Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Beating the storm

Like all of you, we are in the frantic week-before-Christmas rush and my big plans for the new blog are on hold. Write 5 times a week? No way. But aside from Christmas activities, God once again provided and I have been busy with a new job--a very welcome job and I am grateful for it. Our friend Kim has a friend who needs research assistants. He is a professor in St. Louis working on his PhD and needs people to read and code congressional hearings. So I have been giving all my free time to that.

In spite of all this, we took a break to go to Lancaster to see a Christmas show and stay in a free Marriot (a bonus for signing up for a credit card.) We eagerly looked forward to our winter getaway until the Midwest ice storm was heading our way. We had heard about this severe storm for days, causing power outages and even deaths. It was predicted to hit our area in the early morning hours the very day we had to drive to Lancaster! I was in a panic. You can drive on snow but not on ice. What could we do but cancel our plans? But Fred was not deterred in the least.

We decided to wake up at 5am and if for some reason the storm had not arrived, we would head out. The plan worked. Nothing was going on when the alarm rang. We got the girls up, loaded the car and hurried out the door in the darkness, expecting the storm at any moment. We drove swiftly on the back roads through the silent Amish countryside. Still no storm as we drove through the empty streets of Intercourse and Bird-in-Hand usually bustling with tourists, but no one was out this day except a few lone buggies. Then a light rain began to fall.

It was 7am. Time for breakfast! We chose our old favorite--Cracker Barrel. We've been to just about every one of them along 81 in Virginia, so we could even pretend we were far away from home on the way to Grandma's house.

Fred was a little anxious over the long stretch of time before our 4:30 show. What to do? I was anxious about the hard, pelting rain coming down now, freezing instantly on our windshield and leaving icicles hanging from everything around us. Amazingly, the roads were just wet. What a great town--the salt crews must have been very busy the night before. Besides the Amish, Lancaster is famous for its outlet malls, so shopping is popular, especially in the winter when you can't visit the farms. Poor Fred, he was forced to shop all day. The most interesting store we visited was Walmart. Every clerk we saw there was Mexican and they would shout loudly back and forth to each other in Spanish. But roaming the aisles of the store were quiet Amish women in black pushing babies bundled in scarves, sweaters and boots. Bearded Amish men pushed carts with tools and hardware.

We were a little early for our show so we bought big coffees and sat in the parking lot of the theatre to wait. The freezing rain had stopped. It had been a wonderful day spending time together and the storm that hadn't caused any problems at all.

The musical was called "Voices of Christmas" and was a wondrous celebration of our Savior's birth. In drama, song and with many instruments, the impact of the Christmas story over countless generations and through many characters was portrayed on stage. From Charles Dickens and his timeless story to St. Francis leading people into the woods to view the nativity for the first time to the writing of Stille Nacht. The story of Handel writing Messiah was especially moving. We caught the joy. "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6

We returned to our fancy hotel. We had the pool to ourselves on this wintry night. Fred and the girls swam and I pretended to be lounging on the beach with a book. We left Lancaster refreshed and thankful for so many things, but most of all, for God's gift of his Son. Merry Christmas Family and Friends!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Winter near

Dominic cut down a dead tree behind our house on Black Friday. It had a big, fat vine running up the trunk. But everything was dead outside. I didn't think poison ivy. But I did Dominic's laundry and two days later woke to that old familiar itch. It must have been a virulent vine, potent with poison. Dominic, whom I believe has never been afflicted in his life broke out in a rash. Fred rarely gets poison ivy and he got it too, even though he was only outside supervising. And me--I'm terribly allergic. Blistery, red sores ALL over. The itch alone will drive a person insane.

Anyway, I finally went to the doctor and she gave me 9 days worth of Prednisone. Good drug--the itch is gone and the rash subdued. I feel powerful and invincible. Bad drug--I cannot sleep. Every night my mind races for hours. I seemingly need no sleep.

I'm trying to take advantage of this time to use my energy to clean my house and finish up projects. At night when I lie awake I'm praying for everyone I know. "The Lord will hear when I call to him...when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent." Psalm 4:3, 4. The solitude has refreshed me more than sleep.

On Sunday morning we awoke to ice and snow. Fred got up early and rekindled the fire in the woodstove. We came downstairs with our coffee and sat in front of the silent flames. Peace. Yes, there is much trouble in this world but this moment of quiet will sustain us and prepare us for whatever is to come. With a grateful heart, I praise God for his many blessings. Winter will be here soon. I love this time of hibernation and family time.

Friday, November 30, 2007

New blog

I've neglected this blog to start another one. My new one will hopefully generate some extra cash. Fred and I were watching a segment on Good Morning America called "gray googlers." It was about "old" people (like us) turning a website into profit by allowing Google to post ads. If someone clicks on the ad, or better yet, buys something through the website, the blogger can collect money. Well, it's worth a try. I want to continue to write.

A friend of mine adopted a 10-year-old girl from Ukraine in May and she has a blog describing her daughter's adjustment to life in America. It is such a tribute to this special girl and I'm sure one day she will love to read back on her story and see her mother's enduring love for her. I started this blog as a spiritual journey to encourage others along the way, but lately I have written more about the girls. My new blog will be our homeschooling journey, and being inspired by my friend, I will write about day-to-day life with my own two precious daughters and create stories for them to read in the future. We will start with a short devotion for the new school day, then I will write about my worries and woes or joys and successes, depending on the kind of day we had. I will end with a quick recipe for dinner for busy homeschooling moms, exhausted after a day of teaching, but also for anyone else who might need a fast meal. I am targeting it to fellow homeschoolers, offering advice and asking for help, but anyone can take a peek. I plan to write 5 times a week. Whew! Lots of work to be done.

Right now the new blog is under construction and I plan to make a lot of changes. But if you want to look at it, go to I would love to hear feedback on how to make it better.

At this time I plan to keep this blog too and go back to my purpose in the beginning--to inspire others to trust in our faithful God and venture forth in courage and expectation that he is with us always. Life is an incredible adventure! Look for God's fingerprints on every experience.

At Christmastime our hearts are hopeful and right now all is well in my world. I know that is not true for many of my friends. There are grieving hearts and life doesn't seem so much an adventure as a tortuous journey. Jesus reminds us, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid...I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 14:27, 16:33.

When Jesus was born the angel said, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." Luke 2:14. There has never been peace on this earth. But peace in our hearts can be a reality when we trust in the Savior of the world.

Friday, November 16, 2007

More ghosts

Fred decided to paint the kitchen ceiling. He brought up his old drop cloth from the basement and spread it out on the floor. I was stunned for a moment--children's footprints in blue, red, green and yellow covered the cloth. The Russian children's feet from our Vacation Bible School last summer. (See July archives.) We had painted their feet and then they stepped on the back of their camp shirts. The footprints on the drop cloth were from them walking to the buckets to get their feet washed. Arielle said, "Let's see if we can find Diana's feet. I remember she had yellow."

Liana said, "Here are mine!" She stepped into a set of red prints. Only no, they weren't hers. These prints were smaller. Liana is so tiny so the footprints could only belong to Valeria, the little 6-year old Russian girl. I remember her precious little face and her older sister with the curly blonde hair. Their host parents planned to adopt them both, along with their younger brother, but then changed their minds. (For many reasons.)

I often wonder about those two girls and about Diana. I dream about Diana from time to time. In one dream I go to Russia to her orphanage. I'm waiting for her to come out to meet me. Such joy on her face! I hug her and tell her I'm taking her home. She is whole; she is healed in my dream, the girl God created her to be. But then I wake up. In another dream she rejects me and won't come with me. Then in yet another I am trying to explain to her why she can't be our daughter and she is sad. It must be cold in Russia now. I wonder if the children are warm enough.

My friend Connie recently received a video of the boy they plan to adopt. He looks healthy and is smiling shyly for the camera. He even thought to say hello to his new sister and brother. They hope to travel in March to bring him home.

To update those who followed our story about the hosting program--remember Anastasia, the 15- year old whose time was running out? She turned 16 and the clock is ticking. Where is the hold-up? Not in Russia. It's in our own Citizenship and Immigration Services. Some U.S. goverment official is sitting on the paperwork. Anastasia's new parents are doing everything they can to speed it along but are hitting a wall. Also, she moved out of the orphanage and is living in an apartment with three other 16-year olds. That sounds like trouble to me. Other families are working on the mountains of paperwork to bring their children home.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Weeds of regret

The inspiring church service I wrote about earlier had a turning point toward the end that I didn't mention. Our music director was talking about the Parable of the Sower and what kinds of things hinder our walk with God. He zeroed in on the weeds that choke the life out of us. One kind he called "weeds of regret." My eyes filled with tears.

