Archives for June 2014

Sorry!

So you might have heard that our Miles Fundraiser is finished!! Thank you to everyone who helped.  I was planning on revealing our son’s new name today, but it’s been crazy.  We left after breakfast for the orphanage and just got back to the apartment around 7 o clock.  The kids just now went to sleep at 9 and I am too tired to type a coherent thought so… really sorry!  I am sure everyone’s disappointed, I know I am.  But there is just no way I can put my thoughts together tonight.  Tomorrow!  I promise!

 

So… You Want to Adopt?

Since we have been in Eastern Europe I have had lots of people confiding to me about their desire to adopt one day.  Old friends I thought I’d never hear from, completely strange people, acquaintances, close friends whose thoughts I’ve known for a while have started up the conversation again.

What really struck me is one person in particular who felt that we had something in common because she and her husband had discussed adoption previously.  Not to sound dismissive, but I think this dear woman has something in common with far more people than she knows!

I have heard the statistic several times, about one third of Americans think about or consider adoption at some point in their lives.  That is a whole lot of people!  Yet, only 1-2% of those actually go on to successfully adopt.  The reality is, if you have thought about adopting, chances are… you’re not going to.  If that is discouraging to you, keep reading; I promise it gets better.

But I do think it’s important for us to all to come to terms with this reality.  Why do so few families end up adopting if it is so widely discussed and considered?  There are potentially multiple correct answers to this, but I think it generally comes down to two factors:

  1. Adoption is hard.
  2. Most people don’t really want to adopt.

The first one is pretty self-explanatory, the process is long and arduous, sometimes expensive, and there are multiple levels you must be approved on in order to continue.  The second factor is desire.  There are plenty of people who talk, discuss and consider adoption who don’t really want to adopt, per se.  I think there are also a lot of people who honestly believe that they want to adopt, but what they really want is some other (equally good and worthy) end, and adoption happens to be one avenue with which they can accomplish that end.

I don’t want to insult or minimize the gift that these families are to children in need.  God uses many of our desires and dreams for good and honorable works, sometimes that we never even realize.  There is no shame in adopting because you want to grow your family or adopting because you wanted to help a relative going through a difficult time or adopting because you saw a sweet little girl on a photo list and just knew she was yours or adopting because you have a heart for a certain special need and would love a child like that in your family to love.

Those are all perfectly acceptable and laudable reasons to adopt in their own right!  But if I may be so bold, desiring to adopt for these reasons, is not exactly what I’m talking about when I use the phrase “I want to adopt”.  What does it mean to want to adopt, to have adoption as the desire of your heart?  For me it means just that.  Wanting nothing more and nothing less than to bring a child into your home and family who has none.  No caveats, no exterior reasons, no specific requirements… just the plain desire to turn an orphan into a beloved son or daughter.

If this doesn’t describe you, don’t sweat it!  I am sure that there are plenty of lovely, God-fearing people who don’t just have the burning desire to adopt for no other reason than they really, really want to.  And that’s ok.  Really.  On the other hand, it is a good and godly desire to have, and there is no harm in praying for our Lord to instill such a thing in you, for adoption is very much the heart of God.  After all, it’s only because He adopted us into His family that we can be a part of His Kingdom all!

On the other hand, if this is you, if you truly do want to adopt… how do you get there?  Where do you start and when?  This will look different for every person and family, but I caution you on waiting.  Waiting for the “right time” to adopt is very often what prevents us from ever taking that leap of faith in the first place.  When is there ever a right time to put your life totally on hold?  When is there ever a right time to let chaos in to your perfectly molded and carefully crafted home?  When is there ever a right time to spend oodles and oodles of extra money?  For most of us, there’s never a really good time to do any of that!

I think the mistake many people make is to push the desire for adoption off to the side until a better time.  Don’t do that!  If you truly, truly want to adopt – start now.  I don’t mean hand over $5000 to a social worker near you and attempt to fit all your square pegs in circle holes right this second.  But do start.  Start preparing yourself emotionally and becoming informed.  Below I’ve listed a few ways that you can “start the process” right now, so that when God does open those doors for you, you will be aware of them and ready to walk on through!

1. Pray for your adoptive children.  This may seem a little strange at first.  You don’t even know what the future will bring or if your children even exist yet… pray for them?  And it’s true, I’ll admit it was hard for me to do this with no information at all, and I really wish I had done it more often!  But there have been many times over the last ten years I have just been overwhelmed with the urge to pray for my unknown little ones.

Now that we know who our children are, I am so glad for those times I did pray.  Praying for your child will keep your heart soft to God’s calling and it is one practical gift you can give your child before even meeting them.  And don’t think that your adoption is too far off to begin praying!  God put the desire to adopt in my heart when I was fifteen years old, that very month, halfway across the world, Hope’s birth mother was newly pregnant with her.  It’s never too early to start praying.

2. Don’t put adoption in a box.  I have heard so many adoptive parents talk about the “boxes” they used to put adoption in, or what they thought their adoptions would look like, until their plans were totally shattered or veered “off course” to something they never would have expected or sought out initially.

I’ve had other people who hope to adopt claim they can’t adopt right now because it’s too expensive, or they don’t own their own house, or they have young children, etc.  (All things that apply to our family by the way!)  And yet… here we are.  There are so many, many kinds of adoption!  Free adoption, domestic, international, special needs, healthy, foster care, etc… you just never know to what or to who God might call you.  Keep an open mind!  Do your research on all the options for adopting and know that you will be much more likely to adopt if you are open to whichever doors God opens along the way.

3. Figure out what you qualify for.  The next thing I would counsel any hopeful adoptive parent to do is to (after researching the kinds of adoptions) look to see what kind of adoption you qualify for.  If you don’t qualify for a specific type of adoption, why not?  Will you qualify in the future?  Keep those things in mind.  If there is a process you qualify for, talk to social workers, agency representatives, organizations, etc. and figure out what your next step would be.  Even if you can’t take that next step right now, at least you know what direction to go in!  And you can start praying for things to change to make it possible.  If you can take that step?  Go for it.  God is opening a door.

