Saturday, November 30, 2013

Cava's First Thanksgiving

While Cava was very excited about Thanksgiving, he wasn't happy to find out that he would be out of school for three days. He even asked his teacher to give him homework that he could do over the holiday. While I am thrilled that Cava loves to learn, my teachers never would have heard me ask for homework. 

As it was with his birthday, Cava was full of energy the day before Thanksgiving, but come Thanksgiving Day he became quiet and, several times, burst into tears. He was in stimulation overload and was having a difficult time processing all of the activity. Having grown up in an orphanage, he needs an environment that's predictable and consistent day after day. That's one of the reasons that he loves school so much.

Of course, he loves to help out in the kitchen and Thanksgiving was no different. He helped us prepare the stuffing and he painted the rolls with butter. Cava also oversaw whatever we were doing to ensure that we were preparing everything properly.

As the food was cooking, Cava watched the Macy's Day Parade. His favorite was the Cirque Du Soleil's float with all of the acrobats. His critique of them was, "That's so cool!" 

Still, throughout the morning, as he breathed in deeply the aromas of the Thanksgiving meal, he kept telling us, "I'm hungry." To keep his mind off food, I played Go Fish and King in the Corner with him (the boy loves card games) and he and I created things with Play-Doh.

When the time to eat finally rolled around, both boys were ready and waiting with their plates in hand. Before we ate, we went around the table to say what we were thankful for. Cava went first and he told us of he was thankful for America because we have Thanksgiving and good food, he was thankful for his family who love him, for his friends at school and at church, and he was thankful that God loves him so that he could have all of these things.

Benjamin followed and told us he was thankful for having his new brother, Cava, for having two amazing and loving parents, and for Jesus Christ, whom he accepted as his Lord and Savior this year.

Danelle and I both were thankful for our family, for those who are overseas to add to their families through adoption, and for those troops who are away from their families so that we could have the freedom to celebrate a holiday where we can give thanks for what we do have.

After I gave a blessing, we began to eat our lunch.

Cava tried everything: turkey, dressing, roasted vegetables, homemade mac and cheese, green beans, and a roll. He loved the turkey. When he tried the dressing, he gave us the thumbs up but then proceeded to make us a face that told us otherwise. Still, he ate all his food and a slice of peanut-butter fudge pie. 

Later that day, we went to visit my sister and her family. The boys love going to see their Uncle Amir, Aunt Kristen, and their cousins. As you can see from the photo below, Cava loves to be around pretty girls.

One of the games I instigated was all of us went through the Black Friday circulars to find the worst gift to give for each other. Everyone had a blast with this one.

My sister and her mother-in-law made Persian food for their Thanksgiving, since her father-in-law is originally from Iran. Both her father-in-law, who left Iran at 15 to come here, and Cava being adopted into our family showed us two true pictures of what Thanksgiving really is about in that they both left their countries for a better life here.

The boys got to try new food. One of the things I appreciate about Cava is his willingness to try any new food. 

Although, what he really enjoyed, was Aunt Kristen spraying whipped cream in his mouth from a can.

He also liked whipped cream on pumpkin pie. And he liked the coconut cake. Yes, Cava was very well fed.

Thanksgiving took one so much more meaning this year because of Cava. Last Thanksgiving, we were giving thanks for the fact that we would be traveling to Ukraine sometime within the next couple of weeks to find our child, and, now, a year later, he was here with us and telling us how thankful he was to be a part of our family. We were thankful for the fact that, in less than a year, Cava has truly begun to feel a part of our family, to begin understanding what it means to be loved (both by parents and his brother, but, ultimately, by God), and to love in return . We were thankful that God blessed us by allowing us this opportunity to have a deeper glimpse of Himself, not only because He is a Father to the Fatherless who has adopted us into His family through Christ, but because we are learning a little more how to love as He loves. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cava Is Thankful For . . .

In school this week, Cava's class made a turkey book of things they were thankful for. When I picked him up from school, Cava was so proud of his that he read it to me as I drove to Benjamin's school. It was so sweet hearing him tell me what he was thankful for.

