Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Day Five

Day Five. 

Today was another day of stories that cannot be shared. Today was Natalie’s day; we visited her old neighborhood. 

Other things that happened today:

I tried to figure out how to treat Micah’s burn. See, he tried to build a campfire before we got there, to have a going-away party. And then he accidentally fell in it. And now he has some ungodly blistered burn on his left palm and wrist that I think they poured iodine on, because it’s stained purple. Yeah. THAT. 

We discovered that Micah is as sassy as the rest of my he’s perfect. Boy’s been holding his own all day. And Levi’s THRILLED to have a brother. Like, can’t even tell you how happy Levi is. 

We ate lots of food that we weren’t supposed to (due to cleanliness, the water, etc.), out of respect to the bajillion people we visited, who served us dishes made with love. And now poor Abe and Olivia are puking their guts up. #firingelife

I watched five of my children laughing and teasing together tonight and thought my heart would explode. 

Good night world. Love to you all. 

Day Four. The Reckoning.

Day Four, Part One

This morning we dressed up for court. Olivia wore a pantsuit, Zahria wore a skirt and top, and Natalie wore a beautiful traditional Ethiopian dress. In their own words: “We look like social workers!!!!” 

Our driver came and picked us up at 8am. We drove to the courthouse, which by now feels like an old friend, it’s dusty stone steps welcoming us yet again. We went through security, and then I led the way to our courtroom. This isn’t my first rodeo. I know every turn of the halls, every numbered door. #106. The adoption court room. 

It’s a different judge this time. They change out every two years. I know, that as always, the judge will most likely be surprised and then pleased to see us with our current kids. They are so big, and we are so young, but it is clear that everyone is thriving. We know we will win him over. 

We wait for a half hour or so, chatting with the agency representative, and with the other waiting families. I beg the representative to get us our court order TODAY. I tell him I have promised Micah that he will leave today. The representative is unsure if the order will be ready today, but then he says something that gives me hope: “You are a very experienced adoptive family and clearly you care very well for your kids. If you take Micah today, it is no problem. You know how to care for him. I think it will not be an issue. I will call the orphanage later.”

I thank him profusely and tell the kids to keep praying. I think that it will be okay; Micah will be with us TODAY, and forever hereafter. 

The secretary opens the door to the courtroom and calls out, “Abas Ruper!” We file inside, the kids first. There is a big table, with seating for eight. The kids take up one entire side; Abe, the representative, and I take up 3/4 of the other. The judge looks up, surprised. He counts us. He asks, “THIS is the family?” We affirm. He is puzzled. He studies the paperwork in his hands. My kids sit tall and proud, respectfully quiet, but with big smiles. Honestly, it’s fun to surprise people with our family dynamic. 

The judge looks at Abe and me. “These are your children???”


“They are Ethiopian?”


“All of them?”


“Hmmmm.” He flips through the stack of papers. The secretary’s eyes meet mine, and I grin at her. I can’t help it. I know this is serious, but I am SO happy. All of our hard work, tears, and pain, have led to this moment, and I have no doubt that we will pass immediately. She smiles widely back at me. 

“Do they know Micah?”

“Yes, we have visited him many times over the years and most recently, we saw him yesterday.”

“How long have you been trying to adopt him?”

“For many years, but with CHI, 3-4 years.”

The judge turned to the kids. “Do you love him?”

All six of us simultaneous, firmly, and loudly, answered with a resounding “YES!!!!!”

The judge actually laughed. He smiled at the kids. “Hmmm!” he muttered, but it was more a sound of approval than anything else. And the smile on his face betrayed him. 

“Do you agree this contract is permanent, and shall not be reversed? Do you understand you cannot change your minds? That you will keep and call this child your own?”


“Then I hereby pronounce from this moment forward that Abas Ruper is your son—“

We were cheering and laughing before he finished his sentence. He cracked another smile. We thanked him one by one, smiling as we shook his hand. I spoke to him in Amharic and I saw him shake his head in approval. We went outside and shrieked and hugged each other.....and then attacked the agency representative with big hugs. He laughed with us, and everyone crowded around, crying, “Congratulations!!!!” Several families took our picture for us. Then we went outside to look for Selam. She took us to Khaldi’s to celebrate: the Ethiopian equivalent of Starbucks. Caramel macchiatos were drunk all around and our happiness brimmed over like the scalding drinks in our cups. God had done it. Micah was OURS. Forever. In the eyes of the law. We would never have to leave him again!!!!! 

