Reflections on Elliott’s Adoption: One Year Later

Today, December 7, 2011 is a special day for the Parks family.  One year ago today, Melinda and I took a short cab ride from our hotel in Ukraine to the orphanage that our newest child, Elliott Peter, had lived in since he arrived there from the hospital as a small baby.  In some ways, it was the end of a big step in our journey that had begun exactly one year and one day before when we officially began our adoption journey.  In other ways, it was merely the start of an incredible time that we wouldn’t trade for anything.  But that wasn’t what was on our minds as we took the ride to the orphanage.  Instead, we were excited.  We were nervous.  We were in awe of how God had been at work during our time in Ukraine.  We were ready to officially get our youngest son!

As we made that drive, I had a million and one thoughts running through my mind.  But one thing in particular stood out.  You see, I was in the delivery room for the birth of Anna and Ryan and I remember what it felt like waiting for them to arrive.  I remember the excitement of the birthing process.  I remember the activity.  I remember the anxiety.  And then, almost in an instant, they were born and I got to witness them taking their first breath.  It was very exciting to me to know that both Anna and Ryan would grow up calling me “daddy.”

Melinda & Elliott at the orphanage
Melinda & Elliott at the orphanage

It was different for Elliott.  I wasn’t there the day he took his first breath.  Unfortunately, we don’t know a lot about that day.  I’m sure there was a lot of anxiety as he was born nearly 2 months early.  However, I will always remember the day Melinda and I were standing in a small room in an orphanage the day after Thanksgiving 2010 waiting for a worker to walk in carrying our new son.  As she entered the room and I saw him for the first time, I knew in an instant that I loved him, just as I had the first time I saw Anna and Ryan.  It may seem strange to say that, but we knew that this was the child God had led us to.  We were ready right then and there to take Elliott home and oh, how our hearts ached each day that we could only go and visit with him for 3 hours, before we had to return him to the arms of the caregiver.  But now, on this day, December 7, 2010, we would welcome him into our arms and we would never, ever have to return him to one of the workers.  This is what we had longed for.  This is what we were ready for.  No longer would Elliott be an orphan.  He was now our son.

On that cold, December morning, as we pulled in through the gates of the orphanage one final time, it seemed as

Ryan, Anna and Elliott at the NC State Fair
Ryan, Anna & Elliott at the NC State Fair in October

through the grey clouds lifted for a short while to signify that it was a new day.  I remember the anticipation we felt as we waited to get the coveted slip of paper that would allow us to officially take Elliott home.  We made our way to the building his group lived in and climbed the stairs one last time.  As we handed the piece of paper to the worker, her eyes grew wide and she became very excited.  She knew that this piece of paper, this one small, simple piece of paper meant that their darling little “Petruccio” (their fun way of saying Petr, his given name) was finally getting his forever family.  He was going home.

The team of caregivers gathered around us as we held Elliott and they were waving, crying and smiling.  This had been the “family” that God placed Elliott in until we could get there.  They were all he knew.  To be certain, they were sad, but they knew that this was what was best for him.  He was now with his “mama” and “papa,” and they told him so.  As we started to head out the door, they were shouting “pica, pica, pica,” which was their way of saying “hello” and “goodbye” to our little guy.  He smiled, but was very comfortable in Melinda’s arms as we made our way downstairs and into the cab.  As we got in the car to drive away, Elliott began to cry.  He’d never been in a car before in his life and I’m sure it was quite scary for him.  But eventually, we were able to soothe him and reassure him to the point that he settled.  From there, we began the journey toward home and all that would be ahead for us as we welcomed him into our family.

Looking back over the past year, we’ve seen so many changes in Elliott from our time in Ukraine.  For a boy that was so small, he’s gotten quite a bit bigger!  He eats just about everything in sight, he loves playing with trucks and occasionally getting into a little mischief.  He’s also built a very

Elliott in his Appalachian State shirt
Elliott proudly wearing his App State shirt!

strong bond with his brother and sister.  Early on, I made up a little song called “The Best of Brothers” to let them know how special it was to have a brother and would sing it to the boys as we put them to bed.  Now, they do all the normal things that brothers do: wrestle, laugh, make strange noises and try their hardest to team up against their sister!

But the most exciting – and revealing – thing, to me, happened fairly recently.  The morning after I returned home from a business trip to Minneapolis, I came downstairs to find Elliott running around and playing an elaborate game of “chase” with Anna.  Elliott saw me and instantly ran over to me to give me a big hug and was shouting “daddy, daddy, daddy!”  In that instant, I knew that this boy, who spent the first 1 1/2 years of his life without a family to call his own, was exactly where he was supposed to be– with his family, in his home, safe, secure and loved.

