Both Hands: What it is and how you can be involved.

I’ve mentioned before that we were approved to do a service project with the Both Hands Foundation. Basically, the way it works is that we form a team, and partner with a widow who needs some work on her house. Our team sends out sponsor letters, letting friends and family know that we’re adopting, and doing a service project with  a widow on her house to raise money for our adoption. 100% of the money we and the volunteers who work with us raise will go towards our adoption costs.

We’re very excited to do this project (click here for our project page). It benefits a people other than us. We get to spend the day outside. We get to know a new friend! We’ve been able to meet a great woman, B., to work with. She lives in our town, and her needs are perfect for us to meet easily and in the time constraints we have. Team Building has really  stretched our faith a ton. While it’s not all been rainbows and unicorns, the Lord is bringing together a good team and one that I hope will daily increase in number. Right now we have about 3-5 people and we’d like to have between 10 and 20 volunteers work with us. There’s a number of people who are thinking about it, and with whom I’ve been chatting about schedule. I think we’re going to have a great team and a great day of service on february 22nd. It’ll be a lot of fun.

Since the word has been going out a little more ([ve visited community groups at my church, and talked to a few people about the project) people are asking what ways they can help. So I’ll list them in the order in which they benefit Malvina and the widow, B., we’re working with.

1. Work on our team with us and send sponsor letters to 10-20 people. 

This is the single most important part of the project. Without a groups of volunteers, we won’t be able to do the project. Without sending the sponsor letters, we won’t be able to raise part of the fund we need for our last adoption expenses. We’re asking people to be willing to send sponsor letters to 10-20 people.

2. Some people can’t be on our team but have asked us to write a personal letter they can send to friends and family on our behalf. We’re open to this, but we encourage people if they can to be part of our team. We’re thankful for however people choose to participate, but we’d love most for you to join our team.

3. pray for us. We need prayer for the following things: 

-Violets and Lev’s adjustments to our changing family.

– That the bonding period the first half of our trip would go smoothly. A lot people will be observing us with Violet, and we’d love for that to be a nice calm process.

– that the final pieces of immigration paperwork for Violet would go through quickly and that we’d have travel dates quickly.

-That our desires for what remains of this adoption would be what God has planned for us.

-That our project would run smoothly and that the Lord will provide all the volunteers we need.

So that’s basically the nitty gritty of our project. I’d be lying if I said that we’re (read:me) heading into this with nothing but excitement. I’m actually rather nervous about this whole thing. First because adoption forces you out of your comfort zone and requires us to set aside our personal preferences. So we did. And I’ve spent most of the last couple of years so far outside my comfort zone that I’m not sure what my zone ever was anymore. But I digress. Don’t hesitate to contact me through the blog, on facebook, or by email (cstarchenk at gmail dot com) if you want more info. 


Our Final Fundraiser. Finally.

The end is near.

So. So. Near.  I really can’t believe we’re in the final weeks before we go get our girl. I’m working hard to put into words all the emotions I feel. It’s challenging. It will probably result in a brain dump sort of blog post. But I’ll try in these next few posts. Right now, my only emotion is total exhaustion. And yes, all moms of 3 year olds will tell you that exhaustion is an emotion. It has it’s origins in 3AM wake ups for juice, and searches for curious george dolls that end in tears at your bedside. I know I need to curb the beside 3AM visits, but he’s my baby, people. One day, I’ll just wake up at 3AM, and he won’t be there. I’ll miss that, but truthfully, I’ll just go back to sleep and I might or might not do a Napolean Dynamite arm pump “YES!” as I roll over and tuck my tired self back into bed. But I digress.

But 3AM has it’s benefits in someways. For example, I can blog without interruption. And tonight (This morning? Whatever. It’s still dark.), I’m blogging about our very last fundraiser: The Both Hands Project.

