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Coming home from Eastern Europe, I was planning to blog more about the orphanage itself, and the other kids we were leaving behind. The transition home was rough, but that isn’t the biggest reason I haven’t written about what I saw there. The biggest reason is that every time I go to write, I look back through my pictures. As soon as I start looking at the place that my children spent the first three years of their lives, and the children they spent those years with, any words I have disappear.

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The truth is, my twins were in a good orphanage. They had better food than many, they were given donations of some toys, the staff that we interacted with were doing the best that they could. I don’t fault their caregivers at all, and I am grateful for the time they put into my children’s lives.

However… even a ‘good’ orphanage is not a family. They have extremely limited resources and ability to spend one on one time with the kids.  I have struggled with this post over and over this past year, because I do not know how to begin to describe the degree of impact the orphanage had on my babies.

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They came home not understanding so many things. But the biggest thing – the bottom line thing – is that they had no concept of mamas and papas. They did not have any context for the idea of someone constant in their lives. Someone who cares for them because they are perfect, and beautiful, and worthy to be loved. Someone who holds them because they want to. Someone who will keep them safe. Everything else falls from that.

In the groupa, caregivers rotate every day, and they work different shifts and with different combinations of adults. They are in charge of feeding the kids, keeping them relatively safe, and making sure they sleep. Most of them are kind people, but it is a job. The kind of job that wears on your soul every day. Even the ones that care, and even the ones that try, are there because they are being paid to be there. They are working in an exhausting, thankless job taking care of children that their society would prefer to pretend didn’t exist. They go from there to their real homes, their real lives, and their real families.

The setup of the orphanage is that they can’t hold children, they can’t carry them, they can’t attend to their worries and fears and hurts. There are too many children, not enough of them, and if you were snuggle one child, you’d have to snuggle them all. There is chaos if one child gets attention, so no one does.

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When we first walked in to the orphanage, all of the children started yelling, “Mama! Papa!’ at us. They all know the words, they all desperately want a mama and papa of their own, but no one knows what it really is. They see mamas and papas come through the gates for a couple of hours during the official visiting times. Some of them are the biological parents of children living there, some are parents there to adopt, and occasionally another relative or someone from a local church comes. They are there to see a specific child, and that child is taken out of the group. For a couple of hours that day, someone is watching *them*. Someone is there to see *them*. They don’t have to bite and push to get close to the Mama… the Mama has arms free for them. If they are lucky, the Mama brings a snack or a new toy. For a couple of hours, they have something to hold that is theirs. As soon as they go back to the group, it will be taken by another child – not out of spite, but because that child is also desperate for anything to love. They are all desperate.

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And then the Mama leaves. Sometimes that Mama comes back, and there are a couple of hours of freedom again. Every once in awhile, the groupa watches a Mama and a Papa walk out the gates with one of their own, the one that was chosen, the one that the Mama cared enough to see… and that one never comes back.

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When you live in the groupa, Mamas and Papas are strangers that come and go. Can you imagine living a life like that? When you most basic, intimate relationship is a shadowy mystery that is always there for no reason that you understand, never for long, and never for you. Just a word that you yell at everyone you see, running and grabbing to try to reach them in time, to make them see you – and then being shoved away. Mamas and Papas are confusion and pain and rejection for every child there.

Let’s Talk

Ever since the twins came home, last year, I have been burdened for the children we left behind. I had visions of coming home and advocating for the ones available for adoption, and I see the faces of those who will never make it out. But the adjustment for the twins was hard, and I didn’t blog nearly as much as I had planned, and I watched the children I knew to be available for international adoption removed from the internet, either through adoption or because they are now unable to be adopted.

I have wrestled constantly with the question of my role now. Over the last few months, I have been drawn over and over to the listing of kids available through Reece’s Rainbow and other adoption sites. I look at their faces and I pay attention to their special needs. I know that it is not the time for us to even consider adopting again, but I also know that these children are real. I look at their faces because people should remember that they exist, and I know that these pictures represent hundreds of children who aren’t listed, and aren’t seen, and have even less hope. I tell my husband that something is very wrong in the world, and that this is not ok. At the same time, I have felt that there is something more I am supposed to do with all of this, and I don’t know what it is.

Then this past week, the United States news has been flooded with articles about Chick-Fil-A. Facebook feeds have been filled with people going to the restaurant to show their support. And I have to admit, I am crushed. I feel gutted and shaken at the response to this entire mess. I want to be very clear that I am not bashing freedom of speech, and I believe that Dan Cathy should have the right to say and support whatever he wants. I also believe that people should be free to chose how to spend their money, based on their reactions to his words. But I am so angered at the response from Christians attempting to support the restaurant.

First of all, there’s the message that the lines around Chick-Fil-A last Wednesday gives to our Gay sisters and brother, daughters, sons…. others have blogged about that much more eloquently than I can.

But apart from that, and the issue that shakes me to my core, is that this is the issue that brought thousands of Christians into the street. THIS. Of all the things wrong in the world, and of all the people hurting desperately every day – the Christians of America flooded Facebook with pictures of themselves standing up for this. The opportunity to stand in the air conditioning. The chance to talk with friends and say “I was there”. The chance to feed themselves their choice of food while children around the world starve to death. I understand that this was an easy cause. I understand that most of the people standing in line weren’t trying to ignore the pressing problems of the world. I know that many Christians give to causes privately. But that fact is, when we as Christians come out in the thousands to support a fast food chain, we send a very clear message about our priorities and our beliefs.

