Thursday, November 29, 2007

One Step Closer

"Watch where I go," she said over her shoulder already three strides ahead of us. We galloped after our facilitator like ponies, trying not to giggle at our inability to keep up with her pace. It was her way of saying, "I'm going ahead. If you can't keep up, watch which doorway I turn into so you can find me when you get there." Our time frame was tight as we dashed blocks to the passport office, hoping to get there before the doors closed for the evening. Kristina and I held hands in the little sprint across town, our chests aching from breathing the cold night air so deeply. We saw Natasha duck into a doorway that quickly darkened as the door closed behind her and followed closely for fear of losing her. When we passed through the door, the walls were lined with people who had been there for hours waiting for paperwork to be processed. Natasha signaled to me to come into a room with her. I stood a pace behind her quietly and obediently waiting to sign another document or form that promised to get us one step closer to home. She sighed heavily and said, "That is all for tonight. We are done." It had been an exhausting day that had started in the birth certificate office with the little girl in red and ended here. We returned to our apartment believing we were done for the day and had just finished the last blog post when our facilitator called us back to the paper chase for the rest of the afternoon.

This morning we trotted behind our facilitator with the much coveted birth certificate from yesterday (the one we spent hours waiting on) to the Tax ID office. We presented the birth certificate to the clerk only to have her turn it over and over in her hands and return it to a bewildered Natasha. The clerk then started a long monologue in which I heard the word "nyet" as I watched my facilitator's color rise in her cheeks. I followed her back into the hallway to learn the clerk at the birth certificate office had placed the wrong stamp on the document. It would have to be completely redone. Thus is the process in Ukraine.

Natasha mumbled in frustrated Russian as she dialed a taxi and I was thankful for the language barrier. I didn't envy the woman at the birth certificate office that would have to deal with our Natasha. I swear I could never do this job. Natasha is a determined woman of steel. If it can be done, she'll figure out a way to do it. Back at the birth certificate office, Natasha had a polite conversation with the woman who had done our forms yesterday and within 30 minutes we had the correct document in hand. She is amazing. Back to the Tax ID office and then off to copy, notarize, scan, and email documents before she sent us off for lunch after 2. She headed in the opposite direction with another office to visit for more paperwork. She was still going after 6pm tonight. Kristina and I strolled down to the waterfront tonight. The lamplights washed the Opera House in gold and gilded the cobblestone walkway. The promenade was draped in strings of brilliant jeweled colors. The cold eventually got the best of us and we headed off in search of hot chocolate.

We should know tomorrow afternoon if we are leaving for Kiev on the night train or if we are spending the weekend in Odessa. Courtney, I am having problems posting comments on many of the blogs I read so count us in for dinner next week if we're still in Kiev. My cell number here in Ukraine is 80987320547.

I am taking comfort in the thought that perhaps next weekend we will all be squeezed into the same pew at St Paul's enjoying worship together as a family, sitting at the table to share Robert's breakfast cooking, or watching Kristina attempt to remember how to ride that bike. In the grand scheme of things, a week isn't a long time, but we'd rather it be sooner than later.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Another Day in Odessa

"Mama, how do you spell 'wonderful'?" Kristina asked head bowed over the keyboard as the slow click of the keys indicated her typing abilities. She labored to write a few sentences in an email to Sarah and Mandy, girls from a Phoenix Christian high school who have come to Odessa to minister to the orphans over the last few years. Their parting letters were spread before her on the desk, the bubbly colored script promising their prayers until they reunite next summer. I set up an email account for her last night so that her caregivers here can communicate with her when she leaves Ukraine. Remembering Sarah and Mandy's kindness towards her on their mission trip to the orphanage, she wanted to share God's new chapter for her life.

We spent the bulk of yesterday in cold hallways staring at closed doors. It was tedious, tiring paper chasing that had to be accomplished in order for us to leave this place. Not one complaint from Kristina though. For hours, she shifted in her chair, flipped through a magazine I had stashed in my purse, and chatted with a curious little girl in the same predicament. In the monotony of the waiting room, I found amusement watching the beautiful imp of a child peek in from the hall at all of us. Over and over she returned to the doorway to glimpse at Kristina, the only other child in the area. Her red hat was pulled down close to bright eyes and the layers under her coat made her look slightly inflated. Eventually she slid along the wall until she stood across from Kristina who smiled at her over the raised magazine. One phrase whispered to her in Russian and the little girl climbed into the vacant chair next to Kristina, both of them staring intently at the pictures, pointing and commenting on the fashion models. I snuck my camera out of my pocket and captured a few minutes of their chatter on video. The interaction was a welcome distraction from a situation that dragged on and on.

As we traveled across town to the next office, Kristina pointed excitedly out the window. Snow flurries, like paperwhites blown by a strong wind, swirled before the windshield. The temperature dipped noticeably as sister Winter has exiled Autumn from her place in Odessa. The wet ground crunched like frozen fudge as we climbed from the taxi in search of the tax ID office. We had greater success here and are out the door in an hour. With the day spent, we returned to the apartment for left over pizza and dessert from last night. Kristina excitedly lays out outfit #2 for tomorrow and I produce a set of thermal underwear that promises to be a necessity.

