The Story of Goodbye

Tonight was hard.

 

There were a lot of tears shed, puddles of salty grief washing soft cheeks, all dotted with freckles. As I held them close, all four of them, I couldn’t help but feel like I caused all of this. I know it’s not true – that such a feeling is a lie from the pit of hell meant to bring about the unholy guilt that stops one from taking action against the injustices of this world.¬†But it didn’t diminish the pain I felt as I watched them cry.

This saying goodbye thing is not a fun ride.

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It’s interesting, though, to watch my children embrace this act of sacrifice, even in the very worst moments. It’s a chance to share with them what we all must learn at some point in our lives – serving others requires sacrifice, and sacrifice is rarely easy.

We sacrificed time and energy this last month. We sacrificed funds, and sleep. I don’t say any of those things to publicly pat myself on the back. On the contrary, there were some days when I was so fully overwhelmed by the sacrifice that I wanted to scream…and cry. Then scream and cry some more. I didn’t enjoy every moment of the sacrifice, but if I had, would it really have been a sacrifice?

Sometimes I wish that God could have placed an easier call on my heart. Sometimes I wish that I didn’t feel a passion for something that’s so hard to fulfill. Sometimes I wish that I could just stop and be content with where we are – to enjoy the ride in the fast lane for a little while.

But only sometimes…

Sacrificial love requires that you shave off a piece of your heart and offer it freely. But can I share a little secret?

When you do this – when you give away pieces of yourself without any expectation attached – you’d be surprised at what you receive back.

 

When we signed up to host “K” for a month, we naively thought this would all hinge upon what we had to offer. We had no idea how much she would give back to us. She brought joy and laughter, and a wholeness that was entirely unexpected. This wasn’t about us, and it wasn’t about her.

This was about all that God could do with hearts willing to submit, and with broken people willing to take a chance.

 

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Tomorrow there will be more tears, and more heartache, and my children will be separated from someone they’ve come to love deeply. “K” will board a plane and will be separated from a family she’s come to love deeply. We’ll all go our separate ways broken, and also more whole.

Isn’t it spectacular how God can both break and heal all in the same breath?

I’m trying to guard how many of the stories I share publicly – how much of the heartache and pain that we all feel to open to the world. Some stories need to be told, and others need to be protected. But I wanted you to know, my friends, that we are all going to be okay. This month was part of a design set into motion long before any of us drew breath.

It doesn’t make sense, and it isn’t easy.

But sacrifice never does, and it never is.

Thank you for your prayers, and yes, please keep them coming. But know without doubt that we’re all going to be okay.

This is only the beginning of the story…

You’ll forgive me if…

You guys, I want to write but I simply can’t seem to get my words organized. I’m completely scattered, my brain is a jumbled mess. My washing machine broke, my house is a mess, my stomach hurts all the time and I’m more exhausted than I’ve ever been.

You’ll forgive me if the next week’s posts are a little scattered?

Since pictures are worth 1,000 words anyway, I might as well just share those.

I’ll tell stories later.

Like the one about the time we went to Disney World and it was less than magical, but there were magical moments, and we’re choosing to remember those.

Or the morning I blubbered in church like a wee little babe, while on stage…Singing…In Russian…

Awesome-sauce.

Or maybe I’ll tell you about the night that precious friends came over and celebrated “K’s” 18th birthday with us ten days early, since she won’t be with us on her real birthday.

It was her first ever birthday party.

I could tell you about the conflicting emotions in my head and heart – about how part of me is so terribly sad to see her go, and the other part of me longs for the return of a “normal” routine. I could tell you that I know that both of these feelings are natural, and there’s nothing wrong with either feeling, but that each time I find myself looking forward to having my house back, I feel a twinge of guilt for the thought.

There are stories to tell, and stories to keep to myself. But for now, there are plenty of pictures to share.

Happy Monday.

One of our favorite experiences at the Zoo when a friend took us behind the scenes and let us play with this fella.

One of our favorite experiences at the Zoo when a friend took us behind the scenes and let us play with this fella.

We also fed the giraffes, which is always fun.

We also fed the giraffes, which is always fun.

Perhaps my new favorite photo of all time. Tia and a rather surly Llama had a moment. It was a bit of a stand off - two attitudes colliding. The Llama won by lunging and sending her scampering away with a yelp. :)

Perhaps my new favorite photo of all time. Tia and a rather surly Llama had a moment. It was a bit of a stand off – two attitudes colliding. The Llama won by lunging and sending her scampering away with a yelp. ūüôā Also – I’m jealous of my daughter’s arms…

 

The Llama was in serious need of a good orthodontist.

