Many thanks to WXPN and Kristen Kurtis for introducing new artists to me and many others. Without public radio, I never would have had my heart broken by songs such as this one by Greg Holden.
It is late November. I can feel the muslin shroud begin to descend over the holiday season – dulling my senses. The Christmas season is my favorite time of year and my least favorite. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.
I can feel the tug of “the journey” begin to pull at my heart strings. December 22nd has come and gone fifteen times already; fourteen Mother’s Days and fourteen July 11ths. During the past fifteen years, I’ve made this passage dozens of times. Sometimes it was multiple excursions in a year, especially in the early years but not so much in recent times. For two years during my battle with my inner demons, my addiction, I didn’t make the trip at all; too ashamed to make an appearance on those “holy grounds”.
I travel northward, ever northward, like the snow geese above me. Passing the Canadian geese heading south with their incessant honking. Over the same pathways as before, through the barren and bleak winter countryside. Past the familiar hamlets and lakes that dot the route of PA 402 through the mountains. I pick up US 6 through Wallenpaupack and Hawley and Damascus. There is very little in the way of traffic except in the villages. Not many people are making this trek.
As I approach Narrowsburg I cross over the Delaware into New York. Sometimes it feels like I’m crossing the River Styx for nothing awaits me except for reminders of death. Nevertheless I push onward through Lava. All around is evidence of a region that is long past it’s prime: unkempt lawns, cars on blocks in the driveways, paint peeling off the ramshackle homes. Depression epitomized.
I am close. The summer camp sites that surround Lake Huntington are the harbinger that my pilgrimage is nearing its end. The three hour journey ends when I pull into the cemetery in Fosterdale. Fosterdale is so tiny a town that one would miss it if one blinked; it doesn’t amount to much more than a gas station/convenience store, a church and a flashing traffic signal. An unlikely backdrop, I admit, for this blog post but there it is. This is where she “resides” now. The car comes to a stop and I turn off the engine. Silence.
Not much has changed since last year. I remove the dried out decorations and memorials from last visit and replace them with fresh ones. No doubt they will be there next year and I will repeat this little ritual. I brush away the dead leaves. My aunt, Margaret, rests nearby. I silently pay my respects to her memory as my cousin, who has accompanied me on this trip for the past five or so years, places her Christmas memorial greens on my aunt’s resting place.
She used to live not far from here, my Mom. I can’t be sure for how long but it was long enough for me to have visited several times. The truth is, I think I’ve visited her more since her untimely passing than when she was living in the area. There was always going to be plenty of time to visit … maybe next Mother’s Day … maybe next summer … maybe next Christmas. There wasn’t going to be any more “next times” after December 22, 2000.
Honestly, there were several trips when I felt “obligated” to make the trek – six hours of traveling for a 15 minute visit – but this trip felt a little different. This time it felt as if she were saying, “It’s ok. You don’t have to do this anymore although I do appreciate the effort and the thought.”
But as I write this I feel something else. I feel that gentle tug on the heart, that flash of the memories, and I reach a place of serenity and coalescence. For as long as I am able I will make this pilgrimage to that holy place. Her memory deserves it and I need it.
“Friends with benefits”
When I hear that phrase what I actually hear is: “Friends with benefits … (wink wink, nudge nudge, snicker snicker)”. The phrase connotes a certain self-centeredness. It is a one-sided, one-way description of relationship. When the phrase is used by the one speaking it, that one is never the one “with” the benefits. Rather they are the one “receiving” the benefits, right? It’s definitely one of “what I can take from the relationship” not “what am I contributing to the relationship”.
It’s not a very positive message, in my opinion, but it got me thinking. What does that phrase sound like, what does it look like, from the third-person point of view? Is there any difference if it is used to describe a person without the self-centeredness undertone? What if we insert a comma in just the right spot? “Friends, with benefits.” Looking at it in that light, the tone and meaning changes dramatically from selfishness to one of recovery, redemption and grace. It turns into an apt description of those progressing toward wholeness in life.
I attended a wedding not too long ago. Two friends I’ve known for several years. Two friends I’ve been privileged to get to know on a deeper level. Two friends I met in recovery. They met in recovery, fell in love in recovery and are building a life together … based on the principles of recovery.
