"I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything,
but I can do something; I will not refuse to do something I can do."

~ Helen Keller

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A few thoughts after having Carl home for a week

Carl has been here in the US with us for just over a week now, so I thought I would stop just a moment to think about all that has happened. I remember when Jeff and Carl flew into town, and how emotional I was as the kids and I waited for them to appear in the hallway after they got off the plane. We brought balloons and a sign welcoming them home, and we were surrounded by a group of people who Carl already knew and loved. When Jeff and Carl finally came down the hall, I thought my heart would burst with joy!

Now, a week later, I am still bubbling over with joy whenever I see our new son trying to figure out what it means to live in a family. He is strong and courageous, inquisitive and attentive, energetic and funny, compassionate and gentle. He has always had a confidence that I would not have expected of him considering the life he just left. But on a few unexpected moments, he has also shown that he is very sensitive to correction. So I find myself constantly asking God for wisdom on how to help Carl learn and grow and heal. Yesterday, in the midst of an episode, I called Lorie, a friend who has also adopted recently from Ukraine, and she advised me to hug him, and to keep letting him know how very much we love him. I want all of you who are adopting to know that Lorie's advice was excellent. Yes, we need to lovingly correct and guide our children, but we also need to help them understand that no matter what happens, no matter what choices they make, no matter how many times they mess up, we will always, ALWAYS love them, and that we will never reject them. We are now family, and family is a gift that lasts forever. They need to know that.

I have to admit that before the adoption happened, I was slightly worried that I would love my four biological children more, or differently, than I would love my adopted child. But now I can honestly say that the love I have for Carl is exactly the same love I have for my other children. But that only makes sense, for God is the One who gives us children. It doesn't matter if He gives them to us from our own bodies, or through adoption...the point is that when He gives us the gift of children, He also gives us the love that goes with them. It's a love that comes from Him...a love that is amazing...a love that will never end. A love that reflects that love that our Heavenly Father has for us (even though our love is imperfect next to His perfect love).

Now that Christmas is over, I realize that Carl is no longer acting like he is simply a polite guest in our home. I can tell that he is feeling more at home here. He is interacting wonderfully with all his siblings, is learning the rules, and is starting to open up to me about some personal issues. This morning he showed me two scars that he has. The one on his leg came from falling on something sharp while playing basketball with his friends, and the other one on his side came from a surgery he had a couple of years ago. That conversation lead to another conversation in which he told me that a boy at the orphanage was mean to him once he realized that Carl was going to be adopted. But Carl did not hold any bad feelings against that boy. Rather, he told me that having parents was a very special gift, that he understood why the other boy was mean to him, and that Carl wanted that boy to be given the gift of parents, too. I have been teaching the children 1 Peter 3:9 which says, "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing." I thought that Carl's reaction to this other boy was a wonderful example to bring this verse to life.

I know that there will be many issues that we will need to help Carl work through, but I am very thankful that God has surrounded us with family members who love and accept Carl, with a church who prays for Carl on a regular basis, with a neighborhood full of friends who are befriending Carl, and with a Ukrainian Adoption support group who can help with the hands-on advice. But most of all, I am thankful that God has graciously blessed our family with this handsome, loving child, and that God has already proven that He has not left us alone to raise him. Rather, God is very present, and will continue to gently mature us to be the parents He wants us to be.

Humbly His,

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Final thoughts before completing our trip

So this is my last entry in this blog because tomorrow morning we will be heading for home. Before many will go to bed tonight our journey will begin, and just before many go to bed tomorrow our journey will end. This ending to my current travels will be the beginning of a new life in a new place. While the stories and events which have filled this blog have documented our efforts, challenges and many blessings, the story is only just beginning. Hopefully, we will have a lifetime of stories to tell in the end, and hopefully Carl will wish to share these stories with others who have had similar experiences.

As a final word, I would like to say that while I have not personally met or corresponded with many of the readers here, I feel as though we are somehow linked in our beliefs and support for each other. I hope that in the future I can be an encouragement and support for those who endeavor the same experience.

