1. Dear five-year-ago self…

    July 29, 2015 by The Rippke's

    Hey self. Five years ago self. Younger self, about to start down a really crazy path to parenthood. I’ve been thinking about this for a while…but you know, it’s been a little crazy around here. I know you think you have an idea of what you’re doing. What you’re about to do. But I’m lovingly here to tell you…that you kiiiind of actually don’t. You’re heart is in the right spot, it is. And I admire that “we can do this!” attitude. You’re going to need it. But you’re kind of naive about what this is actually about (hint: it’s not about you even 1%). And in the next five years God’s going to open your eyes in ways you aren’t ready for. It’ll be good. And hard. And along the way your selfishness is going to shine real bright…Ok, so it still does most days…you’re still working on it.

    Along the way you’ll say things you’ll look back on and feel yucky about. You’ll remember how little you knew about the actual process, and ethics, and what the word “orphan” actually means. You’ll remember those first meetings with your social worker. The things she must have been thinking. That dreaded checklist of special needs. And checking no to every box. Especially the ones you eventually said “YESSSSS!” to and advocate daily for. You’ll remember conversations with people where you talked about it all wrong. Where you tried to tell God “no”. You’ll realize you were often insensitive. That you celebrated things that were actually tragedy because it got you closer to YOUR desires. You’ll use words like “gotcha” because you don’t realize how traffick-y that sounds yet. You’ll take classes, and read books, and talk to other adoptive parents. But the day your first kiddo comes home you’ll quickly realize that talking about the hard stuff and living the hard stuff are two VERY different things. And that “knowing” everything in the book does you little good when you haven’t slept in weeks…and you don’t speak the same language as your child…and you’re in a downward spiral of grief. All of you. (This is why you have all those fellow adoptive mama friends that you can text at midnight. And they answer.)

    You’ll start piecing it together along the way. Like I said, God’s going to open your eyes to that and shine some serious light on that selfishness of yours. And you have some amazing friends, getting their hands dirty, that lovingly educate you along the way.

    But I’m here to tell you that your ideas of what adoption and orphan care looks like are going to be flipped on their head. You envision orphans as parentless, unwanted, infants. Period. And you’re wrong. Most are older. Many have needs you’re saying no to. Lots of them are waiting with no one saying “yes” to them. Many are loved, and wanted, and prayed for, and thought about daily by their birth families. In fact, you’re thinking you’re pretty sure you don’t want a relationship with your childrens’ birth families. But you’re wrong. You actually think about them every day. And feel this ever present bit of guilt that you get to watch these amazing children grow up, and they don’t. That they call you mommy. That you wipe their tears. And boo boos. And boogers…so many boogers…

    And right now, you think you just might be able to fix things a little. But you’re wrong. You can love and advocate and work really really hard at this whole parenting thing. But you don’t fix the brokeness. God does. And He does over time. And it’s amazing that you get to be there daily to watch it unfold.

    But you know what? It’s worth it. You were SO right about that. And you’re kids are awesome. Like, you stare at them daily and wonder how on earth they are so amazing. And then they tell you…”God made me this way.” And then that little guilt shows up again. You wish their birth parents were here to see this. That you could be one giant happy family. A righteous anger will grow in you that children are separated from their families because of poverty. Child sponsorship will become a whole heck of a lot more than a commercial…

    And now, when other people say the things you used to say it stings. You want to cover your childrens’ ears. You know adoption isn’t about resucing a kid. You’re going to hear about how “lucky” your kids are a lot. And you’ll grow to hate that. You KNOW you are not their savior. You know they are not lucky to have lost every single thing they know. This is born from tragedy. You know that because you ALL navigate that daily. Advocating for children takes on new meaning. You used to advocate for adoption. And that was about it. It was at the front of the line. You now know it’s the end of the line. Orphan care doesn’t just look like adoption. It looks like care. And PREVENTION. And that the adoption part of this all was never about you. Never will be. Not about your needs. Your desires. Your arms being filled. Or a phone call. Not about what you want from it. Or your perfect child…that perfect fit for your family. It’s about them. And God. Period.

    So five year ago self, get ready, because the next five years is actually way better than you even imagine it could be. But in a different way. And these precious children that call you mommy, they’re the most amazing people ever. So while most of this little letter is about you, this thing overall…well, it’s not. Try to remember that.

     

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  2. He’s home.

    July 15, 2014 by The Rippke's

    So well hey, it’s been a while. December 1st, World AIDS day. I promise we haven’t fallen off the face of the Earth since then. But we got wrapped up in the holidays and then some huge things happened, and we stayed pretty quiet on here for a bit as it all unfolded. So now that our son is HOME, yes home, I will attempt to give a quick recap of the eight months, and how God moved some crazy mountains to bring him home.

    If you’re unfamiliar with the adoption process in Ethiopia, or if you haven’t kept up on the changes in the past year, then here’s basically how it works. Referral, PAIR, court, embassy, home. Solomon Nase was a waiting child. This means the agency didn’t have a family on their wait list that was open to his “parameters” (age, gender, special needs, etc.). When an agency doesn’t have a family to match a child with that child becomes what is known as a waiting child. When Nate and I started the adoption process for the first time three and a half years ago we were completely unaware that this was even a thing. We figured, there are wait lists, there must be no waiting kids. The math seemed simple enough…God must have just looked at us and said “Oh bless their little hearts, I’m about to rock their world.” haha. Anyways, I digress, fast forward several months and we’ve gone from pinky toe deep to waist deep in the adoption world, and we now know that not only are there waiting children, there are a lot of them. Both our sweet babies. It’s heartbreaking. So when we (or at least I, maybe Nate too…) prayed for God to break our hearts for what break his He did. And for our family that meant waiting kids. So when we decided last summer to “just get our paperwork ready in case…” we had it written with that hope in mind. Of course it took all of two weeks for Him to show us our sons face, and thus the official process to bring him home started. All that to say, our process started a little backwards from what some people may have in mind of how things typically work. Our “referral” wasn’t official until either October or November…I can’t even remember anymore. But we started the paperwork in August.

