Giggles tumble in from the kitchen where our children are gathered. Deep belly laughter interupts the momentary quiet of the evening. Sophia has just gotten home from ballet, her long hair hangs in a curtain down her back, Evangeline is sitting on a stool in pajamas preparing a late night snack, and Steven is still in his school clothes. They all huddle together over one of their phones and roar with laughter at some silly meme, united, one, siblings.
“AnJew!” Eliza calls her oldest brother in her broken, urgent, deliberate speech, “You help me? The chickens! I not go out der by myself. It’s dark. I scared. You go with me!” Then a sweet knowing smile spreads accross her face, and she speaks directly to me now, “Mudder, I make him french fries after. I come in. I make them for him. Mudder, I know he can’t. He needs me mudder. I help him.” She speaks with the empathy and maturity that embodies all of her eighteen years.
“He is special, Eliza. And so are you.” I say, with feelings of joy and pride only a mother can know. I think to myself how special each one of our chidlren is, and I pause to reflect about how they care for each other, how normal it all feels now, how we belong to each other: these children, blended by time and life and God far more than biology ever could.
“Mommy,” she transitions to the little girl now, “can you kiss me here?” She points to the middle of her forehead, and I kiss her there as I do so many times each day.
“I love you, Mommy, forever.”
I wonder at how blessed I am. I wonder at her amazing capacity to love so flawlessly. I wonder at her ability to forgive.
My mind drifts back to those awful days when we’d been home from China for two years, to the moment when I broke under the weight of all the needs. I think about how I hurt her, how I left her in respite care while I tried to find the way back to who I was, about how it was my husband who was strong and reminded me that we were family and that we’d get through the hard together. I feel ashamed, and I pull her to me, tighter now, closer.
I love being her mother.
I almost lost this, I think.
Joy fills her, her body squirms in girlish delight, and I love her, in that deep motherly spot that feels warm and full and glows with a pride that isn’t my own, but rather a thankfulness, an awe at the privilege I possess. “I help you, mudder? I help you a long time.”
“Yes. You help me.” I say the words I’ve spoken so many times before, “and when you don’t, I still love you the same.”
“I know dat, mudder!” She quickly runs off.
“Anjew! You help me?” He grumbles something and follows her outside to close the chickens in their coop for the night.
Laughter still overflows into the back room from the kitchen. Evangeline is steaming dumplings for her brothers and sisters exactly like the chinese make them in China.
I’m aware that we are a family, one family. The awkward stage of blending has passed. This is our normal now. It’s different than before. We are richer, more blessed, more loved, for having chosen to grow our family by adoption. The days of struggle and pain and wondering if our lives would ever feel normal again are gone.
I wonder when those days left us. I wonder when this feeling of normalcy and peace and joy returned to us. I wonder how we arrived at this place.
And then it comes to me. It was coming all the time. It was happening on the days we cried together. It was coming on the days I failed and needed to be forgiven. It was on it’s way all those days we hurt each other and had to say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” It was growing in our hearts with the dawn of each new day and the rising of each new moon.
It was on it’s way as we shared our brokenness with each other.
And it arrived somehow with the passage of time. In some way I don’t understand, the messy and the miraculous forged a new path, a new creation, a beginning of something far more beautiful than we could have ever known if we hadn’t taken that tiny step of faith and opened our lives to more.
Jeremiah’s life is about to change in ways he has yet to even imagine. And the Feltes lives will change too. Each journey is a different one. Yet no life is without pain and loss and grief. We can’t know joy until we’ve walked through the valley bereft of it, unable to find it.
By God’s grace, Jeremiah’s new life is about to begin. He will leave the only life and country he’s ever known. The Feltes life, too, will change. They might cry and grieve and long for something more familiar than this new life they’ve begun. But I am here to say there is beauty and love and joy beyond our biggest hopes and wildest dreams just a little farther down the road.
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