A Love Story, Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts about our adoption story.  It’s a miraculous story and I pray God uses it to speak to other families who are considering adoption.  So many boys and girls like our Vladik wait and wait for their lives to begin.  Every child deserves the love of a family.  Would you read with an open heart and ask God how He would have you respond? 

This is a love story.  For God so loved Vladik, that He preserved his life until the day his mommy and daddy would find him.  For God so loved our family, that He picked us up out of our lives and dropped us across the world so that we could find our baby.

One night, in August 2010, with newborn Seth, our foster baby asleep at my side, I was browsing online.  I have no idea what I was looking for, but somehow I came across the blog of a woman who had just returned from Ukraine, having adopted two little girls with Down Syndrome.  Her story caught my attention and I ended up reading her whole adoption story in one evening.  One blog led to another, which led to another, and pretty soon I found myself immersed in a world I had had no idea existed, the world of special needs adoption.  My heart was broken in two, never to be the same.

  
Jed and I always knew we would adopt someday.  We believed in orphan care and it was important to us.  Since before we were married we had dreamed of moving overseas to care for orphans.  That’s why I became a nurse!  While we waited for God to send us overseas we fostered medically fragile babies.  So yeah, adoption was on our radar, but not orphans with disabilities, or kids with disabilities in general.  We just hadn’t thought of it.  Well, maybe that’s not all true.  We had thought of it, and then rejected it.  “Yes, we’ll adopt- but only healthy kids.  We could never raise a child that would require our hands-on care forever.”  We fostered babies with special needs, but that wasn’t permanent.

 

Jed with baby Seth, during our fostering days 🙂

 
A while later I came upon Julia’s blog.  Julia was advocating, and still does advocate, for orphans with disabilities.  Fun Fact: We have since met each other twice here in Ukraine, and Julia even got to come to Romaniv to meet our Boys!  Isn’t God fun?   Julia was advocating for a little guy in Ukraine with Apert Syndrome.  Did you know our new son Vladik has this same syndrome? Like I said, God is fun 🙂  I had never heard of that syndrome, didn’t know anything about it, but that boy struck me.  I read her post and learned that he was 4 years old and about to be transferred to a bad place- an institution.  He needed to be adopted quickly.  I’m telling you what, I fell for that baby hard.  Jed came home one night to a red-faced, sobbing wife and was a little confused.  Ha!  I started rambling to him about Ukraine and orphans with disabilities and mental institutions and teenagers in cribs and “aging out” and he stood there shocked.  I told him “We have to DO SOMETHING.  We can’t just sit by and let this happen.  We have to do something!!!”  He was a little shell shocked, but agreed to pray about it and see if God laid it on his heart as well.  What a guy.  🙂

In the meantime “Jonah”, the little Apert guy was constantly on my mind.  His face was in my dreams.  I would weep over him and all the little ones in cribs as I did the dishes. My heart ached and the ache wouldn’t stop.  The Holy Spirit was at work.  God was working in Jed’s heart too, and soon we were both praying about how to respond to Jonah, specifically.  We prayed for many months.  We sought council from our parents and our pastor.  We prayed some more.  Then in early 2011, after much prayer, many miracles and confirmations (SO MANY), it became abundantly clear that God was asking us to move forward to adopt Jonah.

 

The first photo we saw of Jonah

 
We were so excited!!!  This sweet one who had captured our hearts would be our son!  Gone were the worries about raising a child who would need our care forever.  We could have cared less.  All of our old worries and hesitations seemed so selfish.  In the light of what these babies suffer without a mommy and daddy to fight for them, in the light of what Jesus did for us…how could I be worried about losing our “empty nester” years???  Our baby needed us.

So, we sent in the initial committment paperwork and money to say to the adoption world “You don’t need to advocate for this one anymore, we’re coming for him!”  In Ukraine there is no referral given to adoptive families before they travel.  You can pursue the adoption of a certain child, but until you actually get to Kyiv and request their file there is no guarantee that you will actually get that child.  Another family could go there first and adopt them, not knowing your intentions.  You could get there and that child may not even be adoptable.  There are many unknowns.  We were aware of that, but when we got the email a few weeks after we had sent in our initial paperwork, letting us know that another American family who was already in Ukraine was adding our boy to their adoption, we were utterly devastated.

Shocked.  Heartbroken.  Confused.  Happy for our Jonah, that he could have a mommy and daddy so soon, but heartsick that they were not us.

