Guardianship and the Ugly Head of Pride

Lynda being here was good—on many levels. Good to see her, share things that don’t get shared through emailing. It was also good to learn so much from her, about accepting cultural differences with grace, about being inquisitive in a way that merely expresses interest rather than comparison, about having fun across cultures. Angel opened up even more with her here, and Lynda pushed the envelope on several things I hadn’t been successful at, washing dishes (before I’d been limited to rinsing them), helping with the cooking (and before I’d been limited to carrying things out to the living room, and been disastrous with that with the two broken glasses), and not having to drink African tea all the time (hot milk with a tea bag added, WHOLE milk, and since Lyn’s lactose-intolerant, she was able to say that she really COULDN’T, while all I could say was that it made my stomach feel heavy—and I wasn’t quite bold enough to say that, knowing that milk is more expensive and was probably only being bought because of my presence).
But Lynda also—just her presence and attitude of learning—increased the lessons the Lord has been teaching me about respect and humanity/cultures being equally worthwhile even when they aren’t equal on the world’s playing fields. It’s one of those lessons (and I know I’ve written a lot about this, and for that I apologize, but it’s what I’m heart-learning these days) that I have “known” in my head for a long time. I can spout the right answers. But I’m discovering the sinfulness of my heart in this area as well. It’s one thing to say I truly respect and regard as equal another culture or person in THEORY, but in practice it is a whole different animal. For instance, when I come in from having gallivanted around town with Wilfred, I’m usually tired and want nothing more than to grab my computer and work some (on this or other writing assignments). But Angel is generally peeling potatoes or washing clothes or doing any of the other household chores that seem to fall on her by manner of her being the poorest, youngest woman in the house. I find myself thinking, “Well, Angel can do that. I don’t need to offer to help because I have more important things to be doing, things” (I’m going to be brutally honest here) “that she or Florence are not really able to do and don’t understand.”
It’s a true statement about my horrid pride. And while I asked, often, “What can I do to help?” before Lynda came (and was given a few, very simple jobs they didn’t think a muzungu could mess up), I was urged to greater action by her curiosity regarding their daily tasks because she asked the women about them in ways that honored their work, their lives.
Thank you, Lyn.
Thank you, Lord. You are so patient—and You work through people so amazingly.
Tuesday morning we got up and just visited around the house, getting ready for Lynda’s departure around noon. Angel had wanted to go with us to the airport, but Vena sent her to the market, and she arrived back after we left. Florence went with us instead. I’m not sure how to feel about that. Though Lynda is able to extend more grace to Florence than I sometimes am (it’s like she recognizes the fellow grief of losing a close loved one), there is no doubt that Angel had far more conversation with Lynda than Florence did, and they connected more. I don’t know. It doesn’t seem entirely fair, but I’m assuming that Florence’s status as a widow is higher than Angel’s as an unmarried student. (And just writing that about Florence being a widow reminds me of how little I have experienced of her level of grief.)
The visit to the airport was uneventful, and I was not overcome by intense longings to be leaving myself with Patrick. It still feels like it will be a long ways off. I miss my kids, my husband, but I miss, too, the autonomy of being in my own home, my own place/space, understanding how I fit, what to do/say in most situations. I may also miss amenities like a hot shower, consistent running water, but somehow those don’t really bug me at all. It’s more the not knowing what to do. Last night after we ate dinner, the family sat and spoke Lugandan. I felt that to get my computer or book out would be rude, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. I slipped into the kitchen and washed up the dishes, and then I grabbed my computer and headed to the bedroom. Vena asked, “Aren’t you going to watch The Gardener’s Daughter with me?”
“No,” I told her. “I’m tired tonight and I know it doesn’t come on for another half an hour.”
Okay, not really being allowed to be a mom to Patrick is also bugging me. I gave the antibiotic that the clinic gave us on Sunday (the one that is really more for respiratory illnesses than a skin cut) to Vena to use for Precious, and she said, “Oh, I’ll just give it to Patrick as well.”
“Oh, no,” I said. “That’s an antibiotic, and he really doesn’t need something of that strength. I’d like his body to fight off the little cold he has on its own.”
