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I am a wife, daughter, mother, bilingual teacher, poet, author, women's Bible study teacher, world traveler, orphan advocate, and an adoptive mother.  Our adoption journey has been filled with a lot of hurt and loss, along with even more hope, grace, and healing.  Through it we have experienced more of God than we ever bargained for and have watched Him miraculously redeem our story when we surrendered all the broken pieces to Him.

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Sunday, May 28, 2017

Be careful what you pray for

I've struggled to know how to share this post or even if I should. But it's part of our continued walk of faith in this adoption journey, so I feel like God wants me to involve you, my readers and my prayer warriors, as well. Bear with me. This might end up being a long post.

As I said in an earlier entry, this year has been quite the emotional rollercoaster for me. It's been a crazy, scattered year at school, plus I've dealt with Juan's approaching graduation and post-secondary plans, and add to that the the mixed emotion of finding Laura and having her back in our lives.

We'd always planned on me taking a trip back to Colombia with Juan after his graduation, but then we thought about going to Argentina to see Julian, yet in the back of our hearts and minds, we hoped to go to Spain to see Laura again.

Then the youth pastor pulls Juan aside and says, "Hey, I'm taking a small group of kids to Guatemala this summer, and I want you to join us."

Before we knew it, both of us were signed up to go to Guatemala, still unsure of whether we would also go to Colombia, Argentina, or Spain, and definitely unsure of how we could pay for two of us to go to Guatemala and still find the funds to head to South America or Europe.

We just took that huge step of faith and said YES, we'll go.

Shortly after we agreed to Guatemala, we started skyping with Laura, and she and her mom said we could come to stay with them anytime we wanted to visit. Our dream had finally come true with a wide open door to finally reunite with his sister in Spain. We looked at dates, funds, and ticket prices, and we realized the most economical and time-efficient way to do it would be to combine both trips into one, leaving from Guatemala and heading straight to Spain. So we worked with the church to get us one way tickets to Guatemala, which dropped our expenses down by a thousand dollars between the two of us. I surprisingly found enough in our savings to purchase two tickets to Spain with still enough to cover our deposits for Guatemala.

"Okay, God. Here goes." A few days later, we sat down outside with Juan David to show him a picture of his graduation present: a ticket to Spain to see his sister again. The look on his face was priceless. He'd gotten worried that it just wasn't going to happen.

The very same day I purchased those tickets, our Guatemala balances both dropped in half. Meaning enough money showed up on our accounts via donation to cover one of us entirely. I also saw a very random message on Facebook from a highschool/college friend (yes, from 20 years ago) asking if she had any friends whose kids were going on a mission trip this summer. I told her my boys both were going on separate mission trips, and she not only sent financial support for both of them, but for me, as well! Yes, God made it clear that both Guatemala and Spain were part of His plan for our summer.

I sent a message a few days later to Julian and told him Juan David and I had official plans to see Laura. I told him my dream would be to see him join us and that I was going to start praying for God to make that happen. In fact, I'd already begun praying specifically for that and had already rallied a group of prayer warriors to pray, as well. At first, he laughed off my dream, but a few weeks later, he told me he'd been thinking a lot about it and really wanted to go. He hadn't taken a single day of vacation since moving to Argentina two years earlier, and he sure would love to spend a vacation surrounded by family.

"I'm still praying, Julian."

In a very short amount of time, both of our Guatemala balances had been covered completely. Unbelievable! I'd set aside enough money to cover what we needed to have paid by the end of April, and I wondered if perhaps that money was God's way of helping us get a ticket for Julian. A ticket from Buenos Aire to Madrid was double the price of our tickets, so I seriously struggled with spending that kind of money. But Mike convinced me of two things: 1. It was God's money, not our money. 2. It just won't be the same experience to reunite with Laura and not have Julian there, too. I would always regret not doing everything I could to get him there. So, I kept praying about it and wrestling with God over it.