We had loved Jonah from afar for many months and now we would never even get to meet him.  God had spoken so clearly.  We had researched the heck out of Apert Syndrome and felt so well-equipped.  Miracles had paved the way for us to begin the adoption process.  God, what was that all about?  What were you doing?  Why?

Then God spoke again.  Jed was out mowing the lawn, praying, asking God what He was up to and he felt God speak to Him so clearly,

“Jed, I am so much more interested in the process than in the end result.  You have one end result in mind, but I’m taking you on a journey.  I needed you to love Jonah like a father.  I needed you to love him with abandon.  I needed you to have that father’s heart for Jonah because I need you to love lots of little boys and girls like Jonah.”

And so it happened that a little boy with Apert Syndrome caught our hearts and led us to Ukraine.  A little boy with Apert Syndrome broke our hearts for Ukrainian orphans.  He helped us to fall in love with children with disabilities- so in love that we would give up everything and cross the world to touch them and smile at them and hold them in our arms.  God used Jonah to start us on the best journey of our lives- the journey to our Boys and our own little treasure, our Vladik.

To be continued 🙂

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A Week in Photos: April 9th + Randomness

Hi Friends!

I hope this finds you well, with a smile on your face and a spring in your step.  🙂  Things are chugging right along around here.  We’ve had a great week so far.  Lots of normalness, lots of laughs, a few tears, and plenty of coffee to fuel it all.  

Last week we celebrated Seth’s Adoption Day!  The actual day was while I was in America, so we held off on the festivities till we could all be together.  Every year we take a day to celebrate that God brought Seth in to our family.  He’s only 4, so in the past we have done it more for our other kids, so that they would see the value in adoption and understand how special it is.  This was the first year Seth cared about it.  He still doesn’t fully understand what it means, but we often tell him the story of how he came to be our son, so it’s just a matter of time before he “gets it”.  All he gets right now is that it’s a special day just for him.  He chose to go out to pizza and bowling, so we did!  

Oh how I love our boy.  Sometimes I can’t believe he didn’t grow inside my belly.  Just like our bio kids, I feel like Seth is an extension of me, like a piece of my heart is walking around outside my body.  I love my baby.  🙂

   

  

  

  

 

Funny Story:

Have you ever heard of “No-Poo”?  Despite it’s name, it has nothing to do with toilets.  “No-Poo” is a method of hair cleansing without shampoo- get it, no “poo”?  Shampoo strips the scalp of much of it’s natural oils that are so good for your hair.  When you strip your scalp of it’s oils, then it thinks it needs to produce more oil, then you strip them all again, then your body makes more, and on and on.  Anyway, I have been a no-pooer for a couple of years now and it’s the best ever.  I use baking soda to wash my hair, and apple cider vinegar to condition it about once a week.  It works well for me, but sometimes I feel like the soda is a bit harsh on my scalp.  In fact, hardcore no-pooers will never recommend baking soda.  But honey and aloe and all those expensive treatments aren’t realistic for me.  Baking soda is cheap and accessible, so there. I read somewhere that washing your hair with egg yolk once a month is a good way to give your scalp a little break.  So, being the weirdo/fierceless warrior/hippy that I am, I decided to give it a whirl!  Why not?

I read in the instructions that you need to make sure to only use the yolk and not the white, and to make sure the  water isn’t too hot.  Wellllllll….yeah.  I separated the egg well, or so I thought.  The water wasn’t tooooooo hot, or so I thought.  I got out of the shower and yeah, scrambled egg head.  There’s nothing more romantic than a husband who will patiently pick cooked egg out of your hair.  I’ve got a winner, folks! Now if the Denny’s jokes would just stop.  “Oh sweetie, you smell so good, now I just need a side of bacon!”  Ha.Ha. Shut up.  😉 

I may smell like a diner, but my hair is soft and shiny, so I wouldn’t call it a complete failure…not completely. 

 

We are so thankful for new volunteers! Praise God!

  

Sweet Aaron needs a mama. Do you know her?

  

  

Sweet Ben also needs a mommy and daddy. He is not thriving. Please share our boy!

  

Stephen is waiting for a family too. Oh my sweet boy. He loves to run and spin. Treasure.

Addy is such a great helper at Romaniv. The boys love her! The feeling is mutual.