Now we sit at the hotel, impatiently, excitedly, waiting for that court order. I do not want to go see him until what will happen. It is 11:22am right now. Abe is napping on the couch, and I am out on the balcony, overlooking the city and listening to the sounds of the country I adore. For the first time in 7.5 years, I feel like I can breathe for a moment. The crushing weight that has strangled my soul is gone, and in its place is a light, airy feeling. The feeling of knowing my child is safe. 

I breathe. 

Day Four, Part Two. 

We went back to the hotel after court and coffee. We were told that we had to wait until we got a phone call that the court order was ready (remember, it typically takes 1-3 days, and THEN you can go and pick up your child). 

Problem. I had told Micah I would pick him up TODAY (Tues, March 20th). I had promised him. So I had two options. Get the court decree and take him with me, or go and have to be physically removed by authorities, because I wasn’t going to break my promise. 

We waited all day. I won’t bore you with the details, but I could not relax, could not sit, could not calm down. I paced the hotel like a caged animal. One hour....two....three, four, five. 

Poor Abe tried to comfort me, but I was gearing up for Plan B. You know, the one where I get dragged out of the orphanage and then sit outside the gate in the middle of nowhere all night long. Or end up in a jail cell. I changed and dressed myself for the occasion. I could see a look in Abe’s eyes: he didn’t like Plan B, but he knew he was powerless to stop it. NOTHING gets between a lioness and her cub. 

I could barely think straight. It was so late in the day....3:30pm. The workday was basically over. Micah’s orphanage was an hour’s drive with traffic, at least. I had told him I would come.....and now I had to go. Time had run out. 

I called my driver. She came to get us, and I asked to borrow her phone. It was 3:45pm. I called the agency representative and asked him if he had heard anything. “I’m at the courthouse right now, getting the court orders,” he replied. “Meet me at the office at 4pm.” I was motioning the kids into the van almost before he finished his sentence. We drove to the office. There was no parking, so our driver dropped us off and we walked in. Through security, up to the 8th floor. The agency reps started handing out paperwork. “There’s been a problem with one of your cases,” one began. My heart stopped. I looked at Abe. “No, no, no,” my heart pleaded. Begged. Demanded. “The judge put the wrong date on one of your papers.” I stood frozen. Waiting for the bomb to explode and shatter me into a million pieces. “The family of *******....”

...a ringing sensation followed by a wave of relief and joy, followed by a feeling of deep sympathy for the other family. It wasn’t Micah. I swallowed a huge gulp of air, feeding my starving lungs. I had stopped breathing. 

We took two copies of the court decree. It was 4:30pm. We ran to the first floor by the stairs and out to our driver. And then we drove. 

It was such a long drive. Heavy traffic, potholes, heavy heat, and the impatience to reach my baby before the orphanage closed for the evening weighed heavily on all of us. I didn’t like the oppressive feeling, so I turned on a playlist of songs of encouragement, hope, promise, and power. And we sang together, the music rose and floated the suffocating air away. 

Our van dipped and jerked as we came to the unpacked roads. The sun was gone, though there was still a grayish light out. Poor Micah! He must have waited all day, only to think we weren’t coming after all. I willed the old van to go faster. 

Some of his nannies came into sight. They were at the edge of the road, waiting for a taxi. We rolled the windows down, handed them gift bags we had prepared, and continued on as fast as we could. They cried, “We will come with you!” and hurried on behind us. The van bounced and swayed over the ruts and ridges. As we pulled up, I grabbed my bag and hopped out of the car, clutching the copy of the court order in my hand. The gates were closed. I rapped sharply on one, and the old gate keeper opened the door a crack. I darted inside and his milky eyes were kind as he raised his arm and pointed. We didn’t need words. It’s not the first time he’s seen me. 

I ran across the grass. Children appeared out of nowhere, pointing and whispering. I said in Amharic, “Where is Micah!!!” and they grabbed onto me, dragging me towards an entrance. I ran inside, just as Micah was coming out. I grabbed him and hugged him tightly. Then I showed him the court decree. “We did it! We did it!!!!! You’re coming with me. Get your stuff, baby! We are LEAVING!!!!” 

He grinned and nodded and walked outside. People were mobbing us left and right. His friends were crying, the nannies were crying, I was crying. Everyone was kissing and hugging, and one special nanny fell into my arms wailing. She had seen me come four years ago, and three years ago. She saw me sobbing hysterically as I left him in 2015. 

