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“Who’s Idea Was This Anyway?”

It was almost a year ago in March 2018,  that Sharon and children began talking about adopting again around the supper table.  Comments like, “If we were to adopt again, this or that would have to happen.”  I really thought it was just silly talk – as one of the huge adjustments for the children in coming from an orphanage is getting used to having less children around.  Мне скучно (Mne skuchno) I am bored – seemed to be the most common expression spoken by all three for the first several months in our home, so much so that hearing almost had given Sharon and I a complex of inadequacy.  How could they say that, much less feel it after all the fun things we were doing as a family!  Our post placement worker had been quick to clarify the context of the expression being that of simply missing the sheer numbers of children.  So honestly I thought this talk was just an extension of the desire to have more playmates.img_6522.jpg

My initial response had been to them that, “Once you are older and are married and if your spouse sees the merit of adoption, then at that point you can adopt all the children you want.”  Sharon had obviously been won over by their longing and insistence early in the process because she began responding by telling the children, “That the only way a second adoption could happen is that dad would have to agree and feel it is the right thing for us to do as a family.”   Then one evening during our family devotions Conor was praying and very spontaneously he prayed, “Dear God would you please give dad a vision like you gave mum so we can adopt more children?”  My eyes flew open and I glanced over at Sharon.  Her eyes were equally wide with surprise, and she was looking back at me and shaking her head as if to assure me of the absence of any collusion on her part.  After that prayer I actually had made a really silly statement in reference to a sibling set that the children had known in their orphanage of origin.  I had said, If I could be guaranteed that we could bring those specific children home, then sure I would do it!”  Frankly, I thought I was very safe in this comment because the Ukraine government requires with Canada that the adoptions are blind and you don’t know who you are getting until you get there, so from my perspective it was impossible and a very safe statement.

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Having fun

Well that certainly did not quench the desire or periodic requests to adopt again and finally I just said, “Okay, Enough!  I do not want us to discuss this anymore, it is not feasible, or wise for us to attempt again.”  Everyone respected my request and nothing more was said, Nothing!  Except now what had been an outward struggle with family, became an inner torment, marked with waking up abruptly with thoughts of adoption, walks in our treed acreage wrestling with the Lord – Come on Lord look at what we have done!” This struggle only intensified and really carried on for almost 6 months.

I was even gaining some support from peers with whom I confided in during this time.  Support in the sense, as to why this was may not be a wise choice – though maybe a “good thing to do” – but still not wise or sensible for our family.  Rationale like, You have no idea how you might upset the children you have now, they are settling so well, and you have no idea what you might get (we did not know the first time either but no one seemed to remember that bit ). Echoes of the naysayers in the book Crazy Love come to mind.

This all finally came to a head September 30th 2018, when Pastor Garry was speaking from his sermon series Kingdom, Culture and Community.  His message that morning was entitled The Son Began to Reign.”  Text Matthew 4:12-17.  Garry said “He (Jesus) is King, but is He our King.” As Garry continued the Holy Spirit really began to challenge me to put my name into the statements Garry was making.  Is Jesus really King of my life? – Rob’s life.  Is Jesus really controlling the choices I make? Am I willing to invest into the kingdom of heaven by really allowing Jesus to be King of my life and govern the choices I make?  Am I allowing Jesus to take charge of my conscience and manage my yes’s and my no’s?  Am I willing to take a chance and sacrifice – a sacrifice that is not going to make sense – am I prepared to risk – it will cost me something, possibly a lot.

People around may look at me and say “what in the world has gotten in to you?”  At this point it was impressed on me the need to repent of my self-control, and begin to make a conscious effort to allow Jesus to reign in my life and really govern my choices – my yes’s and my no’s – and instantly into my thoughts came these words, “Go ahead and apply for a building permit. Don’t worry about it, it will all work out.  “What?  Where is this coming from as it had nothing to do with anything that Garry was talking about and I had been listening very intently to his message!  Well you see to put this in context one of my major objections I had to a second adoption, apart from the cost, is that though our home has adequate square footage, it currently did not have enough finished bedrooms.  And part of our basement that stores my construction tools from a former life is supposed to be a bedroom.  So to remove my tools requires storage such as a garage which we have always needed but it has never be financially feasible and certainly would not be if we were trying complete a second adoption.  It was like the Lord was trying eliminate one of my objections.

I quickly brushed this foolishness aside to refocus on what Garry was saying but I wasn’t able rid myself of the thoughts of adopting again.  I glanced down the row of seats beside me looking at our three lovely children Niamh, Conor and Declan . . . truly a blessing!  “But Lord,”  I thought,  “Come on, haven’t we risked enough?  Like this has been hard  – like really – and to top this all off, to do this again could be the final nail in the coffin with some family relationships.”  As some had not taken very kindly to the first one and to do a second certainly is not going to improve anything.  Instantly the words of Luke 14:26 came to mind (bear in mind this is not a verse that I have committed to memory but all these words came to me and afterwards I had to look it up.  If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.”  It is important to understand that Jesus is speaking comparatively and is no way intending that we hate anyone, let alone members of our family.  However, our love for Him (if we want to be a disciple) must be that much greater than our love for our family! WOW!!

