Time for an Update

When we first started this journey, and when I first started the blog, I shared every little feeling…..every tiny thing that could be updated.  I truly intended to keep it updated when we finally got near the “end” of this part of the adoption, but something happened.  Suddenly when we were holding a picture, and medical file, and family history file….it all got more real.  It wasn’t just a “story” we were telling anymore, but a little life and a past….and a future with our family. The emotions and feelings are more raw, and harder to share.

When we held him in our arms, and met the people who love him right now, it seemed like the situation was more sacred than we could have ever imagined.  So many emotions and thoughts and changes for so many people are taking place with this adoption…..and I’ve learned the hard way that “casting my pearls” about how I’m dealing with all this, sometimes ends with regret that I said anything at all.

So, I apologize for the sudden silence, but I do want to share an exciting update.

As we watched the Macy’s Day parade, and cooked and got dressed for Thanksgiving, we received a phone call from our agency (which only goes to show what a good organization AGCI is…..that our caseworker would call and do paperwork for us on her day off!).  She joyfully shared that we got our MOJ signature and have been assigned a court date!

On December 14, 2015, our case will be brought before a judge in Bulgaria, and Leo Isus will legally become our son.  This is GREAT news, and the time frame is better than we could have hoped for.  Just 2 and a half weeks, and we will begin plans to bring him home forever.

After we pass court, we will wait 10 days-3 weeks for a court decree to print (possibly longer with holidays) and then we will prepare to travel.  It appears that we will begin 2016 as a family 6…….no longer “5 and waiting.”


  • For us to get all the paperwork needed by Friday.  (This included prayer for safe travel for my dad and I as we make a whirlwind road-trip to Springfield this week to re-do some paperwork that was lost in DC.)
  •  That our judge will show favor and there will be no delays with our court process.  We have been assigned a “particular” judge who has requested more information, but this is manageable, and we hope it is sufficient.
  • That things will continue to move quickly through the holidays.
  • For our 3 kids here—that God would prepare their hearts for us to leave them again.  It was very, very hard on Cora the last time, and it makes me nauseous to leave her again.
  • For Andy and I, Isus, and his foster family–that God would grant peace, love, and grace for the months to come.

Friendship for the Journey

This is a post I have wanted to write for a few months, but I’ve postponed it because I know my limited writing skills won’t be able to portray this blessing as beautifully as we have lived it.  This is the story of friendship and how God whispers sweet stories into existence for His children–both young and old.  This story is about 2 families in a small town in Illinois, and two little orphaned boys halfway around the world in Bulgaria.

When Andy and I decided to pursue adoption, Bulgaria was always the country we were leaning towards–mostly because of my experience  there–but also because it was the country our agency said we were best suited for (given a variety of variables they take into account).  I don’t remember now, as I look back, if we even knew Matt and Courtney had started the adoption process with the same agency and country, but soon into the journey we realized that we were on similar paths.


I knew Courtney from high school.  We ran around in similar circles on and off during  our teen years, but were more of acquaintances than much else.  However, I could have never anticipated how the Lord would knit our families together during the last 3 years.

Matt and Courtney were registered to adopt from Bulgaria in March of 2012, and we weren’t registered until February of 2014.  I always assumed that we would watch their family bring home a child, and we would learn from them for a few years before we did the same.  Courtney would always say to me, “You know, maybe we’ll get matched at the same time. You never know.”  I would always smile, and think, “There’s no way.  You guys are 2 years ahead of us, but sure, you never know.” (I might be a skeptic.)

As our families waited, God used our passion for orphan-care and Bulgaria to build strong bonds, and to advocate for the orphans of Bulgaria.  We had the blessing of planning an event to raise money for a special needs orphanage in Bulgaria, and watched God move in our community’s heart.  Over $10,000 was raised, and a new roof covered the Maria Luisa Orphanage before Christmas of 2013.  To be side by side as we witnessed this miracle take place with our friends and families made it that much more special.


We have spent evenings in each other’s homes dreaming and considering what life might be like with our future children.  Our kids have shared their excitement of adding new brothers or sisters in a unique way……something not many kids their age are waiting for.   We have prepared and eaten Bulgarian dishes, and worked together to incorporate our love of Bulgaria into the very core of our families.  These are moments I will forever cherish.



We have stood by our kids as they sold lemonade to raise awareness and money for orphans around the world, and we have been blessed by how their hearts have been changed by this journey too.

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And then, in July, Courtney called me with the news of a precious, curly-headed little boy.  I was thrilled!  We rejoiced in God’s goodness.  We knew they would have a few hurdles to cross before the news could be made public, but we quietly celebrated that they would have a son.  Less than a month later, in August, our agency called with OUR referral.  You’ve already read about that craziness, so I’ll spare you the details again, but after immediately calling Andy and my parents, Courtney was the next person I couldn’t wait to tell.  In shock, we rejoiced, and as the weeks unfolded, so did the many miracles and workings of God.  We began to recognize the many ways the Lord had quietly been working in the previous years to cross our paths so intricately.

