I am going to be incredibly transparent in this post. Today is Easter Sunday, and I sit here in Lithuania reflecting back on the work God has done in my life over the past twelve months. Last Easter, I was the picture of a broken little girl. I remember sitting on the steps of my Aunt’s house with my mom, sobbing. Life had gotten the best of me and Easter brought about my breakdown. I was struggling with low self-esteem, frustration, disordered eating, illness and pain, loneliness, depression, and feeling like I had no purpose. I wanted to give up. The worst part is that I was so good at hiding all of it…I put on my happy face and did all the things people expected me to do, but was breaking apart inside. I didn’t see how God could possibly use me for anything good.
Today, I find joy in my identity as a child of God, made complete in His death and resurrection. I am set free from my earthly burdens by His grace and love. This is a hard feeling to explain, but I feel like my heart is literally overflowing today…like it could just burst out of my chest. This has been a very different Easter Sunday, compared to all those of my past, but it might be the most significant so far. Here are the main points…
Intentional Community: For Easter lunch, I joined in a “family” meal with several other study abroad girls. We all helped prepare the food, then sat down together to break bread in community. It was a beautiful way to celebrate this day and its significance while away from our homes and families.
The Least of These: This afternoon, I went to the children’s hospital to visit Domantas again. I went yesterday, but was unable to get in, so I wasn’t sure that I would have success today. Thankfully, the door was unlocked. I made my way up to his room and was pleased to see he was awake when I got there, sitting in his crib making random sounds to himself. We enjoyed some time together playing, singing, smiling, and laughing. He seemed more energetic and was very vocal today…signs that, I hope, mean he is getting better. He does not actually speak real words yet, but he likes to “talk” to me with very serious and dramatic baby talk. The look on his face always conveys that he has some very important things to tell me. I was pleased to see today that he remembered some of the things I taught him on Friday, such as the rhythm of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and our little game with his rattles. It was such a blessing to me to be able to share some love with him on this Easter Sunday.
Purposeful Accidents: On my way to visit Dom this afternoon, I decided to take the bus instead of walking. My goal was to get there faster so I could spend more time with him before going to church. I knew that the #5 and #14 busses would take me in the right direction for the children’s hospital, but they were not going to come to my stop for over 25 minutes…which would not save me any time. The #9 bus was scheduled to come much sooner and, judging by the street names on it’s route, I thought it went into town. However, when I got on, I realized that I had misunderstood and it went toward town, but then turned to take the route over by the seaport – the opposite direction from the hospital. While I sat there, trying to figure out when I should get off so I could go where I need to go, an elderly women sitting across the aisle in the row behind me started talking to me. I didn’t realize at first that she was trying to get my attention, but when I heard “mergaitė” (young girl) for the second time, I knew she was talking to me. I turned around but couldn’t understand what she said. I sadly responded with, “Nesuprantu Lietuviškai. Aš kalbu angliškai...” She looked at me with understanding and kindness in her eyes, pointed at my wrist, gesturing that she wanted to see my bracelet. This is the MudLove bracelet that says “set free” on it. I lifted my hand so she could see, she read it, nodded and smiled as if she understood, and said a phrase that I did not know. I smiled in response but wished so much that I knew the right words to explain the meaning behind those two words. Given that she is of the older generation, I can say with near certainty that she probably only speaks Lithuanian and Russian, so I doubt she knew what “set free” meant. But, looking back on it, I wish I had thought fast enough to use an alternative form of communication. I could have drawn a cross on a piece of paper and written “Jesus Christ”, then a person with the word “aš” (me), and a heart to signify love. This wouldn’t have been perfect, but I think she would have understood what it meant. However, after thinking through all of this and being disappointed that I failed to communicate effectively with her when given the chance, I realized that maybe God had a different purpose for this interaction. I don’t think He had me get on the wrong bus and interact with this woman for no reason…God always has a reason. Not to mention that, in this culture, the fact that she approached me – a complete stranger – is unusual in itself. I wear this bracelet every day, but I think God used this woman to get my attention and remind me of the milestone that is today. He used this moment to bring back memories from last Easter and say to me, “My dear daughter…I AM faithful. You are mine and you are beautiful. You are free, and I am using you.” Some may say I am silly or I over-spiritualize things, but I believe there are angels among us. As I remember this woman and the kindness I saw in her eyes, I wonder if she was one of them.
This Easter, I know who I am, but more importantly, I know Whose I am. No, life is not perfect or easy. In fact, it is far from either of those things. In some ways, it feels like the more I pursue God, the more difficult like becomes. But, while there is a negative correlation between pursuit of God and ease of life, there is a positive correlation between pursuit of God and joy. Sometimes it makes me giggle when I think about how much joy I have when I see the beauty of my Lord all around me, even when life is less than kind. So, my prayer today is that, in some way, my testimony can encourage you. May you also find joy and hope on this Easter Sunday, as well as every day to come. Christ is alive and working!
I was supposed to go to Poland this weekend…spend tonight in Warsaw, take a bus to Krakow Saturday morning, and visit Auschwitz Concentration Camp and Schindler’s factory. Then, enjoy Krakow on Sunday and take a bus from Warsaw back to Lithuania on Monday. I was so excited about this because it was the most important trip that I planned to make during this semester. However, on Tuesday, I decided to change this plan for several reasons. In Lithuania, the Monday after Easter is the recognized holiday, instead of Good Friday, so we do not have classes. There is a big cultural event in Lithuania on Monday including a large open-air museum depicting major parts of Lithuania’s history. I didn’t want to miss this. After a tough consideration of both opportunities, I chose to stay in Lithuania based on this philosophy: I will only be a student in Lithuania one time in my life…now. I want to be as immersed in this country and culture as I can possibly be. Lord willing, I will have other times in my life when I can travel to Europe and visit Poland. And, now that I have quite a bit of travel experience, I know how to make that happen. So, I was sad to say goodbye to my chance at seeing Auschwitz this weekend, but excited to experience more of beautiful Lithuania before the semester comes to an end.
As it turns out, God also used this change in plans to open another door for me. I mentioned in my last update that Domantas is in the hospital. This morning, I went to the study abroad office to ask Viktorija to call the orphanage and ask if I could go visit him. Well, she was not in the office today, but God didn’t close the door. Orinta – the woman who works with the European students to help them study abroad – offered to call the Baby House for me. When she called, they said it would be fine for me to visit him and that they would call the hospital to let them know I was clear to be there. Then, Orinta asked me if I was going to bring a Lithuanian speaker with me to help translate if necessary. I told her I had planned to just go on my own since Dom doesn’t really speak, but I thought it might be good to have someone in case I needed to speak with any of the medical personnel. After asking me what time I would go, Orinta volunteered to go with me. She said, “It is good to help people who do good for little ones.”
