Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Waves of helplessness

That’s the best term I can think of to describe how I’ve been feeling lately. As I mentioned before, there have recently been several families adopting children from the orphanages that I volunteered in. I was so excited for these families to finally meet their children and hold them in their arms but I was not expecting how hard it would be for me to experience life over there from their perspective. I realize now, more than ever, just how much strength God gave me to make it through the days while I was over there. I saw heartbreaking things and while yes, they did break my heart, God knew that I would have to have a way to compartmentalize the things I was seeing in order to keep going for six months. While my heart always ached for the injustices that the kids faced, I learned to focus on what I could do, on making the most of every opportunity and loving the kids as best as I could rather than focusing on the heart wrenching circumstances that I could not change. Over the past month or so however, I have been hearing the stories of adoptive families who were walking the same streets I walked and all the memories came rushing back. This time however, the need to compartmentalize and stay strong was gone and I found myself in a place of fresh brokenness.

It’s not that any of their stories surprised me. Because of the unique opportunity I had to spend several months volunteering inside the walls of the orphanage, I have seen all of what they saw and worse only this time I was not there and I was helpless to do anything for my kids. I was relieved to hear that all my babies are still there, that none of them have been transferred or passed away. Nevertheless, the reports I read tore my heart to pieces…
“So-and-so spends most of his time in the playpen…”

“So-and-so looks like he has regressed…”

“So-and-so does not get much love… I haven’t seen anyone really care about him”

Again, it’s nothing I didn’t already know. It’s pretty much what I expected to hear but still, reading it right there in black and white and not being able to scoop my babies up in my arms and give them the love they deserve and so desperately need… it just about kills me.

Meanwhile every Friday, usually with tears streaming down my face, I pour my heart out in attempt to put into words just how precious these children are. I pray that their stories will spread far and wide until the right family takes one look at their sweet face and knows that he/she belongs to them. Praying, advocating, it’s all that I can do and sometimes I just feel so helpless.

Waves of helplessness yet, as always, they are interspersed with bursts of hope. I am thankful for all the kids that are being adopted from my orphanages and for the 30-40 more families who are currently in their country about to bring home even more special needs kiddos. I will never stop believing that one day, it will be their turn. In the meantime, I am thankful for even just a glimpse at their sweet faces…

Please Jesus, send families soon!






My favourite groupa :)

These pictures are of “my princesses” at the special needs orphanage

Sweet Yulia

Fortunately, like any good mama, I know my kids from behind...
clockwise from the one girl who is facing the camera:
Violietta, Natasha, Nastia, Katya, Michelle and Katya

As an extra special bonus, my good friend Jenny was recently in Uganda and made a trip to Amani Baby Cottage to visit my Matty. Her camera wasn’t working and she was only able to get one not-so-great picture but it means the world to me that she was able to love on him on my behalf and I’ll take any picture I can get :)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Find My Family Friday - Andrey S

Back in March I told you about “My Andrey”. I wasn’t doing “Find My Family Friday” posts back then but, interestingly enough, the post was on a Friday so I guess you could say it was my first one. Today, nearly four months later, Andrey is still waiting. Andrey has over $5,000 in his grant fund, a popular blog hosted a fundraiser/family-finder for him, there was even an article written about him here yet still he waits.
Stephanie wrote a touching post where she described Andrey as an underdog. The sad reality is, she was right.

I don’t know how it happened. When did the orphanage workers decide that Andrey was not worthy of the occasional positive touch or affirming words that some of the other children with Down syndrome would receive? When did they decide to not even bother remembering his name? When did they decide that this child had absolutely no value or potential? He may be an underdog but I have another nickname for him…
Andrey is my cuddly teddy bear.

I have little nicknames for all my kids and Andrey’s fits him so well. This little boy is pure love. He is craving love and attention and he is quick to accept it and give it back to whoever takes the time to give it to him. I’ve mentioned before that when I first met Andey he was a little withdrawn but it didn’t take long for his personality to shine through. Yes, Andrey has plenty of personality and is a real little jokester. Sometimes the workers would let me play with him at this highchair/table thing. We would play with stacking rings and he would pick them up, look me right in the eye and smile as he dropped them on the ground one at a time, giggling as if to say, “I’m going to make you do this all day”. Later on I began bringing him downstairs to the visiting room for some one-on-one time. The workers are extremely worried about the cold. They always had booties on his feet and I would get in big trouble if someone spotted him without them. Well, Andrey had other ideas and every time I turned my head he would pull one off. As soon as I noticed I would say, “Hey!” and he would start laughing so hard he would nearly fall over!

