The day before I turned 40 years old I received a phone call from my adoption facilitator in Guatemala who said: “Dennis is dying. You need to come now and foster him for the remainder of his adoption process.” This startling phone call changed the course of the next few weeks of our lives in August of 2007. We were expecting a phone call that he was finally out of PGN and it was time to prepare for our pick-up trip, not a call to move to Guatemala. 

Obviously, I immediately set wheels in motion to go. My twins were about to start Kindergarten and my oldest 5th Grade. I met with their teachers, gathered materials to start homeschooling, researched houses to rent in Antigua where many other adoptive mamas were fostering, bought airline tickets, and quickly arranged our lives in Illinois to be put on hold indefinitely while I moved to Guatemala for the remainder of our adoption process with Dennis. The plan was that Tim would get me settled in our rental house and then fly back and forth so he could work and take care of our home. Thankfully, we all had passports and also had some extra funds in our adoption account due to the recent sale of our land.   

You can imagine my surprise then to have a healthy, robust, and happy Dennis placed in my arms when we arrived in Guatemala City a few days later. His hair had grown, his belly filled out and his legs much stronger than the last time I had visited in May. I was perplexed. We were still in the lobby introducing our youngest son to the rest of his siblings when the actual reason we were brought to Guatemala manifested itself. Our lawyer, facilitator, and agency owner arrived in the hotel and spent the next 2 hours arguing, in Spanish of course. Like a movie scene playing out in slow motion, I started putting the pieces together: we had been called to Guatemala for a power play that was bigger than our adoption, our family, and our son. We were just pawns. Money that had been reserved to complete Rebekah’s adoption was being siphoned away in a manipulative game by people who didn’t have our best interest at heart. I was speechless and stunned.  

It was in this context that I experienced Antigua for the first time. The plan was to look at a few rental options that I had already lined up and then Tim would have a few days to get us settled in before he returned home. I had made a connection with a very sweet foster mom who offered to put us up for a night or two until we arranged for our own housing. When we arrived in the 17th-century city located an hour from Guatemala City, the cobblestone streets, open-air homes, lack of heat, and the fact that everyone spoke Spanish overwhelmed me. Of course, I knew that everyone spoke Spanish, but it was so much more real to me on this day in 2007 than it had been on any other trip to this country. I was aware that I was simply not strong enough to accomplish this task. First off, we didn’t have warm enough clothes. How in the world was I going to push a double side-by-side stroller on the narrow cobblestone streets? Homeschooling 3 children and bonding with a new baby? What in the heck had I been thinking?  

So, as any other overwhelmed mother stuck in a foreign country would do, I started crying. Actually, non-stop crying. All I could see in the entire situation was impossibilities. I had been lied to, betrayed, and somewhat abandoned in our adoption process. I might have been a seasoned traveler and adventurer, but I immediately hated Antigua. To me, the city was old, ugly, uncomfortable, and impossible. I have never felt so much culture shock in my entire life. I wanted to go home. But, going home meant leaving Dennis behind….again. Ugh. Talk about your blocked and conflicting goals.   

After some prayer and a little mental processing, it became clear to me that the reason we decided to foster Dennis in the first place was he was “dying.” I mean that’s what we were told anyway, which in fact was nowhere near the truth. Our son was totally fine and only 6- 8 weeks away from coming home. We decided to return Dennis to his foster mom until the end of the adoption and then we would pick up him once the Embassy appointment and visa were approved – just like we had always planned.   

I knew many women fostering their children in Antigua, but I had 3 other young children to consider. Frankly, it was also an expense that we couldn’t support, especially given the adoption for our daughter that was just beginning. Using the money reserved for her adoption to stay in Guatemala for a baby boy who was comfortable and safe with his foster mama just didn’t make sense. Our kids were very upset that we were “giving Dennis back,” but I was resolute this was the best decision for all of us. We decided to make the rest of the trip more like a family vacation, exploring and making memories, before saying our final, tearful goodbyes to Dennis. I remember eating lunch and then leaving Antigua as quickly as our driver could pick us up. I wanted to get back to Guatemala City where I had some familiarity and comfort.  

