Monday, December 18, 2006

The Problem with Love

The phone call came. She is in isolation and was not allowed to travel with the other children. One of the caregivers e-mailed us and asked specifically if we would write to Kristina. Understandably she was quite upset. Thank you for your prayers. Please remember us this holiday and a little girl with great hopes on the other side of the world.

Love one another and you will be happy. It's as simple and as difficult as that. -Michael Leunig

Sunday, December 17, 2006

48 Hours and Counting . . .

I received a phone call this morning. Kristina has the chicken pox. I am sad for her and wish she was here so that we could comfort her. But I am also swimming in a pity pool over the prospect of not having her for the holiday. Dr R. called to see if we still wanted her to come if the doctor gives her clearance to travel. Of course we wanted her to come. The children have all had the chicken pox vaccine. I would rather have her tucked into bed recovering here than have her languish in the orphange's infirmary wondering what Christmas would have been like. Please pray that God's will will be done in this situation. Pray that if she travels that God will give her comfort and strength for the journey over. Pray that if she does not come that God will give her joy and hope in the absence of her almost family this season. At this point we wait for the phone call. . .

Friday, November 17, 2006

What about the others?

Finally, a chance to catch my breath! A whole week of break looms before me and though I have lots of papers to grade, I am thankful for a chance to slow down. Hannah and I are planning to try and rethink her little room so that it is multi-girl friendly. Currently she has a small room with my old queen bed and a desk. As the summer went along, I could tell that this configuration wouldn't work long term for she and Kristina. Inevitably, one would end up sleeping on the floor or the couch by morning. Both of them are "wandering" sleepers and couldn't stay on one side for the duration of a night. We have one twin mattress and I think we can manage to purchase one more. But with nothing extra for furniture, we will need to be creative. I think paint will go a long way and Hannah has a creative mind. We have the whole week to figure it out!

We are almost at the one month count down mark! I know the time will both drag and fly by at moments. I think about the other children who will not be experiencing Christmas as we know it. It will be just another day for them, no promise of a gift or special meal. Frontier Horizon is working to let these orphans know that Christmas is a celebration for everyone. They are collecting Christmas Wishes through their website. A twenty five dollar "wish" will provide one child with food, clothing, and the opportunity to choose a gift, maybe a doll, toy, or radio. This small amount of money goes so far in Ukraine. I think about the meaingless "stocking stuffers" I waste money on each year. This year wouldn't it mean more to give a wish in the name of a loved one? Consider giving the gift of kindness to a child who needs to know that Christmas is not just another day, its a promise of hope.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Kristina's Hope

We are pushing forward in faith. Our spirits have been encouraged by the good news that Orangewood Presbyterian Church has offered to partner with us to raise the funds necessary for Kristina's adoption. They have agreed to accept tax deductible donations on our behalf!

To that end, we have created a website that will focus our fund raising efforts. Our prayer is that we will meet our financial goals by the end of December 2006. Please consider joining us with prayer and financial ministry if you can. Please call on your network of family and friends and send the web address to as many people as you know. We can bring her home with your help!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Letters from the Field

A letter from our dear girl was waiting in our inbox this morning. Its amazing how God uses small things to reassure us of His goodness and providence.

To my best family!!
Hello my beloved family!
how are you?
I am doing just wonderful!!!
I love you very much!
Thank you very much for the gift you have sent for me! Thank you very much for the letters! Thanks to Hanna for such beautiful card! For the stickers and magazine!!! And that you love me so much!!!! also thank you very much for the bubble gums. I enjoyed being with you in America very much.
Thank you very much for taking me to stay with you sometime!!!
I love you a lot.
Your Kristina

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Around and Around We Go . . .

So many changes are taking place in Ukraine where adoption is concerened. The system shut down for several months and recently reopened under new organization. Now we have heard that the head has retired. A change in leadership may mean a change in policy or even another shut down. There have even been questions raised concerning hosting programs. Please pray that hosting programs will be allowed to continue as they do so much to open doors for these children. Selfishly, we are hoping the structure will hold through Christmas at least so that our angel can be with us.

I feel a real urgency with the uncertainty of what lies ahead. Please continue to pray for the financial resources we are lacking to move forward with Kristina's adoption.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Journey of the Soul

One of my best friends leaves in two weeks for India. She will be working with orphans there for a month. I envy and admire her all at the same time. I want to go with her and see what she sees. I want to meet the children and experience the uniqueness of another culture. I credit my friend Kathy with introducing me to the beauty of the history of other places. I crave other places now. There is an exhilaration in the sensory feast coupled with the initial fear of a foreign land. I took a group of students to London before my trip to Ukraine and Robert joked that he wondered if I would return.

