoption with her. She, too wanted to learn more. She said that she felt a deep connection with me and that Freh was so blessed to have us. I reminded her that we were the lucky ones.

Part 6: Fighting for Freh!

Thursday. I didn’t see Frehiwot in the hospital this day last year. I was really feeling cruddy and Sten’s parents were keeping her pretty entertained at home. I missed the kids. I was really missing Jenna and Freh because I hadn’t seen them much at all over the past almost two weeks.

This day stands out in my mind for one major reason. It was another big, scary event in my life to date in which I was left with no answers. The doctors had made their rounds telling me once again, that they had no real idea what was making me so sick. My blood work was a mess, yet the diagnostic tests were all looking pretty good. This felt so eerily familiar to 2010, when I laid in a hospital bed with fluid in my lungs and in heart failure and not one doctor, not even the attending cardiologist at Johns Hopkins could give a reason for me being so ill. I remember praying out loud in my hospital bed on several occasions in 2010, for God to reveal the cause of my sickness, for a plan to be put in place that would get me out of that misery and back home to my children and Sten. In total, I spent 40 days in the hospital.
My family was worn from trips to Baltimore and juggling life, trying to maintain some sense of normalcy. But, wow! Did people show up to help! For eight straight weeks, we had every meal covered. I was bathed in so much prayer, and loved so perfectly by the Body, His people. Every need was met, so perfectly. Never in my life to that point had I ever been so close to the Lord.
I had opportunity to share scripture with nurses and doctors, to talk about life, to really consider my purpose. We were waiting at that time to be matched with a baby from Ethiopia. I remember praying for the child that God had already chosen to be ours. I asked for protection over her little life. (I later came to know that she was born on a day that I was re-admitted to the hospital and I had thought so long and hard about her that day, praying that I would get through whatever was causing me to be so sick and that we wouldn’t have to tell our agency to put us on hold)

After three months of in and out of the hospital, I started to get better and was finally home to stay. But, the Lord knew how to keep me right there, depending on him. Struggles with a teenage son, extensive physical therapy for a neck injury….all daily reminders of my complete dependence on him for my life. So many things were without reasons. Why had I been so sick? Why did I fall and hurt my neck so bad? Why was our son rebelling so terribly?
All the while, He kept whispering for me trust him fully. I did my best, working on my fears and anxieties everyday. And then we received the call that we had been matched with a 6 month old girl in Ethiopia! It was a day I will never ever forget. The kids were all so thrilled and excited! I went to work and my friends there cried with me. I was in love with Frehiwot from the first thought of her in my heart, but to finally see her big brown eyes and her sweet face, I was all in. Head over heels, people!

Getting through her adoption process was brutal. the enemy was trying to steal away any joy or glory throughout the entire 7 months until we brought her home. Nov. 15, 2011 was the day we received word that the US government was not going to approve her orphan status and therefore, we could not adopt her unless we proved their information wrong. I remember I was in Walmart when I opened that dreaded email. I had called my friend Sarah whose little boy was in ET with Freh and I went into total panic mode. I had no idea what to do, who to turn to, how to even process the information in front of me. I drove home in hysterics and wept and wept at the thought of losing our girl. Being denied her because of some paperwork discrepancies. It was awful. I prayed, begging God to give us a plan, options, tangible solutions.

After hiring an immigration attorney (we love you, Kelly!) and having some divine connections made in Ethiopia, we decided that I, mom-turned-warrior, would get on a plane and go to Ethiopia to find Freh’s birth mom and get the documents I would need to bring her home. I was a tad crazy. I mean, all I had was a phone number of some guy in Ethiopia who would help with the investigation and drive me. I did’t know him from Adam then…but God gave me a peace and the courage to face the challenge and to go to the far corner of Africa and get what I needed to bring Frehiwot home. As it turns out, that guy I was so afraid of, turned out to be one of the most God-fearing, loving, giving men I will meet this side of Heaven. Ephrim and his wife Yeshi are considered family now. We love them so deeply and stay with them everytime we travel to Ethiopia! Ephrim and I had amazing success on our trip to Assela to find Freh’s birth mom. As he calls them, divine appointments, were happening left and right on our trip.

