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Saturday, August 28, 2010

I Have a Dream!

Today marks the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in our nation's capital, on Aug 28, 1963.

This is a brief excerpt from his amazing speech:

"Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day."

I don't know of anyone that can hear his voice, ringing with the toll of truth, and not feel a stirring in their hearts for those who are oppressed or experiencing injustice.  One of the victims of extreme oppression and injustice today is orphaned children.  They are among the most vulnerable because without a mom or dad, there is no one to stand up for them and protect them.  They grow up in extreme poverty, loneliness and despair and IF they survive starvation and disease, they oftentimes fall victim to those who prey upon the vulnerable.

I travelled to Ethiopia last year with Tom Davis, who is the President of Children's Hopechest and an author, and works tirelessly on behalf of orphans around the world.  Tom commented on Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech on his blog today.  He said,

"I dream of millions of Christians opening their hearts and homes to orphans here in the US and around the world who need families. Adoption, as John Piper termed it, is the "visible Gospel." I long for the day when a multi-racial families are the rule--not the exception.

I dream of freedom for girls trapped in slavery much worse than we could ever really imagine. A slavery where they are raped for profit day after day. Will we meet that challenge as King's generation met theirs?

The challenge of injustice did not end on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. King new that justice was active--a verb--something you did with your life. If you are to "bring justice" to something, you must act against injustice".

For me, there is one specific part of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech that deeply stirs my heart and gives me assurance that we are making progress in the war against injustice.

"I have a dream that one day ... little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Orphaned Kids in Ethiopia will be Going to SCHOOL!!!

There are 84 orphaned children that attend the Trees of Glory care-point in Ethiopia.  All of these kids have been matched with a sponsor family, and for the past 2 months they have been getting nutritious meals every day at the care-point.  (Sponsorship provides food, clean water, medical care, education and Christian discipleship for the kids!)

Before the care-point was established, these kids were living in a variety of sad and difficult situations.  Most of these kids have lived through the death or abandonment of one or both parents.  For those kids that have lost both parents, they are living with a relative or neighbor that can barely provide for them.  Some of the kids were being "sold" as an indentured servant to herd livestock night and day for $12 per year.  That's not a typo - it's truly $12 PER YEAR.

Their childhood was purchased for $12 per year. And although that sounds cruel and inhumane to our Western ears, that $12 per year kept a handful of rice in their tummy (each day or every other day) and maybe even fed a few more kids in the house, keeping starvation at bay.

Addisu is one of the kids at Trees of Glory that will be
attending school this fall!  Both of his parents have died
and he is living with his grandmother.  He has never
been able to attend school ... until now.

Now that these kids have the safety and security of the care-point and nutritious meals every day, we turned our attention to their education.  It was our hope to find a few families to sponsor teachers - so that we could fund their monthly salaries and begin a school on the grounds at the care-point.  That hope has become a reality as we now have 6 families that have made a monthly committment to support the teachers at Trees of Glory.  The director at the care-point, Simret, is in the process of interviewing teachers.  A head teacher and an assistant teacher that will soon be opening a classroom and will begin providing an education for these kids.

Education is considered an honor and a privilege in Ethiopia.  A monthly fee must be paid for a child to attend school.  A school uniform is required and school supplies must be purchased.  For orphaned children who have already lost so much - losing the opportunity of an education makes it even worse.  Without an education, a child has very little hope of breaking out of the cycle of poverty and despair. 

A sponsor program can provide meals to keep them from starving, but without an education, they can get no traction and become self-sufficient.  It truly is a vicious circle.  A child loses both parents.  That child not only loses the only security, love and protection they know, but they lose their inheritence (any land or dwellings, cattle or possessions) and they cannot pay for schooling.  They become beggars or they become indentured servants or worse.

An education is the key to their future.  Here in the United States, we easily take it for granted because it is part of the basic fabric of our society.  Every child goes to school.  In Ethiopia and other 3rd world countries, that is not the case.

At Trees of Glory care-point, our kids are now going to get that most amazing and transforming of opportunities!  They will go to school!

