Wednesday, November 28, 2007

How Do Ethiopians Celebrate Christmas?

Ethiopia is one of the oldest nations in Africa. It still follows the ancient Julian calendar, so Ethiopians celebrate Christmas on January 7. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church's celebration of Christ's birth is called Ganna. It is a day when families attend church. The day before Ganna, people fast all day. The next morning at dawn, everyone dresses in white. Twelve days after Ganna, on January 19, Ethiopians begin the three-day celebration called Timkat, which commemorates the baptism of Christ.

What is Timkat?

Timkat or Epiphany is the most important festival in the Ethiopian calendar. It is celebrated all over Ethiopia, but the most spectacular celebrations are reserved for Lalibela, an isolated mountain town in the arid north of the country. Lalibela is famous for its unexplainable rock-hewn churches. Over a thousand years ago 11 churches were carved out of solid rock, and many Ethiopians believe they were built by angels.

How is Timkat Celebrated?
The festivities begin in the 3rd week of January, usually around the 19th January. Crowds, all dressed in white, dance and sing in the streets to the beating of drums. Priests, decked out in jewel encrusted velvet and satin robes, carry a replica of Arc of the Covenant called a talbot. They lead grand procession through the streets.

The real celebration begins at about 2am after the processions lead the people to a place symbolic of water baptism. Priests perform mass and bless the water. A communal baptism follows, with the most fervent Christians throwing themselves fully clothed into the water.

What's the History of Timkat?
Ethiopian history teaches that Christianity came to Ethiopia long before it spread to Europe. Missionaries arrived in Ethiopia some 40 years of the birth of Jesus. Epiphany is the 12th day of Christmas, when the three kings were said to have bestowed their gifts upon the baby Jesus. This day falls on 6th January in the western calendar.

Here is a video of a young mans personal journey to Timkat.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Family Genes - Paternal

Heredity and genes are always interesting. What gets passed down by who and how? Here is the paternal family tree. From my dad's side I think we got big eyes and a lot of hair!

The only picture that I know exist of my great-grandmother Mary Almeda.

My paternal grandmother and my aunt.

Me as a little girl next to my niece.

Not long ago and today.

The Family Genes - Maternal

Here are a few pictures from my mother's side of the family. You can see pictures for my father's side too.

Below is a picture with both of my grandmothers. I believe it is the only time that they ever met each other. Left to right is my father's mother Virginia, my mother's youngest brother Pete, my oldest brother Michael, and my mother's mother Louise. is my mother. Miss Myrtle or (Aunt) Myrt as she was called. Here she is in New York in the 1950s and later in the 90's.

The only sad part about this adoption is that she is not here to see it. December 27 will be the third anniversary of her death. One thing that she talked about a lot before she died was that she wanted me to have children of my own. Well, now I can tell her that she got her wish.

Me and my mother at my graduate school graduation. Even that was a long 14 years ago. But, one of my mothers many many sayings was, "I'm not getting older, I'm getting better." So, I must be getting close to being my best right now.

This picture isn't very recent but it is the only one that I could find with everybody on it (except for my youngest brother). My father, my sister-in law, oldest brother, my mother, and me.

Pilgrimage to Ethiopia

The Abyssinia Baptist church of New York that was named after Ethiopia just returned from their pilgrimage to Ethiopia. You can read part of the story below.

It took a 7,000 mile journey for the congregation of New York City's Abyssinian Baptist Church to find themselves.

One-hundred-and-sixty members of this historic Harlem house of worship traveled in September to Ethiopia on modern-day pilgrimage to birthplace of the church's founders.

Click here to read Lauren Green's reflections on her trip to Ethiopia

"We believe that that's the real center of the redemption of Africa, the real heart of Africa," said the Rev. Calvin Butts III. "Because it's peaceful, it's never been colonized and its people are fiercely independent and self reliant, and that's how we see ourselves."

Ethiopian merchants cofounded the Abyssinian Baptist Church in 1808 along with African-Americans who deserted the First Baptist Church of New York City when it decided to racially segregate seating.

Click here to view photos from the trip.

The Adjective for Today is EXCITED!

I was always taught to be grateful for small things and this adoption process takes that to a new level. I find myself getting excited by every single thing in the process except for delays. But even with the slightest delay my good friend said to consider that a blessing because it just means that the process is slowing down just enough so that the most special children can be found for me.

Today I learned that my home study will actually be finalized and OFFICIALLY approved by my agency this week not in 4-5 weeks as I had originally believed. It could even happen TODAY! The faster the home study is approved the faster I get official program acceptance and go on the Wide Horizons' waiting list. With the approved home study I am only waiting for my dossier to be approved (Wide Horizons received it today also) and for my CIS approval.

