Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Moving forward with Joy! Giveaway

Just 3 campers with autism left to sponsor!  More than 100 parents and kids from adoptive families in Ukraine are still counting on us for sponsors!

If you're in a hurry, scroll down to the *********** section to find giveaway details!

Our little boy's adoption in Russia has allowed us to let go of our dream of being parents to a child with Down syndrome, and embrace the challenges of raising our Daisy with Autistic Down syndrome.  Today, we are moving forward with more ways than one.

We are hoping to make the barriers a little lower for children with Autism in her hometown of Odessa City, Ukraine.  Five years ago, waiting in a public works office for an updated birth certificate, Heritage Ukraine co-founder (and our adoption translator) Alyona told me just a bit about how the pending political instability of their country had put a great gift into the laps of her newer organization.  Each year, the government used to pay for the orphans of the region to go to a week-long summer camp.  The money ran out, so when Slavik and Alyona asked for just a few children to share in a bible-based summer camp experience at no charge to the government, the government said instead “Can you take them all?”  

600 orphans, when they had asked for 25. 
A week's worth of orphaned kids experienced the love of Christ
and their importance in God's eyes the summer of 2013.

What could they do but say yes, and hope that God would provide.  And He did.  Through the incredible donations that came in part because of the Mulligan Stew efforts of fellow-Ukrainian adoptive mom Julia Nalle and family, the summer camp kids found there was room for each one of them that year and the next.  

The Puzanovs and Heritage Ukraine have made this work for 5 years.   In that time, Camp LELA went from hosting kids two months of the summer on borrowed land to raising the funds to buy a permanent campus in the heart of a city overrun with vacationers each summer.  The only drawback?  They receive no funding.  
The original home of Camp LELA.  No utilities, no water.  But love.  So much love.  

First, they came for the orphans, and Camp LELA opened her arms to the orphans because no one else would.
In 2015, God provided a permanent campus for Heritage Ukraine, shown here transformed into Camp LELA in 2016.  Notice the wall all around which shows the borders of this couple-acre field, surrounded by urban sprawl.
From a sandlot in the city...

To a beautiful dining hall and kitchen, complete Spring 2018...along with four permanent bunkhouses!

Then, in 2015, they came for the kids with special needs, and Heritage Ukraine created a new place for them, because no else had.

The Joy! Center is the very first of its kind in the region, let alone in Ukraine.  Despite only having one usable, permanent building on campus at the time, they made over the basement for these kids with special needs.  The campers who come to Camp LELA Joy! have autism.  They are still living with their families, who very often have no more support than what the internet can provide.  They have no right to a free, public education geared toward their ability levels or care needs.  These families have decided to rock the boat of society and keep their children with them, in their families.  They are revolutionaries in their society…simply for loving their own children in their own homes.

When I look at the faces of these parents, I *know* them already.  They are not different from me.  These kids, these families...this photo could have been shot in a church basement here in Michigan for all I know. 
When I see them...I see me.

These children have a hidden diagnosis.  The world often doesn’t know “what’s wrong with them?” even here in the enlightened US.  Can you imagine how much these families must endure to just get to the grocery store?  To keep their children out of institutional care?  Can you imagine then, what it means to hand those children to a trusted caregiver for a just a few hours that week and *breathe* again?

Joy! Center's sensory room.

You can be a part of it. 

Despite the extra staff required, the cost is the same to attend Camp LELA Joy! as it is for other campers.  $60 per child.  . 

In the basement of the permanent office building on the Heritage Ukraine campus, they have cleared all their storage out and created from almost nothing a special needs classroom.  A place where children who run (elope) are safely gathered in.  Children who are sensory-seeking have swings and ball-pits to explore without judgmental stares.  Where they receive an education appropriate to their abilities, instead of limited by their diagnoses.  Where parents are able to gather upstairs for a few minutes reprieve, and can believe that maybe, just maybe, things could be better someday. 

