Tuesday, April 26, 2011

You Guys Get It

It has been so long since I posted any updates, I thought that I should take the time to do so now while the little lads are sleeping! Yesterday was the big day. One of many big days we have coming up anyway. Our dossier, along with another family's was submitted to The Committee! Neither of us have heard anything, but I am going with the old saying that no news is good news. The last time we were submitted, we got a call right away...and not a good call. I think we all know that story! Now, we just wait for news on our first travel date. The one when we will meet our little boy for the first time. We will finally be able to hold him and hug him, instead of just kissing and touching the single picture that we have of him!

I am so grateful that another family is going through the exact same thing, at the exact same time. I have come to love and rely on the support that everyone from the adoption community has to offer. I love having someone that actually understands what it's all about. I am so grateful for the group that was created for our region by a wonderful woman that has gone before us to bring her beautiful little girl home! Without all of these wonderful families, I would have no idea where to turn to for answers and encouragement. My family and friends thankfully are supportive of the idea of adopting...thank you Jesus...because I know that many of you have not had the same support. But this support from our fellow families who are adopting, is so different and so needed. There is a difference in understanding, and understandably so. It hasn't been that long since I, myself didn't understand. Just like everything else in life, unless you walk the same path, the level of understanding is just so different. Nobody else gets it...I mean...really gets it.

I know that when I need to vent about how hard it is to get a psych report done on my kids at home that my fellow parents truly understand how hard it is. You all know how much time I spent on the phone just to find a psychologist that didn't have a wait time of 6 months to get us in. You understand the pain of paying for yet this one more thing that was added, because now that is just that much more money you are going to have to raise, money that wasn't accounted for already. Then there are the phone calls after phone calls to follow up, and the notarizing and please let's not forget the endless charges to the credit card to over night all of this paperwork.

I know that when I ask a question over and over again, you don't care. To ask what kind of time line I'm looking at before I get to see my baby, and to know that you guys understand that the anxiety and excited feelings at the same time is enough to make a person go crazy...that is a comfort to me!

I know that when I post the picture of my baby asking for donations and prayers without judgment is also greatly appreciated. I can count on you to re-post and you know what it actually means to me to see that someone cared enough to take the time to do so. I know that you don't get tired of seeing my advocacy for adoption on a daily basis just as I would never get tired of seeing yours. In fact, I look forward to seeing the progress that everyone is making.

I know that when I state my fears of not knowing what institution my baby is in...you get it. You understand the laying in bed at night wondering if he's just laying in a crib withering away, and every once in a while getting brown slop pushed off as food crammed down him in hurry. You know what it means to work as fast as you possibly can day and night to get your baby out of a horrid place like that before it's too late. To watch a Dateline special or read a book and wonder if that is happening to your baby at that moment...you understand. Your heart breaks into a million pieces when you see a post on Facebook that yet another orphaned child has passed because you truly understand what that meant. That beautiful angel died not knowing the warmth of the arms of mama and papa, something you are trying to avoid for you child just like I am mine.

So, although I know that I don't need to say thank you, I am anyway. Thank you to all of you out there that support our family, and thank you for being there and understanding. That's all any of us want...just to be understood.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Sad Reality, Part Two

Again...thank you Julia for letting me post your story for hopefully everyone to read! xoxo

The Sad Reality, Part Two
A few weeks ago I wrote a post called The Sad Reality (you can link to it HERE if you missed it). Writing that post drained me. I needed nearly two months to find the courage to write it. Then I needed over a week to write it, and several days to come out of the deep funk that writing it caused. We saw a lot of ugly things at the institute where Aaron lived. Some we will never share publicly. We chose to share The Sad Reality because there are too many children who have no voice with which to tell the world of their suffering, and we have a responsibility to be their voice, as Proverbs 31: 8-9 demands:

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."

There is more to the story of The Sad Reality. I didn't want to write it, and just by thinking about it, I am already slipping into a funk that only God can heal. But the story needs telling. So here it is: The Sad Reality, Part Two.

We walked the mile to and from Aaron's institute sixty-five times before we were finally allowed to cart him away to freedom. Sixty-five times we entered those shoddy gates and trod those uneven walks. Sixty-five times we struggled to accept the sights, sounds and smells of a hidden world that shook us to the core. Sixty-five times we walked, watched and grieved.

