Decorating the Christmas tree is a pretty big event in our house and is something that everyone looks forward too. Lacy, Tekle, and Aaron were probably the most enthusiastic and had been talking about it all week. Although, I won't pretend that us older kids weren't excited too--when I asked Jesse if he was coming he looked at me like "duh", and said that of course he would be there.
One of the best things about coming home in our house, is that you get a really loving greeting every time you walk in the door. When Peter and Jesse showed up they hadn't even made it up the stairs when Tekle yelled "PETER AND JESSE ARE HERE!"...seconds later they were both swarmed with kids who were thrilled to see them.
The night began with a bunch of "party food" that my dad had made which we washed down with 2 bottles of sparkling lingonberry juice. Once we had all had our fill of caramel apples and pizza, we began to unpack the zillions of cardboard boxes filled with decorations. A lot of our ornaments were arts & craft projects over the years--imagine a school picture taped on a star made of popsicle sticks--and it's fun to be able to say things like "Look Aaron, here's a picture of Isaac when he was 3 just like you!" Other ornaments bring back memories, like the gold wreath with Tekle's picture in it that we hung the year we were waiting for him to come home.
And of course, you can't have a Christmas tree decorating party without Christmas music! Peter, Jesse, and I all have the same favorite Christmas song--the Mariah Carey version of "All I Want for Christmas is You" (no other version is acceptable). Ok, I know it doesn't exactly mention Jesus or the real meaning of Christmas but we love it! After playing it about 6 times, everyone else was starting to get annoyed with us. Of course, as a big sister my job is to enjoy annoying my siblings so I dramatically told Tekle that the intro of the song just "melts my heart!". He replied very matter-of-factly:
"Kels. If your heart melts, JESUS melts."
I guess he got me there...
As we finished hanging up the last few ornaments, the usual argument of who gets to put the angel on top arose. We try to rotate by age each year but as new members join our family, and people can't remember the last time it was their turn (theoretically, it should have been 7 years since the person putting the angel on top has last had a turn), we get a little confused. By process of elimination we came to the conclusion that it was Isaac's turn. I think we were at least close to being right...
Once that was all figured out, we turned out the main lights, ooohed and ahhed over the fully decorated tree, and then sat down around the living room to watch "Claymations" together. It's a yearly tradition, and before each scene starts there's usually a chorus of "Oh I LOVE this one!" or "This one is so funny!", or "Haha the skating walruses are like Mom and Dad!".
I can't think of a better way to begin the Christmas season!
I am beginning to learn that there is a lot of things white people will say when they are not around people of color. Growing up, I was usually one of the few white kids in my social group, and the when I was around people who looked like me, they were all very immersed in the city, focused on social justice/reconciliation, etc...
So being around people in college who have come from really homogeneous environments is a new thing for me. Unfortunately in many cases, it has not been a positive experience.
My roommate has been especially challenging. On move-in day her brother told her not to walk around outside because the city is dangerous and "A Somalian might jump out of a bush with a knife and attack you". She could tell his comment made me mad so she was like "please don't think my brother is a bad person!". I told her he's not necessarily a bad person, but he's got some messed up ideas. Then I told her about why Somalians are immigrating to the United States and how they are regular families trying to escape a war-torn country. She didn't pay any attention and just said "No, my brother watches the history channel so he knows what he's talking about." Another day she told me "I didn't have any sympathy for adults in poverty, if they wanted to change it they could". She also thinks Mexican immigrants are stealing all of "our" jobs (we actually debated about that in class and it led to me getting 10 extra points, so I guess it turned out ok). I could go on and on....this girl says a lot of ignorant things.
Just this morning I went to breakfast with my roommate and a friend of hers. They began talking with each other about "dating preferences" and my roommate commented that she doesn't like to date black guys. Then her friend was like "yeah, I would 'do' a black girl, but I would never date her or marry her". I told them that I couldn't believe what I was hearing, and we got into an argument about whether or not they were being racist. He tried to defend himself by saying "I'm not racist, I would marry a Mexican. But not a Japanese." At this point I was about to throw up, but I asked him why a black woman wasn't worth marrying, but he was fine with 'doing her'. He said "I don't want my kids to turn out mixed". I asked him why, and he stuttered over his words a little bit, then said because then his child wouldn't know if they should hang out with the black kids or the white kids. The conversation continued for awhile, basically with me telling him how deciding whether or not you would date someone because of the way they look, rather than who they are as a person is racist. He said it was just his "personal preference".