4. Learn from other adoptive parents.  Reaching out to those who are farther down the path than you is a goldmine of wisdom and information.  Most adoptive parents are super busy but still so willing to help those desiring to walk the same path.  We are stronger together and you will be stronger gleaning experiences from other adoptive families.  You will be more prepared for what you are facing and it will make taking that leap of faith So. Much. Easier. when the time comes.

A book I highly recommend is Adopted for Life, written by an adoptive father. Adoptive Families is a great resource for short stories and wisdom about different types of adoption.  And don’t forget the blogosphere!  There are plenty of wonderful blogs written by adoptive mamas.  Here are a few of my favorites in no particular order…

The Blessing of Verity
No Greater Joy Mom
One Thing I Know For Sure
Building the Blocks
Boss Your Heart

5. Start saving… yesterday.  Man I had so much spending money in high school!  I never really spent it though, I was always “saving” it for something.  When I got to college it all quickly got eaten up, but I always had this feeling that I should be saving for something important… I just didn’t know what.

Oh if I could go back in time and tell my fifteen year old self how expensive her adoptions would be!!  I would have set aside a special bank account and spent the next ten years putting money into it!  Wouldn’t that have been lovely?  Yes… it would have.  We did save for a few years before starting the process, but I could have done so much more if I had started as soon as I realized the desire I had to adopt.  Just start now. :)  You will be glad you did.

6. Look for your child.  I don’t know how people will feel about this suggestion, and perhaps it’s not for everyone… but photo lists are a blessing.  They put a real face to the orphan crisis.  They make you realize, this isn’t about statistics… it’s about real children in real need of real help.

I gushed over cute pictures, lamented over difficult pictures, prayed over many and for a few… hoped that God might make them mine.  (Those few I refer to as my heart babies).  Yes it was emotionally draining and I could have done less of it.  There are times I stepped away because I couldn’t handle it while taking care of my young family.

But eventually those lists did help to guide us to our children.  We considered blind referrals and were totally open to that, but if you do have a child out there somewhere… don’t you want to start looking?  You never know who might be trying to find your child a family.  And even if you never find your children this way, it keeps your heart soft to the need.  There are domestic photolists and international photolists.  Look at both!

7. Allow God to use this time for His purposes.  The time waiting to start our adoption process was sometimes excruciating.  Waiting is hard.  Knowing your children are probably alone, hurt, hungry or cold without you is impossibly difficult.  Going through that time it was so hard to see the silver lining in the years without these children who I longed to love.  But looking back, God used that time to do so much good.

Because I couldn’t adopt yet, I spent most of my extra time fundraising, advocating and walking alongside orphans and their adoptive families.  I made great friends, priceless connections, and more importantly, I helped other children find their homes.  God allowed me to be his tool in raising thousands and thousands of dollars for dozens of orphans and families.  He gave me the great honor to share the orphan crisis and the beauty of adoption with so many people.

A Hug for MamaIf I had been blessed to adopt right away I may never have had the time or the inclination to do such extensive work on behalf of these other little ones in need.  But now I have friends and a support network that will be invaluable.  And I have the knowledge of these children and their plight.  I know enough to pray, especially for my heart babies who still haven’t made it home.  And I also have some wisdom to share with others on how they can help.  God’s timing might be hard, but it is perfect.  Believe and trust that He knows what He is doing, and look for ways to bless others while you and your little ones wait for that day you can be together forever.

Opening Doors

IMG_0941Our sweet Hope is so giggly.  The nanny handed her to me today and as soon as she laid eyes on me she squealed in the excited, happy way she does.  I don’t know if she’s ever been that glad to see me so soon!  She is such a joy to be around, and she laughs and smiles more readily than any other child I know.  Other than feeding her, we spend most of our visit just listening to her laugh, and watching her as she smiles her way around the world.  She loves sensations and life and color and people.  What beautiful God-given joy this child radiates.

And yet the time came, as it always does, to take her back to her laying room for another day of nothingness and waiting and longing.  Typically it hasn’t bothered me so much; this life of nothingness is what she is accustomed to, so she will be alright for a couple more weeks of it, right?  But today as I watched her, everything in me just wanted to bring her with us, to a place she belongs, where she can enjoy life every moment instead of just an hour here and there.  And when we got to her room I very much wanted to run the other way.

There are two nannies I know dote on her and take special care of her.  But this was a new nanny today; I always hate giving her back to the nannies who seem indifferent.  Since it wasn’t a “favorite” nanny, I had to hand her back instead of being allowed to put her in her crib.  The door was strangely closed; it’s usually always open.  I handed her back and said my good byes, eliciting a small little glimmer before the nanny turned around.

As I walked away I realized why the door was closed; crying and screaming were coming from one of the tiny babies in her laying room.  My heart broke.  It broke for Hope because I know how much children’s crying upsets her and causes her anxiety.  It broke for the baby because he was obviously in need of something, and the nanny knew that, but instead of comforting or helping him she just closed the door and waited for it to stop.  It broke because I knew there was nothing I could do to take that child or any of the other children in that room out.

Right now that door opens for only one of these children… and that’s our Hope.  She is the only one with a family visiting her, rescuing her, showing her the world behind that cursed door.  I cannot wait to open the rest of the world to her.  And when I think on all these things I am so grateful, because it’s easy to sit here and type the unfolding story of a little girl learning to enjoy life for the first time, but getting here was so much more grievous, complicated and difficult.

I wrote a little in my Q&A Post about how God opened the doors for us to adopt these children, and how His hand was evident every step of the way.  God opened one door after the other, perfectly timed, so that we could be here right now.  I will talk about one particular door that was opened for us to start this process. Hope’s adoption was much more uncertain for much longer, but there will be plenty of time to tell all those stories eventually.