Here is what Cava wrote that he was most thankful for:

- I am thankful for school because I learn math.
- I am thankful for America because I learn to read.
- I am thankful for my Mom and Papa and my Benjamin.
- I am thankful for my friends.

That is one awesome thankful list!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Cava Meets Santa

Over the weekend, we took Cava to see the Santa Claus at our local mall. Yes, I know it's not even Thanksgiving, but this was something Cava has really, really been wanting to do and kept pestering us to take him. Since we were at the mall buying some long sleeve shirts for Benjamin (who'd outgrown all of his from last year), we saw that Santa was going to be there at 2 pm, so we shopped for a bit and Cava kept asking us over and over what time it was, in the hopes it was time to go see the big man. When it finally got close to 2 pm, we headed over to Santa's workshop in the center of the mall. 

Cava was ecstatic. Think of  a Ukrainian version of Buddy the Elf when Buddy hears Santa is coming to Gimbels. The only difference being that Cava didn't say, "I know him." 

We got in line, Cava was unable to stand still with all his nervous energy. He kept looking forward and counting how many kids were ahead of him. Finally, his turn came and he shyly approached Santa and sat down next to him. Santa asked Cava his name and then asked if he'd been a good boy. Cava answered honestly with, "Most of the time."

When Santa asked him what he wanted for Christmas, Cava replied, "A remote control airplane, some Spider-man stickers, and a Spider-man book." He received his candy cane from Santa and, since I was not about to pay $45 dollars for a photo session with Santa, I let Benjamin have my smart phone so he could secretly take one. Santa's helpers tended to block adults with smart phones whenever they tried taking one of their kids or grand-kids (No, I'm not joking).

Later, when I asked Cava about it and was asking him about what he knew about Father Frost, which is what they call Santa in Ukraine, he asked me, "How come Father Frost never visited me when I was there?" 

This question broke my heart because it showed the deep wound of neglect that he feels. Santa not coming to the orphanage was yet another sign to him that he wasn't special or that he mattered there. I wish I could have come up with a better answer than the one I gave him, "I don't know, Cava, but don't you worry, Santa will most definitely visit you this year."

"I like it better here," he told me.

"Well, I'm glad to hear that," I said.

"Yeah, Santa's much better than Father Frost."

One thing we hope to do this Christmas is incorporate Ukrainian Christmas traditions into our own. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

What I'm Thankful For

Since it's November, the month of Thanksgiving, I have seen people post on Facebook what they are thankful for each day. I have never been one of those people but I found myself reflecting on something I am grateful for: people who have answered God's call to take care of the orphans. This is not an easy call and it is missions on a life-time scale, as it is one the mission field comes home with you to live. It requires not only a lot of money, but time, emotions, faith, and trust.

We are at the anniversary of our invitation from the Ukrainian SDA, so I have been ruminating a lot on the adoption process and I remember how much of an act of obedience it was on all of our family's part. Our family is not wealthy and the financial aspect alone was an obstacle that we had to trust that God would provide if we followed the path we felt He was calling us to.

Even greater is the emotional journey that adoption is and continues to be. So much of the adoption process is not in your hands and as you wait or have to submit documents or resubmit documents again and again and wait for documents to return, it sometimes feels as if it will never end. Throughout all of the paperwork and the waiting, one has to remind yourself of why one is doing this: for a child. These children are in our hearts long before they are ever in our families, before we even know them or see them.

Orphans are not nameless, faceless statistics. They are children. Children who desperately need to not only know the love a family, but the love of their heavenly Father. With Cava, we have watched a child who came to us knowing nothing of the love of God or of Christ and has truly begun to experience what that means in his life. To hear him tell us that God loves him makes whatever we have gone through worth it.

Adoption isn't just a financial investment, it's an emotional, spiritual investment, and an investment of the heart. Adoption is not impersonal in any way, but is deeply personal and asks a lot of those who undertake this journey.

