I can’t remember the last time it rained, and I’ve opened the windows wide in our house. Propped the back door open. I’m inhaling the scent of the air washed clean of all the dust it usually carries; listening to the quiet rumble of thunder. My babies are both asleep for now. It’s been a hard day, and I’m glad for the few minutes of stillness with this soundtrack of peace falling in heavy drops right outside the window. It is grace-for-the-moment, exactly what my heart needed to close out this day.
Alea doesn’t feel well… 17 months is a brutal age for anyone, I think. Caught between babyhood and toddler, your desire for independence far outstrips your communication skills or physical mobility. Throw in some teething (Seriously… the poor child seems to be cutting almost all of her teeth at the same time. She has gone from about 4-5 teeth to about 9 in the 3 weeks we have had her… with more on the way), an ear infection and fever, a total change in diet and schedule, and completely new routines, caregivers, and OhAbsolutelyEverything, and you have a recipe for disaster.
I’m amazed she smiles at all. As my sister-in-law said tonight, “If a grown-up went through what Alea has just gone through, they’d probably be thrown into a depression.” And for the most part, Alea is happy… or at least amused and distracted. But today she has really not felt well, and I’ve discovered in those moments when she is most distraught, most inconsolable, and most undone, that I am not the one she wants.
I’m not sure if she even knows the one she wants. She wasn’t held much when she cried in China, her nanny told me as much. (Who has time to hold crying babies when there are 30 cribs in a room?) But maybe she is mourning the loss of her nanny. Maybe it is her arms that she wants. Or maybe she just doesn’t know what to do with the intimacy of another person holding her when she is in pain. Sometimes as she’s crying and I cradle her, she arches away from me – pushing her body and her face… every bit of her being – to face in the other direction. So I set her down, thinking maybe she needs just a bit of space. But then her cry turns to a heartbreaking wail, as if she is saying “I know I said I don’t want you to hold me, but I can’t bear for you to walk away.”
And in those moments, I’ve come to realize I am in a fight for her heart. I need to woo her. To win her. To become her safe place in time of trouble. I need to teach her that she doesn’t have to be big and strong anymore. She can come snuggle in mama’s arms when her whole body aches. She doesn’t have to twist her head from side to side or pull on her hair to find peace. She can find shelter in my arms.
I know this is my purpose, my calling in this season of motherhood with Alea. Much like the endless nights I spent feeding and rocking Cora in the early weeks of life with her, this is the season of motherhood with Alea where I’m laying a foundation of trust, love, and responsiveness. It’s where the hard work of tilling the soil of her heart takes place… We knew coming into this journey that parenting a child who spent the first part of her life in an institution would look different – it is intense, it is therapeutic, and it is all-consuming. If Cora fussed a bit at 17 months, I knew we had the foundation of trust she needed for me to make a decision sometimes to just get dinner on the table, or to finish the project I was working on. But with Alea right now, she doesn’t have that foundation, so I am always on call. Part of wooing her and winning her heart is proving to her that when she needs something, we will be there to respond, and right now for Alea that mostly looks like being held for almost every waking hour of the day.
I don’t have it in me.
I’ll be honest, I don’t think of myself as an amazingly-gifted, well-equipped mama. (Does anyone? Don't answer that if you do.) I find myself saying a joyful Hallelujah most days at bedtime. I am distracted, easily bored with child’s play, and far too connected to the blasted-iPhone-in-my-hand-at-all-times. In my own estimation, I feel so far from the mama I believe my girls need, and yet I’m the one they have. Especially when it comes to Alea, I’m shocked that she is mine. I know the paperwork process of an adoption is overwhelming for some more than others, but to me it isn’t that bad, and I can’t tell you the number of times I pause and shake my head in wonder that with so little effort on our part, the Chinese authorities entrusted her to us… forever!
It’s a miracle like rain in the desert the night before Easter.
When we got our Travel Approval to pick up Alea, I made a little video to announce our big news. I’ve not been able to get the chorus of the background track out of my head for months, and tonight one line from it continues to echo in my head… “Let the rain wash away all the pain of yesterday.”
I’m so glad I don’t have to have it in me.
I’m so glad he comes in like a rainstorm in the desert… flashes of lightning and rolling thunder. Desert rain is slow and steady at times and torrential and powerful at others, just like his love for us. His love fills the cracks in the driest places and seemingly overnight something blooms in what seemed like dead ground. Sometimes it is just enough to pull the dust out of the air and everyone is thankful for the relief, but sometimes it is extravagantly, ridiculously, absurdly more than we could ask or imagine. Sometimes we have boats rowing down the main streets in our town and children splashing in puddles as deep as their knees. And sometimes his love overtakes us like that; it swallows us up and fills our dry cracks and gives us a reason to stand in the backyard staring straight up into the downpour with our arms stretched wide and our mouths open… dizzy from the kaleidoscope of heavy drops falling down on us, mixing with our tears of joy and sorrow and washing away all of the pain of yesterday.
I don’t even need to have it in me.
It’s been hard these last few weeks, and I have a feeling it is going to get even harder before it gets better. But I know that the God who sends a desert rain the night before we celebrate his resurrection is in the business of bringing life after death, and I am trusting him with this journey. He is going to do something new in Alea’s heart, and He is doing something new in mine too. He is breaking off the dead, tearing out the sorrow, finding the deepest hurts and wounds and putting his finger right on the place that feels the most raw… and though it hurts, he is pushing us together and we will heal as one. Our hearts are being stitched together. She is mine and I am hers and He is our Father who stitches together beautiful things out of our broken pieces.
I’m only thankful He is in me.
This Easter has found me doing more of the liturgy of the ordinary than anything focused on Holy Week. Laundry, rocking babies, snuggling with my big girl, calling doctors, washing dishes, making bottles. I’ve missed all the services our church offered in celebration of Easter – things I would have liked to have attended, as I’m someone who loves the ritual and celebration. If Alea isn’t feeling better in the morning, we probably won’t even make it to Easter services. But despite my lack of formal observance this year, I’ve found myself more thankful than ever for what this season means. It’s a dark week. The crowds roar “Hosanna” on Sunday and “Crucify Him” on Friday. It doesn’t seem possible that it could end well, and in the middle of the darkness and death and destruction it feels foolish to hope for new life. But as I hold my broken-hearted little girl, sensing more and more the depth of her woundings, I find myself emboldened by the unlikely promise of the Easter story. My Jesus is in the business of redemption and restoration. And he will not leave her like this. She may not wear the legal label of orphan anymore, but he isn’t going to leave her with an orphan spirit either. Those angry and snarled roots of darkness and death and destruction will be removed by the one who makes dead things alive, and they will not hold her back from the LIFE he wants her to have. I don’t know how we will get to that place of healing – it may be quite the journey – but I have the utmost confidence and peace that we will get there together.
He rains in the desert and in the desert of our hearts. He fills the broken places and the cracks in the ground and our cups to overflowing. He will give me all that I need to be a mama to my girls, and He gives me every reason to foolishly believe in his plan for redemption of each of our stories. Easter is a promise of new life, so it is fitting that it is raining in the desert the night before Easter. I can hardly wait to see all that grows.
Photo Credit -- The incredible duo of Sandy Puc and her son Nic photographed our group of families the day we met our children. These pictures were taken in the first few minutes after we met Alea.