Saturday, November 13, 2010

Max's Story (Russia)-Repost for National Adoption Month

In September 2003 God opened our hearts and welcomed in a little boy named Max. It was just the beginning for our family.

Max's huge eyes and winning smile has blessed us beyond belief. Again, we thank God...we live thanking God for the wonderful blessing of our son. Here is his story, both in video form and written.

OUR JOURNEY TO MAX

It was a normal Sunday, like any other Sunday when, while setting in church listening to a sermon Thomas and I both received this wild intense feeling of anticipation. You know that feeling in the pit of your stomach that either feels like a thousand butterflies or that you’re going to throw up. Neither Thomas nor I talked about it until after church was over, but when we did it was so odd. This is somewhat of how it went.

“Honey, I just got the weirdest feeling”
“Ya, me too”
“It’s like something big is going to happen! Really big!”
“Ya! I don’t if its going to be good or bad, but it’s gonna be huge!


Through much nudging and a couple of good clunks over our heads, God brought into both of our hearts (separately) the knowledge that is was time to start the adoption process. My husband and I knew, before we ever married that we wanted to adopt. We knew the situations of the children. We had seen the programs and heard the stories (both good and bad).

The knowledge that it was our time to consider adoption came after 9 years of marriage and 3 biological children (our youngest being 2). We felt the call, in souls, in our spirit. We didn’t have the money, but when God calls you, you answer.

We decided to look for an agency first, though we weren’t really sure where to start…not really.

We looked everywhere until we found a wonderful Agency called “Hope International”. After the endless searching, researching, and phone calls, we dialed a number that changed our lives. We were not sure “Hope” was a Christian Agency and we weren’t even sure that we should call. That was until the previous executive director Susan answered the phone and we found that she was a member of the Church of Christ and had also attended the same University that we had! We had even met her previously. They also had a main social worker/adoption advocate that is a Christian as well (as well as their staff). Not only this, but their office was only 40 minutes away. We were to find out the many benefits of this later on. Everything started falling into place at this point.

Then we needed to decide where we wanted to adopt from.

My husband and I knew from the start that we wanted to adopt internationally. Children here in the U.S. need homes every bit as much as the precious children overseas. And though some are in deplorable situations right here in the U.S., the Institutionalized children in so many developing countries are struggling for even the basic necessities. Every child has a right to love, but international adoption just happened to be our decision. The only difficulty we saw was the “Hope” worked from countries that we had not yet considered. Russia and China were the predominate ones. We actually leaned toward China since we didn’t care what color our child’s skin was; only that he was ours.

But a strange thing happened, all through this process of choices, we had people constantly talking of Russia. We heard “My neighbor adopted from there” to” my sister used to work in a hospital there.”. None of these things changed our minds though. It was a little story about a young boy adopted by a couple like us that already had biological children.

This couple had biological children, but they always knew they wanted to adopt. When they went to Russia to pick up their two year old son he was wearing pink stretch pants and a thin sweater, that’s all he had. The orphanage asked for the clothes back, because they needed them.

We discovered Russia had around 700,000 orphans (since communism fell it had doubled). It has risen since we adopted in 2003 though. It has currently 880,000 orphans. For many of the children, human touch is an uncommon event. Most are malnourished and developmentally delayed. There are so many stories from so many countries, but Russia captured our hearts. The need is everywhere, but after much prayer and searching we decided on Russia.

We had decided to adopt a little boy (between 12 and 18 months old). T.C. (our oldest at 8) had stated quite definitely that he is "girl trapped" and Anna (our youngest) was just 2 when we began this adoption process and we felt it would be best to adopt younger than her.

Every roadblock we have had (and there have been some significant ones) God has provided a way. We had our home study. Now that was a stressful experience (totally us, not them)! We struggled to financially get everything together, but with help from friends and family and a lot of faith, God provided. We received INS approval. The approval, which usually takes about 4 months to receive back (after fingerprinting), took 2 1/2 weeks.

We then received our referral, a video of little Nikolai. He was (and is) beautiful. Nikolai was only 9 1/2 months old in this video and first thing we noticed about him were his liquid brown eyes. He was tiny with layers of clothes on including a little girl’s shirt. He kept one of his fists closed most of the time, which we have heard is common in many institutionalized children (he out grew this quickly upon arriving home). After what seemed like a long wait for the dossier to be accepted (that's a story within itself) we finally were able to receive a court date. Ten days later we left for Moscow, Russia. Max was 13 months old.

