Friday, February 3, 2012

Hey Dad

When a person becomes a parent they are forever connected to that child and wanting to foster a greater connection.  Furthermore, it is immensely satisfying when that child reaches out to you, and you can fill their need.  A busy life can mute these feelings, and stress can overpower these simple rewards if not listened to carefully.  A few days ago something happened that I cherish so much, but have a hard time explaining to just anyone how special it really was. It was an honor to hear these two spoken words that are so rich in meaning to me.  Far beyond just the literal words spoken, there was a real symbol of connection that I heard.  Unlike others who have adopted and only been able to dream of this experience, I (like Kris too) am the recipient for more than a dozen times now this particular experience, and each time is still just as sweet as the last. Our recent addition to our family has helped to renew some parenting bonds and rekindle some of the fire that supports my drive for life.
There was a loving tone of a sweet and soft voice who just then, at that point in time, has announced that she is in need of me.  There was a lifting of tone, because a question was clearly about to follow.  However, it was not the content of the question, or the meaning of the answer that left me so taken and gratified with such a sense of satisfaction.  Just the simplicity of those two words getting of my attention was like a feather stopping a bull in his tracks………
"hey Dad?" 
uttered Samantha as she looked up to me for help with her question of how to finish raking the leaves.

After giving her the simplest guidance and returning a gentle smile, I thought at first how silly I am for having such a reaction in my heart to such a plain little thing.  Next, I thought how I must be tired and just missing my family already.  Especially knowing that I am having to head to work in a few moments; and I am perfectly content to spend a little more time in our awesome farm yard getting re-acquainted.  It was a harsh winter in Ukraine that we left just a few days ago and now I am home to 55 degrees and a full sky of sun.  (actually even oblivious to the news reports of deaths due to the severe cold in Eastern Europe)  Maybe I am just emotional because of this long absence of our dear comforts of home.  Or maybe our heavenly Father wanted to give me a taste of what He feels each time he hears for the first few times our meek little voices uttering
"Dear Jesus…………………."

I think it might be a combination of a few of these, but mostly the last one.  How sweet these words must sound to Jesus knowing the context of everything that is behind, in front of, and following these literal words of "Dear Jesus."
Spoken  ……………..    heard?

Dear Jesus………..(are you there?)
Dear Jesus………..(I need you)
Dear Jesus………..(I recognize you are my father)
Dear Jesus………..(I want to reach out to you)
Dear Jesus………..(You have an answer)
Dear Jesus………..(I Love You)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

We have Visa!

God has blessed the Stoesz family with the last step in this phase of our adoption process. We have received Samantha's Visa today which grants us the permission to come home! Phase I was the incredible wait since we first decided to pursue adopting of Samantha, only to find that she wasn't registered.  After doing our dossier over several times, we knew that allowing God's timing would be paramount! Our stay in Ukraine has also taken a long time, at exactly 7 weeks today.

Actually this timing of 7 weeks will be much more of a normal expectation for people adopting these days because of several processes that are no longer as streamlined as they once were.  We now head into the next phase of our journey with Samantha being part of our family.  We are looking forward to our new family, and we are counting our many blessings today!

We want to thank God for all that he has done in our lives, and for the many care givers and individuals here in Ukraine that are giving their lives to help these children in Ukraine.  We especially want to thank Georgiy Fortunyev, our long time friend and translator who has done a wonderful job once again on our adoption! In addition, we want to thank Karen Springs for her hospitality and heart! Thank you goes out to the many family and friends back at home that have kept things together and helped with Rhya and Natalie! We have so much to be thankful for!

Looking forward to being home at 2:30 ish at DIA this Friday the 27th of January!

Official to travel to the USA!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Oh...the places we go.

From Karen's window
Its a beautiful snowy morning in Kiev.  The snowflakes are swirling around in the courtyard of Karen's apartment.  From the 5th floor the surfaces below are looking white and clean.  It really is hard to believe that we left for Ukraine on December 9, 2011 and this morning I was thinking about all the places we have been, the people we have visited with, new friends and old, the meals we have shared, the memories we have created, the things we learned, the opportunities God has put before us.

