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The last week has been full and wonderful and painful. I do not look forward to tomorrow when our dear girl leaves.

I will share my thoughts when the dust settles.


We had another day with our amazing Russian friends whom we met last week at church. Today we enjoyed the kids being back at school and getting a much-needed haircut for J. It was great. Supposedly, we will have our desktop computer back tomorrow which means I finally get to post pictures!!!! Stay tuned…….

She leaves a week from today. This fact has set my heart to slowly breaking. I cannot stand the thought of her leaving, of her away from where I can keep her safe and care for her, and make sure her needs are met.

At the same time, I am utterly exhausted. I sat down to think about things yesterday and I realized, that with the exception of sleeping, I have not been alone for nearly one month. One month. Someone always with me. Now, some of you love the thought of that. But while I am an OUTGOING person, I am by definition, an INTROVERT. This means that in order to re-charge and be refreshed, I need alone time. I cherish alone time. No one hanging on me, no one demanding something from me, no one talking at me. Alone time is beautiful. And guess what? While she simply adores Craig, I am “Mama”, so she wants to be with me. Oh right, I also have three other children who have been like, “Hey, someone else wants Mom’s attention? I’ll show her! I’m gonna be super duper awful and do everything I know I’m not supposed to do! Who’s with me? All of us? Woooot! Lets do this thing!”.

And there you have it. Look at me, and the bags under my eyes look like they’re definitely going to be charged for being over the weight limit.

To add to the chaos, sweet J has decided that her first two weeks of going to bed at eight, are over. She has been up close to midnight each night now and of course, it’s then when she wants to talk and open up. It’s hard for me, as I am a lover of sleep, but the time with her is so sweet, so it’s not hard at the same time.

Have I regretted the decision to host her even for a second? A millisecond? Nope.

We are learning more about her, feeling her become part of our family, and trying to prepare for the inevitable departure. We are also trying to separate fact from fiction as she tells us more and more of her story. I have to remind myself that a child doesn’t have full details of the goings-on of the adult world around them. All I know is, this word is broken. I will say it again and again, children need families. J should have grown up with her family. Instead, she has spent too many years in an orphanage, not being tucked in by a loving mother. Not having her hair tucked behind her ear in a sweet gesture of affection. Not being asked by her father, “Are you hungry? Have you had enough to eat?”. Not being told to sit down and do her homework. Not having boundaries set up for her to teach her proper behavior. Not having someone whom she can truly count on. As I keep up with the other families who are hosting (again, kids ages 6-17 are here being hosted across the U.S.), I am hearing beautiful stories of love, honest accounts of struggles, and kids who are relishing being a part of a loving family. Kids who are begging, “Please keep me.”, and “I want to stay with you and Papa”. And it doesn’t matter if these kids have tested their host families. It doesn’t matter if there have been screaming and tears. These kids are BROKEN and they are DESPERATE to be told they are loved, that they are worthy of love, and that they will still be loved even if they act out. Isn’t that the right of every child? To be given a place of safety to push, test, and figure out “But really, will you still love me if….?”

And so until the day I draw my final breath, I will speak out for these children. For those who have seen too much, experienced too much in their short time here on earth. For those who just want a family to call their own.

We have had a low-key end to the week. We did a little shopping, we went to the best Chicago fast food place, Portillos’s, and then bowling with our very awesome friends on Friday. Today we headed to the mall to Build-a-Bear and made a recorded greeting to put in the bear she chose. Bowling was fun, but then it got a little tough as J began having an emotional struggle. She misses her friends, and was thinking about a lot of things. We hope to talk to her about all of that when she’s ready.

Tomorrow we return to the Church where she will be able to hear the service in Russian, and again spend time with the friends we made there last week. We are all looking forward to it!

If any of this is stirring something in your heart, please, I beg you, do not ignore it. I hear so many people say, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to innocent people?” I’ll tell you. He’s waiting on those whose hearts He has stirred. Inaction on the part of people is not God’s doing. It’s the free will He’s given us. He is a loving God who did not create mindless robots to do His bidding. Free will is the gift He’s given to His creation. And when we ignore those whispers of encouragement, we ignore Him. And then we wonder why the world is so messed up? We are His hands and feet. Get. Moving.


