Saturday, January 19, 2008

To be continued.....

January 19, 2008

Due to the benefits that we have realized from the journaling of our adoption to date, we have decided to continue the process. However, we will be beginning a new blog site which can be found here.

For those of you getting off the train at this stop - thanks for following along with us. For those of you that continue to go with us - the fun is just beginning, so hang on!

Chris and Gina

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Highlight of my week

January 11, 2008

I suppose that you all have concluded that we made it home safely. My apologies for the cone of silence. We really hit the ground running once we got home and haven't stopped. Here are the details of our departure/arrival: As you may or may not know we had a terrible time obtaining the US visa to come home with Dasha. This was the result of a lack of care for the details on the part of a stateside government employee. BTW, I drafted a scathing post which shall not be published due to my concern for my own reputation as a nice guy. I spent a couple of hours at the embassy on Friday awaiting confirmation of our immigration approval renewal. It never came and the embassy closed at noon. So I spent most of Friday afternoon and evening trying to get that settled. By the end of the night between the guys at the embassy, Jana with Lifeline, and myself - four different countries had been contacted. What a circus! All because somebody wouldn't send an email - rant off.

In the end, we received our visa on Saturday morning thanks to the goodness of an embassy dude that had pity on us. However, I did make the mistake of not purchasing a ticket for Dasha earlier in the week. I called early Saturday prior to getting the visa to find that the flight was overbooked. I settled on the fact that we didn't even have the visa so I would worry about this little detail after we had the visa in hand. By 11AM it was ticket time. So I called back and this time the sweet lady told me that even though the flight was overbooked, the average no-show number was 37, so we stood a good chance to get a ride. We bought it - less than 24 hours from our boarding time. Thank you God.

Sunday morning was coldy-cold. I was determined to be at the airport 3 hours prior to boarding to increase our odds of getting aboard. We made it on time, got our boarding passes and then began to wait for the boarding. We (obviously) made it on. There were several seats vacant. I ended up with a row all to myself. The kids were able to sit all together. So I invited my honey to come on back and spend the next 9 hours with me - and she did. As we were sitting on the taxiway waiting to take off, I leaned over to Gina and said, "I can't believe we pulled this off." She sweetly reminded me that we hadn't pulled anything off and we really didn't have anything to do with it. We escaped and it was good! Breath deeply now and just know that all is good - for now.

On to NYC. Now I had carefully rehearsed in my mind what it would be like to bring a child immigrant into the US through NY. I was wistfully imagining the symbolic - maybe traditional - nature of coming to the US through NY as so many immigrants have. Customs was a little confusing because the line choices were citizens and aliens. Well, we were both at the moment. We chose to all go through the alien line and just see what happened. It worked out OK. We approached the officer (who had a great Italian name) and began doing the deal. In my mind I was realizing of the significance of this moment and trying to hold it together - dude, you were Ukrainian over there and you are about to cross this line and then you will be American and how awesome is that! Do you have any idea what people have gone through, risked, paid, fought for in order to gain this? And you, you are about to get it for nothing. Isn't that cool! Needless to say, she was not savoring the moment. One reason might have been because it was a blistering 90 degrees at the desk. The heat was ON! We were all beginning to wither - including the officer whose uniform included a full turtleneck.

Well, I had had enough with the obliviousness of our new daughter so I said something like, "Dasha, this is it! This is the big moment. Once you crossed that line you became American! Isn't that cool?" She wasn't overly impressed, but she wasn't rude about it. But, the officer called me down. He kindly informed me that she didn't receive citizenship until he applied his little stamp (Doesn't that sound just like a "Ukrainian" ritual?). He said jokingly, "so be nice to me." He cut up with us a little while he was reviewing our documents. So finally (and kindly) he ceremonially did the deed. Oh, it was incredible. cu-chunk, cu-chunk. done! You're in, baby, and you are with us! Now I had come to expect by this point a roll of the eyes or an over-expressed sigh. Instead, we got a very appropriate, accented, szank you, sir. Hmmm, that was pleasant. Maybe it was because he was carrying a nine on his hip. Don't know, but I'll take it.

Left out a little (no pun (as you will see in a moment) intended)) detail. Back to Kiev in your collective minds - as we were waiting to board the flight out, these two "little people" came walking through to board with us. These were the smallest people I had ever seen. Extremely small features and squeaky Ukrainian voices. Obviously, they stood out. So the guy has on a Cirque de Soleil jacket on and I'm thinking - this guy could be in a circus. So I just had to ask - I know, I know that is so un-PC, but hey PC ain't too cool in Ukraine anyway. So I asked if they were with the Cirque? And guess what? They were and were delighted that I had asked. The told us all about where their shows were going to be and were really excited about the trip. Dasha was weirded out a little because she hadn't ever seen such a sight. We got her calmed down and convinced her to stop pointing and went on about our business. Well, we ran into them again in the customs office when we were getting fingerprinted. She asked if she could have her photo made with them. Innocent enough, but they won't allow such in the customs ward. Had to let that one slip away. These two performers are know as The Little Clown and Clowness in the new "Corteo" show beginning in February on the west coast.

So all that to say we made it home. It was midnight, but we made it home. Home, indeed. Doggone, its good to be home! Can't believe it.

