Saturday, January 17, 2015

Thrift-Store Parenting and Orphanage #3

I love shopping at thrift stores. To me going thrift-store shopping is like going on a treasure hunt.  Some people avoid thrift stores because they are filled with other people’s old, unwanted stuff organized under one roof like a glorified garbage dump. In Order to find the gems that are hidden there one must put in the time and be patient while sifting through the mountains of other stuff.  People who avoid thrift stores will save themselves the much time and effort it takes to search for treasures but they may  never find that first edition book or discontinued toy among all the clothes from the 1970s.  I think that being a parent is a lot like thrift-store shopping.  Most days are really hard.  There are piles of dirty laundry to clean, loads of dirty dishes to wash and toilets to scrub (all of which I actually enjoy doing if I have the luxury of having a day devoted to cleaning.)  What’s really hard is watching your children struggle or quarrel or fail.  But then there’s the glorious gem that comes when your child does something amazing that really surprises you, or they finally understand a principle you have been trying to instill in them for years.
Our whole experience in Russia was much like this.  Each day was filled with trials, frustration, discomfort, inconveniences and let downs (many of which I was fully prepared for and glad about for the sake of my kids who had not known a life outside of the ease and comforts of small-town Idaho.) And then there were some sweet, amazing moments that could never have been made possible with out all the sadness.   I thought that by taking my kids to a local orphanage and getting them acquainted with some amazing orphan kids that they would really understand the gift that it is to be a part of a family (albeit a crazy one!)
It took a lot of persuasion to get the director of Orphanage #3 to allow our family to come do service there which was no surprise.  Before heading to Russia I had worked for months trying to find a service opportunity for our family during our time in Saint Petersburg with no luck.  I don’t know if it was the fact that we were Americans or that they simply didn’t want outsiders in their children’s homes.  After setting up a meeting with the Orphanage director she told us we could help with the English class.  I imagined singing songs and doing fun activities with loads of little sweet orphan children.  When we got there they lead us to a nice room with 5 teen-aged orphans who already spoke really good English.  Could we really do any good for these kids? I had a flashback of when I went to Russia 21 years ago with a youth group bringing gifts to orphanages.  Each orphanage that we visited put on a huge show; singing songs and giving us gifts in return.  It was so strange because all we wanted to do was to serve and do good but it seemed equally exhausting for them to host us.
Even though it was not what we expected we were excited for an opportunity to do any service.  We had a lot of fun and the English teacher invited us back for the following week, only the message must not have been communicated to the director because when we arrived no one was ready for us.  Everyone was scrambling when they saw us.  We ended up getting an unofficial tour of the orphanage (given by one of senior orphans) where we were able to meet orphans of all ages and see their living quarters etc.  It was so cool to have this very real, very sweet glimpse into their world. These dear children living at Orphanage #3 lived in rooms with 5 kids per room and 3 rooms per group.  Each group had a common area and a grandma that lovingly watched over them; helping with homework, laundering clothes, making meals and giving encouragement.  The kids seamed much like siblings very comfortable together, they were put into groups of varying ages and many of them shared similar hobbies as siblings would.  


