My first day in Addis went well. We landed about an hour late. I was three rows back from the doors on this enormous plane, which I hadn’t realized was such a blessing. When I got downstairs to immigration the Visa line wasn’t long yet, so I was able to exchange my dollars for birr and still jump in line before it got too long. Within minutes the line snaked around back to the escalators and I thanked the Lord again for Row 14, Seat H!
The Visa process went well, but was WAY more disorganized than last time. The main hitch for me was that I watched them pass my Passport down the line, put someone else’s papers in it and hand them my Passport. I said, “Ummmm…”. Thankfully the girl they handed it to opened it up to check before she walked away and saw it before it got too awkward. The rest of the process went well and I was greeted with a big hug and great smile from my Brother in the Lord Jobe. Jobe is one of the America World Staff members in the country that take care of EVERYTHING for us. Jonas and T are the other two and they are all three simply amazing. I can’t even begin to express how awesome each one of them are, and how much more comfortable they make you feel during this process.
Jobe and I waited for the Millers and then headed out to meet David, our driver. David was mine and Kelly’s main driver on our first trip and I love that guy! We have a lot of fun together and he gets in done in the van. It took me about 2 minutes to readjust to the driving style here, but with David at the helm I am rarely worried when someone is barreling down on my side of the van or when David does a U-turn onto a 4 lane road that is bumper to bumper. Seriously, the style is a crazy, but David is the best! We loaded up our luggage and headed for the Guest House. They gave us an hour to settle in before lunch, so I unpacked and prepared my room for Phin’s arrival, took a shower and updated Facebook so Kelly knew I had landed.
I realized during lunch how sleep-deprived and loopy I was. I am not sure what other word to use than loopy. I remember at one point Scott Miller and I were talking. He made a statement and I just stared at him for 5 seconds or so, then I said “I heard you say words, but my brain wasn’t able to process them.” We laughed and realized that we were in for a long day...but a good day nonetheless.
The past two days have been long, but totally worth it. I was set to fly out at 6am on Sunday morning, so I needed to leave for the airport around 3am. Tom West graciously volunteered to take me, so Kelly could stay home with the kids. All day on 1/1/11 I kept getting distracted from packing. I was a little overwhelmed for the first time about taking care of Phineas Bizuneh by myself for 6 or 7 days. I was also nesting. Organizing, cleaning, organizing, cleaning… it was actually kind of funny. Finally 1am rolled around and I knew I wasn’t going to bed, so I finished squeezing every last bit of donations and preparations for Phin into my two suitcases, carry on and back-up, took a shower and got ready for Tom.
Kelly had the coffee pot set to brew, so Tom was greeted by two piping hot cups of coffee for him and I to throw back on our drive. I was a already a little hyper, despite my lack of sleep , but I’m sure that doesn’t surprise most of you that know me. Ok, I was a lot hyper! We had a great drive, took some pics when we arrived and said our goodbyes as I hauled my enormous load of luggage into the terminal.
As I was waiting in line for the flight to DC I heard him mention that the two people in front of me were headed to Addis as well. I was pretty excited to see a couple other people that would be sharing the same long journey with me. He was also VERY strict on their luggage weight, so I knew I was in trouble. The Wests, the Nikkels and the Brownings had given me a ton of stuff to giveaway to kids for the Ethiopia Christmas on 1/7, and I tried to get every last bit of it in! I strategically positioned myself to get helped by the other United worker and it worked out well. As he came over to me I mentioned that I knew my bags were going to be overweight, but they were filled with donations for an orphanage. I had actually already weighed them when he wasn’t looking, so I was preparing for the worst. 56.5 for bag 1. 64 for bag 2. The goal is 50. He hem-hawed a little bit and said I needed to reduce the 64 lb one a little. I took out two large bags of candy to get it into the high 50’s and he said that was ok. NO EXTRA CHARGE! The charge is $100/bag normally! Praise the Lord! The byproduct of that was that my carry on was not excessively heavy, which did lead to an extra, but much less substantial charge when I boarded Ethiopian Air in DC.