Goodbye and God bless


Friday, December 17, 2010

Visa has been issued

It truly seems a bit anticlimactic to blog about today's events. Once the paperwork is in order, the likelihood of being denied a visa is probably pretty low. Either way I seemed to be a bit nervous going to the Embassy. Funny thing is that that my nervousness was dissolved the second we walked through the door. If you are reading this blog and have never travelled abroad, you truly do not know what a privilege it is to be citizen of the United States. Yesterday when we went to the embassy there were hundreds of people there waiting to apply for a visa. Today I saw only two people (outside the windows), and they were a woman and here newly adopted son. Oh how much we take our privileges for granted. Sure our country has its issues, but why would they be lined up out side the door waiting to get in if there wasn't something special here?

Well today, Vova (who will now be called Carl) was granted the privilege to immigrate to the US with his parents. He was issued an IR3 visa which means that he is eligible for immediate application for citizenship. In all the things that we teach him as parents, I hope that we can teach him what that means and how truly special that is. Of all the people in the world and of all the people who have applied, why has God given him this opportunity? This I believe is something that we should all appreciate and respect.

Because of the weather and the holidays, we won't be able to return until Sunday, so Carl and I will have an extra day to shop, and play games (on the computer) and just hang out, "pop" and son. Yes he calls me "Pop". It sounded kinda weird initially, but it seems pretty cool now. In a way, I am glad that we get an extra day. When we get home he will be covered with the love of his momma, sisters and his brother and I won't really get much time alone. Hopefully, he will remember this time in the midst of all the excitement of returning home. I know I will.

In closing I want to reiterate what I believe about the season and God's blessing with a little story. While shopping this morning, we were at the register in a particular store checking out. They had placed a snow globe dangerously close to the edge on the cash register. While standing there, Carl somehow brushed up against it and it fell off - broken. Had this happened in a US store, the employee who placed it there would have taken the blame and the management would have been more concerned about the customer than the lost goods. I guess that is not the case here. Anyway, there was a little exchange with the management and they were not very empathetic. After a few seconds I decided not to fight the issue and just paid for the item as we left. While walking back to our apartment I got to thinking about that incident, and it made me think of what God did when He sent Jesus here to pay for our sins. No matter the reason or circumstance, Jesus's sacrifice pays the price for all of our sins and mistakes, just like what I did in that store (in a very small way). Let us all keep this in mind as we grow closer to Christmas and the celebration of this gift.

So the end of our process is complete. All that remains is spending a short time here and then the travel home. Thanks again for keeping us in your prayers as we have two more days left.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

In Kiev with Passport in hand

Of all the modern day conventions I believe that the most counter productive are the ones that preset our daily schedules -- meetings, plane tickets, deadlines. Sure it is effecient to plan things and events, but many times the event is more important than the content or the people involved. So at the begining of yesterday's events, I blogged about our not getting Vova's passport when we had expected. After posting this I had a few hours with Vova before the driver showed up to take us to Simferopol again. We ate breakfast in a very cold resturant (they were the only one open and their heat wasn't working), we went to the store, and then we spent about 2 hours in our room. That time together was quiet but very calming.

Anyway on the drive to Simferopol, I thought a lot about the schedule and what just happened. It was then that I realized that it really didn't matter to me how many days we had to go through this routine. I wasn't really in control and I was really in no position to complain. Some interesting thoughts really started to roll around in my head at this time. Why we were delayed. Did Vova need to resolve some issues internally before we left Crimea? Was there something I was supposed to do before we left? All these thoughts about my little view of the local situation. It was then that it dawned on me that God is bigger than my situation. Of all the results of a delayed passport schedule the only one that was certain was that we would have to change my return flight. This is where I realized that the situation was much bigger than us. If you think about how chains of events are linked, changing two flight tickets are enough to change a life time of results -- the possibilities are astounding.

So yes, we go to Simferopol, and of course we had to wait. The driver phoned the office to see if the lady in charge of dispersments was there. He did this several times within an hour and then he got out of the car and walked towards the office. After about 3 minutes he comes running back wanting us to follow him. We ran up to the door (which was locked) and then they let only me in. I looked at the passport, and then signed the release form. After that I was escorted out and the door was locked again. It is almost as though I was the only one to receive a passport that day and they made special arrangements just for us, hmmm. We then went directly to the train station and bought tickets for Kiev which we boarded at 3:30pm. The train ride was very long, but since Vova had wore himself out the night before, so he crashed by 7:00pm.

