‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men …… That is what love looks like.’ - St. Augustine

Thursday, December 22, 2011

You Did It! Christmas Feast On!!

'OMG, I can't believe I get to experience another FEAST!'
You did it! How do I thank you? In less than 24 hours you, my readers, came up with over $500 for the Christmas Feast! I AM SO EXCITED! Close to $600 came in -- but I had forgotten I'll have to pay a hefty fee for sending the $500 via Western Union tomorrow, so thank God a bit more did come in!

I called the orphanage very late last night to give them the news. And then I found Vanya (the boy I wrote about a few days ago) on vkontakte (Russian Facebook) and I told him and asked him to spread the word!

Today I will write a long email to the Assistant Director spelling out what exactly they should do with this money. I'll make sure to be clear that ALL of it is to be spent on the 'Feast' day. if they have some left over after buying all the food, then they can spend some on decorations or extra candy and treats, I just want to make sure there is an abundance of food first, and that every single child there feels FULL at the end of the day!

I'm also strongly urging them to take photos so they can email them to me eventually and I can then pass them on to you! Russian Christmas is January 7th, so we've got to wait a bit. but I'm sending the funds tomorrow so they can start purchasing what they need now. After all, this is a Feast for over a hundred people!

By the way, my daughter spoke to the new Director and said she sounded very nice. (I was too embarrassed to talk to her, because I've never met her and  I've been told I make lots of mistakes with my verb tenses when talking in Russian. I didn't want  her to think I was an idiot..lol! Need to impress her since I'll be adopting from there very soon!)

I will be sure to send out thank you emails to all of you (if you haven't received one already) once I am in Florida. For now I've got packing and cleaning to do, so I better get to work!

Again, huge thanks! 
I am overjoyed these kids will have a full belly and a day to remember forever!
'Did you say I'm getting a day off from this relentless SOUP?
You're my HEROES!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

An Orphanage Christmas Feast!

Nastia , last December, modeling the Father Christmas suit we bought for the orphanage.
I wrote the orphanage weeks ago about providing funds for a Christmas Feast for the children. Usually for Christmas they get only a small piece of candy. No presents, no party, no special meal. Nothing. But last year we held a huge Thanksgiving Feast and also left money for a smaller Christmas dinner to be held after we left. We also bought small gifts for every single child, bought an artificial Christmas tree that they can use every year, as well as a 'Father Christmas" Suit and a "Snegorishka" Suit. 
Anya, last December, modeling the Snegorichka costume we bought the orphanage.

Today I received this email: 

"Hello Keri!

Thank you very much for not forgetting us. V received a parcel from his family, and D was given the letter you sent, he was very happy with it and he waiting for his mother (You). D also printed the photo you sent on the printer you gave us! Keri!  We now have a new director . Her name is ___________. We had talked to her about the transfer of money for Christmas that you spoke of. She will be very glad to help. The children are always asking when we will celebrate Christmas with KERI!  They are waiting for treats (chicken, and sweets, as in that big dinner of last year). We are so sorry that took so long to write to you, we had much difficulty with the problem of Internet. Keri, we strongly, strongly miss you, love you , wait for you ... All the children thought it a great pass, and D sends his love ....

So, would you like to be a part of this wonderful dinner? I can't do it alone. I only even made the offer to them knowing that if I put the word out, many of you would be overjoyed to help! All you have to do is:

Click on the paypal donation button over on the top right of this blog. Send a few dollars, whatever you can afford. And also put " Christmas Feast" in the subject line or note area when you send the funds. I will have to collect the funds by the 28th and send them 'western union' from Florida, as i"ll be there visiting my mom for Christmas.

Sending it to them by the 28th insures that they will have time to collect the 
money and go shopping before Russian Christmas. Every dollar really does help!

Anya and Nastia, last December, decorating the Christmas Tree we bought for the orphanage.

Funny Little Tale to Tell

Well, it wasn't funny while it was happening!

This is Vanya. On the right.

He lives at orphanage number 5 and is 16 years old. he'll be leaving the orphanage in June. He has known no other life.

So, Vanya has an inactive 'Russian Facebook' page. I mean, he created it last year, but I have never seen him on it. ever. Well, today when I logged on, I saw that he was logged on too! I quickly messaged him and we started talking about anything and everything that was happening at the orphanage. Like, did he know why the former Director was fired? No, he did not. Did he know the name of the New Director that started this week? Yes, he did. Did he think she was nice? He didn't have enough time to decide that yet, he said.

Vanya trying out Nastia's laptop when we were there in June.

As we talked, I posted photos of him on his Facebook wall. He got really excited. (Photos are a luxury for these kids.) As I posted them, he quickly typed a running commentary on each one. But as I read one response, I started to get sick to my stomach. With my limited Russian, it sounded like he said that the other guy in the photo was dead. Then he added that three others had died too, and it was due to some kind of smoke inhalation. I was freaking out.

I called Nastia up from the laundry room to read it.

 'Tell me what this says to you...' 

She replied, 'Umm, something about people dying from smoke inhalation.'

