Jesus Didn’t Have Teenagers

It is just before 5:00 on a Thursday morning. It is raining and rather cool for late September.  I have gotten about 4 hours of sleep, if you can call tossing, turning, can’t-turn-off-the-thoughts, twisting around, it’s 5 AM might as well get up – sleep.

The past 24 hours have been something, I can tell you. I work as a counselor assistant at an inpatient drug and alcohol facility. I deal with a lot of people with serious issues and lots of serious consequences. I like my job. I really do. Not all of my clients “get it” – the recovery thing, but some of them do. Those that”get it” make it all worthwhile – all the frustration, all the countless hours, all the emotionally exhausting work that goes into leading addicts and alcoholics from the brink to a better, more whole life.

Yesterday was an exceptionally long day – 11 hours. Monday and Tuesday were long days also. So coming home last night was supposed to be a welcome respite from the frenetic atmosphere of treatment. It certainly started out that way but quickly devolved into chaos and drama.

Did I mention that I have a teenager?

My son has issues, issues that I don’t feel is appropriate to discuss in such a public forum as this. I will say that he has been diagnosed with PTSD and is supposed to take some medicine to help him regulate himself. He is not consistent with doing that simple task and the evidence of what happens is clear. The result … a crazed, manic, obsessive desire to upend the downstairs because he wants to clean. Threatening to throw out other people’s stuff, rearranging things because that is where he thinks it should be placed and generally causing havoc and mayhem in the household (all at 9:00 at night). I suspect, as the decibel level in the house is ever-rising and the cursing would make a longshoreman wince, that he has not been taking his meds and that suspicion was confirmed. As anyone who has dealt with someone with PTSD, when the manic state begins it is very difficult to de-escalate the situation until the stage of exhaustion is reached. After an hour or so of arguing, threats, me walking out to cool off, trying to disengage from the circus unfolding in my living room, we finally reach the stage when the balloon pops and things begin to settle down.

Honestly, I really struggle with dealing with this. It is exhausting. We’ve been dealing with episodic displays like this – and worse – for the past two years. There are times when I just want to give up. There are times when I just want to walk away.

There. I said it. Sometimes I question my sanity and my decision-making process. I question my ability to stay the course. Yes, I know. As a Christian I’m supposed to ask “What would Jesus Do?” in situations like this. I’m sure that Jesus would continue to love and turn the other cheek and stuff.  Spoiler alert: I’m not Jesus. I’m a guy that yells, curses and loses his temper … a lot!  My patience is not inexhaustible.

It’s dawned on me recently that we don’t know what Jesus was like as a teenager. The gospels go from Him being 12 or so to Him being 30. Nary a syllable about his teen years or His life as a carpenter working with his father. Did Jesus give Mary and Joseph a hard time? Did He carry around tons of attitude when His hormones kicked in? Was He a know-it-all? Did He have an entitlement mentality? Did He lord his status over others saying, “Don’t you know who I am?”  Did Mary and Joseph throw up their hands in desperation, yelling at the heavens in frustration?  Did Mary ever question saying “yes” to that angel all those years ago?

One thing we’re told about Jesus is that He could understand what it was like to be us, humans. He experienced the same things we do, He struggled with the same things we do, He felt the same emotions we do. I mean, that’s one of the greatest aspects of the Christian faith, isn’t it? God wasn’t just sitting on some lofty plane without any understanding of the plight of humanity; no, He became one of us and could empathize with our struggles.

So, if that’s true maybe Jesus was a pain the ass to Mary and Joseph during his teen years. Maybe He flouted their authority and sassed them and felt entitled. I don’t know for sure. The record is silent on that matter.

One thing I do know is this: the gospels are silent on Jesus having a family of his own. There is no mention of Him having to deal with a surly, snarky teen. There is no discussion about how He responded to a teenager who had attitude as big as the day is long.

Perhaps there’s a reason for that. Perhaps not even Jesus could keep his cool in dealing with a teenager. Perhaps He would have reached a breaking point with His patience and cast the teen into the sea like he did with the herd of swine. That certainly wouldn’t have been “on message”.

