Tag Archives: Adoption

The Best People I Know

Many people are aware that November is National Adoption Month. What you may not know is that yesterday, November 3rd, was Orphan Sunday. This is an initiative fostered by the Christian Alliance for Orphans in an effort to spur on the efforts of the global church to follow our call as Christians to care for the fatherless. For the second year in a row, as part of our leadership roles for our church’s adoption, foster care, and global orphan care ministry, my wife and I helped organize our church’s participation in this special day.

As part of our services, our church’s media team showed the story of a family’s recent adoption of their foster daughter, and it brought me to tears. Their story was truly beautiful, and I’m so grateful that they shared it with us. But what’s amazing is that since we adopted our daughter five years ago, I have been privileged to watch many stories like theirs unfold. Every story has some amount of hiccups or hardships, and even in some cases, absolute heart-breaking circumstances. But so often, these parents and families persevere beyond human comprehension or understanding.

Being a part of this fraternity of adoptive and foster parents is so incredibly humbling. I’ve seen people persevere beyond what they felt was possible, overcoming the obstacles that always seem to come up, and provide a family for children that in many cases have never had a family, or who have never been part of a safe family. I get to witness an incredible amount of selfless, unwavering, and determined love, and it gives us a small glimpse of God’s love for us.

God knows every part of our past, yet He continues to pursue us. He knows that in many cases, people will reject Him, yet He continues to pursue us. He knows us better than we know ourselves, and yet He pursues us (Jeremiah 7:13). He is not waiting on the sidelines, He is not an absentee landlord, and He is not sitting idly by watching as children go uncared for and unloved. He resides in the hearts and lives of His people, and He has sent them to care for orphans (Jeremiah 22:3) and speak up about injustice (Psalm 82:3) so that people will see how big, vast, and wide His love is for us (Ephesians 3:18). Sounds familiar, right? You will find these themes and others like them woven into the fabric of stories of adoption, fostering, and orphan care.

To every person and family involved in foster care, adoption, or global orphan care, I want to thank you for showing up day-in and day-out and being faithful, in some cases beyond what I thought was possible. Thank you for helping to restore my faith that God is truly with us. Thank you for bringing Heaven into our world and showing everyone that what is impossible with man is truly possible with God. You truly are my heroes and quite simply, the best people I know.

Gotcha Day 1,826

It was the morning of September 10, 2008. We had stayed the night in Cheboksary, the capital city of Chuvashia, while your paperwork was getting done. Tatyana, our Russian coordinator, was helping us get the official court documents of your adoption hearing. We also got your Russian passport, which we would need so that you could travel home with us to Texas. By mid-afternoon, we had everything we needed and we grabbed a taxi ride to the baby house in Alatyr.

We got to Alatyr just before 5pm. The doctor at the baby house normally goes home before 4pm most days, but he stayed late because he wanted to see that everything went well for our reunion with you. When we arrived, they had a small celebration arranged for us, with fresh pastries made by the cooks at the baby house and fresh fruit. They brought you in to see us and your Mom and I had not been as happy to see anyone in our lives. For the first time ever, we looked at your sweet face knowing that we were officially your parents. We spent a few minutes eating and talking with the baby house doctor and a couple of staff members, but needed to leave pretty quickly because we had an hour and a half drive to the station where we could catch our train back to Moscow.

On the drive to the train station, you sat in my lap (car seats are not all that common in taxis in Russia). We had some cheese crackers and a few other snacks for you to eat. I fed them to you during the drive and it began to sink in that our family was finally together. I could hardly take my eyes off of you, and I think that was the moment when I knew that I loved you, and would do anything for you.

We got to the station and boarded our overnight train to Moscow. As we got to our compartment, Tatyana and Pasha left us alone with you for a few minutes. We sat you down on the bench seat, and then sat down on the bench across from you. You stared up at us with those big eyes and I wondered what was going on in that little head of yours. At that point, the realization that you were now completely our responsibility hit me, and I think it may have hit your Mom then, too. We sat for a minute or in silence just staring at you. At that point, I looked over at your Mom and my honest reaction was to say to her: “Holy s**t we have a baby!” Not one of my more eloquent moments, I know, but we both then busted out laughing and I think it helped get us out of the sheer moment of terror in which we found ourselves.

