Moms are allowed to cry when they send their kids off to college. I did, that’s for sure. Yes, several years ago, I helped get my son and daughter get settled into their dorm rooms. I scrubbed the tub, made their beds, put everything in its place and generally fussed over them. It’s a bittersweet time to be savored. Well, more sweet than bitter actually. I loved it.
I didn’t think it would happen again, but yesterday it did – in Ukraine. A new school year is about to start, and God worked a miracle (to be revealed at another time…) so that two of our 9th grade orphan graduates could come to Cherkasy, attend Trade School and live in the Hope Now girls’ home. After successfully getting over the massive hurdles for them to do these 3 things, we brought the new girls to their new home to get them settled.
When seven teenage girls live together in one apartment, there is usually some level of drama and sometimes even chaos. The new girls arrived with an assortment of small suitcases, duffle bags and other second hand containers people had given them to haul their lifetime of possessions around in. The other girls had rearranged rooms, made available a few drawers and some closet space but clearly there was just not enough space for 7 girls, especially when the capacity is supposed to be for 6 girls. (But who can say no to an orphan who needs a safe place to live?)
So, there was chaos. There was also drama in the small kitchen, as the older girls expected the new girls to bring their own cutlery, cookware, cups, etc.… but we did not. We did not realize that many of the items that you would normally expect in a fully furnished apartment, had disappeared. There was also drama and chaos in the tiny bathroom – which 7 girls will all share.
I started to sense the older girls were not happy with the new girls and vice versa. Some of the items we had bought for the new girls were much nicer than what they had. The atmosphere started to get a bit thick, humid and uncomfortable. Then the apartment’s supervisor arrived, and there was some loud, sharp talking and then all the older girls jumped up and started cleaning furiously. I began having a conversation with this lady, and our discussion got a little heated, confused and tense as well.
This is not how a new school year is supposed to start. This was more bitter than sweet. I didn’t like it for myself, but I really didn’t like it for any of the girls. After the supervisor left, the girls immediately relaxed but everyone was silent and working individually. I gathered all the girls together and made a circle. We all held hands. I told them that it wasn’t fair. I told them that their own moms should have had this nice experience with them. That they each deserved a good – no, great mom of their own. That their own moms should have come to move them in, bring everything they needed, be excited and nervous for them, made their beds, etc. They each deserved a mom of their own who loves them and is willing to show it.
Sadly, all of these girls have moms who have intentionally abandoned their own beautiful daughters. Some are now dead, some have traded one set of children for another, some prefer the bottle to motherhood, and some are just not fit to raise children. These moms only contact their daughters to try to get money from them, and do not provide their daughters with anything but grief. These girls deserve moms who will send them brownies and encouraging notes, but they will not get them. And that’s why I cried this time around.
I told the girls that this circle was their new family. Together, the girls needed to work together as sisters. They should support each other and help each other. They need to communicate with each other, pray for each other and lift each other up. All the girls are from the same orphanage, from different grade levels, ranging in age from 15-19 years old. And just like a family, they might get mad at each other occasionally, but they need to help each other and work together in love.
I reminded them that God made each one of them exactly as He wanted. Individually, each girl lacks some of the skills that another girl has, and God did that on purpose so that they could rely on each other. Romans 12:5 says, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
We ended by praying, hugging, drying eyes and blowing noses. I will never replace their own mothers. I am just their American mama. But I WILL bring them brownies. Bittersweet ones.
Here I am on the airplane from Amsterdam heading home to Atlanta, and I want to write down a little memory of camp before I forget it. It’s so hard to think of individual moments because the entire week at Kompas Park was momentous.
I remember it was my team’s time to go to the beach. When we got down to the river, I was asked if I knew how to kayak. Sure! Two of the girls, Larissa, and Marina and I, went out in the kayak...
When I think about my time as a volunteer at Kompas Park camp, it is very difficult to narrow my thoughts to one event that would describe my experience. I could have never expected the connection I would make with each of the children in my group in such a short period of time as well as the impact we would make as a group.
The most poignant moment to me occurred on Wednesday evening as the boys in my group were preparing for bed...