Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ukrainian Christmas in Texas

What an incredible joy it is to have these precious children here!!!! Before Christmas we had a big party complete with lots of food, outdoor fun, games, gingerbread house decorating (although most were too busy to get to that) and of course Santa. Thanks Kyle family for organizing this!! It was a blast for all of us!

Sweet little Bogdan meeting Santa and learning to ride a bike.
And here is my Katya - Santa must have told her something good was coming!!!Allee, Liza, and Nastya getting a quick hug from Santa. Liza is part of the host group and such a cutie :)

Here's Anna!

Katya enjoyed spending time with her friend Sveta - they had not seen each other in 13 months!!

Tanya lovin on little Madeline



The kids were mesmermized by Santa reading a book. I think he really might be the real deal... real beard, white bushy eyebrows, a bag full of goodies... I don't know - if kids can come from Ukraine then maybe this Santa really came from the North Pole. Our translator had a few requests for Santa - an iPhone, a Surburban, and world peace :-)



What a cutie! This is Kolya - and cute yes but see that glint of mischief in his eyes... He'll steal hearts for sure :) Well for that matter - won't they all?!?

Yes in fact they have...


Monday, December 21, 2009

Ukrainians to Texas - MIRACULOUS JOURNEY

I have always wondered what it would be like to be a character in the show 24. Zach and I got a little addicted to 24 while in Ukraine. But the last four days, I feel like I have been in one of the episodes with a new and difficult encounter every few hours. It has been intense folks!!



To begin I will tell you the happy ending of the story! - Between last night and today 16 Ukrainian orphans landed in Texas and joined their host families for what should be three joy filled weeks. And I am telling you - God must have some super big plans for this trip because Satan was all over trying to stop it from happening.



So backing up to last Wednesday, we found out that our main chaperon in charge of bringing all the host children was in a car accident and was not going to be able to travel. She is doing fine now from what we hear but was not up to traveling after her accident. So, the scramble began to find a new escort who met the criteria of someone we knew or had excellent references, had an open visa already, and was able to take off work and leave with only a few days notice. Incredibly, God provided the perfect person for the job - we would find out later just how much this specific person was truly needed for the trip. You can imagine the craziness of contacting people in Ukraine about this, changing airfare tickets, letting our host families know of the situation, etc, etc. It seemed pretty dramatic but was nothing to what the next few days had in store!



Sunday at 5:30 am Ukrainian time (9:30 pm TX time) 16 children and four adults boarded a plane in Kiev. They then arrived in Frankfurt where one precious little boy had some type of allergic reaction or asthma attack or something and suddenly couldn't breathe very well. It got worse and the German airport medics came running. They pulled down the poor child's pants and gave him an epinephrine shot and a suppository in the middle of the German airport. Bogdan does not improve and enter the ambulance. The boy, along with our new replacement escort, who just "happened" to be a doctor, were whisked away to the German hospital in Frankfurt. The rest of the group (including Bogdan's terrified brother Andriy) was left with no way to contact them or know what the situation was due to the communication problems. My friend was calling me through this giving me the frightening updates. Another grave dilemma was that Ukrainians are required to have a visa to enter Germany and it was uncertain whether they would be allowed back in to the airport when Bogdan recovered.

I, on the other side of the world, was shaking and crying out to the Lord on Bogdan's behalf and that of the rest of our group for over two hours not knowing what the situation was. This was from 1:30 am to 3:30 am TX time. I suddenly knew that Bogdan was okay as clearly as if the Lord had whispered it in my ear. I had heard nothing but began praising God for his healing and for putting him and the escort back on that plane with the group. Not 15 minutes later my phone rang and I heard that he was indeed breathing normally and was boarding the plane!!!

Miraculously Bogdan seemed to be healed quickly of whatever it was that was causing him to be unable to breathe and they quickly allowed him and the escort to return the airport and board the plane. One of the main reasons this was allowed was because the escort was a doctor!! Who but God knew that we needed to have a doctor escorting the children!! Can you imagine the drama that was in the airport for all the kids including the boy's big brother!?!

So at this point our group was split into two groups - half coming to Denver and half to Chicago and then all ending up in TX. Great plan except that mother nature intervened. The flight that Bogdan and the Ukrainian escorts were on was stuck on the runway for three hours before takeoff. Needless to say they missed their flight and any others that might have gotten them to TX that night from Denver.


We had 8 hours or so to figure out what to do when the plane landed. I spent countless hours trying to find flights for them and calling airports but things were beyond crazy due to the winter storm on the east coast. Nobody would help me even when I occasionally reached an actual person at the airport.

As I was praying for intervention and I remembered that there was this awesome group of people somewhere around Denver who had adopted from Ukraine. I follow their blogs and had become friends with Kari over the past year. They also bring groups of children for hosting in the summer. I thought that perhaps they might be able and willing to help with our group. I don't know them well so I just emailed Kari and hoped that maybe she would get the message and call back. Within 30 minutes my phone rang and she immediately offered to house them, feed them, meet them at the airport, whatever!!! Wow!!! I was so overwhelmed and grateful. Then a short time later she put me in touch with Felix Roge. Be SURE to read his side of the story - you will cry and laugh at the same time!! He just 'happened' to be heading up to the airport anyways around the same time our group was landing. He got there earlier and started working with the ticket desk on their behalf and was able to work a miracle to get them ALL on a direct flight to Austin the next morning. If he had not been there it would have been a mess beyond my imagination, and two Ukrainian men caring for 10 exhausted children would have had to try to figure this out on their own in a foreign country. It would not have been good. But again, God already knew and provided. THEN, Felix drove them in his 15 passenger van to hotel (which we found at an incredibly low rate and was perfect for them with a very helpful staff), got them settled and headed home. In the morning he headed back to the hotel, fed them all breakfast, and maneuvered his way with this large group through the packed, crazy airport. It was quite the adventure and MANY disastrous situations were avoided. He got them ALL on the plane and off to TX.

Thank you doesn't even begin to cover it Felix, Heidi, Nadia, Julia, Kolya, Kari, and everyone else in CO who stopped your busy lives in the middle of Christmas season to help out people you have never met. We are so grateful!! And most of all, thank you Lord for making all those connections and going before us to prepare for the needs of our group.