The plane was a little express jet. I put a picture on Facebook. It had two seats on one side and one on the other. I was sharing a seat, but was asked to move due to a lap baby behind us that needed our row due to an extra oxygen mask. There were two open singles future up, so I obliged thankfully and went to sit down. As I sat down, the person to my right said, “Are you James?” I turned to my right and saw Kenny Alexander, a 2009 MVNU alum. It was exciting to see him and share a little bit or our stories during the flight. We both tried to sleep, but I was completely charged up and not even close to getting some shut eye.
When we landed I connected with the two other people I had met that were traveling to Addis. The lady (I forget her name) was a little unclear on where to go and quite intimidated by escalators, which there were a lot of, so I helped her along and told her when to “jump” on to each one. We all journeyed together for about 20 minutes until we reached our gate and then Teddy and I went to get some breakfast. We all spent a lot of the next four+ hours together, but Teddy and I took a couple walks around the Terminal to mix it up as well.
Teddy is a 27 year old young man from Ethiopia. He moved to the United States over 7 years ago, shortly after high school. He works full-time (and has a nice Droid X work phone!) and goes to school part-time for now. He did not return home for his first 6 years in the States, but was taking the second trip in a year because his brother passed away. His brother was 33, engaged to be married and died from a stomach ulcer that went untreated too long. Teddy was going to be home a month with his parents, 4 sisters and 3 other brothers for the funeral ceremony and grieving.
The coolest thing about meeting Teddy and this lady is that they are both very plugged into the Ethiopia culture in Columbus. They attend a couple of the 5 Ethiopian churches, they go to the New Year’s Festival every September, they recommended The Blue Nile as the best Ethiopian Restaurant in town. I had been hoping for a connection to the Ethiopian culture in Columbus for Phin and the Lord plopped it in my lap! We exchanged numbers and he is going to call me when he returns in a month, so that we can connect and introduce him to Phin.
When Teddy and I returned from our last lap around the Terminal two people were sitting in the seats we had vacated, across from our other friend. As I looked close, I realized it was Scott and Rachel Miller, one of the other AWAA families traveling with me! I was so excited to see them and couldn’t believe they had sat right down beside our other friend out of all the seats to chose. We had never met in person, so we got to know each other a little before boarding and shared our hearts for adoption with my two new Ethiopian-American friends. The Millers have a heart for God that radiates from them when you meet them and a infective joy about them. I was instantly thankful that we’d be spending the next few days together.
The plane is a new Boeing 7somethingorother, and it is stinking amazing! Three sets of three seats across, a TON of room above and decent space in the seats. Each seat has it’s own screen with movies, games, etc, but the seats also have a few other features that make the flight more comfortable, like adjustable foot rests and head rests. I’ve been on a lot of planes, but this one blew them away and its only been in use 3 weeks!
When we boarded the plane Teddy was one seat up and one seat over from me. I was on the aisle in the middle. He was in the middle on the right set of seats. When the person assigned to the aisle seat beside him came to sit down he saw us talking and asked if we were “muchachos”. Teddy said yes, and the guy actually switched Teddy seats! How many of us would do that? Especially when it meant that we’d have to sit in the middle of a row for 13 hours? Anyways, it worked perfectly for Teddy and I to be able to talk frequently throughout the flight. I slept a total of about 3.5 hours. The longest stint was 2 hours toward the beginning. After that, my eyes and body were tired, but my mind wasn’t. I walked around a lot, which they were completely ok with. In fact, there were quite a few of us just standing around in the galleys at times, and they’d just offer us food and drinks. Very hospitable and helpful airline!
