Saturday, February 8, 2014


{"everything is so clean"}
 {"there's air conditioning"}
 {"look how cushiony the seats look"}
 {"everyone is so white"}
...these are my thoughts as I step onto the American Airlines plane. Everyone is smiling professionally. Their hair is clean. Their demeanors calm. The pilot grins a cockeyed smile to ensure us who are boarding that he's totally got this flight in the bag. Every light bulb is functioning. It feels like a spaceship from the future to me. And people are relaxed as they step past me, orderly and shushed. I am leaning my head back on the stiff blue pillowed chair, completely upright and squeeze my eyes closed so that I can't see every single one of them stare at me anymore as they file past my 14th aisle seat, watching my endless, silent tears streaming like a never-ending river down my cheeks. I can't decide if it draws more attention to wipe them away or just let them stream down my cheeks, my chin, my throat, into my hair and my shirt and onto my lap. Either way, I cannot make the tears stop, even though I am literally tired of crying by now. It has been 4 hours since I kissed her for the final time and they are still running down my cheeks and this is just feeling so ridiculous now I am downright angry with myself. I am angry at all the Haitians boarding with leisure and business on their agendas. I am angry at all the Americans staying here. I am angry that no one else feels a boulder of agony on top of their heads, sitting here feeling crushed by the weight. Just about the moment that a peace settles on my face and my heart feels still and my face relaxes into an expressionless passivity, the captain says we are next in line for takeoff. The plane is racing down the runway. Andrew films out the window beside me, watching for Haiti to become a child-sized toy beneath us, and I feel fresh anguish squeeze around my heart. 
{"Jesus, help me. Jesus, help me. Jesus, help me...."} on repeat. These are my only thoughts for minutes while I sob. 
She is too far away in just seconds. I can't get to her. She needs me. She is too far away. I will have to wait for people to figure out what happens next, wait for a break in life's demands, wait for it to make sense, wait for money, wait, wait, wait until I land here again and am within maybe a day's walk at most from her if it came to that. If there's another earthquake I can't run at top speed to her and scoop her up, laws be damned. She is on an island. I can see the water lapping at the edges of her island and I see it from way, way up here now - she is smaller than a particle, small and gone from me somewhere I cannot find or get to on my own, in the middle of a wide blue ocean I know nothing about. Almost evaporated. Before we even land in Ft Lauderdale it feels like it was all just a dream.

 All day I had planted my heels in the chalky dirt, digging my toes against the door, pulling back with both hands and all my strength, hands wrapped around the doorknob, heartache knocking on the other side. I determined not to let her see me crying. These white people crying while the babies were playing would only be confusing and troubling to this baby girl who now wanted to be on my lap, who wanted me to feed her by hand, who would go to no one but me, who smiled mischievously and lovingly, who laid upside down on my legs to have her neck tickled and nuzzled, who walked with arms up stretched to Andrew and I, back and forth, while dancing and giving kisses. 
There is no holding the door closed anymore. There is nothing to numb this. There is nothing to dial it down. It steamrolls and flattens me, leaving my bones crushed to powder, my stomach filled with lead, my head thick with cement. Putting one foot in front of the other takes thought.

This is sorrow. It is here.

I had leaned her back in my arms and said: "I gotta go bye-bye, baby", remembering I should never just disappear from a toddler, and I watched a cloud pass in front of her eyes, watched as she furrows her brow, watched as she retreated from me in her eyes, scampered down out of my lap willingly for the first time this day, marched across the room to her beloved nanny whom I am so grateful is here to rescue her from me, watched as she wound her arm around the nanny's neck, her baby doll still clutched tightly, watched as she looked at me with hurt and distance. I kissed and kissed her cheeks while she sunk into the nanny. She waved and smiled, safe again. She blew final kisses and made the "ok" sign with her hands because she can't master the "I love you" hand signs we spent all 2 weeks sending her from across a room.

2 weeks. Behind us, we leave 2 weeks.