It’s been an amazing year.  Here’s to many more, my son.  We thank God for bringing you into our lives and we love you!  Happy “gotcha” day!

Wow…a month already!

I thought I would try to give a quick update about what’s going on at the Parks’ house.  We have been home a little over a month with Elliott.  We have had many new “adventures” since Elliott joined our family.  The first couple of weeks were extremely hard as we dealt with and worked on several different things:  helping Elliott use sign language at mealtimes instead of screaming through them all, helping Elliott gain comfort with riding in cars, going outside, baths, diaper changes, putting on pjs, and putting on shoes ( instead of screaming through them all!), helping Ryan adjust to sharing a room, helping Ryan learn not to put anything (no matter how kind hearted the intent) in Elliott’s crib with him at night—no books, no wipes, no stuffed animals, etc…, helping Ryan adjust to his nap/rest time being in the bonus room in a special tent while Elliott napped in the boys’ room, and helping Anna adjust to having two younger brothers!

Dr. Karyn Purvis, an expert on adoption issues, bonding, and connecting, encourages new adoptive parents to spend much of the first two months just being with their newest family member as much as possible.  She talks about how infants naturally get the time at home all day with their mommies, especially if nursing, and how children who are adopted can “catch up” on many of the things they missed out on as babies like rocking, being fed, being sung to, etc…  We believe that our family needs a little more time of just being at home (and at the various dr. offices) while we continue to foster some bonding and continue to adjust.  Elliott will be us for the rest of his life and will have lots of opportunities to make friends and get out and about, so we see absolutely no reason to rush these first precious times. 

 I have had several local and far away friends ask about how I am doing since I haven’t been around and have been pretty silent on email, Facebook, and on the phone.  I am doing well!!  I am very busy just meeting and trying to understand the needs of all three children while also maintaining our house (food, laundry, etc…).  I will certainly be ready to return to the fellowship and study at church when we feel like Elliott is ready.  Since a church nursery has many similarities for Elliott to his orphanage setting (lots of children, fewer workers, shared toys, etc…) we do not want to push him into the setting before we think he is ready.  We also cannot predict what behaviors may come out once he is back in that setting again!  Also, we want to strengthen the bond he has with us by us meeting all of his needs including diaper changes and feeding, before someone else meets those needs for him (even if just for an hour or so). 

God has given me such wonderful friends. One friend knows how lonely Sunday mornings can be when everyone is having fellowship at church and you are not able to come Sunday after Sunday and she has come and visited with me and Elliott during one hour of church.  What a blessing to me!  Other friends have continued to email me prayers they have lifted for us during this transition.  Just reading the words of their prayers has encouraged my heart and connected me with them in Christian fellowship.  A few others have come and stayed while Elliott and I visit many of the various doctors all over Raleigh.   So far he has just been to several screenings.  We have seen our ped several times, an orthopedic specialist (we were released from him last week), we have a vision check with a ped ophthalmologist next week as well as a check with an ENT and a visit to the endocrinologist to check for a very low vitamin D level as well as to check a few other things.  After that we will head to a cardiologist to check out the possible heart issue and then on to the neurologist to investigate the medical file stating that one stomach of the brain (a little background…we still have no idea what the Ukrainian drs meant when they were talking about stomachs of the brain, so it will be another new adventure…for the record-we are not at all concerned about Elliott’s health at this point!) was enlarged when Elliott was younger.  I am praying that a month or so from now we will be done with the many dr. offices and will be able to be cleared to just routine visits. 

 We still covet your prayers for Elliott to bond with us as his mommy and daddy and sister and brother.  Also for the wisdom of all of the doctors we will see over the coming months.  Finally, I covet your prayers for Jon and I to continue to grow stronger in or marriage in the midst of the many transitions and challenges we face each day.  My personal prayer is that each morning I will wake up and remember that I need God just as desperately as I did each day while we were in the Ukraine.  I pray that my false sense of control or comfort will not overshadow my real need for a loving God and His grace and provision and wisdom on a daily basis.  God is certainly at work in mighty ways in our family and I want to be sure that I do not miss out on His plans.  While in the Ukraine, Jon and I both read much of the book, Crazy Love by Francis Chan in which he talks about how everyone’s life is really a drama in which God is the main character and we are each only the supporting actors in our own lives.  I want to keep that perspective and make sure I do not miss God at work in my life during these long days and new adventures!

