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around the world to get our girl {chapter seven. home}

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Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

In the days following our first trip, I woke up every morning long before the sun was up. I anxiously checked my email hoping for good news. We had been home for 13 days and jet lag had finally released its hold on us when we got word on June 7th that the single piece of paper that was holding us up was finally granted. We had our Vitals Letter. (The irony of the name of that piece of paper wasn’t lost on me.) There was still an issue with the passport office that we wanted to be sure was resolved before we headed back to Ethiopia. My girlfriends wanted to throw a shower for me, and they originally planned it for June 15th. When it looked like we could be traveling even more quickly than we thought, they moved it up and threw it with about two days’ notice. My tribe is amazing, and I’ll never forget the prayers they prayed over us that night. (Or the spread of yummy dips because this girl has never met a dip she didn’t like.)

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We went ahead and sent our girls with different family members in case we got to travel quickly. They left town on Friday morning, June 9th, and that same morning we found out the passport office issue had been resolved. We booked flights Friday afternoon to leave Sunday morning. Then, we ran around packing and buying and preparing. We were headed back to Ethiopia, and this time our daughter was coming home with us.

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The trip was very different this time. Matt and I went on our own. Since we had just returned home from our first trip, we decided it might be a lot for Lydia to do all that travel again so quickly. Plus, she wanted to spend some time with her cousins. Our amazing photographer and my dear friend and mentor Robyn had family obligations that meant she needed to be in Memphis. So, Matt and I headed off on this adventure just the two of us. And while it felt a little like deja vu having just made this trip two weeks prior, it also felt very different. During our first trip there was so much fear and uncertainty mixed in with the joy and anticipation. This second trip was pure excitement and gratitude. Every step felt flooded with our gratitude.

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We arrived late Sunday night in Addis. We got to the hotel and unpacked our bags. They had a crib waiting in our room, and that’s when it hit me. Everything I had been expecting our first trip and all the pain we endured when those things didn’t happen–God had brought us through all of it. And now He had a crib waiting on us. Waiting on her. We put her baby doll and blankets in the crib. We unpacked diapers and wipes and bottles, and we fell asleep.

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The next morning I packed her yellow backpack, and we headed out to meet Abreham to go get our sunshine girl. We spent most of our first day at her orphanage. We had to leave a little earlier than expected because we got word that her passport was ready, and we needed that information to request our embassy appointment. When we left, Eve was ready for her nap. She was exhausted physically and emotionally. She was leaving her orphanage family who had loved her so well. As I write this, it’s been nine weeks since we arrived home, and we are reaping the love they sowed in her. She knows how to love us because they taught her how to love. I’ll never be able to describe my gratitude to her orphanage nannies and volunteers. Our little girl was exhausted from saying goodbye, and on the drive back to the hotel she fell asleep in my lap.

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The next few days were a bit of a blur. I never really knew when one day ended and another began. I remember Matt and I ate a lot of room service Margherita pizzas and drank Ethiopian Coca-Cola from glass bottles with Amharic writing on the side. (I never drink soda, but I found myself craving a glass bottle coke every day in Ethiopia.) I remember Eve gobbling up the yummy shiro (traditional Ethiopian dish) during dinner our first night together at the hotel. I remember going to the Suisse doctor and learning she had giardia and an ear infection. I remember wondering how that would affect the long flight home. (Poorly is the answer to that pondering. Don’t let all those smiles fool you or the sleeping pictures. Notice the only pictures of her sleeping are in the airport.)

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I remember Abreham pulling the van over and buying a huge bunch of bananas for Eve and her friend Nafi to eat.I remember her first bath where she was terrified and dug her fingers into my flesh so we opted for a towel bath instead. And her second bath where she felt a lot more comfortable because we blew bubbles the whole time. I remember waking up in the middle of the night that first night in the hotel and peeking over in her crib. It wasn’t a dream. She was with us.

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I remember the Embassy appointment and our interviewer saying, “Once you touch down in Dulles, she’ll be an American citizen.” I remember holding her next to the window and pointing out at the American flag and telling her, “You will always be an Ethiopian and now also an American.” I remember her nannies and volunteers coming by the hotel to say goodbye one last time. I remember hugging her nanny Ayinalem and not wanting to let go.  I remember Ayinalem holding her and giving her an entire latte because Ethiopians love their buna. I remember thinking, “Does this mean she isn’t going to sleep on our flight tonight? (The answer was yes.)

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I remember hugging Abreham goodbye and wearing Eve as we walked into the airport. I remember a very, very, very long flight and not sleeping a wink. (Seventeen hours.) I remember holding Matt’s hand as our plane touched down at Dulles and the other adoptive families cheering with us. American soil. We were finally on American soil. I remember going through immigration and our officer congratulating us. I remember eating Chipotle with lots of lettuce and ice and Eve chowing down on her rice. I remember walking through all the different flags in the airport until we found the stars and stripes. I remember landing in Atlanta absolutely exhausted after 36 hours without a minute of sleep. I remember falling asleep in a chair and waking up to hear Matt say, “Our flight’s been delayed several hours.” I remember wanting to cry and scream because how could we be so close and still feel so far away from home?

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I remember late that Saturday night finally boarding our flight to Memphis. I remember landing and walking through a quiet airport until we saw our girls and our parents and siblings at the end of the corridor. I remember kneeling on the ground with all four of my daughters around me. I remember taking the escalator down to baggage claim and hearing the loudest cheering of my life. I remember my hands in the air and tears down my face. I remember someone a little later yelling out, “Happy Father’s Day, Matt!” and I looked over to the airport clock to see it was past midnight. It was officially Father’s Day, and my man had all his girls together. I remember putting all of them in the van and driving home with a quiet car because they had all fallen asleep.

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I remember putting Eve in her crib with Georgia beside her in her toddler bed. I remember glancing up at the verses on her wall–the Word of God that had carried us through our Red Sea. I remember closing their door and walking to the kitchen and seeing all the “Welcome home, Eve” signs on our table. I remember Robyn, who had followed us home to document this last piece of this chapter of the story, walking into the kitchen and showing me her camera–a shot from the girls’ bathroom where four pink towels were hanging in a row. Finally, she was home.

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*When you notice the photo quality increase midway through the blog (the one right after Eve and me under the US flag), that’s when Robyn (abideinhimphotography.com) joined us on our journey home. Trust me, you’ll know which ones are hers. 😉 Going back through these photos nine weeks later, I’m reminded of what a gift it was to have someone capture this story for us. There are so many moments I wouldn’t remember if not for her beautiful photos. Thank you, Robyn. 

 

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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.