Years ago, that kind of life would have been unfathomable. Years ago, addiction tore, tattered, bruised and shattered their lives like it did mine. It was unrecognizable from the whole life they experience today. Today, although it sometimes seems drab, mundane and unexciting, the possibilities are limitless in their new, redeemed lives. Marriage, new careers, family, travel, adventures, friendships and hope are all blessings for them.
In recovery, especially in early recovery, we’re fortunate to be employed and employable. Lord knows we weren’t the most trustworthy or reliable people when addiction ravaged our lives. Because we weren’t dependable we were unable to hold down a job which led to feelings of worthlessness and despair. That, in turn, caused us to dive deeper into our addiction in order to numb those feelings.
I ran into a young adult in town a while back. She used to work at a local eatery but I hadn’t seen her there in a while. I came to find out that she has a new job. It’s a better job. The job carries more responsibility. She smiled as she told me she now works in a bank. While she was describing her new job she was visibly animated and excited about the direction in which her life was heading. I could see the positive effects on her self-confidence and self-image. The blessings of improved self-worth was a catalyst to her further growth and she could sense it.
I was at a meeting recently. A friend was celebrating 20 years in recovery and the room was filled with well-wishers and loved ones. One of the speakers that evening related a recent incident that occurred in a market parking lot. Someone called out his name and when he turned he saw someone he used with in the past. She was drawn, disheveled and desperate as she begged for money. It served as a reminder of where we were in our addiction – slaves – and that we have an obligation to help the still sick and suffering. How grateful we must be that we are free souls in recovery, one day at a time.
We don’t ever have to be suffering in addiction again. We are people in recovery who get another chance to live again. We don’t get a pass on the trials in life just because we are in recovery. We just learn how to get through those tough times. We are blessed to experience everything life has to offer – the good and the challenging.
The celebrant’s family were at the meeting too. Mom had the opportunity to say a few words. The gist of what she said was: lots of mistakes were made along the way but we’re in a better place now; just know that you are loved, then and now. I could feel my own Mom speaking those same words to me that night, at that moment.
“I love you Philip.”
“I love you too, Mom.”
Hugs and kisses across eternity.
Friends with benefits? No.
Friends with blessings. I like that much better.
No amount of laws can change a hardness of heart. No law can overcome the abyss created by hate, a hate that threatens our humanity, our existence. No amount of hand-wringing or committees or speeches can bring forth what is truly needed to bring about a fundamental and lasting change of how we treat others. No law, except one – “Love others.” The only thing that will stem the tide of hatred towards others is changing how we see others – not as different or enemies but as the same as us. That change in perspective comes from love.
But that requires us as members of the human family to go far beyond our comfortable borders. We think “if we just bar the doors, shutter the windows and stuff cotton in our ears we can keep the wolves outside while we remain safe inside.” We delude ourselves into thinking either the crisis doesn’t really exist or worse – that someone else will handle this mess. “A boat is safe in the harbor but that is not the purpose of a boat.” – Paolo Coelho. There is no one else!! The crisis is here, now, and it is not going away unless we each do our part in some small way.
As a Christian I am called to be like Christ, a follower of Christ. His early command was simple – “Follow Me.” But what does that mean? Here’s what I feel it means for me. It doesn’t mean to just walk behind Him, to be shielded by Him (although there are times when I need that shield). “Follow Me” was a calling to live like Him, do like Him and love like Him. It was a simple instruction on a way of life. Do as I do … this is how to live a whole, healthy, connected life with God and each other. Love God, love others … without exception!
Aahh, if only it were that simple, right? Loving others is easy if the “other” thinks like me, looks like me and believes like me. It gets real up here when I am confronted with “others” who are different from me. That asks us to take risks, to live on the fringes not because it is comfortable but because that is where the need is. That’s where the hurt is. That’s where the war is. That’s where the sickness is. That’s where the fear and desperation are. That is where our neighbor is.
Is it easy? Hell no, it is not easy but nothing worthwhile is ever easy. “But I am only a small, insignificant force. What can I possibly accomplish?” I used to believe that rubbish, too. I used to think the problems of the world were too big for one person to tackle and perhaps they are – for one person. However, when I try to make a difference I notice that there are lots of other “insignificant forces” doing the same thing and together a new world can be forged. I just have to look back on history to see a long, long line of “heroes” – both ordinary and extraordinary – who refused to remain silent, refused to shutter their eyes, ears and hearts, refused to allow evil to go unchallenged. Go ahead, think back yourself and you’ll see them too.