I did all of the typical things to pass 12+ hours on a flight. I read, I worked, I talked, I slept, I played games on my Ipod and the screen, I roamed around, but I mainly noticed all of the little kids on board. The majority of the flight consisted of Ethiopian families returning home with their children for Christmas. I thought about how I would have a child as well on my return flight. I noticed every cry and yell and squeak and word and wondered what Phin would be like. I felt compassion with every noise. I wanted to help, to hold, to comfort, to reassure the parents that their children were ok. I wanted to reassure them that no one was frustrated or annoyed. The cool thing is that I didn't see anyone that was. The Ethiopian culture cares for kids like I have never seen. I didn't have a monopoly on compassion on that flight. It was like everyone pulled together to help make the kids comfortable. When a kid screamed, you didn't see looks of disgust like we did on our flight to San Diego when Halle was two. You saw looks of concern and understanding. It was beautiful… and I can only hope that the majority of my flight home consists of Ethiopians as well.
It really is part of their culture. I was discussing it with an Ethiopian man at the airline counter in Dulles and he said, “Kids are kids. You can’t be mad at them for being kids. They are kids. You love them and care for them.” So cool and so enviable. May I have an Ethiopian heart and attitude towards children, even when they are loud and ornery and whiney, may I understand that they are kids and they are to be loved and cared for.
The courts in Ethiopia have opened back up! For those of you that don’t know, we received our adoption referral for a little boy on July 15th, just before the courts closed on August 6th. We have been anxiously waiting and have cherished the pictures and videos that others have sent our way of our little son Phineas. We are so excited and cannot wait to see his face in person! There is a great possibility that our wait may be over soon. Now that the courts are open we may receive a court date any day and be flying to meet Phin in person for the first time.
The past few months many of you have written to ask me where we stand in our fundraising, so I wanted to send an update. As we near the end of this process, we realized we were about $8,000 short of our total expenses. A couple of months ago Kelly thought we had raised all that we needed, primarily through the generous gifts of others. We had it all worked out on an excel spreadsheet, but then I noticed that something was missing, The Second Trip. A policy that was changed midway thru our adoption process now requires an entire second trip to Ethiopia. The first trip is when we officially adopt him in court. The second trip is when we return to have our appointment with the US Embassy and bring our son home. So, basically, we were short what it will cost for us to travel the second time. THE GOOD NEW NEWS is that friends and family have sent $2000 to us in the past two weeks, and many more have told us the intend to order t-shirts from us, which will shrink the gap further.
Some have asked how they can give or what fundraisers we have, so here are 4 quick options:
1) Direct Donations: You can always donate directly to us using PayPal on Kelly’s blog www.lifeafterelijah.blogspot.com or by sending a check to 407 Martinsburg Rd., Mt. Vernon, Ohio, 43050. Don’t worry. When we get random checks from people we usually figure out it is for the adoption and not for more toilet paper.
2) T-Shirts: SHOW HOPE (Steven Curtis Chapman's organization that gave us a 3k grant!), sent out an email with t-shirt fundraiser info. If we sell their shirt for around $25 a piece, we can clear a $15 profit per shirt (not including shipping them to people). We are able to pre-order, which is a big bonus (that way we don't get stuck with a bunch of shirts and wasted money). We just launched this idea on Facebook tonight and have already had a huge response. Here's the link to their website if you want to take a look at the shirt. We would most likely sell the black ones since they are the cheapest and we would make the most money off of them. Christmas is just around the corner, so don’t be afraid to buy one for each of your family! http://www.showhope.org/AdoptionAid/ShirtsOfHope.aspx
3) Just Love Coffee: Don't forget you can get your caffeine fix and support our adoption at the same time.. and the coffee is Fair Trade Certified. Visit http://justlovecoffee.com/bringphinhome
Many of you have already enjoyed these beans and we thank you!
4) NEW - Coincidence Maybe CDs: Some friends of ours who make up the music group Coincidence Maybe have given us several copies of two of their CDs (one of the group and one solo album of Denver Shindle). They are allowing us to sell these and use all of the profits towards our adoption. If you would like to order a set of these two CDs for $15+shipping e-mail me at email@example.com.