Our facilitator went to apply for the passport this morning, and text messaged me several hours after the office opened to say she was still waiting to be seen. I am thankful that our presence wasn't necessary for the morning's portion of the paper chase. We decide to walk towards the big square with the Greek Orthodox church to take pictures, but despite the many layers of clothes the blowing wind causes Kristina to shiver and cling to my arm. Already showing signs of a cold, I decided to take her back to the apartment. Kristina has spent the better part of the afternoon clicking away at the computer as we wait for word from our facilitator. If she is successful at applying for the passport today, we should head to Kiev later this weekend. It doesn't look like we will make our exit date of Tuesday December 4th. I'm learning not to bank on dates. It is just too stressful. Instead we focus on God's unwavering control of the situation and His hand on every person and process in this journey. Please continue to pray for us and for my family back home.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bringing in the Sheaves

I have my hands full with one more tonight and a slumber party for 2, so I hope you won't mind the brief update. Sleep was a lost commodity last night and doesn't promise to be much better tonight! It was nearly 6am before I was able to drift off and I was awaken at 9 am by a text message from my facilitator this morning. Due to a number of factors, I decided to check Kristina out of the orphanage today. Natasha and I caught the bus from the apartment at a busy time. We claimed the last two seats as the aisle became standing room only for the passengers climbing on after us. We were about to pull out when an old woman squeezed through the closing door. I doubted she could reach the overhead bar to keep herself steady, so I offered her my seat. M.C. Hammer crooned "Can't Touch This" through the bus speaker system as the vehicle lurched into traffic. I stumbled backwards into the gentleman attempting to balance behind me and thought ironically that the song didn't apply to me.

At the orphanage I sat down with the social worker who looked at me and said, "You are ready to go home, yes?" I wondered if it was that obvious. Vladik ran to fetch Kristina eating in the cafeteria. No one anticipated her leaving today and there was a scurry of activity in the playroom. I could tell that Kristina's caregivers weren't prepared for this moment. She grabbed her jacket and hurriedly pulled on her shoes as the two women spoke words of advice to her. I told Kristina to let them know that this wasn't goodbye. We would come back later in the week for a going away party. I tried to keep things upbeat as Natasha indicated that the taxi would be there any minute. Sergi and Greshia offered to pull her suitcases outside. I paused to embrace Seryozha, kissed him on the forehead, and knew I needed to walk away soon. Quick hugs all around and we were out the door. It was the best thing for all of us.

Back at the apartment, I opened the two suitcases to find one empty and the other with a few books and photos. The only clothes she had were the ones on her back. She played on the computer for awhile and we called Robert so she could say hello. She decided on pizza for dinner and we walked through the steady rain down to Pan Pizza. It was difficult for me to keep a straight face as her line of questioning picked up from where we had left off last time. Serious as can be, she asked, "Mama, who is going to teach me to kiss?" I raised my eyebrows and she went on to explain. "What happen when I am at marriage and my husband wants to kiss me? I do not know how. And he will say, "did not your mother teach you?'" I couldn't stop myself from laughing at that one. I assured her that we would cross that bridge when we got to it (and that bridge is far, far away!). We stopped at the store on the way back to buy a toothbrush. Back at the apartment, she asked to shower and I provided her with the pajamas and underwear I brought from the states. She asked if I could wash her clothes so they would be clean for tomorrow. While she was showering I laid out the handful of outfits I brought with me.

Now she is organizing the bathroom and dusting our tiny studio apartment as she explains why she loves High School Musical so much (namely Zach Efron). We brought dessert back with us and will settle down to cheesecake and tiramasu as soon as I can get her to sit still. I am taking Robert's advice and trying to enjoy our time together here in her hometown. I am laughing more today and thankful for this precious child God has brought into our lives.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Hope for One

"Deri-bas-ov-skaya, Deri-bas-ov-skaya" the bus driver sang softly through his grinning mouth. Seated on the empty bus, I silently thanked God that he had sent me a driver with a sense of humor. Walking back from the orphanage this evening, I managed to catch the bus at its turn around point before the end of its route and saved myself about a quarter mile walk. Seeing that it was already dark and the temperature was dropping quickly, I was grateful for the timing. The last three people indicated their stop was ahead and then I was left alone. The driver looked at me in the rearview mirror and spun off a line in Russian. I thought how strange it is to have no idea what words a person is saying, but still understand exactly what he means. I knew he was asking where I was getting off seeing the end of the route was just ahead. I waved my hand and said, "Far, far," as if he was supposed to understand what "far" meant. I needed to ride the bus to the opposite end of its route. How would I communicate that? I racked my brain as he glanced from the road ahead of him to me in the rearview mirror. What was the name of the famous street near the other end of the route? "Deribaskaya!" I announced with confidence. He laughed at my misproununication of the street name and prounced it correctly for me in song form until the next passenger flagged us down.

