Monday, October 31, 2011

Orphan Sunday 2010 Update

Last year, in the week leading up to Orphan Sunday, I did a post introducing all of the orphans living in the same city I was in who were listed on Reece’s Rainbow (you can view that post here). I imagine that most of you are familiar with that post as it is one of my most viewed posts of all time. Well today, one year later, I thought it would be neat to update you on where all those kids are now.


Out of the 12 children featured in last year’s post, four are now at home with their forever families, two have families committed to them who are working hard to get them home as soon as possible, two are not currently available for international adoption due to changing laws in their country, one is no longer available for adoption at the request of his parents and one is now resting in the arms of her Heavenly Father…

How awesome it was for me to realize that over half of the kids from last year’s post now have families – in just 12 months, five of them (including Dasha) have officially become “orphans no more”! Adoption is such a beautiful story of redemption… Here is what the families of a few of these kids have to say about how their lives have been impacted by adoption:

The Gneiser Family – Adopted Lucas (formerly Aleksey/Aloysha)
“We were called to adopt again with Psalm 68:6a "God setteth the solitary in families." We have been through seasons of challenges, stretching, learning, and growing in love. Adoption is a beautiful life changing event that takes time and God’s hand in love to bring the blessings to shine.”

The Burlingham Family – Adopting “Andriy”/Dima
“Adoption is hard. It is a labor of love. It will test you in every way possible and then a little more. It sounds horrible, I know. Then there is a child who waits. He waits for you. He needs you. He is counting on you. You are his one chance at a forever family. I have never met “Andriy”/Dima but he is my son in my heart. I would do anything for my children, “Andriy”/Dima included. He might not have grown under my heart, but he did grow in it. I will climb every mountain for this child. He has changed my life for the better in every way possible."

The Koenig Family – Adopted Eliisa (formerly Vika)
“We started the adoption process for Eliisa (aka Vika) in December of 2010. We brought Eliisa home on July 1, 2011. We thought that our family was complete and were not looking to adopt, but God had other plans for our family when He brought a picture of Eliisa on someone's blog into our lives. After learning her story and starting to research, we prayed many hours about what God would have us do now that He opened our eyes. We never heard about the plight of orphans in Eastern Europe nor did we ever realize that there are 147 million orphans in the world. We knew that the adoption process was not easy and that it was costly and very work intensive and that bringing a special needs child into our family would require a lot of love and patience, but we stepped out in faith that God would give us everything we needed because He called us to it. And He did! Did it change our lives? Absolutely!!! Was it easy? Absolutely NOT. Was it worth it? More than words can say!! Eliisa had already been transferred to an institution for older children. When children are transferred, they virtually lose all hope of ever being adopted and they also lose whatever potential they had to live a "normal" life. When we first met Eliisa, we were told that she was basically worthless and could not do anything for herself. Why would we want her? We knew God had her for our family and regardless of what she could or could not do, God had a perfect plan for her and for our family. Kids that are transferred take at least as long to recover the skills they had before they were transferred as they have been in the institution. There are countless children we left behind without any hope. When we first brought Eliisa home, she really could not do much for herself. But Eliisa has come a long way since then. She can walk independently. She can feed herself and drink out of a cup. She can make some signs to communicate with us. She has started school in a "normal" kids elementary school. She can say "mama." She can play with toys and has learned "cause and effect." There are some before adoption and after adoption pictures that illustrate how much she has changed in four months better than I could describe in words. Adoption is not an easy road. But when God calls someone to a task, He will provide everything he needs along the way. We cannot wait to see what God has in store for Eliisa and for our family.”

