Friday, June 5, 2015

Happy Gotcha Day, Jaden Biyagegn!

One of the first pictures we had of Jaden
One year ago today, our lives were changed forever. It was three hundred and sixty five days to be exact; we walked out of the Hilawe Foundation Orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with our precious Jaden in our arms. We will never forget that day. This day, June 5, we will celebrate each year as our “Gotcha Day.” It was the day that Jaden Biyagegn Smith joined his forever family.

We don't want to forget a single moment of this day that changed our lives for the better. It was a wild day. As some of you may remember, we went to Ethiopia on faith. Usually when a family travels on their second adoption trip, they already have an Embassy appointment. The Embassy appointment is the last step before traveling home with your child. A family goes to the United States Embassy to get their child’s visa to enter into the United States. Many had joined us in prayer begging God for an appointment on this day. It took 24 hours to get the visa so if we didn’t get the visa on this day (Thursday, June 5, 2014) we would not have been able to travel the next day.

Looking at his family book
with Tarikua (Ella Kate)
So we got up that morning, and ate breakfast at the Bethel Guest House. The breakfasts at the Bethel Guest House were the best. After breakfast, our driver, Abey, was there to take us to the orphanage. Before we left, we checked our email one more time, and still had no response from the Embassy. So, things didn’t look good for our Embassy appointment.

When we got to the orphanage, Jaden was excited to see us. We played with him all morning … from coloring and blowing bubbles to throwing balls in baskets and sometimes at people. We played until naptime. While Jaden was napping, we decided to go grab lunch at a place that had Wi-Fi, to see if we had received an email from the Embassy. We did not have Internet in Ethiopia unless we found Wi-Fi. When we sat down at our table and checked our computer we realized {by a miracle} the Embassy had scheduled an appointment for us at 1:00 PM that day. The problem is that it was 12:45 PM, and we didn't have Jaden with us. We called our agency, and they told us to just go to the Embassy without him. We jumped up from the restaurant, and left. It took us 25 minutes to get to the Embassy.  We got there at 1:10 PM; however, when we got there they would not see us without Jaden. We were now in a mess. They told us that we could come back that day, but we needed to be back no later than 4 PM. If we didn't get to Embassy with him that day, we would be in Ethiopia another week. We frantically left. The problem was … we were 45 minutes from the orphanage. For those of you that have traveled in Addis Ababa, you know the difficulty going across town. There are not many traffic rules, and traffic is terrible. Abey, our driver, did an amazing job; he got us as fast as humanly possible to the orphanage. The orphanage sent a caregiver with us because Jaden wasn't in our care yet. We didn’t know how he would respond leaving the orphanage either. By God's grace, we left, and Jaden didn’t cry at all. We made it to the Embassy with Jaden in ONE hour (UNBELIEVABLE), and it took us only 5 minutes to get the approval we needed from the Embassy for our visa, which meant we could leave the next day. This was huge and our agency said it had never happened before. We left the Embassy extremely emotional, and headed  back to the orphanage to get ready for Jaden's coffee ceremony.

In Jaden's traditional Ethiopian clothes
The coffee ceremony is the final thing that happens before a child leaves with their adoptive parents. It is a very special time as the child is dressed in traditional Ethiopian clothes. There is coffee, Ethiopian bread, popcorn and soda. This was a beautiful time. It was so evident how loved Jaden was there. We took lots of pictures, and the caregivers cried. The administrator of the orphanage asked us, "please, always keep him in church because he was very spiritually minded." This blew us away, and we assured them of our commitment to this. As we went to get in the van to leave, Jaden got very upset. We were taking him away from all that he knew, and the ladies who had loved him so well. He was leaving his very best friend, Tarikua, his bed, people that looked like him and all the security he had in the world. We drove probably 30 minutes to our guesthouse, and he cried all the way there. It was an incredibly heartbreaking time as he must have been so terrified.
Hilawe orphanage gave us a gift

Ethiopian bread cake
One of the administrators from the orphanage that
adored Jaden and often shared her food with him
So many emotions with these pictures as we left the
Hilawe orphanage with our boy!

First night - at Bethel Guest House
Gotcha Day 2014
When we got to the guesthouse, there was a lady, Tite, that worked there that we will never forget. She was a huge help to us. She was able to speak to him in Amharic and explain as much as you can to a 2 year old. She helped us bathe him and asked him what he would eat for dinner. We facetimed our older kids, but Jaden was very frightened by this. We played a little, but we were all exhausted. When Tite heard him crying in our room, she came up there. She held him. She rocked him for hours until he fell asleep. She said he kept saying in Amharic, “Please don’t leave me.” We did our best to love on him, but we were basically strangers. Tite finally got him to sleep, and Ashley sobbed.