Imagine, an entire faith never takes wing on account of a surly teenager who tries the patience of God.

Jesus never had a teenager to deal with. Just saying.

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Love Transforms (Pt. 5) – And The Dam Finally Breaks

This is Part 5 of our story with Daniela.  We’ve taken snippets of our blog, www.servingdaniela.blogspot.com, and reposted them here.  If you want the full version fell free to read it at that website.

We wasted little time heading over to Assateague island and the beach.  The Island is a National Wildlife Refuge and is home to hundreds of wild horses – not to mention herons, bald eagles and other wildlife.  The beach had been decimated by Sandy last October but is in great shape now.  The water was “refreshing” and the surf was perfect for boogie-boarding!  Daniela was a little reluctant to go in at first but when she saw all of us – including Peter – having fun in the surf she eventually joined us.  Even Pete enjoyed the pounding surf.IMG_0377

Daniela is a girl who initially says “no” to new surroundings, new adventures, new foods and new challenges.  But once she warms up to the idea and tries it she is all in!  Same was true today about boogie-boarding.  The first time she went in the sea she didn’t touch the board.  Second time’s the charm though.  She and Eileen were rocking and rolling on those boogie boards!!!  She had a blast. — July 22, 2013

What I got was a different sort of relationship; one that is complicated – very complicated – coupled with moments of simplicity. Things have happened at their own pace and in their own seemingly bumpy, twisted direction – sometimes it has been a series of fits and starts. D and I have had a rollercoaster of a relationship since she arrived on the scene. Some days have been full of walls coming down followed swiftly by walls going back up. It can be an exasperating journey this hosting business. Whew! It can try your patience and make you talk to yourself and question your sanity and laugh out loud and smile a lot and feel a connection on some level – all in the same day. — July 24, 2013
I have learned so much about so many things during this process – faith, love, understanding (to name a few). I have seen a stranger touch a young man’s heart and a young man start to break down some walls she built for protection. I see two “parents” using unconditional love and understanding to meet a young woman’s painful issues. Some days are better than others but we make progress. It is an unconventional family in the making. It’s so complicated when human frailty and fears are involved and yet it is so simple – keep meeting those fears and fragility with love, wait for those magic moments with D and stay out of God’s way. — July 24, 2013
HPIM3937[D]espite the fact we didn’t “go” anywhere we really went somewhere deep today, very deep. Today Daniela seemed the most relaxed she has ever been since she arrived. She spent the day napping, listening to her music (even played it loud so we all could listen to it), playing with Peter and doing a whole lot of smiling.
Throughout the day she was playing little games with Peter. She fed him sunflower seeds and laughed when he ate them shell and all. She gave him fruit herbal tea bags and squealed when he would pop them in him mouth and chew on them and then spit them out like a big wad of chewing tobacco. She lined up bits of french fries on the table hoping that Peter would eat them one by one. Fat chance. Pete scooped them all up in one fell swoop and shoved them in his mouth faster than you could say “finger-lickin’ good”. She was in stitches!!
We decided to go out to eat tonight. Eileen overheard one of the servers speaking and noted that she sounded Russian. Sure enough, Natalia was indeed from Russia. Well, we introduced her to Daniela, she began talking to her in Russian and D had a smile as big as the day is long. She even tried some shrimp! When it came time for dessert we asked Natalia if they had any Russian Napoleon Tort. “No,” she said; we explained that D had made some for us and D was beaming as Natalia talked with her about that scrumptious dessert.
Back at the ranch D explains she will take a shower as she heads down the hallway. Good Lord, Eileen!! Is she humming? I believe she is! Wait, wait. I think she’s even singing!! WOW!! Not only is she singing, she is using the removable showerhead as a “microphone”, stretched it into the hallway so we could watch her and going Milli Vanilli on us! She was laughing and we were right there with her, laughing and applauding.
No photos were taken today. No videos were recorded. Yet today we will not forget. Today is the day Daniela and the rest of us took this relationship a little bit deeper than where it was. It’s not Mariana Trench deep but it doesn’t have to be. The fact is the family dynamic improved greatly today, proving yet again that time, being present in the moments and love will cut inroads through the jungle of fear and pain. — July 26, 2013
