Dear Alea Hope,
I missed your first birthday, but I didn’t forget it. I made you a quilt. In some ways, I think it’d be more honest to say I made me a quilt. Because there is something about the act of making something for someone I care about that builds love in my heart, and as I stitched it together, I prayed for the foundations of love to be laid, brick by brick.Our journey to you wasn’t quite what I expected. I think I anticipated some sort of lightning bolt moment when I first saw your picture… a powerful force to take me over; leaving me knowing, with every ounce of my being, that you are my daughter. For some, I know it happens in just that way, but when I look at the little picture we have of you… staring so intently into the camera 6 months ago… I confess that right now I see a beautiful baby that I don’t really know.
And so I’m choosing to stitch you into my heart. Piece by piece. It’s hard, if I’m being honest. I get a few stitches in, and then I’m overcome with fear and it seems I need to tear some out, back up, and start over. To be perfectly frank, I’m not that good at sewing. But I think it’s OK that it’s hard for me, because I think it will be hard for you to stitch me into your heart too. After all, in a few months when we meet in that government building in central China, you’ll be handed to a stranger. I hope you come to me with this quilt that I’m sending you… I hope you come with something that is familiar. But I know you’ll be leaving behind all that is comfortable and sure, thrust into the arms of a woman and man that you don’t know yet. You’ll be told that we are your mama and baba; but sweet girl, you don’t even know what that means. You’ve probably never even seen that relationship demonstrated before your own eyes.I don’t think that choosing to stitch you into my heart means I love you any less than if I’d had that “lightning bolt” moment of perfect assurance. My friend Jessica said it well… the best metaphor for adoption is an arranged marriage. I believe something Holy and Sacred happens when we choose to walk into a commitment without knowing fully what it will entail. I don’t believe it will be easy, but I do believe God will be Emmanuel. He will be With Us, making the seams straight and tight. And I trust that someday I will look back and not be able to see the stitch marks of where you were tied into my heart.
Our adoption agency says we should travel to get you in the Spring. I put the cherry tree fabric in the quilt because it reminds me of your beautiful country in the springtime. I’m coming to get you when the trees are blooming; when new life is beginning. I know what it’s like in the place where you’re waiting, so of course I want you here yesterday. But I know that God will use these next few months to root you down into my heart more deeply. I need that, more than anything. I need the courage that comes with love. I need Perfect Love that casts out all fear, because sometimes I think of all that we know – or maybe all that we don’t know – about you, and I wonder what would happen if you had far more severe needs than we anticipate or if we just couldn’t get in-step in the attachment dance. What if… what if… what if…And then I think of you… a sweet little girl who doesn’t even have a choice. I said I’m not very good at sewing, and I meant it. My lines aren’t straight, and there were a couple of times where the pieces didn’t fit together as they should. I missed a few spots, on occasion, and had to rip things out and start again. Did I mention I don’t sew straight? Or that the quilt is 3 inches narrower than it should be, because I didn’t have the patience to repair my mistakes properly and instead cut off whole sections of the fabric to start afresh? I’m not perfect -- something your big sister, at the grand age of 3, already knows full well -- but you don’t get to review our file and decide if this is the family for you. It’s an arranged marriage, and neither one of us gets the chance to back out. So I want to win your heart. I need to. And I know the first step to that is to have you rooted so deeply in my heart that love looks like Cherry tree blossoms in the Chinese springtime.
I know you might not be getting much attention right now. It isn’t that I don’t think the people caring for you don’t care… but there are 900 little ones in your orphanage, I hear. How could any baby get what she needs in such a place? I want to DO something, but there’s very little I can do, so I chose fabrics for their different textures. There is corduroy, with its soft ridges, and the bumpy seams. I chose the softest fabric I could find to be my hug. I’ve held the blanket close and carried it around with me these last few days. Last night I walked in the front door holding it in my hands and had this mental picture of walking in the front door with it in about 6 months, having just run out to get it because you left it in the car… oh how I pray you get this, sweet girl. Oh, how I pray you feel my love in the softness.
It’s called a rag quilt because the edges are cut so that they’ll fray. I was nervous taking scissors to the first quilt I ever made, and I spent at least two hours clipping nicks into the edges while talking with my friend LynnAnne and watching her little boy (who is your age, by the way) scamper around her living room. It hurts to make cuts in a quilt you just made, but even more so in our lives. I know leaving the orphanage isn’t going to be easy. I know it isn’t a good place for a child to be, but it’s the only place you’ve known… and cutting that out of your life is going to be painful. You’ve already had far too many cuts for a 1-year-old baby. In 8 days, you’ll have been in the orphanage 1 year. That’s a terrible anniversary to have, but it will mark the day that the worst cut of all happened. And in a few more months we’ll be cutting your food, language, the smells and sounds of your land… all those little snips hurt. I know a little bit about those kinds of cuts, because I still long for your homeland some mornings myself… But you know what I found after I washed the quilt? All those edges frayed and turned into something beautiful. The colors blended together and became something new. Baby, I know the cuts are going to hurt, but you have my word that I will hold you close while the edges fray… and we will keep taking steps towards making something new every day. It will be beautiful someday. Of course, we both know the cuts will always be there. I don’t pretend that they will ever go away. But it will be beautiful.
My friend Billy took pictures of me, your daddy, and your big sister a few weeks ago. It will probably be the last family picture without you in it. I’m sure she’ll take new ones of us when you come home. But we took it for you, sweetheart. I wanted the pictures to be right in front of you… wrapped around you at night when you sleep. I know you’re still so very little; you may not understand any of this. But maybe, just maybe, my prayers will be answered and you’ll spend the next several months with this quilt in your crib… and maybe, just maybe, when you meet us, we will feel a little bit familiar.
After all, we’re family.