I will be travelling back to Ethiopia in November and our team (there will be 18 of us)  will be spending time with the kids at both care-points, Trees of Glory and Kind Hearts.  We will be delivering school supplies and teaching materials, and each of us will spend one-on-one time with each child.  Teaching them, loving them and showing them that they are valuable and precious and so very worthy. 

If you are interested in providing a financial gift to be used in Ethiopia for urgent needs or toward the school, please contact me at  We currently have the building for the classroom, and the kids will start school with nothing more than benches and a teacher.  Funds will help to provide desks and chairs, along with books, a chalkboard and other teaching essentials.

These are some of the kids who are attending Trees of Glory care-point
and will be attending school for the first time this fall!!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Big Sister, Little Brother

We have just a few final days before the official "end of summer".  School will be starting the day after Labor Day and we are squeezing every drop of summer out of each day we have left ... and we are exhausted! :) 

Along the walking path in our backyard, several patches of wild raspberries have taken root.  The kids spent many days early in the summer picking wild raspberries, which are tiny and somewhat tart.  As the summer wore on, the raspberries no longer appeared and Wesley kept inquiring "what happened to the berries?"  I told him to wait until the end of the summer and we would take him to the biggest raspberry patch ever where the berries were almost as big as him!

Finally the "U-Pick Raspberries" banner went up at the local patch, and I waited for a Saturday to take the kids.  Of course everyone was too busy with their friends to go with Wesley and me.  But with a little coaxing, Emme agreed to join us at the raspberry patch so Wesley could feast on big, plump, ripe raspberries.

The sweet lady at the raspberry patch told Wesley he could eat as many berries as he wanted while Emme and I picked and filled up our little pint containers.  She may not have realized how many berries he could pick and eat in an hour!

When we got home, we promptly washed the berries and then ate them over vanilla ice cream!  Farmers' markets and U-Pick raspberry patches are some of our favorite summer moments!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Our Son is No Longer an Orphan!

Our youngest, Wesley, looks forward to taking a walk each evening because we search for toads, frogs, caterpillars, and other fascinating little creatures.  He reaches for a tupperware container or his bug box and settles into his stroller with anticipation.  We have a certain path that we take, and we stop at the milkweed plants to search for caterpillars and the occassional tree frog.  As the walking path curves into the forest, we watch for toads hopping across the path, or jumping for cover in the leaves.

There have been times when we find nothing - and other times when we come back with toad stacked on top of toad, stacked on top of toad.  We have about 7 or 8 tree frogs that live under our porch lights (growing fat on the bugs that swarm the lights each evening), and in the watering can.  And we always have a few chrysallis' hanging from the roof of our bug box, like little jewel boxes with irridescent green skins and delicate gold dots.

As we near home, Wesley excitedly announces "I want to show the kids my toads".  ("the kids" are his brother and sisters).  And after they have all "oooohed" and "aaaaaahed" over his toads or caterpillars, he wants to let them go outside "so they can find their mommy and daddy".

I smile at his sweet concern and empathy for his bugs and toads - and their "families", because I know deep down, he is concerned for anything and anyone that doesn't have a mommy and a daddy.

We don't know the specific details about Wesley's birthmother, other than that she was very young and was a street orphan herself.  Somehow she kept Wesley with her (on the streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) until he was about 2 years old, and then she relinquished him at a police station with the hope that he would somehow survive (they were starving and his growth was already being stunted due to malnutrition) and maybe even be adopted into a family (although that was probably too much to even hope for or dream about).

There are times when I am still haunted by this most difficult and unselfish of decisions that was made by his young mother.  I often put myself in her shoes, and think about being faced with giving up my children with the hope and prayer for something better for them.  Can you imagine?

Can you imagine wondering what your children are thinking?  Are they waiting for me to come back?  Do they know that I love them so much that I "let them go" for the possibility of a better life?  Or are they angry and heartbroken about my abandonment?  Will they forgive me?

Wesley lived in the orphanage for only about 6 months before we adopted him.  I know kids are amazingly resiliant but they are often wise beyond their years and they can store up hurt, and loneliness, and anger in their little hearts.  That 6 months in an orphanage (and who knows what experiences he had living on the streets of Addis Ababa with his orphaned teenage mother) was enough to affect him.

