We are so quick to fill in the blanks, aren’t we? We get one part of a story, and we use our imagination to complete the rest.
But it’s too simplistic to do that with the care of orphaned children halfway around the world… to see an image and create a tragic narrative, hear a testimony and judge an entire community, read an account of a single incident and make assumptions about an entire system.
We want to have eyes to see the good.
And there is most definitely good to be found. So this month we are sharing stories that exemplify the good. The lovely. The things that remind us that there is always hope.
Join us this month as we share stories of love in the unlikeliest of places.
Heads turn when we enter a room. It’s impossible not to notice the tiny, neon green wheelchair. It catches one’s eye. People automatically step aside as the engaging little girl pushes past in her wheels. They see her.
But then they really see her. The contagious smile, the sparkling eyes, the adorably spunky little girl who rolls right up and repays your favor of holding open the door with an irresistible high-five.
We adopted Meileigh a little over a year ago. It was somewhat of a leap of faith for us because, to be honest, we didn’t know exactly what her special need was. Her file said “lower limb disability”. Her orphanage didn’t bother to pursue a diagnosis for her. The truth is, they didn’t even want to prepare a file for her.
At some point, she was pinned with an unfortunate label.
For months, Meileigh languished in a large institution that had the reputation of being a “bad orphanage”. Abandoned at an older age, she was emotionally shattered. Her shiny black bobbed hair was shaved. Her eyes dulled. She lost her smile. At three years old, her world had fallen apart, and no one cared to help her put it back together.
Nine long months, alone in a crowd.
And then a miracle.
Our daughter’s story was rewritten.
This time with a happy ending.
Meileigh was chosen to live in Lifeline’s new foster center. In July, 2014, thirteen children were brought into this safe haven. They wouldn’t just have full tummies. They would learn that they had value. They would feel love and hugs. They would spend less time just trying to survive and finally begin to live.
Lifeline employees rejected the notion that these children were unadoptable. They convinced the orphanage to prepare files. Advocates got to work spreading the word about these waiting gems who were becoming available for families to adopt.
Immediately after moving into the foster center, the children began to change. They felt hope. They were surrounded by adult caregivers who held them, sang to them, prayed with them. The ayis in the foster center loved them, and the children learned to love them back.
My daughter is old enough to tell stories about her days in Suixi.
Little Sister bit my finger. I cried, but ayi rubbed lotion on it and made me feel better.
At bedtime I got to watch a show before Ayi kissed me goodnight.
The children had circle time, made crafts, spent afternoons at the park. And even though my daughter can’t walk, she was not left behind. Her ayis made sure Meileigh had her turn in the sandbox or on the swing. We have a precious video of an ayi singing to Meileigh as she pushed her in a swing. The kids were taken to an indoor bounce house place for a treat, and a saintly helper went to the trouble of hauling Meileigh up the steps of the inflatable slide. (Trust me, this is not an easy endeavor!)
Over time, Meileigh’s hair grew out. Her caregivers lovingly styled it in ponytails and hairbands They drew a little black nose and whiskers on her cheeks so she could play kitty. One fun caregiver taught Mei how to spit watermelon seeds – a memory she cherishes and tells me about every time we eat watermelon.
And they took pictures. So many pictures. Meileigh is blessed to have hundreds of photos documenting the time from when she was selected to live at the foster center, all the way up until the day she joined our family. We have videos of her singing with her friends, reading books, snuggling with caregivers, and opening our care packages.
A professional photographer was invited along on a trip to help create beautiful images of children who were still waiting. The benefit to us was priceless. The photographer (who is now our friend) captured Meileigh’s life in the Foster Center on film. Waking up in the morning, eating lunch, learning, playing, napping — these events were covered in joy and prayer every day.
Throughout our wait, Lifeline flooded us with these images. As a waiting family, we had a chronicle of Meileigh’s physical transformation. From the opposite side of the Earth, we watched her face fill out. Her skin began to glow. Her eyes came alive.
We were witness to the healing power of the love our child was receiving from her devoted nannies.
When the staff at Lifeline’s Foster Center discovered that Meileigh had a family coming for her, they were overjoyed! They did everything they could to prepare her for the big change. Our care package arrived, and our family photos were displayed on the wall for Meileigh to look at every day. The ayis at the center talked to Meileigh about what her life would be like when she came home. They bought her gifts and packed her belongings in a new backpack. It is an understatement to say that she was well-prepared for her adoption day. She was so, so ready for us.
Our Family Day was further evidence that our Meileigh was cherished by her caregivers. The orphanage director, an orphanage employee, the Foster Center Manager, and a Foster Center ayi brought Meileigh and her foster sister to the Civil Affairs office. They had such a long drive, and Mei had gotten carsick on the way. Poor thing, she had ruined the special new outfit her ayis had bought for her. She really did not feel well at all. Everyone was so concerned about her.
It was obvious how much they cared that her special day went well. Peggy (the manager from the foster center) and the ayi were hesitant to leave. I think they took more photos that day than we did! We stayed so long that we were literally kicked out of the civil affairs office.
Meileigh has adjusted beautifully to family life. She gives and receives love easily. She loves her siblings and has given us her whole heart. Trust me – she has our hearts, too. She is an absolute treasure.
Nine months after returning home from China, we were presented with a unique opportunity from Lifeline. Several families traveled from around the United States to reunite our children and visit with Peggy, who had traveled from China. Our family did not hesitate! I booked plane tickets and flew to Alabama for the reunion.
My daughter was so excited to see her friends and Peggy again. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. It was crystal clear that Peggy and the ayis at Lifeline’s Foster Center truly love the children in their care. Peggy couldn’t take her eyes off “her” babies. She gave them long hugs and watched over them with pride as they played together again. I came to the reunion expecting to thank her for caring so well for my daughter. I didn’t expect the gratitude she had for the parents who had adopted the children that she had loved for so many months.
And so we know that our precious daughter is not just beloved to us. When she shows compassion to her brother when he is hurt, we know that compassion was shown to her. When she rushes to offer an imaginary bottle to her baby doll, we know that her basic needs were met – along with the needs of the babies with whom she lived for eighteen months. When she puts up a protest, we know she lived in an environment where she was encouraged to use her voice and express her opinion. When she holds onto our faces and looks into her eyes, it is evident that someone cared enough to look into her eyes.
In her sparkle and her sass and most of all, in her capacity to love, we see the seeds planted by a group of hardworking caregivers who selflessly poured into a little girl they knew they would have to let go someday.
When we walk into a room and heads turn, it’s not to pity the poor girl in a wheelchair. It’s because Meileigh has a light that comes from being poured into, loved, and prayed over by so many people who cherish her.
– guest post by Lynn