Archive for January 2014

Trip to Fish Land

Last weekend, my younger brother and his wife made the 1.5 hour trip from their house to ours to meet Shanti for the first time. It was a wonderful day! Our main activity was a trip to the Newport Aquarium. If you live in the Cincinnati area and have never been to the aquarium, you really need to go! It was a huge hit with all of us, not just with Shanti. Arturo and I were aquarium members several years ago, but we’d let our membership lapse. Visiting again reminded us why we loved it so much, so we decided to sign up for a family membership this time. :)

Father & Daughter

Father & Daughter

 

This is SO COOL!

This is SO COOL!

 

Shanti, Arturo, Britney, and Jason (in the background) examining a fish

Shanti, Arturo, Britney, and Jason (in the background) examining a fish

 

This fish was one of Shanti's favorites!

This fish was one of Shanti’s favorites!

 

Photographing the shark tank

Photographing the shark tank

 

Before the shark show. Sorry for the blue faces -- the lights in this room are all blue, and I couldn't find ANY camera setting that would work!

Before the shark show. Sorry for the blue faces — the lights in this room are all blue, and I couldn’t find ANY camera setting that would work!

 

Peering into an alligator enclosure

Peering into an alligator enclosure

With Uncle Jason and Aunt Britney

With Uncle Jason and Aunt Britney

It's a shark!

It’s a shark!

Shanti and I have already made a daytime trip to the aquarium as part of our homeschooling. The sharks, the jellyfish, and the octopus are probably her favorites. I myself love the penguins. :)

My favorite! :)

My favorite! :)

This Saturday, spent with family and including a joyous trip to the aquarium, was one of the best days we’ve had so far with Shanti. A few weeks ago, we seemed to turn a corner in our relationship with her, and the beautiful incredible can’t-believe-we’re-this blessed days are coming more and more frequently. It’s amazing to see her so happy. She is such a joy. I love this daughter of ours so very much.

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God, I will freely admit you knew exactly what you were doing when you sent us on this journey! Thanks for changing our stubborn hearts and encouraging us to ignore reason and take the leap. I’m so glad we did.

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The ones left behind

This past week, a couple who have become close friends of ours during this long up-and-down adoption process finally arrived in Shanti’s birth city and met their beautiful daughter, a precious girl who also happens to be Shanti’s best friend. Every day this week, Shanti has counted down the minutes until we get an email update from the mother, an update that includes news of how her friend is faring after their two long months apart.

The family’s first day in her birth city, Shanti asked every five minutes all morning whether it was time to Skype yet. Her friend’s adoption is all Shanti can talk about, all she can think about. We Skyped with Shanti’s friend twice over the weekend. (Hooray for modern technology!) We’ve also spent hours this week making videos to be shown to her friend, including a 15-minute tour of every detail of our house (which had to be completely done three times because the first two times “weren’t quite right”! lol). Making the videos has been an absolute riot. Shanti has an awesome sense of humor and is such a firecracker! I can tell you right now that some of these outtakes are definitely going to be excerpted for her wedding slideshow, when that time comes. ;)

Shanti’s joy for her friend is complete and pure, and her jubilation is made only better by the fact that the upcoming adoption means Shanti will be able to see her friend in just a few short months. But that is far from the only emotion running strong in our family this week. Every tidbit of news we receive about Shanti’s precious friend, who will soon no longer bear the title of “orphan,” reminds us of the ones left behind, the ones who don’t have a loving mama and papa tearing down every wall and shredding every bit of red tape to bring them home. My heart is aching for the ones who will, yet again, be left behind.

Shanti’s orphanage cares for approximately 40-60 children. Shanti’s group included 14 children (not counting Shanti). Not all of the children at this orphanage are available for adoption, let alone eligible for international adoption. Some of the ones who are available don’t want to be adopted. While this choice is sad from our perspective, for we know how much a family can help and support a child, it is their right to choose not to be adopted.

But for every child who doesn’t want to be adopted, there are many other children desperate for the love and security of a forever home, longing for someone to call mama and papa. Some of these children have already been chosen by families and have parents tirelessly working to bring them home, but statistically, most of these children will not be adopted. They will instead age out of the orphanage at age 16, never knowing the love of a mom and dad. (Age 16 is when children must leave Shanti’s orphanage, but the exact age is slightly different for every orphanage in her country. Some kick children out as young as 14, others allow them to stay until age 18. For articles that explain in more detail what faces children who age out of the orphanage in Shanti’s birth country, see here and here.)

The children from Shanti’s orphanage have it better than most, for they come from an institution that truly cares for its children, unlike many orphanages in this country. They have the added benefit of support from several missionary organizations that are active in the orphanage. While we were in Shanti’s birth city, we met several kids (for they were all still kids) who “graduated” from her orphanage, and it was clear that the church had become their family, as is right and fitting. These kids were doing well, and for them, the church fulfilled the role to which it has been called: becoming father to the fatherless. But there aren’t enough missionaries in this city, not even in all of Shanti’s birth country, to fulfill this role for every orphan who ages out. Without the support of a mother and father — a family – focused specifically on each child, children inevitably fall through the cracks.

