Monday, January 30, 2012

Loti Laimiga!

Joy!  Unspeakable Joy!  At the risk of embarrassing my son later if he ever reads my blogs and to steal Karen Gilmore's comment...I keep staring at our brand new official son and telling him "Know what?  You're mine!"  I get the eye roll and "Love you too mom" on occasion but I am just giddy that we are in this stage of the game. 

What an amazing day full of gifts from God.  We are so undeserving to sit in this front row seat to be so incredibly fortunate.  The only thing that would have made this day better would have been to have our whole crew here again...or at the very least, my amazing husband.  I better get started or I'm going to be writing til 1am again...

Janis and I had a really wonderful devotional time last night...thinking about friends and family and praying for today.  As such, we were up to nearly 2am talking...I have a night owl on my hands.  This morning we woke up a little late...for some reason as I have mentioned my phone is still on American time so for reasons unknown to me, I set the alarm eight hours ahead instead of seven.  I had intended on waking at 7:30am and instead was crawling out of bed at 8:30!  This was after I had awakened to the most amazing (careful that word is going to be used a lot today...I even taught it to Kristiana) sunrise, fumbled around enough to take a picture and with a false sense of security snuggled back up in bed to catch a few more z's. 

So up at 8:30am and Ilma is coming at 9:30am to give us the lowdown on court.  Slight stressor but I hurried up and as soon as I got out of the shower, woke Janis to get ready.  I wondered what this day would bring for much going on in his heart and mind.  But he was his jokster self...getting ready, playing around.  I love the fact that we both have references...little family jokes...that apply back to each one of our crew back home.  Pate for thank you, girly teen girl, GOOB, burn the castle...our family will understand ;-) 

We were ready and headed down at 9am miraculously.  Breakfast was the same as yesterday...just much smaller.  I realized my photo op for the big buffet was gone since the huge setup was only for weekends.  We got our plates and settled in to eat.  We both seemed a little bit nervous...although he insisted he wasn't.  I just really didn't know what to expect.  And for some reason, breakfast just didn't seem to be very good today.  9:30am came and Ilma and Kristiana arrived.  I went out and brought them in for coffee and we sat and chatted and caught up about how we'd been, what Janis has been doing, how Eddie is...then the talk turned to other boys Janis had known - many of whom are in jail now.  I truly believe God's hand has been on this boy for the longest time...preserving him for His plan and for blessing us. 

Around 10am or so Daina arrived and also joined for coffee.  She looked like a European model in her stylish dress and cute coat.  I told her so and she humbly brushed off the compliment ;-)  She's just wonderful inside and out and I cannot imagine going through this process without her.  We all talked about the amazing (see I told you) blessing of Eddie's hearing and the long road we'd been on.  About 20 past Janis and I ran upstairs to get our coats.  We quickly read from our devotional for the day from 1 Corinthians 13:13 and the devo that went with it saying that we are love ALL PEOPLE and always let other see Christ in us.  We prayed for our court and where we were heading and that everyone we came in contact with today would feel love from us and we would glorify Him in all that we did today.  And thanked Him for bringing us to this point.

With that we rushed out and down to the lobby.  I asked for a quick photo of all these wonderful ladies who have faithfully worked to get us here.  Ilma asked if we had our passports...I always have them...not this time!  Back up to the room, down again, bundle up and out we went.  Daina and her son were our ride to court which was very close.  Literally just down the street to Dubulti right next to the church that should have been ;-)  We walked in over snow and ice and were greeted by our angel of the Latvian language AKA Dace our translator.  I cannot tell you how it sets your heart at ease to see all the familiar faces who you know not only are there to help you along but they serve the same God as you do.  It's just the absolute best.

Janis' brother Aigars and a friend of his showed up as well.  The friend was not very welcome by the ladies at court since it seems he had skipped school and somehow traveled three hours in order to see us.  I guess if I had dealt with all they have all this time I would feel that way too.  Somehow I still see a hurting I slipped by to give his brother a hug and for now, a pat on the shoulder and Cau for the friend. 

Right on time we were welcomed in the courtroom.  It was smaller than I expected but still with the judge's bench, prosecutor's chair and secretary's table.  I was quickly educated on the protocol for court and the judge came in and we got started.  Before going any further, let me tell you I've been trying to figure out all night why my legs hurt like crazy and my back is stiff.  I've figured it out...protocol is to stand when answering any question from the judge...even a simple yes.  I did squats all morning LOL and those little pews were super uncomfortable!

First she did roll call...yep, Gary Belk, she read your name out!  Garijis Belkus ;-) to which Daina responded she'd be standing in for him.  Then she read a recap of all we'd done so far...all the way back to hosting.  Then asked me if we still wished to continue with the adoption...yep, I'm still in!  Daina gave a wonderful account of all we'd done...much better than I could have.  Then she asked if there was anything I'd like to add.  That was tough...I truly didn't know what to say other than please let us have our sons.  I shared how we'd loved Janis from the beginning and within two weeks of hosting knew we wanted him, how Eddie had hugged me the first time I met him and how he stole Gary's heart, how we viewed these boys as our sons! and how our other children loved them, argued with them, played with them...just like brothers. And how we'd started this love affair with Latvia because of them and we had every intention of keeping their culture alive for them.  And how amazing this day was period because a few months ago we didn't know if this day would come at all for one boy or two.  Wow is all I can say.

