Tuesday, May 15, 2012

More than Orphans

 I've had so many conversations over the past few years about "orphans".  When I hear people use the word orphan it sounds like something rejected, neglected, or discarded.  Saying orphan in some ways paints a tainted picture of the children rather than the situation or the condition. I choose to use orphan as a verb (if it has to be used at all) and not a noun to describe children who have done nothing but follow what the adults around them have told them. I know a lot of adoptive parents feel that God sent them to save the widows and orphans, but I don't believe that in the wisdom of his creation that God ever created an orphan.  He made every child as special as the next, the same worth, the same value, and the same opportunity.  For every one of them, he had a purpose and a plan that extends far beyond what we might be able to see.  All he needs us to see him them is His divinity and grace.  

When I look at my kids and see who they are and watch who they are becoming, I always think back to the first day that I met them.  I allowed myself to see them, to see them while I was watching.  I didn't see orphans, I saw children living, laughing, and playing.  They were interacting, negotiating, arguing, and sharing with their friends.  Sure when I walked into the gate I noticed the sparse furnishings and the thin mattresses on the oversized bed springs.  I saw the tattered clothes that were too big or too small; a little dusty and a bit mismatched.  Standing there on the dusty lot with the playground equipment doubling as a clothesline,  I saw children.  I didn't see children waiting for a forever family.  I didn't see children who drew from me sorrow and pity, I saw children who cast against the dusty playground shined when they sang songs, tried to out dance, out skip, outrun, and outshine each other.

They made me smile, they made me laugh out loud -- often.  They were kids and I couldn't help but see how wonderfully special they were.  I don't mean wonderful in the they-will-eventually-be -my kids kind of wonderful or the how-great-they-are-to-laugh-in-the-face-of-all-their-pain kind of way.  I don't mean wonderful in the agency pamphlet sort of way, I mean, I thought they were incredible and awesome; talented and brilliant.  My daughter was confident and bossy, her leadership ability was apparent.  She was observant and engaging.  She wasn't shy or reticent and she smiled so brightly you barely notice the half-torn shoes.  My son was fast, athletic, and sensitive.  I witnessed his brash sensitivity when he got scolded and he came and stood in front of me with that one Denzel Washington playing in Glory tear coming down.  He was decisive and strategic -- he really tickled me.  He was just a little boy playing with his friends.  He was not a label or statistic, he was an orphan. He was just a great little boy and I watched him with the eye of an eagle.

I thought to myself who made them?  Who created these amazing little wonders?  Who instilled in them the confidence, strength, and fortitude that even behind this tall blinding gates they were able to stand without shaking and look me in the eye with self-confidence and certainty?  Who had encouraged them and taught them that their situation and condition were temporary and to never give in to the despair?  I looked at them and watched them frolic across the dusty yard and wondered how they did it?  They were not orphans they were children of the Most High God.  They had been parented obviously in a way that allowed them to thrive and not crumble although the things around them crumbled and were in need of repair.  How?  Who?  What extra dose of I am somebody had they been given that allowed them to stand out against the backdrop of despair and not sink down into it? These children way on the other side of the world were just like the children I grew up with in my own neighborhood, the children I had mentored over the years, the children that I eyed out my windows when I drove through the Westside of Chicago.  Those are the children that I brought to America.

I brought children who had strength, identity, purpose, focus, and an ability to love beyond all imagining.  I can't take credit for who they are and how well they are doing because the tools that they needed they had before they ever met me.  When I watched how certainly they moved and interacted with the new world around them, I did not feel worthy to parent them.  They didn't really need me to make them over. All the parts and pieces of who they were to become were there. I knew that for sure when I watched them pray with intention to a power much higher than myself, and the way they moved on with their day with every expectation that the pray they prayed would bed one.  I knew each time they patted me and told me that their God of Ethiopia was looking out for me too. I had foolishly thought that I'd have to teach them everything from how to use a fork to how to tie their shoes.  I imagined how afraid they might be in such a busy, bustling city with big building and 24-hour lights.  Please!  They took it all in stride.  They weren't wide-eyed at the sight of their new home, the downtown Chicago buildings, nor the new clothes in their closet.  Shoes, were a completely different story.

Young conservationist; I remember how they would go through my house turning out lights scolding me, "mabrite" the word for lights.  Home economist; I remember them in the market smelling fruit as they knew how to pick out what was freshest.  When they refused food, they told me "garbage" or "it's no good" they would say.  "No more this!"  These little food critics were were also able to tell me why; too sweet, too hot, too much salt, no flavor, no good! She would stand in the kitchen watching my every move checking like she was making sure that I was not adding harmful ingredients to their food.  "Cow, mommy?"  "Pig, horse?"  She would ask me while I cooked.  While I'd make something she would look in the fridge and hand me something,  a tomato or whatever she "knew" should be added to the dish.  Or maybe it was a day I reached for a stick of butter and he asked her what it might be and she knowingly said that it was "zite" or oil. I laugh and how my son use to taste all the food before he'd tel his sister it was okay to eat. He too had an eagle's eye and it was usually focused right on me.

These little beings that others called orphans knew a great deal about the world before they ever met me.  They knew a bit about politics, a lot about God and religion, the difference in Angus steak and regular old beef with one taste, picking fresh produce, cleaning, folding, sweeping, and other chores.  My son was even an expert backseat driver who would beep his imaginary horn at slow cars in our way. I later learned that him constantly yelling "bizit" from the back seat meant to go around.  These were people, real people with hearts, spirits, and minds that were engaged.  They already had a way of seeing the world, the people in it and their place.  They were not just little blobs waiting for life to be awakened in them they were wondrous beings waiting for someone who could see their magnificence.  They had definite likes and dislikes, favorite colors, food preferences, and style.  They had so much charisma and style that one could not help but notice. These kids had a knowledge and sensibility that demanded that I step up my game to meet them at their level.  They had and have a wisdom that commands my attention.  Maybe for a brief moment, I believed that I was changing their lives and I'm sure on some levels that do matter I have; I'm just not sure that I've changed them as nearly as they have enlightened and changed me.

Orphan might be an act that one does to a child, a verb.  Orphaned may be a visa designation but it is definitely not an accurate description of the children that I've been blessed to know and to love. I honor the place within them that has no limits and pray that I have the ability to foster that limitless possibility born to them. May I continually be granted the ability and wisdom to recognize who they are always in relation to their creator and never their situation or circumstances.

Original Court Date: April 18, 2009
Final Court Date: May 18, 2009
[607 total days & 165 days w/IAN]