Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I Believe

In Mark chapter 9, a man brings his son to the Savior, pleading with Him to cast out an evil spirit. ". .But if thou canst do anything," said the man, "have compassion on us, and help us (Mark 9:22)."

In response, the Savior said," "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth."

"And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief (Mark 9:24)"

When we began this adoption journey in February, we knew that we would need to complete this adoption without incurring additional debt. (For those unfamiliar with the costs associated with international adoption, or for those interested in pursuing an international adoption, to adopt three children with special needs from Bulgaria, our overall expenses will be approximately $30,000). In the beginning, the task seemed daunting, but we knew that, with the Lord's help, we could accomplish our goal, and so we got down on our knees and asked our Heavenly Father for assistance.

We worked hard to set aside every penny that was not being used for necessities. We held garage sales, bake sales, sold handmade goods and anything that wasn't nailed down, we hosted our ipod giveaway and our silent auction. We were continually humbled by the generosity of friends, family and even strangers. Whenever the money was needed (agency fees, facilitation fees, USCIS fees, paperwork, medicals, fingerprinting, etc.), the money was there.

Several weeks ago (shortly after mailing our dossier), I sat down to calculate the amount still needed to complete our adoption. Although I was amazed at the amount of money we had been able to come up with thus far, I was overwhelmed by the amount still left to be raised, and I wondered if we would truly be able to complete this adoption without incurring additional debt. I once again found myself on my knees, asking my Heavenly Father for the faith to know that the money would be there and that we would meet our goal.

The following day I loaded the kids into the van and made the 10 hour drive to Philadelphia for Evan's doctor's appointment. When we arrived at the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House that evening, the social worker immediately asked me if I could step into her office. I followed her, puzzled by her request. Once inside her office she handed me a black leather bag. She explained to me that, inside the bag was a Christmas Jar, given to our family by an annonymous donor. Because our family also keeps a Christmas Jar, I knew immediately what I would find in the bag. (For those unfamiliar with this Christmas tradition, a Christmas Jar is a jar where you place your spare change at the end of each day and at Christmastime, donate the contents of the jar, annonymously, to someone in need.)

Fighting back tears, I thanked her and took the bag and my children up to our room. Once inside, I opened the bag and pulled out the jar. Inside that jar was more than just someone's spare change. I couldn't hold back the tears any longer. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of this annonymous donor. What's more, I was reminded, once again, that our Heavenly Father is in all of the details of our lives and will provide all that we need, exactly when we need it.

I felt like the father who came to the Savior seeking healing for his son. "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." And, just as He has reminded me time and again throughout this process, He answered and said, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth."

We may never know the identity of the person who blessed us with their Christmas Jar, but we are deeply grateful for that gift and most importantly, for the reminder that our Heavenly Father hears and answers our prayers and will bless us with all that we need, if we believe.

I believe.

Signed, sealed, delivered!

Well, I figured I had kept everyone in suspense long enough and it was time for an update :-)

Our dossier is complete and on November 24th, we packaged up our "baby" (signed, notarized, certified and apostilled) and sent it across the pond! It arrived in Bulgaria on November 30th and is now in the process of being translated and authenticated! We are hoping that it will be submitted and registered with the Ministry of Justice by the beginning of the year and that we will receive a travel date shortly thereafter! As was expected, time, that seemed to speed by like lightening prior to completing our dossier, has slowed to a crawl and each day feels like an eternity as we await news of when I might make the first trip. I am grateful to have the holidays to keep me busy (and they certainly have, which is why you have heard nothing but crickets chirping on my blogs), but no matter how busy we are, my babies in Bulgaria are never far from my thoughts. I am so anxious to finally meet them!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

And the winners are. . . .

Before announcing the winners of our "Bulgaria or Bust" Silent Auction, I would like to again thank each and every one of you who helped make this auction a success. We were able to raise over $600 and we are so appreciative of the help and support of so many of our family and friends. All of you are such a big and important part of this journey and we feel blessed to be able to share this journey with you.

Now, without further ado, the winners of the "Bulgaria or Bust" Silent Auction:

Toddler Dress (Green/Yellow)- Tiana ($8)

"For the Birds" Rag Quilt Set- Cynthia ($60)

Toddler Dress (Buttons and Bubbles)- Cynthia ($22)

Toddler Dress (Flowers)- Tiana ($16)

"Feed the Birds" Baking Set- Cristi ($28)

Hand Knit Hat by Lollipops and Cupcakes- Cristi ($31)

Infant Car Seat Blankie by Pocketful of Posies- Shauna ($25)

"Bot Camp" Baby Rag Quilt Set- Tiana ($33)

"Sweet Cherry" Baby Rag Quilt- Tiana ($42)

Custom Barn Star- Cass ($60 + $15 for 3 small stars)

Fine Art Portrait by Creative Juice Photography- Jill ($35)

Hooded Bath Towel by Pumpkin Patch Designs- Cynthia ($28)

Custom Blog Makeover by Country Girl Designs- Cynthia ($40)

The "Thumbelina" by Cherry Blossoms- January ($10)

"Kiwi" Rag Quilt- Tiana ($67)

Photography Session with Charity Brown Photography- Liz ($30)

Custom Fairy Tale Art- Sarah ($20)

Butterfly Barrettes from Wynken, Blynken and Nod- Cynthia ($14)

Angel Ornaments- Tiana ($7)

Custom Felt Design T-Shirt- Julia ($25)

Vera Bradley Bags- Tiana ($38)

"Spring Fling" Baking Set- Angelea ($40)

Winning bidders have the option to pay via personal check/money order, paypal or to our grant fund at Reece's Rainbow.

If you choose to make your payment to our grant fund (tax deductible) we request that you do so by check rather than paypal (Reece's Rainbow absorbs all paypal fees so that the full amount of each donation can be credited to the grant funds of the children/families. As you can imagine, the paypal fees can become quite extensive, so payment by check, or including the cost of the paypal fees in your payment, are greatly appreciated). Checks for the grant fund can be made out to Reece's Rainbow and sent directly to us (we will send all checks to Reece's Rainbow together which will make it easier on the director of RR who does all accounting manually)!

To receive our paypal account information and/or our address to send payment, please contact me at desisdelights@gmail.com

When you contact me, please be sure to include your contact information so that we may ship your items to you or pass your information along to those who will be shipping your items.

We would also like to announce the winners of our giveaway! We are so grateful to all those who participated by donating, bidding and/or "advertising" that we decided to choose two names. And the two lucky winners are. . . .


Heather and Charity, thank you both so much for donating to our auction and for helping us get the word out! We appreciate your support so much! For your prize you may choose from the following:

16" Custom Barn Star
Felt Design T-shirt
6 Felt Chocolate Chunk or Iced Sugar Cookies w/sprinkles
Reversible Children's Apron

As always, we are overwhelmed by the love and support that we have felt from friends, family and even strangers as we work to bring our children home. That love and support is deeply felt and appreciated and we know that we could not do this without each and every one of you! You are all AMAZING!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Bulgaria or Bust" Adoption Silent Auction

Welcome to our "Bulgaria or Bust" Adoption Silent Auction!

To be honest, I hate asking for money and I have a really hard time accepting it! But I have been overwhelmed by the generosity and support of family, friends and even strangers as we work to bring our children home from Bulgaria! I am very excited to be able to offer so many amazing items in return for your support!

Here is how it will work:

Each auction item will be listed in a separate post (so be sure to keep scrolling so you don't miss anything!). At the bottom of each post, the current auction price will be listed. If you wish to bid on an item, simply post a comment with the amount you wish to bid.

I will try to update the auction price as often as possible, but please be sure to check the comment section to ensure that you are bidding high enough to become the highest bidder.

The auction will run from Sunday, November 1st until Sunday, November 15th. At the close of the auction I will post a list of the winning bidders and ask that you contact me so that I can get your contact information in order to ship your item(s) or pass your information along to those who have donated items to the auction.

