‘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

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Beginning

Matilda, Queen of Iceland. 
We are home. It was a long, eventful journey back - including an unexpected visit to Iceland for two days - but we are home.

I wish I knew where to start or how to articulate all that has transpired this week, but I feel woefully inadequate to the task. It still doesn't feel real in many ways, and I think that is true not only for me, but Matilda and Nastia as well. (Note: I checked. and it is kosher for me to post Matilda's name, because it is not her birth name. Matilda is the new name she chose for herself - new life, new name.)

I cannot show her face yet, but the photo at right captures her personality quite well even without her face showing. She is, indeed, an adventurer, a conqueror, and a brave climber of mountains - literal and figurative. This gorgeous shot was taken in Iceland last Saturday, just before their 3pm sunset. No filters , no fancy camera - just my iphone and the mysteriously luminous Icelandic sky. Immediately this photo felt iconic in light of her journey - a journey to a new home, a new land, a new life. And there she stands, vigilant yet hopeful, leaning into her own future.

When we first learned of our unexpected layover in The Land of Ice, I was disappointed, but Matilda was downright despairing. No amount of spin or reworking of the storyline would lift her out of that state of desolation. She was firm, her stake irrevocably thrust into the heart of her own misery. But as time passed, I started to see that this delay was anything but disappointing, random or ill-favored. It was a gift and a blessing of stillness before the onslaught of our new life.

We arrived in darkness, but the morning revealed a place of unspeakable beauty and calm. We walked for hours on end. We drank in the brilliant skies and the mysterious light that fell like a tender offering on everything.

Even the landscape buzzing past us on the bus that day was magical...

The place felt at once familiar and foreign. We hiked hills, walked long roads of ice, and travelled into town, where Leif Erikkson stood guard.

The whole accidental interruption felt anything but accidental. It felt like Grace.

The sky, the sea, the glaciers and mountains.

The horizon of ice and snow.

The dark night laced with a billion snowflake-stars.

The people we met. The conversations.

The immense silence...

It felt like the whole universe had paused. 

And just like that, it was over and we were back in time again. We were back on a plane, headed to Boston, and our blessed 'pause' dissolved into the mysterious enchantment from which it came.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

All is Well, and We're Headed Home

I wish very much that I had had time to write while here, but it was just not to be. Being a single mom means there is no tag-teaming during an adoption. And with the rules of her country, I had to stay here an entire month. That meant a month in one small hotel room, together 24/7, with no break from one another except brief stints in the bathroom each day (if I was lucky.) It is obvious that if we both were able to survive this imposed semi-imprisonment together, we can survive anything the future holds.

I can't say much publicly yet, but I will say this: Latvian adoption is infinitely more humane a process than Russian adoption. Everything from the social workers to the orphan court staff, to any and all Latvian officials, to Embassy staff, to the attorneys and other supports were nothing short of kind, honest, helpful, understanding, and, shockingly humane. I say shockingly because, after having suffered through three long and painful adoptions in Russia (only one successful), I came to expect and anticipate that international adoption was and would always be frustrating, unjust, fraught with dishonest dealings and misunderstandings, tyranny, abuse of power, and horrifically inhumane treatment - for the child and the parent.

I'm so glad I was wrong.

Seeing how Latvia handles and cares for its' children makes me even more angry about Putin and his many hundreds of government minions across Russia. My anger is so immense for this man, my outrage over his mistreatment of his country's children so vast, that it often keeps me up at night still, going on nine years. I could not possibly put a number on the prayers I've prayed and tears I've wept for Russia's children, and yet even one prayer or one tear is still one more than Putin has ever prayed or shed for them.

This time in Latvia has been an incredible blessing, even though I fought that blessing for the past four weeks! Being away from Nastia was excruciatingly painful. I feel so awful for my poor mother who had to endure one of the most tearful outpourings of grief I've ever experienced, and while enduring the world's worst skype connection, no less.  I missed Nastia so badly one day, that I honestly contemplated just getting on a plane and risking losing this adoption. I know that may sound extreme, but I'd rather be honest, so that other moms about to walk this path know how hard it can be. Being away from your children for that long is worse than torture. And I will never do it again.

Thankfully, the many prayers of friends and my mom, and the many words of support from the same, got me through that dark night. Nastia, experiencing her own terrible darkness at home, survived, too. And I'll venture to say now that we are both likely the stronger for having walked through it.

M is doing very well. She is grieving the loss of her foster family very hard, but that is good. It means she was strongly attached to them and bodes well for all her relationships in the future. She is still unable to call me 'Mom' more than maybe three or four times a week - but we are getting there. She is a fascinating little girl - more clever than I imagined, powerfully strong-willed, sensitive to a fault, curious about everything, fun-loving, gentle hearted and wanting to save every homeless animal and person she comes across. She is very very moody, but fairly quick to recover. She loves God passionately, and my favorite part of every day is when she stretches out her hand in the dark to find mine, and says her prayers aloud:

'God? It's me, M. Thank you for all the good things you gave to me today.I wanted to ask you some favors. Please send angels to every animal and person in the world who is alone or hungry or hurt or has no home. Send Special angels to [fostermom], [half-sisters], [bio-mom], [little brother in orphanage], Nastia, my new mom, Grammy, Emily, LeeAnne, Sarah and Maeve. Please help everyone in the world to feel as happy as I am. And say hi to My Dad, Keri's Dad, and Nastia's Dad in heaven. Amen.'

