Thursday, January 30, 2014


My heart aches again.  The same ache I felt that August day that I said goodbye to Kate for the first time and put her on a plane back to Ukraine.  That ache, though it never fully went away, has been resurrected, and now multiplied.  Now there are two children who have found a way into my heart.

Goodbye Ukraine

When that Ukraine International Airlines flight began its ascent over the city of Kyiv, I felt my heart torn in two again.  Stepping foot outside their country reminds me that I have to let go again.  I hate that I had to say goodbye to Max and Kate.  I hate that in many ways my coming, because I had to also leave, caused more pain in their lives.  But I rejoice in the fact that the pain has its roots in joy.  The joy of sharing time and space together, of bonding over foosball and jumprope.  So I pray this joy will outweigh the pain.  And I pray for continued hope for Kate and Max as they wait.

I want to give them a date that we will be back for them, to give them some idea of when they will have family, but I can’t.  I know this is out of my hands and while I think it could be as early as April, what if it’s not?  What if the social unrest the country is experiencing escalates and begins affecting adoptions?  What if there are delays for reasons I cannot anticipate?  I long for the day that Adam and I can say, “On this day we are coming for you…no more goodbyes this time.”

I think this is harder for Kate because she’s had the hope of a family now for several months more than Max has.  She knows what she’s missing.  Knows what she wants to go back to.  He has an idea of what it will be like because he had a wonderful host family, but he doesn’t know what it will be like with our family.  There’s a bit of a blessing in not knowing what you don’t know.  Kate has slept in the bed that is hers, worn clothes purchases just for her and hanging in her closet, enjoyed time with Grandma and Grandpa and friends.  He hasn’t experienced those things with us yet.  What faith it takes at 10 years old to commit to a family.  It seems so risky, but I don’t know what it would be like to have nothing to lose. 

Sometimes when we are together I find myself wrestling with the lie, “This can’t be that special for them.  I mean, we’re just playing checkers or listening to Baby Bumblebee for the forty-fifth time (Kate's absolute favorite song).”  At times the lies are fierce.  Causing me to doubt that they would want us.  I’m nobody special and there are so many things I don’t do well.  Wouldn’t they rather have a mom that’s more fun?  More creative?  More outgoing?

And then, in His infinite goodness, the Lord taps me on the shoulders reminding me of His grace.  And His grace finds me and keeps me.

“Your great grace, such grace…. It’s there on the mountaintop, there in the every day and the mundane.  There in the sorrow and the dancing…. So I’m breathing in your grace.  I’m breathing out your praise….Your grace finds me.”

I cling tightly to this great grace. His grace is my safety, my security, my refuge and really it’s all I have.  More importantly, it’s all I need.  This isn’t about me or Adam.  It’s not about my performance as a mom.  It’s not about me measuring up because I won’t.  It’s about me showing up.  Me, in His strength and grace, being there when He calls.  Not looking at a situation and thinking, “But I can’t…”  No, it’s seeing a situation in the light of His abundant mercy and His sufficiency for me.

I don’t know what our future will look like.  I do know it will be a shared road of joy and pain, of trials and healing.  It would be so easy to walk away because who wants to choose these challenges, but more than the challenge I want to know God’s redemption and faithfulness every step of the way.

I pray for their hearts.  I prayed that they would find rest last night as they went to sleep.  I prayed that when they awakened this morning their hearts would be full of peace.  I pray that God would hold them tight when I cannot, that He would fill their hearts with His love, His grace.

And I pray for Ukraine.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Day 5: Our last day together

This morning I woke up to snow...lots and lots of snow.  Here's the view from the teachers' room where I spent the night last night, the groupa where Max and Kate live.

Max and Kate's groupa.
I must say I loved waking up knowing that they were just across the way from me.  Still not close enough, but I'll take it for now.

Today I got to watch Max "swim."  Technically, it's not exactly swimming that they do as much as it is a compilation of some hand motions with a bit of some water aerobics flair.  After all, not a lot of swimming can happen when the water comes only to one's knees, but nevertheless that's what they call this "sport."

I definitely got the feeling he wouldn't mind losing the Speedo.

A little bit of marching through the water...kind of like treading water if only there were more of it.

Another move that's not entirely swimming related, but at least they were enjoying themselves.

