One family's journey to hear God's calling, overcome our fears, and be obedient to Him!

Monday, July 15, 2013

It Almost Seems Impossible Until It's Done

It has been almost six months since I blogged. For that, I apologize or accept your thanks, whichever is more appropriate for you. Let’s just say, I've been busy.

The birth and life of this blog gravitated around our long and tedious adoption process of two beautiful girls from Haiti. I blogged every detail, good days and bad, victories and stumbling blocks, from beginning to end, along the way. The one constant in my prayers throughout the entire process was always centered on an end result of flying out of Haiti with two adopted daughters and getting them home to America. The constant issues and delays during the first two years with the Haitian Government were difficult enough to handle. But the unexpected issues and delays that arose in the final months with the United States Government, my government, were beyond comprehension. After 2 years and 3 months the struggles had become so difficult that I began to think it would not happen. I feared my girls simply would never come home. I worried that perhaps my adoption case would be one of those worst-case scenarios you only read about. Then, just as unexpectedly as God laid it on my heart to adopt, He opened up the final door and it was done. The girls came home! 

I feel compelled to offer this as encouragement for anyone adopting internationally, from countries like Haiti with tedious adoption processes. Particularly for people like my sweet sister (sort of, by marriage, okay it's what I call her) Gina who is in the process of adopting a special girl named Benia from Haiti. And for another wonderful family, the Ledford's who are in the process of adopting my Jesula's cousin from Haiti, a special girl named Christella. 

It almost seems impossible until it's done. And we know, with God nothing is impossible. So don't even think about giving up hope. The Day, Your Day, God’s Day is coming! 

I feel I would be remiss if I didn't share a little bit about what to expect starting The Day After. Let’s say your child comes home on a Sunday. Just what happens starting on Monday? 

Well, a funny thing happened. The journey didn't end when the girls finally came home. It really just began. It didn't get any easier either. It just changed directions. When you are knee deep in one battle, you don't think about challenges that lay ahead. For 27 months my eyes were clearly focused on the trees on the horizon. And, not until the day when I finally reached the trees, did I realize there was a forest in front of me. 

Let me tell you a sure thing. You can write it down. Bringing an adoptive child from an impoverished country like Haiti into your American home life is not easy. Actually, it's very hard. It's hard for everyone involved. If anyone tells you different they are lying. I don't know why they are lying but they are. Maybe they want you to believe, like everything else about them, that they are perfect. I'm certainly not perfect and thankfully God doesn't expect me to be. Nevertheless, the truth is, post adoption adaptation is harder than you could possibly imagine.  

The age of adoptees plays a major role in this challenge. Infants and toddlers (special needs aside) obviously present the easiest transition. The world is still new to them anyway. However, as the adoptee matures to young child and to teenager, the difficulty in adapting increases exponentially. The older a child becomes, the more entrenched they are in their native language, culture, beliefs, and so on. And the more entrenched they are in these things, the more difficult it becomes for them to learn a new language, adapt to a new culture, much less to change what they believe about things, lots of things, almost everything. 

Likely the biggest challenge is developing an understanding of unconditional love and creating trust. How long does it take for ordinary people, from the same culture, speaking the same language, to develop unconditional love and trust? Try to imagine how hard it would be without those common denominators. Throw in the fact that your newly adopted child doesn't really know you (or you them). For that matter, they don't really know anybody. They have been plucked out of their environment, their comfort zone, thrown into a whole new world, where they don't know anyone, and they can't understand what anyone is saying. How scary is that? They have no idea what to expect from you. They don't know how you will treat them. They don't know how you will respond if they mess up? The have worries like what happens if they break something, anything, a drinking glass? They may worry you will you get mad, beat them, or even send them back to where they came from. They don't know for sure if living with you is a permanent arrangement (even if they decide they want to). They will be searching for a new comfort zone. These same trust principles apply to everyone they come into contact with. Take it slow branching out into extended family, and in slowly increasing portions. Remember, they barely know you, and they don't know your family, or friends at all. Don't expect them to be excited to meet your family and friends just because your family and friends can't wait to meet them. Actually, expect them to be nervous, even scared about meeting people. Friends need to wait. Explain this process with family and friends. It is very important that they spend the vast majority of time with just your primary family unit. They desperately need parenting, which they likely have never had. They need consistent rules and discipline. Avoid the easy trap of thinking their finally here let's give them everything. Treat them the same way you have your biological children (unless you failed at that). They need normal rewards, normal birthday and Christmas presents, etc. They also need to be told no. Early on they need to learn the proper order of working, earning money, tithing, helping others, and then buying things for self within reason. They need to hear constantly that they are loved. They need hugs. Affection is something they likely have never genuinely experienced, so don't expect too much too soon in return. They crave for attention and reassurance, but letting their guard down and risking attachment is a very slow process. They gravitate and feel most comfortable or safe with their primary care-giver, the parent they spend the most time with. I could give you hundreds of examples that occur daily that exasperate the challenge of unconditional love and trust. Only with time, the elimination of the language barrier, and with consistent, patient, and proper parenting will you begin to develop a comprehension of unconditional love and earn trust. And again, depending on the age of the adoptee this will take many months, even years. 