5) Garage Sale: My parents and their small group recently held a garage sell and raised over $500 in one day. This was a huge surprise and blessing to us! We have heard of other churches doing this, even during bad weather and just hosting it in their fellowship hall or gym. If you have the energy to host something like this for our adoption in your area, please do! Let us know if there is anything we can do to make it happen. We can send pictures of our family sitting around the dinner table with an empty chair… just kidding. Seriously, don’t ask for the picture.
Thank you for all of your prayers, support and financial blessings. We have been overwhelmed and amazed by the support or our family and friends through this entire journey. We can’t wait to welcome Phin home and we can’t wait for you to meet him!
Blessings to you and yours!
The Smith Clan
P.S. We are also all moved into our new home, which is VERY close to work! Stop by if you are in town... and we know you. :-)
AND THEN...my cousin LeeAnn surprised us by presenting us with over $1000 towards our adoption. She has been secretly collecting it from family members over the past few months and completely surprised us! Our family is such a blessing!
Seems significant to us Christians. Seems like we should do something great by this time in our lives, or at least this year. Seems like we should be doing something radical. Making sacrifices. Helping others. Living with sheer confidence and boldness.
My hope is to live more selflessly this year. I feel like Kelly and I have made some big choices in the past couple of years that trend towards unselfishness, but I am talking about the little things. The way I treat salespeople when they call me at work. The way that I react when I am stressed and someone stresses me out. The way I treat the kids and Kelly after a long and tiring day and they just need a little attention. The way I pursue friendships, new and old.
When I look at the life of Christ, Selflessness seems to be at the root of his actions. He moves with a rhythm that says to others, "let me serve you". BUT his selflessness is not motivated by a desire to manipulate or control, which it can easily be used for. It is raw, pure, love of and for others. This is the driving force behind his actions.
Whenever I observe myself living that way, even for a moment... those are the moments I feel closest to the person of Christ. Those are the moments that I feel I understand who he is and why he changed the world. Those are the moments that I recognize with my own eyes and heart that... God... IS... love.
- Jayber Crow pg. 52
Familiar thoughts for anyone? Similar experience?
Can you or have you ever been able to relate?
Personally, I'm probably too afraid to post on here which parts of this have resonated, or do resonate with me. I think its enough to say that some of it has and does. This expert is a little out of context, but I'd have to include 6 pages of text to put it in its proper place. Why are we afraid to ask these questions in a public forum? Why do we, as Christian leaders, feel the pressure to always have all of the answers? Why do we feel the need to always have a response? I remember thinking that one day I would have all the answers. In fact, I thought I actually did have most of them when I was 18... but that doesn't even make sense with something named "faith". In faith, I believe in God, and that faith is as firm as it could be. But faith can not be proven... because it is faith. No matter how hard we try. It still takes a leap of faith in the end.
Faith is the fabric that bridges the gap between truth and the inadequacy of our human minds to answer supernatural questions.
My faith in God is firm.
But so are my questions about some of the details.
I didn't see it coming. It just snuck up on me. I was working in the Welcome Center around lots of people throughout the afternoon and slowly, but surely the energy ebbed away. Before I knew it the place was mostly empty and so was I. I was frozen in that chair and in that room. I knew I needed to go home, but I couldn't. I called Kelly, but she didn't answer, and I was somewhat relieved because I knew I could squeeze a little bit more "quiet time" in before heading home. I continued to sit there... frozen. I wanted to drive somewhere, walk through the woods, sit by a lake... or sit in front of the computer... anything alone.
It was sudden.
It was wierd.
Finally, I went home. Very, very late.
And there were the kids. And there was Kelly. And they gave me life. They filled me right back up. I wished I would have been able to move myself sooner, but maybe I need the extra hour plus. I really hope this doesn't become a trend. It could really hamper my people filled lifestyle.
What if half way through life your mind just changed... it's mind. What if it decided to flip your needs/wants and you become the opposite of what you had always been (introver to extrover or vice versa). Sometimes the body/mind scares me, because it can really do whatever it wants.
I'm still an extrovert.