Think for just a second about how logistically impossible what I did was. Small village on the other side of the globe with a man I had never met and we got every single piece of information we needed to get Freh home! (the delays that followed were because of paperwork and translation snafus) But, because I fully relied on the sovereignty of God, and trusted Him with the people he had placed in my life, we did it!

So many times we are faced with uncertainty. Just like it was for us this day last year. We had just been in Ethiopia to adopt Mihret, had learned of her brother and agreed to become his family as well. I was there, in that dang bed AGAIN, with doctors scratching their heads, not knowing. So much out of my control. And I surrendered right there. I laid my burdens down and let him do what he does so well in my life. Put pieces together. Place his people, with servant hearts and open arms right here, in my life to bear the burden alongside. That is a true, divine gift. Look around at your life. There are people in your midst that are not there by chance.

The true divinity in this is when we can literally throw our arms up, risking it all and give it over to Him. The one who knows us more intimately than our own mothers. Laying there in that hospital bed, I knew I had to give up control of whether or not the girls’ hair wash brushed and if the boys had brushed their teeth. If Abe had clothes to wear to the upcoming Bat Mitzvah of his dear friend, Mia. I had to trust that all of those details would be worked out.

Now, almost one year since losing the precious child for whom I trusted God when man said I could not have her, I have had to literally force myself to continue to trust Him. I have to know, without a doubt, that HE KNEW. HE KNEW that she was only going to live to be 4 days shy of two and a half. He knew. And he used me and Sten to get her here, into THIS family, so that her days could be filled with love. I ask myself almost daily, WHY US? Why did you use me to go there and fight so damn hard, only to have to kiss her cold forehead good-bye just 15 months later?
And always, Trust. The words is right there in my heart all the time. Trust Him who knows you. Trust in the master plan.

I cry the hardest at night and when I am in the car alone. Recently, I just got so so mad at God and had to pull the car over because I was yelling and screaming and crying at Him. I want so badly to see the other side. To see the full picture. To know the why. I got myself together, pulled back onto the road and when I switched the radio back on, a voice on the station read this verse “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” Romans 15:13.

All joy and peace in believing. So, in believing in His work, I will have joy and peace? Well, it’s a start. Sure better than allowing myself to think that this will kill me or that I will never really live again. Believing that I will hold a baby in my arms again. Believing that my children will be better, not bitter. Believing that my marriage will persevere when we are both beat down by grief. Believing that all of my children will one day trust Him the way I do. Believing that Frehiwot is more perfect now than she was here. Believing that I will sink my face into her luscious curls again, one day, in eternity.

Part 5: ER Visit & Hospital Stay

This Wednesday, last year…… I had gotten much worse with whatever sickness was hitting me. We debated ER vs. Doc office. Sten called and got me a 6pm appointment at the doctor. I had a high fever and terrible pain and weakness. My urine was the color of rootbeer and we debated staying home, too. It was Eli’s 11th Birthday and I wanted to celebrate him with our family. Sten’s parents were still in town (bless.their.hearts.) and I just didn’t want to go. But, alas, 5:40 had come and Sten brought Freh up to our room to help me get ready to go. She had a purse on her arm and came over to the bed to show it to me. It had her Dora figure in it and a beaded bracelet and a few other toys. She looked all over in the room for a place to hang her purse asking, “Where can I put dis?” I pointed to the end of the bed where there was a ridge on the footboard and said, “Put it there” She turned with a big grin on her face and said “Good idea” I remember earlier that day, I had been downstairs with her for a few minutes and had put her hair in asymmetric puffs and they were messing with my “selective OCD” and for a minute right before I left, I contemplated fixing her hair. I decided she looked fine and I would be home to bathe her in the morning and we could do something really cute with her hair. I miss her hair.
PWEEEAAASSSEEEE fix my hair again….
I gave her a big big hug and Sten carried her downstairs. I kissed Eli and apologized for being sick on his birthday. I said I would have cake with him when I got home later. Sten helped me to the car.
As it turned out, my doctor saw me for five minutes and urged us to get the ER, I was sicker than I thought. I was admitted that night with what looked to be a liver infection. As I laid there in the ER, I remember thinking that was pretty much the worst I had ever felt physically.
This makes me think about the times over the past year when I am certain my “grief boxes” were quite full and I ignored them and it found ways to come out in my physical body. Grief of this magnitude will reek havoc on your life, your spirit, your body, your mind, your relationships….but only if you let it. It has taken a painstaking effort this past year to tend to each of those areas with such precision and determination. I have failed on many occasions to nurture my body, my mind, my relationships. I have even been physically and mentally and emotionally and spiritually frozen at times. Stress paralyzed, it’s a real thing. (ADD moment, if you haven’t seen Mom’s Night Out, go see it.)
Anyhow, being frozen is scary. Like awful terror scary. My house has been dirtier this past year than ever before, I have gone days without showering, I eat really bad food or don’t eat at all. Laundry sits in my washing machine for two days and I can’t commit to switching the loads. I write notes and birthday cards and can’t take them to the mailbox. The pendulum swings wildly between loss of control and controlling everything in sight. It sucks, really.
Sweetness Redefined
BUT, when I snap back into reality, I focus and can multi-task like a boss. The longest stretches of normal have come when I am daily reading The Word and praying (even if my prayers are ugly and pathetic). When God said he was close the broken-hearted and the crushed in spirit, that was NO JOKE. I haven’t had many moments of dwelling on what an awful thing this was to happen to us, but more of moments of what is the purpose, how will this glorify God when it hurts THIS bad? How can I further Frehiwot’s fingerprint on the world? How can I serve God and his people better because of this loss?
Forever Sten and Amy’s Sunshine!

