Monday, December 22, 2008

Learning Obedience

Sometimes there are moments that I know have been small turning points in the right direction. Today we had one of those.

To back up a bit, the past few days have been fabulous but exhausting days. We have had a flurry of activity - Christmas with Zach's parents and with my brother-in-law and his family. We then went to the high school state championship game for Zach's high school team. And they won state!! Woohoo Wildcats!! So rather than traveling to Zach's parents' home for Christmas - everyone came to our area for the big game. It was lots of fun and a wonderful time to spend with family. The girls really enjoyed getting to know their grandparents and extended family a little better and received some great gifts that have been thoroughly enjoyed. But at the same time it was lots of going, lots of sugary food, and no routine. Oh and then after church yesterday we had a cookie baking marathon. All this led to a few struggles that we saw at Thanksgiving as well. It started slow but by Sunday afternoon I felt an undercurrent of irritability. Nothing major but a lot of us were getting grumpy (me included) and this led to some grumpy attitudes towards one another. Now to be honest - I was feeling perhaps more irritable than anyone and was having trouble with my own attitude. I knew this was occurring but until I had a little time to get away and pray and regain my perspective until today. I was just kinda hanging on but certainly not doing good!

So anyways, the history of the past few days stated - today I had some time to go run some last minute Christmas errands, return some phone calls, and even eat lunch all alone :) Our fabulous helper, Katherine, had done a great job as always of loving on the kids, playing a ton of games, and keeping things on a reasonable routine while I was gone. When I arrived back home everyone was very happy but I could feel still a subtle undercurrent of frustration from Katya. I knew she was feeling frustrated and was being moody. I knew that we had not had the greatest interactions yesterday and that I had not handled her minor bouts of grumpiness and subtle disobedience very well yesterday. I could feel that there was a little distance between us. I knew that we needed to bridge this gap and reconnect. I believe that anytime there is a relational problem between myself and any of my children - no matter how small - it needs to be resolved fully before it grows much bigger. So I invited her to go outside and jump on the trampoline with me. She declined which is very unusual. I went anyways and soon all the other kids were jumping with me. She rode her bike around and seemed happy enough but I knew something was going on. We talked a bit and I asked her again to jump. She happily said no but I knew something was up. Soon she rode on past us and headed towards my parents' house. We have a strict rule that the kids may ride in the circle that goes around the property (and past my parents' house), but that they may not go into my parents' house without asking permission first. We have made this crystal clear and there was no doubt that it was understood. I had the sinking feeling that Katya was not just going for a ride around the circle but was going to their house. I followed her and discovered I was right - she was inside. Now this is not a huge deal all by itself, but it was a clear act of willful disobedience - perhaps one of the first we have really encountered with the girls. She knew that she was wrong and told me that she was sorry but I told her that it was not okay to not listen to us. I took her home and told her that Daddy and I would be in to talk to her.

We went in to her room together, sat with her on her bed, and told her how very much we loved her. We asked her if she had listened to us. She at first said yes with a scowl but after a few more questions she admitted that she had not listened. We explained that it was not polite to just go into people's houses without asking first and that we understood that she wanted to see her grandparents but that she must ask first. We also explained that we loved her and that it was not good for her to disobey - that it hurt her 'heart' to disobey. She agreed! She said she was sorry. We then gave her a small consequence and she began to cry but she hugged me while crying. I told her many times how much we loved her all the time and that I loved her even when she did not listen. The important thing about this is that even though this was a minor offense it was big because she so clearly knew that she was disobeying. So after we corrected her and gave a small consequence she cried but then all the frustration melted away. We played a wonderful game of Uno and laughed together and there was a deeper connection for both me and her. We had reconciled and she learned that we love her too much to let her disobey. It is not about us - it is about her heart being right. She did not feel happy when she was disobeying - she was miserable and distanced from us. But when she was corrected and realized that we loved her enough to be consistent, her anxiety dissipated and she was once again able to feel connected with us rather than at odds with us.

We then went on to enjoy a sweet time together as a family, eating dinner, having a lively discussion about our Christmas devotion, and curling up on the couch for a family movie night - The Nativity (which had to be paused many times for explanations :))!

Funny thing is, I feel more at peace and my frustration is gone now too. I felt irritation because I was letting small disobedience issues go unresolved. So I am thankful that I had a day to recharge a little and that God gave us such a sweet time of bonding tonight.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

One year ago...

Just a short 12 months ago, we had been staring at this picture for several weeks and praying for the sweet girl with such short hair and beautiful blue eyes. I had cried praying for her several times and had not yet met her. We had imagined what this sweet girl must be like. We had zoomed in on this picture a hundred times and had tried to see what was behind those eyes.

Backing up a bit to last October, we had been seriously praying about adoption for over a year but it just didn't seem like we knew how to take a step forward. We had gone to a Hope For Orphans conference two years ago. I spent countless hours reading about adoptions and scouring photolistings :) I had learned about Ukraine - just feeling sure that it was where we were called for no specific reasons that I could determine. Then out of the blue my friend Alison (who also adopted but from China) told me I should meet Becca because she had adopted from Ukraine. A day or two later I see Becca's name come up on the Ukraine adoption yahoo board. I emailed asked if she was the Becca from New Braunfels. She was of course :) We met the next day for lunch and I met her precious daughter who had been born in Ukraine. Becca was organizing a hosting trip for Christmas for children from Ukraine and asked if we were interested. I said no - this was too short notice and these children were all too old for us - we didn't think we could adopt an 'older child'. We knew many adoptive families but not any of older children. Well God kept nudging my heart. That night I stumbled across this blog and read the whole thing through (crying and laughing), watched the videos, and saw the beautiful reality of how God was bringing this child into the home that He had planned for her and meeting the needs of her soon to be family. It openned up our hearts and minds to both the needs and the possiblities with adopting an older child. Zach and I prayed and agreed to see the pictures of the children that needed homes for Christmas. They were all precious but none really grabbed my heart. Then one more picture was sent to us and we just felt a connection to this child. It is hard to explain but something about her just called us. Zach and I and the kids prayed and talked and were all in agreement that the Lord was leading us to host this girl. So just before the deadline, we got all our paperwork in and began preparing for Nastya to come.

We didn't know if it would lead to adoption but we were just determined to bless her for Christmas and take it one step at a time. We were told she had one sister but that they were not together because the sister was extremely ill and in a heart hospital. We were told that they didn't know each other and that Nastya could be adopted separately from her sister. We didn't think much more about her sister at this point. But in His perfect plan, God did not reveal this information to us, because had we known about Katya we would never have moved forward with the hosting. And oh how thankful now we are that we have each of these precious girls. It is amazing how much God has changed our mindsets and openned our hearts to what He is capable of doing.

So jump forward to December 21st, 2007. We anxiously await their arrival all day. We finally head to the airport around 11:00 at night. Finally at midnight a tired group of children appear at the top of the escalator. My heart sinks. She isn't part of the group. There must have been a mistake because all these children are much too small to be a 9 year old and none of them look like this child in the picture. But then this sweet, small girl grins shyly up at me. I realize - this is her!! Zach and Nastya and I pose for a few pictures and converse a bit through the exhausted escort and then we head home. You can read all about our first night here. It was definitely a douzy of a first night but it was all uphill from there :)

So, who but God could have worked all the details out and moved the mountains that have been moved this year - both externally and in our own hearts and minds - and brought home our two daughters?!?! What an amazing blessing this year has been. We have seen the hand of God at work and experienced a little deeper glimpse into His redemptive love that He has for each one of us.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Is anyone still there?!?

Okay we really haven't fallen off the face of the earth - just have been really busy. I seem to have this problem that when I go for a long time without posting then I get a complete block and don't know how to start again or how to possibly catch up. I'll give it a whirl here and try to be more consistent. Lots of posts have been written in my head but unfortunately never made it here... So this might be a little disjointed as I try to recap a few things.

