Friday, December 19, 2014

This Ain't Disneyworld!

The pink cloud has dissipated.

The puppy dogs and kittens have all gone on to greener pastures.

The euphoria surrounding the finalization of the adoption and the relief that “it is done” has faded like the last warm rays of a summer sunset. Now the business of parenting begins in earnest.

This parenting thing is no walk in the park even under “normal” conditions. If you are parenting teenagers that last phrase would be an oxymoron! If anyone has any doubts about it, we are not operating under “normal” conditions.

As any parent of a teenager can attest, you struggle with lots of attitude from the mouths, body language and icy stares of the little chreubs. Struggles with raging hormones, wildly vacillating emotions, low self-esteem, loneliness and poor self-image a but a few of the delights facing parents of teens. Add in a pinch of the negative onslaught coming from todays music, television, drugs, alcohol and just plain old bad influences and you have the makings of a powder keg.

Now imagine throwing into this volatile mix a history of abandonment, emotional trauma, physical abuse or self-installed high walls to protect your inner most self; and that's just a small sample of what an orphan has to deal with.

It has been six months since we first met K in Jaycee's kitchen. In many ways we've learned a lot about each other but in some aspects we don't know jack. There have, no doubt, been countless wonderful moments where we all seem to let our guards down and share in the moments of family. There have been Cheshire cat-like smiles when he proudly shows us his grades from school. He so wants to please and receive that affirmation of affection … that “Atta boy”! Don't we all? How much more does he want it … dare say, need it … after all these years with no one there to pat him on the back?

But there have also been some dark moments that seem to well up and burst forth over those defensive parapets. Sometimes it's a matter of misunderstanding and struggling through the difficulties of language barriers. Other times it comes from a much deeper place in him – a place filled with hurt and anger. Lots of hurt and lots of anger.

No, no one ever said that parenting was easy. It's the most difficult job on the planet. But we persevere. We assure him that we love him. We reaffirm our commitment to our family – a family of which he is an integral part. We also show steadfastness when it comes to expectations and what it means to be a part of a family. We try our best to understand that this notion is completely new him – the notion of a loving family that cares about him. We don't always succeed at that.

This is going to take quite a bit of patience, love and resilience. We know there will be times when we say to ourselves, “We could have done better on that.” But one thing is for sure. We never go back on our commitment to love.

Never, ever.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Kristofer Timothy Gentile


I like words. I like to write them and I especially like to read them.  But on days like this words are woefully inadequate.  They cannot give depth to the worries and sleepless nights as one wonders if they can financially do this adoption thing.  They cannot carry the laughter and joy that Kris brings to our family.  You have to be there to experience those moments.

You have to be there in the car with Zinta, Kris and me as we head to the embassy. Kris knows that George Washington was the first president but does not know the current president.  I casually tell him "Knucklehead."  Sure enough, the embassy personnel, impressed that he knows who the first president is, ask him "Who is the current president?"  "Knucklehead" he exclaims and Zinta and I and the embassy staff bust out laughing.

You have to be there at Rosanna's Restaurant a few days before his birthday when Eileen asks him what he would like for his birthday.  Kris tells her that he used to reflect on his birthday about his life and what he hoped for and where he was in reaching his dreams.  He told her that he does not have to do that anymore ... because he has a family now.

Thanks you to all who prayed for us, encouraged us, supported us financially and spiritually.  This day is your day too.  Thanks to God for his never-ending love and support.  He carried us when it seemed we couldn't walk one more step. I will leave you with four last words:


Kris at the Lock Bridge, Riga, Latvia



Monday, October 6, 2014

Rockets, Gumball Machines and Balance Beams

It has been three months since Kris landed in America for the first time. I think he is taking the country by storm! It has been a time of adventure, exploration, adjustment and, quite frankly, exhaustion.

Kris has acclimated himself to life here in America. He makes friends easily and has a crew of friends at church and at soccer.In fact, he pretty much makes friends everywhere he goes.

He tends to repeat phrases that he has learned. It's his way of learning the language. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. You can only imagine some of things he's been repeating! Today's phrase is “Just shake it off!” He's also learning the rules of the road and the various types signs on the American road.  He is looking forward to taking his driving permit test.

One evening at the store he spied a row of gumball machines. He asked what it was and so I explained how you put in the money, turn the crank and lift the door to get your gum or prize. His eyes lit up! “We do not have this in Latvia. I would like to try this.” So he puts in the quarter, turns the crank (saying “krukcht” as he turns the crank) and out comes his glow-in-the-dark spider. “I must try this again! I like this process!” Three spiders later … we head out the door and head for home.

He is thoroughly enjoying playing soccer with Faith Christian School. He feels like he is a part of something bigger than himself – a team. He really has bonded with his teammates and his coach. He's even scored a few goals so far this year. I think that during the process he is learning to accept others and be accepted by others, respect himself and others and building self-confidence.