The day started late for me. Although tired, I couldn't fall asleep last night. I twisted and turned in the empty king size bed and flipped the channels on the television until the wee hours of the morning. At some point I fell asleep and was later awakened by the church bells ringing in the big square down the street.It was after 11 and I had missed the opportunity to visit the Presbyterian church. I wandered down to the grocery store and got some staples to put in the kitchen, had lunch, and decided to venture out to the orphanage. The light was already beginning to fade at three o'clock when I made my way to the bus stop. Forgetting how early it gets dark, I immedaitely regretted leaving so late in the day. I found an empty seat on the quickly filling bus and hunkered down for the long ride there. People got on and off the bus, the sweet smell of perfume and the stinging smell of alcohol mingling among the riders. Near the end of the route, I indicated "na prava, kopeka" to the driver who obediently steered the bus to the right and dropped me near the little store. Walking the remaining distance to the orphanage, the dreary surroundings of the neighborhood pressed upon me. Passing through the gates, I noticed the orphanage yard was silent and abandoned. The big front doors were locked, so I made my way to the side door that opened easily when I tugged at the handle. The long dark corridor stretched before me and I reflected on the fact that the building's atmosphere would have frightened me as a little girl. A door at the end of the hall burst open and light flooded from the passage as two children chased each other, screaming and laughing. One of the boys recognized me and the "mama alert" was given. Kristina came bounding down the hall, turned back to rebuke one of the boys who had been teasing her, and then came down to meet me in a relieved embrace. I made my way to the room and found several of the boys from her groupa watching television. They leaped from their places and greeted me with hugs. Even through her happy deamenor, I could sense the relief in her tear filled eyes. Later she would confess to me that she had cried only three times while we were gone. Only three.

We chatted about school and the other children. She directed my attention to her suitcase, packed and standing in the corner. When would I take her from the orphanage, she wanted to know. With several days of adoption work still ahead of us, I anticipated leaving her in school through the week. She wanted to go now. I'm rethinking things.

We put our coats on and wandered around the yard toward the dormitory where the children sleep. Kristina asked the woman on duty if she could show me her room and we were permitted up the stairs and through a locked corridor. "Do you get scared here sometimes?" I asked surveying the pitch black hallway. Unlocking the padlock on the girls' bedroom, she shook her head as if that was a silly question. The springs squealed as she plopped down proudly on her bed. I was happy to see that there were warm blankets, but the only thing between her and the metal springs were two thin pallets. Seeing me examine the drooping bed, she said, "It is not like your bed in America, but it doesn't hurt." A small table at the head of the bed held a shoe box with stockings, a prayer book, and the birthday card we sent her in April. Speaking of which, we found out her birthay is actually in October. Its so strange to think a child doesn't even know their own birthday with accuracy.

We walked across the hall to another room that holds the children's clothes. Kristina unlocked the next door and showed me the boys' room which mirrored the girls' room minus the pink accents. With so many boys in her class, each bed had an owner. "All of the boys sleep here?" I asked. She thoughtfully looked back into the hall and went to one more locked door. The strong smell of urine hit me as I stepped into the empty room. The lace curtains swayed in the open window, but the smell was still overpowering. A solitary bed stood against the wall, the pallets on top stained deep yellow. The sheets and blankets laid in a crumpled pile on the floor. Two empty buckets rolled on their side in the breeze and a used diaper rested in the far corner. Kristina indicated that one of the boys had a problem with bed wetting still and he slept alone in this room. As my eyes took in the sadness of the scene, she picked up the sheets and lovingly spread them on the bed. She arranged the blankets and pillow, lined the cans at the foot of the bed, and placed the diaper in a trash bin. "He will be surprised," she observed looking back over her shoulder at the tidied room.

We walked back to the playroom and found the boys engrossed in a war movie. Darkness had already fallen and my conscieous told me I needed to go before it got much later, but I couldn't force myself to move from the couch. Kristina flitted about the room taking pictures of her cubbie and the caregiver's desk. Although the boys hardly noticed our presence I was content to watch the back of their heads. I know part of not taking Kristina now has to do with them. There is really no reason for me to be at the orphanage once I take custody of her. I'm not ready for that yet. I'm not ready to say goodbye.

Kristina walked me as far as the orphanage gates. "I know my name is Hope," she said. "Yes, Robert and I told you that when we were here before. Kristina Hope Landrum," I replied. She stopped walking and looked up at me. "No, I understand." My furrowed brow indicated that I didn't, so she explained. "If I stay here, I have no family, no future, no place. No hope. In America I will have family, a home. I will have hope. Yes?" "Yes," I replied in wonderment at the depth of her understanding. Eventually I willed myself to go and made my way to the bus driver with a sense of humor. Back at the apartment, I called Robert and was rejuvenated by the sound of his voice. Contemplating what my options were for the rest of the evening, I laid down at the foot of the bed and wrapped the warm comforter around me. I woke up an hour later at 9:00 to my worried facilitator's phone call. I had forgotten to check in and she had grown concerned. Hungry and awake, I strolled down Deribasovskaya Street not sure where I was going or what I would do. In the cold darkness babushka's sat before small folding tables with bags of sunflower seeds and cut flowers for sale. A group of small boys skirted past me, their lit cigarettes glowing orange in their wake. In previous posts I have reflected on the abundant beauty of this city. Indeed it is beautiful, but I am not unaware of the despair that lies just below the surface for so many of its residents. The ailing elderly women begging for coins on the corner and the over 3000 homeless children in this city alone cannot be drowned out by the show of beauty. I have gotten to know one of these children during my time here and am shaken to my core by his struggle. I brushed away the tears gathering in the corners of my eyes and made my way back to the warmth and safety of my little apartment. Its just after midnight here and I think will call home to speak with my family. Thank God I have that, a family and a hope.