My life is full of regrets. I failed at the one thing I most desired to do well--mothering. A couple of years ago Arielle was taking piano lessons two doors down from the home I lived with my four sons. I would drop Arielle off and then Liana and I would spend the time walking around the beautiful old neighborhood, passing my former house. I would look up at the windows and see vignettes of my former life in my mind. Even the yard brought floods of memories--the side door where we tethered our springer spaniel, the forty red maples we planted as seedlings on the hill (now a forest), the flower bed under the mailbox where my tulips opened to the sun every morning in spring. I saw my boys playing street hockey in front of the driveway.

As Liana and I walked, I noticed the streets were empty of children, now grown and gone. So many ghosts here! On every block I saw a familiar home. One, where Home and School meetings were often held, my neighbor's house where we would enjoy coffee after the kids walked to school. I remembered the weeping cherry tree in another yard, and how I wept when my best friend moved away to Cincinnati. I saw the brilliant Japanese maples I always admired and wished to have. The trees have matured, now lush and full. Liana and I walked the hill I used to cruise on my old red bike, sometimes racing with the boys. Damien's buddy's house, so familiar because I was always taking that boy home. The sidewalks know my feet because I had walked them so much-- back and forth to the elementary school, back and forth to Cub Scout meetings, or around and around just to spend time with a friend or a son. Then darker memories came. The swimming pool we ran to first to search when a little boy went missing. Another friend's house, the one I escaped to when my marriage was falling apart.

Recently I drove down the main road leading to the neighborhood and was struck by a sudden, intense yearning for my four rowdy, precious little boys. I so longed to turn into the driveway at my old house, walk up to the front door and be greeted by their small, smiling faces and excited voices. Sadness and regret overwhelmed me. Children do grow up, but it was more than that kind of pain. This was a story that ended too abruptly. We moved out when Jon was only 12. So many more years we could have had with all of us together as a family. We all still bear the scars of that ugly time. In the deepest, darkest hours of the night, I replay those horrible days.

At our wedding, Fred and I asked Dominic to read Psalm 103. It seemed so appropriate to start a new life with those words. "Praise the Lord...who forgives all your sins...who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion. The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love...He does not treat us as our sins deserve..." My God has forgiven me. My boys say they do. But I can't forget the pain I caused them.

After several years of traveling through a dry, desert place, God brought me back into a relationship with him. He gave me treasured gifts from the other side of the world--my two daughters. I look at them in awe, amazed that my God would give me another chance and such undeserved joy. Shortly after Liana was home, I came across this verse: "Be glad, O people, rejoice in the Lord your God, for he has given you the autumn rains in righteousness. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before." Then, "I will repay you for the years the locusts have will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you. Never again will my people be ashamed." Joel 2:23-26.

The passage is about God restoring his people after they have turned away from him. I saw my two girls in these verses. My first daughter, Arielle, born in autumn, has a Chinese name that means "merciful rain," the kind of miracle rain that comes after a long drought. Liana's name means "spring is here." The earth has been replenished with life-giving water and has come alive again with warmth and new growth.

The weeds need to be pulled. Our music director said they are a heavy burden. "Lay them down and don't pick them up again."

Friday, October 26, 2007


We're full swing into the fall schedule. Today I am stressed out, frustrated, rushed and irritable. Nasty. I hate myself like this. I wouldn't want to be around me. Life is just too busy. If I make a list of all I have to do, it doesn't really seem like much. No more than most working women face, probably less. Here's our weekly schedule: The girls and I have school every weekday from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.. Some days everyone is cheerful and cooperative, and some days we're in a battle zone. Tuesdays we leave the house at 3:30 to go to church. Fred and I cook for about 75 people who attend Alpha. I am always scrambling around madly to bake or to get together ingredients we need before we can head out the door. While we cook the girls have choir and Awanas, and they so much enjoy those activities. So we cook to help out. All of us get home about 9 p.m., totally wiped out.

On Thursday afternoons, Arielle has piano lessons, and for sake of convenience, we food shop afterwards at the nearby supermarket. Library day is also that afternoon, since we pass by it on the way home, and we also stop at the produce market for the week's supply of fruits and vegetables. Sunday we go to church in the morning and then Arielle (and soon Liana) have art class in the afternoon. I also spend the afternoon preparing lessons for the girls for the upcoming week of school. The supposedly "free" evenings and Saturdays are rarely that way. All of this doesn't seem like much, and we've actually cut a lot of activities, but I must be doing something wrong because I struggle to find time to clean my house, to cook a decent meal each night, and to keep up with the laundry. I am in a constant state of hurry. I don't waste time (unless you call this wasting time--maybe it is) and I rarely ever watch a TV show unless I am also cooking or folding laundry or ironing at the same time. I don't have time to call or e-mail friends or even my older children as I wish I could. I live with chronic regret--what I should have done but didn't--cook a meal for the woman at my church going through chemo, visit my friend diagnosed with thyroid cancer, call my mother, invite someone to dinner. Please, someone tell me, what am I doing wrong? What happened to the joy? I am jotting these complaints down as I sit through Arielle's piano lesson, forty-five minutes of waiting until I run again.

***It's a new day. The girls and I are in Panera's, a coffee and bread shop just down the street from the hospital. Fred is having injections in his spine and we must wait to take him home. It's peaceful here. Classical music plays softly in the background and it's so early, the place is deserted. The girls are coloring pictures they drew, and we just finished their spelling tests and a game of "complete the squares." Do you remember that game of the grid of dots that you played as a kid when you were bored? Arielle and Liana were delighted with it. I've been carrying around a big spiral notebook, just like I used to do in college, so I could catch some thoughts flying from my restless brain. So I take it out and write. There is absolutely nothing else to do but sit here and wait.

I hear a whisper in my mind, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30. "Come to me..." That's where I've gone wrong.

I guess I'm a little like King David when he wrote many of his Psalms. He starts with a lament, crying out to God in frustration and helplessness, but before the Psalm is over it becomes a praise. In the midst of his problems, he remembers God's faithfulness and his promises and David lets go of his fear and his anger. I choose to let them go too. I'm so thankful to God for my daughters and my husband and my church. All three keep me hopping, but what is the alternative? Getting old and sitting around staring at the four walls. (As my mother-in-law always says.) Praise God for a full, rich life! I grumbled about getting up at 5 a.m. today to take Fred for his treatment, but the day turned into a time of peace and solace and fun with my girls. Thank you, Lord. I even began to see Arielle's piano class in a new light too. It's my one day a week to pause for 45 minutes and then later I get to spend some one-on-one with Arielle.

Jesus said HIS burden is light. He didn't say we have easy lives. Some people carry enormous burdens, much heavier than mine. But when we're yoked with Jesus, he promises to share the load. We give it to him when we spend time with him and let him direct our day.

Monday, October 08, 2007


I drove on winding roads, autumn trees on the brink of glory bending over me. But it's not quite time for these majestic trees to treat us to their glorious color. I was heading to our local hospital for a mammogram. No big deal. But at my age--and others my age confirm this--any trip to the doctor or any diagnostic test done can be life-changing. One day you're fine, the next you are thrust into a nightmare of specialists and treatments.
I was reminded of other trips to this hospital--racing down these roads as my father-in-law lay dying, and then another rushed drive in the darkness the night I witnessed my granddaughter's untimely birth. After that, there were the many subsequent visits to the neonatal ICU. Oh, the walls of hospitals hold such fear and grief. As a young naive nurse I sobered quickly to the reality of this world when I was drenched in the suffering of people.
Three years ago I made this drive in the dusky dawn, anxious about the high intensity CT scan prescribed to help the doctors figure out why I'd had a fever every day for seven weeks. That morning as I lay beneath a monstrous machine clanging and banging as it took pictures of my lungs, a peace descended on me. God was with me, holding me through that dark time, assuring me this was just part of my journey. That time I escaped unscathed, but illness will surely come again as this old body wears out. Still, I know I can trust the one who knows the number of my days on earth.
Yesterday in church our music director and his brother gave us a beautiful gift of worship. With trumpets, the organ, and piano, they ushered in the Spirit of God. It was one of those moments when I considered the possibility that the roof of the church might just open up and we would all soar away. (No, I'm not talking rapture. Just a moment when the things of earth recede into the farthest corners of your mind and your total focus is on our glorious, majestic, eternal God.) I joined my voice with millions before me, millions to come, and millions that right then were praising my God, our God. I felt small, but not diminished, rather fuller and richer and more whole.
"Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders us...let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..." Hebrews 21:1, 2. Come what may, I will not fear. Our God is with us.
So I had my test, as countless other women before me. The nurse gave me parting gifts of a calendar, a packet of forget-me-not seeds, and a dinner mint wrapped in pink. I went in to dress, dropping my little lead BB shields into the trash on top of many others. Noticing the pile of candy wrappers, I opened my mint and added my pink paper to the rest.

