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...)