At 1:30 this afternoon, Orinta and I went to the Klaipėda Children’s Hospital. She spoke with the receptionist for me to find out what room Dom was in. After climbing the stairs to the third floor and walking through hallways covered in finger paintings, we entered a bare room with two empty beds, an empty crib, and a crib with one little sleeping baby boy. He was all alone in a room with no signs of love…no stuffed animals, pictures on the wall, flowers, or cards. His pacifier and raddles were on the floor under his crib. He was lying on his belly, his thumb in his mouth, peacefully breathing as he slept. The first thing Orinta said was, “Awe, he is so cute…so little.” After speaking with the doctor for me, and staying for a few minutes, Orinta left me to take care of a few other things she needed to do. The children’s hospital is not far from campus so I knew how to get back on my own, and the doctor told me to stay as long as I wanted. So, I sat on one of the empty beds while little Dom slept. After about ten minutes, he awoke and sat up in his crib. Still rather groggy, he looked at me in confusion through the cold, white, metal bars of his hospital crib. I greeted him, “Labas, Domantė.” After a few minutes of talking to him, as he woke up a bit more, he realized who I was. Thus began my hour and a half visit with this little boy. We sang songs. He played with my phone. We played peek-a-boo. I held him so he could see out the window. We paced up and down the tiny room several times. I retrieved his pacifier for him and he retrieved the rattles on his own. He sat contentedly in my lap for several minutes, holding my hands in his, clapping them together and saying, “Clap, clap, clap…oopah!” We played a game of “Kur yra…? Čia yra!” (Where is it? Here it is! – Basically, I just made this up on the spot to help him cheer up when it was time for me to leave. It involved me hiding one rattle behind my back, him hiding the other behind his back, pulling them out randomly, shaking them, and hiding them again.)
One of the coolest parts is that I was able to give him my baby blanket. My mom gave me a blanket that was mine when I was a baby so I could give it to the orphanage. My plan was to give it to the orphanage on my last day. I decided last night to give it to Dom instead. When he woke up from his nap, I laid the blanket on him and explained that it was mine, but it is his now. I’m not going to lie…I shed two small tears when I said, “You get to keep it so you can remember me when I can’t come see you anymore.” Even though I said that in English, he must have understood my sadness because he started to cry, too. I forced myself to quickly cheer up and say, “Viskas gerai. Viskas gerai.” (It’s all good. It’s all good.)
If I could have, I would have stayed all afternoon and evening. But, the time came for me to leave. He was not happy about this. After our little game to stop the tears, I told him goodbye and that I would see him later. As I walked backwards out his door, I felt like my heart was breaking at the knowledge that this little boy with sad eyes would be staying in that room all by himself with the exception of the occasional check by a nurse or doctor. I have a feeling I will be spending a significant amount of my weekend in that hospital room…
So, my decision to stay here instead of traveling to Poland turned out to be the best change of plans. I am so glad I can be a visitor for Dom in his time of illness. I saw more than enough smiles and heard more than enough laughter in that hour and a half to know that it’s all worth it.
Well, I haven’t written an update in a long time. Sorry about that! I feel like all my creative juices have been sucked out of me right now, and I am not sure what to write about. A lot has happened, but I don’t know how to write it down. It’s a very strange feeling for me…
I think God has been challenging me on the lessons He has taught me so far this semester. I know it sounds somewhat silly, but it’s like I have a faith final exam along with all of my final academic requirements. The last couple weeks have been very challenging, indeed. They have been good, but difficult. I will attempt to summarize the main points:
100 Days – This past Sunday marked my 100th day away from home. There is now a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions occurring inside my heart and mind. How can the time have gone by this quickly? I have less than 30 days left! Is this real life? How will I pack up all my stuff? What will life be like when I get back home? How can I leave my beautiful little ones at the Baby House? Will I ever see any of them again? Will I ever see my new friends again? What will God do with me next? How can I make sure to continue growing when I get home? Will home be comfortable and familiar like it was when I left, or will everything feel different now? Wow…I was so different when I boarded that plane in Cleveland on January 4th. I am so excited to see my family! I want to show them everything I have learned and share all my stories! Will anyone want to hear all of this? Do the past four months matter to anyone else besides me? I’ve now experienced over 100 days of living intentionally and constantly challenging myself to grow in faith and character…I want to live this way the rest of my life. What does that look like in Bryan, Ohio and Marion, Indiana? God, please give me strength…
Looking at Life Through New Lenses – Alright, here comes a lot of metaphorical speaking. I got new glasses last week (literally). I also spent Friday-Sunday in Estonia and Latvia. Not only did I have new glasses through which to view the world, I also gained a more complete view of life through the eyes of a citizen of the Baltic countries. During our walking tour of Tallinn, Estonia’s capital, I stuck up a conversation with our guide, Heli. She is a 23-year-old native Estonian and was an incredible tour guide. During part of the tour, she mentioned that Estonians have a rather morbid sense of humor and typically expect bad things to happen, but they know how to laugh and keep pressing on. While I was talking with her, I said, “So, Estonians aren’t the most optimistic people…” She said, “Hahaha, nope!” I asked her why that was. She said that when you live in a little country on a seacoast, you just learn to expect that everyone is going to want to control you. Estonia’s past has followed a distinct trend: every time it looks like it is safe to say, “Yes, things are going well,” something bad happens. So, Estonians are not very positive people, but they have learned to laugh. This is the important part. Even though I prefer to look on the bright side and hope for good things, none of us can deny that there are times in life when we have to accept a negative reality. In those times, we have to learn to laugh…to see life through Estonian lenses. Laughter helps us make a bright side, and renews our ability to keep looking for the good that is to come. Estonia has experienced an entire past of domination and control. However, they have managed to keep their culture, language, and land. Now, they are celebrating 22 years of independence…the longest amount of time they have ever gone without being invaded by another country.
This isn’t all. Along with my new spectacles and my Estonian view, God has been challenging me to look at my life in new ways. There is so much more to my life that I could ever realize…Before coming to Lithuania, I thought I knew where God wanted me and what I was supposed to do with my life. Now I see so many other possibilities. It is difficult to think that I may have to let go of the things that I thought I was supposed to do. After believing for a while that this was the path He was leading me on, it became my dream for my future. But, I am realizing that God may have had a different idea all along. There are so many ways in which He can use me. I am excited to see which doors He decides to keep open. It’s kind of funny…each stage of my walk with Christ gets harder and harder. He challenges me a little more each day. And yet, I fall more in love with Him in every passing moment, and become increasingly excited about His plan for me. More importantly than seeing life through new glasses or an Estonian perspective, I want to see life through God’s lenses.
Moose Sighting – No joke…I saw a moose today…in real life! I was on the bus, coming back to school from the orphanage, and all of a sudden, this moose nonchalantly meanders across the road right in front of the bus! When we went by, she was only about four feet from my window! Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my phone out fast enough to take a picture! I am sure that the people sitting behind me probably got a kick out of my reaction. It went something like this: gasp, jaw drops, head swivels to follow moose, giggle, squirm with excitement in seat, attempt to get phone out of purse as quickly as possible, then whisper (not-so-quietly) to self, “Whoa…that was a moose! Awesome!” I was so excited because it was one of my goals for the semester to see a moose. Check!
