The Power of Love or Hosting Isn’t For Sissie

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.

Eileen and Inga
Inga and Dace
Laima

There were three ladies who went above and beyond the call of duty with Daniela: Inga, Dace and Laima.  All three women were chaperones, translators and life-savers for us and for Daniela.  If anyone thinks this was a vacation for them they would be sadly mistaken.  This was hard work!  Through their help, and that of the other chaperones and staff at NHFC, we were able to develop a real relationship with Daniela.  They helped make the miracle happen.

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!

 

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Presents and Presence

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 present in Jana’s living room in Bangor, PA.  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.

My Net Is Not Breaking

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.

One of these new family members I spoke of wrote up a blog about learning to love and let go.  She wrote:

“I’m no stronger for loving than any of the rest of you.  I know that hosting seems strange and difficult to you because I’m choosing to love someone with everything I have and then letting them go without the promise of a happy ending.
But isn’t that what we all do?
It’s just that I get the blessing of knowing.  Knowing that I have to let go.  Knowing that my last hug before he leaves might be my last forever.  I’ve lived in that blessing for years now with Little Man, and I know that living there makes each day more precious, makes each moment matter. 
And I have done my best and loved my hardest and given my all.  I’ve become a better mother. A better person.  This has expanded my soul.  I have been given more grace and been more richly blessed than I ever thought possible. …
But loving in a broken world is what we are called to do.  And the unconditional love that was given to us is meant to be stretched out to others, no matter how far away they fly.
Those ties, they sometimes stretch beyond what we thought was bearable, but they will never break.”
And then I stumbled across this in another blog today about John 21 and counting the blessings and the grace in your net

“You pull in your life and you see that though you felt ripped open —- the net actually didn’t tear.
That there’s grace in your net.
And you actually count them.
You make sure you count the fish. So you don’t have to ask who it is –  You know it is the Lord.” I feel the lump in my throat ebbing.
“You count every single grace that He gave through the long dark night, and you see that there are more than 153. Far more than 153. It’s a feast!” …
 “You just keep always counting the fish!”
It’s when you count blessings — you see Who can be counted on.
It’s when you count the ways He loves, that your life multiplies joy.
It’s a life that counts blessings  — that discovers it’s yielding more than it seems.”

Thank you to Dorah and Ann Voskamp for those words of wisdom.  

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. I did not have to count them … I knew.  there were far more than 153.
 

Ketchup Farts and Other Signs of Bonding

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.
We left and drove. The normal 5 hour trip was seriously compromised with traffic…7 hours later we safely arrived in Bethlehem. Everyone went to their corners to unpack and re enter our home world…our house looked ginormous after a week at the groovy surf shack. Finally dinner…PEETER YUM YUMS she calls sweetly. Pasta she says in perfect English, Spaghetti she adds…. She is learning more than I realize.
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.
No pouting, no manipulating, no hating Phil from D for the past week…smiles, courteous behavior, kindness to all, generous spirit instead.  I feel like we have finally gotten to know Daniela. She leaves in 4 days…this is been an amazing journey. I have learned so much from her. I can’t wait to go to Latvia to visit.
Eileen

It’s Alive! It’s Alive!