I panicked. I moved my conversation with Vanya off his wall and into a private message. I typed furiously: Who died? How did they die? When did it happen?
Vanya ,center, with Sergey, Sidozha and other boys from the orphanage. June 2011.

There is a long pause while I wait for his response. And then a series of 'smile' icons appears. Then I read his next message, 'No, they didn't die.Yet' 

What was he trying to  say? I was still so confused.

And then he typed another series of smile icons and then the words  'but they WILL. From too much smoking.'

Then it all came barreling back to me. In June I had given these same boys hell for smoking so much. Everytime we walked outside, there they were - cigarettes dangling out of their mouths. I had explained then, in my limited Russian vocabulary, that they would all shorten their lives by smoking. A lot. They were ruining their lungs, they were gambling with a host of diseases, and they would lose. Not to mention the cost of a smoking habit. I asked them how on earth they could even afford such a habit. They just laughed and laughed at me, and tried to give me a cigarette. In the end, I just warned them to keep cigarettes away from D, or there would be hell to pay when I came back.

Vanya, being the prankster that he is, was trying to be funny. He didn't realize that with my limited Russian skills that the humor and sarcasm would not translate for me. When he said these boys were dead, I took that at face value. It had knocked the wind out of me.
Vanya and some of the other kids trying out Kim's computer.

Anyway, he had a really good laugh at my expense, and I was able to find it funny too...once my heart moved back into my chest. It was great to talk to him, remind him that I still think about all of them, and that I pray for them. He was pretty impressed that I rattled off the names of everyone in the photos I sent him. And, even though this boy is exacerbating and troublemaking, and full of bravado when he is surrounded by the other kids --here online he was not. He must have written 'thank you!' a dozen times for each photo I posted. And then, before I signed off, he thanked me for taking the time to talk to him.

These are the things that give me hope. This kid is considered a lost cause by the staff. In the insanity of running that place, none of them has the time to stop and take notice that there is a heart in there. That this kid has potential. They see only the troublemaker.

But just extend a welcoming hand, show them that they matter in even the very smallest way, and sometimes there is a window into them. Sometimes gratitude. Sometimes you get a glimpse of what they really are under all that protective armor. Pretty amazing.

I want to give each one of them a leg up.I want the kids like Vanya to know they are not forgotten. We all deserve to know we matter. Especially the 'least of these'. Even the 'troublemakers' and the mischievous ones who cause my heart to jump out of my chest once in awhile. They all matter, and we can show them so easily. Don't you agree?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

This Is Katya

This is Katya. I first met her in March 2005 when I was adopting Nastia. She was in Nastia's "Groupa' and she was about to turn 16. She stood out to me because she was smart, inquisitive, and a great advocate for herself. The first time I met her, she asked me through the translator 'I don't have much time left..do you think you could find me a family before I turn 16?'

I'm sure you all know me well enough by now to know that I got to work on her request the second I landed back in the US. And I DID find a family for her -- my friend Francie. However, when we contacted my adoption agency about starting the process, they told us they 'looked into it' and that the time frame was just too narrow. I was naive -- I took them at their word. Knowing how things work now, I know it could have been done. It has been done in that time frame. The agency just wasn't interested in working so quickly for a child of that age. A year later I found out they hadn't even inquired about her. They lied.

So, I kept in touch with Katya via letters that year. When I returned with Nastia to visit a year later (on our trip to meet Anya), she was gone. She had 'aged out.' No one knew where she was. A 17 year old out in the world by herself. I can't imagine what she endured that first year out.

But sometimes persistence pays off and God lends a hand, and people we lost are found. On this last trip we took to the orphanage, in June 2011, Katya was there! I had asked the Director, before every visit between 2005 and 2011 to please try and find Katya and a few of the other girls from Nastia's group. She had never had luck. But somehow she had found Katya this time, and she surprised me with her visit in June!

Katya showed up, with a child in tow. She had recently gotten engaged to the father, and was very proud to show off her little boy, Arkasha.(Yes, I know: not the most flattering photo of me, but I was jet lagged and had no access to a shower for two days...) We caught up, and she gave me a gift - a photo of her son, and asked me to be his godmother. She filled me in on all she knew about the other girls from the group. (There were many horrible stories, with one girl recently arrested for selling her child for drugs.)

But somehow Katya had defied the odds: She was alive, she was not drug-addicted, she was not involved in criminal activity or prostitution, and she was still the same smart, inquisitive girl I had met 6 years ago. No, life was not what she envisioned for herself, but she did count her blessings. She lived with her boyfriend in his parents' apartment. She had a roof over her head, which is more than most of her friends had.

I'm writing this post about Katya, because I know how important it is to put a name and a face on the numbers and statistics everyone reads about. How can people care about and want to help a statistic? But if I can tell others about Katya, her dreams, her hopes and -- more importantly right now -- her needs, then others can take action.

I sent funds in September for Katya to buy Arkasha some
winter clothing:) Here's the photo I just received!

