Ever since I was little, it was something I KNEW I would do someday. Luckily my husband had no problems with adoption and it was a good thing because I didn't even ask him what he thought about it before we got married. It was just something I always knew I would do and it didn't occur to me that he might not feel as strongly as I did about it. In fact, that never once dawned on me until we announced we were adopting and some friends said they were happy for us, but it wasn't something they would ever do. I was SHOCKED that they felt that way. They were and have been our best supporters, but adoption wasn't what God called them to do.
Our adoption journey started with lots of research. I went online and searched for adoption agencies. I requested information from each and every one I came across. We had quite a flow of mail come in. I had so many agencies information that the mail person started bringing packets in boxes to the door! I looked over each one carefully. I looked at their reputation, cost, etc. We finally narrowed our search down to three adoption agencies as options.
At that time in my life, I knew I wanted a little Asian girl. So we looked at China, but it wasn't an option as you have to be 30 or older when you apply, and we were in our early 20's. Then as we were applying to adopt from Vietnam, the whole program closed. Next it was Russia and as we were sure we were going to adopt a child from Russia and gathering papers we met my sister-in-law's sister, Renee. She was going to be part of a hosting program from Ethiopia that Here I Am Orphan Ministries was conducting. She chose a teenage boy, named Henok, to host.
That summer we watched her and everything that went on. Hosting was new and scary to us. As I watched I knew I would do it someday, but didn't feel like I was ready to host an older child at that point. We had no children and I wanted to start with a baby. One thing is for sure; God turned our vision to Ethiopia. I started watching videos and reading blogs and my husband was on board. God also blessed my husband with a new job that had health insurance and a much higher salary around that time! I was ecstatic. The second we could, we filled out all the paperwork. It was two years later that we met our son, Kallan, in Ethiopia. We got a referral for a 3-month-old boy. We were open to either boy or girl, but I was certain that it would be a girl. Our referral was a beautiful boy with pink clothes. I remember asking if it was really a boy? He was and I knew he was meant to be our son. We accepted the referral without even reading all of his information. From the moment we saw his picture, we knew we loved him and would forever. Three months later we held him for the first time. It was beautiful. He was precious and a gift from God. Which is what his Ethiopian name, Nathan, means!
Fast forward a little-- we have all our paperwork ready to submit to Ethiopia for child number two. That is when I found out I am pregnant. Adoption had been our first choice and our agency at the time had very strict rules. While pregnant, we had to close down our adoption and could only restart a year after having our son, Luke. I went to my first ultrasound and it was like getting a referral of child for adoption. You see that sweet baby and you just fall in love, you know that it is going to be your child. There are no words to describe that feeling adequately, it's amazing and beautiful! We have my son, Luke, and he is perfect. On his first birthday we re-submitted our application to adopt. Since adoption documents are only good for so long, we had to re-do everything. Once again, we submitted paperwork to adopt from Ethiopia again.
The wait for a referral from Ethiopia had gotten really long. While we were waiting, we did a ton of training for adopting older children. We changed our "child request" to be willing to adopt two children of various ages and had various special needs that we were open to. You see, God was preparing us for a future we did not see coming.
A year or so during our wait we found out about a hosting program from Ukraine. We figured, why not? While we wait for Ethiopia we can host, so we might as well. Plus, after seeing Renee's host it was something I always wanted to do. The timing seemed right, so we hosted a girl from Ukraine. We did tons of fundraising and had the blessing of many others to make it possible. One family who was hosting had their host fee's completely paid for and they gave us money out of a bonus from work they'd received. It was such a touching act of generosity that I'll NEVER forget. You see, we've never had the money to host, but God always provides!
Then, late in the host selection time a few other kids came on the list that didn't get picked to be hosted from another program. I felt a pull to advocate for the kids. There was one boy in particular that I was drawn to. I remember seeing him and being glad he wasn't on the list at the beginning because I felt it would have been hard to choose between the girl we hosted and him. We'd already committed to her and our car wasn't big enough for another person to ride in, so I felt that was the way it was supposed to be. I remember praying fervently for someone to host him. I prayed all the time about his family and who it would be. That SOMEONE would be able to host him. I took his picture and write up with me everywhere I went. I carried it around in this plastic folder, to keep the information neat, showing it to anyone I felt might be open to being a host family. I discussed team hosting him, but nobody would fully commit to do this with me. I pressed them to read his write up and consider hosting him. I just KNEW there was someone to host him.
