Friday, February 28, 2014


This is Salome. She has just days for a family to commit to adopting her. She turns 16 very soon. She has a $20,000 grant that would cover most of her adoption.

If she is not adopted, she will spend the rest of her life in a crib.

From her profile: Girl, born March 1998. Microcephaly, cerebral palsy, deep mental handicap.
Salome needs the care and attention of a family, to provide the medical interventions and therapy she so greatly needs.


From someone who met her: Her thinness is heart stopping! She was twisted and sucking on a bottle, such a lost and forgotten soul! Obviously in such desperate need!

Married couples only, large families and older parents welcome.

She looks so lonely. This could have been my Sarah-girl in another few years, if someone hadn't chosen her. No one deserves to spend their life in a crib, unloved and alone.
No one.

I can't even say anything eloquent. Just...

She needs a family.

Here is a link to her profile. She has only days.
Please share her information in any way you can. I know she is not the cute, cuddly baby that most people are looking to adopt. She will never meet society's definition of normal, and that's ok. But she needs a mommy and a daddy too.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Odds, ends and anecdotes

Here are a few of the bits and pieces of daily life. It seems like the weeks are flying by without any major events, just small bits of life happening, but good things nonetheless. I'm loving this life...although it can be hard, tiring, and scares me at times! It's all part of what makes it exciting (and stretching).

Here are a few snapshots/observations from this month...

- 1 Corinthians 15:51 "Behold, I shew you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed."

Can I get an "AMEN!"?

- I learned to sweep the carpet. With a broom. Key: short hard strokes.

- I made an entire dish without cheese. My South African friends should be proud of me. It was, however, kind of nasty. Either that or I just plain made too much of it. I was eating haluski for a week.

- Fruit salad makes a yummy "fast food." Although, it is "fast" in several aspects - not only is it easy to pull out and eat, it also must be eaten up quickly....

- If you're a baby or toddler, milk makes everything magically better. Still trying to figure out how this works. Maybe I could apply it to grown-up life. My boss/spouse/parent/teenager is mad at me? "Here, have a bottle of milk."*sigh* If only life were that easy! (You bet I'd be carrying around bottles of milk all the time...)

- Africans. Cars. I'm starting to think "how many people can I fit in this car?" is the main qualifier when they buy one. "I bought this five-seater car because it could fit four in the back seat!" is not an uncommon statement. Oh well. I'm just laughing and loving it...

- Oy vey, I may have participated in the funniest misunderstanding, ever, recently. I was up at the baby home working one evening. The conversation went something like this:

Joy: I need to name the kittens.
Me: Name the kittens?
Joy: Yes, the kittens that Marda brought. She wanted me to name them.
Me: The kittens?
Me: Well, ok, where are they?
Joy: In the room.
Me: (I run from room to room, thinking there must be stuffed kittens. Or something.) Joy, I can't find them.
Joy: They're in the bag on that chair.
Me: (I open the bag and find....curtains. A light dawns. Not name the kittens. Hang the curtains...) You know how people with British accents drop their "r's"? The accent here is similar...

- Themba has started calling himself "Uncle Me." Aya now calls me Aka (Uncle) Abbie instead of Ati (Auntie) Abbie.

- You can continue to pray for me on this whole street witnessing thing. The conversation goes something like this:

Bible study friends: WE ARE GOING TO GO STREET WITNESS! IT WILL BE POWERFUL!!!!! (their word for awesome)
Bible study friends: WE WILL TEACH YOU!!! IT WILL BE POWERFUL!!!
Yes, the church fellowship here is very intense! It looks like this will be a sure thing now. And as I mentioned before, I am scared out of my ever- living mind! I'm learning a lot about "fear of man" here. Namely, that I have a lot of it.

- I stay up too late. Like, tonight. I have so many other things I should tell you, but I need to go to bed before some babies wake up and want milk!

Monday, February 24, 2014


Those of you who know me know that I worked at a daycare (in the States) for two years before coming here for my internship. One of the more difficult parts of my job was dealing with separation anxiety. I worked in the two-year-old room and many of the little ones in my care truly struggled with the long day away from Mommy and Daddy. One little girl made herself sick from crying every day; some screamed the entire naptime, or for an hour after drop-off. By five o'clock practically everyone was whining, "I wannnnnt my Mamaaaaaaaaa....." We didn't always know how to help them. We could distract them, but much of the time was spent saying, "Mama loves you. Mama had to go to work. She'll be back soon. Mama will be back in a little bit. Here, watch out the window for Mama. Mama loves you. She'll be back."

Toddlers are hard-wired to be around Mama. Even if they have to go into childcare, they spend the day longing for Mama and are excited to see her at night. God created kids for a family, and though the preference is for a mom and dad, Mama is generally the one who spends the bulk of the day with the children, and the one they cry for when they get a boo-boo or wake up with a bad dream or are just generally out of sorts.

So what do you do when a child cries, "Mamaaaaaaa!!!!" and it's this long, drawn out, heartwrenching wail, and there's no mama to come answer their cry? They don't want a nanny, a loving caregiver, or an auntie. They want a mama. But Mama's not coming back.

This is "Sunshine."

She breaks my heart.

To the credit of all the wonderful and loving people who run and organize the baby home, they've set a plan in place to help alleviate some of the problem. Two caregivers, Jeanne and Patricia, each have three babies assigned to their care. They are the "mama" for those babies and do much of the main care-giving for them. The hope is that if the babies learn the skill to attach to one caregiver, even though the transition may be hard, they will not develop attachment disorders (Attachment disorders are VERY common in kids with multiple caregivers, such as children shuffled around between foster homes in the States.)

