‘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

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

When No One Answers

Reposting something I wrote years ago, in honor of National Adoption Month:

I've been trying to reach the orphanage via phone for days. It's either a busy signal or incessant ringing that I get in response. The frustration of reaching out and reaching out and getting no one at the other end makes me feel hopeless. And then I realize, this is what these kids in the orphanage feel every single day of their lives. They spend their whole childhoods hoping someone will answer the call of their heart, and nearly one hundred percent of the time, no one does.

No one.

Imagine wanting something as simple as someone answering your phone call. Imagine trying to reach that person for days on end with no result. Frustration sets in. Maybe anger. Sometimes that nagging feeling that the world is against you. Know that feeling? We all have experienced it at one time or another, right?

Now imagine wanting someone just to love you. Wanting someone to care enough to choose YOU. Reaching out with your heart in prayer night after night, like my daughter did, asking for God to bring you a mom or a dad.

No one answers.

The line is busy or it simply rings incessantly for years on end. People are too busy to answer you call, or too scared, or too distracted, or too caught up with their own lives, or………..something.

Tonight when I made my thirtieth attempt to reach the orphanage by phone, I was flooded with a sense of what these kids feel every day of their lives. The helplessness. The hopelessness. The deep and utterly inescapable knowing that you are forgotten. Invisible. Unloved.

My prayer this day is that more of you who have considered adoption pick up the phone. Say yes. Go out on a limb. Be brave. Say to one of them,

'I choose YOU.'

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I'm not Quitting, I'm Just Quiet

My girls, swinging.
I want to write, folks, I really do. But for the past year, really, I've felt such a draw inward, it's hard to push against that and write down what doesn't want to come out at all. Have you ever experienced seasons of life like that? Even defining it is difficult, but I guess the best way is to say I feel like I've transformed from an extrovert to an introvert. I don't find joy in the same things anymore. I don't like being out in public much and would much rather read for hours or meditate and pray or - no lie - do dishes than go be among people or be social in any way or form. And it's not that I'm depressed - I certainly know what that feels like. It's just an overwhelming desire to go inward, to be silent and listen, and to observe. I think I've visited this season before in my life, but never with this intensity.

But -I have immense guilt when I go long periods without writing here. I feel a responsibility to stay in communication with those who have read my blog, some for many years. These are the same people who supported me when we took that leap of faith in 2010 and moved to Russia for several months to care for Anya. Many of you wrote me beautiful, heartfelt and helpful letters when my adoption of Daniel failed. Others cheered me on throughout hosting Dasha, adopting Matilda, or a million other things I've tried to get through in one piece. I could never communicate the depth of my gratitude - I really don't think it's possible at all.

So I'm trying to understand my own self these days - a self that used to crave  sharing here; a self that was passionate about writing; a self that was very outwardly focused. That's not me anymore. I struggle to find words that define what I'm feeling. I used to sit at my computer and find that I couldn't type fast enough for the words that wanted to come out. Now I can't find words at all, and expressing myself here feels awkward and, even, painful.

I'm not quitting. This isn't a goodbye post. But I felt like I owed people reading here an explanation. I still do the same things: parent Nastia and Matilda, support as many of the girls in Russia as I can, teach Shakespeare, pray and talk to God incessantly, and try to be a better human being each day. But whereas before these things felt like fodder for blog posts, now they don't. Maybe it's writer's block, but I don't think so. I just think my soul has decided to close ranks and be still. My soul is having 'down-time' and wanting nothing more than stillness, simplicity - and authentic communion with God and others through that stillness. Does that make any sense?

I hope so.

I'll keep stopping in a posting little updates, because that's only fair. I know I'm fairly devastated when my favorite bloggers are silent for even a few days. I'll do my best - but it won't be half as passionate or interesting as it used to be. At least not right now.

I hope that's okay with you, reader.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Taking First Steps

credit: Tiny House Listings
I have dreamt of downsizing into a tiny house for at least a decade, if not longer. I am on email lists for every tiny house company out there: this one,and this one and this one, to name a few) and I scour pinterest and bookshops for every resource on tiny houses I can find. I've worked on downsizing for years, but mostly with an eye towards getting rid of clutter - not with the intention to truly clear everything out. But this change keeps calling me.  There is not one reason that feeds this decision, but there are a few primary factors:

1. I hate/despise/loathe our materialistic, hoarding, junk-accumulating society. I am depressed every day by the waste. It hurts my heart. I don't like the message it sends my kids either - that anything should be just tossed aside for the newer, brighter version, that clothes must stay 'up to date' for one to fit in, so one must buy. buy and buy more every season. Ugh.