We agree that it’s as if God required Matt and Courtney to wait a little longer than “average,”  and allowed us to wait a little less than “average”, so that we could meet in the middle.  Both of our families were open to a child of either gender, age 0-3 with varying medical conditions.  We were both matched with little boys, with unique (but also similar medical needs).  These precious little boys were born 5 days apart.  Kircho’s birthday is at the end of November, while Isus was born December 5th.  (We have Bulgarian birthday celebrations planned in our future!)  Matt and Courtney had to wait (what felt like) forever before they could be “officially” matched with Kircho, and yet, we still traveled to Bulgaria in back-to-back weeks.  In fact, of all the flight options and times we could have had, we crossed paths for 20 quick and beautiful minutes in the Detroit airport to hug and encourage each other.  We were returning from our week with Isus, and they were headed to meet Kircho.

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We know now that there is a very real possibility that we might travel to pick up our boys at the same time…..or at least within a few weeks of each other.  The comfort it brings my heart to know we will be experiencing the same trials and joys as we transition home with our sons is unexplainable.

Lastly, when I take a step back from my own perspective on it, I realize that God was writing the same beautiful story for our boys.  He knew that these cherished sons of His would need an earthly mom and dad because of situations they had no control over, and He ordained that they would leave their birth-country to be placed 10 miles from each other in Southern Illinois.  All their young lives, they will have the ability to share similar life circumstances, histories, and similar beginnings  that God is redeeming……and Courtney and I (with Andy and Matt) have the privilege to see it unfold.






Leaving our Little Lion Behind

Isus’s New name

When Andy and I began this process years ago, we had many discussions about whether to give our child a new family name or preserve their Bulgarian name.  We ultimately decided it would depend on the name and how it translates over to English.  So, when we received our referral for Isus, we initially thought it was pronounced “Isis” (as in the terror group) because that is how it is sounded out in English.  In reality it is pronounced “I (short i)-soos” and means “Jesus” in Bulgarian.  Because his name doesn’t particularly translate well AND is also a very uncommon name even in Bulgaria, we decided to add to his given name with a name that is meaningful to our family.  However, after we decided on a name, we received videos of Isus with his foster mom, and learned from them that he is lovingly referred to as “Zoosy,”  which we began calling him at home too.  We didn’t want to start using the “new name” until we had met him and were sure it was what we wanted to call him.

So, all that to say that after meeting our son, we decided to name him Leo Isus Sutton.  Here’s why:

It was still very important to us to preserve his birth name.  We believe that it was lovingly chosen for him by the mother who brought him into the world, and we want to honor that decision.  In addition, he already responds to his name.  If we showed him a picture of himself, he would say “Baby Zoosy.”  However, we decided not to keep this as his first name because of the way it translates to English.  We chose Leo for many reasons.

First and foremost, because it is a family name.  Leo Mitchell was my great-grandfather.  I have fond memories of sitting on his lap as a child, and he was a good man.  All of our other children have family names, and we didn’t want Isus’s to be any different.  He will obviously be an equal part of our family, and we wanted to honor that by giving him a family name like his sisters and brother.

Secondly, and equally important to me, is the meaning of the name Leo.  Leo means “lion.”  This  is so beautiful because the lion is Bulgaria’s national symbol.  It is on their coat of arms, it is what their money (lev) is named after, and there are statues of lions throughout Bulgaria.  The lion symbol dates back in Bulgaria’s history to the year 1294!





The third and least important reason for Leo, is that Andy and I just prefer short names for our kids, and Leo fits that “requirement.” :)

Now, just saying that his name is “Leo” doesn’t really make it so.  We have started the legal process of changing it, but we still have not started using it when we refer to him.  He is still very much Isus and Zoosy to us. In fact, during our mealtime prayer this week, Andy used “Leo,” and after the ‘Amen’ I said, “So, that’s the first time we’ve used that, huh?”  And he responded, “Yeah, it was weird.”  We have it in our mind that over time, we will transition from “Isus” to “Leo Isus” to “Leo,” but honestly if it never happens, then he will be “Isus,” and people will get used to it…..and if they don’t, it really doesn’t matter.

Leaving our little lion behind was hard.  He is precious and we can’t wait to have him here with us every single day.  I thought I would be okay in between trips, but I’ve already had a few moments of thinking, “Oh, Zoosy would love doing this with his siblings!” or “I wish he could be here picking out pumpkins with us.”  I know that is just the beginning of these feelings as we enter the holidays, but I pray too that this time is meaningful and productive in preparing all of our hearts to join in a few more months.  I just can’t wait for him to be “home.”  We are getting it all ready for him!

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Day: 6 Touring the City

Day 6: Sofia, Bulgaria

As I already mentioned, we ended up sleeping until 10:30 AM Friday morning.  I can’t name one other time in my entire life that I slept until 10:30, but in this particular situation, it was much needed and much appreciated.

We knew that Friday was, in essence, a “chill and take-in-the-sights” day.  We only had one adoption-related activity scheduled at 1:30 PM which included meeting with Vesta to give them Isus’s new legal name, and to have our documents notarized to begin the legal process of making him our son.    We decided that since we would need to get out for lunch anyway, that we would walk farther into the city through some parks.  Many of them were under construction, but they will be so beautiful when they are finished.

