Monday, April 15, 2013

Just a normal day or is it?

Today I was preparing a blog story that was emotional and brought tender moments mixed with guilt, mixed with happiness, shaken with a little worry, and then sprinkled with retrospect. I was going to write a blog about how I had attached to the girls and how I could see the things in their lives and the connections of our lives. Most that I didn't think possible, because I never really sat down and reminded myself they are mine!

I loved them with such an intensity that I thought I would burst if someone stole my moment or interrupted my thoughts. But they didn't, no one did. I just always worried about what if's. Why do these thoughts of worry and guilt still come to me?

I am not perfect, I know worrying is a sin, thankfully there is grace. Did I worry before they came home? Yes, more than I would admit.
Did I worry that things would never be the same, or right when the first few months were rough? You bet.
Do I worry about them missing out on being with their first family, in their birth cultural?  Yes all the time, I wish they didn't have to suffer such a tremendous loss in order to be part of our family. But again thankfully there is grace. I just needed to do the Jussi thing and break each piece of the puzzle down and see how it works.

I sometimes wonder if I am alone in my thoughts, if other adoptive parents grieve for the children, the losses they have suffered? Do you?

Am I the only one, that only has to go into my thoughts and my heart space to think, mostly because my life is so busy now LOL.   If I had to, I would tear any person limb from limb, if they even considered hurting my kids. I had the momma bear attitude, I knew that much.
They have blessed our family, taught us so much, and most of all, showed us that when God has a plan, we can trust that it was right and good.

We have made mistakes in our parenting, as most everyone probably has done. We can look back at the lessons that we have learned and see the path that some decisions created a bigger mess. We kept on swimming through the tough days, we all learned forgiveness, and the power of unity. Ultimately have we become a family? YES!

Behind the guilt of taking them away from everything they ever knew, mending and filling a space for the first family that shines and is healthy, we have created a safe space. A haven for change without judgement, a place of firm, fair and consistent expectations. A loving family, that understands.

Am I batting a 1000, no sir, but I now see the little personalities and the cues that say I am tired and need a break. I see the cues, that I need a hug, I see the cues that say, I am thinking about something, and it is important to me. I see the signs of trying to pull a fast one on me, of a tall tale, of negotiation and the drawbacks for crying wolf. I know now what makes them tick. Imagine what life would look like if we could know all these things the day our kiddos come home!

Nine months home and there is not a single bone in my body that is not attached to these two and not one in theirs. We are a unit, we think of the same ideas, and we often say the same answer at exactly the same time. Woven with love, tried with patience, and strengthened because of mountains we climbed together.

Sometimes the tough things that happen in our lives, put us directly in the path for the best things. None of this would be possible, none of this would have made sense without knowing in faith that God had called us to a parenting encore. There was never, are we supposed to be here? It has been a ride, a journey, and thankfully the paths have been made easier to climb, the mountain slopes, sure and steady, the turns, obvious because of where we have been. Thankful is an understatement, at peace, yes, tired of worrying, you bet and praying for time to slow, so we don't miss a thing.  Because of Him, we are a family, because of Him, together in one home, because of Him, humbled at His grace and thankful for His provision.

From Isaiah 40..NIV and Message

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.... 
He doesn’t care what happens to me”?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
    He’s Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
    And he knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
    gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
    young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
    They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
    they walk and don’t lag behind.

Some of the great things happening lately....
First time to hear their big brother sing!
And Yep! we are going to be grandparents again! 

Mr. R our oldest grandson turned 7 shown here with our Granddaughter his big sister

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Our told by Focus on Adoption Magazine

We have been asked by several people how to get a copy of the magazine article that featured our story.  So here is my plug. If you are an adoptive family in BC, get a subscription...yearly, and you will be so thankful for all the resources and links that available between the covers of this great magazine. Check it out here. and  Get your yearly membership here.
Also check out the  Facebook page!