Baby News – I noticed at the orphanage yesterday that Domantas was gone. The whole time I was there, I wanted to ask where he went, but I did not know if it would be appropriate for me to do that. When he still wasn’t back today, I decided to ask. “Kur yra Domantas?” (Where is Domantas?) The nurse answered, “Ligoninėje.” (In the hospital.) Me, “Nesveikas?” (He’s sick?) Her: “Taip, nesveikas.” I do not have a large enough Lithuanian vocabulary to go any more in depth than this, so I don’t know what kind of sick or how bad he is. I can gather, though, that it is pretty bad. The kids at the orphanage get sick ALL the time, but are usually treated on site. All of the nurses I work with have medical training. Also, there is a quarantine area in the orphanage. So, I know it has to be rather severe for a child to be taken to the hospital. I am going to attempt to find out tomorrow if I can go visit him. Since he doesn’t have parents, I’m sure he has no visitors, and having people come visit can make a big difference in the healing process. I don’t know that they will let me, but I am going to try my best. Please pray for little Dom and that he returns to health very soon!
Fun Lithuanian Fact – We now have more daylight in Klaipėda than what Ohio has during most of the summer. It is 9:15pm as I write this and it is still light outside! The official sunrise and sunset times for today are 14.5 hours apart, but we have over 15 hours of light. It’s a huge contrast to the amount of daylight we had in January!
Okay, I could write a lot more, but this entry is already super long. I will try to be more consistent in my updates for the next three weeks so they don’t have to be so long each time.
Hello! I just wanted to let you all know that I have not fallen off the face of the Earth. Sorry I have gone so long without writing an update! I have struggled to find enough time to get everything done these past couple weeks, and when I do find the time, I can't find the energy! Ha! Anyway, it is 1:30am here as I write this little paragraph. I just wanted to write something to say, "Don't give up on me!" I am working on a more thorough (and hopefully entertaining) update now, but am not finished yet. So, I am going to get some sleep, with the goal of finishing it tomorrow. Look for it in the next 24 hours! Thanks for your patience!
Finally! It's here! After several hours...actually, several days...of photography and editing, here is my video of Klaipėda. I did a flip-book style video, which means I used my camera to take continuous shots, then compiled all of the still photos to show movement. Over 1,000 photos later, and you get a 3 minute, 39 second video! This is my first complete flip-book project, so it's not the best. I have definitely learned several things from the process that will help me make future videos better. But hopefully it still gives you a good idea of what it is like here. Enjoy!
A week ago today, I hopped on a plane with two of my roommates, Pearl and Danielle, bound for Milan, Italy. It was the most spontaneous adventure I have ever taken! We set out with almost no plans, just taking each moment in stride, finding whatever we could find and going wherever we could go. We didn’t really even know where we were going to sleep each night. But it all worked out and we made some great memories in the process. As a result, it ended up being one of the best weekends!
Our only set housing arrangement was Wednesday night, when we first landed in Milan. We had an evening flight, allowing us to go to Wednesday classes, so we got to Milan around 11:00pm. On previous trips, we have stayed in hostels to keep our housing costs down. Hostels are cheaper than hotels because they are set up like dormitories. Basically, you are only paying for a bed, which could be one of 4, 6, 8, or even 10 beds in a room. As long as you do your research, you can find nice hostels that are safe and clean, but you do not have control over who else ends up in your room. On this trip, we decided to try Couchsurfing for the first time. For those of you who are not familiar with this, Couchsurfing is when local people host tourists overnight for free. The idea is that this allows the tourists to connect with the culture more and get tips on where to go, what to see, and how to get places. It also provides the host with an opportunity to learn about the tourists’ culture and home country. The concept is really neat, but it can be tricky finding a good host. The Couchsuring website is where people set up profiles to become hosts/surfers. They also run background checks. However, this is still something I would never do if I were traveling alone. Since there were three of us this time, we gave it a try. When Danielle set up the agreement with our hosts for the first night, she and Pearl tried to convince me that they went with the nudist that sent an offer…thankfully, I have roommates who are smarter than this. They politely declined the offer from the nudist and went with another person. Anyway, or first Couchsuring experience was less than ideal, but we survived – starting our first full day in Milan as closer friends with new memories and lessons learned for choosing Couchsurfing hosts in the future.
Thursday began with our search for a coffee shop that provided free wifi. We needed to get online to respond to our other Couchsurfing requests. But, after the way the first night went, we decided to go with one of our “just in case” hostels for the middle two nights, and only Couchsurf again on the last night. Turns out, there are not very many coffee shops in Milan…and even fewer that have wifi. But, in the process of looking for one, we stumbled upon Milan’s GIANT open-air market. None of us knew about this market, but we were so glad we came across it. I don’t remember how many blocks it covered, but it was probably between one and two miles long, with booths lining both sides of the street. One side was almost entirely fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese, bread, and flowers. The other side had everything else – jewelry, clothing, sunglasses, crafts, school supplies, shoes, umbrellas, even underwear. And prices were cheap! Danielle’s boot broke when she was going through security at the airport so she bought a new pair of shoes. We also got a container of strawberries to share…they were delicious! We each found a few other things, as well. After several hours perusing the market (we made it through the whole thing!), we continued our search for wifi, which we found in a gelateria! Of course…it only makes sense that Italy’s version of a coffee shop would be a gelato shop! Thus, we enjoyed our first serving of real Italian gelato and took care of our internet business.
In the evening, we walked through Milan’s high-end shopping district, filled with all kinds of brand name stores, on our way to the Duomo. We decided that no one needs those high-priced stores when you can find everything you need at the market for a fraction of the cost! :) On our way through this part of town, before arriving at the Duomo, we stumbled upon another of Milan’s hidden gems. It was a large, green, beautiful park located amidst the crowded city streets. Since we had no agenda, we took the time to walk through the park and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. Then, a little ways down from the park, we stopped in a neat little pedestrian street for an impromptu photo shoot. The best part about this is that I am pretty sure we had half of the people who passed us fooled into believing we were legitimate photographers/models. It was funny to watch them and how they reacted to us. It led to what became somewhat of a motto for this trip: just move about confidently and no one will know that we have no idea what we are doing.
When we arrived at the Duomo, I was caught a bit off guard. The setting was different than that of all the other old churches I have seen during my European travels. There we were, at the end of one of the most expensive shopping streets, surrounded by other city buildings, with this huge 14th century cathedral in the middle of it all. The contrast was incredible! What I liked about it was that it felt more real to me than many of the other cathedrals I’ve visited. It was not all blocked off from everything else. There were people siting on the front steps and crowds of people mingling all around. We even had pigeons land on us…so friendly. (Ha!)
