Thursday, December 31, 2009

My First Birthday Present

Yesterday was my birthday and I wanted you to see Harrison's gift to me:

You may be wondering what that amazing delicacy is.
Well, Harrison enjoys making pancakes in the morning so he prepared a unique Birthday Pancake Cake and brought it to me in bed.
We still have remnants of Christmas candies in the house so the Birthday Pancake Cake that I received included the following ingredients:
Four Eggs
Honey Nut Cheerios
Chocolate Milk
Lemon Heads
Peanut Brittle
Peanut Butter Balls
Sugar Babies
All topped off with Whip Cream

The assumption made was that since all of those things taste good separately, surely they will taste great together.
Now that I look at that list I realize that we got way too much sugar for Christmas.

We spread a blanket over the top of the bed, all got in bed together with forks and enjoyed breakfast.
How did it taste?
Well, we all ate some...
We enjoyed being together...
It was filling...
The kids said it was delicious...
Karina said she had never tasted anything like it before...
The fruit was yummy...
It was a great way to start a birthday...
It was another great reminder of how wonderful it is to be a dad...

Thanks, Harrison, for a great start to another year!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

To Have Parents

We were on our way home from church today when Karina pulled out her Bible, read a verse from the sermon and asked what it meant.

After a brief explanation she put her Bible down, sat back in her seat and said, "It is so good to have parents... to have parents that can tell me what things mean... to have parents that can explain what the Bible says... what God wants.  It is good to have parents."

"It is good to have children ask questions."  I said.

To have parents... the dream of the orphan child.

To have children ask questions like this... one of the many joys of parenting.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve 2009
Christmas Eve one year ago Sheila and I were in court in Odessa, Ukraine when a judge declared that Karina was our daughter.  It was a wonderful day and the past year has been an incredible year.  We praise God for the way he has blessed our family and how he has grown Karina.
This is what we posted one year ago today:

Received another call...court will not be at noon....maybe at 2PM Odessa time...6AM Central.

Please pray that we can find a flight is a tough season to book a last minute flight.
Thanks for all your prayers and support.
We received another call...

Facilitator:  "Matthew, um...yes...the judge says the electricity in the courthouse will be cut off from 1-4PM today.  There will be no court, again.  He will not promise court today or tomorrow.  He has too many cases tomorrow...and is not sure when he can reschedule your court.  I do not know what to do."

Matthew:  "Can we go ahead to the courthouse and wait to see if the electricity actually gets cut off?"

Electricity...maybe yes...maybe comes and it goes...where it goes and when it returns nobody knows.

Facilitator:  "Yes, we can do that.  I will wait until after 1PM.  If it stays on, I will come get you.  Maybe it will stay on."

Matthew, Sheila, Jay, Martha and all of you out there spend time praying.

We spend 96 minutes and 49 seconds on the phone looking for a way home...praying that we will have court and praying that we can see Harrison, Isaac, Noah and Storey Grace for Christmas...praying that we can find a flight and that it will not be too expensive...

First flight flights from Ukraine to Jackson until Saturday..."we can get you home Saturday with overnight stay in New York"...transferred to someone else..."let me see if I can get you home"...listened to groovy telephone music..."ok, thanks for your patience"...(she did not understand what we have already been through - we thought she was fast)..."I have found a Ukrainian airline that flies from Kyiv to Paris, Air France from Paris to Atlanta, Delta from Atlanta to leaves Kyiv at 6:30AM December 25."

"Wow", I say.  "One problem...the overnight train does not arrive until 6:12AM...flight leaves at 6:30AM.  Let me call you back."

Talk with Sheila, Jay and Martha...hmmm...if we have court early enough we can run from the courthouse and catch the one flight from Odessa to leaves at 6:10PM Christmas Eve.  

Call Delta - "We would like to book the 6:30AM out of Kyiv to Paris, Atlanta, Jackson."

