Thursday, August 30, 2012

In the absence of grace

There is nothing substantive to update because nothing substantive is happening.  We are waiting - still waiting - on the signature needed from the Minister to send our paperwork into the Bulgarian courts.  This is supposed to take a maximum of two weeks, but it has not.  This is more of the things that "should' versus things that "do" in Bulgaria.  We have tried to learn to accept it.  Factually, we account for this often and mentally add time to the counter.  If someone says something will take a week, we know it will take at least two. A month could be six weeks or more.  And so on.

We know this, and we work actively to calm the frustration, the anxiety, and the uncertainty we feel in this process, knowing that the process itself is designed to mold us further into the parents we are meant to be for our future son.

In the meantime, both of us struggle with a great lack of grace.

We are aching for grace, and mercy, and peace in our process.  Sadly, these feelings well up with such fury...and not always because of our own personal adoption process.

"See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled"

Lord, forgive us for falling prey to the roots of bitterness. 

All of us are flawed, imperfect people.  This is why there are no perfect churches.  Even the most Godly, God-seeking church can never be perfect, because it is on earth and it is full of flawed, sinful people. 

What is so incredibly frustrating are the number of very human people who speak from high places and with such authority on subjects that they are enormously passionate about...and those who fail to acknowledge their own fallability. 

In our process of adoption, I have seen...

Professed Christians tearing down other Christians.
Files of children clandestinely (and outside of the authorities) passed between agencies
Good adoption workers besmirched for biased and unsubstantiated reasons
In-fighting between professed Christians over agencies, social workers, and most sadly - children.

I have seen people who have purposely prayed against or actively discouraged families to step forward in faith to adopt because they quietly coveted the child (or children) for themselves.

I have witnessed people who stand in high places speak judgment against others in the name of Christ.

I have seen potential adoptive parents weeping and begging for funds while others become funded in mere days.  Those unfunded parents are rarely highlighted.

I have seen people associated with adoption who are critical of those who don't advocate for waiting children...and others who are critical of those who advocate too much.  The factions between those who share pictures and those who do not; factions of those who hate photolisting sites and those who adore these sites as if it were a substitute religion.

I have seen ridicule.  I have read chilling, accusatory, downright untrue comments.  I have seen people who have risen to high places and are treated as authorities when they are not.  I have heard and seen hurt feelings and I have seen those who are sometimes cast out.  I have seen and personally known those who feel as though they "cannot fit in" because they are not adopting a child with a certain set of disabilities; or that they are not adopting a child who is "sick" enough. 

I have seen, read, and heard all of this and more. 

I have also seen tremendous graciousness, generosity, love, and support in adoption. We have been privy to that side too, and that blessing is enormous.  Truly.  It is overwhelming at times when I think of the number of pure strangers that have prayed, donated, and cared. 

It is why we are praying:

 "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” - Luke 6:36-38.

We walked into our adoption process very naively.  We felt we knew what we were personally preparing to do (and I still believe that we know this) but also that the process of adoption was benevolent, full of kindness.  We have learned that sometimes, this is not true.  Like everything, there are flaws.  We must accept those flaws and pray not to judge, not to condemn, and to be merciful. 

Regardless of the people involved, adoption can be a miraculous, life-changing thing that connects you to many, many wonderful, kind,and selfless people.  I sometimes fail to focus on the provision a family feels when they are in a foreign country and hundreds of people rally to their aid to assist with unexpected expenses.  Or when a child falls dramatically ill, how many commit to pray and send assistance.  There is beauty, and I want to remember that long after our adoption is finalized, rather than focus on the negative things I've heard or seen or read or even personally experienced. 

Work hard - as we are doing- not to let the actions of some flawed individuals decay the beauty that is present in adoption. 

Those are my thoughts this evening.  Praise God for His forgiveness, which I desperately need and do not deserve; yet it is freely offered by Him.

Friday, August 24, 2012

some photographs.