When I first met Andrey, he preferred lying down to sitting up and could not stand even with help. By the time I left, he was sitting more and regularly pulling himself to a stand. Today, my sources tell me that he is often found standing at the side of the playpen. If he can make that much progress in such little time with such little attention, just imagine how he will blossom with the love of a family and the benefits of all the therapies he might need. Andrey needs out of there before he once again loses his motivation and regresses even more. I mean, what’s the point of working so hard to stand in your crib when still, no one pays you any attention?

In the past year, eight special needs children have been adopted from Andrey’s orphanage (not to mention all the “typical” children who have been adopted). All the while, Andrey waits for a family of his own. You can help end Andrey’s wait by donating to his grant fund, sharing his story and praying that the right family would step forward. This cuddly teddy bear has waited long enough. For more information or to donate, click here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wordless Wednesday - New Pictures of Dima :)


I know this is supposed to be wordless but just to clarify... no, that is not Dima's mom, it is another adoptive parent who was able to visit him.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Father's Heart...

In honor of Father's Day, if you would like to read some inspiring stories of fathers who have said no to maintaining the status quo and are instead living their lives in pursuit of THE FATHER'S HEART, please click on the button below...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thankful Thursday

The last few weeks have been rough on me (more on that another time) yet it seems that God always knows just what I need to lift my spirits… You all know the story; ten months ago I arrived in Ukraine and began volunteering at a local baby orphanage where I was introduced to 10 special needs children who would soon become affectionately known as “my angels”. Right from the first day I met them, I began to pray for families for each of these kids, knowing that adoption was their only hope for anything good in this life. Out of my ten “angels”, one (Liza) already had a family coming for her, two (Dima and Diana) were already listed on Reece’s Rainbow and two, I later found out, were not legally available for adoption. That left five precious children who desperately needed to be listed. Day after day, month after month I prayed but the chance of these kids being listed seemed only to grow more and more unlikely. On my very last day at the orphanage I was able to obtain the information needed for four of the kids and several months later their faces finally appeared on Reece’s Rainbow. That was hands down the greatest day since I returned from Ukraine but the victory was short lived… Within a week one beautiful face began haunting my memory. At the time that I left Ukraine, Liza was in a different group than the rest of my kids and for that reason I was not able to get her information along with the others’. At the time I was so excited about getting the information for the other four, I rationalized that four out of five was pretty good. After those four were listed however, I couldn’t stop thinking about Liza. What would happen to her? Wasn’t she just as deserving as the others? I felt like I had failed her…

If I thought getting information while I was there in person was hard, trying to get the information from the other side of the world was outright impossible. I tried everything I could think of but all my efforts failed. Then one day I checked my e-mail and there it was – all the necessary information! Three days later her sweet, smiling face appeared on Reece’s Rainbow… To be honest, God gave me an important reminder through the way this all played out: While it is right and good to be a voice for the voiceless, on their own, all my best efforts amount to nothing. God alone is omnipotent, God alone can make the mountains move and my best “effort” will always be the time I spend in prayer.

So yes, my heart is still burdened by the events of the past couple weeks but today, today is a day to be thankful…

I am thankful that all of “my angels” now have a chance at a family.

I am thankful for new pictures of my sweet kids’ faces.

I am thankful that my little snuggle bug will never have to spend another night in an orphanage.

I am thankful for friends I’ve never met who love my kids and want to see them find families just as much as I do.

I am thankful that I have the most supportive mother in the world who listens to me talk about kids and families she doesn’t know for hours on end and lets me live in her house rent-free while I try to figure out what’s next.

I am thankful for sunny summer afternoons spent sitting on a park bench talking about faith, life and the Word of God.

I am thankful for Christian artists who write songs like these that cause me to stop what I’m doing and take time to worship.

I am thankful that I serve a God who is always good, always sovereign and always faithful. Period.

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever.” (Psalm 136:1)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Find My Family Friday... on Tuesday???