Ahead, there is unknown. 
 We determined we will not despair - she is far from us but she is not lost to us. We will wait. Jesus is steadying our hearts. We are sorrowful but not destroyed. God is with her. God is with us. He is so, so near, still using our weakness for an opportunity to show up. Andrew is already at work, already a doctor again instead of a One Man Toddler Entertainment Machine. My kids are clamoring for souvenirs and kisses, Rissa already in our bed this morning between us by 2am, ready to reclaim her parents in a way only a 3 year-old can. I hear birds outside but no armed guard, I see sunshine but no school children. I hear cartoons on the TV but no Creole songs. It's weird. I feel disoriented still. It will take time to gently reclaim our lives but we will not ever feel right again until all 5 of our children area asleep in this house, under the same roof, breathing the same air, 10 arms wrapping around us instead of 8.

This is what it feels like to leave your heart behind you and walk away.

 This is what it felt like when Andrew and I were long-distance dating for 2+ years. This is how your brain starts to take all the messy, sloppy emoting and turn it into action, trying to get steps accomplished to achieve the goal. This is how it feels. It feels like sorrow. It is a boomerang, though and it will not return to us empty. We are sending it all like single-lined texts to God our Father and He will send back answers and whispers smothered in grace enough for that moment. He already is. He will not let this be for nothing. He never does. He brings beauty from destruction. We will see it happen, friends. He will - He must.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


Today was our last full day of this trip. Tomorrow we will leave for the airport after lunch. But, today was about heat. HEAT, y'all. It has reached a heat index of 125* daily, according to The Weather Channel and we certainly are feeling it, baking in tank tops and cotton skirts, laying under fans to try to stop sweating, amazed at Haitians who wear wool caps in the morning though it's 90* outside and a jacket to keep away a chill at night though it's merely 87*. Today, we were grilled like a diner-made tuna melt on a greasy griddle by IBESR for a solid hour, y'all. We were asked every little, minuscule, imaginable detail about our family, discipline practices, and decisions; everything from "Why do you have three boys at home and have already adopted a daughter and yet you still want to adopt another child? Why did you chose a girl? What do you think she might do at home? Chores?" to "What will happen if, while she is here in Haiti, she loses an arm or loses a leg? Will that make you stop the adoption? Why don't you just send money to care for her in Haiti instead of adopting her?" to "What will happen to your children if you are divorced? Where will they go? What if she bites one of your other children? Will she be abused with a belt? Will she be put away into a closet ?" to "What will you teach her about her heritage and Haiti? Will you only tell Paula that you are a gift to her? Or that you are her parents?" to "What if she rejects you when she is an adult and does not want you to be her parents anymore? Why did you chose this child? Chose Haiti? Chose adoption?" and finally, "Do you have reservations about accepting this child? Do you want her, now that you have been with the child for 2 weeks?" and we were finally able to tell her what was in our hearts honestly: that we have chased this daughter of ours from the first moment we saw her and have long-since decided we would walk through every open door we could find towards her, that we could never, ever leave her, that she is our flesh and blood in a Haitian body.

That felt good.

Like exhaling after holding my breath for 13 months.

As overwhelming as it was, once again, answering calmly, though we have done home studies, psychological evaluations, agency and orphanage applications, I found myself impressed with Haiti for being thorough, and sort of proud of them and encouraged that they put so much effort into assuring that we know what we are in for. They fine-tooth-combed our expectations. It was an interrogation, albeit a much more kindly-delivered one. Our small daughter curled up in my lap, totally still confused and overwhelmed by the lady with her pencil skirt and librarian bun and sensible flats and reading glasses, and she fell fast asleep for almost the entire time, right on my lap as if on cue to say: "see? we are so, so in sync." I couldn't have been more grateful. My daughter, sleeping there on my grateful lap, radiated a thousand degrees of heat and peace while she slept in my arms, and I felt a big, wavy, warm bubble envelope us while she peacefully snoozed. My blood pressure sank and I just knew without a doubt that an army of people were praying, that the Lord is "fighting for us" and that it was no mistake that no less than 8 people have reminded me of that verse in the last 2 days. When she had taken an hour's worth of notes, the Social Worker congratulated us, affirmed we were to be blessed by God, and shook our hands while nodding and smiling. We exhaled so deeply and walked away, winking at the next family that it was their turn for interrogation. Not even twenty minutes later they were finished, the Social Worker smiling at us all, satisfied either in the length of time she had spend with us all, with the similar vibes of our answers, or just with their pretty faces because she left as briskly as she came and announced us all "finished" with this visit. Done and done. All that to say, "TIH", y'all. ("This is Haiti") A 9am meeting may happen at 1pm like ours did today and you may be asked one million and six questions or you may be asked only 15 and sent on your merry way. TIH.

