Tuesday, November 22, 2016


This is a week for reflecting on things we are thankful for.  I have many.  Today we received news that I am not so thankful for however.  Today Thad and 11 of his coworkers were laid off from their jobs.  That's not even the hardest part - the hardest part is that they were only given 5 days severance.  In 5 days we will be without income and without health insurance.  It's a pretty tough way to start the holidays.
I am so thankful.  The number of friends who are praying for our family is amazing to me.  I am just so grateful for everyone who is thinking of us and praying for us.
I am thankful for my family.  My wonderful, loving, exhausting family!
I am thankful for the knowledge that God has a plan.  Thad and I have faced many hardships in our marriage.  Things haven't always been easy but God has always guided and taken care of us.
I am thankful for the fact we adopted Ariya.
I am way past due for an update on how she is doing.

She is amazing.  She is challenging.  She is loving.  She is one of the family.  Ariya is worth all of the effort she requires!  She loves us and she loves her siblings.  She loves animals and to be outside.  She has many issues that come with being institutionalized for such a long time but the fact that she can even give and accept love it amazing.  The fact that she has joy inside shocks me.
Ariya has never in her life attended school.  No one has taught her the alphabet, colors, numbers.  She is 12 yrs. old and does not know how to write her letters, she does not know how to count, she can not read.  After Christmas she will be attending school for the first time!  I'm pretty nervous about it!  She still has little knowledge of personal boundaries.  She is defiant and loud and strong willed!  I hope they are ready!  She wants to go - she asks to go when her sisters go.  I can't wait to see what she'll learn.  She is so incredibly smart!
Ariya and I had the opportunity to go on the Buddy Cruise.  What a great experience it was to meet so many other families touched by someone with Down Syndrome.  I met amazing people.  I highly recommend this!
While we were gone we were able to meet up with another family who adopted using Reece's Rainbow.  They adopted a little boy that was in the same orphanage with Ariya before she was transferred.  I did not tell her who we were going to be seeing.  I wanted a genuine reaction - after all, it had been at least a year since she's seen him.  Maybe she wouldn't remember.  Maybe she wouldn't care.  Maybe she would react badly.  THIS is their initial reaction.
Not only did she remember him but she clearly cares very deeply for him.  Don't let anyone tell you that individuals with down syndrome don't have feelings.  Orphanage life is tough.  The loss these kids feel is real and deep.  
I am so thankful that my eyes have been opened to both the world of special needs as well as adoption.  
One more video of my little dancing queen!  She is crazy!

Thank you all for your continued thoughts and prayers during this journey we are on.  They are felt and appreciated.  

Friday, July 15, 2016


Home a month!  That is hard to believe.  I have so much to update everyone on and so much to write.  I hope to get the chance to do that soon.  I want to carefully and thoughtfully write about my journey this past month.  I will soon.
This is to write about some blessings in our lives this past month.

1.  My phone was stolen in Ukraine.  This was more than an inconvenience to me as I lost all my photos and videos or Ariya's first days with us.  Pictures of where she lived, people she knew, memories I can never replace or get back.
Thankfully my mom who traveled with us captured some of what I had lost.  She set up an online album the other day and I was so relieved to get some of what was lost back.  Thanks mom!

2.  Ariya.  This child is a huge blessing.  I can't explain how complex she is.  There are many layers to her and we have a lot of things to work through.  In spite of everything she has experienced and everything she has lost, she appears to be giving us a chance to show her love and stability.  This isn't easy for her.  She has walls a mile high put up.  But goodness she is also such a joy.

3.  When we home from the airport I came home to a yard that had been freshly mowed, flower beds that were weeded (no easy task!), food in my freezer, and new clothes for Ariya.  What a gift this was!  I don't have many friends.  Most of the friends I do have (not counting my Facebook friends :)) are done with the young children phase.  I don't see these ladies (and spouses) as much as I would like anymore.  I am just in a different place than they are right now.  Yet these friends came over and made sure I had some nice things to come home to.  I haven't even had the chance to thank them properly.  Their thoughtfulness meant the world to me.

4.  My family.  As hard as things have gotten, my husband continues to amaze me.  He is a good man.  Our extended family has been nothing but welcoming to Ariya.  We have been given the distance we need to adjust yet their love and support is made known.

5.  A community of families in similar circumstances.  Reece's Rainbow - the organization responsible for helping us adopt both Ember and Ariya - has a reunion every year.  This year it happened to be 6 hrs. drive away and was only about a week or so after we came home from Ukraine.  I was not going to go.  It was too soon.  At the very last minute I decided to pack up the 3 girls and head to KY to meet some of these amazing families.  For 4 days I got to be surrounded by people who "get it".  By this I mean people that completely understand the adjustment we were going through with Ariya.  People who loved her, prayed for her and for a family to find her.  Ariya even got to see some other children she grew up with in Ukraine - before she was transferred.  This 4 days were exactly what I needed.  Ariya's behavior didn't shock anyone!  Ember got to see another child with arthrogryposis just like her.  She saw other kids with other difficulties and saw that she isn't alone.  I met people I have wanted to meet for 5 years.  People so full of reassurance, advice, and support.  It was so good for me.