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
-Psalm 42:11

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Back Again

Its just before midnight here in Odessa and after 4 long flights, I'm back in the apartment I started in nearly a month ago. The flights were fairly uneventful. I flew NWA back to Ukraine thanks to my aunt and uncle, and let me tell you what a difference it was compared to the economy Ukrainian airline Robert and I flew a few weeks ago! I felt guilty sitting in my roomy exit row seat with on demand movies and games on my own personal tv screen. As you know, Robert hates flying and our last trip didn't do anything to dispel those feelings. This time around the food was much better, there was much more space, and much better service. I sat next to a business man who sketched strategy flow charts and listened to his iPod throughout the flight. We flew over an ocean of clouds washed pale blue in the light of a full moon. There was no turbulence and no delays. The only really tiring portion of the day was the 7 hour layover I had in Kiev awaiting my connecting flight to Odessa. Those of you who have been in the Kiev airport know how much there is to do there. I finished a 600 page novel and read part of a magazine. I'm kicking myself for not bringing more books. Its been snowing in Kiev. The sky blended into the horizon in a dirty white haze. The snow drifts were pushed into small gray hills along the walkways and paths. The stark winter weather really sets a tone in a city that sported bright blue skies just a few weeks ago.

Coming back by myself to bring Kristina home was always part of the plan, but I feel Robert's absence strongly. Each day of a Ukrainian adoption promises the unexpected. There has already been one snag that we will have to work out that will set us back 2 days. Though there's nothing I or my facilitation team can do about it, little things like that can get to you. I am praying for a quick trip, but also praying that I don't focus on the timeline. God has planned each step of this last leg of the journey. It is our place to follow Him faithfully.

I'm excited to go to the orphanage tomorrow and spend time with Kristina and the other children. I have missed them terribly. I'll post again soon, hopefully with some pics.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

On My Way

Tomorrow I will be heading back to Ukraine to claim my daughter and bring her home. We are glad that we chose to break the adoption into two trips. The two weeks since we left Ukraine have both flown by and dragged along. We are as prepared as we can be at this point. I managed to pack all my things in one carry-on this time (see, Kim, I can do it!). Traveling lighter will definitely make things easier. I need to stop by the store to get a few things in the morning, so I hope I don't get stuck in the Black Friday rush.

I'm thankful that I could spend the holiday with my family before flying out. Enjoying their turkey feast, the kids reflected that perhaps Kristina would enjoy Thanksgiving next year. I have no doubt she will. Please pray for traveling safety and for me and for grace and peace for my family that will stay behind. Pray that the last hurdles can be crossed quickly and that we can be back as soon as possible. Thank you for walking with us on this journey!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Best of Both Worlds

Did you know that 12 year old girls can scream at a decibel level that shatters glass? At least that's what it sounded like last night. We had a wonderful time at the concert. The Jonas Bros opened up to a packed arena. Then Hannah Montana performed half the show and Miley Cyrus performed the other half. Great show, even if you're not 12. I appreciate that Miley is open with her Christian faith and is unashamed to share that fact. Everything about the show was tasteful and appropriate. She talks about her relationship with God and the importance of the Bible in the tour program.

Hannah had a wonderful time singing at the top of her lungs and bouncing up and down with the rest of the crowd (okay, I did too at times). We had great seats in the upper level, front row with an unblocked view of everything, surrounded by other mother daughter duos sharing the same together time. I think the concert would have blown Kristina's mind. Hopefully it will be the three of us for the next Pop Princess show.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rock Star

Outnumbered two to one, Hannah and I have always felt the overpowering presence of boys in our house. Its enough to make the two of us wander the aisles of Target some days just to escape the testosterone. Over the years we've come to enjoy our "Mom and Me" time.

When Kristina spent the summer with us last year, Hannah had to learn to share me. She was incredibly gracious, but I could sense that she craved the one on one time we once shared. I will be leaving next weekend and bringing home her new sister. She's thrilled that Kristina is finally coming home. I've been trying to set aside some precious time for me and Hannah before I leave. Precious time . . . yes, but quiet time . . . no. Today I scored 2 tickets to the sold out Best of Both Worlds Hannah Montana concert. You should have seen her reaction! Rock on!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Sophia's Gift

Hi, everyone! Thank you for continuing to email and check in with us. I recovered quickly and am back to normal now (normal is a relative term). It looks like I will be flying back to Ukraine next weekend. I am missing Kristina terribly and am ready to bring her home. We've been filling the time with decorating for the holiday and getting the girls' room in order. Hannah and I found a giant K and H at the craft store and we spent yesterday painting them to hang over their beds. I'm printing pics of Kristina with her friends in Ukraine to put in frames in her room. Its important for her to have something familiar around. Add a few Hannah Montana and High School Musical posters, and we're almost done. One of the girls I went to high school with sent us a gift that covered Kristina's bed, the entire thing: frame, mattress, headboard, and bedspread! Thanks, Vicki!!! I'll post a pic of everything soon.

I've gotten quite a few emails recently that touch on the same subject. I'd like to put my two cents in and hope that no one takes offense at my opinion on the matter. I keep a photo as a bookmark in whatever book I happen to be reading. The photo is of a little girl named Sophia. She was an 8 year old orphan in an orphanage in Russia. Several years ago, when Robert and I began to discuss adoption and asked our own children to pray with us, I came across Sophia's picture through my contact with an agency. The photo immediately grabbed me and I could see this little girl as part of our family. Sophia was the embodiment of what I believed adoption would look like for us. I pushed forward researching the adoption process and agencies. We prayed for Sophia by name and asked God to direct our paths. Several months later, we received an email indicating that a family had received a referral for Sophia and that they were going to move forward with the adoption. I wasn't crushed, just surprised. I wondered why God had allowed me to care for this little girl and see this child as part of our future. I would later come to see that Sophia would very much be part of our future.

