Thursday, July 24, 2014

More projects

I've been working on some more crochet projects for the babies in my spare time. I made Princess two sweaters ("jerseys") - I still need to take a picture of the other one. 

I made Owlie this owl. I nicknamed her Owlie because I didn't think she was going to sleep well at night. She didn't - she's a lot better now - but Joy blames me for when she's naughty. ;)

I also made her this owl hat.

I am making baby mobiles to hang over all the cots. It was so hard to find the ring for the top! I looked so many different places. I thought about embroidery hoops, but when I finally found them, they were WAY too expensive. I ended up walking to the Builders' Warehouse around the corner and wandering through the aisles until I found cheap, flexible tubing. I cut it with an ax (the only thing I could find that was suitable), duct taped it together, and wrapped yarn carefully around it. Probably the first time I've used an ax and duct tape in a crochet project. It's less crooked than it looks in this photo. I had a hard time getting good pictures. When we get hooks to hang them up, I will take better ones.

Here's the other one (also a crummy picture). Two down, four to go!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Update on Sarah

I blogged about my niece, Sarah (adopted from Bulgaria last December) and how she was having a feeding tube put in her stomach so it would be easier for her to gain weight. I thought you would like to see some pictures of her enjoying time spent with a special visitor. =)

I guess she was a little unsure at first.

She figured out things were going to be ok...

and warmed up to the idea of a dog in her bed. ;)

She loves the family dog - she tried to chew on his tail when I visited her last December.

Hope my sweet girl feels better soon. <3 I always wanted to get involved in a therapy dog program, but never did. Thank you to those of you who are out there brightening Sarah's day!

Monday, July 21, 2014


I don't recall the tune, but I believe this is an old hymn. I stumbled across it again today and just love the lyrics...

By A.B. Simpson

Once it was the blessing, now it is the Lord. Once it was the feeling, now it is His Word; Once His gift I wanted, now the Giver own; Once I sought for healing, now Himself alone.

Once 'twas painful trying, now 'tis perfect trust; Once a half salvation, now the uttermost! Once 'twas ceaseless holding, now He holds me fast; Once 'twas constant drifting, now my anchor's cast.

Once 'twas busy planning, now 'tis trustful prayer; Once 'twas anxious caring, now He has the care; Once 'twas what I wanted, now what Jesus says; Once 'twas constant asking, now 'tis ceaseless praise.

Once it was my working, His it hence shall be; Once I tried to use Him, now He uses me; Once the power I wanted, now the Mighty One; Once for self I labored, now for Him alone.

Once I hoped in Jesus, now I know He's mine; Once my lamps were dying, now they brightly shine; Once for death I waited, now His coming hail; And my hopes are anchored, safe within the veil.

All in all forever, Jesus I will sing: Everything in Jesus, and in Jesus everything.

It never gets easier.

So, since I haven't blogged much in a while (except for the last two days...) I've failed to update you on the latest baby home news.

"Cupcake" had to leave us several weeks ago for various reasons I can't share here- nothing we did, the social worker just feels the new arrangement is best.

Please pray for her as this is not the end of her story.

Pray for all the people involved - hopefully she will have a happy ending - it looks possible but I'm sad for the little one who has to wait in the meantime, and I'm very sad she couldn't stay with us. I cried when she left. We will miss her crazy loud laugh and giggle. She has a silly (and ear piercing) scream that led to a cute baby home nickname, but unfortunately it includes her real name so I can't share it here. ;)

She loves her lambie. <3

And we love her.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My Joburg adventure

So last week (Monday and Tuesday) I went to Joburg (short for Johannesburg, the capitol, and no, I'm not trying to sound hip, EVERYONE calls it Joburg. It's like saying D.C. instead of "The District of Columbia.") I was visiting a friend, Shoshanna, who I met online through a Facebook adoption group.

Shoshanna volunteered at a baby home, TLC Children's Home, during the summer for several years before moving here seven years ago. She works as a teacher in a private school, as well as teaching music lessons. She has adopted four children since moving here and volunteers at TLC in her spare time, taking the kids along to help. She really rocks as a single mom! Her kids are all awesome. =)

They are goofy.

We were messing around in the car waiting for Mom.

I want my own kids now. =) I mean, you all know I did anyway.

Driving, and the most awesome dreads ever. 

Cutie. He looks like an older version of our Small.

