Sunday, September 10, 2017


After two months in Ukraine we are finally home- and as a family of 3!! Our trip home went remarkably well.  Sveta did very well on our two flights and our long layover in Frankfurt.  It felt SO good to walk off that plane in Portland all together! And Sveta got to meet her Grandma and Grandpa for the first time. Our first night home was a bit rough, but considering how much change Sveta has been through the last few weeks, along with the time change, we expected it.  She fell asleep very quickly on our drive home and then woke up once we got off the freeway.  It had gotten dark by that point and she panicked a bit and wanted out of her car seat.  She screamed the rest of our way home.  She was still a bit upset as we walked into our house together where our two cats greeted us.  She was not a big fan of them at that moment so some more screaming ensued.  We showed her around the house and eventually she began to calm down.  We taught her how to pet the cats and play with them and she started to really enjoy that, as well as explore some of her new toys.  We tried to go to bed since we were all exhausted but she wasn't having any of that until about 12:30 when she was finally willing to climb in her new bed with mama.  Bedtime continues to be our biggest challenge but we know for her that is probably the scariest time of the day.  She has never slept alone (which we still don't expect her to do) and we are still new to her.  As attached and bonded as she is with us, she likely still thinks we will be gone some day.  

Our first full day at home as a family was wonderful though! We were all so much happier being in a bigger space (compared to the small apartments we had in Ukraine) and Sveta had so much more she could do.  We went to the park and she was doing so well with that we even decided to try going to the store and she was great there too.  We know this adjustment won't be easy, though I'm not sure either of us had envisioned just how hard it would be, and appreciate your prayers as we transition.  Pray that Sveta will feel safe here and begin to understand that this is home for the three of us.  Pray that our bedtime routine will get easier and less stressful.  And pray for her separation anxiety to lessen.  Eric will be returning to work in a week and Sveta will be starting kindergarten in a few weeks.  Right now mama can barely be out of sight at home for more than a couple minutes, let alone go anywhere without her.  We are thankful she has attached and bonded to us so well but aren't exactly sure how to handle her separation anxiety yet.  Our journey is far from over and we are beyond grateful for everyone's support to get us this far.  We can't wait to see what comes next for our family!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Coming Home!!

We are so excited to say that yesterday we got ALL paperwork needed to travel home with our daughter!! It has been an exciting couple days- on Monday we heard from our facilitator that her passport had not only been printed, it was already back in Odessa and our driver was putting it on the train back to Kiev that night! Our facilitator picked it up Tuesday morning, we then all went to the medical office so we could pick up her medical paperwork, and then went to the US embassy because we were able to get an appointment immediately! It only took about 20 minutes for us to drop off the rest of our paperwork and receive her passport back with her immigrant visa!  By noon on Tuesday we were good to go! On Monday afternoon we had booked our tickets home for Friday.  We were blessed to be able to get the exact flights we wanted (only one layover and straight from Europe to Portland so she will officially become a US citizen in Portland).  This also gave us a couple extra days just in case something wouldn't have gone smoothly. We are so, so excited!! It so amazing to see how faithful God continues to be in this journey. From the very beginning we had prayed we could be home at the 2 month mark and sure enough we are done before that and leaving exactly 2 months and 1 day after we got here.

Please pray for smooth, delay-free travel on Friday. And especially for Sveta- that she will do very well on the plane and feel completely comfortable knowing that mom and dad are with her. The other day she told our facilitator in Russian that when she goes to America she is going to live and sleep at school (this is what she knows happens when kids are moved from a baby house orphanage to a boarding school orphanage). We all explained to her that she will live and sleep at home with mama and papa, but it's hard to know exactly what is going through her little head with so many unknowns and new things in such a short amount of time. Please also pray for our adjustment once we are home. It feels so good to say the 3 of us are finally going HOME!

Friday, September 1, 2017

Bonding Time

We have had an amazing time bonding as a family of 3 here in Kiev.  Sveta has continued to do so great considering all she has been through in less than two weeks.  We have been seeing more frequent toddler-like behavior (including a couple epic tantrums) but not only is that completely normal, it also means she feels comfortable enough with us to revert back to those stages.  Her institutional life did not allow her to be a typical baby and toddler so now that she can be, she is sometimes.  We are quickly learning to pick our battles and know that these stages won't last.  She has also had severe separation anxiety, particularly with mama. Usually mama can't even be in another room for more than 30 seconds before Sveta has to follow.  We have tried having mama leave for a few minutes to show her that mama always comes back, but we don't seem to be getting anywhere, so for now will let her take the lead on that and just continue to show her she is safe and with people who will always be there for her.  She did have a successful trip to the park with only papa today though!  Our bedtime routine has gone much better the last couple of nights so that is progress too.  Of course we will start all over once we get home though!

This week we took care of mandatory medical appointments and our first embassy appointment.  We also filed a petition/complaint to the immigration office requesting they process her passport immediately.  We were told the petition had been filed and the passport would be printed ASAP.  We will soon find out what that actually means by Ukraine standards!  We are desperately praying that we are home next weekend!!  We were also blessed this week to find a few other adoptive families who are in the same stage of the process as we are. It has been such a blessing to have other parents (more experienced than us!) to talk with while our kids play together at the park. We are all looking for ways to pass the time while we anxiously wait to go home, and keep our kids busy, so we look forward to our afternoons with them.

Please pray that Sveta's passport will be in our hands early next week and that we can be home by next weekend!!!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Back to Kiev

Our first days as a family of three could not have gone any better. Sveta has been simply amazing- always happy and silly, and so much fun. We never knew we could love someone quite as much as we love this little girl. The three of us have stuck together to avoid any more separation anxiety, although Eric did successfully and quickly go get dinner for us last night without any issue. Food is still an issue a lot of the time but we are trying hard to figure out what she will eat. She is very much like a toddler when it comes to food, and textures and temperatures seem to play a big role in what she will eat at one moment and not another. Fortunately yogurt (close to room temperature) and fruit always seem to work- for now!

