Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Weekend in Deutschland

So I headed to Frankfurt a week ago to work on opening a new Ukrainian visa and to see some dear friends.  The first goal of the trip didn't work out so well, but the second one was fabulous!  Apparently I was missing a very important document, and despite my arguing, the kind Ukrainian official did not want to hear all the reasons why he should accept my documents and give me a visa.  It's a long story, but the short of it is that I am still able to be in Ukraine without any problems for the next couple months, and I now know what documents I need to gather to have a more successful meeting with the consular officer next time. They like to keep up on our toes for sure.

Not getting my visa only allowed me to explore the beautiful city of Frankfurt more (gotta look for the positives, right?!)  What a beautiful city it is too! I'd been to other parts of Germany before but never Frankfurt- and it was better than I anticipated!  Though I don't really love traveling by myself, I do enjoy a day alone to explore and just be alone with God and my thoughts and prayers...and my camera!  I was finishing up my online photography course, so my camera and I had a delightful time exploring the sites and sounds of Frankfurt.

After some exploring, my friends Kristina and Chris picked me and took me away for a wonderful weekend with their family in the German country-side.  They adopted 2 kiddos from Ukraine about 3 years ago and I had the joy of getting to be a part of their process while they were in country.  We've been 'forever' friends since and it was awesome to reconnect.  Little Natalia loved her 'ukrainian' headdress that I brought her, and wanted to wear it the entire weekend.  Our weekend included a picnic at a castle, making home-made indian food, bowling, pedicures and a family-photo-session!

It's always nice getting a break in a new city- and with good friends it is a bonus!

Our conference for adoptive families is THIS week, so back to preparations for that! More on that later...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Strength for the Journey

About 2 weeks ago I had the privilege of traveling with a film crew from our office down to Kherson to film the testimony of an adoptive family who has welcomed 4 beautiful daughters into their home through adoption (and then they had a 5th daughter which was a surprise!).  We were looking to film the testimony of a family who had experienced transformation in their relationship with their adoptive children due to resources and training, and after making a few phone calls we discovered this delightful family in Tsurpinsk-- so made the trek south to visit with them and film their story.

The parents attended our 'Strengthening Families' conference in 2010 and were at the end of their 'rope' so to say with one of their daughters who had already been in the home several years.  They came to our conference in desperation, as they were on the verge of 'disrupting' the adoption because they didn't think they could handle their daughter's behavior any longer.  While at the conference they felt they had landed among people who could relate. Suddenly they were surrounded by other adoptive families who understood what they were talking about, could listen to their struggles and offer encouragement and counsel. At the conference they received several books in Russian with strategies to reach their daughter and left the weekend feeling hopeful and refreshed.

In the interview they shared with us that after they returned home from the conference, something shifted in their family. They saw their daughter through new eyes and felt they had new tools to parent her in a better way. They said within months their relationship had changed night and day-- they were different and she was different too. Since the 2010 conference they have become a part of an adoption support group in their region and have found this to be life giving as well.  To them adoption resources have been invaluable and have given them a paradigm shift in how they reach all of their daughters who have been adopted.

It was so encouraging to spend the afternoon with this family, hearing their story and playing with these precious (and very energetic) little girls. They danced for us, sang songs, and prepared a lovely Ukrainian meal for us all to enjoy.

Their house is simple-- a small 3 room flat, that most Americans could never dream of raising 5 children in- and yet it was so clear that this house was full of love and laughter- a place of safety.

Their story reminds me why I'm passionate about providing resources for adoptive families here in Ukraine! Because I see their value and I see the great need that remains.

 We are getting ready for our 'Strengthening Families' conference which is just 2 weeks away and I am expectant for how God will reach even more Ukrainian families and encourage them to not give up!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

When there seems to be no way...

I've been on my fare share of adoption emotional roller coasters in the past several years.  Even though I have yet to adopt myself, I feel like I've earned a couple dozen kids when I think of the number of adoption processes I've walked through with families, and the amount of sweat and tears I've shed riding the roller-coaster that is called adoption.

