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We’ve been back from our trip to the Congo for six days. We’ve resumed the routines of work and school and extracurricular activities just as easily as one might step onto an already moving treadmill, in other words, a bit clumsily but fully committed. I imagine our son Ezra is back to his old routines in his Congolese orphanage, whatever that might mean. I wonder if he woke up that first morning back in the orphanage and told his friends, “You will never guess the dream I had! I was staying in a hotel with these white people. They had no idea what I was saying and I didn’t understand them. The lady cheered when I ate fruit and the man kicked a soccer ball with me for hours. So crazy…”

 

The jet lag has worn off but the feelings of frustration and sorrow linger. Little things remind me of our time with our son: blue cleaning solution in the toilet (they added more of this chemical every day when they cleaned the bathroom in our hotel room), the smell of diesel exhaust coming from the truck in front of me, a lacing card and string lying on the floor of our bedroom (I thought we sent all of these with him to the orphanage but apparently we had a stowaway in our luggage).

 

The memories conjured up by these reminders are bittersweet. Like most memories—even good ones—our hearts are torn asunder by the force of reality: this is just a memory, a mirage, not the real thing. I see the blue potty water and I think: “What a privilege is was to be the Momma to Ezra for mundane yet important tasks like potty patrol.” Then I think, “Who’s taking him potty now? Is anyone keeping up with his number twos?”

 

I’ve dreamed about Ezra a couple of nights this week. Maybe my subconscious has figured out I don’t want to think about him too much when I’m awake so I won’t be a slobbery mess at the grocery store or the school pickup line, so it has worked him into my dreams—a hollow and haunting substitution for the real thing. (Stupid subconscious, mind your own business.) One morning, I woke up with Ezra’s face clearly in my mind. He was saying the same word over and over: sambo. This is Lingala for seven. I tried all day to figure out what the dream meant. Will we get to bring him back in seven weeks? Seven months? When he’s seven years old? (Please, Lord, no. I don’t know if I can wait that long.) There’s no reason to think it means anything but that’s what you do when you’re desperate.

 

In a moment of irrationality, I actually googled the phrase: when will Ezra come home. I got a lot of links to the TV show Pretty Little Liars which I’ve never seen and I’m pretty sure won’t shed any light on the trials of international adoption but I’m thinking has a character named Ezra on it and he’s been on a trip.

 

But we soldier on the best we can. We hope and pray for good to come of the senseless separation of children and their families but it’s not easy. We‘re happy to be home but a part of our hearts missed the flight out of Congo. A sliver of our hopes and dreams stayed in Kinshasa, invisible and lightly resting on the shoulder of a little boy who needs a place to call home, too.

 

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Layover

A 7-hour layover in New Jersey—this is the anticlimactic final chapter to our week in the Congo. It’s not ideal. We’re watching passengers board a different plane also heading to Nashville but three hours earlier than our flight and we’re feeling a tad bit jealous. Instead of giving them dirty looks, I’ve decided to pull out the laptop and write my thoughts about our trip. Here goes:

The Thursday before we left for Africa, I met Brent for a quick lunch at a Greek restaurant near Walmart so we could get a few more things for our trip. A man with an awesome handlebar moustache walked in just before us. I had noticed his giant tricycle strapped onto the back of his car in the parking lot. This guy was a real character. The cherry on top was his old-fashioned top hat. It was black silk and it had a rumpled bill—a foreign currency, I think—tucked into the band. Barely worth mentioning except that on our flight last Saturday from Brussels to Kinshasa, we saw another man with a black top hat. This wasn’t the same man but it still caught our attention. Who wears top hats, especially on a plane? Where did he keep the hat during the flight? Surely he didn’t wear it. Did he stow it? Do you know what happens to items in the overhead storage compartments? To round out the “Top Hat Phenomenon,” on the flight last night from Kinshasa to Brussels, we saw yet another man with a top hat. In addition to the jaunty hat, this fellow also wore a suit vest covered in an odd assortment of buttons. Three different men with three different but similar hats.

