These little pink, shiny shoes make me ridiculously excited. Especially because Littlest One noticed that these pink, shiny shoes that I couldn't pass up for her are the exact same size as these shoes!
Before I begin this post, I need to be clear with you. We traveled to EE on the second part of our trip with Children's Hope Chest. What I need to clarify for you is that Children's Hope Chest is NOT an adoption agency in any way shape or form. There were two parts to our time in EE and they were not connected in any way. God just planned the timing perfectly for us to visit our daughter on some extras days allowed to us with our visa. So we went to EE ahead of our team for a completely different purpose.
As I shifted my focus from one purpose to another, I had grand intentions of writing about the vision part of my trip each day. What I didn't plan for was the sketchy wireless the further we got out of the capital city and for the mental exhaustion that would overtake me at the end of each day.
As I went through each day of exploring the culture, meeting new people, tracking in two languages and interviewing on camera and interviewing again, one thought continued to permeate my thoughts--every pair of eyes has a story that lies behind it. I only wished I had more time to discover them all.
We were on this trip for a purpose and to be honest, thinking back even to a few years ago, I never would've imagined I'd be on this trip. I clearly remember the prayer I offered up to God. I said, "God, I get it. I see what you want me to see. I see the fate of the orphans that age-out and it breaks my heart like it does Yours. Yet, I'm just a simple, homeschooling mom of five living in a little ol' town over here in America. What I can't see is how you'd use me to make any kind of difference, but I'm open.
I'm willing to offer my little so that You can make more.
You've just gotta show me, lead me, cause I'm kinda dense."
Just like the loaves and the fishes in John 6, He did (and is still doing) just that. He took my meager offering and is using it to impact the lives of orphans in EE. It didn't happen over night. It took many years of prayer and keeping my eyes open, learning as I went along and more importantly following where He led and when. Never have I felt qualified, nor have I thought I was ready for His timing. Remember, I'm just a simple mom who doesn't want to waste the one life she's been given. I want to live it passionately and hard.
I first learned of Children's Hope Chest by reading the book by Tom Davis called, "Fields of the Fatherless." Life changing. At the time I admired what they did, but certainly didn't think I'd be traveling with them on a vision trip some day. I watched their ministry over the years and wished our family could partner with them by a sponsorship or something of the like. However, we were in a lot of debt so we couldn't. I continued to watch, learn and pray. It took us years of hard work, but we finally became debt free and do you know what I wanted as a reward? All I wanted was to begin sponsoring a child through CHC!
About the time we were able to begin sponsorship, my mind was overflowing with knowledge about trafficking and I prayed God would allow little ol' me to do something with it. As God would have it, some pieces fell together that allowed me, my husband and another couple to partner together and present a potential trafficking project to our Mission Committee.
One of the things I love about our church is that every February we stop everything and focus on a particular mission project. We don't just do one Sunday. We are immersed in this project for a whole entire month. We then aim to send teams to as follow-up during the summer (and sometimes for years afterward). From babies to the older population, we are all on the same page and we dig deep into the project, people and culture.
Before that project can happen, a team goes the previous spring to scope things out. It's not a lot of time, but it is a full trip. It is full of interviewing, videoing, picture taking, feeling out the culture and building relationship. Although our focus will be the prevention of sex trafficking, we certainly weren't there to do any rescue, nor will our teams be doing that!
Did you know that only 1% of sex trafficking victims are rescued and restored?
What then shall we do in response to this? Yes, continue rescue and restore, but prevention is the larger answer. That's what I love about Children's Hope Chest. They are on the front-lines of prevention in many countries, but they have been doing it and have proven themselves in EE. They are making a difference. In one region alone, they have seen significant decrease of alcoholism, drug use and crime. They have seen an increase in college enrollment. The one statistic that absolutely grabs my heart is this:
It is a fact that orphans create more orphans.
It is a vicious cycle that continues to repeat without intervention from ministries like CHC. In the region mentioned above, child abandonment decreased from 30% to 1%. Absolutely astounding. What made the difference?
The region mentioned above has had a church partner and invest in it for the past 15 years. Year after year a church has made the commitment to come back, building relationship by doing simple things like day camps, construction projects and teaching skills classes. Many of the orphans who age-out have no idea how to budget, cook a meal or live a healthy life style. They need someone to come alongside and build into their lives.
Children's Hope Chest works in five regions and in February 2012, our church will become the sponsoring church in another one of their regions. Simple people being willing to do simple things that make the difference in the life of orphan after orphan. Every life that is invested in, is one less that ends up in trafficking.
As I sat in the room full of orphan graduates, looking into face after face, I began to see the beauty of just being willing. I began to think of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. I'm just a simple homeschooling mom of five living in a little ol' town that offered my loaves and fishes. He took it and partnered it with 3 other people who then partnered it with a Mission Committee who will then partner it with a church of 1500. Imagine the amount of prevention and dent we can make in the trafficking world by simply being willing.
