The slum streets were her childhood playground.
Her lungs took their first swallow of earth’s air in the poor African’s version of a waiting room, while her mama held her place in line for a “free-clinic” bed — one that she never saw. Hope was welcomed by this world into the dirt, and it would indoctrinate her first five years of life.
And from what I can tell, she did street life well.
The skill set required to scavenge for food and beg (simply to get by) is quite different, even, than the one needed to slide into the masses of an orphanage food line. To move from streets to shanty-like slums and back again, over and over, makes one resourceful. Vigilant. Prudent.
And … nervous. Afraid.
Nearly six years there, in that life, and now just over six months home, Hope shows the wear-and-tear a child her age is much too young to have received. No government aid could touch the heart-wounds which come from a child fending and fearing during the years she was meant to be furrowing.
My sweet little girl has a heart that longs to live childlike-free, but which is trapped behind years of inertia. At times, she moves like a freight-train — unstopping, always racing, never able to rest. She didn’t stop then, so why now? Rest was danger; how could it, overnight, turn into safety? She barrels through life and, at times, people. It’s what she has always done. It was her survival.
But tucked away behind 10 of her missteps is one move in the right direction, one sprig of beauty.
And I’m the mama He’s called to search it out.
One of the greatest dangers of adoption is believing for your child what your child already believes about themselves. It’s subtle. And easy, when the sum total of all their behaviors in a given day seems to point in one direction.
But we weren’t called to be the thermometer in the life of a child who has years of seeing themselves in only one light. We are here to tell them who they really are and, in light of who He is, that they are royalty.
They just don’t know it yet. They haven’t been told.
She scooted over on the couch: “Eden can sit here!”
She seemed to be offering her sister an olive branch, by way of the hotly-coveted seat next to Lily for read-aloud time. But, as Eden began to move, Hope’s intentions became clear to me (but not to the others). Instead of forfeiting her own seat next to Lily, she was finagling a way to squeeze, now, two bottoms in one spot. She stepped forward for a moment to re-adjust, so I took the initiative for her.
“Hope! Look at that,” I said, as I surreptitiously scooted her body to the other side of the couch. “You gave your sister the seat you wanted most. Sweetheart, that was beautiful.”
Her face flashed remorse, for a second, before she tried on the new mantle I’d foisted on her. All of a sudden, her countenance changed. She adjusted her shoulders and her eyes sparkled. “Yes, Mommy, Eden can have it. I want her to have it.”
My little girl danced and pranced her way through the rest of that night, light-footed, light-hearted. It was as if she started to believe she might be something other than the tempestuous little girl she’s painted herself to be.
The next morning, I woke to find a different child in my home. She scampered downstairs to get waters for her siblings, without them knowing. She shared her colored pencils without being asked and snuggled closer and longer to all of us. “Mommy, I want to bless you,” she said, as I caught her carrying my running clothes from the floor where I’d left them to my hamper.
And this is how it goes. This is how He is winning her back. The age-old strategy of delight is the Father’s best-kept secret. He kneels, toes pressed against the ground, staring into dirt, and His fingers so tenderly search for that one shoot that says life is here. He wades through years of lies calcified against my heart to find His own Truths buried within, and He calls them forth. I call myself “messy” and He says beauty in the making.
And when I learn from Him, I can do it with her.
Perspective is everything.
No child born of God is forever lost. No doctor’s diagnosis or psychologist’s analysis is the final verdict.
The Father looks on my daughter not with eyes of hopelessness and fear. He stares into her deep and calls forth Himself, planted in her from before the day she met the streets. What the enemy calls misfit, He reclaims as heiress.
And as her now-mother, my role is to carry this torch over her life. I live advocacy in my flesh and in my spirit. My prayers and my words form the bridge of partnership between His promises and her reality. I partner. She is being made new and it’s my job to speak it loud and to believe it in my quiet.
It’s His job to impart it.
And mine to receive.
With all that I am and all that I have, to receive. And this is motherhood.
The streets — or the diagnoses, the fears, the setbacks and mistakes — these do not have to stand. We get to stand in their place.
[Tomorrow, I will have part two of this post -- one more story and a space where I get a little more practical. And what a privilege to share this with you.]
* Photos courtesy of Mandie Joy