So it’s almost Valentine’s Day, but Christmas Spirit can last all year, right? It does for me, at least when I look back at the photos from our most memorable Christmas Eve with the Benz Family and the Bykota House Kids. And since I promised you more details and LOTS of pictures, you can mentally holiday-hop with me. 🙂
We arrived at the Benz’s house mid-morning on Christmas Eve. From the outside, you can’t even really tell it’s there. There’s a “gate” which is actually like a very big wall sized door. Once inside the gate, there’s a courtyard, with this awesome playground looking contraption, a swingset, and an adorably scruffy little dog. The house opens with a large room, bordered on two sides by computer workstations. During the week this room is the Bykota House school. But on that day it was decorated with a Christmas tree and stockings and other festive touches including the sounds of nice, relaxing (not at all manic!) Christmas carols. I took all this in while greeting Rhonda and Mark and their kids, most of whom we’d met before when they came and stayed with us in Virgina a little over a year ago. Leah and Luke immediately rebonded with their friends. And the youngest Benz kids immediately wrapped the rest of us around their little fingers. Even Drew, who normally prefers to stand back and out of the way, was drawn into the fun. Those Benzs just exude love, every single one of them.
The party didn’t start until 4:30, so we had a few hours to get reaquainted, get a tour of the house, eat some lunch, and wrap presents. And chat. Lots and lots of chatting, the whole time. (Rhonda is a great storyteller. And their life is like one crazy you can’t believe it story after another. One day, God willing, she will sit down and write a book. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and subscribe to her blog. It’s only a small glimpse, but it will have to tide you over until the book comes out.) Also during this time we met Kelsi and Micah, a young couple who recently joined Mark and Rhonda in their home and in the ministry. (Their blog is here. Go ahead and subscribe to that one too.) Thanks to a lot of help from Kelsi, Rhonda and I got all the gifts we brought sorted and wrapped in time for the party.
And then suddenly it was 4:30 and the doorbell was ringing and lots of kids were pouring through the gate! It was like a big ol’ family gathering, but just one set of parents and 30-something kids. And some support staff. But they prefer to stay in the background and let “Mom” and “Dad” be in charge.
Rhonda and Kelsi planned all the activities and games, Mekerah (the oldest girl living at Bykota House) organized dinner, Micah played guitar, and Mark kept everyone in line and took lots of pictures. I walked around with my camera alternately taking pictures and videos and taking it all in. Besides the general buzz of activity created by that many people at a Christmas party, I also had this feeling like I was choked up the whole time. It was just SO special and good and really incredible to be spending time with the Benzs and all their kids that I’ve been praying for and thinking about for years; I can’t properly express it in words, but thank goodness, I did take a lot of pictures. And video. So it can be almost like you were there too.
I keep trying to figure out how to caption or explain all the pictures and I’m just failing miserably. So let me just throw out a few impressions and then let the pictures speak for themselves.
* I first read about Sarah Rose, the Benzs youngest daughter (adoption still in process) here. You can see from the pictures, she’s still living up to her name. (Read the linked post!)
* Linda is a part of the Bykota House family. Because she was so little, she was living with a staff member for a while, but now is being transition to the BH girls’ dorm. Were there any way possible, I would have been trying to convince Husband that there was room in our family for one more. She just captured my heart.
*Maddie? Is hysterical. She’s a Benz and I’m pretty sure she somehow managed to inherit her Momma’s sass and humor. The girl needs her own Disney channel show.
* I love how close all the kids are. Benz, Bykota House, it makes no difference. They are more than friends, they really are brothers and sisters. The older ones look out for the youngers and they all just enjoy being together.
* I mentioned before the thrill I had in watching Sammy enjoy his light up pillow. I was equally giddy about Hope’s enjoyment of her gift. Hope has Cerebral Palsy and can not control her arm or hand movements well. Rhonda asked me to find her something she could bang at that would do something in response. I didn’t want to insult her with a baby toy, but those are the toys that respond to simple movements. I found this Baby Einstein Discover and Play piano online and then with just a few days before we left, scoured our local Toys R Us to find it. It was totally worth the effort. I like that it isn’t too babyish, and it does more than just play a few notes… it makes animal sounds, and says the numbers in three languages, and plays classical music. But best of all is that Hope can play it all by herself, and obviously loved it right away. I couldn’t keep the grin off my face, just watching her.
(If you click on any of the photos, it will take you to a slideshow of all of them.)
Because I don’t think pictures alone can do the party justice, I want to show you a couple of videos too. The first one is of a game they played. The kids were split into four teams. Each team got a couple of rolls of toilet paper and some construction paper embellishments. Their goal was to turn one member of the team into a “snowman”. It was hysterical to watch, and kind of amazing how well a couple of the teams did.
And here’s a short clip from the carol singing time. Apologies for the horrible videography – it’s somewhat difficult to get everyone in the picture, and also, I’m not very good at taking video. But you get the idea.
If the pictures and videos have tugged at your heart, I encourage you to learn more about the Benz Family and Bykota House at their website. And if one particular kid has stood out to you, consider becoming a sponsor. (In addition to filling out the form, I’d encourage you to contact Mark and Rhonda directly through their website or via the Bykota House facebook page to talk with them about sponsorship. We are not sponsors, we are monthly partners, so I don’t have first hand experience with sponsorship, but I know from their FB page that sponsors are able to correspond with their sponsor child and even send special gifts sometimes.)
Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! And um, Happy Valentine’s Day! 🙂