    In December, shortly after I fell off the blogging wagon, we were submitted to the PAIR process. This was new for us, it just kicked in last September, so we didn’t go through it with Elsa’s case. It really makes sense. This is the investigation of the child’s orphan status. Something you would want done before you go to court in ET. Didn’t used to be that way. Now it is. And while the three months it took for PAIR seemed like an eternity, from what I can tell I am glad this process is in place (although I’m sure it is far from perfect), and I’m thankful to have the investigation done upfront. End of February we found out that the final step of PAIR, an interview, was taking place. Wonderful news. This would mean the process would be finished and we would get the ever longed for “PAIR letter” meaning we could move to the court process and then to embassy and smooth sailing home.

    Except, the day after the interview was not the joy that we had expected. The sentence after “the interview happened and all went as expected” went something along the lines of “the staff here in Ethiopia isn’t being paid and we can’t promise we can continue working on these cases unless this gets worked out.” Ummmmmmmm, what!?!

    And with that we were thrown into the most chaotic week of adoption we have ever known as a family. What’s odd though, or maybe not really I suppose because God had given us crazy peace the entire process, is that we didn’t freak out. We didn’t feel like the whole thing was falling apart. We didn’t feel like he would never come home. We just felt focused. Task oriented. Mad mama bear of course. But mostly just “I will deal with making peace with that bull later…right now who do I talk to to keep things moving and get our son home before this crumbles?” We talked to a lot of people. God had woven the most amazing web of support and connections for us ever. Sometimes He puts people in my path and I literally think “oh crap, why is He introducing me to this person…” haha. We have a lot of those friends. The ones that have fought these fights. The ones who know the lawyers. Or the ET staff. Or someone working at the court house. Or one of the other families now stuck. Because we found out a week later that our agency, AAI, was in fact going bankrupt. Of course at first they said nothing was happening, everything was fine. Then it was that the ET program was closing, but everything else was fine. And then finally, no, all of it. And everything is gone, so you won’t be getting anything back. And we have no back up plan for you or your adoption to be finalized. Even though according to the Hauge accreditation they held they were SUPPOSED TO. But ah, going down that road and getting frustrated didn’t help then and it doesn’t help now.

    Poor Elsa girl, she probably wondered what the heck was going on that week. We talked a lot about the “bad guys” that were making it hard for brudder to come home. And that now mommy and abapa needed to do a lot of work to try to fix things and help him get here. She knew, she didn’t complain. She very much remembers being on the other side of it all. And it’s a good thing I have unlimited calls and texts. And a job where I work from home and make my own schedule. The plans changed daily. Actually they changed by the hour. I would call my mom and let her know what was happening, hang up, get a call, and then call her back with new plans. There were/are nine of us stuck with kids in Ethiopia. In process, just trying to get them home. We quickly became like family ha! The few of us that had found each other right away became creepers and tried to hunt down the others to let them know what was actually going on. I hated making those connections. Oh hey, my name is Ashley and we’re also adopting a child from Ethiopia through AAI…and by the way you know that lawyer in the documentary Stuck? Yeah, the one you never wanted to ever have to need to call, well we have a phone call with her this afternoon because things are getting a liiiiiiittle messy and you might want in on the conversation. Ugh, not a fun way to make friends.

    But let me tell you something. In the middle of it all the staff in Ethiopia served and protected our children like nothing I have ever seen. While I have my choice words for the way things went down on this side of the ocean, and oh I do, I have nothing but absolute love and thankfulness for the staff in ET. They worked like crazy, unpaid, to push our case forward and get us as far into the system as we could get before anything formal happened over here. I will never know the details. Or motives. Or the conversations that took place. Or any of that business. Nor do I know any of the conversations that are continuing to take place as the whole bankruptcy thing continues to unravel. But I know that had they not fought for our son he wouldn’t be home right now. As we sat here helpless, with no help from AAI US, all we could do was beg them, and our other contacts in ET, to keep going and try to help us and our son while we tried to figure things out over here.

    We went into another weekend not knowing much of anything, but hopeful that we had an agency that would help us finish out our case. Ethically. And legally. Seriously, we’re not messing around. There are certain ways that things need to be handled. And since every penny we had spent was gone, we needed some mercy financially. We certainly couldn’t afford another $25,00. We were so close! We had been through PAIR, and were now submitted to court. Literally we just needed to get that court interview to happen so we could have a court date, and then we needed someone to take care of the embassy process. And we got the help we needed. And the financial mercy. Although a mountain, it was certainly better news than expected. And then, just like He had all along, God provided every single penny of the added cost. People did crazy things. I mean really really crazy things. They made me cry big ugly tears. In public.

    And then in April, while we were home in Iowa for Easter, we got the unexpected call we had been waiting since August for. A court date! In five days. Leave the US in less than 48 hours? Sure! You’re talking to parents who have a sense of urgency like never before. We’re not asking to reschedule. We’re not risking this. Done and done, court is happening that day. And it did. And he was ours. And six weeks later Nate and his dad boarded a plane, went to the embassy, and brought that sweet little peanut home. And that’s where I’m going to stop for now because it’s late and this is long, and that first week home deserves it’s own post. So for now, I’ll just introduce you to our son, Solomon Nase. The sweetest little boy there ever was. Sissy Elsa Banke and he have been having a ball the last seven weeks, and we couldn’t be happier, or more grateful, that he is home.

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  3. World AIDS Day.

