Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Letter to Roman

Dear Roman,

You have been heavy on my heart again. There are days that I wrestle with feelings of unforgiveness at the judgement that has kept you behind a closed door, not knowing the love of a family. There are days I wrestle with bitterness that your chance to come home to a forever family was ripped from your tiny, pudgy fingers. And there are days when all I know to do is pray for you. The last we heard, and that has been almost a year ago now, was you had been moved into a foster family. We don't understand the complexities of foster homes in Russia, and whenever we ask questions of anyone who would know, we find ourselves looking into crestfallen faces. We were initially hope-filled that a foster family would mean that you were in a better position to be adopted, but from what little information we have gathered, quite the opposite is true. Roman, we still long to gather you up in our arms again. We long to introduce you to Daniel. I used to think that missing you was somehow taking something away from Daniel and our heart and love for him. But, I imagine it's much like any parent who has a second child. The love and commitment to that second child in no way diminishes the love and commitment to the first. You are forever in our hearts as our first son. We stood in the gap for you. I desperately want you to know that in the world of the abandoned, you were fought for with everything we had to give. I so much want to tell you, as you grow up and watch other children go into forever families, wondering why no one chose you, that you were, are and always will be adored, cherished and prayed for. I cannot grasp why or how a judge could have looked into your big blue eyes and ruled that a "procedural error" which could not be validated, was sufficient to deprive you a chance of experiencing what every single child in this world deserves to experience. Maybe that is the very reason that the judge refused to look at the pictures of us holding you, proving that we had spent time with you. Proving as you looked in our eyes that you found a haven in us. I cannot understand, nor do I think I ever will. And I know it would take a miracle from God for you to understand how much we cherish you. Oh, that every orphan would have people praying for him or her with the fervor with which people here still pray for you! I have had two instances in the last few weeks where women have come to me and told me, with tears in their eyes that as often as they think of you, they pray for you. If you never grow up knowing the love of two people committed to you to call themselves your mommy and daddy, I hope that somehow you comprehend that you have not been forgotten. Your name is still on our lips. Your picture is still in our home. Your face is engraved in our minds and your memory is firmly rooted in so many hearts on the other side of your world. And I hope you can know someday that we don't regret a moment of our journey. We were asked regularly by people who were hurting with us why we didn't give up. They could see how the waiting was draining life from us and yet we pressed on. The only answer we could give was that everyone else in the world had turned their back on making a lifelong commitment to you before you were even two years old. We wouldn't be added to the number who walked away of their own volition. You would have to be pried from our grasp. And it's still a fresh hurt that you were.

This morning I woke up to spend some time in God's word and in prayer. I have been studying Isaiah 30 and verse 18 is one that I have had memorized for years. "Yet, the LORD longs to be gracious to you, he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait on Him." I wanted to understand the entire context of this chapter, and so I began studying. Verses 1-2 say:
Ah, stubborn children," declares the LORD,
"who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
that they may add sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt, without asking for my direction
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!



Further reading into the commentary of my study Bible revealed that at this time in Judah's history, they were facing a threat from Assyria. God's people took their eyes off their Helper and Redeemer and focused instead on the Assyrian military, got scared and ran to Egypt to make an alliance with them for protection. Egypt. Egypt? EGYPT! Egypt who had enslaved God's people for generations. Egypt who never, not one time had God's people's best interest in mind. The same Egypt from which God had miraculously freed His people. God had freed them and when they took their eyes off Him, they ran right back to the chains that enslaved them. God had a plan for them. He had already promised them that He would protect them. That He would strengthen them with His righteous right hand. The Sovereign God of the entire universe could snap His fingers and descimate the entire Assyrian people. And yet, His chosen people, sought refuge not in the one who actually, by His very character is our Refuge and our shield, but from Pharaoh. They sought shelter, not under the wing of the Almighty, but in the shadow of Egypt. When I'm faced with trials, where do I run to? To my Protecter and my Defender? Or to things from which He has already freed me?

The rest of the chapter reveals that the people's heart is hardened to God. And so, He waits to be gracious. I'd always envisioned God on His throne in heaven, sitting forward on the edge of His seat, His focus intent on the ones who would cry out to Him. I can't imagine any other visual to these verses and yet, I can't fathom why the Sovereign God of the entire universe would be poised, ready to spring into action to pour out His grace on us, rising up to extend His compassion for weary, heavy laden souls. What an incredible, indescribable God! For the first time this morning, I read this verse in a different translation. The ESV translates the verse a little differently. "Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you" The verbage is a little different, but there is more vivid picture painted with this pocketful of words. Because Judah sought strength and protection from the one who had previously enslaved them, because they hardened their hearts, because they refused to obey God or even to seek Him, God stayed His own hand. Hebrews 12:10b says, "...He disciplines us for our good, that we might share his holiness." If He was gracious to us before our hearts turned back to Him, we would be lazy, entitled spoiled brats. But, oh the ache He must feel as He waits! The ache He must feel as He knows what He longs to do for us!

When I asked God to give me a glimpse of the ache, I saw your face, Roman. We ached to hold you. We longed to cradle you in our arms and bring you into a life which you couldn't have even imagined because family had never been modeled for you. While we never could have erased the confusion as to why your birth mother walked away from you, left you in an orphanage in her hometown and never came to see you or never showed the slightest inclination in her heart toward you, we would have bandaged those wounds with the knowledge that you would have been given, by God, to parents who fought and loved you feircely. Endured more than they thought possible for you. We would have thrown open the floodgates of our entire heart and all we had to offer to be yours. If the court would have called and told us to come to you, we would have dropped everything in an instant, flown to Russia and gathered you up to bring you into a life that every single tiny treasure on this earth deserves to have. The ache we felt to shelter you, Roman, to protect you, to defend you, to provide for you and to lavish love and blessings on you that you could not begin right now to fathom is a pale and miserable comparison to the ache the LORD has while He waits for us to return and repent. Our ability and power to bring you home was subject to the mercy of an unmerciful system. In the palest of comparisons, we too were on the edge of our seats, waiting for a change of heart from someone who had the power to transform your life. Our ache was caused by an injustice to you. Something we could not change. And God's ache, because He is holy and righteous and requires repentance, is something that He endures as He waits for us to return to Him. My soul cries out in agreement with Jonah that "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs" (Jonah 2.8) We will probably never know this side of heaven why God allowed the judge to say no to you, but He is still God, he still is worthy to be praised. I can place my trust in Him alone because He has proven Himself trustworthy time and time again. We can place our trust in Him because He says He is to be trusted and He cannot lie.

