I hear a soft whimpering cry coming from her wooden crib in the corner. My feet hit the tile floor and I grab a match and a candle to navigate. The electricity has been off for almost two days straight. I glance at the clock. 2:08am. I check her diaper. Dry. She doesn’t seem hungry. I take her temperature. Normal. She continues to cry. I scoop her up and place her in my bed. Might be night terrors. Institutionalization has major effects on children long after they’ve come home. Maybe a bad dream. I rub her back and stroke her hair and whisper, “Mama’s here. It’s okay. You are safe. I love you” and she drifts back to sleep. These moonlight stricken moments. They’re so sacred to me.
We are in a public bus on our way to bi-weekly physical therapy sessions. She’s strapped to my chest and looking out the window at the people passing. I overhear a group of older women in the backseat talking about her. “Why is she white and that child black? Why does that child have those things on her feet? She must have problems. Who would want a child that isn’t healthy?” I turn around and respond in the local language. Giving grace and educating them on special needs and adoption. They just laugh back at me and continue their ridiculing. She continues to look out the window and smile with her hair blowing in the breeze. “You’re perfect” I tell her.
After a long day we shut the front door and walk outside. Yellows and pinks and oranges greet us in the form of blossoming flowers. I stick one behind her ear. She smiles. I toss her up in the air and catch her again. She releases a loud and excited laugh that only could come from the deepest parts of her body. She look me right in the eyes. That’s it. That’s the sparkle and light that captures me. The look that she gives that reassures me that God aligned the moon and the stars just for her to be in my arms today. I throw her up into the blue sky again. She doesn’t look scared or worried, because she knows I will be there to catch her, time and time again, for forever.
Love looks like the 2am wake ups & putting on armor time and time again & being careless and free. Love is messy. Love is joyful. Love is hard. Love is the in-between moments. Love is smiles & glances & belly laughs. Love is standing up when you are weak & moving forward when you are weary. Love is worth it.
This is what love looks like for us.
I’ve been living in Ghana now for almost 15 full months. Over a year ago I had a one way ticket in hand, stepping out in faith and into the complete unknown of moving indefinitely to Ghana. I had no idea what I was getting myself into at the time. If you told me all that I would walk through from moving day until now, I would not believe you for a second. The last 15 months have held more tears, heartbreak and brokenness than I ever thought I could handle. At moments it has felt like life was literally crashing down around me and I could do nothing about it. There is a lot that has not been shared on this blog, or on any form of social media whatsoever. Most of those chapters and experiences will not be shared publicly because I am not ready to share, or it is just kept between God and I. But I do want you to know this: it has been a hard last 6 months. It has been a hard 15 months. And through all the trials and tribulations, my heart has become a bit hardened. That is one of the most difficult things to admit, but here I am standing vulnerably and stating it.
In the last 6 months my heart has not broken over what it used to. If I heard stories of special needs mothers being ridiculed and mocked, I would tear up because I have been in similar situations with my Ellie. My soul would ache when I saw special needs children not being treated with love and compassion. Those intense feelings are what drove my passion and motivated daily actions. Those feelings still come around now, but it takes a lot to break through the hard outer exterior of my heart. Being put through gauntlets, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, has caused me to form an armor around my once tender heart. When you walk through pain that forces you into survival mode, it is very hard to get out of that way of living. It is hard to then allow other people’s struggles into your heart because you are focused on your own. It has been hard to live in Ghana and constantly see poverty and despair, when my own life and heart felt like it was crumbling. It felt like I couldn’t take on any one else’s problems because I was knee deep in the trenches dealing with my own. And I am not going to lie to you and say that all these issues are gone and I am back to my old self. I am not there yet. I am not on the other side of the mountain. I have, and will always be, a work in progress, molding and being shaped by the hands of our Maker.
My heart used to break for the hard things in my life, now I want my heart to once again break for the hard things in the lives of others.
My prayers used to be for strength to endure, now my prayers are for empathy to comfort.
I want a soft heart, one that listens to others and responds with grace, patience, and encouragement. I want the armor and walls around my current heart to be shattered, leaving behind no broken pieces. I know this process will take time, but I shall faithfully wait, standing here in Ghana, West Africa with an almost two year old on my hip and a thriving ministry. Break my heart for what breaks Yours.
