Lewis Goes to Ghana

 

We did it! We survived a trip across the Atlantic with a 12-month old in tow. I cannot overemphasize how grateful we are for the prayers that surrounded us on this journey. Every single person on the planet knows that babies are germ magnets, and I truly believe that nothing short of divine intervention kept all three of us perfectly healthy through 32 hours of flying and five days in Ghana.

This post is titled as such because if you asked the girls, staff, etc. about our trip, they would talk exclusively about Lewis. If you pressed them, they might admit that, oh yeah, Auntie and Uncle were around, too.

When we arrived in Akatsi, the girls were at school, but Mama and Mercy came running as soon as they heard the gate open. They grabbed Lewis from my arms and ran inside, slamming the door behind them, without so much as saying “hello” to Ted or me. We just looked at each other and laughed. It was the perfect indicator for how the rest of the week was going to unfold.

The girls are growing into such amazing young women. You know how startling it is to see someone after a long absence? The differences are striking, but you acclimate to the new normal. That definitely happened this trip: I was initially thunderstruck by everyone’s growth and maturation, but quickly adjusted to new heights and deeper voices. In the course of preparing for this blog, I was looking through some old pictures and realized anew how dramatically they’ve changed.

I read a book recently that referenced the Japanese term “mono no aware,” which is roughly translated to mean “bittersweetness inherent in ephemeral beauty.” I don’t believe there is an English equivalent for this phrase, which is a real shame because I know the feeling well.

My favorite thing to do at The Yellow House is sit on a stool in the courtyard and just be. To listen to the girls and Mama speaking Ewe as they prepare dinner, sweep, or do dishes. To hear their jokes and laughter and the noises of the Yellow House, smell onions cooking in oil, and feel the African sun on my back. I was concerned, prior to this trip, about the quality of time I’d be able to spend with the girls and the staff, but since there were 10 eager babysitters around, I didn’t need to worry. I had plenty of opportunities to soak everything in and participate in full conversations. I kept thinking about that phrase, “mono no aware,” as I watched the girls. Part of me wanted to have my camera every second, kept thinking that if I could take enough pictures or record enough footage it would prevent these moments from slipping too quickly into the past and delay the girls from growing, changing too quickly. But the wiser part of me knows that the best thing to do—and really the only thing to do—is surrender to the change and, instead of wasting time trying to preserve life in its current state, be fully present, grateful, and aware of what’s going on.

I still took a LOT of pictures, though:)

Our first stop in Akatsi was Bernard’s house. When we pulled up, he was outside reading his Bibles (an English and Ewe version) and taking notes.

Our first stop in Akatsi was Bernard’s house. When we pulled up, he was outside reading his Bibles (an English and Ewe version) and taking notes.

Within—I don’t know exactly—probably thirty seconds of meeting Mercy.

Within—I don’t know exactly—probably thirty seconds of meeting Mercy.

Shadows on the Yellow House on our first day in Akatsi. Late afternoon is one of my favorite times of day in Ghana.

Shadows on the Yellow House on our first day in Akatsi. Late afternoon is one of my favorite times of day in Ghana.

The house has seen some much-needed improvements. This structure was added on to the right of the existing bathroom with two new showers and toilets.

The house has seen some much-needed improvements. This structure was added on to the right of the existing bathroom with two new showers and toilets.

Inside. Ever our faithful money-manager, when Bernard learned how much new tile for the floors would cost he brought over loads of leftover tile from construction on his own house. I actually really like the way it looks—like a mosaic!

Inside. Ever our faithful money-manager, when Bernard learned how much new tile for the floors would cost he brought over loads of leftover tile from construction on his own house. I actually really like the way it looks—like a mosaic!

One of our new plants at the compound. This fruit is grown on a bush and is referred to, locally, as Noni, although looking at the  Wikipedia  page suggests that there are all sorts of names for it. Mercy said that it’s usually used in Ghana medicinally and is very expensive. Celestine found a small plant and brought it to the Yellow House.