I have been strictly forbidden to share the beautiful photographs I took of our time in Bulgaria with our future son.  I understand this, in one sense.  This little boy is a citizen of Bulgaria and while we are actively and knee-deep in the process of adopting him, he is not yet ours.  I have shared what I can privately.

But there are some things I can share.

Every day, almost like clockwork, our little boy would want to climb the stairs and go back into the orphanage.  He loves to play outside.  The heat seems not to impact him.  He goes because it is lunch time, and he knows it is.  We rarely needed a watch when we were with him because he knew everything he wanted at precisely the right time.  His life is structured that way.  He took my husband's hand to climb the stairs...the stairs into the Bad Place.  It was almost heartbreaking how much he clung to that place and how comfortable he is there.

But why wouldn't he be?  This is his home.  He doesn't understand anything else.  He knows these people, these smells, these walls.  Though he may, in fact, have some cognitive deficits he is very aware and smart.  The experience of leaving this place will be traumatic for him.  We know this, even as we know there is hope on the other side.  But we would fools to think that he will magically love his new home with us.  He will - but not immediately.

THIS is his home.

I will never forget this place if I live to be a thousand years old.
The eerie silence, in spite of the dozens and dozens of children who live here...
The joy and amazement we felt when we FINALLY met him...
And the horrid feeling of having to let him go and wait...some more.

Please pray that the Minister will sign our last remaining information next week, so that we can go to court and finally go back to be with him; no longer a future son, but OUR son!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

a question of ethics.

One of my required classes for my bachelor's degree was ethics.  While I found it fascinating, I also found it frustrating.  I'm a person who is often desperate for "the right answer".  Yet, I am far too curious to accept some things without understanding why.  I am also passionate about understanding the other side of the story.  This is enlightening, but also frustrating because I often see at least some points of merit on the other side. 

This was my experience with ethics.  I foolishly thought I would learn about various ethical theories and then instantly find the 'right' one.  Utilitarianism?  Consequentialism?  Cultural Relativism?  Authoritarianism? Invariably, I would begin to study a particular school of ethical thinking as though I was walking down a new path.  It would look great...for a while.  Then, somewhere, a twisty turn would come and a murky swamp would appear.  "Well," I'd think, "that was a good walk...but I don't believe in THAT!"

I soon came to realize that there was no true, right and perfect answer.

This entry, therefore, will be too deep and dark and complicated for some of you.  However, I hope that those who make their living thrashing others will take some time to digest.

Consider this ethical argument:

A homeless man enters an emergency room, having been run over by a car.  He has sustained a massive head injury.  The medical doctor on call sees him and recognizes him as a homeless man. He has treated this man before, and knows that he is younger and otherwise in good health. If this doctor does not begin treatment soon, this man will likely die.  However, because he is in otherwise good health and may be brain dead already, it is possible that his organs could save a half-dozen people.

This doctor is bound by a code of ethics that tells him he should first, do no harm.  He is not planning to harm the patient - the patient is already harmed. He could potentially help many other people in this process, including children.  Even if this doctor is able to save this homeless man, this man's quality of life will be dismal.  He has no family to care for him.  He will be holed up in a state run institution for the rest of his life.

Understand - first and foremost - that there is truly no "correct" answer to this question.

Say that to yourself.  Understand that.  Digest that.  BELIEVE that.  There is no objective, truly "right" answer to this dilemma.

Stop thinking there is.  There isn't.  NO, there isn't. 

What can be ascertained is what system of ethics YOU use. And if that works for you, then it is right for you.

If you are an authoritarian, you will say that the law says the homeless man is entitled to care.  Period.  It doesn't matter about anything else. It is what the law says. We follow the law because it is right and Good.  Whether this law comes from spiritual means (such as the Bible, etc) or from government, we follow the law.  This homeless man should be tended to because the Law says he is entitled.  Whatever the result of that is irrelevant. 

