I think National Adoption Month is one of those bitter sweet things. I think it’s a great thing that the world is becoming more aware of the crisis that countless children without families face. I especially appreciate the action that is being taken to further the cause and make change. But, I feel like sometimes people throw the “orphan” word around like it’s just another title, another label like “Mr. or Manager.” But the implications of the word “orphan” just break my heart. Honestly, I hate the word. I hate hearing it said, I hate when a kid has to wear that label. I hate that Satan loves that word.
The word “orphan” is born of pain. It exists because of loss. “Orphan” means a mother has carried a life inside of her that she could not keep. It means a father will never see the child who bears his genetic make-up. It means a child will have to cope with the loss. I think that is the part that hurts me the most. When I look into the deep brown eyes of my son, I see the hurt. It’s buried, but it’s there. I see the questions that he tries to reason through, and I know. I know that “orphan” has left scars on his little heart that will only be erased when Jesus wraps him in His arms and says “Welcome home, MY brother.”
And then I hurt, a deeper hurt for all the ones who don’t have families to help them cope with the pain. I’ve heard a lot of people talk about the fear of “baggage” when taking an orphan to be a son or daughter. I’m glad God wasn’t afraid of our “baggage” when he adopted us through the blood of his only “biological” son. It is true, these precious children have deep hurts, and deserved anger, but where better to learn to cope than in the safety of a family? Where better to heal those hurts than in the arms of parents whose unconditional love is a like salve to the deep wounds of loss? Because while there will always be scars, love heals a multitude of hurts and frees the heart.
That’s how it was with Patricia. This is her story as I remember it.
I remember the first time I saw little Patti. She was one of many in a small nursery at the back of a bustling children’s home located in the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya—the same orphanage that had prepared Sundi and Damon for our family As I walked into the room that smelled of sour milk, sweat, and sweet baby, I was drawn to the dark little faces that peered out the rails of each crib. It was deafeningly quiet.
Patti was about ten months, but so small, so quiet. I noted as I worked the rounds of feeding and diaper changing that she never made a peep-not a cry, not a gurgle, not a sound. She ate little and lay lethargically as she was bathed and changed. My heart broke.
Over the next year, I watched Patti as she grew out of the infant nursery and was placed with the one-year olds. Many of her social siblings protested the transition, but not Patti. It seemed this little girl took everything in stride as if she had no right to an opinion. As her body grew, so did the emptiness in her deep brown eyes. Each day, I would watch as she was placed with the other children in the yard to play. While many crawled and toddled about grabbing toys and babbling to one another, Patti would sit, never moving. She did not crawl, she did not walk, she simply sat; still; waiting until playtime was over and the mass was moved to the dining room for lunch. I imagined in my heart that Patti felt without movement, I will go unnoticed, untouched, unbothered.
And then he came. Strong and gentle, he came. His eyes of compassion focused on the one in the corner. Tenderly, he picked her up and set her on his knee, caring not that her soiled dress marked his Sunday suit. And for the first time, Patti reached out. Small, hesitant hands gripped his maroon striped lapel and held on. For the first time, Patti’s body relaxed, her head rested against his chest. For the first time, Patti found home.
Three years later, it is hard to imagine that the child now called Ruth is the same empty girl known as Patti. Today, she runs, jumps, laughs and sings! She knows the love of a family and can return love to all those around her. In a moment, this child can capture your heart with her dimples and laughter. But, what is most noticeable is the light-the light that fairly flies from her eyes; this light that shines only from the fullness of love.
And so we embrace the challenges with hope. We persevere through the fits and apply the salve of a softly spoken word to the angry heart. And we watch, as love heals the wounds and peace replaces the turmoil. Some days are better than others, but all days are gifts. And as we live the miracle of adoption, we pray. We pray for all the little ones who hope for a mother’s touch, and the older ones who crave a father’s love. And we fight. We fight tirelessly for the rights and protection of those without a voice, as we dream. We dream of the day when the word “orphan” will no longer be a part of the spoken word because it will not be needed.