Archive for December 2013

Shanti The Brave

Yesterday, I posted about the grief we are processing as a family, the horrible loss Shanti is currently experiencing. This is real, and it is awful, but it’s not the whole story. Shanti is also the bravest person I know.

Shanti said yes to adoption, before she met us or knew who we were, when many many many of her friends said no.

A photo of Shanti taken in October, before we met her.

A photo of Shanti taken in October, before we met her.

Shanti again said yes to adoption in front of a judge, even though the thought of court was a horribly frightening prospect.

The first photo ever taken of us as a legal family -- snapped outside the courthouse, just a few moments after the judge read her decision granting us the right to be Shanti's parents.

The first photo ever taken of us as a legal family — snapped outside the courthouse, just a few moments after the judge read her decision granting us the right to be Shanti’s parents.

Shanti said yes to adoption, even though saying yes cost her some friendships among her orphanage siblings, several of whom were angry that she made the decision to leave.

Shanti receiving birthday wishes from one of her best friends (who is not one of the children upset because Shanti said yes; this girl is also being adopted, and we're going to see her again in just a few months! Hooray!)

Shanti receiving birthday wishes from one of her best friends (who is not one of the children upset because Shanti said yes)

Shanti said yes to adoption, even though it means leaving every person she has ever known and traveling to a foreign land with two people she barely knows (and can’t talk to).

Shanti and Arturo in the snow after our appointment to apply for Shanti's passport

Shanti and Arturo in the snow after our appointment to apply for Shanti’s passport

Shanti said yes to adoption, even though it requires three plane flights to get home. She’s never been on a plane, but she’s told us she is afraid of them from day 1.

This photo was taken just two days after we met Shanti, and I can see her tentativeness in the photo -- not completely sure yet whether or not we can be trusted, but certainly willing to give it a try.

This photo was taken just two days after we met Shanti, and I can see her tentativeness in the photo — she’s not completely sure yet whether or not we can be trusted, but she’s certainly willing to give it a try.

I know that, as her mother, I am biased, but I can’t imagine many 12 year old girls would have the courage to do what Shanti has done. She is brave, and she is an inspiration. I am so stinkin’ proud of this daughter of mine.

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(Finally) Heading Home

In less than 24 hours, we’ll be in the air between Eastern Europe, just about to land for our first layover in Vienna, finally on our way back to Cincinnati after nearly two long months of absence. Arturo and I left Cincinnati on Oct. 27, excited and nervous and incredulous that the day we had anticipated for so long had finally arrived. On Dec. 22, 5 days short of two full months, we’re finally returning to Cincinnati as a family of three, with our precious daughter by our side.

The past two months have been a roller coaster. The adoption process itself was fraught with tension and concern, thus our near-silence on the blog during the adoption proceedings. It was an experience that included some of the best days of my life and also some of the worst, a study in extremes. Since taking custody of Shanti on Dec. 6, the roller coaster has continued. Our days have been a mix of joyous laughter and precious family moments, scattered between mind-numbing experiences of grief, trauma, and loss.

Think, for a moment, of how grief-stricken you would be if, three weeks before Christmas, you were told that the wonderful Christmas you had anticipated is not going to happen, that you can’t spend Christmas with any of your family members and, piling more loss on top of this terrible news, that you will likely never see those family members ever again. This horrible scenario is exactly what Shanti is experiencing this Christmas.

Shanti may have a mama and a papa now, something she is definitely very happy about, but she’s only known us 2 months. We are “mama and papa” in name only at the moment. We are not yet “family” to her in the deep, emotional sense. She doesn’t yet fully trust us, and why would she? We can’t speak her language, at least not well, and she can’t speak ours, so while communication happens, it’s hardly effortless. On the relationship front, we’ve simply not had time to develop the deep bonded connection that, God-willing, will eventually grow between us. Right now, Shanti’s family are the 14 other children in her group at the orphanage, children who are her family in the deep, emotional sense that is currently lacking in our relationship. Every day, she runs through in her mind what specific Christmas celebration they are enjoying that day in her orphanage … without her.

When we started telling people what day we were traveling home to Cincinnati, the almost universal response was, “Hooray! You’ll be home for Christmas! What an amazing Christmas present! What a joyous Christmas you will have!” While I fully appreciate the wonderful wishes and sentiment behind this statement and while we are everlastingly thankful for the prayers these celebrants have said on our behalf, the trauma of adoption means that the joyous Christmas of these wishes is simply not our reality. This Christmas will likely be the hardest we will ever experience as a family. It is a Christmas of transition, of processing grief and coming to terms with loss, of pining for everything and everyone that is comfortable and familiar and known, of unwelcome adjustments and scary new experiences, of taking halting steps toward a new wholeness and healing that can only come with time.

Our last two weeks in this country’s capital city have been difficult ones. As I’ve said so often, nothing has come up that we didn’t expect or that, with God’s help, we couldn’t handle. Our homestudy training was excellent and prepared us for post-adoption life to the nth degree. But that doesn’t mitigate the difficulty of what we’re now experiencing. It’s still hard.

