(I am quite behind on blogging lately.  The following post was written within a few days of returning home from the Created for Care retreat.)

…It’s good to be home.

As nice as it is to get away occasionally, it’s always just as nice and refreshing to return home. When I arrived at the retreat on Friday I was praying that the Lord would simply confirm to me the changes that we’d recently made in regards to our home study. As excited as I am about bringing home our girls, I am still human and the practicalities of everyday life with two or three older children from another language and culture were starting to overwhelm me; I was fighting off fear daily. So, I must share some of the sweetness that the Lord poured out just for me throughout my time away.

On Saturday I attended two break out sessions. The first session was on HIV and Orphan Care. The speakers were Amy Levy, who has two HIV positive children from Uganda and the other speaker was Susan Hillis, who is the Senior HIV research scientist for the CDC. Susan and her husband have three biological children and eight adopted children from Russia. I’m going to have to do a separate post on all the invaluable information and truths I learned about HIV. It’s a horrible shame how many people, including many doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals are completely misinformed about HIV and how it can can’t be transmitted as well as how it affects (or doesn’t affect) everyday life. I’m so thankful they provided that session.
The second session was on Older Child Adoption. The speaker was Jodi Jackson Tucker who recently wrote a book on older child adoption. She and her husband adopted a sibling group of three from Uganda; ages 8, 12, and 14. There were many women in the session who were able to answer my questions about language barriers, homeschooling, attachment, and whether or not older children want a new American name when they come home or whether they want to keep their African name. While every child is different, all of the mothers in that session surprised me by saying all of the older children they had adopted from Africa were elated to take an American name picked out by their new parents, especially when it was chosen because of it’s strong meaning. I have been praying that the Lord would give us a name for our oldest daughter. Of course we’ll leave it entirely up to the girls as to whether or not they take an American name, but I knew it would be good to have another name just in case.

During a time they called “Date with God”, I was able to spend a length of time alone in the Word. I turned to 1 Samuel and began to read about Hannah. I’ve read the story countless times, but this time it was through different lenses. You see, Hannah was bitter and despaired over her barrenness. She felt alone and forgotten by God. She cried out: “oh Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant.” I wept as I read Hannah’s prayer in cha pter two. I encourage you to read the prayer in its entirety but here is what pierced my heart the most:

Those who were hungry hunger no more,
He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.
He seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor.

While reading about Hannah, I pictured our daughters, especially the oldest, who often takes on the mother role. I imagined the barrenness she feels, wondering if the Lord has forgotten her. I think of the lies the enemy has likely attempted to whisper in her ear; lies of rejection, hopelessness, and defeat.
I was sure I had already heard from the Lord, but just to be sure, I looked up the meaning of the name Hannah. The first site I came to simply said, “grace.”

No, that can’t be all, I thought to myself.

So I went back to my google search. As I scrolled down the page it grabbed my eyes and tears flowed as I read,
“In its Hebrew origin, the name Hannah means GOD HAS FAVORED ME!!”

Yes, that’s it!

Hannah: God has favored me

Zoe : Life

Ameris: Promised by God.

I can’t say for sure if we’re going to use Hannah as her first name, but I can say beyond a shadow of doubt that something within me resonated as I read those chapters in 1 Samuel and searched for the meaning of the name Hannah.

There were over 450 women at the retreat.  I never win anything in drawings and such so I didn’t really pay attention during the door prize drawings in the general sessions. On Saturday evening, Andrea was drawing a winner for a beautiful hand-made bag from Uganda. She loved the bag herself and jokingly read the name “Andrea Young!” (her own name) Everyone laughed and then she said, “Just joking! The winner is Audrey Wilkerson!” I think it took me a second to realize she had just called my name. I walked to the front and received my beautiful new bag; a forever reminder of the precious children of God that live just across the ocean who struggle day to day for necessities like rice, beans, and clean water. As I ran my hands over the bag, I imagined the cracked, calloused hands that stitched each patch of fabric together and attached each hand-rolled bead. When I opened the bag and looked inside tears filled my eyes as I read the words: Meet your tailor. It was the story of a man named Charles Oneka. What an honor to carry a bag with such an incredible history.
Later that night we heard from the founder of Light Gives Heat and we watched their documentary about a village in Uganda that was transformed when they helped start a small business of bead-making and eventually added hand-made bags that were sewn by a man who was infected with HIV as a young child through a dirty needle at a health clinic. The man’s name was Charles Oneka. Yes, the tears came once again. I highly encourage you to take the time to watch the documentary Moving On. You can watch for free on their website.

On the last day of the retreat they had a few more drawings and one last general session.  Once again I was not paying attention to the drawing.  After all, you can only win once.  The final drawing was called out and a few minutes later Andrea said, Oh, we have to draw again.

Audrey Wilkerson!

Confused, I slowly stood up and showed her the bag I’d won the night before (in front of 450 women, no less).

I already won something last night.  You need to draw again.”

With a smile on her face she said, “Are you adopting?”

me: “yes, I am.”

Andrea: “Then you need to come up here.  This is yours!”

Tears welled as I walked in front of 450 women, most of whom are also adopting; most of whom didn’t win anything that weekend, let alone two things. Ashamedly, I was actually a little embarrassed to be claiming a second prize.  I really wanted them to draw another name.  I didn’t even know what I had won or how my name was drawn a second time?

I followed the young woman out of the ballroom to a small table in the vendor area.  It was MKI Travel.  They had a separate container for people to place their names in for a special, separate drawing specifically from their agency.  The lady at the table was sweet and gracious and asked if we were in the process of adopting and whether or not we still had fees to be paid.  I’m sure I looked ridiculous as I explained that we were about to send our dossier to Ethiopia and had just changed our homestudy to allow us to adopt not one, but two, little girls.  I told her that, because of this change, we would soon owe our agency $14,000, so yes, we still have fees to be paid.  She wrote down our agency’s information and said,

“We’ll be sending your agency a check, in your name, for $500 toward your fees.”

I could hardly believe my ears.  I had forgotten that Nicole had placed all four of our names in the MKI bucket on the first day.  That is how my name got called twice….that and the fact that God sought me out during that weekend.  He wrapped His arms around me and reminded me over and over that I am indeed on the right path.  He has indeed planned, before the foundations of the Earth, for our little princesses to join the Wilkerson family.

I left floating on air; humbled, that the God of the universe cares enough for me to seek me out at a little adoption retreat in Atlanta simply to remind me that He loves me and has a plan for my family.

I will leave you with this:

Remember the theme for the retreat?  Even the sparrow has found a home…

This was in my garage when I left for the retreat:

And this is what I found when I returned, two days later:

Yep, you guessed it, they’re sparrows who found a home….in my home.

There’s so much more I want to write, but I’ll end there for now.