The medicine of the sun and the wind

6 Jul

When I was in college, it was normal for me to put over 20 thousand miles on my car in one year.  I had a hunter green Mitsubishi Montero Sport with a sunroof (BTW, I think the kool kids now call it a moonroof) and a killer sound system.  It was nothing for me to hop in my car after classes, throw on some sunglasses, put on The String Cheese Incident and drive seven or eight hours back to visit my parents or friends in different towns.  I always drove with the windows down and the sunroof open.  There was such a sense of freedom and release as the sunrays warmed my face and the wind whipped through my hair.  I saw life fly by in snapshots…lazy cows grazing in a field, the sun setting behind an old oak tree, remnants of a house that burned down.  As the miles passed by, so did all my worries and stress, and slowly a smile would creep on my face.

Fast forward ten years, and life has gotten a little busier…and a lot less solitary.  Now, it is a rareity to travel long distances by myself.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my life now.  In those college years, lonliness and emptiness accompanied the solitude.  These days, though sometimes I crave alone time, my heart and soul are full and happy.  I started thinking about those drives a couple days ago when I was travelling from Soddo to Addis.  It is a five to six hour drive through the southern half of Ethiopia, and my only company was a non-English speaking Ethiopian driver, a sleeping baby, and my very heavy heart.  You see, the day before, I had to watch my precious husband drive away from our new little family and head back to the States to continue his role as the family provider.  My heart ached as the van pulled away.  There was no end date in sight or “I’ll see you in a couple weeks” or even “Everything is going to be okay.”  There was only a couple tears that streamed down my face as I tried to stand stoically holding August…and then the car disappeared.  August and I walked back to the house and then…I cried.  I cried real hard.  One of those cries that clinch your whole body and take your breath away.  For those of you that have ever seen me cry, it isn’t pretty…and there isn’t a whole lot more in life that I despise more than crying.  So, I finally pulled myself together and carried on with the day (for the mommas our there, you all know there really isn’t another option.)  And the day didn’t really get better.  That evening, I got ferociously sick and dehydrated.  When I woke up to get August a bottle, I blacked out on the bathroom floor.  It was probably one of the scariest moments of my life.  I could just picture someone coming to our house in the morning, me laying unconcious on the bathroom floor and August screaming in her crib (a scene from Steel Magnolias flashed through my mind.)  This silly fear caused me to stay awake the rest of the night and beg my mom to make extremely expensive international calls to me on the hour, every hour to confirm my existence.  The sun finally showed its face and all was fine.

So the next morning as I climbed into the Soddo Christian Hospital van, my heart was heavy.  I don’t know if I even recognized how down I was.  Has that happened to you?  Usually your loved ones call you out and ask what is wrong, and it’s not until they point it out that you realize you aren’t yourself.  Anyway, that was me.  The first part of the trip, I just sat in silence.  Then, as August fell asleep, I glanced over my left shoulder, through the curtains (oh yeah, it’s one of those rad vans) and realized the windows were open.  I leaned left and felt the warmth of the sun, and then a little further left and felt the breeze brush my face.  And just like that, I was taken back to those college days…breath in, breath out.  The weight of all those worries and sadness started falling by the roadside.  The miles became a series of snapshots again, but this time so much more meaningful and beautiful.  I wish I could describe the magic of the African countryside, but as a woman who is usually full of words, I am at a loss as I am sure I could never do it justice.  As we reached the outskirts of Addis, I found myself smiling again.

Holding Hands with Jesus

19 Jun

When I was a little girl, I had an imagination that was out of this world.  It mostly just made me a strange little child who told stories about the characters in the clouds or swimming in a sea of chocolate, but sometimes my imagination would betray me and cause me to be scared and have horrible nightmares.  In my childhood room, there was a window that had a pretty big tree just outside it.  The branches used to scrape the glass like fingernails on a chalkboard.  More than once, I jumped out of my bed and ran into my parents’ room saying there was a man staring at me outside my window.  How horrible for them?!  Then, sometimes, I would be so scared and my heart would beat so fast that I would be frozen in bed.  I knew that even the smallest twitch would cause the witch that lived under my bed (and plucked the mattress fibers one by one to reach me) would grab my leg.  Goodness…it even raises my blood pressure now.  My parents finally had enough, and to combat my fears (and decrease the number of times I ran into their bedroom), they told me Jesus was ALWAYS with me.  I knew about God, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, but as a child, Jesus seemed the most tangible of them all.  He had walked on earth, I had heard about the miracles he had performed, and I could use my vivid imagination to picture his face.  So, I learned that when I got scared, I heard things/felt things/imagined things that could hurt me, I would stick my hand out from my bed and reach for Jesus’ hand.  I felt his grasp.  It wasn’t a symbolic gesture, it was real, tangible.  As I got older, I began to be able to control my fears.  I no longer “needed” this physical gesture with Jesus.  A quick prayer before bed became my routine.