Kristiana was asked to speak and she recapped pretty much the same then Ilma.  It was very emotional for all of us.  Prosecutor had no objections etc etc.  Then she asked Janis to speak...since he wasn't officially asked to come, we weren't sure what to expect.  Let's just say our translator got choked up and couldn't finish translating for a minute and there was not a dry eye in the courtroom.  I just love his heart...yes, he's a teenager...but his heart is pure Belk...made of gold and handcrafted by God just like our other four. ;-)

I got to show off some photos...they really liked our Latvian Independence Day party!  The judge asked many questions about where we lived, what we did for was really more like chatting at that point. 

Then as I went back to my seat she asked me about our religion.  She said we are Christians and Latvia is a Christian country but there are many denominations...Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic.  What are we?  What is your church like?  When I think of our church, our Winfield Bible Chapel, our FAMILY...well I could have talked for hours.  But, I summed it up with:  We believe the Bible...and we attend a non-denominational church that is less about tradition and totally about your relationship with Jesus Christ.  Might not have been much but I was tickled pink to be able to say His name in the place He had brought us.  They had also asked us how we chose Latvia...and I told them we didn't...God did.

With that she closed the books and said she'd be back in 15 minutes to deliver her decision.  We waited...we hugged...we talked and finally the 15 minutes passed.  She came back in and we all jumped up as she began reading her verdict...the adoption was FINAL...they are OURS!  David Janis Belk and  Eduards John Belk have been placed in a family by Him!  She gave us the details on the 20 days waiting period and all that and then started to leave but Daina grabbed her for me for...yep, you guessed it! a photo!  I thanked her and thanked her and then we took a few more pics.

Janis and I wanted to change and his friend wanted to spend a bit more time with him and an offer had been made to let us see one of the social houses.  This was interesting as this is kind of the inbetween housing that is offered to folks here.  We agreed Daina would run us back to change clothes and we would meet Aigars and Kristiana at Orphan Court and leave from there.  We did so with yes, a facebook post in the meantime ;-) and  handling business with Daina.  We also got our suitcase of goodies we had brought for Spriditis and hurried back to the car.  Daina dropped us with Kristiana and hugs were given all around.  Hard to believe we had come so far for really two hours worth of business and this amazing (did you catch it) woman had helped us get there.

We drove from there to the social house...amazing in a very different sense of the word.  We visited with one of the residents for a little while and they shared her story.  What a great opportunity you cannot even imagine.  Two precious kids lived there in admist yes, rough conditions...but this is their home.  You begin quickly to be very very happy with what you have.  You all know us...we don't live in a huge house or even really a nice house.  But from the photos I had shared, even those with solid well paying jobs said "your home is very very nice and beautiful!"  Be thankful people!  WE DO NOT HAVE IT ROUGH!

We left from there and went to our wonderful Spriditis.  The feeling I had driving that road to Kemeri felt like going home.  I can't imagine how strange it felt to Janis...he'd left it to never sleep there again.  The workers and children came out to see us right away with hugs, handshakes...jokes about how much Janis had grown.  We took in our suitcase and Tamara, Janis' group lady, offered to go through it to divide it out among the kids. 

If you'll remember when we were there in September I commented about the little details that set Europe apart?  Well, Spriditis is full of them.  Kristiana had invited us to lunch there and we went into the staff dining area...a little room with tile floor and walls and a simple table covered with a pretty little cloth.  Our drinks were waiting and another little gingham cloth covered them along with our bread and the utensils.  I did take pictures of this!

We had zupa of cabbage, carrots, chicken and broth, then rice, along with carrot salad and pork meatballs.  Our drinks were a homemade apple ciderish kind of drink served cold.  IT WAS DELICIOUS.  We all ate together but Janis was quickly finished and ran out to hang out with his friends and take a walk with his brother.  He asked before he left if he could go walking and stay within "Spriditis territory." sounded so official ;-)  I said of course and after he left, Kristiana commented how she loved to hear him asking permission.

This lunch was wonderful and it wasn't just the food.  I had the privilege of sitting and talking...working through a serious language barrier...but sharing about how both of us are well aware of the amazing! work God has done in our story.  She was giving us tons of credit and I of course turn to give her credit and she too said no.  I loved hearing about her past and how she came to be at Spriditis.  God's been working in her life since the 90's to orchestrate the exact path that would have her there.  She gave Him credit so I will too.