Friday was an independent day. Danielle and Pearl took a train to Verona, the “home” of Romeo and Juliet. I took a train in the opposite direction to a tiny town called Breme. This is where I had the pleasure of spending the day with two Pioneer Bible Translator missionaries – Estel and my “Aunt” Wendy. What a great day! Estel and her husband have been working in Africa and just recently moved back to Italy. They are still working on their projects with the African people, but are doing so from Italy (for several logistical reasons). Estel actually works with orphans and the women who end up raising them when the mothers die. She has saved over 800 orphans by teaching proper feeding and medical procedures! I loved hearing about all of her work and seeing the pictures of so many sweet babies. I also talked with her about my work in the orphanage here in Lithuania. It was such a blessing to spend the day with these wonderful women, talking about God, life, and our mutual passion for the lives of God’s children. Also, Estel spoiled me with some authentic, homemade Italian food…
After a little bit of chaos with the train system, I was reunited with my traveling buddies in Milan Friday evening. We stayed again at our hostel and woke up early Saturday morning to catch another train. This time, we were headed for the beach! After a side stop in Genova – Christopher Columbus’ hometown – we found ourselves in beautiful Arenzano. And it did not take us long to fall in love with this place. Literally, we walked out of the train station, crossed the street, a walked down a path into the prettiest park I have ever seen. There were palm trees, waterfalls, colorful flowers, deep green grass, and peacocks! On the other side of this park was the Italian coast and the clear blue Ligurian Sea. We had perfect weather, too. Throughout the day, we explored the town, walked a path on the edge of the cliffs by the sea, dipped our feet in the waves, and spent several hours relaxing on the sand. We also learned a really neat fact about the culture of this town: Everyone takes lunch at the same time. All of the shops close at 12:30 and reopen between 2:00 and 3:30. During this time, the restaurants become super busy because everyone goes out to lunch together, enjoying the community. Then, they go back to work. This was so cool to me! I loved how people-focused the Italian culture is.
At the end of the day, we were reluctant to leave. But, it was time to catch our train back to Milan. It helped a little that it cooled off quite a bit when the sun set. Still, it had been such a fun day! We got back to Milan and prepared ourselves for our second Couchsurfing experience. Thankfully, this one was much better than the first! In the morning, it was off to the airport and back to Lithuania. And let me tell you…it sure felt cold during our walk from the bus station to LCC!
Start to finish, it was a superb weekend. I experienced four Italian cities, took tons of pictures, laughed a whole lot, learned how to say “Thank you” in yet another language, successfully maneuvered another system of public transportation, learned even more about God and myself, and did it all with two great friends. I couldn’t have asked for a better Italian experience.
Well, it has been a crazy couple of weeks…and it just keeps being crazy. I struggled today because I simply reached a point of being completely exhausted with still so much to do. There is something about this exhausted feeling that makes me long for home and the love of my family. I was reminded once again that I must look to God for strength and peace. I am here now and only have this day with which to work. All I can do is my best to fly on the wings of my Father and trust Him to help me carry my load. It made me think of the phrase “a brighter tomorrow.” I have a tendency to think, “Tomorrow will be a better day.” Now, there is nothing wrong with this…it is good to have an optimistic outlook. But, why do I not choose to see today as a brighter today? It might not be perfect or easy or going the way I want it to go, but I can still make the most of it! After all, it’s still a gift from God. That alone makes it worthwhile. I mean, think about that in tangible terms: God shows up at your doorstep with a package in His hands, wrapped up in a bow, with a tag that says, “A gift to you, with love, from God.” Inside is a slimy, muddy, smelly worm and a note that reads, “This is my creation and I am entrusting you with it. PS: I have a hope and a future for you.” Are you going to freak out about the worm, throw it out in the lawn, and say, “Well, He has a hope and future for me so He will bring something better another day”? No way! You’re going to take that worm out, wash him up, post pictures of him on Facebook, brag about him to your friends, and do anything you can with him. Who cares that he is a worm? God gave him to you!!! Sure, you don’t know why God gave you this worm, or what His plan is for the future (whether that be three seconds from now or three years from now). But none of that changes the fact that God gave you this gift with love and purpose.
This is how I am going to view each day. It might be as appealing as a worm, but it’s going to be the best worm that ever was. That’s how I want to see each day for other people, too. Maybe, if I see the hope God gives them, they will be more likely to see it, as well. Like my little ones in the orphanage…even they have a purpose, each and every day. I want them to know that. I want them to know that this is why I spend time with them three days a week…because God doesn’t make mistakes.
Well, it’s currently after 2:00am. So, I am going to leave you with this food for thought. You can look forward to my Italy update tomorrow. (I hope!) Thanks for reading and being patient with me when I can’t write as consistently as I would like!
This is just a quick update to let you know that I will be in Italy Wednesday-Sunday. I am flying (with my roommates, Pearl and Danielle) to Milan this afternoon (3/26) and will be returning to Klaipėda Sunday night. We are going to spend most of our time in Milan, but will be taking a train to Genoa on Saturday to spend the day on the coast. Italy was not originally one of the countries that I hoped to visit this semester, but now I am very excited about it! I wish that I could write more about what has happened the past couple days, but I have to keep moving. This week and last have both been very full, but also very good. However, it is already past 1:30am here and I still have studying to do. Look for my Italy update on Monday!
This past week was packed with things to do. That, combined with my post-Russia fatigue, made for a crazy week. And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment, even if I did want to fall asleep all the time. Today marks my 79th day away from home…meaning I only have 46 days until I’m home again. The time has gone so much faster than I ever thought it would. For this journal entry, I am going to give a synopsis of my week within the descriptions of a few things that have become some of my favorite things this semester…
My Journals: As one of my roommates puts it, I spend “an absurd amount of time writing.” What can I say? I love expressing myself through creative formations of words. I have one journal that is already full of memories from the first part of this semester. Another is a handmade book that I bought here and just started filling it in place of the one that’s full. Then there is the one in which I write everything I am learning about God and faith. I also have this – my electronic journal – which allows me to compile the writings I do by hand in a form that I can share with all of you. Not to mention the one that holds all of the little visuals that go along with what I write, like ticket stubs and currencies. Writing is so much fun when it’s not in the form of a research paper! So, I spent a lot of this week writing, as I do every week, but I had so much writing to do this week that I still fell behind. I still have some catching up to do. Thus, I am thankful for my other little journal…the Notes app on my phone. It holds all the bullet points of things that I still need to write about in detail in my journal. I guess you could say I live in a world of words.
The Lithuanian Language: This language has become beautiful to my ears. I surprised myself by how thrilled I was to hear Lithuanian again on the train back from Russia. It felt so familiar after a week of being completely immersed in Russian. I wish that I could say I am closer to being fluent at this point in the semester, but I am still so far from conversational. Still, I love learning each new word and phrase. On Thursday, I went through some of the food chart with a couple of the boys at the orphanage. It was exciting to be able to work on a bit of vocabulary with them.
