This last week has been surreal. That is the word that I have been sharing with everyone that asks how it is going. The mission trip that we participated in from July 15-22nd was simply amazing. We went with a team from our church and were joined by a few others along the way. Together with the Haitian Mission Haiti Youth Group, we were able to travel 5 1/2 hours from Port-au-Prince by bus, hike three hours up and down the mountainous terrain, and witness through vacation bible school to 280 children and many, many adults and youth. It was amazing. Many new relationships were formed and more than anything, I was reminded that God's beautiful family includes people from all over the world. It makes missions seem all the more vital to our Christian walk.
On Tuesday, July 22nd, the mission team drove us to our twins' orphanage. Because they had to fly out at 9am, we left the house we stayed at in Port-au-Prince extra early (5:00am) so the team would be able to spend time seeing our boys and their orphanage before getting to the airport in time to check in. It was such a blessing to me because the team requested this. After a week of serving in the mountains, we were all tired...but the team saw the beauty in seeing the humble beginnings of our boys to the point of sacrificing their sleep so they could all be a part of our re-introduction. My heart swelled with love for this team and with love for our church.
Judah Elysee was brought out first and he was quiet but content. He was placed into my arms and the photos began. The team did a beautiful job taking photos and videos of this reunion. We were re-united to Elijah James shortly after, and he was not so content from his early morning waking. He was tearful but quieted eventually in Craig's arms. There were teary eyes and lumps in throats...but with a joyous heart....it was nothing but a blessed moment!
We spent the day reconnecting with the boys, and they seemed to connect with us very quickly. We snuck in every snuggle we could and couldn't help but wish the time to pass so we could be on our own with the boys. We met a few of the missionaries that were currently at the orphanage and spent some time capturing photos of the other children at the orphanage so their parents could have a little piece of the joy that we were feeling. (From past experience we know that it is terribly difficult to sit at home as you know that other parents are with their children at the orphanage, and somehow it makes it a bit easier to know that your little one was loved on a bit in your absence, and to get updated photos is always a blessing.)
We had been praying for years that we would have the privilege of meeting the boys' birth dad. We knew that we wouldn't know for sure until he actually arrived, however, we knew that the director, Pierre, had contacted him. About two years ago prior to our first bonding trip, I had compiled a list of questions that I had for the birth dad, just in case we would be blessed with this opportunity. I still had that list and had brought it along with me. Praise God for that, because at one point during the morning at the orphanage I chased Judah out onto the porch and knew immediately that the man who had come in the gate and was seated in the wicker chair was the boys' birth dad.
I was speechless. There was another man on the porch as well and he was an interpreter that had come to the O just in case. He stepped in immediately when I found my voice. I introduced myself and asked if he was Elie and Elysee's birth dad. He said yes. His name is Jean Robert. I quickly told him that I needed to go get my husband from inside. I came back with Craig and my list of questions. Through the course of our visiting, we learned that the boys' birth father is soft-spoken, handsome, relatively short, lives on the streets of the most dangerous and poor area of the capital city (actually the most dangerous neighborhood in all of the world), and he misses the boys and their mom every day of his life. Heartbreaking.
The love he felt for the twins was very evident...and he made it very clear that he could see the love we had for the twins as well. We had a beautiful conversation with him that lasted almost 2 hours! We learned about him, the boys' birth mom, how they met, what their birth was like, who was born first (Eli at 10am at home, Elysee 4pm at a hospital), where they were born, how their mother died, what the names of their half-siblings are, that they don't have any known family illnesses and that they were named after Isaiah and Elijah in the Bible because their mom was a Christian.
Praise God for that bit of information. That was the most painful thing that I was afraid to learn. I feared visiting with their birth dad and finding out that their mom was not saved. We are hopeful that someday the boys will profess a love for the Lord, Jesus, and I know that they will be relieved to know that one day they will be reunited with her in Heaven.
I took that opportunity to ask Jean Robert if he was a Christian. He said no. I am thankful for his honesty but wasn't content just knowing this fact. I shared the truth of Jesus with this broken man and expressed how important it is to me that he know the Lord, so he not only is reunited with the boys' birth mom someday in Heaven, but so that he can be reunited with his sons as well, and live with Jesus! I wish I could say that he gave his life to the Lord right there...but he didn't...so we will continue to pray for his salvation and ask that you all pray as well.
