It's been a little over a month since my last update and so much has happened since then that it's going to be hard to catch up. So rather than give you a detailed overview, let me give you a timeline of what has happened since my last update:
- Nov 6: We submitted our paperwork (including passports) for the Colombian TP-8 visa, which is required for adoptive parents. We also filed for the children's DS260 Visa applications to give them permission to enter the US after the adoption was completed. (All this was done on the road and upon arrival to Dallas for the Right Now Conference!)
- Nov 11: We picked up our final medical clearances from our doctors as required by the Colombian adoption agency. We also purchased our round-trip tickets to Colombia and the children's one-way tickets back to the US.
- Nov 12: Lori traveled to the Secretary of State's office in Baton Rouge to have the medical reports "apostilled" which all notarized documents are required to have. Normally we would mail these but the time sensitive nature of our trip required this extra step.
- Nov 14: Paid our final fee to Caroline Adoption Services. Also booked a hotel room in Bogota for our overnight stay before flying into our final destination of Armenia, Colombia.
- Nov 15: Started with a bang! Got a phone call from Colombia that the electronic system used to approve visas had been down for more than 24 hours and that if it wasn't back up within an hour we would have to go to "Plan B" (which had never been tested before!) I was just stepping in to lead my weekly chapel service at Grace Christian School so I went in and asked the 200 children to pray with me for a miracle. We prayed and then had our time of worship. When worship was finished, I pulled my cellphone out to access my Bible and saw I had an email from the Colombian Consulate with our visa approval!!! I told the children they had just been part of a miracle!!! Later that day we also received an email telling us of the the preparations being done with the children for our arrival and that they are very eager to meet their parents!
- Nov 16: The Colombian Consulate had not checked "Saturday Delivery" on the FedEx envelope containing our passports, leading to mass anxiety! Our passports arrived in Alexandria Saturday morning but were not scheduled to be delivered until Monday morning! After multiple calls to FedEx, Lori was allowed to drive to the local FedEx office and sign for the passports!!!
- Nov 17: We left the house at 4:30AM to pick up my parents who drove us to the airport for our 6:00AM flight to Atlanta where we camped out all day until our 5:30PM flight to Bogota (getting to watch the services live from Christian Challenge as we waited in the airport). We arrived around 11:00PM, went through immigration and customs and got to our hotel after midnight.
- Nov 18: It was a short night as we had to leave the hotel at 6:00AM for our flight to Armenia. Avianca ended up merging two flights together and we didn't leave until close to 11:00AM. We arrived around noon in Armenia and Magnolia Franco, our incredible guide and facilitator, was there waiting for us, after leaving her home town of Cali at 6:00AM also.
- Nov 19: We met with the interdisciplinary team at 2:00PM, consisting of the director of adoptions, the children's legal defender, the psychologist, social worker and nutritionist who have all worked on the children's case since they were admitted to child protective services nearly 4 years ago. We gained great insight into the children's past as well as their routines and current development.
- Nov 20: "Encuentro Day!" (Also known as "Gotcha Day!") Our emotions were through the roof as we prepared to meet the children for the first time at 11:00AM. They arrived all dressed up with little backpacks containing everything they owned and balloons (which were gifts for us). It was a joyful meeting, at first, but after a little while Karen began to cry, first a soft whimper and then a full-grown sobbing, heart-breaking cry. Anderson joined her shortly afterwards, probably more because of her crying than for anything he understood. The emotions of the day had caught up with them and the uncertainness of their future overwhelmed them as they realized they were leaving everything behind they had ever known.
- Nov 21-25: We tried to develop a normal routine with the kids, including making our beds in the morning, regular mealtimes, Bible reading, prayers and singing before bed, etc. We also had some outings to places like PANACA (an amusement park dedicated to promoting interaction with animals and agriculture) and Salento, one of the most beautiful areas of Colombia, reminding you of the European Alps. The hotel we were staying at, Mi Mónaco, was a former coffee plantation that had been converted to a bed and breakfast type facility and they had a playground and pool, which the children really enjoyed. It was a time of getting to know each other, learning boundaries and building relationships.
- Nov 26: We traveled into town in the morning to sign a power of attorney for our attorney to represent us before the court so that we didn't have to appear at every event. In the afternoon we met with the interdisciplinary team again for the final followup visit before the legal paperwork could be filed. They agreed to meet us at the hotel rather than having the children revisit the place where they had experienced the emotions of meeting us and the visit went exceptionally well. The team was amazed at how well the children were doing and how they were bonding to us. It ended with them giving their whole-hearted approval for the adoption.
- Nov 27: Our paperwork was filed and we packed up and headed to Cali. We had been told it would take 2-3 weeks before the paperwork was final and Cali had so much more to offer than the (relatively) small town of Armenia. Plus, we would be staying in an apartment rather than a hotel, which would give us more of a sense of family. So off we go!
- Nov 28-Dec 8: Here we are in Cali, enjoying this city of over 3,000,000 people and bonding as a family. The change to the apartment has been WONDERFUL! It is the best thing we could have done as we have a kitchen, livingroom (you don't realize how much you miss a couch until you don't have one!), dining area, plus the children have their own bedroom and we even have a separate "time-out room" (which has been needed a lot for little Anderson!) While here we have visited the Cali Zoo, the "Christ the King" statue of Jesus (one of the 10 tallest in the world), visited the historic downtown, attended a "Día de las Velitas" traditional gathering in Magnolia's home and otherwise engaged ourselves in daily living. The children's favorite part of the stay here is the pool and the playground, where they are making friends with other children living in the apartment complex. This has been a wonderful time in our bonding journey and I'm grateful for this place.
That brings us up to date. Right now we are waiting for the notification that the adoption is final and then I will travel by bus to Armenia to sign the "sentencia" (adoption decree), making it all legal. Afterwards we'll all fly to Bogota to start the final phase of our journey (medical exams, TB tests, ID cards and passports with their new names, US Embassy visits for final visa approval, etc). That should take about a week. We're hoping to get to go this coming week, which would mean that if we can change our flight back to the states, we could be home for Christmas!!!
Has it been easy? No, it definitely hasn't. Providing 24-hour care for a 4 and 7 year old is tiring, especially for folks who are old enough to normally be enjoying grandchildren for awhile and then sending them home to their parents!!! Anderson's tantrums can be overwhelming and Karen is still processing things, causing her to be withdrawn at times. They have intense sibling rivalry going on and compete for our attention and affection, even though they don't have to. But in spite of all of this, we wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
All along I knew that adoption would change my life. I just thought it would be more along the lines of freedoms I'd be missing out on or things I would have to give up. But in reality, it's caused me to slow down and enjoy these little blessings from God, reevaluating all the other "stuff" I've filled my life with. I've got another chance to be the dad and husband I wanted to be and I want to make the most of it.
I'm also especially grateful for my church and family's support. Karen and Anderson absolutely LOVE the video-chats with their sisters, grandparents, aunt and cousins (and dog and cat!). And they have loved greeting the church and being hams when we Skype our greetings in on Sundays. They know they are loved and are looking forward to finally getting to the United States! (They ask me every day if it's today!) But let me warn you ... as much as we all thought we were in this to change their lives, I think they're going to change ours! Thank you for being on this journey with us!
I love serving Jesus with you!