We wait under fluorescent lights for the girls to file in. Though there are some new faces each month, the veterans’ familiarity with us sets all the girls at ease. They know what to expect this night, these children of routine and rhythm, whose variables have been eliminated so that they might have one last chance at childhood peace.
They bound in, freshly showered — though many of them with hair in knots. Their locks are missing a mama’s touch.
All are dressed for bed but with hearts ready for play.
We’ve been instructed not to hug or hold, as touch has been a weapon wielded against many of these innocents. We’ve come somewhat in stealth to this secular institution — missionaries with His Word hidden, thumping, in our hearts, waiting to offer even just a morsel of life to children who casually say things like “I’m never getting out of here” and “I want my mommy back.”
The whole thing feels so surreal, each time I go. We laugh and dance and sing and I have to separate myself from the part of me that feels, deeply, the story of another in order to do pirouettes and make small talk and color. We all do.
Sometimes we catch another’s eyes — these women with whom I spend the other three Wednesday nights of the month, fanning the flame of our hunger for Him in a basement with Bible’s and hearts so often cracked — with a look that says: how can you even take in all this pain in one room?
On this particular night, the singers in our group are teaching the jammie-clad how to sing scripture. One-by-one these giddy girls jump from the floor to join the line of their friends trying their hand at putting a chorus to a snippet of His Word. They’re not old enough to be bashful; this is another chance for the mic. And we, among them, are secretly praying that this open mic night for these little ones — whose lives have experienced more life change in a month than many do in a lifetime — might enact a forever heart change.
Then the mic passes to her.
The one who eked out “I’m new here” in the middle of sobs, months ago, when she tumbled into our group one Wednesday night. In this place “new” doesn’t carry with it hope of a new landscape with new opportunities, or maybe even a new mommy and daddy. This particular place was an end-point for many whose conditions, worn as scars from a life too-early gone amiss, blocked them even from the shifting sands of domestic foster care.
She’d since learned the ropes. She had to — it was her well-learned survival to learn new spaces quickly and make a home out of any bed and a dresser.
She skips the Word that was passed to her and freelances, this fatherless one. I forget now most of her words, but for this one chorus where she stuck and stayed: The Lord is my Daddy, the Lord is my Daddy. Blond, would-be curls in wet knots falling over her closed eyes as she belts out words I can barely swallow when I realize who it is that is singing them.
She’s desperate for a Daddy, in a form of desperation I may never have known. Five (or six), and she has no hope but Him and her song carries weight as if she knows it. Somewhere deep in there, she knows it.
We all join her in singing. Her friends do too, this group of outward-ruffians whose insides were made in His image.
And I wonder about the chorus in heaven, now, this night.
What does the Father think of this sight — this tattered-child, His bruised reed, robing herself in a plea, now made a declaration as she sings it.
The night ended and I felt its slight impotence.
We didn’t tuck them in. I didn’t push her hair back away from her forehead and plant a kiss as a remainder mark of the day or a promise that she’d find safety in me, tomorrow. I didn’t sing that chorus back to her while I rubbed her back and her droopy eyelids fell like curtains on the day.
Whether their skin is freckled with boils from diseases their unwashed bodies too-readily received, or they get a shower every night and a visit with the one they call Mommy every month, the child without parents to shape and mold and hold them wakes up to the same void that tucks them into bed at night.
But this little girl hit the truth with the chorus she sang.
Full bellies and painted toenails and foreheads full of kisses only serve to reinforce the truth that will sprout a child into a wildly alive adult: the Lord is our Daddy. And even those of us who’ve never questioned whether a meal would come or a night would end with Daddy’s knees finding their way into the already-established carpet imprints beside their bed — we still have to find the truth of that song.
Some of us spend decades doing so.
Beginning to grasp the mystery of the God who fashioned the sun to give us light also making Himself into a Father is what is making this mess-of-me whole. In my thirties.
“The Lord is my Daddy” are words I not only want to sing, but intimately know. (And I barely know them, now.)
So, why do I adopt?
If He is the answer for those dozen-plus little girls over there, not too far from my backyard, who have no strong arms to cuddle them at night, what draws me to step in?
It’s the vacant corridor I see behind her eyes when she feels the shame of a past she never willed or wished. It’s the lie I know she is telling me when I ask a question she’s too afraid to answer about a subject that makes her uncomfortable. It’s the uncombed knots in her hair post-shower. These physical gaps that tell the story of spiritual gaps, waiting to be filled — they are why I adopt.
God came in the flesh and still, today, allows our flesh to manifest elements of His glory. Our dirt doesn’t keep Him at a distance, in fact, some of the greatest glory is birthed into that very dirt.
For me, it’s maybe more selfish than it is selfless.
Adoption puts a stake in the ground that says “Restoration? Right here.” And I want to stand as near as I can to that sign, to that post, to that glory.
I adopt because it makes all the broken shards of a life, that seem to wedge their way into my skin when I get close to it, feel minuscule compared to the beauty of the song I get to hear from the mouths of ones who are discovering it, anew, alongside me: The Lord is my Daddy.
And this is the venue He has given for me — the one He has called me, personally, to — to hear that song louder than any earthly gap.
Because that gap is in my own heart too.
*[But this is the second half of the story. It’s the other one — the first half of the story — that keeps me up at night. Come back in a few days and I’ll finish this post … by introducing it.]