The other major challenge is the language barrier. And this goes way beyond it's being an obstacle for relationship building, love and trust. There are countless things that we do on a daily basis just to function that have to be learned by an adoptive child. Learning these while not being able to communicate through speaking is extremely difficult. I believe it is advantageous to get them into public school as quickly as possible so that they have daily ESL instruction. A child that arrives with very limited knowledge of English that is quickly enrolled into daily ESL class will begin to feel comfortable attempting to put short, basic sentences together in 3 to 4 months. At first they will be hesitant to speak for fear of not saying something correctly. This is one of many fears that you must be proactive in helping them overcome. In about 6 months or so you should be able to communicate pretty effectively. However things like sentence structure and tenses will still not be right. Sometimes they will understand what they hear but not be able to formulate and speak a response. A huge caution is, as they begin to progress with speaking English it's easy to assume they understand things. We have learned that most of the time, when we think they understand us, they really don't. And that works both ways. You and your child will constantly be repeating things. And that is a good thing. Your child will be very hesitant to repeat things for fear they may have said it wrong and therefore appear dumb. Encourage repeating as a natural part of the learning process to insure understanding. They need constant reassurance and encouragement. Finally, our girls' middle school ESL teacher, who has been a gift from God, told us that it takes 2-3 years for most ESL students to gain a solid understanding and ability to effectively communicate in English.

I have just scratched the surface on the biggest challenges of adapting as a family with the addition of an internationally adopted child. I assure you there are hundreds of little challenges every single day that we never even thought about in advance. 

The adoption process, getting to The Day, is perhaps the most difficult challenge you will ever face. That said, the post adoption adaption process, beginning The Day After, albeit different, may even be more demanding. The good news is, once they are here, believe it or not, you immediately and completely forget about the agonies of the adoption process.

As for us, and our girls, seven months after The Day? We are still on our journey through the forest that we didn't even know was there, with no end in sight. Both girls are doing great, their English improves every day, and they seem to be happy happy happy. And you know what? All along the way, when you least expect it, or when you most need it, God sprinkles in little blessings that make the journey so worthwhile!

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13
A Few Recent Pictures


The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for food. ~ Mother Teresa

The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, February 4, 2013

Haiti Adoption Timeline

Timeline of our journey to adopt Jeusla and Redjina from Haiti:

August 21, 2010 - I travel to Haiti on a church sponsored mission trip. I am not really sure why I am going. I don't know much about Haiti. I had not really paid much attention to the news about the January 12, 2010 earthquake that had devastated Haiti just seven months earlier. I have never traveled to a less developed country or been exposed to extreme poverty. Needless to say, God was about to rock my world.

August 26, 2010 - After serving all week in a large, heavily populated slum known as Savanne Pistache (suburb of Port au Prince), we make a day trip into the mountains to visit an orphanage in the remote village of Camatin. I arrive after the rest of our mission team. When I arrive the team members were playing with the orphan girls. I notice one little girl sitting alone watching the others play. I walk over and sit down beside her. I learn her name is Jesula. We communicate the best we can, laugh, and make a photo. About 15 minutes later it is time for the team to leave. Jesula gives me a big hug and a smile and I walk away. Then something unexpected happens. I cannot get Jesula out of my mind. The rest of the day and night she is all I think about. I look at our photo on my camera over and over again. Before falling asleep for the night I think, tomorrow I will fly home and return to my daily routine and my thoughts of Jesula will fade.

August 27 - September 4, 2010 - The next day our mission team flies back home to America. My thoughts of Jesula do not fade at all. She is all I think about day and night. The first few days after I get home I cannot speak about Jesula to anyone without crying. Every time I prepare to tell my family about Jesula I lose control of my emotions, start crying and walk away. They think I am completely crazy. They worry that something bad happened to me in Haiti. Little did they know. God has laid Jesula so heavy on my heart that I know what He is calling me to do. I pray and tell God that I have never even considered adopting, that my two children are in high school and college and that I am preparing for the "empty nest" years of my life. God has a different plan. Late one night I am lying awake in bed with thoughts of Jesula and obedience to God racing through my mind, and I begin to cry. My wife Shawna wakes to say, "please just tell me what is wrong with you?" To this point Shawna has yet to hear anything about Jesula, not even her name. My immediate response is, "God led me to a beautiful little orphan girl in Haiti named Jesula, and we are supposed to adopt her." Needless to say the coming days consist of a lot of prayer and family discussion. The decision is made to adopt Jeslua and make her a part of our forever family.