2. The disparity between the haves and have nots in the world is a constant ache in my heart, and I am part of the problem if I'm not trying to be part of the solution. I want my life to be a reflection of my deepest convictions and beliefs, and it is not right now.
credit: Tiny house Listings

3. I want to free up my money, time and resources so that I can better help Anya and the other girls in her shoes throughout the world. A tiny house means less time tending to 'stuff' and more time to pursue worthy endeavors. A tiny house means less money spent over time on SO many things: books, toys, furniture, heating, electricity, clothes, and a million other items and resources. That money saved can help SO MANY PEOPLE!

4. It gets me closer to living a more authentic life - one with an emphasis on people instead of things. A life that forces us outside more. A life that encourages engagement more. A life that requires me to rely on libraries more than bookstores, experiences more than distractions, others rather than self.

So I'm taking a tiny step forward. I signed up for an online course taught by someone involved in the Tiny House Movement. It's a course developed for those of us who want to transition to tiny from a typical home. Its an eight-week guide to downsizing, de-cluttering, and living smaller and with less. I'm very excited about it. My realistic goal is to be moving into a tiny home within 5 years. I wish it were sooner, but I'm trying to be realistic. I need to save quite a but in order to buy one, and that's the biggest hindrance to it happening sooner. I don't have any money to spare, because every extra bit goes to Anya, but I'm hoping to find a way to sell much of what I have, and put all that money towards our tiny house fund.
Credit: Hornsby Island Caravans

And Matilda is beside herself with excitement - don't worry about her. She has known about my dream of tiny house living since she first hosted with us, and she is ALL on board. She has even drawn tiny plans for our house and has dreams of having more time free to travel, since we now have family all over the world!

I'll keep you posted on what I'm learning as the course progresses. And by all means, if you know any tiny-housers, or if you are looking to down-sizing too, let me know in the comments.

DREAM HOME.  Credit: naturalhomes.org

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Requested Update!

You know when thing are good and you don't want to jinx it? That's the story with the long absence here. I'm finding life so enjoyable right now, it's hard to find a reason to spend any time on the computer, let alone type a whole blog post. But I know how anxious I get when one of my favorite bloggers doesn't post in a long while, and how delighted I am when they do post - so I'm humoring the handful of you that still read this blog and filling you in.

Nastia with her Aunt 'M' last week.
Nastia is doing so well I'm almost afraid to write about it. She is loving college and thriving there. I never would have imagined it in my wildest of dreams. She has eight (yes, eight) roommates in a very large apartment in the top floor an old Victorian house. There are two other girls in her room, and then three other bedrooms. It's a mix of upper and lowerclassmen, which is ideal. They have to cook their own food, as there is no campus cafeteria, and Nast is quick becoming the resident chef. The homework is a bit overwhelming for her, but she is reaching out for help there, and she is doing so well in her art classes that she is thus far getting As and high Bs on everything! She just got her braces off this week, so she is really starting to look (and feel) like an adult, and she is acting like one, too! She hasn't missed one class in 5 weeks, and she is really managing her time well for homework, etc. I couldn't be more proud of her.

Tilly being shy about a photo.

Tilly is also thriving - REALLY thriving. She loves third grade, loves her teacher, loves her new school friends, loves our morning routine and our chatty walk to school each morning. She joined the local soccer team and is learning so much. The assistant coach nicknamed her 'Speedy' the other day, and she was absolutely glowing to hear that. She is very fast! She has also (joy oh joy!) discovered a love of reading, and I have to work hard to keep myself from buying her every chapter book I have ever read as a child. Thank God we are broke from the adoption - we're learning to use the library instead of amazon! She is skyping with her sister every week or so, and her foster mom, too, when the timing works. She celebrated her 10th birthday with 8 little friends sleeping over a few weeks ago. 

I am really, truly enjoying being her mom a great deal. Many of you might remember how difficult my first few years were with Nastia. Her PTSD, trauma history, RAD and autism made parenting her very challenging and I often felt incapable of being the best parent. I tried so hard, I gave it everything I had in me and more - but it was intensely scary and painful. Parenting Tilly is a very different experience. Though I wouldn't trade my experience with Nastia for a million dollars, I am very grateful that this second time around is a little more peaceful. It's just nice to be able to go out and do mother-daughter things so early on - I couldn't really do that with Nast, until she was much older.

