Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy Birthday, Katya!

Working through interviews of kids for my July 2008 Lighthouse Project trip, I waded through an overexposed interview of a then- thirteen-year-old Katya. Amongst other things, she mentioned she was doing leg exercises, and I didn’t think much about it at the time. Understanding arrived past midnight on a July 2008 night at the airport as I met the kids in Michigan. Katya lagged behind, struggling to walk. She apologized to the translator for slowing the group and not walking better, and explained the stilted gait as cerebral palsy.

Katya was an immensely sweet girl, but the day before the kids returned to Russia I still had no leads. At VBS that last morning, a nice lady came to meet Katya; it was her fourteenth birthday. They shared the day and ate birthday cake together. By mid-afternoon, the family was “100% committed” to adopting her. Based on this assurance, I promoted only other children with a confident serenity that Katya had already found her family.

Happy Birthday, Katya, right?

Wrong. The next day the kids returned to Russia, though they had scarcely arrived home when the family changed their minds. They gave a few reasons, excuses, really, and nothing they hadn’t known at the time they were 100% committed. Not that it mattered: Katya was gone, I now knew she had special needs, and no other family had expressed interest.

Katya’s second chance would have been Tulsa in November 2008. When a last-minute, dysentery-inspired orphanage quarantine kept her, and six others, at home in Russia, it was Katya my heart ached most for. But the Lighthouse Project returned to Tulsa in January this year to give those quarantined souls, and a few newcomers, their chances at families. Katya came on that trip, played the piano, sang a solo at the evening program, and slept in what she proudly told the translator was a “princess bed.” Mid-week, her host mom whispered to me they loved her and how well she fit in their family. A decision to adopt was followed by a flurry of paperwork finished at breakneck speed.

Earlier today, less than six months after Katya’s departure, her parents-to-be stood in a Russian courtroom. The judge asked Katya why she wanted to go with people who’d traveled halfway around the world for her. The answer was as simple as it was profound: she wanted a family. There was no reason not to; the judge approved the adoption. Providentially, it was Katya’s fifteenth birthday. While she got what most kids her age already have, it was the well-chosen gift she wanted most: a family.

So to a very special family, congratulations! I pray for you the best adoption ever. May you be as blessed as you have blessed.

To Katya, I wish you the happiest of birthdays! Bring joy to the family that has brought such joy to you. You’ve found your family. You’re a daughter.

What a difference a year makes.