Saturday, January 26, 2013

Photo Gallery!

    Since we weren't allowed to post any photos of Levi until the adoption was complete and he was home, I am posting some from each trip!

    Before I do, there are two quick things I wanted to mention.....the first is that I just finished adding up the numbers of how much our last trip cost and the overall cost of the adoption.  We have paid for all adoption expenses with a remainder of about $500!  I can't help but be reminded of my many doubts and the way that I read other stories about how God provided the money, but thought somehow we would never be able to raise that much!  I was right in that we couldn't do it, but oh how foolish to doubt God!  I'm so thankful that He wanted to use us anyway and didn't give up on me through the months when I kept insisting there was just no way! 
     The second is that we are so excited to see all of you and for you to meet little Levi!  He has done wonderfully being in a new environment, around a lot of new people and we are venutring out a lot more than I expected.  We're still taking it slow and giving him some time to get settled, but we really hope to see many of you within these next few weeks! 

   Okay...on to the pictures!

Trip 1 - October












 
Trip 2 - December







 
Trip 3 - January







 

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Post I've Been Dying To Post....

      Praise God we were able to bring Levi Ivan Cruse home today!  I almost can't believe that as I sit here, our family of four is under the same roof tonight.  I've said it a million times and I'll probably say it a million more, but thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your prayers and for coming on this journey with us.  It is far from over....really just beginning....but you have all played such a crucial part in bringing Levi home and we are forever grateful.

     Some of you may be wondering where this blog went, and I apologize that it was temporarily unaccessable to many of you without warning.  We have tried to be careful not to include too many specifics in order to respect guidelines given to us, but in light of the recent ban and the uncertainty of our case we were advised to lay as low as possible.  Hence the temporary privacy of the blog.

     We could not have been more blessed in terms of the smoothness of this final trip (okay maybe we could have done without the temporary room confinement)!  We seemed to fly under the radar in many respects and received each document we needed with ease.  We know this in large part also had to do with the amazing help we had in country!  The last hurdle was to successfully pass through passport control and land on American soil.  Twice we had issues with our tickets because Levi kept not coming up in the system.  We had purchased a lap ticket for him on both flights, and both times he was in the system independently.  Apparently our booking agency thought it best to let him decide whose lap he would like to sit on when he boarded the plane.  Of course this made me a bit uneasy the first time, but it was an easy fix and we were prepared in Moscow.  When we went through customs, the officer seemed unsatisfied with what I had given him and I started praying.  I kindly told him I didn't understand (one of the few Russian phrases I made sure to learn) and he spoke with two other officers.  Suddenly a light bulb went off and I realized this was where I was supposed to give an entire packet of papers (this was told me to a few times - yikes!).  He looked through them and kept smiling at Levi (who is obsessed with paper and kept reaching for everything on the counter).  The sound of the stamps on our visas was music to my ears and we were soon waiting at our gate to board the plane!

     So the ten hour plane ride ahead of us looked pretty good considering what God had just accomplished and I'm pretty sure I would have been smiling the entire time even if it hadn't gone well.  But, another blessing, it went extremely well.  Levi was thrilled to have our complete attention and thoroughly enjoyed playing with the flight magazines and pillow and blanket bags!  His newfound obsession with puffs proved to be a great activity on a long plane ride, and just the general feeding, diaper changing, and naps made the time go by rather quickly.  People watching was another fun activity : )  He just seemed so relaxed and at peace!

     Unfortunately we had another flight as we decided it would be better to fly out of Logan this time so we would have a shorter drive home.  After riding the airport shuttle like a merry-go-round, on and off several times, we finally found the proper location for boarding our last flight.  Levi would offer up a faint whimper here and there to remind us that he was clearly tired of traveling, but he continued to be such a good sport : )  A man sitting just across the aisle from us said that he had seen us in the airport and that Levi seemed so happy!  It's amazing when you consider that he was just taken from the only home, family and consistency he's ever known and flown to a new country with a new family....but he truly did seem so happy.  I am amazed by God's plans!

     It may seem hard to believe, but as we spent time with Levi in our apartment, waited in the airport and cared for and played with him on the plane, it seemed as if he has been with us forever.  He has been so happy and so eager to be loved.  He craves our undivided attention and has such a sweet, gentle demeanor.     