Everyone has a story...
Meet the Yrjana Family Written By Brianna Brash-Nyberg Focus on Adoption Magazine

Colleen and her husband of 17 years, Jussi, live on Vancouver Island. Colleen, a former foster parent for over 20 years, also has three grown children and three grandkids. Her oldest daughter was a neighborhood kid that came for the weekend and stayed for 28 years, according to Colleen. “We have no legal paperwork, but she’s not any less ours,” she adds.
Colleen and Jussi considered adoption for over a decade until, as empty nesters, the couple travelled to Haiti and worked in an orphanage. “That cemented the deal,” says Colleen. They began the adoption process with a specific young girl in mind, holding out hope that the adoption would be finalized even after the post-earthquake moratorium on Haitian adoptions. Eventually, the girl’s biological father came forward and asked for her back. “We were happy for her, but it was a huge loss,” says Colleen.
When their Haitian adoption fell through, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was the natural next step. When they started the process in September of 2010, a new adoption program was budding there. The Yrjanas were one of the first five families in  B.C.  to pursue adoption from the DRC. A year later, they received a referral for two biological sisters. Nine months later they travelled to the DRC for three weeks and brought home the six and three year old girls, “Miss G” and “Miss P.” Colleen and Jussi chose to keep all of each girl’s names, incorporating their last names as middle names and adding their own family name as well.
Although the entire process was complex, expensive, and fraught with challenges, the waiting, says Colleen, was the hardest part – for them and for their girls. The sisters had been shown pictures of their adoptive parents months before their travel date, and spent every day from that point on expecting them to arrive. “That’s a long time for a six-year-0old,” says Colleen. “It was really hard on them and traumatizing. ‘Why did it take you so long? I waited and waited but you were never coming,’ they told me [after we arrived]. In hindsight, for them, it was heartbreaking to wait. If I had to do it again I wouldn’t send anything.”
The waiting period wasn’t any easier for Colleen and Jussi. “That absolute ache that you have in that waiting period, I don’t think anyone can tell you what to expect. The child is legally yours, you’re waiting for those last few pieces of paper, and it’s just dragging on.” How did they cope? “I think we repressed it. You’re fundraising; everybody you meet tells you how wonderful it’s going to be; and you put on the face of the happy anticipatory adoptive parent. Behind closed doors you’re broken, weeping; it was very, very hard for us. They were our morning sun. I cried at the drop of a hat. Coming home, even with all the trauma, was still easier than one day of waiting. It’s an emotional roller coaster that takes you upside down, inside out, and then hangs you in the air.”
Walking to the Congo
To deal with the all-consuming wait, Colleen decided she needed something concrete to do each day. She came up with a unique idea: she and Jussi would walk the 13,808 kilometers to the Congo “in our hearts.” To cover the distance in eight months, she recruited friends, family, blog readers and members of the adoption community to walk every day and keep track of their distance.
The story of “walking to Kinshasa in our hearts” is chronicled in a children’s book Colleen wrote, called Carry Me to Kinshasa. The book, illustrated by Kelly Ulrich, tells the family’s adoption story: the long wait, their travel to Kinshasa, their first meeting, and adjusting to life as a new family. The book explicitly describes and validates the difficult emotions the children and parents experience, and emphasizes the adoptive parents’ unconditional love and commitment to their children.
 “Some days when you were sad, we held you and sat for hours playing and reading. It was okay to be sad; we would always be there for you. We would love you and comfort you. That is what families do. They carry one another forever, through the sad and rainy days, through the warm and joyful days, and into new days,” reads one of the book’s final pages.
The honeymoon is over
Once the long wait was finally over, attachment – the thing Colleen and Jussi had expected to struggle with the most – wasn’t difficult. “We never expected love, attachment and commitment would be that easy. They hugged, kissed, and were physically affectionate right from the get-go. The girls had formed attachments with their first family and with caregivers at the orphanage; prior experience of healthy attachment is often thought to help adopted children attach to their adoptive family. “Our family and their first family had similarities, which also helped with attachment and bonding,” notes Colleen. They maintain contact with the girls’ first family in the Congo, sending photographs and updates through their adoption agency.
Not everything was so easy. Colleen and Jussi’s unconditional love and commitment to their new children was tested almost immediately. In addition to her many years of experience as a foster parent, Colleen works with high risk kids and kids with autism and is a braille transcriber. Even with her experience and skill set, those first few months were exhausting and incredibly challenging.