A few days later, Julian sent me a message saying, "There's just no way. I have to consider my expenses here, and I can't save that kind of money in just two months in order to buy a ticket."

"Julian, I'm not saying I can, but if I could find the money for a ticket for you and possibly for your food, too, what dates can you get off work?"

After communicating back and forth all week, he found out he had enough vacation time to join us in Spain for the entire ten days. I started searching online for tickets and kept relaying all the different options I found. "Okay, this one will get you there a few hours before us. That one will get you there an hour after us. Then there's a cheaper one, but it will take you almost two days to get there and will leave you stranded in Dubai for 13 hours."

"Whatever one you think is best."

I sent a quick message to Laura and her mom to let them know I was working hard with Julian to arrange to get him there, too, if possible. Her mom was excited to hear that (she's never met Julian), but she told me he'd need to arrive the same day as us because they had to make plans to travel to Madrid to get us (they don't live in Madrid). That at least narrowed the options, which actually helped ease my anxiety over choosing the wrong flight.

So here's the scenario that played out. I'd been praying specifically for God to make a way for Julian to get to Spain if that was His will. A few other people asked specifically about him, saying they were praying the same thing. Then I started to see the details come together: The money we now didn't have to pay for our Guatemala trip would cover the cost of a ticket for Julian. Julian wanted to go and had the vacation days available. Laura's mom was excited and didn't have any objections to a third guest. Julian told me that Colombians can travel to Spain on a passport only without a need for a visa. Mike completely supported and encouraged me to buy the ticket, saying it was God's money, not ours.

"Okay, God. It looks like you are answering our prayers and that you've provided a way for Julian to join us."

It was Thursday, April 13th. Good Friday followed the next day, also Julian's 24th birthday. If we'd already decided to buy him the ticket, why not for his birthday? I sat at my computer for several hours while conversing with Julian on my phone, trying to choose the right flight. So many options. Several flights went through South America, some through Dubai, some through Canada, and some through Miami. Some got in a day too early, which would force him to find a hotel, while others got in the following day after our flight, creating a huge inconvenience to Laura and her mom. Juan and I were flying with American Airlines, so it made the most sense to buy a ticket with the same airline, passing through the same airport in Miami as us (though a few hours earlier, getting him to Madrid first).

"But I don't have a visa for the United States." Julian seemed a bit concerned.

"You don't need one. They won't let you leave the airport. It's just a connecting flight." I spoke so confidently, not knowing just how ignorant such a statement could be.

"Oh, Okay then. That one sounds good."

After staring at the computer screen for several hours, my head pounded so hard that it felt like a migraine coming on.

"Julian, I've got a horrible headache. I'm going to go to bed. I will make a decision tomorrow in the morning."

I woke up the next morning feeling much better. I had off for the day for Good Friday. I woke up thinking about the ticket, but I knew I needed to pray about it again. Fear quickly crept in.

"God, that's a whole lot of money. Are you sure this is how he's supposed to get there? You know I still don't know how we're going to pay for the remaining part of Juan's tuition next year. Is it wise to be spending that kind of money?"

Then Mike's comment replayed in my head. "I'ts God's money, not ours." God also reminded me that I bought Juan's ticket, and Julian didn't have any family to do something likewise for him. He'd lived all alone without any family around for two solid years. This trip would not only let him spend time with me (his spiritual mom), his brother, and his long-lost sister, but it would open up a second family to him by giving his sister's mom the opportunity to know him and love him, too. Who knew what doors this might open up for him in the future? How could I hold onto that money and deprive him of that?

I read a blog post that morning that I'd written and had published that day on another blog, asking what God was asking the reader to die to/bury in the ground so God could resurrect something else in its place. (Remember, it was Good Friday.) I sensed God saying I needed to die to my control of that money so He could resurrect a beautiful story from it.

I still panicked, so I sent a text to an accountability partner and told her all the details had come together to buy Julian's ticket, but the actual purchase really freaked me out. I asked her for prayer, and she texted back saying, "Praying now!"