Before Adoption - click image to view larger
After Adoption - click image to view larger













If you were doing the math earlier, you may have noticed that two kids were unaccounted for in my “where are they now?” breakdown. That’s because there are two kids who are at exactly the same place now as they were this time last year; they are still waiting. Out of all the kids I featured last year, Victoria and Maxim had been waiting the longest yet here we are one year later and still they wait. Both Victoria and Maxim have already been transferred to institutions for older children, they can’t afford to wait much longer. As these families have so eloquently put it, adoption is a long and difficult journey filled with many trials and challenges but it’s worth it. These kids are worth it. Won’t you consider opening your heart to Victoria or Maxim or one of the over 147 million others who wait?

“Father to the fatherless, defender of widows – this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy…”
Psalm 68: 5-6

Friday, October 28, 2011

Find My Family Friday - Andrey



Transferred. Yes, another one… only for Andrey, transfer may not end up being such a bad thing
(you can read more about Andrey in my previous posts here, here and here).


As I’ve shared before, Andrey received no positive attention at his baby orphanage. For the most part, he received no attention at all. He was rarely brought outside and spent pretty much all his time in a wooden playpen void of toys or any other stimulation outside of what he could provide for himself by sucking his hands, poking his eyes and banging his head on the bars.


Sometime within the last couple of months however, Andrey was transferred to the special needs orphanage for older children. This is the same orphanage that I volunteered in last year and the great news is Andrey is in my favourite group – group 9! Oh how I adore the children in group 9 but I not only love the kids, I love the workers too. The workers there truly care about the kids (which is true of most of the staff at this orphanage). They are kind and affectionate with them, even holding them on their laps and giving them kisses. The children in this group have varying degrees of physical ability nevertheless all of them are given the freedom to move around the room, to play with toys and to interact with each other and the staff. For that reason, I truly believe that Andrey is better off where he is now than he was at the baby orphanage.


That said, I am still concerned. I am concerned that as Andrey gets older with each passing day, his already dim hope for a family will only continue to fade. I am concerned that words like “transfer” and “institution” will scare people away from choosing him. I am concerned because even though he may be doing ok right now, his future still holds nothing more than mere existence in an adult mental institution once he turns eighteen. Adoption is still Andrey’s only hope to be all that God created him to be, yet I am concerned that no one will ever choose him. After nearly six months, Andrey’s grant has yet to even reach $200. You may not be called to adopt Andrey, you may not be able to be his mom, but you can help him find her. If just one quarter of the people reading this donated one dollar, we could get Andrey’s grant up to $200. If everyone who reads this donated just five dollars, we could raise his grant to over $500. It may not seem like much but all the little bits add up, every dollar counts. Please help Andrey find his Momma by sharing his story, donating to his grant fund and remembering him in your prayers. For more information or to donate, click here.


Andrey is listed as “Aiden” 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

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Being stretched, challenged and transformed...

For those of you who have been following my blog for a while and have read my previous ‘confessions’ here and here, you know that I haven’t always had a heart for children with special needs. Before discovering Reece’s Rainbow I had an inexplicable fear of children and adults with special needs. I hate admitting that but I know that there are so many out there who feel the same way I felt and I am desperate to show that God is so much bigger than our fears and discomforts. God began changing my heart the day I discovered Reece’s Rainbow and continued that work of transformation throughout my time in Ukraine but still, I wasn’t sure how that would translate when I came home. You see, my heart is for orphans. More specifically, my heart is for orphans in the greatest need, those who are forgotten and unwanted by the world. Orphans with special needs in Eastern Europe without a doubt fall into that category which is what had me pleading with God to open up a way for me to show His love to children who would normally be so far outside my comfort zone. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the kids there but there were still certain times and situations where those old fears and discomforts would creep back in. I know that many of you are familiar with Chrissie Patterson and the testimony of how she bossed her heart into beating as it should. The phrase “Boss Your Heart” which has taken on such great significance for so many people, became my mantra in Ukraine whenever I found myself in situations that were far outside my comfort zone. It reminded me that your feelings don’t have to dictate your actions. I could boss my heart into showing love and affection to children with profound needs who I would normally feel uncomfortable around and pretty soon my feelings would catch right up.