One of two resource closets.  
Furthermore, a new camp has been opened up, Lighthouse Family Camp, specifically for adoptive families in Ukraine.  They need $6000 for the week to sponsor the families attending this camp.  

And if you are feeling the need like I am to fund the efforts of those who are able to do this work full-time, we have a chance to make that happen.  There are 60+ children whose parents want them to come to Camp LELA Joy!, 35 of whom do not yet have sponsors.  There are 400 orphans who want to come to Camp LELA who do not yet have sponsors.  The current Joy! Center special needs classroom is a great start, but needs so much improvement to be worthy to the task of replacing a full-time education for these children. 
Crash pillows, foosball, and giant foam Legos are a great start, but I know we can offer these kids and families the world if we come together in this.
Wherever your heart is, please donate and pray.  There is not a penny nor a prayer that will be wasted. There are three material ways you can help:

1) Donate to Camp LELA Joy! to sponsor a camper with autism in Odessa, Ukraine for $60, or any amount.  Any amount raised over the goal will go to improve the Joy! Special Needs and Autism Center:  

2) Donate to Camp LELA (kids from orphanages) and Lighthouse Family Camp (Ukrainian adoptive families) to be a shelter in a chaotic storm.  Sponsor one camper for $60 or any amount will be appreciated: 

3)  Sponsor the ongoing work of Heritage Ukraine throughout the year with a recurring monthly donation (tax deductible) to minister to at-risk kids and families through afterschool programming and parent support classes**:   

Any amount you can contribute will be so greatly appreciated.  We are doing a small giveaway to give folks a reason to share.  And the prizes have each been donated with the sincere hope that they will turn into a greater gift for the children whose lives are changed for the better by Heritage Ukraine.

Here's how it works:
For every $5 donated, you will receive an entry in the giveaway.  Share once a day on the social media of your choice for a free entry.  If you sponsor an entire camper’s tuition, $60, your giveaway entries will be doubled.  Also, a monthly commitment of any amount will be doubled.  A copy of all entries must be sent to to be counted.  Shares can leave a comment below *or* email for a free entry!

Giveaway begins with shares and donations made and email receipt forwarded to from 12:01 May 29 until midnight EST on June 18.
On June 19, I will use a random number generator to find a winner for each prize:

Grand prize: $100 Amazon gift card donated by the Nalle Family

Bottle of homemade Rumnilla extract, 3 winners, $38 value, donated by Open Hands Bakers

Lularoe leggings, new with tags, donated by Jennifer Kroll

Young living essential oils, donated by Jennifer Kroll

Board games donated by Toko Togashi

Camp LELA T-shirts (3 winners), donated by Heritage Ukraine

Heritage Ukraine Sweatshirt (2 winners), donated by Heritage Ukraine (and clearly hand-carried across the ocean for us!  The wrinkles make it more comfy!) 

Ukraine regions magnetic puzzles, (4 winners) handmade in Ukraine, value $25 (all the Ukraine moms are going "are you sure this isn't the grand prize?!")

Handmade scarf, made and donated by Katy Colbry

Handmade hat, pom pom will be added at winner's request, made and donated by Katy Colbry

Watch for new photos and prizes to be added throughout the giveaway!  Thank you to all of those who have already made Heritage Ukraine's mission your own.  Please contact them at to learn more about volunteer opportunities as well.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” –John 9: 1-5

**Donations can also be mailed to HU's partner organization, though will not be eligible for the giveaway 
A Family For Every Orphan 
PO BOX 34628 # 37939 
Seattle, WA 98124-1628

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

How Did We Get So Lucky?

 A few days ago, I got some unexpected news.  Sometime last fall, I tried to get online to the Russian database where our little boy, Mac’s, pictures were updated twice a year.  Instead, I got a message that “this child is no longer available for adoption.”  I was hoping that some foster paperwork had finally been processed, and a supporter of our long-time friends at ROOF had found a way to get him into temporary care in a family.  Often in Eastern Europe when children are in foster care, they are no longer adoptable.

This week, I found out the news was far better.

