Thursday, August 9, 2012

2 Wonderful Girls and 2 Fabulous Years!

It has been more than two years since I've posted an entry on this blog.  What full years they have been!  I don't know how I can possibly share everything of importance, yet stay clear and concise, but I'll try! 

Zhanna and Ella have grown so much since the last post.  I reread what I had written then, and they almost seem like different girls.  Not that we don't still deal with some normal attitudes and issues, but truly not many.  The closed in, protective nature they both exhibited then has all but dissipated.  They hug us and love us and say thank you all the time, and we have some really good and deep conversations now. 

The most important part of their growth has been of a spiritual nature.  They both love God deeply and want to live for Him.  Zhanna was baptized a year ago in March, and Ella was baptized this July.  Praise God!  The second important area of growth has been emotionally.  They both seem settled and open and trusting now.  There is no doubt they are our children.  It's like they always were!! God is amazing how He brings families together!  Thirdly, the girls have grown mentally.  They are both excellent students now.  Ella got straight A's this past year, all year long!  Zhanna had mostly A's with a couple of B's.  Fantastic grades!  In addition, they and two of their friends did a group exhibit project for National History Day this year, and placed 2nd in the Nation!  Wow!  We are so proud of them!  What accomplished children we have ~ praise be to God! 

God is definitely at work, in us, around us, and through us, in spite of our weakness and ineptness.  We see this through our "Ukrainians," and through our older two kids, Nathan and Annie.  Nathan is in law school now, and just got back from an 8-week internship in Uganda.  He served in an anti-corruption court.  He had a blessed and rich experience.  Annie continues to work on her degree in Music Education, and performed her senior voice recital in May.  Beautiful, fabulous, marvelous!  We are so proud!  

We also see God in others who are striving to serve Him and adore Him and bring more children to Him.  Friends of ours from church are at this present time in Ukraine adopting Julia, one of Zhanna and Ella's best friends in the orphanage there.  This all came about in a sweet and special and "God" way.  We're so proud of Billy and Connie for stepping out in faith.  Today was their court day (adoption day, if you will).  They must now wait 10 days, and then they can bring Julia home.  We're so excited! 

Another dear friend, Regina, is in the processing of adopting an unknown child from Russia.  She has her homestudy done and is beginning the international process. Prayers are appreciated there.  If you want to follow her story you may at .   

God is mighty and always with us!  "He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion until the day of Jesus Christ."  Phil. 1:6    Blessings and Peace! 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer Blues

What a wild and full summer it has been! We started by going to the Isotopes Baseball game in which Ella got to throw out the first pitch because of winning an art contest and having her picture selected for the annual Isotopes calendar. About 100 people from church and school joined us and it was a great evening culminating in a fantastic fireworks show. Wow!

A week later, Mark and I and the three girls flew to Washington D.C. to attend National History Day at the University of Maryland. Thirteen of my students competed at the National Level this year, and one of my students took 2nd place in the nation for Individual Performance. I'm the proud teacher!

While in the D.C. area we did a lot of sightseeing and also had the opportunity to travel to Annapolis and to Philadelphia. So much U.S. history! I think we stuffed as much of it as we could into Zhanna and Ella's heads. I know they don't understand everything, but hopefully they will remember that we've been there and it will make more sense to them when they study it in school.

After a week in Maryland we rented a car and drove to Indianapolis to visit relatives there for a few days. We had a great time with my stepmom and her husband and my brother and his family. The girls met new cousins and other family members. We then went to Cinncinati for a day and a half, and were able to visit the Creation Museum and go to King's Island Amusement Park. We all love roller coasters and it was fun. After that we drove to Lexington, Ky. to stay with Mark's brother. Mark's parents had already arrived there after driving with Nathan, and Mark's other brothers and families came, too for a family reunion and celebration of Mom and Dad's 60th anniversary. The gathering was fun and special! Zhanna and Ella loved the time there and had fun with more cousins. They weren't able to verbalize much about it, other than to say they really had fun, but that was enough. I think they are still just trying to take it all in, but I think they are amazed by how large the extended family is. The idea of even having a nuclear family is so new to them, that extended family must seem like a real mystery.

We left Lexington after several days and spent the next night in St. Louis. We were able to go up in the Gateway to the West Arch and experience more history there. Finally we spent two nights in Oklahoma City with my sister and family (and time with additional cousins!), and then got back home on June 1. What a delightfully blessed vacation! We are so thankful we were able to take this road trip with the girls this year. We all experienced so much of America and the togetherness was great (and very real, as it is with most families!).

