Sunday, April 12, 2015

Almost three years later...a long overdue update

Life has continued to progress for us since our adoption in Ukraine almost three years ago.  With all that has been going on, writing another blog post has been far from the top of the priority list.

However, I just found out that our blog has continued to be accessed almost a thousand times a month.  This reality makes it quite apparent that there are many families considering international adoption and needing support and perspective.

It is with a true feeling of responsibility that I return to this blog and give you an idea of what can become of your lives and the lives of the children you adopt.

My last blog post indicated that we had an exciting announcement.  Two and a half years later, here is the announcement possibly long awaited by many who have been interested in our story:

Here is Lizzy, soon to be two years old.  About a month after we came home from Ukraine, I was pregnant with our 7th biological child, sweet Lizzy, bringing our count to 9 children.

Morning sickness while homeschooling 8 children, including a toddler and two new children who couldn't speak English, then a hospitalization and bed rest during the last trimester, wasn't a bed of roses, to be honest.  There were days that were some of the most challenging in my life, physically and emotionally.  Day after day, month after month, I had to cling to the true knowledge, the unquestionable reality, that God had asked us to bring these children into our family.  I clung to the memory of the moment before the adoption was final when I had stopped in my tracks, looked my six other children square in the eyes and told them in no uncertain terms that the miracles we had seen and experienced were not to be forgotten, that in the hard times we would have to remind ourselves that God had made it our knowledge, not just our faith, that this was what we were supposed to do.  That moment has replayed in my mind countless times, giving me the strength to press on and rely on the Lord's strength when mine was gone.

No one can do this without the utmost assurance that it is right, that it is God's will.  Like any other challenge in our lives, like any other commitment that requires all we have, all we are, and all we will ever receive, we must know that it is God's will for us so we can press forward when all hell seems to combine against us.  It just must be known.

Two and a half years later, here we are:

In short, it has been as amazing as it has been difficult.  Here are some highlights:

Our oldest son earned his Eagle Scout award by completing a full size basketball court for our town's park.  The ribbon cutting for the court was while we were in Ukraine on one of the unexpected, need-to-be-gone-in-three-days-or-less type trips.  It was a moment I had never wanted to miss, but there was no choice.

Now, a couple of years later, Ruslan is also completing his Eagle project and has chosen to install a fence around that same basketball court.

If you are at all aware of the requirements for the Eagle Award in the Boy Scout program, you'll be able to understand that for Ruslan to earn all the merit badges required for the Eagle, as well as complete the project, in 2 1/2 years is nothing short of remarkable, especially considering that it took him a good year to be fairly fluent in English.

Not only that, but through a homeschooling program, classes online and classes at the local high school, Ruslan will graduate next May with his high school diploma.

He was 15 1/2 when we brought him here.  He had no high school credit, no ability to speak or write in English.  And yet, in these short couple of years he has accomplished more than could have ever been expected.

He is also receiving his drivers license in a couple of weeks, having passed the permit test, the drivers class and driving test.  He intends to join The National Guard this year to help with his college expenses and receive more specific training.  He wants to be a mechanical engineer.

He is just about the most driven, focused person I have ever met.  I have no doubt he will be successful in anything he endeavors to do, because of who he is.

I'll never forget the day my husband came home and told me that, after driving practice, Ruslan said he couldn't believe he would be driving.  He never thought he would have the opportunity to have a drivers license.

He has received a position at a Boy Scout camp this summer as a camp worker, his first real job.  He couldn't be more joyful at the endless opportunities he is realizing.

Nastia is younger.  She is 12 so there isn't as much to report about leaps and bounds like we have witnessed with Ruslan and that are more common for young adulthood.

However, she is completely fluent in English to the point that her accent is almost non-existent.  Something that can't be said for Ruslan.

She is a sweet, hard working peacemaker who tries all she can to be helpful.  She isn't strong academically like Ruslan is, but her strengths lie in her nurturing, patient nature and her organizational skills.  She will have no trouble finding a future.

