( … a post for all of us with shards of orphanhood that creep into our heart, and as we prepare for this weekend’s “Orphan Sunday.“)
I read her story online, this stranger who let me — and hundreds, if not thousands of others — behind her mourning veil. The tragedy of her child’s death made me shudder. This uncomfortable pain was too much for me and, in that moment, I felt relief that she was a stranger and not a friend.
Because she wasn’t in my kitchen, I could look away.
And so I did.
Then that night I faced pain of a different kind — except, this time, I couldn’t look away.
She wrapped herself up in a blanket of shame, underneath the sheets that she thought might hide her, her nose to the wall. She’d lashed out, again, and as I’m picking up the pieces of hearts that received her recoil, I’m fighting back my own tears. I climbed the stairs to her room, not knowing what might spill out of my unfiltered mouth as I fought frustration at my predicament. Some days their still-broken state leaves a trail of mess that feels too big for me.
“Help, Jesus,” I prayed.
I called her to the edge of the bed and her body scooted, obediently, but she hid behind her hands. “How do you think God sees you right now?” I asked, removing the wall of fingers between her and me and cupping them in my own hands.
“Bad,” she said, apparently not even feeling worthy of more than one word to describe the branding. The same that she’d swallowed whole when the streets witnessed all of her infant-and-toddler-firsts. No bed to hold this babe’s head, she named herself “bad” and assumed it was His name, over her.
How else can a child explain away pain except to believe that she’d earned it?
With a rush of words that can only be attributed to One who heard my cry for help, I grabbed her face in mine and said, “Well, isn’t that interesting, … because I think if I asked Him about you, this might be what He’d say: ‘Hope? Hope. Oh, that’s the girl that loves.’” I called to her mind (and mine) the instances over the past few days where she’d gone against her streetwise grain and chosen love. Sure, they’d been tucked into just as many fumblings, but I knew in that moment that I was speaking the Father’s perspective over His daughter’s life.
What I didn’t say to her, but became clear to me as I spoke, was this: one, small movement of her heart towards Him was tenderly received by the One who saw that this child had surmounted high walls to get to where she was. He saw that her race started yards before the starting line. He knew she came from behind. He celebrated her wins, though at many points in the race she stumbled and fell. He saw her bloody knees and her very-weak “yes” and He commended this daughter of mine.
The heaviness over her eyes began to lift and her body uncurled, under the sheets. His Truth was boring holes into her shame.
“I’m the one that loves,” she answered with a flash of light in her eyes, when I asked her what God said about her the next morning, wondering if it stuck. She didn’t sneer, but instead cheered on the sister who got to have first pick at which part of the dishwasher to unload (the treasured position at 9am in our home). I walked to my table to see each of our school-books, retrieved from shelves high above her head, stacked in order, just for me. This time, she hid behind a different kind of mischievous smile.
All she needed was for Him to rename her, again. She was the one that loves, to Him.
The once-orphaned child may make a mess of your dinner party and disrupt the order and harmony among your biological children or pre-established family — she may tie your heart-strings in knots — but she has a special corner on beauty. The most beautiful heartbeat in my home right now is full of jagged edges which slice my skin some days, but the harmony she facilitates goes well beyond what my mind might construct as merely harmonious.
Harmony is when I align with His order for my life. And He sure seems to be spending a lifetime teaching me how this idea which I can’t quite get rid of — that He only comes after the storm dissipates — is false.
He is the storm that disrupts so many of my life-paradigms.
He came to disrupt because out of that disruption, my life begins to get re-ordered according to His order, which often feels like chaos to my immature heart.
I could say it hundreds of times but He is moving beyond lofty words and through life-circumstances to teach me that a life of clean lines and tight edges, a life where all my ducks are in a row, doesn’t equate to a life of wildly consuming Love.
And I was made for that kind of love. His ubiquitous love.
When I look away from the tattered hem-lines of others’ lives in expectation that mine might just get tied up in a neat little bow, I miss the fact that God’s ways are not man’s ways and that the storyline He is building is both higher and other.
We struggle with numbness of heart yet forget that to feel — to really feel the fire of His look, deep into the sinews of our life — will require disruption.
This is why we — Nate and I — adopt.*
Adoption happens to be my window into the mess of that barn, that night, and that wee, young thing who was the very last in a long line of ruffians to have their genealogy sewn into His holy birth.
His pursuit of the orphan, in all their mess — and all the foibles that sit behind that referral picture where she’s wide-toothed in smiles and he looks full of potential — substantiates His pursuit of me.
And it’s a good thing, too — because we have an orphan crisis, right here, on western soil.
We are a country full of men and women who have mothers who bathed us and fathers with whom we played ball … but are stuck in the dark at the thought of a Father who looks across the spectrum of our sins and flaws and failings and says “you’re the one who loves,” to our weak yes.
We live, orphaned, filling the pews and auditoriums of churches with words that speak of Him and hearts that feel stone-cold, distant from Him. And, just like her, we wrap ourselves in a cocoon of shame expecting that He looks at us, despondingly, and says, simply: “bad.” Or, at the very least: “not yet together.”
I adopt because, despite everything in me that wants to look away — just like I did with that stranger’s story — I know that His heart beats, heavy near the broken-hearted. And when I see their obvious broken wounds, it tunes me in to my own which sit, masked, under the surface.
I adopt because I’m jealous of her, the woman who had Beauty, kicking inside of her, and who was the first-in-flesh to look into the eyes of One birthed in dirt, when the world labeled her story as stained, marred.
I adopt because wild love really is birthed in dirt.
*And an important note: Adoption is my razor’s edge. Well, this, and my still-empty womb. These two everyday brushes with pain have made it hard for numbness to subsist in my heart. However, our God is so creative — if you took a sampling of one hundred different people, you might see one hundred different ways He has used to reach them. I highly advocate adoption as one method to keep from erecting a white picket fence around your sense of normal; that said, a template, shared, for how to live on His edge can’t ever replace the conversation with Him.
God is living and active. And the way that we personally familiarize ourselves with His work in our mess is something into which only He can speak. I pray this post doesn’t point only to adoption, but to the God-Man who has adopted You and the path He may have (adoption! or otherwise!) to disrupt your normal … with Himself.
Second through sixth photos compliments of Mandie Joy. This girl has also set us up on instagram. Friends, it took several sittings for me to know exactly what that means and I still don’t quite get it … except, that you can now find updates and useful graphics on Instagram @everybitterthingissweet. We have just started rolling out S-T-R-E-N-G-T-H-E-N images — letter by letter, how cool! Mandie keeps me in the 21st century.