Adoption is beautiful. But there is so much loss too. There was no way for Jaden to understand that we would take him to a home in Arkansas where he would be absolutely adored. There was no way to help him comprehend that we had cried, prayed and begged God for him for 4 years. There was no way for this precious little boy to grasp that we had loved him with all of our being since the very first time we saw his face 10 months earlier. All he understood was two people, who looked and smelled completely different than anything he had ever known, had him in a room all alone. We prayed and asked God to comfort Jaden and thanked HIM for the miracles that occurred. We would be able to leave the next day to go home, and we had in our care our long awaited baby boy. What an unbelievable day that we will never forget!

As adoptive parents, we always desire to be real and help other adoptive parents to realize that in the middle of a day that you have dreamed about …. planned in your mind … anxiously awaited for, there may be trials and bumps. There were times that we didn't think we would ever get our boy. There were times that we would cry, and question the Lord. HOWEVER, God's timing was absolutely perfect, and that little person you bring into your home will be worth it!

As we reflect on this day, we can only thank the Lord for all He has done for us. There are so many things that God did that we could not have ever done on our own. Only GOD!

Jaden Biyagegn Smith, you bring us so much joy. Your mommy and daddy love you so very much! Your brother and your sisters adore you. Your grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins think you are the greatest! Our love for you is unconditional! We pray that as you grow, you will grow in the love and knowledge of our Lord, and we pray that your life will always point others to Jesus and bring glory to our Father in Heaven!

Jaden loves swimming this year!
Spent the day swimming at our friend's house
Jaden at his Gotcha Day celebration

Jaden chose Jason's Deli for his
"Gotcha Day" celebration!

Happy Gotcha Day, Jaden Biyagegn Smith!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Our Final Day With Our Son

Saturday, May 10th, we were able to see Jaden Biyagegn one last time before we left to go back home. It was a great surprise for us to be able to go again. Normally, the orphanages are closed for visitation on Saturday and Sunday. However, our driver, Abey, asked the director if we could come back again on Saturday. She said we could. We didn’t expect to see him anymore, but we were so grateful that he asked so we could see our little boy one more time.

On the way to the orphanage we stopped by the store. This is the same store where Anna Grace got sick. So Ashley and Anna Grace made Clint go in. We got a ball for an older boy at the orphanage, and we got a coloring book and crayons for the kids in Jaden’s room. When we got to the orphanage, the caregivers told us to wait in the lobby. Again, we didn’t expect them to bring him down to us, but a few minutes after we were there, they brought him down the stairs.
 Waiting in the lobby

Jaden does a lot better when he is in the room with the other kids. We are definitely okay with this. In adoption, if a child attaches too quickly this could be a concern. Also, we do not want him to be attached to us since we would be leaving for a few weeks. When he came down stairs, at first, he did not want too much to do with us. He wanted to go outside and walk around the courtyard area. After about 15 minutes, the caregivers told us to go upstairs with him. When we got upstairs, he stayed in a corner area for 10 minutes. We thought that he had enough of us, so we decided that we would leave him. We don’t want him to be distressed. We were telling the caregivers and the children bye, and that is when Jaden decided he didn’t want us to leave. It broke our heart because of what might be going through his little mind. We are so excited to bring him home, but it makes us sad to think about what he must be thinking. This is the only place he has ever known. He will never see these caregivers and his friends again. We know that ultimately he will be with us, and all will be well. But we do not want him to go through these transitional days.

 He loves his coloring book and crayons.
 Admiring our boy

Over the next few minutes we took full advantage of the time. Jaden pulled all of the colors out, and he would hand them to us one at a time. The nurse told us that while we were away he told them that he hugged and kissed “momma & poppa.” He colored with his little friends for a little bit. One funny note is that Jaden noticed Anna Grace’s braces today and was very interested in them.  It occurred to us that he probably had never seen any before. Ashley had to step out of the room for a few minutes towards the end of our time because she began to cry. She cannot bear the thought of leaving him for these weeks. As it started to rain, Jaden grabbed Clint’s hand, and said in Amharic, “Look Poppa, the rain is coming!” Ashley came back in the room, and we spent 5 minutes telling the caregivers and the children bye. Jaden ran up to each of us and hugged and kissed us over and over. This was so tough for all of us.
 Mommy's boy
 Hugging Mommy goodbye
 Kissing Poppa Bye 
Kissing sister goodbye

