Saturday, November 30, 2013

I can only do so much

I am the President and founder of Grace to Ukraine, a hosting and outreach program for the orphaned and impoverished.  Its not always easy separating that "job" from my personal life.  Last night, over on the GtU blog, I blogged about a boy that Grace to Ukraine plans to host next summer; a boy who is friends with my new son, Sam.  I wanted to share it here, with those of you who might not otherwise make it to my GtU blog. Please read and share:

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving Day!

I am sitting here in Ukraine watching the sun rise on Thanksgiving Day.  This American holiday is not recognized in Ukraine so it is “business as usual” here.  Our family back home celebrated Thanksgiving a week ago before we left for Ukraine, so I am content with business as usual on this cold wintry day.

We had court 2 days ago.  We have done this in Ukraine 4 times before.  Each court has been different; with different judges and prosecutors and different philosophies.  Out of all our adoptions, this one seemed to be most focused on the children.  All the  participants, from the judge to the jury, seemed to be genuinely interested in our particular family.  Most of their questions of us and the children were about relationships.  I remember one particular judge 5 years ago just wanted to talk to Gabe about  the economy and business opportunities in America.  Then another was just in a big hurry and went through the motions.  This judge was so personable and, well, insightful.  I am thankful today that she was our judge and that Lewis, Sam and Bella are now our children.

I can even say now that I am thankful for the 2 months it took to get to this place.  Yes, without complications, we should have all been home by now.  But I can see how God used this extra time to weave the hearts of us and our children together more tightly.  Each phone conversation and facebook  message over the last month has brought enlightenment and deeper attachment.  We have stories to tell.  Shared memories of meals, blunders, adventures and even arguments.  We have become a family.

Our first weekend in Ukraine I had asked my kids what they were most thankful for and they had replied “being put into the orphanage.”  That answer resonated deep within my soul.  It was an answer, a moment, that God used to refine my ungrateful, untrusting heart.  Three orphaned children, with little exposure to the gospel, recognizing the sovereignty of God in their suffering.  They knew that without the orphanage, there would have been no redemption.  I see life a little bit differently today because Lewis, Sam and Bella are in it. 

Lewis’ name was chosen by him with suggestions from us.  Lewis is my maiden name.  Gray is Gabe’s grandmother’s maiden name.  Lewis Gray Davie, we give you the heritage of a family.  Forever.  We chose as his life verse:  “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord.”  Psalm 127:3.

Sam’s name was chosen by him.  We added to it and came up with a name that suits him perfectly.  Shaun Samuel Davie, you are a gift to us.  We chose as his life verse: “…and she called his name Samuel, for she said, “I have asked for him from the Lord.” 1 Samuel 1:20.

Bella chose her own name as well.  We suggested Izabella which she was happy with and then she told us to choose a middle name.  The day I was looking up Sam’s life verse, I turned to the book of Ruth and there was Bella’s middle name.  Ruth 4:14:  “Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a Redeemer.’ Izabella Naomi Davie, you have been redeemed. 

Each of these children emphatically rejected any notion of keeping their Ukrainian names.  They are new creations.  They know it.  And they desire to learn how to be a Davie.  What a beautiful picture of the Gospel.  God has used and will continue to use all 10 of my children to remind me of His grace.  Grace that is with you in suffering.  Grace that redeems.  Grace that sanctifies. 

And that is business as usual in Ukraine on this beautiful Thanksgiving Day.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Going Home

About to lay my head down for the last time in Ukraine.  At least for October!  We will be back the week of November 25th for court.  What a way to celebrate Thanksgiving!  So many good things have transpired the last few days that I wanted to share them while they are fresh on my mind.

Each night, Natalya, Laci and I gathered to pray for the kids who had just moved from Shotova to Severodonestk.  Each morning we would arrive at the orphanage and hear how God was answering our prayers.  From Sasha:  The rules will not be so hard.  We can handle this.  From Dima:  The rules are for our good and we will get a good education.  From Zhenya:  Everything is good.  I like it here.  Zhenya is the boy who had been living with his family who was trying to run away the day of the move. I am grateful to all who have been praying for this transition.

