Ukraine Trip #1

This is a long, detailed description of our first adoption trip to Ukraine–a place that is so different in some ways and so alike in others. I am proud of myself for surviving and grateful to God for his peace and my husband for his patient and adventurous spirit.  Thanks for your prayers and support.

TRAVEL DATES: November 15-21, 2015

I am a world traveler. Well, I am now.  Cedar Rapids to Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Kiev.  Always wanted to go to Europe–and now I have!

We arrived in Kiev and found Alex, our in-country facilitator at the airport. His English was good and he answered a lot of our questions on the 45 minute drive to downtown.

First stop was at a local grocery market.  We loaded up on bread, butter, cheese, crackers, cereal, milk, yogurt, and a bottle of wine. I think we spent like twelve dollars.

Then he drove us to our apartment.  It was beautiful with a gorgeous view.

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God was amazingly merciful to me on this trip. I slept peacefully every single night.  That is a miracle for me!  We woke up for our SDA (State Department of Adoption) Appointment at 10 AM.

The appointment only took about 30 minutes. During this time our facilitator and the SDA worker spoke mostly in Ukrainian.  That was frustrating because I thought, “Why do we have a translator, if no one translates?”  That would become such a common frustration, I just stopped wondering.

We signed our names on two different pages of the SDA ledger.  I believe what we were signing for was 1. Acknowledging they shared with us the original facts and documents about the boys’ placement in state care. 2. Declaring we want to adopt those boys and therefore request a visit with the officials at their places of education.

Before we knew it the appointment was over and we were told to wait a few hours for our “Referral.”  As best as we figured the referral is an official letter to the various schools saying we’re legit.

Jeremy wanted to spend the afternoon “sightseeing.” He reassured me that he had studied the map of Kiev for hours the night before and he knew exactly how to get us back to our apartment.  Again, miraculously, I trusted him.  I’m so glad I did.

We visited Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti).  I strongly encourage everyone to watch this documentary on the 2014 revolution “Euromaidan” that occurred in Ukraine on the very streets we walked.

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This is a covering over a building that was burned during the revolution.

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Independence Square

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Kiev Globus

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Golden Gate

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Cossack Mamay monument

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200 foot Independence Monument “victory column.”

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Hey! That’s us!

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Beneath the glass dome is an awesome upscale mall.

We stopped for dinner at a chain Italian restaurant that we were told “Americans like that place.” We did.  Viva Oliva was delicious and like everything else in Ukraine, affordable. We ate there on our last night in town as well.

Next day we met another facilitator, Lisa.  She has been our point person in Ukraine ever since.  She is very kind and has become a friend. She explained that we would need to get permission from the directors of the 2 schools we wanted to visit.  We were starting with Sasha’s school (university = grades 9-12) in Kiev.

While we waited for our documents to be copied to be given to the school inspector, we did some underground shopping.  Literally there are shops under ground–the street crossings for pedestrians go under the street. Jeremy bought a new leather belt.  And then he got a snack at the Corn House.  Who knew a cup of canned, buttered corn was a great treat?

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Eventually we were able to visit Sasha at his school. This was the first we’d seen him in nearly a year, although we’d spoken over the phone through our interpreter Nina many times.

Sasha was planning on coming with us the next day when we met up with his brother at the boarding school. We were trying to talk him into just coming with us to our apartment for the night. But he was insistent that we come to his apartment.  Unbeknownst to us, he had people waiting there to meet us.

I won’t go into all the anxiety of going to another part of Kiev after dark and HOW WILL WE GET HOME? Our driver took us there, warning us to watch our wallets but Sasha’s pastor said he’d bring us home. So off we went!

It will need to fall on another blog post to tell all about how amazingly blessed we were by meeting Sasha’s mentors, pastor, flat-mates, and friends. If you want to make a real difference in real kids’ lives, give real American money to Open Doors Fund. They are changing the destinies of orphans in Kiev.

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The next morning, we met at 8:00 to travel to Vova’s orphanage/boarding school.

But first, a stop for coffee.  Mobile coffee trucks are EVERYWHERE. And they are awesome.