On Wednesday we took the train from Odessa back to Kiev. We were nervous to see how she would handle the 7 hour trip but, as usual, she was amazing. To be honest, we are very glad to be back in Kiev. Not only does it mean we are another step closer to going home, but our apartment is in an area with much more to see and do, as well as more foreigners. Thursday was Independence Day in Ukraine so everything was closed (and many things today too), but on Monday Sveta is scheduled for her medical exam as part of the immigration process. We are hopeful this will go smoothly and are still praying that we will have her passport in our hands by the end of next week.

Today we went to a large shopping mall because we desperately needed to find some warmer clothes for Sveta. Odessa was close to 100 degrees the last couple weeks and now Kiev is in the 60s so she didn't really have the best attire. At the mall we discovered they also had a bowling alley and decided to check it out. Sveta had a blast! She had the same priceless reaction every time a ball would knock down the pins- shouting "Wow!" and jumping up and down.  Watching her reaction to all of these firsts is so special.  Even simple things like being mesmerized by the washing machine tonight or a revolving door at the mall are so cute to see.  We are certainly enjoying our bonding time here as a family of three, but are so very eager to get home.  Please be praying with us that we can be home during the first week of September.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Gotcha Day!

August 21st was officially gotcha day for our girl! It was quite a bit more emotional than we had anticipated.  When we arrived at the orphanage one of the caretakers was doing Sveta's hair and getting her dressed in the clothes we brought. She was Sveta's favorite and vice versa so she was already very emotional about her leaving the orphanage. After Sveta came out of the room with her small backpack and a going away gift, she was sobbing which made this mama cry too.  We tried to comfort her and the caretakers tried to comfort her but nothing was working.  We had brought treats for her to share with her group and she cried all through that too.  She knew that she was about to leave the only world she's ever known with two people she barely knew and no idea what was beyond the fence. We were able to tour the orphanage to see where she had been living for the last five years and by the time we were done with that her tears had stopped.  She wasn't completely her happy self, but more content than earlier.  We finished the last of the paperwork we needed to do and then it was time to go.  Sveta left the Baby House for good with us as her mama and papa! We were overwhelmed with joy that this day had finally come and are so blessed to be together as a family now.

Since she had been so sad earlier in the morning we had already planned with our driver to meet up with Sveta's best friend who had left the orphanage with her family from Italy one week earlier.  It was so fun to see the two girls interact and talk together and it made Sveta very happy.  We went out to lunch together (Sveta's first time in a restaurant) so the girls could have some more time together.  Sveta was quite funny (or embarrassing) at the restaurant.  She was very adamant she wanted soup and pizza and let the waiter know right away. Then every time he walked by she would ask him about her soup and pizza.  Since we had ordered a pizza to share, Eric and I were given plates while we waited for our food.  Sveta wanted a plate too so she got the attention of the next waiter that walked by and eventually got her own plate. She also got plates for the other people at our table even though they didn't need them.  Apparently Sveta didn't care for the soup because she didn't eat it and told multiple waiters about it as we were leaving!

After lunch we came back to our apartment and Sveta did great through the afternoon.  We tried to all go out to get some dinner but weren't having luck with Uber so Eric took the bus on his own to get something to bring back while Sveta and I stayed at the apartment.  She was fine for a few minutes but then lost it completely and threw a very loud fit.  It's so hard not understanding most of what she's saying but I kept hearing the word "papa" so I was hoping her only problem was that he wasn't there.  She was completely inconsolable. I texted Eric and told him to hurry up!  We went outside and walked around a bit watching for the bus which helped some until he got back.  Then when she saw him she got louder again and for the next hour or so would only grunt at him when he tried to talk to her.  She had calmed down though and eventually was back to her happy self.  Whew! We were taking it cautiously after that through the night and decided that at least for the time being, all three of us will stick together at all times!  Sveta had a great night and is still happy and content this morning.  Pray for our girl though.  This adjustment cannot be easy at all, and is probably downright scary.  Pray that she will have peace and we will be able to comfort her when she needs it.  It is such an adjustment for all three of us.  Also pray that we can figure out what foods (besides juice, candy, and ice cream) she will eat.  So far she has said no to just about everything else (besides the pizza at lunch yesterday). This is our last full day in Odessa and unfortunately it is raining so we're not sure we will be able to do much outside. Tomorrow afternoon we will take a train back to Kiev. We continue to pray that her passport will be in our hands by September 1st (or earlier!) and all things needed for immigration at the embassy will move quickly and smoothly.  We continue to hope we will be on our way home by the first week of September.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

More Paperwork

Saturday was a "working Saturday" in Ukraine which meant we were able to take care of a couple more things.  We went to the orphanage in the morning to meet with the director and finish signing Sveta out (though we won't actually take her until Monday).  We then went back to the bank because our facilitator and driver wanted to try and "talk loudly at them" to get them to close Sveta's accounts right away so we wouldn't have to worry about it next week.  Ukrainians do not trust banks at all and we quickly learned why.  When we got to the bank we found out that everything had just been completed on their end a couple minutes earlier and we could sign and get the money right away.  We took the money back to the orphanage to give to the director and that's when we found out the bank had only given us the interest made on her account and not the actual original deposit, which was a much larger amount of money.  So back to the bank we went where our facilitator and driver demanded they give us the rest of the money.  This took quite some time and eventually they said the director needed to come.  Once she got there it was just after 1:00 which is the lunch hour so nothing could happen now until 2:00.  So we went to get some lunch and wait until 2:00 when we could try and get everything resolved.  They continued to try and not give the full deposit but with the orphanage director, our driver, and facilitator refusing to budge, they eventually did give the full amount in cash back to the director (legally they should have given it to us, and then we would have given it to her, but that's another issue!).  Thus during our few hours spent at the bank we learned why Ukrainians do not keep their money in one!