Prior to learning about Sophia, we had decided that we would pursue a small child, preferably between 4-6 years old. Sophia was 8, older but close in age to our youngest. I liked that age; I felt like I would know what to expect.

Over a year passed and we didn't make any tangible steps forward with adoption. We continued to pray and ask God what He wanted us to do. Where did we even start? We knew that we would adopt, but where, when, and how were very blurry details. We explored hosting programs and talked about the possibility of having an orphan spend the holiday with us. It would give us a good idea of the dynamics of adding another child to our household and a chance to get to know a child one on one. Of all the hosting programs we looked at, none fit our schedule or budget. One of those programs, Frontier Horizon, invited me to travel with them and meet not one but many children. God was prodding me to go. I needed to see these children, their living conditions, and their future. In the spring of 2006, I took a leap of faith and traveled to Odessa. I never traveled with the anticipation of finding a child.

Odessa has many orphanages, divided largely by age group. I believed I would naturally be drawn to Orphanage #9, which houses very young children. Indeed I visited and spent time among a field of beautiful children who called me Mama and sat in my lap. It was blissful. As the week passed, I was given the choice of which orphanage to visit and strangely I found myself gravitating back to #4 and #5 with the older children. God placed Kristina in my path over and over again. I felt an unexplainable connection with her. At one point I made my way to an Internet cafe to tearfully call home and tell my husband what was happening. I needed him to remind me that she was an older child with lots of baggage, set in her ways and a host of unseen problems. Fortunately, he didn't say any of that.

Never, never, never would I have said, "I want to adopt an older child". We wanted a little girl who would fit in the birth order of our family. We wanted a small child who was still "trainable"; a child who would fall in line with our ways; a child who could sit in my lap and snuggle. But that was before I met the older children. Robert's first time in the orphanage, he made an observation that I saw over a year and a half ago. "If people could just see these kids! If they could meet them and see how beautiful and perfect they are." I have received a number of emails from those of you who have looked into the faces of the kids in Kristina's orphanage and seen the same thing. Some of you have even been moved to pray about the possibility of adopting an older child. And that is exactly what I would advise you to do. Pursue God and seek His plan for your family. Yes, there are unique challenges that come with adopting an older child. But there are challenges unique to every child, young or old, biological or adopted.

We have been moved to pray about adoption once again. There are two children in Kristina's class that we have grown attached to during our time together. When someone asks me about my children one day, will I say "I have two 13 year olds, three 12 year old, an 11 year old, and a ten year old"? It sounds crazy, but we are open to God's will for our family. We have chosen to pursue God rather than a particular child though. The last year has been difficult for us and for Kristina. We have known all along that, while it was unlikely, another family could be given a referral for Kristina. In fact, that happened just last month to one of our blog friends. Our desire is that these children would have Christian families. We will seek God and trust that His will is perfect, whether that adds two more children or no more children to our brood. Perhaps God will open other hearts to the very real possibility of adding an older child to their families as well.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sick and Tired

I awoke off and on all night, scared that we would oversleep and miss our flight. When we finally got up, the temperature was noticeably lower and it was raining. I had packed the apartment the night before so there wasn't much to do but wait for the taxi. When he arrived, we loaded our luggage and took our last video game car ride through town toward the airport. Robert and I have joked that riding in taxis is a lot like being in one of those racing video games with no control of the joystick. We arrived at the airport and were told a different fee for the trip than we had been quoted the night before. We called our source and learned that luggage is extra. Would have been good to know that.

We made our way into the cold, vacant terminal and found seats off to one side. I went upstairs to the Aerosvit counter and got our paper tickets for the international leg of our flights. With taxes, our trip from Odessa (connecting in Kiev) into JFK in New York was only $550 with taxes per person. We were able to purchase the tickets straight from the Aerosvit website. The price of tickets doesn't waver much even with only 24hrs notice. I was glad we had purchased one way tickets as I didn't feel pressure to fly out on a particular day. We had nearly two hours before our flight left, so we read, chatted, and watched a stray dog that wandered in and out of the terminal. Only in Odessa. Eventually the international departure doors opened and we headed through the line. We put our bags through the scanners, went through security, and were assigned our seats. When it was time to board, we walked out onto the tarmac and climbed steps into a small plane. Robert, already nervous about flying, was not thrilled about the smaller plane that would take us to the Borispol Airport in Kiev. He didn't like that the rivets were visible in the ceiling of the plane. He didn't like that he could smell jet fuel as he boarded.

Our flight into Kiev went quickly and we gathered our bags to transfer them to the next flight. We entered the terminal and I waited with the baggage as Robert walked the perimeter looking for something to eat. In the sea of fellow travelers, a beautiful African American woman stood out to me. We have seen very few African Americans during our time in Ukraine, so she caught my eye immediately. I scanned the terminal trying to locate Robert and when I turned back around the woman was standing before me. "English?" she asked with shoulders shrugged. "Is it that apparent?" I asked her in return. Two strangers with only our homeland in common, we stood and chatted about what we were doing so far from home. She is an international basketball player headed to Mauripol for an exhibition game. We shared we had been in country to complete an adoption, but were going home. "Wait, You're headed back to the states?" she asked. When I confirmed, she let us know we were in the wrong terminal. We had no clue there is more than one terminal in Kiev. We were in terminal A and needed to be in terminal B. I was sure she must be an angel. We grabbed our luggage and rushed off to the international terminal.