Part 4: The Last Kiss

This night, last year, was the last night I would ever kiss my sweet baby good night. I remember Sten brought her to see me after she had her snack and we snuggled for just a minute because I was in lots of pain and had a fever. He carried her to her room, just on the other side of our wall and I could hear him singing to her (he always got carried away and I sometimes thought the whole neighborhood could hear him. What I would give to hear that sound again.) she was giggling and asking a million questions. I distinctly remember wishing they’d be quiet. I didn’t feel good. Couldn’t they just turn it down a bit. He loved bedtime with her. She loved her daddy.
This is a GREAT picture!

Many times in the last year I have heard echoes of her voice just on the other side of that wall. Singing, giggling, talking to her puppy. Sometimes, when it’s quiet here and I’m alone, I will sit and listen for her or go into her room and wrap myself in her blankie and sing Baby Mine to her. I try to remember every single time I rocked her. I regret those nights that I rushed through because I was tired, spent. Just one minute longer. One night more.
She Changed Their World

Part 3: Illness

By this day last year, I was well into whatever sickness we had returned home with from Ethiopia. I don’t have too many memories from Mothers Day last year because I was throwing up all day. By now, we had decided to keep sweet Freh away from me and my germs as much as we could because we didn’t want her to get sick.
She would come to my bedroom door and knock so softly and say “you in nare Mommy?” And try to open the door. I can hear her little feet running on the hardwood floors upstairs. And her voice behind that door. A few times, she got the door open and ran to my bed. She would just stay a minute and I sent her on her way. I remember once she put her hand on my arm and said “you so sick, mommy?” I told her yes and smooshed my face into her big mass of hair and inhaled her scent like it was medicinal.
The Best Medicine

Off and on that day, she would pop in to see me and check on me. She spent the day with Farmor and Farfar (Sten’s parents who were staying with us) they were so good to her. I remember thinking that I was gonna start feeling much better by Tuesday and I wanted to finish switching Freh’s winter clothes out for all the summer stuff I had bought at Target a few weeks ago.
Love for Daddy

Part 2: Returning Home

This day, May 11, 2013 we came home from Ethiopia after being there for court hearings to become Mihret’s legal parents. We got home around 5. Abe, Eli and Sten were all pretty sick with some kind of stomach virus. I got them settled at home and then went straight to my sister Kristen’s to pick up Jenna and Frehiwot. I remember Freh was playing in Krissy’s toy room and I snuck in and watched her for a minute before she realized I was there. Then she came running to me and snuggled right in to this space in my neck that she filled so perfectly. I inhaled her. I had missed her scent and touch and voice so much! On the way home, Jenna asked all about our trip and Freh kept asking if I’d give her a bath!
Baby Loves Bubbles