The one in particular I wanted to share, because I was asked (and have been asked this question many times) if our congregation is supportive of what we are doing.  Are they supportive of adoption in general?  Are they supportive of their pastor taking 6 weeks off to go to Eastern Europe?  I have had other pastor’s wives contact me, who are interested in adoption, asking how we managed this, especially since Jake is a first year pastor and just getting to know his people.  All I can say is… God opened the doors.

Whenever I think about our congregation I am so thankful and humbled by the treasure that they are to our family.  I must take a moment to brag on them because without them we wouldn’t be here, and I simply could not think of a better church family to come home to after two long and trying months of travelling overseas for this adoption.  Let me tell you a bit of the story.

Throughout my years of advocacy work I watched many families get burned by unsupportive congregations, not pastor’s families, but just godly, church-going people who desired nothing more than to show Christ’s love to the least of these, to be His hands and feet through adoption.  In some cases churches would not welcome their newly adopted children, or would marginalize them because of their special needs.  Some families would go to their churches for help during their adoptions, a logical place right?  When you are doing the Lord’s work it is His Church who is called to come alongside you!

The typical answer?  “If we help with your adoption then all the members in our congregation will want help with their adoptions.”  People were denied on this and other shallow grounds repeatedly and consistently… If we help you, we’ll have to help other people too.  Even just asking for a space to use for a rummage sale over the weekend, many people were turned away!  How tragic and difficult, that God’s own people do not realize what it is we are here to do.

And so you can imagine my uncertainty as our time at seminary was coming to a close and Jake was preparing to take a call to serve as the pastor of a church.  We had already seen Juri’s picture and had been praying over it, Jake had been given the dream that was a huge confirmation we should move forward but… would it even be possible?  I told a few of my adoption friends about our hopes, but they seemed hesitant to be optimistic knowing our situation and the difficulty with congregations that others had experienced.

As we received our call and began preparing to move I began praying more specifically, “God you know how much I would love to adopt this boy, but if this is Your Will You need to make it happen.  You need to prepare the congregation’s hearts somehow for the idea of international adoption, because for most it’s not even on the radar.  And if they are ready for something like this You have to make it come up somehow in the topic of conversation, because it’s not something we can push on them.”

I felt confident that these things were what we would need in order to move forward.  All the advice was to wait at least a year or two before doing anything so drastic.  (Except for one sweet, adoptive mom and Lutheran pastor’s wife who said “Just wait and see what happens.”  And whose very encouraging story gave me hope that it could even be done!)  I could not move into a church’s parsonage my husband’s first year of ministry and just start advocating for international special-needs adoption right off the bat.  I can have a very decisive personality, which isn’t always a good thing!  We couldn’t make the first move.  We would have to wait.

Fast forward a few weeks and we were moving in to our new home.  Several people from our congregation came to help out.  As we were standing on the front porch of our new home, my mother-in-law and I were introducing ourselves to a lady, who happens to now be a dear friend.  She was pointing out to us their son, saying offhand “He was adopted from Ukraine.”  My mom and I were both surprised (she didn’t know about Juri yet, but she did know of my passion for adoption) and she replied “Well, you two will have a lot to talk about!”  And walked away.

To alleviate the very confused look on my new friend’s face, I began to explain to her about the advocacy work we had done with Reece’s Rainbow and how many of the children I had loved from afar were from that country, etc.  We had a great conversation.  The next day was Sunday and we met two more families  from our congregation who had adopted (one from Guatemala and one domestically).  I talked with the other family more about their adoption, she had gone to the Reece’s Rainbow site and was gushing over how lovely all the children were.

And I just sat there.  Amazed, in wondrous awe of the work that God was doing.  He was opening a door.  A door that no one could have opened but Him.  He continued to work miracles and love into the hearts of our congregation who have been more supportive, loving, understanding and amazing then any Church family I have ever heard of.  What beautiful souls they are.  What a great and marvelous work God has done.  We are blessed beyond words and could not be more thankful.

What’s Next?

Thank you so much for everyone who prayed last night and yesterday for our approval!  Our SDA approval was signed and we will be having court for Hope on Tuesday or Wednesday!  Our ten day waiting period (before we can officially do anything paperwork-related) will end on a weekend and we’ll get to start paper chasing for her on July 14th.

I don’t know how possible it is, but I am still praying for a July 18th flight home!  If we fly any later we will need to pay for Stephen’s ticket because he’s turning two.  That’s an extra $700 we would really rather not spend.  Not stressing about it though!  If God wants to work it out that way that’s His business, because there isn’t anything I can do about it.  I’m just along for the ride and whatever happens happens.

We were planning on cancelling our visits to see Hope this weekend, at $50 per trip, we just weren’t going to be able to afford it with the delays and extra fees we’ve had so far.  But a lovely adopting family in the same city we’re at now (who we haven’t even met yet!) offered to help offset those costs for us!  So Jake did get to go visit our sweet girl today.  The kids and I stayed home since Evie was not feeling well and we didn’t want to take any chances.

So here is the tentative schedule from here on out…

  • Monday is a holiday, nothing happening.
  • Tuesday or Wednesday we will have court for Hope.
  • After court we will return to sweet boy’s city (Don’t you want to know his name!?)
  • On Thursday our 10 day wait for him is over and we get to start paper chasing!
  • My mom arrives that Friday.
  • We will be able to start paper chasing for Hope on Monday the 14th
  • Later that week we will go back to Kiev for medicals and Embassy paperwork.
  • Then fly home!!!

So much to do!! Buckle your seat belts folks… it’s going to be a crazy ride!

