Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What is our new "Normal"?

I can't believe it, but three months have passed since my mother-in-law, myself and one small Ukrainian landed on U.S. soil.  It was a crazy trip with 3 layovers and over 24 hours of travel, but we made it.  I was so grateful to have the help as traveling with a child who doesn't understand what is happening and it excited to maximize his new-found freedom is... challenging.  CPS was NOT waiting for us in Chicago (where we went through customs) much to my surprise based on the struggle it was to get Kanoa to put his seat belt on for landing, but we made it!

The reunion with Paki and the kids was awesome!  They had "met" Kanoa through Facetime throughout the 3 weeks we waited for Kanoa's passport in Kiev.  We walked through the door at Paki's grandmother's where everyone was waiting for us and he easily accepted a hug from his new daddy and siblings!  It was better than we expected and we were thrilled that this first hurdle was a win!

I was so grateful to be home and have the parenting support of Paki.  Those weeks in Ukraine trying to adjust with Kanoa were very hard and took a lot out of me.  I was angry, frustrated, resentful, and at the end of my rope. This is also part of the reason I have not said much up until this point.  I had/have a lot of things that I am working through. 

Celebrating Kale'a's belated birthday a week after we got home. Kitty Cat theme, if you couldn't tell. :)
As for Kanoa, he is doing great.  We've made huge progress with his behavior, emotional out-bursts, and language.  Once he gets going talking, it's hard to make him stop!  Having our next two children so close in age as him has helped tremendously.  He imitates their interactions and words, and they are helping him with his pronunciation.  While I was in Ukraine, I was able to observe a "session" with Kanoa and the orphanage psychologist with my interpreter.  The psychologist took him through some exercises and problem solving/identification scenarios.  At one point she said, "Maybe he will be better at sports."  I was irritated that she would say something like this in front of him.  Now that he's been home for 3 months, knows some of his letters and can count to 15 in English (he was unable to count to 5 in his native language without help and knew NO letters), I want to go back and yell at that woman that these children just need a chance to learn! 

First visit to the Aquarium
The things that Kanoa has learned and developed in just the last 3 months shows how much a child needs a family to fully develop to their potential.  I am amazed at the simple things in life we take for granted.  Things that Kanoa was not afforded or never given the opportunity to experience.  So as we continue to integrate Kanoa in our family and adjust to all the changes, we continue to be amazed at the plan the God designed in family and children.  We are relying daily on God's strength and pray for wisdom and creativity to meet each challenge. 
First time making s'mores, around a fire, on the beach. We had to cut him off after 2 s'mores!

Here are some things I have learned in the past 3 months:

1. Love is not instant and if we rely on our emotions for it, we will be disappointed.  Love is a choice.

2. If you think you're a good person, godly person, or generally on the up and up... adopt.  You will quickly see the true ugliness in your heart, and it will scare you.  I have never been so aware of my own sinfulness and need for a savior than in the last 3 months. 

3. Expectations are yours.  You are responsible for what you determine them to be and how you will react when they are or are not met.  Expectations need to change, often. 

4. Forgiveness brings redemption and redemption brings freedom.  In that freedom, we are able to love.

5. When to walk away and when the battle is worth fighting.  There has been much "dying on swords" in our house over the last 3 months.  We soon realized there are certain things that we just need to let go of and adjust that expectation to a spot further down the line.  This has not been easy.
6. Costco memberships are worth their weight in gold.  Kanoa can out eat Paki most days... I'm scared of the teenage years!

So please keep us in your prayers.  We have our good days and bad days, but for each step backwards, we can still clearly see God's hand reaching out to pull us through to that next step forward.  As a dear friend told me today, "As parents, we're not just raising our children to be 'good', we're shaping their hearts to follow God."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Adoption isn't for the weak of heart

It's been awhile since I've posted on what has happened with this adoption because I struggle with what to say. How much do I share? What parts should I just skip over? How much is too real for the casual reader who thinks adoption is perfectly beautiful? Because while adoption IS beautiful and it is an amazing journey, it's got some ugly spots. Not just some little bruise or some dirt you found under the fridge, but some knock down drag out ugliness that makes you wonder if you were ever sane to step into this new world.