It is difficult to describe the despair I felt every day as we passed a shed filled with boys who had absolutely nothing to do. It filled me with grief when some of them cried out, "Mama!" hoping that I could offer them the same escape I was offering Aaron. It was hard to process this world, in which survival of the fittest reigned and played out every day between boys of widely varying sizes and ages-- a world in which hitting, fighting and abuse is normal and goes largely unchecked. Beyond that, how could we face the reality of the hidden boys, the ones we only glimpsed, the ones whom we knew lay behind closed doors in their cribs-- silent, lonely, attention-starved, stiff, far beyond any hope of release-- dying?

We couldn't. We just walked back and forth to and from the institute, holding hands, supporting each other, joking about anything we could find, scheming about our blog posts, biding our time until the wheels of bureaucracy turned far enough to allow us to go back to our safe, predictable world with Aaron in tow.

Aaron's institute housed older boys from a wide area of his country. So far as we know, only a few had any family in town, and only about two or three of these had any visits during our time there. Because of this, his institute wasn't well set up for visitors. There were no indoor visiting rooms at all, and for outdoor visits there was only one designated area: a painted steel gazebo with rotting wooden benches, situated just outside the administration office's door.

Aaron quickly got tired of this gazebo. After a year of confinement, he was ready to explore, and we were his passport to freedom. For our part, we preferred the gazebo. It was our assigned visiting area, the only place anyone ever really gave us permission to be. We were safe there. No dogs bothered us there, and no one shooed us away there. Each time we followed our wandering fugitive out of that gazebo, we knew that we were setting ourselves up for trouble. And we did get into trouble, more than once.

We finally reached a compromise with Aaron. We gravitated toward a neutral spot at the center of the institute, a sort of crossroads from which we could see nearly everything that was happening there. We could see the main gate, so we wouldn't miss the arrivals and departures of the institute's vehicles-- in Aaron's opinion the most important events of any day. We could see the dining sheds in which the boys took meals and snacks (picture below, at Rob's back). And we were on the paths by which all three groups of outdoor boys reached these sheds, so we could watch and join their parades to and from meals. Just down the path (to Rob's right) was the shed filled with the moaning boys, the lowest-functioning of the outdoor boys. Beside us was the building in which they slept. We didn't really like being there, but Aaron was happy there, and at least when we were there no one could accuse us of spying.

And so the crossroads became our new home at the institute. By accident or design, we received an unspoken, tenuous permission to spend three hours every day at the center of a secretive facility. We saw nothing of what went on behind closed doors, but everything that happened in the open, we saw. That's how we came to see the second part of our sad reality.

In that lowest functioning group of outdoor boys, there were three older ones whom we got to know. They had a job carrying things back and forth from their shed area to their building, strange benches with multiple holes, so we saw them every day. All three were precious. One laughed and called out to Aaron and to us with glee every time he passed. His vocabulary was limited, but he always spoke with gusto. His legs were bent at odd angles, and one was much longer than the other, so he hobbled up and down the path each day; but he always laughed and clapped his hands, filled with joy. The second was silent, lost in his own world. He stared at us from a distance and gave us crooked smiles. The third was a sweet angel with Down Syndrome. He was short, bowlegged and as gentle as can be. Alone of the three, this one would wander over to spend time with us. He gently handled and played with Aaron's toys. He spoke to us softly. He was a perfect gentleman in his behavior. Unfortunately, in his person he was anything but gentlemanly. His smell was overpowering, and when he offered his hand for us to shake, we could see why: his hands were stained with excrement.

At first we assumed that he simply didn't know how to take care of himself. We also assumed that the caretakers gave older boys like him much less help in taking care of themselves than they gave the younger ones. It wasn't really surprising that a boy of his age and in his condition would need a bath.

But later, we began to understand that all three of these boys were dirty every day. And we knew that Aaron's institute had a good staff that wouldn't put up with filth. One day, every boy at that institute got new clothes in preparation for a visit from a psychiatric professional, but these three boys were still dirty. It took us forever to understand, finally, what was happening: The mysterious things the boys were carrying every day were potty benches. These boys were washing out potty chairs every day and moving the benches back and forth from the building to the shed. They were responsible for cleaning up after 20 boys every day, probably twice per day. They were the boys from "the picture," all grown up and graduated to the next logical step in their sad existence.