And so it was much rejoicing this morning when we met the group (who all had a good night's sleep in the hotel) at the airport in Austin. It was an amazing thing to see the children join their host families and the joy on both sides.



At the same time we had our other group coming in from Chicago. They too missed their flight due to weather but since there were already American adults in the group, it was not as critical of a situation. They were exhausted beyond comprehension when we welcomed them last night at midnight to Austin. It was filled with joy though as my girls welcomed two of their best friends, Tanya and Galina. They had not seen Tanya since we left Ukraine and it was a beautiful, emotional reunion. So awesome. Galina was here this summer but it was amazing to see her back. We LOVE those girls and so excited to see them with their host families!!



We have had wonderful reports of their first day here and all of them are doing very well. More updates will be coming as we have lots of Ukrainian Christmas fun coming up!



There has been MUCH more drama on top of all the travel issues - yes it is true. Some of it we just can't share on a public blog but it has been a crazy and very emotional week. The incredible thing has been that as the pressure has increased, God's grace and strength has increased tenfold. I have barely slept since Wednesday night (remember I have also been at dance rehearsals every night until 11), but God has given me and Becca and Camille and our husbands and children just incredible grace and provided people at every turn to love these children. It is not about us and we give all the glory to Him. Thank you Jesus.



Pictures coming...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Kateryna Ballerina



Katya has been preparing to perform in The Nutcracker. She auditioned in August and got the part!! She is truly gifted at dancing, but we were uncertain how she would do because she really only had training in jazz type dance and not really in ballet. She was given two parts (a mouse and a polichinelle) and she has risen to the challenge! We love her dance studio and she has been SO blessed by the friendships that she has made as well as the excellent but gracious teaching of her instructors! Thank you Ballet New Braunfels and all of you families who have encouraged her in dance!




So this week she has had practices every night until around 11:00. It is pretty intense but the final productions this weekend were worth every bit of the effort. It was a beautiful and very professional performance and I was just overjoyed to watch my little dancer just shine up there. And just filled with joy and loving every minute. On the way home last night she started crying and said that she was so happy that God let her do this and made her able to dance and just how much she loves to dance. What a wonderful thing that Katya has been a part of all this. We have seen her grow in her confidence, socially, emotionally, and physically through this semester of dance.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Orphan Sunday

We just wanted to share that we were incredibly blessed this past Sunday. You probably know that it was adoption Sunday and I have been thrilled to hear about so many churches using this opportunity to share testimonies of adoption and about the many other ways that people can minister to children who are suffering without their physical and emotional needs being met.

Our family has a new church, and while it was not one of the reasons that we initially joined this church, it seems that God has moved us there because of a shared passion. Many people at the church are passionate about orphans and adoption. This Sunday, my good friend's husband spoke about adoption - both the adoption of children and our adoption as children of God. It was awesome. Then we were invited up to tell a little about our journey to bring our girls home, and our girls were interviewed. They did such a great job - it is powerful to hear them speak about what they can now see that God has done in their lives. We were just filled with joy to give all the glory to God for what He has done in their lives and ours.

So if you are wondering more about our journey or about adoption, just go listen!!

www.livestream.com/riverstone. Click on menu and then video library -- Nov. 8th.

Monday, November 2, 2009

CELEBRATING ONE YEAR HOME!!

WOW - This time last year we were shell shocked, tired and there was truly 'no place like home' for all of us :) It is hard to believe that one year ago Katya and Nastya barely spoke English, I was clueless and terrified of homeschooling, our kids didn't really all know one another that well yet, BUT we were finally together as a family!!

What a year it has been! We have seen God knit our hearts together and deepen strong bonds among our children. Our girls have learned what it really means to be a family. They have learned what love really is. We have seen the healing that has taken place in their hearts as they have come to know the safety and unconditional love of their family and of their Lord. I have learned how to depend on God and see Him provide in ways I never thought imaginable. I have learned that I can do way more than I ever thought possible. I have also learned that I really like teaching :) I have learned that my husband really is the greatest husband and father that a girl could ever hope to have. What a beautiful thing to see that our daughters have truly become daddy's girls.



Tonight we celebrated with borscht of course (it's starting to feel like this is a regular dish in our menu and I think I actually really enjoyed it tonight)! We also had some good "Russian Black Bread" and veriniki (otherwise know as pot stickers/dumplings). We invited my parents and sister's family over, gave them their cards that the girls had made, and enjoyed a yummy ice cream cake. It was a very special, fun, and laid back celebration!


I just must point out here that in this picture below you see an Ethiopian, now American, eating Ukrainian borscht :) And lovin it! They don't get much cuter than you Bennet!

We decided to copy Melanie Hall's wonderful idea to celebrate by thanking all the people who helped make it possible for our girls to be adopted. Thanks Melanie for such a wonderful idea. The past few weeks we (the girls and I) have been writing letters to people who were important parts of their adoption. It has been incredible to look back over their journey home and see how many people God put in our lives and theirs to make it possible. Each one had a role - some prayed (perhaps the most significant role of all), some helped financially, some helped practically (free meds, childcare, documents, preparing our house, etc), some loved our girls before we could, some walked us through the legal process in Ukraine (thanks Natalia), some translated at crucial moments, some encouraged us when the future looked scary and overwhelming, and the list goes on and on. Truly this was not a journey we have walked alone - we have had one blessed part - to be their parents but so many of you reading have had a crucial role as well. You may not all get a card but if you have prayed, encouraged, or any of the above - THANK YOU!!

And then above all else, we have been awed once again as we have reflected back and thanked our Lord for what He has done. He is so amazing and I just can't begin to describe how sweetly we have experienced Him walking through this journey with us, just holding us by the hand and leading us one day at a time. Oh Lord, all praise and glory goes to you. Thank you for the gift of our Ukrainian daughters.

"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever"
Romans 11:36






Saturday, October 31, 2009

God must have special plans for little Sasha...

Incredibly ALL the money has been raised for Sasha's adoption by the Norenes!! And her medical care is already being prepared for when she comes home. AND Jennifer has found a Christian University in Donestk to stay at and feels much safer and less alone. It blows my mind how people's hearts were moved to support this child's adoption in such an enormous and timely way. People who have never met Sasha or Jennifer or John were moved to donate generously. What an incredible blessing to see God provide.

