Mission Bells

I was heading into a smaller version of a big box mega store with Kris. It was the midpoint of the Christmas season and the shopping frenzy was in full swing.

We had already passed by several monolithic monster stores, noticing the extraordinary amount of cars in the parking lots. “No way” I thought to myself. Visons of madness at the checkout lines danced in my head. By today’s standards, the one we chose was tiny.  So there was hope that we could get what we needed with a minimum of stress.

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Kris the Elf meets Elsa

 

Our mission that evening – find a few gifts for Peter from Kris.

As we walk from the car toward the front doors, we discuss the types of things Peter would like for Christmas. We decide that cookies and Goldfish crackers would be good choices. We can hear the familiar jingling of the Salvation Army bells.

“What is the story of those bells? Why are they ringing?” he asks.

I explain what the Salvation Army does in God’s name – help the poor, prepare hot meals for the hungry, shelter for the homeless and special Christmas and Thanksgiving meals.

He takes in what I’ve said. “Hmm, that’s good.”

We purchase our items and as we walk out the doors he asks me to carry the packages. I comply and walk ahead of him toward the ringing bells. I make a small donation and head to the car. Kris follows a few steps behind me.

“That man was very happy with me.”

“Why is that?” I ask.

“I gave $10.”

“Why did you give $10?”

“Because I like to help people.”

I smile.

Yes you do, Kris. Yes you do.

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Friends With Benefits?

“Friends with benefits”

When I hear that phrase what I actually hear is: “Friends with benefits … (wink wink, nudge nudge, snicker snicker)”.  The phrase connotes a certain self-centeredness. It is a one-sided, one-way description of relationship.  When the phrase is used by the one speaking it, that one is never the one “with” the benefits. Rather they are the one “receiving” the benefits, right? It’s definitely one of “what I can take from the relationship” not “what am I contributing to the relationship”.

It’s not a very positive message, in my opinion, but it got me thinking.  What does that phrase sound like, what does it look like, from the third-person point of view?  Is there any difference if it is used to describe a person without the self-centeredness undertone?  What if we insert a comma in just the right spot? “Friends, with benefits.”  Looking at it in that light, the tone and meaning changes dramatically from selfishness to one of recovery, redemption and grace.  It turns into an apt description of those progressing toward wholeness in life.

The Wedding

I attended a wedding not too long ago. Two friends I’ve known for several years. Two friends I’ve been privileged to get to know on a deeper level. Two friends I met in recovery.  They met in recovery, fell in love in recovery and are building a life together … based on the principles of recovery.Wedding 1

Years ago, that kind of life would have been unfathomable. Years ago, addiction  tore, tattered, bruised and shattered their lives like it did mine.  It was unrecognizable from the whole life they experience today. Today, although it sometimes seems drab, mundane and unexciting, the possibilities are limitless in their new, redeemed lives.  Marriage, new careers, family, travel, adventures, friendships and hope are all blessings for them.

The Job

In recovery, especially in early recovery, we’re fortunate to be employed and employable.  Lord knows we weren’t the most trustworthy or reliable people when addiction ravaged our lives.  Because we weren’t dependable we were unable to hold down a job which led to feelings of worthlessness and despair. That, in turn, caused us to dive deeper into our addiction in order to numb those feelings.

Courtesy of flazingo.com

I ran into a young adult in town a while back.  She used to work at a local eatery but I hadn’t seen her there in a while.  I came to find out that she has a new job.  It’s a better job.  The job carries more responsibility.  She smiled as she told me she now works in a bank.  While she was describing her new job she was visibly animated and excited about the direction in which her life was heading.  I could see the positive effects on her self-confidence and self-image.  The blessings of improved self-worth was a catalyst to her further growth and she could sense it.

The Love

I was at a meeting recently.  A friend was celebrating 20 years in recovery and the room was filled with well-wishers and loved ones.  One of the speakers that evening related a recent incident that occurred in a market parking lot.  Someone called out his name and when he turned he saw someone he used with in the past.  She was drawn, disheveled and desperate as she begged for money.  It served as a reminder of where we were in our addiction – slaves – and that we have an obligation to help the still sick and suffering. How grateful we must be that we are free souls in recovery, one day at a time.

We don’t ever have to be suffering in addiction again.  We are people in recovery who get another chance to live again.  We don’t get a pass on the trials in life just because we are in recovery.  We just learn how to get through those tough times.  We are blessed to experience everything life has to offer – the good and the challenging.

Courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

Courtesy of Quinn Dombrowski

The celebrant’s family were at the meeting too.  Mom had the opportunity to say a few words.  The gist of what she said was: lots of mistakes were made along the way but we’re in a better place now; just know that you are loved, then and now.  I could feel my own Mom speaking those same words to me that night, at that moment.

“I love you Philip.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

Hugs and kisses across eternity.

Friends with benefits? No.

Friends with blessings.  I like that much better.

Knock, Knock

It’s Sunday evening. I am at the local supermarket doing the family grocery shopping. I push my cart up and down the aisles, skillfully negotiating the journey with the one wheel that pulls to the left and the other that just spins and doesn’t do anything. I’ve gotten almost everything on my list (plus a few impulse items) – all but the frozen veggies and the dairy items.

As I slowly approach the frozen food aisle I hear the voice of a little toddler. “Knock, knock.” Pause. “Knock, knock.” I see several adults wheel their carts out of the aisle toward the checkout. No one seems to be “biting” on the “knock, knock” joke.

As I turn the corner into the aisle, my hunch was confirmed. There in the child seat of cart with her hooded coat on was a beautiful little girl. She couldn’t have been more than two years old. Her dad was rummaging through the freezer, gathering up his frozen veggies.

As I approach she sees me. I smile at her. “Knock, knock.” she says.

“Who’s there?” I reply.

She is a little shocked. She was not expecting the interaction as no one else had paid her any attention. She paused for a second … deep in thought. Dad turned and looked, waiting expectantly for her response. Then she threw her hands in the air as if she were going to shout “Surprise!”. Laughing

“It’s me!” she exclaimed.

Dad just beamed, smiled and began to laugh. He couldn’t contain himself.

“Oh, isn’t that just wonderful!” I said to her with a big smile. “I’m so glad it’s you!”

Dad and I shared a smile, a nod and a silent acknowledgement of how precious this miracle moment was. Then he continues down the aisle.

“Bye” she says.

“Bye bye.”

Contagion of Hatred and the Risk of Love

No amount of laws can change a hardness of heart. No law can overcome the abyss created by hate, a hate that threatens our humanity, our existence. No amount of hand-wringing or committees or speeches can bring forth what is truly needed to bring about a fundamental and lasting change of how we treat others. No law, except one – “Love others.”  The only thing that will stem the tide of hatred towards others is changing how we see others – not as different or enemies but as the same as us.  That change in perspective comes from love.20643335423_8d8419abfd_z

But that requires us as members of the human family to go far beyond our comfortable borders.  We think “if we just bar the doors, shutter the windows and stuff cotton in our ears we can keep the wolves outside while we remain safe inside.”  We delude ourselves into thinking either the crisis doesn’t really exist or worse – that someone else will handle this mess.  “A boat is safe in the harbor but that is not the purpose of a boat.” – Paolo Coelho.  There is no one else!! The crisis is here, now, and it is not going away unless we each do our part in some small way.

21203320479_88c451465c_mAs a Christian I am called to be like Christ, a follower of Christ.  His early command was simple – “Follow Me.”  But what does that mean? Here’s what I feel it means for me.  It doesn’t mean to just walk behind Him, to be shielded by Him (although there are times when I need that shield).  “Follow Me” was a calling to live like Him, do like Him and love like Him.  It was a simple instruction on a way of life.  Do as I do … this is how to live a whole, healthy, connected life with God and each other.  Love God, love others … without exception!

Aahh, if only it were that simple, right? Loving others is easy if the “other” thinks like me, looks like me and believes like me.  It gets real up here when I am confronted with “others” who are different from me.  That asks us to take risks, to live on the fringes not because it is comfortable but because that is where the need is.  That’s where the hurt is. That’s where the war is. That’s where the sickness is. That’s where the fear and desperation are. That is where our neighbor is.

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Is it easy? Hell no, it is not easy but nothing worthwhile is ever easy.  “But I am only a small, insignificant force.  What can I possibly accomplish?”  I used to believe that rubbish, too.  I used to think the problems of the world were too big for one person to tackle and perhaps they are – for one person. However, when I try to make a difference I notice that there are lots of other “insignificant forces” doing the same thing and together a new world can be forged.  I just have to look back on history to see a long, long line of “heroes” – both ordinary and extraordinary – who refused to remain silent, refused to shutter their eyes, ears and hearts, refused to allow evil to go unchallenged.  Go ahead, think back yourself and you’ll see them too.20953116739_335c5fd0c8_z

Perhaps if we can manage to remember that we are all made in the image of God, we can remember those tragedies are happening not in some distant land. Those horrors are not happening to some faceless, nameless stranger.  The brutality and tears and desperation are those of our neighbors, our family, our friends … and it’s happening right here in our neighborhood.  Perhaps then we’d be a little less fearful and more courageous in righting wrongs. Perhaps then we’d pause before committing acts of violence against others in our homes, in our schools, at our jobs. Perhaps we’ll pause and see them as our brother, our sister, our pets and perhaps we’ll think twice.

