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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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?
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.
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.
*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.