This is a continuation of the story of our family’s adoption of two children, Jolanta and Thomas, from Lithuania. To read the previous two articles in this series, click HERE and HERE. These children had been severely abused and neglected. Jolanta was nine years old when we adopted her. Her reaction to all those years of abuse, which had left her a paraplegic, was to withdraw completely inside herself. She closed herself off physically by not responding to anyone who approached her. She even pushed little children away when they came up to her.
Jolanta closed herself off socially by becoming an elective mute. We knew that she was capable of talking and even had more knowledge of English than we might have suspected. We knew that because we were blessed to have Yurate, a wonderful member of the Church in Lithuania who was my interpreter during the month I spent in Lithuania.
Yurate was the second person to be baptized into the Church in Lithuania, after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990. She and her husband had joined soon after meeting the first missionaries sent into Lithuania. While I spent a month in Lithuania, required for an international adoption, Jurate would come to the orphanage with me every day to see Jolanta and Thomas. She was my interpreter as I tried to get to know Jolanta and Thomas.
It was a frustrating month. Jolanta refused to talk and rarely responded to anything. Thomas was often out of control, having tantrums and throwing himself on the floor, screaming, kicking and throwing things. The slightest thing would send him ballistic. When that happened, the workers at the orphanage would rush into the room and drag him out, berating him for his behavior. I tried to get them to leave Thomas in the room, so that we could work through these rages, but I think they were afraid I would change my mind about adopting him.
After one such experience, the orphanage workers suggested we might want to take a walk along the river. “You can see Kaunas while we calm Thomas down.” As we walked, Yurate turned to me and said, “How in the world are you going to work with these two children in America? You can’t even speak their language!” She was vocalizing my thoughts exactly! Even worse, I knew she was right. I shook my head, shrugged my shoulders, and worked very hard at holding back tears. I continued walking with my head down.
After several minutes of silence, Yurate said, “I guess I will just have to come to America with you.” If she had just offered me a million dollars, I wouldn’t have been more thrilled! “You would do that?”, I asked incredulously. But then, I immediately realized how ridiculous and impossible that would be. Yurate had two young children. Her husband was looking for a job (unemployment in Lithuania was a huge problem at that point). “No”, I answered, “That won’t be possible. I wouldn’t be able to pay you.”
After talking to Jolanta’s doctor John and I had realized that she was going to need multiple surgeries. She was clearly also going to need a lot of psychiatric counseling. Since her medical conditions were pre-existing, she would obviously be excluded from our health insurance. We realized that this was going to be a huge hit on our family finances. To be honest, we had no idea how we were going to come up with the needed money. We’d already told our kids there would be no summer camps or family vacations for the next few years. Clearly, it would be impossible to pay Yurate.
“And besides, what about your own two young children?”
Yurate countered by saying, “My husband can watch the children because he’s out of work. I will come for three months. You won’t need to pay me. Maybe I can use that time to improve my English and possibly even get a good job when I return. There is a huge demand for English, since Lithuania gained its freedom. Besides, it is impossible to control those two children. You can’t even control them for a couple of hours a day and you have an entire orphanage staff around to intervene when it gets crazy! How in the world do you think you can handle them without speaking Lithuanian?” She was absolutely right. I was already battling a sinking feeling that I was in much deeper than I was capable of swimming. Yurate concluded, “No, the issue is settled, I will come to America”
I hugged Yurate! I gratefully thought to myself, “There is a God!”
Finally, back home in America, we put Jolanta in a room with two twin beds. Yurate slept in Jolanta’s room. That gave me quite an insight into Jolanta. Yurate said that at night after Jolanta thought Yurate was asleep, Jolanta would start talking. In EnglishI She would mimic her teacher at school, she would repeat the English words I was trying to teach her. She gave a running commentary about life in America. All this from a girl who no one ever heard speak a word! Hearing about this from Yurate kept me from giving up. It convinced me that there was something inside that wounded little girl—if I could only figure out how to bring it out.
But during the day, Jolanta continued to live within her shell. She did not participate in any way while at school. She just sat in her wheelchair, never picking up a pencil or opening a book. She never spoke or responded to anyone.
At home, we had the same challenge. It was as if she wanted us to think she wasn’t there. She basically sat in her chair and watched the rest of the world living. She wouldn’t play with any toys, or the Nintendo or even watch TV. She never interacted with the other kids. As I mentioned in an earlier article, she wouldn’t even participate in her own care by dressing herself, brushing her hair, or anything else.
Nearly a year had gone by. It had been a discouraging year. I had tried every trick I could think of to get Jolanta engaged. It was useless to keep sending her to a counselor, since she never talked. By that time, I had simply resorted to moving her from place to place in the house so that she could watch the other kids living. I prayed constantly, begging for guidance.
I also had to fight feelings of personal rejection. I talked to Jolanta incessantly, creating a running dialogue of our life together. I often laughed and joked. There was never a reaction, not a laugh, not a smile, not a tear, not a frown. In fact, she rarely looked at me. She was also often in my arms. I both dressed and undressed her. I lifted her in and out of the car, did her seatbelt, undid her seatbelt, carried her to the upstairs bedrooms to play with the other kids, to the downstairs to play with the kids and their friends, got her on the handicapped school bus, and off the school bus. I bathed her and catharized her every three hours. I brushed her hair and her teeth. Yet, without a response, I struggled to keep caring, to keep loving. I prayed for the gift of love. Month after discouraging month went by.
