Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On The Road Again

One of the things we have missed so much about Florida is the access to outdoor activities, specifically biking. Earlier this week we retrieved the bikes and set out to retrace the bike paths that we had mapped many times. Thinking back to the time that Kristina learned to ride, I had to lag behind and snap a pic when I saw her riding fearlessly with arms straight out. What a journey we have all been on since this child has come into our lives.

Yesterday we decided to ride to one of the state parks in our area. Following the designated roadway, we cycled along in single file. As we were making our way along the main street, I noticed a man in an oncoming car wagging his finger at us. I took a quick survey. We were all on the designated path; all the children were wearing helmets. As his car came closer, I realized he was counting. "Yes," I thought, "There are seven of us." I suppose we look like a veritable parade trekking along.

We parked our bikes and wandered the pathway around the lake and through the forest looking for raccoons and baby gators. We were scattered along the boardwalk, each taking our own pace to gaze at a fish in the water or a spider skittering along a transparent web, when I observed Robert drape his arm across the broad shoulders of one of the twins just ahead of me. His voice drifted back, "Son, there's no where I would rather be than here with you, enjoying God's creation. You're growing into a fine young man." And then he pulled back to look him in the face and said, "Oh, wait. You're not Nathanael!" I laughed at his joke as Nathanael made his way over to see what was so funny. The three of them set off and pulling the rest of us in their wake. "Boys, you're both growing into fine young men . . . despite your mother's negative influence." I refused to rise to the bait reflecting on the fact that he waited until he was safely several paces ahead before he made such an observation.

Our time back in Florida for Christmas Break has seemed dreamlike, unreal. We miss the lifestyle we had here and the routine we have so easily fallen back into since returning. Worshipping at our home church, dinner and a movie with old friends last night, movie night with my college girls tonight, coffee with Z tomorrow, and dessert with an old colleague and his wife the next day makes contemplating returning to Mississippi a weary endeavor. While I look forward to returning to work and visiting church with some of my adoption blog buddies back in Mississippi, we have been blessed to have this respite.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Go Long

"You know how to do The Bomb, right?" Robert asked tossing the football between his right and left hand. Kristina eyed him skeptically. Determined to stay out of it, I raised my book a little higher and feigned increased interest in the current passage. From my vantage point on the front lawn, I could see she was curious.

"You're going to run straight out and then cut right or left, but you've really got to run far out," he instructed.

Hand propped on hip, she countered, "What do you mean?"

"Leslie! Leslie, come show Kristina how to do The Bomb, " Robert implored.

"Robert, I don't do The Bomb. I am The Bomb," I replied without lowering the book.

I heard his sigh of exasperation as he recruited Samuel and Hannah. An hour later and they were red faced and laughing hysterically at each other in the street. I couldn't resist setting my book aside to take up the camera and click a few shots.

What You Can Live Without

A week without internet access is wearing on me, so I have tagged along to Robert's sunrise Bible study this morning. Today is Kristina's turn. They have picked up hot chocolate from Starbucks and settled into a small booth behind me at Panera while I type away my thoughts from the week. Initially, it takes Kristina a bit to settle down. She wants to show Robert the verses she underlined from last night's reading. She wants to know what the word "offspring" means. He explains the definition and she replies, "Oh, like Samuel, Nathanael, Hannah and Joshua are your offspring?" "As well as you," he corrects her. And once again a teachable moment presents itself and he is able to share how God brings children into families; much like he brings us into his spiritual family. Quite right. Quite right.

Shoppers flutter in and out of the shops nearby even at this predawn hour. A small girl with a bag from the video game store next door clutches her purchases with one hand and her mother's arm with the other. I notice another woman exit the same store, attempting to balance two huge bags and locate her car keys in the purse hanging precariously from the crook of her arm. "GameStop must be having a big sale," I interject into the silence. "Huh?" they both reply and I realize why Robert does this activity one on one - less interruptions. I apologize for breaking their concentration and go back to clicking away at the keyboard.