Giant Q&A Session

Ok!  So here is the huge, gigantic Q&A post.  I considered splitting it up into two but I didn’t want to make anyone wait to have their question answered, and I just started typing and got on a roll!  So feel free to scroll through and read only the questions that are interesting to you.  A lot of these are really great questions that should be their very own post, and my answers were attempting brevity so I might raise more questions than I answer!  If this happens pretty please comment or email me and let me know!  I would love to dedicate some blog posts to some of these, and I want to make sure I’m getting everyone’s questions answered when I do!  Enjoy!

What is the reason you decided to adopt?

I wrote about that more extensively here.  I have wanted to adopt since I was in high school; we have been talking about it since we were first married, and it’s always just been something on our radar that we hoped to do one day when God opened the doors.

How did you decide where to adopt from (country and organization)?

I have been advocating and fundraising for orphans and adopting families for years through Reece’s Rainbow.  Technically we are doing an independent adoption (per the laws of our country), so we don’t have an agency.  But Reece’s Rainbow is connected to a specific facilitation team in-country that takes care of everything on that end and helps us assemble our Dossier properly.  There are a few reasons we decided to go this route, but the main reason was familiarity.  We knew the organization and how the process worked through them so it was a logical way to go for us.

As far as country is concerned, we first ruled out places that we knew we didn’t qualify for. (There were quite a few actually) and then we began looking at photo lists for waiting children in countries we did qualify for.  God made it quite clear to us where our children would be.

Why go out of country or how did the location factor play in? Cost? Ease of adoption? Greater need?

We have always been open to both domestic and international adoption.  There are children everywhere who need loving families and country of birth is really a side note for us in the big picture.  If cost were a determining factor we absolutely would not have gone international!  Our adoption has cost well over 30k and we could have adopted from foster care for essentially nothing.

Again, it would have been much easier logistically for our family to adopt domestically.  There is no long travel time, no being away from home for months with our two little ones, no language barriers, etc.  The red tape for our country’s Dossier is one of the worst and most complicated.  Not to mention we are adopting from two different regions in our country which makes our adoption even more chaotic, hectic, difficult and expensive.  (Do we sound crazy yet?) :)

IMG_0017So why go out of country?  Is there a greater need?  That’s so hard to determine objectively.  America in comparison with the rest of the world, yes, has a much greater need just by sheer number of orphans and lack of resources in many places.  After seeing this news report a few years ago, my heart has always been with the children languishing in mental institutions overseas.  I am so grateful that God has given me the desire of my heart to rescue at least two precious children from that inevitable future.

On the other hand, the United States has thousands of children in foster care in desperate need of homes.  And although they are not consigned to the same fate as orphans who age out in poorer countries, most of them do live difficult and unimaginable lives and have little or no future unless a stable and loving family can be found for them.

I would love to add children to our family through foster care if God would bless us with that opportunity one day, but we also knew that for our family we probably had a small window in which we would be logistically able to adopt internationally, whereas we will very likely be in a position to adopt domestically for many, many more years.  We wanted to take the fleeting opportunity first and get our children from across the ocean home.

It consistently amazes us how, even though we were called to the most expensive and most complicated and difficult type of adoption (for our family), God has time and again opened the doors to make it happen.  If it were by our own strength we never would have made it this far.  It is so clear to us that God’s hand and leading is in all of this.

How did you choose Eastern Europe and special needs adoption? What is one piece of advice to someone considering the same?

I believe I answered the location question above, so I’ll address special needs specifically.  First, in the adoption world, special needs is a very broad term that can mean anything from severe health problems to a child over the age of three, or a part of a sibling group.  Would you believe that just being born a boy can get you put into this category?  A “special needs” adoption is usually described as the adoption of a hard-to-place child.

I have always known that this is the kind of adoption I would pursue.  I have never had an interest in being put on a waiting list for a healthy baby knowing that there are hundreds of other families who would be thrilled to take in that child.  How could I wait for months or years to be “matched” with a child, knowing that millions of orphans are not being matched with anyone because of one or more of those factors?  I wanted to adopt a child that was waiting for a family.

Now there are plenty of “healthy” children waiting for families, but more narrowly we decided to adopt children with disabilities.  I have worked with children and adults with special needs in college and I’ve had a heart for that type of advocacy ever since.  Once you spend a substantial amount of time around people with special needs you begin to realize how they are actually just really normal people who look or sound or think a bit different.  They also tend to be full of joy and spunk and never failed to brighten my day.  So that wasn’t a hard choice for me at all.  Jake and I both felt a tug toward children with Cerebral palsy, and we didn’t exactly plan it this way, but that is the diagnosis both of our kiddos have!

It’s always so fun to watch God work.  And that would be my only real advice for someone considering this kind of adoption.  Pray that God would work in your family and then sit back and watch the wonders unfold!  Well… that and possibly start saving for it like… yesterday. :)  International special needs adoption is hard and it’s not for the faint of heart, but it is also one of the most rewarding and beautiful experiences you will ever have.  Read about others’ experiences, learn as much as you can and talk with those who’ve been through it.  Being informed is your best bet!

How much of a background check is done as part of the process? With all the posts about Ukraine news, I was wondering how closely they monitor things like FB and if that was part of the process.

A home study background check is thorough.  We had to get background checks from six different states and fingerprinting done in our current state and a second background check/fingerprinting done for USCIS.  I don’t know that our social worker or anyone else checked our Facebook profiles, lol!  We are careful what we post online or share publicly because there is a tiny chance that the wrong person might see the wrong information and it would endanger our adoption.  There is only so much we are allowed to share.  But do they actively check those things?  No, I don’t think so.

When is the official arrival home?

We are hoping for before July 20th but we are being delayed with this second court date so I am not sure if that is going to be a realistic goal still or not.  After we fly to America we still will have a few days in the hospital before we officially can sleep in our own beds again.

What sorts of things are you going to do to help Juri and Janna acclimate to the US?