You will have several payment options. The first is to make your payment to our tax-deductible Family Sponsorship Grant with Reece's Rainbow (click on the blog button in the side bar for details. . .or to see a picture of "Sofia"). The second option is to make a payment directly to our personal adoption account through paypal. And the third option is to send your payment by personal/bank check or money order.

In addition to the auction, we will also be doing a GIVEAWAY and it is completely free (and easy) to enter!!! To enter the giveaway simply post our auction information to your Facebook page, Twitter or Blog to help us get the word out! Leave a comment on THIS POST to let us know that you have shared the news and your name will be entered into the giveaway.

And just what are we giving away?? The winner of our giveaway will have the privilege (at least, I'd like to think it's a privilege) of choosing one item from my Etsy shop, Desi's Delights (don't worry, I am slowly working on listing more items and promise there will be much more to choose from by November 15th!).

I would like to extend a HUGE thank you to all of those who have donated their time and talents to making this auction possible: Crystal Bailey, Katie Chapman, Charity Brown of Charity Brown Photography, Kiley at Cherry Blossoms, Heather at Wynken Blynken and Nod, Madeline at Lollipops and Cupcakes, Alyson at Pocketful of Posies, Country Girl Designs and, of course, my incredible family, for their support as I pulled all of this together! We appreciate each and every one of you SO much!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

It's TRIPLETS!



No, we are not literally expecting triplets (been there, done that, grateful that there is no way I will ever experience a triplet pregnancy again)! The photograph above is of my very first ultrasound over 5 years ago. . . . the ultrasound that revealed that we were expecting not one, not two, but THREE babies! What a day that was! And what an adventure it has been ever since!

We will, however, officially be expanding our family by three once again!

The same day that we learned that our agency finally had "Sofia's" file, we also learned of another little girl. . . . a six year-old girl who had just been added to Bulgaria's list of waiting children at the end of July, whose file our agency had just obtained. The first time I saw her sweet little face staring back at me it took my breath away. I was immediately drawn to her and I found myself returning to that face many times throughout the course of each day. When we learned, two weeks ago, that we had not been chosen to be Desi's family, I was disappointed, but I knew that the Lord was not done with us.

Initially Richard said no to this other little girl. He did not want her to be a "replacement" for Desi and, we were already firmly committed to two children, which had been our "plan" from the beginning. But as the days went on I couldn't shake the feeling that we were leaving someone behind and I knew that someone was this little girl.

Last night, over my birthday dinner, I shared this nagging feeling with Richard and, after much discussion, we decided to take the leap and bring this beautiful little girl home as well! I could not have asked for a more amazing birthday "present" (or a more amazing husband!). In finding and committing to this little girl, I have realized Desi's purpose in our lives. Desi was the one who brought us to Bulgaria and it was our love for, and commitment to, Desi that kept us there during all of the ups and downs that we have experienced. There have been many times over the past 9 months that we seriously considered switching countries and/or changing directions, but we could not walk away from Desi. If we had not had not stayed the course, we would not have received "Sofia's" file and we would never have known of our other little girl.

There is no doubt now, as I look at the faces of the three children that will soon be mine, that these are the children that the Lord has always intended for our family. It has been a long (though faith-promoting) journey, and I know that it is far from over, but we are exactly where we should be and I am thrilled to be bringing these three, beautiful babies into our family!

And now. . . .a sneak peek of the beautiful "babies" that will, hopefully, soon be the newest members of the Rieben family. . .

CLICK ME!!!


Saturday, October 31, 2009

In honor of a beautiful little girl. . .

We received word from our agency that the adoption committee met yesterday and ruled on the fate of Miss "D." Unfortunately it was not in our favor. Fortunately, we know that she WILL be going home and there is no doubt that she will be deeply loved by the family who is working to bring her home. Obviously we are disappointed that we will not have the privilege of seeing her sweet smile each and every day, but I feel peace knowing that she will be smiling with her new family wherever she is.

Earlier this year, I was inspired by a beautiful little girl to open a shop on Etsy. I wanted to do everything in my power to raise the money necessary to see that little girl's smile each and every day and so I got to work! Although I will never realize that initial dream, I will be forever grateful for the "presence" of that little girl in my life. It was her radiant smile that has kept me focused for the past 8+ months. It was her smile that kept me from giving up, from switching to another country, from throwing in the towel altogether. It was her smile that led me to the two children that we WILL be bring home. And so, in her honor, I am proud to announce the grand opening of Desi's Delights, inspired by a beautiful little girl who will soon know the love of a forever family. In Desi's honor, we will be donating 50% of all proceeds to the grant fund of another waiting child. From now until December 31st that 50% will go to Svetlana who is waiting in Ukraine.

Svetlana

Svetlana is a beautiful little girl who was born with arthrogryposis. She will be six years-old on Christmas day. Earlier this year, a wonderful family from Ireland (who we had the privilege of meeting in December 2007 while we were both in Ukraine adopting) committed to adopt Svetlana. Unfortunately, their social worker refused to approve them to adopt her due to her age and special need and so this family had to release her. They were devastated and we were heartbroken for them.

Svetlana is still waiting for her forever family and she is running out of time. She is blessed to have been able to remain at her baby house, but she will soon be transferred to an institution where her life will change dramatically.

If you are interested in donating to Svetlana's grant fund, please visit Reece's Rainbow today to make a donation (please be sure to indicate that your donation is for Older "Other Angel," Svetlana in Orphanage 20) and remember that 50% of all proceeds from Desi's Delights will also be donated to her grant fund.

Although we will not have the privilege of bringing Desi home, there is no doubt that the Lord brought her into our lives for a purpose and we are grateful for the 8+ months that her beautiful smile, even if only in a picture, has blessed our lives and our home. We also received word that the adoption committee approved our application to place "Sofia" and "LB" on hold for our family, so, while not all the news we received brought with it joy and rejoicing, we are absolutely rejoicing that these two beautiful "babies" will soon be joining our family!

In other news, we are very excited to announce that our Adoption Silent Auction will officially begin tomorrow, November 1st and will run through November 15th, so please don't forget to check in and browse through (and bid on!) all of the wonderful items that will be up for auction!


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Silent Auction 1

As the time nears for us to submit our dossier and travel to Bulgaria to meet our children, we are working hard to raise the remaining funds necessary to complete our adoption. In an effort to raise these funds, we will be holding a silent auction on our adoption blog.

The auction will begin a week from today on Sunday, November 1st and will run through Sunday, November 15th. We have been working hard to gather and create a wide variety of items to auction and we are grateful to many of our family and friends for donating items as well.

As a sneak preview, the following photo's represent a taste of the items that will be available for bidding:

Children's Aprons and Baking Sets


Ragged Baby Quilts





Knit Hats



Boutique Hair Accessories


Custom Barn Stars


Felt Design T-shirts





And MUCH more! There is still one week left before the auction begins. If you are interested in donating an item to be auctioned, please contact me as soon as possible (you can contact me at desisdelights@gmail.com). If you run an Etsy shop or a business and would like to donate an item from your shop/business, I will include a link to your site in the auction listing in order to help promote your business.

Bidding will begin one week from today, so stay tuned!

Moving forward. . .

After months of standing still, words cannot even begin to describe how wonderful it feels to finally be moving forward! Just over a week ago, as I was packing to leave for North Carolina to visit my sister and her husband for the weekend, I received an e-mail from our facilitator in Bulgaria and it went something like this:

"Ready to scream again!? I have "little boy's" file in my hands!"

And boy did I scream . . .and cry and dance and drop to my knees to thank my Heavenly Father! It was quite a sight I am sure (and no, in order to preserve my dignity, I will not be posting a video of what this "happy dance" looked like!). In addition to "Sofia," "Little Boy's" (let's call him LB) file is now officially on hold for our family and it is nothing short of a miracle!

