Saturdays were not always like this.
3 years ago we yearned for mundane. 3 years ago Saturdays were hard because it was the start of a 2-day hiatus from the possibility of hearing any news one way or the other about our adoption status. 3 years ago we had a hard time dreaming about the future because we were unsure of what it would hold even from one day to the next, and we were waiting expectantly, with ever decreasing hope, for something. For someone.
3 years ago I received a phone call I had dreamt about for years. It was Chelsea from our adoption agency. Now for those not familiar with the adoption world, your adoption case manager almost never calls unless they have big news. And big news she had.
“I’m looking at some very beautiful photos of a 2-month-old girl named Saliha. She has been referred to you.”
Then she said a bunch of other words I don’t really recall. My stomach fell to the ground and my heart grew eighteen sizes and my soul hovered briefly above my body as I started to sweat profusely. The weight of this imminent reality began to crush into my very being. It’s what I wanted for so long. I was elated. I was shocked. I was suddenly and totally unsure of everything. So I did the only thing that seemed to make sense to me: I screamed at poor little almost-one-year-old Graham, who was just trying to eat his lunch in peace. “YOURE GOING TO BE A BIG BROTHER!” I exclaimed. The perplexed look on his face may as well have been a mirror to my own.
Well, we all know how this story turned out. Saliha, since renamed Naomi, came home on July 1, 2016. She was almost 19 months old. On Saturday she turned exactly 38 months old and interestingly enough this means that on this day, exactly 3 years after we learned of her existence and started the journey toward becoming a family together, she has now been home for longer than not.
She has known a mom and a dad and a sister and a brother for longer than not.
She has had her own clothes and her own toys for longer than not (if you don’t know which ones are hers, she won’t keep you in the dark for long).
She has slept in the same room for longer than not.
We have rocked and snuggled her to sleep for longer than not.
We have had more days of hugs and kisses than not.
We have watched her achieve more milestones than not.
We’ve read more books to her than not (that was probably accomplished after being home for, like, 2 seconds).
We have fed her more meals than not (BIG accomplishment. You can send all my adulting prizes for this one directly to my home address).
I’ve fumbled through more vanilla care for her chocolate hair than not (mama tried).
We have celebrated more birthdays and holidays with her than not.
We have dried more tears and tended to more owies than not.
I have called her my precious daughter for longer than not.
I am, as always, ever mindful of the broken path that has paved the way to this point. Today I hold this in delicate tension with all these triumphs, these celebratory moments of beauty from ashes.
But, if I stopped here, I would only be sharing half of this unfolding story of adoption. These are the outward accomplishments. These are the victories everyone wonders about, hopes to hear. These are the things that are measurable, lovely, worthy of pumping our fists in the air and shouting, “yes!”
I would be lying if I told you I didn’t flat out treasure each and every one.
But, my friends, this story of transformation goes far beyond all of this. There’s a deeper transformation taking place, moment by moment. It’s a transformation that caught me completely off guard, one I was not expecting in the slightest. It’s the story of the transformation of my own soul.
Understanding God’s perfect love through imperfect parenting
During the days of dreaming about adoption I idealized how it would be such a great joy to give some sweet child the opportunities in life they would not otherwise have. How his or her life would be better off because of me and how I would love him/her into a perfectly healed and new and whole life and the child would be so grateful and I would of course be touted as a hero henceforth and forevermore. I mean, I would literally be living out the commands of the Bible to care for orphans in their distress. How much holier could I get? I know. Bless me.
A year and a half into this I can honestly say that I am honored and humbled to have a front row seat as I watch my daughter’s amazing transformation. But I am not just watching. Adoption is not a spectator sport, my friends. It’s also not for the faint of heart. Transformation does not come without getting down in the trenches, rolling up my sleeves, and landing on my knees in prayer. Day after day after day. Failure after failure. Some small victories. But with little to measure, sometimes it just feels so hard.
And thus, I am learning… God is not in the habit of calling us to easy.
In fact, He tells us straight up that we will have trouble (John 16:33). Thankfully Jesus also reminds us about how he has overcome all of it. And so we do the hard work before us, one step at a time, trusting that grace will cover all our shortcomings. It’s often in the hard stuff where we learn the most about our true selves and how much we really do need Jesus in every inch of it. At least, that’s what I’m learning in this season.
I am learning…to lean in when these little people push away.
This means choosing compassion over rigidity.
It’s choosing grace over control.
It’s choosing kindness in the midst of defiance.
It’s choosing re-dos over consequences.
It’s choosing to hold on tightly through the tunnel of fear and doubt and terror and anger, to hold on no matter what. To hold on through the part that tells her that if ever I am to leave, this is surely the moment. This is her darkest hour, and my actions will speak loudly, for better or for worse. These are the moments I am learning to hold her even closer. To send her the crystal clear message that no matter what challenge lies in front of her, we will tackle it together.
Oh, my friends. How I fail at all of this far more than I wish to admit. As I try to parent in a way that seems counter-intuitive in every aspect, my own brokenness becomes more evident to me than ever before.
But I am learning…how this kind of extravagant love, full of grace and relentless pursuit, is changing not only my relationship to my beloved Habesha daughter but also my relationship with my Heavenly Father.
When I push away, He leans in, ever gentler and ever constant. When I kick and scream and try to run away, He pursues; He holds on even tighter. His love is counter-intuitive. It is full of tenderness and compassion. But more than that. It is fierce and unceasing. He is not deterred by my antics; He is unintimidated by the hot mess that is my soul. Rather…He pours out His mercy and grace afresh every morning (which is at least as often as I need it). It’s all just so extravagant, so ridiculously lavish. It’s a love that surpasses understanding. And I am just only starting to grasp it.
If I love my precious littles ones as much as I do in my incredibly imperfect human ways, how much more does He love me (and all of us) in His perfect holy ways? The very thought brings me to tears.
Last week Naomi lost sight of me for a quick minute in the library. As I heard her terror-filled cry on the other side of the book shelves, some kind patrons gently directed her back to me (it is so strange to me that people in the general public seem to get it right more often than not that she is in fact my daughter) and she clung to my body for dear life, quivering as crocodile tears rained down her face, landing on her hands and mine.
I hugged her back just as tightly, there in the middle of the library, for what seemed like an eternity. To the unknowing individual it may have seemed a little excessive.
People were staring.
It was awkward.
I didn’t care.
This was an opportunity I was not willing to rush past. An opportunity to show her with absolute certainty that which she is still unsure of, that which is still wet cement on her heart. When she was finally calm enough to hear me, I took her petite face in my hands, looked intently into her fear-filled eyes, and whispered, “I will never leave you.” Immediately her tears changed from tears of terror to tears of relief. Her rigid little body seemed to finally and quite literally melt into that truth. My own tears began to fall as I pumped my proverbial fist in the air for this unmeasurable victory and shouted, “Yes!”
I am learning…
To rest in this truth.
To trust in His goodness.
To hold tight to His grip.
To accept grace freely.
To love extravagantly.