Mar 5, 2014

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Officially Ours

Look at what came today!

YES! Finally, the written ruling! AND the judge just signed it last week. So the delay was within the court itself, leaving me (and other adopting families) wondering if six weeks is the new normal for receiving a written ruling? If so, I am ever so grateful for the illness that sent me home early, that led us to make two trips instead of me staying in-country for six weeks, bleeding money while being unable to move forward. It really was a blessing in disguise.

Anyway…this means that now the pastor can move on to getting the passport and her physical. Once those are done, we will be on a plane to go complete the process and bring her home! That could be in as little as two weeks or so.

I talked to her on the phone today. She was so cute, not really understanding the process still involved. She kept asking, “Can you come back next week? Please come back next week!” Bless her sweet little heart — she just is SO ready to have a family.

And we are so ready to give her one!

It was around 4:30 a.m. when the phone call came this morning. Donnie hopped out of bed and went to the computer to read the document for himself. Then he came back in the bedroom, and even in the darkness, I could see his smile as he kissed me. I stayed awake a long time after, thanking God for the ruling, but mostly just thinking about things in a new, concrete way. It’s no longer the same thought process of the past two years, where every thought of Violet carried with it a big “if”….”IF we’re granted legal guardianship….IF she gets to come home this year…” Even as we met her in January and spent that wonderful week with her, the “Big IF” hung over our heads because we knew the judge could just have easily said “No.”

So this morning, it finally, truly sank in that we HAVE a daughter. *I* have a daughter! Me, this mom-of-boys who always longed for just another touch of girlishness in the house, this mom who always knew that God had left a sparkly pink vacancy in my heart for a reason, now officially has a daughter. I can tell people I have FOUR children now, no longer just three. I’m a mom of four. ME, the previously infertile, a mother of four? How can that be? But it’s real and it’s true and it’s in writing now! And my sons now have a sister, and my husband has a daddy’s girl, and our parents have a granddaughter and our siblings have a new niece. And all our amazing friends have someone new to dote on and love.

That beautiful “It is done” feeling was not unlike what I felt after our biological babies were born. As I looked over their impossibly tiny fingers and toes, ran my fingertip over their velvety new cheeks, and marveled that something so perfect could’ve been made by love and entrusted to me, it was a holy moment. And today brought an entirely different, but equally holy moment, to realize that finally, after two years of struggle and tears and pleading and prayers, this daughter we longed for was ours. Just like the babies laid upon my chest at birth, God has laid her now in our arms and love has once again, multiplied my family.

Whether by womb,

Or by judge’s decree–

Love builds a family.

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Mar 3, 2014

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New Prayer Requests

So many of y’all have stood with us in prayer through this whole process, and our family will NEVER be able to thank you enough.

As we enter this last phase of the process, I have these specific requests to share with you all.

But first, look at this picture we got yesterday… (Yes, I played around with it on PicMonkey, one of my favorite pastimes!)

Her hair is getting SO long…can you believe she’s only been growing it out a few months? It’s getting long enough for us to try some products and styles I’ve been studying on sites like Chocolate Hair/Vanilla Care. I am SO looking forward to that bonding time with her.

ANYWAY…back to the prayer requests:

  • For the written ruling to be in the pastor’s hands in the next day or two
  • For the passport process to go smoothly and quickly
  • For Violet to pass her physical and most importantly, her TB test (because if she fails that, it opens a whole other months-long set of delays)
  • Wisdom for Donnie and I to know what’s best with regard to which of us goes back and stays for the embassy/visa process (one of us must be present for that and it can take several weeks)
  • That we get her travel visa easily and quickly
  • For all trips there and back to be safe and for all of us to stay in good health–including our boys at home!

This has truly been one of the biggest adventures and challenges of our lives and we are just so grateful for all of you who’ve stood behind us, beside us and lifted us up. I mean it when I tell people that I have some of the most generous friends and family in the world! I pray God’s blessings over each of you in return for all you’ve given.

