Journey to Judah: Part 15 - The Exit
May 25, 2018
I tried to sleep in and wake up slowly. As soon as my brain realized that it was morning, though, it began racing with questions:
Will we get our Exit Permits today?
When will Gloria call?
Can we actually fly home tonight?
What happens if we don’t get our permits today?
Could we be stuck in New Delhi until Monday?
How much will it cost to change our flights again?
Can I survive 3 extra days without seeing our girls?
Like so many times in our adoption process, I used my fears and worries and wonderings as a reminder to pray. “God, you’ve brought us this far. Carry us home. Today....if it’s Your Will. You know that it’s definitely my will to leave today, but either way, You are good.” I hoped I could still pray those same words if today didn’t turn out how I hoped it would.
Hey, if we had to stay in New Delhi over the weekend, I guess we could make a trip to the REAL Taj Mahal, right!? We laughed about it, but we no longer wanted to see the Taj. We wanted to see home.
I checked our e-mail accounts incessantly. A new procedure for Exit Permits had been implemented just weeks before our arrival. There was a chance that our permits could be e-mailed to us. Like everything in the India adoption process, though, it seemed pretty inconsistent or unpredictable. We never got an e-mail, but we got a phone call from Gloria around 9 a.m. She let us know that she was going to the Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) for us. From what we’d heard, FRRO was hot, crowded, filled with unsympathetic and unhurried officers, and a place where we should plan to spend all day waiting for our Exit Permits. Gloria said, “You don’t need to go to that place with the baby. I will go in your place and wait until I receive the permits.”
I hoped it worked like that. I had never heard of a guide going in someone’s place, but I hoped that FRRO would issue our permits to Gloria without any hesitation...especially since our flight was set to leave at midnight.
T minus 15 hours until takeoff.
I couldn’t make myself pack yet because I wasn’t convinced that we were leaving yet. Instead, we walked over to the mall as soon as it opened. We (Okay I...Marcus would have brought him home in pajamas) had searched all over New Delhi for the perfect “going home” outfit for Judah. The top of the list was at Gap Kids, so we headed there to purchase it. I couldn’t bring him home from the hospital in a special outfit, but I could bring him HOME in one. As we walked into the store, I saw the shirt with “Hello World!” written across the front. I was drawn to the phrase. It was like we were finally introducing him to the world since we had been required to cover his sweet face in every picture we’d posted for the last 5.5 months.
Next, we went back to the same little shop where we had purchased some traditional clothing for Judah, so we could get an outfit for our girls. We picked out beautiful skirts and short tops for them (lehenga choli - at least I think that’s what they’re called), which would traditionally be worn on festive occasions. I planned to make them wear them for photos and Indian holidays. I was kicking myself, though, for not buying a saree in Hyderabad. They were much more prevalent there....and much more affordable. I decided to skip the saree and vowed to purchase a saree and some bangles on our next trip to Hyderabad, whenever that might be...but we hoped to go a couple of times before our 10 year visas expired.
We left our shopping excursion feeling successful and ready to fly out that night. Souvenirs: check. We hustled back to the hotel room to wait to hear from Gloria.
T minus 13 hours until our flight.
During the wait to hear the news of whether we’d fly out that night or have to stay in New Delhi through the weekend, I busied myself by going through our suitcases. How could we make them lighter? How could we consolidate? After purchasing a few souvenirs, we knew our bags would be overweight if we didn’t drop some things. Thankfully our handheld luggage scale would help us make some cuts. I stared at the mound that didn’t make the cut. It made me sick to see such a pile of wasted supplies. We were definitely over-prepared, and if we went back, I would have left half of it behind. I hoped that the hotel staff would take anything that they might use before throwing the rest away.
Gloria still hadn’t called, so I sorted our clothes: clean and dirty. I’m not sure why because I knew I’d wash everything once we got back anyway. We were thankful to have had access to a washing machine at the apartment, but line drying in the polluted air wasn’t quite the same “fresh out of the dryer” feel as at home. I also packed all souvenirs, our adoption paperwork, our “going home” outfits, extra clothes, toiletries, and plenty of snacks for Judah in the carry-on. By the time I was done, it was past lunch time, and we still hadn’t heard from Gloria.
T minus 11 hours until take off.
Thankfully, we had kept our hotel room for the night, so we wouldn’t be stranded if things fell through at the last minute. We ordered what we hoped to be our last meal from room-service, and put Judah down for a nap. Just after we had gotten him to sleep, the phone rang. I rushed to grab it, but it woke him up anyway. It was Gloria.
T minus 10 hours until takeoff.
