Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thankful Turkeys

Psalm 106:1
Praise the Lord! Oh, give thanks to the Lord for He is good! For His mercy endures forever!
This week we have focused on thankfulness and we have learned the verse above for our bible study time (I print a tranlsated version for the girls). We have put feathers on our thankful turkeys. Each feather has something written that someone is thankful for. It has been so fun and I have seen all of our hearts lifted as we have been concious of what we are thankful for. Katya and Nastya have loved this activity and have repeatedly talked about how thankful they are for their big family and then they name each member of their family. They are thankful for the animals and for horseback riding. However in doing these exercises I realize how often we all forget the uncountable blessings that we have to be thankful for. Thanksgiving is truly something that we must choose to do and something that does not come naturally to us. But when (or if) practiced it allows us to see the sliver lining in even some of the darkest storms. The more that I conciously thank God for the blessings in my life, the more I realize how very much I have thankful for. This is something I want to make a daily habit of - focusing on all I have to be thankful for rather than all that is wrong or difficult. This is something I fail in often but I am thankful that I serve a gracious, merciful God who continues to patiently teach me :)

Today our church had a day of thanksgiving where people (including children) could go up to the front and talk about what they are thankful to God for. My heart overflowed as I considered all that I had to be thankful for and as I listened to testimony after testimony of how God has been at work in the most intimate ways in the lives of so many. I was humbled to hear so many people speak who were able to 'praise Him in their storm'. There were some heartbreaking stories and I heard how God was good and faithful in the midst of trials that I can not imagine walking through. And I saw how we all have a choice - we all have daily trials and sometimes we face things that are incredibly big trials but regardless of who you are - life is not easy. But then God never promised that it would be easy. But He did promise to walk alongside us and to be our comfort as we walk through this broken world. And ultimately He made it possible that we could live eternally with Him where He would wipe away all the tears.

And thankfulness is also something that we must teach our children - biological or adopted. However, our older adopted children come to us as children who have had to learn to take to survive and who never been taught or shown thankfulness. I was often told by those who had gone before us not to expect gratefulness and honestly we do get it more that we thought. But very often we get "I want, I want, I want"! Or sometimes we get sweet hugs that are intended to prime us for the next request, "Please mommy can I have..." And we love to show our girls how very precious and loved they are but we also want them to know that stuff does not equal happiness and that they cannot have everything that they want. The other day we had a fabulous time going with a local homeschool group to a Cinderella Ballet. It was a beautiful performance and the girls were able to make a few friends. We had a nice lunch afterwards with some play time. We then headed to the store for a few items for Zach's birthday dinner. From one of our daughters I heard repeated begging for varying items that had nothing to do with Zach's birthday. I purchased a few reasonable food items that she wanted but said no to the other things. Well then we went to check out. She spotted some inappropriate magazines and asked for them. I told her no. She begged. I told her that they were not good for her. She pouted and exclaimed, "You say Bratz dolls no good. You say this no good! Ughh!" All this with arms crossed, big frown and the grumpiest voice that she could muster. I looked her in the eyes and told her that I loved her so much and loved to give her good things. I reviewed the wonderful day that we just had. I told her that I could not give her everything that she wanted and that some things were not good for her. I told her that it was not okay for her to act this way when the answer was no. She quickly recovered and gave me a big hug and kiss. All this at the checkout line :) This is such major improvement from this summer and I know that she is learning and has such a willing heart to learn. She is so open a so loving. We are so thankful that she truly has a sensitive spirit and that her heart is soft to us. However, it does require a lot of emotional energy and patience from me and I don't always do it right.