 Heat + pressure + time creates diamonds and today we were treated to a bouquet of precious jewels, brighter and more beautiful than 10,000 diamonds. 

 The clouds parted and my daughter's sunshiny smile broke free today. Soleil. The sun. Dawn broke. This butterfly's wings peeled open and she shined so brightly I couldn't stop snapping pictures.
 My heart is so prepared to be split open and destroyed to leave her tomorrow...without a return date, without a PLAN for her to be with us, that I am still not even thinking about it. It feels like knowing I am leaving Luke in the NICU tomorrow. I am not facing it yet. Tomorrow there will be grace to get me through it. Tonight, I am just heading to bed with this smile in my mind and the promise of 8 arms around my neck in Sarasota by midnight tomorrow. I will scoop up as many diamond-smiles from this delicate, precious butterfly as I can hold in my heart and memory bank and then climb on a plane, my legs carrying me and my heart dropping breadcrumbs and fight my will as we fly far away. The heat and pressure will remain and more time will continue to compound them. I would like to stop right here, to take her home right this minute. I can't. And tonight is not the time to face that.
We will be needy of prayers tomorrow, I will honestly tell you, friends. Not afraid, but certainly needy. G'night.

love, love, love,

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


By night, my feet are swollen in a way I have not seen them since the final months of pregnancy. Seriously, it's like my feet have been replaced with sausagey-toes and rounded feet, held together by the plastic, silver straps of my flip flops. It takes til the next morning to recognize my feet again. The food here is heavy on the salt, the MSG and bouillon sold in huge canister we would likely find coffee inside of back home, like a Mega Folgers Can, but in Haiti it's salt. Added to the heat, the salt is bloating us and leaving us stretched to the limits of our skin. Everything here needs preserving. Everything is vulnerable. The building are stacked like Jenga blocks. The roads are like a sandy beach, shifting and falling apart. We have seen a tarantula crawl out of a riding toy in the sandbox where we were playing with our kids. We have watched from the rooftop as a rat meandered, unhurried on a sand pile behind our guesthouse. I smash a cockroach or two most mornings, the flip of the bathroom light making them wake up and run for the hills. A mouse showed up in the linen closet last night. All that to say: things here need preserving as they are held in balance between being sustained and being devoured. 

 Yesterday, we had our appointment with the US Embassy here in Port-au-Prince. An Embassy appointment is intimidating in a way that any appointment you attended which required no less than 4 security searches would be intimidating, but the Embassy is preparing for the say when the US government will make it their job to determine if my daughter, who will at the point be deemed a Downes in a Haitian court of law, legally meets the requirements to become a US citizen and whether they will give her the proverbial "golden ticket", her visa for entry to Florida when she comes home one day, forever. We were minimally questioned about our family's basic information and her basic information, but it was very uneventful otherwise and as long as you abide by laws of decorum and compliance and such it's no biggie. Done and done. Many of you have asked why it is that we cannot bring Paula home when we leave her in 2.5 days. Basically, this 2-week trip has been a mandatory step to completing Haitian Social Services (IBESR's) requirements for matching us with her, just like all families from 2014, onward. All families who want to adopt from Haiti have to come here, to spend time with their suggested, referred match at IBESR's invitation and complete a couple visits with a social worker, to satisfy IBESR that we love Haiti, we love this kid, and when IBESR says "jump" our answer, naturally is, "how high?" That includes the next visit from the Social Worker from IBESR, scheduled for tomorrow morning. So, this had to happen; without this visit our daughter will never be adopted by us or anyone else. 
After this, we will wait to hear that IBESR has released us to move forward in the process and our paperwork will make it's way through the Haitian court system (in our absence) under power of attorney. 
After the court system has been passed and legalized, our case with a completed decree of adoption will move forward to applying for and waiting for a passport to be issued from Haiti for Paula to travel to the US complete with her little, bitty, sweet baby face. 
Finally, all the court proceedings, all the IBESR findings, the Haitian passport and all our initial paperwork which arrived in Haiti back in April 2013, and the interview that was conducted yesterday here in Port-au-Price at the Embassy will be evaluated and when completed will, Lord-willing, equal a visa being granted to our daughter. We will come and retrieve her. We will be here a few days.