After swimming, we got to spend some more time together just the three of us.  With my little photographer on duty again, Max and I played Chess.  Neither one of us is very good.

"Mom, what's Checkmate?"
Then we discovered "Photo Booth" and had a blast distorting our faces and laughing at one another.  That was the most laughter I have heard from the two of them since being here.  I'm sure the people roaming the halls wondered what in the world we were doing that could be so much fun.

Is he not the most handsome boy ever?  That smile!

Later in the day Maria insisted that we go outside to take more pictures, what else?  For as much as the last thing in the world I wanted to do was go outside, I do appreciate that she wants to take pictures and encourages me to take as many as humanly possible.  And if I don't, she certainly will.  It's actually really nice because there have been times when I was unsure of whether it was appropriate to take yet another picture until I see her out of the corner of my eye saying "photo?" as she is motioning as thought she is taking a picture herself.

All bundled up again, we set off to check out the orphanage grounds.

Orphanage "neighbors"

Kids' play area

Kate not exactly thrilled to be outside, but a good sport nonetheless.

Maria and the kids

Entrance to the orphanage behind...and check out those gorgeous pine branches.

The tour outside was short-lived...thankfully.  Inside we went for some more time together just the three of us...our last bit of time before we had to say goodbye.

Rainbow looming with my son.

Little performer.

So.  Much.  Fun.

This was the last picture we took before we had to say our goodbyes.  So hard.  They were so hard.  Kate was in tears before I knew it...her whole mood had changed.  I expected this because it's what happened at LAX, but it was still so hard to see.  What do you do with that?  I did the only thing I can right now.  I hugged her so tight, told her I love her and that Mommy and Daddy will be there "skoro."  As soon as humanly possible.  There's nothing else I could do in that moment to comfort her.  Nothing I could do to make it better, to change the fact that I had to leave.  Max and I said goodbye minus the tears, but still with big, big hugs and the exchange of an "I love you."  The only thing that helped me hold it together better this time than last is the fact that I know it will be soon.  I have a greater sense now of when we will really be there the next and final time.  Kate, though we tell her it will be soon and though she knows it's sooner now than it was over the summer, is still at the mercy of our words.  At the mercy of us coming through on our promise.

And that was it.  Our time over.  For now.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Day 4: ...continued

This morning we got to spend time together, just the 3 of us.  While I love spending time with the other children here, too, I just covet my time alone with Max and Kate.  And I appreciate so much that Maria makes this time possible...and quite a bit of it.  She has kept them out of school since I've been here so that I do get to see them, to bond with them.  And I'm sure they're not missing being in school.  Although Max has told me that he really likes school.  And I have a feeling I know why.  He's a very smart boy.  Today I gave him a card from Adam and I as well as one from Grandma and Grandpa.  He read them both to English.  He doesn't comprehend everything he is reading, but the fact that he can already read English astounds me.  And he is very eager to learn asking me, "English?" while pointing to things so that I will tell him the English word.

After some time together in the morning, it was time for the children to eat lunch.  They are instructed each and every time before eating to wash their hands...and I'm reminded that I fall way short as a mother in the number of times I ask Charlee and Andee to wash their hands before meals.  Just building immune systems, I suppose.

And my children at home are never so happy while washing their hands...unless they are splashing bubbles on my freshly cleaned mirrors.

Always so eager to smile for the camera...even over a bowl of soup.
Once the children were situated and began eating I was led to my own lunch table where, again, way too much food was served me.  Thankfully, after a big lunch I typically get to enjoy a nap.

Naptime?  Yes!  For both me and the children.  Among the many instructions I've been given while here, one has been to take a nap almost daily.  So, for a couple hours in the afternoon I have the teachers' room all to myself and I'm told to sleep.  The sleeping part doesn't always happen, but it's a nice thought.  Now if I only I could figure out a way for someone to instruct me to sit and do nothing for 2 hours each day at home!

My naptime setup...and coincidentally also where I will sleep this evening.

At 3:00 pm, Maria comes to get me from my nap and we meet up with the children who are dressed to play.  I'm surprised I wasn't instructed to bring my own gym clothes.

My little athletes.

And we are off to the gymnasium where there is no shortage of fun activities to play.

Plenty of riding toys for children of every size.

"Hi Mom!"

