Monday, August 28, 2017

The Story of Us

Hi. Lately I've had a handful of people ask to hear the story of how our little family came to be.

L to R: Terry, Richard, Angel, Chazzo, Tara, Innocent, Moses

So, ok. I hope you have 7 hours, because maybe I'm about to tell you more than you ever wanted to know.

If you've heard me talking in the last 2(ish) years, you know that talking about our family is one of my most favorite things and I think it's so sweet that people would ask to know more. Loving this crazy crew is, easily, the hardest, best thing I have ever done. These jokers rocked my whole world. And then they became it. However, I've never really told the story of how God rounded up the most unlikely cast of misfits, each sinking in our own ways, and He threw together a set of circumstances that made it seem easy-- coming together. So that's what we did.

Hear this: it wasn't easy.

The truth is, we didn't set out to become a family. Not like this. I don't know that any of us were expecting it and that's what makes it so much sweeter. And tougher. To me, looking back, it was like we woke up one day and we were together. Suddenly. Finally. Always. And forever.

It feels a bit sticky to share our story. I feel very protective of....them. Of us. And what we've been through. We all fought to be here and while I've been fairly open about my own struggles that got me to this place, I took some time to talk to each one of them about their sides of how and why we became a family and what they wanted me to share. I guess I should have known, but I was a bit surprised at how stark and matter of fact their answers were. It's all appears to be very surface level to them; what you see is what you get, and what happened is what happened. However, and I suppose this doesn't come as a surprise to you, I tend to be pretty emotionally driven and pretty much live life with my heart smeared all over my sleeve. And the other one, too. And my pants. And my face. And my hat, if I happen to be wearing one.... Maybe that's why this whole thing works for us. Anytime I get too high or too low, they bring me right back to now. Because, for them, that's all there is. There are lots of (hard) parts in this journey where I've said that I, literally, just "Care-Bear Stare" the boys. Because that's what they need. I stand there, even when it hurts, and try to shoot hearts and rainbows and all the love life has allowed me to collect in their direction. But, I digress...

From my perspective, my family in Rwanda has always been fluid. I assume it's common knowledge around here that I moved here for Innocent and that's where it all began. He lived at Noel and so did I. (So did all the other boys, but we'll get there in a minute.) When I moved out of the orphanage to start No.41, I moved into a house just a few doors down. The house had 5 bedrooms, which felt crazy for just one person, but the comfort level that I felt was necessary for myself (things like indoor plumbing and some semblance of a kitchen) was only possible in larger homes. So, I prayed that God would fill the house. I walked circles around the perimeter praying. I knelt in each room for the person(s) who would sleep there. I bought furniture not knowing whose clothes would fill the drawers or love would fill the walls, but I trusted God to make that happen. And He did, multiple times over. I never spent a single night in that house, in all 5 years, alone. If my calculations are correct, more than 20 people have called that house home for, at least, 2 months. Some much longer. Some shorter, too. The biggest part of that number were girls and all somehow in relation to No.41. People came and went as situations evolved or as they moved on to other things.

Inn and I. My first week at Noel

Moses and Richard

Chazzo (third from left), Richard and Moses (back to back), Innocent (far right)

Moses (shirtless), Innocent (in blue)
My one constant was Inn. Though he was in and out, especially during the season when I was taking more frequent and longer trips to the States, bouncing between boarding school and time with his bio-family, he always came home. March of 2015 was a particularly rough visit for he and I; we didn't get much time together, as he was in school, but I knew that he was struggling. At the same time, Richard, who I knew as one of Inn's best friends from Noel, was also struggling. Richard and I have always had a close relationship and if there is anyone I remember spending as much time with as Innocent, it was always Richard. (Sidenote: Earlier that year, Noel had, officially, closed it's doors. All 630 kids had all been reunified with families, which I had very strong feelings about at the time and still do to this day.) During this trip I found out that Richard had been kicked out of school. He had also recently been reunified with his family, but was living nearby with a good friend of ours. Because he was nothing but available, he and I spent a good amount of time together and one of those times included a trip to see Inn for visiting day at school.

