Top 10 Ways to Embrace the Language Barrier

What language barrier??

The most common questions we got is “How did you communicate?” As if no one has ever heard 90% of communication happens non verbally.

After our girls spent 5 weeks in our home, I felt like they spoke fluent English. We had established a great routine and connection. Although I can’t wish for them to actually be speaking English – I have no anxiety about the situation we are in.

1. Keep ’em laughing

I’m not one for all play and no discipline – but my husband was right when he said “It’s our job to keep them laughing. If we can have a good time together for 5 weeks that will be a success.” He was so right.

2. Sketch it out

When we arrived at the airport and not a moment too soon, we had drawn pictures of items prevalent in our everyday routine. We also had the words in Russian below them: a toilet, a table setting, a car, a church, a drink, a snack, a bed, and a few smiley and frowny faces to represent pain. These were used every five minutes the first few days.

3. Know your stuff 

We learned Russian for dog, cat, home, car, brother, sister, please and thank you, also good job. Things that helped them connect the dots of our family, and allowed us to praise them. We made it clear to them that we went out of our way to prepare for them. That we were thrilled they were coming. Duolingo and Memrise are great for this.

4. Ask them

Russian phrases are not only helpful to communicate – but they allow your host children to teach you something. In this one small area – let them have the upper hand. Words we learned well; tomorrow, shower, car, shopping, milk, jacket.

5. Act it out

Charades is a great game – play it every time you need to transition. Tap on your wrist for time, use your fingers for numbers, point to what you want as you say it, show and tell. Our first morning together I pulled my little one over to the stove and guided her hand as she tossed blueberries on her pancake. This communicated – we are together, you are safe, this is your food, I want you with me and I value you. Don’t underestimate kindness.

6. Create a loose schedule

Create Russian words like breakfast, swimming, games, family, dog etc. There were no times involved and we allowed the girls to choose what we did when we could. It was also important they knew when church was happening and when Papa would be home from work. (Boy do they love their papa) It also allowed them to mentally prepare for what was next; vitally important.

7. Applaud the English

Chicken was well loved by the girls. We howled up and down every time they asked for “chicken” for dinner. We would stop the conversation and say “Oh English!! English English!!” They never seemed to tire of the praise.

8. Get the app

There are several apps out there to help with communication. I recommend having 2 on your phone in case one freezes. Use short sentences here. Don’t worry about grammar. Noun. Verb. Done. Don’t depend on this though – trust your gut. If you think it didn’t translate correctly. It probably didn’t.

9. Schedule a date

Early in our hosting we set aside time with a friend who is bilingual. The gift he gave us was priceless. We got to know our kids through him. We asked open ended questions and allowed them to talk as much as they wanted. We were shocked with how much our big one told us about her life. Her sense of humor and wisdom were evident after these sessions. These dates were our most precious times.

10. Call a chaperone

I quickly added the chaperone’s number into my phone. We didn’t need them often, but sometimes you just can’t clarify what you mean. Speaker phone is perfect for these moments. And even if the chaperone doesn’t speak English they can help calm your kiddo so you can move forward.


Show and tell

Demonstrating what you want to accomplish – weather sweeping up or no climbing the bookcase – use yes and no to explain. Kind of like the childhood game of hot and cold. Warmer warmer warmer…. they’ll get it. Just have patience and keep at it.

Just remember – they’re kids.

They’re really not that scary. Your job is to love them well – and that often means stepping out of your comfort zone and putting them first.
I think that’s what being a parent is all about.


Top Ten Ways to Prep for the Airport

Sometimes the airport can be a bit chaotic and stressful. A few moments after meeting your kids for the first time can feel awkward. It’s ok! Embrace the awkward. Just smile and offer warmth. Your goal should be to make them feel safe and establish trust.

Welcome signs are a big deal for these kids! Seeing a sign and a smiling family waiting behind it is a very real relief. It doesn’t have to be pretty – but if you have one it will mean a lot.

1. Hire a driver

Actually I guilted my brother into doing all the driving for us on this day trip. It allowed my husband and I the mental and emotional space to deal with meeting our girls the first time. And it allowed us to sit in the back with them on the ride home and get to know them. Our best idea ever.