She is wonderful, loves these kids, loves her daughter and her own family and longs for balance.  Don't we all...but she truly believes she is where God wants her to be.  She loves seeing the families come for her kids and seeing what perfect matches they are.  I again could go on for hours but as I told her, we need to write a book ;-)

I'll leave this part to say that I shared with her how amazing (this is when she asked me what this meant) it is that we are so blessed to have her.  I told her I wasn't sure there were many Orphan Directors out there who would pick us up from the airport, take us after court to the orphanage, treat us to lunch, let us take up their afternoon, then drive us to our next destination...and all the while allow and guide the conversation to Jesus and His glory being the reason we do what we do.  Amazing...just amazing.

She had a small amount of work to attend to so Olita offered to show me to Eduards group so I could take some photos for him.  There were kids napping upstairs so I couldn't get photos of his bedroom but I did get the playroom and the dining area.  Then I met the kids from his group Anna, Ritvars and Ralfs...PRECIOUS.  What stole my heart was when I came around to leave and there stood little Anna with two teddy bears that Marleigh and Mae had put in the suitcase.  I cried...she loved them!  And the group leader shared that as soon as all the kids woke up from their nap, she was going to hand out all the Littlest Pet Shops they had sent.  Our little piece of NC by way of Maryland had ended up delighting 6-7 kids in Latvia.  Amazing!

We went back to Kristiana's office and sat for a cup of coffee...visiting with Erika and Olita and of course Kristiana.  More presents from generous donors had arrived so Janis opened his and went through it giving away the things too small for him to other kids...namely one of the sons of our dear friends mentioned yesterday ;-)  Yes, JR, they had come in to Kristiana's office and I was able to give them their gifts from you...their pocket money and got some great hugs in return.  Snapped a few photos and T got Janis' shirt that was too small for him...he really liked it.  T was wearing a SC sweatshirt...I told him I really liked it and that we were from NC!  That got a smile.  They both grinned when I told them how awesome their parents are...can't wait for you to get here...Kristiana sends her greetings too.

Janis was ready to go so off we went to Opis (grandfather) house to visit with everyone.  What a wonderful visit.  He lives in Kauguri and we stopped by the market for some chips and pepsi(that's right, the taste born in the carolinas is alive and well in LV).  We went up on this tiny elevator that I truly loved and to their apartment.  This was my first time meeting Opis and I wasn't sure if he would be happy with me or not.  I was taking his amazing grandson to America.  We walked in and Zhenya was so happy to see us!  Big hugs...but where is Eddie?? HAHA...Eddie has a BFF in Latvia!  I was introduced to Opis and I just hugged him...he hugged me back so tight I immediately fell in love with him.  All I could say was Paldies Opis...thank you grandfather...for doing the best you could and loving this incredible kid and for giving your blessing for him to join our family.

Remember the fine details? I was offered a wonderful cup of Auglu Teja by sister Karina where she pulled out a little table with a pretty cloth and candle to serve on and then I proceeded to play with Zhenya, visit with Aigars and Karina and just enjoy our time with no time constraints.  I got Janis to translate and asked Opis some questions...where did you grow up, when did you move here, how did you meet grandmother.  He told me we found out things he'd never known before...newsflash to dear readers...value your elderly!  They are a wealth of information if you'll slow down long enough to talk to them!

We looked at pictures and I insisted Opis move to our couch to share stories.  There are photos of Janis as a baby we are going to try and get copies of.  All kinds of great photos from their past.  Then we shared our photos we had brought for court and told them to feel free to keep some...I can always print more.  As we all visited and chatted a couple things of note struck me: 1.  everyone over here likes rap music...and as we are sitting there and strains of other music I have no idea what they're saying float around, Janis went over and pulled up some Lacrae on youtube...and just like that His name was in the house ;-)  2.  One of my favorite things on this trip is that Janis will be sharing something with a friend or someone else in Latvian and all of a sudden he'll say "isn't that right Mom?" like I knew exactly what they were saying. 

We figured the 7:10pm bus was a good one to catch and Aigars and Edgars walked us to the bus stop.  Not before promising another visit tomorrow afternoon though!  We had snapped a few photos and I gave everyone another hug all the way around.  We boarded the bus and there was so much to reflect much we had seen and done and heard and said today.

I was getting hungry and we hadn't really eaten since Spriditis so we stopped in the first restaurant as we started down Jomas iela.  We ordered a pizza and sushi...LOL...not quite the common combination but I was craving sushi and pizza is a staple for us.  Janis actually tried and LIKED my unagi!  He's the one that reminded me to bless the food...and he said the blessing.  As Janis and I ate tonight we toasted with our coke and coke our family on both sides of the water...the five in Maryland and the five in LV.  I hope you can catch some glimpse of how utterly amazing this day has been. 

