If you had told my newlywed husband and I “When you’ve been married for 20 years you’ll adopt a sixteen year old girl from Ukraine who doesn’t speak English, and looks like your biological daughter”, we would have laughed at you.
But here it is: 2014, and that’s exactly what were doing.
We always knew we’d adopt someday. And after deciding we would bring home a daughter from Ukraine, we hosted a beautiful nine year old girl who we thought we would one day call our daughter & sister. We were forever changed after sharing an incredible summer with her. We learned a whole lot about this thing called orphan care. We loved her desperately, and still do. But she was not the girl we would bring home forever. I cried when she left. A lot. In fact, our 10 year old daughter & I couldn’t even bear to go into the room she slept in for months after she went back to Ukraine.
But God was preparing our hearts, and writing a story we couldn’t even begin to dream up.
We first saw this photo on our Ukrainian orphan hosting program’s 2013 listing:
We saw it again in the 2013 winter hosting. And then, in the summer of 2014, there it was again. This beautiful girl. We couldn’t believe she’d never been adopted. We wondered what her story was. We couldn’t forget about her. We prayed for her. And we marveled at the fact she looked so much like a beautiful girl we knew, named Ioana.
Sadly, we didn’t even entertain the thought of hosting (or adopting!) her, because she was much older than the daughter we imagined bringing home forever.
That all changed one day when my sister called and told me about a dream she had, where she described a girl who “looked like Ioana”. I’ll share the unbelievable God-sized details another time. Our whole family knew without a shadow of doubt that this was the daughter and sister God wanted us to bring home, and we immediately took action to host her for the summer, and even before meeting her, we started the process of her adoption.
I met our girl when she arrived in NYC in June of 2014. We flew to Orlando, Florida where our family vacationed together at Disneyworld. We then drove home to Texas. When she walked into the room we had prepared for her, she lost her composure for the first time, buried her head in my shoulder and sobbed – overwhelmed by the love of her newfound family.
The weeks with our girl flew by. We got to know her. She loves M&M’s, french fries and pickles, and she drinks her coffee black with a teaspoon of sugar. She’s passionate and funny. She’s one of the bravest people I’ve ever met. She loves adventure, but she is scared of bridges.
We laughed often. Our Ukrainian girl has a laugh that is loud, and contagious. Many times the laughter was a result of the hilarious things that happened because of our language barrier. We studied hard before she came, and knew enough Russian to communicate on a basic level. She also knew a bit of English. Add Google translate, charades and volumes of expression to the mix, and we were (almost) always able to understand each other.
Her deepest desire was always to have a family. We learned that her mother left when she was a toddler. Her dad died shortly after her sixth birthday, and she went to the orphanage. She told us about when she cried for days, after a fight with some other orphan girls. Those girls took the only photos she had of her beloved father, and they burned them. How we wished we could have been there to protect her as she grew up.
It was an unforgettable summer together. We celebrated our daughter & sister-to-be’s 16th birthday with our incredibly supportive family and friends.
Of course the days and moments weren’t all sunshine and roses. Anyone who knows anything about what happens to a child who has spent 10 years in an orphanage can read between the lines of this paragraph and know that there were some very difficult times during her visit. The honeymoon was over after our second week together as a new “family”. I marvel at the way my husband and biological daughter navigated some of the most difficult territory they’d ever encountered throughout those weeks. I grew a whole lot as a mother. But the hard times were not a surprise to us, and we got through them together.
Our Ukrainian daughter’s hosting program visit came to end in late July. She boarded the airplane and went back to the orphanage where she remains until she legally becomes our daughter, and we bring her home forever. We “talk” with her often, through messages on an Eastern European social media platform.
We miss her like crazy. We dream every day of when we’ll finally be together again. We pray that God will protect her, strengthen her, and reveal His unending love to her.
The adoption process is coming to a close, as everything has been done on this side of the ocean, and we wait for word from Kiev, Ukraine. As we anticipate the day our daughter’s adoption is finally complete, we know that it is only the beginning, and that there is a long journey ahead as we join hands and walk through the uncharted territory of our unique FOREVER FAMILY story. There will be joy. There will be pain. There’ll be lots of learning, and stretching out of our normal and comfortable places.
But we’ll walk together, because this adoption is what we’ve been called by God to do. He paid the ultimate sacrifice and went to unimaginable lengths to do it for us, and call us His sons and daughters. We’ll continue to look to Him for strength and wisdom at every turn.
And as I close this post, I want you to know that I am typing through tears. Tears of thankfulness for God’s faithfulness to our family. Tears of missing our girl. But ultimately tears of joy from a heart that is overflowing with the magnitude and beauty of it all. God’s ways are higher and greater than I ever dared imagine. He is gifting us with beautiful daughter whose courage to leave all she knows and say “yes” to a family from Texas who wants to call her ours simply astonishes me, and makes me so proud to be called her “Mama”.
Thank you to everyone who has helped us get to this point of our adoption journey. We couldn’t have done it without you, and we thank God for the part you play in our family’s story.
I look forward to giving you another update again very soon,