It was at lunch just a few days ago. Grace had received some new books with adoption themes for Christmas and she was becoming increasingly confident in telling her story and asking other relatives about their part in it.
“Mommy cried happy tears, what did YOU do?”
I certainly do not feel that I am ever prepared and skilled in these questions of the time before she knew us, but I expect them and see them coming. I know conversations about birth moms and nannies and plane rides are all a part of the deal. My heart stops a beat when new questions are asked, but I know to expect them and have done my homework and feel as ready as I can be.
I think that the Lord delights in those moments when I’m not ready and have to trust where He is guiding and leading, where He is taking her heart and in tandem, taking mine too. No preparation for it – just an abiding along the way. In the moment.
At lunch that day, it wasn’t about her story, her birth mom or China. It was about that piece of apple stuck in her fistula, behind that palate that will have to be repaired. That palate that was built and skillfully placed in a once gaping hole in her mouth. That small fistula, the remains of a complication that will one day be made right as her mouth matures and grows. Grace, beautifully and painstakingly, with great detail, eating an apple whole, had taken a bite that contained a piece that was stuck in that cavern between her front teeth and nasal passage.
“THERE’S SOMETHING IN MY HOLE! IT’S IN MY HOLE!!”
Now I know that sounds comical and could be taken all sorts of wrong ways, but in our house, it produces a three-step response. And yes, that response often involves involuntary giggling because it is just a funny exclamation. We have been known to choke on our own food because that statement comes out of seemingly nowhere and it’s loud! (And it should be! Something stuck there would have to be extremely uncomfortable!)
First, “Can you get it out with a big drink of water?”
(Grace’s head shaking) “No!”
“Can you get it with your fingernail?”
(Head shaking) “No!”
Then, if all else fails, we get the curved syringe and fill it with water, and that resilient little girl throws her head back in our lap and we flush it out. She smiles wide and there is applause and cheering by all and back to eating. It is not a normal thing to do at most civilized people’s meal times and understandably, sometimes a little gross. But, it’s our normal and no one is moved or undone. Until this.
“Mom, do you have a hole?”
Again, a very comical question and I am happy for the little laugh but it’s quickly turned to a pause in my heart and then sadness. And for a moment I really wish I did have a hole in my mouth that extended into my nose. I really wish my palate did not cover the roof of my mouth and that there was a hole and that I struggled with food escaping and sticking and air seeping through. Her eyes look so dark and pleading – more so than with any question about her story, her country, and her life before.
“No sweetie, I don’t have a hole. But I have a scar like you. Except it’s bigger.”
“On your knee?!”
“Yes, that one. We both have scars. I’m just like you.”
And one by one my biological kids jump in the game. The oldest admitting that he is blind as a bat without his glasses and he has his scary peanut allergy that keeps him reading labels and asking about ingredients all the time. The second child telling of her orthodontic work that may actually rival her cleft lip/palate sister’s. Two rounds of braces, expander, head gear, and retainers for a crazy jaw line and equally crazy teeth. My third in line looks at me and says, “Mom, what’s wrong with ME?” At this point, I am wanting to laugh and cry because everyone wants to make sure their sister knows they too have stuff stuck and it’s actually kind of cool to admit it. “Well, you had speech for two years because your tongue and cheek muscles didn’t want to work right.” He receives his stuff like a champ and tells his sister that they are similar with their time logged in speech therapy. All of a sudden, it is popular to have stuck stuff at this table.
It dawns on me that in my week of thinking about resolutions (and I certainly have some) this is the best one.
When there is something stuck in your hole, you will yell it out. To your family. Very loud so everyone stops. That there is a plan when you get something stuck. A three step process to get it out. That people know about it. That you are not ashamed. And when it’s out, you celebrate. And it makes it so others can tell about their stuff too without feeling shame. They are just a normal part of the family with stuck stuff that needed fixed or flushed out.
It started comical and physiological at our table but it really is a holy concept. It would offend the Pharisees and maybe some Sadducees because one doesn’t talk of such things. It seems to me that Jesus knew every place that things can get stuck – the small painful places that others couldn’t see. He didn’t see it as a part of His beloved but just knew it needed to come out. Because it was not that something was wrong as we talked that day at the kitchen table. We just have stuff. Stuff to deal with. Stuff to get unstuck. Stuff to fix.
Everyone has it.
We are better, stronger, and happier when we just admit and admit loudly,
THERE IS SOMETHING IN MY HOLE.
(you should change the words a little bit – only three year olds can get away with saying it like that)
– photo by Tish Goff