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Cigarette Smoke and Diesel

Small, quick feet walking alone the brick path, half covered in leaves, muffling parts of the footprints.

A rosiness clinging to the curve of soft cheeks, sweaters edge around their necks, bundled for these early fall days as we walk together.
Sparks of laughter, moments of investigation, crouched low, quiet by a rocks edge, gazing at a spider busy at her work, eyes filled with pristine wonder, intrigued at something so profound.  
A truck passes us on the wet asphalt, it’s heaviness lumbering, and the familiar smell of diesel fills my nose. In the same moment, a cigarette is lit, and it’s smoke curves fragrantly into my senses.  Two smells fill my nose and mix in my mind, and instantly I am brought back to one year ago, where the pairing of these smells live in a constant; Russia.  Where two of my children were born, and where we traveled three different times–our hearts swelling beyond capacity, and shattering in intervals.  
The truck is now further around the corner, and the cigarette must be a stub pushed into the street, it’s ashes a heap, and I am brought back to here.  Three healthy children, up ahead now, holding onto each other, waving for me to catch up.  “Mama!” they call to me, three voices drawing me near.
It was one year ago today, that Andrew and I woke up in Russia with one child, yet three that called us mama and papa.
We woke up on the day of our court trip, preparing for time to be spent with someone who would decide whether two of the three who called us mommy and daddy would be able to do so forever, in a home, with a family, ours.
One year ago, 10/11/12, is a big day in our hearts, in our minds, in our lives.  It represents our family growing, yes, it represents two less orphans living in crushing situations, yes, but this is a day for us that means freedom–for all of us.
Real freedom.

I didn’t know how much on that day, but it was our first glimpse, and the joy was powerfully overtaking in every sense.

So today, I want to share with you what we wrote, that sometimes feels like just yesterday, other times a lifetime ago.


10 / 11/ 12
Andrew and I buttoned up our suits, and put on our dress shoes.  We sat on the edge of our bed together, illuminated by the bedside lamp, the cold night air still coming in through the window as we prayed, our hands together. 

It was still dark as we walked into the lobby, asking for our Espresso, “Stavuche.”

Dasha and Sveta walked in from the chilly, dark outside air.  Dasha was wearing a suit, greeting us. 

“How are you both feeling?” we asked them.  Reserved Sveta, our coordinator who has been in adoption for 8 years acted out her hand going up and down on her heart, nervous.

“How are you two feeling?”  they asked us.

“Fine,” we said, shoving nerves away, “we have been waiting for this exact day.”

Outside the courtroom

We drove in jammed traffic through the streets of early morning Russia, the red and yellow lights splashing onto the windows, clinging to dew.  When we pulled up to the courtroom, it was too cold to get out, and we had a couple minutes.

Then, Maria arrived, and she looked sweet and beautiful.  She was wearing the outfit, jacket, and boots we had picked out for her, her special day in court, the day that could potentially change this little life forever, to potentially alter the course of her life.  Children over the age of 8 come to court and speak as well.  I pulled out the white headband I bought for her, and put her messy hair into a bun. “You look beautiful,” I told her.

We walked down stark, while halls, and into the court room.   We sat in a small room with wooden desks, and microphones on each desk.  We sat, trying not to be nervous, talking to Dasha, talking to Maria.  Dasha, younger than us, focused on her paperwork, serious, preparing.  Andrew and I, as always, trying to lighten the mood and laugh, but she was ignoring us.

The two social workers we knew came in, then two doctors, 3 of them smiled at us, but not Elijah’s social worker and sat in a row with us.

A half an hour after we were supposed to start, the judge came in, and we all rose.

After some formalities and introductions, and rights being read, we began.  She asked Andrew to stand to begin questioning. She asked him all sorts of things, how much we made, where he worked, where we lived, the usual.

But then the curiosity questions came.  These questions defined the rest of our time in court.  “When people adopt, they want young children, why do you want to adopt a 10 year old child?  You are so young, and you can have your own biological children, why adopt?  Why special needs? Do you know you will have 3 children?  What if you change your mind?  Do you drink beer?  Do you know that you won’t be able to drink beer with friends out and about when you have such a big family?

Our choice to adopt is very counter culture to the culture here, it’s very hard to understand for many, how can one explain?

Andrew was open and honest: “We believe all children deserve a family, and we chose special needs because those children are often looked over, we come from a great community of people and we are well supported, etc etc”

“Oh…well…when you met your wife, was it love at first sight?  Do you argue?”  Haha, I think they were so interested in why we were here adopting they wanted to know everything about us.

“What religion are you?”

Andrew wanted to tell them the truth, that we are not religious, but that we love Jesus, but he just said, “Christian.”

“Sooo, are there certain foods you can’t eat? Certain things you can’t do?  What if your child is sick, could you miss bible study, what if…”

What!?”  No, we have complete freedom in our faith and in God, God made us smart and able to make choices…”


They asked how Maria’s English was, Andrew mentioned better than his Russian, which intrigued this stern woman, who talked quickly. 