Meanwhile we had been looking for a van for our family for a couple of years. We were picky and in no rush. One night my husband, David, came home from work and said "On my drive home there was a van and it looked like it was nice and the price was reasonable, do you want to go look at it?" I said "Yes of course." He called on it, but it had tons of miles so we knew it wasn't what we needed. It had been some time since we had looked for vehicles, but we eventually found a van that we really liked. We looked at it, test drove it, and loved it. My husband and I are NOT quick decision makers. We put a lot of time and effort into everything. Probably too much, but we can't ever say we didn't work our hardest to make a good decision! We just felt like it was the right vehicle and if we didn't buy it, we may not find anything like it again. So, we bought it that night!
The very next day we found out the extra kids had to be pulled from the host list because they needed to buy plane tickets for the host program. A lot of people stepped up to host them, but a few left and one of them was our boy. All that had been holding us back from hosting him was money and a vehicle. We had the vehicle, and we decided money was not going to be something to stop us, so I literally begged everyone I knew to donate towards his hosting fees. It was against everything in me. I'm not one to ask for anything, but I didn't want to see this boy left behind and I knew this wasn't about me. This was about HIM. Some kids donated their piggy bank money towards his host fees! So for him, I put myself in a situation I'd otherwise not be in and asked for money. By that night we had people donate and his host fees were paid. At the time, I think it cost $2,500 to host a child. So in one day, $2,500.00 came in! God answered my prayer, but I would have never had known that I was praying so fervently for myself!
We got rooms ready, received donations of bikes for the kids to ride, clothing and toys! We did whatever we could to make things ready for their arrival. I went through (as I do with every host) a nesting phase and the house couldn't get cleaner!
Hosting came and the kids arrived. I'll never forget meeting them, watching our host girl run out and give us big hugs. Watching our host boy, Viktor, come cautiously not really sure what to expect. That night, and the days to come were awesome. It was such a great experience! The kids got to live in a family, find out what it was like to be part of a family, and they really enjoyed it. We loved every single second. It is amazing all we take for granted here in America and how much we are taught naturally just by being in a family. Things like putting lids on things, closing doors, turning off lights, and other simple tasks were all new learning experiences for these children.
Our host girl always wanted to have a banana with her so that she knew she had food at all times. She knew what it was like to be without food and it created fears in her that most people cannot fully understand. Having food with her was security and she loved it. She might never eat it, but it was there if she felt hungry. She also loved having a dream of hers come true. If only for a short time, she had someone she could call mom and dad. I can still hear her saying: "Momma, banana," "Daddy, yogurt," "Momma, chick please (asking for a remote to turn on the TV)."
I remember taking her to buy her first Barbie. This is a 12 year old girl who always dreamed of having a doll, but caught between being "too grown.' and the child she had never gotten to be. I remember her saying she only wanted to buy it to practice hairstyles! She got a Rapunzel doll and some friends of ours had donated some Barbie stuff. So between this and clothes... I also remember her loving having HER own clothes. At night we would hear her in her room trying on all her clothes every night. The drawers would loudly open and close, as she would try each and every thing on. I remember waking her up in the mornings and seeing all the dolls interacting in different scenarios then they had been the night before. She felt she was too old to say she played with them so I never said a word. Still, I loved waking her up in the morning and finding things like this. It would always bring a smile to my face to see her have a little bit of a childhood she otherwise wouldn't have had. It was the little things, and when the kids left we missed nail polish on floors, lights left on, messy rooms, or huge surpluses of bananas and yogurt so she felt safe. It was a reminder that they weren't there and those sweet teaching moments meant the world to us.
When it was time to pack to leave, one of her greatest treasures was toilet paper. She explained to us that they use pages out of books or nothing because toilet paper is not something they have unless it's Christmas. I remember trying to get as much clothes and yes, the Barbies, into one bag. We finally got everything in with her sitting proudly on the bag, and then the tears flowed when we found out the bag was over its weight limit. I remember trying to whittle down the only possessions that were HERS, for that moment knowing when she got back to the orphanage they'd become community property. We worked for hours trying to get everything "just right" for her to take back to Ukraine.