We arrived in Moscow too late on Friday to see Nikolai. As Gregary, our driver (also an engineer), took us to our apartment we were stunned at the buildings surrounding us. The history in Moscow is amazing. Even the most beautiful buildings had paint peeling and had none of the modern look we are used to in America. The streets and the buildings make you feel as if you’re living a part of history. Moscow celebrated its 856th year this year Gregary stated.

We learned very quickly that driving in Moskva (as Moscow is called) takes courage of its own. The lines in the street mean nothing. Pedestrians have no right-of-way. We were surrounded by the sound of horns blaring and these amazingly strong Russian voices yelling aggressively at other drivers. There are very few cars with seat belts. We found that you get in the car, close your eyes, and pray (smile) and we were ones that had an amazing driver. It's funny, after a couple days and you find your self totally relaxed after you have almost got in your 3rd accident of the day (smile).

We arrived at our apartment. It was in a beautiful old building that had a sense of history of it's own. We stayed in a small one bedroom, very European looking apartment. It has hardwood floors and these beautiful ancient looking chandeliers. It has a washer, but generally no one feels the need to have a dryer. You hang your clothes and iron them to complete the drying. It had a small kitchen, a living room, a restroom with a bath and is actually quite pretty. The front door is actually two very heavy doors, each with heavy bolts on both. One door swung outward (the outer door) and one swung inward (the inner door) – for added strength and safety. The halls and floors outside the apartment are cement, but functional and quite old (and run down). It had it's own unique Russian feel.

We woke up the following morning anticipating just being able to touch the littlest Marr. We arrived at a rundown two story building surrounded by what in the states would be considered the projects; huge apartment buildings that reeked of poverty. Outside the orphanage we could hear a single baby crying. . A strange smell invaded our nostrils….Cabbage and unwashed bodies (we would come to know). A vicious sounding dog warned us of his presence as we entered the outer courtyard. As we entered the building, we were immediately drawn up the stairs by our host. They led us through a maze of elderly corridors, Disney Characters decorating the walls. Finally they led us through a set of doors into a silent room. We were shown into Nikolai's group (#8) and all we heard was silence. Eleven children around the age of one...silent. One child was sitting (facing away) on a caregivers lap being spoon fed (as all of them are) with an adult large spoon and a small plate. All the other children were in a large sectioned off corner of the room. Maybe a couple toys were in with all these children and that was only once in a while. At most times at least 3 children were rocking to comfort themselves since they are so deprived of the love and attention they require. There was one child with Downs Syndrome who would set in a wet diaper that had soaked through her clothes. Another always stood a top a little platform in their penned area. Another little one was always rocking and tearful. Nikolai was standing at the wooden wall of the partitioned section. His eyes, those precious eyes. They looked empty…almost dead, from the severe neglect he endured. We recognized him immediately. One of the caretakers scooped him up and motioned us to follow her. She led us to a room lined with chairs with a table in the middle. It was fairly empty besides that. She plopped Nikolai our arms and left. Wow, what an introduction. We were finally holding our son….finally.

Sidebar: Before we go on we must say that some of these women do care, but are continuously dealing with (only 2 of them) 11 babies. They are not trained and have become somewhat desensitized. Most do not realize the basic necessity of touch and love these children require. Of course, we think that they also seem to realize that they can’t get too emotionally attached, since they never know how long a child will be staying. This is not always because of adoption, but also children may be moved from group to group.
Nikolai looked at us with his huge big brown eyes. He was finally in our arms!!!!! looked a lot thinner than the last picture we had and we were later told he had begun to lose weight recently. We were finally holding our son….finally. He looked down and played with our keys. We waited and we finally saw his eyes peek toward us and the heavens opened as he smiled.

