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

Monday, April 14, 2014

Samantha Reunites!

The alarm rang, and six hours was hardly felt like enough sleep when considering the noisy streets and jet lag. We are thankful to be waking up in Karen’s apartment with comfortable surroundings, and knowing our way around our once home of 7 weeks back in late 2011.  Back then we were finishing our adoption of Samantha, which was a huge relief after a 16 month wait since our first meeting in the summer of 2010 at camp.  I remember thinking that today will be bringing unchartered waters of emotions with the reunion of Samantha with her birth parents and possibly siblings. Just a few days ago in our home, Samantha shared that she was going through every feeling leading up to this visit.  So many feelings, so much uncertainty, anxiousness, and longing for this day, and it has finally come. 
We ate a quick breakfast of poppy seed rolls, drinkable yogurt, a banana and some coffee or tea.  Our van from the television program Inter was right on time. In addition to the two drivers, we had Camera Man Andrey, Journalist Olga, and Translator Katya. We were all told to please wait in the van, while Samantha did her first quick interview in the courtyard of the apartment building. Then we were off to Yablunivk, the small village south of Obukhiv and just under a 2-hour drive.  It is an over-cast day with cooler temperatures and a slight drizzle.  The day would easily have felt gloomy if not for Kris who was actively keeping Samantha amused and engaged the whole way down.  We also have the piece of mind that Samantha is such a tender soul, and surely one or more of her parents would be the same.  The thought of such a wonderful and sweet reunion dominates my mind, but is held back from fully expecting it just for being conservative and safe. What if everything is just too overwhelming for anyone to bear? What if this visit (we just learned is a full surprise) is in some way not welcomed? What if we don’t have their full blessing for taking her away from Ukraine? We know that God is in control, and have prayed together for His will and the release of everything to His plan.  The distractions keep the time ticking by as we roll down the countryside, answering my mom’s first time questions, and taking in the beautiful black farm fields moist and green carpeted wheat fields, which were short enough to look like massive golf greens.
Another great day for picture taking with the covered skies, beautiful countryside, and some long missed family that Samantha is looking forward to seeing. We stopped at a modern roadside gas station to stretch our legs and use the last bathroom, which ended up to be my Mom’s first squat pot.  Samantha was “mic’d up” and Andrey put a rain guard on his camera so that we would be ready once rolling up to the house. When we pulled into the little village settlement, we stopped again for a quick shot of the village sign with the homes in the background. Two more stops for directions and we finally pull up to their meager home.  Two dogs are tied to the shed, and give prompt warning to the neighborhood.
With camera rolling, Samantha hardly stepped 10 feet from the van when her mother Luda came running with outstretched arms and yearning on her face that will never be forgotten. 

The sweetest hugs, kisses, pulling back to stare with disbelief and wiping of tears happened over and over again, with father Sergiy joining in. We were trying to stay behind Andrey with our camera, but soon Kris and I joined in on the celebration and introductions.  We were invited into the house right away. Neither of the front doors or porch doors opened more than ¼ way, so we side stepped into their little room for more hugs and kisses, now filled with busy chatter going back and forth.  Kris and I were without the benefit of understanding the words, but deeply rewarded with the richness of the bond that was present and forming stronger again right in front of us.  Nothing else in the world mattered right then. Nobody cared about the extremely rough conditions of the home, or of the tattered clothes that were worn, or the soiled floor coverings that were surely impossible to keep clean without running water and mud everywhere.  Well, nobody except for Sergiy, who promptly sought translation to explain that they were in the middle of remodeling and painting and to forgive their mess.  We quickly acknowledged his remarks but dismissed the necessity of it.  Nothing was important except for family meeting family.  We then introduced the rest of the family back outside, and shared another round of hugs and kisses.  We were now sharing more connections and stories through Samantha and Katya, who seemed overjoyed to have this opportunity to witness this reunification through her translation services.
We received a brief tour of their plot, just 4/10th’s of a hectare, which had yet to be tilled, unlike so many of their neighbors.  Sergiy explained how work was difficult for him with his bad hip. Still, he went over each imaginary section of the garden to tell us where the potatoes, garlic, onion, carrots, etc were to be planted in the coming weeks. They explained how expensive food had become, even bread being too pricey to buy, but that this garden would be the best food for them.  I thought to myself how tough it would be in a dry year, having no running water. 