This is her prayer every night, with few changes. The fact that a little girl who has experienced so much trauma and loss in her little life can voice such a prayer is mind-boggling to me. And yet, it is her prayer, and I am so grateful she can feel and speak it.

We are leaving in a few days. We'll be home just in time for Christmas, and none too soon! I'll be able to post more once home, since I might finally get a moment to myself!  I'll try to find some photos to post below.

Merry Christmas, Everyone.

Oh, and P.S: Happy 110th Birthday to my Grammy, Margaret Sweeney Howard! I hope you're enjoying the fascinating show playing out here in your family, below, from your perfect vantage point in Heaven. I love you.

M in Old Riga, before the snow.

Christmas Market in Old Riga

The Cathedral and Christmas Market

Santa takes a break for some mulled wine.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Just Not Enough Time

View from our table at our favorite cafe, KID.
It's been nearly impossible to blog while here. I had high hopes of posting daily, but Matilda is a 24/7 kind of girl. She is not one to play on her own, read on her own, even watch a movie on her own. And she has great difficulty falling asleep at night, so by the time she actually falls asleep, I am completely spent myself. I hope I remember some of this trip once home. It's been very intense and nonstop, with little to no reflection time. I fall asleep mid-prayers every night. And hit the ground running when she wakes every morning.

Matilda is doing well. Highs and lows, but nothing unexpected. I am trying to keep to a routine, which is hard for this very ADD personality of mine. but I'm doing ok with a daily schedule, and keeping her as busy as possible. We have fed more ducks, walked more streets and built more snowmen than anyone else in Latvia, I'm sure. But it's nice to be outside all the time. It's been snowing for days so its very beautiful. Riga is an exceptionally beautiful city.

The hardest part of this trip has been being away from Nastia. Although she had anticipated taking this as a chance to prove her independence and maturity, it did not turn out that way. She has taken my absence much harder than I ever thought possible. She stopped going to school, stopped answering her phone so no one (including me) could reach her, and pretty much isolated after her brief stint at my cousin's house. I spent yesterday in tears most of the day when I couldn't reach her for hours - after her school had called and told me she had signed herself out after attending a mere 20 minutes. Then her teacher emailed me and expressed her concern, too, after failing to convince her to stay. The stakes are high - she will not graduate if she misses many more days. When I would speak to her on Skype she said she was 'too sad' to handle school. And she would tell me how depressed she was and that she didnt care about anything anymore. And the worst part is she puts on this stalwart, happy facade for everyone who stops by or speaks to her. Everyone thought she was doing fine, while she is telling me she is too depressed to do anything while I'm not there.

My guess is that my being away triggered some very old abandonment issues with her birth mom. We've known these were not resolved at all because she still has terrible nightmares of being abandoned even after 8 years home. And this trip came SO suddenly. One day I'm told I'll be lucky to get here in January, and the next moment I'm being asked if I can get here in 48 hours. I do know this: I will never ever ever go away from my daughter for such a long trip until she is much much older emotionally. I can see it has hurt her heart very much. And mine, too.

Matilda is good. The testing behavior is tough, and the incessant talking back and rude tone she uses with me - but I know she is going through her own deep grief, too. I try to redirect her quickly and gently and then move on to fun activities. If it gets really bad, I tell her it looks like she needs some rest time back at our room for awhile. And then we read books or watch a movie. 

It's hard to establish rules with a child who has lived in many different environments. It's hard to establish your role as parent when your new child detests having help from others. But this was just as it was for Nastia. Been there/done that. It's just not that fun - or easy even if you've been down that road before. I'll be glad to be home so we can really establish a routine and I can more easily encourage her reliance on me. for now it is a 24/7 test of wills and power play.

More when I can. The little blonde tornado of energy is out of the bathroom.

Getting my daily Latvian lesson from M at our favorite cafe.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Adopting Matilda

I'm hoping she will stay settled in front of the DVD player so I can finally catch up! This may be very boring to read, as I'm going to try to get as many details down as I can, so I won't forget in the future!

And by the way, I am able to use Matilda's name because it is not her given name and therefore it isn't sharing identifying info. It won't be her legal name until about March/April.

So, I left last Sunday and cried all the way to the airport. It was a thousand times harder to leave Nastia than I thought. I didn't even have the courage to tell her how long I'd actually be away (28 days) because she was already heartbroken when I told her a few months  ago that it would be three weeks. So, lots of gut-wrenching crying, including on the plane. I flew to London first and had a few hours there before heading to Helsinki, Finland. I WISH I had had more time in Helsinki since it is honestly one of my favorite cities in the world - but alas - our plane arrived late and I had literally 15 minutes after getting off the plane to make it through passport control and to my next flight. I raced like I've never raced before, computer, backpack, and carry-on in tow, with my legs buckling under me from exhaustion! I passed an arrival/departure sign that said my gate had already closed 10 minutes ago, but I was determined to get there and BEG to get on the flight. (There were no other flights to Riga that night, and I'd miss my court date.) I got to the gate and the attendant asked if I was 'Kiri Caw-heel' I nodded yes, out of breath, and he grabbed my bags and ran me down to a bus to get me out to the plane. Thankfully the plane was delayed as the runway was being de-iced or something....so, I made it!

