Two months ago I posted the news that we were hosting an orphan from Ukraine over Christmas. I didn’t say much about the process by which we came to that decision (filled with trepidation, research, questions, and long discussions). Only the skeletal facts of what we were doing—bringing a little girl we had never met, and who didn’t speak English, to spend a few weeks with us.
Did I know the risks? Believe me, I thought I did. I had researched them. And while I was somewhat confident that she wouldn’t slit our throats in the night and burn the house down with us duct-taped to our beds, I armed myself with an array of problems to expect. There would probably be control issues. Boundary pushing. Hosted kids sometimes refuse to take showers—or deluge the bathroom when they do. They may refuse to eat what is prepared—or sneak out of bed to gorge on food at night. They may lie compulsively, steal, or bed-wet. They sometimes have problems sleeping, controlling anger, and integrating into the family in a thousand different ways. And there are always the looming possibilities of attachment disorder issues. “What if she strangles the cat? What if she won’t let the family sleep? What if she abuses the other kids?” I can’t say I didn’t worry about these things. I did. And I worried that we would feel like we had a stranger dropped into our midst for a torturous, uncomfortable three and a half weeks.
But in the end, none of those serious problems happened. Instead, we had another problem we didn’t expect.
I glimpsed the first signs of the problem as the jet lag wore off and she and our daughter began scampering around giggling together. Or maybe it was when she tipped those shining chocolate eyes up to meet mine, with just a touch of a smile and a nod, when I asked if she felt ok here. It could have been when I first heard her burst out laughing. Maybe it was when I asked her through Google Translate if she had a boyfriend and I first heard her voice louder than a whisper as she shouted in adolescent horror, “NO!” I definitely saw signs of something to be concerned about when she curled up next to my husband with his phone for the first time, voluntarily seeking to communicate through Google Translate. And I knew we were dealing with a serious problem when she first darted around the rack of clothing in the store, spied something she loved, and shouted impulsively, “Mom!”
The problem seemed small at first, but then it mushroomed quickly: we fell in love.
You see, we weren’t supposed to have this problem. We chose a host-only girl—one who was not even legally available for adoption. We were intentional about preventing this problem, you see. We knew we couldn’t invest for a lifetime with someone. Not now, anyway. We’re too busy. Our kids are too young. We're not a family that has money to do that kind of thing. If we wanted to adopt, why couldn't we do it from foster care? Or just accept that there are all these college students in our lives that need us to be temporary "Mom and Dad" to them anyway, already? We're overwhelmed with homeschooling, my schooling, and just trying to get the everlasting mountain of laundry folded and enough silverware in the drawer to eat meals regularly. We're up to our eyebrows already.
More than that, we know the challenges of parenting young people who have been born to other families. My husband does it all the time--they line up outside his office door daily. And me, right now, I'm full-time parenting our three, but I'm still parenting dozens of others on the side--these teenagers I fell in love with as I read the soul-jerking essays they scribbled for English class and then read them slowly again, knowing more needed to happen than mere proofreading. I took their broken hearts home with me. Some of them are already into their thirties now, but still the calls and texts come. This parenting job thing, it never ends. And when it ends unexpectedly--when I get the message that I won't hear that voice on the other end of the line ever again--I know that pain too. It rips out my heart to ask myself again, "Did I do everything I could? Did she know she was loved, all the way to the end?" Do I want to sign up for more soul-jerking?
I've been the one on the other end of the phone (more than once) while one of my former students took the pregnancy test. I've also been the one receiving frantic texts when the girlfriend says she's pregnant, too. I've gotten the "I can't tell my mom, Mrs. Parker--what am I gonna do?" Do I want to sign up to potentially be the one whose doorstep the illegitimate child gets dropped off on?
I've been the one whose couch soaks up the tears after the breakup. So many breakups! I've wept with the reeling twenty-something because their best friend stabbed them in the heart. I've bitten my tongue and held back the "I told you so" when things turned out the way I said they would but hoped they wouldn't. I've spent hours listening to the choked sobs while my own eyes burn with tears as I helplessly suffer when someone I love is hurting so hard, and all I can do is pray with them and assure them the ache isn't going to be forever. Do I want to sign up for more pain?
See, it was different with them. I didn't mean to fall in love with them. It happened while I ran alongside them selling books door-to-door, cried and prayed with them in a dark car, then made them get out and keep going. It crept up on me when I read the journal pages they shyly spread in front of me. It spilled over when they tapped on my office door, eyes brimming with unshed tears. I already knew them, those sons and daughters of my heart, and I loved them because I knew them. Who couldn't love them? I'll love them till the day I die. But do I want to sign up to love one more, one I don't even really know yet?
In the end, it's not a question I get to decide to answer. Sparkling coffee-brown eyes, a contagious laugh that dances in the air, a soft voice calling me Mommy, exuberant hugs, sobs at the thought of separation from us, have decided for me. I love one more, because I know her now.
Only the Lord knows what the future holds. At this point, Anya is still unavailable for adoption, legally. And if she were to become available, what then? I honestly don't know. It's fine to say, "You've fallen in love, just do this thing," but really, we've only spent three weeks with her. Her English is so severely limited that she can't tell us a thing about what's going on in her heart without translation. She's just barely figured out that Jesus is coming again. She still has no idea who David or Paul is. She might not even want to be adopted. And she would be our oldest, leading the way for the other three to potentially abandon all we teach them. The alcoholic background that shattered her childhood has certainly left deep wounds, probably ones she has never had a safe place to process. Little hints all over in her life--chewing with her mouth open, giggles at crude humor--quietly remind me that this is a child being raised by children. What issues will that leave? I honestly don't know.
What I do know is this: we love a girl. So we're going to invest in her. We plan to bring her over to spend ten weeks with us this summer. The soul-jerking, heart-breaking journey of choosing to love is always worth it. Not because it is guaranteed to pay off with satisfaction for us in the end--it absolutely isn't. But because Jesus did it for us. And if nothing good happens, except that we are changed into His image...it's worth it. Because love is the law of the universe, and love wins.
"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." James 1:27