Well moving along (because I'm a week behind) as expected, the week has been a little sketchy for many reasons. Mostly just adjustments to new life. We're pretty hard core right now trying to make life boring and forcing interaction between us. Very limited TV, computer, telephone and visitors. The two kids with the American accents had to go back to school on Tuesday. I had to go back to work on Monday. So we were trying to get a handle on what would unfold at home when "and then there were two" occurred. We did get some initial "foo", but overall the moods have been good. Only a few minor skirmishes over the computer, but we've evened it out on them all and its been generally accepted by all. The English has kind of come and gone and there are long silent spells, with pointing and grunting (which I completely understand to be a universal language which I use often in a pinch). And then came Thursday....

Thursday began at the unholy hour of 3AM. A-train told us all that he had BB practice at 4:30AM. I called bunk, but he stuck to his guns and so we made a date. I got that kid to school at 4:15 and guess what - not a soul to be found. In his defense, this has been a tough week with the jet lag, make up work and the quick turn around, despite all that we exchanged a few remarks and I ended up leaving him there around 5:30. Came home, cleaned up went back to McDonalds to get him some breakfast - just a kind gesture. Come to find out, practice was in the PM - duh!

The weather on Thursday was predicted to be harsh. I spent the day in LA working in the field. I didn't head back to our neck of the woods until 5 and that was when things were beginning to deteriorate. By the time I was a half hour from home the worst of it was very near home. I decided to pull over and wait things out. I called home to check on the family and Gina had them all rounded up in the bathroom. I was thinking about the conversation that we had with Dasha's Ukrainian family about natural disasters - tornadoes in particular - and how infrequent they occurred. Now we were home less than a week and we are in full up wall to wall severe weather coverage. I don't think anybody was panicked, but Dasha did ask Gina if I was still alive. Isn't that cute?

I made it home finally and no harm to life or property occurred near our home, but once I got there, guess who was the first one to open the door and hug my neck? Yep, it was Dasha. Something had happened to her. Not sure if she really was fearful for our lives or if she just wanted to beat the other two to the punch. Doesn't really matter to me, I'll take it.

Now this wasn't the highlight of which I have referred. After we had eaten some leftovers - and there are many because we haven't quite figured out how much food his new family will consume at one sitting - she started talking. This was not the normal short two or three word sentences, but a full our barrage of broken English. She was giving Austin "down the road" because she had wished him good night and he did not give any response. She was really on him - laughing and cutting up - "Every night I say 'Good Night, Ousten,' and he no wish me good night." Austin heard the commotion and came dragging back in - he did get up at 4 this particular morning - and he attempted to apply the good night hug to her and she wasn't going to have it. He pressed on and she finally accepted. It was a funny time and that was the highlight of my week. It was so good to see them cutting up with each other and showing affection.

I know that there are many hurdles left to scale but this was a little moment that I will treasure. We will look for the good in every situation and use that as a stepping stone to keep us moving forward.

BTW, I know that we haven't properly thanked all of you that helped take care of our business and pets and property while we were away, but we are so grateful for all the love. It is good to have friends and family. The house was so clean and warm and everything was so perfect when we arrived home that first night. We have done a good job of scattering belongings and luggage to mask any evidence that anyone was here while we were gone. It is good to be home!

Chris and Gina

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Arrival Details

January 5, 2008

Our tentative plan for tomorrow is to arrive in Bham at 10:36 PM - Delta Flight 4753. Our first flight is overbooked. Please pray that we can get a seat. We'll be there early. Probably around midnight for you guys.

We finally received our visa this morning. Now that was no easy task.

Thanks to all that helped with that. Thanks to all that prayed for that.

Hope to see you tomorrow evening.

The Graces

Night on the town

January 4, 2007

Whoa! a lot has been going on since our last post. I remember Nichols telling me that trying to get home is like "The Great Escape." Dude, we've been right in the thick of it. We've been trying all week to get our visa to bring Dasha home. Monday and Tuesday were a loss because of the holiday. Wednesday was a loss because we we didn't realize that our daily window of opportunity was only from 10-12. So we finally got in yesterday. We all went. I was thinking what a wonderful opportunity this would for our kids to visit a US Embassy. Well, let's just say they were not impressed. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that there iPods were taken at the door. This was an integral part of my plan. We were now on our own to keep them occupied.

We got to our window and turned over what we had been given in exchange for a few forms to fill out. So I took on the task of working through the forms. The kids did what kids do - fidget and squirm and try to find something to do. We met another couple there (as you always do) from another state (Delaware in this case) also adopting. We exchanged our stories and it was a genuine pleasure. About half way through this process and a lady appears and tells us that our I-600 form had expired and that we would not be abel to get a visa. Oh my. It was a flagrant violation of our team rules and I thought I would have to sit the lady on the bench or through a flag or something. We had given her the form that our government had given us, but alas the electronic version of that form had not shown up (over a month later). Frustrating does not even begin to describe the feeling.

The kids said that the couple we met both gasped when she told us that. They began praying for us right then. We turned in what we could a paid the fee and hoped for the best. After we left, we immediately began to scramble to find out who dropped the ball on this one. Like Louis from the movie Casablanca, I already had a list of the usual suspects in my head. Fast forward to this morning and I have just learned that we will be receiving our visa this morning. I know that I've not described this event in a whole lot of detail, but I want to save some of your attention span for what we did last night.

So there are these orphan graduates here - Katya and Sonya. Some of you know them very well. Such sweet girls with so much potential. They are an absolute hoot! We spent some time with them over at the Casa de Underwood the other night and it was a lot of fun. They are helping out with the Music Mission Kiev. This is a group of people - Ukrainians and Canadians in this case - that hold concerts from time to time. These girls are helping with the translating for the Canadians. We had been interested in attending one of their performances and so the girls were able to get us some tickets. - the circus meets the symphony. Seven children, four parents and two orphanage graduates - the circus meets the symphony.