And so, little boy, I hope somehow, someone tells you that we pray for you. I hope someone who knew us in Russia will whisper in your little ear that you are a valuable and cherished treasure. And, more than anything, we pray that someone comes and shares Jesus with you so that we can hold you in heaven. Until then, as my mother prayed over all five of her children, we ask that God would send an army of angels to laugh and dance and sing and play around you. Our hand has been stayed, LORD Jesus, but be gracious to Roman. Rise to show him your compassion. Thank you for the testimony of the burden, and thank you for the tiny treasure You have entrusted to us. As though it were a prophesy fulfilled, Daniel has healed our hearts.

We love you, Son.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What Next....

The day we picked Daniel up from the orphanage was a day I will never forget.  All the months of heartache faded in the background, paled dramatically by the vivid color of the miracle we were getting to experience.  Every day that we had received more information that would lead to another heart-wrenching delay….  Every day that had passed when we received no news…Every day it had felt like we were losing our minds in the agony of the waiting season…all those days slipped quickly and quietly into the recesses of my mind.  We were bringing home our son.  We were bringing home the little boy designed for our family.   Daniel took from the orphanage that day a diaper.   Other than the file we had already received documenting all his known medical information, two pictures, and extremely limited family background, he had nothing else in the world to call his own.  Two pictures and a vague story are the only things we  have for the first two and a half years of his life.  And God chose us to change the direction of his path.  Almost three years prior God had looked at a sleeping infant, born to a woman who either wasn't willing or able to be a mommy, and whispered, "I know the plans I have for you, precious child.  Plans to prosper you…plans to give you a hope and a future." And he whispered to our hearts, "Russia" in a long-awaited response to our desperate cry for a child.  From that point on, Daniel would never have to be one of the precious unknowns.  He will never have to be counted among the world's forgotten ones.  Jesus never forgets the children.  Each one is known by Him.  There are still too many in the world and politics and bureaucracy   make it so challenging.   In spite of those challenges, I will never cease praising God for a body that has been incapable of fulfilling my deepest desire.

Around 11 am on July 23, 2012, I climbed into the back of an old sedan and turned as they passed Daniel to my open arms.  He was dressed from head to toe in brand new clothes-quite possibly the first new clothes he had worn in his entire life.  As I turned to smile at the caregiver, my focus was brought to the seven other little children behind her who had been in Daniel's group, all standing near the little fence of their little playground.  Chubby little hands waved, "Paca Paca!" ("Bye Bye!")  Little eyes looked as though they-even at their young age-understood that they would never see their friend again.  They had experienced this moment already.  And I knew as they got older and understood more, some of them would begin to wonder, "Why not me?  Why can't I have a family?"  Tears well up in my eyes even now as I understand those questions down to the core of my being.  God's unwillingness to answer my prayers my way every month prior had opened the door for something so much bigger than I ever could have imagined.   And I was ready to begin again.

That night was the first time in almost three years that Brock slept through the night.
For the next eight months we would be on completely different pages when it came to expanding our family.  Before we left Russia, I had already begun dreaming about returning to Arkhangelsk for a sibling.  Brock had already started doing very preliminary research for fertility clinics.  We decided to make no decision other than to pray until December.  We prayed for wisdom, for peace and for unity.  When the time was right, we believed we would have the same heart. 

January  came and we were still peaceably on different sides.  Russia had closed its doors to Americans wanting to adopt and neither of us felt any particular pull towards another country or even a domestic adoption.  Bulgaria was the only country we found that sparked some interest and we sent off for information from three different agencies that worked with Bulgarian adoptions.  We didn't hear back from any of them other than to be added to their email list.  We talked to a doctor from a fertility clinic in St. Louis who was extremely optimistic about our chances of success based on our medical information and results from the fertility tests we had already had.  I was beginning to get more and more excited about that possibility, but in the days and weeks that followed, "Ishmael" kept repeating in my brain.  In Genesis, God had promised the barren Sarai and Abram a son and after years of seeing no physical manifestation of an answer to that prayer, Sarai sent her Abram to her maidservant so that they could have a son, Ishmael through her.  God had had a different plan though and eventually, after He changed Abram and Sarai's name to Abraham and Sarah, they, in their old age-as in an age where only God could have made a pregnancy possible-gave birth to Isaac.  There was a huge price to pay for Abraham and Sarah taking matters into their own hands instead of waiting on the LORD.  While I know that God works through science, I myself had no peace about our family paying for a pregnancy when God had already opened our eyes and hearts for a glimpse of the things which children without families experience all around the world.  In no way do we believe that fertility assistance is wrong, but I didn't have peace about it for our family. 

