Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I Stand in Awe

And I stand, I stand in awe of you. I stand, I stand in awe of you.  
Holy God to whom all praise is due,
I stand in awe of you.

If you have been around church at all in the last 20 years or so, I am sure you know this Hillside song.  This is where I have been today...completely  standing in AWE of my Savior.  You see, something big happened in our house today.  Our adoption of 2 precious 5 year old girls is complete...they are ours forever.  

Jon is currently in Latvia, poor guy left Atlanta Sunday afternoon, got to Latvia Monday afternoon, had court on Tuesday (today) and is flying back home tomorrow.  That is A LOT of travel for one court date.  So, why am I standing in awe today?  Glad you asked...

I kept looking at the girls today and would just marvel at the fact that they are my daughters.  That God would pluck them out of a hopeless situation and place them in OUR family half way around the world.  You see, our family is very big on artistic expression... Jon being a musician, our boys are artistic and me, well... I appreciate the arts! They move me, they draw me closer to God.  I can be crafty when given the opportunity and I like to think I have mad cooking skills (which I believe is an art form).  These girls love to draw, sing and dance. One of them has a passion for dance that I have never seen in someone so young.  Not only a passion, but true talent.  If you know us at all, you know that we believe talent and passion are given from God to be used for the Kingdom.  You also know that we have a great connection and relationship with a dance studio here that believes the same thing.  Coincidence that these girls were put in our family?  I don't think so.  

God has been talking to me today about His plan.  How He can see the whole picture, and I can only see what is in front of my face.  And what is in front of my face is what I am comfortable with.  Although I think I am getting better about stepping out on the ledge and even stepping off of it knowing God will catch me and take me to where I need to be.  But, I am still far from where I would like to be in this area... anyway, I am getting off the subject.  I was looking back today at our adoption process, which started about 2 years ago.  Jon and I said, okay God, we will adopt and this is what we want... one girl who is between the ages of 1-3 and healthy.  You know what the cool thing is?  God said okay, that is a good starting point.  He let us start with that in mind to help get us out on the ledge.  The next year we spent in prayer and waiting....somewhere in that year our youngest son said we needed to adopt 2 girls.  We laughed. 

Last September we were shown a picture of 2 goofy looking girls who were 4 years old (I say goofy not in a mocking way at all, they seriously don't even look like the same girls to me now).  I heard God clearly tell me not to be afraid and to trust Him. So, we did... you know the story, I am not going to repeat it again now.  My point is, these girls have non, nada, zip of the original qualifications that we were willing to step out and do.  And yet, today I stand in awe because they are 100% the perfect girls for our family.  God knew and he let us gradually get there and see His vision... and it rocks.  We have literally seen God move mountains to get these girls into our family.  From paperwork going through that we thought would be a problem (mostly because of our income... you know, you don't go into full time missions to get rich!), to complete financing of this adoption being covered.  This morning when I told the girls they get to stay in our family forever, they were more excited then I think I have ever seen them.  They were jumping around and hugging me and hugging each other and Vika said, "This is a good day!"  And when they went to bed tonight they thanked God for giving them a family, can you imagine?  I can't... I have never been without a family, but they have been without one for 5 1/2 years, and they understand how important a family is.  My heart is singing praises at His goodness and mercy.  God rocks... and I wonder...how much more does He want to do with our lives if we just step out more and let Him do His thing?

So today (drum roll please!) I would proudly like to introduce you to our daughters:

Viktorija Grace Simpson and Milana Hope Simpson
 (aren't they beautiful!)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Celebrating Milestones

Think back to when your kids were little... for some of you these things are happening right now, some of you might have to think back a bit!  If you don't have kids, you can think back to your own childhood, but I am going to write it with the perspective of having kids. 

As a family we naturally celebrate milestones in our kids lives.  When they first smile, first roll over, first sit up.  We smile and encourage them... we tell other people about it... it is a big deal!

When your child gets older they come running to you when new things happen... "Mommy, Mommy look what I can do!"  Or "Mommy, Mommy I have a loose tooth!"  Again, we celebrate these things, we make a big deal out of it.  The child feel celebrated, loved and valued. 

We had one of these milestones happen in our house yesterday.  Mila lost a tooth.  This was actually her second tooth to come out (the first one happened a week or so before we got her... darn!).  I knew her tooth was loose, but when I checked it just a few days ago it wasn't anywhere near ready to come out. 

So you can imagine my surprise yesterday when she smiled at me and I noticed she had a hole in her mouth!  "Mila!" I said, "Where is your tooth?"  She very casually told me that she pulled it our during her nap time, which had been about an hour earlier.  She was so casual about it that she didn't even know where her tooth was... yes, which means I have a random tooth lurking about my house.  She seemed surprised when I made a big deal about it coming out!  We went up to her room to search for the tooth (which we couldn't find... gross... oh well). 

I got to thinking about it last night.  These girls have never had someone make a big deal out of them.  They have never had milestones celebrated with them.  It really isn't right.  Of course, then it also made me think about the millions of other orphans who are in the same situation.  They are a big deal, these kids should be loved on, cared for and CELEBRATED!!!!!!!!! 

Cute Mila!
Some of you might be wondering if the tooth fairy came to visit last night... no.  The girls didn't mention anything about it, so we figured they didn't know about that.  It would have been too hard to try to describe what it was, and we decided it really didn't matter.  They are learning so many new things right now that are so much more important!  Just as we are picking an choosing our battles right now, we are picking and choosing what they need to learn about! :)  Also, my record stands... I have yet to pull a tooth out for my kids!  The thought of it makes me shudder...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

First week home

Wow... We have already been home for a full week!  That flew by!  I can't even remember where I left off and I am feeling too lazy to look at my last post, so I will just recap our flight home...

We arrived at the Latvia airport Friday morning and got in line for our airline to check in.  We couldn't auto check in because we have paperwork that needed to be shown for the girls.  So we waited a good 1/2 hour in line only to get up to the front and be told that we were in the wrong line.  Apparently we were in line for a charter flight or something, so the lady pointed us to an even longer line right next to where we were.  Grrr....  So, we went and stood in that line for another 1/2 hour - 45 minutes.  Everything went fine from there, they checked us in, took our bags and we found our way to the gate.  We still had a little bit of time, so I went and found some coffee  (I hadn't had any yet because we had run out at the apartment!).  We boarded the plane and found our seats.  Jon and Mila were sitting in the row right behind Vika and I.  This was only a 2 hour flight (if that).  Everything went pretty smooth... Mila did start crying for some reason at one point, but Jon was able to calm her down.  I pulled out Angry Birds the last 1/2 hour of the flight for Vika and I to play, again thanking God for technology!

Once in the Amsterdam airport we had about 4 hours to kill before our flight to Atlanta.  We ate lunch and then found the free playground and let the girls run around and play (secretly hoping they would tire themselves out before the 10 hour flight!).  When it was time, we found our gate and were the second ones in line to board the plane (score!)... only to have the girls passports be rejected by the scanner as they were boarding us.  We were told to move to the counter so they could be checked.  I have no idea what was wrong with them (since they worked fine on the first flight!), but the KLM staff said that all the information was wrong and needed to be re entered.  This took sooooo long... they ended up having to hold the flight for us!  When we finally boarded the flight attendants were already moving people around and giving our seats away... ummm... I don't think so!  Everyone had to move back (we did get some dirty looks, but at that point I just felt like giving dirty looks right back!).  Settled into our seats, we were ready to go home!

The first part of the flight went fine, the girls colored and watched tv.  After dinner they watched more tv and started falling asleep.  The last 4 hours were pretty miserable.  They took turns waking up and crying.  I would just try to calm them and get them back to sleep.  I didn't sleep the whole flight! I was extremely happy when we landed!

So, now we have been home a week.  The girls are doing great... they are picking up English at lightning speed, it amazes me everyday!  I have started to teach them songs and the alphabet.  I have taken them out on a few errand runs and they seem to enjoy that.  They ask almost everyday when dance school is starting!  There are still power struggles, and they are still figuring out their place here, but I am encouraged at the progress I am seeing in areas!

We also have been talking a lot about family.  What a family is, and who is in our family.  They name everyone in our family, including Solomon, our dog! A few days ago after we named everyone Vika looked at me and said, "no family is no good."  I couldn't have said it better myself sweet one!  I am so thankful that God chose us to be a family to these little girls. 

