Sophna and Sophinia

Sophna and Sophinia
Our Girls

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Stories from the December trip

Enjoy some of my favorite stories from the December bonding trip:

Pulling a Sophna
On Saturday, we were at a Christmas bazaar at Quisquaya school. When we were in the parking getting ready to leave, Sophna tells me “Mwe pee pee” (my girls drink non-stop so we spent an inordinate amount of time going to the toilette). Instead of taking the time to take her, I did the ‘Chinese child squat’ in the parking lot. So she had definitely gone pee pee before we left. We stopped at the grocery on the way home and let those wanting to shop go into the market. Sophna fell asleep on me and Sophinia fell asleep on Trish’s sister Laura. I’m glad this story is about Sophna and not Sophinia and Laura! With Sophna sleeping on my lap, my lap suddenly started to feel warm. I slid open the van door and all of the Haitians milling around the market parking lot got quite a laugh out of me holding this peeing child out and my now wet shorts. The always-prepared Etchepares had Dora underwear in their backpack for their daughter that was in the United States (now that is prepared!) so I changed Sophna. Now she was awake and began saying “Mwe pee pee”. Since she had just gone, I thought she was making it up.
But now, a second time I had to jump out and amuse the entire parking lot of spectators. The shoppers were done and we crammed back into the van.  Now that I have been peed on twice, I am sure I am home free.  But you guessed it. As we are driving, I hear those words I now fear “Mwe pee pee” and not only is my lap warm, there is now pee running down my leg into my shoes. So now when you have to go so badly that you can’t hold it, you can say you are “pulling a Sophna”.

Donna almost dies
OK, this is not a funny story, but one that I would tell you if we were sitting chatting, because we all love to tell our near-death experiences. On Saturday evening, I decided to wash my hair using water from my hotpot because the hotel never has hot water. On a whim, I turned on the shower and it was warm. I was so excited that I jumped in totally forgetting that this is not filtered water and keeping your mouth shut tightly is a must. The next morning, my stomach had that churning sensation that makes you think “Oh no, this is NOT going to be good”. I took pepto, I threw up pepto. I was determined I was going to church so I dressed myself and the girls and went down to the pool. Suddenly I had to go to the bathroom so badly I literally ran to the public bathroom. As I was sitting there emptying out every liquid in my body, I had no choice but to throw up all over the floor in front of me (I hope I tipped the cleaning staff enough on this trip). I felt like a ketchup packet that had been opened at both ends and someone was squeezing the middle and the life out of me. Luckily Mandy had given me the wonder drug Cipro (take this with you to Haiti!) and God Bless the Etchapares who saved me again by watching the girls while I went back to the room to die. The Etahapares had a tea party and took fabulous pictures of my girls! I do believe I lost 5 – 10 pounds that morning, but it is not a diet I recommend!

Don’t mess with the Varda twins
On the July trip, Jim went and I did not. Something happened that made Sophinia mad at the restaurant.  She picked up her glass plate and whipped it across the floor. Mandy sent me a picture of the broken-plate-aftermath. On this trip, Sophna had finished an entire adult breakfast of pancakes. Cathy had ordered eggs and bacon and ran back to her room for something. The waiter set the food down at Cathy’s place which unfortunately was next to Sophna. Sophna picked up the plate and put it in front of her, quite excited that she was getting a second breakfast. Mandy reached over and moved the plate back to Cathy’s spot.  Sophna gave her the death look and picked up a fork. Yep, the fork came whipping across the table at Mandy and hit (and cracked) the salt shaker on the way. Mandy and I were both trying to act mad and hide the fact that we were completely cracking up. Cathy has the picture of the fork and the broken salt shaker. So now can start a scrapbook of pictures started titled “dining items our girls have broken”.

