Sunday, June 29, 2014

My girls: Part 1, or, how God does crazy things you don't expect in the least

I can't remember how much I have told you about my girls. I'll assume, at any rate, that at least some of you have started reading later on in the game, and that the rest of you would love to stare at pictures of their sweet faces. I know I do... ;)

I'm going to be copying and pasting excerpts from a presentation I wrote for church about a year ago, after I first came back from Bulgaria. Lazy woman's blogging style. =)

The one little girl who started it all

Sarah. Her full name, if I remember it correctly, is Sashka Nadkova Marinova. It wasn’t even an instant thing – I didn’t see her face and feel the immediate need to do something. She didn’t look as skinny and frail as Katie or Lina or the other kids who came out of the same orphanage. I didn’t look closely enough to see that she was wearing three layers of clothing, layers that hid her emaciated frame and kept her warm in the unheated orphanage during the middle of winter. I’d been following several blogs, and as her face appeared on each of them, I took a second look.

And fell completely in love. I’m not sure why – except for that it is a God-given burden.. It doesn’t make sense. Why this one little face?

 One picture – a grim medical diagnosis – in Bulgaria, a country halfway around the world that most people haven’t even heard of, or confuse with Bolivia! (Which is in South America, not Eastern Europe.) I had an aunt and uncle that prayed for my trip to Bolivia the entire time I was gone!

I mean, this face is the most adorable thing ever, right?

Either way, I couldn’t think about much else. I learned about the way Bulgarian adoption works – they send the files over here for a predetermined length of time, generally a few months. They are featured on a photo listing such as Reece’s Rainbow. After the allotted time, it gets sent back, and the information is removed from the photo listing. 

Her file could have been requested, but I didn’t know that at the time – I thought her chance was gone, unless she got adopted in her own country, which was very, very unlikely. Either way, her file was scheduled to be sent back in just a few days or so. I stayed up late, prayed, cried over her dinky little picture on my laptop. I’d seen dozens of faces, but this one was different somehow, she was mine.

Then pictures like this started showing up.

And this.

AND THIS. I'm pretty sure this one drove me over the edge. My baby? Over on the other side of the world, suffering? That was just too much.

I've loved many, many orphans since Sarah, but I have never fallen so crazy in love with a PHOTOLISTING since!! I hope God is saving it for my own kids, because I don't know if I can handle that emotional rollercoaster again unless I'm mama! Don't get me wrong, I want to spend my life caring for orphans. I just have never been QUITE as emotionally distraught over anyone as my girlie since then. (Almost, just not QUITE.) Oh my word, was it ever hard. And weird. It was weird. Because she was a picture but somehow that picture meant everything to me.

A notification appeared on her listing, just days before it was to be returned, that she had found a family. I was glad, but I pretty much figured that was the end of that. I had no idea who her family was or how to contact them, if I could find their info, and not act like a stalker…

That was April of 2012. Four months later, in August, a blog list of families who were adopting from Sarah's orphanage appeared on the blog of a mom who was adopting from there. I visited their rather neglected blog, found their contact info, and sent them a short email, explaining that I’d prayed for Sarah to have a family and asking if I could make her a little quilt. Stephanie emailed me back, and a friendship was formed. She told me how she had been able to visit Sarah for a brief moment when she was in Bulgaria helping her friend Jenny pick up her children from the orphanage. 

I thought my heart was breaking before.

I don't think there was anything salvageable left of it now. Not once I saw the fear and pain on my sweet baby's face.

She also told me about the other little girl they were adopting at the same time, who they would name Anna.

Anna is also blind.

She was in a much better orphanage than Sarah.

Stephanie's 11 year old daughter (blind and adopted out of foster care) wanted "sisters like me."

Such a cute little face. =)

We ended up forming a fast friendship. I offered to help her with a fundraiser, making crafts and selling them, and I made Sarah and Anna “feel” quilts with different textures, as they are both mostly blind. I felt like I knew her, and I guess I did! It was just a rather unconventional way to meet someone, especially for me who typically doesn’t make friends with strangers via the internet!