Then we begin the 2.5 hour drive through the country.  Driving impressions: Drive as fast as possible until something or someone requires you to momentarily slow down.

We stopped in the village of Skvyra to pick up the school inspector for Vova’s school. She rode with us to visit the school.

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Here’s a map of Kiev to Bila Tserkva to Skvyra to Velykopolovets’ke. It was a wild ride!

Reunited! Once we found Vova, we met with the school director who seemed to be trying to talk him out of coming to America. In the end he said, “I’m going.”  Thataboy.

So grateful for the folks who work in this school and provide for the needs of these kids who are so hopeless and so alone.  We are honored to be able to reach into this place, grab a couple hands, and pull them out.  Yes, we’ll keep providing for their needs–but they need a family. We can do that.

Our interpreter let us know this day that we need to decide TODAY what we want their names to be on their birth certificates.  This was a huge decision, suddenly thrust upon us to hurry up and decide.

We had a meeting with the boys about this.  More to come on that–suffice it to say, they will be receiving new names when they join this new family.

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Next day while we waited for papers to get notarized, we walked to a McDonalds. Coffee was good.  Burger was so-so-o-kay.  Fries were everything I remembered after many years of not eating McDonald’s!

Then we were done with the official stuff that had to happen on this first trip.  Jeremy still had some exploring he wanted to do so he asked to be dropped off at the University Metro stop so we could see St. Volodomyr’s Cathedral.

After viewing that spectacular site, we took the metro back to our apartment. This is me. Following my husband with a trusting spirit. Because every word looks like gibberish to me. I. am. so. lost. here.  For example the letters below spell UNIVERSITY. I can’t tell you how out of control I felt this whole time yet how safe in God’s hands I felt.

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We got on a plane one day early.  The U.S.A. and The Bushlack Home were calling to us.  We were ready to go. Speaking of “going,” the Amsterdam airport is very interested in customer satisfaction. They provide little kiosks for you to rate your experiences at security, restaurants, and yes, even, restrooms.

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One more quick moment:  The “Tulip Fairy” of the Bushlack family got a small tulip surprise from this airport shop:

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Of course buying tulip bulbs meant now we had something to declare at U.S. customs. 😦

One day we went from Kiev to Amsterdam to Minneapolis to Cedar Rapids.

And just like that, we became world travelers. There and back again. Only two more trips to go.

Email Changes Everything.

email

I used to check my email every day.  Sometimes all day long.  I used to really wonder about (–a.k.a. judge–) people who didn’t instantly respond to my messages. But then life took a few turns and now I find myself on the other side of the judge’s bench. TBH– I just stumbled across a, “Please reply to this email so I know I have your correct address for future communication,” from my daughter’s youth group leader from like a month ago.  I have become that person.

However, since we have a few exciting things going on in our lives right now, I’ve started to feel like I should up my communication game a bit.  Between waiting for our adoption dossier to be approved thus being invited across the world to begin that process, and breaking ground on the new house in 2 days, I know I have to be more connected to the people who are partnering with us to make those dreams come true.

Consequently I opened up my mail app as I walked across a parking lot yesterday morning to see if there was anything worth reading.  No, I didn’t get run over. Instead I saw this:

Our adoption agent’s name and the subject, “Bushlack SDA Appointment.”

!!!!!!!!!

What that means for the 99% of you who haven’t immersed yourselves for a year in the process of adopting from this particular country:  The first of three visits overseas involves being officially invited to their country and meeting with the State Department of Adoption.

I understand this to be a short meeting where they will simply ask us a few questions and then begin the paperwork to proceed with adopting them.  Including the permissions needed to travel to visit the boys in their schools. If everything goes as expected, we will be able to see the boys on each visit.

So, just like that, we are scheduled to travel overseas in a few short weeks! Our travel itinerary says we will leave on one Sunday and arrive home on the next. It will be a whirlwind trip!  Hopefully we will have some time and energy to see some of the amazingly beautiful and historic sites!

So, boys and girls, check your email. It could change your life.

Farewell! A word that must be.