Understand, of course, that we humans are often under conflicting sets of laws.  We are under the laws of the country we live in, and we may also espouse "laws" from our spiritual beliefs.  It is up to us to decide which law takes precedence. 

Don't worry - we're going to turn this to adoption in just a

If you are an authoritarian, then the Law says that this man must be cared for, regardless of anything else.  If he can help more people through his organ donation, it doesn't matter. If his life will be horrendous afterwards - should he survive - it doesn't matter.  What matters is the law.  If the law says that a photograph of an orphan should not be shared, it doesn't matter why or what that means.  The consequences are irrelevant.  It is important to follow the Law, because the Law is right and Good.

(Told ya I'd get there.)

There are laws in places far away that prevent the sharing of photographs of children available for adoption.  There are some who, believing the Law is Good and Right for Law's sake (and never really asking WHY) attempt to harrass and interrupt those who share photographs like this.  They are not wrong. In some countries - really and truly - it isn't okay to share these photos and it isn't okay to go to those countries with a pre-identified child in mind.  I know it often happens, but it isn't right by the letter of the law. (Bulgaria's process, like China's, is different with respect to registered waiting children, before anyone goes off on some ridiculous tangent).

Some hold the law of God above all law.  In that case, orphans should be shared because the Law of God demands that orphans find homes. And since this Law is above all other Laws, and it is good because it Is, then we follow that too.

But let's get back to our critically ill homeless man.  Maybe our Dear Doctor isn't an authoritarian.  Maybe he doesn't believe that the Law is Good for the Law's sake.  Maybe he espouses a belief similar to Mills, (famous Utilitarian) whose morals say, in part, that if the greatest good to the most people is served, then the Act is morally just.  This is an ends-justify-the-means argument, and there are MANY variations in ethics by many esteemed scholars. 

This man is one man, but his organs could save a half dozen people.  Maybe more.  Children could be helped.  (You can change this to mirror other ethicists by saying, rather than the "greatest number" of people, perhaps the "highest good" to be achieved, etc  This is the beginning's of Immanuel Kant's arguments, among others).  In that way, the doctor would have to call the transplant team, knowing that this one man will save many times more than that.  Children and others will live because of his kidneys, his liver, his heart, and his tissues.  The end (helping many) justifies the means.

No one - NO ONE - can argue that special needs adoption is enhanced by photographs.  NO ONE can reasonably argue that.  The charities, the adoption agencies - anyone who is involved in orphan care or poverty assistance knows this.  Why are there so many child-sponsoring companies out there?  Why do they attach you with "a child" with a face, a picture, and a story?  Why does the ASPCA want to send you a photograph of an animal that's "in our shelter right now?"  Don't deny that it works.  Just...don't. It's an unwinnable argument, with far too much evidence to compel anyone to believe otherwise.  Period.

Those who advocate, who share photographs, do so because helping children (the end - which is Good) is greater than the Law (which prohibits such practice).  There is ample evidence to suggest that seeing a waiting child leads more children to be helped.  Our critically ill homeless man may require intervention because that is what the Law says, but the greater good (helping more people through organ donation) is met by NOT intervening.  Therefore, those who espouse a system of ethics that provides for the "greater good" principles share photographs and advocate for orphans - not because they truly believe they are following the law 100% - but because they believe that the goal of helping a child find a family is a greater good. 

And, you guessed it, they aren't entirely wrong.

"But there are LAWS that we MUST follow," you protest.  "This is why I have a blog that actively calls out these families.  This is why I spend countless hours of my life data mining and sending letters and all of this.  These people are not following the law.  They must be stopped."

Following the laws of our country, or any country, is good.  Helping more people is also good.  Helping children is good. 

If I want to adopt, and I used antidepressant medication sometime in my past, but qualify to adopt otherwise, and I find a child who is in need of a home, is it wrong to lie about my antidepressant usage to help that child?