    December 1, 2013 by The Rippke's

    A couple of weeks ago I posted a quick entry about HIV and how it is spread, and not. If you haven’t read it please do! Today is World AIDS Day, and honestly, I don’t even know what to say. Obviously this day is significant for our family and friends. But what do you say? Where do you start? Find a cure? End the stigma? End the UNNECESSARY death and suffering of many by making ARVs accessible around the world? Love someone with HIV? Love a child with HIV? Fund research? Give a freaking hoot that over 33 MILLION people in the world are living with HIV/AIDS, and that more than 25 MILLION (sons, daughters, wives, husbands, friends) have died as a result?! How about the fact that about 97% of people living with HIV/AIDS live in low and middle-income countries (many in sub-Saharan Africa) and don’t have access to life saving medications that I can walk down the street and get? Where do I start? If I sound annoyed, it’s because I am. I hate HIV. I hate you HIV. I hate what you do to families around the world. I hate that you leave children as orphans. I hate that you leave spouses as widows/widowers. I hate that in 2012 alone you killed 600 children a day. I hate that you destroy communities, economies, and lives. I hate that you have caused such a culture of fear that you have created an untouchable population. I hate the way you have silenced us as a people, and allowed us to be mislead and ill-informed. And mostly, I hate that we have remained silent for so long. Just letting it happen. Letting people die. Letting lies be spread. Sweeping it under the rug because it touches a “people” or country we don’t “associate” with. Not fighting for what is right. Not even knowing that we aren’t fighting really…

    And it’s just not ok. And if I get fired up, then God give me graceful words to show that there is hope, and much to be thankful for. But Lord please don’t ever let me stop being a voice.

    And I kind of want you to be a voice too.

    I talked some about medical advancements in my last post. I feel it’s important to run through that all again. Because chances are good that if it’s not something you deal with on a daily basis then you just don’t know. How/why would you? We didn’t. And no one really talks about it anymore. But the meds are amazing. In the US HIV is no longer considered a terminal illness, but a manageable condition. Manageable. Meds twice (or once for some teens and adults) a day. Manageable. Doctor visits every few months. And you may have your pharmacy on speed dial. Manageable. The meds are so powerful that they can suppress the level of HIV in someone’s blood down to a point called “undetectable”. Meaning that that person’s viral load (amount of HIV in the blood) doesn’t register on a standard HIV test. You know what else it means? It means their risk of transmission is less than 0.01%. Not even kidding. HIV+ people can get married, have HIV- kids, live a long healthy life…and you know, do all those things I mentioned in the last post, like share a drink with you, hold your hand, and give you what we know around here as a big “bone crusher hug”. Remember, HIV spreads in 3 main ways: unprotected sex, needles, and mother-to-child.

    Can we just talk about how thankful we are for these medical advancements for a minute? We are. All you smart people out there that have dedicated your lives to research, and all you brave people out there that have fought for access to meds, we love you. And all you people out there caring for and supporting HIV+ people and programs, we love you too. Big time.

    Now, you may be thinking “then wait, if all of that is true, then why is HIV such a destructive force around the world?” and now you’ve just asked THE question. It doesn’t have to be. And this is where I get fired up, and then God has to (hopefully) give me the words. Because just as we need to be a voice against stigma, we need to be a voice for a cure and for access to ARVs. I feel like stigma is an easier battle. You get loud, you tell people the truth, people go “Whoa, I had no idea!”, We say “I know right!? Us either!” and stigma begins fading person by person. Access to meds is trickier. You’re talking governments, and pharmaceutical companies, and advocate groups, and big major organizations and on and on…and then the people, and adherence, and finances, and on and on. But it has to happen. An AIDS free generation is within our reach. I used to hear this and wonder what they heck they were talking about. How were they planning on making that happen. This is how. Access to meds is how. Prevention is how. Until there is a cure. When people are educated on how HIV is transmitted…when people have low viral loads…when mothers have access to ARVs and children are born HIV-…when children that are born with HIV have access to meds and don’t develop AIDS…then we have an AIDS free generation. It’s a big task. But wiping our hands of it isn’t an answer. 600 children A DAY. A DAY. We were in an orphanage of a little less than 90 HIV+ children in Ethiopia. That’s like watching each of those kids die seven times. I love those children. One of those children calls me mommy. If that doesn’t get you fired up at all…well…I don’t know…come talk to me.

    Whew. It’s World AIDS Day. And this year I’m fired up about it. Get fired up with me. Tell someone the truth about HIV/AIDS. Pray for a cure. Pray for the people around the world suffering unimaginably. Pray for the spouses and children and families that have lost someone to AIDS. Pray for the millions of AIDS orphans around the world. Pray for affected communities. Pray for the medical staff around the world (often overworked and underpaid) caring for AIDS patients globally. Pray for the researchers. And pray about what your role in it all is.

    PS: This is art we designed…feel free to use it and spread it around!

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  4. What’s been done, and what’s ahead.

    November 23, 2013 by The Rippke's

    Well, here’s something I can honestly say I haven’t done in a long time. Or ever? Gotten up voluntarily at 5:30am…on a Saturday!? Well, semi-voluntaryily. Thanks accidental 5:30am alarm. I’m up though. There’s a noise that won’t let me go back to sleep…it’s annoying. It’s a noise we haven’t dealt with since our married college days, but two back to back international adoptions have brought it back. That lingering “how is this going to work?” feeling. The “but…what if…” conversations that we thought we’d never go back to. But we’re there. And it’s not a surprise. When we saw Solomon’s face in August we knew that saying yes meant being here again. Way out of our comfort zone. But God has provided every single penny, through work, donations, and fundraising, right on time. And there’s been an overwhelming peace in the expensiveness of the past four months.

    Because a crazy long list of people have carried us through and are making Solomon’s adoption possible.

