Saturday, January 31, 2009

It Is Decreed, Let It Be So

Yesterday, after a lot of running around, we were able to obtain the Final Decree from the court, AKA Their Ticket Outta Here. We had court on January 19 and this is the decree from the judge that grants Valentina and Sergey to us. It did not take effect however, until after the 10-day waiting period expired. Ukrainian law provides this time to allow for appeals. I've never heard of anyone appealing, but who knows. Even if someone appeals, they'd get a pretty tough grilling by the judge. Where have you been all of this time? Why have you never visited the child before now? Do you have the means to care for this child? You're planning to adopt this child, then, are you? etc. It's VERY unlikely to happen.

The Final Decree is the piece of paper, 3 sheets in our case, that is the key for the remaining adoption tasks we have. Friday, the first step was to go to the courthouse and get it. Now, let me ask ask you: How many decree originals signed by the judge do you think we will need? One? How about 14. Our facilitator was in a hurry, so we only got two for now. Will get the rest next week. We went down to the office to get birth certificates, but uh oh, she told us that there is a mistake in the decree. Some place name is wrong. So it was back to the courthouse to get it fixed. They fixed it fast enough, but the judge was presiding over a criminal trial. Our two updated decrees needed his signatures. So we had to wait and wait. Finally Nataliya was able to get the signatures. We went over to #4 so that I could sign some documents, then we went to the passport office to get that started. Throw in a trip to the Notary's office somewhere in there and by this time it was 5:00 and that was all we could get done. We never did make it back down to the birth certificate office. That office is closed on Monday. I'm not sure if we've had a setback or not, there is some overlap in the things going on here.

On Monday, our facilitator will be in Valya's registration city, Rozdilna, dealing with the property issue that she has.

Monday will also be a big day for us. At 9:00 AM, I will go and sign out Sergey from the orphanage. He will be with me permanently after that point. Afterward, I will take him for a haircut, and go food shopping for his going-away party after school.

Tuesday, Sergey will have to come along as we go to Rozdilna to get Valya's birth certificate. Things are still tentative, but I'm thinking we'll bring Valya down to Odessa overnight so that I can take her shopping. She needs a few articles of clothing yet that I don't have. We didn't know her size, so we weren't able to bring them from America. Neither of the kids can take their clothing from their orphanages, not even their underwear, so I have to provide them with all when they sign out. On Wednesday, both of the kids need to get photographed for their Ukrainian passports. They'll need them for travel. Then I'm thinking we'll have Valya's party at Andreyevo and I'll sign her out. If this ends up being the plan, I will finally have both kids with me permanently by Wednesday night. This has been a long time coming, it is surreal to even think about.

I went down to Sergey's orphanage this afternoon. I knew that he wouldn't be aware that he was leaving on Monday. I gathered up a bag of clothing and shoes for him, and headed over there. When I met him, I told him that I have big news for him - Monday you will leave. He didn't understand what I meant. Leave, to go where? No, I mean you will be leaving here forever! At 9:00 on Monday. It took him a while to grasp it as I have never hinted before as to when he would be able to leave. He was SO happy. I showed him the clothes that I brought. I told him, on Monday, you will not have to go to school. Don't put those clothes on, put these on. We went through the bag to make sure everything was in there. Then I told him, let's go, we're going to go have pizza at M's. M and Sergey have been friends since he was in 1st grade and he had never been to her apartment before. He gave his things to Grisha to save for him, then the next thing was to go find a supervisor. In the past, I've been very humble about asking permission for things. This time, I just told her, I am taking Sergey out to eat, we will be back in a couple of hours. She looked a little surprised, apparently she hadn't heard that Sergey is leaving on Monday. I told her that and that put an end to any resistance.

We had a nice dinner with M and her roommate. Sergey got to look at photo albums of pictures that M had taken at the orphanage over the years. They had fun reminiscing about former classmates and friends. M put him to work helping with an apple crisp. After dinner, we played Dutch Blitz, which Sergey won. That was quite an achievement, since M is an expert and usually wins.

