Journey to Judah: Part 16 - The Homecoming
May 24-26, 2018
Just before midnight, we boarded a plane bound for Newark, NJ. As we made our way to our seats, we were pleasantly surprised that we had the bulkhead seating. Marcus was mostly excited about the extra leg room. I was excited because this meant that Judah was the youngest baby on board. This also meant that, once the plane had reached cruising altitude, we’d be able to get a bassinet for him, which would hook to the wall in front of us. We just hoped he’d sleep on this long, overnight flight. We had decided to take the long, direct flight from New Delhi to the U.S. in order to “rip the Band-Aid off,” so to speak. We just wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible and be on as few planes and in as few airports as possible with a 13-month old baby. “Bring it on,” I thought, as I buckled my seat belt and held Judah on my lap.
Once everyone boarded, the captain made an announcement, “We are experiencing some issues with the plane’s computer system. Someone is on the way to look at it. Hopefully it will be back up and running soon. We apologize for the delay.”
I wanted to stand up and apologize to everyone on the plane. It was our running joke in India that whenever we showed up, things malfunctioned: electricity, passport printers, Visa systems, and now...planes. If it wasn’t midnight and we didn’t have 14 hours on a plane ahead of us before boarding another flight, I might have laughed. India just had to throw us one more curveball on our way out. We love you too, India. (No really, we do.)
I silently prayed that things would be back up and running soon and that we’d still get to fly out that night. Home was on the horizon, but it still felt so far away. I was so thankful to finally be at this point in our adoption process, though. “Bring our baby home” was the only thing left on our checklist. I was also tired and a little anxious at how angry people might get if Judah cried the whole time on this flight.
After 30 minutes, the flight attendants began serving drinks and that’s when I knew that we weren’t leaving anytime soon. I unbuckled my seatbelt and let Judah crawl around on the floor of the plane. He was surprisingly wide awake for it being the middle of the night. That’s when I suddenly realized that we’d left the liquid melatonin in the checked luggage. This could be a very interesting trip.
30 minutes later we heard, “Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the delay. We are going to have to do a complete system reset. It will be dark and may get a little warm in here. Please remain seated.”
The lights went out and everything got eerily quiet for a plane filled with passengers. Even Judah was silent and still in the darkness as we waited in anticipation. My mind flashed back to our battle for custody of Judah Mahesh in the dark office building in Hyderabad. That day seemed like so long ago, but in all reality, it had only been 18 days ago. How could so much have happened in the last 18 days? The intense highs and lows of our time in India will never be something that I can adequately explain to anyone else. One thing remained constant throughout it all though, God was faithful.
After several minutes in total darkness, lights slowly came back on and the air started circulating again. Judah made friends with the man sitting next to us. The man smiled and passed the toy car back to Judah each time he threw it down. I was glad that he seemed to like children because sitting next to a 13-month old probably wasn’t what he had in mind when he had picked (and possible paid more for) that bulkhead seating option.
Finally, the captain announced that all systems were back up and running and that the flight attendants should prepare the cabin for take-off. I picked Judah up, put him back on my lap, and buckled my seatbelt again. Only this time, Judah didn’t want to sit on my lap. He had tasted the freedom of crawling around on the plane floor and began to scream at the idea of sitting still. I quickly put him down and decided I’d pick him back up once the cabin had been rechecked. People were already irritated because it was after 1 am and we had been sitting on the plane for an hour, so I did not want to add any fuel to their fire.
Finally, it was go time. Marcus picked Judah up, and he didn’t object as his eyes got wide and he felt the plane begin to move. The plane picked up speed as it headed down the runway, and I felt it lift off into the air, climbing higher and higher. You know that feeling when you put your newborn baby in the back of your car and drive away from the hospital thinking, “Whoa, I can’t believe they just let us leave with another tiny person in our car”? Imagine that feeling but magnified about 100 times. Our battle for Judah Mahesh Mackey had seemed epic and never-ending. It had taken many years, many dollars, many prayers, and many crazy circumstances…but here they were, letting us leave a country with a child on our laps. We had flown there as 2 and were returning as 3. My heart was soaring just as high as that plane. Thank you, Father, for your good gifts.
Once we reached cruising altitude, the flight attendants served us a meal, which I thought was a bit strange at 1:30 AM. Then someone brought the bassinet and set it up for us. I must not get out much because I didn’t even know these things existed on planes, but I was very thankful that Judah would have a comfortable place to sleep on the plane, especially since he wasn’t too thrilled about being cradled in our arms yet. After everyone finished their meal, the lights went out, and we laid Judah in the bassinet. He rocked himself for a few minutes but went to sleep pretty quickly.
Marcus went to sleep pretty quickly as well, but for some reason, I wasn’t ready to sleep. There, in the darkness, I found myself alone with my thoughts.