Maybe what really scares us more than the differences is facing the possibility that we don’t really “believe” what we say we believe.  Because now we have to apply those beliefs (political, religious, spiritual and otherwise) not in the comfort of our hymns on a Sunday morning, bathed in stain-glass colored light; not in the comfort of the insulated halls of justice or government.  Rather, those beliefs get tested by fire in the trenches, in the back alleys with the addict, in the refugee camps, in the homeless shelters, in the Ebola wards, in the orphanages.  “Follow Me.”3039401455_92581783fb_z

If we don’t, we’ll have to face the uncomfortable, ugly truth – maybe we don’t believe the Gospel! Yikes!! We modify it to fit our comfort zones. “Jesus didn’t really mean for me comfort the dying in the hospital. He didn’t mean for me to open my home to refugees.  He really didn’t mean I had to feed the hungry at a soup kitchen.”  Really, He did.

35 You shall be richly rewarded, for when I was hungry, you fed Me. And when I was thirsty, you gave Me something to drink. I was alone as a stranger, and you welcomed Me into your homes and into your lives. 36 I was naked, and you gave Me clothes to wear; I was sick, and you tended to My needs; I was in prison, and you comforted Me. – Matthew 25:35-36

The only way to combat the plague of hate and darkness of soul is through the light of love, without exception.  Will you do your part to chase the darkness? Will you help make this world a little nicer, a little kinder? There is no such thing as a small act of kindness, a small demonstration of love for even one small match will chase out the darkness.

The Big “C”

There aren’t many words or events in your life that can cause you to stop dead in your tracks, cause you to stop breathing for a second or make your heart stop beating: getting that phone call that “there’s been an accident” or that a loved one has passed on and sitting across from a doctor and being told you have cancer.  Everything just seems to freeze – your breath, your heart, time, the world’s rotation_MG_6751. You question yourself. “Did I hear him right?” “She must be mistaken.” “I must have misheard him.”

When you finally catch up with the spinning earth, you hear the ticking of the clock on the wall again and your breathing begins anew, you hear yourself asking “Excuse me? Can you repeat that?” You heard the doctor correctly the first time.  You look over at your spouse and she’s reeling from the news also.  You kind of go numb. Life becomes surreal.

You automatically go to your default setting: cancer = surgery; cancer = radiation; cancer = hospital stays; cancer = losing your hair; cancer = debilitating cures; cancer = death.  You race through your memory and start to recall all of those friends, family members, loved ones and acquaintances who’ve had cancer.  You make a mental tally of those who have succumbed to the disease and those who have beaten it … at least for now.

Everyone has had to deal with this monster, either directly or indirectly.  We all know a family member (wife, husband, child, parent, brother or sister) who’s had it, know a friend who’s had it, know a co-worker who’s had it or know someone who knows someone who’s had it.  It shatters lives. It disrupts plans and dreams. It tests your strength and your faith.

Grandma during better days

Grandma during better days

So, what exactly is this “cancer” thing that reeks such havoc on our lives?  I’ve done some research and here’s what I’ve learned.  According to the National Cancer Institute, cancer is defined as cells that divide without stopping and spread to surrounding tissue.  Kind of already knew that.  While all cells in our body divide, cancer cells are different.  Cancer cells are able to ignore the body’s signals to stop growing or are able to ignore signals to shut themselves down and die when those cells are no longer needed by the body. That’s something I didn’t know. In simple terms, they can behave like teens who ignore their parents or act like the unwanted relatives who refuse to go home after the holiday visit.

