Food is a language I speak fluently. For me, food has always been the very best way for me to express love. When Nick and Olivia came home, they left absolutely everything that was familiar. They had to get accustomed to a new culture with customs, foods, and language different from the one they had always known. They were introduced to faith and its practice in a meaningful way. And they had to learn to be a part of a family.
One of the things that I can do is to create meals around dishes that are familiar to them, or that were especially memorable for them, recalling those precious good memories from the years before they came home to us. We have been eating a LOT of Bulgarian food lately because I have been compiling a collection of Bulgarian recipes that Nick and Olivia have requested. This requires converting and modifying them for the ingredients available here in the States, and testing them to further tweak for our tastes.
I’m about three-quarters through the recipes that I have collected, and I’m beginning to style and photograph each recipe. Once that is complete, I’ll start casting about for printers so that I can make them available as a complete cookbook.
If you would like this recipe, you can get it here. If you’d like more recipes delivered straight to your inbox with farm, shop, and ministry news and events, please subscribe to our newsletter and support our work.
I know that the food you will eat for breakfast this morning will not nourish your body even if it does quell the pain in your stomach. I know that you will watch the other kids at school, the kids who have parents, enjoy a hot lunch while you take the trash out in payment for your cheese sandwich. I know that you will feel fortunate to have a plate of lukewarm pasta before bed – if the orphanage bully doesn’t get it first. I know that the orphanage workers are downstairs in the office taking coffee instead of watching over you. I know that if he gets your dinner, there won’t be anything to replace it.
I know that you won’t sleep tonight because the orphanage abuser prowls the hallways and bedrooms all night looking for someone to molest. And I know that the orphanage worker that is working the night shift is safely locked up in the staff bedroom with a television on so that she won’t be bothered. I know that the sounds of the other kids fighting him off – or just fighting each other – keeps you awake. I know that you haven’t had a real night’s sleep since being left in the orphanage.
I know that they don’t call the doctor when you’re feeling sick, if they ever take you at all. I know that when you’re hurt, no one comforts you or bandages your cuts. I see the huge gashes on your elbow and knee and I know it’s more than a scrape from falling off a bicycle or stone wall. I know about the self-harm that leaves your face bruised and your skin bleeding. I know that you have an infection raging inside your body that makes your stomach hurt, gives you diarrhea and the kind of bad breath that makes people stay far away from you.
I know that you are often punished for something you didn’t do. I know about the chair in the basement, and the time you and the others were stripped naked and sent outside on display for hours until it got dark. I know about the bottles full of cleaner that they spray in your face if they think you’re lying. And I know how they burn you with the electrical cord. I know about the electroshock therapy that was meted out for a broken window. I know you heard the screams of your brother, or sister, or friend. I know about all of it.
I understand why you are afraid to use the toilet in the night. I know why you crouch in a corner to relieve yourself quietly in a pile of clothing, or out of the window. I know why you are afraid to take a shower even though it means you will smell bad, so the kids at school tease you. I understand why you can’t wear a nightgown or a dress unless you also wear pants underneath it.
I know why you haven’t learned how to do more than simple addition. I know why you can’t write your own name, much less an essay, or even a sentence. I know why you gravitate to picture books. I know why you can’t even properly speak your mother tongue. I know the teachers think that you aren’t worth teaching. I know that the other kids take your books and papers from you. I know that you are so scared all of the time that you can’t think, you can’t concentrate.
I know why you can’t make friends, and why you aren’t even friends with your own brother or sister. I know why you don’t trust women – or anyone. I know why you lie and why you steal. I know why you turn on the charm. I know why you scream and rage, why you kick and bite and run away.
I know that you sit alone sometimes and wonder where your parents are, and why they left you there. I know you wonder if they’ll come back – pray they’ll come back. I know you wish someone – anyone – would come and rescue you. I know that you want a do-over. I know that you want someplace safe and clean to live, somewhere where there is always food and heat, maybe somewhere with a lock on your bedroom door. I know that you want someone to spend time with you, to tell you stories and teach you things like how to read and knit and draw… and live. I know that you want someone to tell your story to – someone who will comfort you and tell you that it’s going to be alright. I know that you want someone to MAKE IT ALRIGHT.
I know – even if you don’t – that you need to know The One Who graced you here. I know that you need to experience His mercy, His kindness, His joy, and His abundance. I know that you need a miracle in the guise of a mother and father, and brothers, and sisters, and friends. I know you need to be surrounded by people who never leave – not ever. I know that you need the gift of a new beginning, a second chance, a beautiful life.
