If this had been a fairy tale, I could have nicely and neatly ended with the words “and they lived happily ever after”. This story however, was no fairy tale. It was an adoption story made up of real, flesh and blood parents and children; and although, we are most certainly happy, it has been hard won.
As our airplane landed on the tarmac at Nashville International Airport, we began a new journey. We began the journey to become a family. In adoption lingo this is called the “adjustment period”. For many families this involves a “honeymoon period” in which the child is in on their best behavior and eager to please, a phase that is a precursor to bonding. True bonding, in my experience, is an often painful process. I remember thinking during those first few grueling months at home that it was much like the process of grafting two plants together, healing must be preceded by wounding. There was no person in our family of seven who was spared this.
So, the words “adjustment period” while they may be accurate, are at the same time inadequate and far too sterile to describe the process of becoming a family. Even though it was most certainly difficult at the time, I am thankful that we were spared the “honeymoon period” of the process and jumped right into the thick of things. Our children, all five of them, were uninterested in pretense. We all struggled in the “becoming” but a family we became.
No person in our family struggled more than the little boy with whom this story began. We understood that to ask our cherished baby boy Jeremiah to abdicate his place as the doted upon baby of the family would be difficult to say the least and we did all we could to prepare him for the two new sisters who would be so close in age to him. My warrior child would not cede his position without a fight. He had been the baby four years, his next oldest sibling four years older than him, and he was suddenly faced with two new sisters who felt equally entitled to the comfort of my arms at any given moment. It was a rude, painful rending for him. I remember vividly how each day after nap they would all three awaken feeling fragile and lost and vie for position on my lap, each crying and pushing the other away. The hard truth was that they all were genuinely in need of me. I would dryly joke at times (to keep from crying) that I was going to gain a hundred pounds so that my lap would be big enough for everyone at once.
In a cruel twist of circumstances, my husband’s work began to demand tremendous amounts of his time and energy. One morning, it was before 7:00am and he had already left for the day. The night before, he had returned from work long after all five of the children were in bed. So, there I stood in the kitchen, attempting to prepare breakfast with all three little ones crying while hanging on my legs at the same time.
There were fairytale like moments dispersed in between the struggles, however. The night we returned home from Haiti, it was late and as we entered our home with our daughters in our arms at last, it was completely without fanfare. In moments, I had ushered the babysitter out the door and the house was utterly quiet. Michael began to bring in the luggage while I, with Roseline in my arms, led Claudine into our living room which was lit only by the Christmas tree. She looked around in shy wonder for a moment before she spotted Meghan’s double doll stroller sitting in front of the fire place with her “twin” babies inside. Longing for these, more beautiful toys than she had ever dreamed existed, won out over her nervousness and she timidly made her way across the room. Gently, she lifted one of the dolls from the stroller and stroked its soft, shiny hair.
“Belle,” she whispered. (“Beautiful”)
I would have been blind to miss the significance of the moment. So many years before, another child entered his family. He too, was long awaited and although his appearance had been eagerly longed for by many, he also arrived quietly, and without fanfare.
It was quite a contrast in other ways, however. This first child left a Heavenly Kingdom to be born into a filthy, foul smelling manger. Our daughters traded the poverty of an orphanage to come to a home where they would never need for anything ever again. He left eternal glory to be clothed in flesh and learn what it meant to be hungry, tired, despised and rejected. Claudine and Roseline would soon begin the process of embracing what it meant to be filled, rested, cherished and accepted.
The life, sacrifice, death and resurrection of the first child made it possible for the redemption, blessing and fulfillment of all others. It was quite a trade.
And thank Heaven, it was no fairytale.
“Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. “
Isaiah 53:4-6 (NKJV)