Our seats were (wisely) in the balcony and we were not really dressed for the occasion. But hey, when else could you do something like this? Our seats were not all together and so we had to choose which defensive scheme to run. This did not set well with some of the children - Ukrainians in particular, but after a little drama we ran the play. The program was both choral and instrumental. It was really nice. Our balcony seats also were not elevated so those of us not on the front row could not see the action downstairs.

Now you can imagine what kind of people attend such an event. Needless to say, there were not many families which multitudes of children. If you've ever been to a symphony concert you know what to expect. You will find some high brow folk well dressed and all proper. The good news is that most of those people had better seats at locations other than ours. However, across the way, I spied an older gentleman and his wife. Obviously not people of wealth, but those two were in the "groove," as it was. He looked like a kid listening to a lullaby and she looked like she was in prayer (and I think she might have been). Both of them looked so content - smiling and swaying - and I just sat there and wondered what there lives were like. I too enjoy "freshly prepared" music. Something about it makes me breath better. But a lot of my pleasure this night came from observing these two.

Our elder daughter did not quite fancy the event at first. She was very clear about her distaste for such events. But beside the couple which I was observing I noticed her. She had made her way to the edge of the balcony where she could see. She had wedged herself between two columns and was just watching intently. By the third or fourth song, she was actually clapping after the performances. I'm sure that her level of satisfaction with the performance was not even close to the couple I was watching, but hey, when was the last time she had a chance to attend such an event. By the end, she had taken the camera and was snapping up photos right and left. Not sure if that was a response to boredom or a genuine attempt to capture the moment.

So, we wrapped up and made it back to our flat. Ande made a pizza run and we finished it up with some Orange Fanta - what a night! BTW, not sure if Ande said anything about it over at his blog, but he had wanted a pepperoni pizza. What we ended up with was a pizza with pepper "on it." It was really good, though.

Continue to pray for us as we are trying to wrap things up and head home.

Love you guys,

The Graces

his is a post which Gina wrote which I failed to publish earlier this week. It was written the same day that I wrote "Everybody wants to go to Heaven." You can see through these words what the mood was that day. One response (from Superjenn Smith) to my blog involved the song Gina mentions in her blog. We were sitting at our little table here and this particular song came to our minds, also, prior the post that day. So I would say it is a fitting representation of the situation. Will try to make it available online..... cg

Mission Impossible???

December 31, 2007

To those of you who have been waiting to hear from me, I apologize..... mothering is a time consuming task, and I am not the gifted writer like my husband. I warn you before you read this, it is not going to be pretty. As a matter of fact, it will probably be quite messy. For me, trying to communicate all of what is floating around in my head might look like a bomb exploded words onto the screen. So, for those of you who are brave enough to follow... here we go.

God has been teaching me so many things on this journey. Mostly about myself and my inability to love. It's funny, I always thought I was pretty good at loving and being kind to others, but God is showing me my inability to TRULY love. Unless I rely on Him and His love to flow through me, I can end up causing more harm than good. It is easy to love those who love you back, and extremely difficult to love those who don't know how to love, and Dasha has not been taught how to love. The people that were suppose to love her have made some terrible life choices that landed her in the orphanage. But you see, Dasha is not the only one that has a love problem. I too am incapable. I must be taught by my Heavenly Father in the same way Dasha must be taught by us. God is putting me in a position to identify with Him and the suffering I cause Him when I reject and refuse to obey Him. We have a great task ahead of us that seems nearly impossible.

Orphanage life is a terrible situation. In a sense, we will have to deprogram everything Dasha has come to know and become dependent on. Then we have to reprogram her to our family life. This is exactly what God has to do with us if we want to be obedient to Him. She has to be taught how to use a washcloth because they don't have them at the orphanage. She has to be taught how to stay with us in a mall and not to walk away from us without permission. Can you imagine trying to find a lost child in a country where you don't even speak the language? She is a 3 yr. old trapped in a 13 yr old body. In a sense Chris and I have become "the bad guys" (in her mind). We tell her when to take a shower, because we care that "stink" has jumped on her. We tell her to stay with us, because we love her and don't want to loose her. We tell her she needs to change the channel on t.v. because what she is watching is filling her mind with negative things. No one has cared enough to teach her these things at the orphanage. All she knows are the things that are comfortable to her, and she misses the comfort (if you want to call it that) of the orphanage. She weeps and sobs because she misses it so much. She doesn't want to leave. She wants to go back to where she was. There is a song by Sara Groves that I connected with many years ago because of where God had me in life. It has continued to connect with my spirit because I am always on journey with Him. God reminded me of this song when I thought about Dasha and the place that she is in life. I think it describes her situation very well:

I don't want to leave here, I don't want to stay
It feels like pinching to me either way
The places I long for the most are the places where I've been
They are calling out to me like a long lost friend

It's not about loosing faith, it's not about trust
It's all about comfortable when you move so much
The place I was wasn't perfect, but I had found a way to live
It wasn't milk or honey, but then neither is this

The past is so tangible, I know it by heart
Familiar things are never easy to discard
I was dying for some freedom, but now I hesitate to go
I am caught between the promise and the things I know

I've been painting pictures of Egypt
Leaving out what it lacks
The future feels so hard and I want to go back
But the places that use to fit me can not hold the things I've learned
And those roads were closed off to me while my back was turned

If it comes too quick, I may not appreciate it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand
If if comes too quick, I may not recognize it
It that the reason behind all this time and sand

So, we have been called as a family to journey with her, to teach and guide her through the dessert of life, because God wants her to reach the promise land (and I don't mean the good ol'
USA) No, I'm talking about a place that surpasses our country. This mission is difficult, complicated, and even risky at times; but God has assigned it to us. We will be obedient and trust
that He will provide and see us through this life long mission.