We already knew that the older boys performed essential jobs there. Aaron's institute was poor, and needed every available resource. They had to put the boys to work. We had seen some carrying water from the outside well, carrying laundry and setting tables in the sheds before meals. The luckiest ones worked with the hired caretakers on the grounds, bringing in food or keeping things neat. The unluckiest, our three friends, scrubbed the potty chairs. They did their job with an innocent willingness that brought tears to our eyes. And they carried the marks of their job everywhere they went, in the form of filth that in their circumstances was just too hard to remove.

Why do I share this? Why is poop so important? Because of the indignity of their situation. There is nothing wrong with requiring the boys to work; in fact, it is probably a benefit for most. But for these three sweet boys to end up in this sad situation, doomed to hold the least desirable job at the institute for who knows how long, is just deeply sad. It lowers them to subhuman status. As we said before, their plight is a result of poverty, not of neglect. Those caretakers do the best they can with what they have, and they work hard. Where there are no plumbing facilities for so many boys, someone must scrub potty chairs. The only practical way to solve the problem would be to remove these boys from their untenable situation. They simply shoudn't be there in the first place. If so many boys were not cast off at birth, doomed for life to impoverished institutions, then no one would have to scrub potty chairs for 20 boys at a time. If more people in their country and ours would open their homes to these children who have been orphaned through no fault of their own, then no one would have to suffer degradation like this. If the nutty bureaucracies of their country and ours didn't set up so many hurdles in the adoption track, then more of these poor kids could find homes and families of their own.

Nearly every child in the Eastern European orphanages (baby houses) who has a mental or physical disability is transferred to an institution like Aaron's by the age of four, five or six. All are stowed away in these underfunded institutes, in villages far off the beaten path. They receive no education and no therapy, so they make no progress. They will live and die at these places or the even worse adult institutions that await them. They have little to no hope of ever leaving. It is their sad reality.

And as long as they live in such places, the unlucky ones will get demeaning jobs like these. When we finally realized what was going on, our next thought was that this would probably be Brady's fate. He fits the profile. If no one rescues Brady, then he may very well spend his days scrubbing potty chairs and carting benches-- when he could be doing so much more. Poor Brady. How sad to have so little hope for the future when you're only six.

That's why we're still shouting about all of this months down the road. It's why we often find ourselves discussing, agonizing, praying and struggling with our memories and stories. It's why we want the church to march into these places. Where the church has entered, there have been life-giving changes for the boys and girls inside these institutions. We have no idea how it will happen, or when. We are two very small people with a bit of knowledge and little else. We don't know where to turn. We cry out again and again for God to send families for Brady and Heath. We can't believe that God would open those gates for us, leave us there far longer than need be, show us all of this hurt and then leave the situation forever unchanged.

All we know to do is pray, advocate, yell, holler, scream and shout. It takes a lot of time, and it's exhausting. Sometimes it seems pointless and fruitless. But those poor boys need a voice. They need someone to cry out for them. The Lost Boys need to be found.

The Sad Reality

Since I haven't had time to post anything new and exciting of my own lately, I got permission to post this insightful blog post the other day. I stumbled upon this post after searching Google for only God knows what and came across this. If there was any doubt that we were supposed to adopt, this post rid me of it. So for that Julia, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I encourage everyone to read this. It's long and heartbreaking but please don't let that be the cause in turning your head. It's sinful what happens to these innocent beautiful children, but even more sinful to know this is going on and to turn your head the other way just because it's uncomfortable or hard to read. Awareness is the first step to solving a problem. And although I know that this most likely will never be solved, we can still try. So if this story can just reach that 1 person like it did me...then it will all be worth it.

The Sad Reality
Many of you have seen this picture. It was taken back in 2006 at a special needs institute in Eastern Europe. It's a shocking picture that appears to speak of abuse and neglect. Soon after we committed to Aaron, I saw it on the internet. It stopped my heart. I could hardly look at it. It horrified me, because I knew that Aaron had been transferred to a special needs institute just like these poor boys. At that time, I had little idea what that meant. My one consolation was that the picture wasn't taken in Aaron's country.

Our first days at Aaron's institute were overwhelming-- the chaos and craziness, the unnerving sights, sounds and smells. We could hardly take it all in. We wanted to run and hide, play with Aaron separately in some safe corner away from all of the disquiet. But Aaron delighted in his new-found freedom, and he wanted to roam the grounds. Although he had lived at his institute for an entire year, he had seen only a small part of it. So he set out to explore, with the three of us in tow. It made us uncomfortable. We weren't sure the staff wanted us spying out their secrets, and we were embarrassed by some of the things we saw. So we tried to contain Aaron, keep him in our assigned gazebo up by the gate. But Aaron's legs could not be contained, and we had no parental authority with him as yet, so we walked.

