Minding the Gap

mind the gap

mind

verb (used with object)

  1. to pay attention to
  2. to apply oneself or attend to
  3. to look after; take care of; tend
  4. to feel concern at; care about.

gap

noun
  1. break or opening, as in a fence, wall, or military line; breach
  2. an empty space or interval; interruption in continuity; hiatus
  3. wide divergence or difference; disparity

A few weeks ago I was searching for a deal on flights to Serbia and the best fares all required at least one lengthy layover. One option was an eight-hour layover in London. I have a dear friend in England that has gotten married and become a father since the last time I saw him so I checked to see how much it would be to stay overnight. When I found that it was $400 cheaper, I sent him a text to see if they’d be in town, booked the flight, and began packing. My overnight stay with his precious family turned out to be a great decision. Besides falling in love with his sweet wife and the best-natured baby boy I’ve met, I realized exactly what I was traveling to Serbia for.

I had two hours of train (or “tube”) rides to get from Gatwick Airport to where they live in Essex and along my journey I quickly noticed that before each stop there was a recording warning those departing to “Mind the gap.” When I exited each train I turned and found signs on each car and tiles on the ground spelling out the same warning. I’ve done a little research on why the warning is given. The phrase was coined in 1968 to remind passengers to pay attention to the space between the train and the platform. Some of the platforms are curved and the train cars are straight. So, in some places the space between the platform and the train is quite wide and creates a hazard for passengers if they aren’t “minding the gap”.

After my quick visit with the Brits and a brief layover in Poland on the 100th anniversary of their freedom, I arrived in Serbia to be greeted by my brother Samuil. Samuil and I are cut from the same cloth. We are both gifted networkers, love Jesus, and we both attempt to squeeze every minute of purpose out of every day. So I knew from the moment I climbed in his car at Tesla Airport that the days that followed would be filled with adventure.

Twelve hours of sleeping off my jet lag led to me awaking on Monday morning ready to do whatever God had planned for me. As I prepared for the day I pulled the hoodie pictured above out of my luggage. I walked past it at Heathrow just before boarding my plane to Warsaw and impulsively went back to purchase it. As I lifted it from my luggage the words stuck in my head. They would replay in my mind throughout each day that I spent in Serbia. “Mind the gap, Kaci.”

On Tuesday my friend Pam and I spent the day with government officials, social workers, and several foster parents. The day began with an unexpected newspaper interview (If you paste the link into Google translate it will translate the entire article) in the same paper that has covered parts of our story in the past. We were there to discuss the way foster care and orphan care are done in the US and ways to better prepare orphans for independent living. The day was humbling and enlightening. The truth is that we fail in SO MANY ways to care for orphans in America and we aren’t doing any better than Serbia is when it comes to preparing the next generation for independent living. I quickly realized that everyone in the room had things to learn from one another. The day turned into more of a think tank on ways to “mind the gap”.

Tuesday night we had dinner at a transition house in Belgrade. Pam asked the youth living there if they could have dinner with anyone in the world, alive or dead, who would it be. One girl said that she would want to have dinner with the Aleksander Vucic, the Serbian President. She happened to be sitting right next to me and spoke English so I turned and asked her what she would ask him. Her response, “Does he care about the youth of Serbia and if he does what is he doing to keep us here?” This precious nineteen year old girl, that is stuck between a very hard childhood (her platform) and living out her potential is desperately looking for someone with power to “mind the gap”.

Wednesday we taught foster parents, social workers, and leaders of several NGOs on trauma informed care and fundraising. At the end of our teaching we had a Q&A time and once again it turned into a think tank on ways to “mind the gap”.

Wednesday night I had a drink with a friend that is a Colonel in the Serbian Army. On our walk back to where I was staying we briefly discussed his experiences with war. I quickly realized that little is done to care for veterans in a nation where military members have experienced more combat than this military wife can fathom. Noone is “minding the gap”.

On Thursday I climbed in the EUS (Samuil’s organization-Evangelical Student Organization) van and drove to Novi Sad for a conference on human trafficking that was organized by my friend Marco. The conference was amazing! SOO many people showed up to learn and lend their voices and I could not be prouder of what has been done in Serbia to “mind the gap” for victims of trafficking since my last visit in 2011.

Friday morning I overslept and awoke to my friend Mila at the door (with breakfast-because she’s a hero). She made me coffee while I threw my clothes and face on and after a much-too-short catch up on all that she has been doing to “mind the gap” by opening a crisis pregnancy center and helping women who’ve experienced abortion find healing; my friends Bojan, Rachel, and Marijana arrived to drive me to meet Sofija’s biological brothers.

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Y’all, my time with these men who share my daughter’s blood was priceless. They were kind, welcoming, and honest. They are good men (both in their thirties), and they want to know Sofija. Their Mother’s story is one for another day and there are two more siblings I have yet to meet, but sitting in their home and seeing my daughter’s eyes, and smile, and ears, and hands was one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. I also met Sofija’s sister-in-law and niece (both incredibly beautiful). These people are Sofija’s family which makes them OUR family.

