Thursday, June 19, 2014

Our Family Is Complete!

Olivia is home! Living in our house! 7 years, 3 months, 1 week and 3 days after we began this process. It is a dream come true! To God be the glory! Dios es bueno!

Her pick-up trip began on Monday June 2nd. Our flight was supposed to land in Guatemala at 11:30 a.m. and we hoped to get Olivia soon after and take her for her mandatory TB test to get the ball rolling for the first step that week, to complete the process. 

Unfortunately, there was a rain storm at the time we were to land and the pilot decided since we were getting low on fuel and Guatemala wasn't clear to land, we would need to fly to neighboring El Salvador to refuel! By the time that was accomplished and we actually were able to land in Guatemala, 3 hours had passed. Internet and cell phone connections were sketchy when we got to the hotel so by the time we got a hold of the people we needed to, it was too late to get Olivia.

  Flying into El Salvador

Finally, flying into Guatemala

Tuesday June 3rd, Olivia came to the hotel in the morning with her orphanage director Shyrel. We all signed a document that legally transferred custody to us. This was Olivia's "Gotcha Day", exactly 13 years ago to the day was Emily's Gotcha Day in China. I believe God gave us a little detour the day before so that both our girls would enter our family on the same day! 

A little later, Shyrel drove us to the doctor to get Olivia's TB test done. She was a trooper, not even a flinch! We'll have to wait 2 days for the result.

Wednesday morning, our attorney picked us up to go to the passport office to get Olivia's Guatemalan passport. We arrived about 9:30 and she took us in to start the process. Another American family had gotten there an hour or so ahead of us and got their daughter's passport just as we sat down. Unfortunately, one of the required original certified court documents was missing and we ended up driving an hour away to that court to get the document which had been promised earlier. It took 2 1/2 hours and phone calls to the U.S. Embassy and others to convince the court to release the documents to us. Finally at 2:15 that afternoon, we got them. Now we had to drive the hour back to Guatemala City to the passport office before they closed at 4:00 to get the passport! We made it at about 3:45, got in, started the process all over again. Before a young gentleman could take her photo, he had to read every. single. word. of every. single. document. Then, scan every. single. page. Once done with that, we waited in a seemingly endless line to be seen at the first available window that opened up. Once it was our turn, the lady took our paperwork and read every. single. word. of every. single. document. again. We started getting nervous when she took out her pencil and began making marks and notations all the while sporting a very serious look on her face. About 30 minutes later, she asked us to have a seat and wait till our name was called to get the passport. By 5:10, we had passport in hand! A VERY long day, but we achieved our goal for that day.

Thursday morning, our wonderful friend and translator Mirna, delivered our documents to us, that needed to be translated into English, then accompanied us back to the doctor's office for Olivia's medical exam and TB test reading. Olivia passed with flying colors and only needed one vaccination!

Once done there, we headed to the U.S. Embassy for the first of two interviews. First with USCIS/Immigration, then on to the Consular section for the visa interview. The USCIS meeting took about a half hour and the first part visa interview took about 20 minutes. We were asked to have a seat for a few minutes while they entered our file into their system. About 30 minutes into waiting, we were told their computer system crashed. As we've learned over the years, waiting is a way of life in Guatemala, even at the U.S. Embassy! Finally an hour or so later, we were given the rest of the interview, but because of the delay, we wouldn't be able to get the visa at 3:30 like we expected, we had to make an appointment to come back Friday morning at 9:00.

That night, Mirna called to make sure we had the certified documents required by the CNA (the Guatemalan agency that processes and approves adoptions) for the meeting we were scheduled to have with them at 10:00 the next morning. Funny thing was, we didn't know we had to provide them with any documents. Now scrambling, I discover I had all of them but one. Our attorney had the missing document and would deliver it to them in the morning. Meanwhile, we needed to get the ones we had to them before 9:00 a.m. Fortunately, the CNA offices were right across the street from the Embassy, so we were able to drop them off before we went to pick up the visa on Friday morning. The CNA meeting, (which is called a "Restitution" meeting, where we all sign a document stating that Olivia's right to a family has been restored), happened at 1:00 p.m. We were officially and FINALLY DONE!!!!!

                                    Sealed visa packet                                
                                 CNA Restitution Meeting                            

Olivia signing 

It was time to celebrate with a trip to the Oakland Mall and the very cool Nais restaurant for lunch! This restaurant has an amazing, huge, saltwater aquarium smack in the middle of it, complete with sharks, stingrays, eels and other varieties of ocean fish. There was an observation "tube" the girls climbed into to get a fish-eye view! It was a very tranquil setting for lunch. We would highly recommend a visit to anyone in the vicinity!

It had been 4 years since Olivia had seen her foster family. They are such a wonderful, loving family and they were devastated that day she was taken from them and sent to the orphanage. They had always thought of her as their own child. We wanted to honor them and the role they played in her life, give them a chance to see her again and wish her well in her new life. 

We threw a party for them, Mirna, her daughter and our attorney, Beyla to show our appreciation for all they've done for Olivia and us all these years. It was truly a blessed evening. We love these folks!

Saturday, we were invited to visit the children's home where Olivia had lived for the past 4 years. We were so blessed to meet her friends and the people who cared for her when we couldn't. We were also blessed to be there on a day a wonderful missionary group from Kentucky was there working. One young man in particular has a special relationship with Olivia. He and his family have been visiting the past 4 years, they had some gifts for her and very kind and encouraging words to us.