Hava took this last picture.  I just like it.  I love cuddling in with my kiddos and reading a good book.  I’m not a “playing” mom.  I don’t like to play toys with my kids.  I’ll play Just Dance on the Wii, or jump on a trampoline, or bake cookies with you,  but please, for the love, don’t ask me to play Barbies.  I just.can’t.do.it.    What I love most, is reading to my kids.  Find us a good read-aloud and it’s all over.  I hope they will treasure the memories of us all cuddled up reading a good book.  I know I will.  🙂  (I hope they won’t mind the mild scent of brunch) 

  

Quiet Giddiness. Giddiness About Quiet.

I can’t even believe what is happening right now at my house. I’m feeling giddy, but I’m afraid to get too giddy, lest I fall in to premature giddiness.

We are having quiet time right now…and it’s quiet.

I know.  Unbelievable.

You see, I feel I have good reason to be giddy about this.  I’m almost afraid to say it, but I believe we have entered a new phase in our family- uncharted territory, if you will.  We may have just entered the phase of “Quiet Time that is Actually Quiet”. Eureka!!!!!!!

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Once, ten and a half years ago, we had a baby girl.  Then, 21 months after that we had a baby boy. Then 16 months after that we welcomed our first foster baby.  That sweet first foster baby ushered us into what I’ll call “The Season of the Baby”.

(I can call it that now, with a smile, but during that time it could have been more honestly called “The Season of Insanity” or “The Season of Non-Stop Newborns for 5 years” or “The Season of G-Tubes and Alarms and Syringes and Gear Up the Wazoo” or “The Season of No Sleep for Five Years”.)

During that time of fostering we had a total of 10 infants, two of them being Havalah and Seth.  🙂 At one point during that time we had a five-year-old, a three-year-old, a 12 week old (Hava), a 9 week old who was born at 29 weeks with multiple special needs, and a Korean high school student.   Oh, and just to make things even more exciting, Jed worked in a city an hour away and was finishing his degree in night school.  Jesus take the wheel.  I get panicky just thinking about it.  We loved foster parenting, and I can without a doubt say it was one of the most difficult and most wonderful experiences of my life, but it is not for the faint of heart.  I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, no regrets, I’m just saying it was a tad exhausting in every way imaginable.

(You can read more about our fostering journey here, here, here, and here.)

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BUT, right this very minute Seth is upstairs playing PLAYING!!! in the bedroom, all alone, and he has been for the past hour.  I told him we were going to have quiet time and he didn’t have to sleep (naps don’t go over well with Seth), but he needed to play quietly and not come out until the timer went off.  The timer just went off and he said he wanted to stay and play longer!!!!  I CAN’T BELIEVE IT.  Seth has just recently really begun to play with toys, and because of some of his prenatal history I never expected a ton of independent play from him.  Boy oh boy, is he proving me wrong.  Just like he always has.  🙂  What an awesome boy.  Hava loves to play alone, so quiet time is like heaven for her.  Addy and Ez are home from school today, reading in the other room.  Ezra is reading…ALONE.  Somebody pinch me.

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So, yeah, I’m a little excited about the quiet time possibilities.  I feel like a whole new world has opened up.  Maybe I could bake, or study language, or read a book, or teach Addy and Ez without 236 interruptions or… think!  So far I’ve baked pumpkin cupcakes and swept the floor and written this post, and I still hear him playing away.

Quiet Time for the win!

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The Last Bell: Ukrainian School

SCHOOL’S OUT!!!!!

Praise the Lord.  I honestly don’t know who’s happier, the parents or the kids.  🙂  I am VERY VERY VERY happy.  I feel like our whole family just graduated from first class.  Addy and Ezra’s transition in to Ukrainian public school has been very much a whole family endeavor, and we are all happy and relieved that summer break has arrived.

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The last day of school in Ukraine is traditionally called “Last Bell”.  All school lessons in Ukraine, every day, begin and end with the bell.  So, the first day of school is called “First Bell”, and the last day every year is the “Last Bell”.  It’s a very important day in Ukraine!  There is ceremony and tradition and celebrating.  I like it very much.

Yesterday was Last Bell at Addy and Ezra’s school and it was such a cool experience!  I love how much we are learning about Ukrainian culture by having our kids in school.  It’s a whole new world.

Normally the program is outside, but it rained yesterday, so everyone gathered in the gym.  The first four classes (primary school) had their program together.  Everyone lined the edges of the gym, each class in a line with their teacher, and then parents behind them.  Our kids’ school is fairly small, so we could all fit.