My Camera: “A picture is worth one thousand words.” Even with as much as I write, I think there are still times when this statement is true. My memory isn’t always the best, and, honestly, I have a small fear of forgetting things. I like taking pictures because it feels like I have captured a moment in time so I can return to it later and share it with others. I spent quite a bit of time this week going through photos from Russia and other parts of the semester, editing and choosing which ones to share.
My Bus Pass: At the beginning of the semester, I made a goal to go the entire semester without a bus pass because I enjoyed walking everywhere and appreciated the built-in exercise. However, that was before I knew how far away the Baby House was from campus. This is why my bus pass has become one of my favorite things…because it gets me to my Little Snails three times a week. This week at the orphanage was tough and wonderful at the same time. First, we had some changes in my room. Karolis, the little trouble maker of the group, graduated up to another room. Two of the other little boys were also gone. One of them, Andruis, was very young and full of cuddles. The other, Martynis, had a brace on his leg and was bursting with smiles. I had grown quite fond of both of them, so I was sad to see they were gone. No one told me where they went, but I am hoping this means they were adopted. Now we have two new boys who look like they could be twins. They are around two years old but don’t seem as disconnected as the other children were when I first came. I have not learned their names yet, but I hope to do that tomorrow. Finally, there is my little Domantas. (I realized that I had the spelling of his name incorrect when I last wrote about him.) He continues to make strides and is blossoming into a loving, outgoing, and independent little guy. On Thursday, he called me “mama.” This may sound dramatic, but it’s true…it took my breath away when he said it. This is mainly because it made me sad. In six weeks, I will be boarding a plane to fly thousands of miles away from him…and thinks of me as his mom. I have come to love this little man. It breaks my heart to think about leaving him. I am praying for him…that God provides him with a loving, Christian family who will teach him to grow into the man God made him to be. I would be more than happy to be his “mama” if I could. Legally speaking, I could adopt him. Logically speaking, I am in no place to be a mom right now…God would have to do some crazy orchestration to make that work.
Package Slips: These are what the post office sends to campus when they have a package for an LCC student. Then, we can go pick up our mail. It is so nice getting these boxes of love from home! I received one this week…and it was a complete surprise! As soon as the man handed me the box, I looked for the return address and smiled a giant grin when I saw that it came from a family that I love so dearly. Inside was a beautiful reminder to continue looking to God and to soar on His strength.
Set Free: This bracelet has gained more meaning this semester. For those of you who don’t know, I have worn this bracelet nearly every day since the beginning of my sophomore year at IWU. My mom hid it in my jewelry box with a note explaining that it is to serve as a reminder of the fact that nothing can take away the freedom that I have in the love of Jesus Christ. He set me free and nothing can change that. Well, this has become even more significant… First of all, I am now one of two people at LCC wearing this bracelet. Laura, my friend that I mentioned in the “Impressed With God” entry, now wears one, too. We are sisters in Christ and remember this fact with the same phrase…”set free”. Second, this week was rEVOLution Week – a week focused on anti-human trafficking. The campus group, Roots of Justice, hosted an event every day to raise awareness. I participated in or attended almost all of them. The final event was the one that had the most impact on me. On Friday morning, I posed as a human statue in the center of our academic building as everyone switched classes. These vignettes were staged during every class change throughout the day, depicting different types of sex trafficking. For fifteen minutes, I was frozen as a girl sold into prostitution, being exploited by a man who was previously my friend. In that time, I allowed my mind to think about what it would feel like if this scenario were real, as it is for thousands of girls around the world. When those few minutes were past, I was me again and Edvardas was back to being my friend, but the effect that I felt while frozen remained. And I realized something…the wrist holding my “set free” bracelet was the one that faced everyone walking by as I hid my face in my arm. My reality is that I am free of this kind of imprisonment. How cool would it be to set other girls free? Sex trafficking happens all over the world in many different forms. I want to help put an end to it. To bring attention to the issue, I am including a link to the website of an anti-human trafficking organization with which I’ve become involved. Please check it out, even if for no other reason than to gain information on how to pray about the issue. (www.TheA21Campaign.org)
So there you have it...just a few of my favorite things and how they each played into this week. :)
And, in keeping with the theme, here is the Lithuanian word for one of my favorite foods: morkos. (carrot)
Три – (tree) Russian for the number 3
So sorry that I kept you waiting an extra day for Part 3…sleep got a hold of me last night before I could type this out.
We left off with switching cities…. I left my Moscow subway surfing behind to traverse the bridges of St. Petersburg’s canals. You often hear about particular cities that are beautiful to see at night – Paris, Las Vegas, etc. – but St. Petersburg isn’t usually one of them. Well, take it from a girl who loves soaking in city lights under starry skies… St. Petersburg is gorgeous at night! Standing on a bridge, looking down a canal sparkling with the reflection of hundreds of yellow lights…ahh! But, lets not get ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of daylight to discuss!
Day 1 in St. Petersburg:
Peterswalk – Most of our day was spent on a walking tour of the city led by guides from a company called Peterswalk. My group’s guide was the founder himself, Peter. He actually grew up in St. Petersburg so he was very knowledgeable about the city. A random fun fact about him is that, even though he is a native Russian, he speaks with an awesome British accent because of how he learned English. We learned a lot from Peter – everything from how to find our way around the city to the dimensions of government-issued housing during the Soviet era. (When he was a boy, his family was only allowed a living space of 45 square meters. That’s 10 for each person plus 5 for a family. Before this, they only allowed 6 square meters per person and no extra for families. Crazy!)
Russian Ballet – Day 1 of St. Petersburg ended with the Russian Ballet’s performance of “Le Parc” in the Mariinsky Theatre. It was fun to get dressed up for this and go see it live in a beautiful, historic theatre. I felt so sophisticated! Then I pulled Margaux out of my bag, complete with her tutu and ballet shoes, to take her picture in front of the stage. And I felt no shame! :) The show was really interesting. It was a combination of modern and classical ballet. I am definitely more a fan of classical ballet, but it was cool to see the contrast of the two in one show.
Kazan Cathedral – This is the Eastern Orthodox cathedral that was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Remember that word? …Wow… I did not take any pictures of the interior of this cathedral because we actually visited it while a service was taking place. But, it followed the suit of the other cathedrals – an interior covered in colorful paintings. Also, I enjoyed listening to the singing and prayers of the people inside. It was incredibly peaceful.
St. Isaac’s Cathedral – Another amazing Orthodox church. And, as did the others, this one also has a unique characteristic. If you are feeling ambitious (which I was, of course), you can climb 261 steps to the dome and take in a 360-degree view of St. Petersburg. The day was clear and I could see for miles in every direction. It was worth every step!