Katya is a young mother. She struggles to have enough to feed her child. Her husband is out of work, his parents are older and I'm not sure if they are working either. And even if they do, I know that the average salary is under $80 per month. I do know that when she wrote me this week and asked for $10 to buy food for Arkasha, she wasn't being melodramatic. She is very proud and has never asked me for anything. Like you and me, she just wants what is best for her child, but she is in a position where she is unable to provide for him in a way that we can for our children. He will get no Christmas presents. He doesn't even have his own bed. And yet Katya manages to make the best of things and look on the bright side.

I want to support and nurture the success that Katya has already created for herself -- staying alive and out of trouble. What if I could find families willing to send their gently use clothing, toys, bottles, etc to Katya? I asked her if she could receive packages and not have to pay a fee. As long as the customs form states that the items are worth less than $25, she can receive them at no cost to her. She will have to take a bus to town and go to the post office to pick them up, but I am sending her a small bit of money this week to help her pay for bus fare in and out of town.

If you are interested in sending gently used baby/toddler items to Katya, please let me know. This is her address. I hope she doesn't mind my posting it for a bit.

Yekaterina Chervonets
Menzhinskogo Ulitse 11-19
653000 Prokopyevsk
Kemerovo Oblast

If you have never sent a package to Russia before, it is very simple. First, get a ready-post mailing carton like this:

Fill it and print the address in BOLD, CLEAR letters. Go to your local post office and fill out the customs form. (It must be filled out in detail or it may be returned.) In the customs form you list everything you are sending and its estimated value. Keep the value low, under $25.

Send it express mail to better insure its arrival in Siberia. At the post office they will tell you it will take 10 days to reach its destination. This is a myth of epic proportions. It is supposed to arrive in 10 days. However, it will take an average of 4-6 weeks. Once it arrives in Prokopyevsk, Katya will be sent a slip from the post office to come pick it up.

I hope a few readers will feel inspired to send her some things. Of course, if you can include a translated letter or card, all the better! I'll keep you posted on Katya's situation. I am excited to see her when I return to bring D home!

Most recent photo of Arkasha. Isn't he adorable?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This Damn Longing

Sorry for the strong wording. 'Darn' just didn't cut it.

Yesterday we finally reached Anya again by Skype. Once she had been moved out of the hospital, it became impossible to reach her via Skype. So I did what any other resourceful mother would do -- I send funds to the people she is staying with to purchase the best wi-fi service that Siberia has to offer it.

It worked.

And so last night, as I typed away at a letter for D, I heard that familiar 'zherping' sound that tells you someone has logged into Skype. Lo and behold, it was Anya!

I hadn't realized how much I had missed seeing her and hearing her voice, so I started crying when the video came on and, in turn, scared her...she thought something awful had happened. 'No! I just miss you!' I said, and then she smiled and breathed deeply and added 'Mama, I miss you too...'

After we caught up as much as we could, I went up and got Nastia to come talk to her. Anya wanted us to meet her new kitten. The cat at their house had given birth last week, and her kitten was the tiniest, fluffiest little thing! Anya named her Vasalisa. Stupid me then asks her naively, 'Wow, the mom only had one kitten? That's rare.' I should have remembered the stories I had been told time and time again in Russia.

'Nooo, Mama, she had 8. We drowned the other seven today. Isn't Vasya cute?' Thud. My heart sank into my shoes and all I could think of was those poor little newborn kittens struggling in a bucket of water. But, as Nastia later scolded me with that harsh Russian POV...what are they to do? The kittens would all starve to death once they were weaned, or be eaten by someone. To Anya's mindset, what they did was an act of kindness.

Anya asked if Vasalisa could meet her American 'cousin', so Nastia traipsed upstairs and excavated poor Tink from the furthest corner under my bed. She brought her down and then forced the poor thing to endure a video-chat with another cat living 6,000 miles away. she was not impressed. At first Vasya was busy nursing, so I taped my two girls talking for a bit. I forgot how much Anya hates being filmed without makeup ('Mama, I am so UGLY without makeup!') Yeah,right.

I evidently caught her off guard when I asked her to say hi to my friends, as you'll see here:

Yup -- she hung up on us. But don't worry, we called her right back and I promised never to tape her again sans makeup. The kitties got to meet, the girls got to make faces at one another for an hour, and then I got another 20 minutes alone with Anya.

'Mama, I know you are trying, but will you please come soon?' I always dread these questions, because I don't know how to answer them without falling apart myself. It's not fair that we have 6,000 miles between us. It's not fair that I can't be there to nurse her while she recovers. It's not fair that we live in this supposedly modern world and yet the laws that keep us apart are so draconian.
After all these years, I still can't wrap my head around it.

Anya now waits for the court date where she will testify against the man who shot her. The police said she is not allowed to leave the country until the criminal case is over. By then it may be too late for me to get permission for her to come. It's a catch-22.

And on top of all this is the daily struggle with abject longing. I long to be there. For her. For D. For the kids at the orphanage. For my own sanity. This morning it stung me like a blade through my heart. I felt sick with my need to be there. I was ready to walk there, if needed. I wanted to be there, to see them and hear them and simply tell them all how much I still love them -- even if I cannot be there every day. Luckily today was so overrun with doctor appointments, urgent errands and the like, that I didn't have the luxury of nursing these sorrows. I had to just move past it.

