Thursday, May 1, 2014

Victoria's Story


My brother and his family are moving to Peru where they'll serve as missionaries with Kids Alive International! They've been on an incredible journey and recently launched a website surrounding this call to Peru and a special ministry, Victoria's Little Lambs Fund. Victoria is their 3rd born child, now with Jesus. It's an amazing story. They asked us to write a "testimony" about how Victoria's life impacted ours. Here's our testimony which is found on the website site. Go check it out! http://www.victoriasfund.com/

It was here. The moment I had been waiting for had come, and I was ready to walk down the aisle to marry the godly man I loved. My heart was so full! And yet, amidst such great joy and excitement lingered deep sadness and pain. You see, my sister-in-law was carrying a precious baby girl in her womb, Victoria Grace. Victoria was due to be born via c-section just five days after our wedding. Initially, I was quite excited when Kristin told me about her pregnancy over a game of cards. We realized how close this baby’s arrival may be to our big day and joked about Kristin’s water breaking at the wedding. But, none of us ever imagined this . . . a baby girl who would be born only to live and breathe on this earth mere seconds, minutes, hours, or maybe days.

Our wedding was so special, a joyous day of celebration and family. God’s presence was evident. Just moments before I walked down the aisle, I started weeping with my dad, saying how much I longed for Victoria to be here so I could hold her. But, Victoria was at my wedding. My nephew Caleb (Victoria’s brother) was supposed to pull a wagon down the aisle with his brother, Jacob, and two cousins, Elizabeth and Hannah, aboard. Starting down the aisle Caleb, not quite three years old, needed some assistance completing the task. Kristin jumped in and pulled the wagon the rest of the way. Victoria went down the aisle at my wedding in her mother’s womb with her brothers and cousins. And as we were saying “I do” and our family was awaiting the arrival of a child not to live in this world, there was a powerful but unwritten chapter to our family’s story that Victoria would deeply inspire and influence.

We came home from our honeymoon early to be a part of Victoria’s short life here on earth. We held her, loved her, prayed over her, sang to her, swaddled her, told her stories, rocked her, kissed her, and cherished every moment as we watched her weaken with each passing day. One night in the hospital, the family took turns holding Victoria through the long dark hours so Mark and Kristin could try to get some rest, knowing their beloved daughter was always being held. Those moments with Victoria were holy.

We knew God was calling her to Himself, and only in His arms would she find healing, but it hurt. We said goodbye to Victoria and held fast to the hope of a coming day when we’d join her in God’s presence. While Victoria was with us, God began to reveal Himself to us in new ways. He taught us how to simply belong to Him. He showed us what it means to be a beautiful servant. He revealed in a deeper way the gift of family. He reminded us that our lives are for His glory. We came to know God’s victory by His grace. And in our pain and sadness, He further opened our eyes and stirred our hearts toward a broken world around us. Unseen to us, part of that broken world at the time included a three-month-old baby boy living in rural Ethiopia. His name was Teshale, and he would one day become our son.

In 2009 we felt the Lord calling us to start a family. After a lot of thought and prayer, we decided to pursue adopting two children from Ethiopia. We were thrilled and terrified to the core. We had no idea what an incredible up and down journey adoption would be! Victoria’s life had shown us that God restores, and restoration is at the very heart of adoption. Through Victoria’s life, our trust in God and our understanding of joy, fellowship, and gratitude had all deepened. And oh how we would need these things every step of the way. We waited a year for “the call” – the one where all you hear on the other end of the line through your tears is that there are children who need a family.  Our hearts melted as we watched two beautiful Ethiopian faces flash across our computer screen, Teshale and Belaynesh . . . our son and daughter. We named our son Malachi Justice Teshale and our daughter Hadassah Joy Belaynesh.