Inn and Richard. My first Christmas at Noel

Ange, Tara, Innocent. Visiting Day at Sonrise

The school was just over an hour from where we lived and as we were walking to lunch after our visit, we ran into Moses on the road. I recognized Mo from Noel, but I didn't really know him. Richard asked him to come to lunch with us and I took the opportunity to find out how things were going for him since he had been reunified. As I expected, he wasn't exactly thriving. Moses is the youngest of 5 children and, unlike most of the kids from Noel, both of their parents had passed away. The siblings are all very close, in age and relationship, but each of them were working or studying, trying to make their own way and, as the baby, also kicked out of school, there wasn't much time or resources left for Moses. Mo is an incredibly hard worker and was working whatever small jobs he could find just to try and stay fed. He asked if I could give him a job at No.41 and, at the time, I told him no. I was leaving in just a few days to head back to the States, but I told him if he would come to my house in July, when I returned, I would see what we might be able to work out.

Mo and me
True to his word, July came and so did Mo. It was a Saturday and I asked him to come back on Monday. I wanted him to be able to meet with JD (our Program Director at No.41) so that we could work out a plan together. The following day Richard (recently kicked out of another school, if I'm remembering correctly, and now living at home with his bio-family) and I went to a big football match. It's an annual match, the Noel team against a local school; but this match was particularly packed out because it was like a reunion for the Noel kids, most of whom hadn't seen each other since the closing. It was fun for me, too, seeing so many familiar faces. One of those faces was Terry. We weren't super close at Noel, but he was always friends with friends of mine and I knew he was a good kid. Shy, smart, kind, athletic-- he was captain of the football team. But that day he looked terrible. I asked around a bit and was told 'his life is hard'. I knew that he had recently been kicked out of school and he was also reunified with his bio-family, but when that didn't work out he went out on his own with some friends. They made poor decisions and worked very hard labor jobs, earning very little money to get by. He didn't talk to me that day and I was too disappointed to talk to him, but on Monday he showed up at my house. At the same time as Moses. He wanted a job.

Terry and I at our birthday party. It was his first party. He turned 21.
Before Moses was set to arrive, I had prepped JD on what I was thinking. We didn't have funds to hire Mo, but I felt like we could offer him training at No.41 and a place to live as "payment". (Background: By this time, our landlord had built a second house on his property and we were renting that house, too, for No.41. The girls worked in the living/dining room, they used two bedrooms for storage and office space, and the other two bedrooms had beds, just in case. Living in the main house was Ange, Angel, Innocent, home on holiday, and recently Richard who had been sleeping over.) Mo and Terry got to the house before JD. I told Terry he could stay and talk with JD and then we would decide if we could offer him the same deal as Mo. For whatever reason, for me, a 2-for-1 deal felt somehow easier. When JD arrived he had tears in his eyes as he greeted Terry and told me how they had known each other. Prior to working at No.41, JD was a teacher and Terry was his student, his top student. JD was so sad to hear how Terry's life had taken a turn for the worse and he said, "We have to help these boys." They were given a stern talking to about the rules, what to expect, and what was expected of them. We all agreed and both boys left with a plan to come back that weekend with their things. JD and I lingered long after they left, still trying to work out if we had made the right decision and how all of it was going to go down. I was leaving again in just a few weeks and he would be the one running the show. Over lunch, I asked JD if he would ever consider living in our house to keep an eye on the boys. (More background: At the time, JD didn't have a car and was renting a house nearby to be closer to his job during the week and he would go home to his family on the weekends. This isn't entirely uncommon, especially when good jobs are so few and far between.) Without hesitation, he said yes. He said yes because he said, if there was any way he could help these boys and he didn't do that, he didn't know how he could live with himself. He said yes because he's one of the greatest men I have ever known. He moved in that weekend.

No.41 football match
So, if you're counting, that's four: Inn, Richard (who never left, but eventually did start school), Moses and Terry. We called Inn and Richard the little boys and Mo and Terry the big boys. Though they were all big. And somehow all little.

I left in Rwanda August and came back in November to all four boys, JD, Angel who was finishing up university, and Ange who was engaged and on her way out. I arrived just in time for Thanksgiving. And Chazzo. Chazzo is Richard's older brother by three years. I didn't know him at all from our time at Noel, but in the time since I had somehow gotten an impression in my head about him and it wasn't a good one. I'm not sure why. When Richard told me that Chazzo had gotten an internship at the tea factory across the street from our house and needed somewhere to stay, I wasn't that excited about it. We were all still trying to get our footing in this unique scenario, and when I say that, I mean that we were still working out kinks. Big, huge, hairy kinks. It made me nervous to bring in another boy when we were already in over our heads, but it was only for 6 weeks and I told Richard, "I'm only doing this for you."