As for me personally, my health is not ideal, but I'm learning ever-so-slowly to take better care of myself. I'm trying to make healthier choices more often (like one spoonful of nutella instead of, say, ten…) and I'm learning to slow down. I can no longer work at the pace I used to, but I'm finding ways to make adjustments, and I'm hoping to keep getting better at saying no to anything extra. That's the hardest part of all.
Anya and Sasha

Anya is sadly still struggling with depression, but I'm trying to be more in touch with her. Nastia is finding it hard to balance her worry for her sister with the demands of college, so she is backing off a bit, while I am trying to pick up the slack and be more attentive to Anya and Sasha online.  I wish I stumbled upon some miracle way of getting her here, but it still proves impossible. I also just heard from some people who have been there/done that, that the average wait time for a sibling visa through the US lottery system is over 12 years. so I may be rethinking our plans. Instead of spending so much time and energy trying to get her here, I'm looking into finding a way to more effectively support her there. We still send her a monthly stipend to live on, and I'm trying to be more diligent about care packages. The last two never arrived to her, so I'm trying to find safer ways of getting things to her - I hear DHL is good. If you have ideas, let me know. 

As to the orphanage kids that many of you still pray for - as always there is good news and bad news. Some of the girls that just aged out are already pregnant. Angelina just had a baby, and a few others are due soon. God help them. I'm still trying to keep some of the girls from falling through the cracks by keeping them connected to supporters here in the States. i still have six wonderful online friends sending monthly support to some of the girls there. A few others got tired of the lack of responses from the girls and just stopped sending money. I don't think everyone understands the feeling of hopelessness and self-loathing that accompanies post-orphanage life. two of the girls that stopped receiving support dropped out of school. (But don't worry, I've found someone over there to try and get them back on track.) 
Daniel won a boxing trophy.

Daniel is doing as well as can be expected. We talk online maybe once a month and I have someone bring him $10 a month to buy extra food/treats for himself. He ages out of the orphanage next June. Alot of the kids are now able to access Russian facebook (vkontakte) and post me little messages asking if I have forgotten them, or why no one ever sends letters and socks, etc anymore. I sadly explain that the new director still won't allow it, but assure them they are not forgotten. That's about all I can tell you. Wish there were more...

I'll try to post more regularly, but I honestly am just really enjoying just living our lives right now. I'm sure when winter forces us inside more often, my posts will increase. Love to everyone reading this. Please comment with an update on yourself, if you have time. I'll leave you with my favorite photo of Sasha, whom I still have not met, outside of Skype. But she kisses me through the computer every time we skype, and when Anya asks her 'Where's Baba?" She claps and points at me. Nothing better than that.

Sasha smiling at her visiting Aunt Nastia. August 2014.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Life is Beautiful (Latvian Version)

Sometimes life is so wonderful you find it impossible to articulate the joy to anyone. This week is one of those times:

Three out of four siblings reunited. They live in three different countries and yet 'the fates' aligned for them all to spend a beautiful, other-wordly day together. If you need proof of God's existence, I have plenty. Just ask :)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Tilly's World

Tilly has adjusted beautifully. It's a joy to watch her learn to be a part of a family, to accept being loved and to settle in to her new role as a beloved 'forever' daughter. I hadn't anticipated it being this easy of a transition. Not to say there aren't moments of hurt or trauma rearing its ugly head - of course there are; older child adoption is not an easy road for the child or parent. But, on the whole, she is adjusting to family life far more quickly and easily than Nastia did. 

The photo above is of her in a play she recently appeared in. She played 'a beautiful milkmaid', and she loved it. I think her favorite part may have been just the chance to wear make-up.. but either way, she had a wonderful time.

In the fall she will start third grade and so we have started the preparations - cleaning out closets, sifting through clothes to see what still fits, organizing her room, making lists of school supplies to purchase. It's been a great time of bonding. Nastia is currently in Russia with her sister, and I had the week off from work, so it's been a nice break from the crazy-busy summer Shakespeare schedule!

The two of us fly to Latvia next week to complete the immigration requirements of her adoption. Her biggest concern is whether she'll have to get any booster shots while there. My biggest worry is fitting in all that we have to do while there. Aside from all the appointments that are part of the immigration requirements, we also want to spend time with her foster family, her biological sister who will be in Riga that week, AND time with her little brother Toms and his new family. It's alot to cover in 7 days.

The other night as we fell asleep, Tilly counted all her family members. It was a long process and we both marvelled at our incredible luck at having such a huge, international family now. She counted 5 mothers and an inconceivable amount of siblings. She of course considers Anya and all of Nastia's 16 other siblings hers, plus her little brother's new siblings, her bio-sisters in England, her bio-sisters new little half-sister, and anyone else she could find related to her by marriage or adoption. It was very sweet. And we are so fortunate that most of these families feel the same way - even Toms' new family sees us as extended family, and we gladly  accept the role:)

God has been so good to us. I may be in worse financial shape than I've ever been in since college, but in every other area we are thriving and full of joy. Plus I know the financial issue is temporary - it's just likely a year or two to recover from these adoption costs. Nastia also received so many scholarships and grants for college that I gratefully only have to pay a little over $2500 this year. (And thankfully I can pay monthly!) She even gets to live on campus  in a dorm - her dream! Matilda will be at the school behind our house - a 2 minute walk at best. And I'll be back at work in the schools starting in October.