(If any of you reading this have not accepted Jesus as your Savior, please contemplate the eternal ramifications of taking that decision lightly. I would love to celebrate with all of you as one HUGE family in Heaven someday. Please contact me if you have questions, or visit this site.)
So saying goodbye to Jean Robert was difficult for us, and we could tell that it was difficult for him to pull himself away as well. We said our goodbyes and promised to send photos of the boys to the orphanage so they could deliver them to him, so he would be able to see where life brings them and that they are healthy and happy. We promised to provide for their basic needs, provide an education and most importantly to love them unconditionally. We hugged and said that we are family, forever.
After he left, we continued to play with the boys, ate lunch and then it was time for baths and a quick retreat to the airport. We found out at the last minute that the normal orphanage van was not available, and we would get to take a tap-tap to the airport. Really? Well...if that was the only way...why not leave this country Haitian style? It was a little unnerving to pile into the back of a pickup with a wooden board to sit on and nothing to hold on to with two toddlers in tow...but we made it.
Once we got the airport...it was a whirlwind of paperwork and getting whisked to the front of lines. It was amazing how many people came up to us and commented that what we were doing was a blessing and thanked us. In many ways, this broke my heart. This country is so broken that the people are grateful when perfect strangers take their young to raise them in another country. What a broken world we live in.
One of the people that whisked us to the front of lines tried to scam us at the very last minute, and I have never been more grateful for my husband and the way that he defended us and guided us on our way. This man said he was going to help submit our folders of exit paperwork for the twins to leave the country, and that he needed the paperwork and $40. Craig said he would pay him inside the security lines and give the paperwork to the counter that needed it. He could tell the man wasn't allowed beyond security so we just headed for the security guards ourselves.
We made it to the gate and spent more than an hour there getting acquainted with the twins. It was there that we realized that the twins knew how to pee on the potty! They didn't tell us when they had to go, but if we placed them on the potty, they would go! Oh, happy day! We could also tell that the boys were already connecting with us.
We were a bit apprehensive about the flight but were thankful that we were only traveling the first leg of the trip on our day. The flight proved to be the simplest endeavor yet! The boys both got sleepy and after a quick snack, Judah slept for the rest of the flight and Elijah just played quietly.
Immediately when we got off the plane in Miami, another mom adopting from our orphanage greeted us from behind a thick window and took video of our boys on US soil for the first time!!! What a blessing to meet her and share in her excitement as well, as she was headed to Haiti to pick up her adopted son from the same room and orphanage as our boys!
After the flight, we headed through customs and immigration. It took roughly 50 minutes for us to process all of our paperwork...and probably 20 minutes just to get the boys to the correct area of the airport. Eli literally cried for the ENTIRE time through this process; and continued to cry while walking to the boarding area for the shuttle to the airport (via walking to the completely wrong floor first), while on the shuttle, while checking into the hotel, and all the way to the room. Judah joined in as we rode in the elevator. I have to admit that at this point I thought, "Oh, boy! Now we are in for it!"
I muttered a quick prayer for patience reminding myself of all of the changes that the boys had been through in the last 8 hours and was shocked by the transformation in their behavior. We sat them down for a snack and immediately we had little boys throwing food and giggling wickedly! Again, I thought, "Oh my!"
We quickly realized that we, too, were exhausted. We got ourselves ready for bed. We slept solidly from 10:00 pm to 8:30 am. We literally had to wake the boys the next morning so we could head to breakfast in time to make our morning shuttle to the airport. They ate fairly well, but Judah did much better than Eli.
We headed back up to the room and realized that our time was very short. We hurried Craig and the twins through the shower, got dressed and headed to the elevator in record time. We made it to the shuttle with ten minutes to spare, and of course Elijah cried the whole way to the airport!
The flight to Chicago was pretty uneventful. Both boys slept about an hour and a half on the way, and once at the airport, did well with waiting during the short layover. When we boarded the plane to Sioux Falls, it all began to feel very real. Unbelieveable. This journey we had been on for three and a half years was coming to a close...or was it just beginning? It was a mix of nerves and excitement...but mostly excitement. We knew that our friends and family were going to be waiting for us on the other end of this flight, and I was beginning to be filled with anticipation.
The end of the flight was a bit rough. The twins were beginning to act like they needed a nap. Uh-oh. Not good timing. This was the most important part of the journey...and I so wanted them to enjoy it! More prayers and a deep breath...and we were headed off the plane and towards the double doors I had been longing to walk through since we watched another little Haitian boy come home to his forever family earlier this year.