"Lying is wrong and the laws of [insert country] prohibit antidepressant usage, so even if that means the child will never find a family, you cannot deceive."

"If you are otherwise healthy, it is okay not to mention the use of antidepressants, because the greater good [the child finding a home] is served by ignoring a law that doesn't take into consideration a host of modifiers.  Good families should not be excluded for needy children by man-made laws that ultimately serve to stand in the way of a child being in a family."

Chances are, one of those statements is going to ring with more truth than the other. Chances are, you will read one statement and think the other statement is wrong.  (It's not.  Not empirically, anyway.)

You want to know what the point is?  I'll tell you.

Whatever your view about photolistings, preidentified children...waiting children...whatever you want to call it, know that they are yours They are not universal.  I do not care if you point to the laws of Russia or Ukraine.  I don't care if you point to the over 14,000 children who have found homes from photolisting sites.  Following laws is Good, and children who need homes and getting them is Good too.  Now what?  Who's right?  I know...I are going to say that YOU are right.  Funny how that works.

As some of us sit here, penning long diatribes (or being a spineless troll) against those who are trying to raise awareness of special need orphan issues, the central issue is being lost. I don't believe that adoption is THE solution, but I believe that it is A solution.  It is a solution to a here-and-now problem that won't be helped by dropping bags of money on poor, unsuspecting denizens. This is the view of the adoption-haters; poverty is the problem and money is the sole solution. Oh, and do it now, and don't worry about the current orphans...because we really don't have a solution to those children, and anyway, I'm sure their biological families will just line up like it's Powerball when the bags of money fall from the sky.

Okay. Um...NO.

The problem of orphans is comprehensive and challenging.  It is not solved by adoption and it is not solved by adoption-haters.  As we sit and point fingers at who should have what picture where and whether or not "violating" the civil rights of a child in a foreign country is "better" than letting them twist in the wind, we are losing sight of the main issues.  We are applying our ethical view to a problem that has no concrete, 100% ethical "right" answer.  We are arguing over whether Jif or Skippy is a better peanut butter (when we all know it's Peter Pan - come on! LOL) when we don't even have any bread available to make a sandwich.

This isn't a complete treatment on the subject, and it isn't the end of this, but it's something to think about.  And if I made you hungry for PB&J, so much the better. :)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Article 5

With the resumption of college, I find myself struggling to keep our blog afloat.  Yet, it is critically important for me to document as many moments as possible of this journey.  This is the journey to
bring a new child into our family.  It is one that I do not want to forget.

I am not a huge proponent of spiritual warfare, attacks from Satan, etc.  I hear this often and dismiss it.  Yet, I cannot deny what we've been through since returning from Bulgaria.  All of us became sick within 48 hours of our return.  Chelsea improved quickly, but Jon and I remained ill for two weeks.  The same week, our cat of 15 years had to be put to sleep when his kidneys failed. It was so sudden and shocking. There are dozens of little examples of drama, issues, and whatnot.  I don't claim to stand firmly on the "attacks from Satan" mountain, but our eyebrows are ever-so-slightly raised.

On July 27th, our I800 application was provisionally approved by USCIS. We received the written confirmation a few days after we returned from Bulgaria.  Yesterday, our facilitator in Bulgaria received our approved Article 5 letter.  This means we have done all we need, by the US Government's standards, to prove we are appropriate adoptive parents and that our future son is eligible, by US law, to be adopted and become a US citizen.  The rest of this process lies with Bulgaria, the Ministry of Justice, and the courts.  A signature, a court date, and a waiting period are all that stand in the way.  This sounds like a small amount of work, but it equates to many more weeks of waiting. 