Friday, January 04, 2008

A Quick Note

January 4, 2008

This will be a quickie:

Today is Dasha's 14th birthday. We will go to the terminal (mall) to do some go carts and ice skating with Underwoods. Happy Birthday to Dasha!

Spent 2 1/2 hours at embassy again today trying to get visa. No luck. Can't get DHS to verify our renewed I-600. Guess they are all too busy enjoying the holidays!

Best case - visa tomorrow. Next best case - visa middle of next week. Worst case - we apply for residency/work visa from Ukraine. The Great Escape is on!

Not looking good for us all to come home on Sunday at this moment. Austin, Kirby and I will be home, regardless. Gina might end up staying for a few extra days next week. Will let you all know more once we do.

BTW, I quick bday wish in the form of a blog comment can be immediately seen by Dasha via Blackberry.


The Graces

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Everybody wants to go to Heaven.

January 1, 2008

Today (Really yesterday b/c I'm writing early in the morning) we called the hail Mary play on our Embassy visit. Unfortunately, the ball got batted around in the end zone and eventually fell to the ground. This is a disappointing snag, but we will manage. This means that nobody is coming home today. I spent a very frustrating 2 hours on the phone with Delta negotiating a return date. Looks like Sunday is our date. Bad news is that it looks like we'll be returning pretty late that evening. We'll look into bumping up the ATL/BHM run, but I'm not very optimistic. Overall, I can't (and won't) complain about how things have gone. We are so close to getting home, I can almost taste it.

We are dealing with some pretty major grieving at the moment, so I'd ask that you guys please continue to pray that a vision for the future will be cast and clung to. We all know the statistics, but that cannot be explained to an emotional teenage girl. We were expecting this. I know that we will be fine. I was reading Mark and Jenn Smith's blog, and ran across an article that she had posted about the "Brotherhood of Sons." In this article the author was giving a description of his family's adoption of two young boys from Russia and how some people were unintentionally offensive with some of their questions. So in the article he describes details of leaving the orphanage. He said the boys would shake in their arms from the fear of the unfamiliar. Things as simple as a car ride.

Now their orphanage was in dire condition. They were much younger than our girl and were left in their cribs most of the day to lie in their own waste. It sounded like a horrible life. The orphanage that our girl came from was relatively nice - no Ritz Carlton, but they did have a lot of media outlets such as TV, DVD's, MP3 players, computers, and each other. Not all bad, just unlike life is now. So back to the story - these two boys from Russia they were reaching back to the orphanage because it was familiar. It was all that they knew about life. The same is true with our girl. She is bored out her mind and very timid about trying anything knew. This is a trust issue that will take time and experience to overcome. She does not like Kyiv because it is so unfamiliar to her. She is scared. At this point the easy thing for her to do would be to go back "home" - that is the only home she has known for six years. She cannot even begin to imagine what life will be like in the US.

So here is a good lesson and some good imagery to take advantage of. Crowder sings a cover version of this old song called "Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven (But Nobody Wants to Die)." You may know it. As the Apostle John was writing his book of Revelation he was there. He was actually in Heaven (maybe only in spirit) observing the incredible things that Heaven is. Now today I read Revelation (rarely) and I just have to scratch my head at the descriptions and metaphors that he used. It looked like...... gates of pearl, streets of gold, ten horns here or there, tribes and elders.... you are familiar with all of this.

Now don't take this analogy too far. Our home is not going to be Heaven. Our kids don't surround us and worship us 24/7, we don't live in a mansion, and I don't emit light from the goodness of my being so if we don't pay the power bill, we sit in the dark. But this analogy is fitting. Death is a scary thing for most of us. We, as humans, are trying everything possible to live. We Americans spend billions every year on drugs and healthcare, trying to squeeze every minute possible out of this life. Why? To delay this home-going for as long as possible. We like it here. It is familiar and comfortable here for the most part. But we all want to go to Heaven, right?

Side note: The treasure of Heaven isn't found in all that "stuff" - gates, and gold and glam. It is simply to "be" in the presence of God, Himself. Would we all be disappointed if it turns out not to look like the set of a TBN program? What if it looks like a mud hut in the middle of Uganda? To be with Him, is that the root of our desire? End side note.

So this is where we find ourselves - somewhere between life as we know it and the promise of a better life which lies before us. Death is an unfamiliar thing that is necessary in order for us to enter into that promised land. We have been "reborn." We have new passports (and a permanent visa) with our new names written in them. God came to our land and went to court (and paid the ultimate expediting fee) and rescued us from a life of hopelessness in order that we might be called "sons and daughters."

Likewise, our new daughter is grieving the death of her former life and waiting for the promise of a better life ahead. Our challenge is to continue to encourage and guide her into this new life - to help her to look forward with hope and to find a place for us all to put our collective past. This is no easy task and we knew that going into it. It is really amazing to see how these children react to the new environment and the families which want so desperately to love them. So please continue to pray with us that this transition will be smooth. We know and appreciate the prayers and support that you have offered thus far.