All that said, I still wasn’t sure how the change God was doing in my heart would carry over after I got home. I had developed a strong passion for neglected orphans with special needs but I still wouldn’t describe myself as someone with a heart for all children with special needs. When I came home and started looking for a job, working with children with profound special needs was not even on my radar. Yet as time went on and my options became fewer and fewer, one day on a whim I called a local school for children with special needs. They told me they were holding interviews the next day and one week later I was starting my training! The school is for children with moderate to severe intellectual handicaps, many of whom also have anywhere from mild to profound physical disabilities. The students range in ages from 4-21 and are split into an elementary and a high school campus with approximately 250 students each. On the day that I went to visit the campuses it was overwhelming… So many students, so many with such profound needs, I honestly can’t say I was any more comfortable than I would have been two years ago. I wasn’t sure I could do it but I had promised God that would walk through any door that He opened. I am no longer of the belief that ‘some people are just not cut out for this kind of work’ and I knew that it was all just a matter of bossing my heart. The amazing thing is, I only had to boss my heart for about 5 minutes and I haven’t had a moment of awkwardness or discomfort since. The job I’m doing is a lot of personal care and to be honest, I kind of love it. If you have told me that two years ago, I never would have believed you. Even if you have told me 8 months ago I would have been extremely sceptical. It all just goes to show the amazing power of God to transform our hearts. I’m working on call as a substitute and so far I’ve been working on average 2-3 days a week. Unfortunately it is extremely unlikely that this will turn into a stable, full-time job that will allow me to support myself but right now I’m trying not to worry about the future. I know that God is the one who provided this job and I believe that He has a purpose and a plan in all of it. Whether it will lead me to another more stable job or whether God is simply using this job to mould and teach me and prepare me for the future He has in store, I don’t know. I’ve been reading the book Exodus, the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promises to the people of Israel, and there were two verses in particular that jumped out at me the other day: “But I won't do all this in the first year… Instead, I will force out your enemies little by little and give your nation time to grow strong enough to take over the land.” (Exodus 23:29-30).

Little by little, that is how God works out His plans for us. So, I will trust God with my future and in the meantime, I will enjoy the privilege of serving these precious children whom I came so close to missing out on… Praise God for the work of transformation He has done and is still doing in my life!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Find My Family Friday - Igor



After nine long months, I finally have an update on Igor (you can read more about him in my previous posts here, here and here).


There is good news and there is bad news… The good news is that Igor is still there, at the good preschool-aged orphanage where I last saw him. He has not been transferred nor has the unspeakable happened. The bad news is that Igor has resumed his regular head banging and the bumps on his head are back to ping pong ball size once again.


Oh my heart… Who can say why Igor has started displaying such severe self-harming behaviours again after they had diminished so significantly when I last saw him? It could be that the workers no longer have the time and/or patience to continually divert him. It could be that Igor has simply adjusted to his new environment and even though it is so much better than where he was before, it is still not good enough. It could be that these behaviours are in fact not in response to institutionalization but are a part of who he is, something he will always struggle with. What I do know is that this little boy needs a family. Whether his self-harming behaviours are caused by institutionalization or not, one thing we can be sure of is that an institutional setting is not helping any. Igor needs a family who will love him fiercely and provide him with all the resources he needs to be safe and secure.


Aside from the return of his head banging, Igor still seems happy and content where he is and appears to be the same little boy that I fell in love with – quirky, quiet, and dashingly handsome with a heart melting smile just waiting to be drawn out.


My little boy is growing up, losing his baby like features and starting to look like such a big boy. It makes me both happy and sad at the same time… May I remind you that at eight years old Igor will be transferred and that place will not be as nice as the orphanage he’s at now. He absolutely, positively needs a family before then – the sooner the better. Please help Igor’s family find him by sharing his story, donating to his grant fund and remembering him in your prayers. For more information or to donate, click here.


Igor is listed as “Brody” 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

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Another one... FOUND!