Right before we left, we studied his little face. We wanted to remember each detail about him. His beautiful big brown eyes … his charming smile … his perfect little lips … his smooth skin … his sweet little cheeks … his soft hands … we couldn’t quit staring at him. We were leaving a part of our heart here in Ethiopia. It took everything in us to not cry as we were leaving the room. We got in the car, and there was silence. No one could speak a word. Clint stared out the window of the car with tears flowing down his face. Ashley sat in the backseat of the car tears flowing down her face. We were emotionally drained.
As we were leaving out of the orphanage gate, we looked up to second floor of the orphanage, and we saw Jaden Biyagegn staring out of the window waving goodbye. Be still my heart! He waved … blew us kisses … and we left.

The time cannot come soon enough for us to return to bring him home! Lord, we pray you protect him. Holy Spirit, somehow would you let him know that his family will return to him soon and bring him to his forever home. We thank you, Lord, that You chose us, and we do not take it lightly the responsibility we have to teach him all about His Heavenly Father!

We love you, Jaden Biyagegn Smith! Your mommy and daddy will be coming soon for you!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Friday, May 9th

Friday, May 9th…we woke up today excited to go see Jaden Biyagegn.  We ate breakfast at the guesthouse and headed out at 9:30 to see him.  When we got there they brought him down to the lobby for the first time.  He was out of his element and very distracted.  The three of us sat around awkwardly while the guard and our driver tried to get him to pay attention to us.  After quite a while, he finally warmed up and decided to sit with us a little.  It was “tea time” at the orphanage; their tea is so good!  We began sipping our tea, and Clint asked if he could offer Biyagegn some.  He started giving him sips, and he drank Clint’s entire cup!  He then sat in Ashley’s lap and drank her entire cup too.  It was hilarious and we learned the key to his heart is his stomach. J We knew this was our last visit, and we were starting to get a little sad.  Our driver Abey asked the director if there was any chance we could come back tomorrow.  It wasn’t our idea at all and to our surprise the director said yes.  We decided it was time to leave and said our goodbyes for the day.  As he walked up the stairs, he waved goodbye and blew kisses.
Drinking his Poppa's tea
Jaden with Abey (our driver)
Jaden with one of the older kids from the orphanage
Waving goodbye

We left from there and decided to have Abey drive us up Entoto Mountain, which is the highest peak over looking the city of Addis Ababa.  It was a beautiful drive and completely different scenery than the city.  We saw so many fascinating people, including these ladies that carried huge piles of sticks on their back.  Abey told us that these ladies do this every day.  They are such hard workers here!  We also saw a man with a pet monkey on a leash!  When we reached the top of the Mountain we saw a historic place where Menelik II dwelled and established his first palace.  We saw many people praying at the first Orthodox Church and toured a small museum.  Ethiopians are rightfully proud of their amazing heritage and history.
At the top of Entoto Mountain

Clint & Abey
Clint & Anna Grace (Ashley is not in it because she is afraid of heights, ha!)
Ladies carry sticks. Ashley and Abey racing up the mountain.
First royal palace
Second structure of the first Orthodox church
Ethiopian flag on top of Entoto Mountain

When we got down the mountain we went to eat at Island Breeze.  It was a unique little restaurant similar to Tommy Bahamas but much cheaper.  Food is very inexpensive here, usually around $5 per person. We ate and decided to call it a day around 3:00 pm.  We had our driver take us to the guesthouse and we rested and relaxed the rest of the day.  Anna Grace gets excited about going back there each day because it is the only time we have wifi, ha!  We are enjoying our time here but missing Chandler and Shelby very much.  It has been hard on them not getting to be here and meet their brother.  Ashley’s Dad has taken great care of them and we have not had to worry about them at all. We are so proud of their great attitudes and how responsible they have been! 

