Thursday, February 13, 2014

February 13

One year ago today, we first laid eyes on our beautiful daughter:
She was dressed up waiting for us and thought we were there for hosting purposes.  Which was technically true.  But what she didn't know was that from the moment we saw her photo in a file, we knew she was ours.
Ruslana's SDA file photo
Yes, our initial paperwork only approved us to age 8, and she was 10, and I wasn't quite old enough to adopt her, but we knew she was ours.  So while we waited on paperwork changes to get her official referral, we went to her orphanage to set up a hosting program, "coincidentally" being able to meet her in the process.  I remember walking in Mark told me that he felt like he was looking at his long lost daughter.  She was beautiful.  She smiled and beamed every time we looked at her.  She hit a balloon around with us and was mesmerized with our facilitator's camera. We couldn't communicate using words, but we knew she was ours.

A few days later, on February 20th, with her official referral in hand, we sat in the director's office and waited for the orphanage lawyer to pick her up from school.  We were told that on the drive back she asked the lawyer if someone had come to adopt her.  The lawyer replied "da" (yes).  She came in wearing her school uniform and her hair fixed in a high pony tail.  As soon as she saw us she lit up.  They asked her if she wanted us to be her parents, and she said "DAAAAA!!!"  I'll never forget this incredible moment for the rest of my life.
After spending a total of two months in-country, we had lots of bonding:
 and finally came home!
What's funny about the adoption process is you always think that the step you are in is hard and that somehow once you get to the next one it will be easier.  At first you complain about the paperwork.  Then you get in-country and think you're going to die over the foreign smells, dirty (and often not hot) water, and that darn futon bed that leaves you crippled.  The spiritual attacks are unreal, but you stay strong and bring that child home.  Ahh...finally your home.  Now the hard stuff is over, right?  Wrong.  Yes, you've got your new addition in toe, and you're basking in your bed (that's suddenly the most comfortable in the whole world), but what you often don't hear about is how dang hard it is adjusting.  Somehow you naively think that taking a child out of their home country and exposing them to a new language, people, food, bed, smells, and just about everything you can think of will be easy because it's "better."  While I thought I was going to die (or at the very least go into early labor with Levi) in country, the first few months home were actually much worse in lots of ways.  To be frank, we were completely overwhelmed and in survivor mode.  Add a newborn to the mix three months later and you've got one chaotic household.  But you know what?  It started to get easier.  We started adjusting.  Behavior started to improve. We grew immensely in love and trust.  And here we are, ten months later with our darling daughter.  Our sweet Ruslana with a heart of gold, a zest for life, active as the energizer bunny, and spunk that rivals mine (oh no).  She is home, and she is loved.  She's ours.
Here's to a year of immense stretching, growing in love and patience, and true thankfulness.  God knew what He was doing when He put that photo in front of us (when it really shouldn't have been shown) and how thankful we are that we said yes and so did she!  We love you, Ruslana, and always will.  We can't wait to watch your continued growth in the years to come.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Culture Kid

Ruslana's class was assigned a project entitled "Culture Kid."  The objective of the project was for each student to learn about his/her heritage and present their findings to the class.  Ruslana's presentation was today (which also happens to be the one year anniversary of our first SDA appointment in Ukraine).

In the weeks leading up to her presentation, Ruslana showed more emotion than she has the entire time she's been home.  Something about researching her homeland and looking at photos triggered emotions that she hasn't expressed before.  Normally not one to cry,  she told me that she didn't know if she could talk about her friends in the presentation without crying (when I told her she didn't need to include them if it was too upsetting she said "of course I do!  I want my friends in America to know I have friends in Ukraine too!").  She also said that she'd had a headache for a few days because she was so worried about her friends in Ukraine.  Additionally, we talked about some of her teachers and other experiences in Ukraine.

This preparation period also marked a time of bonding, understanding, and love.  I heard the words "I love you" and "thank you for being my mama" more times than I could count.  For the most part, her behavior was at a high.  I think it started to sink in how much we love her, care for her, and that we will always be there for her and protect her.

Her presentation went great.   She talked about Ukraine's flag, religion, folk dance, food, geography, clothing, and a little bit about her life there.  She did a great job talking about her friends and even told a story about a special little boy, M, and how good at English he was.

Ruslana with her presentation board (and a mouthful of chocolate)
Writing her name in Ukrainian
Getting ready to present
Wanting to expose the students to Ukrainian culture, I made borscht and got Russian Rye bread to serve to the class.  They also had a piece of Ukrainian chocolate thanks to our friend Ashley who was just in Ukraine visiting her (soon-to-be official) children, two of Ruslana's dearest friends from her groupa.  Ashley, thank you--the chocolates were a hit!

Ukrainian chocolates, borscht, Rye bread, and napkins the color of the flag
This project ushered in much growth and we are so proud of Ruslana for doing such a wonderful job.  She's becoming quite the presenter!