Tonight I gave each of the kids a package of stickers because they had all been wanting some and I just happenned to see some the other day. The girls were given beautiful disney princess stickers that they had been asking for and the boys were given spiderman stickers. Well it just so happened that the boys had four small sheets of stickers while the girls only had one larger sheet. No one even noticed this except this one child (yes the same one). She quickly said, "Maaamaa, Jadon has big (meaning lots of) stickers and I have small stickers." Again with the familiar pout. I calmly walked over to her and said that since she did not like her stickers that we would keep them. I took them from her and put them up. I told her that I loved her very much and that we could talk whenever she wanted. She put her head on the table and made a show of crying. I ignored this and went on with getting everybody ready for bed. Finally I told her to stop crying and told her that it was not okay to compare to each other and that we need to be grateful for what we have. I pointed out that I give them different things at different times and that just that morning we had given her two new dresses and nothing to anyone else. (She needed dresses and no one else did.) I also pointed out that just the other day daddy gave the girls stickers and that the boys didn't get any. I told her that it made me feel sad when she did not appreciate a special surprise. She was very receptive and I think truly sorry for her behavior. We hugged and went on to have a nice evening. I know that she was very hurt to be corrected and needed to know that we loved her so very much. I spent some extra time cuddling and loving her this evening. We talked some more about it and I think she was embarrassed that she had acted so silly. We also talked about what to do this Christmas if she recieves a gift that she does like very much :)

Both of these and many other times are great opportunites for us to teach the girls what it means to be polite and to be thankful. But let me just say that they wear me out at the same time! We long for our children to not just be polite but much more importantly to have hearts that can see the goodness of God in their lives and respond with thanksgiving. The truth is that God is at work doing amazing things in our lives and the world around us but we so often miss the beauty of His goodness because we get caught up with the present stressors of life. I pray that Zach and I are able to cultivate and model hearts that overflow with thanksgiving.
We do feel that things are going remarkably well and that both the girls are really adjusting well. We have certainly had varying issues to work through - some sibling issues and other basic things to work out like where everyone sits in the car and eating rules. Stuff like that. But we are getting into a great routine and are just incredibly thankful for each of our precious children. We have been amazed at how God is already knitting each one of our hearts together. What a sweet time this has been even if it has been a little tiring :)

Friday, November 14, 2008

It's a Zoo Around Here!!

Well that part is true at home with five children and lots of pets :) but we also did take a trip to the zoo today. It was tons of fun and very special because Katya and Nastya had never been before. We were all in awe of so many amazing creatures and everyone especially loved the momma and baby monkeys and the butterfly house. As always - the zoo wore us all out and now all children are sleeping soundly! We also wrapped up this fun day with starting a Friday night family movie. Thanks for that idea Connie! We decided to start watching Little House on the Prairie and started with episode one tonight. The Little House series is a favorite of ours and we felt like it would be good to help the girls get into it as well. It has some great lessons about life in general but especially about family. The girls are hooked already! Plus it is only 45 minutes on DVD so we are more likely to watch it without the pressure of a longer movie.

Everyone keeps asking how we are doing and I must say we are doing waaaaay better than Zach or I thought we would be doing the first few weeks. Besides the fact that it is just a lot of work :) everything is going very well. Duzhey Dobre!! We started homeschool for Katya and Nastya this week and while I was so nervous beforehand, I was pleasantly surprised (actually shocked) at several things ~

