August 1, 2013

A Story

Posted in Blogging, Faith, Just Life, Ukraine at 9:11 pm by catsinboxes

Let me tell you a story: once upon a time, 16 years ago, a baby boy was born in Eastern Europe. Remember him, he is important. At that time, on this side of the world, there was a young family with 3 children. Well that family grew. They grew and they grew and they grew. They were a happy family, and they loved God, and they knew they had been blessed, blessed with 7 beautiful children. And that was good, but it was not all. No, not the end of the story in the least but only the beginning.

You see, this family loved people, and they loved bringing people into their home. They had one exchange student, and then another, and then another, until soon they had hosted a dozen times. And that was good, but it was not all. Because God had a plan for that family, a special plan. He slowly opened their eyes, and He showed them a need: a need written in the faces and names and lives of thousands of children around the globe, a need for love.

They heard it, and their hearts broke a little, and they knew that they must do something. So they prayed, and they helped others bring children home. Then they brought two brothers into their home for a month during Christmas. This was a different kind of hosting, a Christian hosting program for orphans from Eastern Europe. And their hearts broke some more. They loved these boys, and learned more about God’s strength during that month than they could ever have imagined. It was grueling, it was draining, but at the end of it, they were ready for more.

Then God directed their hearts toward another country in Eastern Europe. And he showed them a 16 year-old boy. Remember him? I told you he was important. They decided to host him for 5 weeks in the summer. They looked forward to his arrival, and they prayed for him every day. When it was time for him to arrive, they were so excited. They didn’t know what it would be like, but they knew that God was good and sovereign over all.

Five weeks passed. God showed himself good and loving and sovereign in more ways than the family could ever have imagined. When it came time to say goodbye, it was one of the hardest things they had ever done. But they knew that God was good.

They know that God has an amazing plan for this 16-year-old, and they know that one way or another they will see him again. They trust in that. They are a happy family, and they praise God, and they know they have been blessed, blessed with a bunch of beautiful children.


I don’t know what the next chapter of this story holds, but I’m excited to see it unfold.


April 7, 2013

Ukraine: What Did I Know?

Posted in Adoption, Blogging, Faith, Japan, Just Life, Korea, Ukraine at 5:41 pm by catsinboxes

Disclaimer: This is more of a personal post than a list of facts.  For those of you interested in size, population, geopolitical status, and other such information, this will not satisfy you, but I hope to write a post more to your liking in the near future!  

As I got ready to leave for Ukraine, I considered writing a blog post about what I knew -so far- about Ukraine.  It didn’t happen; time and creativity did not meet while waiting for my flight to Kiev at Chicago O’Hare.  Once in Ukraine, there was so much to write about, so much to learn, no time for writing THAT kind of post.  Now that I am home and have had some time for reflection, I am glad I waited.  It is so neat to see how God has been preparing my heart and working in and through my trip to Ukraine.  So, let me tell you, what I did know about Ukraine.


3 Years Ago

Ukraine was part of Eastern Europe, I knew that much!  I was too busy getting ready for a trip to Korea to think about Ukraine.  Korea was another trip that had fallen into place, not as quickly as Ukraine, but it was a country that God had given me an excitement and curiosity about, the details had come together, and I was going to Korea!  Ukraine?  No, I wasn’t thinking about Ukraine.

 2 Years Ago

I had been home less than a month from Japan.  My head was too full of Japan and uncertainty to think about traveling anywhere besides back to Japan to resume an internship that had been cut short by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11.  It was a time of uncertainty, so many questions as to what lay in my near future.  Would I go back to Japan?  Would I stay in the States? What would I do during the summer?  Thinking back, there were so many questions and tears, but God was at work.  He taught me patience.  He taught me to rely on His plan, a plan that would not include a return to Japan.  His plan would involve becoming a member of a wonderful church.  So life continued, summer passed, autumn came -and went- and then winter came.  And at about that time, I started to hear about a ministry, a ministry called Reece’s Rainbow which advocated for the international adoption of children with special needs, particularly Down Syndrome.  My mom had visited their website before, and as winter progressed, she did so with increasing regularity.  So I started to hear about children, a number of whom lived in Eastern Europe and Russia.

