Friday, November 13, 2015

I am blown away

We were able to arrange English tutoring for the boys.
As most of you know, adoption is very expensive. It doesn't make sense to most of us, there are kids who need families and families who want them. They cost governments money to keep them longer. But, I digress. The bottom line is that everything about this is expensive, and I am not in charge. The other issue is that adoption wasn't on our radar. We did have some money saved up that we have now earmarked for the adoption and we are prepared to do whatever it takes to bring them home, but the cost is staggering! Even though I trust that this is not our plan, and God has this all figured out, I still wish I knew all the details.

We had decided to host the kids for a month over Christmas, since the adoption was taking longer than originally thought. Orphanages in Ukraine close for the holidays to give the workers vacation. This means that the orphans are sent off to camps. We did not want our kids sent off to camp, we wanted them here, with us. Safe, warm and well-fed for the holidays. So, when the opportunity to host became available, we decided we would move forward in faith with our "yes". I was doing really well with this faith move as I filled out all the paperwork and did the additional training. My faith lasted, until it was time to send the check and buy the plane tickets. It costs $2900 per child to host for Christmas. This gets them as far as Dallas, Texas. One of us needs to go to Texas to get the children, bring them home and then return them again in January. Texas is far and weather is dicey in December and January, so driving was ruled out. That means 5 round-trip tickets to Texas, and $8700 to host. This is on top of the cost of adoption. 

I wish I could say I didn't, but I spent most of two days worrying a whole lot more than praying. During this time, I found and reserved surprisingly affordable non-stop flights from Madison to Dallas. Yet, I still worried. Reasonable flights still add up when you need 5 of them. My worrying wasn't entirely over financial needs. Even though my health is greatly improved, I was concerned I wouldn't be up for this challenge. Mike was scheduled to work a 12 hour shift on the 18th of December, so it would be me traveling all day to get the kids on the 17th. I would need to arrive at the airport around 6am and would not get back to Madison airport until 11:30pm. Then, I would be alone the following day with 6 kids, three of whom would be jet-lagged, while Mike worked. This would have seemed daunting before my illness, let alone now. Post-tumor Natasha requires about 10 hours of sleep a night to be my best self. How would this all work out? 

After two days of trying to figure this all out with human limitations, I threw my hands up and got real with God again. 
N: Ok, God, I am writing the check today. I still don't know how we are going to do all of this. If you want us to do this, you are going to have to provide the means. I don't have enough money, energy or help to pull this one off. If the answer should be "no" because of these things, you have to be clear because I am not getting it. I am writing the checks now, mailing them and then I will buy the plane tickets. None of this is refundable, God. Thanks.
G: silence
Then, I wrote the checks and mailed them. This was super, duper hard for me. 

Natalie, my sister, suggested that I post my worry and let people know the costs, both material and physical that we were facing. She also let me know that my family had been talking behind my back. They had all (my parents, siblings and nieces and nephews) decided to forego exchanging gifts this Christmas. Instead, they would donate the money they had planned to spend to our adoption and hosting expenses. I was floored. As their donations started coming in, so did many of yours. For the next three days, I was getting steady emails notifying me of donations. At one point, all emails on my screen were donations! By the end of 36 hours, enough people had joined us in this journey financially that the hosting and plane ticket costs were covered. Whoa!

Also during this time, my mom called and told me she wanted to buy a ticket and meet me at the Dallas airport. She would hang out with the kids and I and then fly home after we were Madison-bound. What a relief, one more hurdle covered. My uncle called me about an hour later and said he wanted to drive to Texas from Kansas and do the same. Super cool. Then, a little while later, Mike told me that one of his partners wanted to change shifts with him, allowing him to be home the first day the kids are home. I only had one more concern and that was the return trip to Texas. I had been informed that we needed to be there the night before their flight home. This meant I would have to fly the kids to Texas on the 14th, get a hotel, entertain them all day at the hotel and then the airport until their flight to Ukraine at 4:15pm on the 15th, then fly home myself. I knew I would be drained both emotionally and physically by this trip, and then fly home alone--knowing I had just put my kids on a  plane back to a less than ideal situation. You will never guess what happened next, a friend offered to buy her own flight and join me on the return trip. Just like that, every single seemingly unsurmountable wall crumbled! 

