Recollections of My Mom – Part 2

“We were living in a 3 room apartment when Phil was born so his crib was in the bedroom with us.  In the morning he’d awaken early and lay there and watch us and if we stirred in our sleep, he would react by standing up in his crib and letting us know he knew it was time for the day to begin.  Sometimes I’d awaken and through a slit in my eyes glance over to the crib and see him eyeballing us and so I’d pretend to be asleep a while longer.  Seems I always needed my sleep and enough sleep was not enough sleep!”

Mom is styling

Mom styling it on Adams Place

“We moved upstairs to a 4 room apartment and from there we could see trees and the roofs of houses and we would sit by the window and watch the birds and at times, the squirrels.  At times we’d sit there and watch the rain and recite the poem, ‘It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring …’ You would recite pronounce it something like, “A rainen, a pouring, the old man a’yoring. He went to bed and bumped his head and couldn’t get up in the morgan.”

Long after Mom has passed she continues to be a blessing in my life.  These stories, these glimpses into viewing the world through her eyes, are such an amazing gift to me and my siblings.  Unbeknownst to her recording these stories and thoughts opens a window into her world from 50+ years ago – her dreams, her struggles, her hopes.  Thanks Mom.

 

Recollections of My Mom – Part 1

“Philip was up every 3 hours day and night wanting to be fed.  This being my first child, I was influenced to some degree by the stories I’d heard and knew he had to burp well after feeding or else he could vomit as he slept and that could be disastrous.  Phil would feed a little and then fall asleep and I’d have to awaken him to be sure he burped and then feed him some more, because he had taken so little.  Well, it ended that each feeding took and hour and a half and we finally finished that round of feed, sleep, burp; feed, sleep, burp; feed sleep burp; and we’d both get to sleep, only to turn over for the 1 1/2 hours and be awakened for the next session.  Needless to say, I am not sure who was more tired, he or I.   Some early pictures would reveal that he was doing quite well, but his father and I were walking around like zombies from lack of sleep!  Pat would take the 2 o’clock feeding so that I would have a longer stretch of sleep but it soon took its toll on both of us, although from the weight noted above [5 lbs. 10 ozs. at birth and 8 lbs 15.5 ozs at 3 weeks old], Phil did quite well.”

Mom at Uncle Jack's House

Mom as a young teen at Uncle Jack’s house

Mom’s Musings – 12/30/63 and 12/31/63

“Saw Steven in the afternoon – He drank 4 ozs. of formula – looks like Philip only he has a rounder face and fatter cheeks.  Spoke to Philip on the phone; he kept repeating ‘paint a wall’ and ‘wagon’.”

 

“Did not see Steven until 5:30 this evening.  Very blue and lonely all day.  Steven drank 2 ozs.; keeps rolling eyes to top of head. Spoke to Philip at Grandpa ‘B’ house. Told me daddy went to the store.”

 

One thing I have to note is how blessed I am that my mother took the time to write down  her thoughts and how intriguing it is to catch a glimpse into her thoughts, emotions, and her world.

Mom’s Musings – 12/29/63

“Dec. 29 – This day was somewhat of a nightmare but thank God I came through the afternoon crisis.  Pat, Mom and Dad, Margaret and Pat’s mom came to see me in evening.  Too bad Ann will be going home tomorrow. Could use moral support.”

Brothers

 

While rummaging through some boxes I ran across some journals/notes written by my mom.  I’ll be posting some of them periodically and perhaps jotting down some of my thoughts.  This first post describes the day by brother, Steven, was born.

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.

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

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 – And the Walls Start to Crumble (Pt. 4)

This is part four of our journey into hosting from 2013.  We spent five weeks loving on a teenager from Latvia and all that goes with it – the frustration, the laughter, the walls and the smiles.  To read the full text of our adventure please visit www.servingdaniela.blogspot.com

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 [grate for potato pancakes] were heading to the trash when she became frustrated. HPIM3926
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.
Then came the dessert – homemade Russian Napoleon tort.  Words cannot describe the sweet deliciousness of this cake.  IMG_0325The 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 bound 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. — July 15, 2013
She told me I was not her mother and should not act as if I was.

She is right. I am not her mother. For me this is the hardest part of loving a child who is orphaned and the parents are alive somewhere reminding her that she is not wanted. I have no place to judge anyone else for where they are in their life, their darkness, their addiction. But boy, it’s really hard to look at this girl  and understand why she is where she is.

God has a plan. A perfect one. One that does not cast me in the role of savior, but servant. Part of the servant deal is that I need to be constant in my response regardless of what arrows might fly past my head, or into my heart, And man this is really hard stuff. I could never have imagined that in such a short time I could love a stranger from half way around the world the way I already fiercely love this kid.

