Sunday, December 4, 2011

How God led us to Ella

We had a great Christmas party with our small group tonight. As christmas carols wafted from the iphone station, we stuffed ourselves silly. The kids decorated cupcakes and sang happy birthday to Jesus and then burned off the sugar by pelting each other with balloons. We also showed off pictures of Ella and caught them up on how our trip went.

And I realized in the midst of this that I have failed to share the most important part of our story here on our blog - how God led us to Ella. So here is our testimony.

When we were trying to conceive Colvin, it took over a year to get pregnant, and we decided through much prayer that if we could not get pregnant on our own, we would adopt. We got pregnant, but the seed for adoption was also planted. Georgia was a beautiful surprise blessing we didn't have to try for at all. So adoption kept getting pushed to the back burner. It was this thing that we liked to talk about doing in the nebulous future when our kids were older.

Until one day I followed a link from a Christian mom's blog who was adopting through Reece's Rainbow, an organization that advocates for orphans with special needs. I clicked on that link and began staring into the face of overwhelming need, so many children who were desperate to be loved and cherished. Scanning these little faces, I stopped at one, a toddler named Elvira. She was the spitting image of Ryan as a baby, and she looked like she had been crying. I quickly closed the window and pushed her image out of my head. Their pain was too much to keep looking at, especially when I knew we could not adopt a child right then. Our children were too young. We couldn't handle it.

A week or so later, I found my way back to Reece's Rainbow again to look at Elvira. Of all the sweet waiting faces I had looked at, hers was the one I couldn't stop thinking about. I read her profile for the first time. It said she was recently taken off the HIV list and was believed to have cerebral palsy but could crawl well. I read it over a few more times and thought, "God, is she supposed to be mine?" A sense of peace came over me, and I felt with certainty that she did not have cerebral palsy. I've never had a feeling of certainty about a stranger's medical condition before, so I thought, "That's weird." And then I thought how much glory it would bring God if it were true. Was God telling me this because she was supposed to be ours? The rational side of my brain also reasoned that even if she did have cerebral palsy, it was probably mild since she was crawling well. I have known several people with cerebral palsy in my life, and they were all able to live independent, full lives.

So I prayed about it and felt like God wanted me to bring her picture to Ryan. He was working in his office down the hall, completely unaware of what was going on in his wife's head and heart. I figured Ryan would tell me I was crazy, our kids were too young, and we couldn't handle it. Then I would know it wasn't meant to be, I was mistaken about hearing from God, and I could stop agonizing about it. But that's not what happened. Instead he looked at her picture, read about her, and said, "She's beautiful." Which is also the first thing he said when he saw Georgia after she was born. Then he said, "I'll pray about it." 

And he did. And he heard, "Yes." He thought we should start the process and keep praying and listening.

Wow, I did not expect that. The next 10 days I was an emotional basketcase. I was a weeping, praying, on my knees, scouring my Bible for answers, pouring my heart out to the ladies at Bible study... mess. I was questioning whether I could deal with three kids, if she was the right child for us, what if she had more needs than we could handle, the effect it would have on Georgia with them being so close in age. You name it, I questioned it. Through all of that, God finally brought me to a place of peace and said, "Trust me. One step at a time."

After sending a few questions to her orphanage, we found out that what I heard that day while staring into the face of a stranger was true - Ella does not have cerebral palsy. Knowing that God gave me this special knowledge has helped me so much to know she was meant for us. Thank you, God, for giving me that. I am a person who likes to KNOW, and God gave me just what I needed - no more, no less.

I think sometimes people think that you have to be a saint to adopt, that there was no fear or indecision. Anyone who knows us knows we are nowhere in that ballpark. We try hard, but frequently fail. We are not perfect parents. We were so scared when we began this process. But our story is proof that God can hold your hand through anything.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Happy Birthday, Georgia Jeanne!

Today is our Georgia Jeanne's 2nd birthday. We are so thankful for our little firecracker, and I can't believe 2 years have gone by since we first laid eyes on her. She grows more beautiful and more fearless every day. It is a joy to be her mommy.