He told me that if I was going to get mad at him, I would have to be mad at lots of people because they all think that way. The depressing part is he's right. Lots of people do think that way and it sickens me. People are going to view my sisters as "doable", but not good enough for marriage. Others are going to look at Isaac, Tekle, and Aaron, and not even consider dating them because they convinienty "aren't attracted to black guys". Thankfully, the world is a big place, and the ignorant people only make up a portion of it. Granted, the portion is bigger than I thought...I guess I've been pretty isolated in my community. I'm grateful for that though, and I'm glad my siblings will be able to enjoy a diverse and loving community before have to deal with people like this on a regular basis. When I look at Lacy and see her gorgeous brown skin, curly black hair, and radiating smile, I realize that guys like that don't deserve daughters like her.
I hate that we have to deal with these issues. I'm not a very confrontational person, but it's impossible for me not say anything when it's so personal. He's referring to my sisters, my brothers, and my best friends. I know we have to work to educate people but at times it seems like an uphill battle.
I think that traveling to Ethiopia to bring Tekle home has given me a special perspective on each milestone he reaches. It's incredible to think back over the last two years and realize how much has happened in his life. The smiley kid he is today is very different than the scared, somber little boy from our referral pictures.
He started kindergarten in September and is loving it. I'm guessing he will be reading soon because he's already trying to decipher every word he sees. He also started hockey recently and said his favorite thing about this year was "being a Dinomight". He is so sweet and is very protective of the people he loves. My Mom was teasing me the other day about visiting so often, and Tekle was like "Mom she needs to come home, this is her REAL house. Kelsey, I want you to visit!" He hasn't been too happy with me not living at home, and one day asked me angrily "Why'd you even sign up for college??". He's adjusting fine though and loves to come visit me at school--in fact that was his other favorite thing about this last year :)
I love that kid so much! He's basically incredible.
I've come to the conclusion that the college environment is not a huge fan of big families...
Recently in psychology, we looked at a graph that showed how IQ relates to family size. One-child families were at the top of the chart, and scores began to decrease as family size increased. The largest family size shown on the graph had only five children, so as a family with eight kids we must have unbelievably low IQ scores!
A few days later in Spanish class, the professor was doing a verb usage exercise and asked a student to tell the class something he would have to do if he lived with a large family...the answer she was looking for was "Tengo que compartir" which means "I have to share". However the boy answered with "How do you say 'I have to be crazy'?".
I actually thought both of these class experiences were funny, but they also made me think... There are people who really do think we are crazy or irresponsible for having such a large family. Honestly, it doesn't even feel that big to me. When people make disapproving comments about our family size I just want to scream "Well who do you think doesn't belong?!". Every single person in my house has a place, and the broad range in age, background, and personality is an asset to our relationships with each other, not a detriment. I cannot imagine having even one less person in our house. We all need each other!
Tekle can make Aaron laugh easier than anyone else on the planet. Janaya is the only one who is passionate enough about animals to join my mom on her pet rescue missions. Isaac is the resident dance choreographer, and teaches his techniques to the younger kids. Peter can motivate Janaya to keep her teenage mood-swings in check better than anyone else in the house. If Tekle hadn't joined our family, Aaron would be unbearably spoiled (He's already very "well-nurtured" as we like to call it). Lacy's optimistic outlook on life and cheerful disposition can shake me out of my worst moods faster than almost anything else (except maybe chocolate). Peter and Jesse exhibit a playfulness with Tekle and Aaron that probably wouldn't be seen if they didn't have significantly younger siblings. Isaac and Lacy share a similar sense of humor, and will often break out into uncontrollable laughter as the rest of us roll our eyes.
I could go on and on... but as you can see, my siblings and I are all connected in different but very valuable ways. Some of us were born in different decades, different countries, and different circumstances, but together we make a complete family unit. Every single one of us belongs. And if the cost is a few IQ points, I believe it's worth it!
And said, "Truly, I say to you, If you do not have a change of heart and become like little children, you will not go into the kingdom of heaven."
Lacy was very touched by the stories of all the kids I met in Mexico this summer. She has such a big heart and I am always impressed with the genuine compassion she has for people. Knowing these characteristics, I shouldn't have been surprised today when Lacy showed me the jar she had been saving money in for the kids at Miracle Ranch. She decided to do it completely on her own, and has been able to resist spending the money on herself for the last four months. I have such an incredible sister!
Miracle Ranch has to be one of the most incredible places on earth. It is a rare source of peace and security in the midst of a broken world. Children show up with deep wounds of abuse and neglect, but as they are immersed in unconditional love, smiles return to their faces and the sparkle returns to their eyes. Children accustomed to rejection are welcomed with open arms. Those who arrive with no direction in life are told that they were created for a purpose. Children who were unable to think beyond the daily necessities are encouraged to dream and make plans for the future. It is a place of healing, transformation, and growth.