But more than anything, I long to feel what I know lies ahead for Kim. The joy and the pain of connecting with the needs of others in service for the King is priceless. I remember sitting in the backseat of Dima's car after leaving the baby hospital. I tried my best to weep quietly so that he and Oksana wouldn't notice, but I was raw after touching those abandoned and dying babies. When she looked back and saw me, I was ashamed of my display of weakness. But I am thankful that I was allowed to see it. It changed me. I know Kim will be changed as well. I was only in Ukraine for a few days. She will be in India for a month and will be even more intertwined in their lives than I was allowed. Pray for Kim as she prepares for her journey.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Life at Warp Speed

I feel as though I need to apologize each time I start an entry. I know there are people out there who have kept up with this blog for the last few months. Since Kristina's return to Ukraine, the posts have been few and far between. You should know that's not because there's nothing to say in her absence. Rather, my life seems to have swallowed me up again as school is in full swing. Strangely, I am noticing this for the first time. I am seeing just how taxed my time is, how little time I have for my family, how utterly exhausted I seem to be all the time. It makes me question the pace I travel at and to what end that race seems to be. I spent the summer focused on cultivating family and meaningfully connecting with one another. My current life doesn't allow me to do that. How do I change that? How do I make my life about what is important?

The group traveling to Ukraine arrived this morning. I was able to send an envelope with a few girl magazines, some gum, lip gloss, stickers, and paper dolls (remember those?!). It's not a lot, but I know it will mean so much to her. Please lift the team up in prayer as they minister this week and seek to meet the countless needs of these children. Pray for me as I seek to find balence in my life.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Home for Christmas

"For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 'And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 'When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' "The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' - Matthew 25:35-40

Sorry. I know I haven't posted in awhile. Its been an interesting month since Kristina returned to Ukraine. We have been blessed to send and receive two letters thanks to the Frontier Horizon workers and missionary Lela Steel. Kristina is upbeat and reflective in her letters. It sounds like her newly pierced ears started to get infected because she confessed that she took them out because they were hurting. I asked her if there was anything she needed so that I could try and get it to her. Her response? "Leslie, I need to be in your family." Sigh.

Please pray for the group traveling to Ukraine in 6 days. Although I had wanted so badly to go and be part of that ministry and see Kristina again, I am at peace that God did not open that door. We are looking forward with great hope to the Christmas holiday. We are planning on bringing her here if everything falls into place. She will only be able to stay for two weeks, but it will be worth every minute.

The Christmas hosting program is an unbelievable opportunity to bless a child who will not know the joy that comes with the holiday season here in the States. Beyond the presents and extravagant decorations, the comfort of food and family is a blessing that many of us take for granted. It sounds like a radical request, but would you take a complete stranger into your home and treat him or her like family this Christmas? Would you let him know the joy of decorating a tree, attending service at your church, opening presents on Christmas morning, Christmas carols, holiday lights, and your own family's traditions? I know that God's people have generous hearts, particularly during the holidays. You may already be planning to feed a needy family in the community or provide gifts for the less fortunate through any one of a number of programs. But what if you could see and feel the impact of ministering to Christ first hand? I promise that you have never experienced joy until you minister to the fatherless. Frontier Horizon is already gathering information on boys and girls that are available to travel for Christmas and there are pictures available. I'm not asking you to adopt a child. I'm not asking you sponser a child for the rest of your life. I'm asking you to change the life of one child for 14 days. If this is something you have room in your heart for, God will work out the details. He's just looking for willing hearts. Write me, call me, post to me here if you want more information. As God's people, this is what we have been called to.

A couple was walking on the beach, taking in the ocean air and a beautiful cloudless day when they came upon a stretch of beach that was just littered with literally thousands of starfish that had washed up on the beach during a storm the night before. They couldn't believe how many were lying helplessly on the beach starting to dryout and die in the sun. As they walked, they ran into a little boy who was picking up starfish, one by one, and tossing them back into the ocean. They stopped and asked him what he was doing.

"Rescuing starfish." He replied.

"There are thousands of them," they said, "you can't possibly save them all. You’re not going to make any difference."

Undaunted, he picked up another starfish and tossed it into the ocean.

"I made a difference to that one," he said.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Missing You

A father of the fatherless, and a defender of the widows, is God in his holy habitation. God sets the lonely in families. - Psalms 68:5-6a

I think of you all the time and find myself saying things to my classes about you. I reflect with them on the lessons I have learned because of you. I hung your drawing from The Hundred Dresses by my desk.

We had a cold front move through today and I thought of you. I know it must be getting colder in Ukraine. I wish now that I would have ordered a warm jacket for you and packed that in the suitcases. I remember you telling me how much your hands ached from the cold after shoveling snow each day. I should have thought to send mittens.

