Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year 2010!!

We have spent the day largely at the apartment, having gone out to visit the grocery store and the notary, and to pick up Dominick's tickets home. The temperature dropped significantly today after the almost balmy 5 above zero we had this week!! Today it was back to 25 or 30 below plus wind chill thrown in for good measure. Extremely cold, and my fingers were numb even in my ski style gloves...and that was on a barely 5 minute walk from the market to the car!! I found a heavier scarf which has helped some, but folks...when it gets this cold and you have to be out in it there just isn't much you can do but freeze your fanny off! Luckily the jackets we brought are definitely warm enough, so that has been a big help.

So we went to the market and I thought I would share a little more of the differences of day to day life here:

1) Eggs don't come in cartons, they come 10 to a plastic baggie. Unwashed.
2) We bought potatoes that were still caked with dirt, they too are unwashed. Which helps with sales as once you get them home and wash them you can see how green many of them are!
3)Our water finally changed. We had commented on how surprised we were that it was very clear. Spoke too soon, today it was literally brown out of the tap and it doesn't feel safe to even wash dishes in. Now THAT'S more like the Kazakhstan we know and love!
4) No such thing as a gallon or half gallon carton of milk here, all in smaller portions, but juice is in bigger containers.
5) It's cold here, right? VERY cold. Tomatoes are often sold at outdoor vendors. Frozen solid. Many of the indoor ones we have found have been rotted or frozen and thawed.
6) Warm water for a shower. Sometimes. Sometimes not. Sometimes you hop around when it turns very, very cold.
7) NO cheddar cheese anywhere. There is some golden orangy cheese of some sort, but every time we get it, it has a different taste.
8) Clerks standing around in every department to help you, labor here is excessive and yet it is cheap so why not have half a dozen staff to help one person.
9) Meat you can't identify...what animal did it come from? And you look like a happy idiot standing there mooing like a cow or whinnying like a horse...but it does get laughter out of everyone.
10) Going anywhere with 3 Kazakh/Kyrgyz boys who speak English will get you lots of stares. It also scores them huge quantities of treats everywhere they go! The notary, the travel office, the name it, they spoil 'em. I am wondering what our local little shop ladies will think at Dominick's version of Walmart, the Corona store will think when we come in eventually with 3 boys AND 2 girls!! They all seem to get a huge kick out of three little voices piping up with "Spasiba!" spoken in an obviously less-than-Russian accent out of faces they expect to sound very different!

We went for a very short visit of about 15 minutes at the orphanage today, as we wanted Irina and Alexander to get home to their families for the holidays. We went up to their family area and into their bedroom. When we arrived Olesya handed me a little flower she had made out of something similar to pipe cleaners. Angela quickly unzipped Joshie and even Matthew out of their coats, and helped Kenny off with his! It was so cute and they all giggled at that. Then Angela sneaked over to her bed, and under her pillow was a little bag of candy...she pulled it out and gave it to us as a gift to share for the whole family with a bit smile on her face! A business had come in for the holiday and brought some little candies, and she wanted to make sure we all got some! We had brought some treats for their family group...a variety of nuts and other snacks. Those girls LOVE pistachio nuts! They grinned back at us and said they would split it all up tonight with everyone in their family group. Then, too soon, it was time to leave and we all zippered back up and after hugs all the way around we soon were on our way back to the apartment.

We did nothing the rest of the afternoon, but play computer games, watch movies and read quietly. We are all really and truly exhausted one is sleeping well, everyone's schedules are totally out of whack, beds are uncomfortable and I sound like an old lady every morning getting up complaining about the arthritis in my back and hips. I always thought it was sort of humorous to hear others complain about feeling the cold in their joints...but not anymore. Man, do I feel it!! Between 20 below weather and a way too hard mattress I can hardly find a comfortable position to sleep in...I am jealous that Dominick gets to go home to our bed for a bit!!

But other than that, we are fine and hoping to spend tomorrow laying around resting and doing nothing...maybe we can all catch up on sleep and get back on a more normal schedule. This is beginning to take a toll on all of us, even though we really have very nice accommodations. Stress, illness (I am still not feeling very well), darkness, exhaustion, it is all catching up with us.

New Years Eve in Kazakhstan is kind of cool, even if you have nowhere to go! We all sat in the dark on our bed the last 15 minutes before midnight and talked about 2009, what resolutions were and if we wanted to make any for 2010. We were all pretty content with life, thankful for what we have and who we are with, looking at big changes in the coming months and being realistic about it all. I was asked if I would give up Diet Coke and I nicely declined :-) Then it was midnight, and the fireworks began...EVERYONE around us in our complex and neighboring complexes were shooting them off all around us! For an hour all we could hear was the crackle of fireworks soon joined by the ringing of the cathedral bells. As we watched the fireworks through the swirling snow caught up in the heavy winds, it was a wondrous and beautiful moment filled with light and sound and gentle togetherness in a land far from home.

We have a lot to remember in 2009. We have much to be thankful for. We have had internal struggles and big changes as we contemplate where we are headed in this life and what God wants for us all. 2010 brings new surprises, and hopefully much happiness and good health. It will be a year of exploration and discovery, a year no doubt of frustration and complexity. A life well lived is not necessarily a "safe" life nor is it always "comfortable". My wish for my family is cohesiveness and love. My wish for my friends is presence for them the way they have been present for us. My wish for myself is a sense of sharp focus and direction, of understanding and wisdom, of health and compassion.

And for all, grateful hearts.

Happy Hew Year Everyone!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Our Story

You get two blogs for the price of one today! FREE!!! HAHAHA! Check out the next blog for new pics of our family with the girls, but I wanted to share this with you as well. Here is our story, beginning with our slide show through the years. We have been begged to go back to the beginning by many readers, so here it is long, I am sorry...but 5 years crammed into one post IS long!

This is our New Years gift to you!

Our story is an unusual one, it is of a love that stretched across the miles, it is of knowing for a very long time that you had children that were yours and were left behind. It is about not giving up, it is about waiting on God and trusting that somehow all would work out even when as recently as 2 weeks ago it felt as if we were too late.

Basically, it is a story of faith.

It’s a long one, with twists and turns, so here it goes…

Years ago, our family was looking for a way to give back and thank God for the blessings of Matthew and Joshua. We started by shipping craft supplies and handmade quilts from our local quilting guild to the Lotus Children’s Centre in Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia. Although we loved doing it, we found the lack of communication challenging and searched for an orphanage or child to sponsor in Kazakhstan where perhaps there would be someone who spoke English well and could help us remain in better contact with the orphanage or child so we could better determine what the true needs were.