Fast forward 10 years….

One month before I turned 50 years old, I escorted my Guatemalan-born children back to their country of birth for their first homeland visit.[1] Ever the travel professional, I had worked very hard to build an itinerary that would be fun, interesting, and inspirational for my two 10-year-olds. My only goal for them was to experience and to fall in love with their country. I also believed very strongly that our trip would bring about a “holy healing” in their young souls about their adoption and identity. Little did I know that I would also be a recipient of some holy healing.

I decided to use Antigua as a base on the first half of the trip, not because I held an affinity for the city, but because it strategically made sense for several of our plans. As for me, I had very few memories about the city or anything we did for the short 24 hours we were there. Apart from photos, I only held memories about a few people I met and the overwhelmingly negative emotions I experienced while in Antigua.   

Imagine my delight to experience the beauty of delightful colonial Antigua! What’s not to love about this city surrounded by volcanoes with a deep European feel? How did the traveler in me miss all of this wonder before? This city is everything I adore about traveling! Every home was a different color, the flora is bountiful, the people were beautiful, and the air was crisp and clean. Yeah, the cobblestone streets were as irritating as I remembered, but this time I could appreciate the charm they gave to this historic city. My memories of an ugly city couldn’t have been further from the truth. 

On the first day, my littles and I walked into the Choco Museo where we had scheduled an afternoon chocolate-making class. We made our way through that shop, which opened up onto a small courtyard where artisans were displaying their colorful creations. As I wandered through the goods and other small shops in this area, I noticed a small Italian restaurant and a few tables covered with checkered tablecloths. I was immediately struck with a sense of déjà vu. Wait a minute, I’ve been here before! And then it hit me: right here in this very spot our family made a happy memory! Once we had finally processed through the deception that brought us to Antigua, our family decided to have a vacation and have fun. The very first thing we did after making that decision was eat something familiar and comforting, so we found an Italian restaurant (shown below). 

Lunch in Antigua in 2007

The memories came flooding back over me in an instant. An entire trip and city locked away because of pain and shutdown were suddenly opened back up. I was experiencing part of the holy healing that I thought would only be for my children on this trip. What were the odds that I would stumble upon this very place and that it would still be open after all of these years? The truth that our steps are ordered of the Lord became alive at this moment. He turns our ashes into beauty and restores the waste places of our lives – even small, and insignificant moments. It doesn’t happen instantaneously or according to our schedule, but He does faithfully restore things we’ve forgotten about.

As our first day back in Antigua closed I realized how very much our emotions and circumstances play into how we process truth. We can hate something beautiful because we are in pain. We can run away from adventure because we are afraid. We can miss making connections because we are out of control. Coming back to Guatemala was for my children, but while giving them what they needed I found some healing too.

Why, in the larger scope of my life, does it matter that I love Antigua? I think this city, out of everywhere else I’ve traveled in the world, is the place I’ve felt the most powerless, weak, and where I could not figure out how to stand up against the circumstances in front of me. To me, choosing to come home instead of staying and fostering my son is a significant life regret. I also believe that Antigua might possibly be connected to a future storyline for our family. We are intrinsically tied to this land and my children’s stories are just beginning to be told. There are so many mysteries yet to unfold in our connection with Guatemala. 

God always helps to authentically make us whole, even in those places we fail, run away from, or forget. It became clear to me that returning to Guatemala alone with my children was the second chance of sorts for me too. I’m so encouraged that God cares so much about healing those small broken places in our lives. I am grateful that painful memories can be revisited and beautiful memories can be refortified with the help of holy healing.

[1] The story about how this trip came about it highlighted in another post on my blog. Pictures and stories of our journey can be found here: