Tuesday, May 31, 2011

RUSSIAN BELIEVERS ADOPTING RUSSIAN CHILDREN

At about the time we adopted our first two Russian children Anya and Alex, a special report appeared in Newsweek showing a picture of a very pregnant-looking Russian woman. The article explained the photo was a feigned pregnancy: since adoption was culturally unacceptable in Russia, infertile women often placed increasingly larger pillows under their 'maternity' clothing until the baby was born that would be 'theirs' through a clandestine adoption. So disturbing was this to me that I began to pray that many Russian believers would begin to adopt and care for children in the orphanages, so obviously overflowing with kids in need of loving families. Over the past decade many of our friends have adopted precious children, and we have seen the Lord do 'exceedingly abundantly above and beyond all we could ask or imagine (Eph 3:20)' to answer that prayer.

The Kozitsky Family

Over the next several posts you will read stories written by our dear friends, Pastor Misha and his wife Galya, and both their adopted and biologic children. Here is the first translated post, written originally in Russian by their son Igor, who lives with his dear family on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, Russia; he is now age 14.

Igor Kozitsky
"I do not know how I would live without my family. For me, family is a place
where people love you or want to help you. I like living with a family better than living in an orphanage. At an orphanage they don't give you the time that a family does, and you can't do what you can do in a family. When I was at the orphanage, I dreamed about a family and even prayed to God even though I didn't know if He existed or not. I prayed that I would have a big family and a big home. And the Lord heard my prayer and gave me everything I dreamed of. I remember when we went to bed with our group we would all talk about our dreams. Living in a family is much better for me.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

PARENTING IN GRACE--TIME OUT VS THE BREAK

The use of a "Time Out" has been popular for many years as parents look for effective ways to discipline and train their child. Typically this approach is used to isolate a child for a period of time as a punishment for doing something wrong. It can feel to the child, especially a child who is still learning to connect, that you are, in effect, isolating her from your love, not merely your physical presence.  Karyn Purvis speaks of this in her book, The Connected Child, an excellent resource for adoptive and foster parents. She says, "But isolating and banishing strategies are extremely problematic for at-risk children, because these kids are already disconnected from relationships, attachment-challenged, and mildly dissociative because of their early histories of neglect and abuse. Isolation is not therapeutic for them." 



In a way, the traditional Time Out is a bit like "serving time" for a crime committed. In this analogy the parent then takes the role of the police officer, rather than the role of the loving parent, totally committed to training, teaching, and bringing the child into maturity and wholeness. I so want my parenting to reflect the beauty of the gospel and I'm often asking myself how Grace informs and shapes how I discipline. The gospel of Jesus is about relationship, not rules. God Himself, Emmanuel ("God With Us"), came into our world, our real-life issues, to draw Himself to us and us to Him, not to point out our weaknesses and then to separate from us. 


So, what is a more life-giving alternative to the Time Out?
Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller from the National Center for Biblical Parenting, another wonderful resource for parents, promote the idea of The Break. In this approach the goal is to communicate love by drawing near rather than isolating, by training rather than punishing, by intentionally building relationship rather than cutting off relationship. With this technique the parent takes on a role more like that of the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, awaiting the return of his son with open arms.




What does it look like?
One way to effectively use The Break is to have your child sit in a designated spot close to you, within eye sight. This way he has not been removed from your presence, but he has been separated from the benefits of family life and fun, not for the purpose of punishment, but for the purpose of dealing with his heart. Let him know that as soon as he is able to talk about what went wrong you are ready and eager to talk with him, resolve the issue, and allow him to jump back into it. We often use the analogy of the game four square-- "The ball is in your court my son. Let us know when you are ready to 'play.'" This approach gives your child the power of choice. He realizes, I can either sit here and experience the consequences of my anger by missing out on the fun, or I can deal with the issue and get back in the game. 




When your child tells you she is ready, be sure to look her in the eyes, clearly and simply describe the problem, lead her to recognize her part in the problem, and release her with a "Well-done. You handled that problem well!" We'll talk more about how to have a forward-looking and positive resolution to issues of discipline in another post.

Monday, May 16, 2011

An Adopted Child's Perspective: Kristina (Part II)


We wanted to share some of the stories of adoption from the point of view of the children, both biological and adopted. It has been fascinating and faith-building to hear them tell their own stories of life from their perspective. The fourth in this series is from our precious Kristina, now a 20 year old college sophomore who is spending her spring semester studying abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, as a Russian Studies and Environmental Studies major.
Kristina and Pasha's adoption announcement--we wanted to treat the
adoption of our children the same as the births.