Changing terminals meant we had to venture outside. Melted snow remained in the crevices of the concrete sidewalk. I made a mental note to pack warmer clothes for my return trip. We weaved through taxi drivers offering their services and entered terminal B. There in the entry way was Jeri! We thought she and Vitalik had already left the country. Unfortunately, her travel agent had requested the wrong departure date and their tickets were not valid until the next day. I felt terrible for her! She had been in Ukraine alone without her husband for weeks and was longing to return home to their children. She pointed us to where we needed to go (far end of the terminal to the right) and we headed off again. I wasn't sure which line we should be in; the red customs line (something to declare), the green customs line (nothing to declare), or the departure line. We took a chance and got in the departure line and went right through. On the other side we checked in at the Aerosvit counter and redeposited our luggage. The flight was already loading, so we rushed to our gate on the next floor. We stood in the line forever. Forty five minutes past take off time, we were still standing in the security line at our gate. I was glad that I had booked our connecting flight in New York three hours after our estimated arrival time. The flight was long and cramped. Aerosvit is definitely a budget airline, but it was a necessity for us. We tried to sleep off and on to limit jet lag, but we were so thankful when the flight was over.

We arrived at JFK an hour later than anticipated and then went through immigration and customs. At baggage claim, we waited for nearly an hour for the luggage to be delivered. Reburdened with our suitcases, we figured out that we were once again in the wrong terminal. We located the JetBlue check in counter in the next terminal and retrieved our tickets for the last leg of our journey with just enough time to board. We quickly called home to let family know we were back on American soil and to make arrangement to be picked up in Orlando.

It suddenly struck us that we were back among the familiar. The sounds and smells flooded our senses and we realized how sensory deprived we have felt in the last few weeks. The sounds of extended English conversations, the ability to read signs, the smell of familiar food coming from kiosks in the terminal oddly comforted us. I made a mental note of this. We would need to be particularly sensitive to Kristina as she experiences the absence of language, familiar sights, and smells in a few weeks.

I was so happy to see my dad when we landed in Orlando. Torn between telling him everything and sleeping, I nodded off between snippets of conversation on the drive home. The children had fallen asleep by the time we got in, but we found our home in good order thanks to my mom. The cats buzzed around Robert's feet and purred unashamedly at his attention. He actually bought cat food in Ukraine and keep small portions in a ziplock bag in his pocket to feed the many strays that crossed our path in Odessa.

This entire trip wouldn't have been possible without my parents sacrificial care of our kids in our absence. We're so grateful that we had peace of mind knowing they were in good hands. We learned friends had stepped in as well, taking Hannah for a manicure (thanks, K) and the boys swimming at their house (thanks, J). And my Uncle Keith and his family are already helping us with arrangements for my return trip. So many people made this possible; thank you to everyone.

We fell into bed near midnight (ah, the comfort of my own bed!) and rose early the next morning to get the kids off to school and head for work. Early Friday morning, it was apparent that our systems weren't going to allow us to bounce back into our regular routine. Jet lag sapped our energy the following days and I came down with a bug last night. I am so thankful to have been home when it hit though! I'm trying to take it easy and ease back into our routine, but I've been confined to bed most of today. I promise to get to my email this weekend and reply to all of you who have written in the last few days. Hopefully I will be well enough to attend church tomorrow.

We're so excited to follow the journeys of friends who have just arrived in Ukraine. We are praying for all of you! I will be traveling back to get Kristina in about two weeks. Pray for me as I make preparations and pray for Kristina's transition.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Last Day in Odessa

Today was a mellow day here in Odessa. Temperatures continue to drop and the rain set in. I made it to the internot early this morning to check Kristina out. She literally jumped into my arms when I showed up. After changing out of her school uniform, we walked the looonnnnnggg distance to the bus stop and made our way into the center of the city. We took care of some offical things like passport photos on Deribasovskaya Street. We found a little passport studio off of one of the side alleys. The place was no larger than 6x10. I pointed to the passport picture on the wall and indicated I need Kristina's photo done. He turned to Kristina and indicated in broken English that she should sit in the chair. She did as she was told as he continued to give her instructions like "move your chin up, push your hair back" in broken English. She said to him, "I speak Russian too!" At which point he looked surprsed and she was tickled. She thought it was great that the guy thought she was my daughter (well, you know what I mean) and only spoke English like me.

She decided she wanted pizza for lunch so we make the trek down to Pan Pizza (yes, Pam, it is the best in town!). She was full of questions the whole way. Can I see High School Musical movie when we go to house? Will I get married and have children one day? Can I play soccer in America? Sara, I asked her if she was nervous about coming to America and she said not at all. She's been waiting a whole year! I truely think she is ready for this transition. We will have our bumps along the way, but she is ready to come home.

After lunch we went back to the apartment and she played on the computer for awhile before we went back to the internot. I spent about two hours with the children. I know I'll be back in a few weeks, but I will miss them terribly in the meantime. At one point, I had four boys snuggled in next to me on the couch holding my hands. There are so many wonderful boys at this orphanage. It is my prayer that more families will be moved to adopt older children. What a blessing they are! We batted around a balloon and snapped photos until it was time for the children to go to their study period. Kristina got a little sad, but I reminded her that the sooner I leave, the sooner I can come back for her. I am relieved to be returning home for a short while. I need to time and environment to recharge before finishing this journey. Pray for traveling grace for us tomorrow. We'll post again when we get home.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Its a Girl!

