Friday, April 27, 2012

If I Have Not Love

Sam was blissfully happy today. When the nurse brought her down the stairs, I was waiting and watching in eager anticipation. We must have been quite a site to behold! When she caught a glimpse of me standing there, her little arms and legs began to dance and her face lit up with the biggest, most beautifully excited smile.

I, on the other hand, woke up today with rocks in my belly. It only took seconds of being awake to realize where I was and what was about to take place. I literally could not breath. And the tears would not stop. I prayed and cried through a long shower, knowing it was a blessing that the Lord was allowing me to feel and grieve and then pull myself together before my visit. And so that's what I did.

Yes, tears still fell occasionally as Sam and I played and sang and loved. But as far as she knew, we were having another great day together. I am so thankful for this. Today her hugs were even more trusting than before. I am now completely convinced she knows far more than anyone gives her credit for. I think she knows I'm her mama. I kissed her all over, every chance I got, and she kissed me right back; open-mouthed, sloppy, lingering kisses. There's not a gift in the world I would have rather received today.

Every time I heard movement in the hall outside our visiting room, my heart would sink a little, wondering if it was "them" coming to take her away. When a nurse finally did come, I asked Mitko, through tears, to tell her to PLEASE take care of my baby. The woman looked at me empathetically and said, "Of course we will." I only hope she could see how very much my little girl is worth in my eyes, and that she will answer my request with more than just words. With genuine care and respect for a child of God. With love.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Anna pointed out today that no amount of physical care can make up for a love. Even if the children of Pleven were changed regularly, fed properly, and given sufficient stimulation and would all be for naught without love. So, until the Lord sends people with Love and JESUS in their hearts to care for these children, I pray He will send guardian angels to protect them, to hold them, to show them love. I especially pray this for my Sam. After such a wonderful week of loving each other, I pray her mind and heart would be protected. That she would not feel abandoned. That she would feel hopeful and absolutely loved and cared for by Her Father.

Please join me in praying for my Samantha. Pray that she will be able to endure the rest of her time at Pleven, and that she will cling to memories of this joy-filled week we shared. Pray that her "care-givers" will be completely overtaken by LOVE, by the power of God's Holy Spirit. And pray for the paper work I will start immediately upon my arrival in the USA. I just learned that the Bulgarian Court System will be shut down for summer vacation from mid-July to mid-September. Pray that our kind and merciful Father will move Sam's case through the court system BEFORE mid-July. I'm told by my attorney that this is not impossible. And with God, it is certainly VERY possible!

Before I sign off, I have to tell you all that your prayers are being felt here. Today has certainly been difficult, but there have been moments when I have experienced the peace that surpasses all understanding. Moments like these are a gift. Please keep praying.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

If You Ever Needed Proof

If you’ve ever needed proof that God is real.
If you’ve ever hoped to see a miracle.
If you could use to hear a story of redemption. Of good triumphing over evil. 
You need not look any farther than here.

God is real. God is good. He is Love. All this is evidenced in this tiny little girl who the Father has protected and preserved throughout 7 years of horrendous abuse and neglect. And now, she is already teaching me how to loosen up, to love harder than ever, and to live for the things in life that really matter. And what is that, you might ask? Well, for me, it her. And its 163 million children living all around the world without moms and dads. Its JESUS. Its redemption. 

I am ABSOLUTELY in love.

Sam is bringing me closer and closer to the Father’s heart.
Today I was rather dramatically daydreaming of all I would be willing to endure to just GET MY DAUGHTER HOME. I won’t subject you the details of those thoughts, but it did dawn on me that Jesus has already been subjected to all of that and more. To get me home. That’s the kind of love he has for us. 
Today was the MOST AMAZING day with Sam I could have ever asked for. She was calm and soft. She was asking for kisses. We made endless music together and she could not get enough of it. I played the beach ball as a drum. We both sang. She danced. And whenever I stopped, she showed me exactly what she wanted to do! She’d take hold of my thumb with her little hand and pull it over to the ball and help me to hit it once or twice as if it say, “Come on Mom, we’re making music!”
And she was so proud of her shoes today! I don’t think she usually gets to wear shoes. She usually sits on her knees with her feet behind her, out of her sight. But today she kept pulling her right foot out in front, kicking up her heel, wiggling it around, looking at her pretty shoes and then looking at me. So sweet. Wait till she gets home and can wear shoes anytime her little heart desires.
I had a great conversation today with Sam’s baba. To be honest, I hadn’t been too sure about her up until this point. But today, I really felt like we connected, at least enough for her to understand how VERY much this little girl is loved and valued and that I consider it a great blessing that someone would care for her in my absence. I pray this woman’s hugs and kisses will sustain my girl until I can come back for her. 
Tomorrow is the dreaded goodbye. BUT, saying goodbye means we’re one step closer to being together for good. And that’s something to rejoice about.
Pray pray pray for Sam’s freedom day. 
Lots and lots of love to all of you. From Sam and me.