 “We never had a honeymoon period. Logistically, we were a family in crisis from the day we met our daughters. I knew a ton of behaviour strategies and nothing was working. We were thankful for those in the adoption world that we could contact and ask for help and it was immediate,” she says.
“Because of trauma, we’ve had to be intentional parents. Everything we do is intentional or proactive or guarded. A joke in my house was ‘I’m going to try to have a shower’ because most days that was setting my sights too high. It felt like every second of the day, I was parenting (although they were both good sleepers). We were dealing with physical aggression. I couldn’t leave for a break because even if I was just out of sight they were terrified of abandonment. I’d read everything, I’d watched every video, I’d written a gazillion blogs, but nothing prepares you to just be in the shoes. People would tell me ‘Don’t worry, it will get better,’ and I just wanted to scream into the telephone, ‘Do you have any idea what my day looks like?’”
Because they adopted internationally, formal post-adoption support services were very limited. “We paid out of pocket for adoption counsellors, medications, specialist appointments – most wasn’t covered, even though both of us had extended health benefits. Hopefully this is an area that will change for international adoptive families. There is definitely room for improvement for post-adoption support at a provincial level.”
Colleen sought out support online, finding encouragement and listening ears on a Facebook group for families parenting children from trauma and meeting regularly with other families on the Island and the Lower Mainland who had adopted children from the DRC.
“There were days when we didn’t think we were going to make it, and days when we thought how far we had come; but most days we were just thankful for language and time. It was part of the journey and something that grew us as a family. Would we do it again? Absolutely.”
The high point in the family’s adoption journey, according to Colleen, was when Miss G asked if they could hold a dedication ceremony where everyone in the family “married” each other. “The girls wore white, boys wore suits, and everyone exchanged rings. The pastor asked the girls if they wanted to be part of our family and they both said ‘I do.’ Miss G planned the outfits and guest list, we had big party – it was what she needed to feel secure.”
Celebrities for adoption
In their small town, they quickly became what Colleen calls “celebrities for adoption.” The nosy and sometimes outright offensive questions she fields in the grocery store line bother her sometimes. “I tell my kids, ‘That person asked a personal question, and you didn’t have to answer it.’ Respect and personal boundaries continue to be an issue they encounter often within the community.” The upside of their visibility is that it’s been easy to form connections with supportive people, including community members with African heritage, whom she wouldn’t have otherwise met. “I’ve been complimented on how I care for their hair, I’ve had people give me their phone numbers. It’s been great.”
Now, less than a year after bringing their daughters home, Colleen enthusiastically encourages older child international adoption.
“The fact is that they were waiting. That’s a huge thing. Working in an orphanage in Haiti and watching the sibling groups and almost every child over five – they’re waiting. They’re waiting for their family because most families want babies. There are over 5 million orphans in the Democratic Republic of Congo. That’s the entire population of a country like Finland. It’s a country where there’s a huge need for people to adopt older children. I also use the finance thing to encourage families to adopt older children. You get a five- or six-year-old, they go to school right away, and you can go back to work!”
Colleen also speaks positively about adopting as an older parent (she turned 50 during the adoption process). “People spend way too much time struggling alone. In my 20s or 30s I would have told everyone I had it all together. The beauty of parenting in my 50s is I’m really OK to say I don’t have it happening. Help. That’s been a real blessing – not trying to be perfect.”
Colleen chose to share her family’s story because she wants to encourage parents to share their challenges and help each other. “Many people do not share their hardships because they second guess their skills or their commitment,” she says. “Let’s band together as parents and support one another. I want people to know there are great stories involving older children. Was it hard? Yes, but let’s not fluff over it and say it never happened. This story is being shared because others have walked this road and harder roads. We, as a group, need to recognize that as complex as it is, it is a gift each day to discover the unique talents and gifts of a child, to learn about their history from them and celebrate all their firsts.”
Although the matching process in international adoptions often seems like “luck of the draw,” Colleen told me that she knows at least two other families turned down her girls’ referral before they were matched with her and Jussi. “I believe we were meant to be,” she says. It’s tough to argue with that – after all, they walked 13,808 kilometers to prove it.