1 Year Ago

Ukraine?  Oh, I knew about Ukraine!  I had read blogs about Ukrainian adoption, I was praying for Ukrainian orphans, I had started to learn statistics and facts about the Ukrainian orphan crisis.  On March 6, I did my first blog post mentioning Ukraine.

Ukraine had separated itself from the blur of Eastern Europe.  I did have foggy recollections of what I had known about Ukraine, the Orange Revolution of 2004 was slightly familiar as were the faces of Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko, but I only knew faces, I couldn’t have told you their names!  Who I could name was every child available for adoption and listed on Reece’s Rainbow in one Ukrainian orphanage.  I prayed for them, wished we could add someone to our family, wished I could do more!

And so spring passed, and days grew warmer.  I was still involved in our wonderful church, at that point serving as an interim small group leader in our youth group.  At one youth group, as an icebreaker, we were asked the question, “If you could do anything and go anywhere in the world for one day, what would you do?”   I knew my answer right away, and I almost felt guilty for having such a kitsch answer, but I knew it was true.  If I had one day, I’d go to Ukraine and visit an orphanage; I’d spend a day with the children.  That is what I would do!  (Wait, why not Korea or Japan?  I knew I needed way more than one day in each of those countries, and a trip to either was doable, while this, on the other hand, was a dream.)

Was this something that I developed of my own volition?  I truly believe God was behind it.  He is the one who gave me a heart for orphans over a decade ago.  He is the one who began to stir this love and awaken a desire to learn more and to help orphans, especially those in Eastern Europe . . . particularly those in Ukraine.

In the past year, I read more.  Pieces and facts about Ukraine began to fit together.  Chernobyl happened before my generation and I hadn’t known about it, not until following March 11 as BBC and other newspapers began ranking the situation at Fukishima with other nuclear disasters, the worst of which -to my recollections- was Chernobyl.  I’m embarrassed to admit that as I learned about Ukraine I had two light-bulb moments.

First, connecting Chernobyl with Ukraine -I had thought it was southern Russia.  (Granted, it  was USSR, but we won’t go there right now!)  Then as I learned my Ukrainian geography, came the other realization.  Wait a minute, Crimea is in Ukraine???  That’s where the Crimean War was, all those times I was reading about Florence Nightingale, the whole war was taking place in Ukraine!!!

I learned even more about Ukraine late last year, when my family become involved with New Horizons for Children, a Christian orphan hosting program.  While we hosted two boys from Latvia, many orphans in the program came from Ukraine.  So, I pieced together more, including the reoccurring fact that Ukraine had roads in need of a lot of repair!

Yes, the roads do need work!

I also learned sobering facts: statistics of what happens after orphans age out of the system, the bleak future that any orphan faces, the realities of life after the orphanage.

Early this year, when we decided to host again through New Horizons, Ukraine became more personal because Pasha was from Ukraine.

We will be hosting Pasha this summer; I can’t wait to meet him in person!

I was learning all the time, small facts, more than I could write here.     Some people speak Russian.  The trains can be bad.  The chocolate is good.  People don’t smile at strangers.  There are mountains in western Ukraine.  There are coal mines in eastern Ukraine.  The number of flowers you give someone is very important. . . . Little things, but they were adding up!

Then came the opportunity and at first the uncertainty.  I might be going!  It was so exciting, it was unbelievable, but I didn’t want to get too excited.  Then it was definite, the tickets were booked, it was actually going to happen!  The suitcase was packed, a phrasebook purchased, and a small travel guide downloaded.  Then, less than 48 hours after learning of the opportunity, I was on a plane, headed for Ukraine!  On my last flight of the day, sitting in a window seat on Ukrainian Airlines, surrounded by a lot of people speaking more Ukrainian and/or Russian that I had EVER heard before, I quickly read through my travel guide.

What did I know about Ukraine?  When it came to adoption, quite a lot.  When it came to other things, not that much.  But I learned so much on my trip, and I do not intend to stop learning anytime soon.