“For if you give, you will get! Your gift will return to you in full and overflowing measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use to give—large or small—will be used to measure what is given back to you.”

-Luke 6:38 (TLB)



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Feb 27, 2014

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Apples of Gold

“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a ruling rightly given.”

-Proverbs 25:11

Praising God today because we received our ruling!

And now I’d like for you to officially meet our daughter, Violet.

Until now, we’ve called her Pearl on this blog to protect her identity until we knew we’d been awarded legal guardianship. We chose “Pearl” because Winston Churchill called Uganda “The Pearl of Africa” and she was our Ugandan Pearl. Later, a friend of ours reminded us of the passage in Matthew 13 about the pearl of great value. What a fitting passage to apply to this beautiful treasure!

This is the first picture we ever saw of Violet. Now can you see why she just pulled at our hearts from the first time we saw her? Look at the hope in those eyes. This child, she just glows.

I know God has big things planned for this girl and we are humbled and honored that He’s allowed us to help nurture her into all she’s meant to become.

Truly, we’re blessed beyond measure.


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Feb 25, 2014

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Travelogue: Day Four – Part Two

(Continued from Day Four – Court)

Nothing like having a machine-gun-toting guard giving you a once-over before being allowed entrance to a mall parking lot!

Cafe Javas, the restaurant our driver Francis suggested for our after-court late afternoon meal, was located at the corner of a small shopping mall. Security is tight at these locations after the 2010 bombing in Kampala by a Somali branch of Al-Qaida — and even more so after the horrific mall bombing in Kenya last year where non-Muslim westerners were specifically targeted. I found the men with machine guns somewhat reassuring, but also an alarming reminder that danger lurks closer in Africa than America.

Regardless, we were impressed by the restaurant, with its coffee offerings and full menu geared toward western tastes. And there was air conditioning, a rarity indeed! We had three tables put together, to seat us, both drivers, the pastor and his wife, Pearl, her birth mom, her uncle and the probation officer.

In case you’re wondering what’s in those glasses, it’s fruit juice, which I found our Ugandan friends generally preferred over soda. The light orange is passion fruit juice, which I’d discover the next day at breakfast is simply fantastic. The darker orange is a papaya/passion blend, I think. Anyway, the atmosphere was festive and Pearl asked for fish, rice and chips (french fries). Donnie happily ordered a cheeseburger, fries and a double espresso. My stomach was still off, so I thought I was safe ordering a simple cheese quesadilla. I’d learned that it’s a real insult in Uganda to leave food on one’s plate, especially when so many are starving. So I thought it would be like ordering a quesadilla at a Mexican restaurant at home, where they just bring me a little dry-grilled tortilla with cheese on a small plate.

You know, just a safe little something to refuel me but not overstress my tummy.

Well, I was wrong. The portion sizes in this restaurant were enormous! The tortilla used to make this quesadilla must’ve been at least 12″ around, and it was damp as if it had been fried in oil. It was quartered and served on a huge platter heaped with pinto beans, guacamole, pico de gallo and a rice pilaf studded with big chunks of carrots, peppers and peas.

Yikes. I would’ve taken a picture but I thought they would think I was so bizarre for doing that!

I nibbled a few bites of everything. The cheese’s flavor was odd to me. All the side dishes were very flavorful and I lamented not being able to enjoy more of them. Pearl kept asking me what was wrong, why was I not eating, and I tried to explain that I still didn’t feel well enough to eat much food.

Everyone else really dug into their meals, however, and would’ve won Clean Plate Awards if we’d have been giving them out! When the pastor noticed I wasn’t eating much, he said, “Well, give the remainder to them — they will eat it.” He was referring to his wife and Pearl’s mom. I said OK and slid my plate over. Between them and Pearl, they ate it all. I truly do not mean anything rude in saying this, but it was surprising to see these ladies have room for all their food and mine, too! But as someone told us later, that was probably the nicest meal some of them had ever had, and their bodies are used to adjusting to feast or famine. This same person also politely chided Donnie for leaving food behind when we left. He said, “In Uganda, you never leave a remainder. You should’ve had them wrap it up and we could’ve given it to a homeless person on the street.”