I have seen some comments asking what would happen if all of the people who came out in support of Chick-Fil-A gave the same amount of money to someone in need. I agree. But it’s more than that. It’s the effort put forth, the moral indignation, the desire to stand up and stand for something…. and we stood up for this? I am all for First Amendment Rights, but the Bible doesn’t speak to throwing money towards a corporation. It is very, very clear on the priorities of those who chose to follow Christ – care for the widows and the orphans. When I was hungry, you gave me food. Love your neighbor as yourself.

This is a little girl that until very recently lived in an orphanage in Bulgaria. In these pictures she is eleven years old, and weighs ten pounds.

This little girl lives in a crib in Eastern Europe. She has brittle bone disease, and spends her life in a crib.  These are the pictures I stare at every night, and this is how I see the church choosing to mobilize.

I remember all the sermons I heard growing up, all the videos we were shown, about how a revival was coming and how Christians were going to change the world. As far as I can see, the world is still the same, but at least our chicken sandwiches are safe.

I will be honest and say that when I planned to write this blog, I had every intention of being level headed and calm with my words. I knew that coming across too strong would only alienate others. But the fact is, I am angry. I am deeply angry and deeply hurt. I get that this was an easy cause. I get that it was a quick trip and a nice pat on the back. There is nothing easy about this.

(In this picture she is nine years old)

There is nothing safe about this.

There is no pat on the back when we look at the face of the children we are failing. And I understand that this worked because there was a day to go, a person to follow, a place to give. However, there are bloggers every day screaming from the rooftops for these kids, and these kids are just one small drop in a huge world of hurt. I see fundraisers for adoptions on Facebook, and they get nothing like the kind of attention this restaurant earned. There are people hurting every day, and what I want to know is… all of the people that stood in line last Wednesday, where are you going to be tomorrow? Where are you going to be a week from now? Who is going to stand up and call an appreciation day for the least of these? Why is this the cause that can light up Facebook, when every day, these children will still be dying alone.

Independence Day

Last July Fourth, we brought the twins out of the orphanage for the first time.

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We packed all seven of us in the back of a car, and left behind everything they knew. They were excited, and also terrified.

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145 (my best attempt at a picture of all of us!)

We went directly to a little plaza outside of the passport office. The twins were fascinated with the fountain there. Lena didn’t touch it at all, and Max kept getting a littler braver every time he went over to it. Both kids were still completely unsure about what was happening to them.

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We went back to our hotel that night for a little play time (Chava was doing Lena’s hair before I even got in the door), and their first ‘American’ meal. They weren’t fans of the sandwiches.

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While we were glad to finally have the twins, the whole day was a crazy blur, and the twins were mostly exhausted and bewildered.

THIS Fourth of July, we celebrated our family.

167 – Everybody in the big red van. Much more roomy.

Swimming and Joe’s Crab Shack, our Fourth of July traditions.

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And back home for cake, to celebrate the twins.

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(Max’s dog is the same in the pictures of last year and this. We gave it to him as he left the orphanage, and a year later it still goes everywhere with him. It’s lost an eye and it’s nose, but it is well loved.)

A Year

A year ago today, we met our twins for the first time.
1 year with Max & Lena

A year later they are our family.
1 year with Max & Lena

Words do not easily describe the journey so far, nor I’m sure, the remainder. This is the best expression we have for it now…

This family has been working to adopt a little girl from the twins’ orphanage, and they finally made it HOME! I got to play with Eva Marina a tiny bit when we were there, and I have been so excited to see her find her mama. Kate writes in this post about things I’ve been seeing since we came home, and haven’t had the where-with-all to write about yet. Congratulations to them, and I am impressed with your ability to blog!

Mamas and Papas

Someday I will write about what the word “mama” meant to my daughter, eight months ago. The word was an important word – something that everyone in the groupa wanted, but no one actually understood. This is the moment she met us – and I can see the hope, excitement and the confusion on her face.

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We spoke to each other in broken Russian and gestures. I had no way to explain to her who I was, or who she was to me.

Tonight, she came up to me, gave me a big hug and said “Mom, I love you. Goodnight!”

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No Words

Everyone knows the old saying, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’. I’ve been looking through my pictures tonight, and I find they aren’t sufficient.

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A friend is traveling very soon to go to ‘our’ orphanage. I am so excited for them, I cannot wait to follow their journey. I asked them to take some pictures of our twins back, to give to the orphanage workers. And I am finding that no matter how much I pour through my pictures (and I take a lot of pictures) there just isn’t anything that says what I need to say.

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How do you send a picture back to the people who cared for your children for three years of their lives? I want to honor them. I want to tell them that we cherish the gift they have given us. I want them to know that we are so thankful to them. I want them to see that their babies are so loved, and cared for, and living life every day. I want to show them how much fun they are having. I want a picture that captures how their brothers and sister play with them. I want to show them playing, laughing, crying… I want to show that they are ours, but that I will never forget that they used to be cared for by others. There are no pictures that I can send that will thank them for what they have done.

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