Farewell! A word that must be.

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Farewell! a word that must be, and hath been—
A sound which makes us linger;—yet—farewell!
~Lord Byron

We arrived at Chicago O’Hare at 2:00 PM and the boys were taken through security at 3:15. We spent our last minutes together playing Go Fish with V. while Jeremy tried to find out from O. more information about exactly where they live.  Airports are not furnished with a lot of seating in their Departures area, so we played cards on the floor until a minor coffee mishap led us to abandon that.  Then it was just a lot of standing around, hugging, snapping photos, and laughing at O. and Marissa goofing around.

Here are the photos from the airport.

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V. Jake and O.

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Big brother O.

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O. and Marissa

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Horsing around.

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Lizzy, O. V. and Emily

Jeremy, O., V., and Me.

Jeremy, O., V., and Me.

"It's time to go."

“It’s time to go.”

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Goodbye Jake.

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Hugs for Dad.

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Final glimpses.

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😦

The following verse is on a plaque that we gave O. for Christmas. It’s heartbreaking to know that at his age he is the father figure for their little family. We wanted to help them always remember that no matter what the future holds, they have a Father who will be with them and help them.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10).

Agony of Parting

“Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love.”–George Eliot

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Just a typical Road Trip so far: music, reading, sleeping, and card games. But with less than an hour to go until the airport, this is going to start getting real, really fast. Thankfully we have a lunch stop to enjoy first.

Steak & Shake & Origami

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Chicago O’Hare International Terminal

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Final Countdown

2015/01/img_5318.jpgMost of you aren’t up right now to read this, but naturally, I can’t sleep.

After 4 weeks, tomorrow we bring our Eastern European friends back to the airport. They have reassured me that they are well cared for & will be happy back home. I’m so grateful for their mentor Kohl who brings them to church each week. It means so much that they are being loved and discipled.

2015-01-13 at 18-16-27While they were here we had a nightly routine at dinner time. I had a series of questions taped to the inside of their countdown chain. Dinner included everyone answering simple questions like, “What is your favorite color?”

Tonight after dinner Jeremy said, “If you have one question for us, what would it be?” The little one took the phone and typed into Google Translate, “If we can be here in summer.” (NHFC arranges summer hosting also. )

So we haven’t even sent them and their 60-ish pounds of baggage through airport security yet and already they’ve got us wondering what the future holds.

…cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord : though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. (‭Isaiah‬ ‭1‬:‭16-18‬ ESV)

Open Wide & Say, “Awww!”

I have been dreading this week.  This was the week that the boys would be visiting the dentist.  I have heard horror stories of the multiple-thousands-of-dollars’ worth of work that some of the orphans need.  The recommended strategy for managing that burden: Prioritize the most urgent work first, and then hop around from office to office to see if one doctor will donate  $500 worth of work here, and another donate $500 there.

Annual dental exams are heinous enough.  The possibility of spending 4-5 days in a variety of dental offices was nightmarish.

Dr. Amy Stodola of Family Smile Care Center.

Dr. Amy Stodola of Family Smile Care Center.

Didn’t happen.  Not only were their teeth in pretty good shape (4 cavities for one, 7 for another–Hey one of my own kids had that diagnosis once)–the wonderful doctor delivered their care pro bono.  That means for free.  FREE.

So if anyone is looking to find a new practice for his or her dental care–Let me highly recommend Dr. Amy Stodola and the great folks at Family Smile Care Center.

The boys were scared and the staff was so accommodating for us to be in the exam room with them, using Google Translate to communicate to them what was happening, holding hands, and generally letting them know that all the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations were normal and nothing to worry about.

They had an exam yesterday at noon, and by today at 5PM, all their work was done and we were on our merry way.  Nothing to dread after all.  Thanking God for nice and generous people.

Photo Blitz

First of all, I would like to give a shoutout to Dr. Kimberly Cruise and the staff at the 10th Street Iowa Eye Care.  They took such good care of the boys today.  Free exam, free opti-map, free everything.  And the diagnosis: Perfect vision and perfect eye health for both.

