If you've heard much about Russian adoption, you may know that an orphan's 16th birthday is a critical one. After that milestone, the teen is no longer allowed to immigrate according to U.S. law. If a teen passes that milestone without being adopted, he or she will never have a family. Why does that matter? Why is it so important for even older teens to be adopted? First of all, God designed families and He intended for children to be raised in loving homes. Statistics also show that these young people are in grave danger if they are not adopted. When they leave the shelter of the orphanage, crime and human trafficking frequently pull these orphans into hopelessness and drive many to suicide.
When the Lord moved in our hearts to adopt an adolescent girl, we were in a race against time. Daria turned 15 just as we started the process. We knew that any significant slow down could rob this girl we were already in love with of the chance to belonging to a family. Thankfully, God laid low hurdle after hurdle and we were assigned a court date a mere four months before that fateful 16th birthday.
Two years have passed, and today Daria turned 18. We've spent the day thanking God that this very special girl is our daughter, every bit as treasured and cherished as the children to whom I gave birth.
From the moment Daria and Alexander were brought from the children's home to the city in which the court hearing would take place, Daria clearly demonstrated she was READY for the transformation in status from orphan to daughter. (Our third adoptee, 6-year-old Oksana would arrive later the same evening.)
This is the very first picture we captured after the kids arrived at the flat in which a loving Russian family hosted us during our days in court. Daria was already grinning. A cultural difference between Russians and Americans makes her smile even more amazing. Generally, Russians prefer to refrain from smiling in photographs, but Daria couldn't contain her happiness; she was just about to become part of a family.
After greetings in the hall, we took the kids back to the bedroom in which Mr. Beaver and I were to sleep. Daria and Alexander's soon-to-be dad worked hard to help them feel comfortable with his very limited Russian. But, honestly, the first half hour was awkward for all four of us.
But then Mr. Beaver had an idea that quickly eased the strain. We Skyped with our nine children at home. The kids knew enough Russian to leave no doubt in Daria and Alexander's minds that they were WANTED by these children who would now be their sisters and brothers.
With the initial tension gone, we gave the two gifts we'd brought. Daria opened jewelry that her soon-to-be-sisters had individually picked out for her. Each box also included a photo of the sister who'd made the purchase and a simple note in Russian telling her she was loved.
Daria's response to the gifts was incredulous disbelief that all the treasures could really be hers to keep. At the orphanage, she'd grown used to sharing belongings rather than owning anything.
After opening presents, Daria and Alexander modeled the clothes we had brought for them to appear in court.
By bedtime, we were already starting to look like family.
After a grueling morning in court on the first day, we returned to the flat of our hostess who fed us a delicious lunch. Daria had to be in court throughout the hearing because she was over age 14. The experience really tore her apart. Her life history was retold to the judge by the orphanage's social worker to confirm the validity of her mother's parenting rights had been terminated when she was 11. Mr. Beaver and I grieved alongside Daria as she silently wept off-and-on throughout the morning. She was sitting next to me on the hard wooden bench, and I held her hand to try to offer her support. By the court's lunch recess, Daria was showering me with gratitude-filled affection.
Our hearing continued a second day in the building behind Mr. Beaver and his beautiful princess.
By late morning the judge declared the three kids to be OURS. We returned to the apartment and rapidly packed. The two of us were going to be given an unusual opportunity to spend the afternoon at our children's orphanage before boarding a train to Moscow. It would be another two weeks before the adoption laws allowed us to return to bring our new children home.
On the way to the children's home, we presented our new threesome with notes and drawings penned by their brand new sisters and brothers.
As soon as we'd delivered donations to the director, Daria proudly led us on a tour of the orphanage that had been her home for the past four years. We were amazed at the cleanliness and care we saw throughout the facility. Many loving touches graced the building.
Alexander was tagging along as his sister played tour guide. Both kids' favorite location was the art room. We were stunned by the beautiful work that crowded the walls and shelves. Daria proudly pointed out a crewel-stitch project that was her work.
The two of us were touched as we realized this was the very first time she'd had parents to ohhh and ahhh over her creative effort. (Her work is the blue winter scene just above her).
While we were in the art room, one of the other children whom we'd met on our initial trip to meet our kids came in when school ended. Samuel (on the right in the photo above) has since become the son of dear friends in another Midwestern state. The three kids continue to share a friendship that includes the camaraderie of shared hardship. Our two families have vacationed together over the Thanksgiving holiday the past two years.
Daria entered our family deeply grateful to be wanted. However, she also had much grieving to do. She left a land she loved which boasts of a beautiful cultural heritage.
To help cope with the initial grief, Daria made herself at home in the kitchen. Within days of arriving, she was making wonderfully delicious meals for her large family.
A little over two years into her adoption, Daria's life continues to be a showcase of the colorful heritage of her Motherland. Daria still regularly feeds us yummy Russian food. She's still fluent in Russian and coaches the rest of us as we try to learn more of the language. She does her leisure reading in her original language, while her school work is done in English.
While Daria cherishes her Russian roots, she's well aware that becoming a loved member of a family has opened doors that were shut to an orphan. For example, she is a horse lover, and being part of a family has allowed her to pursue that interest through riding lessons.
Perhaps even more important, as part of our family, Daria is also getting the opportunity to learn what it means to hold the roles of daughter, sister and now aunt. This once lonely orphan is now surrounded by family teaching her to apply biblical standards to the sometimes challenging parameters that every family faces. Our prayer, of course, is that despite her rough beginning as a child, she is developing the skills necessary to nurture and grow a healthy family of her own.
She matters. We love her as though we'd given birth to her. She's ours in every sense of the expression!