As we were walking back to the orphanage, we stopped at a red light. He was just standing there bouncing and singing, "So happy. Happy happy happy" with a big smile. I told him, "Me too."

Here are some pictures.

These are Valentina and Sergey's current birth certificates. We have to turn these in when we get their new ones, with their new names. My understanding is that they will be destroyed, wiping out completely their original identities. Reminds me of our own adoptions, as Christians, into Christ's family. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" II Cor. 5:17

I showed Sergey his Final Decree. The one decree actually covers both Sergey and Valya.

These are Sergey's clothes he'll wear on Monday.

Helping out with apple crisp.

We have called you "Son" for a long time, it just took the government a while to come around! Hold on, in just two days your life will change forever!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Greener Pastures

I get into these moods.

I intended to post about the joy of getting our court decree today, making it official that Valentina Grace Louise and Sergey Alan Gordon are our children forever. I have indescribable joy that 18 months of labor, prayer, and passion for 2 children we had never met, has come to this. Soon we will all go home to America, and leave this all behind.

Or will we?

I have unforgettable images etched in my mind, movie reels that play back when I don't expect them. A glimpse, a smell, a sound, brings it back.

How about our kids? How do they leave behind a significant portion of their lives? How do they forget the images, experiences, the emotions of life in the orphanage?

I will be leaving Ukraine different than when I came.

Because I have felt pain and humility at the orphanages that I have visited while in Ukraine. The gracious and loving children that do not deserve to be where they are. Even so, almost always able to share a smile. At least for now.

I think about the girl that was pushed off the steps by a boy, fell down on to her back onto the rough jagged concrete beneath, and ran limping around the building where no one could see her cry. Having no one to run to for comfort.

I think about the girl who looked at me and Mark longingly, speaking a thousand words with her sweet face, not once, but over and over.

I think about another American family here that made arrangements to remove their new son from the orphanage out of fear for his safety, because of jealous bullies.

I think about the 14 kids who unselfishly shared their Christmas candy with me, as they would lay it out on the floor, their treasure, every piece counted and recounted.

I think about the ones that would greet me with a smile and outstretched hand as I arrived, honestly glad to see me. The 14 kids that would come to me and say Thank you, in English, for the banana.

I think about the boy who suffered indescribably as he was set on fire by the other street kids as he slept. And yet, smiles when he sees me. And not just me.

I think about these jewels, hidden away from their society. Like discarded diamonds. Behind concrete walls and iron gates. People walking and driving by every day oblivious.

Hope keeps these children going. Hope that someday, someone will come for them. But it rarely happens at this age. Maybe today will be the day they're surprised by the visitor that wants them. Someone has come to take me out of here, to a better life! No, well then maybe tomorrow.

I question God, why don't you do something about this, and the King of Glory reminds me, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

I understand better, now, St. Francis,

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
And Amen. I will be leaving Ukraine different than when I came. In many ways.

All of the images were taken at Orphanage #4 in Odessa, January 28, 2009.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Do You Love Her?"

Today is Day 10 of our mandatory 10-day wait. Tomorrow, Friday, the judge's decree will take effect and the kids will be ours officially forever and NO ONE can take them away. Our facilitator arrives in Odessa tomorrow so that we can start the next round of paperwork. Tomorrow, we will get the Final Decree from the courthouse, which is the key for the rest. Next, we get their new birth certificates, then passports. Valya owns some property so we will try to deal with that as quickly as possible. After that we go to Kiev, for the US Embassy tasks, then home. Nancy and Mark are anxious for us to get home.

We have two children, Valentina and Sergey, and they are in two different orphanages, Sergey is at Intyernat #4 in Odessa, and Valya is at Andreyevo-Ivanovka. Andreyevo is 150 km from Odessa and it takes about two hours to get there from here.