You might ask why I would go to the trouble of describing these men. I’m actually asking myself the same question. I know I learn best from metaphors. And don’t get me started on parables—I love them. Why I can’t learn something straight up in black and white is a mystery but if I can compare one situation to another similar situation, it all seems more profound, more relatable. I’m searching for the meaning in the top hats…

Here’s what I mean by metaphors:
As I mentioned in an earlier post, riding in a car in Kinshasa traffic is an adventure. And by adventure, I mean, really, REALLY scary. There are so many near misses. The driver must be aggressive or he’ll never arrive at his destination. There are public transportation vans crammed to the ceiling with people. Some even stand on the running boards and cling to the inside of the van…with the door opened…in heavy traffic. Pedestrians run across several lanes of traffic with the assumption these drivers will stop for them. Africa has so many Christians and it’s no wonder. These highways would make anyone pray. My takeaway (my metaphor) is that I am used to “driving” or at least thinking I’m in control of what happens. Being a passenger this week, I had to totally rely on the driver of our car. I didn’t know how to get where we were going and I couldn’t drive on these roads anyway. Maybe Africa is gaining Christians faster than in the U.S. because they already have the mindset needed to give your life wholly to Christ: we’re not truly in control. I can start the engine and fill it with gas, but any notion that I am really the one making things happen is delusional.

I dozed off for a while during the flight to Newark. I dreamed we were back in Murfreesboro but the toddler bed Ezra used in our hotel room was in our bedroom at home. In the dream, I woke up and saw the bed. I began to wander around the house, looking for him. I was startled awake and realized I was on a plane, wedged between a stranger and Brent. I started to cry, as silently as possible, as I dabbed my eyes and nose with a tiny beverage napkin. Hopefully, the lady next to me didn’t notice. She had her headphones on and continued to watch the tiny screen in front of her. The dream reminded me of our loss but it also reminded me of how little I can control. We could plan and pay for this trip but only God can set Ezra free and allow him to come home. God alone can change the hearts of the government officials (who, incidentally, aren’t in control, either).

So, now I circle back to the Top Hats: unimportant coincidences as insignificant as a “chasing after the wind.” Because I can’t see the whole picture, I grasp at pieces which don’t make sense. I search for reason in this frustrating predicament we find ourselves and our Congolese son in just like I looked for a significance in the appearance of those top hats. It’s as if I think I’m owed an explanation, as if it’s my right, as if I’m the one who makes things happen so I should be privy to all that’s going on. Without wanting to admit it, I think I can script this better than God. “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) If I want to stop feeling out of control, I have to voluntarily give up control to the driver who knows where and how this is all supposed end.

The Best Worst Thing

I’ve only seen Brent cry three times. The first was when he was stressed out and overwhelmed in school. The second was when our girls were born. And today was the third time.

 

As if our morning were scripted for a movie, just before our friend brought the orphanage director to our hotel, it started to rain. This is the rainy season (which lasts about nine months) but we hadn’t seen much rain up until today. The sky was gray and the parking lot was dimpled with muddy puddles. It was the personification of our low spirits.

 

While Brent went to drop off our luggage at the early check-in, I sat with the orphanage director, trying to communicate and letting her teach me some words in Lingala. I fed Ezra, we colored in a coloring book, and watched an episode of Sesame Street from the 1970’s on the iPad. Soon, they were back and it was time.

 

I tried so hard not to cry. I told myself this was confusing enough for our little man, so I won’t make it worse by blubbering. We sat down at the table to conduct the formalities of giving Ezra back, even though he’s ours and we’re his. As soon as we sat down, I heard Brent’s choked gasp. It was only a faint sound but I knew what it signified. We looked at each other and lost it. Our friend asked if Brent would pray but he said he couldn’t do it. Instead, our friend prayed for us and for Ezra and for all the children in the orphanage. I’ll remember his beautiful, deep voice petitioning on our behalf in a hotel room in Kinshasa for the rest of my life. Ezra sat in my lap and held hands with both of us. He rested his forehead on the table and remained still throughout the prayer even though he didn’t understand a word of it. After he had made sure Ezra was settled in the backseat and before he entered the car himself, our friend left us with three words, “God is good.”

 

Last night, while I was struggling to fall asleep, I whispered to Brent asking if he regretted coming. He said the good parts outweigh the bad parts. At this moment, I’m not sure that’s true. I’m hoping a little time and perspective will at least help but this is a kind of despair I can’t sort out. We’ve got hours until our flight and now I just want to be home.

 

My friend has made this trip to visit with her Congolese daughter twice so I asked her for her opinion before we decided to travel. “It’s the best worst thing,” she told me. I completely get it.