[S]he gestures our sign for a small store. Mmmmm. Off to a sweet little shop where my friend Connie works and has amazing fashion sense. Another success! She selects a white sweater that sort of is a cape and sweater in one…looks beautiful! A few more items, she is beaming with joy! Arrive home and she write me a note in English, from her Latvian/English dictionary. “I would like to try lobster or crab”…. I have no words. After much haranguing and rolling of eyes over my trying to translate the process of purchasing lobster, she cuts to the chase and chooses to have Phil and Peter go in search of said items.
Not only does she want us to go get the lobster but she seems to indicate that it should be us three that goes. At first, I didn’t really understand that she wanted to join Pete and I but she repeated the gesture that the three of us should go on the lobster quest. So, this is rather unusual that she requests to be with me but I jump up and head to the car. I dare not let this opportunity pass. Off we go to the seafood vendor and sure enough they have lobsters!! D and Pete wait in the car while I pick out the lobsters and grab some shrimp. I didn’t even make it into the car with the lobsters before D started shrieking and screaming. I took full advantage of this and took one of the lobsters out of the bag so she could get a good long look at it. Oh my God!!! Her screams almost shattered my eardrums. I had an ear-to-ear grin!
Back at the house she asks if the lobsters are alive. I nod but then point to the pot of hot water, pantomiming the lobsters going into the pot and then my best imitation of rigor mortis setting in – lobster style. When I put the lobsters on the counter she shrieked a bit more but curiosity overtook her fears. I showed her how to pick it up and reassured her that she was in no danger. Sure enough D picked it up, looked at it square in the eye and practically insisted we take pictures of her while she held the lobster. Not only that … Daniela grabbed the camera (a first since she’s been here) and started taking pictures too. What followed was a veritable frenzy of claw cracking, tail eating, butter dipping and shrimp peeling that would put Daryl Hannah ala “Splash” to shame.
I am trying not to spend any effort in figuring this out. Mostly because I know that it has nothing really to do with anything I have done. All we have done for Daniela is give her the room to breath, get acclimated, trust us, set firm boundaries and love her. Today she checked in with her chaperone. In the past there has been a serious or sullen tone in her voice when doing this. Not today; today there was an abundance of animated, joyous tones, twinkling eyes, smiles and many “labi” throughout the phone call (“labi” means “good” in Latvian). She is relaxed and enjoying herself. She has surrendered to being herself while in the midst of this crazy, unconventional family and in the process has become a part of this family … forever. — July 27, 2013
Today began in beautiful Chicoteague Island Va. We have been blessed to own a vintage 1961 Marlette trailer that sits back on a quiet lane. It’s really groovy and the same age as Phil and he is also very groovy! But the grooviest thing about it is that for the past week our little family has called this home. Snuggled in probably 500 square feet we had some awesome together time. We saw a beautiful side of Daniela that she had kept under wraps. We swam in the ocean, hung out and did nothing, laughed at lobsters and relaxed.
D had a habit of waking up Peter each day by singing “PEEETER YUM YUMS”, at the sound of which he would very groggily pop out of bed and stumble to the kitchen and await her next command. So we heard that a lot…PEEEETER YUM YUMS …. and she would sometimes trick him by giving him an empty raisin box.  He would give her a look and each time try not to fall for her shenanigans. He loves the game they play and so does she. She shares with him enough food for there to be a good chance of yummys so he plays the game even if it’s an empty box of raisins.
Dinner is served. Pasta with garlic and shrimp…and ketchup for the Latvian at the table…lots of it…coming out of the bottle are sounds to rival some serious intestinal issues. She pauses when the bottle makes the squirting sound, we all look around…PEEETER!!! She sings…As if he was responsible for the symphony. We laughed so hard I though Phil was going to need resuscitation. Beautiful the sounds of farts from the ketchup at the dinner table!
Phil heads out to pick up the last dog from the sitter. While he’s gone D starts calling PEEETER YUM YUM HOTDOGS….POPCORN…..SPRITE.. she’s laughing hysterically and I am in awe of hidden English words and Peter, well, face it, he is NOT falling for this. — July 28, 2013

Love Transforms – Rollercoasters and Surprise Parties (Pt. 3)

This is Part 3 of our condensed version of our adventures with Daniels during the Summer of 2013.  For the full story visit www.servingdaniela.blogspot.com.