Friday
It has been a day of surprises and more surprises. What has happened earlier in the hosting process as been this: D has a good day followed immediately by a terrible day. It was as if she could not allow herself the joy of having too much fun. Pure supposition on our part but perhaps she did not deem herself worthy of joy; perhaps she did not want to suffer disappointment when the joy and happiness would inevitably end. Maybe she just wasn’t comfortable yet with letting her true self break out of her shell of fear.
At any rate, that pattern has changed during the past three days. She has had multiple days in a row that have been significantly more joyous than the past. That is not to say that she has not been frustrated and shuts down for a little while. We have noticed that she is very self-reliant; she does not easily accept help from others or suggestions from others. She has to get there herself. Case in point – lunch today. The translator program was not responding very well and she became frustrated during the ordering process. As a result she pulled her typical move and dismissed the idea of having anything for lunch. We ordered her a ham and cheese sandwich with bacon and avocado. She made an ugly face at first and we suggested that she remove the undesirable parts of the sandwich to suit her taste. After she ate all the chips hunger won out – she removed the lettuce, bacon and avocado and ate the rest of the sandwich.
Later that afternoon, while Peter and I were out getting a few necessities, she asked Eileen if they could go out shopping for clothes (just the two of them – no guys). Eileen responded by asking her to make a list of the items she wanted.
(Eileen chimes in) Phil has been talking about joy we have seen in D for the past two days. It’s actually interesting that the mimosa tree that overhangs on our deck here on Chincoteague Island is filled with hummingbirds sipping the nectar from the flowers. In Native America lore the hummingbird medicine is JOY. These tiny birds remind me so much of our D. She hovers close to get a look and then she is off. She is physically tiny, but with a strong determination of character. Hummingbirds I have no doubt have surrounded her this week. They have flown into her life sent as totem from her Great Spirit to remind her of the capacity of joy she has in her soul.
So we go off to the store…big store (I make big store charade) or little store. Big store. So off the island we go. Please understand, this is rural Virginia, the closest thing to a mall is the Walmart 20 miles away as well as a small department store called Peebles, which I have never been in. Also I am hoping she doesn’t get scared by big people in Walmart. No offense to any rural VA folks! Peebles turns out to be a mini department store. Plus sizes, junior sizes, shoes etc. OK, this can work. We start looking and I am careful to only suggest giant granny panties and bras that could double as a football helmet. Anything that she looks remotely interested in I gaze away in disinterest while silently hoping “oh please, oh please, buy something”! She picks out a very cute dress! She tries it on….it’s a yes!!! I run to the counter to spend more than I would normally but am just so thrilled she is accepting anything from me.

 

A few more stops – Walmart is very scary for me so we just buy apple juice, crackers, bananas and twizzlers. Head back to the island, after crossing the causeway she 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.
(Phil is back). 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.

Singing a Different Tune

Thursday
Today was a day of presence. We had no plans and went nowhere in particular. The most “exciting” thing we did today was walked around the bustling shopping district of Chincoteague – all five blocks of it. It was a rather cool and cloudy day so it really lent itself to just chilling out at home. So we took care of some little projects around the place – both inside and outside. Cleaned, decorated, rearranged a few things and generally gussied up the place. We read some and napped some and listened to some Russian hip-hop. Interspersed throughout the day we watched the hummingbirds flittering about the mimosa tree. You get the idea.
Yet despite 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.

It’s Simply Complicated

It’s Complicated
It’s Simple
I have been wrestling with a lot of things, thoughts, ideas and emotions during this whole hosting thing. I definitely had some expectations and preconceived notions about how this whole experience was supposed to play out. As much as I tried to convince myself that I had those expectations in check, the fact is they were there.
What were they, you ask? Here’s a big one – I hoped that D and I would have this special bonding experience. You know the kind – the kind of father/daughter experience. I don’t think I have that with her – at least not yet. It has not developed as I had pictured it. I kind of let myself get in the way to a certain extent. By that I mean I didn’t always let things develop at God’s pace and in God’s direction. Honestly, I was bummed that it didn’t happen as I had hoped it would. However, it never fails that if I settle for my dreams of things I inevitably short-change myself; God’s plans always surpass my own so I am learning to keep my mitts off the steering wheel.
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.

 

Don’t misunderstand me. We have shared some great moments together, moments where it felt like she had been a part of the family for many years. We’ve done cannonballs in the pool, water pistol fights and her tipping us off the pool floats. I loved the time she offered to make cold soup and went to the store with me to purchase the ingredients. Her and Eileen making potato pancakes and a “sweet and delicious” dessert and the two of them boogie boarding in the ocean. I notice that she is a planner and likes some order in her life (like me), she has to ease into things when she gets thrown a curve ball (like me), she cracks her knuckles and eats sunflower seeds (like me).
I read someone’s blog the other day and she was talking about her preconceived ideas about “family” and just where does everyone fit in. When I read that a bell went off. Perhaps that is what is underneath what I have been feeling. Lord knows I have a family that does not fit my idea of the type of family I thought I would have. Yet I would not trade it for anything. I adore Peter and Eileen. I LOVE that guy. I would do anything for them! On Father’s Day this year Eileen asked him “Who’s your Dad, Peter?” Peter looked at me and tapped me on the shoulder. I got all choked up over that.
So if anyone should be expecting the unexpected in this hosting experience it should be me. I feel that D will be a part of this family by the time she must go back to Latvia. Heck, she already is. She has a great big life ahead of her and I pray that she will be happy and loved. But right now she is here. Right now she is slowly easing her way into our family more and more.