I am thankful for those families who have heard and believed in the call to adopt from somewhere else in the world. These families travel to another country, experience another culture and language, and are willing to give up their comfortable lives to face the unknown in other countries, often not knowing when they are going to be able to return him. This requires great trust and surrender. You are at the will and whim of foreign governments who decide how your adoption is going to proceed. Ultimately, they are trusting in God and that all of it is for a greater purpose and reason.These are families like the Littlejohns and the Newberrys; both of whom left their biological children to go to the Congo and Ukraine on  an act of faith knowing that this is, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted in the world." (James 1:27). No matter how difficult the path, they have taken to undertake it and through all of this know that God is not only with them but is using them for His glory.

I am thankful for those families who either adopt through foster care or are foster families. I have been blessed to know such people who have opened their hearts and homes to kids who need love and a family, even if it is only temporary. Tony and Nella are just such a couple who have taken in an amazing and beautiful little girl to be their daughter. Or the Kavanaughs, who have not only adopted a precious little girl they fostered, but Susanna has also started Least of These Gaston in order to help kids in our local foster care system and to help be a voice for them.

I am thankful for people like Katie Davis who leave family to go to another country and who allowed herself to be open to the family that God had for her. She said that she is "so grateful for the opportunity to raise my children in their own country and culture. By living here with my children, we also have the great privilege of maintaining relationships with biological relatives of those of my children who still have living relatives. . . we often get to invite them over for a meal, help them with their struggles, and share the Gospel with them."

It is not an easy path to choose and not everyone is called to undertake adoption, but for those who do, they get to see a true glimpse of the family we are adopted into through Christ as it gives us some insight into how much the heavenly Father has given up to adopt us into His and of the great love He has for us, even when we weren't deserving of it. As Romans 8:14-16 tells us, "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God's Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, "Abba, Father."For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God's children."

So, as we approach Thanksgiving, I would like to say that I am thankful for the gift that adoption is and for all of those people who have allowed themselves to be open to receiving this miraculous gift that, ultimately, gives glory to God. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Car Conversation

Some of the best talks I've had with either of my sons has been in the car going to and from school. This morning, after dropping Benjamin off, I asked Cava, "What do you like about being in a family?"

He shrugged. "I dunno'."

"You don't know anything you like about being in a family?"

Cava thought for a few moments before answering, "Birthday party, presents . . ."

"Yes, those things are nice, but what do you like about being in a family that doesn't involve you getting stuff."

"I dunno'."

"You can't think of anything?"


It was clear that Cava was getting frustrated and so I told him. "That's okay, Cava," and I let the subject drop.

To my surprise and delight, just before we got to his school, Cava said, "Papa."

"Yes Cava?"

"I like having a good brother like Benjamin. I like having a Mama and Papa who loves me. That's what I like."

Through all of the ups and downs, it has truly been a miraculous blessing to have the gift that adoption has brought our family. What I liked most about his answer was that he mentioned Benjamin first. I expected him to say that he loved Danelle and I, but it made me happier that he thought of his brother before us. Amidst their bickering and fighting, there, beneath it all is love. Benjamin has loved Cava right from the start, but for Cava, loving Benjamin back and learning what it means to be and have a brother has been harder for him than in his being able to accept and love his new Mama and Papa. So for him to start off his answer to the question, "What do you like about being in a family" with recognizing Benjamin not only as his brother but as being a good one that he loves, is a huge step for him. He is beginning to see Benjamin not as competition like the other kids in the boarding school were, but as a sibling. It really does amaze me the progress Cava has made in the ten short months he's been here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Everything to Me

As part of National Adoption Month, I decided to post these videos by Mark Schultz.

I was touched both by this song and the story behind it.

No surprise, I get choked up every time I hear this song, especially the line about "reading Goodnight Moon" since that was the first book Cava read to us in English.

The Story Behind The Song

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Breaking Tradition

If there's one holiday rule that I have grown up with and lived by until this year: you don't decorate for Christmas until after Thanksgiving. This had been a steadfast rule. One instilled in me by my Mom, who would never dare dream of decorating this early - ever!