Thank you to all the people who have loved and cared for us these many years - Christian friends who prayed, Catholic friends who said so many rosaries, Buddhist friends who chanted, T.M. friends who meditated, and all kinds of other friends who thought of us, held us up, sent us words of encouragement, walked us through hard times. It feels like Tilly is the final piece of a puzzle I have longed to complete for a decade or more. We can now focus on the normal things families focus on, and also work on getting Anya home and being one big happy family under one roof. I feel immense gratitude to have reached this time of celebration and peace in our lives, but I'm also grateful in the struggles, too. Each joy and hurt  we experience is part of this incredible tapestry we weave in living this human life. Thank you for stitching it together with us!

Tilly's headshot, which she loved!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

She's Mine and She's Home Forever!

PHEW that was a long wait! I had to close my blog in January due to the restrictions during the adoption process. I just knew I'd slip up and post something that could jeopardize the adoption if I didnt just close it altogether (ADD is cruel that way. You have no 'hall monitor' in your head to keep you in line.) But…. I did it! I survived 6 months without cheating and posting…and now the adoption is finalized and I can introduce you to…

Tilly! Home for Good!

I'll likely even take this post down in a few weeks. I'm toying with the idea of starting a new blog that is more private. That way when Tilly gets a little older I wont have to highly edit my posts like I did when Nastia got older. Anyway, I'm still trying to figure that out. So we'll see.

But for now, things are going very well. Yesterday was our official adoption day, after the mandatory waiting period. I had flown to Latvia alone in Mid-May for three days for the final court hearing. We will still head back to Latvia one final time this summer for immigration requirements, but the adoption itself is FINI!

Welcome to our family, Tilly. We love you so very much!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

If You Wait, The Blessings Come

Matilda at sunset. Photo credit: Maeve Harrington

I'm not known for painting rosy pictures. I try to be as honest as I can here, all the time. If my over-arching goal is to help other adoptive parents, I don't have the right to be anything BUT brutally honest. And so, sometimes, I avoid this blog because things are tough and I feel I don't have any words of wisdom to share. Sometimes I have to wait till I see the light.

We've been home one month now, and it has been overwhelming, scary, confusing, frustrating, exhausting, and downright yucky. It didn't help that I got horribly sick right after Christmas and didn't get better for 24 days. 24 days of fever, coughing, lying in bed, wishing I could die. Yes, it felt that bad. And the fact that it came on the heels of our arrival home felt like a slap in the face. The first month was going to be hard enough - why did I have to feel like I was on my deathbed on top of that? So, yes, I had some days where I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I couldn't even communicate with anyone, because my voice was gone. If it weren't for my neighbor pinch hitting for me, I don't know what I would have done. She was a lifesaver. She watched Matilda during the day, took her to her swimming classes, went food shopping for us, and the list goes on. I am grateful in ways only other moms could understand!

But now, the light emerges. The fever gone, the coughing subsided. I reenter the land of the living, and - despite my guilt - Matilda has not only survived this challenging month, but she's thrived. In some ways, sickness intensifies the bonding. She and Nastia had to rely on each other for everything, because I was incapacitated. There were some ugly fights, but for the most part, I watched my girls transform into sisters. There were sleepovers, there were baking marathons, and igloo-building snowy afternoons. There were tearful outpourings of grief, and a big sister comforting the little one feeling so lost. It was a month of mountainous highs and heartbreaking lows, emotionally speaking - for both girls - and I watched most of it unfold in tiny slivers from the open door to my bedroom, as I lay there waiting for healing to come.

Last night I was finally feeling well enough to get some bills paid and emails returned. As I sat at my computer, I heard squeals of laughter from upstairs. After a good twenty minutes, my curiosity got the best of me and I headed up. In the bathroom I found two girls in swimsuits, huddled in the tub, covered in a million colorful balls of swirling water. They had filled the tub with these:

Rainbow braindrops

And they were having the time of their lives 'swimming' in this 3D rainbow. I stayed and watched for awhile, but then left them to their 'work' -- and two hours later they were still there. At 10pm, they emerged like prunes from their watery playground, only to move the playing into Nastia's room - where they laughed and laughed until well after midnight, cuddled up together in a tight nest of giggles and squeals. I interrupted their play just long enough to go in and say their prayers with them. Matilda started:

'God? Thanks for everything...thanks for my Mom and my sister. Thanks for the snow and for our animals...thanks for food and Grammy....and please send angels to every single person in the whole world and help them.'

Then Nastia added, " Yeah, thanks for everything, God.'

I'm feeling very blessed.