I know, it’s not Friday but something happened yesterday that was just too exciting to wait ‘till Friday to share… the last of “my angels”, Liza, was listed on Reece’s Rainbow!!! (stay tuned later this week for the amazing, “Wow God” story of how that all came to be) On top of that, today is a very special day… today is Liza’s birthday! So you see, I just couldn’t help it, I had to do Liza’s “Find My Family Friday” post today.

From what I’ve been told, Liza was born a healthy baby until one day her father took her in what should have been his safe and loving hands and shook her so hard that it resulted in a lesion in her brain. I do not know whether her parents abandoned her at the hospital because they did not want to care for a “disabled” child or if their rights were terminated as a result of the abuse that she suffered. All I know is that when Liza was discharged from the hospital, she was sent to a baby orphanage as opposed to the loving home that she deserved.

To say that Liza had a rough start would be a huge understatement however you would never know it to look at her. I believe that Liza may be the most content, happy, joyful little girl I have ever met. I saw her nearly every day for months and I could count on one hand the number of times I have seen her without a smile on her face. Unlike many of the children around her, Liza is unable to stand at the side of the playpen or even sit without support yet she doesn’t let that get her down. Whether lying flat on her back or propped up in a walker, Liza finds such joy in observing the other kids around her. Many evenings I would sit on the floor amongst a half a dozen rambunctious toddlers tickling them, tossing the over my shoulder, dancing with them and teaching them to play ring-around-the-rosie. I couldn’t bring Liza on the floor with me as she would have been trampled by the other kids. I felt sad for her but she certainly didn’t feel sorry for herself. She would simply watch, smiling and laughing away, entertained by our antics and happy to see her friends having fun.

Liza has significant physical limitations but I sometimes think that cognitively, she may not be “disabled” at all. Like I said, Liza loves to laugh and she has a great little sense of humour. I remember the first time I took her outside, before I had gotten to know her very well. She kept moving her head in such a way that her hat would fall over eyes and every few minutes I would have to stop pushing her stroller to bend down and adjust her hat. At first I thought that it was an accident, that maybe the way her head was moving up and down was out of her control. It took me a few laps of the building before I caught on to her little game. You see, whenever I bent over the strings on my sweater would dangle in front of her and she was mustering all her determination to reach out and grab them! At only four-years-old at the time, I’d say this little girl is smart as a whip!

God taught me so much through Liza and her pure, unconditional joy in spite of the numerous injustices she has faced in her short life. Whenever I was feeling discouraged I would look at Liza’s beautiful smile and listen to her infectious laugh and know that if Liza could find something to rejoice about then so could I. Unfortunately, another injustice lies around the corner for Liza and just the thought of it makes me sick to my stomach. Sometime within the next year, Liza will be transferred to an orphanage for older children with special needs. Because of her physical disabilities, she will likely be classified as “bedridden” and forced to spend her days lying alone in her bed. It kills me to think of what will happen to this precious, social little girl whose greatest joy is people watching when all of that is stripped away from her. How long will her spirit, now so full of life, be able to survive such an existence? I, for one, do not want to find out.

Today Liza turns five-years-old. There will be no party, no cake, no presents. In fact, it is unlikely that there will be any acknowledgment of this day whatsoever. Will you help me to make sure that Liza’s birthday does not go unnoticed? While other five-year-olds are getting ready to start kindergarten, Liza is about to be transferred to a place where she will never leave her bed. This precious birthday girl is not asking for Barbies, a tea set or a sparkly princess dress. What she needs is a mommy and daddy who will love and cherish her the way she should have been loved and cherished right from the start. I can think of no better gift for Liza on her birthday than a chance at a family. Because Liza is already 5-years-old she does not have a grant of her own but if you are reading this and wondering if Liza is your daughter, I promise that I will rally behind you and do everything I can to help you raise the money you need to bring her home so please don’t let that stand in your way. In the meantime, I am asking everyone who’s reading this to please help me celebrate Liza’s birthday by sharing her story with everyone you talk to today/this week and joining me in praying that this time next year, Liza will be celebrating her birthday with her forever family. For more information, click here.

Liza is listed as “Molly” on Reece’s Rainbow;
in order to protect her identity, when sharing about her on your own blogs, facebook pages, etc. please use her Reece’s Rainbow name

Friday, June 10, 2011

Find My Family Friday - Diana

Diana was one of the only two kids among “my angels” (the other being Dima) who was already listed on Reece’s Rainbow when I first started volunteering at the orphanage. Why then have I not advocated for her before? The simple, honest answer is my lack of faith.