Let's see~

We had a great Thanksgiving although for Katya it was a bit overstimulating which led to a lot of difficulty sleeping. So we were all very glad to back home and into our routine. The first night we were back home Zach was putting Katya to bed and she said, "Daddy, now me my house. I sleep good now." And she has ever since :) Katya is really doing well - she is an amazingly motivated student who is flying through the Explode the Code books as well as our other school books. She is learning a ton of English! She is very loving and every night when she prays she thanks God for her big family. Although the other day she was telling me that really our family is very small and we should adopt some more children - like her friends :) She gives lots of great hugs and definitely feels love through gifts and through touch. We have seen a great improvement in her confidence level as she can accept mistakes in schoolwork and just correct them without being overly upset anymore. She enjoys being helpful in the kitchen and with other household chores. She also loves to read and gets very nervous when her current book (in Russian) is near the end. It is hard to find good books to order in Russian!! But our little book lover is in good company and she can't wait to know English enough to read all of Allee's books.

Nastya - our little outdoorsy girl. She LOVES animals and is fully convinced that she will catch a bird or a squirrel or some other type of animal. She spends hours making traps with strings and food to lure the animals to the trap. She can't wait for Spring when baby animals will be born and truly believes that she may find a baby bird or deer or raccoon that needs her help. I have probably made matters worse as I have recounted stories of my own childhood when we once found baby blue jays and raised them as well as when my sister and mom raised a baby deer that slept in my sister's bed. She asks me daily for a baby puppy and tells me that one day she may make her house into a real zoo. She reminds me so much of myself as a young girl - I spent untold hours with my sister searching for baby deer and even caught a seagull with some bread and a string one time (it quickly got away from me though)! She is a bit more coordinated than I was though (major understatement), with her incredible athleticism. I love to see her soaking up the outdoors and using her imagination. Oh one story - one day she and Allee and Katya caught some butterflies and when I went into their room they had made these grass beds inside their stools complete with sliced fruit and water for the butterflies. Everything was going along just fine until their beloved cat ate the butterflies!!! Oops! They were soon forgiven though :)

Family Life - Mainly busy!! We have been going full steam since we got home with homeschool, Allee and Jadon and Ben's school stuff, Christmas, work, and lots more!! Oh - we finally got a contract on our house a few weeks ago which is a huge answer to prayer in the current economy situation but it means that we have to move the rest of our stuff out into storage by this weekend. We moved about 10 days before leaving for Ukraine so we certainly just did the primary things and left extra stuff - like everything in the garage and in storage closets and outside. So the next few days I get to move :) Oh and then Thursday I get to go to the dentist to get my tooth fixed that I had a filling fall out of two days ago :) Gotta keep things interesting.

Honestly I have just been a mix of doing really well with it all and then occasionally feeling that I might be losing my mind :). It was also surprisingly emotional for me to go back to clean out the old house. Surprising because I really never liked it all that much but I forgot what a sentimental sap I am... So just lots of emotions. If I think for more than a few minutes about all I have to do right now I feel very stressed - actually I can feel my body tense up just writing the above and thinking about all that I need to accomplish in the next few weeks. But I have tried to keep my focus on what must be done today and on what is most important. I guess somehow it will all get done, right?!? The big picture is that we are oh so blessed and everyone is doing well. "So just don't sweat the small stuff"...I keep saying that over and over.

It has been hard to find quiet time with the Lord to allow Him to renew me and I feel my deep need for Him. There are so many things I need to spend time praying over and just taking to Him rather than trying to figure them out myself. I know that I cannot do this myself and that I need Him desperately but the heavy load of busyness had made it difficult. I find myself working until near bedtime and then just busy with children. So for me - my biggest struggle has been to personally seek my Lord first when everything else seems so demanding. We do have bible time each morning as part of school and I have a few minutes of quiet to pray and read and journal a bit.

A quick update - I wrote all the above on Monday but had to edit a little before posting. Yesterday was even harder and I had a really difficult day. I know that many of you were praying for me. This morning I woke up feeling well rested and then events just fell into place and God gave me some quiet time with Him. I just feel more refreshed than I have in days and feel like I have a fresh perspective. We had a great start to school today too! Thank you Lord!!

I will post more with pics very soon!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thankful Turkeys

Psalm 106:1
Praise the Lord! Oh, give thanks to the Lord for He is good! For His mercy endures forever!
This week we have focused on thankfulness and we have learned the verse above for our bible study time (I print a tranlsated version for the girls). We have put feathers on our thankful turkeys. Each feather has something written that someone is thankful for. It has been so fun and I have seen all of our hearts lifted as we have been concious of what we are thankful for. Katya and Nastya have loved this activity and have repeatedly talked about how thankful they are for their big family and then they name each member of their family. They are thankful for the animals and for horseback riding. However in doing these exercises I realize how often we all forget the uncountable blessings that we have to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is truly something that we must choose to do and something that does not come naturally to us. But when (or if) practiced it allows us to see the sliver lining in even some of the darkest storms. The more that I conciously thank God for the blessings in my life, the more I realize how very much I have thankful for. This is something I want to make a daily habit of - focusing on all I have to be thankful for rather than all that is wrong or difficult. This is something I fail in often but I am thankful that I serve a gracious, merciful God who continues to patiently teach me :)

Today our church had a day of thanksgiving where people (including children) could go up to the front and talk about what they are thankful to God for. My heart overflowed as I considered all that I had to be thankful for and as I listened to testimony after testimony of how God has been at work in the most intimate ways in the lives of so many. I was humbled to hear so many people speak who were able to 'praise Him in their storm'. There were some heartbreaking stories and I heard how God was good and faithful in the midst of trials that I can not imagine walking through. And I saw how we all have a choice - we all have daily trials and sometimes we face things that are incredibly big trials but regardless of who you are - life is not easy. But then God never promised that it would be easy. But He did promise to walk alongside us and to be our comfort as we walk through this broken world. And ultimately He made it possible that we could live eternally with Him where He would wipe away all the tears.

And thankfulness is also something that we must teach our children - biological or adopted. However, our older adopted children come to us as children who have had to learn to take to survive and who never been taught or shown thankfulness. I was often told by those who had gone before us not to expect gratefulness and honestly we do get it more that we thought. But very often we get "I want, I want, I want"! Or sometimes we get sweet hugs that are intended to prime us for the next request, "Please mommy can I have..." And we love to show our girls how very precious and loved they are but we also want them to know that stuff does not equal happiness and that they cannot have everything that they want. The other day we had a fabulous time going with a local homeschool group to a Cinderella Ballet. It was a beautiful performance and the girls were able to make a few friends. We had a nice lunch afterwards with some play time. We then headed to the store for a few items for Zach's birthday dinner. From one of our daughters I heard repeated begging for varying items that had nothing to do with Zach's birthday. I purchased a few reasonable food items that she wanted but said no to the other things. Well then we went to check out. She spotted some inappropriate magazines and asked for them. I told her no. She begged. I told her that they were not good for her. She pouted and exclaimed, "You say Bratz dolls no good. You say this no good! Ughh!" All this with arms crossed, big frown and the grumpiest voice that she could muster. I looked her in the eyes and told her that I loved her so much and loved to give her good things. I reviewed the wonderful day that we just had. I told her that I could not give her everything that she wanted and that some things were not good for her. I told her that it was not okay for her to act this way when the answer was no. She quickly recovered and gave me a big hug and kiss. All this at the checkout line :) This is such major improvement from this summer and I know that she is learning and has such a willing heart to learn. She is so open a so loving. We are so thankful that she truly has a sensitive spirit and that her heart is soft to us. However, it does require a lot of emotional energy and patience from me and I don't always do it right.