The airport in Riga is very small. I called Nastia the moment I landed, and then I got my bags, exchanged some dollars for lats, and took a taxi to the hotel. At this point I hadn't slept more than 3 fitful hours in the almost 24 hours of traveling and 3 separate flights, so I was incoherent, I think. I got my key and went up to the room, fell fast asleep.... for 18 hours. ( Yes, eighteen!)

My attorney's assistant Dace (pronounced DAT-say) came to pick me up at 3pm Tuesday. I hadn't even eaten, but thought showering was more important. We drove to the Orphan Court and she filled me in on what would happen at our appointment. It was much more informal than I thought. She said we'd first meet with Matilda's social worker and go over her history and answer any of my questions. Then we would go to our court session, where I would be given guardianship of Matilda for the next month. What she didnt tell me was that I'd see Matilda upon arriving at the Social Worker's office! I turned a corner and there she was! She was VERY shy, and hid behind her Fostermom. I went to her and hugged her, told her how happy I was to be with her again, and then gave her the space to adjust. Everyone there could see how nervous she was. I met the amazing E, her fostermom, and one of her foster sisters K. It was so wonderful to meet E.

Next I was ushered into the SW's office with the translator, the SW and E. They read Matilda's whole file to me. Most of it I already knew, but more details were given about the day she and her sisters arrived into state care and what occured afterwards. Matilda had already recounted much of that day to me, because she remembers it so vividly. It was surprisingly very much as she remembered it.

Next, the SW answered my questions and then they allowed Matilda to join us. Soon we were told it was time for court. We walked down a long hallway into a little office, nit much bigger than my livingroom. At a long table opposite me sat the judge, Social worker, another SW, the transcriber, and someone else. Next to me on one side was the translator and on the other was Matilda. E sat to the left of us. They asked about my life and home, then asked how I came to the decision to adopt her, and then a few more questions. Did I understand the legal and moral obligations inherent in adoption? (Yes) Was I ready to commit to Matilda and be her mother for the rest of her life? (Yes) Was I prepared for the inevitable difficult times? (Yes.) Then they turned to Matilda. 'Do you want this woman to be your mother? (yes). Are you prepared to follow her rules and accept her authority as your parent ? (yes.) 

They sent us out of the room for their deliberation. As they all had smiles ear to ear, we knew it wouldn't be long. Not even 90 seconds later, they called us back in and read their verdict. They congratulated us, and we were free to go!

We went back to the hotel, unpacked her small suitcase, and then she spent a good 45 minutes examining every inch of  the hotel room. 'This is like a castle!' And later 'I think i am a princess! I want to stay here forever!'  I gave her the small gifts I brought for her and then she opened the care package that Nastia had made for her. She lingered over every little item. It was so sweet. We looked over her childhood photos (just a handful) and she showed me her school papers and every little thing she had packed to bring with her. She was pretty anxious after we went through everything and was already missing her fostermom, so we called her for a quick chat. Then we headed to the restaurant across the street that our attorney had recommended. Little did I know I'd be eating there every night this week! (huge salad buffet for 3.5 lats -cant beat that!)

I honestly already cant remember the next few days, so I'll have to check my facebook statuses and build a record from that!  I do know that over the past 5 days we have fed the ducks at the park 3 times, visited the Christmas Market, wandered thru Old Riga, read books and watched movies, visited the Art Nouveau Museum, attended a Latvia vs Russia Hockey game, and eaten FAR too much. At least we're eating healthy! Latvian food is great. We've had salad for lunch and dinner every day, and a free buffet breakfast every morning!

Here are some photos from this week. I can't post any showing Matilda's face, so most of these are buildings:

Very cool yarn shop in Old Riga
Our favorite restaurant (KID) is in this building, right across from our hotel.

Painting in 20 degree weather!
First day of the Christmas Market
Beautiful cobblestoned streets at every turn.

Riga is beautiful, by the way! Why isn't this a prime tourist destination? I have no idea! It's like Prague meets Germany, with just a pinch of Russia thrown in!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Soooooo Busy!

I will try my very best to get a decent post up tonight, it's just hard when you have a 9-year-old glued to your side 24/7! I arrived Monday, had court Tuesday and spent the last two days exploring Riga with Matilda. It's been wonderful, frustrating, joyful, funny, sad and everything in between - as expected. Matilda is doing a great job at transitioning, though of course there were and will be tears. I miss Nastia so much it is just awful. I don't know how I will survive another 23 days.

I'll try to write all the details I can tonight when she is winding down, but for now I need to keep this little tornado of energy busy!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Atheist and His Gift To Me

I've been conversing lately with an atheist. It's fascinating and invigorating and has given me the gift of really going inward and looking closely and honestly at my own beliefs. I'm more grateful to this person than I could possibly express, because his honest and rigorous searching for the truth for himself has given me the gift of deep self-reflection.

But this friend has been challenging me to explain my beliefs and asking lots of questions on why and how I believe such 'magical thoughts.' It doesn't bother me in the least - it does sound like magical thinking...if you don't know Him. And the funny thing is, there is nothing I can say, ever, that could convince this person that God exists. Or that Christ knows us and loves us. Nothing.