The next few months included an initial trip to Ethiopia, preparing our home for two children, and finally bringing them home seven months after that phone call. Malachi was three-and-a-half-years old and Hadassah ten months old when they joined our family. It was an intense, difficult, transforming, beautiful, and redemptive time in our lives. We thought of Victoria so often throughout our adoption and especially during the huge adjustment of actually bringing our children home. We had a picture collage hanging in our hallway of us first meeting Victoria. The look of joy on our faces as we were holding her and yet the looming reality of her approaching physical death made no sense in these pictures! Everything about Victoria’s life seemed so right and so wrong. Everything about adoption can seem so right and so wrong.

We’ll never forget the scene at the orphanage when we picked up Malachi and Hadassah.  An eight-year-old old girl was leaving with her new family the same day. She literally wailed when the time came for her to say goodbye. As beautiful and wonderful as adoption may be, everything this child had ever known was being ripped away from her in this moment. The uncertainty, fear, and grief that gripped her heart was gut wrenching to witness. Her mother was crying quietly to herself as she watched her daughter clinging to her nanny. She suggested to the orphanage director, who was in tears as well, that maybe they come another day and give their daughter more time to adjust to the idea. Her father, a very large man, gently walked over and simply sat down beside his daughter, resting his hand on her back as she shook. Eventually the little girl turned, crawled into her daddy’s lap, and curled up like a sleeping toddler as the sobs convulsed through her small frame. He just held her and wept. They sat there for quite awhile until their crying had subsided. Her daddy gently wiped her tears away and the little girl indicated she was ready to say goodbye. He lovingly carried her out of the orphanage, her arms wrapped tightly around his neck as he set out to finish the journey of bringing his daughter home. It was heartbreaking, so right and so wrong. What a picture of how our Heavenly Father loves us in our grief. Life makes no sense and can leave us aching, searching, and desperate. God, in His great grace, gave us the gift of Victoria . . . a sweet baby girl who showed us we could rest, knowing we have a Daddy in heaven whose lap we can crawl into and where we can weep.  He wipes away our tears and makes all things new. These truths penetrated our hearts as we watched the miracle of adoption unfold as Malachi and Hadassah learned to trust and belong, simply being our children.

It’s amazing how God weaves stories together. We’ve since adopted our third-born, Abel Josiah Temesgen. Abel’s adoption was a journey of simply saying yes and leaving the “impossible” in God’s hands.  When we received Abel’s referral, we were once again reminded of Victoria. Abel’s very name means “breath.” Mark and Kristin always say how every breath Victoria took was worship and how each breath belonged to God. Abel was so frail and weak as an infant. When we read his story and saw his picture, we knew that only the mighty hand of God had sustained his life. Abel’s story is marked by miracles of healing and a loving Father who made him His child long before we called him our son. We don’t know who gave Abel his name in Ethiopia, but we have to wonder if Victoria didn’t smile big when Jesus told her about her newest cousin’s name, knowing that somehow her life was again being woven into our family. Many children have been added to our extended family since Victoria. With each child we welcome into our arms and every sweet baby born into heaven’s arms, Victoria’s life is only sewn deeper and deeper into the very fabric of our entire family.
Erb familyWe’re honored to call Victoria our niece and grateful for the impact she’s had in our lives and beyond. Victoria’s Little Lambs Fund is now actively ministering to vulnerable children in Ethiopia, the birthplace for three of our children. We’re blessed to now have four children in our family with the birth of our daughter, Mary Emily Wilmadine (named after my grandmothers who are with Victoria in heaven).  Our family is blooming with life, both on earth and in heaven. We watch Malachi play with his cousin Hannah, both of them born just months before Victoria, and we think of Victoria playing in Heaven. We celebrate another year of marriage, always days before Victoria’s birthday, and we think of Victoria celebrating and dancing each day by Jesus’ side. We worship together, singing about walking from earth into eternity, and we think of the day we’ll all see Victoria again. We go to the hospital to celebrate new life, and we think of the moments God gave us to hold Victoria before Jesus called her home. We go to the graveside to say goodbye, and we think of the reunions and meetings Victoria’s having in heaven. We watch faces of Peruvian children filled with pure joy, and we think of Victoria singing Jesus’ name with every tribe and every tongue. We all long for the moment Victoria runs into Mark and Kristin’s arms again. I can imagine their family standing there in the arms of Jesus on that glorious day, surrounded by all the people who love Victoria and were touched by her life, from aunts and uncles to Shipibos and Ethiopians. From the womb to the world, the gift of Victoria Grace has transformed a family and is restoring lives throughout the nations. Praise be to God!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Abel's Adoption Video