Don’t misinterpret my “light-hearted” approach to the technical details of cancer.  This is serious stuff; very serious.  According to the American Cancer Society (“ACS”), it is estimated that over 1,600,000 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2015 and almost 600,000 deaths are estimated from cancer in 2015.  They estimate that over 40,000 women will die of breast cancer and more than 27,000 men will die from prostate cancer in 2015. Lung cancer and colon cancer will claim the lives of an estimated 158,000 and 52,000 men and women, respectively.  All in all, the statistics show that 43% of men will develop some form of cancer during their lifetime and 23% will die from it; for women the figures are 38% and 19%, respectively.13992185687_84109c2c67_z

And this thing is an equal opportunity killer.  It brings all to their knees regardless of socio-economic status, education, gender, religion and creed.  All the money in the world cannot buy you another day.  Just ask Steve Jobs.

And what about the economic impact of cancer? Well, it’s staggering.  In 2011, the ACS estimates that the direct medical costs associated with cancer was over $89 billion in the US alone.  This doesn’t even touch on the indirect costs of lost productivity, added stress, missed work days, etc.  Of course, you can’t put a dollar figure on the loss of loved ones and friends. Those lives are priceless.

Grandma B a few months before she passed

Grandma, a few months before she passed

The personal costs from the wreckage of cancer is indescribable.  I know from which I speak.  While I have been fortunate in not receiving a diagnosis myself, cancer has touched my life through the ones I love.  Two wives were diagnosed with cancer,  my maternal grandmother died of stomach cancer, two aunts died from cancer, an uncle passed from cancer, a co-worker had cancer, a co-worker died from liver cancer, a friend has leukemia and the list goes on and on.

The battle is waged against cancer on many fronts – doctors, care givers, researchers and ordinary people who support the patients and their families.  Progress has been made.  Only 40 years ago, 50% of the patients diagnosed with cancer survived at least 5 years.  As of 2014, that number jumped to 67%.  More remains to be done and if you feel led to find out how you can help please visit the ACS at American Cancer Society to learn more.

How does this make me feel? Frankly, what I feel pales in comparison to what those with the diagnosis feel.  What I can attest to is how powerless it all makes me feel.  It really is a lesson to realize that there are limits on what I can offer and that I must rely on God to carry us through this crisis.  I can use the tools I’ve learned in recovery to weather this storm – this is beyond my depth, God is bigger than this and I have to allow Him the room to work his “magic” and do what I am capable of doing.

So what can I do? I can continue to love my wife. I can pick up the weight of the daily routines that she might find difficult. I can continue to encourage her through the treatment.  I can continue to be there for her.

Dont seize your opportunity…

A good example of missing opportunities by the limits we place on ourselves. These limits thwart the higher plan.

SUCCESS INSPIRERS' WORLD

Opportunities are everywhere. Did you now that? They are everywhere for grabs by those who are smart. If you don’t seize yours, someone else will.

Once, I missed a very little opportunity, but it left a lasting impression on me. I got to Church when the Church was full. All the seats had been taken except for one which I spotted but concluded that it certainly had been reserved for an important personality. My mind went to the Hon. Speaker of the House who usually came to our Church.

This seat remained empty while many people were standing and none took it. The others must have thought like me that it had been reserved.

After about twenty minutes, a lady alighted from her car, dashed into church, looked round and seeing the empty seat, went straight and occupied it. Nobody stopped her. She sat comfortably throughout the celebration. It turned…

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Ocean Spray

Labor Day 2015 was a short little holiday that was sorely needed by yours truly.  The pace of summer was frenetic (and I’m being overly conservative with that term).  While the thought of traveling 200+ miles with three dogs, four people, a kayak and its accompanying accouterments plus luggage all crammed into a Subaru Forester was not the ideal way to begin the holiday, I managed to get some light snoozing on the way down; no doubt, sheer exhaustion played a major role in that.

So we spent a large part of the holiday on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.  Kris enjoyed kayaking through the marshes and the channel between Chincoteague and Assateague Islands.  It appears that crabbing is his new hobby as he spent hours and hours perfecting his crab-pot placement and experimenting with different types of bait.  For the record, using chicken necks was not nearly as successful as using bunker.  I joined him for most of his adventures in crabbing.  It was quite enjoyable chatting with him about life, school, girls and soccer.  The result of the three days of crabbing was a sloppy, messy feast of crab! Quite delicious!

IMG_20150907_091434267The trip would not be complete without the requisite visit to the beach on Assateague Island.  On Saturday the surf was extremely rough so we did not spend much time that day but we paid a visit on Monday before we left for home.  The sun, the surf and the sand were all perfectly balanced.  So much so that Peter, who never ventures into the water, surprised us all.  When he trusted us and the ocean waves enough he was literally frolicking in the waves! He was jumping up and down, thrashing his arms around in the water and meeting each crashing wave with a smile and a puffed-out, he-man chest.  Even when he was knocked down he got right back up, coughed a bit of sea water from his lungs, pounded his chest and shrieked with joy.