I didn’t like being told what to do
Kristina's 4th grade Science Fair--The
Simple Machine. It was the first time she
spoke English in front of the class. 
Adjusting to my new siblings was as easy as pie because they were all very kind and loving. It was no problem adjusting to my new parents because they were everything parents should be and more. But adjusting to a routine and being told what to do was miserable. I remember long nights of crying, throwing fits, and being a stubborn child. Having been the boss and parent of myself my whole life I didn’t like being
told what to do.  I often thought, “who are they to tell me I have to do my homework?” It took a while to really trust and get adjusted to the idea that they were my parents. Truthfully I have no idea how my parents survived that period of my life. However of all the hard things that I had to face in adjusting to a new family and culture was school. The frustration of not being able to communicate very well what you want, how you feel or ask questions was the most frustrating thing. Soon after I arrived in America I began to attend 4th grade with only knowing the alphabet, Old McDonald had a farm and how to write my name. I remember a couple of long horrible nights of staying up late and writing or reading something. But being a very motivated person, even while I was living in Russia, I adapted in almost six months.


Emma welcoming Kristina to their room
on the first day home.

Kristina (front left) and Pasha with their new siblings in the
hotel pool in Moscow.

Advice for adoptive parents

To those adopting parents I would say that beware of that “post honeymoon” feeling. Adopting is one of the most wonderful things someone can do. You’re giving another child a great chance at life and particularly a good and healthy life. When you are in the process and right after coming home with the child you feel so happy and good inside knowing that you did something good and are ecstatic that you got someone so wonderful in your life. But the post honeymoon feeling comes when you begin to see the not so good sides of the child and are presented with many difficulties that you have never faced. Don’t forget this child is not only going to have normal child issues that any child faces, but also extra difficulties that many children (or even adults) have never faced. Be prepared to face some months if not years of hard work. You know God is doing miraculous things when you come against difficulties because it means changes are occurring. Don’t get discouraged because in the end there are few things that seem more wonderful then when you see the fruit of your labor in that child’s life. Maybe my parents can testify to that. Of course those parents should discipline the kids, but there also has be understanding where they came from and what they went through. It’s hard to suggest what the parent should do, but maybe compromising and agreeing some way. Not always allowing the child to have his way but also not being so determined to have something go your own way.

Why did You allow all these horrible things in my life?

 I believe with all my heart that God’s plan in using my new parents, family and culture is to save me and prepare me to do his work back in the country and with the people that brought so much pain in my life in the first place. I accepted Jesus into my heart very soon after being in America and around my family, who showed how important God is in their lives. Even when I was in the orphanage I remember reading the children’s version of the Bible with my best friend. We were curious souls even then. Year after year, my family returned to Russia for different reasons; to see friends, to visit the orphanage and to minister. 
Our 2003 ministry trip back to Kalinina Orphanage. Kristina
is in the center (gray sweater) surrounded by the girls
in her group. Her best friend, Natasha (front right,
red sweater) used to read the bible with Kristina;
they still keep in touch.


Now that I think about it, it was such a God thing that even at such a young age I was so drawn back to Russia. There was nothing there for me, but it was like God was preparing me to one day return and do what he initially was calling me to do. I didn’t receive this calling till I was much older. One day when I was battling with God, I remember asking him, “ Why God, why did you allow all these horrible things in my life? Why did I have to see and feel all the things I did at such a young age? And why did you chose me to bless in such a tremendous way?” God’s reply was “So that when I call you to minister there you can relate to those kids because you have felt what they feel, you have done what they do and you have seen what they see. But above everything else you can give them hope for a new and better life because you have seen all the blessings and good I have done in your life.”

So here I am ten years later, once again back in Russia. This semester I am a study abroad student, but doing some ministry wherever and however I can for the people of Russia need to see God’s face and the love he has for them. 
Our family trip to visit Kristina (in grey coat)
in St. Petersburg, Russia,
Spring Break, 2011

In Vyborg--Kristina has visited the orphanage
she used to live in a few times during
her time studying abroad.

