I will never forget the first time we stepped into Guatemala in November 2006. In three short three weeks, we had accepted the referral of our 4th child and boarded an airplane to meet our son, Dennis Leonel. We had the great privilege of spending a few days bonding with him when he was only 6 weeks old; an experience no longer available to those adopting internationally today. Our nursery was a simple hotel room. We soaked up every moment of our limited time together, trading him back and forth between our arms. Returning Dennis to his foster mother at the end of our visit simply broke my heart in half. We spent the next year impossibly straddled between the United States and Guatemala. I made a total of 5 trips to complete his adoption, and 2 additional trips to complete our daughter Rebekah’s adoption. Between 2006- 2008 these 7 trips tied my heart and our family to Guatemala forever. I love this land, simply because it gave us so much love.
I believe wholeheartedly “to whom much is given, much is required.” Owing a debt I could never begin to repay, I’ve tried many different ways to reconnect in Guatemala through ministry, advocacy, or volunteerism. Yet, every single door I’ve ever tried to open has simply shut before it’s ever been wide enough for me to go through. Emails and phone calls with organizations serving in-country went unreturned; several potential mission trips never materializing; offers to support ministries through volunteer labor fell on deaf ears. Eventually realizing the timing must not be right, I decided to take a step back and wait on God. I even let my passport expire. At some point, I began to understand that returning to Guatemala was more about my children’s needs than my own.
Over these same years, my oldest daughter, Lydia, became a student of Spanish. She argues about the fluency of her skills, but anyone who can write a research paper and laugh at soap operas in Spanish has some level of competency in the language. Deeply influenced by our adoptions, Lydia also chose to study social work. When she was looking for a place to intern this summer she was obviously drawn to Guatemala, a country she’s visited twice and loves for the very same reasons I do – Dennis & Rebekah. I was able to make a connection for her with Orphan’s Heart, one of the ministries I now work for in my new position in Florida. She was accepted into their intern program for Guatemala this summer where she will be using both her education and language skills to serve children and families. Her entire trip was fully funded, ahead of the deadline, by many of the same great big hearts that helped us fund our two adoptions. Lydia leaves next week on June 3rd to serve for 5 weeks at the Orphan’s Heart Malnutrition Center.
Suddenly, a country that had been closed for our family was starting to reopen. As soon as Dennis & Rebekah learned sissy was going to Guatemala, they wanted to know why they couldn’t go too.
After some prayer, research, and soul searching we came up with a plan that seemed to be our best next step. I will be traveling with Dennis & Rebekah in early July to make their very first homeland visit. The three of us will vacation and explore their country, revisit sites we experienced together when they were babies and create some brand new memories. We will discover colonial Antigua, climb a volcano, explore the markets, visit the zoo, stay in the hotels where we first bonded, and eat at the Applebee’s where we had our very first meal together as a family. We will also visit Lydia and learn more about the work she has accomplished during her internship, and then we will get to bring sissy home.
As you can imagine, this trip has led us down the pathway of many heartfelt discussions and also led to many rounds of tears. Conversations about meeting birth mothers have come up many, many times. We talk about it, honestly, and I assure them one day we will look – together – for their biological families. But this time, this trip, well, it’s about making those first steps back to their country. I’ve listened to others ahead of me on this journey, taken to heart what they have shared, and sought out much council in making this decision. I’m expecting us to discover great joy and uncover great grief on our visit, that’s why this trip is not going to be a whole family vacation. It’s simply going to be about what’s best for Dennis and Rebekah. What makes the most sense, at this stage of their development, is to build a healthy and integrated view of their ethnicity while helping them learn to navigate unresolvable parts of their story. Birth mother searches and eventually reunion visits will come, but this trip – our first step back together– is going to be simply about exploring beautiful and enchanting Guatemala.