The reality, though, is that our system is still broken, even though we do our very best. Evenings, weekends, sick days - all mean different caregivers. Oftentimes a "mama" has her hands full with another little one, and we step in to help. We do have six babies, after all, and four of them are still quite tiny and need LOTS of attention. We do our absolute best, but we're still a baby home, not a family. The hope is that we will be a place of brief transition for these children before they go to a family. Sometimes, that transition is longer than we would like, due to legalities, complicated family circumstances, lack of adoptive or foster families, etc, etc.

The reality is, these children are still left longing for a mama. We hug them, kiss their boo-boos, tell them "I love you," rock them, sing to them. But we can't be mama. Mama is there all the time. Mama might go for a night out, but she never goes "off shift." There is ONE Mama, not multiple mamas, or lots of aunties around to confuse with Mama (despite their best efforts).

The reality? It hurts.

It hurts me to watch.

It hurts when she screams "MAAAAMAAAAAA!!!!!" for an hour in the middle of the night, after waking up for a bad dream, and I can't comfort her.

She knows what a mama is, just a little. She spent a month with a missionary family over Christmas who loved her dearly, and I think she bonded to them. They couldn't keep her due to current circumstances (they aren't SA citizens, among other things). She got a very good grasp of what a mama looked like, which is a good thing (she really, really NEEDS to know what "Mama" means) but a painful thing (she doesn't know what "temporary" means).

She is really grieving the lack of stability in her life. Right now, that doesn't always make her easy, cute or cuddly to be around (although she can be at times). She'll want picked up, only to want to be put down, only to be mad because you put her down. She cries when her self-picked "mama for the day" goes off shift. She wants this person. No, that person. No, this person. No, now she's just mad. She needs discipline, and to lean "to obey." She needs love. She needs constancy. She needs someone who is willing to be there FOREVER. 

Even though she isn't "easy," I don't care. I love her. I just don't always know what to do with her. My heart grieves for all the kids here, knowing their stories, hearing their cries. Babies cry, but when an orphan cries, it strikes a different cord in my heart. (Ok, sometimes in the middle of the night, it's just noise. Loud noise. ;) I have to remind myself that love and compassion are a choice, not a feeling. Just a disclaimer.)

To explain this, I'll have to back up a little. Many of you know that I traveled with my friend Stephanie to Bulgaria last June on her referral trip to adopt her two little girls, Sarah and Anna. Sarah's orphanage was notorious for its neglect of the special-needs orphans in its care. Sarah, at 7 years old, left the orphanage weighing 23 pounds. No, that's not a typo. Some children older than her left at HALF that weight, mere skeletons. I believe Katie Musser was 10 pounds and 9 years old when she left. Visiting that orphanage was a very emotional experience. We had no many idea how many children were there; most of them were kept out of sight. My heart was weighed down daily with the atmosphere of spiritual oppression that hung over the place. 

One of the hardest things to witness was what happened when a baby cried. Or, what didn't happen. We never *saw* the babies. Only heard them. And, not very often. (Orphans usually know better than to cry, and it is very common to walk into a roomful of dozens of cribs, and be greeted with dead silence. Why cry when no one comes?)

It was mid-week, and our little Sarah was starting to get sick. We sent her back early so she could lie down and hopefully get some relief. Stephanie and I waited outside on the fifth-floor balcony while the other mother finished her visit with her children. Through an open window, we heard a baby crying. The baby cried, and cried. The wails went on for what seemed like forever. No one came. There was no mama in this cold, gray concrete structure that was called "home," but would never be a home.

Finally a nanny came - to shut the window so we couldn't hear the baby's heart-wrenching cries.

The memory of that baby's cry haunts me to this day. I can still close my eyes and hear it. It tears me up inside. Sometimes I wake up at one in the morning and weep for that baby. I hope and pray Mama found them. Will I ever know for sure? No.

So when Sunshine cries for Mama in the middle of the night, it aches in my heart beyond just the sadness that is her story. I'm still hearing that little Bulgarian baby crying.

Sunshine usually looks something like this when she beds down for the night:

A warm bottle of milk, and her "Sleepy Sheep" that I crocheted for her, along with some snuggly pillows and blankies

She's been waking up every night, about eleven p.m. We think she's been having nightmares. For her age (about 18 months) the goal is to have them sleep through the night. So I usually go in, pat her on the head to reassure her that someone is still here, ask her to be quiet because her "sister" (the Princess, with whom she shares a room) is sleeping, crack the curtains a little in case she's scared of the dark, and maybe get her some milk if she's really inconsolable. Then, I leave her alone to fuss a little and go back to sleep on her own.

Last night, I just couldn't. 

She cried. I went in and said, "It's ok, [Sunshine], I'm here, you need to be quiet now and go to sleep."

She kept crying. And crying. 

And I knew that structure and routine are vital, and have their place most of the night. But, well, sometimes grace steps in and shoves them aside. And, grace is a good thing.

So I walked in, and she reached up her arms, a wordless request to "pick me up." I picked up that sweaty little girl in her too-small, hand-me-down, 90's style baby home jammies that someone picked out for her before she had a growth spurt. (Hey, clothes aren't everthing; love is what matters.) It was dark and the Princess snuffled contentedly next to us in her crib as I sat down in the rocker and held Sunshine close to my heart. We rocked, back and forth, back and forth and she curled up on my chest like an oversized newborn and relaxed, no more crying. I held her close and prayed Mama would come soon. She was drowsy when I put her back in her crib, and after crying for milk a little later, she finally dropped off to sleep.

So my heart aches. We do everything in our power for these kids and love them dearly. Still, it's obvious God's plan is for a family. Yes, I do believe in the sovereignty of God. I know He has a plan and I trust Him even when it looks like things are just all wrong. But, sin is in the world. I won't say it "messed up" His plan, because He always knew what was going on - it's not like He was sitting up there and saying "Oh man! I hadn't planned for this!" But sin still isn't a part of His perfect, Garden-of-Eden, "and-it-was-very-good" design for the world. We mess it up daily. With our sin comes brokenness - broken families, death, orphans' pain, all things wrong and aching, suffering and hurt. God illuminates that darkness with His redemption. But in the meantime, before He comes back, here on earth, things just plain HURT sometimes. 

"For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now." Romans 8:22

Aye, yes, it does. Here in South Africa, that groaning and travailing seems to be hidden behind a curtain a lot thinner than in the States. Maybe it's just because I'm involved in a mercy ministry. Or maybe it's because at home we tend to sweep things under the rug, so we can look neat and orderly and well put together. Here, I hold orphans daily. We never go out without seeing homeless people on the sides of the street. People I know have had to leave their country and family for work, and watched their children die. Street salesmen, beggars and performers come up to our car at every stoplight, asking for money - and I'm told they're often enslaved by a "pimp" of sorts who takes their earnings and forces them out there to work more. When it rains, it's especially bad - I think they're hoping to play on people's sympathies. We drove through one neighborhood the other night on the way home, and prostitutes were lined up all the way down the street, looking for customers. South Africa is a curious mix of first, second, and third world. The worlds don't often mix, but they live and function in the same city, side by side, like a multiple exposure in photography - so close they are almost together, but eerily each in their own world.

I'm praying for the glory of Christ's redemption in many little lives tonight. Especially my "Sunshine." I want her to live in a forever family, however that may happen. And I want her to be adopted into the truest forever family, as a child of God.

Auntie Abbie

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

He Sings Over Me

He sings over me - my Father rejoices;
I'm chosen, adopted, and loved.
I'm wrapped in His mercy, forgiven forever, and covered in Jesus's blood.
His cords of love bind me
Redemption defines me
And fills me with glory and grace.
I'm cherished and treasured and blessed beyond measure -
For Jesus has died in my place!
~ By Abigail Caple

Edited to add: I thought you would also enjoy this video. We watched it during our first interns' Bible study.

Monday, February 17, 2014

This week in photos

Now that I've written a long, detailed post about what I did all day Sunday, I thought you might like to see some photos! They are in no particular order.

Photo shoot with Joy and our little loves. <3

We are packin' those babies, yes we are!

This was our attempt to fix the lack of head support in Little Guy's carrier. On second thought, I'm not so sure I like it. It's really hard for me to see whether or not his face is pushed into my back...he seemed ok though either way.

More of my lovies. =)

Alyssa getting mobbed by AWANA kids who wanted to feel her hair. "It's so silky!"

Girl in my small group

The sweet faces of AWANA

Alyssa leading her group


"Pick me!"

Another carrier combo. Hm, still working on it. This was less comfortable (for me, anyways) than the other one.

Walking down our street

Vicious guard dogs

She always manages a smile for the camera (even if her face is covered with goop).

Alyssa and Little Guy


Someone left her name tag lying around, and someone else (me) has a corny sense of humor...

Working on my mom skills - putting two babies to sleep while washing dishes. Simultaneously. ;)

"Twins." Well, not really.

Aya's last night at our house! I'll miss my little buddy.

Oh, yeah, one more AWANA photo. Lerato took this. Gotta love the expression of intense concentration on my face....

It's late, and that's all for tonight!

A Day in the Life

Sunday, 5:30 A.M. My alarm clock goes off at least 3 times. I groggily roll out of bed and wonder why I decided to stay up late reading the night before. I wake up my roommate (who's temporarily bunking over me on the squeaky bunkbed that I don't even hear anymore) and remind her that we're both on at 6. I'm up by around 5:40.

5:45 I stumble into the shower, that magical thing that transforms me from half-asleep to mostly awake.

5:57 I run around the house in a rush attempting to get ready for work and vow to get up five minutes earlier next time.

6:05 I'm not very late this morning. Woohoo for African time - I fit right in here. Alyssa and I join Joy, who has worked since 7 A.M. the morning before.

6:10 We start changing and dressing the babies as they wake up. Sunshine gets porridge (baby cereal for those in America) which I think sounds English and reminds Alyssa of being poor. (Porridge....poor-ridge...that's my philosophy....they just sound alike!) The rest of them clamor hungrily for their bottles. I can tell almost all of their cries apart, except for the two "Smalls" - as we call the preemies. Sunshine has a toddler wail. Squishy goes, "AAAAAAAAHHH!!! GAAAA!!!! DAAAAA!!!! WAAAAHHH! PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEEEE!!!!!" Princess has the most distinct cry....she starts hyperventilating and making distinctly squeegee-ish sounds that are punctuated by loud, shrill royal demands. Little Guy has a dull roar. The Smalls are both high, squeaky and LOUD.

7:00 The babies are mostly fed and changed and Joy goes off shift (or "knocks off," as they say here) to hopefully go sleep. SLEEP, GLORIOUS SLEEP!!!!

8:30 I go around straightening up to prepare for a visitor.

9:00 No visitor. I'm on preemie duty, so I feed and rock the Smalls.

10:00 Still no visitor. By this point I'm rocking both Smalls and they've both fallen asleep on me. I wish I would have been able to get a picture. They are darling. Alyssa and I are the only ones on shift, as Cintelle went home for the weekend (she lives about an hour away, I think). Despite the fact that we have one less person, things are going smoothly and the babies are pretty happy. Alyssa and I flit back and forth around the home, discussing Adagio for Strings and the U.S. economy. I love the caregivers to death, but it's kind of fun to have the home to ourselves on this quiet Sunday morning. I reflect on how much I love this job, how much I love being here, everything about it. (Even getting up at night is getting easier.)