Everything is in place for us to officially, and finally, take Sveta from the orphanage on Monday morning!  Since everything will be taken care of in Odessa after that (our driver will send the passport to Kiev once it's ready), we have train tickets booked on a day train back to Kiev Wednesday afternoon, where we will stay until we can finally fly home.  Please pray with us that we will have her passport in hand no later than September 1st (two weeks after submission) and that we can be on our way home during the first week of September.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Paperwork Day

We had a long, but mostly successful day chasing paperwork yesterday!  Now that our ten day wait is over, the adoption has officially taken effect, we are officially her parents, and we can begin working on the paperwork required for her immigration to the United States.  Our facilitator was able to pick up our court decree from the courthouse on Thursday which meant we were able to leave early Friday morning to head to the rural village where our daughter was born, and get to the records office shortly after they opened.  It was about a two and a half hour drive on the worst roads we had ever been on by far.  We had no idea how long it would take to get her new birth certificate once we got there and was the part we were most worried about for the day.  However, we were very blessed to have her new birth certificate, with her new name and new parents, in hand only 30 minutes later!  We then started the long bumpy ride back to go on to the next thing.  Unfortunately a short ways into our journey we discovered the road had been blocked by protesters (who were protesting the horrible looking road) and no one was getting through.  The only other way out of the village was 100 km out of the way.  Our driver parked the car with the others and she and our facilitator told us to wait in the car while they walked up to the barricade to see how long it might last.  When they came back a short while later our facilitator told us that if anyone asked, we were to pretend we were important officials from the embassy who were late for a flight and desperately needed to get back.  They would move their barricade and let us pass through because of that.  So we drove up to the barricade and sure enough everyone moved aside (we heard them saying "Americans, Americans"), they moved their barricade, and let us (and only us) through! Another huge blessing!  We were back on the road again and by early afternoon had arrived back in Odessa.  We stopped by the orphanage so our facilitator could give them documents necessary for starting the sign out process and then our next stop was the bank.  Every orphan in Ukraine has a bank account that the government puts money into so that when they age out they have something to get started with.  When a child is adopted it is customary to close out the account and give the money to the orphanage.  This sounded easy enough to us since we figured we would just basically sign something that said to give the money in the account to the orphanage. Nope. First the bank must verify some of our documents to ensure we are who we say we are, and are really her parents.  This will take at least 2-3 business days.  Then we will need to go back to the bank to sign off on them giving the money to the orphanage.  So because of that we will not be able to go back to Kiev as soon as we thought we could. Fortunately though it doesn't slow down anything else in the process right now.  After the bank we went to the main passport office in downtown Odessa to have them scan some documents and start the process of applying for her passport.  We were originally thinking it would take up to two weeks to get her passport but found out yesterday the wait time is now as much as 4 weeks!! (Please pray we get it within 2 instead!) Our last stop of the day, just before they closed, was the local passport office in the district where the orphanage is located.  We had to give them some documents and paperwork for her passport as well.  We were able to get everything we needed to accomplished yesterday.  We are so thankful to have our facilitator doing all of this work for us because most of the time we have no idea what's going on or what we're supposed to do next!  We just do what we're told- stay in the car, sign here, etc., and know that she's got it under control.

We were not able to take Sveta from the orphanage yesterday but, in the end, we were okay with that because we were able to get so much accomplished that will lead to her getting home.  Monday should be the day that we get to have her with us for good!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Day 10

We have reached day 10 of our ten day wait after court! The last ten days have felt very long at times, but also easier than some since we knew when this part would end. Tomorrow we are supposed to travel to a rural village near the border of Moldova with our facilitator to try and get our girl's new birth certificate. We have been told that it is such a rural village there are times where they don't have electricity or a working database to produce the birth certificates. Please pray with us that everything will be working tomorrow and we will be able to get it without any hiccups! Once we have her birth certificate we will be able to apply for her passport here in Odessa, which we also hope to do tomorrow. Lastly, since our wait is up after today, tomorrow should be the day that we can finally take her from the orphanage to be with us for good! If we are unable to get back early enough with her birth certificate though we will have to wait until Monday for gotcha day.

Once she is with us we plan to travel back to Kiev to get started on some of the immigaration work while we wait for her passport to be ready (which can take up to two weeks but we pray it will be much less). Train tickets between Odessa and Kiev can be hard to get in the summer, especially last minute, so we pray there will be enough available for us on the day we need them. We have also started seeing what it looks like to buy plane tickets home at the last minute, and the results have not been good.  We need to decide if we want to purchase tickets now while we are still a few weeks out and hope we can change them easily if necessary, or just wait and pray we will be able to get tickets that we are comfortable with when the time comes...  For now, we are just thankful we have gotten to the next part of the journey and greatly appreciate your prayers and good thoughts for everything to go well tomorrow, and that our day will end with our girl in our arms for good.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Our Daughter

Our court appointment went well yesterday afternoon and we legally became the parents to our five year old daughter, Svetlana Laurel Zander.  We could not think of any better way to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary! The mandatory ten day waiting period is now in effect until August 18th, which should be our official "gotcha day" when we get to take Sveta from the orphanage.  Before we can take her from the orphanage we will need to get some paperwork from a rural village about 100km away.  We are praying that we can get that paperwork early on August 18th so that we will have time to get back and get her from the orphanage that afternoon.  However, being a rural village it's very unpredictable and there's no guarantee we will get it early or at all that day.  If that were to be the case, then we would have to wait until the following Monday before we could get her from the orphanage.  We are then looking at about 2-3 weeks (we hope not any longer) back in Kiev before we have everything we need and she is cleared to travel HOME.  We are so in love with this little girl and so excited to finally be her parents.  It may have taken almost 5 1/2 years but she was always meant to be our daughter.  We are certainly counting down the days until we can take her from the orphanage and have her with us for good.  In the meantime we are still able to visit the orphanage just like before to continuing bonding with her.  She is a beautiful, active, sweet, and silly girl for sure!