... And we will bring her home forever. It feels like a dream, some moments more possible than others, even for me who has lived that miracle before. It's like knowing the intricacies of anatomy and trying to believe a baby can ever be formed inutero - it's a really enormous creation and feels so ridiculously gigantic that I struggle to believe it isn't imaginary. And then again, babies are conceived and birthed every day, all over the world since the beginning of time and without much help from us humans at all. It happens. 

 Today, we will spend all say with our daughter and though I know she will have the stance of an orphan, that she will play the "come-here-go-away" game while she is with us, although she may run and look worried from the moment she sees us, though she may only brighten when we are leaving at noon for lunch and her naptime, though those may be the only moments that she will smile and wave - when we are leaving and she is relieved of us - I can continue to offer, offer, offer and smile, smile, smile, and love, love, love and, as my husband said "bear. down."
We are leaving soon, and we can do nothing about it. We don't know what the timeline will be like but we are told at least another year. We don't know if we will see her again in that time. We don't know if she will remember us, or whether we will start back at Square Zero. We don't even know when we will know any answers to any of these things. All we know is that today we are here and today she is ours to love as greedily and generously as you can imagine. All we know is that miracles and babies happen, somehow, even in this crazy world, all day, every day. All we know is God preserves...He preserved me during some painful experiences in childhood with a babysitter, He preserved my Rissa in a hut in Uganda, and He will preserve my Baby Girl here in Haiti. He will keep her even though we cannot. He will use people like the amazing staff at Three Angels, the nannies, her sponsors in the USA, and people I will likely never even know who will enter the green painted gates to come "love on some babies in Haiti", totally unaware that they are loving someone else's flesh and blood, someone like me who wrestles to reckon it everyday that others may cuddle her while I may not, He will use all of these and many more to preserve her. And one day which I can only a teensy bit picture, she will come home and the swelling from all the preservation will recede. Her little girl heart will be elevated, the salted and bloated feelings will be absorbed and we will wake up one morning, long after, and realize that finally we can recognize who our daughter really, really, really is. That's what will put me to sleep every night til I see it realized. Jesus does these things, friends. He is the only one who can and He certainly still does. He has been making beauty out of dust since the start and I wait to see it still. 

love, love, love,

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


I am learning the difference between Uganda and Haiti more and more.

There are so many more American brands, such a nice supermarket, so many American vehicles on the road, and so very many ex-pats here. There are no children begging in the streets who knock on your window, smiling with upturned palms held out to you when you inch down a road of traffic here. There are Ghiradelli chocolate chips in the grocery store. There are no stipulations on which produce and protein to avoid at restaurants. And without fail, when we have ventured to a restaurant or church or shopping on an excursion the travel may feel somewhat similar to Ugandan travel on dusty, hot roads, but arriving at the destination is like stumbling on the lost paradise of Shangri-la. Rumbling past a tent city on what can be described as a "road" in only the loosest of terms, put-holed so deeply that we bounced off the seats of the car even when driving about 15 mph on Sunday night as we headed to dinner, we passed countless ambling, solitary, naked children, a 100-lb wild hog perusing trash for dinner, and a tent city which was so huge I cannot still wrap my brain around the fact that so many people actually live there, under tarps and clutched-together, shoulder-to-shoulder, held in place with a literal and figurative tension. It feels like living in Memphis again - there is a nervous tension here, and as I drive past the tent city in a tinted and air conditioned car with white people and arrive at a pizza restaurant behind a gate to find the sky obscured by hot pink, dripping bougainvillea branches, and sit and watch American TV being cabled here in English on the big screen TV, and eat pizza and Baklava, surrounded by missionaries and sweet folks who live here and are a community for one another, I realize the gap between color here is immense after all. I am taking it all in, all the stunning, side-by-side incongruences...and I am starting to feel in my spirit why it is such a fight to get this baby girl home. Maybe it doesn't make things any easier, but it fills me with awareness and then love. I needed some love mixed into this grit and knowing I am not fighting the people of Haiti but rather allowing them to be generous, I have far less demand in my spirit and instead such gratitude. There is precious little out of which to scrape generously. That we would be approved to take such a jewel, such a treasure causes honor in my heart and such thankfulness. 