The Graces

Monday, December 31, 2007

Perfect timing

December 29, 2007

Yesterday brought closure to some things. Our only real goal was to check Dasha out of the orphanage for good. This is a day that we have looked forward to for some time. We were looking forward to the pomp and circumstance or whatever Ukrainian version there might be for this "ceremony." We've officially been her parents for five days and we really haven't felt like she belonged at the orphanage since we got into town four weeks ago. We've spent a lot of time together and it has been good for us to have this time. We made it out to the orphanage around 11:00 am.

Along the way, we stopped at the Rainford Supermarket. This was our first visit and man, were we impressed. Imagine Ukrainian Publix. It had everything and was neat and clean. The Hartsocks and Kemps had told us about it, but it must be experienced to be appreciated. We had stopped to pick up some goodies for Dasha's class to have a small going away party. We picked up some cake, candies, fruit and juices. I'd say we made pretty good time in there. We were a little pressed, because the director had asked that we be there at a certain time and we were pushing it a little.

Side note: When traveling in Ukraine, one should always leave time for the unexpected travel crisis. Although, punctuality is not always priority one. End side note.

We got up to the register to pay (Gina, Denis, and I). We got a buggy full for less that $40.

Side note: Their buggies here have four wheels that swivel as opposed to only two in the states. This makes it easy to pick out the Americans in the stores. It looks like an optical illusion or something similar to a drunk shopper. A sight that also must be experienced. End side note.

So I am digging in my pockets for some money. A skill that I've become very proficient with while here. Gina is still bundled up in her coat and she is leaving the check out. I've mentioned before how tight security is here. This is the only place that I've ever seen fingernail clippers that have anti-theft devices. Not special ones - just the plain ol' clippers that your grandfather carried around in his pocket. I actually had to wait for a clerk to remove the device before I could leave a store a couple of weeks ago! So at the Rainford like in many other places they have one of those walk through things to pick up what ever you stole that day. So Gina goes through and - what do you know? A thief has been identified! Here comes the SWAT team to pat her down.

OK, I'm a little nervous, but I know that my sweet wife is no thief. So they ask her to step back through - beep! OK lady, what do you have? Take off your purse and try it again..... beep! OK empty your pockets...... beep! Open up your coat and let us take a look. Nothing. Try it again..... beep!

By this time, I've settled up with the cashier and am spectating. They aren't being rude so I'm probably more relaxed that I should be. Nobody's upset. They just have a job to do. Then guard 1 (of 3) and I have the same idea. We've both spotted the security tag in her coat that was not removed when she bought the coat. We're both pointing and saying the same thing but in different languages. I offer my pocket knife to extract the offensive device, but he has his own. He cuts it out and she tries it again. Whew! That was it. We all smile (as much as the guards are allowed to) and we are released.

We pack ourselves back into our taxi and continue to make our way to the orphanage. I don't think we've lost more that about 10 minutes to this. Once we arrive, we see that some of the younger kids are having a holiday program. This is the last day of class and there are many family members there to pick up children. Isn't that just weird? Anyway, the director is busy observing this performance and tells us that we'll have to wait. No problem. We'll head upstairs and "get the party started." There were more kids in class than we expected, but we managed OK. An hour and a half later and the director is free and can see us now.

So here we go. We are expecting a speech and pleading and weeping a gnashing of teeth. She apologizes for our delay and produces two blank forms and asks us to sign on the line. She will complete these forms later. That's it. No speech. No ceremony. Nothing to drink or eat or burn. We're done!

Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty she is free at last!

So we say our goodbyes to her caregivers and teachers and some of her friends that are ripping out our hearts because they are so sweet. (KB even asks if we can come back to adopt one of Dasha's friends that has really taken to her - Oh my.) We pack back in again and we left with our new daughter.

We had some gifts for Anna and Nicolae (still not sure about that spelling) who do so much work with the kids here. It was early in the afternoon so they were not at the orphanage yet. We called their home and asked if we could drop by and leave those things with them there. She is delighted to have us stop by. They live close by and so we make our way there. We are planning to stay about 15-20 minutes, but..... she has prepared sandwiches and tea and candies for us. So we must not be rude. We end up staying for close to an hour.

And now back to our theme for the day... we were all hungry and didn't really know what we would do to squeeze in lunch. It was about two o'clock and we had somehow managed to missed lunch at the orphanage. So far we have been lucky with the wheel of menu at the orphanage. Everything we have been offered was recognizable and fairly good, but that luck can only last so long. That pickled herring is looming out there for us - I just know it. (BTW, we always carried plastic bags with us just for emergency disposal of food which cannot be forced down.) Our kids all loved the sandwiches that Dasha had prepared with Anna's help. So we are aimlessly going about our day - sort of - and God has provided lunch from the charity of another

Guys, they (Nicolea and Anna) are (to steal a Brockism) the "real deal." They are always looking for ways to instill something of value into these kids. Nicolae couldn't be there. We had crossed paths with him between his home and the orphanage. He had a line of young men standing at his door waiting to recite scripture in exchange for little prizes. This was something that I had observed a couple of weeks ago and it touched me so much. It has really caught on. He has become strict with them. Their recitation must be near perfect to qualify for the prize. Little do they know that they are opening their hearts to have the seeds of God's Word to be planted. Oh, how beautiful is this sight!

