Sunday, October 5, 2014


Dear ones ~
 and just like that, we have finished our time with our daughter here in Haiti on this trip. Tonight before her bedtime we said our goodnights, our goodbyes, and our God bless you's because tomorrow at 6:30AM we climb into the truck for one last trip up the hill to the main Petionville road which will lead us to our morning flight home. By lunchtime we will be 30,000 feet above the Caribbean, robin blue as far as you can see out the oval window. 
The last 2 days have been heaven, almost completely. For those of you who read the emails from our last trip to Haiti in January, you will appreciate the photos and the report that our time with her has been positively magical - affectionate, reciprocated, endearing, satisfying, refueling.  After spending 12 solid days in January working hard to woo her for 10 hours daily, to burst back into her world a full 8 months later, having had zero direct contact between us, to now return and enjoy this beautiful acceptance...can only be attributed to God's good grace. I sincerely accept it as a miracle. 

It has been heaven.
I could exhale. For the first time in many months, I stopped holding my breath. 
Andrew could really breathe her in and I swear, I witnessed them fall in love with one another before my eyes on this trip. 
It. Has. Been. Heaven.

And yes, tonight was brutal. 

If you have lived this, I don't need to paint you a picture. 
There aren't really words for it, anyway.

And now, we fly home. 
Tomorrow at this time it will be dark again, and I will be 890 miles away from her. 

Friends, we need your prayers. Please pray that the judge will sign the blessed paper and we will move forward....there is maybe a year still to go. 

with love from Haiti from us both

Saturday, October 4, 2014


Dear ones ~
 to call the way I got clean tonight a "shower" would be too generous, I think. There was that moment, watching the drops dribble from the sad showerhead when I found myself debating, thinking: "okay, I need to commit one way or another" and then: "wait, what if the lights go out while I am in here?" and then: "I am so desperate, this has got to be better than nothing". There was water of course and man, was it frigid - the kind of cold that makes you gasp like a baby who got swung too high in the air and jumped in reflex - but to call it much more than that - water - would really just be an insult to showers everywhere. This whole island is surrounded on all sides by water for as far as you can possibly, humanly see but you can't drink it, can't bathe in it, and everything in my world smells like mosquito spray, hand sanitizer and baby pee. So bizarre. This whole country is a mystery of contradictions to me. Nevertheless, we will fall asleep under the fans with the whole day washed away before we wake to roosters, fresh coffee and canned milk, car horns and Creole songs in the street again tomorrow morning. This short trip has been an oasis in the desert for me and Andrew, kooky and foreign though this all is. There is nothing normal in our world right now, nothing remotely American about the life we lead while we are here, but it is like ice water after a day at the beach - we've been so parched and we are drinking it in.

 Today's joy arrived around in unruly waves. Quickly, our daughter warmed up to us and once warm became absolutely entwined with us. Upon deciding she would give us a chance this morning, she swiftly settled on my lap, snuggled herself in, tilted her head back to see into my eyes, melted like milk chocolate in a hot pan, and just gave in. She spent today coloring, swinging, snacking, stickering, climbing and playing while we merrily tagged along. When she had us by the hand or was in our arms, she was radiant as sunshine; when we left amid waves goodbye, blown kisses and "I love you's" for mealtimes (as is the rule), she receded like low tide, briskly but imperceptibly finding her rhythm in the mass of little ones again like she'd never been out of the pack. This is all very good for the time being of course...we will be leaving and the point of us even being here is merely to be with her and let our hearts get spilled out...but the waves of belonging, of how right it is to be together, of love, of healing and of hope switch to waves of resignation all too soon. She is the sweetest, sweetest, sweetest thing. Every ounce of us yearns to bring her home.
That swell of anticipation, the crash of embracing and the splash of adoration...followed by a departure from each other feels like standing on the shore at low tide, wondering where the water went. The tide will be high again, but you must wait. 