While I was becoming more and more convinced, Brock was more and more adamant that he did not want to put our family through the turmoil of adoption again.  He had carried the burden of wanting to protect his bride from all the pain during Roman's story and now he was unsure he could shoulder the burden required to shelter not only the two of us again, but now also Daniel.  I was getting more and more stubborn and vocal and, looking back, more and more challenging.   I knew in my heart what we were supposed to do, but instead of coming to a place of surrender, I was trying to bulldog my way through this season. 
My willingness to release the reins of control came unexpectedly on April  24th.  We had not yet gotten Daniel's social security number and had finally pulled all the paperwork together to complete that process.  The three of us went to the Social Security office and our little family sat in the waiting room until it was our turn.  Another woman in the waiting room commented on how cute Daniel was and we got to talking about his story.  My heart ached even thinking about leaving our first son in Russia and it didn't look like we were ever going to come to a place of agreement with regard to expanding our family.  The lady made a casual comment about how God had opened the doors for the son we were supposed to bring home.   One of the agencies to which we had applied was Open Door Adoptions and a thought came crashing over me with a hurricane force that made me lose my breath for a moment.  "What if God closed the door to Open Door?  Will you be content  if the three of us is the forever family?"  I had been so certain and now I didn't know.  Our name was called and we walked into the back office of the social security building.  The lady who was helping us was so unbelievably rude and condescending that I felt like we were in the middle of the Murmansk Madness all over again.
"Why did it take you so long to bring him to get a number?  What is wrong with you?  You are being negligent parents."
 And the accusations continued.  I looked at Brock-my steady rock-and was shocked to see the look on his face that had been there during the worst days of our process.  His face was red, his leg was shaking and he looked like he could burn holes through the cubicle behind this woman.  He maintained polite words but I knew that was coming from a Strength that was not his own.  It was being in court, our every motive questioned, our every word weighed determining if the powers that be would find us worthy to grant us what so many take for granted.  It was being nothing but a number while we waited with our hearts in our hands all over again.  We left the office in silence and Brock didn't speak again until we were several miles down the road. 
"That's why I can't adopt again, Ashley.  I can't stand the thought of our character being questioned by someone who has no idea who we really are-nor really cares- and who has the power to determine if our hearts will be filled or broken.  I didn't sleep a full night through the entire adoption process.  I can't go through that again."
 I looked at my husband.  The man who takes so seriously his responsibility to protect and provide for his family.  The man who would lay his life down for Daniel and myself and I realized I could not ask, beg or coerce him into another adoption.  I couldn't ask him to do something that would risk his health or his peace of mind.  Maybe God had indeed closed the door.
Ironically, within a few days, I received a mass email from one of the adoption agencies with some very promising information about Bulgaria.  I forwarded it to Brock with a note that explained I didn't want to talk about this yet, but I wanted him to have this information.   My desire to adopt hadn't gone away, and so I had a new conflict.  But every time I prayed about it, I kept hearing the same two phrases. 
"LORD Jesus, we will do whatever it is that you want us to do, if you will just make your way known to us.  What do you want me to do?"
"Be still and know that I am God."
"Ok LORD, I believe this desire to make the difference for another child comes from You.  How can I talk to Brock about it in a respectful way?"
"Peace, be still and I will fight for you"
Every single time in the next couple of weeks I thought about bringing the subject of adoption up, I could almost feel a Divine Hand clamp over my mouth.  "Be still, Ashley" 
Earlier that month, Daniel and I had made the trek down to visit my family in Texas and Brock, taking advantage of the time uninterrupted, had decided to stain our deck.  We originally thought it would take a week at the most, but as he got to working on it, he soon realized it was in desperate need of structural attention and the week project turned into a three week adventure.   Every time he was out there, he was listening to Air1, a Christian radio station and became very familiar with several new songs.  On May 1st, we went to dinner and Brock was much more quiet than usual.  We loaded in the car to go home and he turned to me and told me he had bought a new song on iTunes.  I looked at him, thinking this was a very dramatic way to give me some rather mundane information.
"Oookkkkkaaayyyy….what song was that?"
"I want you to listen to it."
He plugged in the adapter and the lyrics with which I too had become familiar flooded the empty space in the car. 
Little hands, shoeless feet, lonely eyes looking back at me
Will we leave behind the innocent to grieve
On their own, on the run when their lives have only begun
These could be our daughters and our sons
And just like a drum I can hear their hearts beating
I know my God won’t let them be defeated
Every child has a dream to belong and be loved

A lump welled up in my throat.  I was reliving the emotions and joy of the day Brock asked me to be his wife.  I knew what he was doing and what he was saying, but I had to contain the overwhelming flood of emotion until he could get the words out.

Chorus:
Boys become kings, girls will be queens
Wrapped in Your majesty
When we love, when we love the least of these
Then they will be brave and free
Shout your name in victory
When we love when we love the least of these
When we love the least of these

Break our hearts once again
Help us to remember when
We were only children hoping for a friend
Won’t you look around these are the lives that the world has forgotten
Waiting for doors of our hearts and our homes to open

CHORUS

If not us who will be like Jesus
To the least of these…
(Audio Adrenaline's Kings and Queens)
"Ashley, I listened to this song dozens of times while I was out working on the deck never really paid attention to the words.  But, all day long today the lyrics kept running through my head.  God saw us through our last adoption and if He is wanting to use us again for another child and if you still want to adopt, I am ready to proceed.  I've contacted an agency that Buckner recommended for a Bulgarian adoption today and they will be sending us some information.  What do you think?"
What do I think?  What do I think?!  I think that God has answered prayers!  I think that we are going to grow our family!  I think that we serve an amazing Heavenly Father who has blessed me with an incredible godly man!  I think you are brave, Brock.  You are following a path that seems scary and unknown and are committed to it because God has called you to it.  I think that I am beyond blessed to follow a husband who follows the LORD.  I think God changed your heart where I could not. 

And so begins our second paper pregnancy.  As often as you think of us, we would covet your prayers for peace, protection and provision.  We know the same God who was so faithful to sustain us through our last adoption will be faithful through this one as well.  Only He knows what adventures lie in store!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Miracles

Best.  Christmas.  Ever. 