Please pray that we will get the paperwork we need and be able to take Sveta from the orphanage on the 18th.  Also, that we will easily be able to get train tickets from Odessa to Kiev when we need them (we've been told this is very difficult in the summer).

We will share pictures of our girl publicly after gotcha day :)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Court Date!

We are so excited to share that today we heard when our court date will be! Our court appointment is scheduled for Monday afternoon! Not only is that only 3 days away (thankfully we are still in country and didn't decide to go home and wait to hear when court would be!), but it also happens to be our wedding anniversary. To be completely honest we had actually been praying that court would happen on that day, just because it would be a little extra special. As each day this week went by and we didn't hear anything we began to realize that having court on our anniversary just probably wasn't meant to be. Really we were just not looking forward to having another long weekend of not knowing when we would get to move forward. But God's faithfulness came through once again in the eleventh hour when we found out late on this Friday afternoon that we would be going to court on Monday.  We also received the news earlier in the week that we were completely approved by the SDA to adopt our specific child, which was another huge answer to prayer since that is the step that has caused some extra hurdles for a lot of families recently. Now all we need is a favorable decision from the judge on Monday and this child will legally be ours! After court there is a ten day waiting period before our custody officially begins though. We do plan to ask the judge to consider waiving this waiting period. It is very rare that a judge will, but we are praying they might just decide to allow it this time. If not, we will at least know we only have 10 more days to wait before we are officially together as a family!

Please pray with us that court will go well on Monday and that the judge may even decide to waive the waiting period.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Waiting for a court date...

We are finishing up our third week in Ukraine and continue to wait to hear when our court date will be.  The paperwork to adopt our specific child was filed with the SDA this last Monday.  So now once again we are in the waiting phase of not knowing when the next part will happen, which hasn't been very easy throughout the entire process, but especially now as we do the waiting in an apartment half way around the world.  We didn't get to see our little one quite as many times as we would have liked to this week due to the group going on an unexpected field trip (though we are glad they get to have some experiences outside of the orphanage) and being told our child was sick so we could not visit yesterday or today.  Because of the language barrier we don't find out about these things until we are already at the orphanage.  Hopefully next week we will get to spend more time there since that is the one thing that definitely reminds us just how much this waiting is worth it!!  

Please pray with us that next week we will hear about when our court date is (and that it will be soon!). 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Week 2

Our second week in Ukraine is nearly complete. We don't have much to report on the status of our adoption right now since we are just in the waiting stage and praying all of our paperwork will move quickly through the SDA review process and anti-corruption committee. Our facilitator told us to expect at least 3 weeks before court so we still have at least 2 more to go. Last Sunday, since we could not visit the orphanage, we used Uber to get into the city center of Odessa and walk around the beautiful buildings and get a glimpse of the Black Sea. (Side note- Driving in Ukraine is CRAZY!! And this is coming from two people who lived in and traveled around Asia!!!) On Monday we moved into a more permanent apartment than the guest room we stayed in our first few nights here. We also started our routine of going to the orphanage to visit our child once or twice a day (depending on the day and the orphanage schedule). We pack a little snack and some toys, take the bus to the orphanage, and spend two hours at a time playing and loving on our little one. When the two hours comes to an end it's never easy saying goodbye and leaving the orphanage without our child, but we are hopeful it won't be this way for long. 

Now that we know we will be in this place for a little while, we have been able to go grocery shopping and start cooking in our apartment. English writing and speaking appears to be basically nonexistent in the area we are in so we rely heavily on google translate in the grocery store and to translate menus when we go out to eat. We are working on getting better at reading Russian, though it doesn't seem to be quite as easy or phonetic as Korean is, so that we can at least try and read things. There is not a whole lot to do in our area either so right now we spend a lot of time in our apartment or at a cafe (preferably one with air conditioning and wifi :) ). Other than taking the bus to the orphanage, we aren't sure how to navigate the bus system since nothing is in English, so when we do want to go into the city center we use Uber, though there aren't a lot of Uber drivers in Odessa so sometimes it's a long wait. It's been a bit of an adventure at times but we learn how to adapt and manage! 

Please continue praying with us that our adoption paperwork will move quickly through the system and we will have a court date for early August, as well as patience in the waiting. Also, that the bonding and attachment process would continue to go well with our little one.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

What's Next?

Now that we have accepted the referral for our child what happens next? Well, a lot. If everything were to go flawless this is what the process looks like for us: this week our facilitator will submit everything to the State Department of Adoption in Kiev again, this time for our specific child. We then have to wait for them to approve our dossier again before we can get a court date from the local SDA here in Odessa. We appreciate prayers and good thoughts during these next few weeks as the SDA reviews all of our paperwork again. Many families have run into setbacks and hurdles during this phase of the process this year.  It will likely be at least 3 weeks before we get a court date (we really hope not longer than that). After court there is a mandatory 10 day waiting period before we can officially take our child from the orphanage. Once we have them with us, we can apply for their passport, visa, get medical clearances, birth certificate, etc. Most of those things have to be done one at a time, waiting for each thing to be complete before being able to move on to the next. Eventually we will have everything we need in hand and can fly home with our little one!

Right now please pray that our paperwork will move smoothly and quickly through the SDA review process and that we can have a court date within 3 weeks from now. One step at a time is all we can think about and we are blessed to have two wonderful facilitators working with us and doing ALL of the paperwork and leg work for us so that we can focus on bonding with our child. We are able to visit the orphanage for a total of 4 hours per day in the morning and evening, Monday-Friday, and for 2 hours on Saturday mornings. Since today was Sunday and we weren't able to visit, we went into downtown Odessa instead (where there is much more to do, see, and eat than the area we are in).  All we could think about and talk about though was our little one and how we can't wait for Monday morning to come. We can already tell the wait to have our child with us 24/7 is going to be agonizingly long, but definitely worth the wait!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Finally Finding Our Child!

