Wednesday, April 23, 2014

We made it...

Goodbye Phoenix..

...hello Chipotle Dulles.  It was very important that I continue my tradition of eating a large Chipotle salad prior to departing the United States and this time was no different...and no less wonderful tasting, too.

From Dulles to Frankfurt
Still feeling mostly awake and alert.
After 25 total hours of travel time, we arrived safely back in our apartment in Cherkasy.  It's a little strange when traveling from Phoenix to Cherkasy, Ukraine begins to feel completely normal, as though it's just something we do regularly.  But I've now been here 3 times in a span of just 3 months so I do believe that has something to do with the familiarity factor.  It gets easier and easier to not only do the travel, but to be here in general.  Easier from the standpoint of navigating through things on this side of the world, not at all easier in leaving our girls behind.

We've been settled in here now less than 24 hours and already we've visited our favorite spot the Patisserie Makarun twice.  Currently, that's where I sit typing.  As our dear friend Christine put it, this place is an oasis.

This time upon arriving to Cherkasy, planted by the sign that says "Hello Cherkasy", there were multiple armed men carrying some sort of automatic rifle.  Interesting, but given the current political situation, not surprising.  They were not here last time, but things have heated up since we left.  We think they are most likely pro-Ukrainian activists as they resembled many of the men we saw in Kyiv on Maidan.

We stopped by the orphanage to pick up the key to our apartment.  The apartment is owned by a friend of Maria's (the orphanage director).  They graciously allowed us to keep many of our things in the apartment while we were away (and I am happy to report they were all still there when we returned).

While in Maria's office, she called for the kids to be brought in.  We heard a knock, Maria responded "Da" and they were let in.  It was apparent they were not told we had arrived yet.  It was fun to surprise them.  We didn't anticipate getting to see them until today.  For all of about two minutes we exchanged hugs and hellos before they were escorted back to their groupa's room.

Sergey drove us to the apartment where we got all settled back in.  The apartment really is starting to feel like a home away from home.  Never thought I'd say that about an apartment in Ukraine of all places!  My how my life has changed!

We were thankful for a great full night's rest last night and look forward to our first 3-hour visit with the kids this afternoon.

Tomorrow is a big day.  Court is scheduled to begin at 9:00am.  We are hopeful that we will pass court and anticipate walking out of the courtroom to celebrate with our new son and daughter.  At that point we will have a 10 day waiting period during which time someone could contest the adoption.  This is standard procedure and while we do not expect any issues, until that court decree is in our hand these children are still not officially ours.

Please, will you join us in praying that all will go well and that most of all God would be glorified in the process?  Please also pray that God would guard our kids' hearts as their "story" is read during court, parts of which there is a chance they've not heard before or for quite some time.  Pray that God would put peace in each of their hearts as they could experience many emotions tomorrow and in the days to come as this becomes more real to each of them.  Thank you for all for walking this journey with us and coming alongside us in prayer.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hope-filled goodbyes

Today we had to say goodbye...for now.  We made the tough decision yesterday to return home until court.  We thought we would receive a court date sooner than we are now anticipating due to a variety of circumstances, none of which are bad.  Just simply the road of adoption.  A road on which you quickly discover you really are not the driver, you're just a passenger in the back seat in a strange town where the language is unfamiliar and where street signs aren't always legible.  But it's okay, it's called adventure and sometimes when you peer down a side street and think, "Oh, I sure hope we're not going that way," that's precisely the turn you'll end up taking.  And then it all works out better than you could have planned, even if your plan included avoiding potholes the size of small lakes.  This adoption is one crazy ride...and ironically I think driving (or rather, riding) in Ukraine represents adoption all too well.  And ours has really been a smooth ride.  But there are still times when you feel life flashing before your very eyes.  So you quickly learn to close them.  Sometimes darkness is better.  Trusting is better.  Not easier, but better.

