Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gotcha Day - one year later!!!

Today marks the one year anniversary of the day we became a family. I thought it would be an appropriate time to revisit the blog for an update. To celebrate our first "Gotcha Day", we took a day trip down to Houston to visit NASA and Space Center Houston. We had a great time celebrating the day and learning some things at the same time. I guess some people realize their dreams by traveling to space; others adopt from Russia :-)

We're back at home now after stopping to visit with Aunt Eva and Uncle JD on the way, and we wrapped up the celebration by giving the kids letters that we wrote to them a year ago during the adoption process. Now they can actually read and understand what we wrote, so it was the perfect time!

It has truly been an amazing year. God has blessed us immeasurably. The transition has not been easy for anyone, but some would say nothing worthwhile ever is. And when we think about how difficult it could have been, we are reminded again of how blessed we are.

Our family and friends have been wonderfully supportive, the kids had a fantastic first year at school, their English is great, they've made some precious friends, everybody has been healthy, and we feel more bonded and settled in as a family all the time. Dima has made a decision to trust Jesus and was baptized in March. I would say that it seems like the year has flown by, but instead, I'm amazed at how much has happened and how much we have all grown (in the case of the kids, the physical growth has been incredible - Dima has moved from being third tallest to easily the tallest in the family.)

What else can we say? We are far from being the perfect family, we have our struggles, but we are thankful and we love seeing how God is at work in us and in those around us. On a related note, we are attempting to publish our adoption story along with several other stories that will be compiled into a book. We will have to keep you posted about that. Every story is different and so inspiring.

We are praying for and with several friends who are in the process of adopting from Russia, and others who have recently brought their children home. We pray that God will continue to "place the lonely in families" and to use us to share the story of His adoption of us.

God bless you all!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Amazing Love

A few friends have asked us if we are going to continue the blog. I had not really planned on it, but since they have encouraged me and since the kids are now fully involved in school, I think we might post updates every now and then.

We are doing really well overall. Dasha and Dima both love school, and Bob and I are so happy with Alpha Omega Academy. The teachers and administrators were very excited to meet our kids and to welcome them. They are flexible with us in terms of grading and assignments while the kids are working on learning English. Their peers at school have been just as fantastic, welcoming and befriending Dasha and Dima. Dasha received a birthday invitation from a classmate in the mail just a day after she met the birthday girl in class. It will be her first party without us! And Dima has expressed repeatedly how happy he is that the boys at school like him. (No talk about the girls yet, thank God!) Their English is coming along very well - we hear more from Dasha every day!

I am taking the semester off from school - an amazing blessing though I will miss my students. I can already see how it really is necessary, though, and how I will need to devote a great deal of time to our kids during the transition. Bob is having to rebuild his business, but the up side of that is that he also gets a good bit of "kid time" right now.

At home we are doing lots of homework but still have time to play together as a family. I think the kids really love being here. There are times when the adjustment is hard - difficult assignments, frustration with language, learning to live happily as siblings, and learning to live within the boundaries we set. All very natural and normal under these circumstances, but difficult since Bob and I are still getting to know the kids and just learning to be parents as well.

But I was reminded of something this morning as I was researching a little on the love of God.

Romans 5:10 says, "For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life."

I'm not sure I ever got much from that verse before, but in thinking about the fact that we as believers were adopted into God's family by Christ's death and reconciliation, I realized that it didn't stop there. He not only reconciled us so that we would be in good standing with the Father, He also conquered death and rose from the dead to seal our futures, meaning life with Him now and eternally, essentially relationship. So the adoption is the first part. The relationship - the ongoing, permanent gift of life and love - is the rest.

And for us, our adoption was the beginning. Now we are called to give life and love through whatever comes, and to live in a relationship, a family, that will not be broken, as an example of what He did for us.

My brain is fuzzy now - thinking and writing and needing to clean the kitchen.

So off I go... As always, thank you for listening and praying and investing in our family!


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Home Sweet Home

And it really is. I can't believe we've been home for one week today! It's been a whirlwind - so much orienting, bonding, adjusting, visiting with relatives, catching up after a month away, and believe it or not, more paperwork! There's still much to do before we feel like we're caught up. But we're doing so well!!!

The flights home were fine - Dima enjoyed flying for the first time until the last 10 minutes or so - coming into Houston was pretty turbulent. But overall we did well and enjoyed our trip. We had to get the kids up at 2:30am on the morning that we left, but they were excited and ready to go. We landed in Houston at 2:30pm Texas time and were greeted by a few friends and family - a perfect welcome party complete with balloons and signs in Russian and English to welcome Dima and Dasha home. The party had to wait and wait for us to get out of immigration, and we very much appreciated their patience. We all headed straight for an ice cream shop - the perfect welcome spot for these particular kiddos. Dima and Dasha were a little shy but really enjoyed the people they met, the gifts, and making their first friends in America. They specifically remembered names of those at the airport after we left.