Yesterday morning, our son came creeping down the stairs to be greeted by Paw Paw, Paw Paw-Pi'am (He still refuses to say "Grandma") Uncle Robb, Auntie Pam and a tree that looked like it had exploded with gifts.  After having had his birthday last month, he was quite adept at opening gifts and understood that there were treasures wrapped in that festive paper.  It did however take him a few times to understand that sometimes the treasures were encased in plain boxes under the paper.  The first one he opened in which the box did not advertise the gift inside, he patted the snowman on the gift box, scrunched his shoulders, said, "Oh Boy!" and went for another gift.  He needed a little guidance to open the box and find the coat inside.   He got trains and trucks and play-doh and bubbles and books and clothes and Mickey Mouse and tracks and toys galore. After a few runs with the distinctively wrapped Chugginton Trains, he would scour until he found another, hold up his little finger and exclaim, "Un moh Choo Choo"  (aka "One more Train" for the untrained ear) Every single gift was a new opportunity to be the happiest little boy in the world and every single minute was a opportunity for his parents overcome with new waves of gratitude that this Christmas looked so very different in every way than last Christmas.  

With the new Russian legislation in the process of passing banning American adoptions for Russian orphans, my  mind can't help but drift to how we felt this time last year and my heart can't help but ache for the 46 American families who very well may be the victims of the rash retaliation for some politics that are completely unrelated to adoption.  I am not going to venture to explain even the limited understanding I have of what is happening except to say if you'd like to research it a little more, you can google the Magnitsky law.  There have been a number of Russians who have been opposed to Americans adopting Russian orphans and my opinion, based on the very little information I have, is that this sect has been angling for a way to close the door on adoptions.   One side of me keeps looking at the sleepy eyed little boy- who incidently is blowing his new bubbles all over my newly washed kitchen floor- and feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude that, even with all the obstacles we faced, we have our son home and that this legislation does not affect that.  There is another side of me that has a numb hole in my heart that this will probably mean that the door  is forever closed on Roman, our other son in spirit if not in law.  And then there is the side of me that is furious on behalf of the 46 American families who have already met the children they consider their own who may never hold those babies in their arms again.  But most of all, there is the side of me that is  paralyzed with emotion for those babies who may never have another chance for a mommy and a daddy and Christmas mornings.  In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy and with the  ban on adoptions looming in our future, when are we going to wake up and stop making the innocents the ones who bear the burden of responsibility for a world that is spinning wildly out of control? 

As of this moment, the legislation is not in effect, although the Duma and the Upper Chamber  have already passed it.  On December 20th, even in light of the newly passed bilateral agreement between Russia and America, Vladimir Putin said he supports the bill but has not decided whether or not to sign it.  I have been heavy hearted and prayerful and am asking for those of you who pray to join me.  I am at peace that we may never see Roman again, but I am desperately petitioning the the One who can change hearts to soften Putin's heart so that next Christmas at least 46 more children will have the opportunity to wake up in their forever homes with parents who adore them and a future with more promise than an orphange could ever provide.  Pray for these little ones.  They are the victims of biological parents who could not or would not fulfill their greatest responisiblity and privilege.  Pray that they do not have to be twice vicitimized for political manuevering. 

The lyrics from the Christmas carol, "I heard the bells on Christmas day" have been running through my head for the last week.  For some reason, I couldn't get passed

And in despair I bouwed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth goodwill to men. 

This morning I woke up determined that I would take the minute to look up the rest of the lyrics since they had all but escaped me.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead nor doth He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth goodwill to men.

I am grateful in a way that words are inadequate to express that we got to experience our Christmas miracle this year.  And am filled with hope that the one who seeks to kill, steal and destroy will be silenced so that those who are walking the road we've recently walked will experience their miracle next Christmas.

"Let us not grow weary in doing good for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  Galations 6.9

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

PARF

Seven years ago today I walked down a pier in Nassau, Bahamas and pleged my better or worse to my Prince Charming.  It is amazing how quickly the time goes by.  And it's also, almost equally amazing how God can pull individuals from different places and create a family.  The title for this blog is no accident.  It's not a just a bunch of random letters thrown together for a haphazard, made-up word.  It's a symbol for me of God growing a man from Puxico, a little boy from all the way on the other side of the world in Arkhangelsk, Russia and a girl from Rio Frio, Texas and creating a family.  Puxico, Arkhangelsk and Rio Frio.  PARF.  Not random at all, but rather a very intentional and carefully orchestrated story.

One of the most common responses we get when we tell people that I am from Texas is an incredulous, "How in the world did you end up in Missouri?"  For those of you who don't know how our happily ever after began, I'll fill you in a little.  After Brock and I graduated from college- he from Mizzou and me from Howard Payne- we both had opportunities to move to Austin, Texas.  He was a wine salesman, and if you asked his parents, he sold "communion wine".  I worked for Apple Computer as a Senior Fraud Analyst.  That's right.  The girl whose only two C's she got in high school were computers and typing andwho didn't know how to turn an Apple computer on in her interview was working for a big computer company.  Since I had  a degree in Christian Studies and wanted to serve in my church, I wound up teaching the Single's Sunday School class.  There about 75 singles in the class and one day, a blue-eyed visitor came.  Ever the charmer, Brock and I became fast friends.  He joined my family and me for Thanksgiving that year as he was not able to be with his family and at one point during dinner, I was refilling his water glass and we locked eyes for a brief second.  As silly as it sounds, there was a little voice in my head that told me this guy was going to change my life.  Oh, little did I know...  We dated for a while after that but when he felt like it was time to move back to Puxico, I was convinced I would never see him again, and that was perfectly fine with me!  He had been playing the hot/cold game for a few months as he knew he'd be leaving soon and didn't want the entanglement.  I thought that was the end of that and had no idea what the "what next" would hold.

Brock continued to call me for the next two and half years.  I would throw his number away consistently and yet, he would continue to call persistently.  Finally in the spring of 2004, he offered to buy my plane ticket if I would just come for a visit.  It had been  over ten years since I had been on an airplane by myself and even then, my parents walked me to the gate, watched me get on the jetway and my grandparents were the first faces I saw when I got off the plane.  I was more than a little intimidated, but I thought that I would try it.  A three day weekend to Missouri?  It's not like it would change my life or anything...