I will try and update with details on Ariya soon.  She is doing so well.  I am blessed.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Worn Part 1

I have so much to write.  So many things to share.  I have been hesitant to write the truth about some of the difficulties we have encountered as I don't want to scare people from adopting an older child. I don't want our friends and family to judge Ariya nor our decision to adopt her.  I decided that I will tell our story and be honest about the good as well as the bad.
Shortly after court Thad had to fly home so he could care for our other kids.  When my mom and I went to officially take Ariya out of the orphanage a large part of the staff was all there to see her off.  I could hear her coming down the stairs and I couldn't wait to see her reaction.  You know, where she runs from the worker's hands and into my arms.  Where she exudes love and gratitude and where all the staff see how much she loves her new mom.  WRONG!  Ha!  She came down those stairs, took one look and me and stopped in her tracks, shook her head "no" and turned around to go back upstairs!  The staff didn't quite know what to do or say!  Luckily my mom had brought a small doll that I was able to use as bribery!  We said our goodbyes to the staff and were on our way back to the apartment.  The night went well with her and we had a decent sleep and the next morning we had to leave early for the 4 hr. express train to Kiev.  This is where things started to get hard for me.
We got ourselves settled on the train easily enough but after a short time Ariya started becoming a challenge.  She can swear (in Russian) better than a sailor.  Her favorite choices are translated to "F off" and "bi*ch"  She also has flipping the bird mastered.  Our train ride was about 3 hours of her shouting those words, hitting and kicking, and just general naughtyness.  I was very embarrassed.  That was a feeling I would become very familiar with.  The next couple of days I admit were hard.  Hard for me, hard for her.  I have read all sorts of blogs and books about behavior issues that can accompany adoption.  I was prepared and ready to handle anything.  I was wrong.  I had adopted
an uncaged wild animal.  At least that's what it felt like.  In the apartment she was wild.  She would bang on the walls, jump on the bed, throw things.  She would hit, slap, kick, bite and spit. I couldn't get her to settle at night so I would sit on the edge of the bed so she would stay there and she would kick me and bite so hard we broke the skin.  I truly wanted to run and get away from her.  I wanted to bring her back to the orphanage.  I was scared.
When we left the apartment and went walking she was a little better - at least toward me.  She let me hold her hand so she wouldn't run off and she would walk fairly nicely.  However she continued to spit and passersby or cars, she would kick at people walking by, she would reach out and try to swipe at them, all the while flipping the bird and cursing.  Loudly.
One good thing is that when we went out to eat she would be good.  She sat quietly and ate anything I ordered her.
We fell into a routine of being out as much as we could.  She would ask to walk and so that's what we would do.   She started being a little easier to handle.  Days were decent, nights were a little harder but we started to figure each other out.  Our last day in Kiev was another very bad day.  She had reached her limits and she couldn't keep it in anymore.  She cried and cried.  She refused to walk while out.  She crawled around the ground barking like a dog,  We survived our Embassy visits and Dr. visits but barely.  Close crowded areas don't make for an easy environment to contain her in.  I dreaded taking her home.  I like my routines.  I like respectful children.  I like order and I like my sleep.   When Ariya would see other children in Ukraine she would not be kind.  She would spit at them, try and push them, be a bit of a bully.  I was afraid of how she would treat Sienna and Ember.
One night I was having a particularly bad pity party.  I was filled with regret and exhaustion.  I listened to a song that spoke to how I was feeling.

Click to hear music file

Here are the lyrics:
I’m tired, I’m worn

My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win

Let me know the struggle ends
That You can mend a heart that’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
‘Cause I’m worn

I know I need

To lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that You can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

My prayers are wearing thin

I’m worn
Even before the day begins
I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn
So Heaven come and flood my eyes

Yes, all that’s dead inside will be reborn
Though, I’m worn
I’m worn

I would listen and listen to this after Ariya fell asleep, feeling sorry for myself.  What had I done?  What was going to become of my peaceful household?  Later I opened my email from a very wise individual.  In reading what he wrote, while sympathizing with me and reassuring me he also pointed out some things that helped put things in perspective.  Imagine how Ariya was feeling.  She had been taken from place she lived and was familiar and brought to another strange place where she didn't know anyone.  She had to establish herself in the pecking order of a new orphanage.  Learn a new routine.  Not only that but some weird people keep visiting.  She can't understand a word they say.  They want to invade her personal space.  To make matters worse one day these strange talking people take her away once again and she is expected to stay with them and be happy about it.  She can't understand us.  We can not understand her.  She has no way to communicate her wants, her fears, her needs, nothing.  I would act out too.  I would probably bite, scream, hit, etc.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

