When my pastor gets ready to deliver a particularly difficult truth, he is kind enough to warn us. “Get ready now,” he says. “I’m comin’ right down your street to drop off the mail.”
One of the most difficult things to accept as an adoptive parent, especially of an older adopted child, is that at times the child will drop off mail that doesn’t belong to you- seething packages of hurt, resentment, bitterness, and anger.
What is more, he or she won’t just drop it off on your street, but right into your lap.
Yesterday, I received one of these packages. I was making pancakes for breakfast when I realized the compost canister was overflowing and called two of my children to run the canister to the tumbler at the back of the yard. One child would hold the heavy lid, while the other dumped the contents.
Moments later my son burst through the door crying. Just when he started to empty the canister, his sister accidentally dropped the lid onto his arms. By the time she made it back into the house, he was being comforted with an ice pack (which all moms know cures everything).
“Where is the canister?” I asked.
“He dropped it in when the lid fell.”
I flipped sweet potato pancakes and said, “Okay, I know you aren’t going to like this, but you need to go pull it out of there.”
She groaned, but stopped short of arguing, and walked toward the door with all of the enthusiasm of prisoner walking to the execution chamber.
“Rinse it off with the hose before you bring it back inside the house,” I called after her.
I watched her from the window as the stack of pancakes grew higher and she worked herself into a knot of tearful anger.
When she finally came back inside, it took a long, long time to get to the bottom of it all. A lot of questions. A lot of waiting. A lot of guessing on my part based on 4 1/2 years of our journey together. Finally, I guessed correctly.
“I think you have a problem with being punished unfairly because of some of the things that happened to you in Haiti,” I said.
Truth spoken is powerful. I watched as the fury blew away from her face like a fleeing storm cloud, replaced by the relief of just being understood.
“Sometimes, they punished you very cruelly when you did not deserve it didn’t they?”
She nodded her head slowly.
“Baby, I wasn’t punishing you by asking you to retrieve the compost canister. It just needed to be done. Your brother was hurt. I was making pancakes, and there was nothing wrong with you going to get it.”
“Look,” I added sadly, “I’m sorry to tell you there will be times I make mistakes and discipline you when you don’t deserve it. I wish I could tell you I will never do that, but I’m human and I make mistakes sometimes, but what I want you to understand is that the heart behind those mistakes is very different from the punishment you received in Haiti…I love you.”
“I know you do,” she sighed.
It was then that I realized that dropping off the mail in the wrong place bothered her as much as it does me.
“How about some pancakes now?” I asked.
She smiled and we walked into the kitchen together.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“I forgive you,” I said.
And that is the biggest lesson of all- forgiveness.
There is so much to forgive on this adoption journey. We have learned how to forgive each other, but now we are stumbling arm in arm through how to forgive them.
As a family, we recently listened to Dr. Wess Stafford share how he came to forgive the people who had abused him for years in an African missionary boarding school. He said that he reached a moment as a young man when he realized the people who hurt him would never be sorry, never be brought to justice, and he determined to forgive them anyway.
I can’t quoted him exactly, but here is the essence of his declaration of forgiveness:
“You had the first part of my life. You can’t have the rest! Get out of my head. Get out of my heart. Go on, I forgive you. Get out!”
She listened to this account wrapped in her Daddy’s arms. Later, we talked about it she confessed that she is not there yet. I appreciate her honesty and continue to pray that she will find her way to forgiveness because I want her to be free.
How can I be anything less than humbled by it all? After all, forgiveness looms large above me as well. Day by day. Moment by moment. Prayerfully, tearfully trying to forgive those who hurt my baby.
Sometimes I’m filled with rage. Others, I am devastated by irrational regret. I did all I could to bring her home,and yet she suffered for two years while I failed.
I have wept before her and begged her forgiveness. She has given it.
And so, we are learning.
Fall down. Get up. Repentance. Forgiveness. Shower it all in love, and heal.
In this cycle I find my hope that together we will one day forgive those who wounded her so terribly, trusting that Dr. King’s promise is true and that the arc of the universe, though long, is bent toward justice.