The tag on the back says "Envoy", which to my knowledge no longer exists. It is a slanted stripe tie with 70s brown serving as the primary color, and stripes of other browns, khakis, white and a little red mixed in. When I look at it in my closet I know it is dated and it makes me happy, because I know why it is dated.
My college roommate lost his first grandparent last week, which is much different from my experience. My mom's dad (Brooks) died when I was a junior in high school, so I had plenty of memories with him by that time, but hadn't reached an age where I realized I needed to glean knowledge from him.
My dad's mom (Geraldine) died my sophomore year of college, after leaving a VERY strong imprint on my life. We lived with her for almost a year and lived down the road from her from 6th-12th grade. She was the type of woman who made things happen... especially for her family and probably bequeathed to me my ability to confront people. She had a powerful presence, but loving and the loss of her was very difficult for me.
The loss of my mom's mom (Juanita Ruth)was a devastating blow in my life. I think I blogged on this back in the day. Grandma Clouse was one of my favorite people in the world. I am not sure if this was just because of who she was, or also had something to do with the fact that I was literally one of the most important people in here life... and she reminded me of this every time I saw her or talked to her. She believed in me so much. She was one of the funniest people I have ever known and most of my friends who knew her share that sentiment. If I picked on her she would get in a wrestling match with me to defend herself well into my teens years. I could write a book about what she means to be still today, and her loss just before Halle's birth put me in a haze that was only broken by Halle's birth. I still think of her weekly, and the images I see of her reflected in the faces of Halle and Judah brings me to tears at times. I miss her and I miss being her favorite boy.
My college roommate's grandpa was a "pillar of the church" as they say and an incredible influence on many. My Grandpa Smith was the same... but I never knew it. The tie I wore today belonged to him, my dad's dad (Charles "Art"thur). He passed away just before we lost our first son Elijah. He was a man of God... even more than I knew. We went to church together and lived down the street from one another from the time I was 10. I saw him all the time. I talked to him all the time. I got rides from him all the time. I always took him for granted... not in the negative way where I would take advantage of him. I just lived in the assumption that he would ALWAYS be there. My father was such a strong believer that I never "needed" to ask spiritual questions to grandpa, so I didn't. I think I assume that because my dad was an ordained elder he knew more than grandpa. In the final year's of grandpa's life I began to see my misperception. Grandpa Smith had more knowledge about life and Jesus and how you combine those two things that I ever had known. I just didn't notice how strong his faith was, because he was so quiet about it, so humble. He was that consistent, gentle giant of the faith. When he died the new pastor of my church said to me, "Your grandpa was one of the greatest prayer warriors I knew. He was a pillar of our church." That outside perspective opened my eyes even wider as he explained to me the Christ-like, gentle, humble influence of my grandfather on that church. I returned to my grandpa's house after the funeral looking for something to remember him by. Something small that could remind me of who he was and who I want to be... I found his ties... and I wear them... and I remember that great man.
This is the third former teen of mine who has died... that I know of. I officiated the funerals of the other two (Zach Eisel and Crystal Grenier). I have also officiated some weddings of former teens. I prefer those. In fact, I welcome those. I am probably honored to be asked to do either one, but I definitely prefer weddings. Most of us probably do. I do have one friend who prefers officiating funerals.
"We sit around at funerals, feeling sorry for the unfortunate person whom death happened to. We say nice things about the person; we dig a hole and put the body in the hole and cover the casket with all our questions." - Donald Miller "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years"
You may wonder why I don't write about the adoption more, or at all, on here. Kelly and I have decided that her blog was the most natural place to consistently update people about the adoption. We also have a Facebook Fan Page called James and Kelly Smith Adoption Page (very creative we are) that we keep regularly updated. To follow our journey please check in with one of those two places.
I am sure I will begin to share my thoughts, excitement, fears, plans, dreams for the adoption and our son on here eventually, but those have primarily been share verbally with friends and family so far.
All I know is that I am excited and I can't wait to bring that boy home!!!