I remember when Adeye wrote her heartfelt plea for sweet Julia, she admitted that the situation seemed hopelessly impossible, futile even… I can relate as that is how I often feel about Diana. Diana’s needs are severe. Her original profile on Reece’s Rainbow says: “Beautiful girl with vision impairment… She is content and expresses emotion well, recognizes caregivers by their voice, is able to roll over by herself. She is learning to stand/balance now with help. She may have some CP as well.” I can’t say for sure if that was ever true but if it was, she has since regressed beyond what I even thought possible in such a short time. Yes, Diana is beautiful, that much is undeniably true and I do believe that she has vision impairment. Unfortunately, that is where the similarities end. I believe that Diana has severe CP (or perhaps some other muscular disorder). She cannot stand, sit up, roll over or even hold her head up on her own. She is more or less unresponsive and, understandably given the neglect she experiences, she is not very content. My heart breaks for Diana as I wonder, “Who will go for her???”

I would like to share an excerpt from my October newsletter:
“Probably about a month after I started volunteering at the babies’ orphanage, I was alone outside with one of our most severely handicapped children. Diana is blind and has a fairly grave form of cerebral palsy. After an hour of holding her, talking and singing to her, playing patty cake and itsy bitsy spider, stroking her hands and face, etc. I had yet to elicit any sort of response from her. Her expression and demeanour remained the same as when she was left lying alone in a crib. In despair I found myself crying out to God, “Does she even know I’m here? How can she ever understand how much You love her?” Immediately God responded by reminding me of a verse I had read that morning:
“May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully…” (Ephesians 3:19 NLT)
God spoke to me in that moment, telling me that His love is too great for any of us to understand but Diana was experiencing the love of Jesus deep in her spirit in a way that was not dependent on human understanding.”

After six months, I never did receive any response from Diana although she did become more at peace in my arms. Nevertheless, God spoke to me so clearly on that October day and I truly believe that Diana experienced the love of Jesus as a result of our time together. Doesn’t she deserve to experience that every day?

I do not know what Diana could achieve if she was given a loving family and access whatever therapies she may need. What I do know is that this precious princess deserves to be covered in kisses, sung to, prayed over and held in loving arms every day of her life. Unfortunately, I have seen what her future holds if she is not adopted. Diana is on her way to becoming the next Tanya and Marina, neglected and alone, wasting away as the life slowly drains from her body and spirit… She most definitely deserves better than that.

I believe that nothing is impossible for God, I believe that every child has a right to a family and today, I am choosing to believe that there is a family out there for Diana. Would you believe with me? You can be a part of Diana’s miracle by sharing her story, donating to her grant fund and remembering her in your prayers. For more information or to donate, click here.

Monday, June 6, 2011

His million dollar smile

Ok, I’m sure by now you all remember Dima, the first of “my angels” for whom who God chose to answer my prayers for a family. I’m sure by now you’re also rather tired of this picture… Yes, I can hear you all thinking “Doesn’t she have any other pictures of this child???” Well, that’s what I’m here to tell you… I do!!! Recently another family was able to visit Dima at his orphanage and get some new pictures of him. The thing is, I can’t show them to you… yet. Dima’s mom, is doing a really neat fundraiser right now with the help of Dima’s new picture is hidden under a bunch of dots which are being “sold” for $5 each. With each dot “purchased”, a tiny piece of his new picture is revealed but not until all the dots are sold will you be able to see it in its entirety.

I have a confession to make though, Dima’s mom knew that the wait would just about kill me and so she sent me the pictures… I didn’t realize she was going to do that but I’m glad she did because now I can tell you, after seeing it with my own eyes, that the smile on Dima’s face as he plays with the toy that his mama sent him is worth a million dollars. And, well, it kind of needs to be… Dima’s family has been working hard to save and fundraise but it has not been easy. All the necessary paperwork is coming together and they could be given an appointment to travel in as little as a month. The problem is, they still have approximately $19,000 to raise before they are fully funded. It’s a huge, overwhelming number but please don’t let it overwhelm you to the point of feeling like there is nothing you can do. I have seen families receive $20,000 in a week, $12,000 in a single weekend, $8,000 in just one day. God is faithful and I know that He will provide. I also know that Dima’s family will not give up, no matter how long it takes but I’d hate to see a lack of finances cause Dima to wait one day longer than he has to. You may not have a lot to give but I have learned that every 5 or 10 dollar donation adds up, they do make a difference.