In some ways walking through the city is like walking through any city in the US…..many of the same sights and activities.  McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Toyota, Dunkin’ Donuts, ect.  We walked across a large pedestrian bridge, past an art gallery, a Hilton hotel, and a quiet park.  As it began to drizzle, we headed back towards our apartment and grabbed a Bulgarian cheeseburger from a street vendor, then stopped in a nearby pastry shop for a some tarts we had been eyeing earlier in the week.

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After returning to the apartment, we waited for Rosi, a VESTA employee to call and meet us on the street to have our paperwork notarized.  It was at this time that we confirmed what Zoosy’s new name will be.  (More on that later.)


The remainder of the afternoon we packed up all our belongings, and enjoyed a few more quiet moments in the apartment.  We enjoyed sitting and watching an elderly woman slowly and peacefully tend to her flowers, then we Skyped with the kids from Bulgaria one last time.


Around 5:00, we went back to the pedestrian street to shop for some gifts, then met at 6:30 for the daily Free Sofia Tour (a 2.5 hour walking tour of the city).  While the tour typically has 15-20 people per tour, almost 40 people showed up on this particular evening to learn about Sofia’s history.  Here are just a few of the beautiful sights from our son’s birth country:


Martin, our entertaining and informative tour guide


Sofia Statue–It was once wrongly believed that she was how Sofia got its name.


The Sveta Petka Samardzhiiska Church, built in the 14th Century during the Ottoman rule.


Beautiful mountain view with fog settling over the city


There are many hot mineral springs around Bulgaria, and it is said to be good for your health to drink from them and bathe in them. It was like drinking warm salt water.


The former Communist Party Headquarters


Changing the of guard at the Presidency Building


Sofia’s oldest preserved building– the St. George Church. It dates back to the 4th Century and has stood the test of time, even as war and destruction took place all around it through the years.


The beautiful St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral 70% of Bulgarians identify themselves as “Orthodox.”


There is a gruesome story behind the statue of Tsar Samuil: The sculptor formed the eyes to glow to show that he’s remembering a defeat in which he saw his soldiers taken prisoner and blinded on the orders of Byzantine Emperor Basil II. This statue overlooks a monument of blinded soldiers.


Our Tour Group

(I’ve almost made it through the posts of each day of our trip…..just one more:

travelling home, adoption friends, and our son’s new name.)


Day 5: See You Soon

Day 5: Blagoevgrad to Sofia

We woke up on Thursday knowing it would be the last morning we would see our little boy for many months to come.  We checked out of a hotel we may never see again, and drove one more time to pick him up.  We were blessed once again with smiles and laughing and reaching for us when we arrived at Alina’s house.  I didn’t realize that Andy was videoing him during the pick up, but I was so thankful when we got home to see that excited little face as he reached for me and said, “Gushi!”  On the last day, he preferred Andy holding him in the car.  He would grab his stuffed animal and snuggle his head on Andy’s lap.  He did sweetly crawl over and climb on my lap once, and as he sat facing me planted a big kiss on my lips…..then right back to Andy.

Earlier in the week, we had briefly asked about Isus’s time in the orphanage.  There isn’t much information to be had, but they asked if we would like to see it.  I felt like it was important for us to see it and take a picture for him because it is part of his story, and we want to always do our best to fill in the gaps for him about his time before he was part of our family.  We arrived in the parking lot of the orphanage before I even realized that was where we were going.  Alina asked if we would like to go in, and with some reservation (and not wanting to offend any of the caregivers) we said if they would allow it, we would like to go in.  Alina asked, and they kindly welcomed us into the lobby where we quickly met 4 or 5 employees.  This is the same building where Zoosy comes for therapy everyday, so he was ever so ready to leave once inside the doors.  As Andy held him, he repeated over and over that he wanted to go back outside.  Visiting the orphanage didn’t help us learn or understand any more, but I am so thankful we were given the opportunity to stand in this place where our boy was brought at 2 precious months old, and where he spent 6 traumatic and lonely months. Even more thankful, that it will only be a distant memory…..one he never has to physically re-live.


The last morning, we only had one hour before our final meeting with the Social Service director evaluating our time with him.  It was decided we would just go back to the playground he enjoyed the day before.   Isus went straight back to the blocks, and began to amaze us at just how smart he is.  At less than 2 years old, he put large Lego blocks together with ease (something I don’t remember our other kids doing until they were older.)  Not only was he a master architect of Lego towers, but he did it by color.  If we tried to sneakily hand him one of a different color, he would drop it and pick up the correct color.  He is definitely all about toys or items that zip, snap, buckle, connect, strap, ect.

He is a very social little guy, and would get so excited when a new toddler entered the play room.  He would run over and began saying “baby.”

When the time came for us head to the meeting, I carried him in my arms the same way I carried my other 3 at that age…….laying face down with their bellies resting on my arms.  It made him very sleepy and calm, as we walked in the rain to the building.  Once at the 5th floor, Andy put his harness on him and ran with him up and down the halls again and again until they were ready for us.  When the meeting started, the director asked Alina what her impressions were of our time spent with him.  She responded that from the first moment Isus saw us he was happy with us.  She said that she believed we were the very best family for him.  To hear her say this was quite humbling, and filled my heart with happiness.  We were also asked how we thought the time went with him, and we articulated that we couldn’t have imagined it going any better.  That we also felt like he was comfortable with us, and that we already love him so deeply and are excited for him to be our son.  I’m sure a lot was lost in translation on both sides, but we understood enough.