“I have your Exit Permits. I will be there in 1 hour,” she said. I thanked her, hung up the phone, relayed the message to Marcus, and cried literal tears of joy. WE WERE GOING HOME!!! Tonight.
I put Judah back to sleep and waited by the phone for Gloria to notify us that she had arrived with those precious final documents. Once she did, I met her in the lobby and hugged her as she handed me our Exit Permits. The funny thing is, I’m not a hugger (and her body language told me that she wasn’t either), but I was just so overwhelmed that our checklist was now complete except for one final step: Bring our baby HOME.
I went upstairs and examined the documents. I wondered why there were so many blanks on our Exit Permits, but I slid them into our accordion file and posted the good news in our Facebook group:
“After 5 years and 3 months in the adoption process, we only have 1 little thing left on our checklist!! I can hardly believe it’s real, but we are finally coming HOME with our SON! God is faithful.”
We invited everyone to come and meet us at the KC airport on Saturday morning at 10:29 AM.
After Judah woke up, I took a shower and prepared for the 20 hours of travel we were about to face with a 13 month old. I was elated. Was this was really happening?
I saw my phone light up as a message came through from my friend Abby.
Abby. How can I explain Abby? We like to joke that we are “cyber friends” because we’ve never met in person. We’ve only talked on the phone once for 5 minutes and that was mostly me screaming dramatically about how I had 5 minutes to finish my son’s visa application before my lunch break was over but didn’t understand 1 part of it. She saved the day, and I thanked her by laughing at her thick southern accident. I “met” Abby in an Ethiopian adoption group on Facebook after Ethiopia suspended adoptions. My husband (only half-joking) told me to stop talking to people I met online, but we have talked almost every day since. Abby is strong, wise, and continuously points me back toward Jesus in the midst of any circumstances. Im also thankful that God had her family switch to the India adoption program a couple months before us so that she could coach me every step of the way. (I probably owe her some sort of fee or something.) Her son is about a week older than Judah, and they brought him home from another state in India 1 week before we came home. We barely missed seeing each other in New Delhi. I’m thankful that God gave me a friend who could understand the heartache of a failed adoption process, the fear of the unknown, and the beauty of God’s plan unfolding.
A big perk of adoption (besides your precious child) is the community that comes with it. Although I don’t feel like I quite measure up, I was let into this club of encouraging, selfless people who pray for one another and bear one another’s burdens. They see the beauty and brokenness of adoption and the Gospel lived out in their homes everyday. I’m forever grateful for the online community that I found in the midst of what I call “The Dark Months.” April to July of 2017 were the months that I cried and screamed and wrestled with God. I questioned what the Lord was doing in our lives, but I kept following Him. It was the encouragement, the stories of hope, watching God’s plan unfold in the lives of other families in the adoption community that helped get me through those months when very few people in my real life understood my feelings. Those were the months that we were stuck in limbo. Those were the months that our lives and our family building dramatically changed course. Those were the months that ultimately led us to our son. If I could go back, I would tell myself, “Hang on. Just wait. God is preparing miracles for you. You’ll understand soon. You’ll see. Your son will be in your arms within the year.” Now, here we were.
I checked my phone and read Abby’s message: “Yay for Exit Permits! Best news! You did it! Make sure Judah’s name and passport information is on both of your permits. The last few people lately have had to go back to FRRO because information was missing from their permits.”
My stomach dropped. I had already seen several blanks on our Exit Permits. I got the documents back out of the accordion file. After a thorough scan, I realized that none of that information was on them.
“Ummmmmm what if it’s not?” was my reply.
“I’m not joking. It’s not there,” I typed.
“Okay. Just breathe. Send me a photo.”
I sent her the photo.
T minus 6 hours until take off.
“Well....there are some empty lines where ours had information filled in.....Can you call Gloria? Can you go back to FRRO?”
My mind instantly flashed back to the man at the travel agency who had to leave because he was worried sick about his daughter and kept making mistakes on our paperwork. Did something get lost in the transition from one employee to the next?
“Abby, it’s 6 PM! I’m not even sure it’s open, but we don’t have time anyway. We’re supposed to head to the airport in less than 2 hours. What do we do!?!?”
I’d like to say that I remained cool, calm, collected. But I lost it. Like, totally and completely lost it. Marcus walked out of the bathroom to a hysterical person who sort of resembled his wife. “We’re not going home today,” I sobbed as I tried to explain the situation. The emotional roller coaster of that day was just too much for me already. “What are we going to do?”
“We’re going to finish packing our stuff. We’re going to eat something. We’re going to go to the airport. We’re going to go home.” He said it so calmly and so matter-of-factly that I was nothing but annoyed with him in my over-emotional state.
“What if they won’t let us leave!?”
