"For in you the orphan finds mercy." - Hosea 14:3

Friday, April 24, 2015

Cava's First Dance


This morning, before school, he strutted around and told me, "I'm gonna' dance like there's nobody watchin'!" He also let me know that he was going to request his favorite song "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift. One of the reasons he loves this song so much is because he identifies with the message. Feeling like an outsider and that he often doesn't fit in, he connects to lyrics. In class, when the schoolwork is getting too difficult for him, he's becoming frustrated, and he is struggling to keep it together, he uses this song to sing in his head so that instead of bursting out in defeat, he just shakes it off.

Since the school dance is a "dance with a loved one," Danelle got to go with him. I must admit, I was a tad bit jealous, as I have always wanted to have a daughter to go to a "daddy / daughter" dance. I also would've loved to have gone just so I could see Cava break out his moves because this boy has got some. Adam Levine should have sung "I've got the moves like Cava" instead of like Jagger.



As always, he was very obliging when I asked him to let me take photos of him before he left, even though he was bouncing-off-the-walls excited about going to his first ever school dance.  

He danced with his Mom.


He danced with his friends.


He danced in a conga line.



And they played his request - Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off." So Cava said he had one "awesome" time.



Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Blackwell's Breaking News!

For anyone who's followed our blog and knows our adoption story, a little over two years ago we adopted Cava. When we went to meet him for the first time, we had to stay in his boarding school and, while there, got to know some of the children.  There was one little girl, "T," in particular that we got attached to and even inquired about adopting. We were told that we couldn't and left with broken hearts.

In the time that has passed since, I have prayed for her every day. She was constantly in my thoughts and my heart. I wondered what was going on in her life. Was she still in that boarding school? Was she adopted? There were so many unanswered questions.

Then, yesterday morning, I got on Facebook and the first thing I see is a photo of "T." She was available for hosting this summer. I felt like I had been broadsided by a truck. Immediately I called Danelle and she came to see what I wanted. I saw her expression change as soon as she saw the photo. "You know we can't," were the first words out of her mouth. I knew she was right. We used up all of our savings adopting Cava. The tax money we just got back from our federal taxes went to paying off the loan we got to adopt him.

I was heartbroken.

All day long I prayed and wondered why God would bring her back into my life if I couldn't host her. Then I realized that, even if she was not going to be hosted by our family, this was an answer to my prayer because it meant that she would be hosted and, maybe, adopted. This was a "No," to me, but a "Yes," to someone else's prayers. It was bittersweet.

I wrestled with this all day long. I prayed and sought God and had to say, "Your will be done."

Later that afternoon, when I spoke to Danelle, she stunned me with, "If we are going to do this, then it will have to be all God's will." I knew what she meant.

So I called the hosting program to find out if "T" was even available.

If they told me that a family was already going to host her then I knew what my prayer was to be: to pray for that family, pray for "T," and that, if she was available for adoption, that they would adopt her so that she could be in a loving home. If she was available, then my prayer was that we would trust God that He would be faithful as we hosted her.

The woman I spoke to informed me that she had been put on "hold" by a family who was going to host her, but they had backed out.

An open door.

 Of course I said, "YES!"

This is another huge step in trusting God.

He will have to make a way for us.

Finances alone are a huge obstacle. Just getting "T" over here will cost us $3,500.00 that we don't have.

Please join us in prayer.

We know God can do this. As I read in my Bible study early this morning, " I prayed to the Lord, saying: 'Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you."

If you feel led to donate so that we can host this girl who has never been hosted, never been out of Ukraine, so that she can know that not only do we love her, but, more importantly, that God loves her, you can donate using the Donate Button which takes you to a secure Pay Pal site.

This has been a roller-coaster last two days. Once again, we find God putting something before us and we had to make a choice to say, "Yes."

I cannot help but marvel again at the amazing way that God works in our lives.




Saturday, April 11, 2015

Our Trip To Tennessee

With the coming of Spring, there is the return of having to spring forward with our clocks, the return of pollen, and, the only one I enjoy, Spring Break for the kids from school. This year we decided to go to Tennessee to visit my wife's Aunt Mickie and Uncle Doug. It's a little over three hours to drive from our house to theirs, but we get to go past one of my favorite places (Asheville) and through the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. The drive up was overcast and foggy, so nobody really got to enjoy the spectacular views. Of course, even if it had have been clear, they would have had to pry their eyes from their technology first to do so. Cava was very excited when we drove through a tunnel. Despite the fog and the rain, it was a fairly pleasant trip up there.