So we get back into our little car again and are headed back to the flat . (?) Nope, Yanna (a friend who has helped us at the orphanage in the past) calls to tell us that she has not been able to pick up a letter from a relative here for some of our friends back at home. She and Gina and Dasha had visited the aunt of some girls that live close to us to deliver some photos and correspondence. And also just to follow up with her to let her know that her nieces are doing wonderful and have a great life in the US. She wanted to send a letter back with us, but she is blind and had to wait for her son to come and take it down. We were to pick this up and take it back with us to deliver to our friends back home. Since we are out we decide that we can go ahead and do this to save her a trip. We get the address and we are off. Now she lives across the river - a place that I had wanted to visit, but had not yet had the opportunity. Oh well, last night in Zap - why not?

While we are speaking with Yanna, we ask about the status of the passport. No word. The mail from Kiev has not yet been delivered, but they should be working tomorrow (holiday weekend, yeah right!)
and we will just check in with them and see. Worst case, they can send it to Kiev next week. I'm already thinking of the implications of this action. Might cost us a week b/c the embassy is only open 3 days next week due to holidays. Does mail run on Monday? What if it doesn't arrive until Friday? Oh man, this could be bad.

So our visit with the aunt goes so well. We were so happy to be able to tell her all about her girls. She was so kind to us and I think the visit helped to bring peace to her life - just to know that God had provided for them and they were in good hands. She lives alone. She does have one son that visits when he can, but he works on the road quite a bit. Oh, how my heart aches for her, but she is in such good spirits. She has happy memories of the girls and is kind to share them with us. When we are packed back into the car all I can think of is the phrase from James 1:27 "...orphans and widows." Finally I whisper this into my wife's ear and she says that she was thinking the same thing. God is loading up our hearts with this burden.

Once again, we stayed longer than planned. It is now dark outside and stomachs are growling again. How do I know? Because as we are driving down the road, with my sweet wife all up in my space, I keep feeling my phone buzzing in a pocket that cannot possibly be accessed. By about the third or forth ringing session, I comment to her about how I wonder who that could be. She breaks out in uncontrollable laughter and informs me that this is not my phone but her stomach. Dude! That is serious. A check of the phone at the next stop confirms this.

Traffic is pretty heavy headed back into town and we are not making very good time. Yanna calls back just as we are getting back into town to make final arrangements for tomorrow. She and Nina (another friend that has been helping us) want to come by and visit in the morning to say goodbye and to give some gifts to take back. She also informs me that the passport is ready and that she will try to get by the office in the morning to pick it up so that we can take it back with us. As God would have it, we are within a block of the office and so Denis asks if we can just swing by and pick it up. We all agree this is best. He comments about how perfect the timing was for this.

When we arrived, a new year's party is brewing. I observed the rare smiling Ukrainian government worker although I could not get a photo - so you'll have to take my word for it. They were all scurrying around and had already placed a bench across the entry way with a sign that said "closed" in Russian, of course. We walked right in, found our dude and he quickly found the passport. A check of my ID and a couple of signature later and... WE HAD IT!

I must admit this was an overwhelming thing for me..... to open up that little booklet and see her pretty face and her new name....

.....and the way she signed her name..... in very neat printed hand writing was one single word....


I suppose that she was in a hurry and couldn't put together the english letters for her full name. Oh God, how perfect is that? Excuse me a second while I dry off the keyboard.....

Fade to black and roll the credits - what a perfect ending. This one was written, directed, produced by none other that God, Himself.

We finished up our last day here in Zap at the train restaurant. All through supper, I couldn't help but keep pulling out that passport and staring at it. I just can't believe it. So many times during this journey, God has provided for us at just the right moment. This has truly been a journey of faith - and it has been rewarding. Grace.

That sums it ups. His timing is indeed perfect.


The Graces

Friday, December 28, 2007

Risky Business

December 27, 2007

Warning: Another extremely long post - too much to say, but hey, its your time!

Today we took a risk - actually many risks. We had two tasks planned for the day. Any of you that have been here for an adoption know how ambitious this is. We had planned to go to the orphanage this morning and check Dasha out for good. We would also be giving some of her friends a little going away party. We had planned to be there around 9. No risk involved in this. The big task and big risk was to take Dasha to visit with her Grandmother who lives about an hour away. We had been advised to approach this very cautiously and to consider not doing it at all. We felt like this was something that we wanted to do for her as a going away present. She had also asked about this a couple of weeks before we came. I'll tell you ahead of time that my head is still spinning. Its like waking up from a dream.

Well, let's just say the day didn't start of quite like we had expected. We had a little delay with our 9 AM appointment. So I decided to head down to the "bread store," as we call it. This is one of those places that stops you in your tracks as you are walking down the the sidewalk. It smells so wonderful. Imagine every kind of bread/pastry known to man all displayed out for your choosing. Only problem is that I don't speak Russian very well. So the pastry Nazi likes to keep things moving along and doesn't fancy the point and grunt method of which I am so fond. Anyway, by the time I got there the place had been raided. There were only three things left to choose from. So I bought all of one thing and a few of some others. Stopped by a corner magazine (store), picked up a coke and headed back to the flat.

Two things happened while I was out that are noteworthy:

1. People here are not afraid of the weather - at all. It is nothing to see a mom out strolling her child in the snow or cold or whatever. Now they know how to bundle them up like for real. Remember Ralphie's little brother on The Christmas Story? Yeah, that's it. Those little kids are layered up to the point that the can't bend their arms. They just sit in the little strollers and exist. So I spied a tall slender lady headed down the sidewalk in front of me. She was wearing this elegant fur coat and a stylish hat. At just below the knees were these two blue appendages sticking out like the fingers of a latex glove that somebody inflated. I tried to steal a photo, but just couldn't get into position. It was a classic image.