Its 6am and I hear a whimper coming from the crib across the room. She’s awake for the day. I put on my glasses and plant my feet on the tile floor below and walk to pick her up. I reach her dark brown wooden crib and pull off the mosquito net draped across the top. And then she sees me. Her eyes meet mine and she smiles. She might not be able to say “mama” yet, but those eyes and smile…they get me every single time. Because she knows. She knows I’m her momma. The one who fills her cup up when it’s empty, all drawn from the One who is love, comfort, and peace. She knows me as the one who hugs when she cries, cheers when she walks, and smiles when she discovers something new. For a time in her life she didn’t have that. She had a biological momma who cared for her until she went Home to dance with Jesus, and then it was a little while (too long) until she had me. Our story is beautiful and filled with joy, but also one of loss and sorrow and brokenness. I never want to forget about those darker pieces that make up the puzzle of how Ellie became my daughter, and I her momma. He is glorified in the sunshine and in the rain. He is the only one who could have turned a very sad, malnourished, and reserved orphan into a beloved daughter who is filled with spunk, laughter, and joy.
365 days ago I checked in my bags at the British Airways counter at Chicago O’Hare, hugged my family goodbye, ate my last American meal, and boarded a flight with a one way ticket in hand.
If I said stepping onto that plane was scary, it would be a vast understatement. It was terrifying. I was 20, in the middle of my college degree, living in Chicago, and settling up a comfortable life for myself in America.
But when God calls, you swallow the huge lump in your throat, and say “yes” to the path He is laying out for you. Even if that means selling everything you own to move 6,000+ miles across the ocean without any solid plan for what you will do when you get there.
So, through joy-filled tears, that’s what I did.
And here we are one year later.
The fact that I’ve been living in Ghana for a whole year baffles me. Time has moved so quickly, yet so painfully slow too. I could never, ever have imagined all that would happen in my first year. Lots of laughter, lots of tears. The highest of highs, along with the lowest of lows. Paths radically redirected. New doors opened. Chapters slammed shut. Hellos and goodbyes. Blessings. Joys. Heartache. Loss. Hope. There are no words to describe it all. There’s so many stories I have’t told. Stories of the most painful heartache, and stories of abundant rejoice. So many moments that are kept deep inside my heart. Moments of weakness, and moments when I knew life from then onwards would never be the same. These 365 days have held a lot. Maybe sometime soon I’ll be able to process it all a bit and explain more. Right now I’m still in the thick of it. Trying to sort through all that’s happened in the last year. [You can see some highlights from the year in the 2014 in review post.]
Today begins year two of living in Ghana. The Treasured Ones is expanding at a rapid rate. My baby girl is growing like a weed and surprising the doctors & therapists daily. We are putting one foot in front of the other and pressing on in Jesus name. We will continue to walk down the path God has laid out, no matter how difficult. We will keep finding joy in the little moments. We will make it. We will endure and persevere. And in the journey, we will be showered with endless grace, love, mercy, and new beginnings.
Here’s to year two!
[January 7, 2014]
[Said goodbye to parents, brothers, family, and friends to pack suitcases and move across the ocean on a one way ticket]
[January 12, 2014]
[Moved into my four bedroom house and having no idea who or what would fill it]
[January 28, 2014]
[Turned 21 in a village and celebrated with hundreds of new little friends]
[American friends visited all throughout the year]
[February 24, 2014]
[Met my future daughter Ellie & her twin brother for the first time (I had NO idea what was in store for us!)]
