Monday, January 31, 2011

Ten Weeks Isn't Very Long...

Lissie at 10 weeks old
 Mr. and Mrs. Beaver:

Today we mark the 10-week anniversary of our most recent adoption.

As we contemplate all that has happened over the past 10 weeks, the photo above provides an illustration of two very important things.

First, when we see a 10-week-old infant, like our Lissie above, none of us would expect a family to be fully adjusted to the addition of a new life after such a short time. The change to the family is just too big for all the bumps to be smoothed out.

The same is true for an adoptive family after just 10 weeks together. In our case:
  • We still face a language barrier that makes day-to-day life sometimes frustrating... sometimes comical
  • Our newest kids still periodically miss Russia
  • Our other kids are still adjusting to sharing bedrooms, bathrooms and the attention of their parents
  • The two of us are more stretched and tired 
However, this picture also causes us to stop and thank our God. He has done mighty works in a very short time in our family:
  • Even with the language barrier, we have experienced more laughter and fun, due in part to Daria and Alexander's great senses of humor
  • Daria and Alexander have both worked hard to learn English and are beginning to put simple thoughts together in their new language
  • Oksana, at just six years old, demonstrates daily that she already understands a tremendous amount of English, responding to our English requests with alacrity
  • The rest of the family has learned a fair amount of Russian from Daria and Alexander, putting us on the path toward our goal of becoming a bilingual family. Full conversations now go on daily in Russian in our home.
  • Daria and Alexander have both memorized their first scripture passages in English (likely their first scripture passages in any language!)
  • Others in the family have memorized their first scripture passages in Russian
  • We've seen sweet friendships develop between our newest children and those who were already here
  • We've also seen friendships begin to form between our newest children and kids in our community
  • Since Daria is a gifted cook, we've been introduced to Russian cuisine... much to the detriment of our already challenged waistlines
  • We've watched Oksana's sense of security grow, manifesting itself in happiness that makes our hearts sing
  • By God's grace we've been able to work through the few sibling disputes that have arisen, despite the language barrier
  • God has stretched our parenting skills, teaching us to be that much more dependent on Him for wisdom and grace
  • God has taught the two of us to be more patient and less critical, helping us build stronger relationships more quickly than in our two other adoptions of older children.
Overall, God has demonstrated to us yet again that we need to look to Him and His word for wisdom, not to the world. While there have been challenges that have stretched us beyond our own abilities, He is faithful to provide His grace just when we need it.

The world would say: "Don't adopt," and "Don't adopt older children," and "Don't adopt teenagers," and "Don't adopt multiple children."

But God says, "Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of [Me] is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress..." (James 1:27).

He also says, "Trust in [Me] with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknolwedge [Me] and [I] will make your paths straight." (Prov 3:5).

Although we have a long way to go as a family, we also have much to celebrate at just 10 weeks!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Exploring a Winter Wonderland

Mrs. Beaver:

Just one of the many things we love about homeschooling is the freedom that the lifestyle affords. For many years we have home schooled year round. This way we can use Fridays for out-of-the-ordinary activities, like baking Christmas cookies or going to a museum.

Yesterday was an unusually warm Friday in late January so we took advantage by going for a hike. Elizabeth (second from the left), one of my girls' dear friends since their early childhood, was visiting from Minnesota while on a short college break.

Because Elizabeth was with us, she was able to take a photo that included me and the kids.

After the group shot, we started the hike in earnest and were a bit disconcerted to discover just how deep the white stuff was. In true "mother" style, I suggested we give up and return to the car. Thankfully, the kids talked me into going ahead as planned.

We ended up having a blast despite trudging through 12-18 inches the entire hike.

Alexander was down-right gleeful. What eleven-year-old boy wouldn't enjoy a good romp
in the snow and the chance to hurl snow balls?

At the kids' request, we brought both dogs. They, too, seemed to enjoy our white playground.

One of our canine lovers, Cassandra, was 11-year-old Poochita's aide on the hike.

