I knew she'd believe the setup because I always have a camera in my hand. She wouldn't be suspicious at all. We spent the morning straightening her very curly hair with the flat iron. She settled on jeans and a favorite t-shirt. She checked her look in the mirror a hundred times before we finally got the boys loaded up in the car.
When Robert finally came out to the car, he asked, "Is the camera battery charged? You know you're going to want to take at least a few pictures." I glanced quickly in the rear view mirror, but she hadn't heard. She was searching for a song on her MP3 player. "You are going to spoil the surprise!" I protested, "Not another word until we get there! And no I didn't charge the camera battery; it's already charged." I would later learn that the battery was not charged. Something Robert is still teasing me about four days later.
When we finally made it to the park, the other vehicle was pulling in just ahead of us. I scrambled out of the driver's seat and grabbed the camera. Kristina climbed out, but went around the other side and was preoccupied with her siblings. "Kristina, where'd you go? Come here!"
When she walked back around the car she saw her. "Karina!" Even though she was wearing her sunglasses, I could tell she wanted to cry. The last time she had wrapped her arms around this girl, she was gathering her few belongings at the orphanage and saying goodbye, believing she would never see her best friend again. It had been 16 months, but they stood wrapped joyfully in each others' arms once more. They giggled at their attempt to speak in Russian and English before settling on Russian.
What are the odds? What are the odds that two American families who had never met would adopt two Ukrainian girls from the same orphanage, best friends at that, and that those two families would live two hours apart? What are the odds that the moms of both these girls would later learn they had grown up not 15 miles from each other? Some might call it chance, or fate, or serendipity. We in Reformed circles have another word for it.
As many things with Kristina have been, this experience taught us that things are not always as they appear. We thought we were reconnecting our daughter with an old friend, but in fact it was she who would connect us with amazing new friends. We felt an immediate connection to Karina's family. We saw so much of us in them and were pleased at the easy conversation and shared experiences. Our children (three boys and two girls) and their children (three boys and two girls) chased each other around the playground and pushed each other on the swings while we chatted. They spoke of their impending departure for the mission field and passion for mercy ministry and we found ourselves leaning closer to hear more. We have prayed and asked God to show us where we could serve in mercy ministry on the mission field. We were encouraged by their joy and vision and haven't ceased to speak about the impact their words had on us and on our future.
Our families met up again on Easter Sunday morning and worshipped together. Karina and Kristina compared dresses in the parking lot of the church and then snuggled into a pew, side by side, whispering and laughing until the services began. I marveled at the picture of them sharing a hymnal, singing praises to God. What are the odds? How good is our God?
Kristina & Karina during our 2007 adoption
Karina & Kristina reunited 2009