[March 6, 2014]
[Reunited with my Little Boy in Blue, my first inspiration to found The Treasured Ones]
[March 8, 2014]
[We met through Instagram. She committed to be in Ghana for 9 months with an eye care NGO. Jamen moved to Ghana in October. I in January. We met for the first time in Accra. We became best friends & Ghana sisters. And the rest is history]
[March 14, 2014]
[Having my Atonsu kiddos for a sleepover]
[One of our many weekend slumber parties filled with ice cream, Jesus, & soul talks]
[May 4, 2014]
[My son, Ellie’s twin brother was suddenly & unexpectedly called Home to be with Jesus while I was in the process of getting custody of him]
[June 20, 2014]
[Officially announced that I was founding The Treasured Ones]
[June 25, 2014]
[Served as a Short Term Missionary at Joni and Friends International Family Retreat and met some of the sweetest friends & children]
[July 12, 2014]
[Flew to America for a one month visit and was surprised big time in California]
[July 13th, 2014]
[My soul sisters and best friends threw Ellie and I a baby shower in California]
[August 7th, 2014]
[Portia & Kwabena moved in and became the first beneficiaries of The Treasured Ones Foster/Rehab Home]
[August 26th, 2014]
[Ellie Grace, my beloved daughter, came home forever]
[September 3, 2014]
[We stood before a judge and she granted me legal guardianship of Ellie]
[KCH Inclusive Primary School officially welcomed 30 children with special needs into the school, adding to over 150 students in total]
[September 22, 2014]
[We welcomed Shadrach to The Treasured Ones Foster Home]
[October 9th, 2014]
[Light for Children Education Center officially opened]
[October 11th, 2014]
[Partnered with Joni and Friends Wheels for the World to give custom pediatric wheelchairs to 11 children]
[October 18th, 2014]
[Ellie continues to surprise all doctors by making huge strides in her development]
[We open the Special Needs Resource Center at KCH Inclusive School complete with art room, physical therapy room, computer lab and store]
[December 24th, 2014]
[Ellie’s first Christmas]
[December 25th, 2014]
[Ellie home for 4 months & celebrating our first holidays as a family of 2]
Over three months ago, Ellie Grace came home. And life has not been the same since. I was thrown into instant motherhood through adoption, a blessing and a calling I have been dreaming about for years. I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, but really I had no idea.
Motherhood guts you from the inside out. Fully. Completely. Totally rips your heart apart. When Ellie came home I knew I would watch her be transformed by love, but little did I know that I would be going through a major transformation as well.
Motherhood reveals the deepest, darkest, most ugly parts of your heart. When it’s 3am and the moon is shining bright, and you are wide awake with a screaming child who refuses to sleep, your first response isn’t to react with patience and understand. It’s easier to become frustrated and have a short temper. You say mean things and use strong words. You pace back and forth thinking of your wrongdoings of the day. You question your ability to parent and wonder what the heck you are doing. The ugly and the nasty parts of your heart surface in those moments and you live minute by minute. In those moments you have two choices, let those ugly heart parts continue to saturate your actions and thoughts, or pray for God to change them.
For the first few weeks of Ellie being home, I chose the first option. Ellie had a rocky transition due to extreme trauma and severe malnutrition. She had a very difficult time sleeping and eating, which caused me to become frustrated easily. My temper would be short and my fuse would be hot. I was exhausted in almost every minute of the day. I wouldn’t necessarily get mad at her, but the circumstances and situations I was facing. And the nasty parts of my heart would creep their way to the surface. I would feel guilty because of the way I reacted, which would affect my mood even further. “Mom guilt” is very very real. I felt negativity constantly buzzing around me and was not the happiest person to be around.
Then, I decided that I needed to chose the second option, to ask God to take the surfaced ugly parts of my heart and change them. In those moments when I was at the end of my rope, I chose to not react with frustration, but to cry out to God for help. For strength, and bravery, and energy to get through the long days and even longer nights. And over time, I felt my heart begin to change. I found myself having more patience than ever before, even when Ellie was refusing to eat more than a spoonful. I found myself speaking kind words, even when my head was pounding with annoyances. I found myself holding Ellie close and gazing deep into her eyes under the moonlight, even when she would wake up 15 times a night. My words changed, my actions changed, my relationships changed. When you ask God to take over every piece of your heart, He will. And He will surprise you with that He does. He took the ugliest corners of my heart and flipped them upside down. The hardened, sin soaked parts of my heart are being softened and molded into new paths to Him. His grace is given freely…but only if you accept it.
Ellie Grace, you have no idea the ways you are changing my life.
The mothers in The Treasured Ones programs and I have an unspoken bond. A bond that can not be explained in words, but when our eyes connect, we know exactly what eachother is feeling. A type of bond that crosses all cultures and language where two hearts are instantly knit together.
We have a bond because we both have children with special needs.
I listen to mothers express the hardships of raising a special needs child in a country that views them as burdens, cursed, and sometimes not even humans.
I listen to their frustrations with the major faults of the medical system and when doctors refuse to even see their children.