“YOU DID IT!!!!!!” she cried. “YOU DID IT!!!! You are a JEGNA!!! A JEGNA!!!!! NO ONE could have done what you did! You fought and you WON! No one else would have done this! No one would fight for any of these children like this! You are a warrior! You are of JESUS!!!! For years and years I have prayed for Micah, and after you left last time, I cried to God so many times for him. And now look! You are HERE! For all the other kids, when they go, we cry of sadness, but not for Micah! For him we weep with JOY!!!!! This is a MIRACLE! You are strong! You are the strongest! TENKARA JEGNA!!!!! You know he asked for you all day, every half hour? He kept asking when his mom will come? We didn’t know when, and he was so mad at us! But you are HERE!!!!”

We sobbed in each other’s arms. I thanked her for caring for my son, and for loving him while I was gone. 

It was almost completely dark. My driver motioned that it was time to go. The roads weren’t safe this far out for firinge (Americans), and the darkness only added to the level of danger. 

We told Micah to collect his things. He was wearing borrowed clothes and had to exchange them for some other clothing shared by the orphanage. He came back wearing a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and a pair of shoes. In his hand, he held two worn photo albums. Ones that I had given him four and three years ago. 

“You have nothing else?” I asked him. My other kids came with almost nothing: the clothes on their backs, some school books, and whatever we had sent them previously, but he had even less. He had nothing but our pictures. Twelve years spent in an orphanage, and he left in borrowed clothes and a handful of dog-eared photographs. My heart broke for him. 

The nannies were wailing as we turned to go. They loved him. Everyone loved him. 

He left without turning back. He moved with purpose, away from the place that had been his only home, and yet also a kind of prison. My kids walked beside him, wrapping their arms around him. He stopped to hug the grizzled old guard, who swiped away tears. Then the five of my kids, arms holding each other, walked straight and tall outside that orphanage gate. I ran to the guard and hugged him fiercely. “I will love him forever,” I whispered in Amharic, tears blurring my eyes as this strong old man cried on my shoulder. 

Then I stepped through the metal green gate, where my children were waiting. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Day Two/Three

Day Two. 

Too much. Too personal. Too many pieces of stories that aren’t mine. It was a day of tears...the good kind and the bad kind; a day of joy and sorrow. 

Day Three. 

We got up early (not an easy feat, when your body is eight hours behind.....) and went to our agency’s office. Our best friends, Abrham and Selam are our drivers, so we never have to worry about missing an appointment; they will be there to drive and guide us. 

We went to the office with a group of other adoptive parents. Most of the others are newbies, so they had questions for the agency representative. We just sat and chilled, rather impatiently, as the process was explained for the others. They handed us giant black binders to look through. When the representative handed me Micah’s, he said, “I meet Micah! He is a smart boy! Always building things and making something new!” We laughed and told him that every time Micah is moved, he rigs up electricity in his room. The boy has almost no language or school, but he can get electricity going no matter where he goes. He amazes me. 

Our binder was the thickest. Heavy and filled with the weight of all the years of struggle for Micah. Pages upon pages of petitions and pleas. I felt pain as I flipped through documents dated 2010. 2011. 2012. Pride, as I flipped through signatures dated 2015, when I went to Ethiopia alone, to fight. Pressure to finish this, here and now, and my eyes blurred from the few pages between 2015-2018. I wanted to be angry, to cry out against the injustice that my baby has suffered, for years, at the refusal of a few simple signatures. Names, scribbled on a page. Meaningless, and yet they mean everything. My anger is dulled by my happiness. It doesn’t matter anymore. What’s done is done. The point is, he is almost free, and I am leaving WITH him. Time does not go backward. We cannot change the past, so we must focus on the future. And in the very near future, after exactly three years of being apart, I am about to see the child that I have literally given my life for. 

I flipped through the rest of the binder. Touched precious paperwork I had filled out labored over....signed with names like Cheryl Dinofolo and John Kerry. The last 7.5 years of my life, printed onto paper, for the most beautiful boy in the world. A child everyone thought was worthless, but who I loved with everything I was and am, from the second I knew of his existence. A miracle child, a child who “would never clear”, was “not adoptable”, and who “wasn’t worth your time.” Memories flashed back at me. A tiny eight-year old, sobbing and shuddering in a corner, because he couldn’t communicate and was terrified of everything. The ten-year old who sat stiff and silent, like a statue, and wouldn’t look at us. Wouldn’t move. A child who had given up. The eleven-year old who gave me one shy smile. Whose deep brown eyes told me of sorrows none can bear. The twelve-year old who opened his heart up to me, who laughed and hugged me and cried when I was forced to walk away and leave him, begging, “How many days, Mom? How many days till you come back???”