Tonight I gave each of the kids a package of stickers because they had all been wanting some and I just happenned to see some the other day. The girls were given beautiful disney princess stickers that they had been asking for and the boys were given spiderman stickers. Well it just so happened that the boys had four small sheets of stickers while the girls only had one larger sheet. No one even noticed this except this one child (yes the same one). She quickly said, "Maaamaa, Jadon has big (meaning lots of) stickers and I have small stickers." Again with the familiar pout. I calmly walked over to her and said that since she did not like her stickers that we would keep them. I took them from her and put them up. I told her that I loved her very much and that we could talk whenever she wanted. She put her head on the table and made a show of crying. I ignored this and went on with getting everybody ready for bed. Finally I told her to stop crying and told her that it was not okay to compare to each other and that we need to be grateful for what we have. I pointed out that I give them different things at different times and that just that morning we had given her two new dresses and nothing to anyone else. (She needed dresses and no one else did.) I also pointed out that just the other day daddy gave the girls stickers and that the boys didn't get any. I told her that it made me feel sad when she did not appreciate a special surprise. She was very receptive and I think truly sorry for her behavior. We hugged and went on to have a nice evening. I know that she was very hurt to be corrected and needed to know that we loved her so very much. I spent some extra time cuddling and loving her this evening. We talked some more about it and I think she was embarrassed that she had acted so silly. We also talked about what to do this Christmas if she recieves a gift that she does like very much :)

Both of these and many other times are great opportunites for us to teach the girls what it means to be polite and to be thankful. But let me just say that they wear me out at the same time! We long for our children to not just be polite but much more importantly to have hearts that can see the goodness of God in their lives and respond with thanksgiving. The truth is that God is at work doing amazing things in our lives and the world around us but we so often miss the beauty of His goodness because we get caught up with the present stressors of life. I pray that Zach and I are able to cultivate and model hearts that overflow with thanksgiving.
We do feel that things are going remarkably well and that both the girls are really adjusting well. We have certainly had varying issues to work through - some sibling issues and other basic things to work out like where everyone sits in the car and eating rules. Stuff like that. But we are getting into a great routine and are just incredibly thankful for each of our precious children. We have been amazed at how God is already knitting each one of our hearts together. What a sweet time this has been even if it has been a little tiring :)

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's a Zoo Around Here!!

Well that part is true at home with five children and lots of pets :) but we also did take a trip to the zoo today. It was tons of fun and very special because Katya and Nastya had never been before. We were all in awe of so many amazing creatures and everyone especially loved the momma and baby monkeys and the butterfly house. As always - the zoo wore us all out and now all children are sleeping soundly! We also wrapped up this fun day with starting a Friday night family movie. Thanks for that idea Connie! We decided to start watching Little House on the Prairie and started with episode one tonight. The Little House series is a favorite of ours and we felt like it would be good to help the girls get into it as well. It has some great lessons about life in general but especially about family. The girls are hooked already! Plus it is only 45 minutes on DVD so we are more likely to watch it without the pressure of a longer movie.

Everyone keeps asking how we are doing and I must say we are doing waaaaay better than Zach or I thought we would be doing the first few weeks. Besides the fact that it is just a lot of work :) everything is going very well. Duzhey Dobre!! We started homeschool for Katya and Nastya this week and while I was so nervous beforehand, I was pleasantly surprised (actually shocked) at several things ~

One, the girls love to learn and often ask for even more! Two, they are quite obedient about the rules that we have set forth about school time as well as basic family rules. Three, I am having a lot of fun teaching them. It is so awesome to show them the concept of borrowing in math and see them get it so quickly! Or for another example - they had never been taught to tell time on a clock face (only on digital clocks). So I bought some workbooks and with just about two lessons they were telling time perfectly! Wow! It is so fun to teach older kids who are able to grasp concepts that they should have learned years ago. When I show them something it is great to see them light up with understanding. They must be enjoying school too because Katya asked me if I would be her teacher until she graduates :) They are about at the same place in math, which is a huge blessing that I can teach the same thing to both. We are just doing worksheets for now but I plan to order curriculum very soon. They are also learning English very quickly - we are using Rosetta Stone and just talking as much as possible. We just learn things as we go - days of the week, household things, etc. It is so interesting to see their different styles of learning and varying strengths. Katya is very motivated and very neat with her work. If she hears a new word she writes it down right away in her little English notebook that she made. She first writes the english word and then writes down her Ukrainian phonetic version as well as the actual Ukrainian word. This was all her idea. Nastya is doing the same thing after Katya told her to, but she is much less orderly about it. So while Katya is definitely learning English more quickly - Nastya often understands more because she is such a logical thinker that she is able to use context clues to figure out what is being said. She also is very good at logically approaching math while Katya tries to memorize what she is suppossed to do. But while Katya is by far neater and tidier with her schoolwork, Nastya is almost obsessive about their room being clean. I have never asked them to make their beds but they make them every morning and Nastya's looks ready for boot camp inspection :) Katya is definitely verbal, creative, and loves to read, sing and dance. Nastya is much more logical and loves animal and outdoors more than I can begin to describe. She is downright giddy about every animal she sees and has absolutely no fear. She dreams of having a baby animal to care for and is certain that she might find a baby squirrel or deer than doesn't have a momma :)

They both had their first official horse riding lesson this week and were on cloud nine! They will ride every Tuesday morning while I watch my sister's children. It's a great set-up! They were a wee bit frustrated and jealous that Allee can canter and jump but I explained that if they work hard they will learn very quickly. They also started gymnastics this week, which they are very talented at. Their teacher was very surprised with their talent, strength, and flexibility (Nastya is extremely flexible as well as double jointed), especially considering that they have never had lessons before. They left saying how much they loved it and asking when they could go to a competition :)

As far as overall family adjustment ~ we are just so grateful for the wise advice of several friends and blogs. We were tempted to give in out of 'compassion' in several areas but we stood strong (or I should say Zach made us stand firm!), and it is so clear that we set some really good precedents and boundaries. For example, after seeing the obsessiveness with tv during both the hosting trips and the first few days home, we decided to have no tv or computer games at all during the school week. The first few days there was some serious begging and negotiating and I think shock. Now I must say that I was pleading inside for tv as well. I wanted to have a break and I wanted them to be entertained for awhile. But we saw very quickly that it was much more disruptive and upsetting to try to limit it than to turn it off all together. Television was causing us all more problems than it was helping anyone. And after day two, they realized that we were not going to budge and happily complied. There is plenty to do - school, books, stickers, puzzles, games, bikes, walks, and just being together as a family. The tv time and computer games were causing more fights, grumpiness, and other issues than I realized. Once we stopped tv, I am no longer competing to get their attention for school, crafts, outside time, and household chores. And I am not just talking about Katya and Nastya - this was true for everyone. Now we are not crazy tv nazis :) and think there are plenty of good things that come from good tv shows or movies but for now it was causing more harm than good in our family.

So things are really going well although that is not to say that it has not been very tiring and draining at the same time. I feel overwhelmed at times and it is hard work! I am always wondering how they are really doing beneath the surface and wondering what they are thinking. I keep wondering what things are going to surface and when. So at times I have an undercurrent of anxiety as I struggle with not over-analyzing how each of the kids are doing with all the changes and adjustments. It is good to be in tune with the kids but I don't want to imagine problems when things are fine and create more stress for myself either. I don't know - it is a hard balance to walk. But then I remember that God says not to worry about tomorrow and that today ahs enough worries - and I see that is so very true! So I just try to focus on what I need to do today and thank God that it has been such a blessing more than we could have ever imagined and that we have five precious children!!

Here are Allee and Katya sharing an ipod and both singing outloud, Lord I Lift Your Name On High and then Ain't No Mountain High Enough, while watching Jadon's soccer game last weekend. It was so precious.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Journey Home

Well it has taken me more than a week to have time sit down and now I feel I must backtrack a bit to try and capture all that has happened the past week!

Back to last Sunday...

We traveled for no less than 30 hours on three planes and a very long layover in Germany. But until the last bit of the trip it really wasn't that bad. The girls did great and we all slept a decent amount on the longest flight. It was an incredible feeling when we finally touched down in Denver!

Two New American citizens!!!

On the last flight that took us to Texas - we were greeted by a very friendly pilot and copilot who offered to show the girls the cockpit, then invited them to climb into the pilots' seats and have their pictures taken! Wow! We were just glad they didn't ask them to fly the plane too!

So finally at 10:00 at night we landed in Texas and ran to greet our family and friends!!! What a reunion it was! I completely broke down (unexpectedly) when I hugged Benjamin and Jadon and Allee. It felt so strange to be hugging them and the emotion of how much I had missed them just hit me so hard. It was so great to have a fan club waiting for us! Thank you guys for all coming! It was at about this time that I felt like my body was just breaking down - I could barely talk right and just felt sheer exhaustion combined with major emotion and it all seems very fuzzy now. But the joy of being with my family and friends and a yummy Starbucks (thanks Becca and Camille) gave me the second wind I needed to get us home to see an amazing surprise waiting for us!