When Richard told me that he felt that we should inquire about whether or not "LB" was still available, I had very little hope that he would be and, after our experience with the girls, even less hope that, if he was, we would be able to obtain his file. At the same time, I knew that, if he was meant to be a part of our family, the Lord would prepare a way for us to bring him home. Now as I stand back and marvel at the miracles that have been worked to bring us to this little boy, I am reminded of a scripture in Isaiah (45:2), "I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron." There is no doubt in my mind that the Lord HAS gone before us and prepared a way for us to bring each of our children home. From the first moment I saw "LB's" face I knew that he was meant to be our son. I was devastated when, initially, the answer was "no," but what I didn't realize at the time was that, my impression was right, but the timing was not.

As if that news alone was not fantastic enough, we received our I-800A approval in the mail yesterday, which means we are just a few documents (FBI clearances), notarizations, certifications and apostilles away from sending our dossier to Bulgaria! We are hoping to have our dossier in the mail by my birthday (November 10th). Could you think of a better birthday present!? Me either!

The Adoption Committee in Bulgaria has resumed their weekly meetings. They have met twice now, so we are hoping that we will have news about "D" very soon. We do not want to submit our dossier until we have received the adoption committee's ruling because we cannot add children to our commitment application once the dossier has been submitted, so please pray that we will have a ruling by the time our dossier is complete.

Monday, October 5, 2009

1 down, 2 to go. . .

Guess what we did today?!?!


For those of you who have been immersed in the international adoption world, you may understand from the above pictures that our day was spent notarizing, certifying, apostilling and mailing our COMMITMENT APPLICATION for "Sofia!" After 7+ months of waiting we have FINALLY received her file and, at this very moment, the documents that will place her on hold for us are on their way to Bulgaria! Can you say HALLELUJAH!! We all threw up our hands and cheered today as we walked out of the UPS store, victorious!

I have not shared much about "Sofia" other than to say that we were waiting for her file, but she is a beautiful 7 year-old girl with lower limb differences (she is missing her right fibula and has a shortened right femur (she was also born with her left foot clubbed, but it has been surgically corrected) and scoliosis (all issues that we are very familiar with). She is very independent, smart and social and she is able to get around well with the use of a wheelchair. Her doctors in Bulgaria feel that she should be able to walk with the help of prosthetics and/or forearm crutches if that is her desire (and we think that our doctors here will likely concur). She shares a birthday with my mom. Some may feel that is a coincidence, but we would argue that it is not! You see, Joshua shares a birthday with Richard (something that we did not know until after we had commited to adopt him) and Evan's birthname (Valera) is the male form of my name, so, when we learned that "Sofia" shared a birthday with my mom (after requesting her file), we knew it was just another confirmation that she was meant to be a part of our family! She is a beautiful little girl and we cannot wait to bring her home!

As some of you may have noticed from the title of this post, our news about "Sofia" isn't the only thing that we have been holding back (yes, we have been sitting on this news for over a week. .I know, I know!). Some of you may recall the little boy with arthrogyposis that we were considering earlier this year. I had felt so strongly that this little boy was meant to be a part of our family, but Richard did not feel the same way. His file was returned to the Ministry of Justice and given to the next agency on the list and I knew that that door was closed.

Two weeks ago, as Richard and I were enjoying lunch together for our Anniversary, Richard asked me about this little boy and then asked if I could inquire about whether he was still available. I will admit, my first thoughts were not positive. It has been months since this little boy's file had been returned to the Ministry and I knew that it had already been sent on to another agency because I had seen him listed elsewhere. I just knew that the chance that he was still available or that we would be able to obtain his file was probably very slim, but I also trusted my husband's impression that we should inquire about this little boy again. Imagine my surprise when my facilitator contacted me a few days later to let me know that, not only was this little boy still available, but his file was scheduled to be returned to the Ministry just a few days later and she would be the next to receive it. We decided then and there that, if she was able to obtain the file, we would make the commitment to bring him home!

I had been devastated when we made the decision not to bring him home earlier this year, but I knew it was the right decision. I now realize that, if we had commited to him earlier this year, we would not have been able to adopt "Sofia" (we would not have received her file). The Lord's timing is PERFECT!

We are still waiting to learn if his file was returned on time and if it is ready to be given to our agency, but we are hopeful that we will be able to bring him home. We are also still waiting to learn the ruling of the Adoption Committee in the case of "D" (they will be resuming their weekly meetings in the next week are two so we are hopeful that we will hear something by the end of the month).

After we had our homestudy update interview earlier this year, I felt prompted to ask our social worker if she would approve us for three children. At the time, I just assumed that it would be good to be approved for one more "just in case" (you can always adopt fewer children than you are approved for, but you cannot adopt more than you are approved for, so it is better to play it safe). I was sure that there were two more children waiting to join our family, but I also trusted the feeling that prompted me to request approval for three. We are firmly committed to "Sofia" and, if we are fortunate enough to receive the file of the little boy and the adoption committee rules in our favor for "D," we have decided that we will bring all three children home! Can I just say, the Lord works in mysterious and wonderful ways!

So, there you have it! Finally some AMAZING adoption news to share!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Memory Lane Monday- Where it all began

Today's Memory Lane Monday will be brought to you by:

From the Trenches of Motherhood

Weary

"The National Benefits Center is unable to complete the processing of your Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country (Form I-800A) at this time."

Today we received a notice in the mail from the National Benefits Center (USCIS) that they cannot complete the processing of our I-800A until we complete and submit several revisions to our homestudy (while our homestudy states the dates and location of our initial homestudy interviews and home inspection in 2007, it only states the date of our study update and does not state that we were interviewed in our home and that a follow-up home inspection was completed (although they were). It also fails to state the country-specific eligibility requirements for Bulgaria). I am not sure how we missed these things in the many reviews and revisions that we went through before we received the final copy of our homestudy (or if we were just lucky enough to be assigned to a very particular NBC officer), but receiving this notice was another scream-into-my-pillow moment for me. Will we ever catch a break!?!

We have 45 days from the notice date to complete and submit the revisions. If we do not submit the additional information within 45 days, our application will be denied and we will have to resubmit our I-800A and all associated fees. Fortunately the revisions are minor and we should be able to complete and submit them with time to spare.

Despite this minor setback, I have been impressed with the efficiency of USCIS in processing our I-800A application thus far. We received our fingerprint appointments less than two weeks after submitting our application, were fingerprinted a week ago and received our "Request for Additional Evidence" this afternoon. I am hopeful that, once we have submitted our revised homestudy, we will recieve our approval just as promptly (I know, I am putting a lot of faith in USCIS, but so far, they have not disappointed).

In the meantime, we are waiting for the Adoption Committee's final ruling in regards to "D" and are still waiting to receive "Sophia's" file as well. I must admit that I am beginning to feel very weary. The process to bring the boy's home was a whirlwind, but there were not near as many ups, downs and in-betweens as we have experienced thus far with this adoption. Some days it takes every ounce of faith and strenghth that I possess to hold on to hope, but I know that our children are in Bulgaria and that the Lord's plan for our family (as well as His timing) is perfect.

As always, we appreciate all of the prayers and support from each and every one of you and look forward to the day when we can finally share some good news with you!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hope



"To all who suffer—to all who feel discouraged, worried, or lonely— never give in.

Never surrender.

Never allow despair to overcome your spirit.

Embrace and rely upon the Hope of Israel, for the love of the Son of God pierces all darkness, softens all sorrow, and gladdens every heart."

(For full transcript click here.)


Monday, September 14, 2009

Memory Lane Monday- Keith

While we were in Ukraine adopting Evan, we had the opportunity to spend some time with several of the other children in his orphanage. One of those children was Nikita. Nikita and Evan were neighbors, with cribs right next to each other, and, like Evan, Nikita spent his days confined to that crib.



Nikita would lay in his crib, rocking back and forth on his hands and knees all day long. During our 4 weeks in Ukraine, we never once saw him smile. He was tiny, depressed and, every day, another day closer to his 4th birthday when he would be sent to an institution where he would likely spend the rest of what was sure to be a short life. Our hearts ached for this little boy and from that point forward he was in our every prayer.


