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around the world to get our girl {chapter six}

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9E3B1962We woke up the next day knowing we needed our daughter’s birth certificate before we boarded our flight that night. A process that usually isn’t too difficult was proving a bit more difficult because of the suspension. After waiting all afternoon the day before, we prepared ourselves for another long wait. This time we left Lydia with Robyn at our hotel, so they could sleep in and have a lazy morning. Matt and I spent several more hours in the van waiting outside the kebele. As lunchtime was nearing, Abreham told us our representative wanted us inside. We walked inside the small building and took two seats next to the government official issuing our daughter’s birth certificate. He asked us a few questions like what state each of us was born in and what religion we were. After sitting there for a while, our representative brought us a birth certificate to check over for accuracy. Everything was correct except my middle/maiden name was written “WentWorth” and that second “w” needed to be lowercase. We waited a while longer, and our representative brought us the new version where everything was accurate. It was surreal seeing our names listed under “Mother” and “Father”. We needed to sign several papers, and then we were done. Her birth certificate was in our representative’s hands. That was the last step open to us at that time. We had given God our yes, and He had brought us 8,000 miles, through our court date with a court decree and birth certificate in hand. We wouldn’t be going home with our daughter, but we had seen His presence over and over again. We knew His hand was guiding us, and we had to trust Him.

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We went back to the hotel to pick up Lydia and Robyn and made plans to attend a meeting for families in country at the US Embassy in Addis. We sat in a room with other families who were caught in the same hard place we were, and we listened to the Embassy staff update us on what was happening. I have to share publicly how grateful Matt and I are to the entire Embassy team in Addis. They worked tirelessly for our family and other families, and they continue their work today to unify families. We left the meeting encouraged. They seemed to feel the tide was turning and used the word “weeks” when asked how long they thought it might be before children could come home.

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We left the Embassy and headed to Eve’s orphanage to see her one more time before our flight out that night. It was late afternoon and the sunlight was streaming in the big window in the yellow playroom. I was sitting on the floor, and Eve was in my lap. A young man walked up and introduced himself as one of the volunteers. He asked us where we were from and we responded, “The States–Tennessee.” He said, “No way! My mom lives in Tennessee.” He asked us where in Tennessee, and we told him Memphis to which he said, “My mom owns a restaurant in Memphis.” I look at Matt with chill bumps because I’m in disbelief and ask him what part of Memphis. He leans his head back like you do when you’re trying to remember a specific detail and says, “Cor-cordova!” Matt and I both start shrieking/freaking out, and in a very high squeaky voice I say, “We know your mom! We eat at her restaurant! We love her food!” Then there are hugs and selfies and phone calls to his mom back in Memphis and a family in utter amazement at God. Because here we are 8,000 miles away from home in a city of more than 3 million people, and hours before we board a flight taking us away from our daughter we meet a man whose mom runs the Ethiopian restaurant a mile from our home. But God. In case I needed one more miracle to remind me that He has always been and always will be the One piecing everything together, He gave us Enderi and his mom Hareg. But God.

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We hung out for a while longer and when the sun was low in the sky we hugged everyone goodbye. We kissed Hewan with a thousand kisses and placed her in the arms of Ayub. We stopped by Sishu for one more hamburger, and Abreham drove us to the airport. I had managed not to cry when we told Eve goodbye, but I couldn’t hold back the tears when we hugged Abreham bye. This man had become like a brother to us, and we told him we would see him soon. We boarded the plane exhausted and grateful, praying for the day we would return. Having no idea it would be a mere two weeks later. But God.

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to be continued…

*All images by Robyn Smith of abideinhimphotography.com. To see more images from our trip to Ethiopia, go to @abideinhimrobynon IG and scroll back to the end of May. 

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around the world to get our girl {chapter five}

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Eve and Ayub. She calls him “Ayi” with much excitement in her voice! Also, his screen is shattered because this cutie dropped it a few weeks before. He didn’t seem too upset. 😉

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.

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Eve and Ayinalem. Ayinalem is one of Eve’s nannies and a strong believer. She is the answer to so many prayers, and I’m grateful we get to text daily. 

*All images by Robyn Smith of abideinhimphotography.com. To see more images from our trip to Ethiopia, go to @abideinhimrobynon IG and scroll back to May 23rd. 