One Spring day, I told my son, Alex, that I would pay him to paint the picnic table out on our back deck. While he was painting, I wheeled Jolanta out onto the deck so that she could watch him paint. Every 15 minutes or so, I came out to check on them.
After about the third time I came out, Jolanta turned to me and said something. I couldn’t hear it, because she was speaking almost inaudibly. I put my ear down right next to her mouth and was just barely able to make out the words, “Can I paint?” I felt like my heart stopped! I wanted to cheer and do a somersault! Forcing myself to respond casually, I said, “Well, let me look for one of dad’s old shirts to protect your clothes.” I practically did handstands up the stairs to our bedroom!
I returned with an old shirt. I put it over her clothes, showed her how to dip her brush into the paint, wipe off the extra paint, and then move the brush up and down. Handing the brush to Jolanta, she gingerly took it, dipped it into the paint, wiped off the excess paint and made maybe three brush strokes. Then she let the brush drop to the floor.
It was the first action she had taken in nearly a year’s time! I went to my bedroom, dropped to the floor in gratitude and thanked the Lord over and over again.
This was the breakthrough that we had been waiting and praying for. It was the biggest turning point in Jolanta’s emotional healing. After those three tentative painting strokes on the picnic table, it seemed that every week she would take a new action. Before long, it was nearly every day. Over the next year we were blessed to see her personality carefully and delicately begin to reveal itself. It was like watching a flower unfold. It was truly beautiful.
Yurate’s story also had a happy ending. As she prepared to return home after nearly four months, the Relief Society sisters in our ward pulled me aside and said they would like to do something special for Yurate. She was so loving; she had captured everyone’s heart. Perhaps they could send her and her husband to the temple? Yurate had already received her Patriarchal Blessing while with us, making her the first Lithuanian to receive her blessing in this dispensation! She was also the first to receive her endowments, a very special experience we shared together in the Atlanta temple.
The closest temple to Lithuania was in Sweden. We figured out the cost of airfares and hotels. It would be a lot of money! But within the week the Relief Society sisters raised the money. We all took Yurate to lunch the day before she left to return home. The Sisters presented her with a card with the money tucked inside for her and her husband to be sealed in the Stockholm temple. There was not a dry eye in the group!
When Yurate returned home, true to her giving personality, she decided that if they drove instead of traveling by air, they could take their entire branch to the temple with the money she’d been given. And thus, the entire branch of the Church in Kaunas received their temple endowments and sealings—again, the first Lithuanians in this generation. Through Yurate’s selfless service, her entire branch was blessed.
Yurate wrote shortly after arriving back home in Lithuania to inform ne that she had secured a fabulous job, thanks to her excellent English. Her husband had also found employment soon after she arrived home. That’s how it works, isn’t it? When we reach out to serve God’s children, He opens the windows of heaven to us.
JOLANTA’S SIDE OF THE STORY:
It was really hard for us to adjust when we came. It was very overwhelming for us. While we were extremely happy that we were finally chosen to be adopted, we didn’t know how challenging it was going to be. Having Yurate with us was a godsend. She made a huge sacrifice to leave her family for more than three months to come help us adjust. I don’t know how we could’ve survived without her help. She played a huge part in our lives at that time and I am so grateful for all that she did for us.
It was hard for me to truly trust any kind of kindness or love that was shown to me because that’s not something that we had any experience with. From the time a child is born, love is there automatically and is shown by the parents throughout. We never got that from our birth mother. I hardly remember feeling love or kindness from her. I do remember that on the days when she was sober, which wasn’t all that often, she was around and she was somewhat focused on us and those were good days, but by the next day she was back to her old self and would abandon us for days. We never had enough time to bond with her. We also truly felt unwanted and worthless. Even in the orphanage, we weren’t shown love or compassion that often.
The closest we came to feeling truly loved was when a woman named Laura came into our lives. She was from the U.S. and was a professor at a college in Lithuania. She was living there with her boyfriend at the time. One day, she came to the orphanage to visit and got to know us. We spent a lot of time with her and over time we got attached to her. She made us believe that she wanted to adopt us. One day, she dropped us off at a hospital because I was sick. She told us that she and her boyfriend had to go back to the U.S. to get things settled in order to be able to come back and adopt us. It turned out that she was leaving us behind for good and was making arrangements to put us in an orphanage permanently. We never saw or heard from her ever again. We waited day after day for her to come back. It was devastating. We felt abandoned all over again.
Years later, my adopted mom told me that she’d gotten a call from Laura, who asked about us, but then completely denied ever knowing us. Turns out, Laura never had any intentions of coming back to Lithuania and adopting us. That was a huge blow to us as kids and it’s something that played a part in our trust of people.
So, when we came to our new family, any kind of love or kindness that was shown to us was hard to trust. Struggling to feel adequate took a long time. I didn’t participate in things because I didn’t feel worthy, but it was also because I didn’t feel like a normal child. All these kids in this family had more than I ever did by that point. They were loved from the beginning.
I felt like we had to earn love. I didn’t want to disappoint. My birth mom would punish me no matter what I did or didn’t do, so my thinking was that if I tried to participate in this family, then if I did it wrong, I would get punished. I don’t really know what finally made me want to do things, but once I did, I didn’t stop. I think that I finally realized that I could trust these people and that they truly loved us.