I’m really excited about this project because it’s not just for us. It’s project that forces you to look beyond yourself, to blow right past uncomfortable into awkward, and remind yourself at the very end of your adoption why you’re doing this. It benefits someone other than ourselves or Violet. The rewards are SO much greater than the temporary discomfort I feel for myself. And if it’s a total flop (it won’t be, Pleas dear God, don’t let it be a flop), we’ve helped someone!  In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

1. Send in your application- Done.

2. Find a widow. Find out what she needs done to her house. Done! Thankfully!

3. Assemble a team AND send our support Letters. Have a kick off meeting. This happens February 1st!

4. Complete the work on the Brigitte’s house.

5. Go get our girl. Like almost the next week.

I you’d like to join our team, we’d love that!  Here’s what you need to know: 

We’re having 1 kick off meeting, on Saturday, February 1st. It’ll be at our house. You’ll learn about Violet, Brigitte, and the Both Hands foundation. We’ll eat pizza and also stuff envelopes with support letters and address them so that we can pop those babies in the mail the following Monday.

You’ll need to be willing to send letters of support to friends and family. This is the fundraising piece. It’s really important to be willing to both work the project the day of and send sponsor letters. We’d love it if you could bring the names names and addresses of 10-20 people you think you’d like to send letters to. Think of your friends, your family, any one you know who loves Jesus, orphans, widows or all of the above.

Work alongside us at Brigitte’s house from from 8- ? (ending time hasn’t been established yet.) and get to know Brigitte.

If this sounds fun for you, we’d love it if you’d fill out this form (CLICK HERE), and we’ll send the evite for our kick off meeting to you!

Not convinced you want to do this? Have a look at Violet’s hand and her pouty lips in the corner. Turn that frown upside down, folks!  Go add your emails to the invite so you can see Violet in person when she comes home.


Random thoughts I found from 4 years ago this month.

I was deep in my google drive tonight, looking for something to pass on to someone and I found this document labeled January 7, 2010. 4 Years and 3 days ago. I was a vastly different person 4 years ago, so I was little nervous about what I would find when I clicked on this. Fun background facts:

4 years ago, I had no idea I was going to be a mom at the end of September. That particular January, similar to this one, I was rather worn out emotionally from all the contacts from expectant parents. It had been 4 or 5 in 4 months, and there would be a couple more before February 14th, when we met Lev’s birthmom for the first time, and still another after that in march. January was month 13 or 14 of waiting, and I had no idea how much longer this thing was supposed to drag on. I was already kind of over it to be honest. We had made plans to start an international adoption a couple of weeks before and we had picked Poland, and started the paperwork. And then we had to stop the next month becuase Lev’s birthmom contacted us. It was a crazy awesome year. But on January 7th, I wrote this thing below. I don’t know what I planned to do with it. Sometimes I just write stuff down so that it won’t be in my head anymore. At the end I mention “the 5 of us.” I’m not sure where that came from, except that I know we discussed sibling groups and for a week, we were set on that. We changed our minds on that part after Lev was born and realized that wouldn’t be in our best interests to parent 3 kids close together. 2 I could handle, 3 at once was a little much for me to think about. And that’s how we got Violet! But I digress. The stuff below is more of random brain dump, probably written during a naptime or something. I don’t really need to say much about it, other than the fact that I’m amazed that very few of my thoughts about this have changed over 4 years.

I often feel like I short changed myself when I became a nanny but really, I didn’t. I passed up what would surely be my ticket to a dead end lecturer position to play endless rounds of freeze tag and debate the merits of the pink power ranger over the blue power ranger, wipe runny noses and constantly pray the little charges entrusted to me will not realize they can stick metal objects into non child proofed sockets.