Here is an update from Jennifer~

Good news! My computer is fixed! A kind man at the university has fixed the cord and provided the adaptor I needed. My adaptor was not working with my computer. So this is great news! I can skype now for free and not depend on cell phone for communication so much! My attorney is on her way to Kyiv to file papers, court on Thursday here in Donestk. Tonight Sasha was testing me with her behavior and we left on somewhat grumpy terms. When I was walking away from the orphanage, there she was in the window waving at me as if to say, "I am sorry Mama". You can imagine it is difficult to teach, reign in a very active bright little girl, when I can't speak her language...and she is pretty bright, so she wants to get away with everything (ravage my bag, eat all the candy, etc. teach ME Russian instead of learning English) Tomorrow we are going to start working on English we will need in the next few weeks as we prepare to travel to the US. Thanks for continued prayers, thank fully God has supplied ALL we need, even more. This is a huge blessing and testimony to step out in faith. I guess I was foolish to come without every need met, but my love for this little girl compelled me and I believe God met me in that. Matthew scriptures on DO NOT worry and one day's worries at a time, come to mind. Those were precious scriptures to me before this trip as well as Jeremiah where he speaks of God's faithfulness **despite setbacks**. Setbacks don't mean ANYTHING to God when you walk in His will. He has not abandoned us even when it looks like we are in the enemy's camp and the Light is turned off. The light is NOT off! God is faithful, He comes through! We are to really have child like trust in God. Foolish to the world for sure. (I wish I remembered this always...today is a good day!) God even pushed me to see that worry is disobedience. We are to trust, no matter what. Tough words I know! I am overwhelmed when I think that not only has God supplied all we need here, but he has already begun supplying the BEST medical are the US has to offer through Family Life ministries connectinos who heard of our adoption. They also were responsible for hooking me up with Donestk University to stay - a secure Christian environment. All because of Grace Adoption Ministries. Aloha Ministries, and so many individuals who gave probably more then they could by faith. He is truly not interested in what we can acccomplish on our own but what He accomplishes through us if we will only trust Him! More tomorrow friends, many many thanks and hugs from Donestk, Ukraine! Jennifer

THANK YOU so much to each of you who have prayed and donated - both have been powerful in this time!! Keep praying and I will update about her process!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

URGENT Need

I want to share with you about an extremely urgent situation and ask for your prayers and for your assistance if you feel led to do so.

A mutual friend of ours, Camille's and Becca's (the three of us that started GRACE Adoption Ministry) is currently in Ukraine trying to adopt a precious little seven year old girl named Sasha. Sasha has rheumatoid arthritis due to a serious illness that she had when she was younger. She also has some type of heart condition. The current steroid medication that she is on is not being monitored well and has caused her to swell up quite a bit. She needs medical attention as well as a family. Our attorney, Natalia, who handled our adoption, met this child and promised Sasha that she would help her find a family. Natalia sent Sasha's picture to Camille who later sent it to the Norenes. John and Jennifer Norene of New Braunfels felt called to this child and committed to pursuing Sasha's adoption. However, they have, in this time of a very difficult economy, lost their jobs/business and had financial setbacks. They continued in faith to pursue Sasha's adoption and received the invitation to go to adopt her much quicker then they anticipated. They had to leave quickly because Sasha is being kept at the younger-child orphanage only for a short time and then will be moved to an invalid orphanage - which I can not even begin to describe the horrific stories I have heard about those places from missionaries who have visited them. To save money and so that John could continue in his new job, only Jennifer was able to travel, with faith that God would provide for her to adopt this child at each step. She left with only enough for a fraction of the adoption and many fundraising efforts still going on. It seemed as if several grants were only days away from coming in but apparently they have not. It is really a difficult situation. Our attorney is discounting her fees as well but there are many legal costs involved in an international adoption.

Basically, if Jennifer and John do not receive several thousand dollars within the next few days then they will not be able to take the next necessary steps to adopt Sasha. Jennifer is in Ukraine and has been spending time with her. Jennifer is struggling deeply with the uncertainty of it all, culture shock, and loneliness. Sasha does not have much hope as a disabled orphan in Ukraine if she is not adopted. She will soon be sent to an orphanage for invalids and it is a very hopeless, bleak outcome at these type of institutions. She is in need of $6500 at least to complete this adoption and I am not sure if that includes their tickets back home. Incredibly, just since emails went out about this tonight $3000 of that has been raised - in literally less than an hour.

I want you all to know that I do not do fundraising well - but I truly believe that Sasha's life is at stake and I have seen people come together in amazing ways to do what seems impossible. However, my intention is not to convince every reader to donate but to be aware of this and to pray and ask the Lord if He would have you help in some way. Perhaps it is to give and perhaps it is to pray. Jennifer, John and Sasha need both!

You can go to our ministry website www.graceadoptionministry.com and to the donate section. It will let you donate through paypal. Please send me an email too stephaneep@hotmail.com so that we know how much is being given and can immediately let Jennifer know due to the very time-sensitive issues and decisions that have to be made.
Here's Sasha...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Happy 11th Birthday Anastasiya Joy!!!

On Saturday, we celebrated sweet Anastasiya's 11th birthday!! It was such a special day and we just praise God for her life and that he made this precious child our daughter. We love who He created her to be and have been privileged to watch her grow and blossom this past year. We love you so much baby girl!!!

We woke up early Saturday morning and took her the cake that we had made. She was already awake, but knew she had to wait in bed so that we could 'wake her up' with the cake :) She has that tradition down!! It was such a fitting cake complete with horses of course...


This picture looks like the horse is jumping through flames.

Soon after that, we ate breakfast and opened presents. She loved every minute and just as she was opening the gift that her godmother, Alla, in Ukraine had sent, we received an email message from Alla. She was asking if we could call so that she could wish her a happy birthday.
We were able to 'see' Alla and some of Nastya's best friends via Skype. They were able to talk for quite awhile and it was very special to her that her friends were thinking about her. We enjoyed 'seeing' them as well!!! What a wonderful blessing Alla has been to my girls and to so many others who are in the orphanage. She is truly an angel to them and they feel such love from her.