I prayed a lot today. As frustrated as I was at not being able to spend time with her today I had to turn this one over the God. I cannot break through the walls this girl has erected over her 16 years; the walls that protect her from being hurt from rejection (especially rejection from older males – such as her father). So I prayed that God would somehow whisper to her heart that it is okay to let some light and love in; that she will not be hurt by me; that she can trust me. I think she kind of knows that already in her heart (where the love resides) but her mind (where the fear resides) has temporarily taken her heart hostage. – July 8, 2013

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Laima was gracious enough to spend the day with us and it was a tremendous help today. Little did we realize that God’s plan had us helping each other. Turns out she had a rough morning with her host family and needed to get out of the house. Meanwhile Daniela1006150_608255112539844_2027515651_n had someone to talk to and Laima coaxed her along throughout the day. Hmmm, imagine that!

Eileen hooked up with us at the end of the day at her mom’s house. My nieces Irina and Nadia and nephew Vitaly were also there. Laima showed Eileen how to make a traditional Latvian headdress out of daisies while Irina had the idea that I needed my toenails painted. I had nothing to lose by trying to get Daniela to smile … so it was on. By the end of the session my toenails were painted, I had a floral wreath in my hair and a bouquet in my hands. It worked.

What have we learned about this girl so far is this: she is smart and crafty; she can be moody; she is constantly TESTING, TESTING, TESTING to see if we really mean it when we tell her that we love her. It’s like she’s saying, “You say you love me. Let’s see if you still love me if I am rude to you and to your friends and family. Let’s see if you still love me when I shut you out completely. Let’s see if you still love me when I am acting like an emotional lunatic” – July 9, 2013977384_486911604725210_2115226007_o

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After a series of translation and language issues I determined that “regular sausage” is not sausage at all but rather bologna and “regular bread” is white bread. We picked up some peaches and apples too. She seemed to like those. Then she smiled when we came to the bakery section and pointed at the doughnut case. One doughnut and one blueberry danish later she was a happy camper.

After we got Laima we headed back home and began making the traditional Latvian birthday cake (which is really more like bread). It turned out pretty darn good. Laima assisted in the kitchen and it was very much appreciated. So it was off to the Adams’ house for the party with cake in tow; Daniela has no idea.

There must have been about 30 people there from church. We are so blessed to have such great friends as they truly practice being God’s hands and feet to each other and to the community. When it came time to sing “Happy Birthday” Daniela had no idea until she heard her name being sung and the cake was placed in front of her. She smiled quite a bit and really enjoyed the attention and gifts from all. She especially relished the time with the little kids who came up to her and hugged her and wished her happy birthday. – July 10, 2013

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Today was a trip to the amusement park and, despite the attitude problems from our petunia, the day definitely had its bright spots. Laima joined us again and really seemed to enjoy herself. She got her first taste of cotton candy and she really liked it.

Daniela and Zhenya really seemed to enjoy themselves. They especially enjoyed the water rides!! We all went on the wooden rollercoaster, except for Daniela and Laima, and really had a blast. What a rush! More importantly it was really nice to watch Daniela interacting with Zhenya and enjoying herself, albeit for only a few hours. The magic seemed to dissipate as soon as we got in the car to go home but the moments are cherished. – July 11, 2013IMG_0301

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We had a little conversation this morning about her less than appropriate attitude toward us, our friends and our families.

Her response (in a nutshell): I do not like you; good behavior from her we will never see; it is disgusting when you say you love me; your house smells like dogs and it disgusts me; Americans are the most disgusting people in all the world; I think about leaving here all the time and the longer I stay here the worse it will be for you.

