Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Looking Back; Looking Around; Looking Forward

It has been a long time since I have updated. If you are looking for profound thoughts or well written anything, you should probably stop here. If you just want to know what we have been up to, keep reading.

The lack of posting is partly due to the lack of time, and partly because I have struggled with what I should write; about how open I should be about what life has been like over the last year. Should I be totally open and possibly scare off a family who is considering adoption or should I only post the "good" stuff and give that same family a candy-coated glimpse at what life after gotcha day is like?

This post could have had any of the following titles: "Love is an Action Word", " All in the Family", "Under-equipped", "In the Shadow", "It's Getting Better", "So is that how I treat my God?", or "Stacking Stones."

The current title seemed to be the most appropriate, though I could tell long stories about each of the above titles.

Looking Back
My wife and I took classes, read books and blogs, talked with families who had adopted, and thought we had an idea of what we were walking into. We knew it could be hard. We knew that children from hard places may have suffered trauma that we would not be able to relate to. We knew they could have problems bonding with us and trusting us. Our experiences with our oldest boys gave us only a hint of that.

Let me say right now, that I love my daughters (I love all of my children) and though there have been some very trying times, I would do this all over again, despite the challenges.

If you have adopted before, I am sure can relate to some of the things we have been dealing with. If you are looking at adopting, take note of what I write, but know, KNOW, that these children need families, and if the Lord is calling you to this, you can do it. Equip yourself well before bringing your new child(ren) home, and know that you are not alone.

Since we have been home, we have been swung at (with contact being made on several occasions), bit, kicked, screamed at, and kept awake until the wee hours of the next morning on many occasions. We have had to pull the van over to stop a child from climbing over the seats to beat up a sibling. We have had to call the authorties twice, and have had MANY conversations with translators. We have had broken doors, broken door knobs, and broken hearts. We have had to ignore a child who was pretending to run away only to stay outside the house yelling and banging on doors and windows, and refusing to come in when asked. We have had to pull our littlest one away from a child who was filling his head with lies about us. We have been called many names for hours on end, some silly, others very offensive. We have been tired, out of patience and ideas, and greatly lacking in time as a couple. We have been disrespected, ignored, and yelled at for not meeting someones needs (or perceived needs) even if there was nothing we could do or should do. We have dealt with huge misunderstandings. We have had to hold a child to keep that child from banging her head on the tile, and held that same child when uncontrollable tears started to pour. We have had to go back to the drawing board regarding discipline and consequences, and add a whole new set of tools to our parenting toolbox.

It would be easy to read all that, think through each event, and become bitter and angry; resentful or regretful for what the Lord led us into. We could be out trying to talk others out of adopting. But, that is not where we are at. We are tired, very tired at times, but we have grown, been stretched, and have had our vision for what the Lord has called our family to strengthened. We know without a doubt that we are right where the Lord would have us.

Personally, I have learned this perspective: am I not adopted? How have I treated my adoptive Father? As for me, I have kicked, hit, screamed, called names and been disrepectfull. I have broken things in my life and I have told lies (through my actions and choices) to another about my Father. I have ignored, complained about unmet "needs", caused my own pain, and cried uncontrollably. Yet through it all, I have been loved by my Father in heaven. I have been chastised, corrected, held, encouraged, and loved when I have been unlovable. That is the perspective I need to approach each day with; each minute really.

See, I have learned, or at least re-learned, in the last 12 months that love is an action word. It matters not if you have a fuzzy feeling toward someone, it is about choosing to love. Despite our child's behaviors, we are to love them. God chose to love us, can we not do the same for others?

Looking Around
As we near being home a full year, I look around and survey the landscape of my life. I see the hills and the valleys, the shadows and the light. I see how much each of my children have grown. I see how far my daughters have come, and I know I only partially understand how HARD the transition has been on my girls. I am very proud of all my children for how they each have adjusted. They all accept each other as siblings, including the standard sibling disagreements. It has been hard, but I would do it again. I would.

I see how the Lord orchestrated so many details over the last couple years to bring my family to this moment. I have been so very blessed. My blessings include (in no particular order): a job at which I have the privilege of being a small part of raising up the attorneys who desire to advance the gospel of Jesus Christ through service as advocates of truth, counselors of reconciliation, and ministers of justice in the fields of law and government policy; a beautiful wife who loves me despite all my failings (we just celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary); 8 children who love me (but not always like); an abundance of food (my waist line proves it is in abundance); the home that is so much more that I thought we could buy; and most certainly the biggest one - I am blessed by my God who loves me, despite all my failings.

Indeed I am blessed.