I wonder if you are eating enough. We are collecting children's vitamins at school for Dr. Waldheim's mission trip to India next month. I know how much you need vitamins and nutrients because of your lacking diet. I think of what a little thing it is to buy bananas at the store. I remember you sitting at the kitchen table savoring a glass of cold milk even 10 weeks later.

I ache to hold you and kiss you on the head again. I pray that someone will do that for you tonight before you go to bed. I wish I could travel with the other families next month to see you and spend time together. But I know God's plans are perfect and so I will wait for you. One day you will know just how much you are loved. One day you will know that you are a priceless, and valued, and wanted. One day you will know that you are our daughter and we are your family.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Listening to Tom

Meet Tom; he's a guy who gets it. He preached an amazing message yesterday, one I think will change the way you look at things. Here's his blog, but you can hear what he has to say by clicking here. God is allowing the scales to fall from my eyes through this experience. Come with me.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Desire to Spend

If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
-Isaiah 58:10-11

I knew that the lack of communication would be difficult once she returned to Ukraine. We wonder about how she is and what she's feeling. I fall back on a text message I received from Ulyses the day I took her to the airport, "We can trust that God loves her more than we do." There is peace in knowing that truth. Yesterday we received an e-mail from one of the Frontier Horizon workers with a translated letter from Kristina. She makes it clear how much she misses and loves us. She speaks of the things that she enjoyed while living with us in the States. And surprisingly, she doesn't mention the trip to Busch Gardens, new clothes, or the abundance of food. She reflects on how much she liked our walks and how much she liked school (yeah, school!). She remembers the people who were so kind to her. She remembers all of you.

Frontier Horizon, the organization I originally traveled to Ukraine with, is going back in early October and I want to go with them. Not only to see Kristina, but also to help facilitate the expansion of the hosting program to outlying orphanages. I believe in this ministry and I have seen first hand the difference they are making in the lives of the fatherless. Is it possible to be a part time missionary??? My heart seems so linked to the work that is going on there. But now that we are pursuing the adoption of Kristina, we must watch our finances and work towards raising the money necessary to bring her here permanently. Thank you for continuing to pray for this child and for our family. We have great hope watching and waiting for what God will do.

Monday, September 04, 2006

On the Same Page

It's strange around our house. I was folding clothes and found a pair of Kristina's pajama pants that were forgotten in the packing process. It was just a reminder that she's not here anymore. I stood in Hannah's doorway and watched Joshua sleep last night. Yeah, Hannah moved out of her room the day after Kristina left. She asked Josh to trade rooms with her. I figured it was only temporary. So Josh is sleeping alone in Hannah's big bed and Sis is sleeping on the pull out in the boys' room. I'm letting the kids adjust in the way that they need. It makes me wonder how Kristina is adjusting. I wonder if she is cherishing her memories or blocking them out to cope with the differences.

Robert cooked breakfast for all of us yesterday morning before church. "Its a sign!" he called from the kitchen. "What's a sign?" I said. "There were seven sausages in the package. That's a sign," he said with a big smile as he stirred the eggs. Of course he meant it in a funny way, but it was confirmation that Robert and I are in agreement with all of this.

Samuel was rummaging through a box in my room earlier today. "What are you looking for?" I asked. "I need something to keep my money in," he said without looking up at me. "What money?" I said. "The money I earn for Ridgecrest summer camp . . . and for Kristina," he said still not looking up. It's an unspoken understanding in our house. She will be coming back, some way, some how.

Thursday, August 31, 2006


Just a note to let you all know that I received an e-mail from Lela, the dear missionary in Ukraine that ministers to the children at Kristina's orphanage. Kristina arrived back safely although sleepy yesterday afternoon. Lela said she was clutching her photo albums of her time here and looking through them often. Thank God for His faithful protection over her as she traveled. Continue to pray for our sweet daughter.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Friends with God

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. - II Corinthians 12:9

I put my daughter on a plane yesterday and sent her as far away as I could imagine. She woke up in the morning and said, "Leslie, please. I want to go to school today." Knowing how much she struggled with the entire school experience, her request came as a surprise. I told her she could ride with me to drop them off, but we needed to get ready to go to the airport. She did not pout or fight with me over the issue. I let her sit in the front seat for the ride to school and she surfed music stations on the radio. "Leslie, I do not want Russia." I told her I knew that and that we didn't want her to go either. When we reached school and dropped the children at the benches, she rolled down the window and called for Hannah. She leaned out the window and hugged her summer sister and said, "I will miss you, Hannah." On the way back to the house she whispered, "Leslie? I did not tell Hannah that she is my sister. Will you tell her I said that she is my sister?"