Friday, September 28, 2007


I often hear the term "season" tossed about. When I declined a request to teach a class at church because homeschooling is a higher priority, I was told by an empty-nest mom, "You're in a different season now." At my age I'm in a child-rearing season. Amazing.

A Bobby Goldsboro song was popular when I was a teenager, "Autumn of My Life." It was a sad, man-loses-wife song that touched my romantic heart back then when I was in the spring of my life. He sang, "In the autumn of my years I noticed the tears and I knew that our life was in the past..." Maybe I'm in the autumn of my years now but seasons of life are circular, not linear. I've been through many seasons, alternating between children and career, turmoil and peace, tears and joy. The wisdom of Solomon tells us, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven...a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance..." Ecclesiastes 3.

I just finished reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See. What a beautiful, thought-provoking book about nineteenth century women in China. I highly recommend it. You will never forget these characters and you will think hard about your role as daughter, mother, and friend to other women. A reviewer described the book as "heartbreakingly lovely" and that it is.

It was especially fascinating how the author described seasons of life in the book. First there are Daughter Days, the carefree days of childhood, until the terrible torture of footbinding ended a girl's innocence and confined her indoors, crippled forever. Chinese culture at the time demanded that women have impossibly tiny feet to attract a man and a good marriage. Then came Hair-Pinning Days when a teenage girl was prepared to be a wife, learning homemaking skills and obedience to a prescribed family ranking system. Next were Rice and Salt Days, the years of raising children and caring for the needs of a husband and mother-in-law. Last was Sitting Quietly, when a woman became a widow, "too old to cook or weave or embroider." She was referred to as "one who has not died."

In China in those days a woman had defining roles, roles that were as restrictive socially as they were physically by the footbinding. I was wondering how I might be limiting my daughters and binding them into my own expectations for them. How can I raise them to ignore our cultural demands to attain some physical perfection or professional attainment? (In doing this I have to examine my own attitudes and how I am enticed by the world.)
Jesus said, "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free." John 8:32. I must not shackle Arielle and Liana with my own ideas and plans. Jesus also said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:10. He's got big plans for these Chinese girls he brought into our family from so far away. They broke free from their own culture and must not be bound by ours. I pray I will never stand in the way of what God desires for their lives.
This September the weather has been perfect--sunny and warm. The sadness of losing summer is erased as the beauty of the new season unfolds. The stifling humidity has retreated and we sleep tonight under a full moon and cool breezes. Autumn again. The same trees will release their brilliant leaves once again, and these two sisters, bigger now, will still delight in them. How blessed I am to have another season of Milk and Salt days!
Fred ordered two cords of wood and the girls and I will soon be stacking it next to the dying tomato plants in the garden. Another summer gone, time for pumpkins and apples. We will hibernate in winter and long for spring once again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


The girls and I have been studying Japan and we found a great book of haiku poetry, Cool Melons--Turn to Frogs! The Life and Poems of Issa by Matthew Gollub. Issa was a revered haiku master who was born in Japan, and in his lifetime wrote more than 2,500 poems between 1763 and 1827. We thoroughly enjoyed this beautiful book illustrated with watercolor paintings. We were inspired to try our own hand at writing haiku. Haiku is said to be a quick line sketch describing a single moment in nature. It should call to mind life's passing details. Almost all traditional haiku suggests a season. In Japanese, a haiku must contain exactly 17 syllables in 3 different lines. The first line has 5 syllables, the second 7, and the last 5 again. (For some reason this blog site will not let me put the lines under each other, so I wrote them in one long line.)

I captured this moment above with a picture, but here are the words to go with it.

Warm September waves...Sharp wind of salt and seaweed...Drowns our sad farewell.

Liana was very excited about the idea of writing a poem when I said I would publish it on this blog. She had a hard time keeping up with her brain as she breathlessly told me her thoughts. Her first was called "Wonder."

Flowers are singing...Colorful butterflies soar...Across the blue sky.

Liana then asked to go on-line so she could see pictures of rice paddies. She wrote this, called "China."

Ducks in pure water...Fat buffaloes in rice fields...Chinese girls planting.

We had a little talk this morning about the tragedy 6 years ago. Liana was then inspired to write this, called "9/11."

Cold rain is pouring...The sky is black and crying...Oh so sad that day.

Arielle had a little more difficult time coming up with a topic, but then decided to write about two different thoughts of summer. The first is "Early Summer" and then, "Late Summer."

Baby robins nest...In our pretty lilac tree...Leave broken blue eggs.

Rose of Sharon bloom...Bees collecting pollen on...Sweet scarlet petals.

Give it a shot and write one of your own in this ancient literary form! Of course, send it to me to read!

Does scripture say anything about poetry? Ephesian 2:10 says, "We are God's work of art..." The word used for "work of art" is the Greek word poiema. And that's where we get the English word poem. God is creating sacred poems out of flawed humans like you and me!

Friday, August 31, 2007

Different work

God's provision continues. The daycare job ended and I was asked to help with a dinner party for 30 people at a private home in a million dollar neighborhood. Let me jump right into one scene:

I am out on this rich man's patio at dusk all alone. A huge orange moon is rising and I am sweating at the gas barbeque on this hot, humid night grilling shrimp kebobs and filet mignons. I have never grilled anything outdoors in my life! A radio station is competing with the sounds of the night insects as "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" plays through the outdoor speakers. As I wait to turn the meat, I look across the field in back of the house into the wall of windows of another home, a mirror image of this one, and watch a family eating in front of a mammoth TV screen. This is wild! I would never have imagined I would be doing this tonight. I had to admit, it was kind of fun.

Earlier in the evening I had assisted the chef in setting up 4 tables, one in the windowed sunroom off the kitchen, one in the formal dining room and two in the basement next to a fully stocked bar. I had the chef show me the set-up first. I surely don't know how to do fancy table settings. I chopped scallions for a potato salad and apricots for the couscous and skewered shrimp and scallops on wooden sticks. The chef was in the midst of roasting vegetables and needed something from the store and had to leave. Panic! What do I do? (Me, who has been a cook for at least 35 years!) But it was an intimidating setting and I was worried about messing up. And I did. I was only to set the timer, turn the veggies, and then take them out on time. Well, in turning off the timer, I turned off this complicated digital convection oven and the vegetables didn't exactly roast the way they were supposed to--but all was well in the end.

When the owners of the house went upstairs to get dressed, the chef and I sneaked a peek at a few rooms in this mansion, now all aglow with candles. It was quite impressive but our footsteps echoed in the vastness. With so many rooms, what do you do with them all? Even the owners didn't know, I guess. Some rooms were totally empty of furniture.

Couples started arriving, women in colorful, strapless sundresses and spiky heels slip-sliding on the slick hardwood floors, the men in khakis and polo shirts. I've always been a people watcher and enjoyed observing the pecking order and noted the discomfort of some of the guests--where to sit, with whom to talk, what light and trivial conversation to think up. I noticed that the women who were at ease with themselves all sat together without the men and their laughter was high and musical as they told inside jokes. One woman sat apart from them, the outsider, and as I collected dishes I overheard her awkward speech, trying to sound sophisticated and smooth when she certainly was not. I felt bad for her. Why was she invited to this party and why didn't she fit in? Oh, give me a couple of good friends sharing a cup of tea at my old kitchen table over this anytime.

I am thankful I didn't drip marinade on the plush carpets as I went up and down the stairs. One guest stood on the stairs to chat with the group, sprawling leisurely across the banister, and didn't move an inch when I tried to slip by him. After all, I was only the hired help. I felt like a servant in the castle of the king from one of my girls' stories. I prayed I wouldn't drop the grilled poundcake with the broiled nectarine topping as I carried three plates at a time to serve the guests downstairs. It's been a long time since my waitressing days. I didn't break anything either as I washed a mountain of dishes. Success!

What did God require of me here? The same as he requires wherever we find ourselves--love and service to others. Well, it was service all right. The love part is a little more difficult. But I'm sure even the glamorous ladies hide hurts and the boisterous men at the bar have unfulfilled dreams and holes in their hearts.

It was late when I got home to my cozy little house. Home to my riches and treasure--my husband who rushes to greet me and tell me how much he missed me these past 8 hours and my two little girls sleeping as I kiss their golden cheeks. What more could I want?

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." I Timothy 6:17.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Preschool lessons

With some reluctance and trepidation, the girls and I set off for daycare early in the morning. I began work by assisting the teacher in the 4-year old class. I sat on the floor so I could get to know the children. An adult is much more approachable to a child when we are low to the ground. Our lap is free and our eyes are level with theirs. What a great age! Four-year-olds are personable and wise, opinionated, yet so excited about new ideas, and still young enough to cuddle.

