Where to begin?!?
The past month and a half has been an incredible ride and we are beyond thrilled to say:
Our precious Helina is HOME!!!
Helina is doing incredibly well and the transition home has been better than we could have imagined. But for this blog post, I want to share about our journey to bring her home. Our time in Ethiopia was beautiful and God moved in AMAZING ways. (I will divide this up into two posts because it is going to be a long story full of lots of pictures!)
Brett traveled to Ethiopia mid-December not knowing how long he would be gone, but full of mountain-moving faith that God would move on our behalf. Our case appeared to be completely stuck and we made a bold and daring move to do what we felt needed to be done. It was risky and a bit insane, but when Brett prayed about what he felt needed to be done, he heard the Lord clearly say, “GO. I have frustrated your process to bring you to a place where you would be willing to do whatever needed to be done. Now, I am sending you to rescue your daughter and I am going to use it as a picture of the Gospel. Helina’s story will touch the hearts of many as they see My love for them in the story of your love for Helina. Go. I will be with you every step of the process.”
Brett was determined that he was not going to leave Ethiopia without Helina in his arms. Within the first few days, God moved in miraculous ways. God gave Brett supernatural favor and Brett had the opportunity to speak to very important people, he explained our family’s heart for adoption, shared the gospel with them, and encouraged them. As a result we received the papers we needed to begin the process of bringing our daughter home. The details are amazing and miraculous, but for discretionary reasons we can’t share all the details here.
Around 9:30a Ethiopian time, on December 16th, Brett sat outside the grand, baby blue gates of the orphanage facilities anxiously awaiting the moment he would get to see our sweet girl in the flesh for the very first time. As the gates creaked open Brett says his heart was racing. They took him to a small office room where he sat and waited for them to bring Helina to him. Here’s how Brett described it in his own word:
“I sat there anticipating that moment. The moment I had played out in my mind a thousand times. The problem was that in my imagination Helina always ran to me with arms flung open longing for her daddy to pick her up, and I knew that was probably not going to be anywhere close to reality. So, I was nervous. Would she smile at me? Would she laugh? Would she cry? I heard her walking down through the courtyard with the nanny and I about jumped out of my seat. And then, she was there. Standing in the doorway of this tiny room. Our eyes met, she seemed incredibly confused about the fact that this strange looking man with skin much lighter than any other person she was used to seeing, whom the nanny was calling her daddy, was sitting there with a big, goofy grin on his face saying her name. I’d have been completely confused too, and I also would have grabbed hold of the arm of the chair nearby and started screaming as the woman I thought I trusted was nudging me ever closer to this stranger who had suddenly invaded my world. It wasn’t quite the fairytale I had imagined, but I loved every second of it. I grabbed her hand, told her how beautiful she was in the best Amharic I could muster, and then…she started crying. Helina cried for most of that afternoon, but she did let me hold her and at least attempt to comfort her. Eventually she fell asleep on my chest, and as I glanced down at Helina’s beautiful face pressed against the snot covered, drool stained polo I was wearing I was overcome with the reality that the moment I had been dreaming of for 19 months had finally come. No, it wasn’t what I had envisioned it being, it was far better. It was better because it was real. I was holding my daughter in my arms and I knew it was only a matter of time before she would legally be ours.”
Brett was able to visit with Helina several times throughout the next week. Each visit Helina warmed up to Brett a little bit more until finally, about the eighth time Brett came to visit, Helina walked into that room on her own, looked Brett in the eyes, and lifted her arms signaling she wanted to Brett to pick her up. Brett’s father-heart melted as he knew trust was forming and the bond was growing.
After some movement on our case, I was overjoyed to finally join Brett in Ethiopia about a week and a half later. I am not exactly the fly-around-the-world-by-myself kind of woman so we were very grateful that my dear friend Cori asked if she could join me for the trip. Cori has a big heart for Ethiopia and she has been an incredible support to me throughout this long journey. Cori and I left Friday Dec. 23 and landed in Ethiopia on Christmas Day. (Yes, Cori gave up being with her family on Christmas day and also her birthday to be with us in Ethiopia! Brett and I were completely blessed, honored and humbled by her desire to join us.) It was difficult to be away from our children on Christmas Day but they all did so well and God comforted their little hearts. Brett and I face-timed with our kids as they opened their presents and they had a wonderful day.