Sunday we were able to have sabrinya with some of the kids.  Sabrinya is Russian for gathering and is what we, at Grace to Ukraine, call our bible study time.  I was able to share the gospel and remind the kids why we are here: because of Christ.  I admired their attentiveness and rejoiced in being allowed this opportunity.

I was able to spend a lot of extra time the last 4 days with our new son, and the oldest of the three, Alosha.  We needed this time together.  Today, he was my translator!  Not sure how well it went, but we survived!  He is a good boy and, at 17, very much desires to be taught what he knows he has missed.  I was happy to be with him the first time he ever ice skated, just as I had been with Lena and Sasha.  Happy to see his child-like joy in learning a new skill.  Happy to take him a second time "because it is extreme and I love extreme."

I am thankful for the little ways each day that God has allowed me to parent the children.  This may sound strange to some, but even the fact that they ask me for permission to go and smoke is a big step.  They know that they are going to have to stop smoking when they leave Ukraine but until that time, we have chosen not to fight the battle.  It is sweet to me when the other boys, not my kids, come up to me and ask if they can go smoke.  They used to try and hide the fact; lie and say they were going to the bathroom; or just disappear.  So when a child seeks permission for something he is used to doing without permission, I am thankful.  Even more so, if the moment is inappropriate, I am thankful that they submit to my "no" and wait.

I am thankful that I got to sit next to Lena and hold her hand as she apologized to the Director for some inappropriate behavior.  Happy for the opportunity to model conflict resolution.  Happy to whisper in her ear:  "I will always love you.  No matter what." Even as other voices were condemning her and telling her no one would want her if she continued that behavior.  We prayed one night that God would send a teacher more understanding of Lena.  The next day we met a teacher who recognized that the behavior from the previous day was the result of fear and anger.  Lena told us how this teacher prayed over her and we later learned that she prays with the children daily.

It has been hard to be away from my other children for 4 weeks.  I miss Vitalik, Vicka, Roman and Alexandra.  I am happy Jay was here for most of the time but now I miss him, too.  But even though I miss them, it is good to know that they are warm and safe and well taken care of.  I do not have to worry about them.  Its harder, though, when you have to leave one or more of your children in an orphanage.  I never imagined that I would finally get to Ukraine, only to return to Alabama with out them.  I will miss "Mom, можно?" (Can I have this?)  I will miss Lena's arm in mine as we walk.  And walk. And walk.  I will miss the akroshka ordered by Alosha at EVERY meal.  I will miss random hugs. Kisses on the cheek.  Thumb wars.  And brushing hair out of Sasha's eyes.  But what rends my  heart into is to think of 139 children with no home to go to; no mom to tuck them in; no dad to play ball with; nothing but an institution.  I will take home 3 of these children and will have only scratched the surface.  I am going home.  But my heart will always long to embrace the orphaned children of Ukraine.

Friday, October 25, 2013

God is Sovereign Over Court Dates

Court was supposed to be on October 24th.  That was the day originally scheduled to make Alosha, Sasha and Lena a permanent part of our family.  Instead I was caught up in what seemed a surreal drama, only it was all too real.  For me.  And for 21 orphaned children.  October 24th was the day the orphanage at Shotova closed its doors and transferred the children in its care to an orphanage in Severodonestsk.  As I reflect upon it, certain moments stand out to me.

As I walk into the orphanage that morning, children who are usually reserved, run to me and embrace me.  It is more than a welcome hug.  It is a plea for security.  For comfort.  For hope.

The scene is chaotic as we wait 2 hours for the bus.  But there is consistency to it.  Then, interrupting the chaos, is a loud bang, shouting, concerned looks.  A 15 year old boy has tried to kick down a door.  Attempts are made to restrain him but it is not needed.  He leans into the wall, buries his face in his hands and cries.  Alarm turns into comfort as guardians place their hands on his shoulders, rub his back, try to tell him that everything will be okay.

A young boy has been allowed to live with his family.  I have never seen him at the orphanage with his sister.  For just this move, he has been brought back.  He paces like a caged animal.  Going first to one locked door and then another trying to escape.  He tries to sit down, but within seconds he jumps up and runs down the hall, pounding on yet another door.   His eyes dart back and forth, his mind trying to formulate a plan.  A plan that never comes to fruition.