We settled into our compartment and the train departed the station. We sat up for about an hour or so, and then began getting ready for bed. We got you in your pajamas and set up the pull down bed for you. Your Mom took the upper bed, so I was laying in the pull down bed across from you. We stared at each other for a long while after we turned the lights out. I just wanted you to know that you were safe, and that I was there for you. Ever since that night, I’ve always wanted you to know that. I hope that you never doubt it.

That was Gotcha Day number 1. Today it’s Gotcha Day number 1,826. Five years later, and we are so thankful to be your Mom and Dad.

Our Day in Court, Part 2

After finally getting through the gauntlet of crazy travel (see previous post), we arrived at court in Cheboksary. The only person we were allowed to bring in the court room with us was Natasha, who would be our translator during the hearing. We had met her briefly on our first trip to Russia back in May because she had translated some documents for us that were filed with the government. The two people we were used to traveling with, Tatyana and Pasha, were not allowed to be in the court room with us. This was really hard for us because they were our security blankets. Anytime we went anywhere in Russia, one of them was always with us, so that already made us feel a bit uneasy.

The court room was very interesting. We were using the criminal court room because the civil court room was apparently unavailable. The room was fairly large with the ability to see about 100 people. It was very stark with minimal ornamentation. The jury box was on our right and on the left hand side there was actually a small cell with bars, which was a bit surreal. The only other people in the room besides us and Natasha were a doctor from the baby house and a representative from the Russian Department of Education, both of whom we had met before. There also was a court reporter, and then eventually the judge came in once the hearing started. The entire hearing was in Russian, and Natasha had to translate everything for us.

There was construction going on outside, so they had to close all the windows so that we could hear. There was no air conditioning, which caused the room to heat up as the day went along. We had been told this judge liked to really drag on the proceedings and grill potential parents, so we were extremely nervous. Most adoption cases last about 60-90 minutes, ours would end up lasting almost 6 hours.

After the judge made some opening comments and set out some ground rules, I was asked to stand and he began asking me questions. The questions ran the gamut. He asked me where I worked, what I did for a living, what our family and home life was like, what our religious beliefs were, what my childhood was like, how we planned to discipline, if we had pets, etc. All of this was already answered in the paperwork we had provided, but I guess he just wanted to cover it again to show that he was being thorough.

He then asked me why we wanted a child from Russia, and how after meeting you briefly for a few hours we were sure that we wanted you to be our daughter. I’ve had people ask me that same question a few times over the past five years and I really don’t know that I have ever given them an answer they are satisfied to hear. But all I can tell you is that I knew that after all the paperwork, poking and prodding by doctors, crazy travel arrangements, and whatever other hurdles that we had to overcome to get to that moment, I absolute KNEW you were meant to be our daughter. The only thing I have ever been that sure of before or since is knowing that your Mom was meant to be my wife. It’s something that I know at the very core of my being, and that’s because God planned for it all along. You were never a mistake, you were never unplanned, you were never unwanted. Never. Period. NEVER! I’m more sure of that with every passing day that I take a breath. If for any reason you ever feel any differently about that, you absolutely put it out of your mind because it simply is not true.

I answered questions for about an hour, and I’ve never been more nervous in my life. The room getting hotter didn’t help either, and I honestly thought on more than one occasion that I might pass out. I had sweat completely through my shirt, and sweat was literally pouring down my head and neck. When he finally said that I was done, I’ve never been more glad to sit down.

At that point, it was your Mom’s turn. He asked her very similar questions for about 45 minutes. Your Mom is usually so cool under pressure, but I could tell that she was just as nervous as I had been. Because our translator was standing to our right, your Mom would look to her to get the translation and answer the questions. The judge told her that she needed to look at him when answering her questions, even though he had to hear it from the translator as well. But she did so great, and fought back emotions because she knew that she was doing it for you.