So I really enjoyed hanging out with their family! I rode the Gautrain (pronounced something like Howtrain, only more gutteral) to Joburg on Monday morning. I truly enjoy using public transportation. Is that weird? This is the only form I've ridden on so far. I'm bound and determined to learn to use the bus to get around. Unfortunately, "taxis" (minibuses) are off limits, which is sad because they are so cheap and go so many places...although I'm allowed to ride one if I go with Joy. So that, too, is on my bucket list.

Shoshanna and the kids picked me up at the station and took me back to their house, where we had delicious hot dogs that actually tasted semi-American instead of like Spam. Later that afternoon, we headed off to TLC to love on some babies. It's south of Joburg, outside the city on a farm. They are trying to be a little more self-sufficient by growing some of their own food. 

It's a small-ish private children's home, between 30 and 40 kids, mostly babies and toddlers. The lady who founded it adopted 18 (?) children. Then some of those kids, when they grew up, adopted kids. They've placed upwards of 800 kids, which is pretty awesome. It was opened before the end of apartheid, which I also find fascinating. I guess they had a really hard time at first. The social workers would rather the black babies die in a hospital than be raised outside of their race. Sad, huh?

I was really glad to get out and see another baby home. At the same time, though, it was really sad. There are so many kids waiting for homes here. Child abandonment is soaring. Although they've helped a MASSIVE amount of babies find homes, which is AMAZING, it is still more of an "orphanage environment" and I'm really sad the children don't have families, which would give them more stability in their lives. They struggle to get volunteers and the volunteers work 13 hours days, 6 days a week. I think I would have a really hard time if I were to volunteer there. I've been pulling 60 hour weeks, but that is a whole other ball game! All of the long-term (several months or more) volunteers are from foreign countries, as it's hard to get full-time South African volunteers. 

This sweetie was in the youngest baby room.

We spent several hours here, in the 6-12 month old room. There were babies EVERYWHERE.

"Pick me up and looooove me!!"

This little one was my darling. She has CP and just LOVES to snuggle. Anyone want to take her home? (Please? Preferably someone close so I can babysit...)

I liked babies even before coming to Africa, but now I LOVE babies. =) Ok, I'm not always predisposed to loving cranky ones at 2am, but, you know...<3

All lined up for their feeding

All in all, it was interesting to see a different model of orphanage care than the one I am currently serving at. TLC is infinitely better than a government orphanage (which are often staffed at a ratio of 1:30 - yes, that is one caregiver to 30 babies). It's not what I'm used to here where I work. But, they've managed to find homes for SO many babies and children - that is amazing.

TLC also ends up with a fair number of children with special needs. They do their best to find them homes and will keep them as long as they can, but sometimes the social workers intervene and place older (5-8 year old) children in mental institutions. :'( It is very hard to find families in South Africa willing to take children with special needs. Shoshanna took me to visit several of the children who had been transferred.

The institution was considered to be "top of the line" here in SA. In reality, it was like a poorly run, understaffed nursing home. They keep the kids clean and well fed, and they get them out of their beds during the day. It's better than the many infamous Eastern European mental institutions of which I've read. 

But, the children just SIT. They sit in neatly lined up rows of wheelchairs, staring at the walls or the children around them. There is no love, no interaction beyond what is necessary. Sometimes they wheel them into the sunroom and play music.

Not living in a family truly takes a toll on these most vulnerable of orphans.

We visited three sweet children - an 8 year old boy with hydrocephalus, a 5 year old with microcephaly and CP, and an 7 year old with cortical blindness and CP.

This was sweet "K." She was around 5 I think. She could crawl around on the floor, but is stuck in a wheelchair. Not for long! We freed her for the few hours we were there. After getting some snuggles in, we let her play with Shoshanna's kids. 

"R" can also crawl and would probably make progress with physical therapy, but "look, we are working on his mobility with a wheelchair!" The sad thing is, he now prefers the comfort of his chair to doing anything else. We tried to place him on the floor but he quickly became agitated and CLIMBED ONTO his chair. I may not be a therapist, but if this child is capable of climbing into his wheelchair (using both arms and legs) they should probably take their "mobility" goals up a notch.

This little darling broke my heart.

This is "S."

When she left the baby home, she could sit up unassisted. She was aware of what was going on around her. She could talk, at least some. 

She can no longer sit alone.

She is losing her speech. (It may be completely gone.)

She used to be able to sing, to repeat after you like a little mockingbird.

This little bird no longer sings.

She is fed, she is clean. But she is caged. She is not loved. She wants love, more than anything. She melted into our arms and stayed there, for hours, just like the picture that you see above.