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around the world to get our girl {chapter 4}

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I barely slept. I woke up before my alarm went off. I saw a half-dozen messages on my phone–friends staying up until the wee hours of the night back home to pray for us as we prepared to meet our daughter. I took a shower and got ready and pulled out my sticky notes from 5.5 years of praying. Verse after verse, I was reminded of what God was doing. I found strength in His Word.

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Matt and Lydia woke up and got ready, and we headed down to breakfast. I had a thousand butterflies and no appetite. I managed a couple bites of toast and two cups of hot Ethiopian tea. Abreham arrived to pick us up, and Lydia and I held hands during the drive. My oldest miracle was about to meet my youngest miracle. It was a special gift having Lydia with us.

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We arrived at the blue walls that have filled so many of my dreams. Sele Enat’s social worker met us at the front entrance and showed us around. Bright colors are everywhere, and the kids are so loved. He told us the nannies were getting Hewan (the Ethiopian version of Eve) ready for us, so we waited in the courtyard for a little while. Robyn went into the playroom where they told us we would meet her. But we were just talking in the courtyard when we all turned to see a familiar face looking up at us. And by the nudge of the Holy Spirit Robyn had her camera focused on our faces at just the moment we laid eyes on her.

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We started walking to her, removing our shoes before we entered the playroom per the rules to keep the room clean. We knelt to the ground while she looked at us with wide eyes. “Who are these people?” she seemed to say. After a few minutes of letting her warm up to us, we waved and she waved back. The bonding was beginning.

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We brought bubbles, so we brought those out. She immediately lit up with excitement. It wasn’t long before the bubbles were dumped down the back of my sweater, but she didn’t care. She was more interested in fitting the lid onto and off of the bubble container over and over and over again. And as she worked at it, she stuck her little tongue between her lips in a most determined fashion.

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By now the room was full of kids playing and toddling around. One of the nannies brought out orange slices for a snack, something she still enjoys daily now that we are home. At some point in the late morning, Eve was sitting in my lap and I noticed her breathing was slower, calmer. She had fallen asleep in my arms. Every tear, every day of waiting those 5.5 years was worth it. Our daughter knew she had a family.

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 *All images by Robyn Smith of abideinhimphotography.com. To see more images from our trip to Ethiopia, go to @abideinhimrobyn on IG and scroll back until May. 

 

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around the world to get our girl {chapter 3}

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One day I was writing chapter 2 and the next I was frantically booking flights and hotels and talking to our driver (who I now call my brother) Abreham about returning to Ethiopia. We booked flights on a Friday and flew out less than 48 hours later. But let’s pick up where I left off…

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We arrived in Addis Ababa on Sunday morning, May 21st. After three days of traveling and two nights of flights all we wanted was a shower and a bed. Our heavy eyelids tried to take in the surroundings as we rode to the hotel. Addis is a bustling place with cars moving like a waterfall around rocks. It looks like mass chaos, but somehow everyone knows exactly what to do. Because it was Sunday, we saw women dressed in beautiful white dresses embroidered on the edges with vivid colors–yellow, orange, red.

We arrived at our hotel to the kindest smiles I’ve ever seen. Ethiopia is known for its hospitality, and we witnessed it over and over again. Such warm embraces calmed my anxious heart. We took hot showers and put on clean clothes, went downstairs for some breakfast, and went back to our room and crashed for a few hours.

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That afternoon, Abreham picked us up and took us all over Addis. We visited Entoto mountain which is 10,499 feet above sea level. So, when we got out to walk around we were all trying very hard just to breathe. And then we look out to see women carrying huge loads of sticks on their backs. The strength and beauty–both physical and emotional–of Ethiopian women is astounding. On Mount Entoto the scent of eucalyptus is strong but, as Abreham would tell us, not desired. Apparently, the pesky tree has taken over much of the native Ethiopian vegetation since its introduction in the late 1800s.

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We visited museums and an art gallery. (During our second trip Matt and Abreham would return to this same art gallery to purchase an oil painting as a gift for Eve.) Abreham told us about the butchers and the hanging raw meat–kitfo–a much-loved meal in Ethiopia. He told us about The Derg and the revolution to take down communism. Some of my most favorite moments of our time in Ethiopia were centered around conversations we had with Abreham. We loved learning all about Ethiopia from someone who has spent every day of his life there. When the jet lag started catching back up to us, we had pizza and gelato for dinner and an early bedtime. We were hours away from meeting our girl.

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*All images by Robyn Smith of abideinhimphotography.com. To see more images from our trip to Ethiopia, go to @abideinhimrobyn on IG and scroll back until May. 