His favorite new route took us past the shed where the lowest-functioning boys spent their summer days. They had absolutely nothing to do but wait for the next snack or mealtime. They all sat on their groundcloths, staring, moaning, crying. At first, we could hardly bear to look.

Around the corner was a large building which, we were told, used to house Aaron's group. It was crumbling, but the caretakers still used parts of it. On the far end was a shed for the institute's tractor and wagon. The near end contained what we thought were broken-down bathroom stalls with rows of potty chairs. Because it was doorless and dilapidated, we assumed that it was being used for storage. For several days, as we walked that way so that Aaron could see the tractor, we walked right by that shed full of boys and right by those filthy bathroom stalls with their rows of potty chairs without ever connecting the two. We thought we were seeing a junk pile. Our minds couldn't grasp what we were seeing.

Aaron also wanted us to see his friends from his group, the highest group. He wanted us to see his world, and he wanted his friends to see and share his new toys. We tried to stop him, but in the end we always went along. Because of Aaron's persistence, we were forced to face the uncomfortable sights, sounds and smells of his world all through those first weeks. The caretakers were uncomfortable with our presence, embarrassed by what we might see, but they didn't stop us.

Once again, much of what we saw didn't register. It was too chaotic to grasp at first glance. So the first time we rounded the corner and found Aaron's group all sitting on little chairs around the grounds, we didn't immediately understand. Our minds could only absorb it in small pieces. It took us a while to realize that we were seeing "The Picture," the one at the top of this post, in real life. It was a sad reality, shocking because we knew that our boy had lived this way for a year, but also softened because we knew the hearts of the caretakers.

I've prayed and considered how best to tell this part of our story. I don't want to sensationalize our experience, and I don't want to horrify anyone. I am not interested in raising an uproar, even if I could. I only want people to know about the plight of the children who aren't adopted from the baby houses and end up being transferred.

When you first see this picture you probably think, as I did, that it speaks of abuse and neglect. And so it may, in the place where it was taken. But neglect is not necessarily the norm in all such institutes. We have to understand that these Eastern European mental institutes are simply poor, extremely poor. These countries are poor, and most of their citizens are poor. We were told that a college-educated teacher might expect to make only about $3000 US per year. It is not surprising that in such impoverished countries, the poorest citizens-- orphans committed to mental institutions-- have to endure conditions that most of us find shocking. These institutions depend entirely upon money allotted to them by the government, and they're not high on the budget priority list. They rarely receive private donations-- those go to the baby houses-- and the church seems to be most interested in putting shiny brass roofs on all of its neglected buildings.

At Aaron's institute, the staff works hard to make ends meet. They feed the boys as well as they can, and although none of them are emaciated (unlike the picture), they do not have an overabundance of food. It is just enough. The staff is small, too small. The caretakers are overworked and grossly underpaid in their thankless, highly depressing jobs. Their caretaking chores include all of the cleaning and laundry for over 100 boys. They are also commissioned to weed the flower beds and sweep the sidewalks and yards. Many of the buildings don't have indoor plumbing, and even if they do, they are not equipped to handle large volumes.

Thus, the potty chairs. It is a very sad reality. The only way so few caretakers can manage the daily bodily functions of so many boys is to sit them all down on their potty chairs at the same time, several times each day. When you see cute little toddlers sitting on the potty, you get one picture; but walking in on about 20 older boys, all sitting undressed on tiny potty chairs, is a whole different image. It's an image I will never forget. In this case it speaks not of abuse, but of poverty. It speaks not of neglect, but of desperation. The exhausted caretakers at Aaron's institute love their boys, but need forces them to treat them like products on an assembly line. As time passed and we learned to know and love the individual boys, the indignity of their situation saddened us all the more.

Why do I share this? Because I have a duty to speak out for the helpless and the voiceless. We need to pray. We need to pray that God will inspire his church, in both that country and our own, to get its hands dirty, go into these forgotten institutes and minister to the Lost Boys and Girls. They need so much. Their caretakers are weary and overburdened.