I somehow stumbled across the web site for the Antares Foundation, and never imagined that first contact would ever lead us to where we are today. After a few emails flew back and forth, it was decided we would sponsor a little pixie named Angela and another boy named “Igor”. We later came to find out that Igor was unavailable for sponsorship and would eventually be adopted by Dee over at Crab Chronicles. When we learned Angela had a sibling, we inquired about sponsoring her even though they were separated and living at another orphanage, named Poludino.

They were then 6 and 4 years old.

I received our first pictures of them separately…Angela’s first, followed by Olesya’s a few days later. I can remember as if it were yesterday sending Angela’s photo to my mom who had barely learned how to turn on a computer and was not yet internet savvy (OK…and still isn’t all THAT savvy! Hahaha! Sorry Mom!). When the picture popped up on her screen, the first words out of her mouth were “Cindy, she looks like your daughter…if you and Dominick had kids, that is what she would look like.”…then “She needs to be your daughter!”. Laughingly I agreed with her but quickly moved on in conversation as we were knee deep in RAD with Josh and not at all thinking we could handle another child…or if we would even survive him! Hahaha!

But something tugged at my heart, and it wouldn’t let go. It never did. Some part of me knew it and tried to deny it, but I had just seen my daughter. My first picture about a year later of both of them together for a sibling reunion ripped me up. The look on their faces, their eyes…something about their eyes spoke loud and clear to me. Seeing them hugging one another, the deep bond that was so obvious, they were my kids and it made no sense to me. But I listened carefully and didn’t “pooh pooh” the idea.

Soon, we realized someone was missing at our table…maybe 2 someone’s. We began the adoption process again, and spent 9 months trying to determine the eligibility of the girls and if there was any way possible they could be adopted. After tons of phone calls to agencies uninterested in assisting in a “less than easy money” situation, I almost gave up. We eventually stumbled upon an attorney who offered to check into it.

Several weeks later, we heard back and the news was not good, or so it seemed. The girls were legally freed from their father due to the abuse and neglect case against him, but their mother was in jail for murder and her rights were not terminated.

And that was the end of that.

Although terribly disappointed…and inwardly very confused as it truly felt God had been speaking to my heart all along about this…we reluctantly moved on. Our reluctance wouldn’t have existed had we known the wonderful son that awaited us, the Amazing Kenny LaJoy!! We quickly abandoned the idea of a girl the moment we saw Kenny’s face, and the day we picked him up at the orphanage we saw immediately how much he was a LaJoy…the spittin’ image in terms of personality of Dominick, so much so that we joke about Dominick having a previously unknown Kyrgyz fling! God couldn’t have placed any child more fitting with a family. We were blessed, we had no regrets, truly. I love Kenny deeply, totally and unconditionally.

But hearts are big, and God doesn’t let go.

Dominick and I recently recalled me standing in the kitchen 2 weeks before leaving as we discussed my taking a side trip to meet the girls in person, and asking him “Can you promise me that if the girls are someday relinquished we can at least try and adopt them?” and his incredulous yet understanding look at me as he said “With what, my good looks?? I don’t see how…besides they are not available and probably never will be.”. I replied “I know, and I hope when I meet them I will think “cute kids, but not ours…that would be the best scenario.”

Some might not understand, some might think Kenny was a “replacement” for who I really wanted and couldn’t have. That is not it at all, and those who know us in real life know our love for Kenny is all encompassing as original and true as can be. LaJoy hearts are huge, and we are 100% certain that God delayed everything specifically because we never would have explored Kyrgyzstan or adopting another child…and Kenny HAD to come home. If you had told me 3 or 4 years ago that we would one day have 5 children AND a 15 passenger van, I would have laughed my…well…something off. Hahah! God always has the last laugh though, right?

We had spent years with Angela and Olesya as part of our extended family. I decided from the beginning that I was not going to be some distant stranger but would be Mom-Away-From-Home, someone they could share their achievements with who would be proud of them, someone who would not send generic letters but letters from a family who loved them, cared about them, and let them know they were not alone. Years of letters and drawings were sent back and forth, Angela would approach Boris and say “Tell Cindy I got 100 on my test!” or “Tell Cindy I made the special football team (soccer)” and messages would be passed to us. Photos and descriptions of our life here, birthdays remembered, Christmas letters and packages sent…even if it often took 3 months to get there and was late, they would know they were not warehoused and forgotten. Sadly, we had far less communication with Olesya because she was in an orphanage so far away.

For over 2 years they were in separate orphanages, and I would get photos of each of them opening their packages and then with the next letter or package I would include photos of their sister for them to save. The Disney Princess photo album that Angela showed us was filled with photos of our boys growing up, of Olesya at varying ages…it helped them remain connected when there was no other way.

When we traveled to get Kenny, I did take that side trip after the adoption was final, leaving all my boys behind and going to Petropavlovsk alone. We had made a commitment in our minds to sponsor the girls until they aged out, and we wanted to be “real” to them. Knowing it would never be less expensive, we took advantage of our location and off I went, secretly hoping that I would be able to squelch that feeling I had been carrying around for years that those faces staring back at me in photos were our own children.

The moment Angela walked down the stairs I myself now have climbed many times this past week, and straight into my arms, I knew. God wasn’t whispering or hinting, God was screaming at me…and I hated it. I spent the next two days visiting Angela and going out to Paludino to take her to visit Olesya. Watching the two of them together was all the affirmation I needed, and I was one very confused and heartsick woman the day I left them behind.

Walking Constitution Avenue and the surrounding area for hours, God got a good chewing out from me. I had learned there was the slimmest possibility that their biological mom’s rights would be terminated. Yea, I was hopping mad, and I had no qualms about sharing my anger. How could this happen? Why was I going to have to spend the rest of my life feeling like this? Through my tears, I told God that we would gladly parent them but we had absolutely no way of making it happen. It was impossible, they were not legally free and we had not a dime to spare for another adoption loan. I prayed and silently ranted and raved, saying “I don’t know why you are laying this on me, when we can’t do anything about it! We are so willing, but you would have to hand it to us on a silver platter.”. Literally…that is what I said.