When I watch these 2 play at the park, I think about where the small people we’ll eventually acquire are. They’re out there in the world somewhere without me, their mother and the thought bothers me. I don’t know what they are eating, or who they play with and I can’t pick them up when they cry , or defend them from injustice. I think about how their little lives will change on the day they leave that orphanage forever, and if they will remember polish language or poland or the people at the orphanage who cared for them. In some ways I hope they do, in the way that some Christians think about there life before CHrist saved them from hopeless irrevocable depravity- it’s not something to long for and want to return to, but rather as a reference point- a kind of first day of the rest of ones life scenario.  I wonder about the parents who let them go so I could be their child’s mother- about the depth of hopelessness, violence, poverty, or just plain disinterest that led to such a traumatic end to motherhood- that’s what it took for these children to be mine- to be made wholly and irrevocably mine. 

I think that as I stand on the brink of motherhood, I don’t think of myself- I rather wonder what these children will think of us- why we adopted them and loved them. Maybe they won’t care and maybe it will be something that forms how they see the world. I wonder what they will become because they have a mother who loves art and literature and father who loves freedom and parents united more out of devotion to God rather than to each other. And I wonder what we will become because we chose them to be our children. I already know we care less about the expense of adoption and more about the end result of it. But where will this journey take the 5 of us and just what will we be at the end of our lives?


Quick updates:

In the mail today, we got Violets birth certificate and a bunch of other paperwork I don’t understand. I read it. I appreciated it. I decided not to worry about it and just follow the instructions.  But we also got a thin envelope from the Show Hope foundation. I assumed this was a rejection because that’s what it meant when I was applying to college and graduate school. Thin envelopes are never good news. So I opened it on the driveway, next to the garbage can, so I could just toss it after I read the rejection letter and continue living my life.

But it wasn’t a rejection. We got a grant! A huge one- $5000! I just couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it.

It’s really a lot for me to absorb. Alex took it better than me. He was really thankful and very excited. I have a headache from all the emotion. I mean, the Show Hope application is no joke. It took me 2 weeks to put that beast together, to write the essay and get all the info I needed together. after the immense amounts of thankfulness I feel, I feel kinda vindicated. I conquered the beast!

I’m very thankful. But it’s hard to form words from emotions that I can’t really define yet. I think that’s just going to be part of my 2014. I think Verklempt is the word I’m looking for tonight. Choked with emotion that I can’t express and that at this moment I’m not going to try to. I’m just going to let it be and rejoice that the Lord, who always provides, has been doing it in huge visible ways lately.

A basic FAQ from the last 12 hours, made up of questions people have asked me:

1. Are you still doing the both hands project? 

Yes! See question #2. Also get in touch with me if you’d like to be on our team!

2. So do you have anything left to come up with? 

Yes. About $10,000. That’s why we’re still doing the both hands project. And I’m still looking for a widow. Happily, most of the widows I’ve learned about have families who care well for them and help them with their house. But I know that there’s someone out there we can help and love. So I’m still looking.

3. So do you just get this huge check in the mail?

Nope. Show Hope sends the funds to our agency. I prefer it that way, in the end. I don’t have to deal with a check, or go to the bank. It just goes where it needs to. I’m very thankful for that. I don’t need something else to keep track of because remember- My brain no longer works.


SO that’s it. There’s not pithy way to end this post. I’ll just say, “Hooray! We got a grant! The Lord provides!”


My brain no longer works.

I think I’ve reached that point in every adoption where a woman’s brain can only do so much before it limps to a halt and refuses to go anymore. On Tuesday (was that yesterday?? I have no idea becuase as you’ll see, my brain is broken), I got a call that said we were approved to do a Both Hands Project. We raise money for our adoption by working on a widows house for one day. It’s a project based on James 1:27 where it says “True religion is dwelling with widows and orphans in their distress”. This project is a good thing.  I’m really excited about it, becuase it gives a chance to meet new people and make new friends.  But as I read all the stuff they sent me, I started to feel it happen. My brain was slowly grinding to a halt: I had a sneaking suspicion that I wasn’t going to have a long time to pull off a time sensitive thing involving major things, like find a widow, build a team, send out support letters.