The next seven months were spent flying back and forth to see one another and many hours on the phone.  We still say our "courtship" was more like a job interview and we processed through our individual thoughts and opinions on everything from money to children to in-laws to God.  Neither one of us were head over heels in love when we got engaged, but I knew he was a man I respected and trusted.  I knew he was a good man with a good heart and a good head.  And today, seven years later, I am more in love with him than I have ever been in my entire life.  I am so thankful he pursued me for those many, many months.  I am so thankful that some of the things I love the most about him were surprises that I've discovered since we've been married.  And most of all, I am thankful that the man that God gave me to love is not only a good provider and protector, but is also a smart and funny and sometimes even downright crazy man!  My very best friend. 

I wonder what I would have thought if I had known that when I stepped on that plane to come for my first visit to Missouri that it would the first of many other flights.  That the process to bring our son home would have involved 46 different planes.  I wonder what I would have thought if it had been revealed to me that the same perseverance it took for Brock to continue to pursue me for two and half years would be used to persevere as we pursued our son.  About a month after Daniel was born, Brock and I felt like God was telling us that He had a special child for us in Russia.  We had no idea what that journey would entail, but it took two and a half years to end that chapter.  Brock deserves a special spot in heaven for the five years he's had to wait on his family.  Two and half years for his future wife to stop throwing his number away and two and a half years for the Russian red tape to be procssed before we could bring our forever son home. 

My mind works very differently now than it did five months ago before Daniel was Daniel Wayne Williams.  Yesterday someone was telling us with the VA, he was able to get an MIC loan.  My mind automatically completed that statement with K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E.  Mickey Mouse, or Nickey Nunn as it is known in our house, has been a favorite since July.  Daniel doesn't watch much, but when he does, he loves Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  I had a mini-epiphany the other day, thanks to Mickey and his friend Toodles.  For those of you who don't know, Toodles is magical and helpful character who shows up at the beginning of each episode with Mouse-ka-tools that are used to help Mickey and the gang through whatever dilemma they are going to encounter.  The tools are always seemingly random objects that actually are perfect for the  specific predicaments that the characters will find themselves in throughout the show.  I think we all have a little Toodles for ourselves.  God doesn't send us a magical little cartoon character with objects to help us in life, but He does provide us with opportunities and experiences that are perfectly and purposefully designed to empower us with the resources we need for adventures not yet experienced.  "All things work together for good for those who love the LORD and who are called according to His purpose."  Romans 8:28 

So, maybe, just maybe eight years ago, my heart was a little guarded with Brock because I needed to know I was valuable enough to be pursued.  And maybe the peseverance that God matured in him was the very same perseverance we needed to withstand the challenges we faced on our journey to become Daddy and Mommy.  There were so many seemingly inconsequential events and decisions that led us to be in the right place at the right time.  But there has been nothing random about it.  So our little Missourian-Texan-Russian family is excited to see the good plans that God has in store for us for the next "what next" and we will keep trusting God to put the right "tools" in our "Toodles" so that we can handle whatever it may be.  After all, we, "...can do all things through Christ who strengthens [us]"  Phillipians 4.13

Happy Anniversary, Prince Charming!  Thank you for loving me and for walking  with me through the first seven years of our happily ever after.  There is no one I'd rather live my life with than you.  You are my hero!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

I am Thankful

November is my favorite month.  Tucked between all the candy and costumes of Halloween and the bustle and busyiness of Christmas is a quiet little refuge that seems overlooked by too many.  The fourth Thursday of the month is marked by families gathering around tables heavy laden with decadent food, all too quickly distracted by the daybreak of Black Friday.  I think I forget how powerful the simplicity of giving thanks in all things can be. 

Shortly after Daniel came home, I had a friend ask me to identify my favorite part of motherhood.  The question haunted me for weeks.  I would creep into his room at night to watch him sleep and marvel at the miracle of him being with us.  Those were my favorite moments.  And then, in the morning, he would sit bolt upright in bed and smile, "Hi Momma" and melt my heart.  Those had to be my favorite moments.  Playing through the day, hearing his laughter echo in the house, listening to him jibber jabber at us, or hearing his feet pitter pounding as he drove his chicken around the house.  All of these were favorites.  And then there were the moments when he would take a "pit stop" from driving his Tonka Truck long enough to squeeze my leg or climb in my  lap for a split second and exclaim a boisterous "Gotcha!" before zooming off again.  And then there's the bedtime ritual of two books (and heaven forbid you're tired enough to cut corners with one book!  Oh no!  He will quickly correct his reader with "TWO boockas!") a prayer and Jesus loves me.  We start the "May the LORD bless you and keep you, cause His face to shine upon you, be gracious to you and give you peace" and he folds his little hands and closes his little eyes and a divine grin stretches across his face.  That is my favorite part of mommy-hood. 

I know all of these little treasures will all too soon morph into other treasures to be enjoyed in our journey to help young Daniel grow up to be the man he was created to be and I catch myself unwisely wishing for the day for his speech to become more clear or for him to get big enough to take himself to the bathroom twenty times a day.  But when the invetiable days for those accomplishments come, it will squeeze out some of the current treasures.  And while I might grit my teeth a little returning the thousandth "Hi Momma" on any given Thursday, I want to remember that those are all temporty treasures tucked into life. 

So today, on this first day of the Thanksgiving Month, I am thankful for the little boy who finally got to come to his forever home and the man who walked with me every painful step to bring him here.  I have always heard when a newborn is laid into his mother's arms for the first time, she forgets all the pain of childbirth.  I do not know this from first hand experience, but I look at our son and I know he was worth every single step.  I am thankful for the Spirit of Perseverance and when that was a bit smothered, the gift of encouragement offered to us.  It quite literally was used to put courage back in us with words and prayers.  I am thankful, not just for the encouragement, but for the courage given with it.  Isaiah 42.3 says, "A bruised reed He will not break.  A smoldering wick He will not snuff out."  I am so thankful that at the times when our wick was barely smoldering and our faith was so weak, He did not count us out.  He bent down, took us by the hand (Isaiah 41.13) and led us to the plan He had for us all along.  Thank you, sweet Jesus for Daniel. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

One Month Down And A Lifetime To Go!