Back to the present opening - Nastya had a bag in it with a little card that told her 'sang' the chicken dance and read that her surprise went 'peep, peep' and was awaiting in our bathroom. Yep she got baby chicks for her birthday! And according to her they were "the very best gift in the whole world!" She has been begging for us to start a coop and asked if she could pleaaaaasssee have it for her birthday but she was completely surprised.

Here she is with her peeps...



Yes - that is six chicks in my bathroom... They have now been moved to her room and will soon be moved out to the soon-to-be-built chicken coop. In the meantime - they might just be the most loved little chicks that ever existed.
Finally we had borscht for dinner. It again received the Ukrainians' stamp of approval. This time I did use a food processor for the veggies - way better plan!! We talked about our favorite things about Nastya ~

Allee - "That she is adventurous and loves the outdoors."
Jadon - "That she loves animals"
Katya - "That she is beautiful and such a good sister"
Ben - "That she always plays horses with me"
Zach - "That she was funny and kind hearted"
Stephanee - "That she is compassionate and tender hearted towards both animals and people who are hurting. And that she is always joyful and has such a positive outlook on life."
Those just barely scratch the surface of all the things that we love about our sweet girl. She brings so much joy and laughter and love to our family.
What a gift you are to us, Anastasiya Joy.
Happy Birthday Baby!

Officially One Year

One year ago today, we stood before a judge in Ukraine and he pronounced Kateryna Grace and Anastasiya Joy as our daughters. Wow!! How quickly the year has flown by but how it seems that they have always been our children. This year has not all been easy but the JOYS have far outweighed the trials and we stand in awe of what God has done. We plan to actually celebrate their one year adoption on November 2nd - the day we came home and were finally all a family. So be looking for many more thoughts as we get to that date. But I just had to mention this significant day... Thank you Lord. Great things you have done.

Friday, October 2, 2009

One Year Ago...

We were in Ukraine and had just recieved our referral at the SDA!! What a sweet time that was. Oh, how I am aching to go back. I am really begging Zach for us to figure out a way to go and visit the kids and to take the girls back for a little visit in the next year or two.


The nostalgia has been incredibly strong the past two days and I'm sure all month I will be reflecting back on our trip. It seems crazy to me though to think that our girls have not been here much, much longer.


More reflections soon...

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Miracle Worker

Last night we decided to have a family movie night. Things had been been busy, the kids had all worked so hard, it was raining, and curling up together on the couch seemed like just the thing to do.




The Miracle Worker is the biography of the childhood of Helen Keller and her dedicated teacher, Annie Sullivan. Helen, blind and deaf, was an angry child who was allowed to engage in disruptive behavior such as breaking vases when angry or eating off anyone and everyone's plates at mealtimes. She was then 'rewarded' with candies for throwing tantrums. Her parents were so filled with pity for her that they allowed her behavior and only desired to make her 'happy'. Helen was becoming increasingly disruptive and manipulative and causing great distress in their entire household. It came to the point that they were even considering institutionalizing Helen. In one last effort, they hired Annie Sullivan to be her teacher. Annie had been blind but with surgery had regained her eyesight. Helen immediately doesn't like Annie because Annie will not allow her to do whatever she wants and sets rules and boundaries in her life. Annie tells her parents that their pity is only hurting their child and that the most loving thing that they can do is to teach her to obey first. Annie wisely pointed out that until Helen can learn to obey, she can not begin to be taught anything else with any success. It breaks the hearts of Helen's parents, but they allow Annie to take Helen and discipline her. In quite an amazing scene in the dining room, a battle of the will takes place as Annie requires her to eat from her own plate with a fork. Despite her blindness, Helen was a very smart child who clearly understood what was being asked and was defiantly refusing. With great patience and endurance and discipline, Annie finally succeeds in gaining Helen's obedience. The training continues and with consistency and discipline, Helen is very soon happy, engaged, eating with perfect manners, learning to knit, and quite delightful to be around. Annie endures spitting, hitting, being locked in a room, and much more to teach this child that she must obey. But then Annie tells Helen's parents, "I have only taught her one thing - NO. If only she could learn one word then I could give her a million Yeses." Finally, one day with water running over her hand and Annie signing on her hand, Helen understands. The sign means water. Suddenly she can communicate and her life was changed. She went on to do amazing things, she and Annie were dear friends the rest of their lives, and there is much more to her story. What stood out to me though is that learning to accept 'No' had to come before the million 'yeses'. Learning to obey was first and that opened the door for her heart and mind to receive so much more.

Why did I tell you this?

Because of what happened after the movie. Katya and I were in her room and I noticed that she seemed particularly clingy and loving. She held me tight and just started sobbing and saying that she didn't know why she was crying. I told her that was okay and just held her. Then she said (without us having made any connection whatsoever) that we had loved her like Annie loved Helen and that no one had ever loved her like that before. She said that sometimes discipline and teaching was hard for her but that she needed it and that she was so thankful that God had given her parents to teach her. Was this the same child who was so defiant and disrespectful only 8 months ago? I told her that we loved her that way because God loves us that way. We are all a bit like Helen before we learn to walk in the joy and fullness of life that He longs to give us. But we can't even communicate with Him really until we learn to say "Yes" to Him and accept "No" as a loving response even when we don't understand. And nothing is more critical or loving to teach our children.

Katya has felt incredible love and safety and healing in knowing that we will be consistent, that we will follow through with what we say, that we will love her enough to not allow her to continue with a wrong attitude, and that our love is unconditional. Oh my, the insights and tender heart that God is giving our daughter. Unbelievable. He is the Miracle Worker.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Dreams...

...do come true...



Two years ago, completely unknown to us, our sweet little Anastasiya sat with a group of girls and two mentors at their orphanage. The mentors were ladies from the community who spent time with her particular class to encourage and help train these girls for life outside the orphanage. They would later share this story with us. On this day, the ladies asked the girls to say what their dreams were. Anastasiya, never having met us or even heard of us yet, wrote that her dream was to live in a family and to be able to ride horses. You see, God gave her a love and passion and apparently a gift for horse back riding long before she ever even sat upon a horse.
Well, several months later she met her new family, and to her delight she discovered that her new host family had horses and that her aunt-to-be was a horse trainer and teacher. We had no idea of her previous hopes and dreams but just saw that this child was in love with the horses. She begged to be with them as often as possible - a love that has only grown stronger with time. When we were in Ukraine, this mentor found Zach and I and with tears in her eyes said that she knew that Anastasiya's dreams for horses and family had been fulfilled. She couldn't believe that this child had not only found a family but one immersed in horses. We told her that only our Lord could have done this.