“You know some Russian?”  We couldn’t help it, but we began to laugh in the courtroom. 

“Come on babe, tell them what you know!” I told him, even though it wasn’t my turn to talk.

“Ya babadila!” he said.  To our surprise, that stern judge actually smiled.  “What else?” she asked, and my charming husband started spouting off all the little phrases he had learned, and soon everyone was chuckling.

Then it was my turn, and there were so many curiosity questions, which I didn’t mind, we were kind of having a good time at this point, but then my age came up. “How old were you when Maria was born?” they asked me.  “I was 18,” I said (hello, math)  “How will you feel if people think you were too young when you had her?”  Many responses came to me that I chose not to say, but I just said, “People will feel great about it, and so will I,” I was feeling stubborn, or annoyed that so much of the focus was our age.

“Will your son Finley be jealous?”

“We desire for our son to learn what is truly important in this world, including sacrifice, caring about and for others, patience and love, he will be more than fine, we believe he will be better off for learning what’s important.”

Maria had been waiting outside, and they asked her to come in. 

Our sweet girl, with her new dress, her new boots, looked nervous and peered down at the floor as she walked across the whole court room, all eyes on her.  I wondered if she had ever worn a new outfit in her life, I later found out she hadn’t.

She sat down, smiled at me, then looked at her feet, swinging below her, sitting on her hands.

“Maria,” the judge asked her, “who do you know in this room?”  My heart went out to her, she looked nervously down, until she looked up at us.

“Mama,” she whispered, “Papa e Dasha.”

“Maria, do you want to go live in American with Andrew and Amy, and they will be your parents?”

She was still staring at her boots, but in that moment, she rose her little face, looked at the judge and knew what she wanted.  She knew that she wanted more than what she had, even though she has never seen it.  She had never been to our house, never been to America, it had been 4 months since she had seen us last, but her little heart knew that she had been made for a family, and that from what she knew of it from a few days, she liked the love of a mother and father more than anything else.  She looked the judge right in the eye, knowing everything she would be leaving behind, her whole life as she knew it, “Yes, I want to go with Mama and Papa,” she softly whispered, and she smiled before she looked at her boots again, swinging below her chair.

“Do you know you will say goodbye to your friends, and to your school, and that you will have to learn a new language and eat new foods?  Everything will be different,” the judge pushed.

“Yes.  I want to go home with Mama and Papa.”

“What do you know how to say in English?” the judge asked her.

Our shy girl, in a room full of professionally dressed adults, whispered, “Mother, Father, Hello, goodbye…”

“That is good.  Who do you love more, mother or father?”

I got a little mad at her for asking a child that, but she looked at us and smiled, “Papa and Mama,” she said, perfectly.

“Harasho (Good)”

All the social workers spoke, and doctors.

After two full hours of questions, they asked us to step outside.  “She was grilling me!” Andrew said, who got most of the questioning.  “My legs are tired.”

“They seriously think I’m too young, they can’t get over it,” I said.

After 10 minutes, “It’s time,” Dasha whispered.

Sveta grabbed our hands and squeezed them, and we walked back in the court room, and stood with everyone else, Maria standing between us.

We placed both our hands on her boney little shoulders, and she looked up at me and smiled.  I realized how much of my heart weighed in this next two minutes, how much of my heart and soul stood in this court room next to me.  The little girl that God had whispered to Andrew and I was our daughter, and that we needed to go get her and fast.  The little spirit so full of love and grace, but seemed to be getting quieter in her new, scarier school, we knew she needed out, the sooner the better.  The weight finally hit me, we were here, this was it.  This was the moment…

The judge started reading from a piece of paper, and Dasha quietly translated in my ear.

She said many, many things, and I felt my heart grow heavy, and my eyes start to water.

“We herby grant your permission to adopt the two children, Maria Louise Brockhaus, and Elijah Sawyer Brockhaus.”

“YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!” Andrew and I shouted and cheered, the judge, who was not done reading, looked at us, then kept reading.  I looked at Dasha and started crying, I couldn’t stop.

“Can I hug you?” she asked. 

“Um, maybe wait I minute,” I warned her.

“Spaseba!” we told the judge, she nodded and left in her long, black robe.

“Daugher,” we said, as we looked into Maria’s eyes.  She smiled and beamed, and didn’t say a word, just smiled at us, and held our hands.

Sveta hugged us, and Dasha. 

“We did it!”

I am a daughter!

 Let’s celebrate!!!” and we rushed outside.

“Maria, where do you want to eat a celebration lunch?”

She looked at us, “I don’t know?”

“Have you ever eaten in a restaurant before?”

She shook her head no, and I was excited to share a “first moment” with the daughter we had missed so many firsts of.

We walked down the street to Macheroni, and got Maria her own tray to pick out all the food before sitting in a big comfy booth.  “You can pick out a special drink!” we told her.  She smiled, and whispered, “Pepsi?” 

“Yes, honey.”

“Get a salad, and any slice of cake you want, and soup too.”  She picked out a zebra cake.