Our last morning

He’s spooning up his morning tea with a tiny plastic spoon. Drops cover his lap and the concrete floor of our patio. Every few “bites” he offers one to me. I take it because I have forgotten we don’t have the same germs and the same genes. Yesterday, he mimed breaking his banana in two to Brent so they could share it. He often seems concerned whether we’re getting enough to eat.

 

This week in Congo has been the strangest lapse of time I’ve ever known. The days move at a pace I can’t quite comprehend. They aren’t slow and monotonous but they also aren’t flying by at break-neck speed. Another adopting mom staying at our hotel mentioned she feels like she’s in a time warp. It’s difficult for her to figure out what time it is at any given moment. I can sympathize. Our flight out of Nashville seems like it happened months ago.

 

Today is the day we’ve been dreading since we made our plans to travel. Today Ezra returns to the orphanage.

 

We’ve watched as other families staying here have said their good-byes to their children. It’s so painful. Older children who have had a glimpse of an improved, alternate life, just out of their reach. Babies, some with urgent medical needs, are shuttled back to their foster homes and the parents left in the wake are devastated.

 

One of the greatest blessings of this week has been the fellowship with these others American mamas and papas. We’ve sat together, comparing stories, news, and tips for getting the best wifi connection. We’ve ooo-ed and awww-ed over each other’s children but from the distance of an arm’s length, respecting the roles we must fill: Only the parents give their child food. Only mama or papa should hold the child. The child should attach to these adults instead of all adults. 

 

There are only a few of us left this morning, so breakfast is quiet. Ezra has moved on from his tea and now he sits on the ground, pulling the colorful shoestrings through the holes in the lacing cards we brought from home. As far as he knows, this is just another morning like the three before. Oh how my heart hurts.

Papa

Our boy loves his daddy. And who could blame him? His daddy is tall and handsome. He’s smart and strong. He can kick the soccer ball and is willing to hold him endlessly in the pool. All adoption-related material about acclimating kids to new parents says that children will often attach themselves to one parent over the other. I’ve read it and seen it in other families, but I guess I never really thought Ezra would gravitate more to Brent. How vain can a girl be? With our kids at home, I was the number one choice and daddy was an acceptable substitute. This may have something to do with the fact that I was the singular source for their nutrition for the first months out of the womb but who knows.

 

I’m not complaining. It’s been such a pleasure watching Brent with Ezra. He’s a natural nurturer, which I already knew. And Ezra hasn’t completely ignored me. He’s allowed me to feed him and rock him. I gave him a shower yesterday and he was fine. Runner-up isn’t so bad, just an adjustment.

 

In the Congo, as in a lot of other African countries, the men are often called papa and the women are called mama. (If you want to call someone “my mother” it’s mama na besu.) It’s a term of familiarity and respect. It shows the village culture at its best: we’re all here to raise these kids because it takes all of us to do it right.

 

Today, I heard Ezra call Brent da-da. This may have been him parroting the times I’ve referred to Brent as daddy, a habit from home. But I’d rather think he said it because Brent has crossed an imaginary line in Ezra’s mind. He’s gone beyond the men around our hotel—Pablo who drove us to the market and high-fives Ezra every day or Carlos who cleans our room and lectures him in Lingala about obeying his parents or Samba who rakes the gravel in the parking lot.

 

Whatever is going on inside his head, he’s starting to trust us. When he wakes up in the morning, he looks unsure of where he is and who we are. After a several minutes of sweet-talking and offering food, he warms up to us. It’s a game we’ve played every day we’ve been here and we’re ready to play it for keeps.

Him

Since the beginning of this process, we’ve been told to be very careful when posting pictures of our African son. As this week has transpired, we’ve taken LOTS of photos and videos so it pains me not to be able to send them out to all of our friends and families who are praying so fervently for us. (If you run into us when we get back you’ll be lucky to escape a photo book or a slideshow on my phone. Consider yourself warned.) In lieu of a picture (which is worth 1,000 words, apparently), I give you my description of Ezra:

 

His eyelashes are the Eighth Wonder of the world (the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are nothing in comparison). They are thick and jet-black. They curl almost into a complete circle. I tried to get a good picture of them tonight while he cuddled with Brent and watched videos of himself from earlier today on the video camera. It was like trying to photograph the Grand Canyon—impossible to catch the grandeur on film.