I thought about our girls. We had flown out of Dallas and kissed them goodbye just over 3 weeks ago. 3 weeks doesn’t seem like such a long time.... until part of your heart is on the other side of the world. As hard as it was, if given the choice, I knew I would have left them behind all over again. The schedule, the appointments, the court environment, the hospitals, the missed meals, the intensity, the jet-lag....it would have been too much for them. It would have been too much for us to be outnumbered by children for the first time in our lives on another continent. 3 kids, ages 1, 2, and 3, would have dramatically changed our trip....and our initial time of bonding with our son. But now that we were so close to being home, I just wanted to get them in my arms. I had been officially longing for and praying for all of my babies to be under the same roof since we were matched with our son in December. My heart had been divided since December.
As the whole plane slept, I thought about all the “firsts” we missed in those 13 months of his life: his birth, rolling over, sitting up, learning to crawl, babbling his first words in Telugu, his first tooth, his first smile, his first birthday… Why does adoption take so long? But then I thought of, and clung to, all the firsts that were yet to come: meeting his sisters, having extended family members, sleeping in his very own bed in his very own house, going to our church, being celebrated at a birthday party, his first time seeing snow, his first Christmas, and the list went on and on as I finally drifted off into a restless sleep…
. . .
What was that sound? Crying? Where am I? It took me a minute to realize that we were still on the plane and that Judah was not happy about being strapped into the bassinet any longer. A quick glance at my phone let me know that that he had slept for about 7 hours. I had slept off and on, but I didn’t feel very rested. As I unfastened the Velcro on the bassinet, I realized that our flight was only about half way to our first destination. Everyone on the flight was still asleep, and I wondered how I’d keep this baby quiet on that dark plane.
I made him a bottle and hoped he’d fall back asleep with a full belly. No such luck. He took that as, “Thanks for breakfast, Mom. I’m ready to play!” First, I tried to get him to watch a cartoon on the screen that flipped up from beside my seat. Of course, he was not interested in it at all, and I laughed at myself because I was acting like those “Johnny, Johnny” heroes that we tried to avoid in India. I placed him on the floor and rolled his toy car back and forth with him for a little bit. Then we got out the stacking cups and played with those. He just wanted to knock the tower over repeatedly and, although it was a little loud, I thought people might prefer that to crying. Then I pulled out a ball and a fidget cube. What else did I have in this backpack that might entertain him?
After an hour, Judah was bored, everyone was still sleeping, and we still had over 5 hours left on this flight. I got out a squeeze pouch of baby food and decided to feed him by teeny-tiny spoonfuls. How long could I make this snack last? I stretched it out as long as possible, while he stood there waiting for the next tiny bite from the spoon. After 15 minutes, the puree was gone and Judah was not very happy about it. I got out some Puffs and let him practice picking one up at a time. He didn’t have the pincher grasp or really any fine motor skills yet, but he had probably never had the chance to pick up anything like that before. My brain was already making a running list of ideas for fine motor practice once we got home. Thankfully, God gave him a teacher for a mama. After his little hands were tired of picking up the Puffs, I fed him a few more. Then we broke out the big guns and got out a small sucker. He loved it but was a sticky mess by the time we were done. We didn’t care, though, because suckers last a long time, suckers keep babies in your lap on an airplane, and sometimes suckers keep kids from crying.
After the sucker was gone, Judah fell apart. I’m not going to lie, the last 4 hours of our flight were pretty rough. We had no tricks left. Judah was pretty much done with being confined to a small space. He was done with the darkness of the plane. He was done being quiet. Don’t worry, we got plenty of advice from other passengers about how we should feed him or change his diaper or let him watch something on their phones. I really did feel bad for all the people who had to listen to our baby cry off and on for the last few hours of the flight. I hoped they’d at least remember that he was pretty good for the first 10 hours of the flight. Our saving grace was when the lights came on, people woke up, and breakfast was served. Judah happily ate his eggs, and we survived the remainder of the flight with minimal drama.
We landed at the Newark airport with our paperwork ready to hand over at customs. Because Judah was not yet (but only moments away from being) a U.S. Citizen, we were instructed to go to the line for non-U.S. passport holders. When the officer called us over to the desk, we handed him all 3 passports and that top-secret, super important, sealed packet that we had received from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. The one we had guarded with our lives until this moment. The officer took the packet and our passports and escorted us to an elevator. He rode down a couple of levels with us and escorted us to another area. We were instructed to sit while he walked our envelope over to someone at another desk. We watched while the envelope was torn open and the documents inside were carefully examined. The seating area was too far away to actually see what was inside of that envelope that we had transported across the ocean, so it will forever be a mystery about what was actually inside of it. Whatever was in it was sufficient because the officer walked back over to us, handed our passports back to Marcus, looked at Judah and said, “Welcome to the United States of America.” With tears in my eyes and gratitude in my heart, I walked through that doorway carrying the newest Citizen of the United States of America in my arms.
