On Staying Put and Leaving Behind

Sunshine is staying put in Latvia.

I couldn’t be more content.

Sprite is at this moment flying here to start his life in America.

I couldn’t be more thrilled.

It doesn’t make sense to others, I am sure, how these two events can live in parallel spaces in my heart and bring such joy. But I think that we are quick to label the staying as a failure and the coming as a success.

It’s simply not true.

There is no success or failure if a family is made.  There is no “right” look you have to find.  Instead, there is the choice you make between selfish desires and sacrificial love. There is the weight you hold as you watch each one you love walk the path that they are finding for themselves.

Making sure the path wends its way into my house and my immediate space should never be the ultimate goal, the ultimate measure of the depth of a relationship.

I have spent the last month immersed in Latvia. Living there, working there, flying from there, hurrying to return there. I organized my thoughts around those spaces and those people. And what I have previously known in head knowledge has become deeply enmeshed in my soul:

Latvia is a beautiful land. It is full of dear people. It is informed by a rich heritage, both in the individual stories and the people as a nation.

I am proud to be adopted as a Latvian. I am proud to adopt Latvians into my family. Some of it is marked by official documents. Most of it isn’t. It doesn’t matter. I love this land and this people.

IMG_3131And as I watch the stories of the children I know unfold, there is something that I wish I could explain to everyone who asks me with voices tinged with sadness, “Will Sunshine ever get to come to America forever?” or who assuredly say to me, “I’m sure Sprite is so grateful to have a family bring him to America.”

I have the same answer to both statements. Latvia is not a place that children need to be “rescued” from. It is not the land. It is not the culture. It is not the PLACE that needs to be escaped.

It is the circumstances.

These children, these ones I love, they have experienced the harsh realities of abandonment, of death, of abuse, of terrible things that should never have to be put into words. That is the nature of evil—it knows no nationality or border. It strikes where it will.

And this is what hosting is about. It’s about fighting that evil. It’s about creating connections to make a family. It’s about being the light and the good and the truth. It’s about loving and being loved. Helping and being helped.

But it does not mean those children have to be in America.

This trip to Latvia has spoken the truth of these things. One night, Stephanie and I sat and counted out the ones we have come to love there in that land. The orphaned boy who needs to find a family quickly to be spared from the continued degradation of his dear heart in the orphanage. The other boy who has made the choice for independence and would not do well being adopted, but so clearly needs adult guidance and an investment through hosting. The teen who is living with her boyfriend and needs someone to speak truth about what real love looks like. The young adult who is looking for a salve for her soul in serial relationships instead of a family. The boy who is all alone and terrified to have to be an adult without any support from anyone.

There are not simple answers. The solution is not to adopt them all and bring them to America. The solution is also not to leave them to flounder alone in Latvia.

The answer is to love and be love.

The answer is to invest, even if it means leaving behind.

Sunshine stays put. Sprite comes here. This is the best for both of them.

I leave her behind and know she will likely never be with me permanently. He leaves behind boys who are like his brothers.

But none of us disconnect.

And it’s not easy, this staying put, this leaving behind. Because it’s distance and it’s sadness. But it is not despair.

Let me tell you of Sunshine’s life.

She has given up her apartment with friends. She lives with her grandmother now. It is good that they have each other. They don’t have a lot, but Grandma is older, and needs someone with her.

IMG_3301Little Man and I had the opportunity to meet this wonderful woman. What an amazing life that is quietly being lived in a small apartment on the edge of the city. Grandma used to be famous. She spent forty years as a television journalist. She walked and talked with dignitaries. She met with presidents and princes. She had a fifty year platonic romance with an Olympic athlete, until he was murdered a few years ago. She wrote three books. One was about their relationship. One was about her career and family. One was about the history of her beautiful country.

And the generosity she poured out. She laid a feast before us with her meager supplies. She pulled out stories and objects and spoke so fast that Sunshine couldn’t keep up with the translations.

I forgot my gift for her in my haste to catch the bus. She looked at Little Man with tears in her eyes and said, “You gave me the greatest gift ever by bringing Little Man here. My grandson, here.”

And we sat as family. And she pulled out heirlooms and filled Little Man’s arms with them. She gave him her Press pass. She gave him her badge from when she was mayor of their town. She gave him pins and mementos. She gave freely of all she had. These things belonged with family, she said.IMG_4368 2

And I knew, sitting there, that this is where Sunshine needs to be. This is where my heart tore a little bit more, and as I left, I laid a piece of it on the corner cabinet, in between my girl’s kindergarten picture and the one of the three of us in America.

A few days later, I met Sunshine’s fourteen year old sister. Sunshine has two half-sisters, ages 14 and 11, who live with their father. Their story is not mine to tell, but it is not a happy one. Sunshine does her best to stay connected with them and fights to remain in their lives. Soon, she may have to go to court to petition for the right to see them. It is a battle I will help her fight as best as I can.

How can I look into her sister’s beautiful eyes and turn away from this? How can I pretend not to notice the hunger for connection she speaks with every pore of her being?

And that sweet girl, who risked so much to spend mere moments with me, slide next to me and whispered, “Thank you. Thank you for being Mama for Sunshine. You teach her; she teach me. Thank you.”

And Sunshine, in her endearing way, embarrasses her sister with all the things she teaches about being a woman. And we laugh, and her sister blushes, but I hear underneath the things that are true. Respect yourself. Value yourself. Don’t give away who you are to people who don’t deserve it.

And I look at this girl, all elbows and knees, and I say, “I am always Mama. Always. And your family. You are mine now, too.”

20150919_194353 2So we mark this moment, teen-like, with a selfie. And I struggle to write the caption. “Good time with best people,” her sister says. “Good time with wonderful family,” I say. And she reads it, and her soul melts in a soft “Yes. Yes, really.” And she bends into me and I wish I could hold her forever.

But I must let her go, back into the darkness. Back to the shadows of the broken places. Back to the pain of the life she lives.

And I watch her playfully bump Sunshine as they walk away together. And I think how selfish I would be to take that bright one away from these sisters.

And so my goodbye with Sunshine was tearless. It was a see ya later and I love you, because of course this is simply a momentary parting.

We talked a few days later, and I told her stay put. Maybe not forever. Who knows what our lives will be in ten years. Maybe then, come for a while. Maybe then, I will go live with her for a while. Who knows.

But for now, stay put.

This is not a loss.

These last few weeks were a new sort of family-grafting. This was me putting roots in their spaces. This was hosting reversed. This was understanding how we will do life. This was loving my family.

And I am not sorry that she will stay put. I am only sorry that I had to wait so long to meet my family, and that I had to leave them so soon.

But I will be back. And she will be here, too. Because we cannot untangle these connections.

But for now, if you will excuse me, I am off to the airport with balloons and cheers to welcome our darling Sprite to America.

We are, all of it….in all forms…. forever family.

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