I was so tired from the trip, but as soon as we got in the door we were both headed up the steps to the tub. We sat in my room for a good thirty minutes taking out her braids and beads that Miss Hannah had put in the week before. I remember it as such a sweet time. She was giggling and talking to me about playing outside and about how she got a bee in her eye (no doubt a gnat!) after all the braids were out, I took her to the tub and I bathed her and washed her hair and coiled those long curls around my fingers. It took me another thirty minutes or so, little did I know it would be the very last time I got to wash her. Bath time had always been such am intimate time for Freh and I. We sang together, talked, I did her hair in the tub and I always studied every inch of her as she played with her toys, marveling that she was MINE. Sometimes I would get overwhelmed with the enormity of that, other times I was reduced to tears because of the beauty of our bond that had come so easily. My back would ache after leaning over her thick curls, but I always looked forward to that time! When she was all done and rinsed, I wrapped her in a towel and scooped her up. We stopped at the mirror and when she saw herself, she gasped “You put my curls back on! Thank you, Mommy! My hair won’t be noisy now!”
Epic Hair

I dressed her in her PJs and we went downstairs with Jenna and snuggled on the couch together. We watched three episodes of Dora together and ate pretzels. I rocked her to sleep that night and I remember thanking God for getting me back safely to her and the rest of the kids. I praised Him for the precious child that laid there in my arms.

Part I: Unpacking – Amy’s Story of Losing Sweet Freh

This week, I will be posting on the story of Marra Frehiwot’s story.  She is the young daughter of Sten and Amy Olsson.  I have never met the Olsson’s personally, but we have walked the adoption journey together and we hope to someday meet.  This is a difficult story of love, redemption, illness, God, faith, and loss. Please be respectful in any comments made as the Olsson’s have given me permission to share their story, as written by Amy, as well as pictures.
Seriously….look at Sten’s face. That is a daddy IN LOVE with the ladies in his life.
Beauty and Love.
This week is my week to “unpack” some emotional boxes that I have had to compartmentalize in order to continue to mother my five other children (including one brand new to family life and all the challenges that come with that) to support and love my husband, to serve God and to not self destruct. Some may cringe and become unsettled reading my raw memories and emotions, but this process is very healing for me. Thank you to everyone who continues to love and pray for us. We need you. We are grateful.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Happy Birthday Wish

As some of you may already know, this Friday, November 22nd, would have been Marra Frehiwot's 3rd Birthday. As the day approaches and Sten and I are finding it harder and harder to breathe, we ask that each of you remember our sweet child. We long for the day when we can hold her again in Heaven, but until that day, we will work to keep her spirit alive here. And so, in honor of Marra Freh's Birthday, we are asking that you print off these "tickets" and then do a random act of kindness and give that person the ticket, to share her story. Yes, it will mean you may have to speak to a stranger (Freh did that ALL the time) It may mean going out of your way to help someone (She was always wanting to help and sing the "clean up" song) Maybe you could pay for a coffee or lunch of someone behind you in line and share the ticket and her story with them or ask the person at the window to pass it on with their "paid" receipt. (she always loved surprises!) How about attaching one to a gift for someone you really appreciate but often forget to tell...Anything, friends. Just something laced with love and compassion and "sparkle". On the ticket is a web address for you all to share your experience with us. We hope to see many many stories of love shared in honor of a sweet little girl who has touched so many hearts! Please SHARE the beans out of this! Pass it along and tell others to pass it on again! Let's see how far her "Happy Birthday" will go. Thank you, friends.

You should be able to print this. If not, email me at and I will send you the jpeg!

Thursday, November 14, 2013


With the calendar now well into November, I am reading and hearing daily the thoughts of many on being 'thankful'. What they are thankful for, what is counted as blessing... How fitting that this month gives us both Orphan Sunday and Thanksgiving, Frehiwot's birthday and Jenna's birthday.

I am finding myself in a place of relearning gratitude. Closely looking into the heart of thankfulness through new lenses. Lenses washed daily by these mourning mother tears.
Despite my anguish, the ability to recognize blessings is still ever-present within me.
                                                Healthy children.
                                               Faithful husband.
                                              Supportive friends and family.
                                             Financial stability.
What I struggle with is gratitude. It is defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.  Hmmmmmm.