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around the world to get our girl {chapter two}

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After a few hours sleep, my alarm clock went off. This was the day we began our trek to Ethiopia. I got out of the shower and turned on Elevation’s “Do It Again.” I put on my makeup and dried my hair with the those lyrics on my lips.

Walking around these walls
I thought by now they’d fall
But You have never failed me yet
Waiting for change to come
Knowing the battle’s won
For You have never failed me yet
Your promise still stands
Great is Your faithfulness, faithfulness
I’m still in Your hands
This is my confidence, You’ve never failed me yet
I know the night won’t last
Your Word will come to pass
My heart will sing Your praise again
Jesus, You’re still enough
Keep me within Your love
My heart will sing Your praise again
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Our bags were packed, certainly not my best packing job, but it would have to suffice. We woke a sleepy Lydia up, hugged my mom and Lottie goodbye, kissed Georgia while she slept, and soon we were on our way to the airport. We parked in the deck and rode our first of many travelators (moving sidewalks). We joined Robyn at the airport. We couldn’t get over that this was finally happening. Brian, Liz, Lynnlee, Melody, and Beth had come to send us off. Before we left, Liz put a huge folder of letters in my hand, some were for the trip there, some for the day we first met her, others for court day, and more for the trip home. Then, she handed me a small gift and told me it was from my tribe–a beautiful brass cuff with Isaiah 61 stamped on it.
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We hugged goodbye and made our way to the ticket counter to print off boarding passes and check bags. Then, security and Starbucks–travel essentials. And we boarded that first flight saying goodbye to our home and our tribe knowing God had big adventures ahead for us and a mighty force behind us relentlessly praying. As we boarded, I thought about the yes we first whispered to God five and a half years ago and the thousand yeses we gave Him from that point to this first airplane.
We landed shortly after in Houston, found a Pappasito’s (can I get a high five?!), and then we started working on a one page document to send to our senators and representatives telling about our family and our adoption. A few adoptive parents had arranged meetings on the Hill and requested all families to create a one page document sharing about our family and our journey. After a few hours in Houston, we boarded a plane headed across the Atlantic.
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 We woke up to London and a long layover. We saw Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the London Bridge. We rode the tube as many times as possible because it was Lydia’s favorite and, of course, ate fish and chips. We also got caught in a quick rain shower in the park, and the three girls huddled under Robyn’s one IKEA poncho. Matt said people were staring at us. I can’t imagine why.
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We made our way back to Heathrow for our second overnight flight, this one taking us to Ethiopian soil. We settled in our seats under the best airline blankets ever (thank you, Ethiopian Airlines!) for a little sleep and a lot of butterflies. I had one prayer on my lips. “Lord, please make a way.”
In the wee hours of the morning I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. I pulled out the letters friends and family had written for our trip over, bold prayers that put a fire in my belly and a peace in my heart. We were about to touch down in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was about to be on the same soil as my Eve.
to be continued…
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*All images by Robyn Smith of abideinhimphotography.com. To see more images from our trip to Ethiopia, go to @abideinhimrobyn on IG and scroll back a few. 
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around the world to get our girl {chapter one}

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I wear a watch now, not the new kind that lets you check the weather and get texts but the “old-fashioned” kind with a second hand that ticks rather loudly and a band that cracked within days of purchase. That’s what $15 gets you in the watch department. I bought it the day before I left for Ethiopia and the day after the hardest twenty-four hours of my life.

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The days leading up to our departure for Ethiopia–our trip to meet our youngest daughter and go before an Ethiopian judge to become legally what we have been in our hearts just shy of a year, her momma and daddy–were hard, heartbreaking kind of hard. Every whisper from Ethiopia looked worse and worse, and it looked like the beautiful girl who had stolen our hearts might never come home. My head went to dark places. How will I ever take down her crib? Can I keep the number 6 in the entry way? What about her stocking in the attic? How will we ever tell the big girls? My close friends told me not to go there, but that’s easier said than done.

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Mother’s Day held swollen eyes and a broken heart. I wasn’t surprised when I came down with an awful migraine the next day. I laid in the dark in my bedroom. The migraine persisted through Tuesday, and all I could think about was how I should be packing but instead I was in the dark. Literally and metaphorically speaking. When I woke up Wednesday morning, my migraine was gone. During my Bible study time, I wrote out four verses from my reading. When the girls went to their rooms for rest time, I laid down on our couch with the four, square pieces of paper next to my heart. My shattered heart needed Life.

