May 23, 2017. The day we had been waiting for. The day we would stand before a judge and declare our love and commitment for this child. We woke up and put on the nicest clothes we had brought. Matt had on the African safari socks his dad and step-mom gave him. I had on the long dress Liz let me borrow. It was comfortable but still dressy enough for court. As always, Lydia had carefully chosen her outfit. Robyn had her camera. We weren’t sure if we would be able to take many pictures at court, but she was ready just in case.
When we got to Federal First Instance Court, we waited in the lobby alongside the other families from our agency. About 9 AM, our legal representatives arrived, and we walked upstairs. We waited outside the court room while each family was called. When they said “Hewan” it was our turn. Lydia, Matt, and I walked into the room. In the left corner was a heavy wooden desk where the judge in his leather jacket sat back lit by the sunshine streaming in from the large window behind him. In front of his desk was a long table with chairs on either side. We sat in three chairs on the right side with Matt closest to the judge. A clerk reviewed our passports as the judge proceeded to ask us a short series of questions.
“Have you met this child before?”
“How long has your process been?”
“Do you live in a city or the country?”
“Are you prepared to raise this child as your own?”
“Do you have any other children?” and then he asked Lydia if she was excited.
And finally as he turned the final page and started signing, he asked us one more question, “Do you love her?”
I couldn’t speak for if I did tears would surely fall, but I nodded. Lydia nodded. And Matt said, “Yes, we do. Very much.”
Less than five minutes and we were done. She was legally a Roberts girl, always and forever.
We waited outside the room for a few more families to go. When we were all done, our representatives said they would contact us as soon as we received our court decree. We went back to the hotel to get some lunch. We had been back at the hotel for maybe an hour when Abreham called to tell us they had already received our court decree. We needed to go to the kebele (government office) to try for our birth certificate.
We loaded up in the van and headed that way. When we arrived, we were instructed to wait in the car because the kebele was crowded and hot. One hour turned into two. And then three. And then four. Lydia colored in her notebook. Then Robyn colored a page. Then Matt. I was wishing I had brought my Kindle to have something to read. A breeze was blowing through the van. The wait was long, but we had waited 5.5 years. We pressed on.
Finally, they came out and told us we wouldn’t make it in that afternoon. We needed to come back the following morning. It was nearly 5 pm, and visitation hours at Sele Enat were ending. Abreham called the orphanage to see if they would let us stay a little later. We wanted to see our girl so badly. They agreed, and we quickly headed over there. Walking into Sele Enat feels like walking into a home you knew once before. It has this feeling of welcome familiarity that I can’t explain. I was glad to be there once more, and I was glad to tell our girl she was officially ours.
We played with her and the other children, and I got to feed her dinner. We got to talk for a while with Ayub and Ayinalem to find out more about our girl. The day had been long, but I was grateful for every miracle God had done in those 24 hours. Abreham joined us for a celebratory dinner at Sishu with burgers and fries for everyone, and we toasted each other with Ethiopian Coca-Cola and Pineapple Fanta. I’ll remember that meal as one of the happiest of my life.