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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

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Today didn’t go like I was hoping…

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Today didn’t go like I wanted it to. After waiting an entire week to get our court date (longer than usual because of Ethiopian courts being closed Friday and Monday for Easter), we anxiously awaited news of our court date today. Instead, we got word that court had requested a new copy of a form from our daughter’s first orphanage. So, we have to wait a little longer. I cried a lot today. I know it seems like what’s another week when you’ve been waiting for almost five and a half years. But it’s hard. I’ll just leave it at that. I have a feeling a lot of you know what it is to be on the roller coaster of waiting, no matter what your waiting is for. 

We went to IKEA tonight. We needed to get out of the house, and I didn’t want to cook. (And free kids meals. The end.) I got a little pale pink kalanchoe because I need to hold life and the promise of beauty from dirt–green grass, bluebird eggs, worms wriggling in freshly turned soil. When we got home, Matt dug up some dirt around our mailbox and the girls and I planted morning glory seeds by the last light of dusk. Halfway through I remembered we were supposed to nick the seeds before we planted them. Each seed is covered in a hard shell and nicking helps the seed germinate. There’s a gentle whisper there for me. This nicking process, this long wait, this hard struggle, is germinating something in me too. It’s painful, but I’m believing there is beauty ahead. And like the blue morning glories that will soon wrap their way around our mailbox, I’m clinging to that promise that He who began a new work will carry it on to completion (Phil 1:6). 

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We’re coming for you, E! {our big news} 

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Sweet sunshine girl,I have some news for you. We’re coming. We’re coming, baby girl. Yesterday was a crazy day. Aren’t the best of surprises that way? We were at our final week of CC for your big sis Lydia. Your daddy had brought Chick-fil-A to us for lunch. I had my phone in my back pocket the whole time but with the swirling chaos of the lunch room and making sure I didn’t lose your sisters I never felt it buzz. Your daddy went back to work, and Lydia went down with friends to the grass for recess. Lottie, Georgia and I were headed towards the elevator to get our big school wagon downstairs. I pulled out my phone to check on your Auntie Liz, and I saw a missed call from our agency just a few minutes before. Then, I saw I had a voicemail. “Lottie, wait! Don’t get on the elevator yet,” I yelled. I listened to my voice mail, “Elissa, this is Alicia. I have good news. Call me back.” I started moving to the side hallway because my phone was cutting in and out and called Alicia back. After a few seconds of hold music that felt like forever Alicia said, “Hi, Elissa. I have good news. You have MOWA approval.” 

And then the tears. The tears. The sobbing. The heart racing. Your sister Lottie was crouched down in eager anticipation and when I told her we had approval she started cheering. We called Daddy to tell him. We made it down the elevator and out to the grass. Lottie bolted yelling, “Lulu! Lulu! You’re going to Ethiopia! E’s coming home!” 

The rest is a swirl. Phone calls, texts, emails, tears, so many tears. But I found myself out in the backyard on the pew we just put out there. I had my prayer journal in my lap open to your page staring at these verses I’ve prayed thousands and thousands of times. And all I could say was Jehovah Shammah. Over and over. The Lord is There. Jehovah Shammah. The Lord is There. 

Alicia told me we should find out our court date early next week, but based on what they have been seeing she thinks we’ll travel to Ethiopia mid to late May. That’s next month, sweet sunshine! Next month!!! 

Baby girl, we are coming. But you know who’s always been there? Your Jehovah Shammah. 
You came, I knew that You would come

You sang, My heart it woke up

I’m not afraid, I see Your face, I am alive

You came, I knew that You would come

by Jonathan David and Melissa Helser