Friday, December 10, 2010

Let's Hear it For the Boys

They're sixteen today. When did that happen? They've grown into such tender hearted, strong young men. I can hardly stand it. Sixteen years ago we found ourselves standing over incubators in a neonatal intensive care unit trying not to tangle wires and set off moniter alarms just to get close to them.

They don't look so tiny and frail now. They're still best friends, Freshmen Class Reps, members of their high school's crew team, and most recently winners of the Jefferson Award for their service to homeless and ill veterans. Happy birthday, boys. We are so proud of you and we love you so much.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Excuse Me, but the Correct Idiom is "Fall off the Wagon"

It happened when I least expected it but fully needed it. Shoes kicked off, one leg slung over the arm of the recliner, saucer perched in hand, butter cream frosted slice of cake in midbite - Sam sidled up to me and with genuine sympathy said, "What's wrong mom? Did you break the wagon?" Wow. Really?

So here's my confession. Somewhere around the end of the school year, the running routine fell by the wayside. Along with it went all the good habits I had picked up. You know, the ones that were contributing to slow but steady weight loss, better eating habits, and greater confidence.

I did try once earlier this summer to haul myself up on that wagon before it left me in the dust. A friend called and invited me to run with her running group one morning. I thought that might be just what I need to kick start my routine again. "Great!" she said, "I'll pick you up at 5 am."

Five am? That was bound to be a committed group of women. Although I wasn't thrilled about the early hour, at least there would be a break from the draining heat of the day that had kept me at bay. But when I stepped out the door at 5am the next morning, it was as if I had donned a velvet sweatsuit dipped in warm water. Even at that early hour the heat was palpable.

We pulled up to the track right before 5:30. Not ten, not twenty, but nearly 200 runners had gathered to train for everything from 5K races in the coming weeks to marathons at the end of the year. My friend was training for a marathon, so I encouraged her to run at her own pace and I'd meet her back by the bleachers in 45 minutes. I found camaraderie in a pace group that slowed down and walked with me when I needed a breather. It was a great experience and I wish I could tell you I went back . . . but I didn't. The fees for the running club weren't possible and I figured all I needed was to get out there and just do it.

Fast forward six weeks and I don't have much to show for that pledge. About 10 days ago Robert rallied us and we started our early morning walks again. I hate starting over, but I know I'll feel better in a few weeks when I'm back in a routine. One of my dear friends from New York was in the area visiting family recently and spent the day with me. She's a runner. A darn good one. She's training for a marathon and was a great encouragement to me.

It's important that I do this. Pray with me that I can stay motivated as the school year is quickly approaching. The boys will be conditioning for cross country after school this year, so I doubt they'll have the energy to go on runs in the evenings like we did last Spring. It's going to be up to me this time around!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Summer of Service

Has it really been two months since our last post? I believe summer days pass quicker than any other time period. I swear I was just cleaning up my classroom and this week I found myself rearranging desks to try a new classroom layout. School will be here in a matter of a few weeks, but we've been redeeming the time during our time off.

Hannah loves on her favorite horse Prince.

Sam, Nate, Hannah, and Kristina spent their summer volunteering with an organization close to their hearts. I told you in an earlier post that Hannah spent quite a bit of time at the horse stables caring for the horses and working with the handicap children who came for therapy. It can be back breaking work, but her only complaint has been the heat. It has been sweltering here in Central Florida this summer!

Hannah grooming Prince.

Hannah having a heart to heart with Image about where they are and are not going to go.

Hannah returning Prince to his stall.

Kristina was quickly intrigued by Hannah's work at the stables and signed on to help out. I found it interesting that she gravitated towards a horse named Lucky. Contrary to his promising name, Lucky is blind in one eye and takes a little more patience and care than the other horses. Maybe that's what attracted Kristina to him in the first place. I don't know who is more excited to see whom on the days the girls serve at the stables! She is dwarfed by this gentle giant and it tickles me to see them together.

When I showed up with my camera yesterday, Lucky had just peeked out of his stall to give Kristina a kiss.

Walking and talking with her favorite.

Obviously a hug is the finishing touch on Lucky's grooming regiment.

And while she may have her favorite, she shares the love by stopping to have a conversation with Equity . . .

and smooch on miniature horse Marshmallow.

The Horse Whisperer. Who knows what she's telling these guys, but they sure do listen!

In addition to her time at the stables, Kristina is also involved in something close to her heart. Reading! She volunteers twice a week as part of the Teen Library Corps by reshelving books, helping patrons find what they're looking for, and organizing as only our girl can.