When we arrived in Kiev at 7:00am, we were met by another driver and then went for breakfast. Our time here in Kiev has been pretty much like being on a factory conveyor. The process at this point is pretty straight forward, and our facilitator's team has the routine down pretty good. In the span of about 3 hours, we submitted all of our documents for the Visa and completed the immigration doctor's visit. We did all this and then we were able to get to our apartment by 2pm (which also included two different stops to the store). Once again, after yesterday morning I have become much more relaxed about my time here. In fact our facilitator made a comment about me missing home a lot by now. Sure, I said that I missed my wife and 4 other kids, but I don't seem to miss "home" as much now that Vova is with me (I do have some family with me).

Tomorrow we go back to the embassy at 2pm to complete the Visa process, and then (assuming we can get flight tickets) we will be coming home on Saturday. Thanks again for everyone's support and prayers.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

No passport

As many have already determined we didn't get Vova's passport yesterday as we thought we would. The first part of the day went as expected. I finished up at the hotel, met with the driver and went to pick up Vova. The last few minutes at the orphanage were quiet and quick. Vova had to change clothes, collected some things he made for his sisters, we took a few pictures, and then we were gone. We didn't really talk to anybody else. The ride to Simferopol was really quiet. I wasn't sure if he didn't know what to say or if he was thinking about what just happened.

We went to the passport office first, of course they didn't have the passport. But they said to come back at 4:30. So we went to get some lunch and see about train tickets. Lunch was nice. Our driver took us to someplace we hadn't been yet and the food was good. We ate a lot though in anticipation of going on the train (there isn't much food on the train). Then after making a stop at one of the driver's friend's house we went back to the passport office. After waiting almost an hour with all sorts of thoughts of possible outcomes rolling around in my head, 4:30 came and went. The driver made a few calls and we headed back to Jonkoi. There the driver arranged a hotel room for Vova and myself, he showed us where everything was (store, restaruant, etc.), and then he left.

So then this was the first time we were together without anybody else. Interestingly, the first thing he did was make his bed (the sheets are not already on your beds in the hotel rooms). We weren't very hungry because of the big lunch, but I asked if he wanted to go to the store. He said yes and so we did. Guess what he wanted: Coke and junk food, imagine that. Well, I thought, what the heck. When we got back to the hotel, we tried to get some games working on my computer (some of the keys don't work right now) but we really couldn't find anything. Afterwards, he finally settled down and we watched a movie I had bought for the train.

When the movie was over, we tried again to play some games again without success, and then finally around 10:30 we decided it was time for bed. During those 4 hours, Vova really made me think of Jeffery and his friends when they come to our house for sleepovers. As some already know, boys don't sleep at Jeffery's sleepovers, and I learned the routine during the last one: drink some soda, eat a snack, play some games... We went through that same routine last night. It was kinda fun.

Today we will try again to get Vova's passport and then head to Kiev. Unfortunately, passport delivery is not guaranteed on a particular day, so we may go through this routine a few days. Either way, we are finally together.

Our quest will continue at noon (5:00am back home), so hope and pray for the best.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Day 6 - A Day of Thankfulness and Gratitude

Today was the last day in our 6 day count down. For some reason, going into it I knew in the back of my mind that this maybe the last day I see some of these kids. Now back in my hotel room, that reality has struck me pretty solid. The schedule tomorrow is such that many of the kids may still be in school at the time that I arrive and also when we leave, so this thought is very much a possibility. I would have really liked to have gotten a single group photo, but the logistics of getting everybody together was just not in my control. I do hope, however, that I have captured everybody's presence and that we have something that Vova can referred to when remembering them.

If there is a single word that could describe today, it is probably gratitude or thankfulness. I wanted to thank the custodians for all their help so I gave them both appropriate gifts that I picked up in the market. I also delivered some of the gifts that were passed on to me from another family back home as well as one final addition to the Playstation collection: a memory card. In a word, today they weren't just happy, they were thankful. I too was thankful in that they have given to me just as much if not more than I ever to them. I believe that years from now, when Vova and I look at the pictures and videos, we will both have some very good memories to share.