One of the quilts with its different textures

My heart was with not just Sarah, but all the kids in her orphanage. I longed to walk through the rooms and hold and squish each child. I’d been doing all I could but I wanted MORE. Everyone told me I was already doing what I could, but I just knew there was MORE, somehow, even though I didn’t know what. That “more,” at least the first step, came when Stephanie shocked me by asking me to go to Bulgaria with her to visit! Her husband couldn't go with her, and she didn't want to travel alone in a foreign country.

I didn’t say yes right away. There was a lot to think about. I’d have to buy my own plane ticket. I’d have to take two weeks off my job – if my boss would even let me go. She was expecting to go in six to seven weeks (it ended up being more like ten) and I didn’t have a passport. That was Thursday night. I still hadn’t officially committed to the trip, but I asked my boss the next day. (She said she would talk to her husband about it, but she thought it would be ok. I don’t think I ever did hear back from her on this, or if I did it was like a couple days before our flight was scheduled to leave. Hmm, good thing I had already decided on my own to go…) I applied for my passport bright and early Saturday morning.

Then we waited, and waited, and waited. A lot of adoption is paperwork and WAITING for people in the government (U.S. government and international).

Eventually we got our dates. I quit my job because I felt God leading me to quit for other reasons. Friends from the church, as well as my parents, helped me to pay for the ticket. The moment we’d been waiting for had finally come. Stephanie and I met in the Cincinnati airport and boarded a plane bound for Paris, France and then Sofia, Bulgaria! 

After a very LONG trip – 28+ hours with only a one-hour nap – we touched down in Bulgaria, the country I’d dreamed about for over a year! 

Stay tuned for part 2! It's late over here, and this would be a far longer blog post than anyone wants to read, if I put it all in one post...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Singing a Lullaby

Our newest sweetie is doing well! I love my Thursday afternoon preemie duty.

Talk to the hand!

She's cute. =)

How big is Lullaby? Soooo big! (Well, not really. ;) )

Tiny baby!

Baby selfies =)

So sweet... 

What do you do when you have six babies and not enough sets of hands? This! Usually around 5 or 6 pm when they're all cranky.

That's all for today! I have to hurry and get ready for church. Hopefully this week I'll be emailing and calling some of those other orphanages and checking into their volunteer programs. I can't do too much with my schedule but maybe a few hours once a week. I am excited to see if I can get out into the community more! 

Friday, June 13, 2014

I ache.

So I've had a desire to volunteer at some other orphanages here in my (currently scant) time off, but we haven't really been able to get a plan together. I was kind of waiting on someone else to figure it out for me. I should have realized I *am* 24 and need to take a little responsibility for my own event planning....although, I thought it would be pretty complicated. Ok, it still might be, but FINDING orphanages apparently is really, really easy.

It all started on the way to AWANA today. (For those of you who haven't read the archives, we do AWANA at a local public school. Pretty cool, but super chaotic. Imagine a blender without a lid. Imagine 200 kids in afterschool care - not all AWANA kids - we have between 30 and 50 - but all running around anyway. Pray for us.) The person taking us turned a block or two earlier and caught a backstreet, the one Sunnyside Primary School is on, a little sooner than our usual route. A brightly colored building caught my eye - it looked like the typical daycare, or creche as they say here, but it wasn't. A sign on the side said "Sunnyside Orphanage Home." Reminds me a little of Toy Story...but anyway...

I am just so grieved that it is so commonplace. You can happen to drive by one on the street. Sure, the same thing happens on our street...I mean hello, I WORK at a baby home. And I'm not saying the kids there aren't well cared for - it looks quite small, so that's good. But you can just walk down the street, and there's an orphanage. Tragedy isn't tucked neatly away like in America...yes, I am aware group homes and orphanages still exist in the States. One is only an hour from my house. But I think they're less commonplace, and less obvious. Most U.S. kids removed from their families are placed in foster care. Yes, I'm also aware that not all foster homes are good. I've met a number of U.S. foster families. Some were great. At least one was...not so much. I'll just leave it at that.

