We hedged him in tonight, each of us on either side, and his mouth tried to hide the smile that his eyes proclaimed.
It had been a rough night for him. He was nursing a pout, but getting sandwiched in between Daddy’s body — still wet with gym sweat — and the late-night version of me eventually brought out his squeals, all giddy.
This was my kid’s Disney World.
In every picture and video we had of him before the day we first held him, his face hung. We didn’t know until much later about the reasons behind the weight he wore, but this child came to us with a wall that felt almost impenetrable.
And though I’d taken the classes and read the books and immersed myself in stories of adoption, I went in blindly optimistic. It’ll be different with us. I never said it and it likely didn’t move to a conscious thought, but I was naively unsuspecting.
I’d lived a marriage where love was hard-won and had a heart on the receiving end of a messy pursuit, but I hadn’t yet seen the pattern: that some of the best love is the kind that sheds blood.
“By loving the orphan, we will learn to love what is not ours … until it is,” said Derek Loux.
I didn’t know it would require love to make him mine. I didn’t know I’d have to fight for his heart. Sounds grossly naive, but I assumed a child adopted at nearly two didn’t have enough of an imprint to need substantive healing.
We’d make the big trek, sign all the papers, write checks totaling more than we once made in an entire year, and complete the rescue. Right?
I had no idea that the battle wasn’t in getting him home, but that it was in making him mine. Ours.
So this child, who is only days from turning five, has won a place in my heart like none other.
He was the first in a small succession of hearts that said “win me.” (Except this request from him didn’t exactly surface in those words. It looked more like: I’m uninterested in you and I would be just fine, thank you very much, without you.)
I was invited in to a back-room conversation, that I had to have — often — if I was going to win this love. Father, give me Your eyes for this child. What are Your thoughts about him?
And I learned to love in the most awkwardly-sublime sort of way: I learned to love what was not mine. Relentlessly. Until his skin began to smell like mine.
Could this be one of the greatest love stories of all time?
Weak, naive, and way-too-young-for-this-kind-of-calling me stumbled into a story-line (that soon became four story-lines) which called for a sweat equity I didn’t have. By most natural standards I was under-equipped and unprepared for the kind of love he needed, but pedigree doesn’t matter to the God who indwells flesh. And in chasing after this kid’s heart, I saw a hue of the kind of crazy-persistent love He’s put forth to win mine.
My one, pushing five, who does a happy-dance nearly every time I reach down to scoop him up for a cuddle, wears a sign with his life that says: the best kind of love requires a fight.
He and I, we were pursued.
So in following with Hagerty tradition, in this full birthday season of ours, here’s my “secret” note that I let the world read a decade and a half before his eyes will graze it.
You’ve made a non-thinking habit out of finding your way into my lap during my wee morning hours. And I love it. You — all jammy-clad, wiping sleep out of your eyes, with last night’s toothpaste caked across your face, stumbling into my prayer room — are my first morning brush with the world outside my bedroom. And I’d have it no other way.
The morning, noon and night version of you keeps me laughing.
You make the odd-jobs assigned to you form a role bigger than your nearly five year-old britches can hold. Instead of merely emptying the morning’s trash, you’ve become the one who inventories all we call waste. Three tubes of mascara rolling around in my drawer betray the work of the master-recycler. (And sometimes I save them just to remind me of my favorite quirks of yours.)
By noon, you’re a bear, ready to hunt your prey. Those sisters of yours are boring, indoors, and warm fall afternoons are your retaliation for when they make a husband out of you — in all those dress-up clothes. You chase them up trees and round and round the yard. Your only distractions are the grasshoppers. (I’ve let you cage them for a time, and keep calling them “pets”, in hopes they’ll satisfy your cravings for a canine.)
And at night, you build tall and you look long. Blocks bigger than you are your highways and byways. You make our home a construction zone and I hope you never grow out of it. In between hard-hat hours, you’re scouring books about animals using names I don’t know and asking me questions that make me so thankful to be a twenty-first century mom with the answers at my fingertips.
Child, I love your mind. And more than that, I love your heart. You serve like your Daddy and find so many “secret” ways to bless me that you have been tagged by many a girlfriend of mine as future spouse material for their toddlers.
You’re learning love — and I treasure being a part of that learning curve.
I’m wild about you, birthday boy.
And a note: Nate and I have accepted the invitation to speak at a conference for adoptive parents — those in the midst of the process and those knee-deep in the life of folding them in after you’ve brought them home. We’re honored to speak to families in such a hallowed time, their adoption. We’ll be sharing more along the lines of what I write about here on this blog, through our lens as adoptive parents. In just a few days, registration will open — Wednesday, October 3rd at 11:59pm. (The retreat is limited to only 50 couples.) If this might be up your alley, check out Together Called for more details. We’d love to see you there!