In thinking about all this travel I came across a quote from Mark Twain that goes like this, " Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." I believe this to be true, and want to give as many travel experiences as I can to my children. I think it helps them to grow in ways that merely reading about a place or seeing it on TV could never do.

Zhanna and Ella, especially, need experiences like travel in order to broaden their horizons. I think they grew from the trip and they did express that they were glad to be home. That made us feel good and helped us to know that they, indeed, think of it as their home and a place they belong.

While things are progressing well in so many ways with the girls, some things are getting more difficult. For one thing, they both are chin-deep into teenage attitude now. Zhanna, being the older of the two, seemed to exhibit it all last year. Ella just turned 13 on July 4, after we arrived back home. Her attitude has been brewing for some time, but 13 seems to be the "magic age" when it kicks in full force. Mark and I have raised teenagers before and have worked with teenagers practically our whole lives, but I don't think we were prepared for the force in which the girls have entered their teens and are assuming all the attributes of the "typical American teenage girl."

For instance, we had heard from another family who adopted kids from Ukraine that their kids seemed extremely grateful. Zhanna and Ella don't seem to understand how to show or express real gratitude. They are learning, because we stress the issue, but it does not come naturally. Instead, they seem to take for granted everything we buy for them or do for them and hint often that they want something different or better or more. That is a hard thing for us to deal with because we had worked hard with our older two children to be grateful and satisfied with what they were given. By the time they were teens they knew full well they better not complain, and to express thankfulness for any gift or act of service they were given.

Also, Zhanna and Ella have become fully enamored with technology and media. They love the computer and Facebook, and saved up their birthday money to buy Ipods, which they are consumed with at the moment. They are also extremely aware of fashion and hair and makeup. They seem to struggle a lot with concern about their looks and worry about what people think of them. Zhanna, especially, seems to struggle with insecurity, but masks it with obsession about her appearance. She sometimes comes across to others as "stuck up," but inside she just feels incredibly shy and unsure of herself. Ella deals with her own insecurities by withdrawing. She closes in and holds a lot of her feelings deep inside. She seems to need more sleep than Zhanna and seems to take longer to formulate feelings, but once they are formed they go deep. She hasn't figured out how to talk about her feelings or express much at all. In the mornings it's impossible to even get her to talk, let alone smile or be concerned about someone else.

Whew! This is hard! Harder than I think we anticipated, but we must admit, it is real. We have to constantly stop and try to analyze where the girls have come from and what they've been through and how they've learned to deal with life. We realize our expectations for them are unlike anything anyone has expected from them in their 13 and 14 years of life. We certainly can't expect changes to occur overnight, when this is all so new to them. In addition, we have the cultural differences and the input of American materialism and then the normal teenage hormonal craziness. It all adds up to the potential for a lot of frustration and weariness.

But then there is prayer. God is so good. He will see us through this and on to the other side. Our goal for the girls is what we assume is God's goal for us: to grow (physically, mentally, socially, emotionally, spiritually), and learn to appreciate, and to think about others, and to be at peace with ourselves.

So, when the girls think their parents are now totally "uncool," and won't hardly talk to us, (as they did this past weeked when we took them to church camp and went to visit them another evening, we pretty much have learned to take it in stride. (We want to tell them: "Remember us? The people who spent an anxious year of our lives being turned inside out and upside down with paperwork to be able to adopt you? Remember us? The ones who made two trips to Ukraine and put our lives on hold for weeks to come and get you and make you our own children? Remember us? The people who spent thousands of dollars for you and haven't blinked an eye? Remember? All the other people who have given money and time and other things for you? Remember?) We sometimes maybe feel like shaking them a bit in order for them to see more clearly. We don't do that however. We try with all our might to be patient with them, as our Heavenly Father is patient with us. We love these two girls as best we can, and try to provide everything they need, to the best of our ability. We long for them to love us and to love God and to love others. We must keep firmly and gently showing them a more excellent way. We pray that God will grow them and show them and use them for His glory.

In the meantime, it's a wild ride and we are hanging on. But we are committed and determined. May God keep growing us and showing us and using us for His glory.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Reflection from a Mom

Yesterday was Mother's Day. A good day to reflect on the current state of my family. This is my first Mother's Day as the mom of 4 kids. Two years ago on Mother's Day we attended Annie's graduation from high school. I remember clearly, thinking to myself, "Well, this is it. My big job as a mom is over. Now Mark and I face the empty nest." God laughed! Little did I know that a mere 2 months later I would meet my 2 additional children!