I boarded the plane a few hours later feeling sick to my stomach, realizing I would never again know the kind of peace I had walked in 3 days prior.

I couldn’t even talk about it with Dominick much when I got back to Almaty, all I did was cry so avoiding the topic was best. I did ask him once if we could sell our house if the girls indeed became available. He said “You know we bought at the right time and we would never find another house to hold that big of a family for anything near what we could afford. We just can’t make this happen.” When I got home and made our first call to our moms, I broke down in deep sobs as I described what I was feeling to my mom. I think at that moment it was the one time she regretted the life she had as she wanted so badly to offer to help us financially and yet was powerless to do so.

The next day I opened my email, and there was God, in living print.

I had written about the girls on the blog, had poured my heart out. Someone whom I had never met reached out and offered to help. Without going into personal details, we found ourselves the recipients of the greatest gift imaginable, one that made the impossible possible. Just accepting the offer was a journey in itself, a difficult one that required a lot of introspection and humbling of ourselves so that the opportunity was not missed for two young girls to have a family who would love them dearly. Needless to say, we are forever grateful and still can not quite take in the generosity of someone. As it was explained, and I paraphrase liberally here “You offer all you can, and we offer all we can…it is what God calls each of us to do. You actually have the harder part…the paperwork and the day to day raising of them. When God’s people pull together and give all of what they can, great things can happen!”.

Si x months later, we learned the mother’s rights had been terminated.

Two years and reams and reams of documents later, we are here.

How hard it has been!!! The aching on both sides of the world, the hunger to hold one another. I know some might not understand after the first week’s experience, but we do. How easy it is to understand why Angela reacted the way she did! Why Olesya responded in kind for fear of upsetting the one constant person in her life! But years of long distance love won out, reacting lovingly and not out of anger and frustration won out, treating an 11 year old with the respect she deserved won out. Fear was overcome, anger was put aside, hope was reborn!!! We all allowed ourselves space and time to heal, we gave each other the gift of patience and understanding without judgment. We offered a “do over”. Others may never understand…but we do…all 7 of us…and that is all that matters.

I am so thankful to have such wise children, all 5 of them.

As I write this on the eve of our court date, staying home from our daily visitation so that I don’t pass on the little stomach bug I have so the girls will not be sick tomorrow, I am so happy. Sure, I am uncertain of what the future holds, none of us knows what our family will look and feel like in a week, a month, or even a year. It will feel strange for a long time to come and I am working my way out from under the worry of “what will I do?” that is natural and normal for anyone whose family instantly grows from 5 to 7 overnight, and they are fully formed beings with thoughts and opinions of their own. To deny the existence of those feelings would be once again trying to “sell this” as a fairy tale. I have wondered the past 24 hours about what am I going to do with 2 kids at home this age who are not ready for school yet and are old enough that most of their normal activities would include language. I have worried about the best way to work on teaching English. I have thought long and hard about how to integrate Angela’s love of sports into a family for whom sports is a sideline, at best. My thoughts have roamed to how Olesya will make her place among us and what I might do to assist her and be aware of her more girlie side.

But beneath all of that is an approaching sense of “rightness”, one that will be so welcomed after the previous years! The hugs, smiles and warmth are genuine. The love is based upon old dreams and ideals, but will be replaced gradually with a steadfast “real” love that will never waiver which is rooted in reality. Watching the closeness slowly develop this past week, the comfort level between us all as it grows…the shy smiles which have grown to broad grins, the standoffish pats that have grown to big bear hugs, the feigned disinterest which has grown to a fervent desire to show us every single good grade they have received and to share with us every drawing they have made in the hopes that we will reward them with our own delight at their accomplishments. Real love takes time, it take patience…it is not a fairy tale but it IS wonderful. We may have lost much of their childhood, a fact I have often grieved. But we gain the rest of our lives together.

So, there you have it, the entire story such as it is. It is a story that has many facets and told from other perspectives it would take on a different meaning, I am sure. For me though, it comes down to faith…to faith that what we felt God had told us was true, faith that if we offered ourselves up willingly somehow we would be used, faith that love would prevail. I admit that faith wavered two weeks ago, or maybe it is better to say I wondered if the faith had been misplaced and we were being drawn here for other reasons I didn’t quite understand.

But that’s OK because God never told us we were to always understand, we were never expected to be perfect. Lord knows I am so far from that it isn’t even funny. The cool thing is though, that God uses us all if we allow it. Our imperfect, flubbing it up, sometimes totally wrong selves can be used for extraordinary things sometimes. I make mistakes with my kids daily, I often don’t show the appreciation for my husband that I should, and I know there are many who look at me as far from the example of Christianity they think I ought to be. They are right, I am sure.

But it does all come down to faith, doesn’t it?

Our entire family, both new members and long since joined members are stepping out on faith again today as we promise to legally become a family and to care for one another forever.

I love my family.

Thank You God for the chance to have Angela and Olesya join us forever.

I’ll do my best.

I promise.

The New and Improved LaJoy Family!!

Christmas Day 2009

Thank you God, for all your blessings!!

Today we officially became a family of 7! It seems quite anticlimactic as we go back to the same routine we have had for the past few weeks...but in a small office in Petropavlovsk, Kazakhstan our family grew by 2.

It was not easy, we WERE grilled for a solid hour. Arriving for our court time at 2:00 PM and not leaving until about 3:15 PM. Our judge was a plump, jolly Kazakh woman who at times was equally stern and inquisitive. Others present were a younger Russian male prosecutor who asked only a few questions, a secretary, the older Kazakh woman from the Department of Guardianship, and the very tall blond Assistant Director from the Regional Boarding School. She was the woman present the Monday night we left the girls behind, thinking we would never return.

Dominick was called upon first to answer questions for the judge, who did most of the questioning rather than the Prosecutor. Angela and Olesya were present but were left in the outer office for the majority of the proceedings until they were called upon to answer questions.

The judge asked a variety of questions including whether we lived far out of town or not, as she was looking at the photos we had submitted years ago of our home, and what our area was like. He was asked about his occupation and our finances, but things got tough when it got to how we parent and how we plan to discipline the girls. The deaths of Russian adoptees at the hands of the adoptive parents was brought up...we were asked if we had a chamber under our house that we would put the children in if they were bad, or if we would send them outside in the cold to freeze if they misbehaved. All sounds like nonsense unless you have followed the stories as I have over the years of ill equipped parents who have adopted children and horribly abused them as Reactive Attachment Disorder took it's toll on a family. I know that over the past 10+ years there have been over 10 children killed at the hands of their parents, I don't even know the exact number but for some reason 17 sticks out in my mind. Makes this questioning seem far more pertinent when seen in that light.