So we will head home beginning at 1:30am tomorrow morning when Sergey picks us up to drive us to the airport at Boryspil.  Once we have secured a court date we will make plans to return.  Once we've passed court, Adam will return home again and I will stay with the kids until we have acquired birth certificates, passports, etc. in preparation for them to become American citizens!

But today...

Today we visited the orphanage for just over an hour.  We met with Maria whom Alla had already informed of our plan.  The kids, too, had been told, but we did not know how they handled the news.  We were told they took it well, but at that point hadn't seen them to know for certain ourselves that they were okay.

After a brief discussion with Maria, we were isolated to our favorite room and the kids joined eagerly entered moments later.  We had prepared a sort of goodie bag for each of them complete with chips, orange juice, an apple, some Nutella and gum.  For an hour we played and enjoyed one another.  It was a true blessing.

Christian asked when we would return to Ukraine, trying to better understand the "plan."  This process has got to be just as confusing to them as it is to us.  He was also very disappointed that we were allowed only an hour together.  We were given the hour of 11:30am-12:30pm to spend with them so at 11:45am when he asked if we were staying until 7:00pm, my heart sank more than a little.  Sweet boy just wants our "family" to be together, even if it means countless rounds of boring Uno.

At the end of the hour, we heard the door handle turn and in walked Yelena.  I was thankful to see her face because I knew she wouldn't rush us out of there, but allow us a few moments to say goodbye to the kids.  And she did.  We hugged each of them several times, shared many "I love you"s and reminded them we would be back as soon as possible.

But one thing made this goodbye beautiful.


We got to see it today in our kids' eyes.

In their eyes is a light, a sparkle, that I've not seen before.  Especially in Ilyssa.  This is the girl that fell apart when I left her at the airport after summer hosting and the same little girl I had to leave again in January.  Today was different.  Today she was a confident girl who knows her Mom and Dad are not leaving her there to stay.  He shares that confidence knowing that we will be back in Ukraine just as soon as we possibly can.

They wait with confident expectation...of this I am sure.  Is there sadness?  Is there disappointment?  Most definitely.  But above all else they have allowed themselves to hope in what they know, to believe with certainty that we will return.

And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end...

Hebrews 6:11

Today we walked away from the orphanage grounds with our own sense of hope, assured of our decision to return home and thankful for two orphans who have forever changed our lives.


The kids presented me with this notebook they received at school just a few days ago.  This one's a keeper.

The words printed on the front could not be more true with one exception...
we have entered into one another's worlds and love is both given and received.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A 2nd "Yes" and The Great Outdoors

Today was a good day.  It was a long day filled with lots of paperwork and too much waiting, but that's just the name of the game at times and we are very much along for the ride...whatever it takes.

The day began with a 7:30am pickup from the apartment.  Ivan took us to the orphanage where we waited.  We knew we were there to begin paperwork for Christian, but beyond that we don't even fully understand what's going on.  There are lots of petitions and lots of requests for patience.  We smile and nod a lot and then later ask one another, "Did you follow that?"  To which our conclusive answers are most often, "Not at all."  But we stay the course and obey each directive given by our "bossy" facilitator, Alla.  It's okay that we call her that because that's precisely how she describes herself.  Quite honestly, that's the way you want a facilitator to be anyway.  She gets things done and is not satisfied with "we'll see" or "we'll get that to you later."  Nope.  Now is the way she asks that things be done.  And they are.  She also tells us she has "friends."  I don't think we have even the slightest clue to how extensive her network of friends really is, but we are grateful nonetheless.  Alla pushes, demands, argues (although they would consider it merely conversing).

Here Alla has taken over the notary assistant's desk and is working on the paperwork herself.
I digressed a bit.  Alright, so we were at the orphanage waiting on Alla and the inspector, Natalia, to arrive for our meeting with the two of them as well as Maria, the orphanage director, and our boy.  They locked us in the teacher's room to wait.  For some reason being locked in a room doesn't phase me in the least anymore.