As the moment grows closer, I think often of our future son's culture and family.  He doesn't realize it yet, but there is a finite period of time that he will remain in his birth country, with the Baba he knows, and an orphan.  He is not an orphan in the classic sense of that word.  He has a birthmother, and presumably, a birth family. No father is listed on his birth information. We have asked (and continue to wait for) any word of his birth mother's name, or the names of his siblings. The information contained in his physical file in the orphanage was mixed with another child's when the MOJ began investigating his orphanage earlier this year.  We want to preserve this information if we can.  It is of critical importance for him to know about his past, should he want to know.  We will be the only reasonable link to that information for him. 

Once the court date happens, there will be a 14 day period of waiting until the judgment is finalized.  His birth mother is listed as mentally ill.  I do not know if this is true.  Will she know that her biological child is being adopted?  Does she care?  Neither she, nor any member of his family, has ever been documented as visiting him.  Surely, someone must remember him. Maybe someday,we will know these answers.

Meanwhile, we continue to pray and prepare for his arrival.  We have lovingly nicknamed him "The Bulgarian Devil" (a play on The Tazmanian Devil) because, just as the Tazmanian Devil is disruptive and a swirl of activity, so is he. Before someone cuts and pastes this line and uses it entirely out of context, we smile at this reference.  He is a little boy and is quite different from our daughter in a myriad of ways.  Some of those stem from his needs, others from institutionalization, and some because of his gender.  Regardless, we embrace him.  We asked for him.  He will disrupt our lives in countless ways - and that is exactly what we wanted!

Please continue to pray for his orphanage, for him, and for our family.  We are hopeful that more children will find their families from this place.  We pray we are prepared and ready for him when the moment finally comes.  We pray that our daughter adjusts quickly to her brother and that our future son's needs can be well met in our family.  We have done little else during this time except prepare; financially, emotionally, spiritually.  We're going to yet ANOTHER adoption class at the end of September to focus on attachment and institutionalization.  There is so such thing as "too much information" when you are doing something THIS big!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

on agencies.

I've belonged to an adoption agency review group for many years.  That probably sounds silly, because we're only adopting now. But adoption was in my heart for a long while.  I dreamed of adopting from Guatemala, long before it closed and long before I knew of some of the corruption that existed there.  Had I had my choice, I would have loved to adopt from Latin America.  We sponsor three children in Latin America.  I learned Spanish in high school and have taken two classes about Latin American culture in college.  It's a wonderful place with many amazing countries...but the adoption prospects are minimal, especially for younger children. We did not want to adopt out of birth order, so Latin America wasn't realistic for us.

I still read and occasionally comment in these forums.  There are few of them that are without some sort of rancor and prejudice toward certain agencies, but the one I belong to has a robust archive that easily searchable.  Trends can be ascertained that way.

Choosing an agency is an important choice.  Sometimes, the "choice" is made "for" you; when an agency has a child's file, it is that agency or no agency.  This can be frustrating, especially if you have your heart set on a particular agency to use.  It is often difficult, if not impossible, to have a child's file moved to your preferred choice.

When we were choosing agencies, we had two lists.  One was the "preferred" list and the other was a "short list".  The "short list" had five agencies on it; the "preferred" list had two.  Before we found our son, we were fully prepared to sign with one of our "preferred" agencies.  We had the documents printed off and we were going to get our pastor to fill out some of the paperwork.  Yes, we were going to use a Christian adoption agency.

Before we were able to complete our documents, however, we found our son. He was listed with an agency on our "short list" but not on the "preferred" one. We felt confident we were going to use an ethical agency, even if it was not our "preferred" one, and we moved forward.  I'm glad we did, because our experience has been fantastic and I know the little boy we met is meant to be ours.

But going back to my experiences in the adoption agency review group, as I said, I've been a member for probably six years.  I still pay attention.  I see prospective adoptive parents rushing to the group to ask their most important question: "What can you tell about 'x' agency?"  For future adoptive parents who are preparing to shell out thousands and thousands of dollars, it's an important question.  No one wants to be stuck with a dishonest, unethical agency who may run off with their money or promise them a child that never materializes.