My counteroffer: We cannot force you to be polite but the choice is yours – be angry and miserable or try to enjoy; either way we love and care for you no matter what you do and that will not change; I am aware that you do not like me although I have done nothing to deserve this mistreatment; I am trying my best; you are wrong Daniela – the longer you stay here it will NOT be worse for us. – July 12, 2013

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She enjoyed an indoor picnic lunch with everyone gathered around the kitchen table. Hot dogs, pasta salad, cucumber salad and watermelon were enjoyed by all. Peter was the entertainment with his gusto for food; he had Conner, Ryan and Daniela laughing with his eating many pieces of watermelon and trying to steal the peaches on the table at the same time.

The highlight of the day had to be Alex, Jana’s three-year old son. When he arrived around noon, Daniela was hiding in her room under the covers. When it was time to head out to the pool, Alex went up to her room (with Peter in tow) and jumped on her bed. “Wake up! It’s time to go swimming!” he said. She could not resist such a charming young man. (I come to find out later that it seems Alex has a crush on Daniela.)

Off to the pool we all go for an afternoon of swimming, water slides, cannonballs and conversation. Daniela played with Alex and Jana in the pool and had a nice time. It was quite an enjoyable time had by all. It was topped off with a trip to the local ice cream joint. Ahhhh! A good day indeed. – July 13, 2013

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Daniela has developed a really cool relationship with Peter over the past two weeks. She has interacted very well with him and he with her. She has taken to mimicking his vocalizations … and playing keep-away with his beloved and well-worn pillow. She teases him in a way only a sister could get away with – hiding her food from him when he approaches, taking the front seat and relegating him to the rear seat in the car, and playfully taking his food away from him and taunting him with it. Peter adores her!Daniela and Peter Smiling

We went out to grab a little light dinner and while there something magical seemed to occur. I believe we had the beginnings of light dinner conversation in broken Latvian on our part and some English on her part!! WOW!! Eileen called me a “pensionars” – senior citizen – and Daniela and she laughed (so did I). Then Daniela said “Do you speak English?” fluently. This was immediately followed up with us saying “Kas jauns?” – What’s up? Daniela responded with “I am a tourist” and “I’ve lost my traveling companion.” We laughed and laughed as Peter – her traveling companion – was away for the week [at camp]. – July 14, 2013

Love Transforms – Sweet and Delicious (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of our condensed version of our adventures with Daniels during the Summer of 2013.  For the full story visit www.servingdaniela.blogspot.com.

Eileen and Daniela got a manicure and pedicure. She really enjoyed the chairs – they had a massage feature!! Very nice!!!! Daniela was still shy about pictures where she is the subject but she’ll warm up to it. Very nice to see the two ladies bonding.

Later, they went on a shopping trip to the grocery store. Daniela got to pick out foods she wanted (chicken nuggets and tomato juice) and saw the pizza you can make at home at the store. Excitedly she asked if we can make Hawaiian pizza with the pizza dough shell and, of course, we were happy to oblige her!!

Daniela started her English lessons today and stated emphatically “English does not make sense; I will not attempt it.” However, Eileen managed to get her to say her first English word “tomato” by telling her that if we require Peter to give the sign for pizza she had to say the word for tomato juice. Brilliant. She later said “water” and “Peter”!!! – July 1, 2013

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It’s up, it’s down, you’re great, you suck, you are the worst host family ever … Followed by the most words I’ve heard the whole week shouted at us (in Latvian) from under the covers. We suspect it wasn’t a friendly good night.

I need to understand that is “ok” to say no. Teaching what a healthy family looks like may not always be met with warm hugs and yippy – skippy.

I don’t know much about Daniela but this is what I do know from a few short days with her: She is smart; She is stubborn as a mule; She has a killer smile and a goofy sense of humor; She is organized and likes to plan; She is very used to going out with her friends and they are not here; She carries a deep sorrow and doesn’t know what to do with that stuff. – July 2, 2013

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We had several phone calls with her chaperone who then relayed to us some VERY pertinent information. Daniela says she does not understand how we can say that we love her when we barely know her while her own family does not love her. She is not used to this “love” thing and is probably waiting for the other shoe to drop – the shoe that says we don’t love her and pass her along to someone else. So she is testing us to see if we really mean what we say – that we love her, even at her worst.