So I sat down at my computer, pulled up the various options of flights again, begged God for guidance again, and settled on the flight with American Airlines, connecting in Miami.  Using the same airline for all three tickets made perfect sense, as did the idea of keeping us on a very similar flight path.

The refundable tickets were way out of my price range, so I bought a nonrefundable ticket with travel insurance that stated it covered trip cancellation due to unforseen circumstances. I figured anything could go wrong, so the insurance was a good idea. Apparently those unforseen circumstances are already laid out as to what is an acceptable reason to cancel a flight, but I didn't take the time to read any of it. Instead I sent Julian a picture of his itinerary and said, "Happy birthday. May this be one of the best years of your life. See you in 3 months."

A few hours later, he saw the message and said, "I am dying of happiness!!!!"

A day or so later, Julian sent me a message. "I was researching, and I found out that I do need a visa for that flight. It's called a transit visa." I knew he had a round trip ticket, so I figured that's all he'd need to show. So he pulled up the application for a transit visa, and the questions got tricky. Did he have any family living in the United States? Well, yes, and no. Biological family? Yes. Legal family? No. Did he know anyone in the US? How? Well, how does he say no to having family in the US and then say I am his biological brother's mom? Has anyone ever applied for immigration on your behalf? Well, yes, when we tried to bring him here with his brother's adoption. This application was not going well. We knew he had a lot of counts against him as an orphan. The US is very adamant that you can demonstrate strong ties and a well-established life that you are going to return to. Evidently, by the looks of this application, even for a simple transit visa.

"Wait. Hold off for a bit. Let me make some more phonecalls to see what our other options are."

I called the airline and asked about the transit visa, and the lady asked several people before telling me that it was not required. Whew. I told Julian it looked like he might not need it after all. "I will call again in a few days to talk to someone else to see if they tell me the same thing." Unfortunately, every phone attendant I talked to after that told me the opposite. "Yes, maam. He needs that transit visa. No, maam. Without it, he can not transit through the United States."

Okay, well, I still had the travel insurance for unforseen circumstances. This definitely came out of nowhere, shocking us all. So, I called to explain the situation.

"Well, that's not a reason we can cover."

"But you advertise covering trip cancellation for unforseen circumstances. This is a very unforseen circumstance."

"If you read the page on our website, maam, it tells you all of the situations we can cover." Ugh. No, I hadn't read the fine print when I purchased the insurance. No, I didn't do my research.  Just like I hadn't done my homework to find out about transit visas, either. I'd never heard of such a thing just for a connecting flight, so I don't know that I would have even known to do any researching. I sat there at my computer and just sobbed for a good half hour at least. I contacted Julian and said I couldn't stop crying and I didn't know what to do.

"Just let me apply for the visa. We have to try."

With the application being completely in English, and our work schedules being completely opposite, it took us both another week of communicating back and forth to get it all filled out correctly and submitted. Thankfully, once submitted, he got an appointment for his interview very quickly. At least we didn't have to drag this out.

The night before his appointment, we were both up super late discussing everything he needed to say, we reviewed all the documents he needed to take (letter from his employer, apartment contract, round trip ticket and itinerary, etc., etc.) We were both a nervous wreck, hoping for the best, knowing lots of people were praying, yet knowing the huge possibility that he could be denied, anyway. Lots of people get denied visas to the US, all the time. We hoped that a transit visa wouldn't be so complicated or difficult.

The morning of May 11, he left early to go get fingerprinted, and I left for work, praying. Our friends and family also prayed for him very specifically. Right before my lunch break, I got a message from him.

"It didn't go well, They didn't approve me. From what I can understand, I just don't have strong enough ties to Argentina."