Anastasiya rides twice a week and visits the horses pretty much daily. She is at the barn every chance she gets and is heartbroken if rain or other events prevent her from having a lesson. She is quite gifted at it, and my sister says that she has quite a natural ability. Well this weekend Anastasiya competed at her first ever horse show. She was in heaven with all those horses and she did very well in her class - fourth overall and first out of all the children in her class. You can read more about the show on the family blog.
Here she is doing what she loves the best and doing it well! How grown-up does she look with her full show riding outfit on?!?





God alone knew the desires that He has placed into her heart, and the talents that He gifted her with, and He alone placed her into the family that He ordained. He is so good and so into the details of our lives - I am never ceased to be awed by Him.
Here's to dreams coming true.
Psalm 37:4 "Delight yourself in the Lord and HE will give you the desires of your heart."








Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tired...

I am so tired tonight. It has been a good but busy week and I am just pooped, exhausted, worn out, drained, and my brain has stopped working. I seriously can't form coherent sentences - at least not verbally :) Oh and I snapped at my children more than once this evening. Oh how that saddens me when I do that and then to see them start to model my grumpy attitude towards one another. Ugghhh. And just this morning I was thinking, "Oh yeah I'm doing pretty good at this whole parenting thing right now, and I am even running this house well without my hubby home for a few days. No problem.." Well you know what say 'cometh before the fall'... So tonight I was once more made starkly aware of my need for my Savior...and for my husband!! We do this better together!!

Zach has been gone on a hunting trip with his cousin and I am truly thankful that he was able to do this. I mean, seriously, men need time to go kill stuff together, right?!? And I have been blessed with some great help this week with picking up kids and getting some of them to activities when I couldn't be five places at once. Thank you SO much mom and dad!!!

But still, I've been going from 6:30 each morning until 10:30 or so each night with few breaks. I will be oh so glad to wake up to my hubby being home. Did I mention that I miss him too?!? Yes, just having my best friend to talk with is a nice way to wind down at the end of the day.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Back To School!!

Well, we have been rolling along finding our new groove with this year's school schedule. It has been good to get back into a schedule where everyone knows what they are doing.



Summer was absolutely the best summer we have perhaps ever had, but even good things must end or they aren't so good anymore. It was getting long, and we were all getting antsy and tired of swimming by the middle of August. We said our goodbyes to the precious children from Ukraine on August 27th. It was hard to say goodbye, and it just seems like so many of them belong here now after three months. It is strange at church to not see the ones who worshipped with us each Sunday. The precious girl (my girls' best friend), whom I mentioned earlier in the summer, just fit so perfectly into the family (our very good friends) who hosted her. I have actually never seen such a perfect fit so quickly. She looks like them, acts like them, and loves like them - it is so obvious that this child has found her family. Their hearts were so tightly knit together, which is wonderful, but it made her leaving more painful than I ever seen as well. Three months is a long time and then to have to leave. We would appreciate your prayers that God will smooth the path and remove the many obstacles so that this child can return to 'her' family forever. For their privacy we are not sharing their names until she actually gets home - hopefully within the next year.



We started homeschooling Katya, Nastya, and Benjamin on Sept 2nd and it is going very well. I have been absolutely exhausted because the start to school always seems harder until everybody (including me) gets the systems and routines down. Allee and Jadon started their school the same day and of course that means lots of homework, parent/teacher meetings, orientations, etc. So, we have been running like crazy. But back to homeschooling - it is really going well. I am blessed to have three very enthusiastic students this year. The girls are such hard workers, and I am amazed to see how much progress they have made over the summer while we weren't doing much official school. Spelling is really improving, and I think that as we start some speech therapy it will also help their ability to discern between the vowel sounds. If you can't hear/say it correctly then it is pretty difficult to spell it. Katya loves to read and to write letters to her friends and family - both of which are helping her language to improve rapidly. She is currently reading the Little House on the Prairie books and definitely comprehending them. We are trying hard to foster the same love of reading in Nastya - she enjoys reading animal and horse books. The girls' vocabulary is improving so quickly. However, that still proves to be the greatest struggle. For example, we are reading The Story of the World, and it is challenging and very time consuming to explain because so much is not understood as we read. I have to take it slow and explain - they do get it but it takes longer. The funny thing is, Ben is listening too and is just soaking up soooo much! He has the entire geography of the Fertile Crescent covered :) So, I figure that even if we only get through half or three-fourths this year that is still great. And most importantly they love it. We have slowed down on math - we will be finishing fourth grade Saxon by Spring Break or so. They are slowly getting closer to grade level. Nastya especially excels at math and comprehends very easily. Now if we could just get her to show the attention to detail that Katya shows :) I guess each has their own strengths and weaknesses - as do we all.



The most exciting thing about our schooling this year is our coop class on Thursday. We are doing these classes called Classical Conversations. It is really amazing and has proven to be very motivating for each of them. They are learning a LOT and are even taking a writing/grammar class that is teaching them the parts of speech and all about the English language. I really struggled about whether they were able to handle this yet, as it is pretty intensive, but I can already tell that it has been the right choice. They are just soaking it all up, and in the Foundations class they are memorizing these awesome history timeline cards, scripture, learning to give short presentations, science experiments, and lots more. It is really impressive and the greatest part is that they are so motivated by the other kids in their class and are making some great friends.



Anyways, to sum it all up, it is great but hard. The greatest part is that all three kids are just really enjoying homeschool right now. Nastya would like to be done faster so that she can play but she still enjoys most of it. Benjamin is engaged and learning the same thing along with us as well as learning to read. And Katya is always happy to do as much school as I will give her :) She has to work a little harder to undertand new concepts and perhaps because of her age the language is more challenging, but she works so hard and with a great attitude. It is just very time intensive for me to teach them, and thankfully, I usually have the time necessary to do that right now. I do believe that they are slowly becoming more independent, but at least this Fall semester they will require my constant help. Anyways, one day at a time!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

MIA

Yep it's been over a month. I think about posting often but, well, as you can see - I don't! So here's to catching up a bit. And see the other blog for beach pictures finally here!! They are fantastic - thanks Ash!