Friday afternoon was spent shopping with my friend Tatjana that started the transition homes that brought me back to Serbia and then attending Samuil’s birthday celebration. On Saturday I flew home.

I missed church on my first Sunday home because.. jet lag. And I missed this last Sunday because our family caught a nasty cold over Thanksgivin. While sniffling and fighting a fever I sat and watched a sermon via Facebook live from the International Christian Fellowship in Belgrade. It was their tenth anniversary and it only seemed appropriate that I watch the ten-year celebratory service of the community of believers that gave me all of the friends I was able to connect with on my trip. Jonathon Lamb was the guest speaker for the service. He is an author and minister from Oxford, UK.

In the middle of his message, Jonathon quoted 1 John 2:6 “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.” It is one of my favorite life verses. In fact, I believe that all of 1 John 2 is one of the most powerful passages in the Bible and I highly encourage you to click the link, read it, write it down, read it some more, and make it your daily challenge. Trust me! Trying to live it out WILL be a challenge. But if each of us who calls ourselves “Christian” would actually make it a daily challenge to live our lives as Jesus did, we would never have to question whether or not we’re “paying attention”, “applying ourselves”, “taking care of”, or “feeling concern for”; the “breaks or openings”, “empty spaces and interruptions in continuity”, or “wide divergence or disparities” of this world.

Mind the gap.

 

Adoption = Loss and Gain

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Beautiful Novi Sad showing off her fall colors for me.

I have been asked often in the last nine years, “Why Serbia?” Sometimes people are just curious and sometimes the question is asked with judgment and usually followed up with, “But there are so many kids in America who need families.” My reply is almost always, “God.” That response is the truth. God chose our family for a little girl who happened to be born in a nation more than 5,000 miles away from America. When we learned about her we weren’t even looking to adopt and we didn’t know where she lived. And when we did find out that she lived in Serbia we had to look on a globe to see where exactly Serbia is. But, in all honesty, there was a reason we never even discussed adopting domestically in the many discussions we had about adoption in all the years before we found her. I knew too many people who adopted domestically that had messy situations with their child’s biological family. I did not want “messy”. I always thought that IF we adopted I wanted it to be with no strings attached. If only it worked like that…

April 2010, at Sofija’s adoption ceremony, a social worker handed me a genogram of her family. I was stunned and had no clue how to process all of the information on that piece of paper. I had the names, birthdates, and last known location of her three brothers, her sister, their fathers, all six of her aunts and uncles, and her grandparents. I tucked the paper away in our dossier folder and waited a long time to pull it out. As the months passed after bringing her home I quickly learned that the information I was given was a rarity. I don’t know any other Serbian adoptive family that has received so many details about their child’s biological family.

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One day I was sitting on the floor with my baby girl and playing with her cute toes (yes, she painted them herself in that picture) and all I could think was, “I wonder if they look like her first Mom’s?” And then I started wondering if her brothers and sister were tall and athletic like her. So… I pulled out that piece of paper and opened my laptop and began searching Facebook. Within minutes I was fairly certain I had found her siblings. For the next two years I would just randomly stalk their profiles and look through their photos for some connection. Someday I should probably thank them for not having all of their photos and information private. 😉

During one of my photo stalking escapades, I came across a picture of her oldest brother with his feet propped up. They looked EXACTLY like Sofija’s. I laughed and then I cried and then before I could think it through I typed out a few sentences that had been running through my head for a while. I sent them in a message, and then copied and pasted them into messages to the other three siblings. And then…. crickets. For THREE YEARS. I stopped stalking and let it go. I didn’t want “messy” and I wanted to respect their rights to not be in contact.

And then, in July of 2015, I woke one Sunday morning to messages from all of them. One of them had found my message in his “other messages” folder, contacted his siblings, and they all had a million questions. They did not know she existed, much less that she had been adopted and was living in another country. I soon received friend requests from aunts and cousins spread out all over Europe.

For the last three years we have been in contact and tomorrow I will meet her oldest brother and his wife and baby. Tonight, I am a bit emotional and if you’re reading this you are welcome to start praying that I am able to contain my emotions so we can make the most of the time we have together.

I will not lie, I went through our entire adoption process with completely selfish intentions. I wanted this little girl that I knew was supposed to be my daughter to be mine alone. I did not want any other family in the world to have any claim to her. But that’s not how it works.

My daughter lost everything when we adopted her. No matter how badly I wanted to believe that she gained the world by becoming a part of our family the truth is that she lost every single thing she ever knew and was taken away by complete strangers. The truth is that when she was left at the hospital after birth and then transferred to an orphanage at ten days old, she lost a mother, father, siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and dozens of extended family members.

But…the minute I opened that first message and a connection was made, I gained family. Sofija may have my blood type and my eye color, but she shares their blood. For several weeks the chalkboard in my house said, “You will never look someone in the eyes that God does not love.” I put it there in an attempt to break the political tensions in our house and remind each of us that political views do not define a person. Only God gets to do that. We are all His creations. We are all family. But God’s creations that I get to meet tomorrow have blood running through their veins that ties them to the little girl that calls me, “Mama”. And that’s kind of a big deal.