Now, I think I mentioned that we moved to a new house about 10 days before traveling... It was crazy and although we worked around the clock to get things unpacked, curtains hung, closets organized, didn't all get done. Some important things that didn't get done was the girls room and the outside of the house. When we left there were landscaping materials in piles, no grass, no patio, a half-done side-walk, and half-built stairs on the back of the house. When we arrived home on Sunday night the girls room had been transformed into a girl's paradise - complete with new desks, a dresser, an organized closet with lots of brand new clothes and pjs, bulletin boards, and even little make-up mirrors. Nastya had a new cd player/alarm clock for her birthday as well. They ran right in and started organizing their clothes and hanging pictures of their friends onto their bulletin boards. They LOVE their new house and especially their room.

Well, that's not all!!! Outside we discovered a completed sidewalk, a lovely patio, completed stairs, trees being cleaned, grass that was growing strong, flower pots, and even Fall decorations!!! Oh, and clearing and landscaping had already been started on the hill below our house - a major undertaking! Let me not forget to mention a completely stocked fridge and a huge bowl of fruit (which disappeared in a few days!!)! We are just so humbled and blown away by this outpouring of love and kindness and generosity it is more than we can express with words. Thank you Dad, Mom, and Ash! I am just brought to tears every time I consider all that has been provided and how much you all have done. It was such an amazing gift to just know that our children were so loved and cared for while we were gone. You just did so much more than we could have ever imagined and we are so very grateful.

So the days following our arrival were pretty busy with unpacking and just trying to reenter our 'new normal' life. It didn't help that I got really sick for a few days... But with some good sleep and meds - I am back to feeling good again. The girls have done really great so far - more on that in another post. We did all go to church last Sunday and it was so great to be welcomed by our church family. And believe it or not - we had our first day of homeschooling TODAY and it went great!! Thank you Lord!

It is good to be home!

Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


So sorry for the silence here. We did make it home late Sunday night. Hallelujah for America. For signs that I can read and english speaking voices all around. For a car that is parked out front that I can drive. For a soft bed. For a washing machine and DRYER - I have tried to refrain from kissing them both. For a phone that I can call my friends and family on. For bedtime stories and snuggles. For an amazing family that blessed us more than I can describe right now and gave us an unbelievable surprise when we got home (more later). For oh so much more. It is good to be home!

The girls did great on the flight but it was just long and we were all exhausted. Our first few days at home have been good but a little crazy. Nothing bad, just chaotic due to lack of routine... And now I have a pretty nasty cold that I guess I picked up from one out of my three children who have been sick. I feel very bad actually. Anyways, all is well other than that and more will follow as soon as the computer screen quits swimming in front of me! Please pray for a quick recovery for me as I am in high demand in the first days home to reintegrate to life here and to love on our two new daughters and our three darlings that missed us so very much. But all I want to do is sleep and it hurts to talk...

I promise a better update and pictures very soon!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Kiev!!! And Almost Home!!!

Here in Kiev tonight after dinner On the way a few nights ago...they were so cute!!
Today we finally got to meet our great friends (via blog for the past 6 months) Kevin and Pam. They are on their way to their region tonight! Great to finally meet you in person guys - in Kiev no less!!
Yummy desserts tonight!

We made it to Kiev late on Wednesday night. There was some crazy running around in Zhytomyr to get passports finished. Basically we waited ALL day and had yet one more tearful goodbye from the orphanage... We kept thinking that any minute it would be time to pick up the passport. Then all the sudden it was time and we had to rush, rush, rush!!! Basically Ukraine seems to have two speeds - whirlwind fast or wait, wait, wait! You think you are waiting forever and then all the sudden you want to beg to slooooow down just enough to catch your breath! After the slow long wait of the past 10 to 14 days, the last three days have been nonstop - therefore no time until now to post!

We got to Kiev at 10:30 Wed. night, had our medical yesterday morning and then barely slipped into the Embassy before it closed. My hand ached from all the forms I had to fill out :) The Embassy is closed technically today but they are reopenning for us so that they could process the girls' visas! How nice - we were very impressed with the service that they gave to us. So after many more hours of sitting at the Embassy today (which we were more than happy to do) - we walked out with visas in hand!!! Wooo-hoooo!!! America here we come!!!

We are so thankful for all the people who have worked overtime to pull all this together with such a tight timeframe to get us on that plane Sunday. Not the least of which is our facilitator. Thank you N!!!!

We are settled in a nice apartment in Kiev and are actually sleeping good now!!! How nice to be in an actual bed!!! And while Kiev is about triple in prices, we don't even care - it is so great to be here. One more day in Ukraine and we come home!!! We plan to do some sightseeing tomorrow, some souvenier shopping, and maybe go to Hillsong Kiev church service tomorrow night.

We will practically not sleep tomorrow night since we have to be at the airport by 4:00 am which means we have to leave by like 3:00 am. Who needs sleep anyways?!? We can sleep on the plane and hope the girls will too!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bittersweet Goodbyes...

On Sunday we finally were able to take the girls with us. It has been wonderful to have them with us but a very emotionally hard time for them (and us) to say goodbye to their lives here. They keep asking if they can come visit for their birthdays or something like that. Nastya wants us to buy a second house here :) If only it were so easy.

It is a blessing for the girls that it has been so hard to say goodbye to their friends and to caregivers.

A blessing because it means that the last two years they have had deep, loving relationships with each of their friends and several caregivers - especially Alla. But it makes it harder right now. They are actually doing pretty well. They want to go home. What has made it harder is that we have had not one, not two, but three emotional goodbyes at the orphanage. We keep thinking that we will be laving tomorrow and then having more paperwork delays. So of course as long as we are in the region the girls want to see their friends. I understand but I wish we could just say one goodbye because it is taking it's toll emotionally on all of us as well as the other children. I personally have had a rough few days. Emotionally I feel raw, and physically I have not slept well in five days. Those of you who know me well, know that I do not function well on lack of sleep, which is currently close to what I felt like when I had a newborn and didn't sleep. The difference is I am not lying aroung being waited on now in the comfort of my home!!! I am hiking all over town and my new children are a bit more difficult and sleep a great deal less :)

Today was one frustration after another - the girls broke my phone and I had trouble communicating with the phone store people to fix it. We locked ourselves out of our apartment all day. We bought a gift for one of the kids and lost it. We got stuck at the orphanage for at least two hours more than we planned and were all starving (another really bad combo with no sleep and my hypoglycemia). We have had a few confrontations (minor but still hard) with the girls - we are all on our last straws emotionally... And last and definitely not least - we found out that we were not going to be able to leave for Kiev today. Breathe in, breathe out. I need my little red shoes soooo bad!!! "There is no place like home, there is no place like home!"

Back to the goodbyes, the emotions have been hard to contain. I have had to constantly tell myself that I cannot break down in front of the kids. But it has torn my heart to leave these precious children. We love them so much. And they are so heartbroken. They are grieving in different ways - some cry, some retreat and shutdown, some get just overly hyper... It would be easier for all if we had not spent countless hours the past four weeks playing with them, talking, taking quiet walks, playing soccer, playing Uno, and just loving the children that will remain orphans. For four weeks they have embraced us, allowed us into their world, taught us silly games, taught us Ukrainian. We have wanted to bless them by showing them that their tricks on the monkey bars, their dances that they've learned, their goofy games, their songs that they make up, and everything else about them is important and precious and worthwhile. We have tried to hug and love and encourage every second that we are with them. But now, we have come to love them more. And they have come to love us more. So while we are thankful that we had this time with this precious group of children, it makes these goodbyes indescribably hard. I love too many children that I cannot help. Oh Lord, please love these children. Please bless them. Please give them hope. Please hold them. And please comfort Zach, Katya, Nastya and I as our hearts break to say goodbye. It is hard to love and leave. Easier to close our hearts and not love. But that of course is not the answer. We are forever changed - our hearts have stretched bigger and the stretching is painful. Thank you Lord for this precious time with each one of these precious children, and even for the pain - because we can take it You knowing that You love them far more than we ever could.

