The van pulled into our drive at about 5:30 in the evening. This was it. After over a dozen false alarms of "They're here!" shouted by my children at every vehicle that passed my home, we finally had to tell them "Unless you see someone pull into the driveway, don't yell that!". We simply couldn't take the continual leaps our hearts were making with each exclamation. Now, my children were excitedly chanting "they're here" and my bride and I were nervous. We opened the front door and stepped outside for the final time from the home we had known.
The two social workers introduced themselves and immediately began "thanking" us, something we were not prepared for nor did we feel deserving of. Then at the back of the van, a small face appeared. Deep eyes studied us. They belonged to a small girl, not much bigger than my Lydia. She was wearing a backpack and carrying a stuffed animal. As if on cue, another small face appeared at the front of the van, eyes wide, ascertaining the situation. This one, only four, was dwarfed by his surroundings as he took them all in. He noted a scooter in the front yard and made for it. The social workers called them by name and asked them to come and meet us. They quietly complied. Wide eyes met generous smiles as we sought to reassure them and speak with them in gentle tones. Soon, my bride had them by the hand and was leading them inside. Thus began our redefinition of "family".
Plastic totes with the children's names on them were brought in - the sum total of all of their earthly belongings. Clothing, underwear, shoes, special items, and toys. After brief conversation as to appointments and setting up a schedule for visits, the social workers left and two little people gazed at their new surroundings in wonder and curious apprehension. My children took immediately to their new "siblings". My daughter has found her "soul-mate" in the discussion of shoes, nails, clothing, and ponies - all from the perspective a six-year old.
My eldest has made me proud in the manner in which he has taken our newest little one under his wing. They have become inseparable. Repeatedly my eldest has approached my bride and I with a smile as large as his face and simply stated "Aren't they the best, mom and dad?" I am blessed to see my son walking out love and compassion and reaping the immediate reward. Likewise, a quick bond has formed between our newest "daughter" and my bride. Anticipating months of work and building of trust and relationship, we are both caught off guard when this precious one reveals the depths of her heart far into the night and only ceases as exhaustion overtakes her.
She is a protector of her young brother, wise beyond her years. She desires to please and surprises us both when she asks when the "cleaning would start"? She informs us she is particularly good at cleaning microwaves. She has carried weight and responsibilities that have impeded her ability to simply be a child and this has produced an unnatural maturity in one so young. She is, however, afraid to fall asleep alone and regularly seeks the comfort of a hug, a soothing caress. We are blessed as we seek to become respite to this wounded heart.
Now just days into this process, we are witnessing the opening of the flowers of these two small souls. Where restraint and punishment seem to have been ever-present previously in their lives, the new found freedom to be a child that we are encouraging has permitted the weights of care and uncertainty to roll off of them and we find a quick attachment and rapid love for these beautiful children. Certainly the aspects of child tantrums have already presented themselves and we have had to lovingly explain boundaries, house rules, and the behavioral corrective specter of "the time-out chair". But these are few and far between as we witness two small ones caught up in the joy of simply being, without limitations.
Loss still hovers in the background, however. Hours have already been spent listening to detailed recounting of hardships, family missed, and ugly truths that are far too precise to be the fiction of a six-year-old girl's imagination. But hope is ever present as families continue to work through mandated programs and visitation schedules with diligence and have shown persistence in affection towards these small ones. And laughter is present. It resounds throughout my home continually no matter where I turn. Often I am confronted by small hands attempting to lead me to another room to assist in the setting up of some game or to obtain a newly discovered toy high upon a shelf or simply to lead me to the refrigerator for yet another snack. It is difficult to say "no", even when meal times are close.
It is evident, too, that loss will also be in someone's future in this new found family equation we are living: either the children's or ours as one of two scenarios unfolds before us. For we have fallen in love with these children and would gladly accept the honor of raising them in the ways of the Lord. Yet, we know that the tremendous love they have for their parents is a tie that cannot, nor should not ever be broken and we hope the best for their efforts to reclaim these small ones that we are so blessed to rear for a season.
"Why walk this path, then? Why expose your family and yourselves to this?" Already we have faced opposition from others in our decision to open our hearts and our home. Already, the enemy has moved against us in health, relationships, and security. Stress has been present and prayer has been our constant companion as continually we are seeking God's face. We are simply trusting God's omniscient wisdom and seeking to follow His will, to be His hands and feet. He never promised it would be a path free from potential heartaches. Parenting never is. But we look to our Heavenly Father as example.
Our Heavenly Father tells of the shepherd who leaves his flock to save the one. He tells of a wealthy man running down a dusty road to throw a robe over the shoulders of his rebellious prodigal. He is moved with compassion and stirred by the masses. He shares the heart of His Son who wept over a chosen nation's refusal of Him and was moved tears at the sorrow of grieving friends. His Word reveals a Father's tender heart for His children.
Want a picture of what God sees when He looks at us? Look into a child's eyes. Want to walk out the Father's heart? Search out a child to love, be it your own or a child in need. This was brought home to me in a very tangible way in my recent time with the Ludlati care point. Though I have often taken it for granted, I have recently been reminded of it with my own children. I am thankful for the further opportunity to walk this out with our newest family members; thankful and blessed to pursue the heart of the Father.
"But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, 'Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.' "