We signed a few papers, and then began walking to the car.  Isus snuggled in Andy’s arms and wore his hat the whole way to keep out of the rain.  We arrived back at Alina’s house where we knew it was time to say “good-bye.”  This was a moment that I expected to be heart-wrenching.  And yet, as with most moments on the trip, my emotions surprised me by feeling complete peace.  We knew he would be in loving and kind hands, and that God, in His beautiful timing, would reunite us.  Alina and Denis got out of the car to give us a few minutes alone to say our good-byes.  Mostly we just snuggled and tickled and laughed until it was time to leave him.  I think he would have preferred to stay in Andy’s arms, but it was time for his soup, so he was also eager to eat.  We gave him lots of kisses, and said, “We’ll see you soon!”  As we slowly drove away, he and Alina stood in the doorway blowing us kisses.

And then that was it.  We drove away. It was a strange feeling.  We talked about what we wanted to eat for lunch, and what would happen when we drove back to Sofia, and what time our flights were…….all the while thinking about our little boy eating his soup in a small village miles behind us and knowing it could be half a year or more before we see him again.

We can’t help but wonder if he’ll miss us or remember us.  We wonder if, as Alina begins to talk about us as his parents, if at some point half a world away, he will begin to call us “Mama and Daddy.”   We wonder what new milestones he will reach during this time…….what new words and skills.  Will he be a master-walker by then?  Will his temperment change?  Will he long to be with us again, as we long to be with him?

We have the blessing to be able to Skype with him 2 times a week for the duration of our wait (more if needed).  This is a luxury that hasn’t been around for long, and we don’t take it for granted.  We hope that if it does nothing else, that it will help him remember our faces and voices,  and ease the time between trips for us.


We made it back to Sofia safe and sound, and got settled back into the apartment that we had left behind the first day.  We Skyped with the rest of our kiddos, then headed out to get some fantastic pizza.  We walked “home,”  curled up to watch some American TV with Bulgarian commercials, then headed to bed……for a remarkable 12 hours of much-needed sleep.  We had one more day in the city to tie up a few paperwork things, tour the capitol, and prepare to head back home.  We were ready.


Day 4: Banitsas and Balloons

Day 4: Blagoevgrad and Hotel Park


Before we drove back to the hotel after supper Tuesday night, I asked Denis what a “banitsa” was.  I had heard that this was a “must try” Bulgarian food, and I wanted to try one so I can someday recreate it at home.  He got a huge grin on his face and said, “We will meet 30 minutes earlier in the morning.  I will take you to get a banitsa and yogurt drink.”  I had told him about my experience with the yogurt drink on my last trip to Bulgaria.  It was the one thing I just couldn’t choke down.  But, I was willing to give it another try.


We met in the lobby and he drove us to town and found a small street-side bakery, ordered 3 hot banitsas (which are a filo pastry with Bulgarian cheese) and ayrans (a traditional cold yogurt drink mixed with salt).  It was a good way to start the morning, for sure……well, minus the ayran. :)

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After grabbing breakfast we went to the village, where we were received with smiles and laughing again (our favorite moments of the trip!).  We headed back to the Social Service office in Blagoevgrad.  After meeting here everyday, we knew that Isus was growing to despise the small rooms , and it was harder and harder to keep him from trying to escape and scream “ouside!”  We blew up a huge balloon (thanks White County Ford!), and tossed it around the room.  Of course, he was happiest just carrying it around in his mouth.  While we continued to wait, I broke out the Puffs for the first time.  He hadn’t been a huge fan of the applesauce squeeze-snacks we tried earlier, but he took right to the Puffs!  He loved eating them, sharing them, shaking them, and especially loved putting the lid on and off.  “Puffs” weren’t a snack they were familiar with, so before long, everyone in the room was eating toddler snacks.

After leaving the office, Zoosy caught a ride on Andy’s shoulders to a new playground.  This one was the perfect size for Isus.  It had a small balloon room, stairs that went up to a pillow room, a playhouse with blocks inside, gymnastics mats to roll around on, and lots of stuffed animals.  He is all about stairs, so I had fun walking up and down them with him, and then tossing him on the pillows and tickling him at the top.  Andy played peek-a-boo with him in the playhouse, and we felt like we got to see more of his true personality as he sat down and zoned in on blocks.  Alina told us at home he is very happy just to sit and play with something like this.

It was a great morning visit.  In the car, on the way back to Alina’s house he sat on my lap for a moment, and when I went to hug him, he snuggled his head on my chest for a short, but breathtaking moment.  When we took him to Alina’s house, as I tried to hand him to her, her held on to me and said, “Gushi!”  This was something I had hoped I would hear the whole trip.  It means “Hold me or take me!”  It was bittersweet for Alina, but a good confirmation that he is happy with us.


We left the village so Isus could eat and take a nap, and we returned with Denis to the Water Wheel Restaurant, where we had more amazing food.  I went for grilled trout, which, as always, was presented so beautifully.  The highlight of the meal for Andy was sharing a chocolate pancake (crepe) dessert with Denis at the end of the meal.  This also coincided with the moment that we realized a large group of horses were just wandering around the perimeter of the restaurant.  Not something we see everyday.


