It's like waiting with bated breath for the second coming of Christ. You live every day as if he could come like a thief in the night, and yet you have to get on with life as though he may not. I'm sure there's a breakdown in the difference between the return of Christ and the rapture you experience when you finally get the referral call from the adoption agency saying, "We have your sons."...but...not that much.
We got the call yesterday while on vacation. We were sitting on the beach and Adoption Associates, our agency, called twice and left a message to call them back. Of all the calls you don't want to miss, it's that one, but we were all caught up in "surf and seagulls" enjoying the Atlantic Ocean on the boardwalk of New Jersey. Phones are tucked away in purses and beach bags to protect them from the heat, sand, and water...especially iPhones which are treated as a new born baby on the beach. You get all protective of your iPhones like they might be abducted by strangers or drowned in the undertow...so you care for them like they are vulnerable offspring. Of all the days to be babying our iPhones while they are buzzing and ringing trying to get our attention with the call of all calls, the adoption call with the long-awaited eagerly anticipated news of our boys...their whereabouts, their names, their ages, their family backstory or lack thereof, their needs, their medical backgrounds, their origins, and the single most longed-for piece of the puzzle, their pictures.
We have pictured them in our minds a thousand times over. We have made up images of their little faces which are a mixture of seeing pictures of Ethiopian children in a National Geographic article, or watching them run long distances in marathons, or seeing specials on television of children braving famines, hunger, abandonment, rebel warfare, rapes, the Aids pandemic, orphanages, and sex/human trafficking. In the last several years the plight of Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular has taken center stage in publicity, and yet so much of the coverage awakens pangs of pity or romantic relief missions or monies to scratch an immediate itch we feel temporarily agitated by. All of these things have covered my painter's pallet giving me colors and textures to paint a picture inside my head of what I expected my boys to look like. But now, the span between our families' imaginary pictures and the actual photographs of these two boys would be reconciled in a single moment.
We got home from Ocean City and gathered around our computer to access Heidi's Juno account and to download the jpg. links attached to the referral email. It's a wonder butterflies didn't fly out of our mouths they were fluttering so violently within our stomachs. The girls were giggling like they used to on Christmas morn. Heidi's smile has never been wider and fuller. My modus operandi in these moments is to be cool and collected, but under wraps I'm panting for those pictures like a thirsty dog. As I opened my laptop and we connected to the internet, every click felt like getting through another firewall that had long kept us from finding and seeing our boys. As I punched in Heidi's password to her Juno account and clicked on the glowing "Inbox", Sally's name, our representative, popped up with a few emails she had sent with background documents and pictures of the boys. My hands were trembling a bit as I located the pictorial "pearls of great price".
And then, with the flash of a popup in the left hand corner of our screen, we saw the oldest of the two boys, Joshua (Fuad), standing there with his name pinned to his chest looking at us eyeball to eyeball. At first I couldn't get the picture rotated so that he was upright, so our whole family was tilting our heads to compensate for the sideways angle. Eventually, I got him propped upright and we gazed on him like we were looking at an angel. He was just standing there in second-hand clothes up against a cold wall, eyes brown as a milk chocolate, and skin shining with an ebony satin tone that can't be described with a metaphor, it stands alone and can only be known by seeing it with your own eyes. As I said before, he had a piece of lined school paper fastened to his sweatshirt with his name written across it "FUAD". The name means "Heart" and in the last two years he needed every bit of his name's meaning to weather the storm he endured. Just the little we know would bring a grown man to his knees and break him like a windshield into a thousand shards of sadness. He looked dazed and confused, like he'd been transported to another unfamiliar place with another batch of unfamiliar faces. It was as if he didn't know whether he was being shot with a camera or a gun, but he stood there on the firing line just the same, submitting to whatever random process being abandoned looks and feels like to a child who stands somewhere between innocence and un-innocence. The look of his face had the feel of lost. Lost in about every sense of the word. But in his eyes, you can see a little man who can rise from the ashes of loss. A young boy who can't talk and isn't potty-trained though 2 and a half, stunned by his short years of existence on this planet. He stands there without the ability to think about his future, only his unassembled present and his disassembled past. Too young to put it all together, but old enough to know life is not unfolding as it should. If Shalom means "life as it ought to be" then he is aware enough to realize life up till now has been whatever the opposite of that is.
But since we are adopting two, we quickly wiped away the tears and opened another email with another set of attachments including 4 pictures of the 6 month old named Caleb "Eyob". His name means "Job or persecuted". His name spoke of his short life to this point, but we intended to do something about that. We were told over the phone that he was much fairer skinned, with big eyes and a head of hair that wouldn't stop. He was brought to the orphanage by an officer when he was 2 months old who said the child had bee handed to the him by a crying woman. They have no record of his parents. When we opened the attachment, we melted like soft-serve ice cream in July. He was laying in a makeshift crib with oversized clothes looking at the camera with the biggest eyes and the longest eyelashes you'll ever see. (Think Puss-n-Boots in Shrek) We kept clicking on each of the 4 pictures to see him from different angles scrolling through them again and again drinking in every detail. Something inside of you is even trying to see if you can see signs of how cared for they are in these still shots. Does his diaper look full? Is that spit up on his shoulder? Is someone combing his hair and rolling up his sleeves so he can practice his motor skills? Are there rashes anywhere? Do his eyes look soft and undefiled or does he seem too aware that he has been abandoned even as a 6 month old? I can't tell you how our eyes were darting to and fro looking for signs of life and death, signals of needs met or unmet, non-verbals that would give us a cue or a clue of something subtle and almost undetectable to any other eye than a parents'. How silly...like we would know, but immediately you feel like you're their protector and provider and you attach to these pictures feeling them with your heart like a blind person running his or her fingertips over brail. Every texture means something, every one. Each nuance is telling a story, or so it seems.
We sat there stunned downloading every picture and blowing it up as big as possible until it became pixilated into a stew of calico colors. We looked for scars and fingers. We looked for the shape of lips and ears and noses. We drank in the stare of their eyes, putting words to that window to the soul. If they could talk to us at all, their eyes where their voices. We captured the rapture and then began the process of trying to share with our loved ones from the center (family) out to the next ring (friends) to the next ring, and on and on. The next hours were spent telling and retelling the overarching storyline and the stories that fill in the subplot a bit. There aren't words to describe how beautiful it is to tell this story over and over again.
I'm sure more and more of this story will unfold in the days and months to come, but for now I'll leave it at that. Suffice it to say that Heidi and I are overjoyed to be the parents of these boys and I speak for my whole family when I say that we desire to create Shalom for these boys as we welcome them into our home, our extended family, our church and our community. But for now, they are still far away and under the care of their Heavenly Father. Until they are safe within our arms, they are safe within His. And the fact is that even when they are "safe" within our arms, they will continue to be Fathered on the interior by the only one who knows their whole story and thus, the only one who will be able to hold them and heal them where it really counts, on the inside.
So now we have seen their outside, their faces. What a joy! But my heart now heaves with heaven for their insides, the things they've heard, seen, felt, smelt, tasted, touched and been touched by. It is the hearts behind their faces that I'm asking everyone to join me in praying for in the days, months and years to come. We have a great adventure ahead of us fraught with many trials and triumphs! It is the power of God through the prayers of the saints that will give us the strength to pour the love of Jesus into these little boys...the new brothers of my girls, the new sons of my wife and I.
Joshua (Rescuing One) and Caleb (Bold One)...welcome to our family.
We love you already.