2 days ago at dinner, after watching big brother leave the table to go potty, she informed me, "I go potty, too!" So I took her. She didn't go, but she sat a long time reading her potty books and was pleased as punch with herself. A great start! Yesterday she had preschool, so she didn't get a chance to sit on the potty until last night. But when she did, she went both pee-pee and poo-poo! Wow, music to a mama's ears! Things have been a little hit or miss today, but I'm so proud of her for deciding to do it on her own. It has been much easier so far than it was with her brother. I'd post a picture of her on the potty, but she might not appreciate that as a teenager, so I'll post these instead.

In other news, we almost missed our USCIS (US customs and immigration services) fingerprinting appointment today. If you miss your appointment, they consider your file abandoned, and you have to start over. This could have meant a serious delay in getting Ella home!

At 8:30, Ryan looked at me and said, "What time is our USCIS appointment today?" At which point my eyes got really big and almost bulged out of my head like a cartoon character, and I said, "9:00!!!!" Oops. I had been so busy thinking about Georgia's birthday party tomorrow and our group Christmas party on Sunday that it had completely slipped my mind.

So we managed to get us & both kids dressed and in the car by 9:00 and got to the office without a speeding ticket by 9:30. I said a quick prayer in the car for leniency. The guy at the front desk seemed completely nonchalant about us being late and just handed us a form to fill out and a number. Wooohooo! I am so thankful we made it!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Wait Begins

Thank you so much for all your prayers. Despite taking off in a blizzard in Moscow, we made it home safely! It's wonderful being home with Colvin and Georgia again. The hard part is that now it feels like someone is missing - Ella. We put up our Christmas tree tonight, and I wish she was here to share it with us. We knew this second wait would be harder since we would know her and miss her. And it is hard.

On our last day with Ella, I had our interpreter sit next to us and tell her, "Mommy and Daddy will have to go away soon, and it will seem like we're gone for a very long time. But we promise we'll be back. And the next time, you'll get to come home with us and meet your brother and sister. So don't worry. We'll be back. We love you, and we'll be thinking about you every day." It's hard to know how much of that a just-turned-two-year-old can understand, but I hope she understood a little. My biggest fear is that she thinks we didn't want her.

Ugh, it's gonna be a long few months.

Also, you may have noticed I'm calling her Ella. All this time I was calling her by what I thought was her alias, Elvira. We thought her real name was Ella. Well, turns out Elvira (El-veer-a in Russian) is her real name, and Ella is her nickname! So since her real name was already out there, I figured there was no point maintaining the charade. We are naming her Ella, which won't even seem like a change to her since that's what she is already called. Ella means light, and her middle name will be Rebecca, which means 'to bind'. Rebecca was the name of Ryan's mom's Russian grandma, so that makes it even more perfect. So the cat's out of the bag - Ella Rebecca it is!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Elvira Days 3 and 4

The past two days have been very busy.  It’s hard to believe we’re already starting our long journey home in the morning.  Praise God that it did not snow anymore!  Continued prayers that the good weather will hold for our plane’s departure tomorrow would be much appreciated.  Good weather for the past 2 days has meant that we were able to get everything done that we needed to, plus a few extras.  We got our forms notarized, did some sightseeing, and of course, visited with Elvira two more times. 
Yesterday, we taught Elvira how to clap her hands and say, ‘Yay’! We were amazed at how quickly she picked it up.  So much for not being able to talk because I also heard her say her nickname, ‘Ella’, and then today she called Ryan ‘Daddy’ and ‘Papa’.  Russians say ‘Papa’, and we have been saying, ‘Daddy’, so she realized he was both.  Ryan says she also called me ‘Mama’, but I didn’t hear it.  It also doesn’t have as much significance since all the caregivers at the orphanage are called ‘Mama’, but it does show that she can talk.

Today we threw a little party at her orphanage, or as much of one as we were allowed.  We couldn’t bring cake due to dietary restrictions, but we could bring cookies and marmalade candy, so that is what we brought.  Elvira’s age group (age 2) is too young (according to her nurses) for cookies or candy, so she had her party with the older kids, and Elvira had to sit there while everyone around her ate.  If I had known this ahead of time, I probably would have just left the cookies and spent more time with Elvira in the playroom.  But she didn’t seem to mind, and the older kids enjoyed their cookies.

