Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Life Redeemed By LOVE

Sam weighed in at a little under 4 1/2 pounds when her birth-mother left her in the hospital.

I don’t fault her. Sam was this woman’s 14th pregnancy. And if the stereo-types are true, as a woman of Roma heritage (Gypsy, as many would say), the odds were truly stacked against her. I don’t doubt that she struggled to keep food on her family’s table, and that she probably really believed that someone else could give her special needs baby a better life. 

Regardless, seven years and five months ago, a frail, tiny baby set out on life’s journey...alone.

For two months, Sam made her home in a hospital crib. Although I don’t know if anyone in that facility truly loved Sam, I’m thankful to God for this gift of time. I have a feeling that it was in this hospital that Sam learned how to eat. If this is the case, it was likely this simple, yet vital skill that prepared her to survive what laid ahead. 

Upon being released from the hospital, Sam was transferred to an orphanage just one town away from her birth place. Her life was signed over to the care of the Pleven baby house. Baby Sam, still just as tiny as could be, quickly learned the ropes of her new home. Rule #1.) Lie down. And #2) Don’t bother crying; no one will come. 

So that's what she did. She lay on her back in her crib day in and day out. No one came to visit her except the woman in the white coat. But she never stayed very long. She came once a day (if that) to change Baby Sam’s diaper (and only her diaper). And other times she would come just long enough to prop up a beer bottle full of sludge for Baby Sam to drink. Sam would gulp down the fast-flowing, rancid liquid as best as she could, not knowing when she would see the woman in the white coat again.

Even despite the lack of love and human contact, slowly but surely, Baby Sam began to grow. And even without a teacher, she began to learn! She taught herself how to move about her crib, to kneel and pull herself to a stand. She learned how to rock herself to sleep and how to comfort herself when she was afraid. For entertainment, she would study her own hand, and use her voice to experiment with a variety of sounds.

But no one applauded for Baby Sam when she uttered a new sound or attempted a new skill. In fact, the woman in the white coat wasn’t pleased with Sam at all! She moved too much. She made too much noise. She had way too much life in her.

The woman in the white coat gathered together with the other White Coats and decided to do something about this life-filled baby girl. They labeled her “crazy”. An “anomaly”. Her movements and sounds were deemed “symptoms” of a “disease” which could not be cured. 

They moved Baby Sam to a new floor where they keep the “hopeless cases”. To a room where she would hence forth be kept in solitude. The horizontal scars on the insides of each of her arms and on the sides of her neck, indicate that she was restrained. Tied to her crib. 

Left in this state for a period of time, Sam’s body began to atrophy. Her weight declined. She could no longer stand up unassisted. In fact she was hardly even aware of her own body anymore, flopping about like a fish out of water.

The White Coats were determined to break her. To steal the life right out of her. 

And they nearly did. 

Until Hope walked in. 

And Mercy. 


Because all of you prayed and HE answered.

The prayers of thousands of people all over the world changed Sam’s world. They changed the atmosphere in her crib. They prepared her broken and bound up little heart for a mommy who loves her more than words can say. And for Jesus, who loves her far bigger than even her mommy ever could. 

And they prepared her for freedom.

The LORD looked at Samantha with LOVE and spared her life. And not only so, He protected her sweet spirit. She can now be found free from her chains, and thriving in her new life.

Thank you, Jesus, for LOVE'S RANSOM.

Thank you for saving this precious, oh-so-valuable, and very much loved little one.

I am so grateful.

Neither of us will ever be the same.

Here is Sam and me in our boat :) After an overwhelming, overly stimulating day, I pulled the couch right up to the windowsill, creating a small, enclosed space where we could retreat from the big new world. Sam learned that Mommy will respond to her when she is afraid. She doesn't have to comfort herself anymore! 
This is Sam rocking her appointment at the Children's hospital in Omaha. The doctor could not believe how calm and trusting Sam was. When she read that she was going to be seeing at 23-pound 7-year-old, this was not the little girl she expected to see.
When it all gets to be too much, the koosh ball makes everything all better :) And of course, Mommy.
...And a bottle! Sometimes taking a bottle is enough to make Sam burst into giggles. She is SO happy to finally have a full tummy.
After only two weeks of good nutrition, look was Sam can do...
...all by herself...
...leaning against a wall...
...and standing up like a big girl!
Giving mommy kisses :)
Giving in to sleep after chattering up a happy storm!
She may be tiny now...
...but she is growing!!! Look at that belly! She's already gained two pounds since her first doctors appointment one week ago.
Enjoying the scenery outside her bedroom window.
Trying a new food...green beans!!! She's still a little on the fence about them...
And now, saving the best for last...take a look at what my little genius can say:

 I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him. Psalm 40:1-3

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

How Blessed Are We?