The intense transition problems mentioned above are mostly gone now. There are still issues to be resolved, but it is getting better. If you are in the thick of it now I will tell you, just was we were told, it will get better. Stay consistent, keep on loving, and most importantly, stay on your knees in prayer.

Looking Forward
Sheri and I desire to have our family be pleasing to the Lord. We are willing to serve Him in any way He asks us too. We have continued to be moved by the plight of the orphan. My heart aches for them. I still think of and pray for the two we left behind, and watch in awe as the Lord calls, provides for, and equips others to empty an orphan's bed. We help as we can, as we are led, but there has still been a tug to do more.

I had been sharing posts on Facebook about the hosting events offered by God's Waiting Children and Viant International, and watched as groups came and went. Then the winter hosting information came out, and as Sheri and I talked, it seemed clear the Lord was prodding each of us that way. So we inquired. Lord willing, we will have an additional child in our home for a few weeks this winter.

Hosting of course brings up the question of adoption, which, believe it or not, we are praying about again. I know we are not perfect parents. I, specifically, make so many mistakes. Yet, knowing our failings, Sheri and I are in agreement that we should walk that path again until the Lord directs otherwise. If the Lord has another daughter for us, we will gladly bring her home. As with every adoption journey, there is a lot of work to be done, mountains to be moved, and funds to raise. We appreciate your prayers as we seek to follow the Lord's will.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Finally, an update

I have been meaning to write a blogpost for weeks now. I just could not seem to find the time. Sadly a lot of what I could have written is already fading from my memory, but I will do my best. I am sure I will ramble. Sorry.

Our adoption experience was overall very good. We did miss our children back home a lot, but overall it went well. We had some heartbreak with the first set of girls saying no, and I still pray for them and miss them, but the Lord led us to our daughters and I am very grateful for that.

The weather while we were in Ukraine was much better than I had expected. In fact, I had been expecting to be freezing almost the whole time we were there but the temperatures were nice enough that I could have walked around without a jacket on most days (partly because we were walking a lot, and fast most of the time). A few days before we left we did see some snow flakes out the window of our 15th floor apartment, but they did not reach the ground. We did not see really any snow until the morning we left, and at that it was very little and seemed to be concentrated around the area of the airport.

The flights were long but went very well. For having never been on an airplane before, both girls did extremely well. There was some lack of patience by the time we landed in Denver, and some crankyness as we were descending into Fresno, but overall I was pleasantly surprised out how well it all went. No luggage was lost. No flights were missed. We were blessed.

I must add that landing in Denver was a blessing. Going through immigration there did not take much time at all. Everyone was very helpful and friendly, and there were only a few people in the "secondary" area with us. One person who was being interviewed gave us some entertainment. The officer was questioning him on his recent trips to the US and such and asked where he worked. The man said something that was interpreted as "aeronautical engineer" so the officer stated what he thought the man said by saying something like "so you build Mig jets" to which the man replied "no." After some going back and forth the issue was cleared up. The officer stated something like "so you don't build fighter jets, you design machinery for a dairy operation." Just a bit different there, don't you think?

To back track a little, there are several things that we found out after the fact that showed God's hand in the adoption process.

We were concerned that during court we would be asked about the home are living in and about homeschooling. We are sort of renting the home we are in right now and were told right before the day of court that renting in frowned on in Ukraine and that the judge may decide against us adopting because of it. The thought is, as I understand it, that renting is one step above being homeless. Homeschooling is also looked down upon as we were told and that it could sway the judges decision against us. We prayed and the Lord protected. No questions on either count were ever asked during court.

We found that there were some minor errors in the court decree that could have stopped us from getting birth certificates, but it ended up not being a problem. I am glad our facilitator did not tell us about the problem until after we had the documents done. Rather than just being a bit bored while waiting for the certificates, we would have been stressed. I would rather be bored :)

We are all adjusting to being a family. Things are going very well and Sheri and I are so very blessed by our children. We are tired for sure and sometimes run out of ideas on how to handle this thing we call parenting, but we are blessed.

One of our girls is having a harder time adjusting to having parents who tell her what to do. I believe a lot can be attributed to expectations and thinking she is on a peer level with us. I am sure she had dreamed what her family would be like, probably with some unrealistic expectations and since we are not meeting those, we have seen some behavioral problems. Nothing extremely bad, but enough to make a person very tired at the end of the day. We continue to seek the Lord's wisdom on parenting and know that we will never be the perfect parents, but we will not keep trying.

Christmas went very well. I was able to take the whole week off between Christmas and New Years which was fortunate because I spent a good deal of time troubleshooting problems with our van. It seems to be running fine now and we pray it will continue to do so.