Have you seen?! Have you seen?! If you have I know you have a big smile on your face right now… If you have no idea what I’m talking about,
GO CHECK IT OUT! Today, another one of “my angels” made their way onto Reece’s Rainbow’s “My Family Found Me” page. I actually caught wind of this a couple of days ago but I have been anxiously awaiting for it to be made official and now that it is I didn’t want to wait one more minute to let you all know too!

Liza - Soon to be Orphan No More!
The world of adoption and orphan advocacy is a rollercoaster with some of the highest highs and lowest lows you will ever experience. There are days of mountain top victory, days of deep valley defeat and even some days where you are forced to experience both at once. It is the victories like these however that keep you going when the days are hard and you wonder if you can go on… So, to everyone who has shared Liza’s story, donated to her grant fund or prayed for her family to find her, take a moment today to celebrate and praise God for all He is doing on behalf of His children.


Precious, Beautiful Girl:
Orphans don’t have middle names but to me you have always been “my” Liza Joy… Joy. It exudes from your very being and touches the lives of everyone around you. Well, I sure hope you’re basking in that Joy today because, although you don’t know it yet, today is the first day of the rest of your life. A life where you will be loved, treasured and celebrated. A life where you will be free to learn and strive and be all that God created you to be. No more sitting on the sidelines for you, watching but never participating in the fun. Soon you will be right in the middle of the action, free to play and explore and get into mischief right alongside your siblings. Oh, I can’t even imagine all the joy your new life has in store!
I just can’t wait to watch it all play out…

Many people have fallen in love with sweet Liza and my belief and prayer all along has been that God would bring forth the family that He created her to be a part of before she was even born. As you know, things must remain hush, hush until the family appears on the “New Commitments” page but as soon as they do, I will be happy to introduce you to them. Until then…

Three down, five to go… let’s keep praying them home!!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Find My Family Friday - Denis



 

TRANSFERRED

Eleven simple letters which strike fear and sorrow in the heart of anyone who has ever advocated for an orphan with special needs. Well, sometime within the last couple of months, our teeny tiny Denis was transferred (you can read more about Denis here, here and here).


There simply are no words. I have been so worried about Liza being transferred since she is nearly five and a half, I know that Andrey is also at risk of being transferred as he turns five next month… But Denis is still so young and so small, I just didn’t see this coming.


Denis has been transferred to the older special needs orphanage that I volunteered at while I was over there. While it is far from the worst place there is, they are simply not equipped to care for someone as young and as fragile as Denis. When I was there, Maxim was in the youngest group at the orphanage and was about average in size compared to the rest of his group.

Look at Maxim:


Now look at Denis:


Maxim looks like a giant compared to Denis, who is still very much a baby. I just can’t imagine Denis mixed in with all those bigger kids.


Denis is also medically fragile, another reason why he needs a family quickly. Denis has Noonan syndrome. I know it’s intimidating/overwhelming to think about adopting a child with a disease you’ve never even heard of. That’s why I thought I’d provide you with a little more information…

From the Mayo Clinic:
“Noonan syndrome is a genetic disorder that prevents normal development in various parts of the body. A person can be affected by Noonan syndrome in various ways: unusual facial characteristics, short stature, heart defects, other physical problems and possibly lower intelligence.
There's no specific treatment for Noonan syndrome. Management focuses on controlling the disease's symptoms and complications. Treatment of the symptoms and complications that occur with Noonan syndrome depends on their type and severity. Many of the symptoms associated with Noonan syndrome are treated just as they would be for anyone else experiencing a health problem. Taken together though, the many problems this disorder can cause require coordinated management by your health care team.”