That our God loves us…me..her ..us all… just is an overwhelming, undeserved, no other word but Grace with a capital G. When I agreed to be His hands and His feet, I didn’t for a moment think about  how those feet walked to His death for us. I just wanted the fun, do good, save the whales kind of walk. You know it’s a spiritual journey…when it really really hurts. — July 16, 2013
I read this on another person’s blog today: “And no matter how the craziness of this whole parenting thing all turns out: The reward of loving is in the loving; loving is itself the great outcome of loving. The success of loving is in how we change because we kept on loving – regardless of any thing else changing.” – A Holy Experience by Ann Voskamp.  I thought to myself, “How wonderfully succinct and perfect that statement is and how it so neatly dovetails with what I am experiencing on this journey with Daniela together with what we are discussing in church – superheroes.”
Basically, we have been discussing how God takes the ordinary man or woman and uses them to stand in the breach, to go to the darkest of places and do the mightiest of deeds.  We are called to do deeds that sometimes seem too big for us to accomplish.  Most people would not have chosen Moses, a murderer with a speech impediment, to lead the Israelites out of Egypt – but God did and that seemed foolish.  Not many would have chosen David, a lustful home-wrecker and adulterer, to lead a nation to greatness – but God in his foolishness did.  Why on earth would Jesus rely on a motley crew of twelve bumbling knuckleheads to carry his message of love, peace and salvation to change the world – doesn’t make sense and yet they did just that!
My pastor, Michael, tonight asked if there were any mountains, troubles or issues where I feel I need to be a superhero or in need of one.  He knows our ups and downs with Daniela.  This situation does not call for a superhero.  Daniela does not need a superhero; Daniela needs the unconditional love of a man, a man who is old enough to be her father, so that she will know that someone cares about her no matter what.  Daniela needs to experience the love of God.  Daniela needs to experience that because she has no frame of reference for that – she does not understand how I, a stranger, can love her when her own family does not love her!

I am no superhero.  I am an ordinary man called to do extraordinary work with a young woman. I am called to perform a deed that is more than I alone can do with my feeble powers. But I am not alone! I will show up and God will do His good work with her to heal the brokenness of her spirit and her heart.

I have learned so much from this adventure in faith. I have never really grasped the power of turn-the-other-cheek or how powerful love-your-enemies really is.  Love wears down the walls of fear and hate. I have seen first-hand how steadfast love CAN change a person.  I have seen how steadfast love can bring light into a dark and broken spirit.  I have experienced and witnessed how steadfast love can perform miracles.  I think I’ll keep trying this love thy neighbor thing.  It’s kind of groovy! — July 18, 2013
Today D agreed to go out. We shopped at my friend Cathy’s house because she has the most amazing eBay store and has small sizes. We sorted through the uh huh’s a lot of UT UHNNN (that’s teen age for “no stinking way”) accompanied by major scowl. Bottom line we had a few winter basics and a beach cover up. Stopped at Target and actually purchased things for hair and nails. I tortured and embarrassed her in the underwear section by selecting giant granny panties and saying “PERFECT” really loud!
[S]he typed into the translator ”could we go to Linda’s?” Linda and Wayne have graciously shared their swimming pool and home for her half birthday party! I was astounded; this was the first time she used anyone’s name! We scooted home, changed in swim suits and drove like batman for a refreshing evening dip. It was super; Linda was out and Wayne was busy, D and I floated in the water then had sword fights with the noodles, made elephant trunks and noises and finally filled the water pistols and planned for the arrival of Phil.IMG_0326
He came on down and was welcomed by two girls and water pistols…total shock attack. But we weren’t done…Phil went to change and we positioned ourselves D behind the truck, me flattened against the garage. We were like a SWAT team. We even did the counting sign thing…. We chased Phil into the pool and the water fight continued. He was a great sport! — July 18, 2013
There are those things that comfort us from our childhood. For me it was an IBM paper box and a yellow blanket. For kiddos growing up in Eastern Europe I don’t know exactly what that would be but today I got a glimpse. Milk Soup.
Yes, Milk Soup is mostly what it sounds like Milk. Warm. Like soup. With pasta. Broken not whole. And the staple – Sugar. I was waiting for the cheese, the salt, the pepper. “Nu uhnnnn” I was told. D scooped out a bowl for me and made me sit at the table. Soft, mushy, pasta in milk with sugar. I had quite a preconceived notion.
I watched D as she ate hers. Slowly savoring the flavor. I tasted mine after, of course, smelling it carefully. WOW it was like a box and a blanket and grilled cheese and tomato soup comfort all wrapped up into one! I asked her if this is what the children in Latvia like to eat and explained what we called “comfort food”.  A huge smile crossed her face and she nodded.
I want milk soup in my life. I want comfort and warmth for myself and for those I love and even for those I don’t love. Warmth and comfort from broken noodles. Man, some days I am the broken noodle. But I am reminded of my brokenness and what God does in my life to mix it all up and get something good. I could never have imagined that hosting an orphan could be like this. It doesn’t always look appetizing and I often smell first … but add one teenage orphan and two crazy adults and stir in the warmth and sweetness of His love… voila! Milk Soup. — July 19, 2013
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!

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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. — July 21, 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