We have had a lot going on this past week!
Probably the biggest activity with Sintija was taking her on a trail ride! She communicated to us (repeatedly!) that she would like to ride a horse, so through a good friend we connected up with Mr. Shane who took us (and four other new friends) on the longest trail ride of my life...
Sintija did amazing! Of course, she got first dibs on the arthritic horse and I ended up in a battle of wills with a spunky horse, Carly - but regardless, we both had such a great time! We had hoped to get Sintija on a horse for a few trips around a corral. What we got to do instead was a four hour trail ride through the hills and wilderness of Cottontown! It was incredible. We enjoyed the riding and the company immensely, but she and I did argue over who got to sit on the pillow that night. Ouch! A four hour trail ride is not for the faint of heart or the tender in the buttocks!
We have spent time with friends, played at the park, gone for bike rides, and visited cool places around Nashville. Later this week, Sintija has a dentist appointment (while she is here we take her for a dental check up and an eye exam). She isn't terribly thrilled with the dentist idea, but I am going in for a check up too, so maybe my serenity while in the dental chair will reassure her. (No pressure!)
Throughout the last week or so, Mark and I have begun trying to process through the emotions of hosting. It has been wonderful in so many ways. Sintija is such a fun, vibrant, smart young lady. She is missing her life in Latvia at times, but she seems content for the most part to experience life here while she can. She is at a point where she is testing boundaries, which is a very normal part of this process, and she is working through more emotions right now than a 13 year old can successfully comprehend.
I think a common perception of people (it was mine once upon a time!) is that when you take a "poor orphan child" from a country where they experience poverty, rejection, and struggle and place them in a loving home in a country of abundance (which we are, don't let CNN or anyone else convince you otherwise...) that the child's natural response will be gratitude, joy, and perfect compliance. But when you look a little closer, that isn't very realistic. Granted, many of these children come from somewhere where they may not have all of their physical or emotional needs met, but at least they are living a life of familiarity. They know what to expect. They know what they need to do to survive. Life may not be joyful, but it is predictable. And there is comfort in that for any human being. How many of us (who come from loving families and lives of plenty) settle for what is familiar instead of pursuing what may be best? The known may not be terrific, but at least it is safe.
When these children come to the US, they have left behind all that sounds, smells, tastes, and feels familiar. Their sense of sight is overwhelmed by all of the choices laid out in front of them. They are being hugged (which many have never been before, so it feels uncomfortable and confusing at times). They are being given choices they have never had to make before (like what to wear. When you only have one pair of pants, you don't have to choose...). And they are experiencing all of these new things and feelings with total strangers, who by the way, happen to keep talking about this guy, Jesus, who died and then came back to life because He loves people.
Most of these children come from a situation where they have little or no context from which to understand our freedom, leisure, plenty, and joy. And so they experience a myriad of emotions (fear, anger, jealousy, surprise, happiness, curiosity...), and yet they don't have the language skills to express them. (And really, what child can accurately process those feelings, even without a language barrier?)
Now please don't read all of that and then think that this hasn't been one of the coolest and best experiences of our family's life! Like so many people, I thought we would be "helping" Sintija learn about the world. Instead, she has taught us. We are the ones who are truly grateful that she was brave, courageous, and crazy enough to come live with us. But there is so much more to this than what people (including us!) initially think. As Sintija tests boundaries and expresses her feelings, we have to constantly look at this process from her perspective. Otherwise we miss God given opportunities to really love her.
So that is what we are doing and what we are thinking through at this point! Sintija will go back to Latvia two weeks from tomorrow, and even with some rougher moments, I am not sure any of the Kimmels will be ready. Keep us in your prayers! And pray for sweet Sintija too. She is a blessing we never saw coming.