One of our new plants at the compound. This fruit is grown on a bush and is referred to, locally, as Noni, although looking at the Wikipedia page suggests that there are all sorts of names for it. Mercy said that it’s usually used in Ghana medicinally and is very expensive. Celestine found a small plant and brought it to the Yellow House.

THE GARDEN!!!! When we first pulled up to the house, Kwabla chuckled and said, “eh—farmers.” Mama and the girls have continued cultivating all sorts of fruits and veggies—the biggest difference this trip was the maize they’ve planted and the sweet potato vines that have absolutely exploded!

THE GARDEN!!!! When we first pulled up to the house, Kwabla chuckled and said, “eh—farmers.” Mama and the girls have continued cultivating all sorts of fruits and veggies—the biggest difference this trip was the maize they’ve planted and the sweet potato vines that have absolutely exploded!

I looked all through my photos trying to find a good “before” picture and this was the best I could do—it was taken a few weeks after we moved in, almost six years ago…although the angle is different, you can still see the same corner of the yard.

I looked all through my photos trying to find a good “before” picture and this was the best I could do—it was taken a few weeks after we moved in, almost six years ago…although the angle is different, you can still see the same corner of the yard.

Truly, it was not my intention to take so many pictures of Lewis, but the girls were determined to carry him everywhere and he ended up in a LOT of the photos. He was doted on non-stop and is missing his older sisters now that we are back home ;) Here, Lucky and Sarah Jr. help him pick a mango.

Truly, it was not my intention to take so many pictures of Lewis, but the girls were determined to carry him everywhere and he ended up in a LOT of the photos. He was doted on non-stop and is missing his older sisters now that we are back home ;) Here, Lucky and Sarah Jr. help him pick a mango.

He wasn’t spoiled at ALL (*rolls eyes*)

He wasn’t spoiled at ALL (*rolls eyes*)

I love these images where multiple stories are going on at once. In a house with eight girls, someone is always in the kitchen, and here Sarah Jr., God’s Way, and Dina are teasing/talking through the window. Gloria and Regina are walking Lewis around the compound, chasing the chickens.

I love these images where multiple stories are going on at once. In a house with eight girls, someone is always in the kitchen, and here Sarah Jr., God’s Way, and Dina are teasing/talking through the window. Gloria and Regina are walking Lewis around the compound, chasing the chickens.

Gloria and Lewis. I love the bend of her right knee.

Gloria and Lewis. I love the bend of her right knee.

Sarah Sr. and Richlove, starting on akple. The girls have always been helpful and very involved in the maintenance of the Yellow House, but there has been a definite shift in how the chores are handled. Mercy and Helen used to spend a lot more time delegating, instructing, correcting. Helen still sits in her “spot” by the kitchen door and oversees everything, offering feedback and advice when asked, but the girls are so sufficient. They can execute meals from start to finish now, with little to no help.

Sarah Sr. and Richlove, starting on akple. The girls have always been helpful and very involved in the maintenance of the Yellow House, but there has been a definite shift in how the chores are handled. Mercy and Helen used to spend a lot more time delegating, instructing, correcting. Helen still sits in her “spot” by the kitchen door and oversees everything, offering feedback and advice when asked, but the girls are so sufficient. They can execute meals from start to finish now, with little to no help.

Gloria with the peace-sign photo bomb. Typical pre-teen!

Gloria with the peace-sign photo bomb. Typical pre-teen!

Love this moment of Sarah Jr. with her arm around God’s Way. Sweet sisters.

Love this moment of Sarah Jr. with her arm around God’s Way. Sweet sisters.

The concern on Ted’s face contrasted with the girls cracking up makes me laugh. Sarah Jr., God’s Way, Dina, Regina.

The concern on Ted’s face contrasted with the girls cracking up makes me laugh. Sarah Jr., God’s Way, Dina, Regina.

Gifts!! Earrings, coin purses, crayons, markers, colored pencils (each time we visit I wonder if they will be “over” coloring. They don’t sit and draw for hours and hours like they used to, but they still enjoy it!). Pam James from my parent’s church put together these sewing kits for each of them, which were a huge hit and are SO PRACTICAL.