Both of the boys wanted to be involved in serving soldiers in some way. I was glad when they settled on the Veterans Hospital here in Orlando. Both boys are hoping to join the military when they finish college, so I thought it would be good for them to see the less than romantic side of the service. They were assigned to the post-op surgery unit where they do everything from transporting patients to clerical work to running errands for doctors and nurses within the unit. They really enjoy ministering to the soldiers and their families. They've learned a lot from soldiers who are happy to share their war stories with two eager boys willing to listen. They've put in over 70 hours each this summer alone. I wish I had photos I could share of the guys on the job, but they work in a restricted surgery unit and patient confidentiality means a camera doesn't make it past those locked doors. Once I caught a glimpse of Nate wheeling a patient downstairs. He was dressed in his scrubs and I barely recognized him! I swear they've changed so much just in the last year. Sometimes I will hear a man's voice in the house and I have a moment of panic thinking someone has broken in . . . only to realize its just one of the boys. Like the summer, their childhood seems to have flown by too!

Josh is already looking at his volunteer options for next year. He spent this summer taking an online course and getting ahead in school. He did volunteer at the Run for Africa 5k last Saturday morning. This was one of the races the boys and I considered running when we heard about it a few months back, but when I realized it was being held in late July I opted out! It was a worthwhile cause though, so we all chipped in to help the organization. All seven of us volunteered at the event and had a blast working the water stations and shouting encouragement to hundreds of runners wilting in the early morning heat. Running is one of things that has fallen off my radar this summer - more about that later.

Okay that's enough for now - though there's lots more to share. Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Playing Catch Up

I know, I know. It's been a month since we blogged. I blame it on the fact that I'm a school teacher. We're down to the wire here. Seven days left of school. My desk is a sea of ungraded papers and inventory sheets that mocks me everytime I step into my classroom. But apart from school, there have been some other things going on.

Sam participated in the annual JROTC district competition last weekend. Seven hours in the glaring sun and a mean sunburn were well worth it. Their school swept the competition taking more trophies in more categories than anyone else. Sam competed in personal inspection and the 100 meter dash for which his unit took first place. Hoo-ah! Exhibition/Rifle Team continues to be his passion though and both boys hope to attend The Nationals Drill Camp in Georgia one day for some real training from the top guys in the field. He and Nate are looking forward to being part of the high school unit next year.

Hannah has been volunteering at a nonprofit lately. She works with handicapp children and horses doing what is called hippotherapy or riding therapy. She LOVES it. She drives us nuts asking us to bring her to the stables more often. The child cleans stalls and grooms the horses without a bit of complaint. That's how we know how much she loves this! She insists on bringing the horses a treat almost every visit, so I have gotten in the habit of picking up an extra bag of carrots at the grocery store. I'll post some pics of her with her new friends soon.

Nothing new on the adoption front. I am growing more content with the knowledge that everything is in God's timing and that makes it perfect. There's a chance the boys might be sent to the same "camp" this summer. That would be very comforting to know they're together again. Pray that this would be the case.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Who Do You Know?

We are in chilly Minneapolis this morning attending the first day of the Christian Alliance for Orphans Conference. So far: incredible! We were able to hear Tom Davis speak at the opening session and he was part of the session I attended on engaging "Youth and College Age Students in Orphan Ministry". If you're unfamiliar with Tom, a great place to start is his book Fields of the Fatherless. God used this book to help focus my vision for orphan ministry many years ago. Robert attended a session on church ministry and 501c3 organization and leadership structure.

The problem with conferences like this is there are 8-10 topic choices in each breakout session. I will have highlighted no less than four, yet I can't be in four places at one time. Thankfully the sessions are being recorded and will be available for sale. I'm sitting in the optional lunch session "International Adoption 2010: Challenges, Changes, and Difficult Questions" with a netbook perched precariously on my knees attempting to soak in and record as much as possible for our own adoption as well as the church that sent us.

Walking through the vendor tables this morning, I heard my name called and looked up to find Colleen Stats, board member of Frontier Horizon, Facebook friend, and fellow Ukraine adopter. It's amazing to meet people who you have only known in cyberspace. I know there are many others here who I know from the blog world and I hope to cross paths with before the close of the conference.

Robert and I are about the split up to attend the second breakout session. Robert will go to "Fundraising for Orphan Ministry" (which I'm sure will have a huge turnout) and I am headed to hear Traci Heim with Project Hopeful who will address "Adoption of HIV Positive Orphans and Other Special Need Orphans".

So much has been said this morning that strikes us deeply. The most provoking quote I would share is this question posed to a group of nearly 1300 individuals who call themselves servants of the King, "There are over 147 million orphans around the world today. Most Christians can't name 5. Why is that?"