Once the judge had finished questioning us, he began to ask questions of the doctor from the baby house and the representative from the Department of Education. He checked with them to make sure all procedures had been followed: like seeing if you had been made available only to Russian couples until you were 8 months old, if anyone in your birth family was able to take care of you, and if they had seen us interact with you when we visited the baby house. At that point, it was close to noon and we took a break for lunch. Your Mom and I were still so nervous that we really could only eat some soup at lunch.

We headed back to the courthouse around 1pm and we started up again. At this point, it was just a lot of reviewing of documents that had been filed, reviewing pictures we had provided of our home and our family, and answering a few more clarifying questions here and there. We stopped at about 3pm so that the judge could make his decision. We waited in the hallway for about 45 minutes, and were called up to the small civil court room to listen to the judge’s decision.

As the court reporter read the information from the judge, which confirmed the details about you and us that had been presented, your Mom and I were listening to Natasha’s translation intently. What lasted maybe 2 minutes seemed like an absolute eternity, until finally at the end we were the words “the adoption has been approved”. We both smiled and almost broke down into tears. When the case was adjourned and the judge left, we walked out in the hallway to share the good news with Tatyana and Pasha. I looked over at your Mom and she was starting to cry, and I told her that she couldn’t do it because I would break down and it wasn’t likely that I would stop. We were both so emotionally drained from a long trip, a long process, and a long day, but we could not have been happier.

We knew that we’d have to go home to Texas one more time without you, but that in about 10 days when the waiting period was over, we knew that we’d be taking you home, too. On August 28th, 2008, what God had always known finally became true to the world: you were our daughter.

Our Day in Court, Part 1

We arrived at court in Cheboksary, Russia on the morning of August 28th, 2008 the most nervous either of us had ever been in our lives.  It had already been a rough few days en route from home in Dallas, Texas, and your Mom and I were already in rough shape.

On Saturday, a few days earlier, we were loaded up and sitting on the plane at the Dallas airport waiting for the airline to push back from the gate. We were scheduled to connect in Chicago en route to Moscow, but unfortunately, after several delays due to mechanical issues, they ended up cancelling our flight. Our connection from Chicago to Moscow was only a once a day flight, and it didn’t run on Sunday at all.  That had us worried whether or not we’d be able to make it to Moscow by Monday in time for the medical screenings we had to get done prior to our court date.

The airline was able to put us on a flight to London, and we then flew on their partner airline to Moscow on Sunday.  While we made it in to Moscow on the day we needed to be there, it was about 9 hours later than expected, and we found out that our luggage did not make the trip with us.  It would be 2 days before we’d get our bags, just in time to catch the train out of Moscow.

On Tuesday night, we went to the train station so that we could go to Alatyr to come visit you after a three and a half month wait since we first met you.  We got there and discovered that our tickets had been issued for the wrong day.  Tatyana, our translator and coordinator while in Russia, went to go get the tickets straightened out only to find that the train was full.  If we didn’t get on this train, we likely would not be able to see you on this trip, which would have crushed us.

Tatyana began frantically looking for someone to sell us their tickets, kind of like looking for a ticket scalper at a rock concert.  Because of the time crunch, she really didn’t have a lot of time to explain what was going on, or to translate the conversations she was having in Russian.  Add the fact that we were running back and forth on the platform behind her dragging our big and heavy bags, it should go without saying that we were freaking out.

We finally got tickets on to the train, but we didn’t get our own cabin as we had on our previous trips. Since we got on the train late, and didn’t get to our specific car until nearly a half hour after we left the station, the only beds left in “steerage” were uppers. I hadn’t slept on a bunk bed since I was in college, so getting into a cramped train bunk for a guy my size was no small feat. When I finally made it into my bed with the use of several very ungraceful moments, I noticed that one Russian woman had gotten a ton of enjoyment watching me struggle maneuvering into the bed. Since I had a lot of rubels and dollars in my backpack, along with a few pieces of electronics, I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night since I kept one eye on my bag at all times.