     Coming home has been fun...and crazy!  We are so happy to be back with our Caleb and alltogether as a family.  Caleb is giddy and excited and overall doing very well.  His major concern is that Levi clearly does not know how to play with the toys correctly and constantly tries to help him do things correctly and let us know of what is going on!  We have to keep reminding him it is okay.  He does not understand babies : ) 

     Levi seems to feel completely at home and comfortable here....it's really quite crazy!  He is so happy to have his freedom and be able to crawl all over the house, rather than being restricted to a small area!  He finds Caleb entertaining and loves all the toys!  It was so sweet putting both of our boys to bed last night.  Levi went down fine, but was up every hour or two throughout the night.  I'm sure the time change has him all confused!  I slept exactly as he did last night during our entire time in Russia. 

    This morning brought the first realization that it's not as easy as it looks to have two children! : )  Levi woke up and shortly after Caleb woke up too.  I looked at Levi in my arms and had a moment where I thought hmmmm, this is going to be interesting!  Both boys have done great today and we certainly had a fun morning!  They wore each other out and have been sleeping for the past couple of hours. 

      I'll try to post pictures of our trips and some new pictures of our family as I have time....I'm pretty behind on, well...everything just from being gone for a week, but I'll try to keep updating here for a little while longer!  Again thank you all for your love and support.  We are praising God for this blessing and victory and are praying He gets all the glory!  We know he is working in this situation and our continued prayer is that all of the children are able to come home and that in time this ban is overturned and even more children will be adopted!

    

    

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Final days in Russia....


       I’m just going to pick up from where I left off yesterday……but first just a warning that this will likely include an absurd amount of detail (my memory is not as dependable as it should be and these are certainly days I don’t want to forget, no matter how seemingly insignificant the details)!

     As it turns out all went well with the final step in the process and our tickets were successfully changed to Thursday!  We could not be more grateful!  After our trip to the embassy yesterday, Luke and our facilitator went to the store and Levi and I came back to the apartment.  It’s been wonderful staying in this apartment because we are able to prepare our own food etc.  I planned to feed Levi lunch and then put him down for a late nap seeing as we had to wake him up early that morning and then again when he had just fallen asleep before our embassy appointment.  We have quickly learned that meal times are somewhat of a marathon, which is surprising because from what we know they are not given very much time at the baby homes to eat.  Maybe he just knew that we would take all the time he needed, which we were happy to do of course!  He has the most adorable, and challenging, habit of lifting his arms up (as if raising his hand) when we feed him.  Then comes the sudden drop of the arm and chaos ensues : )  The plan changed a bit as he really required a bath after our endeavor at lunch.  That’s a bit tricky here as there is really just a stand up shower with the removable spray nozzle thing (?).  He doesn’t seem to mind it, but at the same time I don’t think it’s his favorite part of the day!  I got him all warm and cozy in his onesie pajamas and had to set him down in the pack and play in order to clean myself up (I of course sprayed myself several times with the nozzle in the process).  When I came back out of the bathroom and he was already asleep! 

      He took a good nap and when he woke up we were able to spend a lot of time playing and interacting with him.  Later in the day he was able to meet his big brother and Meme via skype!!  Caleb was so adorable…he giggled and smiled at us, and insisted Levi couldn’t hear him since he didn’t respond when Caleb said hi to him!  I can’t wait for the two of them to be together!  The rest of the day was just of lot of playing and when bedtime came, this time Levi wanted to stay with us.  We held him with us until he fell asleep and then put him in the pack and play.  Today was the first day we didn’t have anything to do so we were able to sleep in.  We slept almost 11 hours and Levi slept 13!!!  I think we all felt a little more refreshed today and really enjoyed all of our time together.  We were able to Skype again with Caleb and Meme and this time Levi was much more interested.  He seemed content to watch Caleb entertain us with his dinosaur impressions, and he loved listening to Meme talk to him!

