Monday, November 11, 2013


I forgot to post Halloween pics!  Rather than write much here, I'll just let the photos speak for themselves.  We all had a great time trick-or-treating with our friends.  Every year all the kids and grown-ups alike wear costumes.  Of course it was Bella's first Halloween, so initially she had no clue about how it all works (she was, however, extremely excited about being a princess!).  By the time it was over and I put her to bed though, she had the hang of it and asked me hopefully, "Mom, and Halloween again tomorrow?"  :)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Another Perspective - From My Husband

Last night I had a bad headache.  I was tired and ready to go to bed, but my husband stopped me.  He'd been sitting at his computer for awhile, and I assumed he was writing a chapter for a textbook he's working on or something.  He said "In just a minute can you read something for me?"  I asked "Is it long?" thinking of those chapters.  He again asked me to wait, as he was almost done.  I sat down and this is what I saw on the screen:  a blog post, written entirely by my husband, dotted with photos he took himself on his iPhone over the past year.  I was floored.  Never have we talked about him contributing a post to my blog - never.  Heck, I don't even contribute to my blog that often!  I figure he's far too busy with work to even think about something like that.  I was wrong though, and he had some things on his mind that he wanted to share.  I am so very proud of him for caring enough to take the time to express his feelings in a public forum.  I love you, Rob - thank you for believing in God, and in me.

**Today (November 3rd) was Orphan Sunday, and also the one year anniversary of the day my family traveled to Ukraine for the purpose of adopting Bella.  I’m always pestering my wife to write a blog update because as writing and photography go, I think they are excellent.  And as Bella’s story goes, I find my wife’s posts fascinating.  But really for me, the updates help keep everything in perspective and reaffirm that what we’ve done is a good thing for Bella, for my wife and me, and for our whole family.  So I figure it’s about time I write a blog post from the spouse’s perspective (re: the perspective of the one who did NOT have the idea of adopting a special needs child from a former Soviet bloc country).  It took awhile for me to come around to the idea and I had hoped numerous times that my wife would abandon this idea.  But she never did and eventually I came on board (more on that later).

Just four days before we traveled to Ukraine, I was scheduled to return from my fifth deployment in support of either Operation Iraqi or Enduring Freedom. There was a lot of worry between my wife and me because redeployments never go as planned and there was a good chance I wouldn’t make it home before we were supposed to leave for the adoption.  There is too much planning and paperwork that went into the adoption and the redeployment to detail, but suffice to say it was a small miracle that it all got done in time.  After a lot of last minute paperwork, waiting in terminals, and obtaining much-needed signatures of approval, we were off to the other side of the world.  My wife and I took it as a good sign that things had gone relatively well so far.

 At the airport in Munich, Germany

On the train somewhere in Ukraine

I don’t remember how many hours we flew, how many stops we made, or how many different modes of transportation we took before we arrived in Bella’s orphanage town.  But I do remember that we left the balmy tropical paradise of Hawaii and the next thing I knew we were walking under grey skies, bracing ourselves against biting wind, and living in Soviet era housing with its hallmark poorly lit corriders.  Even after just having gotten back from Afghanistan, the living conditions seemed dismal - but perhaps I was just looking for something else to worry about.  The first song I heard when we arrived in Ukraine was Carly Rae Jespen’s “Call Me Maybe”, which was the subject of a running joke among my team members in Afghanistan, so I also took as a good sign. 

The day we were to visit Bella’s orphanage finally arrived.  As the man in my family, I put on a calm and brave face, ready to protect my wife and Bou should anything happen, although looking back I can’t imagine what that would have been.  Before we met Bella, we were invited to watch a play by some of the other children of the orphanage.  I didn’t understand a thing they were saying because it was in a different language but I remember thinking that this orphanage was doing what it could for these children, but it wasn’t much.  There just weren’t any resources even if there were willing souls. After the play ended, the children marched out and suddenly one of the girls jumped out of line to give me a hug.  The caregivers looked on with empty smiles.  In the middle of an Eastern European country, it was clear that the Asian man was here to give one of the other children a new home and a family, but couldn’t do so for all the children.

When we went to meet Bella, I remember steeling myself for seeing what I knew would be a sickly child.  But at first I didn’t see her enlarged skull, her malnourished body, or her withered legs that wouldn’t move.  All I saw was her genuine smile upon meeting Bou and me, and upon seeing my wife again. All I heard was her joyous voice, words spoken so clearly and intelligently in Russian.  I remember thinking if one only heard Bella, they would never know she had any disability.  But after a few minutes, it was clear how physically neglected she was.  She could barely hold the juice we gave her, barely turn the pages of a book we brought her, and she couldn’t move her legs at all. 