We got to snuggle and play with several of the babies. Both our girls have a soft spot in their hearts for babies. It was so sweet to see them interacting with them.

Olivia has several very sweet and special friends at the home. Hannah and José are brother and sister who helped Olivia learn English and are very loving, forever friends to her.

We can't thank Shyrel and Olivia's nanny, Doris enough for the love, care and protection they have given Olivia over the past 4 years. It was incredibly difficult to be so far away from her for so long, not being able to "parent" her. Knowing she was being taken care of by such wonderful, godly people gave us comfort.

Shyrel & Olivia

Doris & Olivia

John & Olivia

Hannah, Olivia & José

We enjoyed our visit very much. Shyrel, her husband Steve and their staff provide a much needed haven for vulnerable children in Guatemala. We really hope to be able to return and help out however we can.

Our flight home the next morning was scheduled for 7:19 a.m., so when we returned to the hotel, we spent the rest of the evening getting all our things packed up and ready to take the 4:30 a.m. shuttle to the airport. Fortunately I checked our email one more time before going to bed, through an email, Delta informed us that the 7:19 flight had been cancelled and we were now booked on the 12:20 p.m. flight! This of course was unwelcome information as we had told everyone we would arrive in Rochester at 5:00 p.m.! We really wanted Olivia to arrive to her new home in the daylight, but once again, God had other plans!

Sunday morning, we arrived at the Guatemala City airport a few hours prior to boarding, good thing because when we went to check in, they had no record of the one-way ticket we bought for Olivia before we left home! After discussing this with 2 ticket agents for 20 minutes, we were told the only thing we could do is buy her a ticket, not at the one way, 1/2 price we had originally paid, but the full, round-trip price! Needless to say, we were not happy. We will be discussing this issue at length with Delta!

Off to the airport

Boarding the plane

 We're goin' in!

Ready for take-off!

3 hours later, we land in the good ol' USA!

Our port-of-entry was Atlanta, and once we cleared up a little confusion about which line to get into at Passport Control/Immigration, it was smooth sailing with plenty of time for dinner before we boarded the plane for our final flight home.

Olivia is officially a U.S. citizen!

Olivia slept pretty much the entire hour and a half flight, so by the time we landed at 11:00 p.m., she was pretty tuckered out.

We did have some awesome, diehard family and friends who served as welcoming committee at such a late hour. Complete with precious signs, flowers and balloons! Olivia sweetly and sleepily smiled upon meeting everyone there.

Delta flight 1111 ~ We have arrived!

Our homecoming t-shirt we designed for the occasion

Car ride home

Emily's friends' handmade "Welcome Home" sign

Fast asleep in her own bed

Olivia sharing in Emily's traditional chocolate chip pancake birthday breakfast!

Emily's Guatemala flag chalk drawing

Helping Daddy mow!

Welcome Home Olivia! Happy 14th Birthday Emily!

We arrived at our house just after midnight, making it June 9th. 4 years to the day that Olivia had been taken from us, and our hearts were broken. That day in 2010, was also Emily's 10th birthday. We didn't know if we'd ever see Olivia again. From the moment we realized back in 2007, that Olivia's adoption wouldn't be a smooth ride, we turned it all over to God. We knew He was in control and His timing would be perfect. And it was. 

We want to thank the good Lord for giving us our daughter(s) and thank each and every one who has supported us and prayed our baby home.

Monday, May 19, 2014

It's A Girl!

We are praising God for His faithfulness! 7 years, 2 months and 3 weeks after we embarked on this adoption journey, Olivia now is officially our daughter!

The next steps will include, getting a birth certificate with her new name, a passport, then a medical exam and a visa. We hope to travel to Guatemala in the next couple of weeks to complete the process and bring her home!

We are so very thankful to all those who have followed us, supported us, prayed for us and believed with us that this day would come. We are truly blessed.

More to come!

YouCaring Fundraiser:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Right Where We Left Off

The last 2 weeks were spent with our beautiful, funny, sweet, 8 year-old Olivia! Our family was together for the first time in almost 4 years and honestly, after the initial, momentary awkwardness wore off, we picked up right where we left off. 

A 5 or 10 (business) day stay, called an Empathy Study, is a requirement by the Guatemalan adoption officials to show that the family has a bond with the child they're adopting. Because we hadn't been able to spend time with Olivia for so long, we were required to stay for the 10-day (2 weeks, including weekends).

We went places and saw things we'd never had the opportunity to on our previous 8 trips. Guatemala is a beautiful country with equally beautiful and gracious people. (And the sunny, 85º weather was a welcome change from the 112" of snow we've had here this winter!)

Olivia is such a sweetheart! She's smart, thoughtful, polite, helpful, artistic and has a great sense of humor! We still have a bit of a language barrier, our Spanish is pretty pathetic, using one and two-word phrases to hopefully get our point across. She however, is very eager to learn English and understands and can read and speak certain things pretty well. I don't think she'll have any problem mastering it.

We are very encouraged that it will be just a few short months more until we travel back for our 10th trip and this time she will ride that airplane back with us! The wheels of the adoption process have started to roll and after 7 years, we can confidently say that our little Olivia will finally be coming home!

Here are a few photos of our visit.

          Emily drew this picture for Olivia to illustrate where she will be living in the U.S.