Yes, I'm what the world calls a 'Christian' , but I don't even like that word, because it has so many negative connotations these days. I prefer to say I'm following Christ. Following His example, trying my best to be like Him, love like Him, act like Him, live like Him. It's a tall order and, truth be told, I don't just fail to live up to it every day...I fail every second.

And what I hate about contemporary Christians is that far too many of them seem to get their priorities wrong: they get obsessed with the 'Gay Agenda' as they call it (and by the way, I think God sees same sex couples the same way He sees opposite sex couples...but that is another whole post of its own, and YES, I know my scripture, thank you very much), they hyper-focus on constant evangelizing and proselytizing, they judge and point fingers and make decisions from a place of fear. They do ALL these things, instead of doing the one thing Jesus asked of us while He was here - Love. 

Love one another. 

Love your neighbor as yourself. 

Love like the Samaritan did...out of your comfort zone. 

Love like Mary Magdalene did...with an overflowing, scarily generous love. 

Love like Jesus did - putting others ahead of ourselves, even unto death.

I can't talk this friend into believing there is a God. I could spew verses and texts and personal stories for a century and not move him. I can't coerce, persuade, convince in any way. But what I can do is infinitely more convincing. And relevant. And difficult.

I can love.

If we truly, truly lived by Christ's words and simply LOVED as often and as deeply and as honestly and as wholeheartedly as He did, we wouldn't need words. Our life would be the message. Our life alone could prove the existence of a loving God.

I'm so very sad these days, seeing - every. single. day. - examples of how terribly people treat each other. I don't even have to watch the news for an example...I can see it in the actions of people around me, and in myself, every day. Yes, sometimes it is blatant, but more often than not it is a subtle, hidden kind of selfishness and self-absorption that plays out -- we rush to cut into traffic ahead of that other car, we talk incessantly about our own problems, we gossip, we silently judging someone for how they act....we choose the opposite of Love.

I don't want to be cut off from Love like that. Every selfish action, no matter how small, cuts us off from Love. And Love isn't an idea. Love is alive:)

So, I've been on a personal quest for some time to become as loving and compassionate as I can. It's a hard road. I'm making tough choices...doing things that other, wiser souls have done before me and say have worked:
  • I'm trying to detach from material things...giving away all I can and focusing my intention on people instead of things. I'm praying and meditating all I can....generations of wise souls have found great soul growth in these acts, and have grown closer to Love.
  • I'm sacrificing in ways that are uncomfortable. I don't want to share all the ways with you, because part of the sacrifice is bearing it joyfully, but I'll share one small way -- I am denying myself food I love for one meal a day. A kind of fast. I eat one meal a day as either just a piece of bread or a bowl of plain cereal. I don't enjoy this, but I know from researching spiritual fasting that even small sacrifices like this bear huge spiritual fruit..
  • I'm trying also to love others even when its painful or uncomfortable to do so. This has been the hardest of all. There are people who have really hurt me or angered me and I'm trying to see them through God's eyes instead of turning away from them, or judging them harshly.
And in all these things, I ask love for constant support and guidance. He knows the way. He created the Way.

Sometimes the loving choice is antithetical to our human thinking. I often have to ask God a dozen or more times to help me make the more loving choice, but He always answers, even if the voice I hear is like a whisper. He said to 'ask and it shall be given', and He holds to His word...test it out yourself.

I'm not out to convert anyone. Nope. And many of my Christian friends might be bothered by that. But, you see, I have infinite trust in Him. He told me that the greatest commandment is to love God and love my neighbor as myself. And so, I think it's pretty important that I focus on that.

God's love in infinite....so when my very human heart starts grieving, say, that I'm still separated from Anya and Daniel, and when I cry myself to sleep, when I have days of deep sorrow over my inability to bring Anya home after all these years, I remind myself of his Infinite Love. From my perspective it may seem that He is not answering my prayers, but I know from my experience as a parent, that children do NOT see the whole picture. I need to trust my Father. He has my back. I just know it.

And so, this friend of mine has forced some really hard questions, and I've found that I am perfectly content with some questions remaining unanswered. Why? Because in my lifetime, Love has proven Himself over and over as a faithful parent. I need only trust.

This friend asked the other night 'What if you find out it's all a myth?'
I thought about his question and realized it wouldn't really change much for me. It is my Truth, and even if there were a way to prove to me it's 'magical thinking' as he calls it, I wouldn't change a thing. Love is the greatest teacher, and I'm His student. May my gravestone be my diploma:)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Here We Go!

Life sure takes some unexpected turns!

In 48 hours, I am headed across the ocean to court! I know court usually breeds fear in most minds, but this is adoption court! I'm going to bring my newest little sweetheart home!

I will try my best to post about the experience while I'm there, though the posts will be fairly censored since I can't post anything specific about my girl. But I"ll try to at least include details about my personal journey, and about the beautiful country I'll be living in for a month!

I had all but given up hope of getting my court dates in 2013, when my agency contacted me yesterday. I was asked if I could get to Latvia by Monday.


I took a census of people I trusted and the resounding answer was...find a way to make it happen! So, with a million prayers packed under my heart, I started looking for last minute tickets and hotels.

I enlisted the help of an army of adoption friends online, and by 10am this morning, I had tickets, hotel, and a half-packed suitcase.

