You won’t let go no matter what I do
And it’s not one or the other
It’s hard truth and ridiculous grace
To be known fully known and loved by You
I’m fully known and loved by You”
Known by Tauern Wells
There’s a popular song that’s being overplayed on Christian radio right now. Despite its familiarity, each time I hear the chorus, I find myself nodding in agreement. One of our deepest desires is to be known – understood, acknowledged completely – and to be loved, perhaps in spite of that knowing.
Like so many aspects of adoption, the importance of being known parallels my relationship with God. Children who have been abandoned have the greatest desire and greatest fear of being fully known. And, as their parent, I have such an immense duty and privilege to pursue their heart – to know them, accept them, and love them. This is such an imperfect reflection of our Father’s love for us – He knows us and loves us faithfully.
I can only attempt to reflect a bit of that perfect love into my daughter’s life. We brought our daughter home from China with the knowledge that she had been labeled ‘Developmentally Delayed.’ As we’ve unpacked what that actually means, I’ve come to realize that one of the great challenges of this special need is the difficulty in knowing my child.
Developmental delay. A term in Chinese adoption that could mean absolutely nothing or absolutely everything. Or at least that was my conclusion after accepting the referral of my daughter’s very sparse file and immersing myself in preparations to bring her home.
We had a list of milestones that were slightly behind, a couple photos, a video that showed our little girl standing and scowling at the camera, and those big scary words stamped across some paperwork: developmental delay. We would receive no official update and my daughter’s orphanage was practically unheard of.
I had never before faced so much unknown.
We met our daughter on the last day of November in 2015. She was tiny – three years old but physically closer to the size of a one year old. Her grief was severe and deep. As prepared as we felt, it was still a shock to witness such a tiny human express such great emotion.
We were strangers – unknown to one another – and suddenly sharing such a sacred space.
My husband and I were face to face with the child we had prayed for, felt called to pursue. And my daughter was thrust into a great unknown – her entire life stripped from her in one afternoon. We were all a bit adrift.
Upon returning home, we gradually began to get to know each other. It was slow progress as my daughter’s preferred method of coping was to squeeze her eyes shut – closing everything and everyone out – and to retreat within herself. I was desperate to pursue her heart and to prove my trust-worthiness. Our world became small – the size of a tiny three year old – in order to show her safety.
Her refusal to engage the world around her scared me. Was this what they meant by “developmental delay”?
There were obvious things that had to be addressed. She was so small and had a significant feeding disorder. She refused solid foods and relied on bottles of formula for all of her meals. We were immersed in the amazing world of occupational therapy as we introduced her to table food and began working on her oral aversion. I continued to ask, “Is this developmental delay?”
Time passed. Her muscles grew stronger, her food challenges slowly became less and less of an issue. She gained some weight and little by little she spent less time within herself and her grief.
But there were still so many unknowns. I ran into a well-meaning friend who had faithfully supported us during the adoption process. She excitedly asked, “Is her language just exploding before your eyes?” And the answer was no. My daughter was barely saying our names and remembering a few inanimate objects – which certainly didn’t qualify for an explosion at almost a year home. Again, I wondered, is this what “developmental delay” means?
Perhaps tied to her lack of language, there were some concerning behaviors and frustrations we were also experiencing. I felt like I was constantly playing the game, “Is this trauma or is this something more or is she just a three year old?” A game that has no winners by the way. Answers seemed to elude us at every turn.
The inability to answer that question nearly every single day seemed to highlight the great field of unknowns that we were lost in. As we gradually pursued specialists and evaluations, those unknowns continued to rear their ugly heads.
Every doctor or school form that required medical history was crossed through in pen – “unknown birth record” or “medical history unknown”.
At every doctor appointment, “Is she allergic to any medications?” and, “Has she always struggled to gain weight?” I didn’t know.
And the conclusion to all those evaluations and exams was that the experts didn’t know either.
Would she catch up? We didn’t know.
Is there a cause to these delays? There were no answers to that.
The reality was that I was her mother and I didn’t know my child.
“Trust your intuition! You know your child best!” That advice left me feeling completely ill equipped. I struggled to know my daughter. I over-thought and second-guessed everything. And in the depths of the messiest, loneliest post-adoption trenches, I despaired that I would never understand and know who my daughter was and how to parent her.
But the reality of our situation is that she is known – fully. Her existence is not a mystery or a mistake and her place in our family, at our church, in our community, in her school has a purpose. I see glimmers of that every single day and can cling to this reality: God knows her and loves her better than I can ever hope to and in His kindness, He allows us a front-row view of how amazing she is.
There are still so many unknowns.
I don’t know which therapy will remedy some of her problematic behaviors.
I don’t know which placement is best for her for kindergarten.
I don’t know which accommodation to add to her IEP to enable her to suddenly read sight words.
I don’t know if she will ever learn that boys are ‘he’ and girls are ‘she’.
For us, developmental delay means grappling with the unknowns every single day.
What I do know is that my daughter is adored by nearly everyone who meets her.
I know that she has a vivid imagination and loves to dress up in costume.
I know she loves her brothers and they love her even though they can fight like cats and dogs over who gets the fat, red marker first.
I know that she prefers to wear socks up to her knees with flip flops if I’ll let her and she doesn’t love having long hair that falls into her eyes. (Don’t ask me about her DIY haircuts!)
I know she sings when she’s happy – and my heart breaks over all the songs that were trapped inside her during the years she was non-verbal.
I know she is loved, cherished, and forever a part of our family.
I know she is mine and I am hers.
And though there are still many unknowns, I know that the One who created her and is writing her story knows her and loves her fully.
The hard truth is that there are still many unknowns. The ridiculous grace is that she is full of surprises. The sentences that now flow from her lips. The memories of China that come at unexpected times. The smile that breaks across her face at dance class when her body finally cooperates and lets her fly across the wood floor – her joy is contagious.
The ridiculous grace that reminds me over and over again that God knows her just as He knows and loves each of us fully.