We bought 15 boxes of diapers for the orphanage today!!! Yay!!! It was quite an ordeal. We had to get permission ahead of time, and when we delivered them we had to meet with the interim director and provide LOTS of documentation. Anna had to sight FOUR FORMS.

This is Sam's baba. Mitko is translating a card I wrote to her thanking her for taking care of Sam.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Joy and Tears

This morning we got to take the kids on a field trip to get their passport pictures taken. This was quite an adventure! All of the kids (there were four in all) loved the car ride. Samantha was no exception. There were no car seats so she sat in my lap. I crossed my arms in front of her like a seatbelt, and she put her hands over mine, squeezing tightly as if to makes sure she wouldn’t fly away. 
The photo store was strangely right across the street from our hotel. In fact we parked AT the hotel and walked from there, and as we did I asked Sam if we should skip out on the rest of the day and just go up to the hotel and get ready to go home. She thought this was a good idea.
The photo sessions were stressful for all of the children. They were supposed to either stand up in front of the white background or sit on a bar stool with no back to rest on. This was quite difficult for all of the four kiddos. Sam was really unsure about the whole thing. I sat her on the stool and held her up from the side, but she didn’t understand what was going on and kept lunging toward me, asking me to save her. I had to let another adult hold her up so I could stand behind the camera woman and coax her to look up. It took several tries to get an acceptable portrait. The stool wasn’t working, so they thought they’d have her stand, but she was unsure what was going on and would not straighten her legs or attempt to hold herself up. At one point she lost her balance and fell to the floor. I immediately rushed over to her, thinking she may have hurt herself. But of course, she didn’t make a peep. I’m sure she’s not used to being comforted when she gets hurt, so she does not cry out for help.
Sam was very relaxed at the start of our visit today, but after her experience getting her picture taken, she was distressed. It was a good thing she got to enjoy another car ride as a reward for being such a good girl and putting up with all that commotion.
We attempted to deliver all of the donated formula to the orphanage today. Anna and I brought around 150 pounds. Tom brought another suitcase full. And a family adopting from another city brought several boxes as well. We waited until today to deliver it because it has seemed that on previous visits there was no one who was qualified to receive it. Our guide spoke with an administrator about the donation for what seemed like forever. When he left her office, he said they were unwilling to accept the formula without proper documentation tracking where it had come from. We were all sad and angry as this formula is all highly specialized and vitally important for the health of many very malnourished children. But with all of the press attention the orphanage has been receiving, they must be very careful to enforce rules concerned food inspection and safety. Sadly that rule is written in such a way that it is keeping thousands of dollars of lifesaving nourishment from the children.
My attorney immediately responded to this situation by contacted Prof. Lilova from Tokuda hospital, where many children from the orphanage are currently being treated. She is willing to receive the formula, and may even be able to get some of it into the orphanage through the nurses we are hiring. 