I still had kids with me, so I held back the tears the best I could. My friend surprised me by buying me lunch for my birthday, but while I sat alone after dismissing my first class, waiting for my lunch break, I just cried. Today was supposed to be a good day. Now I didn't know what to do. How in the world could I have made such a stupid mistake and gotten us into this mess? I had so many flights to choose from. Yet I picked the one airline that had a connecting flight in the US. I felt like such an idiot. The rest of the day, I just felt so defeated. I made it through my afternoon class (trying to be joyful since it was my birthday), and then I sobbed the whole way home.

"Now what do I do, God? All that money, and it's just gone. And Julian's heart is broken." Mike reminded me again that it was God's money to begin with.

After a few days, Julian scanned the denial letter to me so that I could use it as a supporting document to try to submit to the travel insurance, claiming an unforseen circumstance. Before making the claim and canceling the flight, I called the airline several times to see if I had any other options at all. I could cancel the reservation and still have a credit for him to travel over the next year, but without the visa, a credit with American Airlines was useless. I tried to see if there were any connections outside the US, but no, American Airlines connecting flights are all within the US. I tried to change the ticket over to Mike's name, but they very firmly told me that is against all airline policy. You cannot change the name on a ticket or transfer it to someone else. I tried to see if I could submit the claim to the insurance without actually cancelling the flight, but no, I couldn't do that, either. The claim was useless if I didn't cancel the flight.

Not only did we lose the money for the ticket, Julian had to pay fees for his visa interview, and now Laura's mom had already bought his train ticket from Madrid. That made for a lot of loss and several broken hearts. A lot of tears, especially on my end and on Julian's end. He gave up hope that he will be able to see his sister this year.

The whole situation just made me sick, which is why I haven't shared here or even tried to write about it. I felt so defeated and embarrassed for making such an ignorant decision, and I realized later that it just left me paralyzed with fear. I kept praying to God for wisdom and guidance, and it felt like every step I took just knocked me down.

So, here we are. Flight canceled. Money gone. Claim submitted, hoping they will approve it as a truly unforseen circumstance. I should hear something on the claim this week.

I've hashed it out with God quite a bit over the last two weeks. I've prayed a lot over the last 18 days. I've cried, and cried, and cried.

Yet I've also been reminded of the time I spent in prayer right before purchasing that ticket. I sensed God saying I needed to be willing to die to my control of that extra money so that He could resurrect something in its place. I also prayed that if God wanted Julian to join us in Spain, I wanted Him to show up big and not let me get any credit for it. Maybe this whole situation is the answer to my prayer. Be careful what you pray for because God delights to answer our bold prayers.

God is a big God. He sees something that I can't see. He stopped our plan dead in its tracks. As much as I want to blame myself for jumping the gun and not waiting on God, I believe He actually led me right to that ticket. Scripture says that if we commit our way to the Lord, He will direct our path. It also says to acknowledge Him in all our ways, and He will direct our path. I did that. I asked for prayer from so many people for months in advance of getting that ticket. I then still refused to buy the ticket without praying about it again that very morning, committing the situation to Him.

Either Satan truly doesn't want Julian to be there, or God just really wants to show up big. I know many of you have been praying, so this is as updated information as I have on what has taken place as a result of your prayers. Please keep praying because Satan is working very hard to steal my joy. Planning this trip has absolutely terrified me, and this last step truly paralyzed me with fear.

In an effort to keep moving forward and cling to faith, I got out my own book, Unexpected Tears, and read it. What a great reminder of how God sees what we don't see. I realized that this current roadblock is right in line with all the other roadblocks we faced in our whole adoption journey. God showed Himself over and over as the God of the impossible. The fact that we even know and love Julian as a part of our family is proof of that. Just read the book if you don't know that whole story.

Thanks for sticking with me through this long post. And thank you for your prayers. Please keep them coming. I still believe with all my heart that all three of those siblings are meant to be reunited together. I believe that God put that dream in my heart for a reason, and I believe He's still working out a greater plan that I can even envision.

We leave for Guatemala in 41 days. We leave for Spain in 48 days. We will see Laura and meet her mom 49 days from today, almost nine years to the day since I met that precious little girl.

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