Last night I dreamt that I was with Anya and D and we were trying to get out of Moscow by any means necessary and come home. As the dream progressed, D got younger and younger until he was an infant clinging to my side and trying to nurse on my fingers. Anya pushed her way through crowds of people, with a large patch worked backpack on her back, demanding someone help us. We had no phone, no money, and we would stop to sleep in doorways of shops when we got tired. At one point I saw an older gentleman with an iphone, and I asked him if I could use it to call home. We were sitting on the steps of a cafe, Anya leaning on me in a big black sheepskin coat, looking at a map, and D, now looking about 10 months old, wrapping his legs tightly around my waist and chewing contentedly on my hand. I kissed him over and over and smelled his hair and felt so scared of losing him. I remember thinking in my dream how I would give anything to be tucking them both in at home. I felt so alone and scared, and so shamed that I had no shelter for them. It started raining hard in my dream then, and as I waited for Nastia to answer the phone (I was calling her in my dream), my alarm went off and I woke up.

As sad as the dream felt, I would give anything to fall back into it tonight. Spending time with them, if even only in dreams, is worth the painful longing that comes with it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

An Explanation and a Solution

Wow. Just wow.

I honestly had no idea how many devoted readers I had. I knew how many people stopped by. I knew how many people 'subscribed', but the actual numbers of truly devoted readers are never usually close to that.

With the disconcerting 'photo stealing' problem I was having with my blog, I thought the best answer was to just go private. I couldn't think of another way to deal with it. But I had no idea what a pain in the ____ it would be. I knew it would be a struggle to add all those email addresses individually to the 'allowed readers' list. I knew it would limit who could see my blog, but I really thought I had about 100 really devoted readers at best, so it would work. I was wrong. Within the first two hours of closing my blog, I received over 80 requests from readers who wanted to keep reading. By the end of the first 24 hours, the number was over 400 and I couldn't even keep up with responding to all the emails. By this morning, I just gave up. My inbox was completely overrun. I even had people contacting my business to gain access, when they couldn't locate my personal email address.

So first, thank you. Thank you that there are so many of you who actually enjoy reading what I write. I was truly dumbfounded, and it has given me a renewed commitment to writing more often and keeping people informed. I had gotten lax, because I didn't think too many people were interested. (Not many people comment, so I assumed not many read.) I was wrong, but in this case, it was nice to be wrong!

Now to the dilemma. I watch my blog carefully, and I noticed that someone spent 3-4 days downloading all of the photos of me and some of particular others from my blog. But not only that, they had done searches on my blog for very specific and troubling things and these two things worried me. People take photos all the time, but it is usually one or maybe two. And it is usually from a person I recognize or someone who wrote and asked first. That I don't mind. I use photos from other sites too, but I either ask permission, or I make sure it is available through creative commons license, or is in the public domain, etc. It is not only rude but illegal to use someone's photos without their permission (unless they have listed them under creative commons, etc..which I do myself on flickr, etc.)

This person also took a particular interest in photos of D, which REALLY bothered me.

I have spent a good part of today going through my entire blog and removing any posts or photos that I would not want someone with ill intents having access to. It was a long slow painful process, and I need to go back and check more. But for now, I feel like I can open the blog back up, as long as I post this too:

To Whomever spent several days taking so many of my photos, I want you to know that I saved your IP address. I've also paid to have it traced so soon I will have your name and phone number. I will not use it, but I want to have it as insurance. Am I curious as to why you wanted so many photos of me? Yes. But am I more concerned about your taking all the photos of D? YOU BET. I am watching you, and I am checking every day to see if you come back. If you do, I expect you to behave and NOT take my photos without permission. Ok? And if you had any ill intent, WATCH OUT. If I think anyone is out to harm my family in any way, I am RUTHLESS.

I had an experience like this 6 years ago that caused such pain in my and my daughter's life, that I will never ever allow it to happen again. Right Ms Ahern? (I won't post her full name, but the woman who used the internet to try to destroy my life in 2005 carries the last name Ahern. I'm betting she reads my blog sometimes. I paid to track her down too, and contacted her to make sure she knew she would regret what she did. I still keep track of where she lives and what she is doing, just to be safe.)Maybe this gives you some idea of why this photo experience was so upsetting to me.

To all my other readers, I don't want to scare you off from using my photos for good purposes. Here is what I think is fair:

If you have followed my story for years and simply want some of the photos for your own personal viewing, and do not intend to ever share them, you have my permission to use my photos. You do not have to ask.

Next: I sometimes like to have photos of the people and children I am praying for. I post them above my computer or but them in a book by my bed. If you wish to take a photo for this reason, again, you have permission.

Next, if you know me well and IN REAL LIFE and we are FRIENDS, you can take any and all photos you like for your personal use (not public use). YOu have my permission.

However, if I do not know you in real life and if your reasons are other than the ones stated above: DO NOT TAKE MY PHOTOS WITHOUT PERMISSION. Just ask. If you tell me why you want them, I will very likely say yes. I just need to know. It's only fair.

