How lucky I am…

15 and ½ years ago I did not own a home. I did not have children. I did not have my Master’s degree. But I started a career that would shape and define my life. 15 and ½ years ago, I was hired at Bethany Christian Services as an International Adoption Specialist. I was shy. I was too afraid to go to lunch. I had never heard the word “dossier” and certainly did not know a thing about Immigration forms. Yet I was given a caseload of families that were somewhere in the adoption process and trusted to do what I needed to do.

I will say this because I am very proud of my work, I did a great job. I can pick any child I ever helped place in a family, out of a line up. I wish I kept count but it was likely around 500 children. I wrote detailed assessments on families. And then when their children came home, I wrote their assessments as well. I referred to therapeutic, cultural and education services. I learned about attachment and trauma and sensory processing.

I now know what is involved in cleft lip and palate repair and heart surgery. I know about seizure disorders and infectious diseases. I can spot lice, scabies and ring worm just as fast as the school nurse.

I know adoption and immigration laws from all over the world. I know the best flights and layovers to a dozen countries. I have placed children from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Philippines, India, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Belarus, Kazakstan, Albania, Guatemala, Peru, Colombia, Haiti, Ethiopia, South Africa, Ghana, Uganda, and Zambia.

I began training programs and then started training adoption professionals and adoptive families all over the country. I met amazing people that I still stay in contact with. I hired and trained staff. I recruited adoptive families.

And then I traveled. First to Albania and Ukraine. My first 2 weeks out of the States, in which I learned more than I did in 2 decades of life. I was forever changed. A few years later I spent 3 weeks in China. I did horrible vodka shots at the request of the President of the Department of China Center for Adoption Affairs. I assessed children and I found them families. I ate ox stomach.

From there I started working in Ethiopia. Training social work staff about trauma. Then how to assess children and families. I learned about the importance of de-institutionalization and that became my biggest passion in life. No child. Not one, single child, should live in an orphanage. And I worked my butt off. I was able to travel to Africa 2 times a year for 5 years to help social workers in Ethiopia, Ghana, Uganda, South Africa and Zambia work towards de-institutionalization. I feel deeply in love with Ethiopia. I have never been as impacted as I was there. My heart will always be a little bit Ethiopian.

And these trips, opened my eyes to more social justice issues that my heart beat faster. HIV, women’s rights, education, fistulas, child marriage, child trafficking, ethical adoptions, government corruption. My word grew and grew. I learned. For ever thing I was able to teach, I learned twice as much.

In those 15 and ½ years, I also met the most amazing people. Supervisors who believed in me and gave me creative freedom. Staff who came to me for advise or a listening ear, or a laugh. I sat under my desk with them and wallowed in misery. I jumped and screamed for joy with them when children found families. They became my family. They taught me so much. But mostly they taught me that I have something to offer. That I am good. That I can inspire. And my colleague around the world who hosted me, and found me pizza and french fries, and taught me how to eat injera with my fingers.  And drove me in their taxi all over Addis Ababa, teaching me more about life and friendship that my heart could even handle.

The last few months of my work at Bethany were very difficult. I struggled with their stance on the Religious Freedom Act. With different policies and procedures.  With the focus of budgets. I really struggled with working for an agency that took a firm stand regarding not placing children with same sex couples. Part of me wanted to be the one that changed it all. Part of me knew that I could never be me. But when hours were cut and jobs were reorganized, the decision became easy. I needed full time. I was ready for a change. And so I had to say goodbye.

It was surreal. It still is. The families I served, are “my families”. The children I served are also “mine”. They may not remember my name, but they belong to me in some way. My office, decorated with art from all over the world fit into boxes and still sits in my trunk. The cards and emails I received from people stay very close to me as I still read them every day.

I became me at Bethany Christian services, because of Bethany Christian Services and in spite of them. I will be forever grateful for the years they gave me, the relationships they nurtured and the career they laid a foundation for.

As I drove out of the parking lot, I cried. And because I knew I was going to cry regardless, I put on Wicked’s For Good (click to listen) on my ipod and just let myself be overcome with fear and loss and blessings.

And then, trying to sort out all the emotions that came with this day in my life, I found the following quote and I just knew.

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5 thoughts on “How lucky I am…

  1. Oh my goodness…that was beautiful, very well written and a wonderful read. You are an amazing, wise woman and I wish you well in your new career path.

  2. sarah “czarina” zuidema……
    you HAVE changed the world….my world…my family…..me. Your love for hurting children is nothing short of a miracle. Your honesty is inspiring. You have helped mold my family into what it is today – broken……beautifully broken. You’ve walked with us through Russia, Guatemala, foster care, and court rooms….you’ve cried with us, drank with us ;), laughed with us, and screamed with us. I DO believe you remember each child you’ve helped place – you’re like that – you love big. you HAVE changed the world…..my world…..and I will be forever grateful for you. You are going to do amazing in your next journey – that I have no doubt.
    Make sure we stay in touch…..my porch is ALWAYS open to you :):)
    Love you dearly, my friend!!!
    Jolynn

  3. I was wondering if you will be at home sometime after school today? I have something I’d like to give you and wanted to see if you’d be around 😀
    Thanks,
    Sarah

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