We got to the doors, pushed through, and the emotion bubbled over! The sweet cluster of our immediate family waiting for us was beyond words! A huge welcome home banner, my three smiling big kiddos, the two little kiddos in our arms and all of the people that had prayed so faithfully for us all gathered together. Many tears were sparkling in eyes crinkled shut with smiles. The hugs and sweet words are a treasure to Craig and me.
We had several photos taken capturing this family reunion...and then it was time to venture to the lower level of the airport to greet and introduce the twins to our prayer warriors. We headed down the escalator and my breath caught in my chest. I knew that there was going to be several of our friends and extended family...but the crowd gathered there literally took my breath away.
My eyes saw friends from all areas of our lives. Extended family, college friends, the closest of family friends, prayer warriors from our church, the team from our mission trip, our kids' elementary classmates and their families, coworkers, our bosses, and even another adoptive mom that barely knows us but has been a quiet prayer warrior all along. Craig's coworkers, a Mission Haiti friend and even Craig's boss were behind cameras capturing every aspect of our homecoming!!!
Unbelieveable. That is what that moment was like. Unbelieveable. Truly surreal. If I could choose to stop time or bottle up moments of my life, this is most definitely one that would qualify. It could not have been more magical. We introduced the twins to all of the people there and soaked up the well wishes.
After the crowd had dwindled, we realized that the KELO-TV people were at the airport. We knew that this was a possibility...but did not know that they actually had a live shot of our homecoming on the news as we got off the plane! They interviewed us for the ten o'clock story, and then we were headed to our car. Our complete family of SEVEN loaded into the Pilot and settled in for the short ride home. We caught up on the happenings of the big kiddos and soaked up the first sweet moments of our forever family.
Once home, we realized quickly that there was going to be a serious issue with our dog. The boys were terrified of Griffin, and we had to put him in the kennel in order to get into the house and that was certainly still with much drama. (We later found out that one of the nannies at the orphanage told the toddlers that if they misbehaved or didn't move fast enough that the dogs at the orphanage would eat them...so needless to say, in a two year olds mind....being terrified makes complete sense. Not too pleased with that nanny.)
We went inside and I was overcome by emotion. Coming home after a mission trip is always an emotional time. On a mission trip a person's heart becomes raw, our abilities are stretched, our bodies are fatigued and that is even without bringing home a beautiful set of twins! My emotions were over-flowing. I sat in my living room on the floor holding the twins and just cried. Huge, cleansing tears. I squeezed all of my beautiful children, was kissed on the head by my champion of a husband, and dried my eyes!
The real adventure was about to begin...no need to cry!!!
So then began the transition to home. We had a few family members join us at our home that first evening and we headed to bed relatively early. We got all five of our kiddos set up for bedtime in the twins' room. Aiden in the top bunk, the twins in the bottom bunk, and the girls in sleeping bags on the floor. It was heartwarming watching them bond!
I will share a few of the highlights from the week following our arrival home.
It was the next morning that I realized that my beautiful friend and my sister-in-law had both gathered some supplies for my fridge and what a blessing that was. Craig and I were both feeling under the weather as our digestive systems attempted to adapt back to normal. It was such a blessing not to have to cook a meal that first day! We had the boys' first doctor's appointment that day and later found out that they both have a bacterial infection and have now begun treatment. Other than that, the doctor said that they were beautifully healthy!!! Praise God!!
On Thursday, we stayed home most of the day bonding but had the opportunity later in the day to take the twins to see their Great-Grandma Mary. She is now in a nursing home because she fell just prior to our leaving for Haiti and broke her pelvis in two places. It was a blessing to bring the boys to visit her. She has been fighting Alzheimer's Disease for quite some time now, and it was a blessing that she immediately knew who the boys were and spoke to them so sweetly. We also were able to bring the boys on their first wagon ride later that night. Unfortunately we had to cut the ride short because we saw a dog up ahead and knew it was either turn around or prepare for a serious meltdown.
Friday was the perfect opportunity to introduce the twins to Mr. Connor's pool. He was on vacation and we were able to head to the pool with Jaron and Heather (Craig's brother's family) and spent the time getting the boys used to being in the water. They were very scared...but warmed up a little by the end of the night.
Saturday was warm and we decided that it would be good to spend much of the day outside playing and then later headed to Connor's pool again. Craig was feeling pretty ill this day, and I was encouraged that I handled five children mostly single-handedly without too much trouble. The boys were more comfortable with the water and were playing by the end of the night.
