We had only known our children for three days when we asked them if they wanted to leave us.
We invested hundreds of hours in paperwork and social worker visits. Thousands of dollars in background checks and adoption fees. We lovingly prepared bedrooms: brightly painted walls, colorful new bedding, piles of clothing carefully folded in dresser drawers. We traveled halfway around the world to meet these beautiful children. And now we were asking them if they would rather be left behind.
It was a hard question for us to give voice to. It would have been easier to leave it unspoken. But we could not let poverty be the reason a mother was separated from her children.
This is too often the case. Poverty is a great destroyer: of hope, of life, of family.
And yet poverty is quite often reversible. It does not have to be a permanent condition.
Poverty can be erased by reaching out an open hand to our neighbor. Instead of clenching our fist and holding tightly to what we consider to be rightly ours, we need only loosen our grip. Let some love trickle through our fingertips.
Was this all that was required for our children to be able to stay with their mother? A looser grip on our love and our resources? We needed to find out for ourselves.
We went for our daily visit to the orphanage. Children called to each other as they raced back and forth across the dirt play yard. Little girls sat on the concrete wall and braided each other’s hair. The boys laughed as they kicked a soccer ball against a tin wall over and over again. Babies cried from their cribs inside the nursery.
We gathered our children and led them to a quiet corner of the courtyard. We sat down and told them we already loved them very much. We were so excited for them to be a part of our family. But if they would rather stay with their mother, we would do everything within our power to make this happen.
We asked them to tell us their story. Slowly, with words that carried the burden of heartbreak and pain, they told tales of their childhood. They spoke of family and of laughter, friendship and community. They haltingly shared about times of plenty and times of famine. Their memories included both love and loss. We listened closely, trying to hear their hearts.
Because after meeting them, after looking into their eyes and holding them in our arms, we needed to be sure we were doing the right thing. We wanted to do what was best for them. Not what was best for us.
After listening to our children we realized no amount of money would be enough. They needed more than what money could provide. They needed us just as much as we needed them.
We finalized our adoption. Our family was completed just as God had designed it to be. Whole. Perfectly imperfect. Magnificent.
And now here we are, four years later, back where it all began. We walk the dusty streets where they grew up. We tour the walled city and hear the memories come tumbling forth. We watch our children slip seamlessly back into their culture, their people, their heritage.
They come alive here. It is easy to imagine this is where they should be. To believe they would thrive in this world.
And yet there are glimpses of all that is not right. A hand slipped into mine that holds on tight. A small body pressed close to my side. Eyes searching for me in the crowd of family, looking for reassurance. A whispered question in my ear. “Is this okay, mom?”
There are so many layers to this story. The deeper we dig, the more history we uncover. And just like with any archeological excavation, the good and the bad are all mixed up together.
We spent today with family. It was a good day, full of laughter and coffee and many, many stories. We are making up for lost time, creating as many memories as we can in these few short days together. We must have posed for hundreds of family photographs, tangible proof of our time together.
We arrived back at our hotel tonight tired, dirty, and hungry. I was looking forward to standing under a
hot lukewarm shower and climbing between my clean bedbug-infested sheets. We were walking to our rooms when Leah said, “Mom, do you remember that important question you and dad asked us? Right after you met us? You asked if we would rather stay with our mom or be adopted by you. I miss my family and I am glad we are here visiting. But I know for sure we were right.”
“We made the right decision, Mom.”