It all started when our family watched The Polar Express on Netflix. While we were watching this holiday movie for our family movie night, I asked Cava, "Did they teach you any Christmas songs back in Ukraine?" I know that Christmas is a big deal in Ukraine and I assumed they would teach him Ukrainian Christmas carols in the boarding school or one of the orphanages he'd been in. To my surprise, he replied, "No."

"You don't know any Christmas songs?"

"No. Uh-huh."


Another first we have with him - and there are soooo many great Christmas songs. I was curious to see which one would be his favorite.

The week before Cava's birthday, as we were cleaning up the house to get ready for the party, I put on Christmas music.  He danced around the house to the songs and he came up to me and told that his favorite one was Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You." When he told me this, it dawned on me that while we were in Kiev for Christmas last year, this song came on my iPod and it made me think of Cava because he was all we wanted for Christmas.

To get the house decorated for Christmas, I had to first take down all of the Spider-man decorations from his party. I thought Cava would be upset about this, but when he heard that I was taking them down so we could start decorating for Christmas, he clapped and jumped up and down. "Can I help?" he asked.

"Sure you can," I answered.

He was also excited because I bought him his first Christmas ornament that only he would be able to hang on the tree. What was the ornament? Is it really a hard guess? Spider-man, of course.

One thing Danelle and I decided to do this year was not to put most of our breakable ornaments on the tree since Cava still has momentary flares of temper and I did not want him breaking any of the irreplaceable ornaments that we have inherited from our grandmothers and mothers that have been handed down over the generations. Maybe next year. This year, he's just not there yet.

The first thing I brought out was the Christmas people that I inherited from my Mom. She collected them and I remember decorating her hospice room with them right before the Christmas she died, so there is a bitter sweet element whenever I bring them out.

All Cava knew of decorating for Christmas or even celebrating this holiday was the small tree the kids decorated with the few ornaments they had and they would placed stuffed animals they already owned underneath the tree. When I saw this, it broke my heart.

Now there are those on both sides of the real tree versus the fake tree debate and, while I prefer a live tree, one cannot turn down a free tree even if it is fake, especially since we live in an old house with 12' ceilings and large trees are expensive. So, while my Christmas music played, the boys helped me put our tree together.

And they were very proud of their handiwork when we were done.

They wanted to decorate the tree immediately, but I told them they had to wait until Mommy got home because she is very picky about how the lights go on the tree. To appease them, we began to put up other decorations around the house, such as the stockings, nesting dolls, and the nutcracker.

We put lights and garlands over the cabinets in the kitchen.

After Danelle got home, we ate dinner and then set to putting the lights on the tree, while the boys watched and complained about how long they thought it was taking us. Finally, when Danelle was semi-satisfied with the lights, we let Cava have another first: putting his first ornament first on his first Christmas tree. 

Benjamin put on the first ornament we ever bought him (Curious George).

Then the whole family got in on the decorating - and had a great time doing it!

We had a few new ornaments to put on that we had gotten in Ukraine. These that we bought at Andrew's Descent. Cava put the first one on.

And this one we got from our friend Wendy Bergstrom, who we were blessed to meet while we were in Kiev.

When it was all said and done, this is how our Christmas tree looked all lit up.

Cava's reaction?

"Wow! It's so beautiful!"

So, yes, I broke our family's tradition, but in doing so, have started a new one for our new son. Besides, Christmas is only 6 weeks away!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Cava's First Ever Birthday Party

One of the greatest gifts we've gotten is to celebrate so many "firsts" with Cava. One of the most special is celebrating his life for the very first time. Last Monday was his birthday so I took cupcakes to his school. Before the kids could eat the cupcakes I handed out, Cava's teacher had them sing "Happy Birthday" to him. It was the first time Cava had ever had kids sing this song to him. As they did, I found myself tearing up. The smile on his face was, as the commercial says, "priceless."

That night, we had a small family birthday. Cava got to pick what we ate for dinner. His choice: pizza. Then, after we ate, he got to open a few small presents. I shouldn't say small because they were a big deal to him. Cava was really excited and happy that he got math workbooks (He must get this love of math from Danelle because he sure didn't get it from me).