One less

Much has happened since we said our temporary goodbye to Ariya last week.  First I will get to the meat of the message then I will fill in the details of the past few days.
Today (6/1) we had court.  Court went so smoothly and we were awarded the honor of being Ariya's parents.  The 10 day wait has also been waived which means our time in Ukraine will be that much shorter.
Pre-court selfie

We now begin the 2nd stage of the adoption which is gathering a new birth certificate, passport, medical exams, Embassy visits for a Visa, etc.  Basically lots of running around!  As of today we officially have a new Senti!

Secretly taken court room pics!

Rewind to yesterday.  We flew back to Ukraine and arrived late Monday night.  Tues. we went to visit Ariya for the first time in a week.  I was nervous!  She had not yet become super comfortable with us yet.  Would she remember us?  Would she still have to be forced to come see us?  Well I need not have worried.  As we waited outside the staff brought her out to us.  She saw us, took a second and then ran down the stairs and into Thad's arms.  It was a beautiful thing.  She then gave me a hug and we all had a glorious group hug.  My mom is on this trip too so even she was granted some notice by Ariya.  We had a great hr. long visit until she decided to be done with us.  The visit was full of great things.  We saw many facets of her from affection, to stubbornness to laughter and silliness to defiance.  When she was saying goodbye to us she asked if we could take her with us in the car.  I wish we could have right then and there.  Little does she know that will happen soon enough!

Our apartment in Krivoy Rog

It has been such a good couple of days!  Tomorrow we start early again with much driving and paperwork.  I don't know if we will have the chance to see Ariya tomorrow but I hope so!  I want to thank everyone for the thoughts and prayers so far.  They have been heard and they have been felt.  This adoption is so clearly a work of our Father.  His hand is in every step.  We're so lucky!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Last visit

We just returned from our last visit with Ariya before we head home for a week.  As she came down the stairs and saw us waiting she ran over and greeted us each with a hug.  It was wonderful.  We had such a nice little visit.  I say little because after 40 min. or so she decided she had enough of us so she marched back into the orphanage and blew us goodbye kisses.  It was nice that she was so receptive of us today.  It is hard knowing now she won't see us for a week.
Tonight we are taking the overnight train to Kiev and we will catch a flight home on Sunday.  We will be home for the week as we try and get our other kids organized and make sure all is good at home. Then on June 1 we have to be back in Krivoy Rog for court.  Then lots of paperwork and boring stuff until we can take Ariya home!

Thursday, May 19, 2016

An update

A couple days have passed and Ariya seems to have settled in to her new temporary home.  The staff there seems nice and she seems to like them.  Truth be told she prefers them to us!  Yesterday when we visited it wasn't a particularly good visit - at least for myself.  When they brought her out to see us, she put up a decent protest.  She did not want to be with us so they had to lead her outside and basically tell her to stay there with us.  We did get her to then play on some playground equipment for a bit.  She has shown a preference for Thad for sure, which I understand but it has made it a little hard for me.  At one point I was sort of chasing her back and forth around a playset and she and I were laughing and enjoying ourselves.  I thought we were making good progress when she suddenly spit at me.  Ha!  Apparently she wasn't as pleased about our progress as me.  Here is where this blog gets real honest.  Ariya has built some walls and some coping behaviors.  Survival of the fittest.  I have been spit on, slapped and flipped the middle finger more than once.  I have read enough books and blogs on adopting an older child and I was prepared.  At least I thought I was.  I admit that it hurt even though I know it is sort of normal for where she is at.  My head knows these are defensive behaviors.  My heart still expected a little girl who would be overjoyed to have me as her mother and would greet me with hugs and acceptance.  Not yet.  So during our first visit at her new location we were outside playing and a group of other children came outside around where we were.  We had brought some inflatable beach balls so we blew them up and tossed them around.  Ariya got pretty overexcited and a bit naughty.  She is a born leader and boss for sure.  While she was wound up a staff person came and took her away to visit the dr.  She was protesting and didn't want to leave.  That was the end of our visit - her being dragged away.  It was a bummer.
However, today (Tuesday) we visited her again.  This time she came to us willingly and let Thad hug her.  We went outside once again to play.  We had a good visit.  She loves to teeter totter and to swing.  At one point Thad picked her up and we took a bit of a walk while he held her.  This was a big deal.  Even better is that she - on her own - leaned in and gave him a kiss.  She then leaned over to me and gave me a kiss as well.  Definite progress!  For now though we are her minions and she is our leader.  She tells us what to do and where to go.  Underneath that tough exterior there is a tenderhearted loving girl.  She had a wet one wipe that I had given her and she gently wiped another child's face and hands clean.  If she doesn't like something she will protest but she also will give in.  She is wanting to establish herself on the pecking order.  She has had to do that her whole life.  After an hour with us she decided she was finished being with us and she went to the first worker she saw and asked to go inside.  She calls all the workers "mama".
We have a court date of June 1.  We also know that the court will waive the 10 day waiting period after court.  That was amazing!  It rarely happens.  It is just another reaffirming sign to us that God is clearing the path.  We have decided to return home for the next week prior to court.  Our original plan did not have us staying here that long so we need to go home and see our kids, rearrange child care, get things squared away for Thad at work, and such.  We will come back in time for court and finish the process.
Here are some pictures of the passed couple of days!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Another move

