Well, we got it!!
Alethia’s visa is in my possession!
We made the 3-hour trek from Jinja this morning and arrived at the embassy around 10:30. We checked in, waited for our name to be called, paid for the visa, waited a few more minutes, and then were presented with THE packet. The one containing our ticket home–the precious visa that will allow our little treasure to legally step onto US soil.
It was such a surreal moment. The consular attendant who presented it to me is a lady that we’ve gotten to know very well over the last few months and who has consistently remained positive and encouraging (ooh, sounds like a good slogan for something) throughout the process. As she handed me the packet, she was beaming from ear to ear, genuinely happy for us and excited to be the one to present it.
The interaction took less than five minutes. I couldn’t believe it. With all the hurdles and difficulties we faced along the way, for something to work the way it was supposed to almost seemed, … well, wrong. Ha! (Thank you all for your prayers. Tasha and I really cannot say it enough. It is your prayers and intercession that has held us together! Thank you!)
I thanked the kind lady an insane amount of times, and then Alethia and I made our way back down the winding path toward the security gate singing and worshiping and laughing together. Was it the Hallelujah chorus? Well, not exactly. My mind couldn’t stop spinning enough to grab onto a single thought or idea. So it was more of a hodge-podge of scattered notes combined with both English and Luganda words of adoration and thanksgiving to God pouring from hearts overflowing with gratitude. I wouldn’t say I was a blubbering fool. More like a happy drunk! 🙂
When we arrived back at our vehicle, it immediately filled with shouts of thanksgiving and prayers of thanks from the motley crew who accompanied us–two dear Ugandan friends who have walked with us through all the highs and lows of this journey. They shouted things like “God Is Great.” And “Katonda Mulungi!” (“God is Good!”). It was as if the celebration was for them. And maybe in a way it was. And for all of you who have followed our journey so closely. Who have cried with us. Prayed with us. Donated time and money. Watched our kids so we could clear our heads and think straight. 😉 All of you.
So tonight is Shabila Naikoba’s last night in Uganda. It’s her last night as a residing citizen of this country. Tomorrow we get on the plane that will literally project her toward a whole new life–her life as now Alethia Grace Via. It’s hard to know how much she really and truly understands what is about to happen to her. But in some weird way, I think she knows enough. I believe she understands deep down in the recesses of her heart that though she was abandoned and orphaned, she is now loved, cherished, and forever welcomed into the open embrace of a family who will never leave her again. And her contagious and unending smile seems to tell me that it’s enough for her.
Today was the day. The day we’ve been waiting for. The day that I’ve imagined in my mind, role-playing scenario after scenario in my head since December 2. Today was the day I returned for my daughter. Today was the day I humbly, yet proudly walked onto the Bukaleba compound with more joy in my heart and gratitude to a faithful God than I ever thought possible.
I seriously tried not to have any unrealistic expectations about what it would be like to reunite with my daughter who hasn’t seen me in 37 days. Still, it’s hard not to have the stereotypical image in the back of your mind—the one of the parent and child running blissfully toward each other in slow motion with arms wide open. And that’s certainly NOT what happened. BUT, I was encouraged nonetheless.
When we first saw each other, she immediately reached out for me … and my heart skipped. I tried hard not to imagine that she would want me to hold her right away. I assumed she would need some time to open up to me again and let down her defenses. Sure enough, that’s what happened. And I was okay with it.
As I approached her, she then shied away. I could see in her eyes that her little heart wasn’t sure how to process what was happening. But she wanted to be held … by a FATHER. So she went to Nelson, the manager of the babies’ home whom she knows well. He carried her around the compound for a few minutes and I followed close behind talking to her, playing and joking around with her and the other children, and keeping a positive attitude. I honestly was not hurt by it. I couldn’t blame her. I had left her for a month. And now, how was she supposed to feel upon seeing me again?
After a little while her defense walls began to come down one at a time and she began smiling that contagious smile and talking about going to see mommy in America. We gathered what few belongings she had and began making our way to the car, saying goodbye to the aunties and the children who have been her family for the last two-and-a-half years. The closer we got to the car, the more she was coming back. She was coming out of her shell. She was REMEMBERING.
