Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What Were You Expecting?

At the end of April, 2003, my husband Erik stepped off an airplane in Dakar, Senegal. The farthest from home he'd ever gone before? A distant corner of Florida. Now he stood in a foreign country a white guy who stood literally head and shoulders taller than the locals. A sea of ebony-skinned men and women in colorful tunics, camouflage uniforms, and tattered jeans. The armed guards at the arrival gate asked him, "Where are you staying?"
He didn't know. "Who are you meeting?"
A man from Sierra Leone named Samuel. He would have our four year old son with him so we could finalize his adoption.
"What is Samuel's last name? What does he look like? Where is he meeting you?"
Erik didn't know the answers to any of these questions either.We had spent the last year and a half focused on filling out adoption papers-in triplicate-to finalize the U.S. side of our international adoption. We spent days standing in line at immigration offices. Hours in Doctors offices getting physicals and letters attesting to my abilities as a blind person to also be a parent. Months gathering together back ground checks, references, fingerprints, passports, and letters of recommendation from three non-related people. All in Triplicate. Our home had to be visited for safety measures. We were interviewed by social workers, Child and Family Services, and U.S. Immigration to assure we were mentally, physically, and financially capable of adopting.
We then had to take 60 hours of Foster parent training, mortgage our home for the cash, and  buy plane tickets to bring our son home.
Interestingly enough, this wasn't the hardest part. As the armed guard led Erik toward the baggage claim , there was a short, black man holding a cardboard sign that said McDonald in one hand, and a little black eyed boy in the other. Up on leaving the airport, Erik discovered the best Hotels were the safest and cost 170$ a night for what we in the U.S. would pay your average 29.99$ 'we'll leave the lights on for you' kind of place. The water wasn't drinkable so they stocked up on Coke. The food smelled like fish and garbage. All of it. The meat, the fruit, the bread, everything. The country smelled like fish and garbage. Samuel, the man facilitating the adoption, left Sieirra Leone three days earlier with a baby wipes box holding a chunk of bread and some raw fish. They still had some left when Erik checked them all into the Hotel. He exchanged his american dollars for Cephas, the currency in Senegal. He did this by meeting a man in a dark alley. Yes, a real dark alley, and following him through a shanty town of shacks to trade his cash.
If all that wasn't scary enough...My son's birth certificate had been filled out wrong. His passport said he was born on May 6 but his Visa said he was born on June 5. Evidently 5/6 in some countries means May 6 and in others it means June 5. The U.S. Consulate told us we couldn't get him out of Senegal in the three days before the return flight unless we went to Gambia, a country north of Senegal, to the Sierra Leoneon Consulate. At this point Samuel, and the man he traveled with were gone. We had no one in Africa who could help us. Erik made a lot of international phone calls, taxi rides all over Dakar, and said a ton of prayers. He ran into Samuel's traveling companion on the street that day. Paying for this man to fly to Gambia, Erik waited and hoped for a miracle. The Gambian consulate was closed and the consular out of town. I called the airlines and changed Erik's return tickets to the next departing flight. Back in 2003, there were four flights from Dakar. One Monday morning flying out, one Monday night flying in, one Wednesday morning flying out and one Wednesday afternoon flying in. We were booked on the Monday morning out flight. I changed it to the Wednesday morning out flight. If he couldn't catch that one he'd have to spend another week in Africa.
Tuesday, Erik went to the U.S. Consulate and asked what we could do. The consular, Andy, said there was nothing. They could issue the boy's Visa with the wrong date, but when the immigration officials in the airport saw it they'd send Erik and the child back. Erik could go on to the U.S., but the boy couldn't leave. If they made it through security in Dakar, the U.S. officials would see the same problem and send the boy back to Africa, alone. We had 4 hours to decide what to do. After teary phone calls, numerous prayers, and a divine message to come home, Erik called his Dad. When he explained the situation, his dad only asked one question, "Is it just a paperwork problem?"
When Erik assured him it was, his dad told him to get on the plane.
Those last few hours waiting for a phone call after their departure time to tell me they hadn't gotten through were excruciating. Notice...I was expecting to hear more problems. Erik called me at 7 a.m. the next morning. They were in immigration in New York. The officials took the little boy's papers, which no  one in the African airport, uniforms, or on the plane noticed was wrong,and disappeared into their offices. A half hour later, they came back with the forms, shook my son's hand and said, "Welcome to The United States."
That was 11 years ago. The trials, joys, heartache and love we enjoy in our family have grown from this experience. Looking back, I think we were too young, or stupid, or insane to realize what danger Erik, our son, and our family were in if God hadn't known the answers. We expected to go to Africa, pick up our son and come home again. That's exactly what we got.
How often do we complain that life, or our health, or our happiness haven't turned out the way we were expecting? Really?
Break down your true expectations to their core and see if God hasn't given you what you wanted.
Children, a family? Look around do you have people who love you? The chance to be in the presence of children? The love of those who know you?
Fame, Riches, power? You have no idea how many people will remember your kindness, your smile, or your attitude. When all things disappear because of global warming or an apocalyptic event, will you be rich in love, memory, experiences? The greatest power there is is love, are you working on gaining it?
Maybe your expectations are for pain, doubt, and misery? You'll find that too. Don't focus on what is going wrong because you're not getting what you want. Focus on what you're expecting and see if you really want it. Your Father in Heaven will answer your prayers and fill your expectations. The question is: What are you expecting?

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