In front of the Hermitage Museum during our
visit in April, 2011
I know that God has a good future in store for me
The most important decision that I made eleven years ago still affects me today and in many ways it will affect me for the rest of my life. I know that without God I would not be where I am today. I was so young when I said yes to being adopted by a strange family that lived on a different continent. In many ways I did not know what I was doing and God guided me to the perfect family and gave me a future that so many could only dream of. Once again I learned to trust, experience feelings such as love, happiness and sadness. This decision gave me the confidence to make other important decisions in my life. Now I am no longer afraid for my future because not only am I confident that I will make the right decisions for the college that I go to or whom I marry, but I also know that God has a good future in store for me.
Our Kristina at Stetson University the Fall of her
sophomore year.
You are welcome to respond to Kristina with any comments or questions you would like to ask her.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

An Adopted Child's Perspective on Adoption: Kristina (Part I)

We wanted to share some of the stories of adoption from the point of view of the children, both biological and adopted. It has been fascinating and faith-building to hear them tell their own stories of life from their perspective. The fourth in this series is from our precious Kristina, now a 20 year old college sophomore who is spending her spring semester studying abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, as a Russian Studies and Environmental Studies major.

KRISTINA’S STORY

I taught myself not to feel

As I look back eleven years ago when I made one of the most important decisions of my life, I rejoice that I do not regret making that decision for one minute. I have to admit that I do not really remember my feelings and thoughts at that moment. One might think that I should remember how I felt during such an important time in my life. People remember how they felt when they said “I do” at their wedding ceremony or how they felt when they gave birth to their first precious child. For me, however, remembering my feelings and thoughts is not something that comes naturally. Partly it might be that a child at the age of nine does not have the capacity to recall the overwhelming emotions, thoughts and changes that were occurring to her. However it just might be that I simply taught myself not to feel. How and why would a little girl do such a thing to herself, one might ask? Unless you know how it feels to be both a grown up and a parent at age seven, then the idea of a little girl learning not to feel might be incomprehensible. Looking at my life today, it is hard to believe the things that I have lived through. I myself have a hard time believing that in fact I, Kristina Rebekah Templeton, was able to survive my childhood. By now you are probably dying with anticipation to know what happened to this little Kristina. What was so tragic that the poor girl learned to not feel?

Being adopted is a blessing from God

I receive two types of reactions from people that find out I am adopted; one reaction, “Oh that’s cool” and moves on afraid to ask further questions for fear of hurting me or touching upon such a sensitive subject. The other type of person gets so intrigued and asks questions like, “Oh how did it feel being adopted? What was your life like before you were adopted?” and so on. From my point of view people should never feel awkward or fearful in asking such questions. It’s not like being adopted is some kind of crime or bad thing that I committed or happened to me. Being adopted is a blessing from God that he cared so much about you that he gave you a better life.


There were a few happy moments in my life

I was born into a middle class family in Pushnoe, a little village in northern Russia. This village was so small that I could walk around the center of town in fifteen minutes or less. Hardly anyone owned a car; there was one public bus that served as transportation into the city. There was one elementary, middle and high school in the town, as well as a few produce shops, apartment buildings, a coal-mining factory, a mail house, and a gathering building. The things that I remember of my childhood are those that made the most impact on me as a child. There were a few happy moments in my life. My mother, father and my infant brother, Pasha, lived in a three-room apartment. The two things that I remember about my father are his injured leg, from which metal rods protruded, and that he was a kind man.  I remember beautiful summer days when my friends and I would walk to a nearby sea to swim and pick blueberries and strawberries. I remember my first day of school, dressed up in the traditional new fancy pink dress carrying an enormous bouquet of flowers to the teacher. The joy of starting school, getting school supplies, and meeting new friends made my life happy, but only for a short time. 
Kristina and Pasha in front of the school in
Pushnoe in 2006.
Kristina's flat was in this building in Pushnoe. She and Pasha
lived here until they were taken to the orphanage.

