Thursday, August 6, 2015
It's been awhile...
So much has been happening in our hearts and lives over the past number of months. It's been a hard season, but through everything, we have been blessed by the constant faithfulness of our beautiful Jesus. He is good. Absolutely, totally, completely good. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
One big change has to do with our precious church family. I'm planning on writing about that change soon, but it will have to wait for now. Right now, I want to share a little bit about our wonderful son, Andrew.
Andrew officially joined our family in a Ukrainian courtroom 9 months ago. We spent a month in Ukraine, before arriving home with him on Thanksgiving Day. Andrew is affectionate, whole-hearted, bright, extroverted, loud, friendly, and passionate.
He's a whirlwind, folks.
When we were in the process of adopting Andrew, we assumed that he would finish high school at home. We figured that it would probably take 3-4 years for him to complete his high school education. That was fine with us. We wanted him to live with us into his 20's since we had missed so many years with him. We had an expectation that he would want that, as well.
But, our expectation was wrong. And that's okay.
Our beloved son, as I mentioned above, is a whirlwind! Schooling is not exactly his thing and the prospect of 3-4 more years was not enticing to Andrew!
So, we were in a bit of a dilemma and we needed a solution. We strongly believed that Andrew needed a high school education, but homeschooling was out and for many reasons, public school also didn't seem like a good option.
In stepped the Job Corps.
The Job Corp is a federal program for young adults, ages 16-25, who need to complete their high school education and who would also like to be trained in a trade. It's a bit like the military in it's structure, and students are taught basic life skills as well as reading, math and job-related skills. Students can complete their education and gain job skills in 12-18 months! It seemed like a perfect fit for our mechanically-inclined, desperately-needing-of-structure son.
The only problem was that the best option (of the three in MO) for Andrew was in southern Missouri, five hours away from us. Eek! This young man had been in our lives for less than a year, and now he was going to be five hours away?!
One of the things that I've learned through adopting multiple children, and especially in our most recent adoption of our teen son is this: every relationship is different and it is important not to have expectations of what I would like the relationship the look like, but rather, be grateful for the relationship that IS.
Our son wants to work. He doesn't want to go to a traditional school, and he doesn't have the motivation needed for homeschooling. He is a hard worker and we want to encourage that strength in him. Someone mentioned to me recently that adopting a teen is more like coming alongside that young person, rather than traditionally parenting him/her. In our case, that has proved to be true. We are now coming alongside Andrew to help him reach the goals that he has. They may not be our primary goals for him, but as a 17 year old, we have to respect the worthwhile goals that he has for himself, and do our best, as his parents, to help him reach those goals.
Sometimes love looks different than we expect it to look, and that's okay.
Andrew will be coming home on holidays and some weekends. At this point, he'd like to live with us again after he's completed his training. We may not be a typical-looking family for our beloved son, but we ARE his family.
And that, my friends, is just what love looks like.
My two 16 year old boys were home for Christmas this year.
There are no words to express how grateful I am for that.
Two months earlier, this one was living in an orphanage in Ukraine.
And two days earlier, this one was barely breathing after a peanut reaction, then spent two nights in the hospital.
But, God was so very merciful and kind, and allowed us to spend our Christmas with both of these precious young men.
(Grace and Andrew)
(Adam and Jadon)
(My two lovie guys)
(Adam and Lily--they have so much fun together)
(Lily, Alyssa and Yana)
(Grace and Kaikai--best friends)
Oh how grateful I am for my family. And oh how very grateful we all are for the birth of the precious One, Emmanuel, God with us. Merry Christmas (2014) from the Bandimeres.
Sunday, February 1, 2015
After the excitement of meeting Yana's family, we were ready to get home. But, we still had the U.S. side of Andrew's adoption to complete, so we made our way back to Kiev.
We were blessed on this leg of our journey with the company of other adopted families.
We were even able to celebrate an early Thanksgiving with some of these wonderful people. They certainly made the end of our trip much more enjoyable. What a blessing!
Nonetheless, after a number of days of paperwork, we were beyond overjoyed to discover that the U.S. side of the adoption was finished and we would be able to return to the U.S. on Thanksgiving Day!
We were greeted, after our long flights, by one of Lily's fabulous signs. :)
And now, our journey was finally complete. Our precious seven kiddos were all together at last!
We went to Melitopol (Yana's hometown), with hopes that we would be able to find some information about at least one member of Yana's family. We had an old address where Yana lived, and we drove to that little house. It didn't look familiar to Yana, but we got out and looked around. The woman who lived next door to the house stepped outside and we asked her for help. She was very sweet and walked around, asking some of the neighbors for information about Yana's family. Unfortunately, she couldn't find anything.
As we were getting ready to leave, a car drove up. We decided to hold off leaving and ask these people some questions, as well. There is no way that anyone could convince me that this meeting wasn't absolutely ordained by God. Later, I learned that Oksana and Andrew (their names) were Christians, and when they drove up to their home Oksana said to Andrew, "I wonder who those people are. Maybe they're Americans, looking for relatives."
They were so eager to help us, but knew nothing. They said that they would call some more people and we left (I honestly thought that we would never hear from them again).
We went to a restaurant and our driver tried to look up Yana's relatives on VK (Ukrainian facebook), but couldn't find them. We felt a little defeated, but had still had a good morning at the orphanage and were happy about that. We went back to the hotel for what we thought was the remainder of the evening.
About an hour later, our driver came to our room. He said that Oksana and Andrew had some information for us and were coming to the hotel. When they arrived they showed us the most amazing video. Through a number of contacts, they had found Yana's brother and sister and had gone to their house to make sure the meeting would be positive. In the video, Yana's brother, Maxim, told us how they had been looking for Yana for years and how they absolutely wanted to meet her now!