We Need Your Prayers

As we shared last Monday, we are very excited that we finally received confirmation of our travel date to the Ukraine to meet with the State Department of Adoption officials. Since then, we’ve been busily making travel arrangements and doing all of the things that have to be done to pick up and fly half-way around the world.  We are excited to let you know that we’re traveling to Ukraine next Monday, Nov. 22.  It will be a long trip to get there, but one we believe well worth it.

With that said, we’ve also learned of some troubling news since that time. It appears that the Ukrainian parliament is considering legislation that would put a moratorium on all adoptions in the Ukraine by countries that do not have a bilateral agreement in place on adoptions. We don’t know the reasoning behind this legislation, but we do know that it has passed its first reading.  It must be read and voted on a second time and ultimately signed into law by their president. You can read the U.S. State Department notice here.

Here’s where we need your help: we need you to pray specifically that God will stop this legislation dead in its tracks or will delay it long enough for us to get to the Ukraine, process our adoption and bring home the children. We know that we serve a mighty and powerful God that is bigger than any scheme of man. If He wants these children to be adopted, we know that it can be worked out. However, we need — we beg you– to please join us in praying for this situation to be resolved. The Ukrainian parliament is meeting this week, so the need for prayer is urgent and pressing right now.

This does not diminish our excitement or deter us in any way. We still believe in God’s call for our family to adopt and we will continue to follow him in obedience. Thank you for standing with us and please– pray right now and every day this week that this legislation is stopped.

Updated: this post was updated at 6:47 p.m. to include the link to the State Department notice

What next???

Well, since receiving our SDA appointment date yesterday, our heads have been spinning.  The more we think through our travel and discuss what needs to be done, the more I realize we actually have more unknowns now than before.  Here are a few examples of some of the questions we’ve gotten since yesterday:

How long will you be there?  ( we have no true idea.  Anywhere from 13 days to 3 weeks depending on numerous factors outside of our control.  In fact, we have to book our return flight making sure we can easily change our plane tickets to accommodate a different date and possibly two additional passengers!)

Will you bring the children home when you come? ( we have no idea.  Whether or not we are able to bring the children home after this one trip depends on numerous factors outside of our control.  We may not even know for a week or longer once in the Ukraine if we will be coming home with our children this trip or not.)

Wow!  We do not know when in December we will be home.  We do not know if we will celebrate Christmas this year with four children at our house or two.  We do not know if we will have girls or boys or both from the Ukraine.  We do not have any idea how old they might be ( of course they will be between 1-4 years).  Other than the fact that we will be sitting in the SDA in Kiev on Thanksgiving morning at 9am, we just don’t know.

The more that sinks in, the more joyful I am that none of the additional details depends on me or my strength.  I cannot even imagine if the many details were on my shoulders to manage or even to decide.  How grateful I am to have a mighty, loving God who already knows the answers to every unknown that keeps coming into my mind.  I am able to peacefully (okay…somewhat peacefully:) rest and let go of any anxiety or burden I feel for the details.  God knows every answer to my many questions and has lovingly blessed us and reminded us of His power with the mere fact that we are traveling so soon and that our appointment is on Thanksgiving Day.  He is reassuring us how much He loves us and how He plans to prosper us ( in love) and not to harm us. 

If you are worrying or stressing about the unknowns in your life, no matter how great or small, I encourage you to get into God’s word and remember How mighty He is and remember His provision–you will be blessed as you remember who God is in your life!

We’ve Got an Adoption Review Appointment!

Just a brief post to let everyone know that we heard from our agency this morning that we have an appointment to meet with officials at the Ukrainian State Department of Adoption! Our appointment is on November 25 and yes, you guessed it, that is Thanksgiving day! Obviously, this news is fresh to us, so we don’t have a lot of details right now, but we hope to have more later today and when we do, we’ll be sure to post here to keep you informed. Thanks to all of you for your prayers and support in getting us to this point. We’re getting very close to bringing them home very soon!

Dossier Review Day

Today is a big day in our adoption journey– our dossier (official application to the Ukrainian government to adopt) is scheduled to be reviewed today in Kiev.  Of course, as I write this, it is actually late in the day in Kiev, so there’s a chance that it has already been reviewed!  Regardless, this is a big step as it will determine if we get to move ahead or not.  If the Ukrainian government approves our dossier, then we will be assigned a date to travel and we’ll be able to visit Ukraine and get a referral to visit a child/children available for adoption.  So, our request is simple– will you please pray that God will work through the person/people that are reviewing the dossier to allow the adoption journey to keep moving forward?  Thanks and have a blessed day!