But for reasons I now no longer remember, I called the agency and asked how long it takes from receiving the paperwork to traveling. And they told me we might be traveling AT THE LATEST in two months. Now, I know to take that with a grain of salt. I really do. And I know that most of our waiting is behind us now. But we’re 1 and 1 on the time frame thing: We got an unexpected referral in August after I was told that we probably wouldnt see anything until october. THen on our first trip, we were told to expect paperwork in a couple of weeks and it took 3.5 months to show up. So yesterday about 4:30 I was feeling like things could go either way. And this is adoption, so I’m not far off the mark. They really, genuinely, could go either way

And then my brain slowed down some more and I thought to myself. Nope. Not going to happen. There is NO WAY I can:

get the house ready to rent for two months (if possible)

Pack 4 people for 8 weeks and get 3 them all the way to Poland without major mishap and then 4 back in one piece.

Find a widow get a team together, send out letters, and make this project happen before the end of February.

And then it happened. My brain broke. I could no longer function. I couldn’t remember basic facts like what day it was, where Alex is working today, or even figure out what to do. All I could do was set myself one goal:

Look for a widow during naptime/quiet time. 

So until that time came about, I dedicated myself to my usual wednesday activities of cleaning bathrooms and taking all the stuff that doesn’t belong downstairs, back upstairs. I don’t have to think. My body just does the work for me. Normally I would describe cleaning bathrooms as mind numbing, and today, mind humbing was a good thing. I have clean bathrooms. All the upstairs stuff is at least in a basket on the hall bench, ready to go upstairs. I did it. Sort of.

At quiet time I call my friend who’s done the Both Hands project and I tell her my brain is broken. She tells me that all I need to do right now is to concentrate on finding a widow. So I do. I can check off that task. Small victories.

But finding a widow is very hard. Like harder than I anticipated. I called 3 churches, and Meals on Wheels. Nothing. All the widows appear to have families and houses that care well for them. And I am HAPPY about this. I don’t like the idea of a widow not having family to help her. I can’t imagine that being my experience. So while I’d like to find a widow that needs help, the fact that all the widows I know of are well cared for is good for me to know.

So tomorrow the search continues.

But my brain still doesn’t work. I am totally worn out.  My mom assures me this will all work out and reminds me that when we got our referral and traveled 2 weeks later, I got it all done. And I did.

The City where Violet currently lives is the spiritual capital of Poland. THere's an enormous cthedral there called the Jasna Gora (pronounced yahhznah gora). I'm sure we'll get more time to tour it, but it's an enormous complex, complete with a monastery and some sort of seminary or library. It's a pilgrimage destination and people come there from all over Poland to pray to the black madonna, who's not actually black. The icon is black, and that's why she's called the black Madonna. It's a fascinating place.

The City where Violet currently lives is the spiritual capital of Poland. THere’s an enormous cthedral there called the Jasna Gora (pronounced yahhznah gora). I’m sure we’ll get more time to tour it, but it’s an enormous complex, complete with a monastery and some sort of seminary or library. It’s a pilgrimage destination and people come there from all over Poland to pray to the black madonna, who’s not actually black. The icon is black, and that’s why she’s called the black Madonna. It’s a fascinating place.

I think these are the times in adoption where I have to most cling to the Lord. I honestly don’t feel a lot of stress about this, and it’s not going to keep me up at night. If we can’t do the project becuase I cant find a widow, it won’t be for lack of trying. If I can’t rent out the house for 2 months, it’ll be ok. I’ve been reminding myself that the Lord knows. That’s all. He knows my brain is broken. He knows I’m feeling like I can’t accomplish it all. But he also knows how it’s all going to turn out, becuase He’s already written the end of the story. He knows. And those 2 little words have really been what I hang onto and they help propel me forward and give me clarity and energy and hope. The certain kind of hope where you know that it’s all going to end and end happily in this case. I get my girl, she gets a family. As a distant second, we also all get to eat Pierogis and cabbage rolls and stuffed peppers straight from the source.