And he was over-the-moon thrilled to get a huge Marvel Heroes art kit.

Once his presents were opened, Benjamin brought him a cupcake with a candle so his brother could blow it out. Cava had never done this before and it was only after he had that Benjamin asked, "Did you make a wish?"

"Make a wish?" Cava asked, perplexed. So Benjamin had to explain this ritual and add, "So make one now."

Later, as we were putting Cava to bed, he told us, "This was the best birthday ever."

It breaks my heart that it has taken 9 years for anyone to celebrate Cava's having been born. It saddens me because I asked Cava if they did anything special for him in Ukraine on his birthday:
"Did they sing to you?"
"Fix you a special treat? A cookie or cake?"
"Wish you a happy birthday?"
"No. Nothing."

Nobody did or said anything to acknowledge the significance of the day because, for these orphans, their births were not something to be celebrated. They were unwanted and forgotten. Their birthdays were just another unnoticed day. While that has changed for Cava, I couldn't help but think of all those orphans we met for whom that hasn't changed.

Since Cava's actual birthday was on a Monday, we celebrated with a big party on the Saturday after it. When Saturday came, we were awakened by our crazy little Ukrainian who was overcharged with electrical excitement about having his very own, very first ever birthday party. Since he has been to some of his friends' birthday parties, he knew some of what to expect and he was bouncing off the walls all morning long. While he and Danelle went to go get his birthday cake, Benjamin and I began to decorate, so that when Cava got back he walked in wide-eyed wonder into our kitchen that was transformed into a Spider-man wonderland.

He ran in and hugged me tightly, "Thank you, Papa, thank you. I love it sooo much" 

As the time for party drew nearer and nearer (we knew exactly what time it was because Cava was constantly checking and informing us of what the time was), he began to get more subdued and it was clear that he was getting anxious. Hoping to calm his anxieties, I sat down beside him, began to rub his back and tell him of how each of the people who were coming to his party today were doing so because they thought he was special and that they loved him very, very much.

The party started at 2 pm and by 2:15, our house was packed and ready to celebrate. First up, was crafts. Since Cava's birthday theme was Spider-man and since his birthday falls right after Halloween, I reaped the benefits of clearance Halloween items that were spider related. Our craft was making a googly-eyed spider and attaching it to a web. The kids had a great time doing this and even a couple of adults got in on the fun.

Once they'd finished their crafts, we played a version of musical chairs that involved paper plates with either Spider-man on the bottom of them or one of the villains. Music played (all Spider-man theme songs), but when it stopped the kid had to stop on a plate. If they stopped on a plate with a Spider-man on the bottom, they were safe, but if they stopped on one with a villain, they were out. The kids not only loved this game, but parents were telling me what a great idea it was and how they could use it for their kids birthdays because it could fit with any theme.

Our second game involved each kid choosing a Spider-man cup. They were each given a certain number of plastic spiders that they had to toss into the cup. With each round, they had to take a few steps back. 

Once we had played games, it was on to the main event: the birthday cake.

Again, I loved hearing people sing "Happy Birthday" to Cava. This song has been sung by so many people to so many people that, for most of us, it has lost any real significance, but with Cava, the meaning is there as was the emotion. It was clear from the spirit in the room, that everyone there truly loved him.

And this time, Cava knew exactly what to do with the candles . . . 

After everyone enjoyed cake and ice cream, Cava got to open his presents. All of them were "awesome" or "really cool." He loved and appreciated everything he got and was genuinely thankful for each one.

Here he is wearing a Spider-man cap, scarf, and mittens that Miss Lauren gave him. It wasn't really that cold outside, but there was no way we could dissuade him from wearing them.

Once the party was over and the guests had left, I asked Cava, "What was your favorite part of your birthday party?"

In typical Cava fashion, he replied, "All of it." And he meant it. For him, the party wasn't all about the gifts. He loved the celebration, the fact that he knew and felt the love of all those who came to tell him that he was special and that they were grateful for his life and that he is here. That was the most important part of Cava's birthday for me because it was another way that all of us repeated to a boy who needs desperately to hear again and again and again that he is loved, he is accepted, and that he is valuable. 

