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Most photographers I know have goals.

Either professional or personal, they have that ‘thing’ or certain experience they are dying to shoot. A cover for a certain magazine. That A-list celebrity. An award-worthy image capturing a historic event or obscure landscape. Maybe even just getting the perfect image of the pinnacle moment at an emotional wedding. Whether big or small, feasible or impractical, many of us photographers have those certain ‘bucket list’ shots and experiences we hope to photograph someday.

I’ll admit, until relatively recently I hadn’t really thought much about my list. However, I know the magazine cover, celebrity, and view from the top of Everest are not on it. I don’t expect or strive to win a Pulitzer Prize for photography or be featured in National Geographic. Some of my items, such as an abandoned amusement park and a stretch of old Route 66, are completely random and trivial. Others, such as a military homecoming and birth of a baby are more meaningful and aligned to my love for documentary family photography.

A little over a week ago I was blessed with an opportunity to check off one of the more meaningful experiences on my list: photographing a family meeting their new adopted child for the first time.

I had first ‘met’ Karen a couple of years ago on an internet message board I used to frequent. I remember thinking that her young daughter, Kate, was one of the cutest babies I’d ever seen, and it was clear that Karen was a wonderful and completely smitten mother. ๐Ÿ™‚ I started following her blog and we became Facebook friends. Even without ever meeting her in person, I learned many things about her from reading her status updates and blog. She has such a fun, warm, and inviting personality and is very transparent about her loves and passions in life.ย  These loves include: her faith in Jesus, her husband, daughter and family, Chick-Fil-A, Operation Christmas Child, Ferris Bueller,ย  Zoo Atlanta, and Les Miserables. (obviously the first two are ranked higher than the rest, with perhaps Chick-Fil-A coming in at a close third. ). ๐Ÿ™‚

If you’d been reading Karen’s blog since March, you would have read about a new love in her life: their soon to be adopted son Isaac. After two miscarriages, Karen and her husband Tanna began the long process of adopting a child. Tanna is Korean, so they decided to go through Bethany Christian Services to adopt a child from South Korea. From the little information I know about adoption (and what I do know is mainly from reading Karen’s detailed blog–she’s one of the most consistent bloggers I know) it can be a very long process with lots of paperwork, visits and inspections from social workers, and most of all, waiting. However, Karen and Tanna have been blessed with a rather quick process. They submitted their formal application for adoption just last June, were matched with Isaac in March, and received the call with his travel plans just over two weeks ago. Clearly God wanted Isaac to come home to his family as soon as possible. ๐Ÿ™‚

Once I read Karen’s announcement back in March that they had been matched with Isaac, I knew I wanted to approach her with the idea of me photographing his arrival. Part of the reason was I had no idea if I’d ever have access to another similar opportunity, but more so I wanted to share and celebrate with this sweet family I feel I’d gotten to know, even though I’d never actually met them. However, I didn’t contact her as his travel date was so up in the air; she was anticipating September, and I knew there was a big possibility we might be out of town during that time. I didn’t want to approach her with the idea until I knew I could make it. Therefore, when I read her update about receiving Isaac’s travel call, and that he was arriving in less than a week, I immediately emailed her. Luckily she was more than willing to allow me to come and tag along, but warned me that I should know his flight arrival time before I said yes. Isaac’s flight from Chicago (the end of a 20 hour journey with an escort from South Korea) was scheduled to arrive in Atlanta at 11:56pm on Wednesday, essentially midnight, and that was if there were no delays. I emailed back to Karen, that since I had no children and am a complete night owl (plus how badly I wanted to shoot it), the time didn’t phase me at all. ๐Ÿ™‚

Therefore, a few days later, armed with my camera, I found myselfย  standing on the porch of a near-stranger’s house in the intense Atlanta humidity at 10:30 at night, knocking timidly on their door. Not how I typically start my photography sessions. ๐Ÿ™‚ Tanna’s mother answered the door and I was quickly greeted by Karen, who was even more warm and friendly than I expected her to be. I was then introduced to cuter-in-person Kate, Tanna, Karen’s sweet nieces Rebekah and Riley, and Karen’s brother Johnny.

There was an intense, happy, and anxious atmosphere in the house, and anyone could sense the anticipation and excitement for what was happening that night. Rebekah, Riley and Kate had spent some time earlier that day making welcome posters and signs for Isaac, and did a wonderful job incorporating the few pictures Karen and Tanna had of Isaac from the adoption agency. Once I arrived there were a few moments blowing up a couple of balloons and gathering items to take to the airport.