 Today at 6:30am, we will leave the guesthouse in dressier clothes and drive through town on the crumbly roads to the US Embassy. We will hand over our passports, our appointment notices, and our electronics and wait for a number of hours, likely, to be interviewed by agents about our daughter. They will take the paperwork from us, and her birth documents and will hear the fragile story of this delicate baby girl, the one who bit people when she was brought to Three Angels at approximately 6 months of age, weighing 12 lbs, and they will make notes about us. Then, when we arrive on the other side of court proceedings many months from now, they will look at these notes and all the papers and decide if our child's story is legitimate and whether she will be allowed into the US with us. It's a little nerve-wracking, what feels like constant and repeated interviewing and story-repeating so you can see why it is a very good thing that what overwhelms me lately is that important gratitude and not resentment. After lunch, we will go see our baby girl. Everywhere I go this week I have seen butterflies, "papillon" in Creole, and I don't know if it's a theme my eyes find in their quest for beauty or if it's truly a Haitian "thing" but the butterfly I will go to ask to adopt from the US Embassy here in Port-au-Prince today has the loveliest wings, though most of the time they are not unfurled. She is warming, yes - and y'all, she is the bravest soul. Tears fill my eyes and they would yours, as well, if you could see her take 2, now 3 audaciously daring steps in shoeless feet, her grow furrowed, her hand trembling but outstretched, as she comes closer...closer...almost there....closer...YES! to accept an embrace from us. She will scurry back to the nanny, tearful and feeling so many things that she has to cry it out amid our shouts of "Bravo, bebe! Bon fe! Oiu, bebe, mesí!" ("Bravo, baby! Good girl! Yes, baby, thank you!") She is still cocooned, but I have seen how beautiful this is going to be, y' will take your breath away. 

 Must go now. Please keep sending me cold water in the form of verses, words, songs and lovingkindness - everything here is lukewarm (again, figuratively and literally) and seeing emails to read and hearing your encouragements is like finding an icy, blue pool waiting in a thick, green jungle. Rest assured, we are so grateful. And walking on. 

love, love, love

Sunday, February 2, 2014

hurt and healing

Spotty internet has not only kept me from emailing with updates, it's almost created an interrupted, suspended reality here for us. Andrew's shifts and door-to-doc quality improvement emails, church nursery information emails for me, and any goings-on at home feel very, very far away, almost like a parallel universe where cockroaches don't crawl out from the folds of your hanging bath towel and you understand all the people who look at you and mutter under their breath, but also a world where "jon-jon chicken" and my daughter do not exist. This week we are still Haitian at heart, somehow able to now navigate the pot-holed road in the dark at night now, telling the babies "chita" (SHEE-da or "sit down here, little person") and "desann" (de-SON or "climb down off of there, kid") greeting everyone with that higher-pitched, musical "bon jou" or "bonsoir" (bon-JOO or bon-SWAH or "good day/good morning/hey/what's up") tossing it out generously with a smile like a cluelessly affectionate flower girl at a wedding. It's weird what culture immersion does in 8 days. We have until Friday afternoon and then we will board a plane, forget Creole in almost no time at all, and leave a tiny girl with a freaked-out heart here, praying we might return so, so soon. Most moments I feel the tension of how much dread I feel in knowing I will leave her, and also really missing my life, my people, my world at home. Today, things will be upheaved a little with church and grocery shopping, the rhythm of seeking out this baby girl's heart slightly broken. I pray it will be a slight reprieve for her. 

