We have now been home longer than I was in Ukraine. 13 weeks there, 13 weeks and 5 days now at home.
We are asked pretty regularly how we are doing. Or how Elianna is adapting to life in America. So, I will do what I can to answer the question.
She is doing great, she is making friends. She loves going to church and really has joined right in with our extended family. I often forget that she wasn't always here. She loves Josiah and Lydia very much and is constantly coming up with fun things to do with them. She folds origami boats, fills the kiddie pool with water and races boats with Josiah. She builds forts in the backyard and "cooks" with Lydia. She plays on the slip 'n' slide with Josiah, but my favorite thing there is the watch her slide Lydia Cross the plastic slide.... She is so careful, and Lydia just squeals! She absolutely loves swimming and is pretty disappointed on days we can't get down the street to the pool.
Her English is absolutely amazing. She has learned so quickly. I am beyond impressed with what she says, what she reads, and what she understands.
There are tough times, too. She misses Ukraine. She doesn't like to be asked how "she likes living in America" because some days she likes it a lot. And some days it is too hot. And some days, she is just missing friends. She doesn't like to disappoint people though, so she gives her "American answer" sometimes even when she doesn't want to. I hate that she is learning that already. There really is something refreshing about the honesty of Ukrainian children.
She loves to listen to music. She likes to dance. She is extremely creative and comes up with fun games regularly.
For us as a family, we are constantly learning, adjusting, praying, talking, asking and loving. Sometimes, due to the fact that she is so awesome, we forget the past that got her here. Sometimes we have to remember that we can't expect her to know what she was never taught. Sometimes we have to be strong when we want to be gentle. Sometimes gentleness is required where we might normally be strong with our biological children.
She put Lydia's hair in a ponytail last week. As she finished, she looked a bit serious as she walked away. She has a biological brother and sister who are a bit older than Josiah and Lydia. She was separated from them a long time ago. She told me later that as she fixed Lydia's hair, a memory of fixing her sister's hair flashed back. I was able tell for a moment, her mind had taken a trip to years back. Fixing another little girl's ponytail. One she loved just as dearly, and one that had been ripped from her life at no fault of her own or of her sister. I wonder how far she went with her thoughts, I'm sure she misses her sister. I wonder if she still gets as concerned for their safety as she does for Josiah and Lydia. I wonder if she wonders where they are or what they are doing. I wonder how often those flashbacks happen.
She loves photos. She has begged to see every single photo of us in our lives. She loves looking at our story. I went to a wedding recently where tons of photos were shown of the couple growing up. One week later I was at the funeral of a sweet elderly lady with a slideshow of photos from her life growing up. In both instances, I was overwhelmed with the emotion of knowing how much she loves pictures and also with how few of her I have. I have one photo of her class in 2nd grade and then one when she was 11. There are a few from the orphanage and then what we have taken. I don't have video of her first steps, her lost teeth, her first haircut, her baby bed, her standing in the rain or playing with her babies. I wonder how much of her love for our photos stems from not having many of her own.
I return to the lady that so directly (and brazenly) "warned" us last July that our life was going to be complicated.
Yes ma'am. It is complicated. It is complex. There are behaviors that are not typical of a 13 year old American, there are behaviors that are associated with time in an orphanage. There are days when a moment of quiet is more than I can dream about. There are miscommunications and complications and fears and dreams. There are memories that she wants to forget, and lost moments that she wishes she could have. But there is love. And love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Her healing has begun. Not because she is in America. No, America is not her salvation. And not because she is ours. No, we fail often and we are the ones blessed to have her. Healing has begun because she knows she is loved. Because Christ came to heal the brokenhearted and to set the captives free. He did not leave her as an orphan. He sets orphans in families. It's not a cakewalk, but it is beautiful. She has brought a joy and life to our family that I can't even imagine living without now.