Lastly, I have allowed many people to use my photos for their nonprofit organizations. Some have needed photos of orphans. Some needed photos inside a Russian Orphanage. Some were trying to collect donations for Orphanage #5 and needed photos to help tell the story. In all these cases I said yes, but...I WAS ASKED. If you want to use some photos for public use for a good purpose, just ask.

I apologize to everyone who had to go to the trouble of emailing me or messaging me to get permission to view the blog. Once I had done about 80 emails, I got burnout and stopped! It became evident that this would not be the solution. So I decided to just insure my safety by paying to trace the person's IP, and then removed anything that could be used to hurt me or my family, and I'm opening it back up. Once I get D home, I will repost all the things I have removed.

I hope everyone understands. I strongly encourage other parents to get a program that allows them to 'watch' the activity on their blog in detail, too. It's a great security measure, but it's also fun to see how people get to your blog, what they do once there, and what posts seem to be most popular, etc. It costs, but its worth it.

Thanks everyone! Oh, and PS: Many of you will know what this photo means! If you don't, just know it means Good News!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Update On A Great Many Things

First, GREAT news: Laura and Conor were found safe in Newark NJ. A 48 hour adventure for them, but a terrifying nightmare for their parents. So very grateful they are home safe now.

Second, I've heard heard your cries for an update...lol. So sorry I've been remiss. I've been focusing on the mundane : house cleaning, doctor appts, Christmas Card writing, sending packages to Russia, and cleaning up the yard for winter!

Anya is doing ok. Not great, but ok. I've been sending money regularly via Western Union. I send it to her distant cousin, whom she is staying with right now. she says the hard part for Anya right now is that she cannot go outside at all, even if they could find people to carry her out. Why? Because it is below freezing and she still has that giant bags on her leg with screws going into her bones. If she goes out, it freezes her flesh! I don't even want to think about that! I'm getting her medicals translated, but the police will not let her leave the country for now anyway, because she is due in court to testify against the man who shot her. Although they have not set a date yet, Anya hopes it will be in the next few months.

My Homestudy for D is DONE! It should arrive in the mail any day now. A few dossier items have expired so I need to update them, but as soon as I get my USCIS 1600A approval I can go deliver my dossier!!!!

Nastia made the honor role her first quarter and has been doing really well, except for last week. She is butting heads with her English teacher and it caused her to run away from school last week which caused a big mess. We are working through it slowly. She seems to be processing some old traumas lately. Trying to be as gentle and supportive as possible, but it is hard when you have a hormonal and traumatized teen living in very close quarters with you, always looking for a fight! God give me patience...

I have gone nearly two months without any flare-ups or significant arthritis pain. That's a new record for me! I hope I'm not jinxing it. I can only guess that it is due to me vigilance about eating more organic food ( about 80 % now) and also trying to eat several servings of green veggies every day - broccoli, asparagus, roasted brussel sprouts, green beans, snap peas, spinach, and the like. I have some with every single meal. also cutting out gluten as much as possible. switched permanently to rice pasta and only sour-dough bread (has the lowest amount of gluten for regular breads.) Have lost 10 pounds in the process, so that's a nice side effect!

Probably the best news of all as of late is that my friend Lisa had a successful day in court yesterday in Siberia. She is coming how with TWO beautiful toddlers in the coming weeks, and guess who's the godmother!

Here are the gorgeous 'twins' (not really twins, but born only a few months apart, so pseudo-twins!)

Isabella Daria Smith!
Phoebe Anastasia Smith!
I cried all morning when I heard the news that they made it through court. Lisa has fought a long hard battle to adopt this time around, and I have watched the terrible pain she has endured. To know she is now the mom to these wonderful girls makes me feel like I could explode with joy.

All of us who have experienced the dark and difficult side of adoption cannot help but celebrate each child coming home as if they are our own. We know how hard-won this victory is. And each victory fuels us on our own journey.

Welcome to your family, Phoebe and Bella! Can't wait to hold you!!!

Monday, December 05, 2011

MISSING: Laura and Conor

This is Laura and Conor. They are two of my Rebel Shakespeare kids, and they are missing. 

The blogging world is huge and so supportive. Would you consider sharing this info on your blog or on your Facebook page? Studies show that getting the word out FAST is the number one thing that gets endangered runaways home.

Laura and Conor are only 13 and 14 years old. Laura comes from a wonderful family. She is somewhat shy, but has a huge heart, a great love of music and guitar, and is the sweetest soul. Conor is a spitfire, adventure-loving, bmx-riding ball of energy who has struggled quite a bit these past few years. It's not fair for me to point fingers at his parents when they are  going through so much, but I will say that as long as I have known him, he has been desperate to win his Dad's attention and love, and he struggles with self-worth and depression.

Conor and Laura ran away Saturday night. They met in front of a local college, and took a cab into Boston, to South Station. They have not been seen since. Laura  is about 5'4", has reddish hair, but she may have dyed it black. Conor is 5'7" and has great freckles and wavy, dark-blond hair. He is very strong and an expert bike rider.

