Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Reflections as we are homebound

Well, another week has passed.  We didn't make it home on July 3rd as we had hoped.  Not even on July 4th.  But today I'm sitting here in the Frankfort airport, 2/3 of the way through our long layover, awaiting our flight to take us home to America.  Finally!  God, in His perfect timing, is finishing what he began in November 2013 when we first began the adoption process for Isaac.  If I had known then, the heart aches and delays and struggles that lay ahead of us, I don't know if I would have had the courage to begin this journey.  But if there's one thing I've learned over the last 20 months it's that God has given us today.  Right now.  He asks us to focus on today…not worry about tomorrow.  Tomorrow is in His hands.  Today is all I'm promised.  Our plans need to be written in pencil, surrendered willingly to God's big eraser.

I wish I could say that the last week was a breeze as we waited for Isaac's passport and embassy appointment.  But in reality it was a daily, moment by moment struggle, as I surrendered my plans and desires to God's will.  This adoption had to be a challenge all the way to the end.  Never once got to push the "easy button."

I'm reading back through my journal from the last week and in awe of how God sends exactly the encouragement that I need to face the day…

When Josiah and I were struggling to be patient with Isaac's constant need for attention and affection, my daily Bible reading just happened to be in I Corinthians 13 that day…"Love is patient.  Love is kind…it does not seek it's own…it is not easily provoked…it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

When I didn't even want to get out of bed one morning because I was completely depleted from pouring into this child (I do not know how single parents do it), God sent me encouragement through Ellie.  She shared a blog from a mom who also had a child with a bottomless tank needing to be filled with love and affection.  She said that her perspective changed when she chose to see this child as her calling and plan the rest of her day around him.  When she accepted that showing love to this child and spending time with him was her number one priority for the day, then she could surrender her to do list and accept that this was her job right now.

I have been rereading the book, "A Hunger for God" by John Piper and again, I see God's perfect timing as He used it to speak truth to my heart.  He referenced Deuteronomy 8:2-3:

"And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord you God
has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you,
testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments
or not.  And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna
which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might 
make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives
by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord."

We have been in a wilderness of sorts these last 13 months when our adoption came to a screeching halt and we didn't know how God would finish it.  I have been in a wilderness of sorts for the last month as I daily waited on God to finish all the paperwork…the birth certificate, the passport, the visa.  Being separated from my family and friends and support at home, in a country where I can't communicate or even read signs.  And God has used this wilderness to humble me, to reveal what was in my heart.  And frankly, the revelation was ugly.  The wilderness has uncovered by doubt, my selfishness, my impatience, my pride….Yuck!  In this wilderness God has tested me asking, "Are you willing to obey me when you don't understand me?  Are you willing to trust me when I don't move the mountains you asked me to move in your timing?  Will you depend on me to be everything you need, when your support has been stripped away?" 

And in this wilderness I have had to face the questions, Do I love God or do I love the gifts and miracles of God?  Where do I find my deepest satisfaction…in God?  or in His gifts?  In the wilderness God fed the Israelites with manna, miracle bread.  Manna was meant to teach them about God's miracle working power to provide in their distress.  And I, just like the Israelites, have been expecting miracles in my distress.  But in this passage God is saying, "Don't trust in bread, not even in miracle bread…trust in God alone."  

Psalm 63:1  "O God, Thou art my God.  I shall seek Thee earnestly, my soul thirsts for Thee, my flesh yearns for Thee in a dry and weary land where there is no water."  

Do I thirst for God like this?  Will I submit to His training ground in the wilderness?  As I sit here in the airport reflecting on God's goodness even in the wilderness, my two sons are playing video games together.  Overflowing with excitement to be home by the end of this day, they are too wired to sleep.  So once again I will share some of the gifts God gave us this week.  Gifts we would have missed if we got to go home in our timing…

Bowling with new friends!

 Ukrainian pizza!  Delicious!  

 Climbing to the top of the Bell Tower at St. Sophia's Cathedral

 Making cherry dumplings in our apartment (actually, we just boiled them…didn't actually make them)

Taking a walking tour of Kiev…very educational

The most delicious cappuccino ever!

 Touring Yanukovych's former estate with other American adopting families 

Lunch with Nastya!  This team of facilitators…Alex, Natalyia, Nastya, Alexsey, Svetlana, Alyona…are the hardest working, most sacrificial people you will meet.  We are so thankful for their persistent work to deal with Ukrainian bureaucracy and finish this adoption!

Ice cream with melted chocolate from Lviv Chocolate Shop!  Yum!

