Four years ago today. As the two of us stare at that first photo of us together on a rooftop in Haiti, I am struck most by her eyes. They look…weary. Battleworn. Impossibly saturated with grief.
She touches the picture gently with a mocha brown finger. “You are smiling,” she says. “I am not.”
“Smiling” hardly covers it. I was beaming- so thrilled to hold my daughters for the first time after almost two years of longing for them.
But she was broken.
Soon after that photo was taken, she began to wail, pacing back and forth. I tried to hold her, but she would not let me. I offered a snack. She would not eat. I tempted her with bright, new toys. She turned away.
I didn’t understand it at all then. The orphanage told me they had explained I was coming and that she was excited. I felt rejected and helpless. If only I had known then, what I know now- that the beautiful little girl in my arms had suffered more in the previous two years than would have seemed possible to me.
The orphanage undoubtably saved her life, but it was also a place of such desperate hunger that she resorted to eating anything she could scrounge to fill her little stomach. A lime given to her for a bee sting. Her own fingernails. A piece of plastic once….
It was a place of terror too, where the very people entrusted to offer her care were often the ones who injured her the most viciously. She learned to be wary of any change for fear that it would bring some new abuse.
I stare into those deep brown eyes in the photo, filled to the brim with sorrow. How could she have known that love had come to stay?
I wish I had known then, what I know now.
“Look at your eyes,” I say. “So tired. So sad. No wonder you didn’t trust me…”
She scoots closer to me, and I wrap an arm around her. Our eyes fill with tears as I recount to her one of her own memories, which she has since forgotten.
“How do you remember this stuff?” she asks.
“That is my job,” I tell her. “To remember things for you, so that you don’t have to anymore. I don’t know how it works, but it seems that sometimes when you tell me the bad things, it is like I carry them afterwards, instead of you. Then, you are not so sad about them.”
“But then you’re sad!” she says.
“Yes, but I am okay,” I reply.
Ok? Yes. But I will never be the same. Each recounting of the nightmares she lived in that place have carved deep, winding paths through my soul.
“I’m still a little sad,” she says.
“Yes,” I reply honestly. “And you always will be . It won’t keep you from the life God has for you, but you will carry it always.”
She nods solemnly with more understanding than should be possible for a nine-year old child.
Then, like sunshine breaking through the clouds, she smiles radiantly through her tears, wraps her arms around me and hugs me tightly.
“I love you!” she says.
I hold her for a long moment and tell her I love her too, and how much I appreciate her giving me the chance. Then, she bounds off to bed- full, healthy, safe, and strong.
Because love has come to stay.