It has been one glorious month since we walked out of a baby home in Arkhangelsk, Russia with our miracle.  Daniel is learning things so quickly that it makes my head spin.  And we have had to figure some things out fast, too.  Like if you miss that precious window of opportunity between 11:30 am and 12:30 pm to lay him down for a nap, we'd best just buckle up for a long and bumpy afternoon, evening and night.  We have figured out our little man is a slow waker-upper, but if you just let him wallow around for a few minutes, he will sit up on his knees, put his little hands on his little legs, give you a sleepy grin and say, "Hi!".  That "Hi" is not just a precious greeting, it is permission for us to pounce on him and shower him with the hugs and kisses that we've had to hold in for the ten hours while he slept.  (Although, sometimes, we get to sneak in a few very tender and quiet ones when we check on him at night)  We've learned that all three of sleep so much better if every man, woman and child is in his or her respective sleeping postition.  Mommy and Daddy in their bed and Daniel in his!  We've learned that Daniel does not like to be told no, but if you give him a minute, he bounces back to his usually playful and pleasant personality.  We have learned that if Brock comes home from work and quietly stands in the familly room until Daniel notices him, we get a delightful cheer and a two-year old charge!  But more than anything, we have learned even more fully that every good and perfect gift really is from God.  My very first Daniel hug came five months ago, and at that moment my only thought was, "This little boy is going to heal my heart."  I had no idea.  The patter of little feet-or should I say pounding of little feet (for 23 pounds, he is one heavy walker!) the music of his little laugh, and the supreme joy of discovering a whole new day has added such depth and richness to our lives.  Our gift is indeed perfect.

We have also learned some new Russian words.  Now, I'm not completely sure if it's true Russian or if it's Daniel's Russian, but what is communication except the ability to understand one another?  No one else in the world may get our fabulous mix of Russ-lish, but our family is making it work!  When Daniel first came home, he loved men.  He wanted the opportunity to be held by every man he saw, and he called most of them, "Daddy".  But we noticed that he would either point or go to Brock and say, "Dom Daddy."  At first we had to ask each other if our son just called his father "Dumb Daddy".  But then when we would tell him "Die" (I'll explain in a minute) for his monkey, he would throw his Obesyana (monkey-that one is certifiably Russian) over his shoulder and say "Dom!"  So, using our deductive reasoning skills, we quickly figured out that "Dom" must mean something like "Mine!"  So, every man was Daddy, but Brock was "My Daddy".  In other equally confusing Russian to English terms, if you ever see us out and about and we tell our son, "Die", we do not need child protective services called on us.  In Russian-again, this one is confirmed-"Die" means "Give".  So we are not suddenly unhappy and wishing that we never adopted-nothing could be further from the truth-we are simply telling Daniel to hand over that which could hurt him, injure us or require unnecessary headache if he spilled his juice cup on it.  Also, saying good-bye takes a little longer these days as Daniel likes to show that he is a bilingual boy.  "Bye-Bye" in Russian is "Paca Paca".  Our Daniel likes to say "Paca, Paca, Bye, Bye Bye" as if we were raising a Backstreet Boy.   We have also figured out the word for a bird.  So, please, please, please, if you ever see our son point to the sky and yell "TeeTee's" at the top of his lungs, know that he is simply a fan of fowl. We have not taught him to point out something he will undoubtedly figure out on his own when he is a teenager, I promise!  In other animal terms, Daniel likes to point out our back door and yell, "BACA!"  "Sebaca" is dog, so we've figured out that our son likes to yell "OG!" a lot.  If we ever leave and he wants to tell the "bacas" bye, he says, "Paca Paca, Baca Baca!"  Terribly adorable!

In addition to us learning a few Daniel words, he has learned some English, too.  He knows and can say with perfect clarity, purple and blue.  The other colors he's not so interested in right now.  If I count (and I'm counting a lot these days-one, two, three stairs....one, two, three peas...one, two, three toys-you get the idea) I can get to, "One, two..." and I'm usually rewarded with an exuberant "EEEE!" "Please" is "Pesssss" and "Help" is the very quietly whispered word, "Elm".  I have no idea where that comes from.  He can "Huh, Huh, Huh", "Ull, Ull, Ull" and "Puh, Puh, Puh" all day long, but put those sounds together and out comes, "Elm".  I guess if it's a serious emergency, he might yell out, "Birch!" or something. 

His favorite game right now is to take the brightly colored afghan I made during the waiting season (Brock affectionately calls it the 747 coozie as it turned out a little bigger than what I wanted, but I digress!) He pulls it off the loveseat, covers his head, (and usually sticks his hand out to curl his fingers in a "come here") and starts singing "Coo-Coo".  All those toys we have and he's happy with yarn  and boxes.  We made a tent with the coozie the other day and you would have thought Christmas came early!  My favorite game is to tell Daniel, "Whew! That was close!" because I'm rewarded with his little hand wiping across his face while he says, "Phwaa!"  I don't think I'll ever get tired of that one!

A close second is something that has been in our house for years.  Every so often, when Brock is getting ready, he will look in the mirror and with his cheesiest voice say, "You good lookin' guy, don't you ever die.  You know that right!"  Charming, right?  So, last week we were doing our after breakfast routine.  Vitamins (nasty, liquid foul smelling stuff-really Daniel?  You'll eat that, but you won't touch hot dogs?!) then we brush our teeth. Then Daniel puts both hands behind his back while I wash his face, at which point he then offers each of his hands one at a time to be washed, too.  So, I got a wild idea and stood him up on the counter, turned him to the mirror, and showed him how to point his index fingers.  Then, the "You good lookin' guy, don't you ever die.  You know that's right!"  He thought it was hilarious, but now I've created a monster.  Every single time we get done brushing his teeth and washing his face and hands, he pops up, faces the mirror and points his fingers.  I then get the look like "Wellll, what are we waiting for?!"