Because, they are not given love or affection here. You know why? "They would get used to it." Shoshanna is only allowed to visit once a month - any more frequently is too often.

This makes my soul ache - even more so because I see their perspective. It's not just that it's harder for the staff - although I'm sure that's part of it. It is this question - is it better to love them a little, infrequently, and open their eyes to what they are missing so that they ache and cry for love all the hours we can't be with them? Or is it better to let them stay numb? I can't adopt them, not at this point in my life. Hopefully someone else will (PLEASE DO!!!). I can pray. But I also want to be Jesus's hands and feet. What does that look like? How do I keep from causing these sweet babies, made in God's image, more pain than is already in their lives?

In the eyes of those here, this place is what these children need. We had the chance to talk to one of the parents who had a daughter here, and in her mind, this was what was best for her daughter. "This is just good for them - the routine, you know. I tried to take her home once, but she was so upset by bedtime, I just had to bring her back." Keep in mind this was a mom who, from all appearances, loved her daughter very much.

And as a friend pointed out, where do you start? With these kids, who are at least fed and sheltered? With the many others who are starving and living in far less optimal conditions? (I've been to the orphanage in Pleven, Bulgaria, where just several years ago they had a 14 pound 14 year old due to the deplorable conditions.) Also, at least these parents let their children live. In my one friend's culture, they kill babies with special needs at birth - violently. In my other friend's culture they don't even offer them the small mercy of a quick death - they let them starve. Those horrible situations, though, don't justify these children's sterile, loveless environment.

We live in such a sin-sick world, hey?

You know, it could just as easily have been me in that wheelchair. No, it wasn't, God had a different plan, but He could have just as easily placed me there and "S" in my place. There is nothing that separates me from her, nothing that makes me "better." She needs love just as much as I do. She is just as precious and valuable in God's eyes. She needs a home. She needs a family. She is not on any agencies' waiting lists. She is invisible to all but those who already know her, or see her on a daily basis.

Pray hard.

Shoshanna's kids with "R," "S," and "K."

"Defend the poor and the fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy." Psalm 82:3

Saturday, July 19, 2014


Hi all,

Thank you so much for reading my blog and following my adventure here. =) God has blessed me sooooo much this year. I've wanted to work in orphan care for a long time, and I've been blessed in so many ways I couldn't have imagined - caring for the babies, building friendships in the local church, learning to navigate a different culture!

As many of you know, I had originally planned to stay here for five months, and had raised enough support for that time frame. I ended up spending less than I'd expected, and had some money left over. My church and individuals also sent more support, which was such a blessing! Now, I am needing to raise some more funds to complete my stay here - about $1600. I will need to pay rent, buy groceries, etc. I have also incurred some unexpected expenses....changing my plane ticket (which was not cheap...)...processing fees to extend my visa...background checks...fingerprinting...heat...and so on and so forth.

It's been suggested to me that I could also "sell" a few crochet items with the promise that you would receive them when I get home. I don't know exactly what I'll be doing when I come home, but I would be willing to take pre-orders for a few things. You can check out Happy Heads Helping Hearts for ideas of things I would be willing to make. For those of you who don't have Facebook, this page has a few examples of my work.

Anything you would be willing to give would be soooooo appreciated. I've placed a YouCaring widget on the side of my blog to make it simple to donate. My YouCaring page isn't very filled out...I'm pretty busy just trying to update my blog, so you can check for updates on here as opposed to a separate page.

I love you all and thank you for all your support!

~ Auntie Abbie

Sunday, July 6, 2014

My girls, Part 4 - Happy Beginnings

So last June (and in part 3) we left our sweet girls behind at their orphanages, and our hearts just about broke. It would be December before Stephanie could finally return to get them - it took that long to go through all of the legal processes.

My heart ached every day for these two babies. I knew Anna was being cared for, but not like a family could care for her. I missed her sweet smile and laugh. Waiting for Sarah was one of the most emotionally wrecking things I've ever been through - knowing she was not getting the care she needed and was confined to a bed most of the day was more than I could bear. During that six months I found out about the baby home at which I now work, applied to come, was accepted, and lined up everything that I needed to have in order to intern here.

Stephanie picked the girls up in the beginning of December. I was in Bulgaria with another friend and was so blessed to be able to meet up with them at the hotel. After I returned from the Bulgaria trip, I drove down to North Carolina to visit Stephanie, the girls, and their family! 