Daria cared for our puppy, Sunshine. Daria and her charge often ran alongside the trail that the rest of us were blazing in the virgin snow. This gave Sunshine the opportunity to plunge her snout in the white blanket repeatedly. Since Sunshine is part terrier, we presumed she was looking for small prey. Thankfully, her skills as a field-mouse hunter still need honing.

The rest of us had enough to do to just trudge through the deep snow.

By about half-way through the hike, our jeans were soaked to our knees, but the beauty of the morning kept us from misery. We gloried in the splendor of God's creation.

For Tessa and Elizabeth, the hike, which took about three times as long as it usually does, afforded the perfect opportunity for fellowship. Elizabeth will be one of Tessa's bridesmaids. 

As the hike went on, Princess Bink (left below) and Natasha grew tired
but helped each other keep moving by holding hands.

Both of these former orphans are still so petite even though they were adopted almost six years ago. Princess Bink, almost nine, weighs just over 40 pounds. Natasha who will be eleven in a few weeks just recently topped 50 pounds. Neither of the girls has yet to make it onto even the bottom of the height-and-weight charts used by physicians.

Princess Bink and Natasha's first mother drank a great deal of alcohol when she was pregnant with each of each of them. We've been told by physicians that one of the outcomes of a pregnant woman drinking too much can be the permanent stunting of her baby's growth. We pray and pray that the Lord, the Great Physician, will heal these two precious girls and enable them to reach full adult stature despite their rough start in life.

Being just six-years-old, Oksana got a boost from her oldest brother, Joe.

In fact, the last third of the trail is a steep, winding hill. Joe carried his little sister the entire way.

When Joe first saw Oksana's photo when we were early in the adoption process, he told us emphatically, "She just has to be ours! She just has to be ours!"

Joe's heart was stolen by the young, dark-eyed beauty long before he had the chance to meet her. Now he is proving to be a picture-perfect older brother to this little girl who is an answer to his prayers, a dream come true.

My man after successfully carrying his 40+ pound sister up the long, steep hill.

Once we reached the end of the circular hike, we still had to walk a short distance on a very muddy dirt road to get to the van. When we reached our vehicle, Cassandra and Daria cleaned the dogs' paws with snow and then lifted them to the waiting transportation that would carry them back to their well-earned mid-day bowl of dog food.

Once the dogs were settled, each of us had to transfer into a clean pair of shoes and place our muddy boots into a large plastic bag.

Here, Tessa is pointing out what a trend-setter she is wearing two different shoes. Meanwhile, Princess Bink is hoping someone will hand her extra pair of shoes over the top of the seat.

Before I climbed in the van, I was able to witness a sweet interaction between Daria and Sunshine.

Until just two months ago, Daria was an animal-loving orphan who had no animal to love.
Now the Lord has provided a comical, naughty puppy to laugh about and adore.

In fact, as I was watching the two of them interact from a distance and taking these photos with my telephoto lens, I heard Daria whisper to Sunshine in Russian, "I love you!" Then, in English, she followed that with, "Do you understand??."

No matter what the language, I think our formerly helpless mutt and our formerly hopeless teen understand each other perfectly.

Last fall we entered the pet store to buy dog food, but ended up with a new dog instead.(see An Important Lesson) We felt (and I'm sure many others did also) that we were crazy to be adding an animal to the family just before adopting three children. At the same time God seemed to be tugging at our hearts saying that this silly, naughty dog would be part of the healing the He would bring about in Daria and Alexander. I believe that healing has begun.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Moved By Shoes

Jaynie, age 8, in the office of her
orphanage directoron the day
 we met her sucking a lollipop
and reveling in new shoes.
Mrs. Beaver:

Tonight I visited the blog of our friends (Room for More), Russ and Heather, and was moved to a photo of shoes.

Russ and Heather, who will go to court in Ethiopia in less than four weeks in the adoption of their four-year-old daughter, went Croc shopping at Target today. Happily they found just what they were looking for to take to the children at their daughter's orphanage. They photographed their find and posted the picture and I cried.

