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
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.
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