The Hermitage (Winter Palace) – Let me just get this out of the way…WOW! Did you know there are so many pieces of art in the Hermitage that if you spent ten seconds in front of each one, it would take you seven years to get through the museum? It is huge! I didn’t examine every single piece so I managed to at least peruse almost every room. I stopped whenever I saw something that was particularly interesting to me and looked at it a bit longer. Honestly though, I liked the palace interior itself more than the artwork. It boggles my mind to think that people used to live there! I would get lost in my own house if it were that big! But, we decided that being a palace kid would be pretty cool…we would have the most epic games of hide and seek ever! My favorite room (aside from the ballroom that just made me want to dance) was the library. I dream of having a library in my home! This one wasn’t as large as you might expect to be in a palace, but it was still quite impressive. It had two “layers” with a staircase and balcony. So many books! Something that you probably did not know about the hermitage is that it does have current residents – a group of well-trained, former-stray cats. They are given a home in the Hermitage because they keep the artwork-destroying mice away. Most of the time, they spend the daytime sleeping under furniture and visitors never even see them, but some people are lucky enough to catch one walking through a room. I had the pleasure of meeting one on my way out of the museum. Apparently the Hermitage Cats are too good for Margaux, though...this guy wasn't too thrilled about taking a picture with her...
Pushkin, Russia – I took a train, with several other SA students to Pushkin, a small town about 30 minutes from St. Petersburg. This is where Catherine’s Palace is located (the palace used as the model for the movie Anastasia). First, we explored the extensive gardens behind the palace. This is something that I would love to go back and see in the summer when everything is in bloom, but it was still incredible. The gardens are HUGE! There were tree-lined paths in every direction, two swimming ponds, one larger natural pond, several smaller buildings (possibly pool houses), and quite a few footbridges over little creeks. Then, we had a guided tour of the inside of the palace. We were allowed to take pictures here and I couldn’t put my camera down! The only room we were not allowed to photograph was the Amber Room. It is a room literally made out of amber. The walls are all panels of amber mosaics. Catherine’s Palace was almost completely destroyed by the Nazis in WWII but has been going through restoration since then. It is almost completely restored now, though a few rooms are still unfinished.
New Food – On Nevsky Prospect, the main street in St. Petersburg, there is a little restaurant called The Market Place. It is a natural foods restaurant where you can pick and choose to design your own meal. I got brave and tried all new food: a rabbit burger and buckwheat. Both were super delicious! And buckwheat has become my new favorite food. Now that I’ve made that clear, look forward to the funny story on this topic that will be told on Day 4.
Feel Yourself Russian – This was the name of the show we attended at the end of Day 3. It was put together by the St. Petersburg ethno-cultural department to display traditional Russian song, dance, and food. The music and dancing caused my jaw to hit the floor many times (figuratively, of course). As with the circus, it was amazing to see what the human body can do. One girl sang notes that I didn’t even know were on the scale, and the dancing men looked completely immune to the laws of physics. It was energizing to watch! But, at intermission, my luck with new foods ran out. I tried red caviar for the first time in my life. YUCK! Never again…Never again. I stuck with an apple from the fruit bowl after that.
Spilt Blood Church – This is the cathedral that was built over the place where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated. It fits the other Orthodox cathedral characteristics with its onion domes and artwork-covered interior, but its artwork demands a closer look. The entire interior is made of mosaics. I just stood and took it all in. The amount of work that went in to laying every small stone is beyond my comprehension.
The rest of Day 4 was mostly spent relaxing and catching up on my journaling. One of my friends got sick at Spilt Blood Church so I stayed in the hostel with her for most of the afternoon. This was actually nice because I had already gone to see pretty much all of the places I was hoping for and I needed the time of quiet and rest. Also, the weather decided to give us a random day of winter and it snowed heavily most of the day. I got soaked just from being outside for about ten minutes since the snow was thick and wet. Since I was staying in, I decided to take the opportunity to learn how to cook buckwheat in the hostel kitchen. Enter the previously mentioned funny story… Kristen, the LCC Study Abroad Recruiter, was with me at The Market Place on Day 3. When she came back to the hostel mid-afternoon, I enthusiastically told her that I had successfully made buckwheat for myself for lunch. Then, I asked, “Oh my goodness! Do they have buckwheat in Lithuania??” She laughs and says, “Yes! They have tons of it! It’s everywhere! It’s poor people’s food. All the LCC students eat it…” And another girl says, “We have it in the US, too…” Me: “Well, I am going to join with all the other poor LCC students and buy buckwheat when we get back to Lithuania. And when I get home, I am going to put buckwheat on my mom’s grocery list.” So, when I went grocery shopping after returning on Sunday, I got buckwheat. (There is in fact a plethora of it in the grocery store.) Mom, I know you are reading this…be prepared. ;)
That basically wraps up my Russian adventures. We had another overnight train ride that was just as good, if not better, than the one that started our trip – lots of deep conversations, challenging questions, and experiencing God’s presence. From the very first bus ride to the moment I collapsed on my bed Sunday night, it was a full and beautiful week.
Два – (dvă) Russian for the number 2
I know. I know…you have all been waiting in great anticipation for this second entry. Well, here we go…
Our second day in Moscow:
More Metros, Surfing the Stations – Moscow metro stations are beautiful! Not only are they some of the deepest subway stations in the world (the longest escalators I’ve ever imagined!) but they are also artistically designed. Some have stained glass artwork, most are made of marble and other gorgeous stone, and several have sculpture art. The metro is a reason in itself to visit Moscow!
(This is in one of the metro stations. The stained glass was taken from Christ the Savior Cathedral before the Soviets demolished it.)
Старый Арбат (Old Arbat Street) – This is basically the Americanized street of Moscow. It was the first merchant street in the city but is now the street lined with McDonalds, Starbucks, Wendy’s, Dunkin Donuts, Subway, and many other American chains, though it has kept its characteristic open-air art market. I am proud to say that I did not eat any American food while in Russia. Even on this street, I had lunch from Tepemok – Russia’s version of fast food (pankaces).
St. Basil’s Cathedral – We got to see the inside today…every inch is covered in colorful paintings. Guess what word came to my mind! Yup, “Wow!” I can’t imagine being the person to paint all of those intricate details. Also, we were able to look out from the arches on the second floor of the cathedral and get a new perspective on Red Square. All the history in this place just felt so surreal!
Christ the Savior Cathedral – This is a large white cathedral with gold onion domes. It was destroyed by the Soviets but completely rebuilt in only two years. I was not allowed to take pictures on the inside of this one, but if you Google it, you will have a visual of why it was so incredible that this was all accomplished in a couple years. As you will see, interiors completely covered in artwork are a typical characteristic of Easter Orthodox cathedrals. This cathedral was no exception! It was probably one of the most beautiful cathedrals I saw during my time in Russia, right below the Church on Spilt Blood (which you will read about later).