This is an interesting question, they both have had such small worlds their entire lives that everything will seem overwhelming and scary, even if they were just moving in with a family from Ukraine.  Could you imagine spending your entire childhood never leaving the grounds of your orphanage, doing the same exact routine day in and day out, never seeing beyond the thick walls that barricade your playground?  Leaving would certainly be exciting, but also terrifying.  We will be keeping their worlds very small to start out with, and we’ll increase the distance and time we go away from home gradually.

I think the most difficult part of crossing cultures, for Juri especially, will be the language barrier.  We have learned some Russian and are teaching him bits of English so we can at least communicate basic needs right away.  We are also hoping to find a translator when home so we can have more substantial conversations before his English vocabulary catches up.

Does the passport process not take as long in Ukraine as it does in the US?

No… actually I think it does.  I’m not 100% sure how they compare, but we will need to pay to expedite their passports so we aren’t stuck here for a few more months!  All families pay that extra fee.

What are some things that you would do differently if there is a next time around that you didn’t do this time?

I would pray more, and relax more, and let God handle it more.  I would stress about things less and give them into God’s hands, knowing He had it under control.  I would start learning Russian months earlier than we did and I would be cooking freezer meals every week, instead of just really super-fast right beforehand.  And I would pack much lighter!!

What date do you need to get your plane tickets, and how many miles are now needed to reach your goal?

We are praying to get our plane tickets before the 19th.  That’s Stephen’s birthday and if we don’t get out of here before then we’ll have to pay an extra $700 for his ticket!!  Right now we are only 523 miles away from our goal and being funded.  But that would be a huge setback, so please pray for us that we can get out before then!

During your 10 day wait for Juri, are you allowed to go visit Hope?

Yes!  We are here now :)

Is it common practice to sedate children for their visits?

The children in laying rooms, like where Hope is, are typically sedated on a daily basis.  It is more convenient for the staff that way and probably cheaper since they eat less food.  I have not heard of an orphanage specifically sedating a child for their visit, but they certainly don’t stop sedating them because of a visit.

How did you pack everything you needed?

Very tightly!  We actually packed a lot more than we really needed.  It’s amazing how much stuff you think you can’t live without until you are hauling it all over a foreign country for six weeks and decide you really could have lived without it!  We ended up bringing one backpack, one big suitcase, one little suitcase and three Trunkis for the kids (one Trunki always gets packed in the big suitcase.)

What’re the digs like?

Crazy!!  The outside of the building and the stairwells are always crumbling and scary.  This particular apartment’s stairwell smells like a sewer (and sort of looks like one) but it is the nicest apartment we’ve had so far!  The inside of the apartments are always decorated pretty interestingly, and they usually have neat lighting features or decorative flourishes to them.  But you also start noticing that the appliances and furniture is all really cheaply made.  The beds here are very hard compared to the ones in America.  On an interesting side note almost all of our sheets and pillowcases are strange shapes and sizes and most of them seem to be hand sewed!  If I’m being honest it drives me a little bonkers, but I suppose it’s good for my sanctification.

Does Juri know he’s yours now? That you are Mommy & Daddy & siblings?

Yes and no.  He knows the words “Mama” and “Papa” and brags to every Nanny he sees about it.  It is really quite sweet.  He doesn’t understand anything about custody or belonging to us and I don’t think he is processing what “go to live in America” means, although I know they’ve talked to him about it.  It’s so completely different and outside of his life so far I doubt he’s able to comprehend much of what’s going on, if at all.

Favorite thing to see outside of your kiddo?

The churches!  The churches here are absolutely gorgeous.  A part of me wishes I could live in Kiev just to visit the Cave Monastery every week.  I love that most ladies here wear head coverings, that people cross themselves upon entering and leaving a church.  And I love seeing people come to churches to pray randomly during the week days; it’s great!

Hardest part so far? Easiest?

The hardest part is the emotional roller coaster.  There are so many emotions all at once over so many days that I think my receptors are breaking, lol!  There are days that I hate leaving the kids in the orphanage and some days I feel so guilty because I am glad the visits are over.  I’m running on emotional empty and I know the most challenging part of our journey hasn’t even gotten here yet.  (If you have your notepads ready for prayer requests… ahem.)

Easiest?  Umm… is there an easy part?  Haha.  I’m sitting here trying to think of what has been easiest and I really don’t have a good answer for that.  It’s all been difficult in its own way.  The SDA appointments were a breeze for us, even though I was super nervous, and our first court was easy peasy too.  So those are two things that were actually a piece of cake that I stressed a ton over beforehand.

What was your most successful fundraiser? If you were fundraising all over again which fundraisers would you repeat and which ones weren’t very successful?

We did an Envelopes Fundraiser that was super successful.  I always enjoyed local fundraisers and including an advocacy portion for waiting kids (there are plenty of advocates who love to donate to get their kiddo some exposure!).  If I was fundraising all over again I would be much more organized and plan out all my fundraisers from the beginning.  It was kind of hodge podge and at times I was doing too many things at once and nothing at other times.  The last minute fundraisers are always the ones that don’t do well.  We did one online auction that went over great.  I messaged a ton of shop owners on Etsy asking them to sponsor an item and we got tons of great things shipped directly from the owners!

What things are you doing to help the kids attach to you (or will you be doing)?

Oh wow.  Such a huge question.  Right now I’m planning on dressing, feeding, bathing and playing with them?  Lol… Honestly, they are both still so in need of basic care that we will just be focusing on that for attachment.  We will do some cocooning when we get home so they aren’t bombarded by a bunch of strange people and they can learn that we’re really here to stay, but we don’t have any elaborate ideas at the moment.  If they start struggling with bonding we will focus in on it more.

I know this will be different for every family, but I have always heard to adopt in birth order-how did you decide stepping outside of that would work for your family and what unique challenges and blessings do you think you will encounter?

Good question!  Our social worker really worked us over on this one too.  (In a good way.)  My thoughts on out of birth order adoption are quite plentiful and this really should be a post all its own.  I’ll have to work on one, but to answer briefly, our children are still very young and flexible.