I received the receipt from CIS (immigration) that they have received my application. The wait is now for fingerprinting -- again. This I really don't understand but it is a part of the process. What seems weird about it is that one of the very first things that I ever did in the process was get fingerprints taken that were sent to the FBI. I was cleared by the FBI in about a week and now a few months later I have to wait to take new fingerprints and have them cleared too.

Oh well. It comes with the process. Nothing will damper the excitement that I feel today.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Dossier Is In the Mail

Yes! I completed the dossier and sent it off on Tuesday. It wasn't difficult getting any of the documents but it felt really good to take it to the post office yesterday. I had this really funny postal clerk. She asked me what I was sending off and then she said, "they are going to call you in April to give you the children." From her mouth to God's ears. April would be a great time for a referral.

So for those of you keeping up with this the Ethiopian Dossier is a collection of documents that go to the ET government body MOWA for Ethiopian adoption approval. What's in the dossier?
  • Power of Attorney documents allowing a representative to work on your behalf in ET.
  • Statement describing why you want to adopt from Ethiopia.
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Police Clearance stating that you are not wanted for any crimes.
  • Financial Statement
  • Medical Attestation that you are free of TB and other serious illnesses
  • Photos of you, the outside, and the inside of your house.
  • Birth certificate
  • CPA letter of the self-employed or Employment verification letter for others.
Since I sent it express mail, my dossier is now in the hands of the adoption agency. I think it now has to be sent to Washington D.C. for some certifications (not sure) and then sent to country.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Family Tree

Since I've been talking a lot about the significance of names in the Bible I thought that I would post a family tree that I found from the Bible. The names in red are said to be the geneological links to Jesus. You can click on the picture to enlarge it.

The Week from Heaven

The process is moving along again. I had gotten hung up on the Insurance Affidavit and the CPA letter; a special requirement for those of us who are self-employed. I'm calling last week the week from heaven because things went really smoothly. The CPA letter that I needed from a Certified Public Accountant was the most difficult hurdle so far. When I woke up Wednesday morning God spoke to me and said check with a tax preparation service. The only thing that came to mind was HR Block. I made a couple of calls and found out that their offices are closed for until tax season. Later that day I went to my bank to pick up updated account verification letters. While sitting and talking to my banker I looked out the window behind him and in big red letters a sign said, "Premier Tax Preparation Service." I've sat in that chair so many times over the last couple of months getting every document notarized. I'd never noticed the sign. It was 4:50pm so I ran over to the tax office and explained the situation (just like I'd done 5 or 6 times before) and before I could get the sentence out the lady said, "Oh yea, no problem." What? After two months of dealing with this could it be that easy? It was. I went back the next day with my documentation and had the letter in an hour.

After more than 45-days of inaction from my insurance company and the 45 calls that I made everyday, I finally got the information that they were able to make the policy change. The change was needed to allow me to prove coverage for the children. I have the insurance affidavit!

All of my US placement paperwork is complete. I sent off my I-600A and will be sending in my dossier by the end of this week. No more paper...

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Where Your Treasure Is - Your Heart Is Also

I find myself being pulled closer and closer to Ethiopia.

I want to share the story of finding myself in this place but sometimes I struggle for the words. For those of you who know me, you know I don't do anything without thought, research, and study. I began this process fully committed to building my family through adoption and found so much more. The culture and the heritage of Ethiopia are rich in historical and religious significance.

How could someplace so far away seem so close to my heart?

I've learned a few things as I've followed my heart to this place. Everyday I have a better understanding of the spiritual connection and curious pull.

Where thy treasure is, there will your heart be. This states a universal truth. The heart focuses on what it treasures most. If the treasure is in heaven, heaven will have your heart.- Matthew 6:21

  1. HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE - Ethiopia is considered the oldest independent country in Africa with the longest recorded history. It is the place where the oldest human skeleton was recovered. Anthropologists established that the skeleton is that of a 20 year old female that lived 3.5 million years ago. Hadar, the site of the discovery is registered by the United Nations Education, Science, and Culture Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage. This discovery is very close to Addis Ababa where the orphanages are today. They have now discovered the bones of a man 4.5 million years old in Ethiopia.

  2. A HOLY PLACE - Ethiopia is considered a holy land. Axum (Aksum) is the ancient capital and relegious center for Orthodox Christians. For some it is seen as the bastian of Christianity surrounded by Muslims and other religions much like what is described in the Bible about Mount Zion. More about Axum.

  3. A PLACE CALLED ZION - In Axum you will find the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion this place is said to contain the Ark of the Covenant said to contain the testimony of God’s covenant with the Hebrews (Dt.31:26). In Ethiopia Zion refers to Mary, Mount Zion, and is also a name given to the Ark of the Covenant. My son's name was also Zion.