Soli Deo Gloria

April 3, 2013

The Sound of Silence -Not Really

Posted in Blogging, Just Life, Ukraine at 1:49 pm by catsinboxes

Yes, I did arrive home from Ukraine. Normal life has returned, almost. Last weekend our basement decided to flood, so everyone (including yours truly) who sleeps downstairs had to relocate. Carpeting has been removed, and right now we have a professional restoration service in the process of drying out every bit of downstairs. The damage could have been much worse, and life is going well, but there definitely is a bit of disarray. Any time I have to get something from my room, I must enter the airlock area, navigate past different fans and dehumidifiers, and then sort through the jumble of moved furniture within my bedroom. On a final note, there is also a substantial amount of noise; think industrial fans in a dairy barn . . .

Realizing all of the above, please understand why my posting has been sparse! I hope to be back and blogging consistently soon, but things need to quiet down here (literally!) before that happens.

March 25, 2013

Homeward Bound

Posted in Adoption, Faith, Favorite Quotes, Ukraine at 3:46 pm by catsinboxes

Early tomorrow morning, 2 AM to be precise, we will be leaving for the airport.  We are all looking forward to getting home, but I foresee a long trip in store for two little girls!  I’d appreciate your prayers as we are heading homewards, especially that the girls would be calm and able to sleep on the planes.  It would be so wonderful if they can sleep!  This has been an amazing trip, and it has been so neat how everything has worked out.  God was overseeing all the details, and this has been more than anything I could have ever imagined!

In closing, I’m going to share some words from a hymn that I love to remember each time I travel.

Hitherto thy love has blessed me, thou has brought me to this place,

and I know thy hand will lead me, safely home by thy good grace.

Looking forward to getting back to the earthly home and family that I am so blessed to have!

March 23, 2013

The Past Few Days

Posted in Adoption, Blogging, Ukraine at 4:21 pm by catsinboxes

Well, we have been in Kiev for the past two days.  Before that, on Wednesday, we had our last day in the girls’ city. In the morning, I went out shopping by myself.  There is such a sense of accomplishment, shopping and using public transportation by yourself in a foreign country!

Though quite windy, it was a great day for taking pictures. The sky was gorgeous with the clouds continually shifting.

Then, Wednesday night, it was time to get the girls, “gotcha day” in adoption language.  We had a train to catch, so we didn’t linger long, just picked up the girls and headed for the train station.  Lena, who is older, was so excited to leave that she was crying!  Vika, who is younger and more introverted was quiet, but I’d say she was pretty excited too since she was very ready to march out the door and get into the waiting car.

The train ride itself was uneventful.  We shared a four bed compartment, and the girls managed to sleep.  I really didn’t sleep at all though a couple times I know I dozed fitfully.  I kept thinking back with longing to my first train ride and how, jet lag and all, I had so promptly gone to sleep!  Well, no luck this time.

Early Thursday morning we arrived in Kiev and were met by our driver.  The facilitator who had been helping with the adoption had done her part, so now we were entrusted to the driver’s care.  He loaded up our bags, took us to the apartment, and then to two appointments so Amanda could complete the necessary medicals and paperwork for the girls’ adoption.  Let’s just say it was a long day, but we survived!

Driving through Kiev, I had fun taking pictures out of the car windows!

After the appointments were finished and Amanda and the girls were back at the flat, I was able to nip out for a quick bit of souvenir shopping.  At that point, it looked like we might be leaving Ukraine the next day.  (Little did we know that Spring Break would nix that idea!)

The churches here are so beautiful!

Our driver took me to an outdoor type of market where there were lots of stalls selling Ukrainian souvenirs.  Incidentally, we just “happened” to park near his friend’s stall.  His friend, speaking impeccable English, whisked me over to the stall, showed me everything obligingly, rattled off prices, and was as helpful as could be.  I listened, smiled, selected, and ended up buying several things.  And yes, I did linger just long enough to make sure that I didn’t get too high a price.  I knew I could probably find the same items for less elsewhere, but my time was limited, the exchange rate was very much in my favor, and I was quite amused by the whole situation.

While driving, we passed these street vendors. Can you tell that Ukrainians take their sausages seriously?

As we were wrapping up, I asked if my obliging seller knew what a “racket” meant.  He didn’t.  Perhaps it wasn’t the proper word to use, but I explained it this way.  I said, “It is kind of like this.  I want to go shopping, so my driver takes me here.  And, oh, here is his friend who has a stall.  I could buy something here!  What a coincidence!”  As I explained, I was smiling, and he caught on quickly and started smiling, too!  I beamed at him as I finished and concluded by saying, “I’m not dumb!”  He laughed heartily and wished me a good rest of my visit!