Arielle's one wish was that she would make a friend. What chance did she have for that at a daycare? But it turned out the director's granddaughter had been helping out there all summer and Mackenzie and Arielle became immediate friends. The two girls were constantly together and actually relieved the teachers in the 1-year old class helping to care for the babies. Arielle was immediately comfortable in her new environment. Liana, however, is a stay-at-home-girl and never did enjoy this adventure too much.

What I learned at preschool...

Lesson #1: I learned great respect for childcare workers. The work is demanding physically and mentally. These women were infinitely patient, kind, and loving to even the most exasperating child. The day-in, day-out routine of playing, feeding, toileting, getting to sleep, drying tears, and refereeing squabbles was tedious and exhausting to me and I don't know how the teachers do this full-time. These women are to be praised and honored. It is a godly profession.

Lesson #2: My daughter Arielle will one day be a great mother. She was so nurturing and loving to the babies. At the end of each day she spoke of each child with such pride in her voice, telling of little Mikey's accomplishments or how cute Michelle was. I saw her out in the hall one day with a tiny guy at her feet, arms raised, crying for Arielle to pick him up. Arielle says he cries and wants her to hold him whenever he sees her. She fed babies and entertained babies and loved every minute.

Lesson #3: For the most part, little children love each other! The ones who fought were the ones who at other times were best friends. If a child was hurt, others were sympathetic. They were very affectionate to each other most all the time, sharing kisses and hugs. Also, children notice color, but they do not care about it. They stroked the red-haired boy's loopy curls and admired the dark-skinned girl's elaborate braids. Liana's long black hair invited lots of touching too. The children were surprised to find out that I was Liana's mom, but then accepted the fact without question.

Lesson #4: Daycare is good and bad. A good program with good teachers, such as this school, was amazingly peaceful and the days are pleasant for most of the children. It is not a bad place for kids to be. The children are safe and given fun things to do. On the down side, much of the teacher's work is keeping kids civilized and preventing them from getting hurt. The children bring their issues from the home environment and nothing that goes on in school can change that situation. The teacher can only hope to provide a reprieve.

Lesson #5: I am more grateful than ever to my husband who has always worked hard so I don't have to work outside the home. The routine of getting up and out early every morning was exhausting. Then when I came home I had mountains of work waiting for me, along with cranky, tired kids. All you working moms, I give you so much credit and admiration.

Lesson #6: In whatever situation we are in, God calls us to love and serve. The service is easy when the love is there. And I grew to love each one of these precious children. It was very hard to say good-bye. On our last day, I was left with a picture of my beautiful Chinese daughter on the playground trying to bring her charges back into the building. She was holding the hand of an Indian toddler with her left hand, and an African-American child was on her right hand. Both of the babies were new walkers and kept stumbling. Arielle held tightly to them and did not let them fall. She spoke to them gently, encouraging them to keep walking along in the direction they needed to go. Isn't this what we all are called to do?

"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2.

Monday, August 27, 2007

God's provision

Summer came to an abrupt end for us when a friend called to ask me if I wanted to help out at a daycare center. My first thought that I did not speak aloud was, "NO!" Caring for screaming children and changing dirty diapers all day? No way. Of course I couldn't, what about the girls? My friend said I could bring them along and they could help. What about the waning days of summer? We had planned some projects and some fun for the last few days before school started. I really did not want to do this.

But we needed the money. With the real estate market the way it is, we have been struggling to pay the bills. Fred needs to buy or sell a house every couple of months to keep us afloat. We have been praying diligently for business to come his way. Fred is a hard worker; he just needs some work to do. Lord, please provide for us, we often pray.

Suddenly it came to me. (I'm slow to learn.) God was providing for us--through me! That wasn't at all what I expected (or desired, to be truthful.) But there was the answer, and just in the nick of time too because we were nearing the end of the month and things were not looking good. I changed my attitude and took this job with gratitude.

A couple of weeks ago the pastor taught on idolatry. Now most Americans don't have wooden statues in their homes to worship, but an idol can be whatever we put our trust in. Our god is whatever we serve and invest our time and our lives. For our family, do we put our trust in the real estate market--or in God? Who is our provider? So the girls and I headed off to preschool. We worked 7 longs days and I learned some lessons, plus brought home a paycheck. The first lesson is that God is our faithful but sometimes he answers prayer in ways we don't expect.

At the end of my seven day stint, another friend who manages a food service business called me. Did I want to help cater a private party? I did not feel I had the energy to do that after my week at daycare. But I said yes, and worked again, thankfully, and eagerly even, knowing an adventure and an opportunity lay ahead. I'll write more on both of these adventures later. School starts tomorrow and time is very limited.

A long time ago I marked this promise from God in my Bible. It came after a devastating financial loss. God's words were true then and they remain true. "Our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace. Our barns will be filled with every kind of provision. Our sheep will increase by thousands, by tens of thousands in our fields; our oxen will draw heavy loads. There will be no breaching of walls, no going into captivity, no cry of distress in our streets. Blessed are the people of whom this is true; blessed are the people whose God is the Lord." Psalm 144:12-15.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Life goes on

The pictures of our Russian experience are all developed and carefully mounted in our scrapbook pages. Fred removed Diana's picture from the refrigerator and we put away all the worksheets of Russian phrases, even though Liana is still answering every question with "da" or "nyet." I read two books on kids with special needs and knew we made the right decision that we could not parent Diana with our limited resources and skills. We're preparing for a new year of homeschooling and finishing up summer projects we don't have time to do during the school year.

Still...I think of her. What kind of life is going on for Diana right now? I guess she's still at her so-called "summer camp." She was very tan when she came so I guess she spends a lot of time outdoors before the bitter Russian winter sets in. How does she handle the cold and snow, this girl who loves running and swimming and biking? How she must dread another school year when the tasks are so difficult for her. Will memories of her summer on the other side of the world bring her joy?

I wonder if Diana even thinks of us. Or, in her disability are we out-of sight and out-of-mind? Is she angry we did not claim her, or did she ever know there was a possibility she might find a forever family? What will she think when Alexei's family comes for him in a few months? Surely she will recognize his family and ponder the possibility she missed out on.

The girls and I still pray for her, still hope there could be a family for her somewhere. The coordinator for Lighthouse asked me to write something about her to help a future host family. I did, and I pleaded her case for another chance. I posted to my groups too, but got no response. The books I read predict her bleak future without a loving family.

Lighthouse is bringing more children to the Philadelphia area in November. Will Diana be one of them? If not now, hopefully soon--to another state, another family.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Stopping time

On a beautiful, breezy Saturday morning Arielle and I harvested the rest of the corn. How did this summer go by so quickly? Not so long ago our homeschool co-op group of little girls were digging and dancing around in our freshly plowed garden plot. I hoed the furrow for the corn and they each took handfuls of seeds and carefully planted them. Now we pulled the dry stalks to begin preparing the garden bed for winter. It's hard to believe snow will soon be falling and another year will have passed.

A Russian Orthodox priest named Anthony Bloom practiced a discipline called "stopping time." He said we must deliberately stop time that is trying to move too fast. It is a crucial step in conquering impatience and creating space for God. Philip Yancey writes about him: "He concentrated on living in the present, recognizing the past is irremediably gone and the future is irrelevant because who knows whether it will happen or not. Now, a fleeting instant, represents the intersection of eternity with time."

How do we stop this frantic chaos of rushing through the day or the week, and then looking back with amazement at how the year flew by? I'm trying to learn to live in the "now." I think one reason I love the shore is the timelessness of staring out at the sea, with no agenda, no rushing, just quiet stillness except for the rhythmic sound of the waves. If we pay attention to the "now," we may find more moments like that, even in the everyday-ness of life.

Arielle has been in 4-H since January. She sewed a skirt and a bookbag and won some ribbons and her projects were on display at the annual 4-H County Fair. We spent three days at the fair--one day working and two days just fooling around visiting all the exhibits and meeting interesting people like the little red-haired girl who held a red-feathered chicken named Rachel. The girl somberly asked us if we would like to pet Rachel. We asked her several questions about her fancy chicken, and I saw she took this poultry-raising very seriously. Later Liana peeked into an incubator full of eggs and, incredibly at that moment, saw a chick hatch. She called out to tell me, and I never heard such wonder in her voice.

We met a teenage girl walking a goat named Fifi on a leash. Later we tried not to laugh during the goat judging as youngsters struggled with their rowdy animals to make them behave until the judges were finished. It is very fitting that young goats are called "kids." There are a lot of similarities. We paused while a parade of young boys with various fowl tucked under their arms marched by. We talked to a young woman who had a pony she rescued from a horse auction where neglected, starved animals were sold for the slaughterhouse. In another tent children lathered up their pigs with purple shampoo to prepare them for the competition. We petted the sleek, black lab puppies raised by children for a year or so until the pups went off to seeing-eye dog school. We marveled at the gorgeous quilts, snapping photos that would never do them justice. Even vegetables were proudly arrayed, although I think we've grown a bigger zucchini than the one that won first place.