During the trip home, she fell asleep in the backseat with one of the aunties. But when she awoke, it was as if a switch had been flipped. She reached out for me, came and climbed up into my lap and asked me to read her a book. I told her, “Maybe later!” JUST KIDDING!!!!!!! WOW!!! NO CHANCE IN HADES DID I DO THAT!!!!!
Of course, I was THRILLED! So, the rest of the journey home, we flipped through the family picture book (which somehow survived the babies’ home) and talked about her family that was waiting back home in America for her.
From that point on, she was back. The rest of the night we laughed together, colored, played with her toys, reminisced through photos and videos of our time here together in Uganda, and just had an all-around amazing time.
With each lightbulb moment and with each resurfacing of a new memory that she has, I offer up a quick thanks to the Lord. To me, each one of those are a tiny gift from the Lord—a small nudge of His elbow—an evidence of His grace.
It’s been quite a day. A day I’ll not soon forget. And yet, even as Alethia sleeps peacefully while I type this, there’s a piece of my heart still hurting tonight—hurting for the many families who are still stuck in this process—caught in the cogs of the system. Please continue to pray that the Lord would move mountains for these families and get these helpless children home where they belong.
And if you wouldn’t mind, please pray that my visit to the embassy tomorrow would be as simple as they are making it sound—that I am simply to pay for the visa and walk out with it!! I just might sing the “Hallelujah” chorus to everyone in the waiting room. You don’t think I will? 😉
Josh and I continue to be blown away by story after story of people who are contacting us who are in the exact same boat, or at least similar boat, as we are in! I got a Facebook message as well as an email, just yesterday, of two other families who were just denied their VISAS. But our information is EVERYWHERE! I can’t focus my brain long enough to sift through all the messages and emails to find everyone again…
We have a new friend who is working on trying to get our story on CNN. NO, we didn’t ask for this, and YES, it’s pretty intimidating, and NO, it probably won’t even happen, but it may be a very helpful avenue if it makes the cut, as we feel like this situation is much bigger than simply our “difficult case” being passed on.
We know how politics work and we know that there are many of you out there, so here is what we are asking…we don’t just want to make a ripple in this broken system, we want to make a splash and try to fix this for other families and other children!
So, if you are one of the dozen or so families that have contacted us in the past month about your situation, we want to hear from you again! And if we’ve not heard from you yet, PLEASE send us a message. In fact, if you are a friend or relative of someone who is “stuck” like we are please contact them to let them know what we are trying to do and see if they would be willing to share their story with us.
Now, I know, not everyone is as open about their process as we have been, so don’t feel like you need to comment openly on our blog here, although I know that others will be lifting you up if you do choose to share your story, but at least contact us at the email on the “Contact Us” tab at the top. We need a way of putting all our contacts and stories in one place:)
We know how you feel. We feel it too! We feel stuck, hurt, confused, numb and quite simply beat up…but we feel like we are gaining a voice through this pain and want to make our trial worth while.
Will you help us?
Comment, share, like, email, whatever…spread the word!
It was the highlight of my week to hear your voice the other day. You were having dinner at the babies’ home when I called. You didn’t say much, but just hearing your sweet voice answer my simple questions and imagining your tender smile on the other side of the phone was enough to make it as memorable a day as any.
It sounds like you’re adjusting well to life back at the orphanage. Rebecca told me that you had a couple of tough days of temper tantrums last week, but overall you are doing well. You are eating well. You are sleeping well. And you are playing well with your friends. Hearing those kinds of things makes it a little easier on your mommy and me. It softens the blow.
Yesterday your mommy and I spent much of the day working on more paperwork in preparation for our case to go under review at the USCIS office in Nairobi. Woops … sorry. That means nothing to you. Basically, just know that we are working really hard to bring you home. We are talking with an amazing new friend here in our country who is helping us bring you home. She is coaching us on what to expect in Nairobi and how we can be best prepared. Just know that we are working as hard as we can to bring you home.
We can’t wait to have you here with us. Today, while we were having family time in the living room, Micaiah meticulously laid down a blanket and a pillow on the floor and said, “Shabeeya, night-night.” He was making a place for you to lay down and join us. Mommy is getting the house ready too. Her nesting is in full swing and there is no stopping her! 🙂
We love you, sweet girl. We’ll see you very soon.