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Love Hurts

We are making (very) slow progress, but determinedly moving forward with baby steps. We had our medicals done a few weeks ago. Poor Robert, the nurse had to stick him several times before she got a vein that would give up the juice. Fingerprints and background checks are officially done and in hand. The homestudy is a matter of one meeting and a big check, so we're holding off on that for now. In my time frame, I calculated having all the paperwork done by the end of school and (fingers crossed) a travel date by late summer. But things don't seem to be working out that way and I have to trust that God is behind the timing of all things.

A few weeks ago we were discouraged by well meaning individuals who told us we needed to put the adoption on hold until our finances were all in place. If we had followed this advice, Kristina would still be languishing in an orphanage on the other side of the world. Yet, we want to be sensitive to wise counsel and humble to hearing those around us so we are moving slowly in the hopes that God will provide in a big way.

We learned this week that Sasha has been approved to travel in the same hosting program Kristina came with three years ago. The thought of having him here for the entire summer and lavishing love on him is almost too much to bear, but we simply cannot afford the hosting fee and will have to learn patience in the process.

Please continue to pray for wisdom on our part and for God's provision. Pray for Sasha and Vitalik too!

Running Here, Running There

Another blissfully busy weekend! Nate and I ran in the Run for the Trees 5K race in Winter Park, Florida early this morning. It was a harder run than I anticipated and I finished three minutes later than my last run, but it was a great experience nonetheless. The race path wound through beautiful Winter Park, around lakes, and eventually led to an off road wilderness path through private land that is only open to the public once a year during this race. We ran beneath a canopy of ancient trees and through orange groves as brilliantly colored wild peacocks eyed us from a few yards off. We received the traditional race shirt and goody bag, but we also were presented with two lovely Magnolia tree saplings at the end of the race. Nate has already scoped out the yard and found where he wants to plant his.

Signing up for my second race has kept me motivated to put my running shoes on several times each week and hit the pavement. You see, I'm not a runner, but I am trying! You would be surprised by the spectrum of ages and shapes of people who participate in these runs. While there's the traditional gazelle types who mark their places at the starting line, no one raises an eyebrow when I make my way into the middle of the sea of runners and wait for the starting horn. At one point in today's race, a speed walker actually passed us and Nate and I had to laugh at the humbling episode. We caught and passed him later, but I'm sure there's a spiritual application there somewhere! And I am reaping the benefits of the exercise. I've lost 7 pounds thus far and I feel great. We've decided to sign up for the US Secret Service 5K Road Race later next month, so that's where our focus will be in the coming weeks.

Sam and Nate have been running with me throughout the week and that has afforded us unique bonding time. Have I mentioned how much I love having teenagers? I keep waiting for this horrible phase known as the "Teenage Years" and it has yet to show it's ugly face. Listen, I work with teenagers for a living, I know that phase first hand. Yet the boys and I continue to grow closer and closer. Every relationship has its ups and downs, but I am loving this time with my guys.

Private First Class Sam had a JROTC competition this morning or he would have participated in our run. He has really found his niche in this group and loves every minute of it. His Exhibition Rifle Drill team took first place today and he will be receiving a special commendation for his participation.

Hannah is our resident artist. When she was a little girl, she would sit at the kitchen table with blank paper and colored pencils and draw to her heart's content. She signed up for an acrylic art class at Leu Gardens a few weeks ago to learn the medium. The melodies of Billie Holiday floated down the hallway where I found her in class today, chatting away with an artist in her 60's, and working on this piece of a Camellia she had plucked from the gardens earlier this morning. She is the only youth in a group of older, more experienced artists, but the instructor makes a point of telling me what a wonderful student Hannah is and how much they've enjoyed having her youthful energy in class.

Kristina joined a friend and her youth group for a camp out at the beach last night. They awoke early this morning and participated in a clean up project along the shoreline. I'd give you more information, but she collapsed into bed shortly after returning home this afternoon and I have yet to hear the details other than, "fun, it was fun," murmured as I kissed her forehead as she pulled the covers up under her chin.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blessed Assurance

I've received many emails and been stopped quite a few times by coworkers, friends, and family who want to know my take on the little boy whose adoptive mother put him on a plane and sent him back to Russia recently. No one knows the details of the situation, and we may never know them, but I believe those details really aren't relevant to the question at hand.