Invariably, just a few things happen.  When a future parent asks this question, the answers range from:

1.  A wide contingency of people who begin to tell the same story and paint a picture of an agency gone wrong; or, more probably..

2.  A mixture of answers, with some claiming problems with an agency while others expressing a positive experience.

Picked apart further, sometimes the problems revealed are country-specific (for example, an adoption agency that has problems in Ukraine but good results in China) or even time-period specific (for example, an agency that may have had problems five or so years ago, but due to change in staff or other changes, has been better).

Additionally, complaints and praise are personal.  Someone may say an agency is "bad" because they felt that much of the work assembling their dossier fell upon them.  Some people prefer a high level of "hand holding", while others may have had a poor experience with an in-country adoption representative and blame the agency.  To a prospective parent, however, these complaints are hard to decipher, and the power of the words, "I would not recommend using... [insert agency here]" from the mouth of the adoptive parent carry huge influence.  Prospective adoptive parents are preparing to part with probably the most money they've ever spent short of buying their home, and recommendations - real ones - often seem tough to find.

Recently, and quite by surprise, I found myself in the middle of a discussion about the agency we're using.  I was surprised when I read comments made by people - people I very much like and respect! - who characterized my agency as, among other things, "dishonest".  I read a few people actively discourage people from using this agency, and even for the country that we are adopting from!

Of course, we've had a good experience overall with our agency.  Really.  I'm not standing on the rooftops declaring who we are using; it's no secret in some circles, but keeping with my policy not to divulge more than I ought to on this blog, I've actually never said.  Still, my lack of description about my agency is in no way reflective of my experience.  We've had a good experience and our point of contact at our agency has been terrific.  When you can skype in-country with your representative, that's a nice thing. 

The facilitator we are working with (the NGO in Bulgaria) has also been outstanding.  A key difference between ours and others is their flexibility.  I hear so often from people adopting from Bulgaria that they were "told" their travel dates or "given them".  This is foreign to me.  We CHOSE our travel dates - completely and totally chose them.  No one dictated anything to us - they were not assigned.  Obviously, we had to wait for the process to be completed (and to receive our referral) but once we had it, we were told that any date we wanted was available to us.  That was huge for us, and appears to be a rarity among facilitators.  Our facilitator in Bulgaria is incredibly honest.  She took the time to explain every document.  Even as we arrived in Bulgaria, she never pressed us about our decision to adopt our future son.  We were immediately ready to accept his referral, but she still spoke about "if" not "when". We finally had to tell her -plainly and clearly - that we knew we had met our son and there was no longer an "if" about it! She wanted us to be sure.  I appreciated that.

Fundamentally, I think it matters what you choose to believe about agencies.  If you believe, as some appear to, that adoption agencies are run by greedy, unethical people whose sole goal is to extract as much money as possible from the process, then it stands to reason that there would only be a small handful of "good" agencies.  Generally, people like to gravitate to Christian agencies, assuming that these agencies will be ethical and honest.  But did you know that one of the bigger Christian agencies we contacted for Bulgaria costs many thousands more than our agency? Did you know that we actually had a poor experience with one, or that another larger one has been the subject of investigation and innuendo about the ethical nature of their programs?  "Christian"is not always the rubber stamp of honesty and uprightness.

I believe, as many others do, that most agencies are honest. Most of the people who work at adoption agencies are not rich people.  Some of these people have credentials that would afford them tens of thousands of dollars more in any industry other than adoption facilitation. This does not mean that an honest agency isn't disorganized or that their workers are, well, overworked.  It is the heart of the agency that matters.  Does this agency care about money or children? Does this agency advocate for the children they represent?  Does this agency counsel prospective parents to make an orphan "wait" until that child's file can be (hopefully) transferred elsewhere?  (Who would EVER want an orphan to wait??)