In Genesis 1 God created man on the sixth day. In the sixth day of our six day count down we celebrated the creation of one of God's men. One of the boys has a birthday today: he is now 13; and in some cultures 13 is the age that a male will officially transform from a boy into a man. While it may not seem like much, I wanted to make sure he received at least one gift for his birthday. So this morning I went to the market and found something personal that would also represent a remembrance of today's celebration. When I gave it to him he was very thankful and I could see that he had glimpse of what it's like for someone to care about him. While I cannot predict the future I certainly hope and pray that his future turns out to be one which includes God and another one of God's families. That same hope truly goes out for all of these kids. I believe that God has something special in mind for each of them, and I hope that my presence here has furthered His plan in that respect.

Tomorrow we will leave for Kiev as I bid farewell to the small little town. While I am not the most seasoned traveler, I have visited a number of locations throughout the US and Europe. Sure I remember the sights and the special places, but none of them have made as much of an impact on me as possibly this small forsaken spot in the countryside of Crimea, Ukraine. Maybe it is the many people who have helped me during my stay; maybe it is the comfortable daily routine that I find myself following. Either way I will remember this place for a very long time, and those memories will forever cause me to know that God is always with me.

The six day countdown is over, but we still have a couple more things left to attend to before we can come home. Thank you again for all the support, and keep us in your prayers as these remaining matters are completed.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Day 5 - Vova says goodbye to an old friend

Today was a very sweet day. After yesterday, Vova knew that we were going to town and also that we would have pizza, but he really didn't have much of an idea of what else. So when I arrived at the orphanage, he finished getting ready while I explained to the other boys that we would bring the pizza back with us. After leaving the orphanage, I could tell he was excited but was probably wondering what we were going to do. What he didn't know was that we were going to meet an old friend of his. She is one of the volunteers that frequently visits the orphanage, and for reasons that were not explained to me, she could not go there today. Anyway, we were a little early getting to the restaurant where we would meet and Vova was a little confused. He had some juice while we were waiting (he actually drank two glasses), and I kept telling the waiter to wait a few more minutes before we order. Vova still didn't know and was still wondering.

Well, when his friend entered the room his face immediately lit up. He was very happy to see her and she appeared happy too. After introductions we talked for a very long time (well it was mostly her and him -- mostly in Russian). They talked about the other boys in the orphanage, she asked him about his new family and then we talked a little about our travel plans for the next week. Vova said he was not afraid to fly which is good cause we are going to be doing a lot of it :). She also asked how we managed to communicate. She asked him if he understood his "Pop", and he said that I speak to him in Russian. I think he appreciates it at this point that I am not putting a lot of pressure on him to speak English now. (Yeah, I know that will change soon, but at the right time and place.)

After talking a while I asked if he was hungry and asked what he wanted to eat. He said "omelet" (it's basically the same as the English word for fancy eggs). Well I don't know if she didn't hear or understand (that happens to me in the US too), but she brought two orders of what he asked for. We'll I wasn't going to eat, but what he actually ordered is one of my favorite foods: Fried Eggs, sunny side up. This is something I have tried to get the other kids to eat for years, but none of them will touch it. Finally, I have a kid that will eat my fried eggs :). So we ate and continued to talk for another 30 minutes. I gave our friend some stuff that I was to deliver from the US, and then we parted ways. Everybody was happy and thankful that we got to spend that last little bit of time together.

After she left, we went back and ordered three pizza's and a bunch of Cokes to go; back to the orphanage. When we got there, it was quiet time. Many of the boys were resting, but as soon as the pizza call went out, they all lit up. I was only there for 1/2 hour because it was already late, but all enjoyed the pizza and the short time we had together.

So today is Sunday December 12. If my understanding is correct and the dates line up the way I know it, today is when we would light the third candle on the advent wreath. The third candle is usually pink and represents Joy in Christ. Well today was very much a Joyful day, and I believe that it is all because of Christ.

On to day 6 with our hearts filled with Love, Joy and Peace.