I was able to spend this past weekend at Valya's orphanage. I had a really great time there. The Andreyevo orphanage is SO different from #4. #4 feels like a prison, while Andreyevo is more homey. In fact, it was a lot like a college dorm. It is much different from #4. Don't get me wrong, though, it is still an orphanage, and the kids are kind of on their own for the most part while they're in the dorms. I was very sad for the kids I spent time with because of their lack of families.

At Andreyevo, there are two dormitories, having two floors each, with two wings on each floor, for a total of eight wings. Each wing has four bedrooms, and each bedroom has 4-6 beds. I do not know how full the orphanage is, but you can do the math and see that there is room for 128-192 kids. Each wing also has a bathroom and shower room.

I had taken a bunch of food to Valya thinking that she would squirrel it away to eat after I left. But no, she kept opening things all day long on Saturday, and I believe it was all gone by Saturday night. She shared her food with everyone. She is very generous and very sweet. I had a chance to observe Valya in her environment, and I don't think there is anyone there that doesn't know her well. In fact, in many cases she seems to be someone the kids look up to. I can tell that she is well-loved by so many, and while they are happy for her, it will be hard for them to lose her.

I took my computer and camera along with me. When I first arrived, I showed them pictures of America, our relatives, and where Valya would live. They loved looking at pictures. Once that was done, they asked "Igra?" That means games. There are a few games so we set the computer up in a room and kids played games up until the time I left. Also, my camera was very popular. I just let the kids have it all weekend. The only time I saw it was when the battery was dead and it needed to be recharged. Same for my cell phone. It has a few games on it and it can take pictures. I didn't mind at all. I knew that they would get some great pictures as the kids would be themselves. They are not natural if I take them.

I was told by my facilitator that mostly Italians adopt from Andreyevo, and in fact, an Italian family was there at the same time as me adopting a boy. I had a nice time visiting with them at meal times. They had a 17 y.o. bio daughter with them. She hung out in our wing a little and the girls just adored her.

If you could meet the kids I met, you would fall in love with them immediately. I do so wish that all of you reading this would decide today to adopt from Ukraine. Email me, I can tell you about some of the older kids there.

Here are some pictures. All of them were taken by the kids at Andreyevo. I have no idea who took which.

When I arrived on Saturday morning, the kids were cleaning their rooms and their wing of the dorm. They had moved their bunkbeds out and were cleaning under them, and doing a lot of sweeping. In this first picture, the bunkbed is on the other side of the room. They put all in their place again shortly.

Looking at pictures of America. I downloaded copies of all of our digital pictures from back home onto this laptop, so there was a wide variety for them to see.

Spending time with Valya in her room.

Valya loves to dress up and be silly.

Valya also likes to dance. The first time we went to see her, the official at the orphanage was telling us a little about her. One of the things she told us was that Valya likes to dance. She wouldn't dance for me, but once in a while I'd catch her. The boys weren't as inhibited. Some of them are very good dancers and are quite athletic. Their DVD player also plays music, it was often playing music during daytime hours.

This view of the TV room shows how the bedrooms are situated. This is much different from #4, where the dorms are locked up tight all day and open only at night.

A week's worth of food I brought was gone in a day since Valya gave it all away, bless her heart.

They take showers in the evening here. Saturday night, a lot of kids took their turn. The kids take care of each other, there were no adults around in the evening.

The only time I saw an adult in their wing was when they had something they were supposed to get done or they were supposed to be somewhere, such as grupa or meal times. This lady was the one who always came around.

Each of the two days I was there, we all had to go to grupa, or an assembly over in the theatre. In each case, a couple of different classes would put on a short musical program. They were fantastic, I was wishing I had my camera. But the kids had it and it was hard to keep track of who had it. The theatre was still decorated for New Year's.

Evenings are TV time. The kids were still up after I went to bed at midnight. I think on weekends they are allowed to stay up as late as they want. But they still have to be up in the morning.

The computer was very popular with the boys for games, not so much the girls.

Anastasia wanted to practice reading English with me. She had the book Jemima Puddle-Duck. Their accent when they speak English is so cute. In the 3rd picture with Valya you can see me trying to help Nastiya with the th sound. It is difficult for them. Valya wants to say Mupher or Fapher, I have to help her with the th.