2. Feed ’em

(Our girls LOVE American milk!)
Food is a common suggestion – but know some kids may not feel comfortable eating in front of you or opening a snack you gave them. So take some for yourself as well and eat it with them.

Other snacks that work well – popcorn, apples, bananas, m&ms, cheese and crackers, water, fruit roll ups. I also purchased some Russian food from a local European store – as a comfort for them. I was later told – they only wanted American food! Don’t count on yours being quite as adventurous as mine are.

3. Don’t forget meds

Motion sickness meds, Benadryl, cough drops and baby wipes were a help as well. They just spent 20+ hours on a plane. What would you want if you just got off the plane after a 20 hour flight?

4. Take selfies

The selfies I have of us on the way home are priceless. They show tremendous growth in the girls and our relationship. But selfies themselves have a way of tearing down some walls. Especially if your a professional silly face maker!

5. Take a few books and crayons
My little one loved to page through books even though she couldn’t understand a word. And everyone enjoyed tracing hands, drawing smiley faces, and watching me write their names in English. Tic tac toe and the dot game are easy AND interactive.

6. Bring a bag of goodies

A trip to the dollar store works beautifully for this! Sunglasses, gum, chopstick, silly puddy, a disposable camera, army men etc. remember though – they may be too intimidated to open it unless you prompt them to. Just go with your gut here – not everything has to be immediate. (They loved the stuffed huskies we gave them. This was great because it helped them bond with our real live husky at home)

7. Pictures

Where, what, and who they are going home to. We scrolled through pictures of our home, yard, our pets, their bedroom, and their family. I saw the confidence build and the tension release as they realized they were in good hands.

8. Sing along

Something in the background that is kid friendly. Maybe even something that you can do together. Clap your hands – snap your fingers – stomp your feet. Just suggestions. Whether they know the language or not they can enjoy the music and doing things with you.

9. Thumb wrestle

We did a ton of patty cake and thumb wrestling on the way home. I lost every time. You might want to brush up on your patty cake unless you hang out with 10 year old pretty regularly! This is fun, easy, and promotes eye contact and allows physical touch. Something these kids may not know how to handle in large quantities.

10. Finally, just have fun

Be silly. Laugh; a lot. Keep expectations low for now. Let them learn to love you in their own time. When you struggle with this -imagine taking a trip across the planet to live with people you’ve never met and can’t speak to. Now imagine being 8 when you do it. Helps keep everything in perspective right?

A Nutshell

We were ready for something more this summer. We were ready for something missional, something international, something orphan care related.

My thumb grazed a P143 add on Facebook. I really didn’t know what I was clicking on. But, curious to see the faces of little ones waiting to be hosted, I registered to check out the photo listing.

I found them. The little one was full of spunk – with her arms above her head and smirk on her face. I smiled back at her picture. And our older one – she was sweet and sincere. She was the kind of beautiful you could only find in a beautiful soul. Maybe we could host them.

I put their bios in front of my husband.

“What do you think about hosting these sisters this summer? 8 and 16 – one for each of us!” He glanced at their pics, he read there bios, he looked at me and said
“Yea sure! Lets do it.”

A breath later he said “Why don’t we just adopt them?”

For all my trying I couldn’t think of a reason not to. They were incredible; we could tell.

3 months later our girls arrived. They were quiet and exhausted. They were nervous and hungry. They were anxious and curious. And they were ours.

When we did this, I knew we were doing something good. I knew we would love them easily. I knew they would love us. But I had no idea how much fun this would be. I had no idea that my daughters would be so incredible.

They laughed with us, they teased us, they yearned for our affection. They wanted to be involved in everything we did. And we encouraged them to be. We baked and cooked together. We played soccer and swam together. We went boating, we skipped rocks, we danced in the living room and splashed down the creek. We ate ice cream and had picnics. We went to the ocean, we saw a lighthouse. We went on a roller coaster, we learned how to bike. We took pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. We were a family. Totally, completely and fully.

The Lord has been so good to us. He guided us to our girls. He crafted us just for them. I am desperately grateful that this is the path He chose for us.

