Monday, September 10, 2012

Miracle in our Midst

Wow, it's been a long time since I blogged!  I apologize for the hiatus, but we have been very busy adjusting to our new family size and with life in general.  Miss Ella has blossomed and is such a happy-go-lucky little girl.  She has her 2-year-old melt-down moments, but she is usually smiling, giggling, and doing spontaneous dances.  She has already learned a lot more English.  She is even starting to put together a few simple sentences like, 'Night-night, Daddy.'  She LOVES to snuggle.  She is a joy.

She got glasses for her far sightedness in July.  Here she is when she first got them.  We call her our little librarian.

Also in July, we went on a vacation to Destin, Florida.  We actually planned this vacation in July of 2011, a few months before we committed to adopting Ella.  Once we decided to adopt her, we wished we had not committed to the trip because we needed that money, but we couldn't very well back out on my sister's family and my parents since that would require them to fork over more for the beach house we shared.  I am sooo thankful that we didn't back out because it was a wonderful trip and a much-needed getaway for our family.  Ella and our other kids grew so much on that trip.  It was a blast getting to spend that time with our family.  My brother's family rented another beach house nearby, so much fun.  Here are some pics from our time in Destin.

Ella's 1st road trip!



The girls with grandpa
The girl cousins

The boy cousins


All 5 of us on the pier

At the USS Alabama on the way home

At the end of July, I took Ella to see an orthopedist to have her hips and legs checked out.  You may remember from reading this blog that when we were first praying about adopting Ella, her medical diagnosis was that she was thought to have cerebral palsy because she was not walking at almost 2 years old.  The first day I prayed in earnest about whether she could be my daughter, I got this overwhelming knowledge and peace that she did NOT have cerebral palsy, that she was healthy.  Crazy, I know.  I don't normally get messages from God about other people's medical conditions, especially about a child I had never met and knew nothing about other than a small paragraph of information and a picture.  After inquiring about her medical condition to her orphanage, we were told that she did not have cerebral palsy after all!  Wow!  I thought that was the end of the miracle.  She did not have cerebral palsy, just like God told me.  But I still thought there was something wrong with her hips and legs, maybe hip dysplasia, that she would need surgery and/or therapy for once she got home.  I did not fully trust what God had told me. 

Flash forward to our orthopedist appointment.  I'm sitting there in the doctor's office with my sweet Ella in my lap, looking at the x-ray image with her doctor.  I was fully expecting and dreading that he would tell me she needed surgery to correct her hips.  And he tells me there is nothing wrong with her hips or legs.  NOTHING.  I was in disbelief, thinking I had misheard.  Nothing???  But what about her careful gait and late walking?  He said it was caused by lack of opportunity to walk earlier on and malnutrition, that she would catch up.  I cannot tell you the flood of emotions I felt to know she would not have to go through the pain of surgery and physical therapy.  She had already been through so much, and to know she would be spared from surgery was such a relief.

God told me she was healthy, but I chose to only half-believe it.  I doubted.  I thought there HAD to be something wrong with her legs for her to be diagnosed with cerebral palsy by the people who spent all day long with her in her orphanage.  But God knew, and that was his way of telling me she was meant to be mine.  He gave me knowledge of her that only her maker would know.  I am a person who does not like surprises and wants to KNOW.  God knows that about me and told me.  But I did not fully believe it.  Thank you, God, for being fully faithful to me even when I don't fully trust you. 

To make this day even more miraculous, Ella's orthopedist told me he and his wife had been considering adoption for years and started asking me questions about our process and adoption experience.  To be able to encourage him to adopt after witnessing a miracle all in the same day was such a blessing.

I have no doubt that God wants us to witness His miracles in our lives.  But first we have to be open to experiencing them.  If we had said no to adopting Ella, or even no to praying about adopting Ella, we would have missed out on so much.  We are so thankful for our little miracle.

"I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.  Your ways, God, are holy.  What god is as great as our God?  You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.  With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph."  Psalm 77:11-15

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The First Days

This post is to demystify some of what goes on during the first few days of bringing an orphan home.  At least, it's how it went down for us.  I know that everyone's experience is different, but for those of you who are considering adoption (and several of you have contacted me), this is probably the part you are both excited for and fearful of at the same time.