No matter what happens, we will continue to have faith and will continue to persevere. We love this girl and it may not be until the middle of July that she realizes that our love for her is genuine and without conditions. We will wait because she is worth the wait. – July 3, 2013

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Daniela emerged from her room and ate some breakfast. We filled her in on the plans for the day and she showered and dressed. We were going to our friends’ house – Wayne and Linda Adams – for a BBQ and swimming. She came down the stairs wearing a simple cotton maxi dress that I had bought for her while she and Eileen were getting a mani/pedi on Monday. She had told us that she liked those and wanted one. I couldn’t believe it! Daniela looked … radiant! A tiny smile even broke out as we vigorously showed our approval by applauding!!!Daniela 2013 050

We spent the day swimming. Daniela is in her element in the water. She was laughing, interacting and being mischievous all day long. She was tipping us off our floating rafts in the pool, pushing us into the pool and occasionally bombing us with cannonballs!!! Then when it came time for retribution from me or Eileen she would squeal and run away saying “Noooooo”. When she wasn’t looking I would swim underwater and grab her ankles making her squeal with laughter. Daniela and I even did a few choreographed cannonball jumps together. Loads of fun.

Peter refused to get in the pool but that did not deter Daniela. She grabbed a water pistol and began soaking him with it. We all joined in the fun. When that wasn’t enough Daniela poured water on him and splashed him non-stop. Peter does NOT like getting splashed but he was LOVING it from Daniela.

Peter and Daniela have formed some connection in the week she has been here. He makes her giggle with his gusto for food and Daniela has begun to mimic some of his rudimentary language skills. When Pete claps, Daniela responds with clapping. When Pete makes his guttural “whale” noises, Daniela answers in kind. That makes Pete smile and Daniela rolls her eyes at him and smiles back. – July 4, 2013

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We were able to plan a morning of biking at a nearby lake. Little did I realize there is no swimming, just boating, so the swim plans were kaboshed. I suggested we could go to the pool. No “only lakes or the sea”. I explained there was no sea in Bethlehem Pa and not even a close lake, but we had two rivers and a lovely public swimming pool. Daniela has this great way of turning her head just so and making a ehh sound that translates into : WHATEVER. Biking was great. So it was after the Whatever and we left the park… we passed a small restaurant and continued to drive. About five minutes in she types something and then blurts it out “I want for Ice Cream.” I almost drove off the road. She started giggling and hiding behind the tablet. I rolled down the windows and hollered to the sky “Ice Cream Ice cream She wants for Ice Cream” It was awesome.

Daniela 2013 040She is excited to go to New York tomorrow … She is so smart and determined. She is not your typical teen but she is. She tells Peter that she gets the front seat. He listens. She wore the dress Phil picked out and purchased all by himself for her. She talked about her boyfriend and that they quarreled over her coming here. I got to tell her what a brave and good choice she made. She wore her cute red keds.

It was Phil who said we should host a girl. Oh no; not me! I’m a boy mom, girls are scary, I was one, yikes, crap, etc etc. He is such a smart husband. For whatever reason God has sent this beloved child to us to nurture and teach and learn from. We are blessed. This could all change by tomorrow but for this moment in time my heart is full, I am grateful and I know there are no mistakes in His plan. – July 5, 2013

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The first thing Daniela asked when we arrived in the city was where do we go swimming? We had to explain to her that there is no place to swim in NYC. … Once we showed her the East River she began to understand!

After a little lunch we hopped on the famous NYC subway and headed uptown to Rockefeller Center. Everyone enjoyed the beautiful surroundings with the wonderful architecture, the shade trees, the sculptures and all the crowds. Laima and Daniela enjoyed trying to find the Latvian flag in the plaza and squealed with delight and applause when they found it.

We went to the Top of the Rock to take in the magnificent views with the weather being ideal. Daniela asked to have the camera so she could take pictures as we were heading up in the elevator (she was beginning to get excited but didn’t want to admit it). When we got to the top, everyone was speechless!IMG_0237

After a little light supper, we went upstairs to tuck our girl in to bed. Her bed was unmade and her clothes were scattered throughout the room. We jokingly acted in horror at the “mess” and Daniela enjoyed a good laugh. She said that in her room her feet never touch the floor because of all the stuff on the floor.

