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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Transforms – Sweet and Delicious (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love Transforms – Part 1

The next few posts will be collection of snippets from my blog in 2013 chronicling our adventures in summer hosting for a Latvian teenager – Daniela.  They will be laid out in chronological order and I hope that you will enjoy the ride.  For a full read of these posts, go to www.servingdaniela.blogspot.com

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This is the first of many posts about our adventure for the Summer of 2013. Eileen, Peter and I are hosting a young woman, an orphan, from Latvia for five weeks this summer. We are both terrified and excited all at the same time. We don’t know very much about her except that she is 17, her name is Daniela and she is studying cosmetology in Latvia.

What we do know are several things: we are thrilled to be hosting her; we believe that this is God’s will for us to be hosting her; and, we KNOW that we will be forever changed by this experience.

We have been actively fundraising for several months now and things are going well on that front. We have also been connecting with other families across the country who are hosting other orphans through the same organization, New Horizons for Children. The meeting of other families of like spirit, heart and mission has been a blessing to us as we prepare for Daniela’s arrival. – May 19, 2013

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We continue to make headway on her bedroom (I ran the new electric and Eileen is repainting). We have an American flag and a Latvian flag for decorations. More will be added soon. We will make sure that the Latvian flag is flying along with the American flag for when she arrives on June 27th!

Friends, church and family continue to support our efforts financially and, more importantly, in prayer. God continues to confirm that this is our mission … to love and serve orphans. Frankly, we couldn’t be happier and more assured of His will. – May 21, 2013

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Ok, it is now officially the un-official start of the Summer of Hope. Slowly we are making headway in the attic (plan is to have it painted by the end of the weekend) and then it is on to finding a mattress for her bed and perhaps a dresser/nightstand. We are finding that the “things” we need for Daniela’s visit with us are easily falling into place.IMG_0129

Our prayer support network continues to grow. Our love for a young woman, whom we have never met, continues to grow as well. Our family is waiting with arms and hearts wide open for her arrival to America. It feels like she’s already there. –May 25, 2013

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Home safety inspection looms – tomorrow at 6 pm.

Eileen’s theory is to hide all the crap in the washing machine. Skeletons neatly tucked away in the closets. Dogs are sedated. Batteries changed in the smoke detectors. Bribe money conspicuously lying around (ha ha ha). Phil has promised to watch his vulgarity for a short period of time (Lord we need a miracle on this one)!

There is nothing more to do except …. pray!! — June 3, 2013

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Well, the safety inspection went very well (thank God she didn’t look in the basement). Seriously, Nancy was sweet and we enjoyed getting to know her.

We now are focusing on getting the last items done on the list before June 27th. Speaking of which, we found out this week that Daniela’s flight arrives at JFK on June 27 at 1 p.m. Sooooo excited! We have some photos framed for her room, we have a variety of small gifts and other items ready for her (mp3 player, necklace, purse, etc) and we have been brushing up on our Latvian language skills!

Eileen used her artsy skills to make Daniela’s welcome sign for the arrival at JFK. Looks wonderful! Today, the kids at Church will be making welcome cards for Daniela and learning a few key Latvian phrases to make Daniela feel welcome. More to come … — June 9, 2013

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Today is Father’s Day. As we celebrated the important role that Dad’s play in the family we heard a very inspiring sermon in church this morning. The topic of the “conversation” was Superheroes. The gist of the conversation was that superheroes, like Superman, have super-powers – x-ray vision, strength, speed, etc. Unlike our societal concept of what super-powers a superhero needs, Jesus flipped over that concept. Jesus says the meek, peacemakers, the poor, the grieving, etc are the real heroes. I can be a “superhero” by modeling my life after Jesus’ life – serving the downtrodden, the sick, the outcasts, etc with compassion, love and humility.

That struck a chord with me today. In about ten days a young woman will be experiencing life with our family here in America. While certainly we will have lots of fun and learn many things about each other, my priority is to be of service to God by taking the love and compassion and humility he showed to me and doing likewise to Daniela. We must be of service to her, meet her where she is and love her unconditionally!

By the grace of God I pray that she may know God’s love for her through our love for her. – June 16, 2013

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Words cannot begin to express how excited we are! We are down to counting the hours …. yes, hours …. until Daniela is physically with us. I know it sounds crazy to most people but for us it feels like Daniela has been with us on this journey from the beginning. And it hasn’t just been us on this journey! Every one of our friends and family have been with us on this journey, too! We are truly blessed to have such wonderful friends at work, in our neighborhood, at our church and across the country! They have made this part of the adventure so filled with love for Daniela it humbles us.