Almost instantly my thoughts were flooded with the Lord asking me,What have I done for you Rob – what have I done for you? Oh Lord you have given up all for me when you went you to the cross.  Momentarily I let go of resistance and an overwhelming sense of peace flooded my heart with tears streaming down my cheeks, I said “Yes Lord, I will apply for the building permit and make room in the basement and You will work it all out.”   But doubts and fears began to flood into my mind again with building tension, frustration and even some anger.  “Lord, How can I trust You for maybe $75,000 – we still have $28,000 of additional outstanding debt of remaining expenses from the first go round that we still have not been able to deal with.”  And again Garry exclaimed his closing rhetorical question, “What in the world has gotten into you?”

All this battle in my mind occurred in the last 4-5 minutes of the message.  I left church that Sunday with a load lifted knowing what I needed to do – make room in my heart and home for a second sibling set.  Did that mean the struggle was over?  Not at all!  Somehow I had to muster the courage to tell Sharon what the Lord was saying to my heart, that would be humbling.  Why you ask?  Because all the while I was the one who had the objections and reasons why this was not good idea.  And now whose idea was it anyway?  Sharon’s, no – Conor’s NO!  It was and is the Lord’s!

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11

Sharon said she knew something had changed in my heart that day. She didn’t say anything on our way home or pry for information. I have lived with my wife for enough years that she knows I will tell her when I am ready.

It would be 2 weeks before my Sunday School teaching rotation would allow me to join Sharon in our Adult Sunday School class.  In the mean time we shared this new direction with our life group who were quick to come along side in prayerful support and encouragement.  On October 14th 2018, as our Sunday School class facilitator was giving participants the opportunity to share prayer and praise items.  I literally began to tremble in my seat being so strongly prompted to share what the Lord was speaking to our hearts.  I started to share from my seat and finally had to stand in an attempt to settle my nerves as I reached out to our class to pray for confirmation of the Lord’s leading on our behalf.  Interesting enough when individuals began to prayer on our behalf none of their prayers were for confirmation of direction but rather for provision and encouragement as if the course had already been set.

I began to feel strongly that we needed to get the ball rolling but to do that when it appeared that we would saddled with more debt was so unsettling!  I reached out to Pastor Garry for help in my struggle and we met over lunch on Oct 30th 2018.  I really cherish the insights he shared, “God would not ask us to add to our existing adopted family if such action would jeopardize the lives of Niamh, Conor and Declan, and also, that within the closed circle of our lives (Sharon and mine) discerning direction could be difficult.”  The reason being that adoption of orphans is a good thing scripture makes that very clear James 1:27, but does that confirm that a second adoption; is truly God led, a mere sense of obligation, based on guilt or partner coercion?  However, in the open community of our fellow church members God’s leading of others to be directly involved would be solid, irrefutable confirmation of His leading. DSC_0928

During my morning Bible reading following this meeting the Lord gave me a very clear image of Himself carrying the cross from Jerusalem to Calvary.  It was such a very clear picture of his bruised and bloodied body as he walked for me and He said, “Rob each step was harder and not just because I knew what lay ahead, but because I was physically spent.  But did I stop?  No I kept going for you  . . . all the way . . .  for you!  Finally, I stumbled and fell and the guards had to get Simon of Cyrene to carry the timbers.  Yes I got up and followed, I went all the way for you Rob . . . all the way.” This personalization of Christ’s sacrifice for me was profound, convicting and motivating all at once . . . it was a message that with each step upon entering into a second adoption things will likely get harder but just as Jesus kept going for me until his work was finished . . . I want to keep going for Him until my work is finished!

During this period of time we had began communicating with our adoption agency getting some current pricing to begin budgeting.  To start the process would require $1700 dollars up front application fee.  I had repeatedly suggested to Sharon that we attempt to have the fee split with post-dated checks but she was resistant to such an idea.  So November 4th 2018,  I encouraged her to schedule our first meeting and the appointment was set for Friday November 16th 2018 from 0930 – 1130.  Now that an official appointment had been scheduled, I felt now was the time to ask our Sunday School class to pray as Pastor Garry had suggested.  On November 12th 2018, I asked the group to pray seeking the Lord’s direction in their own lives, to ask the Lord if He would be leading them to become involved in a second adoption, whether it be via prayer, financially or encouragement.  I shared that we had our first appointment scheduled for Ukrainian Adoption Volume 2, and you know it was exactly 3 years and 3 weeks after initiating volume 1!

Talk about rallying the troops! Following that Sunday School class Sharon and I were inundated with individuals vying to assist – and a fundraising committee began to emerge with prompting only from the Lord and not from us. It was absolutely amazing!

In the days following I continued to suggest that we ask if we could pay the initial $1700 application fee in installments with post dated checks, called “nagging.”  “No,” Sharon said “That looks bad, I don’t feel comfortable doing it that way.”  “But where will the money come from?” I insisted.  Sharon said she would pick up a couple of extra shifts over the next week or two.

It was about this time that I came across Francis Chan’s YouTube video of a rope illustration on a message from Phil 3:12-14.  What a powerful illustration of prioritizing my life for what is important . . . what is really important.  Jesus used this video as a further confirmation of the merit and need for me to focus on what is eternal and rather than on what is temporal.  “. . . Forgetting what lies behind and forging ahead to lay hold of the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus,” Phil 3:14.  Ukrainian Adoption Volume 2 is just that forging ahead – forgetting the mistakes of  my past (all already forgiven by Jesus) and really making a concerted effort for eternity!

