Have you ever made one of those statements that you just know made God smirk at you? Perhaps you said it and thought you heard the echo of a deep sound and wondered if that was thunder...while part of you knew it was Him chuckling at you. That's what we should have heard one day as we sat on the swing in the peaceful camp of our sister church in Ukraine. We had helped clear things from dinner...had set up chairs in the tent for the upcoming meeting...had cleaned up some...had made sure all the girls with us were doing well...and what do you know? Wayne and I found ourselves with each other and not needing to do anything.
It's a rare moment so we took advantage of it and caught up on thoughts and experiences...on feelings and activities...the normal unload we do when we're both goinggoinggoing and only have a little time to pause. It was during that twilight conversation that we came to the topic of adoption and all God was moving in our friends and in our church. I can't remember who said it first, but we began discussing how we were feeling about our own family. Did we feel called to adopt? The truthful, peaceful, settled answer from us both was no. We'll support...do respite care...help fund...pray without ceasing for them all...but no, not us.
It didn't feel relief as if I didn't want it for us, but I did feel a sense of "good, that's behind us...now we can move on with what's next for us." (I know it. I can hear Him chuckling now. Back then, I just thought a storm cloud was moving in. Silly me.)
Fast forward just a few short weeks later. We're back in Texas. Football meetings have started so I've said goodbye to Wayne until November. Cassie is still in Ukraine, and as she often is, Cassie has been out of touch for about 2 weeks as she's in an orphanage...we're never quite sure where. We'll know she's alive and well when she gets to wifi back in Kiev and starts posting pics. And sure enough, here they came.
I did as I always do as I scanned those precious faces: Aww...precious...sigh...she's a cutie...I'll take him any day...ha!...tear...oh, there's Cass!...sigh...haha...oh, good grief...and Cass again...
Except, this time something new came out of me when I saw this picture.
And yes, I was a little freaked out. But I just kept clicking through pics. And every time I saw her like in this one, my heart said, "Mine." The same way it did when I saw Cass. Mineminemine.
And it didn't stop. I thought and prayed until I finally messaged Cassie a couple of days later and said, "Tell me about the boy in the blue shirt and the girl in the pink and that other girl in the red shirt...the one in the pic with you who you called your princess." So, she told me about the first two...but with the little girl in the red shirt, a quick response wouldn't do...and I got my first glimpse into what God had already done in our family as Cassie posted this:
Writing this through tears. This is my small, beautiful, princess Lera. I am not kidding when I say I want to get her home. She is 5 years old, has autism and fell in love with me. So much so that three days in she was calling me Mama. She loved my earrings and absolutely loved my necklaces. How fitting that her favorite one is my "I will come to you" necklace from Kate Clayton. She would hold it and play with the pearl and plane as long as I would let her. The nannies didn't like it when I held her because they didn't want her to get attached. I held her anyway. There was nothing sweeter than calling out her name and watching her whole being light up as she skipped over to me, arms outstretched. She loved singing with me. Mostly made up words but I knew what I was singing to her...truth, love and hope. Putting her to bed was a precious time. She would grip my neck tight as I told her I loved her, was praying for her, to have sweet dreams and I would see her in the morning. Leaving her was the hardest. I was sobbing as she clung to my neck and wouldn't let go. The nannies asked if I wanted to take her home and upon my declarative yes they told me she couldn't be adopted because she is sick. My God is big though. I will pray and see what He does. He is bigger than a system and bigger than a piece of paper. Who knows what He will do. Missing her always. Praying someone holds her and sings to her and tells her they love her. Please, Jesus. I don't know what to do but my eyes are on You.Cassie knew it, too. She belongs with her. But what Cassie didn't know was that she was hers because she was mine. But did I mention that we had just sat on a swing and knew it was "no"? How do I tell Wayne that it's a yes now...like bone-deep-settled-when-can-I-have-her yes? Well, God gave me an unexpected opportunity.
Usually once we get home from Ukraine, we say goodbye to Wayne that same day. But he came home that Friday night and said, "Guess what? I don't have work tomorrow. At all." A whole Saturday?? Crazy. The girls and I had planned to run to Ikea for some stuff, but babysitting jobs had opened which meant that Wayne and I were about to have an entire day alone. I knew this was my chance. As soon as we dropped off the girls and took off down the road, I said, "I'm so grateful to have some time with you. There are a couple of things I want to talk to you about."
And he said, "Me, too. One thing, I was thinking...we should see about bringing home that little girl, Lera."
Yeah. I know it. It doesn't happen with us often either. In our 25 years of marriage, it's been that easy...never. Usually one of us is ready to run ahead while the other has reservatnions or just needs some time to think. But this time? God was sweet to move us both...separately and together.
That's the short part of it. We were just done. It was settled in about 20 seconds. I said, "That's what I was going to say..." and he said, "Then let's figure it out..." and off we drove to Ikea. But now we walked through saying things like, "We could put this in that corner. And that bed would probably work. She's going to love that little chair." as if it were a normal day in our lives when in fact, God had changed everything in us.
