It was a cold and rainy October day.  I was wearing ballet flats with bare feet because the day had started off sunny and the entire week had been warm.  But this was a day of transition.  Goodbye to warm summer days.  Goodbye to summer dresses and flip flops.  Goodbye to ballet flats with bare feet.

As I walked home from visiting my dear friend, Isa, who so kindly lent me her giant purple plastic parka (the kind they give you when riding the Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls), the rain continued to pour.  I felt like Tinky Winky, but I was dry from head to knee, and that was worth it!  I did my best to jump the puddles, but it was dark and I missed a few along the way.  All I could think about was getting home, having a hot shower, and being warm.  My mind kept drifting to thoughts of a hot bowl of chicken noodle soup.  It would be the perfect thing to eat after such a cold and wet adventure home. But I had no noodles, and no chicken, and thus…no soup.  The thought, however, lingered.

As I reached my apartment, I gained speed, eager to be warm and dry.  Up the elevator.  Careful to wait for the red light to disappear before opening the door.  Careful to listen for the “bump” after the pause before getting out.  To my wooden door.  Ah, home at last.  Chiva and Nico were there, safe and warm and wonderful as always.  I did a little pose for them in my giant amazing Tinky Winky plastic parka that saved me from being completely soaked (thanks Isa!!).  Once I was all cleaned up and dry again, I headed into the living room to sit with the girls.  And that’s when the amazing happened.  Chiva said to me, “Go check in the kitchen.  I cooked.”  Those words alone were all I needed to hear.  Hot food on the stove, ready to warm me up.  But there was more.  There on the stovetop in a big ceramic white pot, decorated with little flower designs, was……CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP!!!  I couldn’t believe it!!!  I laughed with delight and ran into the living room to tell Chiva that she had made EXACTLY what I had been craving my whole trip home!! It was perfect.  It was delicious.  It was hot.

That was Thanksgiving Weekend (the Canadian Version) for me here in Bucharest.  I was so thankful for Chiva’s kindness, making food for us girls.  The soup was so perfect and it got me thinking about all the other things I’m thankful for.  I have been so blessed with people’s generosity and kindness during my time here in Romania.  Sometimes it comes in the form of food – an easy way to my heart. Sometimes it comes in the form of a friend who is there to chat and listen after a long day.  And often it comes from a complete stranger who helps me find my way through a new part of town…not like I get lost that often… : )

I am thankful for hot food on the table prepared daily at work.
I am thankful for new friends that introduce me to their friends and family and help me feel at home.
I am thankful for pastries and pretzels sold at every metro station and corner.
I am thankful for my family who supports me in all I do and takes time to chat and skype with me even when the signal sucks.
I am thankful for old friends that share stories and say hello and remind me of how much love I have at home.
I am thankful for leaves that change colour and fall, reminding me that’s change can be beautiful even if it means we have to die to what we once were in order to make way for new life.
I am thankful for children who make me smile with their silliness and smiles.
I am thankful for warm blankets and pillows.
I am thankful for my time here in Romania and the long list of new things to be thankful for arising from this experience.

Weeks after my chicken noodle soup experience I received a package from one of amazing friends, Trish.  She thoughtfully sent me some items for me to use and enjoy, and give me comfort in my time here.  One of them was a book, “A Spoonful of Chicken Noodle Soup for the Christian Soul.”  It’s a collection of touching true stories of faith and love and hope that are meant to warm the soul of those who read them…in the same way chicken noodle soup warms the soul.  Many of you are probably familiar with the “Chicken Noodle Soup” books.  You can find them for almost any “soul” out there, from Cat Lovers and Gardeners to Latino’s and Ocean Lovers, which got me thinking.  What could be learned from surveying a person’s collection of Chicken Noodle Soup books?  Could details of their soul truly be gained?  And for those who don’t own any of these books, are we to assume that they are vegetarian?  Could there be a “Chicken Noodle Soup for the Vegetarian’s Soul” or would that be too much of a conflict?  Either way, I greatly appreciate the chicken noodle soup I received from both Chiva and Trish.  They each warmed my soul in a special way, and for that I am thankful.