Well, Robert says, "Its a bouncing, hyperactive, extremely talkative girl!" She is officially ours! No chance of giving of her back. A year and a half labor, but no epidural necessary.

I'll admit I was terribly nervous about court this morning. I actually scanned the archieves of our friends' blogs to see what this judge would be like. No one else seemed at all troubled by the hearing. Natasha prepped us on what to expect and who would be there.

We arrived early and waited for Kristina, Dina the orphanage social worker, Alyona the translator, and a representative from the inspector's office to arrive. Kristina was all smiles and bouncy this morning, not a nervous bone in her body. We made our way to the second floor and waited on benches in the hall until we were called for. After about 15 minutes we were shown into the chambers. The room was about 20x20; there was a long table at the front of the room where the judge sat with a person on either side of him. A secretary sat at a computer in the corner. At the back of the room were two more tables and chairs where we were directed to sit. Kristina slid in next to me and took my hand under the table. The judge asked first Robert and then me to stand and give our full name, date of birth, and legal residence. He then directed a number of questions to Robert: What do you do? How do you know this child? Do you own or rent your home? Do you have any children? Why do you want to adopt this child? Do you have room for another child in your home? What do you see for her future and education?

He then asked me to stand and asked: What is your training (what do you do)? Tell me about the four children you have. How will you help Kristina to learn English and adjust to living in your home? I told him she already fit in quite nicely and that she was extremely bright. We have been providing her with Englsih lessons for almost a year and she is incredibly fluent. We know her teachers in America and they are all very anxious and happy for her to start school. Education has always been inportant to me and Robert and we will make sure she has all of the opportunities our other chldren have. He then asked Kristina to stand and asked her: Do you know these people? Do you want to be adopted? Why by them? Do you understand that you will go to live in America? It will not be easy and you will have to work hard. She answered confidently to each question and smiled at the judge until he was smiling back at her. He asked the social worker and inspector's office representative if there were any objections and there were none. He declared that Kristina Tarkanovskaya would be legally Kristina Hope Landrum and the adoption petition would be granted with the standard 10 day waiting period. I think the entire process took about 10 minutes. The judge congratualted us and wished us good health and a happy family. At that point Kristina grabbed the photo album we had brought along and skipped right up to the bench to show the judge her family. He was kind enough to take a few moments and flip through the pages as she pointed out people and places before he excused himself for his next meeting. That was it!

Since it is a school day, we returned Kristina to the orphanage for classes and made arrangements to check her out for the entire day tomorrow. We'll spend our last day together as a family in Odessa. Natasha, Robert and I went to lunch and celebrated. I feel like I can exhale now that court is done. God has been faithful to walk with us through this process and you have been gracious enough to pray for us as we have journied. Praise God! Our ransomed daughter is with her family!

"And the ransomed of the LORD will return, And come with joyful shouting to Zion, With everlasting joy upon their heads. They will find gladness and joy, And sorrow and sighing will flee away."
-Isaiah 35:10

Monday, November 05, 2007

Spiritual Needs

Sorry to be MIA for so long. We had a power outage in our building and therefore didn't have internet access for a while. The weekend passed uneventfully. Saturday offered a brilliant blue sky, so Robert immediately wanted to walk to the port and look out over the waters. The view was indeed beautiful. Brides once again gathered near the Opera House for photos in the bitter cold wind. Several wore fur coats over their gowns to make posing in the dropping temperatures tolerable. We walked to the Mother-in-Law Bridge again to take pictures of a newer tradition her in Odessa. All across the expanse of bridge are engraved locks hooked along the railing. Its quite a site and we walked part of the length of the bridge looking at the delicate gold locks and heavy padlocks with the names and dates of newlyweds inscribed. It appears that couples make their way to the bridge after the wedding ceremony and place their lock as a symbol of their unity. Robert wanted to know if the marriage doesn't work out if they cut the lock off. He's so un-romantic! :P

We walked to the big Russian Orthodox church in the square. Robert was curious to see inside, so we followed two old women through carved, heavy oak doors. I was concerned about not knowing proper ettiquette. Since the old women donned headcoverings, I improvised with my jacket hood. We crept up marble stairs to the entrance to the sanctuary. A hall opened before us with gold painted walls, intricate marble inlaid floors, and ornate artwork of saints, priests, and Christ painted across the ceilings and walls. There were a handful of women crossing theselves and lighting candles at the front of the hall. We tiptoed in and followed the walls around looking into the faces of reverred men and women of their faith. On one side of the hall, a priest stood chanting melodically and swinging incense. The smell made me breathe shallowly. He wore a long gray wool robe with gold thread embroidering the cuffs and neckline. His hair was pulled back into one long ponytail and he rocked gently back and forth as the bells on his chain rang in time to his motions. Worshippers wandered forward to place little pieces on paper on the table before him, prayer requests perhaps. A canopy of purple velvet arched across a gold and jewel enameled covered coffin at the opposite side of the hall. Plexiglass covered the open casket and the form of a body shrouded in muslim laid inside. We couldn't read the writing, but assume it must have been one of their priests. There were no pews, no chairs of any kind within the sanctuary. We later learned that the Russian Orthodox church believes it is disrespectful to sit in the presence of God. On our way out, a young priest in black robes nodded to us. He was a striking young man, almost seven feet tall. Robert took the opportunity to try and communicate with him about his faith. He spoke very little English, but tried to answer Robert's quesions. Without much luck, Robert gave up and we made our way back down the marble stairs.

