Day 17: Tell Me More

DSC_5400

Using translator the other day, I asked Viktors, “Tell me something I don’t know about you”.

“I can tell you nothing.”  That is what translated anyway.

The last few days he has dropped more and more nuggets of info.  He’s comfortable now.  My boys (up to this point in their little lives) tell me everything.  Usually at bedtime.  Always in private when no one else is listening.  And usually with the instruction to keep it between us.  Viktors has opened up with little bits of info when we’ve been alone.

He has 2 brothers, they are 15 and 17.  One is in his orphanage with him.  One is tall and skinny, the other is shorter with big muscles.  He speaks of them often.

He rides dirt bikes.  And boxes!  He saw me put my retainer in and told me he has one too.  Then he said, “I…wear…that…”  and he motioned boxing moves.  I tried to not look shocked as I asked, “You do this…”  and I pretended to box him.  “Yes,” he gave me his crooked smile.  I think he likes being mysterious.   Just to clarify that he wasn’t telling me he was a fighter, I took it one step further.  “Do you do this?”  And I kicked the pretend person on the ground.  “No, mom, no.”  His crooked smile still on his face, he motioned putting on his head pads and boxing gloves.

Here’s the kicker, no pun intended.  I put them to bed, and I was explaining that the Latvian audio bible we got him was solar-powered.  He said, “Hey mom…this…Russian.”

“What?  That is speaking in Russian?  Can you understand it?”

He said, “Yes, I Russian.  I speak Russian and Latvian.”

“Remember the other day I said tell me something I wouldn’t know?  That would have been a good thing to tell me!”

He laughed.

“So when you are talking on the phone to your director at your orphanage, what are you speaking?”

“Russian”

“When you are speaking to your chaperone, what are you speaking?”

“Russian”

“Do you speak better Russian or Latvian?”

Emphatically, “Russian…Latvian umm so-so”  Ha!  And here I bought him a Latvian bible, Latvian audio bible and have been using Latvian translator apps!

“Were you born in Russia or Latvia?”

“Russia”

“You are crazy.  Very crazy.”  His smile never left his face.

Dad entered the room carrying his iPad  using Russian translator audio to speak in Russian, “I didn’t know you could speak Russian.” Viktors just smiled.  Then dad typed (and it spoke) “Stop eating all my food.”  (It’s a running joke between Steve and Viktors because the boy eats so incredibly much!)  And he laughed more.

There is much to this little boy.  Sometimes I’m dying to know all there is to know.  Sometimes I’m thankful I know nothing.  All I know is what I see in this house.  And it’s probably best that way.

Day 13: Autostereogram Moments

random_dot_stereogram

(autostereogram image by John Hsu)

According to Wikipedia “An autostereogram is a single-image stereogram (SIS), designed to create the visual illusion of a three-dimensional (3D) scene within the human brain from an external two-dimensional image. In order to perceive 3D shapes in these autostereograms, one must overcome the normally automatic coordination between accommodation (focus) and vergence (angle of ones eyes)….. A hidden 3D scene emerges when the image is viewed with the correct vergence.”

Some of our days look like one of these images.  When viewed from afar, it appears to be a picture consisting of a bunch of tiny dots, a big mess of something that you can’t quite figure out.  Chaos.

There is something captivating about an autostereogram.  You know that within the picture, another picture is hidden.  It is so hidden that when viewing it without  really looking, you will overlook the bigger picture completely.  However, when you pause, when you focus, when you concentrate, you see it.  You see it so very clearly.  In fact, it will jump right out at you, and you will wonder how you didn’t see it immediately to begin with.

In order to see the beauty of the moments we are sharing with Viktors, we must overcome the “normally automatic coordination” between our focus.  We must shift our focus.

You cannot watch our moments and use the focus you are used to using.  If you do, you will miss the beauty of the moment.  The beauty of this picture.

If you adjust your focus and change your angle, you will see the beauty that is emerging.  It’s a beauty that can easily be overlooked.