By the end of Thursday, we realized that due to Spring Break, there was no way we could make it back over the weekend.  So, we started to settle down and adjust to life in an apartment with two little girls and lots of suitcases!  Meanwhile, outside it started to snow.  And snow.  And snow.  It snowed all through yesterday.  When we went out, the wind was blowing, whipping snow into faces, almost blinding you at times.  I dug out my fleece headband which I thankfully had decided to pack.  Oh was I glad to have that yesterday!

Today dawned with snow continuing to spiral down.  When we went out for a walk, I realized that we had a LOT of snow.  I knew that it wasn’t quite usual, per what our driver had said, but  only when I found out that Kiev has declared a state of emergency, did I realize that this is very unusual!  Usually the streets are full of traffic, but today there were not many cars out, and the streets still have a lot of snow.  I passed someone skiing down a side street on my way to the grocery store this evening!

Can you say, “buried”?

We went out on a walk with the girls this morning.  While it was called a walk, we did a bit of wading and plowing and trudging with all the snow that had fallen.  I did my best to take pictures.

Vika didn’t approve of my picture taking and marched down the sidewalk after Amanda!

The rest of today has been pretty uneventful, except that we shifted apartments and spent part of the afternoon transferring all of our things two blocks down the street from Apartment A to Apartment B.  But, besides that, not much happened!  We are taking it easy here, and if all goes as planned, we will be flying back to the states on Tuesday.

Let’s just hope the snow decides to stop before Tuesday!

March 19, 2013

Visiting Orphans

Posted in Adoption, Blogging, Faith, Ukraine at 5:38 am by catsinboxes

To adequately describe yesterday’s events, I’m going to rewind in time to something I wrote yesterday afternoon.

If my trip had a soundtrack, I know what one of the songs would be, While I’m Waiting by John Waller.  There’s a lot of waiting here in Ukraine.  Waiting for documents, waiting for buses, waiting for appointments, waiting for phone calls . . .                

This morning, I read this verse in 1 Corinthians:

“To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

I pray that I can become all things to all people; I will rejoice with those who rejoice, I will weep with those who weep, AND I will wait with those who wait.

Waiting isn’t easy, I don’t think I realized how much I like doing something, especially when in my head I have a list of all the things that I could be doing, that I should be doing, if I wasn’t waiting!  But God has been teaching me to be patient, to wait, and to trust and rely upon His plan and timing, not on my planning!

I wrote that while I was waiting, waiting to see if we could visit an orphanage.  I was learning, I was waiting, but it wasn’t easy at all.  It seemed like we had to wait so long.  But then it was time.  Was I ready?  Ready???  I’d had my bags packed all afternoon!

So we set off to visit the local rehab center.  Yes, it is an orphanage, but it is specifically for children who have gotten into trouble, who have been living on the streets, who for whatever reason are problem cases.  The age range is 5-18.

We took a marshrutka, and then, getting off, walked down an empty lane that curved off the main road.  It was later, I think after 5 o’clock.  After a short walk, we were at the orphanage.

We walked in through a gate, around the building, and then inside into a long hallway.  It was so quiet, eerily quiet.  That’s one thing I’ve noticed about the two orphanages I have visited, when you step inside, it is quiet, far too quiet for a building that is filled with children!

In the hall we stopped by the director’s office, but the director was not there.  Valeriy, our local Ukrainian contact who was coordinating the whole visit, pulled out his phone and called one of the teachers who he had already spoken with about visiting that afternoon.  Within a few minutes, she had arrived in the hall to greet us, beaming and saying “Zdrastvuitye!” and then talking rapidly to Valeriy in Russian.  I listened, rather anxiously.  We had come so far, the children were here, would we be able to see them?  I kept hearing the word, “kharoshov” which means good.  So far so good!  Then the teacher turned and led the way: up the stairs, down a hall, into a room, and there were some children.  The room had shelves on either side, and desks along each wall.  Spread out through the room were older children, lots of boys, most of them looking like they were 12 and up.  We started putting our bags down and taking off our coats.  We were watched with guarded curiosity, you could tell they were interested but didn’t want to show it!  As I looked around at all the boys, many nearing my own height (and I’m not short!) I felt a sinking feeling.  What would they think of what I had, beanie babies?  Still, I remembered what I had heard before, these children would appreciate things that to us seem far past their age.