11:00 I've decided our visitor isn't coming. Oh well, "this is Africa," (or TIA), as they always say around here. I rock some babies some more. They're happy...very long as I don't put them down. Heather pops by to get some things from her fridge, that is still here even though they moved out (they're getting another, but don't have it yet). I make lunch for the toddler and try to convince her that bananas are food.

12:00 I go into OH MY GOODNESS mode! Volunteers are coming in 45 minutes. The sink is full of dishes, we have hardly any filled baby bottles left. There are toys strewn across the floor along with burp cloths and blankets. Two baskets of wet, day-old laundry sit waiting to be hung out. I haven't changed for church, the high chair is covered in sticky banana, babies need nappies changed, supplies need to be stocked for our lovely volunteers, and neither of the babies who are going with us to church have had naps. Not because they wouldn't take them, but because I just plain forgot to put them down. Squishy goes to sleep right away. Sunshine is having none of it, so Alyssa gets her up. Probably a good thing she didn't fall asleep anyways. I run around picking things up. Alyssa packs nappy bags for church. I go get Joy to make bottles for us (caregivers have to do this). She comes up, looks at the sink full of dishes, asks if I washed the bottles so she can fill them. (Joy is seriously, like the hardest worker ever. This in addition to having awesome hair and loving to pick on us.) I apologize. Oy vey, where is my head today? Somehow we all manage to get everything essential done.

1:00 Volunteers show up. I give them a brief rundown (the one lady got the full tour last week, so she knows what she's doing) and drag the other rocking chair into the living room so they can hang out and rock babies together. Four volunteers + four babies = eight happy people. These ladies are all so sweet! They come from a local Afrikaans church.

1:10 I strap Squishy into the carrier (baby sling - not carseat) and seven of us grab our stuff and pile into the Drews' car to leave for church. Most people don't use carseats for babies and children here, and I can't often get enough wiggle room to even grab a seat belt. I'm enjoying my African freedom and praying for safety. =) It's only about a 5-10 minute ride.

1:30 Church is about ready to start. Children of all ages and colors run around outside as their parents stand and chat in the warm African sunshine. Gradually we all make our way inside the Lutheran seminary that Living Hope Church rents out on Sunday afternoons. (No, we're not Lutheran....there are really strange pieces of artwork on the walls though, including a very angry looking portrait of Luther.)

Living Hope church is a wonderful panorama of human color. Black people, white people, colored people, and even some who I think might be Indian. ("Colored" is the word for biracial here, and no, it isn't offensive. Neither is the term "black." It's just what people are. Actually, I think THEY think that our American custom of calling people "biracial" is kind of funny.) There are many refugees and immigrants from surrounding countries - Zimbabwe, Zambia, the DRC, Malawi, and probably other places I can't remember. We all are brothers and sisters in Christ and I am enjoying the unity I find here. <3

We sing...hymns and praise songs...many of them ones my home church would recognize (like "10,000 Reasons" and "The Love of God" (a universal favorite here) in addition to some new ones I'm learning. All in English, unfortunately! Squishy is content in the front pack as we bounce back and forth to the beat of the bongo drums and Auntie Patricia's tambourine. They introduce the new visitors as he starts to fall asleep. Every time they clap and cheer for a visitor, he jumps and wakes up!

Soon the sermon starts. I feed Squishy....and by the way, I'm wearing a bib too, a yellow receiving blanket to match my shirt, because he's a projectile vomiter...Joy looked at me this morning and said, "You're wearing that? To church?" Yes, I am indeed! I've been trying to wear that yellow shirt to church for several weeks now. It sometimes doesn't even make it there before it gets puked upon.

He's happy now. Actually, almost too happy. I'm starting to think I shouldn't have put him down for that nap before I came...he'd be asleep by now, otherwise. He's quiet, but soon bores of chewing on the pink rubber car in his diaper bag, the one that, thank goodness, doesn't actually squeak like it's supposed to do. (Mental note: Pack more toys as he has started actually playing with them instead of completely ignoring them.) That is not exciting. Eating my bulletin is, but in the interest of him not swallowing an entire sheet of paper, I remove it. All of a sudden he remembers he has fingers, and fingernails, and knows how to use them. He gleefully starts scratching and pinching my arms as I try to hide them behind my seat. He's still quiet though, for which I am very thankful, as it means I can stay in and listen to the rest of the sermon. I try to distract him from my very scratchable arms with the pink rubber car, and the bottle he no longer wants. Or maybe he does. He can't decide. I make a mental note to hunt down the nail clippers, later.

3:30 Church is over. I can't believe he sat through the entire thing! I decide I'm using the carrier, again, as he seems to like it. We mill around outside for a while and figure out rides to the Communion service at the Macks' house across town. I hand Squishy off to Auntie Linda who is headed back to the baby home for afternoon/evening shift. Sunshine is coming along to play with the kids at the Macks', and she rides with her Christmas host family.

I hop in a car with Akani, Lerato, and one other young man. My goodness, space, I can't believe it! Not for long! Akani bought this car "because it can fit four people in the back seat." We stop at Akani and Lerato's "flat" (apartment) to get food for the potluck dinner. ("It has chicken liver in it. Are you going to eat it? I still need to make you chicken feet...") We stop at a street corner and pick up a guy who goes to church. Another one is behind him, but he says he'll call a taxi - there isn't room. "No, no, hop in, there's room!" we say. (And yes, there is always room for one more. Or two or three...) Somehow three grown men, and me, manage to fit in the back of Akani's car. But we laugh and the men tell stories about how many people you could fit in a bus in the Congo. "We'd fit way more than this. And then everyone would hold their luggage on their laps!"