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Homeward Bound - What to Expect

We are on our last full day here in Latvia.  Which brings me to a post that I hope you will all understand and not feel offended about.  We know there are a lot of people waiting for us to get home, and also kids who want to be friends with our girls - trust me, we want that as well!  And it will happen!

When we get home, though, we will be spending some time "cocooning" with just our family.  You might not know what that means, and that is fine... it is really a buzzword in the adoption world.  But it refers to the practice of pulling away from the outside world and focusing your time and attention on your immediate family.  It allows you to build bonds with your adopted child that will lead to a secure attachment.

So, what does this look like for us?  We won't be accepting any social invitations, going to church, or things like that as a family for the time being.  One of the big hurdles we have with these girls is teaching them that not all adults are safe.  They have been isolated and institutionalized for 5 years.  Right now, I am not even sure they know what a family is... they could just think they are going from one "grupa" (that is what they call the orphanage) to another "grupa."  For their entire lives, they've been accustomed to multiple (and changing) caregivers in the controlled environments of institutions, with all that comes with that.

While they need to learn that not every adult is another potential caregiver for them, they also need to fully realize and trust that Jon and I will be the ones taking care of them and being here for them always.  They can't learn that if they feel like they're around other mommies and daddies who are available to hold their hands, pick them up, or love on them.  Right now, that just needs to come from us.  So if we are out and run into you, and one of the girls wants to hold your hand or hug you, please don't.  Please, also don't be offended if for some reason they do get a hold of you and we take them away.  We mean no offense whatsoever to you!!!

We will really need to see some milestones happen with them as we begin going out in public.  They need to be able to seek our advice and guidance before going to strangers.  The behavior of institutionalized children "charming" strangers is pretty common - where children may tend to act overly happy, silly, or show off in some way to get an adult's attention.  Whether they realize it or not, they are constantly "parent-shopping"... and these two girls now have parents.

You may think that we are being overprotective of the girls.  In reality, though, these girls have never been taught or protected in the ideal and unique way that a healthy parent/child relationship can.  We've researched the issues involved in adopting older children (yes, they are considered older children) and believe wholeheartedly that this approach is best for our girls to grow into full health and wholeness.  We do want to welcome any questions you might have, so please feel free to let us know if you'd like to talk and we can figure out a good time to do that.

How long will this all last?  We don't know... we are just going to have to rely on God and see how the girls react to/in different situations.  We will be out and about... we have two boys who have activities!  We will be at football and soccer practices and games.  We have to figure out how to do a "normal" life while not overwhelming the girls, and build the strong bonds that our boys have had the luxury of having since birth.  This, of course, is all by God's amazing grace.

Please continue to pray for our whole family during this time.  Jon, the girls, and I have had some great bonding time here in Latvia, which Jon and I are both thankful for.  But, it's also been in an artificial and temporary environment, and I know things are going to look a LOT different once we get back home.  Pray for the girls - that they would blossom under our guidance and become the women that God wants them to be.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Latvia day 17 - U.S. Embassy... What Was I Worried About?

Okay, so I have been soooooo worried about this embassy meeting, and once again realized I wasted all that energy worrying over nothing.  I think I pictured it kinda like I pictured the court hearing - very formal and us trying to explain why we don't make a lot of money, but are confident that we can provide for these girls (which we can, with God's help!).  I came prepared with a copy of our home study, income records, I-800A approvals... I was ready for anything!

We walked into a small building and had to go through a metal detector, leave our cell phones there, and then walk to another building and go through another metal detector.  Something on me set off the second metal detector, but nobody did anything about it... okay...  Then we sat and waited for our number to be called.  While we were waiting we got to watch a... uhh... "lovely" movie on American tourism, diversity, opportunity, etc., over and over (oh the joys...).  The other family we were there with got called up before we were.  And it only took them a few minutes... hmmm... not what I was expecting.

When we were called we took the girls up to the counter where there was glass between the lady and us.  She asked the girls which one of them was which and then basically just needed Jon and I to answer a few questions.  She had to make sure we realized that the girls are still legal wards of the Latvian court system and that they will be traveling to the U.S. on a 7-month non-immigrant visa.  They cannot be enrolled in school and we need to have them back in Latvia by March 8th.  She made sure we knew that this (us being able to take the girls back to the States with us before they're legally adopted) was only able to happen because of the special arrangement that Latvia and the U.S. have with the hosting program.  So, yes, we agreed to all of that.  Our plan is to be back in Latvia sometime in February to have this all completed.  Jon will be back before that by himself for one more court date.  Then, on the last trip, the four of us will be meeting with the embassy again - at that point when the girls return to the U.S. they will enter as American citizens.

So, tomorrow our lawyer is going back to the embassy to pick up the girls' passports with the visas in them and then bring them to us.  We started packing up tonight - the girls were pretty excited to see the suitcases come out!  We leave Friday morning and will return to the States by Friday night.  My heart is a little sad for these girls to be leaving their country.  But, I also know they have no future here.  Kids age out of the orphanage system at 16.  16 years old and they are out on their own.  I was reading an online article yesterday that said drug use has climbed 600% in Latvia since the fall of communism.  One group particularly at risk in Latvia is orphans who have aged out of the system.  They turn to drugs (and prostitution, according to other articles I've read) to escape the pain and rejection they have been through.  I am so thankful that is not the future our girls will have.  God had them born here for a reason, and I sure hope that whoever their birth parents are will know God's love at some point, and somehow know that we will take care of their girls.  Maybe they can be reunited in Heaven someday...

I woke up this morning to a bunch of comments on Facebook, about a status I put up yesterday, that blew me away.  I mentioned that I wasn't looking forward to jumping back into scheduled life.  In response, we had families offer to mow our yard, bring us dinner this weekend, and go grocery shopping for us.  It brought me to tears... we are so blessed to be in such a loving community of people who really are the hands and feet of Jesus.  Thank you (you all know who you are) - we really are humbled and appreciate the help.  God is so good to us, and I only hope that I am as willing when I see needs arise around me for others.

Two more sleeps: America!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Latvia day 16 - Orphan Court... Check!

Exciting day here in Latvia!  We had our second orphan court hearing.  We had two petitions before the court: the first one was for the court to decide if it was in the best interest for the girls to be adopted by our family, and the second was to extend our care and supervision time and let us take the girls back to America as we finish up the adoption.  Kind of big decisions!

We went to the same building that our first court hearing was in a few weeks ago.  Again it was a conference room with three "judges."  They might really be judges - I have no idea.  They were all women again, but three different ones than whom we sat in front of last time.  They (really only the middle judge) asked us what we had been doing during our time in Latvia, how the girls were behaving, if there were any health issues, and stuff like that.  They asked their primary social worker from their orphanage if he thought it was in the best interest of the girls to be adopted into our family.  He said it absolutely was, and mentioned that the girls were completely different when they returned to Latvia from the month they spent with us in the winter.  He said they came back much more confident and happier, and that when they were finally told that we were coming to get them, the girls never had any doubts about going with us or considering us their parents.  It was so good to hear!  You just know that God does something in everyone's hearts to have that happen!

We were then asked to leave the courtroom while the judges discussed what they had heard.  When we came back in they said that, yes, they found that it was in the best interests of the girls to be adopted by our family!  Yeah!  Then we had to get to the part about extending the care and supervision time and letting them come home with us. 

You see, most countries you adopt from you don't get to take the kids home until the adoption is finalized.  So, normally we would be taking the girls back to the orphanage, going home, completing more paperwork, and then returning for the girls.  I can't even imagine taking them back to the orphanage at this point... it would set so many things back that we have been working on!  But, thankfully since Latvia already has this hosting program in place, we are able to "host" them until the adoption is finalized!  Thank you, God! 

Okay, back to court... they asked us more questions about what we have in place for the girls at home, why we want to continue this from home, and so on...  We explained that our two boys are in the United States, as is our home and our jobs.  They also asked if we had sufficient health care for the girls in the States.  They seemed satisfied with our answers and - making the decision in the courtroom (so we didn't have to step outside again) - said that, yes, we were granted permission to take the girls to the United States and finish the adoption from there!  Yeah!!!!!  Such a relief to have all that out of the way!  In a few months when Jon has to travel back here, he will have to take part in one more court hearing. 

Tomorrow we have a meeting with the U.S. embassy.  This meeting actually is the one that is making me the most nervous.  If our income comes up (which I am sure it will), I just hope that there won't be any problems.  I can't imagine that God would lead us this far only to have it all fall apart now.  We have been granted our approval for the I-800A, which is from our government saying we are allowed to bring three orphans into the country.  Our income had to be approved at that point as well... I guess I just have a general distrust of our government, that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing.  So, please pray for this meeting tomorrow afternoon - pray for peace inside of me, and continue to pray for the girls! 