From Karen's window
Our base has been Kiev and during our time here we have been south, east and west.  The places we have traveled include:
Zhytomyr including villages of Vegoda, Pulin, Chervonoarmiis'k
Kherson including villages of Stara Zbyruvka and Kalininske
Kiev and many areas within the city
Kiev region including villages of Chervonamotoylivka, Obukhov, 
Fastiv, Olenivka, Borova & Vizgorod
Lugansk including the villages of Frunze and Vesnyonya

 Trains, Mastrutkas, Metro, Taxi, foot, CBN van, cable car and cog...oh the places we went!

Oh the meals we have shared!
During our travels we have shared many meals and had wonderful fellowship during that time.  
We have had meals with:
Pioneer Lasagna with the Moonies, Tara and Karen
Tea and Cookies with widows from Good Samaritan
Sandwich and salads with the Webers
Home cooked cold duck with Tatiana and Kole
Breakfast with Luba and her family
Tacos and chicken with Tara, Phil and their 3 wonderful children
Birthday cake with Kristi Weber and her family at Karen's
Georgian food with Sara
smoked cold soft fish at Grandma Irena's
Sushi with the Wells family
Dinner with Pastor Leonid and his staff in Kramators'k
Ukraine pizza with the boys from Joshua's house
Homemade Vereniki with Alex B and his family 
Fish soup and Kievs Cake with House of Joy
Birthday cake with the Geelhood family to celebrate Sophia's birthday
Coffee and cookies at International Christian Assembly Church
Pelmini at Hunters Lodge with Yadik and Samantha
Warm yogurt on the train with George
Salo with the Ukrainian army in their secret bunker in Lviv
Chi with Karen
French fries with the locals at McDonalds
Beet borscht with CBN missionaries
Salo and Pelmini with Driver Vlad & George
Home made pizza with Yana in her dorm
Ice cream with Oksana and daughter at Last Bell Shelter
Christmas Pot Roast with our family
Domino's with DeYoungs
Abarbic food with Becky  (to come)

Today we are heading off to CBN for a tour, and to have lunch with Karen!  As for an adoption update, our passport is supposed to be finished on Monday, and Visa appointment Tues/Wed. Our travel plans are to return to DIA on Friday January 27th mid afternoon.  Continued prayers are messages are much appreciated!  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

These things are good

The last few days I have been reflecting on the "good and the bad and the ugly" of Ukraine.  This being our 4th adoption and 5th time to Ukraine, we knew what we were getting into and prepared ourselves to not have any expectations and prayed for Gods will and timing.  We are familiar with the culture, the people, the landscape, the ever changing process of adoption, the sight seeing, the village life, the public transportation and so on.  Both Clarke and I have been embracing this special time and have honestly not been stressed about the adoption process.  We have let go of any kind of control and let God take the lead.  We have been blessed the last 41 days and feel so covered in prayer by all our friends and family.  We have a home in Podil with Karen Springs who has let us house sit during her Christmas time back in the States.  Karen is back now and we are enjoying each others company and are so grateful for her wonderful hospitality.  As our trip is winding down to the last week, I have been doing a lot of thinking about this beautiful country.  I am excited to get back home and start the routine of "normal" life again but at the same time sad that I am leaving Ukraine.

Do you remember the movie "Mask" that came out in 1985 and starred Cher?  If you have not seen this movie, I recommend it.  It is one of those movies that will touch your heart and you will not forget.  The true story of Rocky Dennis is the subject of this heart-breaking film that pulls absolutely no punches.  The youngster was born with a disease that caused his face to be terribly deformed, making it appear that he had a mask.  At the end of the movie a poem that Rocky wrote is read to the audience.

This poem captures his heart and the essence of the movie, 
the last line in each verse echos in my mind.  

These things are good
Ice cream and cake 
A ride on a harley 
Seeing monkeys in trees 
The rain on my tongue 
And the sun shining on my face 

These things are a drag 
Dust in my hair 
Holes in my shoes 
No money in my pocket 
And the sun shining on my face.

I decided to write something about Ukraine, much like Rocky did about himself.  I am appreciative and love this country for many many reasons but my heart weeps for all the hardships as well.     