We watched carefully how Evangeline interacted while playing with boys around Juri’s age and what her dynamic was like when she wasn’t the biggest.  We talked to her about if she might like to have a big brother and we read a ton about adopting older children.

I have been watching people bring home children from Eastern European orphanages for years, so it was easy for me to sort out information on what sorts of situations and concerns we’d likely have with Juri considering his age, location and special need and the other personality information we had at the time.

There are always risks when you adopt an older child, and we were very sensitive to putting our smaller, younger children in the way of those risks.  But we determined that in our case the dangerous risks were small to none and the difficulties we would come across we were well equipped to handle because of our preferred parenting style.  I hope that doesn’t just raise more questions than it answers!

How do you think Juri and Janna will react to the plane ride home?

Not even knowing beforehand how my biological children would react to such long plane rides, it would be impossible to predict how these two will do.  I am hoping for not too many issues, the planes are usually dark and quiet.  They have both lived lives of little to no stimulation so… I think they might actually do better than my other two who need constant input!  I am sure we will be seeing lots of orphanage/coping behaviors though, and that will be hard.  Probably harder on me than on them.

What is it like to go grocery shopping?

Intimidating and depressing, lol!  There are so many delicious things that I am either too nervous to try and order and so many basic things I can’t find or they don’t have.  I would be much more adventurous without the littles here, but shopping with them can be stressful enough anyway without spending an extra half an hour to explore.

Will you be able to take pictures before you leave, of the kids and nannies and such that have been his life this far?

I hope so!  I will certainly ask to do that on or before Gotcha Day.  I know that there are favorite nannies for both kiddos and I would like to at least have their pictures as an added bit of closure.

Are you glad you brought your other two kiddos along? Would you repeat/recommend to others?

Yes I am!  I mean, it’s definitely harder with them here, but it would have been literally impossible for us to complete this adoption otherwise, so I’m glad we got the opportunity to bring them!  I would do it again for sure if the Lord put us in a position to do an international adoption in the future.  For others I would say, if you have young children who would do really well at home, come by yourself.  Otherwise let them tag along.  It’s really so different for every family though!

How does it work that you still have fundraising to do. (I’ve never understood how this works.) How will you make it home if you haven’t got all the money?

Definitely a good question, I wondered this a lot too in the years I worked as an advocate.  What I’ve found is that most families travel with credit cards just in case they need them, but pray that they don’t!  Other families take out low or no interest adoption loans and try not to use them.  I have not heard of a family travelling and being at risk for getting into country and being stranded there.  I am sure it’s happened, but I don’t know anyone personally.

For our family, we never use credit cards, but we did apply for two to travel with.  We also have some savings set aside to buy a vehicle that will actually fit the six of us.  In a real pinch we would have to dip into that money and would probably just go a while longer without a family car after we’re home.  If we don’t get funded we will have to use one of those (really not ideal) options.

Moving Right Along!

So where do I even begin with this crazy whirlwind of a day… at the beginning you say?  Ok, that makes sense I suppose.

Tossed and turned on the overnight train again.  Ready to be done with those!  I’m actually counting down the time we have left by overnight train rides, only two more!  Woohoo!!  The kids slept many more hours than we did, per the usual, and were up bright and early at 6:00am.  Our train didn’t get in until ten so we had a good four hours of entertaining to do on not quite enough sleep.

We were informed upon arrival that we had a different apartment than the last one we were in.  Something about a landlord being asleep and not having time to get us a key… maybe?  Not sure exactly, quite a bit was lost in translation (per the usual).  So now we are completely disoriented in a city we thought we had our bearings in.  Our driver quickly pointed out a McDonald’s and left.  We were famished and I thought he said there was a grocery store down that way, the street certainly had enough shops, so took a little walk.

There were several restaurants and a nice park with a fountain, but no grocery store.  We hiked back and stopped at a little fast food place that was not McDonald’s… I don’t think we could stand another meal of that.  Ugh.  Then we went back to the apartment, I quick got ready for a visit with Hope.  No time for a shower, so I looked terrible after the night and morning.  So glad Hope doesn’t really care what I look like!

It was a short visit today.  We have never visited her in the evening before, but apparently her orphanage “closes” at five o’clock and her “nap” isn’t over until four so… itty bitty window there.  Hubby and the kids stayed back this time, it had already been such a long, cooped up day for them to spend another hour+ in the car.

Sweet girl and I had a good visit though, and it was so nice to just get some alone time with her!  Her new favorite game is laying on my lap while I bounce her and sing the sign language ABC song I know, holding her with one hand and signing with the other.  I promise I was safe!  But she just laughed hysterically the whole time and she was trying to track with my hands to watch the signs.

After the song was over I told her to say “Again” if she wanted to go again.  I prompted her a few times and got a little “ahhhh” out of her so we went again :)  I’m no speech therapist, but I figure prompting her to speak and then praising and rewarding her for vocalizing is probably a good start in teaching her to communicate through appropriate sounds (rather than just screaming).

Next I went on a quick grocery trip since I had our driver and could actually get to a store.  When I got home everyone was famished, so we decided to go to the “pizza place” which felt less than inviting, so Jake suggested the “other pizza place”.  We walked the other way on the street and came to a small building with huge stickers of pizza on the window and an arrow pointing inside.  It looked promising.  We walk in to tables surrounded by lush, exotic couches and middle eastern incense.  Hmm… perhaps we should have payed more attention to the Disney Genie sticker on the window?

We sat down (first mistake) and the lady brought us huge, elaborate menus that certainly did include pizza but this was no pizza joint.  The kids were restless and asking to eat the sugar on the table.  This was obviously too high end for restless, hungry, miniature people so we got up and left!  Totally embarrassing.