 Have you heard that song, "Oceans" by Hillsong United? If so, you know the one. If you have been in my world much you know these last few months that song has been my heart's anthem, mostly sung through tears and often through rage. "Your grace abounds in deepest waters, Your sovereign hand will be my guide..." Never truer, never more deeply known than here and now. 
All of your prayers make this bearable, all of them precious and valuable to us - all your messages and emails and texts such life-breathing sweetness to us.
We love you all - thank you for being in this with us 

Friday, October 3, 2014


Dear ones, 
 after a full 10 hours of travel, we have arrived once again, safe and sound at the little block guesthouse behind the kelly green gate on this crumbling, steep road in this tiny corner of Delmas. Flying low enough to see the towns and mountains below, there is such wonder at all this life brimming on this island way, way out here, isolated from all other life...all these people only a 2-hour plan ride from Florida but such a world away. 

 Walking outside the airport baggage claim in Port-au-Prince, so many thoughts descend like a clattering: there is nothing so immediately disorienting as being immersed in a language you cannot understand, even a LITTLE bit. There is only one familiar face, but many people all rushing to hand me things, take things, all at the ready and I keep repeating "no, mesí" ("no, thanks") while trying to look sure of myself though I am not. It's breathtakingly hot weather in Port-au-Prince. There is a breeze from somewhere descending in soft waves from way up over the top of this island, but it is still "Sarasota-in-mid-July-hot" here in October. Andrew and I are sweating, silently hoping we each packed enough deodorant for this trip by the time we crawl into the truck which collects us from the parking lot and we remained that way throughout dinner, all evening and likely will remain hot and sweaty until we board an airplane on Monday. The heat is pervasive, everywhere. I had really forgotten. 

 After dinner, we headed over to the orphanage with our guides, the young married missionary couple who we've never met before, living these 6 months at the orphanage. They are heading over to the orphanage for the night, (after our very American meal of spaghetti with meat sauce and salad, with a Haitian side of breadfruit loaf) and they offer to give us a lift. It's literally about a 3 minute commute by truck. The orphanage is the same except for the mural of a massive oak tree on the wall, adorned with photos of adoptive families and their children who have already headed home since we visited in January. The wooden gate, still latched the same way, swings open and there they all are: all 13 babies, gaping and shyly staring in fascination and a little fear at the tall, white couple who enters. I see our baby out of the corner of my eye on the right, in a nanny's lap. She sees me. It's hot. My cheeks are completely flushed. All my energy is spent greeting babies, exclaiming over their size as I gently make my way through the awestruck crowd of children, all under 4 years. Still, she hasn't moved. If anything, she sinks deeper into her nanny. It is so hot, I can feel sweat rolling, can see her own throat shimmering with it, and her tiny eyes are cutting a sideways glance at me so fearfully I barely greet her at first, trying to sandwich my greeting to her between other children's. The room feels like a million degrees but the tile floor is cold and white and it's sureness is such a comfort. Most of the first hour was spent letting the babies crawl all over us, jumping up and down, throwing themselves into our laps and on our backs, everyone very content to have new people to play with, everyone but our precious daughter - her insistence to stay walled off to us almost complete for the first hour. 
A beautiful thing began to happen, though, as playtime ramped up into Ring Around the Rosie and Pat-a-Cake...though it was boiling hot under one lone ceiling fan, though we were entertaining like we were in sequins and character shoes on Broadway, though Andrew looked like he had stepped out of a sauna and I like my hair had a life of it's own…she started to play with us. She was holding our hands, she was smiling, she was blowing kisses, she YOU GUYS she REMEMBERED how to do the sign for "I love you" without being prompted by us...all that stifling, smothering refined for us an half hour of pure joy. 

She knows us.

This time here, it is precious but it is not ideal. Ideal would be bringing her home. Now. Immediately. Elbowing past everyone and locking the doors once we have her inside our home, that would be ideal. But this heat? It's what she's her familiar and though it feels like a furnace to me - spending time with her on her terms, under observant eyes, in a foreign country where we can barely communicate let alone find is forging something magnificent.

"You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon us...We went through fire and through water, Yet You brought us out into a place of abundance." - Psalm 66:10-12

Goodnight from Haiti from us both 

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Dear ones ~
 tomorrow, we will find ourselves heading out of this house very early in the morning, driving to Ft Lauderdale, flying to Port-au-Prince, driving to Delmas, and walking the steep, chalky, crumbly hill between our guesthouse and the orphanage all by dinnertime, all to see one little girl. 