Here are a few links to current news stories about them:

And here is the broadcast on Fox News:

Please consider sharing this. Thank you.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Love in Action

I received so many beautiful comments on my 2nd to last post - thank you. Most of them were sent via Facebook because many of you are still having trouble posting comments to this blog. Sorry about that! I can't seem to get to the bottom of it. But I'm so thankful for all the kind words, especially Charmaine, who wrote such a beautiful reminder to me, that even simply loving Anya from afar and helping to support her financially is bound to be convincing her that she is truly loved. Sometimes I forget that, and focus too much on what I have failed to accomplish. Thank you, Charmaine, for the needed reminder of what I have accomplished.

So, Charmaine got me thinking about the smaller, significant things we can do that are 'Love in Action'. Too often we pass over them when sometimes that one small gesture could mean the world to someone.

Do you have a friend who seems to call you far too often..and always at the wrong time? Do you avoid answering the phone when you see their name? Do you put off getting back to them? I used to do that. ALOT. It felt too overwhelming to answer. And yet, now that I look back on this choice, I realize it was not made out of love. In fact, the avoidance probably caused me more stress than answering the phone would have. We can be so selfish without even really registering it. Christ said to give MORE than is asked of us. If someone wants some of our time, who are we to deny them? Would Christ deny them?

So today I tried to be very conscious of every single choice I made, and what motivated it. It was shocking to me how often I take the easier (less loving) route, and not even consciously...it's just a habit. A few cases in point:

Case #1: I should be walking the dogs three times a day. When they come sit by me with those long faces just begging for time in the woods, I often ignore them in order to get done what is on MY agenda. Not very loving of me. I committed to having these two furry companions and I should, therefore, to the right and loving thing for them at all times...but I don't. They deserve better.

Case #2: This next one may seem like no big deal to you, but it is to me. I'm fairly addicted to very strong coffee..meaning coffee with two shots of espresso. Used to be every day. I weaned myself down to only 3 a week, but it's still a habit that costs me nearly $3 every time I give in. I know what that three dollars could do in Russia. I know that their needs are far more pressing than mine. So why don't I just do the right thing? You might think this is splitting hairs, but it's not. Love is about even the smallest choices we make. When I choose that espresso-laced coffee, I deny, on some level, the needs of the kids I claim to care about so much. I want to purge myself of such selfishness. Please God, help me to have a heart more like yours.

Case #3: I have a blind spot when it comes to my daughter. If someone, anyone, is hurting her in any way, I lose my ability to be loving. I feel an instant, all-consuming rage. Truth be told, when this occurs, all I really want to do is rip that person to shreds. I try to step back, but I can't seem to. For example, one of her teachers has been unkind lately. She shamed my daughter in front of the class for something she has no control over. Instead of waiting to hear her side of the story, I immediately wrote her a very unloving email that really, if I'm honest, was quite threatening. I know it's my job to protect my daughter, but I wish I could better practice what I preach in these instances - 'To understand all is to forgive all' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.' I fail so miserably at that when it involves someone hurting my daughter, however unintentional. I love the idea of turning the other cheek, but in practice I seem all too quick to slap the heck out of the other person. Not kind. Not loving.

So, as much as I lament that the world is not a very loving place, I know I am a big part of the problem myself. If I can't be loving in the small things, how can I expect others to be loving in the big things? It just doesn't make sense. But I do know this: If I keep on asking God for help, and keep vigilant and aware of my own very prevalent short-comings, maybe, just maybe, I'll be making a dent over time. One can only hope.

Love in action. Every choice is aligning ourselves with Love... or its opposite. I want so very much for my choices to be holding hands with Love. Gotta keep reaching out and searching for that Hand.

Don't Forget These Kids This Winter!

This is Leeza showing off her new doll to a caretaker, in November of last year.

Want to make a needy child's winter warmer? Consider putting a box together for orphanage! There are over 100 children there today, all in need of the basics. ANYTHING you send will be used and appreciated...I can vouch for that! Note: there is a new Director at the orphanage ( I'll save the details for another post.) So you need to note the NEW address below, if you've previously sent a box. The New Director offers huge thanks for all you have done to help these children. The New Director has been working there in another capacity for many years. I have known her since 2005. She is a wonderful, caring person (Thank God!)

Here is what you do:


Go to your local post office. You will need to fill out a customs form. You will need to say the contents are worth under $25 even if that's not the case. (Otherwise the orphanage will have to pay on the other end.) You'll have to wrap it REALLY well to prevent theft along the way.(Think duct-tape.) You will need to address it VERY clearly. Write what appears below in BIG BOLD LETTERS.



Remember, for a box to reach them by Russian Christmas, you need to send it by about November 20th! Current needs are still: more hats, gloves, scarves, socks and, most of all, SHOES!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Day of Epic Ups and Downs

I'll start with the good news.We all need to hear as much good news as we can these days. So: new home study for D completed! First thing this morning I was able to send the home study to my adoption attorney for her approval. I am incredibly grateful to the Social Worker and Home Study Agency I am working with. They truly kept their word on completing it by the end of October, and I'm grateful for their honesty and openness through this process. So, my home study for D is now in the hands of my attorney! Once she decides it will 'make the cut' in Russia, I will get a copy and submit it with my new 1600A!