    And now as we get ready to make the last, and largest, agency payments the feelings of “but…how…” are creeping in and trying to disrupt the peace. Maybe it’s that after everyone’s amazing generosity we’re just sorry to bring it up again…and feeling like you’re probably really sick of hearing us talk about fundraising and asking for help. Maybe it’s the holiday season that magnifies the stress of it all. Maybe it’s some other things being thrown off around here that are trying to shake that peace. Most likely it’s all of it. Maybe it’s just that after nearly four months of fundraising I’m feeling guilty for bringing it up again. And maybe more than anything I’m just ready to hold our boy.

    But, the peace is still winning, because God hasn’t been late with a single penny. And He won’t be. Whether that’s donations, or people “tagging” Solomon’s bag, or Christmas cards, or a second job. He will continue to show us that He is the one who provides. Not just for adoption, but for everything.

    So in an attempt to be transparent, and because it’s no secret (hello, it’s posted on the AAI website), I want to show you what you all have helped provide and what’s still ahead financially. I feel like we blab about agency fees a lot, but to most people that probably doesn’t mean much. There are new processes in Ethiopia that weren’t in place when we brought Elsa home a year ago. Actually they even weren’t in place when we saw sweet Solomon waiting. Of course these added steps cost money, and the added time means added in country care costs. So basically I’m just going to list this out like is listed online and show you where we are exactly so if you’ve given you can see where it’s gone. Or if you’re someone out there thinking about adopting you can see what it looks like financially (and how God provides). Or if you’re one of the people who have ever asked us what it cost, well here you go. Oh, and a real quick sidenote. I really wish I didn’t even need to say this, but I do. Adoption is not purchasing a kid. Please don’t ever ask an adoptive parent “how much their child cost.” There are about a million people and  gov’ts and agencies and care givers and doctors and lawyers involved in the adoption of a child. The money goes a lot of places. And that’s why it’s SO important to work with ethical agencies, working with ethical people/orphanages, in ethical countries. That’s a much larger topic, but I feel the need to at least give a quick little note because I’ve heard “how much did he/she cost?” too many times. Anyways, the fees y’all have helped us cover to bring Solomon home, not including things like shipping, notaries, or doctor visits:

    Application fee: $300 (paid)
    Home study and post placement retainer: $2400 (paid)
    Contract fees: $5500 (paid)
    Orphan petition (USCIS filing): $890 (paid)
    Program/home study acceptance (begin dossier): $4500 (paid)

    Um, that’s $13,590 that you guys have helped us with. In just over THREE months. That is crazy!! God is so good. And bigger than agency fees. You guys are amazing. THANK YOU. When there’s no wait list  prior to a referral there’s no “saving period” between fees, and it gets nuts, fast. There are no words for how thankful we are. I love thinking about the web of people God is weaving together all over the world to bring him home, to set the lonely in families. All the stories. All the ways God is using Solomon and all of you for His glory. And all the work and hours it takes to earn the amount of money that you have opened your hands and given towards our adoption. It’s humbling. Solomon buddy, you are SO loved!

    So here’s what’s left. We’re coming to the end of all these agency and government fees, just a couple of big payments left. This is where some of the new fees come into play due to longer/new processes. We have a little of this already saved, but the $5900 will be due soon after we get our immigration letter back. Hopefully this week! Once we get that letter we can sign the formal referral/placement paperwork and get everything sent off for PAIR. This should all happen/be due before Christmas. So we basically need to raise a little more than $4000 by then.

    Referral fee: $5900 (December)
    PAIR (USCIS investigation): $320 (December)
    Remaining balance due at court submission: $3500 (Hopefully early 2014!)

    So we continue fundraising. Bear with us a little longer. I’ve got the sweetest little four year old sitting next to me now (good morning girl) so I know that swallowing my pride and posting this post is worth it. And if you’re a fellow fundraising adoptive family reading this, they’re worth it. And God will provide. I know it’s exhausting and stressful, but God is bigger!! So here’s a recap of what we’re doing right now, and if you’ve got any fundraiser ideas for us you just let me know haha.

    TAG HIS BAG
    There’s still room on Solomon’s suitcase for names! In case you missed our posts about Tag His Bag here’s how it works. To get your name on Solomon’s bag you just make a donation of any amount. $3, $17, $25, $50…whatever you want. You can use the paypal link in the right hand column of our blog to make a donation. Or if you want to send it through snail mail just let me know and I can send you our address. We did this for Elsa and it was SO fun dragging her suitcase through the airport and to Ethiopia with everyone’s names on it. Now it’s where we keep all her keepsakes, sort of like a hope chest.

    CHRISTMAS CARDS
    I mentioned these a couple posts ago. This is our third year fundraising in this way, and it’s SO fun. I’ve added some new Christmas card designs to the Etsy shop this year, and there are all the designs from previous years as well. They come in multiple colors, and you can get the file in 5×7 or 4×6. It’s easy, here’s how it works: You send me the pics, I send you the file, you print wherever you want (shutterfly, target, costco, etc.). Or, I have print packages in my shop as well. Easy peasy! Oh, and of course there are still all the adoption announcements, and other adoption design pieces as well! http://liftedfromthewater.etsy.com/

     

     

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  5. As we approach World AIDS Day

    November 15, 2013 by The Rippke's

    I was at a party recently, talking about adoption, and orphan care, and the healing that comes from being in a family, and special needs, and waiting children…the party was an adoption fundraiser, so don’t judge. But seriously, I will talk your ear off about these things if you give me the chance. Fair warning. Anyways, one of the guests told me a story about a woman who dropped, and then refused to touch, a necklace made by an HIV+ woman. Reread that if it was so shocking to you that you didn’t catch it the first time. She was holding a necklace. Someone said it was made by an artisan with HIV. And she dropped the necklace. Refusing to touch it again.