So far I haven't found anything this boy doesn't do well.


Beating Mom at bowling.

It's important for athletes to refuel after all that activity.

I'm pretty sure the other kids weren't too happy that they had to schoolwork while Kate and Max got to play.

Mom the teacher (still in that sweater).  Ukrainian children need Rainbow Loom bracelets too.

Making a masterpiece together.  Thank you, Kate, for being the resident photographer.
When our time together for the day had run out, the kids headed off to eat dinner and I shared another meal with Maria.  And might I just add, it's an interesting thing eating with someone with whom you cannot speak.  We do communicate on some level, but mostly it's just smiles exchanged and me at times offering a "dobre" or "spasiba".  Meals have been very quiet, but it's funny how that seems less and less strange as time goes on.  It doesn't even bother me now.  I just appreciate the company and the fact that she would sit to eat with me at all.  This woman does not have to offer me this kind of hospitality and I would still come back for these kids.

Once I've finished eating, Maria shows me to my room and explains that I am to lock myself in for the evening and she will return and knock on the door at 9:00 am the following morning.  So, I let her out, turn the key and lock myself in to my room for the evening.  What an odd thing to be spending the night at the orphanage where your children have lived most of their lives.  But stranger still is that I feel safer here than I have in the apartment the entire time I've been here.  There's something about knowing that at the orphanage I am known, not well, but still at least my face has become familiar to not only the children, but also many of those who work there.  At the apartment I'm a stranger and an American stranger at that.

So, with that said, it's time to hopefully get some sleep.  One thing's for sure...if I cannot sleep, at least I'll have something to  Because there isn't enough of that happening during the day...ha!

Carrots and salad...perfect midnight snack.

And when I awake in the morning, I get to sport these amazing shoes.  Per Maria's instructions.

добраніч.  Good night.

Day 4: An orphanage sleepover???

Adventure.  That’s not even a big enough word to describe what this is for me.  And it wouldn’t be that for some people, but for me this nothing short of stepping outside my comfort zone.

I received a call this morning from our adoption facilitator, Alla, informing me that Maria (the orphanage director) called her in a panic.  My first thought?  The revolution is taking over Cherkassy and they’ve got to get me out because it’s no longer safe for me to be here.

Thankfully, it was not quite the situation forming in my mind.  Rather, she called concerned that I wouldn’t be able to get back to the apartment from the orphanage tonight because of the snow.  Oh yes.  We have snow.  Lots of it!  I could hear the wind howling throughout the night (since most of my nights are spent more awake than asleep, I hear lots of things).  When I pulled back the blinds this morning, sure enough there was snow blowing through the sky completely horizontally  “Ooooh, that could make for an interesting drive to the orphanage,” I thought.

Not more than an hour later I was given instructions by Maria via Alla to pack some things and bring them with me to the orphanage as that’s where I will be staying this evening.

“Maria in a panic.  She worried you will not drive to apartment tonight.  You vill sleep at orphanage vhere you be safe and varm.  You vill pack your backpack or someving with comfortable clothes, maybe some water, your computer.  Maria have comfortable place for you to sleep.  She give you blanket and pillow so you be varm enough.  You leave everything else at thee apartment for tomorrow.”

So, sleeping in an orphanage was not exactly on my bucket list but, well, when you receive strict instructions from a Urkainian woman who has authority over your children the only proper response is, “Da.”

With just 20 minutes (10 of which would be dedicated to putting on the 10 outer layers of clothing necessary to brave the weather and to please Maria because it makes her very upset when they see you not dressed “appropriately” here in this cold weather) to pack my things before the driver arrived to pick me up, I scurried around like a bit of a mad woman, heart fluttering, nervous.  My biggest concern?  Water!  I only bought one small bottle that I refill when I’m in the apartment, but I’m used to drinking at least a gallon of water a day and since being here my water consumption has decreased drastically.  I might have just a slight bit of anxiety over it actually.  They tell you it’s okay to drink the water here, but like I mentioned earlier it’s green…with floaties.  And in my book, green water is not clean water.  Also, I do not need additional iron in my diet from the floaties as I already take a supplement for that!  I digress.

So with my one bottle of water that I will savor for my entire stay here, my computer loaded with pictures to show the kids, my toothbrush and my comfortable clothes to sleep in I was ready.