If you are considering adoption or if you feel that tug at your heart, don't let it pass. Pray and see if this is how God wants you to love. He will show you and He just might have a child to bring home - to you. Or maybe there is another calling for you. But somehow each of us is called to in some way love the orphans and widows. Ask him how. One thing we can do is pray. If you would like a child to pray for, let me know and I will send you a name, a little info and a picture. I promised Tanya, Galyna, Masha, Tanya, Yana, Alena, Vika, Vera, Olga, Vova, and Oleg that we would pray for them regularly. I could use some help in this! (Sorry I have not emailed you back Anna - will do so very soon!)

As sweet, wonderful Vika tearfully told me as we got into the taxi tonight, "Remember me. Please remember me." Oh how could I forget. Lord, remember them.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Gains and Losses

With all the driving around yesterday (see post below) we were able to see glimpses of the struggle that Katya is in right now. One minute she was happy and loving but the next she was sullen and pouting. She said at one point that she wanted to stay with her friends and the next minute she was hugging me, begging to leave to go to America and saying how much she loved me. I gently tell her that I love her so much and understand how hard it is to leave. I tell her that we will help her write letters and to even sometimes call her friends. I grieve for her having to face yet another loss. Even because of great gain.

She had a bit of a pout when there was a misuderstanding about what type salad she ordered at the pizza place. We fully expected this turmoil of emotions - it is difficult to leave what is familiar and the friends who have become like sisters. I think it speaks of the great longing in her heart that she never really second guesses leaving. She wants a family and it is crystal clear that the odds are not good for her here. Very bad actually. The 'here and now' is not horrible. Their basic needs are met, they have good friends, at least some of the caregivers truly show them love, there are engagin activities with school, sports, music, and dance. Despite all of that, the children do not have their needs for family and unconditional love met. They beg for hugs and crave attention. There is a hunger in their eyes and actions that you would never see in children who are in loving homes. That part of the 'here and now' is horrible. But even worse is the future - at sixteen they will leave the internot. They will be on their own with no basic life skills to manage money, find jobs, or be taught how to handle relationships. They will have no guidance, no encouragement, no mom to call when sad, no home to go to on holidays, no lasting, significant relationships that they can depend on. Very simply - no family.
Dr. David's blog recently discussed the fact that there is a prevalent lie that these children believe about the reality of their situation. A lie so deep that many older children will turn away an offer of hope. All they see is a loss of immediate gratification and freedoms.
And it would be dishonest to say that there is not a true loss for these children when they are adopted. There are significant losses. Katya feels these now. We do understand. They loose yet more relationships, familiarity, culture, language, and great deal of freedom. Simple freedoms like eating as much candy as they want, playing with fire, watching whatever on tv, dressing in whatever way they like, coming and going from the orphanage freely. What they do not realize is that these (and much worse 'freedoms' as they get older), threaten to hurt them beyond measure. For the older children it is freedom to drink excessively, smoke, have hurtful relationships with each other, steal, etc. No real 'freedom' in all that. Unspeakable sadness and pain is the reality behind the lie.

There are many gains, and from an outside, parental perspective, they clearly outweigh the current loss. We can see the bleak future and the painful present. But from a child's limited perspective it is not so clear. We understand that. We are incredibly grateful that Katya and Nastya have enough perspective and awareness of their needs to see that they need a family and need hope. Nastya - perhaps due to personality, perhaps due to age, perhaps circumstances - is just ready to go. She wants to be with us so badly. She is sad to leave her friends but doesn't really struggle with it. It melts my heart that she is so ready to go. Her joy at joining our family and finally going home outweighs her pain of leaving. But the struggle that Katya faces doesn't mean that the need in her heart is any less. In fact it might be more - she has just had more time to be convinced of and to enjoy the ever important 'freedoms'. She is unable to realize the slavery that those freedoms lead to. Why? One because she is a child. Two, because she is a child without guidance and teaching from loving parents. Three, because she is a human being. I recently commented in relation to this subject on Dr. David's blog post "Unaware of Their Peril" and thought it appropriate to add those thoughts here as well.

We are all decieved by the 'freedoms' that the world has to offer. All of us at one point don’t realize the peril of our eternal future. We think that we are really okay, really good people, or just don’t think past the alluring pleasures that this world offers. And then somehow, by the amazing grace of God, that facade is broken, and we suddenly (or sometimes gradually) come to realize our deep need for a Savior. Why are so many hearts and eyes shut to the desperate reality that we all face, apart from Christ? Why were all of our hearts closed for sometime? Because we are all decieved and, if we know Him, then somehow by the grace of God He revealed our need and His hope to us. And why me? Why did I ever see and come to Christ? I don’t know except that He pursued me when I wasn’t looking for Him and He brought me to Himself. He quite literally saved me from myself. But it wasn't easy for me. On that side, there were great losses (at least percieved) and I grieved them. I did not surrender easily and was bitter when I could only see the pain that some poor choices and life circumstances were causing me. I thought that I had lost so much. I had thought myself very happy and with a bright future. Oh and perhaps it was a bright future by how the world might measure success. But inside I was not happy and headed for worse.

Little could I see that through those difficult circumstances and losses, I was gaining everything. Oh thank you Lord that you didn't let me continue in my blindness! I see the bitterness I had towards God even when He was working good in my life. I couldn't see the future and didn't trust Him yet. I had to learn to trust as I came to know Him, and now I look back and shudder to think of all I would have missed if I had things my way. Our new daughters are learning to trust as well, but in the meantime they have fears and frustrations. I must try to love them as gently and patiently as my Father has loved me. I must protect them even when they don't think that they need it and continually remind them that I love them in the process. I must say no to things that hurt them. I must love them when they are angry and rebellious. Oh how God has lavished this type of love on me and He shows me how to love my children. And slowly I am still learning that His ways are perfect and that I can trust completely in Him - I still fail often in trusting Him. My children and I - we will learn together. I will try to copy His unconditional, redeeming love for me towards my children. I can only do this by His strength. I imagine God pouring His love into our hearts and it flowing through to them.
Why would we expect adoption to really be any different for our children than it is for us? They are facing some loss now but one day - perhaps far in the future, perhaps sooner - we pray that they will see what they gained. And that they will see that it was not us but God who is doing and will do this work in their lives.
Throughout nature as well as human history there is rarely beauty without pain. There is no good without bad, no comfort without sadness, no love without sacrifice, no gain without loss.

Philippians 3:7-8 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ

More Big Steps Toward America!

Finally! Katya was released yesterday from the hospital. I can't imagine how great that must feel for her after 10 days of sitting in the same stuffy room. N came into town yesterday to do a gazillion paperwork things. Mid-morning we went to the orphanage and took care of some things there. We gave our orphanage donation and were once again struck by the humility and kindness of the director and the other staff members. He did everything completely by the book - recording the donation with several other members present to count the money and gave reciepts. The orphanage is clearly in need of more money than they recieve from the government and all the people who run it work for such small pay. We were happy to be able to help in at least a small way. They have had two fires in the past two days, started by a group of boys either smoking or just playing with fire. One was inside the school building on the second floor and the other was an outside storage building. Thankfully no one was hurt but there are now many damages for the orphanage to deal with...

So back to yesterday - we were given permission to go to the hospital to pick up Katya. And even better - Nastya was allowed to go with us all day! I had no idea we were going to get to spend the day with the girls out of the orphanage! So we picked Katya up and she was ecstatic - talking a million miles a minute to N, who loosely translated some of what she was saying. Zach, Katya, Nastya, and I cozied up in the back seat of N's car (her husband was driving and she was in the front). We had Nastya on my lap and Katya next to the window since the fresh air seems to help them not get carsick. Zach squeezed into the middle :) We literally drove in circles from one office to the next and back again. We had to apply for new birth certificates, have the new birth certificates legalized, and apply for new tax id numbers for the girls. Sounds simple enough except that we kept running into small problems that sent us in circles around the city. A typo here, someone having a late lunch there, a stop to get something notarized, oops another typo on one birth certificate - must retrace steps and get that fixed. But do it fast because if we aren't back in 30 minutes the person to legalize it will be gone until Monday! Unfortunately the tax id office would not issue the new number until Monday which means that we can't apply for the passports until Monday. We are still told that we can get the old, blank type (they recently changed the process) which will mean that we can apply Monday and pick it up Tuesday. If that is not the case, then it will take SEVEN days from Monday until we get the passports. Meaning that we cannot do the next steps in Kiev to get us home until then. Praying for the 'old' ones to truly be available.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I'm Being Attacked!