We put together a video telling the story of Abel's adoption and first year home! His Forever Family Day was January 24th and we were able to share this video with our family to remember and celebrate Abel and praise God for his life! We love you, Abel:). http://vimeo.com/85378531


Bringing Abel Home from ErbFamily on Vimeo.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Merry Christmas and Mary Emily

 Merry Christmas!!! Oh and one other little thing...we had a baby GIRL, Mary Emily Wilmadine Erb (we call her Mary Emily). She was born October 31st, weighed in at 7 lbs 12 oz, and is named after my (Rebecca's) grandmothers. Mary Emily's brought so much joy to our family. Her big brothers and sister are in love and are truly a huge help to mama, especially the older 2. We are loving the newborn phase of her life and savoring every day. Our 4 kiddos are keeping us busy and filling our days with lots of laughter. There's never a dull moment around here;). I obviously don't get to blog as often, but still try to capture our BIG family moments.

Mary Emily (almost 2 months)
Abel (20 months)
Hadassah (3.5 years)

Malachi (6 years)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Finding Abel

August 1st will mark 1 year since we received a call about our son, Abel. Our story to finding one another began long before that. When we got home with our first 2 children, in July 2011, we were so overwhelmed and couldn't imagine adding another child to our family. It was a bit intense for awhile, actually plain hard;). But, things marched on and the dust started to settle around us. Life became mundane and although we were still going through HUGE adjustments all around, adding another child didn't seem so crazy.

While in Ethiopia, our eyes were opened to the opportunity of adopting children who were HIV+. I met a family who was adopting a sweet little girl who was positive. They told me their story and I was blown away by all they shared! As summer faded and fall rolled around, I couldn't shake this idea that we should pursue an HIV adoption in Ethiopia. I threw the idea out to Nate and he was all for it. We started researching, talked to other families who had journeyed the same road, and were in contact with a ministry called Project Hopeful. They were extremely helpful and have GREAT info on their website. We learned so much about HIV: like how it can/cannot be transmitted, what daily life looks like in the USA, what daily life looks like in Africa (specifically Ethiopia), the adoption process for an HIV+ child, the life-span for a person living with HIV, where things stand medically, and so much more. We sought council and prayed about it for a few months. We wrestled during those few months with a lot of fears and God met us graciously right where we were.

Orphan Sunday rolled around that November and we had a great service at church, dedicating our two children to the Lord. We were once again overwhelmed with a brokenness for the fatherless and a stirring to adopt again. We went home that Sunday and made the decision to move forward with another adoption from Ethiopia, pursuing a child who was HIV+. Everything wasn't all neat and tidy-our hearts were still working through some things, finances weren't lined up, we still felt deeply in the trenches of bonding/attachment, but we felt very excited, nervous, and peaceful all at the same time about this venture. One thing was clear to us...we felt God simply said, "just say yes and I'll take care of the rest. All I'm asking of you is to say yes." So we did. We said yes and moved forward, committing to take it one step at a time.

We found an awesome agency to work with who was specifically starting an HIV adoption program with the governement orphanages in Addis. With our first adoption taking so long, we thought we'd have a pretty long wait for a referral. But, once we got on the waitlist, it was barely 5 months before we got Abel's referral call! I actually forgot to ask if Abel was HIV+ when we were on the phone with our case worker. We were so completely taken with him; he was just our beautiful son, Abel, and that was all that mattered. We just wanted to get to him as soon as possible!