2. It began to snow again.

Now I've got to say our state is somewhat weather savvy. We've got Spann, the man. There is not a day that goes by that I don't know for a fact what the weather will be doing two or three days out. Here, the weather forecasts that I've been able to get are more like.... oh, I don't know maybe a spin of the ol' weather wheel. I think that they might actually have some type of dart board or maybe the forecast comes from an almanac or something - maybe one of those weather rocks that you can buy at Rock City. It is not accurate. Today was supposed to be overcast - no mention of snow. By 10:00 it was all out blizzard - I know that my blizzard definition would be disappointing to someone from the midwest or north, but for me - if my coat and hat are covered after my little one block walk to the store and back, I declare blizzard! There was a half inch of snow within about 30 minutes and it was beautiful.

So our driver came to get us about noon. By this time there was about an inch and a half of fresh beautiful white snow and it was still coming down. So here's the other thing - I thought these guys handled the snow and driving pretty well. I found out today that it does, in fact, slow them down and they do have accidents. I knew this had to be the case, but I thought there was some elaborate scheme to cover it up or something.

We picked up our facilitator at a bus stop and headed out to Babushka's house - you know over the river and through the woods.... So getting out of town was terrible. We saw two or three car wrecks and then a tractor trailer rig jack knifed. I didn't think this was possible here. An hour into our journey and we were still not out of Zap. BTW, did I mention that there were seven of us packed into this little Korean car - about the same size as a civic or corolla. Sardines doesn't even come close to describing the closeness. Bonding is not the word - maybe fusing. I did discover though that the little space that forms between your knee and your wife's leg and the door makes for a nice cup holder. Dude, I couldn't move, I couldn't breath, if we had wrecked there was no way any of us would have been slung out because we were all unbelievably wedged in. I'm still unfolding parts of my body. Positive spin: I haven't been able to get this close to my wife in a month!

About 40 km out of town the weather began to break a little. We finally made it into the little town - population around 15,000. Now about the risk. I said above that we wanted to do this for her. We also wanted to do it for her Grandmother. We knew that she was fond of her Grandmother but I had no idea of how we would be received or even who would be there. We asked Dasha to call her Grandmother a day ahead of time (no more) to make sure that she was even in town and to see if we could come by. When Dasha called her she put her on speakerphone and we could hear (but not understand) everything that was said. She didn't sound upset, but she did sound surprised. Now we had purposefully waited until everything was finalized before we made this contact. We found out later in the day that Gmommy called the orphanage director to find out why she was not informed about the adoption. UH-OH! Now I'm a little worried. We told her that we would come around noon. I wanted to be a little ambiguous about the time - trying to think like Jason Bourne.

Now we are all praying like mad that God would just breath over this encounter and keep things from getting out of hand. We did know that her mom had some substance abuse problems. We didn't know anything about her dad other than the government didn't even recognize that he existed. (Gmommy is dad's mom.) What if one or both show up? What if something crazy happens like they kidnap her? What if the try to extort us? What if she gets emotionally charged up and changes her mind about the whole thing? This thing could get out of hand in a hurry. Dude, have we lost our mind? This is why we were advised to reconsider.

In my mind, I had decided that my (inflammatory) question would be where have you guys been? Why has she been alone all this time? The other thing that I had in mind was that our driver doubled as a bouncer in a former life. He is awesome! I hope some of you that come after us are able to use him. He's like a grandfather - giving advice to Dasha and telling her along with our other kids when they are getting out of line - just a really good guy. But could he help us in an all out brawl? Man, this is crazy talk! This is risky business.

Well, by this point we are committed. We're an hour and a half into the sardine run and so I think cleverly, why don't we call and check in to see what the temperature is there? Is the welcome mat still out or should we tuck tail and flee back to the city? She was still expecting us and seemed to be ok.

So the plan was to let Dasha and our facilitator go in and check things out. Let them have some time alone. If she was receptive to us, then we would gladly go in for a visit. Otherwise, we would send in the extraction team.

We winded on into town a little past noon. I forgot to mention that Gmommy lives in the same town where we went to get the birth certificate on Monday. This was the site of my Ukrainian coming out party - remember the sausage, pickles and mustard in the car? So the little store where we bought the goods turns out to be on the same street where she lives. So on Monday I was goofing around just a couple of blocks from her home and had no idea. Isn't that just weird?

She told us that she had a green gate. So in just a matter of seconds we were there. It happened so quickly that we didn't really have time to be nervous. We stopped. Dasha and Denis (the facilitator) got out and rang the bell. Wait! Take your gifts in with you. Already in the gate. Wait, Denis is coming back. She said she wanted everybody to come in. OK, Lord here we go. Hope you're already in there cause I know that you couldn't fit in that car with us on the drive down.

First person we see is Babushka. A kind and loving face. Hugs and kisses to go around for all of us. OK, this is good. Inside for meet and greet. Boots, coats, hats, gloves - off at the door. I smell food and I'm hungry. Oh wait, who are you? We meet Aunt Natasha (Dasha's father's sister - still with me?) and her daughter Nastia (Dasha's cousin). She is telling us that Nastia has some health problems and can't walk by herself. She is a beautiful child. She also has the eye disorder which we've seen commonly in children here. What gracious hosts they are? Maybe this is going to be OK.

Sit, sit, sit... it is time to eat.

OK, but we can't stay long, we need to be back at the orphanage in an hour.