Gifts!! Earrings, coin purses, crayons, markers, colored pencils (each time we visit I wonder if they will be “over” coloring. They don’t sit and draw for hours and hours like they used to, but they still enjoy it!). Pam James from my parent’s church put together these sewing kits for each of them, which were a huge hit and are SO PRACTICAL.

We don’t often bring clothes because Ghanaian seamstresses are unparalleled in their craftsmanship, but when I saw these flip-sequined shirts at Target, I caved.

We don’t often bring clothes because Ghanaian seamstresses are unparalleled in their craftsmanship, but when I saw these flip-sequined shirts at Target, I caved.

Their English is pretty great, but we got to teach them ONE new word on this trip:  SKORT . The skirt/short combo of the 90’s is, apparently, back in style. L-R: Sarah Jr., Sarah Sr., Gloria (with Lewis), God’s Way, Regina (who leaned to laugh and accidentally covered Richlove), Lucky, Dina.

Their English is pretty great, but we got to teach them ONE new word on this trip: SKORT. The skirt/short combo of the 90’s is, apparently, back in style. L-R: Sarah Jr., Sarah Sr., Gloria (with Lewis), God’s Way, Regina (who leaned to laugh and accidentally covered Richlove), Lucky, Dina.

SASSY. L-R: Sarah Sr. (whose poses were on POINT this whole trip), God’s Way, Sarah Jr., Richlove, Lucky, Dina, Regina, and Gloria.

SASSY. L-R: Sarah Sr. (whose poses were on POINT this whole trip), God’s Way, Sarah Jr., Richlove, Lucky, Dina, Regina, and Gloria.

Gloria, Lucky, Regina, Dina.

Gloria, Lucky, Regina, Dina.

Everyone looking at the pictures we brought of Landon, Kate, and their daughter Ella.

Everyone looking at the pictures we brought of Landon, Kate, and their daughter Ella.

Kudos to Ted for this great shot: the EXACT moment Gloria loudly pronounced Landon’s beard to be too long. So Landon, if you’re reading this, Gloria thinks you’re past due for a trim ;)

Kudos to Ted for this great shot: the EXACT moment Gloria loudly pronounced Landon’s beard to be too long. So Landon, if you’re reading this, Gloria thinks you’re past due for a trim ;)

The bamboo bunk beds were officially retired—maybe a year ago? and the girls moved into the extra bedroom that was once Landon and Kate’s room, and then the room Ted and I stayed in when we visited. Although I miss sleeping at The Yellow House, the girls definitely needed the space! They offered to let Lewis bunk with them but that would have been a little too chaotic, I think. And no sleep would have been had by ANYONE.

The bamboo bunk beds were officially retired—maybe a year ago? and the girls moved into the extra bedroom that was once Landon and Kate’s room, and then the room Ted and I stayed in when we visited. Although I miss sleeping at The Yellow House, the girls definitely needed the space! They offered to let Lewis bunk with them but that would have been a little too chaotic, I think. And no sleep would have been had by ANYONE.

Saturday afternoons :) Sarah Jr. and Mercy.

Saturday afternoons :) Sarah Jr. and Mercy.

Lewis’ epic 3.5 hour nap on Mercy’s bed, preserved in film.

Lewis’ epic 3.5 hour nap on Mercy’s bed, preserved in film.

Me, Sarah Jr., and Gloria.

Me, Sarah Jr., and Gloria.

It was amazing—this house just feels like a house of teenage girls. The RADIO was on almost constantly and Ted had a long conversation with the girls about their favorite singers. Shatta Wale was the most popular.

It was amazing—this house just feels like a house of teenage girls. The RADIO was on almost constantly and Ted had a long conversation with the girls about their favorite singers. Shatta Wale was the most popular.

The girl holding Lewis on the far right is named Sandra: she is our new neighbor and comes over often! We miss having Bernard and Celestine next door, but they are still less than five minutes away, and the new neighbors are pretty great, too.