No agency is perfect, but I believe few agencies are really "bad".  Some may be better than others.  Some people may have a good experience, while others may not. Especially in the case of a waiting child, it is often not practical to transfer that file to your agency "of choice".  In that situation, you must be prepared to work with the agency, or not.  I believe if that child is truly meant to be with your family, the agency probably doesn't matter much.  Unless it's an agency who has been actively involved in corruption (an agency in Ohio immediately comes to mind...) you will likely be just as well served with one agency as another. 

If this is the view, then actively "knocking" agencies is probably not wise.  It's fair to share an experience if you have one, but discouraging a family based on conjecture or hearsay isn't fair.  To do so so that another agency will benefit is even more dishonest.  It brings shame on an industry that often bears more than its share.  I'm happy to recommend our agency if asked, and I believe there are other good and ethical agencies in Bulgaria and in other countries too. 

I hope that those who choose to offer opinions about agencies will do so only with confirmed information and espousing the view that most agencies are good.  Thus, if there are "two ways" to take a situation, I'd prefer to believe that the agency is trying to do good rather than being dishonest.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Once we returned from Bulgaria, I got very sick (I am still sick!).  Head cold, sore throat, the whole nine.  My daughter and husband are sick too.  I'm grateful to God that we did not get sick once in Bulgaria and that Chelsea did not fall ill while she was being watched by my family.  I'm also grateful that our little boy is not with us.  As much as I want him to be, this would be infinitely harder for all of us if we were this sick and trying to acclimate him.

Our trip to The Bad Place was a mixture of joy, surprise, and sadness.  We saw very good things and very bad things.  We saw progress and stagnation. 

The new director of this place seems dedicated to improvements.  She is young and businesslike and very attractive.  She accommodated us and gave us some access through the orphanage.  We had feared we would be left in one little visiting room for our visits but this was not the case.  We were permitted to visit several rooms through the orphanage.  We were even permitted to take our son, with only his Baba, to get his visa picture taken.  We brought him to doctors as well.  He is frightened of the car and cried constantly, even with his baba there.  It was heartbreaking.

And oh, our future son.  He feels so much more like "ours", though legally he is not yet ours.  We signed all of the paperwork in Bulgaria to begin that process but until the court legally agrees that he is ours, he is just a little boy who we believe is meant to be ours.  He is a light in that dark place. The changes in him are marked and real.  The Baba we provide for him (in addition to the few hours that the foundation there provides) has made a huge difference.  His Baba is a lovely woman.  Truly.  On our last day with her, we said through our translator that money can buy wages, but not kindness.  She is KIND to him.  She reprimands him.  How many times I recall hearing, "Baba kasvah ne!"  (Baba says No). 

When we first met this little child, through pictures and videos, he was a boy that was lily-white from anemia.  He could not stand up.  He weighed 19 pounds at the age of 2, which was actually a good weight by comparison to other children.  He was suffering repeated infections because he wasn't getting his diaper changed.  He had rickets because of his malnutrition and lack of sunlight.  He demonstrated a number of institutional behaviors, such as rocking without purpose.  He did not speak.

He still does not speak and we don't know why that is.  However, the child we met was a BEAUTIFUL BROWN!  The baba said through our translator, "I hope they still want him and don't think he is black!"  HEAVENS.  We want him to be the color God made him - and God didn't make him lily-white!  He is browner because he has been taken outside every day and is eating (though not chewing - they don't give him foods that can be chewed).

The beautiful boy SMILED.  He could walk very fast and showed such determination.  He clearly is attached to his baba and even became attached to us.  He allows some affection, but runs around the playroom as an impish little boy.  When he is there, the noise begins!  He tries to climb things.  All of the babas know him.  They call his name.  I like this because it means that his Baba really has taken him to places.  The other babas smile at him and pinch his cheeks.  I hear them calling his name and patting his head.  He has gained almost 2 pounds since this baba began to care for him and the personal attention definitely SHOWS - and has changed him in ways that are remarkable and positive.