The Llama was in serious need of a good orthodontist.

K feeding the birds.

K feeding the birds.

 

A beautiful day calls for jet skis.

A beautiful day calls for jet skis.

And then she drove, and she felt like she was flying.

And then she drove, and she felt like she was flying.

 

Magic Kingdom!

Magic Kingdom!

Even if you've never seen the Cinderella movie, you can still be in awe of a real, live princess.

Even if you’ve never seen the Cinderella movie, you can still be in awe of a real, live princess.

 

Enjoying birthday cookies at her very own birthday party with her very own babushka.

Enjoying birthday cookies at her very own birthday party with her very own babushka.

She loves that she has grandparents here. So precious...

She loves that she has grandparents here. So precious…

 

Imagine

Imagine

Imagine waking up each morning surrounded by people, but totally alone.

Imagine walking to and from school and home each day knowing that you could disappear and no one would really care.

Imagine going to bed at night without saying goodnight to anyone.

Imagine the doors being opened for you, and walking out into the world without any support system, without anyone to advocate for you, anyone to fight on your behalf. 

Imagine being thrust into adulthood without the tools necessary to survive.

Imagine a world full of light into which you cannot walk.

Imagine being trapped in darkness with no real hope.

Imagine.

 

The plight of those without family is more real to me than it’s ever been before. I’ve known the statistics for a long time – Girls who ago out of an orphanage are 60% more likely to end up in prostitution. Boys who age out are 70% more likely to end up in prison. The suicide rate for children who have exited an orphanage without a support system are sky-high.

I knew these things, but I’d never touched them.

This is a fight that we cannot ignore. I’m a huge proponent of adoption. I absolutely believe that adoption is a necessary and important tool in orphan care. I’m also, however, passionate about supporting orphans within their own countries. We must help them from both ends of this spectrum.

I do believe that it’s best for children to be raised in their own countries, amidst their own cultures. I also believe that’s not always possible, and for those who are called, I fully support you in your quest for adoption.

There has to be more, though. We must advocate for the fatherless with zeal, and we cannot give up on this quest because too much is at stake. I heard it said not long ago that growing up without a family is toxic to a child’s soul. There is, perhaps, no greater loneliness than that of knowing that no one cares.¬†

This isn’t a post that’s meant to incite guilt. The truth is, I don’t really know what the next step is for our family. When we put “K” on the plane next week, what happens next?

I don’t know. But I’m asking and I’m seeking, because now I know and once you know the truth, action is required.

The orphan crisis is big – it’s so big. Bigger than any one person, or any one organization. But results are tangible, and there is hope to be found.¬†(<—Click this to tweet)¬† Hope may be slow, but it’s alive and it’s real and it’s the only thing that can shatter the darkness.

All I ask today is that you imagine the feeling of being totally and completely alone. Imagine,  just for a second.

What can you do?

What can I do?

What difference could we make in this world if we weren’t afraid to try?¬†

Tenting with Shamoo

If anyone ever tells you that sleeping in a tent is comfortable, go ahead and assume that person a liar. If they tell you that having the proper equipment is all that stands between you and a good night’s sleep in a tent, kick them in the shins and flee.

We camped last weekend.

Our friends Kevin and Jenni let us borrow some of their camping gear for this trip, and I foolishly thought that having nice gear would make the entire experience okay. On the second night of no sleep, however, I may or may not have cursed nature and all it’s components.

Here’s how it went down…

We arrived at the campsite and began pitching our tent. Just as we tossed the rain shield over the top of the tent, the rain began to fall. Then the sky sobbed for 45 minutes. I think it was nature’s way of trying to warn us of the consequences of camping in January, but we misinterpreted the storm as “memory making” and “character building.”

My mountain man. Photo courtesy of my friend Karen.

My mountain man. Photo courtesy of my friend Karen.

Who wants to play in the cold rain? These crazy kids, that's who...

Who wants to play in the cold rain? These crazy kids, that’s who…

The rain stopped, we finished setting up (including mopping up a small lake that had developed inside our tent). Super duper…

Then the temperature began to drop plummet. The #1 redeeming quality of camping absolutely must be the fire pit. A crackling fire on a cold night gives you the false sense that this camping thing was a pretty darn good idea.

It also helps if you’re surrounded by good company. Kids running through the trees, breathless and pink cheeked, free from the confines of electronics, while adults laugh and joke adds a luster to the whole “living in the great outdoors” thing. This is the part of camping that I would boldly place under the column labeled FUN.

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Then we went to bed.