So fellow adoptive parents and future adoptive parents: At some point in your adoption, your brain will break. It will be ok. This is the second time for me and adoption related brain failure, and once I find a widow, I think I’ll be back on track. I know I’ll be back on track. But don’t let this deter you from adopting. You should do it. It’ll be worth it in the end. It’s worth not knowing what day it is, and being able to only accomplish one adoption related thing a day (or a week. You’ll be there, too). But when you see that face, you’ll know. You might not forget everything you went through, and I don’t think we should, but you’ll be able to say it was worth it.


The second I typed that title, I started hearing Carly Simon in my head singing, “Anticipayaytiiiooonnn”. Then I had to go look up the lyrics so I can hear more than just that couple of chords. It turns out the first verse is kind of emo(ish) but nice. I won’t call it deep, but it has more potential than Bruno Marz for example:

We can never know about the days to come
But we think about them anyway, yay
And I wonder if I’m really with you now
Or just chasin’ after some finer day

But I digress. On to the good stuff!

Violet’s paperwork came! Happy New Years to us! We’ve all been sick here at Casa Starchenko, so it a huge boon to hear the news especially after being sick for a while. A million people have asked me what’s next, but honestly, I have no idea. I know they did something with the paperwork at the agency, and that we’ll get it in the mail sometime this week, and that I have to send part of it back to Poland, I think. But I can’t really say for sure that’s the case. I know I have to send things places. I’m sure I’ll find out where soon.

Anyways, in the mean time, in between sickness and coughing, we’ve taken all the guest bedroom furniture out of Violets room and we’ve put in her new crib, and set up the little table and chairs we bought for her. And I hung part of her curtains. We are in possession of paint, and we even pained the wall a little and then realized that the paint is going on in this almost purple looking hue, when it’s supposed to be grey. We’re not super happy about this development, but we’ll regroup. The same thing happened with Lev’s room before he came. We just got a new color and lived our lives. Same here. I’ve also got some wall art going, which I’ll post pictures of soon.

With each of our kids, getting ready for them has been a huge bonding experience for me. As I put together Violet’s room I’ve been thinking about her joining our family and I can imagine her sleeping in her crib, and playing with her toys, and wearing the ridiculous amounts of clothes she has (NOTE: we don’t need anymore clothes. Send diapers instead- size 4!). And as we prep, I keep thinking about that verse in John where Jesus tells the disciple that he’s going to prepare a place for them. It’s still fleshing itself out for me as I think about it, but I’ve found myself wondering (and mostly arriving at the conclusion that it’s so) if the Lord anticipates us being with him in heaven like we’re anticipating Violets arrival to our family. I know he’s not waiting around in some US centered style, like we’re the ones that decide when we go to heaven. I mean it in the sense that bringing us to heaven is more of a making right what he established in the first place when he created us and the world, kind of in the “All things made new” sense that I read about in the New Testament.  That if sin seperated us from the closeness we were meant to have with him, then maybe our arrival in heaven is something he anticipates. I don’t know. I overthink things a lot. This might be one such case and I can see myself getting WAY lost in that train of thought and not in a good way. Either way, we’re anticipating Violet’s arrival and we can’t wait to go get her.


I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’m slightly nervous. I’m not afraid of the usual adoption things because they either arent’ actual issues at play in this adoption or becuase this is our second adoption and I know basically how it will play out. I’m mostly nervous about the unknowns: what it will be like those first few days with her, if there’s going to be a lot of crying, and how the one week Alex won’t be there will go for me. We’re talking to people about coming to stay for a week, but so far, it’s kind of a no go. I might be soloing in Poland by myself, while Alex goes to see his brothers. And that will be ok as well. my main job is to go one day, sometimes one hour at a time, and care well for all of us and it will all turn out ok for all of us.