On the Wednesday November 14th 2018,  just 2 days before our Friday appointment, I received a phone call to my office from Sharon.  She usually calls me before she goes to work to say hi, bye and provide instruction for me, if needed.  “I just picked up the mail,” she told me. “Well that’s good dear,” I said in a rather distracted manner – as I am guilty of trying carry on my work when Sharon calls.  I thought I detected a note of excitement in her voice. “Guess what we got in the mail today?” I was puzzled but I don’t play guessing games very well. “I have no idea dear, why don’t you go ahead and tell me.  I have another patient arriving shortly and I need to finish making notes on the one who just left.”

“Rob,” Sharon said as if speaking to a small child who was having trouble listening or maybe comprehending, “We got a cheque in the mail today for $1800! That’s the application fee, gas money to and from our appointment (before the recent hike in gas prices caused by the new carbon tax) and money for a lunch date! Let’s go for fish and chips after our appointment?”  Wow!  We were not expecting a check. Not at all. It seemed that God wanted to show us that He had this.  Sure we could have spent it elsewhere, paying a bill, fixing something but to use it anywhere else would have been disobedient. We accepted it as a gift from a gracious and loving Savior and went to our appointment with the money safely in hand to pay our initial application fee.IMG_6569

The meeting with our agent went amazingly well and we had our fish and chip date and were just home in time to see the kids coming up the lane from getting off the school bus. I had asked Sharon if we could finish supper before discussing the outcome of, the meeting with the adoption agency.  After the food was eaten and we were still sitting around the table, the kids couldn’t wait any longer. ‘Ok” I began, I’ve always been a bit long-winded as my wife and older kids often tease me about this failing, but on this occasion I got right to the point. ‘The meeting went well and we are adopting again!”  Conor was sitting beside me and he just laid his head on my shoulder and started to cry, deep heart wrenching sobs!  I gathered him unto my knee and held him close.  Sharon was looking at me as if to say “Is he not happy about this? Has he changed his mind?” “What’s the matter Conor?” I asked, lifting up his chin and looking into his tear filled eyes “Are you not happy that we are doing this? I thought you wanted this too. Tell me what’s bothering you?” He hiccupped and sobbed and finally he was coherent enough to say “Why did God choose us first and not the others to be adopted?”

Wow! I wasn’t expecting that!  I may not have had an answer to that question either if we hadn’t had a meeting earlier with our agent because one of the questions he asked was “How do your children feel about a second adoption?” It turns out that many adopted children, now that they have found a family, are not that keen to share mom and dad with more siblings, but our children know what it’s like to not have a mom and dad and they wanted to share that blessing with others.  Our children have big hearts, huge hearts and they have a love for Jesus that is expressed in positive actions.  Whose idea was it anyway . . . it is His . . . Jesus idea! 

 

Random pictures of our youngest children. 

 

If you would like to help us with Adoption Volume 2, to provide a forever family for some more Ukrainian Orphans, click on the preceding link.

 

A New School Year

August came at last with a weekend camping with some our adult children at St Malo Provincial Park. The kids enjoyed swimming, paddling, frisbee and Soccer. A beautiful time for Niamh, Conor and Declan to connect with their nieces and nephews (who by age are more like cousins). For Sharon and myself it was a time to sit around the campfire as a group in the evenings with our new kids listening as we told stories and shared fond memories of years gone by.

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Getting Ready to Go Camping!

Sharon also had the opportunity to volunteer as camp Nurse at Roseau River Bible Camp so I had opportunity to do the finishing touches on the chicken coop and have a surprise of baby chicks for her and the children when they came home that Friday, tired but energized by a fun-filled week for the kids, and a super busy one for Sharon in the nurses station.  They brought a new kitten with them too: another animal to add to our ever growing menagerie. The chickens were a perpetual source of entertainment for the kids and providers of eventual eggs.

The children were thrilled with prospects of new clothes for school, fresh new school supplies and off to now a familiar school with friends already made.  Summer had been great but everyone was ready to go back.  Niamh would start grade 7, Conor would start grade 6, and Declan would start grade 1.

So 2017 was a year full of First’s!

First camping trips, First fishing trips, First garden, First chickens, First eggs, First Halloween (not sure how positive that is) First time to see a new born in a hospital as we welcomed Sophie, our 9th grandchild.  Niamh began her own tradition by crocheting baby blankets for each of her new nieces or nephews and Sophie was the very First recipient.  Niamh Conor or Declan didn’t remember ever seeing such a tiny baby before. They were almost scared to touch her!

First Christmas program, First Christmas gathering.  As the day of our Christmas gathering approached Niamh and Conor wanted in the worst way to be able to share something with their new brothers and sisters.  One day Sharon saw them coming up the driveway from the bus struggling to carry a cardboard box between them which turned out was full of books.  The school library had book sale and they put their allowance together and purchased a set of World Book Encylcopedia (1998) plus various other books that included a dictionary.  This collection was carefully sorted, wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree. Each of the brothers or brothers in law received 2 or 3 volumes of world book (number determined by relative thickness of each volume).DSC_0402 Our Family Continues to grow!

