- Linda Palmer
A Door Opens to My Past
Catching up with Reshuffled’s Elizabeth Henry
Catching up with Elizabeth Henry now Elizabeth Groff! Yes, that’s right Elizabeth married Jordan, a civil engineer in the Coast Guard, during the pandemic and now lives in Texas. A wedding alone would be an exciting next chapter in her life, but there is so much more. You might remember that Elizabeth said goodbye to her little sister Tanya in a Ukrainian orphanage and by the time she told her story to Reshuffled, she had not seen her in many years. But I should let Elizabeth tell the story. . .
The end of 2021 into 2022 and even now my life feels surreal. Every day I am in awe of God’s work in my life. It started on August 5th, 2021, when I received a random message on Instagram. An individual named Irina introduced herself as a journalist for a TV show in Ukraine called One for All. She wrote that my sister Tanya was looking for me and they wanted me to travel to Ukraine to meet her. I am sorry, what? Like any other normal person, I thought this was a scam. I thanked her for reaching out and told her that I had no interest. But Irina didn’t give up. Every day she sent messages urging me to reconsider. I began asking questions to verify what she was telling me. Much to my surprise, the show is real. After speaking with the producer of the show and several other members of the team, they told me that Tanya had been looking for me this whole time. She had randomly taken a chance and applied to the show for help in finding me. They spent approximately eight months doing reconnaissance on my life, going all the way back to the village where I spent the first 7 years of my life and then my orphanage where I spent the next 6 years.
However, I still wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t until they showed me a picture of Tanya as a five-year-old that I realized the significance of what this meant. I recognized her face from the picture I have of her sitting on my office desk. Her father sent it to me 20 years ago right after I made the decision to let her go with him. I’ve carried this picture with me ever since.
Leading up to this moment, about 2 months prior, my husband and I were on the way home from our church service. I distinctly remember saying to him that God was telling me that I needed to be prepared and stand firm in the foundation I built in Him. At that time, I wasn’t sure what I needed to prepare for. Now I was faced with a decision of
a lifetime. Questions began running through my head. Was this what I needed to prepare for? Reuniting with my sister after 20 years? Was I ready? Did I want to open the door back to my life in Ukraine? What would all of this mean? I spent a lot of time praying and talked to my family and friends. Ultimately, I made the decision to trust God to guide me through this. In Matthew 7:24-29 Jesus tells us that when we build on a firm foundation of Christ, we can withstand anything. I believe that He started preparing me for this moment many years ago and two months ago He told me that this moment was near. Now faced with this moment it was my time to stand firm.
Irina gave me all the travel details – we would fly out on December 2nd, 2021, they
would pay for my trip, and I could bring anyone I wanted with me for a week of filming and finally meeting my sister. My husband couldn’t go due to his job demands, so my dad graciously agreed to accompany me! When we landed in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, we had to work our way through a lot of COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions. Then, as soon as we exited the terminal, Irina met us and explained that she would be by our side 24/7.
For the next couple of days, we did a lot of filming for the show which included sharing the entirety of my past and current life and doing filler shots. Finally, the day that I’d meet my sister had arrived and my dad and I made our way to the studio. The show wa
s being taped to air in February of 2022. After hair and makeup, my dad went on first while I waited backstage. During this time which felt like several long hours, I tried to picture in my head what Tanya would look like today, as a 25-year-old woman. But I couldn’t come up with a single image. Only childhood memories swimming in my head. When it was my time, I made my way to the stage and sat next to the host of the show. I looked around the stage and found my dad. Thank God, a familiar face. There were psychologists, lawyers, and other experts whose job was to provide input on my life experiences in Ukraine. I also saw a dainty woman to my father’s left side and a man to his right. I later learned that it was Tanya’s best friend and her father, Oleg.
The host of the show started from the very beginning of my life and guided me with questions as I shared. My memories were spotty but thanks to the show’s amazing journalists I learned a lot about my life and was able to piece many of my memories together. Some memories were harder to bear than others.
Halfway through filming, Tanya’s grandmother joined us on stage. She was so excited to see me, but I couldn’t remember her, and I could tell it broke her heart. Both Tanya’s grandmother and her father were bombarded with questions as to why they decided to leave me at the orphanage and remove Tanya. The truth is that while the show was treating them as villains, I knew that they couldn’t afford to take care of two little girls at the same time. They made a difficult decision that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Finally, the host asked me if I was ready to meet Tanya. When I look back now, I don’t
know if I was ever fully prepared for this moment, but I knew that it was part of God’s plan and I felt at peace with my decision. When Tanya came out and I saw her, my eyes swelled up with tears. I thought to myself, so this is what she looks like today. Two decades had passed and still, it is her brown eyes I remembered which looked the same. We ran to each other and embraced in a long tight hug, both crying uncontrollably. She felt like family and a stranger all at the same time.
As we sat down for another hour and unpacked our stories, I learned that I was going to be an aunt in January of 2022. Tanya shared her memories of our childhood where she recalls me taking care of her and ensuring that we had food to eat and a place to sleep. It was reassuring to hear that I had done right by her as our mother gave up her cardinal responsibility to love and take of us. I am so thankful that I was able to take
our mother’s place in Tanya’s life.
As the time came for my dad and me to return to the states, Tanya and I decided to stay in touch. I was looking forward to making up the last 20 years and becoming an auntie for the first time by blood. So, I started making plans to come back in the summer of 2022. Little did I know that God had other plans for both of us?
To be continued . . . War comes to Ukraine!