Appreciation. I am still able to  appreciate things, people, blessings. That's part of God carrying me. It's part of seeing His glory in the ruins. The smiles on the faces of my children. The strong embrace of  soulmate husband who sobs quietly with me.  A note from a friend, softly touching my heart. I appreciate these.
 Returning kindness. Have I lost the ability to be kind? Nah. Still capable of smiling at strangers, running errands for a friend, helping child with most urgent crafting need. The Holy Spirit still warms. Still stirs in me. I am not ice.
 The battle is in the thankfulness. Can I thank Him for this? Can I utter prayers of thanksgiving for my dead daughter? Those words sting hard. How could I? Why would I? How do I connect the dots between my darkest sorrow and the light of living fully, in spite of?

Jesus, on the night before his death, knowing that he was about to be murdered, uttered prayers of thanksgiving for His present situation. Christ knew he was put on this earth to serve a holy purpose, and he still asked for that cup to be taken from him, but he also said in John 6:38 "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me." He was willing to yield to the will of his father God and give thanks for the master plan. Even though he would suffer greatly. He trusted. Trusted wholly. 
Ann Voskamp writes in One Thousand Gifts, "Trust is the bridge from yesterday to tomorrow, built with planks of thanks. Remembering frames up gratitude. Gratitude lays out planks of trust. I can walk the planks-from known to unknown- and know: He holds."
Wholly trusting in God makes us capable of giving thanks to Him without knowing the master plan. Think about this. If you ask your friend to make cookies for a party you are having and you can trust that she will do that for you, you can thank her in advance for helping you, right? "Thank you so much for helping me out on Saturday. I can always depend on you." We are so willing to trust other humans but completely trusting in God, somehow leaves us squirming. Why? 
God gave us his perfect son! He let him die as a grace gift to us. A holy washing of sins past, present and future. A promise of eternal bliss. A covenant to always give us what is best and right.  And yet I pause when I am faced with trusting this God, faithful grace giver. I lean. Control. 
So, thanking God for Marra Frehiwot's death seems crazy. Crazy unless I can first fully lean into Him and trust that His plan, as painful as it feels now, is always better than mine.
 Connecting the dots from  here to there. No easy task. It takes recognizing that this is my reality. Kind guidance from onlookers to 'love the kids you still have' and to 'look at the positives' are all so good, fit for a perfect outcome. A better tomorrow. But what I am faced with today is the knowledge that I now have two selfs. The one who weeps in solitude and sometimes in the presence of those willing to suffer with, step beyond their comfort, into my void. I weep for the perfect child whose love story brought me out of darkness and into the light. Pointed my face towards Him and led me into transformation. A spiritual ache that started before ink on contract, but evolved and yearned for more of Him. I pleaded in 2010 for this Grace-giver to keep me closest to his Holy side, however he see fit. Unexplained heart failure, bone marrow biopsies, serious neck injury. There, in His palm. Craving more of Him. Filling slowly. 
Then, the gift. The face of love. Redemption. Marra Frehiwot. May 16, 2011. First gaze into those big, bright eyes.  The face of faith lived out loud. Love story, matched. "Marra" meaning gift and "Frehiwot" meaning Fruit of Life. What a life. Finally, feeling ready.
December 2011, orphan-angel was stuck. Mother desperate, I flew to Ethiopia with a plan to find Freh's birth mom, uncover truth and return with Angel in tow, just in time for Christmas. God was there, every.step. every street. every interaction. Divine appointments. Answers filled pages and I was in awe of  His power. I flew home without Freh on Dec. 15 in order to celebrate Christmas with my family. To offer the wonder and beauty of the Gift to four little ones through gingerbread, sparkling lights and stockings hung with care. Sten and I returned to Ethiopia together on my birthday, Jan.3, to lift our sweet Angel into our arms, forever. Never to be apart.  We arrived home on Jan. 7th, Ethiopian Christmas. Our gift, from God. 
Eighteen months with this God-child who transfigured my soul. My children's outlook on the Kingdom, forever changed because of one child. Her laugh, her sense of humor, her smile, her eyes. We were all drawn in and I thanked God everyday for His gift. My reward. I was thankful.
Imagine the present void.
The other 'self' that now must push onward is the one who bloomed then. The new creation whom He held at his Holy side. The me who mothers five remarkable children. The me who is surrounded by incredible friends and family. The me who still makes dinner, cleans house, folds shirts in 7 different sizes. The me who sees her blessings and counts them by name. The me who spends quiet time daily in His word, the ultimate love story. The me who falls heavy-hearted each night and rises renewed each morning to face another day with new orphan-angel, demonstrating love. teaching boundaries. offering family. I remember.
 I close my eyes and see Christ on tree. I am comforted in knowing that God knows exactly my hurt. He hears my cries and identifies precisely with my anguish. My Creator is in my circle of 'dead-child friends'. Need I long for more? 
I have been given a tuning fork for my life. A chance to take this void and use it in a life-offering to God. I trust that I am blind-child, He, the loving, all-seeing, all-knowing Father. I yield.

" Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
  Let me hear joy and gladness;
    let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities. 
 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me. 
 Cast me not away from your presence,
    and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 
 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit."
Psalm 51:6-12
I trust that His master plan for me is laced with love and tender care for detail. More perfect and beautiful than anything my simple human heart could conjure. My spirit is willing, Father. I give resounding thanks in advance for the beauty that will come from these ashes because I can wholly depend on you. 
Thank you for the beautiful, vivid memories of my angel, Freh. Her giggle and touch linger still. Her scent just there, ready for appreciation. Thank you, Lord, for healing hearts. For tighter, more precise stitches in this tapestry. Grateful is my soul for the gift that whispers to each of us to live life more lovely, to go beyond comfort, to expect greater things. Thank You for the perfect angel child we held here on Earth as a foretaste of Heaven.

Little did I understand the significance of this shirt when I dressed her for her birthday which fell on Thanksgiving last year.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Pain, an interesting distraction.

So, Monday was awful, leading into an even more unbearable Tuesday. My nerves build with fear and excitement each week as it comes time to learn if all of Mihret's paperwork is finally ready to be submitted to the US Embassy. We were just waiting on the clearance from the medical department that she is OK to immigrate to the US...
Monday night, as if out of the blue, I was laying down in bed and I literally could feel Freh laying there with me, in my arms, close to my chest. I could so vividly feel her hair tickle my face and the weight of her body next to me. It brought me to my knees, sobbing uncontrollably. I had to wake Ben in Sten's absence and seek comfort in his big embrace. We went to Freh's room and cried together. I, rocking in her chair with "blankie" and Ben, on the floor. I spent the rest of the night weeping and praying for peace and understanding in this dark and lonely place I've come to know so well. That place, exactly Freh-shaped.
Tuesday was not much prettier. Mandatory house scrubbing to sweat the ugly out of me (luckily my little minions were much obliged to assist in the Lysol-led exorcism) My dear friends, Donna and Hannah, (two of the few who will brave the trenches of my sorrow), unaware of my ensuing meltdown, took Abe and Eli for some time away from mom. And I took Jenna to the doctor for lingering sore throat and swollen glands (another reminder that life, indeed, marches onward). Tears streamed down my cheeks all day. My eyes burned as I walked into the pediatrician's office and I was greeted by the front desk gal who, upon seeing me, immediately burst into tears of sympathy and threw her arms around me. (pause to realize the relationship that would form with someone who sees my family regularly and always with Freh in tow) And the doctor himself so kindly offered his condolences and paused to offer any help with the kids and their grief. Sweet people. God's hands. It was almost all I could bear. Rapid strep negative, thank you, God.
On to the grocery store. Third, maybe fourth call to Connie, another trusted trench-dweller. Tears. An email had come that Mihret would not be submitted on Wednesday like we had all hoped and prayed for . My grip on things was failing. Lots of salty grief negotiations falling from my cheeks as Jenna and I search the store for chocolate, chips and ice-cream. (hold your comments on the excellent lesson in emotional eating to my growing daughter. She learned of the medicinal use of chocolate on her own!) Evie Super-Friend Burge called to say she was coming over that night to do some front porch praying with me. And may or may not be bringing her prayer posse. Ok. Not gonna deny that I need it.
One thing that brings me into a panic state is walking in public, like the grocery store, and feeling so raw, so bewildered in my grief and no one seems to notice. I make eye contact, thinking hoping that they will see and understand. But it never happens and it leaves me panicked, thinking that I am so alone in my walk. And a sense of urgency to return to the comfort of home, where they ALL get it, always seems to hit just as I forget where I put my list and become equally frustrated with my inability to think straight. So I leave. Hence, the reason we can go three.full.days with no milk.
God really knew exaclty what I needed that Tuesday. After a day spent in the depths of sorrow that swings like a wild pendulum. I got home with Jenna and was graced with meeting a new friend for the first time. We talked and she wasn't offended by my tears and we connected. Thank you, Sonya :)
Kim came over to see what was happening and offer one of her ever-healing hugs. Then Beth and her girls came with tacos. All things good are smothered in cheese and salsa, right?
Allison popped by to pick up sheets an brought Brady, whom i delivered! It was so nice to hear her tell him how much I meant to her during that exciting time in her life. Hannah dropped Abe off and I got to hug Ava and Ailani, always a welcomed treat! All of these friends are hand-picked by God for me in this time of sorrow and I have convinced myself that they had reached their limit on Amy-holding and that I could walk in solitude so not to burn them out. ha. I need them. And they don't mind.
Then came Evie and the prayer posse. Beth, Sonya, Erin, Joanna and Karen all there, willing to help me face, as Evie calls it, THE SUCK that is my life. These six sisters in Christ diverted my attention just long enough to make me laugh, lighten my load, if but for a few minutes. Then, something extraordinary happened. We all went onto the front porch (pushing 10pm now) and with them, came the Hold Spirit. You see, these gals are all filled with the Holy Spirit. It is evident in their lives. Their walk and their fruit. But Tuesday night, that Holy presence took over on my front porch and through tears and prayers and petitions and praises and laying of hands  (and lots of bug bites), that beautiful body of believing women lifted me high to God so mighty, asked for peace and rest in my time of trouble, ease of my anxiety over the adoption and rest for my weary soul. I immediately was risen from that trench and felt a peace wash over me. It was nothing short of miraculous. For that few hours.
Shortly after 1 am, I woke in terrific pain and feverish chills. A kidney infection. Constant, urging pain. No time for sorrow. No time for 'if only's'. Unable to fix my mind on anything but the name of Jesus to take away the searing pain. 36 hours, Urgent care, ineffective Cipro treatment, worsening pain and fever. Prayers, scripture and more prayers...back to the ER via Evie's gas-hog chariot...a few doses of heavy pain meds, 2 bags of IV fluids, a CT scan, some IV antibiotics and a herd of strange healthcare personel and I am almost good as new-ish. PRAISE YOU, JESUS! Oh, and a delightful email at the end of the day saying Mihret passed her medical exam and we are all set for submission to US Embassy on Wednesday. What a faithful God I serve. (even if he has a twisted sense of humor.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Things I've learned.