It brought us to tears their effort and desire to connect and belong . . . oh how we hoped that their efforts would be rewarded.  As our adult children arrived with their own kids, Sharon and I would casually mention what was coming in the gift exchange so they would be somewhat prepared. Everyone was so utterly gracious – in fact Jon mentioned that we work a means of exchange so as we finished reading our particular sets we could swap that we would eventually have access to the complete set. So cool! So thankful for our adult boys and their beautiful hearts!

Building relationships has been profoundly positive: something that most of us take for granted having never known life without the connection of family. We shouldn’t but we do. It’s true that until a person has been deprived of something, we may never truly appreciate it.  Our new children spent many years in a state run Orphanage while they waited for us to come for them. I’m so thankful that God put the desire in our hearts to adopt these beautiful and special human beings! Our lives are all the more richer as a result. No it has not been easy but who says that life is meant to be?

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In Ukraine the youngest child in the family puts the angel on the tree. We have kept that tradition going here also.

If you would like to help us with Adoption Volume 2, to provide a forever family for some more Ukrainian Orphans, click on the preceding link.

Please continue to follow our journey as we share the steps with you all.

Making Memories

With Spring break behind us and April almost over, Niamh was the first to celebrate her birthday in Canada. After our return home, the highlight was experiencing connection with new big brothers and sisters. We asked what she wanted and her response was so Niamh! : “I want my big brothers and sisters here for a barbecue”! Phone calls were made and lots of texts flew back and forth. ” What would this new little sister like as a gift? What did she need?”

First Birthday Celebrated in Canada for Niamh

Yes she wanted a party with newly made school friends but that was over shadowed by her requesting that we have a special birthday party with her adult siblings and being surrounded by new family – family forever. Sharon and I were honestly apprehensive as to how it would go because we were not sure what Niamh’s expectations were of our adult children! But we were deeply touched as our grown children demonstrated so much love with openness to their new little sister. Sharon recalls as one of her most favourite memories was watching Matthew and Niamh walking hand in hand to go play some football.  This is one of the times she didn’t have her camera ready and she has mentioned her regret several times because the sight of them touched her heart so deeply! Matthew at 6’4″ and soon to be a dad himself for the first time and Niamh holding tightly onto his hand and looking up into his face!

Declan’s experience at kindergarten was amazing, to have teacher who radiated Jesus’s love made a huge impact on his life.  Early in May when he and Sharon were travelling about completing domestic errands, he began talking to Sharon about Jesus dying on the cross for his sins and he tearfully asked Jesus into his heart.  Shortly thereafter Niamh created a treasure hunt with a list of clues that she wanted Sharon and I to follow throughout the house.  We carefully read each clue following its directions till we found the next . . .  and what a treasure was in store for us.  The last piece of paper had written on it “Niamh is on the Jesus team.”  Niamh’s English skills were still very limited but as we gently attempted clarification it became very clear what she was describing . . .  in the early morning hours one night she too had asked Jesus into her heart . . .  she wanted to be on Jesus team so she had signed up. God is so good.

Their English skills were developing so rapidly being in school that it was almost frightening and as that happened during the course of devotions Conor, who early on wanted to pray in Russian began praying in English.  He also began sharing experiences from his past and this one is profound!  When he had first been placed in the children’s home in Odessa he found himself at the brunt of bullying by older children. On one occasion he witnessed another boy praying and thought maybe God would hear him.

So in the fall of 2014 Conor asked God to provide a family for him and his sister and to take them away from the Ukraine. Two years later it was December 2016, but God was faithful and answered his prayer! As I ponder this I am taken to the Matthew 19:13-14.  Children were being brought to Jesus that he might pray for them and place his hands on them – the disciples displayed typical adult attitude and began rebuking those who were bringing their children.  Their rebuke portrays how we adults often respond to children, “run along and play, don’t bother me!  BUT JESUS says “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

It is note worthy that Conor pleaded with God to give him a family in the fall of 2014.  The bible study “Crazy Love” was suggested as a topic in our life group January to February 2015 which was beginnings of our journey of adoption and the beginning of God’s answer to Conor’s prayer.  The prayers of a child were moving the hand of the God of the universe!

Building a Chicken Coop – A dream for Sharon and Promise for Niamh since she could not bring pigeons from Kyiv

Well I had to come good on my promise for a chicken coop!  Sharon had wanted one for years but one thing or another had stood in the way – now it was time!  All hands pitched in as we cleared a site and construction got under way.  The kids helped with screwing the flooring down, nailing sheeting, and painting. Niamh at one point asked why are making it so nice? I really did not have an answer as I had never built one before and actually thought it was just a chicken coop. Summer vacation, and Bible camp stalled the painters. Sharon went as camp nurse for a week and the kids got to go along with her. By the time the campers returned from camp they came home to a dozen baby chicks! They were so excited when they came home.!

First Track and Field Competition for Niamh and Conor 

First track and field competition was approached with incredible enthusiasm – Niamh for the competition, Conor for the pop and chips. But it was the highlight to have Sharon there to encourage and cheer them on. Sharon cheered so loudly that she was sure others thought she was crazy but that doesn’t deter my wife where her children are concerned!. Niamh placed 3rd in the 1000 meter and Conor had too much pop and chips before the race, that he could hardly run at all but he still had fun!