While walking through the orphanage, we saw his "old room".  This is a room that (I believe) is on the first floor, near to a play room.  The room was horrible.  Full of cribs, it smelled terribly and was dark.  No caregivers were present. 

Our future son's new room is nothing like this.  He was moved to a wing that was apparently remodeled by volunteers from Holland.  It is (I think) on the 3rd floor.  It is yellow and the floors are clean.  There is AIR CONDITIONING beside his room in an attached play area.  There is a sink for washing and it is clean.  Unfortunately, it doesn't smell clean and he's still in a room full of children.  I looked into the play room and saw at least four children who were there without anyone with them.

In fact, I saw many children alone.

Though our future son is supposedly fed in a regular chair (that's where we fed him the two times we were permitted) I saw children who were still fed standing up in their cribs.  I was told that the caregiver-to-child ratio here is about 2 caregivers for every 17 children and is slated to be cut further.  The reliance is heavy on foundation-provided babas or from private funds that pay for a baba (like we are doing).  The state has little funds to offer to keep the proper number of caregivers for these special needs children.

I saw children every day outside in play areas or being taken out in strollers.  Each baba now is required to take two children under their charge.  Thus, some children only see two hours per day of individual attention.  This is obviously not enough. 

Some of the babas there are very good.  They play with the children, interact with them, hold them, and love on them. 

Some of them, however, are not as good.  I saw as some of these babas pushed their children in strollers, treating them mechanically and not kindly.  Some of them treat the children as nothing more than a nuisance for a paycheck.  It is social hour for these babas.  They sit as their children are not attended to and talk to each other until their time is up with the child.

The children who are known to be in the process of adoption are treated better than the children whoa are not.  If you get anything from this entry, please understand that.  The child's life will IMPROVE if a family steps forward for them.  Not only will the child be someday in a family, but the care, nutrition, and even their room may improve.  Most parents I'm aware of have the opportunity to pay for a baba for their child that will be with their child more often.  Costs range from $100-$200 per month, depending on the foundation.  This is worth EVERY PENNY.  Our future son's life is so much better now because of this extra attention. 

I will never forget the smells, the faces of the children, the elevators, or the experience that is this orphanage.  I will never forget how happy the improvements made me feel, or the sadness I felt as I moved through the halls, seeing children alone.  I was not permitted to take photographs of the children I saw there, but there were two children I saw very clearly, who are available for adoption.

I saw Penny:

I met the caregiver who was volunteering to be with Penny (from England).  We have a photograph of her that we cannot post publicly (it was taken on a phone).  This caregiver reported that, since last year, Penny has made some great strides.  For me, I was struck by her smile.  She turned to my voice and smiled at me several times.  Though her body is broken, I know there is a little child in there somewhere, and she needs a mother to step forward.  I know what her age says, but I also know that she is far more like a little child than an almost-teenager. 

I also met Payton:

He is precious!  He is just lovely.  He needs his mommy very badly, however.  He's been blessed to receive care from the medical fund, but this is not enough.  He smiled at me too - it is was a priceless grin. 

I saw an 18 month old little child who was a beautiful treasure, but who isn't available for adoption.  We were told that this child's parents have not formally relinquished their rights and do come to visit about once per year.  It is hard to imagine why a family who actually place their child in this terrible place, but until they claim this little one or give their rights away, this child will remain in this orphanage with minimal care. 

In terms of minimal care...we were never permitted to visit the 6th floor.  All we could do each day was stare at that floor and pray - fervently - that God would continue to open the door to that place and help the children there.  The 6th floor is where the worst children live.  The caregivers there are not terribly kind.  Most of the children there are waiting to die.  This is still happening there, friends.  There are children who will die without families because of neglect and malnutrition.

Positives and negatives.  Change, and yet little change at all.  That is my assessment of The Bad Place.  I'm grateful that my future son is doing much better, but my heart is heavy for the children who don't have parents and may not improve.  Please pray for those children today.