I reflect on the gifts we exchanged this year. My new phone served as anniversary, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and any other holiday that comes demanding a token of love in the distant future. Robert: some new books and an audio series by Dr Kistler. Each of the children received a new book and a toiletry kit. The boys' with cologne and deodorant. The girls' with perfume and lotion. In addition, Kristina received an English version of the Bible bound in soft sea foam green leather with silver gilded pages peeking out from a cover embossed with an ivy motif. Rather humble gifts in comparison to the ones being hauled out of the video game store next door, but well received and loved all the same.

There was no Christmas tree this year. Ours was packed away somewhere in the sea of tan corrugated boxes. In the last six months, we have learned a valuable lesson. We have learned the difference between what we want and what we need; what we can live without and what we can't live without. With that in mind, our approach to Christmas was different. We took what we had been blessed with and decided to bless others. Three adopting families received our meager Christmas money his year. What a blessing to share what we had with others. We know it will hardly make a dent in the huge sum that adoption demands, but we learned once how every little bit adds up.

Christmas day was spent playing with old friends from the neighborhood, reading our new books, cooking Christmas dinner, and being together. We have been blessed with family: biological family, adopted family, and spiritual family. These are the things we can not live without.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Season's Blessings

Over Christmas Eve breakfast, one of our pastors shared with Robert that a family from another church was seeking to bless someone this season. And with that Dottie appeared at our door with two small boys in tow. A complete stranger, she came bearing lunch from Chick-Fil-A, a freshly baked coffee cake for Christmas morning, and a Christmas card concealing a gift certificate from HoneyBaked Hams and gift cards. She wanted to share the blessings of the season. She wanted to show her boys what Christmas was really about. We introduced the children and her face registered a small moment of shock when we explained that this would be Kristina's second Christmas with us. "Adopted? How strange! God has been speaking to my heart about adoption." And with that she sat and spoke of her family and we shared our passion for adoption. We placed a copy of our adoption DVD in her hands and asked her to stay in touch. Walking her to the door, we expressed our gratitude over how God had blessed us through her. I could see the tears welling at the back of Robert's eyes as they passed through the door. Isn't it amazing? Isn't it amazing how God is providing us with opportunities to share His love for orphans and orphan ministry? We saw the working of God in this exchange of strangers united through the kinship of Christ. Praise God for his providence and provision!

At candlelight services this evening, Pastor Frank shared that the miracle of the season wasn't just that God's Son had been born into the world, but that He had been born into our hearts. Indeed He has. Indeed He has.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Can't Buy Me Love

The traditional first anniversary gift is paper. Five years is wood. Ten is tin. Fifteen? Fifteen is my year. Fifteen is crystal. Does liquid crystal display count?

I usually discourage Robert from buying me gifts, but how can I scold him this time? Be still my beating heart! My honey knows what makes my heart go pitter-pat. I'm not the candy and flowers type. Technology - now that's the gift that says "I love you".

Fifteen years! Where does the time go? I honestly don't know how two kids ended up with five kids of their own.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Thanksgiving Recap

I know, I know. This is a little late, but I thought I would share it anyway. Cut me a little slack; I'm just getting back on the writing wagon!

We headed back to Orlando for Thanksgiving this year. God hasn't seen fit to send buyers for our home, so we have a Florida vacation home whether we like it or not. We hadn't seen our little house since July and we were anxious to check on things. That, and we wanted to sit on real furniture and sleep in a real bed. We put our things in storage before coming to Mississippi and planned on moving everything once the house sold. Well, the house hasn't sold, so our current Mississippi furnishings consist of 6 air mattresses and a television perched on a moving box that holds my grandmother's china. Yeah, the furniture was a real pull to go back to Orlando!

It was a blissful week being back in familiar surroundings and with old friends. We worked in the yard. The kids played with their old friends and hung out with their youth group. The girls went to a sleepover with the neighborhood girls. We worshipped with our church family. My college girls were home and came over to play games and watch movies. Just to be together again! It was pretty much the perfect holiday.