Niamh, Conor and Declan had never been on a family vacation before and this July would be their first.  I love camping of all sorts and I looked forward to sharing that experience with them but Sharon insisted that we would not be tenting.  We had done that years ago, and had upgraded to a 5th wheel trailer but when I suffered a shoulder injury which resulted a vocational change (that’s another blog story) we had sold both the truck and trailer. So how was I going to share a camping adventure without using a tent and only a Ford Escape? – that was it a tent trailer!  I know some readers will say camping is either tenting or trailering – but not tent trailering!  Well I started searching for as light a tent trailer as I could find that our Escape would tolerate and we found one in St. Anne at a very reasonable price. Summer here we come!

A test run experience to Grand Beach proved successful on Canada day weekend 2017. The children loved the sand, the waves and living outdoors! So much fun!

All I had to do was service the wheel bearings, and we were ready!  I had blocked 2 weeks of vacation in July and we were going to Alberta.  I have never been able to get all that Alberta soil off my roots: it will always be home for me.  The longest road trip the children had been on at this point would have been Bilhorod-Dnistroskyi to Kyiv about 7 hours – this would be double that!

The solution :  stop in beautiful Saskatchewan – Buffalo Pound Provincial Park which is almost dead center.  We spent Saturday night July 8th at Buffalo Pound – we enjoyed the warm summer evening of southern Saskatchewan and the opportunity to get a break from driving.

With still about 6 hours of driving to reach my sisters place at Castor we were up in reasonable time and packed and mobile by 8:00 am.  Shortly after dinner we were heading east on Saskatchewan Provincial Highway 51.  About 5 miles east of Kerobert just as we descended into a valley there was loud thump thump thump . . . ? “That did not sound very good” I knew there was nothing on the road that I had hit – tires were still inflated even on the trailer.  The noise stopped as soon as it had started . . . I started to breath easier and then the alternator light came on and we began our ascent of the other side of the valley – about half way up the temperature gauge began climbing, I can’t stop on this hill I thought !  I quickly shut off the air conditioner turned on the heater to high and the fan to full to provide as much cooling capacity as possible to the engine. And opened the windows to survive the heat.  I needed an approach to safely pull over . . . finally one was straight ahead. I shut off the engine and coasted past just enough that I could hand dolly off the trailer.  Only 5 miles to Kerobert I calculated so we should easily be able to get some help – our problem was a broken serpentine belt.  Compounding our problem was the fact that today was Sunday!

Kerobert was hosting a local homecoming party so the service stations were offering pump service only. I walked to nearby farmers nobody home! Friendly folk stopped and offered assistance but without a spare belt we were stranded! Someone stopped and told us we could’t camp there. Sharon said ‘we are not camping here, we have a huge problem with our car engine!’ But we made the most of it and set up the trailer so at least we had shade. Sharon demonstrated her true colors to genuinely help make the experience memorable and pleasant, with games like ‘Who could find 10 white flowers, or seven pink petals etc. The kids eagerly got in on that. Then I swallowed my pride and called my nephew at Castor – Keith is a mechanic and owns his own garage. He was so helpful and 3 hours later he was at our location with 3 different belts as he was out of stock of the size for our Escape.  We made it to Castor just after sunset that evening!

Castor was a total highlight with so many new cousins to meet and play with. Auntie Debbie and Uncle Clifford really won a special place in the hearts of the children. It was our plan to spend about 5 days in Castor (if we were not asked to leave and then venture off to the mountains).  They are such a gracious family!  I was able to return to my farming roots by cutting hay and baling.  The children were shy at first but very soon they were head and ears into play from wake up till sunset.  They enjoyed the time so much that I felt almost cruel saying we had to head out.  I really think the only reason they agreed to leave was that I promised we return the following summer! Which we did but only for a couple of days as I did not want to wear out our welcome.

Dressing up fun at Auntie Debbie’s

First attempts at Fishing

A trip to Meeting Creek to meet their new Grandma and Grandpa, and see dad’s roots was planned.  I always find trips to farm very hard as so much of me remains there. As I walked around with children, I showed them the places I played, worked and built.  I was overcome with emotion. What is wrong dad? All I could say is this is difficult for me.

Photos around the farmyard at Meeting Creek – notice how Conor cuddles with Grandpa – such a need for love and affection!

McKenzie Crossing on the Red Deer river – connecting with Alberta family for the first time!

On our entire journey Niamh was desperate to succeed with the finishing rod.  She never did this time round. She would not meet with success until the following summer.  Take note of her professional fishing apparel. We had difficulty convincing her what was appropriate attire for camping, she even insisted on bringing her jewelry box with her, one we had purchased for her in Bilhorod. She also had packed 2 large bags containing photos in frames and almost her whole wardrobe. We allowed her, hoping her precious “Frozen” theme box would survive the trip.  These pictures are at Obed Pass, the highest on the Yellow head highway – interestingly one is still about an hour east of Jasper at that point.

Obed Lake Provincial Park

As we advanced on Jasper as the children caught their first glimpses of the Canadian Rockies all three were astounded by the beauty and majesty. Over and over again we heard the words “So beautiful, so beautiful!” Declan repeated the phrase more than his share. It touched both Sharon and I how engaged the children were throughout the trip. The children experienced the summit of Whistler and marmots, Elk, and Black Bear. We drove up to the view point of Mount Edith Cavell – Niamh, Conor and I hiked up the trail to the Cavell meadows – Conor’s stamina was utterly amazing! Those skinny little legs seemed completely tireless!