 

His head is fairly flat on one side, probably a result of lying down too often as an infant. (Brent said this is common in babies everywhere and not to worry. Is there a flat-headed kids support group I can sign him up with when he gets home?) I love to rub his head. His hair is very short, almost like Brent’s whiskers if he skips a day of shaving.

 

He has beautiful, round ears that stick out just enough and squishy ear lobes.

 

His eyes are dark and expressive. Paired with his eyebrows, he can tell you he’s mad without saying a word (which is good because he doesn’t speak English).

 

He has a scar on his right cheek.

 

He’s missing his pinky-toe toenails.

 

He’s got a mouth-full of good-looking teeth. A few of them have some suspicious spots but overall they look great. I think he takes great pride in his teeth. He loves to brush them. He did it three times today. He always wants me to brush his tongue at the end. This is oddly comforting for me. It tells me that someone has been helping him with his dental hygiene. Yesterday he wanted to spit in the toilet. Today, after brushing his teeth and getting a big gulp of water in his mouth, he wanted to go outside, gargle, and spit in the parking lot.

 

Due to his distended belly—a symptom of undernourishment and fluid retention—he walks a little like George Jefferson from The Jeffersons. He has to thrust his elbows back a bit to compensate for the roundness up front and he kind of wobbles from side to side. He has a severe “outtie” belly button. Brent said it’s a hernia (have I mentioned how nice it is to travel with a pediatrician?). It looks like a pop-up thermometer in a well-done Butterball turkey. He has a tiny bottom and spindly arms and legs. At the start of the week, he moved like it was exhausting for him. After three days of proteins and vitamins and good rest, his energy has improved and his belly has already shrunk a bit. It boggles my mind and breaks my heart to think of what a lifetime of better care could do.

 

I know this isn’t as satisfying as a photograph, especially since it’s only about 500 words (maybe half a picture?), but I hope it fills out a few of the details for one little boy among the millions of children who need a family. He’s a unique, smart, surprising, and beautiful boy. We’re so proud to be his mama and papa.

Wednesday morning

I was unable to post a blog last night (my last night would be your yesterday afternoon). It was a day we’ll refer to as “The Many Faces of Ezra”. I know he doesn’t have a multiple-personality disorder but the thought did cross my mind. At the end of the day, I turned to the wisdom of Napoleon Dynamite on the laptop instead of collecting my thoughts and writing a post.

 

My overall, midweek impression of our boy is that he is a 3-year old. It has been said that God created 3-year olds to make the “Terrible Twos” seem like an overstatement. As with my other darling children, it is an amazing age of “I do it!” from them and “No hitting!” from us. Ezra, like a lot of African children I’ve seen, is remarkably self-sufficient. They make American kids appear pretty wimpy. He can osuba (pee) and osumba (poo) all by himself, and though this week marks the first time he’s sat on a zongo (toilet), he’s taking it all in stride. (He loooves the flushing part. He likes to walk in the bathroom and spit in the potty just so he has an excuse to flush it.) He can put on his sandals all by himself and, like any self-respecting 3-year old, he prefers them to be on the wrong feet. He uses a fork and spoon (sometimes simultaneously) even though he’s probably only eaten with his hands. We got him a Congolese staple for supper last night: fufu. Fufu is hunks of doughy bread that is eaten with stewed meat. This time it was goat. He ate the entire thing like a champ, greasy goat meat and all. He’s amazing.

 

On the other hand, he’s showing himself to be very strong-willed and a bit of a stinker. At the beginning of the week (the time we’ll now refer to as “Shy Ezra Days”), he was happy to just cuddle and kick the soccer ball with Brent. We’ve got great video of him heading the ball and catching it. It’s my unbiased opinion that he’s got the makings of a soccer super star. Now it seems the honeymoon is over. He wants to throw the ball in the pool. He won’t share with the other kids staying at our hotel. He tried to stab Brent with a plastic fork and thought it was hilarious. Before bedtime, after he’d been especially aggressive toward Papa (Brent) and I had fussed at him and told him “Te!” (no), he gave me an “eat dirt” look (like a smile it is the same in all languages) and he threw himself on the floor for the cold shoulder treatment. I tried to lie next to him but he would always roll over, away from me. He wasn’t wanting maternal comfort. I had hurt his feelings.