I probably won't get to write again until Monday, so see you then! I'll leave you with a photo of the square near the apartment I'll be staying in. So excited!

Thank you, God, for bringing M and me together as mother and daughter. I am grateful beyond your wildest imaginings!!!!

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Counting Our Blessings in All Circumstances

I feel grateful every day I'm alive, but sometimes the gratitude I feel is so effusive, it is like a tidal wave of grace that pours over me and knocks off my feet. This week has felt like that. 

And I've been meditating and thinking alot about a person whose short life was marked by kindness, joy and gratitude - Collen Ritzer.


A blessing: Colleen Ritzer was my godson's teacher and I had the luck of communicating with her a few times when I was tutoring them last year, and her loss hit the entire community very hard. Watching her students, including my godsons, deal with loss has been hard. But Colleen's own words have been a comfort to everyone. Even after her death, her firm focus on goodness, kindness and gratitude help those left behind.

My two godsons and their friends at the memorial across from their house.

But it is at these times that gratitude is even more important. One of the last things that Colleen Ritzer shared on FB in the weeks before she died was this:

'No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.'

What a perfect testament to the life she lived. These words have been a comfort and guide to her students, family and friends in the wake of her loss. How fitting that such a kind and giving person is still 'giving' to those she loved even after her death. God be with you, Colleen.

Another Blessing: I'm sure it's also no coincidence that this time of effusive gratitude happened while my Mom was visiting. Having her here makes me (and Nastia) supremely happy. As Nastia puts it, 'When Grammy is here, it feels like everything is going good in the world.'  A good person to have around when everything is NOT going so 'good' in the world.

We made use of every minute we had with her - took her to the local apple orchard, went trick-or-treating, played games at my house with Nastia and my godsons (my Mom's surrogate grandsons) that has us all laughing so hard I thought I might pee myself. We went to football games and out to eat, and she made her special spaghetti sauce that I love, and we had way too many chicken pot pie dinners to count. We just sat and talked, at her place and ours. And I even convinced her to go on a walk with me on one of her last days - granted it was a walk to and from an appointment she had, but it was a walk nonetheless!

Yet Another Blessing: And then there is Nastia, who is just blossoming before my eyes in ways I never could have conceived even a year ago. She is genuinely happy lately, and engaging with others in ways she never has. She expressed her love for my Mom in ways she thought she never could, and had an authentic goodbye with her - something she usually avoids. She is working really hard at school, writing college essays, preparing her portfolio for colleges, and having very grown-up responses to difficult situations. I'm just so proud of her lately, I could burst.

My Cup Runneth Over!: And if that weren't enough, there is Sasha! Anya is so happy and content lately - the happiest she's ever been. Motherhood suits her, and her only thoughts and actions these days are about her sweet little daughter. We call her daily, and most of the time she says, 'Mama, I can't talk right now, Sasha needs me..." and then she tells us to call back in an hour or so. And on skype, we witness the gentle and oh-so-loving way she talks to Sasha and holds her. Sasha waits in her every word. It's adorable. I may be partial, but I think my granddaughter is just beautiful:

Not even a day old in this photo!

Three weeks old and already lifting her head by herself! And look at those cheeks!

Tired Mama and her little one

As for M, I'm still awaiting my court dates, but am hopeful they will come soon. I have been praying a novena to St Therese of Lisieux and have a number of friends praying, too. I know whatever happens, God is in the details. I feel His support and trust it will unfold as it should. M is impatient, of course, and when I call her she wants to know why it is taking so long. I tell her to just keep saying her prayers and try to be patient. Once she is here, I remind her, it will feel like she never left.

I'll leave you with another inspiring quote Colleen Ritzer shared on her pinterest board. If you want to visit her pinterest yourself, it is here

May we all be so wise. 
God be with you, Colleen Ritzer.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Cure for "A Lot on My Plate' Kind of Days?

It's one of those days. You know the kind where you wake up and - faced with all that is on your plate - wish you could climb back under the covers? I woke to ome of those days today, and wondered aloud 'how do other people deal with days like this?' My default response is usually this:

#1 Stay in bed an extra ten minutes and pray for guidance, then:

#2 Clear my head of everything and just breathe deeply for awhile, then:

#3 Subconsciously (and that's they key word!) find ways to avoid 75% of what is on my plate.

Sometimes we can't help it, we end up with days that involve far more to do than we have the means to tackle it. Sometimes it's due to procrastination, other times it's just plain tough luck. I think mine is a combination of both. 

And I'm thinking right now that if I type out my 'to do' list here, I might be shamed into getting more of it done in a timely fashion. Here is my 'must do today' list, in no particular order:

  • get car-inspected
  • pay overdue oil bill
  • respond to jury duty notification
  • make appt for sick cat at the vet
  • respond to multiple school inquiries about potential residencies
  • talk to Virgin Atlantic about my group reservation for 30 to England in April
  • finally make overdue 'new' neurologist appt
  • get toilet fixed
  • replace broken showerhead!
  • pick up meds at pharmacy
  • drop off invoice at next scheduled school
  • set up have-a-heart mouse-traps ASAP (it's that time of year...)
  • Start online financial aid form for colleges for Nastia
  • Make final college visit appts for this month
  • pick up chair ordered at Staples 3 weeks ago!
  • send monthly stipend to Anya & Sasha

And here is my 'Can Wait a Day or Two but Must Be Done Soon' List:

  • Clean and organize M's room so it is ready when we come home!
  • insulate downstairs room & replace broken door
  • Winterize the house - take out all air conditioners and screens
  • Get new glasses so I can see!
  • Plan for final performances for current classes
  • Pack suitcase for Latvia so I'm ready to go!
  • Find someone to stay with Nastia while I'm in Latvia.
  • Replace broken stove
  • Make appt to have suspicious black spot on leg looked at!
  • take apart trampoline
  • pay parking tickets!