When we first picked Ella up, she was very frightened as I have said in previous posts.  She cried for the first 10-15 minutes in the car, clinging desperately to me for dear life.  As hard as it was to witness that, I was thankful that she was looking to me for comfort.  That is a sign that your child is capable of forming an attachment.  The rest of the ride back to the hotel and at the hotel, she was very reserved, did not talk, did not squeal, did not make a peep for about 3 days except to cry piteously when I would change her diaper, change her clothes (even her socks), or give her a bath, which I did as little as possible.  Julie and I discovered the bite marks and understood why.  If every time you were naked, someone bit you, you wouldn't want to be naked either.  And forget about brushing her nasty teeth.  I decided to tackle that one back in the states since she was already dealing with enough change, and I'm pretty sure she had never seen a toothbrush before, much less used one.

She would wake up in the middle of the night screaming, and it would take hours to get her to go back to sleep.  She didn't know where she was, and she was frightened.  Julie would put on some praise music or I would sing (through my nasty cold), and I would rock her or rub her back.  Sometimes only turning on the light and letting her play with toys would calm her.  It let her look around and see she was in a safe place.  Ella and I both had a horrible cold, and I would find out in the U.S. that she actually had pneumonia.

Feeding was a challenge.  She would only eat 4 things - baby food (at first, and then she started rejecting this), oatmeal, soup, and chocolate chip cookies.  It wasn't that she was incapable of eating other foods.  It was that she had such a limited diet in the orphanage that she did not recognize what we were offering as food.  It was a constant battle to get enough calories in her the whole time in Russia, and she mostly survived on juice.  Once we got home, we started making high calorie soups in our Vitamix packed with veggies and enough potatoes and cabbage to give it a nice homey smell, and feeding became a little bit easier.  After 2-3 weeks home, she started branching out, and now she'll eat almost anything, but she's still not a fan of fruit.

The plane rides were easy, aside from one horribly nasty diaper that Julie and I both detected at the same time.  You should have seen the look that passed between us.  But aside from that, Ella was quiet, playing with her toys and sleeping. 

The morning after we got home, we planned on going to church.  Ella was in bed with me and Ryan, and she was playing with Ryan's iphone.  It ran out of charge, so Ryan took it away to put it on the charger.  You would have thought Ryan had taken away her only meal of the day.  This was the catalyst that brought all of her proverbial chickens home to roost.  She was mourning; she was angry; she was confused about where she was.  She was screaming, throwing toys, trying to hit us (not very effectively since she was so weak from malnutrition).  She refused to let me hold her, so I just sat next to her on the bed, talking to her, trying to rub her back, and saying 'Ya lublut tebya' (I love you) over and over again.  She needed to know I wasn't going anywhere, even when things got ugly. 

This was probably the hardest point of our journey, but I welcomed it because it meant she was progressing.  In our adoption classes, we learned that this phase was common.  They try to push you away because they want to know if you'll leave.  And they mourn the only life they ever knew, the only people they ever loved.  And I kept reminding myself how blessed I was to be her mama, that I got to be the one to help her heal and be there for her in her most desperate time.  We sat there and cried, both of us, and I prayed for God's healing in her little heart.  Needless to say, we did not make it to church that morning.

You see, children who have been deprived of a parent's love are like people without Christ.  Many times, they don't even know what they're missing because they've never had it.  They don't realize they need that relationship, so they push God away and say, 'I don't need that', until one day they get a brief taste of it and learn to want it, to expect it... and then they start turning to God when they are scared, in times of need, and in times of joy.  I find that the more time I spend with God, the more time I want, and it is the same with these children learning to be loved in families.

Over the next 2 weeks, slowly, slowly, the butterfly emerged from her chrysalis.  She started to relax; she started to eat new foods; she started to laugh; she started to say words... in English.  She went through a period where she decided not to walk.  I'm not sure if she just wanted to be carried or didn't want to go anywhere, but she did eventually start walking again.

And now... those first few weeks are but a memory.  She is like a completely different child.  She will still occasionally throw a tantrum, but it is short-lived.  She will lay down on her own for a diaper change, loves to take baths, and climbs up on the stool to have her teeth brushed.

So there it is.  The truth about how bad those first few days and weeks were for us.  The worst of the worst.  Does that scare you?  I really don't know how it sounds or looks to other people because I lived it, but I hope it doesn't scare away those of you who are considering adoption.

Because if that's the price I had to pay for this...

It was all worth it. 

"See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."  Isaiah 43:19

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

1 Month Ago

"You are the helper of the fatherless.  Lord, you have heard the desire of the humble; You will prepare their heart." Psalms 10:14

1 month ago... I was taking you out of the orphanage.  You were terrified.

Now ... you're home.  And you radiate joy.