These things are good
Poppy seed rolls with French Pressed coffee
Beautiful white snow peacefully falling down
Watching dogs roam the street
The deep blue sky
And the sweet face of an orphan

These things are a drag
2nd hand smoke
riding the Metro every day
Babushka's begging for money
And the sweet face of an orphan

Sweet face of an orphan

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


For those of you keeping track of any type of timeline, we thought we would sketch out what our adoption journey has been like:
·                     July 2010 Met Samantha
·                     Sept 2010 finished home study
·                     Oct 2010 received word from the SDA that she was not registered           
(began registration)
·                     August 2011 Renewed Dossier (2nd time)
·                     Oct 11, 2011 Dossier Submitted
·                     Oct 18, 2011 SDA closure
·                     Nov 30, 2011 Received appointment date
·                     Dec 9th, 2011 Departed for Ukraine
·                     Dec 15th, 2011 SDA appointment
·                     Dec 16th Received referral
·                     Dec 28th, Received Ministry of Social Policy approval to proceed (new 10 day potential process)
·                     Dec 29th, Court proceeding
·                     Jan10th Adoption process resumes after holidays
·                     Jan11th Birth Certificate obtained
·                     Awaiting “ID-Code” with Ukraine Immigrations (has been a week long process)
·                     Upon receipt of ID-Code we can apply for passport – predict 17th/18th
·                     Passport likely 20th or 22nd
·                     Medical and Visa by 25th

Since our news of this ID Code delay, we have been trying to focus on sight seeing, meeting with friends in the process, traveling to Liviv, and spending some time with our friend Sara who is on a trip to Kiev while studying in St. Petersburg for her second year. Sara is a super adventurous girl, traveling Europe on her own and taking a Political Science Class in Russian! Yikes!

Enjoying the rare Blue Skies!
 We had a wonderful opera experience at the Kiev Opera House enjoying the musicians and signers performing Macbeth.  We were so appreciative of this quality performance for the price of a movie ticket back home, and can understand why being a performer in Ukraine is not necessarily financially rewarding.

Steve, Clarke, Kris and Kristi
On Friday we had lunch with Steve and Kristi Weber and enjoyed hearing a true visionary getting all ramped up for an up and coming movement called "Ukraine Without Orphans."  This is growing and Steve hopes will blossom into a World Without Orphans. What an inspiration the two are for dedicating their lives to orphan care.  Steve is the Director of the Christian Broadcast Network for the CIS. (Commonwealth of Independant States - former Soviet)

We ate at a Sushi house with Ty and Michelle Wells, of Florida who are here to adopt two beautiful teenage daughters from the Kiev area.  Please visit their blog at  to learn more about this wonderful family and their love of our Lord and childrenJ

Monday, January 9, 2012

The 12 Days of Waiting.....Ukraine gave to us.

So, if you have been wondering what we have been doing on our 10 day wait?  It was actually a 12 day wait, so we had some fun with the "12 Days of Christmas" song, changing the words a bit.  Have fun singing along!

On the first day of waiting Ukraine gave to us,
A sweet and beautiful daughter!

On the second day of waiting Ukraine gave to us,
two-block taxi ride
and a sweet and beautiful daughter

On the third day of waiting Ukraine gave to us,
three men in tights
two-block taxi ride
and a sweet and beautiful daughter

On the fourth day of waiting Ukraine gave to us,
four person cabin
three men in tights
two-block taxi ride
and a sweet and beautiful daughter!

On the fifth day of waiting Ukraine gave to us,
five... fear... factor..... fish!
four person cabin
three men in tights
two-block taxi ride
and a sweet and beautiful daughter!

On the sixth day of waiting Ukraine gave to us,
six men a sawing
five... fear... factor..... fish!
four person cabin
three men in tights
two-block taxi ride
and a sweet and beautiful daughter!

On the seventh day of waiting Ukraine gave to us,
seven pigeons perching
six men a sawing
five... fear... factor..... fish!
four person cabin
three men in tights
two-block taxi ride
and a sweet and beautiful daughter!

