What Are You Doing For Leap Day?

February 28, 2012 in blog, Europe, Travelogue, Ukraine

There’s been much discussion of late in the circles I follow of the impending leap day.

Once every four years the whole world gets an “extra” day and it’s been interesting to read people’s thoughts on that. Some people I know are launching products, leveraging the hype to make a buck. Others are making resolutions, similar to those at the New Year, only quadra-annually. Some are doing something special, having an adventure in their spare day. A few are embarking on something really big.

I’m not doing much of anything, but I have a friend who is. I’m just lucky enough to be along for the ride.

We met the Deml’s at a homeschool convention in New Hampshire about eight years ago. The birth of their second son was imminent and they were embarking on the great adventure of schooling their own. We became instant friends and they’ve been in our circle of Loved Ones ever since.

Elizabeth joined Gabriel, then Andrew, Amy, Lilia and most recently, Joshua arrived right on time, in their own time, to round out one of the very finest families we’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. Their family radiates joy and happiness and they have a collective heart of compassion and service that everyone who knows them is blessed by.

Six kids is above average. I’m sure they have their hands full. Don’t we all? They could count their blessings and find the house bursting at the seams. They could bask in their good fortune and thank God for healthy children, food on their plates, a roof over head and a 15 passenger van to get around in. They could teach their children about the world, travel to see things together, raise money for the suffering and pray for God’s provision for them, but they’re taking it one step further.

There’s a verse in the Bible somewhere, I’m terrible with references, that says that “True  Religion” is found in caring for the orphans and the widows. If that’s the case, the Deml Family has the truest religion of all.

This summer we sat around a campfire and listened to their plans, just beginning to take shape, to adopt from abroad. Jen nursed the newborn Joshua. I helped Amy roast a marshmallow. Andrew, Gabriel & Elizabeth played soccer with the other kids, Lilia sat on her Daddy’s knee. There was paperwork and legal hoops to be jumped through. “It will probably take at least a year,” Jen explained, “By then Joshua will be bigger and it won’t be as difficult as it would be now.” Surrounded by families with no fewer than four children they found encouragement and community. No one around that campfire thought they were crazy. We all have a philosophy of family that is inclusive and “the more the merrier.”

Things moved much faster than they’d expected.

By November there was a sibling group of three identified in an unnamed Eastern European country. They had to hurry, they were told, because the oldest boy was about to be transferred out of the baby house into a permanent institution where he would become unadoptable. Since he’s deaf, he was destined to spend his life in the equivalent of a mental institution with no schooling, no home, and no hope of a better life, not ever.

The Demls paid extra to rush their papers through. The community rallied around them. We had fund raisers, we donated the money we could, we shared their story and rallied around a common cause: to bring their boys home. We could see their pictures on a website, but we didn’t know their names. We didn’t even know where they were. But we could see in their eyes that they were Demls, even if they didn’t know it yet.

The paperwork made it. The Demls awaited instructions to fly. We all held our breath. We all prayed.

Just days before Christmas the news came, like a knife to our hearts: The boys were gone. They’d been adopted by another family who’s paperwork came through faster and who arrived in the country first. Jen wrote a heart wrenching explanation. We all wept with her. But they kept going, knowing that somewhere there were children who needed them, somewhere were kids longing for a Mama. Somewhere; they just had to find them. So they flew blindly to a country they’d only seen on a map to find children they only knew by heart. We admired their bravery in the face of grave disappointment and we encouraged them the best we could, continuing to work towards the financial goal they’d set. We knew that getting their kids would cost a lot of money.

And then… the most amazing thing happened…

They arrived in the Ukraine (we could know where they were now) and found the orphanage and met the children they were to adopt, only to discover… their boys. The original three they’d fallen in love with were still there, still waiting, still theirs.

There was loud cheering in many living rooms the day Jen got word to us that their little men were still there.

For the last two months we’ve been glued to her blog, devouring every new picture she posts, laughing and crying and praying through the struggles of having one third of her children on one continent and two thirds on another while they fight hard to unite everyone. They’ve flown back and forth multiple times. They’ve struggled with interpreters, military check points, a foreign foods, customs and political nonsense in a heroic effort to save three little boys from a life few of us who’ve grown up in the privileged west could imagine.

When Tony came running down the spiral staircase two weeks ago announcing that Jen was on and wanted to talk to me, I knew immediately what she wanted.

“My Dad’s gotten pneumonia and is in the hospital, he was supposed to fly over with me and pick up the boys,” she wrote, “Can you come to Ukraine with me and help me with Gotcha Day and getting them home? I don’t know who else to ask…” Of course there was no question.

I booked a flight to Kiev directly from Iceland and cut our honeymoon weekend short by a day. Collected little treasures for the boys, a couple of surprises for their tired Mama, and packed everything into only my day pack. Less baggage means more hands for little boys.

It will be midnight before I get to the city where Jen is hovering over the orphanage waiting to free her boys. First thing tomorrow morning, February 29th, we’ll collect them. She says that they’ll be stripped naked and handed to her; the orphanage can’t afford to send anything with them, not even their clothes. Every scrap of resources is needed to care for the many other children whose Mama’s haven’t found them yet. We’ll wrap them up like little princes and whisk them to Kiev to be run through what I’m affectionately calling the “US Embassy Child Disinfection Program.” They have to be certified healthy and the last paperwork has to be buttoned up.

Then we’ll fly them home. Boys who’ve spent very little time even in a car will cross continents and giant oceans soon. They speak just the few words of English Mama has taught them in her visits. We speak no Ukrainian. The eldest boy is deaf. It’s bound to be an adventure. I’m honored beyond my ability to express it to have the privilege of ferrying these little ones (and they ARE very little, wearing size 2T-4T at ages 5, 6, & 7) and their angel of a Mama home to their forever family. It humbles me to see such love and sacrifice in action, to call people as selfless and noble as these my friends. I have no words for how much I admire their service to humanity, to the world, to these boys. But it’s not just limited to these children, who need them so badly, this heart of love, compassion, acceptance and open armed service, regardless of the cost to them personally is what they extend to everyone around them. They love even our family so much that they sent a whole box of Christmas joy to Africa years ago when they knew we were homesick. It included Kazoos.

So what are you doing with your Leap Day?

My friend is going to change the history of the world and the destiny of three men. I’m not doing much, just taking some pictures and trying hard to figure out how to free my friend up to love on her boys while I manage the travel logistics. It doesn’t even feel like I’m making an effort next to the Herculean task she’s undertaken.

Whatever you do with today… make it count. If you’d like to help change the history of the world too, you can. Adopting a child from abroad is expensive, especially when you live on one income and already have six kids. Adopting THREE kids from abroad is exponentially more difficult, from logistics to financing. Visit their website. Hear their story. Look into their eyes. Then look into your heart and see if there isn’t room to help change the world. You don’t even have to fly to the Ukraine to do it.