September 5, 2010 -  We meet with our good friend Kevin Rudd. He has previously adopted from Haiti and is well versed in navigating the extremely complicated and difficult Haitian adoption process. He explains everything we have to do in the United States and in Haiti. He details out every detail of the dossier (adoption file) that we will have to amass and submit to the Haitian government to begin the process. This is day one of what will take 27 months.

September 15, 2010 - We mail our I-600A (application for advance processing of orphan petition) to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) facility in Texas.

September 22, 2010 - We call Jesula and tell her we would like to adopt her and ask her if she would like that too. She says "Wi" (yes).

October 15, 2010 - We complete our Home Study.

October 29, 2010 - Shawna and I travel to Haiti. This is Shawna's first trip to Haiti with the primary purpose being for her to meet Jesula. We spend this first day of our trip in Port au Prince at the orphanage director's house. Shawna's first meet with Jesula is just perfect. We also meet Redjina for the first time. Redjina is living here so that she can attend a quality school. Redjina is very pleasant, speaks a fair amount of English, and cheerfully helps us communicate with Jesula. Needless to say Redjina makes a very profound impression on us. We tell Redjina goodbye and head up the mountain to the orphanage to spend three days with Jesula and her friends.

November, 2010 - A couple of weeks after our Haiti trip I mention to Shawna that I cannot get Redjina off my mind. To my surprise Shawna says she cannot get Redjina off her mind either. After a couple of weeks of prayer and family discussion we are convinced that God is leading us to adopt Redjina as well.

December 2, 2010 - We call Redjina and tell her we would like to adopt her and ask her if she would like that too. She says yes.

December 21, 2010 - We travel to Nashville, TN for biometrics (fingerprinting) as required for the I-600A process. Biometrics expire in 15 months.

January 4, 2011 - We receive our I-71H (notice of approval of I-600A) from USCIS.

January 26, 2011 - We complete our Dossier.

February 5, 2011 - Our Dossier is delivered to the orphanage director in Haiti.

March 25, 2011 - Shawna and I appear in court in Port au Prince. We show our passports to a court official and are instructed to sign a blank piece of paper.

June 5, 2011 - Our Dossier is accepted into IBESR (Institut du Bien Etre Social et de Recherches or Haitian Social Services). This should have happened back in February when our Dossier made it to Haiti. Unfortunately, Presidential Election issues, political unrest, and riots in Haiti kept that from happening for four months.

July 21, 2011 - I attend a scheduled appointment with the Consulate at the U.S. Embassy in Haiti to file I-600 applications (petition to classify orphan as an immediate relatively) for Jesula and Redjina. This officially opens our adoption case with the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. The Consulate issues a deadline for our final dossier to be provided to them. Our deadline will be extended six times before our final dossier is provided to them.

August 24, 2011 - Jesula's legal guardian and Redjina's legal guardian travel to the U.S. Embassy for scheduled guardian interviews with the Consulate. This is standard U.S. protocol.

September 13, 2011 - Our Dossier is approved by IBESR.

December 27, 2011 - Our Dossier is delivered to The Palace for Presidential Dispensation.

March 14, 2012 - We again travel to Nashville, TN for biometrics (fingerprinting) as our original biometrics are set to expire on March 20, 2012.

March 15, 2012 - Presidential Dispensation is granted by President Mickey Martelly. Our Dossier is on the way to the Parquet courts process.

April 18, 2012 - Our Dossier completes the Parquet courts process.

April 25, 2012 - We receive notification that both girls' Acte d' Adoption has been signed and approved. This means that the girls are now legally ours in Haiti, and have been given the name Cunningham. Our Dossier is on its way to the MOI (Ministry of the Interior) process to obtain authorization for Haitian passports.

June 7, 2012 - Our Dossier is approved by MOI.

July 1, 2012 - Both girls' Haitian Passports are produced. At this point, as far as the Haitian Government is concerned, the girls are ours and can leave Haiti.

July 10, 2012 - Our approved Haitian Dossier along with the girls' passports are delivered to the Consulate at the United States Embassy in Haiti. All we need now is for the U.S. Consulate to approve the girls' files and for the U.S. Department of State to issue the girls' visas. Then we can bring them to America. At this point we are confident the girls will come home in 2 months.