The highlight of the fair for the girls was the huge fabric sale organized by the crafting club Arielle attends. We clocked many hours sorting and organizing fabric, patterns and craft items for the store. After a trip outdoors to see the animals, the girls kept returning to the fabric room. We worked so long that we racked up quite a bit of credit to "purchase" fabric and the girls spent a long time choosing what they wanted.

In the evening the lights in the tents came on and a live band began to play, creating a nostalgic kind of atmosphere. It reminded me of simple days on the windy plains of Oklahoma with my little boys. We noticed a man in a hay wagon giving free rides around the grounds, so we piled on just as the band began to play "Take It Easy."

"Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy, lighten up while you still can..." Not exactly spiritual wisdom, but an appropriate message for me anyway. It began to rain while we rode around, but that didn't matter. As the drops drizzled down our faces, we laughed with the others on the wagon and I looked out over dusky fields and treasured this special time with my daughters. I wasn't hoping for the ride to end or thinking what we would do next. Time stopped.

When we pause for these "now" moments, we get a glimpse of the future. I wonder about the adults these kids we met will grow to be--the kind of children who have proved they have the discipline to work hard. The rambunctious puppies will one day be dignified companions to their blind owners, the lovely quilts will adorn a home or comfort a child, the newly hatched chicks may return to the fair next year, proudly displayed by freckle-faced kids.

My girls came home and dumped their specially selected scraps of fabric on the living room carpet and excitedly chattered away about their dream for this and that bit of cloth--a fashionable purse, a glittery shawl for a doll. "Mom, will you make me a skirt from this one?" Endless possibilities. Even the corn we prepared today will sweeten a winter soup in the next few months.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Diana left a week ago. I have been out of touch with the real world. Many things in everyday life seem mundane and meaningless. The girls went to VBS at our friends' church the day after Diana left and that kept them busy and their minds occupied. They each brought home a prayer request card and each wrote the same thing: that Diana would find a home.

I've been processing. Bits of scripture have floated in my mind. I want to view this experience through God's eyes. It was exhilarating, exhausting, awesome and heart-wrenching all at the same time. I was thinking of the "theme" verse for our (now defunct) Bible study this year. "Enlarge the place of your tent; stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left..." Isaiah 54:2, 3. Each family that agreed to host a child stepped out of the comfort zone and ventured into scary and exciting territory. We enlarged our hearts to take in a foreign, parent-less child, opened our doors to allow God to do His work, and stretched our abilities to the limit. We did not know where God would take us.

Sometimes people pray for God to reveal his will for their lives. If we are waiting for God to answer, maybe we need to just look around and see where the river is flowing and jump in with both feet. The imagery of streams of water in scripture usually means a dry, desert place becoming alive and fertile and life-giving.

"I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this..." Isaiah 41:18-20. Let's see where God is working and let the current carry us to unknown waters.

So where is God and where is he working? I think of Jesus' words in Matthew 25:35-40: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." We would answer Jesus and say, "Lord, when did we ever do any of those things?" But he responds, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

A week later I am amazed at the miracle that took place among a small group of families. Let me tell you about these selfless, faith-filled people. The family from our church who coordinated this project with two adopted children already hosted a special needs little boy and have already begun paperwork to adopt him. Two other boys will be adopted by two other families. One couple, only married two years, hosted two boys, ages 13 and 8. They plan to adopt them both. An older couple with grown kids desires to adopt two 13-year old boys who are best friends. They did not host these boys, but participated in all our group events and were open to go wherever God was leading.

One girl who will turn 16 in September was in urgent need of a home. If paperwork is not completed before her birthday, she will never be allowed to come to America to join a family. Her host family is contacting congressmen and senators to move mountains so she can be their daughter forever. Pray for God to move the mountains.

I had pictures of three siblings on my desktop for weeks. They really tore at my heart: a 14-year old girl, a 6-year old girl, and a little brother only 4. We waited and waited for a host family to step up and take these beautiful children. Finally one did, a couple with no children. They specified they were only hosting, not adopting, but would try hard to find a forever family for these kids. This couple is now planning to adopt ALL these children! The little boy did not come as he was too young to travel. They will take him too, sight unseen by them--but known by God. What sacrifice and faith! I am humbled by this family.

Then there is 12-year old Sergei, hosted by our good friends. The father is very practical. The whole family loved the boy, but Dad wisely said they would wait a week and when the emotions died down, they would make a decision on adoption. In just a few days the decision was made. Sergei will also be coming back to America permanently!

Twelve children have families waiting. What a mighty work of God! Each of us who joined in this work, from the recruiters and paperwork-doers and those who tapped bank accounts, to VBS workers who cooked the meals or cleaned up messes, who planned the games and told the stories, from my friend who designed t-shirts to the van drivers and those who opened their homes to us, from those who supported us in prayer to those who just called to see how things were going--you ALL participated in a miracle! What a privilege and an honor to serve our wonderful God!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On the road to JFK

We moms hung around awhile after the children left in the caravan of vans. We were commiserating and consoling each other and not yet ready to put all the emotions aside and move on. Then we went back to quiet homes to maybe catch up on laundry or have a peaceful meal. Some will begin paperwork to adopt. For us, we will begin again the lives we left behind when Diana came.

The phone rang. One of the host moms was activating the phone chain. The kids may miss their flight! They had left about 1:30 to catch the 6:40 plane to Moscow leaving from JFK. Plenty of time! What had happened? Traffic was at a standstill. Pray! she said. The children may be coming back!

Coming back?? We couldn't believe it. That didn't seem like a good plan. Surely there were other alternatives. Those poor kids--on the road so long only to turn around and come back, then do it over again tomorrow. I thought of Diana and how difficult sitting still for so long must be for her. She had refused to go to the bathroom before they left church. Thank goodness I'd let her take the bag of fruit. Right before we left the house she had packed up all the fruit we had in the house and put it in a plastic bag. Ripe bananas, mushy peaches, all of it. She had also wanted to take the "ar-boos!"--a big watermelon I had on the floor. I thought at the time what a mess it would make, but I let her take the fruit (except the ar-boos.) I'm so glad she now had something to eat.

We waited anxiously for a phone call to let us know what happened. No one knew the details but they did get on the plane. The next morning our coordinator sent this e-mail. She had been in one of the vans with the children:

"The adventure continued on the way to the airport! We got 13 miles from the airport and the traffic essentially stopped. We inched along for about 1 1/2 hours only traveling 2-3 miles. We were on the phone to Aeroflot and to anyone we could think of to pray...It looked hopeless at 6:00 when we were still 10 miles away. So we took an exit to rethink what we could do...We pulled back onto the road to JFK and in doing that we avoided the flooding that was holding up all the traffic. When we got back on the road the traffic was flowing without a problem.

I had bugged my husband Bill to call 911 so we could get a police escort. He said that was silly as the NYPD wouldn't respond to that. When we got back on the road to JFK, an unmarked police car came out of nowhere in the 3rd lane with his lights flashing. Bill called the other drivers and said, 'Follow me!' We all fell in behind the police car going 80 mph. All the traffic moved over and we passed through like Moses parting the Red Sea. God provided the police escort! Someone later asked if the person driving the police car had a halo and wings! We raced to JFK and practically threw the kids out of the cars. It was now 6:20. The flight was supposed to leave at 6:40. At 6:40 the kids were still in the security line but the flight was delayed 30 minutes due to high winds." They got on the plane. "The boys in our car thought that driving at 80 mph behind a police car was one of the coolest things on the whole trip!"

After their long, long ride to the airport, those kid had an even longer flight to Moscow and then a long, long train ride to Chuvashia. I hope they are safe and in their familiar surroundings tonight. What brave children they are.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Day 11, Monday

Diana and all the other children are on their way back to Russia. We had a peaceful morning. Arielle and Diana played a TV video game. I took all the girls to Target to pick up the pictures I dropped off yesterday. Diana wanted a headset and CD player that cost $139. I said no and she gave me a look, as usual, like I am so mean. I did let her get some candy and gum for the trip and I bought her a jacket. It is rainy and chilly today. At first she refused a jacket, no, she didn't like any of them. I thought, I can't send this child back on the plane without a jacket! But finally we found one she did like, a sporty black one with a red stripe. She looked pretty today. The allergy on her face has cleared up and I combed her beautiful blonde hair one last time and put a red scrunchie in it.