On Dec. 10, we left the city of Shanti’s birth, which we’ll call KR, to complete the US immigration process at the US embassy in this country’s capital, which we’ll call K-city. The difficulty of this seemingly simple transition took us by surprise. For the first time in this entire process, in K-city we’ve felt alone and isolated from any sort of support. Our friends and family in America suddenly seem so very far away. Arturo and I had no idea how helpful and life-giving the church in KR had been to us until they were no longer right there. The amazing people at this church tutor 1-2 days each week at the orphanage, and we also spent several hours in fellowship with them every Sunday. In the 6 weeks that we were in KR, they provided a constant offer of help, advice, and direction. They told us where we could shop and helped us navigate the city. They offered support and a friendly face each time we saw them. Don’t know where to go for a special dinner with Shanti? Call Tonya. Looking for a way to celebrate your first Thanksgiving as a family? Darrel and Molly are right there. Need a friend to chat with? Darlene is your girl. The value of the support these incredible people provided to us cannot be overstated. I certainly didn’t recognize how much they had done for us until we came to K-city, where we have none of those support networks established.

Perhaps in a sense we are also feeling the loss of the familiar that Shanti is going through. At least Arturo and I have each other to rely on right now, while Shanti is experiencing this loss to a much greater level and without a pre-established relationship of trust and mutual understanding to lean upon.

The good news in this somewhat dreary post is that, in less just over 36 hours, we’ll be landing at the Cincinnati airport. It’s not familiar or comfortable territory for Shanti, but it is for Arturo and me. That alone will be a huge stabilizing factor for all of us. Our friends and “family” in Cincinnati are our lifeblood, and we have missed them sorely. Returning home will be such a blessing.

Cincinnati may not yet be familiar to Shanti, but even she will have the assurance of knowing that this, this lovely little city we call our home, is the final stop on our pre-adoption journey, that here is where our life as an adoptive family will play out over the coming days, months, and years. That the time for putting down roots, for building relationships, for establishing lifelong emotional connections, for taking the hard steps that will eventually shape us into the family God built, has arrived.

Our pre-adoption journey is just about over. Life as an adoptive family is just beginning.

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Turning Twelve

A few weeks ago, on November 19, we were given the most beautiful and previous of gifts: we were allowed to celebrate Shanti’s birthday with her while surrounded by her friends and orphanage siblings. It was a magical day.

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Birthdays are a big deal for the children at Shanti’s former orphanage. It’s the one day of the year when an individual child is celebrated, when a child is singled out and made to feel special and important. Shanti started telling us about her upcoming birthday by our second day with her, and she literally counted down the days. A little girl only turns twelve once, after all, and this little girl knew she would be saying goodbye to all her friends and orphanage siblings very soon. This was a birthday to truly celebrate and enjoy with everything she was worth.

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We weren’t allowed to bring a normal cake because of concerns about ingredients, but candy was fair game. So, inspired by Arturo’s birthday cake made by his aunt Ximena (see here), we crafted a candy cake, complete with marshmallows to hold the candles. It was a huge hit!

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Never fear. The massive amount of sugar in this “cake” was tempered by plenty of fresh fruit and 100% fruit juices. It wasn’t all junk!

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This cake was make from scratch by the orphanage workers. The day before Shanti's birthday, one of the boys in her group sat for several hours and crushed walnuts with a hammer, cracking the shells and pulling out the nutty meat, all of which went into this cake. Shanti's favorite fruits are kiwis and mandarin oranges, so this cake was a big hit.

This cake was make from scratch by the orphanage workers. The day before Shanti’s birthday, one of the boys in her group sat for several hours and crushed walnuts with a hammer, cracking the shells and pulling out the nutty meat, all of which went into this cake. Shanti’s favorite fruits are kiwis and mandarin oranges, so this cake was perfect.

We brought party hats, which were a HUGE hit. We considered bringing noise makers as well, but Arturo’s comment was, “The orphanage workers will hate us!” To which I replied, “Frankly, I would hate us!” So the noise maker idea was nixed.

The teachers decorated the room with balloons and banners, and once homework was finished, the party commenced. We sang happy birthday in both Russian and English, and Shanti’s smile was big enough to light the entire room. Many of the children gave little speeches wishing Shanti the best for her coming year.

You can see a bit of the balloons and party banner over my shoulder in this photo.

You can see a bit of the balloons and party banner over my shoulder in this photo.

This day, perhaps more than any other we spent at the orphanage with Shanti, was a day of straddling two worlds, that of the orphan and that of the family. She vaccillated between celebrating with her friends, the precious children who were her siblings for four years, and running to us in joy, grasping for the new family that she craves.

One of Shanti's best friends giving Shanti a congratulatory speech on her birthday.

One of Shanti’s best friends giving Shanti a congratulatory speech on her birthday.

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Wearing a new hat and scarf set I knit for her in her favorite color, blue.

