What Life Looks Like 3 months Later

3 months.  A QUARTER of a year!  It is unbelievable that we have been a family of six for this long already…..and yet in many ways, it seems like Leo’s been here forever too.

The number one question we get asked these days is, “How’s it going so far?”

Short answer: Amazing.

Long answer:

Our  Leo ‘Zusi’  is a witty, smart, silly, funny boy who makes us all laugh.  He is a good eater, good sleeper, and good traveler. He is resilient in every sense of the word.  He “goes with the flow” and is typically happy to do so.  He has embraced being a little brother, and his siblings adore him.  (Except for the occasional times when he pesters them–or vice versa– and it ends in tears or blood…..but, hey, they are true SIBLINGS…..this is a normal thing!)

Two cool kids


Easter cuties


Can’t live with ya’, can’t live without ya’


Always someone to hold his hand


Snack Wagon


He called this game “Zusi’s kowata” (Zusi’s car)

He enjoys playing inside, outside, at church, at people’s houses, and everywhere in between.  He has bonded with us faster and easier than I could have ever hoped, and I attribute that to answered prayers and the love of his foster mom.  She helped prepare his heart in ways we will never truly understand.

To watch him gasp at his first glimpse of a dandelion, or to blow bubbles for the first time, or chase ducks around the yard while giggling uncontrollably—these are moments I am in awe.  To watch him buddy up with the “2-year-old-boy” gang at church has been precious.  To see his excitement catching his first frog or realizing for the first time that he can PUSH the beep-beep car instead of ride it is priceless.


Church gang


“Faster, faster….”


Blowing bubbles!

I often tell Andy I think Leo is a genius.  I often hesitate to share how well he is doing in fear of hurting many other friends who have adopted, and have struggled in some of these areas, but  he has really “settled” into this family with ease, minimal grief, and general happiness.  He has taken to his new schedule with delight, and knows what to expect each day.  His use of English has surpassed my ability to keep track.  I usually say after he has heard a word, a name, or seen a place twice–it sticks.  It’s part of his vocabulary.  It is INCREDIBLE!  We are still trying to retain and daily use the approximate 75 Bulgarian words he came to us knowing (which drives our families CRAZY because they don’t know what he is saying to us).  But, we feel like it is an important part of who he is.  Granted, knowing Bulgarian words like “I want; bunny; water; socks; bath; hold me, ect.” aren’t ever going to help him carry on a Bulgarian conversation, but it is something we hold dear and cherish as his first words.  He not only knows and uses these hundreds of words each day, but has quite the sense of humor using them too.  Yesterday I had just put his socks on, and he sneakily took them off and started laughing at me.  I told him he was a little goose, and like clockwork, he pinched his nose and said “Honk, honk!”


Catching the big carp in the pond


“You can’t catch me…..”


He LOVES his stuffed animals!

Of course, if I’m being honest, it’s not all been easy.  There are some hard things we have had to deal with.  We’ve had more doctor’s appointments in the last three months than I have had with any of my other kids’ whole lives.  One of those included blood work for about 14 tests……..2 full syringes from my tiny little one’s arm.  Another appointment included an MRI, which he had to be sedated for…..also another scary, sad time for him (and us).  (Thankfully all these tests have come back normal…..HUGE praise!)  We still have a few more appointments, a little more blood work, some more shots, and a minor surgery later this year.  But, we are grateful and believe that he will be a  healthy boy after that!


Poor baby after getting an IV.

Also, despite his loving foster mom, we still see lingering effects of his time in the orphanage as a baby.  It is normal for a baby or toddler to reach for you from their crib when they have awaken from a nap or sleeping.  They are ready to get out and the natural response is to reach for you to do this for them.  Not so with our sweet Leo.  No matter how much we encourage him, he still somberly lays on his back in his bed and waits for us to reach in and get him….never willing to hold his hands out.  It is a daily reminder that for many precious months of his life, he laid in a crib with no one to pick him up, and he was conditioned to stop trying to reach for loving arms.