We wrapped up the evening in the pools and saunas in the hotel but that isn't the reminder I want to leave you with.  It's 2am here and I'm tired...he's sleeping already and yes, I'm still so happy.  The reminder I want to leave you with is this...we were reminded again today that Eddie had a bleak future if he had not been brought to America.  We didn't host him...someone else did.  We need to give these kids...all these kids...a chance.  Eddie has no one but Kristiana and the wonderful people at Spriditis missing him...we are his only family and I am quite alright with that.  But folks, if you feel even the slightest inkling or discomfort that gee, maybe you could do more?  THEN DO IT. Please...someone's life depends on it. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012 was the brush ;-(

Yesterday I wrote about how I forgot my bathing I go to dry my hair and guess what?  Forgot my round brush.  UGH!  So we go...

I woke this morning with the beautiful sunrise blasting through our window.  Sun might be out but it sure isn't warming up...snow still lies on every branch and there's a nice thick layer of ice everywhere you walk.  I looked at my phone which still reads American time...can't figure out why it hasn't picked up local time like it did last trip...dug around til I found our borrowed Latvian phone which read 8:40am.  Hmmmm can I trust it? 

I decided to go ahead and get up and get my shower and get ready for the day.  I knew breakfast was until 10:30am and if I had any hopes of finding a church we needed to get moving.  If you remember we went to bed a little strained but by the time I got out of the shower and came out to the room, he was all smiles and Good Morning Mom!  That was a long shower!  HAHA.  We checked his watch and it read only 7:10pm so I am thinking we have plenty of time.  We finished getting ready and went down to breakfast. 

Well, European sure enough it was!  Breads, meats, cheeses, Farmer's Breakfast quiche with soft cooked eggs, potatoes and some kind of meat, sausages, bacon that was barely cooked, oatmeal cooked with water, oatmeal cooked with milk, pancakes (not the american kind but delish), boiled eggs (some cooked three minutes and some five minutes), whole fresh fruit (apples, tiny oranges, kiwi), curd cheese, sour cream, jams and jellies, pastries, juices, yogurt, cereal and granola and of course COFFEE!  We had breakfast and relaxed and then headed to the front desk to ask about church.

As we walked out we saw it was already 10:30am!  Wow...much later than we thought.  We asked at the front desk and he looked at me like "why?" but then offered that there were many on Jomas iela...just go out and right and they'd be on the left...but they start at 11am.  We rushed upstairs and got our coats and ventured out...and it was COLD!  We walked and walked and found nary a church...til we had walked all the way to Dubulti.  It was about 11:15am so we figured it wouldn't be bad to go in a little was an Evangelical Lutheran church...until we saw all the people walking out of the church and realized that particular church started at 10am. more Sunday in Latvia and no church. 

However, the talk we had on our walk and the fun and laughter...well maybe that's exactly what God wanted us doing today.  We posed in front of the church that should have been and snapped some photos.  We were freezing so we decided to head back to the hotel and get Janis a hoodie so he'd have something for his cold ears.  We got back and he brought up the freedom aspect again.  He simply wanted to walk to the drug store and get me a brush and some water...just an errand and not feel like he can't.  Honestly it made me laugh a little because I totally think he's old enough to do that.  Especially in Majori.  I shared with him if we lived in a place where he could walk somewhere at home, we'd let him there too.  It's just that we live in the boonies ;-)  Only catch is I had no lats to offer him...he sweetly said he would buy for me out of his money.

Because he was still on the list from the orphanage he had been getting his stipend every month and Kristiana gave it to him yesterday.  I thought that was really sweet of him.  So off he went and I started writing the blog we posted this morning.  When he got back, we chatted some more and he tried to figure out the TV.  We couldn't get it to work so we called the front desk and we had a visit from Engineering.  Fun since I'm in the hotel business and it was neat to see his uniform, how he handled it...all that stuff.  He showed Janis how to work the TV and we turned on the hockey game. 

Janis kept trying to reach his friend Ralfs who we wanted to try and visit while we were here.  After several tries we made contact and checked out the train schedule.  He was going to come our way but he's in Tukums and I've never seen why not an adventure.  We read our verse out of our devotional book and the devotional for the day...then checked out the train times.  We found out the next train was at 2:47pm and it was now 2:34...surely we can make that right?  We tried...but it was cold...and we walked slowly.  ;-)  Next train was 4:29pm so we looked for something to kill time.  We walked, exchanged our cash for paying our lawyer...found the Narvesson where we found some really good coffee to warm up. 

I had my brilliant idea that we needed to open a restaurant/coffee shop in Latvia called the Americano.  It will serve only large sized coffees and beverages at decent prices.  Truly the only frustrating thing I can find about this country is that I REALLY want a cup of coffee larger than 12 oz. that I can sip on for about 30 minutes at least.  We continued walking and talking and he routed me around to Dzintari where we kept walking and talking.  It was cold but really wonderful.  We took some pictures of the houses that were for sale and in really bad shape.  It makes me sad to see such beautiful buildings just falling down. 