I found myself almost disgusted with how much stuff we have. After truly seeing how people in other countries live and how little they have, I am feeling very spoiled. I feel the need to get rid of a lot of things. I am sure there will be some serious clearing out sometime soon. I miss Ukraine already. It grew on me quite a bit in the 8 weeks we were there. Perhaps someday we will go back.

I have finally stopped trying to unlock and lock doors with three turns of the key. I think every door we had a key to in Ukraine required three turns to fully lock and unlock the door.

Our boys grew so much while we were gone, especially our oldest two. I am not kidding when I say that they each grew 3 inches (or more)!

We have continued to connect with the friends we met in Ukraine either in person or through the adoption community. Our girls have been able to Skype with friends that were adopted a few years ago and now live in Texas. It has been great for them to reconnect and we even have the benefit of some translation (thank you!)

I am sure that there is more to say, but I cannot think of it right now. I will post more if something comes to mind.

Before I push "publish" on this, I want to give praise and thanks to our Lord for His leading, provision, grace and mercy in not only this adoption, but in every thing. Thank you Jesus.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Coming home!

Our facilitator took me to the embassy this morning just before they opened. He was not sure we would be able to get our visas as the embassy is not officially open on the last Friday of the month. I prayed and went in. Once I got to the immigration section I pushed the buzzer, not sure if anyone would be there. A man came to the window and I told him my name and why I was there. He said to take a seat, and that the visas were ready to print and the officer would call me up when done.

Honestly, I was amazed at the Lord for that. I had allowed myself to focus on our circumstances the previous day, which was Thanksgiving day, and had not felt very thankful. I fully expected to be chastised by the Lord for having such a bad attitude by finding out the visas were still not available. Instead, our compassionate and gracious God moved another mountain for us, and I was humbled. As I was waiting for the visas, I was reading scripture and was further convicted for my lacking faith in God's plan. Despite my failings, our never changing and forever faithful God chose to allow the visas to be handed to us today. Again, I am humbled and extremely grateful.

We met another adoptive family for lunch today at TGI Fridays. We very much enjoyed their company and fellowship, and will be praying for their adoption. There is something special about the adoption community, and we are very blessed to be a part of it.

I want to say something to prospective adoptive families. Keep in mind that I am not perfect (refer to second paragraph), but I feel I must say this. First, this process is not easy, but, if the Lord is calling you to it, you must set aside any of your fears and worries and follow His leading. Do not worry about finances. Do not worry about how to parent a child from hard places. Do not worry about what your friends and family may think. You must obey the calling and then watch the Lord move mountains for you. No, it will not be easy, but we are never promised an easy life. Yes, it could be a heart breaking experience, but He promises to be with us always. You may not be called to adopt from Ukraine. You may end up adopting from Ethiopia, Haiti, or domestically, but if your are called, you must answer that call. There are so very many children who need families. If I could have, I would have scooped everyone one of them up. Honestly. So many people struggle with what God's will is for their lives. Scripture is clear:

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27

We will be flying home tomorrow. We are very excited to be able to tightly hug each and every one of our boys and see our friends and family again. A special thanks to Sheri's Mom and Dad, and to our good friend Tonya, who have given so much by caring for our boys while we have been here. Thank you to those who have prayed for us, sometimes even in the middle of the night. Thank you all so very much. May God bless you for your service to Him.

To God be the glory. His name is worthy to be praised! Thank you Lord for who you are, for your love for us, and you patience with me when my faith fails and I started getting wet as I look at the troubled waters rather than focus on You. Thank you Lord for all of my children, my boys, and now my girls. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Did I, or did I not?

Did I, or did I not give my life to the Lord? Do I not tell Him to lead me, that I would do what He wanted and when He wanted? I did, but it is hard.

We did not get the visas today, but we did get the medical clearances. There was a worldwide computer problem that stopped the embassy from completing the process and printing the visas. As tomorrow is Thanksgiving, we cannot do it tomorrow. We are having to change our tickets to the weekend and pray that we get the visas on Friday.

It was hard to here the gentleman at the embassy tell me he could not give me the visas. I had one of those pity-parties for an instant and had to stop myself. I am not my own. If the Lord wants us to stay, then we stay until He says go.

In perspective, we have some internet friends who are here in Ukraine for adoption as well and were just told by the oldest of the sibling set they are feeling led to adopt that she not sure she wants to go. Their blog is If you have an adopted child from Ukraine, live in States, and are willing to have your child call this girl to share about what it is like in the States, leave a comment with your contact information and I will forward it to the Libby's.