     Of several new special interests, Levi has become quite a fan of puffs, and has become an expert at taking them out of our hands and feeding himself as quickly as possible!  He is a fast learner…..he has also come to realize that we will gladly rock him to sleep, or let him lie with us and he much prefers this.  We tried putting him in the pack and play today for his nap, thinking he may sleep better as he wasn’t falling asleep in our arms.  We sat down to eat lunch and within a minute his little head popped up and he was crying for us.  It’s such a strange experience because he is such a good sleeper and I almost didn’t want to ruin that as bad as it may sound.  And yet I want to teach him that if he calls for us we will answer, and I want him to have these experiences that he missed out on!  We’ve learned a lot about parenting adopted children, and while he may be 17 months old, his family age is back at 0…..so for now we will answer his every cry just as we would a newborn, and then slowly we will re-teach independence.  He is just so sweet and I love that he already wants to be with us all of the time.  If one of us moves away, just to get a drink or use the bathroom, he watches our every move and often whines for us to come back.  I wish so badly that I could help him to understand that we aren’t going anywhere.  But in time, he will know…..

     So now it is almost 9pm and Levi and daddy are sleeping.  Time to pack up and get some sleep before our early morning start at our final journey home…..Thank You God!!!!!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Almost there....

     
      As I type this, our little boy is sleeping just a few feet away. I have said time and time again how surreal this is, and this trip tops it all. I'm going to attempt to remember everything that has happened these past few days as it's been a whirlwind....

      We arrived Sunday night, got settled in and waited anxiously for the morning (okay maybe just me, Luke slept like a rock not to say that he wasn't eager as well!). Monday morning we were up and ready to go a bit early, but were glad to have some time to get breakfast and not be rushed. We've stayed at the same hotel on all three trips now and the one downfall is that you have to use a key to enter and exit your room (for most rooms), and they are quite old and often difficult to lock and unlock. When you leave the hotel, you leave your key at the desk and then must retrieve it before heading back to your room when you return. We often contemplated if this meant there was only one key per room, and also what we would if there was a fire and we couldn't get out of our room. Now we know! : ) We tried to leave at about 7:20 and it was soon very clear that the door was not opening. Then to top it off, the key broke inside the door. Luke called down to the front desk and attempted to tell them what was happening, but they hung up and we didn't know if they understood. No one came, so I used google translate to write "help, locked in room" (yes very dramatic, but we were at a loss). I then held the phone up to the computer speaker and let the google translate lady say it for me. Not sure they got it. In the meantime, I had emailed our facilitator, in hopes that she may check it and be able to call for us. She did and soon we heard people outside of our door with keys, trying to open it. They left and came back 3 times, trying various keys until finally they used an ax to break the door/lock. The door opened to four men in suits and the ax lying on the ground. Since we couldn't communicate they all just left! Finally someone came and gave us a new room and we were able to leave. We were ready to climb out of the balcony and into the next room if it was going to take much longer (we suggested this through our facilitator, and the hotel refused to allow it!). Fortunately God was not allowing anything to really get in the way and we were only a few minutes late.....and a bit hungry.

    We made a quick stop to drop off a form and then headed to the baby home! I couldn't believe we were really there again.  We waited while a few forms were taken care of and then moved into the directors office.  They had asked us to give them the clothes that we brought, so when they brought him in, he was all ready.  A couple of caretakers came in, one of them being his favorite caretaker.  She was crying and it broke my heart.  Seeing as everything felt so surreal, I have not really been so emotional, but I think everyone in the room was crying when they saw her with Levi.  She held him so tight, but when he saw us, he smiled and reached his arms out at us!  I had hoped he would remember us this time, at least just to ease a little of the anxiety he may have been feeling.  At that point, however, he was simply delighted at the dozen or so people that had gathered into the office to give HIM attention!

    We were given a gift to Levi from his favorite caretaker, his baptism certificate and a binky : )  His caretaker gave him to me, but took him back at least another 5 times before we left.  Everyone was taking pictures of us and talking at the same time.  We all moved into the large room where we always played because they wanted to take more group pictures before we left.  We took several, talked a bit more and then started to head out.  Just about all of the workers followed us outside and to the gate and watched and waved (and cried) as we drove away.  I can’t wait to explain to this little boy how incredibly loved he has been in his life….by all of those who cared for him for these first months in the baby home, and by all of those who have prayed for him and already shown him so much love at his new, forever home.