Several months after returning home with Evan we received a phone call from a sister from church. She informed me that she knew a family that was interested in adopting a child from Ukraine and wanted to know if she could put us in touch. I was excited to share our experience with this family and within a few hours I was on the phone with Jill. During our conversation she told me that they were hoping to adopt two children, a boy and a girl, younger than their daughter, who was six. My mind immediately turned to Nikita (who just happened to have a twin sister, Nastya). I told Jill about Nikita and Nastya and directed her to Reece's Rainbow where their pictures and descriptions were listed. A few days later, Jill called to tell me that they had committed to adopt the twins. We were over the moon that Nikita would be coming home to such a wonderful and loving family and we were humbled that our Heavenly Father had used us as instruments to help make that happen.

Last October, the Pierce family traveled to Ukraine to bring their children home. Unfortunately, they learned prior to traveling that Nastya would not be coming home to them. Another family had stepped forward to adopt her while the Pierces were gathering their paperwork and, due to Nikita's special needs, the judge had granted permission for the twins to be separated. Although devastated by this news, the Pierces moved forward in faith and accepted a referral for another beautiful and spunky little girl, Kristina.

In November 2008, Keith (Nikita) and Kristina Pierce came home! What a blessing it has been for us to be close enough to see them regularly and to watch them transform through the love of a family. The tiny, malnourished, sad little boy that we had known in the orphanage has blossomed before our eyes. He is active, happy, loving and making huge strides in his development every single day.

Keith and Evan Reunited (December 2008)

The Pierce family will soon be moving away, but we thank our Heavenly Father every day for bringing them into our lives and for being an answer to our prayers for this little boy! I still have to pinch myself when I see him standing in front of me, laughing, running and playing. This little boy who I worried might never know the love of a family, is HERE, right here, thousands of miles from where we first met him, thriving and happy and loved. Isn't our Heavenly Father amazing!?







Keith is not the only child from the Artemovsk Baby House that we have had the privilege of seeing come home to their forever family. Ava, Igor, Daisy, Nico, and Katrina have all found their forever families as well:

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Miscarriage" in Adoption

I have always been a very vivid dreamer. Several nights ago I had a dream. In the dream we traveled to Bulgaria to meet our daughters, but when we arrived "D" was not there. Our other daughter (lets call her "Sofia" (this is Bulgaria after all :-) ), met us with a smile and a hug and we were delighted to finally meet her, but "D" was nowhere to be found and soon we were told that we would not be able to bring her home. I awoke from the dream saddened and confused, but quickly told myself that I was simply dreaming my fears and that all was well (although I was suddenly much more aware of this possibility that I have always known existed).

Yesterday I awoke to a feeling that something just was not right and I felt on-edge all day long and could never quite put my finger on it.

This morning, as I received the news from our facilitator that another family had submitted an application for "D," I realized that the dream and the unsettled feeling may have been Heavenly Father's way of preparing me emotionally for this news.

As is my routine most days, I woke up this morning and, before waking the kids, I checked my e-mail. There was a message from our facilitator. I quickly opened it and as I read through it I felt like someone had kicked me right in the stomach. Our facilitator informed me that, the day that she filed our application for the girl's, the other agency (the agency who has had the girls files since the beginning of the year) had also filed an application. This was not the news that we were expecting to receive and it came as a blow.

Technically, because the other agency is in physical possession of the file, their application takes precedent over ours. However, because this agency has had the file for longer than the allotted 2-month period and because the Ministry of Justice has personally contacted them and asked them to return the file every week for the past five weeks, there is a very small chance that the Adoption Committee may rule in our favor (since we would've filed our application MONTHS ago had the other agency returned the file on time).

At this point we have several options. The first option is to withdraw our application for "D." There is a part of me that feels that this would be the best option. Certainly not because I do not want to bring our girl home (because I absolutely do with every fiber of my being), but because there is another family out there who is probably just as excited and anxious to bring her home as we are and who likely loves her just as much. I am sure that this family knows nothing of us or of our desire or our struggle to bring her into our family and that part of me cringes at the thought of putting another family through the grief that we have experienced today.

But then there is another part of me. . . . the part that has grown to love this little girl, who I have never met, just as deeply and completely as I love every one of my other children, the part of me who has ached to bring her home and hold her in my arms, every day for the past seven months. . .that wants to fight for her because I feel so strongly that she is meant to be our daughter and because, if this other agency had returned her file when they were supposed to, we would not be in this situation right now. There is a part of me that feels that, if we back down and walk away, this agency will never have to answer for their actions and someday, another family may find themselves in the same position that we are in, experiencing the same loss, the same grief.

What is the right answer? At this point, we are not sure. The decision lies in the hands of the Adoption Committee and, while there is a small chance that they might rule in our favor, there is also a very good chance that they will not. The consolation is knowing that, no matter what they decide, "D" WILL be coming home to a loving family, even if that family is not ours. And of course we know that, ultimately, the Lord is in charge and His will will rule and all will be as it should.

In the meantime we are still waiting to learn of "Sofia's" status (her file has also been with this other agency since the beginning of the year and, as of last week, had not been returned) and have also requested the information of several little girls whose files our agency is currently in possession of.

While there is still much uncertainty, there are a few things that we DO know. We know that our children are in Bulgaria (we have received that witness MANY times), we know that we will bring home at least two children (again, this has been very clear to us), and we know that, whoever we bring home, whenever that may be, will be exactly as our Heavenly Father intended it.

Many tears have been shed today and I am sure that there will be many more. The grief that accompanies the "loss" of a child, even a child you have never met, can be crushing, but our hope is strong and we will continue to move forward, placing our feet on whatever path the Lord would have us walk.

I would like to take a moment to publicly thank the countless friends and family who have offered their love, support and encouragement throughout this process and to express our gratitude towards our Heavenly Father for blessing us with such incredible support. On this most difficult day I received countless phone calls, e-mails and even a special visit from my wonderful friend Jill, complete with hugs, chocolate, root beer, cherry pie and roses. We could not do this without your support and so we hope that you know just how deeply we appreciate each and every one of you!
After almost 7 months of waiting, we found out this morning that we lost "D" to another family. My heart is breaking. I will post the details later, but for now, I am going to go have myself a good cry!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Memory Lane Monday- Deja vu?

While the original design of "Memory Land Monday" on this blog was to share adoption memories not previously shared publicly, I couldn't help but recall the following experience as I made the trip to the county courthouse and state capitol this week to have adoption documents county certified and apostilled. While we are still several months away from being "done" with this part of the process, remembering this part of the experience certainly made me excited about the day that we are, finally, DONE!

Monday, August 27, 2007

IT'S DONE!!!

Hallelujah, our dossier is DONE! Well, it has been "done" in the sense that we have had all of the documents for the past three weeks, BUT, we FINALLY got approval from our agency to submit it without Evan's surname in the appointment request letter (For those of you who are in the dark about this "issue," in order to request a specific child from the SDA in Ukraine we must include certain information in our appointment request letter to enable them to locate the child's file. We were hoping to submit the letter with his first AND last names, but the director of the orphanage has been on vacation all month (along with everyone else in Eastern Europe) and we have been unable to get it). Rather than using his first and last names in our request we simply used the information that we had available (first name, birth date, city, orphanage) and are hoping that it will suffice (we will still ask the orphanage director for his surname and pass it on to our facilitator just in case the SDA is unable to locate his file with the information provided, however).

Now that I have confused everyone completely with senseless details, let me tell you about my day! On Friday Richard and I took the last of our documents to be notarized. Unfortunately it was too late in the day to run them by the courthouse to be county certified so I decided to add that to my "to do" list for today. I woke up bright and early this morning, got dressed, woke the kids, fed them, dressed them and finished gathering all of my paperwork. Thanks to my wonderful friend Stacey (seriously Stacey, you are FANTASTIC), I was able to run my countless adoption "errands" this morning WITHOUT my children in tow (they are too young to realize how happy they should be that I didn't drag them along for the ride, but I will be sure to tell them how lucky they were someday!).