(Total interjection here, but that stuck with me and those whom I’ve told the story. Here in America, sometimes you can’t get homeless people or beggars to take even fresh food or let you buy them a meal. But there? Hunger is so real and prevalent, they will gratefully accept even food that someone else had touched or bitten off of. Just another of hundreds of ways this trip provided us with a deeper understanding of poverty.)

After the meal, we stood around for a while, taking photos and saying goodbye to those heading back to Jinja that night, which was everyone except us, Francis and Pearl. After they left, we went to the pharmacy, then back to the guesthouse where we all changed into more comfortable clothing. We finally received a call that our missing luggage had arrived at the airport, so Francis and Donnie drove off to Entebbe again while Pearl and I had some mother/daughter time.

We sat out on this lovely porch until nightfall…

Pearl played games on the Kindle, and I also had her read some passages to me so I could get an idea of where she is with her English reading and comprehension.

After dark, we went inside to the lounge. One of the guesthouse maids was watching TV and I found her selections very amusing. For a while, she watched a lively TBN-like Christian music show that was performed in both Luganda and English. Then there was a Hispanic soap opera that was dubbed in English; after that, an Indian Bollywood-ish soap opera that was dubbed in Luganda with random English phrases thrown in. Pearl was interested in all the shows and I passed the time checking Facebook and email on my phone, and then a sweet lady I knew from the Ugandan adoption group on Facebook came in and we talked for a long while. Finally, Donnie came back with our bag and we turned in for the night.

It was our first time that both of us were alone with Pearl, and she was just as sweet as could be. I gave her some new pajamas and she quietly changed into them. She played with her dolls for a few minutes, then hugged us goodnight. She neatly tucked the dolls and a stuffed animal under the blanket beside her. She dropped down her mosquito net and we never heard a peep from her until morning.

And then Donnie tucked in our net, and it was lights out, our first full night with our new daughter….

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Feb 21, 2014

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Travelogue: Day Four – Court

Donnie woke up at sunrise again, and snapped pictures from our balcony.

Kampala sunrises are beautiful, especially when they’re full of hope like ours was one month ago today.

My stomach was still giving me grief, so I skipped going down for breakfast. My gourmet morning meal consisted of one pretzel, a few sips of Coke, some Pepto-Bismol and a couple of Imodium. I had another freezing cold shower, baffled as to why there wasn’t any hot water in our room. (It would’ve been nice if the guesthouse had included a note that all we had to do was ask someone to flip a switch!)

We weren’t scheduled to leave for court until around noon for our 2:00 appointment, so I took my time getting ready. This was just as well, because I still felt pretty weak and shaky, with all the energy of a geriatric sloth on Benedryl.

Suddenly, Donnie burst into the room. “The lawyer called. The judge has something to do at 2:00, so she wants to see us right away!”


So, my leisurely getting-ready became quite hurried, and we were concerned that our daughter’s relatives who were on the road from Jinja wouldn’t make it to Kampala on time. Because Kampala traffic is completely insane without having your appointment moved up a couple of hours.

Thankfully, our ever-faithful driver Francis arrived quickly and we all piled into his van. Miss Pearl was all smiles and adorable in her black-and-white houndstooth dress with a fuchsia bow and perfectly matching shoes.

By this time, it was raining and quite cool out. I found it refreshing, though. Driving through Kampala is a totally fascinating, completely butt-clenching experience! Imagine no traffic lights at intersections, everyone just crossing as they’re able, with cars, pedestrians and boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) zipping around you and toward you, so close you could stick a finger out and touch them. We saw a person holding a massive flat-screen TV (with no box) while riding on the back of a boda. There were times that traffic came to to a total standstill. For ten minutes, you’d not move an inch. And even with all this madness, we saw one minor accident our entire week in Kampala. You’d think there would be accidents on every corner. All I know is it must take some mad skills to drive in Kampala!

