Sunday, August 9, 2009

Blessed, Part One

I took a road trip with my better half Thursday. Randy doesn’t just tolerate my Lighthouse Project activities, he embraces them. He never says no when saying yes will benefit the program in some way. Randy has cared for our four kids himself for stretches while I was out of town coordinating trips, spent his inopportunely-timed birthday at Chuck E. Cheese because the Lighthouse kids were having a get-together there, told me one hundred times to go ahead and pick up the phone for Lighthouse calls arriving at dinnertime, helped prepare mailings at all hours of the night, and gone on thankless paper chases for every trip I’ve done in the past two years. We left Michigan on Thursday, drove 870 miles to Tulsa, arrived at 5 p.m., and headed back Friday morning to Grand Rapids another 870 miles. While the story revolves around the few hours spent in Tulsa, for Randy it’s less compartmentalized. His cooperation borders on the fanatical no matter how creative my suggestion; a girl couldn’t ask for a more supportive husband. When I proposed this audaciously abbreviated trip to attend a welcome home party for a dear friend of the Lighthouse Project, Randy didn’t bat an eye, insisted of course we should do it, and said he’d drive. As it transpires now, we are speeding by semis less full than my heart has been in the short time since we left home.

Heading west on I-44 to Tulsa, I had a great excuse to stop and see Elaine, coordinator of last month’s stupendously successful Rolla, Missouri, trip. It was great to see her again; even three weeks apart left us with plenty of catching up to do. Randy, who’d been polite enough to show interest in my spate of stories about the Missouri trip, felt like he knew Elaine already when he finally met her yesterday. We ate lunch with her and her husband, celebrating their anniversary with more Lighthouse Project talk. Randy got a kick out of meeting another husband as tolerant of his wife’s Lighthouse work as he is.

Late afternoon brought Tulsa; my friend, for whose daughter Katya the party was held, had no idea I was coming. I’d been racking my brain for months trying to figure out what I could do to show her how special she and her family are to us. (Happy Birthday, Katya!, 7/9/09) So when I heard about a welcome party for Katya that would be like a baby shower, only for a fifteen-year-old, I knew I had to be there. When my friend saw me, it took three proclamations I’d come to Tulsa just to go to her party before she finally believed me. Each avowal on my part was punctuated by a hug from her. The third hug, when she finally believed I really was there just for her, was so emphatic that I had to brace myself to keep from falling to the floor. Her reaction was more than I could have hoped for. I didn’t know anyone else at the party, so I made literal small talk with Katya, given my painfully limited Russian vocabulary. When my friend’s phone began to ring, Katya called, “Mama, Mama!” and hurried the phone to her. She had waited fifteen years to call someone that; knowing I’d had any part in making that one word reality was worthy of a tear. Later, opening gifts, Katya found the partygoers’ generosity overwhelming, so her mom took over the unwrapping honors. Kids in orphanages are not accustomed to receiving presents.

After the party, there was just time enough to get to the airport to welcome a family arriving with new brothers Losha, 12, and Jacob, 15, both from the November 2008 Tulsa trip. (Tulsa World article, 11/10/08) I’m a veteran of countless airport homecomings, and the assembled throng was, by far, the largest I’d seen. The boys beamed from ear to ear when they saw the signs and heard the ascendant cheer as they entered the airport’s waiting area. Several of the family’s other children had stayed behind in Tulsa while their parents went to Russia. Reunited, their mom Marie cried and had to reassure the younger ones her tears were of the happy variety. That my own young daughter had the same reaction on my return from Russia years ago was worth a few more tears on my part. As Marie saw me in the crowd, her face registered shock. We shared a long embrace, and her whispered “Thank you!” gladdened my heart at having had part in the festal occasion. When they’d gotten Jacob at his orphanage the previous week, he was the only child there: the rest were at camps or with foster families for the summer. My dear friend Julie, also in Russia picking up her three new children, was along for the ride, too, and found it odd to see an orphanage sans children. I sometimes lament our efforts make scarcely a dent in the worldwide orphan population, but that vision of Julie’s was a sneak preview of what we work toward every day with our program.
Due to length, the remainder of this entry will be posted Wednesday.