On our first full day in Knoxville, it would not be a Blackwell trip if we didn't go to a science museum, so we went to the American Museum of Science and Energy. Both boys readily volunteered for being in a presentation that involved a Van de Graaff Generator. Cava was a little more wary of touching it . . .


Benjamin, on the other hand, was thrilled to get to touch one again.


After the presentation, it was off to exploring the rest of the museum. 


Whether it was working with the robotic arms . . .



Or learning about different types of energy, including nuclear power.



Including Benjamin pretending to be Major Kong at the end of Dr. Strangelove . . .


Cava loved learning about atoms, especially when I explained that the nucleus is like the parent and the electrons orbiting the nucleus are like the children running round the parent trying to get his or her attention.


Everyone enjoyed the museum, but the boys were ready to get rid of some energy at a nearby park.


We had researched ahead of time and found out that if you went to Dollywood after 3 pm, you could return on the same ticket for free the next day. So we decided to do this on Wednesday afternoon. 




Since we were there during the International Festival, we searched around the park among all the flags trying to find one for Ukraine, but were unable to locate it. Cava did find Ukraine on a map.


And when we rode the bumper cars, Cava picked a blue and yellow one since it was the colors of the Ukrainian flag. As excited as he was to find one that color, he delightedly cackled with glee every time he rammed his bumper car into the one with Mommy and Benjamin.


As we rode the old 192 train, Cava told me all about how he rode a train from the place where the orphanage he had been in to the boarding school where we had met him. 



Day two started off with roller coasters! First Thunderhead, a wooden coaster with a 100 foot drop. As we waited in the line, we were discussing how "crazy" this day was going to be and Cava topped us all with, "It's going to be C-A-V-A crazy!"

Then it was on to the Mystery Mine.  A line that was supposed to take us only 45 minutes, ended up taking over an hour and twenty-five because, just as we were about to get on a car, they decided to add another car to the track. Cava didn't take the wait too well and I had to calm his anger and tears. Once we finally did get on the coaster, it was two indoor 95 degree vertical hills with an 85 foot drop and a burst of flame. Of course Cava had to sit in the front seat. 


After that, we had some more problems with rides and tempers as we got in line for Smoky Mountain River Rampage, only to have the ride break down before we got on it. Then it happened again with Blazin' Fury. By this time, both boys were frustrated and ready to call it quits. Having just paid over $200 for us to come, Danelle and I were not about to leave. 

Taking a break from rides, we went to eat lunch. As we did, our family met Lilian the Chicken Lady. She came to our table, serenaded us on banjo. Cava thought it was really funny when Lilian paid attention to Benjamin.


But he didn't think so once the tiny rubber chicken was dancing on his head.


After lunch, we rode FireChaser Express, got soaked on Daredevil Falls, rushed down the Mountain Sidewinder, and checked out the eagle sanctuary, watched a show with Bald Eagles and hawks, ate funnel cake, as well as went through the Dolly Parton Museum called Chasing Rainbows. Benjamin knew the song "Jolene," but Cava had no clue who Dolly Parton was. He was excited to see that she had been on Alvin and the Chipmunks. Needless to say, we need to expose that boy to some "9 to 5" and "Here You Come Again." Not sure if he's ready to hear Danelle and I duet to "Islands in the Stream." Or, perhaps, "Coat of Many Colors" . . . 


The boys even wanted to pose in front of a car they said reminded them of the one on The Andy Griffith Show.


In the end, both boys agreed that they had enjoyed themselves overall and had a pretty good day. Benjamin's favorite was the explosive FireChaser Express coaster. Cava being Cava, said his favorite was some ducks we saw. Danelle and I agreed that our next trip will contain less manufactured moments that one gets at amusement parks and more where we can truly spend time with each other and not going from one line to the next to ride something.  

Still, we loved getting to see Uncle Doug and Aunt Mickie. Cava said his favorite part of the whole trip was watching birds from their back deck. They gave him a book on different birds and we just need to get him some good binoculars and we might just have a true bird watcher on our hands.












Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Monday, March 23, 2015

Teaching Love


Cava has been with us just a little over two years now. In that time, we have renegotiated what it means to be a family. We have overcome obstacles and encountered some again and again. But there has been progress. Yet with the progress we have made, we also learn how much further it is to healing in a child who has spent most of his life feeling alone, abandoned, and unloved. Our family has strived to give Cava a home where he can feel at ease, at peace, loved, and safe. So it came as a bit of a shock when, just last week, he confided to me that he often didn't feel loved and that he was still afraid we were going to send him back to Ukraine.