Jenni had given me her sleeping bag, which just so happened to be named Big Agnes, along with a thermal pad to go under it. The thermal pad actually tucked into Big Agnes and kept me warm from underneath. When I climbed into Big Agnes that first night, I had high expectations. “I will heretofore sleep like a baby,” I thought as I nestled in deep, and indeed, I quickly fell asleep that first night.

I woke up at 2:00 when a raccoon (one of satan’s sidekicks, undoubtably) tossed a metal pan off the picnic table behind us. I heard his evil laugh as he ran back into the trees. It was at this point that the whole sleeping thing eluded me for the rest of the trip.

Lee slept next to me in a different bag – a bag not named Big Agnes, which I think may have been part of the problem. He also slept on a thermal pad that seemed to be made of tin foil, so every time he moved (which was all. night. long.) it sounded as though he were thrashing on a pile of crumply aluminum. After the demon raccoon woke us all up, Lee left the tent to go to the bathroom. It was at this point that I realize the temperature had fallen significantly. My body was toasty warm (thank you Big Agnes) but my eyelashes were icicles.

This sweet girl hung in there with us crazy Americans.

This sweet girl hung in there with us crazy Americans.

Lee came back to the tent and began the process of settling into his sleeping bag. My husband is 6’2″. When you zip him up into a thin body bag, there’s bound to be a few issues with comfort. He pulled the zipper all the way up to his neck to get out of the cold, then I heard him thrashing. I looked over at him, and his gaze was fixed intently on the ceiling as he flopped around like a whale on a beach.

After a couple of minutes, I leaned over and hissed, “What the heck are you doing?! Can you please be quiet??” He looked at me as he continued to flop, his arms pinned to his sides, and the thermal tin foil under him shattering the silence of the campsite. A moment later he squirmed and tugged until his arm broke free of the bag and he thrust it in the air, his pants clutched firmly in his hand.

He looked at me as though he’d just won a prize. “It’s hot in this bag!” he stage whispered.

Then we both started laughing so uncontrollably we couldn’t breathe, and neither one of us slept the rest of the night. Nor did we sleep the second night, which was less comical than the first, but who’s keeping score?

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So blessed to call these women friends.

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This kid enjoyed the camping experience more than anyone else I think. He slept well and he got to play ball all weekend long. So this was basically his heaven.

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A zipline = Good fun

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She had such a great attitude all weekend.

In all, it was an awesome weekend, despite the loss of two night’s sleep. The kids had a blast, even “K,” though she wanted to make sure we were definitely planning on returning home to our warm beds on that second day when the temps hovered around the high 30’s and low 40’s.

Will we tent camp again? Definitely. Camping is a bit like childbirth, I’ve decided. Give yourself enough space and time from the experience and you forget just enough of the pain and turmoil to want to do it again. As long as I’ve got Big Agnes, a cup of strong coffee, and my husband to laugh at, I’ll be just fine…

Gone Camping

We are leaving shortly for a weekend long camping trip with friends. Our car is packed to the max, which kind of makes me feel like we’re doing camping wrong, but whatever. We’re not hiking to camp, so BRING ON THE CREATURE COMFORTS!

In lieu of an actual post, I thought I’d leave you with a little Jim Gaffigan for your weekend viewing. You can watch this, then laugh at us. Our sweet “K” has no idea what she’s in for‚Ķwhich makes this oddly even more exciting.

Happy Weekending!

 

Scenes from a Holiday

Remember when we were kids and all the futuristic movies we watched were set in the 2000’s? The year 2025 seemed to be a popular setting for movies filled with flying cars, highways in the sky (skyways?), and robotic keepers of the peace.

Basically what I’m saying is car makers only have 11 years to get that flying car up in the air or Hollywood is going to lose all credibility.

Flying minivans?

So. HAWT!

 

Also, it’s high time someone came out with the Hoverboard. The future is now, people! Get on it!!!

Happy New Year, everyone. This is a year of expectation for our family. We are looking forward with great expectation of all that God has for us to do. Last night I rang in the New Year with a kiss from the most precious 17 year old old who has stolen my heart right away, from the man who has been a rock through a couple of rough years, and from a ten year old with a heart as big as the ocean.

This morning I kissed the freckled cheek of a six year old who giggles his way through life in a way that projects sheer delight. Soon I will welcome home a seven year old who got to ring in her new year with a sleepover at a sweet friend’s house, and I will force her to hug me because she’s not really the touchy-feely type.

I’m so blessed it’s ridiculous.

Here’s to a great 2014! I am thankful to have 2013 behind me. Looking forward to this new year.

Happy New Year fist bumps to everyone!!!