The boys' room, with donated beds & bedding.
This month, our family has been doing at least one Lutes Love Moment per day. A random act of kindness to brighten the world. We feel so blessed and loved and want to give others a reason to be thankful this month. Every day, no matter what act we carry out, big or small, we are out-blessed. Every single day, we are blown away by how much so many people are helping our family help these kids. We have had work days at our house to get it ready for three more people, we have had beds, clothes, toys donated. We have had people praying for us. We have had people completing paperwork requirements for us. We have had people printing out the mountains of paperwork required since our printer broke and it has been a ridiculous journey to remedy this. We have had people think of ways to be helpful that we hadn't even thought of. So, so much to be thankful for this year. 

I would like to say that I will do better on my next faith challenge. It is so much easier when it is far in the future or I have a backup plan. Why is it so hard to let go and trust?! Yet, when I finally do, I love the details He has planned for us. The plan is so much bigger and grander than I would have imagined. Just, wow!

If you are reading this and would like to help us cover the costs of adopting these amazing kids, here is the link to our fundraising page. All donations are tax-deductible, and grants cannot exceed actual costs for adopting. Thank you!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

I Know What Joy Sounds Like

Happy Birthday, S (clearly first thing in the morning)!
Two days ago, S, our oldest son, celebrated his 12th birthday. He celebrated in Ukraine, a world away from his awaiting family. Today, K, our oldest daughter celebrates her 14th birthday. It is really tough to be so far away, but that ache seems amplified on the big days. 

Happy Birthday, K (M had to leave early for work)!
Lucky for us, God hears our cries. Do you remember the lady I told you about who is adopting her son from the same orphanage? Her name is Carla. Well, not only did she deliver the necklaces and letter for us, but she did a few other lovely things for our kids (and us). First of all, she offered to shop for a phone for our kids while she was in Ukraine. Apparently, phones are quite a bit cheaper outside of the US. Carla was able to get a great deal on the phone, so she had a bit of money left over. When she found out it was S's birthday, she went shopping again and bought some legos for our boy. Shortly after delivering S's gift, she discovered K's birthday was today. Carla went out again and shopped for K for us. When she finished, K even had cake! I can't even begin to express my gratitude. A woman who was a stranger to me a few weeks ago, has such love for orphans-- especially my three orphans--that she is happily making trips to and from stores in multiple towns to help me deliver my love across the world. Wow!

So, back to that really big gift (as if the others were small potatoes). This morning, when my caller id showed a few extra numbers, I got chills. Yep, I got a call from Ukraine. I could actually hear the joy in these kids' voices. Artem was sick today (in the infirmary), but I was able to speak with S and K. I loved hearing their sweet voices mixing with mine. We were able to talk for a few minutes before the phone needed to be charged, and made plans to talk again. So, so good!

My high school counselor was amazing. Every time he called (even into my adulthood), he would comment at least once in the conversation that he could hear my smile coming through the phone lines. Today, I understand that even more. He was absolutely right, you CAN hear smiles! What a gift.

As I go through my day reflecting on this, I am so inspired to look harder for little ways that I can spread joy in this world. Ways that I can love others selflessly, just as I have received. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

It takes a village

So many of you have been asking, "How can we help?" We have been overwhelmed by the willingness to support us on this journey. Adoption is not for everyone. Maybe you, like my previous self, feel the call of the orphans tugging on your hearts but know it isn't right for your current situation. Maybe you, like my previous self, cry over every picture and video depicting kids who need a home. Maybe you, like my previous self, want to be a part of changing the lives of others through supporting those who adopt. If that is you, we have come up with many ways we could use your help. 

First of all, the biggest way and the way so many of you are already helping, is by praying for us and for all 6 of our kids. We are going to need all of your prayers to get them here and then for the unseeable future as we assimilate them into our home and ourselves into their lives. We will fall short; we won't be enough; we will need His help and guidance and strength. Please keep lifting us up! 