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Kate was wearing a very appropriate shirt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncle Johnny helps Kate with her shoes and then family says a quick prayer before leaving for the airport.

 

 

 

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Arriving at Hartsfield-Jackson.



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Karen and Tanna’s friends, Amy and Sam who are also in the process of adopting a child from Korea, were already waiting at the airport when we arrived.

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Karen’s friend was also there to film Isaac’s arrival.


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Once we were settled in at the arrival gate, there was nothing to do but wait until Isaac’s plane landed.

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To help pass the time, Karen read a special book they had bought for Kate a couple months ago called “Ten Days and Nine Nights” about a family who adopts a little girl from Korea and is told from the perspective of the new big sister. Karen recently did a blog post about this book and how much Kate loves it.






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After the story, more waiting…




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Since it was nearly midnight, and since Isaac was not arriving through the main (and typically more crowded) arrival gate at Hartsfield, we pretty much had this area of the airport to ourselves. I love this image because it shows the contrast between who was there: the late-shift construction workers just doing another routine night on the job, and a small family who is waiting for a moment which will change their lives forever.

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Checking the status of Isaac’s flight.

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More waiting….with suckers and a little Veggie Tales to help pass the time.


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One of the first passengers who was on the same flight as Isaac and his escort passes by and everyone begins to get ready.

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Very excited and VERY ready to meet Isaac.

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Once we knew that Isaac’s flight had landed and that passengers from that flight were exiting, the waiting started again, but more anxiously. Everyone knew that at any moment, Isaac and his escort would appear at the end of the hall.




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At last, a Korean woman carrying a baby boy appeared at the end of the hall. I love Karen’s expression at this moment and how Johnny looks over to watch his sister lay eyes on her son for the first time in person.



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At last! And Isaac’s escort is all smiles. ๐Ÿ™‚

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As anxious and excited as they were, Karen and Tanna greet Issac and his escort with a bow, showing courtesy and respect.

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These next few moments were so precious and I was having a slightly difficult time shooting while blinking back tears watching Isaac’s family meet him for the first time.





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This image is my favorite, and gets to me every time. The joy and emotion on Karen’s face, and a life changing moment for little Isaac as his mother reaches to hold him for the first time. Pure love.



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Complete family, at last. ๐Ÿ™‚

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Kate greets her little brother with a kiss.






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Tanna, or Ah-Pah (Korean for ‘Dad’) holds Isaac for the first time.




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Isaac did amazingly well, especially after traveling for over 20 hours. He was immediately pretty smitten with a green balloon. ๐Ÿ™‚

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After the initial greeting, Karen, Tanna and Tanna’s mother have a conversation with Isaac’s escort.

 

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Tanna’s mother helped translate Karen’s questions to the escort, who answered back to Karen in english. From the little I heard of the conversation, this woman is a pastor in Korea and volunteers as an adoption escort. Isaac was the sixth child she’s escorted to their adoptive families.

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My favorite part was when she told Karen in broken english that she thought Karen was very beautiful and that she had been praying for their family as she traveled with Isaac.

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She requested a picture of the new family.

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After holding Isaac, whom she brought halfway across the world on a 20 hour journey, one last time, she departs.


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New big sister, or Nuna as Isaac will call her.

 


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After a few minutes longer, it was time to head home.

I honestly can’t even begin to describe how incredible it was to be present and photograph this wonderful moment in this family’s life. I was honored and humbled to be allowed to be apart of it. It was such a unique experience to walk into the airport with a family of three, and depart not even two hours later with a family of four. To witness a family dynamically change in an instant, and see all the love and joy this family and their friends have for this precious little boy.

From reading Karen’s blog for the past couple years I known they’ve gone through some tough times with multiple miscarriages and family illnesses, as well as the long adoption process. To see the end result of that process and how God laid all the plans for this moment to come together was and is simply amazing. One of my absolute favorite parts of this story is why Isaac was selected to be placed with Karen and Tanna. Karen shared on her blog that due to Tanna’s Korean heritage, she thought and hoped they might receive a referral slightly sooner than the average couple waiting to adopt. However, Isaac’s birth mother is Korean and his birth father is Caucasian and from Europe, and she specifically requested that he be placed in a similar blended family. Therefore it was equal parts Tanna and Karen’s heritage that lead them to become Isaac’s parents. It just goes to show, you never know what God will use to make His plans come together.

This is the verse that Karen shared on her blog the night they brought Isaac home:

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. –Psalm 126:3

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Welcome home Isaac! Thanks for allowing me to check something off my list. ๐Ÿ™‚

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