We will pull out the suitcases tomorrow and start packing up... Three more sleeps and we will be headed home!

Waiting in anticipation for the judges' verdict!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Latvia day 15 - "4 More Days: America!"

Yesterday was our last "free" day.  We took full advantage of it!  The girls actually slept until 10:00 am!  I have no idea why, but Jon and I didn't complain about getting to sleep in a bit as well!  We had a very slow morning, short naps after lunch (not that these were needed with sleeping until 10:00 am, but it was more to stay with a routine), and then we hung out in a park for the afternoon with the other American family that is here adopting.  The girls had fun with the kids, and Jon and I enjoyed conversation with adults!  It was a win-win!  By the time we left the park it was dinnertime.  We had already decided to eat out, so we went back to Lido's and, again, ate too much... but man, it was good!  Once we walked back to the apartment it was time for baths and a little watching of the Olympics before bed.

After the girls were in bed we got a phone call from our lawyer.  She asked us how our weekend had been and, somewhat apologetically, said that she needed to ask each of us personally a question: at this point did we still want to continue with the adoption of the girls?  Umm... yes!  Our lawyer told us that she knew it felt a bit silly, but legally she had to confirm it at this point in time.

This morning I had to wake the girls up early.  They looked totally confused as to why they were being woken up (don't worry, girls - I won't make this a habit).  They had to get up, have breakfast, and we all had to be ready by 9:00 am for our final orphan court-appointed social worker visit!  Our social worker has been great.  She is easy to be around... she reminds me of a bubbly grandmother.  She didn't even stay 1/2 hour today (the other visits have been about 1 hour).  She, like our lawyer had the evening before, also asked us if we still wanted to continue with the adoption of the girls.  Again... yes!!  She smiled and said it looked like we were all emotionally attached to each other, and that she is submitting the paperwork with her recommendation that we can proceed with the adoption.  After she and our lawyer left, the four of us danced around the apartment with the girls singing, "America, America!" 

Unfortunately, I think they thought we were going to America right away.  So, we had to sit them down and explain (again) how many days we still had until we leave.  After this Milana got very moody, and I think in her disappointment with not leaving now she decided that she was going to push the limits and be disobedient.  It was over something really silly as well - I think Jon asked her not to go back to her bedroom... to stay in the living room where we could see her, and she threw a tantrum about it.  There aren't any toys in their bedroom here, so there is no reason for them to just be in there.  Plus, for now, it is easy to monitor how they are treating each other when they are in the same room we are. 

So all day at different times the girls would look at us, hold up four fingers and say (sort of), "4 more days: America?"  We have had to reassure them all day that, yes, in four days we are leaving for America.  They are a bit fixated on that at the moment.

Tomorrow afternoon we have our second orphan court appearance, and then either Jon or I will go with our lawyer back to the orphanage to pick up more medication and the girls passports.  We are not all going because I don't want the girls to ever have to go back there.  Then Wednesday we have a U.S. embassy hearing (or interview... not really sure), Thursday we get the girls' visas, and then Friday: America!  4 more days: America!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Latvia day 13 - Mother of Four

Well, a few more days have gone by.  Lots of walks around the city, going to the park, playing in the apartment...  Our days are pretty routine. 

Yesterday we thought about going to the beach.  You have to take the train and then it is a short walk.  But, the weather looked a little iffy (and it did end up raining pretty hard in the afternoon), plus we just aren't really beached-equipped.  We only have our bath towels, no sand toys, no beach umbrella... and primarily we just decided the girls are perfectly happy just going to the playground and hanging out with us.  Plus, I think I mentioned before we are on a limited budget... I am not saying that to complain, it just is what it is...

We did take the girls out to pizza last night.  It was a really far walk - right across the street from our apartment!  Ha!  We ordered a chicken Caesar salad to share (which the girls didn't like... probably the dressing) and a spicy sausage pizza (which they loved!).  I thought it was all great! 

We were the only ones in the restaurant at the time, and our waitress spoke English.  I actually think all of our waitresses have spoken English to this point!  The girls (well, Vika - who looked at the waitress and ordered a hamburger right away) started talking to our waitress in Latvian and I think it threw her for a minute!  The waitress asked Jon and I how the girls knew Latvian, so we told her it was because they are Latvian!  We explained that we were adopting them.  She was pretty interested in the process, asking how long it has taken up to this point and what was next.  Before we left she wished us all the best with the rest of the process.  It was pretty interesting to talk to someone here about it.  (By the way, we cancelled Vika's hamburger and shared a pizza instead... she still doesn't quite realize that she is not the one in charge!)

Last night Jon and I also skyped with our boys for almost an hour after the girls went to bed.  I haven't seen them in person for three weeks now.  That is probably what I find the hardest about this.  I miss them, and from the teary eyes I saw on the computer, they are missing us as well.  I can't wait to hug and kiss them!  Their willingness for us to bring more children into our family still amazes me.  When we were just going to adopt one girl, Devon kept saying we needed to adopt two girls.  Two girls about the same age so they could play together, since Ty and Dev are so much older.  Prophetic words from my little boy?  I think so...

Today we walked around the corner from our apartment and went up to the top of St. Peter's Church.  It was completely crowded at the top (you would think they would only allow a certain amount of people up there at a time) but the view was amazing!  You could look all over the colorful rooftops of Old Riga.  St. Peter's is first mentioned in records dating back to 1209.  So, it is pretty old!  I think the tower part of it has burned down a few times and it was damaged during World War II, but it is still an amazing building.

Then after naps today we walked back to the park.  While we were there we got stuck in a bit of a rain storm.  We had one umbrella with us, so we all huddled under that for the rain to pass.  The girls are so funny - they really don't like to be rained on.  I guess they will have to get used to it... how many times do I come out of a store or something in Georgia only to find it POURING down rain?!

Tonight (but earlier than last night, so the girls were still awake) we skyped with the boys again.  We told the girls about it just a few minutes before it happened.  They were totally excited!  Then when it actually happened, they just sat there quietly.  I think they were a little overwhelmed.  There was other family at Jon's parents' house right now, and of course everyone wanted to say hi to the girls and meet them!  Completely understandable, just a little overwhelming to two little five-year-old girls who have no idea who these people are (yet!). 

This is our last weekend here in Riga.  And our last few free days, as we have something related to the adoption process going on every day next week.  Six more sleeps and we will be on our way home.  Please be praying about things for when we get home.  We are basically "hosting" them until this whole process is done.  We need to figure out if we can add the girls to our insurance, because we are going to need to get Milana's medication.  Pray that there is no problem with this.  Viktorija has some medical issues as well.  We knew that she had had surgery, but we didn't find out for what until we got here - apparently she had some sort of cancer and they removed a tumor.  We still haven't heard what kind of cancer it was, but she will need to be seen in October by an oncologist.  Again, we are going to need them on our insurance to have all this happen.  So prayers would be appreciated.  I know people are probably thinking that this (the cancer) is something we should have known about before we got here, but it is what it is and we wouldn't have changed our minds about the adoption.  We serve a God who heals.  They are princesses of the Most High God, and they are our daughters.  It is still amazing to me how God could put this type of love into us for children that were not born to us.  It hit me today - I am now the mother of four children, and there are two fewer orphans in the world now.  Praise God!

From the top of St. Peter's Church. The curved-roof buildings in the picture are WWII-era German zeppelin hangars - they now house Europe's largest market and bazaar.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Latvia day 11 - Past the Halfway Point

So, I know I took yesterday off from blogging.  It turned into a very busy day, we didn't get home until late, and I just didn't feel like doing it!  Ha!

I will start with yesterday.  We had an appointment for the girls with the US embassy doctor.  The girls were measured and weighed and had their eyes checked.  When we went into the doctor's office, the girls sat up on the examination bed and the doctor talked to them and listened to their hearts. She asked the girls what language they wanted to speak with her.  Vika said Latvian (actually she told the doctor that she could understand Latvian, Russian, or English so it didn't matter - ha!) and Mila said Russian.  The doctor laughed and decided on Latvian.  Amazing that these girls are learning their third language!  I wonder how long they will hold onto Latvian with only each other still to talk to?  It will be interesting.  We also had a few questions answered by the embassy doctor, and then we were on our way. 

