Wednesday, April 30, 2014

We're going to have to try to like boys...

Since court last week, we have continued our daily visits to the orphanage.  Even now that a judge has declared them our children, Kate and Max will stay at the orphanage until Gotcha Day, the day I walk them out of there forever.  Not much changes from day to day in that one room, but we try to get creative and think of new games to play that encourage connection.  It would be so easy to just let the kids tune out for 3 hours on an iPad or phone, but thankfully they understand the limits on technology and quite honestly they would prefer to engage with us which is a huge blessing.

Bonding at it's best -  Daddy style.

Mom's slightly-less-active style of bonding.


Today is day 5.  The fifth day of the 10 day waiting period after court.  It's hard to believe it's only been that long.  The days are long, and that was before Adam left.  Now the days are longer.  They are good, but they come with new challenges for me now.  I have to be brave and navigate grocery stores alone while being followed by walkie-talkie carrying security, walk alone to and from the apartment down dark, stinky corridors and stairs, and (saddest for the kids) show up alone at the orphanage now that Dad is back in America.  The irony of this time makes me laugh.  I am now a mother to four children, not one of whom I am caring for at this time.  Instead, here I sit in an apartment in a very foreign (like, more foreign than Mexico or Switzerland) wondering what to do with my time.  I think it's reasonable to assume that this is the first, last and only time I will be looking for things to do to pass the time.

In the past couple of days I've explored new territory and I cannot get enough of this weather.  And the trees and tulips...they are in incredible!

Blessed to be here in the Spring.

If I could just take a tree-lined boulevard or two home with me.

Gorgeous daily sunrises.

St. Michael's Cathedral - Orthodox style.
I probably shouldn't have been smiling, but clearly I couldn't
contain my excitement at wearing a head covering and apron.

Before Adam left Ukraine, he had to sign some paperwork at the US Embassy.  His appointment was at 2pm in the afternoon and since most flights home leave early in the morning he got to experience a stay at the Borispyl Airport Hotel.  We were able to Skype with him from the orphanage.

Making Dad laugh with their goofy faces.

Yesterday we took advantage of the wonder of Skype from the orphanage again when we called one of Kate and Max's friends, who was also hosted last summer and then adopted by friends just weeks ago, and is now adjusting to life in America.  The kids (all 3 of them) were elated to talk with one another.  So much so that when the internet connection went out they tried relentlessly to get her back on the call despite my efforts to assure them it wasn't going to happen.  Needless to say they will be finishing that conversation later this afternoon.  Amazing how much they all have to talk if only I knew what all they were discussing!

A good reason to love technology - the connections that happen because of it.


Back on the home front, the girls have been doing well with Grandma and Grandpa.  I have received many photos of smiling happy children.  Each morning I look forward to the pictures from Grandma documenting their day.

The best text I have yet to receive though was this one from Grandma:
Before I forget, last night at dinner Charlee and Andee were talking about how they didn't like boys and Charlee stops and says, "We're going to have to try to like boys now because Max is coming home and he's a boy... he's our brother."
Melt my heart!

Mummifying each other...

...and Grandpa.

3 of my favorite girls.

Best friends.

Even Grandpa gets in on the homework action.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Today God grew our family by 50%.  Today two more children in this world gained the right to call us Mom and Dad.  Today these two children became brother and sister and they each gained two additional sisters.  As of this day we can rightfully call these two son and daughter.

From the looks of it, the day was really rather anticlimactic.  Court day.  The day that we have been working for through all of this...the paperwork, the appointments, the apostilles, the signatures.  You would have thought the day would have brought with it lots of emotions and a great celebration.  But since being here I've learned that nothing is as you would expect or hope.  Like when you purchase a pastry that looks beyond amazing and your brain decides it's going to taste out of this world, but upon tasting the first bite you are surprised.  Not necessarily disappointed, but just surprised.  It's not the experience your brain expected.  And then you're reminded that different flavors aren't bad, they're just different.  That's been our experience of so many things here and court was no exception.

Ready to be parents again.

