Friday, October 30, 2015

You can tell a lot about a person by their shoes

One of the classic lines from the movie Forrest Gump is spoken as he reflects on the various pairs of shoes he has worn through the years: "Momma always says there's an awful lot you could tell about a person by their shoes. Where they're going. Where they've been."

While working my way through college I worked at Fleet Feet Sports (the best shoe store in Houston, by the way). Fleet Feet specialized in running shoes so people would often bring their old shoes into the store when they were looking for their newest pair of shoes. Forrest's Momma was right. You could tell a lot about the person by looking at their shoes: how much they ran, how "hard" they ran on their shoes, you could tell whether or not they pronated while running, whether they ran on trails or concrete and how much they sweated while running (I don't miss the smell of some of those shoes).

September 15 will always be our "gotcha" day with Elli. It's the day we got her for the first time. When we met her for the first time she was wearing the cutest little dress with mismatching shoes.

We were immediately fascinated with the story of her shoes. Those shoes meant the world to Elli. On the first day she would not allow us to take them off her feet. She played in them, she ate with them on, she wore them with her bathing suit at the hotel swimming pool and she slept with them. When we finally convinced her to take a bath on the second day she took them off for her bath, but the moment she was dried off, she wanted her shoes.

Her shoes told her story. They were dirty, scuffed up and obvious hand-me-downs. The scuffs told the story of the places she had played and the people who were her family for so long. The dirt was probably from the yard near her orphanage and she had probably received these shoes once an older kid in the orphanage had outgrown them. The shoes were a reminder of where she had been. At times she would just cover her eyes and cry. The tears would fall on those velcro shoes and my heart would melt. My heart would hurt for her but we could not comfort her like her shoes could.

Then something happened 2 days into our journey. After bath time that night Leslie showed her some new shoes. They are "pinkish-peach-salmon-colored" (look, I'm a guy! I don't know all these girly colors, okay!) with polka dots. Elli saw them and got so excited. She took off her old shoes and put on her new ones.

It was such a powerful moment. She was so proud of her new shoes. She came and showed them to me, "Baba, shoes." She smiled as she played that night and for the first time she slept in her new shoes.

These shoes tell the story of where she's going. Her entire world has changed. She is learning what it means to be a daughter, not an orphan. She lives in a house now, not an orphanage. She has a Mama and Baba, not just caretakers. She has brothers, not just other orphans. Her shoes bear the scuffs of trips to the zoo, playgrounds, the concrete of our cul-de-sac, a trip to Baskin Robbins and the dirt from our yard.

For those who have followed our journey you know that Elli initally kept "Baba" at arm's length. It was not easy for her to trust me. I'd say I'm probably at "pinky's length" now. There are still things only Mama can do for her.

However, a couple of days ago I heard someone walking on the tile floor of our hallway. The steps sounded heavy as someone was clunking their way into the living room. It was Elli. As she came around the corner into the living room she looked for me immediately and had this big smile on her face. She walked up to me and said, "Baba, shoes." I looked down. Instead of wearing her pink/peach/salmon colored polka dot shoes, she was wearing mine. 

She laughed. I laughed, too. But inside my heart was listening to the story being told by her shoes. She was giving a little more of her heart to me.

You can tell a lot about a person by her shoes. Where she's going. Where she's been. One day Elli is going to put on new shoes for her first day of school and before you know it she'll be putting on shoes for her graduation then shoes for her wedding day (that young man better back off!). Each new pair of shoes in her life will tell a part of her story. But her story is our story and our story is God's story. As she looks back at her life I hope she will look back with great joy and see God's story in bringing her into this family.Wherever Elli's going, we're going together.

I snapped this picture last week:

Her shoes are packed away. These shoes tell us where she's been. Where she's been is a part of her story. But she doesn't need these shoes anymore. Now, she has a family. In fact, she doesn't even need shoes. She's got 3 brothers who will buy ice cream for her with their own money. She's our girl and we're going places- shoes or not.

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