Part 1 - Beginnings
Part 2 - Leap Before You Look
Part 3 - Stepping Into a Void
Part 4 - Can't Go Back
Part 5 - In His Hands
I still have the last page in my journal, with hastily scribbled descriptions of children so that I could associate their names with my memories "the one they called monkey boy," "the girl with the birthmark," "the little boy who laughed all the time." As we drove away from the orphanage, I asked Alison for each of their Chinese names and meanings, which I wrote down on the little paper.
I drew some comfort from the fact that her name meant something beautiful. It was the name of someone precious, not someone discarded. "The girl with the birthmark" was, in fact, Xiao Ai which means Little Love. It sounded like a pet name to me; something a father would call his daughter, like "Little Princess" and I felt like it was just another glimmer of hope shining in her life.
The last few days of our trip passed in a blur. We did the touristy things in Beijing, like seeing the Great Wall and the Forbidden City and doing the requisite shopping at the Pearl Market, but I was so ruined from the orphanage that none of it seemed worth the time or the energy. It was unbelievably frustrating knowing that I was still on the same continent as those children, and that while I was bargaining for a fake jade bracelet, they were sitting in their orphanage. My life might have moved on to the next stage, but theirs was like a broken record--repeating the same depressing track over and over and over again.
Going home felt surreal. Some have said that the hardest part about this type of trip is the coming home part, and I have to admit that I'd agree. It is enormously frustrating to suddenly see your world with a whole new set of glasses and yet try to exist in a world where everyone else has the old lenses on. Everything -- absolutely everything -- changes. Priorities change. Desires change. The things we spent our money on changed. But we were like fish swimming upstream, and for the first few months, we weren't very gracious about it.
To be totally honest, we harshly judged those around us (thankfully it was mostly in our heads!) who seemed to care about things we now deemed unimportant. When we heard friends trying to answer the question "How much house can we possibly afford?" instead of "What's the most we want to spend on our home?" we would have flashbacks to the village where people didn't even have indoor plumbing and lived with dirt floors. When we saw people driving Hummers in a city where they never got off the freeway, we'd think about the old man we'd seen straining as he peddled his single-gear bike up a hill, loaded with old rubber tires. When people talked about buying new entertainment systems, we'd think about how many bags of formula that could buy. Or how many kids it could send to school. Or how many months of coal it would buy the orphanage. There was more in our equation now... it wasn't just "What can I do with my resources and energy and time to make me and my loved ones more comfortable?" And, as we struggled to come to terms with this new and painful reality, we tended to judge those who hadn't yet opened their eyes. It wasn't until we moved to China that we realized just how sinister and evil those judgments really were, but that's a post for another day.
All of this overwhelming sort of culminated and exploded in an Olive Garden in Grapevine one day. It was a few weeks after we got back, and we just sat silently in the Olive Garden, both of our eyes welling with tears. I don't remember all that we discussed at that point -- it wasn't much, really. After all, words didn't really work. But I do know it was deeply comforting to realize that we were both in the exact same place. Though the dining room was busy and loud, it was as if we were the only two people in the room. We were in another world altogether; brought closer together by a shared burden. It was a good place to be in the weeks leading up to our wedding... we were being knit together by a shared vision of a life lived differently. We first started dreaming the "What Ifs?" around this time, and it only grew stronger as time went on. While the trip served to solidify a common purpose and mission for us as a couple a few weeks before our wedding, it also had a negative effect. It made wedding planning incredibly hard! Of course I wanted a nice wedding -- I'd dreamed about it for several years! But, suddenly everything seemed so frivolous. Thankfully, I had parents who saw through my confusion and pain and gently reminded me time and time again that God wasn't asking me to be a martyr and an ascetic. So, on August 6, 2005, we had a lovely and beautiful wedding.
After a honeymoon to Montreal and Quebec City in Canada (with both of us sort of wishing when we first got on the plane that it would change course and land in Beijing!), we came back to settle into newlywed life. But we hadn't forgotten. The kids from the orphanage were always present in our minds and often the subject of our conversations, but it was generally vague and non-specific conversations, like "I sure hope that little one gets adopted soon." But one night just as I was falling asleep, a thought dropped into my head out of nowhere.
I was suddenly wide awake. I sat up and asked Jacob, "What if we try to get her file?"
"What?" he asked.
"Her file... Xiao Ai. You know, the little girl with the birthmark. What if we tried to get her adoption papers?"
"What would you do with it if you got it?"
This was the sobering question... what would we do with it? We couldn't adopt her (not yet 30). Though I'd worked in adoption for several years, I'd had very little experience with special needs adoption, and I imagined it to be quite difficult to find a family for a little girl with a large visible birthmark, when most families wanted H, G, AYAP (Healthy, Girl, As Young As Possible). The thought of that responsibility -- of finding her a family if we could find her papers -- was almost enough to keep me from even asking our staff if it was possible.
I almost didn't say anything else, convinced that it really was a bad idea and would probably just cause more trouble than anything. And besides, I'd always been told it was like finding a needle in a haystack. I'd just be putting myself out there only to be disappointed. But then Jacob went on...
"You should ask. Let God worry about finding the right family for her, but it can't hurt to ask for the file."
I can't really put it into words, but at that point a peace washed over me. I would ask. I would do what I could. The rest was in His hands. To be brutally honest, at that moment I wasn't expecting His hands to do much on our behalf or on hers -- I was still a little mad at Him because at that point I couldn't get rid of the nagging feeling that He'd already forgotten them.
But, I have since learned that His hands are the mightiest of all. They move mysteriously and miraculously. They hold hope and healing. They restore. They repair. They rebuild. They redeem. They bring rescue and new life. They are gentle enough to cradle us in our most vulnerable moments and strong enough to move the most imposing mountains in our paths.
They are the only hands worth holding, and the only ones worth trusting.