I see guardians crying.  I realize that in spite of its shortcomings, Shotova was a place where these children were loved.  I feel sadness for these women who are losing their jobs. Women who have never done anything but care for these children.  Women who will soon be left inside an empty, cold building. 

I sit next to  boy with a quivering chin.  I put my arm around him and give him a squeeze.  “I am going to try to bring you to Alabama next summer for hosting,” I tell him.  He reaches into the pocket of his hoody and pulls out 5 photographs.  “This is my sister,” he says.  And my cousin.  And my grandmother.  You can only see her leg in the picture.

A boy walks up to the new Director.  His brother was supposed to be moving but they had not been able to find him.  He was with their family.  The boy asks “Can I come back here to see my family?”  “If an adult comes and fills out the proper legal documents, then yes,” the Director replies.  Tears fall.  He walks away and spends the rest of his time at Shotova sitting on the arm of a sofa, face buried, weeping for the family he was losing again.

That night, at the new orphanage, I stand in a circle with 6 boys. A 16 year old boy lays his head on my shoulder.  Words are not needed.  It is enough that there is shoulder to lean on.

Upon greeting one boy, I hug him.  He buries his face into my coat and weeps.  I can feel the pain that shakes his whole body.  This is the same boy I have promised to try to host.  A boy with no hope for a family.  A boy who sees his friends being adopted.  A boy who wants to be loved like Sasha, and Kostya, and others whose Mamas have promised to come.  I have told Sasha and Lena:  I will return in one month.  You can manage this for one month.  Be patient.  What can you say to one who must be patient for many months?  Many years?  One who tends to act like those around him expect him to act? 

These children are not in a bad orphanage.  It seems to be a very good orphanage, in fact.  Structured, well-kept, supervised, safe. Their grief comes, rather, from a lack of control over their own lives.  Another loss.  Another glaring reminder that I AM AN ORPHAN.  Everyone knows why they are there.  They feel inferior, perhaps are even considered inferior. Phones have been taken.  Doors are locked.  They can’t even communicate with each other unless they are in the same class.  The most endearing aspect of Shotova, to me, was the sense of community among the children.  They genuinely seemed to care for another.  And now they feel isolated from even their own siblings.   

I know why we did not have court on October 24th.  Who would have held Vova?  Whose shoulder would Kostya have laid his head on?  Who would have said to Spartak:  It is going to be okay?  God left my children in Shotova.  God has sent them to Severodonetsk.  God sent Natalya and Laci in His perfect timing to stand with me.  We can’t do much.  But we can show these children that they are not alone.  Not forgotten.  If nothing else, for a few days, we can be consistent faces.  A reminder that they are loved; not just by us, but by many in America who have reached out and not forgotten.  I pray for open doors in these few days to remind them that God is in control.  That they can trust Him.  That they can pray and he will hear.  

Plans, they are a-changin'

The last few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster.  Anton went to the SDA Monday, October 7th,  to submit our paperwork.  Things were going so well; moving along so quickly.  We anticipated court would be October 24th.  But when the SDA looked over our documents, they would not accept them.  There is a court decree terminating parental rights.  It terminates the rights of a father not named on the birth certificate.  They accepted this document 8 years ago when they registered the children for adoption but now they want us to get it fixed.  Anton spent the next 2 weeks going from birth certificate office to Inspector’s office to Judge’s office trying to work out a solution. There were technicalities.  Legal issues.  We consulted at least 2 lawyers.  The judges had conferences.  There was talk  of re-registering one of the children; of separating them; of having to wait another year.

And the move loomed in the distance, like a monster waiting to devour.  You see, we had known for quite some time that the orphanage our children were living in would close near the end of October.   In my foolishness, I had assured my kids they would not have to move.  They have already lived in 3 different orphanages.  I assured them we would be finished with our process by then and the only other place they ever had to move was home. 