Then we were ushered into Maria's office where all the necessary people were present.  Then Christian came in to answer some questions from the inspector.  I wish I could tell you what the questions were, but unfortunately my Ukrainian is still in progress.  Natalia is a very kind woman and Christian smiled quite often during their brief conversation.  Although I will say that he appeared nervous upon first entering the room.  He sat down next to me and I was sure to put my arm around him to remind him we are unified...we are family.

I noticed on the table that he had already written out his petition before we arrived.  I really wanted a photo of him writing it, but had to settle for getting a quick pic when, at one point, everyone left the room.

Christian's petition made official by that blue stamp.
Once the paperwork compiling was in full force, we were escorted back to our waiting spot.  About a half hour later, Maria retrieved us and we waited a brief moment while Yelena, the orphanage lawyer, and our kids appeared from the hallway.  And we got to leave the orphanage!

Together, the five of us walked to a huge park located just beside the orphanage.  It is gorgeous, the ground covered with gorgeous tall pines, statues of all sorts and kinds and wildflowers sprouting all around.

Bouquet hand-picked by our kids.
I can't even tell you how amazing it was to spend time together beyond the orphanage walls.  Even with a chaperone, it was a little bit of heaven.  Speaking of our chaperone, Yelena is one person that I have really grown to love throughout this entire process.  She is the orphanage lawyer and she is the one who, each Wednesday morning would answer the call when we Skyped with the kids.  If they were not already seated at the computer waiting, she would rush off down the hall to bring them into her office to talk with us.  It wasn't until I visited in January that I realized that the "Skype computer" is her computer...and one of the only computers in the orphanage at all.  So, for her to make her computer available to the kids each Wednesday was a sacrifice.  She really loves and enjoys the kids and we couldn't be more grateful for her.

Yelena and Ilyssa

Our time at the park was so sweet, we just wish this is what our time could look like every day with the kids.  There's something to be said for the freedom found beyond the orphanage.  It's like the kids come alive.  I think it's the fresh air.  I believe kids were created for play, for adventure, for climbing and skipping and jumping, for discovery.

A father and son stroll.

Beautiful view atop the "Bridge of Love."

Married couples secure padlocks to symbolize their love as they cross the bridge.

Beach on the Dnieper River.

Quite the view from above.

Couldn't love these two more.

Posing for Mom.

A little man to man time.

Discovery in action.

A message from big brother: "I love Andee and Charlee."

Pondering what she should write.
Her name in shyshka (pine cone).

Only Dad can make her smile like this.

When our time at the park was over, we returned to the orphanage and we were essentially snuck into Yelena's office, out of sight.  The orphanage is being inspected by the government this week.  They come to count underwear and make sure no crumbs are found.  Apparently they don't need to see any Americans either.  We are typically ushered into rooms, but this ushering was even more greatly accelerated.  Once in Yelena's office we watched Donald Duck for our remaining 15 minutes together.  Now that's what I call bonding.

Warner Bros. transcends language barriers.

Once home, we walked to McDonald's and enjoyed some fried food.

Once home, we will be petitioning to have this tasty item added to the American McDonald's menu.
And that concludes the excitement of Day 15 of Ukraine life.


Grandma, Grandpa and the girls continue to do well at home.  In fact, they are doing so well that Grandma mentioned to Charlee yesterday that we were going to Skype and her response was, "We just did that!"  Feeling the love across the ocean for sure!  I choose to look at the bright side of this and be thankful that they are getting along mostly well without us.  The challenge is greater with Andee, as I anticipated, given her age.  But all in all, things are going better than we expected and that makes the waiting slightly more bearable.

And the daily pictures from Grandma certainly help too.  There is no shortage of fun being had back in the good ol' US of A.

Homework is completed...

...water play ensues...

...secrets are shared...

...greeting with Grandpa is enjoyed...

...and naked, after bathtime laughter is enjoyed.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Return to Cherkasy

Late Friday afternoon, Yuriy drove us back to Cherkasy.  Another nice car ride complete with leather seats, GPS, a little Enrique Iglesias and, of course, some serious passing of other cards on the road.  The best part about the ride was the gorgeous sunset that reminded me that the sky here is painted by the same great God who paints the sky at home.  And in the midst of continued turmoil within this country, He is the same good God who reigns sovereignly over the entire situation and calls each of these people by name.