    Because she didn’t want to get HIV/AIDS.

    The really shocking thing is this is not the first time I’ve heard a story like this. I just…if you are reading this please please please know that you can NOT contract HIV by touching jewelry made by HIV+ people. In fact there are about a bazillion ways you can not get HIV from someone. But I’ll talk more about that in a minute.

    Of course, this shifted the conversation to HIV/AIDS. Again, I will talk your ear off. Joyfully. So let’s talk. Call me, message me, I’m not afraid to talk about this stuff. But before I started talking one of the ladies turned to me and asked if I ever get sick of having to explain the truth about HIV/AIDS to people. No way. In fact, I love it. Do I love that HIV/AIDS exists? Um, no. If God provided a cure tomorrow I may never stop crying tears of joy. BUT, until that day comes God has called us to talk about it. To spread truth about what HIV/AIDS is. What it looks like on a daily basis. What it means for families and children all over the world. To fight the stigma that people with HIV/AIDS face. We end the stigma by ending the fear. We end the fear by spreading the truth. We tell the truth by being bold, and unafraid, even though we know it won’t always be easy. And may even get ugly. The truth is worth it. We can not let misinformation like THAT exist…or heaven forbid spread. It needs to END. Like right now.

    So with World AIDS Day just a couple of weeks away I figure now is as good a time as any to do some talking. And a disclaimer, Nate and I, we WERE that ill-informed. So this is in no way a “hey, we’re so smart and you’r so not” post. You might not believe some of the things Nate and I thought we “knew” about HIV/AIDS just a short 24 months ago. Yes, it saddens me. But whoa does it make me grateful for a God that opens eyes and changes hearts. And to all you people that He placed in our lives to show us the truth, thank you.

    There are some great resources on Project Hopeful’s website, and I encourage everyone to check out the information they provide. But here are a few things I think are super important to know.

    Let’s start with a few ways that HIV is NOT spread. Hugging. Swimming. Sharing a towel. Drinking out of the same drink. Holding hands. Sneezing. Coughing. Boogers. Poop. Pee. Spit. Sweat. And any other fun body function kids or adults do like that. High fives (I know you were worried). Kisses. Playing on the playground. Sharing school supplies. Sharing a cubical. Mosquitos. And most certainly not through jewelry made by someone with HIV.

    Now, let’s talk about how it is spread. Sex. Birth. Breastfeeding. And blood to blood transmission…so things like needles and transfusions. That’s it.

    In addition, there are factors that play into how easily it is passed from one person to another. Factors like viral load, the amount of HIV in someone’s blood. A high viral load means more viruses, and therefore a greater risk of transmission. A low viral load means fewer viruses, and a lower risk. Medical advancements over the last 30 years will blow your mind. If a person has a low enough viral load that tests are unable to measure it their viral load is what is called undetectable. This doesn’t mean the person no longer has HIV, just that the meds are working and their risk of transmission is looooooooooow. Like low to the point where undetectable + women can have biological children with less than a 1% chance of transmitting it to their child. That’s amazing right!? It is. Think about what that would mean globally if everyone had access to meds. Yeah. Also think about this, if a woman can give birth to a child, like pass an entire human OUT OF HER BODY, and the rate is that low then how afraid do you think you need to be about a little scraped knee?

    The key is access to ARVs. And not everyone has that. People are dying every single day because they don’t have access to these life saving medicines. But as long as we allow stigma and fear to rule what we talk about, and how we act, people will continue to die. Children will continue to be infected. Spouses will watch each other die. Families will be torn apart. Communities will fall. HIV is no joke. You do not need to fear people with HIV/AIDS. But that is not to say that HIV/AIDS is not a very powerful, serious disease that needs to be managed. It doesn’t need the help of stigma to make it even worse. It has done just fine wreaking havoc globally all on it’s own. We can not allow ourselves to be part of it’s strength. We can not allow misinformation to lead to fear and silence. We have to be a voice for global education, treatment, and prevention. And a cure. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to try to post another time or two to make sense of some of the other myths I’ve been hearing recently. But definitely check out Project Hopeful’s site in the meantime. And if you want to chat, you know I’m up for it.

     

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  6. New pictures!

    October 29, 2013 by The Rippke's

    October has been a fantastic month! We started and finished our dossier and sent it off last week. Of course, we are still waiting on some of our I-600a stuff (that’ll happen in November) before it can go over to ET to get translated, but we are glad to be done with that! Thank you to everyone who helped us finish it so quickly. The day we sent all our paper off a dear friend of ours was in Ethiopia and visited the orphanage Solomon “N” is at. Oh goodness nothing is more fun than getting new pics!! And video!!! We are all missing Solomon. Elsa Banke asks quite often when he’s coming home, or if we’re in Ethiopia to pick Solomon up when we pull into a new place. This will be a long wait for all of us. But to get these updates and hear that he is doing well and seems healthy and is a sweet, shy, snuggly little guy makes it much easier to wait. We also got an update and some pictures from another friend the week before. So precious. Thank you E and B for the updates! Somedays we miss Ethiopia so badly…

    The same week our AMAZING friends back in Corpus Christi threw an epic garage sale to help us fundraise and get Solomon home! We’ve done our fair share of garage sales (I think 10…) and they are not an easy thing…flat out a pain in the rear most of the time haha. Seriously such a sacrificial gift! Not to mention our BEST garage sale total to date, and within $100 of what we still owed for our dossier fees!! Did you hear that!? This is not the first time provision like this, like within dollars of an immediate need, has happened during this process. It amazes us every single time. God is SO good. SO GOOD! And He is for real teaching Nate and I what it looks like to be generous and supportive through all of you. Every single person that has prayed for us, given financially, donated items to our garage sales, bought items from our garage sales, tagged Solomon’s bag, donated items to our online auction, bid on those items (bidding is still going on!), bought items from any of the numerous fundraisers we’ve done (and will do haha), hung out with us, oooohed and ahhhhed over pictures of Solomon with us, or just sent a note asked how things are going has taught us what it looks like to love people well. To love like Christ loves. To give in crazy ways. And it is awesome. So thank you!!