Seeing Peter, who is special needs, conquer his fear and enjoy himself in the ocean was the highlight of the trip.  Not even the “he’s touching me … he’s breathing on me … he’s on my side of the back seat” nonsense on the ride home could take that away.

Love Transforms – The Neverending Story

“Čau. es saņēmu tavu vēstuli un izlasīju viņu. es ceru ka man noderēs tavi vārdi un tavi padomi kurus tu man biji devis. Es esmu ļoti pateicīga tev un Eileen par to ka jūs rūpējaties par mani un hariju ka atbalstat mūs un palīdzat kā vien spējat. Jūs priekš manis izdarījāt daudz ko labu un par to es jums esmu pateicīga. Jūs kļuvāt priekš manis ļoti svarīgi cilvēki manā dzīvē. Es ļoti ilgojos pēc jums un jūsu uzmanības. Mēs jūs mīlam un skūpstam.” – April 29, 2015

The above message, one of over 600 messages received via social media, was received by me in response to a letter I sent to her ( see Letter to My Daughters).  If you’ve been following along with this saga of love conquering fear you’ve been able to be a part of the journey of hosting Daniela.  You’ve been a silent witness to her very high walls and displays of fear and confusion at the beginning of this process, this metamorphosis (“I don’t understand. They say they love me but they don’t even know me. My own family does not love me.”). You’ve felt our own confusion, questioning and struggles with loving unconditionally.  You’ve also been there when the walls came down, when she allowed herself to be herself.  You’ve been there for the laughter and the tears.  So what’s the point of the story?

IMG_0912The point is in the title.  Throughout this relationship, she’s changed and so have we.  We continue to grow closer as a family, even two years after the hosting experiment ended! Looking back, “hosting” may be the technical name for what we experienced but it turns out it’s closer to finding a long lost family member and smothering them with hugs and kisses.  It’s never, ever doubting that persistent and consistent love will beat back fear every time.  It’s knowing that the tiniest light from a match chases out the darkness and that darkness can never overcome the light.

What’s more is that the impact of love drills down deep into the hurt and the fear and expands to crack the soul’s foundation of darkness and hardness.  In a few short weeks she found lightness and faith and hope and family; we found faith, love, hope and a daughter.  We never imagined at the start of this process that love could have such a dramatic impact on one life; after all, what could we accomplish in such a short period of time? Our expectations were low because, I suspect, we questioned whether love really could conquer all.  The fact is that we, as mere humans acting alone, could not breach those hardened walls … only with God’s help in doing His business could we do this  God shattered that glass ceiling and the love we share with her has now expanded to the next generation – Harry.

If you’re thinking of hosting an orphan, jump in with both feet.  If you’re thinking of coaching little league, do it.  If you’re on the fence about scouting, get involved.  If you’re doubting the impact you can have, show up and leave the impact to Him. The experiences will forever change you and them; love will leave an indelible tattoo on the soul.  Acting in love has a greater impact than just words. 1 John 3:18. Is it scary? You betcha but the rewards are beyond description!!

This is not the end of the story.  The ripples from those five weeks continue to reach distant shores and distant lives.  More will be revealed.  Keep in touch.IMG_0921

By the way, the loose translation for Daniela’s message is this:

Hi. I received your letter and read it. I hope that it will come in handy with your statement and your tips to me that you gave. I am very grateful to you and Eileen that you are caring for me and Harry for supporting us and helping us as long as you are able. You did for me much good and for that I am grateful to you. You became for me very important people in my life. I longed after you and your attention. We love you and kisses.”

I still get choked up over all of this. It truly is a miracle. How can it be that out of all that brokenness – hers and ours – that oneness and wholeness, a family could take shape?

Love Transforms Part 6 – The Heartbreak

This is the final installment of our recap of our adventures with Daniela.  There will be one additional post that follows that will bring this story of 2013 into the present day.

Today I started to feel the end approaching.  I was sitting in my office with my eyes closed praying silently.  I was praying that god would help me to be his hand and feet.  I was praying that God would help me to be aware of the opportunities to be of service.  I was praying for all those families whose hearts were breaking because they had to let go of a “stranger” and trust BIG TIME that God really knows what He is doing – knows way better than we can know what the future holds for these families and these kids.