I left the house this morning around 9 am. My first stop (other than to gas up the mommy mobile) was the Greene County Courthouse. Ohio is one of several states that requires additional county-level certification of documents. These certifications simply state the the notary who notarized your documents is in fact a notary commissioned in that county. I spent about 25 minutes at the courthouse and then hopped back into the mommy mobile with my newly certified documents and headed for Columbus (just over an hour away). Upon arriving in Columbus I proceeded to drive around for 15-20 minutes looking for a place to park. As luck would have it, I managed to find a metered parking space between my two destinations. . .as luck would NOT have it, I had somehow managed to walk out the door this morning WITHOUT my stash of quarters for the meter!!! After rummaging around in my purse, the cupholders, and the floorboards, I managed to come up with about 30 cents which bought me about 15 minutes. With no other options, I quickly said a prayer that the meter maids would skip over the street I was on and I started to head for the Franklin County Courthouse about 4 blocks away.

The Franklin County "Government Center" is an enormous building and I have to admit, after visiting the Greene County Courthouse earlier this morning (very small, very straightforward), I was slightly overwhelmed. The information I had found on their website had instructed me to go to the 23rd floor so I headed for the elevators. Now, I have to say, I generally enjoy a good elevator ride, but these were like elevators on speed. By the time I reached the 23rd flood (which probably only took about 3 seconds. . .seriously) my head was spinning and I felt like I was going to puke. For a minute I thought I had just stepped off an amusement park ride rather than an elevator. So, when I walked into the office labeled "Clerk of Courts" and was told I would need to go back down to the 3rd floor, I was less than thrilled by the thought of getting back onto the warp-speed elevators. I took a deep breath, stepped onto the elevator and held on for dear life. Eventually, with the help of several very helpful people, I found the correct office and was able to get my last two documents county certified.

Once I was done at the courthouse I headed back to the mommy mobile to see if I could scrounge up any more change (by this time the parking meter had been empty for a good 20 minutes), but alas there was no more change to be found. Again, I said a quick prayer that the meter maids would be on their lunch break and unable to hand out parking tickets and walked the 4 or so blocks to the Secretary of State's Office to have all of my documents apostilled. I have visited the SoS several times now, so this trip was old hat. I was in and out of that building (whose elevators, thank goodness, operate at normal speeds) in less than 15 minutes. Stepping out of that building I felt like a new woman. My paperwork was DONE!!! I could just feel the weight being lifted off my shoulders. Unfortunately I didn't have a lot of time to celebrate as I needed to high tail it back to the mommy mobile before the meter maids came back from lunch. Heaven must've been smiling down on me today because thankfully, my windshield was free of parking tickets when I returned.

I made the drive home and relieved Stacey of her duties (really Stacey I cannot thank you enough. . .just thinking about dragging my children through the streets of downtown Columbus (and taking them on warp-speed elevator rides) makes my head spin. . .you really are FABULOUS) and then collapsed into a pile on my couch and took a few minutes to revel in the elation of having our paperwork DONE!!!

Unfortunately the director of our agency is on vacation this week (a very well deserved vacation I might add) so she won't be able to send our dossier off to Ukraine until next week, but really, I am just glad that it is done. I will be sending it to the agency tomorrow and then I will be throwing myself a little party! For some people, the "waiting" is the most stressful part of the adoption process. While I admit that it is hard to wait, it is probably the LEAST stressful part for me. No, my stress comes from having that paperwork sitting on my desk, knowing that it is still in my hands and that I am still in control of it. Once it is gone, out of my hands, and I have no control over the process, I actually relax a little and it is wonderful!

It feels SO good to be DONE!!!

Progress

We finally took a few steps forward in the adoption process last week! We started the week off by mailing our I-800A application to USCIS (with supporting documents and fees). Although I had looked over the application at least 100 times and had received the green light from our agency (who had also looked over the application for us), I still felt like hyperventilating as I walked out of the UPS store. The application was received and the check has been cashed and now we wait (a skill at which we have become quite proficient), with bated breath, to received our appointment to be fingerprinted (again) and ultimately, our approval (which we hope to receive without any delays).

On Tuesday morning we heard from our facilitator again. She had spoken with the Ministry of Justice who confirmed that the files had not yet been returned, but she instructed our facilitator to have us file a commitment application for our girls anyway. She informed us that the other agency had been contacted yet again with a demand that they return the files immediately. Our facilitator was also told that, if we filed a commitment application for these girls, as soon as they were returned to the Ministry, they would be given directly to our facilitator (rather than being given to another agency first). So, we spent Wednesday filling out paperwork and having it notarized and on Thursday morning, Lukas and Jacob accompanied me to have the documents county certified and apostilled (we had a great time and they were excited to be involved in the process of bringing their sister's home). By noon the documents were on their way to Sofia (scheduled to arrive this Thursday)!

While I am excited to finally be moving forward, I think I will remain cautiously optimistic until our facilitator has those files in her hands and the girls are officially placed on hold for our family. In the meantime, I am thanking my Heavenly Father for the progress that we have made and continue to look forward to watching His plan unfold!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Memory Lane Monday

For those of you who frequent my terribly neglected "Motherhood" blog, Memory Lane Monday's will likely sound familiar to you. Over the past few months, I have found that I often find comfort in the memories of our adoption journeys to our son's Joshua and Evan from Uzbekistan and Ukraine. Many of those memories have been recorded in the archives of this blog, but there are many of them that have yet to be publicly shared and so, throughout the course of our current adoption journey, I would like to take the opportunity to share some of those cherished memories with you.

In comparison to our current adoption, our adoptions from Uzbekistan (9 months) and Ukraine (5 months) progressed fairly quickly. As we were going through the process however, time seemed to stand still.

We first saw a picture of our son Joshua in March of 2007. I instantly knew that he was meant to be our son. From that moment on we moved at rapid speed to complete our homestudy and assemble our dossier, which we submitted in June (2007). As soon as we had completed our paperwork, time seemed to stand still. Every day seemed like an eternity and I spent most of the waking hours daydreaming of my beautiful baby boy and the day that I would finally hold him in my arms. That day could not come quickly enough.

(Our first picture of Joshua)

We finally received word in late September that I would be traveling to bring Joshua home in late October. The next month was a whirlwind as I made travel plans, moved my family to a new home and packed my bags for a two week adventure on the other side of the world. I could not wait to meet my son.

The day after we arrived in Uzbekistan, we (my step-father, facilitator and I) traveled by car to Samarkand, where Joshua's orphanage was located. Upon arrival we met with our translator (Sanat), checked into our hotel and then hurried off to meet with the "Mayor" (Hokim) whose signature would finalize our adoption. During my meeting with the Mayor he expressed concern that we had not met Joshua yet and asked that we visit the orphanage before he signed the adoption decree. It was already late in the afternoon and time was running short, so we crowded into the car and rushed to the orphanage. I was so anxious. The moment that I had been waiting for had finally arrived.

That first meeting lasted less that ten minutes. Once we arrived at the orphanage, we were invited into the director's office and a caretaker was sent for Joshua. She brought him into the room a few minutes later and placed him into my arms. He looked right into my eyes and held my gaze. A flood of emotions rushed over me. Love, excitement, fear, trepidation and relief all washed through me as I stared into Joshua's eyes. A moment later he was taken from my arms and we were rushing back across town so that the Mayor could sign the decree declaring Joshua our son. I would not see Joshua again for several more days (for the complete saga, please click here).

A few days later, we were back at the orphanage to pick Joshua up. I was so excited to take him from the orphanage. Walking out of those doors with my baby in hand brought with it a huge sense of relief. He was mine. . .forever. That first night was amazing. The following in an excerpt from a blog post following Joshua's "Gotcha" day:

"It was hard to sleep on Friday night because, after almost 8 months of looking at his picture and wishing I could hold him, love him and smother him with kisses, I was in awe that all I had to do was roll over and there he was, just inches from me! I laid there for hours just watching him sleep peacefully." (click here for the entire post)

(My sweet, sleeping, Uzbek angel the night I took him from the orphanage)

I have since spent many, many more nights watching him sleep peacefully and marveling at how much my Heavenly Father must love me to have blessed me with such an incredible little boy. Every time I watch him sleep I am reminded of the sweetness of this day, of this moment and I look forward to making similar memories with my girls. I know that when that day comes, as I am watching them sleep peacefully beside me, I will know that every stress, frustration and difficulty within this process will have been worth it a thousand times over.

