The First Hours: Judah Comes Home

It’s 11:13pm on Saturday night as I begin writing.  Cindi has been asleep in our bed since 8:30pm, hopefully resting and recuperating from jet lag, physical sickness, and a week of emotional and circumstantial intensity on another continent with the most precious thing in a mother’s world at stake.  Judah has been asleep in his crib since 8:00pm.  I just walked quietly into the baby room to look at him sleeping.  I’m sure that most parents do this often.  And that fact makes it no less special, for them or for me.

He’s sleeping on his knees, with his little arms curled up beneath his chest.  I had to pull his fuzzy homemade blanket up to his shoulders so he doesn’t get cold tonight.  It’s humid in Uganda, and they don’t have air conditioners.  He’s used to warm nights, and we’re trying to reproduce all the little environmental elements that we can for these first few days.  It’s nice that we don’t have central air — we just leave his air conditioner off.  Friday night he slept from 8:00pm ’til 6:30am (1.5 hours less than his average night at the orphanage, but still a good night’s sleep).  Hopefully tonight will be similar.

British Airways flight #0283 landed at LAX at 3:23pm on Friday afternoon.  My brother Mike and I watched the plane fly low over Sepulveda as we approached LAX.  Grandma Pack (Judah’s great-grandma on Cindi’s mom’s side) and her long-time friend Anita already had plans near the airport, so they were at the Bradley Terminal when we arrived.  Together the four of us waited eagerly as Cindi made her way off the plane and through customs.  She made it fairly quickly through the Residents’ line, but was told by the officer that she needed the New Immigrants’ station.  It wasn’t visible from where she had entered the area, so he pointed her to it.  She made her way over to the long, barely-moving line, and was relieved when one of the officials spotted her with Judah and called her up to the front.  She turned in the sealed packet that she was given in Uganda and was quickly allowed through.

Meanwhile, our foursome watched as international travelers from all over the world walked into the crowded reception area.  We began to calculate how long various groups were able to get through customs based on the big electronic list of recently-arrived flights combined with the ethnicity of those arriving.  We could tell when the Korean Air travelers had made it through customs.  As we started seeing Heathrow tags and flight crew members, Mike and Anita got their cameras ready.

We saw Cindi turn left and come around the crowded corner thirty feet away.  She was pushing a luggage cart with her right hand and a stroller with her left.  As they approached, Judah was sitting calmly in the small umbrella stroller, with a light blue t-shirt, khaki shorts, and sandals.  Cindi had changed him into his “California outfit” shortly before the plane landed.  The stacked luggage dwarfed his little stroller.  He was very sedate and calm, looking a bit numbed by the new people and bustling environment, though not fearful.  I bent down and said, “Hey, buddy!”  He looked at me, and looked around.  Cindi said he might let me pick him up, so I did.  He looked around for a bit, then reached for Cindi like he often does.  After everyone hugged and took pictures, we made our way out of the terminal and back to our PathFinder where we put Judah into his carseat for the first time (they don’t do carseats in Uganda).  He sat quietly for the first twenty minutes and then fell asleep for the rest of the long rush-hour drive up the 405 North to Santa Clarita.

On Wednesday night before leaving Uganda, six women and six children spent the night in a single hotel room at Entebbe near the airport.  There were six beds, so every adult slept with a baby or toddler beside her.  Some of the orphanage directors had wanted to see the families off, so they had graciously made the 3-hour drive and packed into the hotel room along with three adopting mothers.

Cindi said that Judah was happy and content on both flights.  Apparently he laughed and played with her on the 8-hour flight on Thursday from Entebbe to London.  He had his own seat, but he always wanted her to hold him.  Although they sat in bulkhead and were near the front of the plane, Cindi waited for everyone else to de-plane before getting off herself at Heathrow.  Judah took advantage of the line of exiting passengers and said “bye-bye” to every single one of them.  He then fell asleep within 30 seconds at their hotel in London where they spent the night.  He was equally happy on the Friday flight from London to Los Angeles.  The only two times he cried on either flight were when he hit his head on the armrest because he was head-banging (one of his favorite pasttimes when he’s being goofy) and when his ears were de-pressurizing for a few moments.  His contentment made the flights much more enjoyable and relaxing for Cindi, an undeserved answer to a long-standing prayer.

When we pulled into our parking spot at Oak Manor (the TMC-owned apartment complex / dormitory where we live and minister), there were eight big block letters on our garage spelling “GOT JUDAH” along with a big blue bow pinned to the large tree outside our bedroom window.  Co-workers and fellow church members Lisa LaGeorge and Rachel Smith had put these decorations up.  The block letters belonged to Lisa.  Various people would play with the blocks and rearrange them to spell different things.  One day Cindi left the blocks reading “GET JUDAH.”  From that time on (a number of months ago), no one would change the letters — until Friday when the “E” was changed to an “O” and they were transported to our garage door.

Friday evening Judah ate some chicken and corn tortillas provided by Lisa.  He remained pretty sedate overall, but livened up a bit as the evening went on (especially with Cindi).  He enjoyed meeting the turtles (see video below), and we sat and played with him until he went to bed around 8:00pm.  We went to bed a short time later, pausing for a very tired but very genuine few minutes of prayer as we thanked the Lord for His wonderful works on our behalf.