We inspected the well, and found that their bucket and cable could retrieve water about 40’ below the surface.  Wow, just existing seemed overwhelmingly tough here.

We asked if they would join us for a visit at a local café, and Luda promptly nodded. We traveled nearly 30 minutes to find a café, where Sergiy enjoyed pizza for the first time and asked Samantha not to translate.  Extreme gratitude was shared from each family.  We explained that we were thankful for them giving Samantha a start in life, and that we were honored to continue caring for Samantha and to give Samantha as many opportunities as possible.  Father Sergiy and Mother Luda were profoundly moved by it all, and confided that these stories never happen to ordinary people like them.  It was all too good to be true.  We all felt completely satisfied, but knew that our brief meeting was coming to an end, to accommodate the TV employee’s schedule. 
Luda agreed that they would come to the TV show on Tuesday, so we were able to say goodbye.  A few more photos and hugs and we hurried to return Sergiy and Luda back home.  
We were told to keep it short (for the schedule), but ended up spending more time with the pleasant surprise of Katya (Samantha’s Sister), who had just returned home.  Katya is about Samantha’s size, but with dark hair, and 10 more years.  They shared some quick stories and soon we were rolling back towards Kiev, replaying the day’s events over with pleasant disbelief that it all went so well.
Tomorrow we will get to spend the day with our “God-Child” Yana, and many other friends, while touring Kiev.  For now, I am thankful to God for such a good meeting, and for having so many pictures that we can look at.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

2003 looking back - a photo journal of Natalie's first year!

Natalie was breaking out of her shell.

Celebrating our homecoming!

Natalie with Oma and Opa

Enjoying all her new toys

Yes - she really fell asleep at the table

Our princess Amanda and Natalie

1st day of pre-school

Halloween fun

Fall harvest

Well, I am finally completed typing our story. I can’t believe how long it has taken me. It was very pleasurable to go back and read about our experience in Ukraine. Every day that goes by, the memories become more precious to me. Natalie is doing so wonderfully! 

She truly is our Ukrainian angel! 

She has adjusted so well to her new life in America. She is not quiet or shy anymore. She is very outgoing and cheerful. She still makes the cutest faces and smiles so beautifully. She is witty, smart, fun, playful and full of energy every day. She has a great attitude towards life and is a daredevil! She is not afraid of too many things. She is learning so much English every day!

She is very independent and confident.

The other day, she did the funniest thing (July 12, 2003). Our neighbor down the road (Kathy Pickert) cleaned out her youngest daughters clothes and passed them on to us. Natalie was so thrilled!  She went through the basket and immediately picked out the winter hat, gloves and snow boots. Natalie put them on (let me remind you that the temperature was pushing 100 degrees outside). She told me that she wanted it to snow! I tried to explain to her that it is not going to snow today. She asked me in Russian “zaftra?” (tomorrow?) I told her “many many zaftra’s from now!”

Always a trooper
Natalie kept asking for snow on a 100 degree day
This summer Natalie has been introduced to the swimming pool. She is a fish! She jumps in, goes under water, kicks, splashes and never wants to get out of the water! She looks so natural in the water! It is hard to believe that the first bath experience was such an awful one!

Water rat and no fear!
 Amanda and Alex adore her too! Alex said "It’s   hard to imagine our life without her!” 
She fits in so well.  Amanda loves sharing rooms with her and loves to take her shopping. 
Her softball team even made up a cheer with Natalie’s cute Russian words!

So far, in 3 months’ time, Natalie has done so many things for the 1st time!

*Going swimming-even in the deep end by herself
*Riding in a car seat, (we did not see one car seat in Ukraine)
*Watching fireworks on her first “Independence Day,” after a while she hid under the blanket, she   wanted them to be over.
*Going to see “Finding Nemo” at the movies
 *Watching tons of baseball and softball games-what a trooper
*Meeting new friends
*Having her own toys and clothes
*Going shopping the first time to “Super Wal-Mart” with Mom and Dad! Now when we go shopping she says “no shopping.”
*Going camping
*Going to a rodeo and even petting a horse
*Having pretty much whatever you want for breakfast!

Waking up each morning and being able to pursue her dreams!

Gotcha Day April 3, 2013
Christmas 2003