I have avoided writing for awhile.
I knew I was going to write about our experience with Tikumporn (Fah) for a couple of weeks but I didn’t want to face all the emotions and be that vulnerable. But love is vulnerable isn’t it? Love puts itself out there, feels deeply and risks everything. We risked it all! In September we welcomed a new daughter and sister in our home. Fah is 16 and came to us as an exchange student through AFS (find out more about AFS here).
We made the decision while kayaking on a Saturday and in just over a week all the paperwork, background checks and home visits were done. We knew we wanted a daughter (Hayley argued strongly for this) and that she would share Hayley’s room. We read her bio and became friends on Facebook. All of a sudden we were picking her up in Ann Arbor, MI.
I thought we made a huge mistake!
We, Andrew, Hayley and I, bought her flowers on the way to getting her. We had the truck so we would have room for all her luggage (she came with one suitcase). And we believed we were ready. It was mostly nervous smiles until we hit the road back to Kalamazoo when all of a sudden Fah began asking questions. That’s when I thought we made a mistake. I had no idea what she was saying!
All the paperwork said she was great in English! I looked at my daughter in the rearview mirror, looking for help, I found none. Hayley looked at me with a look that said, “Panic!” I looked over at Andrew sitting next to me in front and he said, “why are you asking me?” After 10 minutes the first question was understood. An easy one, “what is the difference between Catholics and Protestants?” This is going to be a fun year! The panic and thinking we made a mistake soon gave way.
Panic and fear were quickly replaced with joy and love.
Looking back I think about how silly those first feelings really were. It didn’t take long and I was watching my family fall in love with this young lady. It wasn’t long and I was too. It wasn’t long and she had captured the hearts of many in our church, youth group, school and community. She might have been born in Thailand to a different set of parents, but she is every bit our sister and our daughter.
Over the course of nine months as we watched Fah change, grow, learn, and become very comfortable in the family and in the community; we also changed and grew. We discovered just how capable of deeply loving we are. We learned what it means to fully invest ourselves into the life of another. We learned what it really means to let others in so that everyone is impacted and transformed.
Leadership is really discipleship and discipleship is courageously loving.
That’s really at the heart of the Gospel isn’t it? Jesus even tells us that the heart of the Big Ten are summed up in loving God and loving others. Really loving others is a risky proposition because it can’t happen outside of relationships. This week has been hard.
Monday we took Fah to the train station and watched her load with a few other students while a cranky Amtrak employee barked orders and complained about their luggage. He wasn’t what made that moment so hard, though.
As Fah borded the train we all felt a part of our hearts board that train as well. As the train pulled out and went east to Ann Arbor, we felt our hearts speed away as well. I walked upstairs yesterday and saw her closet, empty. Today we saw pictures of her with her family in Thailand (after 17 hours of flight time!). We saw the smile on her face and the love in her family. And while it feels like part of our heart is now in a time zone 12 hours ahead of ours; it isn’t a part that has been taken away.
It is a part that has been added.
July 2nd, 2014 at 4:22 pm
I was a Rotary Exchange Student in my youth, and eventually a host mom (X 9 or 10), and a counselor with exchange students. I know this feeling well. This is a *very* hard time of year for both students and their host families. As I say, “Rotary Youth Exchange: opening minds and breaking hearts since 1929.” All the best in this time of transition to you and Fah.
July 2nd, 2014 at 4:33 pm
Thank you Shawn!