“When I walked into church one Wednesday night, I had no idea my life was about to change forever. It was a prayer service, which, at our small town church, are fairly intimate—typically consisting of the same group of people every week. Some of my best friends were there, like always, and I assumed it would be a great, but normal, night full of God’s presence. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This particular prayer service was geared toward being filled with the Holy Spirit. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I assumed I would see some bright light, maybe an angel, feel all tingly? I had no clue, but I was ready! Bring it on, Holy Spirit! Let’s do this.
Well, there was no spectacular light show, and I never felt any different. But there, in the quiet of prayer, was the strong, unmistakable call to begin the process of adoption. I pulled out an old set of sermon notes, scribbled a note to my husband, and passed it to him seventh-grade style. His eye widened as he read my words, he turned to me and mouthed, ‘Me too!’ We rushed home as soon as the service was over and began our research. We were doing this, and we were all in! We started conversations with an international adoption agency in Texas within a few days. After a couple phone calls, we both felt like the agency wasn’t who we were supposed to work with, and the search began again. Days later, I connected with an agency out of North Carolina and they sent over log in information for the ‘waiting children’ they were advocating for. I forwarded the information to my husband. We knew we were searching for an older sibling group, so this is where we started.
I have to interject some thoughts on this process here. As exciting as this time in the process is, it is emotionally devastating. You scroll through faces, HUMAN faces, tiny creatures God placed on this earth, and you decide if you want to learn more about adding them to your family or if you’ll pass. So many of these kids get passed on one too many times and end up aging out of the system, shoved out into a cold world with no family, limited education, and a lack of social skills. A large percentage end up in jail or dead. Some children don’t even make it out of the often horrendous circumstances which make up orphanage life alive. I’m honestly not sure which is worse. Choosing which child or children you want to bring home is amazing, heartbreaking, heart-filling, and just a little terrifying all at once.
We both searched the beautiful faces of kids from all over Eastern Europe and together we narrowed it down to three groups. God had told us to find an older sibling group, and we had three great options! One was a sibling set of two, one was a set of three, and one was a set of five brothers, from Bulgaria. Our agency told us to give them a few options, files can change hands and kids can become unavailable. But we knew. We knew the five boys were ours immediately. It was like finding a piece of our family we didn’t even know had been missing. The next day, we received a more in-depth file on the boys. It included more photos, some videos of them playing together, vague and mostly redacted medical files, and an interview with each boy, in Bulgarian of course. We fell in love!
The boys were all over the age of ten (they were ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, and thirteen at the time), which in this particular country means they have to consent to begin the adoption process. Our agency instructed us to write them a letter and put together photos of our family, as well as fill out commitment paperwork for the boys. Writing a letter to your potential future children is a strange experience! We tried to balance being real, but showing how fun and exciting we are at the same time. You don’t want to set them up for unrealistic expectations (we go to Disney World twice a year and you’ll all get Ferraris when you turn sixteen!) but you still are, to some extent, trying to sell yourselves as parents and your family as a whole.
This entire process, from finding the boys to filing commitment paperwork, took all of two weeks, max. We worked fast! It was the end of May, 2019, when we finally had everything turned in. After this, it was up the boys and the Bulgarian government. In the early morning of July 3rd, I groggily rolled over and checked my email, and saw the news we had officially been ‘soft-matched’ with our kids! We immediately started to dream about the following summer, having the boys home with our three biological kids, and us and how much fun we would all have! A few days later, we woke to yet another email. The subject was, ‘Get ready to cry…’ my heart began to sink, quickly followed by, ‘…in a good way!’
Attached to the email was a letter and drawings from our boys. They told us how excited they were to get our letter, and they all wanted us as parents. They told us a little about themselves, including the fact one of them is just as obsessed with spaghetti as our eight-year-old biological daughter, and they couldn’t wait to have another brother, our son Braden, who is an artificial triplet to the two youngest boys, and we learned their real names, Stancho, Yosko, Sergey, Mitko, and Asen. It was so amazing to hear from them, and yet so heartbreaking they had to wait halfway across the world for us. I must have read and reread the letter 100 times. Their drawing went up on our fridge, where it still lives today. They were ours. This letter was the last time we’d hear from them for 14 months.
The next steps were to complete our home study (which we hadn’t even started yet, in our whirlwind process), get approval from U.S. Customs, and submit our dossier to the Bulgarian Ministry of Justice. We had six months. The race was on! My summer was filled with paperwork, home visits, compiling background checks, getting finger-printed (so many fingerprints!), and preparing our dossier for submission. We received our U.S. Customs approval, known in the adoption world as the i-800a, during Christmas of 2019. By February of 2020, our dossier was in Bulgaria! From there, all we had to wait on was our ‘official match,’ and then we’d be off to Bulgaria in late March or early April for our first trip—we’d be meeting the boys!!! As all of you can predict, this first trip didn’t happen.