Family court was held on the 4th floor of a tall but smaller-than-I’d-imagined building. We were asked not to take pictures, but I could kick myself for not taking one outside (because I missed capturing the requisite family-together-at-court photo!)…just one of many photo ops we managed to miss.

There was an elevator, but no air conditioning. It wasn’t terribly hot, though, because of the rain and because there were open windows and vents everywhere. There were a lot of people milling about, waiting for their cases to be heard. Of course, most of them were staring at us, wondering what these muzungus were there for. After a brief wait, the relatives from Jinja arrived and we all greeted one another. I was struck by how handsome our daughter’s uncle was. I mean, I wasn’t surprised, as she is gorgeous and her mother is, too. But she clearly comes from beautiful genes all the way up both sides of her family tree. He is her late father’s brother and had a very dark complexion, but these beautiful light brown eyes and very refined features. I wish I’d gotten a picture of him. Maybe when we go back, we can get pictures of her with him then. He could be a model or an actor — no kidding!

Anyway, I was surprised by how calm I felt. Even as we walked into the judge’s chambers, I felt completely peaceful. (I think it was a God-thing!) The hearing started out with the judge and lawyer talking back and forth, outlining the details of our case. Then the orphanage pastor was asked to leave the courtroom while she questioned us. I was questioned first, and she asked things such as how we came to know Pearl, why did we want to bring her into our family, what type of work I did. She wanted to know about our boys, and how I planned to take care of Pearl’s hair and skin (as a friend mentioned later, ONLY a woman judge would think to ask about that–but it was a great question!).

Donnie was next, and he was asked about his work, and our income, and how he felt about having a daughter. She asked if we had healthcare, then inquired, “What do you think about Obamacare?” Donnie felt a little put on the spot, but was like, “Ma’am, to be honest, I’m not fond of it. I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Everyone burst out laughing, including the judge. (Most Ugandans we met seemed to regard our president as a pompous boob who needs to tend to his own country instead of sticking his nose in everyone else’s business.)

Next, Pearl’s birthmother, “H” was questioned about her late husband, her resources and health, and why she wanted to give up her daughter. Out of all of us, I think the judge was hardest on H, and it made me feel sorry for her. Even so, she wasn’t a harsh judge — just very firm and thorough.

All this time, Pearl was sitting patiently underneath the window, fidgeting with her handkerchief, bending over to play with the bows on her shoes, and after a while, she actually took off her shoes and fidgeted with her toes! (It’s sort of a running joke with this child, how much she hates wearing shoes.) It was a bit of an awkward moment for me, because H was sitting closer to her than I was, but she never corrected her for removing her shoes, and I didn’t know if I should say anything or not. I decided to let it slide, even though if that had been one of my boys I’d have been scolding him big-time for doing that in court, of all places! Hahaha!

Next, the judge asked Pearl what she thought about everything. She responded SO quietly, barely above a whisper, and was very shy when asked to speak up. I can only imagine how overwhelming it all was for her. The judge only asked her simple questions, and when she said, “Do you want to go to America with Kari and Donnie?” she giggled, hid her face in her hands and said “Yes!” Everyone laughed along with her — it was very cute!

At that point, Pearl’s uncle and the probation officer (social worker assigned to our case) were asked to come in and testify. The uncle gave his approval of everything, and the probation officer shared the details of her investigation. Then the pastor was invited back in to give his side of things. All in all, it took about three hours for everyone to be heard. When the judge was satisfied with the information, she dismissed us. I later found out as we left the court, she stopped the pastor and told him that she knew his father, that she was from the same original village. I thought that was another neat God-incidence that hopefully worked in our favor.