This is very serious.

About a week ago I awoke in the middle of the night with my upper lip tingling and swollen to the point that it almost was touching my nose - no exaageration! I began to panic and thought - what kind of allergy attack am I having? What if next I can't breathe? I took a few deep breaths, decided that, while very strange and quite uncomfortable, my life was not in immediate danger. I thankfully went back to sleep. In the morning my lip was still quite swollen and kind of curled upwards (very attractive). I remembered then that I had heard a buzzing sound in my sleep and figured it was some type of insect bite - like a killer mosquito perhaps. I could see where he had bit me!

Well last night it happenned again - I was bit not once but twice. This time they got me on my right upper eyelid (I could barely open it when I got up and now it appears that I have a droopy lid) AND on my right ear lobe. The ear itches pretty bad and is hot and swollen. I thought it was too cold for these creatures to still be alive but I guess they are some tough cookies and obviously have it out for me.

I mean Zach was right there - why not him? I guess I smelled better...

A few other random things ~ We moved to a new apartment last night. We were spoiled and now we are being humbled. I have never slept on such a lumpy, small bed. It barely fit the two of us and caved towards the middle. Not to mention that it is in this wierd closet-like room. All that fits is the bed and it is more than a little claustrophobic! Don't miss that romantic photography hanging above our heads though! Ha! Let's just say it was not the best night's sleep... Why did I forget to pack more benadryl!?!? I think one of us will try the 2 1/2 foot wide couch tonight!
So we finally quit tossing and turning and drug ourselves out of bed this morning, feeling like we had not slept at all. I was looking out the window (through one eye) and, noticing the new roof that was being constructed inches from the window, I said, "At least they are not hammering away this morning right outside our window." Not five second later the banging began in earnest and hasn't quit yet!

It has been interesting!

Another crazy thing that happened yesterday - this on a more positive note!!

It is a small world after all!

We went to eat last night at this really awesome restaurant. We walked in and to our surprise the waitress said, "Sit anywhere you like!" - in plain english! She continued to talk to us in perfect english and we asked if she was from Ukraine. She said yes but that she has spent a year and also a summer in the US on student exchange programs. We told her that we were from Texas and she almost fell over saying that she lived in this little town - New Braunfels! Then we almost fell over! She lived with David and Cathy (I think) Stewart. We don't know them but it was such an amazingly small world. She even went to Canyon high school. It was so fun talking to her and she was thrilled. Seriously, what are the odds that we would meet one of the only people in Ukraine who lived in New Braunfels? Not good!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Enough Already!!!

Can you believe it? I didn't until I saw it first hand...

Katya is STILL in the hospital. Day 9. The girl is waaaaaay more patient than I am in this regard. First we were all told 5 days and she would leave and that seemed crazy. Then we were promised that today she would leave. So we head for a quick visit to the orphanage. It had to be quick because we have to move apartments this evening and I have come down with a cold - I'm sure from the hospital!! Don't worry - I won't be coughing in front of anyone at the hospital or they might keep me too :) But at least I have antibiotics (thanks Dr. Nelson!) and other good drugs! But I am getting off subject...

So we arrived at the orphanage expecting to see both girls but only Nastya comes running up (in a sleeveless shirt - we tried to tell her that it at best 55 degrees!) and says that Katya is not back. So we head to the director's office and Alla is there. Alla is also surprised and they call the hospital but the doctors have left for the day!!! That means that she wouldn't be leaving and we couldn't get an update. Nor could we send her a message. So we did what any good parents would do :) We took a taxi to the hospital knowing that she would be very disappointed to still be there and doubly upset if we didn't come visit. Unfortunately we didn't have time to run by the market and get food. All we had was juice and a little candy. We were so wishing that we had food because she says the food there is horrible (I can only imagine). But the market was very far away and we had to rush back to pack up the apartment. Tomorrow we will take her more food - she wants fried eggs and spaghetti?!? I'll just whip that right up :)

She was sad to be there but so relieved that we came. She told us that she thought we wouldn't come and that she was crying earlier :( I wanted to cry for her. And scream too. So she has a little cough. That's it! She is barely sick - certainly no fever and not feeling bad. But she thinks the doctor said that now she is staying until Friday!!! That will be 11 days and will only give her one last night with her friends before leaving forever. So incredibly frustrating and no one will listen to us or for that matter understand us. There is more than a language difference in this communication problem!!! We are going to call in the morning and see if we can request her release tomorrow afternoon. Pray that they will do that. She really needs to have some time to say goodbye to her friends. Maybe we will be able to let her stay until Sunday evening before the girls leave with us... We are ready to take them now but also feel that she needs some time with her friends who have been like sisters the past few years.

The good aspects of this hospital stay are still good - we have had a lot of bonding time, she has felt very loved by us, I have felt very compassionate and loving to her, and maybe this frustration will actually help her be even more ready to get home to America!!! It sure does help me!! We know that this time truly is working for good and can see that even in the frustrations!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Update on Katya...

Unfortunately she is still in the hospital but we have been promised that she will be released Wednesday. Only one more day - we can do it!! She does have a bit of a cold but nothing serious - no fever or anything. She just is slightly conjested and coughs mildly. She doesn't seem to feel too bad and has been a very sport about being in the hospital. I would be freaking out but I guess she is used to it.

It has not been fun but it has also not been all bad. The positives are ~ we get to show love to her by visiting daily and bringing special, healthy treats (fruit, yogurt, sausage, juice, some candy, vitamins). This has meant so much to her. At the beginning she begged for these things and then I think she started to realize that she doesn't have to beg - that we love her and WANT to give her good things. Today she began to give us her daily requests :) and then stopped and just smiled. I could just see her thinking,"Of course you will bring these things and I don't even have to ask." We usually brought her things that she asked for as well as a little something extra and it clearly has spoken lots of love to her. She has been very cuddly and huggy and tells us how much she loves us everytime we see her. We take picture flashcards (made by Trend) and learn english words. She has learned a lot and is building her confidence. We also just point at items and learn the names (watch, door, window, hair, purse, desk, chair, etc). Today when we arrived she was sitting on her bed doing math problems from her textbook even though it was not assigned. She just liked it!! And I actually got to see what kind of math she was doing.

Oh, and a clear answer to prayer that I forgot to post about last week. One day we were sitting in the girls bedroom at the internot, playing Uno. Katya all the sudden asks about school in America and explains that she is so worried that she will not understand anything and that she is scared. She and Nastya were also very concerned about being put into separate classes.

Well, we have been praying about how to tell her that she will be homeschooled in America and expected some initial resistance to this announcement... We had prepared our speech to have through the translator- complete with a list of pros for why it was good and how fun it would be. When the girls were in Texas this summer, Katya kept saying that she wanted to go to American school so bad, and she wanted to be in any kind of social situations. We are certain that this is the right thing for the girls to be homeschooled this year to have time to bond with us, to learn English, to build confidence, to learn what it means to be in a family, to be sheltered until they are better able to make wise decisions in difficult social situations. It made the decision even easier that we are not in a great school district and the only private schools nearby would not be equipped to meet the specific needs of language and other things that they will need. So being confident in this decision we were concerned about how to present it to the girls.
So it was great that all the sudden, with no warning, we had this open door to discuss the homeschool plan. We looked at her and Nastya, and Zach told her that I would be her teacher at home and that he would teach sometimes too. They both smiled. I told her that I would help her learn English and that she would also learn on the computer (she like Rosetta Stone this summer and made great progress). She was amazed and kept saying, "Momma, teacher?!?" All with a big smile on her face. So, the cat is out of the bag with a good first response. All I can say is, "Thank you Lord"! I thought this was going to be a much harder issue. She may feel differently at times when Allee is doing neat stuff at school but this is a great start.

Now if I can just figure out exactly how I am going to teach two girls who don't understand 90% of what I am saying... I have lots of ideas (great ones from some of you blog friends!) but just need to put it together... Any ideas from any of you who have homeschooled older internationally-adopted children are welcome! I specifically would love ideas for how you got started the first few weeks - like what type of schedule you had and what you did other than math and english...