While we love Kyiv and enjoyed our time there again, returning to our apartment in Cherkasy was a really good thing.  Like when you've been away from home for vacation and you're 5 minutes from home and it just feels right.  That's the feeling Adam and I both had returning to our little studio here. It's by no means home, but it's quaint and cozy and it's as close to home as we're going to get for a while so we're trying to make the best of it.

Saturday we had a morning visit with the kids.  Thankfully Ilyssa was no longer sick and our whole family, as Christian calls it when referring to the four of us, got to spend time together.  Christian had this to give us when we arrived for our visit.  He wrote it by himself and was so proud to share it with us.

"so good"
We sat down and Christian said to me, "You teach" which meant that he wanted to work on some more English.  Not sure I'm the most qualified of teachers, but I guess he's stuck with me for now.  He drew pictures and I helped him label them with the correct English spelling of the words.  What's fascinating to me is to watch him sound words out and assign them the letters he thinks are correct because it has helped me to understand Ukrainian a little bit better.  For example, he always wants to write the word "and" with an "e" instead of an "a" at the beginning.  After watching him consistently assign the wrong letter to a certain sound I began to be able to associate those sounds to the letters in their words (the phonetic spelling anyway).  I'm still far from fluency, but I've managed to pick up on a few things over time.

Counting to ensure he has 50 starts to represent each state.
Adding labels.
Yesterday my role doubled as I became a math teacher, too.  Suddenly, Christian turns to me and says "mathematics."  I think he and I will get along quite nicely in the homework department.  Perhaps he will motivate his sisters as well.  One can hope.  So, we started with some basic math and then he asked me to write out some multiplication problems.  Not just your basic problems though, he wanted triple digit problems.  I was wishing for a calculator at that point.  I have to admit there were a couple times that in checking his answers I figured why bother, he's got them all mastered anyway.

Math facts with Mom.
While all this serious working was happening, Ilyssa sat quietly by rocking out to "The Little Mermaid" soundtrack.  Schoolwork doesn't exactly get her as excited as it does Christian.  This lack of interest is definitely not indicative of her knowledge of English though as there have been many times that she has corrected or helped Christian with an English word or two.

"Who me?"
One advantage to a morning visit with the kids is that we have lots of time to get out and explore in the daylight after we leave the orphanage.  Yesterday that's exactly what we did.  We decided to make our way to the beach.  We were't exactly sure how to get there, but 3 miles later we were home and successful in finding water.

Beautiful beach.
 We try to include one adventure each day, which means either finding a new coffee destination, venturing out a new direction from our apartment or sampling a new variety of pastry.  Sometimes we get really crazy and do all three in one day...those are the best days in my book.  Pretty exciting, eh?  Tomorrow's adventure just may include a pizza outing.

Friday, March 21, 2014

SDA Appointment, Round 2

Early yesterday morning, Yuriy (a new complete stranger) picked us up from our apartment in Cherkasy and drove us to Kyiv where we had our second SDA appointment, this one for Christian.

Leaving Cherkasy.  The orphanage is located just beside the radio/cell tower pictured.

I was much less nervous going into this appointment, having already had a successful appointment last week for Ilyssa.  In fact, this time it was just a complete breeze.  Olga, Igor, Adam and I met again in the same small room with the same wall of binders marked by birth year and even the same page protectors.  It was all very familiar.  Last time Olga asked us nothing about how we knew Ilyssa or why we wanted to adopt, questions we had been anticipating.  Yesterday she was very interested to know how our reunion with Ilyssa went and if she was happy to see us.  Thankfully, we could positively report to her that our reunion was beautiful.  She seemed genuinely delighted to hear this.