Judah woke up at 6:30 this morning, so I went in and got him out of his crib.  We gave him something to drink and then took him outside to see my good friend Siona Savini who was walking around in the courtyard getting ready for some work responsibilities.  Throughout the day we played, ate, walked, napped, and met other new friends like the Tatlocks, Jackie Knapp, Brian & Monica Gee, and Sarah DeWolfe.  He walked around in Jackie’s and Sarah’s sandals, threw wiffle balls back and forth with Sarah, and was entertained by the Tatlock kids.  He took a 4.5-hour jet-lag-induced nap and only sat up when we bribed him with a juice bottle.  He was very happy and playful today, even reaching ham status a few times.  Now he’s getting some well-deserved rest in the crib that we bought for him a year ago.

It feels very normal for Judah to be here.  We aren’t in any sort of parental shock, though we’re certainly enjoying every moment.  Perhaps the longer you anticipate something, the more real it becomes to you as you wait.  Of course, we were consistently kept from banking on it becoming reality, but this little guy was constantly in our minds and imaginations and, for the past two months, in our memories.  It doesn’t feel strange to have him here, though it does feel somewhat surreal.  Cindi said that it feels normal but temporary — like he’s not going to stay.  But we don’t care much about our feelings right now.  As we all know, those come and go in every circumstance of every day.  We will choose to enjoy God’s blessing and will strive to draw closer to His heart as the days and weeks and months go by.

As I walked around outside holding Judah this afternoon, I thought of how fast these young years will pass and how much I want to treasure every moment with him.  I also thought about how you almost never hear of how some famous Christian hero was a wonderful father.  Fatherhood just isn’t talked about a lot.  This silence is not necessarily because these great men of the faith were poor fathers, but because Christian history smiles most kindly on extreme giftedness, intellectual accomplishments, notable circumstances, and storybook sacrifices.  I will not argue with history or depreciate the saints whose lives have been rightfully recorded on its pages.  But I will say that as Judah clung to me and put his head on my chest this afternoon, I simply wanted to be a good and godly dad.  May our Father teach me how.

Judah Meets the Turtles
Friday July 13, 2007

(I find that often when I blog, I don’t really have time to journal.  I have to choose one or the other.  I never blog just like I journal, because I think that’s weird and because it can tend to emphasize introspection instead of encouragement and exhortation.  But I still sometimes write these entries in a way that will record details that I personally want to have written on my memory and close to my heart.  Forgive me if some posts seem overly-detailed.  I don’t mind if that’s your impression, but at least you can know why I include the bits and pieces.  I’m trying to do double-duty — sharing publicly about life and the work of God while also recording things that I personally want to remember.)


12 thoughts on “The First Hours: Judah Comes Home

  1. Connie: Thanks for your continued interest. Obviously playing with Judah has taken priority over blogging about him. I’m planning on posting in a bit, though. This first week has been exciting, but not exhausting. It’s been a blast. I’ll explain.

  2. Ah, pardon me, I know that you’re now a very busy DAD, but we (your readers and friends) are beginning to feel a bit neglected and long for a much needed “Judah fix/update/report”. :-)

    Seriously, I KNOW how exciting and exhausting these first days/weeks can be! Just want you to know that we continue to pray for you and look forward to hearing how God is working in your family!

  3. He’s home!!!!!

    Oh how I praise our Heavenly Father! Thank you so much for this sweet post, Gunnner. It was such a blessing to read. I, for one, appreciate the little details that you give as it helps me feel more a part of Judah’s story.

    I can’t wait to meet him n a little over two weeks! I have to admit, I was trying NOT to be jealous of Jackie & Siona because they saw him already.

  4. Ramona said it well – the details are wonderful, and food for our souls – details I have prayed to hear for some time now – details that have been greatly anticipated. “GOT JUDAH!” Oh yeah, this is good – HE is good and always gives more than deserved. I’m praising God with you and look forward to learning more of what the Lord will do in your 3 sweet hearts…

  5. Thank you for your powerful reminder of the Lord’s great faithfulness, Gunner. It has been so encouraging to hear your perspective in the process, and to hear about what the Lord is doing with the Gundersen 3. I will be honest, one of the reasons that I’m most bummed about not being back at the college in the fall is to watch your son grow up. What an amazing gift from the Lord! I pray that you never take any part of this story for granted, and that you continually find yourself awestruck at the perfection in the way that the Lord brought Judah home.

  6. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! Praise the LORD! I”m so excited for you guys and I love the double duty detail!!!!
    And, the turtle video…can’t get enough. Judah is going to have a greta life being yours & Cindi’s son!

  7. Love the details, Gunner! For those of us who have been praying for you, this is food for our souls. Thanks so very much for the delightful update.

    Blessings
    Ramona

  8. Hey guys. Congratulations! I’m soooooooo happy for you guys! i have been praying and the Lord is so good! im so glad that he has blessed you guys with Judah. I will continue to pray. YAY!

  9. Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! I am jumping for joy now that I have read Judah is home! That made me teary reading about his first day or so at home and how special it is for a parent to do all those little things like check in on them when they are sleeping, introduce them to new things like turtles, take them for walks, etc. I am sooooo thrilled for you guys and so happy that you get to enjoy him and enjoy being parents!

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