Then there came noise, an excited babble, footsteps in the hall, and in galloped the younger children.  Valeriy has worked with the children here before, and oh could you tell!  He was mobbed by little boys, the younger ones giving him hugs, talking excitedly in Russian, the older ones hanging back, eyes shining, waiting to shake his hand.  Then all of the children were told to sit down, and three chairs were pulled up to the front of the room.  We sat down, and with Valeriy as a translator, Amanda and I shared a little bit about ourselves.  As we talked, telling about our families, our homes, and our pets, the questions started to fly.  Was I married?  Was Amanda married?  Why was Amanda in Ukraine?  Why did she want to adopt two little girls who couldn’t see?  How could the girls learn to read?  How could they type if they couldn’t see?  Where was Wisconsin?  (Thank goodness for Chicago as a geographical point of reference!)  What could you do in Wisconsin?  Could you go fishing? What do the cows in Wisconsin do in the winter if it’s so cold?  Did I have any children?  How old was my youngest brother?  What kind of a lizard did Amanda have?  How big was it?  What did it eat?  On and on the questions flew!

The interesting thing is that while we talked, the group on the ground was shifting.  At first the children were sitting in groups, the little ones in the front near us, the bigger ones hanging back, ranging all the way to the back of the room, some still sitting at tables.  But, the longer we talked, the more the group moved, shifting, moving closer and closer.  By the time we were finished talking, most of the children were sitting in tight rows, as close to us as possible.  I wanted to sit down in the middle of them, I wanted to be able to understand Russian and be able to speak it as I answered their questions!  But I couldn’t, and I realized that by sitting on a chair, I could see all of them, so I just kept looking, across the faces, making eye contact, smiling, acknowledging questions, answering them, using “Da” and “Nyet” once I’d understood a question.

At one point, I realized that one of the little girls in the front was asking if Amanda had a Yorkshire Terrier.  I nodded to show I understood and mimed that they were little.  She smiled and nodded.  I can’t remember what was said next, but the little girl pointed to herself and said her name.  Then the girl next to her introduced herself in flawless English!   A little boy to the right pointed to himself and said his name, behind him another piped up.  Suddenly there was a murmur of introductions as child after child told me their name.  It was only for a few moments, and then the questions swept back and it was gone, but I won’t forget it.  They each have a name, a story, they are fearfully and wonderfully made, they just want to be known.

“I have called you by name, you are mine.”  Oh, I want to say that someday to a child like one of these!

Then it was time to finish, to pass out the candy and gifts.  For the boys still sitting at tables in the back, I made it a game.  I’d wait for eye contact and then mime throwing.  That caught their attention, and small candy bars were thrown and caught across the room.  It also brought smiles as at times my throws would go awry, or spectacular catches would be made!

Then there was the backpack full of toys and beanie babies.  I was surround by children, it wasn’t chaos, but oh there was excitement!  One by children took toys, pulling back afterward to let others in.  They were polite, they didn’t try to get everything, I would take something out and there would be an excited murmur and then hands would be raised of children who’d like something.  One little boy got a multi-colored highlighter, a bigger boy got an American flag.
(Thank you, God, for the drawer of gifts that I’ve kept in my room, just waiting for an occasion.  They were perfect for yesterday!)  After the big toys were gone, I pulled out a package of bandz.  You should have heard the excited buzz!  I really was surrounded then, not jostled, but surrounded as eager hands reached in, voices asked for certain colors both in Russian and English.  “Black!  Black!  -the older boys liked that color!- Red! Yellow!  Green!  After those were gone, I pulled out the next pack, this one in brighter colors with pinks.  The girls had been excited before, but now they were oohing, reaching in for the pinks, yellows and purples.  The boys weren’t deterred either, and there were still takers until all the bandz were gone.  At the end, a little boy came up to me.  Somehow, he hadn’t received anything, and he didn’t want a bandz.  (I’d say there were a few conscientious objectors among some boys at the idea of a bracelet, and he was one of them!)  I look in my backpack, nothing.  I looked around the children, hoping.  And then I saw one of the older boys, holding two beanie babies.  I didn’t have to say anything because he took matters into his own hands, instantly passing one of them to the little boy.  It might have been a purple bear, but it was accepted instantly.