Wow! What a week it has been! Here's a rather long update on what's happened this week: Tuesday morning we had our appointment to look through children's files and see if there was a child we wanted to meet.  We arrived at the Ministry of Social Policy a few minutes before our 10:00 appointment and proceeded to wait until noon before our appointment actually began.  The day before we had actually learned of a specific child who was available for adoption and sounded like it would meet the age range and special needs of our home study (super important because there is no leniency whatsoever). We requested to see this child's profile right away but as they were searching for the profile in their database we were given another binder of profiles to look through.  Inside the small room we were taken to there was a cabinet full of binders that held the profiles (from the ones we saw, a couple pages of information and a picture or two) of children available for international adoption.  The children who were in the binder we looked through did not appear to meet the special needs we are approved for in our home study.  We have heard of several families recently who were unsuccessful with their first blind referral appointment and we did have some concern of that happening to us as well- especially when they came back and said their database wasn't working so they couldn't look up the profile we had requested.  Somehow, out of all of the binders in that cabinet (they were somewhat organized by date of birth, which we had, but still...) the lady was able to find the profile we had wanted to see! We decided right away that was the child we wanted to go meet, so we put in the request for a referral letter granting us permission to visit the orphanage and our whole appointment (once it started) was only 20 minutes.

It used to be that a family would get a referral letter for a child the very next day but that has changed recently and now it can take anywhere from two days to a week.  The referral letter allows us to meet the child and then decide if we want to pursue adoption or not.  So we weren't expecting the letter to come in on Wednesday- instead we visited a couple other sights within walking distance of our apartment: St. Sophia's Cathedral and St. Michael's Golden-domed Monastery.  We were told there was a possibility of the letter being ready for us on Thursday though so we anxiously awaited to hear something the next day.  In the morning our facilitator called to tell us she had been told the letter would "probably" be ready at 4:00 that afternoon and asked us to meet her at the office then, and also be prepared to leave on an overnight train.  Once there, we again proceeded to wait until 5:00 when they closed.  Then we waited outside the building because there's a history of them issuing referral letters as late as 7:00 in the evening if you are persistent enough. We knew if we didn't get the letter in time to take the 9:15 train Thursday night we would have to wait until Monday to actually go to the orphanage since there is other paperwork and meetings in-region.  But once again our prayers were answered and at 6:15 they unlocked the door and let us back in to give us the referral! Our facilitator was able to get us all the last three tickets on the overnight train to Odessa and we had just enough time to get back to our apartment, grab our things, get to the train station, have some dinner, and board the train.  We were finally on our way to meet our child!!

On Friday we arrived in Odessa around 6:30 in the morning and a driver picked us up to take us to the local State Department of Adoption (SDA) office in downtown Odessa.  We had some time before the office opened so we got some breakfast and walked around, and even saw the Black Sea. (Side note- the weather here is wonderful! Sunny and breezy and not humid like Kiev has been!).  We took care of paperwork at the local SDA office, drove to another office to pick up an SDA official who would be going with us to our first meeting with the child, and then went to the orphanage.  Once we arrived at the orphanage we met with the assistant director who gave us all of the background and medical information that they had about the child.  Then finally it was time to meet the one we have been working so hard to get to for the last 15 months.  When the child first walked in the room we were both instantly overjoyed.  There was no question from the first moment that this was OUR child.  The child was told to introduce themself to us and our facilitator by shaking hands and saying their name. After shaking hands with me (Stephanie) the child didn't let go.  Eventually I moved things off my lap and immediately the child climbed up and sat down.  It all seemed and felt so natural.  Eric and I looked at each other and knew we were both already completely in love.  We were able to spend a little bit of time with the child playing together and our facilitator was able to do some translating for us (Odessa is predominately Russian speaking).  After we had to leave the orphanage our facilitator asked us if we thought we had made up our mind or needed more time to decide if we wanted to pursue the adoption or not.  We let her know she could get started on the paperwork immediately.

We were able to go back to the orphanage again Friday evening.  When we arrived some of the children were playing outside.  Our child spotted us quickly and started waving at us.  When the child was told it was okay to go to us, they ran and immediately hugged me (cue the tears!). As we were playing outside our facilitator told us the child asked "Do I get to go with you?" and "Are you my family?"  We were told that even from a young age the children start asking about when they will get to go with a family.  Having to leave that night wasn't easy except that we were leaving with hearts overflowing with joy, feeling so blessed to have found our little one.  There was no doubt it was the best day of our lives thus far.  It's very true that nothing compares to seeing your child for the very first time.

More on what comes next later...

Monday, July 10, 2017

First Days in Kiev

Our third full day in Kiev is almost complete and we have really enjoyed exploring our area. Our apartment is located in the Maidan area which is a large, popular tourist area. Maidan, also known as Independence Square, is where Ukraine's most recent Euromaidan protests took place in 2013-2014. As we walked along the streets and through the square, looking at the memorials that still remain, it was amazing to think about how less than four years ago it was completely full of Ukrainian people protesting and fighting to keep their freedom.  Other than the pictures and memorials on one side of the square, you wouldn't know what took place just a few winters ago. During the day the area is full of people coming and going (in fact on Sundays they even close the main street so that people can cross from one side to the other instead of crossing underground), restaurants, cafes, and stores line both sides of the street, and a large underground mall is going on underneath the street and square. We have spent the last three days wandering the square, people watching at outdoor cafes (or today, McDonalds because they had a little bit of air conditioning!), and managing to get by with the very little English there is. Very shortly after we moved to Korea we learned their simple alphabet so that we could at least read a menu and signs. However, we know nothing about the Cyrillic alphabet and there is much less English here than anywhere we went in Asia it seems. Fortunately, since Maidan is such a large tourist area, many restaurant workers speak at least some English. For dinner we have come to enjoy the buffet type restaurants they have because we can see the food before we point to ask for it rather than just pointing to something random on a menu. We can also get full meals for both of us at these kinds of restaurants for around $6.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the day we go to the State Department of Adoption for our appointment. We will have one hour to go through children's profiles and see if there is a child we would like to meet. Please be praying that we will find our child at this time who meets the age and special needs requirements of our home study. We are really hoping this first appointment will be successful! 