Both of my visits to Miracle Ranch have been over Father’s Day. It was so amazing to see a dad like Cesar Uribe in action. He is a tireless advocate for the boy’s academic, physical, and spiritual needs. He told our group that he views things like learning disabilities and developmental delays as opportunities rather than obstacles. He responds to tough behavior issues with gentleness, explaining to us that “When they’re in trouble is when they need you the most”. It is obvious that Cesar sees every child as a precious gift. His eyes shine with pride when he shares their accomplishments and they brim with tears when he describes all the pain that they have had to endure. Cesar is an extraordinary father to the boys and an inspiring example of the unfailing love our Heavenly Father has for everyone on earth.
It is impossible to spend time at the ranch and not fall completely in love with the boys. They are truly a joy to be around, and their resilient spirits never cease to amaze me. I was able to witness many beautiful illustrations of their personalities during the week; like the time Edwin spontaneously decided to make giant butterfly wings out of construction paper. He carefully designed intricate wings, and then taped them on his back. The other kids were pretty impressed so Edwin began taking color requests and making wings for everyone in the room. The room was soon full of beautiful mariposas.
I especially loved the individual conversations I was able to have with kids. Despite the language barrier, I learned that that Abran would like to learn more about fire trucks, Gezner loves horses, and someday Julio would like to visit the moon! It is hard to believe that these children who are so full of joy and curiosity, are the same kids who have been through things no one should ever have to experience. It is obvious that the lessons of human kindness being taught at Miracle Ranch are resonating with the boys because whether they are cheering each other on in a soccer game, or excitedly complimenting someone’s drawing, the love they show each other is deep and genuine.
The time I spent at Miracle Ranch taught me so much. I left with a better understanding of the intense love Christ has for us, a vision of what can be accomplished when you are obedient to God, and a broader definition of the word ‘family’. When I begin to feel overwhelmed by the pain and sadness in the world, I think of Miracle Ranch and am immeasurably encouraged by the fact that there is a place Valle de las Palmas that is overflowing with love and providing us all with a glimpse of Heaven on earth.
--The song in the background of the slide show is one of my favorites and I believe it really illustrates the purpose of Miracle Ranch...so if you watch, be sure to turn the volume up!
Friday night was my last night living at home. I kept thinking of all the things I was going to miss and wondering how in the world I was going to survive without seeing Aaron everyday. Tekle kept asking how long I was going to be gone. "Forever" seemed like a pretty harsh answer, so I just told him that he didn't need to worry because I will visit a lot!! Lacy wrote me a really sweet note;
Dear Kelsey, I love you Don't be sad be happy. I will call you everyday If I miss a day I'm sorry So don't cry I love you
P.S. Wake me up when you get up P.S. When you read this don't cry
I'm not allowed to go home for five weeks, so I will definitely miss my family. They promised to visit though! I'm anxious, I'm nervous, but I'm also excited. It's going to be an adventure...
We are alive! Sorry for the lack of blogging all summer. Everyone has been really busy. I've been working for a children's summer program doing a variety of day/overnight camps, and everyone else has been involved in the camps one way or another (either by volunteering or attending), and hanging out doing regular summer things like swimming, biking, making waterparks in the front yard, etc...
DINOMIGHT POWER CAMP--Power camp is an academic camp for Dinomight players. This year we studied weather and natural disasters. We did lots of fun experiments involving tornadoes, earthquakes, etc... Isaac did a great job working one-on-one with one of the youngest Dinomights.
This is a picture of Tekle and Aaron with their new friend Kristy. Kristy came from out-of-state with a group of highschoolers to volunteer in the summer program for a week. She was adopted from Ethiopia and her family is amazingly similar to ours. There are 8 kids in her family (just like ours), five were adopted (just like ours), and they have done both Ethiopian and domestic adoptions (just like us).
HORSE CAMP: Janaya attended and I was a counselor at a Horse Camp for middle schoolers.
Aaron and Tekle struggling to survive the heat...
Janaya and Lacy taking pictures after accepting a Dinomight grant.
Lacy and I having a sleepover with one of our favorite people in the world...LEAH!! She tutors Lacy and mentors me...she's basically the best.
HONEYROCK CAMP- We took ninety-five 3rd-5th graders on a week-long overnight camp. Honeyrock is one of my favorite weeks of the year--I have been there 3 times as a camper, and 4 times as a counselor. It is a beautiful week full of new experiences for kids, amazing music, and lots of energy! Lacy and I both went this year. Notice her hair in the first picture--we spent the whole night before camp braiding it, only for her to take them out the THIRD day, just because two little rubberbands fell out. grr....
This is a picture of all the Dinomights who went to camp. Six of the counselors who went to Honeyrock are Dinomight alumni (Taurean and Xavier aren't pictured though)