4:15 (approximately) We arrive at the Macks'. People are everywhere. I sit and chat with some friends. Alyssa gets blissfully lost in political conversations. Poor girl, having me for a roommate. I'm happy to discuss the economy or government with her, but mostly I say "Huh?" and she has to explain things. We don't always agree on things (like the obvious wonderfulness of Walmart...LOL.) She's in her element here. I have no idea how she finds all these people to discuss things with, but she is as happy as a clam.

5:00 Suppertime! There are about six different variations on rice, and I try them all. I never did find the chicken liver in Lerato's rice, so I think she was teasing me. I did, however, get a full dose of curry. I like it. Not as much as hot peppers, but I enjoy spicy! There were also DELICIOUS fried dough balls. I was sad to see they were gone before seconds. =( Alyssa and I sit at a table and try to pronounce people's names correctly.

After everyone is done eating, the Communion service starts. This is different from how we do communion at home. Megan's uncle preached a message, we sang more songs, and all shared prayer requests (which I only kind of understood) and prayed together (it is so beautiful to hear someone pray in their native tongue). Then we took Communion. The whole thing lasts until about 6:30 or so...I think. Afterwards we hang out, try to figure out who is riding with whom, find nappy bags, missing bottles...etc...etc...

We catch a ride back with Donovan and Heather (plus three toddlers), enjoying lively and interesting discussion on the 20-30 minute ride back home, about a number of subjects. Somehow we don't manage to get home until about 7:45.

7:45 I'm on night shift, so I run around looking for all the things I need...pillow...toothbrush...laptop....I sit down and read the (short) chapter from my assigned reading that I've only now started working on...

8:00 Night shift starts. I drag a mattress from the newly set up guest room into the living room. MATTRESSES, GLORIOUS MATTRESSES! I cannot tell you how happy and joyous they make me!

I stay up too late on the computer. Babies cry. Babies decide it's time to wake up. I feed them, snuggle them, rock them back to sleep. Time to do my Bible reading! The preemies snort and snuffle and worry Linda and I. She nearly breaks her phone jumping up to get to them. Thankfully, they're just congested. I think I finally fall asleep around 11 or 11:30, and sleep in brief intervals throughout the night. Squishy sleeps through the night! Hooray! Sunshine wakes up and screams intermittently - unusual for her. Double Trouble (Princess and Little Guy) decide 4:30 A.M is a perfect rising time. I knock off at 6 and go sleep in my pleasantly quiet room...and that's the end of my day.

Did I mention I love this life? I have no idea how I'm going to leave. Five months seemed like forever. Everyone else thought it was a very long time. "Wow, you're leaving for five months, you are so brave." (Ha ha. If they only knew all the things I was scared of.) What I've learned? Five months is just a tiny drop in the bucket of my life. Five months goes FAST. Five months is so little when all my heart and soul wants is to care for orphans full home work...whatever...for the rest of my life. Five months is long enough to make many friends, and too short when it comes to saying goodbye. Don't get me wrong, I miss home, my family, my friends, my "little sis," Ranch dressing, the Ohio landscape, snow (oops, that one got in there by mistake, I don't miss the snow!), chocolate chips, having a car, the country, my church, my soft and comfy bed. But I wouldn't trade my time here - with its crazy swing schedule, sleepless nights, cranky babies, crowded living quarters, lack of transportation - for anything.

Please be praying that God reveals the next step of His plan for my life.

This is already a long post, so I'll include pictures in the next one!

Love to you from Africa,
Auntie Abbie

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Warm fuzzies, the lint roller of daily life, and other odds and ends

So, the long and informative post you have been promised is here. I'll try to make this one more than bullet points...

Life is settling into a steady routine here at the baby, wait...that's someone else's life! "Routine" is not part of our vocabulary, but "flexible" sure is! Although, I guess flexibility is becoming a routine....for example...

- We work between 40 and 50 hours a week at the baby home, all different shifts (night, day, split shift)

- We live in a house people. I think I need to count because the number keeps changing. First, it was Alyssa, myself, Newton, Vanessa, and Auntie Linda. Then we invited Megan down for the rest of the week. Then she stayed longer. Then Joy moved in. Then Cintelle showed up a week earlier than expected, and moved in. Then Idelheit and Divine started spending the night after their shifts, sleeping in the bed of whomever was on duty overnight. Then Megan finished her volunteer time and went home (with application paperwork for the internship program.) Then Heather, Donovan, Eliya and Themba moved out (but they didn't live with us, they lived "upstairs" (the front house) at the baby home.) Now Newton, Vanessa, and Aya are moving out, to the Drews' home until Aya's adoption is finalized, then to Malawi to church plant. And Britt (who was an intern last year) is coming back as the baby home manager and is going to live where the Drews were. Also we got four new babies since I came. Never a dull moment, eh?

- As mentioned, the Chilingulos (sp?) are moving out. This means boxes. Lots of boxes.

So our house looked something like this:

Only now they're in the living room. I got to play Pippi Longstocking and walk across the living room without touching the floor, much. Aka, walking on the furniture. I'm going to miss them when they leave. Newton is very nice, Vanessa has been a lifesaver with things like helping us learn how to cook, defrost a freezer, etc. And Aya is just fun. (She helped me Skype my parents on Sunday.) Also incidentally our couch disappeared. I think it's upstairs or something. Not a big deal, just kind of funny to come home and wonder if it was under the boxes, or not!

I need to stop now - I'm falling into bullet point mode again! So, all of these things (plus some others) are making life interesting. Good, I hate being bored. No boredom here!