Secondly, we would love your gently used clothing, sports equipment or toys that you are done with. We have nothing for boys. We will need everyday clothing as well as winter clothing. Our current family has very little use for balls, bats, cleats, rackets - you get the idea. The A team kids (Mike came up with this term as a non-derogatory way of differentiating between our kids: A team--kids given to us through adoption and B team--kids given to us biologically) are ALL about sports. We have already been given bunk beds and bedding, perfect for the boys! If you have things you are ready to part with, we will happily take them now so you don't have to store them. As of this last summer, K (age 14, female) wears size 10-12 and some size 14, size 7 women's shoes. S (age 12, male) wore size 10, size 7 men's shoes. A (age 9, male) wore size 5-6, size 11 or 12 shoes. Anything that doesn't work for us, we will pass on to others who are in need.

Another way: meals. It is going to be challenging when they arrive here. I will just go ahead and predict it as total chaos. On top of that, I would guess we will be going through the groceries like crazy. When they stayed with their host family this summer, they were smaller than they had been the summer before. There just isn't enough food to support their bodies in the orphanage, so they were eating everything in sight. The amount of fruit, bread and milk the host family was flying through was mind boggling. Healthy meals and/or staples will be awesome when we get them here. 

Fourth, your time and attention. The A team has not experienced a lifetime of love and attention. They are coming to us with a huge deficit. They will need more than normal amounts of our time, attention and affection. The B team is used to our time, attention and affection. They are going to experience a reduction in what we have to give. At first, the A team will need to bond to us well before they bond to others. During that time, we would love to have people committed to giving the B team some extra time and attention. Take them for a walk, have them over to play with your kids, take them for ice-cream, listen to their stories. Also, once bonded with us, B team will need more than Mike and I alone can give. I know from experience that having adults outside of your primary family pour into you can make a huge difference. Also, they will have communication difficulties due to learning English and feel out of sorts in America until they assimilate. Again, take one or more for a walk, to a movie, go to their athletic events, chat with them, encourage your children to look out for and include them. This is one of those areas where it will take a village. I am so thankful for ours!

Finally, we have set up a fundraising site, which offers a tax deductible way for you to donate. The site dictates that we cannot raise more than the cost of the adoption and must submit receipts for our adoption expenses in order to receive our grant.  Every donation will go directly and only to our adoption. Let me be really clear here: we are prepared to do whatever it takes to pay for this on our own. If you are finding it difficult to meet your own needs, this is not where we want you to partner with us! If you, like my former self, want to help financially, here is the link: expansion. There will be so many additional expenses once we get them here (larger vehicle, food, clothing, therapy, tutoring, college, etc), that we appreciate financial help as well, so that we can focus our resources on creating a happy, nurturing home for them once they arrive.

Oh, and one more thing--feel free to use social media for good by sharing our link and this blog. Thanks so much, everyone!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Coincidence? I think not.

I know I have shared in previous blogs a few of the circumstances that led us to adopting three siblings from Ukraine. So many things had to fall perfectly in to place for us to find out about these three loves. Well, the last few weeks, I have learned of a few more details. They just blow my mind. 

Mike and I were getting frustrated with the length of time it was taking to get approved and were worrying about the safety of our kids. It is so hard to get info on the current status of fighting in Ukraine. I reached out to Sarah, who had hosted the kids this summer to see if she had any recent news. Sarah set up a private message between a woman who was currently in Ukraine, adopting a child from the VERY same orphanage our kids are in, and myself. She not only calmed our fears about the circumstances, she was able to tell me that she knows our kids and has talked to them and they are doing well. She even told me that K couldn't wait to tell her that they were being adopted. She said she has never seen K smile so much. Reading these words made my heart skip a beat. K's smile is huge--it can light up a room. 

Fast forward to yesterday. I got another message from this woman. She told me more about the kids. She said she met them last summer when they were visiting their son at a camp in Ukraine. She told me they promised K to do whatever they could to help them find their family. She made a video of our three kids following that visit, in the hopes of sharing their story. That video is the video that spoke to our hearts. That video is the one that kept me from thinking of little else for two days until I could show it to Mike. That is the video that stirred Mike to say, "What would it take?" 