Passing out bandz


Yes, the older boys were happy with their beanie babies!

Then it was time for them to go to dinner.  All this time there had been excitement and scattered thanks.  Now there was a wave of “spacebas” and thank yous.”  Then came the children, slipping closer, a small arm around my waist, giving a hug.  It wasn’t just the girls, there were a lot of little boys.  I gave hug after hug, so thankful I could give them and wishing I could do more!

Then, at the teacher’s prompting all of them chorused SPACEBA!!!  And off went the younger ones.  We picked up our things, waved goodbye, and went out into the hallway.  The teacher was so sweet, so effusive in her thanks.  She told Valerhiy to tell us thank you, thank you so much for the stuffed animals.  The children would love them, would sleep with them . . . Thank you, thank you!  She said if we could, it would be great for us to come back so we could play outside with the children during one of their outside activity times.

We responded that we’d love to, but we were leaving on Wednesday evening, so it would have to be in the next two days.  There was a pause, as the teacher began explaining something to Valerhiy.  It turns out that there are 6 children at the rehab center who are in the hospital right now, sick with something that isn’t too serious (sounds like a cold/cough), but anyway, it has the director worried.  Apparently, she’s afraid that the children might catch something from foreigners, so she wouldn’t sanction as visit.

Do you realize what that means?  If we hadn’t been waiting, and waiting.  If we hadn’t arrived until after 5.  If we had come earlier.  If the director had been there . . . We probably wouldn’t have seen the children.  God has been teaching me to be patient, to wait, and to trust and rely upon His plan and timing, not on my planning!  How little did I know, as I wrote those words yesterday afternoon, just how God would use His timing to orchestrate our visit!

March 16, 2013

Ukraine Update

Posted in Adoption, Blogging, Cats, Ukraine at 11:32 am by catsinboxes

After a busy morning and early afternoon, I’m back in our apartment and have some time to catch up and write a blog post.

The main train station in Kiev was so neat; it has gorgeous architecture.

This is my third full day in Ukraine.  Wednesday evening, I arrived in Kiev.  From Kiev, I took a an overnight train to our city.  Apparently the Germans bombed Kiev’s original train station during WWII, so the current station is post-war era.

I really enjoyed the train.  Amanda, who I’m helping, likened it to the Hogwarts Express, and I agree with her!  I had my own compartment with a door and a lock.  Inside there was a little table coming out from the wall and two seats/beds.  They were pretty narrow, but after all of my traveling, I was ready to sleep on anything!

After a good -though intermittent- night’s sleep (I think I woke up every time the train stopped at a station!), I got up in time to be ready to step off the train when it got to my station.  I did, and shortly thereafter was at the apartment settling in, unpacking, and getting ready for the rest of the day.

I passed this church on the way to the apartment.

Rather than continue to detail a step by step chronology of the past few days, I’m going to share some pictures and initial impressions of Ukraine.

The buildings:

A lot of the apartments are soviet era, so they look very much alike: same architecture, same playgrounds.

All very utilitarian.

This pack of dogs lives near our apartment.

The animals: there are a lot of dogs that are practically feral, but they are not afraid of people, they just roam the streets.  Some get scraps from the old ladies who have little stalls along the sidewalk.  Amanda and I are dog lovers, so if we can, we will stop to pet any dog, or cat.  I know it’s a pretty obvious sign that we’re crazy foreigners, but we don’t care!

We befriended this cat on our walk this morning.

The people:

Typically, Ukrainians don’t smile at a stranger.  I didn’t realize until now how culturally I’m programmed to smile and nod at anyone I pass!  This is such an interesting culture that is quite different from our own.  I love seeing the different sides of Ukrainian culture the longer that I am here.   It’s neat to watch children in any culture, and I’ve loved observing the families here.  You can tell that family is very important, and that children are loved.  At the same time, it is so sad to know that there are over a hundred thousand children in this country who do not have families to call their own.  I’m very glad that I can be here to help with two little girls who are orphans no more!

Spending time with Vika and Lena