The highlights of camping at Jasper National Park

We returned home via the Yellowhead highway through Edmonton – Lloydminster – Saskatoon – we broke the trip up again by camping a Black Jack Provincial Park just of Saskatoon for one night and then home again.

I had reserved 1 week of vacation time for the end of August to take the family fishing to Paint Lake only about 8 hours north of us just outside of Thompson, Manitoba – but Niamh would have nothing to do with another long road trip even if a fish was guaranteed. But she would change her mind the following summer and be richly rewarded for it!

If you would like to help us with Adoption Volume 2, to provide a forever family for some more Ukrainian Orphans, click on the preceding link.

 

Settling In

We arrived home at about 2:30 am February 9th 2017. We quickly directed the children with sleepy heads to their rooms The look of wonder in their eyes was priceless. Our house was cold but really welcoming. It was so good to be home! It was nearly 3:30 am by the time Sharon and I fell asleep. Jet lag was working against me so after 3.5 hours of sleep I was wide awake.DSC_0734 (1)

There was much to do, snow to clear, wood furnace to get going. The suitcases could wait till morning to unpack. Quietly I got the fire going and then I started with snow removal giving everyone else as much time to rest as possible. I hadn’t finished clearing the driveway when Conor appeared – he was obviously very tired yet but I could see he didn’t want to miss anything. He got his first ride on the quad – eager to be driving – but not yet – that time would come soon enough.

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I returned to work the Monday following our return February 13th 2017,  only 4 days after coming home. In hindsight this was not such a good idea. This left Sharon home alone for 8 hours with the children – we prayed together at home and over the phone. Frequently, throughout the week Sharon would call as I was leaving to come home in the evening, exhausted and exasperated “Will you be home soon . . . I really need you.” Those first weeks were so hard trying begin to provide guidance and structure with such limited communication.

Meals were quiet and difficult as we struggled to communicate, relying heavily on itranslate.  Not being able express their feelings in a fashion that we could understand weighed heavily on the children. The food was so different that the children quite often refused to try anything, that is except for Conor: he ate like there was an imminent famine about to hit our home!  Sharon is an excellent cook and I love her food but the dishes were so new and tasted so different to the children that I knew she was getting a little discouraged as she sought to prepare healthy and tasty meals. We finally agreed on a compromise: the children instead of just refusing to eat, had to try a couple of spoonfuls and we made the portions smaller until they got used to the difference in tastes. Sharon actually realized this before me as she recounted how unappetizing she found certain Canadian foods when she arrived here all those years ago.

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Cake baked by daughter Teneille to welcome us all home.

We made our share of mistakes during those initial weeks (and yes we still do).  Our first blunder we actually had been warned about by several sources, but it just seemed to be the right thing to do; we attempted to engage in our local church the first Sunday we returned – though this is what we needed as a couple – this was NOT what we needed as a family, nor what was it best for the children.  Sharon and I needed to be alone with the children nurturing family bonds. This was one of the biggest mistakes we made as a new family.

The second mistake we made was that we continued using itranslate and even enlisted the help of some our Russian speaking friends – but the children began making family attachments to them and refusing to even try to learn English. The number of Russian speaking friends we had unintentionally convinced Conor he could survive in Canada only speaking Russian.  Conor repeatedly would say firmly “Ya govoryu po russki a ne po angliski” – “I speak Russian I do not speak English.” “I dont need to learn English here”.img_5998.jpg

After almost 3 weeks when the challenges at home: breach of boundaries and defiance seemed to have no end in sight, we sought guidance from our post placement support worker. There were meltdowns over the silliest of things: like having a bath, putting on rubber boots to play outdoors instead of runners or wearing a coat when it was still very cold outdoors.

Sharon had called me at work on that day and said “you need to get home, I can’t do this alone right now“.  I arrived home early to an exhausted and wounded spouse in tears, with a bite mark on her arm, a kick mark on her shin and having been spat at in her face.  The books had all said to hold the children close when they are having meltdowns and keep telling them you love them because they are pushing to see if that is true.  They are testing boundaries and your parental love, to see if you, as a parent will send them back to the orphanage, to see if you will abandon them like everyone else in their short lives has done. They are afraid to trust, and afraid of getting rejected and sent back to the orphanage later so they figure they will try to see if your claims to them are true. They need to know that no matter how much they push that you will keep them and still love them. Sometimes that holding them in our arms caused even more pushing away or at least it felt like that initially (later the children have said it actually made them feel loved and safe but those first few times we both felt like failures as we attempted to love these hurting children) who had wounds our eyes couldn’t see. IMG_1812 At this moment I questioned all the books we had read, having assessed the situation upon my arrival: in desperation I placed a call first to our social worker who was not available,  then to our post placement support worker. She couldn’t be reached either but I was able to leave a message. “Oh Lord what are we going to do! What have we done!” I cried out.  Only moments passed and K had returned my call. She listened so quietly and politely as Sharon shared what had happened and her fears that this would never end.  When there was nothing more that could be said K firmly and kindly told Sharon to stop immediately with itranslate, insist on English at home and with friends and to not delay school enrollment. We had felt they needed time at home just with us so we had not be rushing school attendance!