On the eight day of waiting Ukraine gave to us,
eight monks a chanting
seven pigeons perching
six men a sawing
five... fear... factor..... fish!
four person cabin
three men in tights
two-block taxi ride
and a sweet and beautiful daughter!

On the ninth day of waiting Ukraine gave to us,
nine airline agents
eight monks a chanting
seven pigeons perching
six men a sawing
five... fear... factor..... fish!
four person cabin
three men in tights
two-block taxi ride
and a sweet and beautiful daughter!

On the tenth day of waiting Ukraine gave to us,
ten Cossasks fighting
nine airline agents
eight monks a chanting
seven pigeons perching
six men a sawing
five... fear... factor..... fish!
four person cabin
three men in tights
two-block taxi ride
and a sweet and beautiful daughter!

On the eleventh day of waiting Ukraine gave to us,
eleven colorful flowers
ten Cossasks fighting
nine airline agents
eight monks a chanting
seven pigeons perching
six men a sawing
five... fear... factor..... fish!
four person cabin
three men in tights
two-block taxi ride
and a sweet and beautiful daughter!

On the twelfth day of waiting Ukraine gave to us,
twelve bowls of borscht
eleven colorful flowers
ten Cossasks fighting
nine airline agents
eight monks a chanting
seven pigeons perching
six men a sawing
five... fear... factor..... fish!
four person cabin
three men in tights
two-block taxi ride

and a sweet and beautiful daughter!

December 29th - our first day of waiting!  Court was a success!
Celebration at the Court House
December 30th - we toured parts of Kiev.  We had been told by some friends to go visit the Water Museum and we were not sure where it was.  We took a taxi and wondered why the taxi driver laughed at our request.  We took the 2-block ride up the hill to the museum and we were all laughing!
2-Block Taxi Ride
December 31st - was a fun filled day, visiting our favorite Lviv Chocolate store, eating at our favorite Italian restaurant, going to see the "Nutcracker" ballet and ending the evening at Independence Square.

Enjoying 3 men in tights - in the 2nd row!
Independence Square on New Years Eve
January 1st - we went to church at ICA and then packed our bags for the 15 hour train ride to Lugans'k.  We were so thankful for a "4 person cabin" for the ride, thanks to our friend Oksana!

Thankful for our 4 person cabin
January 2nd - we visited family that day, including Natalie's Aunt and her dear Grandma Irena. We will cherish these memories forever.
Five fish
January 3rd - We drove to Kramators'k to do some UOO ministry work.  We met up with a wonderful pastor and his staff and learned about the rehabilitation program they have for men and women.  The men were busy at the lumberyard, sawing, cutting and stacking wood.
Six men a sawing
January 4th -a day of sight seeing and dinner with some new friend Tara and Phil and their sweet children.
7 pigeons perching
January 5th -A day of some shopping and touring the Lavra.  We saw many monks on the grounds as well as beautiful domes.

Samantha, Natalie and Rhya touring the Lavra (8 monks not shown)
January 6th - Rhya and Natalie departed Kiev and flew back to the States.  We were so relieved that they made it back safe to Colorado!
Heading to see the 9th airline agent
January 7th - After a quite day in the apartment, we ventured to celebrate Ukraine Christmas with the Cossacks at "Mamayevai Sloboda" Village
9 Cossacks are fighting in the dark
January 8th - We took a long road trip to Zhytomir to give some donations to our friend Alex and go visit our friend Yana who was in the hospital. 
11 flowers for Yana 
January 9th - our last day of waiting, we traveled to Borova to visit Samantha's friends and walk around her home town.  We enjoyed a wonderful bowl of borscht.
12 bowls of borscht ......Yardik, Samantha, Kris and Clarke

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Visit to Lugans'k and Irena's House