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Enjoying one of our many morning walks.

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So cute! The birds are fun, too.

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Playing with “The Girls.”

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I love these kids!

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Florida + December = Awesome

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Exploring a new park.

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New cowboy boots, which she has worn every single day since Christmas.

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Tampa Aquarium

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If only they had some personality…

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Rainbow Loom – It’s universal…

One Year

One year ago, I sat on the edge of the bathtub and I sobbed.One year ago, my heart broke into a thousand tiny pieces, and it has taken a full twelve months to reassemble those pieces in some order.

Twelve months is a long time. Healing takes a long time.

With the space of 365 days between then and now, I’ve had time to gain a little perspective. There are some who have said that it wasn’t meant to be for our family. God clearly didn’t have it in His plan for us to bring home a child from a Russian orphanage. While there may be some theological truth to that statement, I can say with no uncertainty that that is not a comforting attitude to hold, and the thought has brought little peace to my heart.

The fact is, God led us down the path of adoption, and He led us right into the fire of a disrupted adoption. This was so that we could be refined, so that we could know Him a little more.

It was so that we would step forward out of the fire with courage and not abandon the fight for children living without families.

One year later, our situation is different. We’re in for more heartache in two weeks when we put K on a plane back home. Our kids will be broken hearted again to say goodbye – our precious children who still hope for another sibling. God is refining them as well – teaching them to give sacrificially, even when it hurts.

While this year has provided a blanket of healing for our family, there are still many families living with the deep pain of separation. There are parents who actually held their children in their arms, who promised they would return to get them, and who cannot go back. There are children in institutions who could have had homes.

These are the people who need your continued prayer. These are the people who still sit in the unknown. Pray for the children who are left behind. Pray for the families in America who want to adopt them but cannot. Pray for the families in Russia who would like to adopt, but don’t have the resources or the help necessary to take in institutionalized children.

No child should grow up without a family. I have evidence of that sleeping in a room down the hall.

Watch this video, and keep praying everyone. A New Year awaits.

A lot can happen in a year…

 

Processing it all

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She opens the gift and a light turns on inside her eyes. It’s art supplies and new cross stitch patterns. We know what she likes because we’ve watched and observed. We’ve taken the time to get to know her – not just her needs, but also her wants.

For a child who’s spent most of her formative years in a children’s home, this is more than unique. Someone took time to know her, not just about her, but really know her. Isn’t that what we all want at the very core of our being?

Don’t we all want to be known?

Our internet has been down all week, which has actually been a good thing. There are so many emotions to process right now, and I’m not sure processing them out loud, online, is the best choice. ¬†This experience hasn’t been anything like what we thought it would be. We haven’t run into any of the issues that we were told we might face.

Grace abounds in the form of a 17 year old girl with a smile to light up a room. She’s well adjusted, kind, thoughtful and sweet. She asks for little and is so grateful for everything. She tells her story matter of factly, but not in a way that’s robotic. In a word – she is content.

We’re learning so much from this sweet girl. Yes, there are some behaviors that give evidence of the hardships of the past, but those behaviors are slowly fading as she experiences the gift of unconditional love each and every day. Slowly she becomes more comfortable, the walls lower, and we see a natural inner beauty emerging, and I cannot help but be affected.

There are stories to tell and emotions to process, but for now I’ll just share a few photos. It’s the best I can do today. Thank you all for praying for us, and for blessing us with encouraging words, and with gifts for “K.” People have told us we’re amazing for doing this, and while I appreciate the sentiment, the truth is – I don’t feel amazing.¬†

I feel scared.

I feel blessed.

I feel honored to have been led down this path.

I feel overwhelmed.

I feel like I don’t really understand God the way I thought I understood God. Because I’ve never been an orphan in the physical sense of the word, it’s so hard for me to fully grasp my adoption as a daughter of God. These kids who grow up without the comfort of parental love possess a strength far beyond that which I can understand. I’m praying that we are able to send her home with so much more than simple material blessings.

Undoubtably, she’ll leave us with much more than any of us anticipated.

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Lost in Translation

IMGP9007I can’t even begin to describe how fun it is to have someone in my home who speaks the language that I love so deeply. I am thoroughly enjoying speaking Russian again, though it is just rusty enough that I stumble over just about everything I say.

For example, yesterday I told “K” that I was a writer and pointed to my desk. “That’s where I sit and pee all day,” I said.

“I write” and “I pee” are veeeeeery similar in the Russian language, just FYI. Mix up the tenses and you have yourself a bit of an awkward sentence. Luckily, I caught myself and corrected the dialogue quickly, but not before she and I had a good laugh.

