Sunday, October 30, 2011

Our kiddos 2 months later...

About 2 weeks ago I had the privilege of going to visit all the kids we had brought to the US on our hosting trip this past July and August.  We brought 13 kids from the Khmelnestsky region to my home church for 3 weeks and after my quick goodbyes with them at the airport in Kiev, I had yet to reconnect with all these sweet faces and see how they are doing.  So recently I made the venture to see these dear kids.

It's about 4 hours by train and then an hour driving to get to their little village.  When I walked into the room I was mauled with loads of hugs and quickly became even more popular as I handed out letters from all their host families and bars of chocolate.  They all retreated to their own little corners as they read the letters their families had written (and we had translated at my office into Russian).  It was so cute to watch them sharing with one another the news that they were reading!
They were so excited to get these letters and hear what their host families were up to and of course play the 'remember when' game with me.  I was amazed at the little details the kids remembered from their time in the US. From foods they ate, to various adventures they went on with their host families, all the kids were able to recount moments and the things they loved.  

3 of these kids are in process right now of being adopted, so I'm super excited about that. Most likely the families will travel over in the first part of 2012.  And for the rest of them that desire to be in a family I am praying!!   (If anyone is willing to advocate for 2 amazing boys- the two boys pictured above on the right are brothers and are pretty darn sweet!- email me for more details.)

After my time with the kids at the orphanage I went to Tanya's  house for dinner with her family (Tanya was the caregiver on the trip).  What a humbling experience that was.  The village where the orphanage is located is very tiny.  About 400 homes I was told.  

 Tanya's family lives very simple.... toilet outside, no bath or shower, no running water.  And yet she is one of the happiest most gracious people I have met-- as is her mama. They made me a lovely dinner and packed me down with loads of food to take home! Fresh fruit, canned veggies, walnuts, and a sack of potatoes that I could hardly carry home, and I'm not exaggerating!  Their generosity out of the little they had amazed me. I felt bad that they gave me so much-- but they wouldn't have it any other way.  

Tanya was so so so grateful for her time in the USA and all she learned about God while she was there.  She continues to read the Bible since returning to the village, but struggles not having any Christian friends or community.  I can tell it is hard for her to grow, but she was asking some great questions that showed she has a heart to learn.  So, if you think of it, pray for sweet Tanya! Pray she can some how get connected with local believers and that she will continue to seek out a relationship with Jesus. I love her heart so much.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

7 years ago...

October 4th, 2004 I boarded an airplane that was bound for Kiev, Ukraine.  I had never been there before and I had no idea what I was going to be doing when I arrived, but I was ready for an adventure--- I just didn't know at the time how long that adventure would last!

I remember the tears that fell as I tried to be brave as I said 'goodbye' to my family. 9 months sounded like such a LONG time for someone who had picked the closest University in order to go home on the weekends!  If you had told the girl sitting on the airplane that day that this flight was going to change the course of her life-- and that 7 years later she'd still be in Ukraine-- I think there is a good chance that girl would have bolted the other direction.  But I'm glad she didn't know.  God knew she didn't need to, because he knew he would work on her heart through time.

I remember praying a scary prayer before I left for Ukraine. I remember praying and telling God that if I was going to go on this adventure then I had to be open to what He wanted it to be about. I told God that I didn't want just some 'experience' so that I'd be able to check a box on some list of life long goals---('live overseas- check!')  So instead I prayed, show me what you want for me in Ukraine, and let me be open to more than just an experience....

I think that prayer changed everything.

So here I am. 7 years later.  God burdened my heart with the stories of countless orphans and he put a spirit of adoption in my heart, and as a result my life looks a lot different then I ever would have planned.

I've been in quite the reflective mood for the past week as I've thought back to memories over the course of the past several years.  I've been thinking about all my favorite moments and all the things I've learned-- the funny and the serious  alike.

This country has shaped who I am.  I realize now that I've grown up here...I've become an adult here.  I was thinking the other day about how I couldn't tell you the price of a gallon of milk or a pound of bananas in America- but I get by fine with day to day life in Ukraine and negotiating with the babushkas selling their fresh produce on the streets of Kiev.  Isn't it amazing what time does?