Yesterday the most amazing thing happened.  We were helping Daddy at his office and it was almost time for us to go home for nap and lunch (we dare not miss the nap!) Daddy told Daniel that he loved him so much and Daniel responded with the sweetest, most perfect, "I wumv Daddeee".  What a perfect moment!  I did get my "I wumv Mommmeeeee" only a few moments later.  It was a moment that will be etched into our memory for the rest of our lives.  What a perfect gift! God is so good to us! Daniel has exceeded our every dream!  My mom asked, tongue in cheek, if Daniel has already been worth the wait and everything we went through to get to this point.  "Oh absolutely!"  "So, everything else is just gravy!"  You know how moms say that when the doctor puts their child in their arms they forget all about the hardships of pregnancy and the pain of the labor?  That's precisely how I feel! And another miracle is that there is not even a small part of me that feels cheated out of the first two and a half years of Daniel's life.  There's only gratitude that we get to be there for the rest of it!  Every single moment was worth it.  Every uncomfortable ride to Russia.  Every heartbreak, every setback.  Our prayer is still that Roman will find a forever family and we love that we had the chance to meet him and make a difference for him, but there is not a doubt in our minds that Daniel was the one who was meant to come home first.  Who knows what the future holds for our family or how God will add to it?  God alone does and for this moment, I won't try to figure it out, I'll just enjoy the gifts He has lavished on us for this season!  I'm am exceedinly grateful for the spirit of perseverance that was given to us so that we didn't quit too soon and miss out on too much!  To borrow a song quote from Chris Rice, "My souls wells up with hallelujahs!"

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Life As We Know It



We have been parents for 8 days...I think.  I've never been so tired.  Or so incredibly happy.  The first two days were absolutely perfect in every possible way.  I am convinced that if we had opened the windows in Arkhangelsk, bluebirds would have flown in, singing a merry song-to which we all would have harmonized beautifully-and helped us dress.  Deer and bunnies would have been frolicking in the halls leaping over colorful flowers.  The air smelled sweeter, our hearts were lighter.  Life was divinely perfect.



And then came Day Three.

It wasn't terrible by any means, but some of the new had worn off and the ineviatble exhaustion had set in.  We found out that our precious little two year old is a bit of a bear if he gets too over-tired.  It's nothing terrbily abnormal and it is certainly attitudes that we had seen before, but for Day Three, I missed our angel!  I found myself on my knees several times begging for wisdom to find that perfect balance between establishing boundaries and overcompensating for the his previous lack of unconditional parental love.  He has most assuredly been testing both of us to find out who the boss is.  And we have been learning his rhythms, too.  I am exceedingly grateful for the advice that we received about isolating ourselves for a little while we get our bearings.  I am at perfect peace that this season of adjusting is new and none of the three of us have anything figured out yet.  But we are a team and we are working on it. 

Daniel was an incredible trooper traveling to his new forever home.  He fell asleep in my arms as we took off in Moscow, and, as the wheels of the plane lifted and tucked themselves underneath, Brock and I let a few tears of utter relief seep out.  All the waiting and uncertainity were over and we, all three of us, were going home.  Daniel alternated on the plane between going to the restroom and sleeping.  In the nine hours on the plane, he had to use the restroom no fewer than 12 times.  We would get him still and quiet in the seat between us and tell him, in Russian, to close his eyes and go to sleep.  Then he would stiffen up, place his hand on his backside and give a frantic, "Kah Kah".  Brock, being the parent on the aisle, would carry him to the lavatory and our dutiful son would squint his eyes, thus still obeying the "close your eyes" instructions.  It was precious.  We landed in New York at 12:20 PM EST and at that precise moment, Daniel Wayne Williams became an American citizen. Thankfull we had no  problems and customs and immigration was a breeze.  We had one more short flight and we would be greeted by our family.  We were in the home stretch....we thought.  After navigating the horrific lines in the Delta terminal with our suitcases and a very sleepy little man, we found out that our flight had been cancelled due to inclimate weather.  It's amazing to me that we took off in January in the Artic Circle in Russia with temperatures dropping near -28 F without an issue, but a little rain stopped us stateside.  But then again with 46 adoption flights, one cancellation isn't too bad.  Brock and I just gave a weary laugh.  What would our life be like without the hiccups along the way?  We found a hotel, and Daniel barely made it through his dinner of Cheerios-a staple at this point-before crashing into eight hours of solid, healing sleep.  Naturally, due to the previous day's cancelled flights the airport was insane in the morning.  We met several new friends and Proud Papa Brock couldn't help but announce to anyone who would listen that this was Daniel Wayne Williams's first full day in America.  And Daniel was all too pleased to show off for his new audience.  He wouldn't touch anyone he didn't know-and if they tried, he'd furrow his brow, stick his thumb in his mouth and turn his head-but he was all to pleased to wave and watch to make sure everyone was watching his tricks. Our theroy was to wear him out before getting on the plane so he would sleep and it worked.  He was out in my arms shortly after take off.  Of course, almost everyone on the plane knew his story by the time we landed and, as we were sitting in the first row behind first class, every single passenger got a big smile and a "Paca Paca" (bye bye) when we were deplaning. 



In the airport just past the security line, we saw red white and blue balloons, a sign, five huge smiles and even a few discreet tears.  Daniel greeted every single one of his new family with a big kiss.  Right smack dab on the mouth.  Several times.  (Since then we have taught him how to blow his kisses and thankfully he finds that just as much fun!) We went to eat with everyone and he regaled us all with stories about his recent travels.  Or at least that's what I assume he was jabbering about.  Being that we still haven't gotten his particularities on his tastebuds worked out just yet, we ordered one of everything on the child's menu hoping that something might work.  Nothing did.  I am convinced that Jesus did a fish and loaves kinda miracle on the Cheerios while we were gone, because that small stash I took to Russia lasted us the entire week.  That and blueberry Fig Newton cookies.  After the food had all been tried and rejected, he was playing with his Uncle Robb and Aunt Pam with his crayons.  It was the best game in the world!  He would put the crayons in Uncle Robb's hand and then take them out and put them on the table and he couldn't have been more excited about it!  Some of the paper came off the crayon and we have discovered that Daniel is also very particular about trash. 