I wrote on the translation site that we loved her and we would miss her. She read it and went to sit on the couch in silence. I came and sat with her and held her for awhile. She had fun packing her backpack with lots of candy and little junky toys. I put together a photo album with pictures of all the things we did together. On the one family picture we had taken with her, I printed up "We love you" in Russian and taped it on.

We met with the other families at church at 1pm. Diana at first was clingy, wanting lots of hugs. Then the other kids came and she was excited, showing them her candy and her photo album. All the kids were excited, running around and talking to each other. Diana wanted some paper money. I gave her two bills and then she went and asked Fred for the same! She was pleased with herself that she ended up with $4. At this point, we would have given her anything. Except a home. It still tears me up we can't take her.

It was time to load the vans headed for JFK. Suitcases first, then children. Anastasia, the 15-year old we worked so hard to find a family for, was sobbing. The other kids were just jumping around not knowing how to act. I held Diana a long time and she didn't pull away. I told her I loved her over and over in English and in Russian. She said, "Papa," and turned to Fred and hugged and kissed him too. The girls hugged her, and then Diana climbed into the van. Her little face kept peering out the open door, never taking her eyes off of me. I got in to give her one last kiss, trying to smile at her and not cry. But she knew I was upset. The van didn't leave for a few more minutes and I got back in a couple more times to hug and kiss her again and again. How do you say good-bye to a child you love and know you will never see again?

As difficult as she was at times, Diana knew how to give and receive love. She knows we love her. And I know she loves us. I am so grateful I got to be her mother for these past 10 days. I am so sorry for what has happened to her, and so sorry we cannot be her parents for the rest of her life. She so much needs a loving family, one who has a lot of time to focus on her needs and help her reach her potential. She's a good girl with a kind heart. Das-vi-danya, Diana. I will never be the same after meeting you, precious child.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Day 10, Sunday

We had a difficult morning. We planned a special program at church to bring attention to this hosting program and we really needed to be there on time. I knew getting Diana dressed appropriately would be an issue too. I had to use a little child psychology to get her to wear what I wanted her to wear and it worked! Okay, that hurdle crossed. She had some pennies and wanted a purse for them. We searched high and low and nothing suited her. Finally! I found one. Then there was an issue with underwear. We were already buckled in the car and a little late and from what I could tell, she still had on her night underwear and wanted different ones on. But too late, we had to go. So off to a bad start.

Diana cooperated in church, thankfully. There was a slide presentation and then all the children and families came to the front and our pastor prayed for us all. At the end of the service I met a woman who was deeply touched and with tears in her eyes said that she was considering adopting an older child. She was invited to our closing picnic today and may be interested in one of the boys who does not yet have a home.

We had to rush from church to the picnic. I had to feed the kids and make a potato salad. Diana doesn't understand rushing. She found roller skates in the basement and wanted to skate right then. Then she got up into the crawl space under the kitchen and I had to speak harshly to her to get her to come down.

We made it to the picnic and kids and adults alike had a wonderful time. A generous, loving couple with grown kids had hosted Larissa and Vladimir the whole time, driving them around and entertaining them. This couple participated in all our events and decided they want to adopt one of the boys. They had all the host families and all the children at their house today for a cook-out. The kids enjoyed playing badminton, riding bikes and throwing balls around. The adults shared their adventures, along with a few miracles, and it was an emotional time. Like the families we traveled with to China, we have all participated in a life-changing event and we are bonded together in the memories of this week.

Diana and Sergei were riding the bikes up and down this dead-end little street. Then we noticed they had disappeared. Fred went out in the car looking for them and couldn't find them. Finally they came back, but Larissa was upset with them. She probably thought we should have been watching them better too.

When we got home we packed Diana's clothes and toys for the trip back home. It is hard because everything has to go in one backpack. That remote control car takes up a lot of space too! I took my compact flash to Target to get pictures developed so I can make a little album up for Diana. No one wanted to go with me until Diana realized Arielle and Liana were staying home. Then she wanted to go. While I was ordering my pictures, she found a cell phone and cried when I wouldn't buy it for her.

Cho-Cho (Marissa) came over with ice cream. Diana really likes her and showed her affection by wrestling and being rough with her. She also hugged and kissed her. We had our last bedtime prayer circle, but Diana was laughing and acting silly. I think she is stressed about leaving tomorrow. She even asked me if Arielle and Liana were flying on the airplane too. No, Diana, they get to live with us forever. Of course I didn't say that. But the fact seems cruel. Arielle and Liana, our precious Chinese babies, get to stay. You don't. What a terrible reality.

For the first time Diana would not settle down and go to sleep. I don't know how many times she's been back up. The girls were playing with the glowsticks Grandma sent and that got them fired up and excited. I wanted tonight to be special for Diana, but instead I am becoming impatient because she won't stay in bed. She slept in the bed last night, but just now when I went in to put her back to bed AGAIN, she decided to sleep next to Arielle for the last time.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Day 9, Saturday

We were off to the beach early today. It was great having my brother here overnight and having breakfast with him, but he had to leave early too. The two hour drive to the shore was uneventful except for tears from Diana a couple of times. It's so hard for her when we don't understand.

She was exuberant in the water, rough and wild with the boogie board. The long drive was worth seeing the joy in her face. We joined a few other families and Vladimir and Larissa. Diana mostly played with the Russian children or talked with the Russian adults but at one point she ran to me, grabbed my hand and pulled me over to Vladimir. He supposedly doesn't speak English but he told me in pretty good English that Diana wants to know when she's leaving. I thought, we just got here! But she meant when does she go back to Russia? Diana was upset. I got Larissa and asked her to interpret. Diana said the visit had been too short. Larissa said she would explain later and not to think about it now.

We stayed on the beach most of the day, Diana mostly in the icy water and only out on the beach for short periods of time. Fred held her hand and took her into the deeper water and showed her how to jump the waves. She absolutely loved that and wanted Fred to do it over and over. He was a good sport and nearly froze to death but wanted to make her happy.

We went to the boardwalk for dinner. Another meal battle. No, Diana did not want anything. We chose a pizza place because everyone was hungry and it would be quick. The waitress even spoke Russian! She interpreted for us that Diana did not like the food and wanted nothing. Okay, well, the rest of us needed to eat. We ordered Diana "saus-eej" just in case she would eat. She saw someone else eating pizza and yelled, "Pizza!" Great! So Fred ordered a pizza too. She ate one bite only. But she did eat two hot dogs. Afterward we took the girls on the rides and everyone was happy. Diana did not even protest when we said only one more.

As we walked to the car Diana asked me if we were going to church tomorrow and if the day after that she would be going back to Russia. I told her yes. She was clearly unhappy. I was surprised she knew the sequence of events and even what day of the week it was. I guess Vladimir told her. Now are you wondering how I understood what Diana was asking me? I guess I'm learning Russian!

It is sad that Diana's trip here was mostly lived out in isolation due to the language barrier. She can't share her feelings or express her desires. She hears us chattering all day and can't join in. No wonder she enjoys being with the other Russian kids so much. How different her behavior might have been if we had been able to understand each other.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Day 8, Friday

This was a difficult day that ended peacefully. Fred had to go to the hospital for injections in his neck, so we had to be available and nearby to pick him up. He is not allowed to drive home because of the anesthetic. Diana clearly was not happy about killing time in the mall. Nothing was open and I'm sure she wondered why we were there.

Finally the stores opened and we wandered around the toy store. I planned to buy her a little something. She was not as interested in toys as I would have thought. She picked up a few things, boy toys. The girl things did not interest her. Then she found what she wanted--a Pirates of the Caribbean figure holding a sword. When you pushed a button it said something about killing someone. No, Diana. She either found some kind of weapon toy or something huge that would never fit in her suitcase to take back. She started to cry because nothing she chose was suitable. Roller skates--I had to reject that too. Then she saw the remote control cars. Her eyes lit up. That was exactly what she wanted. (Only $14.99 too!) When we were at one of the other host family's home she had played with one. I reminded her of that but all she understood was "Sergei." She clutched the toy to her chest and said, "Nyet!" She would not give this to Sergei. I assured her it was hers. After the toy store she rode the carousel in the mall and was delighted and happy.

I had hoped for a quiet afternoon. I needed to cook and clean a little before my brother came tonight. Diana didn't quite know what to do with down time. She rode my bike, but said over and over that she wanted the roller skates. She swam in the little pool a short time. She watched TV awhile. She was bored. It must be so hard not being able to communicate with anyone. Then her friend Nadia called and she enjoyed the conversation very much. I wish I knew what she was saying to her.

My brother came at dinner time. Diana refused to sit at the dinner table with us. She wanted a "saus-eej" for dinner, but then wouldn't eat it. Marissa also came over and Diana really acted out. Out of frustration because we all seemed to be having a good time and she couldn't join in? Because she was jealous I wasn't just interacting with her? I don't know. I surely did enjoy having my brother here. He always brings much laughter and love and joy to our home.