 We have not seen her in 8 months. She doesn't know that we are her parents, that we grieved leaving her in February, that we have missed her and cried and prayed and begged the Lord to act, that we have oodles of friends and family members desperate to see her adoption completed, that she has 4 siblings at her house, all ready to fold her in...all she knows is that we were around for a while and then...we left. All she knows is that sometimes we leave and sometimes we show up again. 
Tomorrow, we return to this daughter of ours with her unknowable thoughts, her twinkling eyes, her dimpled apple cheeks, her slim hands and mass of black curls. Tomorrow, we learn how it feels to see your child 8 months older, every day grown out from under your eye. 
Tomorrow, we find out whether we are forgiven. 

No more clean tap water, no more chilly, silken bed linens, no more easily mosquito-free living...tomorrow we return to Haiti and instantly remember how effortless American life is...tomorrow we find out how it feels to stop holding your breath. 

All your prayers, every single one of them for our baby, we treasure them ~

off we go, friends!

Saturday, February 8, 2014


{"everything is so clean"}
 {"there's air conditioning"}
 {"look how cushiony the seats look"}
 {"everyone is so white"}
...these are my thoughts as I step onto the American Airlines plane. Everyone is smiling professionally. Their hair is clean. Their demeanors calm. The pilot grins a cockeyed smile to ensure us who are boarding that he's totally got this flight in the bag. Every light bulb is functioning. It feels like a spaceship from the future to me. And people are relaxed as they step past me, orderly and shushed. I am leaning my head back on the stiff blue pillowed chair, completely upright and squeeze my eyes closed so that I can't see every single one of them stare at me anymore as they file past my 14th aisle seat, watching my endless, silent tears streaming like a never-ending river down my cheeks. I can't decide if it draws more attention to wipe them away or just let them stream down my cheeks, my chin, my throat, into my hair and my shirt and onto my lap. Either way, I cannot make the tears stop, even though I am literally tired of crying by now. It has been 4 hours since I kissed her for the final time and they are still running down my cheeks and this is just feeling so ridiculous now I am downright angry with myself. I am angry at all the Haitians boarding with leisure and business on their agendas. I am angry at all the Americans staying here. I am angry that no one else feels a boulder of agony on top of their heads, sitting here feeling crushed by the weight. Just about the moment that a peace settles on my face and my heart feels still and my face relaxes into an expressionless passivity, the captain says we are next in line for takeoff. The plane is racing down the runway. Andrew films out the window beside me, watching for Haiti to become a child-sized toy beneath us, and I feel fresh anguish squeeze around my heart. 
{"Jesus, help me. Jesus, help me. Jesus, help me...."} on repeat. These are my only thoughts for minutes while I sob. 
She is too far away in just seconds. I can't get to her. She needs me. She is too far away. I will have to wait for people to figure out what happens next, wait for a break in life's demands, wait for it to make sense, wait for money, wait, wait, wait until I land here again and am within maybe a day's walk at most from her if it came to that. If there's another earthquake I can't run at top speed to her and scoop her up, laws be damned. She is on an island. I can see the water lapping at the edges of her island and I see it from way, way up here now - she is smaller than a particle, small and gone from me somewhere I cannot find or get to on my own, in the middle of a wide blue ocean I know nothing about. Almost evaporated. Before we even land in Ft Lauderdale it feels like it was all just a dream.

 All day I had planted my heels in the chalky dirt, digging my toes against the door, pulling back with both hands and all my strength, hands wrapped around the doorknob, heartache knocking on the other side. I determined not to let her see me crying. These white people crying while the babies were playing would only be confusing and troubling to this baby girl who now wanted to be on my lap, who wanted me to feed her by hand, who would go to no one but me, who smiled mischievously and lovingly, who laid upside down on my legs to have her neck tickled and nuzzled, who walked with arms up stretched to Andrew and I, back and forth, while dancing and giving kisses. 
There is no holding the door closed anymore. There is nothing to numb this. There is nothing to dial it down. It steamrolls and flattens me, leaving my bones crushed to powder, my stomach filled with lead, my head thick with cement. Putting one foot in front of the other takes thought.