She gave me the Vena look. “But he has a cough.” (About four times a day, yes, Patrick coughs—we’re talking amoxicillin here, and I generally let my kids suffer through mild earaches, much less a cough, before I let them be put on an antibiotic.)
I tried to explain. She wasn’t happy—I was still getting the squinty eye, the sideways look she has when she doesn’t completely like what you’re saying—but she gave in. Patrick got bandages on his hands instead, which oddly enough makes him very happy. I think he realizes he gets sympathy that way.
Another area of mom struggle—bedtime. Last night, AFTER dinner (I’m not making that mistake again) I got Patrick and Precious ready for bed. But I didn’t put them to bed (big difference). Vena looked at Patrick in his pullup and said, “Oh, no, he can’t go to bed yet.” (It’s nine o’clock at night.)
Now I do need to say that, since Patrick is sleeping in Vena and Wilfred’s room, I can understand her desire to put him to bed at a time when she knows he will fall over with exhaustion and not wake her up all night, but he’s rubbing his eyes, yawning, by this point.
God gave grace, though. “Okay,” I said and started getting ready for bed myself.
Ha! Wilfred was on his and Vena’s bed in the dark watching movies or doing something on his computer. About five minutes later, as I came out of the bathroom after brushing my teeth, I noticed Patrick curled up next to Wilfred. The smart little man had taken matters into his own hands.
Wednesday morning, this morning, I was awake around 6:30 (actually before and all through the night, too; I find it hard to sleep well with three other people in the room, especially when one of them is a hacking not-quite-two year old, and I wonder if I’m going to have to whack her on the back at any moment to loosen that nasty phlegm. It must be something you grow up with because Florence and Angel have NO problems, while I’ve somehow turned into a Dave-like sleeper.)
Anyway, I got ready for court and then got Patrick ready. Went out the door when Wilfred announced, “We need to go” in that funny, sudden way he has. When we arrived at the high court Wilfred dropped Patrick and me off and then went to get the car washed because Vena had been bugging him about how dirty it was (pretty understandable since it rained last week and most of the roads are red dirt). I got some hard-boiled eggs from the high court canteen in case I needed them for Patrick and then took him to the bathroom. For some reason I wasn’t as nervous as I was last week, but I’m not sure why.
While Patrick and I were wandering on the grass waiting for Wilfred to return, one of Isaac’s lawyers called me (his name is Job—it’s like I’m doing business with “Characters of the Old Testament” –Isaac’s sister, also a lawyer—is named Esther) and told me I needed to come up to the judge’s chambers because he was in and about to see cases. I got up there and found the other couple from last week with the twins and another Austrian woman with a little girl about the same age as the twins. Fortunately the twin couple had been able to get a second hearing last week, so they, too, were going in for their ruling.
Wilfred arrived a few minutes later, and the great rush turned into the great wait, complete with all of us trying to keep our children quiet because the Africans ranged along the hallway (not Wilfred and the sister from the babies’ home) were shooting us dirty looks. The Austrian lady went in first and then came out sobbing. Her petition had been turned down. The twin couple rushed over to her (they’ve connected several times since they’ve been here in Uganda), and I just sat feeling awful since I hadn’t even spoken two words to her and couldn’t even extend the fake slap-on-the-back commiseration that doesn’t mean a whole lot anyway. Suddenly people were motioning us along the hallway and then ushering us into the judge’s chambers. We sat, confused but silent, and then, just as suddenly, we were being told to leave, that the twin couple was being seen ahead of us (nothing against us, they were just seeing people in the same order as the hearings last week, I gathered). So they were rushed down the hall from the weeping woman, and I had to reach back into the room to grab my bag, even though the judge’s secretary (boy, she’s stern-looking) didn’t look like she wanted to let me.
Then they were out again, and we were in, without my even having a chance to ask them how theirs went (although since I heard the wife say, “Was that good? What happened?” as I passed them, they probably couldn’t have told me anyway). We sat, with that tense, rigid waiting I’m really coming to dislike, and listened as Esther (she was filling in for Isaac today) named me as the petitioner and Patrick as the infant in the case. She really said nothing else—seriously—and the judge began jotting down a couple things on a piece of paper. In that second, I felt a stab of fear—and then the reminder in 2 Corinthians: “All God’s promises are ‘yes’ in Christ Jesus,” and that includes “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Then the judge looked up at us.