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It started with a flag ceremony and the singing of the National Anthem, then the Director said a few words.  An older man spoke also, but I have no idea who he was or what he was saying.  Ha!  After he spoke a bunch of kids ran up and gave him flowers, so he must have been someone special.  🙂

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Notice the sea of big white bows? We call them “puffs”. It’s a cultural thing for special occasions. 🙂

 

Then the Director handed out special awards of achievement to a few children from each class.  After a few minutes of that, our kids’ teacher turned around to me to ask me if I had a camera.  I said yes, I did, and she motioned to me like I should be ready.  Then she said “Addy, Ezra- microphone”.  Oh!  Huh??  I promptly pulled my camera back out and waited for whatever was next.  The Assistant Director got up and started speaking. I heard her say the word for “Americans” and my ears perked up.  She called Addy and Ez up and gave them a special award for diligence and achievement for their work in learning Ukrainian language!  It was so special.  Then she leaned down and was talking to Addy.  I realized that she wanted Addy and Ezra to recite their poems in Ukrainian for the assembly!  Poor Addy didn’t understand what they wanted her to do, so her teacher went up and helped her understand.  They both said their poems for everyone and did awesome!  We were so proud of them!!!  Their teacher was positively beaming, she was so proud.  It was very sweet.  It feels like their whole school is cheering on their little Americans.  Haha!  We need all the cheering we can get!

After the awards were done, an older class got up and did a cool dance to celebrate summer break, there was more flag ceremony and the National Anthem was played again.  I’m totally not kidding when I say I’m pretty sure my kids have heard the Ukrainian National Anthem more times than they’ve ever heard the Star Spangled Banner- and we haven’t even lived here 7 months! When Seth hears the beginning of the song he says “Слава Україні!” (Glory to Ukraine!) Ha!  After the anthem, the program was finished!  The kids got to go to the cafeteria for a snack and then all the parents took a ginormous amount of pictures.  Their teacher also gave each child a diploma for finishing first class.

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Addy and her friend, Masha

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First Class 1-б

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Flowers for teacher

Then we were free!!!!  We practically floated home we were all so happy.  We celebrated by taking the kids to the movie theater.  It was our first time in a movie theater here and we had fun.  We saw Rio 2, in Ukrainian of course.  🙂

Now we have three months to decide what to do about school next year for Addy, Ezra, and Havalah.  For Addy and Ezra we have a couple options, one being continuing on in their current school.  Kids here stay with the same children all the way till graduation, and they keep their same teacher for the first four years, so that would be a nice, familiar place to return to in the fall.  We’ll see.  We need to pray and figure out what God’s best school plan is for this next year.   I don’t even want to think about it right now.  The homeschooler in me is just SO HAPPY to have all my children at home.  Sigh…bliss.

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What do with Hava next year is another mystery.  Children don’t start “official” school here until they are 6 or 7- usually closer to 7.  Before that, most children attend дитячий садок “sadik”.  It’s like daycare/preschool/kindergarten.  They do learn the kindergarten fundamentals there, and if your child doesn’t attend sadik they really won’t be ready for first class.  So, in order for first class to be easier on Havalah when she turns 6 or 7, it really does make sense to put her in a sadik, at least part time.  Parents can choose how often they send their kids, so it’s not mandatory that she go…we just feel like it would benefit Havalah to get more time each week for language acquisition, since she is pretty much always just home with us, hearing English.  BUT- I really, really don’t want her all alone in a class where she doesn’t understand anyone.  She’s so tiny!  AND, I really want her to learn to read and write in English first.

School has definitely been easier on Addy, because she already has such a great grasp on English reading and writing.  Ezra, on the other hand, doesn’t read or write in English super well, and now after 4 months of Ukrainian school and no English school he is on about the same level with both languages when it comes to reading and writing.  (Of course he has almost zero comprehension of Ukrainian reading)  I know this is normal and he will catch up, it’s just nice with Addy to know I don’t need to worry about building her English language skills- we can just work on Ukrainian.  Ez needs help with both.  Hence me wanting Hava to learn English skills WELL first.