Another very good day where the walls came down a little bit more. – July 6, 2013

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IMG_0239Eventually Daniela awoke from her slumber and came downstairs. She typed a question into the translator asking me if I would like some cold soup and if she can make it for me. Of course, I readily agreed and asked her to go with me to the store. She smiled and said yes. At the store we bought all the ingredients she needed. She was unconcerned with not finding the right kind of sausage (aka bologna) necessary as “I will be able to take [make] still something delicious [for] yourself.” When I asked her if she wanted anything else at the store she nodded her head “I want something sweet and delicious.” Really love this girl!

At home we began preparing the meal (yes we have a secret video of it unbeknownst to Daniela). We all sat down to dinner and Daniela was beaming when we “ooh-ed” and “aah-ed”, gave her a round of applause and showered her with compliments. Peter was looking at the pink soup as if to say “You have got to be kidding me! You want me to eat that?” He pushed the bowl away. Daniela was beside herself with laughter! She said he does not like “pink” food and that he was on a diet! That made all of us howl!! She also said to him that now he knows what she feels like about our food – strange tastes, smells and spices.1053103_10201348090294878_1410379423_o

Tomorrow Eileen goes to work for the week so Daniela and I will have some time together. Looking forward to all the awkwardness, frustration, love and laughter that this week has in store for us. – July 7, 2013

Four-Minute Span

I listen to NPR a lot; I enjoy the depth of their stories and news features.  I usually listen to NPR as I drive – it presents me with the opportunity to learn about my world instead of listening to crap commercial radio stations.  NPR gives me a different perspective that I’m not sure I would get otherwise.  The stories are such that I would not likely hear them on commercial television or radio.  That being said I don’t always agree with their take on things but it is always educational and provocative.

So the other day while I was driving I listened to this brief story on NPR.  It was a StoryCorp piece (http://www.npr.org/2015/02/20/387309723/pain-but-no-regrets-a-father-remembers-his-adopted-son?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&fb_ref=Default  ) about the believed first single man to adopt a child in California.  The elapsed time of the story was less than four minutes.  In that four-minute span, Bill Jones tells the story of his initial encounter with Aaron and his decision to adopt this little boy. In that four-minute span, Bill tells of his son’s mental and emotional struggles and Aaron’s ability – sometimes – to let his loving, kind nature shine through the darkness of addiction.  In that four-minute span, Bill tells of Aaron’s succumbing to the disease of addiction at the age of 30.  In that four-minute span, Bill’s story has me in tears; had me in tears because that could have been me.

Bill was able to see deep into Aaron; he was able to see with his heart.  Bill was able to separate the person from the disease.  Bill was able to freely share God’s love for another human being – one who desperately needed to know that he was worthy of receiving love unconditionally.  In return, Bill received Aaron’s love right back.  He told of the time that Aaron, upon hearing Bill’s voice, came running up to him as a little boy and latched onto his legs with a vise-like grip. 5397213636_c7af2a4597_m

Aaron died due to his addiction just like countless others.  I almost did too.  There is no hell on earth like the hell of addiction – despair, hopelessness, loneliness, separation, degradation, worthlessness.  I am one of the fortunate ones.  I am in recovery.  I have been in that hell and, through the grace of God working through people in my life, I have been on the path of wholeness with others and with God.  It has not been an easy road, this road to wellness, but it is oh so worth the struggle! If you struggle with addiction of any kind or if you know of a family member or a friend who struggles please know that there is a better way.  Seek out the help of professionals in recovery centers, self-help groups like AA or NA and rehabs.  You’re not alone! 5057210527_b5d69ae811_m

So Tired

I am physically exhausted.  You know how your head feels when you get almost no sleep, that heavy, fuzz-on-the-brain, no-amount-of-coffee-is-going-to-help, type of feeling.

But it goes beyond physical exhaustion.  I am emotionally drained from last night’s run-in du jour  with my son and the ripple effect of that with my wife. So if the cohesion of this post is less than desirable you’ll know why.

