3 years ago today we were nervously awaiting the arrival of our 4th child. This time, however, we weren't waiting in a sterile hospital delivery room, we were waiting in an old conference room at a hotel in China.
She, however, was not. She was sad. She was confused. She was scared. She was unsure. She was experiencing loss…yet again. Adoption is scary- and not just for parents who open up their hearts and their families to adopt a child- it is scary for the child.
Adoption only happens because of loss. Every orphan’s story is different, but each one has experienced loss. Elli lost her family when she was 3 ½ months old. We don’t know why or how she lost them, but Elli suffered great loss as a little baby. She lost her family. Try to imagine the depths of that loss.
3 years ago today she experienced loss yet again. After she lost her family at 3.5 months old she was placed in the care of workers at her orphanage. Although Elli doesn’t talk a lot about her time at the orphanage, all indications point to the fact that she was well cared for. For this we are so thankful. But those loving workers became her new family for the next 3 years of her life.
Then we walked into her life. From our perspective Elli was gaining a family she never had. But to Elli, she was losing her second family. She grieved that loss. Deeply. Her grief took many forms: sadness, many tears, restless nights, feelings of insecurity, rebellion, anger, and fear. It’s hard for me to understand that kind of loss and it has been difficult for us to help her deal with that grief, especially in the early days as she kept us (me, especially) at arm’s length.
3 years ago today I entered God’s classroom and learned some incredible (and sometimes painful) lessons. I’ve learned true love is hard work. It is dying to self every dayfor the good of someone else. True love never gives up. "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails" (1 Cor. 13:7-8).
I’ve learned your past is not a prison. Learn from it, but don’t live in it. I’ve made mistakes as an adoptive father, but as my friend Mike Hipson once told me, “I’ve given up hope on a better past.” By God’s grace I must learn and move forward.
I’ve also learned that loss is not easily overcome. It takes time, patience, trust, understanding, space to grieve and love.
And the most important lesson I’ve learned: There is no greater gift than being loved. When I first met Elli, I loved her deeply. But she didn’t love me. She couldn’t. Love is not easily given. You don’t just give your heart to anyone and before you do, you have to know that person loves you and will not mistreat you or hurt you.
We’ve come a long way in 3 years. Her pink shoes and red and black plaid dress have been replaced with princess slippers and dresses. She is still learning to trust. She has learned we are here to stay and she has given me the greatest gift I could have ever been given: to be loved. She loves me. I love her.
By God’s grace, my sweet Elli will never have to experience the loss of family again. She has found her “forever family” and until I draw my last breath she will be my girl.
Happy Gotcha Day, sweet Elli! We love you.