Although it was hard to be away from our children in Texas on Christmas, Christmas Day 2016 was an unforgettable, extremely special day. After landing in Ethiopia at midnight, we went back to our hotel for a few hours of sleep and then we drove 1 1/2 hours to the city of Adama to Helina’s orphanage. Christmas Day I received the greatest gift: I met my daughter for the first time.
A sweet God thing, about six months ago Brett felt the Lord spoke to him with a middle name for our Helina – Noelle. Noelle was not on our list of possible middle names, but Brett felt strongly that this was her middle name. I fell in love with the name Noelle and now, months later I was meeting our daughter on Christmas Day. Our sovereign God knew from the beginning when He would give me the gift of another daughter. Also beautiful is the fact that Helina in Amharic means ‘Enlightened or Revelation’ and Noelle means Christmas, the coming of our Lord. So the name that God spoke to us means ‘Revelation of the coming of the Lord.’ Our prayer is that Helina’s life will be one that reflects the beautiful gift that God gave us in His Son Jesus.
I cannot put into words the emotions that flooded me the moment I saw our Helina Noelle for the first time. It was surreal. After staring at her beautiful face in pictures for 19 months, I was finally seeing her in the flesh. I was finally able to kiss her soft skin, and look into her big brown eyes, and hold her against my chest. It was the most precious moment. I was overwhelmed with God’s goodness and love that day in a different way (that is another post altogether).
To our delight, Christmas night Helina was able to spend the night with us at a resort in Adama. God worked out the timing and the details to allow this surprise blessing to happen. During dinner that night, Cori and I couldn’t help just staring at Helina in total amazement. We were all completely mesmerized by her.
Monday we had to take Helina back to her orphanage. Although it was so hard to leave her there, we were trusting that the Lord would quickly move mountains to allow us to take custody of Helina as her legal parents later that week.
Tuesday morning God allowed us the opportunity to appear before the judge (long story as to why this was miraculous). We left the judge’s office after hearing the wonderful words “I grant you your adoption decree.” At that moment we were legally Helina’s parents! That night we celebrated at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant eating incredibly delicious food and watching traditional Ethiopian dances. Yes, I may have ended up dancing on stage, but that video shall never appear on Facebook! We were so thankful to soak up some beautiful Ethiopian culture. We love our daughter’s birth country!
Wednesday, December 28 was a day we will never forget – Helina’s Gotcha Day! On our way to Adama, our caseworker invited us to visit another town for a unique opportunity – we got to feed monkeys! What a crazy experience! These little guys were quick and they were serious about eating and often stealing our bananas! Now I can mark “feed monkeys in Africa” off my bucket list! Oh, and Brett may, or may not, have almost been attacked by a monkey he tried to give a high-five to. Apparently, extending your arm with your palm up is a sign that you want to challenge these little guys. I kid you not, Brett and one of these monkeys were squared off at each other, and though I know my man would have put up a good fight, let’s just say I’m glad the monkey exercised grace in that moment.
Around lunchtime we finally arrived at Helina’s orphanage, the large iron gates opened and I was instantly emotional.
This was the day, Helina would be leaving the orphanage in our arms, no longer an orphan but as our daughter. Although we were overjoyed that the day had finally arrived for our family, it was also bittersweet as we knew the nannies who dearly loved Helina would be saying goodbye to her. Helina would be leaving her beloved nannies and the only life she knew.
After we arrived and loved on Helina for a bit, Helina’s favorite nanny, the one who named her, took her back to change her. Helina was brought out dressed in a gorgeous traditional Ethiopian dress. Our Ethiopian princess took our breath away. It was touching to see the sweet attention to detail the nannies gave to make the day extra special. The nannies painted Helina’s toenails, had beautifully braided her hair and presented her with gifts. Then the nannies prepared the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony (known as the bunna ceremony). The bunna ceremony is an unique and very special part of Ethiopian culture and we were honored to partake of it with the sweet women that had taken such wonderful care of our daughter for the first two years of her life. Brett and I were not prepared for how emotional saying goodbye to the orphanage and its staff would be. I was sobbing in my attempt to thank the nannies and convey my appreciation for them. The nannies were sobbing as they said goodbye to Helina. We embraced one another and assured them Helina would grow up remembering their names and knowing how precious they are to us.
The moment we had been dreaming of for almost 5 years was finally here. We left the orphanage that day with our daughter in our arms…forever. Helina Noelle, our beloved daughter. Our hearts were full and our lives would never be the same.
To be continued…… 🙂