We were heartbroken to see them leave and so were they. She broke down in tears at the airport and I fought to hold it together trying to support her. The boy stood there stone faced and walked to the plane (he told me later that he really was sad but wasn't going to show it). Then, as I watched them getting ready to head home... I, not being a crier, found myself on the airport floor unable to stand. Tears were flowing, and I couldn't stop crying. I couldn't feel my feet. I just felt broken. There is a song that had played all summer that went "Isn't it beautiful, the way we fall apart, it's magical, and tragic all the ways they break our hearts, so unpredictable, completely miserable... but isn't it beautiful". As I sat there, those words echoed in my head. It felt like my heart was being ripped out. I knew that it was true, it really IS better to have loved and lost, then to not have loved at all. It was pain, but it was also gain: the memories, the growth, the involvement, everything was worth the hardships of seeing them go.
Hosting is such a growth opportunity for everyone involved and having done it 4 times (more on this later) I can say it's worth it for yourself and the children. The kids enjoyed time with family and we enjoyed every second with them. Everyone was sad when they left. We said goodbye not knowing if we'd ever see either of them again. However, we knew we wanted to go on and adopt the boy, Viktor. I am purposely not mentioning much about his story as I know this is HIS story to tell someday. The girl had a unique situation and to put it simply wasn't available for adoption.
You can't have two adoptions going on at one time, so we closed down our file from Ethiopia because for us it was worth the risk of failure. Meaning, for us, it was better to try to adopt Viktor, even if there was a chance that we would not succeed. We couldn't live with not trying! So we looked into Viktor's adoption and after a long, rocky, two-year journey he became our son.
We got to host him and two other boys the winter following the summer host program. We loved them and every moment with them. Watching them and our children opening Christmas gifts was priceless...Oohing and Ahhhing!!! It was my favorite Christmas and one I'll treasure for the rest of my life. The experience was the same, it had its hard moments, but it was beautiful. It is the hard times you work though and see them develop as people that are the best. Our kids came so far and forever they will have "life tools" they learned while being hosted. They will also have some wonderful memories!
Then the summer came and we were getting ready to go to Ukraine to adopt Viktor. However something else happened right before we left - we added a girl, named Julia, last minute to our adoption. We were approved for extra children and found out about a blind child that needed a family. The woman I mentioned earlier, Renee, my sister-in-law's sister, had hosted this child and we'd spent a tiny bit of time with Julia as we were busy with our own hosts. God put Julia on our hearts and we completed paperwork on the tightest of time frames to make her our daughter. We had to update our homestudy to include a girl and one with special needs. We literally had a few weeks to get everything done and kept hearing, "If you would have called a week later, a day later, hours later then some things couldn't have been done". We did authentications minutes before the office closed on the last day we could do them. God held lots of doors open for her adoption and even in Ukraine things went remarkably well.
I mentioned that it took 2 years for my son, Viktor's adoption. There were some things that happened while we were in Ukraine that threw a wrench into the system and made him not available for adoption at the time. So, our daughters' adoption went through miraculously fast and without a hitch while his... well... we had to go back a 2nd time.
We didn't know what would happen or when with his adoption would take place because there was so much up in the air. That spring we found out about The Journey of Hope 2015 summer host program through Here I Am Orphan Ministries. There was a little girl from China who was blind waiting for a host family. We saw her and fell in love. She was precious! Our lives were in limbo, but we felt like she needed to come and we committed to hosting her.
Things really did finish in Ukraine and our son was coming home. A couple months earlier we had decided to sell our house. Our intention was to sell and move before he came, but things don't always work out the way you think they will. Our house sold the moment it was listed. We literally got a call the moment it was listed and they were ready to buy. Then, we had an accepted offer on a house we planned to buy and while we were having it inspected we found out someone offered more money and they accepted their offer (yes we could have sued, but it was not worth it to us). So our house was sold, house prices had went up drastically during that time and we didn't have anywhere to go. God blessed us again, and we found a place that built houses at an affordable price, in a good area so we put a contract in to build a house. Our son was ready to come home and while my husband went to Ukraine to finalize his adoption I moved a bulk of our stuff into storage. The day after he came home we had to be out of our house so our newly adopted son helped us move the heavy things into storage. I rented an apartment that we would live in while our house was being built. One week later our sweet host child came from China.
