“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” - Brennan Manning
It’s that time of year again – my son’s “Gotcha Day”. For those not familiar with the adoption world, that is the celebration of the day that we first met him – a birthday of sorts symbolizing when our lives began with each other. I’ve written quite a few blogposts about what adopting Tariku was like over the past three years. I really don't feel like each annual “Gotcha Day” demands a blog post, but every single year April 9th rolls around and I feel compelled to write one. Maybe it’s because my son’s presence in our lives absolutely amazes me when I take time out from the daily grind to think about it. He spent the first four years of his life in a mud hut on the other side of the world sleeping next to a donkey and now he sleeps down the hall from me - it takes my breath away sometimes. Don’t get me wrong. This boy has an ability like no other to rub me the wrong way and exasperate me every day. Our family life is not all roses and sunshine, trust me. I lose my temper with him, I sigh and shake my head at him plenty of times and there are days I look at the challenges he has in front of him and I think “Um, God… you chose the wrong person for this journey… this is waaaaaay beyond me.”
But here’s the thing… God took a really broken, complicated situation in which my son wasn’t properly cared for, and he brought a whole lot of life and love and happiness from all the wreckage. And don’t get me wrong… it wasn’t just my son’s life that was headed for destruction – it was mine too. While he was a victim of circumstance, I was headed toward a life of selfishness and ignorance. But adoption changed so much of that for me, for which I am so incredibly grateful.
I was putting T to bed last night and I was telling him about the first time I learned his name and saw his face load ever so slowly on my computer screen. I told him how I was holding the phone to my ear as I saw his picture for the first time, and with tears running down my face I said to my friend Lindsey “He’s mine. This little boy was meant for our family. I just know it. I can tell just by looking in his eyes. He’s really, really mine.” I tried to explain to Tariku last night how we had waited for years for a referral and how amazing it was to finally see a face and know a name four years ago… how in that moment, I knew both our lives had changed forever.
I’m not sure why it is, but I have these moments of absolute raw tenderness with my son that I didn’t know were even possible. As I was laying in bed beside him telling him about how overjoyed we are that he is our family forever and always, he reached over and wiped the tears that were trickling down my face and said “You’re crying because you are happy, right mom? I know what that’s like.” And I’m just so relieved that he does. I’m glad that he knows what it means to cry because he’s happy, because there are so many children who don’t or can’t or won’t let themselves know that feeling. He said “I am so glad that you are my mommy now… because you are kind and you help people, but mostly because you love God.” Well, okay…. there went an entire box of Kleenex. Isn’t that all we can ever, ever hope for as parents?? That our kids see us as kind and helpful, but most importantly – lovers of God? All those moments of my failure as a parent and a human being… every second I have snapped at him or had a bad attitude or been unsympathetic… he still sees my true self – the person covered in grace who just wants to love people and God no matter how much I fail at it. He sees the me that God sees. How amazing is that??
When Tariku came into our lives four Aprils ago, I wasn’t thinking about all the ways he might fail in life, how he might disappoint or hurt me, or the struggles that he would have. I was just overtaken by the sight of his face. I was in love with his four year old little arms that reached out to me and his precious little heart that was just so ready to be loved. There was nothing like it. And it has taken me a lifetime –literally my entire life, to realize that that’s just how God looks at me - He's overtaken by the very sight of me - He's not worried about all the "what if's". I’ll be darned if God doesn’t look down at me with my arms wide open and think “Look at her! Just look at her! That one right there – she’s mine and I am SO stinking proud of her. I see her for who she really is and she’s beautiful. Nevermind the failures. Nevermind the inconsistencies. Nevermind the mess. I see beauty and power and grace when I look at her. I made her just right and I’m head over heels for her.” That one thought right there is absolutely life changing if we let it be.
When I look at Tariku I see a pure gift. He was literally placed in my hands to love, comfort, guide and grow with. I had ZERO idea how much he would teach me about how my Daddy looks at me. Tariku just showed up that day on April 9th as he was… nothing fake about him – no pretense - he brought all of who he was to the table. And we responded to his little outstretched arms instinctively with our own arms wide open. There’s nothing Tariku did to make us love him – we just loved him because he belonged to us. He was ours and that was enough. God’s love for me and for you is just the same. It’s not contingent on anything we do – we belong to Him... every last one of us. God's great big arms are without fail, always open and coming towards us - always. There's just never a time when they're not.
Most every night I put Tariku to bed I tell him all the special things I see in him – I name all the gifts that God has given him so that he won’t grow up to doubt his value or how loved he is. I pray out loud over him that God would use his gifts of compassion and his heart for justice to change the world and help people catch glimpses of the God who is crazy for them. And I wrap my arms around him and squeeze him tight and tell him that there’s nothing he can ever do to make me love him less or more. I tell him that he is so very loved just as he is – right now (at which point he normally farts and laughs so loud I have to cover my ears).
It’s this same comfort level that I think God craves from us (okay, maybe he could do without the farting, but)… our ability to let down and just be who we are, without fear or shame or pretense must stir his heart the same way Tariku stirs mine – and then some. God’s got his arms wrapped around us saying “Geez… I just freaking love you!! Do you know that? Do you REALLY KNOW that??” Love like that has changed everything for Tariku, and Love like that has changed everything for me in recent years. My heart aches when I think about all the years I have spent striving, fighting and clawing my way to ensure I had that love when the whole entire time my Daddy was there saying “I’ve got you. You belong to me. Stop trying to earn my love – you HAVE it… you always have. Just enjoy it."
Someone once said that God is never just doing one thing through a circumstance – He’s always working to accomplish many things through the one. And so it goes with our adoption of Tariku. Not only was God providing T a home to be safe, cared for and loved in, but He was teaching me what His love really looked like. God was showing me what my true home looked like in that same way. I cannot tell you the amount of peace and satisfaction I have now knowing that I am God's beloved.... that there are no lengths He won't go to to show me that. Watching my son grow in compassion has stirred and grown my own heart toward compassion. My son might be my greatest teacher thus far in life, and I am just so grateful for his beautiful, miraculous presence in my life. Thank you, God, for knowing just how much we needed each other and for bringing us together. Life will always be richer because of it.
I’ll leave you with Tariku's “Gotcha Day” video from April of 2010. Fair warning though…get some tissues first - love like this makes you cry sometimes, but oh it's worth it!