Then came magical bedtime. Diana took her shower and transformed into this quiet, gentle little girl. She discovered the magic doodle Grandma gave her for the trip home and wanted me to pose so she could draw me. I asked her to draw me a picture on paper I could keep. She sat peacefully at the table and drew me, Fred, Uncle Rene, Marissa, Liana--when Liana squealed when she saw it, Diana wadded it up. Then she drew Arielle. She wrote "Papa" on Fred's picture, "Uncle" on Rene's, and some Russian letters for something that sounds like "Cho-cho" for Marissa. Not sure what that means. So I have many drawings to keep. I will treasure them.

The whole family, Marissa and Rene included, joined the bedtime prayer circle. Diana so much loves this time. She likes for us to pray in the dark, but she wants the lights on for hugs and kisses. Many, many hugs. It's hard to tear away, even more so now as the time for her to return to Russia draws near.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Day 7, Thursday

We planned a trip to the dentist (who is treating all the Russian kids for free) and a picnic in the park tonight. The girls slept late again and I had a few minutes to read Philip Yancey's book on prayer this morning. He related a story about a woman he met in a rehab center for people with leprosy in Nepal. That got me started crying again. (I will tell that story another time.) Liana came and in asked why I was so sad. I pulled her under the covers with me and held her tight. I told her I don't think we can adopt Diana, that maybe another family would be better for her. "But she shouldn't be in an orphanage, right, Mom?" No. She added, "No child should be in an orphanage." Such profound truth in those huge brown eyes looking into mine. No, my daughter, no child should be without a family.

Our friend Kim called and invited us to her house to swim. It was a quick swim because we had that appointment, but it was nice Kim wanted to meet Diana and the girls had fun, of course, in the pool. Kim served us her fabulous homemade strawberry sherbet.

Diana was quiet and anxious on the way to the dentist, even though her friend Sergei was beside her. She didn't want to sit in the waiting room and went outside with a couple of the big girls. When it was her turn she grabbed my hand to go with her. She was truly very frightened and cried. She has many cavities and they will not be treated here. We don't have the resources for that, but even if we did, there is no time to do it since she leaves Monday. So I'm not sure why we even went to the dentist.

At home we had a little struggle. I was making dinner and Diana made herself a cheese sandwich with onions and cucumbers. But she wanted to eat on the couch. Fred said no and go in the kitchen. Diana said nyet. I wrote on the translation site that father said she must eat in the kitchen and that she is a good girl. She read it and went off to the bedroom and refused to come out. I checked on her and she was in bed. I told her "park." No, she didn't want to go. Maybe she thought it was the park from yesterday. I dug up a picture of the park we would go to tonight. It is very impressive and she was impressed. She jumped up and got ready. Almost like a toddler, I am heading off tantrums with distraction.

She still wasn't happy at the park. She wanted to go to the snack bar and couldn't understand why we couldn't get something. (It was closed.) She finally did eat her sandwich I brought with us. On the way home I stopped at the grocery store and bought her a box of the ice cream bars she'd wanted from the snack bar. Fred reminded her to eat in the kitchen and she did willingly. She wanted another and the other girls were done and had run off. So Fred and I sat in the kitchen with her while she ate it. She patted my arm, "I love you." She patted Fred's arm, "I love you, Papa." When we did our good-night kisses with all the girls, she pulled Liana into her arms and hugged her tight, then put Liana next to her on her bed on the floor and covered her up like she was one of the dolls.

Fred is dealing with this experience with anger at the world because there shouldn't be girls like Diana without a home and without hope, and anger that we can't step up to the challenge and take her. I just dissolve in tears.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Day 6, Wednesday

This picture was taken at bedtime last night. I went to bed weeping for this girl and woke doing the same. This is just too hard. To make it worse I was so frustrated with what was on TV this morning. Cosmetic surgery! Eyelash conditioner! This gadget, that gadget! Everyone wants more, we want bigger and better. All this when the children of the world are suffering. I'm starting to understand my son more, who has traveled the world and seen the poverty and need. I am disgusted with our culture of excess.

Okay, enough of that. Look at this precious girl. She is a big girl physically, but so much wants to be a little girl--nurtured and loved. She is calling me Mama now and sits on my lap, holds my hand, comes up behind me and hugs me. Today we got up late again. Everyone is so exhausted. The girls all swam in the little pool on the deck and then drew hopscotch lines on the driveway and played together. Diana knows the game. We all went into the garden and picked beans. Diana is like a bull in the china shop--no finesse, and I wished I knew the Russian word for gentle. I even tried kissing the bean leaves to get the message across. Later we went to the library. She found a Madeline book that really caught her interest and even carried it while we walked to the playground. Diana is a strong girl. She can do those bars where you go hand over hand while you are hanging in the air.

It started to rain so we came home for lunch. I had to make a bank run and my girls didn't want to go--too boring. But Diana did, not knowing what a bank is. She took a lollypop from the basket and I reminded her--Arielle and Liana. She took two more. I walked with her to the candy store next door and she chose three more things. When we got home she hid all the candy behind her back and I was afraid she was trying to hide it from the girls. But no, she wanted to surprise them! They all sat on the couch and watched a video from the library and ate their candy. But Diana was disappointed (and surprised) it wasn't in Russian.

This evening we went to the local pool club with two other families and had a cook-out and let the kids swim. They were all so excited and swam for hours. One of the Russian boys came without his swimsuit. No problem, he stripped down and swam in his underwear and didn't think a thing of it. Diana ate nothing at the picnic but when we got home she ate two hot dogs loaded with onions and cucumbers. Who knew?

It was tough getting the girls to bed tonight. Everyone was overstimulated. I hope they sleep well. Old Mom and Dad are ready to fall over, we're so tired. I am more at peace tonight. My friend Helen called at one of those desperate moments and said she would be there for us to see us through no matter what decision we make. I talked to one of the other host moms at the pool who reminded me we are not responsible for the destiny of these children--God is. Maybe his plan is for us to be part of their future. Maybe not. We just need to be willing to do what he asks. This woman is adopting two of the boys.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Day 5, Tuesday

My heart is heavy tonight. We're halfway through Diana's visit and I'm grieving the loss of her. I love her but I don't think I can parent her. Fred says we are too old and we are concerned about our other girls and the impact on their lives.

The girls slept late today. Diana has decided she doesn't like any of our food and only ate apples and barbeque potato chips today. I took her to the grocery store but the only thing of interest to her were the lollypops at the bank inside.

Another family is here from out-of-state and hosting another girl from Diana's orphanage. They are cooped up in a hotel room so I invited them to come over. Their girl was fine here but the mom says Nadia is extremely difficult. Nadia and Diana were very aggressive with each other. I have never seen any of that from Diana with Arielle or Liana though. When this girl was here, Diana called me Mom. She is very affectionate. She's noticed that I hold my girls' hands when we are in a parking lot or on the street and she wants me to hold hers too.

We went to church again for the VBS. I told Diana through the translation site and she didn't protest so she must have had fun the day before. She seemed to have a great time tonight too. I was mistaken about the t-shirt. She did make one and it was hanging with the others. When I asked about it, I guess she didn't understand.

We had an issue with some half dollar coins Diana had. She wanted me to hold them for her for awhile and then came and got them later. I asked where she got them but of course we didn't understand each other. Then another boy ended up with them. Larisa, the translator, found out somehow and came to me. I had no idea what was going on. It turns out the coins belonged to Arielle! After much discussion the story came out. Arielle had opened her piggy bank and showed them to Diana. I don't know when they ended up in Diana's pocket. She told Larisa Arielle gave them to her. Arielle said she did not. Larisa talked to Diana a long time about trust and lying and how no one in America would like her if she was not honest. She was crying in the middle of craft time at VBS. She was so afraid Arielle wouldn't like her anymore. But of course, Arielle still likes her. Arielle is a good girl.

All the girls just had their baths and again, Diana wanted bedtime prayers in a circle with Papa. Lots of hugs and kisses followed. Diana found a baby doll, wrapped it in a blanket and it is lying between her and Arielle on the floor. She is really a loving girl.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Day 4, Monday

This has been a hectic day. I had a million details going on in my head and I'm not sleeping. Organizing VBS is overwhelming, but tonight was the big night.

The girls slept together and woke together. They filed out to where I was sitting at the computer and all three got their morning hugs. I had work to do so they kind of just hung out together. Not much fun, but that's life. Our normal life is not going places all the time. They rode bikes a little and Liana tried to get Diana to play Polly Pockets or do crafts, but she is not interested. I really think she does not know how to play with toys. Fred took them all food shopping and he came home exhausted. Then they all left for the park and I stayed home to try to get my act together for tonight. When they left in the car Diana gave me a huge hug. She squeezed the breath out of me. I think she is really an affectionate girl but just needed to warm up to us.