Both children are active in church and community activities, serving in leadership callings and enjoying all the opportunities that come from a loving, Christ-centered congregation.  They are evidence that internationally adopted older children can and do thrive, learn, and become great people with much to contribute to the world.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Taste of Our Daily Life

I thought it was high time I gave a glimpse into Ruslan and Nastia's new normal.  I'm not sure this will be of any real value to those who will be coming to this blog to learn what it is like to adopt internationally, but it might at least be amusing to those of you who might like to see what it's actually like here now.
To understand all of this, you would need to understand our philosophy on raising children.  We both feel very strongly that our society is spiraling in the wrong direction and that this disintegration is due not only to indulgence and attitudes of entitlement, but also to a waning work ethic on the part of our generation and those who are up and coming. 
Our society has bought into the idea that entertainment is a need, not an indulgence that should be carefully monitored and rationed.  It has accepted the idea that technologies are playthings, not tools with which to better the world.  America's children hold in their hands the smallest of devices with the most powerful ability to entrap, indulge, addict and enslave anyone who is not mature enough to recognize that power.  These children are using and abusing technologies with our consent, even our facilitation.  We parents are enablers for one of the most destructive forces a generation of children has ever seen in this country, perhaps in the history of the world.  These forces come packaged under the Christmas tree, in birthday wrap or thrown into the shopping cart just for the purpose of keeping our kids occupied so we can "have some peace and quiet".  
If we wouldn't gift wrap a roofer's nail gun and give it to a seven year old, why would we give them a pocket-sized device with access to all the media, internet or anonymous social situations the world can provide?  Why would we be so concerned about their physical welfare and think ourselves such "responsible" parents when we take absolutely no thought for their tender spirits that can be so easily and irreparably damaged?
 This is to say nothing about the work ethic that is so quickly fading into the past generations as if it isn't even necessary anymore.  The media and our materialistic, self-indulgent culture has fed us the idea that it's better to find the easiest path, work the least amount we possibly can and still feel the need to vacation from the little work we do subject ourselves to.  
The fact is, we are not our society.  Our society, our fads, our money, our homes, our material possessions aren't real.  When we leave this life, we will realize that all these things were as valuable as we now see Monopoly money and the little plastic houses we move around on the board.
We are children of God; here to learn to become like Him, here to prove that we will follow Him, here to work and hurt and sweat and struggle and turn to Him when we have to do that.  We are here to prove that we can look beyond this illusory situation and see into eternity, struggling daily to remember our divinity and our purpose in this temporal, and temporary, situation.  Struggling, basically, to become like Him in every thought, in every action, in every decision.
So, we live on a farm.
We wanted our children to know what it was like to get up every day and care for something living; whether they wanted to or not, whether they felt like it or not, whether it benefitted them immediately or not, whether it was fun or interesting or entertaining...or not.
Because that is what it is like to be a parent.  That is what it is like when it's the second day on the job and the third and the fourth and the ten thousandth.
In a child's mind, are their immediate rewards for feeding the chickens?  Nope.  But, over time they realize the benefit it is to the family...thus, themselves...and they learn to love their contribution to the welfare of the whole, rather than seeking solely for their own pleasure.
Does living on a farm require a lot more work on the part of the parents?  You'd better believe it.  Does that bother us?  Not in the least. 
See, we know what we're doing here.  We know why we're here and where we're going.  And when I say "here", I mean on Earth.  We also know that we are not going to be here long...just a sliver of time, really.
Have you ever imagined what it would be like to win a shopping spree?  It seems like a long time ago we saw one actually happen on TV.  A lady was given a shopping cart and she had to run through a grocery store and grab everything she could in some insanely short period of time.
She scouted out the store ahead of time to figure out where the best stuff was to make sure she knew which isle she wanted to start with to make the very best use of the short minutes she had.  When the time started, she ran as fast as she could literally throwing things into her cart, sweeping the shelves with her arms, trying to get as much into the basket as possible.  She missed the cart sometimes as products fell on the floor because her aim wasn't the best, but she was trying her best and, most importantly, she was using her time as wisely as she could...because she knew it was going to end sooner than she could imagine.
That is the way we want to live life.  We have been given this incredible opportunity, full to overflowing with possible joys and experiences and opportunities that will benefit us for eternity.  
When the buzzer went off, the lady had to stop gathering her treasures, but she looked so happy.  She was trying to catch her breath and could hardly talk for the interview afterward, but she was happy with what she had been able to accomplish in her tiny amount of time. 
We'll be the first ones to admit that, like her, we don't always get everything into the basket.  We overshoot the cart and make mistakes and miss the joys we could have had.  We mourn the loss of them, sorry for our wrongs, wishing we could do better.  We feel that way every day.  But we'd rather miss a few joys because we were working so hard at our goal than miss the shopping spree altogether.
So, that is why what you are going to see in this post is different than the typical American family.  We feel we need to be different.  We need to find a way to be better than we are or have been, work harder, play less and learn to love the eternal principle of work.  Once we learn to love what we have to do, what God has asked us to do, we will be content.  We won't need to escape or vacation because our daily, hourly, minute-by-minute demands will bring joy.  And that, we believe, is the secret to a joyful life.