This, of course, is not a comprehensive list, but it covers the most important stuff. It is only on days like these that I really feel the burden of being a single mom. Most of the time I love it -- but when my 'to do' list gets too long I feel very aware that I'm on my own. I have so many overdue bills sitting on my kitchen table right now, it is anxiety-provoking to just walk by it. It's time to take the bull by the horns and just tackle them. It's my least favorite things on earth to go - anything involving paperwork and/or accounting. I'd honestly rather have to get bloodwork.

So what kinds of tactics work for you when you feel overwhelmed by the tasks at hand? How do you clean off that plate faster and more efficiently? I need some pointers. I should be heading overseas any day now, so I definitely feel the pressure. Your advice or recommendations are really appreciated!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Joy Joy Joy!

I advocated for some of the girls, and I'm happy to say ALL THREE GIRLS I posted about yesterday have sponsors! Nastya already wrote to me this morning expressing her disbelief and asking me to tell everyone how grateful they are:

'Dear Keri, please tell me how I may express my gratitude to these women for helping me and my friends. I do not know how! It is so generous!'

 Nastya promised to keep tabs on everyone and make sure they are writing back to their sponsors and being good stewards of the money. She is such a gem. She ended her message by thanking me for having confidence in her :)

So now I have three more girls I'd like to tell you about. First up is Sveta. Sveta is 16 and just aged out of the orphanage in June. Nastya tells me she is in school, but I do not know more details about what Sveta is studying or how she is getting by. I do know Sveta is a kind, quiet, thoughtful girl. I first met her in May 2009 when she was 12. She spent most of her time reading, and was overjoyed to receive a barbie doll to play with that summer! The caretaker I trust most says that Sveta is a girl who is "going to make something of herself." She is very level-headed and manages to still be kind and open-hearted while having lived in the hopeless and chaotic environment of the orphanage. This photo is from June of this year:

Next is Tanya. She is 17, and aged out in June. She was a top student and is much-loved by the others girls. She is one of the girls everyone goes to for support and guidance. She is a helper by nature and was always looking out for the younger girls in her group. She is also incredibly friendly and upbeat - something you don't often find in the orphanage population. Here is Tanya in June 2013:

Finally, there is Natasha. Natasha is dear to my heart because she has gone out of her way to watch over my Daniel ( the little boy I was adopting before the adoption ban was put into effect.) She is very serious, hard-working, very private but always ready to help. I had a hard time convincing  her to accept help from a sponsor. I talked with her online for an hour last night, and she was very resistant, because she said 'there are others so much worse off than I. I cannot accept help when there is a bigger need with ______ and ______.' 

I tried to explain why it was important we send money to those we know can 'handle' the support and that she was welcome to help her friends, too. But sending money to some of the more destitute girls actually backfires, I've found. They do not know how to handle the money and end up spending it wastefully  or gorging on too much food all at once. Natasha is very practical and will be careful with every penny. Here she is:

If you would like to sponsor any of these wonderful girls, please let me know. I'm happy to tell you more about them, too! I just ask that those willing to sponsor make a 12 month commitment, so the girls can have some stability for an extended amount of time.

Thank you!

Edit: As of 9pm tonight, ALL these girls are sponsored! I'll be posting about the final 3-4 in the coming week!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

These Girls Need Help

Meeting some of the girls outside the orphanage, late June 2013.

As most of you know, I continue to stay in touch with a number of the girls who aged out of orphanage #5. Some of them have sponsors, and this help has kept a few of them from both hunger and homelessness. It is hard for some Americans to believe that $50 a month could literally save a life, but it can. And it has. And since this money goes directly from you to them, there is no waste. There is no organization taking a percentage for advertising or salaries or in-country bribes. I give you the full name of one of the girls I  know to be responsible and trustworthy enough to be a good steward of the money. You commit to sending them $50 per month for 12 months. You send the money to them via western union, and the girls report to you monthly on how they are doing via email or Russian FB (your choice.)  In some instances, you are welcome to send a bit more if you wish, but it truly depends on the situation. For some girls, more than $50 a month would be too much to handle. However, there are other girls who are trying to stay in school and a bit more would keep them there. I cannot post their full names here, but I'll give you their full name if you are matched with one of them.


Ksusha on left, Nastya on right.

First is Nastya K. Nastya currently has a sponsor, but she is in need of additional support as she is trying to secure safe housing so she can remove her younger brother from the orphanage. Now that Nastya is 18, she has a legal right to take in her brother, but she must prove she has safe housing first. She wrote to me last night and said she has found a small apartment in Prokopyevsk that is about 4 miles from the orphanage. To rent it, she must pay a year's rent in advance. The rent on the apartment is only $100 per month, but for her that is a fortune. If I can find a sponsor, or several sponsors, who can provide the funds for her to rent, her little brother will be able to join her and have a much better quality of life. Her brother is friends with my Daniel, and is 14 years old. He's a GREAT kid, and is desperate to live with his sister. 

