A couple nights ago as the very wiggly, shaved-headed Gabriela lay on her mattress on our bedroom floor, us ready for her to go to sleep but her not yet convinced, I knelt down, cupped her sweaty, round little face in my hands (a technique I’ve begun using every time I want to get her full attention) and said in a high-pitched playful voice, wanting desperately to remind her how much we adore her even in the midst of so many daily disciplinary procedures and frustrating moments: “We are so content that you are here with us!”
A smile immediately overtook her face, and she asked, “And Jolie too?”
“Jolie” is what she calls her older sister Josselyn, who just arrived to live with us Thursday, exactly one week after the little popcorn kernel did. As with Gabriela, we don’t know her exact age, but are told she is between 10-11 years old. All along (as in, ever since two and a half weeks ago) we were planning on receiving both girls after Honduras’ child protective agency’s lawyer had called us, but the authorities had a hard time finding the elder sister because she was wandering the streets collecting bottles until the wee hours of the morning, so she did not initially arrive when 6- or 7-year-old Gabriela did.
So, to answer Gabriela’s question of whether or not we are happy to have “Jolie” with us too, I said, still holding her face in my palms, “Yes! And Josselyn too! You are both so precious – ”
Her response: “You’re my mom, right?”
I laughed, and, to answer the question that she has asked over 1,245 times since the day she moved in July 9, I said, “By God’s grace, I am now – “ and was prepared to give a much longer explanation, but the stop clock on her attention span reached its limit, and she asked, “Now you’re gonna pray for me, right?”
After I stroked her feet and Darwin and I prayed over her, asking in God’s mercy that she may be liberated from such a devastating chain of sin and evil that has up until this point threatened to strangle her, she sat up on the mattress, a large stuffed animal moose in her arms (which earlier that day had asked me what it was, and, not understanding what a ‘moose’ is, she decided it was a sheep) and said, “Sing me the music!”
So Darwin and I began to sing songs of God’s praise over her for about 20 minutes or so until she finally drifted off into a deep sleep that she would enjoy for the next 11 hours or so.
Loving Gabriela is not always easy. It is not easy when she runs away from me at the bank or at the used clothing shop or when she turns her back to me 97% of the time when I call her name and begins to walk briskly in the other direction. It’s not easy when she disrespects her own older sister, seems to have her own agenda on everything (and somehow we didn’t attend the same planning meeting ahead of time), when she tries to shower and change her clothes 4-5 times a day without permission, and when she takes things which aren’t hers (and sometimes are mine).
Yesterday our little bully was disobeying as usual, turned her back on me, and began to scuttle across the front yard on a mission of her own when suddenly I heard a new kind of cry. It wasn’t Gleny’s cry, nor Jason’s nor Josue’s. I paused and then realized that this new cry, a terrible noise, must be Gabriela. In over a week of being with her, I had yet to hear or see her cry or show any form of weakness. I arrived where she was and bent down, and she looked up at me with these huge crocodile tears in her eyes and the most awful expression on her face (it turned out it was a simple scuffle with Jason and Josue – both her age – and she fell down), and I realized this is Gabriela. This – these terrible bone-chilling shrieks and contorted face – is probably how she spent much of her time in her previous life, being used as her step-father’s sexual plaything, enduring horrors that I cannot – will not — fathom. The little rebel, the independent bully, the sassy, loud-talking, obnoxious, jaded little girl who I had seen up until that point – and after that point – is some pseudo personality that has emerged, like a body armor with large, defensive spikes, to protect a heart that has been laid on the chopping block time and again.
So anyways, now we are a family of nine – five girls, two boys, Pa and Ma.
It is worth mentioning that the biological family that Gabriela and Josselyn come from includes five siblings, of which Josselyn is the eldest, and the mother is currently pregnant with twins without any resources or real desire to care for any of them. As the child protective agency’s lawyer shared this with me – not suggesting or asking if we would take in all the siblings, but rather just sharing the information – I sort of felt like by God’s mysterious providence through us He has rescued these two little girls off a large, sinking ship with several other passengers who for some reason were not chosen. That is not at all a comforting feeling, but rather a too-real nightmare, and it leads to a perpetual wanting to do more and more, ‘rescue’ more and more of Honduras’ forgotten youth who wander the streets after dark collecting bottles or are put to use to satisfy the lusts of some.
Thus, a few days ago I felt quite literally like I was in a dark pit of despair, like we could take in 100 or 1,000 or a million unwanted, mistreated children, and it would never be enough. The unfit mother (who probably herself was a mistreated, uneducated little girl) is pregnant with twins, for heaven’s sake! I sat on our kitchen counter across from Darwin as he cleaned out the large bucket he fills with fresh cows’ milk every morning, and I felt as though I was worlds away, drowning in the pain of those unborn twins along with so many others, wondering what grand difference being family to seven makes when there are so, so many.
I felt a strong pull from the Lord: Come away with me. Come find Me in the middle of what you perceive as despair. Come to Me and I will give you rest.
My thought responses shot off in all directions: No – I need to go clean the toilet! Oh, but I should really sit down with Gleny to discuss such-and-such thing that happened… Ugh! I just, I just – Ay, maybe if only I talk with Darwin more, process things. Where’s Gabriela?!
In the futility of my thoughts I finally I gave up and sat down on our double-sized bed, scrunched up in the corner, hoping to somehow be absorbed into the walls as I pulled my long legs up to my chest. I picked up my Spanish Bible and didn’t know where to start, but somehow I ended up in Isaiah, and I knew that what I found was a direct word from my Father in that moment for me:
He said to me, “You are my servant,
Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
and my reward is with my God.” [Isaiah 49:3-4)
As hard as it may be for some to understand, at the end of it all, it’s not even about the children. It’s not about raising two children with tragic pasts or 13 or none at all; it’s about God’s glory, about light shining in the darkness. As much as I love our son Jason (who just turned eight years old July 17th!), I love him because I love my King, because my King loves him and has called me to love Jason. It’s not about taking kids off the streets and turning them into college graduates; it’s about the Living God entering lives broken by sin and pain and calling them home. It’s about mysteries beyond our understanding being revealed in the life of Jesus Christ as lived through those who carry His Name. It’s about believing that one life being touched with His love is as important to our Father as if a thousand were.
So if one or all of our kids grow up and make terrible choices and fall away from the faith or those twins do, in fact, experience a life of incredible suffering, I still choose to believe that the Lord shines in the darkness, that He will be glorified even in the midst of those who ignore or reject Him, that our small assignment for the King is not in vain, that He has overcome the world and has a sovereign plan.
That in the end, He’s the Savior of the world, not us, and it’s none of my business to worry about results anyway.