The girl holding Lewis on the far right is named Sandra: she is our new neighbor and comes over often! We miss having Bernard and Celestine next door, but they are still less than five minutes away, and the new neighbors are pretty great, too.

Mama sorting groundnuts (aka, peanuts)

Mama sorting groundnuts (aka, peanuts)

God’s Way toasted them and we ate them in the courtyard in the afternoon. I LOVE Saturdays in Ghana.

God’s Way toasted them and we ate them in the courtyard in the afternoon. I LOVE Saturdays in Ghana.

I’m happy that they haven’t washed these scribbles off the walls.

I’m happy that they haven’t washed these scribbles off the walls.

Dina

Dina

Mama—overseeing operations. Love her so.

Mama—overseeing operations. Love her so.

Lewis and his Auntie

Lewis and his Auntie

There are approximately 10,000 pictures of Lewis on Mercy’s phone

There are approximately 10,000 pictures of Lewis on Mercy’s phone

Mercy’s photography team. Cracks me up—they’ve all had a LOT of practice taking pictures on her phone.

Mercy’s photography team. Cracks me up—they’ve all had a LOT of practice taking pictures on her phone.

Sweet feet

Sweet feet

Cassava scraps

Cassava scraps

Sundays are for making fufu for dinner. It’s a LONG process.

Sundays are for making fufu for dinner. It’s a LONG process.

Mercy preparing to go to the market—making her list and calculating the costs. I hope all of our donors know how well our Ghanaian staff stewards our finances. Mercy and Bernard track everything down to the last pesewa.

Mercy preparing to go to the market—making her list and calculating the costs. I hope all of our donors know how well our Ghanaian staff stewards our finances. Mercy and Bernard track everything down to the last pesewa.

Gloria and Sarah Jr.—wearing Lewis the Ghanaian way.

Gloria and Sarah Jr.—wearing Lewis the Ghanaian way.

When a picture is taken at the Yellow House, there’s a 95% chance an exclamation of “GLORIA!!” will follow as soon as the shutter is clicked. Photo-bomber in chief.

When a picture is taken at the Yellow House, there’s a 95% chance an exclamation of “GLORIA!!” will follow as soon as the shutter is clicked. Photo-bomber in chief.

Lewis living his best life with Mercy.

Lewis living his best life with Mercy.

This fruit is called a  soursop , and it’s one of the newer additions to the garden! It’s surprisingly massive for how small the tree itself is, and it tasted really good—tart and sweet.

This fruit is called a soursop, and it’s one of the newer additions to the garden! It’s surprisingly massive for how small the tree itself is, and it tasted really good—tart and sweet.

Fruit of the soursop. Feel very fortunate that we visited when it was ripe—there’s always something new to try in Ghana!

Fruit of the soursop. Feel very fortunate that we visited when it was ripe—there’s always something new to try in Ghana!

Our chickens drive me crazy, but the Yellow House wouldn’t be the same without them. The girls spent HOURS helping Lewis chase them around the yard.

Our chickens drive me crazy, but the Yellow House wouldn’t be the same without them. The girls spent HOURS helping Lewis chase them around the yard.

Kitchen shelves. The peanuts that were roasted were jarred for snacks, or ground into “paste” (aka, peanut butter) to be used in stews.

Kitchen shelves. The peanuts that were roasted were jarred for snacks, or ground into “paste” (aka, peanut butter) to be used in stews.

“We are family”

“We are family”

All eight dressed in their church clothes. The older six were baptized in early May, and they all got new white dresses for the occasion. Sarah Jr. and Gloria got new dresses too, just of the more colorful variety:)  Top Row: Richlove, Lucky, Dina, God’s Way,  Bottom Row: Sarah Jr., Gloria, Sarah Sr., Regina

All eight dressed in their church clothes. The older six were baptized in early May, and they all got new white dresses for the occasion. Sarah Jr. and Gloria got new dresses too, just of the more colorful variety:)

Top Row: Richlove, Lucky, Dina, God’s Way,
Bottom Row: Sarah Jr., Gloria, Sarah Sr., Regina

Richlove, Gloria (again with the peace sign, sigh), God’s Way, and Sarah Jr. Lucky is on the far left, almost out of frame.