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  7. New pics, Elsa’s birthday, and an update!

    September 28, 2013 by The Rippke's

    It’s hard to believe it’s already been seven weeks since we saw Solomon’s face for the first time! The three pictures we have from the initial paperwork were taken at the end of July, so when I received three new ones from the orphanage today my heart skipped a beat! New pictures are THE best thing during the wait. Especially smiley ones! Clearly I’m biased, but our boy is seriously SO cute. I can’t wait to be able to get rid of the hearts! I know it sounds weird, but he has the cutest teeth. And look at his hair growing out!! I love it! We are praying hard that we get to start our dossier this week. Our home study was reviewed yesterday, so we are hopeful the edits will be taken care of tomorrow and envelope of papers will be on it’s way to our house this week! We NEED those papers. And we NEED to get them done quickly. Like lightning speed. All of the official contracts between orphanage, agency, and us solidifying everything can’t take place until the dossier papers are in country. So, like I said, we NEED those papers. They’re also what are submitted to the court so that we can get a court date and go see our precious boy and legally become his parents. And once we get clearance on our home study we’ll be submitting everything to immigration as well. Hopefully they’re all caught up and it doesn’t take forever for us to get a fingerprint date and favorable letter from them as well. Anyways, prayers for a smooth and quick paperwork process from here on our are appreciated. We need to squeeze our sweet boy!

    We’ve been busy with doctor’s appointments, fingerprintings (yes, we do multiple fingerprintings during all of this), and the contract/home study round of paperwork. But all of that is complete now, and we’re ready for the next step! The dossier! Thank you to everyone who sent in reference letters on our behalf. You guys were quick!! And we really appreciate it! It’s been so fun, having Elsa Banke involved in the process this time. She already loves her brother, and has asked us several times to get on the airplane to Ethiopia and go get him. Somedays she says “I just wish I could find Solomon. Go get him now?” I’m praying for all of us that this wait is on the shorter end of the spectrum. She definitely understands that he’s coming home. And she definitely understands where he’s at now. She spends a lot of time in his room, and has been filling his dresser with clothes she picks out for him and the books and toys she’s planning on sharing with him. I did get a second ergo though ($50 thanks to zulilly! woo!), so she doesn’t have to share that. Not that she would have. Ha!

    We’re continuing to fundraise. And THANK YOU to everyone who has donated or supported us through one of our fundraisers. We are inching ever so close to HALF WAY to the $17,000 needed before we can go to court in Ethiopia. I can’t even begin to tell you how blown away we are by this. There are days, just like there were with Elsa’s process, that we stand in our kitchen with the mail and look at each other and say “How is this going to happen?” And then it does. God provides in crazy ways through all of you. CRAZY ways. Nate and I finished our contract paperwork a week earlier than expected. If we learned anything from Elsa’s process it’s that you don’t sit on paperwork. One day of sitting on this end could mean months of sitting on the back end. And these kids can’t afford that. You finish paperwork, you send it in. Period. This time that meant sending it in without the full $5500 that we had mentioned needing being funded. Fortunately, and this is going to sound nuts to all you who know what a Dave Ramsey fan I am, our agency lets us put payments on a credit card if we need to…which, sometimes you do when things move at this pace and the amounts are so awfully high. So we sent it. Knowing that with work and what you all had donated we could pay it off before the next round of fees are due (in a month-ish). It’s not a great feeling, so I don’t share this for any reason other than to show God’s provision and how when He promises something he MEANS it, but minutes before they processed the payment the REST of the funding came in. And made you guys made me cry in public. Again. God provides. And He loves these kids. And it breaks his heart more than it could ever break mine that they are growing up in orphanage, or in foster care, or on the streets. So I really can’t thank you enough. Really.

    We are still adding names to Solomon’s suitcase! I have a couple more to add today, so this isn’t exactly current, but thank you to everyone who has donated towards helping us bring Solomon “N” home!! We are already filling his suitcase up with donations for the orphanage he’s at, and of course for AHOPE (where Elsa lived). I’ve talked to the director and she said one of their most pressing needs is clothing for older kids. And from we know from being in country before, medicines, multi-vitamins, creams (benadryl, anti-fungal, etc.), school supplies, and gloves are always needed as well. If you have any you’d like to send along with us let me know and we’ll coordinate how to get them!

    Of course the end of September meant Elsa Banke’s first birthday home!! Last year it was so hard to be between trips, waiting for her to be home and knowing she was spending yet another birthday without her mommy and abapa there. But this year…this year was awesome!! Such a fun weekend filled with friends and food and of course GG and Grandma came to town! : ) We had a ninja turtle party and all of her little friends came over to play, and eat pizza. Like any good turtle would do. Seriously, I’m pretty sure she thinks if she eats enough pizza she will in fact become Michelangelo. She has the sweetest little group of friends. And we are really lucky…because all of their parents are equally as sweet and fun to hang out with ha!  Thank you again to everyone who came over and celebrated with us!

    And finally, thank you to everyone again who purchased items through our Noonday show!! And thank you to Alli, my mama, and my grandma for hosting the show! Again, we are completely blown away by the turnout and support. Unbelievable. We had such a good time hanging out trying on all the jewelry and scarves and bags. Oh man, the bags. I seriously underestimated how much I would love the Noonday stuff. So stinking awesome. Let’s just say I’m anxious for Christmas…

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  8. Solomon and Elsa. Where we’re all at.