I’ll admit we had some extremely rough days.  Days where Steve and I lost our focus.  We were staring at the 2 dimensional image using the wrong focus and nothing but a jumble of mess was jumping out at us.  For the sake of Viktors’ privacy I won’t divulge the details, but they were mild compared to what they could be.  Honestly, they were mild considering this boy is an orphan living in an orphanage in Eastern Europe.  His bad moments could be drastically worse.  But this is a child who is waiting to emerge.  The beauty in him is so close to the surface and each day we see a little bit more of what’s inside him ready to come out.

This child at his core is a good, good child.  He is a good boy.  He is honest, so very honest. Even when I give him things that are mine, he won’t take them.  When he saw me chewing gum at the skating rink, he asked me to spit it out when he saw the sign that read “No chewing gum.”

My 3D  moment for the day came twice today when I saw the image within the image emerge.

I imagine in a orphanage there is very little alone play where a child just uses his imagination and directs play for himself.  I imagine they have freedom within their rigorous schedule, but likely spend it playing with other kids.  Viktors always wants someone to play with him.  We entertain him a lot, the boys keep him busy or we go on outings.

He and I had a moment of correction where I had to explain why what he was doing was wrong behavior.  Honestly, it wasn’t anything bad, it is just he has never been corrected in this area.  When he feels he has done something wrong, he typically retreats to a hiding place.  A place he can feel safe in what he feels is an unsafe world.  When I correct him, he casts his eyes down immediately, withdraws into himself slightly, and seems to try to shut me out either by covering his ears or by pretending not to listen.

“Viktors,” I softly spoke as I gently lifted his chin.  “Please look in my eyes.  I need you to see my face so you can understand my words.”  I needed him to see the softness of my eyes in case he couldn’t understand the words I spoke to him.

His eyes darted up and down.  They would meet mine, then meet the floor, back and forth again and again.  “Please, keep looking at my eyes. I am not mad at you.  Look at my face.  I’m not this,” I said showing him an angry face with arms crossed.  I smiled and continued, “I corrected you because I love you.  If I didn’t care about you, I wouldn’t correct you.”  He just shook his head.  I don’t know if he shook his head because he didn’t understand or he didn’t believe.  Either way, I hugged him and said I loved him and walked away.

For the first time, he went to our toy closet and got out cars and sat and played by himself for 30 minutes.  I have tried to get him to sit and play by himself for 2 weeks.  He finally did it!  I loved listening to him in there using his imagination with those cars.  Even though I knew he was upset, I was overjoyed that he was playing in an unstructured environment without us directing the play!    For me it was a 3D moment!

Then a few minutes later he joined me at the table.  He was back.  His pouting has now almost disappeared.  It surfaces periodically, but it is so incredibly short-lived compared to only 2 short weeks ago.  This boy has made amazing progress in 13 days.

Our 2nd 3D moment of the day came when he asked for something he knew would be an automatic “No”.  He asks anyway, he asks for things all the time.  But even that is lessening.  When I said no to him, he started to begin begging, which has been typical.  He will say, “Please, please, please” over and over again.  I spoke with him about this and asked him to stop begging that when I said no, I meant no, and I expect him to stop asking at that point.  When I gave him the “no” he said, “Pl…” and he stopped himself!  He stopped himself.  Let me repeat…he stopped himself.  And he gave me that sly 1/2 smile and walked out of room saying, “Ok.”

That was a 3D moment in my book.  Self control.  He’s getting it.

To do this orphan hosting thing, our focus has to be completely unconventional.  Every single second we have to pray that God gives us compassion, grace, and mercy.  And He does.

We are entering week 3.  The week that according to training is to be our best week yet.  The week that the testing has ended and our bonds are there.  Trust has been earned and love is evident.  So far Viktors has behaved exactly like they said he would in training.  And he is responding even better than I hoped.

“A hidden 3D scene emerges when the image is viewed with the correct vergence.”  Vergence…the angle of one’s eyes.  A hidden child emerges when we view him with the correct vergence, the correct angle of our eyes.   An angle that comes from compassion, patience, understanding, and love.