Communicating the very basic things has become the most humorous. How to use the shower, what to do with toilet paper (our countries deal with this issue differently), personal hygiene situations. These are all conversations that I have never had in Russian before! Heck, I haven’t had to have some of these awkward conversations in English with my own child – now I’m communicating them in Russian with a teenager who barely knows me.

Thank goodness she has a good sense of humor, and she is extremely laid back.

I caught a glimpse of a few of the emotional wounds she’s experienced yesterday, and once again, I wished my language were better. I know enough to hear the heartache, but not enough to hold onto it. There is time, though. Time for her to develop a greater sense of trust. Time for me to listen more. Time for us to work together to place a balm on these emotional wounds.

We went to Super Target yesterday. Everyone should experience Super Target with a seventeen year old who’s never seen a supermarket in her life. She was silent, wide-eyed, and completely overwhelmed. I had her try on shoes, and she looked at all the selections, then looked at me completely flabbergasted.

Ah, Target – The International Love Language of Females.

Today we’ll go clothes shopping. She needs shorts – you know‚Ķbecause it’s going to be 80 degrees in Florida this weekend. I also plan on introducing her to Chick-fil-A, because I believe she needs to experience the blessed chicken sandwich, hand breaded on a bun with two pickles and a dash of the Holy Spirit.

 

Amen?

rainbowloomShe’s experienced the Rainbow Loom kit already, and our boys subjected her to The Wobble last night. It’s a dance. There are really no descriptions for it – you should just look it up.

Tonight we’re going to watch a movie. I’m not sure which one yet. I’m trying to decide what would be a good, introductory movie for someone with limited language. Elf? Too crazy, too soon? We’ll see…

This sweet girl doesn’t quite know what to do with herself here, yet. We’re going to change that, one ridiculous dance and movie at a time.

*wink*

Why Orphan Hosting?

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As we prepare to welcome “K” into our family this holiday season, I thought I’d answer a few questions that have been asked of us. When we signed up for this orphan hosting program, I wasn’t 100% convinced I wanted to go through with it.

But the more Lee and I talked about this, and researched the program, the more excited we became to be a part of this very unique ministry. We committed to host “K” a day before the deadline, and within a couple of weeks had made all the necessary payments, filled out the paperwork, and we were officially welcomed as host parents.

The purpose of bringing these children into our homes for a few weeks is multifaceted. First and foremost, as host families our desire is to show children that they are loved. We want them to know that they hold value in this world, particularly these young kids who are living full time in state run orphanages. Hosting is a chance for a child to experience a different culture, which widens their view of the world, and opens their minds to possibilities outside the walls of their home.

Image-1Children who age out of the orphanages at young ages¬†are some of the most vulnerable in the world.¬†Girls are more likely to wind up in sex trafficking and prostitution when they “graduate,” and boys are more likely to end up in prison. If we can give them the knowledge and understanding that their lives, their bodies, their minds, are valuable, perhaps we can prevent some of these casualties of poverty.

Orphan hosting also raises adoption awareness. When people are able to see and touch a child without a family, they are more drawn to the possibility of adoption. The doubts are less obvious in the presence of a child looking for love. New Horizons for Children, the hosting agency we are working with, is not an adoption agency and these children are not brought to the States to “find a family.” But many families are so impacted by the experience that they’re moved to adopt.

Orphan hosting widens our comfortable, Western view of the world just as much as it does the children who come to visit. Remember, hope isn’t only slow for those trapped in hard situations. It’s slow for us who are trapped in wealth and comfort, too.

Yesterday, Shaun posted a great article about the difference that urgency makes in our desire and ability to act on our passions. My sense of  urgency lies in orphan care. I thought that this urgency, born out of a passion, would have a different result, and maybe it still will…someday. But right now, here in the interim, Lee and I know we cannot sit idle.

Urgency combined with passion must manifest in some sort of action. We’ve chosen to follow the path of orphan hosting for this season of waiting. Perhaps it will open a new door, or send us down a different path. Maybe “K” will leave and we will remain in the same position of waiting and wondering what’s next. I’m not quite sure.

All I know is we can’t ignore this sense of urgency that we feel.

For the next month we will pour into this young woman with all the love we possess. We have no preconceived notions on how this experience will be for our family, but both Lee and I have a true peace and mounting excitement for how our Christmas will be affected.

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Sloan has sweetly given up his room for the month, and also let me make it all girly for “K.”

Pray for us these next four weeks as we walk this new path?

Thanks, everyone! We will keep you posted and will share pictures when we can!