Anna fell right into her role as big sister. She likes to play with Sarah and tell her, "Come to Mama. It's OK. Mama's got you."

I've compiled numerous photos and videos off of Facebook since December so you can see how much they have grown.

This was Anna's birthday in March.

She couldn't stop talking about her Mickey Mouse cake.

She still reminds me every time I skype her that "Anna had a happy birthday!" I think it made a big impression on her. ;)

This is Sarah at the party. Always ready to play ball. =)

They went to the beach on vacation. 

Reports say that Anna LOVED it.

Anna visiting a farm and looking adorable

Anna around Easter

Anna my darling. This outfit is from Auntie Abbie. =)

I get to Skype with my nieces all the way from Africa. It always makes my day. They start shouting "A-BEE! A-BEE!" as soon as Skype starts loading!

Sarah is turning into such a talker. She definitely loves to have some screen time! She babbles on and on in Sarah-speak, inserting people's names occasionally. She counts to ten, with help..."...three, eight, nine, TEN!!!!!!!" She says, "I love you" and "Hi!" and other little things.

I saved the best for last. Here is a video of my sweet girl walking with her walker!!! Isn't she too cute for words?

I still ache to watch this. It's beautiful, and my baby is accomplishing so much more than anyone ever thought she would. But it's easy to see that sweet girl has a long road ahead of her in so many ways. If anyone knows how to put weight on a child, it's Stephanie. However, despite her diligent attention, Sarah is still struggling to put weight on, only gaining a pound here or there. Years of life in an institutional setting have scarred her small frame in so many ways. The doctors have finally decided to place a feeding tube in her stomach so mealtime isn't such a battle. She will still be eating by mouth some, which is good. The surgery will be in about two weeks. Please pray she is able to gain more weight! From what I understand, they are going to be doing serial casting on her clubbed feet as well. They say she will probably be able to walk!

Anna is doing well, walking independently and talking up a storm! She has fattened up quite a bit. =)

I miss them so much while I am here in South Africa! I'm not ready to go home, but I want to squish them. <3 I'm so thankful for Skype!

My girls, Part 3 - Sarah, and grief.

Sarah's orphanage - I will always be haunted by this place, and by the children inside it.

(You can see pictures here.)

We left the orphanage in the morning, eager to meet Sarah. I’d prayed for her for so long, ached to hold her in my arms and wipe away her tears. Stephanie is her mother, but I’ve prayed for Sarah before I ever met Stephanie, and she has always been “mine” in a different way – not my daughter, but a deep burden on my soul and now my adopted niece. My arms were empty waiting for her, and they would soon be empty again, for months while we waited for legal processes.

You can’t see the orphanage until you are right on top of it. It’s quite effectively hidden away off of a little side street. We’d turned down the street and seen the babas out with children in strollers, and then there it was! An enormous gray, concrete building loomed out from behind the other houses and the trees. Set in regimented rows across its sides were dozens of identical, soulless windows. The bleak, colorless sides were in stark contrast to the cheerful pastels of Anna's orphanage. The babas (not the orphanage nannies) were out enjoying the sunshine with a dozen or so children, most of whom were non-mobile, in strollers. They obviously cared about them, even if the nannies didn’t, but I can only guess how many dozen children were left to lay inside in cribs – there will never be enough babas, although I counted probably 25 of them during the week. We don’t know how many kids the building holds, probably at least a hundred.

(Visit this page for updates on the baba program and the kids left behind in the orphanage. You may have to scroll through some posts first.)

We entered the lobby. They have been making changes in this orphanage too – they have a new director who is trying, but it is a huge job with a resistant staff, and the mindset towards special needs is just so, so different over there. They seem very defensive, like they are hiding things. Some of the children are gaining weight. They are fed more, real food and more often, and they are changed and bathed more often. Sarah had surgery for her clubfeet, but no one gave her the necessary follow-up therapy, so it wasn’t very effective. We were not allowed to tour the orphanage. Our only contact with the children came when their babas would bring them through, and you had better believe we snatched each precious moment that we got. We were blessed with almost a whole hour after our Friday visit, when we stood outside and chatted with the babas and a doctor (?) who was on staff.

But anyway, back to our first visit. They led us upstairs to a very small playroom. A huge ball pit, which they are hopefully using more than they used to (which was never), filled almost the entire room. We shared the room with another adoptive mom. So there was her, her friend, Stephanie, me, our translator, the social worker, the other mom’s three children, and Sarah, in the same hot, small, dark room throughout the week.