Smiling only because I hadn't gone outside yet.

The driver arrived and grinned a wide grin as he said something regarding the snow falling from the sky.  I think they think we don’t have snow in America.  I just smile and nod and pretend like it’s totally new to me. 

And off we sledded, I mean drove, to the orphanage.  What amazes me is that it doesn’t matter whether rain or shine, cold, wet, dry there are people walking…always walking outside.  Children sporting backpacks on their way to school, mothers carrying toddlers to various destinations, men and women both off to work.  And they just cruise around like it’s no big deal trudging through snow like this.  I don’t know how you ever get accustomed to that, but I suppose it’s no different than me feeling that it’s only hot on a summer day in Arizona when the temperature climbs above 105 degrees.

Somehow Nicolai managed to drive me through the not exactly snow plowed streets of Cherkassy to the orphanage gates.

View through a window just inside the front door of the orphanage.
Inside I was welcomed by Maria.  With food, of course.  Tea and these wafers that I have grown to love while here. 

Then she was off and not more than 3 minutes later I heard the sound of little feet headed in my direction.  “Mommy!” squealed one little voice and “Hi Mom, how are you?” from the other, a bit more calm in his welcome.  Maria left us and we had about a half hour together just the three of us.  I showed them pictures, many of which Kate has already seen, but they were all new to Max.  Pictures dating back to before Adam and I were married, to me being pregnant with Charlee, Charlee as a toddler, me pregnant with Andee, Andee as a baby, all the way to Christmas this past year.

The best part?  Using the words “home, family, mom, dad, sister, grandma, grandpa, cousin, aunt, uncle, Max and Kate” all to describe the images. 

I wonder more of what Max is thinking these days that I wonder about Kate.  She, when she’s with just me and Max, is exactly the same little girl that I grew to know and love while she lived with us.  He, on the other hand, doesn’t have that history with me, with our family.  Does it give him comfort knowing that Kate has experienced it and does he put faith in her experience that he will like it too?  Does he wonder why we chose him to be part of our family too?  Does he wonder if we’ll change our minds?  Is he confident that we know that he is our son?

Maybe he doesn’t think of these things at all.  Maybe I do too much thinking.  But when another little girl who daily works to convince me to take her home to “Amereeca” grabs ahold of me and says “Mama?” I am torn.  I want to embrace her, to love on her, to give her hope, but the last thing I want is for the two that I’ve come for to feel threatened.   I want to tell them, “This is the real deal.  We have come for you.  You are wanted.”  So I do, but not with those words.  Instead I squeeze them a little tighter than the rest, hold them a little longer, watch them a bit more intently and smile just a bit wider for them.  Do they know the difference?  Probably not, but it’s the only way I can communicate to them for now that they have my heart…all of it.  And while I love these other children, the Lord has directed Adam and I to them.  He is making a place in our family for them.  Their names are the ones on our documentation.  They are the ones for whom we’re preparing rooms, researching English learning programs, stocking up on Ukrainian recipes.  It’s for them.  Those two.  I don’t know why the Lord led us to the two of them and not others.  Which is hard.  The others are no less deserving of a family.  And as I sat in a room with all of them yesterday I thought to myself, “My goodness it’s a good thing the Lord is leading us in this because I could not say no to these faces.  Not a single one.  How could I possibly choose?”  And I rest in knowing that I did not do the choosing.  The Lord did.  Just as He chose me and I have no more worth or value than the next person.  There is nothing making me any more deserving of His love.  In fact, I deserve none of it and He still chose me.

So I am in awe of the way the Lord has orchestrated this.  How HE has chosen each of our four children.  Two the old fashioned way and these two through adoption.

This is all His work.  Tonight I will sleep in an orphanage in Ukraine.  Yes, that is confirmation enough for me that this is His, not mine.  He continues to remind me of this daily, but these last few days being here have a special way of solidifying that truth in ways nothing else could.

This girl sitting on this couch in an orphanage in Ukraine.  This isn’t me.  Adam, my parents and many of my friends can vouch for that.  I like comfortable.  I like Gilbert, Arizona.  I like clean water.  I like fewer layers of clothing.  I like mattresses (that’s not what they sleep on here in case you were wondering...not sure what they are, but they don’t qualify as mattresses).  I like organized driving and Target.  I like hand sanitizer and prefer coffee over tea.