 We taught one group how to make bracelets and they gave us some Russian coins.  We had a wonderful time.  We told them we would see them next week and made a plan to make bracelets for each orphan (about 60).  When we bumped an assistant director she looked stern.  She said we shouldn’t have come.  I had a feeling that catching them off guard was going to bring consequences.  Sure enough the director sent me a text the next week telling me that they were unable to accept us regularly.  We had promised the kids to meet them the next week to finish making bracelets together.  I tried calling the director just to ask if we could see the kids one more time but she didn’t respond to my calls.  Why did it have to be so hard to do good?  I don’t know if anti-American sentiment had anything to do with it.  I’m certain the director thought she was doing what was best for the children, but allowing them to choose I’m certain things would have been different. 
We had already begun making bracelets for each of the children and promised to return so we decided to continue to make the gifts and see if we could drop them off sometime before heading home.  It took us several weeks to make and assemble 60 gifts but we finally got them all ready and wrapped.  We decided to drop them off on our last day in the country (which happened to be a Sunday and I was hoping that the staff might be reduced allowing us to actually go inside the orphanage and give them the gifts ourselves).
I decided it would be wise to only bring Wesley and David so as not to be too overwhelming to the children.  I have to pause and say at this point that a certain one of my children had protested every outing we had gone on since day one in Russia.  I prayed that he would agree to going to the orphanage because I knew that if we could get in that it would be a very amazing way to end our trip. 
To my surprise although given the chance to head home with Dad, he offered to go with us!  Before entering the orphanage we huddled together and said a prayer that we would be permitted to go inside and give the kids the gifts ourselves.  As we approached the entrance I recognized the grandma on duty.  She smiled and warmly greeted me.  I told her that we were leaving the country in the morning and asked her if we could give the children some hand-made gifts.  She said yes!  What a sweet thing it was to give our gifts to each child along with a card with our contact information that read: “you always have a friend in America”.   Once inside with the kids we sang and laughed and enjoyed a wonderful time together.  I wished I could have stayed with them forever!  
One Darling girl Liza (age 15) was so excited to have us there.  I loved her so much and wanted to give her something special since our gifts were more for younger kids. I realized that I could give her the earrings out of my ears.  When I gave them to her she squeezed them in her hand and said, this is the best ever! She asked me if I could take her home.  My heart was so full of sadness that I couldn’t just take her with us, how I wish I could have!!
 As we mounted our scooters for the journey home we said another prayer to thank God for His kindness in helping us have that experience with the kids. Then that same child who had not been much excited about anything during out trip had a mighty change of heart, he said: “Mom, do you think we could ever adopt a Russian orphan?” My heart could have exploded with happiness at the sweetness of that moment.  I explained to him that Vladimir Putin had recently made it illegal for Americans to adopt Russian orphans.  

Even though our experience with the orphanage was definitely not what I had dreamed it would be, the joy of that evening spent together with those kids will stay forever in our hearts.

Our family may be quirky and loud, we may have times where we disagree, fight, yell, cry and hurt feelings but we also love and forgive one another and we never give up on each other because we are working for the eternal prize of being together forever.  Having the chance to be with and love those kids made us all realize how precious it is to be a part of a family, one you can hold onto forever no matter what.  Just like finding the treasure in the thrift store after hours of searching, during those final hours of our time in Russia we had found our treasure and it gave purpose and meaning to all of the struggling and heartache.
“Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation.” D&C 58:3

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Rest and Relaxation in Riga!

Have you ever reached into the pocket of some jeans you love but haven't worn forever to find a 20-dollar bill?  Best day ever right?

 It's even sweeter when you really really need the money:). I recently found my own lost treasure, one that I really really needed, only it was much more valuable me than money:).  Towards the end of our Russian stay I got a message on google plus from a dear dear friend whom I hadn't seen or heard from in many years.

Sister Kearns was an answer to prayer for me in the MTC when she joined me and my companion to make a threesome halfway through my stay at there.  Her energy, smile and completely completely real personality helped me to ease up and smile more as I tend to take things a little too seriously.  I loved her! How could I not totally love her! We served in different missions and ended up losing track of each other over the years. Hearing from her was such a treat! Even more exciting was the fact that she was working in Riga, Latvia not far from Petersburg!  She invited me to come visit and offered us to stay in her lovely home.  Even though we were getting short on time there I really wanted to go!

Since we knew we would already be traveling to Moscow we took a 14 hour bus ride from Moscow to Riga (it seems like would be drudgery but actually it was SO much fun my older boys and my sister Chrissy...can I just say that traveling with her is the most fun EVER, she has been all over the world but that doesn't stop her from being perfectly amazed and thrilled by each new place she travels!)

We even met a Latvian Olympian on the bus who had participated in the Salt Lake games which I had attended (small world!)

and when we got to the train station we met some sweet Russian-speaking missionaries (yay!)

Being with Amy was once again an answer to prayer and just what we needed during that time.

 I hope with all of my heart that I can be someone's lucky penny sometime as she was for me and that I can strengthen the feeble knees and lift up the hands that hang down.  Viva La Riga!