Three years ago, Mike and I had our first meeting with our two Ethiopian sons. Today, that encounter feels like it was such a long time ago. This past year has certainly brought a new level of solidity to our family’s sense of belonging and togetherness.
In the quietness of this kid-free week, I have been trying to write four stories—the accounts of precious children who came into the world in different ways, at different times, in different places. Composing a narrative for each of my children has been a difficult process. I want to tell their story of being and becoming from their point of view, not from an outsider’s perspective. I would like to include enlightening details about the rich and varied settings of their life stories. I deeply desire to create redemptive narratives that do not fail to fully describe the hard parts of their lives, yet always keep in tension the foundational reality of God’s love and grace.
Not a simple task.
I sit at my computer, surrounded by an assortment of papers—sample pages from the adoptive lifebooks of others, court documents, medical records, photographs. Sometimes, the search for the story’s essential particulars is a pleasurable journey, reminding me of fascinating aspects of a birth country’s culture or of a specific joy-filled moment with a child. Other times, however, the stark painfulness of my children’s histories hits me afresh, and I am stunned by it. My stomach hurts. How can I write this?
Still, I am motivated to complete this task for all of my children. I have, in fact, put it off too long. Beth O’Malley, author of LifeBooks: Creating a Treasure for the Adopted Child describes the importance of story-telling for children, particularly for those with difficult starts in life. She states that the process is “invaluable because it increases trust and attachment. Children trust that the parent/foster parent can tolerate their pain from the past and help them work through it. They don’t have to take care of their parents in this area.” (This quote is taken from p. 63 of her book.) I yearn for my children to know with certainty that I am committed to helping them deal with whatever life has brought and all that it will bring.
Today seems to be a day for looking backwards and forwards. Winston Churchill once said, “The farther backward you can look, the further forward you are likely to see." It is my hope that this process of remembering, mourning, celebrating, and exploring the past will allow us to better embrace the future together.