I got to put Elvira down for her nap the past couple of days.  It was hard because they were ready for us to leave, and I had to hurry.  I couldn’t rock her as much as I wanted to.  Plus, there were other children in the room (one of whom was snoring very loudly both days, lol), and I didn’t want to wake them up.  I held her and rocked her a little bit, then layed her down and rubbed her back and head.  The second day, the little boy in the next crib was sitting up and rocking himself to sleep.  So sad to see. 

We also realized that Elvira does this thing where she chews/sucks on her tongue when she’s tired.  We think this is a self-soothing mechanism.  She would do it after lunch when she was ready for her nap.
I’ll leave you with a couple more pictures of our last 2 days.
The first is of Elvira playing with a ball.  You can see our translator, Dasha, and our facilitator, Sveta, in the background.  You will not find two sweeter ladies.

The second is of me reading our birthday card to Ella.  She liked the scratchy glitter on the bottom of the card.

And the last is of me getting in some snuggle time.

We leave early tomorrow morning.  So again, please pray for good weather – no snow!  We can’t wait to see our little ones at home.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before we can come back and bring Elvira home to meet her brother and sister.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Elvira Day 2

We had such a great day with Elvira today!  She surprised us with how much she showed us today.  She remembered us and was excited to see us, so we didn’t have to warm up this time.  We just started playing right away.  Elvira LOVES back rubs, so I rubbed her back and head a lot today.  We tried to give her as much physical affection as we could while we were there to try and fill her little tank. 

Here she is getting a back rub from Mommy. Can you see her amazingly long lashes?  They're close to an inch long!
She also loves the phone we brought her yesterday, especially when it plays music.  She dances side to side and keeps pushing the button that plays it.  She also learned to put her ear up to the phone like we showed her, pretending to talk.  She did a lot of babbling today, mostly ‘Loodle-loodle-loodle.’ She also did some ‘bababa’ and a lot of squealing and laughing.  I sang her some songs, which she was very interested in.  She put her little hand up to her ear and stared at my lips.  She also played at a toy piano.  She seems to love music just like our other children!
Here she is playing her piano:

We showed her our family photo album that we brought for her to look at while we’re gone.  She was completely enthralled by it and kept turning the pages and pointing to the pictures of her ‘sistra’ and ‘brat’.  Yes, you read that right.  Brother is ‘brat’ in Russian.  Pretty stinkin’ hilarious.  We certainly don’t think Colvin is a brat, but it was funny just the same.  Some of the nurses also looked at it, and they were very impressed with the size of our house and car.  Most people there live in apartments. 
Here is a pic of Elvira's favorite nurse - Eula.  She is a very sweet lady. I can see why Elvira likes her so much.

Our gift for Elvira today was a set of stacking cups.  She really enjoyed putting the cups inside each other and was quite good at it, especially considering she may never have tried it before.  They have stacking cups at the orphanage, but they’re all up on high shelves where the children can’t reach them.  I think they only use them for visiting adoptive parents.  Here is the playpen that the children spend a lot of time in.  As you can see, there aren’t many toys in there.

I got to feed her lunch again today.  This time she sat in my lap while I fed her and kept squeezing my arm with her little hands.  She’s a slow and steady type of eater, and I’m wondering if that’s part of why she’s so skinny.  Maybe they can’t give her the time she needs to finish her meal.  She ate all of it, and I got her to drink about half of a PediaSure.  Ryan tried the drink they brought her, and we were happy to find out that it was not tea.  It was some sort of fruit compote, so we felt much better about that.
Elvira during lunch:

And here she is stealing Daddy’s heart:

We talked to her doctor again today, but she didn’t tell us much more than what we already knew, so it wasn’t that productive.  But that’s ok.  Most importantly, we signed our Letter of Intent to adopt Elvira! 
Please pray for better weather the rest of the week.  It snowed today, which was beautiful, and ordinarily I would be very happy to see snow.  But it made the downtown traffic even worse than usual, and it could keep us from getting to see Elvira tomorrow. 

We have to get documents notarized, which has to be the priority.  If the weather causes it to take too long, we may not have time to see Elvira.  It could also make it difficult to see her on Friday or even cause our flight to be delayed on Saturday.  So again, pray for good weather!