“Accepted. Good luck.”
And we were back outside his office.
No one said anything. I looked at Wilfred.
“That was good, right?”
His glance told me he thought so, but was reserving complete judgment.
Esther came out and we followed her to an open space where the twin couple also waited.
“You both got positive decisions,” she told us, and then Wilfred’s face broke into a grin, and we hugged, and I thought, “Oh, my word. He’s actually ours. He’s not home yet, but he’s actually ours!”
Lord, so little fanfare, so little drama. Thank You!
I don’t think it’s hit me, what a big deal this is yet. I’ll be honest, perhaps because I couldn’t think of a good reason for the judge to turn our petition down (we’re blessed to be married, and it’s the first marriage for both of us. We also have children already, so adoption is not some last-choice decision), I don’t think I’m as excited as I should be. I thought, “All right, now we can begin working on the passport, which for some reason is the bigger hurdle in my mind, perhaps because I don’t really understand the process for getting it and it’s the last hurdle that I KNOW OF before applying for the visa that will allow me to take Patrick HOME!
HOME! At the moment, the ache is purely family—the faces of Dave, Em, Jake, and Maddie swim together. THEY mean HOME! I didn’t write this earlier, but Monday morning I woke up from a nightmare in which I’d lost one of the kids. I didn’t know where they were, where I’d left them. I didn’t know which child I’d lost track of, and I woke up in the middle of the dream with a panicky feeling from my gut all the way up to my mouth, like my entire torso couldn’t get oxygen and was screaming for it. I must have made some noise because Lynda woke up beside me (unless she was already awake and struggling with the far-more-difficult loss of Ben—with her sleep habits, that’s entirely possible).
I was having a hard time catching my breath.
“Sorry, Jen,” Lynda murmured.
I got one of those little moments when just the tiniest amount of Lynda and Dan’s sorrow touches me in a way that lets me know I NEVER want to experience that as a parent.
“No, I’m sorry.” I said. “Mine is temporary.”
Still, all throughout the morning, at odd moments I couldn’t predict, panic fluttered up in my chest like a butterfly, exhausted from trying to escape a glass jar, who every once in a while, gains strength to rise and beat its wings against the sides.
Back to this morning—after court. We walked out onto the upper courtyard and Job told Wilfred what to do next. I’m so clueless, and when they describe it to me, I don’t completely understand anyhow, so I generally leave it up to Wilfred. My entire participation usually involves filling out the paperwork and handing over the money anyway. It’s not like I really need to understand.
After talking with Job, we descended the last flight of steps and walked through the gate and out onto the street—where Abusolom waited for us.
Interesting! I wondered how long he’d been there. Was he miffed that we hadn’t asked him to come to court this morning? He really wasn’t supposed to be there—and it would have been strange for him to be. “Here’s the biological father, checking to make sure the adoption of the son he didn’t even know he had until a few months ago (and who almost died because of his lack of too-much interest) goes through. Seems like he’s wanting something from it.” He is, of course, but not for himself, for the other boys. I can certainly appreciate that, but at that moment, outside the court gate’s, my pride, ugly in its sense of self-entitlement, reared its head.
“Why does he have to show up here? Now? He’s probably going to ask me for something else, going to imply that this new bond means he can make me feel guilted into continually giving him things. And it’s not just him. In this society, just because I’m white, anyone could walk up to me and ask me for money. I’m so ready to be home.”
Ugly, I know, but I don’t want to whitewash how I was feeling at that moment. It’s untrue as well—I’m not exactly mobbed on the streets by people who know that, just because I’m a muzungu visiting their country, I DO have more money than they may have ever seen in their lives. My pious self was delivering a lecture. “Jennifer, the Lord just answered prayer in that courtroom. He just did a great thing for you, and here you are being ungrateful, superior and ugly.”
Too true. I was. I am much of the time.
And I am so, so, so, so thankful that my God’s love for me does not depend on my being loveable. Because when I compare myself to Angel, I KNOW that my gratitude, my servant heart, my joy—they all pale in comparison, and if God’s grading on a curve, I’ve flunked.