As I said, nothing was easy…even in the last week.  Our passport should have arrived on Wednesday, but last Monday was a Ukrainian holiday and I guess the mail workers had a hard time getting back to work after their vacation because there was no mail service Tuesday or Wednesday.  So the passport arrived on Thursday.  But we couldn't get an appointment for Friday because that was the July 4th holiday for the US Embassy.  On Monday when we finally had our appointment, we discovered that the officers couldn't pull up the visa form I had filled out online and submitted on Friday.  They said there was another world-wide glitch in the computer system on Friday and none of the forms that were submitted that day could be accessed.  With a sinking heart I envisioned being there for another two week shut down of the US Embassy.  Thank God they had a plan B, and gave me the paper form of the paperwork to fill out so Isaac's visa could get printed that day.

And now we wait to board the plane that will take us home.  When Isaac goes through customs in Dulles Airport he will be an American citizen!

Since I'm running on 4% battery power now I'll wrap it up for now.

Next reflections…hopefully will be posted from home!

Friday, July 3, 2015

Prayers from the West Side - written by Ellie

Father God,
We praise you for your mighty deeds! You have continually revealed your faithfulness and power to us. You have worked so many miracles in our adoption process so far, and if You never gave us another blessing You would still be worthy to be praised with every breath we have. We remember many milestones:

  • The gift of having Igor (now Isaac) visit us over a year and a half ago and the joy and laughter he brought to our home and so many others
  • Igor being moved from his dangerous city, Lughansk, in eastern Ukraine to safety in Odessa
  • The miracle You worked in making it possible for our adoption to continue last summer despite being told that it would be impossible
  • Answering our prayers in making it possible for Mom and Dad to travel to Ukraine and giving them protection each time
  • Answered prayers: the referrals
  • Being faithful and sovereign when all of our paperwork was thrown out in January and we had to start over
  • Gotcha day

There are SO many more answered prayers that we have experienced over the last several years. And even when things didn’t work out the way we hoped and we experienced disappointment, You always led us back to a place of reliance on You, showing us that You are always faithful. You are always good. You have a plan in mind that is WAY better than anything we could ask for ourselves. You are always in control, even when from a human perspective things seem chaotic.

Today, Father, we lift up our sweet mother and brothers. Lord, you know the discouragement they are experiencing right now. I ask that You would revive their hearts with the reminders of your promises.

 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.  For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”
Romans 8:28-29

“Remember my affliction and my wandering in the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! “The LORD is my portion, “ says my soul, “therefore I have hope in Him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone and be silent since He has laid it on him. Let him put his mouth in the dust, perhaps there is hope. Let him give his cheek to the smiter, let him be filled with reproach. For the LORD will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men. To crush under His feet all the prisoners of the land, to deprive a man of justice in the presence of the Most High, to defraud a man in his lawsuit—of these things the Lord does not approve. Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the LORD has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth? Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of His sins? Let us examine and probe our ways and let us return to the LORD. We lift up our heart and hands toward God in heaven.”
Lamentations 3:19-41

“’My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.  ‘And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.’”
Isaiah 55:8-9

“Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Don't be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
Isaiah 41:10

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28

“I know how to get along with humble means, and I know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Philippians 4:13

We cling to these promises, Heavenly Father. We ask that You bring our beloved family home soon so that we can celebrate Isaac as a gift to our family together. Help us to see ourselves in Isaac: undeserving children, who often can be quite wearisome, who are recipients of Your redeeming love and adoptive grace. Comfort Mom, Josiah, and Isaac with Your presence. We ask that You would be all that they need so that they can be satisfied when you are all that they have (-JD Greers). We ask that You remind them of all that You have done—that the same God who has answered all the prayers mentioned above and has moved so many mountains is continuing to work miracles and answer prayers every day. Remind them that You have a perfect purpose for what they are going through right now. There is purpose in meaning in their long stay, Isaac’s constant need for attention and affection, every delay…Father, You are sovereign. Nothing happens by accident. Help them to give You praise and thanks for ALL things; to rejoice ALWAYS. Encourage them with Your truth and promises. Help them “to declare You lovingkindness in the morning…” and to be empowered and strengthened by the depths of Your love every day “…and your faithfulness by night,” reflecting on all that You have done (Psalm 92:2). Help them to find their rest, peace, and home in You rather than in people or a zipcode. Give Josiah and Mom strength to wake up every day and view their care of Isaac as their joyful, God-given mission. Help them to shine Your light and love to Isaac and those around them. Revive their spirits. Comfort their souls. Encourage their hearts. You alone are able to do these things.