A Few Favorites!!!

Adoption Resource Favorites
These have helped prepare us in so many ways and have been a joy to read/listen to. We just want to share for those who are in the process or considering adoption. These are worth the effort and money to order them.

The Barrett's: An Amazing Adoption Story - This is a broadcast from Focus on the Family. It is an amazing story of a family that adopted four very difficult children from the US foster care system. Several of the children had severe RAD and lots of other issues. This story makes mine seem like a cakewalk and at the same time it is a story of hope and restoration. It really is a story of a very extreme case and most stories I hear of are not like this. The children that were adopted (many years previous to this broadcast) are interviewed as well. I remember listening over and over to it in my car and thinking, "Wow if God enabled these people to withstand these trials and has brought healing into these kids lives, then there are none without hope." And of course that is true but this brought it home in a tangible way. And they give very specific descriptions of how they responded to some very tough situations in the early years. It helped prepare us to parent older adopted children - especially not knowing really what we might face. I am fairly confident that we will not see the extreme issues that this family saw, but we may see similar root issues in much lesser intensity - if that makes sense! So, the link to order this is

If for some reason that doesn't work - go to the first part - - and then search for barretts. An amazing story - worth listening to even if you aren't adopting!!! Only $9.00

Carried Home Safely by Kristin Swick Wong This book just does a beautiful job of capturing the beauty of our adoption by the Lord and how our adoptions of difficult, lonely, but precious children gives a small reflection of what He has done for us. I hope to devote a post to that topic more later... But it is well written and so very encouraging. You can find it on Amazon.

There are several other resources I want to mention but I will leave you with these for now.

A few other very important favorites!!!

This chocolate is amazing!!! Dolci and Roshen. And coming from me - a girl who doesn't really like chocolate... If you are really lucky I might bring a few extra boxes home to share... If you come to Ukraine don't miss it. Actually there are lots of good chocolate and foods here - we are happy. And they really practice portion control here :) Hard to get used to but very healthy! The hardest is when you order coffee - it is good and strong (just like I enjoy it) but very small (like maybe two ounces for an Americano)!!! I make Zach order one as well so that I can have both!

We love a soup called Sole-yanka. We also like their Greek Salads with white cheese, ukrainian pizza (it really is better than american pizza), fried potatoes with mushrooms, veal steaks, chicken steaks with cheese and mushrooms inside, roast beef with yellowish rice, roast beef with potatoes and cheese, buckwheat, chicken with prunes and cheese on top, and lots of other things that are so yummy!! As you can see, we are not hurting in the food department! It really is a good thing that the portions are small and that we walk about six miles a day or we would seriously be gaining weight. ****One disclaimer - we are in a nice city of over 600,000 people - if you travel to a smaller village or even another city (I haven't seen any others) there may not be the same choices of restaurants or food to choose from - just so you know!!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Eye of the Storm

We are now officially in the waiting stage. Today (Thursday) is day 3 out of 10. After that we apply for new birth certificates and passports and maybe something else. It is possible that they still have the old passports or something like that here in Zhytomyr. If so, apparently it could save us several days - maybe even more when you consider weekends getting in the way. I don't really understand it except that it may mean we will go home a few days sooner than later. So I hope it is true! We will not know until it happens (this is becoming a familiar theme).

So our schedule lately goes like this.:

Wake up around 8:30 in the morning - I know we are such slackers but we stay up late because we just can't go to sleep - it still feels like the middle of the afternoon. Oh and we are completely hooked on watching 24 - this from two people who never watch tv. It's bad. We have fallen hard...

So, then we get ready, eat breakfast (usually a boiled egg and toast), do some bible study and reading and return a few emails.

Around noon we leave to eat lunch - which sometimes is a slow process. We stop at a market and grab a few things that Katya has requested. We take her some food and entertainment, hang out for an hour or two and then head to get coffee and on to the orphanage.

At the orphanage we just follow Nastya around to whatever the afternoon class of the day is taking place (soccer, dance, music, or homework time). We talk to her during all this because it is fairly laid back in the afternoon. For example if a child doesn't feel like p.e. then he or she just doesn't show up or just watches the other kids. This would never fly in America but I guess in the orphanage there is no one really to enforce involvement. So after some time with Nastya, we call a taxi and return to the city. We eat dinner, return to our apartment, blog (like now), email, skype, and watch 24.

Hard life huh?!?

Which leads me to the 'eye of the storm'. Before getting here I think things were about as crazy as they have ever been in our lives. Just for an idea, we hosted the girls for a month - during which Zach's grandpa died, my sister and parents traveled to Ethiopia to adopt my nephew and we kept my niece for a few weeks; we moved our business office; we moved much of our household items (we are kind of in between houses now); before moving our things we completely remodeled our new home and developed the land around our new home, including Zach putting in the septic pretty much himself; my Dad had a heart attack days before we left; the kids started school; and if there were other major events I honestly have blocked them out!! So then we arrive in Ukraine and the first week or so was pretty busy. But now for at least 10 days we are alone with time to talk, take walks, eat out, watch movies, pray, read, make plans for when we get home, and just love on tons of kids. Of course we miss our children at home and the rest of our family, but I would be lying if I didn't say that this is truly a vacation for us and we are loving most every minute.

Shortly after we arrived here, Zach and I were talking and he said, "You know our lives are like a hurricane lately but right now we are in the eye of the storm and it is sure peaceful - although deceptive!" It feels very strange, having come out of an incredibly busy time and about to go into unchartered terrirtory with two new children and homeschooling them, to have such a quiet few weeks. We fear that we may be getting a bit spoiled! But we just know that it is God's grace to give us this time to refresh, to enjoy one another, and to prepare our hearts for the next chapter in this exciting journey. It will definitely be the hardest but we are not afraid. After all God has carried us through so far, we have no doubt that He will continue to do so, one day at a time.

Update on Katya: Thank you all so much for the encouraging comments and prayers. Melanie thank you for the encouragement about sometimes being right where you need to be even when it seems otherwise. You know we have been praying that God would help prepare her heart to leave and maybe this is what she needed. Just to clarify, she says daily that she wants to go to America and is so happy about it all, but there is definitely going to be a loss (especially for her) when she leaves her country, culture, language, friends, and caregivers. As far as her health - she is still fine today and we hope she will be back by Saturday or Sunday. We have had some nice alone time with her in the waiting room of the hospital at least! Our hands are just about dried out and starting to crack from all the Purell we keep using!! No paranoi here!

Hospital Stay...

Katya is currently in the hospital. Nope don't be too concerned. That sounds bad but actually it is quite ridiculous. Almost all the kids in her group/class had coughs and a general head cold when we got here. Nastya seemed like she really felt bad. Katya complained of a sore throat and coughed some. But she didn't have a fever and was dancing, running, laughing, and acting like she felt great. No signs of being very sick but still complaining. Well, the day of court she told us that the nurse was sending her to the hospital the next day to be 'treated' because of her sore throat. She still seemed fine. So not only did she get sent to the hospital but she has to stay for 5 to 7 days. We are pretty frustrated about this. Not only is she stuck in this creepy hospital in a room with over 7 over girls (most of whom do appear quite ill and will probably give her something), but we have to go up there everyday. It is quite a far walk and adds several hours onto our daily travels. And it is not a fun place to visit - smelly, diseases floating around, just wierd - it almost feels like being in the twilight zone or something. And I actually really like to go to hospitals in the US.

The worst part of it all is that she does NOT need to be there but now that she is there they won't let her leave until her 'treatment' is done. I shudder to think of all diseases she is being exposed to! I think the rest of the kids have figured out that this is what happens if you complain too much, but I guess she didn't realize that this was what would happen. I can't even imagine how long they would keep you if had something seriously wrong like surgery or having a baby. One person was shocked when we said that even when you have a baby in America you only stay one or two nights!! It is pretty crazy. Praying that they will let her out soon so that she can spend a few good days with her friends and can say her goodbyes before we leave. We really wanted this week to be a time of closure for her as she prepares to leave this chapter of her life behind. All venting about the hospital aside - the only thing that really saddens us is this lost time for her to spend with her friends.

Monday, October 13, 2008

"There's No Place Like Home!"

This is what Nastya said just after the girls were proclaimed our children!!