Also, so many people continue to comment on how wonderful it is that Leo is so “social.”  Upon a first meeting with him, he is happy to hold your hand, let you touch him, even want to sit in your lap.  People mistaken this for an “outgoing” personality.  They see nothing strange about a 2 year old walking up to a complete stranger and wanting their attention.  But, you see, this is a constant concern of ours.  It is NOT normal for a 2-year-old to want to be held by strangers.  This is not simply a “social” behavior.  This is the response from a kiddo who hasn’t had the normal attachment to family for the first two years of his life…..who at times, knew only strangers until this grew into believing that no one was a stranger.  In the adoption world, this is called “indiscriminate friendliness”–meaning their insecurity and lack of stability from their past has caused them to seek out affection or attention from anyone who will show it to them.  We want to be SURE that he is attached to us–his parents–that he notices (and cares) if we are gone, and that he comes ONLY to us to meet his needs.  We fully believe that this is something that will work itself out with time, but if you are with us and this happens, this is why we cringe.

No matter what “hard” comes each day, no matter how many doctor appointments or diagnosis, no matter how mental I feel at the close of each day, I know how blessed we are.  That God hand-picked this darling child for us is a gift not quickly overlooked.  To be allowed such a beautiful time with him and Addy, Abe and Cora in this short life is the best gift of all.  Life is hard–it sometimes makes me tired, makes me cry, makes me yell, but life is so so so good…..3 sweet months together with so many more memories to make.


Favorite game? “Mommy horsey.”


The boys



Saying Yes

In my teens, I was a dreamer.  I dreamed about who I would marry, what kind of job I would have, what my house would look like, how many kids I would have….you get the idea.

In my 20s, I became a wisher.  I would spend time wishing I could be a certain type of wife with a certain type of home.  I wished I had specific personality traits that other people had.  I wished I would be a certain kind of mother to my babies….a copy of other moms I knew.  I would hope to someday have certain types of friends and do certain activities with said friends.


In my 30s, I have noticed that I have become more of a “do-er.”  I’m no longer content to sit by and wish for change.  I am realizing that we only live this one life, and it is but a breath.  I realized that I don’t want to be at the end of my life, and know that I always played it safe because I was scared to say “yes.”  I don’t want to be remembered as a consumer of life, but as an exuberant participant–someone who carried Light.

For me, what this decision has looked like has effected every aspect of my life.  For instance, the thought of adoption was scary.  I was always under the impression that people only adopted when they had their act together…..when all the dots connected….then you could adopt.  I knew we were far from that, but we didn’t want to watch life pass by while we wondered “what if?”  For us, it wasn’t about waiting for everything to align under the sun–it was about saying, “Yes, we are willing to do this.”  I can’t even put into words the blessings (in many forms) this “yes” has poured over our family.  Adding this sweet number four, sometimes feels like a roller-coaster…..4 tiny little lives that have been entrusted into our care.  Andy and I knew we wanted a large family, but saying “yes” to that decision knowing our own short-comings has, at times, seemed like a crazy decision.  Some people have a zillion kids, and seem to conduct their family so effortlessly–so patiently.  Not so for us….we survive only under the grace and forgiveness of a Father.  This “yes,” though, is undoubtedly my highest calling.  The daily feeding, teaching, cleaning, playing, loving, training……..this is the greatest “yes” I could make.


I also wanted to have great friends. Friends that live life together….that share life in each other’s homes.  Friends that laugh and cry together; friends that pray for each other.  Friends that know my favorite foods, what size shoe I wear, and all my crazy quirks.  Honestly, I wanted friends who invited me to do things….who enjoyed spending time with me and my family.  I spent A LOT of time in my 20s wishing for that.  The last few years, I’ve decided to try and be that friend to others, and see where it goes.  Friendships don’t form overnight, and the last few years, we have cultivated such amazing friendships with people in our small group and community.  It just took stepping out of the fear of rejection, and saying “yes” to putting myself out there.  And through the “yes,’  I’ve formed friendships that I honestly couldn’t get through the day without.  Most of this “yes” has been a result to open my home.  We live in a culture of Pinterest and Fixer Upper (guilty of both), and no one is able to reach the invisible standard we think exists to have a perfect home.  We spend crazy amounts of time and money trying to make our homes picture perfect, but never letting anyone in to enjoy them with us.  I’ve learned in my 30s that people don’t remember if your house is cute and well-decorated….they remember if it was comfortable and safe–a place where they laughed and felt loved.  In my 20s, I wanted to live a legacy of hospitality…..but was too scared to do it.  Now, I find that the more I open my home, the less scary it is, and the more delighted I am to share it.  The greatest compliments I have ever received from guests have nothing to do with a certain accent chair or picture frame, but have been in the form of “I am so comfortable in your home. I can just relax.”