6 weeks out and these random things I've learned.

your senses are amazing memory keepers. soft curls on my face. scent of Freh forever in my midst. sound of giggles echo forever, if you listen.
enough tears fallen will leave white salt on your eyelashes, like a thick mascara.
a child, missing from the physical, leaves a feeling of vast emptiness as if one is enveloped by an unfamiliar, deafening hum. one the soul must maneuver around
you can cry enough that you need neosporin under your eyes.
the Holy Spirit will literally carry you through the darkest of days
i'd give anything to have a day with only toddler conversation.
i've memorized the scent of each of my children.
sympathy cards eventually stop coming in the mail.
i can't make small talk anymore.
true friends hop on planes, drive all night, write poems, bring Rita's, cry with you, crawl in bed to hold you, change their own perspective on life, pray without ceasing, call or text everyday.
my heart is forever in ethiopia
i wish i could have a baby, probably a blessing that I can't.
my husband has incredible faith
my kids need me because they are experiencing the worst thing in their lives
corn crops are a fine example of godly obedience. They use what they are given. They grow, change and bear fruit. hmmm.
desserts will never make you happy.
i hate driving in the van now.
it takes great strength to sit at the kitchen table and eat. my lap, so empty.
morning comes after every night, despite my hurt.


Monday, July 1, 2013


Thinking so much today about these two sisters. Mihret was so excited to learn that she had a little Ethiopian sister waiting for her in America. They Skyped once while we were in Ethiopia. But they will never hug or kiss or giggle together here in this world. Please pray for us as we prepare our hearts and words to tell her that Frehiwot is in Heaven now. Pray that she won't be afraid and that she will come to learn how much we loved Frehiwot by how we show her our love. Pray that we can supernaturally be filled with joy and peace and abounding love before this next trip so that Mihret gets all that she so desperately needs from us. From these two pictures you can see that these two girls have been blessed with the same beautiful, resilient spirits. Seeing them next to each other brings me peace and comfort.