     Surprisingly he really didn’t seem nervous or concerned about leaving with us, and his only issue was the car seat : )  We thought this may be a problem, as you are allowed to hold babies on your lap there and we weren’t sure if he’d ever had to ride in a car seat in the past.  Even if he had, it was likely only his few trips out of the baby home which all consisted of doctor and hospital visists….not exactly fond memories for him.  We held him for a while and then just placed him in the seat and held him tight.  He was so precious…..his face so serious as he looked out the windows, taking it all in.  He didn’t want to be amused or entertained….he just wanted to sit and watch.  We all assumed he was thinking that he was going to the doctors, because once we were out of the car he became his happy, playful self again.  We stopped at a store to pick up some food etc., and again he just watched and took it all in.  Our last stop was to pick up his passport and then we headed back to the hotel.  We were finally able to really care for him!  We gave him some lunch, which he did well with and played for a while before he fell asleep.  It's so hard to believe he is really staying with us forever now! Whenever I stop and realize what is really happening, I can’t stop thanking God for making a way! 


     Monday night we traveled to Moscow, which turned into several hours of traveling, and a very late night.  I think it was well past midnight when Levi went to sleep (after his first bath : ) ) and almost 1 for us.  I kept waking up throughout the night and feeling surprised all over again that he was right there!  I remember when Caleb was born I had that same feeling…..I would wake up and suddenly remember I had a baby and then feel so excited all over again.  There’s just nothing like it!


    Today we had his medical exam at a clinic nearby, which went well and was really quick and easy.  We were then able to get an appointment at the US Embassy and get Levi’s visa all in one day which was wonderful!  In the process we met 3 other families who were getting their child’s visa today as well.  It was nice to talk to them and share stories….I think we all had on our minds the gravity of the situation and how blessed we were to be there. 

 
     Now we wait for one more step to be complete, and we pray that our tickets will successfully be changed to return on Thursday rather than Saturday!  We are so excited and thankful for this nice surprise and cannot wait to be home!

 
    While I had a few days of thinking that this really may not happen, God was so faithful to remind me of his promises and his deep love for these children.  He used so many of you to remind me of that, and to pray on our behalf.  We have truly felt covered in prayer and cannot really even describe the peace and assurance we have felt in knowing that God was in control and he WOULD and DID make a way!   

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Temporary Update

          Just a real quick, temporary update...I'll post the real blog ASAP and explain later! (real blog now posted below)  Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of the prayers......so many of you have been praying and we have also heard from many of you that we are on prayer lists from churches all over the country.  This is humbling and brings me to tears over and over (how I have any left, I'll never know).

           Please keep praying!  God is hearing our prayers and we are confident that He will work everything together for good.  There are families in Russia now who are moving forward and getting what they need to bring their children home (including their children!).....there are also families who are meeting opposition and authorities who are not certain what they should do becuase they have not been officially informed.  We know that our situation is still uncertain, but we believe that God is making a way.  As of now we are good to go on Saturday and we cannot wait to get to our son! 

             God is not finished with this journey....He had so much more in mind than I ever imagined.  Times like these help me to remember why it's often better not to know what is to come in advance! 




Okay here was what I actually wrote, but couldn't share so I left it as a draft......

          Well, here is another post that will have to wait to be posted! Today we received wonderful news.....our court decree officially went into effect which means we are the 100% legal parents of Levi! Not only is this amazing news, but we also found out that we will be able to get our documents AND Levi's passport! God is making a way before we have even left and we could not be more thankful. The only uncertainty at this point (aside from the fact that none of this is really certain until we have the papers and passport in our hands) will be getting through passport control.

           Our blog has gone private temporarily, as we have been advised to keep everything to ourselves, and I certainly will not take any risks! I cannot wait to share everything and to finally be able to say that we are all under one roof. And I know that I will be more grateful for that than I ever could have imagined prior to all of this happening.

Thank you, sincerely from the bottom of our hearts, for your prayers. And please don't stop praying for all of the others.....

Friday, January 11, 2013

Explanation.....

                This is just a quick explanation of what happened to the order of the last few blogs......"Glimmers of Hope" is actually the most recent, from yesterday.  The other two were posts I had written back in August after receiving our referral for Levi.  I had kept them as drafts at the time because we were not sharing his name and any specific details.  Now that the blog is private I have posted them.

