The following entry was originally written for the New Horizons for Children Blog and can be found here.
Yesterday, I went to the county fair with some good friends. While waiting for our boys to get off a ride, my friend’s 11-year-old daughter was entertaining us. Speaking with a spot-on Eastern European accent, she was saying all the favorite English words of the boy I hosted this past summer.
And then we all joined in. Imitating his enjoyment of ramen noodles, his dislike of ice water, his obsession with bananas and all things monkey.
We were in stitches. The 11-year-old is able to get all of his inflections and mannerisms just right. And it’s bittersweet to see the shadow of this boy I love flicker across the face of another.
But the joy. The celebration of what a little boy did in our hearts. The happiness that existed there, standing in a muddy field next to a cheap carnival ride with the alternating wafts of funnel cakes and the cow barn tingeing the air.
And my friend looked at me, and laughed, and said, “If anyone heard us right now, they would think we were crazy!”
And I thought: I don’t care. And I knew that she didn’t either. Because we were missing someone, and in that moment, reminiscing about him reminded me how changed I really was.
It’s hard to believe that just eight months ago, I was in the same place as many of you reading this right now. I saw the need of so many children, so many hurting souls. I wanted to do something. But what?
I knew the statistics for Eastern European orphans. I knew 60% of the aged-out girls fell into or were forced into prostitution; that 70% of the aged-out boys ended up involved in crime; that 15% of them would attempt suicide before aging out because of what they are facing. And that when they said “aging out” they were talking about 16 year olds. Babies.
But what could I do? I was just one person. I had limited resources, but a heart ready to see how God could use me. Was that enough? I told a few people about this program, and they encouraged me to go for it. I knew I would have to fundraise, but I was convinced I needed to step out in faith.
And then I took that next step and looked at pictures. And I saw him. Nine years old. His sweet face. His mischievous smile. I should have known then my life would never be the same.
Months of anticipation and preparation commenced. I did do fundraising, and when I needed the money, it was there. My faith was built with each step I took.
Then he arrived. And it was awkward those first few days. It wasn’t quite what I expected.
It was better.
That little monkey was a performer, and at times keeping up was exhausting. It wasn’t easy. He didn’t fit into the picture of my life the way I thought he would. But he filled it with more color and texture than I ever thought possible. Every day was an adventure. One of his favorite things to do was to loudly sing American music. There’s nothing quite like a trip to the grocery store with a boy hanging off your cart who suddenly breaks out a “You Can’t Touch This!” solo for the old ladies in the aisle. And the laugh at the end…the laugh he couldn’t contain because he was so happy to be singing. That was the best part. Well, that and the looks on the faces of the old ladies.
I remember the first day he felt free to sing. That moment in my kitchen when he said with “Gangnam Style” that he was ready to be himself. How I laughed. How his dance moves became more exaggerated with my every expression of joy in him.
Some days were harder than others. He and my biological son (also nine) would bicker terribly at times. Trying to mediate a fight when both boys are dramatically miming how near to death they came at the hands of the other was both highly amusing and terribly trying, depending on the day.
But what I found was that he quickly became part of our family. His comfort in sharing both excitement and complaint showed how much he felt at home as well. And our time together was filled with many firsts, lots of hugs, a few tears, but much laughter.
And it was hard to send him home, not knowing when or if we would see one another again. But I wouldn’t change it.
It turns out that it wasn’t about making his life better. It was about coming alongside him and entwining our lives together so that we would all be better, and stronger, and kinder, and more loved. He changed us as much as we did him. That’s what love does.
And the best part of it was that I discovered that it wasn’t just my immediate family that was affected. I found a whole community of like-minded people in NHFC. The support in the organization is remarkable. Some families had a dream hosting. Others struggled. And there were cheers for the joy, encouragement in the struggle, and friendship freely given.
I thought MY family was reaching out to this ONE child. And that happened. But through this community, I was part of the story of so many other children as well. I was not alone.
And because of that, I was able to reach out to my own local community. Other families I know are considering hosting, or are supporting those of us who are financially. Suddenly it’s not just little me facing a terrible problem, feeling helpless. It’s an army, standing against the broken things in this world, stretching out their arms in love to children who may not have seen it in a family before.
It’s two crazy ladies laughing at a county fair as an 11-year-old channels a little monkey who lives an ocean away.
This Christmas, my friend is hoping to host the same little boy that I did. His energy touched a woman who had never considered hosting or adoption before, and she was captivated.
As the winter matching season begins, consider being captivated. Consider loving someone you don’t know yet. Consider being entwined. It is work. But it is work that harvests joy.