We geared up to travel in October. While in Ethiopia, and planning to go meet Abel the next day, we got an email from our agency saying Abel had a negative test come back. What?!? Crazy! Now we knew with infants that HIV antibodies could falsely say a baby was positive until 18 months of age. But, we learned that the tests being done at this point on our son were not testing antibodies, but much more specifically, the very genetic material of HIV and the viral load itself. Our agency warned us though to be very cautious and that he likely could still be positive. They said the HIV testing through the US embassy would give us a clear answer. But, when we went to the transition home to meet Abel, the Ethiopian staff told us they believed he was negative and he seemed SO healthy. So, we just started thinking he was negative.

Then embassy testing came and went and we never heard results and really DIDN'T CARE, lol! We were just so thrilled to clear embassy that we didn't think much about his testing results and assumed they were negative since we hadn't heard anything. At the embassy window, they started going through all these waiver forms about HIV. I asked why we were having to sign these papers and go through this if he was negative. They then told us that Abel was indeed HIV+ according to their tests which are much more "reliable", the blood actually being sent away to one of the best labs in Nairobi, Kenya.

Ok, so we switched back again...Abel is positive. Our love and commitment to Abel was unwavering dependent on his being HIV+ or not, but we just wanted to know to make plans for how to best care for him. We went home and began several rounds of testing, mandated through the Dept of Health. Poor baby was stuck SO many times to get all this blood drawn over the first 5 months he was home:(. Our pediatrician and Abel's case worker at the Dept of Health told us Abel's positive testing at embassy was most likely accurate as they'd never had a child test positive at a US embassy and come home to be negative. We just wanted a definite answer so we could move ahead with a specialist.

Well, Abel was the exception. Since coming home, he's had 3 negative tests and the Dept of Health has officially signed off on him as being negative! Praise God!

We had a very clear sense and peace about Abel belonging to God from the time we got his referral. We didn't even stress about the whole HIV thing because we knew whatever the outcome, positive or negative, GOD WOULD BE GLORIFIED in his life! We wanted to share more intimately about Abel's life, but felt we couldn't until we had a "definite" answer on his being positive or negative. Had he been positive, this post really wouldn't sound that different:). Abel's one special kiddo and his life is marked beautifully by a Heavenly Father who cares deeply for him and has been working on his behalf. We feel so honored to have Abel as our son. Him being negative or positive is not his identity, but this is a part of his story. Some may feel that we shouldn't share something so intimate about our son. But, we want to give God the glory for the work He's done in Abel's life and testify to it! When our pediatrician called with his final test result she said something like this, "HE IS NEGATIVE! There's no explaining how he was testing positive at the embassy and has come home to be negative. The Dept of Health is quite baffled by your little guy and said they've never quite seen this." I don't know exactly what's transpired in Abel's little body his first year of life, but I do know that God has been ever-present in our son's life and faithful to him! 

We also feel deeply compelled to help educate others about the truth surrounding HIV. Throughout this adoption process, we learned so much about what living with HIV looks like today. And boy oh boy, how misinformed we were!!! We had so many fears and uncertainties that were based off of things we'd been told that simply are not true, though they may have been thought to be true at one point. And sadly, many of these misconceptions were never set right. I've even heard of medical professions who still believe many untruthful things about HIV and who discouraged families from adopting a child who may be positive. Check out the link below for some very important truths about HIV. It was a lot to copy/paste in, so I just included the linkhttp://projecthopeful.wordpress.com/category/about-adopting-children-with-hiv/

We don't believe God's calling everyone to adopt or to adopt a child who's HIV+, but we do feel He's calling all of us as believers to be loving, truthful, and to care for the fatherless (which can look extremely different in various families: adoption, foster care, sponsorship, supporting an adoptive family, providing respite care, prayer, donating items to orphanages, making a meal for a family who just got home, and so much more). People living with HIV face incredible stigma all over the world. I've heard stories lately of God's people leading the way in speaking the truth concerning HIV and caring for orphans who are positive. This is so exciting! We simply didn't know the truth; we were naive and scared. The issue of whether or not a family discloses their child's HIV status is a very personal and important decision. I believe both decisions can be completely right for different reasons. I've gotten to "know" (some in person and some I just found their blogs) other awesome families who have adopted children who are HIV+ and they've been such testimonies to me as they've shared their stories! Check out their blogs...their families are inspiring.
http://adoptingbyfaith.blogspot.com/
http://www.defendingthecauseofthefatherless.com/
http://5millionminus1.blogspot.com/
http://adoptlina.blogspot.com/
http://theresnoplacelikehome-family.blogspot.com/2013/02/adopting-hiv.html
http://projecthopeful.org/matched-families-2/