We got off the train the next morning, and made our way to see you at the baby house. It was a very short visit at less than an hour, but it was like a drink of cold water after a long walk across the desert. Since the last time we had seen you, we had been at home finishing up your nursery, getting everything we would need for you when you got home, and anxiously awaiting for our family to finally be together. We left Alatyr to make the two and a half hour drive to Cheboksary, checked in to our hotel, and had dinner. While we were relieved to finally be at our destination, it was still the night before one of the most important days in our lives: when we’d be in front of a Russian judge explaining why we should be your parents.

We got back to the hotel, and since neither one of us had a decent night’s sleep in the last 4 or 5 days, we didn’t have a hard time falling asleep. I woke up at about 3am and my mind starting racing about what was in store for us the next day, and I couldn’t go back to sleep. Your mom woke up about 7am or so, we got ready and headed out for breakfast. With our stomach in knots because of nerves, neither one of us ate very much. We arrived at the courthouse a little before 9am, ready to do whatever we needed to do to bring you home.

To be continued….

Meeting Day

We arrived in Cheboksary on an overnight train from Moscow.  We didn’t get to see much of the city that day, because we were rushing to get a few things done before we grabbed a taxi to head two and a half hours away to Alatyr to meet you.

It had already been a whirlwind trip.  We had only found out a little over a week before that we were matched with you and all we were told was that you were nearly a year old, and you were in the little town of Alatyr (and we had no idea where that was).  We went with Tatyana and Pacha to a government building so that Tatyana could go see someone in the local office.  I think it was the regional director in charge of caring for children, but honestly, we were so nervous we didn’t ask a lot of questions.

We then grabbed a taxi to go to Alatyr.  The driver was the short burly man with a mustache and a 3-day beard that drove a Volga (the Russian equivalent of an old Mercedes Benz).  I got in the front, and your mom, Tatyana and Pacha got in the back.  The whole ride to Alatyr, the driver, Tatyana and Pacha were talking in Russian, so we had no idea what they said.  It was kinda fun to see how animated the driver was, though, talking with his hands and very loudly.  The car smelled like smoke, but I didn’t care because it was an adventure.

I slept a little here and there along the drive, but while I was awake I enjoyed the view.  I looked out at farmland that honestly didn’t look a lot different than parts of America that I had driven across as a kid.  We went through these tiny little towns with shacks lining the road, and I wondered what the people were like living there.  I imagined that they were probably a lot like every other person I had met from a small town: quiet and with a strong work ethic, trying to provide for their families as best they could. When we finally got to Alatyr, we took several twist and turns in this tiny town.  We drove past a little soccer stadium, which I imagine filled up a lot like high school football stadiums in Texas on Friday nights

We got to the other side of this town, and pulled down a dirt road, past a few garages.  We then pulled around the corner and saw the baby house: a relatively small 2-story U-shaped building.  We got out and they led us through the courtyard, into the building and up some stairs to a big room with chairs and couches lining the outside walls.  We were introduced to the doctor and a few caretakers, but everyone only spoke Russian, so it was a little difficult for us to follow what was going on…..and we were so nervous.

A few minutes later, someone entered the room carrying this little blond-haired girl in a blue and white crocheted dress.  I didn’t know if that was you or just another child waiting to meet their mommy and daddy some day.  They then brought you over to your mom and handed you over to her.  She showed off that big, beautiful smile of hers that you know so well, because she has shown it to you hundreds of times over the last 5 years.  I snapped a few pictures and still was in shock that it was you.

Your mom handed you over to me and I got to hold you for the first time.  You were looking around not sure what was going on.  I can’t imagine what was going through that little head of yours.  I’m sure you were scared, but you sure didn’t show it.  You were so brave, just a little shy.  The folks from the baby house pointed at you then me and were laughing.  I laughed along not knowing what was so funny, and then Tatyana said that they wanted to know if this was my first time in Russia because the baby looked like me.  It was tt that moment, that I felt at ease.  If they were joking with me than everything must be okay and everyone must be relaxed.  We spent about an hour playing with you, feeding you some bread, and talking with the staff about you (with Tatyana’s help, of course).