Then last year, we spent Mother's Day in Abilene, Texas, having just attended Nathan's graduation from college. After going to church that Sunday morning we had to say our good-byes to Nathan, knowing we were flying to Kiev less than a week later. We had spent a year of intense preparation and paperwork. Our hearts were full of excitement and anticipation, and the nervousness of facing the unknown. We looked forward to bringing home our sweet, sensitive, quiet, well-behaved girls and looking ahead at years of helping them adjust and learn English. Again, God laughed.

This year, Mother's Day was the best ever. Annie and Nathan arrived home on Saturday night, along with Mark, who had driven to Lubbock early that morning to help Annie load all her stuff, and then driven back with the kids that afternoon. When they arrived home, Zhanna and Ella and I all ran out to greet them. We had been cleaning house all day and the girls were feeling the excitement and anticipation of the family all being home together. Going to bed that night was joyful for me, knowing all my "chicks" were in the nest.

Yesterday we went to church in the morning and had Mark's parents over to our house for lunch, but they brought the Kentucky Fried Chicken. It was just a sweet simple time of togetherness and I kept looking around the table and pondering at the magnitude of God who brought us all together as family. Last night, before bed, the kids and Mark and I sat around the couch in the living room and talked and laughed and sang songs and poked fun at each other and giggled and prayed. Zhanna and Ella took part in it all, as if they had always been a part of the family. What a sweet Mother's Day memory!

Our girls are growing so much. They are definitely not the shy, quiet, reluctant children who entered our home last summer. They are good students and speak English very well now. They are bold, silly, giggly, sometimes loud, sometimes crabby, full of fun, typical teenagers now. Other than their accents, you would never know they were not American kids. They like hamburgers and pizza and movies and game rooms and clothes and makeup and video games and computers and electronics and hanging out with their friends. They were on the basketball team at school this year and "had a ball" with that. They joined the new choir at school and Zhanna sang a solo at the concert. They were both in the school musical and did a great job.

They have changed our home. The nest is full. Very full! Actually, Annie just made the decision to move back home and attend the local university, rather than go back to Texas in the fall. She wants to be closer to us and the girls. So, all of her belongings must find a spot to rest, once again. This is challenging, because when we moved everything out of Nathan's room to paint and remodel for the girls, I moved some things like wrapping paper, etc., that I had stored in his closet, to Annie's closet. Now that she's home, whew! I don't know where this kind of stuff can go. But we'll get creative, and it will all work. In the whole scheme of life, a shortage of storage space is not a big problem. Having a house full of the energy of family is well worth it!

Now, we do have our challenges in the "stuff" department, however. Namely, the ever swirling, ever seething sea of things that is part of family life. Especially because the girls have never had a lot to keep up with before, and now they don't always understand the need to pick up after oneself continually and keep up with one's own stuff. They also don't really understand the concept of throwing away and down-sizing one's belongings. At this point they want to keep everything, even the little junky "kid" stuff that accumulates so quickly. I must confess, I sometimes throw stuff away when I find it lying around. But then there are the inevitable questions, "Where's my ________??" At that point I can honestly answer, "I don't know!" The most annoying items for me to find lying around all over the house are hair ties, bobby pins, pens, pencils, notes from friends, jewelry, shoes, and food wrappers. It requires constant vigilence and reminders to "pick up your _________ and put (throw) it away." But as I watch other families and other kids, I am reminded that this is not unique to our kids. This is a common kid condition. I had just gotten out of practice of dealing with it since our older two had either been gone for several years, or had learned to keep their stuff in their own room a bit more consistently. Zhanna and Ella will learn, too.

My energy level is lower with these two kids, now that I'm older. But I think my patience and wisdom levels are higher, praise be to God. I guess that all balances out. The girls seem happy and settled and content and "at home." A good friend of ours, who teaches the girls' Sunday School class asked them yesterday, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel about your family and your church family, after being here almost a year?" Our friend told us Zhanna and Ella both responded, enthusiastically, "10!" That helps us to know that all is well and the girls are comfortable and feeling that they belong.