My parents have been here for a week and have been a great help with food prep, cleaning up after us, etc., while we spend time with the kids and take care of other things. And it's been wonderful for them to get to know their new grandparents. The other set of grandparents (Bob's side), has been able to talk to the kids on the phone and has sent boxes of clothes which the kids were thrilled to get!

By Sunday they were ready to get out and go to church, and we knew that so many of you would be there to greet them. They did great - shy and pretty overwhelmed by all the love, but they had a good time nonetheless. The first thing Dima said after he was able to escape to the car was, "I like your friends." So I think it was a success.

So during the past week we have gone to the pool almost every day, shopped a little, played games, gone to our first American birthday party (thanks for the invitation, Phoebe!), started on some English lessons, visited, canoed, introduced some chores, and played and played with cats and kittens. Dima and Dasha each have a kitten, and they LOVE them.

God is truly amazing - we see His work in our children and in our family. He has been faithful to bring us together and has brought us blessing after blessing already. We are humbled and in awe. At some point we would like to blog again, just to recap the miracles and victories we've experienced on this journey - but first we have to register children, get them on insurance, get them in school, go to see doctors and dentists...

Thank you for your faithfulness in praying for us, reading our long posts, and being friends and supporters of our family. We love you and thank God for you!

Karen, Bob, Dima, and Dasha

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

We're in Moscow!

We arrived Monday morning after riding the overnight train. Sunday went well - Dima had a good birthday. We had a Georgian feast with the 2 grandmothers, 2 friends, girlfriend, and Natasha. The kids' biological mother did not come but they spoke to her on the phone before leaving St. Petersburg.

The friends - 2 15yo boys that rode the train from the orphanage camp - brought a cake for Dima, such a thoughtful thing for 2 15yo boys to do. And he got gifts from the others. The grandmothers gave us ALL gifts, so much that we were very thankful to have just enough room in our luggage! We have all kinds of souvenirs from St. Petersburg, and even 2 family photo albums that include pictures of when the kids were young. These are priceless items that most adoptive families never get. The paternal grandmother and a great aunt came to the train station to see us off later that night, while the maternal grandmother went back to the hospital to be with their grandfather. The kids of course had mixed emotions leaving their friends and relatives behind, but they maintained their excitement about things to come.

They loved the train ride. Dima says he slept for about an hour - he was just too excited. He gets so excited about everything - not overly so, but he has such a boyish love of life, appreciates the small things, and isn't afraid to show it. We hope he never loses that. Dasha slept the most but also had a really good time.

When we got here Monday morning, we checked into the hotel and the doctor came to visit us for the mandatory examinations for the kids' visas. We were amazed that doctors still make house calls! Dr. Read, we'll be expecting the same treatment when we get back :-) The visits were quick and easy, and the worst we found out is that Dasha has cavities and needs to see the dentist. No big surprise there.

After long naps that we tricked the kids into, we went swimming in the hotel's indoor pool. The kids love to swim, so we'll be visiting there for the next 2 days, I'm sure. Today we have an appointment at the US embassy to order visas, then tomorrow we are free to do as we please while Buckner staff takes care of the rest. We plan to go to Red Square for a little while.

The natives get restless with our long blogs, and we are in the hotel lobby, so I think we will head upstairs to wait for our embassy appointments.

Over and over we are reminded of how wonderful our friends and family have been to us during this long process. We have really enjoyed blogging and reading your comments back to us! We'll plan on blogging at least one more time, either from here or after we get home.

The kids are looking forward to the flight but are a little nervous about it, so if you could pray for peace and safety, that would be great! We love you and can't wait to get home!!!

Karen, Bob, Dima, and Dasha

Sunday, July 19, 2009

So we have the kids - now what do we do?

Just kidding - we're having a great time! We are sitting at McDonald's having pre-lunch fries and drinks in order to take advantage of the free internet. And we're finally on our own computer (which is easier because the Russian keyboard is different!) We are heading to lunch at a Georgian restaurant soon, to celebrate Dima's birthday with both of his grandmothers, 2 friends, a girlfriend (yes, you heard us right - YIKES!), and Natasha, with a probable brief visit from their biological mother. Their grandfather is in the hospital AGAIN, so we won't get to meet him. If you happen to be up reading this at 6am on Sunday, we'd love for you to pray for the birthday event!

Tonight we will head to Moscow on the overnight train. Should be fun. This time we'll actually have sleeping quarters on the train. Then Monday morning the kids will go to a doctor's appointment, a requirement to get their US visas. Visas should be ready by Wednesday, so we're flying home on THURSDAY!!!

When we were in Finland, our private sauna felt just like Houston, so when we were homesick, all we had to do was go in there. But here we don't have a sauna, and we are anxious to get home.