Your loving dad
Yesterday I dropped you off back at the babies’ home. It was incredibly hard to leave you there. You were quite the little rockstar though. All the kids love you. You’re basically the queen of that place. 🙂
It was hard to watch you try to figure out what was happening. When the aunties sat you down for dinner, I could see the wheels turning in your head. You knew something was different about this time than in times past when we would visit that place together.
I’m sorry that I didn’t really say goodbye. Maybe in my mind I was just trying to convince myself that this is just a short little visit, so there was no real need for a goodbye. And beyond that, I didn’t want you to see me cry, because that would probably make it harder on you. So, I just had to go while you ate your dinner. I’m sorry.
I dropped off a few of your things with Rebecca and Laura. They have your backpack, your babydoll, and your pillow. I made sure that the picture book of our family was in your backpack so you don’t forget us.
I don’t know how you slept last night. I hope that you were okay since you were among your friends. To be honest, I’ve had a harder time this morning, then last night. I guess it’s just starting to sink in that I have to board that plan tonight without you. Everything reminds me of you—your clothes that I still have—your toys—the papers you colored all over the guest house—so many things. Last night, I rolled over in bed and for a split second I thought you were there beside me. A little while later, I heard running water coming from outside of our bathroom, and I thought that it was you playing in the sink like you used to do, getting yourself completely soaked and having to change your clothes three times in an hour.
Oh, sweet girl, we are working as hard as we can to bring you home. Please know that we haven’t deserted you. We just have to go away for a little while. We will not leave you as an orphan, but we will come again to you. We’re going away to prepare a place for you—to get the house ready. We have to go so that we can return and get you very soon. I know it doesn’t make sense to any of us now. But one day it will.
Alethia, you are our daughter, and nothing can change that. Your daddy and mommy love you with all their heart. Take heart, sweet girl. We’ll see you soon.
Your loving, returning father
I got way behind on publishing the videos of our time here. I’ll eventually catch up. But here’s a look at the little party we had for Alethia’s third birthday back on November 12.
I’m not sure that any other time in my life competes with this one in terms of how I’ve found constant comfort in the Word of God. I’ve claimed more promises, prayed more Psalms, found more hope, and never been more convicted and rebuked through the pages of Scripture than at any other time in my life. Not only that, but many of you reading our story have been equally encouraged and challenged through the Word as you’ve shared your own verses and passages with us (especially those of you who have hit the same brick wall at the Embassy that we have). So I thought I’d take a minute and list a few that have made a considerable impact on Tasha and me both. In a way, they sort of create a Scriptural timeline of our spiritual journey over here–a way to physically track what God has been telling us–the divine voice speaking into our situation.
Matthew 6:27 – “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” – I read this on October 8, just a few days after our original canceled court date. I needed that reminder in a major way.
Mark 4:40 – “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”– This verse jumped off the pages of Scripture for me back on October 18th. This was during that long period of waiting for our court date to be rescheduled, wondering what in the world God was up to. Jesus was rebuking his disciples for their lack of faith as their boat was being tossed around on the sea in the midst of a wild storm. For me, it was a rebuke as well. I felt the Lord asking me why I had lost my faith, when the reality of His track record in my life is that He is forever faithful and in constant control. Why should I fear when Jesus is in the boat? I may not understand what He is doing, but He is IN the boat.
Matthew 15:8 – “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” – On October 26th I confessed to the Lord: “Bottom line is I don’t trust You like I say I do. I doubt Your promises. I doubt that You are going to see this through. And I confess that right now.”
Luke 12:32 – “Fear not little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” I claimed this on November 2nd.
Mark 9:24 – “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.” – Nov. 3
Mark 11:24 – “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – On November 6th I began claiming this verse. There were 10 business days left until November 20th, the day we were all planning to fly home together. We sincerely believed that the Lord was going to answer our prayer in those 10 business days.
November 17th, the day after we got the devastating news from the Embassy, I had no words to pray. So I opened up my Bible and did a massive promise-claim from the Psalms.
Ps. 147:3 – “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
141:8 – “But my eyes are toward you, O God, my Lord;”
136:23 – “It is He who remembered us in our low estate.”