This past month the Degnan family has been living with me in my home in Kiev.  Jamie and Tiffany and their daughter Lily are a part of Grace Place church in Colorado-- a church that feels like home to me, and yet I've never even been there!  About 7 families have passed through my home this year that are connected with this church, so whenever they land in Kiev we are quick to become  friends simply because we already have so many dear friends in common.

(*warning...I don't tend to write really long posts....but this is an exception, and if you keep reading you'll see why!)

At the Degnan's first adoption appointment they opted to not take a referral for a child, hoping they'd be given more files to choose from the second time around. The second referral sent them to a region to meet a darling little girl who they would later come to find out was already being pursued for adoption by another family.  In true Ukrainian fashion nothing here has gone in a timely manner, and thus the Degnans waited and waited weeks for their 3rd and final appointment with the adoption department.  In Ukraine you only get 3 chances to choose a child, and if the child says no, there are no 're-dos' - you go home.  Doesn't seem fair in a country with 30,000 orphans available for adoption, but that is the way the game here is played.

Well, their 3rd and final appointment was on Monday. I had hoped to go along, but the lady at the door didn't seem to like that idea, so I instead spent the next hour pacing in front of the door praying, praying and then praying some more and telling the devil to leave that building. After an hour they exited the room with faces bright and smiles...I took this as a good sign.

They quickly told me they had taken a referral for a 10-year-old-girl (for this post we'll call her Anya), a girl who had just become available the Friday before.  I guess God knows a thing or two about perfect timing doesn't He? I told them that her name means a gift from God, and in my heart I was praying that her name would be prophetic.

Plans were made for the family to depart that night to the region to meet her. However, before tickets were even purchased they got a phone call from the director of the orphanage and were told that Anya had been notified that a family was coming and made it clear to the director that she had no desire to be adopted.

My heart sunk for this family.  How could it be that after waiting in country for a month for a referral it could come down to selecting a child that didn't want to be adopted?

Though I typically don't travel to the regions with families, I felt like this situation warranted extra help and perhaps I could help bridge some communication gaps when they would meet her for the first time.  So we boarded the train, tried to tuck our worries away and settled in for the 10 hour journey to her region.

It seemed like the morning dragged on forever until we were finally able to meet her at around 1:00.  I think I was taking on the emotions of the family and everyone in the room, as my heart was in my throat and my stomach in absolute knots, realizing that the fate of this child and this family were about to be decided in the next few hours.  I wanted to believe the best, but there was this pit in my stomach saying that it wasn't going to go well.  Yet in spite of my doubts the lines of a song kept running through my head....

"God will make a way, where there seems to be no way...."

I've not sung that song since I was a little girl, and yet there it was in my head, loud and clear, as if I had sung it in church just yesterday.  Okay Lord, I thought, I believe that, I know you can make a way. So make it!

The next thing we know little Anya is walking into the the room.  She greeted us with her big brown beautiful eyes.  I told her that we were aware of her hesitations and yet this family was here to get to know her.  Would she be willing to get to know them a bit?  She smiled big and said yes and before we knew it we were carted off into another room where we proceeded to pour over pictures and share stories about life in America.  We told her about all the Ukrainian kids in their community in Colorado and how she would be able to have lots of Russian speaking little friends.  Her eyes seemed to light up at this information.

All in all the interactions seemed great. Nothing overtly magical, but she was sweet, made great eye-contact and seemed pleased to spend time with all of us.  She was whisked away for lunch after a short while and then came back for more pictures and questions. Before long everyone was called back into the director's office.  Everyone sensed what was about to happen.

We made our way in, Anya on one side of the table, the Degnans seated on the other side of the table with Lily and I standing behind them.  The director and inspector were behind the desk.  In very few words they looked at Anya and said, 'you know why this family is here, they would like you to be a part of their family.' 