So, now that I've gotten sidetracked by what I wanted to be a pleasant opening sentence, I need to tell you more, deeper things about life here and how I am learning and growing (and occasionally freaking out, as the members of my Tuesday night cell group would tell you after tonight...)

One of the main things I am learning is how to love sacrificially. In the application they warned us that babies poop a lot, and cry a lot. No big deal, I think, I've taken care of babies before. I'm not scared of some diapers. Most people think of cute squishy babies when they think of babies. (Well, maybe most non-moms.) Warm happy fuzzies and snuggling and loving.

We do a lot of that! And I feel very warm and fuzzy when I'm holding a sleeping baby.

So, I guess the "lint roller of daily life" is kind of an inaccurate analogy. Because there are still warm fuzzies involved!

But what they neglected to mention is that the one thing babies don't do a lot of is sleep at night. (Not that it would have changed my mind or anything.) At first, it was a very real struggle to get used to helping with night shift! I would lie in "bed" (the short lumpy couch, the more comfortable long couch, or cushions on the floor [drifting apart...think your head and your hips going two different directions]) and think, Ach. A baby is going to cry again in about two seconds. I am tired. I want to sleep. I am not feeling warm and fuzzy. Dear Jesus, please let me never have triplets or I might just die...and other melodramatic thoughts.

Slowly I began to realize that THIS IS LOVE, even when I don't remotely feel loving, if I choose to love and act upon that love. One morning when I was rocking Double Trouble (Little Guy and Princess) unsuccessfully back to sleep around 4 a.m., I decided to check out Facebook. No sleeping was going to happen at that point! I started chatting with a friend from home...the conversation went something like this.

Me: Hi!
Friend: Hi! How's the life of sacrificial love going for you?
Me: I don't FEEL loving!!!

Yes, what an appropriate and timely conversation starter...for a conversation that helped put me back in focus, a lot. By God's grace I am slowly learning to take joy in serving the babies when I don't "feel" loving!

But they really are adorable most of the time.

Squishy = squishing

In other news, we started Awana on Friday. We do it at a local elementary school. Randy Clark, one of the missionaries here, began volunteering at the school and got permission from the principal to start an Awana program on Fridays. They have an after-school program Monday through Thursday, but on Friday the children (there are over a thousand enrolled, not sure how many don't go home right away) just run wild all over the school grounds. I'm not sure how many we had signed up for Awana, but probably in between 50-70 on the first week! This is a whole different dynamic than most Awana programs that operate out of a church. Usually it starts from within the church, with kids who have probably heard the Gospel before, and moves outward. We are starting with a huge bunch of public school kids and a handful of missionary/church kids.

Here is a sampling of the kids who attended.

Every other week, I lead groups, and every other week, I lead games. Think games for 70 kids. Think, I'm glad I was in camp programming. Think, I'm still way out of my comfort zone and have no idea what I'm doing! I think a friend is going to give me a crash course tomorrow. (The offer of a whistle may or may not have influenced my eagerness to sign up as co-game-leader. No, it really didn't. Not me. No way.) Whatever happens, it's going to be crazy, fun, and LOUD!

In all reality, I think I'm going to find it more stretching for me to lead small groups than to lead games. I'm not afraid, really. It's more like I'm in a different country, different culture, and I have NO IDEA what to say to these children (who are meeting with an unknown person from another country and culture who can't spell or even pronounce their names, let alone remember them...except for one little girl named Amy Smith, of all things.) I was sent an email today with guidelines for small group time. I think I may study that religiously. I think I need more practice. I think I may stretch and grow tremendously through this although it is rather uncomfortable right now. I found myself sitting in Africa's red dirt on a school field, with eight children, grade 1-3 (who had to leave whenever their parents happened to show up) and trying to get to know them...asking questions like, "So, how many brothers and sisters do you have?" "What is your favorite subject in school?" "What do you like to do during your free time?" "Let's try to memorize our verse. Who knows what 'eternal' means?" (to which one particularly honest youngster replied, "No clue!") Please pray for wisdom. Especially wisdom on my feet. I've mostly served as assistant, crew leader, etc in church VBS and Sunday School. Even when I taught Sunday School it was with one to four compliant church kids and I'd studied the entire lesson myself the day before. Like I said, I'm not terribly scared of it, I just have SO much to learn. Pray I don't hopelessly confuse the children in the process!

I've been encouraged to see even the tween/teen missionary kids leading the groups of schoolkids not much younger than themselves. If they can do it, surely I can learn!

Marissa and Katelynn...I think...still learning names!

Joy (who is not an MK, but our awesome Zimbabwean housemate who incidentally seems to change her hair on a daily basis) and Cambria

The Cooking Adventure Chronicles

I'm happy to report that cooking is one thing that no longer even threatens to scare me. Yes, I'm still learning, but I'm not starving and neither am I subsisting on PB&J. Today I made Caesar salad. The dressing wasn't really Caesar-y, but it was still pretty good. Yesterday I made pancakes. And steak with peppers. I think that may need a little work. But I was happy to eat red meat...I haven't been cooking meat much because I (still, yes, Mom) forget to get stuff out to defrost. Also, I forget to separate meat into small, portion-sized baggies. Thus, mealtime usually finds me hacking away at lumps of frozen meat with a kitchen knife until I conquer them. After I separate my dinner from the herd, it's relatively easy to kill...oops, I mean Our tap water gets intensely hot. Bad if you forget and turn the handle the wrong way when washing your hands (yes, I do this at least five times a day, and it doesn't help that cold and hot seem to be on different sides of every faucet, or maybe that's just my imagination) but very good if you want to defrost meat. It's generally choppable in less than ten minutes. Actually, I think it cooked the outer layer of my chicken before I could even fry it, today. (It's also nice if you need hot water for heating it in the microwave here!)