We were extremely thankful to have spent the night in a new train car, and all 4 of the girls even got to bunk in the same cabin!  We really have been blessed once again! (Special thanks to Oksana!)
It is Monday the 2nd, and the train cars were covered in blowing snow and the ice drops on the windows prevented any good picture taking.  Therefore, I am left to describe for you what it looked like when we all woke up this morning to the gentle swaying and rhythmic clicking of our train as it glided east.  Most of the countryside is a barren scape of snow and rolling hills.  Lugans’k is a region that was built on coal mining and steel production.  One of the former manufacturing facilities is one of the highlights that we can see as we pass by.  Our translator points this out each time we go by it, as his wife’s family has derived a living from one of these facilities before its collapse after Ukrainian independence in 1991.  There is still evidence of some activities by the cooling tower steam plumes and the dark smoke drifting from the stacks.  Having been an EPA certified stack opacity reader myself, I can guarantee that nearly each of these stacks that I looked at was out of US EPA compliance, and would warrant daily fines in huge amounts if back at home.  I am simply amazed at the state of equipment and disrepair, and yet the tracks in the snow suggest that we are not looking at a museum of an old factory.  Instead, we are looking at the remnants of a factory that is still alive to some degree.  This is a determined society who is forging ahead against all odds and beyond what we can comprehend as possible.  They are forced to make do and to press on through another winter, another economic down turn, and who knows what personal tragedy that each person can share from these villages. We have heard and seen so much hard life today that it is difficult to take all in, let alone process and share.

View of Natalie's home village Vesnyonya
Cousin Elya, Misha, Aunt Luba, Natalie
We had a warm greeting at the train platform with Natalie’s Aunt Luba smothering us with hugs.  Her husband, Misha, was holding their two year old Elya.  Elya is bundled up head to toe, but his rosy cheeks, bright eyes and big smile were instantly contagious to us all!  Both Luba and Misha have no hearing and rely on signing for communication. Therefore, smiles, hugs and charades started immediately.

 We quickly drove to check in at the Hotel Druzhba and joined together for a late breakfast along with Nadia, our 2003 house host who also came to meet us.  Elya kept us entertained as we passed the note pad back and forth from Luba and Misha to George and Samantha, who could then translate to us. Luba sat right next to Natalie, and soaked in every moment. We took lots of pictures and then headed off to see Natalie’s orphanage for a quick donation of zip lock bags filled with goodies.  

We were surprised by the new security gate and guard, that now had to let us in.  There was a new Director, but fortunately two staff were on hand that vaguely remembered Natalie's name.  We shared some photos and asked how the orphanage was going.  They reported to be the one and only in the area that had received a family model designation and associated funding for this new style of family care.  In conjunction with this, there were now only about 45 kids (half of previous) living there now.  The staff was extremely grateful for the personal visit from Natalie, and mentioned that it just doesn't ever happen.  If we come back and have more time, they promised to gather more staff that would remember her.  It was refreshing to hear of this orphanage being properly funded, and that a family model was now being pursued.  I asked, and they confirm that there is no threat of a closure of this orphanage in the near future for funding reasons.  Next stop: Grandma at her village about an hour and a half away.

Natalie in fron of her old orphanage

The roads were snow packed and slushy with the trees still hanging on to their white covering from last night’s storm.  After another exercise of ignoring the opposing traffic in the same lane, we finally arrive in the little village of Vesnyonya.  There are no improved roads, and realize that the snow is much deeper than we thought. The entire area that contained all of the settlement homes (I just can’t say neighborhood) was hardly passable, and we got stuck several times trying to get our van down these roads after just one snow storm.  Now that we have to walk in it, the snow definitely seems deeper! Grandma Irena is already outside, and immediately came out to the roadway to meet us. We are overwhelmed with how special this moment of becoming reconnected is. We walk through the gate and immediately greeted with the sights, sounds and smells of a miniature farm.  The two dogs are barking repeatedly and cause the ducks to scurry off.  The walk way between the small barn and main house is a path of discolored and swept snow mixed with ice. We are welcomed inside as she apologizes for how cold her house is.  She has a fire built, but it is not warm yet excepting for in the kitchen.  I took my shoes off, ignoring her request that I keep them on. Soon I realized just exactly how cold it was, and quickly put them back on. While George began catching up with his friendship with Irena, the girls sat inside while Kris and I strolled outside to get some photos in the fading light at just 3 pm. 