An act of kindness, for three children they knew were not to be theirs. Creating a video that would find these kids their family, that would make our family realize we weren't yet whole. 

Before it was even on our radar, the steps were being made that would lead to us meeting. If this family's adoption hadn't been put on hold during the fighting in Ukraine the previous year, they wouldn't have been visiting the camp last June. They would never have met our kids. That video wouldn't be. This, to me, is mind-blowing. This, to me, is God's plan in our lives and theirs. A year ago, I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams we would be here today. As mind-blowing as it is, it also brings with it such peace. When we began this process, I told God we would give Him yes until we got His no. I also reminded God that I can be really dense, so please make your answer very clear (and please don't make the no be that my tumor returned--it is a good thing He is so patient with me). Every step of the way, we have been shown that this plan has been in the making long before we were brought into it. Don't get me wrong, there have been plenty of times that I have let my worries grow so big in my head that I can't hear anything else. Yet, every time I think I am going to lose it, my heart is quieted by yet another reminder. 

Yesterday, we put together a few things to send with her when she returns to Ukraine in October to finalize her adoption of her son. Such a big deal to us to be able to connect with our kids and let them know that we are thinking of them. To be able to send them a bit of hope. We knew it needed to be small so it wouldn't take up too much room in her bags. I really struggled with thinking about what to send. What if it isn't their style, what if they don't need/want it, what if it isn't enough? That is when it hit me, whatever we send won't be enough. It will be a trinket. Even if it were diamonds, it would still not be enough. There is no way for me to box up my love: actual hugs from their mother's arms, kisses to wipe their tears. There is no way to express what is here, waiting for them. Instead, I stamped a necklace for each with the words, "You are loved." We sent a letter expressing our love for them. Still, it does not begin to convey. It is not enough.

The process is so long--but that is another post for another day. Progress is being made. Our home-study has been approved and sent to the state. We are realistically looking at February now to bring them home for good. In the meantime, we are going to try to host them over Christmas. It may not be exactly how we envisioned, but we haven't given up hope on having our family together for the holidays!

Friday, August 14, 2015


This week, I was presented with the rare opportunity to tell the Ukranian kids our adoption plans. Due to another transition, it was agreed that these kids need some hope and it would be okay to disclose our plans. This is huge you guys, that never happens! Anyway, I wasn't sure if I should call--would it upset them, were they in a good place to hear it, they don't really know me, would I mess it up, etc. So, I prayed about it. For me, praying while listening to praise music is the best way, especially when my mind is scattered. I turned on a Pandora station and felt as if the next three songs were speaking directly to me. It was crazy! The first song had these lines "... speak and say the words no one else will ever say .... I am gonna show you love in every language .... I'm gonna give you what you've never had before." Second song, "She got the call today, out of the gray .... I'm gonna get there soon, she's gonna be there, too. Crying in her room praying Lord come through, we're gonna get there soon." By the time the third song started out with, "Tonight's the night, two worlds collide ...." I figured making the call to the kids would be a good plan.

It was amazing--right up there with holding each of our girls for the first time. I asked K (the oldest and only one fluent in English) if she remembered us from our visit. She said, "I remember." I asked if she remembered when I told her that in our family we say that you have to say goodbye in order to say hello again. She said, "I remember." I said, "well, we plan to say hello again as soon as December when we come to Ukraine to adopt you into our family." She whispered, "all three of us?" I said, "yes!" We both were holding back the tears. I told her that I had been practicing so that I could tell her I love you in Russian like she taught me (and then said it). She said, "you got it right!" Before we got off the phone, she taught me the Russian word for daughter. After I tried out "dochka" she said, "so good, I am so happy!" It was so, so awesome.

Continue praying, those prayers are being answered, Mike and I are so encouraged! They return to Ukraine tomorrow and will need God's intervention and protection. We know that bad things are happening over there. We pray that the time left before we can adopt is minimal. It is so weird, this time when your heart knows these precious kids are yours, yet the world has not acknowledged it yet. So odd to enjoy time as a family of five now while at the same time feeling a part of our family is missing. 