Our Paperwork is on its Way!

On Monday afternoon, we stepped into our local FedEx Kinkos and finally sent off our large packet of paperwork to our agency. For those not familiar with the process, adoptive parents have a lot of forms to fill out, get notarized and (in the case of international adoption) have them all apostilled (a process of certifying a document by the Secretary of State’s office through the placement of an official seal on the document). As anyone that has gone through the process will tell you, it is nerve wracking and complex. As Melinda noted last week, we took our documents to the SoS’s office and found out that just a couple of phrases were wrong on 14 of our 23 documents and we had to scramble to re-do all of them in order to get them through the process.

But in the end, they are done and they are on their way. Our agency will review them this week and, if all goes well, they will be on their way to the Ukraine State Department of Adoption in Kiev by Friday! And with that, we are one step closer to bringing home our children from the Ukraine!

Thank you to all of you that supported us through prayer and in helping us get this paperwork completed. We have seen God’s hand at work in this process and are excited to move ahead to the next step– the official review of our petition to adopt on Oct. 21!

Yes, simplify my life!

I have gotten a number of “shocked” looks recently as I have let people know that God has made it clear to me that I need to unload all of my outside-of-our house responsibilities as we prepare to bring our other children home.  At first, this may sound like a good reason to get out of tasks.  In reality, it is an admission that God is in control and a submission to His will as He authors our family.  I am not sure I can truly have appropriate expectations for what our family might face in the coming months.  As the first video stated, having virtually no expectations is the best scenario!  This video gave me a gentle confirmation that God wants my time and attention to be given to running our house, supporting Jon, and loving all four of my children.  Until all four of my children understand a mother’s love and what a family is, I cannot possibly serve or minister outside of our house to others during this season of transition. 

Again, my friend Jeanette who adopted Sara Beth from China a year ago, gives commentary on how she prepared to simplify her life and even her house and clutter in preparation for bringing Sara Beth home.  I encourage you to read her post by clicking here.

Insight 2: Simplify Your Life from Tapestry on Vimeo.

Educated on Adoption

You may not be seeking an education on adoption, adoptive families, or the adoption process, but taking a few minutes to watch this video  might help you realize that an education on adoption is actually an insight into people.  I have a high regard for Dr. Karyn Purvis and the work she does with children from hard places.  My friend, Jeanette, began posting these short videos daily along with some wonderful commentary on her blog.  I encourage you to check out her insights for this video by clicking here. Dr. Purvis has made several short videos related to different issues or challenges on adoption.  I urge you to take a minute or two each day to watch these videos over the course of the next week or two.  I will post a video for you to view as well as some commentary.  Please take this opportunity to gain insight into all people and give some specific thought to the fatherless!

Insight 1: Explore Your Expectations from Tapestry on Vimeo.

Couldn’t have said it better myself!

I have realized the more I follow some truly well-written blogs, the more I want to just direct my friends and family to them!  It isn’t that I do not feel like God has given me a voice of my own, I just sometimes feel like redirecting my own friends and family is the best option.  Let me now redirect you…Jon had an influential mentor with Young Life in high school named Mr. Finley.  Through a series of God orchestrated events, he has caught back up with Mr. Finley and his entire family online recently.  Interestingly enough, the Finleys adopted a daughter from the Ukraine last year.  Mr. Finley’s wife is a wonderful blogger, speaker, and writer who keeps a fantastic blog.  I encourage you to check it out at http://www.finleylifetothefull.com/ 

Back in May, Cindy Finley wrote a post about supporting adoptive families during the adoption process.  I encourage you to click here and read the entire post.  The meat of her advice was to pray, encourage, and serve them because adoption is hard.  I could not agree any more with her advice and her post!  Please read it and take an active role in caring for the orphans.  If you are interested, in addition to our own adoption process, I can tell you about several families who are currently oversees adopting or who are, like us, knee deep in paperwork and waiting. 

We are realizing first hand the paperwork hoops required.  Each time we think we have correctly completed a document, we find out there is a glitch.  Although this can be discouraging to us, we realize that the paperwork is just a minor, albeit important, hurdle to be taken conquered in order to bring home our children from the Ukraine…and we are willing to face any necessary hurdle for our children.