The best thing to do once we’ve been fed is to feed others.  And that is precisely what I am doing at the orphanage here in Romania.  It’s called “Don Orione” and it cares for disabled orphans.  The centre has the first donkey therapy program in Romania.  Children are taken on donkey rides regularly, helping to stimulate their senses and provide physical therapy in a creative way.  The children love the donkeys, and the staff does a great job caring for them.

A typical day for me at the orphanage consists of helping with feeding the children, and teaching them how to feed themselves.  There is often A LOT of food on the floor, on their faces, and on the tables.  But it is so good to see how they are learning to become more independent step by step.  I have been focusing on helping one of the older boys, Alin, with using a spoon to eat.  I am amazed at how much he is improving day by day.  I hope to see him learn to eat completely on his own before I leave. Some of the children are unable to move on their own, or chew solid foods, so we put it in the food processor to make a lunchtime smoothie.

In the mornings, after breakfast, I take Liviu – an adorable brown eyed boy – to kindergarten.  Don Orione also has a program for autistic children, and the teachers there have allowed me to bring Liviu each morning!  It’s amazing to see how much Liviu is learning, and growing from his time in kindergarten. We sing songs, say our names, learn the months and days of the week, the weather, and other such things.  My favourite song is “Ratustele Mele” – a song about ducks.  It’s so much fun to sing!  Once kindergarten is done, I head back to the main area with all the children where I do stretches with some, helping to loosen up their muscles, teach others how to play catch, and in general hang out with the children doing whatever I can to help.  For something as simple as putting on a jacket, or eating a bowlful of mashed potatoes, it can take what seems like forever with the children.  One boy loves to wrap his arms around you, but by reaching backwards.  He is blind, and needs help to eat.  I help him at lunchtime and use one hand to hold his hands down in order to keep them from flinging the food across the room.  I always focus on doing these things in a firm yet loving way because I never want to forget that they are people who deserve love and respect, regardless of their condition.  Another boy suffers from Cerebral Pulsy and therefore has little control over his muscles, making it very difficult to put his jacket on.  But we laugh our way along, and I try to let him do as much as he can on his own, telling him “Trage (pull)” as he holds the sleeves and pulls as best he can.

I am amazed at the level of patience parents must have with children in general.  I’ve had many opportunities to work with children and grow in patience as we go about a daily routine.  But now, as I work with disabled children, I am again amazed at how important patience is.  There is always the temptation to do things for them in a more efficient way.  To grab the spoon from their hands and feed them quickly and without all the mess.  But then how can they learn.  I understand that there are cases when that is the only way, and in those cases I see it as a blessing to be able to help feed someone by spoon.  I am challenged to help serve them in a way that brings honour to God and values them as a person, never as a nuisance but as a gift.

I’ve been at the centre now for almost a month, and I have had the chance to get to know each child as an individual.  Here’s a bit of what I’ve gathered:

Alin likes tractors and trucks and things that go vroom. Alessandra likes stretching and twisting and laughing a lot. Stefan likes to be tickled.  Ana likes to sneak cookies from the countertop, and Anca likes music and dancing and pulling people’s hair.  Liviu likes smiling and chocolate and being independent to the best of his ability.  Ramona likes to hug like a koala.  There are two Ioanna’s.  One who likes to kick and surprise you every so often with a giant smile that lasts a split second, and one that likes to climb and whimper.  Adi likes to say “da” and Alessandro likes Tom and Jerry.  Aurel likes soft foods and hugging backwards.  Robbie likes to chew on anything he can get his hands on, and Marian likes to chirp joyfully when he’s hungry. Luminita likes to care for the other children and speak softly like Snow White, and Dani likes to hold hands.

I love these children and I love my time at the Centre.

I love that I’m in Bucharest!  And I love that I am right where God wants me right now.  There is such peace in walking with God…like the feeling of leaning on a loved one and breathing out slowly with a smile on your face.

The Ratustele Mele song 🙂

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; The old has gone, the new is here!”

2 Corinthians 5:17