I'm sorry it took me so long to say it, but...

We are home!!!

And what a journey it has been already.

The honest-to-goodness reason its taken me so long to write this post is because I can't take my eyes off of Miss Sam. For as long as she's awake, I just can't bring myself to look away long enough to write. 

When Sam was an infant, she wasn't anyone's "baby". No one stared at her all day or fussed about every cute little move she made. But now! Now she's my baby. And we've got time to make up for. 

So far this week, it's been my motto to try and sleep whenever Sam is sleeping. I brought home another nasty cold from Bulgaria, so that along with the jet lag has left me a little under the weather. But tonight I'm on the mend, so after Sam closed her eyes I was able to tidy up a bit and now update all of you!

Rather than write one long fluid update (which would require more brain juice than I've got), I'll just speak to a few things I know ya'll would like to know. 

So here goes:

What has been your greatest joy so far?

Hands down, there is nothing better than seeing Sam smile and hearing her laugh. Before our bedtime story tonight, I was getting Sam dressed on my bed. I bounced the mattress and tickled her until she was laughing so hard there were tears in her eyes. She has the best laugh!!! 

And, its just the best kind of relief to have her home, under my roof, never to go back to that place again. I can hardly believe she's finally here.

What is your greatest challenge?

I find myself feeling sad from time to time thinking about all that she has been through and wondering how much of it she'll remember. Sometimes she cries without explanation and this breaks my heart as well. She has suffered so much, I can only imagine...

What are some of Sam's like's and dislikes?

Sam loves dry diapers, kisses from Mommy, pediayte of any flavor, bouncing in her jumper, drumming, koosh balls, looking out and knocking on the window, and listening to Jesus music.

She could live without baths, crowds of people, and naps.

Have you been to see a doctor yet?

We had our first doctors appointment on Monday and Sam was such a trooper! We spent the visit mostly chatting about my observations thus far and some very basic check up items. I was relieved to find out that her throat does not seem to be something we need to deal with right away. Her adenoids may be slightly inflamed, but this does not seem to be the cause of her digging in her throat. The doctor feels that this is probably a self-stimulation.

Sam's stats were off from what I'd been told. In Bulgaria, she was measured at 26 pounds, 36 inches tall. In actuality she is 23.1 pounds, 38 inches tall. Not to mention...the poop Sam had been working on for days came out at the doctors office...which would have probably put her under 23 pounds. 

Are you happy?

I cannot adequately describe what it feels like to be doing something I know with all of my heart I am supposed to be doing.  Sam is an absolute treasure and a gift from the Lord. Being her mommy is the best job in the entire world. 

And now, what I know ya'll are all waiting for...pictures.

Finally arriving in Lincoln after a loooong delay in Chicago. Poor Sammers was so tired and out of sorts.
A few close friends and family came to meet us.

Here's my daddy getting a look at Sam.

I bawled like a baby. So tired and relieve to finally be home!
I'm so glad my brother-in-law caught this photo of the kids all gathering to get a look at Sam.
Here's Sammers on her first day home, checking out her new toys.

She was really drawn to this one.
My family came over to meet Sam officially (they had only seen her crying, and very briefly a that).
Meeting cousin Audrey
Her dog, Frank, is already quite protective of her.

With her Grammy
Meeting cousin Madeleine
Meeting Madi

Meeting Aunt Natalie

Meeting Uncle Steve
First "bath" at home
Grammy caught this photo of her having fun in her jumper
Hanging out with Papa
This video is adorable. She's drumming with Papa.

Look at the way she's looking at him :)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Thursday In Bulgaria (By Katie)

Today's our last full day in Bulgaria!!! Here's Katie's post from yesterday :) And once again, feel free to follow her at katie-memorablemoments.blogspot.com.
I started my day with some Samantha cuddles
Our translator picked us up promptly at 9:00 this morning for Samantha's medical check.  Grace strapped her into the carrier so she would feel secure & it worked like a charm.  She tolerated the ride to the clinic very well.  Once we arrived we had to wait and Samantha endured it . . . for awhile.  At the first sign of fussing Gracie gave her a treat; pedialyte.  She loves that stuff (and its so good for her)!  That worked temporarily, but as soon as the relief it brought wore off Samantha made it clear that she no longer wanted to be held.  Instead she wanted to flop, so flop she did.  Being the awesome mother she is, Gracie gave her the space she needed and before long she was feeling better.