The picture brought back the memory of something our daughter, Jaynie, told us just a few months ago. When we first visited she and her siblings at their orphanage in Zhukovka, Russia in the summer of 2001, we took with us many shoes we had purchased as a donation.  Even though we took many, many shoes, we didn't manage to take any that were big enough for our three kiddos. It didn't matter. The shoes had a deep emotional impact anyway.

Jaynie told us that she and her siblings were delighted to get shoes. Even though the sandals were so small their heels hung off the back, the three of them wore these "prizes" until the shoes fell apart.

We just can't over estimate the needs of the world's 147 million fatherless children. A pair of shoes. Most of us have so many in our closet. Most of these children yearn for even one pair. When you help to supply people who are traveling to Africa or Russia or Haiti with shoes or medicine or school supplies, you are visiting orphans. God commands that we love in this way. God commands that we take our eyes off ourselves and look to the needs of most helpless.

The movement among Christians to adopt hopeless, helpless and often shoeless children is growing and gaining momentum. There is probably someone in your church who is in the midst of an adoption. Ask them what you can do for the children they will encounter. Perhaps you'll need run to Target tomorrow to buy some Crocs.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Her First Date

Mrs. Beaver:

Our beautiful new Russian adoptee, Daria, went on her first date last night with...

...her parents!

One of our family's long-time practices is for Mr. Beaver and me to take our individual children out on a rotating basis. We call these "dates." Usually each of us takes out one child. The four of us ride together in the car on a Wednesday night or a Saturday morning, but then the two sets sit in different sections of the coffee shop or restaurant so we get one-on-one time.

Sometimes on these dates we simply converse if the child has something on their heart they want to discuss. But usually we chat while playing a game. We've discovered that laughing together is a great contributor to family strength. Having fun together is also an important bridge to ensuring we have an open relationship with each of our arrows (Ps. 127:4).

We started this practice when we had three children, but now as a large family the tradition has become even more important to us. When you're one of twelve, it's easy to get lost. We think these dates help prevent that. They also allow the two of us to know each of our children as individuals and to relish in how the Lord has made each unique.

For a variety of logistical reasons, both of us took Daria on her very first date as part of our family. If I've ever witnessed a delighted teenager, it was this precious 15-year-old former orphan last night. She talked and talked in her intertwined combination of mostly Russian with a bit of emerging English, what our family calls "Ringlish."

Daria asked us a number of questions about American culture. She also told us many of her observations about ways in which American and Russian cultures differ. She eventually concluded that some things are better in Russia and some things are better in America. We both heartily agreed.

This realistic assessment that both cultures have strengths and weaknesses is a very good place for a teen to be nine weeks into her adoption into a family in a distant country. Daria has had to give up so much to become part of our family--language, familiar music and smells, faith traditions, foods, holidays, and more.

Since adopting Daria in mid November, we have watched her go through brief but very understandable periods of grieving the loss of her Motherland, as the Russians lovingly call their country. However, last night's date revealed to us that she is developing a mindset we hope she'll never lose--a continuing love for the country where she was born and spent the first decade-and-a-half of her life, combined with a willingness to embrace life in the U.S.

We thank and praise God for the grace He is showering on the daughter we've known for such a short time and yet already love so deeply.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

So Many Decisions...

Our soon-to-be bride, Tessa, has quickly learned that one of the prominent aspects of wedding planning is untold number of decisions involved. Today she tackled yet another set of choices--the flowers.

She puzzled over countless photos in books and listened to the advice of the florist.

Tessa's sister, best friend AND maid-of-honor, Lissie, was on hand to help with the surprising number of small decisions that will each play a role in the feel of the wedding.

The job of settling on flowers seemed large, and yet in just an hour and a half, the determinations for which flower, which color, and which shape of bouquet had been made, along with the many other more minor decisions. The bride was happy and relieved!

I sent the two friends off to Starbucks for a celebratory coffee while I marveled at how faithful God has been throughout this planning process. Anyone who has been through an international adoption of multiple older children would tell you that the last thing you would also want to take on in the early adjustment stage is preparing for an imminent wedding. However, God has been so good to us; over and over the major steps in the planning have almost effortlessly fallen into place. We've experienced the joy one would hope for in getting ready for such a happy event. We're all still smiling! Thank you, Lord!