April 24, 2014.  We woke up plenty early and discussed briefly our answers to questions the judge may or may not ask.  We got dressed in our "court clothes"...the one "more than casual but not quite dressy" outfit we packed for the trip.  At 8:30am Ivan picked us up, said "Payeehalee" (Let's go) and we were off and headed to court.  The funny thing about driving around in a foreign city with many nondescript buildings is that you never know what's behind any given door.  So you never have that anticipation of knowing you're almost at your final destination.  We parked across the street from a building we assumed was the court building, but didn't cross the street until Ivan confirmed our direction and we spotted the kids waiting with Maria.

"Should we run up and hug them and show excitement for our big day?" was the question my mind was racing to answer.  I came up with two answers.  1) Yes. and 2) No.  Answer number one would apply in America and answer number two I felt applied to being in Ukraine.  Things just aren't the same here if you hadn't already noticed.  There is no "warm and fuzzy".  There's not a lot of emotion.  Not many casual smiles.  The majority of what we do feels like a business transaction.  So, I erred on the side of a wide grin aimed at our two soon-to-be children as we continued our walk towards the courthouse.

Alla was waiting for us outside with a pen and paper.  "You write."  Yes, ma'am.  Have I mentioned she's bossy?  And that we love that about her.  And that she is the one that tells us she's bossy.  So I penned the words just as she spoke them, and added some transitional words that made the English flow a little better.  "Please on the birth certificate write... Do not include the father's name.  Do leave the birth city..."  We were instructed to read this at the appropriate time during court.  We never had to read it at all.

Then, she asked us a series of questions.  "How you will respond?  What is your name?  Where were you born?  What do you do for a living?  How much money do you make?  Why do you want to adopt?"  Straightforward questions to prep us for what the judge may ask.

Once ready we walked inside, Alla asked for our passports and showed hers and ours to the security-type young man inside the booth just beyond the metal detector that emitted strange alien-like noises.  It probably detected Americans.  Once our passports were returned we headed upstairs to wait with what felt like the rest of the city in something I suppose you could call a "waiting room."  There were some benches, some randomly scattered large desks and people I think the term is appropriate.

Once the judge was ready, we were invited into his office.  Not a courtroom after all.  There were chairs lined up on either side of his office that seated the prosecutor, the inspector Natalia, Max, Maria, Kate, the secretary, Adam, Alla, me and two witnesses/jurors (we aren't sure exactly what they were, perhaps they filled both roles?).  Court lasted no more than an hour (such a blessing) and consisted of the judge reading through many documents and statements and then questions directed at me, Adam and the kids.  Everything was translated for us by Alla.  Had we all spoken the same language, we would have been out of there in half the time.

What I remember from court...

The first question the judge asked Adam: "What is your date of birth?"  Adam's reply, "October 1, 1978."  Wrong answer to the very first question.  He will not live that one down.  Ever.  But at least he was only two weeks off I suppose.  His birthday is actually the 15th...mine is the 1st.  Funny.

When asked by the judge if he would ever return to the orphanage, Max replied more than emphatically, "NO."  Good answer, my son.

When asked for her name and age, Kate stood and answered in the teeniest voice ever.  And I was reminded that I know my daughter and that shy, sheepish, reserved girl the judge saw is not her.  In fact, she more often resembles Jim Carrey with some of her facial contortions.  I have pictures to prove it.

A Bible was displayed on the shelf in the judge's bookcase.

The judge asked me what I would do if I asked one of the kids to do something and they didn't listen so I asked them again and they still didn't listen.  I should have responded, "I'll let you know when I figure that one out."  I don't remember my exact response but it was something regarding consequences like taking away TV privileges.  Then one of the juror/witnesses added "and turn the computer on."  I'd have to say I disagree, but in a culture that prefers page protectors to email, I wouldn't expect her to understand that that would actually be a more severe consequence.

The one question that caught me a bit off guard was this one, "In the last twenty years or so, there have been reported cases of adoptive parents beating their children.  Will that happen in your home?"  I wasn't sure how to elaborate on my "No, absolutely not" so I said just that and he seemed satisfied with that answer.

Maria gave a statement regarding the kids' time as part of the hosting trip last summer sharing that she was the chaperone and witnessed the entire group of kids have the time of their lives.  She mentioned that she loved each of the families and that each child was so welcomed and so loved by their families, as was she.  She then also spoke very kindly about our family specifically.  I realize she could have been saying these things just because, but it was sweet to hear her words translated to English.  I was grateful for that moment.