Some of the symptoms that often present in a child with Noonan syndrome include:

Heart disease
Growth issues
Musculoskeletal issues
Learning disabilities
Eye problems
Abnormal bruising or bleeding
Lymphatic problems
Genital and kidney problems
Skin problems

According to Denis’ medical file, he has a congenital heart defect (atrial septal defect), severe delay of psychological and motor development, a drooping right eyelid and farsightedness as well as hypospadias (a birth defect in which the opening of the urethra is on the underside). One thing I did find interesting in my research is that Noonan syndrome is considered difficult to diagnosis, even here in North America. Therefore, it is entirely possible that Denis may not have Noonan syndrome at all… he certainly wouldn’t be the first misdiagnosed child to come from home from Eastern Europe. That said, any prospective adoptive parent should try to be as informed as possible.
You can read more about Noonan syndrome here: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/noonan-syndrome/DS00857 and check out the Noonan Syndrome Support Group here: http://www.noonansyndrome.org/

All in all, Denis is just a little boy who needs and deserves the love of a family more than anything else. Yet my fear is that he will not get it. Ever since I heard that he had been transferred I can’t help feeling like Denis will not survive long in that place. Denis needs for his story to be made known, he needs our money, he needs our prayers… he needs a family NOW. For more information or to donate, click here.


I want to leave you with this video… For those of you in the Reece’s Rainbow community, you are probably familiar with the incredible Sarah B. For those of you who aren’t, Sarah is an amazing 13-year-old girl with an immense heart for orphans. We first “met” via e-mail shortly after I arrived in Denis’ country. Sarah had been there just a month or so before me and spent a morning loving on some of the kids who would later become known as “my angels”. We have stayed in touch ever since and she continues to inspire me with her passion and generosity. Anyway, about a month ago Sarah put together this video to advocate for Denis and it is so beautiful and so powerful, I just had to share it…

Could you be his mommy???



Denis is listed as “Ryan” 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

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dear Bogdan

Dear Bogdan,
Today you turned four-years-old. Oh how I wish I could have been there to cover you with birthday hugs and kisses.


I can’t believe it’s been eight months since I had to say goodbye. I remember it like it was yesterday…
I had put it off for as long as I could, just hours before I had to board the train. When the time finally came and I couldn’t wait any longer, I held back tears as I held your hand and walked you back up those stairs one last time. When we reached the top I picked you up and squeezed you tight as I covered your face with kisses. When I put you back down my heart was breaking but I couldn’t help but smile at what happened next… The worker came to get you and you happily grabbed hold of her hand, excited to go eat your dinner. Just before you disappeared around the corner however, you turned around and looked back at me with a big smile on your face. You said, “Paka!” and waved your little hand and then, in a moment that couldn’t have been any better if it was scripted, you blew me one last kiss…


Sweet, precious boy, I have missed you every day since then. I often find myself daydreaming of what life would be like if you were here with me. I envision playing at the park, snuggling on the couch and tucking you into bed at night. Oh how I wish those dreams could become a reality. I pray often that God would grant you a family of your own and secretly ask if maybe that family could be me.


The problem is, I am a long way away from meeting the qualifications your country has in place and I love you too much to make you wait one day longer than you have to. I would give anything to make you mine but the greatest gift of love that I can give to you is my prayers that God would pave the way for another family to get to you long before I ever could.


I have been thinking about you all day today, my little birthday boy, missing you with an ache and a longing I haven’t felt in months.
I have also spent the day releasing you and your future into God’s hands, laying down my dreams of becoming your Mama and praying for the family that God will give you.


Happy Birthday sweet, beautiful boy.
On this day of Thanksgiving, I am thanking God for the blessing of having known you
and for the everlastingly imprint that you have left on my heart.

I pray that next year you will be celebrating with a family of your very own.

Loving you always…

Friday, October 7, 2011

Find My Family Friday - Maxim



A lot has happened since the last time I posted about Maxim (you can read my previous posts about him here and here).