In my 20s, I had the heart to be used by the Lord, but (oh, how I’m embarrassed to admit this) if I had been asked how many unbelievers I knew or was friends with, I wouldn’t have been able to name more than a couple.  How sad.  If I had been asked who around me was hurting or trapped in addiction or struggling in a failing marriage, I would have shrugged my shoulders.  I prayed that the Lord would open my eyes to those around me and help me just be a friend, a safe place for someone.  The last few years, God has answered that prayer, and it has put me in the position of having to choose to say yes again—yes to stepping into chaos with people, choosing to help carry a burden.  At times, it has even meant stepping in harm’s way to walk with someone through their pain.  This is an area where it is so much easier to say “no.”  To make excuses like “It’s too hard with kids,” or “I don’t have time at this season of life.”  I have to remind myself that THIS is what matters in life.  THESE are the opportunities that have eternal value, and we were made to love each other and bring light into the dark places.

I’ve contemplated lately that there is nothing wrong with being a dreamer and a wisher….but if we aren’t “do-ers” then our hopes and dreams hold no value.  This post isn’t a declaration of my figuring it out, but more of an encouragement to say yes to things that might be scary.  I have had SO many people tell me the last few years that they wish they had adopted or have thought about adopting, or people who desperately want to open up their homes, but feel gripped with the fear that it isn’t enough.  This post is my little nudge to say “yes”……God can do great things with a willing heart.




Baby Brother

This week we have our first post-placement visit with our homestudy agency.  One month……we have been home 1 MONTH!  It’s unbelievable.

Yesterday as I was filling out a 7 page questionnaire (does adoption paperwork EVER end?),  I was answering them enough to get by when I ran across the question:

What have you enjoyed about parenting this child?

I actually sat and thought about this question.  There were many answers I could have given, but as Andy and I have talked one thing has blessed us more than anything else.  We have enjoyed watching Leo flourish in his role of baby brother.  He has fallen deeply in love with his older siblings, and it has been remarkable to see his delight at having a brother and sisters.

At one month home, as soon  he wakes up he jumps up and runs through the house hollering “Addy, Abe-a, Cola?”  If one of them gets hurt (or is just throwing a fit) and crying, he runs to their side and says their name over and over until they start laughing.  If they are gone, he walks around looking for them.  If they are here, he engages them in playing with him.   All it takes is one word from him when he needs something and at least one sibling all his siblings rush to his side to help.  He has little games he specifically plays with each one of them.

As we talked about this blessing last night, we agreed that having Addy, Abe and Cora has helped Leo bond with us better as he sees how they trust us, it has taught him he is safe here, and he has learned what fun can be had in this home.  Granted, he has learned that brothers and sisters fight, and we’ve had our fair share of that too…..but we are counting it as a blessing, because that’s what true brothers and sisters do sometimes.

Proverbs 17:17 in the International Children’s Bible says:

A friend loves you all the time.
    A brother is always there to help you.

We praise God that He did not leave Leo as an orphan, and he did not leave us without him in our family.  We praise Him that our children will always have each other through every joy and trial they experience in this life.

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Three Weeks as a Family of Six

I’ve had good intentions of posting since we got home, but incredibly, there have been more important things to do. There are a million things I could say about the last 3 weeks, but it would take months to write, and time ill-spent.  So, I’ll say this:

A thousand blessings and answered prayers have covered us the last 3 weeks.  From travel, to bonding, to love and patience–God has faithfully walked beside us while preparing  the way before us at each milestone.  Here is a quick glimpse of the past three weeks in pictures.


Our first evening, Leo was so tired from all the driving and no nap, that he fell asleep and slept 12 hours. During his sleep, we heard him talking about “Mamo Betane.” We thought he would wake up afraid, but once he finally let us pick him up out of his crib, he was all smiles and ready to play.


We were fortunate to have a shortened trip, but the short amount of time we were in country was spent like this…..on the floor with blocks and rings.


Leo made it clear he was not going to take a nap in his pack and play in country, but when we all laid down, he crawled up next to Addy and said “Binka.” (sleep)


We were shocked at how well Leo did on our LONG flights home. It was almost a 24 hour trip total. He never cried once on the flights, and only got mad when he had to be buckled in on take-off and landing. He played with a few toys, watched movies, and played with Andy’s iPad….and threw a 3 hour nap in the mix.