Once the hearing concluded we were escorted out of the judge's office to await the verdict.  Just five or so minutes later we were called back in and rejoiced to hear that the judge proclaimed Kate and Max to be our be given a new last name.  This was the first time the kids heard the middle names we gave them.  Upon hearing his, Max repeated it with authority and a big grin.  His middle name is now Brock, from my maiden name.  But what made us laugh was when someone, I don't know who, said "James Bond" in a sentence that was otherwise Ukrainian.  I'm thinking perhaps the name sounds strong and masculine to them.  Just a hunch.

It seemed like an appropriate time to celebrate and share hugs, but then I was quickly reminded that we are in Ukraine and that would just be strange.  Instead, we took a couple of pictures and then the kids went back to the orphanage with Maria and Adam and I headed to the notary's office with Alla.  That was it.  Done.  No celebratory meal.  No cake.  No balloons.  Nothing that would be customary in America.  While that does kind of bother me, I know we will soon have opportunity to celebrate and I eagerly anticipate that day.

Maria, Kate and Max.

We are family.

The woman who has raised these kids and the parents that will take over from here.

After we finished our paperwork for the notary we headed to the orphanage and got to visit with the kids for 30 minutes.  So on the day that they officially become ours we get to see them the least amount of time.  True story.

But we got the pictures we really wanted while locked in our room for the short time we had.

Meet the two newest Saunders...Max and Kate.

Dad, Mom and Max.

Dad, Mom and Kate.

Proud parents.  (Photo courtesy of Maria who insisted we stand in front of this beautiful tree)
Now commences the 10 day waiting period.  Once we have the court decree I will be taking those kids from that orphanage as fast as I possibly can.  Adam will head home on Tuesday after completing some paperwork at the US Embassy Monday afternoon.  Until then, we have visits as usual each afternoon from 3:30 to 6:30.  We're kind of not really any more parents to Kate and Max than we were before court from the looks of it, but a judge did declare us to be their parents and I'm choosing to be content with that for now because it means there are two less orphans in the world.


I have to add that it is exhausting being parents to four kids these days...two of which are being cared for on the other side of the world by Grandma and Grandpa and the other two who continue to be cared for in an institution, so we felt it critical to get a good nap.

Yes, we sleep sideways on our couch/bed.  It ain't comfortable no matter how you do it.

This is Amazing Grace

"This is Amazing Grace".  Have you heard this song?  If you haven't, you need to listen.  The lyrics alone are worth it.  We got to sing this song in church on Easter Sunday, the day before we left to return to Ukraine.  I've always loved this particular verse, but on this day it really resonated with me knowing we were headed back to have court and gain a new son and daughter.

Who brings our chaos back into order
Who makes the orphan a son and daughter
The King of Glory, the King of Glory

There's something about the process of adoption that causes some to think that we are amazing people, that we are somehow more special than the next family, that we have it more together, that we are rich, that God is going to bless us for bringing these kids home, that orphans and adoption is our passion.  It is all simply not true.  We did not one day decide that we had a passion for adoption.  God revealed His passion for adoption many years ago as His Son endured the wrath of His Father on the order to allow for us to be adopted into His family.

Our heart for adoption originates not in the face of hurting children who need families.  It begins with knowing the heart of God.  He has commanded us to love like He loves, to be the hands and feet of Christ, to let our lights shine before men.  It is because of His love for us that we pursue these children.

That's our part...the pursuit.

But who makes the orphan a son and daughter?

It's not us.  It's Jesus.  The King of Glory.

Sure, there is the paperwork, the appointments, the signatures, the notarizations, the apostilles, the petitions.  And yes, we worked hard, but these children are no more ours than our biological children are our own.  They are His.  All four of them.

This is amazing grace
This is unfailing love
That You would take my place
That You would bear my cross
You lay down Your life
That I would be set free
Oh, Jesus, I sing for
All that You've done for me

I am so thankful that this adoption is not our doing.  Because I would much rather give credit to the One to whom it is due.  The One "whose love is mighty and so much stronger" than any love I could ever think to give.  I am thankful to Him who loves me enough to adopt me, to call me His own.  I am not worthy, but oh am I grateful.

Springtime beauty on the orphanage grounds.

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.

A message from their sister Charlee.