This time Olga asked additional questions, one of which was how we know Christian.  We explained that while he was hosted by another family, we met him while the entire host group was in California together.  She was content with that answer and we didn't elaborate to explain that we've also Skyped with him weekly for the past several months.  We didn't share that we had planned to host him over Christmas as well until that fell through due to some changes occurring at the orphanage.  And we absolutely did not share that I made a trip to meet him and spend time with both he and Ilyssa back in January.  So, for all intents and purposes, tomorrow should be our first time meeting Christian.  And yet, we can confidently say that we love him already just as much as Ilyssa who we actually lived life with for a time over the summer.  We have been incredibly blessed with Maria, the orphanage director, who ultimately was the one who allowed me to come visit the kids.  She did not have to allow that, but instead she graciously opened the orphanage doors to me and allowed me time to bond with our kids that most adoptive parents wouldn't have before accepting the official referral.  She is an orphanage director like no other.

Olga also mentioned to us that Christian looks like Adam and that Ilyssa looks like me and then stated that "God decided" for them to be placed with us.  We took that as a very high compliment and were blessed by her recognizing, in whatever way, that God has a hand in this.  Overall it was a great appointment with many smiles shared and even a bit of laughter. 

Waiting in Yuriy's Nissan Maxima outside the SDA building. Note the fancy GPS!

And we had to get cappuccinos from our favorite street coffee vendor.

Later this afternoon we will pick up our referral paperwork and then travel back to Cherkasy to begin the paperwork for Christian.  Lord willing, he will complete his petition on Monday stating that he would like us to adopt him.  This whole petition thing will forever remain strange to me.  Wonderful, but strange.  On Monday, an almost 11 year old boy will physically write a letter naming me and Adam as the two people (of all the people on the face of this planet) he would like to be his Mom and Dad.  That's just plain backwards, but very cool all at the same time.

After our appointment, we walked across with street to eat pizza with Igor, Alla and another adoptive couple who also had a successful appointment just before ours.  Igor mentioned several times, "I wish they were all this easy."  We are so thankful, too, for wonderful facilitators without whom none of this would be possible.  We ordered pizza with pepperoni to celebrate, but received pizza with pepperocinis instead.  Oops, silly Americans.  We enjoyed it nonetheless.

Our apartment for the evening was located about a half block from Maidan, or Independence Square.  The strangest thing about being this close to Maidan is how completely unstrange it feels.  Honestly, we feel safer walking around Independence Square than probably anywhere else.  We've been told to stay away from the "crazies" down there, but the first thing we did once we got settled in our apartment was walk out the door and head that direction.  When you walk around down there, besides the fact that you know it was once such a beautiful area, it feels like you are walking on sacred ground.  People walk more slowly and time is spent remembering the heroes who lost their lives just weeks ago.   And the more time you spend down there, the less strange it seems to see to see camouflaged men pushing chopped wood in a wheelbarrow down the torn up sidewalk as you are looking for a store to purchase a mobile wi-fi device.  Quite the contrast.

A vehicle equipped with a water canon used by the Berkut to douse the crowds during the protests.

Buildings still occupied by the people opposed to the government under Yanukovich.

A display that was not here a week ago.  I believe it says something about "stopping propaganda" and "no fascism."

Huge flag covered in handwriting waved by chanting people.
What I wouldn't give to know Ukrainian while in the vicinity of Maidan.  When we arrived yesterday I knew that these men (and some women) would still be here, camped out.  But to see it all a week later and to be reminded that they truly have no intentions of leaving.  It's sobering.  They are in this all the way.  It's a beautiful thing.

And just up the street from all this commotion I sit in a very modern joint with free wifi called True Taste Coffee House.  Again a stark contrast from the men sitting camped in their tents at the base of this street, who continue to make sacrifices to stand for the freedom they so desperately desire.  This should serve all of us Americans as a reminder that freedom doesn't come for free.  The freedom we enjoy in America was and is fought for.  We don't even know how good we have it.  Let us not forget to be grateful for the men and women who ensure our freedom daily...even when we cannot tangibly see the evidence.
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