Chazzo and Richard

Now is maybe a good time to say that even though our house has been a revolving door of sorts, there isn't a single person that has come through that hasn't been prayed through. There have been many over the years who have come to the house asking for jobs or help or a living situation that I haven't said yes to. Not in a mean way, but in the way that, one, I'm not collecting people and two, I'm not saving people. But three, I hope to always be open and willing for whatever (or whoever) God sets in front of me. I'd like to model that willingness to be open and available for the boys to see. And maybe that's why we have so many dogs....


I fell hard and fast for Chazzo and even still it's hard for me to put him in words. He is the epitome of laid back. His style is loud and quirky, while he, himself, is quiet and cool. He walks to his own beat and dances almost nonstop. His smile lights up the room and his laugh is second to none. If I had a nickel for every time one us said, "For Chazzo, no problem." I would be a very rich lady. Chazzo is no problem and he has no problems. He is stubborn in his English, the way I am with my Kinyarwanda; whether it's the brain's refusal or the lack of confidence to just spit out, I don't know, but we somehow manage just fine. Chazzo's internship came and went, but thankfully he stayed. He made us complete. Even if we didn't know it yet.

Chazzo and Price, me and Wizzy
Chazzo and Mo's first birthday party and a new phone
After Chazzo came Christmas and alllll of our birthdays. I think it was somehow during the mess that we became a family. Oh, we were crazy; me, as in out of mind, them, as in they had never experienced anything like this. To me, we were as unconventional as families come. To them, it was the most traditional roles they had ever known. It was around this time that I started trying to plant ideas in their minds about going back to school. Innocent and Richard were hanging on by a thread. They had both been asked not to return to their schools the following year. (Also, in case you're counting, that's three schools Richard had been kicked out of, one for each term, that year.) Moses and Terry hadn't been in school in two years and Chazzo "dropped out" of school to go into vo-tech for a year.

L to R: Mo, Terry, JD, Richard, Tara, Inn, Chazzo
Richard, Chazzo, Terry, Angel, Mo on Christmas morning

I hoped everyone would go back to school. They hoped I would shut up. Yet, when I asked each of the boys when they knew we were a family, Moses, Terry, and Chazzo all said "when you asked us to study." This came as a total surprise to me. Looking back, those couple of months were some of the hardest (early) times for me as a 'mom', but I suppose I could do well to remember that under all that hard-- the begging, the arguments, the flat-out refusals; something in them sensed my love for them and my belief in who they were and who they could be. Something in them wanted to believe that, too. We were a family. Everyone did eventually start school. Four out five had to start again in primary school and you might of thought I sent them straight to hell. They made sure I knew what hell felt like, too. But, by the grace of God, they finished. They all took and passed the National Exam and headed into secondary school. Around that same time, JD was buying a car and moved back in with his family full time. And I came back to Rwanda full time, as well. For most of us, this last year has been all about consistency and stability. It's meant everything and the changes in us, individually and together, are undeniable.

Innocent, Chazzo, Terry
It's hard to know where to wrap this all up, because in so many ways it feels like we're just getting started. These days, Ange is married and living in Kigali with her husband and Baby Tara. Angel graduated university and got a job working as the accounts manager at a local cafe. Richard is currently living with JD and his family and is still working hard (sometimes) at getting his act together. So we're down to 5 of us in the house, four dogs, and seven chickens, and that feels really manageable. If you've been keeping up with the blog lately, you know that, even though we're still working out some rough patches (and probably always will be), we moved into a new house better suited for our needs as a family. We are settling in. We're learning how to love and support each other well. We're starting to put down some roots (that we'll tell you about soon). And it feels good. Two years together is nothing. Especially when most of us have spent 10 times that apart. But God's hand is so heavy on this little rag-tag group and it feels like we've made some great strides. I can't speak for the boys, and I wouldn't, but for my part, I've said it before, and I'll say it forever: loving them saved me. I can't imagine not being here and I can't imagine my life not loving them.

Thank you so much for you kind words of encouragement and support for our family. None of this would be be possible without y'all, my sweet friends, who allow us to stumble through this and prayerfully and financially keep us alive. Our fam is looking to increase our monthly support by $200. If you feel lead to give, there is a link to donate on the left hand side of the page. Thanks again for following along and cheering us on. You've made the boys feel like superstars! xo

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