1 month ago... you were as quiet as a mouse.

Now... you know more English words than you ever did in Russian.  You even know your sister's name.

1 month ago... all you ate was mush and maybe a chocolate chip cookie.

Now... you'll try just about anything and eat more than your big brother.

1 month ago... you weighed only 18 lbs 13 oz at age 2.5.

Now... you weigh 21.5 lbs and gaining!

1 month ago... you would scream when I took your clothes off, even if it was just your socks.

Now... you're perfectly content to chill by the pool in your swimsuit.

1 month ago... you had horrible bite marks on your back and were scared of your siblings.

Now... you're learning to trust and love them.

1 month ago... you were scared to fall asleep and would stay sitting up for as long as possible.

Now... I can lay you right down.

It truly is amazing what love and proper nutrition can do.  She is like a completely different child.  Home only 3.5 weeks, she has blossomed and can belly laugh with the best of them.  If you are on the fence about adopting, please take the leap.  It has been the single-most rewarding experience of our lives.  She has blessed us 100 times more than we could ever bless her.  If God is stirring your heart for the cause of the orphan, please listen.  I cannot convey to you the number of beautiful children left behind in Ella's orphanage alone that are just like her - desperate for love, desperate for a chance in life. 

There are 147 million orphans in the world, and you can't save them all.  But you can save one.  And for that one, it means the world.

This little boy was in Ella's groupa.  We'll call him Ian.  A few times when we went to visit Ella, Ian would walk by with some of the other boys to go outside or go to a meal.  One time he was wearing pink tights.  And I'll tell you, I've never seen a little boy look so doggone cute in pink tights.  He has a smile that could light up a room.  He would walk slowly by trying to catch our eye with his impish grin, and his nanny would shoo him away telling him we were Ella's mama and papa.  He so badly wanted to make a connection with us, to have the attention showered on him that he deserved. 

I am working on getting more information about this little boy.  If he has touched your heart, and you would like to find out more about him, please feel free to comment with a way to reach you, and I'll get back in touch with you as soon as I can.

"Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you."  James 1:27

I will leave you with a fun video of Ella.  Enjoy!

She is saying, 'Opah!' which is Russian for 'Yay!'

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bringing Ella Home - Part 3

Friday morning we got ready and went down to wait for Marina to escort us to our U.S. Embassy appointment.  Here we are waiting.

We decided to take the Metro to save money.  Plus, Julie and I were already pros from our sightseeing the day before.  The Metro was packed again. 

Marina told us that each of the Metro stations was remodeled during Lenin's time, and they all have different marble and artwork that represent Russian history.

When we got to the embassy, Marina waited outside while we went in.  We were not allowed to take pictures in the embassy, so you'll just have to use your imagination.  There were 5 other families waiting with their adopted children, including another RR mom.  It was so much fun to get to meet the Benhams and their sweet Elena.  Elena kept showing me her shoes, her clothes, her glasses, her toy.  She was very proud of all her new things, so precious.  Ella was still freaked out and just sat in my lap the whole time. 

An embassy employee came out and had all of the adoptive families hold up their right hands and promise they were providing true and accurate information.  Then they called us all up one by one to hand over our paperwork.  Then we waited some more before we were all called up one by one again to get our visas.  Ella had a visa to the U.S. of A.!!!  All in all, it took maybe an hour if that.

We met up with Marina outside the embassy and set off to do some sightseeing.  We walked over to Red Square, which was only a few blocks away.  On the way, we saw some lovely buildings and fountains.  Marina knew a lot of history, and it was wonderful getting to hear it all from her.

 This is a theatre.

Statue of composer Tchaikovsky, with a music conservatory behind it.

As we approached Red Square, this is what we saw.

Shrine of the Lady of Iberia at the entrance to Red Square.  The Russian royal family used to worship here, and they were holding a Russian Orthodox service at the time.

Marina, Julie, and Ella in Red Square 

This is the outside of the mall in Red Square.

This mall is so beautiful.  I felt like I was in a fairyland the whole time we were there.

They have an Apple store!

Back outside we saw the clock tower.

And St. Basil's Cathedral

This is Lenin's tomb.  It was surreal because they were holding a big sports event in Red Square coomplete with loud music right outside of Lenin's tomb.  I hope he has soundproofing.  Otherwise he's hearing, 'Nst, nst, nst!' 

Julie being goofy.

After Red Square, we headed back to the hotel for some much needed R&R.  We saw goodbye to Marina at the Metro station and were very sad to part from her.  What a sweet lady she is!