Our last ditch dinner effort was the “burger joint” we saw (different from lunch).  They even had cheese sticks!  How could you go wrong, right??  AND pizza on the menu! Score!  Well, we order to discover that the pizza was made with ketchup, not sauce.  The cheese sticks were actually fish sticks.  The Caesar Salad dressing was actually plain mayonnaise and the burger was actually a grilled chicken sandwich-type thing.  We didn’t eat much, but they thought we were trying to order chicken nuggets instead of fish sticks (thankfully) so at least the kids ate.

I still consider this a good, successful day though!  We are here in Hope’s region just waiting for our court date.  By the way, pretty please pray we get SDA approval tomorrow!!  This is the only thing not “moving right along” and we really need it!  If we don’t get our approval tomorrow we won’t be able to have court until Monday at the earliest.  That puts Juri and Zhanna Hope’s court dates at least a week apart, delaying our return home about a week.  We are so ready to come home, please pray we wake up to approval in the morning!!

While you are praying for that, also join with us in a prayer of thanksgiving for our funding!  We just received word that a grant we applied for months and months ago actually came through!  And the crazy thing is that they prayerfully determined to give us the exact amount we need to be funded after our Miles Fundraiser is finished!  Is God awesome or what!?!  Perfect love, perfect gift, perfect timing.  Thank you Jesus!

AND we only have 527 miles left to go!  That’s a little over $500 to finish funding our adoption and then we’ll get to reveal Juri’s new name to you all!  I cannot wait to finish this off, so excited to make that reveal!  We are absolutely praising God for His hand in all of this and so humbled and grateful to all of you who have come alongside us to bless our family and our new children by making this adoption possible for them.  It would not have been possible to do this on our own.  It is Christ’s Church that has kept us afloat the entire way!  We can never thank you all enough!

P.S. – Click here if you want to help us move a little closer to revealing our son’s new name!

One More Time…

IMG_0866Today was our last visit with sweet boy (oh how I wish I could tell you his name!!) for a few days.  Tonight we head back to Kharkiv on the overnight train… again.  Getting a little tired of those things, lol!  Hopefully we will have our second court this week, but we were told today that we still haven’t gotten our approval from the SDA yet and we can’t have court until then, so we will see.  Pray that it comes tomorrow!

We were able to take little man to get his passport pictures done this morning, so that is one thing out of the way.  I think he really enjoyed getting to go in a car ride with Daddy, probably the most exciting thing he’s done in a while!  We had a better visit today; yesterday they kicked us out of the playground areas so the other children’s groupas could have their usual playing spots, so we were relegated to the benches on the sidewalk.  (Which if you hadn’t guessed isn’t a whole lot of fun for three energetic kids!)  Today I was more prepared and brought chalk to draw with that kept them occupied for some time, and then a few raindrops came down, cleared out the playgrounds and we got to go have some fun for a while.

He has been doing super well these visits.  We look at him now and just think “What mental delay?”  I can tell his speech is delayed, but that is typical for a child raised in an institutional setting and his vocabulary will grow quickly when we get home.  If he needs speech therapy it won’t be a big deal at all.  He’s a little immature for his age, but that’s also to be expected.  Mental delay though… please.  He is such a chatterbox when he is with us, so alive and wanting to do everything.  He’s just a typical kid!

His muscles were much more contracted on Sunday when we saw him, but they’re right back to where they were before we left.  It only takes a little love and persuasion to get his range of motion back and I know he’ll do fabulously with therapy when we get home.  The language barrier is hard and we’re going to be beefing up our Russian phrases so we can understand each other a little more on Gotcha Day.  I can imagine how isolating it will be for him not to have anyone around who speaks his language.  We’re still hoping to find a Russian speaker in our area who might be able to do a little translating once we’re back.

So we head out tonight, one more time and then we will never have to leave our son behind again!!  I am beyond excited that in just a couple short weeks we can take him out of there forever!  On a little sidenote, maybe I’ll get a chance to work on my Q&A Adoption post on the train tonight.  Feel free to comment here or email and let me know if you have any questions you’d like answered!

The Verdict is In….

Just a few short weeks ago we met a little boy who captured our hearts forever.  This morning we sat before a judge and those whom the government has charged with his protection and care and asked that we be made his parents.  After days of feeling sick with anxiety over this milestone it came and went with little fuss or difficulty.

After less than an hour of discussion and deliberation the judge read us our verdict.  I’ll paraphrase for you…

He’s handsome…

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He’s determined…

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He loves to play and have fun…

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He is all boy…

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He’s compassionate and loving…

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He’s resilient and strong…

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Most important of all… he is our son.

A Hug for MamaPraising God today for his tender mercies, that he would grant all five us the desires of our hearts.  The desire of Jake and I to grow our family through the redemption of adoption, the desire of Evangeline and Stephen to have a new brother and the desire of Juri to be loved and cherished no matter what, for the rest of forever.  Thank you Lord for this great thing you have done!

Exhausted.

Where to even start.  I am totally beat.  Today was absolutely, insanely crazy.  We must have fit about three days of work into the span of one day.  We had to take the overnight train this morning that left at the bright and shining hour of 3:50am.  So after spending our night packing, and getting about a four hour nap, we headed off to the train station with two strangely alert and enthusiastic children in tow.

They were in better moods that first part of our train ride than they have ever been while boarding a train.  I don’t get it; my children apparently do not take after their mother in this area.  In any case the bright-shinies (my word of the day) faded quickly for all of us and we took a nap that last about an hour before the kids were up at their normal time of 6am… ready to play and run around.  Unfortunately, we still had seven hours on the train left to go…

I wouldn’t call our train ride productive, necessarily, but we sure did a lot of work keeping those kids occupied and behaved.  There were some vendors selling three-foot-long dried fish and some sort of annoying bird toys… but not real food.  Thankfully I did pack breakfast and enough snacks to hold us over.