We walked on around, taking photos and videos and chatting about how much Dad would like this building or what Dad could do with that one.  Laughing about Zach, Marleigh and Mae and little Eddie and what they would do if they were here.  Janis wanted to show me the ice skating rink where he liked to go often so we walked over there to see what times they were open and how much...and we PASSED A CHURCH.  Grrrr...oh well, the family time today was well worth it.  We went into the ice skating place and while we were reading who should walk in but several kids from Spriditis...including little T who's being adopted by some friends of ours (well on FB they're friends but boy do they feel like family already ;-)).  I snapped a quick photo of him with Janis and told him we'd see him tomorrow with goodies from Mama...he grinned and ran off with the others.

The place is only open til Tuesday so Tuesday we'll be skating!  Only 3 lats each and for last times of things, I think it's well worth it.  We walked on down to the train station and purchased our tickets.  Lots more of really good talking and bonding and fun times and a few tears and waited in the cold a bit more for the train.  I remember telling him how incredibly blessed we are to have a boy as wonderful as he is...kind, respectful, multilingual ;-)...thanks to him, we can make this more like a vacation.  I can tell so much we are being covered today in prayer and my prayers have been answered many times over in our ability to enjoy each other and work through the very minor things he needs.  I love the fact that anytime he says something might be a challenge for him...he quickly says "but I know I'll get over it" and with a smile at that. 

The train came and we hopped on...45 minutes later and seeing some new countryside I'd never seen we arrived in Tukums.  Regress for a quick funny that only Gary Belk will understand...our resident gypsy came begging again!  You remember the one who approached us when we were changing money in March?  Well he came up again and Janis told him I didn't speak Latvian and he should move on.  He did...but we laughed and said if we saw him again, I'd pay him 2 lats for a photo...he's become part of our landscape.

We saw a beautiful sunset as we rode and once we got off the train it felt like the temps had dropped about 20 degrees.  Janis called Ralfs and said we are here!  Quickly he showed up and I gave big hugs.  We headed up this very steep hill but admittedly with the cold weather, the hill and the walk were welcome to get our body heat up.  Since it is Sunday, many things are closed but we did find one cafe at the top of the hill and quickly went in. 

It was so neat!  Really cool huge blue couches to sit in and large tables...only three tables in the whole place.  A full menu that began with "Boiled Tongue" as an appetizer!  OK...that part maybe not so great...but the rest of the menu was wonderful.   I ordered a hot tea to warm up and the boys got cokes.  We ordered our dinners...pork chops with cheese for the boys and chicken chop with cheese for me.  Great sizes and we all got the 1/2 portion.  All of this and refills to boot for the same price as the pizza the night before.  And the conversation...well, I couldn't have asked for better.

Ralfs is about to go to England in search of a better life...he just turned 18 a while ago.  He shared he's tired of living in terrible conditions and he has a chance at a better life.  Janis shared with him how education and working hard work toward helping him get there.  The mama in the group told him about how no matter how hard he worked, if he didn't get responsible with his money and start living right, he'd forever be fighting to get the things he thinks he needs or wants.  I asked him if he knew Jesus...and he said yes, he knew about Him.  He was very vocal to Janis about how much better things would be...and it was so good for him and wasn't he so happy for this chance.  Just great conversations. 

They caught up about fashion and style and laughed about old times and my wonderful talent of being able to figure out most of what they were talking about came back so I could actually join in for most of it.  I love this kid...Ralfs...and Janis of course.  He apologized for his behaviour when we were here in need to, he just broke a dish accidentally.  And said that since we've been gone he's had no desire to drink or do anything "else"...this made me happy as I've prayed for him on and off.  He's excited at his opportunity and really wants to make a better life for himself. 

We remembered the train was to come around 7 something so at 7:30 we headed down to the train station...and oops!  The train had come at 7:34pm and yep, we missed it!  So around back to yet another cafe we went and I purchased three capuccinos and something sweet for Janis...all for 1,13 lats...some things are so cheap while others are so expensive.  Over our coffee we chatted some more until she came to us and said they were closing.  We bundled up and headed out again for our grand tour of Tukums.  We walked and talked and I heard all about the hopes and dreams of this young man.  It was so nice to hear these two encouraging one another, laughing together and me only getting involved to guide them on maybe better choices of what they were discussing.

I genuinely hope he can save up and come visit us someday.  I hope so much and will be praying for him to really get on track and that England will be the answer God wanted for him.  We continued on around and made our way back to the train station.  Before we boarded, I gave him a big hug...told him the hope he's looking for will only be found in Jesus, that I'd been praying for him and will be praying for him and to please keep in touch.  He thanked me and shared that when they were at camp those many years ago, God made sense...and he wanted that.  But when he got home, nothing here looked like that.  The seed has been planted...he does have hope...and he's a really great boy.  Just needs direction.  Please be praying for this boy too! 

There were many things discussed that as an adult and as the parent of one of just want to tell them NO...this is what you should do and to do it any other way is just crazy.  But, that isn't always the best way...just guide them, love them, and let God show them. Boy has he done that already in sooooooo many situations. 

Back on the train we settled in and enjoyed the ride back.  We nearly missed our stop because we were talking and had to be reminded it was Majori!  We quickly walked was so cold!  And were so happy to get to our toasty room.  I am finally thawing out and getting to write here. 