As I was sitting there reading these posts of my friends – my brothers and sisters – strangers to me a mere two months ago, I started to get choked up.  These kids had such a dramatic impact on the lives of all whom they had touched.  They profoundly changed all those moms, dads, brother, sisters, friends, grandparents, aunts and uncles of all those families all across this country.  They created this gigantic hemispheric tidal wave of love, caring and hope that united a Hodge-podge group of people that had only one thing in common at the outset of this journey – we were all hosting an orphan through New Horizons For Children.  We didn’t know anything about each other. We were scattered from New England to the Great Lakes to the Northwest and California to the Midwest and the South – from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico.  We came from all walks of life and with all sorts of talents and abilities to become one – One Family. One Big, Beautiful, Loving Family.  We are strangers no more.  We are forever linked and forever in each others hearts and prayers.  All this due to these rag-tag bunch of kids in lime-green neon t-shirts.

So as all of this starting washing over me today I became overwhelmed by this miracle – this tidal wave of love that washed on our shores at the end of June, 2013.  These little souls came here to spend time with us “crazy” Americans and hoped to experience something really amazing this summer – and they did.  But perhaps unbeknownst to them they have indelibly written on each of our hearts.  I know that the thread of Daniela’s story, the thread of God’s story for Daniela, is now interwoven in the fabric of our lives, our story.  Her presence here has marked each us and nothing will ever erase that – not time, not distance, not events.

This journey was not a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination. At times it felt like a walk through Jurassic Park but we kept walking.  We slogged through the muck and the darkness and made it through to the sunshine and the smiles.  It took a lot of work to trust God and to keep the faith that there was something worthwhile on the other side if we would just have the faith of a mustard seed.  We did and it was worth all the struggle.  Love won out and fear and pain was vanquished.  How do I know?  Here’s a small indication: at the early stages D wanted to return to Latvia “right now” and tonight her mood is somber at the thought that this phase of her adventure is drawing to a close.  Her bag is packed but she does not want to weigh it.  She wants to prolong this miracle for as long as possible.  She wants to enjoy this for a few days more.

Today although it felt like my heart was about to break from the strain I was able to reflect for a moment and realize that my net was not breaking.  In fact, my net was overflowing with blessings and grace.  Overflowing with blessings carried by an unsuspecting young woman from Latvia.- July 30, 2013

She is torn.  She has been alternating between alone time in her room to laughing and joking around with us in the living room.  She is torn.  She does not want to make the long trip back to Latvia but she also wants to be among her familiar surroundings and her mother tongue.  She is torn.  She does not want to enter the room where our church lifegroup is meeting to pray so the group came to her and she smiles, basks in the limelight and laughs as each member of the group reads aloud the final affirmations (in Latvian) from her paper chain.

Her bag is packed. She laughs as I try to lift her bag and bring it downstairs. Feels like it has rocks in it but it is 4.5 pounds under the limit. She has packed away all the clothes we purchased.  Candy and snacks, too.  Memories are stored away in there as well.  There and in her heart.  She is ready to go but she isn’t.

She asks to download some music from the internet and we happily agree.  She shows me some pictures from her phone.  Pictures of some friends, of her, of her boyfriend, Kenny.  She does not show them to Eileen … only to me. Hmmm.

We exchange gifts.  She brought a beautiful hand-painted scarf from Latvia.  It is exquisite, lovely and delicate.  She receives an mp3 player, make-up, ear buds, a necklace and a hand-crotcheted sock monkey winter hat. More than that was the whole exchange process itself.  It was almost surreal yet the love around that kitchen table was very tangible.  We gave her a key to our front door.  We explained that we are one family, Viena Ģimene, and when she comes back she is welcome with open arms and open hearts any time.

The final hours slowly ticked away while we were at church lifegroup.  At the end of lifegroup all the loving members of our group – the same members who threw her a surprise birthday party, let her swim in their pool, gave her lovely free clothing – gathered around her in the living room and poured out their love and God’s love.  They drenched her in it.  They read some affirmations to her in her native tongue and we all butchered her language.  She didn’t care.  Once again the love that was surrounding Daniela was palpable, present and perfect.

God was in Bangor, PA of all places!   Of course He was.  He was also present when the pillow fight closed out the festivities.  He was present when Daniela surprised me by throwing a few pillows at me while I was taking pictures.  (The girl has a heck of an arm!)  He’ll be present with us as we take her to the airport tomorrow.  He’ll be present on that plane with Daniela and He’ll be present with us as we sob and grieve our girl going home.  God will be right there with Daniela every second of her life, every step of the way, in every moment of joy, in every moment of sorrow.  Just like He will be for us.