We walked further back through the snow pathway that was clearly used by the animals and turning to mud in spots.  Icicles hung from all the eves, making for great pictures. On the right is the main house, which we discover is too big to regularly afford to heat. (Maybe 400-500 sq. ft.) On the left is a very small building which is half house, and half barn.  In the first part lives Sergey, Irena’s son and 4th husband, Vlad. In the back lives three cows of which one is expecting. We didn’t ask to see the cows this time, partially because of all of the manure like mud on the path leading up to the door. Imagine three cows in a place maybe ½ to ¾ the size of a one car garage. Most all of the hay in the region is handled loosely with forks and wagons, and their next structure housed the winter’s supply. Another small building was loaded up with fire wood, another with coal, another was a root cellar, and yet another was for storing food and cooking in the summer. The total coal for the winter could fit inside my F-350 short bed box, so sparing use was obvious. There were two small buildings, one of which was the outhouse.  Finally, there was another two room house that had smoke coming from the chimney, and we remember this from our 2005 visit as Irena’s kitchen and bedroom.  All of the buildings are extremely rough, and are in need of more than just a coat of paint or minor repairs.  Still, it is their home as it was Natalie’s home for her first 13 months of her life.  Irena showed us the exact bed that Natalie used to sleep in.  It is so hard to explain how heartfelt these moments were, knowing that this life could easily have been a reality for Natalie.  I don’t want to point out all of the shockingly rough amenities to be disrespectful in any way.  These people are a testament to survival and being tough! We have the utmost respect for how hard their life is, and how hard they work just to maintain existence.
One of the most touching moments was when Kris thanked Irena for loving Natalie so much in that first 13 months. (before Natalie was taken to an orphanage and after Irena's hospitalization in the year 2000)  We tried explainiang the imortance of this, but it was already felt and shown on Irena's face as she wept with joy.  Irena thanked us for all the love that we are giving Natalie.
Most of us guys think we could tough it without any running water by getting to enjoy this taste of pioneer days perhaps a few times a year while camping or hunting.  I can assure you that our tune would change if this became our life, and there was no money to help offset the many other challenges associated with this life.  For example, we received a message after we left that Irena was sick in bed with a fever, and couldn’t get up.  Thank goodness for her situation, since she has her son Sergey and husband Vlad to care for her.  She is unusual in this regard, since so many widows are not able to find husbands.  She has succeeded in this regard three times after loosing her first three husbands to illnesses related to working in coal mines at early ages.

Did he really just drink that whole bottle?

used to be my bed!
Looking back at the evening, Irena’s impending illness was not noticeable.  She went through great effort to shower us with many food dishes and sweets! The eating experience will never be forgotten by our three girls, and I’m sure they will share with you more details if you ask them. Our stay lasted about 3 hours, with one of the highlights being a photo album that Natalie had put together for Irena’s keepsake. We took lots of photos, and laughed together when Sergey requested a second picture without his teeth showing.  He actually has decent teeth, and our laughing was only following his lead on himself taking it lightly.  When it was time to leave our coats were no longer needed, and it seemed a shame that the house was now warm.  Our goodbyes were just as tough or worse than when we left the mobbing orphan kids who were touching the van as long as they could keep up.
Once back out on the main road, we all settled in for the long drive over the snowy and icy road.  The shadows of the headlights brought more depth to how rough the road was.  Likewise, the images of our visit were strickingly vivid as we all played them back in our minds while staring at the moon.  Kris and I are so thankful to have had three of our daughters experiencing the rich tastes, textures, emotions and sights of today’s visit.  Inta from our worship band at Grace Place came to our minds when Rhya quickly pointed out the money song playing on the radio.  How rich our life has become as we truly know ………………………
It’s not about the money, money, money
We don’t need your money, money, money
We just wanna make the world change,
Forget about the Price Tag.
Ain’t about the (ha) Ka-Ching Ka-Ching.
Aint about the (yeah) Ba-Bling Ba-Bling
Wanna make the world change,
Forget about the Price Tag.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Looking back 10 years - the grass roots of UOO

Happy New Years Day from Ukraine!  