~ Mrs. Beaver

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

She Still Asks

Mrs. Beaver:

Oksana, age six, adopted from Russia in Novemeber 2010
"You will come back?"

"We will be together again...won't we?"

She still yearns for reassurance. She still worries that her new situation--with parents, in a family--may not last.

Even though Oksana has spent two months in our home being soaked in the love of 13 family members, she still doubts.

Yesterday afternoon as Tessa and I were leaving to visit a coffee shop to do some uninterruped wedding planning, Oksana, who had been sledding, caught me before I could climb into the car. In her broken mixture of Russian and English, she sought a sense of security by asking the same questions yet again.

We do see progress in Oksana trusting our answers to her plaintive requests. When we tell her that we will be coming back, Lord willing, she now contentedly grins rather than bursting into frightened tears. She gives us a tight hug or two and then happily chirps in her little-girl voice, "Ee-soup-ee-do!" Then our precious six-year-old skips off to return to the fun in which she had been engaged.

Oksana's been saying the phrase, "Ee-soup-ee-do!," since we first began to parent her. It doesn't seem to match anything that those of us in the family who speak English recognize. Those who speak Russian don't know the word or phrase either. Despite the puzzle, Oksana's quip is quickly becoming happy family lingo used by all of us to say to one another as we part company, "I want to see you again! You are important to me. I'm eager for us to be together again!"

Monday, January 24, 2011

Breath of God

By the breath of God ice was made
(Job 37:10)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Courtship: Lives Filled with "Soon-to Be's"

With 55 days until their wedding, Tessa and Aaron got a break from keeping in touch through Skype calls when he visited this weekend. Because he's so new to his job as a computer programmer, the visit had to be a quick one; he arrived on Saturday and will depart this (Sunday) afternoon.

Tessa's new little sister Oksana sought out Aaron repeatedly to request in Russian that she be spun in circles in our entry way. Aaron caught on quickly to the pleadings in a new language and made his soon-to-be sister-in-law very happy.

However, most of the time, the soon-to-be groom only had eyes for Tessa.

The soon-to-be bride couldn't have been happier!

Another two weeks will pass before the two of them see one another when Aaron visits again. At that time, both sets of Tessa's grandparents will be here to meet their soon-to-be grandson-in-law. Until then Aaron and Tessa will have to return to being content with Skype calls. However, that walk down the aisle that will unite them in Christ for life is fast approaching! The "soon-to-be's" in their lives will soon come to an end.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Under His Wing

Mrs. Beaver:

You may have seen this photo and wondered what this broken baby bird has to do with our family. As I step back at the two-month anniversary of Daria, Alexander and Oksana being adopted and review their progress, I believe the answer is: everything.

As the sun was sinking in the west one beautiful evening last summer, I stumbled upon this baby bird weakly hopping through our front yard. Barely taller than the grass itself, this pitiful thing was letting out a weak, mournful cry.

At the time, we were still waiting on a court date to bring home our three new children from Russia. The bird's plight tore at my heart as being similar to that of our orphans. This bird was not where it belonged--under the watchful care of a protective parent ready to sacrificially nurture life. This bird was not where it could flourish--in a home kept safe from danger until it was old enough to face the threats of life. Without a parent's watchful eye and a nest to serve as home, this bird would never be able to that for which it was created-- it would never fly.

Children were designed by their Creator to need the same things as this bird: parental care and a home. In our third adoption of older, scarred children, we've been blessed yet again to watch as the hearts and souls of this newest trio have begun to take flight in a remarkably short amount of time. They are being healed. Their lives are beginning to demonstrate the possiblity that they will grow into being able to do that for which they were created: glorify their Creator as they love Him by loving and serving people.

Last summer, our front yard held a scene of sadness. Without a miracle, the whimpering bird I came across was going to perish either through weakness or the wounds of an enemy. This winter our front yard held a scene of hope and happiness. Three children have been swooped up by the Lord and given the gifts of parental care, a home, and siblings. With time and His grace, they will soar.