Finally, dear God, we pray these verses for our sweet family:

“For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His gory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
Ephesians 3:14-19

We love you, Jesus. We are thankful for the grace you have lavished upon us. We thank You for the gift of Your Son, that we even have the privilege of coming before You! We praise You for Your faithfulness and for the encouragement of Your promises. We trust in You as You continue to complete this adoption in a way that brings You the most glory. Our lives are Yours, Heavenly Father.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within in us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
Ephesians 3:20-21

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

In the homestretch...

It's been a week since our last post so I thought I'd take a minute to share some pictures and let you know what we've been up to.

On Wednesday, June 24th we applied for Issac's passport in Odessa. It takes 5 business days (or more) to get the passport.  Monday was a Ukrainian holiday, so we are hoping that the passport will arrive on Wednesday or Thursday.  

That evening we got to go to the ballet at the beautiful Odessa Opera House with Laura and our new friend Michael.  The tickets were $2.30 a piece!

On Thursday the boys got their haircut with Laura's hairstylist and then we met up with friends from Colonial who are also here in Odessa, adopting two children, and went to a water park.  The boys had a blast!

The local convenience store near Laura's apartment.

On Friday, we took a tour of the catacombs.  The catacombs are a series of underground tunnels that run for miles and miles underneath Odessa.  When Odessa was being built in the 18th century, the people had to go underground to dig out limestone for building materials because there are very few trees here.  This created miles and miles of tunnels.  During WWII these tunnels were used as hiding places by the residents of Odessa.  Some people had to live in these tunnels for 2-3 years to escape the Nazis.  Life had to go on underground so there were sleeping quarters, a kitchen, a hospital, a school, a printing press, a post office, a dating bench, a place to iron, guns for fighting, etc...
The men's sleeping quarters

 Tools and devices used in the catacombs

 The laundry and ironing room

Memorials to all those who lost their lives in the catacombs

The school 

The students :)

The hospital

On Saturday we went back to Camp Lela for a few hours.  Isaac's orphanage was there for the week so he had the opportunity to see some of his friends and say one last goodbye.

The boys even got to ride a horse, which they loved!

Sunday, we were so thankful to be able to go to church with Laura one last time before we got on the 12:30 bus to travel back to Kiev.  As I said goodbye to Laura, I was overcome with emotion and thankfulness for all she had done for us during the last 3 weeks in Odessa.  Such a gift from God she was to us.  I don't know how we would have managed without her.

The 7 hour bus ride was crowded, hot, and loud, but we survived and were thankful Alex was waiting for us at the bus station to take us to our very nice apartment.  For the first time in 3 weeks, I am sleeping on a real bed!  

On Monday, we had Issac's medical appointment.  He had a brief physical and got pricked for his TB test.  Once again we saw God work out details for us.  Alex told us when we arrived that we might have a problem getting a physical for Isaac.  He has no medical records or documentation of vaccinations.  The medical center could have refused to see him for this reason.  Thankfully they allowed him to have his appointment despite the missing records.  Praise God!  And thank you God, once again, for giving us Alex to fight for us here in Ukraine!  The appointment took 3 long hours, but during that time we met another American family, the Tidwells, who are finishing up their adoption of two daughters.  What a privilege to meet this family and see their strong faith and deep love for God!
We spent the rest of the day with the Tidwells and Hoeffels touring the WWII museum.
As we were walking to the museum we just "happened" to bump into our new friend Michael whom we had met at Camp Lela in Odessa.  He's been in Kiev for a few days before he flies home to Arkansas.  Definitely a God appointment!  Michael was so thankful to have friends to hang out with for the afternoon and evening.  
The boys favorite part of the museum was climbing on all the tanks and statues. 

Nikita (adopted by Hoeffels, Isaac, Josiah, Grace and Melodie (adopted by Tidwells) and bio daughter Charleston.

More climbing...

and more climbing...

This statue is the Motherland Monument.  It's breath taking!  Even larger than the Statue of Liberty!

More climbing!

This is what our sweet boy did for most of the time in the war museum.  He'd find a museum worker and sit and ask question after question about the museum.

More climbing!

The Tidwell Family

The Hoeffel Family

Supper at Oliva, one of our favorite restaurants in Kiev.

Praise God, the US embassy fixed their computer problem last Thursday!  All the children who are in the hosting program that Alex and Nastya work with were able to have their visa appointments on Saturday and flew out as scheduled on Monday.  This morning we had our first embassy appointment.  It went very smoothly and only lasted about 15 minutes.  Now we must wait for the passport to arrive so we can have our 2nd appointment.  Once we've had the 2nd appointment and receive the visa, we are free to go home!  We have purchased plane tickets for Friday morning, hoping and praying that the passport will arrive in time for us to finish everything up on Thursday.