The orphanage director tried his best to keep the kids.  He understood this move was not the best for them at this time.  The judge over-seeing the decree problem was understanding and tried to come up with  a time-sensitive solution.  Anton hurried to get everything filed in their current city of residence, praying, not just that we can have court there, but that the move will not necessitate a new referral and starting over at square one. 

And, in the meantime, the orphanage closed, and my kids have been transferred to another institution.  I want to write a separate blog about this.  For now, I just wanted to give an update on our own process.  As of now, it looks like we can have court the week of Thanksgiving.  I will go home next week and then Gabe and I will both return for court.  There is a 10 day wait after the decree is signed fixing the decree issue; I am hoping it will be signed today.  Then there is a 2 week wait for the approval from the SDA.   But I realize that at any moment, things could change and more delays could ensue.  I am totally trusting God in this and yet my heart aches for my children and the others who are facing the very difficult transition into a new orphanage. 

Praying for the day all orphanages will close, to be opened never again. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Week in Ukraine

Its Monday morning, October 7th, as I sit here in our apartment in Lugansk.  I can see Jay asleep on the small couch.  Alosha is next to me playing a game on his phone.  Sasha is sleeping peacefully next to him.  In the other room I can see Lena still curled up warmly under her blanket without a care.  And I am happy.  This blog post will cover more details of the week as we went through the process here in our region.  

We picked up our referral from the SDA on Tuesday, September 30th.  We met a couple of other families while there.  One was adopting from Poltava and we told them about the kids we knew in Birmingham that were from Poltava.  They were from Georgia. We also met a family from North Carolina.  The south was rocking the SDA this week!  

We left the SDA, with Zhenya riding along, and made our way through traffic back to the airport as we had been told that our lost luggage would arrive that afternoon. As we approached the airport I reached in my bag to retrieve our passports but they were not there.  I searched high and low through Sasha's car and our bags.  I told Sasha and Gabe:  I now longer care about that luggage; without our passports we can't get to Lugansk or even continue to adoption process!"  We were about to call the SDA to see if I had left them there when Jay got out of the car and there under him were two passports. And sure enough the fact that our luggage had not yet arrived did not upset me at all.

We drove to Zhulany, the other airport across town to catch our 8:00 flight to Lugansk.  Anton met us, we stopped by the supermarket then got settled in at the Hotel Lugansk.  He picked us up at 8am.  It was cold and raining but nothing could spoil my day.  I was about to see my sweet children.  We drove to Anratsit for our meeting with Sasha and Lena's Inspector.  That is what the social worker is called.  She was very kind and gracious.  On the way to the orphanage, I showed her photos of our home and family.  We got to Shotova and went into the school building.  The first person we saw was Pasha.  He gave us a big hug then said he would go find Lena. We headed down the hall to a conference room to do paperwork and soon around the corner came Sasha, then Alosha, then Lena.  Best hugs ever.  

We were in the conference room several hours as the Inspector reviewed the kids' files and Sasha and Lena signed their consents.  These can have no mistakes and they had to be redone several times.  But alas the job was complete.  I am so thankful that Alosha came.  He is at a trade school and his paperwork will be done by a different inspector; but it would not have been the same without him there the first day.  We took him with us to Lutigino to sign documents at the Notary then on to Alchevsk to meet his Inspector.  We ran into a little more difficulty there and ended up making an appointment to go to his trade school the following day at 1:00 PM.  We went back and got Sasha and Lena walked to Green Park, a nice restaurant in Antratsit, for dinner.  Finally, Sasha got his pizza he had been craving.  Afterward, we went back to the Hotel Wellness where we were staying and had a little birthday celebration for Sasha who had tuned 15 in September. 

Thursday the snow was moving in.  By now my friend and translator, Katya, as well as my friend and fellow adoptive mom, Brandy, had joined us.  While Anton took care of a document issue, the three of us went to Shotova to visit.  When we got there we learned that the office at the orphanage had been broken into and a computer had been stolen.  The kids were not having classes and were under lockdown.  We spent the morning there then Anton picked us up and we drove to Alchevsk.  The snow made for a beautiful drive.  The Inspector came out to meet us and we drove to Losha's trade school.  We met in a small teacher's lounge and once again, reviewed documents and watched Alosha sign his consent.  The afternoon went by fast and everyone was helpful, professional and kind.  Anton took us back to Antratsit and this evening we took a cab to Green Park and had dinner with Sasha, Lena, Kostya, Brandy and Katya.  