The experience left us longing for familiar worship. We missed the opportunity to attend church last weekend, so we started searching for possibilities for the next morning. I remembered reading about American PCA missionaries on Jim's blog. I quickly found the link and a cell phone number for the missonary and Robert made the phone call. Bob Burnham and Robert chatted and he got directions and times for the next morning's worship service. The church was just across the square from us! In fact just steps from the Russian Orthodox Church we had visited that afternoon.

Sunday morning we found the building and was warmly welcomed inside by the youth standing out front. It was the largest collective of smiling faces that we have seen since being in Ukraine. We made our way to a rustic wooden pew in the middle and waited for services to begin. My attention was immediately peaked when I heard American voices behind us. A MTW representatve from the States, Rev. Shaw, was preaching that morning. He and his wife introduced themselves and another group of visting Americans behind them. A kind faced older man slid onto the pew next to Robert with two headsets and spoke swift Russian. We looked at him quizzically until he smiled and said "Hello! Welcome! I knew you were Americans!" in his perfect American accent. Dan Underwood is part of the mission team serving at the church. He and his wife are from Deleware. He offered us the headsets so that we could hear the Call to Worship translated into English. The music would be in Russian, but at least we would understand the sermon by Rev. Shaw and the announcements. When the music started, I was unprepared to hear the same hymns we had sung at our church before leaving for Ukraine. The emotions of how much I missed home and the familiar overcame me and I fought back tears. I whispered the words in English to the songs and our Ukrainian brothers and sisters in Christ sang along side of us in Russian. The service was long, two and half hours, but was satsfying. We were able to partake of communion and Dan invited us to have dinner with he and his wife on Wednesday evening. I want to encourage believers to take the time to contact your misions board in the States and find out if there are missionaries of like faith serving in the area you may be going to. They will be a source of grace and comfort during your time here. After two weeks, I can already sense the desire to return home. Many families will be here for many weeks or months to complete their adoptions. You will need all the help you can get.

We are planning on visiting the internot today and spending time with the children. Court is scheduled for tomorrow morning, 9:15. Please remember to lift us up in prayer.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Its all Russian to Me

We awoke to the pinging of rain on the tin roof outside our window yesterday morning. The air was palpably cooler as autumn has placed her foot decidedly in the city of Odessa. Venturing into the damp streets, our breathe was visible as we chatted on where we would go. Robert wanted to see the port again so we wandered in that direction, but a stubborn gray curtain hung before the seaport, obstructing the view of the waters. We made our way back to the center of the city to look for lunch before making plans to visit the children at the orphanage. Inevitably, we always get stuck looking at buildings as we wander the city. If you look closely, there are the most remarkable plaster settings on the older builing, faces of girls, angels, lions, etc. We walked past the opera house where the bright pink roses were still struggling to bloom in the sinking temperatures and the wispy grass was receiving its final cutting of the season. The rain water mazed in angry torrents through the cobblestone streets of Deribasovskaya Street as we looked for someplace new to rest our feet. We found a quaint Italian resturant that offered a menu in Rusian/Italian/English. The meal was wonderful and under $15. A resturant of that caliber at home would have been at least $60 for lunch for two.

When we arrived at the internot, only a handful of boys were in the playroom. They were watching a kung fu movie and acting out scenes on each other as their intrest ebbed. Kola ran up to greet us and hugged me as hard as he could. Its good to see the kids growing more and more comfortable with us. Eventually Kristina and Lena wandered into the room. The two of them are joined at the hip, thick as thieves. They begged us to go to the music room and listen to them sing karaoke. We didn't understand a word they were singing, but they were singing and dancing around like they were on American Idol. It was hilarious! Before long it was time for the children to do their chores, so we headed home for the evening.

Lela Steele planned an outing to the movies today and invited us along. We met up at the internot this morning and rode with the children to the theatre. Our bus had seating for 18, but there were 40 people crammed onto it! Thankfully, the cinema was just down the road so we weren't packed in for long. We waited in the lobby for quite some time before going in. Robert decided the kids needed popcorn if they were going to properly watch a movie. You should have seen him going back and forth between the concession stand and the theatre passing out enough popcorn tubs to feed 70 people! The kids never get popcorn, so it was a real treat. I think it was more of a treat for Robert though. Can you believe that much popcorn was only $40?!? We watched the Bee Movie. It was all in Russian (seems to be a theme here), but we got the gist of it. After the movie, we rode back with Lela (to avoid being crushed on the bus!) and stopped off at McDonald's. It hit me as we were walking in, that this was the first place I had seen Kristina. I showed Robert the very spot she was standing when I took her picture. How strange to reflect on all that has occured in the last 18 months. We sat outside feeding french fries to little sparrows and talking about where God has brought us in this adoption and where He may still be asking us to go.

This evening Natasha took me to a book store around the corner from our apartment. Those of you who know me know I can spend hours in a bookstore. Even though most of the books were in Russian, the place had the same welcoming atmosphere as all good bookstores. Copies of the last book in the Harry Potter series graced the window fronts. Popular best sellers were recognizable by their covers. Wandering the rows, I found a couple of Russian-English workbooks for Kristina.

Not much to do this weekend; we will likely try to find the famous outdoor market and get lost there for awhile. We're waiting on one piece of paper that will allow us to have court on Tuesday morning. We won't know for sure until Monday when the SDA calls. Please pray that this all falls into place. Pray that we can find affordable airfare following court to come home for the waiting period.