We came home and told the girls what we were thinking, and they were quick to say, "YESYESYES!" We messaged Cassie and told her...cue major tears. They were of one heart and mind toward her though we warned them what it might mean. You read Cassie's words. They call her "sick"...autistic...developmentally delayed. We'd have no way of knowing ahead of time what her real issues are...what can be "fixed" with specialized help and what would be forever. We weren't asking them if they thought it was a good idea for Wayne and I to commit ourselves to her. We were telling them that when we die, Lera would be theirs...for the rest of their lives. Would they agree to that? Could they even understand what they were saying at their young ages? We asked them to give it a few days of thinking...and their answer didn't change. All of a sudden, we were a family of 6.
Well, that was August of 2012...and it's late July of 2014...so what's the problem?
Yeah...adoption is always costly, isn't it? We know that it should be...for our adoptions here are just shadows of the reality of the gift God gave the world...the adoption of sons and daughters with Himself as Father. The cost for this was the life of His only Son. That means we probably should have been prepared for things like:
- finding out her status wasn't "orphan" but the equivalent of a foster child here which means they had to locate her family to see if she could be returned to them
- the police taking their own sweet time finding any information on her parents while we prayed, "please let her go home...to us...to them...to us...to them..."
- winter coming which meant it's cold which can apparently mean that no one does anything
- the director needing to file for a status change...no, wait...the Child Services needing to do it...no, wait...it's the director...or maybe we're supposed to...sigh...
- Last July we visited her. You may have seen the pics:
- Finally...15 months from the first contact about her...we get told there's court date: November 27, 2013. Anyone remember what happened November 21? That's right...all this mess. Protests in Kiev...government changes...ousted president...parliament changes...and during it all, we were told, "It's not completed. Court isn't happening. Her status hasn't been changed."
- Press repeat.
And that's how it's been. Nothing much has changed. I could highlight the news that wasn't news...the papers that we filled out...and re-did...and re-did. The homestudy that doesn't expire until March of 2015 that they wanted redone. The countless times we got the same paper notarized by the precious ladies at Monteith Abstract and Title here in Temple. Finally, this spring our lawyer in Ukraine said to just get the final documents they asked for and send them. We'll just file and see what happens. So, we got it completed and fly them over....
Except...sigh...we arrived to discover that apparently changes are happening in the adoption system there for them to become Hague certified...and the US is making some changes...all of which means we're back at "we don't know."
What we did know 10 days ago is that if we were in Ukraine where our girl was, we had to do all we could to get our arms around her...to see how she is...to ask them again to please do what they can to get her out of the system. After a lot of ups and downs...moments where it looked like we wouldn't be able to get to her...it finally worked out as you probably saw in these pictures.
It was such joy to see her eyes light up when she saw us...to see her take Aisley's hand and put her hand to her ear as she did last year every time she wanted to see our phones. It gave us a jolt of hope to hear her repeat our words...something the women at the orphanage said she'd never be able to do. It was so fun to see her writing...with either hand! She is still so funny...and stubborn...and playful...and snuggly...and manipulative...and mischievous. In other words, she was still such a Ransleben girl. ;-) We love it when we see her make her own way...get what she wants...scheme and fight. We know it means she hasn't lost hope. We know it means she's determined to survive. We know it means she's an orphan. We love to see her smile and laugh and tug on a friend and sing a song because it means her heart hasn't lost hope in life.
We enjoyed a day with her before we had to leave. We're so incredibly thankful for that. For one day, we were a together family...
Friends met her. We can't tell you what that means to us. We got to laugh and play with her...comfort and soothe her.
Where do we go from here? The major change is that a new rule would mean we now need an American agency. Or do we? Some documents seem to say yes because our papers were kicked back to us in the middle of that uprising. Some agencies here agree...some agencies disagree and say that because we began before all of this started, we're fine even if we're starting over with new paperwork. In other words, we don't know what to do. Our lawyer there says now that he's just going ahead with it, and we'll see how it plays out. If he hits a roadblock, he'll let us know. What do you bet there might be one or two left?
So...there you go. That's #LerasStory. That's the quick way to tell you how a little, unknown girl in the middle of nowhere Ukraine became a little girl who is prayed over by hundreds. That's how God took a couple from "I wonder what's next for us with an empty nest..." to a couple who could have a daughter with them for the rest of their lives until she goes to live with her sisters.
More, this is the story of a God who has a greater adoption story to tell and decided to display it to us and through us: the glory and the pain...the suffering and the overwhelming joy...the struggle and the perseverance He provides...the walk of faith that is built on knowing that His Son is our only hope...and finding that He is hope enough. And He did it all by taking His love and pouring it into our hearts for a little girl named Lera.
The Lord has done great things for us. Praise Him with us.
There is so much left undone and unknown. Pray with us. Pray for us.
And say it with us: Christ is our only hope. Praise be to God, He is truly hope enough.
Thanks for reading this. Thanks for remaining with us. We'll need you to the end of not only this story, but throughout our lives until He calls us into sight and life. We promise to return the favor.
Wayne, Kim, Cassie, Aisley, Brennan, and Lera
PS...yes...I used to blog some before writing for the church. Feel free to see what I used to rant about. You'll find a lot of the same diediedie messages you've heard before. ;-) Will I go back to it? We'll see.