                  One quick update....I received an email with a link to an article which claims that adoptions who received a court decision prior to January 1st (this does include us), will be able to bring their children home.  However, they are saying as of now that families who have made their first trips will not be able to complete theirs.  While this may imply that Levi is coming home, I will not stop praying just as fervently for those families who have met their children, whose children know them now as mom and dad, to be able to come home as well.  They have to.

God Is Gracious (8/22/12)

(From 8/22/12)  

        Although I won't be able to post this likely until the adoption is final, I don't want this blog to miss any of these next steps in our journey.  We received a call last Wednesday around 4pm from our agency.  Of course I got to my phone just in time to hear the voicemail alarm and after hearing our case manager explain that she had some information for us, I immediately suspected it was our referral. 

        Earlier that day a friend and I had gone for a walk and were discussing the waiting period and I shared that I was beginning to feel that it might be a while.  : )  I called back to find that they had a little boy waiting for us.  His name is Ivan (ee-vahn), which means "God is Gracious" and oh how gracious He is!  Ivan turned one year old this month....As I thought back to when we started talking about adopting I remembered that it was the end of the summer/beginning of the fall.....just around the time that Ivan was born.  I often wondered as we prayed for the baby that God would choose if he or she was born yet.  It's amazing to know that we have prayed for him almost from day one....

        The information we were given was brief and dates back to when he was only three months old.  the picture shows an adorable little boy with chubby cheeks quite similar to Caleb's! : )  He was described as one who likes to be the center of attention and always smiles when people interact with him.  We know that he has club feet, but do not know if there has been any treatment given.  We know this is the child God has chosen for our family and are so eager to formally accept the referral and move forward.  Unfortunately we have to wait a little longer.  Our region offers this brief information and if we are interested, we are able to ask questions and find out more about the child.  Our doctor here gave us some questions to ask and we are waiting on those answers.  It could take only a few days, or a couple of weeks for a response so we are back to waiting.  Once we hear back, we will be able to formally accept and will then be invited to travel to meet little Ivan within about 2 to 4 weeks. 
        
         It is so hard to not be able to jump on the next flight to Russia and go see him!  It is so surreal that we have another precious son, but he is so far away, already a year old and we have yet to hold him.  I feel so helpless, but I know this is all part of the plan.  I long for the day when our family of four is permanently sleeping under the same roof, but I will continue to trust God to bring this to completion in His perfect timing.  All I keep thinking is what an unbelievably amazing journey this has been......to think I was afraid....apprehensive....almost unwilling......I am so thankful God is persistent, patient and GRACIOUS.





        Just after this phone call we received our first photo of Levi.....although it was dated back to when he was only a few months old, it was precious to have at least one picture of our little boy....


First picture we received (age 3 months in the photo)
















   Second more up to date photo (around 1 year)





Levi on our first visit!

On our second visit!
 
 
 

 

Mixed Emotions (8/31/12)

(From 8/31/12)
       
     We are still waiting on the answers to the questions that we sent in regards to Ivan.  However, today we received an e-mail telling us that he is currently in the hospital and has just had surgery on one foot!  We didn't know if he had received any treatment at all so this was very surprising.  We are told that his next surgery is scheduled for September 17th, therefore we would likely need to come by September 11th.  We are trying not to get too excited as this may not even be possible.  We would need to book tickets and apply for and receive our visas in this coming week which is really only four days long due to Labor Day. 

            The email was just an FYI, nothing set in stone, but....wow!  My thoughts are all over the place.  I'm shocked that we may be able to see our little boy in a week and a half......then part of me can't fathom everything being done and in place for that to be possible.  My heart breaks to think that our little boy is in a hospital, away from the only place he's known (likely since birth), with no family there with him.  There was mention of possibly delaying his second surgery so that we would be able to come visit him beforehand without having to leave so quickly.  I am thankful that each visit and each step will happen in God's timing, but my prayer is that we will be able to hold our son within the next couple of weeks!


(Update: the children are never in the hospital alone.....we were told that older women from the local churches volunteer to go and stay with them!  In addition, Levi never had to go for the second surgery while there!)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Glimmers of hope...

