Dreaming of Home

A Volkswagen van such as Uncle Paul
drove. Courtesy: Second Chance Garage
My mysterious Uncle Paul would come to the occasional family dinner in an old Volkswagen van that doubled as bedroom and transportation. My mom called him a nomad; I don't think she meant it as a euphemism for homeless, rather, that he enjoyed the gypsy life.

Having lived in six houses by the time I turned 13, I've been a bit of a nomad myself. My parents planned to build their dream home, patterned after a Cape Cod beauty we passed Sundays on the way to church. We all loved the structure--its no-expenses-spared detail, its symmetry, its picket fence. My sister, full of youthful bravado, claimed she would own it someday. My parents, satisfied to build a near-replica in the Princeton Estates subdivision, purchased a lot backing up to the woods behind the house we lived in at the time.

There I am, center, after my Aunt Marilyn's
wedding, which took place in our back yard.
Our Gentian Drive residence seemed the ideal family home, boasting a huge lot with a creek forking into two, creating a sunny peninsula perfect for a vegetable garden. We explored the woods and roamed the fields. Never minding the creek's official name, Crippen Drain, we waded in it, catching crawfish which we sold to Glenn's Live Bait--three cents for a little one, a nickel for a big one. (Some things never change, and I still search and sell today, only with vintage kitchenwares.) My Aunt Marilyn married in our back yard, the bridge the aisle, the peninsula the altar. I donned my flower girl dress along with my cousins, but, when a morning rain left wet grass, my mom instead compelled me to carry the train of my aunt's dress to keep it from soiling. I doubt even Simon of Cyrene felt more ill-used.

The expansive yard grew burdensome, though, leading my parents to imagine a nicer house with less to mow, less to weed. My forward-thinking Realtor mother listed our home while our new residence was still an architect's blue-ink rendering. Despite her ambitious asking price, it sold too quickly--its first day on the market--forcing us into an unexpected string of moves. The moves never bothered me, though I tired of scraping paint and pulling carpet tacks from hardwood floors each time another fixer-upper presented an opportunity too good for my parents to bypass. While I relished the adventure, my sister, Becky, unlike Uncle Paul, hated feeling like a rootless nomad.

Neighbors deemed our vacant lot,
full of Goldenrod, a nuisance.
Courtesy: Seasons Flow
My mom would spread the blueprints on the kitchen table, three children peering over her shoulder imagining the rooms that would be theirs. Even as new houses sprung up around our empty lot, the unfurling of the blueprints grew less frequent. Our little piece of earth, a beautiful field of wildflowers, turned a weedy nuisance--even though it wasn't our lot that had changed. Reported to the city one too many times for allergenic goldenrod which my dad never found the time to mow, when a builder made an advantageous offer on what had become the last lot on the street, my parents--realizing the folly of constructing a family home with the kids so nearly grown--sold it. My mom cried all through the closing. The remnants of the dream are a dusty set of blueprints tucked in a coat closet, and a silent shudder when Becky recalls her longing for permanence.

Once my sister married, she and her husband sought home. Discovering "her" house on the market--the very Cape Cod that inspired my mom's dream to build--Becky and Randy jumped at the chance to buy it. Some people have the knack for turning dreams to reality; my sister is one of them.

She wanted to be high school valedictorian.


She wanted to practice veterinary medicine.


She wanted to own the house on Yorkshire Drive.


And her dream home offered everything inside that it did out: quality, detail, classic beauty--perfection, really--even a Dutch door and a backyard shuffleboard court. My sister, distressed by random numbers, appreciated its 1520 address, too. They put down roots. They planned to stay. She was done moving.

Or so she thought.

Dr. Rebekah De Nooy, holding a patient.
Becky had another dream on her life's bucket list: adopting children. Turned off as an impressionable youth by Karen Grassle's depiction of Caroline Ingalls in labor on Little House on the Prairie, Becky vowed she'd never make such a spectacle of herself. She and Randy instead grew their family through international adoption, bringing home a baby girl from Guatemala, followed by another from China. The more she learned about adoption, the dearer the cause grew to her. But I would digress were I to tell you how she came to give up her career as a veterinarian, finding greater purpose throwing herself into the work of the Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project. In the process of finding homes for older orphans, though, she fell in love with a brother and sister, ages six and eight, and knew God meant them to become a part of her family.

Calin and I were married in Becky's house.
With four children, they sold their trusty old Geo Prizm (which they paid $250 for and sold for $300 after driving it four years without a single breakdown--yes, she is my sister, after all), trading up to a mini van. But that was just a vehicle. They needed to sell their home, too, to gain more space to accommodate twice as many children, room to homeschool, and an office for Randy's new career in real estate. Despite their house's considerable charm, it lacked in size. We all felt sad to see it pass to other hands. My husband and I, content with a small wedding, had married in that house. I often think how I'd like just one more peek inside. But my sister won't even travel the street it's on, fearing she cannot suffer the sight if it has gone downhill. If ever she must pass, she vows to avert her eyes.

But her work with the Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project brings her face to face with a reality far more grievous than a distressed property: teens, with little hope for the future, pushed out at a certain age to the Russian streets, where prostitution, gangs, drug use, hopelessness, and suicide often await. She could look away--it's what most of us do--yet she cannot, striving tirelessly to help forgotten children fulfill a dream none should even need to have--the dream of a permanent home. Not the bricks and mortar kind like my sister so desperately wanted, but the flesh and blood kind, like she already had.

Becky uses the get-it-done grit that made her own dreams achievable to help Russia's older orphans fulfill the most basic of theirs. The obstacles are fierce: cost, fear, awareness, willingness. But she keeps trying and trusting, rejoicing in the successes, while mourning each failure when a child in need--a child with much to offer--ages out of the orphanage, with no family and nowhere to go. Despite her efforts, not every dream comes true--not even for my sister.

But it has for Daria, who, four months before aging out at age 16, found a family. And it has for 85 other children my sister has helped--children with health challenges, children in sibling groups too large to interest the typical adoptive family. Indeed, any child no longer a baby or toddler faces crushing odds.

I'm very proud of Becky--not for topping her large high school class, or making it through grueling veterinary school, or owning the perfect home--but for making God's command to help orphans her command, and making the pie-in-the-sky dreams of the hopeless her dream.

And because she won't give up--not until everyone is home.

The Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project brings American tourists to Moscow to visit with older Russian orphans in 5-day sightseeing trips. Whether adoption interests you or you simply want to show an orphan you care, you are welcome to join the adventure. The next trip is planned for February 5-12, 2013 with additional trips throughout the year. In 2010, the latest year for which statistics are available, the Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project found homes for 55% of the teenagers adopted to the USA from Russia. Find out more about the Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project on my sister's blog: RussianOrphanLighthouseProject.blogspot.com, and on the Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project Facebook page

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  1. What a wonderful story. But I felt so sad for your parents when they gave up the lot for their dream house.

  2. Truly puts things into perspective! Becky is an amazing woman and such a great example... as is her little sister!

  3. Awesome post about home being the family not the house! God bless your sister for her efforts!


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