We found out quickly how ticklish he was. You poked him and he cracked up. He was so sensitive to any touch. He was initially very stiff with us, as if he were not sure what his response should be. When we set him down for a brief moment he very quickly put his feet and hands on the floor (with his bottom sticking up in the air) and started rocking. We found out this was what he did when he was overwhelmed. We were told to expect the rocking and that this is normal in orphanages. We have loved and kissed on him daily since. He was very smart (we could see this even then) and he could melt your heart with his smile. We brought him cheerios and he was always hungry. When we asked if we could bring him food, we were told we could if we brought diapers for his whole group (which we were already doing). We had been told that the children only get 2 meals a day (milk for breakfast). He was and is such a blessing from God. We were able to take him outside for the very first time in his little life. He saw and touched his very first tree. He was able to see his first bird and a stray dog. He wanted to explore everything. He went back and forth from that and hesitation. We could see the strangeness of all this in his eyes. We went into his group with him. We couldn't just ignore these other children, but Nikolai showed us (for the first time) that he was starting to view us as his. He gave us such a look, not angry, just possessive (smile).

We went to court on a Tuesday. It took us an hour to get there. The building was older and the carpet did not fit on the floors. We went into the court room knowing now was what was going to determine our parental rights of Nikolai. The judge quizzed us and then let the 3 other people that have a say in this process speak. The Education minister stood and told of Nikolai’s past and how he was found by a police officer on a street corner in the very early hours of a cold morning in Moscow. She told of a search for his parents and of reviewing our life story in the documents she had. She recommended that we be awarded the adoption rights of Nikolai. Next the deputy director of the orphanage stood (we had a meeting with her the day before). She stated that she felt we would make a good family for Nikolai. The prosecutor then stood. Yes… I said prosecutor. She was the one we were most nervous about. The prosecutor’s job is to argue the negative. As she stood we held our breaths. She went over Nikolai’s vital statistics and then stated that it would be in the best interest for Nikolai to be adopted into our family!!! No argument! God was working yet again! Why should we even be surprised?! Nikolai was then legally ours, though we had to wait for actual custody until Sept. 30th.

His name is Max Nikolai Michael. Max after my father, Nikolai for his heritage, and Michael for the warrior/angel (because he's a little bit of both). He wasn't overly familiar with any name since it was so rarely spoken to him.

I was to leave the next day to come back to the states. So after court we headed straight to the orphanage. We were able to take Nikolai outside again. He was dressed in an unusual outfit as many are. They keep them clothed, but as with everything else they are very limited and though clothing may be made for a girl or boy, that doesn't matter. Nikolai was tired that day. He actually (for the first time) laid his head down and kept it there. My heart melted. Though Thomas would be there, leaving was not easy. I left and went back to the states to be with T.C., Sarah, and Anna, who needed me as well.

The orphanage worker told Thomas, while I was back in the US, that Nikolai cried for the first time when seeing Thomas leave. We had already seen what happens as a child cries. They may be moved to a different place, but no one holds them or comforts them in their tears. We have seen that Nikolai is a wounded child. You could see it in his eyes back then, when he rocked, when his lower lip stuck out a touch (but no tears surfaced). Many of these children don't cry because they know no one will come. Nikolai has a home now, and we are so blessed to be the ones to give it to him

On Sept. 28th, Anna (our 2 1/2 year old) and I returned to Moscow. Knowing we would be coming home with Nikolai (Max) was such a joy. Though for some reason this trip was a lot harder. Yes, having a 2 1/2 year old there could be "interesting" at times (smile), but that wasn't even it.

We arrived tired and bedraggled, but found we landed early enough to introduce Anna to her little brother. I could not wait to get my arms around our beautiful little boy and of course Thomas couldn't wait to see Anna either (he'd been away two weeks at that point).

For the first time we arrived at the orphanage at dinner. These were different caregivers than I had met last time. Max was unsure of what to think of me. He had seen a movie (on our video camera) of me daily, but still was not quite secure with me. The food soon arrived and they proceeded to plop Nikolai in a little wooden chair with a small table in front of him. As they motioned me over they sat a steaming hot bowl of soup in front of him (along with what looked like barely cooked hamburger and a curd type dish). Nikolai sat with his hands flat on the table for the entire meal. He did not reach out to grab the piping hot bowl, as most 1 year olds would try to do. It worried us at first and then saddened us when we realized why he did this. We watched as another child was being fed. We watched as they grabbed this 8 month olds head and literally wrenched it back into place when he tried to look at me. We watched them (also literally) shovel the food into this child's mouth at such a rate that most of it poured back out. This was what the bowl under the child's chin was used for….to catch the large amount pouring back out. They then took a teacup and poured tea into this child's mouth the same way. They did this for a few minutes then plopped the child back into the pen, very little food or drink having made it to the child's stomach. We wanted to cry, to be angry, to rail against this kind of treatment of any child, but we wanted Max out of there and knew doing that could offend the wrong person and make it hard to get Nikolai out of this situation.

