May 21

This morning at church, we sang “I want to be close to you/I want to be close to you.”

And I thought, that has to be the scariest desire on earth. Because every time I’ve asked God to get closer to Him, He’s given me a situation where my only hope was in Him. And while it’s the best feeling ever to have His presence that intensely on you, it makes for some pretty freaky moments.

Like one year ago today, when I experienced the wildest day of my life.

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Looking out an orphanage window

 I was alone in Armenia, adopting a daughter who spoke zero English, was paralyzed from the waist down, had no idea what a mother was, was very attached to one specific nun at her orphanage, needed catheterizing three times a day and refused to eat/sleep/take medicine from me.

And that was the easy part.

Guyana and Sister Mieke, the amazing Flemish nun who cared for Guyana for nearly five years

Guyana and Sister Mieke, the amazing Flemish nun who cared for Guyana for nearly five years

Because Nick and I were Americans adopting from Armenia while living in the UK, the authorities didn’t exactly know what to do with us. The normal visa process for an adopted child wouldn’t work, since we weren’t going back to America anytime soon. And thanks to very few flights in and out of the country, my two options for getting back to England were through either Iran or Russia, both of which I was not supposed to be in as a military wife, let alone alone as a military wife, let alone as a lone military wife with a paralyzed Armenian chatterbox with no visas of any sort and who clearly was not my biological child strapped to my back.

I chose to take my chances in Russia, where people roamed around the airport with “Mr. President” T-shirts emblazoned with Putin’s face.

In a taxi after a completely sleepless, tear-filled night

In a taxi after a completely sleepless, tear-filled night

Our contact at the American embassy prepared me for the worst, writing letters in Armenian, Russian and English explaining our situation, and why we didn’t need a visa for Guyana to either get out of or enter any country. “Here’s a number to call if they arrest or detain you,” he said. “How much Russian do you speak?”

Nyet?

But it wasn’t just the possible arrest (or let’s give my imagination credit for the “Seven Years in Tibet” scenario it came up with) or detainment that freaked me out (and as it turns out, we did get detained temporarily in Armenia). It was the fact that I had no idea if I was making the biggest mistake of my life, if I was destroying my wonderful little family, by adopting Guyana.

In front of a really, really old church door in Armenia

In front of a really, really old church door in Armenia

Guyana and I struggled for our two weeks in Armenia. She didn’t hate me, but she certainly didn’t want to be my kid, or leave the only home she had ever known. And I doubted, so dang much. How much? On most days, I neither ate nor ran. Skipping food is one thing, but skipping a run? The last and only time that happened, I was recovering from intense birth trauma.

In a way, this was birth trauma, too.

For many hours of each day, I lay on the hard tile floor of my downtown apartment, sobbing, totally paralyzed, Bible in hand but its words stuck on the page or in my throat. What got me up off the floor at any given moment were the worship songs that my closest friends sent me, horror stories from more experienced adoptive moms (they made me feel better!) and the many, many prayers from all over the world on our behalf. I physically felt them, as crazy as that sounds. I knew God was near, I knew He had called us to add Guyana to our family, I knew He would come through in my darkest hour — but I didn’t know how much it would hurt. And that scared me.

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The orphanage locker where all of Guyana’s worldly possessions were kept

In the middle of the night on May 21, I woke up, met my driver, picked up Guyana from the orphanage (she sobbed as I pulled her from a teary Sister Mieke’s arms, adding my to heartache) and headed to the airport. From there, it was just us.

I have never been more terrified.

A group of men corralled us into a private, windowless room, staring at Guyana’s visa-less passport and talking amongst themselves for quite a while. The clock was ticking; I worried we would miss our plane. I remembered what a good friend had told me before I left: “Be firm, and act like you know what you’re doing. Tell them how to treat you, if you get in trouble.” So using every acting skill I had, I ordered them in English to let me go, trying to sound as large and smart and rich and whatever as possible.

To my great shock, the head man immediately handed me our passports and opened the door. It had worked.

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Washing clothes in her orphanage

 We made it into Russia, where I knew better than to act American or speak English. The lady at the first visa checkpoint was practically sleeping, and she returned Guyana’s passport without a word. But at the second, the man was checking thoroughly, and sometimes checking bags, too. Gulp. Would he not only deem us crooks, but discover the several thousand dollars in American cash I was carrying (long story)?

I whispered the name of Jesus, over and over. A miracle, Jesus, please give us a miracle.

The lady directly in front of us dropped her bag, and papers flew everywhere. The official bent down to help her, then glanced at me and the long line behind us. He had no one to help him process everyone. He nodded to me and said hello in Russian. I replied in English. “Oh, you are American?” I gulped and nodded; it wasn’t a lie, because I was, even though Guyana wasn’t.

He waved us on. “Just go.” I didn’t argue, or ask if he wanted us to leave his country without the proper documentation because he hated or loved Americans. I practically ran down the jetway.

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At Guyana’s orphanage

We sat next to an Australian immigration official on the plane from Moscow to London. I showed him the letter I had from the embassy: “Do you think this will work?” He shook his head no. “I can’t imagine that it will. I’ve never seen such a thing done.”

I got in the line of the happiest-looking customs checker I could find at Heathrow and explained our situation. It took about 45 minutes to convince them to let us through, but finally, he smiled at me and handed me Guyana’s passport. “Congratulations on your new daughter.”

I have never felt more relief than when I staggered through the doors, child on my body and one hand trying pathetically to steer a dolly with all our luggage, Guyana’s carseat and a running stroller on it and saw this:

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I stunk like Eastern European cigarettes and Yerevan humidity. My hair was a mess from the 16-hour journey, I had no makeup on and my mouth tasted like city (translation: gross). But I had one thought as Avinly ran up to me: That is the most beautiful child I have ever seen, and she’s mine. “Where’s Guyana?” she asked excitedly.

And for the first time ever, I could answer, “Right here.”

We were finally together.

Jude and Guyana, about 24 hours after meeting

Jude and Guyana, about 24 hours after meeting

Guyana has changed so much in the past year; her progress is for another post (or follow her Facebook fan page, if you’d like). But today, as we celebrated her one-year-out-of-Armenia day with friends at a minor league baseball game, I was overwhelmed with the memories, and this one thought:

To God be the glory, great things He has done.

Hanging out with Miss Tara and her daughter

Hanging out with Miss Tara and her daughter

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