Bracelets for Our Brothers
Help Us Bring Our Brothers Home
Our Story-- our beautifully imperfect, messy, chaotic story
Posted on November 27th, 2016

Faith: "Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."​ -- book of Matthew

On October 19th, a date I will never forget because it is my mother's birthday, in 2015, Neil and I met our two daughters for the first time.  

There is really no way to prepare for such a meeting.  For an entire year before that, I'd tried to envision what the moment would look like and imagine what it would feel like to touch them for the first time.  I'd watched their referral videos hundreds of times (believe me, YouTube keeps track and was sending me subtle "you're a stalker" messages as the number ticked higher), and had their pictures tacked everywhere.  They were my daughters, and I treated them as such from the moment we signed the commitment papers.

The morning that Neil and I dressed ourselves and got ready to the orphanage, I couldn't eat.  I was jittery and a nervous wreck.  Would they like me?  Would they reject me?  Would they think I looked funny or smelled weird?  Would they like the toys and clothes we were bringing?  We'd made an extensive photo album through Apple (amazing quality, use them you guys!) that included pictures of our home, their schools, our pets, their rooms and neighborhood.  Would they like it, or would they hate our 65 pound greyhound (she's a little intimidating looking, but literally the world's sweetest pup)?  Would they enjoy our company and think we could be good parents?  Would there be chemistry and connection at all?  Would all of it be enough for them to love us one day?

The drive to the orphanage was about an hour.  Their orphanage is in a very remote part of Bulgaria, the Village of Dren.  It is truly a village, with one main drag that is only a mile or two long.  There are actually two orphanages in Dren, one in the valley, and one in mountainous region that sits above the village (our children were always jealous of the other orphanage because it is a a privately-funded venture with many more amenities).  
Once we stepped inside, we met the Director and were offered coffee.  The next thing we knew, there were the girls.  It was the most amazing, beautiful, overwhelming, thrilling, frightening, wonderful flood of emotion I've ever felt to hold them in my arms for the first time.  There are some things that cannot be put into words, and this moment will always be one too intense for verbal expression.  It was nothing like I envisioned, but that was perfectly okay.

The rest of the day we spent time in a neighboring town Radomir.  We enjoyed the sights and sounds.  We quickly began to bond with the help of a translator.  We shared lunch together, shopped together, and attended a festival.  By the time we were done in Radomir, the children in Dren were finishing school for the day and walking back to the orphanage.  We asked our translator if she'd ask the Director for permission for us to stay for an hour and observe our girls interact with other children.  She obliged.

The next hour we passed out candy and treats to all of the 24 children residing in the orphanage.  Many of the children are Romani, and therefore darker skinned than we are.  They were fascinated with our skin color (especially mine because I am so pale!).  They wanted to touch us, feel our hair and faces, and were clearly starved for a hug.  This hour was one of the hardest of our trip.  It became very clear that, for many reasons, many of these children will likely never be adopted, and this fact saddened me to my core.

After the initial fascination with us wore off, many of the children went about their daily play, but we noticed that two boys in the orphanage seemed especially consumed with us and also with our daughters.  Our daughters seemed very interested in showing off their photo album to these two boys, and the boys also were very interested in playing catch and other outdoor games with Neil and me.  We very much enjoyed our time with them, they were delightful young men, and they knew a little English.  They were excited to practice on us!

Later on, we found out that these two young boys were our girls biological brothers.  BAM.

I nearly had a stroke.  I couldn't breathe.  I couldn't fight back the tears and the panic from the thought of leaving them behind when we ultimately finalized this adoption.  What were these boys going to do?  It is so much harder for boys to be adopted, and especially older boys like these two.  We immediately understood the implication, and that moment changed EVERYTHING for our family.  Our fantasy of adopting two little girls and making a better life with them was gone.  Destroyed.  Abolished.  We knew at that moment, life was forever changed.  We had to do something.  I pleaded with Neil to ask our social worker the next day if they could be added to our adoption.  She checked, and said no.  Our only option was to start again.

How could we start again?  We'd scrimped, saved, lived frugally, made intentional choices with our finances for YEARS to be able to make International Adoption a reality for us.  We only planned to do it once.  HOW would we do this again?  And, then there were some other complications with the boys not being completely on board with the idea of adoption (it happens sometimes), and older children have to give consent to be adopted, so there were concerns there.  Ultimately we left Bulgaria that week defeated and feeling helpless.  

I cannot put into words how this knowledge changed my life preeminently.  It weighed on me day and night.  I sought intensive therapy for the feelings of guilt, sadness, and depression this knowledge caused.  Nothing worked.  My feelings only intensified not matter how many professionals told me it was for the best and tried to reconcile the choice for me.  It never, ever went away.  I will be honest in telling you my emotions ran a full spectrum: anger, rage, sadness, depression, guilt, remorse-- everything.  I was so angry that our family had been put into this situation.   We didn't ask for this.  Our family was and is forever linked to this real-life tragedy, and there was seemingly nothing we could do about it.

In March of 2016, we were finally able to finalize our adoption and bring our girls home.  Our oldest was very angry at us for the separation from her brothers.  She almost told the judge "no" in court, but ultimately decided to give her consent to the adoption.  However, the separation of brothers and sisters made it very difficult start our new family together.  Anytime a new family is constructed by way of adoption, things are hard, but this just exacerbated all of those feelings and challenges.

The day we picked up our girls from the orphanage to bring them back to Sofia with us, we were present for the final goodbye between brothers and sisters.  It was singularly the most horrific moments of my life.  I think I will experience many other awful things in my life, but this one will always stand out as the worst.  Tears, anger, rage, confusion... it was awful.  It is something I will never forget and is permanently a part of me and my life story, as well as the story of my family.

Our first few weeks as a family were horrific.  We had a few glimpses of what family life could one day be, and some nice connected moments.  But, the majority of our pick up trip was a nightmare.  Our girls will tell you now that they were trying to get us to send them back to the orphanage to be with their brothers.  Our oldest tried to bribe cab drivers to take her back to Dren.  Together they told the housekeepers of our apartment we were staying in that we were abusing them and to please take them back to the orphanage because they would rather be there.  They both tried to run away many times.

There were less serious aggravations-- they would run around the apartment screaming, throwing things, destroying the property inside the apartment (thankfully these apartments are designed for families who are adopting and they graciously did not charge us for damages).  They jumped on the beds endlessly, refused to sleep, and had rages and tantrums that lasted for hours on end.  These are moments we have previously never really talked about, and I am sharing them here only to illustrate the traumatic effects this separation had on our whole family.

Once we got home to the US, things improved immediately.  We, as parents, were on our playing field and were in control.  Gone were the days our children could request to go back to Dren or tell people we were abusing them because no one could understand them.  They also quickly realized that they could potentially have a wonderful life here filled with far more opportunity.  Things from that point steadily improved and the changes in our daughters are nothing short of miraculous.

Our girls have made so much progress since coming home.  They participate in school exceptionally well, and are engaged in many activities (our oldest is learning the violin and swims year round, our youngest is on a running team).  Our oldest daughter has gained 2 inches in height and 16 pounds since coming home, our youngest has gained 3.5 inches in height and 21 pounds since coming home.  At nearly 10 years old in March, she weighed 29 pounds and the green shirt she is wearing in the picture above is a size 5T (she's swimming in it).  Adoption WORKS.  THIS is the evidence.  Look in the pictures-- on the left there is fear, no hope, emptiness.  On the right, there is excitement, joy, and HOPE.  Most importantly, there is health in both of them now.

Still, through all of this amazing growth, our family was still hurting.  No amount of therapy, talking it out, work with social workers, or family bonding was fixing the cloud of grief that was a permanent fixture in our lives.  Their brothers were still in the orphanage.  And, based on limited reports I was able to find (I'm a stalker of the Internet) they were not doing well after the separation of their sisters.  Send a care package (this is not really legal anyway) was the best suggestion we received.  How does this fix anything?  Do we just temporarily absolve ourselves of guilt by sending some socks and candy?  NO!  They are suffering.  Malnourished.  Trapped.  No future, no home.  Neil and I both know there is no way for us to understand this intense sibling bond that stretches far beyond the norm.  They were their only family for YEARS.  How was it possible for us to move on and not do something to try to rectify this situation?

In October of this year, our family collectively made the decision to step out in faith and trust His provision and adopt these two boys.  Neil and I never planned on having a family of four.  We also certainly never planned on having three teenagers in the house right now.  But, this is what GOD HAS CALLED US TO DO.  We are trying our best to be obedient to His will and trust His provision.  Every step is made in faith because, as we started this journey, we had zero dollars to make it happen.

The medical expenses our girls have incurred from years of abuse, neglect, malnourishment, lack of medical and dental care, lack of basic hygiene materials (toothbrush/paste, toilet paper, clean clothing) has left them with huge amounts of temporary and, in some cases, permanent damage.  We have pursued Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, CBT Therapy, thousands in dental work (with so much more to come) as we try to fix the damage done.  We still have medical bills that are in collections now from the immense damage we are trying to rectify here.  We are not asking for sympathy by stating this, just saying that we were in no financial position to start a process that will cost nearly $40,000 by the time it is all said and done.

But, here we are, walking in FAITH.  Trusting that our heavenly father will not abandon us, but will instead guide us through this process with grace, wisdom, and courage.  We are trusting that HIS will in this case will be done, and that we are being obedient to his call.  We have never wanted to ask for help, but we realize that without HIS provision, and without us asking for the help of many, we will not be able to finish this calling.

Thank you for reading our story.  

Matthew 7:  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

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