He was mistrustful, distant and aggressively defensive at first.  I look back at those early pictures and his eyes are vacant, his face expressionless, and his little body leans away from me as I held him close.  With his body language he is saying ...

"I don't want your touch or your love because it hurts too much to lose it". 

"I don't know you and I don't want you". 

"I've learned to defend myself and my stuff with my fingernails, my fists and my teeth.  There is no one to protect me, so I protect myself." 

He was only 2 years old - and already, this is what he knew.

The first 9 months were tough.  And we had to show tough love - drawing very clear lines in the sand about behaviour, and very methodically teaching him about love and trust and family.

Sometime after 9 months or so, we started to see that love and that trust being reciprocated.

And today - over 18 month later, our little Wesley is one of the most affectionate, loving, empathetic and sweetly obedient little boys I have ever known.  That concern he shows for his frogs and toads and caterpillars and lady bugs is born of his deep concern for anyone or anything that does not have a family. 

Several months ago, Wesley started nonchalantly asking ... "Mom, You love me?"  The first time he asked me, I looked up at him with concern to try and discern why he was questioning my love for him.  But he was smiling, and so I smiled back and answered, "Yes, Wesley.  I love you!" 

I watched a little ripple of happiness pass through his body and he confidently went back to what he was doing.  He wasn't questioning.  He was revelling in the knowledge and confidence of my love for him.

It's a regular question around here now.  Out of nowhere he suddenly pipes up, "Dad?  You love me?"  Completely confident in the answer, he waits expectantly, already knowing the answer.  And Jay responds, "Yes Wesley.  I love you."  And Wesley grins and wiggles with happiness and security, soaking in the love of his mommy and daddy, and his brother and sisters.

Our littlest boy was officially and legally declared a "Wistrom" by an Ethiopian judge in November of 2008.  At that point, a piece of paper and a court system declared that he was no longer an orphan.  I love it when I hear him talking with his brother and sisters about me or Jay.  He subconsciously puts a little emphasis on the word "my".  "MY mommy" says this, or "MY daddy" says that.  He claims us completely as his own now.  He is no longer an orphan in his heart and in his mind.  He is completely and securely our son.

Another one of his little questions is this ... "Mom, you happy?"  I answer, "Yes Wesley, I'm happy."  Then I ask him, "Are you happy?"  And he triumphantly answers, "Yesssss!" as he sneaks in for a quick kiss on the wrist. :)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Starfish throwing ...

This one is worth repeating ... and worthy of an update!

I am always amazed at how one creative idea or one compelling story, can inspire people to take action.

The "starfish thrower" story is one of my favorites, and yet I still marvel at the simple and profound truth behind that analogy. The story goes ...

"Once upon a time, there was an old man who enjoyed taking walks along the beach. One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a small boy moving along the beach like a dancer.

Curious about what the boy was doing, he walked faster to catch up. As he got closer, he could see that the boy was not dancing at all. Instead, the boy was intently and methodically reaching down to the sand, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

The old man came closer and with curiosity he called out, "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"

The boy paused, looked up, and replied very matter-of-factly "I'm throwing starfish into the ocean."

"Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the man.

To this, the boy replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them back, they'll die."

Upon hearing this, the old man replied, "But, young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"

The boy pondered this for a moment ... and then he bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "I made a difference to that one!"

When I first read that story, I found myself agreeing with the old man and thinking, "what a sweet gesture, and yet how fruitless." And then comes the startling statement of truth ...

"I made a difference to that one!"

And to that one, it means EVERYTHING!!!!

In the past few years, since adopting our two sons from Ethiopia, and working with Children's Hopechest to sponsor two care-points in Ethiopia with 152 orphaned children, I have met a lot of star-fish throwers! And each time - I am inspired and awed anew.

I have learned that if we focus on the "one" we end up making a difference for many. Whereas, if we focus on the many, we are sometimes paralyzed by the magnitude of the need, and so we do nothing.