    September 10, 2013 by The Rippke's

    In the few minutes I have before it’s time to go pick Elsa up from school (yes school!) I just wanted to post a quick update on where we’re at with Solomon’s adoption. Last week we received our next round of paperwork for the placing agency, and our first major invoice. We are working hard on finishing up all of that and the educational requirements they sent along with it. Since we already completed a bunch of educational stuff for Elsa’s adoption they’ve put something new together so it’s not a repeat. We also set up interview times with our home study agency, and had our first two solo interviews with her yesterday. You have no secrets when adopting haha.  Soon we’ll do our last round of interviews, and she’ll come do our home walk through. But before that the three of us will have our medical reports done (yay blood draws…ugh) and have fingerprints taken again. Once it’s all done, hopefully in the next week or so, we’ll send it all off to the placing agency, along with the contracting fees, and they’ll send us the dossier paperwork! That’s all the good, personal, important stuff that gets translated and goes to the Ethiopian courts so the judge will see us. And at that point we’ll start a bunch of grant paperwork, do more fingerprinting and immigration stuff, and they’ll let us send Solomon “N” a care package like we did with Elsa…letting him know he’s got a mommy and abapa and sister who love him and are coming for him! Can’t wait!!

    First I need to write you guys a thank you though. So many people have come along side us and donated their resources in one way or another to our adoption already. If you’ve donated to Solomon’s “Tag His Bag” then THANK YOU. If you’ve spread the word about our adoption/fundraisers then THANK YOU. If you’ve set up a fundraiser or donated items for us to sell then THANK YOU. If you donated items to our garage sale this last weekend then THANK YOU. And if you came and shopped at our garage sale then THANK YOU too! We are a little over 1/6 of the way to the $17,000 in adoption fees we need to pay before court!! You guys. Thank you. I really really mean it. We knew saying YES to God this time around would require a level of trust in Him for provision that we’ve never had to face before…and He is providing for Solomon to come home through each of you in ways we NEVER expected. So thank you so so much. We are getting closer!! And there’s still definitely time to get your name on his bag!

    But in Elsa news…our almost four year old (oh man, I need to get on the party planning!) started school last week. I think we were all pretty nervous the first day, but we are so blessed to have her at a school that is patient and understanding and working hard with her (and us) on making it as smooth as a transition as possible. Today was day three, and she walked herself right into the classroom and started her day without even looking back. Big progress. Quickly. Whew. She’s also started playing soccer. Well, hopefully she’ll play. Right now she just mainly likes the socks and standing on the sidelines watching abapa coach haha. We’ll see how the first games go this week…

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  9. Tag His Bag – An Update

    August 26, 2013 by The Rippke's

    Hey, whoa. This morning, after a super fun weekend up in MN celebrating at my sister and brother-in-law’s wedding, my mom and I got Solomon’s bag up to date and added everything up. We are 1/12 of the way to the $17,000 we need to able send our paperwork to Ethiopia!! Thank you all so much!! Thank you to those who have given, and prayed for us, and shared our post. I can’t believe in five days how much closer we are to being able to send all the paperwork and fees in! Woo hoo! If you want to have your name on his bag you can use the paypal link on the right hand side of our blog to donate any amount!

    Elsa Banke has been rolling his suitcase around all morning. She’s got her heels on, baby in her arms, and she’s buckled into her pretend airplane all ready to go get him. I have to say, I’m pretty excited to see the two of them together. Eeep!

    We still don’t have many details on Solomon or where he’s at, or really what kind of care and all he is receiving for his medical needs. And we don’t know how long it will be until we can go meet him. But we did find out today that his birth name means soul. So all together his name means peace/peaceable soul. Which is just so so sweet to this mama.

    I know some of you have asked how you can be praying specifically right now, so here are our most urgent prayer requests:

    Solomon’s health: There are medical needs that need to be addressed as quickly as possible. We know there are things going on with his kidneys/urinary tract that need attention. That have needed attention for a long time. But without more tests and him seeing specialists we won’t know the extent of it all until we get him home. We don’t know if he’s in pain. Or uncomfortable. Or exactly what’s going on. So we’re praying for healing and comfort.

    Paperwork: We are praying that all of the necessary paperwork can be completed as quickly as possible. We are hopeful that we will be ready to send everything in in September or October. We need medical stuff, immigration stuff, and all our other reports and requirements to fall into place smoothly for this to be a possibility.

    New processes in Ethiopia: We know there is a new step going into effect starting September 1st. We don’t know what it means, no one seems to. But we are praying that the rumors of it adding months to the process are in fact just rumors, and that it’s an easy requirement to fufil in Solomon’s case so we can make our first trip as soon as possible.

    Funding: We’re still about $15,000 away from being able to send our paperwork in and get the process rolling of bringing Solomon home. We know God will provide this through work, donations, garage sales, or whatever crazy ways He calls us to make it happen. To my human mama heart it seems like a HUGE mountain to move. But we’ve seen God move these mountains time and time again, and we know this time is no exception, so we are trying not to be anxious in any way.

    Thanksgiving: We are so thankful for our precious son. We are thankful for God’s leading in all of this, and his provision. And again, we are so so so thankful for everyone’s support and prayers.

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  10. Introducing…our son!

    August 21, 2013 by The Rippke's

    That’s right! A son!! A precious three year old boy in Ethiopia, who we are naming Solomon N. The “N” is his given  name, but we can’t share that until he’s legally our son. And yes, the hearts are back! Unfortunately we can’t share his face online anywhere until he’s legally ours as well. But if you happen to see us and want to see pics we’re always happy to share! He is SO cute, and his eyes are something…whew.

