Saturday, July 18, 2015

Trip 1

I've had a decent amount of time between my last visit at Ryan's orphanage and where I am now to process through everything I saw, everything I heard, everyone I met. It's not easy for me to admit but I went into that orphanage filled to the brim with American entitlement. To use a friends word...i was being snobby, even if only on the inside.

In America we would do this medical procedure.

We would never let kids get this sickly.

We could do better.

We are better.

And I think that's what most people feel when they go into such unfamiliar territory. It truly is not easy to walk into an orphanage and see your child not getting everything they could if they were home with you, or born to you. It is absolutely easy to start assigning blame and passing judgement. I get being a mama bear, I'm one too...and I'm the first to admit that those feelings are often even stronger with adopted kids just because they were born into less than ideal circumstances and we fight so, so hard to make them ours. It doesn't come easily, or naturally, it's a battle and we are fighting for them every step of the way. I want to make it clear that I understand and I'm there too but after spending a week getting familiar with the culture and the motives of the orphanage staff and watching their interactions with an open heart and open mind instead of putting on blinders and wearing a cloak of "I could do this better than you"...guys, if we come home and bash these orphanages and caregivers, if we start blogging all the ugly things we see, if we tell potential adoptive parents horror stories...then we're part of the problem. 

That's a really bitter pill to swallow. Trust me I had to overcome a lot to swallow it myself, but it's the truth and while we're getting all uncomfortable and talking about things that aren't easy I'm going to throw a couple other things out there...

1. Adoption is beautiful but creating change from within the orphanage is more important

2. Jesus is the only way miracles can happen and miracles are exactly what these orphanages need.

3. In order to become who He needs you to be, to advocate for these kids, you have to let Him break you and strip you down to what those kids have, nothing.

So, here we go!

I am a huge advocate for adoption, clearly. I believe every child on this planet deserves a family, and I believe there are families who are called to adopt these orphaned children and just refuse to say yes. But, there comes a point where we have to be realistic. There will always be an orphan crisis. We could have some huge revival and have 100 million Christians say "yes Lord!! I will bring home 1, 2, 8 orphans!" And we could clear out every orphanage in the world. But they would fill right back up, because we live in a broken world. So, what if instead of adopting families chastising those who aren't adopting, and those who aren't adopting judging where families choose to adopt from, we all just come together and do what we can on whatever level we can to give all kids the best opportunity possible? That could mean adopting, but it could also mean promoting change within the orphanages and showing grace to the people working there. There are several ways that we can be the shining city on a hill so to speak, even if adoption isn't in your future.

1. Volunteer to travel with an adopting family. 

This is an excellent way to see first hand what goes on in orphanages. Not only will you be able to support your friend who is adopting, you may be able to lend a hand at the orphanage itself, playing with kids, interacting with staff, and just generally coming in with a happy, grateful, warm demeanor. It goes a long way.

2. Look for opportunities to encourage the leaders at the orphanages. If you're there, thank them for their hard work, ask how you can be of service to them. If you're not there see if you can send care packages, notes, anything to let them know they are cared for and prayed over.

So number 2...I know not everyone who reads this is a Christian, but I am so confident in the absolute miracles I saw happen during my week in Bulgaria that you would be if you saw what I saw. We had people all over the world praying over us, and Ryan, and the orphanage. We hit road block after roadblock and watched each obstacle be lifted and we were very intentional through prayer to acknowledge Him working around us, and through us, and in our hearts and gave Him every ounce of glory for everything HE accomplished in that place. The orphanage director was known to be strict and stern, and definitely lived up to that when I first met her but we prayed and we prayed for her and by Wednesday she was like a new person. She even physically LOOKED different, and her entire demeanor had changed and she was open, and helpful and even loving. Every single person in that place was shocked. It was a miracle. 

What I need from my friends and prayer warriors is for you to actively and boldly pray for change to happen from within. I did my best to learn as many names as possible while I was there. The staff, the children, and the agency workers...I pray for them by name intentionally each day and every time their faces pop into my head. I pray for the Lord to soften their hearts, to see the children as deserving of love and attention. I pray that God will give the staff hearts of mama bears who will do anything to protect their young. I pray for the Lord to give those kids the hearts of warriors, to let them somehow feel the love that is pouring out for them from their Heavenly Father and from everyone here who prays for them. Prayer can change everything. Jesus can do anything, and I truly believe we could witness change on a grand scale if we boldly storm heaven on behalf of these children.