The thought that any one of the 14 children remaining in Shanti’s group might be one of those kids, one of the ones who falls through the cracks, is almost too much to bear. It haunts me. These kids are too precious, too special. I can’t bear the thought that they might become a sad statistic. They have so much potential.

While we were at her orphanage, we were given almost unprecedented access to Shanti’s groupmates. We met Shanti each day in her group room, meaning every day we met not just Shanti but all of the children in her group. You can’t spend 3 hours a day (sometimes more) every day for six weeks with a group of 15 children without getting to know each of those children pretty well. I can honestly say know these kids. I know what they look like when they’re happy and how they react when they’re sad. I know what homework subjects they like and don’t like, who’s good and math and who loves reading. I know their favorite games, their favorite TV shows and cartoon characters, who likes whom, and what their favorite activities are. When we took custody of Shanti, I knew each of the children in her group just as well as I knew her, for we had spent the same amount of time with every child in her group as we did with her.

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Some of Shanti’s friends are also among the blessed group of “chosen” children who have families coming for them. One little boy begged us every day for six weeks to find him an American family. Every time Shanti has spoken to him or received a message from him since we left the orphanage, he has begged her yet again to find him a family. He even wrote her a note before she left pleading with her to not forget him once she came to America, to not forget how much he wants a mama and a papa.

He doesn’t know the good news yet, but he will soon. He’s got an America mama and papa jumping the adoption hurdles for him right now, and he’s got three siblings who can’t wait for him to come home.

Jude-2-249x300Visit the Jupin Family’s adoption page here.

Several other children from Shanti’s group have a family coming for them next week. This family is hoping to adopt 4 children: 2 from Shanti’s group, 1 from an older group, and 1 from another orphanage.

Another darling, special little boy, whom we first saw in early March of last year (before even committing to adopt Shanti) when we watched a video of Shanti playing with him, has a family coming for him in just a few short months. This little bundle of energy is an excellent dancer, and he has a smile that lights up the room. He loved to play hide and seek with my camera, pretending to pose for a photo only to dash out of sight just as I took the shot. :)  His mama and papa are fighting to bring him home ASAP.

Zach-2-280x300Visit the Haydon Family’s adoption page here.

 But so many, many more children have not been chosen, have not been noticed. Their pleas for a family haunt me. I hugged them. I played with them. I helped them with their homework. I loved them, and I still do love them. They asked me to tell them of their family, of their mama and papa fighting to come get them, but I couldn’t, because no one is fighting for them. Why do they wait while others are selected and pursued? What makes the children I mentioned above worthy of a family, while others are left to wait, hope, and pray?

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One of our first days at the orphanage, one of the little boys slipped off with Arturo’s tablet without us even noticing. (He asked if he could use the tablet before taking it, so he wasn’t stealing and he had our permission to use it. But we thought he wanted to play a game. We had no idea what his real intentions were.) He took the tablet to a quiet room, found the camera app, and recorded a 10 second video of himself that reduced me to tears the first time I saw it. He said (in Russian), “I want a family. I want to go to America. Please take me with you. Please take me to America. I want a family. Please.”

Another girl pulled me aside our last day at the orphanage and asked me to find her a family. She has two older brothers, and she does not know if they want to be adopted. But her longing for a family is stronger than her reluctance to leave her brothers. She was visibly sad as she talked to me. She doesn’t like the idea of leaving her brothers behind, but she told me she wants a family, even if her brothers choose not to come.

Please go to this page, the Orphanage 60 page on Reece’s Rainbow. Orphanage 60 (not the orphanage’s real name) was Shanti’s home for four years. These children were her siblings. These are the kids Arturo and I fell in love with, the children Shanti grieves for and longs for. None of the children on this page have a committed family.

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This little boy, whose online pseudonym is Murray, is Shanti’s best male friend (мой лучший друг, in Russian; this doesn’t mean boyfriend, nor does it simply mean best friend; it literally means “best male friend”). He is funny, SUPER smart, outgoing, enthusiastic, and just all around amazing. I cannot say enough good things about Murray. Yet not a single family has ever seriously inquired about adopting him. Not one.

Visit Murray’s adoption page here.

Shanti communicated with Murray just this morning, and he told her he wants to be adopted. He wants to come to America. He wants a family. Why has no family chosen him? Why does this incredible little boy, who loves to dance and who helps his groupmates with their homework, still wait?

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Another boy, a bit older than Shanti, frequently came into Shanti’s group room to play with the younger kids. Ethan, as he’s known online, is kind and gentle with the younger ones, and he would make an AMAZING older brother. He is so nice, so kind, so polite, but he’s also kinda goofy in an endearing way. This kid is ready for a family.

Visit Ethan’s adoption page here.

I can sort of understand why Ethan is still waiting. He’s older, a dreaded ”teen boy,” the kind of kid no family wants to adopt. But despite his age, Ethan holds out hope and prays that a family will find him. He knows that no family has committed to him, but even so, late last year he chose to undergo medical testing that will make it easier for an American family to adopt him. Every year, he writes a letter to Santa Claus asking for a family. Yet still he waits. Still he is left behind.