1,099 torturous days, and every single one I cried for him. Ask Abe. Every night I go to bed, I cry. Every time someone says his name, I cry. I put his pictures and videos in a folder because it hurt too much to see them. To look at him and relive the hardest moment of my life: when I had to abandon my child indefinitely. When I had to walk away and leave him with his heart breaking; turn away and go to the other side of the world. I was told I was wasting my time; that his papers wouldn’t go through, but it didn’t matter. I had promised him that day that I would return. That when I came back, it would be for court. That he would come home with me. 

And I have kept my promise. 

I don’t know what expect at the orphanage. Would we be joy-filled? Would he hate me for abandoning him? Would he be immediately at home with us, comfortable and easy like when he was 12? Or would be be distrustful and disengaged, like at 10? So much hurt and pain and tears. I didn’t want to obsess; to invite worry. Just focus. 

Micah Micah Micah. 

We pulled up to the orphanage. An elderly man, eyes wise and aged, milky and tender, met us as the gate. “Micah???” I asked him Amharic. He smiled kindly at me and jerked his head toward a building. I sped for the entrance. Several nannies came out and I said, “Micah, Micah???” One of them pointed and said, “This way. Who are you? You are not his mother???” I could tell she was surprised. I’m so young. I said, “I’m his mother. These are his brothers and sisters.” (The kids were right behind me.) She was surprised but she said nothing more. She led me into a dark room and all I saw was this tall, slender MAN, who got to his feet when I walked in. He was almost as tall as me, the hood of his sweatshirt pulled up over his head to practically hide his face. Ripped jeans (he is SO my child) on long skinny legs, one hip dipping lower than the other (he needs hip surgery for an accident this past summer).

I would have known him anywhere. 

I dropped my bag and went straight for him. He was almost hesitant (I’m 80lb lighter than last time he saw me, and I’m blonde now), but his face split into a big smile; that beautiful beautiful face staring at me as the realization hit him. 

I had come back. 

I wrapped my arms around him and felt my world spin into place. My SON. We hugged for a long moment, him patting my back as I started to cry. Really, all my tears have run dry in the past 7.5 years, but my eyes burned as I hugged him close. I looked him in the eyes and said, “See? I promised I would come back. I LOVE you. I am here.” He nodded at me, and everyone else crammed in for their hugs. Natalie burst into tears and cried and cried. I love her. Then we went outside and sat down. We talked a bit, and looked at pictures and videos from home. Micah was reserved; almost disinterested at first. Who can blame him? We come back and forth for years, promising we are his family, but we never took him. And he hadn’t seen Abe or the kids in four years; me in three. Of course he was hesitant to open up to us again. 

 A nanny spoke to me. She told me that three weeks before, an Ethiopian relative that he had not see since he was one, had come, per the courts orders. Since he is deaf and unable to communicate, they had told him that his mother was coming. He had been so excited and had run to the meeting place, only to find her and not me. In confusion, he had said, “That’s not my mom! THIS is my mom!” and held up a picture of me. When the nannies told him that I was coming TODAY, me Marissa, coming TODAY, he had stared at them and said, “You’re lying.” 

Oh my poor baby. My precious, precious baby. My heart broke for him for the millionth time. 

We played and hung out all afternoon. Soccer, Uno, Memory. Little by little, he began to open up. To smile a little. To tease me and giggle. 

I had been told that once we passed court, we  could take him. So when we were leaving, and I saw his face darken, I told him, “It’s okay! Remember how before, I told you I would come for court, then leave, then come for embassy? I am NOT leaving. I am staying with you. I will not leave till the papers are finished. And tomorrow is court, and when that is done, I am coming to get you. Tomorrow, you will come to the hotel with us and stay with us” His dark eyes lit up and he looked me as if to say, “Promise?” “I promise!” I said to him. He smiled and nodded. 

Shortly after, the staff informed me that the court letter can take days and we cannot take him without the court order. My heart stopped. I had just promised him I would take him. That I wouldn’t leave. 

Pray for us. Please pray that by some miracle, we get this court order tomorrow. Or I am going to stay at that orphanage until they give him to me or take me away in handcuffs. I will sleep outside the gate if I have to, but they will have to drag me away with him watching so he knows it’s not my fault. I won’t break my promise to him. I won’t. 