That was the day I knew that you were ours.  God knew well before any of us were born that this day would come, but none of us did.  It was absolutely miraculous to see it happen, too. While there were many hard times along our adoption journey, and many things that tested our patience, God carried us through it to get to you.  He knew on May 20th, 2007 that a little girl would be born to a young single mother, and that she loved you enough to realize that you deserved something that she could not provide.  I didn’t get to meet her, but some day I hope I will so that I can tell her what a beautiful thing she did, and that all the tough decisions that she made, and the hardships she bore were so that you could be here today with us.  She didn’t know it at the time, but she made it possible for us to be a family, and for our dream to come true.  That, in and of itself, should tell you just how special your birth mom is.

People will ask us why we went to Russia to adopt.  I can’t actually say what the exact reasons are that led us there, because only God really knows, so I simply tell them this: “Because that is where our daughter lived.”

God is Greater than Law

As you have likely seen by now, President Putin of Russia signed the bill that effectively bans inter-country adoptions to the United States.  Let me give you a few statistics that will help you understand the magnitude of its impact.

  • There are currently 52 families that have been matched to children, and are close to finalizing their adoptions.  Some of these are literally days away from being complete, and in most cases, the child will have to start the waiting all over again.
  • There are between 500-1000 families that are in the process of trying to adopt from Russia, meaning they had not been matched to a child yet, but were somewhere along the journey to find their child.
  • About 1000 are adopted from Russia annually (down from 5-6 times that amount just a few years ago).
  • Over 15,000 teenagers “age out” of orphanages every year, expected to live on their own without a family support system.
  • Approximately 110,000 orphans live in some form of orphanage in Russia, but there are nearly 700,000 total orphans in Russia.

In short, the numbers are dreadful, and they show us that the move today by the Russian government will not benefit children.  Russia is using this bill to directly retaliate against the US for passing the Magnitsky Act.  That bill was named for an attorney who uncovered details of a tax fraud scheme and reported the officials involved, only to be accused of tax fraud himself and was imprisoned.  While in prison, he was allegedly tortured and beaten, and then died of his injuries after not being given sufficient medical care.  With Magnitsky’s death still being investigated more than three years later, the Magnitsky Act denies US visas to any official suspected to be involved in his death, and also freezes their US assets.  So in effect, Russia is now defending rich, corrupt officials by making pawns of marginalized and defenseless children…..their OWN children, mind you.

Russia has defended itself saying that their bill was motivated by the nearly 20 cases over the last decade where Russian adopted children were abused or even died under the care of their American parents.  While I am all for defending children at all costs, I would say that this reason is a bit hollow given that the US and Russia just signed a new adoption agreement less than 2 months ago.  That agreement took about 15 months to negotiate, so if it didn’t cover all the Russian government’s concerns, can we really believe that this new bill brought about one week after the Magnitsky Act was passed is truly warranted to further protect their children?  Were they just not detail-oriented enough over that 15 month period to cover everything?  I don’t have to say this, but I’ll say it anyway: that’s just not believable.

Let me be clear and say that I want all children to be protected, and 20 is not an insignificant number of cases of abuse to me.  But given that there were over 32,000 adoptions from Russia to the US during that time period, that is .06% of the adoption case.  That is 6/100ths of 1%.  Quite literally, that seems like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

My wife, Brandon, and I have gone through the gamut of emotions today: anger, resentment, confusion, sadness, you name it.  We’ve spent a lot of time talking with people via email, phone, text, social media, etc.  We’ve also read story after story of parents who have had their chance at parenthood yanked out from under them.  I can’t imagine their grief, and I pray that they have family and friends as wonderful as ours who have wrapped around us and supported us from the beginning.

But the most wonderful redeeming fact through all of this is that we serve and are loved and comforted by an amazingly beautiful and gracious God.  He sees the actions of a handful of politicians in Moscow who are sacrificing the welfare of innocent children in order to protect the interests of their rich counterparts.  The Bible overflows with the message of caring for orphans.  Not much angers God more than people who take advantage of those easily forgotten by this world, and there is no one who better epitomizes that than orphans.

