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.
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.
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
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
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.
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!"
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!
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?!?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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."