Mandy the Stalker
My friend Mandy has the most amazing heart for Haiti which causes her to read just about every blog from every missionary in Haiti. Because she has some kind of photographic memory of all these blogs, Mandy will approach people she recognizes like she has known them for years, with many mixed reactions – usually with a look of fear that they are being stalked because she is so enthusiastic about meeting them. On this trip, on Monday night after we dropped the kids off at the orphanage, we decided to take a cab to go see the guesthouse where my church will be staying in March on a mission trip. The driver dropped us off at this guesthouse and we asked 3 times “Is this Worldwide Village?” to which the Haitian guards nodded vehemently “Yes, yes”. We walk up to the door and the young man answers and says “well unfortunately, this is Heartline”. So I have to admit, I recognized the Bull Mastiffs in the courtyard from the Livesay blog from Heartline so I am a little stalker-guilty too. He offered to walk us to the Worldwide Village guesthouse.  While we are walking, Mandy looks at this young man and suddenly exclaims “Oh my, did you carry a heavy object like a dishwasher out of the kitchen when there was a rat behind it?”. The kid got that scared, I think I’m being stalked look in his eye and said “Um, it was a stove. How did you know that?”. Don’t be scared young man, it happens to everyone Mandy meets!

The Quake Queen
I need to preface this next story by saying that I have felt 2 earthquakes in Peoria and both times, I told Jim in the night that we had an earthquake and both times, he laughed with that “sure my crazy wife, it was an earthquake”. When the morning news confirmed we had indeed had an earthquake, he called me a cat because I could feel tremors when he couldn’t. I also need to preface this story with the fact that there is a huge bell with a pull cord at the hotel in Haiti that we have all gotten in trouble for ringing with the explanation that it is an Earthquake Bell. If it rings, people will think there is an earthquake. So, on the last day in Haiti, we had to get up early to get to the airport.  I am lying in bed asleep and what do I hear?  A bell clanging in the distance. I was so sound asleep when it woke me up and I remember thinking, “why am I hearing a bell? Oh man, the earthquake bell”. Mandy is in the bathroom so I go to the door and say “Mandy, do you hear the earthquake bell?”. She just smiles because apparently she heard “Blah blah blah bell”. I could not wrap my mind around why the earth was moving enough to ring the bell, but I couldn’t feel the earth moving. Remember, I am a cat. So I stood with my feet sturdy on the floor so I could see if I was feeling it move. Mandy casually goes over and turns off her I-Pad, which has been ringing with a clanging bell as the alarm. I suddenly realize what has happened and tell her I thought it was the earthquake bell and we both start laughing so hard we are crying (I didn’t laugh so hard that I peed, but with this trip, that would have been appropriate).  It was hilarious. Now, when Mandy tells this story, there is a lot more running and jumping and theatrics. And my stance to see if I could feel the earth moving has not only become some kind of surfer move, it is now a dance move called “The Earthquake” where you dance and then jump into this surfer stance. She totally cracks me up every time she tells it (which is everyone she sees) so I won’t let the truth get in the way of a good story :).  It really was hilarious. And now Russell calls me the Quake Queen!

This was the most amazing trip of bonding with my twins. But, it was also a most amazing trip with the other families. I love my “adoptive family” family and don’t know what I would do without them!

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Bonding Trip that opened the eyes of my heart