Funny anecdotes from the last week...

- Lerato and Akani were trying to teach us SA words. I think I fail miserably. I'm mixing up "sho" and "sho sho" and "shop" and "shop shop" and still trying to figure out why you would call a baby a spider pie as a term of endearment...I don't even want to imagine how strange American English must sound to visitors to our country!

- Auntie Linda cooked fish with eyes. Then she offered me some. I try, I really do, to be polite about food. I just couldn't look at my dinner looking back at me. I found out later (from Heather) that she was teasing me and laughing about it. Ha ha. I also stepped on a fish (minnow size) on the floor. It squished. I think its eye popped out at me as well.

- I'm still struggling to talk at a speed that all my friends can understand. I've decided I'm just so good at talking that I can do it twice as fast as the average person. =P

- This is how you know you're a foreigner:

- Cintelle absentmindedly placed her name tag here after AWANA...

If you can't read it, it says "No Cintelle when babies are awake."

- And finally, this wins the prize for the oldest hand-me-down. I found it when I was doing laundry. That date on the front says "1978."

And seriously, some prayer requests...

- That I'd continue to learn to love sacrificially. And, get enough rest (but not too much! I keep oversleeping my alarm).

- That our babies will find homes, either adoptive or biological, and that they would be raised to know Jesus. Even though we love these kids with everything we have, it's heart-wrenching on a daily basis to hear their stories and even just see them NOT in a home with a mom and a dad. With Sunshine, especially, it makes my heart ache to see her longing for stable, constant parents, not just loving caregivers. The baby home assigns a primary caregiver for each child, but there's still nights, weekends, and times where others have to step in and help out (six babies is a lot - that's why there are interns to help!) and I see her confusion as her heart aches and longs for ONE mommy and daddy.

- For safety. As everyone is always telling me, "This is Africa!"

- That I'd build deep relationships with the people here.

- That my roommates and I would continue to learn to live with and love each other (and yes, they are pretty great. =) )

- That I'd learn to not fear. Every time I think I've got it under control (HA HA!) something I didn't ever even imagine I'd have to do, face, or think about comes up. And I thought the Ranch was stretching, growth-wise. (Ha!) Tonight, our Bible study decided it would be a good thing to do street evangelism (no, we didn't do it tonight, just talked about it). I may or may not have taken up biting my nails again, with vigorous enthusiasm, while I tried not to hyperventilate with little success. Street evangelism is not something I planned on doing. Ever. In this lifetime. I mean, I talk about Jesus to people I know - I'm learning to be bold in that. I sometimes even can see opportunities, say, when I'm stuck next to someone for a long plane or train ride (although I'm still learning in that scenario). But put me on the streets, be it Africa or in the States? I THINK I MAY DIE. To which my new friend Lerato was like, "So what?? If you die, you die..." or something to that regard. Of course she's right. But seriously, folks, pray. Some people may say, "Why would you go to Africa to do something you weren't doing at home?" Well, let's just say I didn't plan on this (note: ever) but apparently God did! So, I need like a gazillion times more boldness because not only is this not in my comfort zone, I don't even think it is in the same galaxy. My SA friends just laugh at me and say, "This is good for you. You will learn." They face street evangelism (whether during the day, or at night to prostitutes) as a matter of course.

- That doors would open for me to love on even more children and babies. I may have the opportunity to visit some other Christian children's homes while I'm here, and possibly even to volunteer in one of the government orphanages and hold babies, where there are many babies and very few caregivers. That last part is pretty up in the air - no one knows if I can do it for sure, but Heather and Donovan didn't say "no" when I asked them - they said they'd talk to the baby home's awesome lawyer, Karlien. Basically, I'd need a.) permission from the orphanage and b.) transportation. It's looking like B might be as hard or harder than A. As is oft quoted to me, "This is Africa." Aka few cars and many people. If there's less than 9 people in a five-seater car, it's not filled to capacity.

So, I promised less bullet points. I think, I may have failed. Hopefully this is enough news for you all for now.

Auntie Abbie

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Odds and ends

Random tidbits:

- People mix up ours (Alyssa's and my) names. Constantly. Maybe it's the fact we're both Americans, or because they both start with A. The end result: We're called Abbalyssa. Constantly. I find it amusing, considering we have very different personalities. Alyssa prefers to retain her individuality.... ;)

- Americans are stereotyped here as eating a lot of cheese. Hm, well, I guess it's true (especially when you eat it so much that your roommate walks by when you are cooking and hisses, "American!!") But, we aren't the only ones! Bulgaria had a lot of cheese too...maybe more than America!

- Ranch dressing. I'm grieving the lack of proper Ranch dressing.

- Pierogies. No one knows what they are (even the Americans). Poor people.

- I never realized communication could be so difficult. A. I talk too fast. B. I have an American accent. C. There are like a gazillion different accents here, all hard to understand and D. I make up words. Like "hangry" and "lupper..." To quote Joy: "Abbie, if I learn English from you...."

- I'm learning to not be afraid of things. I don't have room in my head to be afraid of the laundry list I could be afraid of here: spiders, cockroaches and mice; (ok, I'm still afraid of those three...), leopards, cobras, people who jump our tall, barb-wire-topped fence to steal things, the fact that we have a taser in our room and on the changing table, rapists, muggers, crime in general, people's opinions, the knowledge that someone was shot outside of Bible study once (not a Bible study member, you can breathe easier) (maybe), etc, etc, etc...and the list goes on. I've decided I don't have the mental space or energy to worry about all of them. I'll stick to cockroaches.