(Still praying because we do not know if we will even have court today to be able to go to Kyiv to catch this flight home.)

Delta - "Sure, that will be the change fee plus seven dollars."

(We have expected the change fee from cancelling our earlier flight...and as we have been checking on flights home, the least expensive new flight we had found flying out around Christmas was $3,000.)

Matthew - A little confused but very pleasantly surprised..."Seven thousand?  Seven hundred? Could you please say that again?"

Delta - "Seven dollars."

Matthew - "One more time...I think we have a bad connection."

Delta - "Seven dollars plus the change fee will be charged to your credit card." 
(Can you hear me now?)

Matthew - "Yes.  We would like to book that flight!"

So...we have the flight we are praying for court so we can take that flight home.

Phone rings..."Matthew, the electricity is still on in the courthouse...there is a red taxi waiting for you outside."

Sheila has been packing while I am on the phone, so we get our luggage...tell Jay and Martha goodbye (we will miss them so much...they are dear friends and we thank God that He allowed us to spend this time together...Jay and Martha, you are in our prayers!  Thanks for everything!  Keep your eyes open - you never know when your "gangsta bus daddy" will step onto the bus you are trying to "blend in" on.)  Keep praying for Jay and Martha...they received more good news today...things are moving...keep praying...they are so appreciative of your prayers.

We arrive at the courthouse and Karina is there waiting on us along with our facilitator, lawyer, social worker and inspector.  (Thanks Alonya for getting everyone to the courthouse when we did not even know if it would happen!  You have been incredible!)
Now we wait and we pray.

Here comes the judge...maybe....YES!  Let's hold court!

Pre hearing: do we want the court to consider?

Leave court room.  Pray for hearing...pray that electricity stays on.
Enter court room.
Hearing:  Answer many questions...
"What is your work?"
"Where do you live?"
"Why do you want to adopt Karina?"
"What is your religion?"
(Praying that electricity stays on.)
"How will you educate her?"
"What does her future look like with you?"
"Did you make this decision as a family?"
"What do your biological children think of this adoption?"
Many more of the questions the judge asked Sheila was:
"You already have four children, do you think you can handle one more?"

I will never forget her response...I could feel the mother in her rising up and filling the court room...she said, "Da"...but I could tell that she really meant, "DA!!!!!!!!!  Yes, I can take care of my children.  What kind of question is that?  Do you think I would have spent the last three weeks in this country if I did not think I could take care of my children?"
We know we can only do it by God's grace - he is the one that allows us to take care of these was just fun to see the mother in Sheila stepping up to take care of the blessings God has given us.

(Praying that electricity stays on.)

Karina had to stand up - she was so nervous - and answer questions.
"Do you understand that this family wants to adopt you?"
"Do you understand that they already have four biological children?"
"Do you have a good relationship with them?"
"Do you understand that you will live in a different country?"
"Do you understand that they do not speak your language?"
"Do you want Matthew and Sheila to be your parents?"

Hearing concludes.  Debate period begins.
"What do you want from the court?"
"It is our desire that this court accept our application to adopt Karina and that her name be changed to Karina Ann Nasekos."
The lawyer, inspector and social worker give their approval.
Leave courtroom.  Pray for decision...pray that electricity stays on.
Re enter court room again.

"It is the pleasure of this court in the region of Odessa, Ukraine to accept the application of Matthew and Sheila Nasekos to adopt Karina.  Her name is now Karina Ann Nasekos.  Her birth certificate will be changed to read Karina Ann Nasekos, daughter of Matthew and Sheila Nasekos."

Thank you, Holy Father in Heaven for this blessing...thank you for allowing Karina to be ours.  Give us the grace we need to raise Karina in the way of the LORD.

When we left the court room Karina said, "FINALLY!"
Karina is no longer an orphan.  She has a family...a mother...a father...three brothers and a sister.

We asked her how she was doing.
"I am so happy!"