Some interesting things about Ethiopia:
  • Donkeys, goats, horses and dogs wander around the streets. Some have a shepherd leading them. Others do not. Our animal-loving girl, Anna Grace, loves all the animals being around everywhere.
  • In Ethiopia there are no lanes, and seems to be no traffic rules. All drivers use the horn quite often; however, it is not offensive as it would be in the USA. We are biased, but we have the best driver. Abey is a fabulous driver, and we will miss him greatly.
  • There is a huge trash dump that we pass by daily. There are 100s of adults, children and animals salvaging for food in this dump. It is very heart-breaking.
  • We needed to exchange a little more money for the rest of our stay so Abey brought us to the Sheraton hotel. We were blown away with how nice it was. It was comparable to the Ritz Carlton in Maui. The nightly rate is $400; it just didn’t seem right here in Addis Ababa.
  • As you drive down the street, there are shops where raw meat is hanging to purchase.
  • The people of Ethiopia are very precious. They all have smiles on their faces. We have not met one unkind person the whole time we have been here.
  • It is very safe in Ethiopia. There is not much crime, and we have never felt afraid or in danger.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Court Day

Thursday, May 8th… the date we go to court to make Jaden Biyagegn our forever child!

We woke up early to leave for our court date.  Our driver picked us up at 7:30 am, and we were off to court for our 9:00 time. The traffic was TERRIBLE trying to get there!  Actually the traffic is always awful, but this day was worse than usual.  We were almost late to court. Ashley did not show it, but inwardly she was stressed out. Clint asked our driver at least 5 times if it was going to be okay. Abey assured him it would be!  We finally made it in the courthouse and sat down in a small room with 5 other families.  We were sitting there about 5 minutes, until we were called in with another family for our court hearing. The Palmer family, from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, went in the same time as we did.  The judge asked us about 5 questions and then pronounced Biyagegn our child officially.  We held back the tears as we left the courtroom. We honestly couldn’t believe that was it!  We took pictures outside to celebrate and headed out.  We think we were there a total of 20 minutes…crazy!
 The Palmer family from Hattiesburg, MS was in with us having their court hearing too. 
We passed court! Praise be to Jesus!

Fasika is the Gladney in-country social worker. She is great with the children!

After court it was time to go see Jaden Biyagegn. All morning Anna Grace had felt really bad. She had been sleeping in the car all the way to the courthouse.  We decided to stop at a grocery store to pick up a couple of new toys for Jaden.  While inside the store, Anna Grace started feeling even worse. We were asking everyone where a bathroom was, but no one could speak English. Finally someone told Clint that the restroom was upstairs. So Ashley and Anna Grace got on the elevator to go to the restroom. From there, the situation got ugly… she threw up in the elevator. We came back down, and rushed quickly out of the store. We felt so bad for her. She threw up all the way out of the store. When she got outside, she continued to vomit, and all eyes were on us. It was quite the scene and Clint apologized profusely.

After we finished at the store, we left to go to the orphanage.  It was just around the corner. We weren’t sure how Jaden would respond, but he seemed happy to see us. He smiled when we came into the room. The caregivers told us to bring some toys with us, so it probably helped that we brought toys. J We brought colors and a coloring book. He loves coloring books. He called one of his little friends over, and they colored. He wanted to try each color out, and after trying each one, he would hand the color to Ashley. He is definitely the boss at the orphanage. He has an opinion, and doesn’t mind telling the other kids what to do. Another strong-willed Smith … why not?!
 Jaden loves to color.
 He loves his "Poppa"!
He loves Mommy!
 Sweet boy!
 He loved taking selfies!
 What a great personality!
 That face just melts our hearts!
Jaden Biyagegn and his Daddy

After coloring for a little while, Jaden got distracted playing with the ball we brought. Another child dumped out all his crayons. You should have seen his face, he was not happy. He put his hands up to his cheeks, and gasped. The caregivers told us that he kept saying, “for the love of Jesus.” He continued to say it over and over. Some of the crayons fell under the toddler beds. He moved each one of the beds to get the crayons.  After moving each one he then put each bed back perfectly.  He is a very resourceful child!  After all of this, we wanted to take some pictures with him. He LOVED taking selfies and would have taken them as long as we let him.  It was fun to see his little personality come out and how well he could work an iPhone! We were amazed that it only took him a minute to learn how to swipe form picture to picture. He would find a picture of himself, and he would say, “Biyagegn!” It was so sweet! The caregivers told him to kiss each of us, and after they said that it continued kissing Ashley and Anna Grace. He is definitely a doll!  One thing that Clint loved was that he could already catch and throw the ball. Clint would throw it to him, and he would catch it. Then he would chunk it back to him hard!
His laugh is contagious!
Watch him catch and throw. Made his Daddy proud!

After about 45 minutes, he usually reaches his limit. We sadly said goodbye. Every time we see him we are super sad to leave, but we tell ourselves it is only temporary. We cannot wait until we can bring him home with us permanently!