- There are eleven official languages here, plus the multiple languages of the refugees/immigrants from places like the Congo, Zimbabwe, etc. Basically, learning the native language is pretty much hopeless. I can say "dankie" (that's Afrikaans for thank you) and "dumela" (that means hello in...some tribal language. I forget. My friend Lerato speaks it, anyways...). That's about as far as I've gotten. At one point I knew the Afrikaans for "dragonfly." Yes, I'm learning really practical, useful words as you can see.

- South African English is different enough, at any rate, but I'm thankful it's easier than learning a whole new language. A dummy is a pacifier, a nappy is a diaper, a crib is a cot, a plastic bag is referred to as a plastic. So far, my confusion over the word "theatre" (operating room) was the most amusing...

- People here (at least some people) are rather confused as to why Americans don't have a staple food, like pap (kind of like solid grits, made from maize meal) or rice. "But what do you eat every day?" I need to start answering, "Cheese!" Then maybe they'd at least believe me.

- On the topic of cheese: Tacos. I made them tonight. With the amount of work involved, I think this won't happen very often. But, it was worth it to have a taste of home.

Tortillas = work. Or, money if you want to buy them ready made. It's about $5 for 8 tortillas. Yeah, I'll spend the extra time...

- Personal space is a luxury. For a week, we had nine people in our little house, and ten more (plus rotating caregivers) living up at the baby home, all nineteen of us on about half an acre. The Drews are moving out to a house nearby, and Newton, Vanessa and Aya will be leaving soon, moving in with the Drews temporarily, then off to plant a church in Malawi. Also, Megan left. The place feels empty and I'm kind of thinking that while personal space is a luxury, friends are a necessity. (Refrigerator space, however, can't be underestimated... =P )

If you have any questions, feel free to ask! I would be happy to answer them. =)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Life, these days

It's Tuesday, our "day off" (that translates to our busiest day, actually ;) ) and I finally have a little time to sit down and blog! My laundry (both loads) is hanging out to dry, the bagels that I'm not going to have time to bake are raising out in the (intermittent) sunshine, shopping is done (it was actually my turn to watch the Drew kids this week while Heather, Joy and Alyssa shopped for themselves and me), intern Bible study happened, and I'm trying to ignore the fact that the usual host of Tuesday evening Bible study cancelled this week, it's going to be here in less than 2 hours, and the living room is kind of a mess!

So at any rate, we've been VERY busy lately, which is why this blog is sadly neglected. I realized the other day I had next to no pictures of the last two weeks, so I ran around taking a bunch!

Here is our newest addition. I'm nicknaming her "Cupcake." Would anyone like a Cupcake? She's sweet, tiny and squishy....

She is 2 months old.

She weighed in at 2.5 kilograms (that's about 5.5 pounds). 

She was the same size as Small when she arrived. She is doing well! 

We now have two preemies. They usually share a crib - it is easier to care for them together and they are both so tiny!

Here they are all swaddled snug in their blankies!

Since they are so small and fragile, we are going to be setting up a preemie room in the (soon to be former) office. One caregiver (Jeanne on weekdays, Linda at night, and Joy on weekends) will care for them, in order to give them stability and limit their exposure to sickness. I get to care for them on Thursday afternoons when the ladies go to Bible study, and Sunday mornings when Joy isn't there. As you can imagine I am happy to get a chance to squish them! Gently, of course.

I have recently joined the ranks of the baby-wearing. With a vengeance, apparently - there are 2 babies here...

Little Guy and Princess are both fans. Major fans. I-won't-stop-crying-if-you-don't-put-me-in-the-carrier fans.

They are nice for church. Until the baby spits up all over your church shirt. Then spits up all over your second church shirt. It's a losing battle. But if they aren't crying *cough* I mean praising the Lord very vocally in church, who cares?

Small is not as major of a fan. He's learning...

Slowly. He sure is cute...

Cintelle has recently re-joined us - she was gone for a while over Christmas. She loves the babies! Especially Squishy.

As you can see, they are having a conversation. If Squishy could talk, he'd say, "I don't think people are paying NEARLY enough attention to my cute squishy self."


Of course, he would argue that it is impossible to pay enough attention to his cute squishy self.

Idelheit also works here a day or two a week. She is Auntie Patricia's daughter. We introduced her to Mad Libs the other night. Finally, someone who understands American humor! ;)

Little Guy isn't so little anymore. Check out those fat rolls!

Squishy is growing too! Look at him trying to hold his own bottle. He even has his pinky out. A proper gentleman.


Most definitely squishable...

A little bit spoiled rotten...

And mostly just cute.

Pure trouble. ;)

Can you tell by that devilish smile?

Auntie Linda with Cupcake

Being cute

Joy (I want hair like hers when I grow up!), Sunshine, Heather, and Themba

Six babies means a LOT of laundry.

And, ironing. South Africans iron things I never knew needed ironing. Good thing ironing seems to be therapeutic. Mostly. Fitted sheets, they were a learning curve...

Lovely murals

Wall of pictures - these babies have gone into Christian foster care, back to birth parents, or are in the process of adoption. =)

Life, as far as the cooking adventure goes, is getting better. I'm learning. Menu planning is still my downfall, but I'm still alive, so I must be doing something OK.


I made popcorn on the stove for the first time... 

...made pizza and banana bread (and gave the pizza bunny ears. I think I'm suffering from sleep deprivation...)...


And after! I went to put it away and there were only 3 pieces left, so it must have been ok!

I also blanched green beans...

and made completely-from-scratch pierogies. There are several more bags in the freezer. =)

This was supposed to be the long, insightful, and informative post...but it ended up being mostly a picture narration. More details hopefully coming soon. You all just want to see cute babies anyway, right? But yeah. Really. I actually plan on writing something insightful and thought provoking. Soon.

Love you all!

~Auntie Abbie