Later that morning we headed for the airport and Kristina asked to make a few phone calls to say goodbye. It was hard to watch her try not to cry as she spoke with people who have changed her life and impacted her beyond their knowledge. We stopped by Robert's jobsite. He hugged her and said over and over again, "We had fun, right?" It was the only phrase he could utter and remain composed. "We will see each other soon. Maybe you can come for Christmas?" It was all he could dare to give her at this point.

What a blessing that would be to have her back for the holidays. Even with the hope of a future reunion, we all know that the months between now and then will be painful. Knowing that she will not have access to the nutrition, love, and support she needs over the coming months hardly made the promise something to cling to. We know what she is going back to and we know that unless we can permanantly remove her from that situation, we won't rest. She will quickly lose all the weight she gained. She will go back behind the emotional wall that we worked so hard to coax her out from all summer.

Her arm remained linked through mine while we were at the airport; she didn't wander more than a few inches from me the entire morning. We checked her bags through to Ukraine and navigated our way through security. She wanted to know when I would be leaving. Would I be able to sit with her on the plane? Would I be able to walk her to the guardian who would meet us in Washington? A window seat on her first flight of a very long day gave her some distraction for the two hour ride into D.C.

I didn't know how I would handle the parting. My first experience of leaving her was like a death. It was one of the most painful experiences of my life. But throughout the day, I received e-mails and text messages over and over again, words of hope and encouragment from friends, students, and family. I realized that so many of you were walking with me on this journey. I felt insulated against the dispair I experienced the first time Kristina and I parted. In fact, I felt at peace and content. I felt the comfort that comes from walking in the will of God even when it is contrary to our desire. God reminded me that Abraham was once asked to part with a child that he loved dearly in order that God might be glorified and Abraham's faith might be tested (Genesis 22:1-18). I want our faith to be that of Abraham's, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness, and he was called God's friend." (James 2:20-24)

When the time came for us to say our goodbyes, it was as if she was only going away for a day. I reminded her to obey her caregiver, to practice her English, to know that we would pray for her, to know that we would see each other again soon. "Soon, Leslie? We will see each other soon?" I asked her if she remembered that I said the same thing to her when I left Odessa in May. She nodded. I asked her where she had been for the last 10 weeks. "America," she said with a faint smile. I told her that God had answered our prayers once and He would do it again. With that, she boarded the plane without tears and with anticipation of what the Lord of all things would bring to pass.

Continue to pray for Kristina as she adapts to life in the orphanage again. Pray that we will find the vast resources necessary to adopt this child and give her a forever family. Pray for our family as we grieve the temporary absence of a Landrum child.

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After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. -I Peter 5:10

Monday, August 28, 2006

Prayer Request

I told her to make a list of what she wanted to get before she returned to Ukraine. Her list consisted of a towel, a wash cloth, a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, soap, a blanket for her bed in the orphanage, and warm shoes for the winter. As I purchased the items, she kept apologizing. "I'm so sorry, Leslie. I know it is big money."

We've packed her clothes and some supplies for the other children that Whitney brought by the school today. In her backpack for the plane ride is a book, her jacket, a stuffed animal from Sara Hunt and a stack of handmade cards from the children in her fourth grade class. She has read them at least three times since she's been home. They are filled with messages of hope and love from the children in Mrs. Wilgus' class.

I sent her to bed a little while ago, yet she wanders in here periodically as if she's looking for something. Hannah had fallen asleep on the couch and Kristina insisted that I wake her up. I told her I would send Hannah to bed in a little while, but Kristina persisted. She wanted to sleep with her summer sister one last time. When we got home from school, Hannah headed to the kitchen and made two sandwiches. She retrieved two beach towels from the hall closet and went out into the side yard. A few minutes later she called for Kristina and the two of them had a picnic. I could hear their giggles drift in through the window as I went about packing the suitcases.

The boys have each had a moment today. It was just a brief moment, a glimpse of tomorrow's pain. "Mom, does she have to go?" "I'm going to miss her, Mom." She is one of us. Dealing with my own pain tomorrow is one thing, but I hadn't prepared myself for watching five other people deal with the same thing. The last time I faced this, I was alone in a hotel room in Vienna, Austria. Patti reminded me today that Christ meets us in our deepest sorrow; and there is sweetness in that communion regardless of the depth of the darkness. We desperately need your prayers tomorrow. Pray for Robert and the children. Pray that I will handle our parting graciously. Pray that the courage Kristina found to come here will carry her back home. Pray that she will have hope and know that she is loved in our absence. Pray that God will make a way.