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Farewell! a word that must be, and hath been—
A sound which makes us linger;—yet—farewell!
~Lord Byron

We arrived at Chicago O’Hare at 2:00 PM and the boys were taken through security at 3:15. We spent our last minutes together playing Go Fish with V. while Jeremy tried to find out from O. more information about exactly where they live.  Airports are not furnished with a lot of seating in their Departures area, so we played cards on the floor until a minor coffee mishap led us to abandon that.  Then it was just a lot of standing around, hugging, snapping photos, and laughing at O. and Marissa goofing around.

Here are the photos from the airport.

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V. Jake and O.

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Big brother O.

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O. and Marissa

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Horsing around.

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Lizzy, O. V. and Emily

Jeremy, O., V., and Me.

Jeremy, O., V., and Me.

"It's time to go."

“It’s time to go.”

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Goodbye Jake.

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Hugs for Dad.

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Final glimpses.

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😦

The following verse is on a plaque that we gave O. for Christmas. It’s heartbreaking to know that at his age he is the father figure for their little family. We wanted to help them always remember that no matter what the future holds, they have a Father who will be with them and help them.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10).

Agony of Parting

“Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love.”–George Eliot

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Just a typical Road Trip so far: music, reading, sleeping, and card games. But with less than an hour to go until the airport, this is going to start getting real, really fast. Thankfully we have a lunch stop to enjoy first.

Steak & Shake & Origami

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Chicago O’Hare International Terminal

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Final Countdown

2015/01/img_5318.jpgMost of you aren’t up right now to read this, but naturally, I can’t sleep.

After 4 weeks, tomorrow we bring our Eastern European friends back to the airport. They have reassured me that they are well cared for & will be happy back home. I’m so grateful for their mentor Kohl who brings them to church each week. It means so much that they are being loved and discipled.

2015-01-13 at 18-16-27While they were here we had a nightly routine at dinner time. I had a series of questions taped to the inside of their countdown chain. Dinner included everyone answering simple questions like, “What is your favorite color?”

Tonight after dinner Jeremy said, “If you have one question for us, what would it be?” The little one took the phone and typed into Google Translate, “If we can be here in summer.” (NHFC arranges summer hosting also. )

So we haven’t even sent them and their 60-ish pounds of baggage through airport security yet and already they’ve got us wondering what the future holds.

…cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord : though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (‭Isaiah‬ ‭1‬:‭16-18‬ ESV)

Open Wide & Say, “Awww!”

I have been dreading this week.  This was the week that the boys would be visiting the dentist.  I have heard horror stories of the multiple-thousands-of-dollars’ worth of work that some of the orphans need.  The recommended strategy for managing that burden: Prioritize the most urgent work first, and then hop around from office to office to see if one doctor will donate  $500 worth of work here, and another donate $500 there.

Annual dental exams are heinous enough.  The possibility of spending 4-5 days in a variety of dental offices was nightmarish.

Dr. Amy Stodola of Family Smile Care Center.

Dr. Amy Stodola of Family Smile Care Center.

Didn’t happen.  Not only were their teeth in pretty good shape (4 cavities for one, 7 for another–Hey one of my own kids had that diagnosis once)–the wonderful doctor delivered their care pro bono.  That means for free.  FREE.

So if anyone is looking to find a new practice for his or her dental care–Let me highly recommend Dr. Amy Stodola and the great folks at Family Smile Care Center.

The boys were scared and the staff was so accommodating for us to be in the exam room with them, using Google Translate to communicate to them what was happening, holding hands, and generally letting them know that all the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations were normal and nothing to worry about.

They had an exam yesterday at noon, and by today at 5PM, all their work was done and we were on our merry way.  Nothing to dread after all.  Thanking God for nice and generous people.

Photo Blitz

First of all, I would like to give a shoutout to Dr. Kimberly Cruise and the staff at the 10th Street Iowa Eye Care.  They took such good care of the boys today.  Free exam, free opti-map, free everything.  And the diagnosis: Perfect vision and perfect eye health for both.

It’s hard to believe we are down to our last week together.  Now that the crazy busy holidays are behind us, we are settling in to more of a normal schedule.  Two things have definitely changed in our household since the boys arrived.  I cook three solid meals every. single. day. And we spend a lot more time together doing family stuff.  Two things have definitely not changed. Love rules. And teenage boys everywhere will play video games non-stop if you let them.

