Our Ukrainian Adoption {an update}

Our girl

The beautiful girl we’re waiting to bring home forever.

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.

Family Banner - in Russian

“Family” (in Russian)

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:

Hosting Photo

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.

Letters sent as we waited to meet our girl...

Letters sent as we waited to meet our girl…

First photo with my future daughter ~ At the airport in New York after her flight from Ukraine

First photo with my future daughter ~ At the airport in New York after her flight from Ukraine

The first sister hug.

The first sister hug while Daddy beams in the background

First night together as a family, in Orlando

First night together as a family, in Orlando

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.

Our family vacation

From left to right: Myself, our biological daughter, my husband and our Ukrainian daughter

Arriving in Texas!

Arrival in Texas!

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. 🙂

Visiting Daddy at Work

Visiting Daddy at Work

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.

Bonding as Sisters

Bonding as Sisters

Good times with family

Good Times With Family

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.

Sixteenth Birthday

Her Sixteenth Birthday – where family & friends brought 16 birthday cakes for every single birthday we missed with our girl, and we sang “Happy Birthday” and she blew out candles every time

It was an unforgettable summer together. We celebrated our daughter & sister-to-be’s 16th birthday with our incredibly supportive family and friends.

My husband patiently working through one of the hard days with our girl

My husband patiently working through one of the hard days with our girl

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.

The Day We Said Goodbye

The Tearful Day We Said Goodbye

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.

Before She Boarded the Plane for Kiev

Before She Boarded the Plane for Kiev

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.

Adoption Paperwork

Hours Upon Hours of Adoption Paperwork

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.

Our Family

Our Family

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,

Justina Dee

We’re in the final stages of funding our adoption! Click here if you would like to make a donation, through our Crowdrise Fundraiser through the Orphan Care Network.

 

Oh, the Waiting


Oh, the Waiting #adoption #orphancare

 Well they say that absence makes

The heart grow fonder every day

Sweet child, it’s true

In every way

.

So I will hold you in my heart

While I can’t hold you in my arms

Oh, the waiting

It’s so hard

 .

When you look up at the moon

Just remember that I’m looking too

Oh, the longing

If you only knew

I keep finding things ’round here

That remind me of our time with you

Oh, the memories

They bring fresh tears

 .

I can hear your clear sweet voice

Your “good morning”, ‘”night” and “love you too”

Oh, the joy

That you bring

 .

So tonight I’m sending love

And hugs and kisses and a prayer to you

O my Dearest

You’ll be home soon

.

Missing our sweet little one in Ukraine tonight,  Justina Dee

The Deep Well of a Mother’s Love {A glimpse into the life of an adoptive family}

Mother and her family

 

“No language can express the power, and beauty, and heroism, and majesty of a mother’s love.  It shrinks not where man cowers, and grows stronger where man faints, and over wastes of worldly fortunes sends the radiance of its quenchless fidelity like a star.” ~Edwin Hubbell Chapin

(Is there someone from your childhood whom you haven’t seen for a very long time, but your heart still glows with love every time you think of them? My daughter, niece and I visited one of those people this weekend, and her life experiences over these past years is too beautiful and inspiring to keep to myself. On Friday afternoon we took a little road-trip under the hot Texas sun, through a few beautiful little towns, down a country road, up a long gravel lane, and finally arrived at our destination. We parked by the fenced pasture and were greeted by the family dogs.)

As we made our way to the house, the front door opened, and out walked one of the most beautiful families I’ve ever seen. First came my childhood friend (now a mother), followed by twelve of her and her husband’s thirteen children.

We embraced, then my eyes brimmed with tears at what followed. My friend’s intense love for each child was evident on her face (and even in her mannerisms and gestures) as she introduced me to every one of her blessings. Eight biological and five adoptive children (from Cambodia, Guatemala and Ukraine.) With each introduction of her precious ones, I was given another glimpse of their mother’s deep, deep love for them.