Janis has been flipping TV channels and we've gotten a dose of Latvia's Got Talent, an old episode of Heroes and an education on what is on regular TV most of the time...yep, we got a small glimpse of pornography as we flipped channels (on regular TV), and saw shows rated 12+ that were littered with foul language.  These kids are just exposed to way too much too early helping them grow up too fast when they don't have parents around to do some good old censorship. 

All in all, it's been a wonderful day.  God heard our prayers for easing some tensions and working on hearts...mostly mine ;-) and we just had a great day visiting friends and growing as Mama and son.  So much He still has in store for us...and so glad I got to just love on his friend too. 

Prayers for tomorrow please...we meet with our social worker at 9:30am...and leave for court at 10:30am...and court starts at 11am.  And God willing, these boys will be Belks by noon.  For He knows the plans He has for us!  He's declared it!  And that is to give us ALL hope and a future and not to harm us!  Thank you Jesus for such a promise and for delivering already...Jeremiah 29:11.

Cleared for Takeoff!

World traveling has started up again in the Belk house...but with only two this time.  And I must say these two miss the other five VERY much. 

Our flight left Dulles Friday afternoon at 5:50pm...we had no issues with security, no issues at all and made it on the flight with time to spare.  As we found our seats we were bummed to see there was no personal entertainment set up on this plane...Janis was assigned 39A and I was 39C...I went ahead and took B with the assumption no one would mind switching with me.  As 5:50pm drew nearer, I realized maybe there was no B...which meant we would get a seat between us and hopefully  help with stretching legs and sleeping.

Sure enough we had the empty seat and settled in/set up camp in that empty seat.  We were ready for the 7 hour flight to Frankfurt.  As we taxied down the runway, a terrible realization hit me.  We had secured wonderful rooms at a nice spa in Jurmala...and I forgot my swimsuit!  Janis said not to never buy anything for yourself Mom, you'll get a Latvian swimsuit!  And in his favorite saying, he quipped, "oh, and your  husband called and said you can buy anything you want."  HAHA.  Still, it always happens I forget something...and it just irritated me. 

This was the first time in all his flights that Janis had been assigned a window seat for the "big" leg of the journey and he thoroughly enjoyed it.  Some of his comments were great.  "The ground looks like the sky and the lights are stars." "Now I understand how God sees us...we're so little and His hand could just sweep us away."  It was at that moment we realized we were right over Baltimore and we wondered what everyone else was up to.  Wal-mart pizza and a Red box movie if tradition was correct (which a quick check to the suntrust account later confirmed this ;-)).

We were both starving and to let you know how much, Janis even said that if it was fish and mushrooms he'd eat it...two of his least favorite things.  Dinner finally came and it was pasta or chicken...I chose pasta, he chose chicken.  Good for airline food...amazing to me (and here comes my hotel catering girl poppinng up) we got two decent sized shrimp on our salad, no iceberg lettuce - only frisee and spinach, chocolate mousse with white chocolate shavings and a monster strawberry on top, then entree and the obligatory cheese slice with bread.  I've determined they run a decent profit I'm sure because they have ridiculous portion control.  The salad was the size I serve for my hors d'oeuvres menus!  Janis even ate his shrimp.

After a cup of coffee (mini sized of course) we settled in and both of us fell asleep.  Not sure what woke us but we did wake up for the movie "Dolphin Tale."  And then we realized our 7 hour flight was turning in to 6.5 hours and we were only 1.5 hours from landing in Frankfurt.  I read, he PSP'd, we waited.  They came around with our breakfast snack which was fruit (remember portion control? we had watermelon - one piece, kiwi and strawberry - several pieces, and one tiny blueberry), whole wheat roll with strawberry jam, granola bar and yes, the obligatory cheese slice.  I very much want to call this the cheese wedge but it isn't...just a thin slice.  Finally we landed and were way ahead of schedule.  It was about 7am Frankfurt time.  We gathered our things and headed out...once I hit the jetway I realized we had left my camera!  I went back in and thankfully it was there in our "empty seat" under a pillow. 

We made our way to the gate and sat for a moment with 3 hours to kill.  Restrooms, organizing our bout a snack?  We went in search of something to eat...found a little kiosk called Perfect Day.  Passed on by and there was a convenience store kind of place and then an asian place called Moosh Moosh (HAHA).  We could get us a noodle bowl and beer at 7am!  YUCK!  We headed back to Perfect Day and settled on yogurt with fresh fruit and Muesli for me with a capuccino and some kind of meat sandwich with capuccino for Janis.  The price tag on this meager breakfast?  16 Euro...about $22 bucks.  Whoa! That was more than half my budget per day for us!  Oh well, I knew some cheap eats were awaiting us in LV and our free ride from the airport was saving us more than that.

