Our experiences with Sintija and Inessa were different in a lot of ways. Sintija came to us with a strong bond and history with her foster family, and a certainty that she wanted to remain Latvian forever. While we loved her nearly immediately, somewhere in our hearts we had an inkling that once she got on that plane the relationship would be in her hands from that point on. I won't lie - it wasn't easy. But, nearly a year later, we have ound her on "Latvian Facebook" and begun exchanging more letters and emails. She recently sent us pictures of her in the "Tennessee" sweatshirt we sent her for Christmas with a letter saying that she loved us and would hold the memories of her time with us in her heart forever. We were even invited to visit her by her foster family! There was a time when I grieved not being able to watch this amazing young lady grow up, but now I see that while she won't be under my roof, she will always be in my heart and we can be a part of her life forever. There is such joy in that!
And then there is our sweet Inessa! You know I could talk for DAYS about that child, right? There were so many opportunities to have "missed" her, but God kept turning our path right back to the sweet, blond haired, blue eyed child in that picture online. I will never forget the moment I laid eyes on her at nearly 1:30 AM in that Atlanta airport, because our lives haven't been the same since she walked into our home and hearts. We have had all kinds of hurdles and roadblocks and struggles and pain in this journey with Inessa, but never, ever have Mark and I wondered if she was worth it. Never. The only way I know how to describe it is that when we met Inessa, God literally laid a love for her in our hearts and that love has woven itself into ever fiber of our being. It is now just a part of who we are, even in the boys' lives. She is this absent, but natural part of our family, and we each carrying a little hole until we see her again this summer. Someday I hope to say she is officially my daughter, but until then I rest in the comfort of knowing she is the daughter of my heart.
I want to be honest that hosting isn't always easy. Some of the children have never experienced a day of functional family life. Some of the children don't know how to operate within the loving boundaries of a family right away, and often they can feel overwhelmed or confused by the language barrier. But, to be honest, those challenges have always provided us with a lot of joy on the flip side. I will never forget the night Sintija gave Mark a hug good night for the first time, or the smiles when all her American friends had a going away party complete with a cake with her name on it. The first time Inessa let me take her by the hand at our crowded church brought tears to my eyes. There are two pictures of Inessa that I treasure - one is her and Jude being silly decorating the Christmas tree and the other is her teasing with Cal, and you can just see the delight in his eyes. Holding her hand while the dentist worked on two abcessed teeth was difficult. The memory of saying our good-byes on January 14th still brings tears to my eyes. There is a part of me that aches every day for her.
These children are amazing. Some of them comes from circumstances you can't imagine and yet they still believe that somewhere, somehow there is a hope for a better life out there. The new photo listing of children available for summer hosting just came out last week, and while I feel certain that we are to host Inessa again this summer (Have I mentioned I can't wait to see her and hug her?), there are a few children who have captured my heart and I feel compelled to pray every day for their future. One girl, Diana, is from Russia and she has a passion for musical theater. Another girl, Zinaida, wants to go to college and be an interior designer. If I could smuggle in two preteen boys without Mark noticing a huge rise in the food budget, I would snatch up Sasha and Vitaly faster than you can say "Ukraine". The 16 year old twin sisters Alina and Darina need to find their forever family soon because when they turn 16 in June, they are no longer available to be adopted and their hopes of a "forever family" are over. There are three siblings sets of four that I check on every day to see if they have been selected to come for the summer, and Sergei from Ukraine has the exact same smile as one of my nephews. I challenge you to get a cup of coffee, find a quiet space, and look at the photo listing. God will lay a child or two on your heart to pray for, too.
I get that not everyone is as passionate about these kids as I am, and if that is you, I thank you for reading this blog entry and only ask you to do one thing. If you don't feel compelled to host one of these children (and I understand there are life circumstances where it isn't for everyone!), take a minute and think about your friends, co-workers, extended family, church family. Then take a minute to pray. Is there anyone God lays on your heart to forward a link to New Horizons about? Do you know some empty nesters who wouldn't mind the sound of some children for the summer? This isn't about committing to adoption. It's only about showing God's love for five weeks. That's it.
I know I must sound like a cyber-broken record, but these kids and the blessing this program can be is my passion. If you know someone who is interested or has questions about how the program works, they can either call NHFC (info is on their website!) or they can always call or email me!