Вернисаж (Vernishazh Market) – This is a large, long-standing, outdoor market of handmade Russian souvenirs. I got to practice my bargaining skills to convince vendors to lower their prices. Actually, this was a time when my indecision worked well in my favor! For example, a man would ask for 1,000 rubles for a matryoshka doll and I would offer 500. He would counter with 900. I would counter with 600. He would counter with 750. I would hesitate and prepare to walk away to check another booth and he would say, “Okay, okay. 600.” And I would think, “Mwahaha! Success!” It was fun. But then, there was Mikial. (I have no idea if that’s actually how it is spelled but it is pronounced “Mik-ee-al”) Yes, my friends, this is where the “kisses from a gold-toothed old man in the market” comes in. Let me first give you some relief by mentioning that I was not in fact the recipient of said kisses…Keren, another IWU girl who was in my Comrade Group (CG), was the unfortunate victim. I was held captive at a hat stand by a man who would not stop putting Russian fur hats on my head when I heard Keren yell, “Katie! Help!” I look over to see her shove her hand up between her cheek and his face, push his head away, and shout, “Mikial, NET!” (Net is Russian for “no”.) Then, she ran away, looking back at me with an expression of “YIKES!” as I stood stunned with some giant hat on my head. Mikial then says nonchalantly to the man at the hat stand, “She beautiful, no?” As I started to recover from the shock, the hat man asks, “You have no boyfriend?” I mumbled something that wasn’t even real words, Russian or English, and got out of there as fast as I could! When I got back to my CG, Keren says, “Katie! Why didn’t you do something?” I apologized and explained that I was in shock, like I was in one of those bad dreams where my feet are glued to the cement. She continued to tell me the whole story, including the part where Mikial managed to get three slobbery kisses on her cheek before she escaped. Wow…was I sure glad it wasn’t me! Turns out I ended up being one of two in my CG group who made it back to Lithuania without being kissed by a random Russian man. Thank heaven!
Gorky Park – Gorky Park is basically Moscow’s Central Park. It is quite extensive and beautiful, located right next to the river. While sitting on the cement wall at the edge of the river, my CG met some new friends. There was a group of Russian college students standing just a little ways from us attempting to sing the theme song from Titanic. We decided to help them out by joining in. This led them to come over and introduce themselves. We played a get-to-know-you game with them and enjoyed making spontaneous international acquaintances.
Day three in Moscow:
Mausoleum – How would you feel about visiting a man who died in 1924? Not just that, but a man who died in 1924 and is guarded by 13+ Russian police officers? Yeah, I wasn’t so sure about this either. Maybe you don’t know this, but Vladimir Lenin was never buried. His body was preserved (basically mummified) and continues to be represerved on an annual basis, and is on display in the Mausoleum in Red Square. He even receives an occasional change of his suit. Hundreds of people visit him each year, and on March 11th, I was one of them. Ya know, he doesn’t look too bad seeing as how he has been dead for 90 years and all…
Kolomenskoe selo – This is the old imperial estate in Moscow. It is now a national park that still contains some of the remains of wooden structures built by many Russian Tsars. It is also located on the river and was a beautiful place to walk through on this sunny day.
Then, we loaded up on Train No. 162 AA, Car No. 8 and made our way, at 200km per hour, to St. Petersburg….
- TO BE CONTINUED –
Still to come in Part 3: dancing, palaces, new foods, and canals for miles!
Один – (ăh-dēn) Russian for the number 1
Alright, here’s the plan: I am going to use three segments (over the course of three days) to recount my time in Russia. I’m sure this surprises all of you, but I have a lot to write about after ten days traveling Russia…okay, so it’s no surprise at all. But, on the train ride from Russia to Lithuania, I kept thinking about how in the world I could accurately describe my experience in one blog post, and decided it was impossible. A series seemed like the best plan. Besides, it will be fun…like a TV series that ends with “To Be Continued”…twice! :)
Let me begin by saying this: Life is beautiful and God is beyond brilliant. You may be thinking, “Wait…I thought we were talking about Russia…” Well, hold your horses. It all starts with the 4-hour bus ride from Klaipėda to Riga, and the over 15-hour train ride from Riga to Moscow. We made a side trip as we traveled to Riga last Saturday and stopped at Kryžių Kalnas (The Hill of Crosses) in Šiauliai, Lithuania. This place is a primary example of the resiliency of Lithuania. People began putting crosses there in remembrance of loved ones, but when the Soviets took control of Lithuania, it was bulldozed. However, people put up new crosses. Even after several attempts to destroy it, the number of crosses kept growing. Now, people from all over the world place crosses on the hill. There are hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of crosses now in place. It is an awe-inspiring atmosphere. I walked among the crosses in silence and solitude, taking in the sounds and sights around me. There were many small crosses hanging from larger ones and they sounded like wind chimes when the wind blew threw them. It was such a beautiful sound of hope, courage, faith, and peace. Thanks to some influence from my mom, I have always thought of wind chimes as whispers of love from heaven. Though this Hill of Crosses is completely symbolic, it provoked thoughts in my mind about what it means to be in Christ…even though the world tries time and time again to tear us down, nothing can take away our hope in Christ. His cross gave me purpose. His love is stronger than any destroying force.
Fast-forward a few hours to the train. Picture this: a sleeper car with 54 beds full of study abroad students and staff. To some, this may sound TERRIBLE. But I loved it! It was so much fun to go to different cabins and talk with different people. I had some incredible conversations and forged deeper friendships with a few people. It was wonderful to see God using this opportunity to bring us together. What could have been an awfully uncomfortable environment provided the perfect setting for testimonies, laughter, smiles, and life to be shared.
Sunday morning, March 9th, we stepped off the train, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, onto Moscow soil (actually, cobblestone). Thus began our exploration of Russia and my subway surfing career. (It’s true…I found my new talent. I’ll explain more in a few minutes.) And before I knew it, I was standing in Red Square staring up at Saint Basil’s Cathedral’s brightly colored onion domes. This was just one of the hundreds of times that the word “wow” came out of my mouth over the course of the week. We started with a tour of the Kremlin Armory. We got to see all kinds of articles that belonged to royal Russians…everything from underwear, shoes, wedding gowns, and crowns, to thrones, dinnerware, giant carriages, and the horses’ bejeweled saddles. All I can say is that I now have a dream to ride in an old-school horse drawn carriage. That will probably never happen but a girl can dream, right? We polished off Sunday with the Russian circus performance of “Емоции” (Emotions). Once again… “Wow….” This is definitely one of my favorite things from the entire trip. Unfortunately, I got yelled at for taking pictures (because I couldn’t understand the announcement in Russian of “No photography during the show”) so I won’t have very many pictures to share. But, they didn’t confiscate my camera and delete the ones I did take, so I have a few. They had all different kinds of acts: every form of acrobatics you can imagine (and probably some you can’t imagine), extreme juggling, gymnastics off the backs of galloping horses, ribbon dancing (Google this one…it’s not what you think of as “dancing”), lions and tigers jumping through hoops, backflips off human-sized hamster wheels 40 feet in the air, and so much more. I was thoroughly amazed at these performances of what the human body can be trained to do.