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Breaking the Silence...with news:)

When our blog goes silent, it's not usually that nothing's going on. It's usually quite the opposite. Life happens and suddenly I've missed important announcements, celebrations, holidays, and just documenting some fun thoughts and snippets on life. I feel so behind that my mind becomes mush when I sit down to blog and none of my disorganized thoughts make it to the computer. So, the question becomes, "where to start?" How do I blog about the past 3.5 months of life which have been jam-packed with sweet life happenings? Well, I'm not gonna try to play crazy catch-up with everything that's happened. I'm going to fill you in on the highlights of the past 3.5 months and then hopefully do a better job of keeping things up-to-date in the future. I want my kids to have this blog someday as a small tangible piece of sweet memories and childhood!

So, where to start. Let's start here....we are no longer a family of 5, but are working on becoming a family of 7!!!!!!!!! We're in process to adopt again from Ethiopia AND we're also expecting a "belly baby" end of October!

With Abel's adoption we were approved for 2 children, but obviously we just brought home 1 child. After some discussion with our agency, they approved us to immediately go back on the waitlist, rolling Abel's paperwork over into the next adoption. We were excited and ready for another adoption. Then, a few weeks later we found out we were pregnant! There was a small window of time where we could have accepted a referral and brought a child home, avoiding the end of pregnancy and birth. We also could have used all the same paperwork. But, that time has now passed with no referral, so we're officially "on hold" until our belly baby is 3 months old. This means we should be coming off of hold in February sometime. And, depending where we are on the waitlist, a referral could be quickly after that or quite a few months off yet. We'll have to wait and see. Unfortunately, we do have to update all our paperwork now too, boo. Homestudy update's done and we're currently working with USCIS on immigration stuff. And then soon, we'll start on a new dossier. How are we here again???? LOL!

Belly baby's due October 26th. We're gonna let this one be a surprise:). I'm about 24 weeks along and feeling really good now. The first trimester was hard with Abel having just come home and feeling so icky and tired. But, it was also a sweet time of finally having Abel home and sharing the joy of expecting new life in our family. And a very special time of rejoicing in God's faithfulness and goodness to our family the past few years.

We have some exciting news about Abel to share, but I think I'll leave that for next time. Another adoption and a pending birth is enough excitement for today, right? Abel's doing great and we've been having a really good adjustment. It's had it's ups and downs, but going on 6 months home is feeling really good these days! With M and H, 6 months home was a real turning point. It seemed every 3 months felt like a huge victory in adjustment, bonding/attachment, and things just starting to feel more and more natural. Abel is a super happy and easygoing baby. I'll leave you with some pictures of the past few months.
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This was from Easter and is the best family picture we have since Abel's come home. New family photos is a priority this summer!
 

Abel is seriously so happy! It's crazy to think he could barely hold his head up when he came home. He's now crawling all over the place!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Awesome Fundraiser!

Good friends of ours are adopting! They have their first fundraiser this weekend. Check out their blog to learn more about their family and see the amazing items being sold at their artisan and craft sale. If you're in the area come enjoy the yummy food, fellowship, and supporting this moving work of God. We are beyond excited to support them and see how God's leading them in their adoption! Hope to see you there:). And feel free to share this info to spread the word and help make this fundraiser effective toward raising money for them to get their precious child home!
http://mcelhanysjourney.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kinds and Queens

My brother pointed me to this song a few months ago. My kids (and I) LOVE watching this music video! If you have 4 minutes today, press play:).