They brought in the other children first. We waited with bated breath for our girl's arrival. Finally what we had been waiting for – a nanny carried in sweet Sarah Beth, carried her rather carelessly, facing outward, like it didn’t really matter.

Stephanie of course took the little girl in her arms instantly and I’m pretty sure we both started to cry. We sat down on the tiny preschool-sized chairs and turned on some music for her – a kids’ song about family. She started making kisses to us. She said “ma-MA?” We were head over heels and ready to do anything to get this girl home.

But it was not all joy. Sarah was tiny, so tiny.

Even at six years of age, her arms and legs were mere sticks, skin over bone. She weighed about 24 pounds.

At six years old, she could fit into a 2T toddler shirt (short sleeves). She was dressed in layers of baggy clothes, to keep her “warm” in the 75 degree weather and presumably to hide her emaciated body.
We changed her into different clothes, and after that the social worker decided to sit in on us, so we must have been breaking some unspoken rule.

We peeled off tights, pants, shoes, a onesie (yes, she still fits in a onesie), a longsleeved shirt, and another shirt on top of that. All in the middle of summer. She did not smell so great and her teeth stunk to high heaven. They did give her a bath later, which makes me think they understood more English than we thought and were listening in on our conversation.

Sarah has retinopathy of prematurity (blindness), CP, microcephaly (small head), and the lingering remains of Guillan-Barre syndrome from when she was two (it paralyzed her for a number of weeks.). She could army crawl and pull to a crouch using a beach ball, but she could not sit unassisted.

The doctors said she couldn't see, but she could easily track an object with her right eye, so I think they were wrong. Even the orphanage staff thought they were wrong. Add to that laundry list of health problems the horrific neglect she suffered the first four to five years of her life and the institutional setting she grew up in, and she had a lot of delays.

She could say mama, dada, layla (aunt), and we taught her to say Abbie! She mimicked kisses and other noises and consonants. We practiced counting to three then throwing the ball, and she started to say, “too, TRE!” She had so much potential. She will never be the world's definition of "normal" but that's ok. She was (and is) beautiful.

She loved physical touch, playing with us, beach balls, and toys with music and lights. She hated most anything new or different, like riding in the car to get her visa photos. When something like that happened she became absolutely, heartwrenchingly terrified.

Her orphanage was HARD. Everyone asks me if I had a good time or a fun trip. It was good, and worth it, and I would do it again and again if it would help. Sarah started getting bronchitis a few days before we left. She’d been refusing to eat. They gave her antibiotics and ran blood tests, and her poor little finger got bruised up and turned purple when they had to extract blood multiple times.

Our visits became shorter as the poor sick little girl couldn’t handle that much activity – she needed to go lie down. Stephanie and I waited out on the balcony for the other mom to finish her visits. It was so hard. I’d look at leftover cribs out on the porch, and wonder how many children had lived out their entire lives and died in them. I could hear a baby crying through the window, and it went on and on for what seemed like forever and no one came, until a nanny finally shut the window so we couldn’t hear. That seems to be the mindset. If you can’t hear their cries, they don’t exist. That baby’s cry haunts me to this day. I know kids cry, but this was different. It’s the kind of cry that makes YOU wake up and weep at one in the morning. I haven’t gotten over that place, and I pray I never do.

I still pray over those children in the dead of night, here in Africa while I rock my babies, turn on the heaters to warm them, cover them with an extra blanket, give them warm midnight bottles, rock them, sing them lullabies. I pray for those children I met, and the many I didn't, who don't have that love, never enough love.

I met another little girl who had been listed for adoption but whose file had been sent back because no one wanted her. (So glad to report she has a family now!) She, although much older, was the size of a three year old and stuffed in a stroller. She couldn’t really move. We did our best to communicate with the baba, even though we spoke two different languages. “[Child's name?]” “Yes, yes.” “Mama or daddy?” “Nyama (no) mama, no daddy, no [family.]” “So sad.” I touched my eyes to indicate “sad.” The nurse misunderstood and said something which I came to realize meant, “No, no, she doesn’t cry.” She used to. I went home and found an old picture of her, noticing for the first time the tearstains near the corner of her eyes. No, baba, she doesn’t cry. Not anymore. She'd given up – she is so young to give up.

Friday finally came. Sarah was feeling a little better, but her breathing was still raspy and she was feverish. I don’t really know how we said goodbye.

Stay tuned for part 4, the happy ending and update on my girls who have now been home for six months! =)