I was able to meet with Taras (his alias was Magnus for his original adoption listing) daily for two and a half weeks. It was great to see this little boy and learn about his world. But it was a challenging setting. We met him in one small room (with very weird stuffed animals that were never played with) or one bigger room (with 2 piano's you were not allowed to touch... found that one out the hard way, and a variety of small animals- turtles, birds, fish, chinchillas) with no one else around. So without knowing really the "rules" and not being able to effectively communicate, this little boy decided that boundaries did not exist. He was very difficult to engage and he rarely wanted to play with any toy we brought. He mostly wanted to touch and get into anything that was "off limits". Although, my iPhone was a highly coveted item and I had to guard that sucker so he didn't try to spend the whole time reprograming it for me! Eventually some of the behaviors sent me over the edge and I had to take a break. Apparently it is very common for kids in orphanages to know quite a few curse words, but I was shocked when I found out that he had been calling me some not nice names on top of everything else. I turned to some other veteran adoptive mommas and got some good advice. When his behavior was getting out of control, I left for the day. It was empowering that I didn't have to suffer through and I no longer felt any dread for how the visit was going to go! Also, that I wasn't the first momma that had this experience!

On December 17, I stood before a judge and declared my intentions to be granted parental rights of this little boy. I was bracing myself for lots of questions and, while I was asked some things, it was a relatively painless. After 30 minutes, the judge ruled that I was now Taras's mother and his new name was Kanoa Taras Gomes! It was such an exciting day. Also because that meant I could finally go home to see Paki and the kids after 3.5 emotionally exhausting weeks.

(Outside the court house…)

Before leaving, I discussed return dates with my facilitation team and was planning to return January 12th to finish up the paperwork. After court, there is a mandatory 10 day wait that was going to run into  the holidays as Ukraine celebrates the Orthodox Christmas on January 7th. On December 31st, I got an email that my facilitator had an appointment for me on January 6th! My mother-in-law was planning on returning with me for the second trip, but she was unable to travel that soon. So four days later, I boarded a flight by myself and headed back to Ukraine.

My first meeting with Taras after coming back was less than I expected. He didn't seem unhappy to see me, but more indifferent to my presence. I admit I was a little worried. On January 12th, Taras walked out of the gates of the orphanage no longer an orphan, but a son, grandson, and brother... And he was balling his eyes out. He pulled out his toy phone and was trying to call back to his group and while my Russian isn't that great, I knew exactly what he was saying. I was so heart broken for him. He didn't understand. He had no idea what the future held. I was just some lady that visited him and my name was mama. Mama truly didn't mean anything to him. The ugly side of adoption. The heartbreak. The loss. The unknown.

(Taras trying to call back to his group because he didn't want to leave)

Unfortunately, we didn't get our passport application appointment the same day I picked him up from the orphanage. Taras and I were on our own until we got up to Kiev where my mother-in-law was going to be waiting for me. I didn't shower, I used the bathroom with the door open, I couldn't turn my back on this boy for a second. I was getting a cup of water and he tried to pull the tv off the stand down on his head. Insatiable curiosity, a liter of sorrow, a dash of anger, and a gallon of inability to sit still for a second made me exhausted in the first 10 minutes. But by God's grace, we made it through security and onto the flight up to Kiev.

Once in Kiev, what I thought was crazy behavior, stepped up to a new level. My mother-in-law was so caught off guard, she didn't even know what to say. Our driver who took us to our medical screening appointments (required by anyone trying to get a visa) was so "affected" by his behavior, he went home to tell his wife about it. I actually had to physically restrain him for a large portion of the appointments and anytime we were in public. What it comes down to is that Taras was a favorite at his orphanage so he was constantly getting attention and performing for that attention. When in public, he wants everyone to see him and give him that affirmation that he has been used to getting. And oh, the things he'll do to get people to look at him.

We've been here in Kiev for 7 days now and all we're waiting on is Taras's passport so we can take it to the U.S. Embassy for his visa and then we can come home. Taras is still having moments/hours, but has made so much progress in this short week. We are establishing boundaries, identifying behaviors/triggers, and he is beginning to understand a lot more of what is ok and what is not. We are communicating better and even his mental processing has improved. When we first got here, he couldn't figure out some basic puzzles on our iPad and even some cardboard shape ones. Now he is actually enjoying doing them. But his favorite toy of all time… the vacuum cleaner. That boy went around this apartment for almost 2 hours today. Then before bed, he started pointing to the floor indicating that it was dirty again and he went back to pull out the vacuum again. I had to assure him that he could play with it again tomorrow before he would go to bed!

(Sad that we have to put the vacuum cleaner away for tonight)

And the biggest thing… at first, he refused to see Paki or the kids on FaceTime and would run away every time he heard Paki's voice. Now, if he hears my phone ring, he comes running to hear Paki say, Priviet, Taras! (Hi) and "Ya Lubloo tebe" (I love you). I even actually heard Taras practicing Kahi and Konale's names at bedtime one night. For some reason Kale'a still eludes him, but he's trying. So while he still can drive me bonkers with opening/shutting doors, turning on/off every light switch, trying to get into everything all the time, we are building ties and growing in an understanding of trust. (I hope.) I don't know that he loves me (or if he even knows what love is) and there are still moments where I question my sanity, but I can't wait to get home and see this little boy meet his new forever family.