My visit this afternoon with Sam was a good one. She was calm and sweet as can be. We had a few very sweet moments when she laid her head on my shoulder and caressed my arm. I also sang to her for a long time and she looked the most relaxed I’ve seen her. When she’s really comfortable she makes this adorable face where her lips purse and she breaths deeply almost like a yawn. Her eyes also relax and get squinty, almost falling into sleep. Absolutely adorable if you ask me. 
The end of our visit was quite emotional. I said goodbye and then watched as Sam’s baba set her down, held both of her hands, and coaxed her to take several steps, which is hard work for Sam!! I was so proud, I had to follow them down the hall and cheer her on! I teared up watching her with her baba, and wanted to encourage her baba to continue showing Sam this kind of love and attention, so I asked our guide to come over and translate. Through tears I tried to thank Sam’s baba for taking care of her when i can’t. But then came some words that I did not expect to hear. She said she was glad Sam has a mama because she doesn’t get the best care at the orphanage (which I knew). People don’t give her much attention, she says, because they don’t find her attractive. (I believe this has something to do with her ethnicity and skin color) And because she doesn’t make eye contact like some of the other children. This breaks my heart. And I know if break the Lord’s heart as well. Please pray about this, friends. Pray pray and pray some more.
I know God is winning. He’s already won, in fact!! But waiting and enduring the next few months will be difficult. I need to keep reminding myself that on the other side of the waiting, working, praying, and hurting will be the best, sweetest, most undeserved reward I could ever receive. If I can only remember that day is coming!! Sam’s freedom day!! Hold on sweet Sam. Soon!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

On Love And Anger

Today brought about a full range of emotions. 
My first visit with Sam was dream-like! She warmed up to me quickly and was showing what seemed to be genuine affection. She has a lot of ticks and habitual movements that she does when she’s anxious, excited, or unsure. These are NO DOUBT a result of the environment she has been raised in. But this morning there were moments when her ticks melted away and she was giving me REAL SMILES! Once, while we were playing on the floor, I stood up to grab a kleenex a few feet away, and she reached her arms up to be held. And there were a couple times when she actually melted a little bit into a hug. This is unusual, as her body is usually quite stiff and her movements very abrupt. 
Sam has really been enjoying one particular toy that I brought, a hot pink, squishy koosh ball. She LOVES the way it feels on the palms of her hands. For the majority of our time today she wanted me to brush the toy against one hand, and then the other, back and forth. She even offered up a foot at one point, but quickly decided she didn’t actually like that!
Even more so than yesterday, Sam was allowing, even enjoying kisses, and a few times our faces were affectionately pressed up against one another.
I am noticing more and more that many of Sam’s movements, even some that look cute when she does them, are forms of self-stimulation. There are things she does with her face that look like quick smiles and winks, head nods and shakes, a sideways dance/shoulder shake, and clicking her teeth like she is chewing gum. And then of course there is the way she grinds her teeth on the left side of her mouth. She enjoys being held for several minutes at a time, but then falls to the side abruptly and flops about as if to say she would like some time on the floor. 
When we play on the floor, we are often holding hands or clapping together. I am discovering that these clapping routines, (again, still quite cute) are a self-stimulation as well. When she invites me to clap with her, or clap over her hands; she is inviting me into her world. Don’t get me wrong, she is still quite expressive and affectionate, but I am seeing more and more the hurt that has been caused and the healing we have to look forward to.
I left our second visit today feeling both sad and angry. Sam was a bit agitated for the first part of our visit. Not grumpy. Just agitated and unable relax and enjoy herself. I can usually calm her down by offering her my hand, and waiting for her to start clapping our hands together, or by caressing her arms, or softly touching her mouth where she grinds her teeth and telling her, “Shhhh, its okay”. But she couldn’t calm down for some reason. And when I would offer her my hand, she would gently push it away.
All the while there was a conversation going on in our TINY visiting room, FULL of people, about the conditions of the orphanage. I became more and more angry as someone tried to explain away the children’s conditions, saying that the reason they are starving is not because they are under fed, but because their “diseases” make it impossible for them to digest food correctly. They also said that the Bulgarian newspapers like to exaggerate and demonize people because it sells stories. The staff are not bad people, they are just ignorant of the children’s needs due to their complicated conditions.
I simply could not comprehend what I was hearing. There is PROOF now of the intentional and profound abuse and neglect of children all throughout this orphanage. When is enough enough? How much more proof can people possibly need before they will understand that what is going on in this orphanage is criminal?
I also found out today, once and for all, that Sam continues to live in a room all by herself on the 6th floor of the orphanage. My attorney knows this and is angered and saddened. I know without a doubt that if there was anything at all she could do about it, it would already be done. Apparently she is kept on the 6th floor because she is an “anomaly”. And because her “condition” is chronic. And her “condition”, if you can believe it, is the self-stimulating ticks and movements caused by these very living conditions.
I waited throughout our afternoon visit for Sam to invite me into her world. She didn’t want to be touched, although I would pick her up from from time to time and hold her, even if only for a minute. She didn’t want to hold hands, but she sat facing me, allowing me to touch her hands with the pink ball. And finally, when she determined she was ready, she let me in. She grabbed my thumb and pulled my right hand over to my left hand to make her favorite clapping noise. Eventually she allowed me to hold the palm of my hand up to hers, which I took as an indication that she was ready. I began to methodically stroke her arms, both at the same time, from her shoulders down to the tips of her fingers, and back again. She even then let me rub her back and then turned over, asking me to pat her belly. And then, miracle of miracles, she climbed right up into my lap, all by herself, and sat there calm and still and at peace. No sooner than she was calmed down, it was time for us to say goodbye.
Needless to say, there have been some tears tonight. I kept telling Sam, “I can’t wait to break you out of here!” And I can’t. That day cannot come soon enough! But praise be to Jesus! He is not unwise to the suffering of Sam or of any of the other children. He will not rest until they are free. 
Our word of the day today was Trust, and our corresponding reading could not have been any more fitting. I’ll only put part of it here, but if you have the chance, go and read all of Psalm 37.
Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him, and He will help you. He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn, and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun. Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for Him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper- it only leads to harm. For the wicked will be destroyed, but those who trust in the Lord will possess the land.
Love to all of you, dear friends and family. Thank you for your prayers.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Video #3