First of all, Maxim turned seven years old last month. It sounds like a reason to celebrate but sadly, it is not. If Maxim were here in North America and someone asked him how old he was Maxim could proudly display his seven little fingers as the inquirer delightfully explained, “Wow, you’re a big boy now!” Instead, as an orphan living in Eastern Europe, when someone hears that little Maxim is 7-years-old the news does not illicit delight but disappointment, uncertainty and even fear.


You see, in the world of adoption where babies are preferred, older children (older boys in particular) are often passed over. Prospective parents want a child who is cute, cuddly and little. They are often fearful of ‘older children’, uncertain about the impact that years of institutionalization may have on a child after hearing horror stories of aggression, sexual abuse, Reactive Attachment Disorder, etc.


Yet I have met Maxim and can tell you that he is cute, cuddly and little. Of course there’s no way to know what his future will look like but that is true for any adopted child, even the cute and cuddly babies. I might even dare to say that it is true for ‘healthy’, biological children as well.


What I can tell you is that, at least as of the last time I saw him, Maxim was sweet, calm, gentle, playful and well loved by his caregivers. He may be 7-years-old but he is the size of a preschooler. All he wants is the chance to simply be the little boy God made him to be.


Recently Reece’s Rainbow made it possible for children aged 6-9 to have grant funds of their own – now that’s a reason to celebrate! Don’t you want the honour of being one of the first people to donate to Maxim’s new grant fund? The blessing of knowing that you played a part giving Maxim the childhood he deserves? Even if you can’t donate right now, you can help Maxim’s family find him by sharing his story and remembering him in your prayers. For more information or to donate, click here.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Promises

Last week I shared some of the frustration/discouragement I have been feeling lately. Today I want to share about how God has been encouraging me even in the midst of this season of discouragement…

Recently I have been reading through the book of Genesis. I have found myself especially drawn to the story of Abraham and all the promises God made to him. God promised Abraham that He would make him into a great nation, that his descendants would be more numerous than the starts in the sky and that they would possess the land where Abraham was living as a foreigner. Yet it took decades before Abraham would see evidence of any of those promises being fulfilled. Abraham was 75 years old when God first called him to leave his home and go to the land where God promised to make his descendants into a great nation. For years Abraham moved from place to place as a foreigner in a land not his own. Abraham was 100 years old when his wife gave birth to Isaac, the first of the many descendants God had promised him. Finally, Abraham died at the age of 175, never seeing the fulfillment of the promises God had given him. I can only imagine what must have gone through Abraham’s mind during those 100 years of waiting… What he must have been thinking when he arrived in the promised land and then had to flee to Egypt because there was no food… How he must have felt when 20 years later he still had no children to serve as his descendants… Yes, we know that Abraham had his moments of doubt but for the most part, he trusted God to do what He said He was going to do, even when he didn’t understand God’s ways. As Hebrews 11:13 puts it – “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance…”

Although I hope I don’t have to wait until I’m a hundred years old before God gives me the child(ren) He has promised me, the story of Abraham has helped to bolster my faith even when I don’t see/understand what God is doing. Still it seems that God, in all His goodness, wanted to make sure I heard Him loud and clear. Last week, one the beautiful people I have “met” as a result of this blog sent me an encouraging e-mail where she pointed me to several people from the bible who were “stuck” in seasons of waiting, the first of which was Abraham. Then, I was reading one of the blogs I follow and they too were talking about Abraham and the promises God made to Him. Finally, as if all that wasn’t enough, the DJ on the radio started talking about holding onto the promises God has given you using, you guessed it, Abraham as an example! Three instances in 15 minutes… I had to just stop what I was doing, take some time to let it all soak in and praise God for the way that He was ministering to my heart. I may not understand what God is doing right now but this I do know: God always keep His promises, in His time. So, as hard as the waiting may be sometimes, I will trust Him, even when I cannot see what He is doing.

After the DJ finished speaking he played a song that I have been clinging to for the past month or so…
If you find yourself in a place where you are desperately holding onto the promises God has made, please take a few minutes to listen to this song and allow it to be an encouragement to your heart today.