Pics of Elvira

Ok, so I think I figured out how to do this from the laptop!

Here she is checking out Ryan:

Giving us a toothy grin:
 Playing with blocks:
Reaching out to touch Ryan's hand:

Isn't she precious?  I have never seen such skinny legs on a toddler though. This baby seriously needs some fattening up!

Meeting Elvira

We met Elvira yesterday! She is absolutely precious, so sweet. 

But before we got to meet her, we had to go to the Department of Education to get our permit to go to the orphanage. The social worker asked us a few questions about why we wanted to adopt, what our children and families thought, and about our finances. She acted all stern, but I could tell she liked us. Her main concern is that we're so young (why thank you!) to take on such a responsibility. But she seemed satisfied with our answers and gave us our permit! We gave her a Dallas cowboys mug in the shape of a helmet that was filled with butterfingers as a gift. She looked thrilled! They love American candy here.

Then it was on to the baby hospital to meet Elvira. It was such a contrast with American hospitals. The stairwells all had cracked concrete and several layers of paint showing through. It was well worn. We waited in the emergency room waiting room with sick children and their parents before they took us to the main office to give them our permit and take a potty break. I'm glad I brought my own toilet paper!

Then they led us to Elvira's hallway.
I saw one of her caregivers carrying her through the hallway, and I recognized her instantly! When we walked into the room with the cribs, the toddlers in her group were just leaving to go play in a different room, and I think she wanted to go with them because she kept craning her neck to see where they had gone. 

After her friends were gone, she walked right over and offered me the ball she was holding. She walked! Her favorite caregiver, Eula, told me she started walking about a week ago. We were so thankful to see that! We started clapping and getting excited, and then we brought out the gift we brought for her. And she clammed right up. I think we scared her or overwhelmed her because at that point, she kept standing there and staring at us, but she did not want to play with her new phone or anything else.

After a while, I got her to sit in my lap and rubbed her back a little bit, and then Ryan snuggled with her for a while. She started to warm up a little and rolled a toy car back and forth with us a little bit and tried out the buttons on her phone.

Then it was lunchtime. Eula asked if I would like to feed her, and I said yes. So they brought in her highchair and her meal, which looked like mashed potatoes in broth with a little bit of ground beef (I think). It smelled great, and she ate every bit of it. I spoon fed her. I don't think they've ever let her try feeding herself. I get the feeling they don't want to have to deal with the mess because at one point, they brought in another child (I think she was a girl because she was in pink, but who knows), and that child was also spoon fed - in record time, I might add. 

I'm pretty sure the drink they brought for Elvira was tea. We brought some Pediasure with us and got her to drink a few sips before she realized it was not tea. Then she refused to drink anymore, so we gave her the tea, which she gulped down. We were just happy she even got that tiny bit of Pediasure.

After lunch, we moved into a playroom and tried to get her to stack blocks. Instead, she thought it was hilarious to pass the blocks to Ryan or me and have us stack them. She did this over and over and started to giggle and smile. It was so precious! She also laughed when I made a pink stuffed mouse pretend to talk and give her kisses. Ryan did motor boat lips, and she kept trying to imitate him.

She is so timid. You can tell she wants to respond and interact with us, but she's not sure how. When we first started with the blocks, we kept offering them to her, and she would look at them and twitch her little hands like she wanted to reach out. Finally, we put it directly in her hand, and then she started picking them up two at a time and handing them to us. 

This was over the span of about an hour or so. We're hoping today's visit will be even better and that she'll open up more with us. 

We will also get to ask the head doctor more about her medical and family history.

Today we also presented the suitcase of donations from Orphans At Play to Elvira's doctor, and she seemed very pleased with the clothing and Desitin. She said 'spaseeba' (thank you) many times! The other suitcase we brought over, which was filled with coats and hats for older children, will be taken to that orphanage by a local catholic priest.

Please pray that things continue to go well. We are being well taken care of by our facilitators here - Sveta and our translator, Dasha. 

I wish I could post pics, but our laptop does not automatically log me into my blog, and I can't figure out how to do it since it's in Russian. So I'm posting everything from my iPhone because it automatically logs me in, but it won't let me post pics. So I will have to post pics when we get back to the US.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

We are in Moscow!

