She’s been clawing – literally, until I cut her fingernails – at my legs all day long. Whining and whimpering and the hours go so slow I sometimes wonder if the clock is moving at all. Cora entertains herself, like she does almost every day lately, and I squelch the feelings that I’m letting her down… that I’m not present enough for her… that I’m not putting together Pinterest-worthy craft projects to help her grow and learn and get ahead of the curve.
I stare at the dishes in the sink and the laundry in the hamper and the spilled juice on the floor. I vow to finish cleaning the kitchen even if I have to pry Alea off me 1,000 more times. I know the saying about letting the dishes pile and the laundry stay unfolded because babies don’t keep. Believe me, I feel guilt for this too. But I can’t breathe in a cluttered house and it seems like the only time she isn’t fussing is if I’m either holding her or not present to pick her up. I look at the clock again and calculate how many minutes are left until naptime. 3 hours. 180 minutes. It feels like the first time I’ve used my brain all day. The whining cuts through my thoughts again.
“Alea! You’re OK!” I bark the words, cringing at the harshness ringing the edges even as they come spilling out. Alea is unphased, and her fussing continues unabated, but Cora pipes up.
“Mama, be nice.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry. I just feel a little tired because Alea has been fussing all day long.” I sigh, feeling like a failure again. The critical voice inside pipes up, “Actually it’s been 4 months of fussing, but what does that matter… who speaks sharply to a baby who is going through the greatest trauma and transition of her life?!”
“Did you make a bad choice, Mama?”
“Yes, Cora, I made a bad choice. I need to use kind words, don’t I?”
“Yes Mama, but it’s ok. You can try again.”
I look at the clock. 175 minutes till naptime. I try again.
I often find myself looking forward to a year down the road. When she’s not so frustrated by her lack of communication. When our heart bond is deeper and stronger and wider and we both have more grace for each other. When she feels more secure and doesn’t need to be held for 8 of the 10 hours a day she’s awake.
And, if I’m being honest, I often find myself looking backward, too… to our years in China when orphan care was more exotic and garnered more attention (Yes, I just said that. Yuck.) and seemed more meaningful because it was happening “on the ground” and with actual orphans. I remember those hot Beijing (pre-children) summer nights when Jacob and I would get on our little red scooter and explore the villages around our home, watching them harvest the wheat by hand and lay the corn down to dry on the road. I can still hear the cicadas thick in the trees, buzzing over the roar of the scooter’s engine. I’d listen to worship music on headphones and spread my arms wide and marvel at how I’d ended up in such a place at such a time. I can still feel the breeze.
But I pull myself back to the now and the here. The dishes and the unmoving clock and the two little girls at my feet. Here and now. I know it’s where I find my Emmanuel. He is with me now and here, even if it sometimes feels like nowhere. Even if the beautiful everyday more often feels like the boring mundane. I’m not sure how to be fully present in this season that I often find so tedious and draining and challenging. I’m not sure how to be fully available for these little girls who have been entrusted to me… but I know it is the task He has called me to for this season of life, and I trust that somehow He equips me every day for what He has called me to. I try again.
The doorbell rings and the dog barks and Alea jumps out of her skin and starts screaming again. A woman stands at my door holding a package, and as she apprises the meltdown happening in my living room, she smiles and says, “No need to sign; I’ll just mark it as left on the porch.” I nod my thanks and balance the box on one hip and a baby on the other. Cora runs for her scissors and descends on the package, excited to see what it contains.
“Who’s it from, Mama?” she asks.
I glance at the address. “It’s from Sammy’s family.”
We get the box open and she begins pulling out packages of Chinese noodles and hot pot spice mix and bottles of Chinese cooking wine and black vinegar. There’s a note saying that Sammy and our friend Joy wanted to help us find some of the Chinese cooking ingredients that can be hard to locate in our small West Texas town. Cora finds a prettily wrapped package for herself, and I pull the card out. The handwriting is neat and precise. It’s from Sammy… I read the note and tears well and the words blur. He calls us his heroes and thanks us for the role we played in helping his family find him. As I read the last line, I don’t contain the tears anymore. “Without you guys there won’t be a Sammy S. in this world.”
And just like that, I hear His voice deep in my heart.
“Without your yes, there wouldn’t be an Alea M. in this world.”
I don’t want Sammy to give us too much credit. God sets the lonely in families, not us. And I neither expect nor want Alea to “appreciate” the fact that we adopted her someday. She is my daughter, plain and simple. Children don’t owe parents a debt of gratitude for doing what parents are supposed to do. So please don’t misconstrue what I’m saying and think that the reason we adopted a child was an extension of our heart for “orphan care,” or that we’re looking forward to the day when Alea can express her thankfulness to us.
What I am saying is that this stage of grafting a child into your family… these early weeks and months when their worlds are still topsy-turvy and their hearts are still unwon… this stage is HARD AS HELL. Of course I think she is adorable and sweet and cute as can be, but rooting her deep into my mama heart is hard work. It feels more like pruning than growing at this point. And pruning hurts.
In my experience, the process of making an orphan your child doesn’t allow for much of a blissful baby-moon. It is part orphan-care, part baby-sitting, part mothering, part trauma-therapist, and ALL-consuming. When I hear people say things like, “Well I’d rather adopt a toddler than have a baby and have to do the newborn stage again,” I feel like screaming. This is so much harder than having a newborn! I’m in a fight for her heart, and to be honest, I’m in a fight for my own too.
But sometimes Love is War.
And I’m going to keep fighting to give Alea her rightful full place in my heart. I’m going to keep fighting to give her the chance for full healing and restoration and redemption that she deserves; it’s her birthright as a daughter of the King. I’m going to keep fighting until the dark shadows of her orphan spirit are gone and she is secure in her identity as my dearly loved daughter, Alea M.
Love is War and she is worth fighting for.
You may be in a battle, too. And if you’re like me, you often feel exhausted, hopeless and like you are drowning in triviality (and perhaps dishes, diapers, and disorder). But I think I have a plan. It’s impossibly simple, really. We try again. We don’t necessarily have to try harder – striving rarely gets us anywhere. But we do pick ourselves up, try again, and keep saying yes to love. And I don’t mean fluffy-feel-good, everything is beautiful love. I mean the hard stuff. The kind of love that dies to self and puts others first… And I’m the first to admit that sometimes the hardest “other” for me to put first is the little one clawing at my legs.
We keep saying yes to love. That’s how we win this war.
I see glimpses of the girl she will become… the woman she will be someday. I see the spark of life in her eyes, growing in trust and love and hope. But Alea is still becoming Alea, and she still needs me to say yes.
Without my yes, there would be no Alea McKean.
I’m going to keep saying yes. When I fail, I’m going to try again. I’m going to stay in the battle, because Love is War and she is worth fighting for.
Who needs your yes? I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to pray for you as you keep saying yes. If you don’t mind, take a moment and fill in the blank. “Without my yes, there would be no _____.” Saying YES is hard, but I can pray for you and you can pray for me and maybe together we will feel more brave.