So school tours were planned the nervousness mounted and it was clearly visible with all three of the children. The older two announced that they had no intention of attending school here – period!  They had attended school in Ukraine and didn’t like it so there was no point in starting school here. Not off to a good start so far! We had one of our friends available for translation as we met with the Principals and staff of Green Valley and South Oaks Schools. What a positive experience!  The children’s point of reference for school from Ukraine had left a rather bitter taste but the tours were so positive as we returned home it was very clear excitement had replaced apprehension.  They were trying to ask when can we start?  They had toured the school with eyes full of excitement and wonder. Now we had another problem that we had not anticipated.  We had not yet received the Manitoba Health numbers for the children, even though we had applied as soon as we had returned home.  Though their enrollment could be processed, until we had those numbers in hand, they would not be allowed to start.  Niamh would be placed in grade 6, Conor grade 5, and Declan in kindergarten.

Manitoba Health numbers arrive – it’s off to school and the children ended up starting one and a half weeks before spring break. That week and a half was just enough to wet their appetite as spring break could not be over soon enough for them to return. English was spoken sparingly a few words here and there but it was coming.

First Day of School

During devotions we encouraged them to pray – Conor was eager to pray and did so very fervently in Russian and he was reading his Russian Bible at night. Difficult times at home were slowly waning but unfortunately every Sunday after church we would have the same flare up behavioral issues.  Finally, at one Sunday meal some comment was made about us speaking English around the table, they could still speak Russian among themselves but just English at the table (as per the advice of our support worker)- I am sorry but honestly that did it for me.  I, with a firm and very stern voice said “I am sorry that mama and I are not Russian speaking, that our home does not speak Russian very well,  we speak English! Why did God not ask a Russian speaking family to adopt you, I don’t know! But I do know that God did ask mama and papa to adopt you and we speak English !” I was on a roll and continued, “That does not mean that mama and papa want you to lose your Russian language, we don’t,  but you have to learn English to succeed in Canada,” . Everyone at the table was shocked, me included, but that point was pivotal for behavior in our home.  No, none of us are perfect there were still ups and downs but K’s advise was true wisdom. The kids began to really bond with us and real family life began.img_5276.jpg

We did have to withdraw from our own church for a few months due to the Russian language influence there and how it was confusing our kids emotionally and we sort of floated about through May, June, July and August.  That period was unsettling for our church family but we very clearly  needed to associate with English-speaking only folk.  I don’t want to make too bug a deal about it here but at the time it was a big deal. We met with Pastor Garry and Kimberly and shared our plight with them and they understood and gave us their support. We are grateful for the interim warmth, love and support that we received from Southland Church in Steinbach. Pastor Dyck was amazing and really helped us through some difficult times.

We attended an Adoption conference called ‘Empowered to Connect at Southland that really helped us to understand the mind and behavior of a child that has come from ‘hard places‘. The late Dr.Karen Purvis was telecast and explained how adopted children think and why they often act the way they do. Now as that adoptive parent it all made sense!

We returned home, eager, energised and armed with helpful and useful information to translate into actions to help our children heal.  We also made a point of taking a few minutes each day just for ourselves with no interuptions. We made a little seating area in our bedroom where we could just relax and read or watch tv after the kids had gone to bed.

Come September we felt it was o.k to return to our home church and it was : the children were much more settled and people were respecting our request to speak to them in English – but that is jumping ahead. When we look back on those first few weeks it seems like it was a bad dream. The behaviours we experienced then are so far removed from now,  maybe it was.  I know with this next adoption we will, in all probability face these same issues, but this time we have the past to look back at and hopefully have learned lots to help our children settle here in our home and family.

If you would like to help us with Adoption Volume 2, to provide a forever family for some more Ukrainian Orphans, click on the preceding link.

Declan’s Thoughts about Adoption

My name is Declan. I am  7.  I lived in an orphanage in Ukraine with my sister Niamh. My brother Conor was at a different orphanage. When they brought me to the orphanage I was 2 years old, my brother and sister didn’t know who I was.  I had only been a baby when they had seen me the last time.  My sister and brother had been in two orphanages already, I joined in the second one.

I did not like the orphanage very much. The bigger boys are mean to the little boys. I wanted a mom and a dad. I didn’t know if I would ever get a mom and a dad but I hoped I would. I had a friend in the orphanage. He was nice to me and was kind. I miss him. I want him to get a family too.

My mom and dad are adopting more kids and I am happy about that.  I want other kids to have what I have and be happy.

I love cuddling on the sofa with my mom and dad when we watch TV or read a book. They make me feel safe. I am writing a book at school called ‘A Homecoming“. Its about my time in the orphanage and what it is like to get a family.  It is not finished yet but I am enjoying telling my story.  My mom took a picture of it with her phone when we went to see my classroom and my teacher one day.

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The front page of my book.

Now I am not hungry and I have clothes to wear that are mine. When I left the second orphanage I was not allowed to take the car set that my mom and dad gave me for Christmas. The workers told me that I was getting a new mom and dad and they would buy me plenty of toys so I could leave it there for the other children to play with. That was okay but I really liked it too.  Now my favorite toys are my hockey cards, my Lego and my cars.

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We went fishing to Thompson in the summer with my parents and I caught my first fish! My mom cooked it for me for supper. It was good.