I hadn’t thought about the holding hands with Jesus business for quite some time.  My spiritual walk became routine.  I still believed and prayed to God, but He had become somewhat distant to me.  He was the Almighty being, one to whom I would pray, but I felt as though our communication was a one-way street.  I could only half-heartedly ask Him for my heart’s desires.  I had lost the comfort of being able to hold His hand; the peace of knowing his heart was with me just as my heart was with him.  And I had forgotten that He wanted to be as real to me as much as I needed to hold His hand.

Life started to be a struggle.  My well thought out plans weren’t coming together.  It wasn’t until Bo and I started our adoption process that I began to notice that missing piece of my faith.  Adoption is SO hard.  I tried to handle the stress and challenges and planning all on my own…and just put a smile on and not complain.  But my best friends saw my struggles.  My faith was tested to the CORE.  I was in the darkest moments of my life, trying so hard to make those “nightmares” and challenges go away by my own power and planning, thinking of every possibility and how to handle it (on my own.)  As my heart was becoming so angry and turning to stone, by His grace (and my wonderful friends’ prayers and love), I stumbled upon a passage in Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.

“Rest in Me, My child.  Give your mind a break from planning and trying to anticipate what will happen.  Pray continually, asking My Spirit to take charge of the details of this day.  Remember that you are on a journey with Me.  When you try to peer into the future and plan for every possibility, you ignore your constant Companion who sustains you moment by moment.  As you gaze anxiously into the distance, you don’t even feel the strong grip of My hand holding yours.  How foolish you are, My child!

Remembrance of Me is a daily discipline.  Never lose sight of My Presence with you.  This will keep you resting in Me all day, every day.”

I physically needed Him.  I needed to seek His presence and feel His touch.  I needed my Jesus back, my constant companion that would hold my hand and lead me through His divine plan.

So today, half way around the world in Ethiopia, I took my Jesus’ hand as He lead me past all my fears, worries and doubts and into a tiny, green room.  He stood there with me, knowing I needed his constant presence.  As the rain began to pour outside, He revealed His beautiful, perfect, flawless plan, and my precious baby was placed into my arms.  I no longer knew the distant God that I became satisfied with.  I stood cradling our beautiful daughter, with my husband holding me, and my Jesus’ arms around us all.  Forever changed.

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Confirmation for a doubting heart

18 Jun

For months and months I have prayed and begged in desperation for God to confirm our decision to adopt.  I had heard so many other stories from my fellow adoptive moms about Christ showing them through verse or circumstance his will for them to adopt their little one.  I have to admit, there were times I felt lonely and a little forgotten, because even when I would get on my knees and cry out to God, I still never felt as though I received confirmation.  I would try to read a verse from every angle and look at a situation and form it into something it wasn’t.  During my quiet times, I almost felt bombarded with verses that pertained to everything in my life except our adoption.  I remember saying out loud, “God, I don’t need to hear this right now!  I need confirmation that we have chosen the right path!”  And yet, months went by and nothing.  Looking back on it now, I see his perfect path.  Every verse I read, or situation I was put through, was forming me into the person that I am supposed to be now for my daughter.  He knew my needs even when I didn’t see them.  I was so weak and vain, that I thought I needed to determine what the Lord was supposed to show me.  “God, show me this now!”  How arrogant and ungrateful I feel now.  Aren’t we so blessed that he is a loving and patient God and puts up with our temper tantrums?  His timing is perfect.

This morning, I woke up nervous and excited for our court date.  I opened Jesus Calling and this is what it said:

“You are My beloved child.  I chose you before the foundation of the world, to walk with Me along paths designed uniquely for you.”

And then, the verse given was Ephesians 1:4.  I took out my bible, and here is what it said:

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In LOVE”

As I do so often with books, I had to keep reading.  What my eyes saw made my heart and soul swell with joy and love.  He hadn’t forgotten me.  He needed me to go through the trials and make me the person I am now to show me and confirm our adoption.  Here is what I read:

“He predestined us TO BE ADOPTED as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”

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How unbelievable is that?  For a person (me) who is filled with doubt (thank goodness He forgives), I was speechless that this was the passage presented for June 18, the day we officially adopt our baby.  I know I am not deserving of His attention or love, but I feel so fully blessed by both right now.