Ksusha, who appears above with Nastya, is the next one I hope to find a sponsor for. Ksusha has had a very hard life and is finally starting to see that life can bet better than it was in the orphanage. I have been supporting her on and off for the past year, as has an online friend of mine. I now need to find a permanent sponsor for the next twelve months. Ksusha is attending school, but is forced to live in pretty horrible conditions. She has been known to starve herself, sometimes days at a time, just so she could afford school supplies and bus fare to school. She finds it hard to accept help, but is finally more amenable to it. When I visited in June you might remember it took me hours to convince her to buy a few things for herself when I took the girls shopping. Ksusha wants to succeed, but has had so many strikes against her, she is very cautious. She dreams of being a teacher. I want to see this dream come true for her. When she was at school #66 near the orphanage, she was the top student. I'd like to find either one sponsor to send $100 a month, or two sponsors to send $50 each. This will afford Ksusha not only money for food, but also for school supplies, bus fare, etc. 

Finally, the last girl I'll write about today is Angelina.

The photo is from two years ago. When I saw Angelina in June, she had lost significant weight. she had very pale skin and dark circles under her eyes ( see the top photo in this post. That is Angelina, crying.). She seemed very depressed, too. Like Ksusha and Nastya, Angelina is a very bright girl and was one of the favorites at the orphanage. She loves fashion and art, but is currently attending a trade school because she couldn't afford to go anywhere else. The government is paying for her trade school tuition. Angelina stays at the orphanage every weekend because her current living quarters provided by the school are not safe. She is only 17 years old. I would like to find a sponsor to send $50 a month to her to help cover the cost of food and necessities.

If you are interested in helping any of these girls, please leave a comment with your email or a way to contact you. Alternatively, if you would like to help but cannot commit to $50 a month, feel free to make a smaller one-time donation via the paypal like on the top righthand corner of my blog and I will use it to send funds to the girls this month, while I still try to secure a longterm sponsor.

I'll write about the other girls tomorrow and Tuesday.

Thank you!

Monday, October 07, 2013

This is What I Know

This summer I was asked more than a few times, by people who really care about me, how I could handle the loss of Daniel and the separation from Anya. 'You seem so together...' one young friend said brightly.

I was thinking today about how easy it is to slip on that mask each day - the 'I'm fine!' mask that we all keep close at hand, every hour of every day. I tread a fine line each day between wanting to be positive/inspire/be grateful and the desire to be as utterly honest as is possible. The two don't coexist very well together. And so I find I am either pushing the sorrow to a far, far corner of my mind, mustering every bit of gratitude I can, or I am flooding my conscious mind, and so the world, with the dark sea of despair that my heart often swims in.

Which is right? Which is good and true? How does one find balance between these nagging opposites? And so I equivocate and slide back and forth between the two.

Nastia has been having a really hard time making sense of the world lately. She is finally at an emotional age where she is looking beyond her own experience, and out into the greater world. 

She doesn't like what she sees.

'Mom, why is there so much hate in the world? Why can't people forgive each other and move on?' She asked last night through sobs. She has reason to mourn.  She's experienced more loss than anyone I know, and she has been given little along the way to prove life can be anything but a string of losses and heartache. She's seen the effects of unforgiveness and hate in our own extended family. It devastates her.

Last night she cried for hours. She cried for her sister, her lost childhood; she cried for the little girl she was and the little girl she never got to be. She grieved for so many things at once, I thought her heart would truly break open from the weight she was carrying. I held her, and listened. I listened as deeply and as gently as I could, side-stepping my own desire to 'fix' her feelings. I let her feel, because in feeling those painful emotions, we also release them. She was purging a well of sorrow she had carried for a long time. She fell asleep, exhausted, at about 4:30am.

Mornings often bring perspective, and so today she was solemn and pensive, but better.

'Mom, I still don't get why the world is so messed up, but at least I always know I have you, and Anya. And Sasha and Grammy.'

I try to share my own perspective without becoming to preachy. I try to tell her that, yes, the world is 'messed up', but also so very beautiful. On bad days, we just have to look harder for the beauty, I tell her. On bad days, we sometimes need to lean on someone else's perspective.

This is what I know, my dear daughter - our world is broken. It is broken in a way I cannot imagine ever being fixed, and yet we are here, now. We live here and there is no honest way to cast off what mantle the world wears at this time. And yet, we must live in the midst of all these terrible truths (millions of children without families to love them, thousands of wars being fought on land and in the hearts of men, exploitation of vulnerable people every single minute of every day, starving millions, indifference to suffering by those who have the power to fix much of it...) while still finding a way to have hope. That is why, I tell her, we trust in a God who loves us and works for our good. He bridges the gap between what is and what should be. He points towards light and hope and complete healing. And when we have bad days, we can lean into Him, and He will delight in holding us up.