August-September, 2012 - We do not hear anything from the Consulate. I send routine emails to the Consulate requesting an update. I either receive no response at all, or a standard response stating "your case is under review we will advise you when a decision has been reached."

October 4, 2012 - I receive an early morning email from the Consulate stating there are document discrepancies with Redjina's file that require clarification. I contact our Haitian Attorney and later that day she meets with the Consulate at the U.S. Embassy to explain discrepancies. The Consulate requests additional support documents. At this point we are worried that Jesula may be approved and ready to come home before Redjina.

October 10, 2012 - Our Haitian Attorney delivers requested support documents to the Consulate at the U.S. Embassy.

October 23, 2012 - Both girls' I-600 petitions are approved by the Consulate. Their files are forwarded to the Department of State (DOS) at the U.S. Embassy. At this point we expect the DOS will immediately schedule visa interviews and then issue the girls' visas. We are certain we will travel to get both girls in about three weeks.

November 13, 2012 - After three weeks, The DOS contacts the orphanage director and requests he bring both girls and their legal guardians for an interview on November 14, 2012. We have no idea why this is requested. Both girls' guardians have already completed the required guardian interview on August 24, 2011.

November 14, 2012 - Jesula and Redjina with their legal guardians go to the U.S. Embassy for interviews. Jesula's guardian is questioned and the interview is completed. Redjina and her guardian are asked to return the next day.

November 15, 2012 - Redjina and her guardian go to the U.S. Embassy again for an interview. Redjina's guardian is questioned and the interview is completed.

November 20, 2012 - We receive notice from the DOS that Jesula's I-604 is approved and that she is scheduled for a Visa Interview on 11/27/12. She goes the next day for required medical exam. We are told that Redjina's file is still being reviewed with no estimated date for a decision. At this point we are faced with the reality that Jesula will likely come home before Redjina.

November 23, 2012 - We receive notice from the DOS that Redjina's I-604 is approved and that she is scheduled for a Visa Interview on 11/27/12 with Jesula. She goes the next day for required medical exam.

November 27, 2012 - Both girls attend visa interviews with the DOS at the U.S. Embassy.

December 5, 2012 - Both girls' are issued IR-3 U.S. Visas.

December 13, 2012 - Shawna and I arrive in Port au Prince. The girls are waiting for us at the airport. We go to our Haitian Attorney's office. She provides us with the girls' passports, visas, IBESR Exit Letters, and sealed envelopes to give to U.S. Customs officials upon arrival in the Miami airport.

December 14, 2012 - Shawna and I, with Jesula and Redjina fly from Port au Prince, Haiti to Miami, FL. Upon arrival in the Miami International Airport we walk to the passport entry desk. From there we are escorted by a U.S. Customs officer to the U.S. Customs facility. After a 2 1/2 hour wait, the girls' are asked to sign their names, fingerprint, and their entry visas are approved. We walk out the door and step into America, at which point Jesula and Redjina are immediately considered United States Citizens.

We began the adoption process on September 5, 2010. Two years, three months, and eight days later the girls came home with us on December 14, 2012.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

First Day of School

Today the girls start school in America!

Yesterday we registered, toured the school, and met their teachers and principals. Then we went and bought backpacks and school supplies.

They are so excited!

It is amazing how fast the girls have acclimated to a new family, a new home, a new country. Their first 39 days has included several doctor appointments, immunizations, meeting a lot of family and friends, Christmas, a week long family getaway to the mountains, a fun first snow day, and new hairdos, just to name a few.

Thank you for all of you that continue to pray for the girls and our family!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Arriving Home

As the plane began it's descent through the skies over east Tennessee both girls were gazing out their windows. The cloud coverage was long gone by now and the visibility was perfect.

The view of the Smoky Mountains was spectacular. Looking down on the mountains Redjina said "it looks like Haiti". In response to her comment my mind began to race. I had never thought about what the girls might think Tennessee would look like. The first thing you see flying into Haiti or into east Tennessee is a vast array of mountains. For years the Smoky Mountains have called me. I have hiked many trails. It is an escape to peace and tranquility. Out the window I could see Mt. LeConte which I have hiked to 12 times over the years. I have always been drawn to LeConte because it is extremely difficult to hike to but at its height the views are spectacular. My thoughts quickly moved to the mountains of Haiti. The Chaine de la Selle is the highest mountain range in Haiti and therein lays the girls' orphanage and the villages in which I have served many times. Images of the most demanding and beautiful village hike flashed through my mind. I saw glimpses of many moments, views, and faces along each of the hikes I have made to Tiapo. The mountains of east Tennessee and the mountains of Haiti are always a place I feel further in tune with God.