Well we all just regrouped back at home. This past week the three girls went to church camp, the boys went to their grandparents, and Zach and I... Well, we worked like crazy for a few days (it's incredible what can be accomplished when you have a quiet house) and then relaxed on a very last minute cruise vacation. That's right - I read it on your blog Pam last Saturday, googled cheap, last minute cruises, found one at a great price, booked Tues, and left Thursday. How's that for spontaneous?!? Don't ever tell me that I don't get good inspiration from you blog friends!!! We are truly thankful for a wonderful trip and wonderful grandparents to make it possible. We love you guys!!



So now we are home in a freshly organized house (minus a slowly decreasing mountain of laundry 7 people x 7 days) and are all oh so happy and refreshed. I think we have all said about a hundred times how happy we all are to be home together. And as far as timing it was perfect! The summer was getting long and hot and everyone was getting irritable before our little separate excursions. And we had time to work uninterrupted to plan homeschool for next year, purge lots of old school/craft stuff and other junk piles, discuss our childrens' hearts and needs as well as discuss a parenting book together, completely reorganize the boys' room (it was clean until they got home...), and still enjoy time together just relaxing, reading, and scuba diving in Cozumel. It was a lovely week indeed. Thank you Lord for giving us such a perfect time to and to bless our childrens' hearts with special grandparent time and great teaching at camp. I feel so unfairly blessed!!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Re-Adoption in Texas



At the end of June we readopted the girls. Although it was not a hugely significant day for us since they are our children forever regardless of whether we did this, it was great to complete this last legal issue. We decided to go ahead and readopt the girls now before time passed and we forgot all about it. It was actually a very fun day as we joined up with a group re-adoption in San Antonio. It was neat to see so many families with children from all over the world. And our lawyer does this regularly so it was quick and painless. Anyways, if you have adopted internationally and live in Texas I would be happy to recommend our lawyer - just let me know. The benefits that I understand from re-adoption is that it removes problems of inheritance (especially if you have bio kids too) and it gives your child a US birth certificate which makes school, sports, getting a marriage license, and many other similar things much easier.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Ukrainian Girls YEE HAW :)

It was a Happy 4th this year with our new Americans who celebrated our country for the first time!! And they were able to see a good ole rodeo for the first time. They may think our country is nuts to have people riding on the back of crazy bulls... But Nastya is sure that she will be barrel racing by next year :) Of course - our little horse loving, dare devil!!


And she even got to try out a little bull riding herself...


And they all got good and dirty in the calf scramble!!


Good times!!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Coming Full Circle...My Heart Overflows!

Well it's been a bit busy and more posts with beautiful pics (compliments of my talented photographer sister) from our beach trip will soon be coming on the other blog. But for now I just have to post about the hosting trip and about what it has meant to our family and to our girls.


Three weeks ago we stood in the airport and hugged and cried as we again saw the familiar faces of the precious children we had told goodbye just seven months ago. What an amazing way for God to answer our cries for them by bringing so many of them right here to Texas!!! We continue to pray for them as they walk through the joys and trials of hosting.


But what struck me the most was how incredibly far our girls had come. I didn't realize what had happened in our hearts and in theirs until I stood in the same place where we first met our daughters and watched other families joyfully but awkwardly welcome them for the summer. Spending time with these families and trying to encourage those who are struggling with varying issues has reminded me of the sometimes intense struggles that we faced during the early months. But oh how quickly I had forgotten and how quickly our sweet girls have grown in so many ways.


For one, here is a picture of Katya writing a welcome sign for one little boy who is here.


For another, my girls have repeatedly had the opportunity to translate for families both in person and on the phone. They have the privilege of helping others who are experiencing some of the same fears and struggles that they went through only a short time ago. And they delight to do so. I have had the privilege of seeing their compassionate hearts for their friends and classmates as they have desired to help those who are having a harder time and have initiated the most heartfelt prayers for them. Not to mention just the sheer joy of being in the company of their closest friend who is more like a sister. And would you believe that my very dear friend is pursuing this girl's adoption?!? Truly, who but God?!? And if you saw this child with this family you would wonder how it is that they have not always been together. Oh pray that God smooths the road to bring her to where she belongs incredibly fast. What joy to be a part of this.





I see also how Katya and Nastya also recognize how much they have grown. Tonight, I was talking late with all three of my daughters and somehow we were discussing things like stealing and lying and immodesty. All things that we had to teach them. I told them a story from my childhood about how I had lied and cheated on a grade to earn a reward and about how burdened I felt until I was finally caught and I repented. They both shared things that they had done wrong both in Ukraine and here. I asked them when they understood that it was wrong to steal or lie and Nastya shyly said, "Well kind of but not really until we started doing bible study with school here in America." Then Katya told me that she had to tell me something (very small) that she felt guilty about and asked me to forgive her. Oh so incredible that she is getting it. Praise the Lord for all He is doing in our hearts and in theirs. I pray that He will move in the hearts of each of these families who are hosting and in the hearts of the orphans that they have in their care for the summer. I pray that miracles will be done in their hearts.





This time is a clear reminder to me of how hard things were for awhile - and ironic that I had already forgotten so much of it - but how quickly it has passed :). Adoption is hard at times and it is scary, but the joy is immeasurably worth any of the trials.





God truly is creating beauty from ashes.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Amazing Events Occuring...


This picture was taken just before we left. It was the last time we took a walk with these kids to buy them icecream and just talk and show them as best we could that they are precious.
7 months ago we left the Zhytomyr Internot with our daughters and we all cried. We cried and mourned because despite the fact that this was such a joyous occasion to take our daughters as ours forever, we left behind sweet children whom we had come to care for deeply. And our daughters left friends who were really more like sisters. It was the hardest goodbye we have ever had. We prayed fervently for these children and we vowed that we would not forget as they tearfully asked as we left in the taxi that day. One of the girls whom we had come to know and love would not talk to us anymore because the sadness of more children leaving but it not being her, was too much to bear. My heart still aches more than I can bear when I dare to really go back there.


But today we rejoice!