The next day when we arrived at the orphanage we were told that we could take Nikolai for a walk. We changed his clothes (head to toe) and for the first time, we realized how grossly malnourished his beautiful little body was (as Thomas stated later, he had never seen a child look this way except on the commercials requesting funds for hungry children) (sigh). The day was beautiful as we walked with Nikolai in a broken down carriage with Anna trotting beside. It was one of those truly peaceful times we will always treasure. Certain areas we avoided because of the smell, but we were used to it by now. We watched as Nikolai's eyes lit up at each new sight and listened to his beautiful little giggle that was becoming a more frequent thing. It was a long way to come, but so worth it.

The next day was our big day, wow...we finally get to take Max into our arms and into our family (he was already in our hearts). It seemed as if it took forever to get to this day, though it really hadn't (6 months). As we walked in, we first met with the head of the orphanage and gave them the clothes that so many friends and family donated. They were amazed and thankful at the sheer number. We then were off to wrap our arms around the littlest Marr. He had just woken up and gave us that early morning sleepy little smile. We then changed him into the outfit we brought him (since they needed the clothes he was wearing back) and we said goodbye. There is one worker there that we will truly miss, so we were misty eyed as we said goodbye and received kisses on both cheeks. As we looked back at the children rocking back and forth in the pen trying to comfort themselves our sense of joy was dampened at the thought of leaving all these children behind (it's still hard to think about), but our own happiness still overflowed at the actuality of little Max in our arms.

The rest of the trip went so quickly. From the U.S. Embassy, to passports and visas, the Max's medical check, to finding ourselves in the middle of a communist protest surrounded by riot police (don't ask). Our bodies sagged with sheer exhaustion. We realize we have now seen a country and a life so foreign to our own, a life of such extreme contradictions. A Place where those on the Metro give up their seats to the elderly, yet children lay in orphanages malnourished, neglected, and looked down upon by many. A Place where the so-called joys of freedom have also brought the Russian Mafia and rampant pornography. You can't even watch the news without seeing nudity. A Place where Metro stations are ornate and marble covered and the buildings (tenements) lay falling down around them. Moscow is a different world, so beautiful and ancient, yet parts are so unimaginable.

Max is home now. He is the most loved child. He took his first steps his first night in our custody and T.C., Sarah, and Anna have kept him running ever since. His weight went up. We had some (we consider minor) adjustments/difficulties with sleep, and eating, and such, but he took such major strides each day. He struggled a little trying to figure out what his reactions/emotions should be (because of his lack of interaction the first year). After almost three years he only is a little emotionally young for his age.

Our story has been such an amazing journey that has changed our lives and perspectives forever. Max Nikolai Michael was what we consider our Miracle child. Each step of the way we saw Gods hand…miracle after miracle. There is not enough room here to even grant you more than a brief glimpse of what God has done for us through this. If you have or are considering adoption and you hear Gods call, please listen. He will take care of finances (if that is a worry). We didn't have it when we started. He will take care of you and the child he has for you, in all aspects. He will use you in ways you cannot imagine.

People have started asking us recently “Do you think you will adopt again?”.

There are millions of children out there, orphans out there. How can we say “no” with any certainty that we will not adopt again? This is a question we ask God.

You may ask, do we have the funds to adopt again? No, but that didn’t stop things before. What we do have is four wonderful children, a stupendous family, support of terrific friends, a fantastic Church and an AMAZING GOD, who has seen fit to bless us so abundantly. So to answer the question “Will we adopt again?” The answer, after all, IS very simple……what God wills…we will.
____________________________________

Obviously, since this story was written, God did will. We now have SEVEN beautiful children....four of which are adopted. We have a house filled with love and BLESSED BLESSED BLESSED by God.



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