Sunflowers

Did you know that Bulgaria is one of the top producers of sunflower seeds in the world? As you can imagine, to be ranked 11th in the world in production of sunflower seeds, you can find, throughout Bulgaria, vast expanses of sunflower fields. Although I have not witnessed this for myself, the pictures I have seen are absolutely breathtaking.

(A sunflower field in Bulgaria)

Without realizing the connection to Bulgaria, we planted sunflowers in our garden this year and, after being blessed with their beauty (and symbolism) for the past several weeks I have decided that they are my new favorite flower (and that they will always grace my home and garden). As most of you are aware, the sunflower follows the sun from sunrise to sunset, continually seeking its warmth and light. Like the sunflower, we have continually looked towards the "Son," placing our trust and our faith in Him, throughout this adoption process, knowing that it is in our Savior, Jesus Christ that we find our comfort, peace and joy. On the tough days, I simply have to look out my window at the sunflowers, faithfully following the sun, to be reminded in whom I should place my trust.

This week we made a wonderful Bulgarian bread in the shape of a sunflower. It was fairly labor intensive, but it was fun to make and absolutely delicious. I have a feeling that this bread will grace our table for many special occasions.

Bulgarian sunflower bread

We have received the last documents needed to file our I-800A application with USCIS and we will be sending it on it's way first thing tomorrow morning! It is currently taking up to 90 days to process the I-800A application so we are grateful to finally be able to begin the process. We are praying that we will have the girl's files as well as the rest of our dossier documents by the time we receive our approval so that we will be able to submit our dossier immediately.

As of last week, the agency who has been in possession of the girl's files throughout the year, still had not returned them to the Ministry of Justice, despite being contacted multiple times (as of this evening, they were still listed on a US agency's Waiting Children's list, although we are hoping that simply means that they have not had the opportunity to take them down). Our facilitator was unable to get in touch with the Ministry today due to phone troubles, but we are hoping to receive an update on the status of the files tomorrow or Wednesday. Unfortunately, we were informed last week that, despite our desire to make an immediate commitment, two of the girls we have requested must be given to another agency before they will be given to our facilitator (fortunately our facilitator is next in line for "D" and will receive her file as soon as it is returned to the Ministry). We are disappointed that we will not be receiving the files of these two little girls, but we recognize that, if they are meant to be a part of our family, things will work out so that they will be. In the meantime, we have also informed our facilitator that we are open to learning about other children on the current waiting list and recognize the possibility that we have not learned of our other children yet. We are anxiously waiting to learn who will join "D" as the newest member(s) of the Rieben family. So, stayed tuned. . . .the best is yet to come!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

When it rains. . . we stomp in the puddles!

It has been a stormy week in the adoption world, but we have our umbrella's out and our goulashes on and are trying our best to hold our heads high in the face of adversity.

On Monday morning we got the final thumbs up on our homestudy and were informed that the letter that needed to accompany the study to USCIS with the I-800A would be in the mail that afternoon. Unfortunately the elation that I felt with that news was short lived. About an hour later I received an update from our Bulgarian agency who explained that she had just spoken with the Ministry of Justice and had learned that, two of our girl's files were still with the original Bulgarian agency who had requested them. Before I go any further I should take moment to explain how the rotation of files is SUPPOSED to work in Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian Ministry of Justice (the central adoption authority in Bulgaria) maintains a list of 700+ children who are older, special needs or part of a sibling group. All Hague-accredited US adoption agencies must work in partnership with a Bulgarian agency. Bulgarian agencies are allowed to request the files of up to 20 children at a time. Those files are then given to the Bulgarian agencies who have 2 months to try and find families for those children. They do this by sharing the files with their US partner agency (or agencies in some cases). At the end of the 2 month period, they must return the files to the Ministry of Justice who then gives them to the next Bulgarian agency who has requested them.

The Bulgarian agency that originally requested the files of two of the girls is one of the bigger agencies in Bulgaria and they work with several US agencies. Rather than returning the files of the children who they had not found families for at the end of their 2 month period, it appears as though they have simply been rotating those files between their US partner agencies every 2 months (after doing a few minutes of research I was able to find both girls listed on another agency's "Waiting Children's List"). At this time there is no monitoring system that the Ministry of Justice uses to keep track of when files must be returned, they simply trust that the agencies will abide by the rules that they have set, so, until our Bulgarian agency pressed to find out where the girls files were, the Ministry was unaware that the original agency was still in possession of them (and have been since the beginning of the year). Unfortunately, there is also no real penalty for not returning files in a timely manner other than not being able to request new files until the previous files have been returned, so this agency likely felt no pressure to return them. Our agency informed us that the woman at the Ministry who is helping with our case was quite upset that these files had not been returned and informed our agency that she would be contacting the other agency and sternly requesting that the files be returned. How soon that will be, we do not know, but our facilitator has been a strong advocate for our family and for our girls and she follows up with the Ministry every week. And, although I know that the Lord's timing is perfect and I have seen the "wisdom in the wait," it is still hard knowing that we could have had these files MONTHS ago and that our girls would be closer to coming home.

In addition to that news, we were also informed that, the file of the third little girl that we had requested (who is in the same orphanage as "D"), was at the Ministry but is incomplete and cannot be given to any agency until it has been updated and completed. We were also told that, once the file is complete it must go to the first agency that requested it before it will be given to our agency. This was possibly the most difficult news of all because we are ready to commit to this little girl TODAY. If we could do it without her file we would, but we have to wait until it is in the hands of our agency. So the thought of that file being given to another agency, who may or may not be able to find a family for her, is difficult to take. The thought of her sitting in an orphanage without a mommy and daddy to love her for two months longer than is necessary is heartbreaking. We have asked our agency to make one last plea to the Ministry to give us this little girl's file first because we are ready, right now, to make a commitment. We hope and pray for this little girl's sake that those pleas will not fall upon deaf ears.

The icing on the cake (yes, there's more. . .when it rains, it pours!) was learning Monday evening that there is a new Hague requirement for homestudies, effective immediately, which means that we must add an addendum to our homestudy before we can submit it to USCIS with our I-800A. We are hoping that this will be quick and easy (it is just one sentence clarifying our understanding of domestic violence and child abuse) and that we will still be able to send off our I-800A within the next week, but it is a speed bump that hit us hard on an already difficult day.

In the end, no matter how hard it pours, we simply raise our umbrellas of faith and know, without doubt, that our Heavenly Father's plan is perfect, that His timing is perfect, and that, the children who are meant to be with our family will be. Rain brings growth and, although weathering the storms can be difficult, we welcome the opportunity and blessing to be refined by our trials.

Not all things in the adoption world have been bad. In our quest to become more familiar with Bulgarian cusine we experienced this wonderful, rainy day, Bulgarian soup this evening. It definitely hit the spot!


Chicken Yakniya
(Chicken soup with tomatoes, green peppers and rice. . .FABULOUS!)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

When life hands you lemons, make Maslenki!

We made the decision to bring our girls home at the end of February. In March, our facilitator submitted the application to the Ministry of Justice requesting the girls' files. In April we completed all of the necessary paperwork, background checks and interviews required for our homestudy update. At the beginning of May we learned that one of our girls was going to be adopted by another family. A few days later we identified and requested the files of two more little girls (in addition to the little girl who was still waiting). In mid-June, after waiting for several months to receive the final copy of our homestudy to submit to USCIS, we learned that several revisions would need to be made before the final copy could be issued. Another month passed with no news to report. On Saturday we finally learned that it is "M" (the older, healthy girl) who had found her forever family and that "D" (7 year-old with mild CP) was still availble (this was our gut feeling). On Tuesday I went to check the mail to find the final copy of our homestudy (along with several dossier documents) tucked inside the mailbox. I did a happy dance. On Wednesday I learned that our placing agency would need to review the homestudy one more time before they could issue the letter that needs to accompany the homestudy to USCIS with our I-800A application (stating that they had supervised the homestudy process). I screamed into my pillow.