Fred came home and said one of the other Russian boys took away Diana's disposable camera and she tackled him. The girls wanted to swim again and put on their suits. Diana decided she wanted to ride bikes instead. I said no, we were leaving at 3:00 to go to camp. I typed this in the translation website. She was angry and went in her room and pouted and took off her swimsuit and didn't swim with the girls. She had an attitude the rest of the afternoon and gave us trouble at church by running outside and wandering the grounds while we were trying to cook. Arielle, the voice of authority, kept track of her, following her around saying, "Nyet! Nyet!" Diana did not want to eat dinner with us but instead ate with the boy from her orphanage who was eating with his family.

The kids received t-shirts designed by my friend Bonnie with the verse, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." There is a big lighthouse on the front and Russian and American flags. They are really nice. During our craft time the kids stepped into a plate of fabric paint and put their footprints on the back of the shirt. They had a great time doing this. After they stepped in paint, of course they had to get their feet washed and my job was to dry their feet with a big towel. All these feet, big ones and little ones, brown Chinese feet, and pale Russian feet. So many children, many adopted, and then here are the ones so in need of a family. After we finished the t-shirts, I realized I had not seen Diana. I don't even know what happened to her t-shirt. She went home without it.

By the time we got home, she was back to the sweet little girl we had a bedtime last night. She played cards with Arielle, wanted to sleep with Arielle again, and wanted to hold hands and pray together and get hugs and kisses again. She called Fred, "Papa."

I don't think we have the energy for this girl. If we were younger. She is deep down a good girl, I believe, but needs a lot of guidance and a firm hand.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Day 3, Sunday

I had to wake the girls for church today. They were so tired. I left Diana in Arielle's Sunday School class and she was not happy, even though another boy was there from her orphanage. She is a very obedient child, but her face expresses how she feels.

Diana knew we would be swimming at 2pm so she was patient and excited. She told me she knew how to swim. We had been invited to the home of a woman I met on-line who has a girl adopted from the Ukraine. Her daughter Olia has only been home a month and was really wanting to speak Russian with someone. Earlier I had talked with the mom, Colleen, and she was so nice and down-to-earth, I liked her immediately, and even more so after I met her in person.

Olia and the girls hit it off right away. Olia is a delightful girl, the same age as Diana. The girls splashed and played and had so much fun. Diana does NOT know how to swim. She is very reckless and fearless and asked several times if she could go in the deep end. Nyet!

Colleen had bought some velvet paint sets for the girls to do. All of them went to the table on the patio and started painting. Suddenly Diana was in tears. Good thing Olia was there to interpret. She said Diana said she loves America but will only be here 10 days. Her school is very bad, she said. I think maybe sitting around the table drawing reminded her of school. So back in the pool!

The girls talked us moms into swimming and then they had even more fun, but were very wild and soaked us. We had planned to just wade a little. I learned the Russian phrase for "Watch me!" because Diana kept saying it over and over. She also wanted the physical contact, me holding her up while she tried to swim. She is a big girl, but is really a little girl inside. The girls went inside and played Barbies a little and Olia did their hair and put perfume on them. Colleen and I talked. She is a special ed teacher and sees kids with RAD and all kinds of emotional problems. She said Diana does not seem to have any of those issues at all and everything she did was appropriate for her age.

Fred had a surprise at home. He had bikes out and filled the blow-up pool with water. The girls were thrilled. Diana rode one of the kids' bikes around the yard and then saw my bike in the shed. She was in awe and, of course, wanted to ride it. Around and around the house she rode with a huge smile on her face. "Watch me!" we heard over and over. Then the girls splashed around in the pool with Diana doing all kinds of silly things because Arielle and Liana were laughing at her. Fred says she was wearing him out just watching her. She is a high energy child. Not at all like Liana or Arielle.

Damien and his girlfriend came over to meet Diana and she jumped up from the dinner table and hid outside. She wouldn't interact with them at all. In fact, she didn't like me inside talking with them and wanted me to come out and watch her on the bike--again.

Finally we got all girls inside and bathed and headed for bed. Arielle is again painting Diana's nails. Suddenly Diana urgently wants to tell me something. She speaks louder and more clearly to help me understand. I'm so sorry I don't. She walked into the living room and began to cry. Poor Victoria, the host mom who speaks Russian, because I called her again. She is so gracious though and said she didn't mind. Diana was crying because she sleeps all alone, she said. She told Victoria there are two girls who get to sleep together and she wants to be with them. So easy to solve this problem!

We all sat together on the couch together in a big family cuddle. Diana wanted me to hold her. Then I let her choose where to sleep. In the bed or on the floor. She chose the floor with Arielle. As I was tucking them in, she motioned for Fred to come in too and we sat on the floor and said bedtimes prayers and kissed and hugged each girl. Oh no, we are falling in love.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Day 2, Saturday

What a day! So many things to talk about and it is so late and I'm ready to collapse! But I want to look back and remember this very special time in our lives.

Diana slept soundly until 9am. The girls couldn't wait for her to wake up and went into her room immediately. Arielle helped her look through all the clothes we have gathered for her and she chose an outfit. They didn't come out for breakfast though so I went to check on them. All three girls were in the bathroom and Arielle was doing their nails!

Diana loves fruit. I put a basket on the table and she eats a piece every time she walks in the room. She is so thin, but very tall for 10. Right after breakfast she pointed to the yard and she ran in and out all morning. I watched out the window and she was smiling as she was swinging.

Using the great website my brother sent, (I'll check out yours too, June), I told Diana we would go shopping for clothes and shoes. The flip-flops I bought her are too small. She got ready to go by doing more nail painting, applying all the little girlie things that Grandma sent--including red heart stick-on earrings, and then packed her little purse with it all.

We went to Kohl's and she chose several things, holding them out to me to see if it was okay to get. She stopped at a display for watches and picked one up. I let her get it and my two girls didn't say a word and never asked for anything. We had a funny moment when Diana was trying on a swimsuit. It was a one piece with a strap down the center of the back. She opened the door to show it to me and had it on backwards. The strap was down the center of her chest with everything else exposed! She knew it was funny and we all laughed and I showed her how to turn it around.

She seemed very agitated when we left Kohl's. I asked in Russian if she was okay. She said nyet and motioned for me to make a phone call. She is very frustrated when I don't understand and wants me to call someone. When we got home I called the translator. It seems Diana just likes to know what is happening next. The translator got on to her, telling her to go with the flow and not worry about what was going on. Through this woman, I told Diana we would go to see one of the other boys at 3:00. She is very anxious to be around other Russian speakers. She pointed to her new watch several times to remind me it was close to 3.

Helen came over with her girls to meet Diana and the girls again played in the yard. For the first time Diana was trying to make contact with Fred by pretending to ride a little bike into his legs, teasing him. I was enjoying Helen's visit and then remembered we would later have guests and my house was a mess! As she often does, Helen bailed me out--cleaning up and cutting up watermelon and frosting the cake. When we were getting ready to leave, I combed Liana's hair, then Arielle's hair, and then...I looked over to Diana and she got up and let me comb hers too. I had longed to do that. She has silky, pretty hair.

We went to our friend's house for a dinner with the Russian administrator and the translator. They turned out to be very enjoyable people. We first took them to a park and the kids had the best time picking wild raspberries. They ate so much we thought surely they would get sick. We went back for a cook-out at our friends house and the kids jumped on the trampoline and rode skateboards on their front porch. Arielle and Liana had their feelings hurt when Diana chose to ride with the boy Sergei in our friend's car instead of with them. Diana is very talkative and really needs to have people understand her.

We went back to our house for dessert. It was a delightful evening. The Russian man, Vladimir, right away sat at the piano and began to sing and play. Then the translator played and sang and tried to engage Diana and Sergei with what I guess was a popular Russian song. Then all the kids ran outside in the near dark and caught lightening bugs in baby food jars. Even Vladimir walked around in the dark helping them. Larissa, the translator, is a lively woman who loves to talk and laugh. She seems to really love the children too.

Everyone left and without being told Diana took a shower and got into bed. The light was on though and she was playing music on Liana's toy tape recorder. After a little bit she got up and went into my room and motioned she was going to sleep. Fred reached out and gave her a hug, and I did too. She smiled, tentatively, sweetly. It was our first real connection. I put a band-aid on her scrape, put cream on a mosquito bite and checked her hair for ticks. Mom stuff.

The translator says she is acting like a tough girl because she has to protect herself. She doesn't want to let anyone close yet. I was thinking the same thing. Can she allow anyone in? We'll see.