Speaking of emotions, there has been quite the flood of them here in my own little heart.  Leaving the girls this time brought about just a few.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  I guess it's partly the reality that when I see them the next time, two other people will also be calling me Mom.  Partly it's knowing that their lives are going to change a lot and they have no way of comprehending that...nor do I for that matter.  You could say it's no different that bringing home a brand new baby from the hospital.  I've done that though and I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that it's gonna be way different.  Two 10-year olds each with 10 years of life experiences of their own, who speak (maybe not all English yet, but still), who walk (and run and bike and play basketball), who think for themselves.  Yep, a newborn looks really easy.  But here's the funny thing, you could do nothing to convince me of a need for a newborn...nothing.  Two ten-year olds though, no convincing needed.

Anyway, I digress.  Last time when we hit the two week mark of being gone, the girls really started feeling it.  It was evident in many ways and it made me sad.  That made it hard leaving this time, too, wondering if that point will come earlier this time around.  Thankfully at just two days into it, things are still going well.  My parents are pretty much superstars to do this for us again!  So blessed by them.

Only a few tears since we've been gone.  That face.

Some good times too.

Much prettier face.
As if just caring for the girls isn't enough, my mom has also willingly volunteered to continue the decorating that I didn't have a chance to complete while we're gone...

One son...
...three daughters.
Thank you, Mom and Dad, once again for loving us and our kids (all four of them) enough to make the sacrifices you have made and are making that allow us to be gone for so long.  You are a picture of great love and we are grateful beyond measure.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Happy Birthday Sweet Andee

Andee Noelle

Today we have a four year old.  She wasn't supposed to be four until April 21st.  That was my scheduled c-section date four years ago.  But she came early, and thankfully Sally (my mother-in-law) was there to "encourage" me to call the doctor as I had been experiencing contractions on and off the entire day.  I didn't experience true labor with Charlee so I had no idea they were not Braxton Hicks contractions and kept telling her, "No, I'm fine, really" as I would crouch down periodically unable to walk as the "Braxton Hicks" contractions progressed.

My littlest little.

All that to say, it's no surprise to me at all that Andee arrived early.  She's been shaking my life up ever since.  Charlee's the rule follower.  You ask her to do something and for the most part she just does what you ask.  Andee, well she's not.  She most often does the exact opposite of what she asked to or not to do.  It is a constant game of the mind, trying to be not just one step ahead of her, but at least twenty.  She looks sweet and innocent but let me tell you, she's not innocent.  If it's quiet in our home and she's not at school, that's a problem.  She can be quietly defiant and when she knows she's doing something she shouldn't, she shoots those big brown eyes your way and with the voice of a 15 year old teenage girl says, "What?" as if she couldn't possibly be doing anything wrong.

This face is not innocent.

So, on the one hand there's this feisty little thing who appears quiet and reserved to the unsuspecting outsider.  Yet on the other hand there's this precious, sweet heart inside this four year old.  Andee has a servant's heart like none other.  I think she may have acquired this one from her Grandpa Brockhaus.  This little girl is the first to offer to carry Charlee's backpack, and lunch box, and water...and stuffed kitty to the car each morning before school.  And somehow she manages to methodically calculate exactly how she will carry each item at the same time.  Then, when we arrive at school I hear her voice, "Charlee, do you need me to carry your backpack?"

Sister love.

And groceries.  When we come home from the store she wants to help unload the car and hold the door open for me to come inside and put the groceries away.  She empties dishwashers, fold clothes, cleans messes, chops vegetables, fills water cups.  You name it, she's there with the eager desire to assist.  She always asks for two stickers when we check out at Sprouts because she needs one for her sister, too, and sometimes for her brother and sister on the other side of the world.

That face...again.

She can't sit still for two minutes to watch a movie (except Frozen for which you will find her planted in one spot for nearly 5 minutes, but only for scenes involving Olaf), but she loves to cuddle.  She loves to have her back rubbed.

She loves to have hair braided and will sit for that even though she won't sit for much of anything else.  She loves to ride bikes.  She loves Charlee.  She is not at all the girly girl that Charlee is, but she still loves her princess dresses and high heels even though they absolutely do not match her personality.

Andee Noelle, you have blessed our lives for four years.  Happy Birthday, baby girl!

We love you so much!

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