We were served borsht, pork fat, a wonderful slaw, bread, potatoes and chicken. Chocolate, oranges and tea to finish up with. Over the meal we were asked several questions. We are asked about Dasha's medical care and school and what Gina does. Mostly just out of curiosity. I suppose I would have questions too if I was in their shoes. They don't know us from Adam and we are taking their precious little girl to another country that they don't know a whole lot about. So in walks some dude and he's big and Russian and in pretty good shape and I'm sizing him up. He's well dressed and introduces himself as Uncle Sasha (Natasha's husband). He is kind and doesn't stay but a second and then leaves again. Hmmm?

Natasha produces a golden ring for Dasha, but it turns out to be too small. I say that we can have it resized in the US. They are concerned that resizing may cause the stone to fall out. What to do? Gmommy begins to pull her gold earrings out to give to Dasha. She says she had been waiting for her 18th birthday, but now would be the time to do it. Oh my. Here we go. I will need to look away or think of a sunny place or something. Let's hold it together now.

Out comes the photo album and we begin to talk about the family. We see photos of her mom and dad. Neither were around and neither were invited anyway, because Gmommy and Natasha were worried that things might get out of hand. Hmmm? Mom is still is around locally, but drinks heavily. She cannot take care of this child. We are told that she was very intelligent as a young lady. No one really knows where dad is. His work takes him from town to town. They think he might be in Kiev, but are not sure. He served some time in the army. Dasha favors him a lot. Especially in the eyes.

Uncle Sasha reappears and he has another gold ring for his niece but larger this time. OK, he's cool. He begins to ask us about our lives and what we do and where we are from. They want to know what natural disasters occur in Alabama. I explained that we had Spann and it was all good - not really. We did tell them about tornados, though. We had to describe to them where Alabama was in relation to the entire US.

Oh wow! This is really going well. Gmommy says that she worried all yesterday and last night about Dasha. Said that she cooked all morning and was nervous about us coming. I feel bad now and apologize. We told her that we were equally nervous, but that God had brought us all together for this purpose at this time.

We are quizzed about our religious beliefs. Natasha asks us about our belief in icons or Jesus. I respond that we believe in Christ. She tells us that they are Orthodox and that they give written prayers to their priest for Dasha and now they have been answered. Oh my. Later, as Natasha is looking through the photo library on my laptop she runs across photos from Ecuador. In particular, she asks about plastic Jesus in the glass coffin. Whew! That took some explaining, but I think I passed.

Uncle Sasha talks to us a little about raising children and how he worries about Dasha and alcohol. He was happy to hear that we didn't keep any at home. As a matter of fact, he gave us a little "Slava Bog" (Praise God) on the deal. He gives Dasha a little advice about thinking about your actions before you do them. This is a good family!

Gmommy explains to us the three eye surgeries she recently had and how she is loosing vision in her left eye. We begin to understand that the reason Dasha was in the orphanage is because there really was nobody that could care for her. We discover that our two hosts initialized the revocation of parental rights petition because it was in Dasha's best interest. They knew that she couldn't stay where she was, but also that they couldn't adequately take care of her either.

So they all decide that they like us - a lot. And the feeling is mutual. Aunt Natasha slips Denis a little under the breath comment about "we really like them" and he goes ahead and translates that for us. Thank you, Lord!

Our time is winding down and we are preparing to leave. Numbers and addresses are exchanged. We are asked when we will be returning. I explained to them how our church fellowship of believers was doing missions all over the world and that Ukraine was definitely a place where we would work. I tell them that it may be a year or so, but that we will be coming back. Gmommy takes us to her bedroom and tells us that the wool rug on the wall is also for Dasha. She says (jokingly I hope) to roll it up and take it with us. We explain our transportation dilemma and how it would ruin on top of the car. It is truly beautiful and has a lot of history in the family. Was traded for a pig and then purchased back somehow. It is an heirloom.

As we wind down we all gather together to pray. I go first thanking God for working all this out. Then Aunt Natasha prays. During her prayer she confesses that she feels a lot of guilt over Dasha's life. Many tears shed here. No sunny place can save me now. I'm engaged. She is such a caring woman and she has a full time job caring for her special needs child and she knows that. Their prayer, like ours, is that God will repay Dasha for the years that were lost in the orphanage. I believe not only that He can but that He will just like in Joel chapter 2.

Our one hour visit is now standing at three and we are calling the punt play on the orphanage visit. So this has been a good day, regardless. I don't regret this visit or this encounter. This family is not unlike our own. In fact, now they are our own. Man, we got some good intel! We know birthdays and addresses. We can send them card and letters. We can call them to check in and to give them updates. Likewise, they have our information. They really took to us - especially Kirby. Remember that gold ring that did not fit? Well, Kirby ended up wearing it home.

What have we learned today? We learned that we share some things in common with this family - a faith in a merciful a caring God and the love for a particular blonde young woman. We learned that our risk was worth the reward. We learned where the breaking point was in the Ukrainian transportation system regarding weather. We learned that God has been ahead of us here for years preparing things to be just so for this day.

The ride home was long. We even were stopped at one point by the police to allow cars to climb a hill slowly so as to avoid any accidents. When we finally got back to some city lights we were amazed at how much it had snowed. The trees looked artificial. Their branches all covered in snow and illuminated by the glow of metal halide bulbs. It was a beautiful ending to a beautiful day.

I stand in awe at the "grace" which was extended to us today.

God, you have been so good to us!

The Grace's