We sat down around the table in the farm-style kitchen and enjoyed a scrumptious family style meal, followed by a three-layered cake lovingly and beautifully baked by two of the girls. Sharing time with this family was an extraordinary experience. I sat across from a long bench of beautiful little ones, who sat in front of a large window through which you could see the great outdoors. The respect and courtesy these children demonstrated to us their guests, as well as to each other was a complete delight to behold (and experience).

Dinner was full of reminisce, stories and laughter. Love emanated from my friend and in turn, from each of her children. As the matter of fact, there is no denying the fact that this home is built on the strong and firm foundation of God’s love, as every square inch is filled with its grace and beauty. The picture of these children together, in their little corner of the world is such a picture of redemption that I have no words to describe it. What can one woman do to change the world? I need look no further than my friend’s kitchen table in Texas. The respect, admiration and adoration these children have for their mother is precious to behold. After all, she is a picture of Jesus to them.

Playground

After supper, everyone helped clean the kitchen, and we headed outside where twilight was just setting in. The children played, (all the older ones helping the littles), while us mommies caught up on the years that have passed by. It’s hard to believe there were fourteen children (including the two I contributed to the group) playing around us, they were so well-mannered. Such kindness and joy flowed from every member of this family! My daughter and niece had an amazing time playing, meeting the children’s animals, and then riding horseback.

Family Playground 2

As dusk set in, we took all took a walk together. It was magical. My friend shared the stories of each of her children. All I could think of is how DEEP this mother’s love is! It is like a well. Because her love is an extension of GOD’s love, it never runs dry.

Country WalkWalking along their country lane, we shared the joys and heartaches, the mountaintops and the valleys of our mothering experiences. I heard how one of her daughters was found at the orphanage doorstep, wrapped in rags. She told me about the unlikely path (full of intense sadness and ultimate joy) which led to the homecoming of two sisters from Ukraine. We talked about babies being born after their due-date. We shared struggles, current battles and the reality of living a life that looks different from those expectations we had as young women what seems so long ago.

My beautiful friend

I didn’t want this evening to end. We finished our visit with some time around the piano. (Which my friend’s children can play, as well as the violin!) As we sang “Amazing Grace” together, and the children’s clear, sweet voices rose up around me at the piano bench, I was completely overcome with emotion. These little ones understood these words far better than most of us could ever begin to do.

“Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come;

‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far

And grace will lead me HOME” ~ John Newton

Amazing Grace

Incredibly inspired. Massively challenged. And undeniably encouraged am I, by this dear woman’s deep well of Love. May we all die to self. Live to love others, and make an eternal difference in our world in such a way as this.

~ Justina Dee 

Our Little Guest from Ukraine

Free

When she came to the USA, she didn’t like American food. When she left, she had two favorite restaurants. When our little guest arrived in our home she wouldn’t even look at my husband. Five weeks later she wouldn’t stop telling him how much she loved him, and kissing his cheek over and over again. The first time we visited our neighbor’s pool she was terrified even to place her feet on the first step. Days later she was jumping into the deep end. The first time she saw our family pray together she mocked us and laughed. The night before she left us, she initiated our family prayer time. During Bedtime Bible story time, we saw her behavior change from running around the living room refusing to engage, to reading the stories to us from her own Bible. (Which dear friends had provided). When my daughter took the bicycle out of our garage for her, our sweet visitor couldn’t ride it. A few short weeks later the two girls were cruising their bicycles around the neighborhood, and our family went on a trail ride together. Initially bath time was a fight, and washing her hair was a downright battle. Before she left, she happily washed (and conditioned) her hair with no prompting or help on my part. When we first introduced new things to her and she didn’t want them, she would make a huge scene, shouting “NYET” (No), “BLEH!!!!” or “Behani” (Bad). By the end of her visit, she instead would politely say “No thank you”. Can hosting a child for five weeks change their life? From our personal experience, YES, it most certainly can!