One more sweet Mother's Day memory: Yesterday evening, walking to church. All 4 of my children walking along with me. Zhanna and Nathan have linked arms and Ella and Annie have linked arms. They are laughing and enjoying being family. God is with them. We are happy. God is good. There is peace. We praise God for His miracles.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Year of Miracles, Year of Change

It is January 1, 2010. Hard to believe! 10 years ago we were all anticipating the grand celebrations of the new millennium and apprehensively wondering about the possible affects of the "Y2K bug." We had no earthly idea that halfway around the world, in Ukraine, there lived 2 little girls, ages 2 and 3 at the time, who were destined to be removed from their birth parents at ages 8 and 9, and eventually weave their way into our hearts and home. If God had told us then what was to come we probably wouldn't have believed, and, chances are, we would have done all in our power to prevent what we would have perceived at the time as only hardship and challenge.

But God is SO wise! He knows he can't reveal too much to His children before He chooses to grow them and gift them. God does His best work unpredictably. It's as if it all happens so fast it makes your head spin, and as you are still reeling from the aftereffects, you realize you have just gone through one of the most difficult things you've ever experienced ~ but, you've been blessed beyond measure.

So it has been with us and adopting our two girls from Ukraine. Wow, what challenges there were and continue to be! But the realization of blessing comes tiptoeing quietly, when we least expect it. Days are hard sometimes, but life is good.

Adopting is not for sissies, don't misunderstand. Especially adopting TWO preteen girls from a foreign culture and speaking a different language. (What were we thinking? Oh, yeah, right, it wasn't our plan, but God's plan! My head is spinning!) But adoption grows and changes you and brings love to you that is undescribable.

Christmas this year was an example of what I'm talking about. We've been home with the girls now 6 months. They seem to feel fully at home and part of the family. But there are continual new experiences. Decorating the house and Christmas year, for instance. Normally that job takes me about a week - working about 2 hours every evening. Not anymore! Now there are Santa's elves living in my home! They were so excited about the decorations and oohed and aahed and exclaimed over all of our 20-year-old stuff! They managed to flit here and there and everywhere and got the tree and the whole house decorated in two evenings! Then, shopping and wrapping presents was even better. The girls delighted in trying to peak at their gifts under the tree, and we had to engage in covert operations to try to prevent that (such as stapling the tops of the giftbags shut!) On Christmas day both Zhanna and Ella seemed relaxed and happy and grateful for presents and good food and family. We all felt blessed. Yet, within a couple of days after Christmas we had to deal, once again, with preteen attitudes and desires. That's where we grow, however. We want the girls to understand that we don't want to bless them just on Christmas day, but every day of the year, as we teach them what family is all about and what God wants for their lives. That's the real gift.

The honeymoon period is over between us and the girls. That is good, even though it is harder. But it is real. We deal with everything now with either firm kindness, or kind firmness, whichever seems appropriate for the situation! We now realize you can take the child away from their country, but you can't take their country away from the child. They don't become Americans overnight. They still need the connection to where they've come from. They need to talk about their culture, and need to keep in contact with friends and people they know. They need to continue to speak their original language. They need to feel that their birth country is very special and appreciated. They need to be reassured that their feelings are always acceptable, but sometimes their actions are not. They need to know that we will always be their family, no matter what may come, but that there are expectations for them involved in that.

Sometimes those expectations are hard for them to understand - no one ever has real, long-term expections for orphans. They don't always understand why we have to think ahead, while also remembering the past. They don't understand why we continually work on our behaviour toward other people. They don't understand how to prepare for the future. These are new concepts for our girls. They have never had to watch the clock and think about time. They have never had experience with money and how to use it wisely. They've never learned how to lovingly obedient and cheerfully helpful. Up to this point their days were consistently routine and dull, so overstimulation is overwhelming. But they also have no idea how to monitor their own physical needs or make good choices for eating and sleeping. Instead, they want to eat what ever tastes good to them and then ONLY eat that (ramen noodles for nearly every meal for almost 2 months), and they never want to go to bed at a decent time, but they never want to get up on time, either. Our job, as parents, is to teach them balance, and discretion, and control and sometimes, to protect them from themselves and the learned behaviors and attitudes that have come with them. We must teach them and show them a more excellent way. We prayerfully want that to be God's way.

So, we look back to 2009 - a year of miracles and a year of change. Beautiful and blessed year. Now we look ahead to 2010. Challenges are ahead, we have no doubt. But so are blessings. God is good and He will lead us and our children every step of the way.