They are silly and wise. Quirky and loving. Smart and adventurous. They are artistic and athletic. They are brave and worthy.

In all our years of youth ministry, I’m all our experiences with kids and teens alike, I could not have ever met two children who I am more proud to know and love. And to someday – in a very real way call our daughters.

Everything I miss…

Everything I miss about my little big one.

I miss her silliness. She had the perfect amount of reserve mixed with ridiculousness. She had a smart and extreme sense of humor. She wasn’t afraid to be goofy for a laugh.

I miss her perception. She was extremely aware and wise of what was going on around her; the tension or temperature of the room, what others needed from the situation.

I miss her affection. She was proud to call us Mama and Papa and she let her guard down often when her sister wasn’t around. She longed to be hugged and kissed and included. She longed to be valued.

I miss the fact that she was proud we are her parents. She made that clear. She told us we were “BeA-Utiful” all the time. She consistently said “My Mama, my Papa beA-Utiful!”

I miss our relationship – we attached right away – but we were really starting to go deeper about a week before she had to leave. She was trusting me, with “mom” things. And I wanted nothing more then to be trusted by her.

I miss her servant heart. From carrying in groceries to washing off her dinner dishes, she knew there was a lot to do to take care of her home. She wanted to be a part of it. It is after all her home.

I miss the fact that I couldn’t spoon sugar into my coffee or flour into a mixing bowl with our her wanting to be involved. I miss that she always looked for opportunities to be close to me.

I miss her compassion. I’ll never forget – this kid who comes from nothing, looking at pictures of our mission trip to South Africa with tears in her eyes begging us to take her their some day. “I want to help these children.”

I miss her laughter. I miss her wisdom. I miss her affection. I miss her hunger for adventure. I miss her selflessness. I miss her curiosity. I miss her willingness to try new things. I miss her humor. I miss her ability to lead. I miss her joy for entertaining. I miss her love for activity. I miss her desire to be with us. I miss being her mom.

I miss treating her to Starbucks. I miss shopping for the perfect T-shirt. I miss watching her scale rock climbing walls. I miss kissing her goodnight. I miss having her cousin sleep over. I miss looking out on the meadow and watching her play. I miss the way she loved her Pop-pop. I miss watching her cuddle her younger cousins. I miss watching her play soccer with her family. I miss walking by her room and over hearing her chat in broke english with her friends.

I miss looking at her and thinking “She is everything I could ever want in a daughter. Why has God blessed us with her?”

I miss everything I know about her and everything I don’t.

We have a huge gap in our family. We will until you come home.

You are missed. You are greatly greatly missed.

Shattered Glass

Two days after the girls left I didn’t do anything. I couldn’t. I didn’t have the energy. I was emotionally wiped and physically drained. At one point I did a load of laundry, but I couldn’t fold it. I had nothing left.

But that didn’t last long.

I got motivated; motivated to move. To do whatever it was that I could do. To buy, to sell, to initial and sign. Not to mention the needed recovery from 5 weeks of no house work, no yard work, no work. Its was 5 weeks of all play. The weeds were my proof; they were up to my eyeballs.

Then, as if punishment for spending two days being brain dead, I suddenly couldn’t stop thinking. I had and have so many ideas. Ways to fundraise, errands to run, graphs to make, things to check up on. Grief, memories, laughter, pictures, updates, questions, answers, more questions. I couldn’t focus on one thing. It was debilitating.

Shattered Glass.

In my hollow head splinters of a thousand thoughts floated  without purpose. It was beautiful, but deceitful. It wasn’t enticing, but instead threatening.

I realized what I was doing wrong.

Instead of taking practical advise on how to prioritize my day and schedule each minute; instead of sucking down caffeine in supernatural quantities, or figuring out how to go on 4 hours of sleep, I knew I just had to quiet my brain. And to be able to quiet my brain, I just had to trust. Just trust. Nine little letters that don’t seem intimidating. Wrong again.

Just trust.

Trust that the girls know we love them. Trust that they still love us. Trust that they miss us. Trust that the paperwork will come in. Trust that the money will appear by the grace of God. Trust that we won’t be delayed. Trust that this will happen. Trust that “the powers that be” approve. Trust that countries get along. Trust that planes land safely. Trust that they are safe. Trust that God ordained this.

