But in a bigger sense, I've been thinking about the ways that God plants things in a child's heart that, if nurtured, will grow and mature into Big Things. I have been thinking about how, my whole life, I have loved babies, dreamed about babies, wanted babies of my own and imagined taking care of babies who need a mommy.
I read a book in college called Things Unseen. It's the author's thoughts on how to live a life with our minds and hearts fixed on Heaven. There is one scene he describes that is really the only thing that stuck with me from the book (not because it's not a great book in its entirety, just because I have read a lot of books in my lifetime so my brain only has room for bits and pieces!). The author describes visiting an orphanage in a faraway country. He writes about entering the orphanage and being attacked by a swarm of children desperate to be held and touched and talked to and acknowledged. It broke his heart that they were so needy for even just a hand to hold. However, then he says that they walked into a different room - dark and still and lined with cribs. Cribs full of children - not babies. Children who hadn't been touched or held or cuddled or soothed in days, weeks, months, years. He writes about the deep and ripping pain in his soul as he observed these children with blank stares, lying lifelessly in their cribs - because what amount of life have they really been offered? Not much. Definitely not enough. He tells the reader that he and the group he was with spent hours holding and rocking these children who were never held, giving them the physical touch that human beings NEED to thrive. He writes about how "not enough" it felt.
I can still picture where I was in my freshman dorm room when I read those words. It is a memory that is seared into my consciousness the way that important memories must be imprinted. I remember the unexpected and unbidden emotional response that erupted from my deep-down heart. I read the words and I wept. I wept in that way that you weep when your very soul is grieved. In those moments, your heart is open and vulnerable to the words of our Good Father and in that moment I knew He took advantage of my vulnerability. I heard a whisper straight into my heart, "This is not okay with Me" and I agreed, "Me, either, Shepherd." And I sensed an invitation in the midst of my grief: What shall we do about it?
And in that moment, something had begun. In hindsight, I didn't recognize that moment for what it was - my own kind of Isaiah-who-will-go?-send-me sort of moment. And really, it wasn't the true beginning. As I said, I have long had thoughts of babies and children bouncing around in my heart and I think I have known that "babies and children" probably didn't mean just biological children. But in that moment, I believe God took hold of the map of my life and began to rearrange my path. And in hindsight, I can see how he planted roadblocks and open doors and mile markers along the way. To name a few:
- Spending the summer in Mexico and befriending a ten-year-old girl with Down syndrome. She had been severely abused and neglected and her behavior was a little horrifying at times which made her an outcast in her village. People said she was possessed. But she took to me and I loved her and wished I could rescue her from her life of abuse. Sometimes her face reappears in my consciousness and I pray that she is okay a dozen years later, though I fear she is not. What shall we do about it?
- Visiting an orphanage in Guatemala. This is from our adoption story tab: I visited orphanages full of children who would never live anywhere else because they could never be adopted for various reasons. I have a vivid memory of the room full of children - all under three years old, nearly a hundred of them - lining benches at meal time. One near me was crying, but with not enough adult hands to attend to so many, she was left alone to self-soothe. I couldn't resist the chance to comfort her and I lifted her up and sat her on my lap. I then realized why she was probably crying - her pants were soaked with urine. And now mine were, too. I held her close and whispered comfort to her as she clung to me. I can still smell the mix of urine and dirt that had soaked into my jeans. My friend and I were silent with shock and grief the whole way home and I stared out the window of the bus, weeping. What shall we do about it?
- Listening to Floyd McClung describe the Baby House in Mozambique where two South Africans began taking in children who had been orphaned or abandoned. I tried (and failed) to form coherent thoughts to thank him for his words and tell him how much they touched my heart, but I couldn't because I couldn't stop crying to get the words out. What shall we do about it?
- Seeing first hand in Ethiopia what happens when children are abandoned, when parents die of AIDS, when survival must trump education and health, and when we keep our wealth to ourselves. What shall we do about it?
- Staying awake through the night to pray for a lamb for our friends when the judge overturned their adoption rulings and awarded custody back to their daughter's birth father. What shall we do about it?
Have you ever felt the weight of something that just sticks with you? Have you ever been kept up at night thinking about something or someone? Have you ever had an overwhelming emotional reaction that surprised you with its fervor? All of the things I listed above were those kind of moments. All of them marked me and I marked them as something significant that held more weight for me than it seemed they should.
I cry every time I listen to the Sara Groves song When the Saints. Especially the bridge at the end of the song when she starts lyrically listing some of the modern-day saints who have gone before: Harriet Tubman, Jim Eliot, Mother Theresa, child slavery abolitionists. And then the recurring line: "When the saints go marching in, I wanna be one of them."