Day 10: The little victories

DSC_5372

One of the most difficult aspects of hosting Viktors is the language barrier.  We have trained our own children to obey, simply obey first, ask questions after you’ve obeyed.  Now, they don’t always do this, but they know that is the expectation.  Well, Viktors hasn’t been trained to simply obey.  Yet, he wants to.  He wants approval, just as we all do, and sometimes for children they best feel that sense of approval when they have obeyed.

At times Viktors will amaze me by following my instructions with no complaining.  At other times, I become frustrated in trying to convince him to follow our orders.  But what it all boils down to is that he wants to understand why.  In his orphanage, he likely understands why he is asked to do certain things.  And if he doesn’t understand, he can communicate to ask why.  Here he doesn’t have enough English to express his thoughts to me.

My prayer for today is that God allows me to focus on the little moments of victories rather than focusing on the frustrating moments.  Would He stop me right in the middle of a moment and open my eyes to what He brought about.  A victory.  A small step.  And that is what we are seeing with Viktors.  Small steps.  Baby steps.

Isn’t that how lasting change usually occurs though?  One small step at a time?  Why should we expect this child who has always gotten his way by pouting to change that behavior overnight?  So, God, change me!  Change me while you are changing him.  Let me focus on your good works in this child rather than look with a critical eye at everything that needs changing.  Let me focus on those little victories.

So here are a few little victories.

  1. In the beginning, he might ask for chips.  “No, Viktors, dinner is in a few minutes, you can’t have chips right now.”  “Please, mom, please, please, please.”  I would stay the course, but would get worn down from an 11-year-old begging and not simply taking my word as the final word.  Now, there is less begging, he is accepting our words easier.  He may not like them and we may get a sigh, a shoulder shrug, or a roll of the eyes, but the begging has reduced by about 80%.  That’s a victory!
  2. Being told no has drastically decreased.  He still says no, but it is less.  This is a victory.  A breakthrough occurred when Steve was trying to sneak away with Zachary for a little 15 minute alone time for the 2 of them on Christmas Day.  He wouldn’t listen to Steve and Steve asked him to come inside to see me.  Viktors typed on the translator that he thought dad was angry.  Victory!  He described an expression of feeling and we had a chance to discuss through the translator that Steve wasn’t angry but we expect him to obey when we ask him to do something.  He seemed to understand and the evening went much smoother.  Victory!
  3. The first time I told him about Jesus, he furrowed and raised his eyebrows while repeating “Jesus?”  We bought him a Latvian children’s bible for Christmas.  Last night he went to bed with zero complaining, curled up with his new book light and new bible.  My heart warmed as I watched him reading about Jesus in his bed wondering if he knew anything at all about Jesus.  Victory…seeds are being planted in his young heart!  Today he and I spent the morning running errands, he picked up a musical snow globe of the manger scene and asked me to buy it for him.  “Yes, I will buy this for you.  That is Jesus.”  He looked up at me and repeated, “Jesus?”  “Yes, Jesus.  And Jesus loves you.”  He did his shy 1/2 smile while shaking his head the way he does when he gets embarrassed.  Victory!  We are having opportunities to talk about Jesus with this child.

DSC_5356

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were hard days for us.  The holiday combined with house guests coming and going, constant food prep and cleaning, left us feeling simply beat.  My dad and Francine saw us at our most exhausted state as of yet.  However, each of them played a role in helping to refocus our minds.  Francine was able to smile at Viktors no matter what he was doing.  She gave me such a visual image of truly showing him unconditional love.  And as my dad was leaving he said, “I’d be on the translator all the time with him telling him how I feel and really talking to take it to another level.”  That is what gave Steve the idea to communicate his feelings to Viktors about obeying.

Then I called my sweet mom and said, “Would your feelings be hurt if I asked you to postpone coming up here because we are exhausted and overwhelmed right now.”  With zero hesitation and with nothing but sincerity, she said, “Not at all.  I know you are tired and we will gladly hold off visiting and will do Christmas with you all in a few weeks.”

That is love.  No thought of self, only thoughts for the one you love, doing what is best for them not yourself.  And that kind of love is inspiring.