First of all, let me preface this by saying i have not slept in 24 hours... or something like that. We made it to Moscow after a 3-4 hour flight from Dallas to New York and a 10-hour flight to Moscow. At least, I think it was 10 hours. It was so long that I kind of lost track. Plus, we went through a few time zones to make it more confusing. But it's 4:15 pm here right now, and in another 4 hours we'll be boarding to fly to Elvira's city, which will take another 7 hours. I'm hoping I'll be able so exhausted this flight that i'll be able to sleep despite my discomfort. Ryan has the gift of being able to sleep anywhere at any time at a moment's notice, of which I am insanely jealous. So at least one of us is lucid.

We met with the Moscow agency coordinator here. Marina is so incredibly sweet, just what you would expect of a babushka. I think she was afraid to leave us naive Americans alone in the airport, despite our reassurances that we have traveled internationally before. Marina gave us a rundown of what our schedule here will be like. As soon as we get off the plane, we'll be taken to the Department of Education for questioning and to be approved to visit Elvira. I'm glad Ryan will be answering the questions because I am NOT with it right now. Then we'll go to our hotel for some much needed rest.

And... the next day we'll get to meet Elvira!

That's all for now. Please pray for safe travels and that all goes well at the DOE. I'll update again tomorrow.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Letter to the Birthday Girl

I'm so sorry I can't be with you to wish you happy birthday and give you kisses and hugs on your special day. I'm so sorry you have to spend another birthday not knowing what a birthday should be. I had hoped we would be there today to bring you cake and presents, but we just couldn't get there in time. You probably won't even notice the lack of celebration or the lack of attention. To you it will be just another day in the orphanage. But I notice. I care. We all prayed for you tonight before bed, that you would have a joyful day and feel loved and special. I know that God sees you and has you in His hand, that He remembers your birthday. And I pray that you would be surrounded by His love, that you would feel your worth. I promise that when we visit you later this month, we'll bring you the cake and presents that you missed and try to make up for some of the kisses and hugs you've missed.

The woman who wants to be your mommy

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Orphans At Play / Etsy Listings

We are so thankful that an organization called Orphans At Play offered to supply our orphanage donations to take on our first trip. They are sending us 2 suitcases full! What a blessing it is to be able to take these over and be present when they are received. The orphanages in Eastern Europe are badly underfunded. The workers there do the best with what they have, but any donations are a huge help to them and can make a big difference in the quality of life for the children who are left behind. Here is a link to their site if you would like to learn more or donate to their ministry.

We originally planned to ask our church family to provide donations for the orphanage, but because our travel date came so quickly (praise God!), and because we mistakenly thought we wouldn't need donations until our second trip, we did not have time to organize a drive. So when our agency put us in touch with Orphans At Play, we were so relieved. They needed someone to bring donations, and we could check 2 more bags on the plane. It was a win-win!

Our travel date is quickly approaching, and our expenses are really piling up. So I've sewn some placemats for my etsy shop. Right now I have Christmas placemats and everyday floral placemats in a lovely graphic fabric with birds. They are available in sets of 4 and 8. If you need 12, you can buy both listings for that pattern. If you need 6 (or another quantity), just shoot me an email, and I can edit the listing for you. These would make perfect Christmas gifts!

FYI - Purchases from my Etsy shop ARE NOT tax deductible. Donations through our Reece's Rainbow button ARE tax deductible. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

We can fly, we can fly, we can fly!

Since we're flying to meet Elvira in November, it was fitting that our family dressed as characters from Peter Pan this Halloween.  I made all the costumes myself except for mine.  For mine, I just bought a blue nightgown and put some elastic in the sleeves to make them puffed.  Here are some pics of us in our costumes taken by my fabulous mother-in-law.  Our pumpkin patch pics didn't download for some reason, so these will have to do.

Tinkerbell and Peter Pan venturing outside.  We have a black widow problem in our neighborhood, so Peter Pan was understandably nervous about the spider.

Here we are pretending to be scared of Captain Hook.  Peter Pan is 'saving' me.  ;-)

Here's one where you can see Captain Hook's menacing eyebrows

Sunday, October 30, 2011

We have plane tickets!