I can’t come for you, though my heart aches to. But I promise you this: Not only will I pray for you, but I will be your voice. I will tell people everything I know about you. I will help them to see you. I will explain it all. I will tell them that you are waiting for someone just like them. I will tell them that you are worth saving. Because you are.
Nissa’s column “Let Us Sow Love” appears monthly in The Catholic Free Press. This column appeared on September 1, 2017.
The first time I saw our son and daughter is something I will never forget. Everyone remembers that day. The look in your child’s eyes, their sweet heavy warmth in your arms, the smell of their newborn head, the soft perfection of tiny fingers and toes. You are instantly, deeply in love.
The first time I saw my son and daughter there was a combination of anticipation and fear in their eyes. They would not be touched nor receive physical affection from me. They stank of a kind of filth I had never experienced with any of my other children in their dirtiest states. They were covered in scars and scabs, one of them had hands resembling someone four times his age. I was instantly, deeply repelled.
Every part of me wanted to turn around and go back to my comfortable life in America. To my ‘own’ beautiful children. I wanted to forget about this place halfway around the world and the extreme poverty – material, spiritual, emotional. I wanted to unsee, unsmell, unfeel. But God had already marked me indelibly. These were the ones he sent us to love. These were the ones he sent us to rescue. There was no escape.
I left Bulgaria numb. I felt nothing. I had no feeling of belonging, no affection. Just nothing. I wanted Him to choose someone else for us. Someone easier to love. I had no desire to go back. I was like Jonah in my desire to just walk away.
But we did go back. And were met with an epic storm for which we were wholly unprepared. One child violently acting out against me any time we were alone in a room, turning on the charm when others returned. I begged to be delivered from it. For ten days my heart pounded and ached, unable to breathe. For ten days I sobbed bitterly that I couldn’t be what she needed me to be. We went back and forth about what we should do and ultimately stayed the course. My husband reminded me that God had brought us this far; and that love wasn’t merely affection. It was doing the right thing, whatever the cost.
When we arrived home, we watched vigilantly throughout the days and nights in case the storm raged against our other children. Then the storm began to collapse inward, to consume her, and she completely shut down. And there she remained, terrified. Only Jesus can calm that sea. But she doesn’t know him. Not yet. Daily we teach her, suffering the emotional buffets alongside her, trying to shield her from further harm. Patiently. Wearily.
While her past with all its conflicts and confusion, all of its pain, assaults her heart and mind, we remain with her. The backlash cutting into us, tearing at us, our strength ebbing, on our knees.
Love doesn’t always look like moony-faced affection. Sometimes love looks tired and broken. Sometimes love looks angry or frustrated. Love is not just how we feel about someone else, it is, in its highest form, willing the good of another without counting the cost. It is dying to oneself, letting go of the need for reciprocity. It sometimes looks – and feels – an awful lot like being stripped naked, arms wide, pierced hand and foot and side, vulnerable, spat on and insulted, thorns pressed deeply into the head, breathless. And when it feels like that, you’re loving as He loved.
I don’t know why God chose me to carry your cross. But I carry it willingly however heavy it is. Some days it brings me to my knees. But God has provided abundant graces and many helpers for those times. At those times we all carry your cross together.
You are never far from my mind, my sister. Every day, I look into their deep brown eyes and wonder if those eyes came from you. I wonder if your eyes show the same sadness and fear, if they’ve ever shown the same warmth of love that our son’s show when he looks at me.
He’s a miracle, you know. He has come through God-only-knows-what and still he loves. Still, he trusts. He’s one of the bravest people I have ever met. When he looks at me and says “I love you, Mama” I am shaken to my very core because I know that it has cost him everything to tell me so. It should have been yours to hear. And I treasure it all the more because of that. He’s so smart. He works so hard in spite of the struggles he has. He tries new things even though the starting terrifies him. He drinks in every new experience like a much younger child. But he is also maturing into an amazing young man, a sweet and caring older brother to his new brothers and sisters. He is tender and patient and kind. He talks to me about growing up to help people, to rescue other kids like him. I mourn for your loss, my sister. You’re missing this.