I don’t really know if we will ever really grasp the immense love and grace of God in this mission of love for Daniela. Perhaps we aren’t meant to understand it, just feel it and share it with others – love God, love others, serve the world. When I can pause and take a step back, I can see all the pieces falling into place all along the way to make this dream of ours a reality. – June 24, 2013

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IMG_0154What a whirlwind of a day!!!! Woke up at 4:30 a.m. (I did, Eileen slept like a baby) because of all the nervous energy of the anticipated arrival of Daniela. We were on the road by 9 and headed for our rendezvous at JFK Airport in Queens, NY. We hit a few traffic snarls along the way but we arrived at the airport by 12 and met up with some of the other families.

It was really quite indescribable to see all these lovely young people filled with such joy and promise as they walked through the terminal toward us. Several waves of lime-green t-shirted young people came past us but no Daniela yet. Finally, Daniela came into view and you would have thought that we were a bunch of kids on Christmas morning the way we were yelling “Svieka Daniela” and jumping up and down! She smiled and waved. Then we hugged her and welcomed her and waited for the “all clear” signal before heading out. After several pictures we said our “good byes” and headed for home We had some fun pantomiming what the car sickness bags were for and that made Daniela laugh. Daniela was whipped and fell asleep in the car.

We arrived home at about 5:30. We practiced our language skills (Latvian and English) and had some dinner. Daniela really enjoyed watching Peter eat with such gusto … she giggled at him (perhaps because she was such a dainty and slow eater). We showed her her room and how to use the shower, had her read her first affirmation, kissed and hugged her good night and wished her Saldie Sapni (Sweet Dreams). – June 27, 2013IMG_0164

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This is the Eileen version of today’s post: Phil kissed me and then left for work with Peter. It’s me…alone in the house. Wondering..when will she get up? Is it appropriate to let her sleep all day? Can I not tell Phil if she does. Can I sleep all day too? The answer was a crystal clear maybe. So I enjoyed my coffee, stalked Facebook for a while completely dependent on the wisdom of those whose host children had been awake for 5 minutes for deep and meaningful advise. I prayed and I waited

This is what I learned today:
1. She likes the same cereal as I do Special K red berry. She did not eat yogurt.
2. Apparently she likes to shop as much as I do…..we purchased….not a thing.
3. We both can go for long periods of time without speaking…we did
4. She would not eat ice cream
5. She will eat ravioli and almost spit it out while she watches P. scarf his food down like a maniac
6. I impressed her and well even myself a bit with the sit and stay hand signals for the Bouvier (read giant hairy dog) Willem, then she totally cracked up when he would not listen to go outside. Disobedience apparently is a universal language.
7 Dr. Who translates really great! We laughed at the same things, jumped and screeched in harmony at the gross things. She even said with a hand sign she wasn’t going to bed till the episode was over.
8. The jelly beans were all gone!

IMG_0163When we tucked her in tonite, she read her affirmation in Latvian and we read the English: Daniela you are light and love. Then she gave me a serious hug! I understand more of how you can love someone you never knew. It reminds me that this is just a drop in the bucket of how God loves us. – June 28, 2013

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So, Saturday the reality kind of set in … Daniela feels isolated, homesick and frustrated. She talked to her chaperone twice that day (thank the good Lord for Dace (pronounced “Dachay”). She wants to go home to Latvia NOW, TODAY. We gave her her space but there were some tough moments. Tears and anger and frustration and fear were changing it up in an instant. As if it wasn’t tough enough being a teenager, imagine being a teen in a country where you don’t speak the language and you can’t be with your friends.

We slogged through it. Lots of sullenness, homesickness, feeling alone, language barriers (she doesn’t speak any English and is resisting) coupled with teenage daughter angst and you get the picture. We’ve been shopping with her twice without so much as a pair of socks purchased. We figured out she likes jellybeans and wants to visit with her friend Jevgenija. Big pouting when we said “not today”.

After dinner, she went upstairs to her room and fell asleep. Eileen and I processed the days events. We agreed it was important to be consistent and loving. We need to be patient and give her time to adjust and never give up on loving her.

This morning I heard Daniela quietly come downstairs and then go back up to her room. When I came downstairs I noticed that the bag of Starbursts was gone. 🙂 – June 30, 2013

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The day started with tip-toes to the kitchen to root through some candy. There was a brief smile when we said our good mornings to each other and then …. we met with some resistance. When told she needed to wash up and put on some clean clothes for church she had a little bit of a tissue-tearing moment. Then she stalled and stalled until Eileen gently but firmly informed her she had five minutes to come downstairs. She came but she wasn’t pleased.

IMG_0195While at church we introduced her to our friends there which was met with sullenness and attitude as only a teenager can do. Our friend Cathy graciously offered a slew of clothes for Daniela to try on and topped it off with a lovely little card written in Latvian!!! That started the ice to melt.