Headed back to the gate, enjoyed our snack.  Laughed and chatted some more...both of us were getting punchy because fatigue was really starting to set in.  I thought I better check our flight to make sure the departure gate had not changed...wonder upon wonders it had!  From A42 to A38...we moved to the other gate with still plenty of time to spare.  As we neared that gate, Janis started looking at the people going with us...yep, he's Latvian, oh yeah, she's Latvian...him? No, he doesn't look Latvian. Just made me laugh.

Boarded the plane and both of us fell asleep nearly immediately.  Missed the snack (cheese sandwich ;-)) and finally landed in Riga.  As the plane neared it was odd seeing land come into view.  I told Janis this was the first time I was coming to Latvia with no anxiety.  The first time it was us with Eddie, the second time it was all of us and wondering about  just coming to handle business and see friends.  This was also the first time we were landing and not having to walk across the tarmac or take a little bus to the small plane.  We actually pulled to a jetway and walked right into the airport!

Restroom stop, organize our luggage and head to baggage claim.  Thankfully both of our bags made it through fine and we went out to see if we could find Kristiana.  Right there she was!  With a surprise!  Aigars was with her!  She gave big hugs with tears and I hugged Aigars and we traded and it was wonderful.  Moment I had...I had no tears...which bewildered me.  Now I realize heart was with me ;-)  Janis and Eddie have been home and my family is complete.  So many love Janis...and Eddie...and now they are the ones missing them.  Made me sad and glad if you can understand that.  I hurt for them but am so incredibly grateful for us!

We loaded up in the Spriditis van and began the familiar drive to Jurmala.  There is snow...lots of it...not as much as last year yet.  And it is cold!  Very very cold!  We drove to the hotel and found parking pretty easily.  They helped us unload and we checked in.  The hotel is nice...right on Jomas iela and so fun to be here when we've visited so often.  Looks very much like it did last March when Gary and I were here. 

It truly doesn't seem right to be here without Gary...seeing things we've seen together.  And to be here this time with only one kid in tow...But, we're using this time to handle the business and enjoy each other.  We got to our room with Aigars and Kristiana helping us with luggage.  Once we got to the room, the presents came out!  Wonderful people had sent presents for Janis and Eddie since they were officially still on the list of kids at Spriditis.  Candy and toys and watches...Janis opened several and then once he hit the watch, he said Eddie can have all that was left.  There were two boxes for each of them...we opened Janis' and there were so many nice things...some he didn't care for and said he would leave for the other kids. 

We visited for a short while then Kristiana had to go.  Aigars stayed with us and we thought about what to do.  Well, since we were at a place were all the spas, pools, etc were included in our rate, we decided I needed to find a bathing suit.  So, off we went.  I found one reasonably priced just across the pink no less UGH! Oh well...I'll forever have the memory of my hot pink Latvian swimsuit HAHA.  We kept walking towards the train station and the boys said they were hungry so we stopped into the first place we came to...crowded!  Nowhere to sit but in the smoking thanks.  Went on and found Sasliki restaurant...crowded we moved on.  We were going back to "our place" right beside the hotel and there's this double decker bus on the way that's been converted to a restaurant.  We figured why not? 

Pizceria Ripo was our dining spot.  A super large salami (pepperoni) pizza with two sodas and a water and we went upstairs to eat.  It was so fun!  And the food was really good.  As we started to leave, I asked Janis to leave a tip since I didn't have any cash yet...he commented she wasn't very good!  I understood that but 30 centimes wasn't going to break us and maybe she would think differently after we left.  Janis and I were starting to wear down so after we went back to the hotel.  Passed the Russian kitty on our way back (M&M will remember this kitty...same guy we saw in September that was so huge and fluffy).  Considered buying some thigh high wool socks...but thought better of it ;-)

Back at the hotel, we just hung out.  Aigars and Janis called a bunch of friends and caught up...having fun tricking them and saying "you know who this is??"  It was so fun to listen to them laugh and chat.  Even if I couldn't understand a word they were saying.  Aigars realized  his bus was not leaving for another hour and a I decided a shower would be good. 

Interesting things about our room...1. It is tiny.  The photo on line showed this large room...angle of photography makes all the difference.  2.  We figured out how to run the have to put a key in a slot by the door and it has to stay there the entire time you're in the room.  3.  We have no clue how to run the TV...that will be a challenge for day two.  4.  The cooling/heating is in Celsius...I'm at Janis' mercy there LOL

After Aigars left I could tell something was not quite right.  We were too tired for the pool so decided to just turn in for the night.  He misses his freedom...going out walking and visiting with just friends.  Funny thing is I don't really mind...he just didn't ask.  We were both tired so we decided to sleep on it and figure it all out tomorrow.  Overall a great day.  So much here to love...and so much here to reflect on.  Still a bit of competition feeling here.  There's a struggle for his heart but he's made it clear he's chosen us.  And that is a lot to be thankful for. 

Enough for now...finishing this up on Sunday morning when it appears the rest of you are just getting up.  Update on Sunday later today...Have a great day America!  We love you!

