We arrived and what seemed like one hundred children swarmed our motorcycles — boda bodas, as they call them here. I held her tight the whole way there, not knowing what an eight (perhaps ten, or eleven?) year-old response might be to revisiting the life she once wore. I wanted her body to retain remainder marks of a mother’s arms as she re-entered the fields of the fatherless, even if for a few moments.
She was one of them just months before but looked confused as she scanned the sea of curious eyes shouting her name. Had six or eight years really been erased as easily as words on a whiteboard?
She found her friend, one of only two I’ve heard her mention by name. I wonder, is this typical-orphan or is this her tailored survival mechanism to see people as indistinct so to not attach to anyone? After she foisted her gift in the arms of her friend, they ran off together like carefree schoolgirls, which gave me pause to take in the surroundings.
Anyone with God’s heart would have a hard time being impartial towards the life/school arrangements like the ones I saw. But the pain seared hotter at the thought of her years lived so hungry while her mommy and daddy knew abundance so intimately. Love clearly ran free from the staff to the children, but their bellies were empty. One small child with flies swarming around his face approached us with a concoction he’d made in the lid of a plastic bottle. My friend who was with me who knew the small child well took a whiff and said “no more, not good to eat.”
What is good to eat when you have no food?
I found her again and asked her for a trip to her bedroom. She’d forgotten where it was — though she spent years in that bed. Her companion led us to a long, narrow dormer which housed more beds than I could see — as there were no lights — and the path between the beds and the wall was only wide enough for one person to pass. I couldn’t allow my eyes to look closely at the sleeping arrangement; my heart was already sick.
Lily entreats God with a heart of faith, greater than many a sage I’ve knelt beside in prayer. I paged through her prayer journal and found her request that we come before the courts close to wait with her while the judge says yes. “Answer my prayers, oh God” she wrote.
And He did.
Yet the vacancy which creeps in, behind her eyes, during the moments where she’s not distracted by giggles from her sisters or kisses from Caleb … is dark. Years of her life, “forgotten.” We take walks and cuddle at night and I hold all of her slender-but-tall frame like a baby, praying for the right time to ask questions of her heart. “It was good,” she says many times of her life before us. “Good” is the response I hear many times a day, as if there’s a trap door between her head and her heart that’s never been opened. Little hint of pain over her lost years.
This emotional frame built up all around her makes her look whole, but my mama’s eyes see empty.
I think I’ve finally put my finger on why I feel so protective over the negative impressions about adopting older children. As I have, now, two of them in my care, and am assessing scars which run deeper than I might have guessed, I have no doubt that the transition to family is loaded with challenges. The moments where my eyes are not lifted up are my most dangerous these days because the facts on the ground may appear, to most, as grim.
So it’s not that I want to plug my ears and close my eyes to the very-real struggles a family encounters when they — all of them, children and parents — say “yes” to a life that has seen many invisible years.
Instead, it’s that I am jealous for the name of God to be glorified. I want the world to see that He heals.
And when I cup her face in my hands and press my lips on her forehead — skin that’s not yet been covered with mommy kisses — I know that I am not the first one who has traveled this void. His word is full of promises for the bruised reed. His very life came not as a band-aid to the broken, but as a spring of healing water to their every single wound.
To stand before God, with this child in my arms, and to fear that His countenance may not bring her healing is heretical.
I have stepped into being a medic and have eyes-wide open towards the catastrophic effects of years where ABANDONED was her uniform. I find my heart in my throat at times when I get another glimpse at how deeply the wound has penetrated the surface. Fatherlessness threatens forever-scars.
But I serve a God who sent a Man to know only three days in the grave before breaking death’s grip. And He gave me both His Word and His Spirit as my moment-by-moment reminders that no branding — but His — is forever.
So when the fears slither through my membrane of hope, in a desperate effort to persuade me that the sweet aroma which has surrounded our family is now over, I must choose to fight them with a jealous heart.
I am jealous for God to receive His glory due over my life.
And the opinion that older orphans are forever-tainted crumbles beside the word of God — written on scrolls and whispered into my heart like an IV drip these days — that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Friends, please just wait and see. Her life will be His testimony.
And there are many faces like this one we saw a few days ago, who are waiting to live that testimony.