And I am also so, so thankful that I don’t have to pretend, to bend my head under the lash of my piety’s tongue and pretend to feel thankful when I am not. No, the grace of God, extended to me in all of Christ’s full redemptive work, will even accomplish that. HE is the one who reveals to me my ingratitude, and all He wants me to do is to cry out my helplessness. “Oh, Lord, I see it, but I am helpless to stir up or create the gratitude I know I should have. In this, as in all things, I must throw myself on Your mercy, for anything I produce will stink in its falseness.”
Ah! So Abusolom congratulated me, wanted to know what the next steps were and then wished me “success” (which always catches me off guard because when the Ugandans say it, it really sounds as if they are saying “sexes,” and I know my first look, before my brain processes the word, is one of blank, ‘What did you just say to me?’) Really, how would you look if a fifty-year-old Ugandan man said, “I wish you sexes?”
Then Abusolum talked with Wilfred for a while, and then Wilfred asked me if I had 20,000 to give to Abusolom. I didn’t (I did have a 50,000, but I wasn’t sure if Wilfred wanted me giving him that much), just a 10,000 and a 5,000 and some coins. So I gave him all that, which probably ended up being around 19,000 and the coins were probably good because they gave him transport money, and he told me “Thank you,” and left.
Then Wilfred told me that they had no food at home (Abusolom’s oldest son had an accident and is unable to work right now), and I wished I’d given them the 50. I’ll be able to give them more this weekend.
The wire transfer that Dave sent has still not come, and I’m not sure what to do about that. Wilfred seems very nervous about it, and I’m not sure if he’s just afraid it won’t come in time (I’m starting to wonder that as well) or if he desperately needs money for something else right now and was hoping to “rob Peter to pay Paul,” as my sister said, and find the money for the lawyer later from someone else.
I don’t know. (I wonder how many times I’ve thought that since I arrived here.)
I’m pretty well caught up to this present moment. After seeing Abusolom and getting Wilfred some lunch and his car from being washed, we dropped Patrick off at the house, got dollars to exchange, went back downtown and exchanged them, and then Wilfred dropped me back off at the house on his way to meet with “people” who supposedly will do what we need them to do if we pay them enough money. Who knows, but my brain cannot get used to a place where the price is always bargained, and nothing seems to be for free (other than Wilfred’s care for the kids—he’s so passionate about that he will pull all kinds of strings to get them school fees, food, medical visits, etc. I’ve been used for that since I’ve gotten here, but we kind of knew we would—and what better use for that money? If I weren’t paying for those things, I’d be giving it to Wilfred simply to pay him for all he’s doing, and then he’d be doing the same things with it. He’s just letting me play the role of philanthropist, which is really funny when you consider that my child is on reduced-price lunches at the public school at home.)
So I came home to be with Angel and Florence. We ate lunch, Florence left for a meeting, and Angel and I put the kids to bed. Then we went down the hill to fetch water (water from the tap is currently gone), and I managed one medium-sized and two smaller-sized jerry cans while Angel carried a giant one on her head and a smaller-sized one in her hand. The whole balancing-on-the-head thing is amazing! I haven’t tried it because I suspect it’s one of those things you HAVE to learn in childhood or it doesn’t stick. Plus, I figure, what’s the use of my spilling a jerry can full of effort-produced water. Have I written that we are generally the only adults getting water? It’s a whole lot of little kids—and us. Those kids build their muscles early, carrying a full jerry can in each hand up the hill from the water spigots. I suspect most of them come from homes where there is never running water, so they are doing this every day, not just when the water’s off, like in my and Angel’s case.
It’s funny, when the water is out, I conserve it even more than usual, giving myself spit baths and holding off on washing clothes, but the Africans don’t seem to. Angel still washed clothes this morning and heated water for her bath and the kids. I’m in what my Southern-lady upbringing calls a “glistening” state—close to sweating, while she and the others keep calling this weather “cold” and shiver at the thought of taking a cold bath.
Dave and Jody have both tried to call me, but the network is funny right now. The call connects, but I can’t hear anything on their end, and I shout louder and louder, thinking that somehow that will make a difference. So neither of them knows that the court ruling was in our favor this morning, that we are legal guardians of the boy we’ve been thinking of as our son for nearly a year now.

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