‘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

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.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Nastia in High School: So Far So....GREAT!

I don't often write about Nastia anymore. Once she got to be 16 I felt it was an invasion of her privacy to be discussing RAD, PTSD and other issues that she deals with, without asking her permission first. It doesn't mean we don't deal with those issues anymore, it just means that we keep it between us and her therapist.

But praiseworthy behavior and growth seem to be something I should be sharing. It's important to me that other parents of children with severe behaviors get to witness that these issues can often be healed, even when it seems next to impossible at the outset.

Nastia has home schooled for three years. She left school after 2 years of tremendous struggle and anxiety. She wasn't learning - there was far too much trauma for any true learning to go on. For those who doubt that - think of the most stressful, traumatic situation you have ever endured. In that mindset, would you be able to study? To read or write? To truly take anything else in but the moment at hand? Doubtful.

And so, I withdrew her from school, and we spent three years doing intensive bonding, attachment practices, therapy, and learning how to breathe, relax and be present. We took trips, we went camping, we walked beaches, we watched inspiring movies, we learned coping skills, we braved new experiences slowly and deliberately. In short, I gave my daughter time to heal. My intuition told me that she would know when she was ready to go back, if ever. In June of this year, after three intensive years of self-focused healing and learning to feel safe, she announced she wanted to go back to school. Her therapist and I agreed she was ready. And so, a few weeks ago Nastia started high school for the first time. We decided to put her in 9th grade, and though she hated the idea at first (she was afraid of being ridiculed for her age) she finally settled in. Biologically, she is 18, after all, but as any of you parents of older adopted children know, those years in the orphanage wreak havoc on our children's development - emotionally, socially, behaviorally and even physically. They are years and years behind their peers. So why do so many parents force them to try and fit in with their actual age group? I have no idea.

I went into the school IEP meeting with my defenses up. I was ready to fight for what she needed, but I didn't have to. The new head of the Special Ed Dept truly listened to everything I and her therapist had to say, and implemented it immediately into her schedule. He respected me as a parent in a way I rarely see with teachers and school staff. I was impressed. Nastia came in for the 2nd meeting and she too, felt very supported and well-treated very quickly. She is thriving in school! She gets up at 6am with no complaint (what??), she gets ready without help or coaxing (is this MY daughter??) she WALKS to school (umm, are you SURE this isn't a figment of my imagination??) and she does her homework willingly and with great gusto. I have to tell you, I am floored. I did not expect this.

This is the girl that used to throw chairs at her teacher. This is the girl who ran away from school so many times that they stopped calling the police and just called me instead, because I'd know where to find her. This is the girl who fought me so hard on school mornings that I would sit in my car and cry for an hour after I dropped her off each day. Yes, this girl.

And so I'm sharing this because it's important to share with others who are on the same path as we are, but not as far along the road. Have patience. Trust. Listen and really hear what your child is saying and what they are truly asking for, and offer it. I had every single person in my life dumping on me because I took her out of school. But I finally listened to myself and my daughter and did it, and it has rewarded me a million-fold. I fell to pressure when she first came home and enrolled her in school and it was pretty much a disaster from day one. I so wanted others to respect me as a parent, that I let their ideals and beliefs about what was 'right' come before my own. Bad idea.

And so now, when the time is finally right, my daughter is embracing school with her whole being. And I see how hard it is for her, yet she still perseveres, because she is ready now. Fear and Terror no longer block the way to learning. She walks with confidence. She even brought a new friend home the other day after school. Amazing.

Nastia, you are STILL my hero. You never cease to amaze me, and delight me. You teach me every day that the impossible is possible. I want to be like you - braver than brave and always looking the world straight in the eye. I love you, my sweet girl!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

When It Rains, It Pours


I woke at 5:45am to the sound of our flood alarm going off in the basement. The water was already up to my knees. I went to the side door of my basement that faces the driveway, and the water was pouring in the cracks of the door like a waterfall. I sloshed over and looked out the window...it was up to my chest outside the door. Nothing I could do. The water was getting so high inside that even all my pallets holding bins of stored items started to float up and away. My furnace flooded, my washer and driver tipped sideways, my beautiful collection of antique children's books was under water. (Nastia had moved the basket downstairs when Natasha moved in for awhile. She never told me.) I waded around looking at all my boxes and bins either submerged under water or floating by me, and I just said over and over again to myself ' It's just stuff, it's just stuff. Let it go. Don't cry. It's just stuff.'

So far so good - no tears. Not much I can do until the water drains out. All the major storm drains were clogged with leaves, so Nastia, my neighbors and I were out at 6am with brooms and sticks and anything else we could find to moves the leaves. My arms were too short..the water was that deep!

Anyway, I'm always trying my best to look at the bright side of things, because there always is a bright side. I've come to the conclusion that this is the motivation I needed to do even deeper purging of material things. Why do I have a basement full of things? It's too much. So, once I get everything dried off and washed (if its not ruined!) I'm going to start getting that stuff on craiglist and ebay. Gorgeous costumes, bikes, a brand new stroller, bins and bins of yardsale items. I'm just going to look at this as a strong reminder of my commitment to purge. If you can think of other positives to a flooded basement, please pass them on in the comment section!