Bible Story Time

Why we decided to host

It began with a question I posted on Facebook; “We are beginning the process of adopting from Ukraine. Do you know anyone who has adopted children from that country, and if so, would you be willing to connect us with them?” My dear Aunt Rachel responded to my question, and connected us with friends from her community who have wholeheartedly poured their lives into serving, loving and rescuing Ukrainian children. They work tirelessly with an organization called Ukrainian Resource Center, which facilitates a hosting program, and assists families with adoption. After phone conversations and emails with their founders and volunteer staff, we felt much peace, and thought it wise to follow along the trail they have already so courageously blazed for adopting an older child from Ukraine.

About Hosting

Hosting is by no means a guarantee of adopting a specific child. Hosting IS however, an opportunity to deeply connect with an older Ukrainian orphan, making a permanent impression upon not only their life, but yours. During their time with a family, this child has the opportunity to experience things that would most likely never be possible in the institutionalized world in which they live. We decided as a family to be extremely intentional during our hosting experience and to make every single moment count; so that we would have no regrets – whether we would someday have the opportunity to adopt this precious one, or in the incredibly sad event that we would never see their face again. (Click here for more information on hosting).

The pre-hosting process

As we were hosting with the intent to (if at all possible) someday adopt, we were careful to work together as a family on the difficult decision of choosing ONE of the many dear children available to host. Relying on nothing but a tiny photo and an even smaller bit of information, we confirmed the little girl we were interested in hosting would indeed soon be available for adoption. Ukrainian Resource Center has a thorough process of screening their hosting families, to protect the safety of these children. This includes home study, letters of recommendation, background checks, written statements of faith and so on. Once we were officially approved, we got down to the business of preparing for our little visitor’s stay with us!

Family

The 5 weeks that forever changed us

Our five weeks with this beautiful and unforgettable nine-year old girl have wrecked our world as we knew it. When you encounter an orphan in this acutely personal way, you can never be the same again. The reality of this child’s plight is unfathomable. It is acutely sobering to think they have no earthly possessions but a tiny photo of a mother who is no longer there for them. This child doesn’t even have their own toothbrush! And most importantly, they have no one to nurture and care for them in the safe and loving home every child should have. And when you pause to consider the thousands more just like this precious one in your arms… it’s simply heart-wrenching.

Expectations vs. Reality

We were expecting this little girl to be very excited to visit us in America, but quickly discovered in our first moments together that this simply was not the case. She was scared, confused, lonely and (thanks to the protective wall she had built around her heart) not at all ready to receive the massive amount of love we already had built up for her. It took several days for her to completely feel at ease with me and our dear daughter (10 months older than our darling guest), and at least two weeks for her to begin to warm up to my husband -or for that matter, any other male figures. She spoke only a few words in English, and she let us know in no uncertain terms that she did NOT like America.

However, all this changed over the course of our five weeks together, and by the end of her visit, she told us she LOVED America, and she cried at even the thought of going back to the orphanage. Over the course of her time with us, we fell head-over-heels and madly-in-love with this amazing child. She is intense. She is vivacious. She is smart. She is incredibly funny. She loves with extreme passion, and she feels pain with equal depth. We built more memories and bonded with her in five weeks than we ever dreamed possible, and we want nothing less the absolute best for this young lady’s future.

Swimming

Very soon, I’ll be sharing our most beautiful and unforgettable memories of our time with this girl who no matter the outcome, will forever be a part of our family. I also look forward to sharing those resources which were indispensable to us during this whole process. Words cannot adequately relay our deep gratefulness to all of you who are sharing this journey with us. We simply couldn’t do this without you by our side.

What happens next

We are carrying on with our plans of adopting a daughter from Ukraine. If indeed this amazing child (who brings with her an abundance of energy,  joy and boundless emotion) is able and wants to be adopted by our family, our hearts would simply explode with happiness. We cannot however be guaranteed of this intensely longed for reality until more necessary things take place on both sides of the ocean. The tragic truth is that she is still holding on to the false hope that she will soon leave the orphanage and go home to live with the very mother from whom parental rights have been revoked. If this girl we love so dearly is available to be hosted again over Christmas, and would like to visit us, we are planning for that to be our next step in building a relationship with her, and continuing to move ahead with plans of her possible adoption. In the meantime, we will be writing letters to her, and praying she receives them. There is a void in our home, a sadness in our hearts and an emptiness in our arms as a result of her departure.

