It’s hard to believe my Bulgarian children have been home just a few months shy of two years. I vividly remember those first few days with them in our apartment in Sofia (Bulgaria’s capital). I was in tears virtually every single night. I thought, “What have we done?” Those early days (especially those in-country) were hard.
I remember communicating with friends back home who had walked similar paths, and they assured me it would get better. At the time, I thought we would never climb out of the pit we were in. But, they were right…it did get easier. Not easy…but easier.
Initially, Joel and I discovered many bad habits that had to be “un-done”. Now try to imagine doing that when speaking two different languages. Even so, we had to be consistent from the start. It’s hard for me to conceive now, but I had a very difficult time with Josiah (my now 9-year-old) initially. He would do anything Joel asked him to do, but basically laughed in my face whenever I said anything to him. For those of you who have had the privilege of meeting my son, you know that’s nothing like the young man you’ve met. But, I’m telling you…he was a different little boy back then.
Joel could tell Josiah to listen to me or to do something I was trying to get him to do, and he would obey Joel. But me…I got nothing out of him but more arrows flying to my already broken heart. I couldn’t understand why he hated me so much.
It wasn’t long before our translator, a native Bulgarian, explained that in the Roma culture, women aren’t respected, and the Roma boys are taught they don’t have to respect them. Even so…that was unacceptable, and that paradigm had to shift.
Joel immediately started teaching Josiah to respect me. It got better when we were back in the United States, but we still had a long road ahead of us. When Josiah’s understanding of the English language improved, his behavior towards me (and his younger sister) improved greatly. I remember one day Josiah and Katerina got into argument about something silly. The argument quickly grew a little more heated, and Joel and I witnessed him hit his sister. That did it. We’re not raising a bully!
I immediately went to a sobbing Katerina to try and comfort her, and Joel took Josiah outside for a “man-to-boy” chat. By the time they were finished talking, Josiah walked into the house and went over to Katerina to apologize and ask her forgiveness. Then, Joel asked Josiah to share with me the things we learned.
“I never hit girls.”
“Mommy is just as important as Daddy.”
“I treat girls with love.”
“I love my sister and need to protect her.”
There were other items mentioned, but those were the big ones. And, honestly, after that conversation…to my knowledge, Josiah has never hit another girl. He’s certainly not perfect and has a lot of learning left to do when it comes to relationships with people, but I know that lesson was drilled into him.
Fast forward to last week. I was in the hospital, and my long-time friend, Kandi, was at the house taking care of the children for me. She called me after the kids had gone to bed and said she just had to share something with me. She relayed a conversation between Josiah and Austyn that occurred at the dinner table earlier that evening…
A: “I got in trouble today.”
J: “What did you do Austyn?”
A: “I had to go to timeout, because I hit ________.” (I don’t remember her name, but it was a little girl in his preschool class.)
J: “Austyn! You know we never, ever hit girls. Never! Okay?”
J: “Now, I want you to back to school tomorrow and tell her you’re sorry and won’t do it again.”
Austyn agreed, and the scolding by his big brother ended. After Kandi finished relaying the story to me, I smiled through tears up in my hospital room, and I shared, “That was from Joel. He made sure Josiah and Benjamin understood that boys don’t hit girls, and men don’t hit women.” Now…Josiah was reminded of that teaching and passed it along to his littlest brother.
Even from Heaven, Joel’s legacy lives on strong, and his parenting continues to shine boldly through our home.