Sunday, December 28, 2014

Reunited. The Story of love, Forgiveness, Healing and Redemption

I hesitated slightly about making our story public in the "English subtitle" format. Even though we had been on national TV in Ukraine (reruns now), it seems harder to release this to friends and family for fear of judgement, misunderstanding, and loss of translation.  Clarke and I both agreed that since the overall message resonates in love and forgiveness, that we would make ourselves vulnerable to all of you by going public. I would be more than happy to answer questions, fill in any gaps or explain anything you may have a question about.  Thank you in advance and I hope your blessed by the show.


REUNITED: Clarke, our adopted children and I were invited in November 2013 to be on a Ukrainian television show on the INTER channel.  The purpose of the show was to reunite our 4 children with any/all of their biological families.  We were very leery about the whole idea at first, but we had confidence in our dear friend George who has been a trustworthy friend since our first adoption back in 2003.  We carefully vetted the show, the concept and talked with the two families who have gone before us to ask their opinion.  As life has it, one thing lead to another and soon it was February of 2014 and we still had not made the decision to be part of the show.  We had viewed both shows which our friends had been on and the format of the show seemed "safe".  We were fearful of the Jerry Springer episodes in which yelling, bantering by the audience and chair throwing is a typical show format.  After being assured, we knew we had to talk to our children about this opportunity.  We knew this could be very risky.  Would our family be represented truthfully?  Would our hearts be able to take it?  Was this even a good idea for our kids?  What was our goal?  We spent ample time hashing this out with one another, talking about the risks, advantages and the overall experience.  It truly seemed to all of us that this would be a trip of a life time.  We notified INTER the first of March that we agreed to participate in the show called "Concerns Everyone"  INTER had to do their legwork of locating family members in Ukraine, organizing travel, interviews, and all while the war in eastern Ukraine marched on.  We were given about a weeks notice in mid-April that we were to come to Ukraine for the taping of the INTER show.  A whirlwind week of preparation, travel arrangements, packing, schoolwork, projects at work, all coming together in a rush so we could embark on time for Ukraine.

AND WERE OFF TO UKRAINE:  After close to 24 hours of international travel, we were greeted with a camera and reporter, asking us questions the moment we landed.  We had a short night of sleep before we headed off to a village to meet Samantha's family.  Her parents did not want to be on the show, so INTER planned the surprise visit before our taping.  You will see the reunion in the youtube makes me cry every time.  There were feelings and emotions that I did not know existed!  You can check out our blog post about the experience.  

The following day we were transported to the INTER studio which was in a very large, cold warehouse.  The first order of business was to sign waivers, basically signing your life away, or so it seemed.  We were rushed off into the makeup room and were all powdered and blushed to look pretty for the camera.  We had prayed as a family before all the commotion asking God to be with all of us so that truth, love, clarity, integrity, forgiveness and strength were in every vein of our body.

Rhya, Clarke and I waiting to go on stage.

Natalie and Samantha were the first family members on stage and started the show off. Grandma Stoesz was sitting on a sofa on stage right, looking surprised as she had been invited to be part of the interview as well.  Clarke, Rhya and I were behind stage, in good spirits and making the best of what was a very nerve wrecking and stressful situation.  We believe Luke is with Ludmilla and Alex, his guardians, behind stage in another room, but not sure.

We endured over 4 hours on stage during the taping in front of a live studio audience and a panel of 8 professionals.  Each panel member brought their unique perspective to the Stoesz story.  We were blessed by knowing 2 of the panel members personally.  Peter Dudnik and our dear friend George.  At first, the other 6 panelists were either our friend or foe.  By the end of the show, it seemed like they had all become our friends.

The 4 hours of interviews were the most emotional, exhausting, tense, loving, hurtful, rewarding, surprising and tender moments of my life.  So many highs along with a few rock bottom low moments.  The 4 hours of taping were edited and turned into a 2 night episode, each show lasting about 45 minutes.