Our little Mac, Summer 2017, age 5.

Mac is now living in Siberia with his forever family.  They thought he looked like one of their sons.  I know the feeling.
Mac, 2012, following a secret photo shoot when the director of his old orphanage heard we were coming for him.

Mac has been adopted.

While we still haven’t processed our feelings on this news, we know our prayers, and those of our children have been answered.  “If it can’t be us, let him find a family who will love him.”  The children cheered without hesitation the second they heard the news.

Andy and I both said it out loud, “Mac got adopted and he has a family now,” with a head nod and that’s about where we’re at.  This is what we want, someone, anyone to love him.  No more orphanage.

The little boy whose paperwork brought a child from Ukraine into our family…

The little girl who only seemed to be gifted with the unlimited potential of being born in the right time in the wrong place with the now-hope-filled diagnosis of Down syndrome…

The powerful rest of finally being held to sleep.  July, 2013, Daisy's orphanage grounds.

But our Daisy never brought the gift of Down syndrome into our home.  She brought the gift of herself into our lives. 

Daisy’s primary diagnosis is autism.  But an autism so incredibly profound that she seems to learn almost nothing passively.  Even now, nearly five years since the day we met her, she will still rock endlessly all day if you let her.  She will chew her fingers if she is hungry.  She is happy to spin in a johnny jumper or stim with a baton for 8 hours and call it a good day.  She doesn’t show any indication if her diaper needs to be changed.  She is 6, and still wears size 2T clothes.

Seabee (age 3.5) and Daisy (age 6).  She's smaller in person.

Daisy’s life took a radical turn for the better from every day of endless stillness without the muscle tone to even stim in that orphanage in Odessa, Ukraine.
A few minutes of hairbrush stimmies while waiting to visit the ENT.  Dear Lord, she is so beautiful.  
Because today, though Daisy will rock endlessly, we don’t let her.  She is held and tossed, and tickled, and “baby bulldozered” by her daddy.  She has spent endless sessions in feeding therapy, and while she can’t chew, she knows she can walk to her high chair and tap and someone will feed her.  She is given time to feed that sensory input beast that encompasses her entirely of independent rational thought.  Her teacher at school has turned her love of stimmy batons into a daily hide and seek game, teaching Daisy the concept of object permanence.  Daisy doesn’t have to tell us that her diaper needs to be changed, because it’s just what we do. 

Daisy’s least delayed ability, despite being unable to sit up independently at 18 months, is her ability to walk and even run.  She goes upstairs holding only one hand…while giggling at the sensory thrill of it all.

These are not huge news-worthy milestones, but they are all skills that required 5 years to teach.  Think about that. In the country with the most abundant resources for kids with special needs, it has taken a whole team of people 5 years to teach her how to walk upstairs, objects don't disappear when they are covered up, and she is part of the group.

But here’s the thing.  Beautiful little Mac, rotting away needlessly all those years in a Russian orphanage…he could talk.  He could count.  He could eat.  He could walk.  He made eye contact.  He laughed at jokes and engaged in reciprocal play during simple games.  Or so we heard.  We never met him.
Summer, 2015

And isn’t that just the case?

We went seeking that kid with Down syndrome of our hearts.  The little league overcomer, the special Olympian, the kid who makes his first communion with adaptive catechism, who shows his pig at the fair while strangers get teary eyed and ask themselves “how did that family get so lucky?”  There are hashtags and now group tattoos.  But those aren’t for me.

Instead, we got autism.  The least-understood, most alienating diagnosis a parent can get these days, I guess.  Daisy acts so differently, that very often people don’t recognize her special need as Down syndrome.  And in all honesty, it isn’t. 