I am being tested from all sides. J is not so bad. She is making noises, tapping, snapping, knocking, etc, to try and see what our limit for annoying noises is. No problem. I can handle that. It’s MY OWN children who are really testing me. J slept in this morning which gave me a chance to get some post-holiday cleaning done. When I tried to do so, one or more of them started doing something they knew very well was not cool. After so so very many of these incidents, Mama was pretty well done with their shenanigans.

Later, I came into the room and found that they had taken apart the vacuum cleaner’s accessories and had pulled up parts of the brand new rug in the library. Are you kidding me??? Yes, I lost my cool a bit and raised my voice. I was so crazy-frustrated that I ha to go out into the garage and have a good cry. I chatted with J about it later and she assured me, “But they are children’s! This is normal! It’s okay!”, to my explanation that I was sorry I lost patience. I then assured her that I love my kids very much, but they were testing to see if the rules would still apply with J in the house with us. I said, “Family is about loving not just with the good but also with those not so good moments”. What an amazing girl. She just hugged me and smiled. Hopefully that was good and not just patronizing. 🙂

Later, we went to Sky High, a really awesome trampoline place and bounced ourselves silly and exhausted. I arrived in a sour mood thanks to the testing going on during the day, but three bounces in, and suddenly I was a five year old again. I almost screamed, “Wahoooooo!”, but I wanted to be sure not to crash into anyone with my lack of focus.

Tonight we had her try a good old American classic, the root beer float. I thoroughly enjoyed mine, and she….didn’t hate it. 🙂

Root beer floats!

Root beer floats!

This morning brought some testing. Jelena was doing her best to find every annoying sound and movement, and repeating it ad nauseum. I was having a really difficult time letting her push the limits. I kept saying, “I love you, but this? Fooooooy!!(one of her favorite expressions). I guess we passed the test because she finally giggled and snuggled into me. This was after about two hours, on and off. I will not stop loving her.

Today we finally made our way downtown Chicago. We took a super rad Isaak Family Van driving tour. Did I mention it was really super duper cold? Hence us driving around. It was good because it allowed to see more of the city anyway.

We headed to experience the SkyDeck at the Sears Tower. Sorry, I am a lifelong Chicagoan and I cannot get used to saying “Willis Tower”. Anyway, after a bit of a wait, we made it to the top. It was a perfect day. Clear, sunny, and gorgeous. We loved seeing our beautiful city from above (the greatest city in the world). It was my first time there since they added those new “Sky Ledge” things. We waited again for our chance to stand out in a clear glass box that hovered over the streets, hanging off the edge of the building. But waiting in line with our four year old put me in a bit of a negative mood as he would just not stop whining. Then the group ahead of us, comprised of six people (three couples), decided they would take a picture for every possible combination of the people they had. At first, I thought, “Well, have patience. They are just trying to get the most out of their admission price”, but as the photos and combinations went on..and ON, I was like, good gravy, people!!! Then, as we finally moved up for our turn, the last lingering couple had the nerve to stop and ponder if they indeed HAD taken all the photos they wanted. I could not stop the “Seriously??”, that fell out of my mouth. Then they looked at me and behind us and apparently realized for the very first time that they weren’t the only people there. Anyway, we got out photos, and a nice group of young men offered to take a photo of all of us. They were very helpful. A little too helpful. When I saw one of them take a photo of us with his own camera, I was a bit put off. After they took their own photos, they hovered around where we were and I caught them looking at J a little too long for my liking. I alerted Craig and we made sure to block their view the rest of the time we were up there. Do not mess with Mama Bear.

Afterwards, we of course had to indulge in some deep dish pizza. Jelena needs to know that we live in a food loving city. A place where she can appreciate! In true J form, she ate two pieces of deep dish! She’s crazy!! Tonight, she took my Nook and found Google Translate. She brought me a beautiful translation of her thankfulness for us. She hates when I cry, but she definitely does it to me a lot!


New Year’s Eve has been a bit of a dud for us for a few years now. Let’s old is Cole? Eight. So, for eight years we have been super lame on NYE. Frankly, that’s okay with me. I can’t stay up as late as I used to anyway. This year, however, we had a truly miraculous offer made to us. Our fabulous neighbors said, “Hey, we’re not doing anything for NYE, so if you would like to go out, we would be happy to take have the kids come over. We just got XBox Kinect”.