 On Sunday we got an early start and were able to get pictures with very few other people around

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Our Journey to Kiev

We have officially arrived in Ukraine!! The journey to get here was a little bit longer than we expected but we are so happy to be here! Our 10 hour flight from Portland to Frankfurt was great (never thought we'd say that about a long haul flight!). The food was good, flight was smooth, and we were both even able to get a few hours of sleep on the red eye flight which, along with a couple movies, helped the time pass rather quickly. After our 5 hour layover in Frankfurt we were told our last flight to Kiev was delayed shortly before it was scheduled to leave. The delay got longer and longer and finally the flight was cancelled. So at almost midnight we found out we were spending the night in Germany. Apparently many flights were cancelled because the line for a hotel voucher was nearly 3 hours long.  Fortunately we were told about how we could get reimbursed from the airline later instead of waiting for the voucher that night. We were able to find an info desk at the airport who booked us a hotel and we were at least able to get some sleep in a bed and a shower before continuing our journey, which now consisted of two flights the next day. Our first flight to Munich was boarded and ready to go when we found out it would be 1-2 hours before we could take off... Fortunately it was only an hour and we made the short hop over to Munich for another 5 hour layover before flying to Kiev.  As we went through passport control in Kiev we weren't given a stamp in our passports. We were assured that our passports were registered in the computer and it would be no problem. This seemed odd to us so we mentioned it to our facilitator who picked us up at the airport. He was concerned about this since a copy of the stamp in our passport will be needed for adoption paperwork later on. Fortunately he helped us, for probably close to an hour, going all over the airport, until we finally found the right person who would stamp our passports (which the customs officer was supposed to do all along). Finally around 1:00 in the morning we got to our apartment which will be our home until we are able to travel to the region our child is in (hopefully later next week). Today our facilitator will show us around and hopefully we will learn enough to be able to get by for the next several weeks wherever we are in the country. We are so excited to finally be here!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


In 24 hours we will officially be on our way to Ukraine!  We will arrive very early Friday morning and have a few days to adjust before our appointment with the Department of Families and Children at 10:00 Tuesday morning (that's midnight Tuesday Pacific time for anyone who might be up that late and want to pray for us at that time!)  We will keep our blog updated as we can, but in the meantime here are a few specific things we would love prayer for:
-Smooth travels on Wednesday and Thursday.
-Our appointment on July 11th- that we will find our child(ren) in the profiles they present to us and also for wisdom and discernment.
-Last week's cyber attack caused delays for many families in country.  We are hopeful that will be taken care of by the time we start our process next week.
-Peace and patience through the entire process!

Preparing for this trip has felt strange in many ways.  It's not really a vacation (though we intend to make at least part of it feel that way), we're not moving there (like we did when we left for Korea), we don't know exactly when we're coming home, but the goal is to come home with more people than we're leaving with.  So many unknowns are ahead and it's going to be so important that we take it one day at a time.  Tomorrow another part of the adventure begins!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

1 Week

We leave for Ukraine in ONE week!! We still have our last fundraiser going on for two more days.  All purchases from Ragini Project ( fund a grant to support our final adoption expenses through June 30th.  Thank you so much to all who have purchased from them this month.  We greatly appreciate all of the support we have been receiving through our fundraisers and YouCaring page.  If you haven't checked out Ragini Project's website yet, be sure to do so.  They have beautiful merchandise for sale from all over the world!

Please continue to pray for smooth travel next week and a successful SDA appointment on July 11th!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Preparing to Travel

In only 17 days we will be on a plane headed to Ukraine!!  Yesterday we finished our third and final garage sale fundraiser and raised $954.30!  This will be a huge help with our travel and living expenses while we stay in Ukraine for upwards of two months or so.  We have just one more fundraiser left that runs through the end of June.  We are the featured family for the online store Ragini Project.  We would absolutely love your support through that final fundraiser this month!  You will not only be supporting us, but also the artisans all over the world who have created the beautiful pieces.  They even have some newly arrived jewelry from India that was just added to their site yesterday!

We did find out that our SDA appointment has been pushed back one day to July 11th so we will have a few days to explore Kiev before being matched with our child. 17 days is going to come faster than we know and we couldn't be more excited!  In the meantime we are staying plenty busy finishing up the school year, writing packing lists and to-do lists, and trying to finish getting a bedroom mostly set up for our little one to come home to.  Please continue to pray for smooth travel plans, one more very successful fundraiser, peace about all the unknowns that lie ahead, and for a successful SDA appointment on July 10th when we will, hopefully, be matched with our child.

Monday, June 5, 2017


On Friday we got our SDA appointment date for July 10th!! We could not be more excited to finally know when we get to travel and the timing with summer works out perfectly with our work schedules.  Our one way plane tickets are officially booked and we will be leaving late on July 5th, arriving early in Ukraine on July 7th, have a couple days to adjust and then attend our SDA appointment (where we will hopefully be matched with our child!) on July 10th. At this point in time we plan on staying through the entire process, likely 2 months or more, but will have to see just how long the trip really is when it gets to be time for the new school year to start. We are going into it with a flexible mindset knowing that we may need to end up making two trips if it looks like we will be missing too much work before coming home as a family.  I'm not sure it's all sunk in yet that it's actually happening, but we know the next month will be an exciting whirlwind for sure!

Now that we have a date, finances are about to become an important issue for us.  We have two more fundraisers this month: we are the featured family at so all purchases will fund a grant for our family, and we have a big garage sale coming up on the 16th and 17th.  Please pray that these two fundraisers will be successful for us! We still have thousands of dollars to raise to be completely funded for adoption AND travel expenses.  Please consider checking out the Ragini Project website or our YouCaring page to make a donation directly to us.  Every dollar gets us closer to bringing home our little one!