We held her for a few minutes, prayed for her, told her we loved her and then she was taken from us...
in Ukraine there is a ten day waiting period between the court ruling and when the ruling takes effect.

Ten days, Karina...she told us, "Soon."
Ukraine's holiday season is approaching when not much work is done through January 15.
So, we have the ten day waiting period and then the offices that we need to get the last paperwork will be closed until mid January...she must stay in Ukraine until then.

After Karina left we jumped in a taxi and sped off to the airport...without tickets...not knowing if there was space on the one flight out of Odessa....but God provides...we are there in time and there is space on the plane...and the electricity is still on.......we buy tickets, leave Odessa and are now sitting in a restaurant that has electricity, great food and internet access in snow covered Kyiv.

Sheila and I leave Kyiv at 6:30AM headed home...God is so good...on Christmas Eve he gives us Karina Ann Nasekos and on Christmas Day he will let us be with Harrison, Isaac, Noah and Storey Grace.  To be honest, it is hard to leave Karina but we know that the time will be short and as she always says....soon.

After the court ruling Karina, Sheila and I held each other in the court.  The judge, who had not broken a smile through the entire proceeding looked at us and smiled.  We told everyone thank you.
Dear Heavenly Father we thank you for giving us Karina.  Thank you for all of our children.  Thank you for your provision.  Thank you for your timing.  Thank you for how you have led us and how you have changed us.  Thank you for causing us to rely fully on you.  Thank you for all the prayer warriors back home.  Thank you for the prayer warriors in Ukraine.  Thank you for our parents who kept our children in Mississippi.  Thank you for all our friends that brought food for our children.  Thank you for those who spent time with our kids and gave our parents a break.  Thank you for Jay and Martha.  Thank you for those who supported us financially.  Thank you for those who supported us through emails and comments and in many other ways.  Thank you for this journey.  We look forward to taking the final steps in this journey and bringing Karina home...soon.  Thank you for adopting us as your children.  Thank you that Karina is no longer an orphan.
Thank you, LORD.

Merry Christmas!  This is a picture of our Christmas tree in Kyiv.
For those of you that want to see Karina...we will keep the blog updated and let you know when she will be arriving in the States.  She looks forward to seeing you!

Monday, December 21, 2009

From Whom?

"Karina, are you excited about Christmas?"

"Oh, yes!  I am so excited!"

"What was Christmas like in the orphanage?"

"Well, we woke up and we ate... and we watched movies... and maybe we would go outside... and we ate some soup and two pieces of bread - we always had to eat two pieces of bread -  and we watched some more movies... and we went to bed."

"Did you get any presents?"

She laughed and then said, "Presents?  From whom, daddy?  From whom?"

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Children's Christmas Story

The following is an edited letter from some precious friends of ours to their family describing what they taught their children while reaching out to orphans.  We are thankful for the way they have ministered to children on the other side of the world while ministering to their own.  If you are interested in doing something similar, there is still time to send gifts.

"As we read a letter several months ago from some missionary friends of ours who had adopted a little girl named Karina from the Ukraine, our children asked us what an orphan was. We explained that there are children in the world whose parents for one reason or another were not able to take care of them, or had died and there was no one to take care of their children, so there were a bunch of children who lived in a place without mommies and daddies. Their eyes grew wide and their mouths opened in amazement. “You mean they don’t have a mommy and daddy?!” 
“That’s right,” I said. There was a very serious and sad look on our two children’s faces. Then, their mouths were loosed and the questions came in a flood. 
“So who helps them when they fall down?” 
“Who plays with them?” 
“Who tucks them in at night?” 
“Who hugs them when they are scared?” 
“Where do they live?” 
“Who protects them from bad people?” 
“Who buys them toys?” 
“Who prays with them and for them?” 
“Who reads the Bible to them?” 
“Who takes them to church?” 
“Who gives them baths?” 
“Who feeds them right?” 
“Who takes care of them when they are sick?” 
“Who loves them?” 
“Who teaches them about Jesus?!” 