After we collected and rechecked our luggage, we found the gate for our next flight. We were only one short plane ride and about 3 hours away from being HOME. Also, something about being back on U.S. soil made my heart feel just a little bit lighter. Marcus went to find some breakfast, and I went to find a Starbucks. I hoped a Venti coffee with an extra shot of espresso would give me the energy I needed for the last leg of our journey.
We changed clothes, freshened up, and day-dreamed about the sweet reunion with our girls until it was time to board our flight. Our flight began boarding a little earlier than expected, and as we were boarding, we noticed that our flight number had changed. Once we stepped onto the plane, we saw that our plane had also changed to a much smaller aircraft as well. We found our seats, fastened our seat belts, and listened to the typical flight announcements. I could feel the butterflies in my stomach as the plane took off, bringing us closer and closer to home. Once we reached cruising altitude, the captain made an announcement and let us know that we would be landing in Kansas City at 9:40 a.m., local time.
Wait…what!? Our flight was originally scheduled to land at 10:30. We didn’t board THAT early! Now, we definitely weren’t complaining about getting home almost an hour ahead of schedule, but we had told the welcome crew to meet us at the airport at 10:30. We wouldn’t have a ride, our girls wouldn’t be there to greet us, and the photographer wouldn’t be there to capture it all. So, we purchased 30 minutes of WiFi, updated our Facebook group, sent iMessages to everyone we could reach via WiFi, sent a couple of e-mails, and left 2 people in charge of relaying the message to anyone who might be heading to the airport. Once our 30 minutes was up, we hoped for the best, but we knew our girls, our families, the photographer, and a few friends would at least make it on time.
Judah fought sleep for the first hour of the flight, but then he passed out for the last half of the trip. We hoped that getting a quick nap in would help him be more prepared for the “Welcome Party” at the airport. He woke up just in time to begin our descent into Kansas City. Tears filled my eyes again as he looked out of the plane window, and I whispered to him, “That’s your home.” Was this a dream? It was almost too good to be true. My emotions, combined with exhaustion, almost overtook me, so we let everyone else get off the plane first while I collected myself. Finally, I was ready. We stepped off of that plane and walked through the exit as the sound of cheers and applause erupted from the crowd. Welcome signs, balloons, smiles, and happy tears were there to greet us.
The first faces that came into view were those of our girls. I immediately dropped to the floor of the airport to get them into my arms and introduce them to their brother. I will never forget the look on Eliza’s face: sheer joy and excitement. She had been talking about this moment since she had learned to speak. Hattie was definitely excited, but she was a little more timid. Then, as if she suddenly remembered something very important, she ran and grabbed a stuffed animal and brought it back to her new baby brother. My heart melted into a puddle on the floor of the Kansas City Airport. We were finally all together as Mackey Party of 5.
As I stood up, I looked around at the sea of faces that had come to welcome us home. It was amazing to see the love and support from so many of our people. Judah was a bit overwhelmed as we walked around receiving hugs and smiles and words of encouragement, but I know he had to have felt the love and warmth radiating from that group huddled together in the airport. I hope someday he will look back on those beautiful photos and see the faces of just a few of the many, many of people who rallied around us and helped us bring him home. Our village of family, friends, church members, and co-workers were all represented there that day. So many others couldn’t make it but were there in spirit or watching online, wearing their “Minus One” shirts. So many people had watched this journey unfold for years, and we could not have completed it without them.
After all the greetings had been said and the tears had been cried and the smiles had been held until our cheeks stung with the happiness, we loaded up our family of five, buckled three kids into car seats, and drove home, 24 days after we had last seen it. Eliza looked over at her brother and said, “Judah, we prayed for you 60 times and then Jesus brought you home to us.” Even though it was way more than 60 times, I’m glad that our girls were able to see such a tangible answer to prayer.
It is actually amazing to think how many times I prayed the same prayer: 1,913 times – at least 1 time for each day we waited in the adoption process: “Please, bring our son home”. And on May 26, 2018, God answered “Yes, I will.” Then I let out the breath that I seemed to have been holding for 5 years, 2 months, and 25 days as we walked through our front door with our son in our arms. Judah Mackey was finally home.
A Father's heart that's for me
A never ending story
Of love that's always chasing me
His kindness overwhelming
And hope for me unending
He's never given up on me
And I will sing of
All you've done
And I'll remember
How far you carried me
Until the end
You are faithful,
Faithful to the end.
Bethel Music - Faithful to the End
*Thanks to Deer Photography KC for the cherished photographs taken at the airport.