But it seemed like a big thing to leave off the blog, and a good opportunity to plug a good charity, so here goes.
I seem to have acquired 4 kids over the last year. Well, two, and then perhaps another two on the side. And before you ask, no, we're not adopting or having quadruplets.
In January of last year, one of the gentlemen that attends our church showed up one day with a new family. A father, and 2 daughters, recently arrived from a refugee camp in Kenya by way of Ethiopia (at least for the father, the girls were born in the camp). Now, just for a frame of reference, they got here in a period of record snowfall - there was about 5 feet on the ground on our lawn. And they arrived with no winter gear, and light sneakers that wouldn't stand up to a single slush puddle.
Turns out Jim heads up the board of directors of R-I-M, the Refugee Immigration Ministry, and these were houseguests until an apartment could be found.
So, I asked what winter gear they needed, and Sander and I got them boots and winter hats, and the girls some clothes. And then got a thank you note from their father. And then we babysat the girls the day of the adorable one's 2nd birthday party so that their father could move them into their new apartment.
And the girls and my daughter fell head over for one another and were inseparable after that.
So we went from winter boots to almost extended family in a matter of months. A little odd, even for me. And that's saying something.
Then almost immediately after they moved into their own place, Jim took on another family - this time asylum seekers - a young mother, father, 2 year old daughter, and a baby on the way.
And of course, the 2 year old had nothing that fit, and since the Mom's maternity appointments were in Boston near where I work, I started providing rides home and a loan of maternity clothes. And of course, the adorable one decided that their daughter and she should be BFFs. Let it be noted that she doesn't take no for an answer, my child. I don't quite know where she got that. ;)
And then the baby was born, and there you have it. Since the younger family is intact, they need mostly friendship and clothes for the kids. The other family is a bit more complex - and they have somehow become much more wrapped up in our lives, and we in theirs. And they may become extended family in a truer sense - my sister the farmer needs a farm caretaker, and Dawit has both the veterinary and construction skills that fit. He needs a home for his daughters, and some stability. We're working through the details, and the adorable one and I recently took them out for a visit to NY.
Both families have lost everything in terrible ways. The younger family fled for their lives during the civil war in Congo, and experienced horrible things - being human trafficked, spending last Christmas in a mexican jail, a 6-day march down a river - in the river- for 12 hours a day, holding their toddler daughter up on their shoulders to keep her from drowning.
The older girls lost their mother when she was beaten to death. The younger one was 7 months old. Their father has lost and lost again, almost too many things to list.
It's always a mixed bag when you expand your lives to accommodate newcomers. And here, there's culture and language and power issues. There's a lot to bridge in a relationship like the ones we're engaging in - our inability to begin to comprehend what their lives have been like, the simplistic view of everyone in America as 'rich', the struggle to navigate a culture so dissimilar from their own, and the difficulty in starting over as adults in a place where their experience, education and frame of reference are seen as valueless.
We've made a commitment though, to help these 2 families through to success - to make sure that the kids stay clothed and shod, to help their parents get ahead. Somehow, some winter boots have turned into much more than that.
It's not without mixed feelings, this commitment we've made to intertwine our lives - even at a distance - with people so different from us. When you choose to do it with people who have similar frames of reference, it's easy. This is a bit more complex, and it's called out to me that while it's easy to give, it's not always easy to give in ways that are meaningful to others but not to yourself. And that we all sometimes need to be made a bit uncomfortable in order to personally grow.
I think everything happens for a reason. Maybe that's trite, but I do. This year we acquired some extended family, and we are better people for it. That doesn't mean it's easy.
There's more to this story, and I will tell it. But later.