Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Mother's Love

Tuesday was our first official day of school together. Stephanie worked with Misha, while I home-schooled all the others. It was a good day! Steph went to the library and found a language program for Misha to use on the computer. She also found one for us, so that we can all learn alittle Russian along the way.

My parents and Heather came up for dinner so we celebrated Josiah's 12th birthday a day early. After opening presents, Matt built a bonfire and we all sat around and sang songs. A really neat thing happened during all these events. We had been sitting around the computer watching a few funny video's on you-tube. Misha was standing in front of me and I leaned forward and just gave him a big hug. He backed up snug against my legs so we sat there for a long time just snuggled together with him on his knees in front of me. After a while, I felt like his knees might be getting tired so I asked him if he wanted to sit in the chair. He responded that he didn't. I then asked if he would like to sit in my lap, and he shook his head that he did. As I went to lift him onto my lap he practically jumped up onto it. We sat for hours with me just holding him. How much he must be starving for a "Mother's love".

Dawn translates

Monday morning I decided to let the kids sleep in a little. They've been playing so hard lately and hadn't gone to bed until 1:00 last night. Normally, I wouldn't allow such late evenings on a school night, but since we're still bonding I felt allowances should be made. After they woke up we did alittle school, had lunch and then my friend Jenny, her daughter Sarah and Dawn came up to visit with Misha. Dawn is fluent in Russian, so we had a wonderful time asking Misha all sorts of questions.
We found out that in Russia, Misha had 9 years of schooling. We asked if he had taken English, to which he replied, that he hadn't. He went on to tell us that he had taken 4 years of German instead. This amazed us because he is picking our language up so quickly. He really seems to have an ear for hearing all the different sounds and a wonderful memory as well. Both things I seem to be lacking.
We had so much fun listening to Dawn translate all the things we've been wanting to say to each other. I'm so thankful for such wonderful friends and their willingness to sacrifice their time to help make this transition easier. Thank you ladies!!!
Jenny holding Annie (her grand-daughter)
On Monday night, Philip took the boys to Boy Scouts and Misha went along. The boys were all friendly to him, but he came home saying he hadn't enjoyed it. The scouts were planning a jamboree that is coming up so Philip said it wasn't one of their more interesting nights. We will keep trying because there are so many wonderful things our boys have been able to learn and do in BSA.

Monday, September 29, 2008

His Full Potential

Sunday morning we woke up early and headed for church. During the service I noticed Misha writing something to David who was sitting beside him. Thinking he might be needing something, I asked Hannah to look up what he had written in our translating book. She discovered he had written “Esther” in Russian.Then he proceeded to write her name in English

I smiled, and then watched in amazement as he wrote, David, Matt, Stephanie, Melissa and Philip, all in English. I couldn’t believe it. He then pointed to a word on the bulletin and whispered, “Welcome”. Sure enough, that is what the word said.
I sat there praising God in my heart for opening all the doors so that Misha could come to us. Sitting beside me was a young man who months earlier felt he had no hope. I have realized that there is a brilliant mind packed inside his disabled shell. I can’t wait to help him out so he can reach his full potential!!!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Battle Zone

“What are we going to do today?” These were the first words Misha typed in the translator on Saturday. “Would you like to go to the zoo?” was our response. After an eager yes, we crammed in our van loaded with games and a picnic lunch. After a good tour of our local zoo, we found a nice grassy place to spread our blankets for a picnic lunch in the park. With full tummy’s, Philip and I, caught up on some missed sleep while the kids all played games on the grass around us.

After the park, we walked downtown and wheeled Misha over the suspended bridge. Everything was so beautiful with colorful flowers, rocked walkways and cascading waterfalls. It was such a peaceful walk.

Then our son David, who loves studying WWII, noticed that we weren’t far from the Army Navy Store. He asked if we could take Misha to see all the war paraphernalia. I honestly think that our tour of this store was the highlight of Misha’s day. He revealed that he’s a typical boy. The owner was so impressed with Misha’s knowledge of guns. He rattled off, M4, AK-47, and bazooka. I guess there isn’t a language barrier with the names of weapons. Pulling me back to the camo section of the store, he began asking me if he could buy a pair of army pants. I told him that David had lots of military clothes they could share.
Back at home, Misha dressed in camouflage pants, while the kids got out their Nerf guns and glasses. Misha had such a wonderful time hitting his live targets. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a happier child.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Shriner's Exam

Our second day with Misha, began with a late breakfast that Stephanie prepared for us. We played a few games and then got ready for our long day at Shriner's. Misha asked us if this was the day he would go to the hospital to stay. I used the computer's translator to explain that today would just be tests and x-rays so the doctors could see what all can be done for him. All the kids lovingly told him goodbye and we were off to Shriners.

