Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A birthday for Natasha to remember

Natasha and Olya are sisters and have been in the orphanage since they were 6 and 7 years old. It used to be that they could go home to their parents on summer holidays, but that was before their father died and before their mother drank herself into a life on the streets. Now the girls are stuck behind the walls of the orphanage along with 63 other children.

During the time we held the camp Natasha was to turn 16 years old. When I asked her about any past celebrations on her birthday tears filled her eyes.

At the orphanage their birthdays aren’t celebrated individually and even when she lived at home she can only remember one time when her birthday was even recognized. Her sister Olya, who stood by listening chimed in as well, ‘I have never celebrated my birthday.’

Images of birthday parties throughout my life flooded my mind as Natasha spoke. All the cakes my mom has made, the various themed birthdays I had in elementary school, the phone calls, the cards- my birthday has always been a very special day and has never gone unnoticed. I couldn't even imagine what Natasha and Olya were describing.

When I asked Natasha what she’d like for her birthday, she couldn’t even answer me, she just put her head on my shoulder and cried.

I don’t have any idea what she was thinking, all I know is that this topic alone brought up a flood of emotions and memories…or perhaps lack of memories. I made up my mind right there that our team would give Natasha and her sister Olya a birthday party she would never forget.

2 days later on Natasha’s birthday I presented her with a card and told her I had asked for permission from her caregiver and that she had said it was okay for both Natasha and Olya to spend the afternoon at the house where are team was staying and have lunch. Natasha beamed- she threw her arms around me and just kept saying, ‘thank you!’

We brought the sisters to our little house for a home-cooked lunch and by the looks on their faces it was clear that this was the first time in a long time that they had eaten such a variety of food. After lunch we surprised the girls with a beautiful dessert, covered with candles- especially for Natasha to blow out. She turned red in embarrassment as we sang to her and presented her with a cuddly teddy bear as a gift, but I could tell she was enjoying it at the same time!

What struck me as I watched Natasha sitting there with our whole team singing to her, was that these kids are so rarely singled out, so rarely given the opportunity to feel special, to feel noticed. Instead they are just one of many.

Natasha's birthday isn’t June 26th- it is just a ‘summer birthday’ that gets a ‘congratulations’ at the end of summer with all the rest.

That night as I bade Natasha goodbye and asked her about her birthday, she said it was a day she’d never forget.

I know that the day wasn’t life changing for Natasha. We didn’t pluck her out of the orphanage and give her a fresh start at life. No, at the end of the celebration she still had to walk the all too familiar path back to the orphanage. That is the hard part.

But from the simple act of celebrating her birthday, of corporately praying with her and for her, my prayer is that Natasha will remember that God is a God who sees. The God that sees HER. The people around her may not know it is her birthday—but God knows and he is celebrating her life!

At the end of the week Natasha asked me for a Bible and it was my honor to be able to present her with one—she is a sweet girl with a deeply painful past and it brings my heart joy to see that she is turning to Jesus for healing and she has a desire to learn more about Him.

Jesus bless you sweet Natasha, and may your 16th birthday be one that will bring sweet memories in the years to come. YOU are not forgotten.


Mary said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. For all the work you do for children who have no family to call their own--from the simple things like an impromptu birthday party--to the heroic like uniting a child with his or her new family. Thank you.

Donna said...

How amazing that you are there for these children! I feel blessed to have found your blog through Mandy's. I hope you post more often and I will mention it in my blog because I feel the work you are doing is so important! Reading this post made the hairs on my arms stand up. Bless all your continued work for the Lord and those sweet children. You may want to put a "donate" button on your blog for some monetary help.

Sheryl said...

So happy to know that the children in Ukraine are being taught about the Lord who loves them and knows them by name. A friend just sent me a video about pros. in Ukraine. I'm glad these girls are not on the street with the reported 2,500 in the video or counted in the 60,000 involved in pros.