I remember seeing her come through the airport doors. I knew it was her the moment I saw her and I couldn't get to her quick enough. I remember picking her up in my arms, this painfully thin child who didn't let me go. She just held onto me. Such a beautiful little girl, that God put into our lives. We took her for Chinese food the first night and she ate tons. She was so happy and she had such a good attitude. I can't imagine being blind and coming all the way from China at 6 years old!
That night we got to our apartment and started getting ready for bed. I had some pajamas I planned to put on her and I went to take off her shoes. Someone in China had sent her with brand new Barbie shoes. They were really cute and the moment I touched those shoes she started SCREAMING. Again, we were in an apartment and it was pretty late at night. We did all we could to get her to calm down. She just sobbed and sobbed. She didn't want anyone to take her Barbie shoes. She was so proud of them. She cupped them in her hands and rocked back and forth. I scooped her up in my arms and she wanted nothing more to do with me, the one who had tried to take her precious shoes (awww, can you blame her?)! So my husband, David took her and held her. She fought for a little while, but he's always been good with situations like this. He just kept holding her and eventually she calmed down.
We didn't get any sleep that night and the next morning I took her to for a doctor appointment. She was as sweet as can be all day and a bundle of joy. I don't know how because she'd been up for a couple of days straight, but had a wonderful attitude. Did I mention the doctor was a couple hours away (one direction)? I didn't change her clothes that day for fear of upsetting her about her shoes. With a language difference and no sight we picked our battles. She ate all her meals and was such a fun and easygoing child otherwise. However, she would only sleep if my husband held her standing up. The moment he sat down on a couch or moved she would wake up crying. He works early hours and gets home pretty late, but he was so accommodating. Late the next morning she gave up and fell deep asleep on his shoulder. He sat down on the couch and fell asleep propped up, holding this tiny little girl. Our younger boys, and I slept in the living room on the couch next to her and David. He went to work the next morning and she was wide-awake so we went to my room in order to let everyone else sleep and she played trashcan basketball. She was a great shot using sound and we had a blast. I was exhausted but somehow it didn't matter. It was so fun to spend time getting to know her.
Over the next day she got to know us more and we were able to take the Barbie shoes off during a nap. As soon as she woke up I placed the shoes in her hands and then had her take a bath. After the bath we changed clothes and I put her shoes on. We never had another problem. It still makes me smile to think how proud she was of those Barbie shoes.
Her sleep schedule also started to get from "China time" to "American time." Another thing we did that really stand out is the splash pad. She LOVED it and she enjoyed swimming! I think it was her first time to ever be in the water like that. She just giggled and laughed. She splashed and it was amazing to see her enjoy something so simple, so deeply! She did all she could to get out of my arms because she didn't think she needed me and wanted freedom in the water. She was in a life jacket and I let her bob enough that she understood she needed me, but not enough for it to be anything dangerous. I worked with her a lot. She was really great about staying with me from then on and by the end of host program, she was swimming on her own, with me right beside her!
We also took her to a jumping place where she and our daughter Julia, who is also blind, had a great time going through the mazes. We sang a lot of Chinese songs too. She had perfect pitch and loved to sing. It was a busy summer, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. We fell in love with our host child, but with all the transitions our son was really hurting and needed time to adjust. It was a lot of change all at once. There was a family I felt a big pull from. They talked about our host child even before she came. We knew that she couldn't be part of our family at this time so we introduced her to the other family. They fell in love with her and are in process to adopt her!
I mentioned our host child was blind. It was neat to see the girls interact. They had a lot of fun. In fact, everyone had fun with her! She was close in age to my little boys and everyone got along great! Our daughter, Julia, learned Chinese through a program on her iPod. She taught our host child how to count to 20 correctly, which was pretty big because she didn't know it before Julia taught her.
She enjoyed having a family and we enjoyed having another daughter for the summer. I heard that she misses us a lot. We talk about her often and we all miss her. It's a lot easier knowing she is going to be adopted by a great family, but there is always a hole in your heart when they leave. Hosting is always special for us. The chance to meet a child, to give them experiences, family, life skills, and lots of love is a blessing. As I said before though, they take part of your heart with them... but they give you a bigger one in return!