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. -Philippians 1:6

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Foot Washin'

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I made a list of outings and experiences that I thought Kristina would enjoy when I was anxiously awaiting her arrival back in June. With the hours ticking away, I stepped back to think if there was anything else I wanted to do with her before she left. As if this morning didn't hold enough excitement, I decided to take the girls to have their nails done. While the girls have done each others' nails countless times this summer, they have never had them done at a salon.

After picking their colors, the girls settled into the big cushioned pedicure chairs. Kristina watched with glee as a nail technician filled the basin with warm and fragrant sudsy water. She browsed through the stack of magazines perched on a nearby table and found a remote control. Curiosity got the best of her as she pressed one of the buttons and the chair began to vibrate. Her expression was priceless! She made faces as the technician trimmed and polished her toenails. She and Hannah giggled uncontrollably as the bottoms of their feet were scrubbed until they were rosy pink.

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Kristina studied each little stroke of the nail brush as her toenails were transformed into glittery pink gems. She said to the technician over and over again, "Thank you so much! You are doing such a good job!" When her fingernails were completed, she compared them with Hannah's and said, "This is a very, very good day. Everyday should be this day!"

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Holy, Holy, Holy

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Kristina has wanted her ears pierced ever since she wandered around in Gabby's bedroom and raked through Gabby's jewelry collection. I put her off and put her off until I could reach someone at the orphanage to get permission. Friday I spoke with one of the guardians that said she could get it done. She was so excited and a little nervous. When we walked into Claire's in the mall, she was talking a mile a minute. The assistant manager showed her a choice of starter earrings and Kristina zoomed in on a pair of pink crystal flowers. She climbed in a chair and clutched a fuzzy black bear to calm her nerves. "You have done this before, yes?" Kristina asked the woman. "You are good at this? You know how to do this?" The clerk explained what she was going to do and showed Kristina the "gun" used to do the piercing. NOW she was nervous. I asked her if she wanted to change her mind and she said no. The first one went in and she didn't even realize it was done. She cringed waiting for the second and again had no reaction when the earring went in. She laughed and admired herself in the mirror as I paid for the service. Oh, the joy of daughters!
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Friday, August 25, 2006

Simple Pleasures

Kristina lost a tooth in school yesterday. Liz promptly placed the tooth in an envelope and told her to put it under her pillow when she got home. Kristina was confused by this tradition and she questioned me about this when she got home. "Leslie, why I put tooth under pillow? Who want my tooth?" I told her that moms and dads do this for their children. When I explained that her tooth would be replaced by a small gift, she was amazed. "What is this gift? Why I get this? Where does tooth go?" Sure enough, when she awoke this morning and found lip gloss under her pillow, she rushed in and thanked me. Who's the tooth fairy now?!?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Not for the Faint of Heart

Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength;they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. -Isaiah 40:31

I was in a completely different place at this time last week. Kristina was struggling with American school. She was struggling with the thought of going home in a matter of days. She was in a visible battle and it manifested itself in arguing, crying, and despair. I was shaken watching her go through this. I found myself walking a thin line between being the discipling mother and the compassionate keeper of her heart. By the end of the weekend, I had come to terms with the possibility that we may not be able to provide Kristina with what she needed to heal. I came to terms with the painful fact that we may not be the family that God would provide her with.

I had prepared myself to say, "Thy will be done" before Kristina ever set foot on American soil. I know God's will is perfect and that somehow this situation was so much bigger than this one little girl. Somewhere in the midst of this hectic week, the light began to shine through. Kristina's behavior at school improved, she started to make friends, she showed greater restraint of her emotions, and she loved us more freely than she has all summer. It's as though a peace has settled over her. I have found tremendous comfort in the fact that our Father has placed a hedge about this child. I know you are praying for her. I sense it. There are a few days ahead of us that I know full well may be filled with their own problems, but for now she is peaceful and happy. Please continue to pray for Kristina. Pray that our family would know God's will unquestionably concerning this child.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Counting the Minutes

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Kristina started school this past Wednesday and I worried how she would hold up in a new environment with new people. When I picked her up after school, she was still in one piece and had lots to say. I asked her if she liked school she said, "I do not know yet." She talked about what a "good woman" her teacher Mrs. Wilgus was and how she had made a friend. But I know the structure of the school day had worn on her. She will miss out on so much when she returns to the orphanage in a few days. I think the structure of Mrs. Wilgus' classroom and spending time with the children in her class would have helped her make some social adjustments that we haven't made a lot of progress with this summer.