More than five months after we started this process we are still waiting to receive our girls' files, still waiting for our final homestudy to be approved, still waiting to submit our I-800A and still waiting to begin our dossier (in comparison, our adoptions from Uzbekistan and Ukraine took 9 months and 5 months from start to finish). To say that this process has not been stressful would be a lie. There have been many days where it would have been easy to just throw in the towel and walk away. But we know that our little girls are waiting for us in Bulgaria and, although it has been difficult, we have decided to use this time that we have been blessed with to prepare ourselves for the girls' arrival.

Although we do not know WHO will be joining our family at this point, we do know that our girls will be older (7+) and that their language, culture, routines, traditions and cuisine will be deeply ingrained. The changes that will take place in our girls' lives when they join our family will be dramatic and, although they will be surrounded by a family who loves them dearly, it will quite likely be very traumatic as well. Imagine spending 7+ years in the same place, with the same people, the same foods, the same routine day in and day out and then suddenly being whisked half-way across the world to a place you have never seen, with people you do not know, speaking a language you cannot understand, with a new routine, unfamiliar foods and unfamiliar attention and affection. We want to make their transition into our family as smooth as we possibly can and so we have begun studying Bulgarian culture, learning the language and we have even begun to learn to make and serve Bulgarian food (I highly recommend the book, "Bulgarian Rhapsody; The Best of Balkan Cuisine," by Linda Joyce Forristal).

Today the kids and I made Maslenki (a jam-filled Bulgarian cookie). They were delightful and I have a strong suspicion that they will quickly become a favorite in our house. Most importantly, these delicious little cookies helped to take our minds off of the waiting and the stress and gave us something amazing to look forward to. . . . sharing love, laughter and scrumptious Bulgarian cookies with our girls' once they are home! So, when life hands you lemons. . . .make Maslenki!


Maslenki

3 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup lard or butter
4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. vanilla
Your favorite jam

1. Beat the eggs well and then add the sugar; beat until light and foamy (about 5 minutes). Melt the lard/butter and when slightly cooled (so as not to cook the eggs), slowly add the lard/butter to the egg/sugar mixture. Add vanilla.

2. Combine the dry ingredients. Slowly add the flour mixture to the eggs and lard/butter to create a firm dough. Divide into 3 balls. Roll out each ball until it is 1/4 inch thick. With a small glass or cookie cutter (I used the ring from a baby bottle), cut circles. In half of the circles punch a 3/8 inch hole in the center (I used the cap from a Crayola marker).

3. Bake in an oven preheated to 375 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Remove and when completely cooled, spread the whole halves with jam (we used homemade strawberry jam). Top with the halves with holes. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

*Maslenki can be stored and enjoyed for up to a month (if they last that long!). The longer they are stored, the softer they become.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sisters

Originally, we thought that it would be Maren who would be most excited by the thought of adding a few more sisters to the family. While she is, indeed, ecstatic to be losing her status as "the only girl," several of our boys have also recently demonstrated their excitement as well.



Although one of our girls has been matched with another family (we still do not know which one), we both feel strongly that there are still two little girls who are meant to be a part of our family (the other child that we were considering was a little boy with arthrogryposis and, after a lot of discussion and prayer, we both felt strongly that he was not the child the Lord had prepared for us). We have requested the files of two more little girls and are awaiting those files as well as the file of the little girl that is still available. We do not know when we will receive those files, but we know that the Lord's timing is perfect.

The waiting has been difficult (see post below), but the scripture "Be still and know that I am God," (Psalms 46:10) has been running through my mind almost constantly over the past few months. Even though it is so difficult to "be still" and to know that things are outside of our control, I know that our Heavenly Father never rests and that He is working very hard "behind the scenes" to bring His plan for our family to fruition. As always, I am anxious to see what and WHO He has in store for us!

Holding Pattern

I can still vividly remember our last flight home from Ukraine. I had been traveling off and on for over 8 weeks and, as I sat, looking out the window, with a perfectly beautiful little Ukrainian boy on my lap, it seemed almost surreal that this journey was drawing to a close (although I would soon realize that the real journey was only just beginning). I could visualize my family waiting for us at the end of the terminal with wide smiles and outstretched arms and I could picture all five of our children finally together.

I heard the pilot's voice over the loud speaker and I was pulled from my thoughts. My heart began to race as he announced our final descent. We were so close to the finish line.

As the minutes ticked by I began to notice that we were flying in circles. The captain's voice was heard once again, this time announcing that, due to high traffic, we had been asked to delay our descent. We were in a holding pattern.

I looked out my window and I could see the city below. Our final destination. So close, but suddenly so far away. My husband was down there and my children. Our happy ending. Our adventurous beginning. Suddenly the whirlwind of emotions that had been building up inside of me for the past 8 weeks reached the surface and I felt the hot tears finally spill over, soaking my cheeks and the top of my sweet little boy's head.

When the air traffic had cleared and it was safe for us to land, the captain once again announced our final descent. Within minutes we were on the ground. Finally home where we belonged. The reunion was grander than I could have ever imagined. Seeing my family waiting at the end of the terminal, hearing the squeals of joy from my sweet children and feeling my husband's strong arms around me brought indescribable joy. We were home. ALL of us.

Once again, we find ourselves in a holding pattern. Our goal is in sight, but we are waiting for permission to begin our descent to our final destination. The wait has been incredibly difficult. Sometimes it is hard to look out the window and see how close we are, at the same time knowing that we are still a hundred miles away. At the same time, we know that, our view is limited. "Air traffic control" can see the big picture and we know that they will lead us safely to our destination when the way is clear and the time is right.

We are still waiting for our agency to receive the files of the girls we have requested (in addition to the two girls we originally requested (one of whom has been matched with another family (we still do not know which one), we have also requested the files of two additional little girls (both age 7). Our Bulgarian facilitator as well as members of the Ministry of Justice are working very hard in our behalf and we are all hopeful that we will receive the files soon. While the wait has been difficult and emotionally taxing, we know that our Heavenly Father is in control and that He sees the big picture. His timing will be perfect for each and every one of us, our girls included and by His hand, we will safely reach our final destination.

Monday, June 1, 2009

And the winner is. . . . .







TIANA FRAZE!!!




Tiana has been a good friend of ours since our college days and she has been one of our biggest cheerleaders over the past few years. Her love, support and encouragement has lifted us up and carried us through so many of our adventures. We are so excited that we are finally able to give something back! Congratulations Tiana!

To say that we are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support that we have received over the past few weeks would be an understatement. We are truly humbled by the number of people who have reached out in support of our efforts to bring our girls home and we appreciate each and every one of you more than we can express. For those who have been through the process of adoption, you know just how long and difficult the road to bringing a child home can be. If it were not for the love and support of our amazing family and friends I cannot even begin to imagine how much longer and more difficult the road would seem. We thank each and every one of you from the bottom of our hearts.

Our goal for this giveaway was to raise enough money to file our immigration approval paperwork (I-800A). The total cost to file that paperwork and complete the required fingerprinting is $830. We are humbled to announce that we not only met that goal, but exceeded it, raising $950. Again, we thank each and every one of you who contributed to our adoption fund and who helped to spread the word and we give thanks to our loving Father in Heaven for blessing us with such wonderful and supportive family and friends!

Monday, May 18, 2009

The roller coaster ride begins

As some of you may recall from my previous post, we have been waiting for several months for our Bulgarian agency to receive the files of the girls that we hope to adopt so that we could officially submit our "commitment papers." We heard from the agency director this morning that one of our girls is in the process of being adopted by another family. Unfortunately we will not know which of the girls it is until our agency receives the file of the other girl (her file is currently with another agency as well, but our agency is the next in line to receive it if another family within that agency does not step forward). We knew that this was a possibility and had prepared ourselves for this when welcoming the girls into our hearts, but it was still difficult news to receive.