Now having read a great many books on adoption, on attachment disorders, and so on, I never expected Cava to grasp how much we love him right away or that love would be instantaneous. I understood, mentally, that he is overcoming eight years of rejection, loss, and hurt. Should I have expected that in two short years he would understand something that many adults don't even truly get?  

We constantly tell Cava that we love him and he responds back that he loves us. When he confessed that he didn't always feel loved, I paused, processed, and prayed before I responded. The first thing I asked him was, "Cava, do you know what love means?" He admitted that he didn't. 

Before now, how would he? What would he have to understand or measure love by? 

I took a deep breath and tried to explain love in terms that he would understand. I told him how, out of love, we flew to Ukraine to adopt a child. How, after spending only an hour with him, we wanted him to be part of our family forever. We talked about how extremely difficult it was for all of us when he first got here, but no matter how bad it got, we loved him and would never, ever consider sending him back.  I also told him that he will never fully get how much his Mom and I loved him until he had his own children. I said that when you have a child and they are sad, you feel that sadness even more so because you want desperately to wipe it away. How parents want their children to be loved and accepted wherever they go and how much it hurts us when they aren't. As I watch Cava struggle so hard at school to fit in and know how deeply sad he is that he hasn't, my heart breaks and I continue to reassure him how great he really is. To let him see that he is worthy and deserving of love and acceptance, even when he can't love and accept himself. 

We talked about the turmoil that goes on inside him. How he does not feel peace like calm lake but that his insides feel like the constant crashing waves of an ocean. 

After we talked for about half an hour, which is amazing in and of itself and was a real gift because I got to see into Cava's heart and thoughts, I told him, "Buddy, whenever you feel this way. Whenever you feel unloved or are afraid that we will send you back, please come and talk to Mommy or I. We want you to feel like this is your home and that you are loved, wanted, accepted, and that your thoughts and feelings are valuable."  I made him look me in the eyes and I asked, "Will you promise me that you will try to do that?"  He nodded. "I want to help you and I never want you to feel unloved or afraid at home."

Do I think this settles the matter?

Definitely not. 

Do I see that we still have a lot of work ahead of us?

Yes!  But I'm glad to have a better understanding of how I can work to help this scared little boy to feel loved and to understand what love really means, not by just giving him a definition in one short talk, but in being there for him day after day after day. Loving him when he's at his most unlovable. Reminding him through words and actions that I love him. As an example, I said, "If someone told me, you can either keep all of your books or you can keep Cava, which one will you choose?" I looked at Cava, who, knowing how much I love to read, was a bit worried, so I reassured him with, "I would always choose you.  You and Mommy and Benjamin mean more to me than anything else in this world. I would never, ever give any of you up." He smiled a smile of relief that I didn't pick the books and sighed, "Good!"


Every time I see that Johnson's Baby "So Much More Commercial," my heart aches because I know that Cava never got that. He didn't get that attachment as a baby. Eight years he has had to self-soothe and comfort himself, so it will take time for him to understand that strong bond a child can have with its parents. How a parent is there to take care of, nurture, protect, love, celebrate, find joy and pleasure in, teach, and even punish out of love. The latter is really something he struggles with, so we make sure he understands why he's being punished and that we are doing so out of love and not malice or capriciousness. He must see that everything is done out of love, for his best interests, and for his well being. 

I pray every day that Cava will grow in the knowledge that he is loved, accepted so that he can feel peace inside. I know this will come, slowly, but it will come. As I told him, "God loved you enough to send a family from a city in North Carolina to a small village in Ukraine so that you could be a part of us. And He loved us enough to send us all the way to Ukraine so that you could be a part of our family. Cava, God knew all of this before either you or I were ever born. Before He even formed us in the womb, God had it planned out so that we would be a family. He loved us that much."   Knowing how much his Heavenly Father loves him is going to be a key to his healing. Teaching him "For God so loved the world . . ." can heal this child more than our imperfect love ever can.

So we will continue to let Cava know that he is loved and will be loved. That he is and always will be a part of our family, on good days and bad. I just can't wait to see the day when Cava knows some real peace in his life. Jesus calmed the seas and I know He can do the same for those inside our son.