We spent the rest of the day at our lawyer's house.  She lives on a lake that goes out to the Daugava River.  There is a little sandy beach area there.  We didn't realize this and didn't bring the girls' swimsuits, so we did what any good parent would do... stripped the girls down to their underwear and let them play in the water!  It was private - I wouldn't have done that on any public beach.  We also took a rowboat out on the lake.  It was so peaceful and beautiful! The beach also isn't too far from her house, so we walked out there as well and put our feet in the Baltic Sea and played a game of dodge ball on the sand.  It was fun! 

We left her house at 9:00 pm, after the girls' bedtime (and they missed their nap!), so they were pretty tired.  Our taxi got us back to our apartment at about 9:45 pm.  There were some more tears when the girls went to bed, but it didn't last long (thankfully!).  Our lawyer told us that the girls are right on track with their grief - it usually hits on day 10. 

Sunday night, Monday night, and Tuesday night were all quiet here in old town Riga, but last night the music started up again outside.  I think I only slept a few hours.  I think I might have mentioned it was horribly loud all last week because there was a Russian festival going on.  Maybe I didn't mention that... I don't remember anymore.  Anyway, it was loud again last night... The girls slept in until almost 10 this morning, but I was wide awake at 8 am.  I had a nice few hours to myself (which I think I needed). 

After lunch we took a walk to a mall and then went and bought a few groceries.  The small grocery store we go to here is funny... I don't know if they are remodeling it or what, but every time we go in it is different.  Tonight I wanted to make pork chops with onions.  When we were in the store the other day they had some really nice-looking pork chops.  Tonight, the whole meat section was gone.  Not just moved, but gone.  I went to the butcher counter to see what they had, and all that was there were some chicken wings and legs.  It is weird not to have all the variety of food available to you when ever you want it!  So, I changed course and bought a bag of frozen pelmeni instead.  These look like tortellini, and they had chicken in them. 

I also bought a bag of frozen broccoli... I knew I was pushing my luck with the broccoli but I bought it anyway.  We eat a lot of broccoli, so I figured the girls (basically Mila) better get used to it now.  As soon as she saw it on the counter, she started telling me that she doesn't like it and she didn't want it.  Basically I told her she was going to need to try it.  She didn't look happy when she sat down at the table, but she ate every bit that I put on her plate.  She started dipping it in the tomato sauce we had for the pelmeni and eating it that way.  She even told Jon that it was yummy.  Ah.Maze.Ing...

Then we had baths.  The girls love it when I put conditioner in their hair.  Then they are so amazed that it doesn't hurt when I brush their hair after baths!  Simple pleasures...

When it was bedtime, Mila started getting worked up again.  Jon sat on her bed and talked to her and stroked her hair and face while I said goodnight to Vika, then I sat with Mila for a few minutes doing the same thing.  She was so tired and falling asleep, but all of a sudden she grabbed my hand, looked right at me, and said, "I love you, Mommy - no crying."  She stopped her crying, smiled, and went right to sleep.  Thank you, God.

We have free days tomorrow and Saturday, we might go to church on Sunday, and then there are appointments every day next week to get ready to leave.  Nine more days and I will have my family back together under the same roof.  So looking forward to that!

Playing in the Baltic Sea

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Latvia day 9 - Maybe Now I Understand...

So, I took yesterday off.  I was tired, and we seriously had a normal day.  Got up, had breakfast, went to the park, had lunch... blah, blah, blah.  There was lots of cuteness in there as well, but I just didn't feel like blogging. 

Today is a different story.  Our morning started out at 6:00 am when the fan in the girls room started making a horrible clicking noise and woke both the girls up, and they started crying because it scared them.  Normally they have been sleeping until at least 8:00 am, so this seemed WAY too early to be up!  Luckily I was able to just turn the fan off and settle them back down.  I think around 7:00 am they went back to sleep and we all woke up again around 9:00 am... all but Jon, who apparently never got back to sleep.  :(

We had breakfast and went for a walk around the city.  We ended up over near the central market, which is like a gigantic farmers market.  It is housed in four very large buildings that look like airplane hangers.  One is all fish, one meat, one cheese, and so on.  We walked through the fish one first and the girls liked looking at all the fish.  They kept saying, "ooh, yummy!" and I kept thinking, "yeah, that is why you gagged on my clam chowder at Christmas!"  Ha!

We walked back to the apartment in time for lunch and naps.  After naps we cleaned up the apartment, had a quick snack, and got ready for our second of three orphan court-appointed social worker visits.  She came with our lawyer/translator and talked with us for about an hour.  Well, she asked us a few questions and mainly talked with the girls.  We all sat at the dining room table playing with play-doh during the visit.  The social worker said the girls seemed to be doing great and we were doing a good job.  Phew!

After the meeting we sat and went over some paperwork with our lawyer, getting stuff ready for immigration visas for the girls to travel back to the States.  When that was done, we decided to walk back into the city and go out to dinner.  There is a restaurant here called Lido's that is like a buffet (though not all-you-can-eat).  We had potato pancakes, roasted potatoes, shashlik (which is like grilled kebab meat) in pork and chicken, some baked chicken, a sausage, banana pancakes (which was more like a banana crepe), some kind of meat pancake/crepe thing, and the girls ate a cucumber salad with some kind of beet sauce on it.  We all shared a little bit of each other's food to try the different things.  It was so yummy, and I was afraid the girls were going to throw up they ate so much!

After dinner we walked back to the apartment, watched the Olympic women's gymnastics finals (yeah team USA!), and then put the girls to bed.  That is when the you-know-what hit the fan. 

A few minutes after we had put the girls to bed we heard both of them crying.  We rushed to their room to see what was the matter.  Through the little Latvian we know, we thought they were saying something about the orphanage.  We couldn't get them calmed down, so I called our lawyer to have her talk to one of the girls, which did help.  After I got back on the phone with our lawyer she said that yes, the girls were missing their friends, their teacher, and the orphanage, and reassured me that this was perfectly normal.  We each laid down with a girl and just tried to be there for them as they went to sleep. 

At first my mind was just screaming, "why would you want to go back to the orphanage?!? I don't get it!"  But God started gently talking to me: "The orphanage is all they know, and they can't see their future if they stayed there.  They don't trust you enough to know what you have for them is better.  How many times have I had something better for you, but you just wanted to stay in what you know?"  Okay God, I am starting to get it.  Then I started thinking about the Israelites in the book of Exodus, when Moses led them out of slavery in Egypt.  This was a good thing for them, but they whined and complained about it the whole way - they even decided they had it better back in Egypt.  Because this is what they knew, they couldn't see what was ahead, and they didn't trust. 

I think for the first time I really understood this because it was being played out in my daughters right in front of me.  And it was heartbreaking.  Even now a few hours later I am crying over it.  We prayed over each girl, prayed that fear would be cast out and God's peace would take its place.  Vika fell asleep first and Mila finally gave into sleep as well. 

As you think about these girls, or us, or see something on Facebook, please pray for them.  Pray that they would learn to trust that we only have what is best for them in mind.  Pray that Jon and I would be forever holding onto God's hand in this and letting Him guide us, even when it is to places that we don't want to go because it is not what we know.  Thank you.  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Latvia day 7 - Answered Prayers

Today was just another normal day.  Our new normal for now, anyway.  We spent most of the day here at the apartment playing.  We did take quite a long walk around the city this afternoon and did a little grocery shopping, but that is it!  It is kinda strange, almost like we are on a forced vacation.  One that we really can't afford... so we are trying to keep it low-key.  It is weird having all this downtime as well.  Usually when Jon travels overseas (and when the boys and I have gone with him) the schedule is crazy busy.  You don't expect to go sightseeing and shopping... for example, we spent a month in Turkey and I didn't get to see Ephesus even though we stayed relatively nearby for a week (just means I have to go back again someday!), we were also in Rome for a week and didn't see the Vatican or Spanish Steps.  I am not complaining, just trying to get across that we are not used to travel for pleasure!  This is a new thing!  Ha!

The girls have been great.  They know how to entertain themselves while we are here in the apartment, having each other to play with, and of course we're involved in their games and activities as well.  Maybe tomorrow we will walk a different way around the city to see what else is in the area, since we've usually just gone to one of the parks here (which they've been completely happy to keep going back to).