So please pray we get the court order. That would just be easier on everyone. <3

Sunday, March 18, 2018

We Made It!!!!

Day One. 

The saga in which we struggled to get on a plane, and Satan struggled futilely against an all-powerful God, and we got to witness more miraculous events. And Satan lost. I mean, obviously, right? The word “futilely” implies that. But it’s fun to say it again. 

It’s 5:02am on March 18th, in Ethiopia right now. It’s 10:02pm on March 17th, in New York. So hello from the future!!!! :) Currently we are about two hours from landing. The flight has been good, with minimal turbulence. I’m grateful, because we had a heck of a time getting on this plane. But more on that later. I’ve been sleeping (as much as you can sleep on these flights, which is more like a semi-conscious game of trying to figure out how to get comfortable, which is impossible). I’ve got my headphones in now, and Abe and I just listened to “Matters” by For King and Country, because that’s my new favorite song. And I want to try and get a post going, to keep all you amazing people in the loop (if I have enough internet to post when I get there!). 

So yesterday. What a day. We made it to the airport at home with no issues, got through security, and went to our gate. Our flight was scheduled to be on time. We had our airport game plan ready: the kids pulled out their pizza goldfish crackers, and sat all around me. I turned on “Ninja vs. Ninja” (DUH, we basically only watch American Ninja Warrior now!!!) and we happily sat through the next hour. Our flight got delayed. No biggie. Then it got delayed again. Hey, it’s cool; we were flying to Newark instead of Dulles, and we had a six hour layover there, so we were still not panicking. We finally were called to board. Now we are EXPERT packers. We only bring carryons for our personal stuff. The only checked bags are donations and gifts, etc. And for our personal carryons, we use the smallest bags possible. Well, the kids went first, but the line to board got all held up, because the flight attendant wouldn’t let them on the plane. I made my way to the front, where she blocked the door with both hands on her hips. “You have to check these bags!” she informed me. I looked at the sign RIGHT. NEXT. TO. HER. The United policy sign. Stating one personal item and one carry-on. Olivia was first in line with a little backpack and a TINY purse. No joke. Another woman in line tried to enter the plane, but the woman stopped her as well and refused to let her in. The passenger argued with her; no avail. 

I pulled my kids to the side and took their backpacks. I tried to tie the tops together, because they aren’t sturdy backpacks and certainly not a great idea to toss them around with checked baggage, but we had to get on that plane. We were getting too close to our second flight and we had tons of security we would need to get through. I put the tags on their bags and got them onto the plane. While everyone was loading in, the attendant continued to literally harass passengers. I’ve never seen anything like it. Multiple people began calling the 800-United number to complain. Everyone was angry. 

We waited. And waited. When we finally began to taxi, an announcement came on the loudspeaker: there was a glitch with the plane and they were trying to fix it. They needed to restart the plane. So they stopped it, on the runway, and shut it down. Abe and I were sitting on opposite ends of the plane and texting each other. Time was getting low. The restart didn’t work. They restarted it again. 


They pulled back to the gate and de-boarded us. But because they had a mechanic in the engine checking on the plane, they couldn’t get anyone their bags, which were locked inside the checked area of the plane. 

Seriously. Satan was working overtime to keep us from flying. The delays, the plane being “dead” (exact words from the pilot), and then the fact that our bags were locked inside, so that we couldn’t even try to catch another flight. 

We got into the line of 50ish passengers at the United desk. Everyone was furious. I went and got the kids some Pringles and water ($20 for two tiny waters and two Pringles cans) and told them that it was okay, because of the plane wasn’t safe, then we wouldn’t want to be on it anyway. They were struggling to hold it together; they were really over-tired, stressed, surrounded by angry people, and we knew we were going to miss our flight to Ethiopia now. I prayed with them, and reminded them that God hadn’t gotten us this far for nothing. It was going to be okay. Then Levi reminded me that when Paul was in prison, he PRAISED God. So we tried to come up with a list of praises. 

-We weren’t getting on a dangerous plane. 

-God is bigger than any problem. 

-Even if we missed this flight, court is Tuesday. We could STILL make it on time. 

-We were together, stuck at our home airport, and not stuck in Newark or somewhere unfamiliar. 

-We could be a witness to people on how to handle the situation. 