Video #2

Video #1

Coolest Kid On the Block!

What a day!!!

First let me start by saying thank you for praying for my health. I felt very free and undistracted by my silly cold today. I'm thankful God answered all of our prayers!

We left the hotel around 10am today to head to the orphanage. There are no words to explain how I felt walking up the stairs into the lobby. My expectations for our first visit were set fairly low. I knew it was possible we might not connect right away. She might not be ready to make eye contact. She might not be very responsive.

We had a bit of a scare right before the start of our visit when an official came into our very small meeting room and said that we may not take any photos. It took me a moment to gather myself and decide not to let that news ruin our time together.

When Sam's baba carried her in, she looked so tiny. And from the way she was dressed, and her hair was done, I had to wonder whether they knew I was coming this morning. She was wearing some of the same worn, old clothes I've seen her wearing in photos and her hair didn't appear to be washed. But when I reached out for her she came right to me. She's easily excited and shook and danced back and forth on my hip. It took her no time to warm up and offer me silly, sweet grins. This little girl is FULL of LIFE!!! Sam immediately FAR exceeded my EVERY expecation. This girl is amazing! I could not possibly want or love another child more than I want and LOVE my Sam. OH. MY. GOODNESS! 

After our morning visit I called my attorney, who was able to straighten out the photo situation. Apparently, with all of the bad press lately, the orphanage did not want to risk more photos leaking out. My attorney called the Ministry of Justice directly and came up with a form for me to sign stating my intent for the photos. Praise the Lord! He took care of that problem right away!

We traveled back to the orphanage again around 4:00. Our afternoon visit was just as fun as the first! Sam came into the room looking so pretty in her all pink outfit and fancy/crazy hair. We had a blast getting to know each other. She LOVES to clap, and better yet to clap with a partner. She'd clap one of my hands with hers (like a high five) or if I put out both of my hands out, she'd hit hers back and forth between them as fast as she could. And perhaps her favorite clapping technique was when I (or Anna) would clap our hands with one of her hands inbetween. I think she really likes the way it feels. She'd sit and enjoy it for a minute, then offer up her other hand.

Sam is great at standing up and kneeling, but doesn't have great balance or much interest in walking, even with help. She's a wiggly worm, nonetheless, and made her way all over the room. When she's excited she grinds her teeth, but she loves music, and when I would sing she would calm down and stop. 

I just love her little hands. Sometimes she would put one hand in the air and invite me to match my hand with hers. And then she'd squeeze my fingers and wave my hand back and forth. And she LOVES to be dipped backwards. I started by tilting her back just a little ways to see what she would do, but soon she was pushing off of my chest with her hands and hanging all the way to the floor. She's also very ticklish right around her belly button. I can just gesture that I'm going to tickle her and she starts giggling. I love it!!