It’s hard to believe we are down to our last week together.  Now that the crazy busy holidays are behind us, we are settling in to more of a normal schedule.  Two things have definitely changed in our household since the boys arrived.  I cook three solid meals every. single. day. And we spend a lot more time together doing family stuff.  Two things have definitely not changed. Love rules. And teenage boys everywhere will play video games non-stop if you let them.

Not much else to add but I wanted to send a quick photo update.  Enjoy!

You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.  Ecclesiastes 11:9

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O.’s all-time favorite: Risk

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Learned another new game: Ticket to Ride!

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Bonding time over a cell phone.

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Loving Poky and Cinco!

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Marissa’s birthday!

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Birthday dinner!

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Borscht gets a a thumbs-up!

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Ice skating does NOT get a thumbs up.

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Carousel ride was a big hit!

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Group shot!

The Gospel According to Seuss

2014-12-24 at 17-02-59 Traditions are big for our family.  So even though our family is enhanced with two extras this year, our Christmas celebrations continued as usual.

We explained to the boys that the final days of December would be very busy. We began to lay out the details just for Christmas Eve:  Cooking and baking most of the day. Then many, many photos, then off to church, and many, many more photos! Dinner at the Sloans, return home to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas, open one present on Christmas Eve (it’s always pajamas), then hang one final ornament on the tree and read our theme Christmas verse.  Hey we do it every year.  And we love it.  It brings us meaning and joy.

This year Jeremy's Mom even brought these darling Grinch Kabobs. Compliments of Pinterest & raininghotcoupons.com

This year Jeremy’s Mom even brought these darling Grinch Kabobs. Compliments of Pinterest & raininghotcoupons.com

Somehow, in listing all we would be doing on December 24, we glossed over one of the most endearing parts of the Christmas season: The Grinchy nature of our Christmas Dinner.  I, for example, always bring the Who Hash and Who Pudding.  And no matter which meat you choose for your entree–just call it Rare Who Roast Beast, if you please.

After dinner, all the cousins of all ages gather around and listen to Jeremy’s annual reading of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.  The kids know it almost completely by heart.  They loudly chime in as Jeremy growls, “The Grinch got a wonderful, awful idea!”

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And as I watch and enjoy the children’s delighted faces and laughter, I can’t help but relate to that villain whose heart was two sizes too small.  I know the miracle of Christmas is that all of us can experience the same radical heart transformation–that through Jesus we have experienced it. Without Jesus we are as hopeless in our sins as Mr. Grinch. But because of Jesus we can be different. And that is the beautiful reality that supersedes the ribbons, tags, packages, boxes and bags.

And this year, our new friends got to enjoy that reality too.  We explained, “We celebrate because we have so much joy that God sent His son into the world.”  They understand and smile and nod.  We add, “And we give gifts because God gave us the best gift of all.”  Big smiles. Yes! They know. Jesus. Isusu.

And so our silly traditions and celebrations continue–because they remind us every year that “Maybe Christmas…doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps…means a little bit more.”

Jesus Christ…who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. Titus 2:13-14

I love Jesus. I believe Jesus. Jesus changed my life.

IMG_7668Those words are embossed on three bracelets that O. wears.

On this very holy day, as you are tempted to rush around to buy one more, rush one more, stress over one more thing–just stop.  Contemplate the mystery.  Contemplate the gift.

Jesus changed my life. Have you given much thought to where you would be without the gift of that baby in the straw?  Any eternal hope or joy or love you have–simply blown away like a Christmas Eve candle.

So spend today breathing in the mystery of the Incarnation. And exhale the weight of the world that you were never meant to bear. He is here. God is with us. That’s all that matters. Today and always.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said throughout he prophet, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel–which means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:22-23

Quick Photo Update

IMG_7653There’s nothing earth shattering to report, but I wanted to share a couple of great photos from today.

Today was Jeremy’s birthday. The love of my life and the best father I know.  After he got home from work, we ate cheeseburgers and fries and strawberries for dinner and then Jeremy opened a few presents.  Look at the smiles on these kids.  So much love.  They went out shopping and came home to make caramel corn and play checkers.IMG_7657

And one more great shot of all six kids. I love this picture.  I made an ornament for each of the boys with this photo.

Thanks to Babushka and Dadushka (Grandpa and Grandma) for the birthday visit and help with the puzzle.  Going to bed because–It’s so late it’s officially Christmas Eve!