We are so excited to be traveling in November! Please pray that our dossier is accepted because our visas expire at the end of November. This past week was incredibly stressful trying to get everything done in time. At one point, I was rushing to get to the agency office to get necessary signatures before the director had to leave for the day. I was exactly half an hour away, and she was leaving in half an hour. I thought my heart was going to pound out of my chest, and I did a lot of praying, begging, and pleading to God that I would get there in time. I was so thankful to make it there just in time!

The reason for our urgency is our little girl is severely malnourished, and we're very concerned about her health and emotional well being. Also, if we don't travel by the end of November, our visas will expire. The sooner we can get to Russia, the better.

We have been blessed to have family visiting for the past few days - Ryan's mom and his grandma Selma. They have been a welcome diversion from the stress of last week. We had a fun trip to a local pumpkin patch yesterday. At one point I thought they'd have to send in a search party to get us and the kids out of the corn maze, but we eventually made it out with both children accounted for.

Tomorrow I'm going to try to post pics of us at the pumpkin patch. I've never posted pics on my blog before, so hopefully I can figure it out!


Friday, October 21, 2011

Pity Party of One

Lately I've been having a pity party of one. We originally hoped to fly out to meet Elvira the first week in November, but due to circumstances outside our control, it's going to be at least a week later. I realize a week's difference may not seem like much, but it is to me. It means we will miss Elvira's second birthday.

When we got our initial travel date, I was sooo excited that we would get be there for her birthday. I wanted to bring her a cake, presents, and stickers for her friends at the orphanage. So when I realized we would miss her big day, I couldn't help but be disappointed. So I threw myself a pity party and cried it out.

As my sweet sister pointed out, there's no reason why we can't do the cake and presents a week later, and Elvira is probably too young to notice the difference. So I'm just going to trust in God that we will be there when the time is right and not one minute sooner or later.

A note on our fundraising: No, we have not received over $10,000 in contributions. I'm including $10,000 in tax credit money that we hope to receive. It depends on whether Congress changes the adoption tax laws for 2012, so it is not guaranteed.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Why international adoption?

We have had a few people ask us why we are not adopting domestically, so I thought I would address that with this post. The simplest answer is we fell in love with this particular little girl and feel like she is ours and that God is telling us to go get her. But there are other, more complicated reasons as well. Most of the children available for adoption in the U.S. right now are older children. These children deserve families just as much as the younger ones, but since our children are both small, we did not want to disrupt the birth order by adopting a child older than our oldest child (3).

In the U.S. there is a 2-3 year wait to adopt a baby, so we just do not see as much of a need for babies and toddlers. We are so thankful to live in a country with a waiting list for babies who need homes! How amazing is that? We thought about doing foster to adopt because toddlers will frequently become available, but we were concerned about the emotional impact on our children of possibly having a 'sibling' go back to their birth parents.

So for us, at this time in our lives, we decided that international adoption was the best fit.

I have to say that it does hurt my heart when people ask me this question. I know they don't mean any harm and are genuinely curious. But because I already consider this little girl to be my daughter, it feels as if they are questioning whether she deserves a family, as if any child could be more deserving of love than another. And this brings out my mama bear instinct. I'm trying hard to reign that instinct in because I realize people don't know how this question makes me feel. Hopefully this explanation will head off a few of those questions.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Newly committed

Our family just committed to adopt Elvira from Reece's Rainbow, a non-profit that finds homes for special needs orphans. Our story about how we made the decision to adopt her is posted on our Reece's Rainbow profile. You can view it by going to this URL:
The past 2 weeks we have been frantically running around trying to get our home study and visas done so we can make our first visit in the beginning of November. Please pray that everything gets done in time. We are feeling a lot of urgency about getting to "Elvira" (not her real name) soon.

When I think about the word 'committed', I can't help but think of its multiple meanings. We are making a commitment that many people feel we should be committed for. After all, we will have 3 children 3 and under. And many of the Reece's Rainbow children, if not adopted, will be committed to an adult mental hospital and bedbound for the rest of their lives simply for being different. Many of them have conditions that could be cured here or easily worked with. Many of the children with Down's could lead productive lives here if they were nurtured by a family. So if some people think we need to be committed for making this commitment, then we will gladly pay that price because we know that Christ paid a much higher price for us and these children.