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The weather was becoming a little chillier, so it was suggested that we pick up Alina and Isus, and return to the indoor play room at our hotel.  When we tried to double-check these arrangements at the hotel, we were told that the play room was being used to store luggage and wasn’t accessible.  However, the owner of the hotel happened to overhear us at the front desk and came over.  As our translator explained why we were wanting the room, a smile spread across her face.  After a few moments of conversation we didn’t understand, she smiled, nodded, and walked away.  Denis then informed us that she adopted a little girl 7 years prior, and that she would clear room out for us in the private conference room to play. (Sweet balm.)


We drove to pick them up (with many more smiles), and returned to our hotel to find that–not only had they cleared some room for us– but the owner had brought in a large area rug and all the toys from the play room.  I was overwhelmed with her kindness.


At this meeting, we were able to Skype with our kids at home.  It was one of the most remarkable experiences of the whole trip.  Miraculously ALL 4 kids sat still long enough to talk to each other!  To hear Addy, Abe, and Cora saying “hello” to Zoosy in Bulgarian, and to hear him respond by saying all of their names and saying “hello” in English will be a moment I cherish the rest of my life.  It was this quick glimpse–a snapshot– of our new family. A new child, the embrace of a culture halfway around the world, hope for a future, a moment of feeling God’s love wrap around us.

Shortly after this, we exchanged some gifts with Isus and Alina.  I had written a letter for Alina at home, and had a dear, dear Bulgarian friend translate it for me.  She appreciated the gift, but when she saw that the letter was already translated into Bulgarian, she began to weep.  She said the gifts were lovely, but having this letter–in her own language–would be a treasure she would keep forever.  (This was another reminder that God sent me to Bulgaria 14 years ago for reasons I could have never forseen and to meet people who would help me on this journey.)  The gifts and the letter led to a rush of emotions from all of us, as we cried over the transition Isus (and all of us) are about to embark on.  I won’t lie….this is the hardest part of it for me right now.  My head understands that this foster-arrangement is temporary; that is doesn’t solve the problem that he doesn’t have a mom and dad.  But, Alina is truly an angel.  Andy and I both feel that she saved his life, and has given of herself this past year to help him in ways that we could have NEVER got back.  Without her help, we are certain that he couldn’t have got that time/ development/ love back.  This makes it so very difficult on her.  She has devoted herself to him this past year, and I know it will grieve her heart immensely to see him go.  I respect her grief, and we tried to be so sensitive to how hard this is for her.  We promised her that we will never let him forget about her, and that she is now a part of our family as much as he is.

After we dried our tears, Denis and Alina went outside to give us 5 minutes alone with Isus.  This was really the first and only time during the entire trip that we didn’t have eyes on us with him.  We (or maybe just me?) were finally able to let down our guard, be silly, speak English without feeling ignorant, and love on him.  The moment was short-lived, but I was thankful.

Because of how emotional the night had been, we decided it would be best for Denis to take Alina and Isus home, and we would stay behind at the hotel.  After they left, Andy and I sat outside under the awning of the hotel watching the rain pour down on the surrounding mountains.  The weather seemed to emulate the emotions we felt as the week came to a close.  It had been a hard week.  So, so, so good, and so, so hard.  We never went into adoption thinking it would be easy, but we understand, too, that we couldn’t  prepare ourselves for the moment of meeting our child– who comes to us from another mother and father.  It is all new….. and it is A LOT.  I feel honored that God is growing our family in this unique way.  He has taught me, stretched me, challenged me, refined me, and loved me more through this experience than I could have ever dreamed.



As Denis returned, we met for our last meal in the hotel.  The beautiful and kind owner, came to us and asked how our visit went, and brought her daughter over for us to meet.  We were able to express our gratitude for her kindness.  Even Denis commented how surprised he was that she went out of her way to help us… he didn’t feel like this was common for business-owners to be so friendly to their customers.   We had a wonderful meal, and we all ended the night with tears of laughter.  So many tears on this trip, for so many reasons.

We finally said our good-nights around 10:00 PM and tried to get some sleep and prepare for our last morning with Isus before returning home.


Day 3: Busy, Busy, Busy

Day 3: Blagoevgrad and the water wheel


It was hard rolling out of bed Tuesday morning, but we got up early and prepared for our second day with Isus.  We drove to his village, and the second he saw us, he got a huge smile on his face and started laughing.  He reached right for us, and it was such a special moment.  We drove into Blagoevgrad, and rode the elevator to the 5th floor again.  Isus was pretty adament that he wanted down, so after walking in circles for a few minutes, he got tripped up and busted his head on the concrete floor.  He’s a tough little guy, and only cried for a minute before wanting back down.  He just started walking in August, and although he is doing amazing, he has had to work much harder than most kids to get to this point.  He is still very unsteady, and Alina usually keeps a harness on him to help him walk.  After his fall, we put the harness on him and all stayed a little closer to catch him.  He was a trooper, but was pretty grumpy (as would be expected) the rest of the morning.

