“Look, she’s calling you mommy!” said a beautifully well-intentioned friend, wanting to celebrate just how quickly we’d become a family.
My little girl was building with legos in the corner and her less-than-nimble fingers needed help piecing them together. She called me mommy when she was hungry and when she needed help in the bathroom, too.
We adopted our first two children from Ethiopia at 1 ½ and 3 ½. We were their parents and they came to us potty trained. We were parents and yet we’d never changed diapers or done 3am feedings. The first day we met them, the only words they knew in English were “Mommy” and “Daddy” – and for all they knew, these were our first names.
The reason I remember this friend’s celebratory words were that I wanted to celebrate then, too, like she did. Couldn’t calling me “Mommy” mean that my little girl knew all of what that that name meant — couldn’t it mean that we were more of a family than a mere three weeks of knowing one another might otherwise imply?
As a new mom, then just having crested my twenties, adoption was what I’d seen on Christmas cards and in “Gotcha Day” videos where teary-eyed parents met the children they would spend their lives raising and wide-eyed children met strangers holding gifts and crying.
Sure, I’d read the adoption literature. I knew the stories. But I still was not all that different from my friend. When my daughter called me “mommy”, I ascribed more weight to those words than I did to the fight soon coming to win her to knowing the fierce love behind that name.
Our language betrays how quickly we want to declare victory. How quickly we want to move past pain.
When we adopted our first two, we had scores of friends and family who wanted to agree with what we’d already hoped – that the transition would be smooth and that any past trauma would have left very little imprint. We all wanted that piece of the vacuous American dream “healthy and happy children.”
We all secretly wanted “normal.”
So my little girl – the one I’d only just met – calls me Mommy and we all breathe a sigh of relief, as if this somehow indicates we are well on our way there … to that empty and elusive state of “normal.”
Mommy is a tender responder to ouchies who fiercely fights for the hearts of her children and is relentless in her love for them, even when they hurt her out of their own hurt. But what I didn’t know at thirty was that the reasons why the ones who called me mommy (we now have four that we adopted) might struggle to believe me as such were entry-points for all of us into the heart of God.
As a culture, we want to stamp “done” and “fixed” over the things that hurt and the parts of us that still bleed. We want to bandage deep wounds without cleaning them first and label “complete” over the parts of us that still need His healing touch.
We want to celebrate a child who calls her caretaker “Mommy” as if this one day in which they were adopted means that all the past was forever erased.
And this is, perhaps, because we don’t yet have a grid for God as the deep Healer of our wounds.
We don’t want to bleed because we‘re not yet quite convinced that He, Himself, bandages.
Perhaps we are called (in James 1:27) to care for the orphan and the widow because something happens to us when we get closer to a wound that’s still bleeding. We are opened to a side of God we cannot see when we’re spending our days trying to tidy our lives before Him who promises to be near to the ones who actually aren’t all that tidy, the God who promises to be near to the broken-hearted.
Not too long after we adopted our second two, my husband said to me (about one of ours with a history that still leaves me in tears) “you know, you weren’t all that different from her, when I first met you.”
This particular child bristled to the touch and averted her eyes when confronted with affection. She retreated down a long corridor of vacancy when she felt shame and shame seemed to be what she wore, no matter how we spoke otherwise to her.
When my husband met me at twenty-three I was more savvy. I hid those emotions that my child wore front and center. I stuffed them down deep, far from sight – except to those who were on a path to really know me. Indeed, I was messy underneath my carefully-groomed exterior.
These children who are now ours, but who were once orphaned, have brought our home a little closer to the mess. Not just theirs but closer to the mess inside of us, the mess we Christians like to tidy. Real fast.
James 1:27 has not been, to us, a call to powerful and strong believers who are wearing badges of rescue and saving the broken ones. Rather, it’s been our introduction to the way we humans bleed. All of us humans. And, even more than that, the God who uses this place of bleeding as an entry-point into our hearts as healer.
I couldn’t begin to know God as healer until I admitted my desperate need for healing. I’m just a few steps ahead of my children, in that. That’s the bloodline we share in common.