Only eleven days before she returns to her life in Ukraine. She has experienced so much and has been blessed by all of you over the summer. With so short of time left, I hope you will understand how much we covet the time we have left together as a family. Next week will be Kristina's last and we will try to slip away for some alone time next weekend. Pray for Kristina, the children, Robert, and me as we prepare for this transition.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Called Out

Last night was Convocation, the official kick-off of the school year. Our principal called the teachers forward to introduce us to the gathered crowd of parents and students. To make things interesting, he asked us to introduce ourselves, tell what we taught, how many children we had, and the hobbies we enjoyed. Sounds simple enough, right? But with only 4 people between me and the microphone, my mind began to race. How many children? You'd be amazed at the debate that went on in my mind in that 60 seconds before it was my turn. I stepped forward and said, "Hi, my name is Leslie Landrum. I teach all of English 9 as well as Research & Composition to the entire Freshmen class. Children? . . . I have five children. Twin boys in fifth grade, two daughters in fourth grade, and a son in third grade." I could hardly believe I said it.

The remainder of the evening was filled with meeting and greeting, but my mind was stuck on what I had said. On the drive home I came to the conclusion that perhaps avoiding the title of "Mom" has not only been to protect Kristina, but to also protect myself.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Been There, Done That

Kristina came to me the other day and said:
"Leslie, I tell Robert I am hungry. And he say to me, 'Nice to meet you, Miss Hungry! I am Robert.' Leslie, this is no funny anymore."

Ha, ha, ha! And that's how Robert learns.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Hold On

I know; its been a whole week. I've been finding it very difficult to post lately. Lots of things have been happening; nothing cute and narrative unfortunately. The things that have been happening for the last week have a lot to do with Kristina's realization that she is leaving in less than 3 weeks. Its hard for me to relate these events because I am having trouble sorting through them myself.

She fights with all of us more lately. I think its her coping mechanism. She knows that she is leaving. Her days are numbered and I think she is trying to concretely learn once and for all if we love her. I cannot promise her that we will come for her, so she's trying to compensate in her own way. Its as if she is pushing us to see if we will love her even when she pushes. Strangely, God equipt us for this back on June 24th before the pushing truely began. I try to keep this in mind as holding the line becomes more and more tiring. I worry that this will always be a struggle with her. Will she always question the depth of our love even if she joins our family permanately? I try to think of God's passionate, pursuing love for His children. Have we not doubted our own God who sacrificed His own Son for us? Have we not wrestled with Him when we've questioned our standing in His sight? So I try to hold her tighter spiritually as she struggles with us, against us, for us. I know that once she is gone, I will long for her: the silly dancing Kristina who has no rhythm, the pouting moody Kristina who is impatient, the girly kind Kristina who will paint her summer sister's toes , and the struggling hurting Kristina who needs to know that she is wanted. For now, all I can do is hold on.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


K: Robert, I am thirsty.
R: Nice to meet you, Thirsty! I'm Robert.
K: No, No, No. I am thirrrsssttty.
R: Nice to meet you, Thirsty. I'm Robert.
K: No, I would like a drink.
R: oh, what would you like to drink?

And that's how we learn.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Reflective Kristina

When I picked the girls up from volleyball camp today, Kristina had the same excited disposition. She proudly showed me a set of colorful hairbands she had won at camp. I doubt if anyone knew how much something so simple meant to her. She and Hannah sat in the backseat playfully groaning about their sore legs. "Look, Leslie! Look at my legs," she requested, "People at internot call me skeleton. But no more! Look at my legs!" Indeed she has gained weight in the 7 weeks she has been here. She is still small, but the difference in her appearance is obvious because of a nutritional diet.

She stared out the window on the way home. "Leslie? I am happy. Why am I so happy?" I smiled to myself at her reflection. "I don't know, Kristina. You tell me why you are happy," I replied. "I don't know," she said still staring out the window, "Everything. Everything."

Monday, July 31, 2006

Future Lady Ram?

Kristina went to her first day of volleyball camp today. I was a little nervous to leave her. I lingered by the door for a little while wondering how she would be. Hannah was there, but I knew she would get frustrated before she would fall back on Hannah to help her. After 20 minutes I forced myself to walk away. If I couldn't let her do this on her own, I knew I wouldn't get past the first day of school. I returned two and a half hours later to find her practicing spiking the ball and running around the court with a huge smile plastered on her face.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place

I mentioned at the beginning how much she enjoys to clean and organize. She does this everyday in the room that she and Hannah share, even when it doesn't necessarily need it. I think its a routine she is accustomed to in the orphanage. It provides her with some familiarity and gives her a sense of contribution at home. I found her in the front yard yesterday with a bucket of soapy water and my pedicure brush scrubbing the bike that Patti had loaned us for the summer. My shock at the ruined brush melted away as she beamed with pride at the squeaky clean bicycle.