I am wishing I had time to write. Although we do a lot of walking, I am not physically exhausted. At the end of our very full days I am mentally exhausted, falling into bed as soon as we get into our hotel room. Thinking in English, but trying to follow the Russian being spoken around me all day is part of it, but being here and taking in the sights, the people, the situation is leaving my brain at full capacity. Every face has a story.
I think the best thing I can do for now, while I take in all that I can and until I can get to a place of being able to write out what is in my mind and heart, I will leave you with something to read. About five years ago, God began showing me His heart for the orphan, but the deeper I got in, the more He began to show me more than I cared to know about what can happen to those orphans who "age out." Many times I was overwhelmed and felt helpless to do anything about it as He unleashed, not just a water hose of information, but fire hose.
I'll never forget the day I read this post. It was the beginning of a turning point for me.
As we walked along the paths to the play yard, in search of our daughter, it was never far from our minds that this was our last day with her. Her groupa was already headed outside, but once we caught up with them and called her name, a moment unfolded that I hope to never forget.
We called her name, she turned, spotted us and her face lit up like the sun itself. Her whole entire countenance changed as she began running toward us. As soon as I saw her face shining, I got down on her level and received her into my embrace. My heart was full.
Our play time together was just like any other day, but we were treasuring every moment. I felt like Mary in Luke 2:19:
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
As we played, it was clear she had learned over the days to anticipate our every move. She would get to the top of the slide and wait, slightly lifting her arms, expecting one of us to come up behind her, slipping our arms under hers, enfold her into our embrace, count to three in Russian and then slide down in glee.
When we would begin to climb the stairs, one of her hands used the rail, the other stuck out in anticipation of the filling with our bigger, stronger one to help her up.
She would sit on the swing side-ways and quietly listened as I told her of her new family and sung to her. Sometimes she’d enter her own musical humming alongside mine, usually clinging to a flower her Daddy had given. As she would relax, she’d forget to hold onto the swing and we’d have to quickly catch her and start the whole process over again!
Sitting down to eat our daily banana treat, she would shove the whole piece in and patiently wait for the next one. I had to learn to make the sizes smaller so she didn’t choke. Once the banana had quickly reached its end, she would then begin to explore Mommy’s purse for activities I’d brought. Stickers seemed to be her favorite. She learned quickly from her Daddy the game of putting them all over her body. Eventually they found their way to the paper!
All too soon, her groupa was on their way back in for lunch and had come to collect our daughter. As she realized what was happening, she began to flail and cry, trying to get down from my arms. Yet as soon as I’d set her down and attempt to take her hand, she would begin to run away back to the playground. She didn’t want our time to end anymore than we did. I finally caught her back up into my arms and whispered comforting words in Russian to her as tears began to fall down my own face. This was heart-wrenching! This was so hard!
As we reached her room, we each gave her one last hug. I told her all of the things in English that I had been speaking over her all week. I reminded her that we would be back for her. We double checked that her caregivers would continue to read her family book to her each day. And then she silently assimilated back into her groupa and I went off to the side to have a good cry. How am I going to make it through the next 6 weeks?
I know I’ll make it, but more than anything my heart aches for my daughter on Saturday morning when she anticipates our arrival and we do not come. Please pray for her. Even now, I cannot type this without getting choked up. Pray that she can somehow understand that we will come back for her even when it feels like forever. Pray that she will be like a sponge and take in our family book, ready for her family when we return. Pray for my mother’s heart.
As my friend, Anne, reminds me. This is was not "goodbye." It is merely "see you later."
I now take off my adoption hat, tucking my daughter into my heart, and put on my anti-trafficking hat for the next part of our journey here in Eastern Europe. I cannot wait to see how this will unfold and I certainly can’t wait to share this part of my heart with you.
Upon our arrival, we were greeted with the news that our daughter began looking for us outside the windows this morning and began pitching a fit when she thought we were not coming. That is good news, friends! That means she is looking forward to our time together and that she remembers us.
The bad news is that we only have one more day of visiting her until we go home for a few weeks. Knowing she anticipates our coming, it breaks my heart that we have to leave her here a bit longer. To be honest, when we adopted DOP and had to leave her between trips, it didn’t really bother me. She was in a good orphanage and was in good hands I felt peace about it. Maybe some of it had to do with her personality too. She walked into the room and commanded our attention. She still is like that today. I attribute her feisty personality to her survival. Anika, on the other hand, has a very passive personality and some of her reactions exhibit a bit of fear when she does something wrong. Her mannerisms cower a bit, like she’s anticipating something negative for her actions. My assessment is that she is probably a generally quiet child by nature, but some of it has been amplified as her way of survivial.