I was standing in Central Park, I could show you exactly where, on a spring break trip with my four-year-old, Madden, and our 22-year-old, Julia, when I got a news alert—Bulgaria had its first confirmed COVID-19 case. I knew then we wouldn’t be meeting our kids anytime soon. I had no idea when I’d finally get the meet them—my mind was full of worst-case scenarios and unknowns. A tiny little piece of my heart broke off this day and is still laying somewhere in Central Park. This past summer, while we just waited for any type of update, I really started to disassociate from the adoption. It was too painful to think about getting rooms ready, to buy any clothes, to do anything really. Any sort of hope just left my heart hurting. And then, one July day, we got an email from our agency. The Bulgarian government had begun working on adoption cases again and we had been officially matched. With our referral, we received the first photos we had seen of our kids (now eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen) in over a year. I finally knew they were okay.
In an effort to minimize travel, the Bulgarian government had decided to do ‘virtual’ first trips. In mid-August, we finally ‘met’ our kids. We had five amazing days of video calls, where we got to know each other better, learned a bit about their personalities, and they all chose American names (Stephen, Daniel, Kevin, Michael, and Brian), and then reluctantly said ‘goodbye’ on our last day. I fell into my husband’s arms just sobbing. Again, we had no idea when we’d talk to them next. A couple days later, our agency emailed us with one simple question: ‘How would you like to go and meet your kids in person?’ They had petitioned the Bulgarian government to let us into the country for a traditional trip one—in-person hugs and everything. I basically screamed YES! The best thing was, we were leaving in just over a week!
Our flight to Bulgaria was uneventful. 30 hours of constant mask-wearing was a small price to pay to spend time with our kids. We got to spend the weekend in the capital city of Sofia before heading off to the small mountain town where our boys’ group home was located. The mini-vacation was great, and the city was gorgeous, but we really just wanted to go see our kids! Early on Tuesday morning, our in-country attendant and a driver picked us up and we started the 3.5-hour trek up the Rhodope Mountains. It was very narrow, very windy road, which my anxiety was not looking forward to riding on again when we went to pick them up, but we finally made it to the quaint town they live in. We dropped our bags and waited for them outside. All of the sudden, across the road, I recognized five handsome kids walking toward us. They all ran across the road and we had the biggest family hug ever. The kids were nervous, we were nervous—it was amazing.
Over the next few days, we played a lot of soccer, we ate a lot of ice cream, they introduced us to some Bulgarian foods they loved, we taught them some English words, and all of us struggled and laughed through communicating without a common language. Thursday night, the boys’ social worker had a family dinner planned for us. It was a gorgeous evening. The fresh mountain air hovered right around 70 degrees as the sun began to set. We ate a mouth-watering feast of regional food, had an arm-wrestling contest (much to the boys’ surprise, my husband won!), and shared lots of stories. Eventually, the younger boys got restless and went to jump on some trampolines the restaurant had in a small kid’s area. Twenty or so minutes passed and I told my husband to go check and make sure they were okay. He came back and said, ‘They want you,’ so off our oldest and I went.
When I rounded the corner and was finally in their line of sight, they all started yelling, ‘Mama!!! Watch me!! Mama, come here!’ The only way I can describe hearing your older children call you ‘mama’ for the first time is just pure joy. I gave me butterflies then, and it still does. These kids weren’t adopted at two. They didn’t grow up calling me mom. They made a conscious choice to call me ‘mama.’ It’s a moment I will always cherish. It will live in my heart forever as one of my favorite memories. That evening, we walked into the restaurant as prospective adoptive parents and five orphans. We left as a family.
The next day came way too quickly; it was the day we had to say ‘see you soon.’ We spent the morning playing games and making a few last minute memories, and then it was time to say goodbye. I fell apart again, but this time I was comforted by my sons, five amazing, smart, charismatic young men. Now we are back home, and thankfully we get to talk to our kids every Saturday morning. I would have given anything to scoop them up and bring them home that day, but it’s just now how the process works.
It’s been amazing how God has worked on our behalf through this entire process, even if His timing is slightly slower than we would have hoped. I’ll forever be thankful for His gentle push toward this amazing adventure. As I write this, we are almost to the finish line! All that’s left is a court date, and one more trip halfway across the world. We don’t know when it will be yet, but after nearly two years, our forever is almost in sight.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Christina Lowrey of Marysville, Kansas. You can follow their journey on Instagram and on Facebook. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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