Blessing to all our family and friends as we welcome 2012!  I have been thinking back at the last 10 years of our family and I am amazed at all that has occurred and the blessings that have gone with it.
10 years ago, back in the early spring of 2002, Clarke and I had the seed of adoption planted in our hearts.  We always knew we wanted a big family, whether that be through foster care or adoption.  Amanda was 11 and Alex was 9 at the time that the seed of adoption started to grow.  People often will ask us why we decided to adopt.  We tell them the story of Mr. Matheson, known as “Mr. M” who is the world’s best gym teacher at Ivy Stockwell Elementary in Berthoud, Colorado.  Clarke and I were finishing up our Cub Scout meeting one Tuesday night at Ivy Stockwell, when we ran into Mr. M doing some last minute equipment clean up.  In his arms he was holding the most adorable little girl named Katherine whom was recently adopted by Mr. M and his wife Brenda.  We said hello and met Katherine who was a sweet little girl from China about 18 months old with a smile that would melt your heart. 

That night as Clarke and I drove the 10 minute drive from Berthoud to our house, we had made the decision to start the “adoption” process.  I remember looking up into the night sky gazing at the moon and stars and told Clarke  “Just think, our child we will adopt is alive right now, looking at the same stars and moon in the night sky!” 

So the word “adoption” began to resonate in our house.  We did not know the first thing about adoption and began to pray about it as well as search the internet for any resources.  We dove into a world of the unknown.  So many questions that pre-adoptive families have.  Who, what, where, when, why plus so much more!  We attended workshops, talked to adoption agencies, made our lists of questions, did more research and so on!  When I look back, I am always so thankful to know that Gods hand was all over the process.  After months of research and questions, with open and closed doors, God led us to adopt from the country of Ukraine. 

And so the journey began…

We decided on Ukraine for many reasons and began the process of figuring out how to go about and adoption from Ukraine.  We had assumed that in order to adopt that we would need to hire an adoption agency and headed down that road.  Six months into the paperwork process, and with many hurdles and frustrations, we met the Weston family.  They were our life savors as Wade and Julia were adopting from Ukraine too and were doing their adoption “independently”.  We changed course and headed right behind them and an immediate life long friendship was made with our families.   Our dossier followed theirs and both our travel dates were only 3 weeks apart.  Both families had wished for 2 school aged children, possibly a girl and boy. 

Preparing for our travel date we were slammed with the Blizzard of 2003!  Our challenges to get out of Denver were abundant, roads blocked with 3’ drifts, electricity out for 3 days, stores closed and still trying to get our last minute items.  Two days before our flight to Ukraine, the United States government had decided to start bombing Iraq.  It seemed like so much opposition just to get off the ground.  I remember someone asking me “are you still going to adopt?”  I answered with a sure fired “YES!  I am in labor and there is no stopping these children from coming!” 

At DIA at departure-Alex, Amanda, Kris, Clarke

Upon our arrival in Kiev, we were quickly shuffled to the “Tourist” hotel on the left bank of the Dnieper.  Our hotel room down the dark hallway was 100% Ukrainian style and honestly we were in culture shock.  Everything was dark, the room, the hallway, the clothing people wore, the atmosphere, it was heavy and dark and dreary.  Our facilator was abrupt and stern, asking us “and now for my money!” As adoptive families know; you have to travel with many thousands of dollars.  Our facilitator asked us to put it in a grocery sack and hand it over along with his gifts of soymilk and gladiola bulbs.  He quickly grabbed his goods and left us in the dark hotel room, we watched as he walked down the dark hallway and he was gone!  I remember Clarke and I just looking at each other saying that we hope we have not just been had.  We sat on the beds and just waited and about 10 minutes later a knock on the door and in entered our new friend and translator, George!  He was a bundle of optimism and sunshine as compared to people we had met since our arrival.

Clarke and Kris with the Weston family.
Wade, Julia, Alex, Sonja and Nikita

We were able to meet up with Wade and Julia and to meet their newly adopted children.  Sonja and Nikita, a brother and sister from Kharkov.  The Weston’s were successful, ready to soon head back to the US with their adorable children, they made it look so easy and we were really happy for them.  Our sites were set on the same “family” for us, a school aged sibling group seemed like no problem!