Other things to pray for during this next month as we prepare to travel:
-For all travel details to come together smoothly (including things that will need to be taken care of at our home while we are gone for that long)
-For peace and not anxiety as we prepare for traveling (13 hours on planes isn't our favorite thing to do) and for SO many unknowns that are ahead
-That we will officially find our child (or children) on July 10th!

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ragini Project

As we anxiously await a travel date, we are so excited to share that we are the featured family for the month of June with the Ragini Project!  This is an online business started by an adoptive family and proceeds from all purchases help to fund a monthly grant awarded to a family in the process of international adoption.  Also, all of their products are directly purchased from the artisan in another country, helping the artisan receive fair market value for their goods and better support their own family.  Make sure you check out their website, here, to see all of the beautiful items they have for sale!  You can also see our family's story on their website during the month of June by clicking here.  Every purchase you make helps us bring our little one home!

Sunday, May 28, 2017


Friday morning we got the email from our program director we had been anxiously waiting for and praying for, for 6 weeks and 1 day: Out dossier is officially approved and registered by Ukraine!  This is such a huge answer to prayer to be approved the first time and another big step completed in our journey.  We are now waiting to receive our appointment date in country and will be able to make plans to travel a couple days prior to that. Please pray with us that we would receive this date very soon! Also that once we have a date we will be able to make travel plans smoothly.  And, as usual, for continued finances as our trip draws nearer.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Still Waiting...

It's been 40 days since we submitted our dossier and we still have no news.  We have been hoping every day since we hit the four week mark we might hear of our official approval any day.  The waiting is complicated by knowing there is still a chance that something in our dossier could be rejected, which means we would need to make changes, resubmit, and wait all over again.  Some families have needed to submit multiple times before receiving approval.  Oh how we are praying we will get approval the first time!  Fortunately we have been busy with work and other things so the wait has not yet felt excruciating (though I may be checking my email more than a few times a day!).  We are desperate to get word of approval though, knowing that would be one more step conquered, so would greatly appreciate prayers that it would come this week!

In other news we held a successful garage sale fundraiser earlier this month and raised over $560 for our adoption expenses!  We are planning to have one more in June so would appreciate prayers for that to be successful as well. 

Hopefully we will be writing again soon to share good news about our approval! In the meantime please pray with us!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Dossier Submission!!

After more than a month's worth of delays amidst a wild paper chase, we finally got confirmation that our dossier was able to be submitted to the DFC (Department of Families and Children) in Ukraine!! Our official submission date was April 13th.  We now wait to receive an appointment date, hopefully in two months or less, and pray that all of our paperwork will be accepted as is, and not need anything else before we are able to move forward.

We still have quite a bit of money to raise (about $10,000) for the rest of the adoption fees, as well as travel costs.  We will be having a garage sale fundraiser next month so are actively seeking donations and praying for it to be successful. We also still have our YouCaring page up and running (visit it here) and would greatly appreciate anyone willing to share it on social media and elsewhere.

It has been quite an emotional roller coaster these last two months.  Two months ago we thought we were finished gathering paperwork and were ready to send everything to Ukraine to be translated, only to find out there was one more thing we needed.  And then a week or so later, one more document we needed.  And then another. What a relief it is now to know that it has finally been submitted!  Now we pray for a quick acceptance by the DFC and peace in this waiting time.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Dossier Delays

It feels like so much has happened, yet also like nothing has happened in the last few weeks.... In short our dossier has still not been submitted to the SDA in Ukraine.  After it was received by our agency's in country staff in Ukraine, they noticed one of our documents needed to be changed. We got that taken care of within a week and on the same day it was put in the mail to Ukraine, we found out there was another document we needed to add to our dossier for our submission as well.  We are currently working on getting this document completed as quickly as possible. None of this is the fault of us or our agency, there are just so many unknowns with Ukraine adoption right now and things can change quickly, thus requiring changes or additional documents.  We are doing our best to stay positive even though we still can't see any light at the end of the tunnel. YET. We know everything will be completed in God's timing and continue to trust His plan for this journey, even though it hasn't been as easy these last couple weeks.

PLEASE pray with us that this will be the final document we need for our dossier and that we will be able to submit to the SDA by the first week of April.  Please also pray with us that the entire SDA process would start picking up speed for all families currently in process. And finally, please pray for our own continued endurance throughout this journey.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Dossier on the Way!

Our dossier is now on its way to Ukraine and should arrive by the first of next week!  It will then be translated by our agency's in-country staff and submitted to the government for approval.  However, the unknowns that lie ahead are huge.  At the beginning of the year Ukraine started having a new committee approve dossiers prior to being officially allowed to proceed with the adoption of a specific child.  This is after a family's dossier has already been approved by one organization, a child met, and referral accepted.  Right now it is creating HUGE hurdles for many families who are in process or even already in country.  It sounds like many dossiers have been rejected at this stage due to this new committee highly scrutinizing every piece of the dossier (after it was already previously accepted).  Even though our dossier is already on its way to Ukraine, we are talking with our home study and adoption agencies about creating an amendment to our home study which would, hopefully, better outline the special needs we are approved to adopt.  However, we are also currently unsure if the committee is even accepting amendments, like Ukraine used to.  We do know the US Embassy is working on trying to get clearer guidelines from the committee on what they want to see, and we, along with all other families currently in process, are hoping they will give more specific information soon, so we can know what to expect.