Back to my new hobby (that will be completely useless in Bryan, Ohio): Subway Surfing. Basically, this means riding the Metro without holding on to anything. The Moscow Metro trains go extremely fast. It’s quite a challenge to stay standing when they burst into full speed from a dead stop. I discovered that I really like the challenge of maintaining my balance and moving with the train around curves and through stops and starts. My group leader, Tomas, dared me to try it during our first Metro ride and I never went back. According to him, I am surprisingly good at it. We had a contest to see who could stand the longest during an eight-stop ride (about 30 minutes)…neither of us fell or touched anything. He didn’t believe me when I said I had never surfed before coming to Moscow. I think he was secretly embarrassed that I was as good as him. :)
Still to come in Part 2: more Moscow adventures, kisses from a gold-toothed old man in the market (the suspense!), a visit with a dead man, and so much more!
- TO BE CONTINUED -
This is just a quick journal to inform you all that I, along with the entire Study Abroad group, am headed to Russia tomorrow morning. We will be there until Sunday, March 16th. So there will not be another journal post from until then. I do ask that you please keep our entire group in your prayers during this time of travel. No one has a complete understanding of conflicts between Russia and Ukraine, and Russia and the USA. We are being told to proceed with caution. There is not currently much concern for our safety, but we have received a few warnings. We are being told to keep our eyes open for any political demonstrations and leave the area if we notice anything of the sorts. Other than this, our leaders will continue to make sure our current travel plans are safe, and redirect us should a threat arise. All prayers are appreciated!
Спасиьо! (pronounced spa-see-boh – “Thank you” in Russian)
This week is midterm week. Thankfully, I only had one exam – which was actually last Friday – but I have had several papers and a project to do this week. In fact, I still have one to do yet tonight. But, despite the load of schoolwork, my week has been centered on my Little Snails. It has been a week of improvement and discoveries.
First we have Domintas – my little scared puppy dog boy. Let me start by giving a bit of background on him. I call him my scared puppy dog boy because of the way he behaved when I first started working at the Baby House. He would keep to himself most of the time, entertaining himself by mumbling baby talk (random syllables) as he wandered aimlessly around the room. His face always held a sad, wide-eyed expression. Often times I would see him hiding in a toy cubbyhole, under the nurse’s desk, or in a corner underneath a chair. One of his favorite places to be was in the corner where a mirror is mounted low on the wall. He would stare at himself in the mirror, seemingly unaware that he was seeing himself in the reflection. He never wanted to play with me and wouldn’t even return a smile. If I came too close, he would whimper and cry. At the beginning of last week, I saw the first signs of progress. While sitting at a table with two other boys, he observed me shake hands with Karolis, the little troublemaker of the group. When I let go of Karolis’s hand, Domintas reached out to me. But, when I moved my hand near his, he quickly withdrew it before I could shake it. He did this three or four times. A little while later, he was standing on the opposite side of the room from me and, again, stretched his hand out in my direction, making eye contact with me. I walked toward him with my hand out, but when I got about three feet way, he quickly put his hand down, lowered his head, backed away, and began whimpering. It gave me the mental image of a puppy dog with his tail between his legs, crouching down in fear. I moved away and let him continue on his own. This exchange also occurred more than once. Near the end of my time that same day, I was sitting on the floor playing with a few other children. Domintas approached me from behind and ran his hand down my braided hair. I turned my head just enough to see him out of the corner of my eye and smile at him, but did not make any attempt to return contact. He backed away again and looked at the ground. This happened two times in a row. I left that day with a smile on my face, knowing that he was immerging from his shell of seclusion. We still had a long way to go before I could say that he had successfully formed a normal attachment, but after the way he acknowledged me on this day, I knew it could happen.
What I did not expect was that it could happen so soon. Yesterday was Domintas’s breakthrough day. While I was holding Andrukis (the smallest one) and walking slowly around the room, Domintas approached me, reached his hand up, and touched my leg, looking at me expectantly. I lowered my hand to him. Without hesitation, he took hold of my pinky finger and began walking with Andrukis and me around the room. This was a huge step for him! He held on for quite a while until an interesting toy averted his attention and he let go to play with it. However, after a few minutes with the toy, he returned to me and eagerly took my hand to continue walking with us. He was specific about making sure he held only my pinky finger. At one point I had to giggle because he actually reached up with his other hand to separate all my other fingers, one by one, so he could easily grasp only my pinky. Domintas and I completed many laps around the room last night, often times with a toy turtle – dragged by a string – in tow behind him, as I held Andrukis or one of the other younger children. However, his progress did not stop there. Domintas let me hold him…more than once! During one of the brief moments when another baby was not currently in my arms, he stood in front of me and reached his little hands up to me as if to say, “Yes! It’s my turn!” I swooped him up and into the air before bringing him down on my hip, and he looked at me with an open-mouthed smile of joy. As I held him, we bounced up and down, he “flew” in the air, I turned him upside down and “rescued” him many times, and he giggled and smiled. I was so proud of my little man. By his own initiative, we accomplished hand-to-hand touch, return of expressions, feelings of security with me, a desire to be held, and contentedness while being held all in the same day! When I returned today, we did all of these same things again. I think it’s safe to say that an attachment has been made.
While Andrukis is making progress in leaps and bounds, I have also come to a sad realization. Many of the children have a few facial similarities that stand out to me. It has come to my mind more than once that it would be possible for these children to have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), but I hadn’t thought much more about it until tonight. As I made closer observations of Andrukis’s sweet face, I became almost 100% sure that he is an FAS baby. He has nearly every facial feature caused by FAS. Then I looked closer at the other children and determined that several of them have FAS characteristics. It made my heart sad to admit that these little ones are victims of their mothers’ carelessness. No, I do not know any of their mothers, and it would be wrong of me to pass judgment on them, but I am being honest about my feelings. FAS occurs in different severities, so it is difficult to determine at this point how much it will affect each child, but it is a compounding factor in our attempts to overcome the delays caused by Failure to Thrive and attachment disorder. It is my goal to research all three conditions so I can sort out which behaviors and developmental delays are caused by FAS and which are caused by lack of attachments. With the help of our Creator, we will conquer as many of these struggles as we can, no matter what caused them!
With each day that goes by, I think more and more about how each one of these little orphans is a beautiful child of God, dearly loved, with hope and a future. It breaks my heart to see their struggles, but I know they are in the hands of an incredible, loving God. I pray that He provides godly mentors for each of them to help them grow and live up to their potential.
PS: I know some of you were hoping for pictures from the orphanage. This did not come as much of a surprise to me, but I am not allowed to take pictures of the children.
Hi, I'm Katie... just a girl, living this adventure for the glory of God. Thanks for reading!