Thank you to everyone who came and celebrated our son's life. You cannot know how deep of an impact that all of you and your friendships have had not only on his life, but our family's as well. We love each and every one of you.

Friday, November 8, 2013

With New Eyes

When you look at the face of this little boy, what do you see?

Do you look at him and think, "If he were mine . . ."?

Can you imagine yourself hugging him tightly to you?
Calling him your son?
Taking care of him when he's crying because he skinned his knee?
Listening to his prayers and tucking him in at night?
Can you hear his laughter as you tickle him?
Can you hear him calling you "Mommy" or "Daddy"?
Can you hear yourself telling him, "I love you" and hearing him say that he loves you, too?

Do you see this little girl from India as your daughter?

Or this little Ukrainian boy as your son?

How do you see the orphan?

Do you see them as beautiful, precious and of value?

Is it possible to see yourself sitting in bed with them as you read them a story?

Can you see yourself kneeling with them as they give their hearts to Christ?  Or watching them be baptized?

Do you see them all dressed up for prom?

Can you picture them graduating from high school with you sitting in the stands, proudly and tearfully watching on with joy at their accomplishment?

How do you see these children?  Does it match with how God wants you to see them?  Are you a "defender of the fatherless" as you're called to be?

Do you see these children as someone else's problem? 

Do you see a child who is someone who's especially loved by God?  Scripture repeatedly tells us of God's love for the orphan and that He is "Father to the fatherless."  God loved them enough to send His only Son to this earth to die for them.  That same son time and time again reminded us, as his followers, to take care of the "least of these" and that by doing so, we were doing this to Him.  

Even if you're not called to adopt, you can advocate for those who are. 

Do you see Jesus when you look at their faces?  Mother Teresa once said, "Each one of them is Jesus in disguise."

I can't help but hear MercyMe's song "Beautiful" when I look at them, especially the lines:
You're beautiful
You're treasured
You are sacred
You are His

Since it's National Adoption Month, won't you pray and carefully consider adopting or fostering a child today?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

5 Famous People Who Were Adopted

As part of National Adoption Month, I decided to showcase some famous people who were adopted:

1. Babe Ruth. Born George Herman Ruth, Jr. in 1895. He was one of eight siblings. Six of them died due to disease and poverty. His parents placed him and his sister in orphanages. It was there, in the orphanage, that he learned to play baseball. 

2. Bo Diddley. Born Ellas Bates to a poor couple in rural Mississippi, he was given up to be adopted by his mother's cousin. She moved her family to Chicago in the 1930's. It was there that Bo discovered Blues Music. He would go on to be nicknamed "The Originator," record 40 albums, and be inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

3. Steve Jobs. The founder of Apple, was born to Syrian-born Abdulfattah 'John' Jandali and Swiss-American Joanne Carole Schieble. He was given up at birth and adopted by Paul and Clara Jobs in 1955. In his own words, he spoke of adoption:

I was, I remember right here on my lawn, telling Lisa McMoylar from across the street that I was adopted. And she said, “So does that mean your real parents didn't want you?” Ooooh, lightning bolts went off in my head. I remember running into the house, I think I was like crying, asking my parents. And they sat me down and they said, “No, you don't understand. We specifically picked you out. From then on, I realized that I was not - just abandoned. I was chosen. I was special." His biographers, Walter Isaacson, said, "And I think that's the key to understanding Steve Jobs." 

4. Dave Thomas. The founder of the fast food chain Wendy's was born in 1932 to an unwed mother who gave him up for adoption at 6 weeks. He was adopted by Rex and Auleva Thomas. His own background and his belief that, "Every child deserves a home and love" is what drove him to found The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.  The link to that site is

5. Oscar Winner Frances McDormand. Best known for her role in Fargo. She was born in Chicago in 1957. She was adopted by Vernon and Noreen McDormand. Frances McDormand would later marry director, Joel Coen (of the Coen Brothers). They would go on to adopt their son, Pedro, from Paraguay.