But all these things seem so small to me in these moments.  Because while I like those things, what I love is knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that God’s got me right where he wants me and Adam right now.  I don’t want to be content with mudpies when I can have a holiday at sea.  And this is a glimpse of the sort of holiday that I believe the Lord has in mind for us when we follow Him, even though we'll never do it perfectly.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Day 3: A Birthday and a First Dance

Today is Kate's 10th birthday.  This birthday, this day that she was born 10 years ago is a big deal to us and we couldn't miss it which is in large part the reason I made the trip out.  And, of course, meeting my son was another really big deal!

This morning my driver picked me up from the apartment and took me to the nearest grocery store where we purchased cookies and candy for the children at the orphanage in celebration of Kate's birthday.  I brought my own special gift from home as well as one from Grandma and Grandpa to give to her, but needed something for the rest of the children.  So, after a conversation of multiple"Da"s and "Nyit"s, Nicolai and I managed to work together to purchase a box of chocolates and a package of cookies so I didn't arrive at the orphanage empty handed.  Amazing the things you can accomplish despite a language barrier.  Smiling and nodding has taken me far so far.  Ha.

I arrived at the orphanage and was escorted back to the groupa where I found this beauty...

Birthday Princess

I can't even describe the look on K's face when she, knowing how fancy and beautiful she was, saw me walk in the door.  It was like, "Look at me, Mama.  Aren't I beautiful?  I know I feel like I am, but will you please tell me so and make it real."  And, naturally, that wasn't hard to do.  She was stunning with a twinkle in the bright blue eyes that makes this mama's heart so happy.

I mean think of what this moment must have been like for this orphan.  I don't know if she's every had a mom, or any other family for that matter, there for her on her birthday aside from the day of her actual birth.  And now, 10 years later she has a mom to notice how pretty she is and to tell her so.  And to squeeze her tight, to love her, to bring her gifts, to know her, to celebrate her...because that's what a mom does.  That's what family does.

"Just for you, sweet girl."

"You are beautiful."
The table was set with treats and tea, but first Kate took a seat and the rest of the children gathered around and proceeded to sing and lift her up from the floor 10 times, counting the years of her life.

"Odyn, dva, try... desyat'"

We were all then seated at the table, me between each of my kids as the cook presented Kate's birthday pie.

Apple pie for the birthday girl.

Goodies galore.
Next it was time to open presents.  She received one from her teacher, one from Grandma and Grandpa and another from Mom and Dad.

Delighted over a babockha necklace from Grandma and Grandpa.

Her teacher agreed it was very pretty.

She asked for help to open both her cards because she didn't want to tear a thing!

We can't wait until you're home.  We love you.  Love, Grandma and Grandpa

I think she knows she's loved.

Opening Mom and Dad's gift.

Music box with a special song just for her, our Little Mermaid lover.

After some play time with the kids, lunch was served.  A classic dish.


Hungry kiddos.
I even got my very own spread...again.  Notice how I received a lot more than just Borscht and bread to eat!
My first ever bowl of Borscht.  Tasty.

Naptime followed lunchtime and I found two sleeping beauties... prince...

...and one princess.

The girls' sleeping room.

Naptime was followed by performance time.

Maria gets the show started with another little girl.

Cutest 3 year old in the orphanage.  Like seriously.  She's adorable.  I should probably not find out if she's available for adoption!

And there's a handsome and familiar face.  SO good to see this wonderful, happy boy again!

Ukraine's Got Talent.

Another beautiful face.  She's extra happy because her family is currently packing to come get her out of here forever!

And my own handsome boy in the audience.

He decided to participate in a song that's a worldwide children's favorite...If You're Happy and You Know It.

Things turned real special when all of a sudden Maria looks at me and says, "Ashley photo", takes me phone, instructs Max to come over and take my hand and lead me to the dance floor.

And I danced with my son for the very first time.  No words for that moment.  This boy's got my heart...enough said.

This boy thing is gonna work out just fine.

Teaching Mom how to drive!

Finally, the day ended with another orphanage meal.  The soup was so good it gotten eaten before I thought to take a picture.

Another wonderful day full of so much more than I can share right now because I've to go to bed so I can get up and do it all over again!
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