I can see by the physical surroundings, the buildings, the playground, the flowers everywhere, the toys, the orphanage dogs, cats and rabbits that her facility is well taken care of. However, the more time I spend there it becomes more and more clear as to who loves their job and genuinely loves the children and who is just doing a job. Often times the children in her groupa, who are playing a small distance away are crying and fighting while the caregivers sit at the table and talk, oblivious to what is going on with the children. You will see this scene at orphanage after orphanage,so please don't think I am picking on her orphanage.
I have seen previous pictures of my daughter with bite marks all over her arm and noticed some during our times visiting on this trip. Yes, biting is age-appropriate and yes, she is technically in good hands because her orphanage is in good shape, but you know what? Good facilities and a few genuinely caring people will never replace a family. To be blunt, it’s those few people in just the right places that have a special place for her in their heart that are doing the most loving act for her. They are not keeping her to themselves. They are doing the hard work of doing what it takes to make her adoptable so that she can experience true love.
For those people, I am grateful.
Not only for my daughter but for every caregiver out there who puts their own self-interests aside for the greater benefit of that child.
I did not cry when we left DOP, but tomorrow (and every day after that) will be difficult until we can bring her home. My daughter needs to get out of the group care setting and be in a loving family that will dote on her, look her in the face, hold her and do whatever it takes to see her bloom.
We anticipate that we will return to her country within the next 6-8 weeks to go to court to finalize her adoption. We will then return home for 9-10 days. Her country has a standard 10-day waiting period. During our previous adoption we stayed in-country during that time, bringing our total time there to one month. We found that it was just as expensive, if not more, to stay and pay for hotel/food rather than purchase an additional set of airline tickets. It was also extremely hard on our kids at home for us to be gone that long. So this time around, we will come home during that waiting period. After those days are over, we will be able to return to pick her up. We hope that we will finally get to bring her home before the end of summer. What a joyous time of celebration that will be!
You can pray for us about this time apart, but more than anything, I ask you to pray for dear, sweet Anika in the wait time. Pray that somehow she understands that we will be back for her. We have left a “family book” for her full of our pictures, but it’s a far cry from her real family!
They say a picture is worth a million words so I will let the pictures do a lot of the talking today. It was a long day of visiting, but so very worth it. Our first day of visiting and our second day of visiting were like night and day. Cautious and reserved the first day, full of joyful laughter and squealing the next. The sound of her little girl laughter as she went down the slide over and over again and the smile we got from her as she tickled and giggled with her Daddy were worth it all.
She has already figured out the sound of the camera and does not like it. As soon as she hears it, she countenance changes and she refuses to look at whoever has it. We left the first day wondering how well she was hearing, but after today it was clear that she hears very well. She just chooses what she’s going to respond to. Sounds like an average kid, huh?
I do have to say that later, during our afternoon visit, we could tell she was tiring. During our time with her then, we had asked permission to take her glasses off. I just wanted to see her full face and have the chance to look into her eyes. It was wonderful to see her full beauty. However, we learned real quickly that we won’t be doing that again. Keeping in mind that she was tiring at this point, but when we went to put her glasses back on…she was not happy and she let us know it! Funny thing is though, that even though we know she hears, she is still speech delayed so she is very quiet. She threw herself onto the floor and pitched quite a fit, but in silence. It was like watching an old silent movie! So…it’s good to know that even in her quietness, she can express herself!
Enjoy these pictures. After our visit with her today, we are headed off to see some of the sights. One in particular I regretted not going into last time. We are taking a translator this time so we can enjoy the full benefit! The kids and I have studied this particular place a lot so it thrills me to get the full experience this time, especially with my new-found knowledge of its history!
Since February when I first saw her picture, I have been waiting for this day. This was the day when our world collided with our daughter’s. What a sweet time it was.
From the moment she walked into the room, she was curious. The surroundings of the play room were new to her and she was intent on exploring it and us. She was a bit apprehensive of us at first, but then began to warm up and enjoy her time.
She was especially taken with her Papa, although she argued with him that he should be called “Mama!” She was very intrigued by his goatee and when he would hold her, she would stroke it, trying to figure out what she thought. Although the director of her orphanage is a male, she doesn’t usually come in contact with males so she was quite drawn to my man. This was also the case with our DOP. Males are rare caregivers so interesting in themselves.
Playing on the small trampoline seemed to be one of her favorite things to do, whether it was with me or my man. Jumping brought the most smiles. She was also very determined to stack the rings onto the tower taller than her, making musical sounds as she worked.