Your daughter – our daughter – is buried deep inside herself. She lives in a constant state of terror. She’s safe here but she doesn’t understand that. Her wounds will take a long, long time to heal. And until they do, she can’t move forward. She can’t learn, or mature, or love. Not truly. She doesn’t know that family is a safe place, that adults are trustworthy. She doesn’t know that the world is a place full of love and joy. Because of this, she may never be able to fall in love –with a worthy man, with God, with herself. She may never experience for herself the love that mothers have for their children, that fierce, primal love. You couldn’t have known what would happen to her. I pray you didn’t know. Or maybe the same thing happened to you and you couldn’t give these two children what they needed. And if that is the case then I am so sorry for what happened to you. I am so very sorry. I wish someone had been there to rescue you, too. Thank God someone rescued her. By the grace of God, she will triumph.
I will carry this cross, your cross, now my cross. I will care for the children you could not care for. I will heal their bodies, and work to heal their broken spirits. I will do this for you and for them. I am blessed to be entrusted with this ministry.
These children link us together, you and me, dear sister. We have never seen each other’s faces, never spoken a word to each other, never taken each other by the hand, but we are so very close. I wish you love. I wish you all that is good.
One day, when we have both finally laid down our crosses, I pray, we all will meet in Heaven. On that day, I will embrace you, my sister, and I will introduce you to my children, your children, OUR children. His children. And we will see the fulfillment of His plan for all of us and how He has brought all things to good.
As you may or may not know, Nissa and I adopted two children from Bulgaria about a year ago. As part of the adoption process, we visited with the children in Bulgaria two different times. The first was in a very small village in the far distant region of the country. And the second was in the capital city Sofia. We got an opportunity to see much of the country.
Bulgaria is a former republic of the Soviet Union, who recently became an independent nation. No matter where we were, the country looked like pictures you’ve probably seen, all the buildings are the same color, the same architecture. Almost all are what we would consider run down, walls cracked, plaster and paint falling off. Inside, they were not any better. Even the national museums were obviously in disrepair. The roads were terrible, torn up and patched together.
By our standards, Bulgaria is a third world country. The thing that really stood out was within that environment of poverty, everyone was wearing designer clothes, everyone sported their own smart phone, everyone drove expensive cars.
And there we were, traveling 5000 miles to rescue two children abandoned in an orphanage, minimally cared for, while everyone around them was more concerned with pretending to be wealthy than loving their neighbor.
Everyone was focused on the wrong thing.
And that is exactly what today’s Scripture readings are trying to save us from. We must stop and reflect on what God is telling us!
The first reading is from the Prophet Zephaniah telling us how to follow the Lord: do no wrong and tell no lies! What a wonderful world this would be if everyone lived that way!
Even when we fail, we need to keep striving to live that way. The challenge of course is that our present world no longer knows what is good and what is wrong. The world does not know truth from lies.
We are surrounded on every side with values that are so different from the values given to us by Jesus that we can become confused. Far too often, whatever the present cultures wants to call good is accepted as good and whatever it wants to call bad is accepted as bad.
Yet, we who follow the Lord Jesus, have the Word of God to form us and to guide us into all truth.
The second reading is from a Letter from St Paul to the Corinthians. This letter reminds us that if we actually do choose to follow the Word of God and to follow Jesus as our Savior, we will be considered fools. And this is still true for us today.
But we are told in this reading: “God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise.” It is our foolishness in following Jesus that can actually bring light to the world and perhaps even draw the world back to God.
The early Christians knew that to live in Christ was to fight against the values of their world. The early Christians even knew that they might have to die to proclaim the truth given to us in Christ Jesus.
Today, we like to be comfortable and to be well off. There is nothing wrong with that by itself, but when we are willing to water down the Word of God in order to maintain a comfortable life style, then we must recognize that we are betraying Jesus as our Lord.
We must be able to stand up for the truth of the teachings of Scripture and of our Catholic Church. When we find ourselves compromising because we don’t want to bother others, then we are guilty of passing on the lies of our current culture.
Today’s Gospel reading gives us what is called the Beatitudes. These are the all important teachings of Jesus that tell us how to follow the Lord: poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, persecuted for the sake of righteousness, insulted for Christ, persecuted for Christ, and evil spoken about us because of Christ. This is a pretty strong list of characteristics for us!
The implication today is that we must give our whole being to God. We must follow Jesus with all of our strength. When we fail, we must get up and start again. Compromising with anything less than Jesus simply means following the world and its values and not following our Lord.
Today we are invited us to renew our commitment to the follow the Lord. We should walk in His ways and accept all the suffering that may bring us. That way we can walk in His kingdom but now and forever.