Perhaps if we can manage to remember that we are all made in the image of God, we can remember those tragedies are happening not in some distant land. Those horrors are not happening to some faceless, nameless stranger. The brutality and tears and desperation are those of our neighbors, our family, our friends … and it’s happening right here in our neighborhood. Perhaps then we’d be a little less fearful and more courageous in righting wrongs. Perhaps then we’d pause before committing acts of violence against others in our homes, in our schools, at our jobs. Perhaps we’ll pause and see them as our brother, our sister, our pets and perhaps we’ll think twice.
Maybe what really scares us more than the differences is facing the possibility that we don’t really “believe” what we say we believe. Because now we have to apply those beliefs (political, religious, spiritual and otherwise) not in the comfort of our hymns on a Sunday morning, bathed in stain-glass colored light; not in the comfort of the insulated halls of justice or government. Rather, those beliefs get tested by fire in the trenches, in the back alleys with the addict, in the refugee camps, in the homeless shelters, in the Ebola wards, in the orphanages. “Follow Me.”
If we don’t, we’ll have to face the uncomfortable, ugly truth – maybe we don’t believe the Gospel! Yikes!! We modify it to fit our comfort zones. “Jesus didn’t really mean for me comfort the dying in the hospital. He didn’t mean for me to open my home to refugees. He really didn’t mean I had to feed the hungry at a soup kitchen.” Really, He did.
35 You shall be richly rewarded, for when I was hungry, you fed Me. And when I was thirsty, you gave Me something to drink. I was alone as a stranger, and you welcomed Me into your homes and into your lives. 36 I was naked, and you gave Me clothes to wear; I was sick, and you tended to My needs; I was in prison, and you comforted Me. – Matthew 25:35-36
The only way to combat the plague of hate and darkness of soul is through the light of love, without exception. Will you do your part to chase the darkness? Will you help make this world a little nicer, a little kinder? There is no such thing as a small act of kindness, a small demonstration of love for even one small match will chase out the darkness.
“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?
The 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!!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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 Daniela 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, 2013
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
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, 2013
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
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
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!
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
Eileen received a very nice card, signed by all of us and a coil ceramic jar purchased at the high school art show Friday night. It is a lovely pale yellow with accents of green and purple. Everyone is chattering away and wishing Eileen a Happy Mother’s Day over breakfast. A very good start to the day as we head off to church.
Peter has been in an exceptionally joyous mood since he woke up. He is laughing and smiling and very vocal. We sit in our usual spot in church with Peter sitting between me and Eileen. Peter is most definitely enjoying the moment. As the service begins he is dancing and singing with the music. As Jonathan is delivering the message, Peter is affectionately taking my hand and rubbing his head in that certain place and way that he enjoys. Eventually, he leans in and begins to do something he’s never done before. He positions the top of his head against the side of my face and begins to rub his head against my jaw line much like a cat rubs its head against an object. He continues to do this throughout the message, all the while “purring”, sighing and smiling as he enjoys the sensation he gets from this “stimulation”. Even Kris commented on his unusual display of affection
Later that day, Kris and I go fishing in the Lehigh River in Bethlehem. Eileen silently thanks me for a few hours of quiet and relaxation on Mother’s Day. We enjoy the sunshine and the refreshing waters of the river as we rhythmically cast and retrieve our lines. A few hours later, Eileen and Pete surprise us at the fishing hole and Kris proudly displays his first bass of the season.
As the day draws to a close, Kris presents Eileen with a plush toy bunny rabbit that he won several weeks ago in a toy machine outside a big box store. “I got this for you for Mother’s Day,” he says. I was astounded at this breakthrough. This is a big deal! He and Eileen have struggled somewhat in breaking down his old walls and prejudices against mother figures. This day, the walls came down and he showed some genuine affection for her.
As nighttime approached, Eileen and Kris were sitting on the couch – she was watching some TV and he was playing a computer game. Interspersed with that was some conversations about a variety of things. I was upstairs and as I came down the stairs, hearing the conversations … it hit me. A feeling of love and peace washed over me and I realized that we are a family. It’s hard to describe but I just knew that God revealed the blessing of family to me in that moment. It was probably there all along but the busy-ness of the past nine months or so likely clouded my vision. Nevertheless, we are one.
Now, Kris says he’d a like a sister!