As we rolled him into the waiting area he saw Alexandra, Dianne and D'mitry. He jumped out of the wheelchair and happily ran over to Alexandra just chatting away. He found a ball that had been given to D'mitry and began running around excitingly kicking and throwing it to anyone who would play with him. Seeing this abundance of energy that had suprisingly surfaced I felt it might be best to give him a serious partner, so I began kicking the ball around to him. We had a blast "horsing around" as we waited.

At Shriner's we meet Dr. David Westberry, who will be Misha's surgeon. As they preformed tests and x-rays they began telling us that removal of his legs would be done through the knee. When we asked if there was anything they could do for his hands and arms, they began explaining that in order to fix his hands they would have to break the wrist and fuse them in a straightened position. This would give him the look of normality, but would take away all the abilities he now has to feed and take care of himself. Since he can't bend his elbows, the twisted condition of his hands actually allows him to extend them up to his mouth and also gives him more flexibility.

Our goal is to do what ever can be done to help Misha become as independent as he possibly can be. Striving for perfection in his appearance at the cost of his independance would in our opinion be a selfish motive. Yet, I'm excited to know that there are always new technologies being invented that might open his world even more. We'll keep our eyes and ears open to whatever God might send to help him.

As I've watched Misha I have been so blessed by his sweet spirit and sense of humor. He shows no bitterness or anger over all that has happened to him during his short life. I can't wait to sit back and see what all God has in store for him. I believe with all my heart that God has sent Misha to us for a purpose.
After the Shriner's exam, George and Alexandra Goode came up for dinner and we had a delightful evening getting to know them better. It truly was a wonderful day!!!
Mema Johnson, our family and the Goode's having dinner
Misha proudly showing off clothes given to him by Alexandra Goode

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Our First Day Together

On Thursday we spent the morning just getting aquainted and taking Misha for a walk around our property. At 2:00 he had his first visit with Dr. Greg Edens. Dr Edens, his wife and entire staff were absolutely wonderful! We spent several hours in his office so that he could give Misha a complete physical. We learned that he had perfect vision and hearing in spite of a bad ear infection. After the visit we picked up an antibiotic and then came home to play with the kids.

Before bed, we plugged into Google's translator and let it interpret phrases for us. The night before, we had discovered that Misha could read and write very well in Russian. This will help our communication process tremendously. He also surprised us all at how wonderfully he could type and operate the computer.

Misha loves David's radio controlled Hummer

We have been amazed at what all he can do. That first night he had insisted on bathing and dressing himself which was a tremendous feat when one considers the twisted condition of his body. His independance demonstrates a courage I find very admirable. The next day, as I helped him remove his shirt, I began realizing that bathing himself properly was an impossible task for him to do successfully. He can't bend his elbows and his hands only have limited motion. His shoulders and arms are semi-webbed together making it impossible for him to lift his arms above his chest. In order to save his dignity, we let him wear his underwear while we bathed him. After we've helped him out of the tub, I carefully dry him and help him into his shirt. We then leave the bathroom and allow him the privacy to change his underwear and continue to dress himself. He does an amazing job. I'm so proud of him!!!

Taking a rest after a full morning

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Birthing Pains

On Wednesday, I found myself continually becoming more nervous as the hour approached to pick Misha up from the airport. I began examining my heart over why I was feeling so much anxiousness. I knew it wasn't fear over him coming. After months of prayer and begging God to protect our family, I had a complete peace that if God brought Misha to us, it would be God's perfect will.

Misha reunites with Igor (a boy who came from Russia a couple years ago)

Three people had gone to pick up Misha and another little boy, D'mitry, from Russia. George and Alexandra Goode, as well as, D'mitry's host mother, Dianne Ewing. Alexandra called us around 7:00 pm to let us know that the flight was still on time and that they had arrived safely in Atlanta. She began telling Philip that Misha seemed like a really nice boy and was learning English very quickly. Since Dianne had come to get D'mitry, Misha asked Alexandra why his "mommy Melissa" wasn't there to pick him up. Is it possible for your emotions to be torn in two different directions? Upon hearing this, my heart broke for his disappointment, but at the same time, I rejoiced that he wanted me.

Misha and Igor

I began realizing that my fear was simply wondering if Misha was going to accept me. Could I possibly compete with the "imaginary mother" he has dreamed of for the past fifteen years? My other children hadn't had a choice. They had come into the world loving me and the nurture I could give them.

