Having spoken to hundreds of potential host families in thousands of conversations, I’ve developed a sixth sense as to what flies and what doesn’t. I’ve learned cold calls are an exercise in futility. No matter how highly recommended a family comes, if they lack the motivation to make a call, they’re unlikely to care enough to host a child. I never break this rule, but did once, for which I’m thankful.
Days before the arrival of November’s Tulsa trip, I needed hosts and felt desperate. I heard about a family looking to adopt who might be interested in hosting, so with gritted teeth I acquiesced to a suggestion I call. When Julie picked up the phone, I apologetically introduced myself and braced to receive a bum’s rush that never came. Instead, with a smile in her voice, Julie proclaimed her gladness I’d phoned. Two hours of talking and laughing later, I had another host family. I didn’t know it yet, but I’d met a serial hoster.
Julie and her husband Dave hosted ten-year-old Dima; eight-year-old brother Vladimir was unable to travel. Midway through the trip, Julie tearfully confided her dread of Dima’s return to Russia. She loved him she said, but more important was how she said it: “I’m trying to memorize every freckle on his face!” The attention to minute detail in her love sold me, once and for all: Julie was a keeper.
January brought another Tulsa trip. Asking her to host would have been heartless, so busy was she with her own adoption by then. But nearing arrival and in another bind, I asked her anyway and was elated by her joyous agreement. Julie was a godsend: a snap of the fingers sent her scurrying to assist. She met me at the airport when I arrived in town, lent me her phone for the trip’s duration, and brought bags of food my second day when I admitted mid-afternoon that I’d been so busy with calls I hadn’t shopped, having eaten only a package of cinnamon Tic Tacs in Tulsa. When she knew of a need, Julie was quick with a hand and sympathetic ear.
I faced my March Grand Rapids trip with despondency, by now believing Lighthouse incomplete without Julie’s involvement. Besides being a dear friend, she endeared herself further as an aficionado of my blog. She called breathless one day about fifteen-year-old Ekaterina, whom I’d recently written about. (Marching On, 2/2/09) I was shocked, but after praying about it, Dave and Julie decided to host her in Michigan, earning the honorific of first family found by blog. I was there when Ekaterina called her “Mom.” Julie sniffled, “I’ve never been called Mom by a female voice before!” Because they were already in the process of adopting Dima and Vladimir, the couple was able to add Ekaterina to their adoption without much paperwork fanfare, important since she was on the cusp of her sixteenth year. (Choking Up, 4/3/09)
I’d intended all along to welcome them at the airport when they returned with their kids. But timing was inopportune, since Randy and I had driven to Tulsa the previous weekend to attend a welcome party for another adoptee. Additionally, I was due in Tulsa days later for the August Lighthouse Project trip. We reluctantly concluded I’d skip the airport homecoming, visiting instead during the August trip.
All day Thursday, it chafed knowing Julie was returning and I wouldn’t be there. When the Lighthouse Project director called me mid-afternoon to confirm the August trip had been cancelled due to the Russian swine flu resolution, I realized we could make Tulsa. By 5 p.m. we’d decided to go, though I wanted to be at the Grand Rapids airport that night to see fourteen-year-old Masha arrive. Her parents had worked valiantly for seventeen months to fundraise for her adoption; I’ve seen families with much more miniscule obstacles abandon adoption plans. All the while, Masha’s parents were team players, attending others’ airport homecomings and almost all the Russian adoption functions I was at while they awaited her. I owed them a welcome of their own upon their return.
After Masha’s homecoming we finished packing, setting out at 1:20 a.m. Friday. Julie would be in at 7:50 p.m., and with an 870-mile drive looming, we couldn’t procrastinate. Knowing my mom wouldn’t sleep because she’d be praying us to Tulsa, I felt guilty. At that same hour we left, Dave and Julie were in Moscow rushing toward the airport for their flight home, and dear Lori, who’d fundraised for her Inna’s adoption with a single-minded devotion, was beginning her session in the Russian court. So much was happening; I clearly had my own prayers to say on behalf of friends half a world away. With Randy driving all night beside me the second weekend in a row, my kids cooperating in seats behind me, my mom’s prayers covering us, and friends in Russia finishing adoptions, commitment to the Lighthouse Project and the kids we help hardly distinguishes me.