Wearing a new hat and scarf set I knit for her in her favorite color, blue.

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This day was magical, a day I will treasure forever, but it was also a day that reminds me of the loss inherent in adoption. We are Shanti’s parents today only because her first parents both died. On top of the grief of losing both her parents four years ago, Shanti is now moving thousands of miles away from 14 amazing, incredible, precious children who were her siblings and closest friends for the past four years. To join our family, Shanti must say goodbye to everything and everyone she has ever known and move to a completely new land, learn a new language, and adjust to a new culture. I can’t imagine facing the kind of loss and grief our daughter is going through right now. Adoption is amazing and miraculous, but it is prefaced by a level of tragedy most adults couldn’t even handle. And our daughter is experiencing and grieving for that tragedy right now.

Shanti’s birthday celebration was a juxtaposition of two very different worlds. It was a wonderful celebration of her life with her orphanage family as she prepares to enter her life with her forever family. I am so glad Shanti was able to enjoy her birthday one last time with her orphanage family, as she begins the transition from orphan to daughter.

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Introducing …

It is our immense pleasure to introduce to you our daughter, Shanti Magdalena Araya.

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Shanti Magdalena Araya
Born November 19, 2001
Forever in Our Family December 6, 2013

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Shanti is a spunky, energetic, kind, precious girl, and we are overjoyed to be her parents.

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We are blessed. So very very blessed!

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To All Those Who Gave and Prayed to Make This Journey Possible

I wrote this letter last week, on Thanksgiving Day. I intended it to go out over our church email chain, which it did. When I began writing, the intended recipients were our church family, the vibrant membership of Cheviot United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, OH. But as I got further into writing the letter, I realized that, while the members of CUMC were definitely included in the list of appropriate recipients of this letter, this letter should actually go to many more people that just those who call CUMC their church home.

In addition to our CUMC church family, this letter is written

  • to every person who prayed for our daughter and gave to her grant fund while she was listed on Reece’s Rainbow but before she had a committed family;
  • to every person and family who gave financially to support our adoption, including both those we know and those we don’t know, for you very literally made our adoption journey possible;
  • to those who helped us organize fundraising events in the last 7 months, for as with those who gave, you very literally made our adoption journey possible;
  • to our close friends and family who truly have ridden the roller coaster with us for the last 7 months, including several people (you know who you are!) who loved me and comforted me through my sobbing tears in early November when it seemed like this adoption wouldn’t happen,
  • to the families coming after us who are hoping to adopt children from this same orphanage, who have prayed and prayed and prayed as we’ve navigated the process;
  • to the incredible staff at Reece’s Rainbow, whose love for these children is unsurpassed;
  • to the members of “Moct,” the church we have been attending during our time here, who minister to this city’s orphans and who loved on and prayed for our daughter years before we knew her name;
  • to the members of Christ’s Community in Price Hill, a house church we attend each Wednesday in Cincinnati that takes seriously the Lord’s command to care for the orphans and that gave generously to support our adoption;
  • to all those, both those we know and those we don’t know, who have prayed for us and for our daughter as we work towards the goal of become a family.

While this letter is specifically addressed to members of CUMC, they are not the only recipients. To all of the people I mention above, this letter is for you.

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As I sit down to write this letter to our church on Thanksgiving evening, I am full to overflowing with thanks. God truly has filled our cup until it runs over. This Thanksgiving, I have more about which to be thankful than any other year in my life so far, and none of it would have been possible had our incredible church family at CUMC not chosen to take seriously the Lord’s command to care for the fatherless.

The recent email updates of our adoption process have already given you the basic facts. We hit a few serious snags early in the process back in early November, but prayer carried us through and God miraculously opened doors. We had a successful court appearance this past Monday. As things stand right now, we have legally been declared our daughter’s parents by court decree, but this decree doesn’t become effective until December 6th. At the moment, not much has changed from before our court hearing. We are still visiting our daughter each day in the orphanage, and we will not take custody of her until December 6th or 7th, depending on how quickly paperwork can be processed.

But our journey to this point is so much more than this brief summary of the “current status.” In the last four weeks, we have fallen in love with a precious, spunky, energetic little girl. At every turn we have seen the amazing ways that God continues to provide for our needs. We celebrated our daughter’s 12th birthday with her, a day that none of us will ever forget. We have already seen her begin to blossom from a scared, uncertain child into a confident, vibrant young girl. We have also experienced in a new way the incredible love of God, who Himself has adopted us into His family. Each day we spend with our daughter teaches me a bit more about the depth of God’s love for us, a love that never gives up on even the hardest of hearts.

I cannot thank you enough for standing by us throughout this journey, for praying us through the ups and downs, for giving financially to help us cover the costs of the process, for being the hands and feet of Christ to our daughter, a precious formerly fatherless child who is an orphan no longer. To those who have helped us along this journey, this Thanksgiving I am thankful for YOU.

God bless you all.

- Jennifer

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