Because He did!!

And in all of this I fail; over and over and over again. I’m getting better, but I’m no where near perfect. I stress, I fret, I work. I turn my energy in productivity. I get things done. Then I’m reminded that everything I can do is nothing compared to what is needed.

I only have one choice.

Just trust in our Great Heavenly Father. That he will  sweep up this shattered glass and make it beautiful in the end.


Sometimes when you’re in the shower shampooing your hair you smell a familiar scent. It reminds you of a little girl’s wet hair under your nose wrapped in a towel and giggling with glee. She was perfectly capable of getting ready for bed on her own, but she wanted Mama.

I had no intention giving  up any of those precious moments of bonding, exhausted or not.

The scent reminded me of those adorable freckles on her nose and the way she could amaze me with her endless silliness and creativity. She had her own world and we often got to be a part of it.

It reminded me of the moments where my hand became an uncontrollable monster tickling her on the floor until she was out of breath; begging for me to stop and hoping I never would.

It reminds me of those moments when she initiated a kiss good night. When she said “I love you Mama too.” Using the word too incorrectly.

It reminds me of those hugs when she squeezed me with all of her strength because that is how much she loves.

I never got tired of holding her even though my back ached and her shoulder strangled my neck.

I savored the early morning cuddles on the couch while she was still sleepy and just wanted to be held.

I miss the moments when I felt perfectly at peace just being her Mama; happily waiting for her sister to descend the stairs so we could start our day.

Sometimes when you’re in the shower washing your hair, you miss that little girl. You hope and pray that somewhere on the other side of the world she is missing you.

We pray that she is safe, not fearful of the dark, warm and well fed. We know much of this is not realistic in her world and our hearts ache for what we wish we could give.

And we can do little but pray that God will be generous and allow us to bring her home so I can shampoo her hair again.

I Think They Call This Nesting

Since we choose to host two sisters, my brain has been abuzz on how to make them feel at home. We chose to keep them in the same room for their comfort and let’s face it, the CDs comfort.

Pink. Beds. Storage. Fun. Teenager. Princess. Butterflies. Cramped. Age difference. Budget.

So this is what I’ve been busy doing.


I saw this loft bed at IKEA on an inspirational walk through. I found it for literally half the cost on Craigslist. A friend took the initiative and found a twin size bed frame for nothing. Another friend told me to take her twin mattress from her attic.  One of our kids likes us so much he’s willing to put our furniture together just to be around us; talk about thankFUL.

Yard Sailing…..

Several weeks ago I had a crazy list of things to buy. Random necessities. I genuinely felt overwhelmed with everything the girls needed just to be here. Not only do I not have experience with this stuff – but I had to learn what I needed and then find it. Federal car seat guidelines anyone?? We also needed a bunch of stuff to keep our little home looking good this summer.

May 14th God reminded me he would provide for us, and this stuff is really not up to me – So chill Liz, chill. 

2 massive suitcases, twin sheet sets,a pillow, 2 lamps, 5 games, an oversized Mr. Potato Head, 2 sleeping bags, a massive bouncy ball, a car seat, curtains, 3 pairs of shoes, a wallet, a weed wacker, a hedge trimmer, screen repair it, gardening and yard tools. All in one morning, all for less than $60.00

Not to mention the fact that people who love easily have given towards this project. Our friends, family and Crossover kids have been amazing.

Chill Liz, chill.

Just yesterday things really started to come together. With the help of family and friends, as well as some inspiration from #FixerUpper on Netflix, and a few fabulous finds early Saturday mornings, this house is taking on a new life. We’re sprucing things up. Not only for our benefit, but to try and make a strangers home, feel like their childhood haven.

It’s really fun – and a lot of work. I love them already and this is how I’m showing it. I hope they like it. I hope they love it. I hope that our mysterious ability to make kids feel comfortable in our home will translate to these girls. I hope they can feel how much we love the kids in our lives, and how much we are loved by them. I hope for many things. But more then anything I am hopeful that God is leading the way in all things and He has us in His hands.

And geez, I hope they like us.