My point is, orphans are more obvious here. The raw reality of hurt and pain stares you in the face - but then again, only if you take the time to notice. South Africa can be very "first world" and it's easy to live a "normal" life by American standards. Yet there is a thinner veil here between my "normal" life and the many hurting lives that spend the same days as me in the same city as me. People sleep on the corner of our street a few hundred meters away. Some of them may not even have blankets or even adequate clothing. Why are they on the streets? I have no idea. It's easy to say "Oh, people beg because they don't want to work." Yes, this is likely true in many cases. But who in the world WANTS to sleep on the streets when the temperature drops to freezing at night? I don't know. I don't have the answers. No, I don't give money to street beggars, for those of you who are wondering. (I have, however, considered handing them my yard-high bag of Twiggies - stale Cheetos without much flavor - that I bought and decided I hated. That would be kind of weird, though.)

So I got home, and I Googled it. What I learned floored me - and kind of made me want to kick myself, for not realizing that Google was such a simple solution to my ignorance of available opportunities.

Ok, so this is it:



They are in a number of different orphanages, safe houses, children's homes, campuses, baby homes, places of safety, whatever you want to call them.

I am just not ok with this. It didn't bother me before I knew, I mean, it kind of did, but now I know how many kids go to bed every night without a mom or dad, within just minutes of me. Sure, none of the places looked too bad - I'm not talking Eastern European level of care here. (I couldn't, however, find stats on government orphanages - I'm sure there are a number of those, as well, and they are almost assuredly under-staffed...) But, orphanages. And big ones, not just small, 6-is-the-limit places like ours. Places with hundreds of kids.

Please pray for me as I'm here trying to comprehend this and understand how God wants me to respond. I cannot help every one. The problem is, I want to help every one.

While we are talking big orphanages, please pray for my niece Sarah's former orphanage. They are working to change things, but it has been a place of horrendous, criminal neglect in the past. I just think...those people need Christ, too. They are doing better, changing, and I'm glad - no child should have to suffer what my baby girl and so many others suffered, but without Christ, well, it's just the here and now. Many Christians are involved in the fundraising, the motivation, yes. But I ache for the Bulgarian workers too...they need adopted...into Christ's family. That being said, THAT PLACE IS EMPTYING OUT!! Soooo many kids have been adopted from there. It's my crazy impossible prayer that every last child from there will have a family, even the ones who've aged out, because my God is the God of the hopeless and impossible!

Oh, and happy news - my visa extension application was accepted and should be processed and ready for me to pick up within 4-6 weeks! I was originally only going to stay for 5 months. My visa was good for about 6. Crazy me, thinking I could leave this place. ;)

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Missions Team #2 - Little Rock

Hi all! Sorry I haven't had a chance to blog much lately.

(It's sad that so many of my blog posts start this way!)

May/June has been a whirlwind time. We've been running around like crazy with only two interns. Some of our friends from church have been stepping in to fill in the gaps, but we're still super busy! I can't remember if I mentioned it, but we had a missions team here for a week toward the end of May as well, which is super helpful but always...busy!

Here's some photos of the team on their days at the baby home! It was fun having them here.

They organized the garage. Wish I would have gotten a "before" picture. It was quite the ordeal.

They sorted all the baby clothes. Folks, we have SO many baby clothes. (But we still can't find sweaters for Cupcake. I don't understand that...)

There was a giant pile of rubbish. Now I wish I'd dug through it and pulled out a few some scrap lumber that we could use if we ever get the fireplace of which I'm dreaming.


The ladies also helped in the baby home. 

The babies enjoyed lots of one-on-one attention.

Big Guy is happily with his family now!

Happy Princess

Happy Cupcake

We had Bible study with some of the missions team at the Drews' house.

I didn't get to do as much with this team, but thankfully I got to hang out with them a little bit!

They left on the 25th of May, two days before my scheduled departure date. I'm so glad I'm still here! I now have the final paper - my police clearance - that I need to have to apply for my visa. We are planning on going to Home Affairs (again) this week. Please pray everything runs smoothly and my application is accepted!