  4. BIBLICAL SIGNIFICANCE - Ethiopia is mentioned in the KJV Bible about 40 times. From its early mention in Genesis to the marriage of Moses to an Ethiopian woman, the Ethiopian who rescued Jeremiah, and later the relationship between Solomon and the Queen of Sheeba we find the Ethiopians playing a significant role in Biblical history. In the Bible you will find Ethiopia referred to as Cush or Kush as well as Abysinnia. (Here is an old Ethiopian Bible made from goat skin)

  5. CHRISTIANITY ARRIVES - In Acts 8:27 the Ethiopian eunuch meets Phillip and is converted to Christianity. "Then the angel of the Lord said to Philip, Start out and go south to the road that leads down from Jerusalem to Gaza. So he set out and was on his way when he caught sight of an Ethiopian. This man was a high official of the Kandake (Candace) Queen of Ethiopia in charge of all her treasure." Philip helped the Ethiopian understand a passage of Isaiah. After Phillip's explanation the Ethiopian came to believe in Jesus as the "Son of God".

  6. ARCHETECHURAL TREASURES - Ethiopia holds 3000 years of historical mysteries. Visitors can experience living historical facts and monuments including the steles of Axum, the temple of Yena, Palace of Queen of Sheba, and the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. It is said that Lalibela was intended to be a New Jerusalem in response to the capture of Jerusalem by Muslims, and many of its historic buildings take their name and layout from buildings in Jerusalem. More pictures of the rock churches.

  7. THE GOSPEL IN ART - Christian Ethiopian paints flourished for hundreds of years, in the churches and monasteries of highland Abyssinia. The artwork provides a shows Christianity through the Ethiopian lens. If we were made in His image then it only makes sense that we would reflect ourselves in works of art. The traditional Ethiopian art tells not only their history and stories of Christianity but it also illuminates the gospel of their souls.

    A Link to Modern Ethiopian Art

  8. RELEGIOUS CELEBRATION - Each November Ethiopia celebrates the Festival of Maryam Zion. Orthodox Christians, pilgrim to Axum to celebrate. The Ethiopian Orthodox church open a window on the authentic world of the Old Testament. It's hard to believe that these pictures are from modern times.

  9. In January they celebrate Timkat the Epiphany to commemorate the baptism of Christ. The night before the celebration begins, priests take the Tabot (symbolizing the Ark of the Covenant) containing the Ten Commandments from each Church.

  10. A PLACE CALLED HOME - This special place with all of its religious and historical significance is simply the place that my children call home. Somehow I feel that arriving in Ethiopia will be a sort of homecoming for me to. As many Jews claim Israel I now claim Ethiopia as my spiritual homeland.

Finding Ethiopia has added life and meaning to the gospel. Looking into the eyes of the Ethiopian children I see the hope that they have for things they've never seen or can't even imagine. To wake up everyday with nothing but a hope and faith that endures is powerful.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What's In a Name? - Part 3 of 3

What's in a name? That was the original question right? To answer I decided to go to the source; to the beginning, to the Word. In the Bible that are so many stories about the significance of a name. None, however more important than the First Son of the Bible. God told the Virgin Mary that she would bear a son and that she would call him Jesus.

In searching the Bible, the word "name" appears 1,017 times. The second time that the word, "name" is found in the Bible it's mentioned in the same verse as the river Gihon found in the land of my children's birth -- a place called Ethiopia. I like that connection.

And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia.

God introduces us to Adam, the first natural father in the Bible. Adam's first responsibility was to give names to those things that God had created.

And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. Genesis 2:19

God entrusted Adam with the responsibility and accepted the names that Adam chose. Adam next chose a name for his wife and she became the first mother in the Bible.

And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. Genesis 3:20

The union of Adam and Eve produced the first generation of sons Seth, Cain, and Abel (as well as other sons and daughters). Nineteen generations later we find the names Sarai and Abram the son and daughter of Terah. Abram married Sarai and with this introduction we learn that Sarai could not bear children she was the first infertile woman. So, she decided that Abram should impregnate Hagar who was her handmaiden, making Hagar the first surrogate mother on record.

And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Behold, thou art with child and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction. Genesis 16:11

Ishmael becomes the first adopted son; born of Abram and raised by Sarai. If you follow the story, God had been disappointed in much of what had transpired with this couple. Still, in the 17th chapter of Genesis we find God stepping in to redeem them. With that redemption came the first name change. Name changes were later found in the Bible to represent a change in character, relationship or covenant with God, a new position, or introduction to a new life and new purpose.

When Abram was 90 years old, God changed his name to Abraham. The name change represented a new covenant and a new role as the father of many nations.

Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. Genesis 17: 5

What stands out to me in that passage is that God redefines Abram's purpose and declares him to be the father of many nations before it happens. But God wasn't finished. God then changed Sarai's name and with that change, he changed her condition and her role. From barren and infertile he made her the mother of kings.

And God said unto Abraham, As for Sarai thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her. Genesis 17:15-16

As always, God kept his word and Sarah indeed gave birth to a son. Could this be that first instance of unexplained or unexpected pregnancy that follows years of infertility and the decision or actual adoption? The first son born to Sarah was named Issac.

And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. - Genesis 17:19

I could stop right here because I think that I have found the answer. After learning about the first naming ceremony of Adam, meeting the first mother and father, the first infertile couple, the first surrogate, the first adoption, and the first name change, the story gets even more interesting so I hope you will stick with me as I keep going.

What's In A Name? Part 2 of 3

I love how God works. Once I fully committed to the adoption I learned that that there were three or four families that I knew but never knew that their children were adopted. Recently I was with one of those teens who has been with his adopted family since the age of 2 or 3 and is now 16. I over heard a couple of the teenagers discussing names. Someone asked this young man his middle name and he immediately responded, "My real one or the one that they gave me." He told us his real first middle and last names (given by his birth mother) and then he stopped. As far as he was concerned he had answered the question. Only after being asked a couple of times did he tell us his first middle and last adopted names. The first name was the same but the middle and last names had been replaced. Someone commented that he at least had the same first name. He responded, "I really don't know that, do I? I only know what I'm told."

As the conversation continued he said that he was definitely going to change his name back to his real name as soon as he was 18. He gave several reasons, the most straight forward was because it was his to reclaim. He talked about needing to continue the real family name that had ended with him and of needing it to prove his connection should he ever find other birth relatives. He felt that the decision didn't really require explanation nor should he have to ask for permission to take back a name that he had never consented to give it up. Why he was placed for adoption was irrelevant. He still felt or needed the connection to that name and that family of his birth. It made perfect sense to me.

I was really touched by how honest he was and for the first time I wasn't so sure that I would change the children's names. I told him that I was in the process to adopt. I also told him that I thought of changing the children's names. I asked him if it thought that I should change them. He was direct and to the point, "no." I explained that some of the names are long and may be difficult for others to pronounce. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, "So what it's theirs."

I told him that I respected his opinion and his willingness to be so open and honest about his feelings. Still it left me wondering what story my children would tell at 16. Would they understand my reasons or would they think that no reason was justification enough. I'm still not sure what I will do; however he has put a lot on my mind. I don't think that I will make a final decision until I see them. It will be the first important decision that I make as their mother and the most personal one that marks their new life with me.

How will they see it? Will their name mark their future, the beginning of a changed life or will my decision to change their names disconnect them from a past that they need to treasure? I pray that God show me the way.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

What's In A Name? Part 1 of 3

What's In a Name Part 2
What's In a Name Part 3

Other adoptive parents will understand as I am sure that none of them went through the process without considering whether to accept or change the name of their adopted child. I know that I have thought a lot about it and was sure that I knew I would change the first names of my children to names that had special meaning to me. Today I'm not so sure.

What's in a name? Is it just the melody or rhythm of the name? Is it the pride we share when say it out loud to friends? Is it the feeling we get when we call the name and feel it rolls from our tongues? Is it the surety we feel that when we call them they will answer to the name that they are called? All of the hope and desires that we have for our children are somehow tied to the name. The name represents who we believe them to be, how we want them identified, and how thoughts of the name will serve our children as they grow older.

My name is Valarie. That is Valarie spelled and pronounced with a "vala" and not a "valer". All my life I've had my name spelled wrong or corrected for me when I spell it right. I've constantly been asked "why it is spelled that way?" Nobody ever ask me what it means. I know that I was named Valarie after they threw away the name Gem as a female form of my father's name James. I know that they decided against Vickie Lynn that was a form of my Aunt Johnny Victoria's name. I never heard how they decided on Valarie except for that it was my father who decided. I've never known whether he spelled it wrong or intentionally spelled it differently to be unique. I've never known if he ever knew that there was another way to spell it. What I do know is that I like it the way that it is! I hate when people spell it wrong and I really don't like when people shorten it to call me Val. I don't really identify with that name.

Valarie; however means strong, that fits me. My middle name, "Annette" means grace, favor and mercy. Did my parents know that about me or hope that for me? God's grace and mercy has now allowed or rather provided me the opportunity and responsibility to decide how I name of my children. What will I do?

Original Court Date: April 18, 2009
Final Court Date: May 18, 2009
[607 total days & 165 days w/IAN]