Then, as I was celebrating to myself over the home study, my friend Lisa contacted me and asked if I would be godmother to her to BEYOND-ADORABLE little sweeties from EE, who come home soon! I won't post any identifying info, as they are not home yet, but I will say that they are two Angels with Down Syndrome from Reece's Rainbow, and they are just about the most beautiful girls I have ever seen...not kidding! There is a sweetness about them that makes my heart leap and I've been praying for them since I first learned of them. Lisa was originally adopting from Kemerovo, like me, but due to the adoption 'climate' there, it could not be. Please continue to pray for her little Yana who remains institutionalized there.

The sad part of the day involved Anya. We haven't been able to reach her on Skype for a few days and I was getting that mother's intuition that she was not well. (Strangely, every time I feel that intuition, it is ALWAYS spot on with Anya.) so I logged onto Russian Facebook (vkontakte) to see if I could find her online that way. After about an hour she signed on and we were able to chat via instant message for over an hour. And I was right, she was not doing well.

This coming week marks Anya reaching her third month in hospital. Her regular trauma surgeon is on vacation now, and she is having problems with the new doctor. She says he REALLY, really hurts her when he turns the screws in her leg, and doesn't seem to care at all that she is in pain. She gets daily shots in her butt (for the pain), but she said it is getting really hard to take them now, because every spot is bruised and hurts. But what seemed to be bothering her most is that this new doctor says she will be released soon, and Anya does not know how she will manage. She will be able to say at her cousin's house, but I have been there. It is not sanitary and she will still have open wounds. On top of that, she cannot walk, and the house is absolutely not wheelchair accessible. She will have to be carried in and out of the house. Last of all, the house is one very small room for three people. She will have to share a VERY tiny space with NO bathroom.

 She kept trying to comfort me, telling me not to worry, but once she was more tired and her defenses were down, she asked, 'Mama, what am I going to do? I can't walk, I can't do anything.'

I've contacted the TV journalist who did the national story on us last fall, and she is going to do her best to talk to the hospital and find out if they will please reconsider releasing a letter about Anya so I can attempt to apply for the medical visa. Playing the broken record again: Will you pray (hard!) that this journalist will make some headway with them, and that I finally can apply to bring Anya home for medical treatment? All I need is a stupid letter from the surgeon!

Well, that is my up and down day. I still have 145 students to cast in three different productions of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' tonight for this final school job, and print out 145 scripts before 8am Monday. And did I mention my mom is visiting from Florida, and of course that Halloween is Monday? Full plate!

If you are in a similar state of overwhelm or 'full plate syndrome', just do what I do: Remember Luke 1:37:

'For nothing is impossible with God.'

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hanging In There

Me, on this chilly October morning, in my messy office. (Someone dared me to post a current photo..so here it is!)

I feel bad I've had nothing very interesting to share lately. My life was far more interesting this time last year, when we were living in Russia. Now I only get glimpses of her (Russia) when I Skype with Anya every week.

Since a few of you have emailed me asking for an update, I'll indulge you. Wish it were more exciting, but I remain hopeful:

Anya is still in hospital and dealing with the weekly turning of the screws in her leg. She says its very painful, but she handles it much better than I would! We talk on Skype about every other day. I try daily, but don't always get through. Anya is a trooper. I stand more in awe of her resilience and courage every single day. I adore her and miss her and cannot wait till life affords me the chance to go back and see her again. I miss her so much!

Nastia is doing really well in school. She is in all special ed classes, except for art and theatre, but she is really thriving. Art is her favorite class. She has been undergoing lots of testing this fall and finally has a tentative diagnosis of Non-verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD). I'm currently reading all I can about it and looking forward helping Nastia learn about it as well. She is so relieved to have proof she is not 'stupid' as she has called herself for so long. Having the diagnosis and understanding what it means has really boosted her self-esteem.

I continue on my journey to adopt D. I fight guilt and anxiety about it every day. He should be here now, and every day away from him feels like a terrible punishment. I'm lucky in that I can call him and send letters via email a few times a month, but I can't help feeling that every day he is not here means more pain for him. I've just about completed my NEW home study and can't WAIT to reapply for my 1600A and get things moving. If you are a praying person reading this, it would mean the world to me if you would pray for D's peace of mind. He is very sad and feeling hopeless, and thinks he will never see me again. I can't convince him otherwise. I want him to feel peace.

Finally, I'm struggling still with my work. I'm self-employed and many of my school jobs have dried up in this hurting economy. If things don't get better in the next six months, I may consider moving to Florida, closer to my family. There are far more teaching jobs there. I may need to look at starting a new career in the public school system if things continue on this down-hill slide.

Well, that's about it from here. Plugging away on paperwork, and praying for my kids every day. I'll post again when I have anything of interest to share!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

I Don't Know Where To Begin...

Two weeks in Russia and I'm unable to form a coherent sentence about the experience. Two weeks in Russia and I feel more inept at making a difference than I did before I left. Two weeks in Russia and I am back to feeling like I don't even know where to begin in helping these children.