Kateryna Grace Potts


Anastasiya Joy Potts

What an amazing, beautiful, glorious day this has been! Court went great although I must admit that we were both very nervous :) We couldn't help it - we suddenly realized the magnitude of this moment and couldn't help but being nervous. It didn't help matters that we couldn't understand what was being said until after N translated it for us. And we weren't completely sure what should be said or not said... But I guess we did alright! The judge was very kind and even cracked some jokes. In other cirmcumstances we might have cracked a few back but we were too worried that a wrong word might send a wrong message or be offensive.

So, an overview: We sat outside the small courtroom awaiting our turn for about 20 minutes. We were called in and told where to sit (one row up and to the right of the girls). N sat behind us and the orphanage director and adoption inspector sat behind her. There was one judge, two jurors (normal citizens), and a court reporter. Official things were done like looking over passports, verifing the the identy of us, N, the Orphanage Director, and the Regional Adoption Inspector. The judge then orally reviewed our case file, including our entire dossier as well as local reports about the girls. Then Zach was asked to stand and present to the court for why he was willing and able to adopt these girls. He stated that were financially able and physically able to provide a loving home for these girls. He discussed that we love them and that we desire to provide them a loving family. He talked about our great extended family support and expressed our commitment to maintain the girls dual citizenship and file yearly reports. He ended with saying that we planned to help the girls maintain their use of their language so that they can one day return and visit if they so choose. I think everyone really appreciated that. Then it was my turn. The judge jokingly asked me if my husband forced me to sign the paperwork :) I said of course not. He asked what else I had to add and I talked about what a blessing these girls were to us and how thankful we were for the opportunity bring them into our family. I got a little tongue tied for a minute and continued with our plans to educate the girls and care for their needs. The judge asked me if I wanted girls since we already had two boys and only one girl. I took him seriously and said that we would have been happy with boys too but just love these girls. Then I realized he was joking when he asked when we were returning for another boy! I felt kinda silly :)

So as we are sitting here writing this post, I am saying, "Man we really should have prepared more last night and had better answers - we were kind of unsure about what to say." Zach responds, "This is just like in college - when you made a 90 you wanted a 100 and I was just happy to get the 89.5 needed to ensure an A!" Okay so maybe I am a perfectionist and he's a slacker!!! Ha!

Back to court: The judge and the jurors leave to discuss the verdict. Don, ton, ta, don... They return!! Okay, I know in my head that it will be fine but I'm still thinking, "What if we gave a wrong answer and they don't like us!" So, he begins to read the court judgment. It goes through all the same stuff again - our family, our finances, our application to adopt, etc. Then, and this was the hardest part where I began to really tear up, he said things about their family history and ended with, "And no one in Ukraine wants them." My heart broke completely and I cried out silently, "We want you!! We want you!!"

We said our thank yous to the judge and others and headed out. We spoke for awhile to the orphanage director, who we found to be a gracious, kind man. We told him what an excellent job he is doing running the orphanage (and this is so true) and he responded with, "Thank you, but there is no replacement for a loving family." That's when Nastya chimed in, "There is no place like home." Oh how right you are sweet girl!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tomorrow, Tomorrow...

The sun'll come out Tomorrow,

Bet your bottom dollar,

That tomorrow

There'll be sun!

Oh, yes tomorrow is finally really here!!! We have court at four (our time). There are some last minute paperwork things that must come together in the morning but N is confident that everything will be in place. Can I hear an Amen!!! It is so surreal that tomorrow we truly go to court and legally become the parents of Kateryna and Anastasiya. I don't think they really realize what a big day this is - the big day for them will be when they leave the orphanage for the last time. That will be their tomorrow and in a way it will Zach's and mine as well. It is hard to have children that we literally have no control or protection of at this point. I can't stand many of the freedoms at the orphanage or the media (which thankfully isn't nearly as bad as some people have found in other orphanages) that they are exposed to. We can't wait to be able to love, protect, guide, and teach them as their parents. For now, we just get to visit, but it is their turf and it is counterproductive to give directives of any sort because we have no recourse if they do not listen. Suggestions and requests are usually met with willingness, but we know that requests such as - please do not walk to the market without an adult - will not be met with obedience. We feel that it would actually hurt our authority to tell them to do something that we can't enforce. There are teachers and caregivers with very different rules (or lack thereof) and we are not in a position to challenge the status quo. It is difficult though, to realize that our children are doing things that we do not think are safe or good for them. If all goes well tomorrow, then only 10 more days until they truly will be ours forever!!!

An endearing story to share... One sweet girl - Alena, who is Zach's spanish speaking translator friend - actually told him that she had prayed to Jesus about her bad hair cut and that He made her feel better (she was so sad that they gave her a bad haircut the other day). She then said that the music at the orphanage is 'no good' and that she would prefer the songs about God that they sing at Awanas and church. Wow! So awesome to see one out of many who has somehow 'gotten' it. This girl is such a gem. Pray for Alena's faith to continue to grow and for her future to be protected. Her faith seems very genuine and she seems much more confident and emotionally stable than most of the children. She longs to leave the orphanage and go to a real family. She has a 'host mom' in Spain, but since this woman is single, she cannot adopt her (as per the law of Ukraine). But obviously she has benefited from the hosting times and received hope and faith from her family in Spain.

Today we went to church (tserkva) again and what a blessing it was. Shortly after arriving (we were a little late due to taxi trouble), they sang "How Great Thou Art". What an incredible joy it was to worship with this church body in another language. Zach and I read our bibles during the sermons (yes, 2 sermons) and it was truly a refreshing, encouraging time! I prayed that this church body would truly be a light to the children of the orphanage and that they would not tire in their ministry to them. I sat behind two great foster families that we have been praying for and was overjoyed to actually see their families and their children. The world has truly become smaller!

And I was comforted by this verse this morning:

2 Corinthians 4:16- 18 "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Happy Birthday Nastya!!

You are 10 today sweet girl. How I wish that I could have celebrated every birthday and milestone with you. How I wish that I had sung you happy birthday every October 10th and been a part of every one of your first 10 years. What was I even doing 10 years ago? Well I had a new baby but had no idea that another of my children was being born half a world away. I would not know you for almost 10 years. But we can both have peace despite the loss because God knew you. He created you perfectly and knew every day of yours before there was one. He was preparing me for you long before I knew you and preparing you for me. His plan was and is always filled with hope and a future. Never forget that. Your Father always has been and will be your father in heaven. He has never left you even when the darkness has overwhelmed you, He was there carrying you through it. And today Daddy and I celebrated your life and your future with you. I pray that your day was blessed and that you know how very much you are loved and cherished. We love you, Momma and Daddy

Today it took from about 11 in the morning until about 2 to accomplish buying two small chocolate cakes, some fruit, candy, bottled water, and finding taxis to the market and then to the orphanage. We traveled less than 8 miles in all! Everything takes 10 times longes here with long lines (one for fruit, one for candy, one for checkout) and humorous attempts to find and communicate with taxi drivers who speak another language. It goes like this - we flag a taxi, show him the written address (in Ukrainian) where we wish to go, offer him about 20 grivna and he says no 30 grivna. Well that is way too much - 20 is actually too much. So we start again. It is best to find a metered taxi but to do this we must call and that is interesting with my limited ukrainian. It sounds like "Preevit, Ya hochu taxi e dee tu dee hotel Ukraine, spa see ba." Translation, "Hi, I would like a taxi to come to Hotel Ukraine, please." Half the time it works and half the time they hang up. But we eventually get to where we need to go - usually just later than sooner. Today, we were tired and a little stressed by the time we arrived at the orphanage for the party scheduled in the girls classroom with their whole class. We were loaded down with goods that we had to smuggle in without other children seeing what we had. No easy task. But we were smooth! We made it just in time to set up and put candles on the cake before the kids came running in. It was fun and we had fruit, cake, ballons, pens and lipgloss for everyone. Big hits! Nastya shared her birthday celebration with a friend who also had a birthday today. I think it was better for all the attention to not be on her, as they are not used to being singled out. It all went well and then we went outside to play water balloon tosses. All in all a very fun day. But you know what?!? - Throwing a birthday party in Ukraine is just as exhausting for mom as doing one in America!!!