Over the past few weeks Kris has taken to building and launching model rockets. He loves it! We build the rockets together and then launch them at the high school field nearby. We have built several of them. One crashed straight into the ground without the parachute opening – that one was my fault. Saturday was windy and one rocket went very, very high. The wind caught it and it landed three blocks away and hanging off a roof. He scampered up (with a little boost from me) and managed to snag it. The security guard wasn't too pleased with us at first but he chilled once he saw what we were doing.

This exercise reminds me of my youth – spending hours making model rockets with my Uncle Joe and taking them to the football field in Central Valley for launching! Several never made it down and are probably still stuck in the trees there.

Kris is quite helpful around the house, too. He is quite proud of the fact that he has kept his room clean and tidy for three weeks. This only came after some grumbling and “Are you kidding me?” after being asked to clean his room but we'll take the minor victories when we can get them. He also likes to take care of the dogs too. This weekend all three dogs were given a bath. He also entertains them and walks them. He made a little video of what happens when we are not home – he is riding his bike around the kitchen/living area down stairs making a figure “8” around the kitchen table and the couch while all the dogs are chasing him! All the while exclaiming “Come on dogs! It is time for the circus!” He enjoys cleaning too! He even used the leaf blower one time to clean the downstairs – dog hair and papers were everywhere! Hysterical!

For the first two months whenever we mentioned school, Kris would say that perhaps he can skip going to school for a few years. It is only during the past few weeks that his attitude has changed about that. Now he says that he would like to go to school. I have no doubt that he will do just fine once he settles in to life in academia. He does seem a little apprehensive about learning English but we are working on getting him the help he needs to do well. We have had several conversations about schooling and I impress upon him that all I expect from him is to do his very best and we will help him however we can.

Kris and I have been taking advantage of the time in the car traveling to and from soccer games and fishing and flying rockets to get to know each other. We've had our disagreements during this phase but we respect each other andl we have a pretty good relationship. We've shared bits and pieces of each others lives. Without getting into details he's had a terrible start in life but with God's grace he has managed to become quite the young man!

Despite some of the challenges to adjusting to life with a new teen in the house – three loaves of bread, two and ½ gallons of milk, four boxes of cereal and lots of ketchup and mayonnaise each week; some attitude issues; financial challenges; trying to find balance in our lives – Eileen and I firmly believe that we have won the “kid lottery” with this guy. Don't get me wrong … this adoption thing is NOT for the faint of heart. There are many nights we have fallen into bed just whipped from all the running around. Despite all the little hurdles in the process we cannot imagine our family without Kris. We have God to thank for that.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Football, Fishing and Fireflies

It has been about two and one-half weeks.

A mere nineteen days.

That's how long he's been in America.

Here's what we have so far:

He knows our address ("244 Beast Onion Boulevard, Bethlehem") and our phone number.  He  knows how to get to the fishing spot at the Lehigh River from our house.  He knows how to get to our church and where Phil works.  He has an eye for detail and has snagged himself more lures caught in trees, bushes and water than he has fish.

He LOVES to go fishing. If he could he would fish 24/7!

He LOVES football.He is attending soccer camp all this week and is really enjoying himself!

He loves to eat corn on the cob. ("In Latvia we give this to pigs but I like.  It is good.")

He has never seen a firefly before and set out to catch some.  He caught a few and kept opening the top of the container so they could breathe. He later released them outside.

He LOVES hanging with the gang at church youth group and will be going on his first outing on Saturday (tubing down the Delaware River).

He really enjoys talking to people.  He has no inhibitions about striking up a conversation with kids at church, Phil's co-workers or lifeguards at the town pool.

He loves Peter and jokes with him and talks with him all the time. 

Even the dogs have taken to him!

Kris does not hesitate to contribute his share to the family life.

Kris has blended into life in America, life with us, as if it were meant to be from the beginning.

Despite a very rough beginning in his life, Kris has demonstrated a great deal of courage, grace and compassion.

Eileen tells him periodically how much we love having him in our family.  She even tied the story of Jonah and heeding God's call to our story of heeding God's call to bring him home.  He enjoyed that!

The other day I had the chance to ask him how he felt about being a part of our family. 

"I like this family.  It is good family.  You are funny and I am funny.  I like this family."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

They Have Names

We are surrounded by numbers.  Some of those numbers are seen and some are unseen.  From our Personal Identification Number for our ATM card to the countless "0" and "1" of the computer programming language that make this blog possible.  Think of how many numbers infuse our daily life.  Here's a short list of just a few:

Social Security number
Driver's License number
Phone number
Checking Account number
PIN number
Interest Rates
Prices of goods and services
Channels on your TV
Sizes of clothes
Speed Limits
Credit Card numbers
Calendars ...

The list goes on and on.

Here's another number for you: 143,000,000.  That's the estimate number of orphans in the world.  I would guess that most people don't even know about that number.  Perhaps they would think that such a number was an exaggeration. Up until three years ago I was ignorant of that number.  Not a clue!