               I really feel at a loss for words.....my thoughts are all over the place so I apologize in advance if this post is chaotic.  I guess I'll start with the fact that I have truly not felt like myself these past two weeks.  Maybe that seems like it would be obvious, but I mean it in the sense that I have genuinely felt a peace that passes understanding....I have felt calm in the midst of one of the most difficult things I have ever faced, and please realize...this-is-not-me! (And yes I do still have my moments of anxiety and a good cry here and there, I am still human!)  My nature is to worry and, I hate to admit this, to often be controlled by that anxiety.  I do not embrace this and it is a constant struggle that I do fight against, but if this situation does not show that God is CLEARLY giving me a peace that can only come from Him, nothing will.   
                
               I wish that there were words to express the deepest gratitude one could feel that were hardly every used.  Words that were special, saved for only the most meaningful times, and that could really convey the most heartfelt appreciation.  The fact that we say "thank you" to someone for handing us a movie ticket we've just purchased, or even when someone holds a door or brings you a glass of water, just makes those words seem like not enough when it comes to the "big stuff."  So please know that a mere thank you does not seem like nearly enough for all of the prayers and support that so many of you have extended to our family.  I am overwhelmed to tears on a regular basis as I read...."praying, praying, praying for you, praying for your family, praying for Levi, praying from CT, praying from MD, praying....."  The text messages, calls, emails, cards and cookies at our door, times of praying together in coffee shops, verses and lyrics shared and so much more have been such a blessing.  My word document of verses has grown tremendously as so many have added to it.  I will never be able to thank you all enough.  I may not know the outcome of this situation, but I know that God has heard our cries and He WILL answer....in His way, in His time.  This has taught me so much about life in general....and it has taught me more than ever to pray.  I can only recall a handful of times in my life that I have prayed with this type of utter helplessness and dependence on God, and I can't stop asking myself why?  I want this to be a way of life....there are so many things in this world that deserve the same type of prayer......I have so much to learn.....

                If I feel I can't express my gratitude to all of you, I feel even more humbled before the God of the universe who has shown such grace, mercy and compassion on me.....He has given me peace and has taught me to trust in Him.  I have been reminded of the many promises He makes to us and have been shown how much He loves us time and time again.  I have gained far more than I have given in this journey.

             There are still no real answers, although we are starting to see some real glimmers of hope.  There have been several articles declaring that adoptions will continue for one year due to the bilateral agreement that went into effect Nov. 1st between Russia and the US.  While this ban has terminated that agreement, in order for one country to withdraw from the agreement there is supposed to be one year given before it can be fully terminated.  We've known this from the beginning, but are still unsure as to how Russia will go about implementing this and if they will follow through.  We have still received the "go" from our agency and are planning on traveling the 19th.  Our court decree should still go into legal effect on January 17th and we should be able to receive our paperwork needed to get a passport for Levi.  That's where the "shoulds" end and it becomes slightly less clear.  I think there will be a lot of changes within this next week so I am being careful to just wait before I assume anything.  We are being told to be cautious, and also to be as "unnoticeable" as possible, hence the privacy of the blog right now.  (I will eventually open it back up once Levi is HOME). 

             Tomorrow we have a conference call with the Department of State regarding this situation so I am hoping that they will have some new information for us.  Thankfully God is bigger than all of this so He really has the final say!

                

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Timing

        The timing of all of this keeps playing in my mind.  We really should have gone for our first visit in September, to court in November and brought Levi home this month.  Through a series of events we ended up a month off.  This law was signed just a day before the Russian holiday, leaving us to wait in limbo for days.  Timing.....I've mentioned so many times through this journey and this blog that it would all happen in God's timing.

         While these days feel extremely long, and at times seem unbearable with no possibility for updates anytime soon, I know this is for a purpose.  So many of the families in our same position are also believers and I feel that God is allowing this for a reason we cannot yet see.  A verse kept coming to mind tonight so I looked it up and was reminded the story of Joseph.  When he is reunited with his brothers, they are fearful that he will repay them for the evil they did to him.  Instead he says, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (Genesis 50:20)  

        This is my prayer tonight.....that what Satan has intended for evil and destruction, God will use to accomplish just the opposite.  In His Timing.