124:1, 3 – “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side…they they would have swallowed us alive.”
121:5 – “The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.”
121:1-2 – “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
112:6-7 – “The righteous will never be moved…He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.”
…on and on it went.
Psalm 139 – My mother-in-law, Robbie Litke, reminded of this great chapter on November 23rd. I re-read it. Before I knew it, verse 12 had gripped my heart so heavily that I grabbed the guitar and a song began pouring forth. The verse says, “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.”
John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to You, Not as the world gives to I give to You.” – It was also on Nov. 23rd that I read this verse and then wrote in my prayer journal: “Lord, I could feel your peace in such a tangible way on Monday as I left the Embassy. Though I had every right to be discouraged and broken down, Your peace flooded my heart.”
Lamentations 3:20-24 – “My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.'” – My buddy Tim Norton, a missionary to Madagascar who has seen his own share of troubles, reminded me on Nov. 25th that God’s faithfulness is great.
I could go on all day. The truth that God’s Word is living and active and sharper than a two-edged sword could not have been proven any stronger in our lives than in the past few weeks. Thank You, Lord, for speaking directly to our situation.
What Scriptures have brought conviction or healing in your own situation? What is He saying directly to you?
It’s been over a week now that Alethia and I have been together without the rest of the family. We’ve shared some sweet memories together. Our morning routine is probably my favorite. She continues to wake up with the sun, but since the other kids are not around, she lets me sleep … for a few extra minutes anyway. Eventually her impatience gets the best of her and she begins to roll on top of me, grab my face with her hands and pull me close. A few minutes later, she hops on my stomach and begins bouncing on it like a trampoline (a move that I’m positive she stole from watching Cai and Zeke). Soon that leads to an all-out wrestling match and then we’re both up for the day.
I wish I could say that the bonding time we’ve shared has been completely absent of sadness and uncertainty. But the reality is, it’s been tough. Don’t misunderstand. The bonding time itself has been amazing. And I’m incredibly thankful for this time I’ve had with her. But I can’t push aside the ever-nagging thoughts of whether I’m simply delaying the inevitable. The fear that we will never be able to take her home has continued to plague me, and has at times caused me to put up protective walls around my heart for fear of loving her too much. I know when I begin to do that because she senses me pulling away, and she doesn’t understand why. Fear begins to fill her eyes. She begins acting out and likewise pulls away from me. I know it’s wrong. And I know that I need to have my heart completely open to her, regardless of whether she becomes our forever-daughter or not. For now, she IS my daughter, and the only appropriate way to interact with her during this season is for me to be completely open, transparent and available to her as her daddy.
I’m praying that God’s grace would overlook the multitude of my insecurities and fears and cause Alethia’s little heart to be protected from all of the chaos that surrounds her. I simply cannot imagine what is going through her little mind right now. There’s probably no way to fully know the depth of her understanding into the situation, but there’s no doubt she knows something is up. She cries herself to sleep if I don’t lay with her (she’s never done this before). She is in a constant search for maternal love, climbing up into the lap of any kind-looking lady who will give her time and attention. She’s become quite attached to Beverly Carroll, my pastor’s wife who has been here for the past few days. The timing of her arrival could not have been more perfect. Beverly has been incredibly sweet and gracious to allow Alethia to interrupt her day at a moment’s notice. In fact, Bev has gone out of her way to spend time with her, connecting with her on a very deep heart level. And I’m so thankful. Yes, Alethia and I have had some amazing father-daughter time, but she’s desperately craving a mother’s love.
We continue to ask for your prayers as Tasha and I seek legal council from some amazing people in the US. The attorney in DC who has agreed to help us knows the Ugandan adoption system very well, and knows most of the employees at the USCIS office in Nairobi as well. I’m pleased to announce that she’s very optimistic of our case–an optimism that we were desperate for in the midst of a very negative situation. Tomorrow, I’m heading back to Kampala to talk with our Ugandan attorney to make sure all of my T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted before I leave the country (I’ll post anything helpful that I uncover for those of you in the same boat as we are). Since we do have legal guardianship of our sweet girl, I want to make sure that I do everything legally expected and required of me before I depart for home … without my daughter. Lord, help me!