I've been thinking about ways the girls have changed in the last 6 months since we hosted them.  They do seem more mature.  Mila is much more willing to engage in speaking with us.  She is much more willing to try out English.  She isn't picking it up as fast as her sister, but she is trying, which is great!  When we hosted her, she had no interest in trying.  We've been asking the girls to use the English words they know, so when they ask us for something in Latvian we often respond by saying, "English..."  Mila is so funny - when she wants something, she comes up to us and whispers, "English!"  It is usually when she wants something to drink, so I think that is what she thinks she is asking.  I have to hold myself back from laughing.  I don't want her to think that I am laughing at her attempt, but it is so cute!

Vika is powering along with English as well.  She amazes me.  She is so bright and has a fantastic memory.  Jon asked her to throw something away today.  I was standing at the sink doing some dishes (the garbage can is under the sink) and she came up to me and said, "Excuse me, Mommy!"  I can't wait for the day when I can have real conversations with these girls!

Another area I notice a difference is with eating.  They were both pretty picky eaters when we hosted them - not wanting to try anything, and most dinners ended in tears (sometimes them, sometimes me, sometimes both... ha!).  This week, they have eaten everything I have put in front of them.  We have only eaten out twice, so I have been preparing all our meals and they are eating.  Tonight I even made snow peas, and they ate them.  At our house Mila wouldn't eat anything green, and she sat tonight and ate snow peas!  She only gagged once!  Ha!  I was so proud of her!  Since the day they left our house I have been praying about these food issues and now they seem to be gone.  Amazing, awesome God!

While at our house the girls slept pretty well, but most nights started out with tears.  They didn't like getting their hair washed, they hated being laid back in the tub, and going to bed was not fun.  Mila would cry or moan herself to sleep.  By the end of the hosting trip this was better, but there were still issues.  You could tell, though, that they were starting to trust us and things were getting better.  I thought we would be dealing with some of these issues again, but these ones seem to be pretty much gone right now. Both girls have let me wash their hair with no crying, they let me lay them in the tub, and they are sleeping GREAT!  They are ready for bed by 8:30 pm and usually asleep within minutes.  I only had an issue that first night, which I think is understandable.  Change can be scary for any of us!

I see all this as answers to our prayers for these precious little girls.  God has been working in them while they were away from us.  They don't seem to deal with the fear in the same ways that they so obviously did when we first met them.  Of course there are still a number of areas where there are struggles and challenges that are more personal and I won't go into, but God is good.  These girls are His and, even if they don't know it yet, He has been changing them from the inside out.  I will forever be grateful that He is the one in control!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Latvia day 6 - What's In My Heart

I know there are a lot of people following our story, and I think that is great.  Jon and I post pictures of two smiling girls, happy moments, snapshots we treasure now and want to forever.  But I don't want to give the impression that this has been easy.  There has been nothing easy about this process.  From the very beginning, the paperwork has been endless, it is expensive as all get out, the emotional toll is brutal... there have been headaches, worry, many tears, and much heartache.

I know I wrote a whole blog post before about how I feel about adoption.  How I feel when people say these were meant to be my girls.  As if this was God's original plan.  I don't believe that.  I believe if they were meant to be my girls I would have given birth to them, and I didn't... someone else did.  We live in such a broken world and it hits me all the time about the weight of this... the weight of what we are doing.  I do believe that God knew we (God and our family, along with everyone who has prayed and helped along the way) would step in and REDEEM the situation.  To take these girls as our own... but even that isn't easy.  The girls are going to have questions someday about their birth family and the first 5 years of their lives, and we are going to have to navigate through that. 

Communication is hard.  Trust is hard.  Bonding is hard.  We are here for 3 weeks trying to bond with these girls and have some sort of normal life, when nothing around us is normal and we don't even have all of our family here.  We are trying to teach them English when they are still surrounded by people speaking Latvian.   It is all hard.  I don't feel like a hero, I don't feel confident... I am scared, exhausted, homesick (and I love traveling to foreign countries!), missing my boys, missing my dog,  and looking forward to when we can really start bonding at home.  I am trying to fully rely on God and His promise to make something beautiful out of this.  The girls still ask every morning if we are going to America.  It is hard to explain to them why we have to be here so long.

These are broken girls.  There is pain that they are dealing with that I will never fully understand and they don't even know how to express it yet.  I know, I post pictures of them and they look normal and happy.  And most of the time they are happy, but I think it is a coping mechanism.  They are survivors.  I do believe they like Jon and I, but if another family came along right now and took them, I think they would smile and be happy with them as well.   They have no concept of family ties.  They are used to people coming in and out of their lives.  They are not bonded to us (yet).  For example... there is a man that has been driving us to a few of our appointments the last few days.  The girls don't know him, they have only seen him the few times we have, and yet he came by our apartment last night for something and the girls wanted to be all over him.  They have no idea if this is a safe person or not - they just want attention.  I especially see it with men and it makes me nervous. 

They crave attention from Jon.  They always want to hold his hand and sit with him.  They do this to me as well, but I notice a difference with Jon.  When it's with Jon, I welcome it.  The love of a girl's father is directly linked to how she views God as her father.  A girl needs a daddy's love to protect her and tell her she is beautiful.  They will gain much-needed confidence and security with Jon's love. 

I don't know if this will ever get easy.  But, I guess God doesn't ask us to do easy things.  He wants to stretch us and grow us.  He wants us to trust Him and be willing to step out of our box - just like we want the girls to trust us so they can bloom.  And we don't want to be anyone's heroes.  We're especially grateful for the times when we hear that someone has stepped up to do something they were intimidated by (but knew they should do), because of seeing our lives.  Because God makes everyone capable of being involved in great things when we're willing and following Him.

I know you come here to read about our day, and it was another good day.  We got up, played around in the apartment for a bit and then walked to the park.  We thought it was going to rain this afternoon (according to our weather app), but it is 9:15 pm now and the sky is still clear and blue!  Nothing really exciting happened today, so I guess it was a good day.  I did start teaching the girls to sing "Jesus Loves Me" along with hand motions.  They love it.  I am sure they don't understand the words yet, but I hope they will soon.  We serve a big God, who loves these girls and who has given Jon and I the ability to love them like our own.  Pretty amazing...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Latvia day 5 - A Bit of a Rant & a Bit of the Zoo

Someone posted this video on Facebook today, and I feel compelled to share it here.  As you probably are aware this has become something I am passionate about.  We should feel something. We should do something.  I agree, not everyone should adopt but we are all commanded in the Bible to care for the fatherless, the widow, and the foreigner.  If the "church" was really stepping up to this command, do you think there would still be more than 145 million orphans in the world today?  I don't think so... I think we have let down our post on this one.  We have failed these children.  We have not been Jesus to them, and most days we don't even think about them.

This has been on my mind a lot the last few days, as we get reacquainted with our daughters.  They are 5 years old and have NEVER been a part of a family.  Why?  They are great girls! They are funny, smart, and beautiful!!! Why have they been living their lives tucked away in an orphanage with people who are paid to take care of them, but have no family to love them?  It breaks my heart.  And I know there are many more just like them wasting away in institutions with no hope for a future unless the church STEPS UP!!!!!!  Pray for these children, go on a mission trip and reach out to them, sponsor kids, HOST orphans in your home (ask me for details!), give money to other families who are adopting - there are lots of ways you can help!  Jesus's heart breaks for these children, and ours should too.  So many of the children at the girls' orphanage just wanted us to notice them, to touch them! To bend down and give them a smile and a touch.  I don't know... there just seems like there is so much more we can be doing that is not getting done.

I know, I might have lost some of you already while I was on my soapbox.  But that is what is on my mind today, so I wanted to get it out.  Now I will recap our day!

We all woke up around 8 am, had breakfast, and got ready.  Jon and I decided we would take the girls to the zoo today.  We had to walk a few blocks through the city to catch the tram.  The tram ride was maybe 1/2-hour to the zoo.  While we were riding it, we went through the neighborhood that the girls' orphanage is in - we actually passed the street - and the girls recognized it.  They started to get worried and asked us something with the word "grupa" in it... the same word they were asking us yesterday on the way to the hospital.  I am sure it has to do with group home or something similar that they were saying.  I felt so bad... I just wonder if in their little heads they think they might have to go back there again?  We reassured them that we were going to the zoo, but they didn't look convinced until we got farther away.  I can't imagine the fear they must have felt.  Not that where they were living is bad - they were actually very well taken care of there - but still...