The Spirit of Ethiopia

17 Jun

Ever since we arrived in Addis Ababa, my eyes, ears and nose can’t enough of the spirit of Ethiopia.  First, the traffic here is pretty insane. From what I can tell, there are no traffic laws.  Our driver Tesfy, said that driving here is a “negotiation,” and Tesfy usually wins.  If you are turning left, you go ahead and pull your car out into oncoming traffic.  They will stop for you (by necessity.)  And then you just honk your horn whenever you want to pass someone or if someone starts swerving toward your car.  People also just cross the street wherever they want.  Tight squeezes are the name of the game here.  I have closed my eyes on several occasions.  But today, I told Tesfy that I thought he was the best driver ever.  And that was the truth.  He says there aren’t a lot of car crashes here, and that seems to be the case.  Every driver is well aware of their surroundings…I don’t think they have a choice.

The landscape here is breathtaking.  The city is surrounded by mountains, and colorful houses speckle the hillside.  There are street vendors throughout the neighborhoods selling everything from shoes to butchered oxen (freshly cut for each customer) to bright yellow bananas and grilled corn (which smell amazing.)  The streets are so busy that it is almost overwhelming at times.

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And, all the pretty people!  I have never in my life seen such striking beauty.  There are children dressed in school uniforms running through the streets with book bags bouncing side to side.  Women carry their babies on their backs and hold the hands of the young children as they cross the street.  It is not uncommon for a man to put his arm around another man’s shoulders as they stroll down the road.  Bo keeps commenting at how everyone seems so happy here.

It has rained two out of the four days we have been here.  Which, of course, I love.  We go up on the roof and watch the storms roll in.  Yesterday afternoon, it seemed like the whole city was watching the “football” game between Ethiopia and South Africa.  Each time the ball would get close to the goal, there were squeals from every direction.  Ethiopia won, 2-1!  This means they qualify for the World Cup.  It is the first time in 30 years!  Everyone was so excited.  People were running through the streets in soccer uniforms and waving the Ethiopian flag!  It was so fun to see.

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Needless to say, we feel blessed to experience this beautiful country and its people.  So excited for the next few days!

Journey to Ethiopia

16 Jun

Wow!  Where do I begin?  The flight from DFW to Dubai was really amazing.  Emirates has amazing service.  We toasted our journey with a glass of bubbly, and the flight took off!

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Both of us got plenty of sleep throughout the 14 hour journey.  The seats laid completely flat and there were even “stars” on the ceiling.

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AND, as an added bonus, our flight attendant was a beautiful Ethiopian!  After the luxurious flight, we landed at the Dubai airport (a stunning one) and hit a little bump in the plans.  When we booked our flights, Emirates told us they would pay for a hotel during our 22 hour layover.  However, once we got to their counter, there was no hotel to be had.  After a git of a breakdown on my part, we finally were able to find a hotel, Park Regency Dubai, for a decent price and arrived there around 3 pm.  Dubai is really beautiful.  It is such a melting pot of ethnicity and religion but all seem to really respect one another.  We didn’t get to do too much sightseeing but were able to eat dinner on the 19th floor of the hotel and had an amazing view of the Middle East City of Lights.

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The meal was really delicious too!  How could I resist ordering the “Arabian Mezzeh Plate”?

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After dinner, we spent a little time out on the roof of the hotel taking in the sights and sounds, and then headed off to bed.  At that point, we were pretty exhausted, so we fell asleep around 8:30.  At 12 am, we were both wide awake, staring at the ceiling.  So we decided to watch three episodes of The Office on our portable DVD player (thanks mom!)  We both tried to fall back asleep but only in vain, because we both woke up again around 3 am.  We put on The Office again, watched another three episodes and decided we were hungry, so we ate three of Audra’s AMAZING chocolate chip cookies!!!  (I am pretty sure it was the best cookie I have ever had!)  I think we finally fell back asleep around 5 and had to be up at 6 to catch our flight.  It was an interesting night to say the least.  Although, I have to say I will always remember snacking on cookies in bed with Bo at 3 am.