Waiting for breakfast. The dining hall is in the distance. You can see some kids already lined up. They enter by class. I wasn't able to figure out how they decide who goes in when.

It was in the dining hall where I first met this Italian family, shown with the boy that they are adopting. Their daughter, Nicoletta, knew a little bit of English and Spanish. I know some Spanish as well. Plus Italian and Spanish are similar enough that many words are understandable to the other. So with Spanish and the occasional English word, I was able to have actual conversation with them. They had prepared three dossiers before they got their SDA appt. They would be returning to Italy, and returning again to get Sasha. Their situation sounded just like ours. Nicoletta was very popular with the kids in Valya's dorm. Nicoletta braided Valya's hair for her.

I played soccer against my daughter! Well, it was a sock ball. We played boys against the girls and it was very energetic. Valya loves physical activity, I think she is probably a good athlete. I can't wait to get her plugged into sports at school in America.

I slept on this couch in one of the girls' rooms. It folds down flat. I had a rough night Saturday night. I woke up at 2 AM with a heavy burden for the kids. The place was quiet and dark. I laid their crying and praying for them. I finally got up and went to each bed in each room and put my hand on their beds and prayed for each child. Between sobs, I prayed that God would give them a family, protect them, help them to know Jesus, help them to make wise choices, and give them a blessed future and a spouse and kids of their own. One of the early visits we had with Valya and her friend Anya, they were talking about their future husbands. It was striking that for an orphan girl they dreamed of a husband that would provide for them. How many 13 or 14 y.o. American girls dream like that? I was up the rest of the night in the TV room reading the Bible on my computer and resting.

Hanging on the couch with Vera and Ira.

This is Alyona, 12 y.o, and she sleeps in Valya's room. She is a real cuddlebug, super affectionate, and was kind of my buddy while I was there. She was hosted in America last summer and will be again this summer. She knows some English. I really hope she finds a family. She is very smart and is a good artist. She drew a portrait of me and gave it to me. Alyona has been in the orphanage for 10 of her 12 years. She told me that her mother "never have her", and her father died in a car accident when she was 2. She craved hugs and touching, and I was glad to do it. How many hugs did your kids get in the last 10 years from a parent? Alyona, has gotten, oh, about 0.

This is Ira. She is lean and graceful, with a gorgeous smile, though you can't see it in this picture. The girls know the English word, beautiful, and they say of her, "she is beautiful". And she is, with a very gentle spirit.

Me and Valya's friend Luba. She always has a sly twinkle in her eye.

Sunday afternoon, Valya, Ira, Alyona, Nastiya, and I took a walk down to the pond, or ozyero, that is near the orphanage. Andreyevo is very rural and it must be beautiful there in the summertime. You may be wondering about the title of this post. We were standing around talking by the pond, and Nastiya asked me, pointing at Valya, "You loff Valya?". And I said yes I love her very much, and gave Valya a hug and a kiss on the top of her head. The girls all smiled. But it must have been killing them inside.

Alyona has a tender heart for spiritual things. She showed me her Ukrainian Bible and I asked her if whe would read John chapter 3 to me, and she did. I found it in the index, but it was kind of hard. It is spelled Oanna in cyrillic. I told her it was a very important chapter. We must be born again to enter heaven. Read it for yourself!

Here are some of the kids I found on my camera. As I said, I didn't take any of these pictures. I'm sorry I don't know all of their names. Most are from other grades and may even be brothers and sisters.

I was very blessed to get a glimpse into Valya's life here at Andreyevo. The kids are absolutely wonderful. I wish the adoption system in Ukraine made it easier to adopt these kids. It is a tremendous sacrifice for most people to come here. To those who have done it, doing it, and are planning to, THANK YOU. I know you are doing what you can. For the rest of you, will you consider it?

I leave you with another random picture I found on my camera. It's a perfect picture of a young man walking alone, head down, in the mist at the orphanage. Blessings to you.