So, we decided that it was the perfect opportunity to take our sweet Jelena out on a date. We take our other kids out on dates, which is one-on-one time with them, and can range from sit down dinners out, to sitting in the library and reading books.

We took her out to a stir fry place so she could just pick her own food without us trying to explain a menu to her. We had a great time watching the grillers work their magic. The food was delicious and she, of course, ate plenty of it. We all relished the time to just be with her and not have to parent our other kids. We got back home and had her listen to some music and give us her opinion (we’re working on putting together some music for an MP3 player), and watched the New Year’s festivities on tv. Our neighbors said they would keep the kids as long as we wanted and offered to put them down to sleep, so we took our time picking them up. We just enjoyed her. We had a great conversation and we really feel she is trusting us more and more. She shared a lot more again and we are loving watching her blossom as she fills up on love.

New Year's Eve Date!

New Year’s Eve Date!

I Loooove you!!

I Loooove you!!



Wow. Wow. Wow. What an amazing day! Through our neighbor, we heard that a local church had their services translated in Russian. Russian speaking folk can grab some earpiece headphones and a receiver, and a translator sits in a “green room” listening to the service and translating to the receivers. So we planned to attend, so that she could feel a part of the service and not have me furiously typing and mis-typing into the iPad translator.

We pulled in and saw a man directing traffic. His name tag read, “Yuri”. We took a chance and after we parked, we approached him and asked if he spoke Russian. Indeed, he did. He welcomed J in Russian and then directed us where to go to find the translation devices. Already she had a smile on her face.

We brought the kids upstairs to the kids area. We dropped off Myles in his room and the woman working there spoke Russian. More talking and more smiles.

We sat in the service and I was overcome with emotion. Watching her listen and understand was too much happy for me to handle without my eyes leaking. God’s presence there that morning was undeniable. The message was great, timely and inspiring with a healthy dose of conviction. J really enjoyed being able to understand what was being said,

After the service, we went looking for Alex, who was the one translating. We found him and discovered Alex to be a passionate man who was delighted to talk with us and ask lots of questions. I asked if the church had any materials in Russian since they serve so many in their congregation. He said, yes, and asked if she had a Bible. She claims she does but that is was back home in Latvia. Who knows if that’s accurate. He brought us up to his office, and unwrapped a shrink-wrapped Russian Bible, wrote her a note inside, and gave it to J. I was so happy! I cried a lot that morning and I know Jelena was probably thinking what a loon I was. I told her, “You might as well get used to it. I cry A LOT”.

We went back downstairs and were introduced to several Russian families who were so warm and wonderful. They all chatted with her and it was great to hear her voice and the ease of her speaking. These people were so nice and welcoming, I was convicted of my own tendencies. Am I this welcoming to new people? Do I practically shine with the love of Christ when I speak to people? This was the experience we had. One of the men said to me, “Her Russian is flawless! She needs to hang out with my daughters and teach them to speak as beautifully as she does!”.

We found Craig and the kids again and they were talking with Yuri and his wife. Remember the nice woman in Myles’ classroom that spoke Russian? Turns out, that was Yuri’s wife. Amazing. These wonderful people invited us to their home for lunch. We happily accepted and we had a such a wonderful time. They have three kids so ours and theirs mixed well and were playing like lifelong friends by the time we left. J chatted happily in Russian, and we were grateful for a deeper conversation with the translation available. We learned more of her story, and while my heart was heavy with the pain she has experienced, I was able to tell her how sorry I was that she went through what she did. That it wasn’t okay how her life went. That is wasn’t her fault, she was just a child. I don’t know if she had heard these words before, or if she did, and hearing them again made them more true to her. Either way, we took home as deeper bond and love for this girl, and her hugs have become a bit longer and sweeter.

I cannot say enough how this beautiful family touched our hearts. We felt so comfortable and at ease with them. The fact that all three kids started screeching and whining almost immediately when we got into the car didn’t even ruin the fantastic day. J asked if we were going back to the same church next week and we assured her that we would. A huge smile and a little bounce was her response.

We are continually amazed at how God has been blessing us through this, and we pray that J sees what a beautiful girl she is, that she has value and worth, and that she is fiercely loved by her Heavenly Father. For a girl who has experienced people failing her time and time and time again, it can be a hard lesson to learn, to be able to trust that God will not fail her. I was able to tell her, “I am sorry for what you have experienced, but I am also so happy that God has brought us together”.

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