Moreover, she got tired very quickly.  Though her spirit was willing, she physically had a long way to go. I listened intently as the orphanage nurse read her medical history and our translator put it into English.  I asked a few questions but knew they didn’t have the answers. As a physician I wanted to examine her and try to gather as much information as I could about her disabilities; but we didn’t dare do anything that might upset Bella or the orphanage directors.  We needed to show that we were a loving family who was going to accept Bella just as she was.  My wife had heard too many stories about adoptions that weren’t completed because either the older adoptees or the orphanage directors were not on board with the adoptive parents.

I wasn’t too worried about it though because we quickly discovered that we had a secret weapon, our daughter Bou.  The orphanage workers took to her immediately and so did Bella.  In fact getting to know Bella was much easier with Bou there.  They got along great from the moment they met and I think Bella was at ease with us right away because she already had a friend in Bou.  They started calling each other sister from day one.  

My wife has already blogged about the adventures she had getting Bella through the courts and government agencies in Ukraine, so I won't go into that.  My job during that time was to get our other two children back home so they wouldn’t miss too much school.    

When we were finally united as a family a few weeks later, the real adventure was just beginning.  And the past year has had its ups and downs.

What I really have struggled with personally and had the most tribulation about was where I fit into all of this and what the purpose was.  I’ve often thought about why I agreed to adopt an older special needs child from the other side of the world.  The best answer I can give is that I believe in God, I believe in my wife, and I believe that no matter what Bella’s future holds, she is someone who, just like all of the world’s orphans, deserves a chance.  I have a good job and I doubt my family will ever lack for food, clothing or a roof over their heads.   My work is stable and my career is advancing nicely.  I’ll never break par on the golf course but I enjoy a few hours of chasing after the little white ball.   I get to play tennis once a week, even though I’ll never win the club championship.  I own a house two blocks from the beach and I don’t have a car payment.  My family and friends have proven they will be here time and again if I ever need them.  So what else did I really need and what was I going to do with all that I had?

I wish I could tell you it was my life’s dream to adopt internationally or that I heard God’s calling and had an epiphany, but I can’t.  I wish I could tell you that I will help Bella get into an Ivy League school or that our love and better medical care will fix all of her ailments.  But I can’t do that either.  What I can tell you is that I’ve given up imposing my expectations on this journey.  Some things Bella does better than she should be able to and other things are frustrating for her and us.   Sometimes she exceeds our expectations and other times, I am left baffled. I don’t know where this path will take us but what I’ve learned is that it isn’t our story; it’s Bella’s.  She has been great for our family.  We will provide all that we can and we will give her every opportunity, but where it takes all of us is up to God.  And along the way, I will try to do what Bella does - just smile and do my best.  No matter what, she always tries to do what we ask and she always does it with a smile.  In the end, and as with all of my children, that's all I can really ask for.**

Monday, November 4, 2013

Oprhan Sunday

I posted this short blurb on Facebook yesterday in honor of Orphan Sunday, and just wanted to share it here as well:

Today is Orphan Sunday. Exactly ONE YEAR ago today, we boarded a plane to make the 30 hour journey from Hawaii to Ukraine to begin our adoption of Bella. It has been a FULL year - one full of surprises, joy, pain, hope, setbacks, and most of all love. Has it been hard sometimes? Of course, any worthwhile endeavor is. Have you ever dove headfirst into a huge project - like renovating a house, landscaping your yard, participating in a humanitarian effort? Even though it probably had it's share of heartaches, when you saw it to fruition you also probably felt an immense satisfaction. Well take that feeling of satisfaction and multiply it times 1000, and you can just begin to imagine what it has felt like to adopt. Because Bella is a PERSON, not a project. And watching her thrive has been like nothing I've ever been a part of. If you have even the smallest tug at your heart, the smallest voice in your head whispering to adopt, support others' adoption, or advocate for orphans please don't ignore it - because there are about 150 MILLION orphans around the world who need hope. That's half the population of the Unites States - can you believe this? Well it's true and I've met some of them, loved them, cried for them. They have changed my life. They will change yours too if you open your heart - just start by praying for these children today and see where it leads you...

 Our first night in Kiev, Ukraine