Her first restaurant meal

 We sat, and ate, and talked, our little family, our daughter, right between us.  All of a sudden I realized there was no one else there, we were in charge of her, she was under our care.

We told her we had a special gift for her on this very, very special day.

She opened the the blue paper, and carefully opened what was inside.

Her own jewelry box, with the word “chosen.”
Our chosen, beloved daughter.

Inside was a silver bracelete with the name, “Maria Brockhaus,” etched on one side, and on the other side the date, 10-11-12.  We told her this was a special day for our family forever, the day she became our sweet daughter, they day she got two loving parents, they day she was no longer an orphan, the day she will turn her sadness into joy.  She will grow up with love, care, protection.

“Give thanks to the lord, for he is good: his love endures forever.” 1 Chronicles 16:34

Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Psalm 37:4
Amen to that.
We got in the car, and Sveta had to drop off paperwork somewhere, “So you can go play with her at her orphanage?”  “Umm, no let’s go to the cafe down the street and wait there,” we said.
We drove by the orphanage, and when Maria noticed we didn’t stop, her whole face broke out in a big smile.

Walking to the cafe.

We officially have a papa’s girl.  These two have such a sweet relationship.

Our beautiful daughter. 

Two restaurants in one day!?

And since we were celebrating, two desserts in one day 🙂  I mean, how can you say no to that face?

“I am no longer an orphan!!  My family loves me!

When we finally took her to the orphanage, she was so happy, she seemed bolder and brighter, not the shy girl we had seen at this new school.
“I love you mommy and daddy, I will see you soon!
I will miss you everyday.”
“We love you sweetheart.”
We asked Dasha if she could translate our prayer for her, she said of course.
We asked for Maria’s hands and took them in ours,
“God, we praise you,” and that’s as far as I could get.
Andrew prayed, “God thank you for our two new blessings, Maria and Elijah, watch over them as they wait, protect them and love them, let the 30 days fly by.  Thank you Lord.

Wait, how come no one invited me to court?
(Doesn’t he look a little chubbier? 🙂
There are officially two less orphans in the world.  
We are now the proud parents of three amazing children, a family of five.  
If there is anything that I have learned through this incredible manifestation of God’s beautiful power and care, it’s that truly, without a doubt he leads and guides people to what is best.  God loves you.  He is truly real, his promises are true when they are greeted with a Yes, even if you are scared beyond belief, and you are almost certain you will lose everything, but what is it compared?  Listen, trust in God, trust him, because you never know the magnitude of blessing, the real pieces of your heart waiting for you on the other side of His leading, which may be right on the other side of the world.


When I reread this, I can’t believe it happened.  It’s so surreal.  Three members of our family our family, just one year ago were not.  It’s so crazy for me to reread this.
How did this even all work out!?
Well, obviously, there is the real answer:

“Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself.  Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”
Matt 19 // 26

Blessings to you and yours.
If God has ever put adoption or orphan care on your heart, just know you may be nervous at first, but my goodness, don’t let that hold you back.
Not much compares.

How easily and close we came to saying no.  I think about the passing of time often, how it marches on, and how differently the passing of time effects people depending on decisions made, and how our flesh longed to be selfish, fearful.

How differently this past year could have looked to 5 people.  I am thankful often, daily that this year was how it was.

I am thankful for that day, one year ago today, because nothing quite compares to this life with these people.

Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.

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  • Beth Lang October 11, 2013, 6:59 am

    Your blog always makes me happy! I’m sure you have rough days but they must pale in comparison to the everyday triumphs and joy. Keep up the good work.

  • Patty October 11, 2013, 3:57 pm

    “And God saw that is was good.” Very, very good! Can’t believe it’s been a whole year already, yet I remember it like it was yesterday… much love to all of you!

  • Rebecca Higgins October 11, 2013, 10:34 pm

    I loved this post a year ago, but I love it even more today having read all of the intervening blog entries that tell of God’s grace to your family. I am celebrating your family freedom day with you! God is good!

  • pat October 12, 2013, 1:14 am

    I can’t believe it has been a year. But the new photos show the changes the love can provide for children in this short amount of time. So happy for your family

  • Amanda Parker October 14, 2013, 4:40 am

    One year ago RR posted a link to your blog and I cried through every word and you all became one of my favorite families to “check on.” 🙂 Happy One Year!!! I have been so blessed to follow your blog because it led us to our sweet “Mirabel” and indirectly to “Ernie”. I can’t wait to finally hold them in my arms. Thank you for the reminder at the end to trust in God. You have a very beautiful, very blessed family! The pictures melt my heart <3

    • The Tiny Team October 14, 2013, 5:51 am

      YAAAAAAY AMANDA!!!!!!! So excited for ya’ll!! I can’t wait for your two to be home. Blessing upon blessing <3

  • Joolz October 27, 2013, 7:16 am

    Such a beautiful story and your pictures just make it better. That last one of Finley hugging the stuffing out of Elijah is so cute and sums up the never ending love in your sweet family. Blessed, you are. xx


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