The younger kids at church had made “welcome” cards for Daniela and decorated them with lots of stickers and flowers and colorful drawings. After Sunday school was over they all went upstairs and handed them to her saying “Sveika”. That brought out a smile on her face.IMG_0174

Then we went to a friend’s house and met up with a few of our friends from church. Linda and Wayne were so loving in offering their hospitality and Jana, Miriya and Alex were fantastic in helping her feel relaxed. After chowing down some pizza, chips and soda we hopped into the pool (even though it was raining at points). Daniela eventually joined us in the pool!! She laughed, floated around and swam like a fish! She interacted so well with everyone, including me, and was joking and playing with Peter!

Afterwards, when we were home, she told us that she really likes tomato juice and could we get some at the store for her. She then asked us to keep Peter downstairs while she took a shower in order to insure some privacy. We finished off the night with a Netflix movie and our new ritual – the nightly affirmation (“Daniela is a joy to spend time with”), “Arlabunakti”, “saldie sapni” and “mes tevi milu” (good night, sweet dreams and we love you).

Sigh – June 31, 2013

Progress

This one will be short and sweet.

We first met our son, Kris, in June of 2014. That’s right, ten months ago.  He first landed on American soil on July 4, 2014. Nine months ago.  We finalized his adoption and he entered school (9th grade) in November of 2014. Five months ago.

There have been lots of good times and laughs in those ten months.  There has been a huge leap in adjusting to family life and the American scene.  There has also been some very tough times during that process.  At times those meltdowns would rattle the very foundation of our family unit but we stayed the course.  We didn’t give up on each other.10553576_10204174536434265_4277685635505497917_n

When he first began school he had a lot of difficulty with the education system here and its stark contrast to the “crowd-control” system in his old country. He struggled somewhat with grades but more with his self-confidence. We all worked together to help him build up his self-esteem and give his self-confidence a needed boost.

He likes to succeed. He is highly competitive. He is also a big trickster.  So yesterday he comes home from school and reports that he got an “F” on his American government test.  “I got a 69 and the teacher gave me an ‘F””  After playing along with his April Fool’s joke he shows me his test.  He got an 82 – a “B”.  He was grinning from ear to ear.  HSAMSUNGe is also doing extremely well in English and Ceramics and he’s doing pretty good in Math.

Last evening, he is watching a cartoon video on Netflix.  He calls to his brother, Peter, to join him.  He sets two chairs in front of the computer and they watch it together.  All the while Kris is adding commentary to the video to personalize it for his brother.  “See Peter! This is you and me in the video, bro.  The one with the muscles is me and the chubby one is you.”  Peter laughs.

Priceless.

Four-Minute Span

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

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

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

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

So Tired

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014

December 31, 2014

Greetings to all our Friends and Family!!

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and love and a joyous 2015!

Phil, Eileen, Peter, Kris, Daniela and Harry

Unearthly Gifts

Yesterday was Christmas.

We went as a family to a Christmas Eve gathering at our church. Songs and stories – stories from the several “background” characters in the Nativity.  We heard from Elizabeth, the innkeeper, Joseph and several others.  It was a very moving experience to hear their interpretations, their thoughts from their vantage points. My eyes welled up and I got choked up on several occasions during the gathering.

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First Christmas Photo

I am presently leaving one career and embarking on a different path.  It can be a little overwhelming and anxious.  I have been wrestling with this leap for a few weeks now and I have gone back and forth on it. I discussed this new path – a path of freelance writing – with my partner, my wife Eileen.  She is always supportive and I love her for it.  For Christmas she gave me a beautiful leather portfolio to hold my pens, paper and business cards.  Absolutely perfect!! I never dreamed of asking for something like this but she knew.

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Kris reads his Christmas letter

My son Kristofer is from Latvia.  He is 17. We recently completed a year-long process of adopting him so this year has been a year of “firsts” for him.  The adjustment has not been easy for us or for him but we are making progress.  His sister lives with a lovely family in Missouri.  She sent him a remote-controlled helicopter and a letter.  The letter was heartfelt and touching from an older sister to her younger brother; behind the words of the letter was a palpable acknowledgement of how much each of them have been through to get to where they are today.  It also held out hope for a future filled with love and promises for each of them.  It was written entirely in English and he read every word out loud.

My mom passed away fourteen years ago just before Christmas. The holiday has never quite been the same since although it has improved with the passage of time.  Every year for the past several years my cousin Sue and i make the long drive to upstate New York to pay our respects to our Moms – sisters side by side in life and in final rest. This year Sue presented me with two gifts from those lovely sisters! Sue found a set of talking, plush toy, Three StMom Graduationooges heads that her Mom  had purchased for me many years ago but never had the chance to give them to me.  I LOVE the Three Stooges and so did my Aunt Margaret.  Then I unwrapped two photos of my Mom from her high school graduation.  My Aunt had these treasures in her possession and Sue graciously gifted them to me. There are no words that can adequately express the flood of emotions.

The best gifts are the ones that come from the heart.