As an update on the process, we just finished our part of the home study. After approval by our agency, it usually takes three months to be approved by the state, then federal, then Ukraine. After that, we get a travel date (usually about two weeks from the date notified). So, we are still anticipating early December.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Northern Lutes Expansion?!

Saturday, we followed our hearts to Memphis, Tennessee. Yet, this wild journey didn't start there, it actually started about two months ago, with a simple click. My friend, Katie Artz, posted a link to help raise funds for orphans. Of course, I opened her link and began reading about her neighbors, the Musicks, who were raising funds to host a sibling set from Ukraine for the summer. Their story was so moving that I immediately donated an amount I knew Mike would also support and prayed for these precious kids to find their forever family. Throughout the day, I continued to click on the link to watch the progress, hoping and praying these kids could experience a break from their current situation--to get to be kids, with fewer worries, even if only for a brief time! The following day, while Mike and I were enjoying a few quiet moments after the Luteslets had left for summer school, I showed him the link. After watching their video, he closed the iPad and said that first of all, we should donate. After I told him we already had, he said, "What would it take?"  That was the moment things began to change forever in the Lutes home. He was not asking what it would take to get them here, he was asking, what it would take to make them ours.

We spent the next few days inquiring, praying and checking in with each other to make sure this was still something we should/could/would do. We talked with the girls, prayed some more, researched some more.  We decided we would give God a yes until we heard a strong no. As we started the paperwork, I continued to check in with Mike. As many of you know, I have always considered adoption--even before our struggles with infertility. However, my imaginings always appeared to me as a single child--about two feet tall. It turns out God is a little more creative. He imagines stretching us even more with not one but three children. Each of them taller than two feet. In an instant (or several months) we could add a teenage girl and two boys (what will I even do with boys)? But, I am getting ahead of myself. Right before I sent in the first big check and volumes of paperwork, I checked in again. Mike said, "N, I feel like all of the big decisions in my life have not been decisions, I have just known. I feel at peace with this." Wow! Ok, here we go.

If, at this point, you are wondering how we will do this now, on the twilight of my Cushing's journey, you are not alone. Mike and I often question the same thing. We have agreed that while I am improved, I am not there yet. I still get fatigued and Mike still takes more on than he should need to. That is one of our prayers that you can join us in praying. If this is God's plan for us, He will need to provide continued healing and strength. If this is the best health I achieve, we will not be able to provide what these precious kids need. Of course, I have asked God that if it is a no for us, to please give us that no by way of another family adopting them, not through PITA (my pituitary tumor) returning. That being said, I continue to receive excellent check-ups. My endocrinologist is "very encouraged." My worst days now are better than my best several months ago.

If you are wondering how we will manage going from 3 to 6 kids, you are not alone in that either. One evening, while Mike was working a night shift, the twins came running in just as I finally drifted off. They were yelling about some extremely important fight they were having that resulted in a physical altercation. I reacted as any well-adjusted, loving mother would have--I absolutely lost it with them. I returned to my room in a heated conversation with God. I proceeded to point out all of the reasons I would not be a good fit for this job. After my rant, I heard nothing in response. I began to calm down and went back in to check on my precious, vulnerable girls to reassure them of my love so they could sleep. Apparently, I was the only one experiencing any angst, as they were sleeping soundly. The song on the radio ended and a verse was read, talking of God's plans for us being bigger than we can imagine. Apparently, God wasn't silent, but waiting for me to be in a place where I could listen.

Moving forward to today, the Musicks were able to raise the money in record breaking number of days to get these kids here for the summer. As a result, we got an incredible opportunity to meet them prior to completing the adoption process.  They are such sweet and loving kids! They  are greatly neglected at best, eating everything in sight (they are actually smaller this year than last). It was so hard to leave this morning, especially since we were not supposed to discuss adoption with the kids. So hard to not give them hope! We left even more determined to do everything in our power to make this reality. If this is a shock to you, you are not alone--it is for us, too! Please help us pray for these kids--we want them to find their forever home, to be claimed and belong--even if that family is not ours.