For the past couple weeks I've been talking with Ava about Christmas in the orphanage. Though her details were a bit sketchy (okay, she's 4), I wrote this letter based on the story she told me...
Visions of Sugar Plums
The frigid air blew through the walls of the tiny orphanage in Siauliai Lithuania. It was Christmas Eve, but just another ordinary night for the sixty children that lived there. Every day they woke up with a plan, a plan to survive and to try and forget that they were abandoned. They were trained to follow the same routine each day and repeat it again the next. Even their meals were the same. The children, so caught up in this life, never knew what joy could be found outside these broken walls. Though every night as they were placed into their crib they wondered who they were and whether they were ever really loved at all, wondering whether they were a person at all. Where these children come from, their survival is dependent on their spirit. They never had the love and affection of a parent or the praise from another human being. They relied on their own willingness to get up each day and complete the same routine and to be proud of what they accomplished on their own. Once in a while, a family would arrive. None of the children would really know if that family came for them or another one in the group. The children would fight for their attention and yearn for a smile directed at them or by chance, a warm embrace.
This Christmas would be different for one little girl. Though she had no memory of ever living with a family, she knew deep down that this would be her last Christmas in the orphanage. You see that Christmas Eve an angel appeared to her in her dreams and told her that she was already loved and that her family was waiting for her, far, far away. The angel gave her a special gift that Christmas, a gift of hope and a chance for a better life. That night Santa filled the children’s shoes with candy. The children awoke with excitement, only to enjoy one small piece and then sent on to their morning routine. The snow piled high outside yet the children were not allowed to play outdoors during the winter months. Meanwhile, a family 3,000 miles away would be missing her that Christmas day. Her stocking would be hung by the fireplace near her sibling’s stockings, siblings she never met. They all felt the loss of not being together that day. Each night this little girl dreamt of something better though she didn’t know what “better” actually was. She just wanted to feel accepted and appreciated and to her, that’s what “family” meant. Life went on and a few weeks later, this little girl was told that she would be adopted into a family from the United States. The family would receive a letter that they would be approved to adopt a little (and they weren’t joking) four year old girl with special needs. Soon after, the little girl would receive a book in the mail. The caregiver gave the child the book and told her this is your new family. Each page was filled with hope and love. Each page sent a message that this family was waiting and promised to love her, no matter what. The little girl turned the pages, every day and every night, until the binding broke away and had to be held together in place with tape. Days would pass and the little girl wondered if her dream of a family would ever come true. Winter turned to Spring, and Spring turned to Summer. Finally, one warm day in July, the family would make the journey to Siauliai Lithuania. Through war torn Poland and the gorgeous Lithuanian countryside they drove and drove and drove until they arrived in the small town. They wasted no time and drove straight to the orphanage. The directress would lead the family through the narrow stairway, down the hall to where the children were napping. As they were lead to this little girl’s crib, she was sound asleep, unaware of the life and journey ahead. When she awoke, her first words were “Mama!!” and jumped into my arms. I held her in disbelief. All of the years of waiting, the miscarriages, the paperwork, the tears and worry had finally come to an end and we would finally be together as a family. Our family would be complete. It’s that moment when both souls are saved and the love is so much bigger than any of us. God’s hand was and will always be present. Though the journey has been long and not easy, it’s HIS plan. The days are finally getting easier for us. Once eradicating the large number of parasites in her abdomen and managing her unpredictable outbursts, she turned a corner. A day never goes by that this little girl stops to show gratitude for her family. She knows where she came from and knows that life back in Lithuania was a hard one. Our family is forever changed from this experience and to be honest, not really sure where and when it all started. All we know is that this was always HIS plan. It was always the place that this little girl was destined for. Deep in her heart she knew we would come for her. She had the courage to tell her own mother goodbye, who made a surprise visit the day before we arrived, and that she was leaving Lithuania to live with a real family. This little girl actually articulated to her mother that she was happy and that she would be okay.
This Christmas I am reminded of these little angels that sleep in the Siauliai Baby House, wondering and dreaming for the family they have yet to meet and most likely will never meet. Their little souls are hurting and each day is a struggle. Nutrition and love are severely lacking. Since Ava has arrived home in August she has gained two pounds and is now at a solid 25 pounds…still quite small for her age, but she’s off to a good start. I think our single most precious moment from living in Siauliai was the Lithuanian people and their appreciation for living life simply. They don’t fill their garages and living rooms with unnecessary technical gadgets and clutter to fill their souls, they fill their lives with experiences and people that matter. I’m constantly reminded of this each day as my daughter awakes with a huge smile on her face and a huge hunger to start a new day. A day that’s filled with hope, people that love her and experiences she might never have had. This Christmas, please say a special prayer for the 7,000 orphans in Lithuania and the millions that live throughout the world. Pray that they find loving homes and if not, live with the peace of knowing they are loved by God.
God Bless, The Bjornson Family