Grandma watches as Dad and Nastia skim the fresh goat milk supply for the day.  We make butter almost daily with the cream and also use it for ice cream and whipped cream.  We make cheese and soap out of our milk, too.  The buttermilk that is leftover from making butter is used in all our recipes because I try to make most of our food from scratch.  And, yes, Dad goes to work after doing this every morning...after running two homeschooled teenagers to and from 6:30am seminary.

Though the kids work more than most kids their age, there is certainly time for play.  Above, the girls enjoy playing during their short soccer season.  Ruslan's team had our oldest son as their assistant coach.  This is our little town's soccer league that only plays through the month of September.  I can't imagine playing a sport for several months.  It takes too much time away from the family to be gone so much, but a month out of the year is fine and the kids all made new friends and learned great new skills.  Thank you to our wonderful, volunteer coaches that made this year such a great experience!

Ruslan is the class clown here at home!  He always has us rolling in laughter.  The kids can always count on him to be entertainment.  Just recently, our second-youngest son told his grandparents, "We don't need TV, we have Ruslan!"

While Grandma was visiting, Dad took everyone up the nearby canyon for a jaunt.  Mom stayed home to get something done...funny, I can't remember what it was.  Guess I missed the cart that time.

With eight children, you'd better wait for "$2 Tuesdays" at the Museum of Ancient Life!  There are a million pictures from this outing, but I won't bore you with them.  Just know that we have two 15 year old budding archaeologists on our hands who wanted photos of themselves with each and every facinating artifact!

GOTTA watch the BYU football games at the grandparents' house!  This is exactly why I am able to write this post tonight...there is rarely down time or uninterrupted time here at home.  Tonight is a rare exception because Dad took all the kids to watch the game...and we won 47-0 so everyone has come home happy!

Princess Lu with her entourage.  Don't tell me farm kids dont' have time to play!
Notice the computer center behind the kids...all our computers are in the most public place in the house and are connected to the internet through a small device we take with us when we leave the house or go to bed.  Computers are not allowed in bedrooms or in private areas.  It is our philosophy that as the children learn to navigate within boundaries that are safe, they will be prepared to take on the responsibility of using computers and other technology when they are mature enough to handle it.  Until then, it is carefully monitored and time with technology is carefully rationed. 

We liken the use of internet and other technologies to a highway.  We would never let an untrained driver or any of our children, no matter what age, run around on a busy freeway.  They are sure to be killed.  They run the risk of spiritual death being allowed to "run around" on the internet just as easily as physical death on a highway.  However, we as adults can safely navigate the freeway because we are trained, know the rules and have enough self-discipline to follow them.  There is a time and a season for all things and childhood is not the season for technology or unsupervised internet use.

Peach canning!  Ruslan is sporting his favorite Ukrainian soccer shirt.  Look at the concentration on their faces!  We ended up with 26 quarts of home canned peaches.  