Cora patiently waiting to meet her brother at the airport.


Part of our “welcome home” party in Evansville. (Thanks Kari Kirsch for volunteering your time and talents to taking pictures of our arrival!)


Finally together as a family of 6……and super exhausted!


Heading home….together forever!


He will never lack for attention as the baby of the family, and his 2 big sisters and brother fell right into the role of welcoming Leo into this family with open arms.


The first few days home Leo ran a fever on and off–probably from sheer exhaustion from travel, but he was sweet to let us comfort him, and with some MAJOR sleeping at night and for naps, he caught up and was back to his happy, healthy self.


The first few days home were warm enough to go out and play, and introduce Leo to his new animals and yard.


It was love at first sight when he met Clifford.


As the days have passed by, life has looked more and more “normal.” Leo has done a great job of being a little brother and playmate to his siblings.


Cora and Leo are two peas in a pod……two little monkeys. It took him a few days to realize that she wanted to play WITH him and not just steal his toys, but once he figured that out, they were inseparable! They are bound to keep me on my toes the rest of my days.


Bonnie and Clyde


We were afraid that bath time might be hard as we were told he has been afraid of water in the past. However, run some water, throw in some bubble bath and Cora or Abe, and he’s a happy, splashing machine!


This boy knows how cute he is, and he likes to get a good laugh from us.

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Now, three weeks home, Leo wakes up looking for his brother and sisters. If he gets up before them (which is almost unheard of!), he goes searching in their rooms and hollering for them to get up and play with him.


The best we can tell he’s happy to be a Sutton, and we are beyond blessed to have him home!

Now, I do want to point out that pictures don’t always tell the whole story.  These pictures show the majority of our times together…..happy, laughing, singing, playing.  But adoption is hard stuff, and behind the smiles are sad stories of abandonment, grief, loss, and neglect.  We are thankful that interwoven in Leo’s story, there is also love because part of his story includes a great foster family.  However, it is ultimately sadness and brokenness that brought him to us.

There have been moments that are emotionally, mentally, and physically hard.  Part of those moments are due to initial bonding and adjusting…..some are just a result of “cocooning” and not seeing the outside world or community for so many days on end.  Some were just trying to figure out what “normal” is going to look like after the dust settles, Andy goes back to work, and Addy and Abe start schoolwork again.  And as each day passes, it all feels a little more normal…..and feels a little more like he’s always been here–right where he belongs.

We never imagined the last three weeks would go as smoothly as they have.  God has been so faithful and so near to us.  He has shown grace and patience as we fumble through this.  He has provided the love and support of our families whom have been incredibly patient in meeting Leo as we establish then the bonds he has with us first.  He has surrounded us with church family and friends who have sacrificially loved us…..bringing us meals every day the last three weeks, dropping off donuts on our kitchen table, offering to go shopping for us, offering rides to and from church activities for our older 3, calling and texting with concern and encouragement, sending cards, and filling in the gaps for us as we step back from church involvement for a while.  He has provided me a core group of other adoptive moms–we are 5 strong (and some days we are 5 weak).  Through the beauty of technology, I talk with them daily…..and one hard day in particular, I could not have survived without their love and wisdom.  God also knit my heart together with Zoosy’s foster mom, Alina.  I continue to be in almost daily contact with her which has been an enormous blessing.  She has helped with any language barriers and food questions I have had.  She sent us home with bags of his favorite things–keepsakes and comforts—the only things he will ever have to physically remind him of his life before us.  There has been no place, no situation that hasn’t had the hand of God all over it.  He left no detail to chance and no moment unattended.  We give all glory and honor and praise to His name.



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!

2015 Review in Photos



A big snow to start the year!



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



Addy Rose turns 7!



Cora B. turns 3!



Our first trip to Disney!



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


Our first summer of t-ball!



A summer of gardening

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The referral call that changed everything!


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We got to meet our son for the first time!





Thanksgiving with Family




Behold the Lamb Concert in Nashville



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.


Our first moments meeting Zoosy are cherished ones.


This picture is too much for my heart.


An outing with Zoosy to a town festival.


He loved being on Andy’s shoulders.


Our first “family” photo.


He was always asking us for our glasses or hats!


I am dreaming of kissing those cheeks again soon.


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.”


  • 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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