Richlove, Gloria (again with the peace sign, sigh), God’s Way, and Sarah Jr. Lucky is on the far left, almost out of frame.

Voguing! Richlove, Lucky (kneeling), God’s Way, Sarah Jr., Gloria

Voguing! Richlove, Lucky (kneeling), God’s Way, Sarah Jr., Gloria

Group hug!! Lucky, God’s Way, Sarah Sr., Lewis’ arm, Sarah Jr., Regina.

Group hug!! Lucky, God’s Way, Sarah Sr., Lewis’ arm, Sarah Jr., Regina.

One of my favorites from the trip: God’s Way, Gloria, Sarah Sr., Sarah Jr., Lewis & Ted, Lucky, Regina, Richlove, and Dina.

One of my favorites from the trip: God’s Way, Gloria, Sarah Sr., Sarah Jr., Lewis & Ted, Lucky, Regina, Richlove, and Dina.

Welp. The only two who are not as tall or TALLER than me are Sarah Jr. and Gloria. They will always be my “girls,” but wow, I am so PROUD of these lovely, strong, capable, intelligent, compassionate, gracious, brave, beautiful young women. Sarah Sr., God’s Way, me, Sarah Jr., Lucky, Richlove, Regina, Dina. Gloria was holding Lewis, undoubtedly somewhere in the compound chasing after chickens and throwing up a peace-sign.

Welp. The only two who are not as tall or TALLER than me are Sarah Jr. and Gloria. They will always be my “girls,” but wow, I am so PROUD of these lovely, strong, capable, intelligent, compassionate, gracious, brave, beautiful young women. Sarah Sr., God’s Way, me, Sarah Jr., Lucky, Richlove, Regina, Dina. Gloria was holding Lewis, undoubtedly somewhere in the compound chasing after chickens and throwing up a peace-sign.

Mercy is so loved and admired!! God’s Way, Richlove, Sarah Sr., Mercy, Gloria, Sarah Jr., Lucky, Regina, Dina.

Mercy is so loved and admired!! God’s Way, Richlove, Sarah Sr., Mercy, Gloria, Sarah Jr., Lucky, Regina, Dina.

THEY LOVE THE HAND-HOLDING, KNEELING DOWN POSES! They orchestrate a picture like this on every trip.

THEY LOVE THE HAND-HOLDING, KNEELING DOWN POSES! They orchestrate a picture like this on every trip.

I also have a picture like this from every trip—Ted leaning on the edge of the porch. It’s one of his regular haunts. Funny to see Lewis in the lower left. The more things change…

I also have a picture like this from every trip—Ted leaning on the edge of the porch. It’s one of his regular haunts. Funny to see Lewis in the lower left. The more things change…

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Mama agreed to be in a picture after the girls haggled her into submission:) Lucky, Sarah Jr., Mama, Gloria, Dina, Regina

Mama agreed to be in a picture after the girls haggled her into submission:) Lucky, Sarah Jr., Mama, Gloria, Dina, Regina

Lucky made this mask for school! She brought it home to paint it and then it was going back for a display. I love it!

Lucky made this mask for school! She brought it home to paint it and then it was going back for a display. I love it!

Painting in-progress. THUMBS UP!

Painting in-progress. THUMBS UP!

Richlove and Lewis.

Richlove and Lewis.

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Mercy feeds Lewis banana

Mercy feeds Lewis banana

Lewis abandons Richlove for more banana

Lewis abandons Richlove for more banana

God’s Way playing with Lewis through the screen

God’s Way playing with Lewis through the screen

Breakfasts at the Yellow House are my favorite! Viva Cafe in Milo mugs and egg sandwiches.

Breakfasts at the Yellow House are my favorite! Viva Cafe in Milo mugs and egg sandwiches.

Homework

Homework

Getting ready to walk to school on our last morning. Shouting “REGINA!!” because she was dawdling.

Getting ready to walk to school on our last morning. Shouting “REGINA!!” because she was dawdling.