One of our potato plants died early so I brought Ruslan and Nastia over to dig up the treasures underneath.  If you've never harvested potatoes, you haven't lived!  There were squeals of joy as they found more and more as they dug deeper and searched around finding different sizes of Yukon Gold.  That early in the year, the skins are thin and steam up wonderfully.  They were so proud to eat their harvest!

Our fabulous friend, Bob, shows the family how to replace the master cylindar for the brakes in our old farm truck.  We hoped this truck would be a great way for us all to learn how to fix engines. 
We can't just be good, we've gotta be good for something!

Who said corn harvest can't be fun?
Now that harvest is pretty much over, I can tell you that many of these corn stalks were fed to our goats, but several dozen of them grace our front deck with pumpkins in between.  We grew indian corn with all those fabulous colors, but our sporatic watering, thanks to several weeks to and from and in and out of Ukraine, made for very small ears.  We left them on the stalks and, if observers look closely, they are part of our fall decoration out front.  The girls were just thrilled to open and expose these little, colorful cobs on our huge corn stalks.

The girls are shucking corn and preparing it for blanching, kernel removal and then freezing.  The next several batches of peaches and the first tomato harvest are waiting while the day was spent on the corn.  We did get to it all though...dozens of quarts of peaches, tomatoes and stewed tomatoes (with peppers and onions from our garden) as well as gallons of frozen corn were part of our harvest that weekend. 

And that is a glimpse into daily life here as the summer winds down.  We've been home about two months and this is what we've spent a lot of time doing...working together.  The kids have all started piano lessons and homeschool classes and there is news to share and more to come! 
Just not tonight... ;)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What a Year of Prayers Will Produce

Our sweet four-year-old son has been praying for a year that Ruslan and Nastia would come to live with us and that the "paperwork would be okay" or that "the paperwork would get to Ukraine".  It was during this year that his prayers turned from the kind where Mom and Dad feed him the words to say, or the kind where he says the same things in every prayer, into the thoughtful, heartfelt pleading with God to bring about the desires of his little heart.  I think I could say that this little man has come to know his Heavenly Father much better during the course of this adoption as he has asked for blessings and seen them come to fruition in miraculous ways.  And that would be true of all of us.

Because the blessing of having his new siblings with us has been realized, his prayerful requests have changed a little.  He now prays in gratitude for the fact that Ruslan and Nastia are here and that they are "nice to us".  Occasionally, he will pray "for the paperwork" and one night I found out why.

A few weeks ago, after I had listened to his nightly prayer, I was sitting on his bed talking to him when he said, "Mom, when Ruslan and Nastia go back to Ukraine..."  I can't remember the rest of what he said because I was so surprised to realize that he thought they were not going to stay.

When we moms suddenly receive the understanding that our children don't see life or the world or us the way we thought they did, it is a humbling and disconcerting feeling.  I asked myself what impact it would have to explain to him that they are never going away.  Fortunately, four-year-olds are resilient and positive about life and this little man is so loving and so open with his love, that I didn't have to be concerned for more than a moment. 

His response when I told him they were never going back?  A surprised smile...and then he went on to talk about how much he loves Ruslan and Nastia. 

No wonder the Savior said to become as a little child.

Now that he understands that they are going to stay, his prayers have changed yet again.  Tonight, he prayed "for the paperwork to stay in Ukraine".  I figure it was his attempt to ask his Father in Heaven to keep things the way they are and make sure he gets to keep two people he loves so much.  It amazes me that this child is still praying so faithfully about this topic.

So, what does a year of praying produce...besides cute four-year-olds and mommy hearts that melt?  I think it produces miracles.  How can a God ignore the voices of His little ones?

It produces faith, even in a child this young.  It produces a relationship with God, a vision of His purposes and an understanding of His ways.  I think my little man has learned that his Father in Heaven is actually listening, literally cares and guides our lives according to His divine will that has our best interests at heart.

There is nothing I would want more than to have my children know their Heavenly Father intimately and desire to go to Him in prayer and pour out their hearts to Him.  If a four-year-old praying for a year can produce all of that, imagine what decades of it can do.