Thus the waiting and uncertainty begins...Right now we are asking for huge prayers that all of this will NOT slow down or hinder our process. We are still hopeful that we will be traveling to Ukraine within the next couple of months, but trusting God's timing will be perfect regardless.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Minor Changes

After getting some more clarification yesterday on what needed to be fixed in our dossier, we ended up with 7 documents that needed minor changes.  Fortunately, a few of them were so minor we have been able to completely fix three of them already (at no cost!!), possibly four. We are just waiting to hear back from our agency's staff in Ukraine to see if the changes we made on the fourth one are acceptable.  We decided we would send things via email to them now before mailing everything, just to make sure we've done it completely correct this time! :)  After that we have only one more document that we are responsible for fixing and then will need to wait on other agencies for the last two.  But for tonight we are feeling positive and much less overwhelmed then we were two nights ago.  We remain hopeful that we will have everything fixed and ready to resubmit to our agency next week.  The ups and downs in this journey are certainly incredible at times- and we still have a long way to go!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hurdles Before Submission

One thing is for sure- the adoption journey is NOT an easy journey!!  After a week and a half of so much coming together so quickly, today we were hit with another hurdle.  Our agency received our completed dossier last Friday and after their review yesterday, they let us know that everything looked to be great!  Today we got word that our agency's staff in Ukraine wanted minor changes made on several of our documents because, as we've been told countless times, Ukraine is extremely picky on how documents are prepared.  Our program director was even unsure about a few of the changes they were requesting so is waiting for more clarification before we start on the changes.  Right now we ask for prayers that these changes will either end up not being a problem after all or will be very simple to fix without costing us too much time and money.  We are still praying that our completed dossier will be submitted to Ukraine by the end of the month and trusting that God will, once again, get us over this hurdle.  In the meantime we have learned to go with the flow and will hopefully have good news to share in the next couple of days!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Dossier Update- COMPLETE!

Our dossier is officially in the mail!  The last few days have been a whirlwind of miracles.  During our phone consultation with our program director on Friday, we found out we needed to update one document for each of us, just to make sure it was dated as close to submission as possible.  We immediately contacted the person we needed to have update this document which wasn't a problem, but then we still needed to find a traveling notary who could notarize it as soon as possible and then send it off to the state capital to get an apostille.  And we were still waiting on our background checks to come back with the apostilles as well, which, as of Monday, looked to still be a ways out since our payment hadn't even been processed yet.  Then God began to work in miraculous ways.  We were able to find a notary who could notarize the documents for us on Monday, After picking up the notarized documents we came home to find our background checks in the mail (in the self-addressed, stamped envelope we had sent them with, but with no return post-mark on it...).  Eric was able to leave work a few minutes early and take our updated, notarized documents to the state capital for same-day apostilles on Tuesday.  We had been praying for well over a month that we would be able to submit our dossier by Valentine's Day, even though that seemed impossible the closer it got.  But God moved in many ways, had His hand on our documents, and we had every document completed on the day we prayed for.  Today our dossier went out in the mail.  It will first go to our agency for them to look over and then, if everything looks good, be submitted to Ukraine, hopefully sometime next week.  

Please pray with us that there won't be any documents that we need to redo and that Ukraine will accept it right away.  Please also continue to pray with us that we will have the finances as we need them.  Now that our dossier is complete we are likely only a few months away from traveling, but still have about $13,000 more in adoption fees, not including travel costs.  This seems so overwhelming to us at times but seeing how God just worked a few more miracles these last couple days reminds us how He called us to this journey and will continue to work throughout it.  If you feel led to support our adoption financially you can view our YouCaring page at the link in the upper right hand corner of this page or our Just Love Coffee fundraiser through the link below that.  Additionally, donations can be mailed directly to our agency with our name attached (MLJ Adoptions, 617 E North St. Indianapolis, IN 46204) and are tax deductible. We are so grateful for all of your prayers and your support as each day brings us closer to finding our little one!


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Dossier Update- Almost Complete!

We are officially waiting on only ONE document (for each of us) to come back with an apostille!!  We received all of our certified and notarized documents a couple of weeks ago and immediately got them sent back out in the mail for apostilles.  We got our last few documents back from Washington this last Saturday with, unfortunately, the wrong kind of authentication on each one.  Fortunately, it was a simple fix that we were able to take care of in person today.  This means that 43 out of 45 documents are officially prepared, twice, and copied, twice.  We are only waiting on our FBI background checks to come back with apostilles from Washington D.C., which we are praying will be any day now.  Since that is the very last thing we are waiting on, we have scheduled a phone consultation with our program director for this Friday to go through everything before we mail one complete official dossier, one complete copied dossier, and one complete digital copy of our dossier to our agency.  They will then go through it in person to make sure we have prepared all of the documents correctly and if we have, submit it to Ukraine to be translated and submitted to their government.

Please continue to pray that we have prepared all of these documents correctly the first time, as well as that our background checks will come back to us this week so that everything can be submitted to our agency by early next week.  And as always, please continue to pray for the financial piece of this journey.  We still have a long ways to go financially, but know that God will continue to provide what we need, as we need it.

Trying to get all of the piles organized!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Dossier Update- 3

It looks like we are getting so close to having all of our dossier documents prepared!!  Today was especially exciting because we received our approval letter from US Immigration granting us official permission to adopt from Ukraine! 

So here's where we currently stand: We are waiting on one more document to come back from the state of Oregon with an apostille, hopefully by early next week. We have a couple things we need to have fixed on both of our medical forms, hopefully within the next day or two, and then will send off the last few documents to the state of Washington to receive apostilles.  And lastly that ONE document we are still waiting to get our hands on (just so we can immediately put it back in the mail to the east coast again for an apostille): FBI background checks.  Our prayers were answered last week when we saw the charge for it on our credit card, which means it has arrived where it needs to be and should be in process right now.  This was the first dossier document we started working on back in November and looks like it will be the last one to be completed!  So many of our documents have been coming back to us so quickly despite the holiday season and inclement weather, so we continue to hold out hope and pray that these will arrive any day now. 

As soon as we have these last few dossier documents completely prepared, we will meet with our program director to make sure everything has been prepared completely and accurately.  Once it has, the dossier will be sent to Ukraine where it will be translated and sent to the central authority in charge of adoptions.  

Please pray with us that we have prepared all of these documents correctly the first time.  We have worked hard and asked tons of questions to try and ensure everything is as complete as possible and are prayerful we won't experience any unexpected delays with submitting our dossier.  Please pray that we receive our FBI background checks very soon and that the apostille process (for all of our last few documents) will be quick.

We are in the process of working on another fundraising opportunity too! We should have details to share in the next couple weeks!