On every visit, I wonder if it will be the last time they ask us to walk them to school in the morning. I was fully prepared for them to simply go on their way this time around, but was so happy (and a little relieved) when they asked us to walk with them. Of course, it could’ve been because they wanted to take turns carrying Lewis and showing him to their classmates. I don’t care about the reason!!

On every visit, I wonder if it will be the last time they ask us to walk them to school in the morning. I was fully prepared for them to simply go on their way this time around, but was so happy (and a little relieved) when they asked us to walk with them. Of course, it could’ve been because they wanted to take turns carrying Lewis and showing him to their classmates. I don’t care about the reason!!

A hilariously bad iPhone selfie—taken when Ted and I realized that we did not take a single picture together the whole week.

A hilariously bad iPhone selfie—taken when Ted and I realized that we did not take a single picture together the whole week.

Most of you probably heard about Enagbe, a three-year old who was temporarily placed with us this spring. Her adoption was finalized in early May and she’s now with her new family! We are so happy that social welfare placed her with us, that we were able to be a home for her in a transitory period, and that this story has a happy ending. We are hopeful that we can continue to partner with social welfare on cases like this one!

Speaking of Social Welfare, Destiny has taken a new job in Akatsi! We always knew that Eight Oaks would not be his final destination, and he has been open with Ted and me about wanting study abroad for his master’s degree since we first hired him, back in June of 2014.

I remember sitting with both of them in front room of the Yellow House, and Ted saying to Destiny, “I am going to be very honest with you: I do not see the need for a full-time social welfare officer, and I am hiring you mainly to appease the local office. If you want to gain my trust, you have to do one thing: get Sarah Sr. back.” Destiny was faithful to that charge, and more than just bringing Sarah back to the Yellow House, he established a line of communication with her birth mother and built a relationship founded on trust with her family. We are so, so grateful that the Lord brought him to us when we most needed him, and we are excited for him as he pursues his next calling in life.

We have a temporary social welfare officer who is checking in on the house periodically, and Celestine has taken up a lot of the paperwork in Destiny’s absence. Every time we go through a transition, we are amazed all over again by our staff and the fact that they handle these changes with such grace and ease.

We will continue to support the triplets and Collins, so if you give specifically to either of those ministries, rest assured that they will continue.

I cry every time we leave Ghana. Not just because it’s sad to say goodbye, but because I feel so full, so proud of the girls and our staff, so blessed to know them. This time, as I was squeezing everyone for a final hug, Lucky wiped my tears and said, “Auntie. It’s okay. We are okay. We’ll see you soon, yes?”. Wise girl, my brave, sweet, tender Lucky.

Yes. Yes, they’re doing well, and it’s okay to say goodbye. We’ll see them soon. Things will keep changing; but those changes are good ones. The girls will keep growing, and we’ll keep needing to renovate the house and buy new furniture. Like the garden, what was once barren is springing forth with life. Green things, good things, are reclaiming places that have been ravaged by the famine, illness, violence. I’ve seen Ghanaian children play soccer on the foundations of slave forts built in the 1600’s, and I’ve tasted tomatoes that have grown through the cracks in concrete. The girls were baptized in the same waters that carried their ancestors across the sea during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

This is the Good News: Jesus doesn’t just rescue us from our destitution; He completes our restoration. He tears down the walls of corruption and builds palaces in their places; He shines light in dark places and invites life to spring up from desolation.

I’m so blessed to be a witness and recipient of this Grace. I feel it wash over me every time I sit in the courtyard and watch the girls prepare dinner, hear Mama’s gentle voice and the wind moving through the palm trees. I feel the weight of it when I look out over the ocean and see the crumbling walls of the slave forts that housed thousands of Africans on their way to unspeakable horrors in the Americas.

Best, and strangest, of all…we aren’t just witnesses to this grace. We get to be a part of it. We can be a part of the redemption of creation.

Jesus saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.

I see new life. Beauty in the change.

And eight girls, who are leading the way for all of us. Into light, into life, into the Kingdom.