Dawn and Mark

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Four Months

The four month anniversary of our homecoming with the girls was yesterday. It is so hard to believe that they've been with us a third of the year already. But in that span of time so many changes have occurred and so much has happened. We look at pictures of them right after we got home and they look so different now. Their language skills have changed so much. Their thinking is evolving. It is a blessing to step back and take stock of it all.

One dramatic change is how much they've grown physically. In four months, Ella has gained 8 pounds and grown 3 inches. Zhanna has gained 5 pounds and grown 2 inches. They are both outgrowing the clothes we bought for them over the summer and the school clothes we purchased just 3 months ago. I just had to order new school uniform clothes online to get bigger sizes because you can't find a good selection in the stores right now. We're in the process of shopping, little by little, for warm clothes for fall and winter in larger sizes than they wore in the summer. The girls are growing because they are eating a lot. They now love hamburgers and would eat them everyday if we'd let them. But they are venturing out in tastes of other foods, too. They are more willing to try new foods and are eating things they wouldn't even touch when they first arrived. They both like lettuce salad with ranch dressing and are trying other new vegetables, as well. They are more willing to try casseroles now and other new combinations of foods. Keeping them fed and clothed has been a financial challenge, no doubt! But God continues to supply all our needs.

Another dramatic change is happening in the acquisition of English language skills. When school first started we couldn't imagine how they would make it without a Russian/English tutor to help them with all the comprehension issues in the schoolwork for the entire year. We had a tutor for the first week, and then didn't feel we needed her any longer. The girls become more proficient readers and learners daily! They both have strong drive and determination to excel to the best of their ability. Yes, they get tired of school and the demands, but they are willing to keep working hard to do their best. We received their first report cards this last week and they both received all A's and B's with only slight modifications from what the other children are doing. They continue to have personal instruction in language and math from our school administrators, but other than that they have been expected to keep up with the regular curriculum. It has been challenging, for them and for us, but we're proud of them for working so hard.

Change is also happening emotionally. They seem to have fully bonded with us and are relaxed in interaction with Mark and me as their parents. They sit on Mark's lap and hug him, even though they still tease him a lot. But I think that's just how they cope with the entrance of a man into a personal relationship in their lives at ages 12 and 13. At the ages when they are beginning to notice boys and become aware of their own bodies, it is just too weird to express "lovey-dovey" emotions to their dad. They compensate by being goofy and silly and even critical in a teasing way, while at the same time, longing for the hugs and the attention and affection he gives them. I think they are beginning to appreciate the role of a dad and understand the value of a father in their lives.

They still love on me and hug and kiss me to death, but they also know that mom will "lay down the law," if necessary, and they respect that. We engage in power and control struggles sometimes, when I've asked them to do something and they delay, or try to talk me (whine, whine) out of it. I have to remember to stand firm, because that is what they really want and need, but it's often difficult. They want boundaries, but also want to test the boundaries to see if they are firm or if they can be moved. That's typical for kids these ages, but even more so when we are just establishing this relationship as a family. They must understand that we are, indeed, the parents, and we love them and will take good care of them, and we have their best interest in mind. They have to be able to trust us, even as they struggle for adolescent control. In all of this, Mark and I have resolved to try our best to be pro-active, rather than reactive. That means we have to tread gently and pick our battles carefully. We have to show abundant love, even as we direct and discipline. God gives us wisdom in this and helps us to cope on days when something doesn't go well. But we are seeing much growth in the girls' responses to difficulties, and in interaction with us and other people, and in new situations.

Another huge area of growth is spiritually. To watch the girls' spiritual understanding unfold like beautiful blossoms is truly a miraculous thing. Our family has always enjoyed listening to Christian music. Last spring, before we went to Ukraine, Mark and I decided we would step out in faith and send monthly support to K-Love, a national Christian radio station. We listen to that station in the car and at home almost all the time. A few weeks after we had been home we noticed the girls were in the backseat of the car singing the words to the songs, whenever we drove somewhere. Now they know almost all the words to most of the songs that are played on K-Love. Not only have the songs blessed them spiritually, but they've also helped in acquiring language skills. Zhanna and Ella's current favorite song is "City on Our Knees" by Toby Mac. In addition to music, the girls are reading their Bibles in Russian and in English. They remember so many Bible stories, and are able to articulate the meanings of harder concepts in the stories. They love going to church and seeing all the people, even if they don't always understand everything about the sermons or the lessons. I think love speaks louder than words, and that is what they see and feel. The people at church have been so welcoming and loving to the girls and Zhanna and Ella feel accepted and at peace in the family there. The most beautiful evidence of their spiritual growth is their prayers. We pray before meals, but it is at night, before we all go to bed, when their hearts are revealed in prayer. We usually each take turns praying and both Zhanna and Ella will say "Thank you for my church, thank you for my school, and thank you for my family," almost every night. Then they will thoughtfully pray for people and situations we know. They demonstrate a real trust and reliance on God. It is such a blessing to hear God at work in their hearts.