She does move quite abruptly, and has a lot of ticks and strange habits from lack of stimulation. But I know those things will begin to heal over time.

I tried to upload some videos to this post, but after a couple hours of loading they were still not ready! So I'll end my post today with some photos, and will hopefully have some videos for you by morning. She is a character, I can't wait for you to see her in action!!!

Lots more to come tomorrow! Thanks again for all of your love and prayers!!! 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

If you're awake, please pray!!

Hello friends and family!

Since I am currently laying awake in my bed, feeling a bit anxious, I thought I should come to all of you and ask for prayer. I am of course praying here, too, but more prayer warriors can only be a good thing!

I've developed a cold over the last 12 hours, and am not feeling the greatest. My body aches, there's crud in my lungs, and I have a cough that is getting progressively worse as the night goes on.

If you know me well, you know that I can be anxious, so I first want to ask you to pray that God would calm my heart and help me to sleep. Second, I pray that you would ask the Lord to miraculously heal me! I want to be fully present to Sam tomorrow, and I so much want to be able to sing to her, but feel like this crud is already affecting my voice (its always the first thing to go when I get sick.). And of course, I do not want to get my little girl sick :(

Thank you so much , everyone.  I know this is only a small thing, but God can do anything, and I would be so very blessed if He would choose to do this.

Love to all of you.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered...I'm yours!

Hello from Bulgaria! It's been a take-it-easy type of day today. We were able to sleep in and recover from our travels, which was a wonderful gift. And after getting plenty of sleep, there was still time for breakfast and some time in God's Word. 

My friend Bethany lovingly wrote out a theme and Bible verse for me to focus on each day of my trip. Today our  word was PEACE. 
Our guide Mitko arrived to pick us up from our hotel around 1:00. One other adoptive father joined us for the three hour trip to Pleven. A clear blue sky and  bright green grass helped to make for a lovely trip through the countryside. And of course, the mountain range in the backdrop didn't hurt anything either. I enjoyed people watching as we made our way slowly through several small towns. There were men hand-tilling their gardens, lots of laundry hung out on the line to dry, children jumping rope, lots of people riding bicycles, grown people holding hands, and merchants selling their wares on the side of the street. I kept my eyes open and watched each face carefully as I am eager to learn more about the Roma (Gypsy) population here in Bulgaria. Samantha's biological family is Roma, and I've found myself daydreaming about what they might be like, and whether I've passed any of them on the street.

In the background you'll see some apartment buildings that date back to the Soviet Era.

I don't honestly know what this particular building is used for, but it is a great example of some of the beautiful, old architecture we have been seeing.

I know this is terribly fuzzy, but you get the idea. We've seen many fields today painted yellow by these beautiful flowers.
We checked in to our hotel here in Pleven, rested for a bit, and then went exploring for a couple of hours. It occurred to me as we were walking that although this is Samantha's country of origin, her people would not receive her. Her Down Syndrome and her Roma heritage both make her an outsider here. I look forward to bringing her home where she can walk (soon, I know she will walk!) proudly down the street and be greeted by many loving neighbors who anticipate her home-coming.

I received a welcome gift today from my lawyer Toni, by way of Mitko. It was some completed paperwork, written mostly in Bulgarian, but the last page had this little jewel on it:

Not only is this a photo I have never seen, with stamped approval by the powers that be...but it shows Sam standing all by herself!!! (Possibly leaning against the crib, but standing just the same!). What a pretty little girl she is, folding her hands and looking right at the camera. This little girl will be walking in no time. Just wait and see!

I'm sure most of you know tomorrow will be our long-awaitedSi first meeting. Oh my goodness I am beside myself with excitement and anticipation. I had a song by Matt Maher playing on my computer this morning that I though would be a most appropriate theme song for tomorrow. The lyrics say, "This is the first day of the rest of your life". Indeed it will be! And I am ready to begin.

Anna and I really do appreciate your continued prayers. I was just saying today that I can feel you all lifting us up. Thank you so much for being so faithful in that way. We are certainly blessed by you.

I look forward to sharing pictures of SAMANTHA tomorrow! Until then, Love to you all. Good night!