Today was another day of emotional highs and gut wrenching lows.
We started our day at 6 am loading up the car to make our way to Polyvanivka from Dnepropetrovsk - about 40 miles north. Once there we were met by a few of Ariya's caretakers who asked that we give them our Facebook links so they can follow her journey. We paid off that driver and piled into a new car with Ariya, one of the head doctors, and a new driver for the 150 mile trip to Kryvyi Rih in the South West. Ariya was very sad and did not want to go, and had to be coaxed to come along. I just kept asking myself how many times has she been displaced at the hands of adults? - only to start over with new people, new challenges, new pecking orders. While I know what I am doing for her is to finally put a stop to it, it hurt to be the catalyst for her world changing again.
We enjoyed three uninterrupted hours in the car with our sweet daughter and got to know her better. She warmed up to us after some time and she has proven to be very kind, funny, very independent, a little ornery, and more. There is a depth to her that is going to flourish and will be a cherished journey to watch unfold. For the time being she is tolerating us, but allowed us to hold her hand, and she fell asleep for a short time with her head on Lorene's lap.
Toward the end of the harrowing 150 miles, Ariya being to sing along with a talking/singing/dancing doll we bought her. It did my heart good to hear it. I have always felt that a child who can muster a song is a child that is not utterly broken. Ariya was very pleased with herself. smile emoticon
Finally we arrived at the new orphanage where she will spend her last weeks in the Ukraine - and where the toughest part of my day unfolded. It is an adequate space and from what we can see her needs will be met here. Sadly, for all the tenuous bridges we made with her in the car ride, they all came crashing down when we were told we could not follow her into the orphanage. She first begged to stay with us, and then giving up on us - you could just see it in her eyes - she asked that her new backpack be given back to her and they said no. So off we drove leaving our daughter behind - her things taken away - confused and betrayed and again abandoned to her fate in a strange place. It is an emotion unlike any I have ever felt. How does a man reconcile putting your child in a "worse" place in order to get them to a better place. It is madness. Of course I understand "what must be done". But I challenge any man to try it, and not be permanently changed by the experience. My heart will forever be hurt by this memory.
Ironically, because no documents were yet processed by the orphanage that says she exists, we would not be able to get permission from the local ministry to see her. So next we drove from place to place trying to convince the powers that be that she exists. Having successfully done that, we were able to once again ask to have permission to see her. The day felt increasingly desperate as we tried to navigate a sea of paperwork that would normally take weeks and do so in hours. But again, in our most desperate moments, doors began to open, and approvals started trickling in.
So, the day ended with our interview with the inspector (the second time we've done this now since being here) and an observation period with Ariya. This was the highlight of my day as they trotted her back into the room. And she snubbed us both! I offered her her backpack, and she denied it. She was truly betrayed by us and it would take a while to bring her back. It scared both Lorene and I as it did not make for a great initial "showing" with the inspector, who are already suspicious and skeptical of us. But in the end (after much self deprecating behavior on my part, such as running away from a wind up duck and otherwise rolling around on the floor) we managed to build back a small bridge with Ariya, and what appears to be the approval of the Director and Inspector.
So where does that leave us? With many unknowns. Because this process has been one-of-a-kind, there is plenty of concern that the court will throw us out. We do have all our paperwork in order There is nothing that should be considered unorthodox, except for the speed at which we accomplished so much. We are literally afraid that the court will find it "unbelievable". And it so many respects it is! Our next step is to get our court date. It sounds like it will be out too far out to achieve on this trip. So we will have to come back for that, then again to get her. A week ago I would have been destroyed by such news. Now - it is the new normal, frown emoticon
We have no choice, but to trust in God. There is nothing else we can do. And my friends, I can tell you, if you've ever been on that bitter bleeding edge, you know it is not a warm fuzzy blanket with angles singing trumpets and unicorns flying about and roses bursting out of the ground.
It is dirty, tiring, terrifying, and raw.
But for one little girl, it is worth it.