Sunday Funday

Wow this was an action packed day!  I think the boys must be exhausted. I know I am.

IMG_7563We warned them that our church would be very different from their church. When we told them 1000 people, their eyes got really big.  I also told them that many people would want to meet them because they had been praying for them.  They were happy to hear that.  They had a chance to practice shaking hands and making eye contact and saying, “Nice to meet you. No English.”

After church we did something crazy. We got a new Christmas tree.  I don’t know what was wrong with the one we got Thanksgiving weekend, but all the needles were falling off in piles. It was either diseased or just a bad tree. Jeremy knows how much I love my Christmas tree, & so he determined last night that he was going to come up with a solution for me.

Twins and the two trees.

Twins and the two trees.

So today, we cut down another tree. Jeremy brought it in, strung it with new lights and we moved the ornaments over from one tree to another. While we were cleaning up the needles, The kids made delicious pretzel, Rolo, and M&M treats.  It was great to see the boys joining in to the fun in the kitchen. Of course the benefit of helping with treats is getting to be first taste-testers.

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Making sweet treats.

Then, we went to Babushka and Dadushka’s house for dinner.  We also warned them there would be nearly 30 people there in the family.  They were pretty surprised by that.  I can’t imagine what they think about it all.  To be without a family of their own and to see so many families gathering together must be painful. They seemed happy though.

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Marissa and V.

Thank goodness for children. They are so not self-conscious. They just dive into friendship with people with whom they cannot even speak. But they can smile, and laugh and play.

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Emily and O.

While at Grand Central (what we call Grandpa and Grandma’s house), the kids played Uno, and War, and shot some pool.  The boys gave tacos a try, but I’m pretty sure they filled up on the ice cream.

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Goofy cousins: Marissa, Stacey, Bri. Clearly the girls aren’t too shy!

When we got home, we played a quick game of High-Low.  O. said his highs were church and Uno. V. said his high was winning War.  O. said he has had no bad experiences so far.  V. said his low was when we left for church and forgot Marissa.  At least we only got about 5 blocks from home before we turned around!

The night is winding down. V is drifting off to sleep while O. and Jeremy carry on a Google Translate conversation about school and church and life back in their home country.  Thank you for your prayers as we continually desire to know how to best love these boys.

Big brother O. watching a game of pool with little V.

Big brother O. watching a game of pool with little V.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

Day by Day

Well, another successful day with these sweet visiting brothers.

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Marissa and V. doing dishes this morning.

The day began with a big breakfast of eggs, hash browns, toast and juice.  They eat everything we put in front of them and usually take seconds. I’m very glad they are not picky eaters! Our daily meal routine of practicing language around the table continued with talk of colors and lots of laughter.  I would like to publicly thank the inventors of Google Translate. Things would not be going this smoothly without it!

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Elaborate LEGO castle by O.

After breakfast Jeremy split the six kids into three teams with various chores. Marissa helped V. unload and load the dishwasher. Jake helped O. clean a bathroom and take the dogs for a walk. After chores was some play time, which usually means LEGOs. O. is a master-LEGO-craftsman and has been working on one elaborate castle for hours.   But, when they are really lucky, they get some PlayStation time! All afternoon we were with the rest of the city at Target shopping before we came home to a hearty supper of spaghetti, fresh bread, and another Iowa Hawkeye basketball defeat.

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Gamers gotta game.

We are settling into a routine.  What we are all going to do next week when Jeremy goes back to work, I’m not sure. He has been a wonder to watch.  After all we’d heard about how orphans would not be accustomed to a father-figure and would be intimidated by the man of the house, these boys have been treated to a great example of a dad, husband, and friend. They’ve never seemed stand-offish or afraid.

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Playing our great new game Suspend by Melissa and Doug. Marissa, Jake, V, O, and Lizzy.

And speaking of people that completely amaze me–I would not want to leave out Jake, Marissa, Lizzy and Emily.  They are so welcoming, kind, and patient. They honestly put us all at ease.  I couldn’t be prouder of them all.  I love you kids. Thank you for sharing God’s love everywhere you go.

We are taking it day by day and minute by minute. We are so grateful for everyone’s prayers for our continuing patience and perseverance. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 2 Peter 1:5-7