The judge also brought up the sibling rivalry issues, and race as well. Did we think that having children of a different race would be a problem? Yes, they know that America is far more open to diversity but we are adopting Russian girls with existing Kazakh boys at home...don't we think that will create problems? Thankfully we could honestly say we had already discussed this issue at length with the girls and the boys both, and feel it is a non-issue. We told the judge to look at the many photos of the kids playing together as a way of proving our point. If she had seen this kids in person for 10 minutes goofing around together, she would throw that question away.

When it was my turn I was questioned thoroughly about how I thought I could effectively mother 5 kids as well as cook, clean and take care of the house. I laughed and said what I thought to be honest...we often have far more than 5 kids we are caring for...sometimes up to 38 with Scouts! We are used to large groups of kids, enjoy them very much, and 5 actually doesn't feel like all that many ( I exaggerated for effect!). I also pointed out that in our home, we are a team...the boys help with laundry and dishes following the lead of their Dad. We all help with every task, and that makes the jobs much easier.

She was concerned about how we planned to integrate the girls into English language and American culture. I explained the girls would be home full-time with me until September, and that I would be teaching them vocabulary and gradually introducing them to our life by slowly exposing them to different situations. This didn't seem to satisfy her, and she more deeply probed about how I thought I was able to teach them enough. I admit I got a bit perturbed at this and brought out my Big Gun...Kenny. I said that honestly, language was the least of my concerns although when we adopted Kenny at 8 1/2 it was my biggest. I explained how Kenny had lost all Russian by his 7th month home including even the ability to count to 10. I talked about immersion and how greatly that differs from taking a class in a foreign language. I said that Kenny's teachers had all been amazed at his vocabulary for only 3 months in English when he started school, and yes, I certainly did think I could manage to teach them rudimentary English, thank you very much! I admitted that having one another they would likely hold on to Russian a little longer as Kenny had no one to use Russian with, but they would most certainly learn faster than any of us could imagine. My confidence in answering that one seemed to be what she needed and she quickly moved on after that.

She next asked about what we would do if the girls acted up, if they had problems...that older kids can be difficult and did I think I could handle that as their mother? I quite firmly responded "Of course they will act up, they are children! We are NOT looking for perfect children, we are not perfect ourselves." I then went on without being asked "We have struggled at times with all of our sons, but Joshua was the hardest as he had a very hard time bonding with us. We spent years working with him when others told us to relinquish him. He is now an amazing little guy and we love him dearly and he loves us. We do not quit on our children, I know others do, but we do not and we have proven that already.". That pretty much summed it up, and the judge smiled and seemed to think so too.

Angela was called in first, and had her back to us as she stood at the table to speak with the judge and prosecutor. The basics at first, then she got down to business quickly. Did Angela really want a family? Did she only want to go to America? Did she understand that this was forever? Did she realize she would be the oldest in the family and her momma and poppa would rely on her to help with the younger children? That she would have to set an example? Quietly Angela answered "Da" to each. Then came the tough part, did she realize her name would be changed to LaJoy and her biological parents would not be named on her birth certificate...that it would be changed to our names? The tears started then, Angela vehemently said "Da!", but it was so obvious how deeply her biological mother has wounded her. She didn't sob, they were quiet tears that rolled. The judge was not easy on her, telling her that she had to want a family and not just to go to America...that she would have to respect her new parents and everything was going to be very different...was she really sure she wanted this? Angela again through her tears said "Da", then the judge asked her if she felt love for us...and she quickly said "Da" and smiled a little, then the judge had her sit down. She sat down first next to Dominick who then moved over so she could sit between us where she gently wiped her tears and smiled at us both, holding Dominick's hand, me with my arm around her shoulder.

This poor young girl, so much to deal with, such conflicting emotions she must be experiencing. We have no doubts now that she wants to go with us, can see the good of a family and can willingly and eagerly join in...but we all can feel 2 or 3 different emotions about an event. She is still leaving all she has ever known behind, she is going to have to fight off the demons of poor family example from the past, she is going to have to reorganize her thoughts around moms and what and who they are. She is obviously more comfortable with Dominick right now, but we know she had a constant in her life with Boris and that has made a big and positive impact. However, she is not at all shrugging me away, is open and affectionate with me, teases with me, and in time we will have a close relationship as well. It will take me being the "adult" and staying very, very focused to help that develop to be all it can be.

Next came Olesya, who fairly quickly dissolved into tears when asked why she wanted to be adopted and she said "Because I want a Momma and Poppa" and she could hardly choke out the words. How did she feel about brothers? Good. Did she like to play with them? Yes. What would she do if they took a toy and she wanted it back...would she go to Angela for help? No, she would ask Momma and Poppa. She had regained her composure a little until asked again about the name change, then once more started crying and agreed to it. She was then told she could go sit down, and the only chair left was next to Dominick, and she sat down, buried her head in his chest, and sobbed for a good 5 minutes. When I leaned across Angela to pat her back and see if she was OK, she looked up at me and grinned through her tears and nodded that she was OK.

The woman from the Department of Guardianship spoke next and said that she had witness our first meeting, and it had not gone well so she had backed off and let us have time over the following days. When she next met with us all was going well. She said she could tell we were a very good family, that our boys were polite, well behaved and doing well, and she thought we would be an excellent family for the girls who had been through far too much in their lives already and deserved the kindness we would give them.

Next was the one I was most worried about, and with her first words I gulped deeply, as did Dominick. We tried not to look at one another as she was talking. I ended up loving what she said and feeling more comfortable about everything. She was honest...she told of the 5 years of pictures and letters, of shared lives. She said for months and months both girls kept coming to her asking when their new family was coming...if she had heard any news. She told about their first reaction, about them being scared and pulled in different directions...and about our "break in relations". She then smiled and turned to the girls saying that we had barely left the building when the had broken down and spent the next day crying the whole day, begging her to contact us and bring us back. She then looked at us and said "I have to thank you for your patience and love. This was very hard, and you were very sensitive and understanding. You are very, very good people and have a very nice family." She added that she felt we had handled it all as only the most loving parents would do and showed wisdom. She said she felt the girls deserved such parents and brothers, that they had experienced a very, very sad life already and this was their chance at real love and she highly recommended that the court approve their adoption.