This is sorrow. It is here.

I had leaned her back in my arms and said: "I gotta go bye-bye, baby", remembering I should never just disappear from a toddler, and I watched a cloud pass in front of her eyes, watched as she furrows her brow, watched as she retreated from me in her eyes, scampered down out of my lap willingly for the first time this day, marched across the room to her beloved nanny whom I am so grateful is here to rescue her from me, watched as she wound her arm around the nanny's neck, her baby doll still clutched tightly, watched as she looked at me with hurt and distance. I kissed and kissed her cheeks while she sunk into the nanny. She waved and smiled, safe again. She blew final kisses and made the "ok" sign with her hands because she can't master the "I love you" hand signs we spent all 2 weeks sending her from across a room.

2 weeks. Behind us, we leave 2 weeks.

Ahead, there is unknown. 
 We determined we will not despair - she is far from us but she is not lost to us. We will wait. Jesus is steadying our hearts. We are sorrowful but not destroyed. God is with her. God is with us. He is so, so near, still using our weakness for an opportunity to show up. Andrew is already at work, already a doctor again instead of a One Man Toddler Entertainment Machine. My kids are clamoring for souvenirs and kisses, Rissa already in our bed this morning between us by 2am, ready to reclaim her parents in a way only a 3 year-old can. I hear birds outside but no armed guard, I see sunshine but no school children. I hear cartoons on the TV but no Creole songs. It's weird. I feel disoriented still. It will take time to gently reclaim our lives but we will not ever feel right again until all 5 of our children area asleep in this house, under the same roof, breathing the same air, 10 arms wrapping around us instead of 8.

This is what it feels like to leave your heart behind you and walk away.

 This is what it felt like when Andrew and I were long-distance dating for 2+ years. This is how your brain starts to take all the messy, sloppy emoting and turn it into action, trying to get steps accomplished to achieve the goal. This is how it feels. It feels like sorrow. It is a boomerang, though and it will not return to us empty. We are sending it all like single-lined texts to God our Father and He will send back answers and whispers smothered in grace enough for that moment. He already is. He will not let this be for nothing. He never does. He brings beauty from destruction. We will see it happen, friends. He will - He must.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


Today was our last full day of this trip. Tomorrow we will leave for the airport after lunch. But, today was about heat. HEAT, y'all. It has reached a heat index of 125* daily, according to The Weather Channel and we certainly are feeling it, baking in tank tops and cotton skirts, laying under fans to try to stop sweating, amazed at Haitians who wear wool caps in the morning though it's 90* outside and a jacket to keep away a chill at night though it's merely 87*. Today, we were grilled like a diner-made tuna melt on a greasy griddle by IBESR for a solid hour, y'all. We were asked every little, minuscule, imaginable detail about our family, discipline practices, and decisions; everything from "Why do you have three boys at home and have already adopted a daughter and yet you still want to adopt another child? Why did you chose a girl? What do you think she might do at home? Chores?" to "What will happen if, while she is here in Haiti, she loses an arm or loses a leg? Will that make you stop the adoption? Why don't you just send money to care for her in Haiti instead of adopting her?" to "What will happen to your children if you are divorced? Where will they go? What if she bites one of your other children? Will she be abused with a belt? Will she be put away into a closet ?" to "What will you teach her about her heritage and Haiti? Will you only tell Paula that you are a gift to her? Or that you are her parents?" to "What if she rejects you when she is an adult and does not want you to be her parents anymore? Why did you chose this child? Chose Haiti? Chose adoption?" and finally, "Do you have reservations about accepting this child? Do you want her, now that you have been with the child for 2 weeks?" and we were finally able to tell her what was in our hearts honestly: that we have chased this daughter of ours from the first moment we saw her and have long-since decided we would walk through every open door we could find towards her, that we could never, ever leave her, that she is our flesh and blood in a Haitian body.