Sunday was a huge blessing. We loaded up our vehicle and headed off to church. We were greeted by past Mission Haiti team members, prayer warrior and friends! It was such a joy to introduce them to the boys. The boys did quite well during the church service. They were mostly quiet, and I even was able to soak up some of the message. During the service, they showed the sweetest video of our team at the orphanage when the boys were presented to us. The music spoke of God's faithfulness. Indeed.
After the service, we had trouble leaving the church. We visited with everybody and enjoyed our JB cookies and the boys got to have their first JB cookies...and they LOVED them!!!
On Monday, we ventured to the mall. Both boys appear to be bonding well, and we felt ready for a challenge. They were like champs at the mall. We got the couple of things we needed and headed home to play outside for much of the day. Judah said his first English word on this date. When the girls helped him outside the front door to find me, they shut the door and he loudly said, "O-pen!!!" "O-pen!!!" So cute.
Tuesday, July 29th, we woke with a knock on our door. I should tell you all that we are BLESSED with sleepers. (These twins can sleep in like no other child I have ever had under my roof!) We looked at the clock and it was 8:45am! I went to the door thinking one of our big kiddos would be there...but no, it was Eli, needing a fresh diaper. He had just woken up and came straight to us without big kiddo assistance! Unbelieveable! I changed him, and then we realized that, "OH NO!!!" We had a doctor's appointment for Judah at...of course...8:45am. No joke. So, after a few phone calls...we had set up our appointment a little later and worked to get out of the house.
We were able to get to the appointment and actually had both boys evaluated. They are both going to have minor surgeries, and we were able to schedule them for August 21st. I was thankful that we are able to do the surgeries while both Craig and I are off with the boys.
After the appointments, we were able to take our first stroller ride straight through the Great Plains Zoo. We had no idea how this adventure would go provided that the fear level of a household dog was at the terrified level still. Surprisingly, the boys did very well at the zoo and were attentive and interested in all of the animals. They really did not show any fear. Interesting.
The twins also learned a phrase from Craig today and have said it consistently every day since. That is the phrase "Oh man!" So for example...Elijah was running around with a blanket over his head and ran right into the doorframe and appropriately said, "Oh man!" Pretty stinking cute.
On Wednesday, the 30th of July, we stayed home for most of the day and soaked up just being a family. It was wonderful. The normal routine is beginning to fall into place. We received a dinner invitation to Jaron and Heather's and headed over there in the evening. The kids all had fun playing and the twins warmed up right away. They were skittish over Wembley, their small dog, but were more content by the end of the visit. Eli even touched her paw! Progress in the dog department.
The kids also had the opportunity to jump on the trampoline and the boys were cautious but appeared to be having some fun with this.
Thursday was a quiet day at home. We spent time together inside and outside and soaked up all of the snuggles we could.
Friday, the 1st of August, (today) was a little bit sad because we knew that the big kiddos would be headed for an adventure to Minnesota and Wisconsin with their Grandpa and Grandma Skalsky for five days. This was our last day all together until we all would meet up in Northern Minnesota on August 6th. So we made the most of it. We enjoyed the morning at home...and then headed out to Terrace Park Pool and then later met up with friends for the Milky way Ice Cream experience. Mmmmm.....
I realize that this blog is long and rambling, but I hope that it give a little insight into our adoption. We feel very blessed that the transition is happening as smoothly as it is. We prepared ourselves by thinking that it would all be difficult and that bonding would be complicated. It has not been. The language barrier has been tough, and we hope that someday they will love their dog, Griffin, but for the most part, we have nothing to complain about. Life is certainly busy, but it is blessed. Greatly!
We hope that you will continue to pray with us as we continue to bond together. Pray that the English language will gradually become familiar to the twins, and that Craig and I will continue to be able to grow our abilities to speak in Creole as well. Pray for the boys to feel loved and for them to continue to be comfortable with us. Pray that when we finally begin our transition back to work, that it would go smoothly. Also pray that their little systems have nothing else going on that we have not yet discovered. Pray for their birth dad, and pray that he will find work. Pray also that our big kiddos would enjoy their time away but that the reunion would be smooth. Mostly, give God praise for the beauty of the work that he has done in our family and pray that He would get all of the glory. His will for us and our lives is nothing but beautiful.
Feeling greatly blessed,