They are voiceless: we must give them a voice.  They are weak: we must be strong for them.  They are marginalized: we must make them the center of our plans for justice.  Even if we do not get the privilege of seeing the good that ultimately will win out over this evil, we must continue to fight for them.  The God we serve is just, and He will see to it that the guilty are punished.  We may also not be able to see how He weaves good into the ashes of this mess, but that, too, will happen.  We all must have faith that it will, even though it may never be apparent to us.  No group of men is stronger than Him, and the last verdict on this matter is already written, and the victory is God’s.

“Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.” – Isaiah 10:1-2

“For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice, the upright will see his face.” – Psalm 11:7

All of this is obviously much easier to say or write than it is to truly feel and believe it.  It is also much easier to write this when it is not my child that has been torn away from me.  I pray for all those who are in that situation tonight, and that God’s people wrap around and support you.  May your faith in Him be made stronger amidst your own weakness, even while you can’t see how any good can come from this.  May you one day be able to look back on this as simply a sidetrack while on your journey to parenthood.  May you be able to look back and know without a doubt in your mind that God has woven together your family with the absolute love and care that only our Father could have.

“I remain confident in this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” – Psalm 27:13-14

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – Romans 12:21

Dear President Putin

With all the media attention rightly focused on the shootings in Connecticut, there is another story brewing that demands attention of its own.  In response to the new Magnitsky law (a measure passed by US Congress to deny entry of Russian officials believed to be behind the death of an attorney), the Russian parliament is on the brink of fully passing a bill of its own that would halt adoptions of Russian children by families in the US.

For those who do not know us, my wife and I adopted our daughter Alina from Russia in September of 2008.  It was truly an amazing experience.  We not only found Russia to be an amazing country, but we met people along the way that were truly gracious and hospitable.  Every moment we had throughout the process is a precious memory to us, even those moments that were difficult or emotionally taxing.  It was all worth it to experience the adoption journey, to complete our family, and to find out just how incredible Russia and its people are.

Our family heritage has included Russia since the day we first met Alina.  We had never set foot in the country before going to see her for the first time, but now a part of us will always be there.  Not only do we know people there, but we appreciate the Russian culture, and we want our daughter to always be proud that she is a Russian American.  When we see US and Russia relations tense up, it is difficult to watch.  It’s like seeing two sides of your family in an argument, and it’s unsettling.

So this morning, I did something I never imagined I would do….I wrote a letter to President Putin.  I’ve sent messages to US politicians a couple of times, and it always feels awkward.  But this topic is so near and dear to us that I had to do something, and this was the only thing I could think of.  I’ve included the text of my message below.  In the meantime please pray that the measure being considered in Russia does not get implemented.

To The Honorable President Putin,

I am writing to appeal to you to see if there is another way for Russia to respond to the United States’ passing of the Magnitsky Law.  While I do not fully know the politics behind this bill, nor am I well versed in the proper politics for handling such matters, it is hard for me to imagine that denying child adoptions to American citizens is the answer.

My wife and I adopted our daughter, Alina, from Russia in September of 2008.  We did not choose adoption lightly, nor did we choose adopting from Russia lightly.  It was only after much contemplation and prayer that we decided it was the right course for us.  In hindsight, we could not have imagined going any other route.

Alina is now a beautiful, funny, vibrant 5-year-old kindergartener who loves playing soccer, drawing, reading, and making us laugh.  We truly cannot imagine our lives without her, and we take our roles as adoptive parents very seriously.  We also try to be advocates for international adoption, and we speak out against anyone who may not have gone into the process with as much deliberation as they should have.

I know that the Russian government has done a wonderful job in recent years to place more children into families.  But Russia, just like the United States, still has more work to do.  Denying the adoption of children does not seem like the proper response to a political disagreement between our countries.  Having said that, I support reasonable measures whose sole purpose is to protect potential adopted children.

I know there is an overwhelming amount of support in Russia to pass a new bill that would halt US adoptions.  I ask for you and your fellow leaders not to deny the opportunity for children to be placed into a family.  I also ask that you continue to allow Americans like my wife and I to see firsthand just how amazing your country is, how wonderful the people are, and that your children are truly beautiful.

With the highest regards!