We were invited to attend a football playoff game at a school I taught at several years ago. I was excited to take Kristina and let her meet the students and parents who had invested in bringing her here. We were greeted with squeals and hugs throughout the night. Kristina was able to meet her "angels" and Stephanie (whom Kristina matches in ability to talk a mile a minute!). I think what surprised me the most was the number of people who greeted us with, "When are you going to post on the blog again???" I was surprised that we were still being followed and grateful for the encouragement to get back to writing.

The big light bulb moment of the week came when Robert and I discussed moving back. We reflected on how many things we had been missing and decided if the house hadn't sold by the end of the school year, we would come "home". After all, we can't continue to pay rent and a mortgage.

The next day, we were browsing our favorite used book store when our realtor called Robert's cell. One of the kids tracked me to the classics section and informed me that Dad needed to talk to me NOW. I found Robert sitting on a step ladder in the theology section deciding between two tape albums. Reading his mind, I advised him, "Get both". "Bev called. There's a couple coming back to look at the house again this morning. They're deciding on buying it today," he informed me with raised eyebrows. Immediately I was reeling. I felt like someone had hit me in the stomach. I leaned on the book shelf for support and asked, "WHY?! Why now? I've guarded my heart for months. I've accepted the way things are in Mississippi and tried to find the positive in every obstacle. Now when we let ourselves consider coming back, He's going to sell the house???" "Nothing in stone. We'll have to wait and see," he replied.

Well, as of today, the house hasn't sold. The truth is, if I had really guarded my heart and trusted God, I wouldn't have reacted that way to a change in what I believed to be our new plan. I think God was reminding me to be content where I am and not plan too much. Now I have a real peace about staying in Mississippi and about moving back to Florida; a peace I didn't have before.

The week went by much too quickly and before we knew it, it was time to wind our way back to the Pine Belt. But you're getting your wish, Ulysses! We're coming back for the entire Christmas break! Guard your phone, old friend . . .

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Insert Video Here

While we haven't found a church to call "home" yet, the children have been attending youth group at a local Baptist church on Wednesday evenings. A few weeks ago, a portion of the evening youth service was carved out to practice for the annual Christmas concert. This year's theme was Christmas Around the World. The music director planned to have the children sing "Silent Night" in several languages as part of the program. When she found out Kristina was fluent in Russian, she scooped our girl up and groomed her for a duet with the son of a missionary family who had just returned from the mission field in Moscow.

I arrived early enough to get a spot on the front row of the balcony. I parked myself in the middle of a row of preschoolers' parent already checking the zoom on their camcorders. They found their little ones in the sea of black patent leather shoes that lined the front row of the choir and waved enthusiastically until they caught the attention of their stars. I got my camera ready too so I could share this moment with all of you.

The moment arrived and I clicked the 'record' button on the video camera. The director cued Kristina and her partner at the end of the first chorus. The boy stepped down to the mic . . . but Kristina didn't! She froze, unsure that the director was signaling her, and then couldn't move. I could see the pink flush fall over her face as she looked up at me and shrugged her shoulders with the slightest movement. Afterwards, she ran up to me and said, "Oops! Mama, I didn't know i was supposed to go THEN!" We laughed and reassured her that it was okay. Oh, well! I'm sure it would have been a real video moment!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Snow Day!

When the forecast called for snow on Thursday, all the English teachers in my wing started praying for wintry manna from heaven. Snow=no school.

I awoke at 5am and peeked out the window. Rain was falling but no snow. I hopped in the shower and started my morning routine, grieving the loss of a day off to catch up on grading papers and sleep late. I clicked on the television to see the local forecast still predicting snow, a once a year phenomenon in these parts. A quick return to the window was rewarded with puffs of white beginning to dust the car top. Minutes later, the text messages from my girls in the English Dept. confirmed that ours prayers had been answered: no school!

I made the mistake of waking Robert to tell him about the snow and he immediately had the children up and on the front porch. Of course Kristina was unimpressed. After all, snow is nothing new to her. She groaned and rolled over unwilling to budge from her snugly blanket cocoon.