The prosecutor spoke briefly next, saying we were experienced and good parents, knowing much about adoptive parenting and Kazakhstan having been here several times. He too mentioned how terrible the girls lives had been in a family before, and that they deserved a chance at happiness and to have a good, loving family. He felt we would be that for them and be able to handle the issues that would come up, and he too recommended that the adoption be approved.

Unceremoniously we were ushered out to the outer office where we stood for less than 10 minutes before being called back into the chambers, which really was just a large office with linoleum nailed to the floor.

There, the judge quickly read the verdict, that she was approving the adoption and wished us much happiness. That was that, move on, another family is waiting outside for their turn.

And that, my friends, is all it took to add Angela and Olesya to our family! (She says with a hearty laugh, knowing it took much, much more than 1 hour in a judge's chambers!).

What a road we have traveled!

What a road that still stretches out before us.

We are barely beginning, we know that, you know that...but to get to the end you have to begin somewhere.

Now the real work begins.

We are blessed to be their parents, and as I sit here tonight it STILL doesn't feel real. I know, as with each of our past wonderful additions, that feeling will creep up on me. Maybe it will be one evening as one of them glances up at me and my heart melts. Maybe it is going to be the first time I introduce them casually to someone not even thinking about it as I call them "our daughters" and then I stop for a moment and realize what I just said. Maybe it will be the first whispered giggles in broken English as we are all nestled in the camper for the night this summer.

But when I look at these pictures, finally...thankfully...I do not feel as if a part of me is missing. They may not be sleeping under our roof or in their beds, but they are definitely ours.


Here are some photos taken over the past couple of weeks of our new daughters.

May I introduce to you:

Angela Elizabeth LaJoy, Age 11

Olesya Erin LaJoy, Age 9

OK...I gotta say it...AREN'T THEY BEAUTIFUL??????????????

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Court Soon!

It's Court Day! I know most of you are fast asleep or close to it, and on the other side of the world there is lots of activity as the boys are showering and getting ready to go to the Oborn's, and we are reminding them they have only a few more days to dance around naked! Hahahaha!! LaJoy humor...sorry about that :-) But then, you all know us by now!

I am feeling a little better, still not 100% myself. I was up half the night tossing and turning, unable to sleep. I got up, checked email while my stomach was gurgling, and without meaning to happened to be online when the blog rolled over to 100,000! Hahaha! So funny to watch it thinking of 3 years ago when I started it. Someone in Montrose was #99,9999 and the winner for the 100,000th hit was........Fresno, California! I know, not a biggie really, but hey...I am in Siberia and we don't have a whole lot for entertainment here!! Hahahaha!

Dominick is doing well despite knowing most of the talking will rest on his shoulders. I think that is only fair as it has usually been me AND I have done 95% of the paperwork for all the adoptions. He HATES talking in front of people which always makes me laugh because he is so outgoing, but make it formal and he gets very nervous.

I am calm, I am fine. Part of me can not believe we are here, that this day has actually arrived. There were so many times when it felt like we would never make it, and here we are! YEARS of waiting, finally over long as we get a positive judgment.

The boys are excitedly prancing around yet a bit bummed because they won't get the chance to wear their suits and go to court today. We told them that if all goes well, we will try and take everyone out to celebrate at a nice restaurant so they can wear their suits there, if we have time before Daddy leaves.

So, it is time for me to go shower. You all owe Dominick a great big thank you for doing so much around the apartment to give me time to blog and keep you all caught up! As I am typing this, he is washing the dishes!! Hahahaha!

We're on our way! Hopefully, the next time I write it will be accompanied by pictures of a brand new family!!

Chillin' Kaz Style!

On Court Day Eve we found ourselves with time on our hands and a need to relax. While we have had an amazing and unforgettable trip, "relaxing" is not a term I would use to describe it! Hahaha!

So today, while I laid low with a stomach ailment, the boys all did a little school work and then had some fun!

Near our apartment and throughout the city, there are ice slides that are built, created out of ice blocks and built up fairly high. We have 2 of them less than a block from our apartment, just a building or two over from the Cathedral. Today was warm enough at about 28 ABOVE 0 F (I know, our jaws were on the ground at that as well!) that Dominick thought it was perfect ice sliding weather, so he bundled up the boys and took them over to try it out.

Here is the ice slide, as you can see it is a popular place for kids to hang out! The cardboard strewn about is for makeshift sleds which are quickly abandoned in favor of sliding down the old fashioned way...on your bottom!
Joshie waiting his turn...

Here's Joshie trying it out. This is the kind of free entertainment the LaJoy's LOVE!! Better than TV any day of the week!!

Check out the little one on the sled back behind Kenny on the left. We see kids (and bags of groceries) being hauled all over the city via this sort of transportation. The little ones are so cute all bundled up so tightly they can hardly move!

Matthew and a Kazakh Kutie Pie sliding together!

Kenny thinking to himself "Hmmm...I see possible friends there!"

Ever the Ambassador, Kenny had all these boys as new friends by the time they left today! Dominick said one of them spoke very good English and was translating for the other kids. Dominick took out the boys' passports to show them that they were indeed Kazakh and Kyrgyz even though the spoke only English!

I can't tell you how nice it is for us to see our sons enjoying being in an environment where they look like every other kid walking down the street. In Montrose, they are never going to really just blend in the crowd. Here it is Mommy and Daddy who don't blend in! The ladies at Dominick's Store are used to seeing them now and are helping Dominick often when he shops, grinning at me, and when I bought some cookies the other day from a pretty Kazakh woman and was due 3 tenge change back, I indicated she should just keep the change. She insisted I take it, then pantomimed the three boys showing tall, medium and small heights then pointed at the 3 tenge, telling me to give it to the boys.

After sledding the boys had some quiet time before going to visit the girls. I stayed at the apartment hoping not to pass on whatever it is that I have so we can all be in good shape for court tomorrow. The boys can't go to court with us and we are so thankful for the Oborn's who have volunteered to watch them even though Jocelyne has been feeling quite ill for the past couple of days herself.

This was the beginning of the artwork, it then morphed into a submarine with a scope, army men and airplanes to be added later!