We are disappointed to know that this little girl will not be joining our family, but we rejoice knowing that she WILL know the love of a forever family. We know that she will be joining the family that the Lord has prepared for her and that the child who is meant to be with our family will be with us as well. Our Heavenly Father's plan is perfect for each and every one of us involved.

There is another child that we are strongly considering. We learned of this child (whose file is currently with our agency) just over a month ago and we were immediately drawn to them, but we knew that we could not walk away from either of our girls. They were already the children of our hearts and we were committed to bringing them home. Now that we know that one of our sweet girls will be joining another family, we feel that the Lord is once again guiding us to this other child.

Please pray for us as we grieve the "loss" of one of our girls and make a decision concerning this other child. We know that the Lord's hand is guiding this process and that His plan is bigger than our own. As always, we are excited to see where He leads us!

Monday, May 11, 2009

iPod Giveaway

As many of you may know, adoption is expensive. In an effort to raise the funds to bring our girls home from Bulgaria, we will be giving away a blue, 8GB iPod nano.


Here is how it works: For each $5 donation made to our adoption fund, your name will be entered into a drawing that will be held on June 1st (for example, if you make a donation of $10, your name will be entered twice, $25, your name will be entered five times, etc.). For an additional (free) chance to enter, all you have to do is share our blog/giveaway information on your blog, Facebook , Twitter, etc. (please make sure you leave a comment letting us know you have shared this giveaway with others so we are able to enter your name into the drawing). On June 1st, we will draw a winner! To donate, use the ChipIn widget on the sidebar. All donations will go directly into our adoption account.

We appreciate each and every donation that is made to our family's adoption fund. Every dollar goes a long way in helping us to bring our girls home and we are excited to be able to offer something in return! We thank you in advance for supporting our adoption and helping us to complete our family!

Winner will receive a blue, iPod nano, earphones and USB 2.0 adaptor.

Features include:
8 GB capacity for 2,000 songs, 7,000 photos, or 8 hours of video
Up to 24 hours of music playback or 4 hours of video playback when fully charged
2-inch LCD with blue-white LED backlight and 320-by-240-pixel resolution
Supported audio formats: AAC, Protected AAC, MP3, MP3 VBR, Audible, Apple Lossless, AIFF, and WAV
Supported video formats: H.264, MPEG-4; Supported image file types: JPEG, BMP, GIF, TIFF, PSD (Mac only), and PNG

*Please note: This iPod was acquired through an IT convention attended by my husband and has a small engraving on the back (PCMall.com). It is brand new, unused, in it's original packaging.

How "our" girls came to be. . .

After being immersed in the international adoption process for almost a year, I was ready to be done. Five was a great number, right? I certainly thought so. But as we sat in our small, cold hotel room in a tiny town in Eastern Ukraine, a quiet voice whispered to my heart that our family was not yet complete. I quickly silenced the voice by placing my earphones into my ears and turning on my iPod, letting the music drown out my thoughts. I was just not ready to think about doing this all over again. I had just come home from Uzbekistan four weeks prior and we were two weeks into our first trip to Ukraine. I just needed to focus on the here and now.

As we boarded our flight home from our first trip to Ukraine, I noticed several "older" Ukrainian children with their new adoptive parents. The joy and excitement (mixed with a little fear and trepidation) at the thought of their new lives, surrounded by loving families, was evident and it struck a cord in my heart.

On Christmas Eve (2007), just a few short day after returning home with Evan, we happily dressed the kids in their Christmas pajamas and lined them up on the couch for pictures. . .the first pictures of all five of our children together. I shed a tear or two as the miracle of that moment sank deep into my heart. Once the photo shoot had concluded, we tucked our little people into bed and I headed back to the home office to look at the pictures we had taken. My heart all but stopped as I pulled up the first picture on my computer screen. I very clearly saw 7 children sitting there. I shook my head, blinked and ultimately chalked it up to severe jet lag, but the impression had been made upon my heart and I could no longer tune out that quiet voice that continued to whisper to my heart that our family was not yet complete.


I waited several weeks before I shared these thoughts, impressions and experiences with Richard. I knew that he would think I had completely lost my mind (I thought I had completely lost my mind, so there was very little doubt that Richard would concur). In the mean time, the Spirit continued to remind me that there were still children missing from our family. At the playground, I would quickly count my children. . .1,2, 3, 4,5 and was confused to feel that someone was still missing. One Sunday morning, an elderly lady at church walked up to our pew and took a long, hard look at our family. She then asked us, "When did you adopt two more?" Richard and I looked at each other, confused and then she quickly corrected herself, "Oh, there are only 5, I thought I had counted 7."

The official "adoption talks" began in May/June 2008. Although we both wanted to return to Ukraine, with travel times lengthening, we knew that it was not the right choice for our family this time around. We soon learned that, Bulgaria, whose international adoption program had slowed to a trickle over the past few years, was once again moving. With no age or family size restrictions and travel times and fees that fit our situation, we felt that it was the right program for us. We only wished that the agency we had used for our previous adoptions had a program in Bulgaria.

A few weeks after we began talking about Bulgaria, I learned from our agency director (without mentioning our plans to her) that, About A Child would be partnering with a Bulgarian agency to begin a program in Bulgaria. We knew that the Lord had led us to the place where we would find our "missing piece(s)."

Shortly after we learned about our agency's plans to open a program in Bulgaria, we had to put our plans on hold. Joshua and Evan had been accepted for treatment at Shriners Hospital for Children in Philadelphia and the initial treatment would be rigorous. We knew that we must put their needs first and so our adoption plans were placed on the back burner. We knew that the Lord's timing was perfect, THAT had certainly been made manifest many times throughout the process of bringing Joshua and Evan home and we knew it would be the case this time around as well.

In February, as I was making plans to schedule Joshua's next post placement report with our social worker, I was reminded that our current homestudy would expire in mid-May. An update would be exponentially cheaper and involve far less paperwork. We knew that another adoption was in our future and so we made the decision to update. Shortly after making that decision, I learned of two beautiful little girls who were available for adoption in Bulgaria. The first little girl that stole my heart was "M." She was a beautiful 8 year-old girl, listed with another agency, just waiting for a family to call her own. I then learned that "M" had come to the agency as a referral for another family whose dossier was already in Bulgaria. They had two weeks to decide whether or not they would accept her referral. In the meantime, I learned of another little girl, "D." She was a gorgeous little girl who had just turned 7 years-old. She was born with cerebral palsy, but she was not letting that slow her down. Her amazing smile won me over in an instant and I knew that she was meant to be ours.

A few weeks later, I learned that the family who had been considering "M" had turned down the referral and that she was, once again, available for consideration. As soon as I showed her picture to Richard he said, "She's the one!" The agency that the girls were listed with was nearing the end of their two-month period with their files (in Bulgaria, the Ministry of Justice maintains a list of 700+ children (most who are older, sibling groups or have special needs). Bulgarian agencies can request the files of the children on this list to share with their clients for consideration. Each agency has two months to try to find families for the children whose files they are in possession of, at which point the files are given to the next agency who has requested them). Although the agency that they were currently listed with was wonderful, we were still hopeful that we would be able to use our previous agency (and their Bulgarian counterpart) to bring the girls home.

I contacted the director of the Bulgarian agency working with About A Child and told her about "our" girls. I shared with her the indentifying information that I had and soon learned that she had requested M's file back in mid-November and that she should be one of the next in line to receive it and, in the meantime, she requested D's file as well.

We have been waiting for several months to receive the files and we are still waiting. In the meantime, we have completed our homestudy update, have officially signed on with our agency and will be filing our I-800A (request for immigration approval to adopt an orphan from a Hague Convention country) as soon as we have received a copy of our homestudy. We know that, if it is the Lord's will, we will be able to bring "our" girls home and we know that the timing will be perfect. His plan is so much bigger (and better) than ours. We are reminded of that each and every day as we step back in awe and take in all that He has blessed us with.

So, while we are still waiting to know whether or not we will be able to bring our girls home, we DO know that we are on the right path and that it is the right time and we are doing everything that is in our power to move forward in every way that we can. The rest is up to the Lord and we are excited to see what He has in store for us!