I don't have answers for her about why her sister is still so far away. I can't explain how their birthmother could make a choice that would destroy their peace all those years ago. I can't fix any of it, but I can take a step every day towards what is good and right and true, and I can teach her - my beautiful, precious, loved-beyond-words daughter - how to find that same path, and tread it, however slowly, towards all He has waiting for us.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

What's Going On

Anya sent us updated photos of Sasha today, and they are so beautiful! I can't wait till she gives me the okay to share some publicly. Until then, you'll have to just imagine the most exquisite, chubby-cheeked cherub, with soulful eyes, a button nose, and the sweetest little lips that look just like Anya's. In every photo she is staring adoringly at her mama, and her mama ( Anya) has the biggest, most joyful smile on her face. I could burst from happiness. I honestly did not know how Anya would take to being a mom, but by her own admission, she is in love!

No adoption news this week, just more not so patient waiting. I talk to my little miss sunshine today ( I call her every week) and she was chattering away about school, her little foster brother, her after school sports program, and how cold it is getting there! 'You better bring every warm thing when you come!' she  warned me.

Nursing a sore throat/sinus infection today that I caught from Nastia, which is annoying, but should be short-lived based on the amount of healthy things I am taking to fight it. I just have much to do, so I get frustrated when I'm slowed down like this. I'm trying to make the best of it by catching up on reading, since all I feel like doing is drinking tea, sleeping and lying in bed!

My whole life feels like it is in a holding pattern while I await the court dates. Hard to make any plans when you know you'll be heading overseas any minute. so I'm focusing on cleaning and organizing everything, but one can only do so much of that without going crazy!

I miss the summer already. I miss the sun, and long days outdoors. My body and mind seem to be craving more light. I'm trying to convince myself to get up at dawn every day (when I'm feeling better) and walk outdoors while the sun is first coming up. Thus far I have only managed to hit my snooze alarm until 7am every day. I'll make a renewed commitment once I'm feeling less blah.

I haven't forgotten about supporting the 7 older girls who aged out of the orphanage. I sent money for them to share last month, and I hope to match them with people soon. I'm just still struggling with how best to help them, and finding better ways to send them the funds other than western union. But haven't found anything better yet. Keep them in your prayers as winter approaches. They are all doing ok for now, but winter brings its own set of challenges there, and I know they need more support in the coming months than they have needed this summer.

I'm hopeful that the next time I post will be good news of travel abroad, God willing!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

'Waiting in Joyful Hope'

If you're Catholic, you recognize that phrase. We hear it at every Mass, directly after the 'Our Father'. I never really thought specifically about those words, but tonight they sprung to mind. Although I'm not the most patient soul in the world, I am honestly enjoying these past few weeks of patient waiting to hear from overseas about my court dates. I've been in this position three times before...waiting for Nastia's court dates, then Anya's, then Daniel's. All three were very different experiences as I became less and less trusting and more and more cynical as time dragged on and answers never came for two of those adoptions. But here I am again, in the same place - waiting - and I can't help but feel I am 'waiting in joyful hope.' Some of you might think I'm crazy to hope after such losses, and you may be right. But all I know is that my heart feels expectant - joyfully expectant.

I will not know if this adoption will truly succeed until I leave the courtroom with my little girl on the final court date, months and months from now. This first trip that I am likely to make in October is just for our initial court date. It gives me guardianship of her until our final court date. It is truly scary for me to think of what may come. I honestly do not know which way the road will bend, but I am strangely calm and blessedly hopeful. It is not my own experience that allows this hope, it is surely grace. Grace from a God who loves me truly, madly, deeply. I feel it in my bones. It's grace.

And so, I am spending my days cleaning her room, getting the house in order, doing as much prep work for my job as I can...so that IF (and I truly embrace the IF)...so that IF I am blessed with the gift of her homecoming, I am as ready for her as I can be. Ready with not just her clean room and an orderly house...but with a wide open heart and a willing soul.

I know from experience the road ahead will not be easy either way. If she comes home, I know there will be days I do not feel I'm strong enough, or wise enough, or worthy enough to be her mom, but that's where God comes in. Scoff all you want, I know He is there. I've lived it. I have my share of atheist  friends who smirk at my 'naive' trust in 'something that doesn't exist.' (their words). But I feel no need to convince them, or you. Love is patient. It'll find It's way to each of us one day. 

All I know is that I could not have survived the things life has brought to my door if there weren't a loving God. Trust me, if I could take credit for  overcoming all I have, I would. I'm human - who doesn't like to get credit for for overcoming the big stuff? But I can't. I know better. I've seen and heard and felt the power of his intervention, his involvement, and his insatiable, unspeakable, unknowable Love for me. Do I get it, understand it? No. But there it is, anyway. 

Nastia was cuddling me as close as she could last night, grasping my face in her hands. 'Mom? Sometimes I love you so much I think I'm going to explode from the power of it.' 

I know how she feels, because that, of course, is how I feel about her. Sometimes just watching her sleep fills me with a love that I think might consume me, body and soul, and I might die right then and there from the power of it. I get it, Nastia, I really do. 

And you know what? I think that is exactly what it is like for God, too. His Love for us is so all-consuming, so infinitely unspeakable and extraordinary that it creates universes and galaxies in testament.

The next time you don't feel loved, look at the night sky and imagine that it is God's love letter to you. His Hand scrawled those stars against that inky darkness out of his pure delight of you. 

That's how I see it, anyway.  :)