So keep us in your prayers. Once we finally get home (hopefully this weekend!!), a whole new set of challenges begin!

Monday, December 1, 2014

God's ways are not our ways.

There are so many things to say that I don't even know where to begin…

Let me start by saying that this entire journey was started by God's prompting and He is faithful. My friend, Cathy, and I made the long trek across the ocean and landed in the freezing cold after 11pm local time. We finally made it to our apartment at 1am and were told that our court time was 9am! Figures, right? Last ones landing, but first ones to court that day! (There are 4 other families that we know of that are here adopting through the same organization.)

I was full of anticipation- so excited to see little Koen's file. So excited to accept his referral. So excited to begin the adventure and our lives with this little boy.

And my excitement-filled world crashed.

Our facilitator met me as I climbed out of the car and said that there was bad news. A local family had taken Koen's file the day before and he was no longer available. I was shocked, crushed, overwhelmed, in denial. It was almost hard to breath. I immediately thought of another child that Paki and I had been discussing. It was another little boy that we had at first thought was the same child as Koen due to some confusing information. Maybe this was God showing us that the other little boy WAS shown to us for a reason. But he was gone as well. Already adopted by a local family. I knelt down on the ground in the snow. My mind was racing. This was my worst fear actually happening. They were going to show me children, I was going to have to decide- to pick another child. I couldn't do it. I couldn't do this alone. It was the middle of the night for Paki. I had no way of calling him. I was on my own.

The other option was to say no and turn around, go back to the airport and go home. I considered it for a moment, but immediately knew that God didn't bring us half way around the world to just go back. I agreed to see the files.

I had always prayed that God would not make me "triage" children. It was my original dream that I would have to decide who to take and who to leave behind. As they went through the files, they showed me two little boys. One was a brown haired little boy with a playful smile. The other child was younger with a huge grin on his face. How do you decide? They read the files to me and it became clear that the younger little boy would not actually fit my home study approval and I really only had one child in front of me. They made me wait for another hour to see if any more files were coming, but there were no more. I was surprised that (while my home study was very narrow in the children I could adopt) that there was only one file sitting there. Looking back, I realize the sweetness of this moment. God's absolute kindness. Had I known in advance that Koen was no longer available, would I have gotten on that plane? I don't know. God made sure I was on my way with no turning back. Had I traveled sooner as offered, this little boy "Magnus" wouldn't have been available as he does not turn 5 for another week and a half. And there was only one. God did not make me "triage". He placed this little boy in front of me and asked me, "Do you trust me? Am I enough for you?" And I said yes.

So meet little "Magnus"…

This is the little boy that I was able to meet just three days ago. He was told that his mama had come for him and he was so excited that he told his caretakers goodbye and that he wasn't coming back! Very sweet.

While I am very excited about this little boy, I am still struggling. My heart is still broken. I want to love this little boy freely, joyfully, without guilt or reservation. But I don't yet. It's comparable to when Paki and I lost our first baby and then 2 months later became pregnant with Kahiapo. I was excited to be having a baby again, but the excitement was dulled by the 'what if's' and 'what could have beens'.  I know my heart will heal. I will always wonder about little Koen and if he is being loved and cared for. But like Paki said to me when I finally was able to tell him what happened, "He is in God's hands, Joanna." I am so grateful to Paki during this time- he knows me so well and has given me such encouragement. This is what he wrote that day, "Praise God that Koen and Daniel have families! Just as with Kahiapo, Kale'a and Konale, our children are God's and are only ours on loan from God. Magnus fits perfectly into that mold.There is no loss here at all, since God has prepared our hearts to adopt and there is a child in need of a family. He has gotten us this far, how great is His plan for us!" I am so grateful for a godly, loving husband with a heart for our family.

So Cathy and I caught a train to come see Magnus- a 9 hour overnight train ride! We didn't sleep at all and went to meet Magnus later Friday morning. We are so out of our comfort zone with language, customs (don't smile too much- it's rude!), and overall exhaustion. I am not good with learning languages so I pretty much know how to say "Hi" and "thank you"! I'm trying, but just not having as much success as I would hope. 