Day 7: A Week Really?

DSC_5249

The fastest week.  The most exhausting week.  The most emotionally draining week.  The most joy-filled week.  A roller coaster of a week.

Has it really been 7 days already?  Was it really this time last week that we were giddy with excitement, barely able to contain ourselves, as we waited to get to know this child we had been praying for.

Was it really only 1 week ago that we hugged him for the first time?
This experience has drawn our family closer together.  Intentional times are being created in an effort to love this child, yet it is benefitting our entire family.  We are more connected with each other than ever before.

We chose to host an orphan so that we could bless a child in need.  Yet he is blessing us.  Through our interactions with him, we are seeing so far beyond ourselves.

But this hosting.  It’s harder than we ever imagined.  Not because of Viktors, but because a hurt child simply won’t and can’t respond logically the way you think he should.  This is not for the faint of heart.  It is hard.  Very hard.  But beautiful, so very, very beautiful.

We struggle moment by moment questioning if we are doing this right.  Are we doing it the way he needs it done.  At the end of the day we rest in knowing that we might not be doing it right, but it must be better than what he gets typically.  And he is covered in prayer right now.  And prayer changes everything.

Merry Christmas.  I wish you a beautiful Christmas with your families!  Create moments that won’t get discarded to the trash on the 26th!

Day 6: Constant State of Action

DSC_5297

This is the state of my kitchen in the midst of cookie making with 4 boys.  They are over at the table devouring their masterpieces at the time of this picture.

DSC_5300

Jenga has quickly become a favorite game.  No English required and so fun for everyone.  Until little Drew hits the table….

DSC_5303

DSC_5306

A little Christmas ornament painting. Notice this activity took place while Drew was sleeping.

DSC_5311
 A new haircut

DSC_5313

A little gingerbread making

DSC_5326
Throwing the baseball with Steve and Jacob

DSC_5332

And of course wrestling.  A favorite pastime in this house.

We seem to be in a constant state of action.  One of the goals of this program is to give these kids the time of their lives.  We are trying to do all the things he loves while being realistic in showing that the world doesn’t revolve around him.  A hard balancing act.

Evidently, pouting is a typical orphan behavior.  Day 4 held lots of pouting, day 5 a little less, and yesterday even less than the day before.  Before he would pout and shut us out completely.  Yesterday he went to his room to pout.  After a few minutes, I went to his room, showed him we were making gingerbread houses, and told him we would love him to join us.  5 minutes later he was down with a happy face making gingerbread houses.  He is taking no easier.  We had a few episodes of having to really put our foot down to get him to obey, but he did it.

Day 5: His likes and dislikes

DSC_5259

DSC_5260
I’m discovering he is adventuresome.  He likes to stay busy.  Like most boys. They need to stay busy.

He loves to ride bikes and scooters.  Soccer is by far his favorite sport and he is really good at it too!  When he plays he puts on Jacob’s adidas shorts and Messi jersey.  He loves power tools and was trying to drill holes in the garage wall.  I stopped him just in time.

Car rides are a treat.  His favorite car is a “Moostang” as he says in his Latvian accent.

He loves to help do anything.  You never have to ask him to do anything for himself.  He is fully capable of taking care of himself and needs no help.  He has amazing patience when he is trying to figure something out.  He is methodical and calculating.  He is a great problem solver, very creative, and incredibly bright.

Whatever he does he does it fully and completely and in a particular fashion.  He is neat and tidy.  He cleans up after himself. I’ve never had to ask him to put away dirty clothes or dishes.  He just does it naturally.

My movie box is a disaster because I just throw movies in with no thought to neatness.  When he saw my disorganized box, he sat down with it and organized the box neatly stacking everything so it fit properly.  He began really speaking my language then!

He is the best eater I’ve ever seen in my life. He has not turned down one thing offered to him. He eats everything our family eats with zero complaining.  This is amazing given how sweetened, salted, and processed American food is.