I posted this almost two years ago on Kristina's adoption blog and I think it reminds us of what our roles are in the Christian family, particularly when dealing with difficult situations:

I hate confronting sin. Its an ugly, unpleasant task. Dealing with my own shortcomings has always keep me busy enough, but as a mom I have to deal with the sin nature of five other little people. Its my job to call them on the carpet when they make wrong choices. In that role, I try to emulate the Father as much as possible: confronting sin plainly, offering forgiveness freely, and reassuring love unconditionally.

A situation arose with Kristina this week in which God called me to do all of these things. I learned she had done something and I was beyond disappointed. I dreaded the coming conversation in which I would have to confront her and hope that she would confess what I already knew.

This afternoon I took up my usual position in the Adirondack chairs under the tree in the front yard. I attempted to focus on the book on my lap, but found myself straining to listen for the school bus. Eventually the sound of their chatter drifted towards me as they made their way down the street. Skipping up the drive in her customized sneakers, she plopped her book bag at my feet and fell into the empty chair next to me. I waited until the other children wandered off to begin their homework before I broached the dreaded conversation.

I wish I could lead into a sweet anecdote about how she readily confessed the transgression, but that just isn't what happened. I asked. She denied. I asked again. She lied. I revealed the proof and she became speechless. Her eyes grew round and large and she seemed to shrink within the space of her chair. Once it was out in the open I explained that her choice was not one that we approved of and we were disappointed with her actions. It was clear she knew how serious the situation was as she glanced over her shoulder to the closed front door of the house and then back to me. I had never seen her look that way before. There was something about her face that made my heart sink before she even spoke the words. "Are you sending me back to Ukraine?" She sat motionless waiting for my answer as tears slipped silently down her cheeks.

It was an unfathomable question. "There is nothing you could ever do that would separate you from this family. There is no lie you could ever tell that would make us love you any less. You are one of us and you will always be one of us." Her chest heaved a sigh as if she had been holding her breath. Her face softened as the terrified look melted away. She believed me.

As she hugged me, I contemplated what would cause her to think such a thing. Obviously, her past. She had been forsaken for a lot less. Those she has counted on to love and protect her have abused and abandoned her. We discussed the consequences for her decision and she gathered her things from the lawn. She has spent the remainder of the afternoon grounded in her room. I swear I've never seen a happier punished kid in my life!

The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness.
He will not always strive with us,
Nor will He keep His anger forever.
He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west,
So far has He removed our transgressions from us.
Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him
-Psalm 103:8-13

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Wounded Warrior 5K

Sam and I have been exercising together for the last few weeks. He's getting in shape for PT as part of his JROTC program and I'm . . . well . . . I'm just trying to get in shape. So Sam and I walk/jog together several days a week. It's humbling to have him jog backwards and carry on a conversation as I shuffle away. He says he's my trainer and takes great pride in this role!

After three weeks we decided to test our stuff and signed up for the Wounded Warrior 5k at Lake Baldwin Park. The race was sponsored by the Navy League and had a great turn out. About 550 runners gathered under perfect blue skies. There was a huge turnout of military personnel representing their divisions and friends who have fallen in battle. Many of the soldiers ran with their field backpacks which I know must have added at least 50 pounds.

Nate decided to join us at the last minute and because he hadn't been training with us, commented several times how hard the course was. I looked like I was running with body guards with the twins flanking me! I'm really proud we were able to do the run and so glad the boys came with me. We finished the course in 35 minutes and 30 seconds. We didn't break any records, but I did prove someone wrong who said I couldn't do it!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sowing and Reaping

Little children, let us love,
not in word or speech,
but in truth and action.

1 John 3:18

I love spending time with my family. We laugh a lot and genuinely enjoy each other's company. We're always looking for fun things to do that don't cost anything so we visit many of the state parks and nature trails in our area. This morning we headed south where we spent the morning gleaning oranges in a Clermont, Florida grove. It was a perfect day with blue skies and a cool breeze blowing. We loaded bucket after bucket of sweet ripe oranges from the trees.

It was a great opportunity for us to serve as a family. All of the fruit we gathered will be sent to local food banks to serve the poor and homeless in our area. The Society of St Andrew works with farmers and land owners across the United States to gather produce that would go to waste. Last night's family devotion came from the book of Ruth, Deuteronomy 24, and Leviticus 19 where God provides for the poor, the stranger, the widow, and the orphan by commanding land owners to leave a portion of their field unharvested for those in need. It was a tangible way for our family to serve those in need and live out the Biblical mandate to provide for others. Sam decided to represent his JROTC unit and wore his uniform in the fields. There were several families there including ones with very small children who ran around excitedly picking up fruit shaken from the trees as it rained down to the ground. I even bumped into a few of my high school students in the field! If you ever get the opportunity to glean we would encourage you to do it. It made for great memories.