Verse from last night for me and Janis:  "I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. John 10:10"

Appropriate as we continue on this journey leading to a new life here on this earth...and appropriate to remember as we help this amazing boy say goodbye to so much here and hello to amazing things for his future. That future with Him is more important than anything else we can do.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Travel Day...Coming Home!

Finally to the real last day of our amazing trip...the day we came home to America!  Our flight was to leave at 11:30am so we determined it would be best if we headed to the airport by 9am.  We were all up early to get things going and actually ready early.  We had arranged for our guy who had driven us to Kemeri to pick us up and take us to the airport.  It seemed everywhere we turned our clothes had multiplied and packing up was getting more and more challenging! 

As I write this some four months later, it is hard to remember it all.  But a few things stand out.  Most importantly, we had a lot of food left over.  Stuff that was good...only a day or so purchased.  J asked what we were going to do with it and I said I didn't know...we weren't allowed to leave it for the next family coming in behind us.  He asked if we could give it away.  Of course!

Zach jumped on the service wagon as well and those two boys bagged up everything that was worth giving and headed out.  They walked down the street to the Russian Orthodox Church where there are always many many people there begging for money.  J of course had to do the talking but he asked a woman if she wanted it.  She of course said yes and when they gave her both bags of food, they said she was amazed and just kept shouting "Paldies! Paldies!" Thank you thank you!

What a way to end our visit here...and all along I had said I had wanted us to serve while we were in Latvia.  Funny, sometimes we don't see what we were able to do til you look back on it four months later.  Honestly, I came home thinking, we didn't get to do a thing!  Now, just loving on the people we met, visiting with older folks and orphans, and of course, giving away two bags of food.  Yes, I'd say we got to serve.  Maybe opening my eyes to what is around me and recognizing service for what it is might be helpful.  It doesn't have to be organized with T-shirts and a mission can be just living, every day, purposefully.

So off we went to the airport...made our flight just fine...connected through Helsinki.  Stressed a bit in Riga when the boys decided to go find sodas and croissant for breakfast...yes, I let things slip a bit.  And the stressful part was wondering if they would make it back for the flight!  But make it we did and then all the way through to NYC. 

There is where we hit some hiccups.  First, our flight was late arriving and we had maybe 45 minutes to make it to our connection.  We received our fast pass that was supposed to get us through Homeland Security faster.  Unfortunately, no one could understand why we were traveling with 1. so many children and 2. who were these orphans?  Well, let me tell you mister...they are orphans no more!   They are our kids!  And yes, one of them doesn't belong to us but she is our friends' daughter. 

No one listens to me ;-) and we sat and sat and sat in Homeland Security while they "reviewed" the papers, yes we're holding your luggage, no you can't go...YES you missed your flight.  Ugh...are you kidding me?  Nope...definitely not.

Well, once we got through that mess, we found a very very nice man who helped us find another was a LaGuardia and we were at JFK.  Remember that trip to NYC I was hoping for at the beginning of this blogness?  Well, Gary Belk took me to New York!  But, it was a Super Shuttle ride around the city...didn't even see the big buildings from a distance.  But hey, it was me and Gary in New York!  HAHA.  We were treated to the most amazing sunset that night and if I can ever get as talented as Julia Hess, I'll begin dressing up my posts with photos...I can't seem to figure that out.

We finally made it to BWI at like 11:30pm...late..deserted there...except for our light at the end of the tunnel, Jen and Chris Diehl.  Thankfully they had picked us up (well they had to get their daughter ;-)) and were bringing us home. 

Such a surreal feeling to be on our soil, in Maryland, with BOTH OF OUR BOYS and ALL of our kids.  As usual I was moved to tears...they groaned when I pulled out the camera once again...but at least I didn't make them pose. 

We got home and both of our big boys actually slept on the couch...when one doesn't know if one is coming home, it is hard to prepare for you.  As Gary and I fell into bed, we reflected on what the last 17 days had been for us...bonding, building our family.  Some saying hello and a lot of saying goodbye.

The past four months have been wonderful and beautiful and HARD.  So much we've all been working through...too much for here this morning (I do have to pack you know).  I realize our settling in may have been harder because we didn't know when we left for Latvia if we were coming home with one or two...God gave us two!  And there was much to be done to put Humpty Dumpty back together again...but it did get done! 

Here we are four months later and I am preparing to leave TODAY to head back and do the second court that will make it all official.  I figured I better wrap up the end of THAT trip before I can start the beginning of this one ;-)  We are heading into a different world...but a beautiful one.  If I haven't said it before, I'll say it now...I love LV!  And I love the people there.  And my one prayer as we travel is to be used.  Whatever He wants us to do on this trip...I want to do it. 

We've got many people to visit...friends and family.  And it will be hard I am sure.  But at the end of the day, February 2 will come and we will come home.  God's been with us on every single trip so far...we've seen Him work both times.  Last March, it was immediate answers AS SOON AS WE LANDED!  September, it was the gift of J.  Kind of makes me excited for what He's going to show off and do this time.