Matthew was in one picture I took and I was going to show it until we realized he was laying around in his Kazakhstan underwear waiting for his pants to dry after sliding! He has brought $120 of the money he saved the past year working at the restaurant and cleaning the office and has requested we get 3 more pair of underwear plus 3 more in the next size up! He loves those things and I hope when we go to Almaty we can find a jacket or shirt or something with Kazakhstan emblazoned across it for him. He truly loves his birth country!

Kenny curled up writing, warming up after sliding.

I told Dominick I just had to show this. He NEVER EVER reads novels, preferring reading only for a purpose. Well, I told him he needed to read a couple of pages of "The Nanny Diaries" which I read when we first got here, and he was hooked! I have heard him laughing out loud at times and saying "The sad thing is, this sort of thing really goes on in some families!".

So tomorrow we go to court. Tomorrow, with any luck, it becomes official and we become a family of 7. Wow. A lot of responsibility there, a lot ahead of us, much to think about. We hope court goes smoothly, but even Kenny said this evening over dinner "I am scared mom about court, everything has always gone wrong, what if something goes wrong tomorrow?". I think I sort of have the same feelings and will not feel "safe" until we make it through to the decision tomorrow. We'd appreciate your prayers if you happen to be awake in the middle of the night. If we get a favorable ruling tomorrow, you will hear us all the way back home!!

Good night to all...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Small Delay and Wonderful Day

We learned today that we will have a very small delay, but our document arrived from America! We are so grateful for our team at Adoption Alliance and our Social Worker Joan for getting that accomplished for us. We still have a couple more documents Dominick will take care of when he returns home which we will need for immigration, and then I might just be able to say "Hallelujah and Amen!" after 11 years of adoption paperwork! I told Dominick he needs to take me out just to celebrate that alone. I don't think I'll know what to do with myself without having some adoption document or another to prepare. Fear not though, there are always post-placement reports to file for years to come, readoption paperwork, social security applications to file...awww man...I just made myself depressed! Hahaha!

Our small delay is that we will not be going to court tomorrow, but at 2:00 PM the following day. Looks like we are likely to be this judge's last case in this position as she doesn't work the next day for the New Years holiday. So, we will be in court in the middle of your night! If anyone can't sleep at around 1:00 AM Mountain Time, send up a little prayer for us.

We had a fairly uneventful day, yet it was rich in small, quiet ways. We spent the morning working on school work with the boys, organizing the mad scramble of paperwork they had strewn all over the place. When I completed Matthew's log sheet for school I realized he had done a lot more than I had thought! It was nice to see all the boys spread out on the floor, working on writing, reading books and doing math worksheets together. We didn't end up going out until later for our visit with the girls after their classes were over.

Walking into the RBS it was immediately apparent that the power was out, and someone was working on the system. We were taken to the girls bedroom where they have a table in the center, and we were waiting for Irina to arrive after speaking with the medical staff about the girls medical reports. We have some questions and hope to get answers soon...nothing to worry about but typical translation issues with strange diagnosis we need to get a better understanding of.

Here in the soft evening light we all looked at a photo album Olesya showed us that was hers. It had in it pictures of her and Angela that we had sent, similar to the one Angela has. She named her friends shown in groups with her, and she had taken great care to arrange leaves around one of the pages, and little hearts cut out around others. It was then that Angela stopped tackling Matthew (these two are quite a pair and I am so pleased to see the obvious enjoyment they get from being with one another) and went to a drawer and pulled out a stack of something. She brought it to me and showed me every single letter I have ever sent them.

Five years unfolded before me on paper, as she took almost every letter out and wanted to show it to me. She pointed at the hearts I had drawn like a kid myself on the bottom of one, a rainbow picture Matthew had drawn and sent on another, and then showed Irina the first photos they had ever received of us. They were precious to her, they were a connection to someone who cared about them...they were worth every single moment it took to write and package them.

Seeing her face light up, watching as she so carefully directed me to look at certain ones and explained to Irina what they were, I saw so clearly that the girl we met the first week was not the one for whom these letters and photos were so treasured. This girl standing before me had already had her family in her heart for a very long time, had carried us in much the same way we had carried them all those years and miles away. Where we had their pictures on bulletin board and fridge, they had ours in albums and drawers, pulled out every so often to dream and hope of a very different future.

Someday I can't wait to talk with them both, when language has been acquired and distance has been placed between then and the new "now". I will share with them more deeply all that we have been through, all the sleepless nights, the confusion of that first week for all of us, the admiration for the ability to change course when "stuck" and reach out to try and trust a family one last time. I will ask when they lost hope that we were ever coming, and tell them how hard it was for us to keep hanging in there too...but that they were too important to give up on. Maybe they already sense that.

I have mulled over that terrible, heartbreaking first week, and believe it or not I am giving thanks for it now. I know, I am crazy...what else is new. But I sincerely believe we were largely at peace the entire time because some part of us knew it would be OK, even though I didn't really see it. I think that this very rough beginning took us to places emotionally with each other that would have taken months, if not years, to reach otherwise. I can see how in our effort to reach her and her to reach us, we all shared what our fears were in an honest and open way. I learned Angela is a person I deeply respect and with whom I can be the "straight shooter" I always am and she too will respect that in return.

We have an understanding, she and I, and the words were spoken out loud "You have to let us parent you and Olesya or it will never work...we WANT you to have the chance to be the child you have never really had the chance to be.", and that needed to be said. It is interesting to watch now as she plays with all the kids and has already immediately cast aside the aloof teenagerish attitude and squeals, wrestles, plays tag and giggles with the rest of the kids. I think she is overjoyed to be able to be the kid, and our assertiveness in taking over control of the decision once she reached out to us let her know that we ARE the parents, and we will make the best decisions possible for everyone...that she can trust us to be fair and loving in all we do, and now she can relax and not worry about being the grown up. I have no illusions that we won't be facing this issue again, but we are much further down the road because of our experience and she feels more certain that she is making the right choice for them as well.

Olesya is seeing quickly that Angela doesn't have to be the only one to mother her anymore, and as Angela relaxes in that role, Olesya is freer to be herself and not always feel tied to Angela's leading. This is healthier for both of them and hopefully it will continue when we get home. Olesya will take a bit to create her special place in our family, as Angela is such a tomboy and so easily fits in with the boys that Olesya will be the more typical girlie one. She is softer...but not too soft. She gets right in there with the horseplay with them all, but tends to hold back a bit and be less rambunctious. She is freer with physical affection and more comfortable with moments in fact seems to gobble it up without being too clingy. I dearly love hearing her yell out "Anzhela!!". The gentle side is there, but she will definitely be able to keep up with the less-than-dainty antics of the boys (and Mom!) around her!!