I have mentioned before about her relationship with Peter. It is really something to watch this develop as siblings! She laughs at his silliness and share her french fries with him and he allows her to tease him. Peter does not tolerate teasing from most people. Their relationship has grown every day. The other night Peter accidentally stepped on D’s foot. She reacted as one would expect and took him to task over it. Peter felt so bad about her getting after him and/or hurting her that he did not even touch his ice cream for 10 minutes! Normally, that ice cream would have been inhaled in two minutes despite the brain freeze! Yet, later that evening she was horsing around in the living room with him burying him under pillows and tickling his feet. When she stopped tickling him he stuck his feet out as if to say “don’t stop”. Pete doesn’t do that – he runs when being tickled.

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.

Wild Ponies and Boogie-Boarding

Well, we finally made it down to Chincoteague, VA early Sunday evening.  The ride down was pretty uneventful save for a torrential thunderstorm in Maryland. Whew! It was coming down so hard and so fast it felt like we were driving through Niagara Falls! We cooked up a nice dinner with Eileen’s mom and her friend Connie.  Daniela was very pleasant and smiling throughout the evening.

Monday morning found us having a leisurely breakfast with Connie and Eileen’s mom.  Eileen’s mom headed down to Virginia Beach to visit with her son Paul and his family – Stephanie and the kids, Avery and Anna.  We’ll catch up with them later in the week.

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.

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.

 

 

When our time at the beach came to a close we headed over to the corral where the wild ponies had been rounded up.  For those who don’t know about Chincoteague, once a year the “saltwater cowboys” do a round up of the wild horses on the Island.  They round them up, vaccinate them and then either release them back into the wild (if the herd size is less than 175) or swim them across the channel and auction them off.  The auction benefits the volunteer fire department on the Island.  This week is the Wild Pony Roundup so we got the chance to see them at the Refuge before they swim them across on Wednesday (we’ll see them then also).  The horses are just magnificent!  It was a very special event for Daniela to witness.

 

 

All this and it’s only been the first day.  Very groovy!

Peter

There were a couple of bright moments during this day.  One of them occurred at the baseball game.  But first a bit of background.

Peter sometimes doesn’t bother taking the skin off of things that he eats or he will eat something and leave no trace of its existence on this planet.  For example, he will eat through an orange rind much like one would eat an apple and he will eat an apple in its entirety – core, seeds and stem included.

Today at the game we were eating peanuts.  You guessed it – he ate the peanuts shell and all!!  This had Daniela shrieking with laughter and amazement.  Eileen tried doing it to show D that it was quite normal to eat peanut shells.  She was crunching away but when D turned away Eileen was spitting out those shells faster than a pro baseball player spitting out tobacco juice!

Peter and I were heading out to the store to pick up a few things.  I asked D if she would like to join us and, much to my surprise, she said yes!  I think that having Pete along made her feel more comfortable.  Anyway, Pete again provided the entertainment by swiping a water bottle from an unsuspecting young woman standing outside the store.  He juked, twirled and swiped that bottle so fast it would have made Vince Lombardi proud.  Daniela shrieked and smiled again.

Lastly, Peter and Daniela spent most of the afternoon playing with each other.  D teases him and taunts him playfully – especially when food is involved.  On the way home from camp D gave Pete some of her jelly beans.  Rather than eating them one by one he shoved the whole handful in his mouth – chomping, drooling and smiling away.

