Someone sent me some pictures the other day… they were pictures of Jacob’s little sister, Hannah, from when she was still in the orphanage. Some of them were from when she was quite young…
It’s hard to look at the child in the pictures and connect her with the Hannah we know and love. Xiao Ai (her Chinese name) seems so small and sad and broken; Hannah is full of life, laughter, and love. Xiao Ai’s eyes are empty and hurt; Hannah’s eyes are sparkling and mischievious.
It is nearly impossible for my mind to wrap itself around the fact that Hannah and Xiao Ai are one and the same. And then I started thinking about the kids we’re around every day…
Just today one of the little girls was sitting in my lap. She is so intense. She hugs you like she’s trying to squeeze the life out of you, and she wraps herself around your neck and just hangs on like dead weight. She pretends to kiss you, but instead of getting a kiss, you get her face pressed against your face as hard as she can possibly push. She doesn’t really know how to show affection in traditional ways, so for her it is an all-out bodily assault. In the middle of one of her “moments of intense affection,” I told Jacob (who was sitting next to me) that I “couldn’t handle her intensity,” and that she was one of the ones who “I didn’t want to be around very much.”
Yes. I said that. About an orphan.
How horrid am I?
And then I started thinking about another one of the other little girls. She’s the one whose beautiful smile is at the top of our blog, but in reality, she rarely smiles, and she resists most affection. Occasionally she’ll want to be held, tickled, or hugged, but usually she withdraws when I try to reach out to her, and usually I’ll see her sitting in a corner with a such a sad face that it nearly breaks my heart. But, sometimes I don’t want to wait her out. I just want to go back to the office and work on some of my office work — the kind of work that makes me feel like I’ve had a productive day.
So, what does this all have in common? Well, it struck me as I was thinking about our Hannah and thinking about these little kids… if Hannah could have been in a place like our foster home for the entirity of her orphanage life, I would have been forever grateful to all the people who took the time to hug her, hold her, wipe her tears. “Forever grateful” is really a lame and inadequate way to express the thankfulness I would feel. My brothers are also adopted, but both of them were with our family practically from the time they were born, so Hannah is the only member of my family who experienced life alone as a young child. She’s not even my daughter, so I can’t imagine how my mother- and father-in-law must feel about those years when she knew what it meant to be lonely and abandonded… I can imagine you would be willing to trade your right arm to be able to reclaim that time. Thankfully there is one who restores all things… but it doesn’t mean that it hurts any less to think about that time…
I’m rambling. I guess what struck me last night is that the difference between Xiao Ai and the kids at the foster home is simply that she is part of our family. Something about that connection, that bond makes you love a child even more fiercely. I love all the kids at the foster home, but it’s nearly impossible to have the intimate connection that I have with Hannah with that many children, especially when they come and go so often… but, I realized that as much as our family might long for those days Xiao Ai spent in the orphanage, there are families out there who will someday long for these days we’re spending with their child right now.
It struck me that while it seems so normal and so commonplace to spend an afternoon playing in the backyard with one of our kids, it is really a huge honor. We’ve been entrusted with these years. We’ve been given this time to build a foundation of security, trust, and love in their lives so that someday when their parents bring them home, they’ll have an easier time knowing what it means to be in a family. In some ways, we’re intentionally loving them now, even though we know we’ll lose them, so that they’ll know how to love someone else in the future.
After I finished typing that last paragraph, I realized that some could read this post and think that I think we’re really something special and that I’m tooting my own horn. I can’t say strongly enough that that’s not what this is about… lately I’ve been sort of discouraged about this kind of work… wondering if it really is making a difference; wondering why we don’t just go home, get a “normal life,” and send our money to a charity. The thing is — I know the organization as a whole is making a difference, but the part that keeps nagging at me is the part where I wonder if we’re (Jacob and me) really doing any good. I mean, really – we’re not responsible for the kids; they were doing fine before we got here, and they’ll be fine if we leave.
I don’t know for sure — there is still a distinct possibility that this experience is being used to shape and mold us more than it is being used to shape and mold those around us. And that’s probably OK. But, even if it isn’t “the reason we’re here” or even “changing lives,” I’m glad I was reminded that the children we’re hugging, holding, and loving are kids who are just like Hannah, they just haven’t found home yet.
Now hopefully I’ll remember that the next time I’m nearly knocked off my feet by the 4-year-old who thinks that a tackle is a legitimate sign of affection.
PS: I should note that Hannah spent some time in a foster family. She wasn’t in an orphanage the whole time, thanks to Pam!