Survival became my life’s purpose

Unfortunately the rest of my memories are almost too unfortunate to recall. Sometime before first grade my father was killed right in front of my own eyes. I stood behind a door, helpless, watching as some man was beating up my father. As soon as I got enough sense I ran home in order to find help, but I was too late. By the time rescue came, he was already dead. The killer ran away, never to be found or punished for the crimes he committed.  From that day on, everything in my life changed; survival became my life’s purpose. I learned that survival is easier if I did not process the traumatic things that I experienced. My life to that point taught me a strong lesson that if I opened myself up to the feeling of happiness, then sooner or later I must feel sadness, loneliness and hunger. So for me it was better just to just not feel anything at all.  Without my father, my mother became a prostitute in order to support her family. Many days I would have to go and beg for some flour or bread from our neighbors or pick berries so we could eat. Many nights I would have to sleep all alone in the house, protecting my little brother. For days my mother would not come home. From time to time she would bring money home, and I would be the protector of that money. She relied on me to be the parent, not only of my little brother, but also of her. But somehow we survived many hard days. And thankfully this is not the life that God had for me and my hardships were short lived.  Even though my mother scarred my life, I cannot help but forgive her because in the end she cared about her children enough that she made money the only way she knew she could. However, one surprising day two women came to our house and took my brother and me away to an orphanage in Vyborg, Russia,  where we were to reside until November 15, 2000.
Kristina (far right) and Pasha (2nd on left) in hospital
in preparation for adoption.


Kristina and brother Pasha, ages 9 and 5, a few months
before adoption.

I was not so sure what was happening to me

On that special day happiness was once again restored in my life. I was adopted into a new family. An American family from Atlanta, Georgia, traveled all the way to Russia in hopes of finding a little girl to adopt, not knowing that they were going to adopt a little girl and her little brother. I remember when my current mom and her friend, Susan Hillis, came to see me at the orphanage and how after that day everyone started treating me so well and giving me attention. By God’s amazing planning I met an American missionary, Judy Grout, who lived in Vyborg and who began to come to the orphanage and begin to give us English lessons. It was so fun having her come and somewhat prepare me for my new life, even though at that time I was not so sure what was happening to me. It was all a dream. Every child dreams of being adopted into a picture perfect family not realizing that there would be hard times in adjusting. All they dream of are nice toys, clothes, room, good food to eat, parents who are nice and even some brothers and sisters to play with. They never imagine that the parents will discipline them and tell them when to go to sleep, or to brush their teeth and do their homework. In the orphanage there are people who watch over you, but all in all you don’t really have to listen to them because they are of no relation to you. 
Spring of 1999, a year and a half before Kristina and
Pasha came home. I met them for the first time on
Pasha's 5th birthday! 
Judy Grout teaching English to Kristina (standing on left)
and her friends. The girl in the pink vest, Olya, has died,
Natasha has a baby boy. Ruslan, on the right, has been
adopted by a family in Sweden. Kristina stays in close
touch with both of them.

Stay tuned for Part II. Kristina will share more about her transition into our family and American culture, give some advice to adoptive parents, and share with us what God said to her when she asked Him why so many bad things happened to her.



Thursday, May 5, 2011

Part II: Connection Versus Correction?

Connection or Correction? Part II

I have been carrying around in my brain ideas for this 'Part II' and am finally getting it into the computer! We left off Part I with the question 'So how do we connect to our children?' As I've thought about this in my own life I realize it is so easy to think more about connecting with my children than about connecting with my amazing husband (as one of my high school sons readily remarked recently "Daddy, mommy is so lucky to have you! You are so good to her -- she really doesn't deserve you!" Then he added, "my girlfriend doesn't deserve me either!" And the three of us had a jolly good laugh!) I also had the chance to reflect on this topic while reading 'His Needs, Her Needs' (probably the best book on marriage I have ever read) while coming back from Kazkhstan on the plane last week (I have even some amazing stories from that trip...to come later!) So this post will cover both connections!!


Connecting with Your Husband

I was reminded last week at a bridal luncheon of how important it is to connect to your husband...here is the advice shared as we went around the table:

- Laugh with each other, especially when the GPS breaks and you're running late;
- It's not breakfast unless there is bacon;
- Find ways to honor him publicly; be his biggest fan and always believe in him;
- Pray together, especially when the world is ending and the chocolate is gone;
- Know and wear his favorite color.
- Complement him in many ways and situations; he wants to be your superman!
- Always look for new ways to enjoy each other, including new hobbies and interests.
- Show interest in his work and enthusiasms, even if yours differ;
- Always make your husband the priority, even when children come;
- Make time for fun; don't let stress of daily life take over; be spontaneous!!!
- Live by Truth, not facts. Respond to who He is in Christ, not to his faults;
- Pick your arguments; some aren't worth it. Compromise;
- Soak in His presence often;
- Build intentional friendships with those who celebrate you;
- Love his mom intentionally;
- Encourage him often--even when you want to cry. This diffuses plans of the enemy;
- Give yourself time to get ready for dates, sleep in pretty things;
- Have a secret place where only you and he can be in mind, body, and spirit.
- Have 10 second hugs in the middle of an argument; it will always end in laughter;
- Find his passion and fuel yourself behind it;
- Continue to refine your marriage; you are the bride of your husband AND of Christ.
- Keep extra room in your purse for his wallet and keys. Greet him at the door.
- Just as our heavenly Father forgives and forgets, we need to forgive and FORGET!
- Submission means seeing others' needs more important than your own.
- Show interest in the activities of his daily life, big and small.