Autism is Daisy’s primary diagnosis.  i repeat this again and again because it needs to be said.  They did an assessment for private ABA therapy and Daisy’s barriers to learning are at the highest level in all 20+ categories, except one—she is not sensory defensive.  Her 16 or so current skills are at a zero level in every area but two (both got a 2:4)—both because she watched bubbles being blown for 4 minutes and followed them all the way to the ground.  They also changed and ran the assessment for kids at age 2….because there was nothing to test in the age 6 test.  Even in the Down syndrome and autism dual diagnosis support groups, there are never kids like Daisy being discussed.  
Daisy *must* swing!  Early spring 2018

I hope one day she will get a new diagnosis--one that more clearly reflects the group of symptoms that characterize her life's challenges--I'm going to just make it myself and start calling it Austistic Down syndrome.  It isn't a dual diagnosis for her.  It's all in a blender.  All her autism is steeped in a heavy broth of blocked understanding related to her extra chromosome.  She isn't "more alike than different."   

But Mac was.  And there is the tiniest bit of grief there.  

So, what do you do when you unexpectedly find out you have kid with a completely different diagnosis than what you imagined?  When the little boy you still somehow thought might be yours would eventually come home? 

You do like everybody does.  You figure out how to move forward somehow.  First with desperation, but eventually with joy. 

Look! I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the earth, the blind and the lame in their midst...Hear the word of the Lord, you nations, proclaim it on distant coasts, and say: The One who scattered Israel, now gathers them; he guards them as a shepherd his flock. The Lord shall ransom Jacob, he shall redeem him from a hand too strong for him...They themselves shall be like watered gardens, never again neglected. Then young women shall make merry and dance, young men and old as well.  I will turn their mourning into joy, I will show them compassion and have them rejoice after their sorrows.   
-Jeremiah 31: 8, 10, 12b-13

Please read the next blog to hear how we are supporting autism, at-risk kids, and Daisy's hometown in Odessa, Ukraine. MOVING FORWARD WITH JOY! GIVEAWAY

How did we get so lucky?
Their Mac
Our Daisy

Friday, February 6, 2015

Beautiful Things. Happy Birthday Daisy.

Three years ago today, a mother gave birth to a little girl 5 weeks early.  She was admitted into the NICU for a host of issues.  I imagine that mother and father felt they had no choice, no way to care for their little girl's failing heart, and surrendered her into the care of the state. That first year of her life, the only record kept was that she visited the hospital five times.  Two photographs were taken, one required by the state and one whose source is unknown. Just days before that little girl's first birthday, her heart was repaired.  The only record of the rest of her life was that she was brought back to the orphanage a week later.

But on July 10, 2013, that little girl was born again to all the fanfare and love and endless photos that should have been hers from the moment she was born.  On Earth as it is in heaven.  And she heard her name for the first time. 

First morning in Kyiv

Seeing Daddy again for the first time in 3 weeks

Cal and Hoss give great hugs, October 2013

Lumpy and Daisy play dress-up, January 2014

Oh Mother, really.  May 2014
Pulling up to stand with Hoss.  Hoss is 10 months older.

I'm basically the most beautiful girl, ever.  June 2014.
Daisy and Emma Dilemma.  Just standing with one hand, no big.  August 2014 

Daisy is a big sister!  Seabee and Daisy, November 2014
Free standing, my real American Girl Doll, December 2014

 Our little Princessa turns 3 today, and we are so grateful to be able to be her parents.

This year has been less about surviving and more about learning to thrive.  She is up 4 more pounds, can push herself to standing and can eat birthday cake for the first time.  She is responding to her name, and pretended she was too sleepy to do therapy yesterday while pushing her PT's hands away. 

Jedi and Daisy.  Quite the pair.  January 2015

Our little girl is healing and well and forever ours.  She has now been with us longer than she was without us.  I wish we could have learned all we have without it being subsidized by the losses our daughter endured without us.  But that's not quite right.  Our redemption stories are not about our losses, but about how we are redeemed.  And our precious Daisy has a beautiful story of redemption, and now a story of being just a plain old kid.  

Today we are acutely aware that God doesn't make ashes to turn them into beauty, but takes ashes and makes them beautiful.  And He's really outdone himself with our Daisy.  Happy Birthday, D!  We are so lucky to be your mommy and daddy and family!