We are ever grateful for Daniela being a member of our family!  Tomorrow will not be an easy day but we are nevertheless a family and will send of our Daniela with all the love and blessings we have.  We will see her again someday. – August 1, 2013

Phil:

As I sit here staring at the screen I realize that it is very hard to put this last post together. I don’t know where to begin. So much has happened during this long, strange, glorious, frustrating, miraculous trip.  It has been five months since we first started looking at the photos and short descriptions of the kids.  Yet, when I look back on all of this it has been much longer than five months.  My whole life has been a dress rehearsal for these few short weeks and what will happen as a result of this journey.

As far as the last day goes it went much better than expected.  We had secretly stashed a card with a letter to our Daniela in her duffle bag.  That was no small feat as she had packed away EVERYTHING we had given her (including a few empty candy wrappers).  She had transferred all her music to her mp3 player and was listening to that on the ride to the airport.  Upon arrival we met up with the other Latvian cherubs and their chaperones.  Daniela immediately hooked up with her friends Kristine and Zhenya and started sharing stories, snacks and looking through photo albums.  Kristine and Zhenya are two marvelous young ladies and we were blessed to make their acquaintance during this visit.
The biggest surprise of the day came from the most unsuspecting source … the little kids.  Honestly, if it hadn’t been for their joy, laughter, curiosity and boldness I doubt I would have been able to hold it together.  In the last post I shared about the palpable presence of God during our last night with Daniela.  Well, that real presence of love was also at JFK.  It was a privilege to be a witness to these precious last hours for all of these kids before they headed for home.

Love seemed to pour out of their very pores.  For anyone who was paying attention, these kids were changed as a result of their experiences.  They are aching for someone to accept them, love them, hug them, guide them and inspire them.  They are the forgotten ones, the unseen, the outsiders – tucked away out of sight by the world.  But not by us and not on this visit!!!!

For the past five weeks they were kings and queens.  On this visit they were given hugs.  During their time with us they were guided, inspired and loved for who they are – not outcasts, not throw-aways, not less-thans – our sons and daughters.  They were shown unconditional love and acceptance perhaps for the first time in their lives.  The results were astounding and real and tangible.  The love of God was shown to these sons and daughters.  I’m not talking about some esoteric, ethereal love; I’m talking about hugging them at night love, going swimming with them love, sitting around a campfire love, laughing with them love, crying with them love, holding them accountable love, being a parent love, welcoming them into our hearts and homes love.

It was by no means all lovey-dovey.  There were plenty of gut-wrenching episodes, struggles with homesickness, behaviors problems and withdrawal from interaction.  Many of our sons and daughters were paralyzed with fear and had built up very high walls for protection.  But we parents would not give up on them.  We kept at it and held firmly to the belief that love does conquer all, that consistent love will wear down those walls of fear, that God will get into those dark places and shine His light.

I think that of all the things I will take away from this grand experience the biggest one is this: the power of unconditional love can change the world.  I have never really seen that in action until this summer.  These kids taught me that when I have faith, when I trust that what I am doing is God’s work, when I am fearless in applying God’s love even in the darkest of places, when I am resolute in my commitment to God and these kids even when it would be much easier to quit, when I love God, love people and serve the world I will be rewarded ten thousand fold.

My reward came in a little package of a curious, bold, blond-haired kid named Sasha.  He was fearless .  He came right up to me as I was sitting down and plopped himself in my lap.  He shared his gum with me and with Peter.  He shared his granola bars with Peter.  He reached up and gave me a kiss on the cheek and called me “Papa”.  He told me he wanted to take pictures with my camera and I let him (he took some great pictures).  He said, “Sasha likes french fries.”  He played peek-a-boo with me.  He had me from the first smile!!!  For a few hours we bonded with Sasha and his friends, Artjoms and his friends, Daniela and her friends, Inga, Dace and Laima and the list goes on.  One big happy family.

In the end that’s what we are …. one big happy family.

In closing, I do not know where this journey will take us but we know that this is not the end of our ministry for orphans.  Thank you to all our friends and family who prayed for us and helped us emotionally, physically and spiritually.  We could not have done this without you.