On our most recent trip to Haiti, Jim and I experienced the most unbelievable bonding with our daughters. The girls were treating us like Mommy and Daddy on a whole new level that I could not have dreamed of in my wildest expectations. I wish I could convey how the adoption of these two miraculous orphans has touched our family and especially how it has impacted my spiritual growth.  Without question, this has brought my marriage relationship to a whole new level.  After seeing Haiti and being touched by these two precious beings, the things that previously seemed important and worth arguing over now seem ridiculous to both of us.  Jim and I have a bond from this adoption process that again, I wish I could describe and I wish everyone could experience. Most incredibly, from a personal standpoint, I cannot begin to grasp how this adoption has brought my relationship with my Lord and Savior to a new level. Someone told me in the beginning of this process that the adoption of orphans is “living the gospel”.  What I thought they meant was what I always knew the Bible told us.  James 1:27 commands us, as Christians, to care for the orphans and the widows. But until this trip, I never understood that the adoption of orphans would actually allow me to experience the gospel. My heart can scarcely take it in!  Ephesians 1:5 tells us that God “predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will”.  No one ever explained to me that God adopted us – the Greek word in scripture for ‘adoption to sonship’ is the word for a legal Roman adoption. In order to adopt us, God sent his son Jesus Christ to redeem us so we could become his child. That was the price of my adoption. So when I look at these two little girls who were abandoned and hopeless, I finally understand that the true orphan was ME!  I was abandoned and hopeless until God adopted me through his son Jesus Christ. How mind blowing is that? I think about the struggles we have been through for this adoption and I think how insignificant our efforts are compared to the process God went through to adopt me! He sent his own son to become flesh, suffer and die so I, Donna Varda, could be adopted into his eternal family.  I think about the cost associated with this adoption and I think how could any amount of earthly cost ever compare to Christ’s blood that was shed to adopt me? I look at the hope and love in these little girls’ eyes and I totally understand how I, a sinful hopeless orphan, now have hope and a future and the love of my Savior Jesus Christ. The eyes of my heart were so opened on this last trip, I want to shout the adoption of orphans as true religion for everyone from the mountaintops.  People say that Jim and I are doing such a wonderful thing adopting our beautiful daughters, and I know it appears that way from the outside. But what people don’t understand is that this adoption has been the most faith-building experience for me and that I am benefiting in exponentially greater ways than these children ever could. I now cannot imagine my walk with Christ without this adoption. I look forward with great anticipation the lessons my amazing daughters will continue to teach me about God’s adoption of me. God is just so cool!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

We meet our girls' birth Mom

Before we went on our trip to meet the girls and file our paperwork, we were told that we would be meeting our girls' birth Mom. We didn't know until we were in Haiti that we would have the option of maintaining contact with her after our adoption is complete. I believe that God puts people in our lives for specific purposes. If it weren't for our close friends that have an open adoption, this concept might have freaked me out. But, our friends adopted their 10 year old son at birth and have maintained a relationship with his birth Mom. They consider her a part of their family and it is such a beautiful relationship.  He obviously does not question who his Mom and Dad are, but he also has no mystery or question about who his birth Mom is.  It makes me wonder what would happen if our society was less judgmental of birth Moms who choose adoption. Or what would happen if we would celebrate open adoption as an option so women wouldn't feel adoption means giving up being a part of their child's life.  Maybe new attitudes towards adoption would go a long way in making Roe v. Wade unnecessary?
Anyway, off my adoption soap box and on to my story.  Our itinerary indicated we would be meeting the girls' birth Mom on Wednesday.  I had so many people praying for this meeting, I really did have a peace that passes all understanding.  On Tuesday, we had all day at the hotel with the girls. We had just finished lunch when our guide, Patrick, found us at the pool and said "The girls' birth Mom showed up at the orphanage today because she can't come tomorrow".  OK, I panicked a little because I thought I had another day to get my thoughts together. 
We gathered up the girls, drove to the orphanage and took the girls to the toddler room. Out on the porch, a nicely dressed, very thin woman was introduced to us as the girls’ birth Mom - Alexandra. I gave her a hug and kissed her cheek and Jim gave her a hug. Through Patrick, who interpreted for us, she thanked us for adopting her girls. We thanked her for the girls. I sobbed and couldn't talk (this surprises no one, I know). Once I pulled it back together, we actually had a very natural conversation in a most unnatural situation. We told Alexandra we would send pictures of the girls to the orphanage as they grew up. She asked if she could send pictures of herself to the girls and we said “of course”. 
Education is very important to the people of Haiti - when we wrote our dossier to be approved by the Haitian government to adopt, we were encouraged to talk about our plans to educate the children we would adopt. Knowing this, I told her that we had a child already in college and that Sophna and Sophinia would also go to college. This made her smile! 
Jim told her we would have the girls pray for her and she said that was good, because she knew she needed to go to church more. I asked her if she had Jesus in her heart and she said "not yet but I am thinking about it"! So Jim told her we would pray for her to ask Jesus into her heart.
We asked her what she wanted us to make sure we told the girls about her as they were growing up.  She said to tell them that she was very young and very poor and couldn't take care of them.