Changes are occurring and we're making memories together. We took them to the State Fair (twice) in September. We went to the Balloon Fiesta at the beginning of October. Two weeks ago we took our first family road trip as we traveled to Lubbock to see Annie perform in "Thoroughly Modern Millie," a musical done by her University. Zhanna and Ella loved seeing their big sister on stage (Annie did an amazing job, by the way!), and they spent one night with her in her dorm room. They also got to see their brother, Nathan. He drove up from Abilene to see Annie and be with all of us. Then last weekend, Nathan and Annie both came home for a few days. Annie was on fall break and Nathan came home to run in a half-marathon (he did quite well!). It was good to be connected as family for two weekends in a row. We are now looking forward to Thanksgiving, when we'll all be together again, in addition to spending time with my sisters and their families. Zhanna and Ella will get to meet aunts and uncles and cousins!

So, life is busy, full, and ever changing. We are family, but are continually waiting to discover what that means! If you have your children from birth you understand their temperaments and can somewhat anticipate their reactions by the time they are 12 or 13 years old. But we are discovering new information about our girls everyday. For instance, we know now that Ella is our neat one. Zhanna is a bit (understatement) more scattered. When I ask the girls to clean their room, Ella gets right on it and is highly motivated to make a nice, clean and orderly environment in which to live. Zhanna will delay and procrastinate and try to finagle someone else to do the work for her, and then she'll do the job with only half as much effort and preciseness as Ella will. In doing schoolwork Zhanna will "get it" much more easily than Ella will, but Ella will work at it and work at it until she gets it. Ella will ask questions. Zhanna won't. Zhanna sometimes gets a little lazy, or maybe reasons "why should I put more effort into whatever I'm doing, when I can get it done acceptably in less time?" Ella doesn't really seem to care what other people think. She approaches life like a kid. Zhanna is very concerned about appearance and how others might view her and whether or not she "fits" in. She doesn't want to do anything that might draw attention to herself or make her look foolish. She holds back in meeting new people and in forming new relationships until she feels safe. Ella does that somewhat, too, as she follows Zhanna's lead, but she'll more readily make eye contact and talk with a new person than Zhanna will.

So, our job as new parents to these beautiful and complex young human beings that God has entrusted into our care is to understand and to love and direct and to guide. Not always an easy task. As a matter of fact, it is downright difficult some days. But we are encouraged by the changes and the growth and the wonder and the wisdom of God. He gives us strength. We rely on Him. We read somewhere recently that people should never choose to adopt because it is the "Christian thing to do." They should only choose to adopt because of love. We are finding this to be so true. God is love. We love Him because He first loved us. We love our children (both natural born and adopted) because He entrusted them to us. We love others because they were made in God's image. God is a God of love and of change. He will see us through.

"Dear friends, we should love each other, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become God's child. And so everyone who loves knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love to us: He sent his only Son into the world to give us life through him." I John 4:7-9

May you know God's love as He takes you through the changes of life.
In Christ,
Dawn and Mark

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Piercings and Patience

Last Thursday night we had Open House at school. We got home late and still needed to help the girls study for a big history test they were to have the next day. We told them to go take their showers quickly so we could study. They were in the bathroom for a long time. We kept knocking on the door and asking them to hurry. They said, "Okay, okay, we almost done." When they finally came out they proudly came and pointed to their ears and said, "Lookee! We poke our ears!" They had both given themselves additional earring holes (high on the cartilage) using perfume as an antiseptic and an earring as a piercing tool. I-YEEE! It was almost 10:00 and we hadn't studied for the test.

Mark and I both just looked at each other and we knew we didn't want to go to battle at that moment. It was late and we were tired. We scolded them for not telling us what they were doing, and for doing something they shouldn't have been doing instead of hurrying to get ready as we had asked. We just told them "NO MORE HOLES! Don't ever do that again!" They assured us they didn't want anymore and they would never do it again. We explained about infections and keeping their ears clean, etc., etc., etc. They seemed to understand, so we left it at that, and went on to studying for the test.