Connecting with your Children

While the hubby connections came from friends, all these kid connections came from Karyn Purvis' "Empowered to Connect" conference:

- Be in tune with who your child is, how God made him, his gifts and purpose;
- Use safe touch, such as high 5s, hugs, pats on the back, tickling;
- Give undivided attention to them;
- Value eye contact;
- Focus on having 'smiling eyes;'
- Engage them playfully, either in sports, board games, other games;
- Use nurturing play;
- Use a warm voice tone;
- Laugh together often.

In addition, a critical part of empowering them to become the person the Lord made them to be is being sure they have enough physical activity, including jumping/sports as well as many forms of fine motor activity. Remember that sad children may look angry and scared children may even look crazy. We can love them best by focusing more on responding to their needs more than to their behavior.

May the Lord encourage us all as we continue to see Him transform us and our families. He will complete the good work He has started in us! Hope to see some of you at the Louisville Summit!


Monday, May 2, 2011

PARENTING IN THE DARK

HE REVEALS DEEP AND HIDDEN THINGS
One of the things I have learned to love and appreciate about the Lord is that He is so good at shedding light into dark places. Stephen and I have learned to rely on Him to do this many, many times, especially as we have gone through the process of parenting our adopted children. How we do we gain access to places in our child’s heart and emotions that are hidden in darkness?

“He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him.” (Daniel 2:22)       
Now this is good news to an adoptive parent. We often do not know what is going on behind a certain behavior or response, but our God does know. And not only that, because there is no darkness in Him, wherever He goes, Light goes as well.
I remember one of our first encounters with this wonderful truth. Stephen and I were pulling up into our driveway. We had been praying in the car for our children, specifically that God would not allow anything to be hidden in darkness. And as I stepped up to the back door I sensed the Lord say, “Check the computer.” Now, that seemed like a random thought at the time. We thought that we had good rules in place regarding computer use, but had not yet realized the extreme importance of being completely involved in our children’s activity on the computer. I cannot tell you how thankful we were that God shed His light there. Light exposed and freedom was the result. 
“I have come as a Light into the world, so that whoever believes in Me may not continue to live in darkness.” (John 12:46)
I love the Lord for many reasons, but one of them is definitely His kindness. When He sheds a light, it is not the harsh light of shame, accusation, and ridicule. This is no bright spot light that causes eyes to squint and hands to spring up, tightly covering the face. No. When His light shines into darkness, it is the inviting, beautiful light that causes one to look up and to move forward, closer to the source. It is a warm light -- at the risk of sounding corny, I think of it like the light on the beach in the early evening, just before the sun sets.
“He uncovers deep things out of darkness and brings into light black gloom and the shadow of death.” (Job 12:22)

Our adopted children, no matter the age they come home to us, have places in their hearts, in their spirits, in their emotions, that desperately need to be uncovered. Without the beauty and power of the Light of the World, Jesus, we might be frightened or overwhelmed to see what is there. Or possibly you have felt as I have sometimes--quick push that back into the dark and shut the door tight! But how wonderful that we have simply to ask God, and He will be faithful to shed His light at the right time. I think of it as the ultimate parenting tool!

“And I will bring the blind by a way that they know not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known. I will make darkness into light before them and make uneven places into a plain. These things I have determined to do [for them]; and I will not leave them forsaken.” (Isaiah 42:16)

I encourage you to pray often that nothing remain hidden, covered in darkness. And then keep your ears open! Often God will answer in a simple prompting or just a sense you have in your spirit. He will lead you down the paths into your child’s heart and bring His powerful and freeing light. God has determined to do this for you and for your child; it only takes our agreement to live it.

Stephen and I have seen the Lord do this many times over. We still pray this prayer as we walk with our children into the glorious light of their healing and wholeness.