Just ten days ago, this happened:
My family, just like that, jumped from 4 members to 6. I’ve gone my whole life without a brother, and now I have one! He’s 10! I also gained a sister! I’m still trying to figure out how I change up the whole “you’re my favorite sister!” joke. I guess I have some time.
Now when I go home, like last Sunday afternoon for a swim (please note there was definitely not a pool when I lived there), here were two extra crazies competing for “funniest in the family.” (The jury’s still out. Feel free to vote later.)
Two extra seat belts in the car. Two extra sets of eyes watching everything. Two more birthday parties. Two more settings at the table.
Two children who could not believe we all four had a car. Two children who are seeing things they have never imagined. Two children who are trying to memorize their birthdays, because they never knew what those were. Two children who are still getting used to not eating all the food on their plates.
So how did this happen? It seems sudden, even to me, with all the big changes, but things like this never are. God cares for his children, and sets the lonely in families (psalm 68:6). He has surely had a plan for James and Betty since they were born (psalm 139).
I first mentioned our family’s venture into adoption here, but then things were quiet. International adoption is about 50% waiting, 50% paperwork. That’s probably true, but it feels more like 110% waiting; 130% paperwork. (And Dad the accountant shakes his head, but probably agrees.)
The waiting time, knowing you’ve been approved for adoption here, but waiting for everything “over there” to go through, is strange. I know it felt different for me, as a sibling, than for my parents. Ever the feeler who tries way too hard to be rational, I had a hard time getting excited. I was thrilled beyond words about the prospect of these kids coming home, but there was a voice nagging me constantly that something would go wrong.
I hesitated when Mom asked me to help decorate their rooms. You hear the stories, right? I was too afraid to hope.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” -1 John 4:18a
After what felt like forever, Mom called one morning. We got a court date! Mom and Dad booked tickets to Uganda, and I sent a text to Caitlin with only the words, “REAL.LIFE.”
Adopting from Uganda is just not like other countries. In many places, even in Africa, the “going” is essentially pick up and fly home. In Uganda, the process is guaranteed to take at least 4 to 8 weeks, and even then nothing’s ever guaranteed. At any moment, at any point in the process, a judge in a crowded court room could feel too tired to rule that day, or the US embassy could decide further investigation is needed, or the Ugandan passports might not go through (these are nearly impossible to get), or well, anything.
We never knew when all this was going to go down, so I hadn’t really entertained the idea of going much. With a new job and a big move on the plate, it was hard to see it as a possibility. As time inched on, I couldn’t shake it. I needed to go. I needed to see their home before here. I needed them to walk me around those red dirt roads, and let me sit in the tiny huts, and see women carrying water for miles to their homes. I needed to smell the fumes from the city, and I needed to clench my teeth in traffic (and pray harder than I’ve ever prayed in a car), and I needed to sing along at church, to see the smiles on their faces when we came. I needed it. So I went, and I saw.
It was one of the most significant trips I have made in my life. “Worth it” hardly begins to describe the feelings I felt while there. We had a blast together, and it felt so natural and normal. These kids are incredibly full of JOY, and it radiates. We continually made each other laugh, and maybe they were laughing at how many times I said “perfect!” but I’ll take it.
Leaving Uganda without them all on the plane next to me was hard to handle. I hugged Mom without knowing how many more weeks it would be. Even though the judge had said yes already (our lawyer had to go sit in the courtroom all day, every day until he did), there were still passports to be processed, plus a USA-embassy-approved visa stamped inside.
Many more weeks went by. While she was there, Mom turned 50. James and Betty watched in amazement as people sent “happy birthday videos,” and the fancy hotel served her a giant slice of cake for her big day. So this is what a birthday is like?
While they waited with certain uncertainty, anxiety grew for all of us. What was taking so long? How much longer? Every day they came home empty-handed, Mom would find one or both of them crying, convinced they would have to go back to the orphanage.
The orphanage was not a bad place. In fact, it’s run by some friends of ours, and they offer school and hot food daily. But it sure is not a family. There’s no freedom to feel safe or forever-ness at all. Mom whispered to me one night on the phone through suppressed tears, “I just have to do everything in my power. I cannot and will not let them down.”
Mothers fight for their children. Maybe part of the waiting is to help increase the attachment on both sides. It was for us. God knew these two would need time to adjust to having parents. Adjusting on their own turf, where things were at least slightly familiar was so valuable for them and all of us.
And then, they got on the plane.
No, dear one, it was not. In her last update from Uganda, Mom wrote how overwhelmingly thankful she was. “My kids have been so afraid to hope. And now they get to come home!” Here on out will not be easy either, but you’re home. Forever. You’re home forever with your forever family.
My favorite text from their arrival day came from a true heart-friend, Abby:
“I can’t tell you how much it strengthens my heart’s belief in God’s goodness as I think about the beauty that’s taking place today in your family!”