"plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
We were allowed to go visit her later that evening for another hour. This time, we were left alone with her in a small toy room that they used for indoor exercise. They opened up all the windows for fresh (very cold) air and bundled her in a brightly-colored, bulky winter jacket, heavy boots and many layers. This time we came bearing peychanias (Russian for cookies) and bubbles. We fell in love with her seven months prior, seeing her sweet face on a TV screen at the home of our adoption coordinator. She fell in "like" with us that evening over Ted*dy Grahams and bubble-blowing. During that hour, she began to cautiously reveal to us a little of her personality. We saw her sweet smile and even heard some giggles. And as we were leaving, she did not hesitate to give us a brief hug and kiss when the caregiver asked her to. We left the orphanage that night with our hearts full. Overflowing, really.
We had several more visits with her during our first trip to Russia, but then it was time for us to return to the U.S. for three weeks to finalize the adoption in the eyes of the Russian government. For anyone who has done this: Finally meeting your child and then having to leave your child, you know how heartbreaking it is. When we were able to return to Moscow and take Leila with us, she recognized us, but did not want to leave the orphanage with us. I will never forget that ride back to our hotel. She cried a loud and deeply painful cry the entire 20+ minute ride, plastering her face against the car window and covering it with her crocodile tears. Back at the hotel, however, it didn't take long for her to come out of her shell. We played hide and seek, blew more bubbles, gave her tons of hugs and kisses, introduced her to pizza and french fries and walked miles and miles in the hotel hallway and on the Moscow city streets, popping wheelies in her stroller which made her giggle every time. And although she was still frightened, reserved and cautious, the progress continued after we returned home. She thrived in her new environment. We did have some struggles during that first year, but some of it may have been equally attributed to the fact that Nolan and I were first-time parents of an on-the-go preschooler. We were learning things with each new day, just as Leila was. A healthy diet also did amazing things to her body. Diagnosed with rickets in Russia (a weakening of the bones as a result of Vitamin D and calcium deficiency), her body quickly grew strong (and tall!) and her hair grew in extremely thick, filling in the patchy bare spots. After several months, she outgrew her awkward gait that was a result of the rickets and wearing blankets in lieu of diapers at the orphanage.
When I look back at these pictures, I am reminded of how far she has come. She went through a lot in her first 32-months - the details of which I do not wish to post about. It is her story, which we will reveal to her in time. But I can tell you this: I am so proud of her. I am amazed by how strong, resilient and brave children are at such a young age.
God has truly blessed us. We have come to trust that His plans for us are far better than the ones that we have for ourselves. He shined a light on our Leila, when we thought we were looking for something different. The same holds true for Mia. The second time around, we wanted to adopt an older child, between 3-5 years of age. In fact, we chose the Special Needs program because of this. Instead, He gave us Mia, who was seven-months old in her referral photo and 13-months old at the time of adoption. We praise God every day for these two amazing girls that He has placed in our care. We are so grateful for His perfect plan for our family.
Our first walk outside the orphanage.
Actual "Gotcha Day" Photo:
First day home:
Leila today: An all-American girl who loves swimming, soccer, gymnastics, hula hoops, roller coasters, Hannah Montana, trips to the zoo (with a must-do horse ride), taking vacations, Sunday School, dressing up like a Princess, lip gloss, playing with her friends, sister and cousins, popcorn on movie nights, riding her bike and so much more.
My how you've grown. We love you, Leila!