The third point almost did me in. Allowing the Lord to strip me of everything and break me until I took off the heavy, heavy cloak of control issues I carried around and dropped them at the foot of the cross. Took off the neediness and left it at the cross...I thought I was prepared for anything when I left for Bulgaria. I worked out the details, I had one of my favorite people with me, I was good to go. I didn't need anything, I figured it all out on my own.

That was my first mistake. Thinking I didn't need anything because *I* was in charge and handled it all. Wanna know the quickest way to making God knock you flat on your face? Forget you need Him to go before you in EVERYTHING YOU DO. 

Everything started off absolutely fine, our flights were uneventful and we had a great time during our NYC layover. 

We found Italian Nutella in Rome, we finally made it to Sofia, Bulgaria...and my luggage was lost. We found our driver though and made it to our hotel and our room that featured gnome sized everything (I am a giant...Kristie was thrilled with the furniture size) and beds that were so close together that if you weren't super close friends before, you would be by morning! 

I was a little stressed out about my luggage but not too horribly until Kristie opened HER luggage and all of her toiletries were missing. The entire bag of shampoo, soap, etc. (another thing that will bond you quickly? Sharing a razor...mine was in my carryon and hers was abducted by the TSA, so...yeah). Then our converter wouldn't work so we couldn't blow dry our hair, and hair dryer in the room didn't work, and it was very quickly becoming painfully clear the Lord had no room for vanity on this trip. We were going to be stripped of all that and our focus was going to be on more important things. So we came to terms with that, and it was getting later, and we were supposed to
Be picked up the next day and driven clear across the country to Burgas, a beautiful city on the coast of the Black Sea, where Ryan lives, and we had no idea who was getting us or when. We had David and friends and agency staff working to figure it all out and we were getting pretty nervous...but it worked out and we were picked up around noon the next day and we were off to road trip it across Bulgaria.

So, I need to stop here and introduce you to this elusive Kristie person. Going through my posts on facebook, and pictures posted in our private facebook group, there was a running theme of "so who's that chick?" I will explain. To put it simply, Kristie is the Cristina to my Meredith...she is my person.

If you don't watch Grey's Anatomy and don't get that reference, then I don't know why we're friends to begin with because it's like the best show ever...but I'll explain anyway. You know how once in a while you meet a person and you're like "oh hi, i didn't know you existed yesterday, but now that I've talked to you for roughly 17 seconds I've decided you're like my favorite person and we're going to be friends FOREVER!" and it's not weird and they don't get a restraining order and it just works? That's pretty much how things went down when I met Kristie. We met in Sunday school, in November-ish, and in March-ish I asked her to go to Bulgaria with me, and then we started hanging out and getting to know each others families and then we went to the other side of the world together and it was awesome. So, that's how we met...but to be totally serious for a second...there wasn't another person on this planet who was supposed to go on this trip with me besides her. She is such an amazing person all the way around. She is hilarious and can make you laugh til you can't breathe, she can pray over you and calm your nerves when you're about to completely FREAK. OUT., and she will tell you to get over your sad, pitiful self when she needs to. She's incredibly smart and strong in her faith and just super awesome. A big part of why I felt totally secure on this journey is because I had her with me, and I don't think I've ever trusted anyone like that aside from my husband. So, yeah...she's my person. 

Now that you know who this super cool travel pal is, lets get back to the journey. We were on our way to Burgas, we're halfway there and surrounded by nothing but field after field of sunflowers, and we stop at a gas station for lunch and my translator, this sweet girl who was a total stranger to me, looked me straight in my face and said "Kristie can't go to the orphanage with you".


I'm sorry...


See, I was in control...sure my luggage was lost somewhere between Rome and Sofia and I was heading to Burgas and 12 hours before this conversation I didn't even know who was coming to take us to Burgas, if someone was coming to take us, but it was fine right because at least I had my buddy! I wasn't alone in this foreign country or alone facing this adoption or meeting this kid who could possibly hate my guts right? And now I suddenly had no control over anything because you just snatched my crutch right out from under me and I was going to have to go to this orphanage alone and meet this tiny person alone and surely my friend hated me at this point because hi, i just dragged you literally ACROSS THE ENTIRE WORLD and now you get to sit alone in a hotel room while I go meet my kid...super fun and exciting times for you I'm sure. God bless her, she was amazing and so chill like "it's fiiiiine...if I'm meant to go I will! It's all good!" And goes back to playing solitaire without a care in the world. Meanwhile, I was losing my mind. We get back in the car and keep trekking on to Ryan's city and I am dying inside, like I think I may have had a full blown heart attack and I was crying and I hate's literally the worst...and in my head I'm still not getting it, I'm still saying what can I do, how can I fix it, how can I snatch back control and then we're in Burgas and we're checked into our hotel and we're gross and I don't have luggage and the room smells weird and we go out and we can't find food and we're exhausted and we're starving and we finally find this weird chicken and there are cats everywhere and I'm about to HAVE. A. FIT.