But today, I had one of those subtle breakthroughs...the ones no one else notices but the participants while others are wandering around you. We got ready to leave, and the girls went down to the front door then out onto the steps in the dark. We all got quick hugs and just as I turned to head to the car, Angela grabbed me again and held on...and on...and a little tighter before letting me go and saying "Das Vadanya...Zaftra!"..."Good bye...tomorrow!" It was the first time she has truly let go with me, where I felt the shift deep inside of her almost as if she was saying all that words could not say. Yes, we understand one another, she and I. The love was there, the understandable fear had to be overcome. She knows too that I understand that her fears were very rational given her life experiences. The elephant in the room was acknowledged and shoved out of the way quite unceremoniously. It had to be, we have some loving and living to do, and we already have lost enough time.

Isn't God simply amazing? Isn't the power of love and forgiveness just the best thing in the entire world? The things God can turn around blow me away. Two weeks ago, I thought Angela was too stone-like too move. I was never mad at her, I was heartbroken for both the girls and us. I knew there was a kid inside there whom I had once known, but wasn't sure if she was too far distanced to ever reach. Two weeks ago I turned and watched through my tears to see Olesya's face pressed against the glass of a window as we drove away from them, all the while thinking it was the last time we would see one another again.

As I look back on it, we have climbed a bunch of Everest's to get to this place and time...but perhaps the biggest mountain ever was the one standing in the way of Angela's heart.

God moved that one too.

And we stand aside, part of it all, and shake our heads in wonder.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Will We Hit 100,000 on Court Day?

A couple of people emailed me noting how close our blog counter is to 100,000 hits. I looked and realized we had a chance of hitting 100,000 on our court date. Wouldn't that be quite the coincidence? Totally unplanned and seemingly random...and yet...kind of cool. It will be close...::::drum roll::::: stay tuned! Hahaha!

And no, I won't hit my own blog a couple hundred times to say we did it! :-)

Happy Birthday Joshua!

Joshua Turns 7...Hurray!

Joshie's birthday is the day after Christmas. Well, the truth is that is the birthday assigned to him...we don't really know what his real birthdate was. We had the chance to change the birthdate when we adopted him, but elected not to. At moments we have wished we had, so his day would be separated from the hoopla of Christmas but now we all sort of look forward to the extended fun! We had a little celebration back home before we left so he could be with his buddy Zack, but we didn't want to let the day go by here without acknowleding it, so we took all the kids to the Turkistan, the place we first went with the girls that first week when it turned out to be such a struggle and Angela preferred to walk around alone and distant from all of us. She wanted to return to the "scene of the crime" (I say that jokingly) so that THIS time she could go ahead and be a kid and join in the fun. It was good to revisit it and have a different experience with happy memories to leave with.

The girls made Joshua a cute poster with a puppy drawing on it and all our names, and they even brought him a present...this stuffed Kitty Kat! They are really so sweet and at Christmas made everyone (including the Oborn's) each a little heart with drawings and our names on them. They also made us a beautiful Christmas card. On a visit prior we received a little key chain with "I Love You" on it. Of course, these little momentos mean the world to us and will long be treasured.

The kids all had fun climbing the blow up mountain and huge blow up slide. Unfortunately the little cars were not charged so they couldn't ride them. We began again the training that was reminiscent of our first weeks with Kenny as Olesya began asking us each for gum and candy, bouncing back and forth between Mommy and Daddy to see which one might give in. No means no in LaJoy Land, she'll get that eventually :-) The environment and circumstances make it hard though, as we are trying to mix up our visits with some trips out of the orphanage and apartment, and so they see us spending more money than we normally do for this kind of thing. But we have explained more than once that we are not a wealthy family and they will not get everything they want...a difficult thing to combat when we are 100% certain they are being told that very thing from their friends at the orphanage. But Angela seems to understand and I think Olesya does as well...but what the heck, she's a kid and gotta try, right? Hahaha!

We made a list today and will add to it tomorrow of the things we need to make clear to the girls, family rules such as "When Mommy says no, don't go to Daddy expecting a different answer." and "In our family we always say please, thank you and I am sorry.".

Finally got a natural front toothless smile from Joshua!

Here is the inside of the Turkistan, they are readying themselves for the huge New Years celebration which is when Ded Moroz (their version of Santa) and his niece come and distribute presents.

The walls inside the Turkistan, love the little guy in the car with the Kazakh flag (Jocelyne, I DID get a picture of it!)

Here is Ded Moroz and his neice. I found a tiny little porcelain doll of her today for less than $3 bucks. Thus far, that is our only souvenir purchase!

One of my nicest surprises when we arrived to adopt Joshua 5 years ago was how long and beautiful his eyelashes were. It was unexpected and today I still think he is the cutest little guy! It seems his role as baby of the family is safe, as the girls too treat him as if he is quite the sweet little brother...and he is.

Today we changed from every day visitation to every other day, so this was our first "off" day and since it was a tad bit warmer(I think about 5 below 0) we spent it with the Oborn's walking Constitution Avenue which is booming during the summer and quite a pleasant place to people watch. We passed by the old soviet style hotel I stayed in when I was here 2 1/2 years ago. It was long walks on Constitution Avenue and neighboring streets where I laid my heart out to God about the was very meaningful for me to return and as we stumbled upon a Catholic church service when we opened the door thinking the church would be empty, it offered me the perfect opportunity to sit in a pew in this simple little church, while listening to a single nun play a keyboard and sing in Russian "Oh Come All Ye Faithful". How appropriate for us that was, and Jocelyne and I both agreed upon leaving that we had just had our "real" Christmas.

Down the street we saw these police or military men in formation, perhaps prepping for the upcoming holiday festivities.

Here is an example of a single family dwelling here, although this one is in much better shape than most of them we see. The majority look as if they were built 100 years ago and almost ALL we see on our drive into town have sagging walls and leaning, cracked windows with smoke sputtering out of a small chimney. Most of them have these same blue shutters on them, most with peeling paint and often with a red soviet star on a ramshackle fence. There are a few newer homes scattered here and there especially out near the Regional Boarding School where the girls are that are made of brick and quite large, but the overwhelming majority of people live in the apartments which I have already shown photos of in previous posts. Our apartment is very unusual in its size, the one the Oborn's are in is teeny tiny with two bedrooms and a bathroom, and a kitchen that has to be the smallest I have ever seen. But it is clean and warm, and living here for even the shortest time you begin to be very thankful for things you might otherwise take for granted.