One, the girls love to learn and often ask for even more! Two, they are quite obedient about the rules that we have set forth about school time as well as basic family rules. Three, I am having a lot of fun teaching them. It is so awesome to show them the concept of borrowing in math and see them get it so quickly! Or for another example - they had never been taught to tell time on a clock face (only on digital clocks). So I bought some workbooks and with just about two lessons they were telling time perfectly! Wow! It is so fun to teach older kids who are able to grasp concepts that they should have learned years ago. When I show them something it is great to see them light up with understanding. They must be enjoying school too because Katya asked me if I would be her teacher until she graduates :) They are about at the same place in math, which is a huge blessing that I can teach the same thing to both. We are just doing worksheets for now but I plan to order curriculum very soon. They are also learning English very quickly - we are using Rosetta Stone and just talking as much as possible. We just learn things as we go - days of the week, household things, etc. It is so interesting to see their different styles of learning and varying strengths. Katya is very motivated and very neat with her work. If she hears a new word she writes it down right away in her little English notebook that she made. She first writes the english word and then writes down her Ukrainian phonetic version as well as the actual Ukrainian word. This was all her idea. Nastya is doing the same thing after Katya told her to, but she is much less orderly about it. So while Katya is definitely learning English more quickly - Nastya often understands more because she is such a logical thinker that she is able to use context clues to figure out what is being said. She also is very good at logically approaching math while Katya tries to memorize what she is suppossed to do. But while Katya is by far neater and tidier with her schoolwork, Nastya is almost obsessive about their room being clean. I have never asked them to make their beds but they make them every morning and Nastya's looks ready for boot camp inspection :) Katya is definitely verbal, creative, and loves to read, sing and dance. Nastya is much more logical and loves animal and outdoors more than I can begin to describe. She is downright giddy about every animal she sees and has absolutely no fear. She dreams of having a baby animal to care for and is certain that she might find a baby squirrel or deer than doesn't have a momma :)

They both had their first official horse riding lesson this week and were on cloud nine! They will ride every Tuesday morning while I watch my sister's children. It's a great set-up! They were a wee bit frustrated and jealous that Allee can canter and jump but I explained that if they work hard they will learn very quickly. They also started gymnastics this week, which they are very talented at. Their teacher was very surprised with their talent, strength, and flexibility (Nastya is extremely flexible as well as double jointed), especially considering that they have never had lessons before. They left saying how much they loved it and asking when they could go to a competition :)

As far as overall family adjustment ~ we are just so grateful for the wise advice of several friends and blogs. We were tempted to give in out of 'compassion' in several areas but we stood strong (or I should say Zach made us stand firm!), and it is so clear that we set some really good precedents and boundaries. For example, after seeing the obsessiveness with tv during both the hosting trips and the first few days home, we decided to have no tv or computer games at all during the school week. The first few days there was some serious begging and negotiating and I think shock. Now I must say that I was pleading inside for tv as well. I wanted to have a break and I wanted them to be entertained for awhile. But we saw very quickly that it was much more disruptive and upsetting to try to limit it than to turn it off all together. Television was causing us all more problems than it was helping anyone. And after day two, they realized that we were not going to budge and happily complied. There is plenty to do - school, books, stickers, puzzles, games, bikes, walks, and just being together as a family. The tv time and computer games were causing more fights, grumpiness, and other issues than I realized. Once we stopped tv, I am no longer competing to get their attention for school, crafts, outside time, and household chores. And I am not just talking about Katya and Nastya - this was true for everyone. Now we are not crazy tv nazis :) and think there are plenty of good things that come from good tv shows or movies but for now it was causing more harm than good in our family.

So things are really going well although that is not to say that it has not been very tiring and draining at the same time. I feel overwhelmed at times and it is hard work! I am always wondering how they are really doing beneath the surface and wondering what they are thinking. I keep wondering what things are going to surface and when. So at times I have an undercurrent of anxiety as I struggle with not over-analyzing how each of the kids are doing with all the changes and adjustments. It is good to be in tune with the kids but I don't want to imagine problems when things are fine and create more stress for myself either. I don't know - it is a hard balance to walk. But then I remember that God says not to worry about tomorrow and that today ahs enough worries - and I see that is so very true! So I just try to focus on what I need to do today and thank God that it has been such a blessing more than we could have ever imagined and that we have five precious children!!

Here are Allee and Katya sharing an ipod and both singing outloud, Lord I Lift Your Name On High and then Ain't No Mountain High Enough, while watching Jadon's soccer game last weekend. It was so precious.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Journey Home

Well it has taken me more than a week to have time sit down and now I feel I must backtrack a bit to try and capture all that has happened the past week!

Back to last Sunday...