After meeting at the Social Service office, we all walked to a local bowling alley, to use their indoor playground.  I noticed in Bulgaria, that every place has an attached indoor and outdoor playground.  Cafes, restaurants, bowling alleys, hotels…….everywhere.  It is very nice.  Our translator said this is because there is no room in the city for kids to play, so business owners started adding playgrounds to attract more people.  This was really the first time we had to play with Isus by ourselves.  Our  entourage sat in the next room, watching us through the glass, while we played.  It was fun, but again…he’s almost 2, so nothing is going to keep his attention for very long.  We chased him back and forth on the slide and ball pit, but all he really wanted to do was go out of the play room so he could walk up and down the steps.  And up and down the steps. And up and down the steps.  And…….you get the idea.

We would say to him, “Zoosy-Busy! Busy! Busy!” and he would repeat us and laugh.


After this, he was very tired and hungry, but we needed to get his picture taken for his Visa.  We walked a few blocks to a photo center, and he was not haven’ it.  We all thought it would just be a picture of him screaming, but the crazy-photographer (you know how we all are!) had a beard, and kept calling to him and shaking a bell.  He stopped crying just long enough to get the most confused look ever on his face…..such a funny picture.


Alina, myself, and Tanya-the Social Service worker


Andy and I  had the same goals about our visits with Isus.  Having raised 3 two-year-olds, we know how easily they can be over-stimulated, and how a change of routine affects them.  Our goal  was to spend as much quality time with him as possible…..in as low-key of an environment as we could.  So for our second visit, they took us to a carnival.  Low-key, right?

For those of you from Norris City, think Bulgarian Dairy Days with older, sketchier rides.  In order for us to “bond” with him, they, of course, wanted us to ride with him.  So, imagine the only foreigners riding carnival rides intended for 2-4 year olds, and being the only adults riding them…..with a 2-year-old who only wants to get OFF the ride.  “Awkward” doesn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.  Then, to add to the humor, I got in trouble in Bulgarian on one of the bouncy houses with him .  When I told the “carnie” that I didn’t understand what he was saying, he strictly said in English, “Get off.”  Oh, dear.


So, we politely asked if we could go somewhere “quieter.”  We got in the car and drove out of town near the hotel we were staying at, to a restaurant/ farm animal zoo/ park called the Water Wheel.  (Think Patti’s at Kentucky Lake.)  It was indeed MUCH quieter.  We walked around the little “zoo” with him, looking at the deer, turkeys, ponies, rabbits, peacocks, fish, ect.  He enjoyed riding on Andy’s shoulders, and trying to stick his fingers in the bunny cage.


We went into the restaurant–which was a traditional old-country style Bulgarian atmosphere– and were the only ones there.  Here, Andy and I took turns walking in circles and up and down stairs with him.  He loved playing “Stop. Go.” with Andy, and his laughter could be heard through the entire restaurant.  When I was helping him on the stairs, I would say, “Bravo!  Good job!”  And he would repeat, “Good job!”

As it became closer to time for him to eat supper, we all agreed that it would be best if Denis (our translator) drove Alina and Isus back to the village, while we would stay at the restaurant and wait for Denis to return and order supper.  (Ending the night with Isus happy and calm!)  At this point, only one other couple had entered the restaurant.  We said goodnight to Alina and Isus, and Andy decided to take a quick walk outside while I waited at the table.  As I sat there, I noticed the woman across the restaurant walking over.   She said, “We noticed that you were speaking English.  Where are you from?”  Come to find out this couple–Jerry and Debbie–were from Albequerque, NM, and were in Blagoevgrad teaching at the University for 2 weeks.  Andy returned, and we visited with them.  After 4 days of struggling to communicate, it was so nice to have a relaxed conversation.  (Another sweet balm.)

Denis returned and helped us choose some very authentic food to eat.  Just to give you an idea, the entire meal consisted of stuffed mushrooms and fried cheese appetizers, bread, multiple bottles of water and beer and soda and juice,  salads, my cheese and tomato dish (don’t get me started on my obsession with Bulgarian cheese!), Andy’s buttered beef tongue, Denis’s entree, and probably a few other items.  Cost in dollars?  $22.  The food is beautiful, delicious,  and artfully presented, and very inexpensive.  We listened to live Bulgarian folk music, then headed back to the hotel to end the night.

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Day 2: Meeting Our Son

Day 2:  Sofia to Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria


We were picked up from the apartment Monday morning around 9:15, and started our trip to Blagoevgrad.  It was about an hour and a half drive southwest into the mountains.  The drive was beautiful.  We stopped halfway to get gas, and Andy and I went into to get a bottle of water.  I immediately saw a  little kiosk of books, and at the bottom of the shelf was a Masha and the Bear book.  I said a quick prayer of thanks that my limited Bulgarian allowed me to read the title, and then I insisted to Andy that we must buy it for Cora because it is her favorite cartoon.