He has lots of psychological and physiological trauma issues from his biological parents(particularly Mom) the details of which I will not go into here.  Suffice it to say he has lots of pent-up anger.  Hell, let’s call it what it is … rage.  When he gets into it with my wife he seems transported back in time to when he was a defenseless little boy; all he seems to see is his bio-Mom and it takes some doing to bring him back down.  It comes out in ways that clearly indicate he has not healed from the damage; it is very much a festering wound.  He talks as if and reacts as if he is still with them only now he is much stronger and says things like “If they try it today, they will see!”

So, we struggle to keep him focused on his school work. We persevere in showing him love. We, despite our flaws, continue to reinforce what being a part of family really means.  Sometimes we miss the mark but we plod ahead.  My pastor was telling me yesterday that the most important value a father can teach his son is perseverance; that there is value in seeing something through to the end.  “Never, never, never, never, never give up.” – Sir Winston Churchill.  I’ll be honest … there are fleeting moments when quitting looks pretty good.

So I ran across this interview in my email.  Actually, it came in a few days ago but I am just now getting around to listening to it.  It’s called “Forgiveness of Unforgivable Acts”.  God’s timing is spot on.  The story concerns a woman who suffered familial abuse as a young girl and who suffered rage as a result.  She used that rage to motivate her to “right similar wrongs in society” but the rage was consuming her – physically, emotionally and spiritually.  So she gets an audience with the Dalai Lama and she asks him how he is able to do good works for those who suffer without anger.  His response was unorthodox.  He asks her if she’s been angry long enough; is she ready to let it go; has the luster of the anger worn off?

“Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better past”  she says.  I like that. I like that a lot.  I like the whole image of letting go of the image of what the past was supposed to be like and accepting it for what it was.  Not condoning it but just accepting it and moving on with the business of life.
I don’t think my son is there yet but we’ll get there (I hope).  Maybe we’ll listen to this interview together.

2014

December 31, 2014

Greetings to all our Friends and Family!!

There is so much that has happened in such a short time span that it feels like it’s been more than a year since last we wrote to you. This past year has been an exciting adventure peppered with losses of dear ones, life renewed by newborns and renewed relationships.       10553576_10204174536434265_4277685635505497917_n

I suppose I should start with January when we said goodbye to the matriarch of our family – Adelaide Gentile. She lived a long life (101 years) and made such a big impression on those around her that it is impossible to have known her and not be influenced by her spirit. She was full of stories of growing up on the farm in Berwick, PA and moving to the Bronx as a teenager and meeting my grandfather, Pasquale. Her life was not an easy one but it was a rich one. She will be missed but never forgotten. (That’s her, second from the left in the back row, 2nd grade and her holding the baby in the photo below). 935482_369711566482173_209700262_n(1)

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We also lost Uncle Domenick and my step-mother, Kathleen. Both were such happy people who enjoyed family, telling stories and oh how they loved to laugh! The loved ones we lose leave such a hole in our lives but we cherish their memories and the intensity of their souls on us.10505509_10204005746574624_8558481851172554418_n

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Last year we told you about our orphan hosting experience. Daniela (as well as many other orphans we met in Latvia) continues to be a part of our family albeit from several time zones away. In March she gave birth to a healthy baby boy – Harry! She has demonstrated an innate ability to be a good mother and she has grown as a woman. We were blessed to see her and Harry this year in Latvia. What a joy!!!! 10428499_10203953544869614_2319008948365918925_n

What were we doing in Latvia, you may ask? We traveled to Latvia in June, September and November. We were taking steps to add to our family. So here is the big news … we have adopted Kristofer (that’s him on the right) !! He was born on October 30, 1997 and the adoption was finalized on November 6, 2014. He is in high school and is adapting to the American way of life quite well. He enjoys soccer, track, wrestling and fishing. We must tell you that the adoption journey was exciting and required a lot of faith that God would pull this together for us and He did. Many, many people participated with us financially and through moral/prayer support. For those earthly angels we are eternally grateful.10447624_788621954503158_7420902122307827849_n

Peace and love and a joyous 2015!

Phil, Eileen, Peter, Kris, Daniela and Harry