We traveled for no less than 30 hours on three planes and a very long layover in Germany. But until the last bit of the trip it really wasn't that bad. The girls did great and we all slept a decent amount on the longest flight. It was an incredible feeling when we finally touched down in Denver!

Two New American citizens!!!

On the last flight that took us to Texas - we were greeted by a very friendly pilot and copilot who offered to show the girls the cockpit, then invited them to climb into the pilots' seats and have their pictures taken! Wow! We were just glad they didn't ask them to fly the plane too!

So finally at 10:00 at night we landed in Texas and ran to greet our family and friends!!! What a reunion it was! I completely broke down (unexpectedly) when I hugged Benjamin and Jadon and Allee. It felt so strange to be hugging them and the emotion of how much I had missed them just hit me so hard. It was so great to have a fan club waiting for us! Thank you guys for all coming! It was at about this time that I felt like my body was just breaking down - I could barely talk right and just felt sheer exhaustion combined with major emotion and it all seems very fuzzy now. But the joy of being with my family and friends and a yummy Starbucks (thanks Becca and Camille) gave me the second wind I needed to get us home to see an amazing surprise waiting for us!

Now, I think I mentioned that we moved to a new house about 10 days before traveling... It was crazy and although we worked around the clock to get things unpacked, curtains hung, closets organized, didn't all get done. Some important things that didn't get done was the girls room and the outside of the house. When we left there were landscaping materials in piles, no grass, no patio, a half-done side-walk, and half-built stairs on the back of the house. When we arrived home on Sunday night the girls room had been transformed into a girl's paradise - complete with new desks, a dresser, an organized closet with lots of brand new clothes and pjs, bulletin boards, and even little make-up mirrors. Nastya had a new cd player/alarm clock for her birthday as well. They ran right in and started organizing their clothes and hanging pictures of their friends onto their bulletin boards. They LOVE their new house and especially their room.

Well, that's not all!!! Outside we discovered a completed sidewalk, a lovely patio, completed stairs, trees being cleaned, grass that was growing strong, flower pots, and even Fall decorations!!! Oh, and clearing and landscaping had already been started on the hill below our house - a major undertaking! Let me not forget to mention a completely stocked fridge and a huge bowl of fruit (which disappeared in a few days!!)! We are just so humbled and blown away by this outpouring of love and kindness and generosity it is more than we can express with words. Thank you Dad, Mom, and Ash! I am just brought to tears every time I consider all that has been provided and how much you all have done. It was such an amazing gift to just know that our children were so loved and cared for while we were gone. You just did so much more than we could have ever imagined and we are so very grateful.

So the days following our arrival were pretty busy with unpacking and just trying to reenter our 'new normal' life. It didn't help that I got really sick for a few days... But with some good sleep and meds - I am back to feeling good again. The girls have done really great so far - more on that in another post. We did all go to church last Sunday and it was so great to be welcomed by our church family. And believe it or not - we had our first day of homeschooling TODAY and it went great!! Thank you Lord!

It is good to be home!

Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


So sorry for the silence here. We did make it home late Sunday night. Hallelujah for America. For signs that I can read and english speaking voices all around. For a car that is parked out front that I can drive. For a soft bed. For a washing machine and DRYER - I have tried to refrain from kissing them both. For a phone that I can call my friends and family on. For bedtime stories and snuggles. For an amazing family that blessed us more than I can describe right now and gave us an unbelievable surprise when we got home (more later). For oh so much more. It is good to be home!

The girls did great on the flight but it was just long and we were all exhausted. Our first few days at home have been good but a little crazy. Nothing bad, just chaotic due to lack of routine... And now I have a pretty nasty cold that I guess I picked up from one out of my three children who have been sick. I feel very bad actually. Anyways, all is well other than that and more will follow as soon as the computer screen quits swimming in front of me! Please pray for a quick recovery for me as I am in high demand in the first days home to reintegrate to life here and to love on our two new daughters and our three darlings that missed us so very much. But all I want to do is sleep and it hurts to talk...

I promise a better update and pictures very soon!