At Aaron's institute, we have to send a powerful message that these boys are wanted. Aaron's adoption is not enough. Brady and Heath also desperately need families so that the authorities can see that there is hope for all the rest of the Lost Boys. They cannot be forgotten. I pray that God will show us how to open up Aaron's institute so that the church can go marching inside. I desire with all my heart to see His light and His love offered to those precious boys and their weary caretakers.

I have more images to share from our time there, but those are for other times and other posts.

For now, we ask you to pray, please. Please help us advocate for Brady and Heath. I am well aware that the Angel Tree is in full swing. We are praying for Gavin. My heart longs to see those baby house children snatched up before they are transferred to the places of no return. Each time one is transferred now I want to scream, because I know better than ever what "transfer" means. So I'm screaming for the Angel Tree now, because the babies need families now, before transfer. But we must not forget Heath and Brady during the coming season. I've shouted it out already: their time is short. Their institute's director is weary and skeptical, and she may close the door on them at any time. They need families. Please join me in praying and advocating for them.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I can't stop imagining what it's going to be like!

Yesterday was a giant leap for us! We turned in the last two...then what became the last three...pieces of paper that was required from us in order for our Russian coordinator to turn in our dossier to the committee! The first was a Child Specific form that will guide them toward the direction of Paul since everything is a "secret", the other was the insane psychological evaluation report done on the kids to make sure they don't turn on Paul once he is here, and the last was an updated committment form from our home study agency. That was turning out to be harder to get our hands on than the psych report. Let me tell you, that thing was almost impossible to acquire right up until the time I was supposed to pick it up...and then some!

Yesterday, Charlie and I drove to Richmond to get all of those apostilled...or super notarized! Last time we got something notarized to took about 3 hours to wait, which I thought was great. Yesterday, Charlie dropped me off at the door while he parked and by the time he got into the building, she was almost done! We walked a couple of blocks to FedEx, made our copies, then sent it overnight to our agency in Tucson! It should be there by 10:30 this morning! Can you tell my all the exclamation marks that I'm excited about this?! After she looks over everything she will send it off to Russia to meet our other documents that are just waiting to be submitted. Unfortunately, they only can submit dossiers every 2nd and 4th Monday and we just missed the point for the first one, so it will get submitted on the 25th. So everyone please pray that our papers are what they need to be and that they find themselves on the committee's lap with no problems, and that within 10 days they make a decision on a court date.

I am at the point where this all is starting to feel real again! Like it might actually happen after all. Of course I have my doubts and fears that I will get another phone call saying he is not available, or worse, we will get there and meet him and they won't let us bring him home. After this latest horrible situation in Russia in which "they" won't let wonderful parents bring home their son, I have worries they will do the same thing to us. That is every parents worse nightmare. For somebody to tell a parent that they can't bring home their child, I can't imagine!

I have been doing a lot of reading lately. I just finished up a book called The Boy in Baby House 10 about a boy in Moscow in the horrid conditions he was brought up in. He was bounced around from baby house to mental institution for years before being adopted by an American woman. The book did not hold back when describing baby house and institution. I was horrified when reading about the baby house. I quickly forgot about that after he was transferred. The conditions where more than terrible. This all took place in the mid to late 90's! I just pray that things have changed because my dear sweet boy is sitting in once of those places as I write this. I pray and pray that he knows that we are coming and that God has his arms wrapped tightly around him until we get there. I pray that once we meet him and he knows he has a papa and a mama his spirits will be lifted and he can make it until we come back on our final trip to bring him home.

I think about two days all the time. First, is the day that we meet him for the first time. What is it going to be like? How are we going to react? How is he going to react? All I can imagine is scooping him up and squeezing him and kissing him. Of course I don't want to scare the poor little boy to death! Second, is the day we get on that plane and head back here to his new home! I have thought about this so many times! I love looking at my fellow adoptive parents and their pictures, and blogs, and Facebook posts! Putting myself in their shoes gives me hope that this will soon be Charlie and me.

I heard the song I Can Only Imagine by Mercy Me yesterday and thought about Paul and thought about how fitting it was for our situation...along with the situation of so many others like us.

I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk
By your side

I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When your face
Is before me
I can only imagine

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine

I can only imagine
When that day comes
And I find myself
Standing in the Son

I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever
Forever worship You
I can only imagine

I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever, forever worship you

So until I have my sweet boy in my arms, I will just think of this song and imagine!