When I was there for three months in the fall and winter, I think I acclimated enough to the environment that I honestly didn't feel very sad when I visited the orphanage. In fact, I felt elated! I was so happy to be there and I didn't think twice about what was to come...I just enjoyed the moment. Well, six months away has had its effect. I was painfully aware what little difference the 450 lbs of goods we brought were going to make. Yes, they loved what we brought...LOVED. And yes, these things will make their lives more bearable in a way, but what they need I cannot give them without tremendous help from God and many people.

They need families.

It felt a little more 'Lord of the Flies' this visit, because school was out and caretakers seemed to be scarce. The kids were spending much more time outside (good) but with little or no supervision (bad.) The 15 children in the little group have a very loving caretaker who gives them much love and attention, but the older kids....they are all alone.

Kids wandering in and out, not knowing what to do with themselves. Older teens boys smoking at the edge of the main entrance and swearing under their breath when I walked by. Older boys wrapping their arms around teen girls and trying to lure them away from the younger ones. Younger boys and girls fighting over some insignificant toy we brought, a yo-yo. It just felt very sad.

Of course there were moments of pure jubilation...watching Bridget get her hair done by a bevy of little ones in the grass outside, amidst giggles and great concentration. There was Vanya and his little sister Polina digging what appeared to be the proverbial hole to China. Two sticks, one in each hand, and a slow, persistent pecking at the dirt. They were riveted, and so consumed with the task at hand , they barely notice all the activity going on around them. There was Kirill, ultra-concerned about my hydration for some reason...constantly asking me if I wanted more from the water bottle I had given him. There was Galya and Genya clinging to Kim, and Valya clinging to me. There was the spontaneous card game at the little outdoor table. There was the constant request for photos...
'Kitty! Photo! Photo pazhousta!' And just the leisurely lying in the grass with a dozen -odd children, looking up at the sky, laughing, talking.

I want to live there. I want to live there so badly I felt nauseous thinking about them today. The distance made me feel sick. I found out I can purchase a fairly sturdy house in the village for under $2,000. Do you know how badly I want to fly back and just buy the first thing available, only so I can feel that part of my heart is really, truly, there for good?

These kids are dying. I don't mean to be morbid. But the truth needs to be told. It might look all sweet and bucolic in the photos, but what happens in real life has nothing sweet about it. Just last month, one of the older boys hanged himself in the orphanage. I didn't find out till I had left. My D actually found him. When Nastia told me that Nadezhda had shared this with her, I was shocked and asked angrily, 'WHY didn't you tell me right away?" Her response, 'Oh, mom, it happens all the time there...it's nothing new...'

And in fact, it is so common, no child there even mentioned it. D never brought it up at all, though the Director said it really upset him. Just as bad, we learned how several girls from Nastia's former group are now prostitutes. I knew the statistics all these years, but to know who these girls are is another story. Again, I feel like vomiting. Katya, one of the girls from Nastia's group, came to visit and filled us in on all the horrid things the caretakers don't tell us. Like the girl from Nastia's group who sold her baby this winter for 500 rubles to a man who was, shall we say, not looking to adopt. I had actually read the story online in the local news, but didn't recognize the girl's name. She is in prison now.

When Katya talked about these things, she laughed. That is what my Nastia did when she first came home and shared traumatic stories with me. She laughed. Its a coping mechanism, but its still chilling to hear a young person discuss a rape or an assault and laugh. I'll never get used to that.

What do we do? What do we do for these children? How do we get them out when the entire structure of their government fights against getting them out? How to you change a system and a mindset that has been entrenched for over sixty years? I don't know the answer, but I'm not going to stop trying to find out. I'm praying, I'm researching, and I asked a HELL of alot of questions while I was there. I got some great answers, and some came from people who really DO want to see change happen there. They just don't know how to get it started.

The hardest part for me is always coming home...especially to the area I live in, which is very privileged. I feel sad and guilty and dirty when I see the excess here at home. I don't know how to wrap my head around it. I want to head right back to Siberia. I'm not saying I'm anti-capitalist (in case my brother ever reads this) but I am saying that a great many Americans have their head in the sand. Poverty is not born of laziness. These people are our brothers and sisters, and they have so little and we have soooo much. Such a small sacrifice it would take to make their lives more livable. I've seen it first hand. So very little on our part to make their stomachs full, their bodies clothed and a solid roof over their head.

The director berated me for bringing some of the girls brand new clothes. Her rational was that they didn't need nice things, and I was wasting money. My rational in buying some new things is that these children are sons and daughters of God, like me. They deserve beautiful things even more than I. They deserve to feel as special as any American child. If one new dress brings them joy, I'm bringing it.

G in her new dress, picked out JUST for her:)

Anyway, I'm rambling. I will likely ramble for many days while I try to make sense of my thoughts. Feel free to comment. Your comments keep me coming back here even when I'd prefer to stay silent. Keep these kids in your prayers. If I know ONE thing, it's that prayer works. Keep them coming. They need them more than you could possibly know.