Keep in mind a few things as you watch this video.  In the 4 plus hours of taping, we were not allowed a restroom break, a tissue, or a sip of water.  As best as we all could, we kept our chins up and looked to God for our strength.  All of us were wearing an ear piece that would have a person talking to us during the taping.  The lady in my ear would be translating all the Ukrainian/Russian language so we could understand the content (for the most part) of what was being said.  When we talked in English, she would translate what we said to the audience, MC as well as family members.  We were instructed to talk in the translator could do her job effectively.  It was a challenge to have a thought that you wanted to say, but then your thought turned in to short segments which caused confusion and disconnect at times.  You will also notice that we have a delayed reaction to the rest of the Ukrainian audience, that is again because of the delay in translation to us.  It is evident that by the end of the show I am emotionally exhausted.  I am so proud of our kids and their message of love and forgiveness.

Our friend Peter and George were part of the panel of experts
A live studio audience sits and listens and cries along with us

Once the show was over it all seemed like a dream.  

As the show was nearing the end, we were told by the MC to stay connected and in touch now that INTER has found everyone!  We are one big family.  Before we even knew what was going on, we were shoed off the stage in such a fast manner, I did not get to thank the 8 panelists, the MC or say hello "off camera" to ANY of the newly found family members.  At this point I am getting slap happy and laughing at this whole scene.  Clarke and I are whisked into a room, gathered our coats, and sent out the back door, standing there in the cool, overcast spring afternoon.  What just happened?

Our head was spinning...
 Being persistent, we make our way back inside the old worn out building to find our family and extended family.  Soon after about 10 minutes, they slowly start trickling to meet up with us and our opportunity to shake hands and exchange hugs is able to take place.  I took a few family photos and once again INTER made us clear the loading dock area out back.  We said our last goodbyes to many family members, hoping we will be able to see them again.

Natalie with her sibling, Sasha, Oleg and Nastia

Luke and Rhya with their family
Nadia, Leonid - bio parents
Peter - "step" dad
Siblings- Natasha, Lilya, Daniel and Yuri
The next day we spent visiting Luke and Rhya's family in Zhytomyr.  Our first stop was at Nadia's home who is their biological mother.  Nadia is remarried to Peter and they have three sweet young children; Natasha, Lilya and Daniel.  Again, emotions surfaced that I never realized existed.  We were invited for a Ukrainian style BBQ at Luke and Rhya's biological father, who lived in the outskirts of the city.  Leonid is remarried as well and we met Yura who is their 17 year old brother.  The gypsy family showed Luke and Rhya their family hospitality and traditions, it was something that I will never forget.

Rhya with her Grandmother

Luke and Rhya with their younger siblings

Meet the family

Unfortunately we were not able to visit Natalie's family who live in Eastern Ukraine.  We are so blessed that her siblings "SURPRISED" all of us by coming to Kiev.  Natalie's sister Nastia and her husband Vova were able to stay an extra day, so Natalie was able to hang with them in Kiev the same day we went to Zhytomir.  Nastia and Natalie are truly kindred spirits and soul sisters.  What a blessing it was to get to know Nastia and Vova.

Sisters - Natalie and Nastia

I want to thank our oldest two children, Amanda and Alex, for being such awesome kids!  I am so proud of Amanda and Alex who have traveled this journey of adoption intimately with Clarke and I. We are so blessed by Amanda and Alex and we need to all be reminded about the sacrifices and selflessness biological siblings are required to go through when parents decided to adopt!  I wish they could have been with us on this trip, but it did not work out due to job commitments.

I love you both dearly!
Amanda and Kris

Alex and Kris

As I reflect on our trip to Ukraine this year, I am so thankful we had this opportunity and for technology to be able to record and archive this once in a lifetime moment.  Please remember too, there are a lot of underlying stories that were not able to be exposed.

INTER did a great job capturing the essence of our adoption journey and we are all very grateful for the chance to be in INTER T.V.   Thank you for all at INTER who made this journey along with us.

By the way, I have heard from a handful of our Ukrainian friends that our show has been shown as "reruns" already.

Below is the link to either click or copy and paste so you can watch the show.  Thank you Kristin Daniels for the 800+ minute upload!

Grab a bowl of popcorn, soda, candy and possibly some tissues.

Blessings and Merry Christmas!
Love to you all,
Clarke and Kris Stoesz