I listen to their sadness when they explain that their communities have kicked them out, husbands have abandoned them, and they dread taking public transportation because of the insults people will throw at them.
I listen to them pour their hearts out about the struggles they face, and my heart is right there on the floor with theirs, because I go through it too. I go through it too.
I’ve had Ghanaians come up to me and question why I would want to adopt a child who is so flawed.
I’ve had countless people refuse to sit next to Ellie and I on a packed bus.
I’ve had horrible experiences with people who are supposed to be honest and fair medical professionals, but who act like heartless individuals.
I’ve had people make rude statements about how they don’t want their child to sit next to Ellie and I on the bus because they are afraid their child will catch Ellie’s “sickness”.
I’ve had fingers pointed at me, mean words said to me, and nasty glances shoved my way.
When I admit new children and families into our school, medical sponsorship program, or meet them on community outreach and I introduce my daughter Ellie Grace to them, they breathe a sigh of relief as if to say, “She gets it. She knows what we go through. She understands us”. And thats when the bond instantly forms. And they begin to trust me. Because I am not just saying that I understand what types of things they go through, they trust me because they know that I go through it too.
This does not make my ministry better than anyone else’s, but running a special needs ministry, and having a special needs child myself, brings the passion and dedication to a whole new level. Because when I work for more societal acceptance of children with special needs, I am not only working for their children, but mine too. For them, and for Ellie Grace.
I carry the mothers with me wherever I go. When someone on the bus or in a story asks about Ellie or says something mean, I take a breath and try to respond with grace and patience. I advocate and educate. I speak truth, life, and love over children with special needs in Ghana. I stand up for these mothers’ children, and for my own daughter Ellie Grace. Because all of these treasures are fearfully & wonderfully made. Precious, perfect, and lacking nothing. And I pray that the country and people of Ghana begin to see them in the same way.
Name: Ellie Grace
Age: 18 months
Weight: 14 lbs
Nicknames: Ellie baby, Ellie Bee, Sunshine, Gracie, Princess, Big girl, Ellie belly, Auntie Soso, Little one
Likes: Bath time, taking walks in the Ergo, standing, laughing at people, babbling, smiling 90% of the day, napping on momma, playing tricks on momma, hugging momma, anything and everything having to do with momma
Dislikes: Physical therapy, sitting by herself, darkness, and being with anyone besides her momma
Favorite toys: Mickey Mouse stuffed animal, Vtec kids computer, anything that makes noise or lights up
Favorite foods: Yogurt, mashed avacado, ice cream (a girl after my own heart), peanut butter
As of today, I have a one and a half year old! I still can’t wrap my mind around that. My girl came home two months ago and acted totally like a newborn, unable to engage, move, eat well, or sleep for long periods of time. Now, she is babbling, sitting straight up, and standing with assistance. She eats a lot, and only wakes up 1-3 times a night (it used to be 5-8!). She’s no longer a baby, even though she’s a tiny little peanut who only fits in 3 month clothes. She’s a growing little lady.
Today, you turn 18 months old. A year and a half. I can’t believe that in six months you will be two years old. You have grown so big and strong and I am so proud of you. I am constantly in awe that out of everyone in the world, God chose us to be a family.
When you wake up in the morning, you are nothing but smiles. During the day, you are constantly laughing. When I tie you onto my back for you to fall asleep for the night, we walk to a mirror and when you see yourself on my back, all you can do is open your mouth wide and smile. You truly are the most joyful child.
My baby girl, I say it time and time again, but its the biggest blessing and honor to be your momma. People will say that you are lucky to have me because you were an orphan, but I don’t believe that one bit. We are lucky to have each other. Because I could not imagine life without you. We are a team. A mother daughter duo. You are my forever sidekick. We don’t go anywhere without each other.
You are brave. You are a warrior. You are strong. And you never, ever give up. I know the physical progress you’ve made in the last two months is only a beginning of an incredible journey of healing that we are on. I can’t wait to have a front row seat in continuing to watch God perform miracles.
Ellie Grace, my sunshine, you are so very loved. I loved you before I ever met you. I have been praying for my future children for years, and now, I know all those prayers were heard by our Father, because every single one of them was answered…with you. My beautiful daughter, you are God’s greatest gift to me, and there are never enough words to thank Him enough for giving me you.
I love you. Always and forever. To the moon and back, and more.