We made it to the apartment and got settled around 2:30pm, at which point we had all of one hour to get dressed and turn around to get back in a vehicle to drive to the orphanage.  We could have skipped our visit today… well no we really couldn’t.  We needed to see our boy just about as much as he needed us.  Two and a half weeks is a long time!

While getting ready to leave Jake came to the terrible realization that he had left a book and our ipod on the train.  Funny story actually, while we were still on the train I saw those two things sitting on the little shelf above his bed and I thought to myself “I bet those are probably the worst two things we could leave on this train… good thing Jake is so organized that he won’t forget them!”  Ahem.  Next time I’ll think my thoughts out loud.

I called our facilitator, who initially told us there was nothing she could do, but later called to ask a few questions about which car we were in.  Miraculously, the train station was able to get a hold of the lady in charge of cleaning our car who had already left work.  And apparently lost and found isn’t really a thing here because she took them with her for safekeeping.  So after we paid for her taxi to and from the train station we got our stuff back.  Lol!  Thank you Lord for the little things.

IMG_0818After all that drama, we did have a great, albiet short, visit (probably for the best as a certain child’s temperament was fading extremely quickly.)  Juri was just as stiff today as he was the first day we met him.  It was mildly frustrating that all his progress was lost, but I’m not sweating it because I know his range of motion will come right back as soon as we can bring him home.  Even so, he still asked to walk today, and went quite a ways so I was very proud of him!

Poor thing though, he cried when we left.  As soon as we said the word “Paka” the tears started, oh that was hard.  I can imagine, though we were telling him repeatedly in Russian that we would be there tomorrow, that not seeing us for so long and having only a short visit was probably pretty tough on him.  That’s the first time he’s cried because we were going away.  Mama’s heart was broken.

After our orphanage visit we got back and arranged for a friend’s translator to come meet us at our apartment and play with the little ones for a while.  They can’t come to court with us so she is going to help watch them and we wanted them to know who she was so perhaps they won’t be so scared.  As I waited outside with the kids, Jake went to the grocery store to get some food.

Our translator friend came, they played, we ate dinner, tried bath time… that failed miserably.  Neither child had any energy left, so it was straight to bed for both of them and boy did they go down quick.  Now Jake is ironing clothes for tomorrow, I am finishing up my due diligence on here for all of you and we are hopefully going to get a full night’s sleep in before our full day tomorrow.

Did I mention we have court in the morning!?!?  So excited!  I can’t believe that tomorrow we could legally be a family of five!!  And what does that mean for all you lovely people?  Pictures!  Like real ones!  Be excited, be very excited.  And keep your prayer caps on because we’d love to have them this whirlwind of a week.  Also don’t forget to pray for sweet Hope.  It was tough last night not sleeping with her Teddy Bear, hopefully that and the toy we left her will give her a little bit of comfort or joy while we’re away.  Missing her dearly tonight.

Here’s Where We’re At

I was very pleasantly surprised that Hope was not at all sedated during our visit today.  Looking back through my notes (and guessing from today’s demeanor) I think we must have been off on the schedule.  In any case, we were so happy to have a great visit with her today!  She was smiley, laughing and alert, although I noticed she was a tiny bit more agitated than usual.  We saw some stimming behaviors which we haven’t seen in a while.  But other than that she did great.

At 4:00am tomorrow morning we are leaving on the train to head back to Juri’s region.  Apparently this is the busy train season, so they were having difficulty finding us a compartment together… thus the early morning departure.  Hopefully the children will be able to go back to sleep once on the train, or we might have a very, very long Sunday.

Since we’re at another crossroads in our journey I thought now would be a great time to outline for you what everything looks like from here on out so we all have an idea of what’s coming next.  On Monday we have court for Juri and will be officially made his parents (God willing).  Later in the week we will travel back to Hope’s city to have court for her and become her parents.  Adopting from two different regions is a lot of travelling back and forth if you hadn’t noticed.

IMG_0565After we have court for Hope we will go back to Juri’s city to wait for Gotcha Day.  (That will be three overnight train rides in about a week, fun times right?)  There is a ten day waiting period between the court decree being issued and our possession of it.  This is so that if anyone wants to dispute the judge’s decision they have time to file an appeal.  That usually never happens, but we still do have to wait.  Right around July 4th weekend our wait will be over and we will be able to start collecting all of Juri’s paperwork in order to take custody.  (My mom will be here for that, woohoo!)  Once that’s all done and we have Gotcha Day the six of us (six including Grammy) will go back to Kharkiv to pick up Hope.

We are hoping to leave the country as soon as possible once we have custody of her so that we can get her admitted to the hospital quickly for observation while we increase her caloric intake.  So we’ll hop a train straight to Kiev, get the children’s medicals done and complete all our paperwork and get approval for them to enter the US and become citizens!

So much to do so little time!  Please keep praying for our family!  Our fundraiser is still making progress we are officially into the triple digits with only 868 miles left to go!  And once we meet that I will be able to tell you all Juri’s new name!  I am dying to spill the beans people!  If you’d like to help us out you can make give a tax free donation to our family here.

And just as a side note, since we are asking ya’ll for money and posted our really fun trip to Gorky Park yesterday I thought I would just clarify quickly.  That sort of a fun outing could have easily cost us $100 or more in the U.S. but we didn’t even spend $12.00 on all the rides we took!  Prices are a tiny bit different here :)  We were given money from some close family friends before leaving specifically dedicated to ice cream and helping the kids have a good time while we were here.  So we have a small “fun fund” that we are required to utilize.  😉  We just didn’t want everyone to think that we were misappropriating the generous gifts we have been given or being frivolous with our spending while appearing to be in need.  Transparency is best, right?

Haha ok… enough about money, that’s like my least favorite blogging topic!  Please pray for Hope’s heart as we leave her for a few days, Juri’s heart as we go to see him again for the first time in over two weeks, and that God would give us a supernatural amount of rest with only the few hours of sleep we are getting tonight!  Love you all, thank so much for being a part of our children’s journey home.

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