That felt good.

Like exhaling after holding my breath for 13 months.

As overwhelming as it was, once again, answering calmly, though we have done home studies, psychological evaluations, agency and orphanage applications, I found myself impressed with Haiti for being thorough, and sort of proud of them and encouraged that they put so much effort into assuring that we know what we are in for. They fine-tooth-combed our expectations. It was an interrogation, albeit a much more kindly-delivered one. Our small daughter curled up in my lap, totally still confused and overwhelmed by the lady with her pencil skirt and librarian bun and sensible flats and reading glasses, and she fell fast asleep for almost the entire time, right on my lap as if on cue to say: "see? we are so, so in sync." I couldn't have been more grateful. My daughter, sleeping there on my grateful lap, radiated a thousand degrees of heat and peace while she slept in my arms, and I felt a big, wavy, warm bubble envelope us while she peacefully snoozed. My blood pressure sank and I just knew without a doubt that an army of people were praying, that the Lord is "fighting for us" and that it was no mistake that no less than 8 people have reminded me of that verse in the last 2 days. When she had taken an hour's worth of notes, the Social Worker congratulated us, affirmed we were to be blessed by God, and shook our hands while nodding and smiling. We exhaled so deeply and walked away, winking at the next family that it was their turn for interrogation. Not even twenty minutes later they were finished, the Social Worker smiling at us all, satisfied either in the length of time she had spend with us all, with the similar vibes of our answers, or just with their pretty faces because she left as briskly as she came and announced us all "finished" with this visit. Done and done. All that to say, "TIH", y'all. ("This is Haiti") A 9am meeting may happen at 1pm like ours did today and you may be asked one million and six questions or you may be asked only 15 and sent on your merry way. TIH.

 Heat + pressure + time creates diamonds and today we were treated to a bouquet of precious jewels, brighter and more beautiful than 10,000 diamonds. 

 The clouds parted and my daughter's sunshiny smile broke free today. Soleil. The sun. Dawn broke. This butterfly's wings peeled open and she shined so brightly I couldn't stop snapping pictures.
 My heart is so prepared to be split open and destroyed to leave her tomorrow...without a return date, without a PLAN for her to be with us, that I am still not even thinking about it. It feels like knowing I am leaving Luke in the NICU tomorrow. I am not facing it yet. Tomorrow there will be grace to get me through it. Tonight, I am just heading to bed with this smile in my mind and the promise of 8 arms around my neck in Sarasota by midnight tomorrow. I will scoop up as many diamond-smiles from this delicate, precious butterfly as I can hold in my heart and memory bank and then climb on a plane, my legs carrying me and my heart dropping breadcrumbs and fight my will as we fly far away. The heat and pressure will remain and more time will continue to compound them. I would like to stop right here, to take her home right this minute. I can't. And tonight is not the time to face that.
We will be needy of prayers tomorrow, I will honestly tell you, friends. Not afraid, but certainly needy. G'night.

love, love, love,

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


By night, my feet are swollen in a way I have not seen them since the final months of pregnancy. Seriously, it's like my feet have been replaced with sausagey-toes and rounded feet, held together by the plastic, silver straps of my flip flops. It takes til the next morning to recognize my feet again. The food here is heavy on the salt, the MSG and bouillon sold in huge canister we would likely find coffee inside of back home, like a Mega Folgers Can, but in Haiti it's salt. Added to the heat, the salt is bloating us and leaving us stretched to the limits of our skin. Everything here needs preserving. Everything is vulnerable. The building are stacked like Jenga blocks. The roads are like a sandy beach, shifting and falling apart. We have seen a tarantula crawl out of a riding toy in the sandbox where we were playing with our kids. We have watched from the rooftop as a rat meandered, unhurried on a sand pile behind our guesthouse. I smash a cockroach or two most mornings, the flip of the bathroom light making them wake up and run for the hills. A mouse showed up in the linen closet last night. All that to say: things here need preserving as they are held in balance between being sustained and being devoured. 