PS: I filmed my basement, but it was too dark, so all you see on the video is a black square and hear me sloshing and mumbling 'It's just stuff, it's just stuff...'

Monday, October 03, 2011

And So It Begins Again (But This Time I Have Company!)

The international adoption process is overwhelming at best - complicated, confusing, frustrating, repetitive, daunting, time-consuming, stress-provoking. It is often full of road blocks and stop signs and inordinate levels of bureaucracy. It is not for the fainted-hearted. Getting through Nastia's adoption felt like competing in the Paper Olympics -- and barely placing! Couple that with Anya's failed adoption and you could see why I might have been hesitant to try again. Then, add to that the months and months of preparing paperwork for D and having that fail. I'm telling you, I am learning patience deeper than I ever though possible!

So, fast forward to today. I'm back in the saddle: I have signed with a new home study agency and had my first home meeting today. I like the new social worker a lot. She might have scared me if I had her for my first HS experience, because she really tells it like it is! She was not afraid to tell me exactly what she thought, and I was impressed with her level of knowledge about RAD, attachment issues, and the like.

Anyway -- I'm excited to finally be seeing progress with D's adoption. Sadly, I have to do the entire HS and all the required paperwork all over again. Just sent in my new CORIs and SORIs, and am preparing to file yet another 1600A with a brand new HS. Some of my dossier paperwork has expired and some of it must be redone since I have a new HS agency. It's really like starting from square one. The only thing I really don't have to re-do is my biography - the easiest part to redo!

But here's the exciting news:

I won't be taking this journey alone.

Do you remember my friend Kim and her daughter Bridget who accompanied me to the orphanage in June? Do you remember my writing about Bridget's absolute love obsession with one particular 7 year old girl? Well, she wore down her mom, and finally, after four months, her Dad, too. The Ayers family is officially starting the adoption process too! Little G will, God-willing, be coming home to her forever family sometime in 2012!

I said in an earlier post about Bridget 'Never underestimate the power of a little girl to change the world' or something like that. Well, Miss Bridget did it! She never gave up. She didn't hound, she didn't harass....she just patiently and gently kept G in everyone's thoughts, and eventually her persistence made a difference!

Kim and her husband are using the same attorney and HS agency that I am. If they are able to move quickly, it's my hope that we might be able to travel to bring our kids home on the same trip. Keep praying!

I will try to keep you posted on my progress on the homestudy. Right now I am working on getting three new reference letters this week, and finding funds to prepay for my 4 post placement reports (a new requirement, since I last adopted.)

Please keep both our families in your prayers. If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know what challenges and obstacles likely await us over the next 6-12 months. We need all the prayers we can get. Both of us will be doing insane amounts of fundraising over the next several months - ebay, craigslist, yard sales, bake sales. and anything else we can think of. If you have ideas that have worked for you, let us know!

Also, as I'm VERY interested in promoting older child adoption in general, please don't hesitate to leave a comment asking any questions you might have. I'm ready to answer! I'll leave you with some of the quotes that are getting me through this process:

'You can ask for anything in my name and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the father.' ~John 14:13

'This is the confidence we have in approaching God; that if we ask anything
according to His will, He hears us.' ~ 1 John 5:14

'I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.' ~Psalm 32:8

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Spending Time With Anya...Thanks Skype!

I just got off an hour-long video chat with Anya. To say I'm joyful and grateful is a huge understatement. We have had great difficulty with Skype the past few weeks, so we haven't been able to be in touch with her. But this morning we reached her and talked until Anya was nodding off...lol.

Nastia has a very bad cold, so she lasted all of ten minutes, but after she went to bed, Anya and I talked for over an hour. she finally opened up a bit more about the day she was shot, and what she has learned about the shooter. His name is Ilya. He's 28 years old and was on drugs at the time. Anya will have to attend the court hearing, and so they are waiting for her to be well enough to attend. She told me she was sooo grateful that he shot her leg instead of her head. 'Mama, if he aimed up, I would not be here. I am so lucky he aimed down.' She talked about how she keeps replaying the day over and over in her head and how she cannot believe how close she was to losing her life. 'I am very lucky,' she kept saying.

I told her I felt it was not luck, but that she was being watched over that day, because our six years of praying for her daily, along with the countless prayers of others, acted like a protective shield that day. I truly believe that. She smiled hugely and told me she loved me:)

so, the doctors are not telling her much. They say she will be there for 'many more months' but will not give her a date of any kind. She has been in that bed for two months already. I cannot imagine how difficult it is for her. She says she is still in pain, but that they give her injections in her stomach when it gets unbearable. She moved the camera to show me the injection site - yuck! Just a big black and green bruise on her lower abdomen. Here is what her leg is looking like lately. She took the photo herself:
I know it looks awful, but I am just so happy every time I see her foot at the end of her leg, that I don't mind seeing that horrible brace.

So, I still await the doctor's letter so I can submit the Humanitarian Parole docs for a medical visa. I'll be skyping with Anya again tonight at 10pm my time. Can't wait:)