The director went on to tell her that she had two choices, she could continue spending a little more time with the family getting to know them before making a decision or she could end the relationship building now and say no.'  You could have cut the tension in the room with a knife.  My heart was aching as I could sense the direction that this was headed.  And yet that song was still playing in my head....

"God will make a way, where there seems to be no way...."

With resolute eyes she looked at everyone in the face, looked down and then looked back up at the director, and then the words came out of her mouth, 'Better to end this now.'

My heart broke. Little Lily looked up at me,  'what did she say, Karen?'  I don't even want to open my mouth. 'She said no, sweetie,' not fully wanting to believe the words I'm giving life to in English.

I cannot put into words what it felt like to be in that room in that moment. It was like a bad dream. Here I was standing behind a family who was offering a little girl a new life, unconditional love, parental care, protection and hope of a better future.  They were standing there with arms wide open and she could see it, and yet the familiarity of the orphanage seemed the better choice.

Through tears they communicated to her that they understood her choice and wouldn't want to force her to do anything. She needed to want this.  And with very few other words spoken, that little brown-eyed girl walked out of the room, leaving a very silent room behind.

In that moment I felt as if I had been given just a tiny glimpse to the heart of God and how he feels towards us.  He offers us that same gift through Jesus, and yet how many people have chosen to walk away?  How many people would rather stay in their 'orphanage' then follow God into the unknown?  Do they really comprehend the gift they are rejecting?

In that moment I understood God's love and human free will in a way I never had before experienced.  Here was a family overwhelmed with love for a little girl they had only just met and yet they recognized that the love would only be real if she came to it on her own volition, not by coercion.  She had to make the choice.  And in that moment she had chosen to walk away.

And yet that silly song was still playing in my head.
"God will make a way, where there seems to be no way...."

Seriously God?? It's OVER. She said NO.  No more song!  I DON'T GET THIS!!!!  This doesn't make any sense!!  Here this family has spent a month in Ukraine, they have a heart for adoption, and now you bring them to this moment?  They go home without a child?  Lord, I do not understand your ways.

This was of course my internal dialogue that I was not communicating to our distraught party.  Just my own wrestling with God as I was trying to make sense of it all.

We all moved into another room to wait on the papers that needed to be drawn up saying that the girl had said no.  Once our eyes were dry from tears I had a really good talk with Tiffany. I remember so clearly the words she said.  "I don't have to understand the why of all this, I don't know how God is going to use our story, but I know he will.  I know that my faith doesn't hinge on this, it is bigger than this.  God is faithful and I now appreciate his love for me and my salvation in a whole new way."  I was amazed and humbled to see her hope in the midst of her deep deep pain.

We meandered our way back outside to find the taxis that were waiting for us.  We stood huddled together on the snowy pavement,  'hey look' I said to Tiffany  'the sun is still shinning.'  It was as if I was needing to remind myself, as much as I was them.

And then it happened.

The door flung open and out walks the facilitator with a smile on her face.  "Anya changed her mind!"

WHAT? We all said in disbelief.

She repeated herself...."Anya changed her mind!"

I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

We learned that she had gone back to her class and couldn't focus one bit. Her mind was spinning and all of sudden her decision hit her hard.  She stood up in the middle of her class declaring, "What have I done?" and then raced down to the directors office to find out if it was too late. She had made a mistake and wanted the family to come back.

We all crowded back into the room and there she sat, a smile on her face with words declaring she'd made a mistake and this time she was certain in her answer. Her answer was yes...there was no doubt.

I have yet to know what was going through that little girl's mind, the fear and the hope perhaps wrapped all together in one.  I cannot imagine how difficult it was to say no and then how much courage it took to run back down those steps praying she wasn't too late.  I am glad she wasn't.

I'll admit, my faith at times is very small. I know God is a BIG God, but on this day I experienced this reality in a whole new way.  A glimpse of His heart, a glimpse of his love and a glimpse of his grace.

I think I'll have to start humming that song a little more often.

He will make a way...