Reprinted From Focus on Adoption magazine with permission from the Adoptive Families Association of BC. 

Last but not least...our welcome home video

Monday, April 1, 2013

Through my daughters eyes...

Lately we have enjoyed long chats with our daughter Miss G on life, on God, on how things are different and why they are. We have answered many questions, some with a well thought out answer, some with an age appropriate answer, some with a scriptural answer and others with, I don't know. The I don't know works well, although I remember being a kid and wondering...who does know? So we often explain it is the complexities of life that we don't understand, and are the ones we can ask Jesus when we get to heaven. For example Why are you white? Well besides the obvious that Grandma and Papa are white, that is how God made me. Why? Why didn't he make you brown like me? I don't know, only He does.

Some are kind of fun...why do our teeth fall out? Well we need to make room for big teeth. But why don't we just get teeth that grow with us, like our feet? Good that one.
Why do some people look all over the place when they are driving and not at the road...again...good question.

Why don't birds poop on the ground? Flying is fun and they don't want to stop and poop? I don't know. I guess some birds do. They might be too fat to fly...sure why not.

Why do you need to drink coffee? Because...It is bad for you...Yep I will take my chances.

How come God made you the parent and me the kid? Well if you were the kid I would get to eat all the chocolate I want and that would be bad for me and my teeth would fall out. But one day you will be a parent and you will have a kid that wonders the same thing....Not my kid, my kid will listen to everything and do everything I ask the first time. Good luck on that.

But this weekend the why question struck a whole new chord, a deep meaning, needing a child like answer...I couldn't find one. I was tempted to say I don't know, then tempted to say what I was thinking and then I just day when you are bigger we can talk about it. It is a big answer. With that less than informative response she was quite content that one day she would know, but for me, I was burdened....and the intensity of the fierce love for the kid that I felt at that instant brought tears to my eyes. An overwhelming sense of wanting to protect her from the horrible cruelness of the world, the injustice, racism and history came flooding into my spirit. So for today the answer was..when you get older.

The question... Why was there was more black people in the USA than in Canada?  

The answer, because a long time ago, things were different, people were not treated well and many people came to live in the USA from Africa against their will. Explain that to a seven year old kid who really did not want to come to North America either. If she had the choice she would have stayed in her first family. In her case of course the circumstances were different but I was not prepared in my heart and didn't want to burst into tears and tell her everything I think and feel about racism, about apartheid, about historical accounts of life on plantations. I was not ready to explain the "s" word.

This question will come up again, she does not forget a single thing. I am not sure I will ever be ready to explain how wrong people were. I want to remind her how beautiful her culture is, how thankful we are that she was born in Africa, of all of the pieces that ties "her story" somehow into history, because of her race.

Forty years ago a tall scrawny kid from small town Canada, raised in a middle income, blue collar family, chose a heart path that would inexplicably change my life's direction. I was in grade six, and wrote a report on apartheid in South Africa, that report and the research gave me a conviction to live and teach everybody I know, the simple concept...we are people first. Short, sweet and to the point, no fluff, just people. Love them all. Be willing to stick up for anyone who needs a voice. Be bold, be loud, take a stand. Am I political? No. Am I part of a group who works with injustice? No. I just love people, I accept people, I would give you the shirt off my back, if you needed it. I do my thing here.

I wish for my girls sake that our community had the numbers of African American people that we met and saw during our Easter break. We have a large culturally diverse population but there was an ease and a curiosity that was evident during our visit. I pray that we will know the good time to share a little more about history, sharing the stories and movies we have collected over the years, teaching about heroes like Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks.

My heart now has a little chamber of intimacy that was not there before, I am used to seeing the world through my eyes, but now I am seeing it through my daughters eyes and the truth hurts. Tucked away until the time is right, I pray that I can teach both my daughters what I told my bigs when we talked about their great grandpa dying in the Holocaust....we cannot change what happened but we can do everything in our power to make sure it never happens again.

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” 
 Martin Luther King, Jr.