The drama occurred the next day at school. Apparently some of the girls in the 5th grade noticed Zhanna and Ella's new earrings and took great interest in how and when it was done. Zhanna and Ella told the other girls that they did it themselves, and explained the process. They told the girls that girls at the orphanage did it all the time. One of the girls in the group was mesmerized by that idea. When the class went to the park at recess this girl came to Zhanna and insistently asked her if Zhanna would pierce her ears for her. At first Zhanna refused. However, after much persuasion and assurance that it would be okay and no one would get in trouble, Zhanna complied with the request. After the deed was done the pierced girl (B) convinced another friend to allow her to pierce her ears, as well. B had become more brazen and confident about the process by this time, and insisted that another friend have her ears pierced, as well, to the point of holding her down, sitting on her arms and covering her mouth, all the while trying to poke the earring into her earlobe. It didn't succeed, but the attempt was made. All these girls went back to class after recess as if nothing had happened.

After school, I asked the girls how their day had gone. They proceeded to tell me the whole sordid story, as if it were the most normal occurrence in the world. I asked and then asked again, "You did what? To who? How?!" Then I said, "Girls! You can't do things like that here like you did at the orphanage! These girls have mothers! Their mothers will be mad!" I told them I had to talk to their teacher and to the principal about what had happened. By the look on the girls' faces I could tell that they had no idea that there would be anything wrong with what had been done. They looked frightened and surprised.

I went and shared the tale. Their teacher had gotten wind of some "girl stuff" going on, but had no idea about what had happened. The principal was supportive of me, but suggested I call the other mothers and let them know what had happened. (At this point I only knew of Zhanna's part and was feeling incredibly responsible and guilty). It was a difficult task to call the other moms. I prayed first and tried to be as patient and gentle as I could. I apologized and explained that I felt my girls are good girls and didn't mean to do anything wrong. They had seen and done things like this at the orphanage many times and didn't understand that it was not the wisest thing thing to do. I explained that they are still learning about the difference between the culture of a family, vs. the culture of an orphanage. B's mother didn't react too well. I knew we were not done with the matter.

Sure enough, on Monday, B's mom met me in the hallway as I was going to my classroom. I asked how they were doing and apologized again. I again tried to explain that the girls were just learning and I appreciated how the other girls had been trying to be such good friends. The mother was cool toward me and told me icily, "Well, that friendship can no longer continue. My daughter is too easily influenced." What can you say to that? I said, "Okay. I'm sorry," and walked away.

Later in the morning the principal and assistant principal met with all the girls in the 5th grade. They shared what they knew and lectured on sanitary practices and making good choices. Then they asked the girls to share what they knew about the situation or had seen. Everything came out. It became evident that Zhanna was talked into the original piercing and that B had been manipulative and had bullied the other girls into complying to her desire that everyone have holes in their ears! The decision was made that the four girls most involved would spend lunch detention in the Principal's office for one week, writing out letters to their parents and paragraphs about making wise choices. In addition, B would have a week of in-house suspension (meaning she stays in the Principal's office not only at lunch, but all day long, and does all her schoolwork there, rather than in the regular classroom).

The result of all these choices gave Mark and me some leverage to sit down with the girls at home as well, and have a family meeting about everything that had occurred. We began with a prayer, and then talked to the girls about the influence they are having on the other girls and the responsibility that comes with that. We asked them what they had learned from all of this. They were able to tell us quite clearly what they had learned, especially Ella. She said, "I glad I no do this poke somebody's ears!" We were able to talk to them about choices always leading to consequences. Then we said that we were going to ask them to do something that they probably wouldn't like. We said we were going to ask them to remove the earrings they had poked themselves the night before all this drama happened. We wanted them to let those holes close up. We assured them that it wasn't the earrings that we were against, but the fact that they had done that without asking and that all these consequences had come from that choice. They were never to pierce their own ears again, but in a year or two, if they still wanted their ears pierced and we talked about it as a family and thought it was a good idea, then we would take them to a place where it would be sanitary and clean.

Ella complied with our request readily. She was a bit quiet and sad, but did what we asked. Zhanna, on the other hand, was mad, and sulked. She stomped into her room and took out the earring and then got in her bed as if she was refusing to come out and talk anymore. We had to remind her that she was making choices again, and consequences would come from those choices, too, if she didn't decide to come back out and finish our conversation. She finally and reluctantly agreed, and we were able to finish with another prayer. She sulked through dinner, but then seemed to feel better and the rest of the evening went well. At bedtime she even made a little comment about, "Mom, no earring!" I reminded her that maybe in a year or two she could get them pierced again if she still wanted to. "A year!" she said. But that was all. Thankfully, that was that.

