The Russian Orthodox Church we can see from our apartment.
In just a few minutes it will be Christmas Day here in Petropavlovsk. It is 11:15 PM, the boys are still wide awake and quietly playing and whispering at my feet as I type this, having tried once to get them to bed and giving up as we are all backwards in our sleep schedule.
It doesn't feel like Christmas in the traditional sense for us, we are missing too much of the trappings of home for that.
But what we have experienced here has been Christmas come to life, and we all seem to know that without it being said. The boys have not once mentioned not getting their presents. We explained that we all talked to Santa back in Montrose and asked that he leave their presents there, so we would have one small gift for them here tomorrow and nothing else. Not a moan, not a peep out of them about it.
Tonight, on Christmas Eve, we all sat in the living room with their beds pulled out, the tiny 1 foot tree lit and we read " 'Twas the Night Before Christmas", then we quietly talked about what Christmas is all about...about Jesus' birth, about what that meant for the world, about the "real" Christmas story. We shared our favorite memories of holiday's past, and how this year we wouldn't have to buy yet another ornament for our tree marked with words remembering Angela and Olesya and having them far away.
We remarked about our church's Christmas service happening about the time we wake up tomorrow, and wondered if everyone would remember us since we wouldn't be there. We talked about Christmas' past...ones with pneumonia for Josh and I, ones waiting for Kenny and the other boys, memories from our childhood of new banana seat bikes and my grandparents coming to visit...and even one that the kids got a kick out of when Dominick and I were still dating and he came home from being away at school to find our entire family so sick we couldn't move, and he went and brought us food and tried to take care of us the best way an 18 year old kid could. I think at that moment my mom fell a little more in love with him.
But this Christmas...ahhh...it is so much more for us. It is the "Christmas that almost wasn't", and it will be remembered as a time when our family went through something most could never imagine, and came away wiser, intact, and stronger than ever.
We have experienced the gamut here, a lifetime in 3 weeks. We have seen the power of God at work in every conceivable way. We have witnessed firsthand how forgiveness can truly transform relationships when it is sincere. Many of you might be thinking it is us forgiving Angela but it is a two way street as she forgave us for taking so long to get here and causing her to lose hope as well. It took forgiveness both ways for all of us to reach out to one another and embrace possibility.
'And the greatest of these is love..." Man, if that isn't true I don't know what is. We all are seeing that spring to life in a new and wondrous way in our family. We always had love, and lots of it, but it is taking on a new dimension seeing our sons offer it in such a mature and open hearted way as well. It is also something I can't even describe to watch the girls gradually coming to life right before our eyes. It is as if their very souls are being reborn. It is subtle, it is gentle, it is powerful.
It is family.
Jesus somehow draws us all in, creates virtual families and communities where we are all nurtured and cared for like family. In this world of brokenness and loneliness, the child that we remember and honor as being given to the world on this day, was a gift that surpassed all. His teachings continue to bring people together, to heal hearts, to transform lives. I know our family is very, very different than it once was because we turned to God whom we had once relegated to a very generic and distant place. We missed out on so much!!!!
What has happened this past couple of weeks has been almost sacred, almost touching "holy". It doesn't have to be for anyone but us, but it has utterly transformed each and every one of us...we will never be the same again. It is a minor little story in the grand scheme of things and will never make the headlines of any newspaper, but it has been BIG for us and totally unexpected. We have witnessed anger, forgiveness, reconciliation, hope and love. What started out to be a lovely little story of a family adopting their daughters turned into a story no one ever expected, least of all the participants.
And still we wouldn't have had it any other way. There is a depth of meaning now to this that couldn't have been reached without these twists and turns. There is a level of commitment that, while talked about, exists on the part of both sides now. Seeing Angela during our extremely short visit today still wearing her ring from our ceremony said all that needed to be said without any words being spoken.
We visited the inside of this beautiful cathedral where we found an English speaking priest who greeted us. Standing there in this place, it was so quiet, so beautiful. A different faith tradition than our own, perhaps, but a strong reminder of the value and importance of faith in the lives of millions upon millions of people through the ages.
Our lives are all an expression of faith...be it in God, in ourselves, in one another...even an athiest has faith that there is no God.
We pass on our traditions and our beliefs to our children, hoping that someday we will see the fruits of our labor visible in their lives. We want so badly for them to have something to believe in that is bigger than themselves.
For seeing ourselves as small somehow keeps it all in proper perspective.
This Christmas, we have been reminded of the power of faith in ways we will never, ever forget. Although hard won, the faith of every member of our family...both legally ours and not-quite-yet legally ours has been strengthened. We "get it" in new and profound ways.
Love is precious. May love be felt in your heart this Christmas, and always. May your life be transformed by it.
Love to all, from the LaJoy's...all 7 of us.