As I took one last glimpse of the mountains out the window my mind drifted back to the girls. We circled right over downtown Knoxville, the University of Tennessee campus, Neyland Stadium, and the river. We pointed out several landmarks to the girls that I know meant nothing to them.

As the plane lined up for final approach into the Knoxville airport my thoughts fixated on my other two children. In my mind I could picture Ashley and Matthew anxiously waiting in the airport lobby to see their sisters.

Ashley and Matthew were both so excited about this trip, this day, that their sisters were finally coming home. Like their mother and I, they too must have had times of doubt as to whether or not this moment would ever really happen. And now, after 27 months the moment they had dreamed of was finally coming true.

I really don't remember the plane touching down or taxing into the gate. Everything had become a blur from my mind racing with thoughts between Haiti and home, and the four children. I'm sure the girls' emotions were much different than mine. On the short walk to the exit into the lobby they must have been taking in a new environment, strange faces, and feeling uncertainty. All I could think about was seeing all four of my children together in the same place, the right place. Then just like that, we turned the corner, walked through the automatic rotating glass doors and...

 From the airport we headed home. We were all very excited for the girls to see their new home and their bedrooms. On the ride home they interacted and laughed with Ashley and Matthew. I have no idea what the girls were thinking or expected. They were very interested in looking out the windows. They did so with expressionless faces.

Arriving home...

 Jesula's room...

Redjina's room...

And just like that they were home!

A special thank you to Leah Price for taking part in the girls' homecoming and Blessing us with these wonderful photos. Learn more about Leah at:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Trip to America

The Trip to America was very surreal.
It was hard to believe that after 27 months that
the girls were finally coming home. After so
many issues and delays I honestly would not
allow myself to believe it would really happen
until they actually stepped foot into America!

This is Friday morning 12/14/12,
just inside the Port-au-Prince airport.

We arrived about 2 1/2 hours before our flight.
The check-in area was empty, which was nice.

Checking in with American Airlines.

The American Airlines attendants were very kind.
The girls' passports were swiped and 
everything went smooth.

The Haitian customs officers asked several questions.
They reviewed the girls' Passports, Visas and 
IBESR Exit Letters. They were kind but a little
confused. They weren't sure what to do with
the girls' IBESR Exit Letters until I explained
they were suppose to keep them.

Once through all three security check points we had a
couple of hours before our flight from PAP to Miami.
The girls seemed interested in watching TV.
They were very nervous and didn't say much.

In the boarding area just before boarding.

The girls' boarding passes to Miami ~ America!

The girls were amazed by the sight of the plane.

They let us priority board. 
The girls were fascinated with the plane.
They were very nervous and quiet.
They had no interest in looking out the windows.
The sound and turbulence of take-off seemed scary.
They enjoyed getting juice to drink.
They finally relaxed when the flight was almost over.

Once off the plane in Miami we made our way to the
Passport checking area. From Passports we were escorted
to U.S. Customs. Customs was extremely crowded. We
waited 2 1/2 hours for the girls' files to be reviewed.
Finally they called us and escorted us into a small room.
Both girls were fingerprinted and signed their first name.
The girls' Visas were approved and they were cleared
to enter the United States as U.S. Citizens!!!


From there we checked into the Miami International 
Airport Hotel. The girls loved the comfortable
beds, warm baths, the television, and having
so many channels to flip through.
We got pizza for dinner. They both loved it!

Saturday morning 12/15/12 we were up at 4:30 AM 
to catch a 6:20 AM flight to Dallas-Ft. Worth.
The girls' boarding passes for the flight to DFW.

On this 2nd flight they were much more relaxed.
Jesula wanted the window seat and she giggled
seeing the early morning rain outside.


In the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport both girls' 
loved riding the sky train.

While waiting on the flight home we stopped for an 
American style breakfast. We ordered eggs over easy, 
bacon, sausage, hash-browns, toast, and pancakes.
They didn't care for the pancakes or the eggs. 

The girls' boarding passes for the flight home.

A smaller plane for the flight to Knoxville.
Both girls' wanted a window seat.

Jesula took a nap. After that she looked
out the window the rest of the way home
without saying a word. 

Redjina looked out the window the entire flight.
We talked a lot about Haiti and America.
We flew over cloud coverage as far as you could see.
At one point, referring to the clouds she said,
"Popi, is that the sea?"

Arriving Home coming soon...