...and there is this voice in my head, I hear it plain as day...and I don't "hear voices" typically...

God doesn't audibly talk to me...

but I hear...

Do you think you need me yet?


Um...yup...yup I do! I'm not doing too hot out here on my own.

So in the morning we have breakfast, Kristie prays with me, I feel a little better, then I get in this taxi alone and i'm trying really hard not to burst into tears, have a temper tantrum, whatever...and I just keep doing what Kristie told me to do...pray. Just repeat over and over "God be with me...God be with me..," and that was my mantra the whole way there, up the stairs of the orphanage, inside the directors office, up the elevator, down the hall, and into Ryan's ward...God be with me...God be with me...and then there he was, teeny tiny Ryan. Sitting in a baby bouncer, smiling, and I was smitten. I mean it was love at first sight. That feeling when you hold your baby for the first time, they're laying on your chest and you know that little person is who you've been waiting for for months, and they're yours, and they're perfect...I was so there. 

I forgot everything else, who cares about luggage and having clean clothes and frizzy hair and being alone and just forget all of it...I finally had MY kid in my arms and nothing else mattered.

But, while that moment was a fairytale, the experience was far from one. Ryan is a very sick little boy, pounds smaller than I expected, many more serious special needs than I thought. His life is very much at risk. Recognizing all of this kind of lit a fire under me and I really needed our translator to help me advocate for better nutrition for him, and for Kristie to be allowed to meet him. It was no longer for reasons like I NEEDED her there with me, God removed that need from me, He took my crutch and forced me to rely on Him, and I learned very quickly that He was all I needed, but Ryan needed her. He needed to feel love from as many of his people as possible, and the only people he had that week were me, and her. My biggest fear was, and remains, that he won't live to come home. He is truly that frail. I couldn't live with myself if that happened and I hadn't done everything in my power to get her inside that orphanage to show him he had people. 

So, we prayed. We didn't just pray, we had our entire Bible study praying...and talk about some women who love Jesus. Someone I had never met prayed the most amazing prayer over us and our trip and Ryan...we had so many people interceding on our behalf and heaven was stormed with prayers for our situation...and the next day I asked the orphanage director once again if Kristie could just come see Ryan even for a minute, and she was so warm and understanding. She said of course she can come, and not for a few minutes, for the whole visit, and for all the visits. My mouth hit the floor, I felt the presence of God in that room with us, I had never felt anything like that before in my life. It was amazing. 

So, we decided to keep doing what was working. Praying, and praying hard, and praying big huge prayers for crazy big change inside that orphanage, and God didn't just soften their hearts, he softened MY heart towards them. He allowed all the mama bear bitterness to just fall away, he allowed me to genuinely thank them for keeping my child alive, and doing their best, and loving him the best they could. We made a decision to, all on our own, with God of course, change the way the staff at this orphanage viewed American's. We would not be selfish and just focus on Ryan, we would ask how we could serve the staff, and the children, and they were so receptive, and appreciative. A trip to meet my child, and what I thought was bringing a friend for me, turned into so much more. That orphanage became a mission field, and Kristie wasn't there for me, she was there because God wanted her there and was using her there to love on that staff and those babies in ways they have probably never experienced in their entire lives. It was big, and it was kingdom work, and it was amazing. I'm so blessed to have been a part of it. 

Leaving was hard, it was so hard...but we had a layover in Paris and we took that amazing city by storm while we had the chance! It was probably the most incredible experience of my life, and I wouldn't have wanted to share it with anyone else. 

I was a little worried about spending so much time constantly connected at the hip to one person. I have never been with anyone for that long with no break at all aside from David...but it was actually REALLY fun, and when I got home to the frat house I live in and there were boys everywhere...I kinda wanted my girl time back! I can't wait until trip 2, and breaking my baby boy out of there once and for all...but that won't be the end of this journey. I have a love for that orphanage and I will do everything I can to help it become whatever the Lord wants it to be. <3

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