I am thankful that we have had such an extended period to host Kristina. It has given us time to get past the honeymoon period and test the waters. I am fascinated by the way the dynamics have evolved in all of our relationships. The children laugh together one minute and are bickering the next. That doesn't sounds like a good thing necessarily, but to me she is just one of the children. She has fit in and bonded with all of the kids on some level and they consider her one of them. It took several weeks for me to see the connection between Robert and Kristina. I don't know if its a guy thing or just the way the relationship grew, but at some point he no longer saw her as a house guest but as a daughter.

If there is one thing I know about Kristina its that she wants to know if I mean what I say. And just to make sure, she tests me. She is wired so differently than my four; I am on my toes often. To be frank, she's a lot like me. That's what makes discipling her so difficult. I have the same stubborn streak. I want to do things my way. I don't like for others to know when I need help or when I am struggling. I have stood before her on more than one occasion fighting back tears of frustration knowing that she was doing the exact same thing.

The discipline issues I face with her are not so much behavioral as they are heart issues. Its not enough to simply follow the rules. I challenge her if she does things with a poor attitude or begrudgingly. Sure, we could let things slide to keep the peace since she is here for only a few more weeks. But everyone has a place in this family. And whether its for four more weeks or a lifetime, we hope that Kristina's place is here.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

What's in a Name?

We have a phrase around our house this summer: "Who's the mama?" It has been a real balancing act helping the children understand their roles in our newly adjusted family. My four want to teach Kristina the do's and don'ts of our household. But an 11 year old can only hear "nyet" so many times from another 11 year old before hard feelings start to develop. And Kristina, in her enthusiasm for learning the rules, religiously reminds the other four to "brush your teeth", "put on your seat belt", "make your bed". And you can imagine how well that goes over with the others. So in an attempt to preserve the growing relationship between the five, I have added a new rule to our household list: Only the mama may correct behavior. Its been working pretty well. When one of the children forgets and attempts to discipline one of the others, I will remind them, "Who's the mama?"

When Kristina first came here in June, she would call me Mama. I would lightheartedly remind her that I was "Leslie". She continued to call me mama and I consistently reminded her that I was Leslie. Once in a while she involuntarily calls me Mama, but more often she refers to me by my first name. Mr & Mrs. are titles that don't translate in Russian, so it was easier to let her call me what she had called me when I first met her at the orphanage.

During the first week of her visit, we went to the Central Florida Zoo. Robert noticed that a family standing next to a nearby exhibit was speaking what he thought was Russian, so he proceeded to strike up a conversation with the complete strangers. For those of you who know Robert, that is COMPLETELY out of character for my reserved husband. But his bet was right and the family he chatted with were in fact from Russia. He asked if they would interpret a few things for him. As they spoke, the mother asked me what circumstances had led to Kristina coming all the way from Ukraine to Florida to be with us. I gave her the short version of our relationship. The mom asked Kristina some things in Russian and Kristina replied unhesitatingly to each of her questions. When they were done, she turned to me and told me some of what Kristina had said.
Q. Where is your mother?
A. She is standing here with me.
Q. Aren't your parents in Ukraine?
A. I had a family once in Ukraine, but my family is here in America. This is my father and my mother. We are a family now.

I have been very careful to guard Kristina's heart during this process. I don't make her any promises. I know that even if we had the resources to adopt her, things are more complicated than deciding whether or not to adopt. There are a string of people between us and her that must give their consent. It only takes one director or judge to say "no". There are no avenues of recourse in Ukraine; a dead end is a dead end. Many adoptions happen without a problem, but I cannot promise her what I cannot guarantee.

This weekend Kristina made the mistake of correcting one of the kids and I reminded her, "Who's the mama?" Through tear filled eyes, she responded, "I don't know. You say you are not my mama." And there it was. She was confronting me on the title that I have avoided since she arrived. I didn't know how to respond. How do you explain something so complicated to an 11 year old? But at the same time, I know her heart needed to know that someone would chase after her regardless of who stood in the way. So I did what I could. I held her. I cried with her. I reminded her that I loved her and would always love her. So the question remains, "Who's the mama?"

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Boat Hair

Before . . .

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During . . .

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After . . .

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We spent the weekend fishing and boating on Lake Marian in Osceola County. It was Kristina's first time on a boat and she loved it. We were treated to up close and personal views of alligators, wild turkey, deer, and armadillos. Those weren't the only wild life on our trip though.
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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Back to the Future

Over the last few weeks, Kristina and I have slowly opened up her past and discussed things. In small doses we have discussed the people in her life, the memories good and bad, and what she sees for her future. Its amazing how readily we are able to communicate even when we can't use exact words. Today we talked about boys. She told me about one she had a crush on in Ukraine. We talked about boundaries and feelings. Its the conversation a mother has with her daughter.