Because on a plane right now are 13 children from Zhytomyr headed to America. And 10 of those are coming to Texas to families in our community, many of whom are our very good friends. It is quite the story how this hosting trip came together and the agony that it has taken our wonderful coordinator and my good friend, Becca, but in the end 13 children will be spending the entire summer with families. Only God knows where it will lead for each of these families and children, but we have seen Him at work to bring this trip together and to raise up these families for these children. So to Him be the glory!!
Vika, Tanya, Galina, Yulia, Leeza, Nikita, and all the others - we will see you tomorrow!!! And we will brush up on our Ukrainian and do a lot of swimming and Uno and playing!!


What a summer it will be :)

Monday, May 25, 2009

SCHOOL'S OUT!!!


Which means I get a temporary break - well sort of...


We celebrated our first year of homeschooling this past Thursday by talking and journaling about all that the girls have learned and about what this year has meant to them. It was pretty incredible to reflect on all that they had learned in six months!!! I am so proud of how hard they have worked. We have had fun too :) After our little end of year ceremony we headed to a swim party for the end of the year with our homeschool coop friends.


Here's the summary that I made for them.


What we have Accomplished in
6 months!!!!!


Ø Learned to speak and understand English
Ø Completed ALL of Math 2
Ø Completed almost ALL of Math 3
Ø Learned addition, subtraction, and multiplication facts very well and began practicing division facts
Ø Learned 70 phonograms
Ø Memorized The Swing, The Secret, Jeremiah 29:11-13, Psalm 119:9, 11
Ø Wrote many pages of sentences, journals, and stories
Ø Learned over 200 spelling words
Ø Finished 2 Levels of Rosetta Stone
Ø Finished 3 Explode the Code Books!!!
Ø Learned to read in English and completed many books
Ø Learned about 7 contintents and read books about countries all over the world
Ø Learned about the beginning of the United States, Christopher Columbus, Pilgrims & Indians, Thanksgiving, our United States Flag, The Pledge of Allegiance, 50 States
Ø Learned a lot more about who God is and how He loves you and read many parts of the Bible.
Ø Learned so much of life and love and family


…And I have learned what fun it is to be your teacher!!!! I love you girls and am so proud of your hard work. You are both so smart but more importantly you have sweet, kind hearts, you listen to us, you admit when you do something wrong, you work hard, and you ask God to help you by praying and seeking Him by reading the Bible. If you continue in this, then you will have learned the most important of lessons. I love being your teacher and I love being your mom!!

Let’s have a GREAT summer!!!!

We finished with me recording the girls reciting their memory work and presenting some certificates to them. They have truly done an outstanding job!!!


Here are two videos of the girls memory work - they are short but make sure you pause the music on the right.




video

video
We will completely break for a week and then do a little math, english, and lots of reading each day that nothing more exciting is going on :) Yea for summer!!!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Happy 13th Birthday Kateryna!!!



And 1st Birthday Home!!!







What a special, sweet day it was. Katya has been anticipating this day since she got home. This morning our birthday princess was awakened to a birthday cake with 13 candles and her entire family singing Happy Birthday. She smiled ear to ear and blew out her candles. She was then led into the living room which had been decorated with pink crepe paper, balloons, and princess plates for the cake. We ate breakfast and she was literally giddy :) Then she opened the presents from Zach and me. She received a Princess Belle dress (she just loves Disney princesses and wanted this even though most girls her age might have already tired of princess stuff, but for her this is the first time to have these type of things). Then for her big present - an IPOD loaded with all her favorite songs. She was beyond delighted and just couldn't stop hugging and kissing us and telling us thank you. Every new song that she discovered was a delight - 1000 Miles by Mark Shultz is her dance song for ballet and she was so happy to have it along with the Sound of Music soundtrack and lots of other favorite songs.






After she got dressed (as Princess Belle) for the day, she came out and gave me a tight hug and told me in a choked voice, "Momma thank you, for you and Daddy doing all this for me. In Ukraine, I never had birthday like this. It is soooo good day!! I LOVE you soooo much!" I tried to include her cute grammar for you - throw in a strong accent and you'll hear her too :)






Sweet girl, it is such a joy to see you feeling loved and cherished and to know how precious you are. You are truly wonderfully made and we are so very thankful that God made you our daughter... What a privilege to be able to celebrate the life of our daughter and to show her that she is precious and special and cherished. How I longed to be able to show her this in the year before we came home and how amazing to see how she really gets it now and readily accepts our love.



Okay so I did go ahead and make them do a fairly full school day with a little extra free time to listen to her music and just relax. I even took a nap because birthdays wear mothers out!!



Then I braved the cooking of BORSCHT!!! This was waaaay harder than I thought but only because you have to grate like a hundred vegetables. And I really hate to cut up veges. Had I realized this, I would have borrowed my mom's food processor but oh well - I now have beet stained hands and really had the borscht experience. The greatest part about it was that it turned out good!!! The girls gave it their official approval and ate two bowls a piece! Our other kids liked it too and I thought it was okay. (I loved Ukraine food but this was never my favorite.) Wow - big accomplishment to meet their borscht approval rating - I don't think they had a lot of confidence in my abilities going into it!! (If you want the recipe I used let me know - I borrowed it off another blog.)



Finally we ate and said a few of our favorite things about Katya. She is: Sharing, kind, sweet spirited, very helpful with a joyful spirit, energetic, loving, has a beautiful smile, is a great dancer, and a wonderful sister. The kids all had presents for her and she was so overwhelmed with all the love and gifts that I saw that she was holding back tears and clearly moved by such love towards her. What a wonderful sight to see.









We thank God for creating Katya just the way He has and for placing her in our family. He truly has protected and guarded her and brought her to us. We are blessed to be her parents.


We love you Kateryna!!





Last note....I am in complete denial that I am now the mother of a teenager. Goodness, wasn't I just a teenager not that long ago? Well that is another post, ha! :) But seriously, that does make me feel old!!!












Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Heart Healthy

A year and a half ago (before ever hosting Nastya) we were told that she had a sister that she did not really know and this unknown sister was unadoptable and had an extremely serious heart condition. We then found out on the night that we met Nastya that her sister's name was Katya and that they had never been separated before this hosting trip. We immediately knew that if we were going to adopt one we would be adopting both. Many things about this were frightening with all the unknowns. She was quite a bit older than we ever considered and she was diagnosed with some type of heart problem that we had been told was serious. We were earnestly praying about what to do but in our minds it seemed impossible. We were unable to ever get a clear diagnosis about her heart and at one point in the waiting time (before meeting Katya) we learned that she had been sent to a sanatorium for treatment for her heart. This sounded serious!!! We were also told that she ran and played and seemed very normal. It was all very confusing. The only thing that was clear was that God was calling us to adopt these girls. We kept returning to the fact that we could absolutely trust Him. We said we did but could we put that into action? Many times I feared that we could not and the scary possibilities seemed unending from many sides. Information was hard to come by. But by His grace, we amazingly had the peace and assurance to continue on the road that He had already layed before us. We knew that if He called us to this that He would equip us for whatever lay ahead.






And that He has, although thankfully that does NOT include any sort of heart problem!!!






Today we finally had an appointment with the most wonderful pediatric cardiologist. An echocardigram was done as well as other tests. Everything looks perfectly normal!!! Can I just tell you the incredible relief that this brings to her!?! She was truly scared that she had a serious heart problem and had been told not to run too much. She is very athletic. Sometimes Katya does experience some chest pain but it is due to panic attacks (as we had now guessed as we would talk with her during these rather infrequent 'episodes'). Actually I think these panic attacks were somewhat worsened due to the fact that she thought she had something wrong with her heart. She would get stressed about something and then feel a little panicky and then panic more as she felt her heart speed up. So it will be interesting to see if this knowledge helps her to calm herself when she feels upset.






Another amazing blessing during the echocardiogram - the doctor showed us a view of her heart from the bottom and we could see the four chambers. The walls of the heart dividing the chambers look exactly like a cross!! How cool is that? The doctor went on to explain that Jesus had died on the cross for our sins and had placed a cross in our hearts to show that He desires to lives in our hearts and to show us how much He loves us. We even have a picture of Katya's cross! Praise God for such wonderful news today and for creating her so perfectly and keeping her so very healthy. And for not allowing misinformation and fears of the unknown to keep us from adopting our precious daughter. He is good!! So good and perfect that it blows my mind. His plans are always what we would choose if we could see all that He sees. And if she had turned up with a heart problem I am certain that the Lord would have provided for whatever we needed to walk down that road. For now we are thankful that is not the case.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter, Family, and The Sound of Music...

It was a lovely Easter weekend. We had our first mini road trip with the girls and headed north about 6 hours to Zach's parents' home. It was wonderful to spend time with them and to introduce the girls to the dairy farm. I suppressed my giggles as our previously prissy Kateryna chased chickens, watched cows being milked, stepped in cow manure, rode on a tractor with Poppy, and planted a garden with Gran. All the kids had a fabulous time but I especially was happy to see her enjoying herself and only once cringing at the smelly cow poop as I made her scrub it off her shoe :) I'm heartless! They each picked out a baby cow that they named and will get regular reports on as they grow and mature to have their own babies and become milk producers.
We also enjoyed lots of piano and guitar playing, singing, and dressing up with Gran. We have recently been watching The Sound of Music and it is the current favorite. So, Katya and Allee decided to put on a show for us. They memorized at least five songs and made up dances to go along with them. Here is a sample of the show... It was really impressive!!!! Future performance times and ticket sales will be announced soon. The girls plan to make it big time in the show business now!
video




Last but not least we had egg dyeing, egg hunting, a wonderful time to praise our Saviour on Sunday morning, and lots of yummy food. We are now home detoxing :) Oh, except that my Benjamin's birthday is TODAY!!! And of course the traditional birthday cake wake-up could not be left out. So it was one more day of sweets after all. But tomorrow is another day :) I plan to post about Ben's birthday on the other blog tomorrow...



Tonight, I did fit in my first run since the 5K. I am now hooked on these and plan to do another next weekend. Anyone interested?!?
Jenny, I got your post on the last blog post that I did and would love to email with you but can't figure out what your email is. Please email me at stephaneep@hotmail.com

Monday, March 30, 2009

YOU Can Help!!!


We are blessed beyond what we can describe to have our two precious girls home. I look back on the path that brought us to our girls and them to us and am awed by how God smoothed the path to bring them home. However, our time with the other children at the orphanage has left a burden on our hearts that will not be lifted. They told us to please remember them but how could they know that we can not forget.


Listen to the words of this song. Really listen. I am responsible. 143 million orphans. We are all responsible. What can we do? Can we adopt them all? No. But there is a small part that each of us is called to play in ministering to orphans as God calls us. That may be adoption or it may be mission trips or it may be supporting those who are called to adopt. Each has a part and my part now is to tell others of what I have seen and to share the burden. To speak for those who can't speak for themselves.
So how can you help?
Well, that is something to cry out to God and ask Him to reveal to you personally. I promise if you begin praying for orphans and asking God what part He wants you to play in ministering to them - He will reveal it and you will be blessed beyond measure as you join Him in loving those so precious to Him.

But here is one possibility to consider right now:

An amazing thing is taking place this coming Saturday morning. A dream is coming to fruition after many years of prayer. My sweet friends Becca and Camille have both adopted, and the two of them have had a burden for the 143 million orphans that long for a family and home and who are often in desperate conditions. These two women were both a huge support to me through the past 18 months as we moved through the adoption process, and I am blessed to have them as my friends. The three of us began meeting and praying once a week last year for the children who were orphans and about adoption. Then Camille's good friend had a vision - "why don't we put together a run to raise money to help families with the financial part of adopting!" Because as anyone who had been involved in adoption, you know that the costs are huge and are very often the largest obstacle for families who desire to bring children home.


So a Charity Team was started to organize a race. This Charity Team has partnered with G.R.A.C.E. (God Rescuing All Children Everywhere) Adoption Ministry and River Stone Community Church to make this team a reality. The more money we raise, the more families we can help fund adoptions and bring children home. The families we support apply to receive funding and go through a very thorough screening by G.R.A.C.E.’s Board Members; they are awarded funds based on need and other selection criteria.


So on Saturday morning I will be running alongside several awesome ladies including my sis. I can't wait and am excited about running in my first official run but am even more excited about the reason we are running.


If you want to help - even small amounts count and add up - here's where you go to donate:

Go to http://www.river-stone.org/raceforadoption.htm and use “add special instructions to the seller field” and please enter my name. If you want to mail a check leave me message and I will email you the address.


I have lots more to update about...more coming soon.