When Samantha is feeling over stimulated she flops, like so. 

At this point it is best to give her some space. 
Our translator, Yavor, is very good with Samantha and she responds well to him.  He helped to distract her during the waiting.  Eventually we were called back and the doctor listened to her heart, felt her belly (this made her giggle), and . . . well that's about it.  As it turns out it wasn't much of a check up at all.  Once the doctor signed off on all the necessary paperwork we returned to the hotel to rest and have lunch.  

Yavor returned to the hotel at 1:00 to drive us to the United States Embassy.  It was wonderful to see the American flag and when I whipped out my camera to take a picture I was scolded.  Yes, in hindsight I can see why taking pictures at the embassy would be a no no.  Duly noted.  As it turns out, we had to endure more waiting and at one point it became too much for Samantha and she cried tears.  However, we gave her the space she needed and she rebounded pretty quickly.  Considering all of the stimulation she was subjected to today, she did wonderful.  Your prayers carried us through another leg of the journey and we thank you.  

Please continue to pray for Samantha's healing.  As we get to know her better, she is revealing the scars of a barbaric past.  However, every day she is also proving how strong she is and we continue to be humbled by the love and support you have showered upon her.  God is good and I see Him every day in Samantha Love.

Learning Curve (By Katie)

Another post by Katie. Feel free to follow her at katie-memorablemoments.blogspot.com.
Today started off well.  While we were eating our complimentary breakfast in the hotel restaurant, we ran into an American couple who is here for their first trip on their journey to adopt a little girl.   Talking with them was a breath of fresh air.  It was a welcome change to have someone delight in Sam and comment on her beautiful features, rather than avert their glance; to see someone light up at her presence rather than gawk.  We chatted in the restaurant for awhile alternating between sharing adoption stories and commenting on Sam's charming attributes.  Once it was clear that the waiter needed to cleanup after breakfast, we went our separate ways.

In yesterday's blog post Gracie said, "She regularly sticks her entire hand in her mouth, and back into her throat, which we're realizing may be because her tonsils/adenoids are inflamed".  This afternoon Grace had the idea to get her a pacifier with  the idea if her mouth was plugged she wouldn't be able to shove her hand down her throat.  An hour or so after returning from breakfast we planned an outing to get her a pacifier.  We really didn't have any reservations about doing so because she seemed to do so well yesterday.  Today, however, we did not make it very far before Sam started showing signs of stress.  Her body became so tense that Grace had a difficult time adjusting her arms because they were so stiff.  We promptly turned the stroller around and made a b-line for the hotel.  Once there Sam showed many signs of irritation.  She flailed and rocked her body.  Her twitching also became more pronounced and regular.  She wasn't responding well to Grace's touch and seemed to want to be alone.  It was heartbreaking to see her that way and frustrating because all we could do was wait for it to be over.  Gracie took it very hard, blaming herself.  However, there is going to be a learning curve and Sam is the teacher.  Since she cannot talk we have to learn to decipher her body language and facial expressions.  This can be hard because to the untrained eye some of what she does is "cute". 

Thankfully, Sam took a very long nap this afternoon, as did Grace and I, and when she woke up all was right with the world again.

Tomorrow is going to be a big day.  Our translator is going to pick us up at 9:00 a.m. (1:00 CST) for Samantha's medical check up.  After a brief break for lunch we have an appointment at the embassy to get everything necessary for her to enter the United States.  After Sam's reaction to a brief amount of time outside today, Grace is concerned how she will handle tomorrow's excursion.  Please pray that God would give Gracie and I the wisdom to know how to keep her comfortable.  Also pray that there won't be a lot of waiting; that we can get in and out of our appointments quickly.  Finally, please pray for peace to overcome Sam (refer to Thursday on this blog post).  

With that, I will leave you with some pictures.

Big girl can pull herself up to stand.

She loves to clap!

This is our favorite facial expression.  We have concluded that it's her "I'm chilled" face.

The infamous beach ball makes everything better.

BIG smiles at the end of the day to say, "Mom, I'm alright".

We can't get enough of the "I'm chilled" face. 

Thank you doesn't seem to adequately express how grateful we are for your prayers and support.  We are humbled.  With love from Bulgaria.