Then they brought the girls out to us and Jim and I backed off and let her love on them. We no longer had an interpreter so we just sat together in a peaceful silence while she held the girls. We had someone take these pictures of us that I know the girls will treasure.  (Well, Sophna might not be happy that you can really tell she has that belly in these pictures!)

The nannies took the girls back to change diapers and when the girls were gone, she told an interpreter standing near us to tell us she was leaving. I said to the interpreter "ask her if she wants to wait to say good-bye to the girls" but she shook her head. I am sure good-bye was just too hard. Jim and I hugged her and I kissed her cheek and then she was down the driveway.
She can come see the girls every other month until we bring them home.  There is a specific day that birth moms can visit their children that live at the orphanage or get updates on their children who have been adopted. And, we are definitely committed to maintaining contact with her, through the orphanage, as our daughters grow. 
We know it just seems downright unfair that this Mom is not able to raise her girls because of the conditions in Haiti. She is living in a tent and looks like she can barely feed herself. But, the reality is, she chose love by bringing her daughters in to be adopted. We are so blessed and grateful to God to be given the chance to also choose love by becoming their Mommy and Daddy - in addition to, not in place of, the Mommy that gave them life. Please keep Alexandra in your prayers.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Meet Our Girls

I am sure you have seen our video, but the moment they put Sophna and Sophinia in our arms, it was the same feeling as when they put our birth children in our arms – except I was in less pain J.  They immediately snuggled up to us but I am sure they were thinking “OK, who are these strange white people that are saying they are ‘Mommy and Daddy’”.
By the end of our time together, they were definitely bonded to us.  We got to take them back to the hotel and they spent three days and nights with us, played by the pool, ate with us, etc.  We dressed them, fed them, changed their diapers, etc. (children that only eat rice and beans have interesting diapers – enough said).  They only understand Creole, so we did a lot of pointing and a lot of saying “Mommy, Sophna, Daddy, Sophinia”.  

The girls see their picture on Dad's IPad.

These girls can eat!

Jim would give one of them an object and say “take this to Mommy” and they would march over and hand it to me and then look so proud of themselves.  We did learn the Creole word for “Leave” was “Allee” so when we said this, they would head to the door and put their arms up to us to be picked up. It was so adorable!  
 Just like other people we know with twins, these girls definitely have their own personality. Sophna is the alpha-twin and pretty much gets her way.  But when Sophinia finally has enough and takes a stand, she will pinch or smack Sophna’s arm to which Sophna laughs and gives her back the toy that she stole.  

The other very distinct difference between them is their size. Sophna is a good inch taller and she seriously has the most amazing belly (I am actually praying that this is not a medical issue).  Jim said at one point “that belly has its own zip code” so the other parents were congratulating us on our new daughters and our new zip code.  Sophinia is tiny and petite so most of the week I carried Sophinia and Jim carried Sophna because she was seriously a chunk to carry around.   We asked their birth Mom who was born first and she said “Sophna” to which we laughed and could just imagine Sophna pushing little Sophinia out of the way to get out first.

Sophinia had an instant bond and attachment to Jim so we decided on this trip to name her Jamie (James, get it) and we will change Sophna to Sophie - two Sophies would be a little confusing.   