It was quite late in the afternoon, but everyone was hungry and we needed to feed them all before sending anyone back on the long trip to Jinja. We were still in need of malaria medication, so Francis suggested a pharmacy and a nearby restaurant called Caffe Java. And off we went again into the crazy Kampala traffic!

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Feb 18, 2014

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Travelogue: Day Three

I can’t recall ever having been so dehydrated.

The midnight to noon hours of that January Monday are one big blurry memory of the same repetitive sequence: stomach cramps, rush to the bathroom, wash hands with terrible-smelling hotel soap, flop back in bed, try to sleep.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

After the first couple of times, when the fever began, I thought, “This must be the traveler’s diarrhea I was warned about.” So I stopped taking only Pepto-Bismol and asked Donnie to find the Cipro. He also brought me a Coke from the fridge downstairs, and a Stoney — a natural ginger soda so strong, it probably would’ve really helped — had I been able to get past the burn enough to actually consume it.

Around 7:00, I finally gave up the fight against vomiting and experienced the most painful retching I’ve ever endured. (A friend still teases me because I described it as feeling like my stomach was trying to turn inside-out.) It just went on and on and on.

After that finally passed, I was so parched, I wanted to gulp down the contents of all those bottles. But I knew I couldn’t. Each tiny sip was like torture, trying to keep from triggering my gag reflex and becoming even more dehydrated. The skin on the backs of my hands remained standing when I pinched it up; I couldn’t say more than a couple of words before my dry lips and tongue stuck to my teeth, ,making me slur like a drunken sailor.

I was miserable. And everyone else was worried.

Donnie went down for breakfast with Pearl, her birth mother “H”, and the pastor came over from his hotel to spend the day with us. I think I finally slept a bit at that point. I knew I’d have to get up and be presentable for our meeting with the attorney that afternoon, but in the meantime, Donnie gave my regrets to everyone and explained that I’d been sick all night.

I dozed off and on for a few hours, while Donnie and Pearl enjoyed some father/daughter bonding time. They colored and took pics together… (again — forgive the cheesy smiley faces — still no court ruling, and I can’t share her face here ’til it comes!)

They built a Lego Friends set together…which she loved and had never done before…

Pearl and “H” discovered the fun of playing Fruit Ninja together on the Kindle…they thought it was hilarious!

Pearl asked Donnie if she could go upstairs and check on me. It was a really sweet surprise, though I felt terrible that she had to see me looking like that. She looked very concerned and said she was praying for me and rubbed my arm. She asked me to come down if I could. I assured her that I would do that, soon. Donnie put in an order for dinner at the guesthouse, so I had to smell cooking all day long. Yuck! I could’ve sworn I was smelling fish, but they were served chicken. (That’s a little scary if you think about it! LOL Donnie said the food was really delicious, though.)

Around 5:00 p.m. our attorney came to meet with us. I put on a nice skirt and top, but I was pale and sweating from the fever and truly embarrassed by my appearance. (Later, the lawyer would tell us that he was a bit startled when he saw me and feared I wouldn’t be well enough to attend court the following day. So yeah…this mama was looking ROUGH. LOL)

We met outside under this lovely tented area, where it was cool and comfortable and beautiful….

He prepared us for what was going to happen the next day. He said that our judge was a Christian and would welcome honest answers about our faith’s involvement in our adoption decision. It was a pleasant surprise to hear that — open confessions of faith aren’t exactly encouraged here in the states anymore — especially not in a legal venue. I’d heard scary stories about families facing a really tough Muslim judge, so hearing this was a big relief.

After our brief meeting, I went back to our room to rest while the others ate dinner. After, as I’d promised Pearl, I came back down to visit with everyone. This was the last night we’d have with H and there were so many things I wanted to ask her about Pearl’s life so far and their family history. I didn’t really feel like being vertical, but I was pretty upset that I’d already lost so much bonding/talking time to sickness. I was determined not to lose another minute of this day.