 

I know he’s testing us. He’s trying to see how far he can push us and what we’ll do about it. The African parenting culture looks different than what we’re used to. We Americans tend to pet and coo over our kids more. His caretakers up to this point have probably been a little more stern and a little less smiling. This is not a critique of African parents. God help us all when it comes to raising kids. It’s just a different set of cues and facial expressions for Ezra to learn how to read. At first, he may have seen us as pushovers. (“This white mama just cries and kisses me”) Hopefully, he’s realizing that we’re firm but devoted. We’re meeting his needs and thereby proving ourselves to him. It’s a lot of work but terribly rewarding.

Tuesday morning

My eyes popped opened at 4:30 this morning and there was no going back. Normally, if I wake up early, I can roll over and fall back asleep. For instance, night before last I was awoken by Brent combing through my hair like a monkey hunting for bugs in his lady monkey’s fur. I said, “What are you doing?” He didn’t answer. Instead, he pinched an invisible bug between his index finger and thumb and rolled away from me. I just shrugged my shoulders and went back to sleep. But not today.

 

This morning is different because we have a 3-year old sleeping in our room with us. He fell asleep last night around 7:00 and is still going strong. (My fur groomer is still sleeping, too.) The hotel loaned us a toddler bed and camo sheets. It’s just like a pack-n-play but big enough to hold a toddler mattress. We wondered how he’d adapt to sleeping without other kids and in a strange place but he’s done beautifully so far.

 

Part of the reason I think I woke up is because there are REALLY LOUD African birds outside our window. One feathery fellow has a mutli-note, repetitive call akin to the whippoorwill. (Disclaimer: Not much of an ornithologist, I have no idea what I’m talking about here.) Instead of calling “whip-poor-will” this African bird sounds like it’s saying “Can-we-just-skype?” If I were going to write the call musically, it would be half note, half note, quarter note, half note. I know it sounds crazy but I’ve been lying here in the growing light of morning trying to figure out what it’s saying and that’s what I’ve decided.

 

I don’t know why I’m compelled to tell you this. For some reason, I’m afraid I’ll try to remember what the bird said later on and I’ll draw a blank. In fact, I’m afraid all of this week will be lost in my memory bank once we get back to the U.S. Sure, we’ll have pictures and videos. I can look back at my journal and read what we did and how we felt. But what I don’t want to lose is the realness of being Ezra’s mom. I won’t be able to accurately recall how smooth his skin feels or the warmth of his body as he snuggles into my chest. I’ll still be his mom even when he’s thousands of miles away from me but it won’t be the same.

 

My fellas are starting to stir so I’ll sign off until I can write again tonight. Until then, pray for us.

Meet You Day

If you’re at all familiar with adoption stories, you’ve heard of “Gotcha Day.” Many families mark the day the parents brought their adopted child home and continue to celebrate it every year. In some cases like ours, the “Gotcha Day” comes after a visiting trip so the parents add the “Meet You Day” to their list of celebrations. For us, that day was today, October 6.

 

I started off the morning with my Daily Bible reading. I like to use the Bible set up in chronological order with 365 daily readings. For today, the reading was from—get this—Ezra 7-8. Today…of all days… When I got to the part in Ezra 8:21-23 where Ezra says, “I proclaim a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask Him for a safe journey for us and our children,” I was floored. I’m trying not to read too much in this passage about Ezra, the great teacher, leading the Jews out of Babylon…but come on. Brothers and sisters, can I get a witness?

 

A driver from our hotel and a social worker rode with us to the orphanage. If you haven’t had a chance to ride in a car on the streets of Kinshasa during rush hour, you should really look into it. It will make you pray like a saint and poop in your pants like a toddler. There’s lots of honking and careless pedestrians and driving on the sidewalk and many, many near misses. (Last night, we also saw a robot traffic light.) Our soundtrack for today’s adventure was tape mix with five or six Michael Jackson songs played on a loop. Seeing that it’s an hour-long ride, we got to hear the profoundly relevant lyric, “it don’t matter if you’re black or white” several times.

 

As soon as we got to the orphanage, I started scanning the yard for Ezra. I didn’t see him but I saw several adorable kiddos, younger than our fellow. We were shown into an office for a chat with the director. We stepped outside for a few minutes and when we returned to the office, he was there. I recognized him immediately. I scooped him up and held him in my lap. He snuggled in like it was something he does every day. He smiled and let me kiss his cheek. I had brought a teddy bear and a toy car, so I got those out of my bag to play with him while the adults around us chatted. Because I’m good at sharing, I let Brent take a turn holding him, too. He responded to both of us with warmth and affection. When it was time to leave, we buckled him in between us in the back seat and he fell asleep in about fifteen minutes. As he rested his head on Brent’s arm, I stared at him like I used to do with my other babies while they slept. In just the same way, I was amazed by his existence and my good fortune.