Before we traveled here, we had a sneaking suspicion that Anika had crossed eyes. We were prepared for that and figured we’d deal with it when we got home. If you notice, most pictures of her are taken from the side so you don’t notice her eyes. Surprisingly, the doctors here are already working to correct this. Thus, the reason for the corrective lenses and patched eye. They are working on making her weaker eye stronger. Seeing crossed eyes in an orphan is not new to me. I’ve seen it time and again. What breaks my heart is knowing that often this happens because as babies they have nothing to look at and learn to focus their eyes on. It just makes me want to scoop her up and give her plenty of loving faces to look at for the rest of her life!
Along with her eyes, we also learned that she has speech delays. We did not hear her utter a word today beside calling her Papa, “Mama.” This is not uncommon on the first visit as she gets used to us. I am curious to observe her over this week to see how much speech she has or lack of speech. None of these issues are large ones, it’s just good to spend time with her to know what we have ahead. It will give us time to line up the professionals she will need to see upon our arrival home.
We were pleased to see that the orphanages in this region are located on the fringes of the big city and in a more open, nature-like environment. Her orphanage in specific is top of the line and we couldn’t have been more impressed with not only the facility, but the staff also. Our daughter is in good hands.
The orphanage director gave us permission to visit her twice per day, instead of just once. This is quite exciting to us, but I do have to confess that two times per day of two hour play sessions is a long time to be in a small room with limited toys. Thankfully, we’ve been granted the opportunity to take Anika to the park tomorrow.
Heading to bed to get rest for another big day of time spent with Anika.
It’s been a long, tiring journey, but we are finally here…here in her city. I can hardly believe it. It all seems so unreal to not only be here in EE again, but to know that she is within miles of us…no words.
Being a part of her story unfolding has allowed there to be an inner peace that is unexplainable. Yes, there have been stressful parts like preparing a dossier in record time to packing for a family of seven. Yet, through it all, when we have faced any type of uncertainty, we’ve reflected back at what God has done and it has allowed us to have confidence in Him and trust that He has us…and her…in the palm of His hand.
I remember just one week before we were to leave, I wondered where the money would come from to pay our facilitator. I heard Him whisper into my ear, “Remember, I’ve got your back. Just watch what I will do.” And in just one short week, I watched as His generosity built little by little, day by day to give us more than enough for this trip. We are certainly not fully funded yet, but we have all that we need for now and even have a bit saved for Trip 2. I have no doubts He will supply what we need exactly when we need it. Someday I’ll take the time to share a bit more of financial side of our trip to encourage you that you don’t have to make a million bucks to adopt…
just be willing.
Even if you cannot adopt, yourself, be willing to help those who can. You'd be surprised at how God will multiply what you can give into something huge for Him. Whether it's time, money, creativity, child care, meal making, driving, whatever...He will use it.
It’s been just 3 short years since we’ve been here, but her country has changed. It has changed, in a good way, and so have I. Its newer airport and the city itself are more English friendly. More people speak English and we speak more Russian. We also realize that we have the map of this city imprinted in our head more than we realized. We seem to remember where everything is. On top of that, over the past year, my kids and I have learned more in-depth about the culture of this country—it’s history, it’s rulers, it’s people, it’s artists, composers, writers, mentalities and even some of its language. Our love for this country has deepened.
Maybe it’s this deeper understanding of its culture or maybe it’s from having done this before but it’s a lot easier to relax and enjoy everything this time around. My weary body needs to head to bed, but tomorrow is the day we meet her. Again, I am speechless…
As He's unfolded His story through her story, somehow with me in the role as storyteller, I have been struck again and again by the fact that
herstory reaches far and wide,
probably even farther than I will ever know. I am awed by how many people have already written in her figurative "life book" before she's even arrived in our home.
As we are staring down the last few days before we meet her, I realize I would be remiss if I did not give YOU--those she has already touched--the opportunity to contribute to her physical Life Book. What an incredible opportunity for her to know how many people have prayed, given money, hosted "Love for Anika" parties so she can have a forever family. Even if you don't know us--you know her and that's what matters. It's a great way for us to get to know YOU!
While we are visiting her, or anytime really, I would like to invite you to please email me any prayers, notes, thoughts, pictures of parties given in her honor. She deserves to meet you because YOU are a part of her story. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
During this trip, I will continue to blog here on The Mommy Map, but I also wanted to give you a few other ways to keep up with us:
Twitter: nates5bs (me)
nathanfreeland (my man who is very tweet happy)
Facebook: Brandy Freeland (Please make a note "Anika" in the friend request so I know you are not a creepy person! Although, I do confess I don't update FB very often.)
Once we are done visiting her, we will join up with our team for the original trip that we had planned months ago to Eastern Europe. I can't wait to share about that part of our journey too. It's right at the center of my passion. I'll give you a hint: Children's Hope Chest...
See you in Eastern Europe! Remember it's 11 hours ahead of PST.