I had a student last year who, when asked what she wants to be when she grows up, said "a missionary." Now, this response wasn't all that shocking considering the demographic of my students (Christian, homeschooled, conservative, etc) - they often say things like pastor, youth leader, missionary, etc. But what she said next made something twitch in my heart. I asked her where she would like to be a missionary. Without missing a beat: "Haiti." She said it with such confidence. She said it as one who has something burning like a fire shut up in her bones. I asked her why. "When the earthquake happened, I started praying for Haiti and I want to be a missionary there someday." This girl was six years old when she said this. The earthquake happened in 2010 so she was FOUR YEARS OLD when she saw the news reports of the earthquake. She was six years old and she'd already been praying for Haiti for two years. It wasn't just a fleeting movement of her heart. This thing has stuck with her. Are you feeling the weight of this?
I asked her mom (who happens to teach in the classroom next door to mine) about it. She told me about a missionary from Haiti coming to speak at their church and how her daughter acted like she was meeting a celebrity. She was all awe-struck and shy in front of this person who was what she dreamed of becoming. I asked about when her love for Haiti started and my friend said her daughter happened to walk in the room when they were watching a news report of the earthquake. She asked her parents what was happening on TV and they told her in simple 4-year-old terms. And that's when she started praying for Haiti. Four years old.
Guess who is going to be four in a few months? She tells me almost daily, "Mommy, I'm almost four and then I'm almost five and then I'm almost 6..." and then I make her stop saying such mean things to her mommy! But in all seriousness, I've been thinking about all this lately. What might God be ready to plant into Lila's heart at four years old? What might he already have planted perhaps through Faith's sisterhood or through friends at preschool or through some ten-second news clip? And how do I recognize it and nurture it without pushing it on her?
It's also got me thinking about my own story. Surely Faith's adoption is a chapter that was begun many years ago without my understanding. But I don't feel like her adoption is the end of that storyline. I think it's a storyline that will have many branches.
I used to marvel at how some families ended up with so many kids, but now I kind of understand. I have two now and we are waiting for our Ethiopian baby, so that's three. And I'd love to be pregnant again - that's four. And sometimes I wonder if we will someday finish what we started with a "traditional" Chinese adoption - as opposed to our very untraditional one! Five. And I often think about the older children waiting for homes. The kids who are old enough to know what they lack and to fear they may never have it. Parents, family, home. For many reasons we would want to wait until the older child we adopt would be the youngest of the bunch so we've got awhile for that yet, but that brings our tally up to six. Sometimes I daydream and muse aloud to the Husband about all of this and I see his eyes widen as he panics quietly. "It's just a daydream!" I say to him, "I'm not saying we have to do these things!" He usually nods warily - more than a little familiar with what sometimes comes of my daydreams:
I don't really know where I'm going with all of these thoughts. I just wanted to write them down. I wanted to take a moment to examine the bird's eye view of my life because, if I'm honest, the day-to-day is swallowing me whole right now. I want to remember how far he's brought us (a line from another favorite song), and remember that we're going somewhere. I want to marvel at how God navigates our lives. I want to be grateful that He's not okay with the things in our world that are broken and that he invites us into his redemption story. I want to see our story from all angles and I want to tell it in many different ways. Our story may seem unique, but it's not. It's just the kind of story God writes - typically extraordinary. And he invites us - all of us - to be players in his stories. He invites us to be saints among the cloud of witnesses that Hebrews talks about - to be counted righteous because of our faith and nothing else. And when the saints go marching in, I don't know about you, but I want to be one of them!
When I'm weary and overwrought, with so many battles left un-fought,
I think of Paul and Silas in the prison yard - I hear their song of freedom rising to the stars
I see the Shepherd Moses in the Pharoah's court - I hear his call for freedom for the people of the Lord
I see the long, quiet along the Underground Railroad - I see slave the awaken to the value of her soul
I see young missionary and the angry spear - I see his family returning with no trace of fear
I see the long, hard shadows of Calcutta nights - I see the sister standing by the dying man's side
I see the young girl huddled on the brothel floor - I see the man with a passion come in kicking down that door
I see the Man of Sorrow and his long troubled road - I see the world on his shoulders and my easy load
And when the Saints go marching in I wanna be one of them!
P.S. This is the last day to donate to Faith's Fans to raise money for the Down syndrome walk we are doing in a few weeks. I will announce the winner to our big giveaway tomorrow! Not many people have donated, so your odds are good!