To buy dots and help uncover that million dollar smile click here. You can also donate directly via their blog or their family sponsorship page with Reece’s Rainbow.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Find My Family Friday - Bogdan

It was love at first sight. From the first time I looked into those beautiful brown eyes, somewhere deep down I knew that this little boy would capture my heart like none other.

The first day that they brought all the special needs kids outside I tried to focus the very brief time I had on the less mobile children who I knew probably never got any attention. Meanwhile, Bogdan stood at the side of the playpen, more accurately referred to as the prison, staring up at me with big sad eyes pleading with me to take him out.

The next day, his turn came. I wasn’t sure if he could walk but I thought if I took him out I could hold his hands and help him. As it turns out, he didn’t need my help. I put him down and off he went… he wasn’t 100% sturdy and would stumble once in a while but it was no wonder why he was so upset to be kept in “the prison” while all the “typical” kids ran and played. I tossed him a ball and discovered that he has a great arm! Bogdan was clearly not used to a lot of affection but he loved roughhousing kind of play, being thrown in the air, spun around in a circle, etc. His absolute favourite was when I hung him upside down and blew raspberries on his tummy. Bogdan quickly decided that he was going to blow raspberries too which unfortunately resulted in something that looked a whole lot more like spitting in your face… This new little trick of his was not exactly a big hit among some of the other volunteers but even with my face full of spit, I still found it endearing :)

I still remember the first time I took Bogdan outside by himself for some one-on-one time. When we got outside I just stood there to see what he would do. He just starred up at me as if to say, “Aren’t you going to put me in a stroller or something?” We started walking but I let him take the lead. Gradually he seemed to catch on that he could go wherever he wanted. The playful, inquisitive little boy in him came out as he walked from place to place, glancing back at me every few seconds with this huge smile on his face… oh to just be free to be a kid!

Bogdan doesn’t have more than a dozen “words” in his vocabulary but he is one of the most expressive kids I’ve ever met, communicating so well through facial expressions, head nods, hand movements, etc. He understands Russian well and I would often ask him questions like, “Do you want…?”, “Do you like it?”, etc. and he would answer by nodding or shaking his head. The boy is like a sponge, hungry to learn and soaking in everything. He was so quick to pick up anything I tried to teach him and I often caught him imitating some of my sayings and mannerisms as well. Because the spitting raspberries thing wasn’t going over so well with his workers, I taught him to blow kisses instead and he would often blow kisses at me when he saw me walking through the door. The Russian equivalent to “uh-oh” is “opa” (yes, like the Greek). It’s what I would say whenever he stumbled, dropped something, etc. and it quickly became his favourite word. I also taught him to say thank you (spasiba in Russian) although it sounded more like “a-bah”. Funny story: One day we were playing with one of the adoptive families and they were sharing their snack with Bogdan. This was just a few weeks before I left and Bogdan was very used to me having him say thank you when he was given something. This time however, when I told him to say thank you, Bogdan just turned to the adoptive parents, tilted his head to the side and flashed them his most charming smile. Where did he get that from?! I tell you, the boy is both a charmer and a ham.

I could go on all day with stories of Bogdan’s cuteness. The truth is, if words and pictures could convey how wonderful he is, I am convinced he would have been snatched up the very same day he was listed. Unfortunately, words and pictures do not do him (or any other child for that matter) justice. And so, he waits. He waits for a mommy who will teach him good manners and who he can to blow kisses to every day. He waits for a daddy to  play catch with him and throw him high in the air. He waits to be free to run and play as little boys should. He waits for the opportunity to go to school and learn his ABC’s and 123’s. He waits for hope and a future and a family to call his own.  You know the drill – we need to pray, we need to spread the word. Right now, Bogdan has $190 in his grant fund. If there is one person reading this right now who is able to donate $10, we could bring that total to an even $200. If there are six people reading this who could donate $10, we could bring it up to $250. If there were thirty-one people reading this who were willing to donate just $10 each, we could bump his grant up to $500. Will you help Bogdan find his family? For more information or to donate, click here.

Bogdan is listed as “Logan” on Reece’s Rainbow;
in order to protect his identity, when sharing about him on your own blogs, facebook pages, etc. please use his Reece’s Rainbow name