Yana and I broke down in tears and, of course, agreed to meet them at a nearby restaurant. Y'all, I've never experienced anything like it. What a sweet reunion with this precious family. They were so kind and grateful to see their little sister once again. Yana's sister, Zhenya, couldn't keep her eyes off of Yana, and teared up continually throughout the evening.
(Right after Yana's sister and brother arrived at the restaurant.)
(Yana and her brother, Maxim.)
(Yana and her sister, Zhenya.)
We met again for breakfast the next morning. We promised to keep in close contact and help Yana visit again some day.
Just as we were getting ready to go, Yana's sister-in-law stated so sweetly, "Now we are all one family, together." Yes, we are. We most definitely are. Praise to our amazing God for the beautiful miracle of family!
After our 10 day wait, we were back on the road to Ochakiv. To be honest, this leg of the journey was looooong. It's a good thing that some of those rough memories fade into the background with time. So now, I'm just remembering that it ended well, with Andrew's passport in hand, and the Ukrainian side of his adoption completed (thanks to Yana, our amazing translator and paperwork queen).
At that point, God did something miraculous. He opened the way for us to visit Yana's hometown (Melitopl) and orphanage (Berdyansk). As you may know, Ukraine is at war with Russia. The area where Yana is from is just 70 kilometers from the fighting. Though we were eager to visit these places, we were pretty sure that we wouldn't be able to do that on this trip. But, God made a way!
We encountered a number of military vehicles along the way, but felt perfectly safe. Thank you, Jesus!
The visit to Yana's orphanage was incredible. To think, she played on this playground!
And sat in this very classroom.
She ate lunch in this lunchroom.
And it is now obvious where she got her artistic start.
This amazing woman remembered Yana and was with her when she originally went to court. What a precious lady! She was so excited to see Yana again and was incredibly sweet to us.
The city of Berdyansk.
We thought that this day could hardly have gone better, but God had something even more amazing in store for us. I'll share the details in my next post. It was truly a miracle!
The center of Kiev has more cathedrals than you can possibly imagine . Every time you turn a corner, there is a testament to the glory of God! I was in awe of the beauty of these spectacular buildings.
St. Sophia's was very close to our apartment during our 10-day wait for court validation. We spent an afternoon, walking around this church and it's grounds.
We, of course, had to visit St. Andrew's. We even joined in their morning service one Sunday.
An icon of St. Andrew for our very own Andrew.
Kiev-Pechersk Lavra was absolutely remarkable in it's intricacy and beauty. We took the metro to visit this church and could have spent many more days, taking in all that it had for us to see.
I think, however, that St. Michaels was probably still my favorite. David and I spent a lot of time walking around and praying at St. Michael's during our first trip to Ukraine. I love the golden domes. During the day they reflect the sun's rays and at sunset, they are a beautiful reminder of the glory of our God!
Now that I have a few moments to catch my breath, I want to spend a little time recording our second trip to Ukraine, in which we officially adopted our new son!
Early in November, David, Yana, Adam and I boarded a plane that would eventually get us to Kiev. We arrived in that city on the evening plane, via Amsterdam. We ate, slept (a little) and got up bright and early the next day. We jumped (okay, maybe staggered) into our driver's car and got ready for the seven hour drive to Ochakiv.
After a long, bumpy drive and quick stop at the hotel in Ochakiv, we drove to the orphanage for a visit with Andrew. He was outside when we arrived and ran at full-speed towards us, yelling to a friend, "It's my family!" There were hugs all around, and a little shock on Andrew's part, in regards to Adam's height. lol!
We had to leave Andrew at the orphanage that night, but got up early again the next day for our court visit.
The director was at the hearing, of course, and we were able to thank her again for the love that she has showered upon Andrew. What a precious lady!
Andrew's impromptu speech during court was amazing. Our translator, Yana, told us everything that he said about embracing his new life with his family, and we were all a little teary-eyed. Oh, how I wish that it could have been recorded! But, in the end, the most important part of court that day was that we were granted custody of Andrew (woot! woot!). We then took all of the orphanage staff (who were at court with us) out to lunch. Yana, Adam and Andrew spent some time getting to know each other (and being incredibly silly!).
David had to fly back to the U.S. the next day, and we thought that we would be staying in Ochakiv for the 10 day wait after court. But, surprise! They told us that we could spend the 10 days in Kiev! So, it was back into the car for us, and we were on our way again!
On our way to Kiev, we encountered a lot of stray dogs at gas stations and stops along the way. Adam and Yana had to pet all of them. They wanted to take this one home. Sweet little thing was hungry and cold.
We got to Kiev and settled into our unique apartment (why yes, it did have a fake stuffed tiger on the wall) for our 10 day stay. David flew back to the U.S. and Yana, Adam and I started a bit of a routine. Andrew enjoyed cooking for us sometimes.
And we went for lots of little walks and outings.
Andrew taught Yana to knit
(and then Yana tried to get Andrew to knit with her every day afterwards!).
Adam, Yana and I played a lot of games
(and tried to get Andrew interested in some of them!).
And the three teens did schoolwork. It was a blessing to have some work for all of them to do. It really helped everyone's attitudes to have something useful to accomplish.
More doggies...but this one is not a stray!
I was so grateful for this time in Kiev with my three oldest kiddos. What a beautiful city! We all enjoyed it immensely.
In my next post, I'll share photos of the amazing cathedrals that we visited in Kiev, so stay tuned for that!