“At this point, trying is our only option,” he said, and we decided to not even ask Gloria her opinion. We’d call her once we got turned away at the airport. We also decided not to let anyone back home know since we had just told them the “good news” and would have a hard time explaining this current situation.
We prayed and asked God to make a way and let us go home that day. Then I messaged Abby and said, “We’re going for it. Start praying now.”
“I will! I’m praying for an officer that’s very nice and doesn’t know what to look for! Judah kinda looks like y’all so MAYBE they won’t even realize he’s adopted! I would straight only hand the passports as if he was your biological son!” she said. “And I’m going to need to know when you make it past the men in the cubicles.”
That was our plan as we finished packing our stuff, fed Judah dinner, changed him into pajamas for the long flight home, and waited for the hotel car to take us to the airport. My stomach was in knots though, because I knew Abby’s story. Exactly 1 week before, her and her husband had taken the exact same flight from New Delhi to Newark. They had been detained for 20 minutes while two officers repeatedly scrutinized all of their paperwork. I prayed for a different officer as we checked out of the hotel and loaded up our luggage like we wouldn’t be back later that night. I truly hoped that was the case.
T minus 4 hours until takeoff.
As we stepped out of the car at the airport, I was on edge. I was just hoping that I didn’t seem suspicious to security because of my nerves. I’m terrible at hiding my feelings, and it’s typically written all over my face. I carried Judah so that I’d have a distraction and maybe look a little less guilty.
Our first test was making it inside the airport. The security guard at the door needed to see our tickets....only, we hadn’t printed them yet. We hoped looking at an email confirmation on Marcus’s phone would suffice. It did.
After passing that test, we had to find our airline. The attendant at the desk thoroughly questioned us about our adoption and asked to see our passports. He asked for a few more documents, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t in his job description. Then he asked to see the packet we received from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi. He reminded us that NO ONE should open that packet until we go through immigration in the United States. Honestly, I wasn’t even sure what was in that sealed packet....but I would be guarding it with my life because it was the only way our son would be granted access and citizenship to the United States.
After the man at the desk printed our tickets, we headed on toward security, hoping the interrogations wouldn’t continue. Men and women had separate lines for security, so I took Judah with me. While in line, I realized that Marcus had put all of the adoption documents in his backpack. I hoped and prayed that no one at security would ask me for any documentation.
We made it through security with just one question from the lady with the handheld scanner inside of the privacy tent, “Did you adopt him?” So much for our plan to slide under the radar. We were 0 for 2 at this point, but she didn’t ask for any additional paperwork.
I met back up with Marcus on the other side of security, and I knew the moment of truth was at hand. I could see the officers sitting at the cubicles just ahead. One of these men would decide whether or not we would be flying out tonight.
T minus 3 hours until takeoff.
I prayed as we waited in the long line. Our plan was still the same: offer the passports and see what happened. If they asked for more documents, which they definitely would, offer the court order first...save the Exit Permits until we were directly asked for them.
“Next!” an officer shouted. My hands began shaking and my stomach lurched as we stepped forward. Marcus handed all 3 passports to the officer. I took a deep, silent breath and let it out slowly.
The officer opened my passport first and stared at me. “Did you lose weight?”
“Yes,” I said quietly.
It actually wasn’t true, but I wasn’t sure how to explain. Something got messed up when I sent my passport off. The dimensions of my passport photos must have been off and because of the way it was resized, the photo inside of my passport makes me look at least 20 pounds heavier. Marcus and I had laughed about it throughout our whole trip and joked that I’d get asked that question....only it was much less comical in this intense moment. The answer seemed to suffice, though, because the officer put my passport down and picked up Marcus’s passport.
“Is this your first trip to India?”
“Yes sir,” Marcus answered.
Then he opened Judah’s passport. He stared at Judah and said, “Is he yours?”
We both answered with a resounding, “Yes!” because, of course, he WAS ours.
He looked at Judah again, puzzled, but then he handed us back our passports and waved us through.
I couldn’t believe it. He didn’t ask for one single document. We were told to have several documents ready to offer. Was that it? Were we through, or was that not the right checkpoint?
We stopped at the food court so I could message Abby to know if I should let my heart rate get back to normal yet.
“If we are sitting in the food court, have we made it? Or will they ask for documents at another checkpoint? They asked us for 0 things.”
“Yes! They totally thought he was your biological child! I’m so thankful! Girl, they asked for EVERYTHING for us and the other family that night. This is exactly what I prayed for! An officer who was clueless! God knew you’d had enough.”
“Thank you! We are coming HOME!”
Home. That’s when I cried in the food court of the New Delhi airport. Lord willing, we were officially going home....for real this time.