    So, yes, this happened very quickly this time. A quick little back story of how this all happened. Three years ago God called us to start the adoption process. We always knew we wanted to adopt, but at the time we didn’t know how radically that calling would change us and our family. During our first adoption process God broke our hearts, big time, for waiting children. Waiting children are kids that are waiting with an agency and ready to be adopted, but aren’t because there isn’t an adoptive family waiting to be matched with them. Typically this is because of their age and/or special needs. And so they wait. Just like our Elsa girl waited because of her age and special need (HIV+). Just like so many of the kids we met in Ethiopia waited, and are still waiting. We knew immediately that we couldn’t turn away from these kids. That our next adoption process would look different than our first one. There wouldn’t be a wait list. Our parameters (approved age and special needs) would be different. That it wouldn’t surprise us if the people closest to us were a little uncomfortable with the whole thing quite honestly. But we know very clearly that God has called our family to adopt. And we know He has called us to adopt waiting children. And so in July when Nate turned to me and said “I really feel like we should get our paperwork ready for Ethiopia” I emailed our social worker and we went in July 25th to start the home study process again…so that we would be ready, someday, to adopt a waiting child in Ethiopia. We just never expected “someday” to be a month later!! We saw his face a week and a half ago, and made things official yesterday. We are SO excited to introduce our son, Solomon “N”! Elsa’s going to be a big sister!


    Mailing off the first round of paperwork!


    Elsa’s face when we told her the paperwork was so that we could bring a brother or sister home for her (just a couple of weeks ago).

    So what does this mean? Because of his medical needs we need to get him home as quickly as possible. It’s important that he is seen by doctors and specialists here, and gets the possible surgeries and all that he needs asap. We can provide that once home, but there’s not much we can do from here. We need to finish all of the paperwork and pay ALL OF OUR AGENCY FEES (about $17,000) before anything can be sent to the Ethiopia courts. We are going to be working like crazy people to get all the paperwork done hopefully in the next month or so. Because he is a waiting child all of the fees are due VERY quickly. Like within the next couple of months. Yikes!! And so, we come to everyone, and humbly ask for help. We knew from the moment we saw his face that we’d have to ask for help to get him home. Honestly it makes us kind of uncomfortable to ask for it. And we know we may have to do some radical things to make all the ends meet. But we know God provides for His kids to come home. And we know Solomon is no exception. So the fundraising begins!!

    Remember when we did Elsa’s “Tag Her Bag” fundraiser? Well we’ve got a bag for Solomon! My mom came home from a garage sale the other day with a bright green suitcase and said “Hey, look what I got for the next time you guys adopt and travel to Ethiopia.” I about had a heart attack. We were praying for clear signs that Solomon was in fact ours, and that we were supposed to move forward with his adoption, and sign after sign were confirming without a doubt that we had to say yes to him! And then the suitcase! We use Elsa’s suitcase like a hope chest. It holds all her keepsakes from Ethiopia, and we are so excited for Solomon to have one as well.

    So here’s how it works again: The name of each person who donates any amount will be written (tagged) in black ink on his suitcase…a tangible, visual keepsake for him to have of all the people who have loved us and prayed for us during our wait to bring him home. And a practical way for us to bring much needed donations to his orphanage, and pack for him to come home! Just like we had for his big sis, Elsa Banke.

    Donations can be made using this paypal link, via the mail, or in person. Email arippke at gmail dot com with any questions! Thank you for helping us get our son home!!!




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  • Our Story

    The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. And she named him Moses, and said, "Because I drew him out of the water." - Exodus 2:10

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  • Our Timeline

    • ELSA'S TIMELINE
    • Application: 10-30-10
    • Began Home Study: 01-25-11
    • Completed Classes: 02-08-11
    • Home Study Approved: 03-08-11
    • Sent i600: 03-18-11
    • Sent Revised i600: 03-30-11
    • Sent Dossier: 05-26-11
    • Dossier Approved: 06-03-11
    • Girl: 103 | Boy: 81: 06-03-11
    • FDL: 06-06-11
    • Girl: 102 | Boy: 78: 06-10-11
    • Girl: 95 | Boy: 72: 07-15-11
    • Girl: 91 | Boy: 68: 08-19-11
    • Girl: 85 | Boy: 65: 09-16-11
    • Girl: 80 | Boy: 62: 10-24-11
    • Girl: 80 | Boy: 63: 11-22-11
    • Girl: 77 | Boy: 60: 12-22-11
    • Girl: 74 | Boy: 60: 01-31-12
    • Girl: 70 | Boy: 55: 02-29-12
    • Girl: 64 | Boy: 51: 03-30-12
    • Girl: 63 | Boy: 49: 04-30-12
    • IT'S A GIRL! REFERRAL! (switched agencies, got the paperwork a few days later) 05-04-12
    • Sent in dossier 05-21-12
    • Dossier approval 05-29-12
    • Requested I-600 re-fingerprinting date 06-11-12
    • Mailed referral paperwork 06-19-12
    • Dossier sent to Ethiopia 06-19-12
    • Got re-fingerprinting date 06-22-12
    • USCIS refingerprinting 07-10-12
    • WE GOT A COURT DATE!!! 08-08-12
    • Left for Ethiopia 08-13-12
    • Arrived in Ethiopia, met Elsa!! 08-15-12
    • Court Date - PASSED COURT! 08-17-12
    • Left Ethiopia for the US 08-20-12
    • Submitted to US embassy 11-07-12
    • BF to US embassy 11-26-12
    • CLEARED! Nate to US embassy 11-28-12
    • Nate and Elsa Banke home 11-30-12
    •  
    • SOLOMON'S TIMELINE
    • Saw his profile 08-11-13
    • Sent AAI our inquiry 08-12-13
    • Said YES and sent formal application! 08-20-13
    • Formal contract submitted 09-16-13
    • Finished home study visits 09-16-13
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