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Oh my, all this bilingual stuff makes my brain hurt.  I wish there was a manual for all this.  🙂  Ah well, one day at a time.  The important thing is that they are learning and they are growing.  We have our whole lives to learn.  I don’t want to be in a rush on their behalf.  At this point we are leaning toward putting Havalah in a sadik two mornings a week, and doing home school kindergarten the other three days.

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Addy, Ez, and their super teacher

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Havalah has a little kid “teacher crush” 🙂

So far we’ve been really happy with our experience in Ukrainian public school.  Our kids’ teacher is so kind to them and she truly cares about their success.  Addy and Ezra feel comfortable at school and the kids are nice to them.  Never in a million years would I have imagined I would be a mom and my kids would be in a national school in a foreign country.  I mean, as long as I dreamed of being a missionary you’d think I would have thought this one through, but nope.  I guess I probably always thought they’d be homeschooled, or go to an international, English speaking school or something.  What an interesting road we travel.  For all it’s ups and downs and uncertainties I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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THREE CHEERS FOR SUMMER BREAK!  

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End of an Era

Along this journey to Ukraine there are many things we have had to let go, or will have to let go.   This month we are letting go of something very important, and along with that comes the end of an era.  We are letting go of our foster care license.  Of course we know we can’t still be state-certified foster parents while living in Ukraine, and we haven’t been open to taking any kiddos since we made the decision to move our family to Ukraine, but…we still held on to our certification.  We were still foster parents. 



We ran into our certifier (our fabulous assigned “go-to” person at DHS) at the store a week or so ago.  She mentioned that she has been following our story through our blog and is excited about what God is doing in and through our fam.  Hi Judi! 🙂  She asked if she should just go ahead and close out our file, and we had to tell her yes.  If we were to stay certified we would have to have DHS come out and check out Luke’s house, Luke would have to be fingerprinted and all that jazz.  That would all be okay, except for a promise we made to ourselves when we first started fostering.  

Back in 2006, when our foster parenting journey began, we promised ourselves if we took a child into our home we would keep them in our home, no matter what, unless someone else decided they should move.  We wouldn’t give up on a child when the going got tough.  That was tested a time or two, but with God’s help we kept our word.  If we were to take a child at this time I’m not sure we would be able to keep our word.  When you receive a child from DHS you never know how long they will stay with you.  Seth was supposed to be a “short placement”, and here he is, 2 1/2 years later, our son for life.  🙂  We plan to move in a year, so we just know we can’t take any more foster kiddos at this time.  

Foster Baby #1- always extra special to us

So, I guess this is so long to an era.  Our foster parenting era has been life-changing, to put it mildly.  I’ve said it before and and I’ll say it again, foster parenting is one of the best and definitely the most difficult thing we’ve ever done in our lives. (Yet!)

 It shaped our family, it grew us as people, it taught us reliance on the Lord instead of our own strength (still learning that!), it built our faith, it gave us a son.

Yes, there are problems with the foster care system.  Yes, it is tiring.  Yes, it is putting yourself out there, knowing your heart will be broken.  Yes, it is infuriating.  Yes, it is worth it.  

 

Because if you can look past the broken system and see the broken lives that God has given us, the church, to care for, it’s a no-brainer. 

The children are worth it.  They are worth fighting for.  
The parents are worth it.  They are worth loving and believing in.  



 

The system is broken and it fails people every day.  That is a problem.  But the bigger problem is that God has given the responsibility of caring for these lives to His Bride, the church, and we have passed them off to the state.  People will fail.  BUT God’s love never fails, and no matter who they are and what they’ve done or have failed to do- no one is beyond hope.  No one is beyond His grasp.  The state can’t fix these lives and these broken situations, but God can.  He can mend, heal, lift up, restore- and He asks us to be His hands and feet.  


We have come to the end of our fostering journey (for now!).  As we exit stage left, I would just ask you to prayerfully consider your part in caring for the orphans in your town.  How can you be His hands and feet to the broken lives around you?  


Could you foster?
Could you give respite for a weary foster parent in the thick of it?
Could you bring a meal to a foster family?
Could you donate clothes or gently used children’s gear to your local Child Welfare office?
Could you pray?

Our torch is being set down, will you take it up?  
Trust me, if we can do it, broken and human as we are, you can do it too! 

Just be prepared to never be the same.  🙂


You can read more about our story of foster care here:

Foster Care Ponderings: Part 1, Our Story

Foster Care Ponderings: Part 2, Our Story

Foster Care Ponderings: Part 3, Biological Parents