So keep us in your prayers as we continue down this road. I signed papers today confirming my intent and now the paper chase begins. I will get to visit Magnus daily at his orphanage and continue getting to know him. We are definitely going to have our hands full with this little guy. He has lots of energy and is curious about EVERYTHING. He is already addicted to my iPhone wanting to watch the videos of himself and of our family. I pray that he will become more comfortable with me and that we will find ways to communicate! Thank you in advance for all your prayers!

Thursday, November 13, 2014


As of our last update, all of our documents were submitted to the courts on October 16th. We expected to find out when I would be traveling to go meet our future son next week at the earliest and be traveling around the second week in December…

And then the phone call came yesterday morning. It actually woke me up since Paki was being so sweet and took the kids downstairs so I could catch a little more sleep. It was our awesome facilitator letting us know that our court date is November 26th!!! Which means, I'm climbing on a flight on November 24th!! AHHHH! I was completely unprepared for such a fast turn around, but am so grateful that, in just a few weeks, I get to meet this little boy that we've been falling in love with over the past 8 months!

As usual, God is paving the way for this to happen.
1. The Child Development Center has openings for all 3 of our kids for child care while I'm gone!
2. My mom is able to come out earlier to help Paki so he can study in the evenings and weekends!
3. My dear friend, Cathy, is able to travel with me at the earlier date!

We are so excited and continue to chase down last minute paperwork, notaries, and a zillion other details. I've been carrying my passport around in my purse since before we left Hawaii so it couldn't get lost in the move. One less thing on my list to find!

Please keep us in your prayers as we move forward on this adventure. Cathy and I will be missing some holidays with our families here in the U.S., but I can't imagine a better Christmas present than getting to bring home the newest member of our family! So much to be Thankful for!!

Monday, October 20, 2014


We got the amazing news that on Thursday, October 16th, all of our paperwork was finally submitted to the court system of the country that we're adopting from! (Yes! We miraculously got all our paperwork over there and translated in time!) Our counter stopped on the expiration of our documents (thank you, Lord!) and now our counter starts for when we find out our travel/court date.

I am simply amazed at the facilitation team we are working with and the encouragement that we have been receiving from the adoption community! We actually just met another military family this weekend at a church we visited that adopted 2 little boys from Africa. Talk about a wealth of knowledge that I will be reaching out to when we bring little "Koen" home.

Paki and I have talked quite a bit about changing "Koen's" (just his alias on the website where we first saw him) name. I have felt very torn on the subject. I didn't change my female dog's name from David when I brought her back from Iraq because I felt it would be too confusing with all the other changes going on. So she lived a full 8 years being called David. Do we want to change this little boy's name when his whole world is about to get turned upside down? After much discussion, we've decided to give him a new first name and keep his given name as his middle name. That way he has the option of what he would like to go by while maintaining at least a small part of his heritage. With our other three children having Hawaiian first names that begin with a "K", you can guess that this little boy will also get one! Discussions/negotiations are still in progress!

And another wonderful update: A great friend from our church family in Hawaii has volunteered to freeze with me for at least the beginning portion of the trip! (The totally time in country is anywhere from 6-10 weeks.) I am so grateful for her willingness to bundle up and venture half way around the world! This will give us more time for Paki's aunt to set up her schedule to possibly join me for the end of the trip.  While I am out of the country, Paki will be still working/going to school and have our other three angels (a.k.a. maniacs) by himself. So my mom has volunteered to come out to help so he can get in the study time he needs while I am gone! I'm not sure my mom knows what she's getting into!

Thank you for keeping up with us and following our journey! As a side note, while we have not been actively fund raising for this adoption, we have been offered a matching grant of $500 by an anonymous donor. We are so humbled by the kindness of so many people through this emotionally and financially exhausting journey. If you want to help us reach that matching grant, you can donate at:

 Please keep us in your prayers and we hope to be able to update everyone in about 5 weeks when we'll hopefully find out our travel dates!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Paperwork that NEVER ENDS…

My most sincere apology for the lack of updates on our adoption journey. For the most part, it was supposed to be a quiet wait for our sweet Koen to reach the age of 5 in November, but unfortunately that didn't happen. And we've been a bit busy!

But here's the only picture we have of Koen just to remind you of this amazing little boy that we're trying to adopt:

So we are still transitioning from Hawaii to California as the Navy is taking us down a path that hopefully will be a great season for our family in regard to time together. To be completely honest, we're not in love with California thus far, but to be fair… Hawaii is a hard act to follow up! And I'm cold. I don't like being cold. It's going to get colder. I don't like being cold.

We've been living out of suitcases for a month and a half and it's getting old. Paki's grandmother has been awesome letting us stay with her while we're working out the housing situation and I think our children almost have her house childproofed at this point. Only a couple broken items and spaghetti stained walls courtesy of young Konale!

