It’s Almost Time to Become a Family of Six!

Today we received a phone call we’ve been patiently (or maybe really IMPATIENTLY…ahem) waiting for.  We received our confirmed travel dates to bring Leo home.  They look like this:

Fly to Bulgaria- January 23rd

Arrive and rest in Sofia- January 24th

Drive to Blagoevgrad, pick up Zoosy, return to Sofia, and go to his Visa Appointment at the US Embassy- January 25th

Pick up his Visa- January 26th

Fly out Early and arrive home- January 27th

This is a WHIRLWIND trip.  A few months ago, we asked about a shortened trip.  A normal trip is 10 days in country, but sometimes, for children who live in closer driving distance to the capital,  it is possible to have some of their appointments (Passport and TB test) done in advance.  We didn’t really think it was likely that we would be granted a short trip, but God answered this prayer graciously for our family, and we will be able to get him home and unite our entire family more quickly.  This decision has pros and cons.  The main con is this short trip means that Leo will only have been with us for a day and a half before we get on a plane for an almost 24 hour trip home. (Bless the people on the plane near us.)  He won’t have had time to truly begin trusting us….and putting him on a plane may not help that.  We are praying that because he has seen our face at least twice a week since our first trip at least makes us familiar and hopefully somewhat safe to him.

However, the pros are important to us as well.  The obvious pro is that we will be reunited as a family more quickly.  We made the very difficult decision to take Addy with us on this trip, but leave the other two behind.  This, of course, was difficult for everyone, but ultimately Andy and I felt it was the best choice for our family.   Cora struggled greatly when we left the last time for the 8 day trip, and while even the youngest in the family are required to make sacrifice for this kind of family addition, it brings peace knowing it will be a little easier for she and Abe too.  The greatest “pro” in my mind, however, is that Andy had always planned to take 2 weeks off…..and a full 10 day trip would have left him with only 2-3 days at home while we get settled as a new family.  Now, the shortened trip allows us to be together to start figuring this new family dynamic out for 11 days.  We felt that it would be better to start the bonding and transition at home in our normal environment more so than in an apartment in Bulgaria with no normalcy.

So, the countdown begins.  I am excited and nervous and overjoyed……and scared out of my mind.  I know the joy off adding a child (whether by birth or adoption) doesn’t come without struggles. This is completely uncharted territory for our family, so it’s hard not knowing what to expect.  Yet, I have full confidence that God always intended for Leo to be grafted into our family as our child, and He has never failed us.  I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to follow Him on this journey.

 

Please Continue to Pray:

  • For Leo Isus- He’s a happy kiddo, and he has no way (at 2 years old) to understand what is about to happen.  Pray that he instantly feels safe and loved with us, and that his nerves are calmed.  Pray that his grief is comforted and that we will know how to grieve with him during this loss of the only life he has ever known.
  • Pray for Alina, his foster mom and her family-  They have lovingly provided a home and a temporary family for him for over a year.  I know she feels a great sense of loss, but is comforted by knowing that our families are forever linked through Zoosy.  Pray for peace as she continues her life, and pray that as her heart heals she may consider bringing another child into her home to love and nurture.
  • Pray for Abe and Cora- For peace, safety, and contentment while we are gone.
  • For Andy, Addy and myself- For safe travels, rest, patience, empathy, and health as we travel.

Thank you ALL!

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2015 Review in Photos

JANUARY

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A big snow to start the year!

FEBRUARY

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Our family’s first broken bone……you really shouldn’t try to brush your teeth on roller skates!

MARCH

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Addy Rose turns 7!

APRIL

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Cora B. turns 3!

MAY

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Our first trip to Disney!

JUNE

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The kids’ lemonade stand raised $1,100 for orphan care around the world!

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Our first summer of t-ball!

JULY

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A summer of gardening

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AUGUST

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The referral call that changed everything!

SEPTEMBER

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OCTOBER

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We got to meet our son for the first time!

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NOVEMBER

 

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Thanksgiving with Family

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DECEMBER

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Behold the Lamb Concert in Nashville

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Abe turns 6!

 

God bless and Happy 2016 to all!

 

 

 

Meet Our Son

Last Monday, December 14th,  was a monumental day for our family.  It was our court day in Bulgaria….the day that would take us from a family of “Five and Waiting” to a family of six.   The day that Leo Isus Sutton would officially become our son and the baby brother to our other children.

We anxiously awaited a phone call Monday morning saying that everything had gone as planned and we were new parents.  We watched the clock and counted down the minutes, waiting to rejoice as a family.  Finally, at a quarter after 11 we got the call–we had passed court!  Our darling boy would no longer be an orphan again.

So, it is with great joy and blessings beyond what we can believe that we introduce to you, our son.

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Our first moments meeting Zoosy are cherished ones.

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This picture is too much for my heart.

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An outing with Zoosy to a town festival.

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He loved being on Andy’s shoulders.

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Our first “family” photo.

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He was always asking us for our glasses or hats!

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I am dreaming of kissing those cheeks again soon.

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Our last day (in the rain) with the little man.

The process from here on out is wait to hear that the court decree was printed (a minimum of 7 days from court), then we’ll get travel dates.  We still anticipate heading back to Bulgaria in January.

Please Pray:

  • That we are able to get travel dates quickly, and that winter weather cooperates for all our travel plans.
  • For Zoosy.  Many well-intentioned people have kindly said, “He must be so excited for you to come get him!”  This couldn’t be any farther from the truth.  He is 2.  He is in a loving environment (praise God!), and he has no concept of what is getting ready to happen.  In all honestly, it will be the hardest thing he might ever have to experience……his grief will be real and it will be devastating, but we know this is a necessary part of the process for him to join our family.  Pray for him, that God would in beautiful ways prepare him for this heartache.
  • For his foster family–They have become like family to us, and we know many tears will be shed over this sweet boy leaving their home and village.
  • For Andy and I–we have had to make some incredibly difficult decisions about Trip 2 which effect our entire family, and it is hard to find peace about those decisions.  Please pray for wisdom and comfort for what is to come.
  • Our kiddos here–this will be slightly more difficult that a “bringing home baby from the hospital” scenario this time.  Please pray that they would have understanding and patience with us as we adjust to our new life together.
  • And last, not entirely related to our adoption story, but my sister-in-law’s—-please pray for my nephew, who is living in an orphanage in Haiti with SO many difficulties in getting him home.  Years are slipping away, and still he waits for a corrupt government and unwilling family decisions to allow him the chance for love.  Pray that God moves mountains to bring him home quickly.

 

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.”

PLEASE PRAY:

  • 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.)

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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.

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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:

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Martin, our entertaining and informative tour guide

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

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

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Beautiful mountain view with fog settling over the city

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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.

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The former Communist Party Headquarters

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Changing the of guard at the Presidency Building

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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.

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

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Day 4: Banitsas and Balloons

Day 4: Blagoevgrad and Hotel Park

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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.

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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.

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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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VISIT TWO

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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

VISIT ONE:

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.

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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.

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Alina, myself, and Tanya-the Social Service worker

VISIT TWO:

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.

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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.

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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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