My sons are at their grandparents’ and the girls are playing together in the back yard while I prepare dinner. I am alone in the house and it is peaceful and quiet. Golden rays of evening sun filter through the kitchen window while soup bubbles in the pot and I began to place cheese between slices of bread. I bought the bread in the health food section of the supermarket. It is made from seven sprouted grains, supposedly according to some ancient recipe found in the book of Ezekiel and reputed to be a powerhouse of nutrition.
Gotta keep my babies healthy. Gotta keep my babies safe.
Then, the fracture in my soul formed the day before deepens and widens unexpectedly and suddenly I am sobbing because I did not keep her safe. I weep and weep there over the grilled cheese and the grief is familiar to me. My mind drifts back to times when over the course of our two year adoption I would receive word of some danger or trauma to my daughters and be utterly helpless to protect, nourish, or comfort them.
I remember the report that my baby was in the hospital in Haiti, her already fragile body ravaged by diarreha that would not cease. A picture came in the mail of her in her hospital bed, an I.V. in her tiny arm. She stared back at the camera with hollow eyes and I wondered how they managed to place the needle in a vein so small. I went to our pediatrician, desperate to do something to help.
“Is there anything I can send? Anything I can do?” I asked.
I have known him a long time and over the years he has become more than my children’s physician. He has become a friend. He cared too much to be less than honest with me.
“No,” he said. “We don’t know the source of the diarrhea and therefore can not treat it from here.” He paused, looked me straight in the eye and said somberly, “Diarrhea is the number one killer of children in the world. If they are keeping her hydrated, it is the best they can do.”
Then there was the time another report came. It said the other children in the orphanage would not play with my little girl because her skin was lighter than all the rest. Their name for her was a racial slur. They taunted her. They ran away when she came near. She was very upset by this treatment the report said.
I grieved then too as I grieve now for the suffering of my babies I was helpless to prevent.
Suddenly, the back door bursts open and she rushes in. Quickly, I wipe the tears from my face. I don’t want her to see me cry. I turn to smile at her and find her breathless from her play. The evening sun lingers about her curls.
“Mommy,” she asks “can we pick strawberries?”
“Sure, baby,” I say “Just share them with your sisters.”
“Yeah!” she responds and then runs outside to tell her sisters the good news.
I turn back to the grilled cheese and take them from the pan but something is still broken inside me and I don’t know what to do. So, I pray. It is not eloquent. No polished platitudes or refined requests. My prayer is more along the lines of the tax collector in Luke 18:13.
“God have mercy on me…”
“Jesus, help me….”
The next morning I awaken to the sixth track from my friend Nicole’s CD, Sharecroppers Seed, playing in my head. It is taken directly from Psalm 91.
“He who dwelleth in the secret place
Of the Most High shall abide
Under the shadow,
Under the shadow,
Of the Almighty..”
I rise, prepare myself a cup of tea before my morning run and open my scripture reading for the day.
“My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14
“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. The LORD, He is the One who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you nor forsake you; do not fear nor be dismayed.” Deut. 31:6
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Josh. 1:9
I run and with each footfall, the message is driven deep into my heart. “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be dismayed. I am with you. I go before you. I am with you.”
By the time I walk back into my house something has healed in me and I am strong enough to be the mother I need to be.
She is awake when I return and she comes up to me and wraps her arms around me and snuggles close. I am sweaty but she does not care. She just wants to be close and her embrace seems to say:
“I love you no matter what. I love you when you when you make the right decisions and I love you when you make mistakes. I love you when you are kind and sweet like a mother should be and when you are tired and impatient and have to say you are sorry. I love you when you make the best choices for me and when you just don’t know what to do. I love you when you are fresh out of the shower and smell sweet, and I love you when you are first back from a run and covered in sweat. I love you when you succeed and I love you when you struggle. I love you whether I am here or wherever I am. You loved me before I even knew you but I love you now, because you are mine.”