We got to the zoo and both of the girls were saying, "no zoo" - they just wanted to go to the playground.  I have no idea if they have ever been to the zoo or not, but they were clearly not excited.  We started walking around and looking at the animals.  Vika was pretty unimpressed with everything we saw.  I do think Mila was more interested.  They both watched the people around us more than the animals!  There were some animals there that I had never heard of, which was interesting.  And get this: they had an exhibit of squirrels!  It cracked me up!  I think Vika liked the giraffes the best and Mila like the bear.  I had packed our lunch to eat there at the zoo, so after a bit we sat on a bench in the shade and ate sandwiches, a banana, and some animal crackers (no offense intended, animals).  I think we spent about 3 hours walking around looking at the animals - and people - then took the tram back home.

The girls were pretty tired when we got home, so I was ready to have them nap.  All of a sudden there was crying and whining that they didn't eat lunch today!  We tried to remind them of what we ate and where, but they were determined that that was not lunch! These girls will eat and eat and eat if we let them.  I think at the first orphanage they were at there might not have been enough food, so they have a bit of a problem knowing when to stop eating and trust that there will be food again for a next meal.  I got them to lie down and they "napped" for about an hour and a half.  This included playing with dolls, singing and jumping on the beds (which I did put a stop to). 

When I said that nap time was over Mila came out very happy and chatted away with Jon and I for about an hour!  Vika, on the other hand, was moody about something and would hide and just look at us.  She would make a noise like "hmph" to let us know that she was still there (arms folded, head down, pouty-faced) and still not happy! She would come over and sit with us when we called her, but she wasn't interested in trying to tell us what was wrong.  I guess I got a glimpse of her as a moody teenager (yikes!).  She finally changed her attitude when Jon pulled out the computer and played them his music videos.  We also showed them a dance video that had Ty and Devon in it. 

Dinner tonight was leftover chili.  I baked potatoes as well and put the chili on top of it.  The girls again ate it all up!  Then baths and yogurt.  They wanted to watch a movie, which is something we have been doing before bed.  We put in a cartoon DVD and before it was over both girls said they were tired and ready for bed.  They actually told us they were ready for bed!!! We tucked them in and they went right to sleep.

After we knew they were asleep, I walked around the corner to "the bakery from heaven" and picked up two eclairs for Jon and I.  It only cost us $1 US... I want to know why bakeries in other countries are so inexpensive and delicious and American bakeries are expensive and use imitation ingredients? So not fair... (I know, boys - if you are ready this you are saying, "you always tell us life isn't fair!")  So, that was our day.  The Olympics start in a few hours, and I have no idea if I will stay up or not.  We are 2 hours ahead of London, so they don't start here until 11 pm.  I might have to watch the opening ceremonies tomorrow online.  I think we have a free weekend, and "only" 14 days left in the country (although we would go home sooner if we could)!

Father, break my heart for what breaks Yours.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Latvia day 4 - Birthday Craziness

So... I am exhausted and really don't feel like blogging... but I know you are all waiting, and I don't want to forget anything, so here we go...

We knew we had an appointment this morning at 10:30 with an HIV specialist.  The plan was to meet at a church around the corner from us at 10 am.  We were just getting ready to leave and I got a phone call from our lawyer that the plans had changed.  We were now to meet at a bank on the other side of the park at 9:50 am.  This was farther away and we got the call at about 9:45 am.  Nothing like rushing out the door feeling like you are late!  And if you know Jon and I, we tend not to be late to things.  I would rather show up a few minutes early than be late!  The poor girls knew something was going on, and we were trying to communicate that things were okay.  I really think they thought we were taking them back to the orphanage.  They were nervous and stressed and close to tears all morning.  Poor babies! 

Getting to the hospital didn't make it any better.  I guess this is where Mila has been to see the doctors and she was not to happy about being back there!  We tried to reassure her that things were okay - we were actually just there to talk to the doctor.  We had to wait a long time.  I don't know how long, but it was pretty long!  Finally it was our turn to go in and talk to the doctor.  She gave us a little background information, what things look like right now, and tried to tell us how important it was for Mila to take her medication every day (duh...).  She also gave us one piece of information that - based on our research - seemed like it might not be completely current with the latest findings, but we'll be seeing additional specialists and so we feel confident that we'll have things in a good place (with God's strength, not ours!). 

Right after we left the hospital we had to drive to the passport office.  The girls needed new passports because theirs are set to expire in a couple months.  So there we waited... again, I don't know how long, but a long time!  Finally we were called up, and pictures of the girls were taken.  Another thing checked off the list!

We were driven back to our apartment and when we got there, a social worker was waiting for us.  We have three visits with a court-appointed social worker to see how the girls are doing and to see if we are all bonding.  I was a little worried about her being there right then, because it was 2:30 in the afternoon and the girls were a bit cranky and hungry!  The social worker came up to our apartment with us and we had a few awkward moments until our lawyer joined us as well to translate.  I fed the girls lunch and, while they ate, we adults sat down to talk.  We were asked things like how we plan to school the children, what kinds of things have we done here in Riga so far,  did we have any questions about the girls schedules or medication... things like that.  The lady was very nice and friendly.  Much easier to read then the straight-faced panel of judges we sat in front of the other day!  She said the girls looked very happy and she would see us again next week.

When the social worker left I got the girls to lay down for a nap.  I think they actually fell asleep this time!  Jon and I also fell asleep for a bit.  We all woke up around 5 pm and got ready to go out.  We had some grocery shopping to do and we needed to buy band-aids (Mila has mosquito bites all over her body that she keeps scratching at).

After we brought the groceries back, we walked to a Turkish fast food place for dinner.  They also served pizza.  We asked the girls what they wanted to eat and Vika said, "chicken!" so we all ordered dรถner sandwiches (chicken for the girls and mixed meat for Jon and I) and fries.  It was pretty good... not as good as the ones in Turkey, but what can you do?  :)  We then went next door to the bakery from heaven and let the girls pick out a dessert.  They had been telling everyone all day that it was Papa's birthday and they were going to get cake ("torte" in Latvian)!  They were so cute looking in the glass case of the bakery... ooh'ing and ahh'ing over all of it!  They finally each picked a cream puff-looking thing, and Jon and I each got a slice of cake.  The whole order only cost about $3 US.  Can't beat that!

We walked back to the apartment, had dessert, got jammies on, watched a princess cartoon (from a DVD) and put the girls to bed.  They didn't fall asleep as fast as last night, but within maybe 1/2 hour they were both asleep.

We did see more of their stubbornness (that we saw while hosting them) come out today.  I think it comes out when they are frustrated about the inability to communicate.  Which is understandable... I get frustrated as well! It doesn't help that I am missing my boys tremendously too! 

All in all though another pretty good day!  We have no appointments tomorrow and the weather is supposed to be wonderful so we might start our day off slow and then catch the train to the zoo!  I might have mentioned before that there is another family here from the United States adopting as well.  It has been great to run into them multiple times and chat, to have a family here who have adopted before and are going through this process at the same time as we are.  They are adopting a child that has been friends with our girls most of their lives, so the girls have enjoyed running into them, too! :) 

Happy birthday to Jon... Whoever thought this is how we would be celebrating your 40th?!? God's plans are always best!

I can't believe how much I love these girls already!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Latvia day 3 - Fun Day

Today we had no meetings, no doctor appointments, no court hearings... just a day together to do whatever we wanted to do.  The day started around 8:30 am with the girls waking up.  After some morning cuddles on the couch the girls were ready for breakfast.  So, cereal it was! Ha! They were actually thrilled with it.  One wanted milk on it and the other wanted it plain.  I, of course, had my coffee.

After we were all up and dressed we decided to walk to the park.  There is a gorgeous park down along a canal that leads out to the Daugava river.  There are nice walking paths, lots of grass, different statues and fountains and stuff like that.  We started walking along the canal looking at everything.  The girls are super-observant, to the point where it is almost sometimes hard to walk with them.  They look at everybody who passes by, most of the time even turning around to watch people walk away.  You can tell they are listening to conversations, and just constantly looking around.  It just reminds you that they have led a very different life from most 5-year-olds.  They are little sponges who are absorbing everything around them. 

We had an idea to take the girls on a boat ride down the canal and out to the river before we left, but we needed to check on the price before we said anything to the girls about it.  There are long wooden boats, I think Dutch-made or something.  Anyway, the price was okay, so we decided to do it.  We had to sit in the boat for about 20 minutes before the tour started.  That was starting to get hard, to get them to sit... but there were enough other people around to keep them entertained (by people watching).  The boat ride was nice.  Nothing fancy or great, but it killed about 45 minutes.  The girls liked to see the ducks and wave at people on the shore.  We also passed where cruise ships would come in and dock.  Those boats were pretty impressive! Riga is such a beautiful city - there was plenty to look at!