Pete really enjoys having Daniela around.  She is like a sister to him and he really likes the attention.  He tries to ride in the front seat of the car but Daniela gives him an “Nuh Uhnnn!” and he willingly acquiesces to being relegated to the back seat.

I seem to struggle with making a connection with her.  In fact, there are times when I feel completely disconnected from her and this process.  Sometimes I feel like my only function is to make her tea, buy her french fries or make her lunch.  At least that is the way it seems.  She can be charming and lovely but I wonder if she does that because she wants something from me or is she being genuine.  It’s hard to tell at times.  I have to hold on to the hope that we are both reaching out for each other – bumbling and stumbling through this process – and that we will make whatever connection we are supposed to make.

Something just occurred to me.  Daniela does not call Eileen or I by our names or any other way other than the equivalent of “hey”.  Yet she calls Peter by his name all the time.  Interesting.

But today was meant for Peter and Daniela.

The Proof Is In the Pudding (or the Tort)!

Let’s be honest. I have not manually grated anything with the exception of some lovely Romano cheese over a plate of pasta. During this hosting have already seen grating of beets, which was alright, Phil and Daniela were in charge there. But today I grated potatoes, raw ones, on a very old vintage grater, it may have been my parents’ grater. It’s quaint for cheese. It’s hard labor for potatoes. D couldn’t understand what I was doing with such outdated equipment, I showed her my 25 year old Cuisinart to which she typed “it will make juice”. A roll of the eyes and so she carried on…
She was determined to make these potato pancakes without me interfering with my American prehistoric cooking knowledge; for example breaking spaghetti. But honestly, I could see she was struggling with my grater. So I stepped in and began to grate and smile. My biceps began to burn. She found solitaire on the tablet next to me. I kept my chin up and kept grating and I started to think Good Lord why would anyone EVER even want potato pancakes, except maybe at a restaurant where some other fools grate the potatoes. She typed me a message on the tablet “If I was at home I would have crushed 15 potatoes already” I kept grating. She kept playing solitaire. I texted Phil…get a grater … a big one and fast!
This is what I learned about Daniela today:  She is a perfectionist, she takes pride in things done well and wants to excel.  Frustration comes quickly when things don’t go according to plan.  But she keeps on going. I thought the potatoes were heading to the trash when she became frustrated.
Another intuitive thought hit me in this deep spiritual moment. Seriously what would Jesus do? Not in the wwjd bracelet kind of way, but the I am supposed to be living like Him kinda way. Apparently when He is not making nutella sandwiches for snarky teens, He helps them ease their frustration by grating potatoes with primitive equipment and smiles.
This young lady is bright and shining for a moment, dark and brooding in the next. She terrifies me, she makes me laugh, she reminds me of how awful sixteen can be and how hard it is to straddle the world between child and adult.
Phil came home and we finished cooking … sweaty but happy. I slipped her the water bottle I used to spray the dogs to make them quit barking and she nailed him. [It was a sneak attack! LOL – Phil]. She erupted into genuine laughter and ran away so there could be no pay backs. We all got silly and goofy and finally sat down to amazing potato pancakes. Ours with sour cream and applesauce, hers with jam.  they were absolutely fantastic!
Then came the dessert – homemade Russian Napoleon tort.  Words cannot describe the sweet deliciousness of this cake.  The only thing more delicious at the table was the sight of Daniela laughing, pantomiming, understanding, conversing, beaming, smiling, eating and enjoying our company as a family.  Is this a miracle in the making right before our eyes?  Of course it is.  Did we see this coming? Perhaps, but I will tell you that Phil was very frustrated a mere 72 hours ago!
The power of love standing steadfast against fear is a slack-jawed, eyes wide open kind of incredible miracles.  Tomorrow may bring its own issues but for the past 48 hours God’s love, given to us and then re-gifted to Daniela, has leaped tall buildings in a single bounds and broken through the cracks in her walls.
If ever we needed proof that love triumphs over fear and hate and negativity, if ever we needed proof that love can scale the walls built around hearts, if ever we needed proof that God’s plan for loving Him and loving others is all we need to melt away some of the sadness, what is happening here with Daniela is that proof.