 

When we got to the hotel, reality set in for our little buddy. I was looking at a book with him when I suddenly saw a giant tear tumbling down his cheek. He started to whimper a bit and then, a few minutes later, he began to come undone. He struggled to be free from my arms. He cried “Mama!” and stamped his feet. His wailing and my failed attempts at consoling went on for about an hour (or a month, I can’t be sure). Not wanting him to cry alone, I joined in. I wondered: What have we done? Who are we to turn his life upside-down? Eventually, Brent held him and Ezra allowed it. His crying stopped.

 

We spent the rest of the evening tiptoeing around him like we had a deer in our hotel room. No sudden movements. Everybody stay calm. We took him outside and he kicked the soccer ball like a pro. (Knox’s prayers are apparently getting through.) We played cars on the floor and watched Finding Nemo. He ate the rice and a little of the fried plantains I made for supper. We gave him a shower and slathered him up with the crème my friend Lavy told us to use. We put his jammies on him and brushed his teeth. Then, I held him again. This time, he didn’t fight me. He fell sleep in my arms while I rubbed his head.

 

As I type this, both of my roommates are asleep. I can hear them breathing the steady, even exhales of deep sleep. Tires are crunching the gravel in the parking lot outside our hotel room and the mini refrigerator is humming. I hear low voices speaking Lingala and French. This is a good moment, but like a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other, Ezra’s behavior has caused me to have doubts. I have gone back and forth about the prudence of this trip. It’s as if I’m plucking the petals from a daisy: He likes us. He likes us not… I don’t know what I’ll be thinking tomorrow morning or the next day. I’m pretty sure I know what I’ll be thinking Friday when we pull out and head home. What I can say is that this moment is magic. This child is loved. This prayer is answered. This moment is a gift.

Thank you, Lord. Amen.

Kinshasa!

After more than 24 hours since our departure flight from Nashville, we have arrived safely in Kinshasa. Flying internationally can be fraught with mishaps, and this trip marks the farthest either of us has ever traveled from home.

Our adventure began with the first of many “How Did We Get Here?” moments. Our good friend Mary dropped us off at the airport. When we went to weigh our luggage, three of the four suitcases were over the 50-pound weight limit, each by five or ten pounds a piece. This forced us to open our carefully packed suitcases, exposing all manner of undergarments, and re-evaluate the contents. We were able to move enough things around and only threw away a box of sidewalk chalk and a couple of cans of sunscreen and bug spray. (Don’t worry. We still have plenty.)

At some point in the second half of the trip, the exhausted, ridiculous part of my brain staged a coup to take over all operations form the reasonable part of my brain. Let me explain: Three songs started playing in rotation in my head—“All About that Bass,” the theme song from the Bill Cosby show “Picture Pages,” and “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” There’s no rhyme or reason why these songs wouldn’t leave me alone. I tried to listen to music and watch movies on the tiny screens mounted on the back of the headrests, but nothing worked. I also started thinking every fellow passenger was a celebrity. There was singer/actor Lenny Kravitz just across the aisle. And is that master magician David Copperfield sitting in front of him? Of course not. I was just experiencing airplane cabin fever.

It is now almost midnight on Monday in Kinshasa. In just a few hours, we’re supposed to meet our son at his orphanage. It feels like I’m getting ready for the most important blind date of my life. Will he like me? What will we talk about? What should I wear?

My greatest source of comfort, other than my belief in a God who created the Sahara desert and jet streams strong enough to hold up an Airbus while you fly over the Sahara desert, is the people who have chosen to walk this journey with us. When we started unpacking at the hotel tonight, Brent showed me a package Mary secretly gave him before taking us to the airport. It’s from the beloved girls from my Bible study group. Inside was the most beautiful leather journal with Africa embossed on the front. I started to read the many letters also included in the package, but I had to stop. I’ll ration them out along with the letters my friend Amy had our kids write to us and another bundle of letters from friends who came to Betsy and Robert’s house to pray for us last Saturday. What a great cloud of witnesses! My cup overflows.