Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Power of Facing Down Fear and Having Faith in Our Global Community

Our "Letter from the Chairs" from this Open Hearts Big Dreams 2014

Every year we come together as a group of volunteers and donors and supporters from around the  globe to make this event a reality. Over a 100,000 kids’ big dreams depend on these open hearts. 

Where did this journey start?  For us, it started with a little girl born in Ethiopia 6 and half years ago.  Michael and I had so many fears and questions about the journey we were embarking on to expand our family with a daughter who would not share our biology but would be 100% our family.  But a belief that this was our path and that we would find answers along the way compelled us forward.

We traveled to Ethiopia that first time with so many trepidations.  They were answered  beautifully by a wide eyed baby girl who stole our hearts.  She reserved her first smile for her new dad and he has been hers completely since.

In thinking about how to connect our daughter to our country and help equalize opportunity there, again the objective seemed so big and so unfamiliar.  Doubts about what could we do rose up constantly but the power of collaboration and an enduring belief, in what was possible when people come together, propelled us forward.  And we are constantly amazed and humbled by what we accomplished together these last three years.

Each time we set the goals and aspirations higher because the kids we serve deserve that, the questions return; is this too big? can we sustain it? how we will achieve this new milestone?  The global community always comes back with an affirmative answer in so many beautiful and surprising ways. 

Going back to see the kids and communities this effort supports this summer also provided many joyous answers to any lingering doubts.  Kids enjoying a school in the countryside where before there was none.  Runners becoming tutors and leaders and discovering their confidence and dreams in the process. Our daughter walking home with new friends and enjoying books together. Knowing she had a part in their smiles and joy and they in hers is priceless. 

When we again visited the original library we planted (with lots of help) in our daughter’s birth town, the school administrator and kids exuberantly thanked her.  She beamed from ear to ear and has since recounted how awesome it is there is a library where she was born because of people from where she lives now; a wonderful circle completed.  

Thank you all for the amazing support and faith you put each year into what we do together there.  It is truly awe-inspiring.  

Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Happy Birthday Happy Homecoming -- learning and growing TOGETHER

I never really liked my birthday although I don’t have any good reason.  Most years, it was just another day.  But my birthday six years ago was different.  We were traveling back from Ethiopia to Seattle with our little girl.  She would arrive at our home and meet her new brothers on the date of my birth.  That made this day take on special meaning for me.  I love that our sweet daughter officially entered our family on the same day I entered the world.  It wasn’t planned but gives us a connection I treasure.  As Leyla was working on her talk for our event this year, she included this connection without any prompting.  “I came home on my mom’s birthday and she said it was the best birthday ever.”  

This startlingly beautiful and deeply empathic child continues to challenge and stretch me in ways I never expected just as she surprisingly provided healing through just being.  As she gains awareness of both our similarities and our differences, our connections and our challenges, she forces me, through her gentle but persistent probing, to keep digging deeper into what matters and what is real.  Her questions carry so much weight but yet no judgment – a combination I strive for but don’t always achieve.  Her mind is open to taking it all in whether it makes sense or not.  She doesn’t shy away from the complex or the painful; setting an example I try to follow.  

Through our conversations which often occur in quiet spaces where it is just the two of us, I gained a number of valuable insights:

I have said to my kids I have enough love for all three of them; so too I learned my child has enough love for all her parents.  My daughter’s feelings for her first mom are beautiful and special and give me a glimpse into a woman I have never met but love dearly.

Differences matter.  Not because they have to divide us but because they impact our experience and path.  Seeing something from my daughter’s vantage point gives me a chance to look at the world from another angle and often can see things I missed.  For example, my daughter’s view of her brown skin and my peach tone which “don’t match but that’s okay” gave me a peak into her reality as part of a trans-racial family.

Working through challenging situations honestly and openly builds trust and also greater understanding on both sides.  Answering my daughter’s direct “why” questions as she seeks to wrap her mind around how there such gulfs in resources and opportunity illuminate for me that there are no satisfactory answers. I need to continue to work on being part of the solution even for issues that seem not solvable in our lifetime.

I have to meet my daughter where she is, not where I want her to be.  Her reality is different than mine and different from my boys.  I can’t and shouldn’t pretend otherwise.  I have to accept her pain and loss as well as her amazing joy for life because it is all her.  She needs me to help her navigate her path while acknowledging where I cannot provide her everything she needs and make sure I surround her with the support she needs.
Welcoming a child from another land into my heart was welcoming an entire culture with her.  And doing so added richness to my human experience.  This blog was started when my daughter was a toddler and I wanted a tangible way to express a connection to her birth country.  What happened since has been eye-opening. The ties I now have are real and breathtaking and ever expanding as is my understanding of my daughter and my commitment to making a positive contribution in her country.

Once I opened my life to a variety of cultures, some by birth and experience and some by choice – Dutch, Greek, American and Ethiopian directly and so many more indirectly through dear friends, I truly began to evolve into a citizen of the world.  And I see the opportunities for mankind, if we all moved that direction, as limitless.

Happy Homecoming my little princess; I can’t imagine my life without you; I know your dad and brothers feel exactly the same way.  And each year, I look forward to what you will teach me and how you will stretch me as you grow.  I am honored to be your mom. And humbled to now count Ethiopian as one of my cultures.

Here are some pictures of this amazing year – Happy Birthday to me.