So, Zhanna has lunch detention this week. Both girls have healing holes in their ears, and we have survived a minor calamity. But God is good, and has seen us through. God gives us everything we continue to need. That's how we know this journey is all from Him. And on a last side note: that history test we had to study for after the girls pierced their ears at home? Zhanna got a 92 and Ella got the only 100 in the class! It was a 5 page test! We are so proud of both of our little "Holey" or "Holy" girls.

God is good! He loves us all the time, and we love Him.
Dawn and Mark

Monday, August 31, 2009

Getting on a Routine. . . With Guinea Pigs!

Finally . . . after 2 months in America, we are finally beginning to get into a regular routine. Going to school helps a lot. The girls must get up at 6:00am (they are not morning people, so this time is a little painful). They must be in bed with lights out no later than 10:00 (this is also hard because they are bouncing every evening and finding every excuse possible to get out of bed and delay the process - much like preschoolers). But, thankfully, it's happening!!

The girls showed noticeable improvement in attitude and helpfulness this past week, as well as strong determination to do well in their schoolwork. So, they earned a very big reward. They had been asking us all summer if they could get a guinea pig. We told them we would wait and see how things went, and see if they earned the privilege of having this kind of pet. Well, after the demonstration of great attitude, work ethic and helpfulness, the time was right this weekend. On Saturday we bought 2 guinea pigs, a large cage, bedding, a guinea pig house, food, water bottle, and food dish. That all set us back a pretty penny, but the response and reaction of the girls has been priceless.

Zhanna named her guinea pig "Poopsik." That means something like "baby" in Russian. Ella named hers "Bob." Just plain, old "Bob." They love their babies, and worry and fuss over them. They enjoy nothing better than to watch a movie in the living room and hold their babies all wrapped up on their laps. Ella frets over Bob because she says he sneezes and acts sick (we have never heard him sneeze). She asked her dad if guinea pigs get headaches. She doesn't want her baby to suffer in any way. They are both very loving and attentive "mommies." They love animals, anyway, and to have the responsibility for the total care and feeding of their own pet is a good lesson in empathy. They are developing a gentleness through caring for these guinea pigs. We're enjoying watching their loving natures come forth.

School continues to go well. It is quite challenging, but the girls are "hanging tough" and rising to all that is expected of them. There is a lot to do, but they seem determined to do their best and to make good grades. Last week they were to have a health test on Thursday. I studied with them until about 9:30 on Wednesday night, when Ella hit the wall. She put her head down on her arms and wouldn't even talk to us. We told her to go on to bed. She went into the bedroom, got in her bed with her clothes on and covered her head with the blankets. She wouldn't budge or even respond to us. Zhanna got her pajamas on and went to bed, as well. We tried to reassure them that they were working hard, and not to worry. Just do their best. Their teacher and everyone else would understand. We kissed them both goodnight, and turned out the lights.

After about 10 minutes Mark and I noticed the light was on again in their bedroom. We went in to find the girls quizzing each other on the health test material. Bless their hearts! The material was challenging for them - all about the circulatory sytem. Words like "plasma", "capillaries", "varicose veins", "ventical", "atrium", "aorta", etc., etc. In addition, they had to label the parts of the heart, and be able to match the description of the parts of the heart with its function. It would be a challenging test if you had known English your entire life, but to have to learn how to say many new and extremely difficult words, as well as understanding their meanings is like an extreme sport or competition. But both girls persevered.

Mark and I worked with them about another hour. They finally felt satisfied and were able to sleep. They next morning they woke up early and got ready and wanted us to quiz them again. They took the test at school that day and both got an "A." We were so proud of them!

Yes, we are all working hard through the week, but thankfully, the weekends have been restful. We were able to sleep in on Saturday and rest on Sunday. The girls actually spent the afternoon with some of the young people from church, eating pizza, and playing "guitar hero" on the Wii. They had a good time, and Mark and I got a little break. It was good for all of us.

God is so good, and we are well aware that He is at work in the hearts and minds of our beautiful daughters. He is at work in our hearts and minds, too. We are learning and stretching and growing. We praise Him for all things . . . especially sleep!

God's blessings,
Dawn and Mark