I know the pain they are going through. It is still very fresh in my mind. I am comforted by the two beautiful girls sitting next to me here and reminded that God's plans are always better than ours.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Things I am thankful for

Now, of course my Savior, my husband and my family come first and Babuska and Tonya, but this is ranking pretty high right now.

and as soon as I find an ooey gooey chocolaty brownie, it will be next on the list!
(if anyone knows where to find one in Kiev, let me know...there could be a reward)

posted by Sheri


Numbered List
Rich and Cheri Strahm

We were able to go to church this morning. We contacted Rich Strahm who was gracious enough to arrange to come to the Metro station nearest us and escort us and our friends the Albritton's to his church. The day went something like this:

1. Add at least 40 minutes to the get ready time to account for the girls needs.
2. Encourage the girls to get ready and actually get out of the apartment....discuss who will push the button on the elevator.
3. Try to explain to the Albritton's where the Metro station is- like the blind leading the blind since neither of really knows where we are going, or where we have been.
4. Walk the 3 blocks to the Metro station...UPHILL~ note to self (Sheri), begin exercise program.
5. Meet the Albritton's and wait for Rich (we were early, Yeah!)
6. We entered the Metro station and rode an incredibly long, fast escalator way down
underground. (The girls are still getting used to riding and getting on and off of escalators, and elevators make them dizzy)
Almost at the bottom

7. The Metro stations are beautiful (so are our girls)

8. We rode the metro, We all almost fell down in one big lump when the train started.
9. After the Metro we rode a bus, then walked again for about 3 blocks.
10. We arrived at the church about 30 minutes early which gave us all some time to dry off (did I mention it was misty and wet today?)

11. We were greeted warmly and felt very welcome.
12. There is just something about being around fellow Christians, you just feel like family.
13. The Worship music was great even though we could not understand it....that didn't matter.
14 Rich introduced us to the congregation and asked James to share a bit. He shared a short testimony and shared about our family and the adoption. He cried :)
15. The message was given by a American, and translated to Russian. Usually the other way around, but they had a guest today.
16. The girls were very good during the service, they even sang some of the songs. Seeds being planted :)
17. After the service we went to a buffet lunch. YUM!
This is the dessert that Natasha chose, I thought it was worthy of a picture.

18. The fellowship was Awesome, the day was great!
19. Rich took us on the bus back to the Metro station and put us on the train with instructions to get off on the 7th stop. We all spent the ride chatting, while carefully counting stops.
20. We were all relieved when we exited the train and saw the familiar station. Back up the long escalator and we said our goodbyes and walked to the market and then to our apartment.

Just a side note, all three women are named Sherrie, Cheri, and Sheri!
posted by Sheri

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Shopping and food and wow, how did that happen

We are taking the opportunity we now have because of the delay to get to know our daughters better without other family members around. It is much different being in a store with a child than just sitting around a classroom. They are showing more and more of who they are, and they are still very sweet. We are very humbled that God has chosen us to be their parents. We rely on Him for wisdom in parenting.

Since we did not leave today, we needed to buy the girls more clothes so that they can actually have a change of clothes. Yesterday we spent 6 hours out of the apartment shopping for clothes and food. We had already figured out that parents should add 10 minutes per child to how long any activity should take, but we now are coming to the conclusion that 10 minutes is not enough for the girls. I think we will add 35 minutes per girl :)

Yesterday, after walking to the underground mall (40 minutes uphill both ways-no kidding) at Independence Square and looking in most of the very overpriced shops, we found jackets for the girls at a store around the block from our apartment. They were right in our price range and the girls were happy. We were exhausted!

The girls in their new jackets. This market is just below where our first apartment was.

Today we went out again to an area near our apartment to look for a few more things. We found undergarments, a few extra shirts and sweaters, and are still looking for socks. Oh Target and Wall-mart, where are you? :) We also found a large supermarket that sells the Mibiha (mivina, it's like top ramen). The girls love this and it is cheap. We also bought potatoes and other healthy food :)

Sheri and Nastia cooked some potatoes and such for lunch/dinner. The girls ate enough this morning for 2 or 3 meals. We don't mind so much. They need the nutrition. They like bananas and apples a lot. They have also been eating bread with mayonaise (maybe not so good) and sandwiches made with the same, along with "solsiski" (hot dog like things that are cheap).

Nastia wanted to cook the potatoes so Sheri helped her in the kitchen. Nastia did very well and told Sheri she helped at the internat. She also said that she watched he mother make potatoes when she was little. She peeled the potatoes and cut the onion. Sheri helped her fry them up. Then she added cut up hot dogs. She spent a lot of time working on the presentation of the meal which turned out wonderful.

I was sitting next to Natasha who was busy happily coloring with her new markers, and it hit me. We are the parents of EIGHT children! How did that happen? It seems just yesterday we were newly married and "planning" how many children we would have. I am SO very glad the Lord has chosen to work His plan and not ours.