After the boat ride, we decided to come back to our apartment for lunch and naps.  The girls were excited about lunch, not so much the naps.  We have to somewhat follow the orphanage's schedule for now, and they take a 2-hour nap in the afternoon.  We told them we would go to the playground after naps, so that at least let them know there would be more fun to come.

Let me tell you: there was no napping going on during nap time.  They were in the bedroom (mostly) but there was singing and playing going on.  Jon was able to take a short nap and I sat to read a book (which I haven't done since we left home!).  When the time was up, I went in to let the girls out.  When I came in they both ran to their beds and laid down to pretend to be asleep... I was so not fooled - ha!

On our way out to the playground we stopped at McDonald's to get ice cream.  The girls have been asking us for ice cream... I am not sure if the orphanage workers told them they would be getting ice cream or not, but they have asked every day! Apparently it is not something they get very often in the orphanage.  So, we stopped and got some cones.  They devoured them!  They were each given a Happy Meal flag by the cashier and when we walked out Vika was waving it and singing "America, America!"  I have no idea why... but it was pretty funny!

The rest of the afternoon was pretty uneventful.  Dinner - I made chili and both girls were telling me as I was making it that they didn't like it... but they both ate it with no complaints.  They are much better at eating now than they were at our house this past winter.  They both have also retained a lot of English.  Even Mila who didn't really want to try to speak English at our house is saying things and trying it out!  I have a feeling someone at the orphanage has been helping them with it.

So, all in all it was a pretty good day.  A few minor tantrums, but nothing serious.  They are still testing the boundaries with us and that is to be expected.  They keep asking about Ty, Devon, and Solomon, and when they get to go on an airplane to America.  At least they are excited about it!  I am definitely missing my boys, but grateful for this bonding time with the girls as well.

I will end with this funny story: The first day we were here our lawyer took us through the grocery store to show us a few things.  She pointed out a candy that she said ALL Latvian children love.  When we asked what it was she said it was basically cottage cheese that had been dipped in chocolate.  Okay, that sounds gross... but I bought some anyway! Tonight I gave it to the girls for dessert.  Jon and I haven't had ours yet, so I still don't know what it tastes like, but the girls really liked it.  As Vika was eating hers, she said "cheese" in Latvian (siers) as she looked inside her chocolate.  Jon said, "yeah - it's cheese." Then, without missing a beat, Vika looked at Jon and shook her head as she said as clear as day, "that's not cheese."  Jon and I looked at each other and just started laughing.  The kind of laughter that you just can't stop, with tears.  The poor girls were looking at us like we were crazy, and they didn't understand what was so funny!  I think they will have a pretty good grasp on the English language in no time!

On the boat.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Latvia day 2 - Orphan Court

Are you ready for day 2?  Actually, it was much easier than I was anticipating.  Our alarm went off at 7:45 am this morning.  We wanted to get up, eat breakfast (which were yummy pastries from a bakery not far from our apartment), get showered and dressed, and meet our lawyer in front of the orphan court at 9:30 am.  The court was just around the corner from our apartment.  Best laid plans, right? 

I was wide awake from 1 am - 3 am. I mean wide awake... I guess it was jet lag.  I finally got up at 3 and took a melatonin.  I guess I fell back asleep, because I remember waking up when the alarm went off.  Jon said he woke up at 3 am (when I got out of bed) and couldn't fall back to sleep until around 5:30 am.  So, we were pretty tired when we did have to get out of bed.  We came out to the kitchen to have breakfast, I made coffee for myself and poured juice for Jon, then sat down to eat but couldn't.  Jon ate, but my stomach was in knots and as soon as I took a bite I thought I was going to throw up.  So, I just drank my coffee.  I was so nervous about court!  I pictured walking into this large courtroom with a judge and dark wood walls, and the whole thing kinda freaked me out. 

We got dressed (in our grown-up clothes... I was in a dress and Jon had on nice pants, a shirt and tie) and left our building.  We got to the court a few minutes early and waited outside for our lawyer.  She was not actually there as our lawyer today, but as our translator.  I guess there are no lawyers allowed in this session.  She prepped us a little about what we were going to be asked and reassured us in the process.

When we were called into the "courtroom," it turned out to be an office with a long conference table and three ladies seated on the other side.  I am not sure if they were judges or just a panel that decides these things.  They read us our rights and asked a series of questions.  There were a lot of questions about why we would want these girls with the medical issues that they have.  My heart just wanted to break.  Jon was great; he answered at one point that we don't get to choose what medical conditions our own biological children face and we don't think it is an option for these girls either.  The three ladies were very straight-faced and showed no emotion.  It was almost impossible to read them.  After questioning us for about half an hour we were asked to wait outside while they made their decision.  We were told (by our lawyer) that this usually took about 5 - 7 minutes.  Well, after about 3 minutes they called us back in and read their verdict.  They were granting us custody starting immediately for the girls to stay with us in Latvia (this is called the care and bonding time) and we are to report back to court in a few weeks for the next decision.  That will determine if the girls have bonded with us and we are able to take them back to the States with us. 

I had tears in my eyes when I thanked the panel and the one that I thought was the hardest actually smiled at me.  I know they were on our side in this, that they want to see kids adopted, but it was sooo intimidating!!!!!  The other family that is here adopting had their court hearing after ours and then we met up with them and our lawyer to drive to the orphanage.

When we got there we were told the girls were out in the forest picking blueberries.  We signed more papers (during which the girls returned) and then went up to the girls' room to help them change.  Once again, they were excited to see us.  We were given some photo albums of the girls over the past few years, and a gift that they had made for us.  Some of the other children just stood in front of us staring with kind of a blank expression.  I tried to touch as many as I could, just to let them feel something... I don't know.  It just broke my heart to leave them all there.

We drove back to our apartment and showed the girls around.  We had lunch, then the girls wanted to take a bath.  After that we had the girls "nap" (there was no actually napping going on - they played in their room, kept coming out to see if time was up, and needing to use the toilet).  After an hour I let them come out.  We colored and read books, and had a snack.

After a while, we decided to go for a walk.  This made me a bit nervous because when we hosted the girls Viktorija usually ran ahead of us and didn't really like to hold hands.  The problem is that they don't know about cars and red lights and looking both ways before crossing the street.  They don't realize that some people can be dangerous and you can't just go up to anyone and have them pick you up.  This is all stuff we need to teach them.  So, walking out into a busy city was a little nerve-wracking.  But once again, God showed us that He is in charge.  Vika did great.  I actually think she knew she was out of her element and felt a bit overwhelmed.  She stayed right with us the whole time!  We found a playground and let them play for a bit and then started the walk back.

We got back just in time for me to make dinner before the girls lost it in hunger! We had pasta and chicken and salad.  They were both pretty picky eaters at our house, and I was a bit prepared for them to complain about something.  But they didn't!  They both ate and asked for more!  Vika even had salad!  Milana did eat a bowl of tomatoes, but no lettuce (she seriously has an aversion to green food; the orphanage even told us she won't eat grapes!).  After dinner they got into pj's and we watched "Tangled."  They ate some yogurt while watching the movie.  Then they brushed their teeth and went to bed!

There were a few issues at bedtime.  They got up a few times for different things, and then Vika came out and said Mila was crying.  I went in and knelt by her bed.  She just kept repeating the same phrase over and over.  I have no idea what it was, or what she wanted.  I just rubbed her back and touched her face and hair until she fell asleep.  By the time she was asleep, Vika had also fallen asleep.

So, that was our day... lots of hugs, kisses, charades, giggles.  There were no tantrums, no "I don't like that," no bad attitudes.  A few times of boundary-pushing, but nothing major.  When we were walking back to the apartment this evening before dinner Vika was chanting, "America!"  It was pretty funny.  All in all a much better day than I was anticipating. God is good like that... 

Jon and I on our way to orphan court.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Latvia day 1 - Orphanage Visit

We made it to Latvia with no major hassles, except a 14-hour layover in Amsterdam, but whatever... it wasn't too bad, but I never want to do it again!

We were picked up at the Riga airport and brought to our apartment in the center of old town Riga.  It is a 4-story building and our apartment is the 2nd floor.  There is one apartment below us and 2 above us.  It is a pretty large living space with 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, dining room, kitchen, 1 full bath and a 1/2 bath.  There is also a dishwasher and washing machine!  BONUS!!!!!  We got to bed somewhere between 1 and 1:30 am and had to be up to meet our driver at 11:30 am.  I fell asleep as soon as I hit the bed and slept till morning (we had an alarm set for 9 am, but I was awake off and on for about an hour before the alarm). 