Our walk includes scenes like this, there were not very many out enjoying the afternoon today. The white on the side of the trees is a pesticide and ALL trees we have seen in every city in Kazakhstan we have visited have it. It blends in during the winter but during the summer when the background is not white it really stands out.

Everyone here wears black or brown (other than the orange vested work crew at the upper left), and I do mean EVERYONE. While you ocassionally see young girls in pink and light blue coats, the adults all wear dark colors. This makes our kiddos in their red jackets pretty easy to spot anywhere! Note the new warmer hats and scarves which they all loved and have helped a lot! I found a new warmer and longer scarf today as well and the coming week will prove it a wise with wind chill my personal Weatherman Dominick tells me it can get as low as almost 60 below 0!! Our jackets are keeping us quite toasty, but any exposed skin even today sure gets numb quickly. At these temperatures, our legs begin to start hurting and tingling from the cold in about 10 minutes outside, even when keeping moving.

Tomorrow we visit the girls here at the apartment, and we go over questions we might be asked in court with Irina. We are nervous and hope that at least this one stage of the adoption goes without a hitch. We are owed that, don't you think? Court is on Tuesday, we don't yet know what time but we do know that sadly the boys can't go. We might find a nice restaurant to go to so they can dress up and we can all celebrate somehow...the day ought to be marked with something appropriately special!
Dominick will book tickets for himself to go home as soon as we know the outcome of court, and will leave by the end of this week and return in 2-3 weeks to go to the Embassy appointment and help us all manage everything and get home. While I could probably manage it myself, I want to be able to focus on the girls and all their "firsts" as we leave their homeland...and we all say Good Bye for the last time (Yes, I do mean it!!!) to the place we have all come to know and love so much.

After court, assuming we have a happy verdict, we will post the first clear photos of the girls.

Hope you all have a Happy New Year week!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Our Special Christmas

Although we don't feel comfortable posting pics of the girls until we are done with court, we wanted to share a bit of what our Christmas was like. Don't worry, we will go back and fill you in with photos later.

We had a great holiday, which included learning we have a court date for December 29th! Our document is supposed to be here on December 28th, earlier than we expected (and yes, those of you who caught it I did have a typo saying January 30th for the document to arrive). That is only 4 days from now! Then about 4 weeks from the court date we should be able to head for Almaty then looks like our stay will be a tad bit shorter after all.

We hope all our friends and family are having a great Christmas as we know that right about now you all are up, opening gifts, and enjoying the company of loved ones. Although ours is over and we are settled in for the night, we are thinking of you all and sending out love.

Here is our Kazakh Christmas!:

Here is our "Charlie Brown" Christmas tree. The boys thought the heart candles should go beneath it. We may not have had many presents under the tree, but funny how not a single kid complained or even acted as if it was out of the norm. They each got one gift, and acted as if they had been given the world. Matthew got a Russina version of a Lego set (WAY cheaper than Legos!), Joshie got some Ben 10 action figures, Olesya got a doll and asked "How did my mama knowthe exact doll I had always wanted?", Angela got a Klutz stencil set, Yannik got a wooden puzzle that makes a helicopter. And Kenny...

Kenny got doll house furniture!! He was thrilled and it came with plastic walls to make rooms. He loves playing "family" and wanted furniture for his wooden house he is building back home so we found this little set here and he spent a couple of hours playing with it already.

Jocelyn, Sven and Yannik celebrated with us and brought this beautiful Yule cake which Jocelyne learned isa character from a Russian folk tale of some sort.

Christmas dinner...or part of it. We did have fried chicken tenders, apples and oranges, crepes and wannabe french fries as well. The girls had never had Kracks before which are a Russian version of Pringles. Pringles are $600 Tenge which is $4 US Dollars a can. Kracks are about a buck and a half and taste pretty similar to Pringles.

Here is Yannik, who was not feeling 100% up to par tonight and might be coming down with a bug of some sort. But that didn't stop him from celebrating and also wearing his new shirt! Sven and Jocelyne had court today and their adoption was granted!!! We are all so happy for them.

Here is Jocelyne with a new tea set she bought the "Tea Fiend", Sven...who I realized I didn't get a decent picture of the entire night! Sorry Sven :-)

This is a little yurt that the Oborn's gave the boys with candies in it. I think it is so cute!

In keeping with the international flair of our family and friends, here is an ornament we were given as well. Love the Canadian theme! Sadly, we didn't bring much with us in terms of gifts but Dominick is going to pick a couple of things up and bring them when he comes back. Can't let our new Canadian friends go home without sportin' a little of Colorado with them! Ironically, Sven actually knows our area having worked in Colorado a few years back. What are the odds of that?

Your waiter this evening...Dominick cooked all the chicken while I breaded it and helped keep the kids in line and the house cleaned up. You are awesome Domby! Whenever anyone asks how we manage to do all we do...this is why...and the other "team" members as well. Seeing Angela and Olesya in action tonight when we cleaned up quickly for an official visitor, I can tell we will have enthusiastic helpers in them as well. We all worked together as if we had been doing this for years and had the place picked up in 10 minutes!!

I was so touched to realize how deeply moved the girls obviously had been by the boys' adoption ceremony. Both were wearing there rings tonight, and Olesya kept insisting on turning out the lights and lighting the heart candles again. Kids with hearts that "get it"...yea...totally LaJoy kids.
We had one small last gift to give the boys, but couldn't do it in front of the least not this year. Next year all bets are off :-)
We made them close their eyes and then handed them each their special pair of underwear!!

As you can see, they LOVED them!!!

Matthew and Josh are thinking "Mommy... PLEASE don't make us wear only these and put a picture on the blog!!"

But Josh put them on over his sweats and modeled them anyway. I will not post the other ones which are SO FUNNY as the boys are naked wearing only their new underwear and pretending to be on the catwalk. I will save those to blackmail them wtih girlfriends someday...hahaha!

I wish we could post our first family Christmas photo, as it shows clearly how far we all have come from Day 1. Soon enough though, as court is near!

Merry Christmas everyone! Enjoy your turkey and ham, and think of the Salami Family when you do!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas to All

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 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 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.