And as you may guess, there are no easy explanations for any of these questions. But it was not too long after this that they came to us very serious - as serious and determined as any five and three year old can be. They said that we will love the orphans. They asked us if we could show a bunch of orphans in the Ukraine that we loved them and God does too. So they wanted to give gifts this Christmas to children 
like Karina who didn’t have mommies and daddies and toys and all sorts of things. They also said that they already had so many toys that they didn’t need any more. 
So, we went to the store and bought socks, gloves, crayons, paper, candy, balls and cars, headbands and purses, playdoh, stickers, and Christmas cards written from both of them. We did this for twenty children - ten boys and ten girls about our children's age - at an orphanage in Odessa, Ukraine where Karina is from. Then we paid the postage and customs shortly after Thanksgiving and sent your Christmas presents to the other side of the world to some children who have no family to spend Christmas with. 
And so you see, two small but big-hearted children, because they are filled up with so much love from all of you and most importantly filled with the love of Jesus, could not sit idly by when there is so much need in such a place at this time of year. 
And so, because they love Jesus and you, they gave just a little of what they knew and enjoyed to children who may not have any of these things. 
You know, it is precisely because the Son of God pitied a bunch of fatherless children such as us, lost and in bondage to their own sin, ignorant of the Father’s love, far from grace, that Jesus took pity on us and came and became one of us, took our sin and punishment that we, who were once orphans, might be adopted into the family of God. He who knew no sin, became sin, that we might become the 
righteousness of God. We who once were justly children of wrath, but now have 
faith in this Christ, have now been adopted into the family of God and become 
God’s children that we might tell others of the excellent greatness of God’s grace. 

This is what our kids, and all of us want you to know: that we gave in your name for God’s glory to children who may not know what Christmas is or what it is all about."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Conversation with My Dentist

This week, last December, Sheila and I were in Odessa, Ukraine finalizing all the details of adopting Karina.  It was such a joyous time and a blessing to get to know the other children hoping that a family would one day come for them.  We still pray for those children and look forward to seeing them again in a few weeks (we have space for you to join us on the trip - contact me if you want to help us minister to these precious children in January).
It is God's blessings on us and the fact that these children are still waiting in the orphanages and crying out for someone to care for them that compels us to tell their stories and ask people to care for them in their distress.
Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with my dentist.  My dentist has a small practice in a neighborhood in Jackson and I started going to him about 14 years ago because I lived next door to his office in a rough part of town (we regularly found drug paraphernalia tossed into our front yard).  I rented a house with four other men, most of us were seminary students, and the neighborhood was a great opportunity for us to put into practice what we learned in the classroom.  One of our windows faced the dentist office parking lot and we decided to set up a life size Luke Skywalker in the window to stare at anyone in the parking lot.  Later, my dentist told me he noticed that every time he went to his car, someone was staring at him.  After several days of wondering what was going on, he came up to the window and realized that, no, we were not as strange as he thought - we had not been spending all day, every day, staring at him.  It was just Luke.  Thus began a continuous stream of conversations with my dentist.
Yesterday he asked me to tell him something weird:  "All day people have been telling me the strangest things.  Weird things.  I wonder if you can top any of it."
I responded with, "I am not sure if you really want to hear some of the things I deal with."
We began a conversation that led him to asking how I was enjoying what I do now.
"I love what I am doing:  caring for orphans.... encouraging the church to reach out to orphans in mercy..."
He stopped.
He put his tools down.
He fixed his gaze on me.
Say that one more time.
"I love encouraging the church to reach out to orphans."
In shock he said, "Do you mean to tell me that you have to encourage Christians to do that?  To care for orphans?  I mean, the Bible... is it not plain about orphans and widows?  Isn't that what Christians should be known for... caring for orphans and widows?"

Before I left his office he told me, "Well, you won.  You told me the strangest thing I have heard all day."