He loves rap music.  We compromised and I put Christian rap on Pandora.  Honestly, he doesn’t know the difference since it’s in English, but rather than hearing lyrics of hating people we are hearing lyrics of loving God 🙂

On Wednesday we were riding home from picking the boys up from school when I turned the christian rap up really loud.  Through the rearview mirror, I saw Jacob’s eyes about to bulge out of his head, so I quickly turned and told him it was christian music.  He let out that breath he was holding and started bopping to the beat.  I almost cracked up when a song came on and Jacob said, “Oh this is my favorite song.”  He’s never heard one of those songs a day in his life!  But it was so fun watching those boys with sunglasses on bouncing around the car.

His bond is deepening with Steve.  When steve is at work, he is asking how much longer.  He gives thought to Steve throughout the day.  At Walmart he picked up a pack of gum and asked me to buy it for “dad”.  When he made an ornament, he wrapped it and gave it to “dad” as a gift.

Most things I offer he says no to, but I just begin doing it and he joins me.  “You want to help me cook?”

“No,” he says initially.  Then he slowly moves towards me and picks up a spoon and starts to help.

“You want to play cars?”

“No,” he will respond as he watches me rolling cars back and forth.  30 seconds later he is joining me on the floor.

He will give anything a try for the most part.

I watch his eyes while he is watching family life take place all around him.  It’s all soaking in.  Likely something he has never seen before.

During a Christmas cookie baking activity, I had a job for each of the boys.  His natural reaction is “Me.”  That is natural of most kids, but particular an orphan who is visiting America and experiencing all of these fun things for the first time.

He reached his hand out and tried to take Zachary’s measuring cup away from he saying, “Me.”

Zachary quickly gave it to him, and I was on the verge of stepping in to explain that we must take turns and not to take from each other.  But I didn’t have to.  An expression came over his face as his hand stopped in mid-air with the measuring cup.  He turned back to Zachary and said, “You.”

The two boys went back and forth insisting each take a turn until I told Zachary to please allow this opportunity for Viktors to allow someone to go before himself.  Zachary felt uncomfortable with this, but Viktors felt a sense of what he sees in this family.  A give and take.  And for the first time he was on the give side.  I imagine he felt warm inside.

During family movie night of Polar Express, I passed out candy to each of the boys on fun Christmas plates.  The Mike and Ike’s Viktors had been begging for since the moment they entered our house.  When I sat down, my child who will share anything with anyone (Zachary), held his plate out to me to offer some candy.

“Aww, you are so sweet, thank you for sharing.”  I smiled and savored that tiny piece of candy.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Viktors watching closely.  5 seconds later he held his plate out to me and offered a piece of his own candy to which I graciously took a piece.

It’s all soaking in.  Family life is being absorbed into him like a sponge.  This child can do family life.

Day 4: Who I Am

Jason Gray – Remind Me Who I Am (Official Music Video) from jason-gray on GodTube.

Please take 3 minutes and click the link above.  We can all relate to this song.  We all need reminding who we are to Him.  You won’t regret this 3 minutes. I promise.

I pray Viktors will discover who He is in Christ.

He doesn’t belong to anyone. But he does, he just doesn’t know it yet.

Today was less testing.  He shuts down at certain times.  Bedtime he completely shuts down on us.  At one point today I found him in bed with his head covered blocking out everything around him.  It was through the promise of taking a car ride that I was able to pull him back out of himself to join us.

I find myself constantly saying to myself “He is an 11-year-old orphan.  Period.”  He will not respond the way I expect.

There is a language barrier and there are emotional walls.

But he is capable of love and he is capable of accepting love.  A lot of processing occurs.

He is a wonderful little boy.  A strong will for sure.  Through Facebook postings today, I was reminded that it is his stubbornness and strong will that has enabled him to survive to this point.  It is what he needs to say no to drugs and crime.

Praise God Viktors is stubborn.  Praise God he is strong-willed.  He needs to be.  It will serve him well and has served him well to this point.

Pray this child would come to know the Lord and would channel those traits to serve Him one day.

We are sustained by your prayers.  We truly feel every prayer lifted up for our family and Viktors right now.  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.