The flight from Dubai to Addis was pretty uneventful, and we arrived at Bole Airport at 1:30 pm.  Our AWESOME driver, Tesfy, picked us up and drove us through the CRAZY Ethiopian streets to our guest house.  (I will make another post with pics about how wonderful and gorgeous this country is.)  Everyone has been so amazingly nice and accommodating.  As soon as we dropped our bags in our room, they asked us if we wanted to go meet our baby!!!  We were pretty shocked, as we were not prepared to meet her until the next day.  I quickly changed into my very well thought out “meeting precious baby” outfit, and we headed to the foster home.  I will share the story of meeting her in the next couple days.  It deserves its own novel.  It changed my life to say the least and opened my eyes to God’s pure glory and love.

Please continue to pray for us as we prepare for our court date on Tuesday (Monday evening for you guys).  We love and miss everyone but are soaking up beautiful Ethiopia and our amazing new life.

A New Day, A New Life

13 Jun

The sun woke us up pretty early this morning…not that we would have been able to sleep in anyway.  A lot was on our mind.  When we woke up this morning, we looked at each other and smiled.  Life as we know it is about to change.  Henry (our mini schnauzer) jumped up in bed with us, I thought, in a few days it won’t be a little puppy in bed with us…it will be our daughter.  After months and months of planning and about five days to do some crazy packing, mom dropped us off at the airport this morning and kissed us goodbye sending us on our way to Africa.  I can honestly say I (or at least my stomach) is a ball of nerves.  I am not usually a nervous person, but I feel like this might be one of the most important trips of my life.  We had four huge check-in bags filled with diapers, formula, WARM baby clothes (those who have adopted from Ethiopia can giggle at this), our clothes and a supply of oatmeal and protein bars to last a normal person six months.  There are also four carry-on bags that basically contain our entire life.  Clearly I have put Bo in charge of that one.  When we were standing in line to check in at the Emirates counter, a beautiful employee came up to us and said the flight was overbooked…and did we mind sitting in BUSINESS!!!  What?!?  I am such a sucker for business.  I will eat dainty snacks and double fist free glasses of wine like no one’s business.  Unfortunately, I stick out like a sore thumb because of my over-zealous antics.  But, I don’t care ;)

So here we are.  Sitting in the Emirates lounge (stocked with all my fave Middle Eastern goodies, I might add), waiting to take off to begin the rest of our life as a new, improved version of the Neichoy family.  Please pray for safety and peace of mind.

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I don’t even know what’s going on in this pic.  Make a caption for it!  It kind of demonstrates the craziness this morning!

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

4 Apr

4 cups of basil…oh yeah.

Roasted tomatoes…uh huh.

Goat cheese crostini…brotha pleaze!!

I made Ina Garten’s Roasted Tomato Basil Soup last night after needing to find a recipe ASAP for my freshly harvested basil.  This recipe has always been a favorite of mine, and since it SNOWED in Borger yesterday (seriously Mother Nature, it’s freaking Avril…that’s April in French) I decided it would be perfect for dinner.  I usually serve this recipe with grilled cheese (sourdough bread with equal amounts of cheddar and fontina), but I recently made some goat cheese and decided to serve that on crostinis.  Ina’s recipe does not call for cream, but when has that ever hurt anything?  So I added about 1/4 cup of cream at the very end.  It turned out to be de-dang-licious.  We ate it while watching the season finale of Justified, and I must say, the soup was far more satisfying than the show.

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salt and peppered beauties

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After 45 minutes at 400 F…oven roasted goodness!!!!

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Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

modified from recipe found on foodnetwork.com

Ingredients

3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise

¼ cup plus two TBSP olive oil

1 TBSP Kosher salt

1 ½ tsp freshly cracked black pepper

2 cups chopped yellow onions (about 2 onions)

6 garlic cloves minced

2 TBSP unsalted butter

¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 (28 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes

4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves

1 quart chicken stock

¼ cup heavy cream

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Place cut tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet (that has a rim to catch juices).  Drizzle ¼ cup olive oil over tomatoes and sprinkle with 1 TBSP salt and 1 ½ tsp pepper.  Roast in preheated oven for 45 minutes.

In an 8 qt stock pot over medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic with 2 TBSP olive, the butter, and the red pepper flakes for 10 minutes or until the onions are slightly browned.  Add the canned tomatoes (with their juice), thyme, basil, and chicken stock.  Add the oven roasted tomatoes including the liquid on the cooking sheet.  Bring to boil and let simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.  Pass through a food mill fitted with the coarsest blade into a large bowl.  Add cream and stir to combine.  Taste for seasonings.

Note:  A food mill is a great (and not too expensive) piece of kitchen equipment.  I have an OXO and have loved it.  However, if you don’t have a food mill, you can use and immersion blender or plain ole blender.  Your soup will just be a little more finely pureed and less chunky.

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