And the next morning, we headed for the airport for our 12-hour plane ride to Houston.  Once again, Ella was a total angel on the plane, played with the remote for the tv screen, her magnadoodle, and slept. 

This picture was taken right after Julie called Ella's name, and she turned around.  It was the first time she responded to 'Ella' instead of 'Elvira'.  I was excited!

After a trip through Houston security, we hopped onto a plane to Dallas, and a short plane ride later, we were back in DFW, home sweet home! 

Here we were with Ryan at the airport.  Ella was very, very tired, and so was I.  But I was also so thankful that we made it home safely.

Now our real work was beginning - helping Ella begin to heal both physically and emotionally.

"Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish the work of our hands for us; yes, establish the work of our hands."  Psalm 90:17

Next up - meeting her siblings and learning to be loved.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Bringing Ella Home - Part 2

This is the Sea of Japan within walking distance of our hotel in Vladivostok.  It is absolutely beautiful with green rocks that wash up with the tide.

We were sad to leave Vlad, but we were also ready to move on with our journey because it meant Ella was one more step closer to home.

So we boarded the plane to Moscow! Ella did amazingly well on the flight.  She slept about 4 hours on me and then played with her magnadoodle and reusable My Little Pony stickers for the rest of the time.

Marina met us at the airport, and we took a taxi to the hotel.

We stayed at the Hilton, which was free thanks to Ryan's Hilton points.  We also got free food and drinks in the executive lounge.  Score!  This was definitely the cheapest leg of all 3 trips, but it was also the nicest.  The Hilton Leningradskaya is a gorgeous hotel.

Those stairs lead to the elevators.  See that steep, little ramp on the stairs?  You're supposed to push your stroller/luggage up that.  Um... yeah, that didn't work out too well for us.  These little ramps are as close to handicap accessible as you're going to get in Russia.

The fancy schmancy executive lounge

Ella was very quiet in Moscow, except at night when she would cry piteously for an hour or so while I rocked her and sang to her.  She had a really hard time getting to sleep.  We would pretend she was just going to play with toys on the bed, and then she would get so tired she would start to nod and then would finally lean so far forward that she was laying down.  If you tried to move her over or if she woke up in the middle of the night, the crying would start.  I think it was a mixture of not knowing where she was, fear of abandonment, and fear of the unknown.  So basically, fear.  But once she got to sleep, she slept for large blocks of time, which was a huge blessing.

Our first morning in Moscow, we went downstairs to meet with Marina, and she collected our documents to submit to the U.S. Embassy.  Then Julie and I did some sightseeing.  We wanted to find a flea market and decided to take the Metro (subway).  The Metro was ridiculously crowded.  We were the only people with a child in a stroller, and everyone looked annoyed that we were there.  Or maybe it was just annoyed in general. 

We made an accidental stop in Europe's largest park, which was lovely with its long avenues of trees and blooming flowers.

Do you speak English?  Can you tell me how to get to the flea market?

Then we went 2 stops back on the Metro and found what we were looking for, a flea market. Because what do 2 women on an adoption trip to Russia want to do most? Shop!

We found some great souvenirs at the flea market, and Ella got a couple freebies by screaming at the top of her lungs until we figured out she hated the carrier and wanted to be back in the stroller. Two vendors tried to distract her by giving her little key chains and figures. We considered putting her back in the carrier to get some more free stuff but decided that was inhumane to her and everyone else in the general vicinity.

Right next to the flea market was a touristy area that kind of looked like a mini Disneyland, only no rides, and it was free to get in. Apparently people get married there a lot, and there are some nice shops.

Wishing Ryan was here!

After this, we decided we were all tired and made our way back to the hotel.  I'm sure this was to Marina's relief because she was afraid we would get lost or mugged on the Metro even though I assured her I knew self defense and was not afraid to use it.  Plus I had CrossFit Julie and God on my side.  Look out, Moscow!

Back at the hotel, Ella brought her puppy for a walk on the way to dinner in the Executive Lounge.

And she ate a cookie!  It probably doesn't seem like much, but so far she had only eaten mushy/soupy foods and refused all solids.  I think the chocolate chips looked too good to refuse!

That night I did FaceTime with Ryan, and as soon as Ella saw his face, she said her first word in two and a half days, 'Papa'.  You can't hear her in the video because she's saying it so quietly.  But you can see it. 'Pa-pa, pa-pa, pa-pa'.  And you can also see me crying.

Next up, the U.S. Embassy appointment and Red Square!