Misha and our family with George and Alexandra Goode

Slowly, people began departing the plane. I waited and eagerly watched for Misha. After a long wait, I saw the elevator open and his wheelchair coming towards our entrance. There were so many people between us that I was prevented from seeing his face at first. But then, I saw him and noticed his eyes eagerly searching the crowd. As our eyes met, we became fixed upon each other. I pushed through the crowd and began hugging and kissing him. He didn't move or seem to know how to return such affection, but I noticed a sparkle in his eye.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Deja Vu

"He looks just like one of yours"! This is the comment we have heard ever since Misha's picture has hung on our refrigerator. One day I was going through some old pictures of our children and found these of my son Matt. It reminded me of one of the pictures I had received of Misha, so I compared them and this is what I saw.



Tuesday, September 16, 2008


The voice on the other end of the line asked Philip if we preferred a boy or a girl, and what age. She said that most likely the child wouldn’t be over nine years of age. That seemed good to us, considering that our youngest child is now ten. Since our ten year old is a girl and had an extra bed in her room we felt a girl would work best. A few days after we had made this initial decision, Philip received a call asking if we would possibly be interested in a fifteen year old boy instead! Because the family had decided on a girl and we had agreed that a younger child would be easier, Philip told her, “No, I don’t think that will work.”

That night when he was sharing with the family about his conversation, the children and I began wondering what would happen to the boy. Our minds raced, and we began rearranging our house, thinking of how this young man might fit into our family. Philip decided that I should at least call and get more information. I snuck off to a quiet part of the house to make the call in private, but it wasn’t long before my husband had snuggled up beside me with his ear to mine.

We found out that the boy’s name was Misha, and he had been born with a birth disorder called Arthrogryposis. Arthrogryposis used to be called a "throw away" disease even by those in the medical profession. Thankfully, surgery (not available in Russia) and people like Alexandra have changed that thinking.

Take a look at a few pictures of a boy named Sasha who had Arthrogryposis. These show how dramatically his life was changed.

Sasha before surgery

Sasha standing tall

The following are a few pictures of Misha taken as a child.

Misha (approximately 6 years old)

Misha and friends

Imagine having a perfectly normal mind that is filled with all sorts of hopes and dreams and being confined to a defective shell that prevents you from living a normal life. I was told that two years ago, he had been approved to come for surgery, but that the paperwork had gotten messed up and another child had come in his place. The clock was ticking away and his window of opportunity would soon be lost forever.

Misha in 2006

If a foster home was found for Misha he would come to a local hospital for surgery that would remove both legs at the knee. They needed host parents to love and care for him during this time and the months of recovery that followed. They ask that a commitment of six months be made, giving enough time for the legs to heal and adoptive parents be found. Since he had already been approved by an American Doctor who said that Misha would be a perfect candidate for prosthesis; the surgery would immensely change his quality of life. No longer would he be confined to crawling on the floor but he would actually be able to stand and walk. As tears rolled down each of our faces, Philip shook his head at me as an indication that I could tell her that we‘d like to get started.

Misha (May 2008)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Initial Spark

During the first days of March 2008, my husband, Philip, was traveling home from work and listening to Christian Talk Radio. Alexandra Goode was the guest speaker and she was sharing about her ministry to the disabled orphans of Russia. Around the dinner table that night, Philip began sharing with our family what he had heard, and our children excitedly replied, "Dad, please call and find out if we could become a foster family!"

Philip and I have always dreamed of "one day" helping orphans. At first glance, we might not appear to be the sort of family who would be interested in taking on more children. Having had eight children, three of which are now grown, one would think that I should be longing for the day my nest would be empty and I could finally have a little "me time". I admit, the thought of kicking back and relaxing sounds very appealing, but what would I do after that? I've often thought of many things I could pursue. I love archeology and have several books I hope to be able to write some day. Yet, after giving everything much thought and prayer, I could think of nothing more suitable for me than investing my life into the lives of children. My life has grown so accustomed to serving my family that I can't imagine how lonely it would be to no longer hear the precious voices that echo on the walls around me. Children are our only hope for the future. Investing in the lives of the next generation is the only way we can help instill values in our posterity. Contrary to what our culture tries to portray, I have found the life of motherhood very rewarding.

Listening to Alexandra that day sparked a dream that had lain dormant while we changed diapers and wiped dirty noses of the children God had blessed us with. It occurred to us that our youngest was now ten, and that maybe the time had come to pursue that dream. Philip made the call.