Back to Koen. We received an e-mail about a week after flying off Oahu that the country we are adopting from has changed some formatting on 9 of the required documents, and they are asking for additional copies of our Home Study, passports, etc. Oh, and now we needed a Federal background check vice the state background check. Did I mention our medical documents were on the cusp of expiring and we don't have doctors yet here in California because we JUST GOT HERE!?!? Let the paperwork scramble begin. AGAIN.

We got the first round of documents signed notarized and sent off for apostille to the state of California. (Did I mention CA charges $20 per document while it only cost $4 in HI????) After 2 weeks, I called to check on them only to find out they were rejected due to the incorrect jurat that the notary didn't mention… I panicked. PANICKED. I kept looking at the calendar and counting days. We weren't going to make it. Our Home Study was going to expire and we would be starting all over again. I cried some ugly tears and finally prayed with Paki. (Why do we/I always wait until the ugly tears come before we/I turn to God??) I asked God for discernment, wisdom and encouragement, to know that we were still moving in line with God's will. And I felt peace. Complete peace.

THE NEXT DAY. Paki's aunt sat down across from us and encouraged us to not lose sight of all the wonderful things we have in our lives right now- that we can trust God with this adoption. Later in the evening, Paki opened his e-mail and had a message from a friend encouraging us in the adoption and to persevere through the low times when all seems lost. The. Next. Day. How cool is God?!?!

And we've continued forward. All of our documents are either done or in the very end of the process. But they're still here in the U.S. so we're not in the clear just yet. We MUST be submitted in October before any other documents expire. (Documents are only good for 6 months from the date they are signed in front of the notary.) We started this process back in April so we're starting to hit that point. We are working to get the documents over to the country so they can be verified, translated, and complied to be submitted to the courts. From the date we are submitted, the average time is about 8 weeks to our court date. If you do the math…I will (hopefully) get to freeze my fanny off in December. Did I mention that I HATE BEING COLD???

And that's the update. That's where we stand as of today from the UPS store as I sent off documents to Pennsylvania to be apostilled. We are praying that everything will be finished in time without anymore hiccups. So who wants to go with me???? No, seriously. Lots of unknowns still on dates, but at this point I'll be traveling by myself. If you're reading this and have the time, and desire to freeze with me for 6-8 weeks (or portion there of) in an Eastern European country, let me know. I can give you more details. Thanks for reading!! I hope to have great news by the end of October!

Saturday, July 12, 2014


I owe everyone an update to our adoption story. This has been the most emotional roller coaster of a ride.  As of my last update, we were waiting on our last document to finish out our packet for final submission. The stressor was the deadline of July 14th in which the U.S. was changing its rules for international adoption. We needed to get our approval before July 14th or we would face possibly having to start all over with a new homestudy. Thankfully we got our approval in the mail with about 2 weeks to spare.

            As fast as I could, we got the document notarized, certified, and apostilled, found a family traveling to the country to hand carry it for us, and overnighted (in Hawaii, the best you can get is 2nd day) it to them. All of our documents are currently sitting over in little Koen’s country just waiting to be submitted to the court.

            You want to know why God is so cool? Because the country that Koen is in is currently taking a 2-week holiday and not accepting new dossier submissions. Why would that be so cool knowing that this is a delay in our process? Because I just got an email today saying that Koen’s birthday was wrong and that he actually doesn’t turn 5 until November! (He is not available for international adoption until his 5th birthday.) If we hadn’t had this delay, our paperwork would’ve been submitted and we would not be able to adopt Koen as he would not have been available!!! Can I get an AMEN??!?!?!

            So where does this leave us? Basically, we’re waiting. Our awesome facilitation team will hold our paperwork until just before it is set to expire and then try to time it for us to get our initial court date (referred to as DAP) when Koen turns five or just after.

            It is hard knowing that this little boy is going to have to wait just a little bit longer before we can go get him, but in the mean time, we’re going to move to California, find a house, get moved in and be READY for this little boy to come home and join our family! We were trusting that God would provide the timing.  Our move in Aug/Sept and not having a house identified yet is unnerving enough, but not knowing when I would be traveling to get Koen and if it would be exactly when Paki started school, house hold goods were showing up, and with three munchkins underfoot, it was something we didn’t even want to think about.  And then the trumpet sounded (in my head) and God said, “I’ve got this, trust in me.” This delay, as frustrating as it is (and as freaked out as I was that my paperwork was going to expire before we could travel), is all part of God’s plan and by His gentle kindnesses, we will have a home ready for Koen.

            As always, please keep us in your prayers. Thank you!