Our NAC (National Adoption Center) appointment did not go the way we had wanted it too.  We wanted a referral for 2 children, school aged, possibly boy and girl.  That did not seem so difficult, did it?  After over 1 hour of looking at binder after binder in the office, we were starting to get discouraged.  The day was coming to a close, the clock ticking and approaching 5:00 pm.  Our 75-year-old psychologist sitting on the other side of the desk was patient with us as we looked at so many sibling groups of 3-5, special needs children, or children much older than we had felt called for.  We were looking for elementary aged set of siblings.  As the minute hand approached 4:58, the psychologist held up his shaking hand gesturing us to “wait”.  We waited and watched as he opened up the bottom right drawer of his desk and brought out a sheet protector with a page inserted that would change our life forever.

Natalie showing us her bed
The 1”x1” picture was a sweet smiling girl with eyes that would light up any room.  She was 3 years old and wore a blue sweater with white snowflakes.  George translated her history and an in-depth medical review to us.  She had a long list of ailments and conditions but her eyes and sweet smile still called to us.  She had been in this orphanage for 9 months (come to find out later that our little girl had been institutionalized since the young age of 13 months) There on the page was our sweet “Natasha”, soon to be called Natalie.  We willingly accepted the referral to go visit this little preschooler in Lugansk.

We took the longest possible train ride in Ukraine to a far off land of Lugansk, which is the last stop before you enter Russia on the east border.  We spent about 12 days visiting Natalie at her orphanage while the paperwork process was in motion to adopt her.   We fell in love with our sweet Natalie the moment we laid eyes on her as she shyly walked into the Director’s office.  She was a curious, neat, organized, funny, beautiful, sweet 3 year old that would gaze into the camera for a picture anytime we wanted a picture.

On April 3rd, 2003, we were granted the official notice that we are now Natalie Anne’s parents.  We were thrilled, excited, scared, and filled with joy as we headed to pick up Natalie late in the day on the 3rd.  She would not have to sleep in an orphanage one more night.  Now she had a family that would tuck her into bed every night.  Upon our arrival to the orphanage, there on the outside wall was a beautiful miracle from God.  As the sun glowed low in the sky, the rays of light streamed through the crook of an old tree.  On the old beige brick wall was a bright heart shape of sunshine.  Both Clarke and I stopped to catch a glimpse of what we believe was God blessing our adoption.  Confirming that what we are doing is not crazy but was pleasing to Him.  My own heart cried with joy as we rescued our little Natalie that day. 

It is day and a moment in my life I will never forget.

God's heart of love shining on April 3, 2003

Our adoption trip was about 3 ½ weeks long and we returned home on April 11, 2003.   Upon our return home our life, as we knew it would be filled with giggles, sticky hands, sweet singing and loads of smiles.  Natalie quickly adjusted to her new family and it took us about 3 months to fill like we were not baby sitting anymore! Natalie was a trooper and quickly was immersed into our busy life of activities.  Watching every single football, basketball, baseball, track meet, soft ball game that Amanda and Alex would play, she captured the hearts of so many of our family and friends. 

As time went on, we could not stop thinking about all the children left behind.  Their faces haunted us in our dreams.  We found ourselves advocating for orphans and mentoring many families that had an interest in adoption.  We told our story over and over. Our passion for orphans had been sparked into a wildfire.  This burning passion and desire to care for orphans burns brightly still today.

Children left behind

 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 (NIV)

Today is January 1, 2012 and looking back 10 years is surreal to me.  I am grateful, blessed and in awe of all that has happened in our lives.  Tonight we go back to Lugansk, back to where it all started with our little Natalie.  We will take the 15 hour train ride back to Natalie’s native home to visit with her Grandma and Aunt at the village where Natalie played, slept, ate and spent her first 13 months of life.  In addition we will visit the orphanage that had God's heart on the wall.  I imagine the moment will again be a reminder of God's love for us, taking us back to the afternoon of April 3, 2003 when Natalie became part of our forever family!

Adopting Natalie was more than just an adoption.
Adopting Natalie planted the seeds and started the grass roots of
Ukraine Orphan Outreach.
Praising God in all that He has done through UOO!