We arrived in Blagoevgrad, and the first thing I noticed was the huge mountain overlooking the city, and on the top was a large cross.  We continued downtown, parked, and began a walk to the Social Services office.  We had no idea what to expect.  We had been told that we would likely meet with the Social Service directors and Alina, and then Isus would be brought in.  Rather, as we opened the door of the 5th floor office, the first thing I saw was Zoosy crawling underneath a table.  It was a surreal moment.  We entered and quickly shook hands with everyone in the room.  I recognized his foster mom, and as we locked eyes, I tried hard to express thankfulness to her.  As they all sat down and started what seemed to be some sort of meeting, we plopped down on the floor and gave all our attention to our boy.  He walked right over to Andy, and we started to play with some toy cars.  I couldn’t believe it, but he was completely comfortable being there with us.  He walked over to me and started playing with the straps on my backpack for the next 20 minutes, occasionally looking at us and asking us to help him snap and unsnap it over and over.  I honestly couldn’t believe it.  All I could envision for the weeks leading up to that meeting were him being filled with fear and confusion, and just crying.  Yet, here we were….he was happy to let us play with him and touch him and hold him, and he gave us sweet little smiles.  I’ve experienced enough of God’s goodness through this journey, that, really, nothing should surprise me…..but, it still does.

He made it pretty clear to us after a while that he was done being in the small office room, and so we (our whole entourage of translator, foster mom,  and social service workers) decided to go for a walk to “take coffee.”  (This is something that happened a handful of times each day.)

The elevator only held 4 people, so going back down, Andy, Alina, Isus, and I rode down in one, and once inside away from all the extra eyes, I simply expressed “Thank you.”  She asked, “for what,” and I told her for taking such good care of him.  She began crying, and said she loves him so much, and she is happy he will have a mom and a dad.  As we stepped off, she gave me the tightest hug and kiss I have likely ever received, and I knew right then that she would be a part of our family forever.  God was already knitting our hearts together through this small, beautiful boy.


We put Isus in the stroller, and began our walk to a nearby cafe.  Andy put his sunglasses on Isus, thus beginning a week of him requesting our sunglasses and hats every time he saw us.  He was adorable in them.

At the cafe, we showed him videos of Addy, Abe and Cora for the first time, and he was intrigued by them–wanting to watch them over and over.  It was there that he said “Cora” for the first time.  The rest of the week he would ask us, “Cola kuday?”  (Where is Cora?)  He also wanted to see pictures of “Aba and Adda.”  As we had coffee, we were able to ask questions about his history, his habits, his favorite things, his time in the orphanage, ect.

As we walked back to the car with them, I overheard Alina mention “Masha.”  It was then that I realized that my children–worlds apart–have the same favorite cartoon.  (Another small “balm” on this journey.)

We loaded them into the car….which in Bulgaria consists of just letting the little people sit and hang out in the back (no carseats).  Many of our favorite times were with him in the back of the car.  He was happy to be going, and would go back and forth on our laps to play.    We drove them back to the house he lives in right now…in a village about 20 minutes away.  More on that later……



Visit two took place at 5PM.  It was (suprisingly) arranged that all of our evening meetings with him would not take place with a social service worker.  This was actually a relief because, although they were very nice,  it was easier to just relax a little more and focus on him.  We went to his village for our 2nd visit.  It was decided that we would go for a walk through the village to a small playground for a few hours.

We strolled through the village taking in all the sights and sounds and people that are so familiar to him.  We quickly came to realize that he is well-liked in this small village by many.  He knows which chickens belong to “Grandpa Maunie,”  and enjoyed watching the little neighbor girl play.  We were able to meet Alina’s sister and her son–2 and a half year old, Soshko.  It was very beautiful.  He didn’t stay busy on any one thing in the playground,but enjoyed picking grass and throwing it over the fence with me, or rattling the fence with Andy, but mostly he just wanted to walk in circles around the attached cafe.  One lap nearly resulted in a stampede, as a local shepherd was driving his bull and goats home.  They brushed right by us.


We were able to have many more conversations with Alina, and learn much about her life in the village.  In many ways, so much is the same.  She asked Andy if we ate meals at home much , and he told her that I make almost all our meals from scratch (which she seemed relieved by).  We have the same things in our gardens, we both can jellies and vegetables, the climate is similar, the pets we have are  similar (chickens, dog, cats, ducks, ect)….and on and on.  As my brother-in-law said, it is as though God has used Alina and her family to prepare Isus for us in more than one way.

The time spent in the village was good, but it resulted in a very over-stimulated Isus (understandable, of course!)  He had a major meltdown, and we all knew he just needed to  get settled back in to his normal routine, and get ready for bed, but I think we all wanted to be kind to each other by not saying anything.  Our translator wanted us to spend as much time with him as possible, Alina wanted to be kind and not take him away, and we didn’t want to appear that we didn’t want to spend any more time with him……so we all waited a bit too long.  We left him in tears, and I think we all felt a little frazzled.

At that point sleep deprivation was beginning to kick in, we had eaten at strange times during the day…..and, frankly, we had just spent our first moments with our new son.  It was A LOT.  We decided after getting to the hotel, that we would not do this to Isus again.  We wanted to spend as much time with him as we could….but not at his expense.  We articulated this to our translator the next day, and from then on, we just let Zoosy’s schedule lead our visits, which was more peaceful for everyone.

We skipped supper, tried to process all that had happened, Skyped with the kids at home, and crashed.  It was a very hard day and very beautiful day.




Day 1: Recounting His Wondrous Deeds

The last 3 mornings I have (accidentally) read the same Psalm over and over.  The first verse of chapter 75 says,

We give thanks to You, O God: we give thanks, for Your name is near. We recount Your wondrous deeds.

