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!

We Are Ready to Travel for Home!!!

Hello, friends!

We finished up our final paperwork and got Elliott’s travel visa for our return trip home!  All of our requirements are finished.  We are so ready to begin our long flights home.  We are going to head to one final trip to the Ukrainian cafeteria after Elliott finishes his morning nap:)  We are prepareing our suitcases and are going to head to bed early since our driver will be picking us up at 3am to head to the airport.  We are still praying we will not be delayed due to heavy snow in Munich.  We are trusting that God has allowed the weather and He is guiding our steps, so we will certainly be where we need to be tomorrow ( we just pray we are on a plane).  Thinking through logisitics of flying such a long distance with Elliott has been challenging, but we are prepared as we can be with what we have available!

When we touch down in Washington, D.C. we will hand our sealed packet of information to the USCIS officer at the airport, and at that moment, Elliott will officially become a U.S. citizen.  I am sure there won’t be a big fanfare, but we will make our own big fanfare!

Elliott has been a real trouper since we got him Tuesday.  he has had so many “firsts” and has handled it far better than we expected.  I am ready to get back to our home where things are better equipped for a curious, fast crawling little boy!  I will really appreciate so many things when we get home that I had previously taken for granted.  One of those will be a “child-proofed” home!

We do not expect to have any internet access once we leave our apartment in Kiev to go to the airport.  We will have computer access again once we are home.  Please join us in prayer for God to open the door wide for our flights to be on time and for us to arrive home quickly.

Thanks for the prayers for Jon’s eye.  He got to speak with his eye doctor yesterday.  We were able to google the russian alphabet and translate the name of his eye drops ( thank goodness for Proper nouns!) and find the eye drops on a Google search so Jon could tell his eye doctor the name of the drops.  After some back and forth , his doctor was able to let him know he could both drops together.  He also has an eye appointment for Monday afternoon!  He has had some relief from the pain.  His eye is far from healed, but the relief from the extreme discomfort has been a blessing for him today.  We both pray the lengthy time in an airplane does not agitiate again beyond what he can ease with his drops.

With our very late arrival on Saturday night combined with jet lag and logistics for Elliott to sleep, etc…we will not actually see Anna and Ryan until Sunday.  Please be considerate if you happen to see either of them before Sunday and don’t mention our exact arrival day!  We will let them know we are getting in late Saturday, but we will finally get to see them on Sunday! We are ready to begin the process of bonding and adjusting as a family of five.  We have some reconnecting and connecting to do between all of us:)

We are overwhlemed by the connectedness we have felt while here.  We spoke with a few more families today at the Embassy.  One mom thought she would be here for 5-6 weeks and she has been here for a little over 3 months due to various glitches.  She and her three new children fly out for Paris tonight.  It was amazing to hear her story.  We have so much additional insights and blessings from God to share with everyone when we return.  There are so many things that are just too numerous to record each day.  I can say that I feel VERY privileged to have been on this adoption journey and feel so humbled as I have seen our awesome God more this trip than I could ever have imagined.

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!

How will I answer?

*Warning:  God is at work on my ungrateful heart.  Reading this post might open your eyes to how God might be working on yours, too!*

 I have given some thought over the past several months to how I might answer my children when, one day, he or she asks why they were an orphan in the Ukraine.  Thinking about that eminent question has caused me to realize like never before that God alone is the answer to the question as to why I was allowed to be born as a little girl in America to an affluent (compared to the world’s population) family who loved me and treated me well.  I had no choice in that matter and nothing in my own strength allowed me the privilege to be born in the United State to a loving family.  I could have born with the exact same talents and could have been given the same gifts and been born in China as a little girl.  My life would likely look very different than it does now.  I could have just as easily been born in the Ukraine to a mother who gave me up as an orphan to live in a state run orphanage.  The only difference is God. 

 I am not sure I will ever know or my children will ever know why God chose us to be born into different circumstances (at least we won’t know this side of heaven, and we probably won’t care once we’re in heaven!).  I am so honored, humbled, and grateful, however, that because I was born into this country into a loving family with all of the rights and privileges including schooling, nourishment, and spiritual development that go along with my upbringing, that I will be able to answer my child that at least one part of God’s plan for me being born into my circumstances have allowed me to answer his or her questions about why he was born into his.

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!

Help us bring them home!

As we continue to prepare to bring home our children, we continue to find opportunities to use the talents God has given us.  Our church, WCRBC, is having a Women’s Expo on Saturday, September 11th from 9-noon.  I am participating in this event and will be selling items with all proceeds going towards our adoption.  If you have been seeking an opportunity to partner with us to bring our children home, here is a unique chance.  I am having a Sewing Party this coming Tuesday at my house from 7:30 until around 10ish to finish sewing some items for the Expo.  I would love to have local ladies join me.  Bring a sewing machine if you have one…only very basic sewing skills are needed for this project.  If you have a willingness but no machine, you can come and cut fabric or iron fusible fleece for me!  Just  let me know if you can make it.  I am praying for God to bring a large number of women to help on Tuesday.

Even if I don’t want to…

I encourage you to take a minute and watch the next short video clip about children from hard places.  From everything I understand about the orphange conditions in the Ukraine, I cannot imagine I am going to easily want to maintain as much continuity and familiarity for our children as suggested.  I am sure my desire as their mother will be to try to swifly move them into feeling a new familiarity.  This video, however, reminded me to think about the children’s losses through their eyes.  When they first come home, to them, it may seem as if everything familiar (no matter how bad) has been removed or taken from them.  Familiar smells, familiar foods, familiar language, familiar music, familiar faces.  They are going to be thrown head first into a new culture with new grown-ups and kids whom they have never seen before.  Even as an adult who knows Christ, that would be hard for me to transition easily and without some sort of resistance.  I am so humbled to get even just a small glimpse of the sacrifice Christ made by leaving a sinless heaven where there is no pain, death, or evil in order to come to earth for me.  What a rotten place earth must have looked like to Jesus.  I can imagine that the orphanage may look like a rotten place to me, but to my children in the Ukraine, it may be the only stable familiar thing they have ever known.

Insight 3: Provide Familiarity and Continuity from Tapestry on Vimeo.

Insight 3: Provide Familiarity and Continuity from Tapestry on Vimeo.