Ethan is sweet, helpful, and wants to be adopted. He’s got everything going for him but his age. Surely age alone should not disqualify him from receiving a family’s love, a father’s hugs, a mother’s kisses. He needs a family just as much as every other waiting child. He may be a teen, but he’s still a child longing for the security of a family.

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These two boys are just two of many. Several other children from Shanti’s orphanage also asked us to find them families. These kids are most amazing children I’ve ever met, so joyful, so sweet. Why are they still waiting? Why are they the ones left behind?

The last two months, since we’ve had custody of Shanti, haven’t always been easy. There have been some really rough days that I would never want to relive, but even with all that, becoming an adoptive mother is far from the hardest thing I’ve done. Hands down, the hardest thing I’ve ever done or had to do is to leave behind the 14 children I grew to love during those six weeks at the orphanage.

The ones left behind haunt me. May God bless the ones left behind, and bring them a family quickly.

How many more times must they be left behind before a family comes for them? When will they be the ones chosen instead of the ones left behind?

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Almost 4 weeks home

Warning: Picture-heavy post ahead. It has been nearly a month since I’ve posted. I’ve gotta make up for lost time somehow. ;)

I can hardly believe that this coming Monday we will have been home in the US, as a family of three, for four weeks. In some respects, it seems like we just got home yesterday, but at other times, it seems like we’ve always been together. We are still figuring out a schedule that works for all of us. We definitely haven’t yet settled into the new rhythm of our life, but we’re getting there. Grief still rules our daily life in many ways. (For a good description of how grief and pain manifest themselves in the life of an adoptive family, read this article.) But we’re also finding joyous ways to grow together, to love together, to be happy together. Life is certainly not easy for us right now, but it definitely is good.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Psalm 100:4-5 (NIV)

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The last four weeks in photos:

At the airport in Chicago, before passing through customs. Our first photo on American soil

At the airport in Chicago, before passing through customs. Our first photo on American soil!

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Opening gifts on Christmas day. This was a blanket made by Monica, Arturo's mother.

Opening gifts on Christmas day. This is a blanket made by Monica, Arturo’s mother.

Shanti LOVES her Legos!

Shanti LOVES her Legos!

Christmas silliness :)

Christmas silliness :)

Taking a carriage ride in downtown Cincinnati. It was our first carriage ride, too!

Taking a carriage ride in downtown Cincinnati. It was our first carriage ride, too!

Shanti was captivated by the kiddy buggies ... until she realized she was too big to actually ride in one!

Shanti was captivated by the kiddy buggies at the grocery store … until she realized she was too big to actually ride in one. lol

Four generations in one photo (although I'm missing) -- my grandmother, my mom, and Shanti

Four generations in one photo (minus one of the middle generations – I took the photo): my mom, Shanti, and my grandmother

Belated birthday/Christmas gift from Grams -- more Legos! Hooray!

Belated birthday/Christmas gift from Grams — more Legos! Hooray!

Shanti's pride and joy, her hamster Gus Gus (named after one of the mice in Cinderella)

Shanti’s pride and joy: her hamster Gus Gus (named after one of the mice in Cinderella)

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Monica, Arturo's mom, and her granddaughter, who is sporting her glamorous shades!

Monica (Arturo’s mom) and her granddaughter, who is sporting her glamorous shades!

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Testing out my cello. She's decided she wants to try violin instead, but giving our cellos a try is still fun!

Testing out my cello. She’s decided she wants to learn violin instead, but giving our cellos a try is still fun!

Shanti LOVES bubbles, and one of her Christmas gifts from us was a huge bubble set with tons of unusual wands. It may have been cold, but it wasn't too cold to play with bubbles!

Shanti LOVES bubbles, and one of her Christmas gifts from us was a huge bubble set with tons of unusual bubble wands. It may have been cold outside, but it wasn’t too cold to play with bubbles!

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Shanti is a Daddy’s girl, through and through

Playing in the snow is a favorite pastime. If there's snow on the ground (or falling from the sky), we're outside enjoying it!

Playing in the snow is a favorite pastime. If there’s snow on the ground (or snow falling from the sky), we’re outside enjoying it!

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New friends! Natalie, Deborah, Shanti, me, and Suzanne -- it's so good to be home. :)

New friends! Natalie, Deborah, Shanti, me, and Suzanne — it’s so good to be home. :)

If you are considering adoption of an older child, I encourage you to go for it. I’m not saying that you should go into this process expecting rainbows and unicorns, for nothing could be further from the reality you will face. You have to know what you’re getting into, and what you’re getting into isn’t easy stuff. But all the same, I hope and pray you will take that leap and pursue that child that God is telling you is yours. Oh yes, there will be moments of intense pain, not just for your child but for you as well. There will be boulders in your road, not just bumps, for the word “bumps” doesn’t even begin to cover it. You will have moments when the potholes in your path just seem too deep to allow passage. But you can pass. You can make it. You will find ways around and through every trial. And when you overcome that hurdle, when you reach that peak, the joys and the laughs and the smiles are only made more incredible by the pain that was overcome to get there.

It is worth it. I promise you: it is worth it.

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