I want to introduce you to a "starfish thrower" named Samantha, who is 11 years old. Her family is in the process of adopting a 4 1/2 year old little boy from Ethiopia, and they also sponsor a child at Kind Hearts care-point in Ethiopia. Samantha was concerned about the children at the care-points, and when she saw the photos on my blog that I took in Ethiopia last December - the photos of the ragged shoes worn by the kids at the care-points - she wanted to do something about it.

Her mom, Robyn, contacted me and explained that Samantha was hand-crafting bottle-cap necklaces and selling them for $5 each. So far, she had raised $125 and she wanted to give it to the kids, so they could have shoes. That same day, another sponsor contacted me, wanting to do something more for the kids. She wanted to start with $300 for shoes. So with that "seed money" I posted on my blog that we were kicking off the shoe fund with $425 - and within 24 hours, we had over $1,600 (one family even gave enough to buy 61 pairs of shoes!!!!) ALL 84 kids at the Trees of Glory care-point, will now have shoes!

And it all started with one, 11 year old "starfish thrower" named Samantha, who didn't stop to consider that the odds were against her and her endeavor. She is still selling bottle-cap necklaces and is continuing to raise money so that when more kids arrive at the care-points, they too will have a brand new pair of shoes. Samantha's blog and online store is called "Little Goody 2 Shoes", check it out! 

My 11 year old daughter, Maea, just ordered 2 necklaces and they are super cute! - And they make great gifts - great back-to-school gifts!

I've gotten to know a lot of "starfish throwers" lately - and I'm deeply honored and thankful for the encouragement and inspiration I get from each and every sponsor who is making a difference for ONE orphaned child. I love making a difference alongside each of you!!

UPDATE: Samantha has now sold over $1,175 in bottle-cap necklaces. That's 65 pairs of shoes, for 65 very appreciative kids at Trees of Glory care-point in Ethiopia!!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Laugh Until You Cry!

There's something really special about growing up near a lake ... and Minnesota has a few. :)  Some of my and Jay's favorite childhood memories are from those long, carefree days of summer on the lake. 

I love how my kids play together with abandon.  I love how all 4 of them are pefectly content to be with each other, or with their friends (it really doesn't matter as long as they are ... at the lake.) 

They spend hours fishing, and jumping off the dock, practicing back-flips, perfecting their dives, seeing who can hold their breath the longest, doing canonballs, helping each other put worms on the hook and take fish off the hook.  

Then, as the intense sunlight starts to fade and the sky turns all pink and orange, and the surface of the lake becomes still, we start a fire and extend our together-time around the campfire with hotdogs and s'mores.

And I love how we fall into bed at night with that healthy, satisfying kind of exhaustion and the warmth of the sun still kissing our skin.

~  keep reading below for the story about Jayden laughing until he cried ... ~

This is what JOY looks like!  Jayden appreciates life with intensity and complete abandon.  He remembers all to well what it was like to be hungry and alone (when he was an orphan in Ethiopia).  He remembers how worried he was, and sad, all the time.  And now he is completely secure and content within the loving circle of his family and he LOVES to experience life like a cannonball!

As the day came to an end, we started a campfire near the water and I laid out the food on the nearby picnic table.  All of the kids speared hotdogs with their extending fire-forks and let the flames begin to blister the skins of the wieners.  At this point, I started explaining the finer points of cooking wieners over an open flame by using Emme's hotdog as the example.  I started explaining to the boys about how hot the forks would get and how they had to be careful not to touch them. 

"Look at Emme's wiener," I said.  "See how she's turning it so that it cooks on all sides?" 

"When Emme's wiener gets bubbly on one side, she turns it over."

"Emme is going to be careful when she touches her wiener so she doesn't get burned".

It was about at this point that I registered the quiet hysterical laughter that Jayden was trying to stifle.  We all stopped and looked at him as he laughed until tears rolled down his face.  We all waited for him to be able to talk, and once he caught his breath, I asked "What happened?  What's so funny?"

His response ...  "You said Emme had a wiener." 

And then he buckled over with laughter until tears flowed freely again. 

We all started laughing too.  He's come a long way in the past 18 months - from speaking NO English, to being able to find humor in our English phrasing. :)