The last few days have been great - good bonding time with the kids while we took care of some business, too. We went to the zoo one day and toured Catherine's Palace on another. We've had to sleep with the windows open in our 7th floor apartment because there's no AC and it's been a little warm. So for the last 2 nights, we've had a visit from the most unique domestic cat we've ever met. The kids have appropriately named him "Crazy" (said with a thick Russian accent.) We'll try to post a picture. He just waltzed in through a window one night and decided to stay for an hour or so, then did the same the next night. We had no idea how he managed to get into a 7th floor apartment window (apparently from the roof) until we saw him in action last night. This cat is amazing! He must be a cross between something domestic and something wild. Check out his markings. And he can jump more than 5 feet straight up with no problem at all. Last night he jumped from the window to the top of an open door and just balanced there for awhile for fun. But he is also very sweet and the family very much enjoyed his midnight visits.

So we are coming in Thursday on British Airways at 2:35pm. We are all excited! Mom and Dad, we'll call you on your cell later in the week to give more details.

God bless you all - have a wonderful week! We'll be back in touch soon since we can access e-mail from our Moscow hotel.

Karen, Bob, Dima, and Dasha

Monday, July 13, 2009

We Are Parents!!!

It's official - we got our adoption certificates yesterday! We arrived back in St. Pete on Sunday night and checked into the apartment we will be renting this week. (It is actually owned by Buckner and is a transitional home for orphans after they leave the orphanages. It's a small program - only a few orphans are accepted - but it allows kids to live there and work and/or go to school while learning crucial skills needed to live independently. It's a great program, but Natasha says it's funded solely by donations and they're not sure how long they can keep it going. The transitional kids are gone from the apartment for the summer, so it is used to house interns [like summer missionaries] who come and go, and it is available for rent by people like us.)

Just the bare essentials there, but Antoine, one of the house parents, takes great care of us. We have the place to ourselves until the weekend when 3 interns will come back from Dasha's orphanage, where they are spending the week doing vacation bible school. We met the 3 on Monday - great girls - Jessica, Melissa, and Courtney? Turns out Melissa is an A&M grad and first year teacher, and Jessica is a Sam Houston education student! Crazy! We've never met her before - she goes home to Houston every weekend to teach Sunday School at her church. But we invited her to visit UHBC and Truth. It's a small world after all! The third intern is from Illinois, and they are all very sweet.

Today we will go back to the camps and pick up our kids for good!!! We will have a going away party at Dasha's, then head to Dima's to do the same. Lots of cake today! Since the kids are officially ours, the rest of our time here will be spent trying to get them out of Russia and into the US. We are currently waiting on the kids' passports, which should be ready Thursday, possibly Friday. We could head to Moscow as early as Sunday night (Sunday is also Dima's 13th birthday!), which is earlier than planned. If that happens, we may be able to get the visas in Moscow a little sooner than expected, and maybe even bring them home a couple days early! The soonest would be Thursday, July 23, or it may still be Saturday the 25th, depending on lots of factors (hotel, airline, embassy appointments, etc.)

So we are now at an internet cafe in St. Petersburg trying to navigate through language barriers with Russian-only speakers. And we are not able to use our own computer (again), so can't post pictures. BUT we are happy and healthy and grateful.

Thank you for all your prayers - God has really been showing us that prayer is a crucial part of our faith and relationship with Him. We don't know what adventures await us, but just like He showed the Israelites His miracles over and over in Egypt to prepare them for the wilderness, we know that He has shown us miracles too, to prepare us for whatever He has next.

We have just been informed (we think) that wireless is available close by, so maybe we'll get back soon with pictures and more updates!

Much love,
Karen and Bob

Thursday, July 9, 2009

We Found Them!

Reindeer - lots and lots and lots of reindeer! Can't wait until we can post pictures. This morning a whole herd decided to graze through our complex just as we were coming out. We hung out with them for quite awhile - amazing animals.
Yesterday we hiked for 20 miles! That's way more than we've ever done before, and we feel it today! But it was possible for 2 reasons. First, even though we're in a ski resort area, the mountains in Finland are very small and the hiking is easy. Of course it helps to not have 30-40 pound packs on our backs - there's something to be said for day hiking! The second reason 20 miles was possible is because we never had to worry about it getting dark, so we knew we had all the time in the world. It doesn't get dark here even for a minute right now. Not that we've stayed up all night to check - we opted to ask someone instead. But we hiked very leisurely from 10am-10pm, stopping to warm up in cabins built for hikers and skiirs, complete with firewood and a cook stove!
The scenery is beautiful - very green, with rolling hills, lots of water, and much hiking on balds above treeline, where the views are great. We even saw a couple patches of snow!
We'll do shorter hikes today and tomorrow and continue to catch up on our reading. Then it's back to St. Petersburg on Saturday, arriving Sunday evening!
Hope you're having as much fun as we are!
Karen and Bob