It was incredible how God matched the kids with the adoptive parents on this trip.  We had only seen a picture so the personality match was a total God thing.  The single Mom who was adopting her first child at the age of 43 is adopting a one year old boy who was so calm and snuggly and would lie on her chest and stroke her long blonde hair.  The couple that had been married for 13 years with no children are adopting a 2 year old girl that snuggled with her Daddy and a 10 month old boy that would stare in his Mommy’s eyes like a newborn.  The sweet and sensitive Mommy is the Mommy of a beautiful 6 year old who is emotional and sensitive – and they both struggled with their good-bye.  The high energy couple with 2 kids in High School are adopting the very rambunctios 3 year old boy that kept them all running and chasing. It was just so amazing to see how God made sure personalities matched families. 

Of course, we got the girls that when you sat them down, they pretty much just stayed where you put them – this is because God knew we were too old to chase anyone.  And our girls loved to eat like their Daddy and power nap like their Mommy so they are definitely ours!

We can’t wait for you to meet them in person.  I decided I am going back at the beginning of June (this decision was made the day we were flying home and I couldn’t stop crying) and I think I am taking my 17 year old son with me to help carry the zip code and so that he can witness Haiti firsthand.  God’s timing is perfect for bringing our girls home but it is going to be a long year!

Friday, March 18, 2011

God meets me on the streets in Haiti

Since I couldn’t blog when I was in Haiti, I decided to put a blog out for each day of our journey.  This first blog is to explain the work God did in our hearts regarding the country of Haiti.  When we first arrived in Port Au Prince, we checked into our hotel and all of us new parents were beside ourselves to get to the orphanage and meet our children.  Instead, our guide from the adoption agency said, “We are going to take you on a driving tour of Port-Au-Prince first”.  I’m not sure about the other parents, but I know I was thinking “Driving tour?  I want to meet my children!”.  But now it is so clear to me that this was God’s plan for us to really, really understand why we were called to Haiti.
The first thing that strikes you as you begin driving is the amount of earthquake damage that has not been touched 14 months after the earthquake.  My cousin who lives in PAP had described this to me, but it was still pretty shocking to see that the government has left buildings in total shambles everywhere you look. 

Next, you simply cannot wrap your mind around the number of people living in tents.  It is estimated that 1 Million people still live in these tent cities.  As we drove, the tents and the poverty just went on and on and on.  Oppressive and overwhelming were the adjectives that kept coming to my mind.  These people have no electicity, no running water, and they sleep on dirt floors. Some don't have tents, they just have sticks and tarps. When it rains, they have to stand up because they can't sleep or sit in the mud. We simply just can't fathom month after month and now into years of living like this.

The next thing that strikes you is the garbage.  Everywhere you look it is garbage and filth.  We found out there is no place to take the garbage so it just piles up – can you imagine the health issues?  Along with the garbage it is shocking to see the wild pigs just rooting through the garbage right in the streets next to where people are living.  There is also a significance to these wild pigs that I will tell you about later in this blog. 

But what you just can’t take your eyes off is the people and the children.  They are all so thin and desperate looking and you know they must feel hopeless.  But in the midst of it all, you actually see smiles and waves and laughter.  As you look closer, you also see hard working people trying to change their situation by literally selling anything they can find.  And they are an enterprising people.  If there was a large pot hole in the road, invariably there would be a tire repair stand right next to it.  When we had to go to court, there was a man standing outside selling ties in case anyone needed a tie for court.  There are bottles of perfume for sale but we found out you don’t buy the bottle – you buy a spray of perfume.  Men have cell phones that you can pay them to make a phone call.  They call that a Haitian pay phone.  This is what made it so tragic to me that this government is doing nothing for its people to support private industry or meaningful work.  They are literally starving in the streets, willing to work, and yet they have no hope or future.