Most of you have seen the hundreds of pictures I took while in the Ukraine. Kristina and I sat down and went through those pictures shortly after she arrived here. She would point out people and tell me things about them. She talked about Vika a lot. Vika was Kristina's best friend in the orphanage. She was blessed to be adopted a few months ago and is now living in America. After a few e-mails, I was able to get Vika's mom's e-mail address and sent a message. Vika's mom wrote back and graciously agreed to let the girls reconnect.

I called and spoke with Vika's mom this evening. It was good to hear her experience and how Vika is flourishing with love and time. When I handed the phone to Kristina, she squealed and danced to hear Vika's voice. High pitched Russian rolled over her tongue as she spoke a mile a minute to her dear friend. The language has always sounded abrupt to me, but tonight I can hear happiness and excitement mixed with the harsh guttural tones. I'm sure it was a relief to carry on a full conversation in her native language after so many weeks or broken phrases. I would love to know what they spoke about for over an hour. I think in a life full of lost pasts, its important for Kristina to be able to hold on to something. Hopefully this conversation will allow Kristina to connect part of her past with part of her future.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Girls Gone Wild

The day of beauty didn't end at the salon this morning. The girls found the curlers and begged me to roll their hair. I think I might have wrapped them a little too tightly beacuse they were bouncing off the walls for the remainder of the evening. Imagine how this experience has been for Hannah. She finally has a girl in the house that will do girly things with her. They paint each others' nails, play Barbies, build blanket tents, fix Robert's lunch together. But on the flip side, Hannah is also learning to share on a level she hasn't had to with her brothers. I wish you all could see the lessons God has and is teaching the children through this experience.

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Wash, Rinse, Repeat

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Kristina has never been to a salon to have her hair done. Today I took her to see Tara for a beauty experience. Kristina has beautiful naturally wavy hair, but I told her she could have it cut any way she wanted. She thumbed through a book of haircuts and picked a slightly shorter and sleeker style. Tara seated her at the shampoo station to have her hair washed and you could tell that Kristina felt pampered. She reached her hand up periodically to touch the suds and smell the luxurious shampoo.

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She watched herself in the mirror as Tara began to snip away at the length. When the hair dryer and flat iron came out, she made faces at the heat and loud noise. But when it was all said and done, she looked at her reflection and declared, "I beautiful girl!"

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Sunday, July 16, 2006

Hook, Line, and Sinker

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The Landrums are a fishing family. We all love to stand on the dock and spend a lazy afternoon casting into the water. Robert decided it was time to initiate Kristina into our family tradition. When I told her where we were going, she got a little teary eyed. When I asked her what was wrong, she said, "I don't know how." Not a problem!

We spent some time at a creek where she cringed as the boys baited her hook for her. Although she wouldn't touch the worms, it didn't take long for her to get the casting down.
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The creek was disappointing and so we packed up the tackle box and headed to Lake Lotus Park. We had the fishing pier to ourselves and the kids had a ball, not one complaint about the heat or the bugs. When he got a bite on his line, Robert called Kristina over and let her reel in the fish.
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After we had exhasuted our bait, we hiked back to the entrance of the park to wait for the shuttle. The park ranger pulled up and stepped out of his vehicle with two baby alligators. It seems Hannah had a conversation with one of the rangers on our way into the park and told her about Kristina. The ranger had brought the baby gators just for Kristina to see and touch. He gave us his card and invited us back to the office later in the week to see all the animals they house in the ranger's station!
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The Need for Speed

We travelled to Tampa this weekend and spent time at Busch Gardens theme park. As you can imagine, Kristina was entranced by everything she saw. She insisted on trying everything, including the roller coasters!

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In a Barbie World

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While shopping, I made the mistake a walking down the Barbie aisle. Kristina literally fell to the floor when she saw the row of displays. Hannah has one Barbie doll and hasn't played with it in years. The two of them talked me into buying one more so that they could play together. They spent the rest of the afternoon locked in their room having half English-half Russian conversations with the two dolls.

As providence would have it, Laurie brought Hannah handmade wooden doll furniture back from Brazil. When she and Kristina opened the package and saw it, they were estatic. When Patti heard how fascinated Kristina is with all things Barbie, she offered to let the girls borrow some of Kaitlin's Barbie stash. Now they have created a whole world in the floor of Hannah's room!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Girls' Day Out

Robert took the boys to work with him today, so Hannah, Kristina, and I decided to take advantage of our girls only status. Kristen and Sasha joined us for a trip to New Smyrna Beach. While her hometown of Odessa is located on the Black Sea, Kristina has not seen the type of surf we have here in Florida. She, Hannah, and a girl they met on the beach played in the waves, collected seashells, and dug in the sand for several hours before the afternoon rain clouds rolled in.

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