There are times when I am tempted to think, what would have happened if I had never left?  What would my life look like in the US? Would I be married and have a family? Would I be pursuing acting? Would I be working with kids?  Really pointless questions I realize...since they can't be answered.

Lately the desire to be a mother has been stronger than usual (maybe it's the whole turning 30 thing!) I see babies, I see kids in the orphanage, and I think- Lord- I want that! I want to be someone's mama- to have children--to mother--to nurture.

Yet a thought struck me the other day as I was praying and once again surrendering this desire to the Lord.  I started thinking about all the kids I've 'had.'  Not kids I've given birth to....but the kids that have come into my life, the kids I've seen adopted, the kids at the school I've mentored, my cousins in Kiev, kids at camp. So many faces. And I remembered a verse in Isaiah...

"Sing, o barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor, because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband" says the Lord."  
Isaiah 54:1

And it's not to say that I'm a 'desolate' woman (because I don't see myself as such)...but at times I think loneliness can tempt you to feel that way.  I started thinking of that phrase....more are the children of the desolate woman, and I thought, yes-- that is so true!!  If I had been married with kids the last 7 years, I'd have never 'given birth' to any of the kids I have now.  And really I've birthed a lot!!  :)  This week I counted that I've been involved in over 54 adoption processes for some 75+ kids.  Wow.  Do I want to be a mother? Yes!  But I recognize that God has given me so many children in this season of waiting-- and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

So being in the reflective mode that I mentioned, below you will find some of my 'highlights' of the past 7 years. In reality there are too many to be mentioned here, but as I sat and made a list, these are the first 10 that came to mind as I reflected on the goodness and faithfulness of God throughout my time living in Ukraine.

'Top 10' life moments in Ukraine (in no particular order)....

1.)  Being the 'older sister' to my 6 cousins and getting to watch them grow up.
 Having never had younger siblings it has been a privilege to have these kids in my life-- they have blessed me in numerous ways.  I especially have loved having 'little sisters.'  When I first came my sweet Gabrielle was only 7 and now she is a freshman in high school!  And Victoria and Honnah who were in middle school when I arrived have since left home to college and work!  It has been a JOY to walk with these girls and to do my best to speak truth into their lives at this vulnerable age.  They are the best sisters I could have ever asked for.

2.) Seeing God answer prayers for the orphan in the seemingly 'impossible' circumstances.
One of these 'miracles moments' was seeing Rimma and Lizzie Roge finally get to go home after many years of their parents battling through a mess of documents.  The Roges are my heros for their perseverance on behalf of the orphan.   Another 'impossible' circumstance was the Peck's adoption this year.  We saw God move in amazing ways as he moved the hand of the US govenrment to give Julia a family.  It reminded me that God's heart is with the fatherless and he seeks those who are willing to fight for justice on their behalf.

3.) Seeing Friends embrace God's heart for adoption.
 I've had the chance to walk with 2 friends from 'home' through the adoption process. One was a family from my home church who came and adopted Oksana, a girl very dear to my heart.  Now a piece of my Ukrainian world resides at my home church when I visit. 

The second instance was when a girl I went to college with came with her husband and adopted 2 kiddos from Ukraine-- that experience bonded us for life and we went from being college acquaintances to dear friends!

4.) Having my family get to see 'my world' and see why I love Ukraine.
The first year I was here my parents and brother made the long trip over and since then my parents have been back two additional times.  Having them see my life here was so important to me and as a result they now have an appreciation for Ukraine and support me in being here--which means the world to me. (Love you family!)

5.)  Having Kristi as my 2nd mama, auntie, mentor and friend. 
Kristi Weber (the wife of my dad's cousin) has truly poured so much wisdom and council into my life as she has walked along side me in Ukraine.  She daily points me to Jesus and cheers me up on the 'bad' days.  We have prayed and fasted together, cried together, traveled together, laughed together and have challenged one another on our faith journeys. We are very different--but she is my favorite person to spend time with.   I know she has made me a better person and has shaped me in many ways.  I love doing life with this gal!