I am going to try to “recount His wondrous deeds” in the next few days, as I post about our trip.  This honestly is mostly for our family (Andy and I) to remember, but I want to write it here, and give the glory to God for such an amazing trip to Bulgaria.  This past week has been a whirlwind, and there was never time to write more than a few words each day in our journal.  But, God has been so faithful in “showing up” throughout this process, and giving us assurance that it was His calling that brought us here to begin with.  These posts may seem too detailed, or unimportant to most, but for us it is the story of His faithfulness.

DAY 1: Travel from Home to Sofia, Bulgaria

My parents arrived at our house to pick us (and the kids) up at 9AM.  We headed to Evansville, and I sat snuggled in the back seat with my girls.  I laughed, saying, “I bet no one else is heading from Evansville to BULGARIA today!” When we arrived at the airport, we began getting our luggage out of the back of the van.  As I watched Andy pull my suitcase out and set it on the ground, I suddenly became overwhelmed with emotions.  I realized in that moment that the reason I own that piece of luggage was because 14 years prior, I bought it……to make a trip to Bulgaria.  As ridiculous as that might sound, the “full-circle” moment ignited a slew of emotions I wasn’t prepared for.  I worked desperately to hold it together the next hour and enjoy our last bit of time with the kids.  As we prayed with them and said our good-byes, I wanted nothing more than to get through security and bawl my eyes out.  Andy went through first with no problems, but I had to wait a little longer.  When I finally made it through, I saw him talking to two guys.  I walked over, and Andy introduced me to them saying he worked with them, and that one of the men was even a groomsmen in his sister’s wedding.

“You’ll never believe where they are going?”  he said.  (Yes, you guessed it–Bulgaria.) This shock was just the distraction I needed to keep from having a come-apart.  We chatted with them about their impending trip to check out a copper mine in Bulgaria, and our trip to meet our son.  This was the first of many “balms upon the journey,” as I referred to them over and over again.


We flew from Evansville to Atlanta, then boarded the 8.5 hour flight from Atlanta to Paris.  The plane was huge, and they informed us that it was a full flight.  We were “lucky” enough to be stuck in the middle of two other people in the middle aisle.  For how huge the plane was, the seats were very small, with almost no leg room.  I quickly text my family…..”Packed like sardines on this flight.”  As we prepared for take-off, we noticed there were seats still open next to our row.  The stewardess came by and asked the man next to me if he would like to move over for more room….which allowed us to move over and have an aisle seat and an open seat next to Andy.  Of all the estimated 540 people on the flight, the 2 seats next to us ended up open to allow more room…….another balm.  We rested as much as you can on a plane and watched movies for the duration of the flight.


I had dreaded Paris Airport as every.single.person. I asked said to avoid it at ALL cost.  We couldn’t.  So I had prayed for a good experience….for kind employees and no lost luggage.  Thankfully, we had no problems.  We got through customs in 23 minutes, and had 3 hours to lay down and rest, and get a coffee.  Then, we boarded our last flight to Sofia, Bulgaria.

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As we walked through the gate to find our driver, missionary friends that moved to Sofia in July came running towards us bearing gifts and hugs and love.  It’s not every day you fly halfway around the world to be greeted by people from home!  We were driven to our apartment, went to exchange money, and were given a quick run-down of what the week would look like.

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At this point we had been travelling for 21+ hours, so we freshened up, and then headed to the pedistrian walking-street 2 blocks away, where we ate a good meal of Shopska salad, brushetta, and risotto.  Then we headed back to the apartment to get a MUCH needed night of sleep before we would head to Blagoevgrad the next morning to meet our boy.


The Final Countdown

It’s almost too much to take in.  In just a few more days, Andy and I will drive to Evansville—just like we might on any given Saturday.  But we won’t be going shopping or out to eat or running errands.  We will be dropped off at the airport.  We will get on a plane, and then another, and then another…..and then, essentially, a child will be brought into a room with us….and he will be our son.  How can my mind wrap itself around this?

We have held his pictures tightly the last 6 weeks.  We have listened over and over to his giggle on video, but none of that compares to the knowledge that we will touch him, hold him, embrace him next week.  My emotions are all over the place.  Joy of a new son, confusion about what will happen when we get there, anxiety about whether he will bond with us, excitement to once again set my feet on Bulgarian soil.  I feel fairly certain that I won’t grasp the gravity of having children continents away from each other until I see him with my own eyes.

So many —SO many– people have told me this past week that they are praying for us, and I just want to say thank you.  It is so humbling to have such support and encouragement at this time.  Please, don’t stop praying!

Please pray for:

  • Our travel- for smooth flights and layovers (and for rest during the flights!)
  • Our 3 kiddos here- for understanding, safety and good memories made with grandparents
  • Our sweet little one in Bulgaria–that he will feel loved, that we will have a few special bonding moments with him, and that we might have the opportunity to get just a glimpse of what our  family is becoming
  • For his foster family– that we would be able to build a good relationship with them, and that God would prepare their hearts to see him adopted
  • For Andy and I– that jet lag won’t take away from our experiences, that we (I) will be able to keep my emotions in check,  that we will soak up every moment with him and those memories will be etched on our hearts
  • Our paperwork- that everything we sent off last week to Immigration would be accepted, and the process of bringing him home would go quickly–both here and in Bulgaria