But my introduction to those kiddos came through one young woman - Nelya.  She opened my eyes and my heart to the world of the 143,000,000.  Through her I was introduced to a hosting organization called New Horizons for Children.  Every winter and every summer a team of people from New Horizons travels to Eastern Europe and the Far East to visit with some of the 143,000,000.  Then that team posts pictures of some of those kiddos with a very brief description of their observations.  But there are no names under those photos - only numbers (that is required by rule).  Anyone who has hosted an orphan has spent hours looking at those photos and wondering what those kiddos are thinking, what they dream of, what are their hopes and aspirations.

Last week, Eileen and I had the privilege of spending a week at a Christian camp in Ergli, Latvia.  It was probably the best part of our time in Latvia.  We were blessed to spend four glorious days with about 56 of those 143,000,000 and approximately 15 fantastic camp leaders and helpers.  We recognized so many of the faces we had seen from the hosting pictures and some we had never before seen.

They have names.

They are courageous.

They are beautiful.

They sing.

They dance.

They are smart.

They are tenacious.

They laugh.

They smile.

They have voices.

They have dreams.
 They are not numbers.

They are our children and our brothers and sisters - every last one of them.

Monday, June 30, 2014

No Words Necessary

June 30th

We wake up at camp to the sound of rain.  We spent last evening tending to a minor medical issue for K.  The details are not important.  The only medical facility in the village where the camp is located is attached to a seniors' home.  The nurse on duty said the doctor was not on duty (it was Sunday evening) and she suggested we head to the hospital in a town about 40 km away.
We arrived at the hospital and notice the hours of operation on the door indicate that it is closed on Sunday! What? All the lights were off in the hallways and there wasn't a soul around.  It took us a moment to realize that we had entered the seniors' wing of the facility and the medical part of the building was around the corner.  After entering the "emergency room" K was seen by a doctor to took care of the issue and we were on our way back to camp.

We were headed up to orphan court for the second hearing.  The leader there asked some very pointed questions of us and of K.  The questions covered the gamut of information but one question seems to stand out.  They asked us and K how was the bonding going? How was the relationship as parent and child developing? 

It is tough to put into words something that is so visceral. How do you put into words the moments of connectedness even though nothing is said?  How do you verbalize inflection in the way he says things that have us laughing?  How do you make palpable those times when we work through a difficult moment through honest communication using broken English/Latvian?  For some things there are no words.  For some things there are only feelings and signs of affection.  A big bear hug says so much more than words can ever say.

"We think that this adoption is in Kristofer's best interest.  He can go to America with you." Words never sounded so sweet to our ears.

Only "labi, labi" managed to squeak out of us.  Our throats were choked up with a flood of emotion and tears were welling up.  No words necessary. The smiles, hugs and tears said it all.


June 29th

It’s our last night in our Latvian apartment that we have called home since June 11th. We are all sitting doing various "techy" things. Phil is playing Stickman soccer, Eileen is writing and Kris is playing tanki - an online blow em up game with tanks. After an amazing day at a ropes and climbing course we are all pooped. Kris climbed like a monkey on the most challenging courses. Phil did great (provided he didn't look down) and Eileen almost puked at the end.  Kris was completely in his element!
 We have had two visits from the social workers to see how the bonding process is progressing . How do you explain this child fits in our family like he was born into it. Often Eileen thinks about how we love our babies before they are born. For nine months in the womb we love and dream about meeting them. Even before conception how many conversations about are children yet to be born were had? Our friend Dorah calls them “heart children”. This is the best way we can think of to describe the relationship that is happening with this kiddo. Our hearts are bonding with ease. K is a chatterbox and he often wears his heart on his sleeve. 

We watched as he Skyped with his sister, from whom he was separated two years ago. The look on both their faces as she struggled speaking her native language and he chattered away was priceless. She couldn’t stop smiling and he was thrilled.  The love was palpable even across an ocean and through a computer screen.  They were both a little choked up at the end.

This story of our family has so many angels. People who began to pray for K years ago as he was taken from the one sibling he had. People mentored him here in Latvia, teaching him about Jesus and loving him as only fellow humans can do. That whole Jesus with skin on thing. Showing him that love is real, that he is special, that he matters . His change has been noted by the Orphan Court, by the Director of his Orphanage. They all said “he went to that camp and something happened.” He came back from that camp a changed person. They noticed God working in his life. Powerful stuff.

K gets it. He exhibits a level of love that can only be explained by the hand of God working through people. We are amazed at the rawness and honesty of his communication with his friends and mentors.We stand in awe and humility of a God who has allowed us to raise this child and bring him into our family as our own.

This last week in Latvia we get to do something we are not sure has been done by an adopting family. We have been given permission by the court to continue the bonding process at the camp. Jaycee has graciously invited us to stay there. In addition we get to meet 52 new orphans, some we know but most we will meet for the first time.

Is it coincidence that this year they have some special needs campers? We think not, as it happens to be Eileen's profession. Is it coincidence that we get to be blessed by these children?  We know without a doubt that this is the beginning of something very special with our new family and Latvian orphans. God allows us to experience miracles. We don’t even have to believe that they are miracles but after a while it is impossible to deny. Our God is a God of the impossible.