After visiting Jaden, we went to lunch at Kaldi’s Coffee. Abey, our driver, told us that this is the African Starbucks. The logo looked similar, and the ambiance was too. We got smoothies and coffee. It was a fun place to go and see.  Since Anna Grace had been sick we decided to go back to the guesthouse for the day.  We enjoy the guesthouse and we sleep a lot when we are there! 
Anna Grace loved Ethiopian coffee. She and Shelby our are coffee drinkers.

Tomorrow we get to go see Jaden again … we can’t wait!!

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Day We Met Our Son

Wednesday, May 7th, was the day that we have dreamed about for four years. We go to meet our son for the first time. We are excited. We are anxious. We are fearful. Many thoughts and questions were going through our mind. What will he think of us? Will he be afraid of us? Will he be scared?

We ate breakfast at the guest house. We had eggs … toast … pancakes. It was absolutely delicious. The staff at Bethel Guest House take great care of their guests.

At 9:30, we left for Hilawe Foundation orphanage. Hilawe is a government-run orphanage. Several adoption agencies have children in this orphanage. As we are traveling there, no one is speaking much.  We get to the orphanage, and it was so surreal. We walk into the orphanage, and wait in the small lobby area. The administrator of the orphanage came out, and told us that we can go upstairs to see Jaden. We walk 3 flights of stairs. Our hearts are pounding. We were still not talking.
 Waiting in the lobby at the Hilawe Foundation Orphanage (about to see Jaden for the first time)

Now, one thing that our agency told us was that Jaden will not know that we are his parents. We were prepared for this. We were sad about it, but knew that it was for his good. They do not want him to become attached to us. The main reason is that we will leave him here for a few weeks until we get our Embassy appointment. However, Jaden overheard his caregivers talking, and he knew that his parents were coming on this day. The caregivers said that he was happy all morning because his parents were coming. We did not know this until after we were in the room with him.

When we walked into the room, we heard one child crying. The child that was crying was Jaden. We didn’t know what to do or say, we couldn’t imagine all that was going on in his little mind. The social worker, Fasika, from the in-country Gladney staff, told us to play and talk to the other kids, and he will warm up to us. Ashley had stickers in her bag, and she told Fasika. Fasika took the stickers, and started giving them to Jaden to pass around. He very much enjoyed this task and put them on every child and caregiver. He is the oldest in his room and very much in charge. Fasika then told him to put them on “momma.” 
He put one on Ashley’s head and then gave her a kiss. It was such a beautiful moment.

After that he began to warm up to all three of us and even put a sticker on “poppa.” He played ball with Clint and has quite an arm. He has a contagious laugh and is a very happy child. He also seems pretty resourceful. Another child found Fasika’s phone and so he walked to her and offered her his sticker book. We thought that was really sweet until he took the phone in exchange. We all busted out laughing.
 The sticker Jaden put on his Daddy's hand. He put one on his Daddy's forehead, too.

We are allowed to stay with him for one hour each day. Towards the end of our time there he started to pull away and didn’t want anything to do with us. We felt like he had probably had his emotional limit.  So we told him goodbye and left for lunch.

One thing that we did find out when we were going to see Jaden is that we have been mispronouncing his name. His Ethiopian name is Biyagegn. We have been pronouncing it "BEE-ya-geg-nay." We found out that it is pronounced "BEE-ya-GEEN." Clint has had a hard time pronouncing it the right way.

For lunch our driver, Abey, took us to a great pizza place. We sat there trying to eat but felt completely drained emotionally. After lunch we went back to the Guest House and slept 4 hours! At 7:00 pm Abey picked us up to go to Habisha 2000, which is a cultural dinner restaurant. Our adoption agency set up a cultural dinner for us with another family. At the dinner, they sang and did dances from each region of Ethiopia. A great surprise was Scott Brown, Executive Vice President of Gladney, was here in Addis Ababa. The food and entertainment was amazing, and we had a great time getting to know Scott, Dereje (the in-country representative for Gladney) and the Ballew family from Texas. The ladies made Clint and Anna Grace dance and that was so entertaining as well.

Habesha Ethiopia Cultural Restaurant

We ate with Scott Brown, Executive VP of Gladney, & Dereje, in country Gladney representative
 The Smiths, Ballews, Scott Brown & Dereje
 The Smiths, Ballews, Scott Brown, Dereje & Abey (our driver who didn't make the first picture, ha)

We went to bed excited about what tomorrow holds. We will be picked up at 7:30 am to go to court.