I went back to Abe, who was still in line to speak to a United agent. The line hadn’t moved. We happened to look left, at another United flight. There was an agent and one person in line. A guy walked by and said, “Try over there—that lady helped me.” We had nothing to lose, so we went over. The woman was nice, but as we explained our situation, she shook her head. Her flight had been delayed due to maintenance as well (whatttttt???). But it was going to DULLES. But it only had one seat available. We shook our heads. She searched the computer for almost forty minutes. Finally she told us the only other option: come back tomorrow and take a 6am flight to Regan International, get two taxis, and  drive to Dulles, and take the ONLY flight left to Ethiopia, the 11am (that we normally take). We had her hold the tickets for us (she had to do them individually, as there were only seven seats left on the plane, and they were spread out everywhere). She told us that when we got our bags back, and had confirmation that we definitely weren’t flying tonight, to come back and she would get us new tickets and travel vouchers for two taxis. 

Basically we were at the airport until 8:30pm waiting to get our bags back. I promised the kids DiBella subs to compensate for their hunger and disappointment. Catherine came to get us and Abe went to finish getting new tickets while the kids and I grabbed our bags. We got dinner, went home, ate, and went to bed. 3am came quick, and we got up and went back to the airport. We were flying American Airlines this time. But at the desk, the guy wanted to see our Ethiopian visas. He put them in the computer and told us we were good to go. United hadn’t done that. Maybe it was a good thing we hadn’t flown them. We made it to our gate and boarded with no trouble. 

And the loudspeaker announcement happened again. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry, but there’s going to be a bit of a delay. This plane’s computer isn’t working correctly. We are going to get it fixed and get going as soon as we can.”

Natalie started crying. Abe was texting me from the back of the plane, “Whaaaaaat??? Not again?!?!” And I was thinking, “Satan, Imma punch you in your fricking face!!!”

Different airline. Different plane. Different day. Same problem. 

We prayed. Waited. Waited. 

Time was running out to catch our connection. 

And the plane moved. At that point, I wasn’t sure it was safe to BE on it, but I almost didn’t care. We were GOING. We flew into Regan. Abe ran for the vouchers and the kids and I ran for our checked bags. They were the first four bags (in a ROW) to come out on the luggage belt. Then we all ran outside to the taxi area. There were two taxis waiting (we needed two taxis) and we threw our stuff in and jumped into them. My driver was Ethiopian. We started driving and I started talking to him in Amharic. He freaked out and we spent the trip chatting it up in Amharic while he laughed and laughed because he couldn’t believe I could speak him language. I showed him my Amharic tattoos and he was dying. 

We made it to the airport. Abe and I gave each other the look: we might not make it in time. We went as quick as we could, and because this is our bajillionth time at Dulles, we knew right where to go. At the security ticket check, all our tickets beeped red. Denied. ALL OF THEM. I looked at the guy, who looked like he was too tired to deal with us. He frowned and looked at our tickets, then our passports, and then back again. Then he shrugged, wrote something, and handed them back to me, while waving us through. We didn’t ask twice. Just ran to security. The kids were bomb, we were ripping off sweatshirts and shoes as we went, and we busted through in the fastest time ever. Then we darted for the train. Got off at our terminal. Speed-walked though 31 gates, and arrived at the end of the boarders. Boarding had started at 10am; flight was at 11am. We jumped onto the end of the line at 10:37am. The kids stayed in line, Abe checked us in at the desk, and I ran to the nearest little food store and spent $52 on six small water bottles, five tiny bags of Chex mix and a little beef jerky. I ran back to the plane and we got on. We were spread out everywhere, because we had been squeezed onto the plane last minute. 

The woman to my right was Ethiopian, so being me, I started talking to her. Yessss, in Amharic. She asked me what I was doing, etc., and I gave her the two minute run-down. She said, “You’re too young!!!!” and then she asked if I had a boyfriend. I told her my husband was somewhere in the back of the plane. We turned and looked for him, and she said, “I’ll switch.” 

I stared at her. “Really,” she said. “You should sit together! I’m not traveling with anyone.” I leaned over and gave her a huge hug. And then she switched with Abe. 

So now, 13 hours after we boarded (and we are about an hour out), I am sitting here with my man. The sun is just starting to rise in Africa. The skyline is intensely orange and blue and red, and it’s a new day. And we are about to be in Ethiopia. Our favorite place. 

And we are going to see Micah tomorrow (Monday). 

God is good. 