6.)  Seeing an increase in national adoptions and getting to promote adoption among Ukrainian Christians.
One such highlight was planning a conference in 2010 for Adoptive families in Ukraine.  Over 200 people attended and it was simply inspiring to see how God is raising up the body of Christ in Ukraine.  
7.)  Seeing the very first orphan I ever met adopted into a loving Christian home 

Ira was the first child I met in Ukraine when she was only 11 year's old. I prayed she would find a family and God answered that prayer just 2 years later.  Ira became Erin and is now 18.  Her parents have become dear friends as well and 'adopted' me as a daughter too.   

8.) Starting a hospitality ministry to adoptive families
I truly love getting to open up my home to families adopting from Ukraine.  Since I opened this 'hospitality house' I have hosted just over 30 families and have so enjoyed getting to hear the various adoption tales and see kids in their forever families.

9.) Being a part of ICA church, a place I love to worship and live life with my church family.

I've been a part of International Christian Assembly since I arrived in Ukraine and it has become a place I love to call 'home'. I have a wonderful community there of internationals- all living in Ukraine for various reasons and following Jesus. 
10.) Directing plays for students at Kiev Christian Academy
When I left the US I had surrendered my life in the theatre to the Lord, thinking there would be no opportunity for using it in Ukraine.  But soon after arriving, the Lord gave me huge gift when I was connected with Kiev Christian Academy.  I was asked to help with their drama program and ended up becoming the part time drama teacher! I've since directed 7 shows at KCA. This has been my creative outlet and a chance to use my theatre education. I also just LOVE these kids.

I know I could come up with many more moments and memories-- but I will stop with 10 for now!  It has been an amazing 7 years of living life in Ukraine and seeing what God has in store around each bend.  People always ask me 'how much longer' and honestly that is a hard question for me to answer. My easy answer is, "well, I never thought I'd be here this long!"  And that's the truth!  Like I said, I never would have imagined this life-- but I see God in it, and I wouldn't trade that for anything.

Thanks for following along on the journey!!  

Friday, October 14, 2011

Celebrating an Adoption Anniversary!

I had my first invitation to 'blog' for someone else this week! My friends Jason and Holly Bollinger adopted 2 precious Ukrainian girls last year, and this week marks their year anniversary of going home with the girls.  Because I played a role in their Ukrainian adoption adventure, they asked if I would contribute to a series of posts celebrating their girls' 1 year anniversary home.  It was a privilege to be asked to share their story from my perspective.

The Bollingers continue to inspire me as they share their adoption story and as spur others on in walking out a relationship with Jesus and reminding us that we always have more love to give.

Happy One Year Anniversary Olivia and Natalia! You are two very blessed little girls!

Click here to visit the Bollinger's blog and to see my 'guest' post! :)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Gold in Kiev

Lest you be deceived, these products can not be found in Kiev.  But they currently reside in my kitchen.  Thanks to a lovely care package from the US from a friend and another friend's commissary perks (oh to have that!), my pantry and freezer are feeling the love.  I am going to be fooling all my house guests into thinking there is a Starbucks around the corner!

I feel a bit spoiled.

I love it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Celebrating 30!

So I turned the big gulp 3-0 just 2 weeks ago!  I decided that I needed to CELEBRATE leaving my 20's behind and entering into this new decade.  So celebrate is just what I did!!  You don't turn 30 every day (thank goodness) so I decided a themed birthday party was in order! My awesome friends here helped throw me one classy 'Red & Black & White' bday bash, complete with a chocolate buffet! Because what 30-year-old girl doesn't love to celebrate with chocolate!? :)

If you had told me at 23 when I arrived in Ukraine that I'd be celebrating my 30th birthday here, I might have had a hard time accepting that (especially if you told me I'd still be single!)-- but I look at the beauty that God has added to my life in my years here and I feel oh so blessed.  It's not what I would have's better.  This life is a journey isn't it?  Each year learning more about myself, more about the Lord and more about how I need to trust him with every detail-- and celebrate what he is doing!!

Here is to the celebration....

Proud to be 30...and excited to serve God with the next 30 years!!