We spent Friday morning at the orphanage visiting with all the kids there and watching a performance they did for Teacher's Day.  Ideally, paperwork would have been completed by now but one of the kids' court documents was missing a case number.  Anton spent hours dealing with that but finished up everything late Friday afternoon.  Paperwork complete except for our petition for a court date which he put off until Tuesday after he submits all our documents to the SDA.  He is doing that today.  We will go back to Lutigino to the Notary's office tomorrow and sign that petition then Gabe will head back home until court.  We are hoping for court on October 24th.  

All three kids spent the weekend with us in Lugansk.  We shopped for shoes, warm coats, hats and jeans.  Our luggage is supposed to be delivered today. I hope all their new shirts and socks and underwear, etc are still in there!   But in the scheme of things, it won't really matter.  Praising God for His goodness, mercy and grace that has surrounded us thus far.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

First Few Days in Ukraine

I have been updating our trip on facebook but knew some of you would appreciate details.  We met Brandy Torvinen in Atlanta.  She had to come to the US Embassy in Kyiv to file some paperwork so we decided to fly together.  We were all boarded on the plane to Paris when someone smelled smoke and after some investigation, it was decided that we would change planes.  All that resulted in a 3 hour delay.  We only had an hour and half layover in Paris so we obviously missed our connecting flight.

I knew it was a possibility that we would not be able to get a new flight until the following day, causing us to miss our SDA appointment but was still at peace that everything would be OK.  God is certainly in control.  I rejoiced when they were able to put us on a flight the same day, landing in Kyiv at 5:30 pm, as opposed to our original time of 11:30 am.  Our luggage was not so lucky.

Brandy's luggage was available 2 hours before she had to get on a train last night.  Apparently, ours will be available 2 hours before we have to get on a plane tonight to travel to Lugansk to see our 3 kiddos.  We will pick up our referral at 4:00; head out to the airport where our luggage is supposed to arrive at 5:30.  We will pick it up and hopefully be at the other airport by 7:00 for our 8:00 flight.  Whew!

None of that really matters as much as the fact that at 4:00 we will pick up our referral from the SDA.  We had an interesting appointment yesterday.  This is our 4th time to go through this process.  This time was much more casual. No questions were asked of us except "Who do you want to adopt?"  We told her, she pulled their files, phone calls were made and we left.  I absolutely loved the older pics of my children that were in the files.  I initially posted them on facebook just wanting to share their beauty.  But then later took the photos down, after realizing my kids might not feel they were so beautiful, having been taken at such a traumatic time in their lives.

After we left the SDA, we ate pizza across from the SDA; took Brandy to the Embassy; exchanged money; bought Brandy a phone; had dinner with Zhenya and Nazar and had a wonderful evening.  (Zhenya is our son, Vitalik's, brother and Nazar is a friend/translator that we met this summer at Camp Friendship).  Its cold here but not TOO cold and a walking tour of the city was perfect.

We slept in this morning; Sasha will pick us up at 3:00 and our whirlwind of activity will begin.  Sasha Iakubenko has been facilitating our adoptions for 5 years.  He is a true friend.  He moved to Poland this year but was willing to come back to Kyiv to hep us begin our process. Anton Marchenko will finish up the process with us in Lugansk.  Its hard to believe that we first met Anton 5 years ago when we were adopting Roman and he was working as in interpreter for a missionary leading Camp Friendship.  We will land in Lugansk tonight a little after 10:00, where Anton will meet us.  We will spend the night at the Hotel Lugansk and begin our paperwork first thing in the morning.  We have stayed at Hotel Lugansk in the past and, though it is nice, it certainly can't beat our current accommodations.  We have been staying with Kyiv with Dr. Jim and Marianna Peipon who lead Ukraine Medical Outreach.  We have enjoyed getting to spend time with them this trip.

And that, my friends, is how are trip has begun.  Perfectly.