 Yesterday, we had our appointment with the US Embassy here in Port-au-Prince. An Embassy appointment is intimidating in a way that any appointment you attended which required no less than 4 security searches would be intimidating, but the Embassy is preparing for the say when the US government will make it their job to determine if my daughter, who will at the point be deemed a Downes in a Haitian court of law, legally meets the requirements to become a US citizen and whether they will give her the proverbial "golden ticket", her visa for entry to Florida when she comes home one day, forever. We were minimally questioned about our family's basic information and her basic information, but it was very uneventful otherwise and as long as you abide by laws of decorum and compliance and such it's no biggie. Done and done. Many of you have asked why it is that we cannot bring Paula home when we leave her in 2.5 days. Basically, this 2-week trip has been a mandatory step to completing Haitian Social Services (IBESR's) requirements for matching us with her, just like all families from 2014, onward. All families who want to adopt from Haiti have to come here, to spend time with their suggested, referred match at IBESR's invitation and complete a couple visits with a social worker, to satisfy IBESR that we love Haiti, we love this kid, and when IBESR says "jump" our answer, naturally is, "how high?" That includes the next visit from the Social Worker from IBESR, scheduled for tomorrow morning. So, this had to happen; without this visit our daughter will never be adopted by us or anyone else. 
After this, we will wait to hear that IBESR has released us to move forward in the process and our paperwork will make it's way through the Haitian court system (in our absence) under power of attorney. 
After the court system has been passed and legalized, our case with a completed decree of adoption will move forward to applying for and waiting for a passport to be issued from Haiti for Paula to travel to the US complete with her little, bitty, sweet baby face. 
Finally, all the court proceedings, all the IBESR findings, the Haitian passport and all our initial paperwork which arrived in Haiti back in April 2013, and the interview that was conducted yesterday here in Port-au-Price at the Embassy will be evaluated and when completed will, Lord-willing, equal a visa being granted to our daughter. We will come and retrieve her. We will be here a few days.

... And we will bring her home forever. It feels like a dream, some moments more possible than others, even for me who has lived that miracle before. It's like knowing the intricacies of anatomy and trying to believe a baby can ever be formed inutero - it's a really enormous creation and feels so ridiculously gigantic that I struggle to believe it isn't imaginary. And then again, babies are conceived and birthed every day, all over the world since the beginning of time and without much help from us humans at all. It happens. 

 Today, we will spend all say with our daughter and though I know she will have the stance of an orphan, that she will play the "come-here-go-away" game while she is with us, although she may run and look worried from the moment she sees us, though she may only brighten when we are leaving at noon for lunch and her naptime, though those may be the only moments that she will smile and wave - when we are leaving and she is relieved of us - I can continue to offer, offer, offer and smile, smile, smile, and love, love, love and, as my husband said "bear. down."
We are leaving soon, and we can do nothing about it. We don't know what the timeline will be like but we are told at least another year. We don't know if we will see her again in that time. We don't know if she will remember us, or whether we will start back at Square Zero. We don't even know when we will know any answers to any of these things. All we know is that today we are here and today she is ours to love as greedily and generously as you can imagine. All we know is that miracles and babies happen, somehow, even in this crazy world, all day, every day. All we know is God preserves...He preserved me during some painful experiences in childhood with a babysitter, He preserved my Rissa in a hut in Uganda, and He will preserve my Baby Girl here in Haiti. He will keep her even though we cannot. He will use people like the amazing staff at Three Angels, the nannies, her sponsors in the USA, and people I will likely never even know who will enter the green painted gates to come "love on some babies in Haiti", totally unaware that they are loving someone else's flesh and blood, someone like me who wrestles to reckon it everyday that others may cuddle her while I may not, He will use all of these and many more to preserve her. And one day which I can only a teensy bit picture, she will come home and the swelling from all the preservation will recede. Her little girl heart will be elevated, the salted and bloated feelings will be absorbed and we will wake up one morning, long after, and realize that finally we can recognize who our daughter really, really, really is. That's what will put me to sleep every night til I see it realized. Jesus does these things, friends. He is the only one who can and He certainly still does. He has been making beauty out of dust since the start and I wait to see it still. 

love, love, love,