On this driving tour, God did business with me and spoke so clearly to me it still gives me chills.  We had gotten out of the van to take a picture of the cathedral that had been destroyed by the earthquake.  A man with one leg (in this picture) wanted to have his picture taken with me so that Jim would give him a dollar.  After Jim had taken the picture and given him money, people appeared out of nowhere to ask for money.  Thin and bedraggled children with no shoes.  Pregnant women pointing to their bellies and then to Jim’s money.  And then an elderly woman walked up with a broken arm that had never been set but was hanging limp and twisted.  Since we were being surrounded , we got back into the van.  Another adoptive Mom, Mandy, was sitting in front of me and she began to quietly sob as we looked at this elderly woman and these starving children.  I began sobbing too and suddenly I got it.  Lord, I get it, I GET IT! “For whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for Me”.  I was looking at the least of these.  They were right here in front of me.  We weren’t Americans and they weren’t Haitians. It didn’t matter if it was their government's fault.  We are just all God’s people and the “least of these” were right in front of me - God was telling me this is who needs our love in order to show Him our love of Jesus Christ.  These are a people that can’t go to a Prompt Care to set a broken bone, they can’t feed their children and must watch them starve to death before their eyes, they can’t go to school and get an education and even if they did, their situation would not change in this country.  They must receive the help of the “Haves” of the world and that is us!  In that moment, I knew that my husband and I would now forever have a ministry in our lives that is somehow connected to the people of Haiti and I am just waiting for God to tell us how to get started.
The second thing that God told me on that van ride to meet our children was that I will never, ever feel guilty about taking our daughters out of this country.  When you hear the words “no hope”, I have now witnessed this.  My daughters will be raised to love their country and will come back to help us in our ministry.  But it was never more clear to me that an international adoption means saving a life.  We learned that women are so desperate to fill their children’s empty bellies that they will feed them dirt. Some women will leave their babies in the ravines because they know the wild pigs will eat them. Some children will get sold as slaves or for voodoo rituals.  Our daughters’ mother (who you will meet in another blog) and those mothers who have brought their children into an orphanage to be adopted ultimately love, love, love their children to give them this gift of life. 
I know that the pictures and this blog are something that just don’t change a heart like the experience of meeting with God right in the streets of Haiti.  So when Jim and I ask you to go on a mission trip, we hope you will go with us to understand what God has asked us to do.  I am also hoping that others will open their hearts to adoption or at least sponsoring a child at our daughter’s orphanage (  Just wait until I do my blog about the children at the orphanage… Be ready to fall in love!
This all happened in our first 4 hours in Haiti…….

Monday, March 7, 2011

What a Week! God Keep Me Calm - Trying again

 So I wrote my first blog yesterday about our journey to adopt our twin daughters from an orphanage in Haiti and I learned a big lesson about blogging - don't write in a moment of weakness!  If you read it, I apologize that if you know me, it really wasn't very me. Talking about my stress actually makes this journey about me and it is absolutely not.  Beth Moore always says that low self-esteem is actually a form of pride because as a child of God, we are to shine for Him and nothing should be about us.  I feel the same way about what I wrote yesterday about stress.  So let me apologize and try this again!
The specifics of this coming week are: Saturday morning we drive to Chicago, Saturday afternoon we fly to Miami, Saturday evening we spend the night in Miami and Jim's parents are coming to the airport to take us to dinner (yay! We haven't seen the snowbirds since Christmas), Sunday morning we fly to Haiti and Sunday afternoon we meet our daughters!  I am so excited to hold those precious little girls that I can barely contain myself.  Then Monday through Wednesday we have court appearances with the Haitian government and with the US Embassy.  Please pray that we are taking all the right paperwork.  Trying to understand the steps in this process has been a bit of a challenge.....
The emotions of this week have been incredible and I cannot believe in 5 days I will be loving on my precious little ones.  As a bonus, the past month has put us in the path of three other incredible adoptive families that we also get to meet and travel with.  My cousin and his girlfriend live in Haiti (he is director of Architecture for Humanity) so I get to see them, I get to meet the amazing nannies at the orphanage who love and care for 70 children that would otherwise be on the street, and I am really excited about experiencing the Haitian culture so I can better understand my daughters' heritage.  OK, the food I am not so excited about but don't tell anyone in Haiti....
So today is just another day at work and one day closer to flying to where my heart is at an orphanage in Port Au Prince Haiti.  Pictures and updates to follow!