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In Declan’s own words, ‘I miss my best friend at the orphanage.’ He was the boy who stood up beside me when others in the orphanage were being mean to me’. ‘He was nice to me’. ‘I miss him lots’.  He was not just nice to me but he was nice to everyone.

I am very glad that my mom and dad are adopting more children. Then I can maybe have my friend here. I hope they get him but my mom and dad say that you can’t pick out children before you go to Ukraine so I am praying that he will be part of our family too.

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Some of my friends in the Ukraine. The very first snowman I ever made when mom and dad came to take me home. Mom and dad helped me build it.

PS. Declan dictated this post to us!  As he reread the post out loud to me tonight, he began to cry and said, “I can’t read it anymore it makes me too sad that my friend does not have a family.”  He wanted in the worst way for me to share with our readers the name of his friend but to protect his identity we are unable.

If you would like to help us with Adoption Volume 2, to provide a forever family for some more Ukrainian Orphans, click on the preceding link.

Niamh shares her heart on adoption!

My name is Niamh Violetta Steeves I was born in Odessa, Ukraine. I was adopted by Sharon and Rob Steeves. My two brothers are Conor and Declan. Conor is 13 and Declan is 7 years old.

When I was just seven years old, people took me and my brother Conor to the orphanage. Declan joined us there two years later. I didn’t even know he was my brother when they brought him. In that orphanage were girls of all ages, from 7-16 years old. The older girls are always being really bossy to the younger girls, just because they are older that doesn’t mean that they are always right or doing the right things. There were people coming every Saturday to teach us about Bible.

When I was small I never had a Birthday, I had only one doll in my whole entire life. There wasn’t any Christmas for us until my great grandma came to look after us. On Christmas we had a very small tree and instead of having Christmas ornaments we had oranges.

On December 19th it was a special day for children because Saint Nikolai who is supposed make children dreams to come true and puts presents under the pillow almost like Santa Clause. Well my dreams never came true. When all the children are supposed to wake up in the morning and find presents under their pillow, I didn’t find anything under my pillow. My grandma said that he doesn’t came to the poor people.

Ok just imagine a little girl coming to school when everybody showing off their presents. The little girl sits down and looks at the others and one of the girls ask what did you get from Saint Nikolai and she says NOTHING. Now she is mad at him because he didn’t come to her. The girl feels really left out.

A Little girl’s dream – celebrating St Nikolai Day in Ukraine

Now lets get out of that image and start thinking the dreams of children, when their mom will came back for them or adoption family will come and take them to a home where they will be loved. These were very happy dreams. For me it was only a dream until my mom and dad came from Canada to get us. They wanted all three of us. that doesn’t happen often. Now I am happy  I have a family. I love my mom and dad and they love me. My mom and dad love children. So lets make those children’s dreams come true that every kid will feel happy.

Kootenay Plains Alberta, 2018

If you would like to help us with Adoption Volume 2, to provide a forever family for some more Ukrainian Orphans, click on the preceding link.

Conor Shares His Heart

My name is Conor Steeves. I was born on Christmas Eve in Odessa, Ukraine. I am 12 years old.  I was taken to the Orphanage when I was 5 years old. I did not like the Orphanage. The older boys are mean to the younger boys. They beat them. I asked God to please get a family for me that would take all three of us. I have an older sister and younger brother. I waited for nearly 6 years in the Orphanage for God to answer my prayer.

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This picture of when I first met my Mom and Dad. – my sister used mom’s camera to take

I am going to talk about family. I got adopted by Rob and Sharon Steeves on January 23rd 2017. I am happy that my mom and dad are thinking of adopting children from the Ukraine again. I think adopting is important because when I was in the orphanage I wanted to have a family and so did others. I got a family but they didn’t.

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My first Christmas with Mom and Dad was in Ukraine. They got me a skateboard. I always wanted one.

So I am asking you to donate to help then adopt again or adopt other children who want to have a family. After I started school in Canada and made friends in my new school, one of my friends parents heard what happened to me and my brother and my sister and now they are adopting from the Ukraine themselves. This makes me very happy.

In the orphanages children dream about getting adopted. Just think if you have no family, no one to love you or care for you but God. You would like to get adopted . . . that would be your dream.  The boys and girls of the orphanage have little chance for a good future. Sad. What can you do to prevent this from happening. Just think about it.

My life is so different now! Before I got adopted I felt that we were not loved or cared for. But we were loved and cared for by God – but we didn’t know that then (because we had not heard about His love). NOT knowing made a difference.  The most hardest thing was that other children in the school in the Ukraine was they had family, they had a mom and dad and I didn’t. I was made fun of because I not have a family . . .  I was called dirty,  a loser. I  was not allowed to participate in school concerts because I didn’t have parents. I was not a person!

Now in Canada, I  have mom and dad. I feel so happy and loved because I know that I am loved.

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At home in Canada – Manitoba winters. Me and my Dad.

My parents love us. It is hard to find someone to adopt more than one orphan, especially an older orphan. I am so thankful that my mom and dad came to Ukraine to get us.  I am very proud of them for doing this.  Because I got a really good mom and dad I want to share them with other orphans.  My mom and dad love children and are adopting again. This is a very good thing. Now some more children will have a chance to have a mom and dad too. Please help them to do this. from Conor.

If you would like to help us with Adoption Volume 2, to provide a forever family for some more Ukrainian Orphans, click on the preceding link.