Monday, March 16, 2015

Abandonment Issues In Adoptive Children


Recently I went on a men's retreat with some guys from my church. Before I did, I explained to Cava that I would be going, where I was going, how long I would be gone, and when I would be back. He seemed to be okay and understood. While I was gone, my wife did special things with the boys. When she asked Cava, "Aren't we having fun?" Cava replied, "No, I'm sad that Papa's gone." He told her that he had also been crying at school because of this. When I returned, she told me all of this and I asked Cava, "Didn't you think I was coming back?"

"No," he replied.

Despite my explaining to him where I'd be going and how long I'd be gone, he still feared that I had abandoned him. It made me wonder how deep this fear was and made me realize we still had work to do to make Cava feel secure.

It shouldn't have surprised me like it did since adoptive children have deep rooted insecurity and deal with a real sense of abandonment. They have been "rejected" by their birth parents and have seen others come and go in their lives with regularity in the orphanage system. Psychologists believe that children remember their birth and following events, including relinquishment and adoption, up to the age of three. If children at such a young age deal with separation trauma, then how much more for the child who spends years in orphanages? And the more years they are there, the deeper the wounds. All of this does damage to a child's psyche.  As Jane Brown wrote in her article "Helping Children Cope With And Understand Abandonment": Any stress associated with these moves (foster care, orphanages, adoptive homes) floods the brain with corrosive neurochemicals that pave the way for the individual to be more vulnerable to stress than the individual who has consistent care from his original parents.

This sense of abandonment and loss will create special needs in the adopted child throughout their lives. How they react to this sense of grief and loss can come out in a myriad of ways (such as acting out, or becoming withdrawn, putting on an act of self-sufficiency, or by being adaptable and compliant). The key is seeing past the actions or behavior to the root of it and dealing with this in a way that will help heal the wounds that cause a child to feel they are alone.

When I asked Cava why he thought I had abandoned him, he answered as he often does with, "I don't know." And he probably doesn't. He may not be thinking so much as feeling this sense of abandonment that stems back to his mother relinquishing him as a baby, at the number of moves he has gone through in his life (baby house, orphanage, and boarding school), as well as going through numerous caregivers, and watching other kids come and go from their lives frequently. This will cause them to question their own self-worth. Adoptive children may question why they were given up, as well as having numerous questions about their birth parents.

After Cava told me that he thought I wasn't coming back, I sat him on my lap, held him close to me, and told him that I would never leave him or "Mommy, or Benjamin." That I loved him and could not imagine my life without him in it. "You are my son. We are family," I reminded him. "I am not going to leave you. Ever. I will be here to love you, take care of you, and protect you." I also said, "Do you remember how, before I left, I told you where I was going and how long I would be gone and when I was coming back?"

"Yes."

"Did I lie about any of that?"

"No."

"No. And didn't I call you every night before you went to bed to check on you and tell you that I loved you?"

"Yes."

"I did that because I love you and I didn't want you to worry. And I also did that because I missed you, and Mommy, and Benjamin.  It was okay for you to miss me, just as I missed you, but you never have to worry that I am going to leave you."

And I just held him for awhile and, as I did, I quietly prayed for this little boy who has such big hurts. Every day I pray that he will continue to heal, that he will feel a sense of peace, of love, and of security. I pray that I can be the Papa he desperately needs and that I can respond in ways that helps healing not hinders it.

This small incident showed me that this will continue to be a process that will take time, but I want him to always know that I will be there to be a part of it for him.


To read more in-depth about this issue, here are some links to other websites with articles about adoptive children and abandonment:

https://www.bcadoption.com/resources/articles/helping-children-cope-and-understand-abandonment

http://www.internationaladoptionstories.com/abandonment-issues.htm

http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=11455


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cava The American


Because of all the inclement weather we've had in our area, Cava's school just had their President's Day program  last night. My favorite part of the whole show was when Cava sang about being American. I glanced over at Danelle, who had tears in her eyes.

Our little Ukrainian-American singing this song not only had an impact on us, but also on others. After the program was over, staff from the school came over to tell us just how much it moved them to see Cava singing about how happy he is to be an American, which is something he really and truly means. Hearing him reminded us what being an American can really mean and how much it can mean to someone. It's also what this country is all about.

America to him is more than just a country, it's a place where he is now loved and accepted. Not only has our family embraced him as one of our own, but so many others around us have fallen in love with this little boy and the amazing journey he has taken, the bravery he has shown, and the progress he has made in just two short years. America to him means a home - as well as being the home to Walt Disney World (easily one of his favorite places on Earth).

Ever since he fist got here, he has proudly proclaimed, "I'm an American."

I can't help but love Cava.

I love that he makes me aware of how grateful I should be for what we have in our lives, especially him.