Obviously snow is even more impressive when you're traveling 40 mph, so Robert decided we needed to drive through town to get the full effect. Everyone threw on warm layers. The directions were simple: shoes on, everybody in the car ASAP. Now, I blame Robert who scooped the first handful off the hood of the car and hurled the frozen sphere at Nathanael's unsuspecting head. Before I knew it, I had six screaming kids (yes, I'm counting Robert) running across the front yard, pelting each other with snowballs at 6am. Our poor neighbors. I hid in the warmth and security of the car until they gave up because of numb hands and red faces.

I headed for a nearby gas station to fill up. The directions were simple: everybody stay in the car while I pump the gas. But do they listen? Noooooo. They ran in circles around the car, climbing on the bumper to get an aerial advantage and diving behind the pumps to avoid incoming projectiles. She may not have been impressed by the snow, but Kristina has an arm built for throwing snowballs! I declared myself Switzerland, neutral, and threatened anyone who raised a glob of snow in my direction. To my horror, I noticed patrons and staff gathered by the windows at a diner across the way pointing and laughing at the spectacle that my family was causing.

"Hey! Let's have breakfast!" Robert decided. I smoothed the ice of a snowball gone astray from my hair and tried to regain some dignity as I walked into the diner. We slid into red and white vinyl booths under the judgemental stares from photos of Elvis and James Dean and settled on a meal of warm, fluffy pancakes.

Once home, the kids returned to the front yard to team up with neighborhood kids in a full snow battle. I wish I could say I spent the rest of the day knocking out all the papers that accumulate on my desk, but I enjoyed my snow day and got absolutely nothing accomplished!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Gloria in Excelsis Deo

In the middle of singing the above mentioned song in service this morning, I felt a tug on my sleeve. Without taking my eyes from the words on the screen, I leaned down to see what the child sitting to my left wanted. "I'm nervous," Kristina whispered. "Of what?" I whispered back, "The words are right there on the screen." She rolled her eyes at my attempt at humor and went back to singing.

We were invited to worship at Petal Harvey Baptist Church and speak with one of the Sunday School classes about orphan ministry. Kristina would come with us to the presentation and she was afraid she wouldn't know what to say. Quite frankly, so was I. After worship, we made our way to the upstairs classroom. Robert spoke briefly about what the Bible says concerning adoption and then I shared our personal journey with a room of about 30 young married couples. We played the video we made of my first trip to Ukraine. Its always difficult to watch the video. You would think it would be easier after seeing it countless times, but it never gets easier because I know the need now is even greater than it was then. I tried very hard to stay composed, but when I saw Kristina tear up I felt my own emotions welling up.

It is interesting to see her come to the point where she is able to reflect upon where she has been and where she is now. Some orphans embrace their bleak future and begin self destructive behaviors as at a very early age. We witnessed children who were already prostituting themselves, numb to the hope that there could be any other way for them to be loved and needed. Other orphans, like Kristina, refused to see things for what they truly were. For many months, we battled "the lie". The lie that someone would come for her eventually, that somehow she wouldn't be one of the girls who would sleep on the street at the mercy of others. We understand that her clinging to "the lie" was a defense mechanism. Its what kept her from crossing over into the abyss of hopelessness.

Although she was terribly nervous and had moments of stage fright, she was able to share a little bit of what life was like in Ukraine. And like me, afterwards she thought of a million other things she wanted to say to the group. Because she was in the room, Robert and I specifically didn't share the horrors of her personal story and some the details of much of what these children face. We trust that what we were clumsily allowed to share will plant a seed about adoption in the hearts of others.

For months we've been trying to figure out why God has brought us to Mississippi and why we have borne one difficulty after the next in coming here. But this morning, we were reminded that perhaps God's plan has yet to be revealed. If just one family who heard our story becomes involved in orphan ministry or adoption, would the sacrifice not have been well worth it? God showed us today that he indeed has a work for us to do. Pray that He would open more doors that we might speak with other groups and churches to share the message about adoption. This is what Kristina was brought here for: Gloria in Excelsis Deo - Glory to God in the Highest.

"And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us."
-Luke 2:13-15