All the time. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

When Fear Becomes Faith, Miracles Happen

Yesterday started out as a normal Tuesday. I went to work, went to ninja, and then ran a couple of adoption errands. We leave on Friday for Ethiopia, and everything was falling into place. We just needed our PAIR letter, which if you don't know, is a special letter that is an agreement between the Ethiopian government and the United States Immigration saying that the child to be adopted is truly classified as an orphan, and can enter the U.S. The PAIR process is a huge investigation on both ends of both countries and we received notice that we had passed PAIR two three days before we received our court date. The PAIR letter is sent through the mail, so we had been waiting for it to arrive. Monday afternoon I had called USCIS (immigration) and left a voicemail for my case officer, inquiring about the status of our letter, as it had not arrived. The PAIR letter needs to go to Ethiopia with us, and be given to the Ethiopian court/embassy, so basically, without it, we can't travel. And can't have a court date. 

You already know where I am going with this, don't you?

Around 11am yesterday, I received an email from our immigration officer:

"Dear Ruper Family,

Your PAIR letter is currently pending approval of your Form I-600A update. Once I receive confirmation of payment of Olivia's biometric fees, I will enter her information into the system for scheduling. It can take the Dallas Lockbox approximately 2-3 weeks to send confirmation of payment after it clears. So once you see it clear your financial institution, you may either screen shot it, or attach a copy of the cancelled check and send via email. It must be cleared, not pending, show the Lockbox information, amount, and have either your name or your spouse's name on the screen shot. 

Once I am able to issue the updated 600A approval, I will issue the PAIR letter."

Insert. Panic. 

#1. I had paid Olivia's fees weeks ago. Why didn't they have record of it? The check had been cashed on March 7th.

#2. We didn't have our PAIR letter. We can't have a court date without PAIR. And we had already paid for flights, totaling $11,000, and were booked to leave Friday. 

#3. Ethiopia is closed to adoptions. We can't be rescheduling court. 

#4. Fingerprinting with immigration requires requesting an appointment, waiting weeks to get an appointment letter, driving 1.5 hours to the office, and then waiting a few weeks for the clearance letter for that. So five weeks absolutely minimum. 

We didn't have five weeks. We had three days. IF we were over-nighted the approval letters. 

I tried to breathe. I pulled up my bank account and found the completed transaction. But when I clicked on the check image option, and error message occurred. I tried again. No luck. Trying to not freak out, I scrolled down to multiple other check transaction and clicked on the electronic scanned images. All of them immediately pulled up. All but the one for the biometrics fee. I called Abe and had him try it on a computer, since I was on my phone. He got the same error message. I asked him to send me screen shots of everything he could, including the error message. Apparently, since it had been processed as an electronic transaction, the physical check had not been scanned into the system. I called Olivia, who was home, and asked her to send me photos of my carbon copy of the check. Then I attached all the images (at this point, like 10 screen shots, proving we had paid, that it was my account, and that it had been cashed) to my officer.

And then I called immigration. 

I held on the line for what seemed like an eternity before my officer answered. Now over the years, we have probably had six different officers on our case. Praise JESUS, this one had been with us for about two years, although we almost never even have contact with them. They answered and I blurted out out the situation in one breath. I was trying not to yell at them (it's not THEIR fault) and I was trying to be clear and make sense....but instead I started to cry, while begging them to help us. 

I could hear the sympathy in my officer's voice. "Don't panic!!! Please, don't panic. Listen, I know your case. I know it very well. Look, I am going to talk to my supervisor and see if there is something we can do, okay?"

We hung up and I sent out SOS prayer texts to the kids. I told them, "Guys, this is SO important. Pray. PRAY. We need a miracle right now." Then I emailed our agency, freaking out and begging for help. They responded almost immediately, with concern and worry....and with the terrifying realization that they had no power in this situation and could not help us. There was nothing they could do. Olivia had to be printed (againnnnnnnnnn), before we could leave, and we HAD to get the letters, or no Ethiopia, no court, no Micah, and a LOT of lost $$$. I knew they were afraid and upset for us, but they were helpless. 

I called Abe and tried to explain what was going on. And then I lost it on the phone and started bawling. I RARELY lose it, but I was starting to freak. I hadn't slept more than 2-3 hours a night for the whole week, the kids emotions have been everywhere with the reality that we are returning to Ethiopia (so many positives, so many negatives; another story, another time), and everything was going down the drain. Poor Abe was trying to calm me down (he's not used to me losing my crackers), and he had to get off the phone for a work meeting. 

I hung up, and my fighter instinct kicked in. Crying was not going to get me anywhere. I had stuff to do. God was bigger, God knew what was going on, and God was going to fix this. I had to pull it together. And I had to show my faith NOW.  And I knew I needed to give God the glory and honor and power NOW, and call on Him to get us out of this mess. So I sent the agency a quick email. 