 The thing about bonding and toddlers is that when you are trying to become the caregiver, there is a necessary transfer of power that the baby needs to witness between the former and the new. The baby needs stability, predictability, and they find comfort in knowing what to expect, in routines and constancy - none of which I am able to provide to my daughter. What we can give her, for now, is an introduction to 2 people who, though we are lily-white and speak a far less beautiful language and don't have 1/2 the rhythm her nannies do, love her with a focus and singularity she has never known before. People whose eyes are for her only, who smile a little creepily everytime she looks up to assure herself we are still watching her. What we can offer her is not healing, only God does that work and I believe it will not really happen until she is home and we can dive in, but it is indeed our very hearts. We keep offering, palms up like one long game of "high fives" and sometimes - SOMEtimes - we see she may, one day, receive our love. Yesterday, we took her with us to the small 2-room apartment kept downstairs for a few hours, away from the babies and nannies and Creole songs and cardboard blocks, a compromise with the Madame with the blindingly brilliant and optimistic smile who has wanted us to "take her to the market and to a restaurant and to the guesthouse with you for 2 days, for 3 days, and let her see you are her parents". 

Though the market and a restaurant and guesthouse are out of the question for this trip, we descended the steps of the orphanage, set up some music on iTunes, brought books and baby dolls and Play-Doh to woo her from her quietness and settled with her, alone for the first time. Compassion and adoration swept through my soul. Each time I would see this 2 year-old body, thrashing about, raging in my lap here o the floor and would say: "Go ahead, baby girl. I know this must be so scary and weird, but Daddy and I will not leave you" and would hold her I would think to myself: "this is what abandonment does - this is what a broken heart looks like - this is how terrified she is of having parents who are in it for her alone - this is what terror looks like". The grieving, crying, thrashing, raging lasted a shorter time than I would have expected, only about 40 minutes. I told her: "you may not know this, baby girl, but I have nursed Graham and Ethan, and they both made me sit doing one thing only for like an hour, and then do it again every other hour so trust me, daughter: I can definitely outlast you". At the end of the crying, she was seated on Andrew's lap and reached for me through angry tears, demands spilling with her tears, and I held her right there on his lap - my arms around her and her daddy's arms around both of us. I hear Kari Jobe's "Healer" begin on iTunes, streaming like sunshine through broken clouds, my soul crying out each line. "You hold my every moment, you calm my raging seas..." {Oh Lord, calm these raging seas} "You walk with me through fire, and heal all my disease..." {Oh God, this is fire. Oh God, we need your healing} "I trust in You, Lord, I trust in You. I believe You're my Healer. I believe You are all I need..." {Jesus, my daughter needs healing like the centurion's daughter. Jesus, please heal her} each line a benediction, each line somehow calming her and her tears drying up as quickly as they had begun. Soon, her body melted onto mine like ice cream on a hot sidewalk, her sobs only stifled if her cheek was against mine, her tiny fist curled around my neck. Her face though....her face told her secrets, her eyes confused, her brow permanently furrowed. She is trying to understand why we would take her and do this strange therapy with her. Trying to get through it. But not really interested in us. She retreated in those eyes, back away from the windows and found a little closet to hole up inside of in her heart. She fell asleep in my arms, the exhausted sleep of a child who was waging battle, and when she awoke on my chest she was motionless. She refused to eat even a bite of food, even a sip of water. With every offer of play, fun, food, or words she would turn away and stare off, locked far away and gone from me in her heart. Hiding. And I have such limited time to go and find her...and draw her out. All the drawing out we can stuff into 14 days, it will still be 14 days and we will have to do nothing but trust that though we are leaving the Healer is staying. It may be the steepest mountain of faith I have ever seen looking in the mountain range ahead. 

 For today, I will go to church, I will go grocery shopping, and I will go see my daughter and offer, offer, offer. The Healer will bind my heart and I am trusting He is binding hers. I am exhausted in spirit but renewed with every word you send, every loving word used to heal my own hurt. And so, we go on. Happy Sunday, y'all. Easter is coming. 

love, love, love