Not much else to add but I wanted to send a quick photo update.  Enjoy!

You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.  Ecclesiastes 11:9

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O.’s all-time favorite: Risk

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Learned another new game: Ticket to Ride!

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Bonding time over a cell phone.

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Loving Poky and Cinco!

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Marissa’s birthday!

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Birthday dinner!

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Borscht gets a a thumbs-up!

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Ice skating does NOT get a thumbs up.

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Carousel ride was a big hit!

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Group shot!

The Gospel According to Seuss

2014-12-24 at 17-02-59 Traditions are big for our family.  So even though our family is enhanced with two extras this year, our Christmas celebrations continued as usual.

We explained to the boys that the final days of December would be very busy. We began to lay out the details just for Christmas Eve:  Cooking and baking most of the day. Then many, many photos, then off to church, and many, many more photos! Dinner at the Sloans, return home to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas, open one present on Christmas Eve (it’s always pajamas), then hang one final ornament on the tree and read our theme Christmas verse.  Hey we do it every year.  And we love it.  It brings us meaning and joy.

This year Jeremy's Mom even brought these darling Grinch Kabobs. Compliments of Pinterest & raininghotcoupons.com

This year Jeremy’s Mom even brought these darling Grinch Kabobs. Compliments of Pinterest & raininghotcoupons.com

Somehow, in listing all we would be doing on December 24, we glossed over one of the most endearing parts of the Christmas season: The Grinchy nature of our Christmas Dinner.  I, for example, always bring the Who Hash and Who Pudding.  And no matter which meat you choose for your entree–just call it Rare Who Roast Beast, if you please.

After dinner, all the cousins of all ages gather around and listen to Jeremy’s annual reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  The kids know it almost completely by heart.  They loudly chime in as Jeremy growls, “The Grinch got a wonderful, awful idea!”

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And as I watch and enjoy the children’s delighted faces and laughter, I can’t help but relate to that villain whose heart was two sizes too small.  I know the miracle of Christmas is that all of us can experience the same radical heart transformation–that through Jesus we have experienced it. Without Jesus we are as hopeless in our sins as Mr. Grinch. But because of Jesus we can be different. And that is the beautiful reality that supersedes the ribbons, tags, packages, boxes and bags.

And this year, our new friends got to enjoy that reality too.  We explained, “We celebrate because we have so much joy that God sent His son into the world.”  They understand and smile and nod.  We add, “And we give gifts because God gave us the best gift of all.”  Big smiles. Yes! They know. Jesus. Isusu.

And so our silly traditions and celebrations continue–because they remind us every year that “Maybe Christmas…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more.”

Jesus Christ…who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:13-14

I love Jesus. I believe Jesus. Jesus changed my life.

IMG_7668Those words are embossed on three bracelets that O. wears.

On this very holy day, as you are tempted to rush around to buy one more, rush one more, stress over one more thing–just stop.  Contemplate the mystery.  Contemplate the gift.

Jesus changed my life. Have you given much thought to where you would be without the gift of that baby in the straw?  Any eternal hope or joy or love you have–simply blown away like a Christmas Eve candle.

So spend today breathing in the mystery of the Incarnation. And exhale the weight of the world that you were never meant to bear. He is here. God is with us. That’s all that matters. Today and always.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said throughout he prophet, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel–which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:22-23

Quick Photo Update

IMG_7653There’s nothing earth shattering to report, but I wanted to share a couple of great photos from today.

Today was Jeremy’s birthday. The love of my life and the best father I know.  After he got home from work, we ate cheeseburgers and fries and strawberries for dinner and then Jeremy opened a few presents.  Look at the smiles on these kids.  So much love.  They went out shopping and came home to make caramel corn and play checkers.IMG_7657

And one more great shot of all six kids. I love this picture.  I made an ornament for each of the boys with this photo.

Thanks to Babushka and Dadushka (Grandpa and Grandma) for the birthday visit and help with the puzzle.  Going to bed because–It’s so late it’s officially Christmas Eve!