"God has got this. It will be okay. I started crying for like two seconds on the phone, but that's dumb. God got my baby this far; He's not done. Hugs to you all. "

Then I started praying again. 

An hour passed. My phone rang, and I scrambled to answer the private number that I knew would be my USCIS officer. 

"Marissa? What's your availability?"

"Anything. I will do anything. I will go anywhere."

"Listen, I'm here with my supervisor. There is an opening in _______ (a town) today. Can you get there? they have a 3pm opening."

(I was already putting my car into gear). "YES!"
"Okay. Go and get Olivia printed. The results can take up to 48 hours, but I am here until 5pm, so I will start checking every 30 minutes or so after 4pm to see if they happen to come through early. What I am going to do is email you a special appointment letter. You're going to need to download an encryption software and decode and print the letter and take it with you. IF we get the results early, and I can see, them, we are going to make an exception for you. We are going to encrypt and email you the approval letters for your PAIR and I-600A and then mail the actual ones as soon as we can. You will need the encryption software to download the electronic copies and print them. We never do this, but my supervisor is giving me permission and we are going to take care of you, okay? We will get this letter."

I started crying again. "Thank you!!!! Thank you, thank you thank you!!!"

"It's no problem. Everything is going to be okay. Go to the appointment."

I texted Catherine (my sister-in-law). I told her I needed to take her car (mine is broken) and that I was dropping off two of my kids so I could take Olivia to the appointment. It was 12:30pm. The appointment location was 1.5 hours away. I drove home, grabbed the kids, switched cars, and Olivia and I took off. We made it to the immigration office, and got through security with no trouble. It was 2:30pm. We sat in the waiting area, and then the man who does the printing walked by. I told Olivia, "That's the guy who printed Levi last year! He's super nice," just as he turned and saw us. He asked me, "Do I know you?" I told him I had been there the year before with Levi, and maybe that was why he knew me, but he shook his head. "No, it's your face," he said. "I remember your face. Hey, do you want to come in now? I'm free."

We were done with her prints in five minutes. Obviously, we went to Starbucks to celebrate and caffeinate before driving all the way home. The entire trip we checked my email every five minutes. When we got home, I started packing, because I couldn't sit still. An hour passed. It was almost 5:00pm. The girls turned on a worship station on Pandora and suddenly a song came on, the lyrics catching my attention and gripping my heart. 


All of the dreams that haven't come true
And all of the hurt that happened to you
It matters, I hope you know it matters

You felt the pain of a bitter defeat
Where the weight of the grief is more bitter than sweet
It matters, I'm telling you it matters

I started crying. This was for Micah. God was sending this song for my baby. He was speaking to me, sending me comfort, letting me know amid this crisis, Micah was NOT forgotten. He mattered. To the One who made the world and holds it in His hands. 

To the one who spoke and set the sun ablaze
To the one who stopped the storm and walked the waves
To the one who took the tree so He could say
You matter, I hope you know you matter
I know it's not easy, not saying it's fair
But close as a prayer somebody cares
You're a treasure, I hope you know you're treasured

So hold your head high, wait for the dawn
Keep hanging on, your sadness will turn into laughter
Watch it turn into laughter, yeah

My email dinged. 

To the one who spoke and set the sun ablaze
To the one who stopped the storm and walked the waves
To the one who took the tree so He could say
You matter, I hope you know you matter
You matter, heaven knows you matter

USCIS. Two coded attachments. The letters. 

So let the water spill from your eyes
Let it wash the wounds of those lies
Oh, let the water spill from your eyes
All that you are, all that you'll be
Someone put the beat in your heart so that you'll see
You matter

I was bawling again. 

To the one who spoke and set the sun ablaze
To the one who stopped the storm and walked the waves
To the one who took the tree so He could say
You matter, I hope you know you matter
You matter, heaven knows you matter
You matter, I hope you know you matter
You matter, heaven knows you matter 

The girls ran in and we cried together. And listened to the song. Prayed and thanked Jesus for his faithfulness and care for our family. 

And printed those letters. 

An email from the head of our agency twenty minutes later:

"Marissa, You must have a direct line to heaven! I'm shocked that you pulled this off in ONE DAY! CONGRATULATIONS!!!"

This was all God. ALL of it. No one else could have ever gotten this 6-7 week process done in FIVE hours. My heart is so full. This was a miracle that will forever awe me. 

I am the vine, you are the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same brings forth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing. ” — John 15:5.