H doesn’t speak very much English, so the pastor interpreted for us. I wasn’t able to ask very many questions, as the conversation seemed to lean more toward H asking questions about us. We showed them a photo album we’d put together and told her about the family and where we live. She kept telling the pastor to make sure we understood her gratitude for what we were doing, and kept referring to us as her sister and brother. There was one precious moment when our eyes met as mothers and she smiled the same soft smile I’d seen a hundred times before on her daughter’s face. She knelt down and grasped Donnie’s hand, and then mine, and it felt like receiving her blessing. The pastor explained that in their culture, deep gratitude is expressed by kneeling. I think we all had tears in our eyes, and we made sure H understood how thankful WE are for the gift she’s given us. It was a very, very sweet moment that I’ll remember forever.

While we were sitting on the sofa next to each other, Pearl kept reaching up and playing with my hair. It’s curly and unruly sometimes, and it was like she was trying to get it to lay down a bit. I wanted to giggle, but the back of my neck was damp with fever-sweat and it was kind of embarrassing for her to feel that. But she didn’t seem to mind, and there would be other times over the next few days that she’d try to get my hair to cooperate. It was one of those funny introductions to parenting girls that I hadn’t really thought about. I’ll probably write another blog post at some point dedicated to grooming lessons we taught one another during that week together. There’s definitely some humor in how that played out!

We took Pearl upstairs before bed and gave her the dress and shoes we’d bought for court. She liked them a lot and though it seemed to me that the fuchsia flats we’d brought were a little too tight on her feet, my pink-loving girl stubbornly shoved her foot into them and I don’t think she wore another pair of shoes the remainder of the week!

Thankfully, I rested better that night — even though I woke at 2:00 a.m. to find an almost three-inch-long cockroach hanging on the outside of the mosquito net near my face! (Thank the Lord for heroic bug-slaying husbands!)

I remember fading off to sleep thinking that it didn’t seem possible that we were only 12 hours away from our long-awaited court date. Finally, the day had come!

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Feb 18, 2014

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Dream Sign

Years ago, I painted some little wooden word signs to sell at a craft fair.

I think there was “Faith” and “Family” and a few others that sold. Nobody bought “Believe” or “Dream” so those ended up being displayed in our own home. They’ve been around so long, I don’t think any of us really notice them anymore.

Except for my 4-year-old, who is really into words — he’s basically taught himself how to read with very little input from me. He loves the magnetic letters on the fridge, road signs, printed material any and everywhere. So of course he noticed these signs. And the past few days, he’s been asking to play with them.

“Mom, I need ‘believe’,”he pleads, wiggling his fingers on outstretched arms, reaching for a shelf four feet above his head.

“Pwease, Mom, can I hold ‘dweam’?”

Well, I let him play with them earlier today and after everyone had gone to bed, I sat down in my chair to watch TV. And then I glanced over at my end table and saw this:

I’ve had that sweet picture of Pearl beside my chair for about a year now. I don’t know exactly how much a four-year-old understands about adoption, or what we tell him about who this girl is, but I’m pretty darn sure he’s not deep enough yet to have been intentional about where he placed that sign.

But oh, I understood the significance of it. And God knew that I would. And I think that it’s pretty amazing to see it today of all days, because four weeks ago this very moment we were getting ready for court and I can’t even articulate our frustration that a whole month later, we still don’t have a ruling from the judge. Everything is on hold, in limbo yet again, and sometimes I just don’t know what to DO with myself, I get so stressed!

But then God sends this reminder to encourage me. And I know that I must trust that His timing IS indeed, perfect, even when it makes no sense to me.

I’m still smiling over this happening tonight. It’s like a little love note from Him to keep hoping, to keep pressing on, to never give up on the dream He’s placed in our hearts.

Thank you, Father God.

“But God will never forget the needy;

the hope of the afflicted will never perish.”

-Psalms 9:18 (NIV)

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