When we were in a hotel somewhere in the world, Daniel had dropped a Cheerio on the floor.  He went to pick it up and I told him "Nit!" and I showed him that he could throw it in the potty and flush it. He LOVES to flush the potty.  No sooner had the paper come off the crayon than he squirmed to get out of his booster seat and he made a beeline for the bathroom he had already visited twice.  He loves loves loves to wash his hands so anytime he has anything in the reservoir, he likes to potty.  So, with crayon paper in his hand, without looking back to make sure anyone was following he made his beeline, went to the toilet, dropped the paper in and flushed.  Uh-oh!  We are going to have to get some locks on the toilet and teach him what a trash can is!  We have learned that he says "Kah Kah" for trash.  And "Kah-Kah" for poop.  And "Kah Kah" for book. (Brock says he must have been reading crappy, trashy books!  He insisted I give him credit for that joke-as if I wanted to take any for myself!!) I am sure that to the trained ear there is a discernable difference between the words, but to our inexperienced ears there is not.  We have learned that "Kah-Kah" with one hand on his backside means he needs to go potty...STAT! and "Kah-Kah" with a smile is usually a book and "Kah-Kah" with a snarl means trash, or a fleck of something small somewhere it ought not be.  He is learning that, "Come here" with arms out means he's about to get a huge bear hug and "Come here" with one hand out means he should follow us, and "Come here" from the other room means, "You are being too quiet and I need to know what you are up to".  Not that he gets out of eyesight very much at all, but even Mommies have to "indisposed" moments. 

We have also learned that Daniel loves going downstairs to the basement, and if I need to say something to Brock about the downstairs, I have to spell it, or he grabs my hand and heads for the door.  Last night, we had to make an unnecessarily necessary trip to get one pair of socks because I slipped, said, "downstairs"  and he heard me and was ready to go.  He walks down the first six, holding my hand and the rail, stops, reaches up and turns on the light, and then takes the last six steps.  I've also learned that he is a huge help while I'm down there.  I hand him the wet clothes and he puts them in the dryer for me.  And then he helps me reload the washing maching by grunting and reaching to throw the clothes in the tub.  I show him the buttons to push to turn it on and his eyes light up every single time from the power he has to control that big white box.  He was a little perturbed yesterday when we had gotten all caught up on the laundry and there was nothing left to do.  It takes three times as long, but it is ten times more fun, so it's an excellent return!  

Our first night in our home was a magical one.  We had left a photo album with pictures of us and our home so when he arrived home it seemed like he knew it was home.  We mistakenly showed him his room that night and it took forever for him to go through all of the stuffed animals and toys we had out.  And those are only a fraction of the treasures he has!  We hid most of his other toys so he wouldn't go into overload mode.  He took every single single stuffed animal and lined them up just so on the floor and held his hands out and jumped up and down, pleased with his collection.  All yours buddy.  You don't have to share them with anyone.  These belong to you.  He still sleeps with his monkey though.  We have renamed it obesyana-or yana, Russian for monkey.  Another new favorite toy is Brock's chicken from his childhood.  It looks like a banana with red yarn hair.  Daniel sits on it's back, grabs the handles and flings himself seemingly recklessly through the house.  I say seemingly because, even though he is moving at the speed of light, he can turn that chicken on a dime and never touch a wall or piece of furniture.  My favorite part is watching him come to the end of the hall, slam on his brakes, Fred Flintstone style, throw that chicken in reverse, back it's booty into the bathroom doorway, turn around and zoom again.  All the while he is squealing in delight.  We had no idea we were getting such a proficient chicken driver.

As I said before he LOVES the water.  Daddy gave him a bath last night while I cleaned up the refused dinner offerings when Brock called that I had to come quick.  I raced in the bathroom to find Brock pouring a huge cup of water on Daniel's head.  He would lose his breath for just a moment, grin from ear to ear and then slap his own head twice to show that he wanted to play that game again.  Over and over and over.  He was so excited!  And so was Daniel! 

For the first time in a week, Daniel slept in his own bed last night.  I missed the little feet that would kick back on my shoulders and the little arms that would fling themselves across my face and the little bony booty that would catapult itself into my chest, but I think we all slept better.  When we were getting him ready for bed, I laid down with him to read him a book and Daddy came around the corner to check on us.  Daniel sat bolt upright, patted the bed on the other side of him, said, "My Daddy" and curled all of his fingers in a "come here" kinda way.  He wanted his whole family to hear the story.  I looked at both of my boys listening intently to Dr. Suess for a perfect moment.  I am so incredibly grateful for our little family.  I have a big man who is counting on me to be his partner and his friend and we have a little man who is counting on us to help him develop to become the man he was created to be.  For the very first time in my entire life I feel like I am doing exactly what I was designed to do. 

Daniel,

What an incredible and precious gift you have been to your Daddy and me already.  Our life has slowed down so much and I know that at the same time the years that we will have with you will go far too fast.  I know that I will make mistakes, but I hope you know that my deepest desire is to be the mommy you deserve.  I can't wait to see the plans that God has for you unfold and it is my deepest honor to get to be a part of those plans.  I love you more than I ever thought possible.  I love watching you learn new things and I love watching you take joy in simple things.  I love your giggles and smiles and I know that you are a happy little boy.  I love how stubborn you can be sometimes because it tells me that you have spunk and spirit.  I love how you play with us-you have brought so much joy to our home.  And I love when you play quietly by yourself, you keep checking to make sure we are still right there.  Rest assured, sweet boy, we will always be right here when you need us.  You are our miracle and this has been your story. 

All my love,
Mommy