We will be working with Ukrainian Resource Center to facilitate the next steps of this journey, and will certainly keep you posted.

In closing

Would we do this again? Absolutely YES. Was it easy? A huge and definitive NO. To sum it all up; Statistics tell us that 80% of orphans who leave a Ukrainian orphanage between 15 & 16 years of age go on to become victims of human trafficking & prostitution or become involved in crime, alcoholism and drugs. They have no dreams, no hope, no future, nowhere to live, and no one to love them. Up to 10% of them may commit suicide by the age of 18. If we can bring a glimmer of joy, a spark of purpose, a nurturing family experience, an unforgettable trip to America, and above all, demonstrate the exceedingly great, always-faithful, never-failing, 100% genuine, and life-changing love of Jesus to even ONE child, the hosting process has met every single goal we set out to accomplish.

Click here to learn more about Ukrainian Resource Center

Our Adoption Story, Part One

Adopting From Ukraine; The Reason Why

The Length of Love 

The Reality of Loving the Orphan

 

The Reality of Loving the Orphan

sadnessThe reality is hard to take.

Here she is, in our home. A little girl who only weeks ago was in an orphanage.

Challenges, disorders, obstacles, complexities…I was not naive. I knew we would face all of them. And that working through them would take a long, long time.  I thought I could enter into her tumultuous world and fix things.  I thought that I could save the day. Be her hero. Show her the love she so desperately needed, and everything would be OK.

But I found out I was wrong.

When you see a little one – not on a photograph, promotional video, Facebook photo, but in real-life, flesh and blood – sobbing and full of bitter despair, curled up in the fetal position, shutting her ears to your words, unwilling even to be held or loved in her moment of complete and utter brokenness, you are forever changed.

When you see a fatherless child lashing out against your love. Telling you that all she wants is to go home to her mother (from whom she was taken), while her eyes are blazing with anger and pain, you realize that loving an orphan is much more complex than it seems.

When you see an abandoned orphan with a past full of complicated problems –  far greater than any you’ve ever faced, you realize how ill-equipped you are.

And it’s a humbling experience.

You see, this whole “caring for the orphan” thing is a process that not only changes the orphan,  it changes me.

Caring for an orphan has caused me to examine my true motives. Are they simply a whimsical desire to make a difference in the world, or a heartfelt conviction that will carry us both through the dark storms we will undoubtedly face? Is my love for this child an idealistic and shifty notion, or built on a solid and firm foundation that will not move when it is shaken and challenged?

When this sweetheart abrubtly shifts to a child who is lashing out, things suddenly look very ugly and your blood pressure goes higher than you ever dreamed possible, what will cause you to stay calm, and love her anyway?

I’m convinced more than ever that the only way that Love will save the day,  is when it is  a selfless Love. The kind of love Jesus demonstrated to me. When I display a steadfast and unrelenting Love, such as my Heavenly Father has lavished upon me.

No amount of preparation, knowledge, compassion, efforts, do-good actions, resolve, ideals, personal discipline, patience, or earthly wisdom can possibly fill the emptiness and deep void, make right the colossal hurt and injustice, repair the broken places, or restore light and life, where hope has been dashed in the heart of an orphan.

I cannot fix it.

But Jesus can.

And He will. I can personally testify to the fact that Jesus changes an orphan’s life. (And in the process, also changes mine.)

By His might and power alone, I am called to be His hands and His feet, in this world that is longing for the day that He will return and make all things right.

It’s time for all of us to move from a place of FEELING sorry for these little ones, into that messy thing called LOVING the orphan.

And I’m learning there’s much more to this thing called LOVE, than I ever imagined.

Thank you for sharing the journey with me,

Justina Dee

 

 

Click here to read an update on our adoption