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I tried to sleep but couldn’t. When the girls got up from rest time, I let them watch a show while I was in my room trying to pack. My fear was getting off that long flight to Addis to find out our court date had been canceled. My heart was racing, and my mind was reeling. And that’s when I had my first anxiety attack. The rest of the night is a blur. When I called my best friend Liz, she said, “I’m three minutes away from your house.” In God’s sovereignty she was already headed to me. She sat on the bed beside me until Matt could get home. I remember whispering with my eyes closed, “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, “It is well, it is well with my soul.” And I remember hearing her sing, “In every high and every low, in every season, holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.” Matt came rushing home, and I remember him placing his hand on my heart, the heaviness of his hand calming me. Later my dear Jess came over and told me to get a watch with a second hand. She taught me some breathing exercises for when I started to feel anxious and told me to watch the second hand move around the clock while I breathed in and out, in and out, in and out.

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And that’s how on the day before we left the country, I found myself at Stein Mart looking for a cheap watch with a second hand. I found one and thought it ironic that the company name on the face of the watch was “Embassy” considering how much we’ve been in contact with the US Embassy in Addis over the last 6 weeks. We checked out, and I put it on immediately. I could already hear its reassuring tick, tick, tick.

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The rest of the day was packing and going to the bank and checking a hundred times that we had our passports and yellow fever cards and lunch with my momma when she got into town. And laced among all those errands was the tick, tick, tick. Breathe in and out. In and out. In and out. Never had I been so aware that my every breath was from Him. Here we were getting ready to fly 8,000 miles around the world to meet our daughter, not knowing if we would ever be able to bring her home.

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To be continued…

*All images by Robyn Smith of abideinhimphotography.com. To see more images from our trip to Ethiopia, go to @abideinhimrobyn on IG and scroll back a few. 

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An Adoption Update

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Dear friends and family,

This is a hard one to write. When I last wrote, I was upset because we needed a police report. How tiny and insignificant that seems now. On April 21st, Ethiopia issued a suspension on all inter-country adoption. Only ten days earlier, we had finally received our MOWA approval, the last hurdle or so we thought. The past few weeks have been extremely difficult filled with many tears and fears. I have had to surrender back to God this child we love so dearly and have waited for so long.

Things change daily, and information is hard to come by and when it does it’s usually discouraging. I’ve gone back through my prayer journal wondering, “Did we hear wrong? Did we take our own path? Did we disobey somewhere along this road?” But time and time again I see it in black and white on the pages of my prayer journal–His confirmations. His assurance. His direction and guidance. Certainly, we’ve walked this hard journey with much imperfection, sometimes kicking and screaming, but we’ve given Him our yes every step of the way. And that’s where we are right now–we’ve given Him our yes. He has given us a court date of next Tuesday, a chance to stand in front of an Ethiopian judge and tell him our deep desire to parent this precious girl. Could something change before next Tuesday? Yes, it could. Is a court decree a guarantee that she will come home with us? No, it isn’t. Our guarantee comes in the Holy Spirit being with us no matter what.

I’m packing our bags, and I’m packing a pair of gold dotted baby moccasins given by my dear friend Laura. I’m packing a small shirt that says “Love makes a family” and a onesie that says “Love your tribe.” I’m packing some diapers and formula and a muslin blanket her big sister Peach used. I’m packing a book called You Are my Sunshine and another called God Found Us You. Some might think it’s foolish to pack those things, especially with the news we’re hearing today. But I’d rather believe my God can do the impossible and look a fool to the world than look a fool to God and believe He isn’t above all, in all, and surrounding all. He is fighting the battle. I am His servant extending my open hands and giving Him my yes.

We need your prayers more than ever. Please pray that God would guard our hearts and minds. Please pray for our health and safety as we travel. Please pray that He would continue to give families favor with the judge. Please pray the judge would continue to advocate on our behalf and that our court appointment would go smoothly and we would quickly receive our court decree. Please pray we would be able to receive her birth certificate and passport quickly and without any issue. Please pray that this suspension would be lifted and that all parties would be able to find solutions to the needs of orphans in Ethiopia that honor birth families and adoptive families together.

We don’t know how this next chapter of the story will look, but we know the Author, and despite the pain and fear that threatens to steal our joy, we rejoice in Him. He is always worthy. Always and forever. Thank you for walking beside us on this journey.

With all our love,

Liss and Matt