We met the driver down the street from our apartment this morning (our street is pretty much just pedestrian traffic) and he took us to the orphanage where the girls have been living.  We were to meet our lawyer there for a meeting with the social worker who looks after our girls. This was a meeting to hear about their background, medical history, and schedules.  We didn't really hear anything new that we hadn't already heard. 

Anyway, as Jon and I were first walking up to the orphanage there was a group of kids just on their way inside.  There was a little girl standing there looking at us.  We were pretty far away still and Jon said, "I think that's Mila."  I said, "I don't know..."  As we got closer and noticed it was her, my heart started racing.  I don't think I knew how nervous I was about seeing them again until that moment.  How would they feel about seeing us again?  I said her name and knelt down, she got a HUGE smile on her face, walked quickly toward me and threw her arms around my neck.  It was the hardest hug and she didn't seem to want to let go.  I of course, just started bawling.  After what seemed like forever she let go and did the same thing to Jon.  If I had to describe what I was feeling when she hugged me, I would say it felt like my heart was instantly tied to her; this is my daughter, and I am so thankful that God chose us to be her parents. 

She then led Jon and I inside while calling Viktorija downstairs.  One of the other children had already run up and told Vika that we were here.  She came running down the stairs calling, "Mama," and practically jumped off the last step into my arms.  Again, big hugs.  She hugged Jon as well, and was telling all the other kids, "This is my Mama and Papa" (In Latvian of course).  They took us upstairs and we briefly caught a glimpse of where they live.  There was a foyer with locker-type cubbies where they take shoes and jackets off, a living room area and what looked like an eat-in kitchen... it looked like there were bedrooms off to the side.

We had to leave the girls there and go back downstairs for our meeting.  Like I said, we didn't really learn anything new.  The social worker did tell us again how much the girls had changed after their month with us last winter.  They were much happier when they came back.  The social worker also mentioned that the girls might have food allergies to citrus and strawberries.  Hmmm... I fed them tangerines and they loved strawberry yogurt.  After the meeting the girls were brought back to us and we were told we could spend about 20 minutes with them.  We took them outside to the yard and played on the different play things.  Milana stayed pretty close to us the whole time and Viktorija would run away and want us to follow her.  We are really going to need to hold her hand and keep her with us here in Riga. 

When our lawyer came out to find us, she told the girls that we would be back tomorrow to pick them up.  I know she said something about America and Vika didn't look too excited.  I am sure it is a scary thought to be told that you are moving somewhere forever.  We walked the girls back up to their living space and said goodbye.  Again, more hugs and kisses.

There is another family from the States here adopting as well.  So, we spent some time with them this afternoon while our lawyer showed us around the city.  It is pretty easy just to walk wherever you want to go.  We also ran into the other family again as we went grocery shopping and I mentioned the citrus and strawberry allergy, and that the girls had been eating that stuff at our house. The other family's mother told me that they were told the same thing!  Funny...

All in all, it was a good day.  We have orphan court first thing in the morning and then we will go back to the orphanage to pick up the girls!  I hope to blog every day, not just so you can all read about it, but so I can remember little details that I know will be forgotten in the future.  Part of me can't believe we are here doing this - it is something we have prayed about for so long and done so much work to get to this point.  God is so good, and there was such peace in today that I know He is here with us as well.  Please pray that transition for all of us goes smoothly over the next few weeks!

Here is the play yard of the orphanage.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Less of me and my junk...

quote from John Eldredge from “Waking the Dead.”

 "If you are not pursuing a dangerous quest with your life, well, then, you don't need a Guide.  If you haven't found yourself in the midst of a ferocious war, then you won't need a seasoned Captain.  If you've settled in your mind to live as though this is a fairly neutral world and you are simply trying to live your life as best you can, then you can probably get by with the Christianity of tips and techniques.  Maybe.  I'll give you a 50-50 chance.  But if you intend to live in the Story that God is telling, and if you want the life He offers, then you are going to need more than a handful of principles, however noble they may be.  There are too many twists and turns in the road ahead, too many ambushes waiting only God knows where, too much at stake.  You cannot possibly prepare yourself for every situation.  Narrow is the way said Jesus.  How shall we be sure to find it?  WE NEED GOD INTIMATELY AND WE NEED HIM DESPERATELY"

Another friend posted the above quote from a book.  I think I might have to add this to my must read list.

I am fully aware that I would not be able to do half of what I do without knowing who's power it is that I am drawing from.  Sad thing is, I still don't even realize how much fuller and richer my life would be if I was willing to give up more, bow lower, have less...

There are so many books I have read lately that have shaken me to the core.  Made me look at my life, my family and how we live.  What we spend our money on, what we put into our heads and the way we treat people.  Things that I need to be willing to hold onto with open hands.  I highly recommend the book "7" by Jen Hatmaker.  "7" is one of those books that cracks you up and then smacks you in the face.  Completely life changing.  Also, "Crazy Love"  by Francis Chan, and "Interrupted" also by Jen Hatmaker. 

Here are a few other Jen Hatmaker quotes that have shaped my life lately: (all from "7")

"In order for Jesus' kingdom to come, my kingdom will have to go, and for the first time I think I am okay with that."

"Obedience isn't a lack of fear.  It's just doing it scared."

"Teaching by example, radical obedience, justice, mercy, activism, and sacrifice wholly inspires me.  I'm at that place where "well done" trumps "well said".  When I see kingdom work in the middle of brokenness, when mission transitions from the academic soil of the mid into the sacrificial work of someone's hands, I am utterly affected.  Obedience inspires me.  Servant leaders inspire me.  Humility inspires me.  Talking heads dissecting apologetics stopped inspiring me a few years ago."

"What better way to say "Jesus reigns" than dressing my preschooler in a $45 dress to show her off in the church lobby? (You're welcome, Jesus. Be blessed)"

Okay, that last one mainly just cracked me up...

 I know I have posted this song before.  I just heard it again tonight and realized again that I think it was written just for me.  It might speak to you as well... but it was written for me. So there.  This has been my life's theme song since the day we drove out of California.  God has never let us down, and we try not to live our life looking back, only what is coming up next. 

"Jesus, may there be less of me and my junk and more of You and Your kingdom."  Here we go...
(Jen Hatmaker again... you should friend her on facebook...)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wheels Within Wheels

So, I decided to sit down to do an adoption update tonight.  I have been pretty quiet about it on Facebook this week... partially because I was waiting for an official update, and partially because I am sure people are sick of me talking about it.  But for those of you who want an update, I am doing it this way! I know a lot of you are praying for these girls to come home to us soon and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for those prayers!

Today we did get some news.  Good news?  Kinda, but some not so great news as well.  Basically it is just going to take a little bit longer to travel to Latvia than we were expecting.  We were hoping to already be there and back by now!

On June 19th the orphan court in Latvia was reviewing our case.  The Ministry (which is a branch of government) has our official referral and is ready to get us there, but something happened in court that brought to light that the girls have a half-sister who lives with their mother.  Yes, another sister... she isn't up for adoption.  But, the law there says that they need to sever all sibling relationships before a child can be adopted (this includes half-siblings).  This should be a fairly easy thing to do... the problem is the mother and half-sister live in a different region from where our girls are, so the orphan court in that region will have to do that.  As soon as that is done the Ministry is ready to send us our official referral and travel dates.  But we are now being told not to expect to travel until closer to the end of July.  THE END OF JULY?!?!?!?!?!  I think my God is bigger than this problem and that paperwork will pass through much quicker than they are saying. 

One of my biggest concerns is that these two precious girls now know we are adopting them.  They have known for at least 2 weeks (that we know of).  They ask every day when Mom and Dad are coming to get them! Just go ahead and stab my heart right now!  I am so glad they are excited, but can't stand that they have to wait so long! Please pray protection over their hearts. 

I know... God's timing is perfect.  But, I thought we had a really good timeline worked out! :)  Now we are going to compete with school starting in August for the boys.  Coincidentally, school is starting one week later than normal this year... maybe God already knew His plans for this... hmmm....

We are ready... we would leave tomorrow if it would help move things along.  But, instead we are sitting and waiting on God's perfect timing.  Not fun or easy at times! Thanks for hanging in their with us and for praying!

Here is a song that I have been singing nonstop today... hope you enjoy it as much as I do!