 Eileen:

Orphan hosting is not for sissies.
I have run a marathon. I have completed 2 triathlons. I have a special needs guy and work with challenging behaviors. I am not afraid of much.
Except maybe this: A teenager….a girl….5 weeks…no English…16
My husband and I jumped into the deep end of the pool….. and came up forever changed.
We prayed that we might be the hands and feet of Jesus. Never really thinking of the path those particular feet walked. We learned what unconditional love can do for a broken and unwanted child. We saw a fatherless girl learn to trust an adult man. We learned to be patient and wait. We learned to be gentle with ourselves and give her the time and space to find her way into our family.  We learned that our God loves us in a way so disproportionate to what we deserve and how can we even begin to show this love to a child?
This is not all hallelujahs and halos. This is the nitty- gritty of God’s tangible love for a child. It meant that I could not be offended at being called disgusting Americans. I needed to see God’s child thrashing out in anger and hurt.  I believe that when my heart breaks for what breaks God’s, that crack makes room for more love.
It’s hard and heartbreaking. It’s beautiful and breathtaking. You will never be the same… jump in, the waters great!
These were some thoughts I wrote to the me before hosting from the me after hosting. I am not sure what comes next. It has been two days since we took D to JFK for her flight home to Latvia. She was very ready to go and yet I could tell that something had shifted for her as well.
We got a chance to talk with and hang out for a few hours with some of the other kiddos waiting for the flight. Many had connected from other airports so didn’t have the host families there. One boy plopped himself in Phil’s lap and looked up and said “Papa”! These little souls want families to love them.
Another girl, friends with D, couldn’t wait to see her photo album but D was reluctant to look excited around us … soon after we saw them snuggled up in a corner pouring over the pics.
The house feels different. Some of the things around me seem so insignificant compared to what these kids face. I know God has changed my heart for orphans. It is very hard to be comfortable when I think about the future for these kiddos. I know that we are called to continue to serve them I just don’t know exactly what that will look like. But we will blog about it! It has been an honor to share our journey with our friends and families and some friends we haven’t met yet.
This would not have been possible without the many, many prayers and thoughts and blessings that rained down on our family. And for those who ask would we do it again the answer is absolutely! – August 3, 2013

Busy Signals

I haven’t posted anything in a while. Stating the obvious, I know, so I thought I would write about being busy.

Do you remember when you were a kid? Do you remember the exhilaration and joy when school let out for the summer? Summer seemed to go on and on. A seemingly endless series of warm summer days filled with swimming, arts and crafts, bike riding, exploring and just plain hanging out with your friends.

Fast forward to adulthood. Set the scene: George Jetson is out walking Astro on the treadmill sidewalk. Astro sees the cat and jumps off the treadmill. Poor George is left scrambling as he gets whipped around and around screaming “Jane! Stop this crazy thing!” That is how fast my life seems to be moving as an adult. Hurtling along at breakneck speed until one week runs into the next and before you know it another year has vanished.

2288775081_e835759c7e_zIt seems that my life is filled with the busy-ness of “noise” – appointments, work, school activities, yada yada. Before I know it, it is Sunday evening and another week begins. I’ve tried to slow things down without much success. Kind of like that scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom – they are hurtling along in that little mine car, going faster and faster, and the brakes are useless. The frenetic pace was taking its toll on my well-being, physically and spiritually. I felt like I was so distracted by the “terrain” of life that I got bogged down in the swamp, way off course. Was my life nothing more than a collection of To-Do lists? 10519508175_f3ced9dfc2_m

How do I get back on track with fulfilling my purpose? How do I break out of this briarpatch, this sticker bush?

Not too long ago I went to a meeting and heard this guy I know talking about some stuff going on in his life. He turns and looks at me at one point and starts talking about how he doesn’t want to “lose himself”. Hmmmm.

Shortly thereafter I was having a conversation with Dad. We were talking about how I was coming along with my continuing legal education requirements (I need to earn some credits before I can apply to reactivate my law license). I explained that life was really hectic now. “You have to make the time. Make it a priority.” Words of wisdom from Dad.

Finally, the other day I opened a daily devotional book that I had not read for some time. When I opened it to the day of August 10 the topic was the necessity for regular prayer and meditation as part of my new way of life in recovery. BLAM!!!

So I have been doing my best to set firm boundaries for my time and attention. I am making a better effort at carving out quiet time for my spirit and working on my connection with God. The past few days I’ve noticed a softening of the edges of my spirit. My life is better balanced and it is sorely needed!